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Growing up around the offices of the 'Weekly' left lasting impressions

When I was a kid, my mom used to pick me up at school in our old station wagon. We'd grab some red chile burritos at the El Rio Bakery and then plop down in her office at the Tucson Weekly. At first, we went to a house downtown on Main Avenue, where the editor's office doubled as a playroom with a basket of toys. But it's at the address on Meyer Avenue where I locate all of my best Weekly memories.

Being little with a big imagination, I found the place to be a fantasy in waiting. The Weekly building was flanked by the last holdouts of days past: the thick-walled homes of Barrio Viejo, painted in colors a little kid could approve of. We would open the building's gates, entering our private fort with its mesquite-bean-carpeted parking lot inside. Next door was a semi-abandoned ancient theater, El Teatro Carmen. As a neighborly gesture, a certain someone spray-painted a UFO on the crumbling stucco. It didn't seem out of place.

Once inside, I could rely on art director Royce Davenport to give me a handful of blue markers and a stack of promotional photos, which I would happily deface, giving black eyes and devil horns to the aspiring artists and the pass-through-town performers of the day. When I was hungry, I could head down the hall to the vending machines, but I faced a triple threat: First was the motion sensor at the end of the hall; if I successfully darted from doorway to doorway, avoiding the all-seeing red light that triggered the end-of-the-hall lights, I could pass in darkness. This cover helped with the second danger: the constant risk of falling into an epic rubber-band turf war with Jim Nintzel, who always lurked around the corner with stretchy artillery in hand. Last, after I secured a salty snack, if I opened the package too audibly, the noise lured the resident hound dog, Cricket, to come begging.

As fun as the office could be, accompanying my mom to galleries and artists' studios outside the adobe walls of the Weekly was where the true adventure lay. I honed the skill of running through galleries to get a count of the artworks while also managing to not knock over precariously placed sculptures. "Opening" became the keyword for banquet tables of brownies, crackers 'n' mystery paste, and schmoozing adults who filled their plastic glasses gladly with wine. Those years of mixing food and art have left me with some uncommon associations. Chocolate-covered strawberries will always go hand in hand with the haunting white masks of the Ku Klux Klan, the result of attending an opening at the Center for Creative Photography that paired a delicious spread of sweetened fruit with a disturbing exhibit of Klan memorabilia.

Looking at all that art, I got an early acquaintance with the naked human form. One night at Dinnerware, an artist was celebrating the unveiling of her show, as well as her 40th birthday. Sitting on the wooden floor with my parents and sister, and 100 other innocently interested folks, my attention waned as the woman's celebratory toast dragged on. Quickly, though, she snatched my (and everyone's) undivided attention. Launching into a singsong recitation of what I later learned to be the closing words of Ulysses, she promenaded in front of everyone, extravagantly naked as she had been 40 years earlier to the day. Yes, I tell you, she did, yes.

Always attending art shows in the company of a critic also built up a few false expectations for art-viewing. Now when I go to a museum or gallery, I half hope to be greeted by an eager-eyed attendant, tattooed and earnest, angling for a review and offering me a Coke while explaining why art can challenge and change the world.

I grew up, and the Weekly did, too. I haven't seen the new headquarters out by the airport; the Meyer Avenue castle remains in my mind as the place where, after school, I got my real education. I learned that I should keep my eye out for the Chupacabra and Big Brother, bogeymen of the Weekly bulletin boards; that no arts space is complete without a deafening swamp cooler hanging perilously from the ceiling by a single chain; and that I was lucky to spend my childhood days going off to work.

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