A few weeks ago, I walked in the shoes of a 1970s balladeer and looked for a demon in the desert.
The unpaved backroads of Paulden, Arizona are a labyrinth of yard sales and sinkholes, but the romp was worth it to find David Smith’s anatomically correct gargoyle. When my wife and I heard of the controversial statue on the news, she and I both knew I’d have to find it. A Google search of the story revealed all of the details about Smith’s 9-foot metal monster, and how the gargoyle’s proportionate male genitalia had upset some of his neighbors, but his exact address was spared, probably wisely. Still, as a comic chronicler of Arizona’s strangest events, I had to see it for myself.
So, on a warm Friday morning, I took the I-17 northward, continuing on AZ-89 about 30 miles past Prescott, through Chino Valley to the small town of Paulden, which is really just a smattering of homes on either side of the freeway. Unfortunately, the gargoyle couldn’t be easily found at the end of a trail of running, horrified locals, so I decided to follow yard sale signs toward talkative types that might point me toward the girthy gargoyle. Just call me Jack McGee.
Three yard sales later, I found the creature, silhouetted against the desert landscape by the early afternoon sun. Admittedly, Smith’s property is very close to an elementary school, so I can understand why some locals might have found its towering presence in the front yard objectionable. Alas, now, the gargoyle is pulled back from road, and its antagonistic anatomy isn’t as obvious, let alone offensive.
I thought about jumping his fence to get a closer look, since I didn’t see a vehicle on the property, but Smith’s barking dogs gave me long enough pause to see Smith himself, taking to his patio to investigate the ruckus. Smith too was in silhouette, and from my squinting perspective he appeared like just another abstract force of nature among the nude demons and tumbleweeds of the barren terrain. What question could I ask that those pesky reporters hadn’t posed during his fleeting fifteen minutes of fame?
“I’m here to see your gargoyle,” I called.
Smith chuckled, and went back inside. I then realized, indeed, I had nothing new to ask, but he probably had nothing new to answer, either. His statement was there, in plain view, embodied as a naked gargoyle that was unafraid of the confused, judgmental eyes of the world. And it was proud to call Arizona its home.
I drove home that afternoon knowing exactly how it feels.