Meet the Crusties

Spanging, squatting and looking for Hot Dog Jesus with Tempe's street kids

Zach and Spam share a coffee in Centerpoint plaza and talk about what to do tonight, and where to sleep. Greg's house is out of the question, Spam says. Greg's pissed. Someone stole all the sodas out of his fridge last night. Zach suggests they get a bottle of whiskey and break into the old Hayden Flour Mill.

"I'll go with that," Spam says. "But let's invite the leprechaun."
Enter Phinius, who indeed is impish and predominantly green--green hair, green and blue plaid cap, Army green surplus pants, jacket, pack and sleeping bag.

Phinius, 25, has a ring though his septum and several tattoos via a homemade gun. "It was a needle mounted on a Walkman motor," he says. "It hurt like hell." One of his tats is the letter "N" with two arrows inside a circle--the international squatters symbol, which means "Squat or Rot." Phinius says he's 25, originally hails from Denver, and started traveling six years ago to get away from a felony warrant. "I sold bunk acid to an undercover."

Last year, Phinius squatted a building in San Francisco with a squadron of Irish punks for a few months, and got their accent down pat. Phinius says you can make 40 bucks a night spanging with an Irish accent. He also runs scams. One recent Friday night, Spam cleared 30 dollars in one hour with this one:

"Excuse me, sir/miss. Would you care to bet me a dollar that I can tell you exactly where you got your shoes, and exactly how much they cost?"

To anyone who agrees and shakes on the bet, Phinius says, "You've got your shoes on your feet, and it just cost you a dollar to hear it."

Phinius was standing outside Coffee Plantation last night when the storm hit, but got lucky. Some guy in a suit saw this girl from Hollywood named Danielle huddled inside an empty New Times box and gave her $40 for a hotel room. Danielle gathered up Phinius and six other kids and they all went to Motel 6.

"We just smoked Buddha and played spades all night."
Phinius, Spam and Zach pool their day's spanging proceeds to buy an 18-pack of beer and a fifth of Jim Beam (Spam's fiercely loyal to his father's brand). They kill the beer--six each--in about 45 minutes behind a Laundromat on Ash, then make their way back to Mill and start walking toward the flour mill's towering, white grain silos.

The group crosses Mill and scrambles up a muddy hill to get behind the Hayden Flour Mill, where there is a small, rectangular hole in the concrete, a few inches off the ground. Probably a window at one time. Somebody's already done the dirty work--a metal security gate that once guarded the opening is pried back, allowing just enough room to pull a minor act of contortion and drop several feet through darkness into a pile of old wheat.

The depths of the flour mill are dark and creepy. The echo of wheat scuffing and cracking underfoot resonates inside the concrete, underground chambers like the soundtrack to Friday the 13th. Thick cobwebs hang from a network of dusty pipes and conveyor belts. On the upside, it's got walls, a roof, and it's underground, so the air's warm, if dusty.

Spam leads Zach and Phinius over a conveyor belt and through a series of doorways to another circular storage cell, diagonally opposite the one they entered. Piles of grain line the walls. A lamppost outside yields barely enough light through a tiny window to see. Every few minutes, a jet on approach to Sky Harbor Airport roars overhead, low enough that its landing lights strafe the room with a green, pulsing strobe.

"I used to hang out in New Orleans with this bunch of kids called the Drunk Belligerent Crew," Spam says, holding the bottle. "We drank Jim Beam, and we had a couple of drinking rules, which we're going to abide by tonight.

"The first is, we pass the bottle in a circle, and it never touches the ground. If you set the bottle down, you get skipped next turn.

"The second is, always dedicate a new bottle." Spam twists the top off the fifth. "I dedicate this bottle to the Drunk Belligerent Crew." Spam takes a long pull and passes the bottle to Zach, who does the same and hands it to Phinius.

"Hey!" Phinius holds up the bottle. "I dedicate this bottle to Marcel Marceau. That is my friend who died of an overdose on cocaine and methamphetamine earlier this year in Denver, Colorado. He was one of the best friends I ever had, and he died on May 18, 1997. I drink to Marcel Marceau. He was my brother, and I hope that someday his spirit will make it as far as Arizona."

Phinius tips the bottle to Spam.
"To Marcel Marceau."
"To Marcel Marceau," Spam says, seriously.
Phinius tips the bottle to Zach.
"To Marcel Marceau."
"Man," Zach says, "I wouldn't sell my soul to anyone."
Phinius explodes. "Say it, goddamnit!"
"Okay, okay. To Marcel Marceau."

Phinius nods, satisfied. "Well, all right." He glugs whiskey for a three count, then passes the Beam back to Spam.

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