Meet the Crusties

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

Ten minutes later, the bottle is two-thirds empty, and everyone's flat-out blasted.

Zach tells a story about how it was his friends who busted sellout punk singer Jello Biafra's legs a few years ago. "Oh yeah?" shouts Phinius, "well, I busted Jello in the face at a Lung Butter show in Berkeley in 1991. Death to Jello Biafra!"

"Dude," Spam says. "You wanna get a little louder? I think there's some people in Phoenix that didn't hear you."

"I don't need to be quiet," Phinius says, "because you know why? We're ninja. All of us, we're ninja. We're ninja, goddamnit!"

Zach's turn. "Dude, shut up, please, because if we get arrested, yo, I'll have to work for the government. I've already been approached to work for the government three times."

"That's the big '90s easy," says Phinius. "The government wants all us kids to work for them."

"And you know why?" Zach asks. "Because we've got skills, dude. Mad skills."
Phinius nods. "We are who we are."
"For real, dude," Zach says. "We're the heroes of the next 10 generations, dude, because everything's crumbling."

Phinius thrusts both arms in the air. "Listen to me! Listen to me! I don't wanna hear anything else right now but this!"

He pauses for effect, then lowers his voice to an intense whisper.
"We are the forerunners of a frontier yet unseen. That is us. That is our people. That is our tribe. We are the forerunners of a frontier yet unseen. We live and travel in a world of truth, and that is so rare in these times, and . . ." Phinius belches. He does not look well.

"Here you go."
Phinius passes the bottle to Spam, puts his head between his knees, and quietly vomits bourbon on his boots. Zach and Spam ignore him. Zach picks up a handful of wheat and lets it run through his fingers. "Think how fucked the world would be without wheat," he says. "This is money. No, this is shit. The Earth shits and lets us eat."

Spam starts playing harmonica, softly. He still has the bottle in his lap. "Schwill and pass, pussy ass," Zach says, sitting cross-legged, wheat trickling from both hands. Spam doesn't hear him. Zach howls, "Schwill and pass, fuck-o!" and flings wheat around the room.

Spam stops playing. "Oh, shut up. Like you need any more. Look at you. You're sitting there playing with bird seed." Zach gets to his feet and wanders off into the mill, banging into pipes and muttering to himself in the dark.

For several minutes, Phinius alternately leans against and slides down a wall, struggling to free his bedroll from the frame of his pack. Finally he succeeds, unfurls his sleeping bag right through the sour puddle of bile and bourbon he threw up earlier, then worms his way inside, and sacks out.

Spam tells a joke.
"What did the farmer say when he lost his tractor?"
"Where's my tractor?"

Zach returns, covered in dust and wheat, dumps his sleeping bag in the middle of the room and crashes out.

Spam starts telling his life story. Youngest of four brothers. Alcoholic, abusive Vietnam vet father. Mom left dad when Spam was 9 and moved to a shit town in New Hampshire called Claremont. First arrested in fifth grade for kicking his principal in the shins. Arrested again for punching junior high school principal by accident during a fight. Started smoking pot and pulling burglaries when he was 12. Busted during a break-in during the summer between seventh and eighth grades and sentenced to several months at a juvenile facility in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Ran away several times, got caught several times. Started reading books.

"The first book I ever read was when I was 13. It was called They Cage the Animals at Night. It's about this kid who gets thrown from orphanage to orphanage, and he winds up in this one orphanage where you get teddy bears, but when you go to sleep at night, they take the bear away from you. That's just where it gets the title from. It goes a lot deeper than that. I started crying, and one of the kids in my cottage said, 'Oh, I got stuck with a sissy,' but I didn't care, man. That book is badass."

Spam plans to title his first book Green Fuzzy Slippers.
"Because I ran away from that place so many times I couldn't wear my own shoes, even in the middle of winter. Only these green, fuzzy slippers."

Drunk or not, Phinius and Zach do not sleep peacefully. Both twitch and jerk in their sleeping bags, and occasionally groan like they're in pain.

Spam, who clearly can hold his liquor, says he got enough high school credits while he was in the boys' facility to be a junior when he came out, at age 15. But he dropped acid his first day in public high school and dropped out a few months later. He fell in love with a preppie girl whose friends hated him, and she eventually broke his heart. He ran pot from Jersey to New Hampshire for a while with one of his brothers, and started breaking into cars.

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