Meet the Crusties

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

"One road trip to New Orleans changed my life," he says. "I quit doing crimes and just stayed on the road."

Spam stops talking because Phinius is making a commotion. He thrashes out of his sleeping bag, gets to his knees, unzips and--captured in the flashing green light of a landing plane--begins to piss on his sleeping bag and backpack, tracing lazy figure eights with his torso as he struggles to stay upright.

"Phinius!" Spam yells. "Phinius! You're pissing all over your own stuff!"
Phinius looks over. "Wharrgh?" he says.
"You're pissing on your stuff, man!"

"Hey!" Phinius shouts, then faces forward and keeps the hose running. Ten seconds. Fifteen. "That's all beer," Spam comments.

Finally, Phinius is done. He flops forward, draws his legs under him, extends them into the soaked sleeping bag, and snuggles in.

"Phinius!" Spam yells. "You're sleeping in your own piss."
Phinius responds with a wordless, guttural bellow.
Spam shrugs.
"All right, then. Sleep tight."

One of Zach's favorite custies came to Mill Avenue today, looking for heroin. Zach overcharged the guy $25 for a half-gram, then called a dealer from a pay phone in the parking lot of a gas station on Mill and University. Meanwhile, the custie--a middle-aged guy sporting a paunch and a perm--bought a cup of coffee and read a Stephen King book at a table outside Coffee Plantation.

Sometimes, Zach says, the dealer says to meet a guy in a car near the intersection of 13th and Mill. Sometimes a vato shows up on foot. Sometimes it's a kid on a bike.

Today it's the kid on a bike.
The tar comes in a wax-paper bindle cocooned in saran wrap the shape of a large vitamin pill. "In case you have to swallow it," Zach says. He unwraps the package, breaks off a third for himself, rewraps the heroin, and walks back to the plaza to make the delivery. Then he shoots up half the heroin, and a few hours later, shoots up the rest. Now Zach looks ready to watch cartoons for the next eight hours.

He starts mumbling about getting kicked awake by the cops this morning in the mill, and Spam lays out the scenario:

"It was really early, but I thought I heard somebody come into the room and leave, like a janitor or maintenance man or somebody. So I tried to wake up Zach and Phinius, but there was no way, so I went back to sleep. Next thing I know, the cops are kicking us, telling us to get up."

Spam says the cops ran the names they gave them for warrants, then issued a trespass warning and let them go.

"They had a hell of a time with Phinius. He was still wasted, and he smelled like piss."

Word of Zach, Phinius and Spam getting busted spreads fast via Mill Avenue's jungle telegraph. Now, the flour mill is a "hot squat," and the kids will steer clear for a while. Smokey's day is ruined. One of his favorite things to do in the world is get inside that mill, climb a ladder to the roof of the grain silo and puff dank bud next to the giant cross up there. The other day, he and Wayne and Bell were up there for hours, he says, and the view was fantastic. He and Wayne lifted some heavy, tear-shaped metal pulleys from the mill on the way out, which they now carry, tied to lengths of rope.

"They're called Smileys," Smokey says. "Because all you do after you get hit in the head with one is drool and smile."

Smokey and Wayne lay waste to a tree outside Sweet Daddy's arcade. Each blow puts a deep dent in the trunk that bleeds white sap. Smokey likes the effect. He and Wayne decide to round up Cisco and a couple other DK bros and go see a man about a mugging.

Spam shakes his head when they leave. "I don't trust those kids. They're talking about going out jacking people again. I don't trust anyone who talks about peace, love, down with Babylon and let's go jack some motherfucker."

Nick's back on Mill today. He says he and Marina and Pat have been in Phoenix, and crashed at the empty Carnation factory last night. He doesn't recommend the accommodations. "I woke up in the middle of the night and my throat was all swollen, and people told me I was lying next to a room full of asbestos." Nick is still trying to sell the Playstation, but he's knocked the price down to $100, without the games, which he pawned yesterday.

Everyone hovers around Centerpoint plaza for an hour or so, waiting complacently for something to happen. Zach goes to find a place to nod out. Someone says fuck it, let's go drink at the caves. Zach, Cherokee, Sharon, Nick and Phinius get a space bag and some beer, and make the 45-minute trek to a chunk of desert on the edge of Papago Park, within eyesight of the 202 freeway.

"This is it," says Phinius.
The caves are at the base of two red-rock formations; nearby are several groves of trees with fire circles in their middle.

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