Meet the Crusties

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

Phinius says he heard about the caves a couple days after he came to town. "Only travelers know about this place," he says. "The cops don't come out this far."

Cherokee and Sharon start a fire in one of the fairy rings using twigs and scraps of beer carton.

Spam warns everyone he's about to take off his shoes, and then he does. Phinius recoils from the stench.

"Hey," Spam says, "sneaker rot is bad, but at least I don't have bugs." Cherokee and Phinius agree bugs are the worst. "It's getting so you have to check somebody's dreds before you give them a hug," Spam says. "Body parasites freak me out."

Marina and Pat show up, and ask if anyone has a line on clean needles. They tried to buy a 10-pack at a pharmacy today and got kicked out. Pat says he's afraid of hepatitis more than HIV, but he's never been tested for either.

"I'm healthy. I've got no open wounds, no diseases. I'm not coughing. I don't smoke. I'm not worried. Besides, it seems like if I'm going to have a needle in my arm, I should at least get high."

Marina says you can get high just from the feel of the needle. Cherokee says that's right, and he knows because he gets two HIV tests a year. So far, so good.

A jet flies over. Cherokee says he wishes he had a surface-to-air missile with a giant paint ball on the tip. Spam says his dream is to get a small plane and drop red paint on the White House. Cherokee says he's pretty sure White House airspace is defended.

So what, says Spam. "Like I couldn't outmaneuver them."
Spam has a poem to read. It's written on the back of a list of characters in the play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

"The last time I was in Claremont, I got drunk and auditioned with the Off-Broadstreet players to play Ed Earl Dude," Spam says. "I got the part, too, and I would've been in the play, except I left town."

Anyway, Spam says, he wrote the poem one morning in a St. Louis Greyhound station on his way to Tempe.

The cathedral-type ceiling stares down
at me
A wino's church at the bottom of a
I found the messiah
He intoxicates me and I vomit
the demons
Am I saved or possessed?
Whichever it is, the feeling is almost
like Nirvana
My ignorance leaves me in a state
of bliss
What they call a hangover is just me
recovering from the spirit entering
the night before.
But by the end of the day, I feel that
he is gone.
And so, I must let him enter
once again.

Asked for the poem's title, Spam thinks for a second, then busts out: "I call this one 'Greyhound Station Hangover, St. Louis, Missouri.'"

It's late afternoon. Cherokee and Sharon are hanging out on a planter around the Centerpoint plaza sign with Jester, a couple of tourists from Massachusetts, and Danielle, who got the room at Motel 6 the night it rained.

Danielle is 19. She has a gorgeous angled face and a wracking cough. Danielle says she ran away from home in Michigan last year. "This one night, my dad invited my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend to dinner, and they all sat around and talked about how I should be in a funny farm," she says. "I went upstairs and out my bedroom window."

Three weeks later, she was in Hollywood, doing drugs for the first time, and turning tricks. "I never spange," she says. "People in Hollywood used to give me shit for being a prostitute, but at least I was earning the money." Danielle says she was engaged to a member of the notorious gutter-punk gang Hollywood Dogs, but he went to jail for a long time, so she moved in with her mom in Detroit.

"I got a job at a gas station for a while, and then a Big Boy, but nothing worked out," she says.

The last time she sold her body, Danielle says, was right before she left Detroit, a few days after Christmas. "It was this guy in a doughnut shop who just kept asking, so finally I did it, because he said he'd pay me 200 dollars, which is a lot, but I hated it. I just laid there and didn't move, except he kept trying to kiss me, and every time he did, I'd slap him. It was gross."

Wherever she goes, Danielle says, men buy her food, give her money for hotel rooms, and offer to take her home with them. "Guys on the streets, guys in suits, it don't matter. Men who can't get laid are always around me," she says.

"I don't like violence, but if I was bigger, I'd beat the shit out of them all. I just wish they'd shut the fuck up.

"I know I've messed my life up. I know that. But I can't get my shit together. Everybody tells me to get a grant and go to ASU, everybody tells me go to Job Corps, everybody tells me do this, do that. But I don't know what papers to ask for, and I don't know what to write on those papers if I did. It's supposed to be so easy, but it ain't."

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