Meet the Crusties

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

Danielle coughs and draws her arms tight around her knees.
"I've got nothing better to do than sit and watch people all day, and I see business people, you know, and I wonder what it's like to be them. I wonder what they think about when they zone out, and what they were doing when they were 19."

A TEAM security guard comes up and tells Danielle, Cherokee and Sharon to "vacate the planter."

Sharon asks why, and Mr. TEAM says because they're not buying anything. Sharon asks the tourists from Massachusetts if they've bought anything from Coffee Plantation, and the tourists say no. Sharon asks them if they intend to buy anything from Coffee Plantation, and the tourists say not really. Sharon asks Mr. TEAM if the tourists have to leave, too. He says no. She asks why not. He says, "Because you're transients, and they're not."

Sharon gets up and gives Jester a tug. "Thanks for clarifying."
The big excitement tonight is that an older tramp who stole Cisco's stuff a couple weeks ago is back in town, and Cisco is talking payback. He and Smokey hatch a plan: This 17-year-old girl from Mesa named Tuna will lure the guy into an alley with the promise of a blowjob, where Cisco and Smokey will jump him. Some kids who are hanging around the plaza follow Cisco and Smokey into the alley, some follow Tuna to watch her pick up the guy, and some say screw this drama, let's go drink beer in the pink house.

There are eight of them: Spam, Sharon, Cherokee, Lewis and his brother, a girl named Trash, a fat, quiet kid named Mike who ran from home in Phoenix two weeks ago, and a guy named Scratch, who says he's getting married next week in Payson. The pink house is on the northwest corner of Farmer and University, close to the field where the bald guy hopped the wall with the Desert Eagle.

It used to be a neighborhood Mexican restaurant called Zendejas. Now it's a squat.

The cops busted the pink house a couple weeks ago, but a few kids crashed there last night without incident, so it's off the hot-squat list. Getting in is cake. The back door is off the hinges. The walls inside are sprayed with graffiti--dozens of names, DK tags, quotes from Dante's Inferno, the Old Testament, James and the Giant Peach, and "Gangsta, Gangsta," a rap song by Niggaz With Attitude.

Scratch invites everyone to his wedding. He says there will be hella cheesecake to eat. Cherokee and Sharon ask if anyone else is going to the Rainbow Gathering in Oala, Florida, next month. Spam says he might do that, or he might go to Mardi gras, or he might go find this chick who lives in Prescott he met in Denver last year, or he might go see this chick he knows in L.A., or he might go to Tucson, or he might just stay here, or he might go check in on his mom.

"I think she misses me."
Earlier this evening, Spam called home from a pay phone outside Coffee Plantation. His brother answered.

"Hey," Spam said. "It's your brother."
"What do you mean, what do I want? Get mom. There's a reporter that wants to interview her."

Spam's mother came on the line. Her name is Fran. She said her son's real name is Nick. She confirmed Spam's stories about his dad, his stories about running away from the juvenile facility, and his claim that he left home at 15. "Nick's always had what I call 'happy feet,'" she said.

Fran said Claremont, New Hampshire, is a small factory town of about 30,000 people. "There's a curfew whistle you can hear everywhere. It goes off at 10 p.m. on weeknights, and midnight on weekends, and this town is so small the police actually enforce the curfew. Nick always hated it here. But he can't say I mistreated him."

He doesn't.
"Well, that's good, because he had a good home here. I don't know why he lives the way he does. I think Nick has a lot of chaos inside him. I think that's why he likes New Orleans so much."

Last year, Fran said, Nick's father died, and she had to go find him in New Orleans to break the news. "I couldn't even ask for my son by name. I had to walk up and down the river banks asking if anyone had seen Spam."

It turned out Nick was in Orleans Parish Prison. "He's been in there several times," Fran said. "It's usually a relief to know he's in a jail, because at least then I know he'll get a good night's sleep and a shower and at least a couple of hot meals."

Fran said Spam calls her about once a week. "I like for him to stay in touch, because it's hard sometimes when I can't call up my son and ask how he's doing. He doesn't carry ID, and my biggest fear is that something will happen to him and they won't know who he is.

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