Meet the Crusties

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

Nick nods. He and Zach set a brisk pace south, walking the railroad tracks. Marina and Pat hold a hushed discussion, then follow shortly, Marina casting a final mournful look over her shoulder to where the last of their heroin may or may not be waiting to take her home in the morning.

"What the hell do you think that guy's problem was?" Nick asks.
Zach says maybe the guy just lives back there and is tired of homeless kids hanging around, or maybe he works at the crack house just over the wall, and chased them off to keep cops from coming around.

"Is that the first time you've had a gun pointed at you?"
"Pretty much," Nick says.
"Not me, man," Pat says from behind. "I've had a gun pointed at me twice before. One time I was working in some speed house in Berkeley, and this guy lost his head. The other time, the first time, was my dad. He pointed a gun at me, then he gave it to me and told me to shoot him, to prove I was a man. That was always a big thing with him. 'Be a man,' he'd say. 'Be a man.'

"So I pulled the trigger, but it was empty. I left home after that."
A train comes. It's a monster freight from Mexico that roars and clatters by for a full six minutes. Nick, Zach and Pat back off the tracks, but Marina stands close, basking in the noise and power.

"I love trains," she says after the last car fades to black. "The first time I hopped a train was like the first time I did heroin. I was hooked."

She rejoins the rest, who've found a flat, grassy place near the tracks to chill out, swill beer and tell stories.

Zach says he's originally from Minneapolis, and left home seven years ago, when he was 16. "I more or less got booted out," he says. "My dad was an alcoholic, and he was always calling me 'Hell Spawn' and shit, so I didn't mind leaving."

Zach says he gets around mainly by hopping freight trains and hitchhiking--Vegas, Wyoming, New Orleans, Georgia, West Virginia. "I squatted in L.A. right after the quakes in early '94. It was paradise. There were empty buildings and tons of hard drugs everywhere for about a month, until the U.S. marshals started to crack down."

While Zach's talking, Marina and Pat decide to go back for the heroin. Nick goes with them. Fifteen minutes later, he comes back. "Mission failed," he says. "It was too dark." His two friends are close behind. While they were gone, Zach flew off on a tangent about how it's possible to time-travel if you inject enough crystal meth, and how he knows because he used to have a sugar daddy in San Francisco who kicked him down a gram of speed a day. "All I had to do was let him suck me off."

Nick asks Zach if he knows anyone who wants to buy a Sony Playstation, two controllers and a few games, all still in the packing, for $200. Zach says sorry, no, rolls a Bugler cigarette, and picks up his story again.

"I was back in Minneapolis a couple months ago. I left my girlfriend there. She's a tweaker, and I split after we went on a 30-day speed run. I came out here to do heroin and mellow out and be warm for a while. Before I got here, I was in Pueblo, Colorado. It was cold, so I hitched a ride to Vegas, and a guy picked me up in Vegas and took me to his house in Mesa. I was sitting there in his living room, and he disappeared for a minute and came back with a stack of gay porno mags. I pulled my knife and got out of there, then walked to Mill, and here I am."

"Yeah," says Pat. "There's a lot of big, bad wolves on the road. Living like this, you know, it's not all fun, like, 'Hey, let's travel around America, get high, meet people and live free.' It's like that at first, but then people start to die along the way, or go crazy, or get pregnant, or go to jail.

"I lost too many friends last year. My one friend, Tim, he was 19, and his girlfriend Cunt OD'd in a squat in Sparks and died, and now he's doing time for manslaughter."

Pat takes a pull on his beer, then wipes his mouth.
"I don't know how long I can last on the streets. I guess my philosophy is, spend the first half of my life getting high, then run to the woods and do the best I can out there."

Marina stops scraping the resin from her pipe. "Pat, I think I'm ready to do other things. I want to have a kid. You said we would."

"I'm not ready," Pat says.
"Well, I think I am. I'm older."
"Exactly," says Pat. "I've got some more living to do. Besides, I can't even get a fuckin' heroin chunk off the ground--how can I have a kid right now?"

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