Meet the Crusties

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

Which means Centerpoint can make and enforce a different set of rules. No panhandling, for one, which most of the kids respect, and no hanging around unless you buy something, which most of the kids don't. Instead, they play cat and mouse with DTC, Inc.'s white-jacketed TEAM security guards, quietly taking over tables and seeing how long they can hold them before getting 86ed, only to come back a few hours later for another go.

Keeling says DTC has asked Mill Avenue restaurants not to give homeless kids throwaway food, and lobbied for the aggressive panhandling ordinance. Also, Keeling says, the management firm's four downtown ambassadors, who wear aqua sports shirts and ride bikes, have a directive to hand out cards to transients, titled "We'll give you a hand, Not a handout." The card reads:

The Downtown Community Council has zero tolerance for those who practice illegal behavior--including panhandling [which is a bit misleading; panhandling isn't illegal in Tempe, only rude panhandling]. The organizations on the back of this card can help you with food, clothes, shelter, counseling and work. This is our helping hand. Reach out and take it.

"We understand that most of these kids come from difficult circumstances," Keeling says. "We understand that. But if we're going to have successful civic places, and not just shopping malls, we have to deal with the issue of disorder in public space."

Not that Mill is a place of great disorder, Keeling points out. DTC hired an ASU marketing class to conduct a survey last year where 350 weekend-night customers were interviewed, and 89 percent viewed downtown Tempe as safe.

But they'd never met the Dank Krew.
Violence is a near constant subtext among the street kids on Mill. They're constantly slap-fighting and throwing things at one another and making threats, often involving homosexual rape. One favorite is "I'll open your ass up so wide it'll be like throwing hot dogs down a hallway." But few are as frightening as some of the kids in the Dank Krew, who describe beating strangers with a cold enthusiasm that recalls the droogs in A Clockwork Orange.

"It was about 8:30 last night, and we were hanging out here after we came up from the park, and started hanging around here," says Cisco, sitting outside CP. "James walks up to some older dude sitting here with his wife and asks the guy for a smoke. His wife gives him a smoke, but the guy tells James, 'Get a job.' James told Smokey what the guy said, and Smokey started giving the guy shit. He kept calling him a faggot, over and over, for like 30 minutes, until the guy finally got up and rushed Smokey. Then we all kicked the shit out of him. It was me, James, Taco, Bell, Dwayne, Landon and Smokey."

"It was like pigeons on popcorn," Bell says, giggling. "The guy's wife started kicking James in the butt to save her husband, and Marcia grabbed her like, 'I don't think so, bitch.'"

ASU undergrad Julie Silverman, 21, was outside Coffee Plantation with her roommate that night. "All of a sudden, this little rumble broke out and knocked into our table," she says. "It was basically seven or eight kids kicking this guy in a plaid shirt."

A Tempe police report says the guy in plaid was Jack Penrod, and he was there with Sheila Penrod. Neither could be reached for comment, but the Penrods told police they were sitting at a table in the Centerpoint breezeway next to a table of kids who started making comments about homosexuals.

Jack Penrod told police he stood up and asked Smokey, whose real name is Eric Cossner, "Are you talking about me?" Cossner answered, "Only if all faggots wear blue, orange and green shirts." Then, Penrod said, one of the kids shoved him from behind, and he was attacked.

Cossner told police Penrod attacked first, not him, and the kids who jumped in were trying to break up the fight. Penrod was cited for disorderly conduct and released; Cossner was also charged but, since he had no local ID, spent the night in jail.

Smokey got out this morning; he appears and sits down. He says he's 13, but looks a couple years older. He looks like a model in a Calvin Klein ad set in a gas station. Smokey's the kid in overalls with grease on his chest.

"Y'all talking about me?" he asks.
"Yeah, we were talking about that guy you fucked up," Cisco says.
"Which one?" says Smokey.

He takes a spoonful of Bell's cup of soup, then slicks back his hair with two swipes of a plastic comb.

"Smokey's already been in two other fights since he got out," Taco explains. "One down by Juice Works where he made some dude's eye bleed, and another at Salvation Army. Kicked both their asses good."

"What happened at Salvation Army?" Cisco asks.
"Some tweaker asshole," Smokey says. "He came up on Marcia right after she took her pants down to pee, and he wouldn't go away, so I was like, 'Whap, whap, whap.'" Smokey punches air: right jab, left jab, right cross. "The guy's sunglasses were all broken and sticking in his face. It was funny."

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