Night In The City

In the hear of Phoenix lies a suberranean sone where day fades into night nearly without notice, where the city doesn't shut down with the sunset, and where, for some, the day begins with the night. Welcome to the night watch.

The Confederate flag flies day and night on a pole that rises above Uncle Billy's house. An American flag flaps just beneath it. His house is like many on this block in economically challenged Sunnyslope: small and dilapidated with a dark interior. Outside, the small two-bedroom dwelling is a mess of old car parts, toys and junk. The inside is neglected and dirty, the impecunious downside to a clan of eight children and two adults crammed into small quarters.

Uncle Billy has a rapid-fire mouth and the sometimes manic look of a man who could scare anything, the look of a man who takes absolutely no shit from anyone; base gray eyes, leathery skin; muscular, toned and tattooed. A proletariat pariah.

Born Billy Crockett 46 years ago of Scottish, Irish and Welsh descent, his genealogy includes members of the Ku Klux Klan as well as Davy Crockett, he says. Of his two brothers, one was murdered, the other imprisoned. Uncle Billy appears scrappy, almost folksy, dressed perennially in jeans, his fingers are garnished with an ornate selection of heavy silver rings shaped as various skulls and Eagles--"legal brass knuckles," he calls them. He has three grown children, two of them daughters who live in a trailer behind his house.

"My son was at one time a skinhead; I got him away from that 'cause it's a suicide mission," he says.

For years Uncle Billy has been surrounded by a coterie of Sunnyslope partisans who speak of him with reverence. The kids in this neighborhood christened him Uncle Billy, and some refer to him as the Mayor of Sunnyslope. You always know where you stand with him, they say.

Like any ghettoized area, groups of people who live outside of the law live here; therefore, not many residents trust the cops. There is an evident us-against-them mentality that suggests normal laws don't apply here, that these people have their own standards of right and wrong, their own set of rules. People come to Uncle Billy for help, help in finding a thief, a rapist, even a murderer. He has their confidence, their trust.

"Yeah," says Payaso, an unemployed 22-year-old standing with a group of younger friends. "He makes it safe. But I wouldn't want to get him mad; I wouldn't want to see that," he says, suggesting that Uncle Billy could and would take somebody's head off.

Uncle Billy talks about the kids living on his street, like some patriarch in a land of single mothers. "This kid (Payaso) lived at my house for a year-and-a-half; he had nowhere to go when he first got out of juvenile. These kids are hard-core; they seen the streets. And for some, this is the high point of their lives. I tried kicking their ass; you can't kick their ass and teach 'em nothin'. This guy (pointing to a kid named Jason)--he'll sit and drink beer and piss on five bucks an hour (wages)."

Debbie, 40, a neighbor, says, "Uncle Billy's helped a lot of people; that's why people look up to him. He's given me money when I needed it, when I was starving and down and out."

Debbie's roommate, Yvette, a young Asian woman agrees, "He's a good guy, she says. He's kinda racist but never towards me."

Two months ago Uncle Billy took in a 33-year-old woman named Stephanie Talley and eight of her nine kids, whom, he says, had been victimized by a slumlord.

"He took me in," says Stephanie. She appears tired, malnourished, a look shared by many who live around here. "I have been approved for Section Eight housing, but I keep getting turned down for four-bedroom houses because they want no more than two kids per bedroom. He's letting me and my kids live at his house."

Neighbors still talk about the time a year ago, when Uncle Billy helped a Sunnyslope woman who had her house trailer stolen with all of her possessions. He went out, found the thieves and forced them to return the property only to discover that, in the meantime, she had lost the rental space on which she had originally lotted her home. He gave her space to park in his yard. They ran extension cords over from his house for her electricity. She remained there until she was back on her feet.

"Yeah, he's good to everybody, he's kind-hearted," says Debbie's 22-year-old daughter, Susan, a skinny, cheerful blonde with jittery eyes. "He could whoop up on somebody, I'm sure, if he wanted to. But I ain't never seen him do it. I feel safer with him living here."

Strolling up 11th Avenue, his 11th Avenue, where it slopes up toward Mountain View, Uncle Billy surveys his territory, exuding a kind of proud Pied Piper charisma. He knows everybody here and at times refers to them as his family, and they respond accordingly.

"We fuckin' take care of our own," he says. "If you prove to me that someone is a cho-mo (child molester) around here, or stole from one of us, I'll go get him for ya. I'll do him for ya. I'm hard-core reality, you bet your sweet diddly on it."

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