Meet the Crusties

Page 4 of 19

"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?"

Marina looks down and starts scraping again. "I didn't say right now. Just sometime."

"Yeah," Pat says. "Maybe sometime."

It's high noon, and Zach just got up, but he can already tell today's going to suck. For one thing, he's dope sick. Hasn't had a shot of heroin in almost 24 hours. For another, Sundays are the worst for spanging. But his bones are aching, so spange he must. Zach shrugs off his pack and plops down on a bench facing the outdoor seating at Crocodile Cafe. "I like to watch the yuppies eat while I spange," he says. "It makes them nervous."

Zach hits up everyone who walks past:
"Spare any change today, folks?"
"Spare change for a crack addict?"
"Spare change for a lost soul this morning?"
"Spare change for drugs and pornos?"
The first six people or pairs of people Zach spanges ignore him.
"Thanks anyway," he calls after them.
Better to be polite than busted.

Along with the urban-camping ordinance, the Tempe City Council last August passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance to give cops a whip to crack on surly spangers.

"Whereas, the increase in aggressive solicitations threatens the community life and economic vitality of residents and businesses throughout the city, and contributes to an enhanced sense of fear," the ordinance begins, then proceeds to outlaw aggressive panhandling, defined as "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" making physical contact with the spangee, or blocking their way, or asking them for money after they've already said no, or using "obscene, abusive, or threatening language or gestures."

The ordinance also makes all panhandling illegal within 15 feet of a bank, ATM or bus stop.

Zach follows the rules, and hooks a live one with his seventh cast.
"Spare any part of a hundred dollars?"
The young, Middle Eastern man smiles, stops, sets his cup of soda on a trash can, and hands Zach a dollar bill.

"Thanks, dude," Zach says, then walks to a nearby pizza parlor, blows the dollar on a Coke, and resumes his post.

Across the street, Marina's not faring much better, but, unlike Zach, she's feeling no pain. She and Pat got up early from their camp by the tracks, and found the heroin. "Someone had smashed that toilet and kicked everything around, but it was pretty much right where I thought it was."

Unlike Zach, Marina spanges with the same line, over and over.
"Can you help out with some change today?"
People mostly pretend she doesn't exist. Marina doesn't seem to mind. Her eyelids are half-masted, and every few minutes, she gives her ribs or shoulders a lazy scratch.

"I was a good student in high school," she says. "Honor classes, summer-school college classes, everything. Then I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and it seemed like you had to take all these boring prerequisites before you could get into anything interesting.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse