Meet the Crusties

Page 6 of 19

The folder also contains a poem Taco wrote last night. "I write a lot," he says.

Here's the poem. It's untitled.

The darkness sweeps across the land
The war has begun
We've lived our lives quite differently
But now we are one
We've got strength, spirit, and attitude
We fight side by side and offer
Our hand in help
So if you're down and feeling out
Give us a yell
We're always on Mill
We're the Dank Krew, man
But keep it low
The pigs are on patrol
That's this war I'm talking about
Between the squatters and the cops
And it's on.

Who's the Dank Krew? Taco won't say, exactly. "We're just a bunch of kids who've got each other's backs," he says.

For example, Taco says, a few nights ago, this short, buff black dude people called Preacher raped a 15-year-old girl under DK's protection while three of his friends held her down. Taco says "some people" tracked down Preacher's friends, one by one, and "had a boot party on their heads." Preacher has yet to be found. "Either he'll show up or we'll find his squat," Taco says. "Then we'll kill him."

To punctuate that threat, Taco pulls a strand of hemp cord from the pocket of his denim jacket. One end is a loop. On the other is a small, sharp, double-edged knife blade, securely attached with black electrician's tape. "You swing it," Taco explains. "It's my weapon."

Taco won't say if the "DK" graffiti tags that began appearing on walls and sidewalks around Mill Avenue last month are the Krew's handiwork. He also won't say how many kids are in the Dank Krew. Asked how you join, Taco takes a slug of his latte and smiles slyly. "You just gotta be dank."

The name's a double-entendre: "Dank" is drug slang for a moist, earthy-scented strain of high-grade marijuana. It also describes the personal appearance of many street kids. Taco, however, is fairly well-scrubbed for a guy who says he slept under the Mill Avenue bridge last night. "I keep myself clean. I wash up in bathrooms, whatever. It's a self-respect thing."

The last time he ate, Taco says, was IHOP pancakes late last night.
"I don't eat much on Sundays to save room for Hot Dog Jesus," he says.
Hot Dog Jesus?

"Yeah, he's this religious guy who feeds us hot dogs on Sundays in the park. There's usually two feedings--one at 2, and one at 6."

It's a quarter past five.
One hour later, Taco rolls into Tempe Beach Park with a posse of five--Fuzzy Bear, Cisco, Spiderman, Marcia and Freedom. Three boys and two girls, all under 18. They walk through the park and up a dirt path that leads to the slanted slabs of concrete and massive pylons that hold up the Mill Avenue bridge over Rio Salado's dry bed.

A dozen other kids are already under the bridge--smoking pot or just staying out of sight and waiting for the food to arrive. The DK bunch hunkers down behind a pillar and starts roasting a bowl. Cisco keeps standing up and peering around the pylon. It's not clear whether he's checking for cops, or Hot Dog Jesus, or both.

At 6:43, two vans with "God's G.I.F.T. Ministries" decals pull into the parking lot. "Perfect timing," Taco comments. "I'm nice and stoned, and I've got the munchies." Shadowy figures--more than 40 of them--emerge from under the bridge and all corners of the park, shambling toward the vans as darkness falls. From a high vantage point, the overview is a scene from "Night of the Living Street Kids."

"Hey," Cisco says, "that's not Hot Dog Jesus."
"So what?" replies Spiderman. "They've got sandwiches."
Every kid gets a food bag, laden with some combination of the following: bologna sandwich, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cheese sandwich, fruit cup, animal crackers, fruit drink, box of Wheaties, cupcakes, small plastic tub of microwave macaroni and cheese. A few kids ask for condoms or needles, and strike out, but socks, tampons and toothbrushes are freely disbursed. Rabid trading ensues. Socks are the most valuable item, followed by animal crackers.

Once the dust of barter settles, the pack disperses to picnic tables around the park to chow down. Sitting at one is Taco, Cisco, Spidey, Marcy and a good-looking, blond-haired guy named Lewis. Dinner conversation centers on donating plasma.

"You can only do it twice a week," says Lewis. "But the money's good. You get 15 bucks the first time, and 20 the next." Marcy asks what about body piercings. "Just be cool," Lewis advises. "Remember to say you've had them for at least a year."

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse