published in Volume 4, Issue 1 on September 4th, 1997 Yo,Yo--this is Crusader talking, Crusader de Chato, from South Central -- where Reginald Denny got his butt whipped, big time -- and I want you to know that this is a big day in my life because I'm cutting school to begin my work as a writer, well, not exactly a writer. I hate writing. I'm a REwriter. I REwrite on fences, on buildings and on anything that moves--8 to 80, blind cripple or crazy, if it can't walk, I'll drag it. I'll put my tag on a rat's ass if it would stick.
So, I write my name which isn't really my name. It sure ain't the name I got from my Mom. I want no part of that witch. I write my gang name, CHATO, which means cat face. That's the name of the boy I like. He got a flat nose, like a squishy kitten, ohhh, so cute, makes my knees like syrup just thinking about kissing that little brown pooch. You know that's a Mexican name. Chato is a Mexican boy. He got that name form his langwidge which is Mexican. I'm not scared to say I don't know his widge. But I don't think it's better than English. I don't like English and those dumb teachers. Why can't cant I make up my own widge? %$@#! **&^%. That would be so cool, like yo!
Not that I'm English or anything just because I speak it. Mom says I'm a crazy salad. Part African, Cherokee and Italian. The Italian part cracks me up because I eat pizza every Thursday. Mom says the reason we got Italian is that this explorer Christopher Columbus parked his boat in Cuba when they had them slaves there. Mom says them ladies looked so hot and them Talians be so horny they jumped ship and started bumping the uglies, hear what I'm saying? That's why my last name is Coolio, which sounds like PolyO, that Italian cheese, mozzarella. You eat that shit? (Chato I want you so bad, you so hot, carajo.) But I ask my Mom...If them horny Talians parked that ship in Cuba, like you say, how long it was before they had to go back and put quarters in the parking meter? My Mom, she doesn't get the joke because she sees that I'm flunking school big time and so she doesn't know when I'm dumb or just playing with her head -- hear what I'm saying? I'm sor-reee--okay.
After Crusader de Chato I write "deLeon." That's the street I live on--the one that gave my gang its name, The Lions. But now they're gone: Alphabet was shotgun blasted by Slug. Nice guys, but my boy "Alpha" was doing the stinky finger with Slug's woman. Then there was Bleachy. He talked too much to dope dealing pigs and ended up in Internal Affairs. They put his butt somewhere in witness protection ... on Mars.
But I still got the old arsenal in my basement behind the boiler. I dig it up when I get lonely. I got the Glocks and the semi-automatics with fresh bullet clips in them. I still got the brass knuckles, even though nobody ever got that close and lived. Now everything is mine. I'm the last Lion , Crusader. But I'm glad to know I got this stuff in case some dude plays with my head. Then I'll have to put a hole in him like I got a hole. I'll give the sucker a pussy, word up!
Anyway--today started out like everyday. The toilet bowl made its usual sucking sound like an asshole blowing in instead of out. Then my Pop hacked so hard green stuff shot from his nose. He dripped his frog scum right into the sink where I got to brush my teeth. Then he yells that it's 7 o-clock, so I yell back, "So what! I quit school." Just like that, I decided. That's me, straight in your face.
"Don't you want to be a nurse no more," says Pop.
Old Pop likes to play with me. He thinks he's so funny. Next time I make a plan in the world I'm not telling him.
"What happened? You don't want to make money and take care of me when I get old?"
"Patzzo, patzzo," I say in the little Talian I learned at the pizza shop.
"If you quit school," says Pop, "then you better marry one of them Compton Boyz, one of them gangsta stars with a recording contract bigger than his rap sheet."
"You know," I say. " I'm not just quitting school today. I'm quitting this dump. I'm never coming back here again."
I screamed right in his face. But he just went into the kitchen and made a big noise with the egg scrambler. I could get killed and he wouldn't kick it. So I went to my room and laid in the bed until Pop left. When I woke up, it was after lunch. Lately I can sleep forever, so I get up and put on my crotch pulling pants, my leather vest with the Madonna bra, the silver studs for nipples. I got this feeling--today is going to be my big day--something like that.
I had to wait for my food at McDonald's. Some kid got sick and threw up on the checkout machine. There's always bottle sucker vomiting his guts out at McDonald's; and isn't it always the fat ones? They eat anything--blind, cripple or crazy. But when they're born everybody is so polite, saying how cute they look. But they're not so cute when they squirt themselves all over your quarter pounder. Sometimes my Mom asks me if she should have another baby, but I warn her: If she does, I'll squeeze it hard when she's not looking. And talk about looking? My Mom used to be good looking. Now I don't like to look at her. She got purple veins running up and down her legs. She's all swollen up like a pastry bag of pus.
I finally get my food, but I hold my nose while I eat since that kid stunk up the place. For a minute I think I'm going to school, but then I remember. I leave my backpack for the bus boy who winks as I go bye-bye. Every time I walk down my street I feel bad about what they've done. Houses that once had garden hoses out front are nothing but vacant lots, filled with piss stained socks and empty crack vials. Those fires,the Rodney King, turned everything into ash. The shopping mall that once had these cool, rubber palm trees is all boarded up now. And a new building they started was stopped leaving this big pit where they dug out what was supposed to be a basement--a play space. I hope you never live in a place where everybody goes stupid over some crazy cops who got us burned out.
My first stop is a gate outside my block. There's this sign again, a "T" wrapped across a skull which is the mark of the Turbans, a gang that would love to wipe me out. So I take out my spray can and rewrite my name on it (even though I know these assholes will come back tonight to put it right). In the old days, nobody would do this But these days nobody respects anybody because everybody got a gat, a gun to drop you in a heartbeat. Fact is, one day, these punks will catch me and that'll be the end of "Crusader de Chato de Leon."
So I go down the side streets like a fog, like a ghost. But to let everyone know I'm alive, I write my name all over the billboard outside a parking lot. A lot of names you see are messed up, but not after I rewrite them. I take my time. I'm real neat, like I learned from my second grade teacher Mr.Kramer. If you write nice, he said, people will take you seriously. He was real sweet to me. He always walked me to the bus stop whenever somebody was out to knife me. I think he wanted to take me home. He called me his "little lamb." I never went... though I owe him a lot.
You should see my tags, all curvy and tight like my hips. Everybody thinks so, though I'm not sure about Chato. He got so many tags all over town I'm always rewriting his mess. Like, he thinks he's VOP (Voice of the Projects) but I know the truth behind his writing (which I can't tell you just now).
Anyway-- I fixed Chato's mess and then I thought maybe I should go by and see if anybody I knew was outside my school. But then I got into the mood to rewrite some more. I went to a Korean store and stole myself a box of day-glo markers. Then I went down the freeway scribbling all the way, wondering if I should really piss off that Chato (if I should do more than fix up his name) write, maybe: "Chato is my Man," or "Chato Ain't Chicano." Wouldn't that be a pisser? What if Chato turned out to be a hard loaf to cut, a white bread? Man, some hermanos be really pissed that some milky messed in the barrio. But then, I figured that was too mean (even if Chato kept ignoring me). I didn't want to rock his world so hard he'd fall off. So I just went on my way until something big hit me: I tagged Chato's name to the Golden Arches. Then I saw Alicea's Funeral Home with these big white coffins and silver urns in the window. I snuck up on one of those black limos and tagged Chato on a back wheel. Afterwards, I wondered if this was bad luck. But then I figured . . . since Chato's gonna get shot someday, anyway--like everybody else--he could at least have himself the best damn funeral in Los Angeles. I think he's gonna be happy when he sees what I've done.
Talk about funerals. Suddenly I catch the Turbans coming off a ramp low riding in a black Cherokee, the gold in their teeth as shiny as their chrome wheel covers. I'm not scared of dying myself, but these bastards can't shoot straight; and if I take a bullet in the back, if I end up spinal tapped in a wheel chair with this yellow stuff dried in the corners of my mouth, I know my Pop is gonna wheel me into a closet and slam the door. Tie a black ribbon to my arm.
I fast step into Marco's. It's one of these telethon charities, a place where wannabe cops make sure kids got a safe zone in the hood, a nice joint to play games. They got a color TV going all day and a pool table balanced on a pile of old car batteries. After losing a few games, I get bored and so I write my tag on the cue sticks. It looks real funny and shit. Everybody starts cracking up until big old Marco shows his face. He's always spying on us from somewhere. He took me to his office, like I was trembling in my panties--yeah, (right).
"So Crusader," he says drumming his fingers on his desk. "Now that your gang is gone who's gonna watch your back?"
"Don't need it," I say. "Don't give a fuck."
"Uh, huh," he says. "I keep hearing about you. Why don't you let me get you into a museum school? They got graffiti classes. The mayor sponsors it."
"School is boring. I hate it and I don't care nothing about art. I write."
"Chato is making a name for himself. I hear he's
gonna quit messing with private property. I hear he's
working on a mural in a train station. It's like a job,
you get paid."
"What's Chato got to do with anything?"
"I hear you're making him famous all over town, but now that he wants to quit he's not happy about you rewriting his tags."
"Chato? Train stations? Ha! Talk about a wreck. His stuff looks like shit. Besides, it's not him writing, believe me. He's bullshiting."
"Just why are you doing this Crusader? You want to be a somebody, too?"
"No, I don't want to be nobody."
"Then why are you here? You want to make new friends? Why aren't you in school?"
"I'm not going back."
"It's the Turbans? You seen them at the school today?"
"I mess with their tags, so what?"
"Mess is the right word. What you do is like a cat spraying itself on a tree. What's with that?"
"Who you calling a cat? I don't got to take shit from you or anybody, not even my Pop calls me that. You're nothing, you hear me? You're really a nobody."
I told him right in his face. I let the brown out. I cursed him real good, but I doubt he listened. He's one of those that gets paid to keep on talking, talk, talk and show you all kinds of applications, tell you about all kinds of programs, always trying to get you to sign up for something, offering you an AIDS test and condoms and shit. When he finally ran out of gas, I got up and left. From that day on I swore that place was G.A.D.--Good As Dead.
Back on the street, along the freeway, it was real dark, but I could still follow my trail to where I began. It was real nice to see my tags in the flickering headlights, all lit up and quivering like they was on a big movie screen up there in Hollywood Hills. But at Sucio's bodega I stopped in my tracks, stone solid. Around Chato's tag someone drew a red skull. Then they put my name "Crusader" inside the toothless grin. Straight up, I was pissed off big time. If it's Chato that did this (my little coconut), what kind of guy does this to a girl, especially a girl that always puts her heart into her work? And if it wasn't Chato, I better move in the slow lane.
And Chato, that's what it turned out to be. I caught up with him by the old construction site. There he was in the shadows hidden behind some burned out cars spraying red skulls over what I'd REwritten, his name, which I fixed up today. I snuck up on him real quiet, my heart going flippity-flop. Crazy ideas got into my head, making my body shake.
Then he turned around before I could get on his neck. He looked at me real hard. I took off down the alley, but in 40 feet he was on me. He grabbed my markers, but I whipped them behind my back. He reached around and tried pulling my fingers open. His hands were sweaty like mine so he couldn't get a grip. Besides I was squirming and kicking and we fell down and on top of each other, over a rail and into the bottom of this pit. Lucky it was all mud. I could feel Chato's arms around me with everything he got. His breath was on my cheek. He twisted against me and I started giggling. Be honest, I don't like wrestling with boys. They fight dirty. He bit my neck and when I went to scratch his nose,he got a good hold of my markers.
"What right you got using my name," he said, all mad. "Did I give you permission?"
'Permission," I said. "You're so dumb. I didn't take your name. I've been taking your story, your whole fucking life and making it mine."
"Why, what makes you special to swipe my tag and shit?"
"Cause you're a nobody. Chato ain't real. That's just something you write to make everybody think you're somebody."
"So, why mess with me?"
"Cause I'm a nobody too. And just today, I nearly told everyone about you. I nearly spread it all over the freeway, like a billboard."
"You'd do that to me?"
"Actually, I wouldn't care--Chato. But maybe you and me can have a lot of fun? Maybe we can go REwriting together. Nobody got to know who we are."
"Fool everybody," said Chato. "I write over the Turban's tag?"
Suddenly, I saw that Chato had a big smile. He came up close and put his hand on mine, like sexy, he pressed my markers into my hand. I think he was about to say YES, that REwriting would be "fat." We could go around holding hands in the dark, talking for hours under a tree in the park. I could teach him everything I knew about being a neater, a better writer.
But then he started telling me that he had this "rep" to protect, blah-blah, and if his BOYZ scoped him hanging out with a chick, they'd be cracking on him 24/7. He took his hand form mine.
"Crusader," he said. "Even if you tell everybody about me, for real, being with a girl is a lot worse. You gotta step off, serious."
"Step off?" I said. "Who you talking to, you no count, lame-to-the-wood sissy boy."
I called him everything I knew. (You know I got a mouth.) Then he tried to spit in my face but . . . you slow, you blow. I was too fast. He missed. So I took my markers and tried to hit him in the face. But then he was quick and gone down the street.
I just drifted over to the park near my house, which is a good place to sit under the stars. As I sat there, I hated everybody and everything, but the one thing I didn't hate, one thing I could see was my best work still under the biggest street lamp in the city. It was my tag, Chato de Leon in gold letters. And next to it: CRUSADER LOVES CHATO. I just stood there under a tree watching people look at it when they stopped, people strolling in the park who knew something about romance and holding hands. There was one guy that got out of his sports car, a beeper in his hand and chains on his neck. He stopped to use a phone booth. He saw my name and smiled at me, his teeth capped in silver. His face was sweet. I didn't want to stare, but he kept looking at my tag like he fell in love with it. He wanted to take me for a ride, I could tell. He put out his hand and off we'd go to the Beverly Hills Motel, and everything.
I almost said "take me" to that guy. But I didn't say nothing. I was left on that corner with my gold marker and my clothes all muddy. But I didn't sweat it. I knew one day I'd end up like a movie star. All I needed was to steal some new markers when the sun came up. Then Chato and me would be famous all over again, as long as I made like a ghost and made sure the Turbans didn't get me--as long as I stayed a mystery, fooling everybody. But now, I had to keep an eye out for the cops who'd be on mission for a missing person--my Mom shrieking her head off every morning while my Pop still took his daily dump... his hands over his ears.