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,"
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
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
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
"Don't need it," I say. "Don't give
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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.