Deadly Despair

I caught the phone on its third ring."Rusty's been shot. Can you come quick to Popeye's house?" I didn't recognize the young, breathless voice. I said I'd be on my way. It was 1:30 a.m.

While driving up 4th Street, I repeated the words over again in my head. Rusty had been "shot," he hadn't been killed. I conjured up quick images of Rusty. He was bien jugueton, always very playful and wildly funny. His humor was just a little bit crazed.

Once, when I was driving Rusty and a carload of his "homies" (which is short for "homeboys" and means buddies from his neighborhood), Rusty completely changed the lyrics of the song "Just Because," as it blared from my oldies tape, to "bag" on my large forehead. "Just because your forehead is so immense," he sang, and it went on like that for the remainder of the song. He substituted "Frenton" and "Bumper" to vary his kidding of my receding hairline. He had often told me that I didn't have a "forehead" but rather a "tenhead."

Rusty was also a chillon -- meaning he'd cry at any vulnerable or difficult time. Whenever I'd visit him in Central Juvenile Hall, he'd tear-up on me. The times we spoke in my office alone would almost certainly end with him losing the battle against his tears.

One such time was after he and about 30 of his homies had finished watching a local news show in our rectory that had done a piece on the gang problem in Los Angeles. This particular evening's installment was the last in a continuing series meant to drum up support from the citizenry to "wipe out gangs." The correspondent would end each segment with a 900 number urging people to call and donate money so these gangs could be "wiped out."

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