Ponk Vonsydow  

Lupe missed his mother that night and he fought back his tears and tried not to cry out loud where the older boys could hear him because Roberto already told him he had to be a big boy and not be a crybaby. The next morning at dawn he was awakened by Roberto who was walking around the stage beating a spoon against the back side of a pot like a makeshift alarm clock to wake the younger boys who were always very sleepy and who hated getting waked up at the crack of dawn.

Each boy took a turn using the toilet and Lupe had to go last in line. The boy, Juan who went before him told Lupe he had to dump the water from the bucket to flush the toilet. Lupe found out he was hardly big enough to lift the heavy bucket of water, but he did his best and managed to dump in enough water into the bowl for the toilet to swallow. Lupe was still somewhat amazed he got to sit on a toilet to make because there was no toilet for him or his mother to use in the shanty town and if he needed to go he had to walk out to the nearest stinking open pit latrine to go, carrying with him some crepe paper to wipe with.

When Lupe returned, Roberto handed him a Mexican Snickers candy bar called a Risitas. Roberto knew the boys could get quick energy from a sugar filled candy bar and candy was something any boy would agree to eat every morning without turning up his nose. Candy bars were also cheap and didn't need refrigeration or have to get cooked to eat. Lupe was happy to eat the delicious Risitas candy bar because he hardly ever got candy to eat.

After the boys ate their candy the entire gang grabbed their towels and Roberto gave a small towel to Lupe. Lupe went last in the single file line out the bathroom window then he followed along in line several blocks until the gang got to the old fountain. Roberto got out two bars of soap he kept inside a plastic bread sack then he passed them to two of the boys. Then all the boys took turns using the soap to take a birdbath in the fountain pool and they dried off with their towels. Getting a bath in relatively clean water was another treat for poor Lupe because the shanty town he grew up in with his mother didn't have a pool of clean fresh water to bathe in so he almost never took a bath. Lupe was so dirty at the time, when he got his birdbath in the fountain pool the dirt that washed of him made a little brown cloud in the water and the other boys laughed at him for being so dirty!  Lupe liked the he felt being clean and he liked the way the soap made him smell. After everyone got their birdbaths they walked back to the theater to put away their towels and to use the toilet again before everyone's day started. Then Roberto took Lupe aside. 

"Okay Lupe, it's time for all the boys to go to work. We have to beg for money by panhandling because the gang has to have enough money everyday to get what we need. We never earn enough to get a day off either. All you need to do is stand at your spot we'll take you to, and when people pass by, you stick out this little tin cup and bang on the side of it with this peso. Then you catcall to those people and ask them if they can spare some change. You can also pretend to cry and shout that you're starving to death and need money for food. Or you can pretend to be sick and say you need money for medicine. Or just tell those people any damn thing you can think of if you think it will get them to give you some spare change. A good thing to try to get them to give you some money is to walk towards them with a limp when you see one. Watch, I'll show you how to do it."

Roberto walked around a few steps limping obviously.

"Now you try it, Lupe!"

Lupe did his best to copy the way Roberto limped.

"That's how to do it! Now here's how things work. Whatever money you make while you're panhandling you're not allowed to spend it yourself. All our money goes into the pot and it's us older boys who take the money and go out and buy our food and other things we need all the time. Since we're in charge we get to buy things us older boys need to have and when your older and it's your turn to be in charge, after us older boys is old enough to work for the narcotraficantes (drug dealers) and we go away, then you can decide what you need and the younger boys will help earn money to pay for that. Now here's your cup and peso.

"I'm also giving you this water bottle that's already filled. Make sure you drink plenty of water because it's hot outside and if you don't drink enough water everyday you'll get sick and weak and can't work. Carlos or Enrique will come to see how your doing a few hours  after you've had a chance to work the street, and one of them will take you back to the fountain to refill your bottle until you learn the streets and can find your way back to the fountain by yourself. If you have to pee or take a poop there's an alley near your spot to do that in, just don't do it in front of the policia, because they'll beat you if they catch you doing that! And whatever you do, never tell anybody were our hideout is and stay at your spot and don't get lost! One of us will come to fetch you before it gets dark. Then you'll get your taco and chips and a Coke." 

Lupe figured it would be okay to do as the older boy told him to do. He had seen other boys his age and grown men and women in the shanty town and elsewhere in the city begging for money. Lupe wondered if they were in a gang like he was in now.  The gang got back in single file line and went back out the window in the bathroom and walked in that line as they broke off headed towards their individual panhandling spots. Carlos gave Lupe the finger to follow him and escorted the boy to his own spot then left him there. It wasn't long before Lupe saw a man coming down the sidewalk so he approached the man limping as he walk and banged his peso on the side of his cup and asked the man for spare change when he was near enough to hear him. Lupe was excited when the man dug inside his front pants pocket and got out a few pesos worth about $.25 American cents to stick in Lupe's cup! The next several men or women who passed him didn't want to give him any money. Then occasionally a man or woman gave him a peso or two. By the time Carlos came to get Lupe to escort him back to the fountain in case his water bottle was empty and needed to get filled, Lupe had earned about $40 pesos or about $2.00 American dollars. Carlos commented to Lupe.

"Not bad kid! Keep it up and make more money and by the end of the week Roberto will buy you a little toy to play with! Now let's see your water bottle. Okay, it's almost empty so we'll both go back to the fountain to refill it. Then I'll bring you back here to keep working."

When Lupe returned to his spot to start panhandling a nice lady gave him a taco and he was glad to have it because it was hours after his little candy bar and he was hungry by then. Roberto knew people usually gave the child beggars a little food during the course of the day so he didn't need to waste money buying the boys another taco for lunch. Lupe was happy when a man gave him another taco. Lupe earned another $60 pesos by the time Carlos came back close to sunset to fetch him. Carlos collected Lupe's money.

"You did pretty good your first day, Lupe! Keep it up and you'll get your new toy for sure!"
Lupe liked hearing he might get a toy if he did well for Roberto and the older boys. Soon enough the gang was back in their customary single file line and they made it back to their hideout and went inside. Roberto handed out the tacos and opened two sacks full of tortilla chips and the Enrique opened the two liter bottles of Coca-Cola and poured each boy a little cup full so they could wash down their meals. After dinner, Roberto counted all the money he stuck in a metal box that he could lock and hide where nobody else could find it. Earlier that day Roberto used portions of the previous days take, to get the three older boys more cigarettes, a quart of beer each and he got another ball of black tar heroin the boys took turns smoking, from off of heated tinfoil while sucking up the smoke through a straw. They got pretty high and buzzed mixing the heroin they smoked at night with the quarts of beer each downed until their bottles were empty. Roberto, Carlos and Enrique in the morning, after distributing the boys, had a spot to smoke more heroin, and they had a little more of it midday.

Later everyone went to the toilet and Lupe had to flush it again since he had to be last in line, using one of the buckets of water the older boys refilled at the fountain and carried back to the hideout for later use. After an hour for playtime, it was time for the gang to go to bed. Lupe had been distracted doing his little job all day or while playing with the other boys that night, but under his blanket while lying on the wooden stage floor he thought about his mother and tried not to cry about it.  


Mexico City is one of the most impoverished cities in Latin America with millions of desperately poor people and a massive shanty town without much electricity and no running water or proper sanitation. For the poorest unemployed women, turning to prostitution is an often obvious choice to earn an income. However, outside venereal diseases the other equally practical consequence to being a whore is unwanted pregnancies. Thus pregnancy among Mexico City's prostitutes is commonplace resulting in hundreds of illegitimate babies being born each year. Infanticide among male babies is also commonplace, the murder of the women's male infants usually being done by the women's pimps. Meanwhile, the pimps agree to allow their whores to keep and raise female babies, because young girls can work as prostitutes when they are old enough. Yet handfuls of prostitutes too unsightly to have a pimp, who might kill her male baby, manage to keep their little boys for a period of a few years. These unfortunate women raise their baby until he is about five years old and is already poddy trained and can communicate well enough to fend for himself as a street urchin. Then the whore abandons the child somewhere in the middle of the city, most often after tying the child's leg to a street sign with tight knots in a piece of rope so he can't run after her when the woman runs away never to return.

The abandoned little boys are then found by the roaming street urchin gangs occupying their marked-out territories around Mexico City. The gangs are controlled by the older boys between ages eight to ten years old. There are no boys much older than that because at age eleven the drug cartels recruit them for various jobs. Thus leadership among the gangs rotates regularly as one leader leaves the gang only to be replaced by the next oldest and strongest boy. When it comes to the younger boys, even one recently abandoned at age four or five, the older boys know such little boys are more efficient beggars because passersby feel sorry for small children more often than they feel sorry for an adolescent boy.  Whatever money the younger boys earn while panhandling is collected by the older boys, so they can always afford their cigarettes, alcohol and heroin and so they may gamble frequently. Leftover money is used to feed the gang and to purchase various items they need on a regular basis. Usually, what the little boys have as their meager possessions are things they scavenged or stole.
An unattractive prostitute named Consuela who worked the dirty streets of the shanty town where she lived gave birth to her son, Lupe five years ago. Lupe was now mature enough to fend for himself as a street urchin, so Consuela who wished to rid herself of the liability of having a child, took Lupe into the middle of Mexico City and she did as many other desperate whores with unwanted children opted to try when she tied Lupe's ankle to a street sign with a dozen tight knots. She knew Lupe wouldn't manage to get his self untied until she was long gone. Lupe thought what his mother was doing while tying a rope around his ankle was some kind of game so he laughed when she did so. Lupe thought she was playing hide-and-seek when she suddenly ran away. Lupe wanted to chase after his mother, but he was still tied to the street sign. He decided to try and untie the rope, but it took about ten minutes to do that. After he was free Lupe went looking for his mother, but after walking many city blocks he failed to find her of course and then he realized he was all alone and lost in a part of the city he'd never been to before! Lupe got scared and sat down on the sidewalk and he began to cry. Adult passersby ignored the crying boy and merely sidestepped around him as he asked strangers if they knew where his mother was. A few of the strangers gave Lupe some pesos. He put them in his pocket. By then it was already starting to get dark. Lupe continued to cry for his mama.
The street urchin gang, El Uniqos (The Unique Ones,) was on the move. The gang's ten year old leader, Roberto and his two nine year old lieutenants Carlos and Enrique were out and about collecting the younger boys because it was already dark when the bad people came out. Once all the boys were collected as a group they'd head back to their secret hideout inside the old abandoned and condemned, Don Poncho's Theater. It was during the collection process when Roberto and Carlos and a group of smaller boys came across poor little Lupe still crying while sitting on the sidewalk. Roberto took Carlos by the arm. 

"Look here Carlos! A new little one! We better get him!"

Roberto and Carlos walked up to Lupe. Roberto spoke.

"Hey there kid! You don't need to be scared anymore. We know your mama left you out here all by yourself! She's not coming back for you that's, for sure! You've already been crying all day I guess, but we don't like crybabies! If you want to come with us so we can take care of you, you can't be a big crybaby! Are you hungry?"

Lupe knew he was very hungry by then. He spoke shyly.

"You have something to eat, I can have?" 

Roberto replied.

"Yeah, we've got tacos and tortilla chips and a Coke for you, but if you want to eat that you'll have to come with us! You don't have anywhere else to go anyway, right? We'll give you a blanket and a place to sleep from now on. Then tomorrow we'll get you a candy bar for breakfast and we'll explain how things work. C'mon there's a bunch of boys close to your age you'll make friends with. You like having friends right?"

Lupe replied:

"Are you guys gonna be my friends now?" 

Roberto smiled:

"We'll all be your best friends. Now what's your name anyway?"

Lupe replied:

"I'm Lupe."

The boys took turns introducing, themselves.

"I'm Roberto."

"I'm Carlos."

Three younger boys stepped forward to shake Lupe's hand.

"I'm Rico."

"I'm Manuel"

"I'm Vincente"

Carlos saw Enrique coming with six more boys. Roberto spoke to them when they arrived.

"This new kid is Lupe. Lupe, this is Enrique, Hasta, Bean, Pepe, Luca, Juan, and Chucho. Okay, now that we all know each others names, we need to get back to the fort. C'mon lets go!"

Now the boys got in a single file line and Lupe and the rest followed Roberto down a number of blocks until they entered the alley that went behind the old Don Poncho's theater, where they took turns climbing on top of some milk crates stacked up high enough like steps to climb inside an open window. Lupe saw the room he climbed into was a bathroom with a toilet. Lupe followed Roberto elsewhere inside the building. Roberto lit the way inside the dark place with a lantern kept at the ready in the bathroom.

"Our camp is up on the old stage. Come with me and I'll give you one of our extra blankets. My back pack is full of tacos and we each get one. I've got a couple sacks of tortilla chips too and a couple of big bottles of Coke. You'll get a little cup full, but don't slam it because every kid only gets one little cup! We'll all have our dinners then we all go to bed early because we have to get up at dawn to go back to work and and because we can't be burning lamp oil all night long. Now since you're new you have to go last so be a good boy and get in the back of the line, Lupe. But don't worry, for tonight I'll give you my extra taco, then next time I'll make sure to get one just for you."

Roberto handed out the tacos and the kids got handfuls of chips and a small cup of Coca-Cola. Before bed Roberto took Lupe into the same bathroom he'd come into when getting inside the theater.

"We figured out you can get an old broken toilet to flush by pouring a bucket of water down the bowl. So we've got a toilet to use if we need to go. Everyone goes before going to bed then when they are done we dump the bucket of water in the bowl to flush it. If you need to go in the middle of the night you'll just have to find your way back here in the dark. Unless you still wet the bed! If you pee in your pants you'll have to wash them in the fountain the next morning so you won't start to smell bad. You're not a bed-wetter are you?"

Lupe frowned.

"I'm a big boy! I don't wet the bed no more!"

Roberto left Lupe to do his business in the bathroom. After the rest of the boys got their own turns in the bathroom and the toilet was flushed, Roberto gave Lupe a blanket and told him to make a bed on the floor of the stage with the other boys his age. Then there was another hour for playtime and Lupe got to meet and play with the boys about his age for a while. When the lantern was put out it was dark in there, but Lupe was already used to being stuck in the dark at night, because his mother's shack didn't have electricity and they didn't even have a lantern.     
On to Chapter 3>