By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
He was 15 and on a live broadcast of a fundraising show for a public radio youth program, but donors were not calling in.
So Antonio Moreno surreptitiously used his cellphone to call the pledge line. The blue caller light flashed; a burst of happy energy filled the room.
The pleasure he’d provoked pleased Moreno, now 18 and a Ridgway High School senior. So he did it again and again; a blizzard of prank calls.
The excitement turned to questions, leading to hurt feelings of betrayal.
Laughter and delight often surround Moreno; he tries to spark them and thrills when he does. But trouble, sometimes serious trouble, is his frequent companion, too, and he can confound his biggest fans.
“He’s a really hard worker, but I’m mad at him. He disappears for months on end. He’s a teenager,” said Evelyn Cheatham, who was his boss once at the nonprofit apprentice cooking program and restaurant Worth Our Weight.
But she is quick to add: “He’s a wonderful kid, he’s spicy, he has a really good heart and he’s going to do great things in his life.”
Moreno, who spends a lot of time dreaming up ways to make big money — hey, a hands-free mouthpiece to brush one’s teeth! — explained why he quit Worth Our Weight, where he’d been such a hit, this way:
“Evelyn would give me something to do and then someone else — Evelyn probably told them to do something and they didn’t want to do it — so they told me to do it.
“They were higher than me, so I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t take it.”
He is often anxious, he said, which grates at him, scrapes his nerves, nudges him sideways at times.
“If I don’t like what I’m doing, it’s game over, my feelings go down,” he said.
His earliest memory is of a rodeo when he was 5, he said. He rode a galloping goat the farthest into a field and won $60.
It’s a happy recollection at first, then it leads to memories of his father, which also are happy, until they aren’t. His father’s been in prison for 10 years on a drug-related charge.
“I think about how life would be if he was out,” Moreno said.
He won’t write to or call his father — “What good would it do?” — but when he gets out, “whatever he wants to do, I’ll be right there with him, I don’t care what it is,” he said.
These days he is trying not to drink because when he does, he said, “I don’t think” and trouble results.
He’s ended up in juvenile hall several times since he was 14 for offenses including a gang-related theft (he describes it as “hanging out with some dumb a– who stole a stereo”), for stealing a bicycle, for robbing a gas station of beer.
Now he’s on probation, looking for a job, trying to stay in school and scared, he said, of what might happen if he screws up and ends up in prison.
“I’m scared of coming out and what’s going to happen to me,” he said.
But soon he is smiling again: “To see other people around me happy, that makes me the happiest.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mother: Maria Bustamente works at a carwash
Siblings: Brother, Martin, 25; sister, Laura,13
Hobbies: Writing songs in Spanish
Invented: The word “Lowarchy, denoting those at the bottom of the hierarchy