They wanted him to go home for Mardi Gras and ride on a float in some big parade. They wanted him to travel along the streets of his childhood throwing souvenir doubloons and beaded necklaces and waving like a windshield wiper set on drizzle. At George Washington Carver High, his old school in the ninth ward, kids skip class when Faulk comes to town. There's not much the teachers can do about it, short of chaining the students to their desks.
"Marshall is the salvation of his community," says Wayne Reese, who was Faulk's coach at Carver. "He could move back here tomorrow and be a city councilman if he wanted. Win an at-large seat. Everything shuts down when he comes home. The principal says, 'Where're all the kids?' And I say, 'Marshall's back.' A student was telling me the other day, 'I've got to meet Marshall. If I meet Marshall, my life is fulfilled.' "
Faulk politely passed on the parade, choosing instead to stay in San Diego with his pregnant girlfriend, Candace Patton, who at the time was sharing his town house. Faulk wasn't sure about his future with Patton, but he still wanted to be there for her when the baby came and to own up to his responsibilities.
"I'm antiabortion," he says. "I'm in a position to give to a kid who is mine, so that's what I plan to do."
After Faulk and Patton's son arrived, on March 19, Patton sent out announcements cut in the shape of a football jersey, with Marshall's number 28 in the center and FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK printed in big type. They named the baby Marshall William Faulk Jr., but Faulk insists on calling him Deucie. To celebrate, and because he wanted it, Faulk went out and bought another car, this one an $85,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible. It is the green of tropical waters, and its interior is as soft and buttery as a woman in a dream. The dashboard has so many buttons that there is even one to operate the headrests on the backseat.
"Which one works the top?" Faulk asked a few hours after getting the car. He was experimenting with this and that button, and the roof was cocked wide damn open, and, well, the sky was starting to brood and look like rain. When Faulk couldn't find the right button, he picked up his cellular phone and called the salesman at the dealership for instructions.
"This is Marshall," he said. "Which button works the top?"
And to think, when he was a kid, every last car his family owned was a clunker. Marshall's father, Roosevelt, ran a bar and restaurant and worked part time for a trucking company. Marshall's mother, Cecile, did any number of odd jobs while raising six sons. "My mom didn't have a profession," Marshall says. "Her profession was her kids."
On a good day the Desire project looked like a concentration camp; on a bad day it was more like a war zone after the bombs had been dropped. It was building after building of ugly, pockmarked brick, windows missing glass and screens, doors hanging from their hinges. The hysterical wail of sirens blistered every night, and crime was almost as rampant as poverty and despair.
Roosevelt never got around to seeing his son play football, not a single game. Too something was always his excuse. Too busy. Too much work. Too little time. Too Roosevelt.