Postcard from the Drug War

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


This is a true story. Almost. And, it’s almost fiction. But not. I should know. I was there.


They were throwing the stuff off the back of the truck like sacks of flour, but the bags weren’t filled with flour, but illegal drugs. In broad daylight on the outskirts of town. Big guys standing around with guns, knives and iPods. Reflective sunglasses and bleeding crucifixes. Latin machismo bristling under tattoos and tank-tops. I know what you’re thinking: yum.

The truck, a small, unmarked, self-contained U-Haul type, stops at a pre-arranged location with the town’s dealers already there and waiting. The back door is rolled up and very professional and efficient guys throw down the drugs – marked and labeled – as dealers hand up the cash; the whole thing takes less than a minute. The truck drives off, the dealers saunter to their Mustangs and Camaros.

“They’ve never done this before,” says my friend and dealer I’ll call Jorge. We were headed back to his place, a little toilet of a spot over a brothel no one knows about except its preferred clients – Mexican fat cats, expatriated intelligence operatives and sexually addicted octogenarian ceramicists of both sexes – to weigh and package the stuff. This isn’t a Mexican Border town like Tijuana or Juarez run by cartels. It’s a town deep within the power structure of Central Mexico. PAN Territory.

And this is the thing; this is not about drug cartels and their power over politicians, police and a fearful populace. This is about human beings’ insatiable desire to get wasted and not be hassled by politicians, police and puritans.

It’s called a “free market” society. Numbnuts.

I happened to witness the illicit off-load because I needed some shit and called Jorge and he said he was out but was planning to get some THAT day. Come over at noon, he says. I was there AT noon. If you need shit you know what I’m talking about.

And Jorge says, “Sorry gottlieb. Change of plans. It’s coming at two.” So me and Jorge sit around drinking tequila shots and beer, counting the minutes, and listening to the sounds of orgasms through thin walls in the middle of the day and all I can think is: Some guys have all the luck.

I think back to the golden days in Puerto Vallarta and the beach and the volleyball and the chicks in strings and the heat and the clubs and the heat. The sweat of good love in the afternoon. The thing about luck is you never realize it’s there until its passed you by. Or maybe we want paradise to last forever and when it disappears into the mirage it always was, we blame it on the fact it wasn’t really paradise, because, by definition, paradise is eternal.

So I said “fuck it” a long time ago and settled into a chemically induced stupor which rings of paradise but there is no angst about its false pretenses. You get the high of nirvana without the work because all the work ends up with the revelation that all the work is in vain. IT was there in front of you for the taking all the time.

So finally after a bottle of Tradicional and a few Indios, the time comes to catch a taxi up to the rendezvous area. It’s up a big hill from the middle of town and we’re drunk and can hardly stand let alone walk and we catch a cab and head up to get the stuff so we can transcend tequila and beer (purgatory?) and reach paradise if only for a few hours at a time.

We get out of the cab and I pay 30 pesos, including the tip, and the taxi’s tires squeal as he peals away – he’s seen what I haven’t: A convention of killers, rapists and racists who can’t wait for the order to start cutting the throats of gringos who retire down here from north of the border. I’m not retired. I trade in blood diamonds and aver for the return of the gold standard. I live here because I know this is where they’ll circle the wagons when the Indians come looking for justice. The helicopter is already on call to pick me up and take me to the island when all hell breaks loose – as it must by the rules of righteous indignation.

My friend and dealer Jorge, and he’s a better dealer than a friend, is really scared. This is not his crowd. He’s not part of a major distribution network. He’s a user and he gets enough to sell to support his habit. He’s the best kind of dealer because he’s never out of shit and when he is out you can be sure he is in the process of getting more. Pronto. I call him 24/7 and get my stuff. I am a valued customer. Regular, like clockwork, I am his fixed income.

These guys are all looking at us. A gringo in a Corona beer T-shirt and a University of Iowa Hawkeye baseball cap and a scraggly druggie in torn jeans with a stench of desperation seeping through his pores like residue off a wet-dream, waiting around with the big boys for a drop. A few guys start doing crazy twirling things with big blades and jackets are pulled apart to reveal guns. And I’m like, “Holy shit, I just want to get high who needs all this aggravation.” And then we all hear the sound of an approaching helicopter. There are very few possibilities who this helicopter belongs to: President Calderon, billionaire Carlos Slim or the military. Or their respective ilk. It flies low and loud over our position and then away. Before the sound disappears, the truck appears. And, like adolescent sex – before you learn to think of baseball teams or the alphabet backward or anything to take your mind off the fact you are the luckiest guy in the world, even if you don’t know what you’re doing and you can’t hold it any longer – it’s over in less than a minute.

We’re walking back down the hill with our load toward town. Jorge’s got to weigh it out and put it in baggies and vials.

“They’ve never done this before,” says Jorge. “Out in the open like that. So brazen.” Jorge has spent many years in the states and speaks English much better than I speak Spanish after five years in-country.

“What’s it mean?” I ask.

“It means they are not afraid of anything,” he says, “These drugs are not bound to America but to neighborhoods all around here. You know they passed legislation in 2006 when Fox was President to legalize drugs in Mexico, but the Americans made us stop.”

“They legalized drugs in Mexico?”

“Oh yes,” says Jorge, “Pot, coke, mushrooms – you name it. Fox was ready to sign the bill before the election but the Americans said no and so Fox said he’d let the next President sign it. And then the election was really messy with Obrador and Calderon never signed the bill into law. And we all know it’s the Americans. When you look in the dictionary under hypocrite you see the American Flag.”

Couldn’t argue with that and the drug war was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Drugs are no big deal for us,” he went on, “It’s you Americans, always looking for more and more and more who screwed this all up for everybody. You can’t just do a line or two you need seven or eight. Your entire existence is to use your freedom to push the limits of experience, but you don’t learn.”

“Learn what?” I ask.

“Paradise is in the first puff,” he says, “But once YOU find paradise you want to experience an even better one, a grander paradise, but there is no other one and you go off the deep end looking for something which does not exist.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say, “I might be an American, but I’m no gringo.”

Jorge laughs and does not say anything. We walk in silence on down the hill toward Centro. In another half hour I’d have my stuff and be on my way.

The problem with drugs, of course, is that they’re illegal. This, of course, creates a criminal class from otherwise law-abiding citizens and a criminal enterprise as the delivery system. Make drugs legal; take away the criminal element. A pot patch in every backyard. Why not?

Not to say drugs aren’t dangerous when improperly dosed and managed. But come on; Jorge has a point. Americans tend to overdo. We’ve gone from fat to obese for godsakes. We soak up the world’s oil, drugs and bacon grease like champagne and caviar from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The Great American Gatsby is a clothes hound, crack whore, glutton and lazy thinker.

I get back to my place in the middle of a poor Mexican neighborhood. My house looks like all the others. Two guys are waiting there for me, as expected. I give them the memory-stick of photos from the camera in my Hawkeye baseball cap and they give me some cash. They’re trying to make a schematic of drug cartel personnel but they might as well try to snort oysters through the eye of a needle. Trying to reverse engineer infiltration. Typical FBI. Entrapment and intimidation; that’s their game. Lowbrows, we call them. The FBI is full of lowbrows. Anyway, retirement doesn’t go as far as it used to even with a government pension so I earn a few grand a year as a low level operative in a war called Ignorance against an enemy called Crime. Talk about “The Long War.” Don’t make me laugh. I don’t give up Jorge, of course. He’s my friend. And dealer. Some bonds are thicker than blood-money. And he’s not one of “them.”

Later in the week I play poker with the United States Consulate at his home which looks over the city like Olympus and is where important people come and go and meet and mingle. The Consulate is a charming man. Straight as an arrow. Honest. Always a smile for the guy he knows only as a friend of a friend of a friend. I lose a few bucks. He gives me a knowing look. Mine is opaque as it should be.

I ask him, “What do you think? Is Mexico a failed state? Is it a Narco State? What’s going to happen?”

And the Consulate says, “gottlieb, it’s a failed world; it’s a narco world and we’re right smack in the middle of it. If Mexico is a failed State then so is America.”

And later, alone, after the senoritas have left, I sit with a good aged Mescal and a Cuban cigar and a few lines of something they call coke but mixed with crap from here to the border as everyone wants their take. It’s a good high but surely eating away my frontal lobe. But screw it. Life is good. And the good die young. Mexico is the greatest fucking country on earth.

Some guys have all the luck.



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  1. to seek escape from the tension of arising existence……

    I am grateful that doors exist within this beautiful,brutal world………

    great piece…….

  2. Folks who are engaged in these kinds of activities with these kinds of people and who do this for long periods of time need to retain me in my professional, legal capacity.  Because the only inevitable thing is that virtually everybody is going to die from an OD, or be shot, which things I cannot help, or be arrested, which I can definitely help.

    Great story.

  3. I love the twists & turns of how you write & how you contort the readers perception of where the story seemingly leads.

    • dkmich on April 3, 2009 at 13:01

    I can’t wait to get home from work tonight to spend some time reading them.  

  4. I read essays like you have been writing lately, and still get that whole “I actually get to do radio with this guy once a week” thing going.

    I am not worthy.

  5. is one of my favorite topics.  Your writing has me hooked, so to speak.  Bonus points for the links – they are like treasure hunts.   I have bookmarked a few sites from this and your last piece.   Thanks for posting here!

  6. The “War on Drugs” isn’t, wasn’t and never will be.

    It is a constant war against people who use substances. It is not “drugs” we are fighting, but ourselves.

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