Juarez City, Chihuahua. 1998. 11pm. Two years before the cartel wars.
A steamy Friday night. The reek of decaying garbage mixed with car fumes wafted along with the ever present banda blasting from every cantina from every shattered corner. Along Avenida Mariscal, the broken pavement was pregnant with late night revelers staggering past Day-Glo colored prostitutes and vomiting borrachos. A million neon signs illuminated animated faces of barkers who enticed the wary to enter their dens of questionable conduct. Every sin imaginable was hawked, every soul a potential victim.
In a dead end alley that scarcely saw the light of day, I readied myself in my furnished apartment. Showered, dressed, and shut the steel door behind me with such a loud clang it caused a dog to bark a block away. The air was warm and carried the ever present grit of desert dust that irritated your sinuses. I darted down the concrete stairs, past the all seeing eye of my landlady Maria. From the darkness of her doorway, she croaked, “Luis…a donde vas?” (Where are you going?)
“A pasear…” (For a walk) I replied, striding toward the steel door entrance of the small complex.
“Cuidado.” (Be careful) I heard as I opened the door and stepped out into the dusty alley bathed in dim yellow light from the one street lamp. Oh, Maria, I thought, she was not being nosey, she actually held concerned for the well-being of all her tenants…every junky, prostitute, madman, and homosexual writer who inhabited the twelve room dump. She didn’t judge.
I walked the two blocks over to Mariscal. I desired some sort of sexual contact and as so many that evening, I knew exactly where easy trade dwell.
I headed toward Burrito Row, an entire block offering one filthy stall after the other quick and cheap burritos haunted by vendors of sex from both genders and beyond. On one side of the short block, rows of smelly restaurants lined the broken concrete. Some offered dented and greasy metal tables to sit at, other simple rickety bar stools. The smells of refried beans, seared meat, and salsa competed with the pang of stale urine and unwashed feet. Adjacent to the cafés were rows of one story, red brick housing cubicles inhabited by prostitutes who stood at the dark doorways and beckoned with hooked finger or flashing silver teeth. On one corner lay Hotel Rex, the other Queen's Club where a gaggle of white shirt doormen, arms flailing and mouths opening and closing like landed fish. Especially when they caught sight of my sulky, white ass.
I ignored their calls and headed straight to Café Meny to shoot the shit with my good friend Antonio who manned the stall. Antonio was handsome beyond words. Married with a newborn baby girl, he once confided he too sold his ass to make rent “back in the day.” When he found out I was strictly gay, the sexual innuendo in our conversations was thick as tainted cheese. Alas, nothing came of that, but he was an enjoy to talk to and ogle. He realized that, too.
I said Hi, he said Hola and I order two burritos colorado, taking a seat on the frayed faux leather bar stool outside the soot and grease covered café. He asked for a cigarette and I passed one, lighting up myself. After casual convo and chomping down my cheap food, I turned and scoped out the menagerie of filth that occupied the popular area. Drag queens squealed and cooed bunched at a table, old fat men in Stetson hats and protruding bellies sat nursing bottles of Carte Blanc, as mariachis roamed through the throng offering brassy and melancholy ballads. The smell of marijuana blanketed the stench of the urine stained old woman sitting in a pile of week old garbage.
As Antonio assisted a group of teenagers out on dates, I languidly sat, biting the tip off of and sucking out the juices of a fat, grilled jalapeno. That’s when I saw him. I really couldn’t help it. He stood out in the sea of brown faces. Tall and fit, he was in his early twenties. A shock of shaggy, blond hair covered a handsome and clean cut face. He looked like he was more at home associating with his la croix team in rural American suburbia than meandering in this south of the border hell. And meander he did with the look of a lost, doe-eyed animal. He quickly passed the fey lifted eyebrow of many interested Hispanic faggot and transvestite alike and walked straight up to me.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?” He asked.
I dropped the stem of the now eaten jalapeno onto my dirty plate, “Fluently.” I croaked.
“Well, you know this area?”
“Know it? I live here. What are you looking for?”
“Yeah, well, I’m visiting.” He began, head held hang dog. He glanced up and down the sidewalk. “I’m travelling from Florida, through El Paso to California and was wondering if you know anyone who could sell me some coke?”
“Coke? Cocaine?” I asked. I turned toward Antonio who was using a spatula to scrape rank grease and charred meat off the grill. “Yeah, sure. Antonio! This guy wants to buy some coke, know anyone?”
Antonio’s face remained blank as a poker dealers. “Si. I can get you some.”
Antonio wiped his hands on his filthy and frayed blue apron and stepped out of the stall. He called down to the gaggle of transvestites hookers loitering on the corner. “Senora!” He called. Several glanced over, their pan caked makeup faces slowly raised like animals sensing danger. He made eye contact with one and motioned for her to approach. “Oye! Jota, ven!”
An enormous transvestite, who resembled Fred Flintstone in drag, clomped up and smiling, her blue sequined mini-dress was so tight over the corpulent form, I was afraid it would burst like can of biscuits at any moment. Face glistening in sweat and meth induced perspiration, she smiled hola and after pleasantries, Antonio explained the score. The tranny then reached into his blue sequined purse and fished out a small baggie of coke. She held it out in an upturned, pudgy palm.
“How much? The blond asked.
The tranny smiled a row of discolored teeth, “Fifty pesos.”
“How much is that?” The blond said.
“Five bucks.” I said. Five dollars was slightly more than fifty pesos, but I assumed the blue sequined monster needed to make a profit.
The deal was made out in front of God and the public without even a care. A stooped federale in shades stood in front of the doorway to Rex Billiards. He noticed what was going on, looked away. The blond turned to me and said, “Can I do this here?”
Antonio laughed, “No.”
“I live near here. We can do it at my place.” I offered.
“How far?” He asked. I could see in his handsome face his defenses were at full alert. Hell, I could be some deranged psychopath ready to feed on his corpse. Partially, that was true.
“A five minute walk.” I stated.
He agreed and we made our way through the gritty, dry heat. I saw no reason from pretense and asked, “By the way, what’s your name?”
He told me. It was Stephen or Mike or Eric. I could care less. As we made the turn up the dead end alley, I pointed to the decrepit looking building, “I live in there.”
Once in my dim apartment, he sat on the rickety bed as I offered two beers from the fridge. He used my end table to cut up three lines from the meager stash. I rolled up a twenty peso note and we inhaled the weak shit. Not much of a lift, but I am certain the idea was to scam the American tourist. It’s in the city charter.
He leaned back on the bed, propped up against the wall. My weary eye scanned his lithe form. My stomach tightened. At that moment, I fully understood Nosferatu’s angst when Harper cut his finger.
“Hey, man,” he began, “can you spot me a twenty so I can get some more?”
“Twenty? Twenty dollars?” I husked. I jerked my head toward the faint residue remaining on the end table, “This just cost you five. You planning on overdosing?”
“Well, I want to take some with me…”
Fuck it, I thought and said without any virtue of emotion or sympathy, “Look, I’ll give it to you but I need something in return. You let me suck your cock and it’s a deal.”
His face went slack and the light in his eyes died. He was used to this, obviously. Didn’t like it, but was definitely not unexperienced in these transactions. The look in his eyes stated scores of of similar occurrences had been made in every back room bar, truck stop, and cheap hotel across the Untited States.
“Sure…yeah…” He finally exhaled.
We returned to Burrito Row and copped a twenty. Returning to my lair, as soon as I closed the steel door, the blond peeled off his t-shirt and jeans in what seemed like one swift movement. He stood in the dank light in front of me. A lean and athletic body, tanned and hairless. He could had been a model, if he wasn’t a fucked up junkie.
“Before we do this, “He said, “I wanna take a bang first.”
“Certainly.” I said as I flopped onto the bed, propped up on my elbow.
He pulled something from his jeans and walked to the small bathroom. My eyes followed his well-formed ass and dangling genitalia like a lizard watching the course of an insect. From my vantage point, I watched him unwrap his works from a handkerchief – syringe, spoon, lighter. He had a problem locating a vein. When he was done, he lay down on the bed with a line of crimson trailing from the inner elbow to the elbow. He took a wad of tissue and wiped it away. A drop of blood formed on the hole in his arm.
“I always have trouble shooting this shit.” He said nonchalantly.
“Why don’t you simply snort it?”
“Shooting it is better.” He stated matter of factly as his green eyes glanced down to his crotch. “Wanna do this?”
Wordlessly, I moved in. I grabbed his floppy penis. Even soft, it was thick and long. Uncircumcised, odd for an American male. One hand held his penis while the other wove through light brown and trimmed pubes up along a washboard stomach. After some light work, he achieved a full erection and I sucked his cock. A few minutes later, he blew thick ropes of semen up across his abdomen. I rose, snatched a towel from the bathroom and handed it to him.
A long and uncomfortable silence followed. He had that guilty, sulky look on his face of when your mother found yellowed splotches on your underwear on laundry day, a look that he just committed an unmentionable sin and was caught. I took a swig of tepid beer as he wiped the offending matter off his golden colored torso. He threw the towel onto the floor.
“You have a smoke?” He finally asked in the dark stillness of the room.
We shared a cigarette and I slapped him the twenty dollar note after he wordlessly got dressed.
“I thought this was paid for already?” He asked slipping the crumpled note into his front pocket.
I took a drag, lay back, and blew a grey plume towards the soiled ceiling, “For the road.”
“Uh…thanks.” He said then asked how to get back to the border.
Since I lived on the second floor, I took him out to the landing and pointed to the International Bridge a few blocks away. He said goodbye and I watched him make his way down the alley and around the corner. From my viewpoint, I could see the entrance to the Mexican custom kiosks. I never saw him. Most likely he made his way toward Avenida Mariscal for more dope. I never saw him again, nor did I care to.
*post note: if any adventurous soul cares to travel to this locale and locate Burrito Row and surrounding diversions, it, sadly like so many other places I transcribe, no longer exists. After the cartel left - or at least toned down - the entire street was razed and eradicated. There is nothing there but empty dirty lots. a ver...