A few years back I heard this song called Valentine’s Day In Juarez. The chorus of the song peaked my interest, so I downloaded the song. It goes like,
They got the cocaine, oxycontin, mushrooms, marijuana,
Vodka, plastic pop off (or Popov?), twist one up
It’s a catchy tune, but I didn’t explore the message behind it. I thought it was just a song about partying in a border town. And so it quickly fell into the rest of my music collection like a raindrop in a river.
Then I read Charles Bowden’s Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, and I revisited the song, illuminated by Bowden’s work. I can only describe this book as a sort of “marriage of Gonzo and Hell,” because Alice Leora Briggs illustrated in wood-etchings the dissolution of order there, in a style reminiscent of William Blake or Peter Bruegel the Elder. In fact, the images are quite disturbing, which makes them effective.
The word Gonzo seems appropriate, though I’m not clear on what it is, exactly—for Bowden participates to some degree in what he covers. His book details his experience, not so much the cold facts of the war. He doesn’t edit things but leaves the tape rolling. He’s deeply opposed to it yet unable to imagine the situation there getting better. He’s also a brave son of a bitch, considering all the recent murders of reporters.
Back to the Ike Reilly Assassination—He opens his song, singing,
Yesterday I smoked, today I don’t (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yesterday I swallowed, today I choke (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yesterday I dreamed, today I hoped (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Yesterday I sunk, today I float (yeah, yeah, yeah)
These words seemed a bit banal to me at first. But Bowden’s account illuminated a few things: First, the Juarez Cartel, as well as the others along the border, kill most of their victims quietly, in a suburban condo, by strangulation. Perhaps after some torture. The cartels call it carne asada, which in plain English means “grilled meat.”
The character of his song is in Juarez—or maybe just across the border—and he was looking to party, specifically for some drugs (Cocaine, Oxycontin, etc.). So he hooked up with some shady characters and for the drugs, he has to “carry roses across the bridge / to gain favor with the Suicide Girls.”
I don’t know who the Suicide Girls are, and I’ve Googled it, and, well, it turns up porn sites, so…?—But let us imagine for the sake of argument that the Suicide Girls are a gang of women, working with the cartels much like the Zetas, and have dominion over their little fiefs within the greater kingdom of the Mexican drug cartels.
Carrying roses across the bridge refers to a “mule,” I think—that is, someone who smuggles drugs across the bridge for the cartels—and some mules make money, but more disappear. Likewise for the character of the song: He sinks one day, floats the next. He’s been strangled and dumped in the river, floating down the Rio Grande. Which makes this song every bit as dark as Bowden’s stories of missing people: “Where he goes isn’t always clear / Places we both know have been closed for years.” Bowden keeps talking about the disappearing people. Most are never found, save for in a dusty folder within a DEA file cabinet.
My friend called the scene in Mexican a “soft war,” which I suppose is a reasonable nomenclature—except it’s still a war, despite the fact that it’s neither a cold nor hot one. It’s a unique case of drug cartels outstripping the Mexican government’s resources and ability to contain them. Instead of curtailing the growing violence, the government participates. The police perform the executions. The higher-ups look the other way on both sides of the border.
“But here is where we stop and turn off the answering machine and go back to the history that comforts us, the faith of our fathers,” Bowden says.
Where, then, do these cartels find all this money to keep on keeping on? You have to look no further than your own neighborhood. And while our government guilt-trips kids so they will avoid drugs, it knowingly supports, or tacitly approves of, the violence that is funded by drugs.
Such is the state of things, and it’s only getting worse.
On a side note
Since we never see Thomas Pynchon, there are always people trying to guess who he really is. Here’s my best guess so far: He is Charles Bowden.
Their voices are both similar, old and bass-y. Cf. this interview with Bowden with this video ad for Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which he apparently narrated. Maybe it’s just the subject matter that makes the connection for me. Even the pictures kind of match up: Pynchon vs. Bowden.
I know it’s crazy. But the name Bowden is similar to Bodine, who is a recurring character in every (I think, anyway, haven’t read em all yet) Pynchon novel. He’s either Pig Bodine (V) or Seaman Bodine (Gravity’s Rainbow), and there’s also a Bodine in both Mason & Dixon and Against the Day.
So would it be so crazy to think Pynchon works pseudonymously through Charles Bowden?—that, when Pynchon isn’t writing sprawling novels, he is an active journalist.
I’m probably wrong, but there are worse people to suggest, right? I can’t image either one would be offended at the guess, because they are both fantastic writers.