In Border Junkies: Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juárez and El Paso, out this month from the University of Texas Press, Scott Comar tells the story of his life on the down-and-out streets of United States-Mexico border cities.
While a furniture mover and long-haul trucker, steering his rig all around the country, he became more and more deeply entangled in the temptations, compulsions, short-term satisfactions, decline, and desperation of heroin. That brought him, for several years, into the day-to-day worlds of other junkies and also the dealers, prostitutes, “coyote” people smugglers, thieves, and casual killers who were his neighbors and sometime friends, hosts, and suppliers.
Comar, now a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Texas at El Paso, describes not only those colorful characters, but also the patient social workers, missionaries, shelter workers, and physicians who tried to help him escape, often necessarily letting him trudge his own path towards perdition or salvation.
The scenes Comar paints are hallucinogenic, themselves. Ciudad Juárez, as it began to become the most blood-drenched killing field of narcotrafficking, was a dusty maze of taco-stand- and bar-lined tracks where heroin was inexpensive and obtaining it was easy. Holding onto it was not always such a snap; it required that junkies have their wits about them when it came time to pay off the police. Riding about in pick-up trucks, armed with machine guns, cops often not only oversaw drug laws, but also controlled drug channels.
Chiva—Mexican brown-tar heroin—and its kin became Comar’s abiding companions, at first to his exultation, but soon to his anguish. His life flattened out, as a junkie’s will, into the tedium of obtaining the fix that would tide him over to the next one while he sank lower and lower into panhandling and disarray. Comar states at the outset of his narrative: “In no way do I wish to glamorize or minimize the pains, fears, and uncertainties associated with the lifestyle of a drug addict.” And he does not.
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