The Chiva Game

American hunger for black-tar heroin has made downtown Denver the land of opportunity for immigrant dealers.

"I'm definitely addicted, but I'm functioning," she says. "It's a controlled addiction, and it's better for me than cigarettes. The thing about heroin is, when you think of the stereotype addict -- and there are a lot of them down here -- it's not the heroin that makes them look so bad, it's the lifestyle. They're living on the streets, they're not eating right, they're spending all their money on dope and they've got scurvy or whatever. It's not the heroin that makes them that way; it's the fact that they let the heroin completely take over. I know better than to let it completely take over. The trick is to do the drugs, and not let the drugs do you."

With that, Delia gets up, brushes off her slacks and slips her Pradas back over her pedicured toes. Her lunch break is over. The only sign that she's high is a slight constriction of her pupils and a little bit of slack in her smile. The stylists she books appointments for don't care if she's high or straight, she says. Half of them chase the dragon, too.

Civic Center Park marks the eastern border of the 
heroin dealers' turf.
Anthony Camera
Civic Center Park marks the eastern border of the heroin dealers' turf.

In Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs wrote that "junk is the ideal product and the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk is necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy. The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product."

For the immigrant dealers downtown, heroin's attraction is obvious: good money, no skills required. You don't have to read or write or convince your customers to buy. And, worst-case scenario, you get busted, you get deported, you come back on a bus that drops you right back where it all began, near Larimer Street in downtown Denver.

A few blocks from the bus station is an alley where the worst of the worst of downtown's street junkies shoot up. It lies between 17th and 18th and Champa and Stout streets. It's full of delivery nooks and back-entrance crannies where homeless addicts cook their black tar in the ripped-off bottoms of pop cans, then use torn-off cigarette filters instead of cotton balls to soak up the water and junk mixture before they plunge it into sunken veins with dull or broken needles. These are the junkies whose arms are pocked with bruises and leaking sores, who can't afford the Vitamin E oil and antibiotic creams and aloe-vera gels that IV users with money employ to prevent track marks.

The dealers don't care what state you're in. They only care if you have money. They're not bartenders; they'll never cut you off. But if Denver heroin users who buy downtown feel guilt about the money and precious time they're wasting, perhaps they can take solace in knowing their drug money is funding what amounts to a black-market developing-nation aid program.

"I don't do drugs. I don't know why anyone does drugs," says Enoc. "There is so much for anyone who lives in America to be happy for. Why do they need chiva? I don't understand. But I don't care. They're building my family a house. So I say thank you."

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