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Author, Author!

SFR Presents the 2010 winners of our annual writing contest

November 30, 2010, 1:00 am

Eyes on the Law

SFR’s nonfiction writing contest winners contemplate crime in its myriad forms

Choosing a topic for the 2010 nonfiction category of SFR’s writing contest was a no-brainer. Whether the rash of burglaries that swept Santa Fe over the last year, chronic DWI or sadly ubiquitous government graft, crime of all types greets us on a near-daily basis.

The top three winners of this year’s nonfiction category explore the topic with a myriad of approaches. 

First place winner Mario Gonzales’ piece, “Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin,” is a moody poetic in which a first-person narrator juxtaposes hard moral choices against a violent backdrop.

In “The Wizard of Weed,” Richard Jay Goldstein brings levity to this country’s uneasy relationship with illegal drugs, building a compelling—if hilarious—argument in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

Finally, Dianne Layden offers a detailed and chilling examination of campus violence with her essay, “STAY CALM! Campus Violence and Classroom Climate.”

Submissions to this category for 2010 were robust, and other worthy submissions touched on violence against women, home burglaries, family court, crimes against the environment, and musings on the pervasive lawlessness in nearly all aspects of America’s culture. 

This week’s edition closes out this year’s contest. We thank again all entrants and this year’s judges for contributing their time and talent. Keep writing—next year’s contest will be here before you know it. —Julia Goldberg

Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin

By Mario Gonzales

I’m inside, it’s cold or hot, January or July, a J month, that much I’m sure of. Not that it matters. I know outside Mexico happens. The currency in my pocket tells me as much. The grit collecting in my throat and the head spin of caustic elements in the air clue me in as well.
Too much time, and then really, not time enough. But still some to kick around and hope that death will be bloodless.

Too many drinks spent inside me. That was a mistake. My neighbors make the same mistake. They argue about money and betrayal. They carry on with children crying beside them. At night, they fall into each other’s arms asking for a bit of forgiveness. They make love while I go sleepless. Through thin walls I hear their bodies turn and spasm, going weak with the aftermath of luminous sensation. Their pain and suffering dies back until morning when it rises again with the sun. I know this because it’s morning and their children have begun to cry.

I also know what I’ve come here to do will not get done. I will not find her. She will not be in the city I left her in. She will not be wearing the flowered dress I gave her the day before I crept out of town. She will not have a baby in her arms. She will have gone and had the baby with someone else.

Just as well. I would have made a vile dad. I would have summoned anger. I would have summoned sadness. I would have wounded when I should have held. Problem is I can’t tell the difference between the two—love and pain. The boy would grow confused and lonely and heartbroken in all this. I reason the only thing he would have hated more than me was himself.

Most days stagger toward 3 am. With most days there is money to squander, companions to make and discard. Never a shortage of cronies when loose change is flung around like filth. Without fail they appear at the cantinas, with such devotion you’d think they were responding to a Mohammedan call to prayers. The barflies will trouble themselves there till well past nightfall. Ultimately funds are exhausted or the rabble nears blackout. Bleary eyes grope for an exit, fading once more to shadow.

I go home. I sit here and watch the dark-starving birds of the oncoming day rise with the morning air.

I know it will not be bloodless. I know bullets will fly. I was told I’m fucked. As if I didn’t know, didn’t feel that already. Don’t steal says the church. Sound advice. Omitted, however, were the vital specifics, such as don’t steal from brutal Mexican men with drug connections, unlimited artillery and no moral qualms about using them. It’s a matter of greed, I guess, and who has enough snarl in their flesh to defend theirs with guns and fire.

That’s what I’m thinking as I take the first hit.

I’m on to other things. The evil shit. The crooked shit. The shit that further breaks those already broken. It’s the stuff that won’t let you go, because, let’s face it man, you don’t want it to. Ever.

This is what it’s like to have your thoughts burn, set ablaze by a rough slur of chemicals assembled in some asshole’s toilet. Can’t you just smell the drain cleaners, the acids and bases, the cough syrup, the not-too-clean cakes of cheap soap, the ammonia and bleach, the pure piss and shit of it all?

Let’s get down to it. Before I start stripping scabs from bare flesh and grinding my teeth past enamel; before bad men with good aim finalize mayhem; before these manic bouts with paranoia overwhelm. Which will it be? The DEA, the CIA, the Zetas, paramilitary masquerading as cops or cops moonlighting as paramilitary, the Sinaloa or Sonora Cartel, the Colombians or Cubans?

Well, yes, it matters little now to discuss who owns and who owes. It’s already been measured, scaled, counted and cut. It’s been reckoned—Mene, Mene, Tekel u-Pharsin.

This is what it’s like, waiting in a border town with a creepy little feeling crawling up the back of your bones. There are frontiers to find, a new beginning to manufacture. Except the country across the way, and the next one after that, and so on, are even more drug stained than the one you’re currently immobilized in.

This is crime, against oneself, against others. You see, it’s got a tough and weighted feel. It feels slack and tight at the same time. It’s got a slick sheen and an angry gloss. It rants and rambles, you must understand, even in the absence of a drug-nurtured paranoia.

Don’t get me wrong. In these gauzy mornings, in their ravage and shamble, in the last of these numbered days, I feel true. Crime, the most human of our modern failings, separates us from the lesser elements of life, allowing us to feel things as they are and not as we wish them to be.

Mario Gonzales lives in Santa Fe but works in Las Vegas. He is currently working on a novel about rural Mexico, luck and mystification. He has three children who have yet to legally emancipate themselves. He is grateful for their love.

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