We ooze ourselves from restaurant to street, two thick-ass snakes of toothpaste from a fat-bottomed tube. Husband and wife, bound by fluoride and fullness. Residents hang on the street corners like ornaments, eating their late lunches from the stalls, kissing their girlfriends and boyfriends, playing with wind-up toys in the squares, dropping their ice cream cones to the city ants. It’s almost noon, almost time for us to check out, and we don’t want to abuse Juan Pérez’s kindness. We have a 9:00pm flight to Oaxaca City, our intended destination, but Mexico City, our mere layover is creeping into our blood like plaque, arresting us, seducing us.

We circle a maze of backstreets, hoping to find an alternative route back to the Rioja. We walk quickly, whizzing past the music stores blaring with recorded trumpets and snare drums, rail-thin clerks polishing the speaker-tops with blue rags. We try to make it back by check-out time. We really do. But we turn up a pedestrian alley, paved with ancient gray stone, and see a round old jelly doughnut of a woman, her entire torso hidden beneath the spill of her breasts, silver hair crested with a lace bobby-pinned doily, pressing fresh blue corn gorditas in the street.

She coughs like the proverbial mother hen laying the spiciest of eggs, and my fears are confirmed. I have, indeed, lost all restraint. I am pulled into her orbit, some feeble Millennium Falcon caught in the Death Star magnetism of her spanking the blue corn dough.

“Are you serious?” Louisa asks.

“How can I pass this up?” I say, digging a few sweaty peso coins from my pocket.

“This is all you.”

Soon, we’re in front of her, her face beaming as we take in her chalkboard easel menu. I recognize the names of all of the gordita filling options—carne asada, carnita, barbacoa, pollo, hongos, rajas—except one. The last one on the list, resting like the black sheep underdog of Mexican street food, hiding its deliciousness at the back of the line. Sesos de cerdo. So euphonious. What can this possibly be? The music store trumpets fire away behind us, underscoring the mystery. Sesos de cerdo. I imagine the words crooned by some dime-store romance novel Latin lover, blue corn tortillas stuffed with rose petals, pomegranate, Spanish fly… In these three words, the sky goes emerald green with aphrodisiac blister beetles. Surely this woman hides the ashes of the Marquis de Sade in her pendulous bra. Surely, I must order this final item.

“Hola,” I muster.

“Hoolaa,” she calls, rocking on the balls of bare feet, rectangular as mud bricks.

“Puedo tener una gordita con, uh, sesos de cerdo, por favor?”

And I love saying it, those three words leaking like oil from my mouth.

“Oohhh!” she clucks, “Te gusta los sesos?”

“Sí,” I say.

Of course. How, in the symphony of the word, can I not like sesos?

She curls her lips downward, impressed. This should be foreboding, I tell myself, but somehow, on this dusty stone, Louisa’s eyes narrowing to my left, purposefully deciding to check-out late due to this gordita audible, it’s not. The sky is exactly white, tough to stare into, and Louisa is pulling on my sleeve. I turn to her, follow her eyes to the squatting woman. We watch as she dips her hand into a filthy white bucket marked—in English of all things!—with the words, Pork Brains.

My once excited stomach now recoils into the recesses of my ribcage, all euphony now metamorphosing into some broken dish clatter, hellish and ear-curdling. These words have duped me. Deep into this woman’s cleavage, the ashen Marquis de Sade is surely having his last laugh. Retreating from the bucket, the woman’s fat bare hand bulges with wet, grayish chunks of porcine cerebellum. A few drops of brain juice drip from between her fingers to the stone, and even the ants run for cover. She tosses the gray matter onto her comal and they steam with foul stench, dusty, organic, almost deciduous.

Louisa is enjoying this immensely, my face as white as a sheet. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-brain, but the ingesting of pig brain, as street food, in Mexico, strikes me somewhat…well…hasty, a perfect recipe for a tough day tomorrow in Oaxaca. But I’ve ordered it, told this sweet doughball of a woman that I like it. And I must admit, I’m nervous, but curious.

Louisa mimics a gagging sound.

“Don’t do that,” I beg.

She lights her Winston and wanders up the street, stares into the window of a flower shop. In the distance, somewhere behind the ornate stone of these buildings, I can hear a group of people chanting, “Peligroso! Peligroso!” Dangerous! Dangerous!

Oh shit, what have I done? Haven’t I learned to listen to ghosts by now? With a long spatula caked with charcoal sludge, she scoops the pig brain into a lovely puffed vessel of blue corn and hands it me smiling. I pass her the five peso coin. For a few seconds, all I can do is stare at it, feel the ample weight of it in my hands. In my nose, death and ammonia, mold, blood, earth soured with standing water.

“Te comes,” she says, and my mother, still young and healthy, her arms locked with the boarder, and my giggling little sister, joins in: Eat it, eat it…

And so I do, open my mouth like a drawbridge, the rust of it creaking at the corners, and take my bite. Pig brain squirming in my mouth like a guppy, some intellectual ejaculate, the tofu of the head, I close my eyes and bite down, releasing the penetrating taste of coal-smoke and egg white. This is not good. This is tough. I grit my teeth and try to mask it as a smile. The old woman laughs and kisses her dirty fingers.

“Sesos,” she says.

Yes. Yes they are. Fucking sesos. Swallow and walk away, beaten, bullied, duped again by false euphony. I silently apologize to each pig I’ve ever eaten. Revenge, Sus scrofa, is yours. Good for you.

I catch up with Louisa who knows what my face is saying, and I hers: You asked for it. I run to the nearest trash can, entertaining a capacity crowd of horseflies, turn behind me to make sure the woman isn’t looking, and empty the gordita of its brains. The fresh blue corn shell, in spite of the rank juice that has soaked into it, is so impressive, that I force myself to finish it.

I pulled up to the gas station in a 1978 Bonneville that was by far the worst car I ever had to drive or ride in. My girlfriend had that same stupid, sweet smile she had on her face as when we’d stolen some gas a few days before. We were in Akron, Ohio. A few days earlier, we had poured about sixteen bucks worth in the tank and took off without paying. It was easy as that.

We were living on the edge, but that was the state of things back in 1996. We were traveling in a terrible car, wishing we had more money, wishing we had a real vacation. We were living on the edge like some kind of Hunter S. Thompson fiasco. My girlfriend had just gotten a job as a waitress at a restaurant where she stole bread each night for us to devour. It was that and the eggplant from a forest ranger who had a big garden in his yard. He made his own mulch, grew his own delicacies. Nick (that was the ranger’s name) had bought his car dirt cheap after some people drove it into a lake and drowned in it. “The car smelled for a while,” he said.

I stole a few boxes of canning jars from the house where I was staying. That way Nick would keep handing over vegetables.

At the gas station we hopped out for a fill-up. That’s when we saw a pig come running out of nowhere and dive under the car across from us. The person pumping the gas got a dumbfounded look on his face. I’m sure I did too. Then some people came running. “You see a pig?” someone said. I gestured to the car. Seemed like ten people peeked underneath at once.

My girlfriend’s stupid smile turned into a roar of laughter.

She liked attention and a circus (whenever she could be near one or create one).

The pig acted like it sensed some kind of insanity in the air and bolted for our car. Either that or my girlfriend’s chaotic laughter had attracted the beast in her direction. It dove underneath the car. I took a peek.

I could see the pig had a terrible panic in its eyes, like it had just seen the secret of the universe because God had left his Book of Infinity open on a desk somewhere. Then, when an arm reached under the Bonneville, this magical pig of Akron bolted again. It zigzagged in an evasive maneuver and was back under the other car in a cloud of dust.

People tried to pull the pig out, but the little fatso had wiggled itself firmly beneath the gas tank.

Then someone came with a rope and tied a slipknot. The pig squeaked. The rope was hooked around one of the pig’s feet. And then it screamed. Mix Luke Skywalker wailing after getting his hand lopped off with Joe Pesci screechin’ for his life—then you’ll have some idea as to the wail of this pig as it was slowly dragged from its freedom.

Once out from under the car the pig didn’t squirm. It let out a shiver, then continued to squeal as the man cradled it in his arms.

Nothing was said. Nobody asked where the pig was from. Nobody asked where the pig was going. No one asked who owned the pig or what its piggy name was.

All around were bushy-headed trees and red-bricked buildings. This was summer in Akron. A time of petty thefts and pigs running amok.

For a brief moment I smiled at the goofy grin splattered on my girl’s tan face. We watched gleefully as the man cradled the crying pig. We stood like idiots under the crackle of distant storms. We were idiot lovers lost somewhere past middle America where dirt roads and city asphalt collided in God’s kaleidoscope.

And then, in an instant, karma took a sudden turn. As we stood there watching, the man darted away with the bawling pig in his arms and walked right through the doors of an Italian restaurant.