Locust House Variations, A Weekly Column by Adam Gnade, “Tacos Al Pastor, an excerpt from the novel After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different”

Chente Ramirez and I are eating al pastor in Tijuana on a Monday afternoon after drinking all day at clubs like Safari, Escape, and Peanuts and Beer where it’s dark as night inside and the blacklight is on and everything white glows neon green, even your teeth as the waiter grabs your head and blows a whistle then pours tequila down your throat while all the grinning white neon green college kids shout Uno! Dos! Tres! and on up to ten, though most quit at cinco because they can’t remember seis.

Chente and I are eating al pastor under a great black sky with gray clouds like long, outstretched fingers on the walk back from the Friday luchas fights at the Auditorio. Al pastor, I call it the quivering meat wheel conception, and the man behind the counter at the stand just off Revolución is hacking at a rotisserie spit of dark red pork, but when you look close, if you’re sober enough to notice, you will see his knife barely hits the meat, it shaves, takes a layer off like a breath. He’s good. Fast. Cuts like some sort of late-night ER surgeon who is here to save your life from hunger.

After this, he chops the pile of shavings on the counter into smaller bits and sets it all with the gentlest touch in the fold of a corn tortilla followed by cilantro, diced onions, and a thin, watery avocado cream.

Hot sauce is your choice and you do it yourself if you want it—fiery red or mild green from plastic squeeze bottles. I choose the green, the tomatillo. Chente, the red.

You do that or you get the bacon-wrapped hotdogs from carts where the only option is that—a hotdog with bacon wrapped around it then fried hard. Maybe ketchup. Maybe onions. If you’re lucky it’s one of those terrible hotdogs with a vein of cheese in the center. A hotdog injected with Cheez Whiz.

Avenida Revolución. Revolution Avenue. “We were hangin’ out down on Revolution,” we say when we refer to it.

The street smells like cigars, muffler exhaust, leather, frying onions, and sewage. If it were a cologne, we would wear it. Were it a drink, we would take shots.

Chente and I are sitting on the curb. It’s a moonless Sunday night and we’re singing two different New York Dolls songs at once and stuffing our faces, drunk out of our minds, ecstatic with the moment. Al pastor is sweet and salty and hot, and when it hits your stomach your stomach is quiet, balanced, thankful that you’ve made such a smart choice.

Chente and I are walking back to the border at dawn on a Tuesday from a bad night at the cowboy bar on Calle Miguel Hidalgo with an al pastor taco in each hand, eating slowly, mostly talking—talking about what the hell’s wrong with people and why is everyone such a colossal tower of shit or how we can’t feel at home in this world anymore, like the words of the old folk song.

“This world is not my home
I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore”

O’ beyond the blue. Chente and I, tacos in hand, eating, talking, say nothing about heaven because we’ve stopped believing long ago that there is anything beyond death.

You die.

You are gone.

We say things like that when we talk about death. (Him, with certainty. Me, not so certain.) We go to Tijuana and we drink beer and tequila and we talk to people and sometimes we get in fights. We eat tacos from the many al pastor carts and we renounce this world that is not our home. This world? It’s not mine. Fuck it. I’m passing through. Like another old folk song:

“Passing through
Passing through
Sometimes happy
Sometimes blue
Glad that I ran into you
Tell the people
That I’m only passing through”

Purchase “After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different” here.