Prompt: Eating an American meal in a foreign country

At the Border in Dreamland

by Steve Goldfinger

I sat in a run-down taqueria, savoring my mac and cheese, trying to give the locals a sense of what really good food could be—when, suddenly, I got hit in the cheek with a viciously thrown enchilada.  It was followed by another that splattered on my elbow. Two hot tamales followed. A chorus of “Yankee go home!” erupted from all four tables. Then, the kitchen door opened, and out stepped Pancho Villa, rifle in hand, chest covered with medals and two crossed belts of shiny bullets.

What to do?  Only the day before, I had tried to get back home to the states, but a huge wall had prevented me from crossing the border. I begged. I pleaded. But the policia federal would not let me cross it.

And now, I was begging Pancho Villa not to kill me.

He let his gun drop and strode to my table. “There are many ways to die,” he said with a toothy grin. Then he reached into his sack and pulled out a huge jar of chili peppers, dumping about half of them onto my mac and cheese. He stirred them in with the barrel of his rifle. “This should do it,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Burn your kishkes out.” A roar of laughter filled the small establishment.

What did I hear?  Kishkes?

“Lansman?” I countered cautiously.

“Yes, yes……Galicia,” he responded. “And you?”


“Mexico isn’t what you think it is, and certainly I am not. Listen, you can call me by my real name…Schmuel.  And I’ll take you to the best restaurant in Guadalajara. Ratner’s.”

“Ratner’s? How can I believe you Panch—I mean Schmuel?”

“Well, those photos on the wall were taken in 1916 when General Pershing was sent here to get rid of me. Actually, we became good friends, and he loved it when I took him to Ratner’s. He adored gefilte fish. Also kugel and kasha varnishkas. When an outbreak of diarrhea nearly decimated his troops, he ordered each of them to eat 10 matzohs a day—a few too many for some who got so bound up they had to be evacuated. The general used the same remedy when dysentery felled hordes of his soldiers in World War I.”

Schmuel “Pancho” Villa continued.

“Pershing didn’t want to leave Mexico—not after I introduced him to Rosalita and she made him her exclusive at the Casa de Delicias.  He called her his little gattito, and she bathed him every day in her special love potion, oil of licorice. If you ever wondered how he got his nickname Black Jack, my lansman, that is how.”

So much history I never knew.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!


  1. I loved this story and at first believed it was a memoir piece. But I did the math and you ain’t old enough to have known Schmuel in 1916. My grandfather came over on the boat with him in 1888, and told me how he became Poncho Villa. So I know you made this up, but I enjoyed it anyway.

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