Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Taco trucks: the shocking truth

Back when I was a kid growing up in Cicero, at that time almost equally (at least in my immediate neighborhood) made up of Eastern European and Mexican families, there were ways of expanding your ethnic identity. Ok…expanding is the wrong word. You could become an “honorary” Mexican or Lithuanian by going through initiations.

To be baptized an honorary Lithuanian, you had to eat a jar of herring or a huge chunk of homemade headcheese. My friend Juozas and I came up with this initiation, an ironic one, at least in my friend’s case, as he had never eaten either herring or headcheese in his life. The child of displaced persons,  he still qualifies, despite his culinary tastes, for Lithuanian dual citizenship. The Mexican boys who gagged over pig nose jelly will never be able to claim this.

Becoming an honorary Mexican was much easier.  You had to lie down and let your Mexican (and honorary Mexican) friends kick your ass for three minutes. The only rule was no punching in the face or balls. In truth, the three minutes often stretched to four or five.

We did not do this because we valued multiculturalism or envied each other’s identities. We were just boys finding ways to fuck with each other in the packs we joined for protection and friendship.

These initiations, like other rites and customs of the street, depended on unspoken but clear codes. Everybody understood that if your friend had gone through the trouble of taking a three (or five) minute beating,  or if he had slurped down a quivering cube of pig ass—which, mind you, often resulted in real tears—you had to defend him in the event that bullshit came his way.

So, as an honorary Mexican who oversaw the baptisms of a few dozen honorary Lithuanians, let me say a few things about the prospect of taco trucks on every corner.

To America, this would represent a culinary revolution of a magnitude not seen since the invention of the Weber grill. If there were a taco truck on even one corner in most any random town of less than 50,000 people between Youngstown, Ohio and Limon, Colorado, the quality of the local cuisine would improve by a factor so large that I cannot find any tool to help me calculate it. If there were taco trucks at both ends of my block, I’d have hardly any need to go to a grocery store.

A taco truck is superior, both as a food delivery system and a purveyor of quality, than any McDick’s, Burger Thing, Undies, Taco Hell, Beef’n’Cream, Pulverz, Shitway, Jimmy Shlong’s or any other such dump. A taco truck is a civilized place to eat and sells a food item with a rich and fascinating history, linked to lifestyle changes among the working class, specifically to men mining silver. Its development is not unlike the arrival and evolution of the pasty in Michigan’s iron mines or the Vienna Beef dog on Chicago’s South Side, the latter during the Depression. So the taco has more in common with the story of class struggle than does any pumpkin latte or chocolate stout.

So, bring it on. A taco truck beside every school, across the street from every workplace, down the road from your town hall, public library, place of worship and watering hole. Especially the watering hole. Because the only thing better than a taco following a night of raucous frolic is the tamale guy.

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New essay published

The good folks at ReImagining Magazine have published their summer issue. My essay, An American Imposter, finds itself there.

I spent a long time abroad this spring and summer, and got tired of having to “explain” my American identity. It got to the point that I no longer wanted to talk to strangers about where I was from. It became impossible to have conversations about anything besides our loathsome national politics.

The experience inspired this essay. Hope you’ll read and share. 


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We are all members of our culture

I’m depressed today because I know I’m complicit. Separating myself from the culture—indeed, the cultures—to which I belong is impossible.

I am an American at a terribly low point in our history, and I can’t separate myself from the embarrassing maelstrom in our daily rhetoric, the “leaders” we believe reflect our values, at least in part. I refuse to use their names in this post. Using their names has for a long time been part of the problem, a way of using attention junkies to gain attention.

I’m an educator at a time when education is far less effective than it should be, both yielding and reflecting the maelstrom. I’m in higher education at a time when the whole system—the system that compensates me so that I might pay my student loans—looks at students as streams of revenue, at courses as products, and thinks of itself the way an empire might, at its teachers the way Pharaoh saw captured troops. A contemporary college’s greatest partner is a bank. Its greatest enemies are artists and philosophers.

I’m a man of letters at a time when people argue in comments about clickbait headlines. Despite the headline’s purpose, so many don’t bother to click, yet freely unload their frustrations, ignorance, hatred, fear and anxiety. I have written such headlines in attempts to profit. My refusal to monetize this blog is a cheap and pathetic attempt at integrity, one whose sincerity is questionable. It’s embarrassing to receive a “paycheck” for your “writing” in the amount of $6.00, the result of 12,000 “clicks”. We’ll say, “Hey, better $6.00 than 0!” We justify so many vile acts this way.

I could go on. I think I’ve summarized the situation well enough. No…I’ll go on.

I am a child of migrant refugees who now fear and loathe migrants and refugees, who blame refugees for failing to contain a war that banished them from their homes, migrants for working jobs that, if performed by others, would raise prices. Among us are sons and daughters of those displaced because tyrannical demagogues decided to send their armies into battle, slaughter citizens en masse. These children of the displaced today support a demagogue and tyrant. I am complicit in this irrational fear, in this simultaneous hatred and denial of one’s back story. I have paid money to companies that financed movements and politicians who profit by inflaming the maelstrom. Some of these politicians hold shares of the company that sends me a bill each month.

That bill buys a product that’s bad for me. The company knows, all of its employees know the product is bad for me. How many of us pay our bills from the sales of products we know are bad for the people consuming them, and how many of our bills represent purchases we know are bad for us, bad for our kids, bad for people not yet born? The maelstrom swirls, gaining speed. We all know what we’re doing, and we go about it as if there’s no alternative.

Our national rhetoric is about to achieve a level of profanity we may not be able to imagine. I think it’s important, right now and right here, for all of us to stop using this sentence: “Look at what they’re doing over there.” That’s a dangerous delusion, part and parcel of the problem. The correct sentence is this one: “Look at what we’re doing over here.” If we could wake up to ourselves, to our actual predicament, which is that our conditions are the result of our actions and ideas, we’d see the alternative path.

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Last minute culture

Mobile phones have changed the world in ways that exhaust and confuse me. Today’s experience is a perfect example.

I made an appointment to meet with a repairman this morning at between 9:00 and 10:00 AM. Because it’s summer, my children got up a bit late, and we had breakfast at around 9:00. I don’t sit around at the breakfast table with my mobile phone or any electronic devices out. In fact, I had no idea where my phone was at that moment. What I knew was that a repairman was coming any moment and I’d have to let him in.

It turned out that this repairman was outside. He was sitting in his car right in front of my house and texting me, calling me, leaving messages. When he heard nothing from me, he decided to drive away and deal with other appointments. This despite being a few yards outside my front door, quite literally in a position to hear me talking beside a wide open window.

Back before mobile phones existed, this man would have come up to the door and rung the doorbell. That’s what I, an old time geezer, expected him to do. But now we’re expected—even when someone is depending on our business—to be tied to our phones, to respond to messages from someone who’s standing outside.

I called him at around 10:00 to find out what’s going on. He asked if I could reschedule today, that all he’d have to do is cancel some afternoon meetings. So, someone else would have to rework their entire day because this man cannot ring a doorbell. He actually said it was against company policy to ring doorbells. The rationalization was more absurd than than a chapter out of Camus. “Sometimes people cancel last minute, and they get angry if you ring their bell.”

Perhaps that’s true. It seems true that, these days, the appointments we make need to be checked five minutes before they’re to occur, because appointments made weeks in advance are only theory. Something better might have come along; someone might have texted us in the meantime to let us know they wanted to take us to something so cool we couldn’t miss it, and that person we spoke to a week or a fortnight before should just understand.

“Hey, are we still meeting today?”

No. We’re not. Thanks for checking.

Here’s a picture of some creatures who’ll show up so soon as you bring them food.

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What your ringtone says about you…

If you have a ringtone that sounds like a motorcycle starting up, you might be tough. Or you might wish you were tough. If your ringtone is a pop song, you might be the fan of that pop artist. Or you might wish you were that pop artist. If your ringtone is the sound of crickets or of soft harp music, you might be soft and gentle. Or perhaps you fantastize about being softer and gentler than you are. You might also be wishing for a softer and gentler environment.

Here’s one way to get one: shut the thing down. When your ringtone goes off during a quiet period—and when that ringer is a crowing cock, the phone’s volume turned all the way up—you draw attention to yourself. People wonder, “What connection is there between you and a crowing cock?”

Some of them, of course, pity you. After all, this can happen to anyone. You select a ringtone. You feel it expresses your personality. And then—boom!—one unexpected moment that ringtone is interfering with everyone’s peace. Your cock is crowing. Reminiscent of the hour when Peter realized he had denied his Lord three times. Or at the hour when your Peter rises in your pants and you cannot perform tasks at the blackboard, walk down the street in your puritanical neighborhood without being deemed a pervert and stoned to death.

You’re wondering, no doubt, about my ringtone. Mine sounds like a phone. After all, it belongs to a phone, so I’ve selected a traditional sound. And when it goes off by accident—we have these convenient machines, we masochists, that allow our friends, loved ones and creditors to communicate with us while we defecate—people do *not* wonder, “Who the fuck is calling him as he shits?” Not at all. Instead, they think, “Why can’t I get peace and quiet in this toilet?”

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Photo by raymondgobis/Flickr


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Interviu per LTR

Va, pirmą kart tokioje viešoje erdvėje rašau lietuviškai . Pasiklausykite mano pokalbio su LTR žurnaliste, Raminta Jonykaite. Labai man patiko jos klausimai. Laidoje eina apie rašytojaus vietą visuomenej, skaitytojų užprovokavimą, žmogaus tapatybę, kultūrinių ir etninių tapatybių iliuzijas, romano naudą, ir panašiai.

Nuorodą rasite čia. Linkiu smagaus pusvalandžio.

 

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