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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The Guy With The Vulgar Shirt

I revised my take on the guy with the vulgar shirt for today’s True Community. Downtown Abbey fans will dig what I came up with.  Check it out here.


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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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Raising kids to speak multiple languages

I have a new article up on The Good Men Project, Raising Trilingual Kids in America. It’s about my attempt with my wife to teach our children to speak (and read) Lithuanian and Russian alongside English.

One of the things I found attractive about my wife, beside her violin playing abilities and her energy as an artist, was her capacity to learn languages, and her fluency in five. I consider languages to be treasures, and if I met a djinni, I’d ask to become fluent in every language that has ever been spoken on earth, even dead languages like Prussian. I can’t explain this fascination. It’s similar to my obsession with planting a garden. I don’t take for granted the human capacity for communication, flawed as it is, and I have never heard a language that I found ugly or crass. I remember sleeping in an airport one time and listening to a group of very tired Moroccan men speaking Arabic together. It sounded like a train ride, long and romantic, through an orange and brown mountain range of ancient rocks.

My daughter has learned more Lithuanian before her fourth birthday than I knew before my fifth, and she certainly knows more English than I did as a toddler (I knew virtually none). Some of the ways she translates language have really educated me about the syntax of English and Lithuanian, and the meanings of certain words. I can’t explain them here without going through a long explication of now negatives work in Lithuanian, and how the concept of “sense” is communicated in my old, archaic language. But I’ll say this: you don’t really understand what language you speak until you try to learn a second one. If there’s any universal, absolute value to learning another language its that you realize the one you’ve grown up with isn’t normal, and that many of the assumptions you have about reality are completely artificial, often based on the syntax you have at your disposal. Alan Watts talks about this in his lectures Learning the Human Game.

So far, the lessons dad has gained in the process are so much bigger than the ones my kids have gathered. I’ll be presenting those lessons in my memoir about PTSD. This article is a warm-up of sorts to some of the topics I’ll be covering.

I hope you enjoy and share it.