Writing about a book that I have creased pages with constant re-readings is a daunting task. Even now the fraying of the pages and bending of the spine speak volumes to the level of brilliance the book professes. My thoughts on the exploits of Pink as the character are almost as scattered and beautiful as the events themselves. There are so many things from Sam Pink’s excellent double novella The Garbage Times/White Ibis that I quote, and feel are relevant, in my own life that the pages are notated for my convenience. Of course, we don’t want to think that our chosen career path is going to be riddled with strife and hardships. No one wants to think that following their dreams leads to living in a one room apartment with little more than a cat and a scratchy coat for company. Cult author Sam Pink doesn’t shy away from this concept—no, as a matter of fact, Pink may grasp that there is more to suffering than just getting past it. Instead, Pink writes that suffering can be one of the greatest aspects of your personal story. And through his work he seems to ask is suffering all that bad?
From early on Pink highlights the fact that the life of an artist isn’t glamorous. In the first novella The Garbage Times there is no lovely home, no bookshelves adorned with the all-time greats. It’s Chicago in the winter. A place where everything is cold, everyone suffers, and being an artist doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean up puke. Many people think that once you decide on your career path, you only work towards that goal and, presto, it will become your story. The Garbage Times goes deeper into the phase of this plan that gets overlooked, that is, working. In Pink’s case, this work is a dive bar that is barely worthy of the title “hole in the wall.” Pink goes into great detail about these terrible days of toil, inventorying every gross thing, every time he wheels the dumpster up a ramp surrounded by exposed nails and broken bottles, or every time he checks on a bathroom whose toilet is overflowed. Throughout, you begin to gain respect for the struggle.
As a writer this story is one to which my contemporaries relate. It’s okay to work retail, it’s okay to live in squalor, you cannot only make ends meet—you can find stories everywhere that people will want to hear. Only you must write them down. The Garbage Times works so well not only for its content, but for the voice Pink uses to tell it. One line that sticks out in my mind every time I do a read through comes in the form of an average event at the bar.
The bartender said the night before they had to throw out some girl who was in the bathroom pants down on the toilet blowing a guy who was doing coke off the toilet paper thing.
I started doing dishes.
The flippant way something this shocking is described astounds me. To most people this would be the end of their work day. For us, it is part of the daily toll. This stage of Pink’s life lacks any kind of grace but still he weens joy from the trashy world. It’s the trivial things—his daily routine getting drinks from the convenient store, his cat, the stories told by his coworkers—that all form this beautiful tapestry of sorrow.
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