It was the garbage times; it was time for something else. A tale of two tales, connected by a mysterious sunlit portal.
From the freezing alleys of Chicago to the dew-blanketed bayou of Florida, Sam Pink’s latest book, The Garbage Times / White Ibis, is technically two novellas, connected thematically (as well as literally, with tête-bêche binding). In a recent interview with Electric Literature, Pink says, “I have come to deeply love birds after living in Florida.” In one-half of his latest book, Florida appears in the form of lizards and Girls Scouts and a baby rat freed from the bottom of a Dumpster that becomes a white ibis wandering the wet driveway after a storm.
We started playing cards, dealt by a woman who’d had a lot of plastic surgery.
If I remember right, her name was Alice, but she recently had requested that she be called Malaysia, which had caused a stir among many at Aberdeen.
Malaysia started dealing.
She tried to explain to me how to play but then other people began explaining it too—five semi-drunken people trying to simultaneously explain the rules of the game.
‘Well, if y’all just gonna talk over me like that, didn’t even have a chance,’ said Malaysia.
I stopped them all and said, ‘I’m good, I think I got it.’ And so we began.
And with great, quiet determination, I started losing. I lost with passion.
The way others laid down a winning hand I did with a losing hand.
Because I don’t like games.
I don’t mind drinking sometimes, but I want to be doing only that.
And, as luck would have it, even with Lou coaching my hand and assuring me I would win, I lost the third hand too.
Everything was going according to plan.
Soon enough I’d be back at the miniature-sandwich table, leaning on it like a cool dude and absolutely demolishing miniature sandwiches.
Lou won the next hand.
He did motions with his fist and yelled, ‘Wooo.’
I thought about how funny it’d be to quickly tackle him off the chair and restrain him.
‘You gonna stop, bro!’ I’d yell, right in his face, to which he’d reply, screaming for forgiveness, ‘I only drink [brand of beer].’
In between hands, while the dealer was shuffling, I decided to go get Lou and me shots so I could force his drunkenness and perhaps ‘take him out.’
I went to the backyard bar, passing other card games.
I poured a couple huge shots of whiskey and watched a possum creep through the yard, hair and beady eyes glistening in the moonlight.
‘Whattup, bitch,’ I said.
My girl’s dad said, ‘Hey, what are you doing over there?’
He sat in the darkness by the glimmering neon-blue pool.
He was smiling, cigar stump in his mouth.
‘Check it out,’ he said, and took something out of his pocket, holding it by his side, in his palm. ‘Did I show you this?’
It was a small gun.
‘Nice,’ I said. ‘.22?’
‘Yep. We’re gonna go shoot up the golf course later.’
I reached into a weird small side pocket on my shorts, which were not cargo shorts, and took out a small green squirt gun.
‘I bought this to shoot Dotty in the face when she jumps on the counters.’
He lit his cigar, laughing.
‘I’d rather have this one,’ he said, waving out the match.
‘Are you out?’
He took a pull off the cigar and said, ‘No, I’m in the next round. Just waiting for these other losers.’
‘All right, good luck.’
I grabbed the shots and went back inside.
I passed by Lou’s wife, Sue, to whom I was introduced by my girl.
I did a weird forearm-touching-her-hand greeting, holding a spilling shot in each hand.
‘So I heard you’re a writer? What do you write, what kind of writing?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’ll get you a book later. I have some in the trunk, I think.’
She mentioned a book she’d recently enjoyed and had I read it and it was a movie too.
‘Do you think about that when you’re writing? About it becoming a movie. That’s kind of what you’re going for, right?’
My table called me back.
‘Nice meeting you,’ I said, walking back towards the room, spilling the shots a little.
Lou had on sunglasses now, doing an air guitar with his leg up a little.
‘Cheers,’ I said, giving Lou the shot. ‘How did that song go again?’ We drank the shots and it seemed to conquer him.
I myself was feeling, at that point, pretty ‘Italian.’
The card game proceeded with a series of forgotten rules and splintered conversations, where few were paying attention to the game and those who were were losing.
I lost the next two hands and was out for good, eliminated. Malaysia was ahead of everyone.
Her zeal and no guts/no glory attitude had carried her through round after devastating round.
She ate us up like so many miniature sandwiches.
With a feigned look of surprise on her surgeried face.
The kind of look that says, ‘Why yes, I WILL be eating your children now!’
She won the final hand and held up both her arms, cheering and moving her butt side to side in her chair.
Everyone complained mildly, then got up and kept partying their respective nuts off.
Malaysia remained at the table restoring cards to various decks. ‘So, you think you get it, now, kind of?’ she said.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ I said.
She smiled and hummed, putting the cards away, then went back into the kitchen to face certain defeat in the next round via the venomous Donna Leighy.
I sat at the table, in the quiet.
Just kind of staring.
I grabbed a napkin off the table.
The napkins had hearts, spades, diamonds, or clubs on them.
My girl’s mom was known for big, elaborate parties.
I remembered a story my girl told me about her mom.
How when her mom was twelve, for her sixth-grade birthday party, she invited her whole class over.
And she and her siblings cleaned up their trailer real nice, like spotless, even behind the sofa.
And they all dressed up.
They had a cake and cool decorations and everything.
But nobody showed up.
From White Ibis. Used with permission of Soft Skull Press. Copyright © 2018 by Sam Pink.