The Garbage Times/White Ibis: Two Novellas

The Garbage Times/White Ibis: Two Novellas

by Sam Pink


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The Garbage Times/White Ibis: Two Novellas by Sam Pink

“I love the pulse of Sam Pink’s sentences, the way they can hold the gorgeous and the grisly and the hilarious all at the same time. The Garbage Times/White Ibis thrilled me and messed me up, left me feeling a little dazed and a lot changed.” —Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel and Find Me

From the freezing alleys of Chicago to the dew-blanketed bayou of Florida. From bouncing drunks and cleaning up puke to biking through the swamp laughing at peacocks. Freeze to thaw. Filth and broken glass and black water backed up in showers; lizards and Girl Scouts and themed birthday parties. A baby rat freed from the bottom of a dumpster becomes a white ibis wandering the wet driveway after a storm. Goodbye, hello, goodbye. It was the garbage times; it was time for something else. A tale of two tales, connected by a mysterious sunlit portal.

Designed with tête-bêche binding as a single volume.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593766818
Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 631,023
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sam Pink’s books include Witch Piss , Rontel , Hurt Others , The No Hellos Diet , and Person. His writing has been published widely in print and on the internet, and translated into other languages. He sells paintings from

Read an Excerpt



It was a shitty winter.

Seventeen people had died from the cold in Chicago.

Temperatures well below zero or lots of snow.

One person died when a six-foot icicle broke off a building.



I was freezing, on my way to work at a bar just west of downtown.

I’d been hatefully addressing my coat the whole walk to the train.

Like, Fuck you, coat. You are not good. I just . . . ah fuck, I just hate you . . .

The coat was ridiculous.

I got it at the secondhand store.

Think it was a hunting coat.

Had duck pictures on the inside.

It was the color of drug shit and half the buttons barely held.



First time I wore it I put my hands in the pockets and felt something and took out two handfuls of leaf dust.

And yes, I wanted to drop to my knees and hold the handfuls up and let them blow away as I screamed upward, ‘Fuck you coat, I hate you!’

Then scream, ‘Just kidding/we’re all trying!’

The wind burned my face.

My eyes teared.

I scraped ice off my mustache with my lower teeth, then scraped ice off the hair below my lip with my front teeth.

Goodbye tiny icicles.

Goodbye and that’s all.

No more.

No more!

There were only two ways to keep warm.

One was to give in and die, to sit your dumb ass down and let it happen.

The other was to drum with your teeth while making fists in your pockets and repeatedly yelling ‘Fuck you’ in your head.

That helped.

That definitely helped.

It was renewing in some way, which of course immediately passed.

I saw two construction workers on the sidewalk.

They huddled over a blue tarp with the head of a dog coming out the front.

The dog shivered in one long body spasm, wheezing and honking, like ‘ung ung ung.’

One construction worker hugged the dog, rubbing up and down on its chest.

‘Yeah when he saw me, he got scared and slipped and fell into this ditch and the ice broke and he went into the water. I figured I can rub him and maybe he’ll warm up faster.’

‘Oh fuck, he went in the water?’


‘Fuck, what should we do, he’s gonna die.’

‘I don’t know, guy.’

The dog stared at me as I passed.

I wanted to teach him to drum with his teeth while screaming ‘Fuck you’ in his head.

Because that was all he needed.

But somehow it just didn’t matter.


I scraped new icicles off my moustache with my bottom teeth.

My eyes stuck shut for a few seconds.

I made fists in my pockets and moaned.

Took my hands out of my pockets and held my nose.

One last gust of wind hit my face as I went down the stairs for the train.

Haha, yeah, you win.

But fuck you too.

The train was already there, doors about to close.

I ran and jumped in the closest car and went to the back and leaned against the door to the next car so I could be furthest away from/see everyone.

There was puke on one of the seats and the window behind it—like someone not only puked, but his/her head filled with puke then exploded.

Fuck yeah, that’s how you do it.

It was the garbage times.


When I got to the bar, the sun had set.

Fuck you, bar.

I went down the alley and entered through the basement.

I kicked an empty case of rum across the room and ducked under a garbage bag stapled to the ceiling to collect drips.

The basement was filthy.

There was garbage all over.

Any job I’d ever had involved garbage.

I had been, and always would be, a garbage man.

And yes, I took great pride in my garbage pedigree.

It was my calling.

My very meaning.

Something dripped on my head.

I touched my head.

Thick, dark green gel on my hand—like pureed spinach.

Oh hello!

I was just talking about you to someone!

And how are you?


I wiped my hand on my pants.

Garbage garbage, all my beautiful friends.

First I did dumpsters.

The dumpsters were full of broken glass and liquid collected from chutes connected upstairs.

With that classic vinegar smell that cleared my face.



Some good shit.

When I grabbed the handles on a dumpster I cut my hands on broken glass.

I held up my hands to check on them.

They were the smallest pieces of broken glass I’d ever seen.

So small they could only be seen in certain angles.

They were beautiful and I loved them and I smiled.

I wheeled the dumpster to the back stairwell, up to the narrow concrete staircase.

The staircase was covered in broken glass, with exposed nails along the handrails.

I had to wheel the dumpsters up a rickety ramp chained up on either side of the stairs.

I unchained the ramp and lined up the dumpster wheels.

It was supposed to be something two people did but no one else did it so I just did it myself.

Because it was the garbage times.

Where best to just shut the fuck up and do what you had to do.



‘Just, whatever,’ I said, standing in a drugstore aisle with my girl. ‘Grab whatever’s gonna knock her out.’

It was 2 a.m. and we were buying allergy medicine to drug our cat, Dotty, for the move from Chicago to Tampa Bay.

‘This should knock her out,’ said my girl.

A guy in the next aisle looked over.

I noticed him but the girl didn’t.

‘We need to make sure she’s out-out,’ I said. ‘Like for good. We can’t have her waking up halfway there. We just can’t.’

‘Yeah she can’t wake up,’ she said.

‘Once she’s out,’ I said, ‘we can stuff her in the cage and get her in the car. Then we’re home free.’

‘Alright yeah,’ she said, shaking the pills. ‘These should do then.’

‘Cool, so what do we do? Mash some up and put it in her dinner.’


‘Niiiiice,’ I said, smiling.

My girl kissed me on the cheek.

A couple hours later when the sun came up, I was still awake.

Sitting on the broken couch we were leaving behind, in an otherwise empty apartment.

An apartment that owed us nothing, not even a security deposit.

Dotty pushed around a styrofoam bowl of drugged food while my girl took a shit.

And the sun came in through the peephole behind me, projecting a flowing circle of rainbow colors onto the wall.

Like a quarter-sized jellyfish.

I sat there staring at it as it waved on the wall.

A portal.

An exit.

Like I could’ve put my hands on either side of it and stepped in, to find something else. A new home.

The next level.

Something else.

‘Ready?’ I said, as my girl exited the bathroom holding her stomach. And we went through the portal.


We pulled up to her brother’s house in Tampa at 5 a.m. the next day.

We were living there while her brother lived in New York.

And we’d fit all our shit in her car.

As I braked, a cymbal and some paintings fell forward and hit me in the neck.

Dotty screamed, ‘oowwwwwwrrrrr’—covered in her own piss and shit [for the third time] and still awake.

‘We did it!’ I said, stepping outside into the humidity.

The air carried the scent of some beautiful flower.

And the insects beeped and whirred.

I looked around at the dark bayou as it swayed in the moonlight. Florida.

I had moved to Florida.

The girl and I unpacked a couple things and brought them inside.

Then we drank a bunch of water and had sex on the couch.

She lay down next to me, breathing hard.

She fell asleep and I lay with her, staring at a message on the kitchen whiteboard. Her parents lived nearby.

And her mom, in red ink, had written, ‘Welcome Home! :)’

The other side of the sunlight portal.

The next level.

Something else.


I met many new kinds of animals in the bayou.

In Chicago there were two kinds of animals: squirrels and rocks.

But in Florida there were all kinds.

There were armadillos, which were basically like small armored pigs that wobbled around at night, into and out of sewers.

I badly wanted to pick one up and hold it like a baby or throw it like a football, but I found out they carried leprosy.

So, uh, no thanks!

Then there were possums, which were basically bigger/greasier rats.

Like imagine a rat that broke a vial of some futuristic steroid over its head.

Every time I saw one, they paused and glared at me in the moonlight, like, ‘Take a good look, yoomin.’

There were alligators.



Lizards everywhere.

Millions of bugs, including one named after not being able to see it [which. for that very reason, was the worst.]

Spiders and frogs and birds.

All kinds of birds.

Gawky-ass, ornate birds just walking around.

Like this one that basically lived at the end of the driveway.

Every time I went outside, it’d be shuffling around where the driveway met the street.

Not really doing anything or going anywhere, just kind of pacing.

With a long white neck and a really long orange beak, walking around like a dumbass on its stilt legs.

Like what the fuck is this thing?

It was out tonight when the girl and I got on our bikes to go to the gas station.

‘Yo, what’s up, pea-head,’ I said, as we pedaled past.

The bird took a few steps in the other direction, head sideways, eyeing us.

My girl laughed.

‘I love that thing,’ I said.

‘That’s a white ibis,’ she said. ‘My grammy knows them all.’

White ibis.

Why, hello, white ibis.

I really wanted the white ibis to like me and to be my friend.

And to its credit, it—seemingly—did not.



Hell, I understood.

Made sense.

‘Fuckin pea-head,’ I said to myself, turning onto a slippery street.

‘Are you still talking about that bird,’ she said. ‘Hey, you wanna get black-out drunk.’

‘No, goddamnit,’ I said, almost falling.

I should’ve just fallen.

The humidity covered everything.

It was getting dark.

And all the animals headed back to their corners, to wait for tomorrow.

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