I Imagined Myself Punching a Zebra in the Face as Hard as I Could: An Interview with Sam Pink

Sam Pink is twenty-eight. He lives in Chicago. He wrote the novel Person and other books.

HFR: A recent blog post of yours mentioned that two books are due in August from Lazy Fascist Press, a novel, The No Hellos Diet, and a short story collection, Hurt Others. What can you tell us about them? Did you work on each title exclusively?

SP: yeah both books are supposed to be out in august. they kind of go together. they reference each other, and also reference “person.” “no hellos” is a novel about a person living in uptown chicago, who works in the stockroom of a department store, where the employees have to wear red shirts and khaki pants. it’s more of a regular novel than “person.” “person” is short segments that are related but not connected. “no hellos” takes place over a year and each segment is a month from that year. i think my goal while writing “no hellos” was to write about people. in “person” it’s all about that one person. his thoughts, his actions, reactions. in “no hellos” i wanted to emphasize people more. because like, every day it feels insane to meet people and watch them. like, the other day, i was at work in the stockroom, and this other employee comes up to me and says, “hey how do you kiss a girl five times all at once.” i said that i didn’t know and then he made a fist and held it up and laughed. at first i thought, “you’re a fucking loser” and then i thought like, no, this is normal for him. he’s trying to make me laugh and maybe be my friend. “no hellos” is short and can be read in one sitting. “hurt others” is a short story collection, and i think it can be read in one sitting. i started writing it halfway through “no hellos.” i realized “no hellos” was too long so i cut it in half and used some of the sections i cut as short stories. it was easiest to write. all the other books i’ve written took anywhere from a year and a half, to four years to write. “hurt others” took like, a few months.

HFR: So if writing about “people” was the goal in the new books, especially with No Hellos, what then would you say makes for good people?

SP: i am understanding the phrase “good people” in your question, as meaning “good to include in the book.” so, with that, i think i just wanted to include the people from around the uptown area. it’s a weird area of chicago that i don’t think a lot of people know about. chicago is known for the loop, lake michigan, michigan ave, and vague ideas of areas like “northside,” “southside,”  and “west side.” i used to live on the southside, in an area called “pilsen.” and everyone on the southside views people from the northside as yuppy assholes, and everyone from the northside views people from the south/west side, as ignorant gang-banging losers. when i lived in pilsen i had the same idea of the northside: that it’s full of typical white-male/white-female assholes. people who like the cubs and have what i consider, a lot of money. then i moved to uptown, which is up north. and i learned not all of the northside is like that. uptown is considered shitty. you can hear gunshots somewhat frequently, you can buy crack here, it has the (by consensus) worst train stop, you can see tons of demented homeless people, and there are gangs fighting each other. but it’s not that bad. i like it. it’s a diverse area. it’s right by the male and female gay neighborhoods of “boystown” and andersonville. and there are a lot of africans (ethiopian and ghanaian), african americans, also vietnamese and hispanics. so i think, for “no hellos” i wanted to write more about the atmosphere outside of the narrator’s head, as opposed to “person” which is more concerned with thoughts. noah cicero, a writer from ohio, does a good job of characterizing where he’s from and the people who are there. so i tried to do the same. i just started paying attention to everything and writing down what i thought was interesting. the answer is, that i don’t know what makes something good to include, it just always presents itself as good. you just know. you just see a man wearing a bugs bunny t-shirt walking down an alley and opening up a garbage can to then take out a beer bottle and chug the rest of it before walking away singing a song, and know that it was good.

HFR: Not a Cubs fan?

SP: i don’t really like baseball. but if i had to pick, i like the white sox. i’ve noticed that the cubs have a big following outside the city, and those fans are usually nice people. but the cubs fans inside the city are fucking annoying. ask anyone who gets on the red line train after a cubs game gets out. they’re usually drunk, mean, and out-of-shape-middle-aged-white men who yell shit at you while you’re trying to sit quietly on the train. the actual team might be ok, i don’t even know. but the fans are embarrassing.

HFR: With your other books you provided the cover art, or at least collaborated with your publisher on the cover design (Barry Graham, Paper Hero Press). Will No Hellos and Hurt Others be in the same way of their covers? And how exactly did that start, the art, for you?

SP: yes, “no hellos” and “hurt others” both will have an image i created. i started drawing when i was really young and always liked it. it’s important to me, for the covers to have my drawings on them. it is satisfying because it feels complete then. i think a lot of the art i do represents the writing really well. plus, like the titles and the writing itself, i want something that makes people interested.

HFR: Bizarro. Whether it is a term adopted purely for the marketing of books or an actual genre of writing to be recognized later in contemporary literature, it is this question’s will that we should further define the word. Bizarro is now an acronym. What is it?

SP: black

HFR: Why the zebra?

SP: when i read “why the zebra” i imagined myself punching a zebra in the face as hard as i could.

HFR: Fun imagination. What is Sam Pink eating for dinner tonight and how did he prepare it?

SP: for dinner i’m just going to hold in a depressed sigh.

HFR: How long have you been writing?

SP: the first book i wrote was when i was five years old and it was called “the bragger” and i made it by folding a lot of pieces of yellow legal paper in half and stapling it together and then i realized it had way too many pages so the last third of the book was one person yelling, “shut up” in really big letters (because the bragger had been bragging so much that the person had to yell “shut up”).

i think i got into writing because it’s a thing you can do alone that feels rewarding. first i liked drawing, and i still do, but it moved onto writing.

HFR: What are you reading?

SP: i haven’t been reading as much lately. but i just read “nothing or next to nothing” by barry graham and it was really good. i think, for fiction, i like noah cicero, barry graham, scott mcclanahan, mallory whitten, tao lin, jordan castro, cameron pierce, chelsea martin, and i’ve liked short stories by megan boyle. for poetry, i like andrew weatherhead, ana c., and ellen kennedy.

HFR: I have been watching too many Looney Tunes reruns on TV as of late. What would you do differently if you were Wile E. Coyote, taking on the Road Runner?

SP: i’d probably act dead. then when the road runner comes to say some shit, i’d reach up and grab him by the throat, staring into his scared eyes through the blinding desert sun. i’d squeeze, just enough to let the road runner know the real pain is yet to come. staring at his bulging eyes, i’d communicate my disregard for him as a rival. he’d see then, in my eyes, that i’d never once lost in our back and forth rivalry, but was simply waiting. all of those acme death kits i’d purchased, they’d been a distraction. creating the illusion that i was losing. hand around the road runner’s throat, i’d drag him through the desert, over rocks, cacti, spiders and snakes, dust. i’d drag him to my dwelling, a lean-to at the bottom of a valley, next to a river. there, i’d push his head into the river water over and over. after only a few dunks, he’d be begging for death. but death, like hope, in my coyote world, was never an option. after numerous dunks, the road runner would be weakened. i’d then smash his feet with a stone and leave him on the ground, convulsing in pain. i’d forcefeed him sand until he was near death. i’d let him blister under the sun. become hideous. i’d piss on the blisters. i’d throw sand on the blisters as they break open. and when his body could take no more, i’d slowly, and gently, place my hand over the road runner’s beak, our eyes close together, as the only air available to him, hot desert air, was denied, and death enters him and pervades him. then i’d spend the rest of the day with my feet in the river by my lean-to, thinking about life.

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