Jack Clark is early. He hovers around the well-stocked bar, looking to quell his anxieties about the lighting at Jimmy’s. Dmitry Samarov arrives soon after. Bearded, tattooed, dressed in 501’s and a pair of beat up wingtips, he looks part hard man and part St. Nick. Samarov situates himself at a table perpendicular to the bar and begins chatting with friends, fans, and curious barflies about everything from imaginary friends and stripper tits to parking tolls and the ‘Japanese Jeff Koons’, Takashi Murakami.
Clark and Samarov are headlining this second installment of the Seminary Co-op’s “Doppelgangers” reading series, which aims to bring together local writers with similar interests, styles, and even last names (the first installment featured Adam Levin and Sarah Levine, both local authors and SAIC faculty). With the lighting situation resolved, the two writers, monoliths in the world of ‘Chicago cab driver fiction,’ assume positions on adjacent barstools and begin to read.
Clark chooses excerpts from “Nobody’s Angel,” a work that reads as a traditional murder mystery but also functions as a historical and topographical exposition of the mean streets of Chicago. Clark himself grew up devouring the works of Raymond Chandler and Nelson Algren, citing the first three pages of Algren’s “The Man with the Golden Arm” as the work that made him want to write. This influence is noticeable in his prose, which is simple and uncluttered, and, when read in his wonderfully abrasive Chicago accent, reflects the man’s desire to capture a seedy past and in the process, tell a damn good story.
Samarov, by contrast, is more of a critical commentator, interested in recounting his experiences with stupid, drug-addled, oversexed passengers, and using these to describe the reality of being a cab driver in a bustling, metropolitan city. “Cab drivers aren’t really seen as people,” he relates. “To most, you’re just the back of a head.” This sense of alienation, Samarov adds, makes for “a behind-closed-doors” dynamic that he believes heightens the humor and intimacy of his stories. Reading from “Hack,” a collection of short stories that take place primarily in downtown Chicago, Samarov, in Bukowski-like fashion, rants about inebriated teenagers, backseat sex-fests, and his general loathing of the ‘Drive-thru’ all in an honest, humorous, and genuinely unaffected fashion.
The event concludes with a brief but illuminating Q&A session, revealing, among other things, Jack Clark’s once unmistakable resemblance to Travis Bickle (I’d buy it) and Dmitry Samarov’s grim but characteristically comical message for prospective English majors: “Be careful, you might end up working at Starbucks or, you know, driving a cab.”