Sam Lipsyte on Death Row Cooking Shows, Meat Guilt, and Why Jesus Might Like Outback Steakhouse

Robert Reynolds
In Sam Lipsyte is a writer who's both critically acclaimed and funny as hell. His newest book, The Ask, concerns the plight of a newly unemployed man scrounging for odd jobs to support his family, and touches on themes ranging from sex and war to wraps and death row cooking shows. The book, which will be published next week, is Lipsyte's fourth. His last, Home Land, earned widespread love for its lucid, darkly hilarious account of a man who writes embittered letters to his high school alumni newsletter, and led one besotted reviewer to declare that Lipsyte "has got balls the size of watermelons." The author lives with his wife and two young children near Columbia, where he's an assistant professor and associate director of the university's undergraduate writing program. He took some time to reflect on boiling pasta, the surprising vibrancy of New York's wrap culture, and why eating meat is basically like taking a shit in the Hudson.

Do you cook?

We used to cook before we had kids in that kind of fun couples way, but now it's just sort of we heat some stuff up. I wouldn't really call it cooking, though we try to cook occasionally. We always cook for the kids, and then half the week we then cook something for ourselves and half we order in. My wife is a really good cook; I'm kind of a very limited cook. I can do a mean stir fry and can boil all sorts of pasta. I really understand that process.

So where do you order in from or go out to in your neighborhood?

Near us there's a good Thai place called Thai Market. We live up near Columbia, so the options are somewhat limited. It's not one of the leading culinary neighborhoods, I don't think. But there's a restaurant we go into called Community [Food & Juice] that's actually really good.

And you've got Coronet pizza, which is held in high regard among inebriated Columbia students.

I have a friend who lives all the way downtown, near Wall Street. He likes to come up -- he says it's to visit, but really it's to get a slice of Coronet, which I don't understand. I like big cheesy pizza, too, but I don't know if I'd cross Manhattan lengthwise for it. But it's great hangover pizza.

And then plenty of people travel from farther away than that to go to Tom's Diner.

I live a hundred feet away from Tom's Diner. It's just one of those Sysco diners, but people come from all over the world to eat there. They just don't know it's an average diner; it's all about the sign. The real Kramer brings busloads of people there, and then he takes a picture with a person in front and they all go in and and he goes back to the bus and counts his money.

I know at least two people who claim to have gotten food poisoning there.

It's still holding the standard of mediocrity. Somebody has to do it.

Do you consider yourself a regular anywhere?

Not really. There's, like, coffee places -- there are Oren's and a bunch of little cafes on the Columbia campus. I've been sussing them out for a few years now. You get a lot more choices at the business school than you do at the school of the arts. I think they just have more money. There's a good place underneath the Avery [library]; I'm kind of a regular there. I go and pretend I'm an architect. If you wear glasses and a sweater and have your laptop, people assume you're an architect.

Anywhere you like to go for a drink?

My couch. It's easy to get on and I know the bartender really well.

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