Every month Howl! Writes invites a writer, poet, or essayist to contribute a short piece of their own work. We asked Mike DeCapite co-founder of Howl! Happening’s seasonal reading series, the Sparkle Street Social & Athletic Club, to be our inaugural writer.
“Meeting Lincoln,” an excerpt from New Year’s Barber Shop
I sat with Lincoln while he ate his Buffalo wings. Ted gave him my number because I had a big bag of little toys and trinkets and novelties from Jane’s Christmas party. So I met him at Buffalo Cantina, he was in there getting some wings. He was the only one in there. He was eleven. I sat in the booth with him while he ate. I didn’t want to leave him there. While being glad to get the bag of stuff, he sort of took it in stride, not as his due but as part of the many interesting things that came his way each day. He either knew what each thing was or understood it immediately. Between wings he reached in and pulled a doll off the top of the pile, one of those bald rubber things you squeeze and its eyes and ears pop out. He said, “I always wanted one of these”—he knew what it was—Bob—he knew its name. He gave it a squeeze, dropped it in the bag, pulled out something else. There was a book light, a sort of African tambourine, some sort of compass. I told him to wait till he got home and his hands weren’t covered in Buffalo sauce. He gnawed at a piece of celery with his front teeth like a cartoon beaver, relishing it. He picked up a wing and watched the TV above my head while he ate it. Some food show was on. Everything was interesting to him. The fat guy on the food show sampling delicacies of Brazil, the wing-eating competition posted on the wall, the new places open on Havemeyer. He was curious about everything, in favor of it all. He was like his father that way, universally curious. His father was at an NA meeting. I was thinking out loud about where to get dinner and Lincoln said, “Why don’t you get something here? Wings are only five dollars.” Simple, right? Of course he didn’t know I had a boycott against the place for some reason I’d forgotten, or that I tried to eat organically raised chicken when I could get it, or that I was watching what I ate and therefore didn’t want to eat fried chicken wings covered in Buffalo sauce and smeared with blue cheese dressing, or that I tried to balance my meals with some vegetables. Lincoln was just a kid, he was unburdened by all these conditions. His life wasn’t conditional. His road wasn’t blocked by red and yellow lights: it was green lights all the way. Again: simple, right? You’re here, get something here. “Do you ever go to the pizza place? They’ve got a Hawaiian slice. My dad doesn’t like it, but I think it’s great. Or try that new falafel place. They have good gyros, only six dollars.” When he was finished he walked me up there and waited with me while they got my order, playing with a ball-and-paddle from the bag, swatting the ball on its elastic in all directions while we waited in the empty place. The difference between us was as stark as when you look at an old photograph of yourself. You’re fifty years old and you’re basically this banged-up, damaged old guy looking to bring his life in for a not-too-bumpy landing, and the world around you is this poisoned, low-ceilinged place of very limited possibilities and expectations, and you’ve got a bad tooth on one side and a loose crown on the other and a couple of ex-wives and your knees hurt from the treadmill and there are as many friends you’re not talking to as those you are talking to, and you’re not drinking anymore or you’re at an NA meeting, and Lincoln doesn’t know anything about any of this—he has no history—he’s starting here—there’s no used-to-be for him—there was no better time—things haven’t gotten worse—there’s no time like the present!—he has no responsibility to the past—the world is his, he’s starting now—and it’s all great, all systems go!—roger that!—and there he is smacking that little red ball as they’re bagging up my gyro, and I walk him to his corner, he’s talking the whole way, and he goes his way and I go mine.
Mike DeCapite published work includes the novel Through the Windshield, the chapbooks Sitting Pretty and Creamsicle Blue, and the short-prose collection Radiant Fog. DeCapite’s at work on a novel and plans to put together another Sparkle Street series at Howl! in 2017.