Yeah, you know he too big to be a housecat, and he too small to be a lion.
“Crosseyed Cat”, Muddy Waters
— This was the first book I wrote. It was a book of journals, but I wrote it for publication. Hoping to get it published, I mean. When I was just out of high school, and finished with writing anything I didn’t want to write, someone told me if I wanted to be a writer I should keep a journal, to keep my hand in. He was a family friend—a stage director in Boston who came through Cleveland every year or two in the summer. So I started writing this journal, though it was never daily, and it was never private. I typed it up, the entries, made photocopies, gave them to a couple of friends, who circulated them to other friends. I must’ve gotten that idea from when I drew cartoons in high school. And I sent them to this family friend, the director, who wrote me long letters about them. I did it for a year. (It was a good year to keep a journal: I was on a steep learning curve, nearly 90 degrees. I must’ve found school so arid and oppressive that I put myself on hold till I could get the fuck out of there and start my life. What’s the opposite of precocious? I was delayed or something. I was overdue. So I covered a lot of ground in that year, including my first encounters with women, a guy, an orgy or two—there might’ve even been a little makeup in there, who knows? And possibly a scarf. My first scene—in this case, the Cleveland music scene around the Mistake and the Phantasy and the places in the Flats; a lot of hitchhiking; my first trips on my own to New York and my introduction to the Lower East Side; my first time trying to move to New York; my first girlfriend, such as she was; first breakup.) I went from a lonely lurking suburban virgin living at home who’d never smoked a joint to, okay, a still-pretty-green kid living in an old hotel downtown and kept as a sort of pet by a couple of older dykes, shooting pharmaceutical morphine and getting lost in their floor-to-ceiling library of New Directions, City Lights, Grove Press, and Black Sparrow books. (In the morning, beside the bed, there’d be a big prenatal vitamin stolen from the same pharmacy where the morphine came from and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Pretty nice setup.) More consequential: writing this blue book of mine was my first experience of turning my life into writing.
It’s written by a guy who didn’t know I exist.
As an object, the book is kind of an awkward possession. It’s embarrassing. I can’t read it and I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. So I’ve lugged it around the country, place to place, for 35 years, and it’s sat in the bottom of a box or a drawer or a milk crate, with the dust and bits of spiderweb and termite wings. It’s soft and puffy now, as though it’s been through a flood. I like the book as it exists in my imagination. It has a kind of glow around it, which is dispelled by a glance at the thing itself. But with its feeling of time-as-it-happens, with its variety of tones and textures and its collage of vignettes and snatches of dialogue and descriptions of the weather, it became the template for my first novel, Through the Windshield. Writing it, I discovered the kind of book that comes natural to me to write. The approach was waiting there for me: I found my form. It was also my first experience of how something this size—a year of your life, 400 pages—takes shape at a chance word or suggestion. I started it on October 5, 1980, with an account of driving, alone, to see a show of watercolors in Canton, and I ended it on October 4, 1981, with a description of the sky. I was ready for anything.
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Photo credit: Don Heiny
Mike DeCapite is the author of the novels THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD (Sparkle Street Books, 1998; Red Giant Books, 2014) and RUINED FOR LIFE! (excerpts of which have appeared in 3:AM and Sensitive Skin); the chapbooks TRAVEL NOTES (Price of a Drink, 1995), SITTING PRETTY (CUZ Editions, 1999), and CREAMSICLE BLUE (Sparkle Street, 2012); and the short-prose collection RADIANT FOG (Sparkle Street, 2013). His work has appeared in CLE, CUZ, Evergreen Review, Vanitas, and many other publications. In 2016, with photographer Ted Barron, he presented the Sparkle Street Social & Athletic Club, a series of performances accompanied by photos and films, at the Howl! Happening gallery, NYC. DeCapite lives in New York.