No sooner are you in the door, where the doorman glances at your fake ID with all the disinterest he can muster, than you can feel several sets of eyes on you. You find a wall to lean against and reach into your back pocket for your cigarettes. You have only recently mastered smoking without coughing or getting sick. It feels like an accomplishment, like learning a foreign language or losing a few pounds on a diet.
You don’t need to diet or put on a few pounds. You are, as most of the daddies in the Glory Hole would attest, just right.
—From Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories
Gregg Shapiro’s late 1970s/early ’80s Chicago is one rich in pop-culture references, in all of the self-possessed swagger of a young man coming of age and realizing he not only has a place in the city but a coveted spot as well. The above passage is taken from “Your Father’s Car,” the collection’s pitch-perfect opener that also serves to represent a sort of ultra-insouciant in medias res for the seemingly semi-biographical protagonist loosely running through all of the collection’s dozen tales. We see stories spanning this man’s youth, from a fascination with his swimming instructor in fourth grade (“Swimming Lessons”) to feeling uneasy about seeing an old boyfriend (“Your Mother’s Car”).
Shapiro is a seasoned contributing writer to various LGBT publications throughout the country, from those in Baltimore to this ol’ publication right here, in addition to many literary journals. He has previously published a collection of poetry entitled Protection (2008) as well as a chapbook, Gregg Shapiro: 77 (2012). This experience and diversity of writing skill shows in Lincoln Avenue, as it feels at times both like hearing a friend recount old stories and also like a quality portrait of life at a certain time and in a certain place.
At 91 pages, Shapiro’s short-story collection is also a zippy read, never overstaying its welcome. You are left wishing you could spend more time in its universe. So pretend like it’s still summer (because let’s be honest—in Houston, it rarely feels like it’s not summer) and spend an afternoon in Shapiro’s Chicago. Later that night, share your own stories—while we might not all be as deft at writing as Shapiro, we’ve all got ’em.
Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories is available from Squares & Rebels, a Handtype Press imprint (squaresandrebels.com). —Tori Laxalt