Every once in a while I get to wondering whatever happened to Howard. 

Or possibly his name was Owen. It’s been a lot of years. 

Howard, or maybe Owen, was a man that used to regularly walk down Park Street in Lewiston at weird hours of night. Sometimes he was coming home from a bar. Sometimes he was heading to Speaker’s Variety for a hot sandwich on a cold night. 

More often than not, he was just walking. Howard was a man with a restless soul. 

No matter what his destination on a given night, the man would always stop to talk to me as I took my thrice hourly smoke breaks in front of the old Sun Journal building. 

When Howard stopped to talk, it was a by-God event, because Howard was one of the friendliest fellows I’ve ever met. 


When he spotted you out there on the sidewalk, he’d come bounding from the other side of the street. It didn’t matter if he just saw you a day or two before, Howard always treated you like you were a long-lost friend of great importance. 

He’d come stomping across the street, the smile on his face brighter than the glow of my cigarette. He’d still be 20 feet away, but his hand would already be outstretched, prepared for the firmest, hardest and longest handshake you’ll ever experience. 

“My friend!” he’d cry. “It’s so good to see you! What a glorious night it is, eh?” 

And a second later, your hand would be gripped tight and it would be pumped up and down, up and down, with all the vigor of a paint shaker. 

Howard never entered a conversation by talking about himself. He always wanted to know how YOU were doing. What kind of day YOU were having and what could he possibly do to make it better? When you offered up a few details about your day, he’d listen attentively, urging you on when you started running out of things to say. And even if you didn’t particularly feel like talking that night, Howard would be so enthused about your narrative, you’d find yourself opening up as though Park Street were the therapist’s office and you were lying on the couch. 

It took me months to find out anything about Howard himself because Howard was a listener, not a whiner. 


A short and stout fellow with a balding head, he was almost always wearing a dark blue windbreaker that was never buttoned. Even on the coldest nights, Howard would be out there on Park Street, the light coat flapping in the breeze because he didn’t care to fasten it shut. 

He’d once been homeless, Howard told me, but this wasn’t a complaint or an appeal for sympathy. Howard wasn’t cut like that. 

“I made some stupid decisions, did some stupid things and found myself out on the street,” he explained. “It happened in the blink of an eye. One day I had an apartment, a bed and a kitchen table, the next day I had nothing.” 

His description of that very first night on the street was one of the most riveting tales I’d ever heard, but he’d never talk long about it. Howard would much rather hear about my recent adventures on the police beat or listen to me rant about the new girl I was dating. 

The man had a gift. No matter what was going on in your humdrum life, Howard made you feel like you were the most interesting guy in the world. After every conversation I had with the man over a period of two or three years, I went away in a much better mood than I’d started with. I sometimes wonder if that was his intention all along. 

And then, at some point, Howard stopped coming by. Weeks passed and every now and then I’d wonder about him while I was on Park Street sucking on a cigarette. 


But I only wondered in a vague way, you know? Things were busy at the paper and my life was crammed full of characters of all kinds. This was a time I think of as a Golden Age of characters and enigmas in downtown Lewiston. You had your Punk Icee, your Gordon the bag man, your Nancy twirling out there on the sidewalk in her oversized coat . . . 

There was Consuela singing drunkenly in the park, there was the old deaf man flying his flags from his bicycle handlebars, there was good old Brenda, roaring with boozy exuberance as she lumbered up from the social clubs on Lisbon Street. 

So many characters on so many nights. By the time I got around to thinking about Howard again, years had passed and my memory of him had dimmed. 

Had I even asked the man if he was married? Had kids? Where did he work and where had he come from? 

Howard had been so enthused about the prosaic details of my life that I’d never taken the time to learn more about his, and I got the feeling that every single soul the man every talked to could say the same. 

I thought about checking the obituaries and police notes for clues to his whereabouts, but was I remembering the name right? Was it Howard or Owen? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like his name could have been Orin or Norris or possibly Steve. 


Ultimately it didn’t matter. My chronically cheerful buddy had vanished never to return. And when I think about all those nights spent smoking cigarettes and socializing on Park Street, it occurs to me that there is not just one lost soul from the old days, but many. Dozens. 

I don’t think I ever spent a single night out there in front of the newspaper without meeting at least one truly interesting stranger. Characters of all shapes and sizes; the city teemed with them and somehow they all seemed drawn to that little area next to Kennedy Park in Lewiston’s scrappy downtown. 

I’d meet them, get to know them and then forget about them entirely as they went on to whatever awaited them in their lives beyond Park Street. 

All those conversations on all those nights and I don’t recall ever taking a single note in the floppy notebook that lived in my back pocket. It’s a shame, really, because what a fascinating read those notes would make now that so many of those wandering strangers are gone for good. 

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