Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lost Angel

 On a bench in Burbank. At a bus stop on Olive and San Fernando. The Van Man sat. Alone. Nearly three weeks back in LA. That morning he opened his eyes and found himself on another couch. The van was incapacitated. Transmission busted and no bread to fix it. He was good with repairs, but not that good. His metal chariot sat on Sepulveda, alone and afraid. The blur of Birmingham was behind him, but it was like a ghost that would continue to haunt. And now, the days of being The Van Man were coming to an end. How could one be a Van Man without a van? And he sat on the bench and reflected.
  That morning, as he awoke from couch slumber, Van Man felt the need to be social. Naturally, he logged into social media. Overtaken by an urge to check in on an old friend, Van Man scanned Swiss Miss's profile page.

 And with his breath taken away, she was gone.

 Van Man rested a hand on the empty part of the bench next to him. Three nights prior, Swiss Miss had taken her life. The details were murky. From what he gathered from a phone call with a mutual friend, Swiss Miss had a drink with a comrade and dropped her off at home. Then she drove to a bridge and jumped. Swiss Miss had been back in her native Switzerland since the previous Fall. She needed real help and went back for treatment. Van Man had spoken with her plenty about her love of Los Angeles. She wanted to get better and come back to the City of Angels. There ain't no angels, are there?, he thought. Van Man stared at the empty space next to him.
 He could dissect the tragedy. He could sure as hell try. She had too damn big of a heart and was surrounded by too many damaged souls needing a fix. More kindness, more goodwill, more, more, more. Swiss Miss gave nearly all of her spirit to the Beast, the vampiric nature of the City. And, finally, the last of it. Van Man strung together those times the two shared: the laughs, the sweetness, the intimacy...and what use would it be? He was just a witness to LA getting rid of one more angel. Van Man watched it happen. And that was the only thing that made any sense.
 A bus pulled up to the stop. But Van Man was not there to catch a bus. This was the stop where he first met Swiss Miss. She sat alone on the bench. Exotic and different. The bus pulled away and The Van Man stood. The bench was empty now. Angels do not last in this world. They smile and fly among us. And when they leave, we are left with the understanding that we can never be as good as they were.







Saturday, February 4, 2017

Blue Dream

  The light was kept on throughout the night. Just so the rat would not come eat The Van Man. But he was under. Asleep.
  The wind blew into his face and was crisp. The sky a deep, midnight blue. Black clouds hung like paintings on the night canvas. Green hills rolled across the horizon, sprouting mangled trees. All bare from an unpronounced winter. On top of the biggest mound stood three lost souls, huddled together.
  Van Man recognized them, instantly. He felt their fear and knew the urgency. He ran to them and he jumped toward them and was flying. Van Man soared, breezily in the night. The power of the universe loaded within his structure. His was a flight more graceful than the eagle.
  A series of quick steps accompanied his landing, like the parachutists in New Mexico. He greeted the troubled people. Loved ones. Mother, Uncle and Grandmother. They rushed to Van Man's side and spoke hastily, in fear. Silence. Their mouths opened and no sound came.
  Van Man looked out onto the devastatingly blue landscape. No words were needed. The three took hold of him. And he held back. He lifted them with all his strength, creating a space of an inch between their feet and the cold grass. Van Man took a step. Then two. He worked his steps into a few and the legs churned into a gallop. He needed speed for take off. Van Man jumped and flight was reborn, but only for a few yards. His family held on. They needed him to fly. And he was not so sure anymore. Were they too heavy for him to carry?
  Again the legs stomped, but the loved ones sagged in his arms. Feet dragged the ground as Van Man mustered another run. The jump was mighty and strenuous, but the result was the same and quicker. He looked at his dead Uncle and Grandmother. And then he looked at his Mother. The deal was understood. Van Man stepped away from his family. He charged a few feet and took flight, but he could no longer control his gift. Van Man crashed in and out of trees and skidded along the green hills.
  Van Man awoke. The dream was over. But it haunted. He stood up, groggy and turned off the lamp. The room was aglow in sunlight and would keep the rat hiding. He walked into the cold hallway and peeked into her room. His mother slept. And in the kitchen, a mouse scurried along the sink and The Van Man put on coffee.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Simple Plan

  "Things are bad now I am going to make them good."
The Van Man read over that line and his body siezed. It was a Mother's Day card given to his Grandmother, from his Uncle. A sweet gesture by a son. A reassurance to his mother. The handwriting was poor, but legible. The grammar and punctuation, terrible.
  "Dont give up on me. you are the only one who love me. My kids love me, But I dont get to see them."
His Uncle had an undiagnosed learning disorder. Nineteen Sixties Alabama, poor working class conditions. A diagnosis like that was shameful and disregarded as mental diffeciency. He might as well have been a retard. So, his Uncle was on his own. And he was determined to change his path, teaching himself to read and write when others did not give a shit. Or, probably, had their own hells to deal with.
  "I dont know what I would do if I did not have you as my mama. My ex-wife told me she would love me all my life, But you have always love me."
Van Man's Uncle developed a relationship with a woman that he thought was going to bring him the ultimate happiness. Children. His own, which he could shower with love. But it was at a price. Van Man watched his Uncle succumb to a crazy person's will over a decade. She broke her water a few times and broke his hope into a million pieces.
  "I stay in my room not because I dont love you. I stay in my room I feel very bad."
Depression was not a word uttered in many Southern homes. It was too weak a concept. And Southerners had a pride about them, even though they did not have much to be proud of. Van Man did not see much of that abstract notion left in his Uncle, during those last years.
  "I will get some Job and things will get to be good. I will make some money and go and get my Kids and have them here for as long as they can stay."
His Uncle always had a plan, he was forever dreaming. And, gradually, they became pipe dreams, one after another. Until, there was no more dreaming. The last time Van Man saw his Uncle, hope had left for good. And his Uncle constructed one more plan: to kill himself. He expressed his desire to Van Man one December day. A simple explanation. He hated his life.
  "My Kids love you. My exwife love you, and would say so at one time you are my Mama and I love you"
Van Man noticed the absense of a period at then end of that last line. No punctuation at all, as if his Uncle did not want to stop telling his mother how much love he had left to give.
  Van Man closed the card and put it away. Back in a box, along with old photographs, under a bed. Too much for a Sunday morning. Van Man looked at his reflection in a mirror. Birmingham was a prison that he had once escaped. Staying any longer than required was a death sentence. There was much to be done and he had a plan. Oh yes, The Van Man always had a plan. And he had his van, man.

An Inauguration Day Story

  The Van Man awoke, his eyes squinted and searching. His body stiff. Underneath, a bed that had become all too familiar after more than a month in Alabama Hell. Van Man peeled off the covers and snorted a big breath. He was stuffy and desperately needed a cup of the hot stuff.
  A groggy, stumble into the bathroom ushered in memories of the night before. Too much beer. Van Man flopped out his used cock, giving it a mighty shake. Urine gushed from it and spewed into the stained toilet bowl. It should have been a great relief, but the raging headache would not let up. Too much tequila.
  He looked around and walked into the infested kitchen. Empty house, empty coffee can. His mother was gone, obviously out to watch the inauguration of the new President. But she was not a fan of the real estate dude, so why was she out? His cranium throbbed. Van Man needed the Black Juice before he could allow himself to think any longer on that strange enigma.
  The van rolled up to the curb, in a nice parking space only a few stores down from the little hip coffee spot. The type of place college kids flocked to. About as liberal as Birmingham was going to get. The streets were empty, the sidewalks barren. Was Inauguration Day a holiday? Who gave a flying fuck, the coffee joint was open.
  A bell jingled, as Van Man entered. A television hung on the wall, behind the counter. It displayed the Inauguration speech and a single man watched. He seemed transfixed and stood motionless at the counter, his back to Van Man. The new President finished his blabbering. Van Man quickly noticed that, except for himself and The Man, the coffee shop was completely empty. No customers. No baristas. And then the Man began to whimper. Van Man watched. It was strange and sad. The whimper escalated into a cry which became a wail. What had the poor Man been through to become so overwhelmed with emotion? Was it really that bad? The Man's head hunched low, almost disappearing behind the shoulders. Sorrowful sobs poured from the Man. It occurred to Van Man that he had not yet seen the Man's face, only his back. There must have been some poetry there.
  Van Man took a small, hesitant step forward. And the Man began to chuckle. Van Man could not move, his body frozen. The chuckling erupted into a maniacal laugh. Van Man's mouth hung open and he lifted his leg slowly. He wanted to leave and pulled his leg backward. And the Man's maniacal laugh exploded into horrific screaming. Van Man froze in terror, the most absolute and pure terror. He stood on one foot, holding his other leg in the air behind him. The screaming was filled with pain and torture, as loud as anything Van Man had ever heard. Suddenly, the scream stopped. Van Man did not dare move. His balance on one foot felt secure, like he could do it all day, if needed. Everything was quiet. Still. Calm. The Man spun around and looked straight into Van Man's eyes, down further even. Into his soul. The Man smiled wide, his eyes blood red. He pointed to Van Man.
"Nigger!", yelled the Man, hatred quaking from within.
Van Man moved. Fast. He ran out of the shop and down the sidewalk. Van Man did not look behind him, he knew the Man was there. He could hear the footsteps and hateful screams chasing him. Van Man reached the van and fumbled for his keys. The screams closed in. Van Man dared not look back as he found the door key and unlocked it, jumping in. He slammed the door shut as the Man busted head first into the door window. Glass shattered and the Man screamed, his face shredded and bloody. He smiled wide and looked directly at Van Man. The laughter returned.
"Dead!", shrieked the Man, as he reached into the van.
Van Man kicked, but the Man grabbed and took hold of him. Van Man felt the icy hands through his jeans and the Man yanked him out through the window. Van Man held onto the door. He screamed for anyone to help. The Man had the strength of ten men and pulled Van Man free of the door. The Man held him high above his head, an offering to some god. Both men screamed. One in rage, one in horror. Van Man looked at the ground, it seemed thirty feet below. He looked up to the sky.
"Help!", a plea to heaven.
The Man smashed him head first into the pavement. His head bursting open like a rotted pumpkin, a week after Halloween.
  The Man raged on, grabbing a handful of Van Man's gore and smearing it over his own face. And just as sudden as the Man became savage, he calmed. The Man sat on the sidewalk, looking over his violence. He stared at the lifeless corpse of The Van Man. And he wept.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dead Flashlights

  On his mother's side, Christmas never felt particularly fun and cozy. Not for The Van Man. He was the only child in a childless clan. Too young to be included in the adult comraderie and too aware to be ignorant of the loneliness. And now, Christmas was a tragic scene.
  Death, both physical and mental, had taken up residence in the Van Man Family. She was on an extended stay. And she had worn out her welcome. Rooms that used to be full of southern gossip and slow-drawl anecdotes had been replaced by sad games of five-person Dirty Santa and sullen conversations that faded out without ending.
  An old cousin spoke to Van Man about things that disentegrated as the words fell out of his mouth. The Old Cousin was once a funny intellectual. A man who could speak about the government and rewire an outlet while telling a dirty joke, all at the same time. And it would make sense. Now, not so much. Only ramblings about his dead wife. Van Man clicked on his gift from the Saddest Dirty Santa Game In History, a pocket flashlight. The Old Cousin smiled at the glowing fake fire and walked away.
  Van Man scanned over the remnants of family. How does one make sense of the suffering? Just life. Shit happens. Now, eat up, he thought. Then a light came on for Van Man. His face was illuminated, his eyes nearly blinded. He looked across the room at the source of the shining. The Old Cousin pointed a flashlight at him, showing it off. Van Man smirked and flashed his light back. With a wide smile, the Old Cousin disappeared into some other room. The two had communicated, it seemed.
  The tragedy of Christmas. A yearly reminder of death and destruction. A moment of time to look back on what was once good and which can never be again. For Van Man, it had never been. Then, the Old Cousin was standing next to him.
"Lemme show you my flashlight", he said with a gleam in his eye. The Old Cousin held a flashlight in each hand, posing with them as he clicked the lights on and off. He pretended to search for things that were not there, then some thing that was not there caught his attention. The Old Cousin stared at the imaginary object. Van Man watched. And he was saddened by the spectacle. 
  Christmas was a time for joy. Some families laughed and gave presents. Some families welcomed new additions. Not The Van Man's. They died a little every year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Paper Memories

  Christmas Eve in Birmingham. The Van Man had been there for three weeks exactly and the walls were closing in around him. But he would stretch out his arms and keep that heaviness at bay.
  What was the saying, the world is a stage and we all play a part? Van Man was playing the part of the dutiful son, cleaning up his grandmother's house. Trashing years and years of garbage and junk. A life's worth of shit. But if there was a man to do it, Van Man was that man.
  His mother limped and swayed as she entered the room. Neuropothy was slowly taking away her mobilization. She had always seemed agile and quick in years past, but diabetes and over-medication had broken his mother down. Her brother was gone and now her mother. She was alone. Van Man watched her struggle to walk. He saw sixty years of heartbreak in every delicate step.
  Old magazines, broken models--symbols of his uncle's patience, bags of expired medicine, pictures--snippets of how good it used to be. Didn't it always used to be good?, thought Van Man. He perused over the photographs. Just paper memories. There was happiness in some, sadness in others. Van Man saw himself as a young boy, laughing and joyful at the wonder of the world. Then, there he was as an adolescent, melancholy and insecure.  A vicious stepfather in the background, hovering over the group like a vulture. Bad times, thought Van Man and he put those paper memories away.
  More boxes and more pictures. Most of the people in them were dead now. Dead or divorced. The family had been decimated by the Double D. And there was his Uncle. Divorce was not enough for him, so suicide became his only answer. The piles of images told his story simply enough. A laughing, blonde child in the sixties. An awkward, lovable lug in the seventies. He found his stride in the eighties and was at his happiest. Then, the nineties hit and he lost his footing...and his smile. As the Van Mother once said, "Some people get knocked down and get right on back up. Some people don't know how to get back up."
  Van Man looked around. Piles of junk and rooms of boxes left to be unearthed. A life's worth of paper memories ready to be viewed. Months of dirty work to be done. His mother limped by, smiling at him. And The Van Man knew he was the only man to do it.

Expensive Blonde

  A quick coffee and on into the cold, December night. The van pulled up to the drive-thru window.
"Tall blonde with a shot?", asked the barista.
"Yes ma'am", replied The Van Man, adjusting back into the southern hospitality twang.
"The lady in front of you paid for your coffee and said Merry Christmas."
"Oh...really?", asked Van Man as the Barista smiled. The moment hit him, it was one of those Pay It Forward deals. Van Man decided to do the same for the person behind him.
"Well, let me take care of that dude behind me."
"Okay", replied the Barista and punched up the total on her register.
"Uh, what did they get?", asked Van Man. He was not about to pay for a bunch of bullshit. The Barista rattled off a string of words that, presumably, formed a sentence.
"...is that one drink?", asked Van Man.
"Yes", answered the Barista.
"Well, how much is that?"
"Five thirty-seven."
"Oh." Van Man reluctantly handed over his debit card to purchase the fancy coffee. Hell, two bucks more than mine, thought Van Man.
  The Barista handed back the card and the van drove away. There was no mention of Merry Christmas. There was only The Van Man driving with a coffee that he did not pay for yet, somehow, paid double for. Two bucks, he thought and sipped his blonde. Fucking Christmas Miracle.