Sunday, December 27, 2015

Birmingham Blues

  Birmingham during the holidays. A surreal experience. The streets were empty, the trees were bare. Brown leaves drowned in piss-filled potholes. Or maybe that was just muddy water. The temperature was in the high seventies and thunderstorms raged. Tornado weather. He had four days to spend with family. The first belonged to his father, The Hustler.
  The two men decided that a movie was the best way to reconnect. It had been a few years. They shared a love of movies and women. And Van Man was not about to split down on a woman with his father. The old man chose the new science fiction flick that was out. A surprise since The Hustler was not a space ship and alien type of guy. He was more of a breast and beaver connoisseur, but those kind of films did not play in Alabama theaters. It was Van Man's treat and his father provided the ride.
  Van Man opened the passenger door, sat in the four-door clunker and looked at his father, The Hustler. It certainly had been a few years. His old man was no longer the primped cocksman that cared more about his looks than being on time. In front of Van Man was a totally different being. A dishevelled, broken soul with large black moles on his temples and a mouth containing fewer teeth than the typical tramp.Van Man's smile faded. The Hustler drove on.
"How're you doing? ", asked Van Man, even though he knew the answer.
"Well, guess'm alright", replied The Hustler.
"Smile for me", said Van Man. The Father obliged and revealed eight, brown teeth which remained.
"Pretty, ain't they?"
"Jesus..."
"Don't need a Halloween mask. I just smile and scare people."
"What do the dentists say when they see that?", asked Van Man.
"Well...they wanna take 'em all out", replied The Hustler.
"Why don't you?"
"I ain't got the money for that shit."
"How often you brush your teeth?", asked Van Man.
"Hell, everyday."
"Everyday?"
"Well...sometimes once a week", said The Hustler.
The two rode on in silence. The only sounds were the car's straining motor and The Hustler's groans of life. Van Man took off the old man's ball cap and tousled his white hair.
"Well, you still got all your hair."
"Of course I do!", exclaimed The Father.
  The father and son sat in the movie theater. Too many previews of coming attractions brought out more than a few groans from The Father, then the film began. When the film's black male lead developed romantic feelings for his white female counterpart, things got ugly.
"Fuuuck", murmured The Hustler, very disappointed. "They better not have him with her."
Van Man was appalled at The Hustler's murmurs. There were families with many children in the audience. The movie seemed to drag on as Van Man prepared himself for another hate-filled remark from his old man. And it came.
"Oh yeah, she's gotta have that black!", stated The Hustler, very loudly. Van Man tightened his grips on the arm rests.
"If he kisses her, I'm leavin', boy", threatened The Hustler. The kiss did not happen, but a hug did. And that was all The Father could take.
"Fuuuck", said The Hustler as he hobbled out of the theater. And Van Man was relieved. He watched the remainder of the film, filled with thoughts of the bitter, racist gargoyle his Father had become.
  The parking lot was full of vehicles as Van Man searched for The Hustler. Rain drizzled down and he wondered if the old man had driven off in ludicrous rage. He hoped he did. Was The Father ever a good person? It seemed that he was a long time ago. Once upon a time, The Father cared about things. People, the future, his appearance. But that story was over. Too much had happened. Van Man looked up at the night sky. Rain splattered softly onto his face. There was something comforting about the rain, an innocence. One was tempted to hide when rain came. To hide and be safe. Maybe he would not find The Hustler. Maybe he could hide from the old man's vitriol and all the bad shit in the world. But that was not possible. That was not reality. His cell phone rang. It was The Father.
"Yeah", said Van Man.
"Where the hell you at?", asked The Hustler.
"In the parking lot."
"I told you I'd be in the lobby."
"Thought you said lot."
"Nahhh, I said lobby. I'm comin' out."
The Hustler hobbled out the front doors. Van Man just stood still and watched. The Hustler was a bigot. He was crippled. And he wore diapers. Getting old was hell and The Van Man wanted no part of it. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Have Drink, Will Travel

  A long day of travel ahead of him and The Van Man kept smelling crap. He double checked the bottoms of his sneakers, but they were clean. Perhaps, it was all in his head. A case of what the uppity doctors referred to as psychosomatic doo doo sniffing. A syndrome caused by the pressures of seeing family. And getting into the bullshit.
  The van sat in some parking lot, sad and lonely. Van Man boarded the flight. Four days in Birmingham observing the realities of life left behind, freshly dead aunts and fatted cousins. The bearing of stories that had been told many times before, in younger years. And told better. It was all one big reminder of getting old.
  A quick stop over in Vegas. No chance for food. Peanuts and crackers would be his meal. Van Man needed a drink. He hoped the plane had tequila.
  The travellers boarded the final flight. It was completely full which stressed Van Man. He loved the aisle seat and the aisle seat loved him. As he walked down the aisle, it appeared to Van Man that everyone else shared his love. Fuuuck, he thought. Then, bingo. An open aisle seat. He slid his luggage into the overhead bin. The piece red and vintage from eighty-two. Some of the passengers ogled at the beauty.
  The plane took off into the night sky. People talked and a dog whined from a carrier underneath Van Man. He needed a tequila. The attendants read his mind and he was soon gulping down a margaritas. It was closer to a tequila and water, but he did not complain. The only question was whether he would need a second.
  He was well into Steinbeck and a second margarita when the sudden announcement came from The Attendant. "Please remain calm, but is there a doctor or nurse on the flight?" Everyone looked to the commotion behind Van Man. A woman gasped for air. Three different nurses came to the rescue and spent twenty minutes discussing how the Gasping Lady needed Benadryl. Van Man leaned across the aisle toward a young couple. They looked at him. "Glad I had two drinks", stated Van Man and leaned back. After a while, The Gasping Lady relaxed and her breathing calmed. The ordeal was over. And Van Man went back to Steinbeck. Then, the woman sitting beside him vomited. He handed her a puke bag, realizing how insufficient those little sacks really were. The Attendant was quickly next to them, handing over two kitchen-sized trash bags. They were more than sufficient. Van Man stared at The Couple across the aisle. They smiled back. "Two drinks", said Van Man.
  The plane began its descent and Van Man looked over to Puking Girl. She glanced back at him, then away. "This is the worst flight ever", she said in a pitiful whimper. He was not so sure. All of the commotion distracted The Attendant and she forgot to charge for the tequilas. Also, The Van Man did not smell the funk anymore. The flight was pretty damn good. And that made the holidays bearable. That and tequila.

Monday, December 21, 2015

That's All

  The script was finished. Christmas was close. And The Van Man had some earned pay on the way. In a matter of days, he would hop on a flight to the old neighborhood, Birmingham. They called it The Magic City. "They" were the locals and the city was anything but magical. Poor, yes. Mystical? Only to the blissfully ignorant. Yet, the remnants of his family still lived there. And he was to see them. But first, he needed to get through Monday.
  The working day had him transporting cars and drivers back and forth between the airport and Riverside. Over one hundred miles round trip. Half of it solitary, just Van Man and the traffic. The travel filled with deep, philosophical questions of why the hell he was working the job in the first place. The return trip saw Van Man transporting a couple of the men he worked with. Two pissed off black dudes who definitely did not want to be there.
"You guys wanna grab lunch on the way back?", asked Van Man.
"Man, whateva!", replied one Black Dude, angrily. He then leaned his seat back and closed his eyes.
  Silence and the radio were the only options for the hour-plus drive back to the airport. Van Man cranked up the volume a few notches. "That's All" by Genesis played on the classic rock station. The three men rode down the highway. As Phil Collins asked the fundamental question of why it always seemed to be him looking at someone and that same someone looking at him, Van Man glanced at the Black Dudes tapping their legs to the beat. They liked it. And Van Man hoped the station kept up the good stuff.
  The work day ended and Van Man headed for the store. He was in need of a good cleaning and was low on raw honey. He found the items with ease and made his purchase. Van Man walked away from the store, The Sun had already set. A woman on a bicycle yelled at a vehicle. She was enraged. The driver of the car tried to apologize.
"I got your license! You don't do this!", screamed The Bicyclist.
"I didn't see you!", replied The Driver.
"I'm going to have you fired! You fucking drive for a living, you don't do this!", screamed The Bicyclist.
Van Man looked closer at the car. It was a parking enforcement vehicle. He continued on to his van and The Bicyclist screamed as she pedaled away. An older gentleman passed by gesturing at all of the commotion.
"Whoa", said The Gentleman.
"Gonna be a good Monday night!", exclaimed Van Man and The Gentleman chuckled.
  The van idled at a red light. Van Man looked over at a good-looking couple in the truck next to him. They obviously hailed from the land of cool, as they stared in awe of his filthy beast. The girl mouthed "Love your van". Van Man knew what she said, but rolled down his window to hear it. She obliged.
"I love your van. I love the windows", said The Girl, in awe.
"Thanks. It's a seventy-nine", replied Van Man.
The light turned green and Van Man drove off, safe in the confines of his beautiful van. A place where nothing could touch him. Except for spiders. He held his raw honey under the glimmer of the passing street lights. There was something important to be said about Mondays and Phil Collins and Christmas. Something thoughtful. But The Van Man had to piss and wash his hair. It had been a while for both. And there was always Tuesday.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Doctor, Doctor

  The Van Man stood in line at the pharmacy, prescription in hand. He was happy. The end of the cough was near, he just knew it. Earlier that day, he had an appointment with the doctor. Finally. Universal Healthcare was going to rescue Van Man from the throes of a demonic cough possession. Enough was enough.
  He awoke that morning and gave a good choking hack as he wiped down the icy van windows. "Last fuckin' time", he quietly muttered to The Cough. "Enjoy it muthafucka". The Cough had been around so long and had been so disruptive, Van Man perceived it as his sworn enemy. A foe for the ages. But that saga was ending. The cold engine warmed. The van was awake.
  Van Man walked into the lobby. A receptionist confirmed his appointment and handed him a clipboard full of paperwork to fill out. And before he could finish, a nurse was hustling him down the hall, onto scales and into a private room. It was fast service that Van Man was not accustomed to. They don't fuck around here, he thought as he waited for the doctor. And Van Man smiled when The Doc walked in. He was Asian. Van Man had learned many things in life. One thing was that it was always better to have an Asian doctor. They cared more. Another thing was to always try and date nurses. His Father told him that one. "Nurses are dirty, boy. Dirty."
  Van Man explained his situation to The Doc. Brief and to the point. Then Doc had a few questions.
"You say the cough's been going on since..."
"July. Mid-July", replied Van Man.
"Are you depressed?", asked The Doc. Van Man looked at him. I'm a broke actor living in a van, he thought.
"Um, no. I mean, you know, I been coughing for a long time, so I'm sure that's done a number on me."
"And how long have you been homeless?"
"Uh, about a year and some change", replied Van Man. The clinical reality of Doc's question set in. The Doc did not see the world in greys. Only blacks and whites. One had to if one wanted to save a life. Guy don't fuck around, thought Van Man.
"Have you recently spent time with any people that might have TB? Tuberculosis?", asked Doc. Van Man was taken aback and amused. He did not have to be a great actor to read the subtext of that question. Doc wanted to know if Van Man hung out with diseased tramps and hobos.
"No. None of my friends have that."
  The questions ended and Doc prescribed him some strong medication. The technical jargon bored Van Man. He knew what was being said. They were ass-kicking drugs. The kind that cleansed the body of demon sickness. Father Karras pills. And he was fine with that.
  Van Man waited at the pharmacy for his prescription to be filled. He sat in the only available chair, the seat of a blood pressure testing machine. Packages of menstrual pads filled the display next to his face. Across from him were shelves full of aspirin and ibuprofen. Perfect sense, he thought as his name was called. He jumped up. The end of The Cough had arrived. No more vomiting hacks and sore ribs. No more worries about violent coughing during a show. He was about to start a new chapter. The Van Man approached the counter and smiled.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lennon Day

  A warm December anniversary of a Beatles' death. The Van Man was able to wake up without seeing his breath. The previous two mornings had not been so brutal. He only had to wear one pair of socks. Even the cough seemed to have subsided. It was still there, but not so intense. Perhaps, it was due to the pills he was taking. Courtesy of Swiss Miss. She had taken pity on Van Man and provided the prescription drugs to him, along with the warning to stop taking after four days. That had been Thanksgiving night. But he was no pill popper. Those days were long behind him. He just needed to get better. And maybe the pills helped. Or maybe the cough just came and went when it pleased. The weird, long-haired guy that shows up to all the parties, but nobody knows who the hell he is.
  Van Man checked his post office box. The unemployment check had arrived. Payday was at the end of the week. He was a god. And, as if The Sun smiled on him, Van Man had a writing gig that would pay just enough to clear up all of those parking tickets. His registration was expired, as well. The van was one, big rolling violation. A small production company in Las Vegas needed a script. Van Man was contacted through a friend that knew he could use the scratch. All he needed to do was write a screenplay for a horror film in two weeks. There were harder things in life.
  Van Man sat in the coffee shop and sipped the hot goodness. He put on earphones and clicked the pen. He looked down at the empty pad. True horror lived outside. In the hearts of the desperate. In the minds of nice neighbors. He looked at the blank page. He thought. Steely Dan played in his ears. And he stared at the college-ruled paper. The Van Man would need more coffee. And AC/DC.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ripped One

  A day after another mass shooting and The Van Man had his first Teamster paycheck. The murders had taken place in the forgettable town of San Bernardino. Fanaticism had made the town forgettable no more. And Christmas had come early for the media vampires. Los Angeles had front page news for the rest of the holidays. SEX SELLS. IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS. The signature catchphrases of the entertainment news. Well, LA was never short on sex, but it had been a good while since she had some big time bloodshed. It had also been a while since Van Man could afford a ten dollar meal and a haircut. And he was going to treat himself to both.
  The work day was over. Van Man drove himself to the gym for a shower. His tags were expired, so side streets would have to do. At the corner of Hartsook and Lankershim, the van idled at a stop sign. A weird son of a bitch awkwardly stepped out of his parked car and spilled a large container of French Fries on the street. "Damn", said The Son Of A Bitch. Van Man looked over at him, amused.
"Hey, man, you got change for a dollar?" The Son Of A Bitch needed change for the meter. Van Man stared at The Son Of A Bitch for a moment, then reached for four quarters on the dashboard. "Here, man", said Van Man as he extended his hand. The Son Of A Bitch was surprised and pulled out a dollar bill. He walked over to exchange with Van Man. The Son Of A Bitch was strange and insecure with his handling of the legal tender transaction. "Like a drug deal", said Van Man.
  The Son Of A Bitch stepped back and Van Man looked at the dollar bill. It was nearly ripped in half. Van Man gazed at The Son Of A Bitch with an open mouth. You fuckin' kidding me?, thought Van Man. The Son Of A Bitch reached into his pocket and handed Van Man another dollar bill. "For your troubles, man", said The Son Of A Bitch. Van Man took the bill, nodded and turned his attention to the main street. He was, after all, at a stop sign.
  Suddenly, The Son Of A Bitch dropped a book bag into the French Fries. "Shit, damn." Van Man looked at The Son Of A Bitch again. What the hell's wrong with this guy? The Son Of A Bitch walked back to the van. "Want some papers, man?", he asked as he handed rolling papers to Van Man. "Sure", replied Van Man. He grabbed the papers. "See ya, man", said Van Man as the van pulled away and turned south on Lankershim.
  The van cruised west on Camarillo. Van Man checked his rear view mirror and kept an eye out for police. There were many strange people in the world. Some spilled blood, some spilled fries. The Van man tossed the rolling papers out of the window. He was clean and did not want the temptation. Besides, he was going to have a nice shower. And he was a dollar richer. That was a good afternoon.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Smart

  Smart people had made smart phones. And The Van Man had one. It was Sunday and the van pulled into the library parking lot. A black man sat in a car two spaces over and stared at him as he parked. Probably thinks I live in this, thought Van Man as he stretched out over the front seats and laid back. There was half an hour to wait until the place was open, so he figured he would use the smartness of his phone and look at pornography. Van Man never found much to do on Sunday mornings.
  His plan was not to masturbate, there were too many people waiting in their vehicles. Van Man just wanted to get the blood up. But who knows? I might find somethin' real good, he thought. Van Man always had a plan.
  His fingers delicately scrolled the face of the phone. In a search engine, he typed the words "couple watching themselves fuck". Van Man was a man of certain tastes. He knew what he liked and did not play around. A list of videos popped up. It did not take long for Van Man to find a clip that suited him. He watched for a few minutes and adjusted the volume up and down. The moans and groans from the video fluctuated in loudness. After a while, he grew bored and viewed a different video, one suggested by the site. A few more minutes passed and he realized it was time for the library to open. His blood was up fine and he could face the rest of the day. Van Man sat up and was shocked to find The Staring Man standing outside his car, looking at him with a smile. Van Man looked away in horror. His own windows were down the whole time. It seemed The Staring Man had been listening to Van Man's lustful excursion. And he wanted in on it. Whatever hard-on the Van Man had was gone. He fake-dialed a phone number and pretended to speak with a friend. It was the only thing he could think of to offset the embarrassing strangeness of the situation. Staring Man just stood there. Staring and waiting.
  The pretend conversation ended and Van Man rolled up his windows. He locked the doors and walked into the library. Staring Man crept back into his own car. After an hour, Van Man walked back out to his van. The Staring Man was gone. He got tired of waiting.
  The van rolled out of the lot and down the road. Smart people had made smart phones. And Van Man was not one of them. Had he learned a lesson from the weird situation? Probably not. Except for one thing. The Van Man knew to close the windows before he got his blood up.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful

  Thanksgiving in The Valley. The coffee shop simmered with early birds and The Van Man finished an unloved crossword left by someone the day before. He sipped coffee that had cooled to an unacceptable temperature. There was much to be thankful for. He had the walls of the van to keep rain off his face and the cough had not brought death. He was thankful for all of the wisdom and stupidity of the past year. Although, one seemed more in abundance than the other. He glanced around the coffee shop and became very thankful he was not old. Van Man thought about the day before and the awful line of people at the ham store. Ham lovers shivering in the cold, wrapped around the block. He was thankful he did not have need for ham.
  Various friends contacted Van Man, seeking his presence for the holiday. Maybe he would. After all, one of the most important rules of van living was to never turn down free food. A van dweller really did not know when they would eat again. He was thankful for knowing that.
  Van Man replenished his cup and considered what else he might be thankful for. The cough made the list. So did the extracted tooth. Both reminded Van Man of the frailty of a human body. He was not made of iron, although he sometimes felt like it. Suddenly, an ambulance and fire truck arrived outside the coffee shop, lights flashing. The Emergency Technicians rushed in. Some customer in the back was in trouble. Within a few minutes, the customer was wheeled out on a stretcher. She was alive and Van Man recognized her, almost instantly. She was a regular. An artist type, young and tattooed with a somber face. And very thin. Too thin. Hipster Karen Carpenter was then lifted into the ambulance. Happy Thanksgiving, he thought as "Hey, Nineteen" grooved away in his ear phones.
  As the emergency vehicles drove away, Van Man wondered what plans Hipster Karen had for Turkey Day. Whatever they were, they were fucked. And it hit him that he had not ridden in an ambulance since the late eighties. No matter how bad it was, some poor bastard had it worse. Van Man nodded to his coffee and a young, dirty man sat at the table next to him. The Young Man reeked. The unmistakable stench of unwashed, street life. The Stinking Man could not have been twenty-seven. Van Man covered his nose and noticed the Stinking Man had a cell phone. And newer shoes than himself. Stinking Man's clothes did not seem to be homeless dirty, but his skin was filthy. The odor became too unbearable for Van Man and he left. Was Stinking Man the evolution of destitution? Hobos with smart phones?
  It was Thanksgiving and Van Man was not laid out on a stretcher or waking up on the streets of downtown LA. He was a broke actor in The Valley. He reached down and grabbed his balls. Still strong, still there. There was a lot to be thankful for and The Van Man was.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Delicious Misery

  Monday afternoon was quiet. Thanksgiving only days away and The Valley was real loose. The everyday people were taking off work, readying themselves for family and turkey. Or tacos. Whatever they wanted. The Van Man was just ready for a paycheck. It had been nearly four months since the last one. The sporadic acting gigs and shit unemployment payments had gotten him by, but the holidays were upon him. And they were unforgiving on the soul. It was one thing to be broke and starving with a cough only Satan, himself, could love. It was another thing to possess those talents on the day of giving thanks. Alone in a van with a small, pumpkin-scented candle for warmth. Van Man smirked at that sublime misery. It was delicious. More so than a buttery turkey. He even had the candle.
  Van Man had rediscovered a pair of necklaces from his youth and decided to sell them. He was no expert, but the jewelry looked like gold and had fourteen karats inscribed on the clasps. Seemed like a good chance for a few extra bucks. Van Man had been down that road before and knew of two particular gentlemen that paid top dollar for gold. One was a gay Armenian in Burbank, the other did not play around and was stationed in Toluca Lake. Van Man tried Mister No Bullshit first. Closed. Fuck, he thought and walked back to the van. On to The Armenian.
  Magnolia Boulevard was alive and well. The restaurants were filled and the shops had their share of window shoppers. The van pulled into an open space. Van Man walked up and down the boulevard. Nothing. The Gay Armenian was gone. He realized it had been a while since he last sold gold. Damn, he must've closed shop, thought Van Man, wistfully. He would miss The Gay Armenian and the pink sweater tied around his neck. That dude always gave Van Man a good deal.
  With no money, it was time for the coffee shop. Van Man arrived and quickly found two crosswords from the Times. Los Angeles and New York. It was his lucky day. He also brought an empty coffe cup from the previous day. The baristas would think he had been there earlier and give him a free refill. It was a trick he had learned when really broke. The Barista smiled.
"Hey, man, just a refill", said Van Man, casually, as if he had the world on a string.
"Sure", replied the Barista.
  Van Man sipped his victory. Coffee swindled was twice as sweet as coffee paid for. He worked away at the word puzzles and Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" blared through his earphones. He smiled, kind of happy. Then a woman caught his attention. Van Man glanced and took inventory. She was in her forties and happy with a bright smile. A rare combination to find in LA. The Woman spoke to her friend with enthusiasm. But something about her mouthing of words seemed odd and a little absurd. Van Man popped out the earphones to hear their lively conversation. No sound eminated from The Woman's mouth, yet she replied to everything her friend said. It dawned on Van Man. She was deaf. And she could read lips like a motherfucker. The Deaf Woman spotted Van Man and he looked away. He put the earphones back in and put his attention to crosswords.
  After some time, The Deaf Woman left and Van Man finished the puzzles. Music played, he listened and the smile was gone. He could hear, she could not. He lived in a van at a park, she did not. He arranged for his struggle, she was born into hers. Van Man looked around at the caffeinated customers. They all had struggles, had to. That was life. One long struggle. He was lucky, indeed. He could hear and see. And on Tuesday, The Van Man would try and sell some gold for a Thanksgiving meal. Yeah, he was thankful.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Garbage Man

  The Van Man awoke, drenched in sunshine. It was a while since he had noticed that early morning innocence. He coughed up a lung and figured it was going to be a good day. The downtown show was to close that night. Van Man was supposed to get paid and the green backs could not have come at a better time. The parking tickets had piled up and the van's registration was due. Van Man was disgusted with existing off of dollar peanut butter and fifty-nine cent fast-food trash. He was broke as a joke with nothing to poke.
  Thanksgiving neared and some Angelinos had begun their vacations early. Downtown traffic was not the usual horror and Van Man arrived early. Inside, his fellow artists stretched and vocalized. Excitement buzzed, anticipation for the final performance. Van Man checked around the warehouse for any cards addressed to cast members. Nothing. Were they waiting until after the show to hand out stipends? Surely. Soon, Van Man noticed a destitute man inside, politely asking about the garbage. Some of The Artists informed The Garbage Man that he could help himself to all of the trash. Van Man was an hour away from pretending to be various characters with various problems while a grown man of the unforgiving, LA streets gratefully accepted artsy waste with a wide grin. The Garbage Man was a real person with real problems. Van Man watched The Garbage Man give a toothy smile, thanking The Artists as he left. The cast continued their warm-ups. The Garbage Man carried his trash in the cold. Maybe on to the next building. Or perhaps, to a tent where he could see what treasures he had collected. There was something unjust and broken in the world. But The Van Man was not going to fix it. His job was to pretend. And the stipend did not seem so important anymore.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teamster

  The new week began. So did a new job for The Van Man. He found himself, on Monday morning, surrounded by paperwork that needed to be filled out and vehicles that needed to be moved. He was a transporter. The work day would consist of driving around Los Angeles in various automobiles. It seemed the perfect fit for Van Man's expertise.
  The paperwork was dull and repetitive. Signatures and initials, promises that he would work hard as expected, that he would show up when told and that he would not touch on any tits. Van Man signed away. He agreed to those demands. Besides, that first paycheck called to him. He was starving and could use a decent meal. The bread and peanut butter diet he was on had sapped him of energy and twenty pounds. Van Man had not been that thin since he floated around in The Old Man's nuts.
  The last page of forms to be signed was something unique. And Van Man became aroused by the potential. At the top of the form, in the classiest font type he had ever seen, four words were sprawled across. INTERNATIONAL. BROTHERHOOD. OF TEAMSTERS. The new boss informed the new hires of their newly aquired union status. Van Man stared at the words in amusement. And great interest. Was it good for Van Man to be a Teamster? You bet your ass it was. He knew what it meant. Being a Teamster meant no motherfucker could mess with Van Man, but Van Man could fuck with them. That's being a Teamster, he thought. If he wanted something at the store, well he just took it and told them to put it on his tab. And no one would say shit. That's being a Teamster. Cop pulls him over for speeding? Van Man rolls down the window, shows the union card, then tells the cop to go fuck himself. That's being a Teamster.
  Van Man quickly put the pen to paper and signed away. Some of the new hires might have had questions, reservations. Not him. He had read the stories and seen the movies. He understood the game. Trucks of free food and miles of adventure were in his future. Things were going to be different with that signature. The Van Man was a Teamster.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Piss Pals

  Well past midnight and the performance was over. The cast popped the beer tops and celebrated the grand opening weekend. The Van Man said his goodbyes and left. He was worn. Was it months of the incessant cough? Was it his thirty-four years? Perhaps, something deeper. Paris burned across the pond and everything else seemed muted. The November evening was chilly. Van Man warmed the engine. It was not his war. Nor was it his cast mates or the random people who came for the show. The smokers smoked outside, energized by performance. Van Man drove away, lacking something deep down.
  North on San Pedro Street. The heart of Skid Row, downtown of the destitute. Venice had its beach bums. The Valley housed the tramps looking for something a bit quiet. But Skid Row was where the beggars could really make some scratch. Tents lined both sides of the street. Some of the hobos stared in uncomfortable reverence as the van drove by. They'd give their legs for this monster, thought Van Man as he locked his door. Did the down-and-out understand a holy war was being waged? Did they even know? The other side of the world had bombings and massacres. The LA streets had hunger and despair. Holy warriors looked forward to paradise. The homeless only had shame. The van turned west on Third Street.
  Saturday night filed out onto the sidewalks. One in the morning and the bars began to close shop. Early for some, but late for Los Angeles. It was, after all, the city that needed its beauty sleep. A woman crouched in a nook and pissed while her girlfriend kept watch. The ladies were dressed for a good night out and must have found it. The fact they were both sixty only fazed Van Man for a moment. Cool, he thought as the van sped up to catch the light. Life long friends. He wondered how many times they each played lookout while the other peed in public.
  The strangest things brought people together. War, religion, homelessness, public urination. Sometimes they forged deep relationships. Real connections were hard to find in life. When a person found one, it seemed important to hold on. Forever. But that was not reality, was it? Van Man knew better. He came into the world alone and he was going out alone. That was true for everyone. The only thing real that one had was one's self. Everything else was open for corruption. The world was a tough place and a person had better have a strong stomach. Of course, having a pee buddy had its rewards, too. The van drove on to the park. The skyscrapers shrank behind in the distance. And The Van Man realized he never wanted to be too tough. It was nice to have things to hold on to, even for a short time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Waiting on the Check

  The unemployment check had not arrived. Veteran's Day reeked hell on the postal service and The Van Man was left broke and hungry on a Friday. Something about being penniless on Friday made one's life gloomier than if it was Monday. Perhaps, one expected Mondays to let them down anyway. The dark, questioning thoughts wanted to creep in, but Van Man fought hard. He had the opening of a play that night and could not afford to let the other cast members down by bringing in extra baggage. It was his struggle and his alone. The cough was still nail-swallowing rough and the morning temperatures had dipped into the fifties. And Van Man was going to figure it out.
  He had secured a job that started on Monday. Fifteen hours a week transporting cars around Los Angeles. Nine dollars an hour. Not much, but more than the eighty-eight bucks a week he got from the state. It was a new beginning. And this time he was not going to fuck it up. He had made plenty of bad decisions in his past. Some were obvious. Spending so many of his LA years drinking and partying had finally caught up with him. All of the time Van Man wasted, sharing bottles of booze with people that had their own demons, their own problems that definitely were not his. But things get absorbed. They were not to blame, though. He did it to himself. Now, Van Man would get himself clean. But he would have to work harder and sacrifice more than he ever imagined. He had no choice. He was an actor and nothing else.
  Van Man entered the coffee shop and stood in line. He looked around at the many people who had it together. He thought about all of the work and sacrifice needed. It would need to start with coffee. He could not afford it anymore. Van Man thought about a future without the black juice. He looked at the smiling, laughing people drinking theirs. It was his turn to order and the barista smiled with a cup waiting for him. They knew him well. Shit, he thought.
   The Van Man sat in his van and sipped the coffee. He cranked Steely Dan and stared into the sun. It was him and him alone that could fix his life, reverse the course. Major sacrifice was needed, but he could start on Saturday. After all, Fridays were tough without a cup of joe.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Generation to Generation

  The weekend was rough. Monday morning demanded much more than coffee, but The Van Man did not know what. He had spent the better part of Friday night and early Saturday morning vomiting a black bile, shaking from the chills of the cold and regurgitation. Food poisoning, courtesy of that store where everything was under a dollar. Van Man had broken his rule about the joint and consumed some of their edible products. And he paid the price. Sunday brought a run-through rehearsal of the show. The role was fairly demanding on its own, but in his condition, Van Man found it exhausting. Keeping the Cough under control was difficult enough and the performance took everything he had left in the tank. So, Monday morning arrived with the black juice of the gods staring at him, face to face. And the elixir held no magic for him, no recharge. That was a bad sign.
  If the magic was gone, was there something deeper happening? If he could no longer find a glimmer of hope in that old cup of joe, was Van Man in trouble? His health had deteriorated to a significant degree, but he could still walk and talk. He was still able to perform, although not at one-hundred percent. If not physical, then it was mental. What goes on in the mind can often times be worse than a physical ailment. Van Man had confronted himself in recent weeks with the revelation that, perhaps, his situation had been predetermined. He laughed at that statement as he wrote it. Then he thought about his mother and father. Both had grown up in depressing conditions. Van Man's father, The Hustler, was raised in a small house with his cousins and grandparents, his own parents skipping out on him. The living arrangements were so tight that The Hustler had to share a bed with his own grandfather until he was eighteen. Van Man's mother grew up penniless and lived with her brother, mother and father in a one room unit of a housing project for the destitute. Her father had the demon, hit the bottle hard and beat the fucking shit out of them all on a regular basis. The Hustler refused to be a part of normal society. He gambled his life away and lived in motels. The Mother worked hard to raise Van Boy, but her own demons held her back from the better life. And now Van Man was faced with his question. Could he escape the demons that seemed to be passed down?
  Whether the answer was yes or no, it did not matter. Van Man did not want to live under a bridge or in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. It was a matter of survival to scrape and claw his way to a healthier existence. Anything after that was gravy. His parents had survived for a long time and if things were passed down, he had inherited that. The Van Man sipped the dull coffee and smiled. Maybe it was just a bad roast.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Littered Sidewalk

  The Van Man left rehearsal close to midnight. He sat in his van and the coughing began. This time he was able to fight it off. The November night had cooled down to a chilly fifty-two, but the van started up fine. All the engine work he had done was paying off.
  Downtown was slowly falling into sleep. North on Alameda, Van Man drove. Little Tokyo sparkled and drunk hipsters decorated the sidewalks. He watched as they all laughed and giggled and he resented them for being young. The van drove northwest on First and the laughter faded away. He stopped at a light and noticed the block sidewalk littered with large clumps of clothing. As the light turned green, Van Man realized that those were not clumps. They were human beings asleep in sleeping bags. The homeless epidemic was becoming a shameful reminder of the callousness in the City of Angels.
  Van Man knew it was no simple black and white affair. Some of the Destitute had the affliction. Those were the ones who could not give up the bottle or put down the pipe. Some were just unlucky. The people who had made horrendous business and personal decisions. He looked at those as the ones who took the extreme chances for a better future, but the gambles backfired. And then there were The Discarded. They had it the worst because they never had a chance. The Discarded should have been in hospitals or wards, places where a mental disorder could be treated. But all of the wards and hospitals were gone. The places where they could have a chance in life did not exist anymore. The country hated stigmas and looked on mental health issues as the ultimate disgrace. Van Man was not going to hold his breath for things to change. Humanity had lost its way. At least in LA.
  The van drove on, the park and a good night's sleep awaited. He was ashamed, but what could he do? He was a selfish man with a selfish dream to make something of nothing. Did he deserve those great things in his life like his van and his dream? It was tough to go through life without a dream. Van Man was having a hard time in recent weeks, but he knew the hard times would not last. Soon, he would be back on top, healthy and horny. Stealing kisses and eating steaks. And when he got back to that place, would he forget about The Discarded? He did not have to, he could make a change. In their lives and in his. But that would take a lot of sacrifice.
  The park was quiet and Van Man laid in the coldness of his van. Thoughts swirled and he wished he had a bottle of something, anything, to dull his brain. The images of the sidewalks had stayed. Maybe, I can change, thought The Van Man as he closed his eyes. Maybe everyone could.
 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Peanut Butter and Briefs

  November brought with it the cool weather. The Valley was having a Fall party and the only guests invited were a nice breeze and the low seventies. The Van Man could dig. However, the mornings were another story. His typical Fall day started in the fifties and with the brutal cough that choked him for fifteen minutes. It had evolved into an uncontrollable, nineteenth century hacking. Sometimes he would vomit. And sometimes not. His eyes watered, his skin paled and he shook from the intensity of the experience. Something was very wrong with Van Man. December was the earliest he could get an appointment with a doctor, so Van Man knew he still had a lengthy battle ahead.
  It was Tuesday and he was broke. Van Man had a job interview and a rehearsal that day, both downtown. The gas tank was empty and food was scarce. With the few bucks he had, Van Man could get downtown. He would need to survive for a couple of weeks on a half-empty jar of peanut butter and several slices of moldy bread. If anyone could do it, Van Man could. But he had no money for coffee, his daily ritual. The coffee seemed to be the only thing that kept him going when the dark days were around. He decided to ask the nice baristas at the coffee shop if he could have a small cup of the black juice and pay them later. As he stood in line, Van Man decided against it. He was too prideful to be a beggar. The shame washed over him for just thinking it. He asked the barista for a cup of hot water, instead. Maybe just the heat of the water would make him feel good. The barista came back with a cup of delicious coffee and a smile that told Van Man he was not alone. He would be okay.
  Van Man sat in the van, sipped his coffee and shaved his neck. He wanted to be presentable to the interviewer. Van Man thought about wearing underwear. He hated them and how they made him feel, but he wanted to be professional. He found his red, low-rise briefs and slipped them on. Van Man was presentable. He just needed to keep the cough at bay.
  It was to be a good day, hired or not. The future was still out there and he was going to get his slice of it. All he needed was food, women and good reviews. The hot days were gone and The Van Man had a free coffee. And a smile warmer than the whole Summer. Whatever November had in store was welcomed.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Samhain Story

  Halloween evening and most of the kids had gotten their candy. The Van Man felt rough and worn from the All-Night Horrorthon. He did not feel up to looking for girl candy at parties, so he turned in early for the night. He parked at the park and slid into the back of the van. The sounds of raging celebrations rocked him to sleep.
  Two in the morning and Van Man awoke to a slight pang of hunger. He thought about drive-thru and decided to wait it out. The neighborhood was as quiet as a crypt. Odd for Halloween night. Van Man pulled the sheet to his neck and closed his eyes. A moment of clear silence. And then he heard it. The unmistakable sound of a shopping cart rolled in the distance. Some homeless person guided it. Van Man had seen them many times. That cart was their livelihood. And the sound of the shopping cart got closer.
  Van Man wanted to ignore the increasingly loud sound of squeaky wheels. He could not. The sound seemed to grow louder with each step of the hobo. The silence of the neighborhood only amplified the screeching and squeaking of the metal cart. Van Man could only hope that the Hobo was not interested in a late-night rummage through the park garbage cans.
  The screeching cart had reached the van and was just outside the curtained window. Van Man did not look. Not on this Halloween night. The screeching and squeaking had jumbled together and become a scream. High-pitched with a clatter of chains. Yes, he was hearing things. Fright had consumed Van Man and there was only one thing to do. Let the Homeless Person pass on down the street.
  But the screeching screams would not fade. The sound stayed right outside the van. It was as if the Hobo walked in circles. Is he fuckin' with me?, thought Van Man. Surely, one of the neighbors had heard the racket and would promptly shoo the Tramp away. Or call the cops. The sound continued at a deafening volume. Minutes passed. Van Man grabbed his knife. He had enough and was ready to tell off the Tramp. He peeked out of the driver's side window and the sound stopped instantly. There was no Hobo, only an empty shopping cart in the middle of the street. Van Man looked around. The area was silent. No movement, no parties, no cars.
  Van Man knew it had to be some kind of prank by young and dumb party-goers. He remembered that he had kept his sliding door window open that night. The tricksters had seen him asleep in the van and wanted to have some fun. Fuck 'em, he thought and opened his door. His grip on the knife tightened and he stepped out onto the street. His feet were bare and Van Man looked around. Nothing. He slowly walked to the cart.
  Van Man had to move the cart. Many idiot drivers had sped up and down that street. The chances of a drunk driver doing it on Halloween night were high. That was bad news Van Man wanted no part of. The pavement was cold. The silence engulfed the area. He might as well have been walking in a mausoleum. Van Man reached the cart and looked around. If anyone was out in the darkness, they did a hell of a job being still. He pocketed the knife and grabbed ahold of the cart handle. Van Man pushed the shopping cart to the other side of the street. The sounds were the same as before, but nowhere near the volume. His mind had fooled him.
  Van Man rushed back to his van. He locked the door, dove into the back and pulled his sheet over his face. That was spooky shit and he was done for the night. He welcomed November with a sigh and shut his eyes to blackness.
  It was six-fifteen in the morning when a jogger discovered the remains of The Van Man. The van was gone and in its place was a shopping cart containing his severed head, hands, bare feet, arms and legs. His torso, buttocks and penis were missing, as well as his tongue. The police questioned the entire neighborhood, but no one had heard a thing. There had been too much noise from the many parties on the block.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Give 'Em a Smile

  Morning traffic in The Valley crawled. The Van Man had a gig to get to and he needed the money bad. A drive into the Westside from Sherman Oaks. A piece of cake. He was to take Sepulveda. This was the wrong morning to take Sepulveda.
  The van sat still in a sea of vehicles. Van Man did not want to be late, but he knew everyone was going to be late that day. From the other direction, a car decided it wanted in on some of the slow-moving action and came to a stop at the van. The driver wanted Van Man to let her in. And she inched in front of him to make sure he knew it. Van Man had things to do and places to be, but he obliged. The car took the opportunity and promptly cut off the remaining three lanes to get where it wanted to be. Cars honked at the Woman Driver, but she did not care. What were they going to do in the slow traffic? Van Man knew someone would need a very large and fast machine to plow through all of the idling vehicles just to get to the Driver. Kinda like that crazy Oklahoma chick, thought Van Man. He was right, though. Someone crazy enough to drive the super plow machine would definitely be needed.
  A shuttle bus was now idling in the same position as the previous car and expected to be let over, so it could break some laws. Van Man was not going to let the Shuttle in front. He was comfortable letting the Shuttle get through somewhere behind him. As the traffic cleared and the van pulled up, the Shuttle pulled behind the van and honked. A small flame began inside Van Man. The Shuttle pulled up beside the van. Van Man looked over as the Shuttle driver stared at him and yelled in some strange language. The flame became red hot. "What?", asked Van Man and the Shuttle Driver continued to yell. The flame became a fire. "Fuck! You! Fuuuuck! Yooouuu!", screamed Van Man as the traffic opened up. The Shuttle Driver was dumbstruck that the man he wanted to cut off was screaming back at him. The van drove on and Van Man quickly cooled. Some motherfuckers got balls, he thought. He was not angry. Van Man felt good from the explosion. It had been a release from all of the coughing and hard times of late. The van slowed to a stop at the final intersection before the traffic loosened up. Van Man glanced to his right and spotted the Shuttle directly across from him in the far right lane. The Shuttle Driver stared and yelled. Van Man smiled like he was eight years old again and gave the Driver one more for the road. "Fuuuuuuck. Yooouuuuu", howled Van Man in a thoughtfully drawn-out way. He wanted to make sure the Driver understood exactly what the message was. The light turned green and Van Man drove away, chuckling.
  It was going to be a good one. The breeze was in and the clouds muffled the late October heat. The gig would pay him a couple of hundred and that meant he could eat. The cough was still hanging around, but nothing was perfect. The Van Man had a smile on his face and made it on time. There was not too much else to ask for.
 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Broken Sandals

  A quarter after eleven in the evening. The van drove on Beverly Boulevard, away from the sleepy downtown. It was a quiet Wednesday night and The Van Man had just wrapped another rehearsal. He was eager to eat a cheap taco and get some rest.
  The van turned on Normandie and headed into Hollywood. Van Man spotted a bum sitting on an old, discarded couch that was displayed on the sidewalk. The Bum drank from his bottle and spoke to invisible friends. That guy's got a party goin', thought Van Man as he reached for his snack of cheese balls. A delicacy he allowed himself to indulge in very rarely. Van Man found them for one buck. A dollar bag of cheese balls. There was not a better deal in town.
  The cough came, but Van Man fought it off. He was getting better at subduing the blackness. A red light at Normandie and Santa Monica. The van slowed to a stop. A vagrant tried to sleep sitting up against the steel-bar, front doors of a liquor store. The doors opened and a young Latino exited, disturbing the exhausted tramp. The Vagrant licked his lips and twisted his neck into a more comfortable position which looked very uncomfortable to Van Man. Green light and the van made the turn onto Santa Monica.
  In the distance, a police car flashed its red and blues and pulled someone over. A transsexual waited at a bus stop, alone on the bench. A man stood ten feet away and waited, too. They probably would not sit next to each other on the bus either. The van took Cahuenga and drove up through Hollywood. The back way.
  Van Man was tired, but strong. His sandals were falling apart with his sneakers not too far behind. He was broke. And he was alive. Van Man was acting and still had his city. Los Angeles nights were never uneventful. The cool breeze reminded him that Fall had arrived. Easy days ahead. Halloween crept closer and The Van Man was not, yet, talking to himself as he drank Thunderbird outside on a broken couch. Easy days, indeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Red Light

  For The Van Man, life was a constant search of perfection. He usually found it in the imperfections of the every day. A half-broken, yellow rose with a bee needling at the pollen or the homeless man with a shopping cart full of ripe pumpkins. But every so often, Van Man would be confronted with sublime flawlessness.
  The van slowed to a stop at the red light. The night was cool and serene. Van Man spotted her in an instant. She sat in her red convertible as it idled, waiting for the oncoming vehicles to pass. The convertible made the turn and drove by Van Man. Everything seemed to slow down, movements and time. The soft, blonde hair flowed back in the breeze. The moon glistened off the tanned, succulent skin. She glanced at him. He had everything he needed to know. The Woman was confident and a man-eater. She was not easily excited, yet, had a hint of vulnerability. Her hand held the steering wheel at the most elegant angle. Her elbow rested exquisitely on top of the door. "Wow", mouthed Van Man, lost in some hypnotic stare. It was no use. He was hers. She knew it. Their romance would be a beautiful nightmare. Van Man would have no strength with her. Whatever she wanted, whatever her desire. One does not say "no" to a being like that. Jealousy and alcohol would ravage his forties and she would spit him out. What a perfect way to ruin a life.
  The convertible sped away and The Woman was gone just as fast as he had seen her. She was down the road, on to her next red light of heartache. The October night had brought a glimmer of pureness, something ethereal. Thank god she's gone, thought The Van Man as he closed his mouth and blinked.


 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Conversation

  The Valley night was cooler than it had been for a very long time. A sign of impending Fall. The van rested at the park and, in the back, laid The Van Man. He coughed and it strangled. He was weak and his ribs ached from the wrath of the Black Death which controlled daily life. Sure, Van Man had felt alone before, that was natural for one who lives in a van. But this loneliness was different. A spirit of desolation. Van Man curled up on his left side and pulled a sheet over him. He tried to control the damaging barks.
  Thoughts swirled and the Devil Hound arrived again. It was nearly suffocating and he shook. His eyes were wet. A single tear rolled down the bridge of his nose. He was not crying. Van Men did not cry. Then he heard the sound. Outside the van, in the darkness of the park, a man hacked and vomited. It was Saturday night and Van Man knew this sort of thing happened to the best of them. A Good Time Charlie had one too many. Van Man coughed violently again. And, as if on cue, The Hacking Man hacked.
  The next twenty minutes followed that same script. Van Man coughed and cringed. Hacking Man hacked and heaved. They spoke to each other through misery. He's got it worse than me, thought Van Man as he sipped a bit of water.
  The conversation of coughing ended and the night quieted. Only the sounds of passing cars and blaring music remained. Van Man relaxed his body and wondered if Hacking Man was gone or still in the park, collapsed on a bench. He drifted away and was grateful. The Van Man had a van and The Hacking Man did not. That was something to truly be grateful for. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Overcast

  "Fucking young girls", said a black man as he exited his car. He had parked next to The Van Man, not expecting anyone to hear. But Van Man was the eyes and ears of western Burbank. An overcast morning, a favorite of Van Man. Shade was everywhere. He sipped his coffee, but did not partake in his usual oatmeal breakfast. He did not feel up to it. His body ached from intense rehearsals and incessant coughing. A vile hacking erupted and Van Man could only see it through. There was no way to fight the affliction anymore. It had become too strong. The demon bark ended and Van Man shook. He held the Styrofoam cup in one hand and his face in the other as he tried to regain composure. He would have smoked a cigarette if offered one, but that was a terrible idea. The coffee could only do so much.
  Van Man was exhausted from the episode and could barely write. It was extremely difficult to put pen to paper. He was a hundred years old. Van Man reviewed his bank account. Enough to get through the day. He awaited the unemployment check. Eighty-eight dollars a week was the amount which the state had granted him. Nothing, but still something. He had to find a job. But who the hell hires a consumptive?
  The library was quiet when Van Man arrived. No homeless outside the doors and no loud assholes within. That was the beauty of an overcast day. Van Man scrolled through the various job postings online. Nothing he seemed right for. He had a unique skill set that did not translate well in the present digital world. He was out of place, out of time. Like his taste in music and women, his ideology was old school. And the cough came again.
  Horrific and explosive, the hack was too much for the quaint library. Van Man could see he had bothered people and needed to leave. As he stepped outside, the cough worsened. He could see his van and was determined to make it. Every step seemed to elicit another avalanche of lung expulsion. He reached the van and leaned against the driver side door. The coughing had reached its peak and Van Man vomited onto the ground. He wrapped his arms around himself to control the shaking and to make sure he was still alive. Van Man looked around. No one had seen. He climbed into the van and drove away. He had read somewhere that hot water with lemon and ginger was a fine home remedy to alleviate coughing spells. The grocery store was his next stop.
  It stayed comfortably cloudy for the remainder of the day. Van Man laid in the back of the van, a bottle of pineapple juice on one side and the hot ginger, lemon concoction on the other. He was determined to beat the Black Death which engulfed him. He had no choice. The All-Night Horror Show was at the end of the month and The Van Man had his ticket.
 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

  A new play. The Van Man was eager to perform again. Billed as a show about eroticism and fantasies, Van Man was intrigued. The theatre was located in an abandoned industrial section downtown. East of Skid Row, it was a place that housed many factories, once upon a time. An area that had made a great deal of money for the city, but in recent years became a poignant reminder of the Great Recession. Dead, empty brick buildings that longed for love. And then, the young and vibrant dreamers had made their way in. A revolution of creation had sparked the area back to life. Various bands rehearsed in the various warehouses and the street parking was ample. Van Man could dig.
  The artists were serious about their craft. They wanted to be provocateurs of the human condition, to open minds. Van Man craved intensity and the group delivered. There was also beer. A few of the Artists sipped from bottles throughout the rehearsal. It seemed a way to loosen up for the extreme nature of the production. Van Man was offered one, but turned it down. He was on duty.
  The rehearsal was fierce, the end came and the Artists relaxed. Van Man was spent. Being spent after rehearsal was akin to sex without cumming. It felt great, but it was a tease. The performance was the orgasm. So, he had a beer.
  Van Man said goodbye to the Artists and walked to his van. Bands rehearsed in the night. Inspiration filled the air, as did smells from a taco truck. He knew those lonely buildings were, once again, loved. Where manufacturing had been, creation stepped in. Like a dutiful son. The Van Man looked up as he drove away. The moon was close. It was a new beginning.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Epidemic

  The Van Man coughed. Then he coughed some more. The mornings had gotten worse, it seemed. Or maybe it was his imagination. Coffee always helped. He packed up his bedding, warmed up the van and drove to that spot of comfort. The coffee shop.
  The regulars were there. Like every damn morning. The suspicious, white hippie with his screaming black toddler. The lecherous geezer who hit on the staff. The pretentious retired group which always sat together and only spoke of the past, one that Van Man did not believe existed. He despised them all. Coffee helped him like them again. Van Man ordered his cup and left. Always the gentlevanman, he held the door for a woman. She coughed, as she entered. It was an unsavory hack. Van Man understood her pain.
  He sat in his van and sipped from the cup. A smaller car pulled up next to his van and parked. Van Man only took notice when the older man exited the car and coughed, loud and cruel. Van Man cranked the engine. It was too much sickness for one morning. He had things to do and he was uncomfortable in his most comfortable place.
  It was going to be hot the next few days and Van Man needed ice. The cheapest ice was found at the store where everything was under a dollar. He parked and, as he walked in, passed by a homeless man. The Homeless Man choked and coughed. A violent suffocation. Thoughts swirled in Van Man's mind. As he stood in the check-out line, he wondered if the Apocalypse had begun. The End of Times brought on by some contagion in the air. It was silly to think such things and Van Man purchased his ice. He exited and passed the Homeless Man, who stared at him with dead eyes. Van Man emptied the ice in his cooler and glanced back. The Homeless Man talked to himself.
  The next stop was the library. Whether or not the Apocalypse was coming, Van Man needed a job. The library computers were good and the joint had air-conditioning. The temperature was rising. Outside the library, a homeless woman slept on the ground. A sickening cough erupted from her and she stirred. Van Man entered. The quiet of the library would help him get his head straight.
  He sat at the computer and searched job sites. Monotonous and boring. Then he coughed. The demon wanted to consume him, but he fought back and subdued the evil. No sign of disturbance and no one shushed him. Always a good sign.
  It hit one-hundred degrees in The Valley, October was in full swing. The Apocalypse was not near, it had to be the Santa Anita Winds and smog. Everything's okay, The Van Man told himself. It had just been too much time in a van.

Monday, October 5, 2015

White Devils

  The rain had come. Surely, it was a signal for the oncoming Fall. The Van Man awoke in the back of his van. The temperature gauge on the cell phone told sixty degrees, but surely it was colder. He hacked and choked, then rolled up the sheet.
  The van revved and the engine warmed. A small, white spider dangled from its webbing. Right in front of Van Man's face. He swatted at the Creature and it fell to the floorboard. Van Man looked down and searched. It was there, somewhere. Alive. He had seen others just like it in the van. Ghostly, pale. Tiny Draculas that roamed his rolling abode. He had spotted them here and there, usually on the outside looking in. Along the windshield or the hood. Occasionally, one would be found on the inner ceiling and promptly smashed. Van Man was terrified of Spiders. They looked frightful. Every damn one of them.
  He grabbed a cup of coffee at the usual stop and sat in the van. He wrote the usual nothingness, thoughts and dreams. Another White Spider appeared. Van Man watched in horror as it crawled along the dashboard. He was frozen for a single moment. Then he was not. Van Man obliterated the Cream Demon with a used napkin. He wondered if the rain had anything to do with the influx of evil. Or maybe them's the breaks, living in a van.
  After the spider killing, Van Man decided to leave the coffee shop lot. He needed to find work and the library called. He rolled down the passenger window for air and a large, Brown Widow crept along the exterior of the door frame. Van Man, once again, froze. He watched as the Monster scuttled down the door side and, probably, underneath the van. That way it could eat Van Man later.
  He sped away and never looked back. He would be back the next day for his morning cup, unless the White Beasts got to him first. Van Man re-examined his being. There had been two, small insect bites on his legs. He had noticed them a week before and thought they were harmless. He was wrong. It was obvious what they were, spider bites. Had the cough been brought on by their poisons? He was no expert in the field of spiderology, or medicine, for that matter. Yet, it was certain that The Van Man was being murdered by the Spiders, one bite at a time.
 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Crazies

  Autumn in Los Angeles. Cold, early mornings in the van had begun. The Rose Bowl was filled with fans and The Dodgers were in the playoffs. People packed the Halloween stores, looking for frights to purchase. October had always been a pure source of happiness for The Van Man. It was the horror and gothic traditions, the scary movies and costumes. The one time of year most anyone could revel in their morbid fascinations and not feel like a weird fuck. Unadulterated escapism from the mundane life. Pumpkins, displayed at grocery marts, begged to be carved. Macabre imagery knifed into their chosen front side. There was an all-night horror show at the end of the month and Van Man was determined to go. But the Cough had persisted and would not leave until one of them was dead. Hacking all night in a crowded theater was no way to make friends, so Van Man decided to use the government's help.
  He made preparations with California's free healthcare organization. Medical care for the state's poor. Medi-Cal. How clever. Van Man made the calls and asked the questions. When the time came for him to make the appointment, he was informed that the physician assigned to him was actually a pediatrician. A case of simple mix-up. There would be more calls and hours of holding, but a new doctor was found. Unfortunately, Van Man was not allowed to see the new doctor until November. Shit happens, he thought as a homeless man talked to himself in the distance. Van Man wondered how the crazy ones managed? Who takes care of the insane street people? The ones that had dialogue with benches and crossed busy streets because they were invisible. Or worse. At intersections, windows are rolled up for those people, not down. They could not make phone calls for sickness, there were no more pay phones. Van Man decided he could tough it out. It was not as bad as being crazy.
  The Halloween season had a way of masking the ugliness. As he entered the library to use the restroom, Van Man walked by a dirty woman on the ground. She screamed a song at the top of her lungs and smoked a cigarette. He had seen her many times. But that was the loosest. There was a midnight showing of The Exorcist in Hollywood and he thought about giving a call to a friend. The Van Man had always found it easier to cope with the horrors of the real world by partaking in the horrors on a movie screen.
 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cheap Seats

  The hangover was okay, an acceptable remnant. On the coffee table in front of him was a stale, half-eaten slice of pizza. He nibbled two bites. It seemed to help. The Van Man stretched and chewed. It appeared that he had passed out on Mr. Funny's couch. He wanted to crack open one of the remaining Heinekens that certainly chilled in the refrigerator, to soothe the headache and cap off the previous evening's festivities. But Van Man had an appointment with a free breakfast at ten that morning and he never skipped out on a free meal.
  The van revved and he searched the music on his cell phone. The song he chose seemed apropos. The van drove off as Angus Young's guitar riff ushered in the morning. Van Man was instantaneously transported to the night before, where Dodger Stadium shook all night long and AC/DC was king.
  The two friends made the trek from the Westside and took Pico Boulevard into Downtown. From Downtown, the van hopped on Figueroa and travelled up to East L.A. Van Man and MR. Funny had waited on that evening for months, but truly it had been eight years. Ever since that first concert. Eight long years of a yearning desperation to, once again, have their souls ripped out and rocked. The wait was over. And they sat in rush hour traffic.
  As the van neared the Stadium, it found itself stuck in a line of cars that stretched for miles. The two men knew all of Los Angeles was going to the concert. The single line of vehicles barely moved and Van Man became impatient. He thought about opening one of the Heinekens they brought, but decided against it. He was driving. When faced with Los Angeles traffic, one only had two options: be responsible or be asshole. In their case, Van Man chose asshole. The van pulled out of line and drove in the open lane. When they reached the front of the line where cars turned onto Stadium Way, the van cut in front of the millions of honking vehicles. Van Man and Mr. Funny glanced back at all of the people who had waited their turn and laughed.
  The van parked and the two men prepared themselves. After a quick scan of the police infested parking lot, they decided against tailgating and made their way to the Stadium. A quarter of a mile later and the two men arrived at the entrance gates. Thousands of people swarmed the grounds, each wearing some piece of AC/DC merchandise. T-shirts, neckties and devil horns. To Van Man's surprise, there were no foam hands. Where the fuck's the foam hands?, Van Man thought and the two men showed the printed-out tickets to one of the event staff. "You guys are down stairs and to the right", said the staffer and waved a lighted baton in the direction to the ground level. Van Man had  noticed they were up high, second and third level. A gigantic escalator carried hundreds of people to the final tier. The cheap seats. Van Man and Mr. Funny walked down the stairs, as they had been directed. They were not cheap seaters. They were sitting on field level. Where the real fans were.
  Downstairs, the two friends reached the proper entrance gates and waited in line for admittance. They smiled, it did not seem real. Only months before had the concert tickets gone on sale and both men felt resigned to the fact that they did not have the funds for good seats. Then, a gift was given to Van Man on his birthday. A gift from a former fling. A nice lady who had the money to spend. Two tickets to, what might have been, the last AC/DC concert in America. Van Man and Mr. Funny had seen their first AC/DC concert together and they were about to see their last. They felt lucky. Whatever demons plagued them in life were about to be put on ice for a few hours. They handed the tickets to the ticket taker for scanning. The scan machine flashed red and The Ticket Taker was unamused. She repeated. The color red flashed over and over. Van Man quickly assessed the situation. He viewed other people as they crossed through. Their scan lights flashed green and beeped. It was a welcoming beep, kind and sweet. Van Man and Mr. Funny got nothing but red and a shameful look from the Ticket Taker.
"Your tickets have already been used", said Ticket Taker.
"What? Really?", asked Van Man.
"Where did you get them?"
"They were a gift", Mr. Funny interjected.
"Yeah, sorry. This happens a lot. People give them away, then forget and reprint them for somebody else. When'd you get them?"
"Months ago", replied Van Man.
"Yeah", said Ticket Taker.
"What should we do?"
"You can go down to the ticket windows and see who has your tickets."
Ticket Taker pointed the two deflated men to the ticket windows. Van Man and Mr. Funny walked somberly. The way men walk to certain death at the gallows.
  The woman at the ticket window gave the same information. Someone had scanned the tickets at six-fifteen, a good two hours before the opening act. It was not hard for Van Man to understand what had transpired. The Fling felt foolish for giving the gift and wanted to make sure he did not use them. Damn, I got got, thought Van Man. He looked at the Window Lady. She was a an old gal who must have groupied the hell out of some bands, back in the day. He asked how much were the cheapest tickets. Mr. Funny and Van Man were faced with the prospect of forty dollar nose bleeders or leaving. They chose the nose bleeders.
  With real tickets in hand, the two men hiked back up to the upper level. They paused at the gigantic escalator. There was no turning back. Up, up, up they went. At the top, more entrance lines and more green flashes. Van Man noticed the cheap seats were inhabited by a different breed of concert goers. Downstairs had most decidedly been Westwood. Upstairs was definitely West Covina.
  The green light flashed and the beep trumpeted their arrival. The two gentlemen had made it. They were directed to the far right field section. The crowd was thick. An excited Hispanic dude backed into Van Man. The Hispanic Dude splashed beer on his own fresh-from-the-cleaners Dodger jersey. Hispanic Dude's eyes turned cold and the smile vanished from his face. He stared down Van Man with a deadly gaze. Van Man was not at fault, but did not want to have the night ruined. "Oh, sorry, man. Damn, I'm sorry", said Van Man. He knew to be polite and get the hell away when dealing with pissed cheap seaters. They had nothing to lose. As Van Man passed the Angry Hispanic Dude, someone shouted "You should buy him a drink!" Yeah, right, fuckhead, thought Van Man and politely offered one more full-of-shit, smiling apology. Van Man lived by simple rules. One was to never go to a concert wearing your best Sunday jersey because beer will probably get spilled. Angry Hispanic Dude did not know that rule.
  After the fiasco, Van Man and Mr. Funny made it to their seats, the right field foul pole section. They were in luck, their seats were over enough where the view was not blocked. They relaxed and drank beer. The night belonged to them. The opening act warmed up the crowd and AC/DC got down and dirty. Van Man and Mr. Funny let loose and the music supercharged their souls. The lower level might have been Silverlake hip, but the upper level was Sun Valley wild.
  The two gentlemen rocked out and sipped from the Fountain of Youth for a few hours. It would end for Van Man with cold pizza and a hangover, groggy on a couch in the Westside. But for that precious moment, The Van Man and Mr. Funny were Eastside Boys. And they loved every minute of it.
  Van Man drove on to his free breakfast. The morning traffic in West Hollywood seemed light. Perhaps, many hangovers from the concert. The song finished and The Van Man smiled. There was a slight throb in his skull. He could let go, it was over. Summer had come to its close and October was about to begin.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Getting Clean

  Seven in the morning and The Valley was already hot. It was the end of September, but The Sun was always nostalgic that time of year in Los Angeles. It did not let go easy. The Van Man opened his eyes and shuffled. The interior of the van was too warm to sleep any longer. He felt rough and gathered himself rather gingerly. Van Man rolled up the sheet and put away the pillow. He could sense something vile and tingling within his chest, a demon mustering itself from the darkness. The days of that charming, lingering cough were long gone. At present, was a vicious and hacking choke. One that lasted minutes instead of seconds. It was the kind of cough that only his grandmother, The Gran Van, was acquainted with. And even she smoked Virginia Slims for over fifty years. He suppressed the hellhound bark and decided this was a good day.
  Van Man ached, sore in every part of his body. Neck, back, thighs, fingertips. He wished the aches had been the result of a good fuck, but that had not been the case. He grimaced, as he checked under the hood. Van Man had spent the previous several days repairing the van and wanted to make sure nothing leaked or loosened from the night before. The van was a seventy-nine and had been fading. The last thing he wanted was to lose it. After all, a Van Man without a van is just a streetwalking tramp. Three days of installing fuel and water pumps, hoses and filters had left Van Man battered and filthy. The day before, a friend took pity on Van Man and let him rinse off. Even that was not enough. The grease and oil still caked his fingers and hair. Van Man needed a wash. A real cleaning. The kind of shower that would penetrate his soul. AC/DC was only a few days away. Van Man cranked the engine and listened. There was a squeak somewhere, but the motor had power. Whatever had to be fixed could wait until after the Thunder From Down Under.
  In the midst of all the van repairs, Van Man had closed one show and prepared to open a second. On closing night of the first, the director cornered Van Man in the bathroom and paid him for the gig. Van Man was excited, he could buy food and gas. On the other hand, it was his first time getting paid in a men's room. There was a feeling connected to it that he did not want to revisit. Unless it was in the ladies room.
  In days, the second show was to open and Van Man was glad that he had a supporting role. The water and fuel pump ordeal had depleted his energy. As did doing the repairs under a ninety-seven degree, reminiscing Sun. That evening was a dress rehearsal and he had errands to run. The day was to only get hotter, so Van Man stopped for a quick coffee and continued on. A blue car passed with a fluffy dog sticking out the back window, its puke plastered over the entire passenger side. The dog seemed happy and wagged its tongue. They got it worse than me, thought Van Man as his stomach growled.
  The rehearsal came and went. It had been rough, but everything in East Hollywood was rough. Van Man made his way back over the hill and into The Valley. Before he called it a night, he stopped off at the local convenience store. A platinum-blonde, homeless man sat outside the doors. Van Man and Blondie had crossed paths at the store many times, they were familiar with each other's face. Van Man handed him some loose change and walked in. On his way out, Blondie thanked him and mumbled something about the van. He nodded in appreciation and drove off. Van Man was tired and did not decipher Blondie's words, at first. Then he understood what was said. Blondie had complimented him on the choice of a big van. Blondie knew he lived in it and that meant Van Man was known to the homeless of Burbank. He was one of them, but higher up. A One-Percenter of the destitute. A vagabond with a van. He had a ghastly cough and nasty fingers. There were more repairs to be done and he did not know when he would earn another paycheck. Yet, AC/DC was only days away and The Van Man did not have dog vomit on his van. October was near and life was good.
 
 
 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Forgotten

  The Van Man was dog-tired. He had spent the previous week rehearsing and performing two different plays and his exhaust-filled lungs needed the rest. He caught a glimpse of his reflection and was reminded of his ridiculous appearance. One of the plays had required him to shave his beard. He was left with only a bushy mustache and a simple soul patch. Look like my fucking dad, Van Man thought as he entered a store that sold everything for under a buck. A police car cruised behind him minutes before and he thought it a good idea to get off the mean Burbank streets for a few. Besides, Van Man needed ice and he had been paid. A check from the San Jacinto gig had arrived. Food and a shower were in his future.
  He grabbed a roll of paper towels and an eighties tune played throughout the store. One of those that he had heard a million times before, but had never bothered to really listen to. A distant cousin of The Human League. A step-nephew of Tears for Fears. Van Man stepped in line, sandwiched between an old, ghostly-pale man and two, small Hispanic women. The line was long and slow. Normal for a sub-dollar store. This was where the forgotten shopped for their groceries and condoms, office supplies and Tupperware, Halloween costumes and pregnancy tests. And there was a lot of forgotten people in Los Angeles.
  Van Man studied the bald head of Ghost Man. It was a near perfect bald dome except for a few strands of scraggly hair mingled together in different spots. The Ghost Man appeared to be some sort of sick. Van Man thought chemo therapy might have played a part. The Cashier scanned the items. Ghost Man was taken slightly aback. He could not afford all three of the ninety-nine cent bowl-o-noodles. He told The Cashier to put one back and handed her three crumpled, one-dollar bills. Ghost Man took his change and left with his nutrition. Van Man was next.
  As he walked across the parking lot, Van Man realized he had forgotten the ice. But he was too tired and decided to return the next day. He had to pee and stepped into the van. Under the moonlight, cars passed by on the boulevard, the Forgotten made last runs to the store and The Van Man urinated into an empty water bottle. He truly had become an animal.
 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ravings Of a Lunatic

  Well past midnight and the freeways were empty. A few cars here and there with an occasional police cruiser. The Van Man drove along. Alhambra behind him, The Valley ahead. Back to the park, to get some kind of sleep. Whatever kind he got was up to the Sleep Gods.
  The seven-ten became the ten and the ten became the five. Van Man looked out onto the quiet, sparkling city and knew he had been duped. Los Angeles had a liar's reputation, but it was not her. It was him. He had lied to himself and he took the responsibility. Van Man peeled off the leftover silicone from his face and neck. He scrubbed the makeup from his flesh with a baby wipe. He had filmed something. He did not really know what. He was tired and beat. Maybe it was the lack of food, but Van Man realized that he truly had to make a change.
  The previous ten hours had seen Van Man covered in demon prosthetics and battle armor. A GWAR-like creature inhabited by an artist's soul. The film was of the no-low budget sort that would make Corman proud. And a bit stressed. No pay. Just a chance to be needed as an actor. A chance to see old friends.
  The Monster Maker was in town and had recruited Van Man for the shoot. The lead monster was portrayed by another chum, an actor that eschewed taste, both good and bad. He was one of Van Man's closest compadres.
  The night wore on and the three old friends swapped stories of the past and what they were all up to. The Monster Maker had a blossoming family in Vegas, complete with the house and yard. He seemed happy. Mister Taste was doing better than he ever had with acting, including a fairly consistent paycheck. He seemed happy. Van Man had a van that choked and a choking cough. He was still dirty and could not afford the luxury of gym showers anymore. He did not need happy, he would gladly take so-so.
  The five turned into the one-thirty-four. Van Man was done. He was alone. He was sick. And, finally, he realized he was truly insane. He could not trust his own decisions. The van exited Hollywood Way. Burbank was quiet. Van Man looked at all the cars parked along the streets. Cars which belonged to so many comfortably, sleeping people. People that would fill those cars in mere hours. Van Man needed to join them.
  He arrived at the park, pulled up to the curb and slid behind the seats. He rolled out his sheet and coughed violently. The troubled exhaust leaked fumes into the van. The temperature was high in The Valley, even at one in the morning. He thought about The Monster Maker in Vegas and Mister Taste getting paid. He thought about all of the other people out there in the world that were okay with the regular life. Comfort. Why could he not fathom it? Was that not a type of success? What was wrong with him? I've fucked up, thought The Van Man as he choked to sleep.

Labor Day Black

  Monday and the van was down. There were things to do, but The Van Man was not doing them. He had to get down and dirty with his machine. The van leaked exhaust inside its body which had caused Van Man to acquire a most splendid cough. The type of cough that choked him and made him resemble the destitute and homeless. Being broke and dirty did not help either.
  He needed new spark plugs, but the cheapest around were two bucks. He had a three-fifty under the hood. Eight cylinders. That would be sixteen total dollars for the plugs. Fifteen more than he was able to spend. Van Man decided to clean them and needed sandpaper. It was time for a journey.
  Van Man started his trek. Two miles under the hot, pissed-off Sun. She was forever his relentless companion. He was hungry and had not bathed in days. The gym, which he frequented for a shower, had been under renovations and the water facilities were off limits. To keep his mind off the slight misery, Van Man recited his Shakespeare.
  Children laughed and played. The smell of grilled meat filled the air. Van Man sweated and spent his dollar on sandpaper. Then he began the journey back. He ran out of The Bard's words and strolled by a patch of yellow flowers. He paused beside them and thought about a beautiful woman. Meaning. Strength. He walked on. Could he think any more foolishly? He could.
  He arrived at the van, drained. But it was time to start the real work. One at a time, the spark plugs were delicately removed and cleaned. It was difficult and it was filthy. Van Man's hands were shredded and caked in grime, but the plugs were in. He cleaned his wounded, greasy hands with carburetor cleaner. They stung for a moment, but the pain receded.
  He was broke and tired, lost and dirty. He needed a paycheck and some inspiration. But the van still ran and that was good enough for The Van Man.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Swiss Miss

  It was Friday and The Van Man had some extra pep in his step as he walked to the van. He had found the scene he would use to audition for The Actors Studio. He felt good about it. There were a few other things he wanted to get done before the weekend and that was a good start. And then a friend called to him in slightly broken English.
  Van Man surveyed the parking lot and saw The Swiss Miss. She sat in her parked car and waved. He waved back and approached as she stepped out of the car. He had not seen her for some time and she seemed different. She still possessed the same unique sense of style that she always had, a cut and flair that Van Man assumed every European resembled. But she did not look well. "You don't look good", said Van Man, as he looked over her face. She had lost weight and darkness encircled her eyes. He knew she had been sick. In the time that he had known her, Swiss Miss routinely battled sickness and depression. She suffered from asthma and had bouts of pneumonia and fever. He asked her if she still smoked. She said occasionally. She was European, after all. She had once told him the depression had caused her to develop an eating disorder. She was already too thin. But now she was not eating. She stared off into nothing for a moment and he saw that her normally brown complexion had a hint of paleness. Van Man felt very bad about his comment. He apologized and they caught up.
  They talked and Van Man began to realize that Swiss Miss was, perhaps, too kind for Los Angeles. Her nerves were nearly shattered from helping too many people in her life. People that might have exploited her kindness and cultural background. She was European and, for her, one does not say "no" to someone in need. At least, that is how Van Man understood it. They lived in a city built on taking advantage of the "too kind". The City of Angels. A town where those angels resided on Skid Row.
  Swiss Miss spoke. She looked around nervously. And, on occasion, stared off. Van Man could only think to ask questions and keep her talking. He suggested that she go see someone, a professional. The idea did not interest Swiss Miss much. She told Van Man that when she was young, she heard voices that told her to do things. She referred to it as a form of schizophrenia. "What'd the voices say?", asked Van Man. "To hurt myself", replied Swiss Miss with a nervous chuckle. She told him the voices were back.
  Time ticked away and Van Man talked in circles. That was all he knew to do. They both had afternoons ahead of them, so they said their goodbyes. He assured her that it was okay. The world was full of crazy people and he was one of them. Every person he knew was nuts. If we were all crazy as shit, then we were all the same, so no one was really ever alone. That was as far as his psycho-analysis would go.
  He waved at Swiss Miss as she drove away. He sank. Damn, I hope she gets better, he thought as he climbed into the van. It was one o'clock and he still had things to do. But not that day. The Van Man had lost his pep.
 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tough Enough

  The first of September had arrived and The Van Man had been back from the shoot for a couple of days. His legs ached from being chased by zombies and some skin was singed from car explosions, but he was together.
  His emotions were another story.
  Somewhere deep in his valley, Van Man was unbalanced. As he walked the mean streets of Burbank in search of a quick lunch, he felt weak and needy. Not a good combination when one lived in a van. He knew what it was, identified it instantly. It was that most potent of all actor feelings. The thing they all lived with everyday of their lives and he was no different. The feeling of not being loved enough.
  All actors had a hole in their soul that would not--could not--ever be filled. As long as the sky was blue, the actor would not stop in his and her quest to fill the hole. The only way to combat the feeling was to be tough. After all, one had to be tough in the world, right? If one was too soft, the world would eat them up. Tough meant that Van Man would take as much love as he wanted without giving any up. Surely, the hole would fill up quick. He had learned that trick from his father, The Hustler. Van Man stood in line at the deli and thought about advice he, on occassion, received from The Hustler.
On sadness: "Are you crazy?"
On women: "Boy, I'd rather have a full house, aces high."
On love: "Are you crazy?"
Van Man understood the point that The Hustler tried to make. Be tough. Van Man made the decision in line that he would heed the advice. Even if it meant he had to embrace a little hate. It's the only way to make it, he thought to himself as he grabbed his potato balls.
  Van Man left the deli and passed a Homeless Woman and her small Daughter. She held a sign which Van Man did not read. There were too many words on it. He knew the Mother and Daughter were rookies in the world of destitution. The pros kept it to a minimum. Too many words required someone to stand close for a bit and read. Regular people did not want to look at the homeless for too long. Who knows? They might be afraid of seeing something similar in themselves. Van Man gestured "no" to the Mother. The Daughter sat on the concrete sidewalk and played with a scruffy doll. See, yeah, I'm tough, thought Van Man. Gotta be tough in this world. He walked toward his van. Besides, I've given hundreds of dollars in the past. I give. I do it when I can. Van Man passed a row of flowers that he had photographed for a girl. He reached his van and grabbed some trash out of the back to throw away. Van Man walked back. As he reached the Mother and Daughter again, Van Man handed a dollar to them. He threw the trash away and walked back to the van. Sometimes tough was needed and sometimes is was not. He felt a tinge of warmth and continued on his day. The Van Man realized he did not do it so he would be loved by the Mother or even by the bystanders. He did it so he could feel something else besides tough.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Session

  The weekend approached and the coffee shop bustled. August drew to a close and The Van Man had a gig booked. A short film. It was a good thing, too. Money was tight. He was to film in San Jacinto, wherever the hell that was. As it turned out, San Jacinto was a hundred miles away and Van Man did not know how to pronounce it. San Hahseentoe, not Wahsentuh. None of that mattered, though. He was going to make a few bucks and he knew how to say "food money".
  Van Man sipped his coffee, peacefully. It was a good way to begin September, a month that always seemed to bring with it a promise of change and excitement. Kids were off the streets, classes were in session and the AC/DC concert crept ever closer. Only weeks until Dodger Stadium would house a temporary escape from the normal life for thousands of Angelinos.
  A homeless man, dressed in scrubs, loudly excused himself as he passed through the people in line. They waited to order and he could not wait for the restroom any longer. The Homeless Nurse wore brand new scrubs, but his face and arms were filthy. Sunburnt and caked in dirt. He held up his four-sizes-too-big pants as he rushed out the door. That was a new one to Van Man. The nurse get-up was a nice change. Part of the same change that September brought. And The Van Man welcomed it. He had some auditions lined up and a feeling that things would be different this time. He would continue to book gigs and make a bit of scratch to get him through the fall. Or, at least, to AC/DC.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Great Equalizer

  Seven o'clock in the Ante Meridiem, as the Latin goes, and The Van Man roasted in his van. It was most definitely a hot one. Maybe the hottest of the year. He rolled up his sheet and began the day. Coffee then a drive to the library to nab his shaded spot for a few precious morning hours.
  The shade was known as a commodity in the world of vehicular living. Especially in the San Fernando Valley, where Summer was Bummer and midnight in August was always around eighty-five degrees. To say the Valley got hot was to say Elvis was famous. Van Man arrived and the spot was his. He parked and sat in the back to enjoy the coffee.
  An hour passed and Van Man decided to roll down the windows and, as he did, he noticed a Sedan parked a few spaces over. Van Man knew it. Sometimes the Sedan parked in the shaded space. It was driven by a black man who seemed new to the lot. A small rivalry had begun between them, whether Black Sedan Man knew it or not.
  From outside the lot, a White Couple walked toward the Black Sedan Man. The White Wife approached the Black Man on the driver's side. The White Husband held up a cell phone and recorded the event. What seemed as a civil exchange between White Wife and Black Man took place. Van Man did not hear the words, but he understood the meaning. Then Van Man heard one phrase clearly. "I'm sorry", said Black Sedan Man and he cranked his engine and drove away. The White Couple seemed satisfied in themselves. The White Husband put away his cell phone and they walked from whence they came.
  Why did they do that?, Van Man thought to himself. He looked at the lot's parking sign. NO PARKING 11PM - 6AM, read the sign. It was nine-thirty in the morning and there were five other vehicles in the lot. The Van Man was pissed. That was not a good way to start the great hot day. And he was no longer a rival with Black Sedan Man. They were allies.
  The morning turned into early afternoon and Van Man was out in the Valley streets again. He looked for shade. One o'clock and it was one-hundred and five degrees. He was shirtless and knew he should just get naked. It was that fucking hot. Being a swinging dick while he drove sounded perfect, but it was not the Seventies. At a stoplight, he stared at the Young Man with the Homeless sign. That was someone who could not depend on shade. That was a person that could only make some scratch where the gettin' was good. And that was usually at unshaded off-ramps.
  Four o'clock and Van Man found himself parked under shade somewhere in a nice Studio City neighborhood. It was one-hundred out under The Sun. Too damn hot to do any damn thing. Most of the houses in the neighborhood definitely had pools. A scream rang out in pain and a voice yelled from somewhere in the heat, "It's fucking hot!" Van Man agreed with the random cry of injustice. It was fucking hot. The Van Man drove away calmed. Everyone was equally a victim to The Sun.