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.