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.