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?"
"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."
"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.