Monday, December 26, 2016

Dead Flashlights

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 Rooms that used to be full of southern gossip and slow-drawl anecdotes had been replaced by sad games of five-person Dirty Santa and sullen conversations that faded out without ending.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

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Paper Memories

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

Expensive Blonde

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

On the Road

  Out of Los Angeles, across the states, along a stretch of highway. The Van Man was on a trek. A journey with his spirit. There were a few reasons for his travels: his broken mother, a get-rich-quick opportunity and a lady. If there was anything else worth leaving Souhern California for, he did not know it. He would be back. LA was stuck in her ways and going nowhere.
  The van was sturdy. A well-oiled machine built from grease and blood. And it would cruise down that lonely stretch of highway like a serial killer looking for a hitchhiker. The miles accumulated. The flat, desert landscape slowly morphed into patches of green and rocky terrain. Van Man tuned his transistor radio. It came in handy when he was not singing to himself. Channel after channel, static filled the airwaves. What a shithole, thought Van Man.
  Outside of Bowie, Arizona, the van was low on gas. A rusted out pickup truck drove beside and eased behind Van Man. Its driver ogled the van and its bearded captain. The pickup driver seemed strange and leering with three-day stubble and wide eyes. Van Man stepped harder on the gas and left the truck with its ogling driver in the proverbial dust.
  DUANE'S FRESH JERKEY. The gas station signage was bold and red and ostentatious. But with a font and flair that just demanded a person to try the best fucking jerkey this side of the Mighty Mississippi. And the nuts! The van pulled into the gravel pit pump housing. Van Man checked out the old gas pump. Three dollars for a single gallon of gas. Fuckin' as bad as LA, thought Van Man. He sighed and began to pump. Then, the rusted pickup truck pulled up to the adjacent pump. The dirty, wide-eyed driver stepped out wearing a hunting jacket.
"Thought I was gonna run out!", exclaimed the Driver. Van Man tried to ignore the crazy bastard.
"Where you goin'?", asked the Driver, he spoke with a nasally, strained twang that could not be placed.
"Alabama", replied Van Man.
"Ooh, Alabama...long trip", said the Driver and Van Man nodded.
"California."
"Huh?", asked Van Man.
"Said, you comin' from California", replied the Driver, as he looked down at the license plate.
"Yeah, LA." The gas then pumped loud.
"Got a cousin that lives out there. Johnathan Cawkins."
Van Man stared blankly.
"Think you might know 'em?", asked the Driver.
"Oh, I don't know", replied Van Man.
"Yeah, he's somewhere out there."
"In Alabama?"
"Yeah, he's out there somewhere. He's just a character, I love 'em."
  The driver continued to speak, but Van Man tuned out. It was all static. He smiled and finished up pumping.
  Inside Duane's, Van Man found a stash of local raw honey. He was all out. Seventeen bucks for a jar. Fuck...worse than LA, thought Van Man. At the counter, he was rung up by a woman of a certain age. The two engaged in a pleasant conversation about natural skin care. Van Man was from LaLa Land, after all.
"You know, before I used apple cider on my face, I used Clinique. Well, I used it when I could afford it...some time ago." The Counter Woman looked around Duane's Fresh Jerkey store. This was her place now. Jerkey hung on her walls and jars filled with raw honey sat against them. But Van Man could only think of who the woman was before Duane's. Who was she when she could afford Clinique? What did she think about in those olden days? Did she have dreams and aspirations before Duane swept the woman off her feet, only to make her a counter girl at his fresh jerkey stop? Life was hell, Van Man knew that to be true for all.
  Back on the road, the van drove on. Eastbound, no rest until Texas. The sun inched lower in the rear view mirror. The Van Man had a grand adventure ahead of him. Life and love. His contribution to the human experience. But somewhere behind the van, Johnathan Cawkins danced in the mind of a crazy fellow and a counter girl dreamed of her Clinique days.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pure Hollywood

  Last week of November and that morning was cold as hell. Too damn early for waking up, but The Van Man opened his eyes anyway. Steamy breath puffed from his mouth. He arose from the hard floor of the van, shivering and rolling up his bed. Van Man was in a slight rush that morning because he had an appointment to see an ill friend. A pal of ten years, someone he met when first landing in LA. Van Man slipped on the ice cold jeans over his naked lower extremities. His dick and balls retreated from the chill.
  With two comrades, Big Jim and a serious Bengals fan, the three amigos made the journey to Port Hueneme. Their friend was a legend among Van Man's close circle. The son of a sixties variety show host and nephew to a long-ago teen heartthrob, the pal was pure Hollywood. He would regale Van Man with his stories of touring the country as a male dancer and the unhinged women who lusted for him. The very definition of life-affirming, Hollywood was beloved by many and rightfully so. But now he was terminally sick. What a cruel world.
  A few years had passed since most of the close circle had seen Hollywood, or each other for that matter. That is what happens in life, after all. One's own existence takes on an importance much bigger than friends or family. The individual is the star of their personal film. And there is no Avengers budget to expand the story.
  At nine, the three amigos rolled up to Hollywood's condominium. An apprehensive knock on the door was followed by a brief silence.
"Guys, I'll be right down", said a strained voice from above. Van Man looked up. There was a dark, screened window on the second floor. The voice was Hollywood's, but it was not. It had the same cadence, the same spark. Yet, it sounded choked and flat. The door opened.
  In his prime, Hollywood was big and strapping. Sun-kissed and chiseled with a head full of great hair. Always the most positive outlook in the room with an equally dynamic outlook on life. Now, as Van Man sat in a recliner, he watched his ill friend speak with that same energy and attitude, but the words came from a body that was hard to recognize. Thin as a rail, some sixty pounds lighter. Hollywood wore a scarf to cover protruding tumors. This man was staring death in the face. But he was not afraid. In fact, Hollywood was the beacon of positive vibes that he had always been. Van Man was not witnessing some cliche, some sick person wasting away in their own depression. No, Van Man was viewing the absolute definition of courage and strength. The true meaning of mind over matter. Hollywood spoke of his illness with an open precision. Nothing was going to take this man out. Not now. Not ever. A gigantic, hairy cat climbed onto the coffee table and approached Van Man, ignoring everyone else.
"They always come to me", joked the allergic Van Man.
"Pussy magnet", retorted Hollywood, in his wonderfully wry way. Yeah, pure Hollywood.
  A windy day at the nearby beach found the group filming and photographing the beauties of the earth. A way to celebrate their friendship. A way to capture fleeting moments. Back at Hollywood's abode, the pals drank hot tea and reminisced. Then it was time to bid farewell.

"Alright, bring it in, brother", said Van Man, as he embraced Hollywood. These were hugging men and this was, most definitely, a hugging time.
"Man, you coming up here means so much to my heart and soul", uttered Hollywood to Van Man. And Van Man fought back the tears. Those droplets were not needed, a smile was. He grinned and gave Hollywood another hug.
"I'll see you soon, brother", said Van Man. He meant it. He gave one more hug for the road and rode away.
  Life was just too short, too precious. Hollywood was too damn good of a human to leave the party early. He still had much to do. The Van Man was certain they would meet again. After all, Los Angeles was The City of Angels. There was no fucking way it was going to be without its finest.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Blame It On the Rain

  "I'm tired of this fuckin' shit! I'M TIRED OF THIS FUCKIN' SHIT!!" The Van Man pressed his ear against the wall. He was at the apartment of his friend, The Ax Man, an old chum from his college days. The days when the beer kegs flowed like wine and that college ass was mighty, mighty fine. Ax Man sat on his couch, quiet and invested in a television program. Van Man nursed a cold one and listened to the wall, intently.
  "Shut ya fuckin' mouth and get the fuck outta my house!" A older man raged in the neighboring unit. By the thick accent, Van Man knew this was a New Yorker. Quiet. Van Man listened, waiting for more rage. A young boy, around thirteen, spoke lightly. The voice was inaudible.
  "I called and called and called, you don't answer your phone!", raged the Rager. The Boy responded, but was too quiet to be heard through the wall.
"Where was this concert?!", screamed the Rager.
"LA", replied the Boy.
"Where?!"
"Downtown."
"In the STREET?!", raged the Rager. The Boy answered quietly and the Rager exploded in terrifying anger. Van Man backed away from the wall. The screaming was too close, too intense, too full of hate and Van Man could not understand a lick of it. He looked over to Ax. Ax stared at the television program.
"We're done! We're done!", screamed the Rager. And all was quiet. The raging was over. Van Man sipped his cold one and studied the wall. Nothing.
"Does that happen a lot?", asked Van Man.
"Oh, just about every day. That boy is terrible. I don't know how his parents haven't put him out of his misery yet", said Ax Man.
  The two comrades stepped out into the evening. Ax Man lit up one of his trusty coffin nails and Van Man departed in the van. It was cold. Rain was coming. He knew he would need to bundle up extra tight for the drizzly November night. The Van Man drove on the park, all too aware of one thing: neighbors that do not fuck, suck.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Day

  Tuesday morning was warm. A nice change from the bitter, cold ones that had recently made their way into the Valley. It was early as hell and The Van Man was awake, folding the bedding and slipping into work clothes. Election Day. Van Man thought he might try to cast a vote or two before work. But the lack of coffee made him rethink that idea.
  The van drove north on Hollywood Way. People were out to rock the vote. The van just rolled down the street.
  A quick stop in a corporate coffee den had Van Man waiting in line. He glanced around, looking for I VOTED stickers. None to be seen. The masses were not that different than him. They needed the tar-colored fix, too.
"Yeah, can I get a tall blonde?", requested Van Man. To him, the only way to order a cup.
"Sure", replied the busy barista. A man leaned over to him.
"You can order those here?", asked the man with an inquisitive gleam.
"That's why I come to Starbucks", said Van Man with a sly smirk. He grabbed the coffee and was off.
  The work day commenced. Van Man and his Teamsters walked the lot, preparing cars for the day's moves. Van Man conversed with a fellow Teamster, a black brother from another mother. Someone he considered a friend.
"Those props, man. I'm voting for legalizing pot and no condoms in porn!", exclaimed Van Man.
"Me 'n my brutha was talkin' 'bout that. How they supposed to creampie with condoms on?", retorted the Brother From Another Mother.
"Yeah, I know, that's why I want 'em outta there."
As the drivers dispersed, Van Man's shuttle pulled up to the gate. A white-haired gatekeeper with googly eyes and a lunatic smile greeted him.
"Let me see if I know what your name is", said the Gatekeeper in a fay, New York accent. "John? George? Richard? Lenny? How about Kevin? Wait, Ethel! It's Ethel."
"It starts with a V", grumbled Van Man.
"Victor!", yelped Gatekeeper, amused at his own antics. Van Man was not amused but gave his name.
"Oh! That's really good, I'll keep an eye out for you", warned Gatekeeper, throwing side shade at Van Man. He drove away. Election Day was real and brought out the weird in people.
  Hours later. Van Man stood in line, waiting for his turn to vote. The results were trickling in from the East Coast and gunmen were shooting up polling places. Then a face from his past emerged from the voting booths. His first landlord in LA, ten years prior when Van Man was more idealistic and less wrinkly. He stopped the Landlord and re-introduced himself. The recognition was quick.
"How are you, my friend?", asked the Landlord in broken English.
"Good man, how 'bout you?"
"I got married", Landlord replied as he held up his left hand, showing off his one-size-too-big wedding ring. "Three and half year", he said with a smile.
"Ah, man, that's great!"
"She died in July."
"Whaaaaaat? Noooo..." Van Man was shocked by his friend's tragedy. "Whaaaaaat? I am sooo sorry...who...who was she?"
"I met her in church", replied the Landlord. This time with a saddened demeanor.
"I can't believe that..."
Van Man, quite simply, did not have the words. He shook the Landlord's hand and wished him well, watching the nice man walk away. It was his turn to vote, but the reason to do it seemed to evaporate.
  In his van, under a streetlight, Van Man sat. Many had voted, many more had not. Where was the world headed? Would the country survive? Would Americans ever be happy again? He did not know. The Sun would rise the next day, a rich man would be President, marijuana would be legal and a widower would go to work. But The Van Man would be in the van, keeping an eye on the lonely and an open heart for the sad.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Black Magic

  Just another Sunday. But the last one before a new regime would be decided on by the masses. To rule over the land with an iron fist. Like the old days. With Election Day around the corner and a cross-country trip on the horizon, The Van Man woke his ass up.
  He peeled himself off Mr. Funny's couch. The previous evening had seen the two old friends drinking booze and discussing whatever the hell drunk assholes discuss after their team wins. Fathers and dreams were always the topic. Van Man had one hell of a hard-on and crammed it deep into his jeans. He had a girl on his mind, but that was a story for another day. Mr. Funny was asleep in the other room and Van Man split. It was too early for consciousness, but he needed a coffee. Always the coffee.
  The Sunday crowd packed the quaint joint. Van Man stood in line, eyeing the menu board. There it was, his favorite. The darkest kiss of liquid, ebony sex. The legendary Black Magic. He was getting some, but first he would have to wait.
  As the line slowly progressed, a young lady stood in line behind him, talking on her phone. She covered the mouth speaker, muffling it.
"...he's a real person now...I said, he's a real person now...", spoke the Young Lady with a humoring demeanor.
"Well, okay, Grandma, I'm about to walk into church...I said, I'm about to walk into church...love you, too. Bye-bye."
The Young Lady hung up. Van Man ordered. She lied to her grandmother. Sure, it was Sunday, but she was not at any cathedral. He paid for his java and walked away.
  Had he ever lied to his grandmother? Hell yes. Too many times to count. And always for the same reason: to not disappoint her. How could she, a remnant of the old guard, ever understand him living in a van or dating a black girl or not being a man of religion? Perhaps, that was Young Lady's bag. Maybe, she was raised a good church-going lass, obedient and fearful. But now that she was in the City of Angels, she could shed that skin. Now, she could snort coke off trannies and shoot junk while dancing bottomless at the trendiest club. She had a life free from judgement by the ones she cared about. A simple lie could keep loved ones happy and at bay.
  Van Man hopped into his van and started up the growling engine. Was it more important to be open and honest about one's beliefs and truths, no matter if it hurt. Or was it better to hide a few things here and there, knowing that what they do not know will not harm them. Two days until it was time for the main event: to vote for a greedy, real estate fucker or a rode-hard, scary chick. Things could be worse. The Van Man took a sip of Black Magic and smiled.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Halloween Nasty

  Halloween on Monday seemed like a cruel joke played by some disembodied gamemaster in the heavens. For the children, it was a school night, the first one of the long week. Their delicious candies would not be fully consumed for days. For the adults, work awaited them on Tuesday, requiring the dishes to be done and early bed times. Their anticipated hangovers would be postponed until the weekend. As for The Van Man, well, he was stuck in limbo.
  Another restless night in the van had taken its toll. He was weary and cold, sighing and groaning as he rose off the van floor. Van Man's steamy breath wafted from his dry mouth and he knew by the foggy windows that Los Angeles had a cold winter coming. And then he spotted the parking ticket. He checked the time on his cell phone. Eight-seventeen. Damn, they got me, he thought. Van Man buttoned his jeans as he stepped out onto the street. The parking sign read: NO PARKING MONDAY 8AM - 10AM. No freebies in this world. Not even on Halloween.
  After a slight breakfast and a delectable coffee at a quaint spot in Toluca Lake, Van Man hit the library. He had auditions to submit for. Just my luck, he thought as he spied the open computer. It was next to an older man who, from behind, resembled old John Carpenter. Van Man's affinity for the horror director persuaded him to peer at whatever the Old John Carpenter was viewing on his screen...various images of vile grandmother filth. Van Man could only muster a double-take. Did he see what he thought he saw? Yes, elderly women spreading shotgun-blast vaginas and ancient hags squishing saggy, wrinkled tits filled the monitor. It was gross. It was crass. It was the most disgusting thing Van Man had ever seen and he had seen it all over the world. So Van Man took his seat next to the vile, piece of garbage.
  Van Man soon realized he needed a picture. Something for proof of that level of sleaze. After all, legitimate foulness like Old Carpenter's did not come along often. Van Man set the camera phone on and stood to make it seem as though he was off to the bathroom. A few steps back and snap...Van Man got his picture. A nosy gentleman eased by, staring at Van Man who held a camera phone aimed at an old man with repulsive, grandmother pornography on his computer. The Old Fuck did not budge and Van Man stared back at the Easy Gentleman. What?, thought Van Man.
  The van sat in the distance. Van Man approached with a satisfaction. Pure vulgarity existed in the world. He scanned over the digital photograph, proud and beaming. Random people were adorned in various costumes, walking here and there. Halloween was alive and well. And The Van Man had just learned the true meaning of that sacred holiday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dream Role

  The audition was for a horror film. Some cheap, low-budget crap paying seventy-five bucks a day. The part was a redneck, gas station attendant with a murderous streak. A dream role for The Van Man.
  He entered the lobby and immediately sized up his competition. The first guy was just not right for the part, no chance. Too clean cut and foreign. The guy could have been Sean fucking Penn and he was not getting that part. Them's the breaks, thought Van Man. But the second guy, there was something there. With a receding hairline and a fat, bushy mustache, the second guy had the perfect look. Could he deliver, though? A few moments later and the First Guy was inside the room, doing his thing. Van Man listened, intently. Next.
  In the lobby, it was just Van Man and The 'Stache, clocking each other. The 'Stache looked at him and he looked at The 'Stache. Brutal competition. First, the mental challenge from fellow actors as everyone judges one another, waiting for their turn to audition. Not giving in to insecurities about how they look or sound, compared to the other players. Was their choice in attire correct? Did they approach the character the right way? Is there a right way? Then the actor must step in to do the physical part. Van Man developed his own process of dealing with the lobby challenges. He did not bother to converse with anyone and tried not to look. But in the business, looks mattered most.
  It was The 'Stache's turn and Van Man was alone. He went over his lines, then listened through the thin wall. The 'Stache was good. Robust voice and mastery of the dialogue. 'Stache had a decent twang, too. Van Man now had respect for this actor, but he was not giving him the role. It was Van Man's and only Van Man's. He went over the lines again.
  The 'Stache exited into the lobby. Van Man looked away even though 'Stache glanced at him, as though to say, "Good luck". Fuck off, thought Van Man. Not this day. The casting director called his name and he went into the audition room. And he motherfucking nailed it. But hopefully, The Van Man looked the part.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Corndogs

  The van needed some good loving. A leaky radiator and failing power steering plagued the fine automobile. Of course, The Van Man was there for his Pavement Pegasus. With greasy fingers and a smudged smile, Van Man worked underneath the van. Wrenches clanged and bolts loosened. Fluid dripped and he just wiped away the mess on his jeans. And then his phone rang.
"Hey", answered Van Man.
"Hey, what are you doin', sleepin'?", asked his Father.
"Sleeping? It's two o'clock..."
"Oh. You watch that game?"
"Yeah."
"They looked good, didn't they?", boasted The Father, as though he had something to do with the football team's victory. There was a pride in The Old Man's voice that only came out in the Fall. A pride that Van Man had never been bestowed.
"Yeah, they did", he replied.
"Hold on, lemme see these fifty-cent corndogs..."
Van Man waited.
"Wait a minute...alright, fifty-cent corndogs, Fridays and Sundays, Sonic", finished The Old Man, happily.
"Cool", said Van Man.
"Well, lemme go, I gotta use the bathroom", barked his Father as he hung up.
  Van Man continued his tender loving care of the van. He took pride in his Boulevard Beast, it had always been there for him. And pride was something The Van Man was more than happy to give.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

An End of the World

  The Van Man looked down at the ringing cell phone. MOM appeared on the screen. Van Man let it ring. He knew what the call was about and did not want to answer. He was on the two-ten, shuttling fellow Teamsters from Riverside and it was none of their business. Nor did they want to hear it.
  When he was a child, Van Man spent many hours with his Grandmother. At her apartment on the down and out side of town, while his mother worked. In her Buick, listening to Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline, as she picked him up from his mother's weekend bar tending gig. At her very own house, one paid monthly with income from the night shift at the steel mill, hiding out from an abusive stepfather...an alcoholic and world heavyweight champion of apologizers. And through it all, he loved her without any understanding of the world around him. He did not need to understand. It was just him and Mommer.
  After work, Van Man listened to the voicemail. And he could tell from the way his Mother told him to call her back. He could hear it in her voice. Back at the motel, Van Man returned the call and, as expected, her news was revealed. Mommer was gone. The sorrow in the Van Mother's voice was palpable and fierce. A few words were exchanged. Then, Van Man knew it was coming, he could sense it. Something he hated to hear. The cry of Van Mother was legendary in the Deep South. It signaled an end of the world. Every time.
  When he was a teen, Van Man spent less time with Mommer. Something had begun to be out of touch between them. Hormones raged in one, health faded in the other. Neither spoke of the slow division, it just happened before they knew it. And it was new for both. Is that not how it goes between a grandmother and her grandson? And yet, the love continued, even when they did not understand one another.
  His mother's scream blared from the phone, making Van Man sad. The scream continued. And continued longer than humanly possible without any breath. The scream got louder and more intense and no breaths were given. Neither were any fucks. Van Man grabbed his mouth to brace it from laughing. It all seemed a bit much. Van Mother's scream evolved into a horrendous wail, ancient and insane. Van Man held onto his face, stifling a shameful laugh.
  When he was an adult, Van Man spent very little time with Mommer. He lived across the country and lived a much different life than she had hoped. He knew she was resigned to accept it. And they both knew she was not the same Mommer as she once was. That happens to grandmothers. But with every old photograph she sent him, he discovered more and more that the two did have an understanding. They knew how important it was to remember one's past. After all, one could not make a better tomorrow without looking at yesterday. It was a knowledge she never knew how to teach and he never cared to learn. Until now. That happens with age. And the love reached its culmination of many years. A love that accepted and transcended the decades.
  The wail reached its apex: the highest of high pitches, an alarm of loss, regret and confusion with a crescendo into a warbly sob. Van Man let go of his face. It was no longer funny. With zero knowledge of what to say, he told his Mother that it would be okay. After a few words, Van Mother and her son ended the call. Fuuuck, thought Van Man. He dialed The Old Man, his Father.
"Yeah?", grumbled the Old Man, upset at being woken up.
"Well, just wanted to tell you that my grandmother died"
"She did?"
"Yeah, just talked to my mom, she's--she's pretty devastated"
"Yeah"
"She just cried like crazy, it got intense...", offered Van Man, hoping his Father would offer a nicety.
"Boy, that's all an act! Your mamma is crazy!"
"Well, it was a lot, but she--"
"She cries for everything, boy. She--why, you'd think it was the end of the world"
  Van Man and the Old Man ended their call. He felt a little confused and a little melancholy. And a little ashamed. Was this normal? Do other people find humor when a mother cries? The Van Man had no answer, but felt twelve years old and undeserving of love. And a little more alone.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Jazzed

  Four in the afternoon. The van idled at Barham and Cahuenga. In a vehicle parallel to it, a young boy screamed something and quickly rolled up his window. The Van Man looked over, wondering if the child was shrieking at him. He had just finished up an audition in Hollywood and was over the traffic.
  The audition was simple enough. Four actors were brought into a room and asked to scream while saying a specific line of dialogue. The building's air conditioning was out which turned the room into a cell of hot, wet stink. Yet, that was something to put up with for a few hundred bucks. Each actor had a distinctly different wail and delivery. Van Man went second and proceeded with his agonizing best. 
"Verrry creepy", responded the sweaty casting director.
  Each interpretation was unique and enlightening. Van Man understood his craft even more than before entering the stench confinement. Acting was an art to be cherished between the performers. Jazz of the soul. Music of life experience improvised through sorrow and shame and hope and lust. Too bad LA was no place for friendly competition. The City of Angels was a place to destroy one's competition. Every actor was an opponent and the successful were the ones that beat all comers.
  Following the audition, with perspiration at his brow, the Casting Director offered a bit of information on the production. 
"There will be underlying christian themes. Is this okay with you gentlemen?"
The four actors nodded. Money is money, a paid gig is a paid gig and these gentlemen needed the scratch. 
  The traffic signal greened and the van inched forward. Van Man noticed bees swarming the intersection. Hundreds of them, buzzing around vehicles and angry as hell. Van Man rolled up the window and drove away. The shrieking boy was warning him of the bees.
  The van drove on down Barham and passed the old Oakwood Apartments. Change had finally come to the Oakwoods and morphed them into upscale lodgings for rich film students. The same place where Joe Spinell and a cracked-out Rick James had found cheap pads, once upon a time. Corey Haim died there. It was a place of pure Hollywood lore. No more. The van continued its progression and The Van Man thought about the swarming bees and LA actors. All pissed off and no solidarity to fix it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Semi-Functioning

  The intensity of the Saturday sunshine blinded The Van Man as the door creaked open. He closed his eyes and turned his head for a moment. To gather his wits. He was not hungover, but his brain was not ready for the day. Van Man stepped out into the motel courtyard, closing the door behind him.
  Across the pool, a shirtless man sat at the table, wearing nothing but boxers. He had a face and head full of white hair. Next to him was the Functioning Alcoholic. Fake-blonde hair and hunched over, resting on his knees. The two derelicts had seen better days and they gazed at Van Man, who nodded. They nodded back.
  Swiss Miss had mentioned some time earlier that the Alcoholic was to be married on August seventh, the two-year anniversary of Van Man moving into the van. The marriage was to a foreigner on a work visa.
"You get married?", asked Van Man, pointing to the Alcoholic.
"Sure did", replied Alcoholic with a fake smirk, obviously forced.
"Cool. You already do the honeymoon?"
"No need for that", replied the Functioning Alcoholic as the shirtless white-haired man sat quietly and stared.
"Oh, cool."
"We'll try to do something at the end of the year."
"Cool, man. Congrats."
  Van Man walked away from the two and exited the courtyard.  The Alcoholic was not enthusiastic enough about just getting married. Neither was the White-Haired Dude. Or maybe they were just drunk at noon on a Saturday. In some motel on Olive Avenue in Burbank. A place where many dreams had died. And every August Seventh, The Van Man would remember the beginning of his dreams. And the end of someone else's.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Walls

  The dog days of August had arrived and the motel days were coming to an end. The Van Man stared at the stained walls surrounding him. The roar of the cheap air-conditioning unit buzzed throughout the room. A dead fly lay somewhere in the tiny kitchenette. He had killed it a day before, but did not see where it fell. So it stayed, decaying. Van Man held the phone to his ear.

Ring.

While he waited for the person to answer, Van Man thought about the good news he wanted to tell. He booked a gig, a feature film. Some found-footage horror flick in Michigan. A decent enough piece of information that would surely liven up the Old Man. But the Hustler was a tough bastard.

Ring.

"Hello?", said a grizzled voice.
"Hey", said Van Man.
"Huh, oh, yeah...what's up? Saw you called, whaddaya want?"
"Oh, nothing, just giving you a call"
"Yeah, I'm just layin' here, 'bout to fall asleep", said the Father. And he did seem to doze off for a second.
"Just laying here, too." And with those words, Van Man was frightened that he just might be exactly like the Old Man.
"'m gonna havta move", said the Father.
"Oh yeah? Why?"
"That old man ain't comin' back. They're gonna keep him in that nursin' home." The Hustler had been living in an unused room at his ailing friend's house for some time. And now the friend was quickly slipping into the hell of dementia. "Yeah, so I'm gonna move", said the Father.
"When?", asked the concerned Van Man, his father's only son.
"Coupla' months."
"Where you gonna go?"
"I don't know, there's a veteran's place I might get into. They take some of your check to pay for the rent. But it looks nice."
"Where?"
"Bessemer. They said I might have to wait three months", said the Old Man, defeated.
"That ain't so bad", replied Van Man, encouragingly.
"Always a goddamn waiting list."
"You know, my grandmother's probably going to have to do the same thing", stated Van Man, in the hope that it would give the Old Man a different viewpoint. 
"Really? She that bad?"
"Yeah. They'll put her in and then they wanna sign her house over to me."
"Aw, fuck that, boy!", said the agitated Father.
"What?"
"I said fuck that! Don't sign your name to nothin', boy!" Van Man laughed at the absurdity. "Let your mom do it, don't ever sign your name to nothin'!"
"It's probably a good idea to put it in my name--"
"Aw hell, I said don't put your name to nothin'! Listen to me, boy!"
  Van Man laughed again. Somehow that made all the sense in the world. And he understood his Old Man more than ever. Van Man told his good news. But the good news did not seem to register with his Father like he assumed it would. The Father said goodbye and the phone call ended. He was left with the motel walls and the loud humming from the air-conditioning unit. There was a rotting fly somewhere. And The Van Man was alone.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Let the Motherfucker Burn

  A fucking hot one. A hundred and something in Burbank. Fires blazed in the rugged mountains of Santa Clarita, lighting up the smoke-dimmed sky like something out of science fiction movies. The Van Man watched the flames in the distance, burning the motherfucker down, as he waited for the locksmith to arrive. Van Man had locked his keys inside the van. They dangled from the ignition, laughing at him.
  He had tried the old coat hanger trick, but it did not work this time. And the locksmith finally arrived.
 "Love the van, man", said the Locksmith as he gave the vehicle a once-over. With a skinny frame, buzzed haircut and a pair of Buddy Holly spectacles, the Locksmith gave off a working man's Leland Orser vibe. Sort of a downtown Richard Patrick.
 "Yeah, man", responded Van Man.
 "Oh, this is great. I love these old vans."
Van Man could sense the Locksmith's enthusiasm. If there was one way to befriend a Van Man, it was by digging the van.
 "You ever take this thing out to the desert?"
 "Nah. I been meaning to", responded Van Man with a tinge of disappointment in his self.
 "Oh, man, you have to", said the Locksmith as he slid the Slim Jim down into the door window frame. "There's an old place, an old military base that's abandoned. People just drive out there and park. Stay as long as you want. It's just like the old times where you find a spot of land and claim it"
 "Really?", asked Van Man, realizing that the Locksmith knew he was a van dweller.
 "Oh yeah. No running water or power, but there's a large group of people there just growing their own food. And lots of runaway girls, man." The Locksmith jiggled the Slim Jim.
 "Where you park?", asked the Locksmith. Yeah, he knew.
 "Up the street here", answered Van Man. He did not want to disclose the fact that he had been cheating on the van life by living the past few months in a motel. For some reason, that would be shameful to admit.
 "You should come stay at the park on Magnolia. You know where I'm talking about?"
 "Yeah, at Tujunga, by the YMCA."
 "Yeah, man, it's great. Everybody's living in their cars. Cops don't mess with you, nobody cares. I love it. I picked up this girl that worked at In and Out and we fucked in the back of my van, nobody messed with us", said the prideful Locksmith and the lock popped up. The Locksmith was a van dweller, too. The two comrades shook hands, exchanged numbers and the Locksmith went on his way. On to the next locked door.
  Van Man climbed into his van, happy to escape the brutal heat. Maybe he would try out the park on Magnolia sometime. It sounded like a van dweller's oasis. But, he might just stick with what he knew, what was comfortable. He turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Fuck, he thought. The long, hot day was not over and things were about to get filthy. The heat had killed the alternator and he would have to replace it. But a friend had been made.
  Thousands of acres burned in the distance. And The Van Man strolled down to the automotive store, thinking about runaways and van people living at some desolate, military base utopia in the desert. What a strange fucking world.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Showtime

  Q Lazzarus cued up. "Goodbye Horses" sounded throughout the tiny bathroom as The Van Man caked the clown white makeup onto one portion of his not-yet-famous mug. He looked into the mirror, carefully. The eyes and big, Roman nose were the same as when he was eighteen. But the hairline was not. Well, at least, Van Man was still fortunate to have some follicles left at thirty-five. And that grey smattered throughout his hair was fake, so he truly was lucky.
  It was nearing showtime as Van Man spread the fishnet stockings over his face. It provided a nice pattern for the glitter. Of course, it was much better to spread women's legs over a Van Man's face than leggings, but it was only Friday.
  The green glitter set nicely and the mascara ran. He peered at his reflection. Naked and painted. Van Man slid on the tights and walked out into the early evening. Time for the show. He locked the motel door and turned to find various residents staring at him. Their mouths slightly agape. Van Man smiled and nodded, his emerald face sparkled in the setting sun. He walked to the van.
  Van Man was a freak to those uncultured fools. But he was unfiltered entertainment to the audience. Freak. Entertainment. Maybe they were the same thing? The Van Man adjusted his G-string, sipped some chamomile tea and drove on to the theatre. There was no time to think about such mysteries. It was showtime.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Death Spray

  Hot. Too damn hot. Sickenly hot. The motel room seemed to ripple as the decades-old wall unit blasted cool air that was nowhere near enough. The cold vapors seeped out through undetectable holes in the walls. The Van Man's face burned from his own sweat. He stood naked in the bathroom. He stood naked and stared into the mirror. This was his life at thirty-five. Unshaven, uncomfortable and nude. Then something caught his eye.
  Just a tiny movement. Like a recollection of psychotropic drug use. He stared at the reflection of a glistening quiver behind him, on the wall. Van Man turned to inspect the phenomena. Disgust raced throughout his body. Disgust and hatred. They marched along, single file. Hundreds of them. Little Black Ants on a mission.
  Where were they going? He followed the line across the wall and into the shower stall. Fuckers'll bite me when I wash, thought Van Man. But the ants appeared to stop in the stall. They were not looking for anything more than relief from the heat and the shower was a cool confine. He had to do something. They would kill him, Van Man knew that. Probably as he cleaned himself or even when he slept. The hatred and disgust boiled inside his brain. Van Man threw on clothing, grabbed his keys and left the apartment. The ants remained.
  Twenty minutes later and Van Man returned. He carried a weapon. Raid. And with murder in his heart, Van Man sprayed death over the monsters. He felt immeasurable joy as the black creatures froze up, entering the void. A soothing calm rushed over him.
  When the extermination was finished, hundreds were dead. Van Man turned on the shower faucet and washed the corpses down the drain. They were gone for good, into hell. After cleaning the walls and floor of any evidence of a crime, he stripped off his clothes and felt relief. Life was once again, for The Van Man, worth living.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Newman Smile

  Father's Day and The Van Man looked for inspiration. He rummaged through the van, searching for old photographs of his father, The Hustler. Perhaps, there was a picture of the old man in some intriguing moment of self-reflection, innocently caught at a birthday party. A tiny window into the psyche of a man needing to be anywhere but there. An image captured for all-time, in which Van Man could finally see that his Father was just like him at one point. Full of hopes and dreams. A man with a full life to experience and no time for the trivial shit. Those photographs did not exist.
  What Van Man found could not help him solve the enigma of his Father. The pictures were of a smiling, raven-haired scoundrel. A cad who seemed to have a joke and a laugh ready to burst forth. A rogue with a Paul Newman smile. The Old Man appeared to enjoy his place in life.
  Van Man wondered what The Hustler desired in those bygone times? Could it have been anything more than getting women pregnant and hustling pool? Maybe he had made the idea far more interesting than the reality. It was easier to accept his Father just wanting some good times and pussy. The American Dream. But were there not bigger and better dreams? Actually making something of one's life? Making a mark on the world?
  Van Man stared into the photograph. The Old Man stared back. I got everything I need, boy. I don't want nothin' else, son.
  The temperature raised to one-hundred degrees and the van became too hot to self-analyze in. He put the paper images away for another day. He would never understand what made The Hustler tick. But those pictures showed a man who seemed to have it all figured out, the world on a string. And that drove The Van Man crazy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sensitive

  One eye open, the other closed shut. The Van Man sat in the urgent care facility with a swollen face. He had a matinee performance just hours away and some allergic reaction on his mug, his money-maker. But even with an Elephant Man facial, the show must go on.
  The nurse kindly escorted Van Man into the evaluation room. He had seen two too many of them in the past six months. He explained his sudden condition to the nurse and she assured him the doctor would be in shortly. Van Man glanced around the room and used his filthy fingers to spread his swollen eye lids, loosening up the swell. A large, barrel of a man entered, smiling and bouncing with each step. Head and beard of grays and whites. Thick glasses that magnified his eyeballs. And rosy, red cheeks. Not quite Santa, more Jerry Garcia.
  "Hiya, what's wrong with you?", asked Garcia. Van Man looked up and described his situation.
  "Allergies, yep. Is it anywhere else?", asked Garcia.
  "No, but I itch across my body some", replied Van Man.
  "Take off your shirt", demanded Garcia.
Garcia was a doctor, but something in his voice made Van Man slightly uncomfortable. With one strong yank, Van Man popped open his shirt, a snap-buttoned flannel. And he popped it open to his navel like one of those dancers. In Van Man's mind, snaps were meant to be snapped severely.
  "That’s good, you don't have to take it all the way off", said Garcia, resting a hand on Van Man's shoulder. Garcia took a quick glance at Van Man's neck.
  "A little red, but that should go away. Just make sure you don't shave"
Van Man looked down at his exposed torso. Then back up to Garcia who widened his eyes and lifted his bushy brows. Twice. "I mean your chest", stated Garcia as his eye brows twitched up and down.
  "I'm going to give you a steroid. It should reduce the swelling"
  "Cool", replied Van Man.
  "I want you to only use hypo-allergenic products from now on. No parabens. Do you know what that means?", asked Garcia. Van Man nodded yes. He did not.
  "Good. Remember, no parabens.  You have sensitive skeeeeeeiin", said Garcia as he walked out of the room.
  "Well, I'm a sensitive person", replied Van Man as the door shut. He looked around at the walls, curious if Garcia's twitches were involuntary tics. His face was sore and he needed his mug back to normal. There was a matinee to be performed and the show would most definitely go on. The Van Man felt relief and buttoned up his shirt.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

End Is a Beginning

  Clouds drifted and The Sun warmed. The park was busy with joggers and crossfitters and dog walkers. It had been six months since The Van Man exercised on its grounds. He needed some sunshine.
  Pull-ups. Crunches. And then The Gentleman approached with his friendly dog, Wilbur. Perfect name for the cordial, yellow beast. The Gentleman was just as neighborly as he had always been. A kindness that was rare in the City of Angels.
"Hey, man, how you been?", asked Van Man with a smile and a handshake.
"Good. It's good to see you", replied The Gentleman with a wide smile of his own. And Wilbur yelped as he happily sniffed Van Man's crotch.
"Just thought I'd come down and get some sun", said Van Man.
"Oh, that's good. You look well. The last time I saw you, you had that cough"
"Yeah, got rid of that bastard"
Van Man was glad to see The Gentleman. He had always been friendly and brought pleasant conversation to the park. Suddenly, Van Man remembered Gentleman's sick friend, a nice lady about whom Gentleman spoke highly of.
"Hey, how's your friend doing? She better?"
"Oh...she died", replied The Gentleman, solemnly. His head hung low. "February eleventh"
Saturday at the park turned gloomy. Terminal brain cancer had a way of doing that.
  The conversation ended and the two said their goodbyes. Wilbur wagged his tail and yelped. He was happy. Across the street, a new mother carried her newborn from a house. Van Man remembered a time when that new mother was not a parent, but a hot, piece of ass. Dressed sexily for a night, rushing down the drive way in high heels and cramming into a car with her scantily-clad friends. What a difference tequila and nine months can make.
  The workout was over and the clouds had overpowered The Sun. He walked to the van. In the distance, The Gentleman walked somberly. Beside him, a happy Wilbur. There was something to be learned, but The Van Man only drove away. He did not have the time.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Aspirations

  "Nice adjustments. Thank you", said the exhausted casting director. She had spoken those words enough in her life. Her pronunciation of them was impeccable. The Van Man smiled, thanked her and exited the tiny, off-white room. It was clear that she was more interested in eating lunch than watching another audition.
  Van Man walked outside into the warm, Hollywood day. That morning's overcast had broken up. The Sun laughed in victory. A white envelope, pinned to his windshield, had caught Van Man's attention. Motherfuckin' bullshit, thought Van Man. The green-lettered sign read: One Hour Parking. The van had not been parked for more than forty minutes. He opened the envelope. The ticket was for the van's expired tags. Motherfucking bullshit, indeed.
  The van rumbled as it turned a corner onto Cahuenga. A shirtless, piss-drunk man leaned on his car and pissed into the gutter. Bad audition, he thought and drove on to Burbank.
  The van pulled up to a red light by Warner Brothers. Van Man noticed a young dude standing on the sidewalk. He held a sign that read "Aspiring Actor" in big letters. Van Man could not read the smaller print and the light turned green. The Aspiring Actor grew smaller in the rear view as The Van Man steered. Fuck you, he thought. Get in line like everyone else. He had a show that night and the van rumbled on down the road.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tragedies

  "I gotta tell you about this thing that happened to me today, man. You'll appreciate this story", said the Vietnam Veteran. He was The Van Man's cast mate in a Greek play, a combined production of Oedipus Rex and Antigone. The Vet was a kind man who had spent his post-war years as a mononymously-addressed model. 
  "I rode my bike down the street this morning to get some breakfast. Halfway there, I realized I left my phone at home. I thought, 'Geeze, I better go back and get it, it's Friday the Thirteenth, you know, something might happen'. But, you know, I just said screw it, man." Van Man nodded in acknowledgement that it was, indeed, Friday the Thirteenth.
  "So, I'm buying my breakfast and you know what the total was? Six, six, six. I couldn't believe it, on Friday the Thirteenth!", finished the Vet and walked away in lingering disbelief. Van Man needed a coffee.
   Time spent conversing with his fellow cast members was always most enriching. An actress, who spent her days as a lawyer, was no exception. She was the kind of woman who was devoted to doing the right thing, but had a bad girl streak buried deep within. It was their second walk on the planks together and he had come to understand her eccentricities. And appreciate her goodness. Miss Lawless was one of those nice girls toughened up by life. She had been through some major downs, but would not allow the black hole of depression to swallow her up. Van Man liked her grit. 
  Perhaps, it was great irony that Greek Tragedy existed. Or any drama, at all. Was it only properly performed by those with tragedies in their own lives? Bad things happened to everyone. He knew that. It was one of the single, purest truths of life. Some dealt with the pain easier than others. As the Van Mother once said, "Some people fall down and get right back on up. Others fall and don't know how to get back up." Miss Lawless knew how to. So did The Van Man. They were survivors. Oedipus and Creon were not. "Six, six, six on my receipt, man!", said The Vet as the actors were called to places.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Motel Daze

  It was the kind of place where Hollywood dreams died. And sobriety took an indefinite hiatus. The walls were thin. The plumbing was terrible. But the air-conditioning unit worked. Stray cats roamed the grounds. The Van Man hated cats.
  He had been living the past few months at a converted motel on Olive Avenue. Swiss Miss had taken ill and needed someone to look over her unit while she recuperated in Switzerland. The rent was paid and Van Man obliged. It was a welcomed suspension from the hard, cold isolation of the van.
  Living at the motel introduced Van Man to a whole new world of despair. The inhabitants ranged from functioning alcoholics who drank strange concoctions and sat by the murky pool to ignorant out-of-towners with dreams of stardom for their rambunctious children. The landlord was spotted on occasion, watering plants and searching for "pussy cats", as she referred to them. A half-smile hung on her face and she wore a cheap wig. The latter due to cancer treatments. Van Man avoided her like the plague.
  On a wall in the office, dozens of headshots hung for new transplants to see. All shots of children. With smiles and hope. Symbols for the newly arrived, saying that their spawn were destined for greatness, too. The parents were always just lone women. No fathers. Dads did not have time for silly dreams. Little did those single mothers know that their kids were never going to make it. But what did The Van Man know? He was a "never was", living out of vans and motels, dreaming of his big break and getting old. But the place had air-conditioning.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Feels So Nice

  The days ticked by. April had neared its conclusion. Where the hell was it all headed? The Van Man had his own idea. But shit happens and he needed a new pair of work jeans. His current pair had holes in the knees and ass. The Teamsters did not approve.
  New was a relative term. For some, it meant shopping at Target. For a Van Man, it meant perusing a thrift store. And if one was at a second hand shop in North Hollywood, one was most certain to spot the most interesting of humans. An unusual, bearded man sauntered up and down the aisles. Van Man skimmed through the jeans rack. But it was hard for him to ignore the bearded man with long, dirty-blonde hair. The strange, hairy man wore eye glasses and a white prom dress with black slippers. He posed and preened in front of a large floor mirror at the front of the store. Van Man found two pairs of jeans and watched The Prom Queen wander back towards the women's section, rolling a basket of items behind him.
  Van Man waited for the clerk to unlock the dressing stall door. An early Madonna hit played loud throughout the store. And Van Man waited, impatiently patient. A gentleman in one of the stalls sang along, "It feeeels sooo niiice!"
  Inside the dressing stall, Van Man hung up the jeans and realized he had not worn underwear. He never did. He was faced with an unpleasant choice: purchase the clothing without trying them on or put the unwashed bottoms onto his bare privates. On one hand, the pants might not fit. On the other, microscopic diseases might jump off the jeans and crawl into his penis and ass holes. Van Man did not know much about bacteria. But he did know if he was going to spend money, it better be on some tight fitting, Levi's five-o-one blues. "Feeeels sooo niiice!", sang the Gentleman in the next stall. Those were the wrong lyrics, but what was Van Man going to do about it?
  Van Man unbuttoned his jeans and slipped them off around his ankles. He looked at his reflection in the dirty, stained mirror. Hoped there ain't no cameras behind it, thought Van Man as he gyrated his pelvis back and forth. He managed a quick helicopter, smiled and slid on the first pair of jeans. That'll show 'em, he thought. And the Gentleman sang. "Feeeels sooo niiice!"
  Van Man had finished and was happy with both pairs. Outside the dressing stall, the Gentleman was long gone and Madonna had been quieted. Prince had taken over the airwaves for a most tragic reason and Van Man walked to the counter for purchase.
  Van Man sat in the van and cranked the engine. He was on his way to find a crooked smog test facility. The kind of place that would pass a polluting vehicle for the right amount of dinero. May was close and The Van Man needed to get legal. The Prom Queen rambled by. He just needed to be left alone.




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fireball

  "Watch out!", screamed the old man in his wheelchair, one which had stopped suddenly in the middle of the crosswalk. He had no legs. And the tan sedan drove on, westward, into the extreme sunset. The female driver was blinded by the light of the sky fire. She had no clue how close she came to clipping Ol' Legless. "Fuckin' asshole!", he grumbled and continued wheeling across the street. The Van Man crossed paths with him and shook his head in astonishment. A bus rolled along, eastbound. "Crazy", proclaimed the bus driver, out of his lowered window. Seven in the evening. The Valley was alive and well.

  Van Man crossed the street for a quick burger and coffee, before his rehearsal began. It was another show and he only had a few minutes. As he faced west, the fiery sunset blinded him. But he did not look away. Van Man stared into the fireball. The sight was awe-inspiring. He desired to become more present, more available to the full life experience. Whatever that meant. One day, the Grand Nothing would overtake. And everything he knew would cease to exist. So he owed something. He demanded more of himself, more connection. Awareness. Always listening, never blinking. Van Man looked down onto the sidewalk underneath him. And he saw Fuck. That most beautiful word. His favorite. The Van Man smiled and walked on to coffee.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

She A'ight

  The weekend was only hours away from its official beginning. The Van Man had one last drive to make on that Friday afternoon. Riverside to Los Angeles. The two-ten, westbound. A truck full of Teamsters. Van Man steered and listened to the always enjoyable, ill-mannered conversations among his co-workers.
  The story began as a civil discussion about some new law in LA involving trans people and bathrooms. Van Man had heard about the new law which allowed transgender students in public schools to choose which bathroom they identified with. Van Man had no issue with it. But, of course, like most laws, he had not put much thought into the thing. And the discussion quickly evolved into a tale from one Teamster's past.
  "I'm 'onna show you a pitcha. And you gonna say you knew it wasn't a girl, but at first glance...you ain't gonna be so sure", said Teamster One.
  "Cool", replied Teamster Two.
  "Listen, brah, I knew this nigga, Carlton. Me 'n this nigga grew up togetha. We wuz good friends an' all that, but...I hadn't seen him for a while. Nigga changed, brah. Brah, I wuz at his house last year and nigga was listenin' to Nicki Manaj, right, singin' along to 'em. She's got some good songs--I like some of her songs, brah, but nigga was singin' track seven. Know what I'm sayin'? Nigga knew every word to track seven."
  Teamster Two laughed. Van Man knew of Nicki Manaj. He was sure that he had heard one of her songs in the past. And he could only assume track seven must have been the type of song that most men would not sing. Like Xanadu or Hopelessly Devoted To You.
  "I went into this nigga's bathroom, brah. There's only one kind of mirror a nigga needs. Just one for the back of the head to make sure yo shit's good"
  "Right", agreed Teamster Two.
  "Nigga had one of those big, double-sided mirrors. Where you flip it to the other side so you can see real close", said Teamster One as he pantomimed holding a mirror and checking his eyebrows. Teamster Two laughed heartily.
  "Few months later, I wuz walkin' into Walgreens and there's this girl standing outside wearin' a skirt and everything. And she starts callin' my name, like she know me. I'm like, who the fuck is she? Then she walks up to me and says my name again. I don't even know this girl, brah. I ask her how she know me and then she says, "It's me, Carlton", said Teamster One and silence filled the car. "Brah, just look at this pitcha. Nigga callin' himself CeCe." Teamster One scrolled through his cell phone and found the image. Teamster Two looked.
  "Nigga's got titties", said Teamster One.
  "She a'ight", replied Teamster Two and Van Man roared with laughter.
  "Nah, brah. My boy called me up, tellin' me he met Carlton's twin sister. I'm like, I know that nigga don't have no twin. He tells me she fine as a mothafucka. Talkin' 'bout her titties. I'm like, brah, that ain't no girl. Brah. That. Ain't. No. Girl."
  The story came to its conclusion. Dead air. The Friday traffic had reared its ugly head and Burbank seemed a million miles away. He could only imagine what the other co-workers were thinking after story time. Perhaps, they had their own dark stories of confusion. Or, maybe, they quietly judged Teamster One. The Van Man was perverse and quite enjoyed the seedy tale. But silence was golden at that moment and he did not want to ruin it by speaking.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

April's Fool

  El Nino was a dud, but Los Angeles still prepped itself for a few more showers. Like most, The Van Man headed to the grocery store to stock up for the wet weekend. He was tired from a long, hot day driving vehicles. Teamster work had its moments, but Van Man had yet to find them.
  Van Man stood in the express check-out lane. The sign read twelve items or less. What happened to ten?, he thought. The young lady in front of him fiddled with her hair and swayed side to side. He gazed at the shelves of magazines. It was too much for his eyes. Bright colors and bullshit articles. Tabloid fuckery and moronic ideas all jammed together in thirty-page issues. The sight disgusted him. But what was a Van Man going to do about it? Not a damn thing.
  The Young Lady played with her hair some more and kept swaying. She seemed twitchy in her mannerisms. Van Man assumed that she might have had a muscle-control disorder. His heart filled with sadness. She was too young to be damned with a curse of that nature. Miss Spasm scratched her scalp and twitched her head.
  Van Man stared at her from behind. He was truly fortunate. No matter what he perceived to be a problem in his own world, at the end of the day, Van Man was a fairly healthy bastard. He was mentally sound, for the most part. Had not shit his pants for many, many years. And he did not shake uncontrollably. Van Man looked at the magazines again. What a twisted group of beings he belonged to. Only interested in the most base image of themselves.
  Miss Spasm reached into her purse as the checkout clerk scanned her items. Six dollars worth of travel-size shampoo and gum. Pitiful. She dug even deeper.
"I have a card"
"Would you like me to enter your phone number?", asked the clerk.
"No, it's a gift card", replied Miss Spasm.
She could not find her only means of payment. She dug all the way to the bottom of her purse. Still nothing.
"If you step over there, you can keep looking. That way I can take care of these people", said the Clerk as he looked back at the growing line of customers.
Miss Spasm searched more vigorously and seemed to want to say something, but did not. She was embarrassed. Van Man could tell.
"I'll take care of it, put it with my stuff", said Van Man.
He felt bad for Miss Spasm. And he was tired. He did not have the energy to fight off the demon of sympathy. It was too easy to do a good deed. Miss Spasm seemed caught off guard by the act and thanked him. She smiled. Her teeth were gross. Large black circles surrounded her eyes. The thought occurred to him that Miss Spasm might have been a dirty drug addict.
  Van Man paid and walked out into the cloudy evening. A woman with an oxygen tank sat in a chair outside the sliding doors. She begged for money with two nostril tubes shoved up her nose. He had seen her many times around town. It was an extreme gimmick, but it worked on many who passed by. But not him. Not Van Man. He strolled past Oxygen Tank Girl without even looking in her direction. He had been duped once that night. He was not going to let it happen again.
  The van drove out of the parking lot. Damn, he was still capable of being a sap. Or, perhaps, Miss Spasm was the real deal and he was a kind person. For The Van Man, there was a thin line between being sweet and being a sucker.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Another Year Older

  Does The Van Man have a birthday? It was a good question. Thirty-five years. He felt nothing. There was no happy, no sad. Not clear, not confused. And who cared? What was important was the thing. And the thing, for that moment, was the show.
  The birthday brought a missed phone call from his old man, The Hustler. And another from his mother. Van Momma kept it simple and sweet with a message that included an off-key rendition of the Birthday Song. His father's message was shorter and to the point. "Alright boy, you're thirty-five. Call me." So Van Man called.
"Hello?", grumbled the Father.
"Hey"
"Damn, boy...I was sound asleep"
"Oh..."
"I mean, I was sound asleep. Dreamin' and everything"
"Oh sorry about that", replied Van Man, apologetically.
"What's up?", the Father asked with a cough.
"Just giving you a call back"
"Oh yeah. Thirty-five, huh?"
"Yeah, thirty-five"
"Time flies, boy"
"Yeah...what were you doing at thirty-five?"
"Me? I was...well, I was living with this girl and dating your mom", said the Father as he laughed victoriously.
"Oh"
"Thirty-five"
"Yeah", replied Van Man.
"Well, maybe the next thirty-five will be better"
"Yeah, we'll see"
  Van Man finished the call and prepared himself for the rehearsal. He thought about his father's words as the van drove into the north valley, a birthday card in the passenger seat. Suicide bombers in Brussels marked the day. People dead and in grief, half a world away. What did his birthday mean? Not much in the grand scheme. Just another day of misery for some. And questions for others. He opened the card. It was from his mother. He read the last line. "I am very proud of the man you've grown up to be, listening to your inner voice". His eyes became wet and he drove on. The Van Man had an answer. And that was enough.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Distractions

  One o'clock with a cup and The Van Man was alright. A recent visit with the Doctor had brought the good medicine his way. The Cough had subsided, nearly gone. Paychecks for a couple of gigs had arrived. He suddenly had a bit of scratch. The Beckett show had entered tech week and Van Man needed a day off. He got one. A Sunday. The perfect day to reflect.
  It was time to push. Van Man had not done enough of it. Each day passed and he was one more older. No one was going to give him what he wanted. He knew that. But knowing something and doing something about it were two different animals. He had been sleeping and it was time to wake up.
  Van Man was aware of that certain cretin living inside him, buried deep in the abyss of his soul. The horrible thing sucked him dry from within. It told him no. It whispered confusion. And it manufactured sickly sweet distractions. The Cretin did not play a fair game.
  A free Sunday was just what the doctor ordered. Clear sky and seventy-two degrees. Joyful children played games somewhere near. Van Man could smell a crackling barbeque in the distance. He was awake. He was ready to push. A party was being held that night and The Van Man was going. It was a needed distraction. It seemed the Cretin had him by the balls.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Good Medicine

  The Cough. The deep lung mongrel. Misery and suffocation, together again. At last. The Van Man spit up, caught his breath and cracked open a cold shitty beer. He guzzled a quick gulp. The fizz burned his aching throat. Van Man slumped in the van's driver seat and looked out into the cloudy evening. Perhaps, a cigarette? One for old time's sake. But he had no smokes. And he was too broke to buy a pack.
  The insurance had dropped the good medicine from it's coverage. The only thing available to Van Man was a new asthma medication. It was new, but did not help. The new stuff did something bad to Van Man's lungs. Somehow made them worse. A solid month of drastically increased choking followed and Van Man made an appointment to see the doctor. Tuesday. He would have to make it a few more days. Beer seemed to work.
  He gulped the cold elixir and looked up into the darkening heaven. Clouds swirled, rain approached. The van's temperature dropped. Van Man took a swig of the only thing that made him feel good again. He was weak. The coughing convulsions had taken a toll. He shivered from their power. Gotta make it to Tuesday, he thought to himself. A droplet of rain splashed onto the windshield. The Van Man downed the rest of the liquid painkiller. And he smiled.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fake Rain

  The crucifix tattoo on his hand had the appearance of something given to him in prison. A symbol of gang affiliation. But what was The Van Man going to say? It was a gig and he needed the money.
  The shoot was for a charity organization located in South Central LA. The cast and crew were instructed to refrain from wearing any red or blue. Gang territory. Night shoot. Rain machine. What could go wrong?
  The moon was big and bright in the dark distance. Hundreds of gallons of fake rain drizzled down. The drenched Van Man looked down at the fake tattoo on his right hand and thought it humorous. A smile crept up. A sinful Van Man was portraying a soulful protagonist who discovered the power of faith from a simple act of kindness. Van Man was not kind. At least, he thought he was not kind. And the water rained upon him and his fake tattoo. The damned thing did not wash away.
  Midnight, one o'clock, two. The hours melted into one long span of time. Van Man tired. His thoughts were soaked by the onslaught. He was reminded of his days as a young fuck, being caught in a downpour. There was a comfort in those times. When he was a Van Boy, he would hide in the bushes as storms surged. The leaves and shrubbery would block out most of the rain. And he could stay fairly dry. He loved the sound of water droplets as they hit the bush. He was alone. No one could find him. He felt a strong sense of power in that.
  A memory surfaced of Van Man at nineteen, caught in a storm with some old flame after a concert. They ran through the rain, laughing, and reached the car. The drenched lovers stripped to their underwear, still laughing, and drove away. They were sure that moment had only happened to them.
  In the back of the van, there were glorious moments of security and isolation. When pellets of rain water dinged on the roof and no one in Los Angeles was around. They were all inside and he knew no one could find him. And Van Man could just think.
  Five o'clock and the gig ended. The van motored north into downtown and on to the Valley. He was exhausted and confused. Not sure of much and soaked to the bone. A deep sadness resonated somewhere. The Van Man glanced at the tattoo. It was still there, bold and black. No fade. How the hell am I gonna get that fuckin' thing off?, he thought and drove on.
 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Power Struggle

  Morning and the work day was under way. Four Teamsters sat in the truck as The Van Man drove. They were all headed to Santa Barbara for a transport job. There were cars that needed to be moved down to LA. Four cars, four drivers. And a Van Man.
  The drivers were all different in nature, among other things. One was Persian, one was too quiet, one was a DJ and the other was Jose. They bickered with one another and found no common ground. Except for the fact that they were all broke as hell and needed the job.
  The truck weaved through 101 traffic and was almost passed Sherman Oaks when an unsightly smell whaffed throughout the vehicle. An unmistakable stench.
"Hoo, rotten egg", said the Persian as he rolled down his window.
"Alright, who did it?", asked Adolph the DJ. "Was it you, Montreal?"
"Man, I haven't eaten today so somebody up there can't control their flatulence", responded Quiet Montreal.
"What about you?", asked Adolph the DJ, pointing the question to Van Man.
It was a challenge to Van Man, he was their leader. One cannot fart and be taken seriously. And he was no farter.
"Maaan, I wish", he boldly declared.
The drivers erupted in laughter. Van Man had reasserted his power.
"Man, he's crazy!", exclaimed Adolph the DJ, the one that Van Man was sure had dealt the grotesque gas.
  The odor was gone and the Teamsters continued north. The week was new and many rides were ahead. The Van Man would be glad when the day arrived in which he only had to work as an actor. Sure, people had flatulence on set just the same as Teamsters in a truck. But the pay was better. And it was art, was it not?

Monday, February 15, 2016

A President's Day Story

  Lethargy had taken over. The Van Man was not interested in doing much of anything. Fire trucks roared through the nearby streets. Typical Monday morning in the Valley. Traffic and emergencies.
  It was President's Day and something seemed off to Van Man. An odd feeling in the atmosphere. A staleness. There was a touch of cold within the hot day. Van Man wanted a milkshake. It would make him feel better.
  In the ice cream parlor, Van Man surveyed the flavors. He felt he had tasted them all, at some point. He was bored. "Don't know what I want", he said to the counter girl. She was a cute brunette with streaks of blue in her hair. She wore shorts and knee-high socks, striped at the top. "How about the Presidential Special?", she asked him. "What's that?", he replied while looking for the signage on the wall. "It's one scoop of vanilla, whipped cream and a cherry", said the Counter Girl. Boring, thought Van Man. "Nah", he replied. "And you eat it out of my pussy." The Counter Girl smiled. Van Man looked around. No one else in the place. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape. He nodded. "Good", she replied and walked to the back room, through a swinging door. Van Man was hesitant. And he was conflicted. She did not ask him to follow her. But he did agree to purchase a Presidential Special. And she did say he would have to eat it from between her legs. That was definitely not going to happen in the lobby. What if hot, sweating families came in?
  The swinging door opened as Van Man stepped into the back room. There were many large freezers which made complete sense to him. But there was no Counter Girl. Van Man took a few steps. "Hello?" No reply. Thoughts of candid cameras swarmed his mind. Maybe he should go back. The sound of a blender emanated from somewhere. Then a second. Then a third. The sounds seemed to be coming from the freezers. Van Man walked to the closest one and opened it. He peered into the foggy chamber. It was like nothing he had seen before.
  The next morning, Van Man's van was towed away from the ice cream parlor. It would sit in the auction yard for nearly six months before being sold off for scrap metal. The ice cream parlor continued on, producing flavors of the month that had never been tasted by the neighborhood before. Business boomed and The Van Man was never seen again.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fuck Day

  Valentine's Day and The Van Man evaluated his life. Seemed like a good time to do so. High eighties in the comforting San Fernando Valley. Winter in LA.
  Was he a good man? Sometimes, gladly. Sometimes, gladly not. Was he difficult? He hoped. Was he lost? One did not need a map when one had instincts.
  He sucked down the chocolate milkshake and parked the van. He had made mistakes, sure. And he was going to make some more. There were questions to answer, important ones. But The Van Man was tired from a long day and he just wanted to know the amount of sex going on in Burbank.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Game Day

  Sunday. A Super Bowl. In the Valley, the atmosphere was drenched with the smell of grilled meat. Screams of joy and agony were heard throughout the neighborhoods. People enjoying the big game. The Van Man got out of rehearsal with a chip on his shoulder. He had no use for games.
  Van Man was frustrated. The show was not fun. And he was not sure why. Perhaps, it was just still early in the process. He was still on book and the character was not defined, yet. Or maybe it was something deeper. Working the nine to five job with the Teamsters had begun to take its toll and he did not want to be working the bullshit jobs anymore. But he swallowed his ego and laughed at himself. That's an actor for you, he thought. Always thinkin' they're too good for shit. 
  The weather was nice. Typical February in the Valley. The rains had come and gone, but the real showers were still on their way. The El Nino storms were due to hit LA within weeks and Van Man welcomed them. He had patched up the holes in the van and he was ready for the sons of bitches. 
  He thought about a milkshake. And then it hit him like a linebacker swarming the pocket. That was all life was about. Just game days and preparing for rain and deciding on chocolate or vanilla. One could argue there was so much more to it, but was there? It was about catching temporary happinesses, making choices and staying dry. The Van Man frowned and decided against the shake.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Strong Winds

  Drenched, windy days were uncommon in Los Angeles. And when they happened, all hell broke loose. The Van Man witnessed the aftermath first hand in the Silverlake neighborhood. He had a meeting that morning with a director. It was a short film gig about a man having a change of heart with a hobo. Touching. Trees were down on Lyric Avenue. A gigantic one almost took out the funky, little theatre on the corner. Big fuckin' tree, thought Van Man. Oak? Whatever, it's big as shit. Debris was strewn all over Hyperion Avenue. Or, perhaps, he mistook it for the early morning hipsters.
  Van Man waited at the meeting location. A tiny breakfast joint right in the middle of Silverlake, at the corner of affectation and artificiality. Van Man sipped his four dollar, black coffee. The air was thick with pretension. He began to recite his Shakespeare.
  The Bard's words flowed from Van Man's mouth. He had become quite good at hitting the T's seductively light. A woman stared at him. Maybe he, too, was artificial and Van Man stopped reciting. Or maybe she thought he was just crazy and homeless. He was, after all, wearing an old military jacket. That usually read vagrant, did it not? He began to think of the tramps that walked around talking to themselves. Could it be that they were not crazy? Maybe they were running lines, preparing themselves for their next audition. The big one. The first job interview in six years or last chance to speak with family for the rest of their life. If they killed it at the audition, it might mean they get off the streets.
  Van Man enjoyed the coffee and looked out the window. An empty baby stroller toppled over while a motorcycle crashed and skidded. The biker stood from the wreckage and a mother picked up the stroller. The wind was intense that first morning of February. Valentine's Day was not far off and The Van Man did not have a date. That was common in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Abstract Numbers

  The year of the monkey. Two-thousand and sixteen. A strange number to write out. An even stranger year. In a hair over two months, The Van Man would turn thirty-five. Halfway to seventy. That long-haired, hippie Jesus had already waged his peace war and been crucified by thirty-three. Also at thirty-three, Elvis had his comeback. At thirty-four years of age, John Holmes was making three thousand bucks per day banging broads in front of a camera. All three were the kings of their professions before thirty-five. And what did Van Man have to show for being near that magical number? A missing tooth. Polluted lungs. A seventy-nine Chevy van. Well, the van was cool. But that was it. No career, just a van and a dream. How far could one get by on a dream and a tank of gas?
  Van Man had begun rehearsals on his twentieth show in Los Angeles. And the symmetry was eerie. His first LA show was the same play. Waiting for Godot. Or, as Lou Reed would say, Waiting for the Man. Perhaps, that was what the play was all about. Two junkies waiting in the ghetto for their connection to arrive with the fix. Van Man felt inspired by that revelation and knew how he was to approach the role.
  He thought about the dream. It had become a comfort, something to liven the deadened world. But it was also something else. The dream was the only thing Van Man respected himself for. Acting kept him out of trouble. Acting washed away his past. And the craft was the one purpose he had ever known. That was the true definition of love. 
  When it came to crawling out of the muck, the odds would always be stacked against the poor and impoverished. Even the middle class did not stand a reasonable chance. But Van Man had a purpose. He had love. And a bad motherfucker of a van. So, the cloudy days of winter would come to an end one day and The Sun would make it's triumphant return over the city of Los Angeles. That was inevitable. One could bet all they had on that fact. The Van Man would keep filling his tank and driving towards the dream. He bet his life that the van would go all the way.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Long Lungs

  Early morning and the police cruiser flashed its red and blues. The van pulled over, a few hundred feet from the destination. The coffee shop. The Van Man knew what was about to transpire. He rolled down his window and took out his license. The van's registration had been expired for over a month and he had danced with the devil long enough.
  The officer approached. Van Man prepped. He would lie and tell the policeman that he had simply forgotten to renew it due to the holidays and his recent health issues. Van Man was actually en route to an x-ray and blood test appointment for the big, bad cough, so there was some truth in the fabrication. The Officer was genial and smiled. He pointed his flashlight into the back of the van and explained to Van Man why he had pulled him over. Van Man told his lie and apologized. The Officer asked what the contents were inside the crumpled plastic bag shoved in the ashtray. Van Man showed The Officer. A fuse for the wipers. "Just wanted to make sure it wasn't marijuana", stated The Officer with a smile and glanced at the air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. His smile faded quickly. The air freshener had sexual imagery printed all over the front and back. On one side, the aroma's name: "cu-CUM-ber melon". On the other side, colorful stick-figures engaging in numerous foreplay positions of the oral variety. The aroma had long been drained, but Van Man kept it dangling from the mirror because he found it humorous. Especially, since it hung over a Dashboard Jesus. It was not so funny anymore.
  The Officer checked the license and handed it back to Van Man. He asked him if there were any outstanding warrants or recent traffic violations. Van Man said there were none. "Just get that registration up to date. Other officers might ticket you", replied The Officer and smiled, as he walked away. Lucky me, thought Van Man. His day continued and coffee was needed.
  Van Man arrived at the clinic and was quickly seen to. The technician called his name, pronounced it correctly and ushered him into the back room. He noticed her face. It was severely dry and red. Too much time around x-rays, he though as he entered the room. There was a large machine on one side and a backboard of some kind on the other. She instructed Van Man to press his chest firmly against the board. He did. The Technician asked him to take a deep breath. And he did. After the first x-ray, she loaded the image onto a computer.
"Long lungs", she proclaimed with a slight chuckle.
"Say that again?", asked Van Man.
"Long lungs."
"Long lungs?"
"A lot of people with your build have long lungs. Tall and thin."
"Oh."
The Technician got what she needed and sent him on his way. Van Man left and wondered if there was anything about the x-rays to be concerned with. But he figured it was better to not know. He had other concerns to deal with.
  The blood tests were next and The Sun was hiding. An overcast day for an underachiever. He was hungry. It was still morning. Breakfast. The Van Man had a few bucks and decided on a milkshake. You only live once, he thought and drove on.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year's Day Story

  The stroke of midnight and millions of Angelinos rejoiced. New beginnings would replace old failures. The Van Man stepped out into the alleyway behind some bar he was at and leaned against the back wall. Where the hell am I?, he thought and yearned for a cigarette. He drunkenly peered around and figured he was still in The Valley. Van Man spotted a dumpster in an unlit section of the alley. He hugged the building wall and shuffled to it, leaned over and vomited.
  The puke spewed from his shivering lips. Van Man looked around with watered eyes. No one saw. He leaned over again and the sickening mix of tequila, bourbon and ginger beer rocketed out of his mouth. It splattered on the filthy ground, mixing with used syringes and crushed Miller High Life cans. Yeah, he was definitely still in The Valley. Must be Van Nuys, he thought.
  "Want some?", asked a grizzled voice from the alley darkness. Van Man looked deep into the unlit alleyway, straining his eyes. There was nothing. He glanced down at the vomit soufflĂ©. He knew he could stand one more puke to get right with the night. But it did not come and he was grateful. "Want some?", again asked the grizzled voice. "Who's there?", replied Van Man as he stepped towards the darkness.
  The Valley temperature hung at thirty-five, but sweat trickled down his brow. Van Man was sick. He stepped closer into the darkened alley and thought he heard heavy breathing. "Hello?", asked Van Man. A few more steps in. Then he swore he could hear comforting laughter. Van Man was frightened, but could not stop staring into the vast blackness. He did not want to be a part of whatever was in it and turned to leave. Then two hands grabbed his ankles and yanked his feet out from underneath him. His face slammed into the concrete and shards of broken glass. Van Man's face bled from the gashes and he tried to pull away. But the hands held their firm grip. He looked behind him, into the alley's black hole where the hands came. Van Man stared at the hideous image, frozen in fear. He snapped out of the terrified trance and reached ahead of him for something, anything to grab hold of. Van Man tried to scream, but only more vomit came out. Then the hands yanked hard and Van Man was sucked into the darkness.
  Later that morning, a coffee barista arrived for work, as the cafe was located next door to the bar. She parked her small, white economy car in the back alley parking lot, like she usually did. The Barista fumbled for the cafe keys and noticed something in the corner of her eye. And that was when she found the dead body of Van Man. It was on the ground, leaned against the building. He was shirtless and there was a syringe sticking out of a main vein in his arm. A belt was wrapped around the same appendage, just above the elbow. Dozens of bite marks stretched across his torso and neck. She looked at his face and screamed.
  The ones in charge said it was an accidental overdose. But The Barista knew better. That was no accident. And for the remainder of her life, she would wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. Nightmares brought on by the image of The Van Man. The needle. The bite marks. And the gruesome, distorted smile on his face.