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."
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.