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 Rooms that used to be full of southern gossip and slow-drawl anecdotes had been replaced by sad games of five-person Dirty Santa and sullen conversations that faded out without ending.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.