If this van’s a-rockin’ … well, go ahead and do come a-knockin’ since the undulations will be due to my marrow-deep existential moaning, not sexual congress.
For nearly three months now, my accommodations have been vehicular: I live in a 20-year-old converted Chevy van with a dented door and two bald tires. Though I am loath to use the word, I suppose I am, technically, homeless. Mr. No-Fixed-Address. The bottom of the 99 percent barrel.
My plummet has been precipitous: from a thriving movie-industry career in Los Angeles and sleeping on 400-count Egyptian cotton sheets to a twin mattress in the back of a van with brown shag carpeting.
How did I go bust?
Slow, then fast.
The ignominious Reader’s Digest version: acrimonious divorce, a cancer-riddled mother who hung on for years, an investment fund that turned out to be a fetid Madoff tributary, IRS horrors, being a north-of-40 screenwriter, and, of course, that old standby, hubris.
With a collapsed soufflé of a career, no wife or kids, sans Elk Club membership, and living in this mobile mansion, I am by nearly all accepted societal standards an abject failure. Most days I totally concur with the consensus opinion and self-flagellate with wet rawhide thoughts of lack and regret.
Here I am, just one of the more than 100 million denizens of this Great Land of Ours with less than $1,000 saved. Vast numbers of our population with work-a-day jobs living from paycheck to meager paycheck, if they are even lucky enough to have one of those at all. I am no Trotskyite, but something would seem to be amiss here. If this is the land of honey and milk, why are so many sucking hind teat, or no teat at all?
Even as I pinch pennies until Lincoln winces, the day is basically my own. This morning I awoke at 8, parked on a shady S.B. backstreet, opened a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, extracted a half gallon of milk from my trusty red plastic Coleman ice chest, drank straight from the container, and enjoyed breakfast along with the crows pecking a nearby lawn and cursing at the wormy fare.
I strolled to the corner, bought a paper, and read about S.B. businessmen up in arms about homeless gents and ladies invading their hallowed streets and stealing the sun’s very rays, it seems. I guess they mean me.
I often drive to the beach, look at the rolling blue waves for awhile, then write. Even in my current station, I need a project, so it’s a novel, with no real hope or expectation of publication. But I can’t just roam the streets all day like a common mongrel.
After a few hours of typing, I will go to the YMCA on Hitchcock Way for basketball or yoga, then a hot shower, something I always took for granted when living amongst those who have signed the social contract, but now appreciate like a flower loves sunshine.
Dinner is usually a ham or turkey sandwich out of the cooler, maybe some cookies and an apple. While it used to be Spago and Morton’s, my dining out now is limited to a place that boasts yellow faux arches.
Nighttime is the hardest. As the moon rises, its milky rays carry a translucent slime of ennui that coats my skin and seeps into my brain. I cannot stop thinking that my entire life has been a tragic waste. Anyone who started the way I did, then ended up here, must have done something fundamentally wrong. I feel like a marionette with its strings cut.
Unmoored from the mundane of working a job, nurturing a love relationship, and paying the cable bill, time slows. Where once I thrived on the frenetic, my heart now seems to beat more in sync with natural rhythms. I crawl from under the sleeping bag covers in my van when fully rested, eat when I feel like it, and have begun to pay attention to the nuanced forces of life gently buzzing all around me.
Today in Tucker’s Grove, I watched the shimmering blossom of a hummingbird stitch the air for 20 minutes and did not get bored. In my former show-business life, I wouldn’t have been in a park to even see the bird and wouldn’t have cared if I had.
Later, as I drove State Street and saw a briefcase-wielding, hatchet-faced businessman hustling toward his next conquest, I wondered, for a moment, who was the bigger sap, him or me.
I spot tall, well-dressed women — birds of like feather frocking together — their faces aglow with purpose, their hands clasping shopping bags, their very essence buoyed by the ebullient knowledge that their coffers swell. They don’t give a van-driving guy a second look, do not suspect I used to be a shopping machine like them.
When I first arrived in S.B. three month ago, I was a tight fist of panic, grasping for a lifeline, something to stop the rushing water of failure threatening to drown me. Like millions of others, I have been impressed with the fortitude, grace, and intelligence of Oprah Winfrey, so I ferreted out the address of her Montecito castle and composed an impassioned letter. Surely Her Highness would be moved enough to find a place in her vast benevolent kingdom for a talented scribe down on his luck, or at least proffer advice about how to Live Your Best Van Life. The queen, fairest of them all, did not, of course, deign to respond.
No savior will rise with the dawn or descend from the clouds. It’s all on me now. And that’s begun to feel okay.
I now understand why metaphysician Eckhart Tolle, nearly penniless, sat every day for three years in a park, and just immersed himself in life, retuning his very being, before writing his seminal tome The New Earth. Thoreau went to the woods for two years to experience life at its most basic and simplify, simplify, simplify.
Perhaps this van is my Walden Woods.
Much of the time I feel like a wasp stuck inside, aware of vast vistas of freedom nearby, but smacking against the windshield, unable to reach them.
Yet … things are starting to feel more like they did when I was a barefoot boy traipsing through Minnesota meadows, building tree houses, and otter-sliding down a rain-slicked embankment into the creek below with my little brother. There is innocence and even excitement in the small moments, which all stretch to eternity if you have the right kind of eyes to see and manage to set your heart to a certain pure frequency.
Something — intuition, the Universe, my soul? — is blowing bubbles in my brain, gently whispering that this transient experience is ultimately what I need right now.
We complicate life too much with unnecessary drang and drama, fretting about pettiness and pittance. A lion does not require Zoloft.
Under the winking eye moon, alone on an S.B. street in the wee, still hours, suddenly my old van becomes a womb, and I am cradled there, gestating, waiting to be birthed to something new, unexpected and, maybe, grand.
David Thomas is doing more than just waiting. He has started a crowdfunding campaign to produce the sequel to a documentary he directed six years ago. It can be found at Indiegogo.com/projects/tuning-in-now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.