The Losers Blend Mythos
Post-Script: Here's the entirety of the short story series thus far, in the internal chronology of the story's world. The last part yet to be posted online is below, which comes second-to-last in the chronology.
1) "Pigeons" / Oct. 19, 2011
2) "Interface" / Nov. 1, 2011
3) "Barney The Cigarette Guy" / Nov. 14, 2011
4) "Healthy Respect" / Nov. 30, 2011
5) "Winter Crows" / Dec. 12, 2011
6) "The Guy Who Came in from the Cold" / Dec. 28, 2011
7) "Decrepit Underpinnings" / Jan. 22, 2012
8) "Two Lovers" / June 17, 2012
9) "Coming Home" / May 20, 2013
10) "The Real Deal" / May 29, 2013
11) "Some Future" / Aug. 23, 2016
12) "Typing Like Your Life Depends on It" / Oct. 1, 2015
You might notice that a number of these stories were written in a short period of time, spanning October 2011 to January 2012, in what I consider to have been a most creative period of my life. It's difficult to manufacture creativity, but I must have been doing something consistently good; perhaps merely hanging out at Winning Coffee had some effect.
The eleventh story in the chronology, "Some Future", is posted for the first time below. I composed it on the Smith-Corona Silent Super, a typewriter that is of the same ilk as the denizens of Losers Blend, for it too was rescued from a former existence of bohemia and the dregs of society, requiring plenty of work, and even now remains noticeably less-than-perfect, but therefore possesses a quaintness because of that troubled background. This is a reformed beatnik typer, yet still possesses the spirit of that Kerouac technology, despite all the work I've put into reforming it into some model of middle-class Americana. It possesses a free spirit, always reminding me of its scars and troubles, as is fitting for a beat typer. One should always respect one's beat typer, for they are the artist-typers of our culture, the ones we should grab first when we wish to channel our inner Muse and capture onto ink and paper a bit of the whimsy of the aether.
by Joe Van Cleave
Bill threaded the scooter between traffic and rows of parked cars, finding the ramped curb where Harold the store clerk rolled his dollies of produce from the double-parked delivery trucks, early in the morning. Finding his favorite spot on the sidewalk between the newspaper box and light pole, Bill lifted the seat and extracted cable lock and shoulder bag, securing the rig as he'd always done, then headed halfway down the block to Losers Blend, indicated by the mess of tables and chairs on the wide, brick sidewalk, filled with mostly an assortment of college students, street people and hipsters posing as the former. The smell of hand rolled cigarettes and vaporizers filled the autumn air, unseasonably warm.
The aroma of fresh ground coffee, garlic and cayenne pepper from the kitchen greeted him as always, a comforting familiarity in his otherwise hectic existence. "Morning, Todd."
"Morning, Bill. The usual?"
"Yea. And the Times. I'm feeling rich today." Bill didn't always read the news, but sometimes he made exceptions.
Coffee and paper in hand, he made his way to the corner table, ordinarily cluttered with a mess of magazines and sections of yesterday's paper, a catch-all that the old crew knew was actually Bill's reserved table in disguise. He quickly gathered up the detritus of old news and stacked them, in one graceful heave, into the spare chair, then sat down, neatly arranging his coffee, shoulder bag and paper.
Just in time, Maggie, the new gal, brought him his breakfast. "Here you are. Can I get you anything else?"
"Just keep the coffee coming, thanks."
"Well, we normally don't do refills, it's serve yourself."
"I know. But then again, nobody's come here as long as I have, and it's become a kind of tradition, one that Marty started, years ago."
"Oh, you're the special customer. I see. Sure, no problem."
"Special customer? No, not really. I just like tradition, that's all. Otherwise nothing special at all about me."
As Maggie turned to leave, Bill realized his special status as the closest friend to the late founder of Losers Blend was a soon passing phase, one that would be lost to the changes that time brings. Just as cultures evolve, the old Losers Blend would soon be forgotten.
He didn't exercise his special status out of some ego-driven motivation, but as a way of remembrance, or so he liked to tell himself. Remembrance for the way things used to be, for the special person Marty had been, and for their special relationship, forged by a bond that only comes from drastic circumstances. Though he didn't want to think about those dark times, he also didn't ever want to forget. That was the whole point of the messy table in the corner, the one Marty used to sit at during his breaks from the kitchen, back when Losers Blend was just starting and the idea of a bohemian coffee shop was an oddity to middle class sensibilities.
Digging into his breakfast, the chile was as hot as ever, the one thing, aside from the good coffee, that hadn't changed with Marty's passing. Pausing with elbow on table and forkful at mouth, Bill could still recall, as if it were just yesterday, when they'd first met.
Bill's had been a hard childhood, with his mother dying when he could barely walk and then his dad's years of struggle with drink. He'd been passed around from one family member to another, first his grandparents, then an aunt, then another aunt, until he was sixteen and decided enough was enough and he ran away, to start his adult life a few years earlier than his peers, whom he didn't know, having moved from city to city and school to school, always the loner, the outsider, the new guy.
At eighteen he tried to join the Army but failed the entrance exam. People told him you had to be pretty dumb to fail the Army exam, as dumb as a box of rocks. For a while he started to believe it himself, until one day when he found himself on a bus stop bench voraciously reading a discarded paperback novel and suddenly looked up and the world around him looked different from what it had been a half hour earlier, as if those words printed in that grimy, dog-eared novel had been a key that unlocked something deep inside him, like shedding a thin veneer that'd covered his eyes and obscured the truth. Ever since then, he'd been on a journey of discovery, bouncing around from one situation to the next but always with his mind set forward, to some future that only he could see, a future anyone else who knew him at that time would be hard pressed to imagine could ever circumvent the situation he'd been in then.
And then he met Marty, a fellow vagabond like himself, and at once they both knew they'd found brothers in each other, the family they didn't have. Marty and Bill hung out together, ran the streets together and did whatever they could to get by, sometimes doing things they knew were trouble, but justifying it with the reason that they were desperate, and desperate people had to do what they had to do. Survival was the motto on the streets.
But Marty and Bill weren't dumb. They knew enough of the streets and the people on them to know that once you fell to the allure of the bottle or the needle or the pipe, you were a goner; that the way forward and up would be much harder. And they both shared a common vision for the future, one in which they both could keep a bit of their present freedom while somehow making it in life, threading that narrow needle's thin gap between slavery to The Man and succumbing to the flesh.
Bill suddenly realized he'd been staring out the window, the food that had once been on his fork now staining the front of his shirt, and Maggie had refilled his coffee while he'd been away in his private reverie. And this was how he came to understand that he'd crossed over some crucial milestone in life, when instead of all his energy being consumed in striving for a seemingly unattainable future, he spent more and more time recalling a past that was even more unattainable. The future was certain to happen, though maybe not the future one hoped for; but the past was gone forever, its only evidence distant memories and some artifacts, like bones unearthed and preserved in our private museums, memories of the kind one finds prodded into surfacing from the dark pond of life by snapshot photos in crusty old albums.
The morning rush now over, Todd was busying himself with cleaning up and preparing for the noon rush when he noticed Bill standing at the counter. "Need a refill?"
"No, Todd, thanks anyway. I'll be going now. And the table in the corner, you should clean off those old newspapers, I'm sure somebody'd like to use it."
But Bill didn't answer, or didn't hear him. He exited out the grimy glass door into the morning light, bag on shoulder, without looking back, his face set on some future only he could see.