This story is by Kurt Hunter and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The Dernier Enoncer Hotel (two stars) on the edge of Hollywood was the last place Chuck Van Ryan, former sanitation worker at Johnny Spot portable toilets (his father’s business) and self-proclaimed writer of screen plays (always in development), had found himself employed in Guest Services. Not that it was a contest, but when it came down to it, I had known him best, for the longest. Even though it had been eight years since I saw him last. It was about the time I started to date a mutual acquaintance of ours. Our friendship was a bit uneven then. Chuck became distant as was his nature to swing in and out of the orbit of the people around him. You got to expect it if you knew him long enough, but as we got older I didn’t have much patience for it. So our lives shifted into different circles with some ease.
I was contacted by his younger brother, Bobby, to see if I could meet him at Chuck’s basement apartment at the Denier Enoncer Hotel to help evaluate the worth of several action figures as well as printed collectibles and graphic novels in his cramped one bedroom. Chuck always had a taste for the bizarre when it came to his collectibles. Special editions or the weird first runs with something way off meant it was destined to be part of his repertoire. During day one I found it difficult to sift through the piles of memories left behind in the stacks of comics, newspapers, pizza boxes, bound manuscripts, magazines and books that defined the borders of the pathways through the apartment. He had become a low level hoarder over the years and also a bit of a recluse since his divorce. He was one hell of a good writer though. It was a hope of mine that he would get that going for himself.
It took four 16 hour days to get through it all and roughly tabulate the value of each item based on condition and marketplace price comparisons. I began day two by sorting piles into; “Never Sell”, “Sell Soon”, “Donate” and “Trash”.
Also on day two I found the most striking piece of memorabilia. It was mid-morning and I was jonesing for a soda. I made my way to the kitchenette and unwittingly opened the fridge, which sent into the room the vilest odor known to a vegetarian, rotting tofu.
At the nearest hardware store I bought cleaning supplies, gloves, facemask, fans and a soda. In the midst of the nasty fridge cleaning process, in the MEAT drawer was a two-inch-thick hardbound book with “NOTES” drawn hard into the cover. I opened the book, curious to see what I had discovered. Several names made up the first 15 chapters, including mine. I recognized some of the other names of friends, Chuck’s ex-girlfriends, some co-workers and then the later chapters were places he had been; Prague, Rome, Atlanta, Los Angeles. I apprehensively opened the book to my chapter unsure as to what I would read there. The first couple sentences were complementary and spoke of our long friendship. Then it rapidly hurled downhill into diatribes about how I took advantage of our friendship, that I always put him down and how I always get what I want from life. It was so out of left field I was shocked, as I had always been a giving friend, I thought. Other chapters were similar, and I was sincerely troubled by this discovery.
The service was at the end of the week. I was nervous as I began my tribute; “For those of you who don’t know me, I am Don Russell. Charlie “Chuck”, had a few nicknames for me that you might recognize me better by; “Ron Dussell”, “the Deus”, “Don Rickles”, and occasionally, “Doc Russ”. I had an equal share of names for Charlie besides Chuck; “Chuckles”, “Van Bunion”, “Chuck Love”, and lastly, “Professor X”.
Charlie “Chuck” Van Ryan transitioned from our world to…” Don looks up at the old wood open beamed church ceiling and slowly raised his hands up and continues “…the great unknown in the wee small hours of the morning while that very album in vinyl was left skipping at the end of side two.
Chuck was a great friend growing up. In the avenues, he lived exactly 22 doors down from me. We always wanted to come up with a way we could use walkie talkies to talk at night or whenever we wanted. We would rush through our homework so we could run out and play together.
In sixth grade, we compared crushes, in High School, he was the first one of my friends I picked up after I got my license, the first friend to know that I got into the college I wanted. We even did Burning Man together in 1994. I remember when he met his wife, Penelope. We were Juniors in college, and he came running into our dorm room talking about this super cute girl he met in English class. They were attached at the hip from that day forward. The happy times after their wedding unfortunately didn’t last, however, there is a nice note from Penelope on Chuck’s memorabilia table at the entrance.
Chuck’s death was sudden, but his life was not faint, except maybe a little at the end, but I didn’t know much about his life lately. His memory will always be with us. Chuck would smile if he were here with us today. He would have some funny story to tell to make everyone comfortable, and we would for a moment forget our sadness. I will miss my friend dearly, but I am grateful for having known him.
What will I remember most about Chuck? His “outside-voice” laugh and his need for his own “me time”. Chuck had a persona that gave you the impression that his general belief in life is that everyone is good and means well, a person whom you believe wants only the best for you, celebrates life’s victories with you and was as open with you as you were open with him, however, it wasn’t until this week that I truly understood what Chuck thought of me and our friendship. It wasn’t until this week that I got a glimpse of a side of Charlie I never saw. I wasn’t sure I would mention this today. As we have gathered here to honor a man we all knew.
As for myself, I knew him for nearly 48 years. How well does anyone truly know a person?” Don holds up the “NOTES” book in his right hand. “In this book I have found a litany of diatribes in hundreds of pages here about several of you. There are vicious tear downs of character, vile and disturbing words about the loved ones in our lives that Charlie met. I find myself asking who was this man that I called friend? What was it in the world that bent him to feel so malicious toward the people in his life? This notebook states realities that Charlie believed in, whether they were truthful or not. It reveals in every sentence the bitter other life Charlie lived. His outward face was humorous, thoughtful, wanting acceptance. His inward personality was annoyance with people and extreme jealousy.
The “NOTES” book will be on the table at the back but you are forewarned as to its contents.
I came here to speak about a friend, but in essence I am burying a stranger. Humanity was truly his kryptonite. Thank you, and God bless.”
I was met at the back of the church by Dr. Teresa Silas, Chuck’s therapist. “You must have known Charlie’s feelings about people?”, I asked her. She looked at me, nodded and said, “take a walk with me outside”. Dr. Silas continued after we reached the parking lot, “right now you know a fraction about how Charlie felt about the world he lived in”. Then she said, “I’ll deny any of what I’m about to tell you, however, I need to unburden myself a bit here today too. Charlie’s life was an intricately fabricated lie that he covered up with his fake smiles, feigned shows of affection and a general disinterest in people at all. He was in an unending struggle with his own self-management and how he really felt. The disdain he had if a person showed any genuine characteristic that was perceived as being happy, moving forward in life, actually open to the world, or content with it, was completely blown out of proportion. It was beyond jealousy. For as long as we had our weekly meetings we never quite made that breakthrough he needed.”
“After reading the book a bit”, I said, “I now know what you were working with. The tale of his life was two worlds riding a razor, with no one knowing if he was even vaguely happy in either.”