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  • Ken Ilgunas

My first guest

I’ve now told eight of my fellow students about the van. I must say I do get some childish satisfaction from observing their reactions. These reactions, I’ve found, typically transpire in the following order:

1. Nervous laughter. Not sure how to respond, they go with this surefire “safe” response. Because “Are you fucking insane?” is no way to react to someone who just disclosed one of his most intimate secrets, they, instead, suavely hide their darker thoughts behind a colorful and harmless façade of giggles.

2. Solemn Contemplation. Because I seem sane and because I seem serious, it’s hard for them to reconcile a crazy act with a rational person. Soon their smile turns stern and I, no longer subject to their titters, become assailed with an unremitting fusillade of questions: Why are you doing this? Where is it parked? How do you go to the bathroom at night!?

3. Amazement and Envy. Reassured of both my veracity and rationale, they see the wisdom in my little experiment. They begin to question some of their own cultural customs and bad habits. A touch of envy is detectable; not necessarily because they now want to live in a van, but because they yearn for the courage to live boldly, and adventurously.

I got a bit tipsy from some wine served at an after-class gathering and I let slip my little secret to a rather staid and stodgy female classmate. I wished for nothing more than to frazzle her by thrusting this heretical thought into her neat little world. Then, as she stood aghast, I’d savor the reaction the same way a flasher would in front of a congregation of genteel southern baptists.

And I got just that. In fact, I got even more. Later on, I received a Facebook message from her telling me that she bought Walden and worries that I brainwashed her. My first acolyte? Maybe.

When I told Chuck—another classmate—about the van, he wasn’t nearly as stupefied, though he was quite intrigued. Chuck is a 46-year-old accountant-turned-student who just hiked all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail last fall. Surely, he, if anyone, would appreciate a story about alternative living.

(Chuck feigning stupefaction upon seeing the inside of the van)

I gave Chuck a full tour of the van—my voluminous collection of cereal boxes, the laundry area, even the fabled wastebasket that I threw up in—yes, all of it. We discussed some of our favorite philosophical topics while slugging a can of Fosters.

It’s his theory that campus security knows all about me living in the van, but they just don’t care. I agreed that that might be the case, but I still feel that because vandwelling is so bizarre, they’d never entertain the idea in the first place.

Later on, I visited his condo where I pretended to be enchanted with the light switches and marvelous headspace.

I do feel a little nervous about news of the van getting around on campus. But the temptation to tell people is just too strong to resist… As long as people react as if I just told them I was from Mars, I will continue to divulge.


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