Last week on my way to work, I got an email from a friend that I haven't see in over two years, from whom I haven't heard a single word in ten months. The subject line just read, "Logan," and I knew what it was going to say before I read it.
From about 1995-2000 I managed a store called Shinder's in a dingy little suburb of St. Paul, one of 13 Minneapolis-based, Frankenstein's monster amalgams: part newsstand, bookstore, and comic book shop that made all of its profits on sports cards, collectible card games, and adult videos. The friend who sent me the email last week was my assistant manager. I don't recall which one of us interviewed Logan; all I remember is that he was still a senior in high school and not quite 18 which, given the nature of our 5' X 12' Adults Only room at the back of the store, made hiring him tricky. Logan was willing to do all the crap that no one else wanted to: fill the pop cooler and deal with all the kid crack, er, Pokemon cards and pogs that kept showing up in shipments and bringing with them scores of snot-faced, sticky-fingered rug rats who liked to run and spill and scream dragging along their parents whose eyes were filled with either the boiling summed rage of their every acquiescence or a look that said to me, "I'm going to let my kids treat your store as their personal playground/cafeteria/toilet for the next three hours as my personal thanks for selling us $30 worth of cardboard first thing Sunday morning, asshole." I was happy to bring him on to deal with that for $5/hour.
Logan was a skinny kid, not particularly tall. He dressed like a homeless version of Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas' character from the American Pie movies), favoring an army surplus jacket that swallowed his narrow shoulders and vintage pants that showed his socks. The last time I hung out with him, he sported a fedora...nine years before they started selling them at Express. His eyes sat spaced widely apart. Somehow his big nose and small mouth balanced each other out (sort of like Jenny Garth).
As he grew more comfortable and found his rhythm in the shop, Logan would unleash tiny, one-lined furies of his humor on us in a way that made me think he didn't think anyone else working there smart enough to get the full joke. When he used to ask me if it was all right to take a smoke break, and I said yes, he'd reply, "Sweet, sweet cancer." After he turned 18, and I asked him to necessarily tour the Adults Only room to straighten up and/or discourage some of our seedier customers from stealing, that line morphed into, "Sweet, sweet anal." Sweet, sweet whatever became a mantra from the store. And that was brilliance of Logan's approach: everyone wanted in on his shtick.
The owner of Shinders insisted all store personel wear these obnoxious yellow customer service buttons that had our mascot (the Groucho duck from "You Bet Your Life") saying in a comic book balloon, "May I help you?" The buttons were about the size of a big orange and had pins on the back as thick as toothpicks which left noticeable holes in your shirt. Everyone hated wearing them. Whenever I asked Logan to put on his button, he'd say, "I really don't like talking about my flair." I'd never even heard of Office Space at the time, but I watched it to get in on the joke.
The email my friend that I don't really know anymore sent to me last week read, "I just thought you would like to know...I just found out today...Logan apparently passed away last year. Renee thinks it was a drug overdose."
"Damn," I replied. Logan was about eight years younger than I, 27 or 28 when he died.
When I got the chance, I went to Google to try and find something more about it. I sat there at my computer for ten agonizing minutes in which I couldn't remember Logan's last name.
It came to me just as I started doing something else. My search didn't come up with much. I found a private Facebook page that may or may not be his; I don't have the heart to add him and wait around wondering. There was a link to an Amazon wishlist, most of which was added four years ago: Bukowski, Curb Your Enthusiasm, William S. Burroughs, Bill Hicks, all things that reinforced this was Logan's. I wondered if that was all I was going to find, all that was left.
Deep in the search, past all sorts of Dutch language links, I found one that read, "Logan: November 2008...what I wouldn't give that right now. i love you logan." It was broken, but I got the name of the person who posted and found her on MySpace. She really couldn't or wouldn't answer any of my questions, saying that she didn't find out until a month after it happened.
I guess the reason I'm writing this is just in case someone out there hears what happens and searches for Logan Van Deen. I want there to be something for them to find.
I have a handful of pictures from a Star Wars themed, drink-a-room party my roommates and I threw (I think this was New Year's Eve 1998). Each of us decorated our rooms as different systems with different specialty drinks: Dagobah, Hoth, the forest moon of Endor. There are 18" pictures of stormtroopers lining the walls. a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Darth. Logan was the only person from work who came (though I doubt I invited more than 3 people from work). He was a lot younger than the rest of us and with his black clothes and jet black hair stuck out. I want to say he didn't drink, but he might have sipped a little weed with my brother from our balcony. He was the weird one, the one who left all my blond, suburban friends wondering "Who the hell is that?" and "Is he going to steal something?" In the picture I have of him, he's sandwiching, oddly enough, Jessica (formerly Pfeiffer) with my brother, just an odd trio standing under the raised blasters of ten stormtroopers. Jess and my brother are smiling. Logan has his mouth open in a sort of a smart-assed snarl, as if the whole scene isn't quite funny enough to make him smile. That's the kid I remember.
I saw Logan for the last time on a commuter bus on the U of M campus in early 2004. We rode for less than five minutes together from a parking lot down Washington toward Coffman Union talking small talk. He was majoring in History or Economics. That's the last time I thought of him before last week. So if you see me out, you can ask me about Logan Van Deen, but, my memories eroded as they are, I might not be able to answer. You can say you're sorry, but there are a lot more people back in Minnesota that need those condolences more than I. You can say anything you want. Just don't ask me about my flair.