Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This is just a quick update. There won't be much blogging this week since I'm currently writing my Fraggle ass off. Sheesh... and I just wanted to do this in about 20,000 words (we are now at 27,000 and not done). Ah well, we write until it's finished and then it's finished. No revisions. No corrections. Once the last word is "published," I'll be abandoning the Fraggle romance genre to do something else.

I'm guessing 2011 will be another rebuilding year. I have a lot of those. Most of next month, I'll probably work on my old book and get ready to send it forth all sparkly and new in February. I'm still not ready to go back to my snakehandler story. Maybe sometime in February, while I'm anticipating the rejection letters and hoping for just one "yes" I'll pick that back up --or maybe not.

So far, my list of resolutions and plans for 2011 is staying pretty modest. Part of me has lost the will to give a shit. I'll keep going to the gym because I like to and because it feels good. However, I'm not making a lot of plans to travel or do things because that never works out. I really don't want to deal with the disappointment that comes at the end of twelve months when I look back at another year spent penned in my cubicle.

I'll continue to go to the library and take chances on different topics, different authors and if they dazzle me, great, but I'll still read a fair share of comic books.

I'm not making plans to make more money because one of the great truths of my existence is there is a very specific sort of thing that happens when I make even a little more money: new expenses crop up just as soon as I start earning even a dollar or two more. It's like fucking magic.

It is my lot to remain broke. The daycare center will always raise their rates just when I get a raise at work. My car will always break down and cost me $200 when I have $100 in my savings account. I will always be behind on the bills no matter how many weeks I go without taking a day off. There will never be enough money and every purchase over six bucks will come with a cold feeling the size of a grapefruit in the pit of my stomach.

This is my fate.

Still, I am going to follow my bliss, chase the things that make me happy, which is what I do already. I'm not really expecting to be any happier than I am right now. I have reached my median range of joy and happiness. This is it. I must take joy in the conflict and the struggle because there is no goal line. There is no touchdown dance or thousands of screaming fans waiting at the end. There is no Superbowl ring.

I am meant to slog, to work until the second before I die and to repeat the same routine until I can practically see the future.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fraggle Love

For those of you who aren't one of my Facebook friends or are wise enough not to keep up with every single goofy thing I do, for the last couple of weeks I've been working on a novella. I kind of needed to do something since my previous writing project has stalled out for now.

This new thing is a big change of direction.

It's satire based on an occasional running joke of mine about vampires and werewolves and other fantastic elements in romance novels. I figured if vampires, why not muppets? They're no less ridiculous a creature to fall in love with. Vampires are animated corpses. Muppets are animated dolls made from felt and yarn. Both are hollow inside.

The plan is to release the novella in chunks over the next couple of days. Day one is today. I even created a special blog to house the thing. You can visit it here.

To be sure, it's rough. There are probably continuity errors, writing errors and storytelling errors. The book was sort of vomited out. I apologize in advance for the mess.

I do not apologize for the profanity, the vulgarity or the crude sexual situations which will arise.

And to be clear, no, this is not a new literary direction for me. It's for a laugh. I'm a writer. It's what I do. Anyway, if you're interested, check it out. I'll be updating it over the next couple of days.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


There is something almost spiritual about cracking walnuts. I don't mean the thin-shelled English variety you get at the grocery store in the cellophane bag. You put two of those in your hand, squeeze and nine times out of ten one of them breaks. You pick it apart, devour the heart of it and move on.

No, there's nothing spiritual or thought-provoking about that, but black walnuts... those motherfuckers are tough. They challenge you. They confound you. They demand your attention and if you want what's really there, you have to work for it.

First, you have to collect them from somewhere: off a farm, from the backyard of an elderly relative or in the middle of of the national forest. Nobody grows black walnuts deliberately any more --if they ever did. They're messy. In the early fall, a big black walnut tree rains down baseball sized fruit that dent cars, lay waste to picnic tables and will brain a dog too dumb to move its lazy ass out from under it.

You have to seek them out then gather them up and wait. You have to keep them away from the squirrels and the chipmunks. You have to hide them away from the spiders and centipedes, the maggots and the beetles. You have to wait for the hulls to turn black and greasy. You have to wait until they're juicy and rotting before you can do anything with one. You have to wait until just to hold one in your hand means your palm and fingers will look dirty for at least a week. The stain of a black walnut is as good as ink and it smells of decay.

From what I understand, the pulpy mess is poisonous --not enough to kill you, though I doubt anybody has tried --but enough to make you wish you were dead, enough to make you God awful sick.

To get at the nut, you have to peel away the slick, poisonous hull and extract the gore covered pit. Each time, you're witnessing something being born, watching something new being brought into the world.

The hulls are discarded. They dry in the sun and turn to dust. The nuts you clean up as best you can or you don't. Well-meaning guides suggest you should wash them, like you're cleaning off afterbirth, like the damned things need to be polished, like they can be turned into sparkling jewels. They are not jewels.

The exteriors are rough and gritty. They will remain that way even after they are eventually broken apart, but there's something attractive about them. They're durable and the ridges on the shell are like runes.

It takes a while for the nuts themselves to dry. You can put them in a window box and let the sun do the work. That is the old, country way. I put mine next to a heating vent in my house, in a box that used to hold copy paper. A month later, after a cold snap and all the color has gone out of the hills, they're ready to harvested.

They make contraptions for cracking nuts. At the grocery store, you can buy a simple hand cracker for a couple of bucks. They're shiny and impressive. The good ones can also be used to break into lobster claws --or so they claim. They're also useless when it comes to cracking a black walnut. Likewise, the nutcrackers kept in the heads of dolls are useless, as are a wide array of gadgets that promise they are up to the task.

I bought one of those --a Texas two-step-- twenty bucks on Amazon. It cracked two nuts before it warped so bad it couldn't be trusted to crack a peanut without crushing the fingers of the person holding it.

In the end, I settled on an old wooden stump, a couple of study nails driven halfway to the head into the slatted top of the wood and claw hammer. The crude design reminded me of something I'd seen in a Foxfire book. It was an inaccurate representation of a better idea, but serviceable. The nails held the nut in place, kept it from rolling away while I brought the hammer down.

It was a learning experience. Some of the nuts exploded when you hit them --too hard. Others were like tapping on the side of a battleship --too soft. Every now and again, one would break perfectly in perfect fragments where the oily meat inside could be gently dumped out in gorgeous chunks.

However, it hardly mattered how much force I put behind each individual stroke. You could not read the nuts by looking at them to tell how much or how little effort was required. Sometimes a gentle tap did the job. Other times, you had to pound the living hell out of it and you still got nowhere. Every once in a while, regardless of the time, the effort or the expectations, the inside was empty. There was nothing to be had, no matter how hard you tried.

Cracking walnuts is therapeutic. It's hard to think about trouble, the unpaid bills, your broken heart, when you're swinging a hammer down on a little hard nugget and trying very hard not to pulverize the thing. The whole process requires concentration and luck. It is a meditation. It is a form of prayer and like all prayers it is answered by an indifferent other that will only give to you what there is to give. It will never be enough.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blood: Birthdays

I reached a milestone last week with the plasma donation. I've donated 50 times, which at one time was going to be my stopping point. This means I've been at this for right at 6 months.

I've gotten past relying on the money. It never gets figured into my budget. I have stopped counting on it, stopped cashing the checks the second I get them, but it's still nice to have the extra few bucks around --just in case.

But I feel like I can start planning to quit. Once I'm done, I'm done. I'll get the tattoo and that will technically finish me off --though as I've learned, short of shooting up in the lobby, engaging in anal sex with a Belgian male prostitute or eating a hamburger that says "Made in England" on the wrapper while the staff watches and takes pictures, there isn't much that would actually disqualify me from donating, provided I don't tell them.

I'm always learning about the ways you can be disqualified from donating --the ones they don't ask you about but are hard to hide from.

"Somebody is having a birthday," she said.

"It's not me," I said and she smiled. She had my chart. Of course, she knew it wasn't my birthday, which would be a pretty miserable way to celebrate --though once, I did sort of plan to do that, but didn't.

"No, it's not your birthday," she said. "But we do something special for birthday people and for when you hit 100."

I knew I'd just crossed 50.

"What happens?"

"Oh, we give stuff," she said. "Sometimes it's a water bottle or one of those drink cozies."

However, sometimes, the gift is a kiss off.

"We had a client come in on his 60th. We really loaded him down with a t-shirt, a gym bag, the water bottle, the whole thing." She seemed sad. "The company changed hands a few months ago. They won't let us take anyone over the age of 60. So we gave him all the stuff, then someone had to tell him he couldn't donate any more."

So he came in for 20 or 30 bucks and left with a t-shirt, a gym bag and a water bottle --along with the message, don't come around here no more.

I hoped the guy needed the money less than I do. Odds are that wasn't the case.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Open casting call

Well, as part of my new "let's help other writers" thing, I'm starting on the basic level. If you're a blogger who reads my blog and want to be identified with me, I'm willing to add your blog to my blog roll.

Not everybody wants this. Some people dig the sordid, car-wreck-in-progress posts that I occasionally conjure up, but wouldn't want their name attached.

Others might be fine with it.

No big promises that this will increase your traffic. I blog because I like to, not because I get a lot of visitors. 5th Column still gets waaaay more than me, even on old posts. If you've been here before, you know I don't really host a forum that leads to a lot of discussion. Comments are welcome, just not really necessary --I mean, what do you say to a guy who spends money he earned selling plasma on a Christmas tree?

What kind of lights are you going to use? I just don't leave a lot to work with.

Anyway, if you want me to add you, I will --provided your blog isn't about promoting the master race, toppling the government or gathering people to do things that would lead to felony convictions. Everything else is mostly fair game, I think. I'd prefer local, but whoever is interested, I suppose, is good enough.

Just send me a link to your site.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

pennies: mood ring

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been grappling with a couple of personal failures and rejections. The most significant has been the loss of a couple of friends.

Nobody died. They just went away.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine called me from the road and told me she was through with Charleston and heading home to Texas. It was shocking and disorienting. We'd gotten close and I'd come to rely on her for moral support, as a sounding board for my writing and just someone to kind of get me out of my dull, gray brain.

Her own story is complicated and difficult, but the move wasn't entirely unexpected. She always planned to go. The timing was what was off. I just expected later rather than sooner.

A few weeks ago, she decided that things where she was weren't working the way she'd hoped they would. I really don't know what she thought, but she abruptly stopped communicating.

It scared me just a bit. In the weeks leading up to her dropping out, she'd filled my head with fears about old enemies, talk about a stalkerish new guy she'd sort of been seeing and even her own depressed state.

I imagined all kinds of things. I asked around a little and eventually found out that she was okay, but it hurt. I felt discarded and abandoned.

In the last couple of days, I lost another friend. This one, I've known for years. With him, it's the usual. We've always had a kind of adversarial friendship and snipe back and forth for laughs --sometimes to the point where it ceases to be funny and becomes kind of merciless. On some levels, we're very much alike. We have similar temperaments and ways of thinking, but I have a gift for cruelty. When provoked, I can be particularly hurtful and without really trying.

He can be a bastard, but he's really out of his weight class when it comes to me. I'm just that much more awful.

Anyway, I pissed him off --possibly because he pissed me off --and that was it. He cut me loose. It is probably for the best.

It may be that for my friend who fled to Texas, cutting me out was the best thing for her to do, too --to maybe cut some of the things that tethered her to a specific time in her life that just didn't work. Sometimes maybe you have to get rid of some of the old things to make room for the new in your life.

I've taken the rejections hard. Lately, I've been blathering almost non-stop about change. Well, there you go... change, right there. People change. Sometimes they change because they want to and sometimes they change because they need to. Sometimes it happens because of something you did and sometimes it happens because it happens and it has nothing to do with you at all.

I'm trying to find my peace with this. I've lost people from time to time, but I don't quit anybody. I do give them their space, however. Sometimes that's what they want in the first place --space away from me. I don't chase. I don't beg and I don't plead, but I keep a place open in my life for them in case they should want it.

Sometimes they do come back.

But not always.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pennies: Resolutions again

My resolutions are coming together slowly and the list to the side is growing. I spoke to a guy about them yesterday, a drummer as it happens, who told me he didn't bother with them. He also said that losing weight or getting in shape was never a problem because he's married to a personal trainer. When he starts getting fat, she lets him know. Problem solved.

This was not particularly helpful.

Still, my little coffee cup reminds me, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

At the library, looking for a copy of the Writer's Market for a friend --she writes erotic/pornographic short stories involving bondage, masochism, etc... and needs help locating magazines that might consider publishing, one of the librarians asked if I needed help. I didn't, but she seemed pretty unhappy to be shelving books so I shrugged and went along with it.

"Are you a writer?" She asked and I said, sure. I'm a writer.

"Are you?" I asked. She seemed pretty eager to help. She worked around books. She was human. All of these things contributed to the possibility that she might like to write.

She nodded. "I write science fiction and fantasy --but just a little."

"Lots of imagination," I acknowledged.

"Well, reality isn't as much fun."

I nodded, but thought that my friend who writes the porn is probably writing from her own experiences to some degree. Of course, not everybody likes sex or wants to be treated as a personal fuck toy.

The pope, for instance... probably... and maybe some of those guys on Fox News.

We looked for a little while and finally I explained what the book could do. It's a directory of where you could get published --if God loves you. She seemed interested, like maybe she'd wondered about that.

Finally, she located the book.

"Oh, it's in reference." She frowned. "You can't check it out. You can look at it, but you can't take it home."

Ah well, I told her. I can always buy it. It wouldn't kill me to buy something every once in a while.

As I was leaving, I remembered how many people encouraged me to write, how many people cut me slack or gave me a break. I've tried to do that with other aspirants. We are many. But I've never nailed it down as a personal policy. For 2011, it becomes policy. I still want to get published. I want that more than anything and I'm still going to try, but I can also do what I can to help other writers get read, too.

For my friend who writes the porn, I promised her I'd share my copy of the Writer's Market when I got it. I'm selling blood on Saturday. It should be enough to cover it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

blood: Oh Christmas Tree...

"Why are you wearing shorts?"

Outside, snow was coming down like paper streamers. The sky was leaden and the technicians working the counter were appalled. Just looking at me made them cold.

"Laundry day," I said. This is my standard line when actually I don't much care what I wear on Saturday. It was enough to get my point through. They understood, but thought I was stupid for coming out dressed for a luau.

"You drove, right?" And I nodded.

"But I've got some errands outside," I said. "My family is getting our Christmas tree."

What I really love about the plasma people is no matter what I tell them I'm planning on spending my blood money on, they never flinch. Whatever I say I'm going to buy never seems weird to them.

"I've got to get my tree out of the attic this weekend," the technician said and checked my blood pressure. "I guess I bought it about ten years ago, spent almost a hundred dollars."

I nodded. "Sounds like you got your money's worth. The fresh cut ones run about 40 or 50 bucks. We go out every year. It's kind of a tradition."

"I like live trees, too," she said. "I just can't stand cleaning up the needles."

It is a common complaint.

"I don't mind the extra fuss," I said. "I wish they were cheaper, but we do pretty good. We always go with a budget."

In this case, my budget was exactly $52, the money from a single week of donating plasma.

We picked the tree out at the market. The snow was really coming down. I was still wearing my shorts. My youngest son found the tree.

"I like this one," he said and it looked pretty good to me. It looked pretty good to all of us.

I shelled out 40 dollars and bought a bunch of mistletoe to hang over doorways and to tie above the stalls in the bathroom at work.

Ho, ho, ho.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

punch drunk

The problem with doing what I do (writing for money) is you can never be certain how something is going to be received. You do your best, look to do the story right and sometimes... fuck, who knows? You still end up pissing somebody off you didn't really intend to.

Nobody likes negative feedback. It's draining and certainly I earn a fair share when I do dumb things like screw up the spelling of a name or mistake the time of a particular show. Some of the things I've screwed up are pretty ridiculous. I accept my stripes when I'm careless. I deserve them, but I make a correction, offer an apology, try not to do the same damned thing again, and move on.

The hardest times are when I get called out on something that has nothing to do with an error. It's usually a difference of perspective. A couple of times I've had tense conversations with concert promoters over articles, usually reviews they didn't particularly like. It's always some detail that's been pointed out: a singer has a cold, the sound system seemed off... something.

This is not to say I am a hard reviewer. I'm not. I strive for fair, but forgiving. Putting yourself out there is hard, particularly when you're on the local level.

Anyway, you can't please everybody all of the time --or some of the time, even. Every now and again, regardless of the intent, the story is read completely wrong. Somebody prospects for that one shining nugget of shit out of what is a silver mine of promotion and good will. The mine it then they want to bring it to the window to be cashed for all its worth.

It feels like a gut punch. It makes me doubt my own ability. It makes me try to peel apart my own intentions like layers of onion skin to see what's at the core.

Today, for instance, I was pissed at an artist. I wrote something I took as positive and more interesting than everything else in the section --at least, the most interesting thing I wrote this week --and they hated it. They absolutely loathed it and read something between the lines I did not write.

And I did the walk through the emotions: shock, disbelief, doubt of my own skills, anger, more anger, disgust then finally... eh (shrug). Along the way, I swear I'm never going to do another one. I swear the ungrateful asshole will not be seeing any more ink from me and they can go fucking hang themselves for all I care. Who fucking needs this? I'll stick with the god damned bass players. They never bitch.

The funny thing is it doesn't matter whether they thought I did a good job or not. It doesn't matter whether I'm hurt because I feel unappreciated and rejected. I don't stay angry and I don't hold a grudge. I let it go because I live in a small town with a small arts, music and theater scene. They can say different, but each struggles to draw a crowd and find patrons.

Maybe they don't need me, but I think they do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Emo's rambling roundup

Again, we enter the last few weeks of the year and I take a look at that list to the right of the blog I've been ignoring. 2010 was a tough year, not because the money was tighter than usual. It wasn't, really. I managed to get through, thanks to a nearly endless work week and supplementing my income with regular donations to the plasma center.

No, it was tougher for other reasons, I guess. It started hard and it's ending hard. There wasn't much of a gooey center.

But here's the final update on what I did and did not do this year.

1-I did not get published. My first book was ignored and subsequent rewrites have mostly stalled. Book number two is being re-written. Who knows? Either way, it's not getting published this year. Next year, looks particularly bleak.

2-I haven't written to my grandmother in weeks. This has kind of been on again and off again.

3-I've learned very few things this year and certainly not 50. Most of the important things I've learned are not particularly practical. For instance, Larry Groce told me once that there were really only about 300 different melodies. Everything else kind of riffs off that. I remembered that when I started reading about archetypes in literature and sort of connected the dots about people.

There are no unique people. We are not unique little snowflakes. We're all riffs off a set of archetypes. This explains to me why so many think they know me, why I resemble somebody else they've met and usually remember well. They do know me. I'm closer representative to a particular (and fairly common) archetype in the great book of characters that is repeated over and over.

This is the kind of stuff I learned. It's sort of interesting, but not really useful. It doesn't improve my life or the life of anyone else in any measurable way and is a little depressing, actually.

4-Read 12 great books. Never happened. I read mostly pop fiction this year. Some of it was fun, but none of it was what anybody would consider edifying or enlightening. So, I did read 12 not-so-great books.

5-Make enough money. Well, I made enough to survive. My credit rating is up, but that's about it. I get by, but thriving is another matter.

6- Complete Captain America project. Nope. Still working on it. I'm trying anyway.

7-Improve. That's a tough one. I think I'm some better as a writer. I'm stronger and I don't smoke these days. I'm a good father. I think I get better at that every year. I'll rule that as in the plus column.

8- Remember I'm lucky and decent. I'm decent yes and I have tried to be as lucky as a man can be, but I wouldn't say that's true. You can make your own luck. I've read books on the subject that talk about improving your chances for positive outcomes, but that sort of thinking makes luck like of like cooking. Some people can follow the directions of a recipe for a cake and turn in something that's better than you can buy at a bakery. Other people can follow the same directions and create something inedible.

It's not just what you do. It's where you are, who you are and what you have at your disposal. There is a difference in what you have for ingredients, the quality of your tools and even the elevation of where you do the work. Some of these things you can adjust, some of them you're stuck with.

I did not make much luck this year.

9-Escape. I never did. Not once. All year I've been like a chained dog in a fenced yard. There was no vacation. I spent two nights away from home this year. Both of them were at my Mom's.

On the pluses and minuses, I fall easily in the negative, which is disappointing since really the bar wasn't particularly high. I could make excuses on why this or that didn't work. Mostly, it has to do with losing steam, with finding my optimism and drive collapse beneath the everyday struggles of just being me. Some of it was maybe turning 40 or just laziness.

I could have eased up on the cheeseburgers, though, and watched a little less television.

Looking back, 2010 won't be a year I'll miss. There were a few bright spots here and there, but there was a lot of wasted energy, heartache and headache.

But we start over. We start over because that is what I know how to do. I get up and give myself another chance. I do that because despite the periodic whining I like me. I think I'm worth another chance. I am always worth another chance and besides, what else have I got to do?

One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe I should stop hoping to be published or to travel anywhere farther than Pearisburg, Virginia. It doesn't mean I should stop writing, that I should stop sending my work to people or that I shouldn't go where I can when I can. It just means I need to lay off creating artificial deadlines that do nothing but periodically make me feel like I failure over the course of twelve months.

Making oaths and promises for self-improvement doesn't seem to work for me. I've been waiting to get this tattoo to celebrate the completion of project Captain America for a while. Maybe the point isn't to win, but just to compete.

Maybe this time, the way to do it is to go ahead and have dessert first then move on to the soup and salad. Maybe instead of looking for ways to make more work for myself in order to reward myself at the end I should look for ways to treat myself, then work to pay for it somehow.

It's all a work in progress, I guess.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blood: Valentine

An older African-American woman started talking to the older African-American man before she'd take a seat and the milkers all sort of rolled their eyes. They had shit to do.They needed to get her plugged in and move along to the next bleeder.

But she wasn't in a hurry and they couldn't make her do what they wanted her without her agreeing to take a seat --and she wasn't ready. She wanted to talk... to him... now.

The two of them chatted for five minutes about nothing, just bantered back and forth, until finally she climbed into the recliner and let the milkers work their dark, evil magic. They scarcely stopped for the next 40 minutes.

It was charming, like watching a couple of high school sweethearts who haven't seen each other in years.

"You have a good Thanksgiving?" He asked her.

"I did. I made a big mess of food," she told him. "You should have come down and fixed a plate."

He grinned. "I meant to get down there."

"Come down for Christmas. I always put out a good table. You'd be welcome."

"Well, I might," he told her. "I might."

They went back and forth until he finished, then he hobbled off slowly to the pay window and finally the door.

"Are you two dating?" One of the milkers asked.

The woman shook her head. "No, we've just known each other so long. People ask us that and you get us in a room for longer than a few minutes and we're fighting." She sighed. "He's a good man, though. I don't let anybody take advantage of him. He's sweet, you know, and very kind, but you get a single beer in him and he'll give you all his money if you ask him. If I'm around, I don't let nobody take advantage of him. He's a good man and there aren't many."

"You sound like you like him a lot."

"Well, we love each other." She said then added without a lot of conviction, "We're like brother and sister."

It didn't sound like that was her first choice, but I suppose you take what love there is. You hope for more, but make do with what you can have.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blood: Weekly Reader

I took my seat in the back and waited to be called. A doctor, who apparently looks at medical charts for the company, stopped when she saw the book in my hands. I always bring a book. It's something to pass the time when nothing is happening and on days when "Alvin and the Chipmunks" is playing on all the big screens, a book isn't just helpful, it is a lifesaver.

"What are you reading?" She asked.

I showed her the cover, but not the passage I'd been reading. The text had gotten kind of racy and she looked to be in her early 60s. I didn't want to offend her with a sentence about a woman licking semen off a man's flaccid penis.

"It's short stories," I told her. "Some of them are horror stories. Others are kind of weird." The one I was in the middle of was mostly of the latter variety.

"Do you like to read?" She reminded me of my grandmother, if my grandmother had been born in New Delhi.

"I love to read," I said. "I read a lot." Though not always about people having sex. That's more of an occasional thing. I wouldn't say I seek it out --mostly.

"Do you work?"

I nodded and told her, "I'm a writer."

"How nice." She put her hands together. "Not enough people do creative things like that. What kind of things do you write?"

"Oh, I write for the newspaper," I told her and there was a beat, just a moment, when a flash of panic passed through her eyes.

"Really? For the newspaper?" She needed to get going. "Well, it was nice to talk to you about reading and writing."

Someone called my name. It was my turn to get hooked up to a machine.

"I will come and talk to you on the floor," she said and skittered off to look at charts, speak with a manager or maybe just locate her car keys.

The doctor never came out to talk, which was too bad. That might have been fun.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pennies: Christmas Wrap

I did a little Christmas shopping today. I tried last night, went to Toys R Us, but saw the crowd and decided I didn't want to be pressed up against that much flesh, not without a condom.

I tried Walmart, which is almost an annual trip. My chief objection to Walmart isn't the stuff, which is often less than it appears, but the general "go-fuck-yourself" attitude of both the shoppers and the staff. Nobody seems to want to be there, regardless of the deal and on the night of Thanksgiving, it felt like a fistfight was brewing in every other aisle.

Let those of you without sin throw the first punch.

It looks like it will be a good year for the kids at Christmas. For me, I never know. Some years are brutal and bitter and I tend to remember them more than I do the good years. The year we got kicked out of our apartment during the holidays and had to spend all of the money I'd saved to relocate. The years I spent Christmas alone or the years so full of strife and resentment I felt like my heart would explode, I remember those, too.

There were good times: being dewy-eyed in love and making out under the Christmas tree lights at half-past midnight, Chinese food in the afternoon instead of turkey, waking up in a warm bed and feeling giddy that there was actually snow on the ground --just like on a Christmas card.

It's just harder to remember the good times. Joy doesn't leave a scar.

I think of Christmas as a season of longing. It's a season of want. You want objects and experiences and feelings. You want peace and love and stuff. It's often a season of disappointment because there's never enough of what you really need and in the rush to try and satisfy insatiable hungers, people get hurt. They hurt themselves and each other.

Actual results, I realize, may vary, but for me, the holidays begin with hope, end in misery and precede the long walk into the gray dream of winter. Every year, the season begins earlier. This year is the earliest yet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pennies: Found object

Half a block down the street I saw her and sort of sped up. My heart was completely in my throat. She crossed the street and started into a parking lot full of cars.

It wasn't her. Not in a million years, but for a second, I thought... It was ridiculous. The girl looked the same --almost exactly the same. She had the right hair, the right skin and the right walk. She might be a little thinner and that's what finally woke me up.

She looked the same, like she did 20 years ago.

Nobody looks like they did 20 years ago -not with anything short of some kind of demonic contract. Some of us are passably close, but everybody wears down or "characters up." It happens and by now, it would have happened to her.

I let her drive away and disappear then went on with my errands, but remembering. The people you love, you always love, even when you also learn to hate them. They occupy a space in your heart that may shrink to the size of a thimble, but is never entirely vacated. Wounds heal, but the old injuries sometimes ache when you get a little cold.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blood: To The Dogs Or Whoever

The tech picked a stray white hair from my shoulder then apologized.

"Sorry, it was driving me crazy."

I shrugged. I have two cats and a dog. Wearing a black shirt is risky under the best of circumstances.

"It's okay," I told her then explained about the pets.

"I've got three cats and a dog," she laughed and began the tedious process of sampling my blood and figuring out whether I'm healthy enough to donate.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure. My allergies or an early cold seemed to be coming on, but no sore throat. I felt fine --just a little tired. Also, I figured if I was sick, now would be a great time to see if there were any side effects from donating plasma. Would I stay sick longer? Would it be worse? Inquiring minds wanna know.

Also, I needed money for tolls tomorrow.

The tech told me, "I never really thought of myself as a dog person. I love my cats, but the dog is my sweetheart." She frowned and looked down. "The dog belonged to a friend. She was very special to me." She sighed, still sad. "She had a liver disease and she was fine for a long time and then she wasn't. She was on the transplant list, but..." She shook her head. She didn't make it. "She went pretty quick --just about a year ago, I guess."

By this point, my eyes were as big around as saucers.

"Was it hepatitis C? I've got a friend and I kind of worry..."

The tech smiled sadly and shook her head.

"No, it wasn't hepatitis," she said. "What she had spread. It shut her kidneys down. I took in her dog," she added then groaned, "who I'm mad at right now. Last night, I get home and she's following me around, but then she wouldn't go in the bedroom with me."

She knew something was up.

"I figured she'd pooped on the floor." But no, no poop. "The little monster peed on my bed."

We both laughed. It wasn't that funny.

My readings were fine. She waved me back and I told her I was sorry about the dog. I didn't mean the dog, of course.

She said thanks and hoped my friend was okay.

Monday, November 22, 2010

blood: Don't ask, don't tell

The machines didn't want to take my thumb print and the guy next to me wasn't having much luck either. Finally, after maybe five minutes of entering our birth dates and pressing our thumbs into the machine, we turned and complained to the manager at the desk.

"Hey, the machines are down."

"They're fine," she said irritably. "Try a different machine."

"I just tried four of them." Some of them I'd tried a couple of times.

In a huff, she rolled her eyes and ventured out from behind the desk, looked at the machines and lectured us about their proper use.

"You have to put your thumb on them like this." She attempted to demonstrate. "The machines read the whirls."

She watched me do as she said and get nowhere, then do it again and again. Since I was doing what she told me, she left me to it and turned to the other man. She took a look at him, gulped and said, "Oh, you work with your hands."

So, the machine might not read his hands because they'd been roughed up and me... I type -- I type a lot and tend to hammer the keys. So, maybe, just maybe, my prints aren't as distinct, but I kept at it. After a few more tries, one of the machines finally accepted I was me and started me through the usual, meaningless pop quiz about my behavior and charmingly "quaint" sexual history.

The other guy took a seat and waited for the staff to figure out what to do in a case just like this. Meanwhile, I was kind of annoyed. The manager was kind of a jerk. I've seen her in action before. We have spoken before and she can get sort of shrill with just about anyone not in a lab coat.

I think she'd be happier somewhere else.

Anyway, during the usual question/answer section, I hit a wrong answer. The staff were required to ask me to clarify.

"Did you really mean you'd engaged in one of the activities listed on the poster?"

And truthfully, no, I hadn't engaged in sex with another man, had sex for money, taken a weekend trip to Africa or Haiti and come down with mad cow disease. It wasn't that I couldn't do these things. There just hadn't been time in the past couple of days. The holidays are coming up.

"Sorry, I guess the machine pissed me off. I wasn't paying attention." And like that, it was scratched. No problem. Go to booth three.

Inside, the tech was grousing about having to read to the other guy the list of questions on the computer. The machine, which was clearly working fine, wouldn't take his print and he'd left his reading glasses in the car. Based on policy, he couldn't leave the building without being deferred from donating another day. Neither he nor the plasma center wanted that. The holidays were coming up.

"So, you have to ask him if he's had sex with another guy, shoots up or likes prostitutes?"

She nodded and said, "Not that it matters. We can't check."

I raised an eyebrow. Really?

"We had a guy come in here the other day who said he wanted to donate, but couldn't because we discriminate against gays." She shook her head. "You wouldn't believe the number of openly gay men who come here."

Actually, it's not that hard to believe.

"We know they're gay," she said. "They know we know. One guy is engaged to his boyfriend, but if we ask them if they've had gay sex and they tell us no, well..." She shrugged.

Who were they to contradict them?

It's pretty much what I figured, but for a second, I considered going ahead and getting that tattoo I wanted, but they documented that my skin was free of marks, brandings and piercings --other than the one in my left ear that's been mostly closed up for the last 15 years. Eventually, they'd check. I know they're supposed to do a follow-up physical every few months and I'd want the thing on my arm. They would not miss it.

Figures... So I can have a boyfriend, but no tattoos... I don't know. A boyfriend sounds like an awful lot of work.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pennies: Clean and Jerk

Chicks do not dig me. This is a fact. I am not an attractive man --not hideous, but sort of average, nondescript. I've always gotten by with my brain and occasionally my cooking skills --at least with women. On the other hand, old men with easy, lecherous smiles and tufts of gray hair sprouting from their ears like cotton candy think I am the bomb.

This is less of a comfort than you might imagine.

This morning at the gym, one of my fans stopped me as I was trying to find Mastodon on my iPod. I thought I'd need something slightly aggressive to get through my leg work out. He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed slightly then said, "You know, I was thinking about what sort of book I should bring you."

I looked up, smiled blandly and hoped he'd move his clammy paw from my shoulder, but there it stayed while he reminded me about a conversation we'd had weeks ago about my writing and what sort of things I should be writing about.

"I was going to bring you that book." Which I'd forgotten about. "But then I started reading this book about prostate health."

As our conversation turned undeniably weird, he explained how the book was basically a condemnation of how the medical establishment treats prostate ailments, particularly prostate cancer.

"Doctors just want to cut and cut," he said sourly and I shook my head in agreement.

Yep. Prostate Cancer sucks.

He said, "At your age, your prostate is probably something you should be thinking about."

And up until he mentioned it, I'd only given it a passing thought and mostly that was --ick, I hope I don't get prostate cancer. After that, I probably did something else, like made a sandwich, worked a word search puzzle or checked my local listings to see if there was an episode of "Quantum Leap" on somewhere.

The old guy gave my shoulder another friendly squeeze then released. "I got mine book at the library, but I ordered a copy online. Once it gets here, I'll bring it for you."

"Thanks," I said and really, it was kind of sweet.

No one has ever specifically worried about the condition of my prostate before. None of the women I've ever been involved with has ever said anything to suggest my prostate was important to them in any way.

Some of this is my own fault. I don't usually inspire that kind of interest. I don't suppose my prostate has ever been considered dynamic or attractive. It's always been something easy to ignore.

Certainly, no one has ever been drawn to me because of my prostate. Occasionally, I've been told I have nice eyes and that's about the extent of it. No one has ever said, "You have an amazing prostate. I could get lost in your prostate."

So, in this one little way, that creepy old guy loves me more than anyone else ever has. I'm not just a pretty face.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Behind the door

I am the sort to believe in signs and symbols. It's not a rational belief. It's not scientific. It is, in fact, a bit loopy to think randomly placed objects might somehow be messages from some power about what I should do.

Yet, I believe in them. I think it's weird that I keep finding coins on the ground where I happen to walk. Certain words and certain topics keep showing up in places I don't expect them. It's weird and makes me feel crazier than I probably am.

Of course, I realize we often see what we want in given circumstances. Maybe I see coins as meaning change because I'm bored or unhappy or because I don't happen to need a candy bar when I find the errant quarter.

Anyway, somebody else wants to offer me a job. They called. They want to buy me breakfast and talk.

So, there it is over and over... an opportunity for a change.

The thing is, it's not a change I particularly want.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blood: Rookies

Two of the milkers hovered over me. One was training the other and checking on her work.

"Well, you've got to watch this," she said. "The tubing has to go this way past the silver thing." A technical term, to be sure. "Otherwise, it can cause a kink in the line."

The other woman nodded intently. Yes, she was getting this and I was wondering --um, what are you doing --and please tell me they aren't going to let you handle a needle today.

But no, the teacher was taking care of the heavy lifting. In this case, plunging a big, fat knitting needle into my tender, middle-aged arm.

The newbie watched as she slathered the inside of my elbow with iodine then plugged me in. There was very little pain. Just noticing, but only the young milkers actually cause any real pain. The others seem to be able to get past the scar tissue without making me want to crawl over the back of my seat.

Finished, she taped me up and looked at her young padawan and smiled. "See? Easy."

"Just like magic," I said and suddenly, the two of them were completely aware of my presence. They looked at me and smiled.

"Just like dark, evil magic," I told them and we all laughed.

It was funny because it's true.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cancer man: Camo

He had a camouflage hat and we talked about hunting in the car.

"Do you get out much to hunt?" He asked and I shook my head.

"I haven't really been hunting since I was a boy."

I did not tell him that I was the weird one in the family who didn't much care for it, which mostly had to do with the hours, not necessarily the objection to obliterating animals. I'm not big on that either, but hunting is inconvenient. Hunters like to get up before dawn, dress either too warmly or not warm enough and wander in fields while the sun slowly peeks up above the trees. They wander around in the woods and have to be quiet.

I'd rather sleep. Back in the day, I'd rather eat breakfast cereal in my Hulk underoos and watch cartoons I hated, but would come to adore later.

"My brothers and my dad hunt a good bit," I said and that's true. They're nuts about it, though not as crazy as my best friend's dad, Bobby. Bobby had a gun cabinet like a golf bag. He'd have hunted mailmen and mounted their heads on his wall if they'd but had an official season.

"I miss that the most," he said. "I just can't get out like I used to."

His wife said nothing, but she nodded. He loved to hunt.

It was a beautiful day. A good day to be in the woods and kind of a shame for him that he couldn't make it.

I got him to his treatment, which was supposed to be 45 minutes, but turned into over 3 hours.

"They couldn't get the port to work," he said when it was all over. "It was a new port." He sighed. "It's supposed to be better next time."

I told him I hoped it was, not because it put me out, which seemed to bother him, but because his day was shot.

Barely out of the parking lot, he said he could feel the medicine kicking in.

"You can tell," he told me. "There it is."

I asked him if he was all right.

"Oh, I'll be fine. They done give me some stuff before they started the chemo for my stomach." He sighed. "Chemo is the absolute worst."

"How far along are you into your treatment?"

"This was my first round of this," he told me. "It's pretty tough, but I got to do it." He shook his head. "I'm just buying myself a little more time is all."

His wife in the backseat kept her silence, but stared at the floor.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

blood: kiss and make up

I got called into the office after I checked in at the plasma center. I was supposed to say something at the counter on Tuesday because of my experiences last week, but sort of didn't feel like bothering --and besides, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn't.

The director seemed like a nice guy, a bit nervous, but friendly. He apologized twice before either of us had taken our seats on either side of his desk.

"I am so sorry this was your experience." Again with the neutral, it's nobody's fault language. "It wasn't what we intended."

I nodded and listened as he worked through the lengthy complain I'd filed through the website, which detailed my attempts to donate.

"And you say you used my boss's name and they didn't react?"

"Nope," I told him. "They didn't seem to know who I was talking about."


The apology went on for a while longer. He offered me an extra $25 for my inconvenience, which I took. My wife's phone contract had ran out. It needed to be paid. The rest was already spent, though I did splurge today. I bought myself a fucking fruit pie. It was cherry and an off-brand not made by the Hostess corporation.

The dude finally said, "All I ask is next time, if you have any trouble, just tell me or someone in management." He didn't want to have to deal with this shit again and I couldn't blame him.

I nodded, but I thought I'd spoken to someone in management on that first call when they told me they were closed and I could come back in a week.

It was weird, but these sort of confrontations are always weird. I gathered he'd taken some shit for my e-mail complaints, which he probably didn't deserve. The understated issue was the corporation didn't fully explain what they were doing to the locals and it upended everything.

After he talked for a while and I promised I'd let him know if they pissed me off, we shook hands and everyone was awfully, exceedingly nice. I got the impression my love note had been shared with the rest of the class.

So, a few people seemed to be looking at me strangely and everybody was extra chatty. They even put me in a chair that was right up close to where the manager could watch me, if he wanted, and was right next to where the floor supervisor guy was working. This may have been incidental, but I don't know. A lot of it seemed like business as usual.

Still, it sort of felt like I'd been branded a troublemaker, which clearly, I was. I bitched about something.

I had hoped I would be done by Christmas. I'd have 50 visits under my belt and that would be enough to pitch my book, but evidently fate has decreed there will be no escape. Shifting financial issues have pretty much ensured I'll be bleeding for many months to come --probably until the week my youngest starts kindergarten.

If it was ever not about the money, that time has passed. It most certainly is about the money now and there's still not enough.

God help me. I'm running out of things I can sell.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I like feeling useful. I love that people need me. It's nice having a purpose, but sometimes, I think, having a purpose, being necessary, is kind of a trap. Call it a bizarre insight brought about by a coal company billboard, but no one really does think about who keeps the lights on, regardless of what kind of light is needed.

Is that cryptic? Probably.

You take a label, a role and that becomes who you are. It becomes all that you are and eventually, the only thing that matters is you perform that role, do your job to the best of your ability --or not. Sometimes the role is for you to fail. Sometimes you're expected not to live up to the expectation.

There is no escape and in a way, you cease to be what you are and become only what someone else wants you to be, what each person wants you to be and really not what you are or want to be. It's not all bad. The role may even sound like the best part of you, even the part you admire, but it's still sort of phony. If you're lucky, you don't notice or you try not to think about it much.

Gloomy thoughts on a cold and gloomy day. I could use some sunlight and warmth.

Just one of my turns coming on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Poem on the eve of an election

I was looking for a love poem today, but found this instead.

This is the universe
where fortune
finds itself
in love
with misfortune.

This is the territory
of slackers,
where nothing changes
but change.

This is a place
in space
where everyone says
to the other
"you blew it,"
and nothing,
if ever,
gets done.

This is the Land of Missed Opportunity
by Steve Cannon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blood: Making Friends and Influencing People

And continuing, I got another e-mail from the plasma company.

Good afternoon:

I am the team lead for the integration in the Charleston donor center. I have been made aware of a continued issue with your ability to donate. I sincerely apologize for the issues that have been presented during the last week.

As way of explanation, the center is in active integration this week and it will continue through to the end of next week. This process included scheduling appointments so that we could mediate the flow of donors coming into the center. The ability to schedule these appointments started before the integration. However, we have been accepting donors on a walk in basis so that the training would flow and it could be completed. With that said, that has not been your experience and for that I am sorry.

I have instructed the staff to accept you for donation when you arrive. The center is closing for the day as the training schedule is complete. Will re-open on Monday morning at 8:00 AM and will remain open each day through 5:00 PM. I will be in the center on Monday and Tuesday and request that when you arrive you ask for me.

I will assure that you are accepted to donate. If you arrive after Tuesday, please request to speak with a member of management as they have been informed. In addition, I would like to extend an extra $15 to you for the troubles that you have had over the last week. It has been noted in your chart and will be included in your donation payment on your next donation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me; I look forward to seeing you on Monday or Tuesday.

So, it appears things will not be back to normal and will probably be extra-awkward the next time I come in. That should be fun. We've also moved to the bonus round where I can have 15 dollars extra -up five from Saturday. From my view, it's still on the cheap.

As far as the apology, it's sterile and a little dismissive. There have been "issues," as opposed to errors, like failing to inform donors what the fuck they were doing. My main beef is going to be their lack of interest in the well-being of the people who come in. I'd still kind of like to hear, "Um, yeah, we didn't really think this through and it upset some people, including you. Sorry about that. Can I get you a juice box?"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Blood: Training Blues

Over the phone, the regional director for the plasma center sounded nervous, like she expected me to start ranting and raging. It might have been a tough week for her. If what had happened at the plasma center I visit was a nationwide issue, if they were all doing trainings and hadn't told their donors, she might have had several unpleasant phone calls in the past few days.

I spend a lot of time on the phone and on more than one occasion, I've worked for companies, where it was my job to field ugly phone calls. I don't flip out, not usually.

"As I understand it, they didn't have signage?" She asked me.

"No, they had signs," I explained. "The sign said closed Monday. It was Tuesday. We were told the plasma center would be closed on Monday for training. No one said anything about being closed for the week."

"Uh-huh," she said.

"There were a couple of us in the parking lot," I told her. "The guy who called inside the first time had driven quite a ways. He was pretty pissed off." I wasn't particularly happy about it either. "I called and they told me about the training."

"I'm really sorry this happened to you," she said and I smiled. It happened to me because I'm unlucky, not because it's anyone's fault, say like the plasma center for not knowing what the fuck is going on or the plasma company for maybe not telling them. "We value you as a donor. We need to get you in as soon as is convenient for you. When can you come in?"

It was Friday afternoon. I had shit to do, including lunch and writing up my article on Amy Grant.

"My regular donation times are Tuesday and Saturday," I told her. "How about if I just show up tomorrow?"

"What time?" She asked.

"Let's say 10:30. That's when I usually come in."

While this was clearly no fault of theirs, she told me, "I'd like to compensate you for the time lost, the inconvenience and of course, your travel. How about an extra ten bucks?"

I rolled my eyes: An extra ten bucks, which is what I'd normally get paid for my second donation --never mind the bonus for coming in twice a week all month. Their generosity was overwhelming. I thought I was going to cry.

"Would that be okay?"

I didn't want to argue so I said, "Fine."

Before she hung up, she confirmed the time and wished me a good weekend.

Saturday morning, I went to the plasma center. The parking lot was hopping and for a second I thought, the whole business about scheduling an appointment was much to do about nothing, but there was a sign on the door: "Training. By appointment only."

Inside, a handful of donors waited to be called, while a couple of newbies flipped through the white manuals everybody has to read just once.

The girl at the desk called, "Have you got an appointment?"

I smiled. "Sure, do. " Lucky thing, too.

One of the technicians remembered me, smiled and waved.

"What time?" The girl at the desk asked.


A wrinkle formed over her brow.


"William Lynch."

She looked, frowned, looked some more, shook her head, turned the page, looked again. One of the others looked over her shoulder.

"He's not there," she told her, then me. "Who did you speak to?"

I gave her the name, adding she was from corporate. The name didn't seem to mean anything to either of them. They looked at the list. There were a lot of names. Two were plugged in at 10:30.

"If X and Y don't come in," the one said to the other. "We could squeeze him in."

"But X is here already." And Y, they seemed to think, would be there.

"You could have a seat and we'll get to you when we can."

"How long would that be?"

Neither of them knew.

"I can't be here all day." I just wanted a ballpark number: fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour...

They didn't know. It would be a while.

"Will things be back to normal on Tuesday?" I asked.

"By Monday." The one girl fired that piece of information off like a shot. Everybody hates training.

I nodded. Fuck Monday. I am not coming back in on Monday.

"Yes," I said. "But I come in on Tuesday. Will this place be back to normal on Tuesday."

"Oh sure."

"Right, then I'll be back on Tuesday. " Then I turned and went home.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

watching the wheels

Well, it doesn't appear that I'll be going to San Diego. There was an opportunity to go out west for a workshop/conference on addiction. Scholarships were available. It wouldn't have cost me or the paper a dime, but I should have heard back days ago. There is zero chance of the newspaper sending me. They just don't do that.

I just don't have the resources or support to make it happen. Even getting a passport is a little on the pricey side for me at the moment and it needs to get done now if I want any shot at going, but there isn't a shot. If they're interested, West Virginia Public Broadcasting will send one or two of their newsies to conduct interviews. If not, Mountain Stage may bring along one of their people to run camera.

This is also something the newspaper would not be interested in footing the bill for.

On the upside, of all the places I'd go for fun, a conference on drugs or Scotland in the dead of winter probably aren't on the top of my list. Of course, novelty and adventure scan pretty high for me. I don't do very well with planning trips --so trips on business, with some purpose other than to just see the place have a kind of appeal, a purpose.

It's disappointing. I'm looking and hoping the paths to the places I want to go will open up. There are definitely places I want to go, people I want to see, things I want to experience. The world is a big place, but it's remarkable how big it is when you can't seen to go any farther than your front door.

Blood: Email

So I was annoyed about the plasma center being closed yesterday. I found their website, which is based out of Europe. I couldn't really afford to call Europe and I don't speak European. Anyway, I fired off an e-mail. They got back to me this morning.

Dear Mr. Lynch

I have received your letter of concern regarding the Charleston WV center. I would very much like to discuss the situation at your earliest convenience. Please feel free to call me at xxx xxx xxxx.

I appreciate your feed back and look forward to speaking with you.

The main thing, I think, is do I mention I'm working toward writing a book?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blood: Training

We stood outside the locked, glass doors and waited. It was after 8 and they should have had the place opened up, but the lobby was dark. A sign hung in the door said, "Closed Monday For Training. Sorry for the inconvenience."

"Do you think they just forgot to unlock the doors?"

He looked at me and frowned, took out his iPhone and dialed the number below the plasma center's hours. It took a while for the call to get routed to an operator.

"Hey," he said. "We're standing out here in the parking lot. Are you opening up or not?" He listened and frowned. "But that is not what your sign says. It just says Monday." He listened and shook his head. "So, you're telling me you don't want my plasma." He huffed. "I drove an hour to be here."

She hung up on him.

"They're only taking appointments," he said. "Did you make an appointment last week?"

I shook my head. First, I'd heard of it.

Grumbling, he stalked off, got in his beat-up minivan and drove off. I kind of hope he didn't drive an hour. Two hours in that thing would dig pretty deep into the 21 bucks he got for the first donation of the week.

I picked up my phone and called, asked what was going on.

"We're in training this week," she said.

I looked at the sign. It said Monday.

"All week?" I asked.

"All week." She could give two shits.

"So, you will reopen next Monday?"


Well, that does simplify my week. Of course, that's 52 bucks I was expecting that I won't be getting --maybe more. There was some sort of bonus for donating twice a week this month. I hadn't missed.

Other people were pulling onto the lot as I was talking to the woman and I thought, you assholes. How many people count on this to make the rent, to cover their groceries and you do this at the end of the month? How many times over the last couple of months have I relied on it to soften a rough patch? More than I like to admit.

They treat us like cattle about half the time. I noticed this early on and it's why I still call the phlebotomy technicians "milkers." They'll talk over us and sometimes look at us like we're subhuman, like there is something defective in our personalities for allowing ourselves to be here --other than the fact we're broke. All of us are broke. Some of us are drug users. Some of us are prostitutes or ex-cons or welfare cheats. Some of us are liars and they don't care. Many of us, however, are not, but to a man, we're all just trying to scrape by.

I thought about this and almost unloaded, but there was no point. She'd just hang up on me the same as she did the other guy. Besides, she was the wrong person to talk to.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Emo McSourpuss

Things should be great.

Work is going well. Some of the stories I wrote this past week I'm sort of proud of. On a side note, one of the elderly gay men who stares at me at the gym is now following my work. It troubles him that I talk to musicians when I should be doing something more meaningful. He wants to bring me some books to read.

I think he means well by it. Still, I will draw the line at dinner and dancing.

I applied for a scholarship to go to a drug addiction workshop for journalists in San Diego. The subject is interesting and I've never been to San Diego. It could be fun. I love anything that sounds like a new experience. Mountain Stage is going to Scotland and I'm already working on trying to find a seat to that --it's a tall order, for sure. I don't know if I can make that happen, but I've occasionally accomplished things nobody, including me, thought were possible.

These are things that could work out.

My current writing project is going well. I'm almost to the end of what is really a fresh first draft and I know what to do next.

I'm losing weight and shaping up. After a couple of weeks of eating and drinking whatever was available and whenever the mood hit, I've managed to ratchet back, get it back under control. I haven't had a drink in almost two weeks, not that I have a problem. I have also not had a cheeseburger in almost two weeks, not that I have a problem.

I'm lifting weights and swimming most mornings. My clothes are getting loose again, particularly around the middle.

I'm studying my Buddhist writings again. I may even give meditation another shot. It's been a while. That feels good to be looking in that direction again.

The dog has neither pissed or shit on me in several months.

I'm reading interesting things. I picked up a book about human sexual behavior called "Sex at dawn." It's about evolution and social theory and basically positions the idea that we're not specifically hard-wired to be a monogamous creature, but rather we're designed for a kind of limited promiscuity.

The book is interesting, but really isn't all that groundbreaking.

That all sounds great, right?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Heaven is whenever

Over the hill, I heard happy children singing through a round of "Rocky Top;" their voices part of a chorus with a handful of drunks. Every light in that house was on and in the dark it glowed like some redneck, Thomas Kincaid knock-off.

It was after midnight; Saturday night, sure, but people go to church. They get up and go to Walmart to beat the unwashed hordes as they save dimes on boxes of pasta.

Noise at this hour is indecent.

If the neighbors weren't contemplating calling the cops, the police should already be on their way. I waited a while, but none of came.

In the yard, shapes and shadows darted around as a pair played tag in the yard. From the sound of it, somebody was hoping to get caught. In the dark, away from the blinding light of the bay window, it might be a kiss might be stolen. Maybe they'd get brave and go off behind the garage for one last taste of summer romance. They could lie on the grass and hide beneath the branches of that tree in the yard.

It was Saturday night. Anything was possible.

I sat on the steps, listened to them hoot and holler like garden variety hillbillies, while I giggled quietly. The music was bad, but there was no gunfire.

It kind of reminded me of home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meditation on a fortune cookie

I take fortune cookies too seriously. There used to be a Chinese buffet next to the mall. The food was cheap and awful. About the only thing they didn't fuck up was the soup, but I used to love the fortune cookies.

Whatever company they got their cookies from had a very dark and malevolent bent. Every cookie I ever got came with a warning or a pronouncement that was vaguely threatening. One of my favorites was something like, "Life is difficult. You will have to become accustom to this."

I was very sorry when the place closed.

The other day I went out to lunch, had Chinese food and got a cookie. My fortune was "Don't pass up a once-in-a-lifetime offer." So, for the past couple of days I've been waiting for that once-in-a-lifetime offer. I'm been waiting because right now I think I need something out of the ordinary that's going to change everything, that's going to be amazing, that's going to give me a much needed dose of sunshine.

I don't think it's coming. I think those once-in-a-lifetime offers happen every day. It's the phone call you're supposed to return, the lunch date you have to break, the ticket you turn down. It's the things you don't realize are only going to come around just this once.

I'm not waiting for an offer. The offers have been coming all along. I guess today I'm thinking about what happened all the times I turned them down because I was too busy, too tired or maybe too nervous.

It's a lot.

So, my fortune, I think, isn't a peek into the future. It's another warning for today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blood: Palm reading

I've seen and experienced a lot of creepy things while bleeding at the plasma center. I've gotten used to the needles and watching the blood flow out of my arm. I've been able to be amused by the way the milkers sometimes forget you're there when they're talking to each other about their lawns, what they had for dinner and how much they don't like such-and-such because he/she is incompetent.

Let me tell. That last one will make you perk right up and try to see if they'll the name again.

The worst, even worse than listening to Rain King by the Counting Crows (seriously, don't do that) on the way to the bank or converting the cash to be used to buy cat litter is sitting, pinned to a chair with the tube snaking out of your arm and watching Matlock on television.

Imagine this is the way it's going to end for you: reclining in a bed in a utilitarian place with fluorescent lights and hooked up to a machine. You're surrounded by strangers and technicians who think of you most of the time as a job to do, a chore to complete. What a terrible way to go, utterly alone, except for the the company of the immortal Andy Fucking Griffith.

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a word from our sponsor. It's the man from U.N.C.L.E.. He wants us to sue the shit out of somebody or maybe buy gold. Neither seem too likely.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

blood: t-shirt and a beard

We talked about my shirt.

A couple of years ago, my sister gave me a Banana Republic t-shirt she didn't particularly like. It looks real good on me. I'm not really sure why exactly, whether it's the cut or the fabric, but it hugs my shoulders and chest and clings in such a way that I feel and look a little like a God.

The shirt seems to enhance or compliment the better parts of my body, makes my arms look a little bigger and the damned shirt didn't have holes in it, I'd wear it every day of my life.

I love that shirt.

She read my vitals: 127 over 78 with a pulse of 69. Not bad.

"I need to work on the cardio a bit more," I said.

"You work out?" It was almost flirting.

"Yeah, weights and an arc-trainer at South Charleston Rec." Where elderly gay men openly stare at my package, but I didn't mention that part. Instead, I posed and flexed a bicep.

She laughed.

"Do you have kids?"

I nodded. Yes, I have many kids. I have no idea why you are asking me this, but yes, I have many, many children. I am the father of nations.

She checked my blood.

"You're always in a good mood," she told me, which wasn't entirely true, but could be as far as she was concerned. "Some people don't even want me to touch them." She shook her head. "They get mad about drawing blood, start yelling."

I frowned.

"You kind of have to, right?" I tried to think of some way where no contact was possible. "And if they hate that part, with the lance thing, how are they going to feel about what goes on in back."

There was no other way to put this.

"This isn't for fun," I said. "I'm not doing it... none of us are here because we want to do this. This was not our first choice." She nodded. I was preaching to the choir. It wasn't her first choice either. "I guess you've got to wrap your head around what's being done. If you think of it as a job, it's not so bad --and better than fast food."

OK, that last thing was pure bullshit. Bleeding isn't better than a shift at McDonalds. It just sounds like it would be.

The tech smiled. My blood work checked out. She sent me on my way.

It might have been the beard, but I could have swore, by the way she looked at me, she thought I was cute.

It had to be the t-shirt.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cancer man: clown

I have a not-too-unreasonable fear of Cancer. In my life, it has killed two grandfathers, a couple of uncles, a great aunt or two and was a factor in my grandmother's death. It's also popped up in the lives of my sisters and is the odds on favorite for how I will eventually go.

Part of the reason I've continued with the Road to Recovery program with the American Cancer Society is because Cancer is waiting for me. I've seen how frail it makes people who have it. I have compassion for them because I have compassion for that future me, that shriveled man somewhere down the line who will likely face it alone.

I am man who is very aware of the reality of his surroundings.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from the circus, from Ringling Brothers. A clown, who I did a feature on, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Surgery had been performed, but they were really only able to remove part of the tumor. They're treating it as best they can, trying to keep him comfortable and in good spirits, but his hopes for a meaningful recovery sound bleak.

The treatment buys him some time.

Someone at the circus remembered the article, remembered maybe that he liked it, and wanted a copy to send him they could put on his wall. The circus was gathering things to help cheer him up and show them they cared now, especially now.

I said yes. I didn't hesitate. I didn't ask anybody what it was going to cost. I just said yes.

It took a little bit of doing. It wasn't entirely easy, but I had help shepherding it through. The glossy poster version of his front page article got done and all I had to do was write a check to pay for it --something I will do in a few minutes once I figure out where the accounting department is in this building. Our secretary, really kind of a saint, gave up her money for the postage. The poster is already in the mail.

I've thought about the clown, about why the man behind the makeup got into his chosen field. It's not an easy choice to become a circus clown. It's an outright weird choice. There are much easier and more obvious ways to become an entertainer, but he chose it, I think, because he loved the audience, because he loves children.

As a symbol, I couldn't think of anything sadder in the world: a clown dying slowly of cancer.

I think I would have said yes, even if the picture had cost a hundred bucks. As it happened, it didn't. There's not a lot of justice in the way of things, but you can get a discount now and then.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No, I didn't unfriend you.

No, I didn't un-friend you on Facebook. I didn't suddenly get annoyed with you stalking. I wasn't offended by something you wrote or by some stray comment you might have made. I just quit.

A friend at work brought up my recent departure from Facebook. For a moment, he'd thought I'd deleted him from my vast network of admirers, well-wishers and people who just dig the weird shit I say, but then realized, nobody was still my digital pal. I'd pulled the trigger on my account. Ka-pow. Gone.

It wasn't personal or maybe it was. I have like 570 or so people who I've picked up over the last year or so. Some are old fraternity brothers, a few are high school friends, one or two are people I've worked with in the last 20 years and the rest came from everywhere. Some of them are fellow bloggers I've had contact with. It's a lot of people.

I love people. I'm a guy who likes lots of friends, is into talking and hanging out, but Facebook really isn't about that. It's mostly about endlessly touching base, but never really getting far beyond that --at least, it was for me.

After my meltdown last week, I started reevaluating things and started thinking about the nature of some of my relationships. How many strictly digital friendships did I want? Looking at it that way, I felt disposable. I didn't like the way it felt --so I quit. I hung it up in favor of maybe rebuilding some real friendships, finding some new ones and being a person instead of a ten second sound byte or a video game character.

A couple of people have contacted me or spoken to me to ask me what's up and I've explained that I'm not entirely through with Facebook. As a guy who writes feature stories, I have to go where the stories are and there are stories on Facebook. But I'm taking a break from it and when I go back in a few weeks or a few months, I'm not going to be doing the same shit I was doing.

I know it's the coolest thing. I know it's supposed to be the biggest innovation in communications since movable type (seriously, I read that, I think, on Huffington Post), but it ultimately could be as bad for us as refined white flour, corn syrup or heroin --things that seemed like good ideas at the time, but have become a few of our local demons.

I am probably being overly dramatic, but I do know, it was too much. I craved the interaction, but ultimately felt lonelier and less connected because of Facebook.

I'd rather blog. I'd rather write letters, exchange e-mails or phone calls and every once in a while, meet for a cup of coffee or a cheeseburger, look across the table and just catch up.

Just a few less drive-by relationships. That's what I want.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

blood: walking

One of my most consistent complaints about going to the plasma center is I have to give up a morning at the gym to go. I'm on the Tuesday/Friday donor schedule and among the seemingly endless rules, regulations and guidelines for bleeding, they recommend you don't do any heavy lifting afterward.

Specifically, they mean yard work. That's what the nurse told me, which I thought was funny at the time --who would do that? Sell some blood; go hack down weeds.

Well, people who do yard work, as in the guy who drags the mower up and down the street looking for lawns, the guy who makes his living clipping hedges, spreading mulch and moving the dead limbs in the backyard.

More than a few of the local guys sell their plasma. Maybe, just consider, if you hire some greasy longhair to cut grass and put mulch out on your lawn, you could tip.

But me, I lamented the fact I couldn't lift weights. In fact, the nurse recommended I not even get on a treadmill for half a day after a donation for fear of it causing bruising.

Mind you, the bruising isn't really a health issue. It just makes the needle work a little more problematic. It can actually disqualify a bleeder from donating.

Anyway, today I finally got my car into the garage. It needed an inspection in August and while the local cops may not always be so hot at catching the bad guys, they are like Spider-man and the Batman rolled into one when it comes to minor traffic violations.

I've been living on borrowed time for weeks.

So I dropped the car off, grabbed my pack full of library books and hiked over to the Plasma Center. It wasn't a bad walk --about twenty minutes up, about twenty minutes back. I didn't mind it at all and it was a change of pace from slinging my limbs to and fro on the arc trainer.

Next time, I will do it without so many graphic novels, cookbooks and a boxed lunch --I also had the Bret Easton Ellis book, which I finished.

I was worried about feeling weak on the walk back, toward the library then work. Sometimes after I bleed, I feel a little out of sorts, just a little bit drained. I'm always hungry, but I planned ahead. I sucked down a Slimfast right after I left the plasma center. They recommend food and drink after donating and what better way to both than in a convenient steel can.

I chose the strawberry condom flavored slimfast. It's my favorite.

Anyway, the walk wasn't terrible and it's a good way to make better use of my time, get out a little bit and find some time to exercise. Hell, it may even save me a buck or two in gas, which is good. Repairs to my car are going to run $800.

That's a lot of blood.

It never ends.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cancer Man Returns Again

The apartment was a little slice of hell, not the kind of place where you'd want grow up, not the kind of place you'd ever want to go to die. As it happens, we seldom get those kind of choices. You're born where you're born. You die wherever. Most of the time, you're greeted by a crowd coming in. Most of the time, you leave when there's no one looking.

The door was at the end of a long stretch of stairs. A swollen and prematurely carved jack-o-lantern guarded the last step. It was already beginning to rot and the rain coming down wouldn't help.

The window next to the door had been patched over. In it's place was a restaurant sign advertising loaded nachos. The job wasn't a quick fix. It was permanent.

What kind of asshole landlord would do that?

Gina shuffled outside, all smiles and frenetic politeness. She didn't mean to call, didn't want to be a bother, but she didn't want to miss her appointment.

I apologized. I wasn't late. She was in no way behind schedule, but I'd been answering an e-mail. I wanted to make sure a friend was OK.

She got in the car and we drove. She told me about her daughter again, clarifying some of the things she'd said before. Last time, she'd been groggy. She'd taken a pain pill before we left and the drugs had knocked her on her ass. I'd thought it was just the chemo, but Gina told me she's taking quite a bit of medication.

"Me and the other daughter clashed," she said. "She was moving in with the boyfriend and I went along. He had a big house."

What the daughter had failed to mention was that she and the boyfriend expected her to watch her daughter's two kids all summer long.

"I told her not to take them out of daycare, but she did." She frowned. "I don't mind helping out, but not all the time."

On a fixed income, a disability check, and with cancer, they'd brought her in as an indentured servant.

"We clashed. Boy, we clashed. " And she left and moved in with another daughter with equally complicated, but less troublesome issues.

"She can't drive," she told me, shook her head and laughed. "Boy, she can't drive."

At the office, the nurse told us it would be two to three hours for her treatment. Gina gave me the card for her doctor and told me to call him after while. She didn't see any point to have me wait around.

I went back to work, checked in with the doctor and they called me when she was finished.

I ushered her carefully back into the car. Most of the spunk and spark Gina had going for her before the treatment was gone. She was tired and fearsome of the traffic.

"I don't want to tell you how to drive," she told me. "I'm just making suggestions."

On the way, she offered me a small can of Pepsi.

"I grabbed this," she said. "I thought you might like it."

I told her I couldn't. I'd just started another diet.

She put it away.

"I don't drink soda too much on account I had a colostomy." She laughed miserably. "I'm all eaten up." She wasn't the only one. "A girl in there, burst a bag." She looked out the window. "She should have said something. I had some spares."

In the car, I noticed the smell: the chemical smell of a funeral home, the smell of death. It was all over her and everywhere in my car. Quite suddenly, I wanted to get her home and get as far away as I could.

I kept my hands on the wheel, drove and just listened. You don't get cancer by riding in a car with a cancer patient.

"They wouldn't tell me how many treatments I had left," she said. "I asked the man and he said he was going to check, but then I took my pill and I forgot and he forgot."

"You could probably call them tomorrow," I told her.

Gina nodded. She could do that. Sure, she could.

"I saved that article," she told me and I didn't know what she was talking about. "That one you did with Judy Garland's daughter. I cut it out and kept it."

"You saved that?" I smiled. "That's..." I didn't know what to say. "It wasn't a very good article," I told her. "Not my best." I looked at her. "Thank-you. You didn't have to do that."

She didn't say anything.

We navigated backstreets and side roads to finally bring her back to her daughter's apartment.

"You can let me out right here. I appreciate you doing this. Thank-you." She skittered off toward those long steps with the sagging Jack-o-lantern at the top. She didn't want me to follow, but I waited at the curb and watched her find the door before I drove away.

I wish I could have brought her some place else.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

blood: scar tissue

"What, no hippie book today?"

"No," I said and held up a copy of "Imperial Bedrooms" by Bret Easton Ellis. "No, this isn't about starting a commune."

She smiled and had no idea whatsoever what I was reading. She just wanted to say hi. After 32 visits to the plasma center, I'm now a regular and since I bathe, don't come in drunk or high, don't appear to be fresh from a prison chain gang and don't act like I'm a good candidate for a restraining order, they're trying to make me into a character in their ongoing drama.

This is completely reasonable, since they are all characters here.

"Right or left arm?" The milker asked me.

As usual, I said, "left."

She sat me at a recliner that, unfortunately, was facing away from the big screen tv playing "Walk The Line." I haven't actually seen the film and had just caught enough of it out in the lobby to be sort of interested.

Everybody else had a great view and seemed completely enraptured, including the bleeder come to stick me, which is always a little nerve wracking.

"No commune book today?" She asked.

"No," I said and again held up what I was reading. "Just this."

The milker looked over to her co-worker.

"No commune today."

"Oh, too bad," the girl said. "We were both hoping to join."

And this, I thought, could be flirting, except it isn't. At best, they were gently mocking me, which is sort of annoying when you want to believe that attractive strangers might flirt with you. That stopped a while back. Time to move on.

Anyway, I considered explaining what the book was about, how it was a sequel to "Less Than Zero," and go into how much fun that is --not to mention the rest of Ellis's catalog, which is largely for masochists, but I wasn't up for the contempt.

If I was so damned smart, what was I doing here?

It was an argument I could not hope to win.

Meanwhile, the milker assigned to me, looked at the scar in my elbow sourly.

"This vein sucks," she said.

"I'd switch to the other arm," I told her. "But that vein is crooked and last time I tried it, that hurt --a lot."

She looked at me. Her friend and fellow commune enthusiast was interested, too.

"Who did that"

"I don't remember." Though, I did. She just wasn't visible at the moment and I don't speak ill of people who might be sticking me with needles.

"Was it a man or a woman?" She asked.

"A woman," I told her, the truth, though neither of them seemed happy to hear that. They'd both been complaining about some other milker, a guy, who neither of them trusted. I didn't catch the name and they didn't seem interested in passing along the information a second time.

"How bad is my arm?" I asked.

She shook her head, frowned.

"It's got a bunch of knots and lumps from the scar tissue. The vein is hard."

I nodded. This will only get worse.

"Will this become too difficult to get a needle into?" I asked. "Is this going to eventually stop me from donating?"

She shook her head.


But she seemed to be saying it was going to make it more likely that getting stuck would hurt.

It doesn't matter. I'm good at that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reckoning II

I've been working on another book for a while --a familiar book, about snake handlers, evil preachers and secret doings in pleasant Lee County. Things were going great and now they are definitely not.

I'm putting that one in a drawer --maybe for a while, maybe forever. I don't know. The drive to finish the book is gone. I just don't want to look at it any more. I can't look at it right now, for sure.

In the meantime, I'm not sure what to do. Probably, the right thing is to pick up the other book, my long suffering, happy-happy book about a suicide that goes wrong and dig back into that. Silliness and mayhem might be just what I need --and I have a new take on it.

Emotional upheaval turns out to be very useful creatively. It would be great if something decent came out of all of this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I took calls from or called five people yesterday. I talked to three singers, an artist and a close friend who called to tell me she'd had enough and was on her way to Texas. She called me from the road.

Five minutes before I spoke to her, I was talking to a Christian rock n' roller and sometime preacher. We were discussing how God speaks to people. I am fascinated by religious conversations, particularly with people outside of the pulpit. We were discussing signs.

I was having a little fun with him, asking about why it is I keep finding pennies and nickels all over the place --I really do: at gas stations, in parking lots, in the parking garage, on the floor of grocery stores. Maybe I'm just observant or maybe I just spend too much time looking at my feet, thinking.

It could also be people are really clumsy. Whatever. I've noticed the change lying around and thought this would be a great opportunity to talk about the spare change.

One thing he said is that the bible tells you not to look for signs. Basically, God will let you know when he wants you to know. Pay attention to the message that's there. Don't go looking for the secret code. There may not be one.

"So, maybe God is telling me to save up for a candy bar," I suggested and he laughed. "Maybe he wants me to be wealthy, but doesn't figure I can handle large bills."

We had a good time with it. He told me to just think on it. The message would reveal itself. I did not reveal I'm not a Christian and follow Buddhist philosophy (well, mostly). I didn't want to poison the conversation and it might have. It was friendly. I liked that.

When my friend called me, she told me she was in Tennessee, en route, in her truck with her dog, and I didn't know what to say. She asked me what I was doing today and I told her I was telling someone very important to me good-bye.

Her reasons are good ones. Charleston isn't home. Texas is. Her family and friends are there. Her culture is there. There's a lot of baggage in both places, but she thinks she can bear it there better than here.

She'd always told me she was going back. I just didn't think it would be so soon.

We hung up awkwardly. I told her not to get any of those pecan logs they sell at Truck stops. When you've got nothing but heartache, go for a laugh. I needed a laugh and figured if I could get one out of her, it would be OK. She did and it will be OK --just not immediately.

It was hard putting the phone down, but I couldn't help thinking about what the Christian rock guy was saying.

The thing is, I've been finding lots of change, change all over the place.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blood: Field Trip

An old woman and her mother made their way to the entrance and I slipped ahead and grabbed the door. The older woman moved slowly and with great effort, while her daughter waddled behind her. They took seats in the second row facing the counter and watched Charmed on the big screen television on wall as I did the Tuesday morning Q&A with the computer.

No, I have not injected anything into my veins. I have not had sex with a transvestite, been locked up in the regional jail or visited Cameroon in the past few days. Thanks for asking. How is your mother, the toaster?

The women were still there when the computer said someone would be with me shortly. I grabbed a seat and waited.

"So, how long does this take?" The old woman asked and for a brief second, I thought, fuck. Has it really come to this? Has it gotten that bad?

"I hear it can take six hours," she said nervously and I shook my head.

"It's usually about an hour," I said and wondered if both of them were going. There are no age requirements to do this, but hell, you'd think at 80, they might just give them 20 bucks and send them home with a juice box and their blood still in their veins.

"Sometimes it takes a little longer," I acknowledged. "On your first time in, they'll want to do a physical and that adds some time. It could take you two hours, I guess, but usually I'm out of here in about an hour."

"How much does it pay?"

I shrugged. Not great.

"Twenty bucks on the first one of the week. Thirty on the second."

She frowned. Her mother was staring at the semi-naked actresses portraying unemployed witches on the television. I wished her luck in discovering the plot.

"That's not much money," the old woman told me. "That's barely enough to go out to eat with, not enough for two, even if you order the cheapest thing on the menu."

But enough to get by, I wanted to remind her. I use my money to buy groceries, usually. Occasionally, it's gone to put gas in my or my wife's car. It paid for her to get a haircut and a couple of times for cat food and cat litter, which is incredibly depressing.

This isn't fun. I don't love this, but it's 200 bucks a month, which helps a lot.

"It could be more," I told her. "None of us would complain."

She sighed.

"Well, I'm not doing it. I'm just waiting on someone --not that I have anything against it." The nervous laugh was like nails on a chalkboard. "I would, you know, if not for my medical problems."

I'd never been so glad to have one of the techs call my name.