Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blood: Details, details, details

She was an older woman with a thick mane of gray hair and yes, she'd been here before. The greeter at the counter was talking to her like she was an old friend.

"You said you'd be back."

"And I am," the woman replied cheerily.

She handed over a folded piece of paper, some sort of document. The greeter's brown furrowed as she looked it over.

"We can't take this."

"It's a bank statement," the woman said and the greeter nodded. "You said you needed more identification, like a utility bill or something."

"But this isn't a utility bill," the greeter told her. "We need proof of where you live."

"But I don't get a utility bill," she said and named a motel where she'd been staying for the past seven months.

The greeter shook her head. Apparently, it wasn't a nice motel, not that it mattered.

"We can't take anyone from group living facilities," she said. "Jails, homeless shelters, motels..."
Flop houses. "Anywhere that is prone to disease transmission."

The gray-haired woman grew angry.

"What kind of diseases?"

The greeter sighed.

"HIV, Hepatitis... anything transmitted through fluids."

It was terribly depressing, but explains something I'd noticed at Manna Meal.

There is very little crossover. I see very few of the same people at both places --so far, just one guy --and I'd wondered about that. I figured, if you were homeless, forty-five bucks a week would tend to come in handy. It wouldn't be enough to get you off the streets, but it would be enough to soften the ground a little --one way or another.

They called my name and took me to the back while the old woman pleaded and tried to find a way for them accept her. I thought the woman was going to cry. She was even too poor to sell her blood, not until she got an apartment or a trailer or someplace where she could afford to pay a light bill.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Food Court: Dieting

I've been working out at the gym for well over a year. I'm in fair shape --still a bit too heavy, but thanks to the regular health scans at the plasma center, I know my blood pressure is very good -- slightly less than 120 over 80. My pulse resting is 70 and the stuff in my blood is just fine -lots of iron, lots of protein.

I lift pretty close to the range of some of the more experienced muscle-heads, I show up, follow a routine, take notes and seem pretty serious about it, but the results around my midsection are slow moving, indeed --and I guess, a few people are paying attention.

"What kind of diet are you on?" The muscle-head asked.

"Um, not really much of any diet," I said. "I'm trying to watch my carbs, but that's been harder lately."

Harder, because I've been taking lunch at a soup kitchen and carbs figure prominently in the meals, even if I turn down the bread and the sweets, which I do most of the time.

He nodded. He had not come to judge, merely to offer some advice.

"You need to cut out the carbs and stick almost entirely to lean proteins." He looked me over in a way that wasn't the same as when the old gay guy does. "You do that and you'll lose around the middle."

I listened to him, but I think it's more complicated than following a diet. I've had issues with food since I was a teenager and developed new ones as an adult. Going to the soup kitchen, for however long, may actually be more helpful than I thought.

As crazy and as shallow as it seems, when you eat as poorly as I have been eating (and really, I think, I've been in denial about that) and are presented with something other than the same thing you've been eating twice a day for months on end you might overreact. This might be why I tend to binge whenever alternatives are offered. Hence, why my weight hasn't changed in months --since things got really hard toward the end of winter.

Something I've noticed in the last two weeks since I stopped bringing my lunch and started mostly eating at the church, I'm not binging in the evenings --even if all I'm eating is beans. I'm not panicking about being hungry. I'm not rifling through the cabinets looking for anything, even things I hate because they're different than what I'm subsisting on. I'm not racing to beat the dog to my kids' scraps or looking for ridiculous ways to make what I eat taste different (ever try blue cheese dressing on beans? How about maple syrup?).

No, mostly, it's all very much in control. I feel more in control.

So, I told the guy I'd look into it. Eventually.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Going Far Standing Still

I decided I didn't want the job and very gently, very politely gave my regrets with a respectful bow. Yes, the job might have represented a pay increase and benefits and the opportunity to take a vacation rather than burn it working at a second job, but I'm not ready to go back to working for the state as anything other than an a contract player who mostly just sits on his ass, listens to Mountain Stage, and works on his book while occasionally searching the internet to see if there are such things as lesbian dolphins, communist salamanders or clockwork bats.

As long as I've been breathing, all jobs are just preoccupations, things to do while I'm busy making other plans. I'm a writer. That's what I do and I think I still have a lot more to learn doing what I'm doing now rather than going ahead and doing something else.

Eventually, what I do here will pass and I will become a bartender, a truck driver, a professional werewolf or one or two of a million other possible things, but not yet. I'll always be a writer and for the time being, I'll also be doing that for the local paper.

It's a choice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Food Court: Picky Eater

The line moves quickly and in some ways, it's like being in junior high all over again. You hold up your tray and the folks on the other side scoop and dump something from the pot or pan in front of them. You have to tell them "no, I do not want that strange cucumber dish covered in what appears to be white wash." Otherwise, you'll get a spoon of it and will have to wonder what it is you're sort of obliged to eat.

Of course, not everybody feels like I do. I think most do. I think a lot of the people who come to Manna meal are very aware of where they are. Some people get the food, pick at it, but never try it. If they like it, great. If they don't, it goes in the trash and they step back in line for seconds --like this is a Ryan's. But this is not Ryan's. It's not a buffet. It's not even your Mama's house for Sunday brunch. It's charity in a church meeting room.

I take whatever they give me, though I speak up if it's something I don't like: no cucumbers in white stuff, no egg salad -not even at gunpoint, and I don't eat bread or much dessert. I will on days when I sell blood because I need the extra calories.

I don't want to take anything somebody else might want and if I end up taking something I can't stand, I'll get it down. Today, it was yellow squash, cleverly hidden in some kind of egg-cream casserole.

I hate yellow squash.

When I was a kid, my father cultivated this really remarkable garden. We ate from it all summer long and well into the fall. In my mother's basement, there are still jars my mother canned from when I was eleven and twelve, but not everything was to my liking. I remember forcing my way through plates of steamed vegetables, which invariably contained yellow squash. We always had plenty and I hated the smell. I hated the texture and there was never enough salt and pepper to cover the taste or enough milk to wash it down.

I ate it. Funny. It wasn't that bad. I still hate it on principle.

A few of the volunteers and staff are starting to recognize me. When I come through the line, I'm a little picky. My choices are odd and they notice. I'll take the collard greens and the eggplant, but will shake my head when they offer a cookie or rice pudding.

"Maybe a muffin?" I say and the lady laughs. She lifts the pan of cookies and hands me one of the muffins wrapped in plastic underneath.

"You're a pain the ass, you know?" She doesn't mean it.

I nod and smile. I think I am.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blood: Veteran

The lobby of the plasma center was full --a lot of new faces. I've been seeing a lot more new faces lately, people coming in to give bleeding for cash a try. A lot of them, I think, just do it the one time, take the money, realize it's a pretty creepy way to make twenty bucks then go do something else less creepy --like stealing things, giving blow jobs to strangers or stealing things.

A young, black woman came dressed like this was a job interview. She was pretty. Her hair was neatly styled. She wore lipstick and seemed completely out of place among the crop of meth addicts scattered around the room, all of whom looked in need of a sandwich --probably a sandwich made with very soft bread.

Jesus, what kind of drug is so good that you'd let it do that to your mouth? Obviously, a drug I have not sampled.

I sat next to the young, eager woman. She looked over at me.

"Do I need to use one of those computers?" She asked.

I smiled.

"This your first time?"

She nodded.

"Did you sign up at the desk?"

She nodded.

"You don't have to use the computer until you're in the system," I explained. "It's part of the routine, how you sign in."

She managed a nervous smile.

"You're doing exactly what you're supposed to," I told her. "Don't worry. You're fine."

And eventually, they got around to calling her back to ask her a load of personal questions and submit to a pseudo-physical involving going topless and taking off her shoes. At least, that's what they had me do.

With all the people coming through, it was slow going. It took twice as long to get a chair in the back and get hooked up to a machine, though I did my part and tried to bleed as quickly as possible.

At least, I got another entry into the raffle for a Wal-mart gift card. I'm crossing my fingers.

Monday, July 26, 2010


So, I have a job interview later this week. I applied for the thing ages ago, but got word about it over the weekend. It's still a kind of writing gig --though it's closer in some respects to what I did as continuity director at the radio station in Bluefield. There would be benefits worth a piss and potentially a pay increase bordering on vast.

My odds of getting this are probably about one in five and judging by the way this is moving now, they probably want somebody in place before the start of the next quarter.

This would alter pretty much everything. I guess I have a lot to think about.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blood: Lucky 13

"I guess I'll be back a lot now." She smiled and tried to sound cheery. "I'm broke."

The probably former metal head turned milker nodded, but completely missed what she was saying.

"Well, you've only been gone a month," he said. "It shouldn't take you any longer to get out of here."

"No," she said. "I didn't come in for a month. I tried not coming in, but there just wasn't any money."

He nodded. He understood.

"Well, you picked a good time to come back. There are new rates and after your 5th visit, you get an extra ten bucks."

She nodded. Sure, the rates had been increased and would be based on body weight. The little scrawny types weren't getting anything and in fact, might be losing a few bucks. Those of us over 175 pounds stood to collect an extra 20 bucks a week, which certainly helps a little.

"Yeah, that's great..."

"I wish I could donate," the milker said and I'd wondered about that. "But they won't let us. I'd do it on my lunch break -twice a week, then go back to work."

He said that, but I had a hard time believing it. So, I think, did the girl.

The whole scene reminded me how I told one of the tech's upfront (not technically a milker since they don't actually do the blood work) about how this wasn't a career move for me. She looked at me with dead eyes and said, "I hear you," but I don't think she believed it.

One of these days this will be over. Hopefully, I'll be out in about a year (or roughly 100 donations), but right now I'm only at 13.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Food Court: Beef Stew

I'm still getting the hang of the place and trying to fit in. Today, I think I chose poorly with my wardrobe. I wore my Captain America t-shirt, which looks really good on me, but got nothing but stares at Manna Meal.

I looked a little out of place, I guess.

So far, I've seen about everything from a couple of guys showing up in collared shirts and ties (of course the shirt was fuchsia and the tie plum-colored and was a little like out of the Prince "Purple Rain" collection) to overalls, camouflage, and a whole host of t-shirts and jeans.

A guy with a red, white and blue shield on his chest might have seemed weird. Plus, I'm new, look healthy, have no tattoos or piercings and don't have any obvious mental issues. My clothes are clean and I'm not black.

A couple of the staffers have noticed me coming around. They don't know what to make of me. The young, red-haired woman who seems to be acting as some kind of hostess, I think, is working up the nerve to come talk to me, to figure out what my deal is.

I haven't figured out what to tell her except I'm hungry and broke and if I eat lunch here, I can conserve what little resources I have elsewhere. Maybe eventually I can catch up on the utilities, the rent and everything else.

I'm just trying to get by.

Today, I shared a table with an ex-con. I knew him by how he ate, hunched over his food, almost hugging his tray. The times when I've broken bread with people who've done time, particularly a bunch of time, some of them have a habit of guarding their food. We didn't talk. He just kept looking at me with seething hostility. Any second, I expected a low growl to leave his throat.

I'm seeing some familiar faces --regulars. The grubby couple I saw warming up for a nooner in the back, some of the old people and a guy who gets by with a cane, though painfully. He and I seem to hit the door at about the same time.

I'm also seeing people from the outside world --a couple of shoplifters I recognize from Books-A-Million, including the famous one-armed bandit, a wheelchair bound man with only one arm who stole, among other things, a porno mag. He seemed to be doing well, though he was talking about running afoul of some woman's boyfriend who did not appreciate his attention to her.

Today's meal included beef stew, which was a lot of potatoes and carrots, a little beef and a thick broth, as well as a salad. The salad was mixed greens, lots of vegetables and a none of the animal semen dressing from the previous couple of days. Today, it was some sort of vinaigrette.

I didn't take the sweets. There were slices of pie (including what looked like coconut --a personal favorite) and some sweet rolls from the last couple of days. The pie looked pretty good, but I didn't take any. I would have liked to, but I guess I didn't feel like I deserved it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food Court: BBQ

Today there was meat. It was gloriously seasoned, completely unidentifiable, tomato-ey barbecue --probably pork, but maybe a mix of beef and pork or pork and raccoon for all I know.

After the past couple of days, I thought, well, lunch is going to be vegetarian --not Vegan-- just vegetarian and that seemed OK. As much as I try, I don't get enough vegetables --other than beans. I get a lot of beans, primarily pintos which are cheap and eat because everybody else in the house will typically eat them.

Not so much on northern, cranberry or black beans, which I like, but pretty much everybody else hates or gets tired of pretty fast.

And mostly, when I have meat these days, I have it in small amounts. It's a little bit of sausage or hamburger that goes in with the beans. Every now and again, I'll get something to use in a stew.

It was good to have the barbecue, whatever it was made of (pork and possum? pork and dog?).

Today, I sat with a few people. Nervously, I asked if it would be all right if I took a chair. They shrugged and nodded. I grabbed a seat and the man across from me looked up, smiled and said, "Oh, wait. A prayer."

He bowed his head, closed his eyes and said grace. I wasn't sure if he was saying a blessing over my food as well, but I went along until I realized I had no idea who I was praying to. Still, I took it that he meant to bless my food. I appreciated it.

The other man at the table never stopped chewing.

We didn't talk. I wasn't sure what to say. We might have talked about the barbecue or discussed the lack of ice in our little glasses or anything, but conversation just didn't ignite. Instead, we piled through our food very businesslike and I watched the crowd. Heated discussions were being held at the the next table about the government --mostly what to do if U.S. soldiers came kicking through the door during the end-times, right before Jesus shows up with his flaming sword or his cosmic fishing pole or whatever.

They agreed they would meet violence with violence because probably that's what the Lord would do.

At another table, they were talking about work or getting work and I noticed a fair number of people prayed before their meals. There is gratitude in a place like Manna Meal, but of course, the barbecue was pretty good. I almost went back for seconds, but I had the potatoes, too.

Leaving and crossing the corner, a young guy tried to hit me up for a dollar. He sang and rapped at me about how my life would improve if I gave him a dollar. I smiled and wished him luck. He and his friends left me in peace, though probably a little disappointed. I like money, too.

They walked a few feet, turned and took my place inside the church.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Food Court: Cabbage

Today, it was cooked cabbage, salad, stewed tomatoes (I think), some sort of cucumbers drenched in white dressing and sweet rolls.

I went through the line and felt like an asshole when I turned down the tomatoes, the cucumbers and the sweet roll. I also didn't take the bread.

The lady looked at me and seemed concerned I wasn't taking something from every serving tray. I just shook my head, thanked her then took my seat.

The salad was much better today, though again, I don't know what the dressing is. It still looks like the first prize in a circle jerk, but the cabbage was very decent. It tasted buttery and there were caraway seeds, which was pretty good.

I went back for seconds and stuttering, told the server, "The cabbage is very good."

She smiled. I fit in real well here. She gave me a heaping second scoop.

There were a lot of familiar faces and some new. I saw two tables of families with both parents and kids. These were complete families with two parents and a couple of kids. They broke bread together. The kids laughed, but the men with them scarcely looked up. I could imagine how hard it might have been for them to bring them.

In back, a grungy couple made out between the courses, while the people around them continued to eat. A few people watched, but as they went on and on with the tongue to tongue tango, most of us got bored.

I still sat alone. I think I need to get used to the water before I can really swim. Right now, it still feels weird to be coming here --not that it necessarily matters. I need to do this.

Blood: Michael Jackson

The music at the plasma center ranges from heavy metal ballads to whatever the local top 40 morning show is doing to the soulful sounds of the Jackson family. Somebody brought in a mix CD and it was Michael, Janet, a little more Janet, still a little more Janet and finally more Michael. A lot of it was the vintage stuff, back when Michael was both alive and only considered a possible homosexual and Janet wasn't showing the goods on television.

The music was pumping and on the other end of the row, a middle-aged black man was holding court, explaining and apologizing for the foibles and personal failings of some of the entertainment glitterati of the African-American community. By his opinion, Tiger Woods should not be condemned for banging however many girls he banged, but celebrated for his alpha-maleness. We'd all be doing it if we could.

"It ain't entirely a man's fault when he sleeps around," he explained. "Women talk to each other and if one of them is getting it good, the others want to know how long and how much and how often."

How this applied to the Tiger Woods story, I wasn't entirely clear on.

"They talk to each other," he said. "And if one of them is getting it good, maybe they decide they want to go check it out for themselves."

Others disagreed with his take on the subject, specifically my next door neighbor, June --June, who lives in the house next door to mine. June's husband, a mechanic and preacher, has been out on medical leave since December. From what he tells me, he can't go back.

"I just can't lay on a rack any more," he said.

Nice people. June works in retail someplace and during the power outage last winter, sent over a tray of cookies and candies. They're good to my daughter and June's husband often shares jellybeans with her in the afternoons on her way back from walking the dog, while he's preparing his Sunday sermon.

Anyway, money is tight all around.

June was giving him hell, telling he wasn't making any sense and that Woods's behavior was reprehensible. Somehow, she thought this had something to do with his weak faith.

"You have to have your spiritual life in order and everything else falls into place."

June is, obviously, a Christian --probably, anyway, if her husband is a preacher. Woods is a Buddhist and I didn't want to point out that despite a heavy divorce settlement, Woods is still a millionaire, could return to near billionaire status in a few years while she and I are selling plasma at 20 bucks a pop. He may not have his spiritual life together, but that's hardly the problem.

The problem, it seems to me, is he likes to fuck. He likes to fuck a lot. In fact, I'd venture to say he probably likes it more than playing golf or being in commercials. It is his favorite thing in the world.

Anyway, they went back and forth for a couple of minutes before she left. June walked right past me, but didn't see me. I know because she pointedly tried not to see me. I returned the favor. It seemed easier, though I'm not really hiding any of this except vaguely to some of the people at work who might feel uncomfortable (i.e. the people who pay me). Some of my co-workers know (because I know you read this).

Of course, I'm not bragging about it exactly. I'm not ashamed of selling blood (mostly). It's gotta get done because I need the money and plus, I'm sort of having a good time --other than when I'm horribly creeped out or crushed by despair.

June left and the middle-aged black guy eventually hit the road, but not before moonwalking past a couple of the milkers to show off.

"Why did he have to do that?" One asked. "Why did he have to come back down here just to do that?"

"Fucking perverts," another said.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Food court: Naked lunch

A small but noisy bunch clustered on the sidewalk outside the church. They ranged in age from around 50 to about 20. A small, black man with a slight build ushered out a toddler dressed in pink, passing a group of gangly meth-heads wearing wife beaters and jeans slung low on their ass.

I almost didn't go in, but then I saw the man with the bicycle helmet from yesterday pumping forward full of purpose. He didn't seem to recognize me, and like Alice following the white rabbit, I trailed him through the side door into Manna Meal at St. John's.

He was gone by the time I got in the hallway, but I followed the low rumble of chatter, watched carefully and got in line. Today, they were serving mixed bean soup, some dodgy looking cornbread, a salad and a thick, crusty blueberry cobbler that was more bread than berry.

Since, I'm watching my carbs, I stuck with the soup and the salad. The soup was good, but could have used a little salt. The greens of the salad were wilted and crushed. The whole thing was marinated in an indeterminate dressing the color and consistency of semen.

It tasted like vegetable oil and maybe a little sugar.

The place was about half-full. Friends and passing acquaintances gathered together. Some of them were dirty, possibly homeless. Others were old and several of them work in town. I recognized them, if only by sight.

I sat alone with a knot the size of my fist in my stomach, ate my beans and watched. Across the way, a woman I knew from my earlier days in Charleston, back when my night job included talking the mentally challenged into taking credit cards sponsored by the KISS Army. She was still in college, struggling with her parents who could no longer afford to send her to the college of her choice and groaning under the weight of a love affair she no longer really wanted.

I remember her well. She was the last person who ever had a crush on me before I was married again. I have no idea what the attraction was, but she sat next to me when we took calls and followed me out into the dark to watch me smoke when they gave us a break. Mostly, she did the talking. I was exhausted and hated the job. It was all I could do to not run screaming.

The weekend before I got married the shift boss announced my impending wedding. She looked at me once, took her headset off then walked away.

I've seen her around here and there. She got married, I knew, graduated, I suppose and got a real job, but some time had passed. I don't think she remembers me anymore, which makes the whole experience of the time very strange. At times, I even doubt it, except of course, it happened.

She was sitting at a table across the room, chatting with a couple of the diners. She had a cup of coffee in front of her, in a mug, and not a small glass of ice water --pretty clearly, a volunteer or employee and not one of the "clients."

She looked over at me and for the first time in seven years, I think she recognized me. It was an awful, awful feeling.

I finished my beans, picked through the salad and took my tray back.

This was my first day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Radio Trasmission

He looked about 60, had a long, stringy beard and active, intense blue eyes. He was also wearing a new bicycle helmet over a ball cap and had on a winter coat open over denim overalls. A collection of ballpoint pens neatly lined his pockets.

"Hey, you been to San Diego?"

This was what my shirt said. A friend gave it to me after she came back from vacation. I never go anywhere. People feel sorry about it or else they get tired of me bitching about it.

"No," I told him.

"You ever been to Los Angeles?"


"You ever been to Hollywood?"

No and it apparently didn't matter. The old man quickly explained that LA was dirty, but Hollywood was very clean. You could eat out of the dumpsters the food was so clean and you never saw cigarette butts on the sidewalk.

"They get those up," he said.

"I've been to Miami, Florida," he told me. "That's great. It's pretty."

Abruptly, he noticed a car on the street then lowered his voice.

"You've got to be careful here," he said. "On this street. People will rob you."

I tried to tell him, I'd heard it could get dangerous, sometimes, after dark.

"See, that car over there. They shouldn't be in that lane. They should turn in the other lane and give themselves more room in case, you know?"

I didn't.

"But Charleston is good." And for a few moments he talked about cable cars and how everything had changed since the 1950s.

I was having fun, but I really needed to get going: get back to work.

"You've got a job?" He asked."Where at?"

"The newspaper," I told him.

He nodded, then pointed up Capital Street. "Up there, you've got Quarrier Street. You make a left and there's a church down that way, St. John's. It's got red doors out front. You take the door from the parking lot. They serve breakfast at 8 a.m. and lunch at 12 o'clock."

He repeated the information to me, slightly louder to make sure I got it, then he directed me to look the other way.

"That way is Covenant House. They can help you get your laundry done, get you a waiver for clothes if you need them, even help you get an apartment."

He stopped talking and just looked at me.

"Well," I said. "I'll see you around."

He nodded and went on his way.

Blood: dragonflies

I'd spoken to the girl with the dragonfly tattoos before, but it had been a couple of weeks since she ran my screening --this is where they take a blood sample, measure your iron and your blood proteins, check your blood pressure and weight. It's pretty dull stuff for them, assembly line production, but they'll talk about most anything.

The girl with the dragonfly tattoos has a lot of tattoos. Dragonflies are lucky for her. They have a deep personal meaning. She says sees them everywhere.

"How long have you had your tattoos?" I asked as she took a small amount of blood from my finger.

"About a year," she said. "But I just got them touched up." She frowned. "I'm getting another one --a dagger over my heart."

"Um, why?"

And she told me. She and her longtime boyfriend had split up. They'd been together in high school, but split up at the end. She'd married another man, got pregnant, split up with the guy and the boyfriend re-entered the picture right after the child was born.

"That's what really hurts," she said. "He's been like my son's dad and now he's not..."

She started to tear up, which is a difficult to thing to see when you're in a blood pressure cuff.

"I'm very sorry," I told her. "I hate that this is happening to you. When did this all happen?"

She said flatly, "Two days ago."

"Jeez..." I shook my head. "I'm sorry, but are you sure you want to go get a tattoo right now? I mean, maybe you should get some shoes, go out dancing or something? Maybe you shouldn't do something so permanent."

"Why not?"

"Well, what if you meet somebody?" And I thought, What if you and the dude get back together?

"I always want to remember how much this hurts," she said.

She took my numbers then told me I could go on back to bleed.

"You have a good weekend, honey."

"I hope things get better for you," I told her. "I'm really sorry."

"Thanks," she said.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Seeing Paisley

I get some ribbing every now and again about how I get bent out of shape when major recording artists (and actresses) can't seem to make time for my silly questions. I get annoyed when the rock star comes to town to collect his paycheck for the concert, but can't make ten minutes for the people living nearby who may have bought the t-shirt, the ball cap and the CDs, but maybe can't make it to the show.

It bothers me most, I think, when the star is from the area.

Really, I've tried to work on this. It's something I try to get over, but I always come back to this one thing I really believe in: You never stop paying dues.

To me, part of those dues, if you're a famous performer, is talking to the folks back home when you happen to have a gig in the neighborhood --not when you're home to see your folks, not when you're on vacation (though if you want to, great), but when you're coming to collect a check.

By my way of looking at things, Mr. Paisley, who is headlining at the PGA event concert at the recently re-razzle-dazzled Greenbrier, is overdue by a couple of years.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blood: Kevin Bacon

"You," the blond technician (milker) said. "If you're going to sleep, we'll just send you home now with five bucks."

The dozing kid with the shaved head opened his eyes slowly, blinked and nodded in her general direction. His facial expression was slack and he moved as if drugged, but I couldn't say what he might have been on.

He woke up just enough to satisfy the blond milker for the moment then he seemed to quietly drift back under. Nobody said anything to him again. He was still asleep when he filled his bottle.

It was a busy morning. There were a couple of rows of clients (bleeders) and a couple of the milkers were buzzing around like June bugs. A Kevin Bacon movie was playing on one of the plasma screen televisions hanging on the wall and the blond milker was entirely engrossed. She didn't know the name of it.

"I want to rent this one," she said.

It wasn't one of the old, happy-go-lucky Kevin Bacon movies. There was no dancing, no riding around on a bicycle, no fighting giant sand worms. It was a more recent, darker, vengeful Kevin Bacon movie where he's trying to kill drug lords, criminals or maybe just black people wearing sunglasses.

It wasn't entirely clear and the sound was turned down low. I couldn't make out what the hell was going on except Kevin wanted to kill people.

The blond milker watched and went from station to station, plugging the bleeders into the machines.

"Oh shit," I thought. "She's going to stick me."

Generally speaking, I like to bleed fast and get it over with, but I prefer for the milkers to take their time with setting up to draw the blood. I got hurt a few weeks ago after one of them jammed the needle into my arm without apparently giving a shit.

Sure enough, she rushed. She put the cuff around my arm, but didn't ask me to make a fist, didn't really even look at the veins in my arm. Instead she found the puckered, pink scar that appears to be forming in the soft flesh of my inner elbow (my permanent memento), looked down quickly and pushed the needle through.

She barely missed any of the exciting drama taking place just a few feet away on the flat screen.

It hurt, but the stick was clean. The tube started to fill and the machine did its work.

Meanwhile, across from me, Micky was having trouble. His stick hadn't been so clean. It was going slowly. He complained and eventually someone came over and adjusted his needle while Kevin Bacon met some man and told him he wanted to buy some guns.

Finally, I finished and Jo, the young milker who rescued me the one time the needle had been stuck incorrectly, looked over and said, "I'll get you loose in just a second."

She finished unplugging another bleeder then did the same to me, shaking her head.

"It's like I'm the only one working over here today."

Evidently, she's not a Kevin Bacon fan.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blood: Tuesdays and Saturdays

I'm going to visit my mom this weekend. Among the many wonderful features of being consistently underfunded (broke) is that when your mother lives two hours away down a toll road, you don't go and see her nearly as much as you like. It makes it even harder when you work seven days a week.

As luck would have it, I ended up with today (Friday) off and had an elaborate plan to make the trip to Virginia. All I had to do was do my second donation (bleed) for the week, take the 26 bucks and it was almost enough to make the trip down. I figured if I juggled a couple of things next week, I could squeeze the rest out with my first donation (bleed) next week.

For those of you just joining or those who need a reminder, when you donate (sell) plasma you get paid based on the number of times you've donated in a given week. You are allowed to donate twice per week. The first time, you get twenty-one bucks (thanks to their new cash checking fee payment policy). The second time, they throw in an extra five dollars.

It's an incentive to bring you back at the end of the week --though, not much of incentive.

The rules state you can not donate more than once in a 48 hour period. You also can't cheat and go donate somewhere else then come back and donate again. Twice a week is a hard rule. You can show up higher than a kite. You can forget to bathe. You can even show up looking like you've just had your ass kicked, but you can only show up twice.

Until this morning, I didn't realize the schedule I have to observe is set in stone.

I checked in and for once the computer read my fingerprint on the first try, but then it rejected me and informed me that I needed to speak to one of the staff.

An elfin supervisor with a pierced tongue said, "I'm sorry. You can't donate early. You can donate late, but you can't donate early."

I tried to piece it together. Basically, if I wanted I could come in on Wednesday then Saturday or Thursday then Saturday, but never Tuesday and Friday, which makes no real sense.

"You can come back tomorrow."

"I was planning to go out of town," I told her. "To Virginia."

"Oh, the beach?" She brightened up.

Looking at her like she was a complete idiot, which she was, I said, "No, it was gas money to go see my mom. I haven't seen her in six months."

"Oh," she said. It hardly fucking mattered. This was not her problem. Her problem, judging by the number of employees clustered around her and watching us, was to make sure I didn't flip out in the waiting room.

I haven't seen anyone do that yet. Apparently, it is a possibility --something to look forward to.

She smiled and told me again, "Well, you can't donate early. You can only donate late."

I shrugged. Whatever. Another rule to remember. I turned and walked out.

"See you next week."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blood: Call and Response

So, this low-rent, life on the skids thing has been a lot of fun for me to write about. The experience of going to the plasma center isn't always a lot of fun. Quite frankly, it is what I say it is: degrading --but I think I'm getting more than a check out of it, though I really appreciating having gas money or groceries or... well, that's mostly it.

I'm getting to know my city better --and maybe getting to know the people I probably identify with to some degree. I'm a colossal fuck-up --or to put it optimistically, a recovering fuck-up. I've made not necessarily bad, but certainly ill-timed and poorly thought-out choices over the course of my life.

And I am, largely, bearing the repercussions for those actions.

I think there are a lot of people there like that --folks who had children too young or married the wrong people or didn't pay attention in math class like they should have. Maybe they partied too hard when they were 19 or 22 or 25 ( I did that, too) and are burning that off. Maybe they were bad with money (again, me) or simply put their trust in idiots or criminals. Some of them are people without safety nets, who don't have families or who came from dire circumstances. Others didn't figure out about showing up to work on time until far too late.

Anyway, I know these people. I'm one of them. I'm thinking I should expand on the project, maybe go check out the soup kitchens and break bread among them. I'm learning stuff, I think, not just about those people, but myself. I need to learn more and besides... they probably have something to eat besides beans.

Check in with your opinion. I really want to know.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blood: A wookie story

A lot of people recognize me. To some of them, I remind them of someone else. I have a pretty common face with brown eyes, brown hair and a very average complexion. My voice is sort of generic, too, and apparently, everybody knows a generally well-meaning, occasionally funny asshole.

Other people, they know me from my bookstore days or when I served coffee. Most of the time, I was never anyone they paid attention to, but I put in a lot of hours. I was a fixture, particularly on week nights, weekends and holidays. Even when they don't remember where they know from, I typically do.

And of course, some of the time, I remember people I only met once. They made an impression.

The woman was in her mid-to-late 30s. She came into the bookstore during my first year of slinging books. She seemed rattled and was trying to ask for help without saying what it was she needed.

"Do you have any books for gays and lesbians?"

Sure. No problem. I led her over toward the literature section. It was on one end of the aisle, closer to the center of the store, where most of the traffic came through. I stood with her for a second, in case she was looking for something specific -standard procedure and it save me from having to make another trip.

She looked through the titles, while furtively scanning over her shoulder. Nobody was watching. Most of it was garden variety "literary" porn and not much different than the mass market romance novels a few aisles over --only with a lot more oral sex and some occasional fisting.

Her brow furrowed. She looked at me and started to tear up.

"No, do you have anything about coming out to your family?"

I nodded. Yep. Self-help. I took her there and somehow, out of that mess that was the self-help, human sexuality and random, esoteric new age bullshit aisle, managed to locate two different books on the subject. One of them had pictures.

"Thanks," she said.

"Good luck," I told her and tried to look encouraging.

I never saw her again until I donated (bled) this morning. She was seated across from me and she kept looking at me like she couldn't quite place me. I wasn't sure it was her at first. Her hair was well-styled, but it had grayed considerably. I thought it could be anybody, but then I saw the rainbow bracelet on her wrist.

I don't know how it all worked out for her, telling her family, probably coming clean with some of her friends, but at least she wasn't hiding who she was anymore. I can admire that and maybe hope that I had something to do with it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blood: One month in

Well, I've been donating (selling) plasma for a month now. Here's a few stray things I've learned so far.

1- Don't take the money directly to the store after you donate (sell). It really fucks with your head if you let yourself think you're converting your blood into dog food, toilet paper or cat litter. I started depositing the money last week and stopped feeling quite as pissed off at the universe. Little things help.

2- The plasma center really likes the FX channel a lot. I'm starting to get into it, though I'm kind of like my man Micky (more about him later), I think "Charmed" is vapid, but could be radically improved if the three witches on the show got naked then were chased by an armed cyborg from the future.

3-The people I tend to see when I donate (sell) seem to know quite a bit about science fiction television and movies. They talk a little about horror fiction, including werewolves, but so far, nothing about vampires.

4-So far, only one person on staff has asked me what I do for a living and I'm not entirely sure he believes me. I sort of suspect he doesn't, that he hears all sorts of interesting stories.

5-Drink a ton of water before you go in and don't eat any dairy within about six hours of visiting. It can speed up the process considerably. The slowest time was when they had the needle in at a weird angle (it hurt) and bleeding took a little over an hour and a half. The fastest, so far, has been 51 minutes.

6-Some of the milkers are semi-reformed metal fans. They like classic rock and have brought in the kind of hair metal compilation CDs that would have been popular with rural, junior high finger bangers back in the day.

I'm okay with owning up to some of that (misspent youth and all), but honestly, if I don't hear Cinderella tell me, yet again, "You don't know what ya got till it's gone..." it will be too soon. When Christmas rolls around, I'm making them a mix CD of music not made by alcoholic bulimics in spandex.

7- Despite signage to the contrary calling the bleeders customers and heroes, I don't think any of us feel like customers or heroes for selling off plasma. We don't feel like employees either --at least, I don't. On good days, I shake off the degrading feeling pretty quickly. Other days, it lingers.

8-The Hardees located just down the road from the plasma center gives lousy portions.

9-Contrary to the rules about donating (bleeding) which ban men who sleep with men, people who use intravenous drugs or who have been to jail from participating, I suspect there are a few of each in among the regulars. Call it a hunch.

10-They just started a program where if I donate (sell) more than six times in July, I will be entered into drawing for a Wal-mart gift card. The top prize is $100 card, with prizes also awarded for at least second and third --possibly fourth, too. As depressing as it sounds, my chances of at least placing aren't bad. I'm already thinking about Christmas.