Monday, August 30, 2010

Blood: Diet tricks and tips

The girl was out. Around her, a group of the milkers were standing, trying to bring her back around.

"Can you hear me?" Sam said. "Can you tell me your name?"

The girl blinked slowly, but said nothing. Her head lolled to the side. She was pale.

Meanwhile, Annie had inflated the cuff around my bicep and was pushing the needle into my arm, at a new location, half an inch down from the purple scar in my elbow. It could be the old well is running dry or else becoming too difficult to drill.

After she was finished and was busy taping the line to my forearm, I looked up at her and nodded back to the little bit of drama taking place across the way.

"I've noticed people sometimes drift off," I said. "They come in here and go to sleep. That girl," I nodded in the direction of the unconscious woman, "is out. Is that normal?"

Meaning, is that going to happen to me eventually?

She frowned.

"You have to eat before you come in," she said. "If you don't eat, we take too many of your red blood cells. You can pass out. It's awful." Annie shivered. "Your skin turns pale and your lips get practically transparent. You get cold and sometimes when you bring them back up they start vomiting." She shook her head. "I can't take that. I saw them bring a man around one time and he threw up on the back of somebody's head. I just about lost it. I can't take that."

Annie looked at me, concerned.

"How do you feel?"

"Great," I said or as great as anybody feels when they're tethered to a machine sucking out their blood. "I had my usual oatmeal this morning --a couple packets of sugar free sweetener and some cinnamon."

She nodded. That was all fine and good.

"What about dairy?" I asked. "I heard that if you drink milk before you come in it slows down the process."

Annie laughed. She hadn't heard that.

"Just make sure you eat good before you come in." She handed me a roll of bandages. "Here, you want to squeeze that?"

I shrugged. Sure. Why not?

Actually, it helped. I finished in record time --in 42 minutes. My usual pace is 51 minutes, but they left me on the vine for a while. Other people were getting hooked up and pulled off --and the passed out girl was still only about halfway conscious.

Finally, one of the other milkers, Greta, pulled me loose. She was pissed.

"How long you been waiting?"

"A couple of minutes." Not too long. I wasn't concerned.

"A couple of minutes too long. Disconnects are first," she said. "We do those before we put anybody else on."

She had me loose in a second, then reminded me to eat a good meal after I got home. She held the bottle of plasma up and added, "But lay off the red meat."

"You can tell what I've been eating by how that stuff looks?"

She smiled. Yes, she could, actually.

"There's a little bit of red in this," she explained. "That's extra protein. You could cut back."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Seven Days

In the next seven days, lots of things happen. I get my own computer, one I don't have to share with anybody --a first in almost a decade. I'm talking to some people about my future and I'll slip under my college weight.

A lot of things could be changing. It feels a bit overdue.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And now, for something completely different

On the hill overlooking the river, monarch butterflies skimmed the ragged, green grass the city forgot to cut. They chased one another in a late summer game of tag as the wind began to pick up and rustle the trees.

The butterflies didn't seem to mind the wind. Their wide wings were scarcely troubled, while the branches overhead shook and the leaves rustled. They continued to fly and fight a kind of effortless Kung Fu against the wheezing current.

One little bug turned away from the swarm playing over the grass and soared out over the river. Foolish or brave, he dipped and dove over the water like a kite, flying further and further out until his orange and black wings became only a speck against the olive green rocks of the river bed.

Across the way, there were cheap, slender trees and wild grass, but nothing I could see so compelling as to leave one side for the other. What could be so important? Why? I couldn't imagine there was a better party across the river, not that there was a particularly thrilling one over here.

I watched until my poor eyes could not find the color in contrast. Halfway across the water the bug disappeared or drowned. I couldn't tell which.

So I waited and listened as the cars passed behind me, rushing along the boulevard, possibly racing back to desks before their individual bosses noticed they were late from lunch. A half-minute or two dwindled by. The rest of the butterfly herd continued with their mid-day exercises, but no sign of their missing brother who had set out for parts unknown.

Across the river, a single mutant fish only a foot or two from the bank broke through the surface in an unimpressive hop to snatch a late lunch. He barely came out of the water before falling back down with a lazy, fat flop. Whatever he'd grabbed had been flying very low and very slow. It might have come from what would have seem to something so small like a great and daunting distance.

I hoped it was a mosquito.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blood: Rise of the machines

Mickey looked at me and shook his head.

"So, they called me back first, but here you are."

I shrugged then leaned back in the chair. I couldn't explain it. I'd actually finished the intake before Mickey, but they called him back for the interview before me. While he'd been graded like a carton of milk, I'd sat in the lobby watching "Rushmore" on the flat screen along with a young woman who was here for her first visit.

She seemed nervous, though she'd brought a vampire romance novel to while away the time.

I waited and tried not to be annoyed about the waiting. Regardless of the order you arrive at the lobby or whether you're the first or the last person in a group to finish the sign-in portion, you get sent back to bleed at the whim and pleasure of the plasma center computer.

Of course, the wait is never very long, but that isn't the point. The longest I've ever had to sit in the lobby was about twenty minutes, but it gets irritating watching a half dozen people who came in later, go before you. Even if the picture on the television is pretty sweet, nobody wants to spend a lot of time here. You want to get it over with, but there's nothing to be done.

"I stopped coming in right at 8 o'clock," he said. "The computer was always down and then we're all waiting for one of them to come out there to jiggle a wire or something."

He sighed. "It was always a hassle."

"I usually clean my thumb with the alcohol wipe after I wipe down the headset."

He nodded. He did the same.

"You've got to wipe the headset down." Mickey shuddered. "Have you seen some of the people who come in here?"


He looked around at the milkers moving from machine to machine like bumble bees in a field of clover.

"One of these days it will all be machines and computers." He sounded pleased at the prospect. "They won't need any of them. We'll just come back here and stick our arm into the machine. The machine will get us with the needle."

Of course, they would still need us. They can't replace us.

"And we'd each get our own tv," he added. That seemed to matter the most. Mickey hates watching "Charmed" more than anything.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Blood: Gray

"So, are you going to yell at me?"

It was a threat and a challenge, but I had no intention of yelling at her.

She was standing on the other side of the pay window, where we go to collect our checks after the milkers get our plasma. On the counter next to her was a little basket, containing my donor folder and a tall, plastic container, about the size of a sports bottle, full of dirty-looking, amber liquid. The liquid was me or had been. This was my essence rendered into raw form.

"Who is yelling at you?" I asked.

"Everybody," she said and shook her head.

She was young, perky and cute in a pixie-ish kind of way. In a distant life, she might have been a junior varsity cheerleader.

"I'm not going to yell at you," I told her. "Why would I want to?"

"They do it," she complained. "They take it out on me. They think it's OK."

Evidently, it is against the rules for the milkers to yell back at the bleeders, though I'd been not more than twenty feet from this window. I didn't recall anybody raising their voice, but of course, I hadn't been paying a lot of attention. There was a shitty basketball movie playing on the big screens about a kid with magic Michael Jordan shoes and I had a book besides, but I hadn't heard any shouting.

"If my boyfriend did that," she said and shook her head. "He knows better."

I nodded, having no idea what that had to do with anything.

She verified my name and donor information then scrawled out a check. Usually, the machine prints them out. She pushed it across the counter and I looked at it.

"Is the printer down?"

She scowled. I had better not start.

I shrugged. Whatever. As long as the bank takes it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food Court: Back away from the lunch lady

I've decided to slow down on the visits to Manna Meal. Hands down, it's the most depressing thing I do, but I'm not giving it up. I'm merely trimming back from four or five days each week to one or two. I still eat better there than I do anywhere else, but I needed to remove some of the desperation I was feeling about the place.

And really, it was screwing with my head. Mostly, I think, because the quality and variety of the meals was better than I was making for myself, which can only be depressing.

By the way, I had beans and a little spinach for lunch today.

Also, I was gaining weight by eating at Manna Meal --not a lot of weight, but enough.

I haven't been in a week, but should be sitting down to break bread at the church later this week --maybe Saturday. The grub is better on the weekends and it's pretty good to begin with. The last time I went in, I'd come directly from the plasma center, which seemed to complete the whole nosedive through the bottom layer of humanity kind of thing.

Also, it seemed to help me blend in and that's part of what I'm trying to do: blend in.

It's all part of a larger theme. I'm just not sure what the shape of it is yet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

blood: Us and Them

"How are you?" The technician asked as I was weighed and measured.

"Good," I said. "I just got over some allergies."

He nodded. It wasn't on his list. He didn't care.

"We have a lot of trees where I live," I told him. "Well, we used to."

He looked up. He was vaguely interested.

"Yeah, a storm came through, knocked an oak tree down, which apparently took out a whole bunch of other trees. I had to get the landlord to come and chop the stuff up --I hate calling the landlord."

He nodded again.

"Yeah, I'm looking at building a house," he said. "You know you can build a place out toward Scott Depot for like half or a third what you pay for a house that's already built."

I listened intently. Great for him, I guess. I've been looking at houses lately, though none seem likely to happen anytime soon.

"I've got some land," he continued. "I'm looking at building for about $125,000. When it's done, it will be worth $300,000, maybe more."

He was a true believer and suddenly, I wondered, how much do they pay these people? I'd noticed the cars outside. You can tell who is who based on what they drive. The cars for the staff are typically much nicer than the cars for the bleeders. Without much thought, it's obvious there is something of an income difference, but I'd never considered it would be so vast.

He finished up. My blood pressure was a little higher than normal, but nothing to be concerned about. That was probably from the allergy meds I'd taken the day before.

"OK," he said. "You're finished. You can go back now. You have a good day."

He had a bright smile and I thought, he's building his dream house with the money he gets here. Me, I'm going to go buy my wife a cheap, cell phone from a grocery store.

Apparently, I'm doing it wrong.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blood: Allergy

My allergies come and go. For the longest time, living in Charleston, I didn't have to worry about allergies, but then I moved to a house placed in the shadow of a massive pine tree. Two days ago, it apparently started releasing pollen. I know this because our air conditioner has been out of commission through most of the summer. We've been using fans which, I'm sure, sucked in as much of the pollen as I could breathe in a lifetime and dumped them on my sleeping carcass.

The allergies cause me some worry. One of the first questions the computer asks you when you're coming in is whether you have a cold or a sore throat. If you have either, you're supposed to go home and come back when you're not sick.

I do not have a cold but I am fighting a sore throat, brought on by the drainage.

And since I am now taking bargain brand allergy meds (a bargain at $1.49), my blood pressure and heart rate are probably up a little. These are also bad and could disqualify me.

I tried a little exercise this morning, did swimming and the steam room, but no weights, no hard cardio --and really, that felt better than the effect of the 30 cent pill (the box contains 5), which makes me hungry, lethargic, but also in the mood for love...

Cold medicine is magic. As long as I can remember, I take that stuff and all I want are the creature comforts. In the past this has translated into eating Mexican food, watching old game shows and wondering what former girlfriends were doing.

At the moment, I figure most of my former girlfriends are probably just coming off their break at the Waffle House, but are still trying to fit one more cigarette in before they have to spend another afternoon dodging Fernando, the grabby Dominican dishwasher the owner hired at five bucks an hour.

Well, at least the drugs I'm taking make things seem more interesting.

I have two days to get healthy enough to bleed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

blood: those who wait

A young woman called after me just as I was coming out of the plasma center with check in hand.

"Sir? Sir?" She said nervously.

One child squirmed on her lap, while two laid sprawling in the back seat. The oldest appeared to be about six or seven. The youngest was maybe three. All of them were like their mother, dark-skinned and sweating like bottles of cola.

I turned and stopped.

"My husband is in there," she said. "Or he should be. He's a light-skinned black man? He looks kind of Hispanic maybe?"

I thought I knew who she was talking about. Seated across from me had been a man matching that description. While we'd all been sitting around, watching the much beloved Bernie Mac play a washed up baseball player, his cell phone had gone off several times.

I'd noticed him because he had a cheap, pay-as-you go cell phone just like mine. I recognized the completely unfashionable, annoyingly fruity ring tone because it's the one they start you with.

You're not allowed to talk on the phone while they take your blood. It's one of the minor rules. There are endless minor rules, but this one sort of makes sense. Nobody wants to have to listen to someone yell at their boyfriend, beg their girlfriend for a blow job over the phone, or try to talk their way out of having something repossessed (these are all things I heard when I used to ride the bus to work).

Sitting there, he'd very gingerly fumbled for the phone and turned it off, careful not to jostle the needle plunged into his other arm.

The woman was worried. She'd been waiting for a while, apparently. Maybe the kids were hungry.

I smiled and told her, "There were a whole bunch of us who finished up at about the same time. I think I know who you're talking about. You're in the right place," I assured her. "Just wait another minute and he should be coming out that door."

She thanked me and went back to watching the door.

I see that a lot. Girlfriends and wives bring their husbands and boyfriends. They drop them off then wait patiently (or as close to it as they can manage) for their significant others to bleed and collect a check. The cars get hot and at best, it's dull waiting anywhere from an hour to two hours for the husband or father inside to fill a bottle. Some of them, I've seen, with their bare feet propped up and hanging out an open window. Sometimes, there are kids and watching them can't be easy, not in a parking lot with nowhere to play.

I'd never ask anyone to do that, to wait out in the parking lot, but it occurred to me not everyone who does wait was asked to do so. Some choose it. Who is to say why?

Selling some plasma is hardly going for chemotherapy or even a trip to the dentist, but despite the big screen televisions playing continuously, the air conditioning and yes, the little bit of money at the end, this isn't for fun. Some people are more all right with the process than others, but it can be a little demoralizing. Some of the time I come out of that place and all I want is a God damned hug.

On the upside, if you start your day by selling a chunk of yourself for just a few bucks, it really can only get better, right?

Anyway, I envied the guys who had somebody waiting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Food Court: Speaking in tongues

She was new here, sitting at a back table where I found a seat. A man in his late twenties sat across from her, though he could have been older or younger. Age is a hard thing to judge in a place like Manna Meal where some of the people look like they've been pulled out of a John Steinbeck novel, though reinterpreted with new costuming.

I'd seen the man both at the church and on the street holding a cardboard sign and panhandling. He had the sunken eyes and drained expression of an addict of one kind of another, but not one so far gone as to have given up basic hygiene. His clothes were ratty and dirty, but he was not.

Methodically, the young woman ate her barbecue, chewing rapidly. She had overly bright eyes that flitted from object to object. Occasionally, she looked over at one of us and smiled.

"I don't much care for the barbecue," the young panhandler said. "But when I get hungry enough, I'll eat anything."

She nodded, a shaky bobble of her head.

"I'm Andrew," he said.

"Virginia," she told him.

"So, do you live around here?"

"Just up the street."

He nodded. He understood and, like me, took it that she meant the shelter for women.

"Maybe I'll see you around," he told her then carried his tray away, leaving the two of us alone at the table.

I admired the panhandler for his ability to strike up a conversation. Of course, his motives were probably a bit different than mine, but I admired the ease. Since I've started taking lunches at Manna Meal, I've only barely muttered a handful of words to anyone. Others talk. They chatter like crows in a corn field, but not me. It's always, "Please, pass the salt," "thank-you," and "Can I get another spoon of the chicken?"

Part of it is fear. I don't want to intrude. Coming to a soup kitchen to eat is difficult enough without having some asshole trying to unnecessarily relate.

She seemed safe, didn't appear to be overtly crazy or particularly dangerous, but I drew a blank on what to say. The only thing that came to mind was "So, do you come here often?" which sounded like a particularly low-rent pick-up line and besides, I knew the answer: no.

She looked at me, expectantly. Evidently, she was used to a certain amount of light dinner conversation.

I finished my meal, looked up and told her, "I like your t-shirt."

"Thanks," she said and watched me leave.

Maybe I'll try again tomorrow. Maybe the panhandler will be there. I'd kind of like to ask him about his job.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blood: Wheelman

He'd been roughed up. That was for sure. He looked like he'd been hit by a truck --close, as it turned out. He'd been in the truck when it hit the side of a hill and flipped. A long, pink trench had been dug from the side of his brow down his left cheek then taped together. One eye was black. There were bruises and from his hand to his forearm, there was a tightly wound bandage.

The worst wasn't what could be seen. It hurt to move. It hurt to walk, which he did slowly, and his voice trembled as he spoke.

"I don't remember anything," he said. "Not really. I remember driving."

Outside, he said it had been as perfect a day as West Virginia gets in early August. The sky was clear and the air was hot. He'd been riding in his truck, not really in a hurry --as he remembered --and not under the influence of anything. Of that he was sure.

Something happened, but he couldn't say what.

"There was a line of cars, they told me. There had been an accident up ahead and maybe when I was coming around, I couldn't see them."

Whatever happened, he'd jerked the wheel. The vehicle spun and went up a hill before flipping over. His face went into the steering wheel and knocked him cold first. He knows this because the investigators said if he'd been sitting up, he'd have lost his head.

He sustained largely superficial injuries. He was bruised all over, beat up and his thumb was broken, but they had trouble bringing him around. He said they spent hours trying to get him to wake up. The nurses told him he'd been so pale and cold. His body kept trying to curl in on itself.

The next morning, they let him go home. He called in sick. He called in sick the next day, as well, but the job he has, working at a car dealership --and judging by where he is, it's probably not the sales department --he's not sure how understanding they'll be if he calls in again.

"But I've got to," he said. "I need to call off."

But that also means he won't get paid. They pay him week to week. It's not a lot of money, but he counts on it.

"So, all I've got is this," he said. "It'll do."

The milkers listening to his story nodded their heads solemnly. One of them put their hand on his shoulder. None of them could say it would be all right.

"So, I guess I'll see you Tuesday."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Food Court: chain

"Thanks for the lock."

The long-haired man in the ball cap nodded then took a drag off his cigarette. The pair of them, one black and the other white, stood together on the back stoop. The black man might have been 50 or he might have been younger. Not everybody looks the age they're supposed to be around this place, but he seemed older than the long-hair.

Under the ball cap, the man's face looked weathered and graying, like unpainted wood left outside for too long. The lines cut into his face from want or chemical hungers were pressed into young flesh. He might have been 30. He might have been 40. It was impossible to tell, but he moved like he was young and angry.

The black man gingerly eased his bicycle out of the shade and away from the rail where he'd kept it tied, while the white man reeled in a length of dirty, gray chain. The chain was heavy-duty, meant to stitch shut the heavy doors of a storage shed or the chain link fences to an auto junkyard, not an old ten-speed with bald tires and rust freckled spokes.

The younger man shoved the chain in a thin, plastic bag, along with a combination lock as big as his fist. He looped the top of the bag through his belt and hung it by his hip.

"You have to lock everything down," he complained. "Those motherfuckers will take it all if you don't have it secured." He explained, "I got me a shower yesterday at Covenant House and those fuckers stole twelve dollars off me."

The long-hair did not know who the motherfuckers were. He shook his head. The loss of the cash still irked him, but it was his own fault.

"I wasn't watching," he said.

The other man nodded sadly. Yes, it was his fault.

"Motherfuckers," he agreed, then pedaled away.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I've noticed that the other bloggers are dropping like flies. Even 304 Blogs isn't updating as quickly as they used to. I think the peak oil for blogs might have been reached a while back, since Facebook really took off and now, not as many people are interested in reading the thoughts and misadventures of strangers. Hell no, why not see what stupid thing Bill put up as his status update today. That's way funnier and doesn't take as much time.

Not everybody agrees with me. So, I sought out one of the most revered bloggers in the Charleston blogosphere.

"I think everyone naturally posts less during the summer. That, and I think most people have a set list of things they'd like to get off their chest, and once they run through that, they're sort of done. Blogging is a really weird thing when you get down to it. You have to wake up every morning mad at something. Nobody has to explain to me why they might want a break from that." -A far more popular blogger.

It makes sense, except it isn't me. I don't get up most mornings mad at anything. I don't necessarily embrace the day with optimism and a belief that today, I will receive oral sex, but I'm not looking to stand on a soap box and scream at the sky. Mostly, I blog to write about the odd things I'm interested in. More and more the blog is becoming what its title suggests --things I can't or shouldn't get into print.

Blogging has never been more fun, even though nobody is reading.

Right now, I'm selling blood and taking lunch at a soup kitchen, things I'm perversely enjoying even though needles hurt and being broke sucks. Added to that, I should be back to working with the American Cancer Society. No, I have not found a way to give myself cancer, but I'll be driving patients again and helping out.

It all feels connected, though generally speaking the people I've driven to chemo don't seem to eat at soup kitchens or sell blood. The people who sell blood don't have cancer and the folks at the soup kitchen aren't selling blood. Everyone is poor and maybe it's that scraping by, only barely, that binds us all together (and we know, I am not just a hair club president here, I'm a customer). Maybe it's why I'm more and more drawn to these subjects.

Anyway, the "cancer man" posts will be returning it looks like.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blood: New Lessons

Getting stuck with a needle isn't any fun. I'm not afraid of needles, but after having needles poked in my arm twice a week for the last two months, I don't watch any more. I turn my head and hold my breath.

Sandy, one of the milkers, watched as I jerked my head away.

"Somebody hurt you?" She asked.

"Well, I don't like the pinch," I told her and Sandy nodded.

"You hold your breath," she said.

With one shoulder, I shrugged.


"It flattens out the vein in your arm."

"And this is why it hurts?"

She nodded.

"You've got good veins," she said. "They're very plump and juicy."

Like a worm, I thought.

"They have you on the chart as a yellow, but I think that's a misdiagnosis."

"What's a yellow?"

"There are reds, yellows and greens," she explained. "Green is the best. Anybody can stick a green. Then comes yellow. I've been sticking for ten years, but they only let me stick yellow and green." She seemed bitter about it. "Red is hard. It usually means you have small veins that have a hard time holding a needle."

"And I'm a yellow?"

"Yeah." She nodded. "But they mislabel sometimes. You've got good veins here." Sandy looked at me. "You ready?"

"Right." I didn't stop breathing and barely felt the needle slide in.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Food Court: Got A Smoke

There was an unpleasant, musky odor in the air at lunch --the vintage stink of an unwashed crotch. From the smell of it, I'd guess somebody had gone the better part of a month without once hosing off their junk or changing the bandage.

For a minute, I tried to pin it on the food --a taco casserole of some kind made with beans, tomato sauce and a little bit of meat (I had two scoops, but no corn chips) --but it seemed kind of doubtful.

I scanned the room trying to locate the likely culprit. The crowd today was small --maybe half the people who are usually there and only a few of those I'd recognize as regulars.

Of course, government checks had kicked in over the last couple of days. Not everybody needed the free lunch. Some of them had taken their checks or their government debit cards to the store. They were loaded up --at least for now. Maybe. Not that I really know. I'm still not talking to anybody. It could have also been the stench.

The smell was strong and a little sickening. Looking about, it could have been anybody (except me) and it made me wish I'd never given up smoking. I never used to smell things like that. I never used to have to smell anything, really.

A Camel right now would sure help.