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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The wasteland

It's been a good day. That interview I've been busting my ass to get for the last couple weeks appears to be coming through. I'm on the review for Sheryl Crow Thursday night, which is a show I kind of want to see. This morning, I received, not one, but three indie rocker CDs --two of which I want to hear and one I wouldn't mind giving a listen. I also found some more change. I am endlessly finding pennies, dimes and nickels.

I feel very, very lucky.

At the library, I loaded up on a bunch of comic books (graphic novels) I've wanted to read, plus a couple of books of poetry that look intriguing. I also walked away with "Up In The Air," a movie I wanted to see, and a funny book about a booze filled drive across Australia --which, quite frankly, is a book I want to write.

I've always thought I had one great road trip story in me. I just haven't gotten around to living it.

I feel more creative than I have in months, wrote a massive number of words on my current writing project over the weekend and think the story is advancing to a satisfying conclusion. The new book is mainstream enough to reach a real audience, I think.

There are lots of good things going on with me. Some of them are surprises. Most of them are delights. None of them make me happy.

All I can figure is that mid-life crisis I was joking about a few months back? Well, maybe it wasn't so much of a joke.

What a cliche.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blood: Crucial Conversations

"So, who's the most famous person you've talked to?"

"Well, the very, very most famous person or the person I think you've heard of?"

Slightly annoyed. "Whoever."

"Probably, Tim McGraw, George Jones and Carrie Underwood. We get a lot of country shows here."

The tech nods quickly. He understands.

"But some rock and rap and stuff. Probably not Sheryl Crow. She's coming to town."

"Why not?"

"She's a millionaire. That's usually reason enough."


Um... Well, no, but it is annoying.

"Who else?"

"Um, Martin Short, Sam Trammell --he's a local, Chelsea Handler and a couple of guys who've played vampires in movies."

"Really? Wow. You know who you should talk to?"

I shake my head.

"Darius Rucker."

"Oh, did that. He was here with Rascal Flatts, what six or seven months ago, maybe more? Nice guy. We talked about Jessica Simpson and getting fat."

"You really should talk to Tyler Perry."

A brief moment.

"I would love to talk to Tyler Perry." Even though I have never seen any of his films and sometimes confuse him with Steve Harvey. "He's accomplished a lot and in his own weird way is kind of an outsider to the mainstream."

"He's never done a play here."


"He's done plays in Ohio, but never anything here."

What this has to do with anything is beyond me.

"Um, yeah, but I can't actually bring him here."

Abrupt change of subject. "How do you get these guys to talk to you?"

"I contact their publicist through their website. I call the record label. Sometimes the theater can help. "


Yes. It is that easy. Anybody can do this. Just nobody really wants to.

I nod and from the look on his face, I just had a three minute conversation with someone who believes my job is largely a figment of my imagination. He sends me to the back anyway. You can be crazy and donate and at least, I'm the funny kind of crazy and harmless.

It may be the nicest thing anyone has thought about me all day.

Blood: teeth

"All right, next question," I told her and she smiled. She gets lots of questions and I ask lots of questions. "What about the three days after dental work thing or the hospital visit? Is that because of the blood thinner?"

The bleeder frowned and shook her head. She didn't think so.

"Well, with dental work, like if you have a tooth pulled, you need your plasma after --to heal. You can't come back until after 72 hours." Unless, of course, you lied about it. "But with surgery, that's a lot longer."

"How much longer?"

"Six months, I think." Unless, of course, you decided not to report it.

I shrugged. No plans for surgery. No plans for dental work.

"I've got to take a sample today," she told me, then plugged a vial into the tube and captured a couple of tablespoons of my blood. She didn't explain what it was for, but I guessed it had to do with making sure I hadn't picked up a virus, taken up using heroin in my spare time or had the bottoms of my feet tattooed.

Sometimes they check for needle marks... sometimes... but they never check for tattoos and nobody is asking whether I have a boyfriend yet. If that last question ever comes up, maybe I'll tell them I'm not really ready to settle down.

But the more I go to this place, the more I get the impression the rules and questions are often just motions we go through. As long as nobody dies, nobody cares too much. Lots of the staffers have tattoos and piercings. Some of them talk about attending wild parties, where drug use is hinted at. They wouldn't be the kind to judge, but hear no evil speak no evil.

I should have the results back in a visit or two. Another guy, one of the habitually drunk guys who comes in, he got a consultation. His blood protein was off, not to a critical level, not enough to stop him from donating, but enough to notice.

I'm sort of looking forward to seeing the results. It's the closest I've been to a medical exam in ages.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Blood: Commune

"So, what's the problem with people in jail?" I asked the tech. "The computer screen says if you've been in jail longer than three days, it could be a problem."

Since I've been doing this little fun project for a couple of months now, I've been asking more questions lately --about the finer points of who they take and why --and what happens when certain policies are not followed.

"Well," she said. "It's about close quarters and institutional living, you know? Sharing toilets and space." Not to mention the frequently mentioned sodomy that supposedly takes place on a nightly basis in your better jails. "It has to do with being exposed to blood born diseases like HIV and hepatitis. That's why we don't take people who are from shelters either."

I nodded, but thought, if that's the reason, you probably shouldn't take college kids from freshman dorms (have you seen these things?), but instead asked her about communes.

"What if I started a commune?" I asked. "The whole free love and everybody shares thing was pretty popular. It could be looking at a comeback."

She looked at the title of the book in my hand: "Droppers: America's First Hippie Commune, Drop City."

She seemed stricken. What the fuck?

"You want to start a commune?"

Very slowly, so she would understand, I said, "No."

She laughed. Oh, I'm just some silly asshole, but the thought seemed to cross her mind --what if? What about the fucking hippies? They're a dirty bunch, aren't they?

Maybe she'd share the story during their staff meeting, get clarification from the board or something. It would have to beat another round of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the plot arcs from season to season of the WB's "Charmed."

Meanwhile, I think it's time I upped the jeopardy --and the fun! They're pretty serious about eating and drinking before you bleed, but I'm wondering what happens if you're on a liquid diet? Would that be safe or would I drop over like a housefly? Inquiring minds wanna know.

This might take some doing. I might have to try a couple different ones for several days before I see any results, but I've been meaning to step up my weight loss plan. Besides, it's been a while since I've passed out. What better place than among trained medical professionals?

I'd try drugs and alcohol, but many others have already explored the fertile ground of weird chemicals and public inebriation. I don't think I'd have anything new to add.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Annual Post

Happy Birthday to Bruce Springsteen. Today he turns 61. His last visit to Charleston (and apparently the entire state of Wet Virginia) to play a gig was 32 years ago. Don't worry, man. Nothing has really changed, except the beat down America you talk about in some of your songs is a little more true now than it was during the Carter administration and I can't think of many places more beat down than good ol' Dubya Vee Ay.

Elephants never forget and neither do music writers living in out of the way places who happen to be fans.

American icon or not: Fuck you, Bruce.

Enjoy your cake.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blood: Fatty

The tech stared at the little plastic tube and turned it over slowly under the light. No one had ever done that before.

She'd just taken it from the centrifuge, where they usually got the protein content. This, however, was something new.


She shook her head and pointed out the cloudy substance on the far end, away from the blood.

"There's some fat in your blood."

And my stomach dropped a bit. What the fuck?

"Is that bad?"

She didn't say.

"It's not a lot," she told me. "See." And I looked. "It's this milky stuff here."

I could barely see it, but it was there.

"How did that happen? I had oatmeal for breakfast. I ate beans (as usual) for dinner last night. I had a salad for lunch (and some cookies)."

She laughed. I was getting way too worked up.

"Well, yeah, eventually it is something you ate." She looked at me. "It's not terrible. It won't stop you from donating, but I've seen some come in here that are really bad. It probably means you need to drink some lemon juice or something to break it up."

Lemon juice? I'm supposed to drink lemon juice?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


A friend of mine, who I just said I wasn't going to mention in my blog, brought up the subject of my goals list, which I have been categorically ignoring while I've been busy selling blood, eating at a soup kitchen and working on a novel.

All she did was ask how that was going and it started me thinking. Well, how has that been going?

Honestly, some hits and misses. I'm still writing to my Grandma, though not every week. I forget to buy stamps. I do go to the gym, but I can't say it's been focused or I've been eating right. The soup kitchen stuff threw me off and I haven't gotten back into the swing of things. This would mean project Captain America has been on the skids.

I can fix that.

Also, I can say I've read 12 crap books by now, but not 12 good ones. There is still time to work on that as well.

I'm not making enough money, but that's my own fault. I've either declined or pretty obviously sabotaged two separate job opportunities which would have increased my income by about 10K per year.

I guess I kind of like being poor. It's fun. It makes me happy.

I haven't done much to try and get published, though I did contact one agent about a non-fiction book proposal and I am waist deep in a novel. My aforementioned friend, who I said I would not blog about, has been instrumental in keeping me going with encouragement, interest and inspiration. She has been fantastic.

I have high hopes of finishing the current book in the next two weeks, start revisions then look back over the last book I finished. She's given me some ideas on that one, too.

I feel productive.

No escapes. I haven't gotten away, took no vacation and have been mostly chained to my desk since the beginning of the year. There is little hope of that changing.

Otherwise, things are looking up.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blood: Football

"I'm sorry. I love you, but Green Bay sucks."

Saturday morning and half the room was chomping at the bit for a ballgame, any ballgame. Two of the milkers were flipping through television channels, looking for some signs of life and annoying the two or three bleeders plugged up to machines who'd somehow gotten involved in watching "Dude, Where's My Car?"

"There's nothing."

"Put it on the TV guide channel."

The two stared up at the screen, while a young, black man with Raggedy Andy dreds continued to hassle a middle-aged milker about her favorite team.

"Nobody loves Green Bay," he said. "In your heart, you don't love Green Bay. When I get home, I'm going to pray that God gives them syphilis."

She eyed him caustically.

"That's a selfish prayer. God does not listen to selfish prayers."

He smiled his 100 watt smile and said he'd think of something else then. The two younger women continued to work their way through the list of channels, waiting for some mention of a football game somewhere or at least one either of them wanted to watch.

The elder milker looked down at the young man.

"I tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to work my voodoo on you. I'm going to sprinkle dust on my little doll at home."

He laughed, though carefully. He, like me, was tied up to a machine that was siphoning his blood. Abrupt movements can be dangerous.

"The next girl you're with will give you Chlamydia," she told him. "You better stock up on penicillin. If not the clap," she promised. "It will be something and it will be soon."

That last part was an easy guess. A kid like him, with the dreads and the smile, would tend to be popular. I'd bet he'd be doing sexy time with someone before the middle of the afternoon. He had one of the young milkers talking to him, just by feigning an interest in Nickelback.

The kid had some serious game. I was impressed and quite frankly, a little envious. Even in my prime, I could never have made something like that work --of course, I was never a charismatic black kid with dreadlocks. I'm still not and in middle age, I think I look a little more like Boris Karloff every year --and not in a good way.

"Aw come on now," he told her. "There's got to be something we can agree on. What do you think about the Saints?"

"The Saints are good."

Her smile was thin and didn't necessarily mean forgiveness for his offenses, but it was a start.

"That's my team," he proclaimed. "This is our year. I swear it."

Meanwhile, the other two milkers finally gave up. They never saw the schedule they were hoping for and everyone returned to watching the hilarious exploits of Ashton Kutcher and asshole guy from American Pie.

From where I was sitting, I couldn't quite see the subtitles and couldn't hear a damned thing. I was assured the film was a modern comedy classic, but I have my doubts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blood: Needle Games

Jackie, the screener, lanced my fingertip then squeezed the tip. Droplets of blood squirted across the table and at first, I thought, "Jesus, woman. Did you nick and artery?" But as far as I know, and I have not bothered to check, there is no artery in the tip of your ring finger.

Jackie laughed nervously, then began swabbing up the excess blood.

"Looks like you've really been drinking your fluids." As if he squeezing my finger like a pimple had nothing to do with the jet of blood flying across the desk.

She smiled.

"Good thing none of this got on your file. We'd have had to reprint all of that and that would have taken some time."

Her concern was touching.

She marched me through the process and checked my arms for track marks.

"Do you get a lot of people here who use?" I asked.

Jackie's face darkened. She nodded.

"Needles, here?" I asked. It seemed unlikely. Recreational needle use of any kind is frowned upon here, along with gay sodomy (fine, if you're a couple of lesbians doing it), sex for money, and several diseases including, interestingly enough, Mad Cow Disease.

Jackie said, "We see all kinds of people who use all kinds of drugs."

"I can't fathom using needles," I told her, which is true. Half the time now, the initial puncture into my arm hurts, probably because of the scar tissue build up. That doesn't strike me as fun, but lots of things other people don't strike me as fun --watching American Idol for instance doesn't sound like fun, but then I thought, what if I sounded "needle friendly."

"But I've got a couple of close friends who've used," I said and she looked up. "Or they used to. One friend, she used to, you know, use needles."

Jackie looked at me suspiciously.

"What did she use?"

I had no idea. I was making this shit up.

"Oh, everything," I said and she laughed. I was talking out of my ass.

"Yeah, well, I hope she stops," Jackie told me. "It's no good."

Yeah, whatever, and decided I'd try to make up a friend who had Mad Cow Disease.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Return Of Cancer Man -3

Chemo does funny things to people. With radiation, the side effects seem to take a while to kick in. I've never had anyone throw up in my car, never had anybody lose control of their bowels, but with chemo, they always come back a bit weary, a bit drained and disoriented.

I'd been gone for an hour and a half, but the nurse told me to have a seat. Gina wasn't finished yet.

She looked back toward the small woman curled up on the recliner. A syrup the color of an off-brand crayola red slowly drained into her.

"About another half hour?" She seemed concerned when she asked, like she thought I might bolt.

I shrugged. I was supposed to be talking to a jazz legend in about an hour. He'd keep or he wouldn't, I supposed, took a seat and started leafing through a copy of National Geographic. I read about the greening of Greenland and thought for the millionth time about how much I like National Geographic, but would probably never actually read it at the house.

The minutes crept by. A pharma rep came in and chatted up another patient as she was plugged in, which seemed weird.

"How are you enjoying your chemo? Have you tried the new pomegranate flavor?" God knows what she was talking about.

Gina finished, but she didn't snap out of the chair with quite as much spring as she had as we came in. Her movements were staccato and rushed, but delicate. She didn't feel well.

In the car, she thanked me again about taking her for treatment.

"I wouldn't mind taking the bus," she said again. "But I just don't want to ride there alone."

"It's no problem. I don't mind doing this."

"My daughter's boyfriend used to take me to these things," she said. "There was a time when he'd do anything for me. He couldn't do enough."

Things had changed over the last few months. They weren't getting along and it sounded like his relationship with her daughter was coming to a sad conclusion. None of them were getting along and she'd moved to the other daughter's place, which wasn't much better. Her daughter was working at a motel. The boyfriend had legal issues and he wanted her to watch the kids for them a bit more than she felt up to.

"I used to drive," she said. "But I never liked it. I didn't even get my license until after my husband died."

Then she told me about him again, her husband, how he'd died in a car accident when he was 37. She'd raised two daughters on her own and they'd scraped by. It was hard. She'd never wanted to have to do that. She missed him something fierce.

She rambled and I told her I didn't mind taking her back and forth for treatment. She didn't have to worry about that one thing, at least.

Before we got her home, which she reminded me again, wasn't her home, she didn't have a home any more, she was living with her daughter, she told me, "I'd take the bus, but I just don't want to have to there alone. I think I'd be scared."

"Gina, you don't have to go there alone." Nobody should have to do this alone, but God knows how many do.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Return Of Cancer Man-2

Gina hobbled down a narrow set of washed out wooden steps from her daughter's second floor apartment to a grubby side yard behind a rusted chain link fence. She was nearly to the bottom by the time I got out of my car. She was tiny, short-haired and in a hurry. She didn't even ask me who I was until we'd both settled into the car and I'd turned the ignition.

As we drove, everything came out in a spill, like we were on a speed date.

"This is my second round of chemo," she said. "I'm 61." She put her hand through her hair. It was thin and a flat, mousy brown. "The first time I did treatment. I lost all my hair. It nearly broke my heart." She smiled. "But I got a wig. It was a pretty good wig. I still have it."

We drove along. She pointed out where I should turn and she gripped the side of the door as if any second I might crash us into a tree, another car, a building. It seemed a little funny, but then I remembered she was probably on all kinds of medication. Moving faster than 20 miles an hour might be a little disconcerting, plus she didn't know who the hell I was.

Gina told me she didn't know the streets so well. She wasn't from Charleston, but had grown up in Spring Hill before moving away. She lost her husband in a car accident when he was 37.

"He was in the hospital for a month," Gina explained. "Paralyzed and then he just went."

She's never stopped missing him. Lately, she's missed him more.

"I'm staying with my daughter right now."

Gina has two, plus a couple of grandchildren. The boyfriends of her daughters are also in the picture, though one of them might have been fading out, she told me. Things hadn't been going too well.

The boyfriend of the daughter she was living with couldn't drive. He was fighting a DUI arrest, she explained, and they got around using the bus.

"I'd use the bus to do this," Gina said. "But I wouldn't want to do it alone."

"You don't have to," I told her. "I'll get you there."

"This might take a while."

I shrugged. I'd worked the holiday, mostly out of necessity due to deadlines, and had a full day to burn off. I suck at leisure time.

"I got all the time in the world," I told her, which wasn't precisely true. I was supposed to talk to a jazz piano legend in a couple of hours and he was calling from Italy.

"Well," she said. "You could go back to work, if you wanted..."

I took her inside the cancer treatment office. Inside, a receptionist and nurse monitored a half-dozen women sitting in recliners, parked next to IV stands with tubes snaking into their hands. Some of them looked pale. Two wore very bad wigs and one was half-covered up by a blanket and scratching her way through a word search puzzle book. They were all single ladies, at least today, which seemed sort of sad.

Greta's chair was waiting for her. The nurse ushered her to her seat then asked me who I was.

"Are you family?"

"I'm just a driver," I told her. "Just here to help."

She nodded and said I could take a seat in the other room. They had a nice selection of magazines, including several dealing with old age, cancer and celebrities. The National Geographic looked promising and God, who doesn't get enough of about the life and times of Reba McEntire?

She offered to bring me a cup of coffee or some water if I wanted.

"It's going to be about an hour and a half." She looked at the clock on the wall. "Maybe a little longer."

I told her I'd check back.

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Return Of Cancer Man -1

It has been a long while since I got the call to drive anyone for treatment. Cancer is a plague, particularly in this part of the world. Everybody knows somebody who has it, has had it or has died from it. Odds are given my family history, where I live, and my nearly 20 year on and off again love affair with Marlboros, it's probably going to be the thing that gets me -- unless I happen to really piss off Jesco White's family again. There's a lot of cancer around, a lot of cancer patients but not a lot of cancer patients know about the Road To Recovery program.

Word does not get around, which is sad.

In my experience, by the time the folks who could use something like Road To Recovery hear about it, they're grasping at straws. Their support system of family and friends has fallen apart. They're often on some kind of assisted living, barely scraping by and their lives are coming to a slow, but inevitable resolution.

It's the same resolution for all of us, but I imagine the end looks a lot different when you can see it only ten or fifteen paces away.

All of the people I've driven for treatment have died. Most of them expired within three or four months after their last chemo or radiation therapy.

I figured that out a while back, but decided it couldn't matter. Aside from the necessity of the task, I needed to believe there were people out there withe bare minimum, provide a gallon of gas and a little time to help a stranger live for a little while longer.

Be the change you want.

I give what I can, which is a little company to go with the ride. I've broken bread with a couple of them, talked with them about their grandchildren and listened sympathetically as they've exposed the faulty wiring of their families. For them to even need me means something is broken where it ought not to be.

These people lead the frailest of lives. They don't have cars or can't drive any more. They all look a little frightened and sound a little desperate. Some are terribly alone, living off the company of game shows or talk radio and always looking forward to that phone call from their daughter or nephew in Florida --the one who visited a couple of months ago, but didn't bring the kids.

So... I got a call, the first in months. Her name is Gina and she lives with her daughter.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blood: Scatterbrain

The reign of terror continues with the punky, dark-haired milker sleepwalking through the job. It's strange to watch her fumble her way through the set-up then call for a second, who then corrects whatever little, but entirely critical, thing she's done then stick the bleeder.

God help us if they ever let her handle needles. I fear she'll put one in someone's neck --probably, mine. I wish they'd let her go back to doing physicals and asking people to take off their shirts. I'm sure she enjoyed it more. I know I would --mostly.

So far, I haven't actually seen her plug anyone in, just do a couple of set-ups and hand off the heavy lifting to someone else. Some of the others are very good and I've noticed the best needle jockeys are the ones who seem to have the least regard for us milkers as people.

I guess I'm ok with that. Lately, the needles have started to hurt more when they plug in. I suspect it has to do with a build up of scar tissue.

Of course, the worst people handling the needles are also people who aren't particularly interested in hearing anything more than our name and donor number.

Today, the television was pumping out a relatively interesting crime drama starring Edward Norton as a somehow sympathetic criminal douche bag. The milkers were all standing around trying to figure out what it was and even asking some of us bleeders what we thought it might be. As has been mentioned before, the bleeders are mostly a television and movie loving bunch. Many of us really enjoy science fiction and I expect a "classic" Trek versus "Next Generation" Trek argument to break out soon. It may even come to blows.

But no one was sure about the movie. Edward Norton has only played an inexplicably likable criminal douche bag what... ten or fifteen times? He didn't turn green so it wasn't "The Hulk," but he did have a goatee.

We sort of discussed what it might be off and on for the better part of 45 minutes, with limited commercial interruptions, and never came up with the title.

I've also noticed my bleed speed has dropped at least five minutes in the last couple of weeks. I've gone from around 51 minutes to fill a bottle to 46. My finger also bleeds freely when they're measuring my proteins and iron. I might be a bit over-hydrated or it might have to do with a build up of the anti-coagulant they pump us full of.

My course record is 41 minutes, but that was weeks ago. It's just something I'm keeping an eye on. I've been doing this steadily for three months now. I have to wonder if there are some side effects they haven't gotten around to mentioning.

So far, I'm handling it emotionally better than I was. It helps to play some cheery music in the car afterward while on the way to the bank (never ever play Oasis or the Counting Crows after donating --it makes me want to stick my head in an oven while whistling show tunes). A couple of times I've needed to hand over the money immediately for something and that screws with me a bit.

As long as I don't see a direct line from the blood to the grocery store, the gas station or the hair salon, it's not that bad. Otherwise, I get kind of a martyr complex, which is annoying. Even I can't stand me when I feel like I'm obviously making a very real sacrifice for the greater good.

I am a little moodier lately, but I can't tell if that has anything to do with the plasma donations or just the usual Emo McSourpuss stuff (Note: Emo is a name given to me by a blog commentator who used to frequent the 5th Column to poke fun at my occasionally sour statements. I thought it was funny and kept it). I do get melancholy. It happens. I just don't know if it has anything to do with whoring my body out to the medical supply industry or just because I've always been kind of moody.

Happiness is pretty elusive, as it turns out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Blood: Extra long laces

The tiny, dark-haired woman with the blood colored highlights in her hair escorted the two of us to the back.

"Which arm?"

"Right," answered the other bleeder.

"Left," I said and have always said since that time weeks ago when I offered up my right and got to hurt for a slow hour and a half. Apparently, the preferred vein in my right is a bit crooked. You learn...

She seated us side by side, which puzzled me. Left arms are on one side of the row. Right arms are across. The machine she wanted to plug me into was the on the wrong side.

"Um, I meant left," I said.

"We'll cross you over," she said. "Thank God for long tubes."

I could think of no God who'd want to be thanked for such a grisly thing, but I took my seat while she worked on setting up the machine for the other bleeder. She took a long time getting him sorted. She fidgeted and tugged at the machine, trying to familiarize herself with the contraption.

Fuck. I was next.

Since the new company took over the plasma center, they seem to be training everyone to be able to do each step of the process. The tiny lady with the punky hair had performed my physical when I first started making deposits. I remembered her because she seemed lobotomized. Her expression seldom changed from a cold mask and she never raised or lowered her voice. She spoke in a kind of monotone. Yet, she had her nose pierced and wore clothes and occasionally make-up that suggested she was a party girl --though she also seemed a bit old for the scene.

I'd never seen her on the floor, except to bring somebody to have their veins checked. Here, like this, she seemed lost and unsure what to do with her hands.

I hoped somebody got to me before she did. Otherwise, I reckoned there was a good chance she'd kill me.

Another milker, Greta, stepped up, looked at me then frowned.

"Why are we doing crossovers when we've got free chairs over there?"

There was no explanation, but she went along with it and had me stuck and draining (with a long tube pumping blood lying across my crotch) while the woman on my other side was still futzing with the machine.

"Hey," Greta muttered to another passing milker. "You want to check..." She nodded in the direction of my neighbor.

He nodded then slipped in behind the dark-haired woman, looked over what she'd done and without saying a word, began to repair the lines she'd haphazardly mashed together. The woman never said anything about it, never even acknowledged his presence or what he was obviously doing. She did her part then walked away.

"I got the kinks out of it," He told Greta, which probably eased the mind of the bleeder to my left.

"Watch her," she said.

"I have been," he replied wearily. They had a long day ahead of them.

I felt like I'd dodged a bullet.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Blood: About the money

Tasha looked tired. She always looks tired, but she saw the book I'd brought in and wanted to know what it was about.

"It's about the dwindling middle class," I explained, which it was. "The basic premise is the economy is in the toilet because you have a weird culture of social competitiveness going on between the wealthy. "

She seemed less interested, lanced my finger and filled a little tube with my blood.

"The rich get richer, the poor get poorer," she said.

"Well, yeah, but it gives a reason why."

"The rich don't want none of the rest of us to have any money." She sighed. "I could use some."

It seemed a funny thing to say, given where we both were in this particular scene.

"I thought you guys did ok," I told her. "One guy was telling me about building a big house."

She tilted her head, annoyed.

"Oh, him," she said. "His stepfather has a construction company and his mama is an accountant."

I nodded, understanding.

"Yeah, he can build a house if he want to. " But maybe, she thought, he should go to hell first.

"So, I guess it's not so much what you do it's where you came from?" I asked.

She shrugged.

"It might be. I ain't making no money here."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


So... I got a postcard...

Dear Bill,

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me last night. Had we done it months earlier, I might have stolen your idea and sub-titled my book, "Bedtime Stories For Children Who Drink."
Why didn't I think of that?


David Sedaris

(Sedaris is the author of "Barrel Fever," "Holidays On Ice," "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim"... among others)