Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blood: Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You sound like you like him a lot."

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blood: Weekly Reader

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

"What are you reading?" She asked.

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

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

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

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

"Do you work?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pennies: Christmas Wrap

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

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

Let those of you without sin throw the first punch.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pennies: Found object

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blood: To The Dogs Or Whoever

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

"Sorry, it was driving me crazy."

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

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

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

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

Also, I needed money for tolls tomorrow.

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

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

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

The tech smiled sadly and shook her head.

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

She knew something was up.

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

We both laughed. It wasn't that funny.

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

She said thanks and hoped my friend was okay.

Monday, November 22, 2010

blood: Don't ask, don't tell

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

"Hey, the machines are down."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think she'd be happier somewhere else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I raised an eyebrow. Really?

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

Actually, it's not that hard to believe.

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

Who were they to contradict them?

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pennies: Clean and Jerk

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

This is less of a comfort than you might imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. Prostate Cancer sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Behind the door

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blood: Rookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was funny because it's true.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cancer man: Camo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked him if he was all right.

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

"How far along are you into your treatment?"

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

blood: kiss and make up

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 5, 2010


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

Is that cryptic? Probably.

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

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

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

Just one of my turns coming on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Poem on the eve of an election

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

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

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

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

This is the Land of Missed Opportunity
by Steve Cannon