Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ghosts of Christmas past

One of my co-workers turns 30 next month. I can't tell if she's fretting over the age or not. Thirty isn't the milestone it used to be (if it ever was), but she joked about having a month to get to Africa and run a marathon. She was looking for an adventure.

I offered to take her shoplifting. 

Across the aisle, another of  my co-workers, who is a good five years from 30, said she could get the 29-year-old to Africa for about three grand. All she had to do was harvest some of the eggs from her ovaries.

That sounded good, except, of course, it sucked. There's pain, weirdness, loss of eggs...

The 25-year-old told the 29-year-old she could sell plasma.

"It's a waste of time," I said. "I did that."


"Yeah," I said and then spent five minutes fielding questions about the process, explaining what was done, showing the scar in the crook of my arm and fending off disinterest and disbelief.

"I could never do that then," the 25-year-old said. "I've been to Africa."

I nodded and pressed down the sad envy boiling through my guts.

I tried to tell her that didn't really matter. There were rules. You couldn't use drugs, show up drunk, have a criminal record or be a gay man (lesbians, however, were apparently welcome), but nobody was really checking. I'd see plenty of guys come in who were either clearly drunk, high or were sporting the kind of tattoos you only get from a guy who gets paid in candy bars and postage stamps.

Plasma donation is on the honor system, which is absolutely nuts.

I told her they'd take her as long as she could prove she had an official residence. They don't let you "donate" if you're homeless.

In the end, she wasn't all that interested in the subject and I was maybe a little too interested. I don't know why I wanted to talk about it, why I wanted to prove that I had done this --maybe because she said she'd been to Africa, maybe because my girlfriend has been to Germany, and I've only been to Ohio a few times.

Finally, I sort of shrugged and said it was something I could write about next year. Maybe.

I don't want to go back there again. I still dream about the plasma center sometimes: the needle in my arm, the clinical, contemptuous way some of the drones looked at me as they harvested my dark, red blood to make rich, golden plasma.

Sometimes, I think about what I did with the money I made there. I converted it into gas for the car, spent it on cat food, bought Christmas presents nobody gave two shits about, and paid phone bills, water bills, gas bills, daycare.

Just remembering makes me feel so cold and alone all over again.   

I don't know what to give the 29-year-old for her birthday, to acknowledge this milestone that may or may not signify anything, but it ain't going to be much.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


It was just a couple of bored cub scout dads sitting off in a corner while their kids played some game only amusing to children under 10 or drunks on their fourth or fifth double.

Nobody was paying attention, though the scoutmaster was all smiles, encouraging the kids to try harder, work together or some such.

To be truthful, I don't recall the game. It didn't hold my attention, but that's nothing new. Most nights in that church basement, I find myself compulsively looking to my phone, hoping for a message from just about anyone and willing to invent one of my own to send to someone else, if it comes to that.

My best friend in Virginia believes my son's cub scout troop is populated by the children of strippers, meth addicts, and circus freaks, and he believes this because I have described it that way in loving detail.

These are all mostly tall tales --mostly.

The fathers in the corner, talking in low voices, had my attention. I couldn't turn away or tune them out.

"They said the whole building was full of ATVS," one of them said. "It was an Quonset hut. I'd like to know how they even got that thing up there."

Nobody seemed to know who "They" were, but they had a vague idea of who owned the property --some woman who owned the land, maybe even had a house somewhere on it, but lived in Florida and never came around. Whoever owned the hut never bothered to buy or rent the land, but had counted on the lingering absence of people with enough sense to move away, but not enough luck to sell what they had. 

The ATVs were, of course, all stolen, but they didn't know by who or even who the ATVs belonged to.

One of the other fathers talked about the rash of break-ins in the area.

"I spoke to a deputy," he said. "He told me 200 houses had been broken into over the summer."

Aghast, I wondered how many houses there were in my little corner of the county. Two hundred sounded like a lot. Two hundred sounded like maybe a third of the houses that could be found.

A third man had heard about the break-ins. He knew someone who'd been hit.

"They went in, took the gun safe and then went into the bedroom and found the box where he kept the serial numbers for his guns." He looked around and like he was giving away great secrets, said, "That was an inside job."

"They're looking for guns, I hear."

Who, I wanted to know, who?

"If this keeps up, somebody is gonna get hurt," the second man said. "They're gonna come up on somebody who ain't supposed to be there."

Bullets would fly.

While the kids played on, they talked about meth labs in the trailer park --I didn't know we had a trailer park --and shadowy figures seen at night, up to God knows what.

Everybody knew something, but nobody really knew anything. It all seemed like chatter.

Coming home, for the hundredth time I counted the "For Sale" signs in the yards until it became too depressing and drove past the "For Rent" sign that's been in the same place now for six  months. I wondered why I hadn't heard from my realtor in a while.