giving blood

Dedicated to Charles Bukowski and William S. Burroughs. They neither glorified nor vilified their existence: they showed it for what it was. At their very best, they could make you laugh, cry, rage, and reflect. That was their gift to the world. Cherish it.


About a year and half ago I stopped writing down the stories. I never did write with any great frequency, but once a story announced that it was ready to emerge, I would usually obey it. Then one day the stories silently informed me that they had no further desire to be written down. I spent some time afterwards rearranging existing material, but nothing came of it.

They still exist. Occasionally I visit them. They are polite and friendly, and we exchange pleasantries and sometimes hint of possible future relationships, but the magic is gone.

My last attempt, over eight months ago, ended abruptly. It was the story of a barber who lived in a fantasy world of 19th Century international intrigue. With tantalizing monologue flowing through my brain I fired up the computer, but all that ever reached my fingers was the following:

a day in the life of jack yakovlevich miov

[the official sequel to "of lice and men"]


Jack Lewis was born the son of a humble barber, grew quickly to manhood, and eventually took over his father's business, which was located in a storefront beneath an old apartment building in Hamtramck, Michigan. Jack had many customers, for he was good and cheap, something which could be expected of few men.

If Jack had one failing, it was the love of Russian novels. Just as romantic books formed the basis for Don Quixote's transformation in that masterpiece of comic tragedy by Cervantes, so did Jack's beloved volumes cast his soul, forge it, temper it, and thrust it one day into a world of gossip, intrigue, and opera. Adopting the hybrid name of Jack Yakovlevich Miov, our character found himself navigating with supernatural ease the sordid labyrinths of politics, philosophy, society, psychology, and frustrated passion.

What may astound the more hardened, cynical reader is that Jack's peculiar delusion contributed in no way to a self-destructive destiny virtually dripping with violence, pathos, futility, apostasy, and misdirected sacrifice. On the contrary, his state of mind scarcely affected business, for if his customers could no longer understand a word he said, they nonetheless continued to appreciate a good four dollar haircut.


Good Morning, Your Excellency, this is indeed quite a surprise. Absolutely everyone expects you to be on your way to St. Petersburg to tend to the B______ affair.

*CLAMP* No way. I refuse to come out.

I struggled. I argued. I threatened. I begged. You're ripe! You're juicy! You're ready! You're perfect!

I tried again:

By the way, Your Excellency, it may edify you to pay a brief visit, incognito, to the Palace and check on the affairs of Secretary N_____; he, also, expects you to be abroad this day.

*CLAMP* If you persist, I'll go away and never return.

I thought I could sidestep it by skipping to the next chapter:


You honor me, Professor.

*CLAMP* That's it. You're finished.

It never returned. Which perhaps was for the better.


My poetry dried up and blew away. It's simply not there anymore. My songs, however, are still actively present. I have four albums of songs in my head, and play them (in my imagination) quite frequently. They just smile. They believe that I'll never develop the necessary skills to enable me to reveal them.

I'm not quite dead yet, I argue. (I turned 32 three months ago.)

You're perfectly welcome to try, they reply, but you won't. Even if you do try, you'll give up before you really get started. Music may be in your blood, but you've stopped giving blood.

Yesterday I read a story by Larry Niven called "Rammer." One passage went as follows:

If he had ever been afraid of needles the months of pain and cancer had worked it out of him. A needle was surcease, freedom from pain for a time.

For some reason that got me thinking about giving blood. And giving it up.

Last night I started reading the novel junky by William S. Burroughs. One passage went as follows:

Some people are allergic to junk. One time I delivered a cap to Marvin and he took a shot. I was looking out the window -- it is nerve-wracking to watch someone probe for a vein -- and when I turned around I noticed his dropper was full of blood. He had passed out and the blood had run back into the dropper. I called to Nick and he pulled the needle out and slapped Marvin with a wet towel. He came around partly and muttered something.

"I guess he's O.K.," I said. "Let's cut."

He looked like a corpse slumped there on the dirty, unmade bed, his limp arm stretched out, a drop of blood slowly gathering at the elbow.

I thought again about my history of giving blood, and suddenly this story jumped up and said: Me! Me! Me! Here I am!

After I finished reading junky I began writing down this story. The others have stopped speaking to it.


Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was in High School. I was weak, overweight, bookish, technology driven, and resentful of physical activity. The last thing on my mind was the urge to appear macho. I crossed paths, however, with an unusually charismatic History teacher: an ex-Marine who was fervent on the subject of giving blood. He extolled its health benefits, its contribution to Society, no charge for blood at the hospital, etc. etc. He held intramural blood games. I was mildly impressed. Then he related stories of big jocks passing out when they give blood. Hmmm....

It wasn't so bad. I never looked at the needle. I found out that my blood pressure was normal, and my hematocrit was good. The health history questions were an inconvenient formality, but I was clean. Also, there was free food. I looked forward to the next time.

As the school year passed I began to rankle at the fact that I could only give every eight weeks.

Plasma can be given more often. The basic idea is that whole blood is taken out of one arm and separated into plasma vs. cells; the cells are then pumped back into your other arm.

I found the concept revolting.

One day someone told me that the blood is chilled in the separation process, so what goes back into you is not so much tomato paste as slurpee.

I will never give plasma.


My parents moved to a small town, and I attended a small two-year college. Bloodmobiles were few and far between, and I had difficulty maintaining my schedule. Then I met Harry, who truly was the quintessential blood donor. Only one man in the nation had donated more pints than Harry, and that person was rapidly approaching the age limit. Harry would beat him eventually.

With perserverance I could beat both of them, and I resolved to do so.

I synchronized my schedule with Harry's. He would search for miles around for a bloodmobile, and we'd go together.

After graduation I returned to Green Bay to finish my degree. There was a Red Cross blood center in town, so I had no problem sticking to the schedule. Almost no time passed before I hit the three gallon mark.

During that time the health history questions and basic procedures hardly changed. Hepatitis was still the major concern at the Red Cross. AIDS was a relatively obscure disease mentioned in Virology class as a form of Human T-Cell Leukemia, and was only just beginning to gain public notice.

Then I moved to Detroit.


Detroit was a strange place in a strange time full of strange ideas.

The Red Cross was not immune to this strangeness. Paranoia regarding AIDS was spreading far faster than the disease itself, and although the Red Cross labs were quite capable of detecting HIV (as the virus is now labelled), the health history questions and other ass-padding/lawyer-kissing protocols progressively got more annoying and invasive. When they started asking about sexual history, I got positively angry.

I had no sexual history at the time, but that wasn't the point.

I've given blood religiously almost every eight weeks for six years! I've given three and a half gallons! Why must you insist on finding new ways to harass me? What's the matter, don't you want people to give blood? Where else are you going get it?

The very last straw, the final unbearable hypocrisy, was the eventual introduction of a confidential bar-encoded "Accept" or "Reject" sticker which the donor placed on the bag after the pint was collected.

What the hell is this? Why would I go through all this fucking trouble to give blood only to change my mind after it's already been given?

I gave one more pint after that to complete my fourth gallon. When I received the next reminder call, I didn't make an appointment. It was no longer worth it.

About two years later, on a perverse impulse, I stopped at a bloodmobile in California to donate my 33rd pint. It wasn't so bad, but the magic was gone.

Go for it, Harry.

Flagstaff, Arizona
November 26, 1995

The Circular File