The best part of the whole thing is when they put the last bag back. The red cells shoot fast through the plastic tubing, back into your vein. It feels real cold and the next thing you know you’re back on the street with nine bucks cash.
The whole thing takes about two hours, three if it’s crowded, but it’s fast money, better than panhandling that’s for sure. It’s wine and smokes for the day, and a fair meal too, if I’m really hungry, though usually I eat at the mission with the other bums. I know a lot of people there.
Selling plasma keeps me alive, I don’t knock it anymore, though at first I thought is was real skid row, you know, well, I guess it is, but what the hell, it’s fast money.
The lady on the table next to me looks kinda sick. I feel sorta bad for her. A woman that old shouldn’t have to sell plasma. She looks about the same age as my mother, but a lot paler, probably has some bad habits, down on her luck I suppose. She’s wearing these shitty looking canvas shoes, one toe sticking out through a tear in the side, there’s tar all over her toenail. She probably found them in a garbage can. What a life!
Most of the people here that donate are transients, hitch-hikers, professional drifters, winos, etc.; they stay in town a couple days, a couple weeks, see what’s happening, see how rough it is, then they go. Where? Who knows. A lot of them are on General Assistance like me, and just need cash for wine and cigarettes. Pin money, as it used to be called.
Only occasionally you see someone all dressed up like they’re going for a big job interview or something. Strangely out of place. It cracks me up. They remind me of this one guy Frank, I used to know when I was with the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center.
“Well I still have my apartment,” he used to say, “I still have my apartment.”
Horseshit, apartment. He was a skid if I ever saw one. Quite a character though. A real sharp dresser, too. Always kept his hands clean, even when he was loading the rag trucks. Some drunks are real dignified like that. It cracks me up.
I collect my nine dollars and zip, I’m back on the street. Hit the Indian grocery store, the clerk’s name is Louis (I’m still trying to figure that one out), buy a pack of Marlboro 100’s, and light my first real cigarette of the day.
Walking up towards Powell St., I’m in such a good mood I give my package of Top Tobacco to some bum I met in jail a couple of weeks ago. Fuck Top Tobacco. I hate the lousy shit. But it’s better than nothing, and sometimes I’m lucky even for that.
I really shouldn’t drink, I tell myself, but before I know it I’m in another grocery store buying a 16 oz. can of Miller. I haven’t been drinking too much lately which is good but can’t last. It never lasts. I ponder going to Gotham Lights, the hip book store, but change my mind. Why degrade myself? The last time I was there I tried to steal a copy of Artaud’s Anthology and I almost got caught. Artaud would have been proud of me. The clerks come on real hip, but they’re really a bunch of assholes. They wear Johnson’s Baby Powder under their leather jackets so they don’t chafe. But this dude saw me stick it in my pocket so I put it back on the shelf. I should have taken it anyway.
On the way out I asked him to order Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradise for me, but he wanted a deposit first. So I bummed a cigarette off him and told him I’d be back in a couple of hours.
Instead I walk to Union Square and watch the secretaries eat lunch. They don’t even look at me anymore. I look so bad. I sit on a bench and drink my beer, light another cigarette. I used to sit on this same bench a year ago. Then I was in better shape. I was trying to write. I used to carry around spiral notebooks, and fill them with my thoughts. Boy, was I naive. Poetry. Sometimes it would take me an hour or more to write a single line.
“It’s raining somewhere in Alcatraz, etc.”
Real bullshit. Poems about Egypt and pharaohs. Unicorns. Flowers with rusty leaves. Gargoyles that die of broken hearts. More bullshit. Once I wrote an entire story about my ex-wife’s breasts where I personified her nipples and gave them surnames in Hebrew. Terrible stuff. Soon I started drinking hard. Boy, was I naive.
It’s been ten days since my last drink. I’m feeling pretty good, although I’m still kinda shaky and I can’t stop drinking coffee. The caffeine buzz is a nice sort of high, only it makes me piss a lot, almost as if I were drinking beer. Pissing is a constant, drunk or sober, it means you’re alive.
Lately I’ve been hanging out at the Al-an Club in Chinatown just to keep myself amused. It gets me out of my room. I feel a bad depression looming in the future but I try not to think about it.
The old professor is playing chess with some guy in a three piece suit. The “professor” as they call him (I don’t know if he really is one, I’ve never really talked to him) practically lives here. He seems alright, though. Last night after the A.A. meeting they had what they called a “Sobriety Talent Show.” Some chick read some Rod McKuen poems over the P.A. system and then the professor sang “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to a piano accompaniment. Everybody sang along. Everybody except me, that is. I just drank coffee and stared into space, wishing I was sitting in a bar somewhere.
A young woman named Barbara came and sat next to me. She was all smiles and joy. I sort of liked her though.
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he?” she asked.
“Oh…yes,” I said, “he’s very good.”
“How long have you been in the program?”
I knew she was going to ask that question. I didn’t feel like lying. I was tired.
“Well,” I said, “I’m not really “in” the program, actually…I’m well, sort of just around it.”
“Are you still drinking?”
I couldn’t help but like her, despite her inane dialogue. She reached over and put her hand on my shoulder.
“What do you do for a living?” she asked. “Are you working?”
“Well, not right now, no. Things are kind of rough. I’m a poet, actually. I write stories and things, you know.”
“A poet,” she smiled. “Oh my, that’s wonderful. I love poetry. Do you like Keats? I love Keats. “The Grecian Urn”, is that one of his?”
“Yeah, that’s his. Yeah,….He was alright,….I suppose.”
“But how do you support yourself? How do you eat?”
“I donate plasma.”
She was starting to get on my nerves. I wanted to change the subject. I tried to think of an excuse to leave, but part of me wanted to stay. I hadn’t really talked to anyone in four or five days, other than maybe a word or two, you know, things like “hi” or “Give me a pack of Marlboro 100’s.” Real communication, right? But she made me uneasy. Most people do anyway. But her more so. It was like she was on some different sphere. Something in the way she kept smiling constantly. She asked too many nosey questions.
“I haven’t had a drink in over a year,” she said.
“That’s really great,” I told her.
“It wasn’t easy.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t.”
“You can do it too, you know,….if you really want it.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“You really have to want it.”
“I know,” I said.
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I said, glancing at the professor, “he’s a very talented man.”
……………………………………SCORPION by Matt Borkowski can be purchased on Amazon.