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Law Enforcement Agencies Raid Oklahoma City Homes




Blood Money

      It is the winter of 1982.

      I have learned that Harry’s new lady picked up a job at one of the blood centers. Stacy is telling me I can make money by selling my plasma. Everyone knows I am hurting for cash. My gym business is losing money every month, my part time job as a security guard had come to an end.

      The ‘Outer Limits’ a strip club where I have been working at as a bouncer and as an exotic male dancer has ended when it burned down. The jobless rate in Oregon is high as is the hostility of employers to people newly from out of state. My V.A. benefits are suspended and the V.A. is demanding money back. They are demanding this money because a few of my teachers at the college I am enrolled at flunked me for poor attendance.

      It did not matter to my teachers or the V.A. that my attendance suffers only because I am required to work various hours and shifts to survive. It does not matter to them that despite my poor attendance I have been completing all of my assignments and scoring top marks on all of my tests. All that matters to these anal teachers and the V.A. is that rules are rules.

      I am afraid that their mindless obedience to these rules is going to be the death of me. I am losing my ability to pay my bills and to keep myself fed on a regular basis.

      I am however having bad dreams and troubling memories with increasing regularity; memories of not having enough food as a kid in North Carolina; going hungry when I lived in Bridgeport; almost starving and freezing to death during one brutal winter when I was practically homeless - living in a six foot by ten foot camper in King of Prussia.

      Although I like to think that I’m tough because I had been in the Marines, I am still very afraid that homelessness and starvation will be my fate again.

      There is no one I can turn to… not even my family – especially my family.

      I am too proud to tell my Mother and Stepfather of my plight. My Real Father is even less of an option; even though I am too proud to ask my Dad for help, I know that help from him would not be forth coming anyway. The memory of him financially and emotionally deserting my siblings and I after my mother divorced him still burns in my mind.

      The memory of him leaving me to live or die during the brutal winter in what had nearly became my six-by-ten coffin still hurts to the marrow.

      No, there is no help from my family… a combination of my own pride and parental neglect will likely be my undoing.

      So now I am in the Plasma Center and because of my destitution I am about to exchange blood for food and I know that I will likely be selling my plasma eight times a month, as often as they will let me. This thought gives me hope since I had been skipping many meals for several weeks prior to coming to the Plasma Center.

      A woman with a bland face and mechanical demeanor is requiring me to fill out paper work; the usual stuff – birth date, social security number, address and many questions about my health.

      Finally she tells me that they are ready to take my plasma, and then she asks me a crucial question.

      “Have you eaten a good meal today? It is very important that you eat good meals before you donate plasma… otherwise giving plasma could be hard on you.

      ‘You could have a bad reaction while donating if you have not eaten a well-balanced meal a few hours prior to donating.”

      I am uneasy and my stomach is rumbling in anguish as she asking me these questions and I think, “Not for two days lady, but I will get a nice warm meal after you suck my fucking blood and pay me.”

      I lie and tell her that I ate a big hearty breakfast and my stomach rumbles again and I feel my body is cannibalizing itself; a feeling that I recognize from past starvations - a feeling I had hoped to never experience again.

      My mouth is dry – dry from lying.

      She nods as she is writing in a folder she has made for me, like a teacher grading a pass or fail test. I am nervous that somehow I will fail.

      “Tell me what you had for breakfasts, she asks.”

      A picture of what I have been craving for the past two days enters my mind.

      Once again I am lying, “Denver omelet, a heaping plate of country fried potatoes, bacon and ham with a large cool glass of fresh orange juice and for desert – a butter-horn pastry.”

      The lie and the image in my mind cause my stomach to growl and my dry mouth begins to salivate profusely. I am terrified that my loud stomach will give me away and that I will be disqualified to give plasma and that I will indeed starve.

      She is writing in the folder and nods as I lie to her, as if she is on automatic pilot… I am after all only one of the thousands of donors that she processes. She takes me to a room that looks like a cross between an assembly area and a third world surgery prep room. She directs me to lie on the table and gives me a choice of a few books to read as the phlebotomist penetrates the hollow of my arm with a thick gauge needle so that they could drain my blood.

      I hate needles.

      I could never be a junkie that uses needles, unless of course someone else injected me just as the phlebotomist is injecting me now.

      The phlebotomist is draining me of my blood and it is seems to take forever. As my blood is draining out of me and into a bag my grip on consciousness is becoming tenuous. From my studies in anatomy and physiology I know that this is because I have gone without food for two days and that my blood glucose level is low and I am dehydrated and my brain is now being robbed of vital blood sugar. I am anxious for this to end. I am afraid that I am being damaged. Finally the bag has filled to the brim and the phlebotomist takes it away to be separated.

      I know what they are going to do with my blood before they bring it back.

      I know this, because before I would submit to getting my blood drained I was given a tour as to how they processed the blood to separate the extracted plasma they would use to save other people’s lives – while they made gigantic profits.

      They separated the whole blood in a type of centrifuge. The spinning placed the heavier plasma at the bottom while the rest of the blood floated to the top. The stuff on the bottom I thought looked as if it had a yellowish evil hue and the stuff on top looked red and watery.

      I was told that once they had my plasma extracted from my blood, then they will put my plasma depleted blood back into my body.

      I am lying on the table and my blood has been drained and I am feeling lightheaded and I look around hoping to rid myself of this feeling.

      I notice the other donors that have already had their blood taken away to be processed, are still waiting to have their blood brought back to them. It seems as if it has been forever. I start to feel anxious that they may take too long and I may not make it.

      I think that perhaps it is because there are too few of them that have to attend to too many of us – society’s castaways.

      I feel dizzy and faint and I struggle to stay conscious. I look around fighting to stay alert. I notice once again that all of the donors are lined up and lying back on the gurneys with IV’s plastic tubes and bags running from our arms and dangling above us. Once again it occurs to me that we all look like we’re part of an assembly line in a gruesome science fiction movie.

      It seems to take the phlebotomist a very long time to get my blood separated and back to me.

      I know the length of our wait is because behind the scenes our blood bags are in piles marked with information and codes of our personal information scrawled on labels as each bag waiting their turn to be spun like an astronaut and to endure incredible G-forces.

      I know that the staff at this blood-letting factory has to be careful about giving each person the right blood back to them; otherwise, if the blood type is given back to the wrong donor and if it is not compatible it would likely kill the donor, or even if the blood type is the same, that could be bad too. Another person’s blood could be tainted with any number of infectious diseases.

      Knowing all of this makes me feel very uneasy. Despite their safe guards I know how humans fuck up.

      “I hope they don’t accidentally kill me… I haven’t really lived yet, my mind whispered.”

      Despite the fact that the Plasma Center is suppose to screen the people who give… I mean sell… their blood for blood borne diseases, I am not confident that my fellow castaways would be given a clean bill of health from a reliable physician.

      Many of the people that lay on the line of gurneys to the left and right of me are homeless and the others that are not homeless are like me courting homelessness. I may have been courting homelessness again and I had been missing meals but my body was not as of yet suffering from malnutrition; nor was I suffering from chronic substance abuse like many of the people that are in the assembly line selling their blood. Some of these people confess to me that they were alcoholics and drug addicts.

      I feel edgy.

      It is disturbing to see a lot of the people have come into this blood donation center reeking of street smells, soiled clothes, splotching grey skin riffed with suspicious skin eruptions and criminal neglect.

      It is appalling to me that beyond the forms and questionnaires and supposedly a basic blood test, no other form or method of medical exams is given to us. It is mostly done on the honor system and this bothers me.

      I over hear many of the riff-raff snickering just like evil trolls as they confess about all the lies they wrote on the questionnaires just so they would qualify to sell blood. Their lies make mine seem trivial.

      Nausea is simmering in my guts.

      I am impatient for the return of my blood. Everything around me seems to appear as if it is at the end of a tunnel. The voices from the chit chat in the room sounds like they are coming from a distance. They are starting to fade into the background. I see the concerned face of the phlebotomist. She is calling my name and she sounds like she is in the bottom of a deep well.

      I look at her and I can’t respond.

      She yells as if from a great distance, “We’re losing one!”

      I don’t respond.

      Suddenly, the world around me flicks off – like a switch.

      Gone are my thoughts, fears, questions and hunger.

      There are no dreams in death…

      I don’t know how long I’ve been dead, but now I hear a voice calling me from the distance.

      The last time I heard a voice calling me in such an instance was my friend John Aberant. I had almost died then also, only then I had been naked and chasing an angel through the woods; that is until John called me back from the dead.

      The voice that is calling me back now is disembodied until slowly, the darkness that holds me is bit-by-bit turning to light – like an old television tube taking its time to focus - and finally I am able to make out the features of the nurse and also the phlebotomist that had taken my blood and I think a man who is a doctor.

      I notice that during my death they had hooked me back up to a bag with what I hope is my blood in one arm along with a bag of saline solution.

      They look concerned and ask me how I feel.

      My blood and the saline solution they are pumping into me is cold and it feels as if ice water is coursing through my veins.

      The nurse is wiping a damp cloth over my face and forehead.

      My skin is clammy and I am shivering violently.

      They put a blanket over me and they offer me a small carton of orange juice for me to drink.

      The man who I think is a doctor is telling me that I lost consciousness because my blood sugar may have been too low. He wonders why this happened since I told them I had eaten and eaten well.

      He wonders if perhaps I may suffer from hypoglycemia. This condition he says will make me an unsuitable candidate for future donations. He tells me that the juice should help.

      I express my displeasure and fear that I may be ineligible to donate plasma. I do not express that I will not be able to eat regularly if I can’t donate.

      I lie once more and I tell them that because of my studies and family problems that I have not slept in over three days. I tell him that lack of sleep, inordinate stress and my fear of donating plasma for the first time was the cause of me blacking out.

      He looks at me long and in silence – like a judge trying to evaluate the character of a felon whom he must pass sentence.

      He tells me that they will see how fast I recover today and that I can at a later date do a glucose tolerance test to see whether I am hypoglycemic or not.

      I was afraid that my bad reaction would negate me getting paid.

      I look at the nurse, the phlebotomist and doctor, “I will get paid today, won’t I?”

      They assure me that I will.

      I breathe a sigh of relief.

      “Thank God… I am going to eat today!”

      After the first incident of giving blood the process became rather automatic in an Orwellian way.

      The discomfort I would experience each time became a familiar nuisance – like a boozer’s habitual hangovers.

      I learned to make the best of it and lay back on the gurney as my blood was extracted and I would fantasize that I was lying on the beach in the Bahamas, in Tahiti, in Madagascar or anywhere to take me away from this factory as I sipped my orange juice.

      These mental forays helped me to deal with the shivering each time the cold blood was pumped back in; that and a trusty blanket. I would often try and finagle extra rations of orange juice.

      I worried about how many people used those blankets before being washed. Looking at the people around me I couldn’t help but hope that the blanket they gave me, had not been previously used by my fellow dregs of society. I thought of how the U.S. Army in the 1800’s killed Indians by giving them pox infected blankets, and my anxiety steps up a notch.

      My imaginings was not without merit, because during the Oregon Depression of the early 1980’s, there were several factions made up from a large collection of Castoff’s and street people that came into the Plasma Center - so that they could sell their blood and collect their money. The difference between these castoffs and me was that while I spent my blood money on food and other expenses they would often pool their resources for beer, wine and drugs. Many of them would gather together like excited school kids and yell, “Ye ha, money to parrteee!           

      During the months that I frequented the Plasma Center, I learned that not everyone who sold their Plasma did so because they needed food or drug money or simply a way to pay their rent.

      I got to know one man who was always scruffy looking and seemed to be under-educated and more than just a little dim of wit. From a few of our conversations I found that he was also course and even a little abrasive and dogmatic about many things. For months I had assumed that he was one of the homeless that spent his blood money on food and drugs. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he was one of the lucky people in Oregon. He was lucky because he actually had both a full-time job and a part-time job.

      Hearing this from a fellow blood letter was as amazing as if he told me he had in his possession the Rosetta Stone.

      “Holy mother of God. - a fucking full-time job!”

      Because of his lack of education and to be quite honest, his less than average intelligence the only two jobs that he could procure and keep in the best job markets was gas station attendant and dish washer; jobs that I would have given my left eye to have during those tough times.

      Since he told me that he was unmarried – even unencumbered with a relationship I wondered why in the world he was selling his plasma.

      After all, just having one of those low paying menial jobs in a full time capacity would certainly pay basic living expenses such as food and rent in Eugene and Springfield.

      I thought that perhaps he must be paying for a bad habit, or perhaps he liked to live beyond his means; spending too much money on a fancy car or furniture or perhaps he lived in a high rent district or spent too much of his money on women.

      This guy told me that he worked at least 60 hours a week at both jobs; and because he had been employed at the gas station where he pumped gas and the restaurant where he washed dishes for years, he made better than minimum wage.

      Confused, I looked at him with a jaundice eye. “Why do you need to sell your plasma, I asked? Do you have big expenses?”

      As it turns out, this simple course and scruffy man did not own a car, instead he walked or bicycled everywhere he went.

      While he could not have afforded to live in the high rent district, he could in fact live in a nice middle class neighborhood. He chose instead to live in the cheapest and most rundown section in the Eugene – an area known by the local denizens as Felony Flats – in the cheapest studio apartment he could find.

      He did not use drugs or drink and he bought food in bulk and mostly the staples.

      Although he lamented that he no longer had a girlfriend, that was a thing of the past and by his own admission he felt that attracting women was tough for him because he was both ugly and poor.

      I was perplexed as to why he needed to sell his plasma since one job should easily pay for all of his needs and then some. I pointed out that his second job should have been gravy money.

      What he shared with me that day blew my mind.

      He told me that yes, his job pumping gas was enough to pay his bills, but his second job went to pay child support. I was confused since he did not mention a former wife and I said as much to him.

      He told me that though he had never been married, his former girlfriend had gotten pregnant and given birth to a daughter. He and his girlfriend lived together for five years and for him those were happy years.

      Unfortunately, he had found out that she had been cheating on him from day one with a man that she had been having relations with on and off for years prior to and after meeting him.

      Despite her infidelity, this simple gas station attendant begged her to stay. When he found out that she still wanted to sleep with her former boyfriend; he still begged her to stay.

      He was willing to ignore her indiscretions because he wanted so much to be with his daughter.

      He did not want them to be apart. He stopped talking for a bit and his eyes welled up with tears.

      In the end, according to him, she left him because she found him dull, unattractive and thought that his ability to climb higher both financially and socially was unlikely.

      She left him for her former boyfriend.

      She broke his heart.

      It occurred to me that he may be paying child support for a girl whose actual father may in fact be the man his ex had cheated with.

      Stupidly, before I could think about what I was saying, I repeated my suspicions.

      He blinked and gave me a wry smile.

      He said, “My family said the same thing. They think that I should have a paternity test to see if I am the real father.

      “You should know if you are paying support for your child.”

      Then he said something that I have never heard before in my life.

      Still smiling he said, “I don’t want to know if she is really my daughter or his and if I did know I was not the real father… it would not change the fact that I love my little girl.”

      “To me she will always be my daughter… no matter what!”

      To make a lengthy conversation short, I learned that day that this simple gas station attendant did indeed earn enough money from his full-time job to support himself and pay most of the child support for a girl that he considered his daughter no matter what. His second job was more than enough to pay the remaining child support and the remaining funds he kept in a bank account in the event that she would need extra stuff like clothes or birthday gifts or money save in case she ever had an emergency.

      His blood money he put into a college fund so that when she was old enough, she could get an education that would give her a chance to have a better life than him.

       Real tears of pride and hope brimmed in his eyes.

      The full realization of what I had just heard just about reduced me to tears.

      A man that I had initially judged to be course, scruffy and dull and shallow and unimaginative was now in my eyes heroic. He was a living example of love and self-sacrifice.

      His story for me was bittersweet, filling me with both pain and inspiration.

      Painful because this simple and less than average man made my Father sorely lacking by comparison – a man that had thousands of times the resources to help my sister through college or my brother through tough times or even to help me into his line of work when I had been destitute.

      On the other side of the coin, this man’s example was inspirational because I knew he possessed the type of character I wanted to develop. This was the type of parent I hoped I would become.

      This was the type of parent that I knew that my Mother was, that my Sister would become and even my Brother James.

      This man’s story filled me with hope.

      It was inspirational to learn that he was not the only hero selling his blood.

      At this Plasma center I met other men and woman who were coming here for extra money to honor their debts, to get out of some hole that they or life had buried them.

      I met men and women who were selling their blood for their kids who needed braces, or for a child that needed medicine these parents could not otherwise afford, or a person raising money so that he could send his hardworking mother on a vacation that she never had time to take - to a country she always dreamed of seeing since childhood.

      Yes I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places; and even this gift of inspiration was bittersweet. I learned that the hardships that people and I often face in life are at their face value not the most depressing or devastating aspect of life… these trying times are after all are part of life.

      No, what was dismaying to many of the people I shared life experiences with as I waited my turn to submit my body to the assembly line was that much of our suffering and deprivation is unnecessary. Many of these people – myself included – often found their selves scrambling in hard situations because they either did not have people that truly cared about them at all.

      Then there were the unfortunate people that had family or friends that cared but were ineffective to help financially or emotionally; ineffective because of incompetence or simply unwilling to extend their selves to give sound advice or help. I fell into this category.

      I learned that hardships are not that hard when you have people in your circle that love you and are competent enough to give each other adequate help.

      Yes, I shared their pain with all of them; the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the homeless, the mentally ill, the struggling students, the down and out Veterans, the mothers and fathers who were struggling hard as they worked and sacrificed to make a better life for their family.

      Eventually, I managed to find work, and after a few months of feeling secure in my job - I felt safe enough to leave behind the world of selling plasma for food; but not before I experienced a few more previews of death.

      I had gotten into the habit of selling my plasma more than the number of times allotted by the Plasma Center I went to. I learned from a few ambitious and secretive donors – people with kids – that you could sell your blood at another Plasma Center located out of Eugene. We would carpool to this out of town Plasma Center not affiliated to the one we frequented. 

      We felt it was safe enough to sell our plasma two, three or even four extra times per month.

      Although the Plasma Centers were opened Monday through Saturday, they only allowed donors to give twice a week, with a minimum of two days between bloodletting.

      For a donor to give twice weekly, he had to go Monday and Thursday; Tuesday and Friday; or Wednesday and Saturday.  For obvious reasons you’re forbidden to donate more often.

      A few of us violated this rule and got away with it because databases were not what they are today. We would donate in Eugene twice a week on Monday and Thursday and then donate out of town on Saturday.

      The obvious reasons became apparent the second time I pulled a Saturday donation and then a few times thereafter. The same questions as to whether I had eaten a good meal and so forth were asked. Of course I had been eating regularly and in fact once I found a part time job I had managed to buy and store bulk food staples such as rice, corn, wheat, and many types of beans.

      The fact that I had been donating plasma made it essential that I stay hydrated, eat well-balance meals and get sufficient sleep. I did my best to follow all the rules, but working late hours and going to school full-time and training hard a few hours a day really does not allow for much sleep and really depletes a person’s system.

      Selling plasma twice a week on this schedule was tough; just imagine three times a week.

      One day, a Monday, I went to the Plasma Center in Eugene as the Phlebotomist was putting in the needle it stalled and stopped because the needle had hit some of the gristly scar tissue that developed from too many donations.

      The crunching sound “Scheekkk!” that the needle made as the phlebotomist was jammed it through the scar tissue made my toes curl. I imagined that this is often the sound that heroin addicts hear as they plunge their dirty hypodermics into their abused veins.

      My blood was drained and once again the world telescoped backwards and everything around me, then my brain flicks off – switched off into oblivion, into death. There are no dreams there, no heaven or hell; no angels to chase through the woods, none of the Tibetan Bardos that Neo and I have so often talked about. There is no pain or pleasure or want or need for any thing.

      In those deathly moments – there is only nothingness in the void.

      When I was resurrected, I collected my money and left without looking back for what I hoped would be my last time exchanging my blood for food.  


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