OCCUPATION: CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS FOR A HUGE MULTINATIONAL.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: SINGLE.
LAST BOOK READ: CAN’T REMEMBER.
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO: NOTHING GOOD.
EMAIL ADDRESS: JACKASS@AOL.COM.
Jack was sipping from his green beer when his iPhone farted on the bar. When was the last time an email brought anything but annoyance or unwelcome news? Bill reminders, pleas to donate money to his alma mater, a discount offer on Yankees tickets—because those peckers had still not honored his numerous requests to be unsubscribed from all mailings. Obviously it wasn’t a personal email; those things were extinct. He caught Moonie’s drunk, shifty eyes and said, “Wanna bet that’s from The New Yorker? A subscription reminder?” and he pointed at his phone, which farted again.
Moonie burped into his fist and rolled his eyes. “More likely a reminder to renew your subscription to NAMBLA, ya perv.”
A fat man wobbling behind Moonie gave them the side eye.
It was actually an email from The New York Blood Center, a reminder that’s Jack appointment to donate was at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Right in the middle of the email: Remember to drink plenty of water starting 24 hours before donation.
Jack swished his green beer, said, “There’s a lot of water in this, right?”
Moonie pushed the plate of nachos across the bar. “Eat.”
The door of the bar creaked, sunlight sniffing across the beer-soaked floor to nose out the dark nooks of The Windsock. Moonie mouthed a triangle of corned beef hash and chinned toward something of interest. Two girls giggling down the bar. They raised their shot glasses and said “Sláinte,” curled them to their mouths and slammed them down. One of them with a smudged shamrock under her left eye, she burped and her cheeks bubbled with the promise of puke. Fist-tapped her sternum, followed her friend into the afterlife of sunlight, the crypt closing behind them.
Day drinking on St. Paddy’s Day, the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament. Fuckin A, right?
“What’s your fucking problem?” Moonie said. “What’s it say?”
The email was anchored with underlined words: Remember, giving blood is a serious commitment.
“Fuck me,” Jack said. “I gotta go.”
“Of course you do,” and Moonie pinched the edges of a green Ruffles potato chip and entered it into evidence.
“Jesus Christ, is nothing sacred? That’s rank,” Jack said.
“What’s your excuse this time?” and Mooney bit the chip.
“I have to give blood tomorrow.”
Moonie laughed. “You made an appointment to give blood on the day after St. Paddy’s. After taking the day off, telling me we were gonna watch hoops all day. Go fuck yourself, appointment to give blood.”
Jack crossed his arms and slumped in his chair.
“Run along, then,” Moonie said and finished the chip.
Jack scooched forward and lifted his green beer. “Fine, but I at least have to slow down.”
“Sure, I’ll slow you down,” and Moonie stumbled up and hugged a big-breasted waitress in shamrock glasses. “Two shots of Jamo, darling,” and she blushed and wriggled free.
“Fine, two shots of Jameson. Keep your hands to yourself, Moonie.”
Jack shook his head. “How do you know her?”
“She knows me; there’s a difference,” Moonie said.
Moonie shrugged, acknowledging this could be true. “And you’re an idiot. Now man up. Can’t have you donating the blood of a pussy-ass quitter.”
The blood in Jack’s temples was beating to the rhythm of “Ode to Joy,” a paradox given the loathsome hangover quaking his body. The right hand encased in blue gauze, a shameful reminder of his late-night boast, “Throw the dart, fucker, I’ll catch it.” The puncture wound had gone right through his lifeline. When Moonie pulled on the dart’s thin blue plastic flight, the white wound filled with blood that quickly overflowed the sides of the hole, and Jack felt light-headed at the sight of the blood and slumped against the silent jukebox. The big-breasted waitress pushed a green Guinness T-shirt into his wounded paw and told him to raise it over his head. And that’s where it was now, with “Ode to Joy” blaring as his iPhone alarm. He rolled through the sweaty sheets and fumbled to the freezer for the box of sausages, dumped a smattering of the frozen turds onto a plate and put them in the microwave for 90. He put his head under the kitchen sink, the water cascading through his hair and around his ears to bathe his mummified possum tongue. The grease popped from the sausages and they came to a cook. Pulled them from the microwave and gnawed on them with swallows of orange juice. He had 55 minutes till his appointment with the needle. Time enough to ride the bike, sweat out the sins.
He leaned into the closet, wrested his orange Asics from the clutter, his stomach pitching forward with acid to his throat. With the resistance set to high, he gripped too tightly with his wounded palm, shame fuel to the veins. He hadn’t given blood in months, the recent emails from the New York Blood Center—subject line: Severe shortage of your blood type—helpful reminders that he needed to shed the blood as much as they needed it. When he lived in Connecticut, he would skip his appointments on the regular, not feel guilty about it. After all, he wasn’t actually donating blood; they were drawing it out of him and tossing it away. He had hemochromatosis—a blood condition that causes your body to create too much iron — so the blood was considered tainted, unusable. On par with someone with HIV or hepatitis. In Connecticut, anyway. Not the case in NYC.
The 7 train was SRO, a rolling sea of St. Paddy’s survivors blinking madly against the accusations of the day. Plenty of aspiring Wall Street humps encased in shiny suits and slicked back hair, toting leather satchels tucked in with legal pads and résumés. One of the established financial types, a bald white guy whose red headphones looked like earmuffs, was flapping a newspaper. Jack noticed the ink stains on the man’s stubby fingertips and he inhaled deeply to try to catch a whiff of some newspaper ink. Instead he caught some coffin of underarm, farts and parmesan cheese.
He missed his newspaper hours, the 10-6 in the Greenwich Time features department, working far ahead on profiles, book reviews and health stories. But the money had sucked, living paycheck to paycheck. And then newspaper journalism more or less vanished as a profession, with colleagues cast to new jobs in disparate sectors. He knew he was one of the lucky ones, landing a gig writing corporate communications for a giant multinational. But he still lived as if tomorrow were promised to no one. His phone rang with his sister’s ring tone—the sound of the shower scene from Psycho.
“Go for Jack,” he said.
“Go for Jack, right. You sound awful,” Sara said. “Go for Jack.”
“I rode three miles this morning, plus the usual pushups, curls and sit-ups,” he said.
“Penance for last night, no doubt.”
“Yeah, we went out, nothing too crazy.”
“Jesus Christ! You posted a goddamn, I’m looking at your Facebook, a goddamn picture of a dart in your fucking hand.”
He sat down on a park bench encrusted with pigeon shit and closed his eyes against the sunshine, a boy and a girl running by in laughter with the girl lunging to yank the green scarf about the boy’s neck. A blonde nanny dawdled behind this kid’s version of attempted murder and shouted, “Stop, before one of you gets keeled!”
“What?” Sara said to him. “Where are you? Obviously not at work.”
“I’m on my way to give blood.”
“What, I made a promise, I’m keeping an appointment.”
“Like it’s a good idea to give blood after the night you’ve had.”
Was he still drunk? Good chance. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
She hung up.
He pushed through the glazed doors and the waiting room was a fever of people filling out paperwork. “Fuck me,” he said, the eyes all shifting to him. He grabbed a pen and the requisite sheets and lowered into a soft leather chair. He awoke with a start and a nurse in aquamarine scrubs was standing in front of him with arms crossed and “What the fuck?” plastered across her face.
“Sorry,” and he rose and shuffled along into the next room. Nurses were working a grove of IV trees, where donors—with those long monstrous needles javelined into their arms—were thumbing their cell phones. The wall-mounted TV was turned to The Price Is Right and Drew Carey was shouting “Spin the wheel!”
An unshaven man was smacking through the pages of Vanity Fair, huffed and tossed the magazine toward an end table; it landed short. Jack’s reed thin nurse dipped forward at the waist like a shoreline bird plucking a snail from the water’s edge and picked up the magazine and tucked it under her arm. She sidled up to the magazine thrower’s IV and traced her fingers down the line to a mason jar pooling with red wine blood. She raised the jar between them and said, “Five more minutes, Mr. Dinan,” and he winced and looked away. The first time Jack had given blood, the nurse had also showed him a jar of progress; he woke up on the floor.
The nurse guided him to a tan leather recliner, and he hopped in and pulled the lever to recline at 180. “Don’t tell me,” the nurse said, raising a hand for halt. “An ice pack for your neck, and tape the needle in place with two—not one—strips of tape. Also, take off the tourniquet as soon as I get a good flow going. And under no circumstances am I to show you the bottle or tell you how much longer you have.”
“Impressive, surprised you remembered,” and Jack accepted the ice pack wrapped in a paper towel and placed it behind his neck.
“We always remember the eccentrics,” she said.
He laughed; she didn’t.
“You drank a lot of water last night and this morning,” she said.
She slid the blood pressure sleeve around his bicep and pumped the black balloon a few times, sighed with release.
“140 over 90,” she said. “A little high. You nervous?”
“Should I be?”
She pressed two fingers against the inside of his wrist. She leaned away from him and gave him a once over. “Rough one last night? Quite the Budweiser cologne,” and she scribbled something on his sheet. “You really shouldn’t be giving blood if you’ve been drinking,” she went on, and heads rose among the IV trees and perused to find him.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Just make sure you only have to poke me once.”
“You’re not afraid of needles.”
“No, but I am afraid of nurses who can’t find veins.”
She laughed. “You’re as white as my bedroom sheets. I’d have to be Stevie Wonder not find a vein on you.”
The white ceiling tiles with their rolling rivulets were like the surface of the moon and he tried to picture himself hopping across it in a space suit. The nurse said, “Squeeze this ball in your fist” and she wiped the inside of his elbow with a sterilizing pad and said, “You’re gonna feel a small pinch” and the thorn was there and the tightness of his skin resisting the needle’s intrusion. It poked into his arm, his throat catching. He exhaled and glanced and a dollop of blood had seeped away from the wound and coursed a stream to the tan armrest. She shifted the needle and the nausea ballooned and he pushed his neck into the ice pack. He was on the ceiling bouncing away from the moon like an untethered astronaut. “Damn,” she said, and the needle tilted in his arm again and he thought of her threading his skin like a seamstress.
He opened his eyes and she was offering him a Dixie Cup. “Apple juice. You passed out. We’re going to run you a saline IV, OK?” and he nodded yes. Whispers and Drew Carey saying, “Spin the wheel!” and Jack scooched to sit up higher and his back felt cool, the ice pack there. The nurse placed a palm on his forehead, said, “Feeling better?”
“How much did I give?”
She brought the jar up as evidence; he jolted away.
“Sorry,” she said. “As you can see, we didn’t get much.”
He closed his eyes and nodded. “Let’s go again. Other arm,” he said.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Well, can’t do anything until you’ve finished running this IV.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Then just sit back and relax. Anything I can get ya?”
Yeah, a nurse who doesn’t work a needle like a toilet brush.
“Sorry about the needle,” she said.
She smiled and tapped his chart. Probably reading that he had hemochromatosis, realizing now that his desire to continue was driven by a lot of self-interest. Donating blood allowed him to get rid of the excess iron that could accumulate in his organs, build-up that could lead to cirrhosis of the liver and countless other life-threatening shit. His skin was noticeably less red in the days after a phlebotomy; he had more energy. He focused on this now, his future self.
“When did you start exhibiting symptoms?” the nurse asked him.
And so he recounted the fortuitous incident at the dentist, when a hygienist who had been cleaning his teeth said that he was bleeding excessively, not clotting properly. She recommended that he get some blood work, a precaution.
“My primary called me back within days and told me, said I was lucky. Said I’d probably have been dead by the time I was 30 if I hadn’t started getting the bleeds, that’s how high my iron levels were.”
“It’s a lot more common than people know. My dad has it,” the nurse said.
“Runs in people from the Celtic regions, Ireland. Part of why they have a reputation for drinking,” Jack said. “People who don’t even drink that much – or at all – retain iron from eating red meat or shellfish or red wine. And then they develop ruddy skin, cirrhosis. So they get a bad rap.”
The nurse laughed. “Says the guy who came in here smelling like the floor of a bar.”
“By the way,” she went on. “What happened to your hand?”
He shook his head no.
“Of course,” and she patted his leg and went off to slalom among the IVs.
He logged onto Facebook; he had 127 new comments.
Nice catch —Moonie.
Funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
How is the hand?
JFC, go to rehab already.
He closed Facebook. He thought-bubbled some quick, ramshackle poems, “A house in disarray, what else is there to say?” and “Fool for the people, impaled on your steeple.”
He snorted himself awake. The nurse patted his arm and said, “Sorry, Mr. Mayes, I don’t think it’s going to happen today.”
“Please,” he said.
She crossed her arms and drummed an elbow.
“Please,” he said. “If you have to keep sticking me, fine, just don’t hunt around with the needle.”
“OK,” and she waved for him to sit up higher. She replaced the ice pack behind his neck and he eased back into it and stared up at the surface of the moon.
“Here we go, you’re gonna feel a little pinch.”
He felt nothing.
“OK, we’ve got a good flow,” she said, and she taped the needle in place.
He watched the wall clock with the second hand sweeping and he squeezed the red ball to keep the blood flowing, each squeeze a blast of the astronaut’s pack. He felt the old familiar nausea and the rubber ball fell from his hand and bounced on the floor. The nurse laid her palm against his forehead, said, “How you feeling? Are you OK?” and he closed his eyes and shook his head no. She rubbed the outside of his thigh and said, “OK, OK, take it easy.”
He sighed, the shame washing over him.
“You’ve done your duty,” and she raised the jar of blood. Almost fucking full. He smiled, closed his eyes and leaned into the cool of the ice pack.
The nurse gave him a large Dixie cup of apple juice and a small sleeve of Oreos and he sat on the recliner and crossed his legs. He opened Facebook.
You left your credit card at the bar.
Some things never change.
Looking real good, Mayes.
Ignore these assholes —Moonie.
He negotiated the labyrinth of IV trees and pushed through the glass doors into the midday of Lexington Avenue, its mix of tourists and business types all sampling the sunburst sky. Outside the Waldorf, he leaned against the cross beam of a scaffold, with the metal cool and calming to his temple. He slumped to a sit. A black doorman leaned down next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Can’t sit there, man. You OK?”
“Come inside and sit down,” the doorman said. “Can’t stay there.”
Jack’s pocket farted with a new message. Fuck off, please; everyone. It’d be another comment about last night’s idiocy. Or a text from his sister. He stared at the Band-Aid on his palm. He opened his phone, an email from the New York Blood Center.
Jack, thank you for your donation. Abby, 7, is among the many recipients who benefit from the generosity of people like you. Please click below to read a personalized video message from Abby, a leukemia survivor. Like you, she has the rarest blood type.
“Really, man, you gotta get up, can’t sit in the front like this,” the doorman said. “You need me to call someone?”
Jack leaned his neck on the cool of the scaffold and clicked the video below.