Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blood Songs

I'm walking around today with only eleven twelfths of my blood--down to about five and a half quarts of the stuff--because I spilled my AB-negative for the common good this past Saturday.  That blood type makes me a one-percenter since only about 1 in 167 people have it.  In the past, I've felt unreasonably special about this distinction even though I had exactly zero to do with the composition of my sanguinity.

I should thank my parents for the peculiarity; they are the rarest (AB-) and third rarest (B-), and they came with me on Saturday morning, down to the Republican Masonic Lodge in Greenfield, to chat with the folks, and to drink cranberry juice. 

 Megan recently met a woman who didn't know what a juice box was.  Which seems utterly improbable and strangely charming.


There, we unexpectedly met, and haltingly sympathized with, a long-lost friend whose 37-year old daughter had just died of cancer.  While we ate restorative pretzels, he reminded us, maybe, of why we were donating our own little drop in the ocean, and how much we interlock, as Whitman wrote, in ways more mysterious than blood.

ON the beach at night alone, 
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song, 
As I watch the bright stars shining—I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future. 
A VAST SIMILITUDE interlocks all, 
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets, comets, asteroids,        
All the substances of the same, and all that is spiritual upon the same, 
All distances of place, however wide, 
All distances of time—all inanimate forms, 
All Souls—all living bodies, though they be ever so different, or in different worlds, 
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes—the fishes, the brutes, 
All men and women—me also; 
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages; 
All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe, or any globe; 
All lives and deaths—all of the past, present, future; 
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d, and shall forever span them, and compactly hold them, and enclose them.  

1. "God, to Whitman, was both immanent and transcendent and the human soul was immortal and in a state of progressive development."

2.  Whitman was probably gay and would therefore not have been able to give blood, though The Red Cross has petitioned for this restriction to be eliminated.

3. "All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain." - Walt Whitman

While we settled into our long-lost friend's easy-going grief, the guy who'd been manning the front desk for The Red Cross came in and changed the mood.  Here's how the conversation ran:

"She had eight months to live instead of four and we were glad for that," old friend Fred said.

"Fred, can you take over at the front. I've had a lot of cranberry juice and I've gotta use the facilities," said the other guy, entering, and completely unaware of the previous, weighty topic of conversation. 

"Oh, sure, when you gotta go, you gotta go," old friend Fred said.

I reminded myself that drastic changes of tone don't always feel rude or even out-of-place.  Dire and daily mix like blood and water, and have to.


Before those pretzels and that juice and that peeing, it had felt both ancient and futuristic to lie on a bed, hooked up to a needle, pumping blood at the same time as my parents.  Like we were involved in a Latin ritual, or a rite of genealogy, or some dystopic trial (see Never Let Me Go).  This was both creepy and altruistic.  (Is it obvious that this was my first time donating blood?).  And this feeling was heightened by two things: my slight lightheadedness and the fact that within arms-length there was a prominent Masonic throne.

Some breathless and ridiculous sources suggest that freemasonry involves blood sacrifice, but on this Saturday morning, as I reclined in their sunny throne-room, the odd goblets, and the ceremonial maces, and gavels, and bowling league photos didn't seem ominous.  Only humorous.  "Silly, charitable men," I thought as I was slowly sapped.

Odder than the collection of ceremonial hats was the coincidental soundtrack of my donation.  Greenfield's local radio station, WHAI, blared from a radio between the beds, and "She Drives Me Crazy," that great hit from 1988, came on first. 

My chatty phlebotomist said what I'd already been thinking: "Fine Young Cannibals.  Whatever happened to them?"  (Not much, though their pan-racial lead singer Roland Gift, who turns 50 this week, recently put out this excellent song:


I can't say it scared me to think about cannibals while my blood drained, but it did amuse me, and I can imagine a slightly queasier, slightly more delusional person developing some hypertension during the chorus.  After all, if you try hard, you can almost feel the needle in there, humming thirstily against the vein.  And you can almost imagine that Roland Gift is into some abnormal business.  I can't stop the way I feel.  Ooo-oo-oo.

"That's just stupid stuff I think," I thought, until Tommy Tutone came on the radio next, singing about a girl named Jenny and her very famous phone number.  As I wiggled my toes to keep up my circulation, and mimed half of the 8-6-7-5-3-0-9 dance on my right hand, all of the diseases fictional-Jenny could have contracted in 1981 came to mind.

You'll remember that the plot of "(867-5309) Jenny" has a man in a bathroom stall contemplating a good time with a good-time-girl whose number has been scrawled there.

I know you think I'm like the others before
Who saw your name and number on the wall.

Jenny--as I found when I answered the forty question blood-giving contract that covered the entire span of my non-existent, post-1978, in-Mexico, hypodermic-sharing, sex-bartering bisexuality--would more than likely have been ineligible to donate.

Or maybe Jenny was just an innocent girl smeared by an ex-boyfriend who, laugh-crying in a barroom can, publicized her number with a vindictive bic to destroy her reputation, to haunt her from beyond the breakup.  And maybe Roland Gift never attempted to chow-down on anyone's ruddy flesh.  Who can know the answers to or even understand these big questions.


Old friend Fred told us, after we'd given our blood for future transfusion, that his daughter's last meal had been thirteen scoops of ice cream and that she'd wanted to, and had, seen the ocean one more time before she died.  When they were on that beach at night alone, they thought a thought, I bet, of the clef of the universes, and the interlocking Whitman talked about.

"I'm trying to keep busy," Fred told us, and though there are some phrases you've heard 100 times, they still can sound original coming out of the mouths of people who've been remade with pain.


Other songs I half-didn't and half-did want to hear after "867-5309": Foreigner's "Hot Blooded"; "You've Made Me so Very Happy," by Blood Sweat and Tears; "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young; The Pretenders' "Night in My Veins"; and "Foolish Heart" by Steve Perry (not because it has anything to do with bleeding or out-jections, but because it is the song I am the ambivalentest about. 

Staying on the topic of "Foolish Heart" for a moment. . . the song would seem to be emblematic of all songs I've heard more than 100 times without ever consciously listening to them.  I'm positive I've even sung, "Oh foolish, foolish heart" without that experience having one iota of impact on my life and times.  But now it seems like a clever thing to write, a song delivered to one's own heart).

"If there was one thing I could say to the fans, it would be for them to protect their lives, protect their health, protect themselves from things and people who might want to take those things away from them. Then you can live, enjoy music and live your life [. . .] Things that can hurt you, whether that's drugs, too much booze, or too much of anything. Just protect their lives because it's a precious gift that they've been given to be somewhere they've never had a chance to be before and to be here and to have an opportunity to see a lot of things and to try to do things with and for their families and themselves. It's just very important to protect themselves from things that can hurt them. I just hate to see people get all screwed up. It sure changes your life when certain things happen to you.  You've got to respect your life a little bit, it's a special privilege that people take too lightly, until it's gone or until it's damaged. If you damage yourself or hurt yourself, you just wish you could be back where you were when you thought you were unhappy." - Steve Perry who, based on his anti-drug stance here, might be able to give blood

None of those songs played.  Not "Foolish Heart," even though it's the type of worn-out and welcome tune WHAI specializes in.  No, the third song of my blood-giving soundtrack was "Funky Town," which I considered twisting to fit the bloody theme somehow.  

It can't be safely done, but I would still like to note that listening to such a song at 10am on a slow, spring Saturday, in the cluttered Masonic Hall of Greenfield, Mass., while calmly giving of my blood-stuff and making a fist in rhythm to the beat (won't you take me to), is a discordant and lovely experience--along with the cranberry juice, the halting sympathy, the cannibals and all--that I wish on the three people who might receive my probably useless pint of rare red gold.

1 comment:

David Grover said...

"You've been wrong before, don't be wrong anymore..."

All essays are journeys (Journey's?).