The first scribblings from the Life-Narrative
August 22nd… Our swish waiter barks “You can’t take leftover food off other tables—that’s wrong for so many reasons!,” frozen with horror after my quick play for “tablescores.” A nearby table had walked, abandoning a full pitcher of Coca-Cola— a dangling carrot for Brandon Joyce, whose body has been immunized by years upon years of low maintenance. There was no time to be squeamish about lip infections or the voiced disgust of onlookers. The Coke had spoken. The previous night, we had hooked a plate of shit-potato chips and a cup of coffee, two creams, two sugars. Here, in action, was the redistribution of Waste; scavengers of the middle-class, skimming the fat off the Great American Surplus. Mixing fun and famine.
—Take and you shall receive. We enjoyed a handsome meal for the price and alibi of a bottomless cup, once again staving off the claims of Necessity in the midsummer heat and irresponsibility. Not to mention, I generally dispense with Luxury, not from asceticism or dirt-poverty, but from a cocksure value-inversion. Recalibrating my tastes and expectations, to spite the sham naturalness of Taste and Desire. There is really no better motivation than spite. Plus, my upper-middle-class origins aside, I’m poor as shit.
…. Tuesday, I’ve scheduled an appointment with Sera-Tec Biological, a local “plasma donation center,” another break in the causal chain. Very soon thereafter, I enter another sleep-deprivation study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, testing some anti-narcoleptic prototype, Modafinil. One thousand American dollars for four days of institutional abuse. Desperate actions for a desperate cause: come September, I’m trotting off to Dublin, with neither a theory nor a plan, to engage in my imbalanced vision of a good time. The over-inflated pharmaceutical industry is picking up the tab for this three-month disaster, and for my confusions of work and play in general. I’m currently “between studies,” and technically homeless, I suppose…Bouncing between Charlottesville duties, Winchester farmwork, and Richmond amblings (constructing a shabby webpage in flight). I’m no gutter-punk, however. I am an enterprising young man, despite my grades and living conditions. I just so happen to embrace some rather dubious rationales— Lebenphilosophies and lifestyle choices, you understand, and I’m to suffer for them.
But, for now, I am enjoying a care-free air-conditioned diner, with my dear brother…”I’m Tyree,” my brother extends his hand to our waiter, forcing an introduction. “Jeff” “Brandon” “Nice to meet you” “Nice to meet you too”…Tyree has recently been engaged in the struggle against human loneliness, his and others. By sidestepping the excuse needed for most social introductions, he can easily perform the simple act of exchanging names. Often with considerable dignity and results…Two nights later, because of his forwardness, Tyree and I attended a Luau, replete with Giligan’s-Island atmospherics and Tiki music. Good kids, armed with the most essential of party-favors— mortar shell fireworks. But like most parties, it had its limitations. There is definitely an unchartered medium in the re-organization of human flocking-patterns, in the reshaping of social dynamics. But the traditional recipe for parties— pleasant music, drink, and chatter— really holds no appeal for me. I prefer to engineer the traumatic, the orgiastic, the marvelous, the deeply intimate— a Saturday evening in the twilight zone- but rarely receive enough takers to amount to a truly “social” gathering. There just comes a time in a boy’s life where casual grad-student bashes no longer satisfy— He wants to see blood, blood, blood.
(August 24/25, I think) After an hour of sleep, my day begins abruptly. A telephone call from my lovely girlfriend Annelies, who is currently abroad, mastering the language and attitude of Italia. Then another call, from Mr. Baron Ramsey, a dear friend, capital prankster, and a living exemplar of the virtues of Excess. A weekend is planned, though we both know that too much time together is “probably a bad idea.” And, let me tell you, Brandon Joyce can never resist a bad idea. Call it attenuated masochism, call it unadulterated stupidity, call it whatever you like. I’m out to prove the adjancency of Desire and Suffering, and nothing rings so lovely as certain Doom. I want to hear the Devil snickering. When last we met, there were severe confusions, mental breakdowns, Drag Queens, livestock… grim situations. Hopefully, we’ll have the same luck this time (I will keep you posted)….
Once the day was underway, I checked out a disturbing exhibit at the Anderson Gallery— three-dimensional clay-mation, as best as I can describe it. The technological innovation was a royal mind-fuck illusionism. Moaning faces turning themselves inside-out, helicopter/babies, falling paper transforming into glasses of milk— and within an arms reach. (The innovation used strobe lights and rotating frame-sculptures— a three-dimensional counterpart to film, if you get the picture. A clever adaptation of the Victorian zoetrope). In the exhibit flyer, G. B*********, the maker, whined that his audience too often ignored the “artistic content” for the “technical wizardry.” And for good reason, the content was unremarkable— dreams and fluff-surrealism, mostly. From the flyer it was painfully apparent that Mr. B********, and the greater part of Western civilization, stills has some faith in art as a concept and cultural category. Whereas I think that, having been on life-support since the implosions of the early twentieth century, it is hightime to pull the plug on this routine; that art should go the way of alchemy.
This does not mean that the particular activities under its aegis demand dissolution. Just the aegis itself— it has simply outlived its usefulness as a justification, as cultural baggage, as a unified meaning, as a hopelessly self-contained and sanitized “espace,” as a distinction from everydaylife, as an obsolete category of human actions, as a profession, as a battlecry for disaffected high-school students, as a Kantian Fach, and finally, as the storm’s center in the tired controversy of aesthetic essences. What happens in the post-history of art?—I’ll tell you, no one says the A-word any longer, end of story. So after the show, I walked out into the sunlight, and dove back into Life and a summerday that consisted mostly of drifting and horseplay—or should I say, with gravitas, Drifting and Horseplay. Two noble and perfectible philsophical hobbies.
Thursday, Shedding blood for fun and profit. Bloodletting is alive and thriving in the 21st century. Historians might let on otherwise just because whitecoats and butterfly-needles have replaced the barbers and skull-drills of yesteryear, but the essentials remain unchanged. Yes, friend, I’m talking about plasma donation, miracle of modern medicine and gravy train to the innercity. For those unacquainted with this dire practice, plasmapheresis is not the same thing as the neighborhood Bloodmobile. The Bloodmobile, by regulation, can only suck you once per month, and without any financial perks to the suckee. The plasma-bank, however, can bleed you twice a week, since the machines only take the plasma, which replenishes itself within 72 hours of your last drip. Plus, as a consolation prize, the plasma donor walks out of the clinic with upwards of fifty-dollars cash, not counting the added grab-bag of referral fees, start-up bonuses, and inhouse raffles the bank uses to lure fresh blood. I began donating plasma two years ago, in order to cushion my wallet for a psychotic tour of the European Continent. Before long, my friends and I became plasma-bank regulars, visiting the lab twice a week, every week. And we soon learned the routine:
The night and morning before the donation, the Good Donor must forsake bacon-doublecheeseburgers, drink barrels of water, and try to avoid vigorous exercise, such as ‘pushing his luck”and Ã«walking the line.’ When the Good Donor arrives at the clinic, he should courteously inform the desk-clerk of his timely arrival, and sit patiently in the waiting room until his full name and number are called- “Brandon A. Joyce, 23502.”
The whitecoats will then weigh and question the Good Donor, afterwhich they will politely instruct him to “Go to Door #3, when your name is called, sir.” Behind Door #3, the nurse will mutter her way through a medical questionnaire about the Good Donors familiarity with opium-derivatives and sub-Saharan Africa. As dictated by state health regulations, she straps on the sphyg-no-mo-no-meter (n.), takes his temperature (Celsius), and pricks his forefinger for an iron count (Iron:Fe). Pitifully nursing a bleeding finger, the Good Donor then proceeds to the draining room, where the machines are busy at work, sucking the lifeblood from human bodies. “Brandon Joyce? Bed number 16!” The Good Donor should lie down on the vinyl recliner, next to his assigned “autopheresis machine.” This little machine, with all its centrifuges, bloodbags, and plastic tubes, is a kind of Robotic Barber, on wheels; invented to keep the phlebotemists and nurses-in-training from carbonating our bloodstreams.
When his turn comes, the Good Donor should pray for a good, clean stick with the butterfly needle, or suffer a sloppy stick in dignified silence. “Strike true, Big Joe, Strike true!” As a safety precaution, the Good Donor may not sleep or close his eyes, but he may certainly read, watch the crappy Blockbuster flick, or ponder the cruel fate that has brought him to the desperate reality of medical vampirism. After forty-five minutes of squirming, belly-aching, handpumping, sucking, straining, and draining, the machine kicks into reverse and refills the Good Donor with a clear saline solution; which is, I might add, deliciously cool to the veins. After disconnection, the Good Donor collects his earnings with an arm held skyward. Rest assured Good Donor, you have saved the life of a fellow in need. On the way home, go ahead— treat yourself to an extra Tasty Cake from the bakery thrift-store.
Well, this is Standard-Operating-Procedure, but the reality is more masochistic, more slanted, more Ghetto-Fabulous. When my friends and I discovered that serious time was shaved off with handpumping and proper diet, this all-too-clinical procedure quickly devolved into the most unlikely of races, furiously pumping to fill the blood-bucket with 850 ml of pure mellow-yellow. And you might as well enjoy yourself. Reading nearly always proves impossible; with the movie rolling, the draining-room turns into a regular peanut gallery. The crowd is infinitely more entertaining than the feature ever could be; narrating the action, warning the characters of their eminent danger, and periodically filling the room with a deep, wonderful laughter. “Whooo- snap! That bitch got stuck in the eye!”
Nothing, however, pleases the crowd like the sight of blood. After disconnection, some donors forget to hold the gauze tight to their arms and blood inevitably spews in every direction. Onto the floor, nurses, and fellow donors- sometimes at distances of up to 10 ten feet. The more blood, the heartier the chuckles that ripple around the draining room, reveling in the panicky spectacle of a human sprinkler. You see, I think plasma donation is, in some ways, a bonding experience. We look around the draining room at our fellow blood brothers and blood sisters, united in the struggle against autoimmune deficiencies. On the streets, we recognize each other by the distinctive track-marks, the engorged and bruisy badges of the loyal donor. And when we laugh at one of our fellows gushing vital fluids from their arm, itÃs as if to say Ã¬Hey, we all make mistakes sometimes.Ã® We are united in blood.
That’s why, now that I find myself Europe-bound again, I naturally returned to local plasma-bank, where the nurses are curt, and the blood flows like wine. But, on my first day back, instead of the usual 90-minute bleeding, I endured a six-hour blur of waiting rooms, forms, and bad Nicolas Cage action-thrillers. Six-fucking-hours, mostly waiting for the medical questionnaire. Ã¬Have a seat, Brandon, and close the door behind you, please. Now, Brandon, are you currently a college student?… Really, what are you studying, I mean, what is your major?… Philosophy? I see. Isn’t that like statistics? I mean, wasn’t Freud a philosophist?” —And this from a licensed play-doctor. I shrugged and mumbled my way through the small-talk, avoiding self-explanation at all costs. The world was obviously confusing enough for the poor woman. After the chit-chat, my examiner switched into lecture-mode— “Brandon, can you tell me what we might categorize as high-risk behavior for the contraction of H.I.V.?” “Well, visiting the Congo, apparently.”
“Well, yes, but there are others: unprotected sex, multiple partners, gay sex, intravenous drug-use…” With each item, her voice and eyebrows rose with suspicion and insinuation. Then, the checklist began: “Have you ever… been to the Congo or West Africa since 1977, had sex with a man since 1977, been incarcerated for more than 72 hours, prostituted yourself for money or narcotics…” Suddenly, my bank of experiences felt very small. Inwardly, I began drafting a newly-inspired list of life-goals. “Brandon, have you ever suffered from… jaundice, any form of lung disease, hemophilia, syphilis, gonorrhea, or any sexually-transmitted disease, swollen or sensitive testicles, large blue or purple blemishes…What’s so funny?” —I had fallen victim to an overactive imagination, most likely aggravated by six punch-drunk hours under harsh fluorescent lighting.
After passing the grueling admissions process, I suffered that autopheresis machine for nearly two hours, thanks to the thick blood of a high-caffeine diet. But, after they pulled the leeches off, and the cash hit my greedy palms, all was right in the world. Yes sir— this over-the-counter prostitution of my veins is my kind of gig. Plasma-donation may earn me fifty dollars a week, but makes no claims upon my Being while doing so. It is a simple exchange, quid pro quo, that solves the looming problems of Necessity. Then again, for many of the donors, its apparent that things are not quite so cheery. This is to them just another half-assed solution to the cruel, cruel world, the last bus-stop before the Superfresh. And something tells me that they might not find it so amusing.