I knew Reg and Chad to be smiling, jovial fellows of gainful employment: burrito maker and furniture mover, respectively. Every now and then, we'd get together to drink beer and chat about our common interests: haunted brothels, Merle Haggard, scrimshaw, the death of Herve Villechaize--pretty specific stuff.
So how we got on the topic of donating plasma, I don't remember, but we did. Maybe everybody out there has donated; maybe all of you have tasted the needle and walked out with the cash; maybe I'm just another sheltered pantywaist. But when I've needed extra dollars, I've always thought of other means--washing cars, mowing lawns, selling Grit--rather than giving up a precious bodily fluid.
Not so with these boys. Scoffing at my surprise, they both claimed to have given plasma some 30 times each. Frequently together, twice weekly, tag-team fashion, for beer and food money.
Now, for those of you who slept along with me through health and science classes, here's a heads-up on plasma from Your Blood and Its Cargo by Sigmund Kalina:
"The liquid part of your blood is known as plasma, which is mostly water. The blood plasma has many important jobs. . . . Just as sugar dissolves in milk, all the foods you eat--peanut butter and jelly, pizza, juicy hamburgers, ice cream--are digested into tiny molecules that dissolve in the blood plasma, which swiftly hustles this cargo of food elements to all the body cells. The moving plasma must unload its cargo of unwanted waste molecules without losing all the life-giving molecules."
Back to Reg and Chad. Knowing full well that "charity" is not either of their middle names, why, I asked, would they want to give up something that removes the waste molecules from all the juicy hamburgers and peanut butter they eat? They revealed the answer, and so much more.
Reg: I did it first when I was living in the dorms at ASU. I had no cash, no job, I had just burned my foot working at Ozzie's Warehouse and I was on workman's comp--which is nothing--and I had a hangover. So I went down there to the plasma center with a friend of mine.
Chad: Always a friend gets you in. It's like drugs.
Reg: You walk in and it's just the dregs of humanity, but you're there so you know you're one of the dregs also. Then there's the slacker college students, the middle-aged people and the really old senior citizens, who make you start to feel bad. Then there's the street bums.
Reg: Your first time it takes like four hours. They have horrible movies playing. You get to write down what you want to see, but nobody there is going to write down Cinema Paradiso or anything like that. I got to see Universal Soldier with Dolph Lundgren about 1,000 times.
Chad: And we saw Far and Away a lot of times too, but Universal Soldier was good because the action gets you all psyched to pump your blood out. (Makes excited pumping motion with hand to demonstrate process.)
Reg: So you sit down and wait for 45 minutes, then they call your name and you go to a little booth and they pinprick your finger, which is the worst part of the whole thing. For some reason, that hurts. And I have no idea what they check with that, maybe your pain threshold. "Can you take this? You're in."
Then they ask you a quick succession of questions--have you ever slept with a man? Taken intravenous drugs? Taken money for sex? And they do it so fast, it's like an auctioneer. Eventually you get it memorized. So you sit down again with your little Band-Aid on your finger, waiting to get hooked up to the machine and give plasma, and everybody next to you has a Band-Aid on their finger. But you don't look at anybody. You don't make eye contact. Everybody's like, "I'm not really here. This is my first and only time." It's best to just sit and watch the movie.
Chad: I passed out once 'cause I was a big Taoist at the time. I felt like, I'm going to be the best Taoist of all time, I'm going to eat melon for breakfast and fast for 24 hours here and there, and give myself colonic irrigations and the whole thing.
So this one time I ate all this cantaloupe for breakfast, then I went there and I had to wait forever. They said, "Did you eat breakfast?" And I'm like, "Sure I ate! I'm a Taoist, I ate cantaloupe for breakfast."