Being broke and having no prospects, I decided to give blood for the free coupons for ice cream and coffee. Blood for ice cream, blood for coffee, it was a good trade, a good place to start a poem. Going there was like enlisting: you were thrown together with a whole bunch of cruddy people, had to fill out forms; they asked you a lot of questions and looked at you as though knowing you were lying and wanting you to: Have you ever been to Africa? Have you ever used intravenous drugs that were not prescribed for you? Have you ever traded sex for drugs? Have you ever had sex with someone who has traded sex for drugs? Did you love this person? Did they love you? What is love, what kind of love was it? Do you have any regrets? The nurse gave me ball to squeeze to bring up my vein, like I could never do myself, and you never forgot that the needle was in you, hooked into the heart of your arm snagged like sweater on the hook of a coat hanger. My blood came out in great big red loops like I was a living valentine. She told me to keep squeezing every fifteen seconds. It doesn’t hurt a lot, but I felt somehow helpless stuck up on that couch with my feet up where I can see the holes in my socks in this room fresh as a hospital and for some reason I feel like crying, probably because I only slept four hours and I’m usually not up at this hour, only I couldn’t sleep and it’s a pity that I don’t find the nurse more attractive, because I want to cry a little and can’t cry very well so I imagine that I want to share my sorrow with someone that I can sleep with and so make the most of it, get it all out, so to speak. I imagine she would squeeze my hand every fifteen seconds and I would squeeze back and I would hate lying there on that couch, my head comforted on her breast, unable to stop crying and sniffling, really hating her perfume, which was certainly a knock-off and her strong nurse inflected accent. Easy, baby, she would say. I had a friend who use to say that to me. I look down at the bag and it looks bad, dark like a plastic sac full of coco from the inside of a vending machine, it looks brown and spoiled, already coagulated. No wonder: I’ve been going around with dead, spoiled blood in my veins, turned like bad meat.
I had to get out of there pretty quickly, I talk too much sometimes, or not all. I was hoping for some movie passes or a free steak dinner, but they just put me in a stupid raffle and gave me a stupid T-shirt, a pen, a tennis ball, a coupon for a massage and a free tattoo, and a ladies’ purse. They didn’t really intend for me to take this last item, but it was on the freebee table with all the other stuff and I was kind of pissed there were no movie tickets and no steak dinner. I was out for blood. I hopped out of that place and got a pint of whiskey at the usual place, to go, because the people who work the day shift are pretty awful and the people who come in are worse; these same people are also there in the evenings, but at this hour they haven’t been seasoned properly. I didn’t open the Old Crow right away because I wanted cigarettes and coffee first.
I went to one of those franchise coffee places that’s all overpriced that looks like a fruity hair salon. I bet it looks exactly like the drawings they made. The coupon got me a free bagel too, and it was all fancy and I mispronounced its name. I put this vile stuff on my bagel that I thought was lox, but tasted of berries and Spelenda® and reminded me of shampooing my hair a girl’s place once. I sat down with my coffee in a booth and started to read Rimbaud, but it got pretty boring after a while because I can’t read French and so I stared to tear a few pages out of the book where I felt the poem could be shorter. I made an appendix out of these and a frontispiece for the appendix with a napkin. I wrote the words “Abridged and Revised” on the cover and thought that future library patrons would thank me. People at the coffee place had trouble understanding me for some reason and I had to repeat myself when I asked for water. I got in trouble for smoking. I think I could have stayed and even been happy there, because they had unlimited coffee, but what with the smoking and all it got a little uncomfortable. I was in a booth so I didn’t think anyone really would have minded me slipping a little bourbon into my coffee. I made the mistake all innocent people make, that of defending myself. “I gave blood this morning.” I said. “I’m a veteran.” It’s really lousy when people say “sir” and they really don’t mean it (like police officers): “Please stop shouting, sir.” I wasn’t shouting. I just project exceptionally well and there’s something in your goddamned coffee gives me a burning sensation when I pee and it’s not just me, because I was in that bathroom a fucking long time and asked everybody who came in, men and women.
So I left there after I had made my point, not in too much of a hurry, because for all their talk, I didn’t see anyone behind the counter going for the phone and though other people with their damn cell phones kept asking if they should call, none of them actually did, because people are basically cowards, just worthless, really. I shouldn’t say that, because one girl stuck up for me. She was really bright and upbeat in a nihilistic hippy chick kind of way and gracious enough to share the pint I had. I told her about colleges she should apply to when she graduates from high school, but she says she’s quitting to de-tassel corn because apparently you can make good money and smoke up all day and de-tassel corn and go to something called Bonaroo. People are wrong when they say that young people are lazy. But you know me, I hate hard work and being dirty unless I’m sleeping. But I made my point and it was like that scene in that stupid Jerry Maguire movie where Tom Cruise gets his ass fired and asks if anyone will go with him to start an amazing new company. I said something like that, but I guess it was pretty fucked up or people had trouble understanding me because nobody did and some ball caps and one old guy stood up like I was going to crash the place into the World Trade or something. Even the chick with the burned hair declined, but I guess her Mom really didn’t want her to go. She had one of those hospital bands on her wrist and I meant to ask her about that. I hate scenes. I just want people to just get along and otherwise leave me the hell alone. I guess I left in kind of a hurry. I was about halfway through the parking lot when I realized I had a lot less Old Crow than I thought I did, I didn’t have any. I had a momentary moment of reproach for the girl with burned hair, but I’d been pretty emphatic about her helping herself and it being a good idea. Holy crap, I was still carrying the mini-newspaper rack I grabbed on the way out. Well, that’s stupid. I wasn’t some crazy homeless person who thought he was going to sell them for money on the corner, though maybe it means some of those good people had made their call by now. I thought about peeing all over the newspapers in the rack, but John Kerry was on the front page and I didn’t want them to think there was some kind of political message.
I decided to take a shortcut from the sun through some dense underbrush that filled the ditch separating the parking lot of the coffee place from some other franchise crap. I thought it was a place where they made home style Italian food or cut your hair. By “dense underbrush” I really mean a whole lot of unpleasant thick nasty shit that you don’t want to try walking through any day. It was full of crap, crap from the coffee place and every other fuckface franchise in the damn mall. The water really reeked and mud got into my shoes which I really hate. I shouldn’t have wandered into there, but it was good cover and nine times out of ten there’s a stash of porno or something somewhere in place like this. Sure enough, I found a stained cardboard mat, some clothing and a jug of nasty looking water. It had been all rained on. There was no place to sit. A mosquito bit my eye. I didn’t want to stay there anymore. I suddenly recalled that maybe that wasn’t an Italian place, maybe it was a Mexican place on the other side. I needed salt. I was dehydrated. I bet they served Margaritas. By the pitcher. On my way out there was a box of condoms and, across from it, a spent condom. Look at this place, people are crazy. Fucking in a watery weed-filled ditch between Petsmart and Friendly’s.
Being inside the Mexican place took forever, like they’re weren’t ready for lunch, though the assembled, gently faded grandparents there didn’t seem to be having any trouble. I liked they way they looked, because they were all faded and washed out, and the women made little chirping noises and they all had such big droopy features, that didn’t really have any subtly that made me think they were honest. Whenever they made expressions there were lots of ripples, as it were and it made me happy and so I sketched with a little crayon they had given me, but it was a yellow crayon and so the faces looked entirely demonic, like some Emile Nolde painting and I felt like I was pure poison, really, and when was that waitress going to get here with the Margarita pitcher, even just get here and show up so I could express my desire to be treated to such a thing? I needed the salt. I was dehydrated. This was science talking.
I must have sobered up because when the waitress (Sandy) got there I had swallowed enough minutes and ice water to not talk about science. It was a good thing because I had started to worry I looked like I had too much crap. You get lousy service if you’re carrying too much random crap. Like a newspaper rack. I had wisely ditched that, but I still had the tennis ball, a torn-up library book, a stupid T-shirt and pen, and a ladies’ purse that clearly wasn’t mine. I must have dropped the coupon in the ditch and the thought of getting up to go get it and leave all this nice air conditioning and World War II veterans made me unhappy. I put it all this shit on a chair and tried to make it look like the owner of the purse might be joining me. I also worried if I stank from the ditch. But it was hot, or everyone stank a little, or maybe Sandy liked me well enough already and accepted me for who I was, because they were nice to me, and I got my Margarita (just one) and it was good and dark and cool and the music throbbed quietly and people seemed to be having a good time.
The Margarita wasn’t particularly good, so I was glad I didn’t get a whole pitcher. When Sandy got me a menu (“Just in case you get hungry.”) I realized why: it was really supposed to be a sort of French Country bistro, but it was another franchise, so it was like a cartoon, with the staff wearing stripey shirts or little black outfits (which looked pretty good on Sandy)and the motto “Vee ‘ope ewe like eet!” and the nasal phrase “Hawnnh-Hawnnh-Hawnnh” actually printed on the menu and I thought France! At last, I’ve made it to France. I had wanted to go to France ever since I didn’t believe in anything anymore. I didn’t believe in love. I knew this ever since I stopped reading Wittgenstein. All I cared about was looking good, getting laid and sleeping in and seeing something funny once in awhile like a Richard Burton movie. I wouldn’t drink, but I feel a need to laugh and there are only so many Richard Burton movies. I used to write stories, but they were always overdone and never went anywhere and weren’t very convincing because unlike most writers I really hated getting involved and being bothered and have no real curiosity about “the world” or desire to write about it. In fact, I’m pretty hostile to the whole idea. I mainly liked writing about myself and making shit up. I still cared about style, but mainly because I didn’t want other people to have it. The French have always understood this, I thought, petty thieves and low scoundrels are their national heroes. I would have to go to France to be understood, like Pierre Curie. There, I could drink cheap wine in little glasses and fight anti-Semitism, have sex in a teepee, drink absinthe, denounce the United States freely and decline the Nobel Prize.
I decided I had to get in shape for France, so I ordered a nice cognac, VSOP, which was exactly one power of ten greater the money I had left, but I pronounced its name right, perfectly even. I’m pretty good, if I can soften my tongue a little. Being charming is hard work and I had to quit doing the French inhale because it sucks and I was running out of cigarettes and started to think about food, though I got a Pernod next, because I realized I was getting my drinks all out of order. If I still had a cell phone I would call one of my polyglot friends who would know and would help me out.
I should eat something, I’ve lost blood, after all... bifteck au poivre... no, something, revolutionary -lobster Thermidor -it was summer, after all. Yet it was also Napoleonic, like the cognac aspired to be. It was all coming together. I would explain it all to Sandy when she came back. I began to plan out my campaign on the tablecloth, but I needed a bottle to keep my plans flat. I thought of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. I needed love to feel like a hero. I needed to feel like a hero to feel love. I was like Snoopy as the world famous World War I flying ace, drinking root beer in a little bistro, admiring his little French lass, shy and dashing, otherwise fearless on his flying doghouse, and I thought that was really, really beautiful, the flying doghouse idea.
A little bread and butter settles the stomach and you’re fine, you’re not going to throw up and you’re not going to cry. Bienvenue à la belle France. This place is wonderful, these people are kind. You can ask for sanctuary here, like at an embassy. Help, I am fleeing oppression. I am persecuted for my beliefs, my intensely personal sense of beauty, my sense of style and my interesting personality. Perhaps there are real rooms behind the windows on the fake terrace over looking the faux winding street that leads to the restroom and they need someone to wake up and change the Charles Azanavour cd that you can buy in the gift store. Perhaps Sandy will help you out. There is always a way. You can eat your food with both hands. You can close your eyes and float in the dark. You can speak French and you know the words to this song already, anyway.