IN THE LAND OF KEYS
By Larry O. Grand
PERSONALLY, I think that people suck. Usually I don't ponder such things, mainly because they are so obvious, but when my brain is numb and there's nothing to occupy it, like right now, when I'm lying in this curved chair that's supposed to be comfortable (and it's not) with a needle in my arm and I can see my blood circulating through the plastic tubing and through the plasma- extracting machine before shooting out another tube and back into my body, then I sometimes stop and think about stuff like that. That is, people don't suck physically (although some do). Ever since elementary school, when I first noticed how people automatically become divided into little clichˇs, that's when I realized how little I cared for people. And how people would stay in these little groups as they grew up, through high school, through college, through life. The group of athletic males, who would become jocks and then frat boys and eventually assholes, or the girls who would gather together primarily due to their social status, and the ones who were higher up became cheerleaders and beauty queens and sorority girls and eventually bitches. Or even the groups of weirdos, the ones who dressed in darker colors and you knew as early as first grade that they were just a little strange, and they would play D&D and smoke at an early age behind the cafeteria and would listen to alternative music before anyone else decided that it was hip, and they would eventually become unemployed and ended up sleeping in parking garages, or they were gay or lesbian or transsexual, in which they probably turned out better than the rest of us. What I think really sucks is how people could be classified in these groups at such an early age, and always remain in that group as long as they lived. In my case, I was my own group. Ever since I could remember, I was always one of those weirdos. I was never muscular, always a little pale, and the parents have always been after my hair. I was never really part of a team. In middle school gym class they'd always pick me last for kickball or Red Rover or whatever asinine games they make little kids play, and they would never call me over or give me a good team position; I'd always be playing outfield in softball. Not that I cared. I didn't care when I heard them whispering, saying "God, who's that gross guy sitting on the bench over there?" "Man, what's with that Kevin anyway?" But even then, the other weird kids would have nothing to do with me. Not that I tried to hang out with them anyway. I'd see them smoking behind the cafeteria, which they weren't supposed to anyway, and Dr. Harris would try and catch them and I would be watching and would always get blamed, even though I never touched cigarettes until last year, when I came to the realization that my parents were completely insane. I always never really thought that my dad, who I affectionately refer to as Dumbass, was cool, which was something that everyone else thought because of what he did, and still does, today. My mother, who I affectionately refer to as Helen, because that's her name, has always been a little loopy, but for some reason I realized last year that she had gone past the point of no return. That's what I did and that's what I do: Just sit around, watch the world go by; the was my role, that of observer. Everyone usually ignored me anyway, so I saw a lot of shit go down and no one even knew that I was there. And in my observations, I came upon the conclusion that I didn't give a fuck, because I knew then, as I do now, that people are complete fools. Like last Thursday. I had gone over to the Biological and Medical Reserve, that place where you give blood plasma or other biological parts of your body, like ear wax, and they pay you. That's where I usually get my cigarette money anyway, by giving plasma for twenty-five bucks once a week. It's a pretty nice place, because they have individual cubicles where you donate and so you don't have to look at the other idiots who are there; some of them getting their grocery money by donating. I've never been queasy about needles, not even the big five inch stickers they plug into your arm over here, but I've seen some desperate, homeless people run screaming from the B.M.R. because they couldn't stand the needle, even to get a stinking twenty-five bucks. So I'm sitting there, in a cubicle just facing the entrance to the plasma-giving room, where they have about fifty of these blood-sucking machines and couches. Usually I get a cubicle in the back, because that way I can avoid even making contact with people, but on that day they were all full and so I had to sit and watch all the potential donors come in. Most of them were the usual crowd: homeless or very-low income families, a lot of them overweight women dragging two or three kids and making them sit still in the waiting room while mommy goes to have her life's fluid sucked out for an hour. A bunch of other college students and frat boys making an extra buck, which is always amusing because I've seen many big, strapping, macho frat boys come in to give plasma and then pass out after the needle's been removed, since you have to eat and drink "sufficiently" and have at least four quarts of water in you because that's how much fluid they remove, and these boneheads think that the rules don't apply to them because, hey, they're tough men, right. I was sitting there, the butterfly needle firmly entrenched in my arm, and then I see them: The Van der Poole family. One of the richest families in town, they live up there in that neighborhood with thirty- acre front lawns and a neighborhood surrounded by a huge brick wall patrolled by a security guard who sits twenty-four hours a day in a little cubicle at the entrance. Supposedly their money has been in their family for generations, passed on from the colonial days when the Van der Pooles were coffee merchants or something. Mr. Van der Poole makes a killing in the stock market, too, since after all, he owns the biggest bank in town, right? As far as I know, they do nothing but sit in their house all day, count their money and attend charity functions. They have three daughters, all of which are stuck-up bitches who don't have more than three brain cells between them: Cassandra, the oldest, was in my anthropology class two semesters ago, and I can say with some degree of authority, from countless stories that I've overheard, that in addition to being a vacuum-head, she is a world class slut, dressing to tease and sleeping with anything that has a penis, except maybe their champion greyhounds that she's always posing with in the paper. Then there are the two twin daughters, Cindy and Cathy, who are in training to be their sister, but then again, who am I to say? I see the three everywhere: at the mall or the food court, in the parking lot of the McDonalds, or even driving by the t.v. station in Cassandra's Ford convertible, with the top down, their sandy brown hair tied back with ribbons, buffeting wildly in the wind. The whole family disgusts me. The entire Van der Poole clan comes waltzing into the plasma room, dressed the way they normally are: Mr. Van der Poole in his blue-black suits with the crispy creases, Mrs. Van der Poole in her white pantsuits, and the three bitches in miniskirts, tights and mock turtlenecks, because even though winter is only a month old, they can't possibly dress for the weather, now can they? They're all carrying their sipper bottles and charts; I can tell by the wet ink that it is the first time for all five. "Come along now, girls," says Mr. Van der Poole, "it's time to do our good for the community." "But DA-ddy," whines Cathy Van der Poole, "this is just SO GAH-ross." "Yeah," whines Cindy Van der Poole, "like, I don't like needles anyway. That woman who pricked my finger almost broke my nail. Do I hafta sit here for a WHOLE hour?" "Yeah," whines Cathy, "like, can't they just GIVE us the twenty-five dollars without us having to, like, be here." "Now girls," chimes in Mrs. Van der Poole, "we have to do our part. After all, we MUST give something back to the people!" "That's right!" declares Mr. Van der Poole, in a triumphant tone of voice as if he was reading off election results, "Where are those television reporters? I TOLD them to be here five minutes ago?" "Oh my Gawd," says Cassandra Van der Poole, looking around, "look at all the people here. They're, like, so DIRTY!" "Now, now, Cass." says Mr. Van der Poole, "Be nice to those not as fortunate as you." "Oh GAWD!" screeches Cindy, "That man is MISSING some teeth!" Eventually, the television newsreporters did show up, with full complement of camera crew, and shot plenty of footage of the Van der Pooles nestling into their chairs and getting needles poked in their arms, with Mr. Van der Poole slipping the producer an extra fifty to make sure it got in the 7 o'clock edition rather than the lower-rated 11 o'clock. The girls yowled in pain when the needle inserted into their forearms, and complained for the next forty minutes (which was when I was disconnected after giving my four pints worth) about how the iodine on their arms clashed with their outfits, how their skirts were riding up and how some of the men were peeking at their undies, about how the man next to Cathy smelled like garbage, and about how bored they were, all while Mr. Van der Poole rattled on about the good that they were doing for the community, and Mrs. Van der Poole sat quietly, shushing the girls occasionally, but spent most of the time reading an issue of Modern Bride. I found out later, because I asked George, the guy behind the counter, that the Van der Pooles took their twenty-five dollar checks and danced out the door. So today I'm sitting here, three days later (because you have to wait for your plasma to regenerate itself), and it's a Sunday, and there's not a whole lot of people here, and I feel like a complete loser because I always mean to bring a magazine or a paperback or something to read because all they ever have to entertain you while you bleed are several fuzzy t.v. screens, either showing bad movies from the late seventies to early eighties (today it's "Breaking Away") or they have it tuned in to the 24-hour wrestling channel, and it's just one of those moments when your brain is too numb to do anything else but ponder nothing in particular, when who should come in the door but Cassandra Van der Poole, clutching her sipper bottle and anticoagulant pack and chart, but without the rest of the clan. She's wearing tan shorts and white tights her usual mock turtleneck and she's led to the cubicle two spaces away from mine, and she looks in my direction and says "Hey," even though I don't think she remembers me from Amberlin's anthropology, but I nod in her direction and she sits down, and then I start to wonder what she's doing there, by herself, and why she would even bother to stop and say hello to me in any form of communication, and this situation proceeds to cloud my mind for the rest of the twenty minutes that I'm there, and so I end up having a horribly nauseating time. Then I pick up my check and leave.
All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.