By Brian McKay
It was brief. I only saw her for a few minutes as my finger was pricked and temperature taken in order to release me to go have my arm butchered for an hour or so. She was very attractive with black hair, a black jacket and just a small part of a visible tattoo above her right breast that peeked through the collar of her shirt.
Honestly though the fact that she was attractive was only about half of the story. It was that she holding the purple folder that indicated she was new to the thriving plasma scene. It indicated that maybe she had been beaten down as well and needed the extra $240 a month. Maybe we would strike up a conversation, understand where each other was in life and soon find ourselves laughing for long periods over a 6 pack of cheap beer. Of course, I didn’t see her again as my eyes scanned over the rows of people playing on their cell phones while blood was pulled from, and injected back in, to their arms.
It isn’t the first time I have had the plasma center love affair that proved fleeting. In a way, the plasma center has overtaken the bar as the romance fantasy place of choice. I had avoided going there for years but as my income started to fall again due to a corporation tightening its sales goals to the point of impossibility, I found myself ready to subjugate my arm once again.
The recession saw the loss of everything I had. A $2 million / year business, a house, a fiancé and the cars were all gone and it all finally came clear on June 30th, 2010 as I moved my things into a furnished weekly rent in downtown Reno. I remember thinking, “Now it’s all gone.” Ironically, I would learn of my former fiancé marrying someone else in the beautiful house we had shared on October 31st of the same year. The “temporary separation” that started on June 30th was never meant to be just temporary.
The nearly 8 years since, has been a lesson in humility, hard work, psychological perseverance and the act of constantly reminding myself to keep pushing forward. 2011 saw a move back to Boise, Idaho to be with my daughter and help my mother, that had lost her way in life, try to save her house. A job was taken that paid less than I had ever made and many sleepless days were spent finishing up a previously started MBA program. 5 years later I still work at the same place, almost no one knows that I live with a mother that spends hours a day trying to win the Publisher’s Clearing House while talking about the Communist conspiracy and I am starting to fall in love with women at the plasma center.
Dating, since then, has been mostly non-existent, with one brief interlude that ended with me totally crushed. Researchers have shown that both dating and sexual activity fell off a cliff for educated men that became victims of the Great Recession. The loss of positions and incomes resulted in feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem that pulled many of us out of the market. So many times I have been asked why I am not involved with someone because I am such a great guy and the response (in rare moments of honesty) is that I feel worthless. This sums up the feeling for those of us guys still trying to get back to anywhere close to where we once were.
The United States is all about success. We teach our kids growing up that success is what matters and that with hard work anyone can have it. The message is especially reaffirmed to boys from a society that is still overly patriarchal and still somewhat embraces the biological mating cues of men being the protector.
At times it isn’t even real success that works in the U.S., but even just the look of it. To see this one, need only recognize the large amount of American’s espousing the success of that new American demagogue, Donald Trump, even though he is really a pretty shitty businessman. A large amount of this country believes that just for being rich a man is now qualified to lead the world’s remaining super power. He has allure and cache to many even though his office and jet are about as gaudy as anything ever seen.
Wealth permeates all that America has come to covet. We watch reality TV shows of rich housewives and people famous just for being famous. The justice system is heavily skewed toward the rich. Consumption is glorified on business websites and at new, shining, outdoor malls with great water features. Those of us that lost positions or wealth aren’t even hirable as the country moves to further exalt the “winners”. Apparently no one realized that those who once lost had learned far more.
I realize that it isn’t a problem of self-worth but a problem of how we guys see our worth to the rest of the world. Honestly, I think I am pretty cool. There is a lot of self-love for my intelligence, skills as a father, sarcasm, perseverance, sense of ethics and my beautiful rebellion. My karaoke skills are pretty decent too. As a mate, I would be amazing. It isn’t hard to walk with confidence and be at peace with myself most days, but the idea of having worth to someone else in a romantic sense still eludes me because of that whole American vision of success.
Certainly, I am not alone in my plasma center fantasy. There must be many men who have spent years alone while trying to get some of it back and justified it with statements like, “I have too much to do” or “I am not ready yet”. After all those years of running from it they certainly have also found that eventually it catches up with you and look over at the girl with the purple folder just hoping that she is the one that would finally understand and respect him for it.
It is a new phenomenon that so many of us carry debt, are underpaid and under appreciated, but we still don’t see each other out there in the void. No, we only see ourselves and our lack of worth to others in relation to what was developed for years as the prevailing view of surviving well in America. Maybe this is the new normal for many of us guys? With wages barely rising and the middle class owning less wealth than 21 other peer countries, this could be how we are going forward. Will the country continue to perpetrate an unrealistic view life or will we eventually start to see and accept this new normal? Our fate as a nation might even depend on that eventual acceptance.
In the meantime, there will certainly be another girl at the plasma center in the future that I will have a small dream of and that is probably all there will be. Should you know her and think she might understand me, send her my way. She can even find my email address on the about page. I will have the six pack of cheap beer waiting and be ready to laugh about the craziness of life after we return from having our arms butchered at the plasma center.
Brian McKay is a co-founder of zenruption and has his MBA from Boise State University. He is not above stating that the plasma center is helping fund zenruption. Well that and cutting back on beer expenses.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license