Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Lady of the Flake

When one donates blood at the Red Cross, they have the most wonderfully subtle and, I suspect, effective system for allowing people to recognize their own limitations. When you arrive, you fill out this paperwork and you say no, you haven't done anything which would compromise the integrity of your blood in the past ten years. No IV drugs, no unprotected sex with strangers, no buying packets of plasma from the guy in the alley behind the bodega and making them into smoothies. You're good.

Then, the nurse interviews you. You're sure you haven't had unprotected sex with prisoners or used IV drugs with a needle you found under a bus-stop bench or borrowed a kidney from an indigent sex-worker? It's okay, they won't judge you; they just want to know. And you insist to all and sundry that you're good. And then, finally, just as they are inserting the line to grab your fluids, you're given a small slip of paper to sign, wherein if there is any reason whatsoever this blood might be dodgy--some reason you are holding deep in your possibly-tainted heart-- you can just put a little check there. No one will ever ask you any questions, you'll never have to say anything out loud, they'll even take your blood so you don't feel shunned. They just won't use it. Of course, the entire blood-supply is tested anyway, but I just love that idea that the Red Cross has found a way for people to participate without doing harm.

Could we please create this system for people who are going through a flaky time in their lives? Note how I didn't say flaky people; I think while some people will be flaky from the first thermos they lose in pre-school to forgetting to attend their own funeral, the vast majority of flakes are going through a phase. It's a month, or a year, or the better part of the 20th century, but it's a time in their lives when they honestly will miss more than they hit. I've had these times, I suspect you've had these times. These people might be having fun doing whatever is distracting them, but they also spend a lot of time getting yelled at, or iced out, or losing out on future opportunities because they've irritated the people around them. Or, in the case of this morning, they promise to volunteer at a local shelter I work with, they confirm with me last night, and then they miss their shift this morning, leaving two people with a three-person job. One of those people was me, the one with the allergies and the asthma; it took two showers before my trachea was speaking to me again. And, of course, the terrible irony is that the very nature of flakiness renders the person in its thrall incapable of being able to predict that they're completely no good to anyone right now. You can be as flaky as a well-made pie crust and all ignorant outsiders see is a reasonably articulate person vowing to take you to the airport.

And then you miss your plane.

So, here's my suggestion. If you have missed more than 33% of your promised appointments in the previous two weeks, and the reason is not "My chemotherapy is really cutting into my day" but "Man, I just couldn't get going this morning," you are now in a flaky phase. We who monitor such things will put a ring on your finger, something impossible to take off so you won't be tempted to forget it someplace or wash it in hair-dye or throw it at a pigeon or something else kind of flaky. And then, whenever you promise someone you will be somewhere/do something/marry someone, people can look down at your hand, see the subtle yet unequivocal marker which says "That thing I just said will never happen." And the person can smile and thank you for your kindness-- for the part of your brain which is good and decent and longs to be sprung from the incoherent fog which is flakiness, without having any expectation of your assistance. When your attendance rate in life finally rises above 80%, we'll come by and pick up the ring again.

(We'd just ask you to mail the ring back to us, but you could relapse, and we want the ring.)

As with the Red Cross, this series of checks and balances won't completely eradicate the problem; flakes will slip through. Special dinners will sit uneaten. Laundry will remain in the washer until it's as green as Ireland. Younger brothers will still arrive to celebrate Christmas on the 28th. But I believe we need to begin letting the world know who cannot be expected to bring the yams to Thanksgiving. Or the turkey.



Blogger Teresa said...

I happy to note that showing up 80% of the time is the threshold for "non-flaky." I might be able to clear that. If not...is it a pretty ring I'll get to wear at least?
Oh, and in my family celebrating Christmas on the 28th would be so early as to catch us all off guard, and likely dressed in red, white and blue still.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

I wholeheartedly agree...um...that I tend to be a tad flaky. I have three children to take care of, a house to clean, the never-ending cycle of laundry, and a needy husband, so I will continue to use that excuse until they move out of my house (the children, not the husband). I'm with Teresa on this...is it a pretty ring?

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

Does it have to be a ring? I have a tendency to catch rings on things and get guck on them and decide that "maybe I should take this ring off now and put it HERE where I will find it again because this is a good place and I will find it when I am done doing whatever I was doing that I had to take my ring off for and now that I am done I will put my ring back on, the ring that I left in the SAFE PLACE that I cannot now find and which might be this OTHER safe place or perhaps that one or perhaps I will just wait until the savages get off the school bus and offer an extra cookie to the first person who can find my ring for me."

So, does it have to be a ring? I don't lose tiaras...

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

Oh my goodness, I can tell you are a blood donor. I went through that process not too long ago. Although my blood iron level is healthy for me, it's not quite good enough for what they wanted. They were really, really polite about how they told me that my blood was not quite usable. And even poked my finger twice to check for malfunction on their part. And gave me a vegetarian pamphlet on iron when I looked like I'd puke when they suggested murdered animals as iron sources. And asked me to please come back. In fact, I don't think I'd ever met nicer people than at the Red Cross. And I loved the way you described it. So just had to say that. haha

Onto the main part of your blog, I think you are on to something with this flaky phase idea. It would definitely help me out. ;-)

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

Ok. I'll come by tomorrow to pick up my ring. Promise.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I think giving someone the 20% leeway is pretty generous myself. I understand that things come up and people may even just forget, hell I've done it too. But to tell someone the night before that you can be counted on to be somewhere and then JUST NOT SHOW UP!? That's rude and tells others that you have no respect for their time. With smart phones, email, Facebook and all the ways we stay in contact, what could possibly excuse that other than a true life emergency.

Needless to say, you've hit a sore point with me.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

You forgot that the nice people at the blood mobile don't let you in the door if you lived in Europe between certain dates. I assume that the Red Cross knows something I don't and maybe they know that my flake tendencies are actually attributable to Mad Cow Disease...so not my fault.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous KMB said...

Loved your book so much (!!)(can't wait for the next one) and love your blog. One suggestion for your blog: perhaps the margins could be made smaller so the paragraphs aren't so long and thin. It would make it easier to read. Now if only you had a non-flaky web designer who could handle that for you!

Either way, keep up the great (and funny and poignantly accurate) work.

9:46 PM  
Blogger motherof5 said...

Do you post to Australia? I cannot remember the post code.....

4:44 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Now that is just funny!!!

8:58 PM  
Blogger Karen Edmisten said...

I meant to read this in September, but I just couldn't get into reading that month. Could you retype the whole thing for me and I'll read it a week from Thursday?

5:50 AM  
Blogger StevenIre said...

I feel bad that I was late for my appointment today. *He says as he puts his right hand in the left jacket sleeve and his left in the right each-the-other up to the cuffs connecting.*

4:03 AM  

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