UNITED PUBLIC RADIO / TRANSCRIPT: Weekend Profiles
April 21, 2018, SUNDAY Transcript # 9708055081-121
HIGHLIGHT: Correspondent Roger Bellingham reports on two people in one Midwestern city who find it necessary to sell their own blood in order to survive.
LYDIA SIMMONS, Host: This is WEEKEND PROFILES. I’m Lydia Simmons. Correspondent Roger Bellingham’s series on the state of America’s blood banks concludes in Columbus, Ohio, with a report on people who choose to sell their blood and the reasons behind this ultimate act of kindness.
ROGER BELLINGHAM, Correspondent: Here in Ohio’s capital city, at least on this day, April is the cruelest month. Typically known as the quintessential average American city, Columbus finds itself in the grips of a colder than average spring with temperatures struggling just to make it to the freezing point. And that’s not good news for the city’s large homeless population. On days like this, those unlucky enough to be turned away from filled shelters line up at any one of 13 blood banks in the metro area to exchange a pint of blood for a warm cup of soup. In this report, two such individuals speak for themselves, allowing anyone willing to listen a glimpse into a world most people choose to turn a blind eye: a world full of missed opportunities, difficult choices, and demons.
LEWIS, Blood Donor: I held on too tight.
BELLINGHAM: Lewis stands in line outside the Bio Blood Components Plasma Donation Center, or BBC, at the intersection of High Street and King Avenue. Business people with steaming cups of gourmet coffee pass by Lewis as if he is nothing more than a part of the background scenery. He is, in their eyes, just another shabbily dressed homeless man who lives in a world where compassion and love no longer exist.
LEWIS: I was living large, staying in a $19 a night flophouse with money I saved from giving blood. But I held on too tight. So tight that I lost my grip.
BELLINGHAM: Lewis, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran who brags about the 212 sorties he flew during two tours, rubs a spot on his battered bomber jacket as if to show it off. Despite his reasons for being in this blood line to sell what he must just to get a good meal, he is a man who still has pride to share with a stranger.
LEWIS: It used to be all about the money. 9/11 changed that. Now it’s just as much about giving something back.
BELLINGHAM: Lewis blows into his hands to warm them against the icy air. Behind him, a man nudges Lewis and offers him a package wrapped in plain brown paper.
MOSES, Blood Donor: I can do no better.
LEWIS: No thanks, Moses. I’m doing just fine.
BELLINGHAM: Lewis gently lays his hands on the package and slowly pushes it back toward Moses. Moses, at more than six-and-a-half feet tall with a tangled and nicotine-stained gray beard, is the self-proclaimed Savior of King Avenue.
LEWIS: Moses lives in the present, but he lives for the future.
BELLINGHAM: Standing unbent and proud above everyone else in line, Moses’ reasons for donating blood are clear: he believes he is here to save the world.
MOSES: I can do no better. I have done nothing better. I wrapped the package in brown paper and tied it with white twine. White twine ties better than brown. Brown paper wraps better than white. When I got on the bus, the bus driver ordered me to stow the package behind his seat. The fire extinguisher behind his seat could have leaked on the package. The package is perfect. He ordered me to the back of the bus. The back of the bus was empty. The driver was hollow. I could see right through him. He did not understand. So I stepped off the bus and walked. People passed me by without knowing. They will know soon enough. The world only needs one perfect thing. The package will save the world.
BELLINGHAM: Moses extends the package in my direction, telling me that he can do no better. I look to Lewis for advice, and he shakes his head slowly. I repeat the motion to Moses, who then draws the package close to his chest as holding a child.
MOSES: When I offered the package to a kid on a skateboard, he just ran away laughing. I waited in the park for the old people who feed the pigeons. I stood on a bench and unwrapped the package with a flourish. I yelled, “I can do no better.” Pigeons scattered. Old people only understand pigeons. They threw stale slices of bread at me. Beneath a lamp post, I unwrapped and wrapped the package every half hour until the light blinked on. But no one understood. I walked home with fists full of change and pockets full of breadcrumbs.
LEWIS: We all try to give something back. And people will take and take and take, as long as they don’t have to see you. They don’t want to look the cow in the eye before they eat their hamburger, if you know what I mean. All we want is for people to see us. When they see us, it makes us feel like we’re really here.
BELLINGHAM: A drawn blind is raised on the glass door. A man dressed not much better than those waiting in line unlocks the door and pushes it open. Lewis and Moses step inside and quickly walk to a table lined with paper coffee cups. On this cold day at least, they will fill their stomachs with something warm. Their reasons for donating blood are their own. In the end, those reasons don’t matter to the men, women, and children who need blood daily. Lewis and Moses will remain as much of a mystery to someone who unknowingly accepts their blood in an emergency as the contents of the unmarked package that Moses has wrapped in plain brown paper. As Moses himself predicted, “The package will save the world.”
For Weekend Profiles, I’m Roger Bellingham.