Category Archives: Not My Float

Too Much World News

I’ve always been one who wanted to keep abreast of the news, even when that meant the evening news with Huntley and Brinkley and the Chicago Tribune. Or the Springfield Times-Reporter and John Chancellor. That interest in current events and world news became an obsession when I was a midshipman at Annapolis.

One of the “learning exercises” that is used to train plebes is to have them memorize massive amounts of information, then regurgitate it on command of any upperclassman or officer. This is, of course, impossible by definition. It teaches many things, among them how to think under pressure, how to keep track of large amounts of data and multitask, how to fail and still keep going, how to prioritize your time, and so on.

One of the particular techniques used for this is the delivery of a morning newspaper every day, usually before dawn. If everyone else is up at 0600, plebes need to be up at 0500, scanning the paper for details and news that might be of particular interest to the upperclassmen in their company. These are the ones most likely to be grilling you at breakfast. You learn quickly that this one’s favorite baseball team is the Yankees, his favorite player is Lou Piniella, so you need to know the score of last night’s game, what Piniella did, where the Yankees are in the standings, who the winning and losing pitchers are, where they’re playing tonight, who tonight’s starting pitchers are… Tomorrow you get to learn that all over. And the next day.

Multiply that by twenty or thirty or more. This one hates baseball but loves NASCAR. This one is keeping track of the development of the F-14 Tomcat fighter. This one wants to know anything significant about Detroit, his home town. That one follows politics and economics and wants to know what the Dow Jones is doing. And so on, and on, and on.

One of the side effects of surviving this (sort of) is that you either never want to see a newspaper or news report again, or you become neurotically obsessed with the news. Since most of the young men and women there are extremely bright, well educated, in touch with the world, and being trained for leadership roles, it’s almost always the latter.

Flash forward forty years, where 1974’s stream of information has become more like Niagara Falls. The internet, social media, FaceBook, Twitter, hundreds of channels of cable television, multiple 24/7 news channels…

As you might imagine, this is like giving a heroin addict a lifetime supply and an IV the size of a garden hose.

This is not to say that I spend all of my waking hours trying to “drink from the fire hose” of information. I manage to stay quite functional, thank you very much. But I do have a much higher than average interest in the news and keeping track of almost anything that I find interesting, be it local, state wide, national, or international. In my case, this also extends to interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic, as you may have noticed from some of the previous 1,000+ posts.

One of the serious down sides of this that I’m seeing is the almost overwhelming depressing tone of so much of recent news. Whether the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Egypt, or just about anything coming out of any of the US Presidential candidates, it’s difficult to stay optimistic and upbeat some days. Yet, there’s that phobia, that fear (thanks, Annapolis!) that something important might get missed or overlooked if I turn away.

I find more and more that I find myself reaching my limit and turning away. I don’t know if it’s me getting older, or weaker, or if the news itself has just gotten to be more horrible. Actually, I think it’s just an effect of the sheer volume of information and news available today, not necessarily the nature of it. If the internet and social media had been around in all of their glory during the American Civil War, World War II, or even Vietnam, I’m sure we would be seeing horrors that would match anything that Daesch is doing or Trump is spewing out of his ignorant face. (Sorry, did that come out loud?)

So now that we can see cell phone videos from inside the theater where more than 100 people died on Saturday – I don’t need to. Now that we can see videos of Jihad John decapitating innocent hostages – I don’t need to. Now that the Republican presidential candidates seem to be trying to constantly one-up each other to see who can be the most ignorant, reactionary, clueless, and tasteless – I don’t need to watch.

Many people are responding to the deluge of hate, anger, and terror by posting pictures of kittens or puppies. Or penguins. That may be a better option for me right now. I’ve got stories to write, another major adjustment in my life to make, and enough stress in my every day life to keep me on my toes. I don’t have to pile the troubles of the entire world on top of that.

I no longer care what Bob Guida’s favorite football team did today or what happened in Detroit. Google it yourself.

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Filed under Freakin' Idiots!, Not My Float, Politics, Religion

Juicy Chunks O’ Wisdom For Tuesday, June 24th

‘Cause if it ain’t one thing it’s another, that’s why.

  • The glumphing roof roamers are back again tonight. Please let it not be mating season.
  • Upon closer examination, the picture of the gravestone rubbing (10th picture down) at the Rockingham Meeting House does not show the art engraved at the top of the tombstone mentioned (11th picture down). They’re similar, but not the same. The editorial staff of WLTSTF deeply regrets the error and will dock my pay and assign me to our minor league affiliate in Prescott, AZ for a rehab start.
  • I hate worms. Especially when they come in a can, as a “gift.”
  • Just had a nice little ISS pass over SoCal. Nothing spectacular, not too high, not too bright, but nice. I left the camera inside, spent five minutes outside to watch — and will now spend the next hour itching due to all of the bug bites. Where are all of those bats when we need them?
  • Speaking of flying critters of the freak out variety, in Vermont last week, I saved the life of Mothzilla! During our class reunion the windows got opened and toward the end of the evening we noticed the biggest freakin’ moth I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo or museum. It was startling people just a tad, but when it came near me I supressed the urge to squish it into oblivion. Instead, forcefully telling my brain stem that it was harmless and would not bite, I trapped it in my cupped hands and let it loose outside the window.
  • I’ve mentioned my use of the term, “Not my float!” and where it came from. I now see that there’s a Polish proverb (if “FaceBook wisdom” is to be believed) that has the same meaning but perhaps a bit more color — “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I like it!
  • If Mothzilla turns out to be the one that triggers the Zombie Apocalypse (“I, for one, welcome our new Zombie Overlords!”) you can blame me.
  • As I was musing on FaceBook tonight, I can’t be the only one who would be happy to never hear about LeBron James again, nor can I be the only one who could not possibly care less where he gets paid tens of millions of dollars to play next year? Fine, I’m more of a hockey, baseball, football, soccer, college sports kind of guy and think the NBA is pretty boring and seriously overrated (why can’t we just make it 95-95 and put two minutes on the clock, it will still take two hours to play…) but even by NBA standards, LeBron comes off as a pampered, overpaid, and whiny egomaniac. Can we get back to the biting guy in the World Cup? Or Wimbledon? Or the Tour de France? Or ESPN’s “Not Top Ten”?
  • People, people, people!! PLEASE remember that Snopes is your friend! If you see something on FaceBook and want to re-post it with a comment like “This is incredible!” or “This is unbelievable!” — that reaction should be your first clue that you’re spreading ignorant bullshit and making the world a stupider place! Thank you for your future consideration.

Remember, “It doesn’t take much to thrill an idiot.” (Thanks, Kevin! Great to see you again!)

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Filed under Astronomy, Critters, Freakin' Idiots!, Juicy Chunks, Not My Float, Sports

The Long-Suffering Wife vs. The Likert Scale

We’ve had the Volvo in the shop for a couple of days (nothing serious) and this always causes a debate in the Willett household.

Through circumstances beyond our control, the Volvo service department appears to be in abject terror of our car being there. This is because (not our fault!) they’re apparently required by their management to send us a customer satisfaction survey. The Long-Suffering Wife’s email address is the one in their system, so she gets it, fills it out, and returns it.

Now, let me state that as far as I can remember, the service we’ve gotten from them has always been great. I don’t know that we’ve ever been really unhappy, or even a bit peeved, with their service when the car’s in there.

But we have a serious “apples & oranges” problem.

On these customer satisfaction surveys (online or otherwise) they use a Likert scale. You may not know the term, but you know what I’m talking about. “What was your experience regarding the politeness of our staff, on a scale of one to five, five being best?” (Sometimes it’s “Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Neutral / Agree / Strongly Agree”, but it’s the same thing.)

The Long-Suffering Wife uses Likert scales at work and she has problems getting accurate data. A major problem with Likert scales is that there are several possible sources of bias. Since she has problems dealing with this bias, she tries very hard to give an accurate, unbiased response when asked to fill one out herself. Therefore, when we get satisfactory to good service, she’ll give them 3’s and 4’s. (“Apples”)

At the other end, Volvo’s management apparently (like many, many, many companies) demand that every customer get service that returns nothing but 5’s. This is ludicrous and makes the data they’re getting useless, which in my opinion makes them really useless and lousy managers, but as I said, we see this a lot. The reality is that some customers get truly outstanding service and some get truly horrendous service and most probably get decent or reasonable service. (Can you say, “Bell Curve?” Sure, I knew you could!) Defining your company’s expectations as “nothing but 5’s or we’re a failure!” is stupid. But that’s their management, not their service people. (“Oranges”)

In short, the Long-Suffering Wife gives them honest answers to the questions being asked, even though the expectations on the other end are skewed.

Then the customer service staff get yelled at and (apparently) lose bonuses because they didn’t get all 5’s. Despite the fact that it’s stupid and meaningless to expect all 5’s. Then when we bring our car in they absolutely beg us to give them all 5’s and they bust their butts to do anything for us. And The Long-Suffering Wife sees it as average or above-average service (which it is, it’s not like they’re picking the car up at home and dropping off a loaner, which they’re not supposed to to begin with…) and the cycle starts all over.

I understand the service staff’s frustration. I understand that they’re working in a broken system. I understand and agree with the Long-Suffering Wife’s objection to giving inaccurate answers.

I also understand that it’s not my float

I’m a pragmatist. While it looks like they’ve got a broken system, it’s not my system. While I think they’re getting useless results, they’re not my results. I think we’re getting perfectly good service and I don’t think the staff should be penalized for doing a “bad job” when they’re not. Since it’s no skin off of my nose, when the staff explains the situation and begs me to give them 5’s and I’m perfectly happy with the service received, fine, I’ll give them 5’s.

So now it’s a philosophical debate in the household. Should we give honest answers to the questions asked, or should we answer the real question and help out the perfectly competent staff?

The bigger question (which I don’t have an answer to, but would love to hear your feedback) is what to do when and if it IS my float at some point. If senior management needs accurate data, but managers and staff in the field are changing the rules and introducing bias into the results, how do you get rid of the bias?

Our solution to the Volvo customer satisfaction survey issue? The Long-Suffering Wife will now send me the link to the online survey and I’ll fill it out for us. That way we both get to hold our moral high ground and the Volvo service staff get their bonuses (based on useless data).


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Filed under Not My Float, Ronnie

Rush Hour In LA & My Faith In Humanity

To be blunt, the former doesn’t do much for the latter.

Driving down to Irvine this morning in rush hour traffic gives a good example. I’m sure folks see this in every city. I’m sure that there are hot spots in every metropolitan area in the world that are a living nightmare on a daily basis. I’m sure that there are places that are worse. (Shanghai comes to mind…) But this morning was startling in how typical it is, at least here in Los Angeles, to nearly die in traffic every single day.

A mere one hundred yards from my house, at a four-way stop, I came within a foot or two of almost certain death. As I stopped, checked for cross traffic, and then started through the intersection, some pin-headed mental midget doing at least fifty MPH came barreling in from my left. He never even slowed down as he blew through the stop sign. FREAKIN’ IDIOT! If I hadn’t seen him at the last second and stomped on the brakes he would have hit me square in the driver’s door and I wouldn’t be here to write this. The only consolation is that his pulped carcass would have been accompanying mine to Valhalla, like a mini honor guard.

For two seconds it was tempting to hang a hard right turn and chase his ass down, or at least get the license plate on the car, but I didn’t have the time. Next time, maybe.

Two miles later, stopped at a red light behind two other cars, it was someone else’s turn to almost die at the hand of some freakin’ idiot. At least this brain-dead cretin had the manners to be honking his horn like crazy as he ran the red light a good three or four seconds after the light had turned. I guess that’s the new international signal for, “Look out! My shoe size is bigger than my IQ and I’m in a hurry! I don’t give a rat’s ass if we both die so I have the de facto right of way!” Driving a full-sized pick-up truck doing about forty, he could have done a lot of damage to a bunch of other cars, not to mention the three or four pedestrians already in the crosswalk.

Once I get on the freeway, the fun continues. On the 405 southbound at the intersection with the 101, the two far right lanes exit onto the 101 transition. The four left lanes are packed and crawling. (Someone about ten miles ahead, at Sunset, had flipped and was blocking a couple of lanes.) So at the gore point where the lanes split, we see dozens and dozens of cars racing along in the nearly empty transition lanes, only to stop (and block the lane) at the last second and then force there way into traffic. Freakin’ idiots!

The first smiley-faced balloon-head to try this was doing it while blow drying her hair. None of this simple “texting and driving” for her, no sir! She’s obviously a very, very important person who can’t be bothered with all of those petty, stupid little traffic rules that only the peons have to obey. So she’ll pass by a mile or more of gridlocked traffic to block a lane before she forces someone to either let her in or get hit by her. Doing her hair while endangering multiple lives? That’s just the icing on the cake.

The second SFBH was a young kid who I got to know as “The Little Drummer Boy”. He also bypassed all of the gridlock, blocked a lane, and played chicken with someone’s bumper to get into the through lane. He then cut straight over another lane to pull in behind me, earning him an extensive horn sonata and a one-finger salute from the guy behind me who got cut off by him. The Little Drummer Boy then proceeded to stick behind me for another ten miles or so, without ever touching the steering wheel with either hand. How could I tell? I could clearly see in my rear-view mirror that he had a pair of drum sticks and was playing along on the dashboard, windshield, mirror, door, and steering wheel. (I’m guessing that it was the drum solo from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.) FREAKIN’ IDIOT! At least he didn’t have the music turned up so loud that it was rattling my windows — he was wearing a full-sized pair of headphones (also illegal while driving, but who’s counting).

While traffic was crawling for us mere mortals, those in the carpool lane were zipping right along. Especially the ones who very obviously did not have two people in the car and weren’t driving a hybrid or alternate fuel vehicle. I don’t have precise data, but I would be surprised if less than 10% of those using the carpool lane were using it illegally. I guess the “$371 minimum fine” signs aren’t much of a deterrent. At least, not any more of a deterrent than those double-double yellow lane markers that would seem to indicate that it’s illegal to get into or out of the carpool lane except where allowed. I couldn’t even guess how many folks I saw crossing back and forth illegally.

Using the phone while driving? (Illegal in California for years if you’re not using a hands-free device.) Texting while driving? (Illegal, period, and incredibly dangerous and stupid to boot.) Probably close to 1 in 20, if not more.

Lest you think that I’ve become my father or some old coot fixated on every little scofflaw (“Rotten kids, get off my lawn!”), I really do understand that it’s a “Not My Float!” moment. Yeah, there’s a tiny little Catholic school voice in my head who wants to punish and get self-righteous, but forty years of LA traffic has pretty much beaten it into submission. I’m much better than I was in my younger days at just watching out for the freakin’ idiots and making sure they don’t hit me than I am wanting to go all vigilante on them. (Except for that little shit who almost killed me at the four-way stop. That’s personal.)

But three hours of driving in those conditions will not do anything to help your belief that people are good, decent, intelligent people.

More accurately, it serves to remind me that probably 98% of the people out there are good, decent, and intelligent — but it only takes that 2% to completely screw it up for everyone. And it sure looks like the 2% are getting away with murder. Watching that right before your eyes for three hours and being so inured to it that you can’t afford to care about it? That’s poison enough to kill your faith in humanity.

P.S. — As I finish writing and editing this, it becomes painfully obvious that a skunk has gotten upset somewhere very close by. As in, “eye-watering, choking, stomach-turning, WTF IS THAT SMELL” close. Perfect.

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Filed under Critters, Distracted Driving, Freakin' Idiots!, Not My Float

Not My Float

About three weeks ago, when talking about the Red Cross’ blood and platelet donation policies, I used the phrase, “Not My Float!” There’s a story behind that phrase.

The Long-Suffering Wife works for a large health care organization here in Southern California. That organization usually has a float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. That float, while professionally designed, is for the most part decorated by volunteers.

We had never volunteered, but it seemed like an interesting thing to do on a Saturday, so in mid-December we showed up at an ungodly hour of the morning to a freezing cold tent to stick plant materials on steel. Every visible speck of a Rose Parade float has to be covered in some kind of flower, bark, grass, or other plant material. For the really big floats (like this one), that’s a freaking huge amount of surface area.

This particular year the float had a Hawaiian theme, titled “Aloha Festival”.


100_1972(Credit where credit’s due – these two pictures come from a blog by Bob and Myrna Logan. I found them in a Google search – all credit for the photos go to the Logans.)

As you can see, there was a large wooden canoe with a number of oversized figures, dolphins, sea life, palm trees, and so on. It looked fantastic on January 1st!

On the other hand, a week or ten days earlier, it looked a lot different. Here you can see a cell phone picture I took of it early in the day when we worked on it:


In the bottom right is a huge steel pipe that was going to be one of the palm trees. I got to spend hours painting these “tree trunks” with rubber cement, then coating them with layers of corn husks. This gives them the look of a palm tree trunk.


This ingenious design was, of course, not of my making. I was just the volunteer who was given a few minutes of instruction, a bucket of glue, a basket of corn husks, and told to get hopping. (Please.) I would have one of the float design company’s supervisors come around once an hour or so and make comments or requests, but for the most part I was told that I was doing a great job.

Until about a half-hour before our eight-hour shift ended.

At that point the big honcho came around, the artist who designed all of the floats. He was reviewing all of the work being done and it was soon clear that his vision of the palm tree trunks and the vision I had been creating did not coincide well. One or two of the trunks were deemed adequate, but two more were not.I was told to strip off about three hours worth of work, re-paint it with glue, and start over.

I started to get just a tad hot under the collar. The big honcho artist hadn’t said a word to me, he had just been chewing out the supervisor, but I started to take it personally anyway. I had spent all day doing exactly what I was told and being told that I was doing great. I was tired and uncomfortable and sore (a lot of the work was done up on scaffolding and hanging off in space in awkward and uncomfortable positions) and proud of what I had done. Now, all of a sudden, almost half of my work was crap, to be stripped off and re-done? In addition, there were only a few days left before the parade. Could they really afford the time to being re-doing large swaths of work over what I perceived to be some pretty penny-ante, nit-picky things?

Then it hit me. THIS WAS NOT MY FLOAT!

In a half-hour, I would walk out and never come back. I was a volunteer, a drone. I wasn’t in charge of anything. If it got done or didn’t get done, it wasn’t my problem, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my responsibility.

I had come and volunteered. I had given of myself and had given it my best shot. I had been there out of the goodness and kindness of my heart. I had been proud of what I had accomplished, to be a small part of what was going to be this big, glorious, beautiful thing. I had done what I had been told. I had done a good job.

If folks higher up in the food chain had issues with what had gotten done or how it had been done, that was their problem. If they wanted to throw away all or part of that work, that was their problem.

In the nearly six years since then, whenever I’m trying to help someone (I do have something of an altruistic streak, a leftover from my Catholic altar boy and Boy Scout upbringing, no doubt) and either get ignored or worse, I remember this wisdom. It really helps if I don’t take it personally when my good intentions, advice, and charity are dismissed.

It would be a lot easier to bring the truck to the stuff being loaded than to haul the stuff one piece at a time across the big, bumpy, empty parking lot, right? Oh, somehow I can’t see why it obviously can’t be done that way? OK — not my float!

It would be a whole lot easier to empty the file cabinet before moving it, right? And those desks come apart, don’t they? Apparently that can’t be done either. OK — not my float!

It would be a really good idea to make a backup of that hard drive before messing around with the hardware and upgrading the OS at the same time, right? You’re absolutely sure that you really, really want to do it that way? OK — not my float!

I’m an established platelet donor, I can donate whole blood only every eight weeks while I can donate platelets every three weeks, you have minor need for whole blood while you have a huge need for platelets, so I should donate platelets, right? No? You really, really want me to donate whole blood? OK — not my float!

Words of wisdom. Feel free to make them your own. It will be good for your blood pressure.

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Filed under Art, Flowers, Not My Float

A Pint Low

Today I donated blood at the local American Red Cross donation site. This is not by any means the first time that I’ve done this, nor will it be the last, but it had been over two years since I have been able to donate due to some policies of the Red Cross which I don’t agree with. (I hear that they’re not the ones making up these rules, but the CDC is.)

20130903-200617.jpgIt’s funny to me these days that I’m a regular blood and platelet donor, given the need for needles and poking involved. As a child, when we would all get taken for our vaccinations, I had to be carried kicking, screaming, and crying into the clinic. As the oldest of eight kids and supposedly the one who was supposed to be setting the example, this were not my most gracious moments. A stint in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy when I was thirteen, along with all of those IV’s and shots, left me no longer upset by needles.

I think that I first donated blood when I was a college student, but I know that I started donating regularly when I got involved in science fiction fandom. Robert Heinlein, another Grand Master in the field and one of my favorite authors, was a huge proponent of blood donations since he had a rare blood type. Beginning in the mid 1970’s, because of Heinlein’s efforts in fandom, blood drives at conventions became fairly common. While not at every con, most larger cons and annual recurring cons schedule blood drives.

A few years back, since I also have a slightly rare blood type, I was asked by the local Red Cross office if I would consider donating platelets. For those who have never done it, platelet donations are similar to whole blood donations, but generally involve two needles instead of one and can take up to two hours instead of fifteen to twenty minutes. Your blood is removed from your body, centrifuged to separate the platelets out, and then your blood (minus the platelets) is pumped back into you. Where whole blood can only be donated ever eight weeks, platelets can be donated every two weeks. They do a great job of keeping you comfy while donating platelets, keeping a big supply of DVDs to watch and putting you into a comfy chair with a screen and headphones. The downside is that if you’re properly hydrated it’s tough (at least for me) to not have to pee for two hours, and you can’t stop in the middle of the donation, so sometimes it gets uncomfortable and awkward. The other mild side effect comes from an anti-coagulant that the use due to the length of time that your blood is being pumped in and out; it can leave a funky taste in your mouth.

A couple of years back, I was donating platelets about every three weeks, and occasionally donating whole blood just to give myself an eight-week break. Then to my surprise, I was “deferred”, told that I couldn’t donate for a year. The reason was that the Long-Suffering Wife and I had taken a cruise to the Mexican west coast. Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta were no problem, but apparently there was a case of malaria reported within 100 miles of Mazatlan, so I couldn’t donate blood for a year for fear that I might have been exposed.


The year went by (while I still got calls a couple times a month from the ARC asking if I would like to schedule an appointment to donate) and finally I went back in. And again I was deferred for another year. It seems that in the intervening months I had gone to Asia, and while China and Japan were fine, there was a problem with being in Korea. I triggered their system by flying in and out of the country through the airport at Inchon, and Inchon is a no-no for exposure to malaria. The fact is that I never left the building or was exposed to the outside in Inchon – I flew in, stayed in the terminal long enough to get my luggage, got on a train in the terminal, and left for Seoul, then reversed the process five days later. I was told that being in Seoul was not a problem, but that Inchon was, regardless of the fact that I was there for less than an hour each time and I never went outside. No more donations for another year. No exceptions.

Uh-huh again.

I can go off on a rant about the logic behind those policies some other time (in fact, I know that I will!) but the second time I just figured it was their loss. I still got called on a regular basis and emails about once a week asking me to schedule a donation, but they just got ignored. I really think that they can use some better database management on their calling setup, but I haven’t gotten that job yet.

Now the second year is up and it was time to donate again. I was half expecting some other problem, and I offered to donate platelets instead of whole blood since platelets are more valuable and can be donated more often, but they wanted the whole blood. OK, “not my float!” (Remember that phrase as well…)

In the tradition of the great Robert Heinlein, let me encourage all of you to donate blood (or platelets!) if you can. Help to save a life! There are restrictions if you’re too young or too thin or if you’ve been exposed to certain diseases or taken certain medications or if you’ve ever participated in any “risky” behavior. You will be asked some rather blunt questions about your sex life and possible drug use, since keeping the blood supply clear of the AIDS virus is still critical.

But if you’re not in any of the groups that they consider risky, please take a look at donating either at a local blood drive or at a local Red Cross center. If you’ve never donated and have concerns or questions about the process, there’s a lot of good information here on the Red Cross site. If you’re concerned about needles, don’t be – even a world-class wussy-boy like me can do it.

Fortunately, today’s donation went without a hitch, easy peasy. (Well, at least my donation was easy.) I was in and out in less than an hour, and the actual donation itself only took about fifteen minutes.

It was a good day to be a fast bleeder.

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Filed under Fandom, Health, Not My Float, Paul