06 Jul The Preface to the Book
As I have been working on this idea as a film I have also been thinking about it as a book. Films and books are entirely different animals and there are things that I could get into with a book, I wouldn’t be able to deal with in a film. As such I was thinking about a preface to the book today and started writing the following – again- I am using this blog as kind of a notebook- as a way to brainstorm and push myself to put my ideas out in the world and not simply in a notebook- as I have done with these thoughts for the past many months. Over the last few days i have digitized the 9 hours of footage that I shot when Alana was in town. It was such a creative boost to me to have Alana to work with and hanging out with her has really helped me to connect with the person that I was 20 years ago- which has spurred a lot of thinking and writing- more thinking than I can seem to write down unfortunately so- I’m trying desperately to get it all down.
The idea of this preface is to quickly lay out how it all started before launching into the infinitely more complex narrative of who we are and how we become it….
I can’t really remember how it all started, or how I first found out that my roommate was doing it. He had kept it secret for a long time. I also remember seeing the “donors wanted” ad in the school newspaper. It was a quarter page ad and it was always there. I imagine that one day I said to my roommate, “I should do this,” as I pointed to the ad. S was kind of cat like in his presence, more similar to a lion more than a tabby. He could usually be found sprawled across his bed reading a magazine or snoozing. Without moving his head he glanced up with his eyes for a moment and then they drooped back to his magazine. After licking a finger to turn the page, he began to speak without looking up, “I’ve been going there since freshman year.”
At first I thought he was pulling my leg. S and I were extremely different people, but we had been thrust together as freshman roommates and we had become very close. Still Steve was always a bit guarded, hidden, so it wasn’t all that unbelievable that I could have lived with him for two years without knowing that he was a sperm donor. I pressed him for details and he explained that he was paid 50 dollars a pop and went a couple of times a week. 50-100 dollars a week of extra spending money went a long way for college students like us, and he was never short of money. I can’t remember if I called the lab then or waited a few weeks, months, or even years. I know that i thought about the implications of what I would be doing for a good while before going, but ultimately I decided that it would be a good thing; I would make some much needed money and some infertile couple that desperately wanted children would get their wish. I couldn’t imagine that anyone who didn’t love children would go through the trouble of making a baby this way, so it seemed a safe bit that they would be well taken care of.
I finished college a semester early and started to work as a bike/subway messenger to support my desire to make art and play music. In some ways the work was inspirational; a ticket to travel the city and go behind doors that i otherwise wouldn’t have access to. It didn’t matter to me that the doors usually went to unadorned hallways and brightly lit messenger centers. In fact I loved their cool anonymity. S and I found a cheap apartment on St. Marks Place, and I found myself working too much to have enough energy to really think creatively. Maybe Steve suggested I go to the lab, or maybe I had been going for a while off and on. At some point though, I started to go more often so that I could work a little bit less. I also moved into an even cheaper apartment in a sketchier part of the East Village. My rent was only 150 a month, so three visits to the lab would cover it.
I can’t remember when I started but I can remember my first visit. I was nervous and slightly freaked out. Nervous because it was new to me and freaked out because the process entailed masturbating into a cup. Despite having read Portnoy’s Complaint, and enjoying it, I was still acutely aware of the social stigma. Unlike the messenger centers I was used to visiting, there was no separate entrance for the donor. I have trouble thinking back to my 20 year old state of mind. I was uncomfortable in “normal” situations where people wore “normal” clothes and did “normal” things. A doctor’s office waiting room was kind of a purgatory for me at the time and I felt extremely agitated waiting for them to see me.
On my first visit I’m sure that I filled out a lot of paperwork. After a while I had a short interview with the doctor in charge of the clinic. I recall that he attempted to be funny and friendly to lighten the mood, but it just put me off even more. i recall feeling tempted to just flee, but I really needed the money so I stuck it out. I can’t recall much of the conversation but I know that I was told that only a small percentage of applicants would be chosen. He looked over my notes and made some approving comments. I guess I looked like a good candidate, a cash cow, so to speak, so he was pretty nice to me. After talking for a while he led me to the “donation room”. It wasn’t much bigger than a closet. It had a TV and a bunch of pawed over porn mags. S had told me about the joke that the doctor would make and I almost made it for him but he beat me to the punch, pointing to a row of specimen cups he chortled, “Fill them all!!” and closed the door.
There I was in a barely lit office room. It was so unseedy that it was about as sexy as a garden party full of oldish nuns. I sat there for a while unsure of what to do. I was still 20ish though and had a Philip Rothian libido, so after some pause I was able to man up and take care of business. When I was finished I exited the special room and headed to the back lab where I handed off my specimen to the lab assistant. At this point there as kind of a “don’t call us we’ll call you” vibe, and I awkwardly made my exit and slid back into the normal flow of the anonymous city.
A few days later I got a message that I had provided a “good sample”, and that I had been accepted into the program. I guess I felt a little bit of pride at being one of the chosen few. I definitely had mixed emotions about the whole thing. I didn’t hide it from my friends, and in fact probably talked about it too much. Still, it was stressful and awkward and I know I was relieved when I started to see my future wife in a serious way. At some point i just stopped going. 20 years later I wonder what happened to all that sperm.