The Plasma People

S&Mj adventure's CSL Plasma card

A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in Florida, she got a pass for a two free movie tickets for some film. I can’t even remember which one. It was one of those free movie events hosted by a radio station. We expected it to be pretty similar to any of the million previous times we had been to the movies together.

It wasn’t.

The people there all seemed to know each other. Many of them had done this free-movie thing before, and did it regularly. We had a long conversation with the local king and queen bee of free movie going, who knew everyone else and all the tricks on how to get free movie passes. They were also insiders, and right before the movie started a representative of the event came out and pulled the two of them inside for some kind of private consultation.

We went to see a movie. We found a community. A secret, hidden community, not because they were trying to hide, but because there would be no reason or anyone who hadn’t peered through the shroud to assume they existed. To put it another way, I already knew there was probably a local taxidermy club. I know about taxidermy, and although I have no idea what those people or that community are like, I am at least vaguely aware of its probable existence. But the free-movie community was wholly unexpected. Not surprising, I suppose, but at the same time mind-blowing. It made me wonder how many of these unimagined but fully extant communities are out there, two inches to the left of where we live our lives.

I found another one today.

I discovered that you can make some money by donating plasma. Not bad money, too, for the amount of time it takes. So…I have now donated plasma! The website for the company with the local office has a lot of copy and imagery about saving lives and being a hero. They also have a rewards program. Donating one of your bodily fluids for use in medical procedures gives you points that you can spend on Target gift cards and discounts for Taco Time. If you donate enough, you can become a gold member. I don’t know what that means.

When I got there, I checked in with the receptionist. She was very excited that this was my first time. I asked if it was mostly regulars. She told me it was.

I showed them my IDs and read a booklet and then watched a video that had all of the same information in the booklet. I heard at least four times that although they test your blood prior to every donation, they ask that you not use this facility as a way to test if you have an STD or communicable disease. They didn’t actually say “There are clinics for that, dammit! Don’t waste our time!” But someone clearly wanted to.

Then I went through a series of medical screening questions and tests with two separate but equally awesome women. The first was bubbly, and about ten feet tall She told me about the time she was in a trailer that was hit by a tornado. Fortunately, she didn’t die. The second woman was gruffer at first, but once I showed some empathy for the tedium of her situation she warmed up. We talked about how she could barely watch medical shows because of all the inaccuracies. I mentioned how I knew that defibrillators are used entirely wrong on television, and she burst out laughing and told me I was smart. I related how as a former chef I hate to watch people cook and eat on TV. The pizza is always cold.

While I was waiting for my physical two other people waited with me. The first was a pink-haired girl who was very impatient. Last time she came in she had a bruise on her arm, and they told her they couldn’t take her plasma until it healed. Now she had to wait for the technicians to check out her arm. She’d been there for 20 minutes and kept pacing back and forth and calling her husband to complain.

The other person waiting there had been told that he answered a screening question wrong, and therefore had to wait. He was annoyed and nervous.

“I’ve come here so many times,” he said. “They should know I don’t do drugs.” I told him that was rough. Then he asked in a hushed tone, “They won’t, like, care if there’s marijuana in my blood, will they? Do you think?”

I told him they stuff I read only mentioned heroin and cocaine, and besides marijuana is legal in Washington now anyway. He shhed me to keep my voice down, because an Authority Figure was walking by.

Once all this was done, the defibrillator nurse took me out to the extraction room. They didn’t call it that. They didn’t call it anything. I got priority because I was a first-timer. A VIP, you might say.

I went and sat in a curved blue bed in a large room full of curved blue beds. Almost all of them were full. I expected a bunch of quiet people, checking their phones and pretending everyone next to them didn’t exist. The kind you find in patient waiting rooms all across the country. I was very, very wrong.

Many of these people knew each other, and knew the technicians. There was life and energy and conversations. One of the technicians got excited when he saw one of the donors, and ran up to ask how her sister was doing. They talked for several minutes.

The woman that got me into bed was very nice, and clearly genuinely pleased to meet me. If anything it felt like a new neighbor moving in. She explained the process would take an hour, and how this machine would take out my blood, filter out the plasma, and return my red blood cells along with saline and an anti-coagulant. But it felt an awful lot like she was bringing me a tupperware full of cookies that she baked herself. You know, just to say “Hi! Welcome to the plasma center!”

A woman had a seizure nearby, and both the staff and the donors got very worried. It all worked out, though. Apparently she has seizures fairly regularly, and she always warns everyone right before she’s about to have one. To the best of my knowledge, she’s just fine, and once it was over everyone settled back down into their comfortable routine.

Soon enough, pink-hair and marijuana guy were seated right near me, and we struck up a conversation. They were in much better moods now that they were done with the waiting process. Pink-hair explained that her husband and kids were waiting in the car, and that’s why she was impatient.

She’d been coming here since this facility opened and knew all sorts of little tricks. She and marijuana-guy had never talked before, but they’d seen each other. Pink-hair’s husband thought marijuana guy was Samoan. He said he wasn’t, and she laughed and described the shocked look her husband would surely have when she told him he was wrong. When she left, she told both both of us it was nice to meet us, and that she’d see us around. She assumed I’d be back.

I also struck up a conversation with the woman on my left. She explained the equipment I was hooked up to, and what all of the tubes did and what the meters indicated. She wasn’t a technician, just a donor. And, by the end of that hour, kind of a friend. She and pink-hair knew each other and were clearly friendly.

Yesterday I knew that I would give plasma today, if nothing went wrong. I knew I’d get some money for it, and be entered into a reward program. I had no idea I’d find this weird little community I would never have imagined if I hadn’t seen it myself. I’m definitely going to keep giving plasma for the foreseeable future, but will I become part of this community? Will I make new friends, through a strange, hidden group whose only tie to each other is the extraction of the liquid medium of their blood? Will I, in fact, become one of the Plasma People?

We’ll just have to see.

 

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Another Man’s Underwear

Lost Underwear!

 

Shredded Comfort, Day 6

I spent all morning thinking about today’s challenge: ask someone at the movie theater for $30 dollars so I could buy snacks. I debated whether I should tell them I’d lost a bet and was out of cash,  or whether I should just do it. As we drove to the theater I got more and more nervous. My friends all said they wanted to be far away when I actually did it. I got there, espied two women standing near a poll, and walked up to ask them.

It took four seconds. They gave me a confused look and refused. Then it was over.

Disappointing.

Overall, I feel I shouldn’t gauge these challenges by how difficult they actually turn out to be, so much as how nervous they make me in advance. After all, if something intimidates me and then turns out effortless, that’s a good thing, right?

Even so, I felt unsatisfied. Sure, I could have kept asking people, but I didn’t want to just go around hitting everyone up for money. And I didn’t want to get in an endless loop whereby I kept repeating a task until it felt uncomfortable. All of that makes sense, but it didn’t help with my dissatisfaction.

So we went into the theater and stood in line and watched Guardians of the Galaxy, which was totally worth the wait. Then we drove back to my friend’s place to eat the fruit tart I made and the blueberry boy bait another friend made and argue about whether the word groin or the word crotch is funnier. The answer: it’s contextual. It’s a very sophisticated group of friends, you see. Which they continued to demonstrate throughout the evening as you will soon realize.

We sat down to eat our Chinese food, and I realized how hot it was. At some point, I made the offhand comment that I would sit around in my underwear if I was wearing any. Because I’m the kind of guy who says things like that. Also, I don’t wear underwear. I just don’t see the point.

“You could wear Bryan’s underwear,” said one of our friends.

Bryan, as it turned out, was fine with this. I didn’t expect him to be. I didn’t want him to be, because the idea of sitting around all of these people in just underwear that belonged to one of them was…uncomfortable.

That damn word again.

I realized I had to do it. So that’s how I found myself sitting in my friend’s apartment wearing his navy blue briefs. Since I’m not used to wearing anything between my pants and my skin the whole experience was a little tight.  My friends didn’t make the process easy on me, of course. There was plenty of laughter and attention to make the whole thing that much more awkward. And I’ve learned over the years that one of the side effects of loving to be the center of attention is that…people make you the center of attention.

Especially if you’re standing there in another man’s underwear.

 

Allergy

大仏コロッケ&白えびコロッケ&味噌汁 (DAIBUTSU croquette & white shrimp croquette & MISO soup)

Lee stood up during the first commercial after halftime.

“Hey, where you going?” asked Stern. “Bathroom’s that way.”

“I know where the bathroom is, fool,” said Lee. “This is my house. I’m going to get the shrimp croquettes. Wait till you taste these motherfuckers. They’re tight.”

“None of that shit for me,” said Barry. “I don’t touch shrimp and shit like that.”

Lee shook his head as he walked into the kitchen.

“Man,” said Stern. “How come you never try nothing? How the fuck you know if you like it if you don’t try it?”

“It’s not like that,” said Barry. “I just can’t eat shrimp and crab and all that. I got allergies.”

“What are you talking about, allergies?” said Stern. “I never heard about that.”

“Well, I got allergies,” said Barry. “Why I got to talk about it?”

“Like, real allergies? Or just some food intolerance bullshit?”

“How the fuck should I know! I never been to the doctor or nothing. I just know when I eat shrimp and shit it aint pretty.”

“Well, is it a histamine reaction, or not? Shit be serious.”

Barry laughed. “Look at this motherfucker talking about histaneen reactions and shit. How the fuck should I know?”

“Well what happens when you eat it?” asked Stern. “You get itchy? You break out in hives?”

Barry shifted in his chair. “I don’t like to talk about it. That’s how come you don’t know about it. Just trust me. It aint pretty.”

“What you fools talking about?” said Lee as he walked in, carrying a tray of golden brown croquettes and several ramekins full of green sauce.

“Motherfucker says he has allergies,” said Stern.

“I do.”

“Right,” said Lee. “This is just another excuse not to try something because you’re a pussy. You wouldn’t touch the dip, either.”

“It’s fucking allergies!” Barry protested again. Then he grabbed a crostini, plunged it into the dip in front of him, and shoved it into his mouth.

“What’s he supposed to be allergic to, anyway?” asked Lee.

“He says seafood and crustaceans,” said Stern. “Shrimp and crab and that shit.”

“Yeah?” Lee’s eyebrow raised. “If that’s true, he probably shouldn’t try the dip. It has crab in it.”

Barry’s eyes widened, and he spit the food out of his mouth and right into the bowl of dip.

“Dude!” Lee cried. “I slaved over that shit!?

“It’s got crab in it?” Barry asked, scraping at his tongue with a napkin.

“Yeah.”

“Oh fuck. Why didn’t you say nothing?”

“I didn’t think…”

Barry lurched forward.

“Holy shit,” said Stern. “Motherfucker wasn’t lying.”

Lee and Stern backed away on the couch and watched as Barry began to spasm. There was a sickening crack, as the bones in his face snapped and shifted under his skin. The muscles on his exposed arms seemed to quiver, then new muscle tissue burst through the flesh and wrapped around his arms. Barry stood up and screamed out in pain. His nose stretched out. Blood sprayed from his fingertips and claws burst forth. Hair erupted from all over his body, like grass on a time-lapsed chia pet. Barry threw his arms out, then snapped his head back and howled.

“Shit!” said Lee.

Stern stood up, and walked towards his friend. “Motherfucker,” he said. “That shit aint no allergies. That’s fucking lycanthropy.”

“What?” growled Barry.

“Lycanthropy,” said Stern. “Werewolfism.”

Lee laughed. “Holy shit. You’re right.”

“You weren’t lying when you said you never been to the doctor about it,” said Stern. “What the fuck made you think it was an allergy?”

“I don’t know,” said Barry. “It only happens with food. Allergies be doing that, right?”

Stern shook his head. “Lycanthropy induced by crustacean intolerance,” said Stern. “My cousin had this same shit, only with shellfish. Given that your nose all bumpy, you probably a kyphorrhinos. That means you got the West Coast strain.”

“Fuck,” said Barry. “Sounds serious.”

“Nah,” said Stern. “It aint nothing.” He turned to Lee. “You still got that wormwood extract your old lady left here?”

“Yeah,” said Lee. “I’ve got it.”

“Should calm this shit right down,” said Stern.

“Fucking A,” said Barry. “Usually I just have to wait it out.”

“I’ll go get it,” said Lee. He stood up.

“Shh, shh!” said Stern. “Game’s back on.”

Lee dropped back into his seat. “You’re just going to have to wait.” He shook his head. “Food allergy.”

“Fine,” said Barry. “Whatever.”

“Another thing, motherfucker,” said Lee.

Barry looked at him quizzically.

“You’re paying for that damn couch.”

Alarm

faulty alarm clock

For the DP Writing Challenge.

It was precisely 6:30 AM, Sunday morning. The one day this week I was supposed to be able to sleep in. Instead I laid there on a lumpy sleeping bag on top of carpeted floor, as the noise drilled into my head. It blared, loud and obnoxious, pounding in my skull and rendering sleep and rational thought impossible. As I tossed uncomfortably, my jaw clenched, I wanted to kill everyone in the world. Most specifically, I wanted to kill John, one of my closest friends. This was all his fault.

Of all of the horrible things created by humankind, the alarm clock is one of the worst. How can I say this, in a world with water-boarding, nuclear weapons, and spray-cheese? Torture methods and weapons of mass destruction are terrible, but they are done to you. They aren’t voluntary, and presumably can be all benefit if you are on the right side of the equation. Spray-cheese may be an affront to 99.99%* of all available gods, but at least it brings the user something passably resembling pleasure.

Alarm clocks, by contrast, are specifically designed to disrupt our purest and most natural state of bliss and happiness. They are the equivalent of a device designed to get you to stop playing video games after a certain amount of time by administering an electrical shock to your uterus. And honestly, it’s easier to imagine a person who has a fetish for the uterus thing. The alarm clock’s sole function is to beat our circadian rhythms violently into shape so they can be stuffed into the misshapen peg that is the modern work schedule.

Most of my childhood was mercifully alarm clock free. My mom always woke my brother and I up to go to school or church or other such functions. It was still an annoying process, but that’s only because I didn’t know how good I had it. The occasions where my father had to wake us up instead of my mother were more like using and old school clanging metal bell alarm clock and keeping it in my pants, but fortunately those were very rare. I sometimes set my alarm clock to wake up on days off of school to watch TV shows that were on before my usual 11:00 waking time. But in that case the alarm was empowering. It woke me up to do something fun I otherwise could not do. Plus, if I wanted to ignore it that was my call. I never fully understood the spiked collar that is the adult relationship with alarm clocks until college. Save for one night at my friend John’s house.

Two of my best friends in high school were named John and Matt. We all went to the same private school and lived miles apart. John lived so far away that the drive to school every morning took over an hour and a half. When we wanted to hang out outside of school, Matt and I made our way out to Long Beach Island and slept at John’s house. The island was awesome, and he had a sexy house with a floating glass staircase and highly slide-able hardwood floors.

On this particular occasion, we hung in John’s basement playing Daggerfall on the IBM Compatible, annihilating each other at Twisted Metal 2 on the Playstation, and watching Kevin Smith movies – the absolute pinnacle of cinema. One John’s little brother and his parents went to sleep, he and Matt and I gathered around the computer and surfed adult oriented websites. You know, financial planning, 401 Ks, issues concerning the upcoming local port commissioner elections. Nah, I’m kidding. I’m talking about porn. Late 90s porn, which was both inferior to and less horrible than modern porn. John and I loved both the titillation and the rebelliousness. I think Matt mostly did it to fit in with us, and because otherwise he would have been bored.

Eventually, round about 4 AM, we finally went into John’s room and went to sleep. John took the bed, and Matt and I slept on either side of the bed on sleeping bags. A comfortable enough arrangement. It took me the better part of an hour to go to sleep. I knew I would pay the late night Monday, because I did not sleep well during the week back then. My only consolation as unconsciousness took me was that I could sleep in the next morning.

Four seconds later, I jolted awake as the auditory manifestation of obnoxiousness assaulted my ears. I wrapped my head with my pillow and tried not to hate everything in the universe. A fucking alarm clock? It was Sunday morning, for Christ’s sake. Was John going to church? Why hadn’t he told us? And why did his friends have to suffer? I squeezed the pillow tightly and waited for John to wake up and turn off the stupid thing.
Two agonizing minutes later I realized it was not going to happen.

The bedside dresser that held the alarm was, of course, on the other side of the bed from me. So I stood up and felt my way along the edge of the bed. The sun had just started to rise outside, but the window provided insufficient light to actually see anything.. The only sensations in my word were the feel of the bed, the freezing cold of my bare feet, and the screeching noise stabbing into my brain. I made it to the other side of the bed, and walked over Matt’s sleeping body towards the alarm. I stepped on his wrist, but he didn’t wake up. No real surprise. If he slept through this noise, I could probably set his balls on fire with no reaction. At least then I could see what I was doing.

I got the table and fumbled around for the alarm. I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t on the table at all! In my half asleep state I considered the possibility that I was either dreaming or insane. Or maybe a tiny demon perched just inside my ear. A minute of blind and panicked searching revealed that the alarm was inside the top drawer of the dresser. I pounded the top of it with my hand, stumbled back towards my sleeping bag, and went back to sleep.

Four seconds later, my eardrums exploded. The fucking snooze button. I had hit the fucking snooze button. I stood up. Still no one else woke up, even at this hell-spawned device’s second attempt. I lurched back over. I slipped on a piece of John’s blanked and landed on my knee. Pain lanced through me, but I barely cared. I stoop up and head towards the dresser, stepping on Matt again, and yanked open the drawer. It was a little bit lighter in the room, now. I could see the alarm a little bit. It had what looked like 200 buttons. I had no idea what they were all for. I hit one that I hoped was the off switch. Then I gathered all of the clothes in the drawer, and some of the ones from the drawer below, and smothered the clock as thoroughly as I could in fabric. Then I stomped back towards my sleeping bag and went to sleep.

Four seconds later, someone rammed a Phillips head screwdriver into my skull. The snooze again? The pile of clothing was massively underwhelming soundproofing. I leapt to my feet – only then remembering the pain in my knee – and marched over to the dresser. I opened the battery compartment on the bottom of the clock, pulled out the two AAs, and threw them behind the dresser. I looked over at John. He was still asleep, with his mouth hanging open and his whole countenance an expression of effortless peace. I won’t say that I seriously considered grabbing one of his pillows and holding it over his face until he stopped breathing. Of course I won’t say that. That’s not the sort of thing you should ever write down. I trudged back over to my sleeping bag, lay down, and, finally, went to sleep.

I yelled at him about it the next day for almost 20 minutes. Mostly he just laughed. His mom told me that he had a hard time waking up to alarms. It wondered why he bothered. A year later, as we all prepared for college, John’s mom got him an alarm shaped like a truck. It was very loud, with a violent vibration, and a honking noise, and then two or three other noises that were just as bad. I can only assume it was designed for parents who were afraid their children might drop out of business school and become truckers, and this was to instil in them a deep hatred of all truck related things. We all laughed that this alarm would probably work, for once. Secretly I thought, “good. Now you get to suffer.”

The three of us were such good friends, back then. Matt and I are still very good friends, although he is Matthew now. I haven’t spoken to John in almost 15 years. Sure, he went to college in the south and the two of us went to the same school in Massachusetts. Sure, he lives thousands of miles away and I can get to Matthew’s place in half an hour. There are solid, incidental reasons why we drifted apart. I know this.

But then there are the moments of lucidity. You know the ones. They usually happen as you are watching a sunset, 24 consecutive waking hours after you watched the last sunset. Or when you have had so many margaritas that you are now calling your wife Margarita, and your margaritas Susan, even though your wife’s name isn’t and never has been Susan. Those moments where revelations slam into you like meteorites, and they don’t mean anything to anyone else, and they don’t make the normal kind of sense even to you when you think about them later. During those moments, I think that maybe I never forgave John for the alarm clock.

And if I did? The dude totally had it coming.

 

 

 

 
*Nyarlathotep approves of spray-cheese for fairly obvious reasons. So, a bit more surprisingly, does Crom.

This is a true story. The names have not been changed, because I am a jackass.

 

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