The Way We Were: The Gay Plague
I wasn’t one of those urban gay men that knew legions of buddies who died of a disease that ironically disfigured men so obsessed with their looks and physical being. But I do remember Bobbie Rosenberg who lived on the Upper East Side in an old walk-up, a relic of the turn-of the-last-century days when immigrants crowded what were then considered tenements. It was the tail end of the seventies, and we had met at Uncle Charlie’s, a local bar, played around one night, then morphed into Saturday night bar hopping buddies. While I watched the clock, and wondered what the traffic would be like in the Lincoln Tunnel since I was still living at home at the time in Jersey, Bobbie, moonfaced, stoop-shouldered Bobbie, knew exactly what to do to get a man to come back with him.
I was fucken jealous and rationalized that the guys were so horny they’d fuck their cat by that point.
Bobbie also had the not-so-coveted knack of contracting the Disease of the Month which didn’t bother him at all; in fact, he’d often brag to me about what exotica he had caught getting fucked. Amoebas were my favorite.
December 31, 1979, Bobbie hosted a New Year’s Eve Party in his tiny apartment and invited George, my partner and I. I remember watching Dick Clark who had that gay icon group, “The Village People” on. They sang some song extolling the upcoming new decade and the buzz among us gay guys was that the ‘80’s were to be OUR time. Had we known what was ahead, we would have dumped our poppers down the toilet and joined a seminary. Looking back, though I know it wasn’t true, AIDS seemed like some Biblical retribution for the Sodom and Gomorrah ‘70’s.
I lost touch with Bobbie soon after that (George was never a fan of his – “he’s a pig”), and I often wondered if Bobbie had been swept away in the First Wave of the AIDS genocide that hit soon after.
A few years later on vacation in Houston’s Montrose gay ghetto, I picked up a tall, balding, non-descript looking guy with a hairy swimmers build bod and clipped mustache who was OK with oral sex. Maybe because he knew it would be easier to get. It was the mid 80’s, even ATZ wasn’t on the horizon yet, and after we played, Herb took a dozen eggs out of his frig, and separated the whites from the yolks which he then chucked down with some OJ. He was insistent that this newest craze in self-medication for AIDS was helping him. I never met him again so I’ll never know.
When I went for my first HIV test and had to wait a week for the results, I was convinced, even though I never bottomed, I would be positive and was ready to accept that reality since I was an adult male who knew exactly what he was dealing with, not some poor weepy victim, a role so many guys I’d meet took on who played with fire after 1985 when it was clear you didn’t get it from a toilet seat or a bad bottle of poppers. But each time I’ve been tested, I come up negative, and even my gay doc subscribes to the theory that some guys – maybe a very small number of us – are just immune.
Or maybe just lucky.
And you know what they say about luck.