Catch Them AIDS

Most residents excelled when glomming public aid checks¹ and securing government “benefits” i.e. handouts to which they were entitled (as opposed to petitioning for “assistance” which by definition requires effort). But when it came to bathing or digesting text full of big words and unaccompanied by colorful illustrations, they couldn’t understand why they should be bothered.

On three occasions the administration designated an HIV-positive resident as my roommate.² They realized I was probably the only denizen of the warehouse not so dirt stupid as to believe that you would “catch them AIDS” from doorknobs or airborne cooties. And I’m not some Neanderthal homophobe who assumes that all HIV-positive men are gay and therefore subhuman pariahs anyway.

One of those HIV-positive residents, Trent was in fact gay though I didn’t consider his status necessarily a product of his sexuality. Shortly after his arrival, Trent cordially invited me into his side of the room to meet two friends who were helping him settle into new surroundings. A well-known weekly paper written for gay men silently announced my new roommate’s predilection from his overbed table. The paper had been purposefully arranged, I now realize, as if casually tossed. After we got to know one another Trent announced that he’d previously been hospitalized several times. The powers-that-be had likely thrown him in with boorish he-man roomies.

I honestly can’t remember the springboard of a later conversation in which he matter-of-factly mentioned that he’s gay:

“I’m gay, you know.”

“Yeah.”

His voice betrayed alarm and confusion: “Well how do you know?”

“You just told me.”

“I thought you’d guess from my friends. I mean, one of them wears an earring.”

Trent and his friendly, though vaguely aloof companions appeared to me as average young men. The nineties were approaching an end and the mainstream had pretty much absorbed any notion of males wearing earrings; not to mention that I’m a life-long breeder and wore earrings during my punk rock youth. The friend who sported a small gold hoop smiled while he shook my hand and introduced himself as “Bruce”—I guess his jewelry coupled with that name was supposed to tip me off.

By the way, I never did catch them AIDS.

¹ Actually the administration required that future residents sign a document authorizing the state to send their public aid checks directly to the warehouse; if someone refused, they weren’t admitted. The malevolent bitch accountant doled a measly fraction of a resident’s money out to them on the first of every month. Sometimes she ran out of cash.

² Mr. Gold out-and-out lied to phenomenally witless prospective residents and their equally witless families when he guaranteed that the warehouse didn’t admit HIV-positive patients. As he often brayed in private: “Business is business.”

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