World AIDS Day 2014

When things aren’t going well in the present, it’s a natural thing to want to retreat to the past. It’s escape: even if the past you’re inhabiting isn’t particularly happy or even pleasant, it is a known quantity.

So really, escape is escape from the unknown.

But sometimes the past escapes its chronological bonds and rises to the present: a sense-trigger or an event, a memory hyperlinked to that past or even a kind of full duplex déjà vu where a present thought makes a past one feel familiar in new way.

I’m the kind of person who listens to sad songs when I’m happy. And I like listening to happy songs when I’m sad. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully capable of wallowing, but when emotion doesn’t override sense of self, I have a better appreciation of those things that are Other to the present. The sometimes-solemnity in happiness, the often-absurdity in sadness.

World AIDS Day this year, this day, is very much a present day experience. AIDS wasn’t about the HIV particle, it was about suffering at the hands of something none of us saw coming, and a thing of such magnitude that none of us could truly appreciate until it was far too late.

And then the deaths kept coming. Dying and dying and dying, where 20-somethings and 30-somethings took to hunting the Obits section of the paper every day out of the same kind of pragmatism that much, much older people do as a matter of course.

They say that global AIDS may be over as soon as 2030. That’s astoundingly great news, given how many non-scientific, non-medical hurdles had to be overcome just to get started in addressing it in a significant way.

And I’m not blaming the homophobes: lots of us homoPHILES didn’t want to believe it was happening. Didn’t think there needed to be such a huge effort to address it. Thought that it would be over in a matter of months when there was another new pill for another STD.

Before AIDS, there had always been a pill or a shot for whatever you sometimes got when body fluids mixed and made contact.

So on this World AIDS Day, I wonder: who recognizes in Today that believing “there’s a pill to fix whatever ails ya” is what happened Before?

The Year That Never Occurred To Me

In the year of your Lord (well, he’s certainly not mine), two thousand fourteen, there began an interval of ordinary time (you catholics…see what I did there?) that I never considered. Not once when I was growing up, or had grown up. Not once in all the calendrical-gymnastical mathletics of my time did I consider my semicentennial, the year I should become — deep breath — a quinquagenarian. The deep breath is for the hexasyllabic word, not for the feigned histrionics of becoming a 50 year old.

After all, remember that I always remember the grave alternative.

After figuring out that I’d be 36 when we hit that science fictional watershed milestone 2001—and then of course, 37 by that year’s end. And upon actually turning 37 realizing I was the same age as Allen when he died, making me feel like there was no turning back on this adulthood thing in every possible way (emotional maturity being the most precious — and lonely). I also noted that I was the same age that Vincent van Gogh would ever be. It made an impression. Or technically a post-impression.

When I was a wee boy, I knew when I’d be able to drive (1980), vote (1982), drink (1985). At one point I almanacked — somewhat paganistically in retrospect — what years my birthday would also be an Easter: three times in my life so far, including my first Easter as a San Franciscan. I’d almost gone and done the (somewhat paeanistic) Easter Sunrise Service atop Mt. Davidson with its primeval clearing presided over by a depressingly, imposingly large, eisenhowered christian cross.

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I however did not: 4:30 in the morning is just evil if it’s an early 4:30 and not a late one, and Allen wasn’t quite well enough to endure the foggy bluster that was brewing outside.

I also know that the next time my birthday falls to an Easter Sunday, I’ll be 103 years old (2067). If I’m around to make it to Mt. Davidson, there will have to be solar powered gondolas to convey me up there. Still, it’ll be a first for me.

Many other odd bits of math wit have been broken against tick-tock-time just because I’m like that, but again, 2014 just never did occur to me. Fifty doesn’t seem like all that interesting a number. Half a hundred. Maybe it’s because binary and hexadecimal are more preeminent in a quotidian sense. Or that when it comes to base 10, it becomes the metric system to me (I am a scientist when you get down to it, after all, and fractions tend to find no purchase there, in favor of decimal representations).

And so let’s face it: “0.5 centuries” doesn’t have quite the ring to it as “woo hoo! I can drink in a bar now!”

So when did it occur to me? Obviously, the irony of writing about something that never occurred to me is that it suddenly did occur to me or else we wouldn’t be here, you with the reading, me with the writing, right? It occurred to me when I was back in Pennsylvania in December visiting my family. My phone has long since been reporting temperatures in Celsius and my dad asked me what the temperature was. I had to calculate it in my head because the only four °F/°C pairs I’d had memorized were:

  • 32°F = 0°C
  • 212°F = 100°C
  • 98.6°F = 37°C
  • -40°F = -40°C

The last one, note, is where Fahrenheit and Celsius are identical: the crossover point of the two lines — see? math is fun!

As it just so happened, it was 10°C. Quick math turned up 50°F. 32 + ( 9/5 * 10 ) = 50. Exactly. Whole number.

And for some reason, there was 50 as some sort of number of interest. And yes, the propeller on my beanie took a lap or two.

And so, on 3 April 2014, 50 years to the day from 3 April 1964, I shall become a Quinquagenarian. Six syllables, two Qs. One Q doesn’t fit my gayness anymore, and my economy of words continues to “suffer” from inflation: turgid is my prose and no blue pill required.