I didn't want to let the day end without at least noting that today is World AIDS Day. There was one mention of it on the radio this morning, but I didn't see a single reference in The New York Times, which really shocked me. A decade ago, when I first got involved doing volunteer work for a local AIDS organization, you couldn't escape the stories, pictures, and fundraising efforts, at least not if you lived in a major city. The sense of urgency has become muted now, of course, as AIDS is no longer the absolute and immediate death sentence it was then. At least so long as you don't live in a third world country and, well, those people aren't our problem, are they? Of course, even here in the U.S. AIDS is rearing its ugly head again, as a whole new generation of gay men -- a generation that has no experience of life before AIDS --tires of safe sex and throws off the traces.
The last time the complete AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed was in 1996 in Washington, D.C. I think the Quilt contained about 43,000 panels at that time, and it stretched almost the full length of the Mall. I was there in D.C. with a very dear friend who was dead of the disease less than 18 months later. I can't describe what it felt like to walk through the Quilt display with him, watching him read the panels stretched out on the grass, and knowing he saw his future there. When he died in a Houston, Texas hospice on St. Patrick's Day 1998, this lovely man with a pianist's hands and the most beautiful eyes and smile I've ever seen weighed 83 lbs. and was almost blind. He was 35 years old.
I've heard that the full Quilt will be displayed again in Washington in 2006. Where will they find room for it this time?
If anyone wants to know what suffering from and dying of AIDS is really like, the first thing you should do is throw out your copy of Philadelphia. The Bruce Springsteen song is the only thing in that film that rings true. Then go out and buy or rent Longtime Companion, which is as daring as Hollywood could let itself be in dealing with AIDS. After that, if you're really brave, go find a DVD called Silverlake Life: The View from Here. Silverlake Life is a documentary that was made in 1993 and was shown here on public television. It's more like a home movie than anything else, and it's incredibly hard to watch. My friend Don thought about looking at it, but finally decided against it. He was afraid of what he'd see; when I saw the film (before he died), I knew he'd made the right decision.
Here's something else that you might do: read the book Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette. Monette's lover Roger Horwitz was diagnosed with and died of AIDS in the mid-1980s, back when AZT was the new miracle wonder drug that was going to beat the disease; a drug that was still almost impossible to get except on the black market. Monette himself died of AIDS in 1995, and every time I'm at UCLA or in West Hollywood, I'm walking in Monette's footsteps. There's also a book of poetry -- Love Alone; the poems deal with Roger's death and the future Monette saw for himself..
Sorry to be so grim. I'll be better tomorrow.