In the summer of 1981 I was going to school at Santa Rosa Junior College. I had a job as a lab assistant in the Electronics department. I was putting together an inventory on one of the S100 predecessors to the PC. It has an Intel 8080 processor and something like 32k of memory. It ran Isis a predecessor to C/PM and had something like Notepad as a word processor.
I was living in Cotati, some 10 miles south of Santa Rosa.
I had a girl friend who lived in the Mission district of San Francisco on Delores St across from the park. She had a Honda Hawk motorcycle and beautiful full back Japanese style tattoo of a golden carp swimming upstream.
I would go to the city on the weekends, escape there really.
She and her roommate lived upstairs from a gay male couple in their early thirties. In the early summer one of them became very ill. His illness worsened rapidly and he was dead a little over a month later.
My girl friend’s former lover had gone through the Stanford Program a few months before I had. She was an IV drug user. She was also sick that summer.
At first it was a mystery illness. The BAR and other gay newspapers were calling it “The Gay Cancer.”
By Christmas it had picked up the label of GRID, or Gay Related Immune Deficiency.
Suddenly it was all over the world. It wasn’t just a few hard partying gay men in the Castro, West Hollywood and Chelsea who were dying. It was also Haitians and straight IV drug users.
I moved to the Silicon Valley and started working for a hard drive and net working company. By that point I had broken up with my girl friend but was hanging out in the city and going to punk concerts with a gay male friend.
GRID became AIDS.
In the summer of 1983 I moved to an apartment on Duboce near the park. The street cars ran outside my window. The Castro was no where near as much fun as it had been when I had visited it during the 1970s.
I worked for a computer store in the financial district. I serviced computers for a number of the banks and businesses of the financial district. I got to know people when I went on service calls, when I would go back a couple of months later I would learn the person I had known either died or was in the hospital.
My boss’s husband was hemophiliac and had full blown AIDS. A co-worker was infected. My friend Bear was infected.
In 1984 I was coming home from a restaurant after dinner with a friend and there outside of the Castro Theater several gay men were gathered around a friend who had just collapsed and died.
It was like living in Camus’s novel, The Plague. San Francisco seem full of people who were dying from the guy at A Different Light on Market Street to the man who ran the news stand in Noe Valley where they sold the European magazines.
I started drinking and doing speed, trying to escape from all the death that was around me.
I knew it was time to get out of San Francisco or lose my mind when I saw a poster in the Metro that said “We all have AIDS Now!”
The West Coast Computer Faire, the Museums, even the punk clubs of North Beach and the theater in J-Town where I went with friends to see the new wave musicians were enough to make up for the despair I felt.
In 1987 I moved back to Los Angeles.
In over all numbers LA probably had a larger number of people with AIDS but there were many more people and it was far more diffuse.
During the first few months, I was back in LA, I learned that a number of sisters, queens I had photographed during the 1970s had died.
A Creole sister who ran a catering business and made some of the best gumbo I’ve ever had was dying.
In the early 1990s, Kim the sister, I had gone through the Sanford program with and who had been so ill that summer of 1981 had died of AIDS.
As the book by Randy Shilts said, And the Band Played On.
By the early 1990s new drugs were extending the lives of people.
Then came the magic cocktail, a combination of drugs and the phrase, “Living with AIDS/HIV.”
But no cure…
And people still die…
And the band plays on…
People in lesser developed nations are still living in the plague years while the corporations still rake in the huge profits on the drugs that manage AIDS but do not cure it…
And the Band Plays On…