Who: Nello Carlini
What: 80th birthday bash
Where: Palo Alto, CA
When: 07.31.04

Nello Carlini was 71 and a Peace Corps volunteer in Poland when he tested positive for HIV, in May 1995. He returned home to San Francisco prepared for the worst. Nine years later (and counting), Carlini is as vibrant and lusty as ever, having trounced pneumocystis, not to mention anal cancer. In July, flanked by friends, family and a singing-gorilla birthday-gram, he celebrated his 80th birthday. POZ caught up with Carlini after he blew out the candles.

My party was incredible: family, colleagues, people from my gay life, neighbors. Being Italian—and especially my generation—the family is so important, so it was wonderful to have my friends meet them. I had no idea the gorilla was coming. Apparently, it was supposed to have been a stripper, but that didn’t work out.

Turning 80 is certainly a landmark. I’ve survived a lot. When I was in Poland teaching English, I was attacked by someone I was tutoring. I was knocked unconscious, tied up, my mouth taped shut. I woke up two days later in the hospital.

When I tested positive, I thought, How can this be? I’d never had anal sex. But conventional wisdom tells you, “Never mind how you got there—do something about it.” Fortunately, I had friends who had been positive for years, and they were good guides. I have a great doctor, and I’ve been on the same regimen of meds since ’96. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

People said, “You can’t be HIV positive—old people don’t get it.” Funny, nobody told the virus that. Yes, old people get HIV—and plenty of them. These young men today who bareback, all they’re thinking about is pleasure. They’re thinking with their dicks. I probably would be, too, if I was that age. I can’t relate to guys my age who complain about younger people. They say, “These kids think they’re going to live forever.” I say, “What’s wrong with that?”

I feel very fortunate. I still travel, have energy and quite a libido. Well, not as much as I used to. But there are 80 years to take into consideration.

-As told to Patrick Letellier