Every year it’s the same? Gwenn and I rush through Thanksgiving, then hit World AIDS Week which means we’re away from home for well over a week explaining how we have a relationship together. Then it’s home to decorate for Christmas.
I know, travel stories suck. I won’t bore you with too many details, like how my baggage was delayed or how we avoided terrible weather by mere hours. But I gotta share a couple of stories from the road, and maybe this can be a holiday tradition here at the blog, kind of the final bit of AIDS before I let the holiday season fully encompass me.
So snuggle up, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and get ready to put that red ribbon away, before replacing it with a swath of mistletoe...
The Tale of the Wayward Student
Gwenn and I answer questions at our campus talks. It’s pretty simple, and after our introductions it’s usually the same, but occassionally we are thrown for a loop. Last week, a student asked, “What about the girl?”
The girl can only be one of two people: Gwenn, who was sitting on stage beside me, or my high school girlfriend (who I fooled around with without disclosing my status) whom I talk about in my introduction. Unfortunately, any prodding to get a full sentence out of this student was proving fruitless.
“Gwenn?” I wondered.
“My high school girlfriend?”
Finally, the guy offers a clue, “No, the girl who you got AIDS from.”
He’d come in late, missed my introduction, and wanted to know where the girl that didn’t exist was so he could avoid that city. He was trying to make a joke, but it ended being a big waste of time.
“Well,” Gwenn said. “The neighboring county to this school has the highest infection rate in the state.”
The student was quiet, and there was an uncomfortable rumble amongst the 300 students in attendance as they realized that I wasn’t the only person with HIV in the area. “Now,” I added, addressing the confused student, “you probably want to come back home with us, right?”
The Direction Giver
The worst part of our job is traveling, and being in a rental car with the feeling that, undoubtedly, you will be arriving late to your destination. I hate the feeling of getting lost and, like sinking in quicksand, becoming more lost with every twist and turn you take.
Counter to popular culture, I’m more of the stop-and-get-directions person than Gwenn is. She gets all weird and manly. Good thing that I was driving, though I’d already done the pound the steering wheel in frustration and curse thing. (My first ever, it was awesome. I said, "How about putting some fucking signs up in this shithole! NOTE: I was in Boston, had just gone through a tunnel and took a turn only to return through the tunnel again.)
Defeated, I pulled to the side of the street, and saw this yuppy family walking nearby. I let Grandpa pass, and then asked the late-30 something guy how to get to a certain street. “Oh, this is the person you need to speak to!”
His date, who couldn’t be bothered, was on his arm. Her scarf flapped in the wind and she snipped, “Try going in that store. They can help you.”
As she pranced off, a voice said. “Do you need directions?”
It wasn’t the Angel of Avis, it was the lady sitting on the corner of the road with the cup full of $1 bills. “I know where that is,” she said. “I can write the directions out for you, I have a pen and some paper...”
And sure enough, she got us pointed in the right direction. She may not have had much money, but she had the time to help and I gave her a well-deserved tip and heart-felt thanks. Then, quite bizarrely considering where I was going and what I’d been talking about all week, and would be that evening as well, she added. “Oh, and there’s this place along the way that you and your girlfriend should check out. It’s called Condom World.”
In The Bathroom
Gwenn and I were having lunch, and we walked past a Borders. Gwenn asked, “You want to go in?”
One of the fun things about having a book out is signing stock; you go in a store, ask how copies are on hand, and then Hancock them. They put a little sticker (“Autographed By Author”) on the book, and display it. Apparently, people are more inclined to purchase a stickered book.
I waited by the Info desk, and then this amiable bald guy in a warm flannel shirt whipped around and asked, “How may I help you?”
“I was wondering if you had My Pet Virus in stock, and how many...”
“Oh my God!” He beamed. "You’re the author!!!"
I’ve gotten great reactions online and in person in regard to the book, but this was unexpected and beyond the glowing e-praise I’ve thankfully become accostomed to. “I have to go get my cellphone! Your book is in our bathroom right now!!!”
He came back, and was telling his partner the news. “You’ll never believe who I am standing beside!”
Before he ran off, he’d told me his partner? who was getting out of the hospital that day after suffering a heart attack? enjoyed the book, too. When I asked if I could talk, he smiled widely and handed me the phone, “He wants to talk to you!”
I really needed something magical, and I think I delivered. “I heard that my book made your heart stop.”
We spoke for a bit, and they too are in a positoid/negatoid relationship, which I rarely encounter at college campuses. Even though it was a massive ego-stroke, this experience was a much-needed reminder that I’m not alone in the Kenneth Cole window being gawked at, or onstage answering questions about living with HIV from people who couldn’t imagine how horrifying that must be even though I can’t even begin to imagine my life without it after 20 years of diagnosis. I love it when people see a little of themselves in me through the book.
So I signed the three books they had on hand, gave my fan a heartfelt hug, and Gwenn and I flew home the next day. Just another positoid and negatoid on their way home to unpack boxes of holiday decorations.