Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering the Epidemic: AIDS in the Village

This was a bit misleading. I came to this talk at the LGBT Center in Chelsea on Tuesday night with a wad of tissues in my pocket, totally expecting to bawl like a lost kitten over tales of death and loss in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York's gay community. Instead, three doctors--one of whom treated the very first AIDS sufferer in the city--gave a college-worthy talk on the various aspects of HIV epidemiology (hope I spelled that right). Demographics, statistics, public perception, even a progression of the medical community's understanding of the disease. Did you know, for instance, that HIV was initially called GRID (Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency)? Or that the research for cures and treatments was held up for months because of a bragging-rights struggle between the French and American doctors who each claimed to have discovered the virus?

Other factoids: the fastest-growing demographic for new HIV cases is under 25s and over 55s. Under 25s, not hard to figure out, they think they're young and invincible and perceive HIV not as a death sentence but a chronic, manageable condition. Over 55s, bit more of a head-scratcher, but the doctors think it has something to do with the availability of Viagra--that's not a joke, though it sounds like one--and possibly with the fact that many gay men want to have a little fun while they still look good and "can still get vertical," a quote that's a lot funnier than it should be, in my mind. But the really tragic bit about the over 55s is that a lot of those new cases are straight women. One doctor said that he took a survey among over 55s and found that while 30% of the men had been tested for HIV, none of the women had ever been tested. That statistic made me took a look around the room and realize that of the 40 people attending the talk, maybe 8 or 10 of us were female (and all of us were white). This highlighted--highlit?--for me ongoing issues about outreach and awareness.

Now seems the appropriate time to remind everyone to get tested regularly for HIV, always practice safe sex, and get lots of practice.

Since I'm not doing the Village Voice street teamstering anymore, my social life has shrunk considerably, but I like to think that I'm making up for that by going to events that actually interest me. The classic quality for quantity switch, if you will. This talk may not have been as exciting for my readers as the Electric Zoo fiasco, but I felt like a more well-rounded human being for having attended it. And really, isn't my smug sense of self-satisfaction what this is all about?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We're not paying for this!

I don't often write about work anymore, because I'm gainfully employed now and have to be careful about posting anything that might get me bundled into the back of a black van while I'm walking home from the bodega with my beer and ice cream, the camera frame lingering on the broken glass and melting ice cream in the gutter before the fade to black and the song "Last Dance for Mary Jane" plays over the credits.

But this is just silly and innocent enough to slip under the confidentiality radar. My department is moving to a new building on campus, so naturally we want everyone to know that we aren't going to be where we've been for the last 15 years. Tall Boss came up with the idea of having students make chalk drawings on the brick walkways around campus with big colorful arrows and footprints leading the way to our new digs--we are an art school, after all, so this would engage the students, and everyone pays attention to where they step--but that plan was too logical and the school wouldn't let us do it. Tall Boss then made a couple of funny signs, old trucks comically overloaded with households goods and the like, announcing the move. They were witty and informative, and while no one really reads the signs posted around campus, we can say that we tried.

Off the signs went for approval and printing, and here's where I stepped in. All of the Bosses are at a conference this week, so Tall Boss left me the task of making sure the posters were printed and put up around campus. Beginning at 9AM, I called the PR office every half hour to check on our order. Did they receive the signs? Did they have changes to make? Did they send me the changes for approval? No, don't send them to Tall Boss, he's at a conference, just send them to me. I have instructions to just approve whatever changes you've made, we need to get them up today before it starts to rain. Okay, I approved them--oh, you're at lunch, I'll call back. Did you receive my approval? Did you send them to the printer? Sorry to bother you, it's me again and the rain started, did you send them to the printer yet?

There's another person in my office who used to work for a newspaper, and this entire process delighted him to no end. "Once a journalist, always a journalist," he said. "Hound 'em 'til they answer."

The posters were finally ready at 4PM, so I went to pick them up. We'd ordered 50; they only gave us 25. Whatever, we needed to get them up so people know that we're moving. Wow, they changed our design. I mean they REALLY changed our design. The signs now reads, huge and highlighted in yellow"The office will be CLOSED," and then smaller "on December 3rd and 6th," and then underneath a campus map, in tiny 14-size font at the very bottom of the sign, "We're moving to a new location."

When I went to Student Activities office to get the posters stamped with the school seal, the student worker took one look at the sign and said in horror, "The office is CLOSING?!"

"Yes," I said. "Forever and ever. Budget cutbacks. Screw it, you're all on your own."

Back at the office, everyone agreed that the signs were absolute shite. They put the most important message at the bottom, in tiny letters, and put the least important information at the top and then highlighted it. Furthermore, since we're only going to be closed for two days, after those two days pass, no one will look at the signs anymore, thus further negating the true purpose of said signs, which is letting people know that we've moved.

Whatever. Tall Boss said to just approve them and get them up, so my coworker and I trooped off into the rain to put the posters up on every bulletin board on campus.

That was yesterday evening. Today, for those who don't know, is World AIDS Day, and guess how this school commemorates the occasion?

By putting black canvas over every bulletin board on campus.

To reiterate: we're not paying for those signs.