Main | Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Clouds And Miss America

I had just hung up on Gary a few minutes earlier, and was about to leave the house for work, when he called me back.

"Joe, um...something has happened." Gary's voice was quavery and high.

"What? What's the matter?"

Gary's voice came rushing back. "I'm at Wendy's. I'm mean, I'm in the drive-thru. I can't see anything. I don't why I'm calling you in San Francisco...I just hit the redial I guess."

About six months earlier, Gary had lost all the vision in his left eye. He had CMV. He was taking oral gancyclovir in the hopes of staving off the loss of his right eye. And he seemed to be doing great.

Just that week, the local early evening newsmagazine show had done a feature story on Gary. Their newly hired reporter was the most recent Miss America, a local girl done good. Miss America and Gary had been close friends in high school, and when she chose AIDS awareness as her 'platform', despite strong dissenting advice from her advisors, Gary was ebullient.

Gary spoke of his 'good friend, Miss America' so often, sometimes we teased him about it. Miss America had done some photo ops, with 'her friend with AIDS' during her reign, and naturally she came back to Gary when it was suggested that she do a story on the new hope being offered by the just introduced anti-retroviral cocktail. There was no mention of Gary's eye problem during the story, and Gary told us the next day that he was disappointed that the scene of Miss America sitting on his bed, hugging him, didn't make the story.

"What do you mean you can't see?" I asked, hoping that I sounded strong and confident.

"I mean, I just ordered some food, and I pulled around to pay...and I ..I thought that the sun was going behind some clouds....but it just got worse and worse. I can't see a fucking thing, Joe."

Just then, I could hear some talking. A Wendy's staffer had come outside to see what the hold-up was. I told Gary to hand them his phone.

"Hello, I think your friend needs help." It sounded like a young girl, with a strong Cuban accent.

"Yes, he does. Is he still blocking your drive-thru?"

"Yes, he needs to move."

"OK, yes...I understand. He's having trouble seeing right now. Is there any way you can help him move his car?"

"I can't drive the customer's cars, no way I can, sorry."

By now, I could hear the angry honking of cars backed up in the drive-thru. The manager was summoned, and he reached in thru Gary's window and steered Gary out of the lane, and into a parking spot. Gary's phone began that annoying, almost out of juice, beeping that early generation cellphones made, then went dead.

I picked up my landline and called another friend in Orlando. He called another friend who lived close to Wendy's, and within 15 minutes we had 4 people there. Gary's roommate arrived from work, and they took him directly to the hospital.

Gary never regained his vision.

And with his vision, went his hope. Gary began a rapid spiral down, lost more weight, got a fungal throat infection, pneumocystis.

Eight weeks after the Wendy's incident, he was dead.

We scattered Gary's ashes off Pas-A-Grill Beach, near St.Petersburg, as Gary stipulated. We then went directly to T-dance, as Gary stipulated. We got spectacularly drunk, as Gary stipulated.

Miss America did not attend.


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