I got the AIDS down in A-frica*

Well, this is exciting. Last night was my friend Toby’s birthday and we celebrated by getting him totally loaded and full of high spirits before eventually leaving him to carouse with the five most famous budget discount whores that Chicago has to offer: Betty, Starlene, Jo, Dennis and Gary.
We started off huffing a little gold paint out at the dumpster behind the Sherwyn Williams, then we went down to the park district where we snuck into the ladies’ room and hid beneath the toilet tanks so we could catch glimpses of big anonymous round asses sitting down to pee (and sometimes poo, unfortunately). After a brief scuffle and a little running we reconvened at the bar in Clark St. Hot Dogs and had a couple of quick cocktails and corn dogs before heading down to Steamworks where we farted our way through a little “towelboy for an hour” roleplaying.
THEN we went back to Clark Street Dog where we met up with our wives who had already been hanging out with Dennis and Gary. At that point, someone pulled out a bag of yellow powder, a razorblade and a lightbulb and we went under the train tracks behind Redmonds and got Gary so high that he decided to call up Starlene, who just got out of jail Wednesday morning. We met them over at the dumpsters down at the Wilson redline stop.
At that point things get a little blurry, but I remember Jo and Dennis pulling off Toby’s jockstrap/leather vest right there between the station and the garbage while Starlene and Dennis and Gary managed to squeeze a few whippits out of a discarded carton of old reddi whips.
Yeah, it was a pretty good night, all things considered. And now Toby is old. If he’s still alive, that is. Good times.

So, I’ve got a buddy named Nick who shot this incredibly upbeat popcorn flick of a movie about AIDS nurses in Malawi. It’s a documentary and Nick spent, I don’t know, like 2 years there filming these women and among the many brutal realities that his film touches on, probably the most shocking (and I think pretty ancillary [yet sort of unintended] to the main thrust of the film [these women are saints, this place is totally fucked up, these hospitals are like dumps for still twitching corpses, nobody cares, holy jesus god! Someone do something!]) is the notion that out there on the mean streets of Malawi, life is just cheap. It’s just not a big deal when people die because everyone is so familiar with death that it’s not even remotely a shocker.

This comes out the best in a rather calm and otherwise fairly standard follow up interview near the end of the film when Nick returns to see how his subjects have been doing since principal filming wrapped and the main woman in the movie informs him in a rather matter-of-fact way that her young toddler son, who is in a lot of the movie, is now dead. She’s not stoked about it, but she says it more like she’s saying ‘I got a flat tire yesterday’ than “the love of my life died.” It’s a pretty quick moment in a completely heavy film, but it was the most haunting part for me.

It’s one of those moments that make you realize how full of shit we all are, not as westerners, but as a complete race, this woman included; or more to the point, how we’re all so cerebrally autonomous that we can only relate to our individual life experiences and the potential consequences and how completely freaked out we’d be. I’m not really saying this very well, so let me try it again:
When I was a kid, I was absolutely terrified that my mom would find out if I ditched school or blew off band practice and got high or had a girl in my room or snuck out or anything like that. It didn’t alter my behavior at all, but the notion of being caught was a fate worse than death. I can vividly recall a cop holding me face down in the street outside a bar that served underaged kids when I was seventeen and being more terrified that this would wind up with my mom finding out than me in some sort of jail.
Of course this is ridiculous. There is no situation now where I’d rather go to jail than have my mom find out that I’d done something wrong, but those were my parameters as a kid, and as such, that was the limit of my stress and that’s fine. That’s the way it was.

Likewise today I know people who don’t bat an eye about going BACK to jail and other (very different) people who have full blown panic attacks about fucking up a conference call with the NYC office.
Hell, there are people who KILL THEMSELVES because their standard of living is threatened by losing their job or a big debt or sudden market crash. And then there are people who lose children that discuss it pragmatically as though they’re discussing a dinner that didn’t turn out as well as it could have.

So, what I’m getting at is not that we’re a bunch of babies over here and need to sack up. That’s stupid. I’m just pointing out what so many of us already know, that individual stress and worry and sorrow is so different for everyone, in a large part dictated by what’s come before in one’s life and one person’s dead pet is another’s dead kid is another’s broken watch is another’s missed appointment and in every case, those feelings are justified and normal and not worthy of reproach. It’s just how shit is.
What a world we live in.

I’m going to the zoo.

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