During the late 70’s and into the early 80’s I was working in the bar scene or at least close contacts there. Bartending at the Lost and Found and later doorman at the Frat House. In both cases, every weekend , I would be told of people who had disappeared. Either those that went to the doctors with a cold and were either at the hospital or died at the hospital, or those that “moved home”. People knew something was going on at this point but there was still no clear idea what it was. One national “picture magazine”, either Honcho or maybe Blueboy, went so far as to say that it was nothing to worry about. It was “not contagious but appears to be caused by overuse of poppers.”
Still people talked and worried. By 1981 the “gay cancer” was voted the number one story of 1981 by the readers of the Washington Blade. In 1982 there was finally studies that seem to indicate that the disease was spread sexually. There was a panic setting in. If you lost weight people talked. Any skin problem immediately became KS. Support groups started and the Whitman Walker Clinic started organizing “AIDS Buddies”. These were volunteers that were assigned a person with AIDS. The goal was to help the clean their laundry, feed themselves and take them to doctors appointments. The reality was different. Instead of each person with AIDS having 2 buddies. Some “Buddies” had two clients. And they were dying quickly. By 1984 the Blade was running a weekly total of AIDS cases by county around DC. By the end of 1984, almost half of the people with AIDS in DC has already died.
During this time I had become very close friends with Bud Hicks. Bud was dining room manager at the DC Eagle. We would, once a week, meet for lunch and have a few beers. We would then head to a bar or cruise area and “split a dessert”. Not really dating we felt that there was some safety of limiting oneself to a few people who looked healthy. Between the two of us we had to agree that the third looked ok. It was the best we cold do at the time. He also got me involved in a study at the National Institute of Health (NIH) the did a history and baseline medical evaluation and then followed us at regular periods to see how many contacts and monitor our health. When the HIV test was finally developed in 1985 this study was dropped as the focus went to testing drugs on healthy and sick people to determine if they were effective and at what dosses. That is how I got my foot in the door at NIH when they began drug studies the following year. Bud was involved in the first study involving AZT. We continued our lunch dates after our visits to NIH. We needed sometime to divert attention. At this stage death and the fear of death were every where.