This is the story of how one AIDS activist sold his soul for sixty bucks.
Being queer can be expensive — you never know when you may need to dash to The Gap for some damn thing. Or renew Vanity Fair. So I was happy to get on a list for a marketing company that would pay me to be interviewed about various products.
If there’s anything I like discussing, it’s my opinion.
Recently they called and asked if I drank scotch. Of course, I responded. Love the stuff. Okay, it doesn’t precisely jive with the fact I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, but it was the right answer. I was invited to join a focus group on the joys of what must be one of the vilest alcoholic beverages known to man. And they paid cash.
A week later I was escorted into the focus group room with seven other men. I looked closely at the group and it dawned on me — the Wranglers, the boots, the indifference to hair products — that I was dealing with decidedly straight men who lived outside my safe haven of Atlanta. One must remember the only thing wrong with Atlanta is that it’s surrounded by Georgia.
The facilitator first produced magazines and asked us to cut out pictures that reminded us of drinking scotch. Well, fabulous. Something I was good at. I snatched up Rolling Stone, tore myself away from the movie reviews, and artistically cut out pictures of classy women and hot men. Whereas the others ripped out whole pages with no sense of composition whatsoever, I asked for glue and produced a dramatic collage entitled “Shake Me, Stir Me: My Scotch Experience.”
When asked at what times we enjoyed the drink, I suffered through accounts of fireside fly-fishing trips with the boys, or imbibing with “the little lady” after a grilled sirloin.
“I enjoy it best when I lick it off my gay lover’s balls,” I wanted to say. How could I march in a gay pride parade with “No One Knows I’m HIV positive” emblazoned on my t-shirt, but couldn’t come out in a room of eight men?
“Let’s say a bottle of scotch came to life as a man,” the facilitator queried — a bit too conceptually for the room, in my opinion. “What would he be like?”
“Oh, he’d be a friendly, boisterous man!” one said. “Yeah,” said another, “with mud on his boots. A real outdoors man. Definitely not a dandy man.” It was hard to know if you were being insulted when they used redneck euphemisms.
“Interesting,” said the facilitator. “What’s a ‘dandy man?'”
“Well,” he replied, “he definitely wouldn’t kiss boys, if ya know what I mean!” This piece of striking wit was greeted with guffaws all around. Pot bellies and hair pieces wiggled with laughter.
I now have a moral obligation to start yelling, I thought. I must mount this table, begin stomping, and scream “The only thing I like about scotch is that it keeps my AIDS in check!” If I hadn’t been wearing good Abercrombie, I would have ripped my shirt wide open and wiggled my nipple rings at them. If only I’d had a tattoo on my chest the size of a Jim Beam bottle that read “FAGGOT BOTTOM.”
“And what would this scotch man, come to life, be like to you, Mark?” the facilitator asked. All eyes turned to me. The time was now.
“Well, uh…” I began. “He’d be, ah… smooth.” Everyone nodded approvingly.
I left after the two hour interview with sixty dollars in cash and a nagging sense of an opportunity missed.
My God, what would Larry Kramer think?