I was standing in line at the VD clinic with Paul who was the reason I was standing in line. The clerk at the counter knew the name of the man in front of me with long sideburns in a denim jacket. I was new in town and liked the look. I expected the clinic would be cold and clinical, but so far it had been friendly.The man ahead of men signed in as the nice looking clerk leafed through a large file folder. “So, one too many this weekend?” I could tell from his posture that the denim jacket was smiling when he took a number and sat in one of banks of molded Fiberglas chairs in a room that could easily be mistaken for the waiting room in small town airport but according to the brass plaque the chairs were a gift from The Tavern Guild, San Francisco’s gay bar owners charity.
I stepped up to the counter.
“Name?” “I hesitated because Paul said he always used another name then said my name” Chuck Forester,”
“Is this your first visit?”
I filled out a brief form and was given a number. I sat near Paul who was tall, muscular, handsome, and well-endowed and still wearing the red shirt he wore last night when he picked me up at the bar. He smiled. “The shots don’t really hurt. I was here last week, so I’m taking off.”
The geometric pattern of the linoleum reminded me of Mondrian and the voice calling my name that of my high school principal. I checked to make sure my tie was straight and my shirt tucked in before following a clerk into a small cubicle where a gay man younger than me sat at an old school desk with a clip board in his hand. “Good morning, my name is Rick, and I am your case worker.”
I felt was being seated at Denny’s with a clipboard menu.
“I’d like to ask you to answer a few questions. Any problems with that?”
“Good. I want to assure you that what you say is totally anonymous.” He showed me the clip board. “Your name is not on this. I don’t know your name, so what you tell me will never be attributed to you. The purpose of this survey that completed only on a first visit is to help us learn more about how VD is being transmitted. I want you to be as honest as possible, and we respect your privacy in exchange. Can we begin?”
“When was your latest sexual experience? Was it with a man or a woman?”
“Last night with a man.”
“What was the nature of that encounter? Did you have oral sex? Did you have anal sex? Anything else?”
“Just oral and anal.”
“Did either of you do any non-prescription drugs like marijuana, LSD, peyote, heroin, MDMA, or coke?”
I came from a town where townsfolks thought drugs existed only in darkly threatening cities like New York, and our only sex education was a gym teacher who told us to keep it in your knickers. That day I was swimming in a much bigger pond. “We smoked dope.”
With a tone he could have used to inquire about my stylist he asked, “Have you had any experience with S&M, fist fucking or heroin?”
“Thank you very much. Venereal disease is more prevalent in San Francisco than anytime since the end of World War II, and we’re trying to keep if from getting out of hand. Your information is helpful.” He handed me a small pink form. “Complete this only if the doctor diagnoses you with VD. If he does, we’ll ask you to list the names of your recent partners and their phone numbers. We do that so we can contact them and let them know they may have been exposed. You are never identified as the source, and we will ask them to come in to be seen and get treated if necessary.”
I thought if very strange. The Health Department wasn’t pointing fingers or telling me I was immoral. “OK then. Have a great day, and thanks for coming in.”
I debated should I give them names? I had the phone numbers of the men I’d played with on scraps of paper in a small wooden box on my desk, and I kept everyone’s name on the back page of my journal, something I started when I realized how easy it was to meet men for sex. I didn’t rate them because sex was personal for me.
If I’d made a list in 1959 my list it would have been three names, and in just the first two weeks of living in San Francisco I had eleven names on the list. Men talked freely about the men they had sex with but I didn’t know if that extended to be listed at the City Health Department. If I listed their names I could be pinning a red A on their flannel shirts.
I picked up a copy of the Chronicle looking for Herb Caen’s column because socialite’s indiscretions were an easy distraction. I notice d a hunky guy in a Chico State sweatshirt watching me. “Have I seen you at Toad Hall?”
“Yes, you could have.” I peered around the paper. “I’m there Sunday afternoons.” I was actually ever evening. “Where you from?”
“I grew up sixty miles north in Wausau.”
“Nice meeting you.”
My number was called and I followed a nurse to a white exam room. An older doctor no taller than five foot with his clipboard and a file nodded when I entered. In a heavy German accent said, “Your name is Charles Forester. You please will take your clothes off.” I sat on the cold table and he began checking lymph nodes, then my penis and finally he lubed a gloved hand and inserted a finger into my anus like a friend. He pulled it out. “The diagnosis is gonorrhea. You need a shot of penicillin.”
“Is that all?”
“For a week no sex you have. No jack-off. I was to be surgeon when I was in University, but then I think maybe is better if I am here where I can be gay person. If I stay there I have to be married and have to have children and can be gay on holiday only. Here I am no surgeon but in San Francisco there is a good life.”
“So far, it’s been great for me.”
“You watch out where you put that dingle-dangle.”
I put my file in the basket on the counter and waited to be called for my shot. A few minutes later I was on a gurney surrounded by white sheets. A butch lesbian rasped, “Drop your drawers”, When she pulled the curtain closed behind her I saw the man from Portage behind another curtain. He smiled, patted his butt and mouthed, “Owweee!”
“I’m going to slap your behind. It takes the sting out of it.” I felt a sharp slap then only pressure as the penicillin was piped into my gluteus maximus.
“You’re all fixed up. Be sure and walk a mile today. That helps the penicillin circulate and you won’t have a lump tomorrow. It may be a little red for a day or two.”As she left I made a list of only the first names of the men I’ve slept with and the two phone numbers I remembered. I handed the questionnaire to the clerk at the counter and when I turned the man from Portage kissed me.
I kissed him back. “I saw the doc with the German accent.’’
“He’s a trip, isn’t he? He’s been there as long as I’ve been coming to the clinic. I love him even though I’ve heard his story a thousand times.” A few more steps and he stopped. ““You want to do something?”
“I’m Clay You want to come back to my place and smoke a joint?”
“We can’t have sex for four days.”
“We don’t have to have sex.”
“I’d like that.”
Six months later I’m on Clay’s waterbed. “How was your day at work?”
He smiled a wicked smile. “Thought about something we could do tonight.”
“Let’s pretend we don’t’ know each other.”
I unbuttoned my jeans. ”And we just got tested, but this time we don’t have VD.”
Clay stripped to his underwear. “I love you, man.”