For many years I’ve had a particular reputation of being unlucky in love, bad with money, blessed with good health and especially gifted in the art of apartment hunting. As anyone who lives in a big city but doesn’t make big bucks knows, a big apartment is sort of like a big dick. Size isn’t everything but it sure can be nice.
While the exact date of my infection isn’t certain I’ve been living with HIV for at least 25 years. My t-cells once dropped to 75 but excluding some nasty sinus infections, I’ve been asymptomatic. Why? Who knows? It’s anybody’s guess.
I never had much sex, though not for lack of trying. My neuroses got in the way. It was the same for hard drugs too. But despite having less sex than Liz Taylor had husbands (okay it wasn’t that few but count your fingers and add two) I got infected anyway. I was too scared to start treatment so I waited six years. Or maybe I was just smart. Took lots of vitamins and got acupuncture, too.
But in a world where I believe cause and effect are far more random than rationalists admit, the reason for my good fortune is no doubt all of the above or none of the above or maybe a combination, like an old school Chinese restaurant, one from Column A and Two from Column B and of course an extra order of egg rolls.
My mother outlived her cancer diagnosis for years. Could it be I owe her far more than my birth, my ability to cook great meals, love great books, my open mind and empathetic heart?
If I’d been luckier in love, picked up more men in the East Village or in San Francisco’s South of Market would I have been unluckier in battling the virus HIV? What does it matter really except to say I’m more grateful than that word can ever mean.
Of course for years I lived in fear of what would happen as the virus gained strength, weakening my body until like too many of my friends, my goose was cooked. My general rule of thumb back then: don’t try too hard or dream too much. If you do you’ll tip over the STD infected apple cart and wake up with sweat soaked sheets.
I never maxed out my credit cards thinking I would die but I did believe that coasting along was the best strategy for the roller coaster of life with HIV. Don’t go for a great job. Settle for a decent one. Love would be nice but masturbation will suffice.
The reasoning went like this: As long as I kept my expectations low, I could keep my t-cells high.There was a lot I didn’t do because of that philosophy of life. Instead of greeting each day as a blessing, it was potential for disaster in the form of wasting, PCP, KS or maybe all three.
Now, with the privilege of good doctors and good medicine (thanks be to ADAP) I’m confident in my health but still have trouble reminding myself each day is a blessing. I want to make more money, have a nicer kitchen, travel more and the list goes on and on and on.
While it helps when I think of those who never got the chance to reach the not so ripe old age of thirty or enjoy the material things I think I ‘need’ my mood isn’t always bright. It can be infused with anger,regret and resentment more than thanking the spirits for another day. Like a friend’s mother used to say: “God bless the humans. They need it everyday”
And one more thing: While I believe nothing in life is strictly causative it’s 100% accurate to credit that little bastard HIV with my first good luck in the apartment hunting game. It was on Steiner Street, a big one bedroom, overlooking Alamo Square with hardwood floors, lots of windows, a nice kitchen, laundry in the building and an easy walk to many places that I loved.
Everything was right but the price. I was a cater waiter, who spent too much and made too little. The same day I saw the one on Steiner I went to see another place, a studio, in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin with a price that made more sense.
That I couldn’t sleep, brooding, wondering which apartment I should rent, wishing I had a better job, or money in the bank, I saw my future clear and bright. In three years maybe, five if I was lucky I’d be living in the Tenderloin. I was skinny, sweaty and sick, spending every day and night in the hospital bed moved into my flat. I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t just the bedsores but the noise outside, the pimps and the whores fighting, yelling, laughing while I hoped the morphine would put me to sleep despite the noise and pain. I got the nicer place instead.
Like Mark Twain, “I’ve suffered many things in life some of which occurred.”
Who knows when I’ll croak, buy the farm, leave the mortal coil, kick the bucket? But my money says that HIV infection is no longer the leading contender. Instead it probably will have more to do with my scattered, non-linear, artistic and goofy brain, something like texting while crossing the city street unaware of the bus coming my way.
In reality I’m not really worried about getting hit by a bus but in this arbitrary world anything can happen. In the meantime I keep reminding myself that life’s a blessing even on those days when I never want to get out of bed.
Despite a passionate childhood love affair with iceberg lettuce and anything sugary, Matt Levine has spent 27 years in the natural and organic foods business. These days he drives a pedicab in San Francisco and is the co-creator of the podcast Corncuopia; The Cult, Culture and Business of Food.
Born in Stamford, Connecticut, he lived in some of the grungier areas of New York City before moving to the Elysian Fields of San Francisco in 1989.
Despite graduating from college with honors, he drove a taxicab in Manhattan, a decision he credits with his father's refusal to co-sign a loan to open a natural foods store in his hometown.Matt tries to make those who would listen believe that said store of his dreams would have sold to Whole Foods for millions of dollars.Regardless, his love for his father remained and he is only occasionally bitter, mainly for dramatic effect.
In addition to driving a tricycle, he also works as a freelance research analyst publishes Natural Business News, home to the industry's only humor and satire section and the Cornucopia podcast . In his free time, he mentors at-risk youth, eats too quickly, suffers acid reflux but is hoping meditation gets ride of it and follows his beloved New York Mets with more passion than is advisable.