The nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots and a short-sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin… with spectacles over the eyes.
He wore spectacles over his eyes and a floppy sun hat during our days drifting down Utah’s Green River. No gloves though. He hated gloves. Gloves were his garb in his lab and we were a long way from his lab.
It was back in the early 1990s. We were camped somewhere on the Green River in Utah in a shallow canyon down near confluence of the Green and the Colorado. We were seven days deep into a nine-day canoe drift down the Green. It was night. We’d eaten, smoked, had some cups of grog, and were lying back on our bedrolls with the stars as close as a tent’s roof. The night was warm. We sipped warm grog made from rum and the water of a beaver pond. We were talking about the things we did for a living when we were back in the world.
He was a scientist. A biochemist. When he wasn’t drifting down a river in the vast American outback he was working behind several levels of biohazard barriers at some megacompany whose name has now been washed down the Green River with so many other names and moments from the lost years. Everything from that night in camp was now washed away except his short monologue about his line of work. He was working with the live AIDS virus. And to him, it wasn’t just another chunk of strange almost-alive/almost-dead bit of matter so small it might not even be at all. No. Not at all. To him, the AIDS virus was very much alive and loomed large in his mind. It might be neither living nor dead but it had not only a purpose it had a personality.
“What I worry about sometimes,” he said, “is that it’s so lively for a virus. It’s mutating all the time.”
“Well, that’s what makes it interesting,” I said. “Isn’t that what a virus does? And besides, don’t you have to have long and direct contact, blood to blood, to contract AIDS?”
“Yes, now you do. But don’t always count on that. It could always figure out how to get airborne. Then you’ve got a real problem.”
“Okay, but isn’t that very difficult and very unlikely?”
“Maybe,” he said sounding sleepy. “Maybe. But from what I see in the lab I have to say that this virus is a very clever virus. Very clever and getting smarter all the time.”
Today that’s just some fading campfire conversation soon subsumed by sleep. It was a long, long time ago, in another life, down along the Green River. It was probably nothing.