[Part 2 of a series. You can find Part 1 here.]
You see, Vince was a pre-med student. Illness was his thing. Jeremy, his roommate, was a germophobe. It wasn’t the first time Vince had jerked him around with pseudo-medical information. So when Jer asked, “But you can’t get an STD from kissing … right?” Vince had yet one more opportunity to cash in on his street cred.
“Well,” he said, looking distressed, “normally not. But there’s some strange stuff out there right now.”
“Strange?” Jer squeaked. “Like what?”
“Oh, never mind,” said Vince, “It’s really rare. I’m sure that you don’t have to worry about it.”
“Oh,” Jer managed unconvincingly. There was an awkward moment of silence. “Well,” he ventured, “I should probably go shower.” And off he went.
Over the next couple of days, however, Jeremy managed to regain his sense of inflated self-esteem. After all, a woman had wanted him. Wanted him bad. A woman with, you know, party balloons. He went on and on to Vince and Ray, who kept their noses buried in their calculus books reading the same problems over and over while brooding on the real problem — their own lack of female integration (from 0 to f, where f = 0) and Jeremy’s incessant babble (from 0 to J, where J = “Who da man?”).
Moreover, everywhere he went, Jeremy now had a sharp eye for any female interaction that might potentially indicate “She wants me.” And I mean any. Not that he was sure how to act on the fact that the girl who checked you through at the cafeteria smiled at him in his tank top and short-shorts (which he now wore everywhere no matter how cold and rainy it got) as we went through the line. He was not at that stage yet. He was only to the “let me call attention to this and make something out of it to my friends” stage.
“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked, turning around from my desk, which was piled with the score of a composition I was supposed to be done with but had screwed up the orchestration transpositions. I was not in a good mood. They had been going on and on behind my head about Jeremy, raging about his bravado, on the one side, and his cowardice to do anything about it, on the other, and how they just couldn’t take it any more. I could relate.
“So,” I repeated, “Why do you keep telling this to me?”
They looked at each other conspiratorially. “Well,” said Vince, as he pulled some slips of paper from his pocket and held them out, “We thought that you could write him a little note.”
I took the paper. There, in my hands, was a small envelop and piece of stationary. Both of them had a small official logo that said, “University Health Center.”
I began to understand.
“Where did you get this?” I hissed.
“When I went in Wednesday for my allergy shot,” said Ray, rather proud of himself (we were all whispering now), “I grabbed it when the nurse left the room.”
“What do you want it to say?” I asked, mulling over the possibilities. They both looked at each other again. Vince cleared his throat.
“We want you to make it sound …” said Ray
“… like he might have an STD,” said Vince.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You can’t be serious,” I said. “Besides, he’ll know.”
“Not if you do it,” said Ray.
I was. They were referring to an earlier incident where another guy and I had swiped the “News in Brief” blank that went out on all the tables in the University Center. We made up a fake news story about the sudden return of the draft because of an impending conflict between China and the US over Vietnam. The tensions between China and the US were real at the time, and so was the possibility of the return of Selective Service. But no one was paying attention to this, or to much of the rest of the world, in the pleasant and earnest reverie of the Lutedome where we were all too busy working toward our vocational goals to concern ourselves what was going on beyond the campus borders. Anyway, we made up this story and surreptitiously put it out on all the tables at the University Center, thinking that it would start a discussion. It didn’t.
It started a panic.
I’ll have to tell you about that some other time, but let me just say that the story includes mass hysteria, a mention in Newsweek, and an angry embarrassed mob calling for “an inquisition of Christian brethren” to discover and punish the perpetrators. It was so tense that I kept quiet about my involvement in the event for nearly thirty years.
Anyway, there I was looking at another blank canvass, and finding it hard to resist.
“But he doesn’t have anything like an STD,” I protested, “There’s no reason why he would find this credible.”
“He has jock itch,” Vince offered, smiling knowingly. “He told me so.”
That was it. In a few days, Jeremy received a note from the Health Center, which read:
We would like you to come in to the Health Center. You have been named as a contacts of someone with a sexually transmitted disease, and it is our duty not only to notify you of the possibility that you have been infected, but to examine and treat you should that be the case.
It is very important that you come into the Health Center even if you do not think you have any problems. The recent strains of some STDs can be very mild in their initial symptoms (some, for example, begin as only a mild genital rash).
If you test positive, we will need to ask you to disclose any sexual partners that you may have had within the last three months so that we can notify them as to the possibility of infection. Your confidentiality will, of course, be protected.
Please make an appointment with one of our staff as soon as possible.
Nobody was really prepared for what happened next. But that will have to wait until the next installment.