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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sometimes I get lucky: A review of NEG UB2

Sometimes I get lucky: A review of NEG UB2
Copyright 2009, Jim Penny
Word count: 1248

Occasionally I have a modest streak of luck. Nothing substantially life changing, mind you, just a little something to remind me that it's not a continual hell in which I dwell, though some days I wonder.

At some point last week, I posted a comment of decidedly double entendre on a blog post regarding the recent publication of Rick R. Reed's latest novella, NEG UB2, by the Amber Quill Press. A few days later, I received notification indicating I had won. Go figure. Shortly thereafter, I received an email with the file attached. The novella had been published in electronic format.

Here's my chance to test Amazon's ability to push a file to the Kindle. Rather than open the HTML file and export it in Word, I copied the text from the body of the email, and then pasted it to a Word screen, which I then saved. Yahoo! email occasionally replicates the contents of an attachment, placing it in the body of the email, which it did this time. I don't know why.

I'm moving fast for so early in the morning, and I did nothing to clean up the formatting of the text in the Word file. I just saved it, and emailed it to my Kindle address. Two minutes and fifteen cents later, the transformed file appeared on the Kindle, and I'm left wondering why anyone would ever bother to publish on paper again when electronic publishing is so trivial. The only anomaly I found was that the first screen on the Kindle version was blank. With a little effort, I could have fixed that, but I saw no reason because the second page picked up perfectly with the cover art.

I saved the novella for my Saturday afternoon at the lake where I intended to bake out some stress while losing myself in the reading, and that's exactly how it worked out.

NEG UB2 is shorthand for “I am HIV negative. You should be too.” This shorthand is commonly used in the messages posted on hook up sites such as the M4M pages on Craig's List. There are many more such sites, and there is very little the various state attorneys general will ever be able to do about that regardless of the press releases they produce. There's also many more shorthand expressions used on such sites. I'd list them here, but if you don't know them already, I doubt you're all that interested in knowing, and if you're really interested, you probably already know them all.

The story of NEG UB2 relates the fortnight following the afternoon in which a 40-something man receives the news from his doctor that his HIV blood test came back positive.

For those of you who do not live in this world, let me explain how this works. Last December, I had blood work done in preparation for my annual physical. Being an old fart and a bitter old queen, they check for a lot of stuff, not the least of which are sexually transmitted cooties.

Now, you sit and wait. You compartmentalize. You don't think about it. If you go down that path of what if, you're gonna be one useless individual for the duration. Yet, the knowing and not knowing take a toll, and very likely, few or none in your social network know why you're so jumpy.

At some point, the phone rings. My call goes to my cell phone because that's the only phone I have. I could also be anywhere doing anything when that call comes in. Last December, I was sitting on the couch writing a technical report, and yes, the caller ID tells me it's the doc's office. I answer with a cheerful voice, or so I hope I construct, and the technician introduces herself. The pleasantries are brief because time is money in her office. The structure of the next sentence will tell the tale. If she asks me to come in for a follow-up, I know the results are positive. If she gives me technical information, I know the results are negative.

Notice how I fixate on the HIV test, even though they did a dozen or more tests. Do I really care about the cholesterol, which is far more likely to kill me? Not one bit, and I might have some celebratory bacon with negative results.

The thing is that HIV is imminently treatable now, if you can afford the treatment, and if you're not the one in 10,000 who doesn't respond. The positive gentlemen whom I know live lives that exude more vitality in a day than I exude in a month. I often envy their life force. I suspect this up close and personal introduction to their own mortality pushes them to seize every moment while I noodle on whining about sore feet and cluster migraine headaches, the latter of which I have going right now.

How would I respond, especially when I know that a positive status is the result of three independent tests, which means that the likelihood of a false positive, while not zero, is too remote to consider? Knowing me, there would be a period of serious introspection. Oh yeah, I'd be off-planet for a while. Where did I screw up? We all know I have a demonstrated talent for screwing up. However, my sex life is on the order of Mother Teresa's, not Don Juan's, just like the lead character in the novella, and we know HIV is not transmitted by mosquitoes yet.

I would also be far more thoughtful at work. I won't say no more, but I will say far fewer outbursts. Why is that? That is because the health benefit just became worth $2000 a month. Then again, perhaps that brush with perceived mortality would only serve to make me more high strung.

NEG UB2 also discusses the unintentional offense that the term presents. I hear this often from my poz buds. They meet a man, and the relationship builds until it's time for more intimacy. These are all good men, and they feel they need to be truthful, which more often than not leads to the end of the relationship. Just last month, my shoulder was damp from the tears of a young man who had been rejected by his intended upon the revelation of his HIV status.

What goes around comes around, and I know that one day, sooner than later, that fellow who crushed my friend's heart will find his own comeuppance. It's just that a piece of me would like to deliver that comeuppance through an ax handle.

Finally, there is the stupidity of the request. The men using such sites are not likely to be much aware of any status they might have. You think you can look in the mirror and discern your HIV status? That one comes under the heading of flying pigs.

Reed has done it again, and I wish I had a hundredth of his facility with the language and story telling. For a couple or three hours, I was transported to a realm I know well, not because I've been there and done that, but because the author, by exquisite word choice and sublime sentence construction, took me by the hand and led me down the path, telling his story such that, for the afternoon, it became my own.


Rick R Reed said...

Wow. It really seemed to resonate with you and gave you something to think about...which makes me very happy.

The Crow said...

Good review, Jim. Makes me want to look for his books, which I'll do.


Jim Penny said...

At the mo, Crow, I'd recommend anything the man has ever written, right down to his grocery list.