I’M IN SOMEBODY’S HOUSE’S BATHROOM, looking at all the items, when the items start to change. It’s not that I was doing much before, but the change feels too soon.

 

I’m staring at a shag towel, watching it become fur; I’m touching a rubber hot water bottle feeling it become skin. The glass shower door becomes flattened egg shell, the mirror becomes silver leather, the leather toilet seat remains leather but is no longer a toilet seat; the toilet is now a stump with a fringe of ashes.

 

I rush out of the bathroom, unsure how far up my pants are or what they’re made of now, shouting to the people I’m with. I’m on tiptoe, afraid of the floor, afraid of my feet, unsure how deep the changes plan to go.

 

“Everything’s changing,” I shout, twice to hear if my voice is changing too.

 

“It’s only reverting,” the others say, calmer than I’d expected. “All synthetics back to what they were.”

 

One looks at the window as the glass becomes ivory and the other looks at him as he becomes another guy.

 

“What were they before?” I ask, not sure I’m of one mind with them.

 

They — neither of whom I recognize by this point; I wish I’d gotten their phone numbers — pull a newly appeared coffeetable book from a pile of coffee grounds on their laps and, brushing one page off on another, open it to the middle.

 

“Here,” they say, soothingly. “We talkin’bout the Dodge City AIDS Legacy.”

 

Not sure where to sit now that the couch has become a frond, I receive the following history on my knees, eager to exit the present however possible:

 

BY THE LATE 70’s, the Dodge City art scene was in bad shape. Everyone was doing something, but no one was doing it. The real stuff, too much of the time, had to be imported. Losing potency in transit, even the best of it was stale on arrival.

 

No one saw a solution except to take turns watching Jeff Koons blow up through a tremendous telescope.

 

It wasn’t until Keith Haring got huge then died in 1980, or vice versa, that the word AIDS began to make the rounds. It took 8 more years, until the death of Basquiat, for that word to sink all the way in.

 

People had been talking, but 1988 was the year to act.

 

First one and then every Dodge City artist went to the Dr. and said it like it was: “Without AIDS, there’s no way forward.”

 

They impressed the direness of their straits upon him — there had never been a Dodge City artist on the scale of Haring and Basquiat, not to mention Robert Mapplethorpe, and time wasn’t exactly running backward. Without a rash of legitimate AIDS diagnoses, the scene might well die and never wake up, not even to groan in its sleep as multimedia and web collage.

 

So the Dr., who saw himself as a man of culture as well as medicine, gave in. “Whatever I can do to help,” he pledged to all 800 Dodge City Artists in a row.

 

By now it was 1989. He left Dodge City for a weekend and came back with enough AIDS for everyone.

 

“Needles? Sex? What?” The Dodge City Artists asked each other how they’d gotten it as they waited their turn for the Dr. to diagnose them. “My work’s about to get urgent,” they all agreed. “Time’s about to get fast and precious.”

 

AIDS-diagnoses in hand, they returned to their studios and frenziedly arrayed glyphs and ankhs and fetish squiggles until they couldn’t stand.

 

In under a year, all 800 were dead.

 

This they hadn’t expected. Had they been able to see themselves now, they wouldn’t have understood why they looked the way they did.

 

The root of the misunderstanding, according to the coffee-table book I’m still looking at, in a house I no longer recognize, on knees I can no longer feel, was that they believed the Dr.’s diagnoses had been forgeries, allowing them merely to claim, to themselves and each other, to have AIDS … whereas the Dr., as much a man of medicine as of culture, had simply given them all AIDS, on the simple enough understanding that this was what they wanted.

 

AIDS is AIDS and ART is ART but when AIDS is ART then ART is AIDS, read the capstone on the mass grave.

 

Walking home from the funeral, the new population of Dodge City was: 1 Dr., 1 Art Critic, 1 Private Citizen.

 

*****

The Dr. and the Private Citizen are at the Art Critic’s house, waiting for him to break down the legacies of the 800 Dodge City Artists, telling them whom to buy and how much to pay and which pieces to grab up first, as well as how to speak lucidly about what they’ve bought.

 

They lounge on the Art Critic’s couch while he reviews his notes in the bathroom, trying to get straight in his head at least some of what he’s about to say.

 

The Dr. fingers a final dose of AIDS in his jacket pocket, having procured an extra just in case. Now he’s wondering whether to use it and, if so, on whom. Maybe I’ll divvy it up, he thinks, imagining the three of them having a fun, weird time.

 

Just as the Art Critic is promising himself “You’re You!” in the bathroom mirror and preparing to storm into the living room and rattle off his canonical 800 Dodge City Artists speech, the towels begin to revert to fur, the hot water bottle to skin, the toilet to a stump, the air to coffee grounds … the mirror to silver leather.

 

I try to stand from my knees and find my shins melted to gravy and salt.

 

Still fingering his AIDS, the Dr. looks me over like he wants to get me to take some. It’s only synthetic, I hear him whisper, like he’s trying to just think it.

 

It must already be starting to revert then, I whisper-think in response.

 

It’s not hard to guess what happens next, but it is hard to guess right.

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