“Steve, are you on AZT?”
It was a hot, steamy summer back at the beginning of AIDS. AZT was the first in the long line of drugs that the researchers cooked up to treat folks with HIV.

At festival after festival that summer, I'd been fielding indirect questions about my health from well-meaning people: “Steve, are you...OK?” Ah, the pagan rumor-mill. Well-known (and beloved) public gay guy, therefore, must have AIDS, right?

My current boyfriend was the last person from whom I expected to hear such a question, though.

“Gods, Don,” I say, a little miffed; I felt as though my integrity were being called into question. “We've been sleeping together for weeks. If I had HIV, don't you think I'd have told you by now?”

He apologizes handsomely. (He always was good at making up.) Still, it seemed an odd kind of question.

“Why do you ask?” I ask in turn.

“Your sweat smells like guys' on AZT,” he says.

Well, it was—as I'd said—a hot, steamy summer that year, and between the two of us we had indeed been working up a good deal of sweat. (“Is it possible for two men to have a baby together?” goes the world's oldest gay joke. Answer: “Theoretically no, but...they sure do keep on trying!”)

Still, it wasn't until long after the relationship was over that I finally puzzled out the answer to Don's question.

Meaning no disrespect—I'm using his own language here—Don was the son of a white-bread Norwegian family whose idea of spicing something up was to add mayonnaise. Me, I'm one of the Onions-and-Garlic People. (I once figured out that in the course of the average week I go through about two heads of garlic and three pounds of onions.) We may stink, but we sure do eat well.

Alliums—onions and garlic—are well-known for their immune-system-strengthening properties; hence the olfactory resemblance to AZT, intended for the same purpose.

“I'll give you sweat,” I tell him, pushing him down.