He knew some guys I knew at the bar; they were from The City, too. Listening to them talk, it wasn't hard to tell. Early on, I guessed that if I kept eavesdropping, he'd refer to himself as a guinea. I was right.
Then one afternoon, one of our mutual friends--I believe it was New York Richie--introduced me to him; his name is Felix Forte. There was lots of loud conversation that I no longer remember, but somewhere in there Felix mentioned that he had AIDS. I asked him if he would tell me about it, and he said he would.
I go over to Felix's Tempe house on a Saturday afternoon, pull up and walk across the lawn a bit hung over. He greets me with, "Hey, man, how you doin'? You look like you got AIDS!" The place is neat and clean and shady and quiet. There's a bumper sticker on his mailbox that says "The New Teamsters." His 4-year-old daughter is off with her mother, from whom Felix recently separated.
Inside, there's a stereo on a bookshelf blaring Harry Belafonte, and one section of that shelf is devoted to all kinds of Felix the Cat memorabilia.
Felix, the man, has a blurry blue tattoo on his chest that he shows me; it's Felix the Cat holding a rifle. He got it a long time ago on Coney Island, and he thinks maybe along with it he got the disease that he's been fighting for three years now.
But it could have been somewhere else.
"I worked for a medical-waste company," he says. "I got stuck with a needle. And I worked cleaning out crack houses. Once I reached into a bag, into some blood, and I had cuts on my hands. It wasn't from heroin. It could have been from cheap women. The bars in New York don't close 'til five in the morning, so I had my share of women. I inhaled, okay? Have I been with a prostitute? Yeah. When I was a single guy, 17, 18. I did a lot of things."
But that was in the past. He does a number of other things now, some of which are caring for and absolutely worshiping his daughter, and taking "about 50 or 60 pills a day. I can hardly keep up with it." Felix has all those pill containers lined up like plastic sentries on the kitchen table. A few are:
Yoxidin, Diflucan, Marinol, Nystatin, Zithronax, garlic oil, garlic capsules, Marinol, vitamins D and E, AZT, L-lysine, Humponin, needles to inject himself with Vitamin B, and Value Wise extra-strength aspirin. There's also a Nebulizer, "an electronic pump you fill up with a syringe and it vibrates, it fogs up and you breathe it in." And testosterone, when necessary.
"It gives you some oomph," Felix clarifies. "You got to shave your balls to put it [ointment] on and you put a blow-dryer on it so it sticks on there. I'll loan you one. You'll run around with a woody all over the fuckin' house, knockin' down irons and shit."
Even more effective than all that are three newly available, apparently breakthrough drugs that are making headlines worldwide. Ten years in development, the so-called protease inhibitors can put a stranglehold on the protease enzyme, which plays a large role in the reproductive cycle of HIV.
"You take 12 Invirase, 12 of the Retrovir and two of the Epivir a day . . . they're the new magic bullet," Felix says. They've shown an amazing ability to drive the AIDS virus into submission.
Though Felix still suffers from slight chronic fatigue syndrome and peripheral neuropathy (it leaves his feet numb, hence the cane), there is no denying the significant positive effects. When I ask him if they work, Felix strikes a pose on display, Fonzlike.
"Yeah, it helps me. I'm still here, I'm still alive and kicking."
Which is not to say that Felix is currently tap-dancing down to buffets all over town; here is a sampling from his doctor's "Not List" of delicacies, all from the "C" category: