SLATS GROBNIK tossed the magazine over his shoulder. Then he leaned on the bar, shook his head and muttered: "Enough, already."
I retrieved the magazine, which was People, and asked him what it was that disturbed him.
Slats pointed to the cover and the headline that said: "We believe in MAGIC: America finds a hero." Next to it was a picture of a smiling Magic Johnson.
"What is this hero stuff?" Slats said.
Well, you can't deny that for someone so young, vital and successful to be afflicted with a deadly virus, he took it with uncommon courage, grace and dignity.
"Yeah. But does that make him a hero? I thought to be a hero you had to do something brave and not selfish and something that would help other people. When you cut through all the media hype, besides being a great basketball player, what did he do? He was out there hopping in the sack with one bimbo after another. That's how he picked up the virus, right?"
Yes, he has conceded that.
"Well, I guess times have changed. Back when I was in the service, the chaplain and the medics used to make us sit through those meetings and warn us about not getting a dose. They'd have a picture show with what your whoozits would look like if you wasn't careful."
Yes, a rather graphic slide presentation, as I recall.
"And they'd tell us, 'If you can't be good, be careful.' But there was always some guys who didn't pay no attention. Then they'd come down with something and they'd have to go to the infirmary. Then they'd have to check in with the first sergeant. And I never heard of any first sergeant saying: 'Glad you're taking it so well, private, you are a hero.' He usually said that you were a bozo and would give you an extra week of KP for goofing up."
Yes, but in Johnson's case, this will eventually be fatal, unless a cure is found.
"Uh-huh. And I feel sorry for him. I don't like seeing nobody get clobbered. Like a friend of mine. His wife comes down with cancer when she's about Johnson's age. She didn't do nothing to cause it. Just happens. We all know people like that, right? Cancer, heart attacks, strokes, all kinds of diseases."
Unfortunately, yes, too many people.
"She handled it like a trouper. Right up to the end. But there's no parades for her, except the one to the cemetery. So, yeah, I feel sorry for him. But if he's a hero, why wasn't she a hero? Or any of the others?"
I suppose it is because he has become a spokesman for the cause of safe sex. By being frank, he might prevent others from making the same mistake.
"That's nice, even though I ain't sure that every horny young guy in this country is going to attach a picture of Magic Johnson to his zipper as a reminder. But let me ask you this. The stuff in this shooter glass is not the best thing I can drink for my health, is it?"
In moderation, it is OK. In excess, no.
"So let's say that one day the doc tells me that I got a liver like a bowling ball, and that I better make sure my will is up to date and pick out a nice headstone. Can I become some kind of spokesman? Maybe go around and tell people that too much hooch can curl up your toes and that if it can happen to me, Slats Grobnik, it can happen to anyone?"
To be frank, I can't see a TV campaign of that sort.
"I didn't think so. Too bad. I wouldn't mind checking out as a hero. OK, another question. What about the bimbos? Can they be heroes, too?"
"The ones he was bedding. If there were as many as he says, and he sounds like he lost count, there's got to be a chance that he gave some of them the virus, right?"
That possibility must exist, yes.
"What if these women start popping up and saying: 'Hey, I got the virus from him, so if he's a hero, does that make me a heroine? How about putting me on TV to talk about how it ain't a good idea to do one-night stands, even with famous slam-dunkers."
I seriously doubt that anyone would consider such females as heroines.
"Why not? They were just doing the old two-to-tango like he was. And maybe with the same results. Maybe they could become role models for other young ladies who ain't too bright or careful, like Magic is gonna do for guys who ain't too bright or careful."
I think the public might view such women as being immoral and would not be sympathetic. After all, they consented to the act.
"Yeah. Of course, he looks like he's big enough not to let himself get dragged into bed against his consent, either."
Aren't you being harsh?
"No, it's like I say, I feel bad for the guy. For anybody. But I keep thinking about all the stories I read about how our society doesn't have any real heroes anymore."
Yes, that's been said by some social critics.
"I'm starting to believe the social critics."