by Ruby Comer
My ol’ chum Kerry is a swell guy. We’ve known each other forever. I first laid my baby blues on him at the old U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa when I was entertaining the troops. (Yes, I belted out tunes in a former life!) When I told him I was motoring to Palm Springs for some heat —the sunny kind—he turned me onto a new place to stay.
The fabu Random Haus is a lavish condo-hotel, uniquely designed in the spirit of Bauhaus. A boutique property (twelve units), it’s sophisticated, but not stuffy. It’s a work of art that opened earlier this year. You can own or rent and there’s even a concierge on duty at all times. It’s a unique concept and quite inspired—nostalgic-space-age-futureama combined with twenty-first-century functionality.
The creative wizards and original owners are Tom Bauer and Paul Caudell. They’re also husbands, who freshly tied the knot at the digs. When Random Haus had its ribbon-cutting, Tom (who is HIV-positive) and Paul, donated the proceeds of the event to Desert AIDS Project (DAP), which coincided with the national annual event, Dining Out For Life.
I park my bones in “The Reynolds” apartment, an homage to Debbie Reynolds (the other two and three bedroom units are named after other movie stars such as Tab Hunter, Rock Hudson, and Joan Crawford). It’s roomy and snuggy and comes fully equipped with state-of-the-art fixtures—even a washer and a dryer! Even better, while I sit on the throne, I can slide open the petite window nearby and listen to a gurgling stream outside that’s filled with golden koi. It wraps around the property and there’s even a waterfall.
Once settled in my nest, I phone Kerry and he agrees to pop over later. For over twenty years, Kerry has been volunteering for the HIV/AIDS community, like being on a crew team for the AIDS Ride LA (before it became the AIDS/LifeCycle). He’s participated in AIDS Walks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, and, in 2005, he raised money and ran in the San Francisco AIDS Marathon. Kerry also supports the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and Picture Me Happy. A native of Mississippi, Kerry, who’s in his early forties, possesses charisma and that smooth Southern charm.
Come early evening, as the exquisite desert sunset paints the sky with vivid splashing colors, Kerry appears at my door. He and I are satisfied lazily dipping our paws in the Jacuzzi. The bubbling waters soothe us and we are mesmerized by the fire and water fountain sculpture nearby.
Ruby Comer: It’s so grand to see you, Love. It’s been too long. I understand you are now executive director of the Desert Business Association [the LGBT Chamber of Commerce for the Desert Valley]….
Kerry Hendrix: [Kerry puts a hand up to stop me. He’s elated.] I have to tell you Ruby! For the first time, we have created a fundraising-walking group to raise funds for the Desert AIDS Project.
You are such a go-getter! Where does that driving force come from?
I believe that everyone has a duty to serve the community. I led organizations when I was in high school, I served in the Air Force, and I know that I will continue to serve throughout my life. I have met amazing, caring people through my volunteer efforts. Some are still friends today and we reminisce each time we show up to volunteer.
What a great feeling that is, huh? What has your overall experience been?
Each time I volunteer, I have taken away so much from the experience. On the AIDS Ride, you are engulfed for a week in this utopia of love and caring—a truly remarkable experience.
When did you first become aware of the epidemic?
I was in the military and stationed in Japan, about the time you and I first met. I had just come out in ’89 and didn’t know much about the epidemic until I returned to the U.S. and moved to San Francisco in the early nineties.
Were you ever taught HIV prevention in high school?
Definitely not. First, I’m from the South, and, secondly, it didn’t exist back then. Nothing was being taught in those days by the military either.
I’ve heard so much about the South. What was it like growing up in Mississippi?
It is a great place to be from! [He smiles.] I never really had any issues. Homosexuality was not discussed, nor was anyone really out. Although I don’t know what would have been worse in those days, being of color or being gay. Sadly, I think it’s better today to be gay in the South than to be a person of color. Either way, prejudice and bigotry still exist.
Damn those Confederates! Kerry, have you lost anyone to AIDS?
While in San Francisco, I did lose a close friend who was only in his late twenties. I found out later that it was due to complications of the disease.
How often do you get tested? Have you always worn a condom?
At least once a year, but typically I’m tested every six months. As to your second question, I know I will take a beating for this—but no.
I indeed appreciate your honesty. [Kerry yanks his feet out of the Jacuzzi.] How do you address all these young guys who are getting infected nowadays?
We need better educational programs in our schools, recreation centers, churches, wherever you have an opportunity to help. But truly, the bottom line is that education should start at home. Kids should not be the only ones educated. Parents should be taught how to address these issues with their children.
You are so right, Kerry! [I drape the lime-green hotel beach towel loosely around my Joan Crawford shoulders, guarding against the desert night chill.] You dated someone who was HIV-positive, correct?
Yes. My last relationship of eleven years was with someone who was HIV-positive. Prior to that, I also casually dated guys that were positive. I think that if one is honest from the beginning—and I am happy to start that conversation—it puts the partner on notice about what he’ll be dealing with. There are some limitations, but you can take precautions. You play a responsible part in this and that’s extremely important to know.
Where do you think we stand today with the pandemic?
The progress that we’ve made in the past few years has improved the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. However, the fight is by no means over. We must all dig in our heels and continue to push this boulder forward until the day when we have a cure.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]