Today’s 25-year-olds never knew a world without internet or cell phone. They say they’ll “dial your number,” but they don’t know why. For them, David Letterman has always been on late-night TV and there has always been conflict in the Middle East.

John Belushi was gone before they were born. So were Bob Marley, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury.

Today’s 25-year-olds weren’t around at the beginning of AIDS.

In the new book “Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited” by Andrew Holleran, they can read about the start of the AIDS epidemic from one who watched it happen.

Several months ago, Holleran was in a library, browsing books written about AIDS and he saw his book there, collecting dust. He says it’s never easy for an author to know his work is out of print. It’s especially hard when the subject is still relevant. Despite medical advances, disease control and preventative measures, people are still dying of AIDS.

Friends urged him to have it reprinted and an editor agreed. This book, most of which appeared previously, is the result.

It’s hard to believe that everyone went about their lives as the AIDS virus took hold in the gay community, but Holleran says that denial was rampant. A friend said the germs “didn’t need” him; if they did, he said, he would be more worried.

Hospital visits were common occurrences. Seeing 25-year-old men shuffle along the street as if their bones were decades older, that was another. Lesions on legs, gaunt faces on formerly-exuberant people, funerals that brought friends back to New York, still more common. And yet, life went on as if a cure was near.

Holleran writes of fear, and a plague that categorized men in columns marked Negative and Positive. He tells about a friend who carried a condom as a sort of mascot, always sure he should use it but never certain how to bring it up. He tells of friends who died alone, those who went out loudly and publicly, and those who left too quickly.

It’s easy to tell that “Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited” was written pre-2000 because many of the essays in it are somewhat dated. That, and the fact that it’s almost entirely set in New York makes it difficult to follow at times, particularly if you’ve never visited the places Holleran writes about.
On the other hand, the feelings, the fear, the emotion in this book make it hard not to read: the pathos of bringing Life magazine to a dying man. The horror of yet another funeral and weariness at knowing there will be more. Astonishment at men who knowingly carry the virus but don’t tell potential partners until it’s too late. Trust that has holes punched in it. The fact that AIDS still isn’t curable.

Whether you remember the beginning or were too young, “Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited” is an important book to have by your bedside. It’s a good reminder to be careful, and an unsettling look at how far we haven’t come.

info: “Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited”
by Andrew Holleran. DaCapo Press. $16.