Hansen: Life of loss and humor in Laguna

December 26, 2013|By David Hansen | By David Hansen
  • Longtime Laguna resident Scott Alan in his Hagan Place condo where he surrounds himself with his art and memories.
Longtime Laguna resident Scott Alan in his Hagan Place… (Don Leach, Daily…)

There is a frailty about Scott Alan when he walks. Unsure and stilted, he totters in a way that makes you prepare to reach out and catch him if he falls.

But he never does. He keeps moving forward, shuffling along in no particular hurry.

"I walk like a drunk," he says, smiling. "I tell people my feet are lushes."

It's not booze; it's the HIV drugs. They wreak havoc on his feet, which is why he prefers to go barefoot.

"Except I sometimes walk on grass and it feels like razor blades," he said.

Tall and rail thin, Alan, 58, is a long-time survivor of AIDS, Hodgkin's lymphoma, prejudice and loneliness.

He's a veteran Laguna Beach gay man who lost most of his friends to AIDS. He still struggles to find new meaning, hiding behind humor and a sharp wit.

In the early 1980s when AIDS started hitting Laguna Beach in force, Alan's friends would sit around living rooms, bars and beaches speculating what was happening.


"We asked, 'What is the common denominator of all gay men?' he said. "Track lights."

The joke is still funny, in a self-effacing way. That's common with Alan.

In private moments, he wonders how he arrived in Hagan Place, the 24-unit, federally subsidized housing complex on Third Street that shelters only people with HIV. With rents less than half the market rate, there's a long waiting list.

Alan got his one bedroom in 1999 but first moved to Laguna in 1976. Not much later, people started dying.

In the '80s and '90s, Laguna Beach had the highest per capita HIV infection rate in the country, higher than San Francisco.

Even today, the number of HIV infections is rising nationwide, making the city's history still very real. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every month, 1,000 young Americans become infected with HIV.

In fact, Alan said, one of his Hagan neighbors died Sunday of cancer related to HIV. The man had a live-in partner and liked to give out homemade tamales for Christmas.

This type of news won't make headlines anymore because gay issues in Laguna have gone underground, Alan said. People have retreated behind closed doors.

"It upsets me," he said. "People still think it's not affecting them, but it does."

Despite the continuing loss and lack of a cure, Alan remains oddly sanguine. His humor is like armor after a lifetime of heartache. Nothing has gone as expected, so why not embrace every day?

"My sense of humor is what gets me through life," he said. "These are triple bonus years for me."

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