Michelle Auerbach

Michelle Auerbach’s work has been published in Van Gogh’s Ear, Bombay Gin, Xcp, Chelsea, and The Denver Quarterly, and anthologized in The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained (Baksun Books), and You: An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press).  She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize and has a book of poetry forthcoming from Durga Press.  Her novel, The Third Kind of Horse is out soon from Beatdom Books.


Geriatric Safe Sex

I found my niche at the AIDS Hotline without even planning it.  When I was hired, I wondered why.  I don’t speak Spanish or French; I don’t represent any community in need of services.  When Kevin was hired, we all knew he was the junkie, but me?  I figured they hired me to get the coffee.

The phone rang one day and Melody answered it.  She kept yelling into the receiver, “I can’t understand you, I don’t speak German.”  Melody has no patience, so she put the call on hold and looked around. I tried to seem busy doing something other than looking at Simone. 

“Lyssa, can you take this?  I can’t understand a word the woman is saying.”


I punched the button and got someone who could have been my grandmother speaking a mixture of Yiddish and English with a heavy accent. 

Nu, you are?”

“My name is Lyssa, can I help you?”

A gezunt ahf dein kop, Lyssa.  It’s difficult, but I think I might have a farshlepteh krenk, the AIDS.”

“How’s that?” I’m thinking how is this possible?

“I live in the Montefiore retirement community, shayna, you heard of it?”


“Up here, none of us, we cannot get pregnant, and my Morris, zikhroyne livrokhe, he’s gone, and so we spend some time together, intimately, you know?”

“Who does?”

“Well, tukhes oyfn tisch, shayna maildeleh, we all do, Mr. Krupnick, Mr. Goldbloom, Mr. Fingerman . . . “

I had to pause to take a breath here and not scream, “My grandma’s getting some.” Instead I sound really professional and not very interested.

“I need to ask you some personal questions Mrs. . . . “

“Call me Dottie.”

“Dottie, are you having intercourse with those men, or oral sex, can you tell me?”

“Intercourse, yes.  And oral sex, but dear, it’s not just me, its all the girls. A deigeh hob ich, but I do worry. You know some of them men are still good dancers, and some can still schtup.  I prefer the ones who can schtup. A volf farlirt zayne hor, ober nit zayn nature, you know, you may get old, but you feel young.”

“How many sexual partners have you had this year?”

“Excuse my gerbochener Englisch, bubbeleh, I think ten, or twelve.”

          So this is what they are doing in old folks homes.  Maybe by the time I’m eighty there will be lesbian retirement communities.

“Are you using condoms?”

“No dear, no one here can have babies any more, and a lung un leber oyf der noz, I don’t want to think myself into getting anything else.”

Great, how do you convince someone like this to use a condom?  I decide on my best granddaughter voice.

“If I sent you some, would you use them, Dottie?”

“Could you?  Is that your aitzeh? That would be wonderful, we are balebatisheh yiden, you know, good people, we want to do right.”

“Perhaps you should think about getting tested for HIV, we have a center in the Bronx, could you get there?”

I was imagining senior day at the DOH.

“Yes, I want to know if I am ahf tsore, in trouble.  Can I make appointments for a bunch of alte kochers too?”

“Your sexual partners?”

“Them too, alten boks, all of them.”

I made appointments for twenty-two old folks to get HIV tests.  God save them if any one of them is positive, with all the partner swapping and bed hopping.

After that Dottie would call just for me, she refused to speak to anyone else.  I got to talk to many of the residents of the Montefiore Senior Home in the Bronx, and they were having a lot more sex than I was.  Mr. Liberman did not want me to tell his daughter he was talking to me.  Mr. Berger wanted to know if I would come and visit, was I cute?  Mrs. Steinberg wanted more condoms.  One woman, Mrs. Cohen, she had four partners that week.  She wanted to know if it was okay to sleep with that many people in a week.  I told her, as long as you’re happy and safe.  She said she was.  “I miss my late husband, don’t get me wrong dear. I miss him like a hole in the head every day.  This is good.  But it’s not like being married.”

In the category of things that make you think, this one stopped me.  Promiscuity is good, but not as good as commitment.  I looked across the desk at Simone.  What would it be like to come home to her every day, to pass my day under the light of her brain.  I’d probably never find out.  How could I even tell if I’d get to go home with her again?

Why is it that the gay boys get to do it, the old folks get to do it, and the lesbians are so behind the times?  Looks like we got to the party just in time to clean up.

One thought on “Michelle Auerbach”

  1. Dottie’s last bit of dialogue has me stumped. She says, “I miss my late husband, don’t get me wrong
    dear. I miss him like a hole in the head every day. This is good. But it’s not like being married.” To
    say that you miss someone “like a hole in the head” generally means that you don’t miss him or her or it
    at all. But Dottie seems to be saying that her current arrangement, while good, is not as good as being
    married. How to explain this contradiction?

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