We were the only two patrons. “We don’t technically open until 9,” the bartender told us. It was 8:45. We asked if we should come back. She said she was ready, so we sat down and had a drink. My friend knew the bartender, and she served our food and drinks in between prepping for the evening.
“I hear this place really picks up after 10,” my friend told me. “Come in here at 11 and you could meet your next boyfriend.”
I conferred with the bartender. Indeed, the place saw many people my age later in the evening. But I was usually in bed by the time life picked up here.
The karaoke guys came in to set up. Then a mustachio’d man slid up to the bar, casually placed a clear plastic bag down in front of him and sat down. The bartender greeted him like an old friend and poured him a drink. I glanced over. He had a long twist of a ponytail. And were those condoms I saw in his bag?
My friend and I continued our conversation and I peeked over again. Now the pony-tailed guy had a second plastic bag in front of him, this one empty. He pulled long lines of condoms out of his first bag, tore them apart, and placed the singles in the second bag. No way, I thought. Then I remembered I was in Asheville. So a man sitting at a bar with a bag full of condoms really shouldn’t be that surprising.
I am who I am, so of course I leaned over to him and said, “Is that a bag full of condoms?”
“Yes, it is,” he said matter-of-factly. “This is your tax dollars at work.”
“Really? Um,” I stumbled over what to say next. “So tell me what this is all about?”
He explained the flow of money that allows the Western North Carolina AIDS project to purchase thousands of condoms to give out for free. “I go around to the local bars and put them out in bowls,” he explained. “There’s a bowl back there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom. “And Rosetta’s has one.” He then proceeded to tell me all the places he made his rounds, filling bowls with free condoms for people to take.
“Last year we gave out 185,000 condoms. But that’s not enough. Do you know there are 240,000 people in Buncombe County? That’s less than one condom a year per person. One condom for a whole year!”
“But are they all of age to be in need of condoms?” I asked.
“Well…” He concurred that the figure could be a little misleading. “But that’s just in Buncombe County. We’re serving all of Western North Carolina – which is another 18 counties.”
He passed a few condoms my way. “We have them in all sorts of colors and sizes.”
“Colors?” I asked, picking one up.
“And flavors, too,” he said. “Chocolate, banana, strawberry.”
I’d seen them in sizes and flavors before, but colors? What on earth did that matter? Apparently it does to some people…
The conversation got a little more descriptive after this, and I’ll refrain from quoting it here. Mustachioed man told me how he does his weekly rounds, sitting at bars like this, striking up conversations just like this one.
I turned to my friend. “Are you listening to this?” He wasn’t, so I filled him in. “They gave away 185,000 condoms last year.”
“They make great stocking stuffers,” the mustachioed man told us as he continued to break apart the long strands.
“Need any?” I asked my friend.
“No – do you?”
“No – I have a friend who works at Planned Parenthood. She gave me a bunch the other day.” This is Asheville after all. Free condoms are seemingly everywhere.
(Apologies to my very-Catholic mother for this post.)