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Another Side of Paradise : In the Small Resort Town of Laguna Beach, AIDS Looms Large, Touching the Lives of Almost Everyone


A lone drinker sits behind a glass of wine in the nearly empty Boom Boom Room and looks beyond the dead end toward Catalina Island and a tangerine sunset.

At the bar, Michael, 24, wipes glasses and prepares for the early evening crowd.

Two years ago, he hardly knew anyone who had AIDS. Now, as the bartender/confidant in a small town where news travels fast, he has heard many disheartening stories of the survivors.

He has lost three friends himself, he says. "And that's enough."

The Boom Boom has been for sale for two years--a prospect cheered by a certain element in town, he said. "It's here and it's been here for years," he said. "If they can't deal with it, it's their problem." If it changes hands, however, many think it will no longer be a gay bar, and Michael will have to look for work.

Neighbors on Mountain Avenue say late-night revelry hasn't changed in eight years. But Michael says both customers and drinking are down. So is sexual misconduct, since management installed brighter lights in the black-walled dancing room.

Still, he says, for some unknown reason, there is no longer a condom machine in the bathroom. And, really, no one except tourists read the safe sex brochures stuffed below the bulletin board.

Instead, it is filled with ads for roommates and massages.

Over them, someone's friend has tacked up a torn piece of legal paper with a neatly penciled note. It announces a memorial service. Directions to Fisherman's Cove and a time are given.

"Please," it says, "don't wear black."

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