For years, Bobby Davis has been the Johnny Appleseed of condoms in Central Florida.
As coordinator for the AIDS program in the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services' District 3, which stretches from Citrus County to the Georgia border, Davis has given away hundreds of thousands of free condoms each year through public health clinics.
His goal is to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of AIDS throughout this area, and one of the best tools at his disposal is the simple condom.
But now, that mission is getting a bit trickier.
The state, which last year bought more than 4-million condoms for free distribution, recently changed its allocations. Officials looked at where the condoms were being given out and decided in some cases the numbers didn't make much sense.
Some areas with high retiree populations, for example, were getting too many. Other areas, especially those with higher numbers of AIDS cases, weren't getting enough.
Davis' district was receiving 105 cases of condoms each quarter. The state cut that back to 75. At 1,000 condoms per case, that's still 75,000 condoms to hand out. But Davis is feeling the pinch.
"I've been using up all I've gotten for years," he said, pointing out that the 16-county district, a region larger than the state of Maryland, has several good-sized population centers, including the University of Florida.
The potential loss of 30,000 condoms meant that some changes would have to be made. One of those was announced in a Sept. 24 memo Davis sent to local health unit administrators.
In it, he said the AIDS program could supply condoms only for direct AIDS intervention and could no longer routinely provide free condoms to other HRS programs, such as family planning and clinics for other sexually transmitted diseases.
Those programs had been able to avoid setting money aside for condoms because when they needed some, they could get condoms from the AIDS team. Davis was asking them to shift their office bucks and buy their own supply.
"It's not a cash-flow problem," he said, "it's a condom-flow problem."
Somehow, his message got garbled when it arrived at the Citrus County Public Health Unit. The unit's boss, Dr. Shakra Junejo, sent a memo of her own last week to the county's AIDS Advisory Committee and the media saying that after the supply is exhausted, condoms would no longer be available from her office. The startling notice at first appeared to be a victory for some factions here who have opposed any condom giveaways on the premise that somehow this condones promiscuity.
One local woman, you'll recall, won her 15 minutes of fame a while back by snatching up all of the condoms the health department had set on the counter for free distribution.
Given that condoms are recognized as a valuable, though not foolproof, means of preventing the spread of AIDS, this was like stealing life preservers from the railings of the Titanic.
Anyway, HRS officials quickly contradicted Junejo's memo, saying that not only would condoms still be available in Citrus, a shipment was expected to be delivered at the end of October.
Here's where it really got weird. The numbers given were 1,056 cases, with 1,000 condoms in each box. That's more than 1-million condoms, 10 apiece for every man, woman and child in Citrus County.
If we've been going through a million condoms here, I thought, I've grossly underestimated the length of the local mating season. It's Saturday Night Fever all year long. We should change the county's nickname from Florida's Little Giant to Studs 'R Us!
The mystery was cleared up the next day, however, when Stephen Kindland, public information coordinator for the HRS AIDS program, explained that the million condoms were to be spread throughout the state, not just in Citrus. Neither he nor Davis were sure how many were heading here.
And so, in a twinkling of an eye, the condom confusion was cleared up _ and a county's budding image as the motor pool for sex machines died on the vine.