Interviewer: “Can you explain the concept of ZAIDS?”
Informant: “Oh god. Yeah… I guess I can. Basically in high school there was this fake disease called ZAIDS. Obviously it came from AIDS, but we put a Z in front of it to make it different. We had this one friend who we said got it originally, we made him patient zero. So when he finally kissed another girl we all made the joke that she had ZAIDS too. Soon enough the entire grade was tracking the spread of ZAIDS from him and that girl, and people were drawing out diagrams to figure out who exactly had the ‘disease’. At the very end of our senior year, at a point where most of the class had ZAIDS, we decided the only way to break the curse was for our friend who was patient zero to kiss that same girl again. I guess it was a funny way of ‘breaking’ the curse.”
The informant participated in this game in high school. Obviously he recognizes this ‘disease’ is fake but still thought it was a good excuse to give friends a hard time if they had ZAIDS. Before the ‘breaking of the curse’ described above, the informant was even a carrier of ZAIDS according to his classmates.
Because I went to the same high school as the informant, I was familiar with the story. This conversation was recorded while we were reminiscing about high school experiences after I realized the folkloric connections this game had.
This game is clearly a more mature version of cooties, the game played by elementary school boys and girls. Instead of simple physical contact spreading the disease, however, in this version a kiss is required to transfer ZAIDS from one person to another. I think the significance of this game is simply an evolution of the significance of cooties. The game cooties allows kids to grapple with the ‘taboo’ topic of contact with the opposite gender. In this case, the ‘taboo’ topic is romantic involvement with the other gender, which is a natural progression of cooties. The game was most prevalent during early high school, like 9th grade, and faded from view as the class became older and the topics of romantic involvement became less taboo. The final moment of ‘breaking the curse’ during the senior year almost represents the class recognizing the absurdity of such a game or concept and shutting it down for good in a poetic way.