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Glad to Be Gross

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His foam-rubber face contorted with menace, Phil the Syphilis Sore could pass for a long-lost evil cousin of the California Raisins. But the bright-red, spiky-haired, scowling chancre is on a crusade for good.

"Phil may seem gross, but syphilis is gross," says Les Pappas, president of Better World Advertising, the five-person San Francisco shop that created Phil to boost awareness of the disease on behalf of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "We wanted to deal with it in a humorous way that would get people to take it seriously. Wherever Phil goes people ask, 'What's that?' It gets people talking."

Phil has tooled around California this summer, sometimes teaming with a tall, flesh-colored penis, also created by Better World. This second mascot (whose name is unclear, though we could probably guess it) is part of a related campaign to "Make every penis a healthy penis." ("Check back regularly for the exciting adventures of healthy penis!" advises the Web site, www.healthypenis2002.org.)

"The spread of HIV has made it harder to get people to see syphilis as a serious problem," says Pappas. "Whatever it takes to educate."