Dystopia No More
Volume 2 / Book 2 / Part 4 of
Living In The Bonus Round
by Steve Schalchlin.

(Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4)
September 1999. Los Angeles.

[Diary Index ]

Saturday-Wednesday, September 4-8, 1999.
That Valley Stomach Thing.
I'd love to go back through this diary and remember the last time I was sick. I know it's been a long time. I think that's because, as a person with a limited immune system, I am very careful about what I eat and careful around people who might be sick.

But a couple of days ago, I started getting bad diarrhea and yesterday, Tueday, felt terrible. However, I did have a short meeting with Richard Israel the Artistic Director of the Celebration Theatre here in Hollywood and we has set up a special benefit concert for them on November 7th, Sunday, at 7pm.

One of the persons I met with said her whole family had come down with this stomach thing and she called it the Valley Stomach Thing since we all live in the Valley.
I've really been wanting to help them out because they were ripped off by an employee this past year to the tune of mucho bucks and have been scrambling to catch up ever since then.

Anyway, I'm going to call all the TLS-LA cast and a few other celebs and try to get them to join me. I'll update this soon with info on where to purchase tickets and who will be featured.

Speaking of benefits, Jimmy has been hired to write and direct the big re-opening ceremonies of the beautiful, historic El Portal Theatre here in North Hollywood. It's a gorgeous building that we destroyed in the big earthquake a few years back -- a beautiful 450 seat theatre which LA desperately needs. The special guest will be Donald O'Connor.

Cool news from Indiana University:

Steve, good news!  The IU Dept. of Theatre and Drama would like you to speak/sing to an open class on Thurs. Dec. 2 at 2:30.  IT will be in the IU Theatre on campus.  They do this often with guest speakers to campus...schedule a time when there are very few scheduled classes so students can attend.  I'm so happy about this.  The folks in the theatre dept. here are terrific.  I don't think I'll try scheduling anything else while you're here.

Kathryn Brown
Health Educator
Health and Wellness Education
Indiana University Health Center

I would love to correspond with students from IU before I get there. So if you know anyone from IU, tell them to write me!

Meanwhile, I'm staying in bed all day today with Thurber and Steinbeck.

Thursday-Sunday, September 9-12, 1999.
Sex and Religion on Rosh Hashanna.
Piling up in bed is one of my favorite activities so this stomach thing was not a total loss -- gave me a chance to just lie around and surf the net like back in the old days.

(By the way, I'm fine. It was probably only something I ate. By day three I was still groggy but by Friday, I was back at full strength and Jimmy decided we needed a treat so we went to see a movie.)

Stigmata. It made me want to be back in bed. Very boring movie. And stupid. And intellectually dishonest, I thought. About some secret, hidden Gospel that would pull the church apart if it were revealed. They don't need a secret Gospel for that. It manages to self-destruct all on its own.

I've posted a lot in Salon Magazine's Table Talk. Salon's my favorite online magazine. The public posting boards are better than what I usually find on the net; I've seen some brilliantly informative posts alternating with the better than average flaming. I just jumped right in and acted like I'd been around there forever.

My first post, in fact, was in the Movie section where I flamed "Eyes Wide Shut." Flaming Kubrick is not the best way to introduce yourself to a literate audience, but I couldn't help it. EWS was a terrible movie and I needed to vent. :-) And then I said I liked The Sixth Sense! So, now they know how pedestrian my tastes can be.

I put a post up in the Health Section asking if there were other "Lazarus" types out there. I was hoping to compare notes but nothing has turned up. I found a thread on Diabetes, so I'm hoping to get more info on that.

Sidenote: My blood sugar was high when I was at the doctor's last week, so I've been diligently testing this week, all good news. Also, my cholesterol is down, my triglycerides are down in the 700 range so that's still way high but improving.
Mostly I've been posting in a section called Mind and Spirit. Since I keep trying to read these massive books by writers like Curran, Jesus Seminar guys (not that I agree with everything they say -- it's just that they were NOT a part of my Baptist schooling) it only makes me more and more curious about how religions, especially the Christian religions, create themselves and how they are perpetuated.

I met some REAL brainiacs at Table Talk whose knowledge is so far above mine, I feel like a 9th grader auditing a doctoral class. But then, religion is an endless thing, isn't it? You can spend your whole life reading about every religion, like Joseph Campbell did, and still only feel as if you've scratched the surface.

But posting there led me to having a Net Impact Moment. Someone posted on Table Talk a link to an Advocate article that said this big Virginia meeting between Rev. Mel White and his Soul Force partners, and Rev. Jerry Falwell wasn't going to take place. But I knew that it was. I've been working on getting myself down there so I can participate.

So I sent a note about it to Mel, and within an hour or so had a statement from him that the meeting was indeed taking place. Then Maggie, one of my online activist friends, sent a note to the Advocate, which eventually corrected the story (two days later).

I just feel so cutting edge.

Also, I've had sex dreams lately. Really sensuous sex dreams. I woke up from one the other night and promptly made myself go back to sleep to see if I could continue the action. And whaddaya know, it worked! Is that a sin? I'm sure someone somewhere thinks it would be.

Okay. I have news. The big concert coming up in November at the Celebration. Bob Cox is going to join me on guitar. David Robyn is also bringing his guitar and will sing.

But the big news is that a certain somewhat famous teen playwright from Connecticut might also be joining us -- performing her own monologue/playlet The View From Here (which is all about the night she met this certain somewhat famous songwriter, not saying who).

Jess Carey, 17 years old, is comin' to El Lay. Longtime readers remember that when I met Jess, almost two years ago in Boston accompanied by her gorgeous, and I do mean gorgeous, mother she was too shy to look me in the eye. Too shy to even speak.

A year later two of her monologues are being performed in Denver alongside The Last Session after being discovered on the TLS fanlist. Well, it turns out she has written this short monologue based on the night we met -- Her mom: "You're gonna fly all the way to Los Angeles just to kiss Steve's ass?" But when Richard Israel at the Celebration Theatre (he's read her other plays and loves them) heard about that, he begged me to ask her to come out and do it. I did and her parents approved.


Yes. She is going to speak in front of strangers.

I'm planning a few other little surprises, too. But they will have to be shared later. After all, it's all about antici-----pation. (A blessed and peaceful Rosh Hashanna to you all).

Okay, I'm going back to sleep now. ;-)

Monday-Wednesday, September 13-15, 1999.
Hurricanes & Cruise Ships.
Reader Lyndsay complained that back a year or two ago I began telling the stories of my days on the cruise ship Galileo -- and then was interrupted by real life. So, I'm going to tell a cruise ship story although I might have told it in this diary before.

What makes it relevant is the presence of a huge hurricane, Floyd, off the coast of the USA as I'm typing these words. Largest peacetime evacuation in history. Roads clogged with people trying to get out of town. And, of course, the news full of explanations -- global warming, etc.

A few months ago I received the sad news that the Galileo had gone down in flames and was no more. It was christened the Galileo Galilei and was one of the grand old Italia line cruise ships, sister ship to the Andrea Doria and the Michaelangelo. It had a deep draft and could hit 25 knots if they really pushed her.

The cruise director was an American Greek named George. On my first day, George took me aside and said of the officers: "Beware the officers. These are natural born Greeks, communists who lost the Greek civil war. Just follow my lead and I'll protect you."

(In the news recently was a ship that went down in the South Pacific. The Greek officers sounded the alarm and then got in the life boats and left the passengers stranded on the ship as it was going down. You might have seen the rescue attempt on TV. When the officers were queried why they did this, their explanation was, "We told them to leave. If they did not leave, that is not our problem."

When the TV camera focused in on the captain, I knew him. I knew him well. He was the one about whom everyone had said had gone insane with syphillis in the brain.

Anyway, the hurricane story.

We were sailing out of various ports on the eastern seaboard making quick jaunts to and from Bermuda. (I was singing at a piano in the Fantasy Lounge alongside a dance band from the Caribbean.) But this one night, the seas were rough and word was spreading that there was a hurricane near us.

There was also a satellite down, so nobody knew the exact location of this storm. All we knew is that it was big. So the captain decided to circumvent the hurricane by going north 200 miles and circling around it as we headed back to the states.

Most of the passengers were either in their rooms or sitting in couches and chairs scattered around the Promenade Deck. But I don't think I saw many of them that night. The ship was rolling and the seas were turbulent.

Just for the record, I love rolling seas. When I'm on a ship I hate it when the sea is glassy smooth and it feels like we're on land. Fortunately, the Galileo almost always had a slow, smooth roll in the Atlantic waters.

But this was a deep roll. And sometimes you could hear the passengers going, "AHHHHH," as it switched from rolling one way to the other -- as if we were all on a big swinging boat at an amusement park.

Then suddenly the waters got very still. Everyone broke out into big smiles and the captain was now down in the bar near the stern, congratulating himself and drinking some Ouzo. (I would have joined them except I didn't like Ouzo and everytime I came too close to the laughing Greeks in their white uniforms, they'd just kinda stare at me in this quizzical silence).

The captain was doing his usual Greek Brag Act when suddenly -- as if a sea monster had risen from the depths -- it was like a sloppy, wet monstrous hand slapped the side of the ship. Glass broke in. The ship took a sudden swing to the port side and the captain looked like a naughty kid in a sandbox whose mother just surprised him with a slap on side of the head.

I was instructed to go play the piano.

This is why I loved the Greeks. Have you ever seen a shipwreck disaster movie where a grand piano goes flying across a room and slamming into a wall? The reason they wanted me to play was so the passengers would think nothing is wrong.

I guess because the sound of breaking glass and being thrown completely against an opposing wall has a tendency to make passengers think something might be wrong. What went wrong was that this captain had steered us right into the eye of the hurricane and when we came back out, it was like walking into a Mohammed Ali's right cross.

I did go to the piano but one look at the keyboard with the room swirling around got me seasick. The only time I was ever seasick on that ship.

But the Galileo was a beautiful ship. I was sad to hear about her fire. The sight of a ship going under has that effect on me. They always seems so huge and so helpless as they sink beneath the water. Here's to you, Galileo Galilei. My year in your hold was one of the best years of my life.

Thursday - Sunday, Sept 16-26, 1999.
The Mariachi Wedding.
I felt so American this weekend watching my baby brother, Moose, get married in Albuquerque. The reception band was Mariachi, the bride sang a Mexican song, someone named Angelica sang Panis Angelicus, the best man was African American, my two little nephews (11 and 9), who I hadn't seen since they were toddlers looked just like my brother DOS and me when he and I were that age, and I shared a bed with someone named Piglet.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

The truth is that in my life I have been very neglectful of my family. (By the way, me being neglectful of people in my life is a recurring theme of my existence but that's for another time). So this chance to do something "family" was irresistible. Along with my two nephews, I would get to see their sister who was a baby when last we met.

I decided take a shuttle to the airport today cuz Jimmy was still groggy over his tooth extractions and the driver showed me a new way to get to LAX crossing down through downtown and catching the new Hwy. 170 a portion of which was featured in the movie SPEED when it was being built -- remember the bus leaping across chasm?

We didn't have to leap chasms but the idea of being able to get to LAX without having to take the 405 is intoxicating to a Valley-ite.

I left the computer behind and took the biography of Vivian Vance since one of my favorite Lucy shows, the "Ethel Mae Potter/We never forgot 'er" episode, is set in Albuquerque and she sorta kinda came from Albuquerque.

My plane was an hour late and Moose picked me up and took me to the beautiful house of the bride's parents where I saw my aforementioned niece and nephews who are so beautiful and I'm not just saying that cause I'm a proud uncle. By the time I got to the hotel, though, I was tired and I just collapsed.

The next morning Moose and Little Mooses 1 & 2 drove to the airport where the boys and I mercilessly tortured daddy. Our brother Piglet was flying in. Piglet, just so you know, is a big guy. He has a macho job and he is a big man so we took great delight in making fun of the fact that his long hair looks like Achy Breaky Heart.

After a lunch of barbequed ribs and hot links, we get out fancy clothes out and went to the United Methodist Church where we spent the afternoon getting photographed.

ASIDE: To my international readers, I don't know how you handle marriage ceremonies where you are but we have a ritual where we hire a photographer who takes all afternoon pushing everyone around and taking photos of every possible combination of people. It seemed to me he spent a great deal of time spreading out the bride's train. But the photographer kinda becomes a little cruise directer pulling all these poses together.
One time when we were standing there posing I looked down and then over to Moose and commented that the bride, Jill, had a lovely poitrine. He didn't know what I meant but he accepted the compliment.

In fact, the gown was quite stunning, with a beautiful white embroidered bodice which displayed here beautiful breasts in an Angela Lansbury kind of way. The skirt part consisted of acres of that net-looking material -- I am not woman's clothing kind of person.

The ceremony was brief and beautiful. The four highlights my nephews in tie and tails with burgundy vests, my niece in a beautiful burgundy dress walking down the aisle holding flowers, the songs sung by the bride's sister, Gretchen, and her friend Angelica, and Moose falling completely apart emotionally during the reciting of the vows. I guess the little sucker meant it -- and I do love his now-wife. I met her back when I saw him graduate law school where he played a joke on Kenneth Starr (it's in the diary look it up).

The reception was in a fancy Southwestern designed country club. The music was provided by "one of the top Mariachi bands in New Mexico." We feasted on Mexican food and candy bars which featured the names of the bride and groom.

The wedding party was seated at the front table and when the band approached, the girls joined them in songs. It was beautiful. I even toasted "my baby brother," saying I wished them as much happiness as "my partner and I have had for the past 14 years times two times three times four," not that we've been that happy of course.

That was a joke.

Anyway, back in the hotel room, Piglet and I watched some Monty Python on A&E, talked about family stuff, and then pretty much just passed out after a long day. I couldn't hardly sleep, though and the Sustiva was giving me psychotic dreams. So I kinda drifted through the night, finally getting up at 5am -- no thanks to the hotel for not waking me up -- and spent the flight home reading a Harry Potter book which I had stolen from Jill.

And now the cats are lying on me as I write these words and I'm not moving.

Monday, Sept 27, 1999.
An El Lay Kinda Day.
Sarah is from Columbus, Ohio. She is a Social Worker at a hospice and a longtime reader of this diary. The first time I was in Columbus I slept on Sarah's porch and played with her cat named Schmutzy. (Schmutz is a Yiddish word for little bits of dirt or stain and he's named after some black coloring on his nose.)

When Sarah planned her trip here to El Lay, I knew I wanted to see her but we didn't really plan on anything, a good traveler having no destination not intent on arriving and all that.

She didn't know she was walking into a perfect El Lay day.

When she first called I was awake so I tried to put her off for as long as I could. But I was hungry so what the heck. I zipped over the hill to join her and our mutual friend, Joel Goldman, for breakfast at Coco's, which is kind diner chain out here.

But Joel, who like me is a AIDS educator, had already left for a job interview and a blood test or something. So I ordered some scrambled eggs and bacon, hoping they'd wake me up.

Sarah has this great laugh. It's not loud. It's more like a high pitchee giggle and today she was kvelling over El Lay. "Look! A palm tree!!" she kept screaming over and over again after we took off in the car to go driving around.

We started down on Pico and La Cienega and crossed over to Century City. "This is so Jewish!" she said, "My dad would love me being here." She pointed out a old woman walking across the street and said, "She looks like she could be in Jerusalem."

We crossed over into Century City and then up through Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, up Roxbury to where Lucy used to live, then east on Sunset Blvd. "SUNSET BLVD.! THIS IS SO COOL!! AND LOOK AT THE PALM TREES!!!"

It was difficult to see the HOLLYWOOD sign through the unusually hazy fog but luckily we could see it, hazy in the distance as we crossed up to the Capitol Records buildiing, left on Hollywood Blvd. to Mann's Chinese (and the Hollywood Roosevelt where we did our first staged reading of TLS), over Laurel Canyon and then to Ronda and Kim's recording studio on Lankershim where she got to meet singer Ginger Freers.

What Sarah hadn't planned was that today was the day the Theatre L.A. Ovation Award nominations were announced down at the Coronet Theatre. So after having In And Out burgers with Jimmy and cats, we went back over the hill, down La Cienega and up to the offices in the Coronet where we saw Lori and Bryan.

Down in the courtyard about a hundred people were milling around nervously. Aunt Michael was late in arriving and while we were naturally hoping for nominations for TLS, we were also rooting for WHEN PIGS FLY because it's still running. Bob Stillman was there. Bob is now playing piano for PIGS and he says it's a bitch of a job because the piano never stops for almost two hours, but he's enjoying it.

We filed into the Coronet and all sat together -- Ronda and Tina had joined us by then. I"m proud to say that TLS garnered four nominations including Best Musical, and PIGS won five. So we were screaming and shouting all through the ceremony. Only thing that was disappointing was that we were not eligible for any writing awards. Oh well.

Sarah by this time had a grin so wide on her face that it was seriously starting to hurt. Mine too. Where else but El Lay could you go see palm trees, movie star homes, recording studios and awards ceremonies all in one day?


Tuesday, Sept 28, 1999.
Double Vision.
Tomorrow I'm going to get an MRI because something is wrong with my eyes. For a couple of months now I've noticed that my eyelids have dropped over my eyes and that I too frequently see double, especially in the morning -- sometimes I sit there for a half hour trying to get them to come into focus -- and in the evening as I get tired.

The doctor today said he thought it might be nerve damage from the high blood sugar. He says if this opinion holds, it's bilateral 3rd cranial nerve palsy. In other words, the nerves around my eyes are deteriorating and it's harder for them get focused.

However, just to make sure that it isn't a tumor in my head I'm going to have an MRI tomorrow morning. Then we'll try to continue to treat the high blood sugar. If anyone reading this has any experience with this, I'd love some advice.

Wednesday-Thursday, Sept 29-30, 1999.
A Cliffhanger Ending!
Good news and bad news.

The good news is that the MRI showed that I do, in fact, have a brain and that this brain does NOT have a tumor.

The bad news is that we don't know when this 3rd cranial nerve palsy is going away.

The good news is that it *probably* will go away.

The bad news is that it might get worse before it gets better or not get better at all. However, seeing the distress in my face, Dr. Peter assured me in loud, certain terms today that I am NOT losing my eyesight. I'm only "losing control of the muscles around the eyes."

Oh that's great relief. I'll have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, I suppose.

People have been sending me information on the net, too. One person described how her husband's eyelids fell completely shut. Another person said her eyes got better after a few months. Oy.

I totally look like a freak now, too. Today, Thursday, Jimmy and I went to see a movie, American Beauty (LOVED IT), which is at a theatre right next door to the place where I got my bifocals that I can't see out of anymore. Why can't I see out of my bifocals? Because in addition to my eyes being unable to easily go back and forth, they also are unable to go as far up and down as they used to and so in order to read I have been having to hold my glasses up with my hand -- very annoying.

So I sit at the counter and tell the girl my problem. She takes her teensy pliers and twists the nose pieces, puts them on my face, I tell her "more" and she does it again until I can finally read something.

Then I look in the mirror and I'm a total geek cuz now the glasses are sitting halfway up my forehead. Don't these people realize I have a sex symbol status to uphold?

I want my eyes back.

Dr. Peter says he believes this nerve palsy was caused by a delayed reaction of the high blood sugar I was suffering earlier this year. Of course, now I'm testing my blood every two hours and it just seems to rise and dip between 100 and 170.

He said, "170 won't cause this so if that's the highest your blood has been, we'll just stay the course of diet and pills and hope this goes away. Meanwhile, I'm sending you to a dietician and an eye specialist." ("Dr. Dreifuss, Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Spock, Dr...").

And you know what? I'm tired of this book so I'm starting a new diary book tomorrow. Maybe if I do this, all the bad stuff will all go away. My birthday is next week and I deserve a clean shot. And it occurs to me that this will be the first diary book that will end in a genuine Hollywood cliffhanger -- like the Batman TV series!

What will become of our traveling hero as he enters into this new phase of existence? Will he he be able to see the President when he visits the White House next week? Will he be able to find the stage in Baltimore? What about Omaha? What will happen when he sits to dinner with Jerry Falwell? (Yes, I'm going to Lynchburg with Rev. Mel White's Soul Force group). What about the long, long Pennsylvania tour? Will the college kids even listen to a geek/freak? Or will he scare them into having safe sex once they see what can happen?

It's all very scary but our hero has looked death in the eye and stared death down! He will prevail! So join us next time for the beginning of Vol. 2 Book 3. And it already has a name supplied by Mr. Witty himself, Jim Brochu:


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | To Book 3 >>>

© 1999 by Steve Schalchlin.
You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.