Volume 2 Book 6 Part 2 of Living In The Bonus Round
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin

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February 2001. El Lay, Orlando, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas.

February 3-11, 2001.
The College Carnival.
It took me an entire day fly to Charlotte, North Carolina (flying through the abominable Detroit airport) to attend a convention of college performers selling their wares to students and faculty. TJ and Tracy from Campuspeak who were kind enough to greet my plane and give me a ride to the hotel.

The Detroit airport looks like a crowded bus terminal

Charlotte NC from my hotel room

Tracy broke her ankle recently so she was in a wheelchair and on crutches. We pretended to be a couple so we could use her AAA card to get a much needed discount on the room. . :-)

On the plane over I became totally involved in reading my current novel, "He, She and It" by Marge Piercy. It's a SF story set in the future where the world has been ecologically ravaged and everything has been divided up by vicious corporate conglomerates. The lead character, a Jewish woman named Shira is in love with a mechanical man.

I felt a bit like a robot myself standing at the Campuspeak booth all day for three days trying to convince people to book me into their schools. Inwardly, every cell in my body was rebelling because, well, I'm shy dammit!

You see, in the world of college programs there are basically two categories. On one side are the serious lecturers who stand at a podium and preach about binge drinking or body image issues or leadership. On the other side are the "entertainers" like comedians who put toilet seat covers over their heads or musical groups like The Return, which perfectly imitate groups like the Beatles. Or novelty acts like the guy with the 10-foot anaconda snakes or the person who brings a giant machine that makes wax hands.

Steve sings!

Where do I fit? Well, I was put in the category of "lecturer" so on the first day, before half the colleges even arrived, I was allowed 20 minutes on a program jammed between two motivational speakers. ("When they flash the red light, you have to get off the stage," was my cue.)

Then for three days I stood red-faced at a booth and handed out stickers and fliers. It's just not in me to be a salesman.

Worse, they charged us OUTRAGEOUS prices for our meals ($25 a pop) which, at noon consisted of a bag lunch with a crushed sandwich and an apple; dinners being small rubber chickens and four string beans and a sugary dessert I couldn't eat.

Tracy, Shawn, TJ & Gwenn

Mitigating all of this was the fact that I got to spend time with Tracy and TJ, plus my godson Shawn Decker was there for one day, so I was really happy to spend some time with him and his beautiful partner in life Gwenn. We didn't get to hang that much, but I do love seeing them. (Be prepared for our best Hemo2Homo movie review yet, by the way. It will be ready very soon.)

And once I got the hang of the event, I released all my rebelliousness and started to have fun. I even held the giant snake. Best of all, I met a lot of really cool people -- and the event ran like clockwork with the organizers really advocating for the performers.

We had one big dramatic moment when a fire alarm went off and they ran us out into the streets while two big fire trucks pulled up and firefighters ran in. It was all very exciting!

At the end of each day, there was a big "co-op" meeting where "buyers" from each school would review the various performers and join together to bring them to their schools at greatly reduced prices. Gwenn and Shawn did really well -- and some of the other performers also had scads of schools that booked them.

I, on the other hand, got a total of one.


On the way to the airport, in the shuttle, there were two women sitting behind me who complimented my performance saying it was the best thing of the whole weekend. They asked me how I did in getting bookings and I told them I had several schools that expressed interest but that I didn't really seem to fit into any of the set categories.

She said, "I couldn't find a place to fit you in either. Too bad, cuz I think you're an incredible talent."

So it goes. But I think the toilet seat guy made a killing.

Both my diary entry called "Happy Deathday" and Bev's entry called "Speaking Ill Of The Dead" received attention from an online magazine on nbci.com called Al Shroeder's Lives On Line. http://members.nbci.com/_XMCM/novanote/feb2001/feb72001.htm

I guess that's a good thing. :-)

Jimmy and I have been invited to hand out awards at the LA Drama Critics Circle presentation on April 2. The theme is "couples." Bev said they must have asked us because Tom Cruise and what's her name have broken up. I know it's a cliche, but what's wrong with heterosexuals that they just can't keep their marriages together?

February 12-14, 2001.
Indiana University.
The last time I was at Indiana University, it was one of the most emotional concerts of my life because there was an AIDS quilt hanging behind me and the mother of one of the kids on the quilt was in the audience. So I had fond memories of IU and was looking forward to returning.

Students helping out at the IU concert.
Katherine Brown is second from right.

This time, Katherine Brown the Health Educator who brought me, also arranged a full schedule, remembering how much fun we had had the last time I was at IU. But first, after exactly one evening at home (where I picked up clean socks and underwear and gave Jimmy and cats some quick hugs and kisses), I performed a bonus round concert on campus for a small but lively group of people.

At Indiana University

And because so many already knew my music, I did a two act concert -- act one being my usual songs and stories from TLS -- and act two, a Q&A session with new songs.

What I hadn't expected was to see two of my favorite people in the world, Rhea Murray and her son Bruce. Rhea is a heroic mother who, after Bruce was continually beaten up in school, took him out to educate him herself (which led to HER going to college with a 4.0 grade average and becoming the author of a great book called A Journey to Moriah).

The next morning, not feeling well after a fitful night of Sustiva-driven nightmares, Katherine and I drove to Edgewood High School and did a concert for the juniors and seniors. This is a picture I took of them after I accused them of not participating loudly enough in "Friendly Fire" -- a total lie, of course. Afterwards, one of the teachers told me they'd never seen these kids this quiet and that I truly got to them.

Juniors and Seniors at Edgewood High School, Bloomington Indiana
helping me with "Friendly Fire"
After singing for them we raced back across town where I did a presentation for a class of theatre students at IU. I sang them songs and told them the story of the lady who decided not to commit suicide after seeing TLS. I just wanted these kids to know that theatre can be as powerful as church -- and is as much a calling as it is an artform. By the end of the class we were all weeping like babies.

Theatre students at Indiana University
After I got back to the hotel room, I called Jimmy and told him how much I loved him and missed him on this Valentine's Day. He said he was working such long hours that even if I had been there we would barely have seen each other.

That night, the Sustiva nightmares were worse and I was waking up nearly every hour on the hour.  By the time I boarded the jam-packed plane for Houston I was barely functioning and my stomach was churning. I even pulled the sickness bag from the pocket in front of me and held onto it just in case.

Luckily for the girl sitting next to me I made it without incident. :-)

February 15-16, 2001.
Feels Like Home.
"It feels so GOOD to be back in Texas," I said to the gathering of students, teachers and others in big hall at the University of Texas Pan Am which is near McAllen Texas, five miles from the Mexican border. "I knew I was home when I saw Whataburger, the Black-Eyed Pea, Dillard's and Foley's."

I was invited here by Pete Villareal who is in charge of student services on campus. He had seen me at the BACCHUS/GAMMA conference in St. Louis and immediately thought I could make a difference for his students.

The thing that struck me most about McAllen is how NEW it looked. Sprawling with malls, medical centers and hotels, it looks like it was built yesterday -- a far cry from what many would presume a "border town" should look like. The airport was pristine and modern too.

Posing with the peer educators at UT Pan Am

Pete and I shared lunch together and he expressed his concern that so many of the new HIV infections occur in people from Latino/Hispanic families which is the majority here. There are many contributing cultural reasons for this, including the fact that homosexuality is considered "shameful to the family," driving many who might otherwise identify as gay into opposite sex marriages while having same sex relationships one the side. (i.e. "they don't really count.")

In other words, since they don't accept themselves as gay they never have a chance to form healthy same sex relationships, but instead have furtive and anonymous encounters, frequently unsafe, and then bring the virus back home. Denial and homophobia are two of the most virulent factors in the spread of HIV and hepatitis, which apparently is running rampant in this part of the country.

So I felt particularly charged up to make sure this concert was impactful. After our lunch I went back to the hotel room and slept. when I awoke almost all the sickness from the night before had disappeared and I was grateful I wouldn't have to battle nausea on stage.

The UT Pan Am campus also looks brand new. Each building has large immaculately spacious rooms and I particularly enjoyed the Tex-Mex culture having spent a summer living in Mexico back when I was 19. (One of the things that constantly appalls me is the racism I hear from some who have absolutely no idea of what they're missing when they fear a "brown tide" sweeping across the border. Mexican people, for the most part, are a hard-working intelligent cultured family-focused people who could teach ALL of us what it means to be civilized.)

Since the days when I lived in Mexico and Texas I can see how much more tightly integrated Tex-Mex has become -- and I delighted in showing off the fact that I can roll my r's and speak Spanish words with some aplomb. (Okay, I'm not GREAT at it, but I do make a determined effort -- there's nothing that makes me cringe worse that badly pronounced Spanish words).

Me gusto a cantando

Pete did a great job promoting the concert even though beforehand he was nervous, wondering if he would get a good response (he did). I sang my usual Bonus Round concert, but just before "When You Care," I opened the floor to questions -- and they had tons of them! That's one of the ways I know I've engaged the audience, when they ask probing questions, not just about me, but about how they can confront people who think AIDS is "over."

I reminded them that just this past week, there was a news item about the virulent new strain of HIV which has appeared, which is immune to all the new AIDS drugs and that 50% of all new AIDS infections happen to people under the age of 25. (It's also scary to think that enough years have actually passed that this group doesn't remember the years when infected people were dropping like flies and AIDS equaled almost instant death.)

At the end of the concert, they were on their feet instantly and after I offered free hugs to everyone in the audience, almost everyone took me up on the offer, men and women. I also told them -- and I say this to you, too, reader -- if you write me, I'll write you back and speak privately to you as much as you need. I do this work because I love it and because I believe if just one person can be saved from making a bad choice in their personal behavior, it will not only save their life but the lives of the people who love them.

As I said to the theatre class in Indiana, this is my calling. This is what I've been put on this earth to do, so please do not feel that writing me is "bothering" me in any way. You are why I do this. We will always be connected to each other. Tu eres mi vida.

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© 2001 by Steve Schalchlin.
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