Volume 2 Book 6 Part 1 of Living In The Bonus Round
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin

[ Diary Index ]
[ Part 1 ][ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Book 7 ]

January 2001. El Lay, Orlando.

January 1-13, 2001.
Storms, Earthquakes & Ball Bins.
Hello reader. Welcome to a new diary "book," Volume 2, Book 6.
(The longtime reader knows I long-ago eschewed addressing my diary reader in the collective plural because I refuse to write for more than one person and I find it boring and infantile when someone addresses groups like they do on the morning "news" shows with a "Hello everyone." Makes me feel like I'm back in grade school expecting the teacher to hand out milk money.)

So, hello reader.

It might seem odd that I divide my life into books and name them before events happen but that's what I do. I start new books when it just feels right, like a new chapter is about to unfold. (The first time it happened, in August 1996 after the workshop of The Last Session closed and I had become a Lazarus Back-From-The-Dead.

Closing image: Standing on a small stage in West Hollywood facing a standing ovation, an intravenous wrap on my arm, a surprise appearance by my parents and all the hope in the world that comes with the feeling of living in the bonus round.
NEWSFLASH: Just as I was writing this five minutes ago there came an earthquake that gave us a big jolt. It lasted for about 10 or more seconds. For a moment I thought I was back on the cruise ship. Thurber and Steinbeck went running. Steinbeck is still scared -- his tail is down in fear position and he's hunched like he's ready to panic.

Okay, we're alive. We were in the big one of, was it '94? They're so scary when the start rolling under you cuz they're unpredictable and you don't know if they're going to stop or just keep rockin'. Scary.

Speaking of ships, Jimmy and I began the year with a little vacation. First one in years. A cruise. (We met on a cruise ship.) And did we enjoy it? Well, yes and no. As Jimmy put it, "When I was on the cruise all I wanted was to be here at the theatre. Now that I'm here all I want is to be on the ship."

Here we are in Mexico trying to call home. Me, in every port instead of sightseeing, I headed straight to the nearest internet cafe.

Jimmy unsuccessfully trying to call El Portal.
Me in an internet cafe posting on my own discussion board.

This is Cabo San Lucas in the harbor where we anchored. We liked it better on the ship than on the land, no offense to the Cabo-ans.

My favorite picture from the trip is one of me in the kids' ball bin. And how did Steve end up in the kid's ball bin on board this ship? (Other than the fact I was closer in age to the kids than I was to most of the other passengers on the ship?)

I was invited, of course! Jimmy is a shipboard lecturer. We were on this cruise because he was working it. He was staff (lest anyone mistakenly think we could afford a cruise like this). One of the other people working on the ship was a guy named David Faro. He takes care of the kids in this kid's playroom on board so the moms and dads can have some private ship time. After I told him I love kids he invited me to join him the next day cuz he always can use other adults. I think there was a total of 29 kids on this ship. He was SO GOOD with these kids. They ADORED him and he was so patient, giving them little projects and making crafts and videos together.

David told them I was a songwriter so I started making up little songs with the kids' names in them. Then we made friendship bracelets and that's when I saw "it."

The ball bin.

When I was a kid we didn't have ball bins. The first time I saw one the ONLY thing I wanted to do was jump in and play but they've always been in a McDonald's or at a fair; too small for a big adult like me. I could just see the stares I'd get if I jumped into a ball bin at a McDonald's. They'd have the cops there so fast.

But here I was the babysitter. It was my JOB to play! So into the ball bin I went. At first all the kids threw balloons and big beach balls at me. I did this dramatic death scene and totally disappeared beneath the balls. It felt SO COOL!!

Which face is the kid?

At one point, two little girls were asking me about my googly eye so I took off my glasses and showed them the prism and made faces. Then we set up a trick on David. When I showed up later all the kids were to point at me and started screaming, "GOOGLY EYE!! GOOGLY EYE!!" David was HORRIFIED. I don't think we ever told him it was planned.

The last two nights of the cruise we were on the outskirts of two big storm systems that hit Los Angeles. It was like sleeping  in a rocking hammock. I loved it. When I IM'ed with my dad today, he told me when he was in the navy he also loved storms at sea.

We are definitely going to have our Cincinnati production of TLS in July, the 11th - 27th directed by the gifted Terry LaBolt (longtime musical director for the College-Conservatory of Music's musical theater program) at the Ensemble Theatre Company in downtown Cincinnati. We are already making plans for a big TLS fan convention. There is other news connected to this production and also to a possible production on the west coast but it's too early to talk.

Just a few moments ago we received word that Stan Freeman has died. Stanley is one of Jimmy's oldest friends, a world renowned jazz pianist who once conducted for Marlene Dietrich. He wrote two Broadway musicals ("Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen" and "I Had A Ball"), special material for stars like Carol Burnett and it was in Stan Freeman's apartment using his piano that I wrote most of the score of The Last Session.

Jimmy talks about one of his most supremely happy moments in life was lying beneath Stan's piano while Stan played Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" one afternoon. Stanley was one of the definitive Gershwin interpreters and he once played Oscar Levant in a play called "At Wit's End."

What is it with January? Last time this year we lost Ghosty and Dickie.

Well, this is certainly a rip-roaring opening entry to Book Six. Earthquakes, storms at sea, a death in the family, a new TLS production on the horizon and me getting to play in a ball bin. And this is just day one.

Our last sunset on board.
(Click on pic for larger wallpaper size.
A SPECIAL BONUS from the bonus round.)

When I look at this sunset, I will now
always think of my friend Stan Freeman.
Rest in peace, Stanley.

You were one of the greats and I miss you.

January 14-19, 2001.
Another Steve.
One of these days I'm going to get an email that'll say, "Don't you get tired of being so stupid?" This morning, about 9:45am I was on the phone with a radio station in Indiana setting up an interview for this coming Wednesday morning. The radio guy wanted to know if I would be available at 11:30am EST -- 8:30am my time.

I thought I would be but then I remembered that I was supposed to go to Orlando for a leadership retreat next weekend and wasn't sure what day I was flying. So I reached into my "ALL PLANE TICKETS GO INTO THIS POCKET" in my backpack, got out my plane tickets and saw that my flight was to leave in two hours.

This morning two hours.

I went into a total blind panic (as I always do being the sensitive guilt-ridden type) -- I'm not sure WHAT I said to the radio guy. He probably thinks I'm a completely insane person. Then I called Jimmy at the theatre who was in a very sensitive meeting. (Tonight they open the first show that Jimmy is officially artistic director of, SNAPSHOTS by Barbara Lindsay -- an original play he chose when he saw it at the Actors Alley studio workshop.)

So with money tight and the creditors at the door, with him working 14 hours a day (in the role of producer as well as artistic director) I have to call him and tell him he has to take me to the airport RIGHT NOW. I race into the other room and grab an assortment of clothes, my computer, my meds -- and what else? I knew I was forgetting something.

Now I'm sitting in the San Francisco airport realizing I have no idea what hotel this is taking place at. Did they say they'd come and get me? Was I supposed to get my own transportation? I have no idea.

This has been a week of me up in my tower drowning in orchestration hell. I don't know how to orchestrate things. And I didn't realize, until I started doing this how complicated the new songs are. "James Robison" is in 7/4 time on the first verses. "Near You" has this totally off-kilter tempo/rhythm change in the middle of it...

And the music I've been listening to in prep for this work is also not very traditional. I've been listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer, Eno, Strawbs ("Ghosts"), Creedence ("Heard It Through The Grapevine", the So-So's (Shawn Decker's new band -- he sent me their first studio demo; it's like garage REMish neo-Gothic acoustic drone-y rock), Peter Gabriel and a few other random choice mental bits.

It's exciting to do this work but it's also very slow and cumbersome for me. I'm a song man. I think in terms of lyrics, melody and basic harmonization. I like songs compact and complete and not needing anything except a piano or a guitar. But that creates a problem when you're orchestrating because if you wrote the songs so they don't NEED anything else, then the "anything else" can easily become too much.

The ability to download free sound fonts off the internet puts a WEALTH of sounds at one's fingertips and suddenly you find yourself intoxicated with power -- but then overwhelmed at the explosion of choices. Simple is better. But at this point, because these songs are still in the beginning stages of the process, I'm gettin' off on just turning all Wall of Sound -- just to do it!

Meanwhile, I spent three nights down at the El Portal watching the final week of previews for SNAPSHOTS. Watching how a simple instruction from a director followed by a small adjustment by a skilled actor can completely change the effect of an entire scene and actually "make" the rest of the play work even better than it has been.

Okay, it's almost time to fly so I'lI report later and suddenly it dawns on me what I forgot to pack: razor, toothbrush, etc. It's amazing that I'm still alive. Okay, I'm going back to reading.

Current book: "Ender's Shadow."

January 20-22, 2001.
Collateral Damage.
"I became a musician to avoid weekends like this," I said to Maggie who was lying over in the bed next to mine. Maggie the grandmother. Maggie the human rights activist who was one of the first people to discover how to use the internet subversively enough to change the policy of a major corporation by merely setting up a webpage several years ago.

She laughed at me. Maggie laughs at me a lot. (I also make Maggie cry. In fact, I make a lot of people cry. Some people like crying. Some people hate crying. Some people hate people who love to cry. Myself, I love to cry. I think the whole damned world needs a long, good cry, but I digress.)

I don't know how much I can tell publicly right now about the project we are working on but it's also not a secret. Bridges Across is simple. Bridges Across is small. Bridges Across is misunderstood. This weekend I was trying to decide if Bridges Across actually does or even should exist.

That's what we were all there to do: To see if we had a purpose worth pursuing. The first thing our facilitator, Cindy (who was volunteering her professional skills), asked us to do was to answer the question, " I will consider this weekend a success when..."

My first thought was "...when I can go home." You see, yesterday morning I had promised Jimmy that I would volunteer on the phones down his theatre since it's opening night of SNAPSHOTS. Unfortunately, that was also the day I had forgotten I was to fly to this thing. This corporate seminar/workshop.

So, my heart was in North Hollywood where my beloved partner in life is opening the first show of his new career as artistic director. I wanted to be there in my tux. I also wanted to be hiding out behind the piano in the lobby. (You don't think a piano is a good place to hide out? Meeting people terrifies me. It really does. Not that I'm not good with people, mind you. I think I'm VERY good with people. But in my mind I am a dumb hick from small town Texas. I don't have good social skills. So at public events I prefer to hide behind the piano doing the one thing I know I can do well: Making noise.)

So, grumpily, my answer to Cindy's question -- the one she wrote on a sheet on her flippade was, "I'll know this weekend was a success when I know why the hell I'm here." I didn't mean it sarcastically, although I did like that it made me smile. I was dead serious. I needed to know why I was there. And I wanted it to be funny.

So we went all day long on Saturday writing things on pieces of paper, sticking them up on the walls and playing ice breaker games until the entire room looked like a kindergarten class. We were surrounded by pieces of paper with words, drawings,dreams and visions. (And since this was all volunteer and entirely self-generated by the seven people involved, our meeting took place in a musty hotel room in Orlando Florida where it was freezing cold and muggy at the same time. ???)

The overpriced breakfast buffet on Saturday morning was teeming with Baptists wearing football t-shirts that said "In The Real Game Of Life There Is No Overtime. Only SUDDEN DEATH. Jesus loves you." -- fundamentalism having finally become neo-Gothic. (Is there a Baptist Death Rock band, The Deadly Galileans, on the horizon?)

Seven people in kindergarten in a mildew-soaked hotel room in Orlando NOT going to the theme parks. (There was supposed to be eight of us but one had to cancel at the last moment due to a health emergency). So we were seven people crowded in this room with little notepads, flipboards, and blue bic pens, sitting on five uncomfortable chairs and two moist beds.

Sunday morning I signed up to do the meditation. (Cindy had asked us to volunteer to give opening meditations during the three day retreat. It could be anything. A poem, a story. I was working on this lyric about my old friend Brother Bob, a Southern Baptist preacher friend from the old days who had reappeared in my life as a result of the net.)

Then suddenly, into my inbox came an email (this is edited to protect the specific identity of the person):

Steve -

I saved your email address three years ago because I knew that one day I'd  have the courage to email you.

I'm glad you're still with us.

I'm in my 20s, I JUST came out, and I'm a Christian. I live in NYC; I'm a musical theater performer.

My dad is an evangelical minister...

and he's threatening to disown me.


I need the names of support groups to whom I can refer my parents, and although they live in rural Illinois... Even during my "I'm waiting for God to change me" days, I admired your spirit and willingness to connect cross-culturally with strong Christians.

If you know the names of individuals, online chats, or authors -- the more "Christianesque" the better -- I would truly, deeply appreciate your help...

As I read this email to the people assembled there in Orlando I looked up and said, "This person saved my email address for three years because he heard from someone I would talk across the religious divide."

I looked up to the others said it again. "This person kept my email for three years because he heard from a friend that I would talk to people on the other side of the divide. Has our world really come to the point where it feels like a miracle when one merely TALKS to the other side?"

But even more than that, I realized that I did not have an answer or a place to send this father. While Exodus International, the exgay religious umbrella group does counsel parents to keep their kids in the family, there's also an undercurrent of doing it in order to get the kids to change. And the father wouldn't have listened to a group like PFLAG because it's decidedly pro-gay.

Suddenly I had my answer to why I was there this weekend. I had found the vacuum. We had to create a place where a parent and a child with differing values could get unbiased, neutral information, resources and support provided by people who live that divide.

As I thought about the pain this young man and his father was suffering through, I found myself weeping. (I'm also a big drama queen, but whatever.) And when we got to the part of the workshop where we were envisioning who could benefit from what we do, at the top of the list was "families." Families who needed permission to love.

I have to tell you about "Sonia moans". Sonia, one of those attending our conference, is a rocket scientist who lives in Burbank. She's got a mega-wattage of brains in that skinny, modest little body of hers. Example: She figured out how to play piano through a mathmatical formula she discovered based on the vibrations per second of each note. In music parlance, it means she discovered, geometrically, how octaves, fifths and harmonics work. It's all posted on her site).

Anyway, besides this amazing brain, she also has unbelievable depth of heart. She feels everything on a very deep level. And when you say something that she feels, you get a Sonia Moan.

The letter from the kid and the subsequent feelings I had regarding what it meant to me released an ocean of Sonia Moans more pleasant than all the attractions at Universal Studios (the entrance of which was positioned at the end of our hotel's driveway.) By the end of the conference, we were all competing to see who could get the most Sonia moans.

All day Saturday we had worked hard. All day Sunday we continued to work till late into the night. Vision statements. Mission statements. Ground rules. Common values. Interests versus positions. Our strengths, our weaknesses.

One of our weaknesses, for instance, is that both sides of the divide mistrust our motives. Some conservative Christians are suspicious of cross-divide dialogue, fearing it could lead to a compromise of their values. Some pro-gay advocates have accused us of being secretly working for the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer's group. (They're both emphatically wrong.)

Caught in the cross-fire.

So we worked non-stop for two full days, laboriously working through the process -- Cindy is an AMAZING facilitator -- and on the third day this virus-infected body collapsed from exhaustion, whereupon they insisted I go to bed while they worked on, not that there was choice given the fact that I was falling asleep at the meeting.

I felt badly that I might be letting them down but they reassured me they could handle things. So I went into Maggie's and my room, pulled the dark curtain over the window and fell into a deep coma-like slumber. At one point I went into a feverish vivid dream. Outside that hotel room window in the air I could see a huge whirlwind of battle jets and space fighters whirling about.

Thousands of military fighters reaching high into the sky and whooshing down closely over the parking lot. It seemed so real! When I woke up, I was covered in sweat and shaking like leaf.

I shouldn't have been surprised that I had this dream given the fact that I'm finishing up Ender's Shadow (by Orson Scott Card), a science fiction novel where human fighters are across the galaxy fighting a space war against alien insects. (Um, the book is way better than it sounds.)

After I woke up and realized it was a dream, I also realized it was how I felt about the culture war. The people who have become collateral damage. I thought of people like the kid who wrote me the letter above. Kids thrown out of their homes. Parents who feel they've lost their kids. I even thought of the recent news photo of the Palestinian boy and his father being fired upon and killed.

The culture war. Collateral damage. All in the name of God.

I thought of seven people in a hotel room: Two college students named Justin and Jeramy, Ron a computer programmer, a grandmother named Maggie, a songwriter named Steve, Sonia the rocket scientist and Cindy the facilitator, sweating, talking, crying, writing, eating and dreaming that they could find a way to stand in the gap and make a difference.

Somebody's got to.

January 24-25, 2000.
Happy Deathday?
On Wednesday the 24th Jimmy and I drove over Laurel Canyon to Stan Freeman's apartment to pick up some pictures, paintings and books that Stanley left for Jimmy. His next door neighbor let us in and we began taking things off the walls and gazing again at moments in his life -- there he is with Marlene Dietrich taking a bow, there's that weird old green painting featuring a scary, bizarre landscape, and a weird red one...

It seems this is the time of year for death in the bonus round. One year it was Nik Venet. Then it was Ghost. Then it was Dickie. This year Stanley.

Dickie. One year ago. January 25th.

It seems like a century past. I didn't cry any tears today but the heavens did. During the loading process we got one of those instant coastal rainstorms which pounded us out of nowhere and in my haste to get the paintings out of the rain, I accidentally ran the corner of one painting through another.

Torn paintings. Torn hearts.

The painting I ripped by Louis Pornin. A weird one by Kanumitsu (?).
Linda Delayen's quilt for DickieI think of Gail today, who loved Dickie and nursed him and was there when he died. I think of Jess the teenage playwright whose writing Dickie loved -- sitting next to him, watching him beam as her play was performed in Denver. I think of the TLS list (many of whom's names are criss crossed on a quilt designed and made by Linda Delayen), a ragtag group of fans, lovers, patients and friends who Dickie nurtured as if they were his own. From Linda Dahlstrom:
"[Last night] I... dreamed we were all together - kind of like Denver, I guess. Dickie was there, yet we all knew he couldn't stay and everyone was hugging. When I woke this morning, the first thing I remembered was just hugging and loving everyone."
I think of the day we buried his ashes when the wind whipped out of nowhere and clouds burst from over the horizon to push us on our way.

The Blueberry Dickiemobile. Popsicles. The Theory. His smile which seemed to have a billion teeth. The day he told me he wanted to marry Gail. His humongous laugh.

Stanley left us his piano. The piano upon which I wrote most of TLS. I tried to play it yesterday as we were getting things but it was terribly out of tune. Toward the end, Stanley couldn't play. His fingers just wouldn't go where he wanted them to go and that's a tough sentence for a man who one year topped Downbeat's poll of the top jazz pianists in the world.

Stanley who, in World War II used to substitute for the neurotic Oscar Levant playing "Rhapsody in Blue" for the soldiers -- and then went on as Levant in a one-man play by Joel Kimmel called "At Wit's End."

Jimmy: "Stan had a reverse nickname. The world knew him as Stan Freeman but all his friends called him Stanley." Funny the things you think of.

John, the next door neighbor who helped Stanley in his last days remembered Stan had a torturous skin itch. An itch so deep nothing could make it go away. Not topical ointments, not creams nor gels. He said Stan was ready to go. Just like Dickie was ready to go when his liver gave out. (I remembered when I was ready to go.)

As we finished loading the car, we drove back over the hill in the downpour and as suddenly as it came, the clouds parted and the blue sky appeared. As if Nik, Ghost, Stanley and Dickie were telling us to move onward into the light, that they'd be with us always in our thoughts and prayers, and in our music and our plays and our hearts.

And this morning, as if someone was sending a signal to underline that renewal, I opened the LA Times to find a rave review for Barbara Lindsay's SNAPSHOTS, the debut Actor's Alley play for Jimmy as artistic director of El Portal. I took special pride that the reviewer mentioned how the piece had been so well workshopped (Jimmy's invisible hand).

So maybe that's a small thing, but it reminded me that life belongs to those who live it. I say in my Bonus Round concerts for young people that we make a choice every single day to live or die -- and that I know a lot of walking dead people.

Dickie and Stanley, I loved you. And I pledge to live that much more fully -- no walking dead men in this house, to drink from the waters of life, and to always remember the gifts you brought to my life by just being. By just being.

January 26-February 2, 2000.
Music & Theatre.
I hope, if you're a new reader, you don't think it's all doom and gloom around here. January just seems to be a dramatic month. This diary entry is more fun and more reflective of our lives.

For instance, this week I made a juicy, delicious sugar-free apple pie using granulated fructose which I found in a bin here at a health food store:

We woke up Friday morning to a HUGE full page article on Jimmy in a Friday Feb. 2 headline story in the L.A. Daily News. He, of course, is funny as ever and it's a good feature. He's also going to be featured in a big article in an upcoming Stagebill magazine.

If he's not directing one show, he's casting another while trying to attract members for his board of directors, pay the bills, make contracts and deals, and host the performances. I haven't seen him work this hard since he took that job at the carny juggling cats.

But it's just as well cuz I've been in my loft continuing my work on orchestrating the songs in our new musical while entertaining the occasional visitor. For instance, my friend Ritt Henn dropped by. Ritt is this gigantically tall bassist/songwriter who has his own cable access show called "A Man, A Bass and A Box of Stuff."

He writes hilarious songs and sings them on his show and in coffeehouse concerts all over the country. He's the only person I know who can do this on bass ( where you don't miss an accompanying guitar or piano). We hadn't connected up in awhile so I invited him over for a "song trading" jam session.

He carries this HUGE double bass around with him everywhere he goes. We spent the entire afternoon singing, playing telling stories about the old days of National Academy of Songwriters, the Acoustic Underground shows and just generally had a blast. (He mentioned me -- not in a GOOD way -- in one of his songs from days of yore.)

I always feel cool around Ritt cuz he's the embodiment of "musician cool." And ladies, he's single & straight. So, send those applications in. We tried to jam on some of my newer songs but they're just so damn weird with all the time changes and tempo changes. I really should just sit down and write a "normal" song for once in my life.

I also took my camera down to El Portal where Jimmy is working with the great actor Harold Gould on a new comedy by playwright Tom Dulack called SHOOTING CRAPS about a small town mayor who wants to erect an Indian gaming casino in her town except she has no Indians. (So Uncle Carmine sends off to the "family" in Chicago for an "Indian.")

Harold Gould helps Jimmy learn to eat properly
On Monday evening we had a play reading here at the apartment. Jimmy is directing his own "The Lucky O'Learys" in the smaller Circle Theatre in the El Portal complex.

This play is set to open on St. Patrick's Day and it's about two rivalrous elderly sisters who have each made a deal with their favorite saint to win the biggest lottery in world history. This picture is Jason Squires and Christine Anselmo who play Brian and Amy the young lovers. (His mother would prefer he become a priest).

My next trip starts on the 7th of February, a 15-minute showcase in North Carolina. Then I got to Indiana University and the University of Texas Pan Am down near the border. After I return, Bob Cox and I will go into the studio and make a few demos. (Then I'll post the MP3s so you can follow along.)

The newest is that we are finally going to get our San Francisco production of THE LAST SESSION. Ed Decker at the New Conservatory Theatre met with Jimmy while I was in Orlando and has scheduled a production for October of this year. That gives us what should be two really good productions coming up: Cincinnati in June, San Francisco in October.

The last bit of news is that we're going to have a memorial service for Stan Freeman on March 18, Sunday at noon at El Portal in North Hollywood. Michael Feinstein and Rosemary Clooney are among the guests who will perform and say a few words about Stanley. (I begged Jimmy to let me sing "Save Me A Seat" since I wrote it on Stanley's piano. His reaction: We'll talk. Can't say I didn't try).

The Lucky O'Learys cast (Jim on right)

    [ Diary Index ]
    [ Part 1 ][ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Book 7 ]

© 2000 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.