Volume 2 Book 8 Part 4 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin
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Columbus OH, El Lay
Onstage in Columbus Ohio.
July 16, 2001.
A Hospital in Columbus.
Before I say anything about the near miraculous concert at in the beautiful auditorium in Riverside hospital in Columbus I just want to say that I love my friend Sarah Glaser. Sarah, longtime readers of this diary know is a licensed Social Worker who stumbled upon this diary back five years ago when it was brand new. At the time she was working in a dialysis unit and she wrote me saying that she would print out pages from this diary and read them to the patients.
Later, she flew to New York City and attended the opening of the off-off-Broadway Currican production of TLS (and has never let me forget that when she introduced herself in the lobby I didn't know who she was until she prompted me despite the fact that we had been writing each other regularly for a year or more).
Then, the first time I went to Columbus I was to sing in her new place of employment, a hospice. It was a concert for the hospice workers and Sarah put me up at her house, practically waiting on me hand and foot. Of course, I milked that for all it was worth. (I like it when people wait on me hand and foot).
This time around she decided she was NOT going to be intimidated by me and she was so PROUD to report to her colleagues that not only had she NOT taken the day off from work to tend to me but she also refused to go out Sunday night and get me some non-fat cottage cheese for in the morning.
Sassily, she declared, "You can eat eggs. Just get up and fix 'em for yourself."
The one thing she DID provide for me was Lyla Grace, her new kitten. Since I was really missing Thurber and Steinbeck after two weeks away from home, the fact that this kitty loved to hang around my neck like a fur stole was a definite plus.
The other thing Miss Sarah let me know was "...you better be good. I've gone to a lot of trouble to set this concert up and I want at least two hours of music."
"Now hold on," I protested. "For one thing, my program is only one hour long. People do not want to sit for two hours at a time. Bad idea. I won't do it. No."
Look," she demanded, "I have announced this on all the hospice newsletters, people are driving in from all over the state, we have arranged for people to get Continuing Education Credits for showing up, all my fellow workers (nurses, doctors, patients, social workers) are going to be there... I'm just saying you better be good. I've gone to a lot of trouble for you." Since she was acting as producer, she had gotten a baby grand Yamaha piano donated, she had promoted this statewide and though I was also donating my time, she let me know that I better come through.
Well! This was a NEW Sarah. Not only was she treating me like bad company from out of town but she was threatening me! AND she was going around the hospice bragging about how she wasn't letting me push her around like in the old days.
I just smiled quietly to myself and told her not to worry.
One more thing. That morning she added that I would be introduced by an 11 year old boy named Alex dressed up like the Saturday Night Live Mike Myers character, Linda Richmond (the one who loves Barbra Streisand). I looked at her like she was nuts, of course. A concert about death, healthcare and dying introduced by an 11 year old Linda Richmond? Was this a joke? (Apparently not). She could tell from the look on my face that I was, oh let's say, skeptical.
"Listen," she said, "He's hilarious. He does all these impersonations and he always makes me laugh -- and since I'm scared to talk in public, I asked him to dress up like Linda Richmond and do it for me." Then we got him on the phone where he proceeded to read his intro in his Linda Richmond voice. We had to prompt him on the proper pronunciation of a few Yiddishisms but he WAS funny. Still, it just seemed weird. However, I thought to myself, "Okay, she's producing. I'll go along. What can it hurt?"
I spent most of the day relaxing in bed. I was still quite high on the spectacular time I had just had in Cincinnati, my inbox was overflowing with not just praise, but heartbreaking stories from people affected by the show, and congratulations from all over. So I answered email, slept, ate eggs and a turkey sandwich and played with the kitten who was, by then, jumping all over me. It was a very good day. (Sarah, of course, was at work bragging about how she was not taking care of me).
Finally, the time came. We went down early for a sound check and I had a chance to look at the room. Very nice. Good piano. Nice stage. Modern facility. Excellent. So far Sarah had done well.
Susan H. Edwards Auditorium
Then came the best moment of all. Alex Thomas came in with his dad and mom -- and proceeded to entertain us for a non-stop half hour at least. This kid is funny. He not only had Linda Richmond down but he sat there and did an impersonation of Christopher Walken having an conversation with Jay Mohr. Now how hip is that?
Alex Thomas imitating Christopher Walken.
Alex's parents, Janie and Jerry, I fell in love with immediately. They had all just come from a thrift store where they bought a whole "Linda Richmond" outfit. Backstage, Alex (by now, half in drag) had us all in stitches doing imitations and other take-offs. He also peppered me with questions about off-Broadway, about "making it" in the biz, etc. I kept thinking, "This kid's gonna make it. He's fierce."
Sarah and Steve cracking up at "Linda"
Finally, it was time for the show and Sarah began by welcoming all the groups, thanking the sponsors and then pretending to break down in nervous anxiety (which wasn't much of a "pretend"). So she introduced "her friend" Linda Richmond.
I'm not sure what the audience was doing by this point. I couldn't see them from where I was sitting. I think they were in a state of shock when this midget version of Mike Myers walked out on stage. But there he was! And soon he had the whole crowd in the palm of his purple-nailed hands.
1. "Steven. Steven, Steven, Steven. What a sweet sweet boy.
What a mensch. What a shayna punim...."
2. "Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island. Discuss."
3. Dad had the video camera all set up.I was very excited to sing this show. Because as much as I loved doing TLS, I felt somewhat constrained by the limitations of doing the same thing every night. (In my concerts I almost never do the same show twice). When I finally sat down at the Yamaha I felt unleashed! In fact, I began the concert by stammering and falling all over myself, so anxious was I to start telling stories, trying to tell everything at once.
Finally I had to take a deep breath (after I started one story about a nurse) and said, "Okay, wait. I'm going to save that story for later." Slow down Steve. Nobody's going anywhere. You have plenty of time. And soon I was into the program.
"Friendly Fire"The mutuality (there's that word again) that I felt with these caregivers and patients was emotionally overwhelming for me. I was one part patient (thanking them for their work), one part entertainer (making them laugh, making them cry) and one part caregiver myself, reminding them that their work, though exhausting and sometimes thankless, was the kind of work that keeps people like me alive.I all but groveled on the floor in front of them, praising them for caring and encouraging them to keep up the fight.
Steve getting all fierce and stuff.At one point I stopped the music to take questions and answers. Hands shot up all over the auditorium as people not only asked questions but delivered "testimonies" about their lives, talking about their own struggles and victories.
The most personal moment in the night occurred when I introduced the new song, "Beyond The Light." Marie Cain originally wrote the lyrics about her near death experience when she almost drowned in a swimming pool. I always saw the words as someone singing to God, "Will you be there to carry me beyond the light?"
But as a hospice social worker, Sarah (like bonusround.com writer Hannah ) heard something completely different in the song. In hospice, the nurses, doctors and social workers are there to help people as they die. Their job is to create a pain-free and loving environment, not just for the patient but for the patient's friends and family. So, in effect, THESE people help carry dying people "beyond the light."
Sarah saw the song as a description of the gentle and difficult work hospice caregivers do every single day, to help "carry" people beyond this life.
So, when it was time, I looked directly at Sarah in the front row and dedicated the song to her and to the rest of the hospice workers in attendance and I sang, "... and when it comes / When time is right / You will be there / To carry me beyond the light."
Well, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including mine. As a person who has faced death three times, who knows what it's like to be in that "zone" where all pretense and B.S. drops away, to be singing this song for people who live these moments every single day -- it was completely overwhelming.
Telling stories, answering questions & gettin' real.
And when I looked at the clock on the wall I realized I had gone for two solid hours. Two hours of no one moving, no one breathing. All of us bonded together in a mutual feeling of love, inspiration and power.
After it was over, they flooded the CD table and we raised over $600 for Youth Guard , selling CDs to almost half the audience.
But the best moment for me was afterwards, back at Sarah's house, where I teased her MERCILESSLY about "treating me so horribly" when I first arrived. (She didn't really but I couldn't help myself. It's fun to tweak Sarah's guilt meter). The next day she presented me with a beautiful breakfast -- cutting up a lot of fruit and serving me my non-fat cottage cheese in bed -- followed a couple hours later with lunch.
I couldn't have loved it more. :-) (And she's gonna kill me when she reads this. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!).July 16b, 2001.
Sarah Strikes Back.
SARAH'S REBUTTAL to diary of July 16, 2001.July 17 - 31, 2001.
"Okay, okay. Hold on just a minute.
I've been painted in a pretty demanding, bitchy, negative light and I'd like to clarify just a few things.
Steve has stayed with me several times now since that first visit back in February of '98. That first visit COMPLETELY exhausted me, and I'm not one to quickly exhaust. At that time, I didn't know him so well. He'd explained his dietary restrictions and his need for tons of food-- all of which I had bought in mass quantity. I'd planned to have Steve sleep in a comfortable room with various amenities I'd set up to give him the greatest accommodations. He'd walked in, looked the place over and informed me that he would be sleeping in my back room, the "sun" room.
So, I quickly had re-arranged EVERYTHING to accommodate him in the BACK room. (This was NOT in the plan.)
Well, anyway, the point of all this is that now I know well what I'm up against, I decided this time to set some limits. And I adhered to them, for the most part, and yes, I did brag to my friends and co-workers that I'd be damned if I was going to kill myself for this obnoxious high maintenance diva queen one more time.
So THIS time I did NOT prepare home cooked meals in advance. I did NOT fluff pillows or put towels in the dryer so they were warm when his highness stepped out of the shower. In fact I made him HELP me put sheets on the bed that first night, I reminded him where things were kept, told him to make himself at home. That next morning I bid him a nice day and I left for work-- with a GREAT BIG GRIN on my face. I felt so LIBERATED.
Oh, wait. I did almost fall back into that trap that first night when we both came back to Columbus from Cincinnati. It was late. We'd both been up talking nonstop about the amazing time spent in Cincinnati, the TLS run, etc. We'd said goodnight and I had finally crawled into my bed and had just turned out the light when I hear this blood curdling scream, "SARAH!??!!!" which got me bolting to the back room--(excuse me, "STEVE'S room") to see what was the matter.
This tiny little voice comes from the lump of blankets in the bed, "I forgot my water in the kitchen. Can you git it for me, please?"
Grrrrrrr. I was so tempted to say "Get it yourself." But instead, I bit my lip which was gnarled and got him his damn water.
Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
I completed my day at work, the show was ready to roll. The sound check was done, piano was delivered, volunteers knew their jobs--(and by the way, I had TONS of help from multiple staff from hospice, in no way did I do all this alone. Special thanks to Nancy who made the contact with the Piano Gallery that donated the piano and ensured that my flyer and press release was distributed to the masses!) So, by the time I came to get Steve for the performance I was so impressed with myself and the way I'd handled him that I told him so. Not only did I tell him, but I told him again and again. I reflected aloud on how different I felt this visit compared to his previous visits and how proud of myself I was for adhering to my own rules.
I should have stopped when I realized that he was giving me nothing in return. Nothing but that tiny little smirk on his face as he sat quietly and took it all in.
Oh yes. I should have stopped there, but no. Because I suddenly realized that I needed to make SURE he understood that this show had goals and objectives -IN PRINT- for the purpose of continuing education credit. So the remainder of the ride was spent with me arguing with him that he HAS to make this show last for two hours, that he HAD to cover X, Y, and Z material, etc.
He adamantly refused, sending me into a little pre-show panic.
"Sarah, people can't SIT that long. Sarah, I can't PLAY that long. Sarah, YOU are not in this BUSINESS. You don't KNOW. TRUST me. Sarah."
So anyway, two hours later, well actually it was more like 2 and a half to THREE hours later because the line to buy CDs was so long and because before we left the parking lot, Linda, our volunteer coordinator had to make sure that Steve knew how sexy she thought that eye patch was, Steve and I are on our way home.
I'm driving, and sitting there still utterly stunned by the experience I'd just had witnessed -- this unforgettable, most moving and deeply emotional performance, and I must admit (as much as I hate to) that I was once again in awe of this man sitting beside me. I was in awe of what he has endured in these past several years. I was in awe of the candid manner in which he shares his story. I was in awe of the beauty and the magic that was created that evening in a little hospital auditorium.
I was high from the evening, humbled by the commentary and so moved by the heartfelt words that Steve had shared about our special relationship.
Oh my GOD!
The hell if he doesn't mumble under his breath, "... and you wouldn't even get me my fat free cottage cheese..."
Just CRAM that knife in. Go ahead.
We went shopping.
But not before the two of us were literally doubled over in pain from laughing so hard. I almost had to pull over because I was CRYING from laughing and couldn't see the road through my tears, which Steve seemed to find even funnier. I kept pleading with him to stop which only made him laugh harder which of course only made ME laugh harder.
So, yes. We bought fat free cottage cheese and a variety other food items.
And yes, I did get up at 6 a.m. to make Steve breakfast in bed.
But I still left him home alone while I went to work that next day.
Dammit. I have boundaries."
Response to Columbus.
Just in case ANYONE missed it, Sarah and I truly are great friends and we have a blast kicking each other around. One of Sarah's great qualities is her sense of humor and her laugh. She wasn't kidding in her rebuttal when she described laughing so hard she nearly drove off the road. I could just see the headlines:August 1 - 10, 2001.
AIDS Singer Dies Of Hysterical Laughing Woman.
I wanted to include, in this diary, two responses to the concert. As you will tell, they are quite moving.
"I saw your concert tonight at Riverside Hospital in Columbus. You may remember; I was the one with the cute black dog. I'm a graduate student in social work at OSU, and am finishing my second year internship at Hospice. I mostly work in the bereavement unit, but I also do as much supportive visiting to the patients as they'll let me. Also, I volunteer for our local AIDS service
Though I love doing what I do, I was starting to feel a little burned out and a lot tired. You managed to remind me in the span of two hours what it's all about, and that I can really make a difference when I hold the hand of a dying patient, or try to help a survivor through the perils of the grieving process.
What I didn't mention at the time is how you touched me in a much more fundamental way. 12 years ago, I lost my brother to AIDS. He was too late for AZT, and couldn't have gotten it anyway, so he only had four years from beginning to end. I didn't get to make the kind of difference in his life that I would have chosen at the end, because [our family situation made that impossible]. It hurt me to my soul, and I made a promise to myself, and to whatever forces would listen, that I would try to do at least one small thing to improve the life, or even just the day of as many people with HIV/AIDS as I could. It's very personal to me.
You are truly inspiring, and you gave me a special gift that I won't soon forget. I've saved your web page to my "Favorites," and I'll check on you to see how you are doing. That way, you have one more person to cheer you on, and just to be there." -- Stacey
This is a letter that was sent to Sarah:
"Please let Steve know that his music, his lyrics, and his extraordinary spirit and energy in presenting them were joyous gifts to all of us!!! I sat in awe as I watched and listened as Steve sang about so many of the experiences my partner and I had as we traveled together through the pain and the grief of his journey with AIDS. And I also heard through Steve's words some of what I can only refer to as the indescribable joy of sharing with my lover one of the most intimate of human experiences --- dying.Okay, as I'm writing this I'm home again in El Lay and I have been working with Jimmy at the good ol' El Portal. We even had a great lunch meeting with someone very, very notable in theatre. And of course, I got pics!
Now, several years ago I may not have been able to articulate this in quite the same way, as the pain of watching helplessly as your partner slowly dies before your eyes is blinding. And, you must remember, this was not a journey we shared willingly with anyone else. We confided in only his parents and two or three friends. Not until a few weeks before he died did I tell even my own parents what we were going through.
But now I am able to appreciate the extraordinary gift I was given --- and to share my feelings with others. I realize that he and I allowed our fear to not only deprive us of the loving support of our family and friends, but it also deprived them of the opportunity to offer their support to us.
A year or so after he died, a close friend of mine, a physician, also died from AIDS. His illness become obvious as he progressively suffered with more and more KS lesions. Although he knew about my partner's journey --- he was a pall bearer at the funeral --- he never once shared with me about his own journey with AIDS. I'm quite sure that my friend thought he was somehow protecting me by not sharing his experience with me.
But after he was gone, I not only grieved for the loss of my friend's life, I grieved for the lost opportunity to share that last intimate journey with him.
Steve's songs offer a voice to those who are personally experiencing this horrible, devastating disease we call AIDS --- singing about so many things that I know T. experienced but did not always have the strength or the words to say to me. Expressing the fear and the anger and the hope and the love that I know my friend experienced but could not bring himself to share with me.
Steve's songs offer an opportunity for us to intimately share his personal journey with AIDS. That opportunity, my dear Sarah, is truly a gift from God."
So, now you know that, yes, Steve's performance was helpful. And I recommend it without any reservation to others who are on their own journey with a life-threatening illness --- and to those who are given the opportunity to provide care for them.
Thank you, Sarah, for giving me the gift of experiencing Steve's music."
Casting, Dining, Writing, Revising.
I've been very Hollywood these past few weeks. Doing something that doesn't happen in Buna Texas where I went to high school. We've been casting a play. My role was easy. Sit in the outer office and greet the actors as they come in, find out if the have their "sides" -- the pages from the script they'll be auditioning with, answer questions about the play or the part they're trying out for, etc.
But before I tell you more, I should introduce you to a new character in the Bonus Round. Now, I haven't actually asked him permission to use his face and name but he's in show biz so I figger if he wants me to take them out, then he's not very serious about having a career. His name is Bryan Bradford and he is not just the Stage Manager for "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln," he has also become my rival for the affections of my husband.
Look at them together:
Bryan & Jimmy outside El Portal
Linda Delayen, I know you had you've had your claws out for my man but I think you've lost your shot.. Not only is Bryan mega-smart and handsome but he's also from Texas. And you know how those New Yorkers get mesmerized by us Texans.
The good thing for me is that Bryan is also a singer and songwriter with a GORGEOUS (I really mean it) voice so I called Bob Cox to tell him we had a new voice in the band. AND since the Stage Manager oversees the auditions, I had the glorious task of looking him in the eye every morning and saying, "I'm your slave for the day."
The next very Hollywood thing we did during these long days was to meet with a personal hero of mine, Mr. Fred Ebb. The songwriting team of Kander and Ebb wrote, among MANY other things, the musical CABARET. I could list this credits and it would go on for pages but the reason we got to meet him is that Jimmy is producing and directing a revival of their show, 70 GIRLS 70 next year at El Portal.
This is something Jimmy has dreamed of his whole lifetime because his mentor and Dutch Uncle, Broadway actor David Burns, actually died onstage during a Philadelphia try-out of 70 GIRLS 70 (to be replaced by Hans Conreid). Since the show was not successful commercially Jimmy has ALWAYS wanted to do it and see if he can make it work. So the night before our big meeting with Fred he stayed up late making notes and coming up with staging ideas to present.
The next day, we broke from our routine at the office and there on our doorstep was Fred Ebb. At first we weren't sure what to expect. He seemed almost too frail able to walk the long city block to the Eclectic Cafe for our lunch together.
Fred Ebb, Jim Brochu and Bryan Bradford on Lankershim
Our other lunch companion was the co-book writer of 70 GIRLS 70, Norman Martin. After we sat down, Norman and Fred looked Jimmy right in the eye and basically said, "Okay, what ideas do you have?"
Jimmy just started to sweat. He looked like he was under a heat lamp, fumbling through his papers for the ideas he has sketched out. "Well..." He gave them one of his ideas.
"Nope. That won't work."
Then he suggested something else that had to do with and ethical dilemma inherent in the plot of a musical where the lead characters are old folks who go on a fur-stealing spree. He suggested a way around the dilemma.
"No. What else?"
Well, I could see Jimmy was really downcast at how quickly they rejected his ideas. So instead of thinking of changes, he stopped trying to impress them and instead just started talking about his emotional connection to the project, how he had always loved the show, and what he thought he could bring to it.
That really seemed to break the ice because now they were just talking theatre, which Jimmy can do just about better than anyone since he lived it in the back of the Broadway theatres selling orange drinks. As they began again to discuss 70 GIRLS 70, it suddenly felt like they were all on equal ground and it was exciting to hear Fred talk about certain changes HE would like to see implemented.
Fred Ebb then said, "I might have shot down the ideas you came in with but at least you had ideas. The one thing I hate is for a director to lie back and just say, 'I want to put your vision on stage -- and then wait for me to tell him his job.' I think we're gonna get along just fine."
And with that Jimmy whipped out his original Playbills from both 70 GIRLS 70 and CABARET and had Fred sign them.
Fred Ebb signs Jimmy's Playbills
He's so cute sticking his tongue out while signing.
And yes, just in case you haven't figured it out, I sat there dipping my Italian bread into the olive oil and balsamic vinegar saying nothing. Fred Ebb is one of the great legends of all time, whether you know his name or not. I was dumbstruck with awe just sitting with him.
Norman Martin, Fred Ebb, Steve & Jim
One other thing I've done is agreed to help a friend of mine get through drug rehab by being one of his "sponsors" -- he informs me that I'm not a sponsor like in AA where the sponsor is someone who has been through the program. I'm just a non-druggie friend he can rely on when he needs to talk. I call him at least once a day to see how he's doing -- and also he has my number if he needs me. I've never really done this before -- at least not in an official way, so I hope it's not a case of the blonde leading the blonde.
Finally, as most of you have probably figured out, I'm kinda taking August off from posting very much in the diary. I've been doing some site maintenance, working on music, helping Jimmy at the theatre and seeing some movies to escape the dog days of summer. I expect that's just about all I'm going to be doing for the next few weeks.
So if I don't update very much, don't worry. I'm just having myself a summer.
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[ Book 7 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] © 2001 by Steve Schalchlin.
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