Houston Texas
Volume 3 Book 4 Part 2 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(The Big Voice Chronicles)

The outside facade of Stages Theatre. It has poweder blue curlicue poles and a neon sign.Nighttime with the sign all lit up.
Stages Repertory Theatre, Houston Texas.
Day and night.
[ Book 3-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-5 ]
March 22-26, 2003.
I Can Even Go to North Dakota.
I knew who she was the minute I looked into her pale blue eyes. There are people in my family who have an amazing sparkle in their face. It's instantly recognizable -- almost a special effect, a combination of a light in the eye and a smile that shines. My cousin Cindy had it and this girl, Nicole -- this distant cousin from Australia, had it. It was the Schalchlin face. I knew it immediately. I had never met Nicole. It was like looking into a mirror that makes you more beautiful that you really are.

She was only going to be in town a few days and wondered if we could meet. I invited her to join me for the day. Total serendipity, but I was singing for a Religious Studies class at Cal State Northridge. She said she was staying at a hostel in Hollywood. So, I had her jump on the subway, get off at North Hollywood and I picked her up and drove her to Northridge.

Nicole Schalchlin, Distant Cousin
At Call State, a girl stopped her in the hallway,
"Where did you get the top? I love it!"
Nicole said, "Australia.'"
The girl responded dejectedly, "I knew it."

Since she was the one who called me, I assumed she was a diary reader and very impressed with her successful American distant cousin. But actually she didn't know anything about me except for my name. At the school, I sang two "Bonus Round" concerts in a row. It had been so long since I sang the TLS songs, as I opened with "Save Me A Seat," I suddenly began to panic inside, wondering if I'd remember all the words.

The setting for the mini concerts -- we left the camera in the car so you'll have to use your imagination -- was a classroom in the music building with a baby grand piano. The walls of the room,  where one would normally see plain blackboards instead had whiteboards with music staffs inked on them. I wrote my website address and name between the staffs.

Most of the kids were young and a perfect snapshot of the El Lay population recipe, an equal mix of women, men, Latino, black, Asian and white with a dollop of middle Eastern. And one woman who appeared to be more my age sitting dead center in the front row. She seemed very prim and eager. She asked good questions -- everyone did -- but then, twitching with curiosity, her last question was (referring to Jimmy's and my relationship), "Is one of you the female and the other one the male?"

My first impulse was to insist that Jimmy was a big girl. (Not that she can't be) but I said, "We're just guys. We don't think in terms of heterosexual archetypes. We're just guys." (Wasn't that scholastic sounding? Heterosexual archetypes. I've been reading too much David Ehrenstein).

(On one of the discussion boards I frequent there's a girl insisting to me that homosexuality is a disability in and of itself because she sees gay friends of hers "trying to have what we have." I'm still trying to figure that one out. Isn't wanting a home with someone you love a human thing?)

We had a great time at the school, Nicole told me she cried during many of the songs which made me feel very warm inside. Afterwards, we ate at Los Burritos where she told us she was on her way to North Dakota because she felt drawn there. A girl with wanderlust who travels in hostels and goes places because she must. (I love that we live in a society where a woman has this kind of perfect freedom.)

Jimmy meets Nicole.

Jimmy said to her, "Stay in this town a minute longer and you'll have your own series. I bet the camera loves your face."

Identical cousins all the way.

I finally heard back from Dr. Flesh, speaking of home and human things. I have "a very rare condition more often found in women." I must be going through some kind of physical "empathy for women" thing. First the Grave's Disease -- usually found in women. And now this. (The biopsy was negative for cancer).

Solitary Bowel Ulcer Syndrome.

Dr. Flesh was speaking so quickly that I had to stop him. "Wait. Wait. Wait. Tell me the name of it again."

He answered, "Solitary Bowel Ulcer Syndrome. Look it up on the net."

I responded, "Oh, I will."

Well, I looked it up last night.

rectal bleeding with anorectal pain, chronic constipation and prolonged straining at stool. There is secondary fibrosis of the lamina propria and disruption of the rectal muscle, this latter demonstrable on endoscopy. There are thickened rectal folds and there may be intussusception of the rectal wall or rectocele demonstrable on defaecating proctography.
The way he explained it is that the ulcer is the result of another condition, one where your bowels fold in on themselves in some odd way, choking off the supply of blood creating an ulcer. And bloody hemorrhoids.

"The next test is kind of strange, it could be a little embarrassing. " he said almost chuckling. I like Dr. Flesh but he's new to me. He's a man who's very busy. He talks fast, like a professor, waiting for me to slow him down if I have a question. I like that he's all business and right to the point but I'm not a medical student but at that moment, I was trying to digest some bad news. How would this affect my life? I have a show to do. Is it serious?

As his words were data-streaming from the earpiece, I was popped from my reverie when he said this:

"We shove oatmeal up your butt and take pictures as it comes out. It's a bit embarrassing."

I BURST out laughing. Why, what could possibly be embarrassing about that? Let's don't just do clinical shots. Let's just put a netcam in there. Bonusround goes medical kink. I was still laughing when these next words came through.

"...A painful surgical procedure through the stomach..."

Even kinkier! Pain! How exquisite.

He continued, "Some people choose to just ignore it. Check back every six months..."

Options. He's giving me options.

"...but if you're not going to have the operation, then don't have the defaecating proctography." (The oatmeal thing.)

I asked him, "How dangerous is the operation?"

"It's not too dangerous but it is an operation. It's painful. You have to go through the stomach."

His manner was calm, as if to say, "Yeah, it's painful but it's worth it. You get fixed. You go on."

My response was immediate. "I believe in aggressive treatment. I will have the tests but I'm leaving town on Monday. So, since this isn't life-threatening, let's do it on a relaxed schedule. But let's take care of it.

He said, "Call the office in the next two days and schedule the procedure for the end of next month as soon as you have a date. He's very busy, the one who carries out this procedure."

Well, I might be humiliated by the oatmeal up yer butt test but having this condition, this female disease, proves one thing. I got gurlpower, baby. I can do anything. Even go to North Dakota.

March 27-28, 2003.
Letter to Blythe.
Blythe, something you told me during my days of diarrhea has saved my life and you're the only one I can tell. I had said something to you about how much more comfortable it was for me at the time to remove the lid of the toilet so I could go into a deeper squat. You said, "That's the natural way for humans to go, down on their haunches. The high seat is unnatural."

Well, I have this new medical problem (indicated by a rectal ulcer) that's come along described in my current diary entry. It's treatable through surgery, but until then I will have lots of constipation and I have to find a way to eliminate without pushing or straining -- almost impossible to do. I spent a half hour in there the other day and got nothing. Because of what my bowels are doing, folding in over each other -- babies sometimes get this -- the poopie just wants to stay up there and not move. I read on the internet that some patients with this are resorting to digging the stuff out with spoons because the bowel just stops right there at the entrance and doesn't move. Very creepy feeling. And a little painful.

The number one dictum: do not strain. But if you don't strain, it won't come out. I mean what do I do? Carry it around like that all day long?

Then I remembered our talk. So, I bought some Metamucil, increased my oatmeal intake and bought some hemorrhoidal wet wipes. Then -- and I hope this isn't gross, so I'll try to say it in the least offensive way possible -- I got in the shower, squatted down, held as wipe under me (flushable, of course!) and it was a miracle! No strain. No pushing. No waiting!! And into the wetnap and then to the toilet in one easy gesture. No mess. No pain. No exasperating the situation. I feel born again.

If we weren't talking about shit, I'd be all over the internet about it. I might do it anyway. Who knows if other patients with this have discovered this secret? I cannot begin to tell you how much this has increased the comfort in my life. I thought it would be gross, but it's really not. I don't touch it. It doesn't touch the tub. The toilet is right there. And best of all, I no longer hurt. I'm sitting here feeling totally normal as I type. No wonder Stephen King got so obsessed with his poops following his operation that he wrote that terrible book with shit weasels, Dreamcatcher.

And it was all because you said humans do better squatting over holes than sitting on toilets. I don't think they'll let me dig a hole in the floor of my apartment but I wonder if there are any medical devices made for people who need to squat that low?

By the way, your husband. I open up salon.com yesterday and right on the front page, "DAN BROWN'S NEW NOVEL, THE DA VINCI CODE IS THE MUST-BUY THRILLER OF THE YEAR!" I jumped up and ran screaming to Jimmy. He was so proud. And to think, Dan was at the original NY staged reading of The Last Session. A famous author saw my show! :-) Just remember, if it wasn't for me, you guys'd would never have met. I want royalties, dammit.

Love you muchly. We start a three week run of The Big Voice in Houston next week. Big theatre. Back to NY in May. Congrats to Dan.

March 29, 2003.
Stool Pidgeon Letters.
The last two entries about my constipation and search for relief has provoked a few comments. Those were not easy diary entries to write. In fact, I thought it was too humiliating to confess such horrors out loud. But then, what the heck, I posted them anyway. It's a diary and diaries talk about the worst along with the best.

This weekend is laundry weekend, clean the house weekend, get ready to go to Houston weekend. We have a wonderful housesitter as well as our dear Mo taking Thurber and Steinbeck. They fell in love with her and she with them. I can't wait to get to Houston.

Dear Steve,
Would you please provide a warning to those of us with weak stomachs when you're going to talk about something so icky like using a spoon to dig poop out of your butt? I love you but that was gross.

Miss Prim

Dear Steve,
I stumbled across your site totally by accident, but I think there was a reason.

I am a Cancer survivor and during Chemo I struggled with the worst constipation I can ever imagine and I eventually resorted to some lets say "distasteful" ways to relieve the pain. Later I learned about the Natural position that people are meant to be in to move their bowels so here is my idea.

First to test the idea for yourself, try stacking about 3-4 Thick Phone books in front of your toilet, how ever many you feel comfortable with to get your knees up. If you find this helps then get someone to build you a "foot stool" of sorts ... OH LOL Foot-Stool.get it?  LOL No pun intended Haha anyway something out of wood that would sit right in front of the toilet. I have been saying for years that I want to make them and sell them in Health Stores.

Let me know if you try this idea and I hope it helps you or pass it to someone else.

God Bless and stay strong.


Dear Steve,
I don't know if anyone has criticized you for writing about your solution to the constipation in such graphic detail but for me it was a godsend. I was also recently diagnosed with the same thing you have, the Solitary Rectal Ulcer Syndrome. I was surprised to find very little help on the internet for this. But one of the links led to your diary entry.

I had been struggling so badly. I had been in so much pain and was spending hours a day on the toilet, even resorting to, as you described, digging up inside of myself. My friends would gag and walk out of the room when I tried to tell them how awful it was for me, but I needed help and if you can't turn to your friends...?  Then I read what you did, about squating down and it was like magic. Something so simple never occurred to me. Thank you Thank you Thank you for having the courage to talk about stuff like this.


March 30-April 2, 2003.
Arriving in Houston.
What a great staff! We arrived in Houston -- which is absolutely beautiful this time of the year -- on Monday and managed to "tech" the entire show in only 5 hours. This is a staff that does its homework. Everyone associated with the production, from the lights to the sound, had studied our little home videos and knew the show inside out before we ever stepped a foot inside the theatre. The lights were hung, the cues written -- all we had to do was stand the go over the subtleties, fashioning everything to the new stage.

Steve standing on the stage looking up at God.

The space itself is actually in the round with the audience on four sides, so to accommodate our show, they hung a white curtain across the "back" and now the audience is on three sides.

Jimmy's new table and chair.
Not exactly Pope-worthy, but not bad.

On Monday, they had us busy with two cocktail parties. The first one was for the GLBT Chamber of Commerce and the second was for the some of the PFLAG sponsors of the show. Since this production is a benefit for the PFLAG/HATCH Student Scholarship Fund, it was important to find underwriters who could help fund the expenses. (If any readers wish to donate to the Scholarship Fund, let me know. I'll forward you the information).

As a matter of fact, Kenn McLaughlin (pictured right with his partner Brad), the Managing Director of Stages Repertory Theatre announced they had found their final underwriter and that this is the fastest and easiest time he's ever had pulling in sponsors. This means there will be more money for the disenfranchised teens who will be the recipients of the scholarship money.

(Many people don't know this, but especially in a Bible Belt town, many gay and lesbian kids are thrown out of their homes or simply abandoned by their "good Christian families". PFLAG, which consists of parents, friends and family of lesbian and gays, has taken up the task of seeing that these kids get support. It's a source of great pride for Jimmy and me that we can lend our talents to something like this. I hope they invite us back every year.)

At the PFLAG party there was a man taking photos. He asked Jimmy what town in east Texas I came from and when Jimmy told him "Buna," I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack. He said, "I LIVED IN BUNA! I TAUGHT AT THE SCHOOL THERE!" He's older then me but he went to school with one of our favorite Buna-ites, Wendell Widener who has since passed on. We have Wendell in one of our favorite home videos.

Wednesday night, we had an informal dress rehearsal for a very small (but enthusiastic) invited audience. Because this show is not a part of the regular "season" for Stages, we have to fight for every single ticket sold. We're basically starting from scratch. Jimmy and I were completely knocked out by the crew. They managed to get every single cue exactly right.

These two shots give you a sense of what the room looks like.
Over on the right is the tech equipment which will not be there during an actual performance.

The stage with Jimmy's wooden table and high-backed chair on one side. My keyboard on the other. Behind us is a white curtain. Stretching before us is a blue carpet.
Our play area.

[ Book 3-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] -- [ Book 3-5 ]

© 1996-2003 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.