The Quest
Volume 3 Book 7 Part 1 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Steve standing in front of beautiful bay
My hunky shot.
Not bad looking for an old guy, eh?

[ Book 3-6 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]
[ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] [ Pt 15 ] [ Pt 16 ]

December 11, 2003 - January 6, 2004.
The Nudist Colony.
"You know what every business needs?," he said leaning over the tiny cocktail table. "Working capital."

I liked this guy a lot. He always had a smile on his face. The picture of him and his wife, you can see that they absolutely have the greatest time just being together. And she. Her smile is so brilliant, the white gleam of her teeth runs all together in every photo.

Bob and Winnie.

He was a self-made man from modest to poor background who discovered he had a keen mind for creating a business. He is a builder and apparently one of the most successful in his field. I am a songwriter sitting there trying to get clues from this man how become a better businessman.

[This is my theory: A cruise ship is like a nudist colony. All the passengers meet, essentially, as equals. We're are in a relaxed environment where the only real "uniform" is the dress code of the evening: casual, informal or formal. Formal means tuxedo. (However, I don't own a tux -- I burned my last one after having to wear one to work in -- so on those nights I wear a dark suit and a dark shirt and tie. California faux-trendy. And yes, it's the same suit the NY TLS producers bought me seven years ago for opening night in NYC.)
We met another man who enthusiastically praised Jimmy's lectures on show business (which is why we are there in the first place). He turned out to be the head of a major music publishing company. A nudist colony. You never know who you're going to meet.]

I set myself goals for this trip:

1. To eat really good food and exercise, lowering my blood sugars and fats.

2. To finish writing the songs for a new musical which I'll dub "Married."

3. To write a "holiday cantata" using lyrics from my friend Rev. Peter J. Carman.

4. To make some kind of really great business connection.

5. To have second honeymoon. In fact, on this trip we would revisit one port we used to frequent when we first met. Would "our" restaurant still be there? Do they still serve enchiladas mole?

Jim and Steve revisit the place where they ate together back when they first met.

So. those were my goals. Did I achieve them? Well, if you want to find out you're going to have to be patient. I kept a little personal journal along the way, making notes at odd hours and I will be uploading those notes over the next week or so along with photographs of the adventure.

(It's good to home with the cats sleeping in my own bed, even if it's only for a couple of weeks before I head off to Indianapolis. I'm getting very excited about this production. I'm already in love with the entire staff and I got a note from an old friend who told me that the artistic director there at Theatre on the Square is an old friend of his.
I feel like Indianapolis is another "second home" and I haven't even been there yet.)

So, I had a quest. I set goals. I had one month to make it all happen. I'm happy to say that if everything pans out the way it promises, look for some twists and turns and a surprise ending!

January 7-8, 2004.
The Faces In The Music.
One of my friend Martha's favorite songs was a number cut from TLS. It's also one of my favorite songs, "The Faces In The Music" but I never felt it stood on its own to just "sing" because the first part is this long rambling poem-thing that describes Gideon's early years, followed by a half a song. Funny thing happened to me on this cruise. I revisited this song -- not the long lead-in  -- but the end part. I don't think I've ever put it on the web.

But it started to play a part in the development of New World Singing, the cantata I spoke of in the last entry. It comes from the point of view of a piano player looking out from behind the piano and what he or she has seen. I wrote it, of course, from my own point of view and my own experiences. It goes like this:

Youíve been a lonely hustler
Talking quickly, scoping out the crowd
Youíve been a drunken lady
Showing titties, singing way too loud

Youíve been a quiet stranger
Sitting, drinking, watching life go by
Sucking a martini dry

A honeymooning couple
learning how to dance
A raucous band of drinkers
barely giving me a glance
Little twins in Sunday School who
couldnít sing a note
Two old ladies dancing in a
lounge upon a boat

Iíve been a decoration in the corner of the room
Sung the star spangled banner for the mayor of New York
Iíve played for folks to weak to lift a fork

I look out and see the faces
And the faces always change
But the love I feel inside just stays the same

A bit schmaltzy but also full of images and memories that mean a lot to me. So that was seven years ago. Sitting on the ship I began playing the song and suddenly the next seven years began to appear. These verses came almost effortlessly. By the time I got to the end of them, I was awash in tears. What a sight. Here is this guy sitting up at 4 AM in a club on a cruise ship, crying his eyes out, stalking around like a madman talking to himself, laughing out loud -- and playing and singing at the piano.

My playground.

And in fact, this did happen. It was on this last cruise. On this ship, the club doors were shut tight so no one could wander in. It was about 4am. I went out to pee and when I was on my way back in, I ran into a pack of about eight passengers coming out of the disco.

"Hello there!" I said.

They asked, "Are you still up?"

I answered, "Still? I've already been to bed and have been up working for an hour."

"You're kidding?? What TIME is it??" They asked. They weren't overly drunk or anything. Just a bunch of people who met in the disco and stayed up talking. They asked me, "You're working?"

"Yes, I use the ship as a creative retreat and health spa. I'm not really on vacation."

"Well, what are you working on?"

"I write music. Want to hear some?"

Turns out they were kind of bored, looking for something to do and weren't quite ready to turn in so they said YES. What I played them was the opening numbers for the new cantata, which are REALLY exciting numbers musically. That is, they are big, happy songs that end big.

And then, I got to Faces In the Music. Remember, I've not played this for hardly anyone. So, it was scary to begin with. Playing new songs is always scary.

I was doing okay until I started singing the new section.

Youíve been a worried doctor
Probing deeply, trying to hold a smile
A wounded lover, begging sweetly
Would I stay awhile

An orphaned kitten
Purring softly
Curled up in my hand
Trying to take command

An email from the Internet
Trying to sell me porn
A preacher on a corner
Telling me to be reborn

A mother filled with cancer
Checking out with style and grace
Gathering her family,
Looking deeply in each face

Iíve now been decorated
In a fancy big hotel
Seen the place where Joan of Arc was burned
And sent right straight to hell

Iíve sailed around Cape Horn
And lived to tell...

When I got to that last line, "Sailed around Cape Horn and..." my throat choked up. I fought back the tears by not moving. It was this moment of absolute silence. I froze myself in place, held my throat still, pulled back the tears that were threatening to tear down my face, and just waited for the pressure pass so that I could continue with the song. I was determined to finish the song.

My heart was pounding. I could feel the heat in my nostrils. My throat went to the point of almost clenching shut. My tear ducts were white hot. My hands. I had stopped playing altogether, holding the chord on the piano, the sound of which had already waned...

Absolute silence and me up there trying not to cry. None of the passengers watching this moved.

Finally... FINALLY... the throat eased, the heat in my eyes and nose subsided, my heart was still pounding. I croaked out the last words...

"...and lived to tell."

Now the tears streamed. I still tried to maintain my dignity, but really it was too late. I was now completely naked. I felt simultaneously embarrassed at such a raw and naked display of emotion. But I also knew it was a completely honest moment. I shake even now as I type this up for you, remembering the night.

Oh, dear. I just realized that I have told this story out of order. Well, the point of it is that now I feel like the song is written. I can sing it again. (I even put it down on sheet music and gave a copy to the actual performer in that room, Collin Salter, a saucy Australian cabaret singer we all fell in love with).

So, Martha, I cannot wait to record it for you. You've waited seven years for me to make this song happen. And this story is, I think, a good introduction to what I've been doing for the past month.

Last night I reconnected with one of my heartfriends, Michael. We saw "House of Sand and Fog" together. (I thought it was well-made movie but talk about a relentlessly sad piece! "In The Bedroom" was like a Disney flick compared to this. Mom, you'll cry all the way through it).

Afterwards, I met with the singers at MCC-LA. I'll be singing two new songs from "New World Singing" there this next Sunday morning. Knowing J.D., their multi-media guy, perhaps one or both will end up on the net. We'll see. I hope so.

Oh, and there's so much more news, but I can't share it with you yet. Not until the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. Today will be filled with doctor visits. We'll see how I fared on my health regimen with the new diet given to me by the dietician.

JANUARY 9-11, 2004.
Music Meme.
Dr. Sugars* was thrilled with my blood tests. My blood glucose was down to 6.0 which, she explained, "is right where I want them. Good work! Come back in three months."

And that was it! I had followed all the instructions of the dietitician and it worked. I like dieticians. I like knowing what I can eat. The other stuff, the stuff that ain't good for me even starts to look bad after awhile. I went into a pizza place yesterday, WANTED that big huge pizza, but had a salad and a broiled chicken breast sandwich. (For instance, I can eat peanut butter and sugarless jelly sandwiches again!! I just have to make sure it's pure peanuts and salt, non emulsified peanut butter).

So much is happening with the new music. But it has to because I have only one week in L.A. before I'm off to Indianapolis (which I am VERY excited about, by the way. There's a whole backstory to my involvement with them but it will have to wait for another time. I'm also having great fun communicating with the Virginia Production. The young director Shon M. Stacy and I are developing a great online friendship).

Steve standing in front of beautiful bay

When we first got back home we went to see Kim & Ronda, of course. (Except Jimmy terrorized Belle the weinie dog by wearing a hat. Belle doesn't like hats, wheels and something else. But anyway...). I told Ronda that I had written all these new songs and I'd love to just steal an hour, sit down at the keyboard and record them. One take.

Next day I get note. Espy Music at 11 AM. So I called Kim. "Hey, how much time can I have?"

"How much do you need?" he asked in his Texas drawl which makes me feel like I'm back home.

"How much do you have?"

"How much do you need?"

"How much do you have?"

"How much do you need?"

I got there at 11AM and the reader will have to forgive me for not bringing my camera. I was focused on one thing: to get as much done in as little a time as possible. I didn't even think about the camera until I was writing this just now.

I got all afternoon in the studio! (I also got a parking ticket because I got so into the session, I forgot about the meter). They have recently had to find a new engineer so I was the test subject in a way. He was a great guy named Mark; I thought he and I developed a nice rapport).

We recorded six songs in six hours, a total land speed record considering that I didn't just lay down a piano and a vocal, I added a kajillion vocal background harmonies on top of all that.

I wrote them the next day and said it was single most exciting time I've ever had in a recording session. When I listened to the songs the following morning I sat there with tears streaming down my face. (Love when that happens). (When I played the songs for Michael S. he started laughing because all he could see was a choir of Steves -- "and here come the Steve Dancers!" So yes, I know it's ultimately absurd sounding but that can't be helped right now. I didn't have time to assemble background singers.)

Meanwhile, I was scheduled to sing at my church Sunday morning. I would be singing two of the new songs.

How do I tell you what happened? There's this one called "Come Out!" Once again, the lyrics are by my friend Peter Carman although I've tweaked them a bit to make them more personal. I had a feeling about this song. I had this feeling that in this setting, this particular song would have a strong effect on the people.

"Come Out!" is not a fast song and it's not a ballad. It's hard to describe what it is. It drives at slow relentless pace. The beautiful lyrics are so honest and so pure, so guileless and agenda-less.

By the second chorus, the audience was literally tipped forward in their pews trying to sing along. Many were reaching up into the air. I finally just relented at the end and told everyone to sing it with me. And it confirmed what I've been thinking all along, that these songs for New World Singing (which is evolving in concept every single day now), are written to be sung by congregations of people. They are, indeed, hymns. Hymns of inspiration. I never in a million years dreamed I'd be writing songs like this again. God is indeed the ultimate comedian.

After the service, Bob Gunn, the talented singer and pianist who is their new musical director asked if the choir could learn one of the songs, "My Thanksgiving Prayer." I told him I wanted him to learn all of the songs! I want EVERYONE to learn all of the songs. I have this compulsion to put the sheet music up on the net and tell every music director in the world to download it, copy it and learn the songs! SING the songs!

Maybe I will. Okay, back to the December trip!

It was 18 years ago when Jimmy and I met while I was the cheap lounge entertainer aboard a budget cruise liner. The SS Galileo. One of our trips was a five day cruise to the Mexican island of Cozumel in the Caribbean. At the time it was, literally, a backwater with a feeble little street on the ocean front that sported gift stores. Our goal was an impossible one: too see if the restaurant we used to freqent was still there and if they were still serving Chicken Mole (pronounced moh-lay).

I knew things were different when be began pulling into the waterway. It was LOADED with cruise ships. The scene below was looking one way. There were more cruise ships looking to the left. If you look closely you'll see five in this shot alone.

Ships in the harbor of CozumelA tender. Lifeboat.
The ships in the harbor of Cozumel. The "tender" that brought us to shore.

Pier at Cozumel with ships.
Landing at the pier (which was not there 18 years ago).
That's "our" officer in the foreground. He's from Poland.

Pier at Cozumel with ships.
This huge pier cannot handle the number of ships there in a single day.
Most, like us, were anchored in the harbor.
When ships are around each other, or when a new ship arrives, they blow their horns. The Disney ship (on the right in the above shot behind the other ship) has a horn that plays "When You Wish Upon A Star." But the pitch is so low on it that it sounded like a huge fart. The image of someone farting "When You Wish Upon A Star" had me in hysterics on the dock.

Joan and Jay Morgenstern, Jim Brochu.Cozumel shark
Joan & Jay & Jim! Coz the Shark!

Mexican kids singing Christmas songs in Cozumel.Palm branch decorated like Christmas tree.
Kids sang for us on the pier. Notice how built up the ocean front is.
Palm branch decorated like a Christmas tree.

Looking at the development of the oceanfront, we just thought there could be no way that this same restauran was going to be there. We didn't even know the name of it. All we knew was that it was on the walkway facing the ocean. We remembered kinda what it looked like. And even if it was still there, what were the odds that it would still be the same place. Know what I mean?

So we began walking the front on our quest.

art in cozumel mexicoman in cozumel mexico
donkey with bow on head in cozumel mexicotaxis in cozumel

And then suddenly there it was.
jim brochu in cozumel
Jim said, "It's here! This is it!!"

Las Palmeras restaurant in Cozumel Mexico
We went across the street and looked at it. Yep.

tables at las palmeras restaurant in cozumel
And there was our table, where Adam, Nicki and we sang
the legendary Manyoki song.

But would they have chicken mole?

We told the waiter that this was "our place" 18 years ago and is it possible they still have chicken enchiladas mole. He said, "18 years ago? We still have the same chef! Of course!!"

Steve Schalchlin eating chicken mole in cozumel mexico
I wasn't about to believe it until I tested it.
I guess that's why my face is so serious!
Mmmm. It was exactly the same.

Catherine & Michel BellCurtis & Natalie. Jim Brochu.
Back on the dock we found our friends!
Catherine & Michel Bell (Tony nominated actor/singer).
"Curts & Natalie" a passionate and amazing dance team (posing with Jimmy).

To be continued..
[ Book 3-6 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]
[ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] [ Pt 15 ] [ Pt 16 ]

© 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.