1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part
3 ] [ Part 4
] [ Part 5 ] [ Part
6 ] - [ Book 2 ]
[ Diary Index ]
1996. El Lay.
Slowly my health continues to recover as
The Zephyr Production rehearses & opens.
|First Day in the Theatre.||Incredible News: Viral Load and Billboard||...and the T-Cell Count.||Two "Hollywood" Parties.||Causing trouble, rehearsing and a glimmer of hope.||The internet discussion.|
|A Little Coffeehouse in L.A.||The Debate Rages On.||Tension, sleeplessness and pain.||Improvs, Italian Food, Jay Leno and Miracles.||Suddenly, It Comes Together.||Exhausted.||Sleep at last. Working with James.|
|My "Final Word" on Gays, God & The Bible.||More weird dreams. Excitement Builds.||Tech Rehearsal. Ticket "Sales."||The Dress Rehearsal.||Opening Night At Last.||The Morning After. A Visit from Don.||A Note From Someone In Hell.|
|"Is This The Show Everyone's Talking About?"||Steve Takes A Day Off.||Another Day Off. A Parent In Distress.||PICC Line Failure. End of an Era?||Seeing Two Different Shows.||At Last! The Show We Were Waiting For.||
Well, Carl? Are You Happy Yet?
|28||29||30||31||Aug 1||Aug 2|
|Still Deliriously Healthy.||Two Incredible Stories: The Street Kids & the 13 Year Old.||Working on the Score. "Selling" a Movie.||Making Plans.||Strange Mood. Penultimate Show.||A Triumphant Finish. An Incredible Surprise.|
Monday, July 1, 1996
First Day in the Theatre.
Late this afternoon, after Jimmy and I had worked long hours with the cast down at the Zephyr, there was only one thing in this whole world that we wanted: to come home to a cool apartment. Instead, we came home to oven that could bake bread. I saw Vicki, our apt. manager in the courtyard, and she said the A/C guy would be here any minute.
I promised Jimmy I wouldn't be a bitch today. That I would accept whatever came our way. But I was having some problems with my IV. When the nurse changes the dressing the last thing she does is put a large clear square piece of plastic over the whole site. I can see the catheter coming from the vein clearly. The danger of infection comes when any moisture creeps up under there.
And I was sweating, so except for the edges of the patch, most of it had come up off the skin. The catheter itself, which works it way out of the vein a little bitty bit each day (from use of the arm) had come out a whole lot more than ever before. Now, since the catheter is very long and nearly reaches my heart (from my arm), there's no chance it will totally pull out, but because the plastic square is not tight to the skin around the "wound" there's nothing holding it in.
I felt some anxiety about it, to say the least. Well, the A/C guy came and, of course, told us it needed a part which he didn't think he could get right now. I called Vicki and told her it was sweltering in here, and that my IV patch was becoming dislodged from my skin and that I felt very panicked that if I had to stay in this heat all night long, it would come off leaving vein exposed to god-knows-what. It's not as if my body can fight off infections.
Well, great lady that she is, she said she'd tell the guy to go find one somewhere and if he couldn't we could have the part off her A/C--and she's got three kids! The good news is that 45 minutes later, he somehow managed to find a part the suddenly wonderful cool air was pumping into our place. We gave the guy a 10 dollar tip, which surprised the hell out of him, and I called Lifeline, the company which delivers and nurses me at home, to tell them to send a nurse out the next day to change this thing.
You know, I hate to say this, but (whisper), "I'm now officially tired of Louie. He's been great for me. He has saved my life. But it's really a drag to have to stay confined at home every night. And it's tiring to have to unplug him and drag him along everything I move. Just getting to the fridge becomes a ballet. Getting to the bathroom becomes an Olympic event.
And little things really annoy me. Sometimes I get into bed and realize I've forgotten something. It means I have to fumble around in the dark to find where I'm plugged into the wall, stumble in the darkness kicking obstructions out of the way so Louie won't tump over, get what I need, walk back and try to find the wall socket again.
And this big plastic bandage and catheter site. It's so ugly out in public. I can see people's faces kind of trying to not look at it, but it makes my arm look like it's made of plastic. And there's this big white bandage and tape with a port further down my arm--you know, I think what I really hate about it, is that it makes me look like a patient.
Part of getting better is to be treated normally and to feel normal. It's impossible with this thing on my arm. I can't pick up anything heavy, I can't work out. In this heat, I can't wear long sleeves to cover it up. Oh, bitch bitch bitch. Here this thing has given the best health in three years and all I can do is complain that it "looks ugly." How petty I can be. Well, enough of that.
Backing up, our first day in the theatre was so much fun. When we rehearsed in the studio last week, the problem was its size. It was too small to do proper blocking. But today, Jimmy just had us run the show all the way through without much stopping so we could get a feel for the stage and so he could see which parts we were having the most trouble with. Most of the others had worked really hard on memorization so they were much better prepared than I was, I'm ashamed to say. (But HEY I WAS HOT YESTERDAY!!).
Chip continues to astonish me with his brilliance. But today's revelation was how good Francesca Roberts is. She is so natural on stage, instinctively reacting to things and really being "there." I still find it embarrassing when one of the actors looks me in the eye while we're doing lines. I'm just not used to it. But it's becoming easier. I see that when we connect this way, if I read their "truth," it becomes a part of me and I stop "acting" and just play along.
Chip also told me afterward, "You're doing very well, Mrs. Ricardo"--an I Love Lucy reference that occurs when Lucy is NOT doing well acting in a move shoot. He said, in rehearsal, it's good to just take the way you feel and apply it to the character at that moment. That I should read the lines differently each time so that I don't get locked into something I can't get out of. Just play around with it, he seemed to be saying.
Another hero in this is Larry Dusich, our stage manager. He is working purely as a volunteer, and yet today he brought all the set pieces we needed for rehearsing, tables, stools, chairs. It was amazing. He puts in an extraordinary amount of time and energy and, yes, he is another who is tirelessly giving us his time so that this show can be something special.
Just before we started, I stopped in at a piano rental place to check prices on getting a baby grand for the performances. I so want a real piano and not an electronic one. It's vitally important for the sound. But the salesman was out and I don't know yet how much we'll have to come up with.
Hey, more good news about my health. I have officially crossed the 20 pound weight barrier. I have gained 20 pounds in five weeks. Man it feels good. I feel so alive everyday now. Singing my songs, acting with these brilliant actors; it's more than I ever dreamed possible. How often does it happen that one can dream dreams and then realize you didn't dream big enough! That the reality of what is happening exceeds the dream you had!
Now, if I can just memorize this script...
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Tuesday, July 2, 1996
Incredible News: Viral Load and Billboard.Here's the incredible news: my viral load test results, the first test I've had since starting last month on the new protease inhibitor, Crixivan, is beyond my wildest dreams. My viral load -- the amount of virus in my blood has dropped from the dangerous 60,000 parts to -- I can't believe it:
That's right. Under 100. From 60,000 to under 100. That means that the drug has, for the moment, stopped the virus dead in its tracks and my body now has a chance to rebuild its immune system because it doesn't have to spend all its time fighting the virus and losing!
This is a miracle and it means I have a new lease on life. Again, remember at the end of last month, we thought it was all over. Now, it's as if God Himself just took a magic wand and cleaned them out of my body. It means the virus is virtually undetectable in my blood!!
Now my t-cells can grow again and if all goes well, we can get me out of the danger zone for most of the worst opportunistic infections. My t-cell count has been around 40. This means I am open to CMV retinitus (which causes blindness), MAC--a disease of the intestinal tract that causes death, MAI, cancer, PCP (pneumonia, which I've already had once and am very susceptible to again), and more.
But now my t-cells have a real chance to go up above 100, maybe close to 200! (800 to 1200 is normal, so I won't be out of the woods as far as life threatening infections go), but this is probably why my diarrhea has stopped too. I should get the new t-cell count today so when I do, you'll be the first to know.
The other great news came to me over the fax machine from Ronda Espy at Bob-A-Lew Music. I am featured in Billboard Magazine this week in Irv Lichtman's column called "Words and Music." He put "Life-affirming 'The Last Session' in the headline and in the second paragraph, he described my own struggle with AIDS and the victories we are achieving with "The Last Session." He even mentioned ASCAP and National Academy of Songwriters who helped me with the readings. That made them happy for sure!
Our rehearsal today went very well again. And one thing we've done--a very interesting turn of events: Preacher and the Nurse is now an a cappella Gospel doo wop song with full harmonies! It happened while we were practicing the harmonies just trying to get them right. Suddenly we all looked at each other and realized it sounded way better a cappella than it did with the piano! Never expected this at all.
Also today, we met the actor who might be understudying my role, the role of Gideon. He's very cute so he at least has that part right... Hehehe. His name is James and he has extensive Broadway and first class theatrical acting credits. How strange it will be to see someone else play "me." But it will be an enormous amount of work for him so we'll see.
Today we actually audition him and see if he is up to it vocally.
Speaking of vocals, the new strength my body has taken on has done wonders for my voice. I'm hitting the highest notes with such ease. I teach all the girls their parts. If any of the cast members ever get laryngitis, I could sing any of their parts, from soprano on down. It's amazing. It feels like it's been set free.
Under 100. Jim joked that if I live through this, it will totally screw up the marketing of the musical! (He cried when he heard the news about the viral load test. He's been so worried and so full of anxiety--which he keeps much of inside. I hate to see him in pain about me. I love it when I can give him some good news to relieve his mind.)
Under 100. Virtually undetectable.
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Wednesday, July 3, 1996
...and the T-Cell Count.It HAD been 40.
It is now...ta da!
This is great news because -- and I should say that we will run new tests in a couple of weeks just to confirm what we've learned in the past two days because they've made mistakes before -- if the results are true, this lifts me out of the danger zone for CMV Retinis (which causes blindness) and MAC, which is a deadly intestinal disease.
Today I felt so good all day. Jimmy, though, has been plagued with horrible back pain for months now. Since he'd rather cut off his leg than see a doctor, he's been putting it off. This morning he finally went to see a chiropractor (the one who was married to Cybil Shepherd, in case you're keeping score), and he found out he has two pinched nerves in his back. He was worried he had a slipped disc or something horrible like that.
Now he and I are quite relieved that it can be treated. We met at little Cafe Luna for lunch with the cast to read lines and stuff. I left, though. Once again, the dressing on my PICC line insertion point was coming off and since it's a little bit red now, I decided to call the nurse and see if I needed someone to come out.
She said to wrap it in tape as well as I could and that they would be out Thursday morning to change the bandage again. It's just been so hot here in L.A. Over 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Not much else to report except that all is quite well.
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Thursday, July 4, 1996
Two "Hollywood" Parties.Kathleen Freeman, who I've probably mentioned before, is one of the most durable and recognizable actresses whose name you don't know in Hollywood. Her most recent feature was the last "Police Squad" movie. She played the gangster mother who ordered her two gangster boys around. She has been in every sitcom on the planet, usually playing a cleaning woman.[Back to the July Calendar] [Back to the Diary Home Page]
But I remember her face from one of the first movies I ever saw: Jerry Lewis' The Disorderly Orderly. She played the Head Nurse. In fact, she was in nearly every single Jerry Lewis movie made.
Every year she has two parties at her pretty house here in the Valley. It's tucked away in a corner near Victory and Sepulveda and when you turn onto the street, you would think some alien had cut out a perfect and beautiful street from Kansas City or somewhere. Huge lawns surrounded by picket fences. Nice wooden ranch style houses set back from the road. Big backyards. She said that movies frequently shoot here because it looks so midwest.
Her parties are filled with older Hollywood types. Character actors, friends, etc. and for Jimmy and me, going to her place on a holiday is like going to a family reunion of old eccentric relatives you see twice a year. For us, too, it was nice to just get out of the house and do something besides work on the show. We found two poolside chairs under an umbrella and we just sat and watched everyone.
(At one point this nicely appointed woman came up. She was in her late 50s, hair colored black, a bit too much make-up, long dangly earrings made from leather and silver, and a dark (red and black?) sundress that matched the earrings. She was perfect and I told her so. Turns out she used to be the Personal Assistant to the head of Development for ABC for 17 years before Cap Cities bought them out. "They ruined the office," she said, meaning they ruined the network. It's funny to think of a network as an "office.")
One of our favorites was there, an old character actor and former leading man named George Wallace (not the politician). George is famous for one particular role. He was Commander Cody in the early serial, "Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen." He was the precursor of "Rocketman." He wore a jetpack on his back and a big helmet. We love it when he regales us with stories about doing the part, especially the flying sequences.
As we sat there just enjoying the kids in the pool and the folks out on the lawn playing croquet, a beautiful young blonde woman in a black one-piece bathing suit came up to me and introduced herself. She said her name was Bunny Hull and she was on the Board of Directors of National Academy of Songwriters, and that she had heard me sing at the Salute last week. She told me she loved the performance, etc. (I was gracious, of course).
I told her that when I ran NAS, hers was a name I had heard but had never met. You see, when I began at NAS, it was at an all-time low. Most of the "old guard" who began with the Academy had drifted away, and Dan Kirkpatrick and I kinda had to pick up the pieces and just make do with what we had. Bunny was one of those names which drifted around the Academy. Anyway, we had a great talk. ("I also told her I didn't know she was so young and beautiful!").
Also, just to bring in a bit of Hollywood, we saw Elliot Gould there and Shelley Fabares. So we hung out for awhile and then made our excuses because we had work to do and also we needed to swing by the Espys.
Ronda and Kim Espy own Bob-A-Lew Music and they are the publishers of the songs from my musical. They have a nice little house in the Valley too, with a pool. They're not much for hanging out with celebrities, but they had some rock and rollers there. It's a new band called Reacharound which has a new single getting some great radio play on alternative stations. The song is called, "Big Chair."
By the time we got there, an hour had passed since I had taken my blessed Crixivan, so I ate burgers and beans and chips. Then I found their piano and just sat there noodling around. I read once that George Gershwin, when he went to a party, found the piano and never left it. I love that. Ronda joined me and I played her some songs of mine she had never heard (which I barely remembered). Then some of the others drifted into the room and we had a little jam session.
Afterwards, we came home and Jimmy finished his rewrite of the play. All day long he was silently tortured because he had changed one key element of the plot regarding a song and suddenly he got to the last scene and realized he would have to completely rewrite it to conform to the new change. It was driving him crazy. In fact, as we were leaving to go to the parties, he said in the car, "I'm just going to go back to the original script. I've painted myself into a corner." I just smiled and told him he was a genius and that it would come to him.
And it did. Yesterday also, I sent out 70 faxes or more telling people that it was time to make their reservations for the show. There are so few seats, I wanted to make sure that the people who are close to the show get a chance to see these workshops. It's thrilling. Two weeks to go.
Friday, July 5, 1996
Causing trouble, rehearsing and a glimmer of hope.Well, I've been causing trouble on the internet. I began by posting a description and argument on the theatre and some of the "Christian" usenet groups. Basically, it's all the stuff we talk about here. About being non-judgmental. About mindless bigotry and homophobia in the Christian world, etc. And I've been getting mail about it.
I'm in the process of collecting all these notes and putting them into some kind of order. Hopefully, I'll have that ready later on today and I'll put it here onsite.
Today we were back at the theatre and we spent time really blocking out some scenes step by step. The opening exchange after my first number is between myself ("Gideon") and Doug Tracht ("Jim"). Jim, a tall muscular teddy bear of a man is the engineer in the sound booth in this recording studio where the play is set. He's just figuring out that Gideon has decided to commit suicide the day after the session and he wants to stop the session and talk about it. He actually comes out of the booth and we have a confrontation.
It's been fascinating to watch from the inside as we do the scenes, because slowly I'm feeling myself drawn into the character and reacting the way he would react. At one point, Gideon describes how he's going to commit suicide. He thinks he's being funny and tells Jim, "You're gonna like this..." After he describes what he's going to do, Jim just stands and says, "You're wrong. I don't like it." Then he turns his back on Gideon.
At this point, I (as Gideon) am feeling desperate. Jim wants to stop and all I want to do is record these songs. "C'mon pal," I say coming up behind him putting my hand on his shoulder, "Be a pal. I just want to make music and I feel like I'm running out of time." He just shrugs, says a terse okay and starts back to the booth. At that point I, Steve, found myself watching the big lug go back to the booth and I really felt sorry for him. I just stood there and watched him as he sadly did what his friend was asking him to do.
Then I quickly moved on to my next line. But it was quite wonderful to feel these things and to feel them so naturally. I know at that point, if I were an audience member, I probably would have seen it as "acting" but it was just that I felt so sorry for the guy. Such an interesting process. As I said before, I have no acting experience so all of this is new to me. It's a hell of a lot of fun, too.
Then Marjory ("Vicki") and Francesca ("Trysha" -- Jimmy thinks she would have a more glamorous spelling than "Tricia") came in and we worked on their entrances and stuff. Jimmy has blessedly given them the lion's share of the work in these scenes. The less acting I have to do, the better, I think.
I also saw Dr. Ellie today. He was going to put me onto a new trial program of a new drug for intestinal parasites, but I balked because I am doing so well, and the side effects are nausea and vomiting. I just said, "No. I can't do it. I hate to vomit and I hate nausea. I can't go through this rehearsal and performance period feeling like I'm going to throw up any second."
He said that several doctors at UCLA were talking about how the TPN treatments such as the one I'm doing have been very good for patients and have helped their bodies get strong enough to throw off these things. Very interesting. We looked over my blood tests and were very excited about the results of the viral load and the escalating t-cells. He said he's got patients all up and down the scale who are having these miraculous results.
Funny. The XI International AIDS Conference is going on right now in Vancouver and they've set it up so it can be followed in real time on the internet. They can't have these international conferences here in the U.S. because our country seems to be the only country that won't allow people with HIV to come into our borders. Isn't that civilized? Not even for an international conference. And you think there's no discrimination in this country? On my AIDS e-mail discussion group, the participants are from all over the world and they have to figure out ways to hide their AIDS drugs and stuff just so they can come and visit family. It's shameful. Really. The Congress and White House should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.
(A weird thing happened to me the other day. Have I already told this? I think I was just cleaning up a bit when suddenly the thought crossed my mind that The Last Session was just another play among the many I'll be writing from now on. The thought was so fleeting and so real that it almost passed before I grasped what had happened.)
I was actually seeing, for the first time in three years, a future. I was feeling hope, honest hope, not the kind you construct and then cross your fingers hope, but real hope. Belief, maybe. Can it be? Is it possible I may actually have a life beyond the here and now? Up to this moment I was actually feeling as if this show would be my last hurrah. My last statement to the world.
I'll say this, if the prognosis changes and I find myself with time, I hope I never forget what has happened to me. These days when I've been living as if there were no tomorrow have been the best days of my life. It's like with this new hope thing. I'm an optimistic kind of guy, so I always have some kind of hope in my conscious mind, but when it sinks down deep into the "belief," it's new and different.
When we say "live as if we don't have tomorrow," we can consciously "believe" it, but it's not as palpable as when you find your life forces hanging by a thread. Do I dare step out and begin to think that I will survive this after all? Is the fact that I am at this moment hooked up to an IV an indication that I am dying, or will it become a distant memory which I will forget until I look here and read these words and remember?
Up to this point, I always saw the IV unit as the last thing one does before heading into the grave. Do I dare hope this much? Already on the AIDS usenet groups there are protesters saying the protease inhibitor is just a new trick by the drug companies and that they felt this kind of hope when AZT was introduced. And look what happened to it. It failed to bring longterm results.
HIV is a sneaky little son of a bitch and these drugs are barely a year old. Their release into the marketplace is unprecedented in its speed. Ah, so much to think about. So easy to cast doubt. So hard to believe.
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Saturday, July 6, 1996
The internet discussion.I put an announcement about The Last Session at rec.arts.theatre.musicals and got an immediate response from "Dave." Here's what the first guy said:[Back to the July Calendar] [Back to the Diary Home Page]Gee, a play/musical/film that deals with AIDS. How original! And you managed to bring Christianity into it - how clever! I hope that the story and music don't play off clichés as much as your synopsis does. The point has been made a trillion times, and I think that the world is just about sick of hearing about it. I know that I am.Then a response from someone else:First, a note to "Dave" who's sick of hearing about it. No one's forcing you into the theatre. Your sarcastic response was totally unnecessary and IMHO ("internet language" for In My Humble Opinion) heartless and misguided. While our friends and family continue to die before our eyes the "point" needs to be made continually in as many media as possible. We cannot become complacent.To Dave's credit, he did apologize for his tone (and I apologized for writing a lousy synopsis). He was just tired of Christian-bashing. I told him we were not going to bash Christians. In a later post, part of which is exerpted here, I made the comment that I though Baptist were nuts about boycotting Disney and that it made the rest of the world see them as Nazi-like. I also said their boycott -- because it was partially aimed at keeping gay couple from having insurance, was "unmitigated cruelty. Here was our exchange which was in three different posts condensed here:
And to Steven: I congratulate you for your amazing accomplishment!! I live here in L.A. and look forward to seeing what sounds to me like a genuine, moving work of theatre. I will go in with an open mind and allow your work to speak for itself. Best of luck!!Me: If there is a message here, it's one that challenges judgmentalism: sizing people up and judging them before you even know them or have talked to them.But the exchange that really set the wires afire was this one. Mike wrote in response to all the above, but, like Buddy in the play, he had to get his little sermon out:
Him: Sort of like calling all Southern Baptists "nuts" or "Nazis" or accusing them of "unmitigated cruelty."
Me: Since I am a Baptist, myself, I *do* know them -- or at least I was a Baptist until the group I belonged to found out I was gay. I also do not enjoy these labels attached to my friends and family. But it's important that Baptists realize they are not being attacked for *who they are*, but for *what they do*.
My earlier post: And what would Jesus have done? Stick his finger in Gideon's face and shout to him that he's gonna burn in hell for all eternity? Or would he have put his arms around him and ministered to his pain?
His response: I'm a Southern Baptist, and I agree with this.
My response: Which is precisely why I feel so strongly about "The Last Session" and its very Christian (and human) message. I think ALL right thinking Baptists and other Christians will agree with this. In a symbolic way, the accusatory finger method is what the conservative Christian community is doing to the gay community at large. They are not approaching them in love. They have declared war on them. What I have to say to the Christian community is what Christ said on the cross, "They know not what they do."
It will take a lot of courage for people like you to stand up and tell your leadership -- and those of the Christian Right -- that they are hurting themselves *and the message* of Christ with their continued assaults on gays and others. I have gay friends who believe that when right thinking individuals such as yourself do not speak out against your leaders when they err, it is the same as the Germans staying silent during the Holocaust. Personally, I don't take it that far, but then I feel caught between two worlds sometimes. All I can do is examine my heart and do the best I can.
He said (earlier): That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't Biblical standards of conduct, social institutions, and general morality that we are expected to live up to and support.
My response: And I think those who believe in the Bible should follow those standards. But does the Bible tell Baptists to try to coerce others into following these standards and interfere in their lives? The "unmitigated cruelty" I spoke of is when believers feel they must "force" the rest of the population to conform. The Baptists object to other people's lifestyles goes against everything the Biblical dictum that if they do not listen, then shake the dust off your shoes and go elsewhere.
I want to be clear here. I am not Baptist bashing. My family is Baptist and I love them very much. They also are concerned about this latest turn of events. There is no scriptural background for it and -- not to stretch a point, but remember the Inquisition? This is the logical place where such coercion goes if people like you and others do not stand up for what's right.
His said (earlier): I don't think the Baptists are asking the homosexuals to change their lives. They are asking Baptists to change their buying habits/choices. There is a BIG difference.
My response: There is? They told Disney that until they stop giving gay people equal rights in the area of partnership -- a right heteros enjoy -- they would boycott them. The difference is one of degree. And where did you get the idea that Baptist have not told homosexuals to change their lives? It is one of the main things that they do and you know it. If you do not know it, then you are not reading the literature.
But it's not Baptists alone. The materials of the Christian Coalition and their ilk frequently ridicule gays with massive mail-outs in bright pink envelopes and exaggerated stories of fringe gay elements as a crass fund raising ploy. I'm only after truth here, my lovely friend. Gay bashing makes these so-called ministries millions of dollars every year. When the coffers get low, out come the pink envelopes. Pure, hateful immoral behavior, IMHO.
He said: I hope your musical is very, very successful.He said: I do not believe in gay-bashing, by word or by deed. I commit sin, and I hope nobody would hate me because of that. I know that a lot of folks who CLAIM to know God bash gays. But this is very wrong in the sight of God, and does not happen among people who are REALLY in communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.So I sent that out on the wire and got many responses from Christians who knew I was telling the Truth in a way they had never heard it before. There were many lovely responses, but the one that got to me was this one from "Scott:"
My response: Actually, it does, and that's what's sad. They are misled by well-meaning, but blind leaders. People like you who have the credibility of heterosexuality and Christianity need to speak up loudly and clearly to the body of Christ.
He said: But let me tell you what Christians are called by Jesus to do. We are called to bring people to the Lord...and if a person isn't aware of his sin, he isn't aware of his need for a Savior.
My response: I don't think anyone on this planet is unaware of the fundamentalist viewpoint regarding gays and sin. The question is, when does the constant clamor and criticism begin to have diminishing returns. Remember, you said the call is to "bring" people to the Lord, not herd them with verbal whips.
He said: No one is sinless; no one can save themselves. I tell you this; I see a homosexual the same way I see anybody else engaged in a LIFESTYLE of sin; as people precious in the sight of God: they need a savior. And, I've heard the argument that Homosexuality is not a sin. Well, if the Bible is to be believed, it IS a sin. And it says this not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament. St. Paul, for one. Would you like chapter and verse? I am taking a vacation till Monday, but I will gladly supply them then.
My response: Surely you don't think I am unaware of the times when "homosexuality" -- the word -- is used in the Bible. I am constantly bombarded. The question I would pose to you is this: Do you follow and believe absolutely everything in the New Testament as a matter of course, or do you pick and choose things according to the present culture--and then provide an explanation?
For instance in Acts it is directed that Christians should join together and live commune style, sharing all their goods. Do you do this? Of course not, and I know you have a very good explanation for why you do not.
Does your wife cut her hair? Probably. Well, then you must have a good explanation for why this dictum does not apply to present day standards.
So, when you come to "homosexuality," the first thing I would say to you is that in the Bible days, when people thought epilepsy was demon possession, there was no way they could understand the idea that some people are just born gay. It was assumed that everyone was born straight and that suddenly they just start wanting to do perverted things.
Well, in the orgy described in Acts, you DID have a group of straight people who got totally carried away and began doing things they did not have any excuse doing. And I would even agree with you that when a straight person has gay sex, it probably is a sin because he hurts the gay person and he hurts himself.
Throughout my teens and into my early 20s, I prayed daily and nightly the prayer of an innocent and sincere teenager for Jesus to deliver me from my "gay thoughts." I had no gay sex. I did not have any sex at all. But at some point in my 20s, I realized I was destroying my life this way. I was miserable and when I tried to have relationships with women -- usually wonderful Christian girls, doing what I was told to do: living a straight life, I only succeeded in breaking their hearts and mine because I could not really love them no matter how much I prayed and prayed.
So, my friend, if you just grab the word off the page and close your mind to any possible explanation that perhaps this "homosexuality" is not the one we know today, now that we more fully understand the human mind, then you will always simply it as sin and see people like me as just sinful. You have that right.
But I have a choice: live with the honest and true love of my lifetime companion of 11 years, marry a woman (your sister? your daughter?) and live a fake horrible life, or live a lonely unloved existence. If Jesus chose to ignore my honest pleadings for 15 years I can only come to the conclusion that this is how he made me and this is how I am.
Like it or hate it. (And for many years I self-destructed in self-hatred, driven from the church by "well-meaning" Christians -- do you know that I was actually run out of town?) It took me a long time to come back to my First Love. I bear you witness brother that your literal simplistic interpretation of one word on one page taken out of context by a culture that did not understand what we know today, COULD be an invalid interpretation.
I'm not telling you to change your mind. I just want you to understand that this person you have written to is a real person who loves everyone and everything. I have been given gifts from heaven most people would die for. I have been given a ministry too. This ministry, I have come to understand, is to help teach Christians that, even if they don't "agree" with me about gays, they can at least stop conducting this so-called spiritual war against us. It only makes born again people look like ugly dictators who are more concerned about judging others than loving them.
He said: So the question is, "Do we as Christians just let sin go, or do we stand for what's right in the eyes of God?" Why are Christians judged by so many for standing up for their beliefs?
I responded: By standing up for your beliefs, does that mean you interfere in other people's lives? Or does it mean you say how you feel and then if they do not listen you, "shake the dust off your feet" and you leave them alone? The latter is what Christ directed Christians to do. But some Christians feel they must pound their beliefs into people. This is not bearing witness. And where does it say we must "stand up for what's right in the eyes of God?" And again, what does that mean? Or rather, what do you think it means?
He challenged: About the Baptist thing. You talk about spewing hate, but then you call Southern Baptists stupid. Excuse me? Is that a bit weird or what?
I said: I should have used the word Christ used when he found the apostles doing things that hurt their own testimony. He called their actions foolish. I should have said they acted foolishly. Why? Because they made themselves look foolish in the eyes of the world they claim they are trying to witness to.
He further challenged: Do Baptists not have the rights that everyone else have, which includes BOYCOTTING SERVICES AND PRODUCTS? Who are you to decide for Baptists what they should or should not watch. I'll tell you one thing - I'm a Baptist, and I can assure you honestly that no undue pressure was put on us to follow the boycott. It was something that was suggested to us. NOT ENFORCED.
I said: I am also a Baptist -- or at least that is what I am by birth. But the Baptists do not accept me since I am this horrid, wicked sinful person with nothing to contribute. And of COURSE it was not enforced. Baptists do not have a Pope and they COULD not enforce it. Do they have a right to do a boycott? Of course. Everyone has a right to make mistakes.
Think about it: boycott Disney?
He went on: So, we agree on one thing, that Christians should love homosexuals as people. But I believe you can love a person but disapprove of their life style.
I challenged him: And if I disapprove of your lifestyle, should I mention it overtime I see you? Should I shun you and drive you away? Should I insist that you not have the right to marry the person you love? Should I insist that Disney not allow you to give insurance to your wife?
He said: Love doesn't equal accepting everything a person does as right. Love is always upheld by truth, no matter how popular [I think he meant "unpopular"] that truth is.
I shot back: And if well-meaning men who love the Lord disagree on these truths, should they then fight and squabble? I remember when I was a kid in my hometown, the big fight was between the Baptists and the Pentecostals. The Pentecostals would have nothing to do with us because our women cut their hair and we did not speak in tongues as directed in Acts (another direction which I am sure you have a good "explanation" for not following). They shunned us. They never failed to tell us how much in sin we were living. They told us that we did not follow the Bible and they had plenty of verses to prove that they were right and we were wrong.
So, when you tell me that you "believe the Bible -- the literal interpretation" which literal interpretation do you mean? The Pentecostal one which is MORE literal than yours? Or the Baptist one which is less literal but has good explanations?
Okay. End of sermon. I have said a lot. I have probably said too much. I do not expect that you will suddenly change your mind. Please do not expect that I will change mine. I will end with a story. One of my good friends is Al Kasha, a born again Christian who has written several books about his testimony. He has study groups in his home, he is a two time Academy Award winner and if you met him, the two of you would probably agree on the Bible and on just about everything. He has told me that he thinks "homosexuality" is a sin.
But my lover, Jim, and I go over there for Thanksgiving, we hang out with him and his wife, we sing together. They love us and accept us as people. My parents are a Baptist preacher and preacher's wife. I know that they do not believe that being gay is "right." But they love Jim as if he was their own son. They do not judge us. They love us.
When I was sick with AIDS-related PCP, it was the first time it really came out that I was gay. Their only reaction was to offer to drive 2000 miles to care for me and for Jim. This is Christian behavior. Being friends with someone does not mean you "accept" their lifestyle. Once you've made you position clear, it should never come up again because it can only destroy your friendship.
Mike, you couldn't send me a note without a sermon. You had to all but quote me chapter and verse to make sure that I knew you did not approve. Fine. You've made your point. Now I've made mine. If you wish to speak more of it, I'm willing to do so, but know this: I have not arrived at this conclusion on a mere whim. It says in the Bible you cannot know what's in a man's heart. I know I am right with God. That is all I have to know.
You will disagree, no doubt. I give you that freedom. But the only thing I'm ever interested in is making new friends. You seem like a sincere man and you took the time to send me a note out of love. I took it as an act of love. Frankly, it was inappropriate to preach to me on first contact, but I know my Baptists and I love you all for your weaknesses as well as strengths.Dear Steve,When letters like this come in, it makes everything we're doing seem that much more worthwhile.
I've just sat here a half hour or more reading your post and weeping, then feeling compelled to reply and staring at the screen trying to decide what to say.
You said several things that touched me deeply, that gave me insights I had never had before, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Although I'm sure no insensitivity or lack of understanding on my part have affected you personally and directly, please allow me to apologize to you in proxy of the friends and acquaintances long out of touch with whom I have been less than fully loving and understanding.
Sunday, July 7, 1996
A Little Coffeehouse in L.A.Another day of good health. My little belly is beginning to show and my legs are beginning to fill out. I can also tell my arms are more substantial. And my eyes are not sunk into my skull anymore. As I continue to gain weight and get filled with all this unbelievable energy, I know that if all this had happened to me last year -- the wasting and intestinal failure -- I would have died. One drug comes along and I live. I think of all the people -- the wonderful, talented and lovely people who've died and I just shudder.
D.R. the Producer, got into town on Friday and we spent the first evening looking at videos of a former client of his who starred in a show Jimmy wrote back East. The show was "Startime" and it was an equity production at a little dinner theatre called "Coachlight." The actor's name was Chris Seppe and he was an altogether lovely boy with a great face, a kind heart and a wonderful voice. What we didn't know about D.R. was that D.R. nursed Chris on his deathbed until he passed. What D.R. didn't know was that it was Jimmy who wrote that particular show. D.R. said it was the only one of Chris' he didn't go see.
This afternoon I met Marjory, who plays Vicki in The Last Session to run over lines and rehearse. She was actually doing it for me. She said we could meet at "The Bourgeois Pig," a coffeehouse in Hollywood. So, about noontime, I got on the Hollywood Freeway, exited Vine, stayed on Franklin and soon got to around the Los Feliz area where there is a whole line-up of little coffeehouses and book stores.
I almost passed the "Pig" because there's no sign when I heard Marjory yell. She was leaning out the window which was right on the sidewalk. She said it was too cool a joint to have a sign, so we went in and -- do you remember a last week when I drove all over the place looking for a coffeehouse? Well, this is exactly what I had in mind. Couches, weird music, artsy types lounging around, etc. I loved it.
We got two seats in the window and began reading lines. She helped me a lot, giving me memorization tips and I pretty much got the whole first act down. While we were working, a few people dropped by who knew her. One was this big, muscular guy with pale blue eyes accompanied by a very pregnant woman wearing a tight black shirt. They had been across the street at the Celebrity Center, which is a big, incredibly beautiful Scientology place with a little castle-looking building, gardens and performance spaces.
We had heard some loud yelling and cheering over there. He said he was a poet and that he was reading his poetry. He also said he was very careful not to give them his phone number or anything because they are relentless in their evangelistic fervor. I asked him to read me a poem, so he crouched down and started reading this very "Imagine if you could change the world if you only had faith..." kind of poem that had his consciousness zipping around the universe and intellectualizing the whole process. When he finished I looked at him as if he had said something profound and he felt very good about himself. Then he took the pregnant woman into the back.
I looked at Marjory and said, "No nouns." She looked at me puzzled. I said, "His poem was a useless intellectual exercise pretending to be profound. I prefer poems with nouns. That's the kind of college thinking that pretends to be onto something big but they never actually accomplish anything because they think they have to have great thoughts and deep wisdom in order to succeed. They worship genius."
I told her one of my proudest moments was when Dean Pitchford, the great lyricist once told a class--actually he almost told them, but I had skipped out to do a gig--that I was a man who knew how to put nouns into a song.
Another guy came along that I knew. Now, let me see if I can describe him. He is a rocker. He has bright red hair and longish sideburns that cut across his lower cheekbones but are thin and red. He wears open collared shirts and I've never seen him in anything but dark zoot suits with the longest chains imaginable. His other accouterment is something I've never seen on a man not in drag.
He wears a string of pearls around his neck.
Anyway, he came in with one of the band members who was my personal, backstage escort at the Salute this year when I was performing. He is a bit more plain in appearance, but with "red" standing there, anyone would look plain. We asked him for a description of his music and it went something like it's contemporary, sorta punk but not really, kinda 50s but sounds like today sorta thing. I totally believe him. (By the way, I like him very much. He came to the first reading of our show and was too cool. His girlfriend works on events promotion at NAS.)
An actor I really liked also came in -- Kyle something. He was on that nighttime soap a few years ago set in the 40s. He was the cute teenage boy. Kinda has a soulful Paul McCartney look in his eyes. He came in with his wife and baby.
All the magazines in the book store next to the Bourgeois Pig had Kiss on their covers. I guess they're doing a reunion tour in make-up. Anyway, we worked for about three hours and then I came home to a very whacked out Jimmy. He's trying to rewrite the second act and he's so confused, he's a big mess. So he went to the store. On the way home, he got me some chicken curry (my favorite) and then he plopped on the couch complaining that all he wanted to do about the play was "to get away from it."
I'm glad it's him writing the book and not me.
Monday, July 8, 1996
The Debate Rages On.Remember the letter with the debate on it from two days ago? Well, not only did I get a response from him, but I got a letter from a very esteemed gay colleague who was quite incensed by all this. Guess who is stuck in the middle?
My gay friend, Marty, who reads this diary and has seen two of the readings of The Last Session tell me that I'm way too soft on these Christian types. He says they are out and out bigots and they cannot be given any credit for being "decent" people because of this. He asks me how can I possibly consider them to be "loving" when their actions are so evil and hideous? When they treat gay people so badly? When their "religion" is so bigoted? It is his opinion that anyone who even deigns to go to one of their churches (meaning the born agains) is supporting this bigotry and is therefore a part of this evil by their own presence.
Now, folks, I can't say that I support what he says. But I do understand where he's coming from. From the outside looking in, all gay people can see is this "cultural war" which the evangelicals are waging against us on TV and in the media. The Republican Party itself has lined up against us and joined the Christian Right in this war. I know straight people don't see it that way but if this were a gay world and we were passing laws that limited your civil rights, passing laws to prevent you from getting married, kept laws on the books that put you in jail for simply making love to your spouse, you'd begin to see this in a whole new light.
So when someone says they are "born again," his opinion is that they are automatically giving credence to their evil.
What he doesn't realize is that being "born again" is not a political philosophy. It is a personal matter between God and a human being and it not defined by Pat Robertson. It is my opinion that too many of these bigots and hate mongers have taken control of the more public media and have cast a huge black mark on the name and reputation of "born agains." Trouble is, most born agains are buying into the cultural war and are not fighting it. Why? Well, for me it starts with the basic assumptions of sin and what you're supposed to do about "sinners."
So: basic assumptions of sin--here's the response to the letter (somewhat edited) I printed on July 6. I think you'll find it very interesting.Dear Steve,And here's where I agree with my friend, Marty. The concept and belief that being gay (and living it) is inherently sinful is an evil proposition. I know I am making a bold statement, but it IS bigotry no matter how many Bible verses you use to justify it. I've said this before but growing up in the South, I heard many "good Christians" use Bible verse to justify their own racial bigotry--the same ones they used to justify slavery in the 19th Century. Now they are using the Bible to justify sexual bigotry.
Let me begin by apologizing. It was indeed inappropriate to preach so hard at you for our first contact. It's just that I get excited and jump in too quickly sometimes. Forgiven?
Me: Very kind of you to ask. Please don't give it another thought. (After all, you ARE a Baptist and can't help yourself!) *smile*
(In the earlier letter I told him I thought we might be friends but I know that he couldn't get too close or he would "appear" to approve my lifestyle.)
He: It's not that I don't want to "appear" to approve a lifestyle. It's that I don't ever want to approve a lifestyle that I think is morally wrong. And no, I would have nothing against being in your company. I believe we might be good friends, also.
I believe it is possible to be a Christian and be out of fellowship (communion) with God. So, while someone may actually be a Christian, if he is hating people, bashing them either physically, verbally, or emotionally, it is of my opinion that he is definitely not doing the will of God, and is therefore not in communion with him. That doesn't mean he's lost his salvation.
I responded: My point is that "good" Christians do these things without knowing that their actions are bashing. This is why the "devil" in this is so slippery. It's like looking for the enemy but he looks just like "us!"
(In the earlier letter, he said he felt he had to speak up when he saw sin and directed me to Bible verses against "Homosexuality."
My earlier response to this was: Surely you don't think I am unaware of the times when "homosexuality" -- the word -- is used in the Bible. I am constantly bombarded. The question I would pose to you is this: Do you follow and believe absolutely everything in the New Testament as a matter of course, or do you pick and choose things according to the present culture--and then provide an explanation?
He answered: No, I think that all MORAL Judgments made by God are valid today. God does not change.
I had pointed out to him: For instance in Acts it is directed that Christians should join together and live commune style, sharing all their goods. Do you do this? Of course not, and I know you have a very good explanation for why you do not.
And he did: Yes, but that is not a question of sin/ moral judgment...it is a question of the culture of the day, and the best way to live according to that culture. I don't believe it had anything to do with sin.
My response: As I said, you have a very good explanation for not following the literal Word on the page. (Good explanation, by the way.)
I had asked: Does your wife cut her hair...
His reponse: If I had a wife, I would hope she would cut her hair! : ) But that, also, was a cultural issue.
Me: Ah, that cultural thing again. The point I'm making to you is that the "gay" issue is also cultural. If you can bend the rules on one hand while making a judgment with the other, then it becomes an issue of one's personal point of view.
He said: Here's what I would say: ALL sex, not just homosexual sex, that is in the wrong context, is SIN against God. I have been guilty of wrong sex. I asked forgiveness, and God has graciously granted forgiveness. (And he mentioned that he is not married and has been celibate for five years.)
I said: Gay people are caught in a very evil Catch 22 on this point. We are given no choice by your "morality" except to live a completely celibate life. You state that you're currently celibate, but the difference between you and me is that you have options according to your rules. Very convenient.
He said: When I think of you, I don't think of you as "just sinful". I told you how I see you; as a person loved by God. That's how I need to see everyone, although I'll admit to you that when I start thinking about CRUEL people (rapists, murderers, child molesters), I have a hard time loving them, but they are a whole different breed of folks!
I responded: There are many in your group who do not make that distinction. You see, they are judging us and lumping us in with the above crowd. I hate to use this word but it applies. It's bigotry. They simply hate us, though they cloak this "hatred" in soft phrases like "hate the sin, love the sinner." That may sound pretty, but in practice, they hate the "sinner." They would deprive us of everything they enjoy in life.
He said: I learned a lot of things the hard way. From 87-89, I was very depressed. In 89, my bro was killed. In 90, my baby boy died. In 93, my father died. I had to learn to live by God's mercy and grace alone. he was the one who pulled me through my rough times, and I give him praise eternally.
I said: And you could just have easily cursed him, as many do.
In the earlier letter I spoke of my teenage year in which I pleaded for God to make me a hetero and that if he would "ignore my honest pleadings for 15 years I can only come to the conclusion that this is how he made me and this is how I am."
His response: God's concept of time is non-existent. There is no space or time with God.
My answer--after laughing out loud at the grasping at straws aspect of that argument: Too easy. Sorry, but to have kept on with that pointless exercise which was destroying me and confusing me would simply have been foolish. Each of us has to make choices in order to be at peace. I did what was right. I chose the life that God gave me.
I had said: I bear you witness brother that your literal simplistic interpretation of one word on one page taken out of context by a culture that did not understand what we know today, COULD be an invalid interpretation.
He answered: I don't believe so. I think that there are definite absolute standards, and this is one.
I answered that: That's a statement that is your opinion and you are most welcome to keep it. You're wrong, but you have that right, too. I'll tell you why I know you're wrong. Because I have walked in my shoes and you haven't. You are speaking about a subject you can only make guesses about.
I continued: You allow yourself the freedom to judge which Biblical injunctions are "cultural" and which ones are "moral." Funny how the ones you consider "cultural" are the one you do not follow and the one you consider "moral" is one that will never affect your life personally. If you were gay, I suspect you'd understand. But you are not and you never will.
He said: I know you are a real person with real feelings. That's why I care for you, and I really do!
Me: Do you?
He said: I agree with you. Christians are in war, but the bible says it is not against flesh and blood, but against evil. I will tell you again, that I believe that BASHING IS NOT THE WAY.
I stated: There are many ways to bash. Not all of them makes use of physical violence. There is the violence you do to someone's soul by accusing them of immorality when they've done nothing except be born a certain way.
He said: Surely you believe in our responsibility as Christians to be bold and courageous, to "go against the grain" in a world of darkness?
I answered: I speak out against evil. I speak out against those who would hurt others. (Like I am speaking out against this evil.)
I mentioned the Disney thing and said that the Baptists then made themselves "look foolish in the eyes of the world they claim they are trying to witness to."
He answered: Yes, to the world it looks foolish. But to be honest with you, Christ said that Christians can expect to be looked upon as fools, because that's what the world thinks of us.
My response: There's foolish and then there's foolish. Doing foolish things is not the same thing as "looking foolish" simply because you believe in God.
He ended: Compassion should be a Christian's business. And, I've made my position clear. You've made yours. I would like to be your friend, and I won't brow beat you. I will still hold to my beliefs, as will you, but I've got friends from all walks of life, Muslims, Mormons, ATHIESTS!-oh!-and general party-type dudes, so if you will accept my friendship, I would be happy.
I would be very careful how I used the Bible in cases like this. Gay bashing comes in all different forms and only some of them are obvious.
End of sermon.
Today we met down at the Zephyr and ran, for the first time, the whole first act of the show "off book." It was thrilling to watch it come together scene by scene. It becomes much easier to "play the scene" when you don't have book in your hands. It was also D.R. the Producer's first time to see it. He loved it. *whew*
Jimmy said he's reached the part of the process where he hates everything he sees, although he did tell us all we were did a good job. The problem with plays in rehearsal, especially one that is essentially a comedy (albeit with a strong message) is that without an audience, the funny lines are funny anymore. It's like hearing a joke for the 50th time.
Also, I didn't forget the time. I took my Crixivan right at 3:00 like I was supposed to (like a good boy). We got home at 6:30 and I had the left over chicken curry from yesterday, hooked up to Louie, did my e-mail and promptly passed out.
Speaking of e-mail, I got a note from a man in a small rural state in a small town who is a 27 year old straight man with AIDS. He told me he has about 0 to 4 t-cells, is trying to run a business, has a good and living wife, but is totally in the closet with his disease (except to the wife and his doctor). He read on the internet (I don't know where I posted it) about the amazing results I've been having with TPN and Crixivan and he begged me to help him with information about medications, etc. He said they get NO good info on AIDS where he is and he's afraid.
He said I was the first "outside" person he has told about his condition. When he said this, I was absolutely stunned. And it goes back to those times when you feel sorry for yourself. There is always someone somewhere who is living under conditions much more horrible than you. All you can do is be thankful for what you have, no matter what it might be, and press on with the good fight.
I'll say a prayer for you, my friend, and the readers of this page will also. And once again, the reality that AIDS is not just about a big block of sinning naked faggots, is it? The face of AIDS reaches across the spectrum and it breaks hearts and ruins lives wherever it goes. How important it is that we care about each other. How very, very important.
I sit here thinking of this man, and of the young man on my e-mail list who watched his lover die slowly and horribly, and realize how utterly lonely we can be even while being surrounded by loved ones.
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Tuesday, July 9, 1996
Tension, sleeplessness and pain.Today was a tough day. Again, my sleep pattern has been disturbed although this time I just tried to lie in bed and drift back to sleep -- I woke at 2am! I think I got a little, but it wasn't deep sleep. This is very weird for me because I have never had trouble sleeping. It must be the Crixivan doing it. But the Crixivan is what's keeping my viral load down and giving me this new lease on life. Also, I'm having lots of neck and shoulder pains. This could be due to the fact that I have begun doing a little weight lifting with some 20 pound weights, but I haven't done but a little. I hear muscle aches are common with Crix.
So, this morning when I woke up I was bleary-eyed and a bit cross. I had a lot to do including drive into Hollywood to scan the photos for the program we'll hand out at the shows. Once again, D.R. the Producer is on top of things. He drove into Malibu where my friends Dennis and John have a print shop. They are donating all our printing costs, god bless' em.
Also, Tim Goodwin, an events producer (and manager for Rita Coolidge) brought in someone to help with the sound in the theatre. It's a small space and we have David Robyn helping out with a system, but they want to examine everything and make sure we get what we need. Again, the sound is being donated or given at minimal cost if we need things David doesn't have or can't give due to his own music career.
So, I took the little car which has no A/C (letting Jimmy have the big car that does ) cause Jimmy had more driving to do than I did, and went over the hill to NAS where they let me work on the scanning. Then I came back with the disks and met D.R. here. He spoke to Jim about getting another actor for my role, Gideon, so we can see what it looks like when I don't do it. I agree with him but we only found one person capable of it and he felt like it was too much work for so little a pay-off: that is, no money and only two performances. Jimmy was also concerned because so many of the reservations were made by people who wanted specifically to see me in the show. It's a real catch 22 because I'd love to just sit back and see it done. I can't get any perspective from the inside, as it were.
The rehearsal went sorta well, I suppose. But I was in pain and feeling stress so I felt as if I were only half there. And, again, everything looks unfunny and nothing looks like it works. I know this is a part of the process, but this is not the most fun place to be in that process. One simply has to plow through it and keep on plugging.I also found out that Chip (who plays Buddy) -- his mother reads this diary because he never writes her. He's doing well, mom, the baby's fine and he looks really good and happy. He's also a great actor and brings great things to the play. He has some big auditions on Wednesday, too, so cross your fingers. He sends his love...However, a couple of really great things happened today amidst my gloom and doom. First of all, Jimmy rewrote the ending for the first act and it is fantastic. It now ends with a little explosion between two characters and I think it's just great.
The other bit of news is that Ronda found a place that would donate a baby grand piano. When she told the saleslady about the show, the saleslady said she had heard about about The Last Session. I was just shocked when Ronda told me this. Do you know how big this city is? To have someone in a store somewhere know all about it was very cool.
The problem is there is no place to store the piano between Friday and the following Thursday when the theatre has another show running. We would have to pay cartage three weeks in a row in order to make that happen and cartage on a baby grand is not inexpensive. Plus we wouldn't have it for rehearsals during the week. It's just not practical even if we could afford it. So we have to settle on a little console or spinet. I just don't want to use an electric. You sacrifice sustain and percussion.
Well, after the rehearsal Jimmy and I came back here and I was so hungry. He made some pasta and I did e-mail for several hours. I had so many messages! I love getting e-mail. A student in England, a housewife in Seattle, Don in El Paso, a professor in Tazmania, a man with HIV in Vancouver where the big event is happening this week...
So, I was cranky and short tempered today, but everyone forgave me. We just have so much to do before we open. All this plus memorizing the script! Lord. Now I see that if I hadn't had this amazing recovery in my health thanks to the Crix and the TPN, I could never have done it.
Funny thing, though. In rehearsal today, even though I was cranky, when we got to the part where I sang Connected, it all seemed to melt away. I love that song so much and when I looked over at Francesca during the the performance of it, she was so into it, teary-eyed with this most beatific smile, I remembered why we were doing all of this.
Because we must.
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Wednesday, July 10, 1996
Improvs, Italian Food, Jay Leno and Miracles.Although I've never really acted before -- okay, as I said earlier, when I was in high school, I was in the Junior and Senior plays, but in Buna, Texas we didn't have a drama dept. The English teacher simply found a silly comedy and picked out students who fit the parts. I'd hardly call what we did "acting." But I have watched Jimmy direct plays. There's a point in the process where these strangers who have been brought together begin to bond with each other, become a family and really start to have fun.
Today was the day that happened.
The day didn't start out well for me. Once again, I was up at 3:30 and in pain (my neck and shoulders). I sent out an e-mail to my Crixivan discussion group and got back responses from some others who said they were also having some sleeplessness and muscle aches, too, so at least I know I'm not crazy. One person said he had no muscle aches but felt I probably had some tension that was revealing itself.
What tension could I possibly be having? Making my acting debut in the very first full length musical I have written -- in Los Angeles with half the music industry coming? Why should that make me tense? *gunnnnng*
Anyway, we had a late start today so after doing some errands I came back home and actually got a nice little nap so by the time the rehearsal began, I was not feeling so badly. Two of the actors were going to be very late due to some auditions so Jimmy had Doug and me go through our first big scene together several times. It was very helpful. Then he had Marjory and me do some improv.
At this point, Jimmy feels the last thing he needs to do in rewriting the script is to really hone the relationship between Gideon (me) and Vicki (Gideon's ex-wife). Why did she marry a gay man? What makes her drink so much? Why would Gideon invite her there knowing how much trouble she can be?
In the story, it is revealed early on that she hadn't spoken to Gideon in 11 months not wanting to "see him like this" -- that is, sick near death. So Jimmy had us improv the last time they were together, when Gideon was in the hospital with PCP (pneumonia). Never having done improv before, they gave me the rules: never say "no"--that is if she says the sky is yellow in the improv, then the sky is yellow.
So we began. Surprisingly -- to me, anyway -- we had this most moving and effective scene. It was almost a play in itself. (Ronda The Producer/Publisher was in tears by the end of it--but then she is in tears all the time anyway). And it brought back to me much of what happened between the "real" Vicki and myself. You see, I was married to a woman who knew I was gay. Her name was Vicki and we were both young, reckless party animals, lo those many years ago--and yes, she drove me crazy.
But there was never any doubt that we had a great, abiding affection for each other. She's all married with kids now, happy back in Texas. The Vicki in our play is not really at all like her except in the most superficial kind of way. As Marjory and I did our improv, Jimmy just kept writing down notes. At one point, he stopped us and said, "Okay, I think I got what I needed." And that was it.
After the rehearsal (which included an all new opening for Act Two, which was wonderful, by the way), Doug who plays Jim the Sound Engineer, took us all across the street to Leonardo's, an Italian restaurant and bought us all a big meal -- I had cheese ravioli in a pink sauce -- yummm. Just as we were starting to eat, out on the street we saw some lights and some commotion. It was Jay Leno doing a comedy bit for the Tonight Show! Naturally, my inclination was to run out to him, throw a flyer in his face and tell him all about our show, but he was surrounded by producers and crowd and it just wasn't possible.
So I went back inside and -- remember I was telling you about the bonding process? -- Well, at last the whole group of us shared wine, pasta, laughter, and stories. And for the first time, the tension just seemed to melt away and we knew we were all a part of something very special. Francesca ("Trysha") told me that when she was reading the script, she got to the song Connected and before she ever heard a single note -- just by reading the lyrics -- she began to cry and she called her agent and said, "I'm doing this play. I don't care if it don't pay squat. I'm doing this play."
We laughed and ate and enjoyed each other's company until about 9 when it was time for me to get home to take my pills: d4T, 3TC, and Invirase. Also last night, I skipped hooking myself up to Louie for the first time since we began. I just felt like I needed a break. Because the line is hooked up to my arm, I cannot get into the most comfortable position for sleeping and I thought maybe just for tonight, I could try to really sleep. I also took some melatonin.
Also, yesterday I hit another weight goal: 160 pounds. That was my pre-wasting weight. I look in the mirror and the circles under my eyes are gone. My eyes are not sunk back into my head anymore. My face is filling out a little, my legs are looking damn good! (Which is weird since I've always had skinny legs). My arms and shoulders are filling out, too.
As I stood admiring myself in the mirror just before going to bed, I again thought back to six or seven weeks ago -- about how sick I looked, and about how I thought I was never going to see this day, much less next week when the play opened. And I never DREAMED at that time that I'd actually be IN the show. It's really a miracle. But then this show has been about miracles from the very beginning.
Some say God is the one who performs these miracles and I suppose that's true. But like a carpenter uses the finest tools to build a beautiful cabinet or a musician who plays a magnificent piece of music, we are the instruments held in those divine hands and it's up to us to see that these miracles happen.
We are not passive players in this divine drama. And all we can do is honestly and faithfully execute the gifts which have been given to us. And to work our butts off to make sure we have kept to our own clear vision. It's kinda scary to be a week away from opening a show that isn't even in its final draft yet, but last night as Jimmy and I drove home from the Leonardo's, he just smiled and said, "I'm not worried anymore. We're going to be just fine."
I can't wait for opening night.
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Thursday, July 11, 1996
Suddenly, It Comes Together.This was one of those seminal days where the forces of the universe suddenly just start throwing rose pedals at my feet. We auditioned someone to understudy my role, Gideon, and it looks like he's going to work out just fine. His name is James Mellon. He plays piano well and sings well (and is a much better actor). We're going to have him do at least two of the performances so I can watch the show from the outside at long last.
The next thing that happened was Jimmy gave us the new rewrites which amounted to a lot of cutting. He just felt the second act went on and on. Sure enough, we played it and the whole show just seemed as smooth as silk. It was phenomenol. He was so proud that at the end of the rehearsal, he sat before us and said, "The script is now frozen." So he's happy. We're happy. And when we ran the whole show, it just seemed flawless. (Three days ago we were tearing out hair out. As I said at that time, it's just part of the process.)
I was tired after the rehearsal, both from my interrupted sleep schedule and from the hard work we put in. When we got home, I gobbled up the chicken dinner we had bought on the way home and promptly passed out in the chair.
And slept a glorious sleep, at long last.
If there was any glitch at all, it was that Chip ("Buddy") just got cast in a Star Trek episode and might miss the middle performances, so we quickly got him an understudy, too (Steve Prince), who was thrilled to be asked. He asked if we needed him on Friday. Jimmy said it would be nice. Then he said he had planned on going to Denver that day to attend a funeral. His best friend just died of AIDS.
And the toll mounts. And hearts continue to break.
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Friday, July 12, 1996
Exhausted.Today I thought I was going to just die. We ran some scenes and did some micro-staging to get things exactly just so. Then we did the first act, which went well. But when we started the second act, I was mentally and physically exhausted -- and so, by the way, was everyone else. Our poor little brain cells were misfiring and we were so "off" we could barely remember our names, much less our lines.[Back to the July Calendar] [Back to the Diary Home Page]
By the time we were done, I couldn't move. I literally sat there wishing someone would just come and pick me up and take me home. Then I began to think about this: This is the most work I've done in at least three years. Before I was struck down with PCP (pneumonia) I could pull all-nighters and work 14 hours a day and never even blink. But after my hospital visit and extended home therapy, it took about 9 months before I could go a whole day and simply stay awake, so wrecked had my body become.
I remember last summer trying to actually see if I could hold a job. I didn't like living on State disability. Probably that Texas thing in me that balks at taking "gummint money," but I had no choice at the time if I was to survive and eat and pay for meds and supplements, etc. Jimmy and I had been so devastated financially that we spent much time actually standing in line at the APLA FoodBank to get food handouts--milk, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, some other staples.
(On Thanksgiving they gave out frozen turkey dinners--someday I will do something for people getting this free food. Book a fancy restaurant and take them all out for dinner, or give them free passes to a fancy restaurant. I remember how much it meant when someone would take me out to eat--even if it was just a McDonald's. Free food is usually the same from week to week. Very difficult to continue eating when you don't get any variety--still I was very thankful they were there when I needed them the most. Who knows? I might need them again...)
Anyway, my first gig was some volunteer work for a movie agent friend of mine simply sitting at the front desk answering phones as a kind of test for myself. But after two weeks, I had to quit. Just couldn't hold up. That's when I approached Bob-A-Lew Music Publishing and asked them if I could volunteer there half days doing non-crucial work.
They not only welcomed me there, but they gave me a fancy title and a desk, told me to work my own hours and made me feel very important. They said having me on staff was a boon for them since I had such a good reputation in the music industry. (This is why I love them so much, among other things. Honestly, I was prepared to be the floor sweeper or the tape copy boy--whatever!).
So, you see, I have always had a strong work ethic and feel like any job well done is respectable and worthy.
The point I'm making is that this work on the show is the hardest, longest most difficult work I've done in over three years. Thank god for Louie and for Crixivan suddenly pumping me with new life and energy. I would never have held up otherwise. And I'm not the only one. The "normal" people in the cast were also about to faint dead away from how hard we've been driving ourselves. And combine that with the interruptions in my sleep and it could be that I've been driving myself too hard.
So, on the way home, I treated myself to my favorite chicken curry and rice. Then I looked at my e-mail, hooked up Louie, took two Tylenol 4's and went right to bed. And I slept very well. Woke up at 11 to take my Crixivan and then slept until 6am. The best sleep I've had in a long, long time. Only got up twice in the night: once to pee -- we have to drink a lot of water with Crix, and once to fix my injection port where it had come undone, Louie beeping madly away spraying TPN all over me, waking both Jimmy and me up.
Also yesterday, I was able to spend time with my understudy, James and I gave him my keyboard so he could learn the music. He's going to do the Gideon role the second week of our three week run. It'll be interesting to see the play from a distance. He has actually written and performed in musical he himself wrote, and said that when a company in Australia did the show, they flew him out to see it. He said it was weird to see another actor doing "him." But that the actort was so different that after awhile, he didn't see himself at all anymore.
I still think it's going to be weird.
Got lots of neat e-mail this week: a housewife near Detroit who downloaded the flier from the show and posted it over her computer while reading about our progress every day (cool!), a researcher in Minneapolis, a student in London who asked me how to write a musical (as if I know...), good ol' Don Kirkpatrick in El Paso who's actually flying here just to see the show (get a life, Don!), another AIDS researcher in New Mexico, my young rock and roller friend in San Francisco who is trying to have a career while battling AIDS at the same time (I'm praying for you, guy--I know you've been sick) and on and on. Thanks for writing me, folks. It means a lot to me to know my words mean something to you.
Truly, while all the good news about the new drugs continues to pour out of Vancouver, it's startling to remember that there are tens of millions in third world countries who will never see these expensive drugs. They will simply suffer and die. Sometimes it's just too much to think about. So I will stick to what I know: My show; which, hopefully will help people understand and learn compassion for the human element of a very weird and horrible disease.
Saturday, July 13, 1996
Sleep at last. Working with James.At long last, I got some sleep last night. Even though I woke up at my usual 3am (that liquids thing about Crixivan that makes me pee), I have a little portable urinal by the bed, so I don't have to unplug Louie, make my way in the dark, tripping over things, get blinded by the bathroom light, etc. I can just do it and fall back to sleep. Slept til almost 7am when it was time to take the ol Crix.[Back to the July Calendar] [Back to the Diary Home Page]
Later on this morning, James Mellon, who is my "understudy/replacement? in the show came by so I could show him the piano parts for the show. My role is not an easy one since the actor has to play and sing and act (I can do the first two very well, the second--well, let's just say I'm holding my own). James is a pretty good pianist but he is largely self-taught and though I am, too, I learned a lot of technique and he really hasn't. So, he's struggling with little things, like where do you put your hands, etc.
And, of course, he's not at all helped by the fact that I did the lead sheets in my original keys, many of which have been changed during the rehearsal period for the cast to able to sing them. I think he's got a big mountain to climb. You know, I have never thought about myself as that much of a pianist--especially when I get around "real" piano players like Stan Freeman or even just studio guys who can knock out a song in two takes. But I do have a very specific style which is very economical. My playing is deceptively simple sounding, but like with James today, it's not how much you play, it's getting the right notes in the right places.
But I think he'll be fine. What really shocked me was he wanted to raise the keys on "our" solos. I didn't think anyone could sing higher than I could. Oh, well, he does have a very beautiful voice.
I spent the afternoon in the bedroom memorizing lines and taking naps. After the week I've had, it felt so good to just be lazy and in bed. Wonderful. Then some friends came over -- friends we met on our cruise (Oh, I haven't finished the cruise diary yet, have I? Good grief!).
What was significant about seeing them again was that our cruise was the last thing we did before I went on this TPN therapy. In other words, they only know me as this walking skeleton. When they saw me (I've gained 24 pounds now), they couldn't believe I was the same guy! I loved it. I just loved it.
So, we looked at our videos from the cruise and had a nice time and then I fell asleep. Right on the chair while they were still here. HA! I told Jimmy I'm so glad I have a good excuse to do stuff like that. (I always used to do it before AIDS, too. Something about a lively house makes me sleepy...) Hope it doesn't happen during the show!
Sunday, July 14, 1996
My "Final Word" on Gays, God & The Bible.You might recall that I've had this little debate going on with a Fundamentalist Christian regarding the Biblical position on gays. In our earlier exchange he said he believed that some Biblical injunctions were more cultural than "moral" and weren't necessarily intended for today's society. For instance, living commune style or not cutting a woman's hair.
He also said that he was not a gay basher and that he felt very strongly that anyone who equated "gays" and "murderers" was simply not in communion with God. So, we decided to not argue endlessly but instead write conclusions and let it end there. Here is what I wrote him, and the main thrust of my "argument" is that Biblical injunctions against homosexuality is a cultural thing -- something for that day, and not for this day since back then, they had no concept of what it means to be gay (as in "born gay.") And I must admit, I knocked the ball squarely out of the park with my first point.Your last letter was clear on the subject of "moral rules" versus "cultural rules" as opposed simply obeying every word that appears in the Bible. So the place we really part is the issue of whether gay sex is immoral or whether it is a leftover cultural injunction.His response was weak and not worth repeating because he did not respond to any point that I made. He simply said he thought some things were moral and some things cultural and that homosexuality was immoral. Then he told me the whole story of his conversion yadda yadda yadda. Too bad. But I'm glad we had a chance to make the exchange. Certainly made for an interesting discussion...
It was interesting that you make the statement that True Christians who were in communion with God would never equate gay people with murderers. Well, the first person to do that was Paul and the second to do that was St. John in the Book of Revelation. I admit I set a trap there because I wanted to make a point. You yourself believe that equating these two things is a ludicrous position to take. And yet these "great men of God" did this. Are you saying they were not in communion with God when they wrote what they did or could it be that there is a better explanation?
I notice that most of the the "immoral" behavior you described leans heavily toward sexual issues. Your own "lust," my "gayness," etc. Isn't it possible that we have learned a bit more about the reality of sex in our culture than they knew about 2000 years ago? Hasn't the preoccupation with sex down through the years by the church caused more anguish and pain than just about anything else? Could it be that these great men were simply a product of their time when it comes to sexual behavior and natural feelings?
Think about it: back then they stoned women for committing adultery. Is it not a cultural difference that we think stoning is a much greater sin than adultery? Doesn't that tell you something about the differences in our cultures? If you were to go back and adopt the sexual mores and rules and punishments meted out in their day, we'd have a bloodbath that would circle the globe. Again I say, the culture of the day colored the way these men looked at sex and sexual behavior.
I'm not saying open the floodgates and allow such destructive behavior as pedophilia be given free rein, but it's simply ridiculous for me to believe that God would create me in a certain way and then shut me off from ever being able to enjoy the basics of life (like love and a personal relationship) by telling me I have to ignore every basic instinct which he has instilled in me.
If this is a cosmic joke, I don't get the punchline.
Now I refer you to a sermon delivered by an esteemed minister who has been conversing with me via my home page.
"Yes, the Bible refers to "men lying with other men" as an "abomination," but first, that is in the context of not knowing about the inherent nature of sexual identity, and second, so are a few other activities so identified as "abomination": Egyptians eating with Hebrews, a scale that gives false weight, eating crustaceans (read that "lobsters"), children talking back to their parents, lying, oppressing the poor and needy, commiting robbery, reneging on a pledge, or offering improper prayer or worship. So, on the grand scale of things, "abomination" isn't quite what we might think at first. Even if they had known then what we know now.
"Dietary restrictions, rules for commerce, and restrictions on which people the Israelites could associate with were given the same proscriptions as homosexual behavior. Given that, then, let's turn to our scripture for the morning. Peter, the super-apostle, is faced with Gentiles, foreigners with whom he was not even supposed to eat, were being included into the fledgling church by Paul. Peter was adamant that it was not possible-but God had something to say on that.
"About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean." The voice said to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
"That blanket full of animals included clean and unclean-animals that could be eaten and those which were an "abomination." Peter heard the word: 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' And we must hear it too. The restrictions and the separation of the world into clean and unclean are the actions of humans, not God. Maybe the early Hebrews understood them differently, but Jesus certainly did not. In case we missed the point, a few verses later the word comes again as Peter says, 'God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.'
"The world puts-or more to the point, we put-a difficult yoke onto our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They know their selves, their feelings, and their attractions-and we say they're wrong, they're bad, they don't fit. And then we carp about any hangups they may have. If they try to live their lives openly we discriminate legally, economically, and socially. We refuse to recognize their committed long-term relationships-then we are upset about those who feel they have to sneak around seeking the physical intimacy many of us take for granted." (End of section from Bro. Jerry's sermon).
More to the point, for me -- and this is more a practical opinion than one I can justify with scripture -- the interpretation that being gay (or as you would put it gay sex itself, but I cannot separate the two) is inherently sinful, is an interpretation which, in and of itself, is bigotry and is evil. How can I make that statement?
Because of the evil which is visited upon people by its application. To deny someone the right to love freely (and I don't mean promiscuously) according to the natural inclinations given him by God is an immoral judgment which does terrible harm to that person. Teenage suicides by gay teens who cannot find a way to live freely, moral crusades by so-called Christian groups who always seem to need to find someone to rail against so they can prove the existence of the devil or something, gay people burned and bashed and jailed and executed and put into concentration camps.
All of this comes from someplace and that place is the idea that God considers us immoral by nature. Now you might say here that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and that we are all immoral -- or sinful -- creatures, but it's not the same thing.
Your interpretation might simply be an interpretation to you, but to me its ramifications nullify everything that I am as a human being. It's HUGE, my friend. GIGANTIC. I do not wish to live an immoral life. If I were to accept your interpretation, it would destroy my "marriage" of 11 years, it would have me out there begging Christ to change me (an impossibility no matter what some say), and it would make me an enemy of the people I find most precious: my own gay brothers and sisters who have been hounded, beaten, ridiculed and judged for centuries.
No. At some point, the moral man must stand up for what he believes. And I believe that your interpretation of this particular Biblical injunction -- that your refusal to see it for the cultural leftover that it is -- is in itself immoral. It visits violence upon me and upon my brothers and sisters.
Do I judge you for this? NO SIR. This is not an aspersion upon you personally. I simply believe that you are misguided and uninformed because you "do not know what you do" when you make this judgment. Since I have found you to be a profoundly kind and gentle man, and since I think you are morally upright, consistent and humble in your actions and deeds, I have full faith that you will consider my words and appreciate the fervor and passion I bring to this discussion.
I invite you to also, if you are at all interested in opening your mind to my opinion and would enjoy a second opinion, to write an e-mail to Rev. Jerry whose sermon I quoted from. Talk about your beautiful soul and righteous human being! He teaches me when I stray because of my own spiritual and physical and emotional weaknesses. (He is at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Alan Smith.)
Okay. I've had my say. I send this to you and hope it will at least give you some insight into a fellow creature's thoughts and beliefs. I hope the Holy Spirit will allow whatever bits of truth are found here to make their way into your heart. And I thank you for allowing me this bit of indulgence. Until we began our exchanges, I wasn't quite sure how to articulate my beliefs and you have helped me give them form and you have helped strengthen my convictions (albeit not in the way you would have preferred, no doubt).
I send much love to you. I still think about your letter in which you detailed for me the pain and struggle you have experienced and it breaks my heart for you. To have lost a son. I cannot fathom what that must have done to you, my friend. I have an aunt who lost a grown daughter and she is still not over it. We have wept together and she has shared the pain with me as best one can with mere words. I'm happy you found strength to endure. I wish you all the best in your life and in your world.
(Felt good today. Did a quick line reading with the cast down at the Bourgeious Pig and ate -- yep -- chicken curry from a new place. Didn't like it as much as my regular place. Came home and rested most of the day. Big week coming up. We tech the show on Tuesday, dress rehearsal on Wednesday, open on Thursday.... I'm so excited, I can barely hold it all in.)
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Monday, July 15, 1996
More weird dreams. Excitement Builds.Here's the dream: It was my first big musical to be produced. Huge venue. Huge stage. Big cast. Opening night. And I "knew" it was the worst thing ever written. I couldn't bear to watch, so I hung out in the lobby which looked like a bus station with two rickety tables. At the table I was sitting was an old lady who was a bit crazy. I got her a drink at the little soft drink counter and as I was sitting there in horror knowing I was going to be humiliated for thrusting this piece of shit musical on everyone, all I could think about was how much the people on my home page would enjoy my description of the lobby which looked like an old bus station.
You see what this means, don't you? You've now permeated my dreams and have become a part of my subconscious. And it also means that no matter how lousy a day I've had, I can use it to entertain you folks. Aren't you proud?
I had dreams all night long and slept very restlessly but didn't want to get up. I know that this whole show is "working on my last nerve" as Francesca would put it. But I'm still excited and ready to get out there and do it. Reservations were flying in yesterday and the first two nights are almost sold out, so that's kinda cool.
Today we mostly worked on memorizing the dialog from the show. I still have some rough spots, but got it together for the most part. We also worked on the music. Funny thing: when we started, Preacher and the Nurse was out worst sounding song. Now it's our best. Very thrilling arrangement. Also today, James, my replacement who will go on next week, came by and watched the rehearsal. I had him sing "my" songs and get used to all the harmonies. He really has a very pretty voice. But these piano arrangements are going to be a bitch.
I mostly have this little "buzz" going on underneath as the excitement builds. Tomorrow, Tuesday, we have a tech rehearsal where they are going to try to marry the sound and lights and get all the cues right. Then Wednesday we have our full dress rehearsal and Thursday night we open. Hard to believe it's on us already. The cast is really hanging together and loving each other. That's a very nice thing. And, geez, I need a haircut.
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Tuesday, July 16, 1996
Tech Rehearsal. Ticket "Sales."Our phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to order tickets, but our first two performances are SOLD OUT and we can't take a single other person. We're also getting orders for the other nights. And this is before anyone has even seen the show. We've taken no ads out and we have done no publicity.
I finally got a haircut. Everyone who came into the rehearsal today, stopped, yelled, pointed at me and screamed, "HAIRCUT!" Francesca liked it long. The others were ambivalent. But it was too long and it felt like a big mess so I got it cut. Funny thing about hair. It grows back.
It was fun to see the whole set put together today. All the mics and tables and knick knacks. Ronda brought her piano down. I hadn't realized what a big mess getting piano was going to turn into. The only problem was that after we got rehearsing, there are two crucial bass notes on her piano that don't work. So now I've got to decide to either live with them or figure something else out. Always something...
David Robyn dutifully showed up with his PA system thus saving us $450 a show (thank you, David). He also brought a demo of the first song he wrote under my "creative guidance." On the tape he had me listed as co-writer. I objected and said to him that it was my job to give him input on the song, but he insisted. It's a tough place to be. If he had actually paid me for my time, or if the song were signed to Bob-A-Lew and I was getting paid by them for my time, I wouldn't allow it at all, but no money has changed hands and I could see that it was from his heart. So, I relented. It's just such a fine line, this creative thing and there's a controversy here in L.A. about a songwriting teacher who thinks her input should get writer credit. Something I vehemently object if the person is getting paid for that input.
What can I say? I'm crazy about this guy.
Got another tape from a guy in San Francisco named Billy Valentine. Billy has AIDS and has a rock band called Holy Joe. He and I have been corresponding and he finally sent me his tape. I was really impressed. Hard and rough edged. Alternative. Reflects his life as a teenage prostitute, drug user, etc. But, like me, AIDS slapped him in the face and has changed him. He's so different from me or David. Covered with tatoos, totally rough personna. Interesting.
Our tech rehearsal went surprisingly smooth. A few places where we "went up" on the lines, but the flow of the play is wonderful. We had a couple of new faces out there listening and they just loved it. I think we really do have a wonderful thing here. It's not like anything else. In structure, it's a bit like "Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road" but it's an entirely different piece and now I'm anxious to see it in front of a live audience. Oh, and have I mentioned how much I loved being on stage performing this? I totally and completely love it.
Dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Opening on Thursday night.
I'm shaking with anticipation and thrill-a-minute excitement.
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Wednesday, July 17, 1996
The Dress RehearsalToday when I woke up, I was a little tired. My voice was a bit tired and I hadn't really slept all that well. Lots of strange dreams, etc. But the worst thing that happened was that I got a leg cramp in my calf and it was excruciating. I jumped up out of bed and tried to flex it by putting my weight on the ball of my foot (which usually works). It worked, but then it happened again and this time I was almost screaming. Scared Jim to death. The muscle stayed tight all day long.
We had two run-throughs today. One about 3pm with a few people watching, including our old friend, Mary Jo Catlett -- a character actress Jim has known forever. Mary Jo was in the original "Hello Dolly" and she is currently playing a chest of drawers in the L.A. production of "Beauty and the Beast." She just loved the show. She was really effusive in her praise.
And that particular run-through went well. Which worried some of the actors. There's an old show biz maxim that says if you have a lousy "dress" then the show will be great. But if you have a great dress rehearsal then the show will go awry. Anyway, we finished the run-through for the afternoon and I was tired. So, I laid down on the floor with a folded up blanket under my head and got a little 15 minute nap. Then Gary the Producer (who runs the neon shop) brought me up to a room over the shop and I laid down on a couch while Jimmy went out for food.
Jimmy was really in pain, though. His sciatica was really acting up. Anyway, we were soon herded us into the little dressing rooms where everyone was busy looking in mirrors and primping for the show. We ran a couple of the scenes that are still bumpy for us and soon it was time for the rehearsal. We had an audience of about 15 or so, invited guests.
My entrance is at the top of the show totally in the dark. They have some glow tape on my stool and on the front of the piano so I can find it. Then I begin to noodle on the piano while a spotlight slowly go up on me. When it gets to full I start singing the bridge from Going It Alone. Well, the lights began coming up but suddenly lights all over the stage started flashing. Then I went to black. Then it came up full. I thought I was in a fireworks show!
And I knew that poor Larry the stage manager, who has been so great this whole time doing superhuman duty -- and who was running the lights -- was probably having a heart attack just about then. So, I waited until it calmed down and then I began singing. The scenes went well at first. I stumbled a little in the initial scene with me and Jim the sound engineer.
But when "Vicki" came in, we got lost and skipped about three pages of dialog. She finally saved us by just leaping to the first plot point. I also noticed that the air conditioning went out (it's on a simple timer) during the first scene so we all began sweating. (And also, there's another old rule: never play comedy in heat).
Moving on, we did okay until we got to Friendly Fire and once again, the lights went nuts. This is a fantasy sequence played in red. But only half the lights came up so the half the song was played on a dark stage. And poor Larry was sweating trying to figure out how to get the proper lights up.
Well, we finished okay. Got nice applause and all. Then all the actors felt very relieved because it meant we'd have a great opening since everything went wrong during the dress.
Actors are strange people.
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Thursday, July 18, 1996
Opening Night At Last.Because I have so many friends and acquaintances here in Los Angeles from my many years of working here, I was expecting most of the opening night audience to be friends of mine--as has been the case for our two public readings of The Last Session. But when I glanced at the reservations list, I noticed that this was not the case for opening night. In fact, most of the names I didn't know at all. So, I realized we were going to have a really true test of whether this material connects with "strangers" or not.
Last night we got home so late and I was so tired, I decided once again to forgo hooking up to Louie so that I could just fall into bed and pass out. As I mentioned before, the only bad thing about Louie is that if I even so much as bend my right arm while sleeping, it will set him to beeping like crazy and wake me up, and I just didn't want to be tired for tonight. Not at all.
So, I got pretty good sleep. Woke up a hour or two later than usual, which meant I was an hour behind on taking the Crixivan so I raced into the kitchen and took it (with little visions of AIDS viruses trying to replicate in that hour). Then I did my morning ritual of e-mail (thanks, by the way, to all of you for the wonderful notes I received today--I even got a bunch of cyber-roses!).
Still, I felt tired. We went down to the theatre for a runthrough of the scenes we had trouble with last night and we did a cue to cue tech run-through for the Larry, the stage manager, who was also running lights. But before everyone got there, while Jimmy and Larry were going over stuff, I laid down on the floor (again) and went promptly to sleep.
They woke me for the rehearsals and tech check but in the middle of that, they did something to the mic in the booth which set the PA system going bonkers and suddenly we had a crisis on our hands. It took about 15 minutes, but we got the system back online and went ahead with the tech.
By this time, though, I was really really tired. We had been at this for an hour or more and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was sitting at the piano in a half daze, not even paying attention to what was happening. Finally, we had only done the first act when Jimmy noticed how late it was and he dismissed us. I immediately went back up to the little couch over the neon shop and dropped onto it and out.
I had this lucid dream. From the couch, you can hear the sounds of Melrose Avenue outside. Unlike much of Los Angeles, Melrose Avenue is a place where people actually walk the sidewalks and talk. The strip where our theatre is at (or on) is a very busy little place--very popular with tourists and even natives. Lots of sidewalk cafes and coffeeshops, stores with clothing, old records, tattoo parlors, pizza joints--a real mixture of high and low life, if you know what I mean. In this dream, I was on Melrose and I was awake during the dream. I could control what I did but I couldn't wake up, so I just began lifting myself off the ground and flying down the street looking at the people and drifting over their heads.
When I finally woke up, I felt very refreshed. So, I went down and joined Jimmy who was having burgers at a 50s diner with Ronda and Kim (producers) and Chip (who plays Buddy--by the way, Chip's mom, Chip says hi and the baby's fine and so is the wife). They had a burger for me (and fries), so I sat there and ate knowing showtime was moving closer and closer. Also, I was trying to time this because, while my Crixivan has to be taken on an empty stomach, the Invirase and Biaxin have to be taken on a full stomach (they need fats to metabolize). I also take the 3TC, d4T, and a few other things with them.
Finally, I joined the other actors up in the dressing room. Chip was already at the make-up mirror doing actor stuff. He's just a bit older than Buddy would actually be, so he was shaving and adding some color to his face. The "girls" were in the other dressing room. I thought I would be very nervous, but in fact, I felt very calm. We had gone over the trouble scenes without any problem and it seemed like all we had to do was just go out there and do it!
Chip gave me some encouragement, too. He knows -- they all know -- I have no experience acting and as we were just running over a few lines and checking with each other about some things, he noticed I "read" a line a certain way -- the way I usually did, and he reminded me of something he had told me before. He said I should not try to do it the same way everytime. It was a scene where I was finally giving Buddy a break and trying to loosen him up. Chip said if you feel sorry for me, then do it that way. If you feel like you need to make me laugh, then do that. Just let the moment happen.
I don't know what it was about that instruction, but it just released me. Suddenly I realized that now that we had the words down, the rest was just playing the scenes "in reality." Letting our emotions change depending upon how each of us feels or plays the scene. Like kids, really. Just being there in the moment, one hundred percent and following along, but never truly repeating yourself.
So, I just decided that tonight I would go out there and just have fun and play along and let the moments take me.
Larry called places and he led me to my spot. I have to go down the stairs, circle around the back of the building and enter from stage left (audience right) in pitch black. I made my way to the glow tape on my stool and on the piano. We even had to put glow tape on the keys that I would play first so I wouldn't hit sour notes in the dark. Well, I made my way to the stool, felt where the mic was, saw the glow tape and put my finger on the keys, took a deep breath, and I could feel the audience breathing. The Zephyr is a very small theatre. Only 81 seats and the audience is right on top of us. The stage is on the floor and the seats are in three or four rows (each row raised higher than the one in front of it) on three sides. And I knew in that darkness there were living breathing beings in the dark waiting for me to do something.
I found my notes and began to play. My pulse raced a little as the lights slowly came up on me and I began to sing the very high and beautiful words and notes to the bridge of Going It Alone:But is it such a lonely battle?Then suddenly Jim the Sound Engineer breaks the mood by yelling, "You're too close to the mic!" I jump back and apologize and suddenly we're off into the play. I (Gideon) then announce that I've decided to end my life the next day and sing Save Me A Seat, where I sing of my memorial service and how I want to be remembered (as somebody you can pull in from the spirit world to sit and talk to when you feel pushed to the wall about something or just need a friend).
Have I been so wrapped up in myself?
What about what you've been through as well?
Do you lie awake and worry
Never falling back to sleep?
Are you going through some private kind of hell?
Jim challenges me about the suicide intention and begs me to stop and talk to him, but I press on begging him in return to let me just get through these last songs of my life. He relents. When Tricia makes her first entrance (with a scream), I am so relieved to have Francesca on stage with me. She is such a pro and just takes charge like a bolt of energy after such a "depressing" opening. Then Vicki makes her entrance with a cigarette complaining about there being two handicapped parking places and how she doesn't care if "Helen-f***ing-Keller was singing there tonight, she isn't moving."
And on it went. All the laughs were there. We all remembered our lines and as we got to the end of the first act, where there is a major blowup between Vicki and Gideon who both storm off stage--as Buddy is left there on a stool wondering what the hell he's gotten himself into--as the lights slowly fade on him, the crowd just gasped and went wild.
And that's how they reacted at the end of the play, too. As the final strains of When You Care faded out and we faded to black gathered around the piano, they leaped to their feet from the first moment. We all took our bows to their wild applause. Then I stepped foward and thanked them for coming to the show. I also told them that 99% of the information in the songs and the story was absolutely true, except that unlike Gideon, I do not have cancer (thank the lord). But I did tell them that two months ago, Jimmy and I really thought I was near the end until we did this intervention with Louie (I didn't name Louie, though).
And that if I had anything to say to them at all, it was simply that there is always hope and it comes when people really do care. It was love (and good medical advice) that has kept me alive and has made this music come alive. Then we went off to more thunderous applause.
Afterward, I was hugged and puppy pawed and all the good stuff one gets from doing a good job. It was particularly nice when it came from people I didn't know and who had to emotional bond with me going into it. They're the real test. Everyone kept saying it was better than "Rent" or what "Rent" should have been, etc., etc. Even Stan Freeman was in tears again.
So, folks, that's the report. We do it again tomorrow night and it will be a completely new show with a new audience. And I'm going to remember what Chip told me about making it new each time. I can tell you this (and you're probably sick of hearing it by now), but these are truly the most exciting times of my life. At our little dinner party afterward (once again paid for by Doug--who plays Jim), Francesca leaned across the table and said some wonderful things to me. And I'm going to repeat them at the risk of seeming immodest, but HEY! this is MY diary! I can be immodest if I want.
She said I was a light. That she could just feel light and energy coming from me. She said the songs, especially Connected, just touched her in places that few songs ever had, and that it did it from the first moment she read the lyrics in the script. She said, "Honey, scripts don't make me cry. This one did." She said, "You are such a source of light and inspiration. You make us all feel alive."
I responded to her that it was the love of my friends that have pulled me through. I feel like I owe it to them to live as well as I can. They invested their love and support in me and I would be a total jerk if I did not honor their love by trying as hard as I can to keep my own light burning and fighting for life every single day. We truly are connected and the way we maintain that connection is by being sources of inspiration for each other. I told her how much her ease on stage has helped me grow as an actor and -- well, you get the point, I'm sure.
And, I'll be honest with you -- all of you who read this on a daily basis, or who visit occasionally -- I get so much from you, too. I thought when it began that I would be able to educate others and help people see, on that daily basis, what life with AIDS truly felt like. But as your mail comes to me -- as you tell me about your lives and your heartaches AND your triumphs, you remind me that we are all connected when we want to be.
From the woman in Seattle who lost her son to suicide after he was attacked by homophobes and who now is a leader in PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to the man with AIDS in Maine whose parents just threw him out of the house and who is now looking for a place to live--(if any of you have any ideas about how to help him, let me know), to Billy Valentine in San Francisco who is suffering terribly with AIDS but who puts his guitar on every night and sings his ass off in a rock band called Holy Joe, to Don in El Paso who decided to just fly out here to see our show and who gave us a donation to make it happen, to Bro. Jerry in New York who continues to bring me wisdom and spiritual enlightenment to Marty here in L.A. who has let me know that if I ever need anything, all I have to is call to Harriet and Nik and Alan and Jim and Brett... well, I just have to say that I love you all. And I love hearing from you. I've kept all your letters and I reread them and realize that we're all struggling in this life. All in our own way.
All we really have is each other. And sometimes it takes a brush with death to realize it, but at that moment in Santa Monica hospital when I was at my very lowest (and I told Francesca this last night), the only thing that flooded my mind at that moment -- the only thing that really gave me the will to pull through -- was the love and support of, well, all those faces that made me feel necessary. That made me feel like a vital human being.
You are all vital to me. You keep me alive. And I hope that I can truly be a source of light to you, too. I owe you. And it's a debt I am most happy and willing to pay.
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Friday, July 19, 1996
The Morning After. A Visit from Don.Jimmy made an executive decision this morning. He decided that he would not put my understudy on next weekend. There were a number of elements that led to that decision, but he just felt that for consistency's sake, I should continue in the role. Also, Chip unexpectedly got a Star Trek: Voyager episode and we will be putting in a new "Buddy" on Thursday. He didn't want to put two new people in on one night, especially since my role consists of playing the piano. D.R. was not happy with this decision and he called the other producers, but they agreed it was for the best that I stay in.
We called James and told him, offering to pay him for his time, but he was very gracious and simply wished us well.
Usually there's a bit of a letdown after an opening night, I'm told. But today I felt very energized. For one thing, Don Kirkpatrick was flying in from El Paso with friends. Don is this 60 year old guy who, all of his life, was pretty much in the closet. He never really got out much, he says, or did very much. But a funny thing happened to him recently.
He got a computer.
And he began meeting people online. Not just other gay people which was probably his first intention, but straight women and men -- he just loves people so much, he began building up this whole list of people who he has come to love and think of as family.
One day, and he can't remember how, he stumbled across my page and sent me an e-mail. I responded (which I always do) and suddenly we just became very fast friends. As he followed along and watched the progress of both my health and our show, he felt like he was a part of it all. So much so, that when we announced the workshop production, he promptly got plane tickets and talked three other friends (his nephew and the nephew's lover from Amarillo and a cyberfriend from Midland, Texas whom he had never met in person) to come out to Hollywood and see the show with him.
So, finally we met yesterday. And what a great guy! They booked themselves into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, ogled all the cute people walking down the boulevard and joined us for a quick dinner just before showtime. I had to laugh, though. When one of the guys he was with would ask a question about the show or the songs or about me, *he* answered. Just from reading the diary, he knew more about me that *I* did!
It was kinda eerie. A perfect stranger who knows my life as intimately as my closest friend. And Jimmy said he thought it was so strange when, as he put it, "...a perfect stranger asks me how my back is doing." And it's all because of the home page and the diary, of course. In fact, someone at the office (Bob-A-Lew) said something to me the other day and finished it with, "I read it in your diary." Do you know I almost said, "What are you doing reading my diary?"
Then I remembered, "Oh, yeah. It's online. For the whole world to see!"
The performance tonight was a good one, but kind of strange. They weren't laughing at the jokes quite as vociferously as other nights. Jimmy said he thought maybe they weren't "into" the play as others had been. But then he said he really looked over the crowd and he could see that they were leaning forward and intensely listening. Oh, they were into it, all right. It's just that this material was hitting them hard. They were really intense.
The second act moves along really quickly and the laughs were coming a lot more frequently by then. And we talked about afterwards. The stuff in this play is very hard hitting. The funny material is there to help relieve the pressure of having to "live" through a lot of dark material. And sometimes, like last night, I think if the crowd is really caught up in the horror of the AIDS story -- and we don't hide any of the horror -- it can be difficult to know when to breathe, much less when to laugh.
It's really an odd combination of elements and I think this show is something no one has quite seen before. It's very unique. By the end of the show, though, they were really having a great time. And we got a powerful immediate standing ovation again. Gary, who runs the theatre, said it's been a long, long time since he's seen these kinds of standing ovations in the Zephyr.
And, so far, we've never done a performance of The Last Session where we didn't get a standing ovation.
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Saturday, July 20, 1996
A Note From Someone In Hell.I just saw something on the web that has so sickened me, so saddened me and made my guts wrench in horror, I can barely keep from vomiting. A church -- a group of "Christians" whose belief is that God HATES gay people -- or FAGS as they call them. On their page is a statement that says "...for everyone who thinks that God loves everyone turn to..." and then they list Bible verses as proof. It just reminds me how much "God-fearing" people used the Bible to enforce their own racism or to uphold slavery.
I invite you to visit and to see for you own eyes how the Bible can be used to prove anything. If you are filled with hate, you can justify that hate if you want to. You can justify anything is you want to. I sent them a note of love and told them I felt nothing but sadness, and told them I hoped they realize how many young gay people would probably get killed or beaten up by their message of hate. I'm just so appalled.
This is the latest note from a man in my online e-mail AIDS support group. I got permission to post it here. It's just a reminder that not all diseases come from a virus:To: GayPoz@web-depot.comThen we got this post a few days later:
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 1996 22:39:07
Subject: Call of Urgent Need!!!
From: email@example.com (Bill Osborne)
Hello all. I'm in a very vulnerable position right now. My folks and I have been going round and round over the need for them to seek support and family counseling with regards to my HIV. My father blouts out "that I milk the HIV/AIDS and death/dying issue" too much, yet I only try to prepare them for my needs when say I get a metallic taste from drugs in the mouth etc... Each time I sit a meal with the folks (I live now at home) often things just don't taste right. Instead of complaining about it, I just don't eat things when I don't feel good. Then mom gets into this care-taker mood and inflicts guilt/blame when I don't eat her cooking. Then my father jumps in and blasts me for "all the time she puts in the kitchen, and I don't appreciate their hard hard work! They've asked me to leave tonight. i.e.: Move out!!!
I've no friends at this point, other than my 7 yr. old cat. He's a sweetie. Been HIV+ now 16.5yrs. fought long and hard to stay alive, and now I have to deal with parrents issuing ultimatums and control issues, because they think by pulling the roof out from under my feet that I will submit to their non wanting to take charge of their emotional needs with regards to my HIV/AIDS disease. I have never felt that they were on the same train I was with regards to this disease. So now, I'm being tossed out of the house, and no idea where to turn. I will call public housing tomorrow, but as another person stated previously, living out of my car isn't a dream I've ever had! So as sad and unwanting of this event to occur, our flare ups in the last six months are over them just not taking any initiative to even pick up the phone and talk to someone. I feel greatly let down and betrayed by those who I've deeply loved. Sorry if this sounds like someone over reacting, but no... it's real and I'm in need of looking for someplace to live. Even California is a option if we can swing it. Very down and depressed, Bill from Maine :(Hi all. I wanted to thank all of you for your support and continued support. Yes, I'm still being kicked out, and our communications is colder than the US and Russia during the cold war.So, I included his e-mail address above in the intro to the letters. If you want to send him a little support note to let him know you read about his plight and were thinking of him, that would be very sweet.
After my last head-banging against the wall, the light came on, and I realized that my parents are truly dysfunctional and just can't be reasoned with. My sister even said that a couple months ago. Mom keeps doing this martyr thing on me: "Oh, I'm such a bad mother, Oh, I'm doing all I can for you, Oh I'm sorry I'm such a stupid person," and on and on it goes... I've had it with that garbage....
I had a escalating problem over a year ago. My next door neighbor's kid (18 yrs.) was working on his jalopie and it spewed lots of blue oily smoke. Now in the summer, my only source of ventilation is my sliding glass door. Making this quick and to the point, I asked my parents to talk to the kid's folks, as I didn't want the impression that I, a 42 yr. old male was trying to pick up their son. And this smoke each time caused me to go into major spastic choking spells where I ended up on the floor, gasping for air. This had been happening for a while. Folks didn't do a thing. Two more times this happened, and the last time, my doctor said I could have ruptured a blood vessel in my head, so be extremely careful and avoid this stuff. So, I took charge. I sent next door a cautious email. Neighbors responded saying they were pissed!!!
Then I went to a support group and read my email to them, to be sure it wasn't offensive. Everybody agreed it was safe to send. The next day, they ordered my folks over for a talk. They said I had threatened them... Nowhere, no way!! She being a clerk at the county jail, showed my letter (HIV info and all) to the sherrif. Totally against any confidentiality considerations for me. Nothing occured, but once I found out how they felt about me, I became very upset. Of course, they will have nothing to do with me, but my parents don't believe me when I say I didn't threaten them. So, I told them that if they are not on my train, then I don't want them to be a part of my life. These same neighbors said to my face that they'd be there for me. That I could come over anytime to talk.
Well, I wanted a relationship with them, because my parents are so dysfunctional that I knew I just might need someone close. Each time I say to my folks I want to clear this up with the neighbors, they say, we don't want a rift with the neighbors, just leave them alone. I have. But had the folks supported me in the first place, this crap wouldn't have happened and this has been a key element in my relations with the family.
What brought us to blows was when I saw repeatedly beef blood several days old stagnating in her refrig. shelving. Doesn't wipe it up, just set something new on top of it. Meat drawer had 3 opened packages of bacon, plus cooked meats, and raw bloody meats all mixed on top of each other. Bad health concerns. Being a Chef, I was appauled. When I mentioned it, the shit hit the fan. Dad said I blow HIV out of proportion, and that I was a sick wacko, who needed help, and certainly not them. Sound familiar with family denial rhetoric??? Then dad said, "Your mother is constantly in the kitchen and he doing dishes... guess the next sentence??? You are a burden on us, so why don't you move the hell out!" My answer was: How dare any parent have the gall to order their HIV kid out and into the streets??? In the midst of all of this, I was so tense that I accidentally broke a rung on a dining room chair. That stopped the room silent. It's now been 4 days of no communication, yet they are more concerned that I broke that chair, than me having a broken heart. I really tried, to prepare them for HIV issues. I've done my homework, but they haven't. So, once again, it seems like every 6 yrs. I'm on the road again. I'm ready now. Talked to case management today locally, but I truly believe somewhere distant is really where I need to be. Once I leave here, I do not ever plan on calling them again. I've had friends who's parents treated me like their own son, so I know I can find another family and be happily ever after... Anything is better than this. So, I'm in need of contact #'s to various ASO's [AIDS Service Organizations] to see what benefits might be in a particular state.
But as said before, I never dreamed that my ex-retired school principal "control freak" mother, would hold a roof over my head at 42 yrs. old. Funny, but I have the money to move to Calif. tomorrow and not flinch! I call it my rainy day fun!! Anyone with further suggestions, send them along. This old battle ax, longtermer ain't down yet!!! Thanks yall for your support, it is keeping me focused and alive!!! Bill from Maine.
Also, today, since you're going to read this on Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to include an excerpt from a recent sermon by Rev. Jerry Alan Smith, who I've been telling you about. For those of you who are Christians, you'll relate to this. If you are not, you'll appreciate the message itself. It's so NOT like the "Christians" who seem to get the headlines these days.The God that Jesus knew--the same one we know--does not allow for exclusion and discrimination, but is the God of everyone, everywhere. And so we today may have as much trouble with Jesus the prophet as did those people of Nazareth so many years ago.Bro. Jerry gets a little annoyed with me because, while I tell how I came from a Christian home and learned Christian behavior, I won't just flat out say that I am a Christian these days. He really got annoyed when I said to one person here: I'm not saying I am a Christian and I'm not saying I am not a Christian. Judge me by my behavior.
We like the parable of the good Samaritan until we realize that the Samaritan is the very one we have put down, excluded, and discriminated against. We like the story of the prodigal son until we discover that that person running up the road into God's waiting arms is the very person that we hate and have rejected.
Jesus the prophet would have nothing to do with supporting exclusion and oppression by the "we" of his time--and will still not go for it today. He will not stand by and let us be spiritual couch potatoes, comfortable in our own little world of "we"--he is at work breaking down the barriers that divide people even today.
The barriers that divide people, you see, also divide people from God. God, neighbor, self is the real "eternal triangle." If any of the connections among them is weak or broken, the whole thing is weakened, and fails. Who are our "they"s? Are "they" the ones that we are afraid if we build movie theaters in our plaza will come up from Rochester--the Latinos and African-Americans? Though we say "African-American" are we still thinking and acting the "n-word"? Jesus the prophet deplores the walls that separate us--and that we keep them in such good repair.
Are "they" the couples who wish to make lifetime commitments to each other, who want to be able to sponsor each other and visit each other in the hospital and make decisions together and for each other--even though they happen to both be men or both be women? Jesus the prophet deplores the walls that separate us--and that we keep them in such good repair.
Are "they" the religiously conservative who wish to push their social and political agenda upon everyone, who want to go back to or hold on to the traditions of their past? Are "they" the ones who wish to cut benefits that support the poorest of the poor? Are "they" persons with AIDS or whatever disease we fear most today? Jesus the prophet deplores the walls that separate us--and that we keep them in such good repair.
Are "they" the Cubans or the Iraqis or the Russians or whomever we find politically incorrect today? Or are "they" the ones that we judge to be godless or heathen or fanatic because they practice some other way of coming before God--or profess no God at all? Or are "they" the illegal immigrants from Mexico who are using our education and health care facilities, or are "they" the legal Southeast Asians who are taking our jobs, or are "they" the Jews who are disproportionately successful in our financial world? Jesus the prophet deplores the walls that separate us--and that we keep them in such good repair.
Notice the repeated use not only of the word "they" but also the word "our." Both words define the classification and exclusion that Jesus spoke--and speaks--against. If there is any solace in all of this, it is when we remember that "we" are "they" to "them". If there is any comfort in this it is that God meets our needs and calms the fears that lead to our discrimination in the first place.
When we say Jesus is a prophet we let ourselves in for having our comfort disturbed. When we say Jesus is a prophet we open ourselves to having to take seriously his aversion to the barriers that separate us as people. When we say Jesus is a prophet we must join him in breaking down the barriers--the very barriers that we set up--against the poor, the oppressed, against anyone whose way of being is different than our own. Jesus came to us, to heal us of our blindness, to release our captivity, and to set us free of what oppresses us--but our blindness may be our unwillingness to look at all of God's people as God's people; our captivity might be to the rigid rules and structures that we have established to protect our comfort; and what really oppresses us is the self-interest that drives us away from God and further into our selves.
I am just so mortified and embarrassed by the so-called Christian Right and its leaders that I don't even want to share the same name with them. I don't want anyone to even slightly think I'm "one of them." So, I'll continue to keep my relationship with the Eternal One a personal matter. Between God and me.
Who knows? Maybe I'm an atheist. Maybe I'm a Hindu. Maybe I'm a converted Jew. Maybe I'm a Moslem. All I know is where I came from and that what matters most as far as anyone else is concerned is how I treat others. This is what Christ taught. This is what lies at the foundation of any ethical "religion." If I judge, I judge behavior. Because, more than anything you can say with words, it's behavior that truly tells you what's in a person's heart.
Speaking of behavior, here is another note from a Canadian member of my group in tribute to someone he admires:
"Among my Canadian heroes is a remarkable woman I first met at the Canadian AIDS Society annual meeting in June, although her face had been beaming through my television screen for several years.
"Janet Connors found out that her husband, Randy, a hemophiliac, was HIV+ 6 weeks after she married him in 1985. Janet sero-converted in 1989. Within a couple of years, both shed their cloaks of anonomity to become activists. Although Randy died in 1994, Janet has enough energy for a small army. Last week, Janet had a private meeting with the Prime Minister after having crashed a Girl Guide picnic in Nova Scotia.
"In an article in today's Ottawa Citizen describing that meeting, this story about her and Randy "coming out" is recounted:So, in November 1992, they went public with their story."Wow.
Here was a middle-class couple, not gay or shooting up drugs, which had the dread disease, the TV news feature explained. It aired during a heavy snowstorm. Afterward, Janet and her son from a previous marriage, Gus, now 15, went outside to shovel the driveway. Then, in her own words:
"In absolute silence, all of a sudden all our neighbours on the street walked up to our house with their shovels over their shoulder, shovelled out our driveway, and left. They'd never done that before."
"And to clear up any doubts, Janet is one of the driving forces on the Nova Scotia AIDS Coalition. She wears the pink triangle proudly in solidarity with her gay brothers.
"A remarkable woman."
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Sunday, July 21, 1996
"Is This The Show Everyone's Talking About?"We got a call for ticket orders from some lady who sounded *very* Beverly Hills or Malibu. She asked for 4 tickets to The Last Session and then went to find her credit card. I told her it wasn't necessary because the tickets were only a $10 donation at the door.
She stopped and asked, "Is this the show everyone's talking about?" I quickly answered, "Yes, it is." Then I asked her where she heard about it and she said two people had recommended it to her. She couldn't believe it was only ten bucks.
We also got a message on our machine from a dinner theatre here in Los Angeles. The man said if we were not extended at The Zephyr, he wanted us at his place. Period. Jimmy and I laughed because we never thought of our show as dinner theatre material. (I still laugh at the scene in the movie, "Soapdish" where Kevin Kline is doing "Death of a Salesman" at a dinner theatre in Florida and during a scene he cuts some old guy's meat for him.)
By the way, I finally found a new place on the web which has the daily CDC Aids Summary. The old one had gone dead on me.
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Monday, July 22, 1996
Steve Takes A Day OffLast night was one of the most miserable nights I can remember. Louie was beeping his head off because the line kept getting "occluded," as he puts it. As I've mentioned before, the port and the line which is "permanently" inserted into my vein is in the crook of my arm. And if I bend it even slightly, it cuts off the flow of TPN into my body and the alarm goes off which wakes me up and if I'm deeply in sleep and it keeps going off, I start to get really really pissed.
What was pissing me off last night was that my arm was NOT bent and it still was occluding. And the room was hot. And I kept trying to sleep, but I couldn't sleep. And getting up is such a little ballet with all this equipment. Finally I had it. I grabbed the line and just jerked it out of the port and shut Louie off.
Then I got up and put the A/C up on high and went back to bed. I have to sleep in a cold room or I can't sleep at all. When morning came around, I felt like I had been hit by a truck, so I announced to Jim that I wasn't moving from this house at all. He approved the decision.
So, I went from couch to computer to couch to computer all day long. It was glorious. And I slept a lot.
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Tuesday, July 23, 1996
Another Day Off. A Parent In Distress.I've been chatting through the internet with a wonderful lady who was raised Catholic and for whom all this "gay" stuff has been a new experience. She is a friend of friends of mine and we've had some very deep discussions about the Bible and about how so much of what we're taught comes from tradition. The world we were born into was virulently homophobic (especially 30 years ago) and it takes time for people open their eyes and take a fresh look at "our" religion.
One thing that she really has adopted is the lesson that we should not judge others and place ourselves above them. So, today I got a message from her that was nothing is not desperate. It basically said, "I've been trying to not be judgmental, but today my daughter announced that she was a lesbian and that she had a girlfriend." Basically, she was saying she just wasn't sure she was ready for all this.
In a subsequent note, she said that her family was up in arms and there were huge fights, especially with her husband and the daughter. She was really asking me for some kind of advice about it.
I've never been a parent but I know some who've been through this and I wanted to do what I could. Basically, I told her that whatever feelings she was having, she should be honest about them because only with Truth can anything be accomplished. I told her that she probably would go through a kind of mourning period. Like someone who loses a lover. She has had dreams about her little girl from the time she was born. Like any mother, I can imagine her seeing a big wedding, grandchildren, a son-in-law--all the things that parents dream of.
In one fell swoop, all these dreams were crashed with this news. I told her that it was perfectly normal for her to be feeling this and that she should not feel guilty if she can't swallow all this news in one big gulp. But she should also realize that this is the end of a long and painful process for her daughter, also.
When one is growing up gay in a straight world, it can be absolute torture. Junior High and High School can be a nightmare situation. So, I appealed to her as a mother to remember that her daughter has had to endure this secret for a very long time. And this does not even count the anxiety she probably went through just thinking about when she would disclose this information to the family.
I also said that there is no easy way to get through this. Everyone is going to have to have their own time to adjust and get used to this. The good news is that once you do get through it, you can actually come to a wonderful place because all secrets are out. And parents of lesbians and gays, if they join a group like PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) will find a great new group of very open and tolerant people who fight FOR their sons and daughters in this very homophobic world.
One other thing I did was to tell her to contact a good friend who I've met here through the home page. I've mentioned her before but she, a member of the aforementioned PFLAG, joined the group after her only son, a beautiful boy in his mid-teens, committed suicide after struggling with his own bisexuality and who was gay-bashed twice in the street. I told my friend that the fact that her daughter has survived and has found herself should be a source of great pride and happiness.
I hope I helped.
Got good sleep last night and had a lovely day. Got around a little bit, mailed some fliers from the show, and went to see the new Eddie Murphy movie, "The Nutty Professor." First funny thing he's done in centuries.
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Wednesday, July 24, 1996
PICC Line Failure. End of an Era?It was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose, but my PICC line -- intravenous catheter which was inserted into my arm about seven weeks ago and which feeds me every night -- became irreversibly blocked today. Nothing the nurses did would unclog it. And since I had only one more week to go on the Total Parenteral Nutrition anyway, we decided I would see if I could make it on my own.
Everything seemed okay. Late yesterday evening, we hooked me up about 5:30pm and began infusing this white stuff of life into me and I had not problems whatsoever. But about 1am Louie began beeping his damn head off. No repositioning of my arm helped. Usually he beeps when I bend my arm or something, but my arm was straight as an arrow. He just kept going off and going off and I was very tired and very sick of hearing it.
So I pulled the needle out of the port in my arm, flushed the line with heparin, which works as an anti-coagulent, changed the needle on the tubing and tried again. No luck. Just that constant annoying beep. So I finally gave up, pulled the needle, and turned Louie off. Little did I know it would be for the last time.
I called Lifeline and they said there was some kind of super unclogging solution they could try, so they sent the nurse who did everything but send a Roto Rooter up me, and nothing worked. She declared the line officially blocked and with one smooth motion, pulled the entire catheter right out of the hole in my arm. (It wasn't painful, just weird feeling.) Then she put a little gauze and band-aid on the site and it was over.
Now, of course, I have $3000 worth of TPN in the refrigerator (seven days worth) and no way to get it into my body. I could undergo the whole catheter procedure again, which means booking a hospital and reinserting it, or I could just let this go and see if I can make it on my own? The nurse said it just didn't seem worth it to go through all that for only one week's worth of infusions. Am I strong enough? Will my body absorb nutrition like it wasn't doing before we started all this?
I mean, we were going to try this anyway, so, as Jimmy said, maybe it's a sign...
The first thing I did after the nurse left was something I haven't been able to do the whole time I had the PICC line in. I took a long hot bath. With a catheter in your vein, you can't get the site wet or expose it to steam for any prolonged period. So it was always a quick shower wearing a long plastic glove to cover up my whole right arm. But not today. I got in the bathtub and just luxuriated. I even found some of the fancy bath stuff my Aunt Freida gave me. It was absolutely heavenly.
Also worked with the new "Buddy" today, Steve Prince. He's going on for Chip who is working on "Star Trek" this week. It'll be interesting to see someone else in the part. He's smaller and younger than Chip so he's really playing the role like a little pit bull. He's also more aggressive, more preacher-like, in the scenes where he's quoting scripture. You can just see him in the pulpit laying down the law.
I've been wanting to see these scenes played this way anyway. Chip and I had a talk about his being more aggressive and preacherlike in these scenes last week, but it was just as we were about to go on, and he said to me that he didn't feel comfortable shifting gears on a character so close to curtain time. It hadn't occurred to me at the time when I suggested it, but it was probably an inappropriate time to bring it up. It didn't seem to hurt his performance, though.
Steve's singing voice is not as strong as Chip's -- nor as rock and roll sounding -- and he's certainly not as formidable in his overall bearing as Chip, but as a writer, I am definitely interested in seeing how someone else will "fit" into a role that Chip has so totally made his own.
Also, he has worked his ass off to learn this part. He said one of the reasons he accepted this was to see if he *could* learn a major role with songs in two short weeks. When we ran lines and worked on the music, he had his part -- all his parts -- down. In songs like Preacher and the Nurse, his harmony was essential. He had it.
So Thursday night will be a little bit different. A different kind of chemistry. And I won't have a bandage on my arm.
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Thursday, July 25, 1996
Seeing Two Different Shows.Jimmy was in a lot of pain tonight. His sciatica just seems worse than ever. And when he's in pain, he's not especially fun. This afternoon we did a runthrough of the show with Steve Prince, the "new" Buddy, and it went pretty well. We hit a few snags, but we reran those scenes and it I felt we were ready.
Tonight, though, we didn't have the full house we were expecting. Oh, the reservation list showed we'd have a full house but there was some kind of gymnastics finals in the Olympics tonight -- right after the girls won the Gold medal last night as a group. So, many people stayed home to watch that. Still we had a more and adequate house. Probably 60 out of 80 seats.
And Steve was terrific as Buddy. He is just a bolt of lightning and a superb performer. His parent were there, too, so I know he wanted to be extra good. The crowd really loved the show, too. A smaller crowd doesn't laugh like a full house, but they got all the "big" laughs and the applause was great. At the end of the show, we go another instant standing ovation.
I felt really great after the show. Even Marty who had come last week (and who complained that the show wasn't nearly as good as the readings) came out and said our "changes" were excellent and he felt the show was better than ever. I told him we didn't make any changes since last week but it was just a matter of -- I don't know -- emotions or something. But it made me very happy that he truly enjoyed it.
Steve Prince's mother and father were totally beside themselves. They had me autograph their programs and they just went on and on about how much they loved the show. And I was feeling very good about it, too.
When I went out on the street and saw Jim, I made some mention of what a great show it was, and he just looked at me like I was from another planet. He said it was the worst show he'd ever seen and I could tell he was super annoyed and was ready to explode or something.
When we got in the car, he was trying to be nice but he basically reamed me out for dropping lines and for hesitating here and there. He felt we all had no energy and that we weren't concentrating. That it just felt like the show was leaden and plodding and he was really upset about it.
Well, I guess I do remember some places where I forgot a line or two but I don't remember it being any major big deal. We all just moved on and it never felt "leaden." In fact, I don't remember ever feeling quite as emotionally moved during the show as I was tonight. I was really feeling some deep emotions and nearly came to tears more than a couple of times. Concentration? I was totally into the show!
It's funny. The show an audience "sees" is not the same show the author "sees." He really only sees the mistakes. He wants his words done right and done well. It also occurred to me that tonight was the night one of Jimmy's old friends -- a "big" TV and stage director, John Bowab, was in the audience. Now I see where all this comes from. It was really about wanting Bowab to see a perfect performance. And we didn't give him one.
But I gotta tell ya. John was totally knocked out by tonight. He was completely blown away by the show. He told me so afterwards in very sincere terms. And Jimmy referred to his reaction, too. In fact, John told him that the only person who knew there was any kind of mistakes tonight, was Jimmy and that he shouldn't even give it a second thought.
(And once I see the show with someone else doing "Gideon," will I be just as bad? Probably. When it comes to the music, I'm a perfectionist too. Jimmy just said to me tonight, "I can't wait until you're sitting in the audience watching someone else do this show. Then you'll understand.")
The thought begins to horrify me. Especially if it means I turn into what he turned into tonight.
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Friday, July 26, 1996
At Last! The Show We Were Waiting For.Though I've been very happy with the shows we've done so far -- and I've already told you how strong the reactions have been to all the performance -- tonight was the one. Tonight we had the show we were all waiting for (especially Jimmy), the one that we knew we had in us.
Chip (playing "Buddy") had to finish his Star Trek gig but he was really wanting to be at the show. He called about 9 am saying he only had few scenes that day and that he felt he would make show time. Then he called again about 3:30 to say he was at lunch break and only had two little scenes left and he was *sure* he'd make it. (And when we got home tonight there was another message on the machine where he'd called just as they finished saying he *really* felt he would be there by 7:30).
Well, about sound check time -- around 7:15 or so -- who comes hurrying into the studio but Chip. Little Steve, who had gone in for him the night before and had done so good, was absolutely crest-fallen, but that's show biz. He was an understudy and that's all there was to it. Chip was so happy to have made it. So we did the sound check,,,
Oh, I have to tell you that I did something really horrible. I didn't mean to, but sometimes I am such a big, stupid idiot. Our sound guy (whose name is "Gye") is a big ol' sweetheart. He had even called me this morning just tell me that he loved the tape of the songs from the show and that he was so moved by the whole thing.
Well, this afternoon Jim brought back from Bob-A-Lew a video she had done of the show the night before. She did it from the booth side of the audience and it showed not only me, but side of the stage where the wings are that I make my entrance from. In those wings is where Gye sits doing the sound. Well, we turn on the tape and what do we see?
We see me. And we see Gye. His head is in the spotlight just off-stage, big as Dallas watching the show. In other words, most of the audience on the booth side of the stage can see him. And I'm supposed to be sitting there alone. It's really hilarious. Here I am in a two shot with a stage hand!
So when we got to the theatre tonight, I saw Larry the stage manager putting things on the stage. I said to him (loudly) pointing at the stage left wings, "You can't believe what idiot-stick was doing..." Then I went right over to that place and there was Gye sitting right there. He had heard me say that. I quickly apologized and told him I called everybody, "Idiot-stick" -- which I do -- and that I didn't mean it in a bad way, but the damage was done.
Luckily, he's kind of a big ol' (young) teddy bear who isn't one to fly off the handle and he just kind of said, "Well nobody wants me here. Nobody thinks I'm doing a good job." (He was right. He didn't know anything about sound and ... well. I felt totally shitty.) I told him about being "onstage" with me and that if he can see the audience, it usually means they can see him. (In fact, I had gotten an e-mail from Marty who had come the night before saying he could see the sound guy from the audience -- I just didn't realize that Gye was not even trying to stay hidden!).
Anyway, we got past that and Chip burst in and we did the sound check and got ready to go on. Chip and I had one more talk about Buddy being more aggressive, more the "preacher" -- something we've been kind of struggling with. In fact, he had told me that he had seen some of Steve's performance last night and liked how aggressively he played the character.
Well, tonight during the show, when we got to the spot in the show where Buddy says, "You mean you're a fag?" Chip belted that one out and did the same for all the Bible verses and other assorted admonishing thrown at Gideon. What's great about someone who's as good as Chip is, is that the difference was not huge as in "going over the top" huge. It was subtle but it was stronger and louder and with much more energy. So when I came back at him, I could also be stronger and do it with more edge.
But tonight the whole cast was firing on all cylinders. We didn't miss a beat. Not a dropped line. Not a hesitation. It was sensational. And our house was with us every step of the way. They got every subtle punch line, every single word. They laughed at all the right things, cried at all the right things, stopped the show with applause in two or three spots. It was the most energetic, unbelievably perfect feeling I remember experiencing since this whole process began.
When Marjory (as "Vicki") begins to fight with me, she was absolutely enraged. And our scenes just clicked like mad. We were throwing lines back and forth and shouting or crying (well, she cried; not me). And Francesca ("Tricia") -- who is the most consistent actor I've ever seen in my life -- just shown in our last scenes where she's trying to talk "me" out of committing suicide. I was visibly shaken and close to crying during those scenes.
And what I really love is when we do something highly emotional where I know we're tearing the audiences hearts out, and then one of Jim's famous tension-relieving smart ass comments from the booth come out and the audience just explodes with laughter. We wrung this audience totally out. They didn't know what they had been through by the time we finished with them. And the ovation at the end was magnificent. Once again, an instantaneous standing ovation.
One of the nice things about tonight is several of my friends who had never seen the show were there. Marie Cain, who wrote the lyrics to Friendly Fire finally got to see "her" song staged -- and I introduced her to the audience at the end of the show -- and also Randy and Cyndi who gave me the free studio time to do most of the demos.
Also a songwriter teacher in town named Jai Josefs was there. (He told me later on that he was totally blown away by the show. We had sent him a flier and he decided to come just to "support" me even not at all prepared for something like this -- he thought it would probably be a nice show, even an "okay" show). He came with this incredible woman who was a weight lifter or something. What a striking woman she was! And Lynn Keller, my little bass player came with her other half (a woman) and also her parents. And there was a guy from my HIV e-mail exchange group who wants to "sign" the show for us sometime. Sean, whose brother provided the inspiration for one of the verses from The Group was there. Well, I don't want to bore you. Can you tell how happy and excited I am?
Afterwards, in the car, Jimmy said something to me that completely thrilled me -- especially after the way he had "jeered" the night before. He said, "You were brilliant tonight. Just brilliant!"
What a nice thing to say.
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Saturday, July 27, 1996
Well, Carl? Are You Happy Yet?Carl D. White is a "kid" we've known for five or six years now. He's been a theatre owner/producer since he was 16 years old. The Golden Theatre in Burbank and we met him when Jimmy did a play there. He was the lead character in a musical written by Rue McClanahan (which is how we got to know Rue).
Right from the start, Jimmy recognized Carl's potential -- he was about 21 by the time we met him -- and was ragging on him to move to New York and really go for a career. We told him Burbank was fine training ground, but if he wanted to have a real career in theatre, New York was the place to be. So Carl went back to school to learn basic business stuff and a few years ago, after he had a split from the "artistic director" at the Golden, he took off and immediately found a job working on a Tommy Tune show. And then another.
Then he was out of work for the earlier part of this year, painting apartments at night, dealing with a bad relationship, etc. But a month or so ago, he finally landed a great job in the offices of some Broadway and off-Broadway producers -- one of which is named Nederlander (the other, Stone). Amy Nederlander. He handles all the accounting and bookwork. He said they were putting up about six shows right now, mostly off-Broadway and that he was working 12 hours a day.
He had flown out here to see the early readings of The Last Session and though he loved the show, he had lots of reservations about whether it was "ready for New York." Given D.R. the Producer' parallel observations, that was why we put together the workshop production which we are nearly at the end of now.
So, Carl flew out here to see us at The Zephyr. We picked him up and had nice afternoon getting reacquainted. Then it was time to do the show.
We had a big audience tonight -- once again the no-show situation had me a little pissed -- but tonight was special for People With AIDS and also we had a group of runaways from The Covenant House. The show itself went very well. We had a few flubs (mostly me) but the others covered it up well and the show was a real smash. Once again, the audience leaped to its feet at the end and just kept on applauding.
Afterwards, Carl came up to me with tears in his eyes. He just kept saying, "Oh, my god... I can't believe your acting. You had me laughing and crying. This is the best thing I've seen in years. It's got to be in New York right now! It's everything! It's cutting edge theatre. I've never seen anything like it!" And on and on he went. I've never seen him so excited. And he was especially thrilled because he brought his sister who is a born again Christian. He tried to warn her it was a little racy in spots, but she really wanted to come.
She thought it was sensational. She said, "This show has the best Christian message I've ever heard! I know Christians who are just like that guy, Buddy." (I keep telling people who haven't seen the show that we do not ridicule anything but those who are out of step with true spirituality, but all the people involved are still afraid we are skewering Christians. Until one shows up, of course.) In fact, Chip told me tonight that his pastor came to see the show and that he absolutely LOVED it.
We went out afterwards to Antonio's with Doug and his crowd and didn't get home until 1:15 or so, but we weren't home ten minutes before the phone was ringing. It was Carl. He just kept talking on and on about every single thing in the show. He was totally blown away. Jim asked him what his favorite scene in the show was. He said it was at the end when Buddy, after undergoing all that debating with Gideon about the Bible and gays, turns and asks if he can pray over him (followed by Vicki doing, "Nam Yoho Renge Kyo.."). Very funny.
Now he is on fire. He cannot WAIT to get back to New York. He is so excited and thrilled. He believes it's innovative, fresh, cutting edge, everything Rent is and more -- and that it's time to be in New York.
I couldn't agree with him more.
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Sunday, July 28, 1996
Still Deliriously Healthy.The first thing I did when I got cut loose from Louie was to go out and buy vitamins and more vitamins. Also acidophilus and bifidus and enzymes. Everything. My main goal in life right now is to do everthing possible to keep from getting diarrhea again. It's the killer. I'm eating lots of rice. Lots of minerals.
So far, it's working. I'm holding my own. I haven't gained weight or anything, but I haven't lost weight either. And this weekend I began a light weight training program again with my 20 pound hand weights. Slowly but surely I'm going to get my muscles in to shape and see if I can get them growing even.
Frankly, it's very scary. I don't want to go through another decline like I did from March to May. That was horrible. And now that I've been through it, I know what it looks and feels like. At the time, I really couldn't tell where I was headed. (We've talked about this and about my super-optimistic outlook in the face of wasting and dying.)
No, no. This time we're watching for all the signs and we're not, I repeat NOT doing the slide downhill this time around. So far, my plan is working. I've not had a single bit of diarrhea. Nothing is attacking me. So far, so good.
Last night I went back down to Genghis Cohen to the Songwriter Campfire and saw some of my old friends doing their songwriter thing. Harriet Schock sang, too. It was good to see them. Because of being hooked up to the IV for the last two months, I haven't been there in ages, and the last time I was there was at the end of my decline, so they were just shocked and astonished at how good I'm looking. (That was really fun.)
And we went to Canter's on Fairfax afterwards to just sit and schmooze.
The big job I've given myself now is to write out the piano score for the show. I was going to get some software to do this, but somehow my bank account has been totally screwed with. Crystal Cruises has mistakenly debited $571 from it leaving me in the hole by $100. It has to do with our final bill from the ship which wasn't even half that!
I tried to call but they are still checking into it. So here I sit with not one thin dime in the bank because of some beaurocratic mess-up. Oh, well. It's only money. Right now, I'm totally on top of the world and nothing will knock me off my perch.
I've got sensational health and hit musical. What the hell have I got to worry about? NOTHING!! Life can be so grand. So very grand.
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Monday, July 29, 1996
Two Incredible Stories: The Street Kids & the 13 Year Old.Story number one: The 13 Year Old.
Julie Horton and her 13 year old son came to one of our performances last week. Julie is this incredibly beautiful woman who used to work at ASCAP. She left there a couple years ago, though, when her husband developed cancer and subsequently died. Gaylon Horton, her husband, was one of the most beloved figures in the music industry in Los Angeles. He was a man with no enemies and he was very close to Kim and Ronda at Bob-A-Lew who are involved in The Last Session.
Part of Gaylon's "therapy" was to undergo radical radiation treatments which destroyed his immune system and for the last months of his life, he virtually lived in the AIDS ward in one of the hospitals here in the Valley. This was all happening around the same time that I was having my first opportunistic infections with AIDS, so Julie always tried to keep up with how I was doing also.
Eventually, Gaylon died and they had a wonderful memorial service (which I was too sick to go to at the time) and Kim and Ronda helped set up a fund for both Julie and her son.
Julie wasn't sure if she and her kid could "handle" our show because she knew it would bring up a lot of memories they had put behind them, but they came anyway and sat right on the front row. I haven't spoken to Julie, myself, but Ronda said Julie told her a couple of things. The first was that they did do their share of crying and remembering -- but that they felt it was good for them to do so. But then she told Ronda this:
Her boy (whose name is Adam) and his 13 year old friends had taken, recently, to calling each other -- and everyone else they see -- "fags." Julie had heard them and was wanting to say something, but she hadn't done so yet. Well, after coming to see our show, Adam was very excited to come up afterwards and meet me. Ronda brought him up. Apparently, he really was moved by the whole thing.
The next day, Julie was driving her son and his friends around when one of them called the other a "fag." Adam immediately said, "We're not going to use that word anymore." The others taunted him, asking, "What are you, a fag lover?" He drew himself up and said quietly, "One of my friends is gay and has AIDS and has written a show about it and we're not going to use that word anymore."
And that was that.
Friends, as I write these words, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. In fact, when Ronda told me this story yesterday, I was eating chicken curry and when she got to his speech, I burst out crying in such an explosive manner, I shot chicken curry all over my lap. I just wasn't expecting to hear this. Julie told Ronda this totally came from Adam -- that she hadn't prompted him at all -- and that she was very proud of him.
Story number two: The Street Kids & The Sunglasses
On Saturday night, we had a group of runaways from the Covenant House as guests in the audience. They were very street tough kids, covered in tatoos and attitude. At the break, Ronda saw a couple of them sitting in the little courtyard and she approached them asking if they liked the show. One of them just looked up at her and said, "Very powerful."
Over on stage left, there were two of the toughest sitting kind of apart from everyone else. One had dark sunglasses on and they were more or less sprawled all over the seats. Toward the end of the show (and I didn't see this, but both Chip and Ronda did), the one without the sunglasses began to get kind of emotional. He was starting to well up and cry.
Without blinking an eye, the one with the sunglasses slipped them off and handed them to his friend who quickly put them on so no one could see his tears. Gotta keep up that tough exterior, ya know...
Now, I ask you. When was the last time you heard of a show that "gets" to street toughs, 13 year old kids, little old ladies, conservatives, liberals, atheists, Jews and born again Christians? One of the toughest agents in Hollywood called today because she had seen the show last weekend. Here's what she said:
"It's the best play I've seen since I've been in Los Angeles. Period."
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Tuesday, July 30, 1996
Working on the Score. "Selling" a Movie.Today I spent practically the whole day sitting at the computer working on the piano score to the show. Exciting, huh? Jim and I did take the time to go see "Independence Day" and we both agreed it was the stoopidest movie we'd seen all year. Stoopid. But at the same time, he made a deal with a producer to have one of his screenplays made into a movie.
It's called "A Flight of Angels." It's a true story about Father Joe Turner, an army chaplain who went AWOL during the last days of the Viet Nam war to fly into Viet Nam (while everyone else was trying to fly out) to get some "war babies" that had been left behind. It's an incredible story. One of the last scenes is him pulling up in a van to a big bowling alley where all the soldiers are sprawled all over.
He had already evaded dozens of checkpoints and faced death many times over in order to save these little lives. Then he took the 25 babies one at a time and had soldiers "claim" them as their own in order to get them out of the country. By the time it was over, every baby had been adopted.
The producer is a low budget producer, so he's not paying anything in advance, but at least it's a shot. It's such a good script and Father Joe is still alive. And so are the babies he rescued.
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Wednesday, July 31, 1996
Making Plans.If you count being at the computer learning a new software program and getting the score to the show down on paper a busy day, I had a busy day. Earlier, though, we met with Irene the Producer and Ronda the Producer and looked at the bookkeeping for our little workshop run. Happily, we took in enough in donations so that everyone who put money into the run will be paid back and there's enough to give the actors even more than we had promised to pay them.
In a workhop with no "real" admission, we are actually not required to pay them anything, but none of us believed that would be very fair if we were able to come out with anything at the end of the run. Thanks to David Robyn who let us use his sound system and others who gave us little things (like Ronda's piano, for instance) we managed to hold our costs down. Still, even with most everything donated, our expenses topped $7000. Theatre is so expensive.
So, Jimmy and Ronda and Irene and I met and discussed what was next. We are most focused on putting together a showcase in New York. The Zephyr has indeed offered us a run here in L.A. in November, but they don't "produce," as it were. That is, they offer us the building but it would be up to us to raise the production money, meaning money for promotion, salaries, set design, equipment, etc. We are not sure we can actually do that without someone coming in and doing it for us, as in, having a real producer.
But we decided we'd just finish out this run (which ends on Friday) and then see what we have. Both our last two houses are sold out to the extreme. I think the waiting list for tonight is over 25 and it's not quite that bad for Friday, but the phone has been ringing off the hook. Ceil Kasha (wife of Al Kasha, the two time Academy Award winning songwriter) called and said (in her New York accent, "Babe, you got a hit. Everyone's talking about it."
Mary Jo Slater, the casting director, called and said she just didn't see how she could fit seeing the show into her schedule. Jimmy told her that was okay since it was sold out. She said, "I'll see what I can do...".
Hollywood. Nobody wants to come unless they can't get in.
I'm glad "everyone's talking about it" but I also know how hype goes in this town. By Saturday they'll forget you ever existed. So I'm not letting any of this get to me. And New York will be a totally different story. You never what they're going to like. So, for me, it's all about keeping your wits about you and taking it one day at a time, remembering that everytime you start up again, it'll be like reinventing the wheel. Never assume anything.
So we have Carl in New York doing his thing working on setting us up and we have our two shows here left. I'm very excited to be doing the show again tonight. I love doing this show. Have I mentioned how much I love doing this show?
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Thursday, August 1, 1996
Strange Mood. Penultimate Show.I was in a strange mood all day today. I can't describe it except to say that I felt "intense." Even the actors picked up on it when we met just before the show for sound check. I don't know why I felt so "intense." Perhaps it's because it was our second to the last show. Perhaps I'm just weird.
As we sat in the dressing room, I kind of apologized for it and Chip said, "Use it." As in, "Let it be a part of your performance." So I did. Tonight Gideon was very intense. Well, hell, he is suicidal after all. You can't get much more intense than that! And we had a really good show. I was totally on top of my lines except for one little on at the top of the second act. I got confused as to which lines came first, but it was not a big deal. Marjory just said it for me. (It was to call "Tricia" out of the booth).
We didn't get a standing ovation tonight but Morty, a friend of ours who came, said people were just too stunned by the show tonight to stand up. He said everyone he talked to thought it was one of the best things they had ever seen. I mean, they certainly responded to everything with big applause and huge laughs at the right moments!
I didn't do a curtain speech tonight, either. Usually I stop the applause and say a few words about how much better I'm feeling and that I wasn't sure two months ago if I'd even be alive to see the show, much less be in it. But tonight I just waved and we left the stage.
I still don't know why I felt so weird.
Friday, August 2, 1996
A Triumphant Finish. An Incredible Surprise.Considering how strangely I felt last night, I didn't have any idea how I was going to feel tonight as we did our last performance of The Last Session. Going in, I was feeling such a strange mixture of relief, that we had accomplished our goals and that it would be over (for now), and sadness that this phase was coming to an end.
I spent the early part of the day working on the score. Then suddenly, about 1:45 I remembered I had an ear appointment -- but I couldn't remember if it was for today or for next week. So I called and asked. They said, "Yes, it's today at 1:45." I asked if I could zip over there even though I was already late. They said yes. So I had my ears checked. Remember when coming off the cruise last month one of them was severely blocked up? Well, it's all fine, now. I'm going to live and I'm going to hear. Almost all my hearing has returned. Just excess water on the brain or something.
When we got to the theatre, we were all in a kind of giddy mood. I began playing Beatle songs on the piano and Chip grabbed a mic and sang. He has a most incredible voice. I think we went from "Let It Be," to "Hey Jude" to "Get Back" to "Paperback Writer" before we finally gave way to the sound check. And for some reason the sound was perfect. All the reverb which had been missing suddenly returned and everyone sounded great. So we went upstairs to the dressing rooms.
I don't think I've described the dressing rooms. They are very small (one for the boys and one for the girls) and they don't have air conditioning. The windows look right out over the courtyard where the "customers" gather before the show. I looked down and there sitting on benches were Dennis and John, my health advocate and his partner. Dennis, you might recall was the one who insisted I looked like hell two months ago and who demanded that I get the IV TPN treatments which have largely been responsible for bringing me back from the dead. I shouted and waved to them. He was accompanied by Paul, his nephew who helped us with designing and printing our programs, and Mary, another nurse who assists him in their business.
So our little rooms were kind of hot, but as Chip and Doug and I sat there -- Chip shaving and Doug telling funny stories about things he says on the air as The Greaseman, I suddenly asked Chip about last night. I wanted to know if my "weird mood" was good or bad in terms of the character. I asked him if I was too intense or should I back off, etc. He said, No. It gave him something very solid to play against. The harder I hit in our little debate/exchanges, the more he was able to react and to feel.
Well, it was close to showtime. I made my way around the back of the theatre to stage left and waited in the wings for the lights to go down. Ronda the Producer gave her little speech to the crowd about how this was just a workshop, a work in progress and she thanked the crowd for being there. Then the lights went down and I made my way in the dark to the glow tape on the stool and on the keys I have to play in the dark. Then I did my opening lines in the dark:
"Hi, everybody. It's me, Gideon. Greetings from the great beyond. I can't tell you what heaven is like because I'm not there yet. I'm recording this on the 145, 276th day of my life...with one more to go..." And the lights are now fading up on me. I finish my little speech which implies I'm going to commit suicide and launch into Save Me A Seat. (This is our new opening, by the way.)
I don't know what possessed me tonight, but more than any other night, I really and truly was Gideon, the character in the play. Jim told me later that he had never heard nor seen anything come from me like what he saw tonight. He said, "You've done a great job before, but I always saw you up there. Tonight, you were a character. You were doing things that surprised the hell out of me. I kept thinking, Whoa, where did that come from?"
In the scenes where Buddy comes in and we begin our little theological debates, I could literally feel the sting of his words as they hit me. And I, as Gideon, just slammed them right back at him. I could feel myself getting caught up in anger and dismay and heartbreak. And the audience was totally with us all the way. When we'd hit a funny line, their laughter would crack through the room like lightning. Emotional moments bought sniffles and tears from them.
And I was going through so many emotions. Sadness, anger, joy. And the songs felt as if I had written them yesterday. Each one was delivered in ways I had never sung them before as the "moment" over took me each time. The bitter parts were very bitter, the parts where I felt helpless just felt that much more helpless. I was barely aware the audience was there except for when their extended laughter or applause made us stop, preventing us from going on to our next lines.
And since most of my exchanges are with "Buddy," and I knew Chip was feeling all this too, when we got to the dressing rooms at the intermission, we just embraced each other. Didn't need to say a word.
The standing ovation at the end of the show was thunderous. It felt, to me, like an incredible triumph. At last I had fully realized the Gideon character, felt everything he felt, cried when he cried. The moment -- and I know I've described it for you before -- but after all their heated words, with Buddy even, at one point, telling Gideon to stay on his side of the studio -- there's a beautiful moment at the end of the show where Buddy asks Gideon if he can pray over him.
Buddy approaches Gideon -- this man he has been sparring with and who he has been afraid to be in the same room with -- and he raises his hand over Gideon's head, and then tentatively touches him as he prays. The second his hand touched my head tonight, a huge lump appeared in my throat and I felt this gigantic cry coming on. I held back tears, but the moment was so honest.
So, at the curtain I made my little speech thanking everyone for coming and for supporting our workshop. Then I introduced the "playwright and director" Jim Brochu. He came down and then said something very strange. He said, "We're going to turn this into Sally Jesse Raphael." What?? I asked myself. "We have a little surprise for Steve. Tonight, the real Preacher and the Nurse, Steve's mom and dad are here. We flew them in from Louisiana." And down the aisle came my mom and dad. I had no idea they were there.
Everyone tells me the look on my face was priceless. Well I grabbed them and hugged them and -- what can I say? I was totally floored and so thrilled that they had seen our creation. And me in it. Mom's first words to me were how happy she was to see me looking so healthy. She remembered how fragile I had become the last time we had seen them.
Well, dear friends. I know this entry today is totally self-indulgent but once again, a peak experience for me. Not only were they there but they saw the very best performance we were to give during the whole run. Lots of others were there, too. Al and Ceil Kasha (Academy Award-winning songwriter), David Pomeranz (multi-hit songwriter), John Braheny who founded the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase, Lois Blaisch (hit songwriter and singer), Patty & Michael Silversher (great theatre and songwriters who make a living writing for Disney), -- who have I left out? -- and so many others.
We all met at Lola's on Melrose afterwards and, after taking my last Crixivan of the day at 11, I hit the food at midnight. Chicken Satay in peanut sauce followed by spaghetti and meatballs. (I eat so much these days. It's so wonderful to be able to eat anything I want. Long ago and far away do the days when I could only eat rice and bananas seem...)
And so our workshop comes to a close. We've had a solid run of seven performances, all of which played to capacity crowds and standing ovations. Not one negative word from anyone. Where do we go from here? Well, your guess is as good as mine. We want to run this show but like anything worth doing, it will take money and a good producer. We have cast our net into the water and we have solid folks like Ronda and Irene (and Gary & Linda at the Zephyr) as well as Carl in New York. So, I will let them worry about that.
Right now, I'm basking in a glow that many people can only dream about, but one which I am actually living out. I shall remember this night for a very long time and I will thank God and whomever else wants credit for it. Even though my health is amazing right now, I still intend to live one day at a time to savor every single moment. Tomorrow will take care of tomorrow. None of us are guaranteed anything beyond the this moment right now. And I've said it before, but I'll say it again.
I'm just so very, very happy to be alive.
END OF BOOK 1. ON TO: Book 2 >
© 1996- 2001 by Steve Schalchlin