Volume 1 Book 1 Part 5 of

a GeoCities Landmark site
by Steve Schalchlin

[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2  ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Part 6 ] - [ Book 2 ]
[ Diary Index ]

June 1996. El Lay.
From the jaws of death, here is where it turns around.
And suddenly, a production?

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

June 1996

Louie and me get to be friends.
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Health update & show update. Reading Scheduled! What a day!  Getting ready for Saturday STILL Getting ready for Saturday At last! The reading at The Zephyr.
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
The Day After. A new chapter begins. Getting advice. Our first meeting with The Zephyr. Writing agreements. The ear doctor. Good health news & the end of an exciting week. The little old lady on the right.
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Nice, quiet Sunday. Auditions begin. We have a cast! A slight disappointment Our first read through. Miss Glick. Miss Leslie Glick. Casting Tricia.
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
A Landmark Event. Something in my Ear. First Music Rehearsal. A "Prop Actor..." Humph. Salute to the Songwriter. Health update. Good news! The Tree is in the Bush. Whale Street. Getting Supplies, Keys, and Unclogging Louie.
A Day of Misery.

Saturday, June 1, 1996
Louie and me get to be friends.

Last night I had a lot of stomach pains. First, just after I went to bed and then later on about 3:30 I woke up with stomach pains again. So I got up and pulled my heavy feed bag tree into the kitchen and tried eating some melba toast, antacids and water, but they didn't help that much.

So, me and Louie (I think I'll call this thing Louie) -- me and Louie went back to the bedroom where Jimmy was sound asleep. I also was being quiet because we have a little friend staying with us upstairs in the loft area of our studio apartment.

Last night was one of the first nights where I kinda felt sorry for myself. Trying to drag Louie around, getting snagged on the carpet, my stomach hurting like hell... At one point I just stopped and begged for some relief and some mercy. Life just shouldn't have to be this hard, I said to myself.

(I always feel like it's good to allow yourself a little "poor pitiful me" time when you feel it coming on. But then you pick yourself up, remember that there are those who have it much, much worse, and you move on.) I plugged Louie back in and laid down on the bed, eyes wide open, belly throbbing. I managed to maneuver into a semi-comfortable position and tried to review my situation. I reminded myself that all this was going to make me normal again.

I have my protease inhibitors working on the virus. I have Louie filling my veins with nutrition and fats. I also have Jimmy snoring beside me, and I have so many friends--well, it's an embarrassment of riches. I don't remember going to sleep. I just remember waking up and filling my urinal nearly to overflow. This is good. It means my kidneys are hanging in there and handling all this extra work.

A weekend nurse came by about 11 a.m. to take my blood and write down measurements. Naturally he didn't have any of the equipment he needed. "You got a watch with a second hand? You got a bag? You got tape? You got extra forms?" I finally left him in the back room and started making phone calls. Then he asked me how to label the tubes of blood. (I didn't know.)

An old friend from San Francisco dropped by and spent the night on the couch. Chris has had his troubles but seems to be getting his life together. He brought me a big balloon-- the kind with other balloons inside it--and we tied it to Louie so he'd feel decorated! We watched the read through of the show together and had a great discussion of our rewrite which is in progress. He cried all the way through it. Then he read us some poetry he had written (which was beautiful) and, since I was tired, I took Louie and went to bed.

Oh, I almost forgot! Also yesterday, a very nice thing happened. Harriet Schock called me and then Christine Kellogg called me. Both two of my favorite people. Why? Because they let me whine and moan and complain and whine and moan and complain and get it all out. They said to me, "Do it. Whine. We want to hear it." So, I just got it all out. The biggest babiest whiniest hour of complaining you ever heard. By the time it was over, I couldn't stand to be in the same room with myself, but I got it all out of my system so you folks don't have to endure it here this morning (Sunday) as I write this.

In fact, I feel pretty good this morning. I think I'm finally accepting Louie as a vital part of my life. He may trap me here for too many hours each day, but he's trying to save my life and for that I am very grateful. The results are inconclusive so far. I think I gained a pound or two, but it's only been a couple of days, really. This morning I feel pretty good and I think the adjustment period is ending. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Tuesday, June 4, 1996
Health update & show update.

Forgive me, dear reader, for missing the last couple of days. Frankly, they've been uneventful. Sunday was a day for rest and Monday was a day where Jimmy and I prepared packages of materials concerning the The Last Session for mailing to theaters and workshops. Today I thought I'd give you a health update and situational update.

I have two main goals in my life: getting my health back to a semblance of normal function and getting our show on the boards so I can collect my Tony Award next year.

(Sunday night, we watched the Tonys in which Jonathan Larson's "Rent" won for best book, best music & lyrics, and best musical. When a picture of him appeared instead of the real him--because he died before opening night--Jimmy openly wept. At one point he screamed, "THAT'S NOT GOING TO BE YOU! YOU'RE GOING TO BE THERE!")

We're already collecting our Tonys and we haven't even staged this thing yet.

I've been getting my nutritional supplements nightly from Louie and we've experienced no visible problems, thank God. Our main short-term goal is weight gain. I have gained about 4 pounds, but I don't want to jump to any conclusions and throw a parade yet. Monday and today have been days in which my you know what was also wildly out of control and that's been the thing that been killing me.

I was hesitating using any heavy anti-diarrheal medications the past couple of days because--and those of you who read this regularly know this--but because of the strongly narcotic nature of those remedies. If I take them in the morning, I honestly am not functional for driving or for conversations with anyone but my closest friends.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I'll probably go on a crash course to stop it so I can get back on track. My health is my number one priority. I know it may not please the folks who believe that art should come first--and it doesn't mean I don't love our show, but my health means more to me than anything. As Susan Hayward once said, "I WANT TO LIVE!"

Healthwise, the other problem I'm having is that I'm still deaf in my left ear. We've been treating it with antibiotics but there has been no improvement. If I go to see a movie (today we went to a matinee of "The Arrival"), by the time it's over, my ear is ringing so loudly I can hear nothing at all in it. Tomorrow morning I call Dr. Ellie and have him refer me to a specialist who'll accept my Medi-Cal. If one will take Medi-Cal.

Our other goal, as a first step toward a full production, now consists of getting a workshop production of The Last Session up. We began the day by getting a bunch of packages with tapes and promotional materials, thanks to Kim and Ronda at Bob-A-Lew Music helping us out with postage and giving us blank cassettes for making copies of the music from the show.

Later this afternoon, My old friend, Lucy Hagan, called me completely out of the blue and pointed me to a friend of hers who may be able to help. Lucy is a singer/songwriter/actress who used to volunteer down at National Academy of Songwriters when I was there.

Lucy has spent almost all of her life in a wheelchair and is this precious little person with this most amazingly huge and mature voice. When she sings and plays, people literally just stop whatever they're doing and marvel that so much can come from such a little package. I saw her do the lead in a musical once in which she danced using her wheelchair!

We fell out of touch and yesterday, for the first time in years, she called me. I think she had just heard about my having AIDS and since she has dealt in the world of disabilities--a world in which I now exist--she mentioned that there might be funds available from foundations or theatre groups who reach out to the disabled. And certainly the very specific way in which our show deals with the ins and outs of this disease (and problems facing anyone with a huge challenge to overcome), we definitely have a product that falls within those kinds of parameters.

So, I talked to her friend on the phone. "I.O." (again I'm using initials until we become better acquainted and we're actually doing something together) cheerfully gave us some addresses and names of theaters and individuals who might be interested in our project. In fact, she has her own little theatre group which has been working on projects for the deaf. It was very exciting to talk to her.

Then, like clockwork, at 7pm, we hooked me up to good ol' Louie and I sat in the chair making Jim wait on me hand and foot. I had my Crixivan at 10:30, my Invirase (with food) at 11:30 and then I went to bed about midnight with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Academy...no! don't play the scary music yet, I'm not done thanking everyone!"

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Wednesday, June 5, 1996
Reading Scheduled! What a day!

I told you yesterday that through my friend, Lucy Hagan, I met "I.O.," a woman involved in theatre in L.A. and that she gave us a few names of people at different theaters who might be interested in The Last Session. Well, this morning about 10 o'clock, Jimmy got on the phone with one of those contacts, Gary Guidinger at the Zephyr Theatre here in Los Angeles. The Zephyr is a very nice, highly regarded 81-seat theater and they've had a few shows actually go to Broadway and off-Broadway. In fact, one show recently had two sold out runs at the Zephyr.

So Jimmy called Gary to ask for their mailing address so we could send him a package of information. Gary asked what the show was about and Jim told him. A songwriter with AIDS plans to kill himself, but before he goes he schedules one last recording session with close friends to record the songs of his life. But the session is interrupted by a young fundamentalist Christian, and by the others who find out the songwriter's intentions and talk him into holding off any such intention because there is always one more song to be written and sung.

He loved it. Then he explained that at their theater, they have a three step process toward production. First he reviews the scripts he gets in, then they schedule a Saturday morning reading which, if they like it, develops into a short run in the early part of the week (Mon, - Wed.). And if that's successful, they move it to the prime spot: the weekend. Thursday through Sunday. But, he had just had a cancellation and, feeling good about the whole thing, he asked if we could pull together a reading for THIS SATURDAY MORNING.

Jim said yes, of course. When Jim got off the phone, he looked like he'd seen a ghost. I was sitting blithely at the computer not realizing what was going on. I begged him to tell me the scoop. He did. Furiously we began calling the actors who had done the Cinegrill reading to see if we could get them.

Then we piled into the car and went to meet Gary.

As we drove down Melrose looking for the Zephyr, Jimmy looked over and saw David Geffen standing on the street corner eating an ice cream. David Geffen is someone we've been wanting to get this show to for the longest time, but he is surrounded by miles and miles of people. Jimmy said, "Should we pull over and make him take a package?"

I balked. I said, "No way! He'll think we're madmen and then he'll refuse to ever do anything with us. I prefer to see this as a sign that he is falling within our orbit..." Jimmy agreed -- he likes all this "seeing signs" bullshit -- and we pulled up to the Zephyr, then around the corner to park.

We went into the neon sign shop and saw a tall, handsome man with a attractive, dark haired woman both fiddling with a neon sign. They looked up and we smiled and Jim said, "I'm Jim Brochu."

Gary is this real sweetheart of a man. He and his partner (the woman who's name is slipping my mind at this moment) run this neon store in front of the theater. He took us back down the little entryway between the store and the building next to it to a door. We went in and... It's beautiful! It's got great padded seats in three rows on three sides, a good sized performance space, lighting, a booth, little speakers on the walls. Wonderful.

Then we began talking. He then gave us the NEXT bit of news. He said that he had an opening coming up in the weekend prime spot IN FOUR WEEKS. Could we put a production together in four weeks (assuming the reading goes well on Saturday)?

He also explained that they have a certain amount they need to make at the door each weekend and then after that amount is reached, we would get the rest -- or a percentage of the rest. Our main input would be that we would have to do the PR and advertising (not an inconsiderable amount of money), so it won't be "free," this run. L.A. is an expensive town, but what with our L.A. Times article, our APLA article, the reviews of the reading, and my own instinct for promotion, I think we have a shot here.

But the bottom line is, if all goes well -- and there's no reason to believe that it will not --we might have a full workshop production of The Last Session up and running in a month!

Well, after that, Jimmy and I drove back over the hill in a kind of daze. We had been looking for an opportunity to get a workshop up, but we were expecting to convert a recording studio, or rent a rehearsal hall, or do it in a barn somewhere. It was hysterical to see us in the car. We were both absolutely speechless. He kept saying, "I...I...I...am...I...can't..." and I would answer with about the same lucidity. Our minds were absolutely reeling. We drove to Kim and Ronda's to tell them. Kim implied that, if it looks good, he might be interested in producing.

We got home still stunned and confirmed the cast. Marjorie Graue as Vicki, Steve Wilde as Buddy, and Yve Evans is going to drive 150 miles that morning to get there and be Tricia (and drive 150 miles back right afterwards--she is a jazz musician with a gig).

I also had to solve the problem that there was no piano there. So, I called my friend Terence, who has this great piano sampler keyboard. He said I could use it but it needed a PA. So I called David Robyn who offered me three microphones and a PA system. But we needed five mics. So I called Jim Latham who had one mic, and Wayne Boon who has one other. And now we've cobbled together our sound system.

Then I starting sending out faxes and e-mail invitations for the reading. No admission charge. If you are reading this, you are invited. Just send me some e-mail and let me know you're coming.

What a day.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Thursday, June 6, 1996
Getting ready for Saturday

We are in a whirlwind getting ready for the big reading on Saturday. Today we spoke to Steve, who's doing the Buddy part. He came over and we went over some of his new stuff and gave him a new script.

Also yesterday, just for the fun of it, we took a long leisurely lunch with an old, old friend of Jim's, Mary Jo Slater. Mary Jo is a casting director and she is also the mother of -- yes -- Christian Slater, the actor. We met her very gay two assistants down at MGM offices in Santa Monica, then went to the 3rd Street Promenade and had gourmet pizza (which was like melted cheese on saltines) and laughed ourselves silly telling stories and poking fun at what Mary Jo was wearing -- she looked like the "Call for Philip Morris..." guy. We had a wonderful time and it was a great tension reliever.

After we came home, we got on the horn and called everyone in the universe to come out to the reading. In fact, the fax machine was buzzing all night long the night before -- the e-mails were zinging across the net.

So, on Friday we copy scripts, round up mics and music stands, confirm whatever else we need and on Saturday, we're on!

(By the way, I'm feeling really good. No diarrhea last night. My energy level is high.)

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Friday, June 7, 1996
STILL Getting ready for Saturday

I got a wonderful note from "I.O." -- the lady who hooked us up with the Zephyr Theatre in the first place. She said she really liked the music on the tape and that she would do as much as she could to see that we get a production up. Remember, she had done us the favor in the first place without having heard one note!

So, now I'll use her name. Irene Oppenheim, and I love her. I wrote her back and thanked her for everything. She's going to be out of town for the reading but she said she wanted to know everything!

Well, as you can imagine, we spent the day making copies of the script, scrounging up microphones and music stands, and even Alan O'Day drove over the hill to bring me a tape himself since I couldn't unhook myself from Louie and do it myself.

Steve and Marjorie came over and we practiced the songs and read some of the lines, and laughed a lot. David Robyn said he'd bring everything we need for the sound. It's all happening so fast. No doubt we'll get there and still be scrounging up until the last minute, but I feel so confident that the reading will go well.

Then I'll give you all a report. Hopefully, we'll know by the end of the day if we have a production or not. *cross fingers*

My ear blocked up again today, but it was really good yesterday so at least I am sure that I haven't actually gone deaf, thank god. I just hope tomorrow morning I'll be able to hear myself sing. And my energy is still up. I weighed myself today and I'm holding steady at 141. That's fine with me. I would like to gain some, of course, but since I had the you know what for the last few days, I was just hoping I hadn't lost. And I hadn't!

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Saturday, June 8, 1996
At last! The reading at The Zephyr.

I slept a bit restlessly last night. Up a few times 'cause Louie had me peeing a lot! Plus I was full of energy just knowing we were going to be doing the show that day. Well, I woke up finally about 5. Rolled around a lot pretending like I would be able to go back to sleep. About 5:45 I capitulated and came into the living room and sat down at the computer to idle my hours away.

That's when I noticed that my ear was very blocked up. Shit. I was so hoping that after a long sleep, I'd be okay. I felt so much anxiety. Would I remember the songs? Would Yve be able to drive from the desert? Would the music stands show up? Did they have chairs for us to sit in? Would anyone show up to be in the audience? And if so, would they sit there looking at wondering what the fuck we were doing singing about AIDS in a musical? I was a wreck.

The first thing I saw when I sat down at the computer was a "computer stickie" on the screen telling me to wake Jim up by 8. I took my first Crixivan (on an empty stomach) and soon I heard Jim stirring upstairs. He's been sleeping on a futon in the loft because of his back -- and also because Louie whirrs too loudly for him to sleep in the same room with it.

So, he finally got up and both of us were shaking like leaves in a twister. We both kind of wandered around like lost children looking for their parents in a department store. What am I supposed to doing now? I kept asking myself. Also, I was waiting for Louie to finish feeding me so I could disconnect and go take a shower.

Finally, I got some tape and wrapped my arm in the long plastic glove which protects my PICC line insertion point, got in the shower and prayed for the steam to help my ears. It didn't. It also didn't relieve the knot in my stomach.

I sat down with the script to tape the pages of lyrics together so I wouldn't be flipping pages while trying to play when I realized that one of the songs was only half printed. So I ran to the computer...

...the clock is ticking...

..and printed out the new pages, cobbling them together and yelling at Jim to make more pages for the other actors. Finally, we grabbed the few props we wanted and raced to the car. On the way we went over Laurel Canyon Blvd. and my ear opened just a bit. I was so elated and I kept working it.

We got to the theater and, glory of glories, the girl I spoke to last night was there with the music stands, out front looking for us. We pulled up and -- well, one problem solved. Then Yve pulled up. Ah, next anxiety relieved. She gave me some Chinese balls as a gift and told me to roll them around in my hand. I did.

Then we went into the neon shop and rehearsed the new part of her song at the old out of tune upright they had there in the shop. Marjorie and Steve showed up and we did some more rehearsing and line changing, etc. We needed to do more but time was awasting!

David Robyn showed up with the PA system and we were all set to go except for one thing.

No keyboard.

We hurriedly called Terence, who was supposed to have brought one, but we only got a message machine.

10:55 am. Five minutes to go.

Well, someone said to take a credit card go buy one, and then return it. We all looked at him like he was nuts, but there went Yve running out the door with her card! I stopped her and told her, No. Thanks, but no time. No time. I'm totally out of my mind by now. I'm pacing outside in front. The room is full of people. When finally. FINALLY, Terence shows up apologizing profusely. We throw the keyboard together, take our places and start at last. (Ironically, we found out he had been held up because Santa Monica Blvd. had been closed off for the AIDS Bike Ride fundraiser from San Francisco.

By now my ear was gone again. I couldn't hear at all out of my left ear, and my right ear was not 100%. By the time I got into the first song, Save Me A Seat, my mind was a million miles away. I knew people were there looking at me and I was singing a song, but it occurred to me that it might be rude to be having an ongoing conversation in your head while supposedly singing to these folks out there. And we had a house full.

So, I thought, how am I gonna force myself to settle down and concentrate? Then I suddenly remembered something. I was singing a song at this moment. I was about halfway through this song when I began to "listen" to the words coming out of my mouth.

The song is about my memorial service. The scenario has a church full of my friends "memorializing" me while I, in spirit form, am across the street at a bar, playing the piano, drinking a beer and singing about my life. At the end of the song "I" feel a bit guilty that I've left everyone alone over at the service, so I wander into the sanctuary and sit down. Then it occurs to me that, since I am a spirit, I can "go home" with each of my friends when it's all over.

If they think of me, I can be with them always, especially if they're feeling a bit lonely and just need a friend. The end of the lyric goes:

Then on a day when you feel lost or hurt
Go to the kitchen and get some dessert
Then sit at the table and eat
Just remember to save me a seat.

Please remember to save me a seat.

It was as if I could smell my all my friends' kitchens and see their drooping shoulders. In a flash I saw my friends laughing with me, crying with me, remembering me--and when that happened, I completely melted into the play.

It was the weirdest feeling. It's not like I was faking it or "trying to act." After all, I've never "acted" before! Well, once. Twice. I was in the Junior and Senior plays at Buna High School in Buna, Texas. There was no drama department. Once a year, the English teacher (very small school) would pick a silly comedy from Sam French play publishers and cast the show by just picking people to be in it. But I'd hardly call that "training" or "experience." But, on that stage in Hollywood on Melrose Ave. at approximately 11:15 a.m., I felt this weird change in my body and in my mind. As if Gideon descended from heaven and began to inhabit me -- as if he cast a spell over me. I could feel his depression. His fear. And I could feel how badly he wanted somebody to talk him out of committing suicide, despite his loud protests to the contrary. I just... well, just became Gideon.

I could feel his desperation to get these songs recorded while he still could.

It surprised me that the spell was not broken when the audience tried to interrupt the show with this most incredible, extended applause. And this spell continued through the entire reading. Oh, I felt rocky in a couple places and god knows I have a lot to learn. But they're mostly nice things, such as... What do you do when audience completely stops the show?

The first time it happened was at the end of The Group.

(I keep trying to describe The Group to people who haven't heard it. You can get a feel for it by reading the lyrics but you really have to hear it with the music in the context of the show).

So I get to the end of this rather elegiac indescribable song, the applause started -- so far, so good. But they wouldn't let me go onto the next scene. They just kept applauding. I didn't know what to do! Should I look at them? No! They don't exist.

Do I find some "spot" to look at? The booth? Hell, do I stand up and take a bow? (NEVER NEVER NEVER).

Then they did it again after Going It Alone.

And on and on it went. When we got to the new fight scene between Vicki and Gideon, Marjorie-the-actress-doing-Vicki broke down completely and almost didn't get through the scene.

I was afraid to look at the audience by then. I was trying to control myself. And of course Yve, playing Trish, was on her fifth Kleenex. The audience was sniffling a bit too. But we made it through and we survived to the end. And we endured all that "horrible" applause keeping us from getting home.

Afterward, everyone came up and hugged us all and told us all how wonderful we were. Yve and Marjorie were in tears. The audience was in tears. Jerry Gaither, a new friend I met through the computer, brought up flowers AND A CRUTCH (as in "break a leg").

Afterward, Gary and Linda, who run the theater, said we could have whatever we want as far as they were concerned. In fact, they said that some producers had come in and offered The Zephyr a big check to bring another show in. Sure money for them! But that they would actually forgo that money in favor of letting us do a mainstage run.

But after much talk and consideration, we decided that we would prefer to let them make their money with the other show -- it frankly took a lot of pressure off of us -- and, instead of trying to put a full production up in four weeks, do a "showcase" run first. That would be two shows a week. No reviews. A good chance to nurture the show and make changes between every performance bringing it to perfection.

And to add to that, they called Irene Oppenheim, told them all about what we wanted to do and she pledged some grant money right there on the phone!

And now, my head is spinning. It's about 5pm on Saturday as I write this and I am ready to just pass out. But I wanted to tell you all everything that happened. And I'll probably think of more later, but to say the least, we know now that we are on our way. We will develop this show. We will nurture this show, and we will build word of mouth until we have people clamoring to get in! (Or clamoring to get out!)

Either way, we are blessed and we are happy that we can share it all with you.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Sunday, June 9, 1996
The Day After.

I woke up in a totally groggy state and I made sure that I stayed that way all day long. I also stayed on Louie's elixir until the bag was completely and utterly empty.

We took the day off.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Monday, June 10, 1996
A new chapter begins.

About my health: GOOD NEWS!!

Nothing but good news. I went into the bathroom this morning and stepped on the scales. Then I yelled at Jim! "HEY!!" I have now gained over 10 pounds since Louie came into my life. I knew last week that I was getting positive results but I held a lid on any celebrating because I wanted to make sure.

BUT NOT ANYMORE!!!!!!!!! Pop those corks, baby!

I'm gonna live! I have dodged the bullet yet again. I am going to live a long and, if you'll pardon the expression, fruitful life. With this evidence and the way I feel about The Last Session going into production with me in the lead role of Gideon, I can truly say that right now is the prime of my life. The most joyful days are here right now!

And for those of you who have watched all this over the past few months, I thank you for your prayers and your tears and your gifts of life and laughter to me.

When I began this diary at the end of March, I was on a definite downward slide, sinking to a low point, physically, while feeling on top of the world emotionally and creatively. We had had our successful concert performance of the show. And we were doing everything we could do to tell the world about it, but underneath all of this was the feeling that I was dying. I had a cough, I was losing weight, the you know what had gotten out of control, and little by little I could feel myself dying. (Forgive the dramatics. Now I'm an actor and I must emote!)

And then two weeks ago, I finally just got pissed and with my great friend, Dennis Anderson, we decided to get drastic and become aggressive in fighting for my life. Thus, Louie -- intravenously feeding me all night long. You saw me fight with insurance, desperately running all over town to make it happen. And you witnessed the day when we finally pulled it together, strapped me down, put this tube inside me and start my days of "lockdown with Louie."

Now we enter a new phase. As I gain strength and can do more and more physically, the demands are going to go up. It's one thing to be the writer of a show being workshopped. But to be also acting in it? Your first acting job is in a musical that you wrote the music and lyrics for? How do you step back and examine what's working and not working?

Well, the thing to do is not stress out. Because of my health, I am not allowed to stress out--especially like I stressed out when I thought the piano wasn't going to make it. So, I'm just going to go in the theater and take each step one at a time. Jimmy is a great director. Mostly, though, I'll listen. And learn.

As for this diary, I have become addicted to you all and so I will be compelled to write it all down. And I'm beginning to figure out why. It's because, just before writing this, I re-read the whole month of June. It was full of adventure this one. In fact, I had a funny notion while reading it.

What if I'm not real? What if I'm really a 13 year old kid in the outback of Australia making all this up and living out a fantasy existence. I suppose the only way you can really know is to check and see if The Last Session is really a show or just a story I'm telling to amuse myself.

Have I ever really been to Hollywood? Did I really meet Lucille Ball? Did Rue McClanahan really, at the CineGrill in Hollywood, make me look like an idiot when she told everyone she'd fly to the moon for me purposefully mispronounced my name, thus sending the room into howls of laughter at my expense? (One reviewer said no one could ever defatigate me.)

Well, real or imagined, I just hope that by telling all--the good and bad, no matter how embarrassing they might be, that you appreciate and love life. That you understand how life is generated from within and that we all have capacity to endure.

And that human dignity is about how we handle the undignified.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Tuesday, June 11, 1996
Getting advice.

Another good day. The digestive system is, for the first time in forever, is beginning to work properly, amazingly enough, without the usual stack of pills. Only a few. No wonder I gained yet another pound this morning. With Louie feeding me at night, and me feeding me in the day, it won't be long before I'm too fat to play Gideon in the show.

I'm beginning to dread hearing people's "opinions" on the show. Jim won't even read them. He doesn't care what they think. He wants a stage, the actors and audiences. That's all he needs, he says. They will tell me what they "get" and don't "get."

I would prefer that people do what David R. the Producer did. He asked us questions or told us what didn't make sense to him. "Why would Gideon invite Vicki to his most important session if he knows she's likely to ruin it?" (With her drinking)? Makes you stop and look for the answer. Once you can definitely tell yourself the answer, you have discovered something you knew inherently about the character but never really thought about.

The worst comment of all is, "I've got an idea!"

Jimmy has a great story on this very subject. It's something that happened to him and it happened when we first got to L.A. He got accepted into a writer development program at a large eared company in town (I hesitate to say which one). They took him in because he had proposed an idea for a sitcom that they liked. I won't go into the details, but the main thing was that it was 33 year old "boy" still living with his mother.

At the very first meeting, upon hearing that the new head of CBS wanted "kids" programming, they come into the first meeting -- young people in their 20s who studied all the rules of writing in college and so now they know everything -- you've seen them endlessly represented to great comic effect on shows like Seinfeld. They came in to the room, sat around Jim and said those dreaded words:

We have a great idea.

They went on: Let's make the boy 13.

Now, I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to know how ludicrous this "idea" was in the context of the fact that his whole idea was based on the premise that it's very unusual for a grown man to still be living with his mother. All the plot devices were based upon that. If you make the boy 13. Jimmy just came home astonished at their rampant stupidity.

"Oh, yes!" He bellowed sarcastically. " How unusual for a 13 year old to still be home living with his mother."

But that wasn't to be the end of it. They'd bring Jimmy into the office, discuss a scene among themselves, decide what should happen and then tell Jim to go home and write that scene -- and no more. Like homework. Suddenly he was feeling like the 13 year old.

So, Jim doesn't not, as a rule, get involved in group writing. Luckily, I consider him to be a brilliant writer. I'm letting him make ALL the decisions.

At least, that's what I'm letting him believe.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Wednesday, June 12, 1996
Our first meeting with The Zephyr.

I was excited that we'd at last meet Irene Oppenheim, who had started this whole workshop opportunity in the first place by giving us Gary's name. We burst into "Hollywood Neon," which is the story Gary and Linda own--and which is right outside The Zephyr--and I knew her immediately from her bright warm smile. We looked at each other like old friends and hugged.

Since the theater was in use, they suggested we go across the street to a little cafe/coffeehouse, which we did. We cruised past through the middle of it to the back and sat around a large picnic-like table. Ronda Espy from Bob-A-Lew joined us. It was a bit warm, but there was a nice wind and we chattered like magpies with me furiously trying to write everything down.

Afterwards, we came home and Jim went to work on the script of the show. I forgot what I did that day. I think I just called everyone in the known universe and told them that at last we were going to start a workshop production of The Last Session. It just seems to unreal.

D.R. the Producer called from New York. We talked for a long time as I told him what everyone had said and we agreed that he would come out and produce the show so that we had a strong guiding hand. I was greatly relieved. "Angels in America," he told us did not make money despite the fact that it was a huge success. One of the reasons was that too many theaters along the way to Broadway demanded "pieces" of it until the royalty package was way too high.

He will be watching that like a hawk for us. Already demands are being made and we have to watch every little agreement. He said that once people get the feeling that you are going to make it, and that you have something really special, suddenly everyone will become your best friend and will try to get something from you and the show.

What a scary world this can be.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Thursday, June 13, 1996
Writing agreements. The ear doctor.

Well, they made it my job to write up notes from the production meeting so everyone would be working from the same expectations. I spent most of the morning pouring over my notes and trying to decipher my scribbles. Then I wrote up notes, faxed them to everyone and waited for the avalanche of "I never said thats." There were a couple misunderstandings, but it looks like we worked them out.

The main thing is that Gary and Linda will supply The Zephyr but it's up to us to raise the money we'll need to produce it. Firehouse (Irene) has given us a grant. She also said that she felt our show had wonderful "healing" qualities and that it needed to be seen--and that that was the only agenda. She did not want royalties or name attachments or anything else.

Also, because she's producing this--co-producing this--we can accept donations which will be tax deductible for the giver through her production house. This is great news. I don't think of our show as being an "issue" show because it's very real and has its own qualities, but it does address and educate about AIDS, Christianity, dealing with a sick loved one--there's lots of good stuff in there and none of it is dealt with a heavy hand.

The other good news is our budget is not in the tens of thousands. More like in the ones of thousands. We need about 2, maybe 3 thousand bucks for the workshop run, mostly to pay the actors (which we're not required to do), pay for sound equipment rental, etc. This won't be hard, I hope. Already, one friend, Kathleen Capper, has offered a $500 donation. And Madeleine Smith gave us $100. So, I think we're going to be fine.

Anyway, I was on the phone to all the principles working out details when I realized it was time to go to the ear doctor. So I jumped in the car and raced west to Tarzana to see Dr. Pleet. Very nice man. Examined my ear and said he is sure I have sinusitis and that my Eustachian tube is swollen. Not that serious. So he prescribed these antihistamines which are large yellow pills, and a nose spray that is a steroid to reduce the swelling. Hopefully, we'll have it cleared up in no time.

On the way home, I couldn't resist. I went to the Thai restaurant and bought chicken curry and rice. I've eaten this now five days in a row. I'm totally hooked on it. I got home and Jimmy was at the computer already. I sat down to eat when I got a call from a guy who had come to the reading on recommendation from Leslie Glick at AIDS Project Los Angeles. He said he had a coffeehouse and would love for me to come there and perform songs from the show.

He started going on and on about how much he loved our show and, of course, I allowed him to do so. (Hehehehe).

Also, I found a good electronic piano at Keyboard Concepts which we could rent, but they want to charge a lot for pick-up and delivery. I tried to talk them out of those charges, but they were immovable. I see now that we are going to have to beg, borrow and steal things (not really steal) for this production. Kinda fun, though.

Now, if I can just get a PA system...

All night long, Jimmy worked on the show. He'd finish a scene and then we'd read it together. What a great experience. I stayed up as long as I could to take my protease inhibitors and then finally took little Louie in hand and went to bed around midnight.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Friday, June 14, 1996
Good health news & the end of an exciting week.

I've now gained 13 pounds. I'm at 150. I wanted to have a little party when that number came up. Still, I remember when 150 sounded like the rock bottom I'd ever want to go. Also, Al Martinez, who wrote the article in the L.A. Times sent me a note saying that he got e-mails and letters from all over the country about the column.

He also said that when I wrote him to tell him my health had finally begun to turn around for the better, he wrote them all back to tell them. He is such a great man. About the notes he received he said, " They were all very positive letters, by the way. I think it says something. We're changing..."

I was still hooked to Louie when my nurse, Liz, came today to draw blood and change the dressing on my "insertion point." (Gross term, huh?). I'm amazed at how easy this whole thing "being hooked up to an IV for 14 hours a day" has become. Sometimes, though, I look at the mountain of syringes, bandages, bottles of medicines, and Louie and I suddenly see them through the eyes I used to have--before I had AIDS. Anything that looked like a hospital looked like death to me. Now it looks like life.

To "eat" at night, I unwrap the "insertion point" place, swab the port with alcohol, fill a syringe with saline solution and flush the line which goes up my arm through a vein and ends in my chest area. After flushing, we get out a bag of TPN from the refrigerator, inject it with vitamins, hang the bag upside down on Louie, insert a plastic tube with a drip chamber into the bag, feed the tube through the pump, and then shut the pump door and turn it on. From there the tubing feeds down to a needle. We let the fluid from the bag fill the tube until there's no air in it. Then the needle which is then poked into the port and the precious nutrition is pumped into my arm. No pain. Very easy.

It now feels so normal, it shocks me that everyone doesn't do it.

Since the port apparatus is attached to my arm, though, I usually wrap a bandage around it before going out. I have my vanity to protect, you know...

This morning Jimmy worked on the play while I tried to read a book to learn more about royalties and splits and what's fair. I'm realizing that I know absolutely nothing about this stuff. The attorneys I consult do not specialize in theatre so they only know the kinds of language to look out for. I don't like not knowing things. Looks like I'm going to have to buy yet another book and study, study, study.

You see, one of the partners in this little enterprise wants money from future productions down the road in exchange for his contribution to this production. When he reiterated this point, we had a little conversation where I began saying how this agreement and that agreement would compromise our future, and how I'd be bringing in someone to negotiate. The partner was very taken aback and said, "I just wanted this to be simple."

I said, "Simple means we do the show, shake hands and go home. As soon as you started asking me for a percentage of my show, it got complicated. Because now I have to examine that demand and see if what you are giving is worth what you are putting into it."

The way I understand it, the road to New York is one in which you gradually escalate the look of the show, and the equipment of the show by going to ever larger theaters. And each of these theaters will want something if they produce it and put money into it.

I've not been down this road and frankly, it's beginning to scare me. It's one thing to write a show and dream big dreams and see yourself picking up your Tony or whatever. But when you get to the actual "producing it" part, it's a whole 'nother world.

Well, by noon, my head was spinning and I needed to just go somewhere. And I also wanted to give Jim time alone to write, so I went to see a movie, "The Rock." Good clean action pic. Sean Connery is the world's most exciting actor. Period. Really took my mind off of everything

Then John Sparks from the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop came over for dinner. We showed him some of our Alaska videos and I read him some of the Alaska poems, and we talked about the characters and the plot (and the business) of The Last Session long into the night.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Saturday, June 15, 1996
The little old lady on the right.

Something occurred last Saturday morning that I forgot to tell you about. It happened while we were doing the reading of our musical. It's a story about a little old lady sitting in the audience to my right.

In The Last Session, there is a character named Buddy who is a young, rather insistent fundamentalist Baptist. Buddy is very taken aback that Gideon, the lead character, is gay. In fact, Buddy starts throwing Bible verses and all kinds of stuff like that at Gideon. And Gideon defends himself mostly by saying that Christianity is not a set of rules. It's about behavior. It's about what you do as opposed to what you say. It's about loving, not judging. But, still, Buddy comes off as a bit un-likeable.

Now, up until last Saturday we had done only two readings of this show. (Just in case you don't know, a reading consists of actors sitting on stools reading the scripts in character and doing the songs. Think of it as a radio play version of the show). Once in a friend's home surrounded by other friends. Once at the Cinegrill in Hollywood surrounded mostly by show biz folks.

If anyone there was fundamentalist in the crowd, I didn't know about it.

So, at the reading on Saturday, about 3/4 of the way through, I noticed this little gray-haired woman standing and wildly applauding for the last three numbers. Looking a little like Helen Hayes, she'd leap to her feet after each song and just clap and clap and clap.

Afterwards, I found out she was my friend Ronda's mother. And that she is a very strict fundamentalist. In other words, she got it. She got the point of the show and the Buddy character did not offend her at all. In fact, she was rooting for the gay character, Gideon!

I was so relieved when I found this out because in no way did we wish to say that all fundamentalists were like this guy. When I was in Jacksonville Baptist College in Jacksonville, Texas, there was this very fanatical preacher. He used to stand out in the center of Jacksonville in a little grassy courtyard and preach. One day he got carried away with himself. He was preaching away and yelling, when he spotted a woman walking down the sidewalk wearing a miniskirt.

All of a sudden he reared back and pointed at this woman and, continuing his thought said, "...like that HARLOT over there!"

She sued him.

She was just a secretary or something innocently going to work. Well, back at the dorm, we were in hysterics, laughing at this idiot. The trouble is that the idiots seem to make it to the top because in an all-male environment (the church hierarchy), it's testosterone driven. Put a few fanatics in there and they start some kind of holy one-upsmanship to see who can spot the most sin happening in the world. The agenda becomes one of proving that the world has gone to hell and only Jesus (as represented by the Baptists) can save us.

Just this past week, the Southern Baptist Convention has now decided to boycott Disney because they dared to give the life partners of their gay employees insurance. Do they not see how intolerant, legalistic and ignorant they have become? What moral right do they have to interfere in the private lives of other people? And the more they roll over into this fanaticism, the stupider they look. Disney? Boycott Disney?

It's especially hilarious since DisneyWorld is one of the few places on earth most Baptists will actually go to because it doesn't serve liquor. I guess they'll have to create and build BaptistLand now. Can you see it? The Last Supper Bar and Grill. The Mt. Sinai roller coaster. Ezeziel's Big Wheel.

Sometimes I think my Christian brethren have gone completely insane.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Sunday, June 16, 1996
Nice, quiet Sunday.

I woke up early and organized the June 1996 calendar, refining the language and adding things I'd forgotten. Seems like a pretty good month so far. Especially since it started out in such a bad way.

At one point I was reading all of it and I added something to one of the days. I said, "Maybe I don't even exist. I'm a kid in the outback of Australia making up this fantastic life in Hollywood." I suppose there's only one way to know if I'm actually real: check out the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood and see if there really is such a thing as The Last Session.

We had lunch with our songwriter friends, the Silvershers and theatre writer Adryan Russ and her husband, Dale, who I kept calling Bruce. Patty and Michael have a fantastic backyard because she has made it into a beautiful garden with little creek, flowers, plants, and trellises. At one point, a monarch butterfly flew through and for one brief moment, it seemed as if the whole world was a beautiful garden where the monarch was the piece de resistance; a work of art filling a colorful frame.

Then we went home, and I put Jim to work on the book so the rewrite would be finished by tomorrow when the casting begins. Anthony Barnao, our casting director, called to say that he had some wonderful people coming to audition. And D.R. called from San Francisco with some ideas.

Tomorrow, it all begins for real...

(...assuming, of course, that I'm real.)

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Monday, June 17, 1996
Auditions begin.

I woke up early this morning and wheeled Louie into the living room where I worked on stuff at the computer, took my Crixivan (on empty stomach) and then Invirase (on a full stomach) and waited for the great one -- meaning Jim of course -- to arise.

We were pretty jittery this morning trying to remember what we were supposed to bring to the auditions, etc. Liz the Nurse came by and drew blood while Jimmy was showering, then he ran down to Bob-A-Lew to make copies of the "sides" -- the script segments each actor reads to audition for the role -- while I waited on the lab to come and pick up the blood.

When I got to the theatre, which inside is like a big black box with three rows of seats on three sides, Larry the Stage Manager was there, Jimmy was there, Anthony the Casting Director was there, and we were waiting for the first to arrive. We saw a couple of "Jims" -- the engineer in the booth -- one of which we LOVED but who may not be able to do our play because he has an engagement as an emcee at a comedy club.

We saw lots and lots of "Buddys." Two in particular really knocked us out. Funny thing, though, they were completely different types. One was very straight backed with perfectly coifed hair and he had this young (both were early 20s or younger) haughty attitude--exactly like a younger version of the person we based this character on!

The other guy -- Jim called him Elle McPherson -- had long (to the nape of his neck) modern hair that covered his face if he leaned forward and he sang a Tracey Chapman song a cappella. His voice was PERFECT for his one solo, "Going It Alone." But his look was not at all what we had in mind, since the young Buddy is kind of an evangelist type. Still, he brought a "street" quality that made us rethink everything. It's very interesting to do casting.

For "Tricia," the great and wonderful Merry Clayton came in. She nailed this part down so right, we were just ready to tell everyone else to go home. I looked over at Ronda Espy and saw she was in tears. Turns out Merry sang at the memorial service of a mutual friend of all of ours. I can see now that if she gets this part, we are going to have a very emotional show.

At one point, I was trying to get out of there to get food so I could take my Saquinavir, but I was held up by so many auditioners coming in. Sometimes this tight med schedule is hard to maintain.

When we got home, I sat myself in the chair and promptly passed clean out. If this is what auditions do to me, what are rehearsals going to do to me? We auditioned one person for the role of "Gideon" -- my role, because we want to have a back-up. Weird seeing someone play "you." His approach was a bit effeminate which I am not. Afterwards, I grabbed Ronda by the arm and said, "Until this guy came in I didn't realize Gideon was gay..."

Okay, I'm not being very PC here, but hey, it's a diary, I'm allowed to say whatever I want. (I'm no paragon of masculinity either, by the way. I still scream at spiders.)

We also got this great letter from Delores I wanted to share with you. It was a reaction to the reading a couple of weeks ago.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Tuesday, June 18, 1996
We have a cast!

Today was molluscum burn-off day! Molluscums are little bumps that look a bit like young pimples. They are caused by a little pox virus that settle in and make a nice home. They spread if you scratch them and they won't go way unless you burn them out. (And they itch!)

So, I went down to the little North East Valley Health Clinic and had Dr. Pascual burn them off for me. What he does is he goes into the other room and gets a little styrofoam cup full of liquid nitrogen. Then he dips a long sharp cue tip into the nitrogen, pulls it out and presses it against the molluscum until it sizzles a bit and turns white.

Sounds gross but it only hurts a little, and only if he holds it on long. Mostly it feels like little mosquito bites. You cringe, but only for a second. I had about 10 of them just below and around my belt area, 10 on my face, about 15 on my neck and chest area. I told him to get them good.

Dr. Pascual is sweet. He told me the next time I could bring a "thermostat" and take some of the nitrogen home and do them myself. (He meant a thermos, of course.)

Then I flew home and we picked up Ronda and went back over the hill to Hollywood where we had our callbacks for The Last Session. One by one the best of the actors we had seen yesterday came in and read different lines, but this time in groups so we could see who "looks" like a cast and who doesn't.

It took about 3 hours but we ended up with a fantastic cast. Really.

Merry Clayton will be Tricia. Merry has a new CD out of Gospel songs called "Miracles" on CGI Records distributed by PolyGram. She gave it to us yesterday and while I haven't heard the whole thing, what I did hear is fantastic. Since the Tricia character sings One More Song, which is a huge Gospel song at the climax of the show, she's perfect.

We had a big surprise coming our way when we cast the "Jim" character. We chose Doug Tracht, not only because he had a great voice--"Jim" works mostly from the sound booth and is only seen a couple of times--but because he really did a great job reading the emotional scene where he finds out Gideon has decided to commit suicide.

What we didn't know was that Doug "The Greaseman" Tracht is the 4th most popular syndicated DJ in the country (and locally is heard on KLOS). He hadn't told us because he wanted to be cast for his acting abilities, which seem to be great indeed. Then he asked if he could talk about the show on his program. Duh!!

Marjorie Graue who was in the original cast from the first reading will be Vicki. It's funny but Marjorie is really too young to play Vicki, but she really inhabits the role and has a great womanly sensuality that draws you to her. In the readings, she brought the audience to tears more than a few times with her great tearful and heartfelt emotionalism.

For Buddy, we were blessed with quite a few choices, all of them interesting and different. But Buddy is the most crucial role since he is Gideon's main antagonist. For Buddy we chose Charles Esten.

Charles (Chip) Esten has a good career going for him and is being very careful about any roles he takes. (He recently starred in London's West End as Buddy Holly in "The Buddy Holly Story" and he also starred in a recent Fox comedy called "The Crew." So, he is being very careful about what he does at this point in his career.) In fact, he had us bring a full script to his house yesterday so he could read it and see what the play is about.

When he came in today, he sat down and blew us all completely away. The scene he read is the moment when Buddy, the young born again Christian preacher realizes his life long "hero," Gideon, is gay and has AIDS. Gideon has just mouthed a profanity at him (mostly just to shock him) and the scene starts with Buddy really feeling as if he's been kicked in the stomach.

Chip sat down, took a moment, and when I looked into his eyes, they were red and hurt and shocked. He delivered the first line and suddenly I felt hurt and shocked and taken aback. I forgot we were acting. I just followed his lead and tried to keep up. We read through the scene and by the time it was over, I felt as if *I* had been kicked in the stomach! After he left, everyone told me that he made *me* good. Since I am not an actor, Anthony Barnao, the Casting Director and Jim knew they needed someone exceptional, and he was it.

After we cast him, we got a message to call his agent. The agent was an old friend of Jim's and he told Jim that Chip wanted to talk to us tonight because -- and this is another of those things that keeps happening with this play -- he is a born again Christian and he didn't want to do a role where his faith was ridiculed. We called, but he was on the phone to his mother on the other side of the country. He said he'd call us back.

The thing about Chip is that he brings a strong masculinity and presence to the role of Buddy. He becomes a formidable opponent for Gideon, who has the advantage of years and experience on him. I don't know if any of this makes any sense at all, but the thing about this play is that Buddy is clearly over the line and judgmental. If Buddy were weak or too young emotionally it would be easy as hell for Gideon to blow him over, and it would make Gideon look like a bully.

But what's happening as we go through this discovery process--as the play evolves, we learn that Gideon has his own "wrongs" too. He's cynical and, frankly, judgmental in his own right. If Buddy is strong in his beliefs and is able to match Gideon's inner strength, it becomes a much more interesting drama as the characters begin to really talk to each other by the end of the play. As Buddy sees Gideon as a real person, not just a "fag," and as Gideon sees Buddy as more than just a judgmental little preacher boy "...that the Lord sent here to waste my studio time!" as he puts it, they both begin to grow up a little.

When we finally spoke to Chip, he said what drew him to the piece is a new little scene that Jim has put into the play at the end. Something that happens between Buddy and Gideon. I won't describe it here because if it works--and you never know if something works until you try it--but if it works, it will be a small surprise that changes both of them, and hopefully will give the audience an emotional catharsis, and end the play on a realistic and satisfying note.

He also felt that Gideon and Buddy "represent" two groups of people who, more than anything, ought to be talking to each other. And that he feels this play could raise issues and speak frankly to many of the problems that divide us as a people. (Well, I don't know if he actually said all that, but that was what he was implying.)

We also found out that he has a seven month old daughter and that the reason he was on the phone was he was telling his mother (and his family) who hasn't seen the new baby yet, that he would miss the family reunion. He was really worried what his mom would say. When she asked why they couldn't come, he answered, "Because I got a part." He was so happy when she responded, "GREAT! Good luck!" (His parents must be like my parents. Goooood people.)

I just wish we could afford to pay these actors. They're doing this because they love the play and because it gives them good roles for showcasing their talents, but there's a lot of work ahead and they deserve to be compensated. (Jim and I and mostly everyone else are also working without pay, including our stage manager, Larry Dusich).

But, we've been blessed so far and I just know -- well, I told Ronda in the car today. "Sometimes I don't know if there's a God or not, but I do know this: Something that looks like God, acts like God, smells like God, and feels like God is touching this play--and touching us--and guiding it like I've never seen before. Ever."

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Wednesday, June 19, 1996
A slight disappointment

Today we heard that Merry Clayton will not, after all, be able to be in the cast because she must go off to New York to be get costumed and choreographed for a show she's doing with Marianne Faithful and Darlene Love.

I felt really deflated when I heard the news because she is one great singer. But, Anthony the Casting Director said he had some great possibilities and he would be on the phone getting us a new "Tricia."

On the health front, I'm getting stronger every day. Louie's feeding me every night and filling my veins with nutrition. (I can see my tummy starting to fill out).

Tomorrow, our first read-through!

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Thursday, June 20, 1996
The first read-through.

I wish I could put you in my shoes, dear friend. Well, not for everything I have to go through. But this afternoon, we gathered the cast around us (minus the "Tricia" character which Jim read -- scary).

You know, this was a real first for me. Surrounded by professional actors who really know their stuff, and me in the middle hoping I don't look like the kid who came from Kansas learning how to "act." (I had this image of them asking themselves, "Why do we gotta act with this amateur?")

But. actually, it wasn't that way at all. And in the emotional scenes, the emotions came to me so naturally, it didn't feel like "acting" at all. For instance, in the new scene Jim has written for the end with Buddy and Gideon, Chip (playing Buddy) looked at me with his incredibly expressive eyes and did his line--it's a very sincere line--and suddenly, it was as if something slammed me in the face because tears hit my eyes and a lump came up in my throat and I was speechless (which is a good thing since my character is not supposed to speak at that moment).

It was thrilling to just be "there" -- in that moment feeling what those two characters are supposed to feel.

After we read, we worked on vocals and harmonies and then we sat and talked for a moment about what The Last Session is all about. And we realized that it's about judgmentalism. It's about setting yourself above someone else and judging their actions--before you even know them. I mean, we know "Buddy" is judgmental because he's so vocal in his feelings about "Gideon's" gayness. But Gideon is no saint. As this develops, we realize that Gideon is just as judgmental, sizing up Buddy before they've said even a few words to each other.

And again, Chip (the actor playing Buddy) is a devout Christian, so it can't be totally easy for him to be playing a character who, essentially, is representing a rather unsympathetic Christian. I mentioned to him that "normal" folks in churches who are devout Christians -- at least the ones I've known -- are essentially loving, honest people. That the fault, for me, lies in the so-called leadership which these days seems to be TV evangelists. I mentioned that they have a stake in keeping homophobia alive -- as represented by their "gay agenda" rhetroic, because they make so much money off it. Jerry Falwell and others have made millions with their anti-gay videos and fund-raising crusades. It amounts to a persecution.

Chip, though, said he feels an anti-Christian agenda going on. That he feels it's difficult for him to tell anyone in the industry that he is a Christian because of how negatively people react to it. And he's right.

My response was that it's because in their minds "Christian" means Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed and other politically motivated, narrow-minded arrow throwers, who have an agenda of their own so much of which centers around limiting the rights of people they don't like. "Conversely," I said, "to you, Christian is simply your faith and your trust in God. Your challenge will be to show that there's a difference between what you believe and what they believe."

I told him how someone recently asked me if I was a Christian and my answer was, "I'm not saying I am and I'm not saying I am not. I prefer that people know who I am by what I do."

He said he felt our show had an important message and that he was proud to be a part of it. He said it brings two worlds together at a most crucial time. I said jokingly, "Naw, it's just a play."

But it is. It's only a play. Words on a page. Notes on a staff.

Afterwards, Barry Fasman (the Musical Director), and I worked on the music. Then I had dinner, hooked myself up to Louise and, Jimmy and I had a nice quiet evening at home. He worked on the show. I worked on graphics. Then, at 11, I took my Crixivan and went and weighed myself.

154. Another pound gained. Soon I'll be too fat to play Gideon. I'm just glad to be getting all my strength back. And to have a great show. And a great cast. And great friends. And...well, here I go bragging again about what a great life I'm living. Time for bed.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Friday, June 21, 1996
Miss Glick. Miss Leslie Glick.

Try to picture her office. It's stacked with teddy bears, books, a couch, two chairs, piles of fluffy pillows, pictures of horses and people, and a sign that indicates that she occupies the Complaints Department chair. Yes, she is the Complaints Department for AIDS Project Los Angeles. And she's absolutely beautiful. Her age? Let's say she's probably over 40 and leave it at that.

I love her hair. It's red. Dark and tasteful, but Red. Pulled up on her head and yet vivid and full. She's an ex-dancer, so she dresses well and walks well, and has poise. And she seems to absolutely love every human being on this planet. And every horse.

Best of all, she has a piano. Leslie is why I got a cover story for APLA's Positive Living Magazine. Because of all the offices in the big David Geffen Center on Vine Street in Hollywood, hers was the one with the piano.

And before everyone else started noticing our musical, she was there letting me play songs for her first. She was one of the first to hear them. (Other people who heard them were friends who I'd forced into coming over to Stan Freeman's condo while he was in New York playing in the Marlene Dietrich show.)

So, today was the first time I'd seen her since we got the nod to go ahead with the Workshop Production. I had sent her a fax telling her how excited we were and all, but I hadn't at that time planned on getting into Hollywood. But this morning, Jimmy had me deliver a script at the Ivar Theatre just west of Vine (near APLA.) So, I dropped it off and swung by.

The parking lot is big but it's always full. They have a parking lot attendant and I got the last spot that was open. And that was only because some people who were getting food from the FoodBank had loaded up their car and were leaving. There were also some cabs in front of the nice back porch area, which are provided for PWAs without cars. It's a nice service, giving out food to people living on fixed incomes with enormous medical bills. I've stood in that line.

I went inside past the guard and the check-in desk, past the Positive Living offices, took a right and stood at the bottom of her little stairs (three steps up). She is one office away through an ante-room but she saw me from her desk. She looked, did a double take and then, with a huge smile, waved me in.

More pillows and dolls and stuffed animals than ever. The piano is buried in stuffed animals. (I smile inwardly at the familiarity and remembered how naked I felt the first time I went in there by sheer chance after wandering the halls for an hour and a half. She was so relieved when the first words out of my mouth, then, were, "I'm not here to complain. I was just looking for someone who might let me play my songs for them.")

I showed her the new logo Jimmy and I designed for the show and told her how deeply this show is affecting people. That even at the read-through we were all in tears and so was Ronda The Producer and Jim The Author. (And Steve The Composer).

She talked about her beloved horse she just lost to an infection in his leg. She was truly broken-hearted. She had even just tried to save his life and let him live as a "non-riding" horse and just take care of him as a pet. But she had to have him put down.

After about 20 minutes or so, two guys came in to complain about something and I saw her listen and saw that she had a determination to make them happy, so I (graciously, of course) left.

I kept an eye on the clock because I didn't have any Crixivan with me and I needed to take it precisely at 2:00pm. So, I finished my errands and went home. Hooked up to Louie early so we could get a good early start tomorrow morning. Now that I've changed the times I take the Saquinavir, life is a bit easier on me. Previously, it didn't allow me enough sleep.

Today was AIDS Awareness Day. I only knew it because when I went into the bedroom this afternoon to record the script -- Jim says it's easier to learn if you record the script -- Rosie O'Donnell mentioned it on her talk show. Then the cast of "Rent," came on and sang this fabulous song, followed by some lady who I should probably know about who is surviving AIDS and has written three books about her experience.

Then I began reading the text of The Last Session into the recorder. I'm not too good at the girls' parts, but I can do Buddy very well. Buddy the Evangelist. The embodiment of the Christian naif who suddenly realizes that the World is not quite what he thought it was. And that there might be a few more "shades of grey" than he ever thought possible.

I slept very fitfully because Louie kept beeping saying I had a line occlusion. This went on for about a half hour. He'd beep. I'd start him back up and lie down. One or two minutes later, he'd start beeping again. Jim got up and we shot heparin into the line to see if it would unclog. But it didn't help. Finally, I got very angry and just replaced the needle and flushed the line. It takes a bit of effort to do that in the middle of the night. But it worked. Not another sound out of him for the rest of the night.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Saturday, June 22, 1996
Casting Tricia.

I was tired this morning because Louie's "feeding tube," as I mentioned above, kept clogging up. And it really hit me during the deepest part of my sleep, so I was bleary-eyed this morning. And we had someone coming over to audition for the part of Tricia in the show.

I stepped on the scale and saw that my weight was remaining solidly on me. It's hard to get an exact count of my weight because water weight makes it fluctuate, but it's a solid just-out-of-bed 154. That's 17 pounds in one month. Compare this to the slow slide of the past year and the brush with death four weeks ago. And now my energy level is over the top. I can't wait to get the results of my CD4 (t-cell) test to see the new Protease Inhibitor, Crixivan, is actually working.

There have been some miraculous stories about it so far. And I certainly feel good for the first time, really, since February. I remember March was when it all began to unravel. Slowly.

So I sit with guarded optimism that I might actually have a life in front of me. Well, if the Crixivan works, it's been known to help some people for a good year or so. Unfortunately, when someone's immune system is as wrecked as mine, it doesn't work as well as someone who has just been infected. But, I'll take all the time they'll give me.

This morning we were expecting a new actress to come in and audition for "Tricia." We cleaned up a little and waited. Her audition time was noon. At or about 12, Jimmy stepped out onto the tiny balcony overlooking Laurel Canyon Blvd. to smoke a ciggy when he saw a car drive by with the top down. He poked his head back in and said to me, "I think I just saw her drive by. At least, if it was her, she's perfect." (Meaning she fit the description of the character.)

Well, it was her. She drove back and Jimmy went down to greet her. She came up and she looked perfect. Great smile. A bit heavy. She came in and said she wasn't that good a singer, but she'd give it a shot. Well, she was wrong. Her voice was perfect. And when she read, she absolutely had the part.

Jimmy came over and looked at me. I just smiled and nodded (while trying to fix a quick fish sandwich before my Crixivan fasting time had to start). Jimmy looked back at her and said, "We just had a meeting. You're hired."

Then we talked a little about the show and how it came to be. We showed her the reviews from the reading, the L.A. Times article, and told her how much we'd love for David Geffen to see the show. She said, "Well, nine years ago, I was "the voice of Geffen Records." I worked the reception desk and then worked in the A&R Department. I know David Geffen."

We just looked at each other and thought with all the other "coincidences" happening around this show, Of Course she knows David Geffen. Of course.

So, she said she'd be proud to be a part of the show. We told her that we had no money for pay but that we were going to try to raise some for the actors. She stopped us. "Don't even say anything. I have already released it. I never work for free, but when I read this script, I said I would like to be a part of this."

Francesca P. Roberts is Tricia.

After she left, we celebrated by renting a movie. Such a wild couple of guys we are. But it sure is scary about the pay thing. These actors we have are top of the line actors. They star or guest star in series -- Francesca was a regular on "Frank's Place" -- all the time. If something comes up that really pays "cash money" we will lose them in all probability. So, it certainly is something that keeps us on our toes. We have to be ready for every possibility.

God, now we have a dream cast, a dream rehearsal spot.. oh, and Gary from the Zephyr Theatre called today, too. They've been on vacation and just as they were leaving, we were having some difficulty deciding on what their long term participation would be. It was why we had called the Dramatists Guild. (And this was another thing hanging over our heads -- how would he feel once he and Linda came back from their vacation?).

Well, he called and said that they wanted to do this show, no matter what. Their main concern was that in future programs, the Zephyr always be listed as the original place of production. Since we had planned on doing that anyway, we said, "No problem."

And so we finished our day with "all our problems solved." At least, as many as we could currently think of. New ones will crop up, but how nice to lie down and feel like you have everything under control. At least for one day.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Sunday, June 23, 1996
A Landmark Event.

Now, those of you who don't know me might think this is gross, but I have to tell this anyway. Today was a landmark day. Here's why. Two reasons. 1) I had no diarrhea today. 2) I had no imodium today.

Now, you might think to yourself, Big deal. But you see, I've been struggling with this thing for several years. Diarrhea has almost killed me on two separate occasions, the last one being about a month ago, which is why I get fed every night by Louie, who, by the way, I called Louise the other night and only one person caught it and told me about it. You should see Louie in a dress.

I had been planning this for a few days. For almost five days now I've gone without that thing that's been killing me and for me that was a world record, but I was still faithfully taking the imodiums a half hour before every meal. Thankfully, I had stopped taking the codeine and the paregoric (which is made from opium) -- which are fine on vacation but a bitch when you actually want to think or something! (god forbid).

Yesterday, I decided to see if I could make it without the chemical help and, YES, a whole day. No you know what and no imodiums. Two days in a row? We'll see. But the point is that the TPN treatments are working more spectacularly than I had even dreamed they would. In fact, I look over at the bag now filled with its milky fluid, slowly dripping into my vein and I want to hug it and kiss it.

You know, I'm not one to lose faith or become a Negative Nelly, but I was really seeing the gravesite and the memorial service and preparing to die. Now, I've been rescued and I know I am going to live. For a while longer, anyway.

Tomorrow I go see Dr. Ellie. And tomorrow is my last day on TPN unless I talk him into letting me go a little while longer. I think it would be a good idea. I still don't trust my digestive system to carry me and I haven't gained quite 20 pounds. Frankly, I'd like to gain about 15 more from where I'm at. Plus I have this show to rehearse and then perform.

Well, we'll see. Who'd thought I'd fight to stay ON an intravenous feeding tube?

Jimmy and I went out today looking for cap pistols for Friendly Fire. We finally found some at a Pic & Save. Toys "R" Us won't carry them. Interesting.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page

Monday, June 24, 1996
Something in my ear. First music rehearsal.

Didn't sleep well last night. For one thing, Jimmy hit me in the nose with his elbow (he's back down from the loft). He said it was my fault for being too far to the center of the bed, but both of us claimed the other was being pushed off. Of course, since this is my diary, the truth is that he was too far on my side.

But I was restless anyway. On my Crixivan e-mail exchange group, someone said that Crixivan can do this to you, but I don't know. I just didn't sleep well. Our bedroom is really dark, and the VCR keeps flashing 12:00. 12:00. 12:00. 12:00, so I had no idea what time it was. Normally, I'm a very good sleeper so I thought it might be about time to rise. Well, it was 3:30am I discovered when I finally got here to the computer and switched it on.

So I just sat here and worked and played. A bit later I checked my calendar and discovered that the two appointments I thought were for tomorrow, were actually for today! So, I quickly disconnected myself from Louie and took a shower and raced out the door to see Dr. Ellie, my primary physician.

I told him how well I was feeling with the TPN treatments and he was very happy. I also told him that my left ear was still blocked up and that it was terrible for me in that I was in rehearsal for a show and needed to be able to hear (of all things). He checked it out and saw that there was a lot of fluid behind the eardrum. He said that sometimes swimmers will carry that fluid for six months!

He also looked in my right ear and said he thought he saw some kind of lesion on the eardrum, "...like a molluscum or something."


Well, one thing at a time, I told myself. Reminded me of what they used to say in the South, "Deaf in one ear, can't hear out of the other." So, I had Judy, the weird secretary punch my -- she's not really weird, she just has a very dry sense of humor which I am crazy about -- parking ticket and off I went trying to get home in time for Chip's music rehearsal.

Dr. Ellie is in Santa Monica which is quite a ways away from the Valley where I live (at least a half hour when traffic is busy but not grotesque). It being the middle of the morning, I flew up the San Diego Freeway and got home in record time, listening all the while to the tape I made of the script. I have a lot to memorize.

I went by a chicken place on the way home to pick up some lunch, made it home, and just as I was finishing eating, Chip came in. He had a new cast on his hand. Seems he broke his thumb and the old cast didn't protect the thumb correctly so now he looks like Frankenstein. He said he kept telling the doctor that he continually hurt his thumb, and the doctor looked it over finally saying in a very blase way, "Oh yeah, well, it looks like they didn't put it on right the first time."

I laughed in sympathy and told him how I've had to juggle several doctors at once all giving me contrary advice, until I've gotten to know more about AIDS than they do. I said if I waited on them to figure out how to treat me, I'd be a raving lunatic.

We worked on Going It Alone, which is the one solo I hated having to give up. But he does it beautifully. Then we worked on When You Care. This song comes at the end of the show and is a bit more generic in lyric content (which it's supposed to be) but now that the script is becoming much more about Gideon and Buddy, we experimented with making it more of a duet, so that it becomes a statement about how much they've learned from each other: Buddy the Christian learning to have some tolerance, and Gideon the Ex-Fundamentalist Gay person learning to not be so judgmental and dismissive.

It's a complicated relationship that these two have and it gets deeper as we get further into rehearsals making the play much more real and interesting. Chip's and my voices blend beautifully together and on the bridge where we sing, "...Teaches us," three times. I did it first, then he did it and then we did it together -- it was spine tingling how well we sounded. It's going to send shivers up everyone's backs. Wonderful.

These are the things that make rehearsing a new work so interesting. When you do an "old" show, you pretty much have your roadmap laid out for you and most of the discovery has taken place. But in this, we are defining everything as we go along and you never know where it will take you. I think Chip and I are going to create two incredible and wonderfully real characters together. When our voices blend at the end of the show in a symbolic union, we're going to bring down the house.

From the beginning, Jimmy and I have said one thing. The closer we stay to truth in this play, the strong it will be. Truth has a way of forcing its way into your heart. You know when something is fake. You can not fool an audience (for long). They will know your are manipulating them. But when you give them Truth, it will rivet them. And we just keep getting closer to the truth.

Later on Francesca and Marjory came over and we worked on Somebody's Friend. Francesca was in tears a lot because she said she hadn't had a chance to listen to the tape with the music on it. She said the very happy kinda weird music on "Somebody" juxtaposed against the dark lyric was very chilling. She said, "This song is going to leave the audience in tears." I just smiled and said she hadn't heard anything yet. Then we did The Group. That killed her.

After they left, I was dog tired. I called the Ear Nose and Throat doctor to tell him I wasn't improving and to ask him to look at the lesion. Then Jimmy fixed me a chicken sandwich, hooked me up to lovely Louie and I went to bed early.

A note: I'm having a discussion with a very good friend about the subject matter of this play. He's gay and very outspoken (and has a very brilliant mind). He says I'm wasting my time trying to "teach" Christians how to have more tolerance. He says that the "average Christian" who stays silent against the hardcore bigotry coming down from the Fundamentalist leadership -- as evidenced by the Southern Baptist's recent pronouncments and by the horrific anti-gay videos of people like Jerry Falwell -- makes them accomplices in this horror just like the German people were accomplices for staying silent against the Holocaust.

It's a strong statement. I keep telling him that the average Christian truly is full of love and that they simply are not being given an alternative to this hatred-disguised-as-love. Most of the them trust their preachers and pastors and it's not as simple as just saying they are "staying silent." It's that they are uneducated. I told him that I can't simply write them off and say they are bigots and let it go at that.

I told him that the only way I know how to deal with anyone -- no matter how "unChristian" their actions are, is through a loving approach. That's a real live person in there somewhere and "...he does not know what he does." If someone doesn't stand up, respectfully, and teach him, then he will never know the Truth.

Then, today, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from a self-described born again Christian woman in Seattle who tells me she's been reading this diary every day for a month or more and that in her position as a large company in charge of insurance and helping very sick people maintain their coverage, she has had much interaction with gay people with AIDS and that she has learned much about how much bigger the world is than she ever dreamed.

She thanked me for the diary telling me that it has taught her much and that she has been directing others to it, both gay and straight.

So, am I wasting my time here? Should I simply call all born agains stupid accomplices to a huge and horrible potential Holocaust? You tell me.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Tuesday, June 25, 1996
A "Prop Actor..." Hmph.

We went into "blocking" rehearsals today for the show. This is where the cast gets together and Jimmy shows us where we're going to walk and talk and sit and yell and do all the "action" in the musical. I'm a bit nervous because, as you regulars know, I'm not an experienced actor, so everything is new to me.

The opening scene is between Gideon (my character) and Jim (the sound engineer in the booth of the recording studio where all this takes place). By the way, our rehearsals actually take place in a real recording studio in Burbank, California. It's called Theta Sound Studios and they have donated the facility to us for this purpose. I should also say that they are the ones who gave me the free time to record most of the songs from the show for my demo. (Thanks Randy and Cyndi).

So, Doug (who plays Jim) and I began working. Jimmy was herding us around and giving us stuff to do, and what surprised me was how easily I began to memorize what was on the page once this process began. It's like your mind gets to eager to just do the scene for real and the script -- which you're holding in your hand -- becomes a terrible distraction.

In the scene, Gideon lays out the hint that he wants to kill himself after recording this one last album of songs and Jim protests. They have this wonderful scene where Jim stops everything and Gideon pleads with him to let him finish. Once we blocked it and ran it a few times, I began to really get emotional during the scene. It felt so real. I really felt as if it were my last chance to record my songs and that I just needed to do it before it was too late. I mean, I really felt real tears beginning to well up as we had our scene. Weird.

Then Marjory came in and we did her scenes which are mostly comic. And then Chip came in and we did his scenes. Now, a fan of this page wrote me a note and said that he used to watch the British series, "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" (We did too). And that he became a fan of Chip's when Chip was on that show. I didn't remember Chip doing that, so I asked him. He said he did it when he was in London playing Buddy Holly in "Buddy" on London's West End.

Then he said that at the time, he had black, curly hair (for the role, of course). Now he has reverted to his own natural blond. It's hard to think of him with black hair. Well, we did his scenes and all I can say is that he is one sensational actor. Jimmy said he's the kind of actor who finds a hundred things in the part where Jimmy might have written only 50. He's brilliant and he makes me look really good because he gives me so much energy to play off of.

Well, as you can tell, I had a ball today. I was really tired by the time it was over. Even though I have my strength coming back, I still have to watch and be careful how I portion it out.

On the drive home, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when Jimmy says to me, "You're a prop actor. I'm going to have to give you things to do with your hands because when they don't have something in them, you just wave them all around." Well, I huffed to myself. A Prop Actor!

A prop actor? (Never heard that term before.) Then I remember several times during the rehearsal when he'd tell me to stop waving my arms around. And I remembered back seeing bad actors doing that, feeling like they have to puntuate every word with a gesture. Geez, I thought to myself, This gets more and more complicated. Now I have to remember what to do with my hands.

We also got a package in the mail from somone who might be a potential "Gideon" for the show. As much as I enjoy acting it, I've got to let it go at some point. Realistically, I'm not sure I can handle actually going into a full run . And even more realistically, I've now seen what "real" actors can do with a part. As thrilling as it is for me to do the role (and as much as it adds "reality" to the performance to have the real guy with AIDS doing it), am I hurting the show by being in it when a real actor who knows stage movement (and what to do with his hands) could be pumping fresh blood into the part? Tough question.

And what if I'm having a particularly bad day, as people with AIDS frequently do? As I frequently have done. I mean, I can't stay on Louie forever. (By the way, did you see the drawing of Louie that my friend, Karl drew? He's such a clown. Karl, not Louie.

And Wednesday night, I get to sing at the Hollywood Palace for the big Salute to the American Songwriter Concert. Big event. $75 top ticket price. We've gotten tickets for all the actors in the show and all the producers, too. D.R. the Producer is flying down from San Francisco. First, I'm going to sing... Well, I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

You know, I'm very happy you're here to share this with me. This past week alone, I got notes from three new people who've been reading the pages. I wonder how many people in the audiences (when we finally start doing the show) will know that once the show is over, I'll be racing home and hooking myself up to an IV just so that I can continue living on this planet? Such a strange mixture of joy and horror AIDS can be. Such a strange, strange mix.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Wednesday, June 26, 1996
The Salute to the Songwriter.

Songwriters are a kind of religion to me. Not literally, of course, as in Jesus is a religion. It's just that for the many years that I was Managing Director of the National Academy of Songwriters, I saw thousands of young songwriters come into Los Angeles, their eyes full of hopes and dreams, demo tapes in hand, and I watched as they tried and tried to get their songs cut and make connections.

I saw how difficult it can be to make it in this business. I also met and talked to many songwriters who had hit records and who saw some success and I witnessed how badly most songwriters are treated by this business. Because songwriters cannot legally form a union, they are constantly mistreated in contracts and in the daily business. It's just a tragedy sometimes. It's why on this page I've mentioned things like MTV leaving songwriter credits off videos, or record companies refusing to pay more than 75% of mechanical royalties, etc.

That's why when every year I got to produce the Salute to the Songwriter concert, it was a great thrill because I would get to put so many of my beloved songwriters in one room and, whether they were on stage or in the audience, it really felt like a community. The point I'm making here is in order to understand Steve Schalchlin, you have to understand how much I respect and love the art and craft of songwriting as well as the songwriters themselves.

Our shows featured the best in the world. I got meet and hear people like Stevie Wonder, Los Lobos, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (who wrote songs like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling"), Jackson Browne, Boyz II Men, and... well, I could go on and on. Sometimes, when these shows would be running, I'd stand off-stage and fantasize about the time when I'd be able to stand in front of all those people and sing my songs for them.

Last night this dream came true.

Amidst a plethora of great songwriters like Martin Page ("House of Stone & Light"), Jonathan Cain from Journey, Diane Warren (too many songs to name), Brian McKnight, etc. the producers put me on the bill because of The Last Session. I was to go on about 3/4 of the way through, just before the legendary Jerry Fuller ("Young Girl," "Lady Willpower," "Over You," "Show & Tell," "Travelin' Man"), third from the end.

The show was a good one, but the audience was a little tired. It had gone on almost an hour and a half and now they were faced hearing a songwriter and song or two they didn't know and hadn't heard, for the most part--after all, I haven't had a hit record and most of the performers had many hit records. So, it was a tough position to be in. If I sucked, they'd become very restless, very quickly.

Dan Kimpel, the Creative Director of National Academy of Songwriters came out and introduced me saying some nice things, and then he told them about our show, and said, "And now in a scene from The Last Session, Gideon, a songwriter with AIDS who's in the studio to record his last songs, has just told his sound engineer that he's going to kill himself the next day..."

The lights came up blinding me, as I was already at the piano (but I could still see a sea of faces watching me). Jimmy and I exchanged a few lines of dialog. Then I began telling a short version of the Potsie story as an introduction to Connected; and then I began singing the song.

It's a weird feeling when you're singing in front of a huge crowd. (We were at the famous Hollywood Palace). If the crowd isn't with you, you can hear noise and people stirring about. And at the Palace at the rear of the room (which isn't very deep--it's actually very intimate for a large concert hall), there is a bar where people were milling and talking through acts they weren't interested in. So, I was prepared for anything.

You could hear a pindrop. And Connected is a very quiet song. After I got through the first verse, the room fell silent as a tomb and I knew I had them. Now I'll give you a little hint about performing. When the room goes dead silent like that, there's a little trick that never fails (if it's appropriate for the song). The thing to do is this...get very quiet. Let the silence work for you. And Connected has these very tender and almost scary lines in it. When I got to the part where it says, "...cause they'd never let Richie die," I just held the moment and let the words sink in.

Well, after getting through it, the applause was very strong. Then I quickly said a few word about how much NAS means to me because they have so many programs that reach down to the little guy on the street and that it's important to care about every songwriter.

Then, dramatically, the black curtain went up behind me and standing there was the Heaven Bound Sound choir and we went directly into When You Care. They sounded angelic.

After that song was over, I looked out over this usually jaded music industry audience and the whole room absolutely leaped to it feet. A standing ovation. A thunderous standing ovation. The first one of the whole night. And it continued. I stood up from the piano bench and just smiled and waved and thanked them. And smiled and waved and thanked them. And waved. And bowed (although I don't know how to bow.) Finally, we all began to leave the stage. The emcee, Jennifer Rawlings, came out and said my name again and they all applauded again. So, I looked back and waved and thanked them again.

A fantasy fulfilled.

Afterwards, Ronda and Kim stood at the doors at handed out fliers announcing the workshop production, and at the VIP reception I was assaulted by most of the songwriters whose songs I had loved for years. They told me how great they thought I was and how much they wanted to come see the show. Brenda Russell, Martin Page, Doreen Dorion (Diane Warren's publisher), David Pomerantz, Parthenon Huxley, Alan O'Day, Harriet Schock (of course, who was screaming from the balcony during the ovation) -- so many I've forgotten who and what. I was dizzy with all the attention lavished upon me.

And my health! My body never ever felt so strong and so good. All these weeks of Louie feeding me had made me stronger than I ever remember being. Publishers like Marla McNally and Barry Kolsky came up to me, record company execs from Arista among others; it was -- well, what can I say? My heart was leaping from my chest and I had this impossible grin on my face (my face still hurts from smiling so much).

We came home, I took my two Crixivan pills with a big glass of water, and promptly hit the sack almost passing out from exhaustion, but wrapped in the warm embrace of knowing I had accomplished and fulfilled a fantasy most songwriters only dream about.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Wednesday, June 27, 1996
Health update. Good news!

Looking back over the rather enthusiastic entry from yesterday, I realize that there was one tiny little kink in the day. It was that my left ear (which has been blocked up for over a month) kept popping open and popping closed all day long. Now, this popping has been happening from the beginning, but never as much as this. But by the time the performance happened, it was, as usual, blocked up. In the crowded VIP reception after the show, I had to keep leaning and twisting so that if someone was speaking to me, they'd talk into my right ear so that I could hear them.

And then this morning, it was popping open for longer periods of time. Could it be...?

Well, luckily I had scheduled a new appointment with Dr. Pleet, the Ear Doctor today. Since my primary physician, Dr. Ellie thought he had seen a lesion in my right ear, and since the hearing in my left ear hadn't had any improvement (until this morning!), I just felt like it was better to be safe than sorry, even though it had only been a couple of weeks since my first visit.

Well, the first thing he did was to check my right ear. "No," he proclaimed. "You do not have a lesion. It's all clear." Then I told him that my ear had been blocked up just as badly as ever...until this morning and that it had been popping all day yesterday.

He smiled and said, "That's what it does when it starts to unclog." Then he looked at the ear and said something about reflections or something, meaning that there was definitely less liquid in my ear, and said I was on the way to being mended. He gave me a script for some more of the antihistimine he had put me on, told me to keep using the nose spray he gave me, and said it looked like I was going to be fine.

(Yeah!!!) Then I gave him a flier for the show. It was funny. He sat there and read the whole flier, every word. We used one of the quotes from L.A. Times article where Al Martinez said that "..the haunting quality of the melodies and the impact of the words...play upon the corner of the mind like a child's whisper." He looked up at me and said, "That's poetry. You must have really affected him for him to have written something like this."

Then he began philosophizing about how there are not many things a person can do that will live past us. He said that one thing he was proud of was that he had created a surgery technique for throat cancer which was used all over the world to this very day. (I could see that he was very proud of it.) He congratulated me on the music and said he would definitely come.

Well, I left his office beaming and so happy. First the Hollywood Palace concert and now this: I was not going to be deaf. Oh, man, when I got back in the car I was just so happy. It felt like the whole world was opening up to me again. And I thought back to a month ago when I had so many genuine thoughts that I was reaching the end of the line.

(It's funny, but yesterday I looked back over May's Diary and I saw that none of these fears were really expressed. I know why that is. Because this diary is so public, I subconsciously suppress some of the darker thoughts because I don't wish to be overly dramatic where I'm telling everyone, Hey! I'm think I'm at the end here causing my friends undue alarm. Plus, I am a very optimistic person and always believe something or someone will come along and pull me out of whatever trough I'm in. Also, when things happen gradually day by day, you don't really think that way--that you're cashing in your chips. I know I am always looking for that one thing that gives me hope. Still, there's no real indication in the diary that I honestly believed last month that I was dying. Is it fair or practice to go back and insert things like that upon reflection? I mean, I've gone back and inserted details I've since remembered but left out. But is it fair to add or change the way you felt at any given time? I just don't know.)

Well, all I can do is try to tell what I'm feeling as honestly as I possibly can. This idea of an online diary is really kind of odd, I suppose. Until the internet, it really wasn't possible was it? You know, I was thinking about something else. When I finally do die, this page doesn't have to. I mean, one can still go to Timothy Leary's page and he's dead. Think about it. A hundred years from now, someone could stumble onto this site and start reading these entries and, if they did them one day at a time, it would be as if I were still alive. Interesting.

Well, enough of that. The rest of the day was more fun than a person has a right to have. We went back over to Theta Sound Studio and had our first rehearsal where the whole cast was there all at once. It was just so fun. Hard work, but the time flew by. So much so that I was two hours late taking my Crixivan. I gulped it down, though. I've been so faithful taking these meds that I don't think an hour here or there is going to kill me, but I do like staying right on the "every eight hour" schedule.

When we got home around 5:30, I was exhausted and feeling kind of sick. I had Jimmy touch my head and, sure enough, I was having another fever spike. So I had him put a cold compress on my head, I hooked myself up to Louie and I layed down on the couch and promptly went to sleep until about 8. Then I lay there in a stupor watching reruns of Friends & Seinfeld, etc. A tough ending, perhaps, but these spikes are going to happen. After all, I have a viral infection affecting my whole body. It's just a little reminder that no matter how good I feel at any one time, there is still this tiny little killer running through my veins trying to murder me. I'm in a race against time.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Friday, June 28, 1996
The Tree Is In The Bush. Whale Street.

I had two very vivid dreams Friday night. (I'm writing this on Saturday morning but felt like they belonged to the Friday diary). In the first, I had gotten off a cruise ship with Jim in a very exotic port in the Far East. But we were suddenly in a dry dusty town and standing at the end of a street. I looked at the street sign and it said, "Whale Street." And sure enough, in my dream logic, I punched Jim and said, "You know why they call it Whale Street?" He seemed rather annoyed, but said, "Why?" I answered, "Because you could fit a whale in there." (It was shallow and had three sides to it.)

The street looked like the old west except it was very wide and the old, dusty brown buildings were very tall, and it was a very short street. In other words, we could see a row of buildings at the end of it facing us, so the buildings were on three sides--big enough for an ENORMOUS whale to fit in there, and it looked deserted. But I leaned forward and I could see that when you walked farther into the street, suddenly the store fronts were like polished mahogony. And the doors were wide open with lots of people. We walked down the street and it was as if it came alive before our very eyes. And it was beautiful!

Then we saw women walking down the wooden sidewalks in authentic 19th century American (Old West) dresses and costumes. The wood on the buildings was polished so that you could see the wood grain and I realized, "Ah, this is a tourist town that is very private and you have to know about it to find it!"

We got to the end, looking in the shops which were mostly tourist type shops, then turned around and walked back passing a movie house with two bloody thrillers playing for one price. I looked at Jim and said, "Ah ha, I know what they do. The first feature is really good and the second one is really old, low budget and boring."

We got back to point at which we started and turned around again facing the street. Once again, it looked completely deserted and dusty and old looking. I remarked that when people ask me if I've been anyplace interesting lately, I'll just tell them to go to (this exotic country, Thailand or something) and look for Whale Street.

The second dream involved me alone. I was on a cruise ship but I was on a return trip which I did not pay for. But the previous cruise staff had told me it was okay. When I got out of -- a cabinet? -- I had been sleeping in, the whole ship's staff had changed and I went looking for someone to tell them that it was okay that I was there. But I didn't find anyone.

Finally, I ended up at a little upright piano which was in the middle of a row of chairs facing a window (but I was facing the room). I looked and saw there were a bunch of older folks sitting in the chairs. So, I said, "I am now going to play a song from the Renaissance. And I began playing something that actually sounded like an introduction to a kids song or something. I hit a low F and then played an F chord in the right hand in a steady eighth note rhythm. "Okay, everyone, we are going to play a little parlor game." Continuing the song, I began to sing, "The tree is in the bush, the tree is in the bush, the tree is in the bush and..."

Then I looked at the end of the row of people and there was Brian Rawlings who is a guy who works at Disney publishing who is a good friend and who is a sort of wise ass--we're always trying to 'one-up' each other. The indication was that I expected Brian to supply a punch line at that point in the song. He just looked at me like I was nuts. I began playing it again, but everyone was ignoring me.

So, I got up and drifted over to where a bunch of people were congregating and suddenly Jimmy (my other half) came bouncing over with a girl on his arm and looked at me and said, "Ah, my old Whale Street buddy..."

And I woke up because Louie began beeping.

Now, why I am writing these down I have no idea. Perhaps there's a "Joseph" out there who can interpret dreams. (I hardly ever remember dreams. I probably remember these because I was woken up while in the middle of them.)

Today was a nice normal day. I began the day with a meeting at L.A. Shanti, a highly respected, mostly volunteer organization, that provides an incredible number of support groups and psychological help, as well as public forums, to tens of thousands of PWAs (People With AIDS) in Los Angeles. I was very impressed with the lady who runs it, Sue Crumpton. We met about 9 a.m. and she told me all about the organization. I told her about the show and said that we had been talking about having a special performance for PWAs and caretakers. That, if they liked, we could give them a block of free tickets to this show and they could give them as a kind of reward (or punishment!) to their volunteers or clients.

She seemed open to the idea. It was kind of strange, though, because I wasn't quite sure what she expected of me. She gave me all their literature, told me to look it over, and said if there was something I wanted to get involved in, just to let her know. I suppose I was expecting something a little more specific. Oh well. One thing is for sure. Shanti is a highly respected and well-loved organization. If any of you reading this look for places to give little donations to, this one will not waste your money.

After that meeting, I came back across the hill, and soon Liz the Nurse arrived to change the dressing on my PICC line. Then we went to Theta Sound Studios and had another fabulous rehearsal, and came home. Once again I had no digestive problems or diarrhea--is it now a week?--and Jimmy and I feasted on some take-out Thai food. Then he worked on some rewrites.

I had a wonderful phone conversation with Lucy, the woman who made our connection to Irene Oppenheim who got us connected to The Zephyr Theatre and I told her all about the rehearsals and about The Salute concert and about--oh, have I told you this yet? A young filmmaker named Yule Chaise has made a documentary film about the life of Sylvester, the dance music star who was one of the first casualties of AIDS. The film is called "Boys Night Out." Though it will feature mostly Sylvester's music, Yule has asked if he could use When You Care for the end title credit roll. YES! Then I flopped down in the chair Jim won on Jeopardy a few years back (he came in second), and went to sleep. Woke up to take my Crixivan and then went to bed.

A wonderful, creative, non-eventful (thank you God) day. One of those rare days that, if I weren't watching the clock to take my meds, I wouldn't even have remembered that I had AIDS.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Saturday, June 29, 1996
Getting supplies, keys, and unclogging Louie.

I feel like such an idiot. When I wrote up that stupid dream thing yesterday morning, I was still barely coming out of my dreamstate fog. This morning I looked at the words, "The tree is in the bush," and the sexual symbolism was so obvious, I felt like an idiot that I didn't see it earlier. Still, and avert your eyes here if you are easily embarrassed, the fact is that in the past couple of weeks, for the first time in months and months, my sexual drive has returned. I just see it as further evidence that my body's engines are firing on all cylinders.

This morning I went out to pick up a keyboard stand and sustain pedal for my DX7, which we are going to use at the theatre when we go there for rehearsals this coming week. I drove over to Sherman Oaks to the Guitar Center and parked a couple of blocks away in order to get blank score paper at another store.

It was a hot day and sunny on Ventura Blvd. on a June Saturday morning. There were lots of people sitting at the numerous coffeeshops, reading papers and just hanging out. The stores were bustling: record stores, gift shops, antique stores, all colorful and joyful. Funny how much I drank in the joy of walking two blocks without feeling the least amount of fatigue. The spring in my step and boundless energy I felt was so new and fresh, I thought it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I know my face was beaming with delight. I smiled at people, tipped my hat to ladies--the only thing I didn't do was break out into song.

I bought the things I needed and carried them back to the car. Then I swung through Pollo Loco and came home to eat (before noon so my stomach would be empty for the Crixivan at 3). Then Jimmy and I went down to the Zephyr Theatre and got the keys. At home, I began working on putting vocal parts down in notation form, consulting Barry Fasman on time signatures.

When I hooked Louie up later, though, the line would not clear and it kept beeping at me. So I called Healthline and they said they would send a nurse named Cobra out to look at the site on my arm.

Cobra? Cobra the Nurse? She (and her husband) arrived about 10pm. She was this wonderful large woman with an Eastern European accent who asked me if I had lifted anything heavy that day. (Uh oh, the keyboard stand...). So, she scolded me a little, pulled up part of the bandaging and resituated it on my arm. Louie hummed away like a sewing machine all night long and I slept like a baby.

[Back to the June calendar] [Diary Home Page]

Sunday, June 30, 1996
A Day of Misery.

I am sitting here in my living room. It's about 11:30pm and I am covered with sweat from head to toe. I am in misery. Why? BECAUSE THE AIR CONDITIONING IS BROKEN and it's about 85 degrees and the air is not moving. I am cranky and not fit to be around. Jimmy is staying away from me, because if he says anything, I snap at him.

I had so much work to do today and instead I was driving around in my car looking for ONE COFFEEHOUSE ANYWHERE that might have the magic combination of both cool air and comfortable couches or chairs where I could spread my score pages out and do the vocal arrangements for The Last Session. But instead, every coffeehouse in Hollywood either had its doors wide open or had hard bench seating. You see, and this is going to sound stupid, but AIDS plus anti-virals equals no butt. It's affectionately called "AZT butt" or "AIDS ass" or other cute names, but it's serious when you can't get comfortable anywhere.

I left our apartment to do this because it was completely intolerable to me here this afternoon. It had to have been a hundred degrees in here. So after an hour and a half of driving around, I finally found an old reliable place to sit and spread: Art's Deli on Ventura Blvd. Hang-out of showbiz people. A place where you can bring a party of ten if you want and have a business meeting and they don't care one whit.

I got some of the arrangements done and that put me in a better mood, but now I'm tired, I can't sleep. I'm a total asshole (sorry), and I'm going to explode if I don't find someplace cool.

Wonder how much a cheap hotel in this town costs. Yeah. Like we have money.


[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2  ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Part 6 ] - [ Book 2 ]
[ Diary Index ]

© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin