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As soon as I got home to the apartment Bobby Cox lovingly kept so clean, I grabbed Thurber and gave him a big hug. His reaction was immediate: FEED ME. He's so fat now it's not like he's starved or anything, but that's my baby. My friend Dickie picked me up at the airport, bless his heart. Driving to LAX is no picnic, I can tell you that. I made us a great dinner, though, and we had a chance to just sit and chat and catch up on everything.
Monday morning I began working my way through the mountain of bills and mail. I managed to get all that work done while trying to formulate my thoughts on the Midnight Concert and the whole tour. You realize that this tour, thrown together mostly by fans and readers of this site was only my second time to *really* go out and play these songs for total strangers. (The first time was at Old Dominion University just before our first NY staged reading in November of 1996.)
But at that time, I was not nearly as strong as I am now -- nor was I going around to classes and hospitals in the towns where I visited. I was anxious to find out if what I did would "play," as they say. Not that I had doubts, but there's a difference between theorizing what people will react to and then actually going through the experience.
My conclusion is that the reaction was astonishing. Way more than I had even fantasized, much less expected. I watched people of all stripes and colors and sexualities and religious backgrounds equally become affected by my songs and my presentations. You've seen this through my eyes, mostly, although I've posted reactions from audience members as they've come in. I've been completely unable to convey to you what it has felt like, though. It's just not possible to describe overwhelming joy, astonishment, gratification, love, and all the other things that have come my way.
One reader who lives on Long Island one town away from Locust Valley said she actually held her breath when I described the pick-up truck with young toughs who approached me after my show there. When I told how they waved and smiled instead of screaming "Fag!" she said, it was a miracle -- and that she is always having to endure this kind of hate and abusive language. She even got fired for defending gay people at her job.I remember the doctor at Penn State who came up to me and said how much he appreciated my "thanking" any doctor or nurse who goes out of their way to care just a little bit more than is called for.As everyone, on that cold New York night, huddled together down in Chelsea in a tight little group; as I looked down into the faces of the people who have been affected by the music, the book and the message of THE LAST SESSION, I could only marvel at the miracle that this night was. Ronda told me that Kim, her husband, got so emotional during the performance that he had to leave the room. He said it was just the memory of how sick I truly was and how I was supposed to be long dead.
I remember Dr. Stechschulte at Bucknell telling me how he'd seen never had a more effective presentation on AIDS than mine.
And Bro. Jerry in Rochester who was so proud of my "first" church service program in 20 years.
And the scruffy group of gay teens in Cincinnati huddled around the out of tune piano laughing at all the "jokes" in my songs.
The stunned group of parents leaning toward me together in that faded mansion -- men and women whose eyes were wide as saucers as I thanked them for the life they bring to their (and others') kids by just being there and loving and accepting them.
I remember the stunned silences after singing "The Sad Lady."
The talented and hopeful boy at Penn State who played his songs for me.
The dad who brought his daughter all the way up from Florida to see The Last Session before it closed.
The man in Rochester who pointed to his head and laughingly said, "...and I got dementia too!"
The morning the "mom" told me about caring for her almost dead son -- and then showing me the new picture of him looking so handsome and strong.
Letters from students telling me I had changed their lives and their perceptions on life.
The little vial of Crixivan Dr. Dorsey showed me in his lab in Philadelphia.
The glorious performance of the cast of TLS that last Saturday.
And finally, beautifully, the angelic smile of Noel Garrett (who created a magnificent Midnight Concert in honor of his equally angelic mom).
And Jimmy Brochu -- long-suffering, beautiful, compassionate, talented Jimmy -- with his arms around Noel, tears in his eyes, swaying back and forth in front of me, listening once again to the songs that describe the life we lived day by long, aching painful day.
To think how I almost missed all of these moments.
Now you know why I call my life "Living in the Bonus Round." I live a life that can only be described as a embarrassment of riches. To change hearts, to cleanse hurt and pain and hate from minds, to see Jimmy's and my work lifting spirits and giving hope; there is nothing higher. There is nothing anyone can give me that will make me richer or more fulfilled than I am at this very moment. And the great thing about it is that everyone reading this has the capacity to do the same.
One father wrote me and said he just felt he "cared" but that he realized he was not doing enough. Not reaching out far enough. Not giving more of himself. Well, reader, I have the same thoughts myself. I keep thinking there is more I can do. More I can say. More I can give. And that's what is so thrilling to anticipate. We haven't even scratched the surface of what's to come. We haven't even begun to reach out. This time has only been the warm-up; the introductory remarks.
After all, we have life.
My God, what a precious, powerful, amazing, generous, moving, fulfilling and exhilarating gift. As long as we have life, everything is possible.
Down in the tenderloin district of San Francisco there is a licensed "adult day care center" for people living with AIDS, called The Continuum. It's the kind of place where indigent people with little or no family ties (or homes) can go to get good nutritition, health counseling, and activities. Many of them have AIDS dimentia and cannot function on their own. Many are simply so poor, this is the only chance they have to be in a clean, safe environment.
I was told that my playing there was a great gift to these folks who normally don't get out much, to put it lightly. But I know that playing for them is an honor for me. For one thing, it's great, great fun to play my songs for people living with AIDS. They laugh at things others do not laugh at. They feel the strong emotions in ways others cannot hope to. They understand what it means to be "going it alone," to endure the "friendly fire," of AIDS medications.
When we arrived they were engaged in showing each other artworks they themselves had created. We didn't want to disturb them, so I went upstairs where I could look out a window where I could view them on the couches and chairs in the large, brilliantly sunny day room. I don't if I can describe the clients (they call them "members") adequately. Some were clearly bright-eyed, some were completely out of it. Most were dressed in clean, but clearly worn clothing. Some had strange hair and tatooing or nose rings. But there was a beautiful spirit evidenced in their faces. This place was giving them love and community.
Right from the very first note, the packed room leaned forward and seemingly drank in every single word from every song I sang. By the time I got to "Going It Alone," there were sniffles coming from all over the room, but when I popped into "At Least I Know What's Killing Me," the sniffles turned into huge laughs and great rejoicing. How thrilling it is to gain the power of knowing that even when you face great sickness or hardship, there are other things (like hate or bigotry) that cause so much more damage.
After the show, someone brought me up some flowers and another member gave me a pound cake he had baked just for me. It was a beautiful moment. How I loved it.
Also in attendance, was a man named Ron who runs a cabaret club in San Francisco call Josie's. He thought it was a great performance and we're going to be talking about booking an engagement there in the next couple of months.
Sunday was a new revelation. Richard Goldman, my host, took me to his church, GLIDE United Methodist Church, home of the "famous" Glide Ensemble, a great choir. The building was packed with people. Standing room only. The Glide Ensemble began making music that filled the room with warmth and spirit. The musical staff and the pastor are African American, so the music reflected that "black gospel" feel. But the congregation, to my eyes, was about 80% or even 90% white.
The music was so exciting and emotional, I began to feel uncomfortable, frankly. I've been in too many services where the music was used as a manipulative device to get people into emotions designed to make them susceptible to whatever theology or message they are trying to "push." Most people are not aware of how music manipulates them. They are only aware of how they begin to feel.
So, I was resisting the temptation to join in with the celebration. Instead, I sat down and took from the hymnal rack in the back of the pew ahead of me, a card which stated their beliefs. Now, most churches make statements of theology couched in terms like these you might find in a Baptist church: 1. Infallibility of the scriptures. 2. Eternal security of the believer. 3. The Trinity. 4. Blood sacrifice of Jesus... etc.
Here's what was on their card: 1. Feeds the hungry. Serves over one million free meals a year. 2. Gets people jobs: Trains over 1200 people a year in computer skills and another 150 people a year through a jobs development program. 3. Keeps at risk kids in school. 4. Gives out scholarships to students. And it went on: Substance abuse programs, anger management, crisis intervention.
I WAS SO IMPRESSED! For the first time in years, I felt like I was sitting in a church that takes its TRUE "Christian" duties seriously. How different this is from the run of the mill church mired in theology and politics. How different this is from the so-called Christian Right which has policies written into the execrable Family Rights legislation which calls for a REDUCTION in services to the poor. How did it come to be that these right wing politicians took the name "Christian" from everyone else -- stealing it -- in order to manipulate and "use" well-meaning Christians? (Answer: It's easy. They used hate and bigotry -- especially fear of "homosexuals" -- and it worked.)
Once I realized this was a church more interested in working among the poor (like Jesus) and feeding his sheep (as he asked), I relaxed and realized I wasn't going to be getting a course in someone else's dogma. Instead, I would be joining in with honest people whose main interest seemed to be caring for others.
After the service, I looked on the wall in the hallway and saw an article from USA Today about this pastor and his church. Apparently they've been labeled "liberal" since they don't rail against "homos" and because they believe their primary mission is serving the community and others in love.
This is liberal? This sounds like someone is going back to the most conservative values of original Christianity to me. No wonder this church is under fire from the United Methodists. They're more interested in acting like Jesus than storming around preaching and screaming and excluding others.
The flight back to El Lay was a joy-filled flight for me. At last I saw real Christianity at work for the first time in years. At last I began to see what the true effects of love and compassion are: filled church houses packed with loving, righteous children of God.
It's a beautiful sight, my friends. A truly beautiful sight.
NEWS: I did not win the GLAMA award for "When You Care," but losing to the Indigo Girls is not the worst thing to have ever happened to me. It's like losing to the Beatles. The honor for me was being considered a peer to these great musicians and songwriters.
I forgot to mention here that I was to sing/talk today (Tuesday) at Cal State Northridge for Juan Herrera's Religion class. This was to be my third visit. The first time was in April 1996. Today, Juan first dismissed the class from their usual spot and took everyone over to the music building where there was a little baby grand piano in a room surrounded on all sides by blackboards with music staffs painted on them.
He began by introducing me as a person who, when I first spoke to his class, was barely able to stand. He remembered that I had to sit on the edge of his desk and that my voice was weak and my breathing shallow. (Funny looking back. When you read the diary entry for that day, I said how I felt really strong that day. Just shows you the difference between my own perception of how I felt and what I really looked and sounded like.)
Juan also said that he (and I, apparently) were convinced I only had a few months left to live, gauging how thin and weak I was. He also remembered that both he and a student who had my phone number were afraid to call the following fall because they were so sure I was already dead. And they didn't want to hear the news.
After that intro, I sat at the piano and just sang my songs as usual. The subject for the class that day, by the way, was the role of pain in spiritual development. He told of how the Middle Ages priests described pain as a surefire way to the cross and to heaven. And they asked me what the role of pain was in my own spiritual development.
Good God what a question.
I had to stop and think about that. I told them I certainly do not think experiencing pain is a prerequisite for spiritual or personal development -- and, parenthetically, I know many people for whom the pain was too much and it killed them (mentally and/or physically). But that when someone goes through any great trial, the least they should be able to have as a reward after having endured this kind of hardship is having learned something from it.
I also emphasized that growth and knowledge and even closeness to God, assuming one visualizes this as a fact in one's life, is a daily struggle. As soon as you think you've got it, it slips away. Great knowledge and great understanding don't just appear and then last. It is my opinion that these things are only baby steps on the road to a higher understanding, and that one has to stay alert and open to it.
I compare it to someone who investigates, for instance, a disease. He can spend years learning all the human knowledge on the subject and the only thing he truly learns is how much more there is to learn. This is how I feel about spiritual knowledge and knowledge of the self. Everything I have learned has only taught me that there is so much more to learn.
It's a paradox, but it's an exciting one. Because as long as there is life, there is a chance to learn something new.
After I finished my program and answered their questions, several of them gathered around me and told me stories of their own sicknesses or illnesses of friend or relatives. Juan, close to tears the whole time, once again reiterated how thrilled he was to see that I was not only alive, but thriving with a career and a mission.
What a beautiful day today. The sun was brilliant, the sky was crystal clear and the El Lay Territory was shining like a polished stone. I took some time to just breathe in the day and enjoy being alive. Mostly today, I worked at the computer trying to line up new places to play and making new connections.
I got a phone call from Ms. Funk, the teacher in Locust Valley. She said the superintendent of the school system wrote me a letter and she just HAD to read it to me over the phone. Basically, it stated that he thought my presentation was one of the most effective AIDS presentations he'd ever witnessed and that he wished his two pre-teen boys had seen me.
But more than that, he said (remember I told you about the pick-up truck full of young toughs who smiled and waved at me in the parking lot afterwards?) that after my show, back in the classrooms, none of the teachers were able to conduct their lessons. That the kids were highly motivated to talk about what they had just seen. And the thing they MOST talked about was how much of an impression I had made on them personally. That I had completely changed their view on what a "gay" person was. They discussed their own homophobia and gaybashing and ... I have to tell you, by the time she finished this letter, I was in tears.
No wonder they waved and smiled at me afterward. They had all just experienced a huge emotional catharsis that undoubtedly made them feel like better people. Think about it: here is a perfectly normal high school full of straight, normal kids elevating their consciousnesses in public among their peers, reinforcing en masse a better way of thinking. How proud do you think they felt that they could excise residual ignorance from their hearts and see their own basic love for humanity reinforced this way?
And all I did, friend, was be there. And sing.
This evening, Dickie and I went into Hollywood to the Paramount Studios where they were holding a big AIDS education update. I loved being on the lot, but by the time they began speaking, I fell asleep right in the chair and missed the whole thing. Dickie said I didn't miss anything...
Thursday, I went back to Juan's class at Cal State Northridge. Same subject but different group of students. I got stuck in traffic and was almost late. My part was supposed to start at 5:30 and it was 5:35. He had a new room at Sierra Hall, but when I went there, I couldn't find it and anyway, they were moving to the Music Building at 5:15. (It turns out I was in Sierra TOWERS, not Sierra Hall.)
I raced over to the Music Building and ran up and down the halls, sweating and huffing and puffing. The clock screamed out in red letters: 5:45! I felt like a total fool, calling out in a hush-yell, "JUAN!" I couldn't remember the room number. Finally, I found a lady in an office just as she was about to leave. She went to another office (carefully telling me it wasn't her office) -- *dangerous intrigue* -- and told me the room number. I went there but no sign of life. Knocked on the door. No answer.
So I went back to Sierra Hall. This time I saw the difference between the two buildings and found the new room. I burst in, feeling like a total fool. But he said it was cool, that he was waiting for me there in the room in case I couldn't show.
We all went to the music building and Juan introduced me again to the new students. But even before I began playing the first note, I caught the eye of a beautiful Latina student. She had the biggest, brownest eyes I have ever seen and they were wide open and they were getting red.
She looked like a deer, trapped in a corner, totally helpless. I couldn't even get into three notes of "Connected" before she was crying and trying to gracefully wipe her eyes. I realized suddenly, She's lost someone to AIDS. And I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't want her to suffer, but what could I do, really?
What I did was to go immediately into "Friendly Fire" for the second song. I thought if I could get some laughter going, maybe it would help. And, it did. She began to laugh and it made me feel so good to see that. The rest of the night went like it did on Tuesday with one exception. This class didn't applaud. It was like a musical lecture and I loved it.
FRIDAY: Today I went over the hill into the Los Feliz (pronounced by natives like this: Low-sss FEEE-liss). He has a really beautiful home with huge windows and lots of sunlight. Today was a spectacularly bright sunny day (which is why I love living in the El Lay territory) and it was great to see Jim again. He's the "real" Jim that Brochu used as a character in TLS.
Back when I first arrived in El Lay, one of the first people I met was Jim Latham. I think we first met at a song pitch at National Academy of Songwriters. But he was working as an engineer -- second engineer -- at Theta Sound Studios in Burbank. We used to hang out and write songs together, making demos now and again. We would sit and complain about how difficult the music biz was, gossip about the people we couldn't stand, praise the ones we did, but the point was that we were both just little bitty nobodys at the bottom of the music ladder.
Slowly, we both rose in our respective fields. I became Managing Director of the Academy and he started producing more and more artists, from jazz to rap to rock. Then he began writing music for some indie movies which led to television and now he has two assistants helping him keep it all straight. And I have this hit musical.
I said all that just to let you know that when I saw him, it was like seeing a best friend from college. We hugged and laughed and hit each other on the arm; like two idiots. I played him "The Sad Lady" on his piano and also "Shades of Blue." We talked about the sound of the record and what we were trying to achieve.
In short, this record will be driven by acoustic guitar and percussion with as little piano as possible. We're going to assemble some musicians, jam out on the songs and then record them right there, live in the studio. I just want this record to sound totally different. For a couple of reasons.
First, I had to record the piano and the vocals on the "Living In The Bonus Round" record on the fly, all in one hour. Plus, I didn't have the time or money to record some of my favorites like "At Least I Know What's Killing Me."
Second, everyone has been clamoring for "Shades of Blue" and "The Sad Lady," not to mention "Song of Surrender, " which only a few people have heard. "Sad Lady" really touches people in very deep places and I feel compelled to have it available at my live performances.
Third, this is my first chance to really be "produced" -- to record with a full live band. This is my dream come true.
Anyway, Jim and I talked about the record and I promised to write out lead sheets for the songs so we will have a smooth recording. Then I went home and began working on my own reorganization.
What a mess I'm looking at. Piles of paper, names and addresses that need to be entered into my datatbase, 15 things on my TO DO list, plus thinking about the new design for the April 1st launch of this website on bonusround.com, etc. I knew I was behind when I realized I had not sent out some packages that had been requested. It's all very overwhelming, this "living" thing. This being alive and having to have a life is quite a little struggle, isn't it?
I've thinking a lot about "salvage therapy" these days because of my friend, Dickie. Like Shawn Decker, Dickie is a Positoid who cannot take the new drugs. He just tried using one of the new protease inhibitors in combination with DDI and something else, and right now he's lying in my bedroom with a liver that has blown up like a balloon. I told him I'd nurse him while he's going through this.
Dickie has been HIV+ since before they even called it AIDS. At first, he was like any patient -- going to the doctor and trying to figure out how to live. But, then he realized what many patients with HIV realized. The doctors didn't have a clue. No one did. So, instead of giving up, he began reading everything. He studied microbiology and he talked to people in the underground. He learned just about everything there was to know about anything that sounded even halfway promising.
Now it's 17 years later and he's still alive -- despite as many near deaths as one can have and still be breathing. But now his liver is giving him hell and he can't take the protease inhibitors. So, what does he do?
Tell me, reader, what would you do?
Well, what he's doing is theorizing. His plan is to find something that will work long enough for him to hold on until something new comes along. He goes to his little support group -- the one that used to be a big support group; the one that used to drive doctors crazy because they'd always be finding something new they wanted to try. But the group is kinda small these days. For most of them, the protease inhibitors are working, so they've kinda dropped out, leaving the few behind.
Dickie has a theory about everything when it comes to AIDS. He has a theory about why the immune system doesn't just bounce back after the virus is cleared from the blood. He says it's cyncytia -- cells fusing together. He theorizes that CD4 cells sometimes fuse instead of die, so the body doesn't know they're dead -- and doesn't know to replace them.
Today, there was a news item about zinc fingers. Sounds like a cookie, but he says it's actually a little hook that the virus uses to hold its RNA in place when it's injecting itself into your body's DNA. (I probably got that wrong, but it's something like that...).
The article mentioned a substance Dickie had mentioned before -- ADA. ADA is a zinc inhibitor bakers use in baking bread. We looked it up on the internet and found out that it comes in little pills. So, now he's thinking: How much would you take? Can it get past the digestive system? If not, how would you take it? Intravenously? Subcutaneously? Elsewhere???
So, Dickie heard about a baker's convention taking place in Anaheim soon and he plans on going dressed in a big white hat and speaking in a Swedish accent.
He talks about another zinc inhibitor that they found back in the late 80s. They used it for awhile but it didn't work much. So, they didn't really do much testing. But that was before viral load tests. Before "combination therapy." He's thinking, what if we tried it again given all we know in combination with other mildly effective alternative therapies like hydroxyurea -- another "old" drug that they've suddenly discovered works on HIV.
Salvage therapy. Salvaging your own life using every theory in the book. Making up your own. Talking your doctor into letting you experiment when he doesn't have a clue about what you're theorizing. (Most doctors don't really learn microbiology in depth. That's scientist stuff.)
I wonder if there's a salvage therapy for the soul.
I have to tell you a story that happened on the Saturday I was in San Francisco last week. You see, the main reason I went was because my online support group was having a get-together and I wanted to be there and sing for them. Many of them came to NY to see TLS but only a few of the west coast people made it.
A year or more ago, they met in Phoenix -- I didn't make that one. Two of the women in the group are mothers whose sons have died from AIDS. At that meeting, they put my CD on, but one verse into "Connected" and they quickly turned the CD off. It was too intense for them, they said.
Okay. Flash forward to this past week in S.F. Both mothers come up to me and say they still haven't heard the CD, but now in person, they think they can survive listening to the songs. Richard brought his keyboard over and Ladyfoot (one of the mothers mentioned above) brought three boxes of Kleenex, which she passed around generously.
The house we were in was like a Brooklyn walk-up, a row house. Beautifully decorated with large windows facing the street. I was set up in one corner and the little room was packed with members of our support group. They were on chairs, crowded together on the couch, lying on the floor, standing against the walls, etc.
One of the moms was on the couch enveloped in arms holding her and protecting her -- her eyes looked like she was waiting for Steve's firing squad to riddle her body with bullets. I didn't know what to think. I certainly did not want to put her or anything through any pain. But then I decided to just trust the material; trust the songs and go for it.
I don't even remember what I started with. "Save Me A Seat" probably. Who knows. My mind is a total blank. I kept looking at the moms and getting through the songs, trying to keep my OWN emotions in check -- but not too much. Well, here's what happened:
Neither of the moms, probably because they were "ready" for "the worst," had a difficult time at all. Before they knew it, though they cried a few tears, I was finished. I even wonder if they felt a little let down. BUT... there were at least two hetero men in the room. One has AIDS and the other is a dad who lost his son. THEY TOTALLY LOST IT. (you know, i have this theory about straight men -- that they are more emotional and more vulnerable than all the women and gay men put together).
But, it was a cleansing and beautiful time together. As much as I love playing for "thousands," what I really enjoy are the intimate moments. One activist in San Francisco who I spoke with recently was amazed when I told him I'd just as readily play for three people as three thousand. It's not about numbers. It's about one soul and one heart at a time. That's how God works. That's how we should work.
STEVE BACK IN S.F. IN MAY! Got some big news. I'll be doing a five day engagement in San Francisco at Josie's cabaret and restaurant beginning Wednesday, May 13 through Sunday, May 17. And on that Sunday morning, I'll be flying to Phoenix to sing for AIDS Project Arizona -- and then back again to SF to finish the last night (which is also the night of the Candlelight March).
REPORT TO PFLAG: I wrote a report on my Cincinnati trip to the online support group, PFLAG-Talk. Martha in Cincinnati responded: "Steve, you are amazing... Cincy has not been the same since you left. Folks, Steve made the most important impact of anyone Cincinnati has ever had on the loacl GLBT community, [she lists some things]. Steve has worked miracles her in ways he will never truly know..." Barefoot Ron, a DC-based activist who was in attendance in Cincinnati responded, "Martha does not exaggerate. Steve leaves a legacy wherever he visits and on whomever he touches...Steve has the power, through his performances, to end a whole lot of homophobia. But we all have that same power over smaller groups of people. Just by being ourselves..."
I've been in a diary page blackout for the past week mostly because all I've done is sit at this computer and work on the launch of bonusround.com. It's a huge task, finding all the missing files that were destroyed in the Great Crash this past fall. I'm also going through all the photo files and arranging them in an order that will take you on a full pictoral tour of the creation of THE LAST SESSION. You can sneak a peak/preview at bonusround.com/photos.html. I did, however, get this letter which I felt compelled to reprint:Dear Steve,S., at times like these my mind flashes to Bill's Story and how helpless it must feel to have to watch our friends go through this kind of hate. Bill thought his whole life would be about being bashed and hated. In TLS, Tryshia said the boys who beat her son did it because they loved him. Doesn't sound that much different than these boys -- who will now return to school and live to terrorize again.
I wrote you a letter a while ago about how you, your diary, and the Last Session has helped me deal with the loss of my friend David to AIDS. My name is S. and I'm fourteen. You wrote back to me and put the letter in your diary. This simple action has meant so very very much to me and will continue to. Since that time, I've been dealing with a lot. One of my very best friends was a victim of a hate crime. A bunch of kids cornered him in school and beat him in such a way that the image in my mind will never ever go away. IT was terrible...simply terrible....Since that time, he has been fighting for his life. I've been there for him throughout it all...I guess that's all I can do...But, it is so hard ,Steve, to see someone I love so very much be victim to a crime so hateful. These boys who beat my friend did this because they said that they were protecting our school. Protecting it from what? From a wonderful person who they never had the decency to take a second look at simply due to his sexual identity, Since then, they have been to juvenile court and convicted if you can call it that. Next year, they will be back in our school. I just don't get.
They get to go on with their life. My friend gets to fight for his life. It's not fair.
On that note, I want to share the full text of the letter from the Superintendent of Schools at Locust Valley, Long Island. (This was the school where I saw the truck full of jocks in the parking lot and it was read to me over the phone last week.Dear Mr. Schalchlin:It was those kids at Locust Valley, though, who reminded me that change is possible when you simply tell your story with an honest heart (and a good beat).
On behalf of the Locust Valley Central School District, I'd like to take this opportunity to telly you how much your program as affected our school and me personally. Your performance was inspirational. The message you shared with our youngsters and faculty allowed them to fell the chaso of AHIV/AIDS, the uncertainty of life and hope whil living with this deadly disease.
The energy that comes from your music and the homur so well placed throughout the program, gave the audience and me a chance to catch our breath and therfore the ability to really hear your message. The standing ovation at the conclusion of your presentation was the beginning of a wave of renewed arwareness concerning HIV/AIDS. Teeachers were not able to conduct "business as usual" when retunging to their classrooms since this students needed to deal with the feelings about you, your music, your story, your caring.
As I mentioned to you after the assembly, I would have loved my own children to have seen this presentation. Your message and the way it was delivered would be an asset to any schoo's AIDS Awareness Program.
I hope you have the opportunity to present this to other students across the country. It's a message that needs tob e told and you really tell it.
Sincerely, Anthony Singe, Superintendent of Schools.
I'm so frustrated this Monday morning. I have spent hours and hours over the weekend working on the getting my new website going and after I uploaded a ton of things, nothing works. This is going to be harder than I thought. Meanwhile, Geocities is really wanting me to stay. I have to admit that their request tugs at my heart since I got my start here and support their efforts to give voices to the voice-less through the free webpages that are offered. Darn. It all seemed so easy yesterday.
Actually, yesterday was a blast. Bob Cox came over with his guitar and we began rehearsing for the studio concert at Theta Sound in April. It took a little bit of work reconceiving the songs for guitar, but after awhile we really fell into the rhythm of it, and I can't wait til to do this now. Randy does intend to record the concert, so I'll let you know what we will do with the tapes.
(This also brings up the possiblity that a really good guitarist could play the role of Gideon, by the way -- instead of it being for a keyboardist only. Y'think?)
Another part of my frustration has been the fact that we are not going to get the new album recorded anytime soon. Scheduling and finances are plaguing me (more scheduling than anything else). But this is not a big emergency or anything. I mean, it's only a record for gods sake. But check it out: From the very beginning when I began writing the songs for THE LAST SESSION, I would say something like, "OKAY, I'M GOING TO MAKE A RECORD NOW WITH A CHOIR AND A BAND..." and Ronda and Jim would look at me like I was crazy, and then somehow it would all work out. Same thing with the Midnight Concert. I would just announce it and angels would swoop in to save me. (Angels like engineers Jim Latham & Randy Tobin, producer Barry Fasman, arranger/singer Alan Satchwell, Don Kirkpatrick or Noel Garrett.)
I'm not saying I'm not going to make the record, it's just that the timing is a bit off right now and that's totally cool; just means something else needs to happen first. And with the studio concert coming up, maybe that will open the doors to getting this thing done some way I hadn't even conceived. Who knows.
I had weird dreams last night, too. I was in New York, walking around and trying to keep up with a bunch of friends, but they kept leaving me behind. Then all I was doing was walking up and down some weird stairs feeling lost and confused. When I woke up, I was in this melancholy mood. Big changes are going on in my life. Jimmy is coming back in two weeks and then we are going to sort through our things and figure out our lives. He's moving back to New York permanently and I'm trying to figure out what I want to do.
I have some options but I hate moving and I can't keep this apartment by myself. My pal, Dickie, has offered to let me come to his place, so at least I have some options, but this is probably why I feel so lost and confused. I hate moving and my whole life is going to change again.
What an amazing ride this has been.
Tonight, Dickie and I drove down to Laguna. It was another gorgeous, sunny day today -- the kind that makes you love and appreciate southern California. The air conditioning was broken, but it didn't matter because the breeze was a perfect 65 degrees in the bright sun. Makes you believe in God when you see this kind of perfection. We got a late start because Dickie, who runs several support groups for Being Alive, was dealing with some urgent issues regarding some of the sicker members. And in the south, dark clouds were massing on the horizon. In the El Lay Territory, though, they have lanes dedicated to cars with two or more passengers. When we swung into those lanes, it was FANTASTIC! -- like being in hyperdrive as we swooshed past all the cars stuck in the slow lanes. Man, that was fun!
We pulled into Laguna about 7pm -- after passing through the canyon that is now facing terrible landslides because of the rain -- and found a note that said we were to meet with the Artistic Director, Andy Barnicle at a nearby restaurant. Oh, I never told you why we were going. It is because the Laguna Playhouse is negotiating to produce the west coast premiere of THE LAST SESSION. I wanted to meet with them and see the facility -- and see if there was anything I could do to help the production along.
Andy and his beautiful wife, Sara, met us and treated us to a fantastic (if hurried) spinach fettucine shrimp meal. Andy is a very animated, good looking man who spoke in a torrent of words. He told us how he and Rick Stein, the Executive Director had heard about TLS and flew to New York just to see it. And they loved it.
In particular, they were impressed that Jimmy and I had treated a serious and even controversial subject in a way that mainstream audiences could grasp and appreciate. The Laguna Playhouse apparently has a loyal and educated, but conservative audience. (After all, this is Orange County, home of the John Wayne Airport). The artistic team wants to challenge the audiences.
In TLS, they believe they have exactly what they were looking for. And I could see in Andy's demeanor that they are very excited at the prospect. In fact, they even plan on spending the extra money it will take to bring out the NY cast -- and Jimmy to direct (even though Andy clearly let me know how much he would love to direct TLS himself).
The musical playing tonight was "Inside Out" -- book by Doug Haverty and music & lyrics by my friend, Adryan Russ. I've been anxious to see "Inside Out" for a long time, especially since Adryan has been a supporter and fan of TLS ever since the first workshop in the summer of '96. It was a great production starring Terri Ralston who starred in many original Sondheim productions.
The Laguna Playhouse is beautiful. And the audience seating lay-out is perfect for TLS. Where the 47th Street Theatre was narrow and small, though, Laguna's is wide and large. Maybe two to three times larger, but the stage is very large and because the room is so wide, even the very back row feels like it's right on top of the stage. Plus, they have a first class sound system.
When we got home, though, we were greeted with the news that a death had occurred in Dickie's group. He had been attacked by CMV, one of the AIDS-related infections, and the medication he took for the CMV finally destroyed his kidneys. It was not unexpected, given how frail he had been, but still...
The rain that began yesterday evening became a torrent through the night. The apartment bedroom is below a deck on the roof of this apartment. When it rains like it did last night, the pounding becomes like something out of Tennessee Williams -- very dramatic.
I was lying there awake early this morning and once again a little bit of fear gripped my heart. Maybe it was the recently deceased man from the support group. Maybe it was Dickie being sick. I met the dead guy once. Only once. It was about a month ago on his birthday.
Bob Cox came roaring in tonight, took his guitar out of the case and immediately launched into "Connected." I got on my knees with my head almost in the guitar, letting the sound of the strings and the wood fill my senses as I sang. Then we hit "Somebody's Friend" -- and then "Preacher and the Nurse." Totally just jamming guitar/vocal.Check this out: He was in a band that rehearsed -- REHEARSED -- for eight years. The leader just didn't seem to think they ever got the sound right. (I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. Get together, jam a bit, find a gig in front of people and then party! What's the problem???)Earlier today, Dickie told me he didn't mind dying -- or the thought of dying. He asked me if that sounded strange to me. I told him, No. I knew he was having painful liver problems and I remembered what it felt like to be in complete torture every single day.
Bob used to get so pissed at me when I made fun of The Band That Would Not Gig.
I told him I was excited to be doing this five night gig in San Francisco. We remembered playing a town in Wyoming where the women outnumbered the men 4 to 1. To be a barhopping woman in that town was to be Queen of the Night.
I remembered picturing death as a beautiful angel wrapping her arms around me and taking me from all the sickness. But I wasn't hurrying death along. I was kicking and screaming to stay alive. And that's what I see Dickie doing, but he cannot take the protease inhibitors. They are what brought on this attack.
He said, "Have you changed since you became 'healthy' again? Is there a difference?" I said I struggle to remember what it felt like to be in the maw of the beast. I just lived my life -- not ignoring the problems, but realizing no problem can come up that cannot be resolved in some way. Peacefully, stress-free-ly.
Lying there last night with the sound of the rain pounding, with Thurber the Cat nudging my hand with his face, I thought about all the changes that are happening in my life and I, as I said before, felt kinda scared for the first time in a long time. Not deathly afraid kind of scared -- just realizing how, even with all our friends loving us, how very much alone we are.
But then this evening, I felt so alive; so connected singing with Bob -- two old friends making music together. How wonderful to be alive and doing it. How wonderful to be alive.
Yesterday I spent nearly the whole day sitting at the piano working on new songs. These are things that have been crawling into my subconcious for some time now. I don't write a huge volume of material. I'm more like Joe Jackson. I may not write a lot of songs, but I try to finish each one.
Also, given the amount of stress I'm feeling with the changes and the new directions my life is taking, I'm going to "cocoon" and not write in the diary for some time. I don't know how long this will last. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. I'm just going to let the Powers That Be guide me on that.
The reconstruction of Steve is an ongoing process as it is with every human being. And now I need time to myself. I'm not going offline, but relieving myself of some responsibilities so I can get my life together. Again, please feel free to write me or post on the discussion board. I'm not leaving..."...Just taking a breakThat was from "The Sad Lady," by the way.
A cyberly swim in my virtual pool."
I'll see you around...
[ This was posted on the new discussion board at my new site during my diary blackout.]
I'm placing this here because the only people who read this are the ones who really care about me and about the things I'm trying to do. I need to get this out and I'm not comfortable doing it in the regular diary.
Sunday, yesterday, was one of the most traumatic days of my entire life. And for a guy who's been thrice to the edge of death with AIDS, that's a heavy statement. I know that on the whole what's "killing me" is the stress and strain of figuring out mine and Jimmy's life from this point on. In effect, we've separated. But it's not that easy (as if that were easy). Our lives are bound together in ways -- both physically and emotionally -- that reach beyond anything definable in words.
Dickie, who has been long-suffering and helping me through this -- we had a moment last night that I still am trying to get over. It went like this -- and it might sound really silly, but it wasn't silly at the time.
I was at his house asleep on the couch because he was in the other room on the phone. About 11pm, he came in and set up his home movie system -- laser-disk with movie screen hooked up to his sound system. When he turned it on, he didn't realize how loud it was going to be. Well, on it came and I, in a sound sleep and possibly dreaming...
Sat bolt upright and SCREAMED bloody murder. Only the first scream didn't quite wake me up, so the combination of the large image on the movie screen combined with the unfamiliarity of his house and the fact that I was screaming my head off -- set me of into another huge, blood-curdling, straight from the gut scream. A primal scream like none I have ever experienced.
And I was a total basket case the rest of the night. In fact, after I had gone to bed, I couldn't sleep for several hours and when I did, I had this dream that I was in bed sleeping at that very moment but having terrible convulsions, shaking and weeping. It took me at least a minute to realize that I hadn't been shaking and that, too, was only a dream.
Dickie said he's never seen anything like this before. The sheer terror that is obviously lodged deeply in my soul came out last night. Today I feel much better, but I am definitely not well these days.
Jimmy comes home on Saturday and he will be here for about a month. That will give us time to figure out what our lives are going to be like from this point on. We know that we have a bond that cannot be broken. We know we are going to be involved in many ways, but I have to tell you --
I sincerely hope I never experience terror like that again.
Oh, and one last note. Guess what film it was he was putting on? (which we then watched)...
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