Does God Read Email. Vol. 2 Book 4 of Living in the Bonus Round.

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February 2000. El Lay, Las Vegas, Laguna Beach, Chicago..

February 24 - March 5, 2000.
Something For Laura.
Last night, at a gathering at Director Asaad Kelada's home, we had a very special moment together which I absolutely will never forget. Among the guests were Jeremiah Morris and his wife Laura. Jeremiah is the Artistic Director of beautiful new theatre here in North Hollywood, the El Portal Center for the Arts where Jimmy has been working as an Associate Producer.

Laura has been battling cancer, going for chemotherapy on a regular basis. But you'd never know it to look at her or talk to her because she literally radiates (that's funny, "radiates") life. She's a bundle of joy, laughs, life and heart.

In fact, the night I met her was at the opening night of "Over The River." She came all dressed up in a shiny turban and I caught her on video  standing amidst a group of men holding court and having a blast.

The whole cast and crew of "Over The River" was there including Carol Lawrence and Joseph Campanella. We feasted on Italian food and we ooh'd and aah'd over Asaad's beautiful home (complete with swimming pool and treehouse!).

After everyone had eaten we all gathered in his expansive living room in front of a roaring fireplace. In the corner of the room was a Yamaha baby grand piano. Asaad had asked me, when we entered, if I would play a song and I answered that I had a song for Laura.

So after everyone was gathered and I was at the bench, Laura shooshed everyone, and then sat down right at the end of the piano, directly in front of me with this big, wonderful grin on her face. Jeremiah was a few feet behind her.

I said, "Laura, knowing what you're going through I have this special song which I think you, above all, will relate to." And then I sang Friendly Fire. No one could see her face but me. As the song unfolded her face became a mixture of smiles, tears, knowingness and pain. I think for the first time since knowing her I could see past her brave, joyful mask to the depths of fatigue, pain and fear that she must surely be going through.

But of course, Friendly Fire is a fun song. So I made everyone do the "call and response" part with me and after it was over they all applauded and laughed. Then Jimmy said, "I have a request; do Going It Alone."

Up until this point, I hadn't really been looking at Jeremiah. So I introduced the song and dedicated it to him. As I sang Going It Alone, I couldn't look at anyone but I think I saw Jeremiah facing slightly away, deep in thought. Laura was still right in front of me, looking at me directly, tears forming at the edges of her eyes -- and the whole room had come to a complete moment of stillness.

At the end of the song, applause brought us all out of the spell and then Asaad sang a song on guitar, the other actors told jokes and show biz stories, and Carol Lawrence sang a cappella, a song called "My Secret Room."

But it was such a treat to be able to reach out to Laura with those two songs. Jimmy has been telling me how much he has loved working with Jeremiah, how they relate in so many ways being men of the theatre, as they say.

But there were moments during Friendly Fire and Going It Alone where it felt like the four of us -- Jeremiah, Laura, Jimmy and me -- were the only people in that crowded, warm, candlelit room.

March 6-8, 2000.
What Is This, Seattle??

The El Lay Territory is drenched in rain. For weeks it's been just pouring down. This is not normal. When Jimmy and I first moved here it rained THREE DAYS the FIRST YEAR. But life goes on. The skies are dark, the streets are wet.

Sunday night, we went to the Tiffany Theatre to see FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: Y2K-LA and we both laughed ourselves sick. The take-off on "Martin Guerre" was worth the price of admission alone as well as . Plus, playing piano for the production is the ever brilliant John Randall who understudied for Bob Stillman (Gideon) in our New York production. He didn't know we were coming so it was GREAT to hug him and his partner, Paul Clausen (who, Jimmy told me later in the car, is a superb actor).

It was weird being back at the Tiffany. I wish TLS was still running. *sigh*

Tuesday night we had another TLS reunion. Jimmy and I had dinner with the incoming cast of "Rollin' On The T.O.B.A." which is the next show going into the El Portal -- straight from New York -- and saw Sandra Reeves Phillips who played Tryshia in our New York staged reading.

Monday night in Pasadena was fun -- singing in the Fremont Center Theatre which used to be a Mortuary. I heard an acoustic duo that I thought was amazing both in their musicianship and their songwriting, Berkley Hart. Marie Cain was there so I jammed my palmcorder into her hands just before Bobby Cox and I went on and said, "Here. Now you're a filmmaker."

We sang Connected, Lazarus and Where Is God. I'm looking forward to Sunday morning when I'll be singing for the Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach.

ITEM: Aside from singing for the opening night ceremonies for PFLAG in Washington DC on April 28, I'm talking to a church in Pittsburgh about doing a Bridges-Across presentation with an exgay minister named Tom Cole from Michigan. With all the attention being focused at the moral warmongers in this election -- Prop. 22 passed here in California -- we're hoping to demonstrate that war is stupid and not inevitable.

ITEM: I've also been invited to sing for the Soul Force University which is being set up in Cleveland for the week after that. Across the street the United Methodist Church will be meeting and making some strong decisions about "homosexuals."  It seems weird that so many people worry about a "sin" they'll never even experience.

By the way, I made a funny at Bridges the other day. Someone asked about why conservative ministers feel so compelled to say, "It's a sin. It's a sin..." over and over again. (Jerry Falwell said it about six times in 10 minutes on Larry King the other night).

I said it was Baptist Tourettes. (Which I'm sure I heard someone else say but now they all think I'm clever.)

ITEM: Dickie's obit was in the LA Times on Sunday. Here it is in its entirety.

REMLEY, Richard Lee (45)
Passed away on January 25, 2000 at home in Van Nuys, CA due to complications from liver failure.

Dick was a long-term survivor of AIDS, having contracted the virus in early 1981, even before the virus had a name.  He spent years educating himself medically in order to help both himself and others.

Dick facilitated various support groups at both “Being Alive” and at “L.A. Shanti”. His survival was intimately tied to his great ability to obtain and understand information, and his steadfast commitment to sharing that knowledge with others. Dick lovingly embraced, supported, and educated those who were battling to get the upper hand on their disease. When asked why he was so willing to take the time to listen to others' constant concerns and fears so patiently, he simply replied, "This is what I do".  The simplicity of that response was the essence of Dick.

In the midst of his illness and support group facilitation, Dick developed and published a brilliant work entitled ‘Dickie’s Personal HIV Theory’, which can be found at the Internet address: http://

Originally from Pennsylvania, Dick is survived by his soulmate Gail, Bob, his longtime friend and caretaker, Steve, his friend and composer of the musical “The Last Session”; his “Being Alive” family, his “Last Session” family; his “L.A. Shanti” family, and his loving father Dan Sr., sisters Mary and Maureen, and his brother, Dan).

At Gail’s request, donations are being made to Being Alive:

March 9-15, 2000.
Fun In Vegas.
Photos of Steve in Vegas taken by Marc:

In a kind of prelude to my singing a concert as part of the opening night ceremonies of the National PFLAG Conference, I went to Vegas this past weekend to sing for another online support group, Common Bond. It was a great mix of moms, dads, young adult couples both male and female, some singles, etc. I've known about half of them for some time so it was like being with friends.

I also saw my friend V.J. from Talkin' Broadway. He came to the little afternoon "concert" and even wrote about it on his site in his bi-weekly column called "On The Rialto." I also got to see my beloved Aunt Frieda!!! In the movie, she'd be played by Rue McLanahan. Full of life with a great laugh and a saucy look in the eye.

The concert itself was really nice. We were in a little room with about 40 chairs (which was as many as we could get in), jam packed together. I began by talking about how much I believe in online chatlists and how badly gay kids need to know that they are loved. I told them about the time I saw the glbt kids hugging Martha in Cincinnatti asking her, "You mean you LOVE your gay kids?" There wasn't a dry eye in the house including mine. I just wanted to thank them for caring. Y'know?

I also got C.J. Liotta -- who came in from Denton, Texas -- to sing At Least I Know What's Killing Me and Jonathan Sturch from San Diego to sing "The Sad Lady." (He had earlier told me that he sang it for a RENT audition and they let him sing the whole thing because they wanted to know how it ended! Take heed, musical comedy auditioners! Schalchlin songs get you noticed!).

We're having to keep a tight watch on the thyroid medication. I'm taking a pill that prevents the thyroid from working in overdrive -- that's part of the Graves' Disease symptoms. I'll be taking this pill until my body -- in auto-immune phase -- kills the thyroid completely. Right now, my general condition is good but I'm tired a lot.

I slept the whole day yesterday and I can tell that it's taking me longer to recover from being really active. My blood sugar is going up again, too, so we've increased that medication.

I have a big schedule coming up so I'm back to resting a lot. A lot of people are going to come see me in San Francisco in May and if I'm going to convince someone to produce TLS in SF, I can't slough it off, can I??

Once again, I played for the Sunday Service for the Neighborhood Congregational Church this past Sunday. I might be going back in June. I hope so. I love these people. Oh, a funny story:

When I entered the sanctuary Sunday morning I heard this BEAUTIFUL music. Four musicians doing jazz improv very softly. Superb musicians. It was not atonal but very close.

A woman came up to me and said, "I bet all that tuning up is driving you crazy, huh?" I burst out loud and then went up to the musicians and told them (they also laughed).

It was in Vegas. The new Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. A tower. See that little needle at the top?  There's a "thrill ride" on that needle. You get in a little chair and it shoots you up to the top of the needle and then you fall.

Nothing in my life has scared me as much at the gut-wrenching fright that gripped my stomach when that thing threw us straight into the air so far above the city.

So of course I had to do it twice.

March 16-21, 2000.
The Great Hunters.
Picture this: Jim Brochu, graduate of a military academy along with his pal, Jeremiah stalking through the cavernous environs of the El Portal Center for the Arts in North Hollywood. Jeremiah holding a rifle. Jimmy, a pistol.

Why? Because the pidgeons had finally gone too far. The night before, just as "Rollin' On The T.O.B.A," a black vaudeville revue was cookin' on the mainstage, one of the pidgeons which had taken roost in the old building and refused to leave, dropped a big white glob of Pidgeon Paste right on top of the piano players head.

At that moment, I knew the big pidgeon hunt was turning serious. So I got my little palmcorder and followed them around the building. They did not shoot the pidgeon with their rifles, but I shot him with my camera. He was leaning over the top of the stage laughing at them.

The bird got particularly hysterical when Jimmy, holding his bee-bee pistol in both hands, took careful aim and shot his own finger -- grazed it, really -- because he had inadvertently placed it in front of the barrel while aiming. (Yes, he's okay. No, he won't lose his finger. I get to be the nurse putting the band-aids on each morning.)

On Thursday, for the third or fourth year I sang for Juan Herrerra's Religious Studies class at Cal State Northridge. The first time I appeared, I could barely stand. This time I sang a concert for them. It was a powerful experience telling my story as we examined pain and suffering as it relates to religion.

On Sunday we saw Marie Cain sing at the Beverly Hills Library. Barefoot Ron from PFLAG and Youth Guardian Services is in town so Gail and Michael and Joy and I went, sitting in the second row. Marie, as I've said here before, is a hysterical woman. She told me she thinks she might be a Jewish gay man in the body of a heterosexual female potato eater from Utah. You must hear "If I weren't A Gentile" to the tune of "If I Was A Rich Man."

Gail and I got to do some hugging. It was nice. Ever since Dickie died, it was like everything just collapsed for her. All the stress of his long illness is finally catching up and she's been sleeping a lot. What I've experienced is nothing to what she's had to face.

I love you Gail.

March 22-27, 2000.
Dreaming about Charlize Theron?
THE DREAM: I was in Philadelphia staying with my friend Maggie Heineman. I had flown there at the last minute -- everything was in emergency mode because I was to debut (in some church) a brand new musical that was only half finished. On the phone was a guy who was gonna play guitar and I was telling him that I just didn't have a part for Charlize Theron (who was on the Academy Awards last night in real life) and that I didn't think she was that good a singer anyway.

So then I hung up and Maggie tells me that this guy records all his phone messages and that he'd probably play what I said back to Charlize. So I panicked and had this long conversation trying to find some way to say that Charlize was probably a very talented singer but that I hadn't even finished the songs yet so I couldn't make any promises. I was getting more and more upset that I couldn't set things right.

Then I realized I had flown to Philly without packing a suitcase and didn't have any clothes to wear for the whole time I was there. So I was running around panicking: No music, no clothes, offending Charlize Theron...

Then I woke up and realized that I was home and dry (as the English say). This weekend, Jimmy and I took Saturday and Sunday to do nothing but be together. He's been working so hard down at the El Portal, I feel like I hardly ever see him. So what did we do with our one weekend together?

We went to IKEA and bought two do-it-yourself chests of drawers. Then we spent all day Saturday putting them together. Our apartment is so small. We have one closet and everything we own has been stacked around in milk crates like a dorm room. Luckily, IKEA is both stylish AND cheap.

Then Sunday we spent all day cleaning the rest of the house. (I'm sorry, I mean we spent the rest of the day promoting the gay agenda.) You should have seen me down on my hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor. Then I said something to Jimmy in the car that was so shocking we almost had a wreck. I said, "Would you buy me a mop?"

(I've never requested cleaning materials before.)

Actually, I know what the Charlize dream was all about. In the next month or so, I'm going to be performing at the most politically/religiously controversial and public events of my short career. The PFLAG national conference in DC, followed by the mainstage Millennium March on Washington (a big gay event), followed by an event in Pittsburgh for the Episcopal diocese where I'll be sharing the stage with an Exodus minister and then on to Cleveland for Soul Force University led by Rev. Mel White -- which is more or less a religiously gay-supportive week of workshops and seminars visible to the United Methodist Convention's big meeting in the same town at the same time.

All of this is weighing heavy on my mind because the issues of gays and religion are so volatile. I want to be able to speak with peace and clarity and love. Hey, God, are you listening? I said PEACE AND CLARITY AND LOVE. OKAY????????

March 28-31, 2000.
A New Session!

Here was the challenge: I needed to quickly record a replacement for the Bonus Round CD because the el cheapo guy who manufactured the original one CD was long gone, so I had no master. I could use cuts from that original album but since I had to remaster it and redesign the artwork anyway I thought why not put a few other tunes on?

 Shannon, who was executive producing, demanded I include "Lazarus" and "Where Is God". Plus I wanted to add two new songs I'd written for the PFLAG event in Washington DC based on the real lives of Gabi Clayton (and her late son, Bill) and Carolyn & William from Arkansas.

So we got there about 3pm, Barefoot Ron, visiting from DC, was given control of the video camera and soon we were throwing the tracks down as quickly as is humanly possible.

In short order, I recorded "Lazarus," "Where Is God," "Gabi's Song," "William's Song," "I Want To Make Music" (which is the first song I ever wrote back when I was 19) -- plus I re-recorded "Save Me A Seat" (because the BR version had wrong lyrics), "Connected" (cuz I didn't like the flutes on the BR version), "Friendly Fire," "ChristmasTime" (with Jimmy from our children's Christmas musical we wrote eons ago), "A Simple Faith" and finally...

As a special surprise, due to popular demand, I asked Joey Traywick from the LA cast to come in and sing "Going It Alone." He fought a ton of Orange County traffic but he made it just in time.

When I first saw him, though, I was shocked because he had shaved his head! Turns out he had done it in solidarity with cancer patients during Cancer Awareness Day at his school. This brought me right back to a couple of weeks ago when I sang "Going It Alone" for my friends, Laura and Jeremiah. I don't think even Joey knew what was going through my mind as we re-connected musically and spiritually through that song.

We did three takes. But it was on the third take that the "magic" happened. This is one of those things that's not really describable. But on the third take, it was like this heat began to come up from inside and our voices intertwined in a magical way that, when it was over, we both almost screamed out loud. We hugged and chattered like magpies at a Baptist potluck. I cannot wait till Wednesday when Randy and I take the tapes, mix them and master them.

I'll still use some of the cuts from the original Bonus Round album so that I have as complete a recording of TLS as is possible to sell at my concerts, but that original record is now officially "over" -- a collector's item. And the new record will be called:


April 1-9, 2000.
T-Cells, Eyes, Sugars, Throat & CDs.
I haven't really done a health update in a while because I've been so focused on making the new CD. But there have been some dramatic developments so here goes:

Remember a couple of months ago when I was so excited because my t-cell count had gone from the upper 400s to the upper 900s? Well, the most recent test has indicated that that test was a fluke. We're back down in the upper 400s again.

This is the reason one gets tested regularly when one has HIV. Because you can't trust a "single" lab test. You have to look at them in sequence. I felt disappointed, of course. I was hoping that with all the pills I've been taking for thyroid and diabetes that we had finally reached some stability -- but it was not to be.

Speaking of thyroid, my right eye is getting progressively worse. I can only see a single 3D image, really, when I'm sitting bolt upright with my head tilted down just a bit. That's because the paralysis in my right eye is getting worse. So I can see well for driving watching a movie or TV or talking to someone who's my height or taller -- but the eye has become useless for reading and anything else.

Like when I've lost something and I'm looking down to search. I see a double image and I have to strain. It's very difficult when I'm in a store shopping or when I'm trying to watch TV and there's a light source near the TV. Because the double image puts the light source right into the middle of the image I'm trying to hold with the left eye.

I'm trying to think positively about it but it's something I cannot escape. Every single day, every single moment, I have to struggle with double vision -- and psychologically I can tell that I've stopped even TRYING to use my right eye. The other day I covered my left eye just to see what the right eye could see and it was blurry, which means my right eye isn't even trying to focus anymore.

There's a part of me that wants to just SCREAM at the doctors like I did when I was dying. I want to yell, "HEY!!! I'm GOING BLIND HERE!! CAN'T YOU PEOPLE DO SOMETHING???" Poor Dr. Peter the other day hugged me after our last appt. I can tell he feels helpless about this and wishes there were more he could do. But there isn't.

The only alternative is complicated surgery at some world class hospital but even that is risky. There are no guarantees they can really fix this. I just have to let it play out and hope for the best right now.

The other complication is my blood sugar. For some weird reason, even though the pills helping my thyroid condition are supposed to be helping my blood sugar, it's been sky high out of control again. So I'm back to pricking my finger three times a day and watching it carefully.

At my last appt. I had lost 8 pounds and when I told Dr. Peter I felt it was because I had been cutting down on carbs in order to lower my blood sugar he said, "No! I want you to gain weight. We'll change your medication but you eat normally."

So we're changing to this pill that is a new configuration of a pill that was killing people last year. Supposedly it won't kill people this year.

Lastly, as I write this my throat is really sore. I might have strep throat or something. I couldn't sleep last night because of the pain -- and I'm supposed to sing in Chicago on Thursday.

April 10-15, 2000.
Chicago! A Sputtering Steve.
Lake Forest College just north of Chicago, right on the edge of Lake Michigan is a beautiful place. The buildings are majestic, brick buildings built a hundred years ago and the college itself is respected far and wide. I was brought in by a student-led group called S.P.I.C.E. -- Student Promoting Intelligent Choices Everyday.

But I was sick. Earlier this week I had had a head cold, but by the time I had to head out for the airport, I was coughing up green gunk, my throat was closing up and I was coughing like crazy. I almost didn't go but something told me to fly on. I'm glad I did.

The report on the concert I'm going to leave to an online friend of mine, Rev. Kent Svendsen. Pastor Kent is a conservative Christian Methodist whose theology is not "pro-gay," as they say. He and I have exchanged angry words over the past year or so, debating theology and whether it's "okay" for someone to be gay or gay supportive.

But as readers of this diary know, I never give up on people, even if I disagree vehemently with them on religion or politics. And because we kept our relationship going, even through the strife, we began to see each other as fellow human beings and even, finally, as friends. Here's what he saw as he and his friend, Tom, picked me up at the airport in Chicago:

Pastor Kent:
We embraced as he got off the plane and this guy I had never met in person seemed so familiar. Perhaps that is because we have been through a lot together. There was no doctor [available] on campus so he had to tough it out. I played my guitar and sang for him and he applauded and acted like it really pleased him. (He was probably just putting up with me.)

The chapel was plainly decorated but yet majestic and it gave one a sense of royalty.

Steve took one look at the grand piano and that was it. Tom and I sat in silence as he "met a new friend" and got to know the keyboard. There was this other guy there who drove in to meet Steve.
Steve again:
Kent is referring my cyberpal, Peter, who knows my music nearly as well as I do. This was our first time to meet, also. The concert was to be at the Chapel on campus and the piano was a brand new 11 foot Steinway. WooHOO!!!
{Peter] loves Steve's music and plays the piano. His eyes were riveted on the keyboard as Steve played. He would ask about a certain song and Steve would begin playing and you could see Peter's face fill with joy and childlike excitement. It was beautiful to watch.

We ate with the sponsoring group and we talked with the college students. It makes your heart warm to see young people who want to make a difference in the world. Whose concern is for helping people and doing what is right instead of doing what is most profitable.

As we sat there waiting for the concert to begin Steve placed his head on my arm. I think I asked him if he were OK or something. (I don't remember) He said he was just loving me. He then pulled away. Perhaps he thought it was a bit much for a side B army air assault chaplain type to handle? I didn't mind at all. After all real men go to church (I have a sweatshirt with that phrase on it), love their wives and families, seek peace and justice for their world, defend the innocent, and aren't afraid to be seen hugging on a friend.

The concert began around 8 pm. There was a crowd of around 60. (We are told that if 50 showed up it would have been a good turnout ) Even though he was sick and coughing Steve absolutely commanded the room as he engaged the audience and drew them into the unfolding drama of the "Bonus Round" and beyond.

Steve again:
What I remember is having a pile of Kleenex's next to me as I coughed repeatedly between songs, hocking up icky loads of green sputum. One time I told everyone to look away as I blew my nose (yet again). It was very humiliating to feel so disgusting in front of people.
The passion and intensity caused one to be swept away and that hour passed like it was ten minutes. We laughed and cried, gasped (He did the complete "The group" song complete with the F word) and sighed and applauded him fervently. The last song "When you care" brought an instant standing ovation and I walked up to him and gave him a big hug.
The kids in the audience did listen and watch and yes, they jumped to their feet at the end of the concert. It was a wonderful night despite my own agony.

The next morning, I was REALLY sick and in pain, so I decided I was compromising my health to delay any treatment. I went to the Emergency Room where they x-rayed me and tested me. Yes, it was an upper respiratory infection treatable with Zithromax and an inhaler. I think Pat Pohl from the College who stayed with me the whole time, holding my hand and caring for me. Thank you, Pat.

Then I took the train to Chicago and found a nice room at a little bed and breakfast on North Halsted Street where I'm comfortably and happily writing this. My lungs have cleared up, I'm breathing much more easily and I'm glad I came to Chicago. I thank my friend Rev. Kent for his generous comments.

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© 2000 by Steve Schalchlin.
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