Volume 1 Book 3 Part 3 of
Living In The Bonus Round
by Steve Schalchlin.

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

February 1997. Los Angeles.
I continue telling stories from my past. 
We get ready for New York.

Saturday, February 1, 1997
Steve's Story Part 5: New York At Last! About 15 years ago.

I had been to New York (from Dallas) one time before this having, some years back, accompanied some friends of mine who were moving there. We had all driven in a big truck with their furniture. I was living with thenervous dancerat the time and was pleased to meet his friend, Deborah, who was a native of New York. Deborah had also, by this time, visited us in Dallas where the three of us dropped acid together and got lost in a huge Target Store. You haven't lived until you've done Target on acid. (Steve no longer indulges in this sort of thing and does not recommend it for youngsters). Anyway, while in New York that first time, we stood in line at the TKTS counter and saw three shows: Sweeney Todd, The Elephant Man and Evita. From that point on, I was forever hooked on theatre.

Anyway, Deborah, who dreams of being a filmmaker, but who was doing odd jobs as an video editor at the time, invited me to live on her couch in her tiny one-bedroom apartment on Columbus Ave. at 81st street. The couch was comfortable enough and Deborah had two cats named Too Loose and E Chi.

Living at Deborah's was not much different from living with The Unknowns in one important way. The only music which was allowed to be played in HER apartment wasreggae. And for the entire year that I stayed on Diane's couch, the only music we ever listened to was roots reggae. My favorite artists during that time (except for Bob Marley, of course) were Black Uhuru, Mutabaruka and my personal fave, Burning Spear. We also got to go see Peter Tosh perform just before he got murdered.

So, there I was in New York,practically penniless. The very first job I tried out for was lunch cook at a natural foods restaurant down in the Village from an ad in the Village Voice. By that time, I had absolutely no money at all, so I walked from 81st down to 13th and applied. Having done some short order cooking before, I wasn't totally unprepared, but most of the food in this place had names I'd never actually heard before. But, just like the Grand Crystal Palace needing their tenor, they put me on the lunch shift that very day because there was no one else.

By the middle of the shift, one of the waiters came in to take over for me and I was told that this might not be my best career option. I tried to go lower on the food chain. I tried room service order clerk but was faced with a room full of college graduates in suits as my competition (and me in my jeans and t-shirt). After a couple more tries, I realized that if the competition was so fierce on the bottom, it couldn't be any worse on the top, so I began soliciting wait jobs at restaurants on Columbus Ave., finally landing one at 76th street. A seafood restaurant named Dobson's.

This went fine for awhile. Diane and I were bonding and we had a nice little family of two cats and the two of us, but after awhile I got very bored with Dobson's and realized I needed to do something -- ANYTHING -- else.

One night someone directed me to a piano bar named Bogart's on the upper east side. At Bogart's, I opened the door and was hit in the face by a cloud of cigarette smoke, the likes of which I had never seen before. Bogart's was a narrow bar with a beat up grand piano sort of in the middle facing the door. The bar was packed with guys of all ages drinking and laughing and smoking. At the center of all this was a rather cute guy playing the piano and singing. I sat down near him and just watched. On his break, I introduced myself, told him I was a player, gave him my phone number and we had a nice chat.

The very next day,a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from the pianist. He said he had the flu, that he couldn't find any substitute, and would I go on for him that night.

PANIC TIME! I'll never forget this moment for the rest of my life because it was my critical "put up or shut up" moment. Now, realize. Though I had sung at the Grand Crystal Palace for a couple of years, I didn't really know any show tunes. We had been doing musical revues there, but they were mostly originals with some pastiche thrown in for good measure. I DIDN'T KNOW ANY SHOW TUNES AND I DIDN'T KNOW ANY STANDARDS.

I knew my Stevie Wonder tune, some Creedence, Beatles, my own songs, and one or two top 40 love songs, but that was about it. In all, about 20 songs - one and half sets worth. Bogart's required five full sets.

So there I am on the phone, my skin has gone totally cold, my face is hot, my heart has stopped and a little voice inside me said, "This is why you came here. To do music. Say yes. Say yes." So I said yes. And for the rest of the afternoon, my stomach turned and breathing stopped for long periods. I riffled through what little sheet music I had trying desperately to put together some semblance of a set.

Then, when it was time, I got on the subway and went to Times Square where I bought three fake books of songs. (Fake books are large compilations of standards that are jammed onto the pages in the most economically feasible way. They are usually little more than a melody, chord symbol and words.)

I got to Bogart's, told them I was the substitute player and began noodling around trying to make my pathetic little setlists last five long hours. When I ran out of material, I would open a fake book, find something simple and "fake it." I think I probably looked pretty confident, but inside, my stomach was churning and burning and making me sick as a dog. I did okay on faking it until one guy asked me for "September Song," a beautiful Kurt Weill number. I, of course, had never heard of it but thinking he meant, "September Morn," I told him "I'm sorry. I don't know any Neil Diamond." This, of course, was greeted with a blank stare. My other scary moment was when someone asked for "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

(Each time someone asked if I knew a song, I would answer, "Um, let me see." Then I would open a book and if I found the title, I would say, Yes.)

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" I had actually heard of and I was doing okay on it until I got to the bridge where it proceeded to move into the key of "5 sharps." At that point in the song, I froze. If you had put a gun to my head, I couldn't have made it through the rest of the song, so I just stopped. Dead man playing. Luckily, the guy who had requested the song had found a cute boy to flirt with and I had been long forgotten.

Well, I made it through three sets before my stomach finally claimed its victim. So, I apologized to the bartender who gave me a few bucks and I raced home, humiliated and wondering what the f*** I was doing. Diane gave me a joint and a beer and I didn't sleep a wink all night long.

The next day,Bogart's called and offered me a job playing there three nights a week. And thus, my new career was launched.

ON TO STEVE'S STORY: PART 6

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Sunday, February 2, 1997
Last Minute Rescue.

On Saturday morning, yesterday, I woke up and realized I had forgotten to call Bob's Pharmacy to get my Epivir (3TC) prescription refilled. I had only one pill left and Bob's is not open on Saturday. That would mean missing three doses, something I didn't want to do. I thought I might be able to get it filled anywhere, but on the label it said, "Refill: 0."
(3TC is one of the AZT-like anti-virals I take as a part of the "cocktail" of drugs which includes d4T and Crixivan. To miss doses is to take a chance on making the virus immune to its effects.)
So I got in my little car and drove down to Thrifty Drug, a pharmacy I don't think I've ever been to before, and I handed the bottle to the pharmacist and said, "I ran out and need just four to make it to Monday. Can you help?

He took the bottle and disappeared into the back. About five minutes later, he reappeared, gave me back my bottle which now had four Epivirs in it -- which cost $5 or $10 apiece. I reached for my wallet but he waved me away and said, "Don't worry about it."

And they say Los Angeles is cold and mercenary. Thanks, Mr. Pharmacist.

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Monday, February 3, 1997
A Death in the Family & A Mention in the Times.

Jimmy and I were very sad to read that our friend, Jimmy Doolittle, the dean of bringing great theatrical art to Los Angeles, had died over the weekend. We met Jimmy Doolittle when he came to see "Club Indigo Revisited," -- produced by Carl D. White -- a musical revue my Jimmy had written the book for. (It played at the Golden Theatre in Burbank in a long sold-out run). He was one of the nicest, most cultured human beings we have every known and the James A. Doolittle Theatre in Los Angeles is a tribute to his work. The LA Times this morning featured a long article about how he would provide vouchers for "po' folk" to go see great works of dance, opera and theatre. He will be greatly missed.

On a more personal note, this same Times mentioned our little Survival Site this morning in their "Cutting Edge" edition of the Business Section. Ain't that sweet? If you're a first-time visitor, I know there's lots and lots of stuff here on this site, so please bookmark it and come back. If you know someone with AIDS, or if you know someone who is trying to CARE for someone with AIDS, these pages can be very helpful in understanding what is going through their minds. The early pages, before I began my Crixivan are particularly helpful.

Today I also go see Dr. Ellie and pick up my new meds for the month. I'll be back later.

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Tuesday, February 4, 1997
Dr. Ellie & #aids/hiv+2.

My appointment with Dr. Ellie today was fantastic. We reviewed my most recent tests and though it has a lot of "high" on it, it's not too high or out of bounds for someone with AIDS. The best part, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, is that my CD4 count is still slowly rising and my viral load remains below detectable limits. Also, my t-cell percentage is up to 8%. This is an indication of immune system restoration, but we have a long way to go. Normal is between 32% and 50%.

I found a new channel on the IRC that I have totally fallen in love with. It's on the Undernet in the mornings and on Chatnet at night (when the undernet gets too busy). It's called "aids/hiv+2." It's a mixed group of men and women and has been a source of excellent information for me. Plus, I'm making great new friends in SF, Australia, Canada and all over the country.

Today, I'll be joining my friend, Harriet Schock as she records her new album. I'm doing back-up vocals. Also, I'll be delivering CDs to A Different Light, the gay/lezzie bookstore in West Hollywood. First place to handle "Living In The Bonus Round" outside of this website.

Sorry, I've interrupted "Steve's Story," but I've not had much computer time. I'll get back to it soon. I promise.

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Wednesday, February 5, 1997
Studio Fun and A Challenge For Nik.

Well, I don't know how I got a day ahead in the diary. I'm writing this on Wednesday morning and reporting on what happened yesterday.

I spent almost the whole day in the studio with Harriet Schock, the songwriter and Nick Venet, her producer who is also, as he says, "Living in the Bonus Round." There was also a little choir of five back-up singers helping Harriet with tracks she had already "laid down." Harriet had wanted me to also sing back-up, but I didn't really know the parts and wasn't enthused about slowing down the process so that the group could teach them to me. Besides, it was hard work and, if you don't know anything about me by now, you know I don't like to work hard if it can be avoided.

Anyway, the real fun was hanging out with Nik between songs and listening to him either rant and rave (something he has turned into an artform) or listening to him tell me how much he knows about "all there is." Of course, I only put up with him because he keeps threatening to make a "real" record with me and actually release it worldwide. I keep telling him, "Nik, I've sold a hundred records already. Who needs you?"

He was regaling me (and Scott Wilson -- another really great songwriter) with tales of what great music scenes Dallas and Austin have -- mostly because they have entrepeneurs, men or women who know how to book talent and put on a show. In other words, the people will go to a club because they trust whoever is in charge of the club. Here in L.A., you don't dare just "go to a club" this way. Why? Because the clubs here will book anyone who can draw a group of 20 who will buy drinks. (And just as a sidenote, when I produced the monthly ACOUSTIC UNDERGROUND shows, we got a regular crowd who came because they knew Blythe and Paul and Dan and I understood good talent.) So, here's Nik's challenge:

He said if I would announce what he is going to do in this diary, then he would do it. Nik, I'm calling your bluff. He is going to call the person who is in charge of booking the club, Genghis Cohen -- (this person lives in Philadelphia) -- and tell him that Val Wilson and Thurber Katz can get 20 people and that he should book them.

Val Wilson is Scott Wilson's dog and Thurber Katz is, well, Thurber the Cat who lives with Jimmy and me. Then we'll check the Genghis schedule for March and see if their names show up.

By the way, we didn't stop the session for OJ's verdict last night. But we did stop for the Republican response to the State of the Union address. But, darn, OJ got in the way. How could they not put on the always riveting Trent Lott or that paeon to post-modernism, Jesse Helms?

(Can anyone see my tongue planted firmly in my cheek?)

Oh, one last thing. Though I didn't sing back-up for Harriet, I did get to sing a duet with her on one of the songs. Guest star! And Nik is going to put on the CD, "Steve Schalchlin appeared by special permission from Bonus Round Records." He's a pisser.

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Thursday, February 6, 1997
Long Day Yesterday.

Spent much of the day getting some arrangements together for the choir and for my friend, Cindi Nassi, who is going to be singing on Saturday night. She was to do Going It Alone a club in Pasadena. Can't wait to hear it!

Last night I was with the Heaven Bound Sound choir and we rehearsed for our "gig" on Sunday morning at their church. I'm tired. I'm going to pretty much take today off. So, don't look for me online. I'll be in bed sipping distilled water and sleeping.

(But it was a very good day...)

[as I was resting, this came in...]

Steve, while you sip and sleep...

I just tuned in to Tom Freeman's show (a little late) and caught the last seconds of a Schalchlin tune -- HA!!!! (I think it was "Save Me a Seat" - I will ask Tom, or check the play list on the KAOS website.)

You are the toast of KAOS and Olympia, WA!!!

He's reading tons from your website --- mentioned something Harriet said about how wonderful your songs are (and said he knows her work too) --- and now he's playing the Ginger Freers version of "Going It Alone" --- and now "The Group" --- oops, the CD was playing an echo -- Tom had to stop and start again -- now it is fine --- ah, sweet sound... skipped the "f***s" (he had told me he would have to do that).

Talking about you again --- about the joy that is there on the site and the sadness. You are "Tom Freeman Website of the Week" ---

Tom is asking people to help with AIDS organizations... and he's ending with "One New Hell" and telling all that it about Billy V. and the essay he wrote to you.

You be on the radio.

Love, Gabi

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Thursday, February 6, 1997 P.M.
Pancho's & Limitations.

As you know I took yesterday DAY off to rest. At 7pm. Jimmy suddenly came running into the bedroom where I had been sound asleep, but was just "coming to." (He had fallen asleep in the chair in the living room.) I raced down the San Diego Freeway to Manhattan Beach and saw my name up on the marquee of Pancho's Mexican Food Restaurant again. And once again, I played my songs to a crowd of people who where shouting at each other in the lively room. Not one single person listened to one single note.

It didn't matter. I enjoyed myself anyway. Even threw in a Beatle song or two for good measure. Afterward, a very cool mostly female band named "Reply Hazy" rocked the room to the rafters, at which point, David Robyn came on and did the same. He had some different musicians with him this time and they were spectacular. Aside from David's own songs, they did a blues number called "Breaking Mama's Heart" that knocked out everyone. I hadn't realized how much of a blues rocker David could be (great guitarist, too!).

A SIDE NOTE: I've been, as you know, most exuberant about the newly found strength I have due to the miracle of Bruce Dorsey's (and Merck's) Crixivan. Considering that I was very nearly dead when I started the regime and barely functional for the month or two previous to taking it, exuberant is probably not nearly accurate enough a term, but it will have to do.

Fact is, though, I have to realize -- and accept (or rather, remember) -- that I am not able-bodied in the real sense of the word. If I take a couple of days to do, physically, that which most people would only shrug at, I wake up on day three feeling like I've been hit by a truck.

Ronda and Jim and all my other friends watch me and try to warn me about doing too much, and I'm usually good about taking their advice so that they will trust me when I'm booking along tackling this or that. But, I get so excited about life and about doing things, I *do* forget this fact and I suddenly a day like yesterday will hit and I just collapse on the couch or on the bed.

My literature from APLA stresses how important it is, in the battle against this disease, to "allow" ourselves these days. My natural instinct is to scream at myself that I'm lazy, that there is so much to do, that I'm "wasting" a day of my life, that I have no business just lying around. Jimmy will tell you that when I was the Managing Director of National Academy of Songwriters, especially in the early days, I literally worked 12 to 14 hours a day solid, barely breaking for lunch, seven days a week. I love to work. I love putting in hours and accomplishing great tasks. So much of my own self-pride or self-worth was about accomplishing more and working harder than anyone around me.

So, you see, my friends, what I really want to be able to say to you is that "I'm fine!" "I can do anything!" "I'm ready to conquer the world and it should only take a week!" But I can't. It would be a lie. And it's so hard to admit this without feeling defeated or weak or wimpy. The fact is, whether I like it or not, I do have AIDS. And, no matter how many headlines scream, "IS THE CURE HERE?", the cure is not here. No matter how "managable" AIDS might become, the plain and simple fact is that my immune system, before the Crix, was almost wiped clean and I was experiencing, or had experienced several death-dealing Opportunistic Infections.

In the past seven months, my system has edged back from the brink and has given me the opportunity to recover some of that lost defense system, but there are pieces missing I'll never get back. It's like a fortress surrounded by a wall which the builders are rebuilding. But they're only rebuilding *sections* of the wall. There are some sections that are lost forever and can never be rebuilt, which means there are huge gaps which will probably always be there.

You see, in the world of t-cells, it's not enough just to have a high number of them. You also have to have the right "type"of t-cell. One t-cell might fight off flu while the other one "remembers" chicken pox or measles. In rebuilding an immune system, if you lose, for instance, all the chicken pox t-cells, they are not recoverable because the "immune memory" of that type has been lost forever. One of the markers of this, I've been told, is the t-cell percentage which is normally around 32% to 50%. Mine had collapsed to 2%! It's now at 8% but how do we know what's been lost and what remains? We don't know and there's no way of knowing. I could use IL-2, which is still in study now, and bring my t-cell count up even more, but it theoretically only duplicates that which is already there.

You'll notice that I'm restricting my personal appearance schedule to one or two events per month. I believe I can handle that. But I've had a few requests that I've had to turn down. Do you have any idea how much I hated doing that? More than you can imagine.

Anyway, forgive me for going on like that. It's just that these things are going through my mind today and I needed to just get it out so that I could look at it and remember it. On a scale of 1 to 10, I feel like an 11 most times and I thank God and Bruce Dorsey for that, but feeling like an 11 and actually being an 11 are two different things.

Life in the Bonus Round is a gift. A gift I appreciate more than anything. And the gift comes with strings attached. But frankly, it's a small price to pay for the chance to spend this extra time here.

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Sunday, February 9th, 1997.
Steve Goes To Church.

Well, it was great to see "my" choir again. The Heaven Bound Sound group is such a wonderful bunch of young people and they are on my CD and everything. We really have a great communication between us onstage. No big drama or anything, but we really rocked the rather quiet congrgation when we did Preacher and the Nurse. What was fun was that First Pres' Preacher has a Nurse for a wife. They liked that song.

Then we had lunch with our friends, Bonny Dore and her husband, Sandy. Bonny is an old friend of Jim's and together they did something that is a part of TV history forever. I'll let you find out what by asking Jim. Bonny runs and hides whenever the subject comes up. LOL.

Bonny produces movies and she is working on a new one for, I think, Lifetime. The story sounds GREAT and it's been written by Al Martinez, who is the columnist in the LA Times who wrote about the article about me!

ITEM:
I'm afraid I forgot to mention, in these pages, my good friend, Linda George. She's been working hard for PFLAG and fighting the fight against bigotry. She's also co-president of my fan club, which means she has WAAAAAY too much time on her hands.

ITEM:
Tony Gardner is a positoid friend in Dallas. The two of us (although he did all the work) have set up a new webring featuring Positoids on the Net. The link is on index page.

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Monday, February 10th, 1997.
The End Of New York.

Today, I played the piano a lot, rehearsing for the Troubadour gig. I also reformatted and brought my diary pages up to date from August through November. Websites should be easier that this. On Tuesday I've been invited to appear on Channel 5 locally as a part of a story they're doing on Geocities. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Meanwhile...

Steve's Story Part 6: Alien In New York

[You might recall that Steve got his first job at the piano bar regardless of the fact that he didn't *any* of the traditional piano bar music.]

(I'll show you how utterly naive I was when it came to the standards: It was at one of my early gigs that someone sat down next to me as I was doing some Cole Porter song and said, "You know, these songs really work a lot better if you swing them." Swing them? I said to him. With that, I suddenly added a swing tempo and what had been stiff and dirgy suddenly sprung to life with wild 40s abandon. SWING THEM? I can only look back and wonder who that southern rube was... didn't even know he was supposed to swing a jazz tune. lordy.)

At this time, I changed my name to something more "show bizzy." From this point on, I became STEVE AUSTEN. Really glam, huh? I might even have one of the old photos. I'll look for it and scan it in for you.

After I got my first gig playing Bogart's on the Upper East Side, I quickly was hired by another bar to do the same thing there on different nights. I was able to quit my waiter job at Dobson's (which was getting to be a *real* drag) and just do music. Well, I plunged into the musical comedy repertoire with a vengeance. In effect, playing the piano bars in NYC was my college education in theatre music. I learned all the great standards and all the music from the current shows.

What was interesting to me was that I had not even heard most of these songs by Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Weill, et al. Oh, I'm sure they were played around me here and there, but not so's I'd actually know them. My musical references were Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel -- anyone who played a piano on the radio. So what I did is, I would open one of the fake books and learn all the standards off the page.

To me, Cole Porter's music was like Billy Joel's -- you should hear me rock out on "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor." Irving Berlin's songs sounded like Beatles to me. Clean and clear. Gershwin's songs I had no comparison for. Kurt Weill's songs felt a little like melancholy Elton John. I know some music professor somewhere is flip flopping in his grave listening to me compare Billy Joel with Cole Porter but at the time, I was just trying to find a way to relate to the songs purely as notes and rhythms without regard to their place in history.

The songs that got me the most, and that got me profiled in some little gay street rag wrote about, was my versions of songs by Sondheim. Where many find Mr. Sondheim's songs cold, I found them hot with emotion and dove in like a maniac. Once I discovered a few of his songs, I had to learn them all -- or at least as many as I could. What my ears heard in Sondheim was "soul."

One night at the gig in Bogart's -- and this bar was loud, the piano out of tune -- Stan Freeman came in to hear me play. Again, Stanley is one of the great musicians of our or any time. I played, "Not While I'm Around," a song from Sweeney Todd (by Mr. Sondheim). But I play it like it's being sung by the Stylistics -- with a soulful backbeat. It just tore Stanley apart. That was the first time I drew tears from the old curmudgeon.

I hear people talk about Sondheim all the time and it's always in reference to his intricate wordplay or innovative music and theatricality, but for this bar pianist, I heard Philly Soul and gut wrenching pain, as well as a strange melancholy on even the loveliest of his songs. I am determined that one day I will record "Not While I'm Around" *MY* way and bring his great songs to a whole new audience.

Well, I eventually made it to the Village where I played the once great Waverly Waverly, the now gone Trilogy, and a host of others, but I also played a hustler bar on the Upper East Side and began to witness a whole 'nother side to NY night life. I was also growing tired of being involved in a career I didn't especially like. I mean, how far can you go doing this stuff?

I was competent enough and cute enough to do it for years, if I had wanted to, but as bars came and went, so did my enthusiasm. Eventually, I was reduced to playing for a sleazy, but expensive bar on the Upper West Side. I was playing for people doing drugs in the bathrooms while hustling johns at the bar and nobody really ever listened to me play that much. The nights were endless and, frankly, I wasn't really trying to put an "act" together.

I felt as if I were in a toilet that was swishing me down, down down. It was making me physically ill and I knew if I stayed there, I'd have ended up taking drugs just to relieve the sheer boredome and tedium. I'm no virgin when it comes to drugs, I'm the first to admit -- so I have no right to judege anyone else -- but I was never a druggie and frankly, find most of them boring compared to "real life," but when they started offering me drugs and money in exchange for sex, that was it for me. I was no hustler. I watched these young guys come in there and I would watch them die right in front of my very eyes. This was not my world and I needed an escape.

One day, out of the blue, the pianist for the Grand Crystal Palace in Dallas called me and said there was a cruise ship that needed a pianist and would I want the job? A job at sea? Away from all this shit and vomit? Just as we were heading into winter? He said, the only problem is, it's a new ship and they need someone to sail right now! I had only one response. Where do I sign up?

And I was OUTTA THERE!

NEXT: A SAILOR'S LIFE FOR ME

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Tuesday, February 11th, 1997.
When CyberGUY Calls! & A Sailor's Life for Me.

As most of you know, I am more than grateful that Geocities gives us free webspace, so when they called yesterday and asked if I'd go on camera to tell everyone how my home page has changed my life, I was thrilled. I even got to finally meet the Geocities CEO, David Bohnett, and personally thank him.

Well, CyberGUY, a syndicated news insert piece, which is played on the 7 stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting, was very impressed with ye olde diary, but was particularly blown away by you folks who hang in there and read this thing and respond to it. When I told him I even had a Steve S. Fan Club started by fans in Washington, New Hampshire and Virginia, you could tell that he, Kirk, and his producer, Richard, were very impressed with the power of web pages.

I told them what I've said here over and over again. It's not websites that are interesting. It's the people behind the sites that are interesting. They were particularly touched by those of you who have loved ones with AIDS, or were isolated with AIDS and who wrote either looking for help, or had found it through my experiences. I know I'm vain as all get out, but that's a luxury I allow myself only as long as I feel I'm doing a little bit of good by having this site on the net.

Steve Story Part 7: A Sailor's Life For Me!

I should have known something was up when I looked at the big stack on top of the ship. A dark blue field with a BIG WHITE X. (The only thing missing was the skull). But the ship was beautiful. Huge Italian liner, a sister ship of the Andrea Doria (another clue) which had been refitted with modern cabins and run by a Greek shipping firm. (They keep changing their name for very good reason.)

The first thing I noticed was that I was the only American in the crew. There was a magic act from Romania, an Italian dance band, Italian waiters/kitchen/casino workers, a Latino trio from the Dominican Republic, and then Bangla Desh, Chinese, Salvadorian, Indian workers-- in all, there were over 70 nationalities among the crew -- all trying to communicate in English. By the end of the first couple of weeks, the entire crew was at war with each other. I'll never forget the time I was below deck and witnessed a Chinese guy screaming in broken English at a Bangla Deshi who was scared and backed into a corner, neither of them understanding a single word of the other. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the top of this pyramid sat an incredibly pompous Greek officer staff whose facial expressions ranged from a sneerto downright disgust, no matter who they were looking at. Also, the crew that "fixed" things, like in the lounge where I was situated, were Greek.

Example:
One day, a Greek officer noticed that the piano could not be locked, so he ordered the repairman to affix a lock to the piano. The repairman came in with a $1 padlock, like you'd put on a child's diary, nailed two catches into the front of the piano and stuck the padlock through. It hung just low enough so that everytime I played, the latch would cut my knee.
Though it was an Italian liner, the Greeks bought it from the Italians with the proviso that the restaurant/casino crew be Italian. The Greeks never failed to taunt the Italians with, "You're so stupid. You couldn't run this ship; we have to do it for you..." The Italians, as you might imagine, loved hearing this.

Myself, I was stuck on the Promenade Deck in the Fantasy Lounge, which was very large and open and had very bright lights and was frosty cold from the air conditioning. No one ever came in there. So, I'd sit all evening and play piano all by myself. It couldn't have been a more uninviting room. One day, I grabbed a mic and began to sing. The next day I was called to the Chief Purser's office and told that my job was to play piano, not sing -- and he showed me on paper my job description.

Meanwhile, we were doing one day "cruises to nowhere" -- essentially, a gambling cruise -- where they packed the ship with Brooklynites or Queensians, circled outside the 3 mile limit, and then came back the next morning. People didn't even have cabins. It was a like giant floating drunken heterosexual free-for-all. But I was able to go ashore everyday and see my friends.

One day I got onboard and was told we would be gone for a week.

A WEEK? At the time I was nurturing a new relationship. When I got back into town a week later, he was gone. Evaporated. But then, I had only an afternoon to find him. We were off again that night.

NEXT: The Ship Sails On...

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Wednesday, February 12th, 1997.
ASCAP, Free Food & Greek-bearing Ships.

There is one immutable rule in the music business: DON'T get between a group of songwriters and free food!! This evening was the big annual ASCAP General Membership meeting. This meeting is open to any songwriter affiliated with ASCAP, which is just over half the semi and pro songwriters in America. Fortunately, they don't all come at once. But the big ballroom at the Beverly Hilton was packed with young wannabes and old wish-I-still-weres and aggressive publishers and...

The first guy I met just outside where everyone was waiting to get into the food was a tall, young, handsome African American wearing a skicap. He came up to me and said, "Ha-puh-bi..." Since I had forgotten my Ebonics to English dictionary, I asked him to repeat what he had just said. He said, "Ha-puh-bi..." I didn't want to be rude, so I asked for a clarification. He was saying, "How's the publishing business?" I told him I was not a publisher but a songwriter. He got a big grin on his face and we became fast friends, making fun of the line, the men in suits, and everybody else including ourselves. He mentioned he had a CD whereupon I pulled one of MY CDs. He laughed and we did some kind of hand thing. I wished him luck and said, "Why come to these things if you're not gonna promote yourself?"

It's a funny mix at these meetings. Men and women in suits, young toughs in make-up and hats standing in the back, Marilyn Bergman at the podium, Nik Venet outside smoking a cigarette and demonstrating how he taught Bobby Darin to dance (and threatening me if I mentioned this here in the diary -- Nik also taught Michaelango how to hold a paintbrush, as Scott Wilson inferred in a song he wrote for the Songwriters Campfire).

I saw old friends and let them marvel over my new health and hip haircut. I even ate at the buffet in a daring move meant to challenge the forces of the universe.

Steve's Story Part 8: Sailing, Sailing

The Galileo was a gorgeous white Italian liner with a deep draft originally meant for world cruising. Some of the original wall art was still on several decks. The ship held some 700 crew and 1200 passengers. This was a BIG ship.

I surprised myself with how well I took to the sea. Up to this point, I was always deathly afraid of water due to some childhood accident I barely remember. I wouldn't even put my head under water in a swimming pool standing in the shallow end, but something told me that going out to sea was the best way to conquer that fear and off I went. I never had a moment's seasickness except for when we went through the hurricane, but that's a different story.

We, the entertainment staff, were situated on the lower decks in the passenger cabins and though it wasn't luxury, it was just fine. I began to make a few friends with the "ferriners" but I spent most of my time in my big empty, bright, frosty lounge, playing piano to no one. Then came the day we were told that the "crew cabins" were ready. Crew cabins?

Up to this point, I had never been in any crew area. I always stayed in the passenger area with carpets and nice paintings on the walls, but every once in a while I would see a crew member open a door I had never been through and disappear down a hallway that ran parallel to the hallways I had traversed. And where my hallway was blue and white, his hallway was brown and metal with a wooden grating for a floor. I didn't think I was allowed "there."

Well, it came the order to pack up and get ready to move. We were led to themysterious brown hallway, and immediately I felt like I had been thrown back in time. Everything was make of sheetmetal and iron. We were taken to the back of the ship, led down four metal staircases (how low did this ship go??) and taken to our floor. My room was made entirely of sheet metal painted tan. There was no way to hang anything, There was one big light fixture in the ceiling, one sink, one mirror, and there were communal showers down the hall. All of the people on my deck were Italian and, being American, I presumed, I was the only one who didn't have a roommate -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by the Italians.

I also noticed that my floor (also metal) was hot so I always had to have shoes on. I had been placed directly over the engines and the noise was sometimes deafening. For sleeping, there was a bunkbed. Also, there were no windows as I was way, way underwater, so when I flipped off the light, the room was plunged into deep, almost palpable blackness.

I lay there that first night in the black not knowing if my eyes were open or shut -- this boy from Buna Texas, listening to the young Italians in the hallway getting drunk and fighting; to the engine rumbling beneath me, smelling of fuel oil; remembering stories about indentured servants on ships, and marveling that my reaction to this totally alien environment was am intriguing, nervous calm. There was one thing I knew about all this:

This was an adventure and I was loving every moment of it.

NEXT: STEVE BECOMES A SAILOR!

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Thursday, February 13th, 1997.
Music History & Making Greeks Happy.

Jimmy's been hogging the computer. Imagine him thinking he has to finish "A Flight Of Angels" just because Tony, the producer, is in Berlin RIGHT NOW pitching it! Actually, he did finish it heroically -- he amazes me sometimes -- and now we're looking at old tapes of The Last Session and he's getting ready to do a new draft. I got up at 5am so that I could spend some time here. If I owe you a letter, or if you don't see me online, that's why. (And, no, I don't begrudge him one moment here.) OH, there's a letter coming in...
A QUESTION FROM KERRY:
There's a question I've asked that's never been answered..What do you listen to in the way of music? What do you like? You've mentioned so many different kinds and now you're quoting Lynyrd Skynyrd to me. This keeps me up nights, ya know.
As a youngster, I listened to my mom's tapes of when she sang in a Gospel quartet. When I discovered radio, it became all top 40, A Buffalo Springfield / Supremes / Monkees mix on a tiny pink plastic record player. (Hey, that's why I'm a reprobate! Because my first record player was pink!) As I got older, I fell in love with Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater, Moody Blues, and Beatles. Aunt Freida back in Louisiana introduced me to Percy Sledge. She currently lives in Las Vegas because she has emphysema, God bless her.

When we moved from California, we landed in Buna, Texas, which is like bayou country adjacent, a mix of cajun and black and white. Janis Joplin came from 30 miles away, Johnny and Edgar Winter. High school was about blues, barbeque, comic books, the Pentecostal girls, dirt roads, and very loud rock. The ultimate band, for me, was Edgar Winter's White Trash (and Creedence). There was another Texas band from Houston that did a very psychedelic album... can't remember their name. In college, because I was a Baptist back then, the major band that got my attention was Love Song. They were and still are seriously into fundamentalist Christianity and "ministry" -- especially lead singer and songwriter, Chuck Girard, and I mean that in a good way -- in that he is truly a humble man and will go anywhere, even to the smallest churches to sing for them. I'm not saying I agree with everything he preaches. I'm just saying I appreciated the very honest and compassionate tone of his music (and incredible melodies).

Learned songwriting in college by putting Bernie Taupin lyrics of Elton John albums on the piano, writing my own music for them -- before listening to the album.

On the road, I just listened to it all: Bob Marley, Burning Spear, juju music, Patsy Cline, Hall & Oates, U2, REM, Brian Eno, -- even Gino Vanelli, Lord help me -- all of these and probably a lot more I can't think of right now. Currently, I listen to "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on Public Broadcasting when I'm in the car. These days I seem to prefer music where I can't understand the language and they're using their own instruments to play rock.

Music is the ultimate diplomatic language and I like it when people talk to each other.

I'm really loving this part of your story on the cruise ship. I cannot imagine, yet after reading, I can. Puhleese keep all these web writings, consolidate them and publish a book. I want a book I can take to bed and be able to read, one I can hold and take for a bathtub soak. I want the whole story between two covers that I can go back and read my favorite parts without putting my carpal tunneled wrists to the keyboard. (this is all written in first person whiny-begging).
Please stop begging. It looks so ugly on you. *LOL* As I said earlier, I am completely and totally up for sale to the highest bidder. AIDS is expensive.
And a huge thanks... Your tape has done more than you'll ever know around here. I can now towel dry the pig, trim his hooves, clean his ears and brush his teeth. Just put you on and I have a mellowed jelly ball of a pig that allows anything while Steve calms him.
You know, it suddenly occurs to me, I have never seen anyone brush a pig's teeth. Can't you make a Quicktime of that? I'll post it here!! Let Shawn Decker have his flocks of teenage girls pulling his clothes off. Me? To know one of God's most misunderstoond creatures turns into a bowl of pig jello when my music comes on is enough for me. (Do his piggy friends buy CDs too?). Has Hoover listened to one of Shawn's bootleg tapes?

Story of Steve 9: The Rules of the Sea.

(We find Steve stranded at sea aboard a Greek cruise ship, a long way from Texas, a ex-Baptist Zelig playing piano.)

After a month or so of disastrous cruises, the entertainment staff was in chaos, so they brought a new Cruise Director aboard. His name was George and he was an American of Greek ancestry, so he understood what this ship was all about. He saw that I was new to ships and we immediately became best friends. He told me there are two rules every experienced seaman knows when working on a ship:

1. Make only a few close friends and keep your life as private as possible.

2. Throw Old Spice on the metal walls and on the floor of your cabin. For some reason, it's the only scent that will work on a ship which is permeated with its own smells, not the least of which is fuel oil.

George laughed at my complaints about the way I was being treated, explaining that these crazymen were the military communists who lost the war in Greece. Communists? In person? Interesting. Never met one in person, but I've seen them played on TV! He said they were all a bit dim, but not stupid, and that if you played the Purser the right way, you would eventually get what you want.

In other words, this wasMcHale's Navy. And Chief Purser Mikidakis was Capt. Binghamton.

The SS Galileo was actually Planet Galileo; a world unto its own consisting of multiple cultures (all on different decks -- like stacked continents!). But its a one world government; as if the commies had won the Cold War. (We had a revolution, by the way, but that story comes much later on. )

George said autocrats do not trust you until you become useful. They hate having problems and they hate change they don't know about. Well, with George running interference, in the Fantasy Lounge, I slowly began to turn the house lights down or off. I also turned the dance floor spots on me and my piano so I looked slightly more glamorous, and made a nice romantic get-away for passengers.

Every night, the Chief Purser and the Captain (who everyone said was insane from syphillis in the brain) would walk the Promenade Deck and sneer/smile at passengers, bark at Bangla Deshis, and take "self-important" to new heights. But underneath the unflappable granite, trouble was brewing. For one thing, the floor show was getting bad reviews from the passengers,

THE PASSENGERS:
These cruises were slightly off-season, shake-down cruises on a budget cruise line. The Greeks were practically giving these cruises away. So, every retirement condo in New York emptied onto this ship when we stopped doing the over night cruises, and began our "luxury" five day cruises were to Bermuda. The five day cruise to Bermuda had four days at sea. Four days at sea.

THE FLOOR SHOW:
The Greeks put foreign novelty acts from some European Broadway Danny Rose level talent agent. We were the cheapest acts on five continents. The orchestra was Italian; the dancing girls from Britain (pretty, but moved like second year dance students), the magician and pretty wife/assistant were from Romania and had pitiful backyard magic tricks, and there was a female singing duo called "The M&M's" (because both their names started with M -- get it?) and they sounded like the Sweeney Sisters on Saturday Night Live. It couldn't possibly have been worse.

...so things were a little tense because the passengers were daring to speak to the officious officers as they royally swept through the ship. When the touring entourage came to the Fantasy Lounge, they saw the changes I had made, AND I was singing again-- after having been told not to. Quickly, George nodded at me and I pulled out my new secret weapon: Never On Sunday. "Oh, you can tell me on a Monday, a Monday, a Monday...") -- the unofficial Greek national anthem.

They sneered extra deeply and faintly began tapping their toes. Then the Captain nodded at the Purser. As they were leaving, the Purser gave me the international sign for "you done good," which consists of one quick up jerk of the head and a softening of the eyes. I had passed the first test. But, the real test lay ahead because it rained the whole time.

Imagine a cruise where it rains every single day. A ship at sea with cheap entertainment, expensive drinks -- and cold rain and no television full of New York retirees who are not prone to keeping their opinions to themselves. The Greeks were going nuts from the complaints.

So I set my mind to working. Having grown up a preacher's kid who played piano, I thought back to Vacation Bible School -- the weeklong summer event at church. I went to my fake books, found a bunch of Broadway tunes and family choruses, typed them out, gave them to the printer onboard, and started a great daytime singalong.

With nothing else to do during the long days, the passengers drifted into my little singalong time and suddenly my dead room became the entertainment center of the whole ship. Soon, the Fantasy Lounge was more popular than the main ballroom floor show.

Well, when the Chief saw that I was getting all the good remarks on the passengers' report cards -- and when he saw how I was able to make the passengers happy even on a rainy cruise -- I became the Golden Boy of the Galileo!

Until the moped accident, of course..

NEXT: STEVE GETS A GIRL?

ITEM:
Just discovered a fantastic site on this here web. Teenage girl with an online diary (http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hills/1019/) who is about to face major drama at home and at school. The match has been lit and she's holding the stick of dynamite.

ITEM:
Here's a new site featuring the work of Keith Haring.

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Friday, February 14th, 1997.
Semi-Finals! & Steve Gets a Girl.

Steve's Story Part 10: Steve Gets A Girl

Now, I know this chapter is going to confuse some people. There are those who are very rigid about some things -- and there are also people like me who flit around the margins breaking all the rules and keeping everyone confused. Well, every good song has a surprise in it somewhere. MOM! This chapter might be a bit racy, so maybe dad should read it first.

This is the story of my last fling with a woman, an English dancer I called wild child. Her boyfriend was a punk rocker in London and Wild Child was not at all having a good time because the dancers were expected to act as wholesome as Catholic school girls -- to be "ladies," and to act with proper decorum. *icchhh* Keeping a tight rein on them was the Assistant Cruise Director, Guinness. His wife was the lead dancer. I call him Guinness because he began each day with a Guinness Stout -- a dark beer he bought by the caseloads in Bermuda.

ABOUT BERMUDA:
Being a landlubber, I had never given much thought to Bermuda -- and if someone had asked me where it was, I couldn't have told them. But it's a tiny island off the US eastern seaboard, about halfway up the coast, two days by sea from Boston, which is where we had picked up our current passengers. Bermuda looks like that old British TV series, "The Prisoner:" A little British village. The first thing I noticed was that businessmen wore suits and ties -- with Bermuda shorts as trousers. All the colors were pink and green, and tourists rented mopeds to tour the island.
Back to Guinness: The more inebriated he became throughout the day, the more strict he became about the girls' behavior. As for me, he had me pegged as the enemy before we'd even shaken hands. (And he was terrible at hosting pool games. The passengers hated him!)

At our first formal meeting where I was introduced to the girls, Wild Child took one look at me -- perhaps it's that roguish "anything can happen" look in my eye -- *LOL* -- and knew we would be instant party mates. We flirted and played. I'd see her out on the deck, face down, with her swimsuit untied. I would dare her flash me. She never hesitated. Then she'd insist on me flashing her. (I did once, but only when no one else was there -- I'm not given to public lawlessness).

She also, being from more avant garde circles, knew without asking that I wasn't heterosexually inclined. (Her crowd was a kind of downtown punk/gay/straight/dress-in-black tattooed crowd like I saw in San Francisco a few weeks back when I went to see Holy Joe.) This fact was a great relief to her because it made me even less like "them."We became a little unit of mischief, laughing inappropriately at others and generally causing trouble.

I wasn't "in the closet" onboard the Galileo, but neither did I wear a pink armband. George the Cruise Director was also in the "brotherhood" so I knew I was protected. Thinking back, I realize now that this was one of the most heterosexual crews I've every encountered. I think it was because they were all cheap labor off the docks or something. The Italian boys in the restaurants and casino were barely 18 years old. The female passengers on our cruises would melt at the sight of these Mediterranean, olive skinned waiters with those long European lashes.
One afternoon in my cabin, Wild Child put her arms around my neck and kissed me. I kissed back. That night, she sneaked out of her cabin and came down to my room.
It was a strange experience. I didn't hate it. But it wasn't "the real thing," either. It was she who made it special. Besides, what could be bad about kissing a beautiful woman? What am I, a rock?
Wild Child understood me completely -- she was very cool. Before long, I was in flagrante dilecto with a girl for the first time in years! She said we couldn't go "all the way" because she still had her boyfriend back in London to think about. Frankly, I didn't care about going "all the way" anyway (for me, this wasn't about sex), so there was a perfect trust between us.

I just remember how it felt. We were coccooned in sea of commies sit-commies, grumbling passengers, slaves (I'll tell you about the slavery onboard soon because I discovered it in the ship's hospital), Italianos screaming in the hallway and Bangla Deshis scampering like scared rabbits to keep from getting hit or kicked.

Me and Wild Child laughed and played together in my bunk bed, entombed in that metal cabin/box near the bottom of a ship. Below us, the engine rumbled, and in the air there lingered the faint smell of Old Spice.

NEXT: THE ACCIDENT

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Saturday, February 15th, 1997.
The Accident & The Crazy Doctor.

Tonight was a warm Hollywood night with a cool breeze blowing. I went to Pasadena to hear Cindi Nassi & David Francis at Papashon. Cindi sang Going It Alone for the first time and it was amazing to hear it done by yet someone else -- especially someone as good as Cindi. She told the audience that I wrote it and some lady passed me her business card. She was Dir. of Sales for some hotel here. Wonder if she wants to put a CD in every room?

I'm getting more and more excited about Wednesday's show at the Troubadour. David Robyn came over yesterday and we practiced. I've changed the rhythm of Somebody's Friend to a kind of alternative rock rhythm (because I can't play the reggae version on piano). When I tried to explain it to David on the phone, I sounded like an idiot. But once he found the guitar part, it got majorly cool.

The semi's are on! This little survival site has been voted into the semi-finals of the Geocities Homesteader of the Year Award. Of course, this means another trip to the voting booth if you think we're worthy. The other finalists are pretty incredible. Remember, we're in the EDUCATIONAL category.

Steve Story Part11: The Accident

Steve is onboard the SS Galileo and has just spent the night with a girl (of all things).

The next day, the ship anchored off Bermuda and we decided to "moped" around the island. She said she knew how to drive and I could ride on back. They gave us helmets, but we saw that many people did not use them. We wore ours. I got on back and it was okay for a little while, but at this point I was feeling a new -- "Hey, I can sleep with women" -- manliness coursing through my veins, so I decided *I* had to drive. Not a good idea. The beautiful countryside flew past, wind in my face, Wild Child clinging to my back. It was incredible. Just as I was feeling great, we came over a hill going a bit fast. Below us was a truck making a turn at the bottom of the hill.

I wanted to slow down, but I panicked and forgot where the brakes were. My hand? My foot? We were now racing down the hill -- if I turned, I'd hit the truck, if I stayed straight, we'd hit a brick wall. I was absolutely paralyzed. I went straight down, then tried to turn and flipped the bike. We both went flying onto the asphault. I still remember the sound of the road scraping against my helmet as I slid.

When I finally stopped sliding, I couldn't feel anything but the hot aspalt. I looked around for Wild Child. She was moving already, having been smart enough to roll. I wasn't so good, however. The road had clearly a few layers of skin off my entire left arm. My knee had a hole in it and looked like a blood fountain. If I hadn't had a helmet on, my face would've have been scraped down to the bone. I knew it was all going to start hurting very badly.

I barely remember how we got to the hospital in Bermuda. Apparently they treat these things all the time. Some nurse cleaned our wounds and we limped back to the ship. We looked like Zombies.

Well, when we got back to the ship, the Chief saw us and sneered. We barely stumbled down to the ship's hospital. When the doctor saw us, he flew into an Italian panic -- didn't speak a word of English. Ship's gossip had it that this doctor was just as insane as the Captain and that he'd been thrown off a few ships already.

I held my arm out and he was jumping around, gesturing madly, and chattering in some kind of Italian Sid Caesar-speak. I looked around the pitiful room there and noticed how bare the cupboards were. They had no medicines on this ship! This refugee from a Peter Sellers movie had no earthly idea what to do with us. Finally, I got it that he was ordering us to go lay out in the sun and let our wounds dry. (By the way, this was the worst thing we could have done.)

We painfully climbed back up to the Promenade deck, got into some deck chairs and laid out (but we didn't go in the sun). It was hilarious to watch the passengers pass us by, give us a little nod, then do a Charlie Chaplin-size double take. We must have been a bloody, horrible sight. I dozed off there. When I woke up, I told Wild Child I wasn't feeling well and that I needed to go find a nurse or something.

On this ship, the "nurses" wore a badge that said, "Nursing Sister." They weren't nuns. They were British and they were like LVNs. They knew just enough to get you killed. Well, Nursing Sister took one look at my wounds, which were -- I don't want to get gross here -- but they were festering, bubbling. Bloody. She was worried they were getting infected. (DUH)

So, she found a substance called "Flamazine," a white cream, and she spread it on my wounds, mixing the cream in with my blood. About the time she had my whole body covered with Flamazine, it all began to burn. Burn like the flames of hell. Burn like pressing up against a hot oven. I don't know if I screamed or not, but I do know this:

My heart stopped beating, I went into shock, and we were at sea, two days from Boston.

NEXT: THE SHIP HOSPITAL

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Sunday, February 16th, 1997.
Sunday Mailbag.

Spent the day quietly with Jim. Got this wonderful letter from a woman in Florida. It's edited a bit, but here are the highlights. Oh, and I'm sorry I don't have the next installment of Steve At Sea ready. I didn't realize what I was heading into when I began telling these stories. They're not in a log somewhere; I'm writing them day by day, so you'll forgive me if I take a breather. It's really a lot of hard work. *martyred again!*
Hi Steve,
My name is "Marjorie" and I had bookedmarked your journal a few weeks ago from some link or other. I went back to it yesterday. I have read all your Feb. entries and have gone back to your earliest dates. I have now read March through july. I want to tell you just how much I admire you. You have such a beautiful, healthy spirit. You are such an inspiration to me.

I also have been reading your philosophy of Christianity, and I couldn't agree with you more... A few years ago when I was living in West Palm Beach, I became very involved with a food pantry. I really saw Christianity in action. I felt that this was how it should be, people who were putting their beliefs into action...not just talking about it...but actually doing something. This experience changed my life, and that's why I joined the church. By the way, there is part of the service called prayers of the people,where you can pray for a person by name. I did that for you today, and I shall whenever I am at church.

Thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts and events in your journal. I thought your sea adventures on the cruise ship were a riot.

Your new friend, "Marjorie."

Thanks. I'm always happy to be "a riot." *LOL* But I'm most happy when anything I have done or said leads people to do things for others. At this point in time, I'm very concerned about the local AIDS Service Organizations which provide street level help to people with AIDS. The foodbanks, for instance, are vital to thousands and thousands.

I never knew when I started these pages what was going to come of it all. It was purely a personal project to let my family know how I was feeling and to let my doctor follow my daily symptoms since, at the time, I was very sick and getting worse. Now I've met the most incredible people. Oh, and you have permission to pray for me anytime you want.

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Monday, February 17th, 1997.
Okay! Okay! Here's Part 13!

Steve's Story Part 10: The Ship Hospital

[We left Steve, battered and bloody, in the SS Galileo Examination Room. The "Nursing Sister" had just applied an ointment that sent Steve into shock. His heart stopped and they were at sea, two days from Boston.]

I'm sorry to report to you that I did NOT have a near death experience walking toward the light or anything. The next thing I knew George the Cruise Director was pounding on my chest and everyone was gathered around me horrified, and then grateful that I was breathing again. George told me I was just dead (but I got better).

I was dazed and scared. After a few moments, they led me to the hospital room. Before we even got to the door of it, I heard someone screaming and hitting the walls. We entered the room. It was a tiny, tiny space with barely enough light. There were two tiny beds opposite each other with a barely navigable space between them.

On the bed to my left, was a Banga Deshi. He was screaming and climbing the wall. I was told he hadCabin Fever. In my delirium, I half screamed, "Keep him away from my arm!" I was crying by now. I looked over at "my" bed. The sheets were crusty black. The whole room wasfilthy, with fruit peelings on the floor. They laid me down, assured me I'd be okay, and then George stayed there for a moment.

I looked down at my bloody arm and just kept crying, "I'm gonna lose my arm! I'm gonna lose my arm! What good is a piano player that can't play the piano?" George stayed as long as he could. Once he was gone , with the Bangla Deshi's shouting now devolved into a whimper, I helplessly looked up at God, someone I hadn't thought about in a long time, and just wondered how the hell I got into this modern Dickens novel.

George kept bringing me food and we finally pulled into Boston. The ship was to pick up new passengers, take them out for a two day weekend cruise, turn around, and then we'd do another five day to Bermuda. At the dock, I limped out and got some assistance from a passengers I had befriended who said I could stay at their place. Then the port agent took me to a big hospital in Boston.

The doctor was horrified at what he saw. He said, "There's only one way to treat this, We have to scrape it all off. Better brace yourself." Imagining myself in the Old West, I pulled out my wallet, put it between my teeth and slowly, one scab at a time, they scraped my arm. Then they washed it, applied some new ointment with silver in it, which was said would help regenerate new skin growth, wrapped it in bandages, and sent me on my way with instructions to treat it like a burn: Clean it twice a day, apply the ointment, wrap it, and DON'T let the scabs dry.

My new friends let me stay on a couch in their house. And as I lay there in the dark, thankful that I wasn't losing my arm, but scared and feeling lonely, I called my parents. My dad's first words were, "Come home. Let us take care of you." My mom, who is a nurse, agreed. (Have I told you how incredible my parents are?)

And I had another one of those defining moments right there. I could go home to Texas or I could stick this out and "be a man." Frankly, there was never any doubt. I love my folks, but Buna, Texas is no place for a gay person. I said, thanks, but no thanks. Inside, I knew it was time for Steve to grow up.

So, on Sunday, barely able to move my arm, a glutton for punishment, determined to see this through, I got back on board the SS Galileo. That night, my arm in a sling beneath my tuxedo jacket, I began playing piano for the passengers. It hurt like hell, but I was not going to be defeated.

NEXT: THE RECOVERY

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Tuesday, February 18th, 1997.
Getting feedback from Phoenix.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, this site will be featured on CyberGUY, a syndicated show which will be in Los Angeles on Channel 5 -- KTLA -- Morning News between 6:30 AM & 7:00 AM-- and possibly on the 11 AM & and 10 PM newscasts -- and on your local Tribune Broadcasting station -- the WB.)

My cyberfriends in the #aids/hiv+2 chatroom on the IRC had a little get-together this past weekend in Phoenix, and Richard from SF took a CD to play for them. Two of the people there admitted they had to leave the room halfway through Going It Alone. I really hadn't realized how emotional (and real) these songs are for people with HIV -- and especially for caregivers.

Then, one guy from Italy (who was at the party) wrote me and ordered 10 CDs to take back to Europe with him. So, I guess they liked 'em.

It's so strange, all this new attention. Don't get me wrong. I'm loving every moment of it. That's what the BONUS ROUND is all about, is it not? I also allowed Geocities (they don't require it) to put ads at the top of my diary and index pages. This is how they make their money so they can continue to provide free web pages.

I spent much of today, Tuesday, printing out sheet music to songs from The Last Session -- at least, as much as I've done. Then Ginger Freers came over and we practiced for the Wednesday night Troubadour gig.

Later, I went to "Buncha Damn Songwriters" at Highland Grounds in Hollywood to hear the songwriters. Toward the end, they asked me to sing a couple. I did. It's wonderful to watch songwriters listen to these songs. They literally sit there disbelieving what I'm singing about, and moved at how emotional they are.

It's hard to believe that it's barely been a year since the first songs were written for The Last Session and March 3rd will be the first anniversary of our first public reading. I thank all of you who have given us so much faith and love.

Wednesday, February 19th, 1997.
Steve S., David Byrne, Wayne Newton, & Pat Boone.

Well, it was 6:50 AM. My eyes were rather bleary. I was chatting on the IRC when suddenly, there he was on KTLA, Channel 5! CyberGUY! -- Kurt Knutsen -- and he was talking about ME!! (my favorite subject of late -- OF LATE???). It was fantastic. You could tell from the enthusiasm in his face and voice as he introduced the segment that they felt this was a very special story.

The point they made was how you, the people who read this site, have made my life so much richer. Kurt made a point of contrasting my life (at home in bed, generally isolated except for Jim) to my life with this website, where I've made friends with people all over the world, met AIDS doctors and scientists, seen my pages used for support groups, and -- now selling CDs and producing a show.

And all of this began with the simple idea of putting my life and struggle with AIDS up on the net. Who could possibly have known it would become all that it has become? It's interesting that Geocities uses the term, "Homesteaders," because cyberspace is "undiscovered territory" in a literal way -- in that people are just now discovering its potential. To me, it represents the essence of democracy and freedom. When else in all of earth's history could a single person with no money, publish something that reaches into the far corners of the globe?

I'll tell you a story that I couldn't tell before because of how emotional it made me. I found a site here at Geocities similar to mine. It was put up by a girl of 11 or 12, living in Australia, who was living with cancer. Her attititude and joy for living inspired me greatly -- much the way Shawn Decker's Pages do. As I was reading along, there was a note from her mother. When I clicked on the link, the news was that this little girl had died.

Immediately -- like a gunshot from inside -- my eyes began to burn and tears rolled down my face. I was really beginning to love this child. I have to confess that I left the site, losing the URL. Perhaps someone here knows where it is. Upon reflection, though, knowing death is an inevitability for all of us, I realized that I had been blessed by at least knowing this little girl. Without the net, this never would have happened.

I know someday, whether it's from AIDS or from getting hit by a truck, I will also leave this plane. I hope my pages remain after me. I hope Geocities will let me continue on for eternity. I've often bemoaned the fact that in recorded history, very little is known about the "normal" folk. It's always about kings and princesses and Dukes, etc. No more. Though literature has changed since early history, the net gives us the chance to see people both as they really are, and as they see themselves.

It is my great blessing that you come here to read. It is you, dear reader, who has changed my life. I hope you continue to find inspiration, information and joy within in these pages. It is my great, great honor to bring them to you.

Steve the Rock Star (or Steve, the Wayne Newton of AIDS?)

To say I enjoyed myself last night on stage is the understatement of the year. With Ritt Henn on bass and David Robyn on acoustic guitar, I tore through my songs with lusty abandon. I had more energy on stage than I ever remember having. The Troubadour, being the place that launched the Eagles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Linda Ronstadt, and Elton John -- has now launched a new star in the rock firmament: STEVE S! To stand on that stage and look out over the crowd, to feel the songs re-energized with new rhythms and textures, and to be able to do it with energy and life, was singularly one of the most fulfilling moments of my lifetime.

I know it's only one club and one performance, but there was something different about it for me. It was electrifying. After the performance, as I was leaving the club, a woman got up out of her seat and caught up to me. She threw her arms around me and just held me for a moment. No words. Never saw her before in my whole life. She just smiled this beautiful "thank you" smile, and I was on my way.

I was also thrilled that my self-styled "60 year old groupie) Don K. flew in from El Paso to see the show. Imagine someone flying halfway across the continent to catch one half hour performance! I felt just like Jerry Garcia. When he was alive, of course.

Jim, on the other hand, suggested I was so energized, I was almost doing a Wayne Newton on stage -- talk about deflating me right out of my socks. Here I am thinking I'm Mick Jagger and suddenly I'm told that I'm more like Wayne Newton. (Of course, in his entire lifetime, Jim has never listened to, nor been to, a rock concert. His musical education ended at "Hello Dolly." I'm sure he asked me once, "These Beatles, they were a rock group?")

Ronda the Publisher called us into her office and offered the advice that maybe doing these songs in a club format might not be the best way to let people know what our show is about. She probably has a point. Because the songs are so heavy in their subject matter, and because they are "out of context" from the show itself, it's like hearing half a story. In context, the songs fit into a larger story that is very uplifting and inspirational. Out of context, songs like The Group or Going It Alone could make it seem as if the whole show were heavy and dark; something that it absolutely is *NOT.*

Well, everybody has an opinion. All I know is that for one half hour, I felt like a geeky rock star with weird songs -- like David Byrne! So sue me.

Pat Boone

Or maybe I'm an acoustic rock version of Pat Boone. As I write this, I'm sitting here listening to Pat Boone's "metal" album and laughing my ass off at how utterly clueless it is. But none are more clueless than the "thousands" of "prayer partners" who called Trinity Broadcasting and demanded that Pat Boone be thrown off the air for recording an album that basically sounds like Nelson Riddle does Metallica. Trust me: You haven't lived until you heard "Stairway to Heaven" in a waltz tempo. It's a screaming, howling laugh riot.

I only have one question for the "prayer partners:" After God saved your soul, did He also rob you of your sense of humor -- or did you never actually have one in the first place? And if you have no sense of humor, can you truly call yourself "saved?" Saved from what? Life? Joy? Freedom?

ITEM:
My brother David has now complained that he's on the edge of his chair regarding the ship story. I promise. I'm going to get to it as soon as I can.

Thursday, February 20th, 1997.
A New Fan & Italians in the Shower.

Funny story: This morning I was in a chatroom, when someone else came in and said I was being talked about in another. Then he said, "How is your arm?" I went into the chatroom he was talking about and, sure enough, they were talking about me. One of them said, "Shame on you, Steve, for putting yourself at risk that way!" Then I realized. The woman telling the story thought the moped accident (part of the continuing "Story of Steve" on here) had just happened. She didn't realize it was 15 years ago. :)

Letter from a new fan!

The other day while researching for inmune systems reactions (my mom has rheumathoid arthritis) I came across your page. I have since been hooked to the reading of your diaries (right now its september 96 for me).

Above all, I think that what has kept me reading is your ability to fight back. I myself had the misfortune of undergoing a medical mistake in 1993 that put me in a life threatening condition, several months of hospital and all sorts of hospital practices that made me feel an object everyone had the right to move along as desired.... I fully related to the feed bag (mine was named Fido, a popular pets name in Spanish, my native tongue)...

[she describes her own torture which I'll spare you]
And you know what?? I feel that going to the verge, living on the boundaries of death, does give you new insight and depth in the way you visualize yourself and others and in the way you actually CHOOSE (which not always happens before such an intense confrontation) the way you live.

The most important element which you so vividly relate is your decision to fight for a full gratifying life. It made me feel like the days when, lost all apparent hope, all I could do was repeat to myself that line from a Dylan Thomas poem, deciding not to go gentle into that good night...

Martha

Steve's Story Part 14: The Mummy

Here's my most vivid memory of recovering from the moped accident. I'm standing in thecommunal showers(a wooden grate on the floor, rusty walls, and weird little shower nozzles that sends a pointed stream of water). My entire left arm from the shoulder down to my wrist is covered in gauze bandages, as is my left knee. What I'm supposed to do (forgive me if this gets gross), is pull off all the gauze pads which are, by now super glued into my arm. Pure agony... BUT... I discovered that if I got into the shower first and wet them, they would melt and just slide off.

(Hey, stick with me. This could be valuable information some day.)

Okay. Now picture me, Steve The Mummy, totally naked, covered with bandages walking into the shower room full of naked Italians. It's not as if they were sophisticated to begin with. If you could have seen the horror on their faces as they fell over each other to get outta there. *LOL*

(Great image, though, huh? All you movie producers out there? My life story is still up for grabs, you know. Think of it as "Shine meets Easy Rider at sea." Line forms to the left.)

Twice a day, I'd soak the bandages off, scrub the wounds with soap and water (clinching my teeth), apply some ointment of some kind, and then rebandage the arm. Then I'd spend about five minutes getting my tuxedo coat on (the shirt was easy), positioning my arm where it wouldn't hurt too much, go upstairs and play piano for five hours a day. It took weeks, but slowly but surely, my arm got better. (No thanks to the ship's hospital which stocked only tampons and sea sick pills.)

During this time, I was so busy taking care of myself and zoning out during piano sets -- well, suddenly the ship felt like home. I bought a little portable typewriter and started writing stuff. I'll have to look and see if any of it is still around. It was truly an adventure of discovery. For instance, I learned that when internationals congregate, everyone starts to act like the Italians, and "ciao" becomes the greeting of choice for everyone. (For my proudly hillbilly family: "ciao" is pronounced "chow" and it means "oh great one, how do you pick your nose today?").

Something that startled this "sheltered in the arms of East Texas" boy, though, was how really "foreign," foreigners could be. Take, for instance, my Cabin Steward, Mohammed. This kid was a great worker. But he took so much guff from the Italians on my deck -- he was like a whipped pup. For instance, If I unexpectedly came to the cabin while he was there cleaning, he'd apologize a thousand times and scamper out before I could even get a word in.

I'm standing up on the top deck of the Galileo and I'm looking down at the stern of the ship. It's a large area for lying out in the sun. Just beneath me is a swimming pool. Out near the end, a Bangla Deshi has a mop and he is barely moving. Along comes a little Greek officer who stops, shouts at him, and pitches a little fit. The Bangla Deshi looks as if he's listening/not listening. Then he puts the mop in the pail with slightly more energy than he was using up to that point. The Greek swears at him and goes off. The Bangla Deshi takes the mop out of the bucket, puts it back on the deck and slowly, slowly returns to his dream world. To my left, I see another, and another.

Suddenly, the deck looked like a field on a farm. The ship, a plantation. The Bangla Desh, like slaves going through the motions. It made me sick to my stomach.

You remember I told you about the Bangla Deshi who was in the hospital room with cabin fever? Here's what everyone told me: In Bangla Desh, they were (are) so poverty-stricken, these kids hang out on the docks all day long hoping some foreign ship company will come and sign them to a year at sea. They are paid precious little, and almost all of that goes back to their families. Once they are on the ship, they are on for good. If they quit, they have to pay their way home, which costs about a year's salary.

So, that pitiful youth in the hospital room -- he had gone nuts -- trapped at sea with no way home.

Each night I'd come back to my cabin and each night, someone was torturing poor Mohammed. And each night, I got a little bit more angry. Finally, I decided I was going to do something about it.

NEXT: STEVE DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

BACK TO STEVE'S STORY PART 1 (you can click through the whole thing now!)

Friday, February 21st, 1997.
A Birthday, A Memorial & A Star Trek Episode.

Well, Ronda is off to NY to go to the Grammys. Her birthday is actually next week, but she will be gone. So, we did what we always do. Ordered pizza from across the street and a cake from Weby's on Ventura Blvd. Young Doug, who works for Ronda is leaving, too, to get a new label start-up happening. I always call him Young Doug. In Texas, everyone gets a nickname. Out here they just kinda look at you. Anyway, good luck, Mr. Doug.

The main struggle I have right now is trying to figure out how I'm going to get to NYC -- and where I'm going to stay. I understand the casting notices have gone out now, so if you're a skinny piano-playing/singing/40 year old who wants the role of a lifetime, it's up for grabs. Come to think of it, all the roles are up for grabs.

Hmmm. I wonder if I could hitchhike across the US? (Excuse me, does this McDonald's have any distilled water? I'm thirsty.)

Since I don't print that many "fan letters" in this diary, I was wondering what it was that made me print Martha's letter, aside from sheer vanity. I just realized what it was. I am not thinking about death much any more. Whereas, last year, I thought about it all the time. Sometimes it would feel as if I were speeding toward a cliff, but usually I pictured death as an angel of mercy which would free me from whatever particular horror was being visited upon me at the time.

I was also fascinated by grief -- forgive me if that sounds blunt. Grief is horrible. I think it's the worst feeling, that mixture of emptiness and helplessness after someone passes. And funerals. And Memorial services. When handled healthily, grief can be a stirring tribute to the life of that person -- you absorb them and become a new thing: them plus you. Sounds like a Star Trek episode. Yes!

STAR TREK: VOYAGER EPISODE

They go to a planet where a "Funeral Director" is a person who absorbs the lives of people who don't have relatives or friends because they don't believe anyone should ever actually "die." But a rogue dying murderer gets loose aboard Voyager, dies in the arms of the Captain and makes himself get absorbed by the Captain. Then the Captain goes psychotic and tries to kill the doctor, who isn't a person and.... *wow* I don't know why I'm not being paid huge exorbitant wads of money. I just don't understand it.

Anyway, I found this great page of online help for people who are grieving.

So, I asked Young Doug about my performance at the Troubadour (knowing he is starting up a new record label). "Am I a rock star, Young Doug?" He laughed to himself and said, "Well, you'll have to sell more than a hundred CDs."

More than a hundred?

ITEM FOR ALTOG THE ALIEN:
Altog, you were asking about this fight over Same Sex Marriage. Well, it's a war between conservative people who want to save the insitution of marriage from all the gay people who want to save the institution of marriage. The theory on both sides is that the institution of marriage needs to be protected. Therefore, they disagree. Got that? Here's a legal update.

Saturday, February 22nd, 1997.
Takin' A Little Break.

Well, it's been fun acting like a rock star, being the petulant artiste, and internet superstar. But it's also time to relaunch myself in a more serious direction. Next week, I'm leaving for NYC and it's going to be difficult. I'm taking the next week or so to just eat great food, gain weight, get all my papers and stuff together, decide what I'm going to need in the Big City, and ... well, I just keep pinching myself, wondering if I'm really living out this fantasy.

I've been keeping tabs on taking my pills at the right time. I am careful about my diet (nothing raw) but Jimmy's such a great cook, I don't have to think about it that much. In NY, though, I'm going to have to plan everything anew. Some things are easy. They have bottled water on just about every corner. It's not distilled, but then I can't always get distilled or filtered.

There will be a lot of walking, too. And I don't have the kind of energy I had when I was normal, no matter how much I try to act like Tarzan around here. There was a time when I could barely walk across a room. Who wouldn't feel unleashed after that? But I remember how exhausted I was in NY after a short while.

So, it's a matter of simply preparing for all precautions, always keeping a supply of pills with me if I get caught on the subway or something, and wearing Carl's watch again, if he'll let me. The watchface glows in the dark in case I'm at a movie.

I'll be writing very little for the next couple of weeks, probably. I'm staying away from the apartment as much as possible so Jimmy can have the computer to himself as he finishes a new draft of The Last Session. This will give me a chance to catch my breath and get my thoughts in order. Please, especially if you're new here, WRITE ME. I love your mail.

ITEM:
Martha sent me another note:

I was reading some of your lyrics and was especially touched by going alone.. i wanted to share it with a friend who speaks no english, so thats what it looks like in spanish:

Aun cuando has sido la roca en que me sostengo
a mi lado en cada momento de la lucha
an cuando todo lo mejoras
Cuando duermo en las noches
esta lucha es ma
y se siente como que voy solo

de vez en cuando me llevan mis amigos a cenar
y me dicen como siempre estn conmigo
y se inclinan en la mesa
y dicen cmo piensan en m
y se hacen cargo de la cuenta para que yo no pague
y me dicen cuanto orgullo les da lo que he crecido
y dicen que saben que voy solo

pero es una batalla solitaria
tanto me he envuelto en mi mismo
y que con lo que tu pasas tambin
te despiertas en la noche y te preocupas
de nunca volver a dormir
estas atravesando algn infierno privado
te sientes como que estas solo
se siente como que vas solo

yaces despierto y te preocupas
de nunca volver a dormir
te he puesto en un infierno privado
tendra que leer tu mente para saber

justo antes de dormir
quito n cabello de tu ojo
y de pronto la soledad se desmorona
y sonro porque se porqu
podemos decir en realidad que vamos solos
cuando juntos hemos estado
yendo solos

happy weekend!

Sunday, February 23rd, 1997.
With Christians like these...

Any of you who read this site on a regular basis know that I prefer to keep politics and religion at arm's length, but I couldn't help but note that today, a gay bar in Atlanta was blown up and a wonderful, kind gay female friend of mine in college came home from the weeked with "DIE BITCH!" scrawled on her door.

I was told categorically by a "Christian friend" on the IRC that there is no cultural war against gay people and that the fault if all ours because we "choose" to be this way. In other words, those fine folks who are settin' off bombs are "forced" to do it because we "made" them do it.

No. There's no cultural war at all.

The girl whose dorm room was vandalized is scared and her mother is beside herself with worry. So, now the nice vandal who is not warring against gay people has two victims. Oh, and friend's roommate's boyfriend has decided he might as well weigh in and start castigating my friend's decision to "choose" being gay.

I tell you, I'm sick enough at the hate in this world. But when so-called "Christians" -- and that's not to say all Christians are like this -- deny the hate, pretend it's love, and turn a blind eye to children who are being maliciously attacked, they destroy, defame and smear the names of those Christians who are outraged that this bigotry is allowed to continue in the name of God.

You know, with Christians like these, who needs Satanists?

Monday, February 24, 1997.
Hangin' With Dave & My First Print Review.

That little graphic was drawn by Bill Clayton, just before he committed suicide because he thought his whole life would be about getting gaybashed.

Last evening, I drove down to East LA Rehearsal Studios and watched my buddy, David Robyn, audition band members. It was not my first time there. The first time I was there, I was producing a big all-star benefit for National Academy of Songwriters. A very big star came in to rehearse. When he opened his guitar case, a HUGE bag of marijuana fell out.

Anyway, at one point Kathleen Capper, who is David's manager, and who has been handling all the orders for my CD, leaned over and said, "I just love musicians." I must admit, I do too. At one point in the audition, a new drummer and a new guitarist locked into the groove and it was like being in heaven.

This room is great. Here's this huge stage and just in front of it on a couch and an easy chair, Kathleen and I are just sitting back having the time of our lives listening to the great music.

ITEM:
HEY! I got my first official review of the CD from a magazine in Canada -- written by Rick Lethbridge. It was a rave review. He says,

"'Living in the Bonus Round' is a collection of songs with one common thread; HIV and AIDS. You may think a collection such as this would be a tad depressing, but not so. Although the subject matter may be depressing at times, the music and the lyrics contained in this mini-CD are anything but. They reach out, inspire, and make you realize that all is not so bleak after all. To me, they sang out loud and clear of real life situations that need attention."

"His music is beautiful, powerful, stirs up evey emotion in your body..."

He goes on and one but you know how modest I like to pretend to be, so I won't bore you. If you want a copy, you can write them at outlook@easynet.on.ca.

Tuesday, February 25, 1997.
Did Jimmy Do It? Random Madness.

My ISP is fixing the mail server, so I haven't had mail in 12 hours. Hopefully, it will be functional soon. All is well except for when I went to the grocery store. I stood in line with my groceries, fished around for my bank card, only to find that Jim had taken it and not returned it. So there I stood, picking and choosing among the items trying to keep the total from going over the small amount of cash I had in my wallet.

It was very embarrassing. And, of course, Jimmy NEEDED to have the tabloids so he could find out if "Daddy Did It." What am I going to do with him? He's one of the smartest, best educated people I know, but his obsessions are the tabloids, The Price is Right, Jeopardy, BUZZZ, and Bloopers & Practical Jokes TV shows. What am I going to do with him?

AIDS UPDATE:
Saw the CNN report about the new drug combo tests that have worked really well. I kept missing this story because I didn't know the details. Finally found it this morning and saw it was mostly about Crixivan, which I am already taking. I'm up to nine months on the combination now. People with destroyed immune systems like I have start failing about the sixth month. I've been seeing it in my email group. Luckily, there are a couple more in development. What we hope is that they will work for me if and when the Crix is no longer effective.

WORLD'S SHORTEST JOKE:
A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "I'll have a beer and a mop."

TLS STUFF:
Yesterday I spoke, for the first time, with the guy who will be doing the musical arrangements for us in NY. Everything we do at the showcase at The Currican will be bare bones, but it will be done with an eye toward whatever our next step will be.

Wednesday, February 26, 1997.
My Comic Deal & HateWatch.

COMICS!
I've told you that my one vice is super hero comic books. Well, for the past few years, I've kept them in my bedroom in a box. I'm not a collector. I just like to read them. Problem is, I can't really afford them these days. So, the new comic book guy near me made me a deal. He let me trade in my old comics for credit on new ones!! Now I can see the new Superman! (I still think his new powder blue outfit looks gay).

HATE WATCH:
The so-called American Family Association, run by that idiot monster, Donald Wildmon, has announced a new effort to combat homosexuals, as if gay people needed some more enemies. You know, right now, I'm counseling four teenagers (through email) who are borderline suicidal because of people like this. The hate that is stirred up by these homophobic proclamations destroys the very families they pretend to care about.

One of the best resources for fighting this hate is a group called HateWatch, which has recently taken a painting by Bill Clayton and posted it on their page. I like that they not only monitor anti-gay groups, but they also monitor anti-Christian, anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, etc. groups. Excellent site!

MY BROTHER WRITES:
Your little niece, Lizzy, is in a group that is supposed to prepare and write a paper for Science. These are typical, boring science papers like we used to do. Every group (but her group) is doing the standard, stand up and read some crap that no one else wants to hear. She decided to change things up and has put it in the format of a game show. I don't think the apple fell very far from the tree....

Thursday, February 27, 1997.
Acting Human (Our Story Continues...). 

The Story of Steve S. Part 15: Acting Human.
[15 years ago: Steve is aboard a cruise ship equipped with medical equipment from the Middle Ages, a staff and crew that hated each other, and he is tired of the Greeks (and the Italians) treating the Bangla Deshis like slaves. He is also recovering from a moped accident that nearly took his left arm off.]

When Mohammed, my cabin steward from Bangla Desh, saw my arm, he did everything he could to help me, including running errands for food or -- anything, really. It made me even more curious about who was hiding beneath that gentle, humble exterior.

Bangla Deshis had very dark skin, their features were delicate with straight, black hair. They were also devoutly religious; Moslem. To me, they were beautiful; unpretentious and humble. All this made me even more angry at the Greeks, especially the Staff Captain, who would kick them.

It took some doing, but I got Mohammed to talk to me. Like the others from Bangla Desh, his family was poverty-stricken -- barely able to afford food. He had hung out on the docks and finally got the ship to hire him. The person he loved the most in his life was his sister and he would send her most of his money, writing her almost every day. I also saw the cabin he lived in. It had two bunks with four beds. Between them was a tiny sink. Eight men lived in that room. When Mohammed rose to go to work (12 hours a day), someone else would take his place on the bunk.

So, he had no place to sit and think. No privacy. I was outraged and I did the only humane thing I could think of: I told him that on his off-hours, he could have free use of my room when he wasn't working. The shock on his face when I gave him this permission was a mixture of disbelief and puzzlement. I'm not sure anyone on this ship had ever treated him like a human being.

I was very angry at how the other crew treated him. So, I began coaching him. I said, "Look, you are working in America,now and, for me, any man who labors deserves respect and dignity." I told him to hold his head up with pride. I got the Britsonboard to join with me in praising his work and making him feel special.

Well, it took a little time, but the change was astonishing. He began to walk with pride; he refused to be cowed by the Italian casino workers. Of all the moments in my life, nothing stands out stronger than the day I opened the door to my room and Mohammed, instead of hiding or running as if he'd done something wrong, looked up with a big, relaxed, white grin on his face, (equal friends before the law) and proudly showed me some letters he had just gotten from his beloved sister.

After awhile, too, I began to notice something. The Bangla Deshis began treating me differently, almost with reverence! *LOL* Could it have been possible that NO ONE had ever done this before? No way. It's not like I did anything that miraculous. On the SS Galileo, I concluded, common decency is great act of heroism.

One night, Mohammed invited me down to their galley to eat with them.

Their galley? Down? How far down did this ship go, anyway???

I went down with my Brit friends. Just as we approached the galley, we were overwhelmed with the most incredibly rich, tantalizing and spicy aroma. It was curry. Huge pots of curry cooking on iron stoves. They fixed us a little place of honor and waited on us. While the crew and passengers were eating the faux French cuisine upstairs, we were down in the bowels of the ship eating some of the finest curry on this planet. I felt like a king at a banquet.

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing. The Greek Staff Captain who loved to kick Bangla Deshis got mad and hit a very tall, very muscular Italian crewman in the main galley one night. The Italian picked the Greek up, threw him against an oven and cut a huge gash in his head. The Greeks fired the Italian. But, the next day, in Nassau, we all woke up to a screaming, angry mob of 200 Italians gathered on the dock, ready to mutiny. The passengers had no idea what was going on.

NEXT: CIVIL WAR!

I want to make it clear to you that I am not a racist, even though I refer to the Greeks and Italians disparagingly in this story. This was the point of view I had while enduring the horrors of this ship, and I don't know any other way of referring to these people. We were all categorized by nationality and, as an American who was mostly raised in the South, all of this was a hugely eye-opening experience.

I got a letter from a woman who was deeply disturbed by these events and was outraged that these kinds of working conditions existed in this country. I'm happy to say that not all ships treat their crew this way. But everything I am telling you is the honest truth as I witnessed it.

ITEM:
For Christians who are interested in a scholarly breakdown of the what the Bible really has to say about "homosexuals," check out http://www.cris.com/~pasisozi/gay.html.

Friday, February 28, 1997.
In the News & In the War Zone!

Woke up this morning to see that I had made page A1 of the LA Daily News. I was the "face" they were using in a story about the new AIDS drugs and the decrease in AIDS-related deaths. On the back of the first section, there was this FANTASTIC picture they took of me yesterday. I'll get it scanned for you very soon. But that wasn't the only exciting news of the day.

Have you seen the video of the big bank shootout that happened today? Well, that was my bank. Jimmy and I live two stoplights away from where the action was and it was on our street. I was a few more blocks away down at Bob-A-Lew visiting Ronda and the gang when, right there on the TV, we watched them shoot a man crouched behind a car shooting an AK-47.

Five helicopters circled overhead. Armored SWAT teams with battering ram tanks were massed.

We were told to stay inside because there were bank robbers on the loose in our neighborhood. After about an hour, though, I realized I had to go because I had a meeting. I scrambled to the door and said, "YOU GUYS COVER ME!"

Then, I kissed one of the girls, put on my fatigues, grabbed my M-1 and off I ran, rescuing three babies and blasting my way to my car! (I didn't really kiss a girl, put on fatigues, grab a gun or save any babies, but it makes a better story...)

I survived this brave but foolhearty act, made my meeting, and came home.

The helicopters were still circling overhead by nightfall.

When I arrived home, I discovered that I had won the semi-finals of the Homesteader of the Year contest. You readers did this, so now your punishment for this good deed is you have to go vote yet AGAIN! This time all the categories have been combined, though, and I'm competing against A LITTLE GIRL!!! (with a most wonderful site) ...among others. I don't want to defeat a little girl! So, I'm voting for her.
 
 

Sunday, March 2, 1997.
A Day of Rest.

I spent most of the day lying in bed. This past week has been a busy, exciting week -- and this week is when I'm planning on heading out for NY. There, I'm going to be scratching around for a computer to use and for a place to stay. I think I'm getting very excited by the whole process.

Well, I was going through the Homesteader of the Year finalist list and just as I was about to vote for little Chantessy's page, I find Pam Honsinger's Keep the Faith! page. What a great site by an obviously great lady. She's basically a wife and mother coping with her husband's cancer -- but she touches other people's lives by providing a forum for others facing these family-rending emergencies. (She even warns people that she is a Christian but that she is not there to preach or convert anyone!). Now I'm really confused.

Monday, March 3, 1997.
Bridges Across The Divide.

For those of you interested, my PFLAG friend, Maggie Heineman has started a controversial new website called Bridges Across. It's an attempt to begin a dialog with evangelical Christian "ex-gays." Maggie is closer to being an atheist than anything else, but she feels that there needs to be a dialog between these camps who normally want to rip each others' heads off. Since many evangelicals would just as soon rant and rave at gay kids than talk to them, this is her attempt to see if we all can do something about the level of anger that leaves many kids suicidal and depressed. Maggie has gotten lots of criticism from both sides and I think this is a brave at communication.

For me, since I don't believe anyone can become "un-gay," I look askance at anyone who claims to have been gay -- and then suddenly became straight. I've knows some straight guys who were into gay sex, and some bi guys who were just playing around, but that's not the same as being gay. I am in an email discussion now with an evangelical who thinks "being gay" is just a matter of who you have sex with. This is the kind of ignorance that permeates the whole discussion.

I was raised by great and loving parents in a Christian household with three brothers, all of whom are very heterosexual. I tried for many years to be straight -- all through high school and college and afterwards (begging Jesus to change me), but all it did was make me depressed and a hater of myself. It took years for me to get my head straight. If only I had had the chance, early on, to meet others like me.

I don't try to tell anyone what they should or should not do if they approach me about their sexuality and how it relates to God. I only know what I went through and, frankly, it was the worst kind of hell -- being gay in a hetero Christian world.

So, my concern is, and always will be, about protecting young lives. Perhaps establishing a reasonable dialog is a good first step. I don't know. But I do know this: the rate of suicides of gay kids is far higher than any statistic would show because no straight Christian family would ever report that their kid killed himself because he was gay.

ITEM:
Once again, I am spending most of my time running around getting ready for New York. However, as a special treat (which I'm sure you've been more than hungry for), I am posting the picture they ran of me in the LA Daily News this past week. Here I am:

Tuesday, March 4, 1997.
An L.A. FLASHBACK & Dan Bern Returns.

Things keep happening around here! I'm mentioned in Tom Kidds' column in the current Music Connection Magazine and I was interviewed for a "one year later" article going into APLA's Positive Living Newsletter. The guy interviewing me was astonished at how much has been done here in the past year.. It sorta impressed me, too, once I started talking about it!

Yesterday I got a phone call that just sent me back into time. It was from Dan Bern and he was inviting me to ... well, let me tell the whole story:

Steve's Story Part 16: Flash Forward to LA

I'm leaping forward from the ship story to tell you about one of my LA adventures. I had come into the National Academy of Songwriters as a front desk volunteer and, because the place was badly run, they fired everyone after a year and made me Managing Director. (You can see how hard up they must have been). Part of my duties was creating new programs and producing concerts.

At that point in music history, the charts were overflowing with "hair bands" playing mostly bad corporate rock, so with the others on the staff, I helped create a concert series called, "...notes from the Acoustic Underground." It was pretty laughable at the time because the music world was absolutely and completely NOT acoustic and a person with a guitar at a mic singing songs with meaning was about as far away from the A&R record execs' radar screens as Peruvian Folk Dancing.

We auditioned hundreds of writers and began our series down in Santa Monica. One day, Blythe, who was my co-producer, came in and said I had to listen to a tape. This tape sounded terrible. It was recorded live from the back of a room and had a song about Old Mother Hubbard being a mass murderer (I think) and a song about how "Light is not a wave... light is not a particle...". She said, "What do you think? It's either the worst thing I've every heard or the best thing I've ever heard." I told her I agreed, "Well, he's either an absolute nut or a certified genius."

He was a genius.

More that that, though, his songs challenged, provoked, entertained, and shocked people. They were literate, full of surprises and commented on our culture in ways I had never heard before. In front of an audience, he was a stunning performer and never failed to kill!

So, I put my thinking cap on. How could I help Dan? (and for that matter, how could I help all our young writers?). Then it hit me. I could see it plain as day: The Acoustic Artist of the Year contest! It was perfect. And first prize would be the opportunity to play for the Salute to the American Songwriter benefit with Stevie Wonder (which I was also producing). It was perfect.

I got immediate protests from SongTalk editor, Paul Zollo (and co-producer/founder of "Acoustic Underground"), who was a great writer/performer in his own right, but who objected to the whole notion that artists should be having to compete. He said, "...like there's not competition in the music industry as it is!" He felt NAS should not be a place where anyone hears the word, "No." And he was right, of course. It really is stupid for artists to compete.

But, because NAS had a high profile in the music business, and because these "kids" needed as much exposure as possible, I simply looked at the idea as a way get them more publicity. Well, we culled the best of the best and put up finalists, invited the whole music industry, including some biggies to be judges, packed the little room, then called, "At My Place," and knocked everyone out with a magnificent show.

One of the audience participants was Chuck Plotkin, one of Bruce Springsteen's producers, who had heard about Dan from other sources. (When Chuck came to our show, his reaction was, "This was one of the best nights of music I've ever been to... and it has NOTHING to do with the music industry.")

And Dan Bern burned down the house. He won the contest and went on to guest on our big concert benefit, and got a great notice when the LA Times ran a review. But these LA industry types didn't know what to do with him. This was when Poison and Motley Crue (anyone remember them?) were on the top of the charts.

But, aside from connecting with Chuck and getting to visit The Boss a few times, nothing happened for Dan here in LA. So, he went off and began touring the country, killing them at folk festivals and playing every club that would have him.

(Our little scene has gone up and down, like most scenes, but now the world is beginning to see some of the talent from our scene. This new artist, Beck, for one -- and trust me, there are more to be heard, including yours truly. *ahem*

So, today, I get a call from Dan. Haven't heard from him in a year. He called to say that Tuesday night on the Santa Monica pier at Ash Grove, he was having his record release party, and would be honored if I would come and see him play. I called Bobby Cox, my oldest LA friend and former bandmate, and we drove down there.

It was scheduled to begin at 8pm, so we drifted in about 8:30. Big mistake! There was a buffet! (Remember what I told you about free food and songwriters?). We almost didn't get a seat or food, but we found something near the kitchen door, waited for Dan, and sure enough, he masacred us. His album is on Sony/Work records and I recommend that you go find it and buy it. You'll never be the same.

Dan said, during his show, that he got thrown out of Nashville for singing a song called, "Too Old to Die Young," The first verse is, "When Elvis died it was a mercy killing..." and "...when was the last good movie Marlon Brando made?" See what I mean? And I won't even begin to quote from the song that suggested Marilyn Monroe would have been a much happier person if she had married Henry Miller instead of Arthur Miller. ("She might have died anyway, but she would have had a lot more fun...").

Ah, but to get such references I suppose one has to read. I wonder if anyone reads anymore?

Thursday Morning, March 5, 1997.
Oh My Gawd! It's the End of Book Three!

Wow. I just realized that it's time to close Living in Bonus Round Book Three: The Lazarus Effect. (could we please shorten these titles?). Time For Book Four, which will start the day I get set up in New York with a computer -- which means, this site will be silent for a few days.

Let's review:
Book One: Steve Dies (and then doesn't)>
Book Two: Steve Makes a CD and goes to New York
Book Three: Back to LA for Rest and Preparation
Book Four: Back to New York to do a show!

I think that sounds like a few lifetimes lived in one year, don't you?

I've been on the net almost a year now. I came here with no experience and no prior exposure. Now I'm a worldwide sensation! I have made friends with people who are living with AIDS, with parents who want to protect gay kids, and with gay people who were raised in small town southern American fundamentalist homes like I was.

And I've met Australians, New Zealanders, People from Hong Kong, Canada, England, Spain, Ireland, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, the Philippines, and just about every state in the USA. Straight, gay, atheist, Christian, black, brown, white, ecru and mauve. Old, young, -- look, you are the ones who have enriched my life and I am the one who is lucky to get your attention for two minutes a day.

I would enjoy hearing from you in the ever new guestbook if you don't mind -- while I'm away. I've done all this writing. Now it's your turn. I would like to know your thoughts about everything that's gone on here. What things did you like in Book Three? What did you not like? What could be better? As Ross Perot's says, "Now... now... I'm your servant. See?"

Book Four will be going back in time (taking a brief break from the Ship Story) to revisit what it was like growing up Baptist, small town Texas, gay. It's not something I've thought much about my entire adult life, but it's time to dig deeply into my gray matter and see what I've been avoiding. Very scary.

I guess this means tomorrow's entry will be the last day of Book Three. For those of you who have been reading along, thanks for the companionship. It's much appreciated. For those of you who are just joining us, you got here just in time.

I'll say my formal goodbyes tomorrow and I'll post some new pictures, too. My thanks to Geocities for providing this space. My thanks to Nik Venet, Charlene Wolff, Ronda and -- I'll save it for tomorrow. We'll have a big going-away party.

God, I love you people so much.


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

© 1997 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin