Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cigarette City

HIV Home Set Afire

Houston Chronicle (09/25/96) P. 15A

A home for people with HIV in rural Paicol, Colombia was set on fire by arsonists Monday night as a father and son slept inside. They were unhurt. The house is operated by a Roman Catholic group that provides shelter to poor people with HIV in Colombia. The community had threatened to force the residents out for months, fearing that people with HIV could contaminate the water supply and crops by bathing in a stream that flows into the town.

Notice that is a news clipping from 1996. 10 years ago. People keep asking me, when discussing this diary, if things are different now from how they were back then. I saw that clipping and thought it might work as a guidepost. But that FEAR OF AIDS ERA was coming to an end. Also, 10 years ago, after coming back to life, the diary started becoming incredibly boring as I did a lot of navel-gazing. And I was pretending that I was a lot more famous than I really was. You know. Like now.

10 years ago, we were getting ready to go to New York. We had a staged reading planned thanks to Don Kirkpatrick from El Paso (a diary reader) and I was rushing my friends Alan Satchwell, Ginger Freers and Chip Esten into Barry Fasman's studio for a quick recording of "When You Care" so that I could finish my demo of TLS to play for NY producers.

And it was over 10 years ago that Jimmy and I drove into Vegas to visit my beloved Aunt Freida because my mom and dad were in town from Louisiana (before the new pills had rescued me). This past Thursday, we did it again!

Aunt Freida

She was really happy to see that I looked healthy and strong. My Aunt Freida is the best laugher in the whole world. She is laughing long before the punchline because she knows it's going to be funny. She laughs during the telling of the quip and then she guffaws when she hears the punchline. It's not that she's missing the joke. She just loves the joke and she loves to laugh. Aunt Freida is a really smart person, too. I've always admired her. She looks like Rue McLanahan. She's my Auntie Mame.

It's my mom! (She never changes. Not bad for 75.)

Jim hugging mom.

I similarly love my parents. They looked really good. Mom is having sciatica. It's really painful. She never complains about it, either. She hates it when anyone worries about it. Jim also had painful sciatica, so they bonded in pain for a moment. Then he said, "Shall I tell you what cured it?"
Mom and Aunt Freida got really serious for a moment.

Jim said, "I got new shoes! Rockports! Three days later, no sciatica."

Which sent Freida into another laughing jag. She was expecting a long, medical explanation.

My dad looking bemused.

My dad is like a rock. He's so himself. He's genuinely one of the warmest persons I've ever met though he usually has this stoic look on his face.

He is constantly amused by mom and Aunt Freida and just smiles at them through his crinkly western Roy Rogers / Clint Black eye squint. I love my dad. He's the most Zen person I know.


It was also great to see Thomas with his cowboy hat. Thomas has since had cancer in his throat, surviving a nasty radiation and recovery with Freida nursing him all the way. I was overjoyed at seeing how healthy he looked.

More laughing.
Jim, being the great storyteller, held Aunt Freida, dad and mom in thrall. They wanted to hear all about "Zero Hour" and "The Big Voice" and all the Hollywood stories we could come up with.

Things really lightened up when we talked about "Project Runway," our favorite show all around.

The only "glitch" about Las Vegas is that we tried to go out to dinner, but the first restaurant was filled with smokers. Jim was particularly incensed about a woman eating, smoking a cigarette at the same while while blowing smoke in her baby's face. What is WRONG with people?? Jim started getting an asthma attack, so we went to another restaurant and it was packed. More smoke.

So, we sent everyone home, drove over to El Pollo Loco, got some chicken and had a great time back at Freida's place sitting around the table. It was more fun than a restaurant, anyway.

The ride home was beautiful. Lots of desert landscapes.

I particularly liked this hill that just popped up out of nowhere.

And this mountain range.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

A Photo Shoot

Here's Travis. He and Robby moved the piano into the theatre for the photo shoot. They belong to Improv For Kids, the highly regarded improv group at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. They were promised pizza.

Here's Robby. He has black fingernails. He had to convince Jim that it wasn't the Black Plague but was, indeed, a fashion choice.
Here's Ed. He's taking the photos.
Ed Krieger
Here's Linda Fulton who owns the Avery Schreiber Theatre and is always on the phone. She had it surgically attached to her ear.
Linda Fulton
Linda, did that hurt?
Steve Schalchlin cups ear
Ed's telling us to smile pretty for the camera.
Ed Krieger with camera
This is me smiling pretty for the camera.
Steve Schalchlin smiling prettyEd asks, "Is that the best you can do?"
Ed KriegerHere's Jim singing.
Jim Brochu sings with Steve putting his hands over his ears
Jim's pretty.
Jim Brochu is handsome

Ed's getting into it.
Ed Krieger takes intense photo

We're pretty.
Steve Schalchlin & Jim Brochu
Though we are taking photos in North Hollywood, The Big Voice: God or Merman? will be performed in New York in a brand new Off-Broadway theatre on 47th Street between 8th and 9th, the same street The Last Session played back in 1997. It's our good luck street, and it's right near Times Square. Ah, there's so much to retell.

Ethel and Judy are gonna put on a show. Think anyone will notice? What if I wear black fingernails?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

The New Jersey Spin

It's interesting watching the various news outlets handle the yesterday's court decision in New Jersey that gay couples should be entitled to the same rights as straight couples. The Republicans were hoping that the court would institute gay MARRIAGE, which it didn't, so they could use it as a campaign vote-getter. It said that it was up to the people to call it whatever they wanted to call it -- civil unions, marriage, whatever.

However, Drudge, the conservative board headlined, "NJ opens door for GAY MARRIAGE." He's trying desperately to help the Repubs. No doubt the right wing radio will be spinning this like crazy. At James Dobson's site, Focus on the Family, they headline, "New Jersey High Court Tells Lawmakers to Redefine Marriage." Which, of course, they did not. They simply said that gay citizens should be treated equally before the law, a concept that enrages cultural neo-conservatives.

Over at Huffington Post, the headline reads, "NJ Backs Equal Rights For Same-Sex Unions..." which is more accurate but less enflammatory.

Isn't politics fun? Let's do the New Jersey Spin!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rick Stein Brags about Jim and Steve

In a lovely blog entry, Rick Stein of the Laguna Playhouse, brags about Jimmy and me. Rick was responsible for the best production of The Last Session.

Marvelous Maggie at 70

Maggie Heineman and Steve Schalchlin
Maggie and my big head.

My favorite moment of my recent visit to Philadelphia happened during a special birthday concert I was singing for my netfriend, Maggie's, 70th birthday party. It was in her living room. I was surrounded by her kids, their spouses and grandkids. Suddenly, in the middle of it all, I looked at the grandkids and said, "By the way, did you know that your grandmother taught me how to use the Internet by bringing a major American corporation to its knees?"

They all looked at me like I was crazy.

Her children looked at me like I was crazy. Our mother?? The grandkids looked me. Our grandmother?? Our sweet mother/grandmother who goes bike riding everyday??


One of her daughters said, "I never heard this. What are you talking about?"

And I told him how Chrysler Corporation, at one of their plants, had done something -- I've already forgotten all the details, but it had to do with violating, or refusing to deal with fairness for gay and lesbian employees; anyway, Maggie used the Internet by creating a website that made it look like the wrath of the entire gay world was about to come down on their heads and sent them the link.

And they changed their policy.

And that's when I knew the Internet was the most powerful form of personal communication device ever put into the hands of a single human being. I had already, by then, begun my online diary and Maggie was a friend I had made through the PFLAG email list. But it was her example, scaring the bejesus out of a bunch of clueless executives who knew nothing about the web (because no one knew anything about the web back then), that I realized that in a world where, previously, one had to have millions of dollars to communicate with large numbers of people, the Internet was the most democratic and powerful tool a single human being could wield if that person was creative enough to figure it out.

At that point, I wrote Maggie a note and said, "I am officially adopting you into my family. You are my teacher."

Actually, in real life, Maggie is a modest and kind person with a huge heart and quick and creative mind that never stops working. She's endlessly curious and never fails to seek new ways to improve her life and the lives of the people around her. Since those heady days of Internet activism, she has, with her husband, "retired" to a community of adults where she bikes 100 miles a day, is active on about 10 committees, and god knows what else.

When she first asked if we were going to be near for her 70th birthday party, I thought we might be in New York within spitting distance of Philadelphia, but since we weren't, I used the last of my frequent flier miles a couple of weekends ago and I flew to be there.

I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Her daughter, Sue, is a bassoonist with the National orchestra in Washington DC. Her daughter Elizabeth is a scholar who has written a book about the lives of women in postwar Germany called What Difference Does a Husband Make? Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany (Studies on the History of Society and Culture). Elizabeth's son, Josh, is the creative genius behind Notorious Studios, the flash animation site I wrote about last week. (He's only 15 -- that was the secret I was saving until now.) Josh's other mother is Johanna, but she couldn't be there. Johanna is "somewhat famous." She made waves with her research - here's a Newsweek article about it. Son Jim is a city planner.

At dinner, the topic of discussion was some regarding some theological and philosophical discussion between two leading figures in the 16th century.

I guess saying "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" would be an understatement. I told them when I get together with my family, we usually all eat until we pass out and the only topic that ever comes up is whether the Cowboys are gonna beat the Redskins this year.

I felt dwarfed in the presence of these people.

The weekend began with a brief visit with my friends, the Landaus, who Jimmy and I met on one of our cruises. Jimmy, Bart and Barbara have become very close over the past several years.

It was nice to spend a little one on one time with them. Like myself, Barbara has had her share of health struggles and we kind of have a little kinship. To say I love this woman would be an understatement. On Saturday morning, they drove me over to the Philadelphia Art Museum on their way to Atlantic City. Bart and I got out of the car and posed with the Rocky statue (of course).

Bart Landau and Steve Schalchlin with the Rocky Balboa statue
Just as they were pulling out, I reached back into my pocket and my wallet was gone. And they were off to Atlantic City! How would I get back on the plane to get home? Panic-stricken, I looked back over to the curb and they were JUST taking off. I ran like crazy and flagged them down. They were gracious enough to make the trip all the way back to their house for me. (10 minutes after dropping me off a second time, my phone rang and it was Jimmy. Bart had called him and they had all had a good laugh at my expense, of course.)

Philadelphia Art Museum

Meeting up with Maggie and Herb and several of the others, we joined a tour in progress of the French Impressionists. It was very educational. They even let you take photos inside, which is very cool.
Herb Heineman
Herb is singled out

The next day, Maggie scheduled a tour of a local cranberry farm. We piled into a bus (dragging a comatose Josh out of bed; clearly not a morning person) and took the tour. The lady conducting the tour was fascinating. She told us that here in the New Jersey pines are a group of people called the "pineys" who are ridiculed by outsiders as being rather backward and retarded, and who are, therefore, suspicious of outsiders. She said she was a piney and even kept her last name after she married because her husband's family didn't go back as many generations as she did. She told us she was descended from the American Indians (though she was whiter than I was) and that they were all descendents of one of Noah's sons (Japeth, I think).

She explained, "Ham went to Africa, Shem went to Europe and Japeth to Asia where they crossed the ocean and became Native Americans." I thought, "How sweet, to get the mythology of the area."

She took us through the farm past the old buildings that, at the turn of the century, housed the immigrants that would farm seasonally, and then to the vast cranberry fields which are harvested semi-annually.

Cranberry fields

Cranberry fields
Cranberry fields forever.

These are the three harvesting machines. They are guided by geo-positioning satellites. Each one shakes the cranberry bushes below, alternately, until they all rise to the top of the flooded fields. They are carefully flooded during the winter to keep them from freezing. Our guide, who is part owner, is also an expert on insects. She analyzes which insects are in any given area of a field and then, using a computer, they spray insecticide very carefully only where it's needed. It was all very technical and scientifically advanced.

Cranberry fieldsAt one point in the tour, we saw a turkey buzzard. One of the guests asked if it was true that they were around millions of years ago with the dinosaurs.

The guide quickly shot back, "That depends on which science you believe in. We believe the earth is only 6000 years old, so they were around with the dinosaurs, but not millions of years ago."

That's when I realized she wasn't kidding about Noah and his three sons repopulating the earth. When she said she was descended from the Indians who were the sons of Japeth, she meant it. Ah, those pineys.

Cranberry fieldsAt the end of the tour, they played a video on the drop-down screens in the van called "Red" that was a song praising the values of the "red states." And I realized we had just gotten an advertisement to vote Republican. Ah, those pineys.

Back at the ranch--er, home, we relaxed for the afternoon.

reading and restingHad a wonderful meal:

dinnerPlayed with the kids:





Josh of the brilliant Notorious Studios


That night, I sang my concert, inviting Maggie to request any song she wanted to hear. The big hit was "Cool By Default." The next day was the big celebration. We all went to the community center for the big concert featuring a pianist, a soprano and daughter Sue on bassoon. Everyone in the area was invited.


Sue Heineman on bassoon
Sue Heineman on bassoon

Then, they brought Maggie and Herb up, where they danced a dance and we all sang a birthday song for her. (Not, thankfully, "Happy birthday." It was something else.)

Herb & Maggie Heineman
Herb & Maggie Heineman

It felt a bit weird to be the outsider at someone else's family reunion, but I also felt honored to have been asked. Maggie, as I said earlier, is an inspiration to me. She's an important figure in early online activism for GLBT people, and she has been, more than anything else, a steadfast friend.

Happy birthday, Maggie. You are well loved.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ticket Info For The Big Voice

Tickets on sale at
by phone in the NY metro area at 212-239-6200
by phone outside the NY metro area at 800-432-7250

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Big Voice Coming To New York At Last!

Well, we've been promising it. We've been talking about. And now it's here.

The Big Voice: God or Merman? will be arriving in New York in mid-November for a Nov. 30th opening. Yes, fans, at last, the off-Broadway production will open.

And one of the best parts of this is that it will open in a brand new off-Broadway house called The Actor's Temple. How appropriate is that for a show about God and Ethel Merman?

Actually, the Actor's Temple is a Jewish synagogue which is doing what many other houses of worship have done in New York: Make a theatre! And why not. Religion! Show business! Same thing!

I'll have ticket information up soon.

By the way, isn't it fabulous that the first show to open in a Jewish Temple is a musical about a gay marriage between a Catholic and a Baptist?

I thought so, too.

TICKETS: Tickets on sale at
by phone in the NY metro area at 212-239-6200
by phone outside the NY metro area at 800-432-7250