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THE SONG THAT STARTED IT ALL
4 May 2006
I haven't talked about Steve Schalchlin (Shack-lin) for a long time. Mostly because he's been off ... being famous, or whatever he's doing these days ... and I've been here nursing puppies and whatever else I'm doing these days.
We catch each other on IM (Internet Messaging, for those who aren't familiar with the term) now and then and we e-mail several times a week (sometimes several times a day), but there was a time when we had a lot more occasion to work together, play together, and share our secrets together.
The song above was the song that really brought us together, whether he knows it or not. I've probably told this story before, but becoming friends with Steve was the perfect example of serendipity. It's one of those things where if one thing didn't happen, the other wouldn't have happened.
Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered and it made me think of all the gay friends I had and made me feel like I should be doing something, only I didn't know what to do. The natural thing seemed to be joining PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). I discovered that there was a local chapter and I attended one meeting. At the meeting, I learned that they needed a newsletter editor and since that's what I do, I volunteered. Instantly, I was a member of the Board and had become Editor of the local PFLAG newsletter.
Within a couple of months, the local president was hosting a reception for the guy who was the national president of PFLAG and who was coming through California on a sweep across the nation. By coincidence, he had been in Los Angeles before he came to Davis. All of the board members were invited to the reception.
When he met me, I don't know if I told him, or if he had heard it from someone in the group, but he knew that David had died (this was just about a month before Paul died, as I recall). As it happened, the editor of his local newsletter was a woman named Gabi Clayton, who had also lost a son. Her son Bill committed suicide following a gay-bashing incident.
The PFLAG president suggested I get in touch with Gabi and I filed that information away in the back of my head. The PFLAG president also told me that he had just seen this "fantastic show" in Los Angeles and tried to explain it to me, but I didn't pay much attention because I had no idea I would ever go to Los Angeles to see some little theatre production of anything. The show was The Last Session.
I did eventually write to Gabi and she suggested that I get on the mailing list for The Last Session ("TLS"), which I did because I do whatever people tell me to, right?
Only I found the list terribly daunting. Everybody, it seemed, had seen this play and they all talked about people who were in it, and talked about songs and scenes and incidents. They talked about relationships among members of the group. They were also terribly prolific and there were lots of messages posted each day. I couldn't get a handle on it and, since I had no intention of seeing the show, didn't follow too closely.
Then Paul died. I remember sending a frantic message to the group saying something like "will someone please take me off this list. My son just committed suicide and I can't handle all this e-mail." Steve deactivated my membership in the group, but the personal e-mails started coming from people on the list I'd never met. Wonderfully supportive messages. I decided they were nice people I wanted to get to know better and I re-joined the list and I asked how long TLS was going to be playing in Los Angeles because I had this feeling that I needed to see the show, and I hoped that maybe I'd get a chance to see it.
As it turned out, it was closing in just a couple of weeks. By coincidence, the same week that Paul had been scheduled to do his next monologue show here in Davis. I told Walt I couldn't bear to be in town that weekend and suggested to him that we go to So. California. Tom was participating in a fun event in downtown Santa Barbara. We could watch him in the "bed races" and then the next day we could go to Los Angeles and see The Last Session. I asked my friend Pat and my friend David to go with us. Someone from the TLS group wrote to tell me she would be in the lobby before the show and she definitely wanted to meet me. (Ironically she turned out to be one of the very few TLS people I never liked--and now she doesn't speak to me anyway.)
Steve wasn't there at that performance, and the woman who was supposed to meet me didn't, but we enjoyed the show anyway. I wasn't immediately overwhelmed, as some others have been, but thought it a very strong show and was glad that we had gone.
We went back to Davis.
Then TLS was being performed in Denver and the group was going to meet to see it. It would be the first big gathering of people from around the country who had been taken by the show. By now I knew some of the people a bit better, thanks to e-mail and the TLS list, but I didn't think we could afford to go. The director of the show really felt I needed to be there and offered to pay the plane fare for Walt and me to go, so we went.
It was a weekend that changed my life. I had met Steve before. We met in San Francisco for lunch, where we hit it off instantly, and I thought he was a nice guy, but everybody loves Steve, so I was just one of the many. While we were in Denver, the whole group went off sightseeing on the afternoon before the group was scheduled to attend the evening production of TLS together. I chose to stay behind and go to the matinee performance of TLS. Steve was stepping in for that performance and the evening performance in the lead role of Gideon. Walt went off to walk around downtown Denver, admitting that he could only take one performance of TLS in a day.
I had only heard the "other guy," Bob Stillman, who played the role in LA, prior to this time. I had never heard Steve sing. I sat in the dark theatre as the familiar strains of "Save Me a Seat" began and as Steve started to sing, it destroyed me. Paul had just died and I had visions of him attending his own memorial service. I watched Steve and realized that though his health was pretty good, he did have AIDS and would one day die, probably of complications ofAIDS. To see him singing this song about his own memorial service hit me more strongly than any performance has before or since.
Our friendship began to deepen after the Denver trip. I did some publicity for him, I traveled with him on some of his lecture trips, he stayed at our house, we became close confidantes. It's been an incredible friendship, which continues to this day, even if my place in his life has been taken over by another woman.
Because of Steve I've done a lot of things I never expected to, including starting this journal and learning how to make, edit, and post videos.
I've said it before, but it is still true--when God closes a door, he opens a window. Paul was the door and Steve is the window. And when I die, I hope Steve brings a plate of nachos to my funeral, because I'll be sitting in the back waiting for him.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
In New York