BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
If my life was a game show, I'd be in the Bonus Round. I almost died. Didn't die and now... The Bonus Round, where time speeds up and the prizes are better. For my 60th birthday year, I recorded an album, I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which debuted on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Gay Couples May Become Foster Parents in Arkansas

By ANDREW DEMILLO, Associated Press Writer Thu Jun 29, 7:25 PM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas cannot ban homosexuals from becoming foster parents because there is no link between their sexual orientation and a child's well-being, the state's high court ruled Thursday.

The court agreed with a lower court judge that the state's child welfare board had improperly tried to regulate public morality. The ban also violated the separation of powers doctrine, the justices said.

Reading this story brought me back to the time I performed a concert at Indiana University. In the audience was a father who brought his adopted teenage son. The son had been very self-destructive but this foster dad (who became an adopted dad) told me how inspiring my story had been for his son.

What learned later was that this dad and his partner were what the state referred to as "foster parents of last resort." Meaning, if no one else could handle the children or would take them, this gay couple could and would. They had 9 kids. Some were emotionally disturbed. Some were physically ill. But that House of Love had some kind of magic over it, that, once placed, the kids would find themselves getting healthy, surrounded by love, and healing.

And why was this couple a "last resort" couple? Because they were gay, of course. But did that matter to the two men? Not at all. They were more than happy to accept the outcasts, the forgotten, the ones the so-called "healthy hetero couples" didn't want.

All children need is to know that they are WANTED and LOVED. Just because a home is headed by a hetero couple doesn't automatically make it a better home. But for the gayhaters, they only care about a political agenda of erasing us out of society.

Clue card to the gayhaters: We ain't going anywhere. You can try to erase us, marginalize us, demonize us and deny us civil rights, but we will be right back in your faces. We have the power of Truth on our side and all you have is the cowardly cover of your own ignorance and bigotry.

Amazing Carpet Lady in Turkey

This is a very short video I shot of a woman in Turkey making a carpet. She holds a blade in her right hand while looping threads through the strands in the loom and then lopping them off. Her hands were moving so fast, I could barely see them. When I played it back, after having videotaped her, it looked like I had sped up the tape.

Carpet Maker in Turkey


click here to download

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ephesus Part 2

At one time, Ephesus was a teeming city of 200,000. It was a major metropolis which was used by the Romans to measure distances from all other cities in Asia. It was already 1000 years old by the time St. Paul arrived there around 52 CE. It remained a vital commercial port until malaria and earthquakes, plus silt deposits that left it landlocked finally did her in about the 14th century. Also, in Ephesus was a huge amphitheatre where Paul caused a near riot and had to rescued from a mob defending the goddess Artemus.

I didn't know all this as we headed into Ephesus. I didn't know anything about Ephesus. And because it was built on rolling hills, when we got to the entrance, it looked "nice," but its breathtaking ancient ruins were hidden from view. So I was amazed to watch it reveal itself as our little tour walked along the paved (yes, paved) road down the hillside to the one of most fantastic ruins in the entire world.

The first thing we saw was this small area of Roman columns and a small amphitheatre.

[Do click on the pictures for the full sized versions.]


And my reaction was "Okay, these are nice." I like these old columns. But I felt like I had seen this kind of stuff before. But then we made a little turn...

Both of us gasped. In my mind's eye I could just "see" what it might have looked like in all its splendor. This is Curetes Street and it consists entirely of marble. This was the main street of Ephesus that leads down to the great library. Here is the facade of Hadrian's Temple:
This interested me because it's a statue of the goddess Nike. Look closely and you'll see the famous Nike "swoop" logo embedded in her gown.


This, below, is part of the newest excavations, which is why those Quonset huts are covering the ground. But on the left were, basically, condos. Each of the stone walls represents very expensive "downtown" living quarters which go up the hill. And notice the elaborately detailed mosaic sidewalk.

Across the street you descend downward to where there was a water system that was constructed below the city streets. Down here were the public baths.


And here's Jimmy trying out the public toilets.


Below, we finally get closer to the Celsus Library, once home to thousands and thousands of ancient scrolls. Our guide told us that Marc Anthony emptied the library and gave the scrolls to his girlfriend, Cleopatra, who put them in the library of Alexandria, which, of course, burnt to the ground -- one of the greatest losses in the history of mankind.

Next to the library is the Gate of Augustus, built by two slaves who had been freed in honor of the Emperor Augustus.


Notice how finely detailed the ceilings are.

Connecting the Library to the Great Theatre is a road called the Marble Sacred Street. Once again, constructed of pure marble.

And that leads us to the Great Theatre at Ephesus. Here's the stage area.

And the seating area:
This is what it looks like seen from a distance:

And since Paul was run out of there, causing a near riot, I thought I'd make it up for him by standing center stage and singing just to get a sense of the incredible acoustics. Jim, who can't let me do anything without trying it out for himself, decided he had to do the same. Here is what happened:



Next: Ephesus Part 3 -- The amazing carpet lady & the Basilica of St. John.

House of Mary (Ephesus Part 1)

The next port on our cruise was Turkey. They said we'd be going to another ancient ruin, the city of Ephesus. I knew Ephesus only from the Bible. Paul wrote a letter to the church there and it became a book of the Bible called "Ephesians." However, I really knew nothing about the city nor did I know anything about Turkey. In fact, I was feeling rather blase about the whole thing. In my mind, all I could picture about Turkey was the prison in the movie "Midnight Express" starring Brad Davis. Men in fez's talking mean hating Americans.

I had this bad attitude and I thought, "Maybe I'll just skip Turkey." Wouldn't it be nice to just have a long, languid day onboard doing nothing?

But then one of the passengers said, "You haven't been to Ephesus before?"

Crankily, I answered, "No. I mean, what's there?"

She looked knowingly at me. (I hate it when people look knowingly at me). "Did you like Pompeii?"

"Yeah."

"Just go. You haven't seen anything yet."

So, begrudgingly, I decided, "Okay, I'll go see Ephesus." (Now, you see how spoiled I am. People save up for a lifetime to make a trip like this, but I'm hemming and hawing over it like my arm is being twisted and I'm being forced to eat gruel.)

I went to the excursions desk and read a little bit. "This is where Mary, the Mother of Jesus spent the last years of her life. On this tour, you will visit her home.." Oh, great, I groaned. More Catholic stuff. Yucch. "...followed by a trip to the ruins of Ephesus and then a nice lunch out at a carpet factory."

I still didn't want to go. It sounded long, hot, dull and boring. Why would I want to go to a carpet factory? Good heavens. But, still, we signed up (once again getting a slot as an escort so I could get the tour for free) and on the day of the tour, we had to get up extra early so I could babysit all the other spoiled passengers as they gathered for the tour.

Later, as I was grumbling about the tour to our friend Bernard Walz, a pianist from Australia, he said, "There's a great amphiteatre at Ephesus. One of my opera singer friends, on her tour, stood on the stage and sang out loud right there in the middle of the tour. The acoustics are perfect. You have to try it."

The name of the port we were leaving from was Kushadasi. After having met the tour guide, a young, attractive woman, she led us all in a little lesson in how to pronounce it. The emphasis is on the first syllable: KOOSH-uh-dazz-ee. All day long we went around saying KOOSH-us-dazz-ee. It's fun! First stop, "Mother Mary's House." This is where St. John the Divine took Mary to live after Jesus died.

It began with a comfortable bus ride through the hilly countryside. The thing that struck me most was how lush and green Turkey is. Our guide explained to us that Turkey, though it is a Muslim country, is very Westernized. The women are allowed to go to university and they don't have to wear head scarves. They have equal rights to men. And though she said there are elements within the country that would like to change that, she said Turkey is very much an open society.

But you can definitely tell it's a different culture. The first thing I saw that put a smile on my face was a big water park atop a hill. The decorative buildings were like Disneyland as designed by a Sultan, complete with colorful onion shaped tops. We rounded the top of the hill and suddenly there was a dramatic bay with modern hotels all around it.I remembered thinking back to Nick, our tour guide in Greece giving a long speech about how Turkey is too Eastern to be admitted to the European Union. Greece and Turkey have a long, tempestuous history together. They don't like each other at ALL, and Nick was definitely wanting us to know that Greece was a much superior country and people. This bay, by the way, figures into our story about Ephesus and it's why the ruins are still here. I'll get to that later.

There's a little entranceway to the House of Mary where you pay a toll, but we understand that it's all run by a non-profit which is designed to keep the house and the grounds well kept. The Muslim government has allowed the Catholics to have possession of it.

When we got to the house, it was a little stone building and there was a line of people waiting to get in. The church has more or less converted it into a chapel. You weren't supposed to take pictures inside (after all, there is a souvenir stand), but Jim did anyway.As you can see, it's little more than a stone box with an altar. You weren't allowed to talk, either, so there was someone there "hushing" us. Basically, you entered one door, looked at the altar and then exited the side door. There were also cute guys in Franciscan robes who walked around the area. Up on the little hill just in the background of this photo was a shelter where there was a priest holding a mass or something. I always liked those robes and I had some impure thoughts when I saw this guy. I didn't, however, approach him to confess my sin. (Remember, all photos are clickable so you can see them in full size, but if you, dear reader, have any impure thoughts, that's something that will have to stay between you and God).
Down below the house, there was a well with water that is blessed or something. There are four faucets like the one pictured above delivering water from this well. The guide explained that the four faucets had designations. One was for Life, one for Health, one for Wealth and the last one for -- and I wouldn't kid about this -- "General Purposes."

I didn't mean to be sacriligious, but somehow have a magic water fountain for "General Purposes" sounded funny to me and I laughed out loud. I tend to not take things like "magic water" very seriously. It's probably the Baptist in me. All along this wall, however, was a gridwork of metal where people wrote little prayer requests and then tied them to the grid. I thought that was kind of sweet. So, I'm not entirely cynical.I did feel bad, however, about not taking the whole scene very sacramentally, so I stopped at a statue of St. Francis and we had a talk about it.He told me it was okay and since I was a Baptist I was probably going to burn in hell anyway, so live and be well.

I actually enjoyed the visit to Mary's House, but time was awastin'. It was time for me to gather up the little chicks and get ourselves back to the buses. We had a long day ahead of us and this was only the beginning.

(To be continued...)

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Monday, June 26, 2006

10 Yrs. Ago: A Landmark Day


I thought it was time to look back as "Sick Steve" from 10 years ago to see how he's progressing and I saw a diary entry for June 23 labeled "A Landmark Event." Curious, I read the entry to see what I would have, at that time, considered a "landmark." This is what I found:
"Today was a landmark day. Here's why. Two reasons. 1) I had no diarrhea today. 2) I had no imodium today.

"For almost five days now I've gone without (diarrhea) and for me that was a world record, but I was still faithfully taking the imodiums a half hour before every meal. Thankfully, I had stopped taking the codeine and the paregoric (which is made from opium) -- which are fine on vacation but a bitch when you actually want to think or something! (god forbid).

"Yesterday, I decided to see if I could make it without the chemical help and, YES, a whole day. No you know what and no imodiums. Two days in a row? We'll see. But the point is that the TPN treatments are working more spectacularly than I had even dreamed they would. In fact, I look over at the bag now filled with its milky fluid, slowly dripping into my vein and I want to hug it and kiss it.

"You know, I'm not one to lose faith or become a Negative Nelly, but I was really seeing the gravesite and the memorial service and preparing to die. Now, I've been rescued and I know I am going to live."

I was still slowly accepting the idea that I was not going to die, as you can see. I was also informing the reader that I was much closer to death than I had been writing in the diary -- and also that my mind had long been picturing and accepting my death as an early inevitability.

On the 24th, I went to see the doctor because my ears were stopped up. He said he saw fluid behind one eardrum and a lesion that looked like a molluscum on the other. He wasn't sure there was anything anyone could do except wait it out.

The only problem was that we had already cast our workshop of The Last Session and were in rehearsals! That's right. After we accepted the workshop offer from the Zephyr, we immediately went into casting and then rehearsals. On this day, I also talk about meeting Chip Esten who played "Buddy." He had broken his thumb and was wearing a cast. We must must have collectively looked like wing of the hospital all on our own.

In the entry on the 24th, there's also an interesting note that I've made about some emails I was getting about the diary. One was from a gay friend who told me I was wasting my time trying to "teach" conservative Christians how to be more tolerant and loving toward gay people -- that "Christians" were worthless and beyond saving. His exact words:
He says that the "average Christian" who stays silent against the hardcore bigotry coming down from the Fundamentalist leadership -- as evidenced by the Southern Baptist's recent pronouncments and by the horrific anti-gay videos of people like Jerry Falwell -- makes them accomplices in this horror just like the German people were accomplices for staying silent against the Holocaust.
But then I also talk about another situation. I wrote:
"I got an e-mail from a self-described born again Christian woman in Seattle who tells me she's been reading this diary every day for a month or more and that in her position as a large company in charge of insurance and helping very sick people maintain their coverage, she has had much interaction with gay people with AIDS and that she has learned much about how much bigger the world is than she ever dreamed.

"She thanked me for the diary telling me that it has taught her much and that she has been directing others to it, both gay and straight."
Then I ask my readers:
So, am I wasting my time here? Should I simply call all born agains stupid accomplices to a huge and horrible potential Holocaust? You tell me.
Funny, but I never dreamed that 10 years on, these same forces would be fighting each other so openly in the media and churches. When "The Last Session" finally opened in New York, there were some who criticized the play because they thought we were dealing with "old issues," this whole gay/straight Christian debate.

Little did they know that not only were they NOT old issues, but we were actually ahead of the curve. The country hadn't even begun to start wrestling with them.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Muslims Gays Seek Marriages of Convenience

As bad as conservative Christians can be about gay people, in the Muslim world, to be gay is to invite, at worst, execution and, at best, a prying family who won't leave you alone and feels shame that you aren't married. This story in the Washington Post is an interesting one, that gay Muslims are using the Internet to find marriages of convenience with lesbians. For them, it's the perfect solution. The family backs off, they won't get killed, and they can settle down into a nice home. Some live celibately and some have boyfriends (and girlfriends) as companions.

Recently, in Iran, a couple of gay teenagers were hanged for being gay. In Afghanistan, the law was that they topple a wall onto gay people to kill them. So, self-preservation is definitely one of the incentives for this kind of arrangement. From the story:
"Hard statistics are hard to come by, but on a single Web site for South Asian gays and lesbians seeking such marriages, almost 400 requests had been uploaded."
Naturally, the hardline clerics are outraged at such marriages of convenience because they have no concept of the reality of being gay. For them, the matter is simple:
The face of Imam Omar, a scholar at the Islamic Cultural Center of Manhattan, crinkled with laughter when he was asked about this phenomenon. "These people are Muslims?" he asked.
Yes, darling. It seems that gay fabulousness knows no ethnic, cultural, racial or religious boundaries. Even among Muslims.
Omar receives all sorts of inquiries and is now rarely taken aback. But a query about marriages of convenience stunned him. "What kind of marriage is this?" he asked. "A nikah [marriage] in Islam needs to be consummated. There is no concept of marriage in Islam without sexual relations."

It's always about sex with religious people, isn't it? It's always a wonder to me that the more religious a person is, the more obsessed with sex he or she becomes -- and usually while accusing everyone else of being obsessed with sex.

Religious irony also knows no ethnic, cultural, racial or religious boundaries.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

"This Is Where Thinkin' Began!"



[Pictured left: Piraeus from the bus just after we left the ship.]

The next part of our Mediterranena cruise took us to Athens. I have a love/hate relationship with the Greeks having once worked on a cruise ship run by a Greek shipping line, Chandris. That's another great, big long story but suffice it to say that -- well, I even wrote a song about it called "Down With The Greeks." So, that might give you a slight hint. (It was back during my mid-80s white-boy rasta poet phase which didn't last very long since my hair would not cooperate to become dreadlocks and the rastas hate queers, but that's yet another long story I have yet to tell).

All I knew was that we wanted to see the Parthenon. (The title of this entry comes from an episode of "The Amazing Race" where the blonde bimbo girl, when asked if she knew what the Parthenon was replied, "Sure I do! This is where thinkin' began!").

We didn't really have any money for a tour, so I, once again, volunteered to escort the group. This consists of me stayiing in the back of all the little duckies, holding up a sign and making sure they all stay together. The lady pictured in my sign photo was someone we had met before. She usually travels alone and was a history a professor or something. Very smart. She also appears in one of our unfinished mockumentaries, the legendary, "She's Headed To Rome." She does a very elegant death scene at the dinner table. When she saw that I was the escort she asked me specifically if I would take her arm during some of the climbing we would have to do, and I gallantly said yes, of course. I like her very much.

The first big place we came to, after about a half hour of driving, was parking lot that was already filling up. It was going to be a hot day with lots of sun and lots of tourists. The tour buses were lining up and Nick, our guide, explained patiently where the bathrooms would be. Free ones at the top of the hill, pay toilets here in the parking lot. Joining the already gathering throngs, we began the climb up the hill and this was the first thing we came to:
It was an ancient Greek amphitheatre overlooking the entire city. Those Greeks had a flair for drama, no? Well, of course they did! They invented drama. (They certainly kept a level of drama and tension aboard the ship I worked. We even had a mutiny once.) Nick, our tour guide, was very talky. He was very proud of being Greek and though the throngs were beginning to crowd past our little group, he had to explain everything in infinite detail. I missed most of it because I couldn't get close enough to him to hear anything. So, I just looked at the sights.

After climbing through the Temple of Athena Nike, we finally got a glimpse of "it." The Parthenon. And I have to tell you that it's pretty breathtaking to finally see it in person. Nick spent a great deal of time here telling us how ingenious the construction of the Parthenon was. According to him, each column is slightly different. Each one shaped so that they all look straight from any angle and that the architect was so ahead of his time, that even computers today cannot figure out his algorithms, the mathematical forumulae he used to create this visual perception. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds great -- and he went on at length about it. All I know is it looks really good.
All around the top of the Parthenon are carved pictures which Nick described as illustrating the Greeks' great genius. According to him they represented something about allowing other cultures the freedom to not be called barbarians and how we all ought to talk to each other or something. It was very long and complicated. I liked the basic sentiment, but in looking it up on the Net, I've not seen anyone else describe all that. He was very philosophical, our Nick. Most everyone in our group just wanted to walk, but Nick preferred to stand in the hot sun and expound.
Pictured above is the Erecthion, which was just a few walking steps from the Parthenon. "The building itself contains the porch of the maidens or Caryatids which are now copies, four of which have been placed in the Acropolis museum, hopefully to be reunited with a fifth taken from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and put in the British Museum more than a century ago."

All of these buildings sat on top of a hill, a place called the Acropolis. It was the highest point in the city, and not very large, so when you looked around, you could see the whole city laid out below you.
In reading more about all this, most of the best statues and sculptures were all taken away and put into the British Museum or the Louvre. The Greeks would love to have them back, but that doesn't seem to be happening. I don't think the Greeks should hold their breath. Below is our "stand and smile" photo to prove we were there, although I suppose you could photoshop something like this pretty easily.

I include the next picture out of sheer meanness. These guys, some fratboys from Georgia, asked me to take their photo while they posed stupidly in front of the monument. So, I took their camera and did so. Then I asked them if they would be in my music video of "HolyDirt." But when I asked them to say, "His fingers are on ebay and his bones are all on AOL," one of them suddenly asked, "Uh, what kind of song is this?"

I said, "It's just a song about how people value object over human beings and..."

He cut me off, "Uhhh, I don't think we want to do it."

"Honestly," I said. "It's nothing."

"Uhhh, no thanks."

I have no idea. Maybe they thought were the shooting Fratboys Gone Wild in Greece or something. So, I thought I'd include them here. Yes, boys, a homosexual took your picture. Now you're going to go home to Georgia and turn gay.

Here's another stunning view of the city.

Looking down from the Acropolis was this, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus:

According to athensguide.com "The small temple known as the Thission was built in 449 BC and is virtually intact. Supposedly named for Theseus because his exploits were shown on the frieze, it is now believed that it was actually a temple to Hephaestos and Athena. Unfortunately they realized their mistake too late and the entire neighborhood is called Thission. The temple was used as a Church, dedicated to Saint George, known as Saint George the Lazy because it was only open one day of the year."

Most of these last few pictures were taken from a little outcropping of rock, a great place to take photos. It was starting to get late, though, so we climbed back up to the Parthenon around to the othere side so we could begin our descent. I saw this gorgeous sculpture:
One can only imagine how much has been lost to time and bombs.
Now we're nearing the front again, but just on the opposite side from where we started.
We took more photos from the bus on the way back to the ship, but by then we were tired and hot and just wanted to eat lunch. I still pinch myself everytime I look at these pictures, amazed that we've had the privilege to see such wonders. But I was expecting the Acropolis to be beautiful. The biggest and most wondrous surprise was still to come...

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