August 16, 2019

I haven’t done a long post for a while. Something like three weeks now. Some of it has been because I’ve been busy. Some of it has been because I’ve been in a better place emotionally (probably because I have been busy). Some of it has been because I’ve been writing on a few other projects.

The last couple of weeks have been devoted to the rehearsal process for Choir Boy, the inaugural production of Birmingham Black Repertory Theater (Opens on Thursday at Birmingham Festival Theater tickets at http://bftonline.org). It’s been a while since I’ve done a drama or had a major line heavy acting role and I was really afraid I wasn’t going to be up to the challenge. I did get the lines down more or less. I know where they all go and the emotional impact and connection for each one. Now if I could just get the words to come out in the right order and wouldn’t get rattled by the addition of new technical elements. The play was on Broadway last season (and won a couple of Tonys) and this is the first production since the Broadway run anywhere so I feel a need to do my role and the piece justice. As I’m following Austin Pendleton in the part, those are pretty big shoes to fill. I seem to be doing something right, because even in rehearsal, I’m getting compliments from people I respect and in whom I am in awe of for their talents. The gig seems to be opening some doors for future projects as well. I’m in talks for a possibility next spring that both elates and terrifies me if it comes to pass. We have four more techs to get everything right. It’s about ninety percent there so I have a good idea of what the final product will be and I think audiences will be pleased. N.B. Birmingham Festival Theater is in the midst of a major fund raiser – make a donation if you can. I did.

In other news on the theatrical front, I did a brief film gig playing a congregant for Eternal World Television Network. Yes, the world headquarters of the Catholic Church’s cable station is just down the street from me in Irondale and lots of friends have had gigs with them for years, especially singers. They needed a mixed crowd for a couple of hours to shoot B roll footage of congregational responses to the mass. So, if you happen to have insomnia, are channel surfing late night and come across EWTN, you may catch a glimpse of me in the fourth pew house left on the end. I’m also working with my other usual partners in crime, Diane McNaronand Ellise Pruitt Mayor on a 2019 edition of Politically Incorrect Cabaret scheduled for September 28th at the Clubhouse on Highland. I can’t really do much while Choir Boy is in rehearsal (my brain is getting too old to hold more than one project at a time) so I have to lock myself away Labor Day week to get the script, such as it is for PIC, hammered out. I do have Labor Day weekend off. Maybe I’ll carry my trusty laptop somewhere secluded and work.

I’ve been missing Tommy the last few weeks for practical reasons. When I came home to discover water all over the basement floor from a leaky HVAC, there was no one to share clean up duties and cuss words with and I had to get all the evaluations and repairs done around my work schedule which is always a bit difficult as I am so locked in with outpatient appointments. All is now well. As I kept mopping things up, I discovered that three problems had actually happened relatively simultaneously. The HVAC drain line had clogged leading to the water flood. The excess water and moisture in the air had done in the aged dehumidifier that keeps the damp out of the basement and, for good measure, something with very sharp teeth, had discovered where I keep the extra cans of beer and soda for parties and was puncturing them and sending sprays of carbonation all over the place. One HVAC repair, two new dehumidifiers, and three cats to roam the basement later, and the floor seems to be staying dry. It will need some repainting before I resell. I’ll add that chore to my never ending punch list.

I should tell a story. One that came up this week, after the news came out that Tommy’s old boss was fined $1.5 million dollars for defrauding federal health programs, involves Tommy’s stay at Birmingham Health Care. As most of you know, Tommy was a renaissance man with a number of different career paths over his life. He had been a major mover and shaker in the Birmingham gay community in the 1980s and was one of the committed volunteers that helped put together the HIV programs that would grow into Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama. At the time, he was a professional chef and baker working for the Sheraton, Continental Bakery and even operating his own restaurant with his brother – Classic Pizza and Barbeque in the Clay Chalkville area. He got tired of restaurant hours and, with his health care volunteerism behind him, went to Jeff State and got his RN degree, starting out as a Pediatric Nurse at Childrens and UAB. He had this social justice component, however, and when Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless, under the leadership of Jonathan Dunning, began making significant inroads into underserved populations, he headed over there and took a job as an ambulatory nurse.

Tommy, being one of the most competent people ever, soon rose from clinic nurse, to chief nurse, to chief nursing officer. At the same time, Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless changed itself into a multisite Federally Qualified Health Center, dropping the Homeless part of its name as its programs expanded. This is what he was doing when we met each other in late 2002. In 2003, BHC moved from its downtown location into an old plastic surgery clinic on southside, greatly increasing its footprint. They opened more satellites, and started to swallow other FQHCs around the state. Tommy, as chief nursing officer (#4 in the company) was put in charge of ethics and compliance and making sure that the federal grants were adhered to. He was busy, but things were going relatively well for a year or so. In late 2004 and early 2005, Jonathan and Sharon Waltz, his number 2, started to treat him radically differently, making impossible demands on him, denigrating his work etc. etc. The last straw for me was when they sent him on a long scheduled vacation with a grant proposal that he was supposed to have completed the day we got back. We spent most of the cruise together in the cabin writing the thing. Tommy was sure something was up with Jonathan and Sharon but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. I encouraged him to quit and do something different as he was being badly abused. I hadn’t expected him to go back for a music degree, but that’s another story altogether. He did quit in the spring of 2005. Shortly thereafter, per various court cases, with their pesky ethical compliance officer out of the way, Jonathan and Sharon embarked on a series of schemes to enrich themselves at federal expense. (You can google the news articles on it all, published after the whole house of cards came tumbling down around 2012). Jonathan and Sharon also hooked up in a long term affair that produced two children so Tommy’s suspicions were at last corroborated. Once the FBI got involved, we both expected a call to find out what we knew, but it never came. Tommy was gone before the shenanigans got going. We had a lot of fun reading the news pieces to each other as they came out and indulging in a certain schadenfreude. Jonathan is in the clink for another 12 years or so. Sharon seems to have escaped jail time, but continued her grifts after the collapse of BHC and these seem to have landed her in new hot water.

That’s probably more than any of you ever wanted to know about local health care scandals. I can give you more juicy details if you buy me a margarita.

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