A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1991

Friday, November 22, 1991

3 PM. The last full week of law school just ended. I was amused yesterday when after the Civ Pro practice exam, I went into a stall in the men’s room and heard two voices talking:

“Did you grant summary judgment on that question?”

“Obviously. Sure. That was the only way to go.”

“Uh, I didn’t grant it.”

It made me feel better even though I knew I screwed up the answer – because these guys thought there was a “right” answer. Actually, I think my answer would get a C+, and I’m pleased with that.

Once classes end, I’ll study and prepare, but I’ll also be away from my fellow students, some of whom appear wild-eyed at this point. A lot of people seem to be looking for the one “answer” on how to take exams. To me, Nunn’s and Mashburn’s advice about taking exams makes perfect sense.

The point is, you’ve got your own way of looking at the law and your own style, and first-semester exams are a way of testing you and letting you learn how to make the most of what you’ve got.

Maybe Steve H has “gotta get an A in Civ Pro,” but I have a life.

I guess when you’re 22, you don’t have much else going for you but grades as the passport to that future you want.

Gena said she’s going to talk to Dean Savage about getting her course load reduced for next semester. Her three-year-old son has had a miserable time with Mommy working all the time, and she’s got to spend more time with him.

One of the most anxious students, despite Marty’s workshop, is Lorraine. She asked Nunn a question about grades and he started to say how he’d rather not give grades, just pass-fail with a written evaluation when she curtly interrupted him and said, “That’s all well and good for you, but I need to know . . .”

What a jerk. I think she told me that she had to make law review. Karin says that all the C-10 workshops don’t seem to be helping Lorraine, but I’m sure she knows the material a lot better than I do. She’s just so tense about it.

I’m sure that even my second-rate efforts will improve if I can see the exams’ fact patterns as intriguing intellectual puzzles – which they are.

Tomorrow morning I have jury duty, which I’m not looking forward to. But I’ll have the rest of the weekend to work, and I’m not going to torture myself.

I got a nice postcard from Denis, who told me to get his book; I’ll tell him I already bought it.

I think I’m going to treat myself to a trip to the public library now. And I’m not going to feel guilty about not studying. When I need to study, I will.

Saturday, November 23, 1991

3 PM. This morning I put on an unfamiliar outfit: khaki Dockers, my black shoes and a blue dress shirt, a tie and the sport jacket Dad gave me even though real-life juries, as I know, don’t really wear “courtroom attire.”

At the county courthouse early, I parked in the public library lot and went into the building to meet my fellow students, who were all dressed up. The Alachua County Courthouse is smaller than the one in Broward, but it’s pretty new and has cozy courtrooms.

I got put on a jury with Marc, a guy from Coral Springs who went to the University of Michigan – he’s about 22 but looks closer to my age because he’s balding – and Kimberly, who I’d never met before.

We all witnessed the same criminal trial put on by students in Trial Practice. Susan Haag, the John Marshall Bar Association president, was the defense attorney with another guy, and two other students were prosecutors. (Last week they had their roles reversed.)

A young black female prosecutor – a real one, not a student – played the judge, and various students played the defendant and his wife and witnesses for the prosecution.

It was a case of armed robbery and felony murder against the guy, who allegedly masterminded the robbery and drove the getaway car. The person killed was the grocery store owner’s wife, shot by her husband when the defendant’s accomplice (so he said) jumped out of the way.

Everyone was very professional, at least as good as the litigation I’ve seen as a juror and courtroom observer – and the verdict could have gone either way, but we found the defendant guilty. Since I’ve been in courtrooms before, I didn’t learn much new, but it was an interesting experience.

Back home at 1 PM, I had a bite to eat and then exercised. Last evening I did a little work, making flowcharts of Torts rules.

Except for 20 pages in Torts, I won’t be reading any more texts for the semester, and my preparations for exams will consist of outlining my notes, making flowcharts, studying the rules, doing the CAI stuff in Contracts and Civ Pro, and most importantly, doing three practice exams for each course.

I’ll also do other stuff, like the short-answer questions in Emanuel’s. But I intend to be relaxed about it. I’ll make myself guilty enough to do what I need to do, and if I don’t, so be it.

Sunday, November 24, 1991

5 PM. When Ronna phoned at this time yesterday, she said darkness had already fallen in New York, but it’s still daylight here.

Ronna apologized for not calling me when she was in Florida, but she said she was busy with Billy and Melissa’s wedding. She and the others from New York flew down last Thursday, and the next day they drove to Fort Lauderdale.

Her mother’s family is so close-knit, and they made up nearly two-thirds of the wedding guests and took up most of the rooms in the Wellesley Inn. As usual, Ronna’s innumerable cousins, aunts and uncles flew in from all over, except for the ones who live in South Florida.

The wedding was at David’s, the catering mill on Commercial Boulevard, and Ronna said it seemed more like Melissa’s mother’s taste than the bride and groom’s.

But Melissa’s parents gave a splendid rehearsal dinner at Yesterday’s on the water, and Ronna had a good time there.

Billy and Melissa returned to Orlando with everyone on Sunday, but he had to be back here in Gainesville on Monday to see a patient.

Ronna had a cold and stayed in with her mother until she went home on Tuesday.

Her only other news was that Jordan is marrying his girlfriend and moving to Philadelphia, where she’s got tenure in a community college English Department.

Jordan’s giving up his position at the law firm in New York even though his job pays four times more than hers. Ronna said Jordan finds law practice to be frustrating drudgery, except for the rare chance he gets to litigate. For Jordan, law school had more intellectual excitement.

I’m looking forward to seeing Ronna again at Christmas.

Last evening I took a practice exam in Criminal Law and I missed a lot but answered reasonably. Today I studied Civ Pro – looking back at my notes makes me see and comprehend things I didn’t at the time – and I read the last assignment for Torts.

I read the Sunday Times: Deborah Solomon, who interviewed me and Grandma Sylvia a decade ago, had another magazine article about a painter. Debbie writes well about the art world and has a biography of Joseph Cornell coming out.

I don’t know why I should feel proud of reporters who wrote about me, like Debbie or Mike Winerip; I guess I feel lucky to have known people who are accomplishing good things in the world.

Monday, November 25, 1991

7 PM. Last night was cold, and this morning my car stalled out a few times even though I warmed up the engine.

I’m feeling good about my approach to law school. Last evening I read some of the material we won’t get to in Jurisprudence: critical legal studies and feminist and Marxist jurisprudence.

Yes, I should be “studying,” but I prefer learning, and damn the results. Maybe my newspaper-reading and broad intellectual interests will help me on the finals; maybe they’ll hurt. But unlike other students, I never have a problem keeping up with my reading in the texts; I’m almost always ahead of where we are, and I never come to class unprepared.

Although I agree with most of the criticism of the first-year law school experience I found in a Jurisprudence article – namely, its rigid hierarchy, its conservative assumptions, its late-nineteenth century upper-class white male mode – I still take pleasure in some of the ideas I’ve come across.

Perhaps I’m “learning” the wrong things. But just as I took the classes I wanted to at Teachers College, designing my own curriculum rather than pursuing the requirements of a degree program, in law school I’m doing what they say to do at Alcoholics Anonymous: take what I need and forget the rest.

Today I felt at home intellectually in law school. In Contracts, while Davis looked for someone to call on, I volunteered to do the case; that was the first time anyone has done that all semester.

And I pretty much held my own, and after class I talked to Davis about New York City rent control. (He taught at NYU, and the case I did was about an apartment lease.) I know that whatever my grade is, he’ll think better of me. Besides, I enjoyed being put on the hot seat and now maybe I won’t be called on next term.

In Jurisprudence, Collier called on Karin to give the facts of the case, and assuming that she’d never be called on again, she hadn’t read it: I told her not to worry about “passing,” but I know she felt humiliated, as I would have.

Dowd said I asked her a good question when I went to her privately and asked if under the abortion counseling gag rule of Rust v. Sullivan, a doctor who was sued for malpractice (breach of duty) could limit his liability by pointing to the federal government’s legislation.

See, even if I don’t study much, I do think about the issues we’ve learned. During my lunch break, I called Dr. Julie Dodd in Journalism, and she sounded enthusiastic about my seeing her about an assistantship for the fall. I’ll call her for an appointment in January.

In the mail I got word I’m eligible for emergency unemployment benefits, and I got a claim card for last week and one for this week. I plan to make sure I put down tangible job contacts, which they want recorded on the postcard. Whatever I get in extended benefits will be gravy.

Davis had an exam review session from 4:10 to 5 PM, so today was a long day, but I don’t feel tired. (However, I don’t feel like studying, either.) He, like so many of the other professors, doesn’t believe in grading and wishes he could just pass those of us who are at least competent.

But it’s the students, and perhaps the law firms that hire them, that depend upon grades so that people are put in a pecking order. After the grades are posted and half the class has a C+ index or lower, people will be more relaxed about grades, I hope – once some of them recover from the disappointment.

Although the semester won’t really end till three weeks from today, with the last final, I feel the important part of the term – the learning – will end on Wednesday, apart from any learning I’m able to do for and on the exams.

Clinton and Nick said they were going to buy our class’s gifts for the professors tonight.

Tuesday, November 26, 1991

4:30 PM. Last night I dreamed about being at a picnic outside Ronna’s old house in Canarsie; Shelli was there, and so was Ivan. Twenty years ago that might have happened.

I know I’m not the only one who’s reached forty and can look back twenty years and see myself as a young adult, but I still am fascinated by the concept that I can go back to 1971.

Twenty years ago this week, I was still in a funk over my breakup with Shelli. I went with my parents to Washington, and then flew home alone, terrified but not so terrified that I didn’t fly, on Saturday night; I went to a party at Carl and Alan Karpoff’s house and slept over in Rockaway at my grandparents’.

The next Thanksgiving eve, I had my first date with Ronna, and I can remember everything about it from the blue turtleneck she wore to the cold she had (she was forced to resort to using the paper towels from the theater’s bathroom to blow her nose) to the film we saw (Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon at the Midwood) to the tea we drank afterwards in the corner booth of the Foursome Diner on Avenue U. Well.

Except for one day, my first term’s classes at law school are over, and I find myself more enthusiastic about legal study than I ever thought I would be.

This morning I skimmed law review articles by Davis, Collier and Dowd, and I was impressed. Collier’s article dealt with legal precedent and several legal scholars I don’t know, but he quoted Whitman (“Do I contradict myself?” etc.) to explain Cardozo, whom we discussed in the last hour.

Dowd’s article on work and family led off with a quote from Audre Lorde, with whom I taught at John Jay – of course she’s a black lesbian – and Davis’s work was about consumer credit regulations and his research in testing the readability of contracts.

We skipped part of the text that mentioned his work in a footnote, and since today we went over what is his specialty – consumer credit law – I went up to him after class to talk, and it was great to exchange ideas.

He laughed when I said, “Well, that’s why sophisticated consumers get their credit cards from Arkansas.” See, my knowing the Arkansas usury limits is something I’m sure none of my classmates knows, and I’ve picked it up in my normal (for me) reading.

In class, Davis made reference to a law review article about noise in Boston Harbor called “Port Noise Complaint” and while many people did laugh, I saw blank expressions on faces of people like Midori.

In Jurisprudence, Karin, who’d volunteered after not being prepared yesterday – I’m glad she spoke to Collier about it – asked me beforehand what Cardozo meant by the word reconnoitre. She’d looked it up, but Cardozo used the French spelling.

I raised my hand only once today in class, but I made a point about Cardozo’s wizardry with language, obscuring the sleight-of-hand tricks he uses to get where he wants to go, and Collier later referred to what I’d said.

While I don’t expect good grades, I know I enjoy the material we’re studying more than most of my classmates. I hate to say I’m an intellectual because I can’t throw around critical terminology, but at least I do love the world of ideas.

Besides, as someone who’s taught college students since 1975, I know how badly standards have fallen. It’s true I never had the opportunity of working at first-class universities and dealing with bright students like my classmates, but I know the SAT scores have gone down even among the brightest kids.

It doesn’t appear to me that law school has been “dumbed down,” but then why do my classmates seem to be having such trouble doing the assigned reading? I know many of them, who’ve grown up on MTV, don’t have my vocabulary or “cultural literacy” or points of historical reference.

I think what I’m beginning to see is that I feel closer to my professors, who are interested in ideas and who are mostly counterculture, politically left types, than I do to the 22-year-old students who just want to be lawyers and make a good living.

I think that even if I’m a C student, from my comments in class and to my teachers outside of class, the professors will say that I’m really bright. I’ll never be a legal scholar, and I don’t want to be one, but even one semester of legal education has given me a renewed sense that I can continue to grow intellectually.

For that, I can give thanks on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 27, 1991

2 PM. A week from now I’ll be sitting down to my first exam, and I have a lot to do to prepare. But I have nothing else to do the next week, and I should have time to make my outlines, read and study, write practice exams and use my CAI material.

I don’t have to get outstanding grades; I just have to pass my courses and not feel I didn’t give it at least a fighting chance.

Last night I did no work, and maybe that’s good, because I now have time to immerse myself in exam preparation without feeling worn out. As Mashburn said, it will be different the next time we have a class because we’ll all know our grades.

But like everyone else, she doesn’t like ranking us and cautioned us not to become our grades. I certainly won’t, not even in the unlikely event that I score high on my tests.

Without feeling the pressure from other law students over the next week, I can prepare without anxiety – which in my case is even more uncalled-for than that of my classmates.

It warmed up about ten degrees this morning, so it was 47° when I left for school. I saw Nick and Clinton with our class gifts. Dowd put her skeletal outline of the course on the blackboard and generously brought in 100 donuts for us.

We got her a tiny cash register, an alphabet book for Zoe, and some other tchotchkes. It’s clear she really liked us, especially, she said, because we seemed more cooperative and less competitive than other law school classes and because a lot of us seem not to have lost the child within. She read a bit of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! before she began reviewing.

Nunn told us he enjoyed our class, that it was the first time he’d taught Criminal Law and had only begun teaching last year. Nick presented him with an engraved clock (because he’s always tardy) and a rubber snake, a reference to a hypo that kept recurring. Nunn wore the snake around his neck as he outlined the course.

We met Mashburn at 11:30 AM in the auditorium, filled out evaluations (mine was an exercise in hyperbole), and she talked a bit before we gave her a chalk holder and colored chalk (she’s always getting white chalk on her clothes) and a mug inscribed “G.O.C.P.” – Goddess of Civil Procedure.

Then she answered some previously submitted questions. I see from our class reviews that I’ve forgotten a lot and am hazy about a lot more, but I figure I can get myself to where I want to be.

If not, and I’m disappointed with my grades – well, this is only the first term. I told Pauline, who sat next to me in Civ Pro, that I enjoyed law school a lot more than I thought I would. She sighed and said she hadn’t had time to think about it.

Then we all dispersed. Many people are going home to Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville, but a lot of the South Floridians may be sticking around, along with all the Gator fans who won’t miss the FSU game on Saturday.

Well, let me relax a little while and then I’ll get to work.

Thursday, November 28, 1991

8 PM. I spent Thanksgiving by myself, trying to get some work done. I completed an outline for Torts on my computer, and I’ve highlighted my Contracts notes.

Last evening Mom called. She sent me a Bugle Boy lined jacket, but I really need my old winter jacket for New York City at Christmas; it’s big enough so that I can layer myself underneath it. I can’t fit a sweater under this snug denim jacket.

I took a break from working this afternoon and drove north along NW 13th Avenue till it left Gainesville and became four-lane U.S. 441 in the country.

Past the little towns of Alachua (named like the county, but pronounced “Alachu-way”) and High Springs, it turned into a two-lane road with a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.

I drove past the shacks of poor blacks, fields of crops, cow pastures, and occasional housing developments, and I somehow managed to find my way home.

Before today, I never realized how close I live to incredibly rural areas. But I like the big elms and oaks and the rolling hills and the Deep South atmosphere.

The drive made me wish I’d had more time in the last four months to explore my surroundings. Back home, I microwaved a Healthy Choice turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. Who says I’m not traditional?

The parking lot in my complex is nearly deserted. Most people went home for the holiday. I actually feel kind of at home right here.

Friday, November 29, 1991

9 PM. Once again, I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d hoped. I highlighted my Civil Procedure notes but decided I don’t have time to make my own outline. Instead, I made an index to the one I got from Prescott and I began annotating his outline, too. That took an enormous chunk of time.

I read slowly and understood a lot that I didn’t when I first read it. Because I haven’t reviewed my notes regularly, it’s going to be nearly impossible to absorb much of the material.

There’s an enormous quantity of information, and cramming it in at this late date won’t help. Instead, I’ve got to make sure I can look up material quickly (all my exams are open-book, but everyone says you don’t have time to use the stuff).

I did have a moment of panic when, in the media library at school, I printed out my Torts outline, and  Steve F expressed surprised I hadn’t done all my outlines; he was finishing his up.

I finally phoned Grandma Ethel, who didn’t sound bad; her voice was strong. She must have been right by the phone because she got on almost immediately after they called her.

Grandma told me she got my note and said that when Marty came later today, she would ask him if I could stay at the apartment in Rockaway over Christmas, so I’ll call her next week to find out.

She didn’t complain until I asked her about her mouth. Grandma asked if Mom was ill. She couldn’t understand why Mom wouldn’t call or write – I send Grandma cards all the time – unless Mom were ill.

After I got off with Grandma Ethel, I phoned Mom and urged her to call her mother. God knows how she can just not speak to Grandma for nearly a year at a time, and it’s embarrassing for me.

There’s got to be something more there than mere thoughtlessness, but I don’t know what Mom has against Grandma Ethel. Certainly if I went months between calls to Mom, she’d think I’d forgotten about her.

I mean, how much longer can Grandma live? Without phoning her, I wouldn’t even know if she were dead or hospitalized.

Grandma sounded pretty good, but she didn’t remember I was in law school and thought I was teaching college and living near my parents. I look forward to seeing Grandma in three weeks, even if I can’t stay in Rockaway.

During my break from studying, I exercised, filled out my unemployment claim with phony job contacts, and bought $55 worth of groceries at Publix. Near campus, Gainesville seems just about deserted, but tomorrow is the big grudge match against FSU, and as Red Barber said on the radio this morning, “there’ll be blood on the moon.”

Saturday, November 30, 1991

4 PM. The Gators just beat the Seminoles, and sirens are roaring as the cheers of the crowd die down. The game was covered by ABC, so I was able to check part of it out if I wanted. I was surprised at how strongly I was rooting for UF. I’ve been brainwashed.

It will probably be noisy when the fans get back from the stadium. Last night – actually, this morning at 4:30 AM – drunken louts were roaming the streets and screaming and overturning some things that clanked a lot.

I just heard a huge cheer from Florida Field, and firecrackers and sirens. Now I’m hearing the rumbling of a marching band.

My eyes are a bit strained, so I’m taking a break from studying.

Last night I awoke in a bit of a panic, but I feel better now. I’ve done all the Civ Pro questions in Emanuel’s First-Year Questions and I did three of my five Civ Pro computer-assisted instruction programs and I annotated the outline and the Rules of Civil Procedure (which kept coming up in bad dreams).

I highlighted the first half of my Criminal Law notes and feel comfortable with that, especially since I’ve got two weeks until that test. I also made a list of the things I need to do to prepare for each exam. I’m not going to be able to do all the hypos I planned, but I’ll try the best I can.

This morning I went out to get the Times, though I haven’t read it, and later, during half-time, I walked to McDonald’s on streets deserted except for souvenir T-shirt vendors (“Friends Don’t Let Friends Go to FSU”) and people who hate football.

I could hear the game from every house’s TV as I made my way home through the alleys of the Student Ghetto.

Horns are now honking, and the shouts are getting closer.

The rest of today I’ll work on Civ Pro and Crim Law. Tomorrow I’ll avoid Civ Pro and make my Contracts outline. Contracts is the second test, which I’ll be finishing up exactly one week from now.

I exercised as usual, and I’m glad I’m staying healthy. Now that the flu epidemic has started early, vaccine supplies are running out, so I planned well when I got my vaccine six weeks ago.