A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-December, 1991

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, December 11, 1991

9 PM. I’ve been reading stuff for Jurisprudence, including books I’ve taken out from the library. I just skimmed Bowen’s Yankee from Olympus, which didn’t tell me much about Holmes’s philosophy of law, but it made me admire him all the more. I just started a book on Cardozo.

God, they were both brilliant men and good people. Where are the Holmeses and Cardozos of today? Not in the Reagan/Bush judiciary.

The Supreme Court just unanimously ruled New York’s Son of Sam law unconstitutional. At least that’s one victory for the First Amendment.

At the student lounge this afternoon, I did watch Roy Black’s masterful summation for the defense of William Kennedy Smith in the West Palm Beach rape trial on CNN.

The jury brought in a “not guilty” verdict soon after, as I was sure they would because there were too many reasonable doubts about the defendant’s guilt.

Karin missed today’s Jurisprudence review because she thought it was scheduled for tomorrow, so earlier this evening I spoke to her and gave her the gist of what Collier had told us. The exam will be more like the usual essay test bullshit, and I figure my creativity and my writing style will help me on it.

Up early, I left the house at 8:30 AM and did some errands, getting gas for the car, depositing my unemployment check, and shopping at Eckerd’s. I exercised once I got home and spent the rest of the day reading.

It appears that I’m the only one of my law school classmates who hasn’t seen Cape Fear, and they seem to either love it or hate it. Anyway, I’m not alone in taking breaks from studying.

I don’t know what grades I’ll get, but I started to feel law school got easier this last month. The learning curve went up sharply as things fell into place, and by now I feel comfortable with the language of the casebooks.

It takes me a while to catch on, but once I do, I manage to pick up speed.

Tomorrow I’ll spend the whole day reading. Jurisprudence is one subject I don’t mind studying for, because it’s not all dry rules and it’s filled with ideas – unlike myself at the moment.

Thursday, December 12, 1991

4:30 PM. I’ve just come back from seeing Cape Fear at the Oaks Mall. Despite the criticism of the violence I’ve read, I thought it was superb and well-written. Of course, I just close my eyes at the grisly stuff.

It’s hard for me to tell how prejudiced in favor of the film I am, but I think I would have like it even if Wes hadn’t written the screenplay. Actually, Scorsese is almost always good, and the acting was top-notch.

Also, of course, I liked seeing Broward County’s familiar places, including the Lecture Theatre at Broward Community College – our faculty meetings there were never as interesting as De Niro’s encounter with the girl played by Juliette Lewis – and the New River Groves on Orange Drive in Davie, the Fort Lauderdale downtown skyline, Hollywood Boulevard, Broward General Hospital, and the riverfront.

And, man, it was good to go to the movies again; I hadn’t seen a film since July in Rockaway. At least I can now write Wes and honestly say I saw the film when I send him and Marla a Christmas card.

I made good progress in my studying for tomorrow’s Jurisprudence final, so I felt I was entitled to a little treat this afternoon. It’s a gorgeous day, sunny and about 75°.

In a way, it seems a shame to leave Florida at this time of year, but after I get back from a wintry vacation up North, I’ll appreciate even our coolest days in January.

It sometimes feels like I’ve lived here in Gainesville all my life. That’s why it why it will be good to face New York again.

Friday, December 13, 1991

4 PM. I feel somewhat relaxed after this morning’s Jurisprudence exam. It was an effort to write on three open-ended questions for three hours, and I rambled a lot and probably wasn’t focused enough.

However, I was able to exercise my creativity and show off some writing style – especially when I imitated the opinions of Bork and Cardozo on a “case” based on a fact pattern – and my knowledge, as the last question had to do with the Turing test recently performed in Boston, an event I read about in the Times.

On the other hand, my knowledge of AI and Alan Turing probably allowed me to stray from the topic, and Collier might find my showing off to be annoying and my puns and literary phrases to be distractions.

It depends, but at least he’ll be entertained by my exam answers. Unless I’m totally off-base – and you always expect that here, given the rumors about law school exams – I’m pretty certain I got a B in the class, assuming I get a C+ on the final and he raises my grade for meaningful class participation.

This is the only class where I think I have a chance at an A – and in my wildest fantasy, dream about “booking” the class – but I probably will get a B.

I’ve got a lot of work to do for Criminal Law. I haven’t even finished my outline, and I need to read over Emanuel’s and look over my notes and do those First-Year Questions.

I’m not sure how much I’ll accomplish today – anything would be nice – but I do have the whole weekend, with just the distractions of newspapers, shopping and packing.

I’m really going to miss my friends from law school. Talking to Gena and Shay and Dan and Larry before the final today, I felt part of a group in a way I haven’t felt since I was a student at Brooklyn College. I guess I feel real secure in a small world where people know me and I know them.

At times I felt part of a community at some of the colleges where I’ve taught, especially at BCC – where I was for so long – but I also always felt different there.

I deliberately made myself an outsider there, but here at law school I’ve managed to curb that tendency even though I don’t socialize with my classmates. Anyway, I’m looking forward to next semester.

After hanging out following the final exam, I drove to the McDonald’s at the Oaks Mall and unwound with a McLean Deluxe.

Then I got a much-needed haircut at the shop where I usually go, the one where the owner cuts the hair of everyone associated with the football team.

Every time I get a different woman stylist, but they always seem to be the ex-wives of former UF law students. Does law school make these guys ditch their spouses?

Mom called after she spoke to Grandma Ethel. Marty hasn’t even gone to the apartment yet or put an ad in the paper, so it should be okay for me to stay in Rockaway next Tuesday.

On Tuesday I’ve got to leave really early so I can get to Gainesville airport by 7:20 AM. The flight leaves at 8:15 AM if it’s on time, and my second flight is scheduled to leave Atlanta at 10:15 AM, but airline schedules are iffy these days.

Remember all those airlines I flew in the 1980s: Eastern, Pan Am, Air Florida, Northeastern, People Express? None of them exist today, and the big carriers all seem to be in financial trouble.

Saturday, December 14, 1991

6 PM. I haven’t accomplished as much studying for Criminal Law as I had wanted to, but I hope to finish reading the Emanuel’s outline tonight, and tomorrow I’ll look over my notes and my own outline and do hypos.

I’m limited by eyestrain, which makes it hard for me to read constantly for more than a couple of hours at a time. My contact lenses are in desperate need of replacement, and I thought of going to an optometrist today, but I didn’t have time.

I spoke to Teresa yesterday afternoon. She was watching soap operas, and though she always says she’s busy, I can’t imagine what she does all day.

I’m not clear whether she’s living at Brian’s house or staying elsewhere, but I did hear Brian’s voice in the background. He’s still weird about his wife coming for Christmas, even if the woman already filed for divorce, which may even be final by now.

Teresa and I talked about law school and the Smith rape trial and Cuomo still deciding whether to run for President. (He wants to but can’t because the New York budget crisis isn’t resolved.)

Immediately after the Crim final ends, the first-year class is having a party at the Purple Porpoise. If I have time, I’ll go over there – it’s just a few blocks away, on University – and probably feel out of place, as I always do in bars. But it would bring a sense of closure to the semester.

In a way, I regret that I’ll be in the journalism school next year because I am anxious to complete my legal education and feel I’ll be missing out on stuff during the ’92-’93 academic year.

Actually, I don’t even know how I’m going to afford to stay in school.

Whatever happens, this year will have been a gold one, and I know that somehow I’ll get through till the end of this academic year.

I’m looking forward to next term’s classes, especially Constitutional Law, which I’m most interested in – and I’m even curious about Property.

Despite the pressure of Monday’s exam, I feel relaxed.

Monday, December 16, 1991

8:30 PM. My suitcase is packed, and I’m ready to leave early tomorrow morning. As expected, I found it hard to sleep last night, but I got in 4½ hours, enough to keep me going without weariness today.

At school early, I went over my outline and took the final final exam at 9 AM. Before class, I sat in the cafeteria with Pauline and Dee, who said she just wanted the semester to be over already.

Nunn made the Criminal Law exam challenging, but it wasn’t incredibly difficult. Although I’m certain I missed some things, as I was not always able to spot the forest for the trees, it helped that we had four hours to do the exam.

After I handed in my paper at the third floor secretary’s office, I wandered around aimlessly for a bit, talking to a few people who also seemed somewhat at a loss.

Following lunch at home, I walked over to the Purple Porpoise to find the first-semester law students’ end-of-term party underway. Karin wasn’t there, nor were the older people who have kids like Gene or Gena, nor serious women students like Tosha and Lorraine.

There were some older people: Dwight, Rich, Bob. But I seemed to be the only person not drinking beer or something stronger. I smiled as broadly as I could when I remembered to, but I felt out of place among mostly 22-year-olds getting shitfaced.

Really, I’m such an old stick-in-the-mud, but I feel uncomfortable with drunk people chanting our teachers’ names as the professors there – Davis, Dowd, Nunn, Seigel – were called up to Kenny H’s funnel and hose to have huge swigs of beer rushing into their throats.

It’s not just a function of my age. When I was 22, I didn’t go to these kind of parties, either. But it was nice to sit and watch people having fun and letting go after their semester-long experience, which may have been an ordeal for some.

It would be churlish of me to express my feelings about why so many attorneys are alcoholics. Okay, I admit it: I’m a terrible prig when it comes to alcohol and drugs. I just don’t see why people can’t have fun without them.

When it wasn’t too noisy, I talked with Ty, Steve F, Ray, Larry, Rosemarie and a few other people about their vacation plans, and I quietly left after an hour.

At the UF parking services building, I bought my spring commuter decal and then I went to the bank and came home to pack, read the papers, and exercise.

Sat Darshan called after getting my postcard. Her birthday is on Friday, and she had decided to go to a gurdwara in Queens with Sikh friends, but some people from work – Alex, Diane and others – are also going to help her celebrate at a dinner on Saturday night, and I was thrilled to be invited to that.

Twenty years ago, I went to Avis’s place in Philip Howard Apartments on Flatbush Avenue to give her her 1971 birthday present, some kind of cheap Chinese symbol on a chain.

I remember Scott had gotten her a little rocking chair with a teddy bear on the back, and I also remember a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when, in looking over Avis’s Christmas and birthday cards, I found an engraved Christmas card from “Shelli and Jerry.”

Twenty years.

Sat Darshan said she’s coping with things. She’s paid off her debts by working extra hours, and now she needs plane fare for Gurujot and Gurudaya to come home from school in India next spring.

BJ is going to give her a good deal on a computer, which she plans not only for taking extra work at home but for writing; she really wants to do more with her writing.

It will be a pleasure to see Sat Darshan again.

I don’t have any pre-flight panic yet, not even apprehension. I’ll be on a small plane out of Gainesville, but it’s a regular jet, and the flight to Atlanta shouldn’t be more than an hour. Hopefully I’ll be in Rockaway by late afternoon.

Wednesday, December 18, 1991

8 PM. I slept poorly last night in my grandparents’ old bed. First I had my usual post-flight sensations of the ground coming up at me at odd angles, causing me vertigo. (I try not to look at the window on takeoff and landing, but it’s like Lot’s wife at Sodom.)

Then, as the dizziness faded, I just felt too awake to sleep. Maybe it was the strange surroundings and that I had trouble getting the heat to where it was neither deadly and stifling or too low to provide warmth.

So I read, watched David Letterman for the first time in years, and thought about a lot of stuff before I finally drifted off at 3:30 AM.

Up three hours later, I forced myself to exercise to Body Electric, and by then, it was too late to go back to bed.

Still, I functioned okay today – for what little I had to do. I left the apartment at 9 AM and took the bus to Far Rock, where I bought the Times and caught the N32 bus to Woodmere.

When I opened the door of the third floor at the health-related facility, I immediately saw Grandma Ethel by the chairs next to the nurses’ station. She recognized me when I got close, and we went back to her room to talk.

Grandma looked pretty good, and it was at least half an hour before she complained about her itching or her mouth.

Her roommate died on Sunday at the hospital after having been there a couple of weeks.

She was a sick woman who kept Grandma up all night asking her for her help with going to the bathroom or calling her long-dead husband, and Grandma was concerned that her new roommate will also be a problem.

While I was there, they replaced the mattress in the other bed with a new one. The woman’s sons told Grandma their mother would have wanted her to have the plants, and Grandma has been taking care of them.

When I went to the bathroom, I noticed that a pigeon was perched on the ledge. Could it be one of the summer pigeons?

Several people, including Christine, stopped by to say hello, and it seems that after a year, Grandma has adjusted well to life in the home.

When I asked her if she ever thought about living on her own again back here in the apartment, she looked not wistful – as I’d expected – but skeptical.

“No, I can’t take care of myself,” she said. “I’d fall all the time.” But she doesn’t fall in the home, she said.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think she actually looks very good.

I joked about my moving into the room until the new resident arrived, and we talked about law school and the poor economy and the family until the P.A. system announced lunch.

It was cold, but not unbearably so, as I waited for the Nassau County bus.

I didn’t want to go to Beach 116th Street for Korean salad bar, so I had the dollar van I got in Far Rock drop me off at Key Food, where I bought some fresh and frozen veggies.

(New York City supermarkets and their products are so disgusting when compared with Publix, Albertsons or Kash ‘n’ Karry.)

I had lunch and began reading the Times. (I think I prefer the more compact national edition than the local paper stuffed with ad filler.)

Also, I watched Another World for the first time in 4½ months because I can’t get NBC in Gainesville. I tried to keep track of the new characters and the old characters played by new actors.

At 3 PM I went to visit Aunt Tillie, who was in a robe. She’d been feeling ill, she said, with her hiatus hernia.

Tillie told me stuff I already knew – about how she doesn’t want to go for the procedure to see if she has an ulcer (so she refuses to tell her doctor about her hiatal hernia problems and just keeps taking Tagamet and antacids), how she can barely eat anything, how crazy it was for the doctors to keep Uncle Morris hooked up to machines after he had his fatal heart attack and was in a coma.

It was Tillie who told the doctors that her husband was already dead, couldn’t they see that – or did they just want specialists to get billed for consultations?

Aunt Tillie approves of Dr. Kevorkian’s suicide machine for terminal patients and said that from November 1936 to November 1937, my great-grandfather, her father, was in such pain from his cancer he couldn’t even sleep lying down.

Tillie said Zayde told her, “If you were a good daughter, you’d take a knife and kill me.”

“But I just said to him, ‘Oh, Pop, you’ll get better’ or some stupid thing that people say,” Aunt Tillie told me with regret. She’s down to 110 pounds and looks very frail.

Aunt Minnie, she said, was devastated by her grandson’s death. It seems that in Ithaca, Jonny’s wife had taken up karate lessons and “got involved with this bossy woman and took the kids” – the boy who died and his eight-year-old sister – to an apartment away from Jonny.

So Tillie said it was meant to happen: “I believe it was fated, the boy’s death, because if he’d stayed home at Jonny’s house, he wouldn’t have been riding his bike down the hill where the bus ran into him.”

When Aunt Minnie returned after the funeral and saw Uncle Irving, he recognized she’d been crying and so she told him about their grandson’s death, “but it didn’t register.” Sometimes Irving doesn’t even remember who Minnie is.

At 5 PM, I left Tillie’s. Back here, Alice returned my call. She and Peter are going to Philadelphia this weekend, but maybe we can get together next weekend. Her new book is in the stores.

Mostly I talked to her about how much I enjoy law school. Alice, of course, was more interested in the practical than the intellectual side of it. I told Alice I don’t expect to come into Manhattan that much while I’m here: it’s too cold and too far.

“But what are you going to do, then?” Alice asked.

“Veg out,” I said.

Thursday, December 19, 1991

1 PM. And I am vegging out today. I slept wonderfully and lay in my grandparents’ old bed till 9 AM, listening to NPR; then I exercised, showered, and made sure I didn’t go out.

It hit a record low of 13° this morning, and the wind chill was -20°, so there was no way I was going to leave this toasty-warm apartment, where I can lounge around in a T-shirt and gym shorts and look out at the beach and the ocean.

Maybe later, if it gets up to 25° and the wind dies down, I’ll go out to get the newspaper, but I’ve been reading the Appellate Advocacy book I found in the library.

The course looks like more work than Legal Research and Writing, but it also should be more interesting because it involves a persuasive brief, federal issues, and oral arguments.

I’ve also been catching up on TV, watching the New York local news. Despite the frigid weather, 50,000 construction workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to a City Hall rally demanding jobs for an industry where unemployment is at 50%.

People are calling for New Deal-style work programs, and yesterday even Bush made a big deal out of the jobs that will come from the transportation bill he (grudgingly, after initial opposition) signed.

Teresa called and said she might see me on Monday. She has to get glatt kosher food for a party she’s catering for Pam’s mother, so she thought we could go to the Five Towns for stuff.

Otherwise, she’ll see me after December 29, when Brian’s wife arrives from Sweden. Teresa is spending Christmas with Brian’s family, not her own, and she’s busy catering pre-Christmas parties, too.

This afternoon I left message for Ronna, Elihu and Mikey, and I spoke to Justin, who was just rushing to Brooklyn College and said he’d have to call me back. Luckily, his term is almost over, and he’s starting to feel relieved about school.

I know the feeling. Maybe I’ll be bored in a couple of hours, but for now, I’m enjoying the luxury of loafing and not having to think about law school. I feel like I’m staying at a seaside hotel on a richly-deserved vacation.

Friday, December 20, 1991

4 PM. I just watched Governor Cuomo announce that because there was no New York state budget agreement, he couldn’t meet today’s 5 PM deadline for filing in the New Hampshire primary and thus couldn’t in good faith run for President.

Marc called last night. He said business is way off from last year, which itself was a bad holiday season, and that the only saving grace is that he’s stopped paying $300 a week to the people who used to work for him.

I asked Marc if he and Clarissa were getting married, and he said not anytime soon. They might have lived together, except for Jason, but they see no reason to rush to get married.

It’s not like they plan to have kids or anything, and Marc currently spends nearly all his time at Clarissa’s anyway. Today he was going to pick up Jason at Miami airport.

Ronna also called last night, and we made tentative plans to get together Thursday evening. Ronna had another of her colds and sounded very hoarse, but she’d just come back from the West Side Y, where she and David joined an exercise program.

Ronna likes her boss at Hadassah, and she’s administering some interesting programs and has ideas for some new ones.

Basically, she’s fine, “except my social life is in the toilet,” by which I guess she means she’s not seeing anyone.

Ronna’s spending Christmas with her father, stepmother and little half brother.

This morning I got up at 5:30 AM and spent the early morning exercising and listening to NPR.

At 10 AM, I went to Woodmere to visit Grandma Ethel. It was less frigid today, and it didn’t take me long to get there with the Q22 bus to Far Rockaway and then the Nassau County bus to the home.

Grandma wasn’t in her room, but Christine said she was downstairs seeing the dentist and would be back shortly. Apparently Grandma is getting a new roommate today, something she was not looking forward to.

When I saw her, she complained about her tongue and mouth problems but otherwise talked about the weather and the malfunctioning elevators. I gave her a wristwatch Mom had sent me for her.

Home at 1 PM, I ate a garnet sweet potato I bought at the health food store on Broadway in Woodmere and read the papers and watched TV.

Tonight I’ll speak to Justin. Larry already went to Reading for the holidays, and Justin plans to join him once he finishes one more paper for school.

That makes me wonder about my final exams, which must be being graded now and over the next couple of weeks, and how I will react when I find out my law school grades.

It’s nighttime already here, way before 5 PM, but the days will start getting longer after tomorrow, which is the first day of winter.

I didn’t think about it when I saw Grandma Ethel, but December 21 was Grandpa Herb’s birthday. He was born in 1903, so he’d have been 88 tomorrow if he’d lived.

That must make Aunt Tillie 86 or 87. I don’t know how much longer she can take care of herself in her apartment in the next building.

Grandma did tell me that when she said Marty plans to “rent” this apartment, what she meant is that he plans to give it up totally.

Anyway, although this apartment overlooking the beach in Rockaway has been my home away from home since 1966 – and I lived here for months this past summer – I won’t have this apartment to come to next July.

My last ties to New York City are crumbling.