A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1992
by Richard Grayson
Sunday, March 1, 1992
2 PM. March came in like a lamb here. It’s a real lazy summer Sunday with cloudless skies, and I feel good.
I just came from McDonald’s, where I treated myself to a McLean Deluxe after mailing off to Rick Peabody the Barbie story I wrote for his anthology.
I am still, as I was at McDonald’s – I sat on the patio near my fellow first-year students Justin and Jessica – in a state of near-ecstasy after finishing “Twelve-Step Barbie.”
I have the same feeling I used to get in the 1970s when I’d knock off a story in one sitting of two or three hours.
Back then, of course, I used a typewriter, but I’d read over the manuscript and rush to the Junction to get it xeroxed, as if time was of the essence – or else I didn’t want to wait until the spell was broken and I changed my mind about the story’s worth.
With Rick’s Barbie anthology project, time is important, so I sent it to him right after I printed it out and proofread it, along with a note telling him this 9-pager was the best I could do on short notice.
I set this story in Southern California, using some of the places I saw around L.A. last year, and I tried to work in the subject of silicone breast implant injuries subtly.
The title “Twelve-Step Barbie” enabled me to employ a dozen separate narrative fragments, and in Barbie, I had a cultural icon like Hitler or Lincoln to play off.
In a way, the story is related to my feelings about being in my forties when I know so many gay men my age did not make it.
Like me, the Barbie in this story is a survivor in the age of AIDS. To fight the immune system problems from their silicone breast transplants, she and Kendra (Ken after changing genders; he never had a penis anyway) try to eat right, exercise sensibly, and attend support group meetings as they live one day at a time.
If Rick doesn’t want it, the story still seems publishable: it’s very ’90s, and it’s kind of sweet for satire. Anyway, I like it, and I haven’t liked much of the fiction I’ve written over the last decade.
5 PM. I’ve just walked back from the main campus, where I spent the last couple of hours on a bench in the big quadrangle in front of Library West finishing Gideon’s Trumpet.
The day is so beautiful it almost hurts, the way a great orgasm can. Right now birds are chirping and gurgling away. I look out at greenery and the sun is shining, and I feel happy to be here.
I sense that the 1960s are coming back, the way some of us thought they might in this decade. On campus I see dashikis, guys with ponytails and sideburns, girls with long hair, and I overheard students bashing Bush and the Republicans, criticizing the greed and hypocrisy of people, making fun of fraternities. Maybe it’s like 1967 and 1968.
I sense that in these bad economic times, college students are starting to question authority rather than line up early for their slice of the Yuppie pie as they did in the ’80s. Perhaps it’s wistful wishful thinking.
I liked Gideon’s Trumpet because the story of the case is filled only with heroes, from Gideon to Fortas, his counsel, to Florida’s assistant attorney general who argued the other side, to the Supreme Court and lawyers themselves. God, am I idealistic.
Maybe I can write stories for the ’90s the way I couldn’t in the ’80s. I started publishing fiction just as Barthelme was being overshadowed by Carver, and I never felt part of a literary world that was hospitable to my kind of writing. No wonder I treasure getting older, huh?
Monday, March 2, 1992
8 PM. Last evening I read Contracts and part of the Sunday paper, falling asleep around 10 PM.
Up early, I heard about today’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, a Takings Clause case, which is the subject we were covering today in Con Law.
So I brought up the case after we finished the most recent decision in that area, and as I expected, Baldwin was going to bring it up on his own.
I’m sure he’s impressed with my factual knowledge, if not with my analytical skills, which are inferior to those of people like Martin or Doug G.
Con Law is my favorite subject, just as Jurisprudence was last term, because it’s something I’d study on my own as well as a subject I could see myself teaching. Yet I know I’ll never be anything more than a generalist because I’m not willing to give up my other interests.
Writing a story yesterday thrilled me and encouraged me. Today I mailed off a copy to the Florida Review, which I’m sure will reject it – but I’ve got to get my feet wet with this stuff.
Why that little magazine? Because they published “Caracas Traffic” and they’re known in the state. The University Presses of Florida, which funds it at UCF, has offices just a few blocks from here.
And I’d get a kick out of describing myself as a UF law student in the contributors’ notes.
Contracts dealt with a confusing case, and I felt lost there today, but Torts was livelier than usual, and I read newspapers during my break at home from 11:30 AM to 2 PM.
Today was another sunny, warm day, and I’ve still got a bad case of spring fever. But I feel much more relaxed than I did last week, even if I’m still somewhat sleepy.
It bothers me that I’ll never catch up on all the reading I’d like to do, but I know I can do only so much, and so far I have been pretty productive. I still feel like I did yesterday, that the world is full of possibility.
Wednesday, March 4, 1992
2 PM. I never seem to accomplish as much on these Wednesday afternoons off as I’d hoped, but maybe I need to do nothing to keep my brain from getting overloaded. I have to read Civ Pro and Property, but there’s plenty of time to do that.
I called Sallie Mae (Student Loan Marketing Association, not some woman) to ask them for a student deferment form. I’d been continuing with my old address and unemployment deferment and that ran out. So they have me as delinquent.
Tomorrow I’ll speak to the financial aid counselor at the law school to see if she can straighten out my Stafford loan application problem.
I’ve all but decided to remain in law school next year rather than continue with the joint degree program. It will just make my life that much less complicated, and I know that if I start the M.A.M.C. program, I’m less likely to finish either degree.
I assume there’ll be no problem either with Dean Savage or with my Bailey Scholarship – but I could probably get another scholarship based on my grades.
I’ve got to do my income taxes, but I’ll hold off till next week. To avoid trying to do too much during vacation, I’m bringing along only one textbook: Con Law.
I’ve xeroxed the sections of Torts and Contracts for the week after vacation, and I’ll take along my notes to start outlining, as well as C-10-type course material.
But I know myself, and I’ll find I have less time than I thought I would, and I don’t want to set myself up for a feeling I’ve accomplished nothing.
Dad’s computer has a modem so maybe I can work on Lexis. I’ll take my disks and my App Ad brief, too.
Today Karin got called on in Con Law – she predicted it – and she was very nervous but sounded fine. I wish she’d be more comfortable talking up in class. Like Emira and a few others, she never asks a question or volunteers a comment.
On the other hand, our grades are based on our exams and she’s doing fine. Cheryl says she never talks in class, either.
Davis was funny today, as usual; Contracts is one class I’d like to have a better grasp of. Once again, I can’t imagine getting better than a C on the final. I know my grades will be lower this semester, but I’ll just try my best.
At least I do enjoy the process of learning. I love using Nexis and Lexis; it’s like an information candy store. I’ve looked up articles about Crad Kilodney, Rick Peabody, Uncle Dave Tarras (I wanted to remember the town in Ukraine our family came from – it’s Ternovka, near Uman), Brad Gooch and other names that popped into my head, and I looked to see if I could find Gary via property records (no luck) or to see what Alice’s brother paid for the house he bought in Flatbush.
The Presidential race is still muddled, although Kerrey may drop out tomorrow. Harkin at least won caucuses in Idaho and Minnesota. Tsongas won the Utah primary and Washington state caucuses, although he came in third in Colorado, where Brown won with 30% of the vote.
Bush and Clinton should do well on Super Tuesday because they’ve got strong Southern bases, but Buchanan’s got his 30% protest vote, and maybe Tsongas will pick up a few delegates in urban Florida and Texas.
Right now I’m not happy with the prospect of either Tsongas or Clinton being the nominee because I don’t think either can win. Both would be a vast improvement over Bush as President, of course, but Clinton’s character problem and Tsongas’s image problems make them such easy targets for the kind of sleazy stuff the Bush campaign will pull off.
I think the American people are so stupid, they’ll be fooled one more time and they’ll let Bush “finish the job” of ruining this country.
Saturday, March 7, 1992
10 PM. My head is pounding, and it’s been a very long day. I left my apartment in the rain before 7 AM and got on I-75.
It poured all the way to Ocala, about 35 miles, so driving went slowly, but at least the car ran well. It took over an hour to reach the start of the Turnpike in Wildwood, and I got off at the first rest stop to refuel, go to the bathroom and buy gum.
It was another 45 miles or so to the airport, which is at the exit for the Bee Line Expressway and about seven miles east.
The airport is huge and recently renovated. Long-term and park-and-ride lots shut down this week because of the holiday season, so I’m going to have to shell out $8 a day for parking. I hope my car is okay in the garage.
I dragged my luggage to the Delta ticket counter and checked the suitcase. Then I went to my gate, with Mickey and Minnie Mouse waving to me, aboard a people-mover.
Since it was gate #96, you know how big Orlando International Airport has become. It’s a huge hub for Delta now.
I had about 45 minutes before we boarded the 757 which was going to Fort Lauderdale from Columbus, and once we were on the plane, we had to wait because the pilot said there was severe weather in South Florida and they were delaying departures.
Finally at 11:50 AM, we took off, 40 minutes late, but apparently the pilot tried to make up for lost time because the flight was only half an hour.
My right ear, my bad one, ached a bit, and I had my usual case of nervousness, but generally the flight was so short, I didn’t have time for much discomfort.
Dad met me at the gate of a jammed Delta terminal in Fort Lauderdale, and we drove home in the Cougar, whose air conditioning system is broken.
I’d forgotten how harsh the light can be this far south. Since last April 18, when I went to Los Angeles, I’ve been back here only for ten days in late April and early May and a couple of days in early August, seven months ago.
Despite the long absence, China seemed to know me! She greeted me effusively and licked me and licked me as I pet her.
Jonathan has a full beard, thicker than I’ve ever been able to grow, and at 31, he seems less like a kid.
China, too, no longer looks like a puppy. I can see she’s a middle-aged dog.
I changed into shorts – it got up to 86° today – and went out for a McLean Deluxe and salad and then I went to JT and got a haircut from Nikki, whom Dad said always asks about me.
Back here, I played with Dad’s computer, a machine he never uses but which I would dearly love. He’s got a big hard drive, modem, mouse, Works and the usual software, although he seems to have lost Windows since he got it. I couldn’t get Lexis connected so I just fooled around for a couple of hours.
China shared the chicken from my dinner; soon after, Marc came over to give her a bath. Marc got heavier, and he’s been having trouble with his knees – it sounds almost like phlebitis.
Jonathan brought Mom back from the flea market; she, too, looks older but pretty good.
I gave my parents my gold book awards and showed Mom the “face book” of my classmates and some other stuff from law school.
The glass case on the coin collection broke, but the coins are still in place, so Marc can have the troublesome tchotchke.
I’m slightly disoriented but mostly I’ve had an unbearable headache (sinus? tension? fatigue?) for the past few hours. Hopefully, I won’t get too dizzy when I try to lie down to fall asleep.
In a way it’s depressing to be here because nothing seems to change, but I guess that’s also comforting. I feel exhausted now – I just yawned three times – but my head is as tight as can be.
Well, I made it back to Fort Lauderdale. Why I’m here, I’m not certain, except that my parents and brothers and their dog live here.
Tuesday, March 10, 1992
7 PM. Although the polls here in Florida just closed, they’ve already declared Clinton and Bush the winners. This was the one Southern state where Tsongas had a chance, and now it looks like Clinton is the inevitable nominee.
That depresses me immensely, not because I think Clinton would be a bad President, but because I think that once the Republicans get through with him on the “character” issue, Bush will trounce him.
Not that Bush is popular, but Americans, as they keep proving, vote against their own self-interest. Tsongas was tsunk here when Clinton accused him of being against Israel and Social Security.
I guess Clinton’s team can go dirty against Bush, but I don’t expect it will help. It strengthens my resolve to live abroad.
If American voters can be so alienated and angry and still reelect Bush, they’re not ready to face reality or change. Maybe a real economic depression would have made people act, but the recovery will be just enough so that people will forget.
I read my Civil Procedure stuff today, but I had a bad headache and eyestrain, and I didn’t accomplish much else.
Mom doesn’t work during the week, and already I find she and Jonathan are getting on my nerves. A lot of anger I’ve repressed has come to the fore since I’ve been here.
Up at 7 AM, I exercised lightly and went out in the morning to BCC’s South Campus. They’re on spring break, too, but I figured the secretaries would be in, and I was pleased to chat with Cynthia, who said everything is the same except Barbara got her Ed.D. and they hired a new ESL teacher and another full-time faculty member. (I don’t think Adrienne is there anymore.)
I drove to downtown Fort Lauderdale, where, at the library, I got a copy of Anthony Lewis’s new book, Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment, as well as some income tax forms for self-employment that I need.
I played with China today and for the third evening I shared my chicken dinner with her.
After listening to South Florida’s moronic talk shows, I decided to call Teresa. Her parents are coming to Florida soon, and they’ll be here through Easter, going from New Port Richey to the Keys.
Teresa and Brian are planning to get a computer to keep track of their respective businesses, and she’s teaching an adult ed cooking class at Ocean Beach’s elementary school. In May, she’ll move back to her summer house, which needs a lot of work.
Tomorrow I should take a drive into Miami.
Wednesday, March 11, 1992
1 PM. Three hours ago I took that drive into Miami Beach, and it was a pleasure. I took I-95 and I-195 down Alton Road and found a meter near Washington Avenue, just a block south of the Lincoln Road Mall.
I walked along the mall from one end to another, enjoying the urban mix of tacky electronics stores, art galleries, Cuban cafes and the people – trendy artsy young people, old Cubans and Jews, and the usual weirdos you’d see in the Village, on Upper Broadway or in downtown Hollywood (California).
In all the years I lived in Florida, I don’t think I’ve gone to Lincoln Road since I was a tourist over Christmas 1969. I remember buying a white windbreaker there.
Later, I passed the old Carillon up on Collins Boulevard, where we stayed over that vacation and I fondly remembered a gray University of Miami T-shirt I bought – across the street at Eckerd Drugs.
Oh, to be 18 again – not on your life. But my trip to the beach made me recall why I once found South Florida so magical, before I settled into my rut of everyday life in West Broward. If I ever lived here again, I’d stay in a neighborhood like South Beach.
Cruising along Ocean Drive, I observed a glittery world of hotels and cafes and clubs and model agencies with highly attractive young people who look like they have brains.
Those people weren’t around a dozen years ago. Certainly there weren’t people like the crowds sitting outside the News Café, except maybe a few in the Grove.
The way the light hits the green Atlantic, and the blueness of the sky – well, I always sound like an asshole when I try to be lyrical, but at the time I felt lyrical anyway. The palm trees, Hasidim, Art Deco designs, the pastels: it would be fun to be seeing it for the first time.
I drove all the way up Collins Avenue, past Surfside and Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles into Hallandale and Hollywood, and I was flooded with memories about places like the Diplomat Hotel during the 1972 Democratic convention.
And I thought about Sean a lot; it was 1982, ten years ago, that we had that great time together. I feel I could be on the verge of another of my once-in-a-decade relationships when things settle down this summer in Gainesville.
Too much of my life is routine and drudgery. I see how my mother and Jonathan live, and it scares me that I’m so much like them. I haven’t made room for spontaneity or for intimacy, not for a long time.
It’s funny that it takes coming back here to make me feel that Gainesville has become my home. Not because it’s so wonderful (although I was glad Alachua was one of only three Florida counties that Tsongas carried), but because I live there by myself in a dirty apartment so unlike the orderly house here.
At this point in my life, a little disorder and dirt feels healthy. I should also tolerate more fun and less rigidity.
The past couple of days I’ve said there’s more to life than law school, but there’s also more to life than reading the New York Times or following the news. Last night even I couldn’t deal with all the Super Tuesday coverage. Enough politics is enough.
So maybe I won’t do much work for law school the remainder of my time here. I need to work on the rest of myself, too.
I’ve been catching up on sleep and dreams, dreams of city landscapes like Grandma Ethel’s old block on East 43rd Street and Church Avenue in Brooklyn.
At Books & Books, it hurt a little to see all the fiction by my contemporaries. I hate to let it bother me, so mostly I ignore being ignored and take comfort in the little recognitions and successes I’ve had as a writer. Je ne regrette rien. (Somehow it seems more believable in French.)
I’d like to escape into literature a little more myself these days. I’m tired of so much reality.