A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1992

by Richard Grayson

Friday, August 21, 1992

4 PM. I need to relax after another stressful week. Next week, when I begin teaching, will also be stressful, but soon after that I should get into a pattern or routine.

I shut off the GOP convention early last night, but that didn’t help me get to sleep, and when I turned it on again at 11 PM, Bush was just beginning his acceptance speech.

It looks like he did get a decent “bounce” from the convention although he offered few new ideas, and his biggest applause line was his apology for breaking his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge of four years ago.

By bashing Clinton on the social and character issues, Bush will cause enough doubts about the Democrats to squeak to reelection. I feel despairing about that, and last night I again thought how disgusted I am with the U.S.

I really need to screw up my courage and carry out my plan to live abroad. I should make it for a limited time at first, and then see if I can deal with day-to-day life in a foreign country.

I’ll be terrified, of course, but I want to live in Europe, and deep down, I know I can handle doing that.

In Natural Resources today, Julin reviewed – “It’s never too early to review” – and I was grateful because he cleared up some confusion in my mind between royalty rights and mineral rights.

Between classes, I talked to Gene, who’s taking 17 credits; with another baby on the way, he’s anxious to graduate early and get to work.

In the locker room next to the bathroom, I saw Dave W: “I’m changing out of my interview clothes.” He’s a good student, so I’m not surprised a law firm was interested in him, but I hadn’t realized that firms have already begun interviewing.

Family Law focused a little more on the cases today, but our discussion was still touchy-feely; it’s a welcome relief from the case method.

I rushed out to get to SFCC and arrived at the faculty meeting in the middle of people introducing themselves. I’ve been assigned an office in Unit 11 in building L.

After the meeting, I went with three other adjuncts to the Composition Lab, where Linda Robitaille, the director, gave us information about how it works. They’ve got their own software, authored on IBM’s LinkWay, a HyperCard-like system.

Santa Fe seems much more “together” than Broward Community College ever was.

The department meeting showed genuine warmth, a contrast to BCC-Central. At BCC, adjuncts were never treated the way we were today, as part of the department, and BCC hired them so much more haphazardly.

I got my copies of the first-day handout and went to building D to order copies of my syllabus.

One problem I’m going to have to deal with is hunger. By 1:35 PM, when I left, I was weak and cranky from not eating.

Somehow I’m going to need to get some nourishment between the time I leave UF and before I begin work at SFCC. I need to take a banana, fruit bar, Weight Watchers peanuts and other food that will give me enough energy to get through until I arrive home after teaching.

Monday’s going to be scary, but I get out of class at law school at 9:50 AM that day, so maybe I’ll have enough time to avoid the parking nightmare at SFCC.

Of course, my students – especially those who are new to college – will be pretty stressed-out, too, so we’ll calm down together.

As Lynn, Barbara Sloan’s secretary, told me, the beginning of the term is crazy, but she’s used to it because it happens four times a year.

Sunday, August 23, 1992

9 PM. Tomorrow’s my first day of teaching, but I don’t expect to sleep much tonight because I’ll be too worried about my family in Fort Lauderdale.

Mom called twelve hours ago, after I’d heard the news that the hurricane watch had become a hurricane warning and that a million people were told to evacuate the Keys and low-lying coastal areas of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Mom told me they were taking everything down from the flea market. I spoke to her several times during the day, most recently just now.

“They scare the hell out of you,” she said, referring to the TV reports.

Hurricane Andrew’s winds are clocked at 150 mph, making it a killer category five storm, and it’s expected to make landfall at Dade and Broward late tonight.

Marc was supposed to leave with Clarissa and Jason for South Carolina tomorrow, but they started out today instead. After an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike, they headed up I-95, which was a bit less crowded with people fleeing South Florida.

Marshall came over to spend the night at our house, and Aunt Sydelle wanted to, but her stubborn husband refused to take her to my parents’ house.

Mom waited online for hours at stores this morning, and she did everything she could to prepare, including filling up the bathtub with water, moving stuff away from the windows (the TV advisory said not to tape things up), and getting flashlights, candles and a portable radio.

It’s hard to believe such a destructive storm could hit such a populated area. I know what damage the ’26 hurricane did – I’ll never forget reading that scene in Their Eyes Were Watching God – and how the ’36 Labor Day storm wiped out the railroad to Key West.

I wish I were with my parents because then at least I’d feel like I could do something, and I’d know what was going on.

At school this afternoon, I ran into Laura C and Peter B, and we talked about the hurricane.

A little while later Laura called me at home, asking if she could come over and talk because she was upset and anxious and said I’m a good listener.

I was certainly agreeable, and she was here from 6 PM to 8 PM. Mostly she wanted reassurance and sympathy and she wanted to avoid going back to her apartment alone.

She’s homesick and worried about her parents and pet rabbit in Coral Gables.

Also, she and another tenant keep complaining about a noisy neighbor. The landlord has already left a note with the guy, who is playing music too loud, and Laura was worried he’d do something to get revenge on her.

Laura kept obsessing about it, and she knew she was being silly – but I kept reassuring her, playing shrink, “looking at reality” the way Bob Wouk used to.

Laura is only 21, half my age, and so I can certainly understand how her anxiety. I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone at school that she was so upset.

I felt good being able to offer some help, even though I think I didn’t do that much.

Other than that, today I read the Times, exercised, shopped, watched Sunday public affairs shows and prepared for class tomorrow.

I’d be more anxious about teaching, but the hurricane makes me realize how silly that anxiety would be.

If I were religious, I’d pray.

Monday, August 24, 1992

4 PM. I heard from Mom a couple of hours ago, and everyone is all right. Marc called last evening from Georgia, so he, Clarissa and Jason got to safety.

The hurricane moved across South Florida with its eye around Kendall and Homestead, so Broward was spared the worst of the impact.

Still, it was scary, Mom said.

Last night I picked up WINZ, the Miami news station, which had gone to full power after dark, and this morning I caught the news on radio and TV, but when I called Fort Lauderdale, the phone just rang.

Mom said the phones went out during the night, but she was able to reach me by cellular phone. The worst of the storm was in the early morning, and it moved out to the Gulf Coast by 8:30 AM.

News reports are sketchy, but Bush declared the three counties of Monroe, Dade and Broward a disaster area, and obviously there’s millions of dollars of damage from the hurricane.

According to Mom, the only damage to the house was that a number of roof tiles, including large, curved ones from the corner, fell off.

They lost electricity after the storm had gone at about noon today. The trees in the backyard lost lots of branches, but my parents were luckier than their neighbors, whose trees fell down altogether.

The noise from the howling winds scared them, Mom said, but all the windows held up.

Last night I spoke to Teresa because she’s a hurricane person; she said she’d like to be in the middle of one, actually.

But then, Teresa courts danger: this past week, she and Brian ended up calling the cops on each other, and she said, “We’re the Woody and Mia of Fair Harbor.”

Alice phoned from work this afternoon to find out how everyone was, and I called Grandma to reassure her in case she was worried; she didn’t seem to be and expressed her thanks for sending the photos of her, Marc, Clarissa and Jason.

I should call Laura and Shara to find out what they’d heard from their parents. The last Shara heard from her folks was that they were evacuating their Deerfield Beach home and heading north.

Other law students were also concerned about their families, and it turned out that at Santa Fe, the gym was housing a hundred South Floridians who had come this far north for shelter.

My school day was fine. Baldwin’s and Seigel’s classes went quickly, and I made it to Santa Fe by 10:10 AM, taking a faraway parking space on NW 83rd Street so I wouldn’t have to deal with the parking lot.

After I signed my I-9 and W-4 forms at Human Resources and gave in copies of my schedule and handout, I went to my office, nicknamed “The Pit” because it holds four adjuncts.

The people in the unit are all friendly, but of course I didn’t catch most of their names because I was introduced to many of them at one time.

Most are middle-aged white women, although I met one guy who was in the UF writing program years ago with Sterling Watson. He took classes with Smith Kirkpatrick and Harry Crews and asked if I’d like to join a writing group that meets Sunday evenings.

He said he’s given up trying to write stories and is trying to write and sell screenplays. Yeah, right.

When I told him about Wes and others I know in L.A., he realized that I knew real screenwriters and wanted me to tell him more about it.

I suspect he’s the usual clueless type who’s naïve enough to think that somehow even I could help him get one of his lousy screenplays produced.

My noon class meets in a hidden classroom at the end of the building across from L, where my office is.

Today I just went over my handout and tried to get to know them. They’re mostly new SFCC students, mostly kids – but I’ve got a few older people – and so far there are only about 22 in the class.

I wore a tie today – at law school, people kept asking me about it – but most of the male teachers at SFCC dress casually, and I see that I can rely on a sports shirt, jeans and sneakers.

I was home by 1:20 PM, so it didn’t seem like a long day. Because I had a banana and a fruit bar on the drive to Santa Fe, I wasn’t starving by that time.

After I ate lunch, I read the Times and Alligator, watched One Life to Live (the homophobia storyline has got me hooked), and then exercised to a Body Electric video. I feel relaxed now.

Wednesday, August 26, 1992

4 PM. I’ve just read the diagnostic essays my students wrote in class today.

I asked them to discuss their major goals for the next year, and the papers are what I’d expect, running the gamut I’m familiar with, both in terms of skills and content.

God, I sound like one of them, don’t I? That’s the danger of going from reading their essays to trying to write myself: They’re so inarticulate and also so touchingly naïve in what they intend to accomplish that it’s heartbreaking to understand, as I do, that a number of them won’t even pass English 101.

A few have serious mechanical problems, and of course, as I expected, the worst problems were from the guy who came up to me after Monday’s class to ask if there was any way he could go on to the next course without taking 101.

They’ll all stay in rather than go to a remedial class, I’m told, as they have a perfect right to do. But some will have to work awfully hard to pass, and I don’t expect miracles.

In the last 15 minutes of the class, I began to talk about the writing process, and I think I’m establishing a rapport with the students and gaining their confidence.

I don’t want to write on their diagnostic essays, and I wish I had time to comment at length and talk with each student – but I’ll find some way to respond.

It’s a pleasure to be at Santa Fe because I like the atmosphere of a community college and believe strongly in what we try to do there: give people a second chance or a start for those who wouldn’t get it elsewhere.

I tried to write the essay myself, and naturally I crossed out more than my students did.

The scenes of Homestead, Florida City and other towns south of Miami shocked me when I watched the news last night. Andrew was the costliest disaster in U.S. history, and as one official said, Dade County will never be the same.

Hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed; at least 15 are dead and 50,000 are homeless; and the cost of the damage may be $20 billion.

I just got spoke to Marc, who called from the Florida Welcome Center north of Jacksonville, where he and Clarissa were drinking the free orange juice.

Mom had told me he’d probably come here on his way back, but Marc said he and Clarissa were going to plow straight through down I-95 so they can get home early.

Marc said he’s been living on his credit cards for the past year, with essentially no income because things have been so bad.

He sounded drained, and while I was disappointed I won’t see him and Clarissa now, I told him to visit some other time.

Earlier, I talked with Jonathan and Mom, who said the electricity returned before nightfall on Monday, so they weren’t terribly inconvenienced.

But the big tent at the flea market was destroyed, so there’s not much business they can do there.

Jonathan said the storm was so scary that the next time he wants to evacuate. If Hurricane Andrew hadn’t veered southward, it could have been their house and cars destroyed.

I was thinking about Tom and my other friends in New Orleans. Luckily for them, the storm made landfall west of the city, and its worst damage was in the more sparsely populated Cajun country.

Josh called me last night. After talking about the hurricane, Josh told me he’s been looking at Queens College/CUNY Law School, where he thinks he could definitely get in.

When he asked my opinion of their innovative, nontraditional program, I told him it sounded okay to me – actually, I’d be thrilled to get a teaching job there – but they don’t allow part-time study. Of course, their tuition is nearly as low as UF’s, and that makes it a great bargain.

For a change, I slept wonderfully last night.

Wednesday is my most hectic day, with three law school classes in a row and then teaching, but even so, at 1:15 PM, I was home and could relax in T-shirt and shorts, take out my contact lenses, and essentially do nothing for the rest of the day.

Classes were fine: Baldwin’s last class for two weeks, and Seigel’s and Dowd’s. Next week we’ll get a quiz in Evidence, and our group (me, Karin, Shara) will be called on. But I’m afraid I don’t have a good grasp of Evidence at all.

I made it from UF Law to SFCC with enough time to pick up my syllabi at the reproduction office and gab with my officemates before class.

Friday, August 28, 1992

7 PM. After days of seeing the devastation of Hurricane Andrew on the news, it’s clear the dimension of the disaster is far worse than everyone thought on Monday.

A quarter of a million people – one out of every ten Dade residents – are homeless, and whole neighborhoods have been totally destroyed. There’ll be no electricity, phones or water for some people for weeks.

After much criticism on the slowness of the relief effort, Bush sent the army to Miami yesterday.

Here in Gainesville, everywhere around town – at the law school, at Santa Fe, at the shopping centers – there are collection drives on to help the South Florida residents, and a caravan left from UF this afternoon.

If the hurricane had gone only thirty miles to the north, my parents’ home might have been destroyed, their cars and possessions are all gone. (Selfishly, I think of my diaries up in the closet in the spare room.)

Yesterday I spoke to Pete, who didn’t call his mother till just before he called me because he assumed there was no harm done in North Broward. From talking to Laura, I don’t think that’s true.

The economic effects will be devastating, at least initially, so my family aren’t the only ones who’ve lost income. Hopefully in the long run, there’ll be a construction boom which will help the local economy.

But for now, many people are broken psychologically and financially. In the space of just several hours, some lost everything – and a few lost their lives.

Pete gave me a way to call him at work for free by pretending to be him, signing on to his voicemail, and then getting Pete’s extension.

Harold got a permanent position in the English Department at Minneapolis Community College, Pete reported. I’m glad that Harold now can feel secure and stay in the Twin Cities, a place he seems to like.

Pete’s through with NYU’s summer session, where he took grad courses and taught creative writing. He won’t be teaching there again till next year, but he’s taking two fall classes in the evening as part of his doctoral program.

City Lights rejected a slimmed-down version of Pete’s book, and he’s all but run out of places to try.

Last evening, after I made comments on each student’s writing on a Post-it Note attached to their essays, I watched The Simpsons, played with Westlaw, and went to bed.

Today was a rainy day. Dwight took over part of today’s Natural Resources class, as he explained the geology of the oil and gas lease problem Julin presented.

On my break, I got to speak with Lorraine, who’s having a hard time with her Income Tax class and was a little disappointed with Slobogin’s Police Practices.

Lorraine volunteered for the Clinton/Gore campaign, both at UF and the candidate headquarters at Butler Plaza. She told me that Martin’s setting up a new group, Law School Democrats.

Like me, Lorraine was revolted by the speeches at the Republican convention, and she’ll feel awful if Clinton doesn’t win.

She did say the campaign has pretty much conceded Florida, and I guess if Bush can’t win here, he’ll lose in a landslide.

In Family Law, Dowd did a good job in articulating the constitutional issues in the field. Next week we have a huge reading assignment as we begin marriage, and we have another writing assignment.

After getting a parking lot space early at Santa Fe for a change, I had good conversations with some of the full-time faculty about teaching.

Class went well – there were no new students – as we tried freewriting and discussed other rehearsal strategies.

After class, I was looking at the schedules in the office I share with about eight other adjuncts when two women came over and asked if they could help me.

They were adjuncts – both of them UF grad students in their twenties – and they assumed I was a student.

When I told them no, I was an adjunct, they asked if I were teaching for the first time.

They seemed flabbergasted when I said I was 41 and had started teaching college English in 1975. I stayed for my office hour to chat with them.

Back at home, I had a late lunch, watched One Life to Live, exercised, and got a haircut.

Well, I’ve managed to get through my first full week of being both a UF law student and an SFCC English teacher, and surprisingly, I’m enjoying it.