A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1993

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, January 26, 1993

4 PM. Today’s a real winter day. I just got in and the first thing I needed to do was turn on the heat. It’s 44° and a hard rain is falling.

Checking the mail, I’m dismayed that I haven’t received anything from Unemployment: I hope there’s no trouble. However, I did get Santa Fe’s W-2 form, and I can now file my tax return and hopefully get my $80 refund by March.

This morning I filled out financial aid forms for next year, my final year at UF.

I read for tomorrow’s Legal Drafting class and again went over my notes for Barahona’s class. I don’t plan to study very much for the exam and will instead see if I can get by with a good writing style. Most of the ideas in the course seem pretty basic.

I went to school for the noon debate over the proposed curriculum changes – specifically, making the two-semester, 5-credit first year courses all 4-credit classes to be taken in one semester.

Don Peters, Siegel, Yin and Hudson spoke in favor of the change, which is subject to reconsideration after winning by one vote at the last faculty meeting.

Julin, Nagan, Little and Mashburn spoke against it.

I don’t think it really matters – of course it won’t affect me – but I was interested to hear arguments on both sides because it helps me learn more about legal education.

In the cafeteria afterwards, I discussed the issues with Jim, Dan N and David A, none of whom I usually see very often anymore.

They told me that the job market is so bad that law firms are insisting on specialization. Jim wants to be a patent lawyer and feels he must pass the patent bar before he can get hired. David said firms don’t call him back when he says he’s interested in labor law or torts; they want to hear he’s interested in corporate business.

David’s on law review and near the top of our class, so if he’s having problems, the job market must really be bad.

It doesn’t concern me, of course. These guys should know what type of job markets I faced in the past. Try to get a full-time college teaching position or a collection of short stories published.

My two classes today with Barahona and Smith were interesting although my sinus congestion kept me from taking sharp notes.

Of course, D.T. Smith’s class requires very few notes. While most teachers try to cram everything in, he goes slow and seems to pad his 50 minutes.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Clinton’s refusal to back down on gays in the military despite adamant opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress, which may overturn his ending the ban.

Still, at least I know I’ve got a President who is foursquare behind gay rights. The generals and Republican legislators – Sam Nunn, too – will probably prevail, but they seem close to insubordination.

When the President is a conservative Republican, executive power is seen as supreme in the conduct of military and foreign affairs, but attitudes change when a Democrat takes office.

They say Clinton can’t be commander-in-chief because he was a draft dodger, so I guess the Constitution is just meaningless. Why don’t we just have a military coup d’état?

The Joint Chiefs are so homophobic that they spent two hours with the President and didn’t even mention Iraq, Bosnia or Somalia.

What irks me is how, at my draft physical in January 1970, the sergeant didn’t take my word for it when I checked the “homosexual tendencies” box. When they needed bodies to be blown to bits, it didn’t bother them.

Thank God for Clinton. He appointed Hillary to head a task force on health care reform.

Wednesday, January 27, 1993

Noon. As much as I’m interested in that program teaching the Bill of Rights to fifth-graders, I’m not going to go to the training session later today.

As it is, I have three straight classes from 2 PM to 5 PM, and I didn’t sleep much last night, and I’ve already been stuck with the car.

Not to mention that I have Barahona’s final tomorrow. His wife and kids are swimming in the heated pool right now; I’m doing some laundry and just went out to put my clothes in the dryer.

Last evening I read for Professional Responsibility and then couldn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t until 4 AM that I realized I’d forgotten to take a Triavil, and then I took half a tablet, not wanting to be drowsy this morning.

I was able to sleep till 7 AM, but I also exercised to a Body Electric tape in the middle of the night, which saves me a half-hour today.

It was 36° when I left the house, and today I was glad I took my gloves.

On Lexis, I checked and found Kirkus Reviews had a review of Mondo Barbie in the February 1 issue.

Excitedly, I read it and was tickled pink that it was a rave. Usually Kirkus is so nasty, and even here, they were almost reluctant to praise the book: “packs more of a punch than one might expect – a funny, irreverent and sometimes shocking look at Barbie’s function as a national icon.”

And: “more intriguing than it might have been – an unusually entertaining collection.”

They mentioned five pieces, including mine:

“‘Twelve-Step Barbie’ by Richard Grayson, evokes a middle-aged, post-success Barbie trying to make it through a spirit-deadening day.”

Not exactly accurate, but I’ll take any recognition I can get.

An hour ago I called Rick to tell him about the review. As I expected, he hadn’t seen it (computers are wonderful!), so I read it to him.

It felt good not only to feel like a part of something but also give Rick some good news. Luckily, he got a job teaching in the Continuing Ed program at Maryland and he starts teaching at Georgetown next week.

St. Martin’s took Mondo Elvis with an escalator clause giving him and Lucinda more money if Barbie sells well.

St. Martin’s, of course tells them nothing, and they didn’t realize till recently that only one of them can make each media appearance.

The new pub date is April 15 (Kirkus says March 22, which is the ship date), and they haven’t seen the cover yet. Reportedly, it will be reviewed in the March Mademoiselle with the Joel Rose and Catherine Texier anthology of romance, East Village-style, and Publishers Weekly will do a review.

So this looks like a much better year for Rick.

I went to the Kash n’Karry center after Nunn’s 9 AM class to xerox the review, and after I got out of the supermarket, my car wouldn’t start.

Happily, I needed only for the guy from the AAA to open the carburetor and allow the gas to flow.

But I had to put three jugs of water in the bone-dry radiator. I definitely have a leak and need to take it to some service station.

I’ll do that when I can, and meanwhile I’ll keep an eye on it and keep water in the car.

It was so cold out that in the half-hour I spent outside till I got home, my frozen yogurt didn’t melt.

Immediately before I discovered that the car wouldn’t start, I found a penny in front of the supermarket and thought, This is a sign of good luck.

Well, maybe the good luck was that the car didn’t have to be towed.

Nunn began our 9 AM class talking about Thurgood Marshall. Marshall’s career has made me think that he was the best kind of lawyer, using his career to fight for people’s rights.

Today gay rights is in a similar position to black rights in the time of Brown v. Board of Education, at least in terms of the public debate you see about it.

Every news broadcast begins with the gays-in-the-military controversy. This country is so homophobic that they’re more concerned with this than the economy, the environment, or health care.

For that alone, we deserve to be a nation in decline.

Gay people need lawyers like Thurgood Marshall to argue the cases that might lessen the current discrimination.

Thursday, January 28, 1993

5 PM. I need to unwind after the last couple of days. Yesterday those three afternoon classes in a row were difficult to sit through.

Barahona completed his lectures with a discussion of indigenous people, and we applauded him as his son took his picture.

D.T. finished our segment on intestacy, and next week we begin wills. He said the course’s segments are discrete, so we can already begin reviewing.

Lynn totally flummoxed everyone in Legal Drafting by asking us to draft a motion without giving us clear instructions. Next week I’ll see her for a conference once I get my complaint back.

Tired, I came home, took the phone off the hook, and got into bed not long after dinner.

I slept soundly from 9 PM to 3 AM, when I awoke, worried about today’s test. So I read some of the material and then fell asleep again at 5 AM for 90 minutes.

This morning was the coldest morning of the winter. I had to scrape ice off my car’s windshield. Amazingly, some people – Dan N, Pete B – continue to wear shorts as if they can ignore the fact that it’s 35°. I felt all right, but I was all bundled up.

Nunn’s Crim Pro class had an interesting discussion, as did Professional Responsibility once Slobogin got away from the ABA Model Code and Model Rules. The issue of whether lawyers can be neutral partisans – and divorce their own morality from their clients’ – triggered lively debate.

There wasn’t much time for me to eat lunch during the break, as I wanted to get back to school long before the exam at 1 PM to go over my notes before the test.

Barahona’s single question – about the relationship between Central American property law, development and the environment – was as broad as it could have been. While I probably wasn’t specific enough, at least I know I can write well.

As Ana remarked, we really needed to go home and rest after that exam, but we had to wait for Nunn’s Race Relations class.

So until it started at 3 PM, I did more reading for it. Today Nunn lectured on the history of West Africa – the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai – and the evidence that Egypt was at least partially a black civilization. Interesting stuff.

I saw that Jeff H was reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus – Pete B had lent it to him – and we talked for a while. Until today Ana didn’t realize I was a short story writer, and she said she was impressed that I could get published.

Back home an hour ago, I exercised and I’m now ready to eat dinner and relax.

It’s troubling that I still haven’t gotten anything from Unemployment when I probably have to report again by Sunday. At least my electric bill was surprisingly low: only $43.

Teresa left a message after being in San Francisco for three weeks. She probably stayed in California so long because there’s nothing for her in New York.

She reported she’s dealing with FEMA people regarding the big storm. I’ll try to reach her in Fire Island this evening.

I’m ready to catch my breath during the next couple of weeks, when I’ll have a lighter schedule till the professors from Mexico start teaching the Environmental Issues class on February 15. After those three weeks, we have spring break.

Next week I’ll probably get my ticket to New York. Obviously the Mondo Barbie reading at Books & Books won’t take place in early March.

It will be odd to be in New York City again.


Midnight. I can’t sleep so I may as well let my mind roam on paper rather than just in bed.

A couple of hours ago, Matty Rich’s Straight Out of Brooklyn came on PBS, and I watched it, glad to get a chance to see the movie after missing it in 1991, when it came out.

Set in the projects in Red Hook, the film was raw and sometimes clumsy, but an amazing work when you consider a 19-year-old kid made it with very little money.

It made me think about my own “work” and the body of writing I’ve accumulated over my “career.”

You can’t compare movies and short stories, so it’s hard to say if I’ve ever achieved the legitimacy Matty Rich did with his first film.

Sometimes I think I shouldn’t have submitted Thirties/Eighties to the AWP Award Series because as good as it may be – and it may also be terrible – if it’s published, I may lose a lot of friends when they see my diary entries.

I don’t want to hurt people who have been good to me, like Teresa or Tom, so this is one contest I’ll be more than grateful to lose.

I don’t care that the manuscript is published as much as I want recognition from someone that the writing has value.

Teresa called from a home in Forest Hills where she’s house-sitting.

Although she told me in December that she had little damage from the storm, Teresa’s trying to get FEMA money from the house and her car.

The FEMA people, obviously afraid their agency will be killed after all the criticism following Hurricane Andrew and the Los Angeles riots, seem to be going out of their way to give out emergency grants and loans.

They’ve been looking at her Fire Island house and apparently agreeing that it was, like Teresa’s car, damaged by the storm.

In San Francisco, she hooked up again with Paul, Deirdre’s friend who Teresa was with in Italy eight or so years ago. I remember she left him in Greece after a big fight.

Paul has been mostly living abroad, but he has a home in San Francisco, which he hopes to get back from his tenants on March 1.

While Teresa says Paul is “crazy” and “neurotic,” she’s planning to visit him in a week or two and hoping for, or at least thinking about, the possibility of living with him in California.

With Brian having turned half of Fair Harbor against her and with many of her catering customers’ homes destroyed, Teresa wasn’t looking forward to another summer on the beach.

It’s not surprising to me that Teresa latched on to this guy, and who knows, maybe going out to the Bay Area again is the best thing for her. She doesn’t have much left in New York except her family now.

When I mentioned to her that last night I dreamed about living with Judy’s family, Teresa said that Judy’s brother-in-law is currently subletting Apartment 44 from her.

Judy’s family of five now treats the apartment as an extra living space, which they badly needed.

Teresa never gave up the lease on West 85th Street and says, “Maybe someday Heidi will want to live there.”

She has to be in New York in mid-March for Grandma Teresa’s 90th birthday (Grandma Agnes is 96) and a bar mitzvah she’s catering, so I’ll probably see her when I’m up there.

Friday, January 29, 1993

9 PM. Lack of sleep didn’t prevent this from being a very full day, the end to a hectic week.

This morning’s classes were interesting: Nunn discussed the problem of multiple representation of criminal defendants and Slobogin initiated a debate over neutral partisanship’s ethical dilemmas.

I suggested that that in addition to the other things lawyers do to cope with the stress of legal practice – denial, compartmentalizing their lives, and rationalization – they also engage in substance abuse.

After going home for lunch, I returned to school at noon so I could attend the public interest law forum sponsored by the Center for Governmental Responsibility Fellows (including Barbara Goldstein, Turhan Robinson, Gary Pierrot and seven others; I’ll probably apply for next year).

There was such a big crowd in the auditorium that I got one of the last seats, all the way in the back, next to Marty Peters.

Sandy D’Alemberte – a past president of the ABA, former FSU law school dean and Miami attorney – spoke about the idea of service.

He said that those lawyers who perform community service are the ones who are happiest while those who do the job solely for the excellent renumeration end up hating their profession.

Morris Dees, legendary head of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, spoke next.

He gave a moving account of how he won huge civil suits for the mother of a lynching victim from the United Klans of America and for the family of an Ethiopian killed by Portland skinheads from Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance.

After that, a panel of young public interest lawyers working in various fields discussed their work.

Because I couldn’t sit anymore, I left a little before it was over. As I walked through the student lounge, Clinton was on TV, announcing the compromise he’d reached with Senator Nunn and the Joint Chiefs.

Military recruiters will stop asking people if they’re gay and new dismissals of homosexuals from the armed forces will stop – though gays will be sent to the Reserves without pay – and in six months, after consultations, Clinton plans to end the gay ban for good.

Homophobia will now probably reach a fever pitch, but it’s pretty neat to have a U.S. President who will stand up for gay civil rights even if he seems less forceful then he could have been.

Outside, I interrupted Jeff, who is now reading Maus II, and we talked for a while before class.

As we began our study of African-American legal history, Nunn told a great story about the summer when he was a law student working for Morris Dees in Alabama.

It’s interesting that in the first 40 years blacks were in Virginia, some of them were slaves, but others were free or just indentured servants.

Home at 4 PM, I found my first $82 unemployment check, which I went to the bank to deposit.

Larry’s yellow VW convertible was in back of me on University Avenue, and we exchanged waves.

One thing I like so much about being in law school is that feeling of community I had as a Brooklyn College undergraduate. I see that’s very important to me.

After exercising, I ate dinner and immersed myself in radio, TV and print news.

Mom called to say that she thought I needed to go to the Florida Arts Council meeting next month – but I doubt the Literature Panel needs to attend.

Jeffrey Knapp is on the panel and so is a UF English professor, Mildred Hill-Lubin. Mom read all this in the Cultural Affairs Division newsletter, which came in the mail and which she will forward to me.

I was disturbed when Mom told me how precarious her and Dad’s financial situation is. Dad has gone through $40,000 of his retirement money just to pay bills over this last year alone, and creditors are hounding them.

She’s trying to convince Dad that they should file for bankruptcy. “He thinks it’s the worst thing in the world,” Mom said.

Probably bankruptcy would be a good option for them, but I know Dad is stubborn. He and Mom have no money for their retirement. Of course they do have the house.

I don’t know why they ever bought such a large and expensive house and such elaborate furnishings, but they like to live the way they’re used to.

With the flea market business gone and all of them broke and in debt, I sense the time of reckoning with reality is coming for my family – and it’s not financial so much as psychological. None of them really understands what to do next.

I don’t know how Mom and Dad would react to a drastic change in their lifestyle, but their own parents scraped by in apartments on their Social Security benefits.

At least Marc is in counseling.

Dad still thinks I’m the one who’s got the most unsolved problems.

Although I acknowledge I share my family’s reluctance to deal with reality, because of my education and my experience – my work career and having lived on my own in different settings – I think have more options and better coping skills.

I’ll do what I can to help them, and I wish I had money to support my parents. But for right now, at least, the best thing I can do is not add to their problems.

I read 60 pages in the Estates and Trusts text, starting with the section that begins our unit on wills.