A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1993

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, February 10, 1993

9 PM. I feel in a silly mood. Eeek!

Weird. I’ve got this shit-eating grin on my face, and it’s most inappropriate for someone who’s broke, alone, directionless and hasn’t had sex since the Reagan administration. But it’s me, and that’s kind of neat.

What an asshole I am. “An asshole of the first magnitude,” I was called by a guy who signed himself Josef Goebbels in a hate letter to my post office box in North Miami Beach nine years ago.

Anyway – that’s my usual topic-switcher: anyway – I woke up at 5:45 AM and again at 6:30 AM, though I could have sworn it was less than a minute later. I didn’t shower before I went to school,, but I smelled okay and my hair, which is too long, didn’t look that dorky.

In the tax library before class, I sat down next to Donna and Midori and began reading the paper.

Then, after we discussed bail in Crim Pro, I high-tailed it back home, where I exercised, showered and did a little laundry. I like my new dopey boxer shorts: they look so cute in the dryer.

Ahem, then I read about lawyer-client privilege and confidentiality, finishing all my reading for this week’s classes.

After lunch, I went back to school and caught the last hour of a panel on capital punishment moderated by Professor Nunn. The local prosecutor was really obnoxious, rolling her eyes when the UF sociology professor or the criminal defense lawyer made a statement.

Afterwards I dished the panel with the Dionne and Ana, who are both really liberal and who find Gainesville to be backwards politically.

I sighed and said, “It’s as good as it gets in Florida.”

In Estates and Trusts, D.T. told us where to buy Cadillacs in St. Augustine; a better place to stay than South of the Border on I-95 (some place in Lumberton, North Carolina, which features country cookin’); that if he won the lottery – at least $6 million, anyway, providing he didn’t have to share it – we’d all get A’s: and that he suspected all of us would lie about the validity of signatures on a will if it meant us getting our $100,000 fee.

In Legal Drafting, we dithered along with Lynn. But I like the course: writing these documents is kind of fun, and I got my answer done last evening and this morning.

At home I found a letter from Patrick. He sent the Broward Community College union’s newsletter, which he edits, as well as an article in the student newspaper with a photo of him as a counter-demonstrator to a KKK rally at Davie Town Hall on Martin Luther King Day. Patrick’s heart is in the right place.

Like a lot of people at BCC, Patrick enrolled in Nova’s Ed.D. program in higher education. I’m sure that one day Patrick will be an administrator at the college, as the school is really a big part of his life.

Me, I could never commit to an institution. (Now maybe I should be committed to an institution, but that’s another story.)

Patrick asks what I plan to do with my law degree when I get it. Damned if I know.

Hey, this isn’t a very attractive sight: a 42-year-old man acting – and worse, thinking – like an adolescent.

Yesterday Corie was flabbergasted when she found out how old I was. She said she assumed I was about 30. I had to pull out my driver’s license to prove it to her. You know how I love to brag about my age – that is, my chronological, not my emotional, age.

I’m obviously feeling childish tonight. After doing my reading, I switched between two shows about high school kids: The Wonder Years and Beverly Hills 90210. Maybe the 22-year-olds on Melrose Place are too mature for me to watch.

Today was Jonathan 32nd birthday. Was it 32 years ago that I woke up on my grandparents’ couch – the same one I slept in at Rockaway, but this was back in Brooklyn – to see Grandpa Herb’s handwritten note, “It’s a boy”?

Yeah, it was.

Friday, February 12, 1993

4:30 PM. Last night I fell asleep with a bad headache but I woke up with only a little one. Today was the first day in weeks that it both got above 70° and was sunny.

At school at 8:30 AM, I chatted with Kim at her station at the library.

She’s going to New York City for the first time for the trial team competition and has no idea what to see, so I gave her a couple of suggestions. But mostly I advised her just to walk around Manhattan and take in the atmosphere.

I miss New York a lot, and it’s starting to hurt not to be able to go there in a few weeks, but somehow I’ll make it there before July even if I have to crawl up I-95.

My morning classes went okay. Mark R, on one side of me in Professional Responsibility, was one of the judges in last night’s moot court competition for Shara, on the other side of me.

Mark said he’s going to Birmingham for a national moot court meet; he was a champion debater at Emory and loves to get up in public and talk.

As my fellow students go into the last term of our second year, many of them have gotten so busy with extracurricular activities like law review, moot court, or trial team that they seem to have stopped reading for class.

Law professors are no longer scary to us, and certainly a guy like D.T. Smith is a pussycat compared to our first-year professors. So people relax.

After Slobogin’s class, I went to the public library, where I found a review of Mondo Barbie in the February 1 Publishers Weekly which began:

“Members of the Barbie Generation have come of age, and they are taking no prisoners. This terrific collection of short stories, poems and memoirs explores what the Barbie doll, now in her 30s, means and has meant to young women (and some young men).”

There was no mention of individual contributors except to say, “These smart and brash authors, who include Sandra Cisneros and Alice McDermott . . .”

But the review did note, “In the more way-out contributions, Ken undergoes a sex change operation to become Kendra . . .,” a reference to my story.

The review ended by calling it “must reading for parents whose children learn lessons of womanhood from the doll.”

I’m so pleased for Rick and Lucinda. Raves from both PW and Kirkus are rare, and maybe, just maybe, even a dopey publisher like St. Martin’s can parlay this into good sales.

Certainly I expect there will be some more reviews. I feel good that I’ll be getting some exposure as a writer. I’ve never really had anything in a book from a New York trade publisher, unless you count Taplinger.

The Norton-distributed The Writing Business wasn’t reviewed very much, and there were too many contributors for anyone to notice my article.

I had stories in Statements 2 and Editor’s Choice II, but those were from small presses, as was that First Person Intense anthology.

Maybe – and this is my best-case fantasy scenario – someone will enjoy my story and contact me or try to find out what else I’ve written.

After lunch, I went to Burdines to pick up my lenses and then decided to visit the new Publix superstore in the Millhopper area.

I worried about the car breaking down when I had frozen food, and sure enough, the temperature light went on as I drove home.

Somehow I managed to get back here okay. Obviously that sealant didn’t fix the radiator leak. I put four gallons of water in the radiator, but I’ve got to take the car to a repair shop.

At least I was able to drive back to school this afternoon, although I surely had time to walk.

It was calming to be able to sit outside before Nunn’s Race Relations class and read, especially since I was wearing only a T-shirt and shorts for the first time this winter.

Nunn showed a film about Fort Mose, a 1760-1840 settlement of blacks who escaped from South Carolina and were allowed to live in freedom by the Spanish near St. Augustine.

After exercising when I got home, I’m now ready for the weekend.

Today’s Lincoln’s Birthday, which of course isn’t a holiday here; even Presidents Day on Monday isn’t observed by the university.

Naturally I’ve heard and seen a lot about Valentine’s Day on Sunday, but the only valentine I sent this year was to my grandmother.

The air conditioning just went off. It’s been a long time since I needed the A/C.

Monday, February 15, 1993

7 PM. I spent the morning reading the paper and this week’s assignments for Professional Responsibility. It struck me that many of the ethical dilemmas dealing with confidentiality could be eliminated if clients knew what not to say to lawyers.

Why couldn’t corporations just hire people with legal training who are not members of the bar to advise them informally? Wouldn’t these people have an advantage, since as non-members of the profession, they couldn’t be disciplined? But I suppose they’d be accused of practicing law without a license.

After a workout and lunch, I got to school at 1 PM. I lent Dwight the materials I’d bought for the lectures of our Mexican professor in Transboundary Environmental Issues, Ambassador Alberto Székely.

Székely is a dynamic speaker, and he lectured in general terms with a map of the world before us. I got the impression he thinks it’s probably too late to reverse the environmental degradation of the planet.

On the other hand, he said Mexico City is proof that people can function with air pollution that, by all rights, should cripple their whole ability to live.

Water will be the resource over which wars in the 21st century may be fought, he said.

We in North and South America are way behind the other regions of the world in coming up with regimes and mechanisms that can deal with transboundary environmental issues.

Székely said the most exciting part of being an international environmental lawyer was having to learn oceanography, organic chemistry and other sciences and seeing that everything is interrelated.

We spent all of Estates and Trusts on integration of the will, and I’m probably not going to have to read much more for this week.

Smith told some more good stories, though he seems to live back in the days when all UF law students were hard-drinking 22-year-old good old boys.

That describes people like Kenny H and maybe other guys who come out of UF fraternities, but they’re a minority of students at the law school now.

Legal Drafting went quickly. I talked a lot in class today. While I know Lynn counts our participation, I don’t do it just to raise my grade. I think I miss teaching my Nova and SFCC classes.

When I got home, I found drafting our will assignment was tricky, as our “client” wants to leave the bulk of her estate to the children of her ex-husband and his second wife and has various other offbeat bequests.

Tuesday, February 16, 1993

8 PM. I’d feel more relaxed if I had completed drafting the will, but I spent an hour on it this morning, and I’m sure I can get it done during the break between Crim Pro and Estates and Trusts tomorrow.

And if I’ve got insomnia tonight – I’ve been sleeping extraordinarily well lately – I’ll go to the computer and work on it then.

This morning I ate lunch at 11 AM in order to make sure I get to Ambassador Székely’s noon class.

The list of honors and book awards was finally posted today, and once I saw that David G had booked Natural Resources, I knew I had no chance at anything else. However, I found myself grinning as I saw the names of other classmates who were new to the book award list: Ryan, E.K., Nick and Carol both, and a few others.

I was also glad to see that Carl, Barbara Goldstein and Donna P (who booked Baldwin’s class) were also on the list. Sharon booked two classes, but neither Lori nor Marsha booked anything this term.

It’s good to spread the book awards around.

On the “high honors” (over 3.50 GPA) list for the first time, I saw that from our section, the only others with me were Angelina (alphabetically right after me), Kathy, Ryan and Carla.

Lori slipped below 3.50, as did David A and other people on law review – but I was glad to see new names, like Rob and Paul R, getting over 3.0. I suspect that over time, our grades all even out.

The 95th percentile for the last three graduating classes’ GPA was 3.37, so I can assume I’m close to the top 5%. Big deal.

But aside from the Mondo Barbie reviews, I don’t get much external positive feedback these days.

I gave Marsha copies of With Hitler in New York and Narcissism and Me to thank her for always remembering me even as I declined her invitation to go to a dinner honoring a visiting rabbi.

Székely’s lectures today were superb, and after class, I went with a small group – Ana, Renee, Dwight, Dionne, Jane – to have lunch with him and Richard Hamann.

Although Székely seems very pessimistic about the environment, he’s one of the few environmental lawyers in all of Mexico, and I believe he’s talking from experience.

Clinton and Gore may have good intentions, but they can’t reverse a policy of environmental exploitation that goes back to the coming of Europeans to America.

The political will isn’t there in most countries. Székely said that even as the developing nations and others castigated the U.S. for sabotaging the Earth Summit, they were secretly glad the Rio Declaration avoided establishing an international legal regime with teeth that could deal with environmental protections.

When our last class ended, we applauded Székely, who looked on in amusement.

Lawrence chalked on the board a notice of a meeting of Law School Republicans, writing “Safety in Numbers” under it. Suddenly the conservative students are no longer in the majority at school, and I guess they feel besieged.

Although I liked Clinton’s Oval Office speech last night, I don’t think he’ll be able to sell Congress and the American people on tax increases. Americans are just too selfish and too oriented toward the short term.

Smith’s class was a bit confusing, but as he said, he’s giving us the material “with huge doses of whipped cream and chocolate and a cherry on top.”

Mom called after getting the PW review, which she said was excellent. I’ve been giving her advice on how to try to keep some of her credit cards in case of bankruptcy, which now looks certain.

I explained to Mom that our family’s problems with debt don’t just mirror the difficulties the U.S. government has with debt but are very much a part of the same situation.

We’re individuals, yes, but we’re also part of a larger economic entity, and so we can’t consider our financial problems to be personal failures.

Or am I rationalizing? 

Saturday, February 20, 1993

8:30 PM. Last evening I decided to go over to University Auditorium on the main campus to see Gish Jen.

The crowd of about 80 people looked much more bohemian and artsy-fartsy than the people I’ve gotten used to seeing at law school. I didn’t see anyone whom I recognized.

The professor who introduced Gish Jen knew her at Iowa. (That magic Iowa connection.)

Jen read what she said was the first chapter of her new novel, but I recognized it as “What Means Switch,” the Atlantic story I read three years ago and liked so much that I taught it in my BCC creative writing class.

She read it very well, and then said, “Thank you,” and that was it: no questions from the audience.

I, for one, needed a sense of closure, and I had the nerve to go over and talk to her. I told her I noticed the change from first person in the story to third person in the novel and we talked about Scarsdale, where her protagonist grew up (and so did she).

An Alligator reporter wanted to interview her after I’d already talked too much.

Back here, I slept soundly. In my last dream I was working with Mom and Grandpa Herb in the old Slack Bar store on Fulton Street. I really did work there about 27 or 28 years ago, remember?

Hey, it’s ten years this weekend that Grandpa Herb died – I just realized that. Was that why I dreamed about him? In any case, it was good to “see” him.

I listened to NPR and read the Gainesville Sun in bed. They have in the classifieds a section called “The Meeting Place,” personal ads, and there were a few gay guys, but two were in their sixties and the guy who sounded neat was 22, too young. (Or I should say, I’m too old.)

Probably stupidly, undoubtedly futilely (four adverbs in a row there!), I wrote an insipid free ad and sent it off to the company that handles it. There are no box numbers, only 900 phone numbers – which is obviously where the profit is.

I’m sure I won’t get any response, but for the first time in a long time, I feel I’d like to have an intimate relationship. My social skills are so rusty, though; I don’t know how to act on a “date” anymore.

At 11:30 AM, ABC-TV ran a two-hour live program from the White House, with President Clinton answering the questions of children.

He’s a warm person and so intelligent and articulate that it’s a pleasure to look at him. It’s hard getting used to the idea of a President I actually like.

By 1:30 PM, it was warm enough again to wear just a T-shirt and shorts – and the sky was cloudless.

Trying hard to concentrate on my Estates and Trusts text as I sat by the pool, after several hours I managed to finish both the chapter on wills and the next chapter on gifts.

In the mail I got the big package from the Division of Cultural Affairs that Mom forwarded. It’s got a booklet for 1993-94 grants, material for panelists and other information.

Our grants panel meeting will probably be in May or June.

They give instructions on how to work travel vouchers, but obviously I don’t need to fly to Tallahassee; I can rent a car and drive there. (I have to use Budget, the company the state uses.)

I certainly don’t want to rip off the taxpayers by getting state vouchers I don’t really need. They’ll send further info as soon after our panel chairs – usually members of the Arts Council – are named.

The Division also sent a list of the 11 literary organizations that applied for grants last year (eight were funded), and it was mostly colleges.

For example, there are three different applications from FIU with different contact people: Les Standiford, John Dufresne, and Kitty Oliver (whom I knew in her earlier role as the Herald’s Broward arts columnist).

The Division encouraged us to call and even visit the organizations who submit grant proposals, and maybe I can meet some writers and make a few contacts.

I look forward to serving the state, and I’m not kidding: I want to do a good job working with the others on the panel.

I spoke to Pete, who’s been busy with working for Equitable and taking his NYU grad classes, which sound interesting: one is on media and politics, the other on politics and religion.

His own NYU continuing ed class didn’t register, but he put together a private class which will pay him almost as much. He’s teaching “Realism and Anti-Realism,” going over work by Balzac, Zola, Borges, Calvino, Tutuola, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Grace Paley and other authors whom I’d love to reread.

There’s no big news regarding his writing, and Pete sounds like he’s discouraged after all the trouble he had sending his last manuscript around.

I also spoke to Mom, who said China got scalped by an overeager dog groomer and “now she looks like a Chihuahua or a drowned rat.”

Clarissa called Mom crying yesterday. At his military school they had given Jason two weeks of probation, and during that time his behavior was so bad that they’ve decided to kick him out.

Wow, expelled from two boarding schools – it sounds like Jason is either going to be a serial killer or a very successful CEO. Marc figures he purposely acted out during the last two weeks so he could be sent home.

Clarissa doesn’t know what she’s going to do. She’s afraid Jason will just skip out of public school while she’s at work.

Marc’s therapist said he knows someone who’s good with adolescents, but as much as Jason needs counseling, I doubt that he sees it that way.

I don’t think Jason is a bad kid, but he’s “wild” – kind of the way Libby’s brother Wayne was – and of course Wayne turned out to be the solidest of citizens, the way most “wild” male teenagers do unless they get involved with illegal activities.

I’ve read the Professional Responsibility assignment for our Tuesday makeup session, but we have four classes this week so I’ve got a lot more reading to do.

This evening I went to Publix. The cashier and bag boy had both taken the CLAST test this morning and were talking about the essay exam.

I told them I used to grade those essays and I’m not sure they measure anything worthwhile about students’ writing skills: “They’re just hoops they make you go through.”

Such is education in the good old U.S.A.