A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1993
by Richard Grayson
Tuesday June 1, 1993
7 PM. Now that it’s June, our daily high temperatures are in the low 90°s although it’s still comfortable in the early morning and the evening.
I spoke to Dad last night and he said he expected to be here sometime tomorrow; today he had an appointment in Tampa, so he’s probably spending the night there.
Up early, I listened to the news and had some breakfast (oatmeal and spelt with skim milk and banana slices, blackberries and grapefruit), exercised, showered, dressed and went out the door.
When I paid my June rent, Gordon said he’d make up a new lease. He has to give me a year-long lease, but after graduation, I can pay a reduced price for next summer. He didn’t say anything about a rent increase, so if it stays at $389, I’ll be happy.
Besides, I’ll have the flexibility to stay here if I want. I’ve been thinking I wouldn’t take the Florida bar exam, but maybe I’ll have to consider it.
At school, I read the Alligator and played on Lexis/Nexis (no, not law school work).
In Weyrauch’s class, we discussed a case involving a seemingly paranoid client, a woman who believed her husband was trying to kill her. I see Weyrauch likes you to consider every possibility when dealing with clients.
Often nobody answers his questions, but usually the answers are so obvious it seems silly to give them.
As we exited, Dawn said, “This is a very weird class.” I feel I’m learning a lot, however.
Weyrauch teaches us how to think like a counselor, not like a lawyer, and it’s hard to for law students to break out of habits that have been ingrained in us.
For example, students bring up liability or malpractice suits instead of considering the human factors in dealing with clients.
After lunch, I went to the Millhopper public library, where I took out several novels, including Mark Leyner’s latest, which had just been returned.
In the afternoon I watched a soap, read the Times, and looked at the 1982 section of Thirties/Eighties.
I spend far too much time fantasizing about the possibility of Phillip Lopate selecting me as the AWP Award Series winner in nonfiction. (I discount the possibility of even making it to Grace Paley in the short story category.)
In August I’ll be very disappointed when I find out that some conventional (and much more polished) memoir is selected as the nonfiction winner.
But every time I read the manuscript, I’m convinced it’s a great book. Can’t I just have the satisfaction of knowing I wrote it?
The Vietnam veterans rudely protesting Clinton at the Vietnam War Memorial yesterday make me angry.
Nobody will say this, but I thought then that any guy who went to Vietnam when he didn’t have to – everybody I knew who wanted a deferment got one – was an idiot.
Their behavior today convinces a lot me a lot of these guys are still idiots. Of course, when they attack Clinton for being a draft dodger, I feel they’re attacking me as well – and every guy around my age who was my friend (except maybe for Skip and a few others who turned into antiwar activists after they got back from Nam).
It’s like these guys wanted other people to suffer with them. Nobody will say what jerks they are because they’re veterans, but I have no respect for them. I respect only the vets who aren’t so sanctimonious as to stand in judgment of guys like Clinton and me.
Harold returned my call; he’d been out of town for the weekend. He’s got three weeks left of spring quarter teaching.
Although the heavy workload at Minneapolis Community College is staggering, he’s gotten used to it and he even finds time to write.
Harold likes the Twin Cities and hopes he’ll get his tenure at the end of the term.
The full-time job is allowing him to go to China with Pete later this month, something he could never afford to do as an adjunct. After meeting in Tokyo, they’ll go to China together.
I told Harold to have a great trip.
Speaking of trips, I got a postcard from Crad Kilodney in Vancouver. Instead of sounding like its usual grumpy self, Crad sounded full of energy and excitement, praising Vancouver as the most beautiful city he’d ever seen.
I’ve thought about moving to Vancouver, but then who hasn’t?
I wrote Crad a letter back, telling him about my past year.
Wednesday, June 2, 1993
3 PM. I never heard from Dad, so when I got home from school a couple of hours ago, I called Mom to find out why.
I had a premonition he’d have car trouble (not surprising with that old station wagon; I know I’d have car trouble if I took my Bonneville on a long trip), and I was right.
His air conditioner broke and they told him it would cost $450 to fix. With temperatures in the 90°s, it would be unbearable to drive very far without air conditioning.
Since Dad no longer has credit cards (or even a debit/ATM card like I have), Dad couldn’t pay for the repairs, of course.
Plus he told Mom he was awake all night with a pain in his side. I should wait for him, Mom said, as he should be here sometime today.
God, I wish I could do something to make it all right, but I’m not very good at comforting my parents. The child in me worries when I see them upset, as if they’re still the people I depend on, and if they can’t handle their lives, how can I?
I know I get my depressed, life-is-over moods from my parents, Dad in particular.
It depressed me to be with my family during Christmas and to see how they cling to their old patterns (and to each other).
One thing I’m very sure of: I will never live in the same town as my parents again.
I’m too old to be a boomerang child; the last time I went to live with my parents, from October 1990 to April 1991, was the last time I ever want to live with them.
I know I’m neurotic, but I also like being by myself, dealing with my own neurosis and not the neuroses of others.
While I talk to my parents on the phone a lot, I can always find an excuse to get off (I have to go to the bathroom/fix dinner/do some work) when they start in with some destructive pattern I remember from the past.
Well, I’ll try to make Dad as comfortable as I can.
Otherwise, today was fine. I went to school at 11 AM after spending time reading Phillip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre.
Before class, I had a nice conversation with Rich T. He told me about flying in the Air Force with this one guy who was obviously terrified to be piloting a plane.
When their flight was over, Rich took the guy to at a bar for beers and said, “Hey, why are you doing this? You’re torturing yourself for $200 a month.”
The guy’s face showed immediate relief, and he ran to resign from the Reserves and turn in his wings. “He was looking for someone to give him permission to quit,” Rich said.
I wonder: if Rich hadn’t said anything, would the guy have kept on going along with his old pattern?
Weyrauch had another good class as we discussed a case study called “The Cultured Prostitute.”
3:30 PM. Dad just called from Naples. He started to drive up, but he felt sick and turned around.
Dad said the pain in his side hurt a lot, like when he had appendicitis, and he asked me if I knew where the kidneys were.
I’m worried about him but also selfishly relieved that I don’t have to take care of him.
All he has to do is take I-75 (the old Alligator Alley) across the Everglades, so he should be home in a couple of hours. He’ll be more comfortable in his house with Mom anyway.
Earlier I told Mom that Dad was getting too old to be traveling so much. I hope he’s not seriously ill.
Well, my worrying won’t help anybody.
Thursday, June 3, 1993
4 PM. I spoke to Dad last evening and he sounded okay.
Neither he nor Mom could remember the medical tests and exam he had two years ago for similar pains in his side, but I do, as it happened while I was living at their house at the end of January 1991. (I remember because Ronna and her mother visited then.)
At that time it seemed Dad merely strained a muscle. Maybe this is something more serious, but I’m not going to worry about it until I hear more.
Last evening I finished Lopate’s wonderful collection of essays.
This morning I began Mark Leyner’s Et Tu, Babe, and any envy of him I have is overwhelmed by admiration for his cleverness and wit. While I can see similarities in our work, I’m much more sentimental and less hard-edged and inventive. As far as I’m concerned, more power to Mark.
I suspect people like Tom and others dislike Mark because he’s successful, and I hope never to become so bitter that I have to limit my enthusiasm to those writers as obscure as myself.
Last night I watched most of Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, Zoo, shot at the Miami MetroZoo with his usual lack of narration.
By just letting the cameras roll, Wiseman always manages to capture a particular milieu. Some of the zoo scenes dealing with dead animals (in one case, a stillborn rhinoceros) were a bit bloody for me.
I wonder if Jonathan’s love of animals is so great that he could stand some of the stuff he’d have to do and see at a zoo.
This morning I did my usual exercise before going to school and I also played with the cat, whom I invited in after I saw her shadow on my window. (She seems to love sitting on the ledge, but only in the early mornings.)
I got a call from someone at the Division of Cultural Affairs to confirm I’d be at the panel meeting. She said I didn’t have to bring all the applications because they had the originals there.
In class today, Weyrauch used our case study to discuss the counseling of criminal defendants in plea bargaining. From Crim Pro, I had known the system was a corrupt sausage factory – get them in and out quickly – but Weyrauch’s cynicism about plea bargaining outdid even Nunn’s.
Dawn is drawn to criminal defense work, and she worries about performing in such a system. I told her she would do fine for a number of years, and then, like most public defenders, she would burn out. Her career options are limited since her husband is a horticulture professor at UF and she needs to stay in Gainesville.
I was angry enough to call the White House comment line when I heard this morning that Clinton was planning to drop his nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights, Professor Lani Guinier, because she’s been dubbed “the quota queen” by right-wingers who misread her articles.
(I read about her ideas in Race Relations Law, and they’re not extremist.)
What a jerk Clinton is to give up on a supposed friend without letting her explain herself to the Senate and the media.
Sunday, June 6, 1993
8 PM. Four weeks ago tonight, when I went to dinner with David and Ronna at Ollie’s on West 84th and Broadway, my fortune cookie said I’d do well in a career in “education, law or publishing.”
Over the next year I guess I have to figure out what I can do in mixing those careers.
(Pretty weird how I got that fortune cookie. If Ronna or David had picked it up first, would they have realized that they had the fortune meant for me?)
I suspect the next year will be in some ways the least comfortable of my three years in Gainesville because I know I’ll be leaving this cocoon of law school and this no-pressure, low-key, sleepy university town.
Yeah, it was stressful to adjust the first year, and law school was tough and exhausting, and I was pretty frantic with overwork and lack of sleep last fall, but at least I didn’t have to think about the future, my post-Gainesville life.
Already the thought of moving makes me queasy. But I’m not Alice and I also know I’ll adjust quickly to whatever new life I make, wherever that life is.
Part of me is anxious for a change and the thrill of a new experience. I now know that I can make a move to a place by myself and create some kind of life. If I had known this before, I probably would have taken an out-of-town teaching job when I was 27 or 33.
I need to start planning for next summer. Do I take the bar exam? In what state? Do I look for work as an attorney, do I look for teaching jobs (English at community colleges is still my best bet), or do I decide to move somewhere first and only then look for work?
Do I go back to the comfort zone of New York City temporarily? New York is expensive, but I can live there more cheaply than I can visit there.
Do I try Georgetown’s LL.M. program, the fellowship in Street Law, or some other academic fellowship somewhere?
I want to apply for as many things as I can so I’ll have enough options to confuse me totally.
I’m not going to let climate stand in my way. For too long I’ve had this bugaboo about being afraid to experience winter. Although the past two winters here have been mild, it will be easier for me to go to a colder climate now that I’m no longer expecting the 80° Januarys of South Florida.
I managed to get through all the material Weyrauch assigned, and that will probably take us to next week.
It’s Gay Pride Week in Gainesville, with a banner across University Avenue and posters on lampposts. (Is “lampposts” a word that dates me?)
RFK died on June 6, 1968, about 38 hours after he was shot, at the end of my 17th birthday. I hadn’t realized till yesterday that he was 42 at his death – the age I am now.
He was a U.S. senator, attorney general, a beloved and hated political icon, father of God-knows-how-many kids.
Well, there’s no point in saying anything else: I just think, look at me, and there it is.
Next week I go to Tallahassee and soon I’ll begin teaching (I hope the class runs).
Now that I no longer escape Florida in June, July and August, the hot and muggy summers are the oppressive equivalent of frigid, snowy winters. I’d rather not have to go through this kind of summer next year.
Which brings up where I do want to be next year. It depends.
I don’t know. I’m scared.
I know that, dummy, what’s that got to do with anything?
I’m just saying it.
Hey, I haven’t talked to many people this weekend, so do you mind if I talk to myself?
Be your own guest.
Tuesday, June 8, 1993
3 PM. Last evening I reread a few of the organization grant proposals and rated them in the five categories we were given, trying to write rational-sounding comments to justify the scores.
When I came to Latino Stuff, Inc., a Spanish literary magazine which had a thin application packet and sent along no sample issues, I didn’t know what to think, so I called Jeffrey Knapp in Miami to see if he knew more about it.
He said he didn’t, but he thought the couple in charge seemed like they were paying themselves a lot of money.
Jeffrey only just began reviewing the materials so they’d be fresh in his memory. He was on this panel a few years ago and told me a little of how it works.
Because his daughter will be visiting from Brooklyn this weekend, he doesn’t want to take the time to drive and will fly up to Tallahassee.
When I told him I planned to stay at the La Quinta Inn, he said he’d make reservations there, too.
Mom phoned to say I’d probably be having a visitor tonight. On the spur of the moment, Marc decided to visit friends in Cape Cod and planned to drive this far by evening.
Mom said that Marc and Clarissa aren’t seeing each other as much as they used to “because he needs to work on getting himself together first.”
After Dad’s non-appearance last week, I know not to expect a definite visit from a family member, but I’ll be glad to see Marc if he comes.
I hadn’t planned to go anywhere – not in this brutal heat.
Before class today, I spent an hour at the computers talking to Julie, a 25-year-old student who was doing a Lexis/Nexis search about moving to Canada.
Julie’s one of the more radical, hipper people around the law school. The first time I saw her – in Weyrauch’s class – she impressed me because she wears “nerd” glasses, the kind I wore as a little kid in the 1950s with frames that are colored on the top and clear on the sides and bottom. Julie is cool, and I like her a great deal.
We had another good class. I enjoy Weyrauch’s musings, and I contribute a lot to our discussions.
When he asked if it’s possible that an old man might be shunted aside by his family if he gave away his property before he died to avoid estate taxes, I blurted out, “King Lear,” and he smiled.