A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1994
Tuesday, January 4, 1994
3:30 PM. The severe storm that’s dropped snow on most of the East Coast didn’t really affect us.
It’s been breezy but sunny all day, and it’s about 50° now, although the temperatures are supposed to go into the 20°s tonight.
Josh phoned as I was dozing off last night, but he didn’t have much to say.
Josh always manages to express surprise about statements I make that seem so utterly commonplace – like last night, when I said I was thinking of moving out West.
I guess something like that would be impossible for Josh. He uses his parents as an excuse, but I can’t see him leaving New York City. It’s the perfect place for a paranoid.
He did say he was going down to Washington next week to see the Holocaust Museum; although they’ve told visitors to stay away because they can’t accommodate the crowds, Josh says he’s got a ticket waiting for him in D.C.
Last night I dreamed I hit a home run at Shea Stadium; in a less pleasant dream, I discovered not only did I have a hairy chest but hair was growing on the upper part of my face – my nose and forehead. Disgusting.
I went out at 9 AM and got the Times, the first Alligator of the semester, and lots of groceries at Publix. Eckerd had their generic Drixoral on sale for even less than I pay at Walmart, so I bought six boxes of 20 tablets each.
I studied the bus schedule and realized that I’ll have to take a cab back home from SFCC-Downtown on Saturday; there’s no bus between 4 PM and 5:40 PM.
Well, I don’t even know if the class will make. Barbara told me to call on Thursday to see if she’ll let it run. If it doesn’t, it’s no big deal, and I’ll try to go back on Unemployment.
I let the cat in at 8 AM and it just left half an hour ago. The poor cat slept under the table all day. It doesn’t like the cat treats I’d bought, and the cat was so lethargic that I was afraid it was ill and was going to die in my apartment.
At 1 PM, I went over to the tailor across the street and tried on three pairs of jeans so he could fix the hems.
The owner, a Korean man, was talking to a black woman at a sewing machine about college scholarships, and she mentioned Brooklyn College’s SEEK Program.
I said I went to Brooklyn College, and the woman was from East Flatbush – Clarkson Avenue between Utica and Ralph, in the neighborhood where my whole family lived in the 1950s.
Mom phoned to see if it was snowing here, as the Miami Herald said it would.
She said Mayor Giuliani’s 7-year-old son Andrew was the funniest thing at his inauguration. The kid imitated his father and gestured and spoke along with him. There was a front-page story about it in today’s Times; apparently it’s done wonders for Giuliani’s image because it shows him not to be such a stiff.
Dad is going to a meeting in New York on Friday, and already he’s preparing for bad news. They’re firing people left and right, and if they cut Dad’s commission any further, he’ll have to quit. (They may be trying to get their sales force to do just that.)
I’ve been anxious to see my grades from last term, which are supposed to be posted at 5 PM. I’ll walk over to see, though I know Nagan is often late with his grades (as I’d expect). I’m trying to make sure I’m not disappointed.
Anything less than a B+ average will lower my GPA, and the only way I can get above 3.5 and thus get listed as “High Honors” in the commencement booklet is if I get A’s in all three classes. That kind of hat trick isn’t easy to pull off.
I do know one thing: whatever my grades, I couldn’t have worked any harder or smarter than I did. I wish I didn’t care so much, and I know if I had more going on in my life, I wouldn’t care.
7 PM. I’ve been very upset since I saw my grades – or rather, I didn’t see them. Baldwin gave me an A, and while Don Peters’ class was posted, all the grades were blank. That’s obviously a foul-up.
What bothers me is that Nagan left a blank next to my exam number, as he did with a few others. I called his wife, Judith Nagan, who was listed in the phone book.
She took my message and said she’d have him call me back, but he’s in Orlando now, and he’s not teaching this semester.
I did spend a lot of time on the paper, but I’m sure not much more than other people did. If I’m right – I can’t believe it’s a clerical error – Nagan is going to question my authorship of the paper.
Mom said all I have to do is show him my résumé with all my publications and years of teaching writing.
While I did use phrases from various articles, I can’t believe I didn’t do anything other people didn’t do. I’m just a more polished and articulate writer – I’m a professional, damn it.
I told Mom the whole thing makes me feel like dropping out of law school. I guess I should just calm down and sit tight until I hear from Nagan.
This reminds me of what happened with my professor, Daniel Fuchs at Richmond College, when he questioned the authorship of my term paper twenty years ago.
Wednesday, January 5, 1994
3 AM. I can’t sleep. For hours I’ve been tormented about my lack of a grade in Nagan’s class. I’ve spun out scenarios by the handful, imagining a public hearing. I’d want the publicity.
Nagan has the duty to have me expelled if I did plagiarize, and I’ll ask to be expelled after due process.
For one of the first times in my life, I understand how it must feel to have the cloud of accusation hang over a person; I feel like Joseph K. in Kafka’s Trial.
Until I hear from Nagan, I don’t know how I can stand getting through the day. If the accusation is plagiarism, it goes straight to the core of my identity as a writer and a thinker.
Yet, despite all the pain, I have a little doppelgänger saying, “Gee, this is an interesting development in the storyline of Richie’s soap opera! Where’s it going to go?”
At other moments I’m reduced to tears and self-pity and I think: Since Grandma Ethel died, everything in my life has fallen apart.
7 PM. Today was a stressful day, following a sleepless night, but I really have to examine why I overreacted to my blank grade from Nagan. He merely lost my paper when he misread the exam number. He gave me a B+ – or a B++ as he scrawled on the back.
It was a nightmare getting this straightened out, but why did I assume he’d thought my paper was so good that he didn’t believe I’d written it?
I guess I could call that chutzpah (Karin and nine others got an A’s and I didn’t) or an excess of self-confidence – or, more likely, a touch of paranoia.
At least I didn’t make a fool of myself. Six other people also had no grades, and he’d lost most of their papers, too.
“He’s an administrator’s nightmare,” Dean Savage told me as we rode up in the elevator late today after Sherrie at Student Services couldn’t get Nagan to confirm my grade once I’d found the paper myself amid the junk scattered all over the floor of his office.
So I had to wait over two hours for Nagan to come in and another hour while he was on the phone trying to save Bosnia.
For all his knowledge of international law, the man is something of an idiot. (Still, I can relate: like me, he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.)
Anyway, the good news is that they were going to post Don Peters’ grades at 5 PM. However, I didn’t want to wait half an hour after being at school all day.
I dropped my superfluous courses and exchanged Dowd’s Employment Discrimination for her Women and the Law (which doesn’t have a final that would interfere with my New York trip) and switched foreign enrichment courses, picking up The Law of South Africa and dropping Comparative Criminal Procedure.
On Mondays I now have just my seminar after 4 PM, and I’ll have one class Friday afternoons – but I don’t really need a weekday off.
Registration was so easy, and I’m glad I helped out Melissa, who wanted my seat in Employment Discrimination.
It was good to see old friends like Karin (too bad we won’t be in any classes together) and Angelina (whose daughter is thriving), Doug K and Doug G, Rich T and Rick A, David A, Ray D and others.
It was a cold day, and I walked back and forth to school twice. I’m glad I forced myself to exercise with Body Electric at 6 PM.
Tomorrow I’ve got Advanced Legal Research at 10:20 AM, but Dowd canceled class. She assigned us a short paper (“What is a feminist?”) due on Monday.
At 3 PM,, Professor Little is having an organizational meeting for the South Africa class, and at 4:10 PM I’ve got Intellectual Property, for which I have to read the first 54 pages of the text tonight.
I’ll put reading the rest of today’s paper off until tomorrow.
I got my student loan checks today.
Thursday, January 6, 1994
7 PM. As tired as I was, I couldn’t fall asleep until 2:30 AM. It was my own fault, for I got into bed very early and then just lay there until about 1 AM when I went into the living room to read the paper until I felt terribly sleepy.
I’ve been masking a headache with Tylenol all day, but I did fine for this first day of classes of my final semester in law school.
It was a pain to have so little sleep, but once again, I forced myself to exercise early.
It was 30° this morning and got up to 70° later before it turned cooler, so I kept changing what I was wearing.
I’m also not used to walking so much, especially with a backpack. Not only did I go back and forth to school twice, but I also walked to the bank to deposit my loan checks.
Before I left this morning, I called the SFCC English Department to get the good news: the Saturday English 102 class at noon is going to run, and it already had 14 students registered.
So I’ll get to teach literature again. Probably I’ll have to take a cab there this week. I want to get to the school early, but not so early as to screw up mealtime.
I met this guy, who seemed to know me, to walk to school with this morning. Although I didn’t know him, we were in Baldwin’s class together last term. He’s Chris, from Sarasota.
It was nice to have someone to talk to although he had me slightly out of breath trying to keep up with him on the uphill trek. (Going home is easier because it’s downhill.)
I liked my 10:20 AM Advanced Legal Research class with Rosalie Sanderson. We met in Bailey Courtroom, and the 20 students are mostly people I know: Sharon, Lori, Rachel, Dionne, Kevin M and others who came in with me.
Rosalie explained our big project will be a pathfinder – a sort of souped-up bibliography that serves as a guide to a particular subject. These are becoming more and more popular.
What startled me was taking the quiz (anonymously) at the end of class: I’m so used to computer-aided research, I’ve forgotten how to look up material in books. All that stuff I learned in the first semester has disappeared from my memory.
Karin and others are trying to get into the class, but it’s limited to 20 because we’ll be having computer labs.
I went to see Baldwin about the FSU recommendation; I gave him my curriculum vita plus a copy of With Hitler in New York and articles about my political pranks. I think he’s the teacher I’ll most remember from law school.
Back home, I was eating lunch when Marc called. He thanked me for the birthday card and said he consulted an attorney about filing for bankruptcy.
The guy told him to wait until he puts the Cadillac in someone else’s name because it’s too expensive. This way, when Marc files, he’ll show that he owns only one vehicle, a beat-up van.
Marc was concerned about a joint account on a credit card that also lists my name; I told him to send me the card and I’ll figure out what to do but that Marc should put it on his list of creditors.
Marc said I should just junk my car; he’s decided it’s not worth it to tow it back and sell the parts. He’s looking around for a car for me, but he wants to wait until he finds something really good.
Back at school, I went to see Don Peters, who told me I got an A in Negotiation. I hate to sound greedy, but if Nagan had given me an A, I’d be over 3.5 now instead of so close at 3.48.
If I get an A from McCoy, I’ll hit 3.5 exactly, but I’m not going to think about it.
Lorraine never went to Nagan’s class except for a few times, and today she told me she got an A. It figures.
At 3 PM, Joe Little explained how our South Africa course would work. Our first lecturer, Professor Erasmus, an Afrikaner from a traditional all-white university, will be here for five weeks, so he’ll spread out his classes.
There are only seven people in the class so far, including Shawn, Rachel and Jonathan. Drop/add is still going on, but I’ll be happy in a small class.
Little gave us some xeroxed readings, and the rest are on reserve – so we don’t have to spend money on texts yet.
During my free time, I chatted with various people: Roger and Jim (who explained that I should call Intellectual Property “IP” to sound in the know); David G (who’s taking all business-related classes); Bob C (Jones gave him an A) and others.
I’m surprised at how few people I know are in our big IP section. I think I’ll like the class; Professor Hunt is an eccentric Southern gentleman.
He began by using as an example a play to be written about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – he’s a bigwig in the society that preserves her home – and when nobody else said what issue that could bring up, I raised my hand and mentioned right of publicity.
Class ended at 5:10 PM, and I listened to All Things Considered on the radio as I walked home.
Tomorrow I have no classes, but I have to prepare for teaching and write the two-page paper for Dowd. This looks like it will be a pleasant semester.
Friday, January 7, 1994
4 PM. It’s the kind of gorgeous day that makes me glad I live in Florida: cloudless skies, 70°, dry. Even a cold doesn’t feel so bad in this weather.
Yes, I’m sick, although I don’t think this is a major cold. I couldn’t sleep last night either and ended up getting only five hours. Lack of sleep, all that stress and the strenuous walking that I’m not accustomed to took its toll, though I’d been doubling up on my vitamins.
I felt crummy when I got up, but at least I didn’t have to go anywhere today.
This morning I wrote a 4½-page paper for Dowd – I hope she doesn’t object to the humor – and I made a first-day course outline for tomorrow’s class.
(I couldn’t find last term’s on my hard drive so I needed to start from scratch.)
At 11 AM, I went out to get the papers and then went for a haircut at the place in Westgate Plaza. I knew they’d be expensive, but Zena, who cut my hair, did a better job than anyone else in town has – Marsha recommended her – and now I feel presentable.
At Eckerd, for the first time I bought Just for Men shampoo-in hair coloring (medium brown) because my beard is going grey. (I’m not grey at all on top.)
Back home, I reworked my syllabus and then I printed out 20 copies of it and the two-page course guide.
After lunch, I walked over to school and chatted with Gina, who visited her folks in Colorado over the holidays. She and her family will probably return there when she graduates this summer.
I shot the breeze with Bob and Martin and went upstairs to leave my paper in Dowd’s mailbox. (McCoy and Nagan both said hi; two absent-minded professors they are).
I managed to hitch a ride home with Lee, who was going to Archer Road to get her oil changed.
I called up about six community colleges that had English openings (I used Internet to get the Chronicle ads) and I wrote away to redeem my frequent flyer mileage for a round-trip certificate.
Then I walked over to Publix, where I ran into Rhoda Baskin, whom I’d said hello to when we passed here in Camelot the other day.
She’s the secretary in the SFCC unit where I worked in fall 1992 – it took me a while to place her – and when I saw her in the supermarket, I had to remind her where she knew me from.
She just moved in to apartment 106. I told her Camelot was a nice place to live and said she should come over if she needs anything.
Passing the Korean guy from the tailor shop, I remembered he said my altered jeans would be ready today, so I picked them up.
After I put my pants away and put my groceries in the refrigerator, I went to get the mail. Mom sent the notice about the Brooklyn College reunion. They put me on the committee along with Marie and Carole. That’s weird.
I didn’t study it carefully, nor did I do more than skim the letter I got form Mark Bernheim in Ohio in response to my writing him after I saw his letter in the Times Book Review. He made several allusions to gay stuff as my eyes swept over the page.
Mark hates what they’ve done to the Deco District, as he had wanted it to be preserved, not turned into Yuppie Hell.
He’s got a book out about some European writer – I’ll have to read the letter in detail, but I wanted to write my diary entry now because I feel so good.
Maybe it’s all the connections I’ve been coming up with today. Everything seems connected to everything else. Mark wondered if I was telepathic, for just a few days before he heard from me, he picked up Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and began re-reading it.
Despite being broke, car-less, lover-less and un-famous, I feel amazingly content with my life. At this moment it all seems to make sense.
These moments are rare and fleeting, so I’d better record this one to stand as proof in the future that I felt this way.
Saturday, January 8, 1994
7 PM. I finally got a good night’s sleep last night but it was too late: I awoke with a sore throat and postnasal drip, the start of what seems like a bad cold.
Well, I plan to stay in bed now that I’ve gotten home a little while ago. I don’t have to be in school for 48 hours and hopefully I can rest up a little.
The quick changes in the weather are a factor, as is being in contact with lots of people after a month of relative isolation, but mostly I blame getting sick on stress from law school.
I never should have gone out late Tuesday afternoon and tried to see my grades; then I wouldn’t have gotten so upset. I was unable to sleep that night. It’s ridiculous for me to take grades so seriously. True, Nagan is an asshole, but it was my own fault for getting so upset at the missing grades.
Combined with the death of my car and the difficulty in getting around – and maybe even Grandma Ethel’s dying five weeks ago – I felt totally helpless with life spinning out of control.
I’ve got to control what I can, and the first thing I need to do is lighten up and not be so obsessive/compulsive. I don’t have to do all the reading for my classes on time, and I don’t need to make my seminar paper, my papers for Dowd, and my pathfinder for Rosalie masterpieces. I just need to pass and get out of law school.
My reaction to the missing grade in Nagan’s class showed that I don’t have enough going for me in my personal life; I completely misinterpreted everything in a manner that verged on paranoia. That should be a warning.
Anyway, my SFCC class downtown seems nice. I expected nearly all black students, but only three of the eleven who came today are black. One woman is from Belgrade (she was surprised when I recognized her last name as Serbian), and a young guy is a student from Shanghai.
They’re mostly adults, and I expect to have a decent time with them. This class went late because I had them write an essay, so I didn’t get out till our official end time, 2:45 PM, and the #5 bus didn’t come until 3:10 PM. (It runs hourly on Saturday.)
I did manage to read the Times while my students were writing and while sitting at the bus stop bench. I had to find my mailbox in the faculty office and the classroom, but Mr. Mickle, a nice man, explained where everything was.
The cab fare over there was $5, including tip. The bus is supposed to get here at 10:45 AM and then 11:45 AM, but the first time is too early and the later time cuts it very close.
Maybe next week I’ll leave early and pack a sandwich and other food for lunch. The class does cut right into the times when I’m ordinarily eating and I was so tired today that I didn’t exercise until 10 AM.
Anyway, I’ll adjust to all this new stuff. A week ago I felt so weird writing in this different style of diary for the first time, but now it feels comfortable and I can’t understand why my hand hurt when I wrote the first entry. In a way I prefer the shape of the page here.
I fell asleep last evening at about 9:30 PM, and after I awoke from a dream at 11:30 PM and felt rested, I knew I’d finally be getting quality sleep.
Yes, I have a lot to do: reading for all my classes, grading the 11 papers I got today, applying for academic jobs, xeroxing, shopping. But it can wait. I need to just lie around for a while, perhaps for the rest of the day.
Maybe I’ll leave some messages on guys’ ads on that Alternate Matchmaker phone mail service. Precisely because I feel I have no time for a social life is why I should try to make one for myself.
I envy some of my friends who have light schedules at law school. Except for last summer, I’ve always felt harried as a law student. But it’s not only my schedule that makes me that way.
In the last two fall semesters I’ve taken four classes and taught two; last spring I took six classes, and this term still adds up to six classes: I’m teaching one and taking five.
But it will all be over in less than 16 weeks. In late April I’ll be done and I can go to New York for the Brooklyn College reunion and to visit my friends and get back in touch with my hometown. And I promised Mom that I’d go to Fort Lauderdale for spring break in March.