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

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, December 12, 1993

9 PM. Last evening I did some laundry and began rereading the fourth edition of Yanomamo: The Fierce People.

I figure I’ll re-read all the books I had before I begin writing the research paper. That way I’ll immerse myself in the material, which is already fairly familiar to me.

I might as well try to do the best job I can. I think I did as much with my other courses; if I don’t get top grades, it’s not because I didn’t give it my all.

Last night was the coldest night of the year, and it went down to 27° this morning although it was a bright, sunny day.

I slept really well but woke with lower back ache that gnawed at me all day. Snug under my quilt with the heat on, I didn’t go to get the Times until 11 AM.

I’m afraid I made a gay teenager feel bad in the bookstore. This red haired-kid about 16 or 17 was at the cash register before I was, and when the cashier went to take me ahead of the kid – something that drives me crazy – I said, “He was here first.”

He then turned to the kid, who said “It’s okay” to me, but I insisted he go first, remembering how I hated it when older people would be waited on ahead of me.

Well, it turned out the kid was buying a gay skin magazine, and I’m sure I embarrassed him. The cashier didn’t help with what I detected as a superior attitude. I felt just terrible.

As it turned out, I found that I had to follow the kid just to get to my car. I wanted to tell him, “Hey, you shouldn’t be embarrassed; I’m gay, too,” but I think he felt so intimidated that he turned into a fast-food place to escape me in case I was following him.

Maybe he thought I was a gay-basher or else he realized I was gay and thought I was trying to pick him up. I wasn’t attracted to this kid, but I did feel like a creep.

It must be so hard to be a gay kid in Gainesville. This kid looked as if he was in high school, not college. I guess I thought about myself at that age, even if I had what seemed like more pressing problems than being gay.

I don’t know that it’s much easier now than it was pre-Stonewall, when “homosexuals” were considered to be sick and people didn’t speak about this subject.

Today gay kids can go to lots of places for help and there’s more support out there, and I’m sure it’s easier to confide in friends today. In high school and even early in college, those of us who hadn’t come out never spoke about it.

But there’s so much active hatred in this town right now, something I didn’t experience growing up in New York City.

Anyway, I went home and exercised and read the paper, and in mid-afternoon I went over to the Oaks Mall, crowded with Christmas shoppers. Like me, people are charging again.

They had white Reeboks on sale, so I bought a pair because my old Reeboks are falling apart from age.

They had a 7½ on display, so holding it, I told the salesman I wasn’t anticipating an amputation and would appreciate it if he could find me the left shoe’s right partner in stock. He didn’t understand what I was talking about.

It seems like I can try courtesy in stores, and I can try wit – but I’m always misunderstood.

I bought some supplements at GNC and people-watched in the jam-packed mall before going to the Tower Road library, where I found a biography of James Dean and the video of Rebel Without a Cause.

At home, I made up and printed out a final exam for English 102 – I’ve put off grading papers till tomorrow – as well as a manuscript for my application for Stanford’s graduate writing program.

They take eight students for a two-year non-degree program and give them all Stegner Fellowships that cover living expenses and tuition.

It’s another shot at the lottery, I figure; I still have to send them copies of old letters of recommendation from Peter Spielberg and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and write a statement about why I want to go there.

Thursday, December 16, 1993

3 PM. One great thing about being a college instructor: there’s a nice sense of closure at the end of every semester. Last evening I got to SFCC at 7 PM and while my students were writing their final essays, I graded the papers written on Monday night.

So many of the students said they never liked literature before my class and that they were not used to being taught in the way I did: “more like a discussion with friends,” one wrote.

Other people were surprised that they got something out of poetry, and in fact I was surprised at how many wrote that they actually preferred poetry to fiction and drama.

Last night’s essays were similar when I read them this morning. A lot of the guys shook my hand when they turned in their papers.

Christian wrote the best paper; he’s a natural writer, and if he were older and gay, I’d probably be in love with him.

The last guy to hand in his final – the weakest writer in the class, one of the older Southern good ol’ boy types – told me he was amazed by my knowledge of literature and writers and said that most teachers at a place like this don’t know anything compared to me.

“You should be at Harvard or someplace good,” he told me, and then I shouldn’t be a lawyer but instead “stick to writing.”

It’s hard to believe that everything that students say could be buttering me up for good grades.

Yet I did give good grades, of course. What the hell.

I put my electronic “gradebook” in order and printed out copies, filled out the forms for the registrar, and went to SFCC late this morning to hand in my grade sheets and to give Sharon my records and the keys to Unit 4 and my office.

So far eight people have registered for my Saturday class downtown, and when I spoke to Barbara Sloan after they’d finished grading the English 101 retakes, she said they’ll let it run if it has ten students and that I should call her in three weeks.

Before leaving campus, I wished everyone a good holiday. If I don’t teach next term, I can probably get nearly as much money on Unemployment.

In any case, I enjoyed teaching literature after several years, and it reminded me that I do know an awful lot.

In the main library downtown today, I read a disturbing Voice article on what’s become of CUNY.

It sounds as if now that most CUNY students are minorities, they are being steered toward vocational education as Chancellor Reynolds cuts liberal arts programs and courses in her consolidation plan.

She fired President Volpe after students protested her when she spoke at the new College of Staten Island campus dedication. Thankfully, Governor Cuomo stepped in and Volpe was allowed to retire at the end of this academic year.

With so many faculty members taking early retirement, half of CUNY classes are now taught by adjuncts.

It’s a shame that CUNY and similar schools our destroying the best aspects of public higher education. I wish I could do something to help the students.

At the library, I borrowed a box of photos of James Dean – mostly movie stills.

I also sent out more Christmas cards using addresses I got from the phone books in the library – to old friends like Bert and Alice in Cleveland.

Last night I almost finished reading Yanomamo, and this weekend I’ll begin writing the paper for McCoy.

I also looked throughout my accumulated sections of the New York Times Book Review, knowing I might never get around to reading them.

Maybe what I don’t do during the next few weeks, I can do next semester if I have more free time. (But I doubt I will.)

It’s a cool, grey day, and it had been a cold night. With UF undergraduate finals now over, cars are streaming toward I-75 as students empty out of Gainesville.

Saturday, December 18, 1993

3 PM. I feel nice and sleepy now even though I slept soundly last night.

This morning I went over to University Auditorium for the law school graduation, figuring I could see what it was like. I had to stand in the back, as did many people, because I arrived late.

Only a token number of faculty served as marshals and sat on stage; Dean Lewis presided, of course.

Once everyone but us latecomers had sat down, Dean Savage awarded a J.D. to the student who died tragically last month. Her teenage daughters and young son came to accept it, getting a standing ovation amid what probably were a lot of wet eyes.

Leander Shaw, the Florida Supreme Court Justice, gave a brief address full of common sense which he knew nobody would remember, and then they conferred the degrees: first the two LL.M. degrees (neither student was there) and then the 146 J.D. degrees.

Unlike at the Brooklyn College graduations, here people not only had all the stuff conferred on them but each came up individually to the stage to get his/her diploma.

Dean Savage greeted the graduates, in alphabetical order, and Professor Little placed the hoods on their gowns, after which Professor Dowd moved their mortarboard tassels to the right (or left . . . whatever) and Dean Savage announced their names.

As people applauded (or shouted; some people have loud friends and relatives), the graduates got their diplomas from Dean Lewis and marched off the other side of the stage and back into their seats.

I applauded for my friends, of course, and I looked at the commencement booklet which listed each graduate’s name, hometown, if they got Honors (six people, including Kathy and Carl, got High Honors) or Book Awards, their undergraduate or graduate degrees, and the activities and organizations they took part in.

The ceremony was surprisingly touching. Outside afterwards, Liz McCulloch –who got out of her gown in record time – said she always feels sentimental at graduations.

About a dozen people who came in with me in fall ’91 graduated early: Dan R, Dan M, Kevin C, Paul R, Judy, Kathy, Michael W (not surprisingly, he wasn’t there), Gene and a few others—along with people I know from earlier classes, like Julie F.

I kissed Ana and told her to take care of herself and shook hands with Gene, Carl, Kevin L and whomever I could find.

Laura C  had come with Bob and his wife Birgit (who swears we never met, though I remember her from somewhere).

After coming home, I exercised and called Alice, who was on the other line with Andreas and who called me back.

Alice received the dates for her book tour for the paperback of The Last Ten Pounds. She’ll be in Miami on February 4, and then Atlanta and Philadelphia, and the publishers are trying to get her some media in New York City.

I told Alice about Grandma’s death and the Miami Book Fair, and then we talked about this and that.

After writing my statement of purpose for the FSU fellowship application, I decided to send it off right away.

Going to the mailbox, I saw this skinny guy with long blond hair sitting by the pool. While he looked okay, his girlfriend was absolutely luscious.

Since I saw her, surprisingly, I can’t stop thinking of her breasts in that two-piece bathing suit.

(Bikinis on the right woman really excite me – or is that societal conditioning overruling my nature?)

In the mail I got holiday cards from Karin and Ronna and a check from the Miami Book Fair reimbursing me for the car rental.

Laura called with directions on how to get to Dan R’s party tonight.

As lazy as it sounds, I think I’m going to close my eyes and lie down now.

Sunday, December 19, 1993

5 PM. I enjoyed Dan’s party last night.

I got there about 6:30 PM and congratulated Dan. He managed to pull his GPA up to Honors when he got his grades yesterday and found he’d gone 3.68 for the term.

Gene also did well, getting an A from Baldwin and again booking a class of Weyrauch’s, this time Family Law.

Most of the guests at the party were Dan’s relatives and friends; his wife Lori had made all kinds of great food, but I stuck to the crudités, passing up even cannoli.

Maybe I’m a little too strict with my diet, but the truth is I don’t really miss all that good stuff anymore.

Bob and Birgit arrived in tux and evening gown, and she finally did remember me.

The other law school friends there were Laura, of course, and Paul R, Donna, and Gene and his wife, who had left their nine-month-old at home for the first time (with Gene’s mother).

While Paul has finished all his coursework, for some reason he’s going to graduate with us in May. He plans to spend the next semester in Venezuela, studying Spanish and other stuff.

I had a lot of good conversations, though certainly these people are very different from my New York friends. For one thing, they are all so conservative compared to me.

Laura exclaimed how much she liked Bush compared to Clinton, whom she can’t stand. While I discount her opinions as uninformed, Paul is real conservative and I know he’s a religious Christian.

However, he’s so well-informed and interested in politics – he knew about Giuliani’s flap with an ambulance driver in New York this week – that we’ve always gotten along well.

I get along with other right-wing people like Lawrence for the same reason: we may disagree about every issue, but we know we’re part of the minority who follow politics carefully.

That’s probably why politicians who have diametrically opposing views can be friends.

Birgit started what turned out to be a somewhat contentious discussion of military life. When she complained about all the prostitution and adultery that went on at their base in the Philippines, Gene said she must be exaggerating.

However, Gene’s wife surprised me by saying she agreed with Birgit’s view of the military “up to a point.” Apparently, it’s not easy being a military wife.

But Gene is probably going back to what they called “the cocoon,” at least temporarily, taking a short-term position with the Marines in whatever they call their version of the criminal justice system.

After listening to them, I’m beginning to really understand how secure a womb the military can be. I think of academia in the same way, I guess.

Dan’s best friend is an assistant D.A. in Philadelphia, and he told us lots of stories. He was a little bit of a blowhard but quite entertaining.

Although he makes only $31,000, he has five weeks’ vacation, and the work is interesting and not too hard. The only thing he hates is that because of a Philadelphia law, he has to live in the city when he’d prefer to be in the suburbs.

Dan’s parents, grandfather, sisters and their families, aunts and uncles were all very nice. They’re a close-knit Italian family who reminded me of Teresa’s.

Anyway, I left at 10:30 PM, wishing Dan and Gene good luck; I’ll see the others at law school next term.

Back at home, I stayed up most of the night, reading, listening to the radio, and just thinking.

At the party, Gene mentioned that we were the first person the other met at law school back in August 1991 and reminded me that when we went to buy books together, we ran into this guy who scared us because after one term, he had a 1.8 GPA. (But the guy – John N – graduated anyway yesterday.)

Laura is very negative about law school and Gainesville, calling her three years here “a total waste.” But for me, it’s been a terrific time in my life.

Up this morning after a couple of hours of light sleep, I decided to see what my face looked like under my beard.

No, I didn’t shave off everything but left a goatee. I always thought goatees looked dopey, but now, with the flannel-and-grunge scene, I see I got lot of guys with them around town.

I think I still prefer the continuous strip of beard circling my jaw (even if it’s sometimes just a narrow strip), but I’ll see how I feel.

Today it rained all day. I read this Sunday Times, did aerobics, and watched news shows and Luis Buñuel’s religious satire The Milky Way, which I borrowed from the Millhopper library this afternoon.

Bob K of the Human Rights Council called, asking me to return their mailing list with the corrections I’d made.