A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1994

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, July 2, 1994

3 PM. Everything is such a mess. I just feel in turmoil.

I slept okay but had a sore throat during the night. By now I’m certain I’ve got the start of a bad cold. My throat is raw, and I feel feverish and exhausted.

Of course, I’ve been driving to, around and back from Tampa – over 300 miles – for the last seven or so hours.

I looked around the neighborhoods near USF and in Temple Terrace but was so confused that I didn’t know where to go. The area seemed so sterile compared to Gainesville, and I wasn’t sure if I was going with my instinct not to rent an apartment today or if I was giving in to panic about moving.

I saw several apartment complexes that seemed decent, but I really couldn’t tell. Is it racist to be suspicious of a place where nearly everybody is black? Or to feel forlorn seeing the dreary industrial boulevards off which some complexes are located?

Since I wasn’t feeling well, I decided not to rush into signing a lease today. There are plenty of vacant apartments in the area.

If I felt better, I might have explored other areas. At least my car made the trip with no problems.

I left at 6:50 AM and got to Tampa after 9 AM. USF is a vast and sterile campus, but I did think the library school had the handsomest building.

It all just seemed overwhelming compared to here, where everything is on a smaller scale. But perhaps I just perceive it that way because I’m so used to Gainesville.

I’m giving serious thought to just staying here, even if it’s too late to keep this apartment. I could teach at SFCC, and it will be easy to go to Ocala for the Nova classes.

But is that what I want to do? Or is that just going to make the transition harder when I have to leave next year?

I had close to a full-blown panic attack when I stopped for gas on the way back in this little town called Bushnell.

Having a cold and being so confused made me feel sick – but I took some Emetrol and a Triavil and managed to drive home the rest of the way.

There was a message on my machine from Marc, who instructed me to call our parents to say he was fine. It turns out that he also was in Tampa, saying that he was thinking of moving there with me.

When I phoned Mom, I heard Jonathan on the extension nearly crying with relief.

Marc disappeared on Thursday night, after word came that the trade school was shutting down. I figure he panicked, took his usual load of drugs, and did whatever he does when he goes on a bender.

I don’t know about living with Marc in Tampa. I don’t see myself being his codependent, but I don’t know if I can insist that he get real drug treatment and either get any kind of job or go to school.

Living with him would tie me up with our family after I fought so hard to extricate myself.

On the other hand, Marc needs to get away from Mom and Dad, and right now I certainly don’t know what I’m doing with my life, either.

Can we help one another or will we just drown separately?

Except I know I’m a survivor by now. I don’t want to witness Marc deteriorate or, God forbid, die. Would our living together be something like Willy Loman’s pathetic last-act dream for his sons?

I feel both Marc and I need psychotherapy. I’ve never been able to “take hold” any more than he has; I’ve just been operating on a different level.

Really, Tampa was not as bad as I made it sound above. Gainesville also seemed strange at first, too – but I was reconciled to being here.

Marc will probably call tomorrow. Weird that we were both in Tampa at the same time, both having our own separate crises.

Well, now I’ve got to concentrate on getting through this cold. It’s not a surprise since several of my students have colds and I haven’t been this stressed and in contact with so many people for months.

Not making a decision – or postponing a decision – is still a decision. I absolutely hate crises and turning points.

In the mail I got issue number one of This, which has my “Rules of Civil Procedure” in a rather ugly, artsy format.

South Florida Community College in Avon Park turned me down for that temporary full-time job without even an interview.

I guess I’d rather have this cold now than closer to the time when I have to move. A month from now, things are really going to be scary.

Wednesday, July 6, 1994

9 AM. If anything, I feel worse this morning than I did 24 hours ago. My nose is stuffed, but worst of all is a severe cough; lots of phlegm is coming up.

I didn’t sleep that well last night because I was so uncomfortable, though perhaps I managed six hours of sleep altogether.

As difficult as it was to teach yesterday, I’m glad I had to go to work. For one thing, the office talk between Mark and Anne is intelligent – Brendan comes in ten minutes before I leave – and it’s nice to socialize with people.

In my classes yesterday, I tried to go over library searching, and I discussed the papers I gave back and talked to students who haven’t settled on a term paper topic.

I got a new student in the later class, a guy who was in the hospital last week because of Hodgkin’s disease.

Back home at 3 PM, I ate my veggies and went to the bank to deposit the last unemployment check and a Healthy Choice refund check.

My funds are very low, and I hope I get paid on July 15 and don’t have to wait till July 30. At least I have about $750 in cash advances I can borrow.

Mom was confused, as usual, when she called to say that I’d been accepted at USF; the letter I got at her house was just Chase Manhattan trolling for more student loan business.

I decided to put the decision about moving off till at least this weekend; I’m not going to think about it until then. I need to concentrate on getting well.

Besides, when I called a Carrollwood complex, the rental manager asked when I needed an apartment, and after I said, “Not till early August,” she said, “Then you have a lot of time.”

With a class from the library course on Saturday, July 16, I can’t go to Tampa again until July 23.

I’m definitely not going to go this weekend. I won’t be completely over this cold, and I’ll have papers to grade – plus I have to prepare for next Thursday’s Nova class in Ocala.

I exercised very lightly late yesterday afternoon, and I answered candidate questionnaires from the NRA (my gun control stands will make me seem like their biggest opponent) and the National Association of Police Organizations (who, of course, are for gun control).

Today’s Times had a review of a book by Sean Wilentz, my Midwood homeroom classmate and a Princeton history professor. I was struck by his photo: With his baggy eyes, he looked like a craggy academic. Even with a cold and insomnia, I look about ten years younger.

Sean – he was Robert at Midwood – had such a babyish face when he was a teenager that it startled me to see him 26 years later. (Actually, I used to see him in the 1970s at his father’s Eighth Street Bookshop.)

Elihu sent an E-mail he wrote early this morning. His close friend Neal Pozner’s memorial service is today, on Elihu’s birthday.

I had written him about Scott Sommer’s memorial service because I knew that Elihu had read Nearing’s Grace and liked Scott’s work a lot.

This four-network coverage of the O.J. Simpson preliminary hearing is bizarre because they are treating it as if it had real importance in people’s lives. I guess it makes a much better story than health care legislation.


9 PM. Despite feeling awful, I had two pretty good classes today. My students participated quite a bit in our discussion of Maya Angelou’s “Graduation.”

I have some really bright kids, like Wayland and Krishelle, who stayed after class to talk to me about Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Janet Malcolm.

Wayland is now reading A. Alvarez’s The Savage God after I recommended it. It’s such a high for me to talk to people interested in ideas and books.

Leaving the college, I got soaked in a tremendous downpour, and when I came home, I made sure to get my sodden clothes off quickly.

I seem to have less congestion in my chest than I did this afternoon although right now my head is pounding.

At 8 PM, I drove to the main library downtown and read newspapers and took out two films before they closed.

I’ve read the essays I’ll be teaching tomorrow: E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” and Anatole Broyard’s “Intoxicated by My Illness.”

Right now I’m listening to the Mostly Mozart concert on Live from Lincoln Center. I need to take some Tylenol PM, blow my nose, and maybe have strawberries (45 seconds of the frozen kind in the microwave) and NutraSweet on a couple of Aunt Jemima low-fat pancakes.

Thursday, July 7, 1994

7 PM on 7/7. For the first time since I felt this cold coming on Friday night – though I’m still very congested and anyone hearing me talk can tell I’ve got a cold – I now feel less discomfort and coughed less today.

Getting enough rest last night undoubtedly helped. Although I’ve had two major colds within six months, my hope is I can avoid another cold for the rest of the year. Certainly, I’m better off getting sick now rather than at any time in the next six months.

A week from now, I’ll be teaching in Ocala, and my schedule will be quite hectic, especially when you add in the library class and being up in the air about moving.

I filled out and sent back to Barbara Sloan my adjunct courses form for the fall, explaining that I’d like to teach three classes (and I left every hour open except Thursday evening) but that my plans are uncertain and I won’t know if I’ll be moving to Tampa until the end of the month.

The end of the month, by the way, is when I’ll be getting my first paycheck. For summer, we adjuncts get paid on July 29, August 15 and August 30.

With only $100 in checking, I’m going to have to take out some more cash advances to get through the next three weeks, especially if I take a new apartment – which I have to do, either in Tampa or Gainesville.

If I can save money, or at least avoid spending much more than I am now on rent, I figure I can manage with a smaller place.

Today my classes were fine although I find that 75 minutes is a long time and that I get tired towards the end of the second class. Part of that could be having a cold, but it’s also hard to teach the same material back-to-back.

The class discussions are never the same, of course; while both groups have enough bright students who participate, one class invariably goes off in a different direction and I usually forget to say something I did in the first class – or I remember something I’d forgotten to go over with the first group.

Mark asked if he could see my writing, and when Brendan overheard this, he gave Mark the original manuscript of “Sylvia Ginsberg, Superstar.” The new issue of the Santa Fe Review, Brendan said, is at the printers now.

The Unit 4 group is the nicest place I’ve worked in a long time. During the academic year, when I was coming in during the evenings or going downtown on Saturday, I rarely had contact with other Santa Fe faculty.

No mail at all today. I still haven’t gotten an acceptance at USF, so it would be silly to go to Tampa this weekend.

It may be silly going there in any case. Probably when I felt the cold coming on last weekend, I should have just stayed home on Saturday.

Although I haven’t heard from my family in three days, I’m not going to call them. It’s kind of a relief not to know what’s going on.

From our last conversation, I guess Marc still plans to move to Tampa. His determination made me question my own decision. Would I be behaving as impulsively and irrationally as I feel Marc is? Certainly, we have different track records.

While I feel sure I could have a productive life in Tampa if I moved there, I can take my attitude with me wherever I go.

Every experience – even those that felt unpleasant at the time – has been something I’ve learned from.

I flatter myself that I am recovering quickly from my cold because I have a strong immune system. Several more of my students got the cold today, so it’s definitely going around.

Saturday, July 9, 1994

4 PM. I’m still stuffed up and sound nasal – well, more nasal – but I’m definitely feeling better.

I just got out of Four Weddings and a Funeral at the dollar movie. I know, I know: I had so much work this weekend. But I’m glad I went. It was a sweet movie even if it did make it seem like the world exists only for couples.

When I went to fetch the mail just now, there was a Chinese girl and a red-headed guy on the chaise longues and in the pool was a white girl and a Chinese guy – both obviously couples.

My only mail was a package left in the office. It was from the White House and couldn’t be bent. As I walked, I opened it and said out loud, “What the hell am I going to do with this?”

It was a photo of the President waving from the steps of Air Force One and signed, “With appreciation, Bill Clinton.”

“You must be a good American,” said the guy in the chaise longue.

Last night I had a vivid dream toward morning. I was in Paris with the characters on the soap opera One Life to Live. The heroine in the show was moving from one place to another, and all the furniture was being dragged from the top of an empty warehouse.

I thought it would fall haphazardly and crush the woman – but no, everything fell perfectly into place and she was not harmed.

I take that as both hope and reality: Wherever I move to, everything will fall into place and I’ll go on, the hero of the one life I live, pretty much unscathed. That’s comforting.

I’m starting to think and talk about staying in Gainesville. I did it with Rhoda when we were both washing our clothes in the laundry room this morning.

I answered three voice ads on the Alternate Matchmaker and got a haircut at Fantastic Sam’s with Hugo, a really interesting Peruvian guy with whom I discuss politics. (Few Americans even know who Fujimori, Belaunde Terry, Alan Garcia, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the Shining Path are.)

In the afternoon, I shopped for groceries, took out a cash advance, did two loads of laundry, and started letting my full beard grow back in to see if I liked it better than a goatee.

I also clipped my nails (finger and toe) and put self-tanning cream on my pasty-white legs.

And as for my students’ papers: I marked up and made comments on about half of them, though I haven’t yet assigned them grades. I’ll get back to the papers and hopefully finish the rest of them tonight.

Elihu E-mailed that he had a nice birthday despite going to Neal’s memorial service at DC Comics.

Neal was an artist and writer who created all kinds of classy advertising posters and album covers in addition to his work on superheroes. Elihu said that most of the people at the service were a little too much into comics to suit him.

He also told me that the Streisand concert was worth every dollar he paid (only $50: comparatively cheap).

Justin E-mailed that his play’s opening was marred by skittish actors, and he wasn’t too pleased, especially since there was a reviewer there.

Tomorrow Justin will be on Barry Z’s public access cable show, for which he was interviewed at the opening. (He’s so embarrassed about it that he’s relieved that he and Larry don’t have cable.)

Justin thought my moving in with my brother was a bad idea “because you’d probably feel uncomfortable bringing home a lover for the night.”

I don’t know why Justin thought I was seriously considering being roommates with Marc – I wasn’t – but Justin worries about my being “so alone” and not being part of a couple.

The truth is that I’ve never felt any envy for Justin and Larry in their domesticity. It’s hard for me to imagine any couples, married or gay, that I envy. I think that Alice and Peter, who live apart, come closest to my ideal couple, but I feel I’m still happier alone.

Speaking of couples, the two cats seem to hang around each other more and more. My old pal now likes to lie on that big whatever-it-is outside my apartment, where he’s high up like the king of the jungle.

Yesterday I went out to find the Persian cat toying with a lizard at my doorstep, pawing the paralyzed creature – but I don’t think he killed it; I suspect the lizard freezes as a defense mechanism.

In the news:

New jobs are being created like crazy as U.S. unemployment drops – but nearly all the jobs are part-time, low-paying, no-benefit jobs like the ones I’ve got at SFCC and Nova.

Yesterday, O.J. Simpson’s hearing ended yesterday with the judge saying there was probable cause to try him.

How did I ever understand the news before I went to law school?