A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1994

by Richard Grayson

Friday, September 2, 1994

3 PM. I’m glad it’s the weekend, and I’ve only got a little work to do, because I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.

I was interviewed by Lori Lesser for 90 minutes at the airport and got home an hour ago. She’s interviewing other people today, but she can’t be seeing more than a couple of others if she’s going back to Miami this evening or late afternoon.

I feel the interview went well, but I’m no longer sure I want the job. Basically it seems more corporate than I expected. Although I’d be in the law school environment, I’d be part of a corporate culture. For the first time in my life, I’d be a “suit,” and Lori said I’d be expected to wear one every day.

The job is 24 hours a week, and it’s a new position. She needs someone in Gainesville to service UF, FSU and Stetson and to help her out in South Florida when needed.

They haven’t discussed a pay level, and I gave a ridiculously low end of my salary range, but I did say I was currently earning $24 an hour teaching.

I’d have travel reimbursed at 29¢ a mile, and meals, and all the hotels I’d stay at would be great places.

I’d have to go to D.C. with her for meetings of regional coordinators, and maybe I’d have to go there to train.

Perhaps I’d enjoy the position, but I’m scared only because it’s so different from anything I’ve ever done. It reminds me of the kind of corporate jobs held by my yuppie friends like Gary.

Everything Lori asked me was from a sheet of standardized questions, giving me the idea that this job would involve lots of training manuals and procedure manuals and manual manuals.

All my experience is with students, not with the “customers” that questions were about. While I can give good responses because I’m articulate and have a wealth of anecdotes based on a 20-year career, I’ve never worked for a for-profit corporation.

I don’t know if I could relax in that environment. If Lori picked up on my apprehension, she’ll hire someone else.

Ironically, a week after I felt totally disgusted with teaching at SFCC, I’m starting to realize that I’ve overlooked the advantages of adjunct work.

I like my classes more and more. We had a good discussion on Maya Angelou’s “What’s Your Name, Girl?” at the Downtown Center this morning. (It helps that the class has some black women who are good conversationalists.)

Academia gives me the freedom to be outrageous in a way that a big corporation would not.

If Lori just did a newspaper search for my name on Lexis, she’d see right away from the articles about me that I wouldn’t be a good fit for a job where credibility with customers is important.

But today I looked presentable in a suit and gave Lori some impressive letters of recommendation.

She said she’d like to hire someone by next week, but her supervisor in D.C. may want to interview the person, and she told me late September is a more likely starting date.

I feel bad that I can’t be as enthusiastic as I once was, though I can’t tell if I’m just scared of change or if I simply understand I don’t want what the position entails.

The impending takeover of Lexis by Reed Elsevier, a big international publishing and communications conglomerate – Lori wasn’t aware of it until I told her – will probably just make it more corporate. Mead, a paper company,  didn’t really know what to do with Lexis.

I was surprised to get a call from Noor yesterday afternoon. Initially I was wary, but for the first time we got beyond banalities and discussed being gay.

Almost nobody knows Noor is gay, though he mentioned the adviser to the SFCC gay and lesbian group.

I told him about my sexual experiences, and he seemed to get interested when I said I didn’t care much for anal sex.

The main reason he stopped seeing some guy who really liked it was that Noor didn’t.

“You’re the first gay man who’s told me he doesn’t like anal sex,” he said excitedly.

Later he asked, “What do you like?” and I said that at this point I didn’t feel like talking about it with some guy I’ve spoken to only on the phone.

“If we meet and like each other, I’ll tell you soon enough,” I said. I did say that in the age of AIDS, safe sex was important.

Suddenly Noor realized he’d lost track of the time and had to meet someone. He got off quickly but asked if I wanted to see him this weekend.

“Call me,” I said.

“Do you want to meet me?” he asked again, apparently not understanding that “Call me” meant yes.

I don’t expect anything to come from this, but of course I can’t help fantasizing. We’ll see if he calls.


Saturday, September 3, 1994

6 PM. It’s kickoff time for the first Gators home game, and starting this morning, the town took on a festive air.

Hundreds of cars, many with orange-and-blue flags waving from the tops of both sides, descended on Gainesville.

University Avenue was filled with pedestrians (some holding up signs asking for tickets, others scalping tickets), refreshment stands, souvenir vendors and enterprising locals holding garage sales or renting their yards as parking spaces.

Last night I read and cogitated and watched St. Elsewhere till 1:20 AM. They’re now coming to the episodes from the 1983-84 season when I began watching them in reruns, persuaded by Ronna’s and Jordan’s interest in the show.

Ten years ago last May was such a carefree time in my life, staying at Teresa’s while she and Amira were in Europe, seeing Ronna again, and reacquainting myself with New York City.

Twenty years ago this month, Josh and I began the MFA program; that fall I wrote fiction, broke up with Ronna and worked at Alexander’s (which was the answer to Lori’s question yesterday about the most boring job I ever had).

It’s hard to believe that was two decades ago.

Today I noticed the sign outside Gainesville High School read WELCOME CLASS OF 98. In two years they’ll be welcoming the class of ’00 (or, more likely, the class of 2000).

—Noor just called and asked if I could meet him now at the McDonald’s on 13th Street. This will probably be quick and we’ll never see each other again. He has only an hour, and I told him I have stuff to do – which I do.

*

8 PM. I had my one and only meeting with Noor. It’s too bad I won’t see him again.

He was much better looking than I expected; if he didn’t have some facial acne, he’d be stunning.

Noor has this wonderful sculpted nose and cheekbones, lustrous hair, big liquid brown eyes, a nice little body, a great smile, and chocolate-brown skin.

I kept staring at him while he looked away as we sat outside Mickey D’s with drinks. He clearly wasn’t attracted to me, and I can’t blame him.

At the end I told him honestly how I felt and that I wanted him to call me, even if he just wanted to be friends. I probably sounded too desperate.

He said, “I’ll think about it” – which, translated from Urdu, means “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

Well, I am 18 years older than he is, and there’s no getting around that and there’s nothing I can do about it.

He said he wouldn’t give me his phone number because he has three roommates who don’t know he’s gay, and I guess I don’t need a relationship with someone so closeted when I’m getting more and more open about being gay.

But hey, at this point in my career, being openly gay is a strategic move that can only help me. I’ve sent clips about my campaign and God Hates Republicans to The Advocate.

I feel sorry for Noor because I can only imagine how hard it must be to be part of that Pakistani Muslim subculture. He needs the support of his family and the immigrant community, and he’d risk it all if he came out.

Besides, the gay world probably isn’t the most hospitable place for foreigners with dark skin.

I know I’ll never see Noor again, but I hope he has a good life, and I’m glad I met him except that I drank Diet Coke with caffeine and will probably be up all night. Oh well, I’ll just do stuff.

On Lexis, I discovered my name was listed as the write-in candidate against Bilirakis in a local edition of the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday as a part of a “Know Your Candidates” tabloid.

I expect there’ll be another one close to the general election; this was for Thursday’s primary.

In the mail, I got two postcards, one from George Myers, who wrote, “Great stuff! Please stand by. Doing fall preview on September 2.” So I guess there’ll be something about me in the Columbus Dispatch.

The other card was a preprinted thank-you for the contribution to the Human Rights Council. Bob K added a handwritten, “See you on the Internet!” I don’t know if Bob got the downloaded cases I sent to him.

My complimentary CompuServe membership has been canceled, I learned when I tried to log on today – and it’s just as well. I’ll stick to bare-bones Delphi.

In a local monthly I found while at the public library, an article said the Human Rights Council’s new political action committee meets on Tuesdays, and they gave two people to call, one of them being Javier. I really do need to get involved in the campaign.

I made the 2:45 PM show of Barcelona for $4 at the Plaza Triple. When Wayland took my ticket at the door, I told him I regretted his handing in his term paper so late because it prevented me from giving him an A in the summer class.

I liked Barcelona. Like Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, this was very talky, filled with deliciously loopy preppy conversation.

Although I feel sad about Noor not being attracted to me, I’ll get over it. I remember meeting guys through ads in the ’70s and ’80s and not being attracted to them, so I understand it was awkward for him.

Not to sound pathetic, but I can’t remember the last time anyone looked at me as if they were attracted to me.

Surely I can’t be that grotesque. I’m not the greatest-looking guy, but then again, why should I expect anyone who’s 25 to look at me twice?


Wednesday, September 7, 1994

3 PM. Yesterday the repairman fixed my toilet and I took the car to get gas and had the attendant check the engine oil, which was fine. He also told me to get in through the trunk to change the bulb of the directional signal, and I managed to do that.

Last evening at 6 PM, I went to the Civic Media Center, a storefront with lots of alternative books and magazines which also serves as a coffeehouse.

There were only about a dozen people there, and it wasn’t really a meeting but a work session, to get out the HRC’s PAC mailing.

They’re calling the anti-antigay campaign No on One. Kathy Lawhon, the coordinator, has organized many campaigns, and she kept us busy.

Most of the evening I sat at a table with four others, all of whom also came by themselves for the first time.

We folded the flyers, inserting small return envelopes and a coupon with donation information into them, and passed them on to people at another table.

It seemed like these people already knew each other, like Javier and a guy who might be his boyfriend. They stuffed our mailing into #10 envelopes and then addressed and stamped them.

I’ve decided Javier is basically a jerk. He’s so into gay rights that it’s like there’s nothing else he can talk about. Justin had said that activists were single-minded.

I hate that. It was like this guy who came in late and told everyone to vote for Hugh Rodham because he’s the best Democratic Senate candidate on gay rights.

Well, I voted for another candidate, Arturo Perez, because I thought he was the best of a weak field. I’d never vote for Rodham, who didn’t cast a ballot all his adult life until his brother-in-law’s 1992 campaign.

Some of the people there, like a librarian at UF’s art and architecture library, were interesting, but later I licked stamps with an undergraduate who acted like a little girl, saying these really immature things.

Anyway, these Tuesday sessions are essentially scut work, and I’m not sure how often I’ll go back.

I feel that some of these activists exaggerate the power of the radical right, as I find I do when I get paranoid.

While the radical right has had small victories and has taken over state Republican parties, their movement has been unable to attract anything near a majority of the public.

Maybe before this campaign is over, I’ll get death threats over the phone and be beaten up – fears that others expressed last evening – but right now I don’t feel in any danger in Gainesville. We’ll see how this plays out this fall.

I got home at 9 PM and managed to get about six hours’ sleep, enough so that I could get through my classes.

One person in each class commented on my having shaved my beard, and the woman in the afternoon class strongly suggested I grow it back. I think I will.

Kevin, the unit aide, was at the Civic Media Center last evening with his girlfriend – not to work, but to browse through magazines.

He had a chin goatee then, but today at Santa Fe he was clean-shaven. I’ve got the feeling he looked at me this afternoon and thought, “Oh, I must look stupid now, too.”

My classes went okay: the Judy Cofer essay and Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” at 10 AM downtown and Andre Dubus’s “Killings” at 1 PM.

In the mail I received a “pledge” from U.S. Term Limits (I crossed out “support,” wrote in “oppose,” and added, “Term limit supporters are assholes!” before mailing it back), a request from a student at Horace Mann in New York for campaign literature, and a notice that my Chemical Bank student loan payments have been deferred because of hardship.

It’s still Rosh Hashona, but you wouldn’t know it by my life or anything I’ve seen – unlike in New York, where everyone notices the reduced car traffic, the dressed-up synagogue-goers, the closed stores and schools.

I really didn’t want to be in Gainesville this September, and I want not to be here next year unless I’m in a grad program at UF.

But where else can I go and what can I do there? As I discovered this summer, moving isn’t that easy.

Unless you just do it,” a voice inside tells me. Maybe.


Thursday, September 8, 1994

7:30 PM. Last night Mom called. Mostly she wanted to know if I’d heard from “that lady.” She meant Lori – and the answer is no, and I don’t expect to.

I did mention the Alachua County gay rights referendum. I need to be more out with my parents so we don’t leave my sexual orientation understood but not acknowledged. Of course, in a family of ostriches, that’s not easy.

I asked Mom if Jonathan liked his horticulture courses at Davie’s UF campus, but she said he withdrew yesterday, deciding it wasn’t what he wanted.

Last night I slept surprisingly well. I liked today’s weather: cloudy, drizzly and so cool that I didn’t need air conditioning as I drove to Santa Fe.

My class wrote after I talked for 15 minutes, and I graded about half the CLAST essays from the other section.

I’m getting to know my students. One woman freaked out after the Dubus story and asked me to warn her about us reading any more stories that concerned murders. Her husband and the father of her four kids was killed earlier this year.

It never would have occurred to me that “Killings” or “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” might upset students.

There’s a guy in my 1 PM class whom I feared was a skinhead. Sometimes he looks at me intently and I wondered if he was a homophobic anti-Semite. (Unfortunately, I think he’s sexy.)

But he just handed in this very sweet and funny essay about being a “microwave chef,” so he’s probably harmless. I forget that even some gay people look like skinheads today.

What I like about my young students is that they’re not the Reaganite types I taught at Broward Community College in the early ’80s.

In every class at Santa Fe, there are more and more students who are the rebellious or radical types I treasured when they occasionally popped up in Davie.

This generation isn’t as materialistic because they doubt they can aspire to wealth; they’re cynical, hip, and seem to like weirder stuff.

Mostly on the recommendation of a couple of students, this afternoon I went to see Natural Born Killers at the theater across the street.

I have mixed feelings about Oliver Stone, and the movie was more overwrought than even his usual fare. Although it was satire, it also glorified the media worship of violence that he condemned.

The constant changes in color to black-and-white, in film stocks and styles, and the different camera angles and odd juxtapositions and quick cuts made the movie nearly psychedelic and at times it hard to sit through.

Tonight I plan to watch My So-Called Life and the primary returns.


Friday, September 9, 1994

3 PM. I’m so glad it’s Friday.

Once again, I feel dissatisfied with my job at SFCC. I had my downtown English 101 students write this morning, and as I began to read the essays people turned in early, a wave of nausea swept over me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen writing this bad. The problems in most papers are so enormous that I have no idea where to begin as I grade them.

I’ve got so many students in that class, too. I’m not used to that.

Every semester I think it won’t be so bad. At least the advanced courses have people who’ve made it out of English 101, but I don’t know if some of my downtown students can pass the final.

Well, I’ll just do the best I can and send some of them to the Writing Lab to work on their problems. I’m now glad I didn’t get any of those full-time community college jobs I applied for because I wouldn’t be able to stand them.

Maybe I made a mistake when I began to teach college English part-time during law school. I never did any law-related work and have no experience now.

Well, it’s not too late.

Hey, wearing a suit to work for Lexis seems more appealing right about now.

I did feel better at the main campus after my 1 PM class when I helped my English 102 students learn the five-paragraph format most of them ignored on their practice CLAST essay.

But I know that for the next three months, I’m going to have papers I’ll dread grading nearly all the time. Compared to this, law school was a breeze.

My only mail today was a packet from UF’s Poli Sci Department. They don’t take grad students in January, only in August.

I haven’t yet heard from the English Department. I definitely need to apply to grad school for the fall of 1995 as a safety valve.

Otherwise, I can’t possibly stay in Gainesville, and I don’t have anywhere else to go.

Well, things will turn up. I can’t let myself be bamboozled into thinking that there’s no way out. There’s always an alternative, and usually there are dozens.

For now, I’ve just got to explore all options and figure out a way to get through the rest of 1994 with as little frustration and pain as possible.

I need to concentrate on doing stuff that has meaning and gives me enjoyment.

As mindless as the work on the gay rights campaign was on Tuesday evening, I do feel I’m doing something important there, something that has value, something I believe in.

I also take whatever pleasure I can in being a congressional candidate.

It’s Friday, the earliest Noor said he might call. Even though I’m 99% sure he won’t, and even though I don’t really want to get involved with a guy who won’t give me his phone number, I’m pathetically lonely these days.

At times in the past three years here in Gainesville, I must have felt just as lonely – but when I was a law student, I was so busy with so much else going on in my life.

And I know it’s bad to be in a relationship that you’re trying to use to make the rest of your life better. I’ll be okay. I need to lie down for a while.