A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1994
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, September 22, 1994
It’s again only 11 AM, and I just got home from school, but I want to write while I’m in a good mood.
It’s clearly getting cooler, and I feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep.
I also had a great class this morning. I went over Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” Grace Paley’s “Samuel” and Sandra Cisneros’s “Barbie-Q” and showed the students Mondo Barbie and my contribution to it.
I am a good teacher. Mom said that she was sure I was when I spoke to her last night.
She hadn’t told me on Saturday that Marc had ditched school on Friday and turned up drugged-out. She went ballistic, telling him she couldn’t take it anymore, he wasn’t going to make crazy and had to stop taking drugs.
He disappeared for two days, but instead of worrying, she just decided to let Marc take care of himself.
“I’m 63,” Mom said, “and I don’t have that many years left. I need to have something for myself.”
She said Marc has agreed to go to some drug program, but like an alcoholic, he always makes these promises.
I told Mom a little about what I learned about codependency in my Alcohol and Health class at Teachers College.
She said, “Jonathan is so naive” (in a whisper, so he wouldn’t hear her), and then she said she’s got to stop worrying about how he’ll survive on his own.
“I guess I must have done a lot wrong if all my children . . .” and she left the rest unsaid.
“I know,” I told her. “Your life didn’t turn out the way you expected.” I said she shouldn’t worry about what she did or didn’t do as a mother. I know that her children, including me, are disappointments to her. Dad also drives Mom crazy; he was in Orlando last night.
I see Mom having to live a very different kind of old age than the one she pictured, but I also know that nobody’s life turns out the way they imagined it would. I think about Grandma Ethel, and my other grandparents, and how they ended up.
On the other hand, Mom is fairly healthy, as is Dad – and I’m very healthy, knock wood, and hope universal coverage comes before I go on Medicare. To me, health is the most important thing.
Yesterday afternoon’s class went okay, and when I got back I had lots of mail.
I got the rejection from Writers Corps (they had 400 applications for the 60 slots), and an announcement of a Guberman Teaching Fellowship in Legal Studies at Brandeis for next January, which I applied for despite its measly $2,500 stipend.
If I got it, I’d not only have to move to Massachusetts in winter, but I’d have to find a way to at least double my income; still, the application process was easy.
I haven’t seen today’s Gainesville Sun, but Javier was the speaker on yesterday’s TV sound bites from the rally, I heard him on the radio this morning, and he was quoted in today’s Alligator.
I kvell when I see him, hear him, or read about him. Although I’m barely his friend, I’m proud of him anyway. I feel good when I can recognize something special in somebody, just as I’m proud of friends like Justin, Alice, Pete Cherches, Peter Felicia, Wesley Strick, George Schweitzer, Crad Kilodney, Dennis Woychuk, et al.
While I have moments of envy towards my successful friends, more often than not, I work through them and eventually feel a vicarious pleasure in my friends’ professional triumphs.
Yesterday and this morning, I felt more kindly disposed toward my life. Somehow I’ll make sense out of it.
I’ve got so many essays to grade today, and I need to exercise, do laundry and other stuff.
5 PM. I just brought in the laundry. Going in and out helped me enjoy a beautiful 82° day, and it broke up my grading. I’ve done tomorrow’s 1 PM class and now have about nine papers from the 10 AM English 101.
Another big batch of mail came today. The mailing we worked on from the No on One coalition arrived, timed well because of the publicity.
The deadline for applying to UF’s M.Ed. program in student personnel in higher education is October 1, but I could never get the transcripts in by then.
If I don’t apply to UF’s Ph.D. program in English – I still haven’t gotten their material – then I can only apply for January admission as a post-baccalaureate student next spring.
Today’s New York Times had a front page story on a community college settling a civil rights claim by students who were selected sexually harassed over a campus electronic bulletin board.
Friday, September 23, 1994
9 PM. Last evening I fell asleep early after watching My So-Called Life on ABC.
This afternoon, when I got home from work, there was a message on my answering machine, and it was – as I somehow knew it would be – Josh, telling me his father had died.
He wanted Ronna’s work number, figuring that she could help him find a Reform synagogue where he could say kaddish every day. I called him back immediately.
He didn’t want to talk much, but he said his father died on Thursday, and the funeral was yesterday – Wednesday was Sukkoth – at the Midwood Chapel in Brooklyn, with burial in Paramus.
He stayed at his cousin’s last night and said his mother was acting crazy today.
By the time I got back to him, Josh had found a Reform temple that had minyans every weekday morning. (The first one he contacted had them only twice a week.)
Because the Manhattan temple gets a crowd of downtown workers, it isn’t open on Sunday, so I told him to call Ronna and ask about her synagogue.
Although Josh doesn’t believe in what he’s doing, he figures his father would want him to say kaddish.
I’d never do it, of course – but then, my father didn’t say kaddish for his parents, so why should I? (Besides, in Gainesville there’d be no place to do it.)
Josh probably won’t sit shiva, if only because it can’t begin until after Simchas Torah next week, by which time it will seem too late.
He asked me to speak to his niece in Pensacola. At the funeral yesterday, she told Josh she was thinking of going to UF.
The last few months have been a nightmare for Josh.
I’m sure he doesn’t think about his father’s death as a relief, and of course nobody can say that – but Josh’s father’s death probably saved the family a lot of money they would otherwise have had to “spend down” for nursing home care.
This morning my downtown English 101 class didn’t go that well, but it wasn’t all that bad, either. On my way home, I brought groceries at Albertsons using $18 of available credit on one card I’d just paid.
After lunch, I went to SFCC and taught my English 102 class. We went over “Barbie-Q” and I read parts of the Mondo Barbie stories by me and Amy Holmes. It was fun.
Last night I weighed 153, which depressed me. I’ve got to cut down on calories. I still write down what I eat along with estimated calories and fat grams – but I’ve been eating over 1900 calories a day and not expending much energy since I don’t walk very much anymore.
But my back is fine now, so I should resume aerobics.
Sunday, September 25, 1994
7 PM. Another week begins. It’s autumn now, and today was rainy and cool enough so that I could have been comfortable in long pants had I not been wearing shorts.
An hour ago I saw a disturbing story on the local news. Last night, car windshields were smashed and tires slashed outside the University Club, the downtown gay bar.
Tim Morris, the lead plaintiff in the suit against the referendum, said he and other local gay activists have been receiving death threats and that this vandalism has happened before.
I could see a worried-looking Javier in the background. I worry about him and the others, and yes, for myself. The more active I become, the more I make myself a target along with other openly gay people in town. It’s scary.
In New York or even in South Florida, you can be famous yet anonymous; it’s not the same in a small town. But this kind of intimidation only makes it more vital to speak out, no? The news reporter said that the police were not calling the vandalism a bias crime, and in the same breath reported that they suspected a local gang of skinheads.
I wonder if my car is vulnerable when I work at the Civic Media Center on Tuesdays. Still, that won’t stop me from going there.
I wrote to USF, asking that my admission to the library M.A. program be moved to January. It’s too late to apply to a program at UF, and I could take the one USF library course in Gainesville and go to Tampa once a week and still get student loan money.
I can’t go on doing what I’m doing. If I got the fellowship at Brandeis, I’d take it despite the fact that I know I can’t survive on $2,500.
But just as the Writers Corps would have gotten me to San Francisco, the Brandeis gig would get me to Massachusetts and out of Gainesville, even if it meant being poor and cold next winter.
I will apply for whatever I can for January and for the next academic year.
Ideally, I’d get the job at the Center for Governmental Responsibility, but I don’t expect to.
Not hearing back from Lori at Lexis has hurt my self-confidence. Actually, in the last few months, there hasn’t been much to boost my self-confidence.
Late last night I finished Verghese’s My Own Country. It was a great book, with terrific stories about his small-town HIV patients. (Cars at the only gay bar in Johnson City, Tennessee, also got vandalized regularly.)
I thought about next week’s job interview with CGR and wondered if I’ll get the old standby: Where do you see yourself in five years?
“In an urn” may be my answer. It’s a stupid question.
If I go back to September 1989 when I was teaching full-time at BCC-South for one semester and still doing computer ed workshops for FIU (and losing weight on Nutri/System) – I could never have imagined myself five years later living in Gainesville and having a law degree.
In October 1979, when I first moved to Rockaway, I could never have imagined myself five years later: living at Teresa’s on the Upper West Side in October 1984 after being a full-time college teacher for three years in Fort Lauderdale, having two more books published, running for Davie Town Council, becoming a South Florida celebrity.
My whole adult life has been like that. I can barely imagine what my life will be like three months from now on Christmas Day. Three months ago, I didn’t expect to be in living in Gainesville in September.
I graded exactly one – count it – one paper today, which means I’ll have 15 to grade tomorrow. But I can do some while my English 101 students are writing, and I can, if I have to, finish the Tuesday papers while my Tuesday class is writing.
I wrote and printed out my next assignments, all except the English 102 in-class essay. I want to come up with a decent topic so grading the papers won’t be torture.
Despite my avoidance of schoolwork – or, more likely because of it – I enjoyed this weekend.
Tuesday, September 27, 1994
4:30 PM. My energy level did go up late yesterday. I spent a lot of time doing a “quick” defrosting of the refrigerator by turning the power off, placing bowls of hot water in the emptied freezer compartment, scraping with a spoon and using a hot damp towel to melt away any frost.
What a job! But it worked, and I got nearly all the heavy layer of ice off.
Today I had to spend $24 at Publix to restock my supply of food. It’s a race between my wallet and my paycheck on Friday.
Until the Signet credit card comes, I’m going to have to watch every penny I spend.
Last evening I was so disgusted after grading two awful papers that I was happy when Mom called.
She had a bad cold and made me feel worse because she said how awful it is that I’m back as an adjunct, just where I started before I went to law school.
I guess it was my fault for complaining, but my parents have a way of bringing me down even when they’re sympathetic.
Mercifully changing the subject, Mom asked me a question about jury selection. She said voir dire started yesterday in the O.J. Simpson trial, which she’s watching religiously. She is convinced O.J. is being framed.
As ponderous as PBS’s Ken Burns Baseball documentary is, I enjoyed last night’s episode because it was about the heyday of New York teams – the Giants Yanks and Dodgers in the 1950s – and filled with names and events familiar from my Brooklyn childhood.
Deep in my kiddie-consciousness are Ralph Branca, Bobby Thompson and Russ Hodges from that final moment in the 1951 playoff game; Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Red Barber; Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio; Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris. . .
I was never a baseball fanatic, but you’d have to be insensate not to be captivated by 1950s baseball in New York.
When the Dodgers left in 1957, Brooklyn never recovered – although I see that only in retrospect. We were early Mets fans, and despite how terrible the team was, those days in the early 1960s were fun, too.
I’d like to see tonight’s episode with stuff about the 1969 Mets, but I’m going to work for No on One at the Civic Media Center this evening.
For some reason there’s a second anti-referendum group called Just Say No; I gather they’re the people who made up the other group that the Human Rights Council split up from. They seem a little more confrontational although that’s only an assumption made in ignorance.
Only one letter today, from SCAN, the Sun Coast AIDS Network, a large HIV-services provider. They wanted my views on AIDS as a candidate, and I wrote a two-page response that mostly showed my heart’s in the right place.
At least they’ll be able to figure out I’m knowledgeable and supportive. While I didn’t say I was gay, I didn’t make it very hard for them to figure it out.
Last night I got a yet another call from a student who hasn’t been to class and hasn’t handed in papers: her sister was diagnosed as terminal last week, and she was so upset that she had a car accident.
Statistically, I must have the students with the absolute worst luck in the world. She was crying, so I don’t doubt her, but God, these people have such terrible problems. I just wish more of them would withdraw.
Wednesday, September 28, 1994
3 PM. Yesterday while I was eating dinner, Josh called from work. He sounded okay, but of course it’s a difficult time for him.
Ronna suggested that he go to her synagogue, Anscher Chesed, on Sundays for saying kaddish, and Josh went there last Sunday. He thought it was neat, with nine people who wore jeans and casual shirts.
Josh’s mother fired the Haitian woman he’d hired to stay overnight because she was supposedly stealing – which Josh is certain is not true.
Today’s the day they can begin sitting shiva, but Josh can’t see doing it a week after his father died.
He said he’s still going to have his mother transfer most of her assets in accordance with the advice of one of those lawyers who specialize in helping older people pauperize themselves for Medicaid.
Josh asked about my career plans and congressional candidacy. I told him I had to get off the phone to go work for the No on One coalition, explaining what it was about. Although I’ve never really discussed being gay with Josh, of course he’s known for years.
We had so many volunteers last night that we got out before 9 PM. Javier brought the pizza, and I helped Kathy unload boxes of envelopes and papers from her hatchback.
Most of the regulars like me, Eden and Cynthia showed up, and last night we shared a table with a Desert Storm Navy veteran. She told us there were “witch hunts” in her unit, but 10% of the personnel were gay.
In some ways it’s amazing how little I have in common with some of these people, but then why should I be surprised? If not for their sexuality, most of the No on One supporters would be conservative Christians like a lot of people around here.
Some, like Carrie, are definitely liberals, but I’d say the straight people from the Civic Media Center are much more politically to the left.
The same goes for the Just Vote No group: Javier said they think it’s impossible to win the referendum and so are concentrating on an educational campaign laying the groundwork for a future progressive coalition to control Gainesville.
They are directly attacking the Concerned Citizens and all of the crazy radical right Christian groups.
In contrast, Javier’s view is the pragmatic one that in five weeks it’s absurd to try to change people’s views about homosexuality, but if we can just define the issue as discrimination, he feels we can win.
Well, I assume we’re fighting a hopeless battle, but I like campaigning just to see how well we’ll do. If Javier is right, the Alachua County vote would be a tremendous boost to gay rights nationally – as well as to the Left, which is facing a disaster in the November elections.
My view is, let the Republicans take over one or both houses of Congress and let them try to do something. Clinton should pray for the GOP to at least take over the Senate – as far as his own reelection is concerned, it will only help.
Anyway, it appears that our little local referendum will gain more and more national attention in the next five weeks.
While I still think Javier is cute, I’m definitely getting over him. Bryan wasn’t there last night, but we had at least 40 volunteers – from a boy who looked about 16 to lots of thirty-something lesbians to an elderly married couple who barely know any gay people.
No on One needs people for a number of positions in the campaign, but I don’t want the responsibility or the demands on my time.
Home at 9 PM, I got to watch the part of Ken Burns’ Baseball dealing with the 1969 Mets. I was surprised they didn’t use the phrase “Ya gotta believe!” once in the entire program.
Online, I read listserv messages and E-mail. Lars Eighner said he got my package before he’s off to Copenhagen. Elihu wrote that he’ll be going to New Orleans for his long-awaited vacation; it sounds like he has little else going on in his life.
In this morning’s English 101, I had a writers’ workshop which met in a circle. (I probably shouldn’t have sat next to one of the many students with a terrible cold, but I washed my face and hands thoroughly after class.)
I think that going over students’ essays this way is very helpful, so I’ll continue the workshop on Friday.
During the break, I bought a few items at Publix.
My electric bill came today. It was for $86, but it’s been a hot month and I’ve run the air conditioner constantly. I can’t pay it till I get my paycheck two weeks from Friday. Soon I should be able to shut the A/C off at night at least.
My afternoon class at the main campus wrote essays on “an important issue facing America today.” I can only imagine what they’re about, as I can’t bear to mark them yet.
I’ve got to go to the post office later to pick up a package, but it’s only some more campaign consultants trying to get me to hire them for my nonexistent write-in congressional campaign.
God, I’m tired.