A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1995

by Richard Grayson

Friday, June 16, 1995

4 PM. I’m in my room on the fourth floor of the Comfort Inn in Linthicum Heights, just north of BWI airport.

I’ve just checked in and have been putting some things away, relaxing and examining myself in the full-length mirrors (which I don’t have at home) to see how fat and/or muscular I’ve become. (It’s both.)

Last evening I tried to unwind, and I did sleep all right for about six or seven hours although I had dreams in which I was living in Brooklyn and supposed to fly to Los Angeles out of Kennedy and I kept missing my flight day after day.

This morning I almost missed my flight out of Gainesville, and next time I’ll leave earlier.

Actually, I was at the Delta ticket counter at 7:25 AM, twenty minutes early, but there was a long line to check in luggage, and I was one of the last people on board.

My seat was in the very last row, 25, which turned out to be quite comfortable. I was next to the bathroom although I never used it.

Now Delta doesn’t let you play your Walkman on takeoff, and I’d always listened Vivaldi or Mozart to keep me from getting too panicky.

But on both flights today, I noticed that my heart didn’t race on takeoff. I don’t wear my lenses on the plane, I don’t look out the window, and I try to close my eyes.

We got into Atlanta at 9 AM. I had an hour before the flight to Baltimore took off, so I read the New York Times.

I finished the paper in Baltimore because my luggage was the last one off the conveyor belt, and then there was a line about 25 people in front of me on line at Budget car rental .

So although we landed at BWI before noon, it was 1:15 PM when I finally got out of the airport.

Somehow I managed to find the Comfort Inn, but I couldn’t check in till 3 PM, so I did just did the paperwork and left my luggage and drove to downtown Baltimore.

What with I-95, I-695, I-395, I-295, I-195, I-83, I-97, etc.,  the highway system here is too complex for me, but somehow I took some road into Baltimore.

It felt good to see a real city skyline again. The new baseball park, Oriole Field at Camden Yards, is every bit as elegant and handsome as everyone says.

But by this time I was starving, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to park downtown without paying more money than I wanted to spend for a lot.

So I took I-95 south and turned off at an exit with a McDonald’s sign, somewhere around Caton and Washington Boulevard. After a McLean Deluxe, a pitiful salad and orange juice, I felt revived enough to try downtown again.

Parking at the Hyatt lot, I took the skyway to the Convention Center, where I registered, got my shopping bag and other free tchotchkes, and played with one of the free Macs set up for conventioneers’ use. I even took a bad video photo of myself for the convention directory.

Although I tried a number of names in the directory, the only people in attendance whom I know were Sue Spahn of Nova and David Brittain, the retired Department of Education computer expert from Tallahassee.

It was a gorgeous day here in Baltimore – about 82° and dry – and I strolled over to the Harborplace complex, the Rouse company “festival marketplace” (similar to Bayside, South Street Seaport and Faneuil Hall) on the Inner Harbor.

I felt at home in a place that reminded me so much of New York. I even liked seeing the beggars and the trolls with empty coffee cups who open doors for you. (The signs on the entrances to I-95 say, “South-Washington” and “North-New York.”)

I didn’t find any fast food at Harborplace tempting enough, but I like the brackish smell of the dark water, which reminded me of St. George on Staten Island or Battery Park in New York Harbor.

The National Aquarium is an interesting building, but I didn’t want to pay the money to go in – nor pay any money to do anything else touristy.

I did see the old frigate Constellation and I liked watching all the couples pedaling their little boats in the water.

Around 3 PM, I walked back to the parking lot and returned, somehow, to the hotel.

I haven’t seen a supermarket or anyplace where I can get a good salad bar – I took tablets of concentrated broccoli, spinach and carrots along with me – but I’ll go out and explore now.

Linthicum Heights looks like a blue-collar white suburb, with the biggest local bank around here my own NationsBank.

I’m not sure the light rail to downtown is safe. While I’d really like to explore Baltimore, to do that properly, I’d have to live here.

I’ve never liked being a tourist; I much prefer learning about a place by living there for a while, not being in a motel.

As a kid, I passed through Baltimore on visits to Washington and then a couple of times on my own – but I’ve never stopped here before.

Well, I’ll be in D.C. tomorrow for the bar mitzvah. I hope I don’t get caught in too bad traffic at rush hour now.


Saturday, June 17, 1995

7 PM. I’ve crammed a lot in during the past couple of days. My method of exploring Baltimore and Washington is helped by a good sense of direction; I always seem to get where I’m trying to go even if I get there by a roundabout route.

Everything seems to work out well because I’m alone and I don’t have listen to someone telling me, “You took a wrong turn” or “You’re lost!”

Late yesterday afternoon, I listened to All Things Considered on NPR as I drove around Baltimore for 2½ hours.

Somehow I got back into downtown by taking the streets, going through the neighborhood of Brooklyn, where the row houses remind me of my native borough.

After wandering through downtown, I took Charles Street up to where Johns Hopkins, the Art Museum, and the other (Catholic) colleges are before I went through lovely wooded suburban streets in Baltimore County north of the city.

Reversing course, I decided I’d probably find a decent supermarket in Glen Burnie, east of here, and I did – so I had good stuff (yogurt, fruits, salad bar) to eat back in the motel.

I watched cable TV in the evening and slept pretty well, dreaming about Ronna kissing me lightly on the lips and then my kissing her passionately.

Perhaps I was influenced by the screaming woman in the next room who made the loudest noises during sex that I’ve ever heard – both last night and at 6:30 AM today. I could hear the bed creaking and her ecstatic cries, so presumably she had a silent partner.

Up early, I put on my black Dockers and a burgundy shirt nearly the same color as my sport jacket, along with a loud yellow print tie.

Although the weather here is warm, compared to Florida it’s paradise, with highs of 85° and lows of 60°.

Taking the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, I entered D.C. via New York Avenue, catching a glimpse of the Capitol on my far left. I had plenty of time to wander around downtown, but Washington is too complicated for me, and all the construction didn’t help.

Still, I did drive past the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Kennedy Center and other famous, familiar sights.

After I unwittingly took the bridge leading to Arlington National Cemetery, I decided to visit JFK’s grave, which I was too upset to see when I visited Washington with my family in 1971.

It was quite a walk from the parking lot alongside a phalanx of French tourists, and once I’d seen the eternal flame and the Kennedy graves – Jackie is there now – I quickly left, as I’d seen the place many times before on TV.

Since I’d lost the directions to the synagogue, I became a little nervous about finding it, but remembering it was on Military Road near Connecticut Avenue, I found it in plenty of time.

Aunt Sydelle greeted me, and I said hello to Scott and Barbara. Scott is balding, but now I see that’s a trait of his father’s family. His half-brother Barry, his cousin Matthew, and his half-nephew Martin are all in various stages of baldness.

I sat by myself in front of Matthew and his wife Eleanor, who live in Chappaqua in Westchester.

Sydelle sat in the first row with Barbara’s parents and her 95-year-old grandmother, who looks the same age as her daughter.

You know how when you’re a kid at a big family gathering and there’s always some weird distant relative whose name you can’t remember, an eccentric spinster or bachelor who makes stupid remarks?

Before the day was over, I realized I’ve become that person.

I can’t remember the last time I was in a synagogue, and even though much of the service was in English, only a song or prayer or a word here and there was familiar from whatever I picked up when I wasn’t playing hooky from Hebrew school.

It was the middle of the service before I realized which woman on stage was the cantor and which was the rabbi.

Of course, when I was a kid there were no women rabbis – nor did women like Aunt Sydelle or Barbara’s sister go up for what I think are called “aliyahs.”

I also learned to pronounce Hebrew differently than they do it today: I say “aw” when they say “ah” and pronounce a Hebrew consonant as “s” and not “t” (Shabbos, not Shabbat).

Elliott was a marvelous bar mitzvah boy, calm and articulate. He had a lot to do, explaining the significance of the Torah and haftorah passages he read in Hebrew.

His sisters, blonde Amy and impish brunette Melanie, helped in the service, as did their parents, opening and closing the ark and helping the rabbi with the Torah.

While I appreciated the relevance of the Reform service, I still felt bored, and nothing I heard changed my desire not to set foot in a synagogue for another fifteen or twenty years.

I introduced myself to Barry and his wife and the youngest of their three children, a law student, who seemed like nice people. It’s a shame Sydelle and Morty kept his first marriage and son a secret.

Barry told me it was Robin who first got in touch with him in Los Angeles, and then he met Scott.

He hadn’t seen his cousin Matthew for 30 years, and it was interesting to hear them and their wives talk about their family.

I remember Uncle Morty’s relatives pretty well. As a kid, I thought it was funny that he had sisters named Flora and Dora.

After a nice kiddish where I munched all the cruciferous veggies I could find, we were able to go to the dining room for the luncheon.

Not only did Elliott make a beautiful speech – his bar mitzvah was so much more meaningful than mine – but so did his parents and little sisters.

I don’t recall saying anything at my very formal, expensive and ostentatious nighttime reception at the Deauville beach club. I guess my white dinner jacket said it all.

This was just a luncheon party. Instead of Dave Tarras’s band and performers like Joe Vega and the Cha Cha Aces, they had two local musicians who played Jewish songs as people danced the hora and kids did the limbo, hokey-pokey, etc.

First Elliot and then the others in his family were all held above people’s heads in a chair and carried aloft in a Jewish tradition I associate only with the ultra-Orthodox. It’s certainly not something I’m not familiar with from my childhood or teenage years.

It was a nice buffet, and I’m glad I could be there for Aunt Sydelle , who must have felt uncomfortable with all of her former in-laws – particularly Barry, whom she wouldn’t allow in her house when they were sitting shiva for his father.

She told me she’ll be 75 in the fall and she’s resumed her first married name after having the last names of her second and third husbands for the last thirty years.

Because I’m just a distant relative with no close ties to anyone, I could appreciate all the family nuances I got today, observing them as if I were Henry James.

I spoke a little to Scott, who asked me about my parents and brothers. When Barbara introduced me as Scott’s cousin to Melanie, I told her, “Melanie, I’m just some crazy old relative.”

“You said it, not me,” Barbara said. I don’t think she ever liked me – probably with good reason.

The party broke up around 3:30 PM.

But before I headed back to Baltimore, I wanted to find the Atticus Book Shop on U Street and NW 15th Street.

As I walked in, I nodded hello to Rick at the counter, who nodded back and then did a double take. He had no idea I was in D.C., and I think I discombobulated him by showing up so casually.

Rick introduced me to Gretchen, his girlfriend, who was doing spackling; they’re painting the store tonight.

The bookstore is in a funky but gentrifying neighborhood and looks like it’s got great potential.

Rick had his own books up front, and there were loads of wonderful used books all through the cavernous space.

Rick told me he and Lucinda have a deal with Gollancz in England to publish three Mondo books, and he hopes to place the Mondo Royals book next.

After wishing Rick luck with both the bookstore and his publishing endeavors, I took I-95 north, stopping off to exit at Glen Burnie, where I found a Wendy’s.

I’m skipping tonight’s bar mitzvah skating party in Reston, Virginia.


Sunday, June 18, 1995

8 PM. I didn’t go to the conference at all today. instead, I spent the day in Washington, being a tourist.

Although I didn’t exercise, I walked many miles, and for the first time in years, my face is sunburned.

Last evening I called Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day today, and later Mom called me in my room to dish the bar mitzvah.

My mind was racing so fast that I couldn’t sleep that well, but I did manage to drop off eventually and awaken just before 8 AM.

Despite feeling tired, I was out of the hotel an hour later, taking I-95 south. Getting off the Beltway in Bethesda, I drove down Wisconsin Avenue, a street I’ve always liked.

Near Bradley Boulevard, I called Scott for directions to his house, and although I had to turn left and right on four different streets, I got there in no time.

Aunt Sydelle showed me around the pleasant split-level house. It’s probably more expensive than I thought, given the prices in the area, and Barbara has decorated it tastefully.

The platters from the deli were over an hour late, and Scott was fuming; finally, after he told them he wouldn’t pay for it, the supposedly lost driver suddenly showed up.

Hungry, I still stuck to my diet, avoiding cream cheese, lox, and all that other instant hardening-of-the-arteries food. Instead, I ate crudités and fruit, orange juice and half a plain bagel with nothing on it.

It was a beautiful morning, especially out on the deck and the tree-lined backyard.

Sydelle and Barbara’s grandmother told me about the skating party where 60 kids showed up. They took over the rink for most of the evening.

I chatted with various people, and when Aunt Sydelle brought out the album from Scott’s bar mitzvah in December 1966, I got the shock of seeing myself as a slim, pretty 15-year-old. (Too bad I didn’t know how good-looking I was.)

That day I remember having terrible anxiety attacks and I was up all that night feeling very nauseated. (While I felt sick, I was reading the autobiography of Allan Sherman all night. That’s where I stole the title of my story “The Four Faces of Freud” from.)

I think what freaked me out at the bar mitzvah was that I felt attracted to the grandson of Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat’s friends, the Goldmans, who kept pestering me to go to the men’s room with him so he could show me the holds he’d learned on his school’s wrestling team.

I found Scott’s half-brother a little less charming after he made a remark about “schwarzes.”  Of course it would have been rude to criticize him, so I just walked away after I heard the racial slur.

Just before noon, I said my goodbyes, hugged Sydelle, and congratulated Elliott while he was looking at his father’s bar mitzvah album.

(People really smoked a lot back then. Grandpa Nat had a cigar in his mouth when he and Grandma Sylvia lit a candle, and even Grandpa Herb was caught in one shot, standing with a cigarette in his mouth.)

I drove into D.C., passing where they’d just blocked off Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. There were lots of gay people lining up on the street for today’s Gay Pride parade, and I saw booths getting set up.

Driving around, I finally found a parking space at the Tidal Basin around noon.

After walking to the Washington Monument, I went to the Freer Gallery to try to see the “Whistler and Japan” exhibit and to sit in my favorite Peacock Room, and then I pushed on toward Capitol Hill, through the Enid Hart Garden and the rest of the Mall.

I was thirsty and sweaty when I finally climbed all those steps up to the Capitol, and then there were the stairs to the Senate Visitors’ Gallery, where I was grateful for the chance to sit down.

I saw the House Gallery, too, and the statues and paintings, and then walked out past the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress over to Union Station, where I refreshed myself with a baked potato with salsa, a nonfat chocolate sorbet and Diet Pepsi at the food court.

Then I took my first Metro ride. I like the fare card system, and D.C.’s subway is utterly delightful compared to new York’s – although I did get stuck on the second train at the station before my stop, the Smithsonian.

Passing the Washington Monument again, I decided to walk over past the Reflecting Pool, where people were flying kites, over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (festooned with lots of Father’s Day flowers and cards), and up to see Abe Lincoln in his memorial.

What from a distance I thought was the Tidal Basin turned out to be the Potomac, so I ended up going miles out of my way.

But I got to see a polo game in action and lots of other stuff during that time, and eventually I made it to the Jefferson Memorial, where I looked across to see the front portico of the White House in a clearing of the shrubbery.

Delighted to find my car at last, I drove back to the hotel leisurely, getting off in Laurel to eat at McDonald’s and then taking U.S. 1 and stopping at a nice Elkridge supermarket.

This was a great vacation day.


Monday, June 19, 1995

8:30 PM. Last night I had serious insomnia, drifting off only into a light hallucinatory dream state after 4 AM and waking up before 7 AM.

Still, I didn’t appear that much worse for wear today and I did get to read most of the Sunday papers in bed when I realized that tossing and turning was futile.

As tired as I was this morning, I left Linthicum Heights at 8 AM and made it downtown in time to get the $7 early bird all-day rate at the parking garage of the Stouffer Hotel across from Harborplace.

The first National Educational Computing Conference session that I attended was “Civilization and Its Disconnects: The Future of the Internet,” a slightly dull talk by Paul Evan Peters of the Coalition for Networked Information that nevertheless touched on issues I’m interested in.

At the vendors’ exhibition hall, as I looked at various pieces of hardware, software and other products, I ran into Sue Spahn, who remembered me from Broward Community College and gave me her card at Nova.

At the Scholastic Network booth, I asked about Susan Mernit, and a woman told me that Susan is her friend, and she just left for a job at another company.

The 10:30 AM presentation was “Education, Entertainment and Telecommunications: Will Schools Survive Them?” based on survey research by Peter Grunwald of Grunwald Associates, with the caustic educational technology consultant Saul Rockman responding.

It also proved interesting, and it didn’t hurt that the speaker was pleasant to look at; he must have been 30 at most.

I wandered around the conference for a while more, but I’d had enough. After getting a baked potato at the food court at Harborplace, I got into my car and moseyed over to the western suburbs.

In Randallstown, which seemed to have a lot of blacks and elderly Jews, I went to Wendy’s, a supermarket and the library.

On the radio, I heard the Supreme Court, as expected, ruled that the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers have the right to exclude gay people.

Later on NPR, I heard analysis leading me to believe that Souter’s opinion for all the justices was certainly more respectful of gay people than Bowers v. Hardwick was.

Anyway, I returned to my hotel room – if I had a microwave, a refrigerator and a computer here, I’d be happy to spend the rest of my life in hotels – and rested, reading and watching TV before I went out again at 5 PM for another two-hour drive, from Brooklyn to Downtown and then all over: through black and gentrifying neighborhoods, Little Italy and Fells Point and commercial areas around the Harbor Tunnel.

I really like Baltimore, which reminds me of New York City: not so much Manhattan but the working-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens.

When I went to a gas station and asked the attendant if I could get $5 on pump, she said, “Sure,” pronouncing it “shaw” the way I do.

Tomorrow night I’ll be back in Gainesville, but it’s been great to be on this trip and away from my life at CGR.

It’s been a real vacation, just the way New Orleans was. While I dread the work I’ll have to do when I get home, I’m not going to think about that tonight.

Mom called and said Jonathan left Shreveport and yesterday drove from Dallas into Wichita Falls but had diarrhea all day today.

He must be learning a lot about life and about America, and I envy that. After all, I’ve never even been in Texas unless you count Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.