A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1995

by Richard Grayson

Monday, July 3, 1995

7 PM. I arrived at work at 9:30 AM. Because of a computer problem with the network, we couldn’t connect to the Internet or any other online service. But I didn’t intend to work much today anyway, given that it was sort of a holiday.

Carol came in to my office early and said that she, Laurie, Joann and Liz – the others who came in today –were going to lunch at the Wine & Cheese Gallery downtown and they’d like me and Russ to join them.

Carol also expressed her vehement disagreement with the letters attacking me in Saturday’s Sun. I saw the letters only late this afternoon at the public library. Put under the “Talking Back” header, the headline was “Corporal punishment in our schools is no laughing matter.”

The first letter-writer, Clif Cormier, is someone who apparently writes hate mail to Jon every so often. He really was pissed off with my using “satire and ridicule to demean the practice of corporal punishment.”

Cormier apparently has a grudge against CGR and ended by saying he’s often wondered what we do: “Obviously, it isn’t searching out sensible solutions to the problem of school discipline.” And in a reference to my story about calling out “constipation” as an antonym for regularity in eighth grade (which he said sounded like something out of Welcome Back, Kotter), he ended: “How about a prefix opposite ‘responsibility,’ Grayson?”

The next letter began: “Recently, a local attorney wrote a rather long-winded, sarcastic diatribe,” and then went on for 16 paragraphs of long-winded, clichéd sincerity.

Part of me would like to respond to these people, but I feel it’s not my position. What do I care anyway? These are the kind of local yokels, I said to Carol, that are the reason I’m moving back to New York next year.

She and Laurie said, “Oh no, don’t leave” – but I told them I’d already lined up an apartment in Manhattan.

Well, I always like to feel I’m on my way someplace else.

Josh E-mailed that he had to put the cat to sleep after it attacked his mother in bed on Friday night. Although it had been violent before, his parents loved (he wrote “lived”) Coco, and it was hard to do it – especially because his mother is really alone now. I feel so sorry for her and for Josh.

I sent out some more E-mail press releases about SCABBB (Supporters of a Constitutional Amendment to Ban Bra Burning). It’s possible that my press release will get more notice if it’s in somebody’s E-mail inbox than if it were just another letter.

While the hard copy looks pretty cheesy, online the press release looks just the same as anyone’s, whether they’re a big, well-funded organization or not.

I suppose I could have tried to write an op-ed column rather than a press release, but I want to do this quickly as the Senate is close to getting the two-thirds vote needed to send the flag burning amendment to the states, and they’re only on a one-week July 4th recess.

While the press release describes me as a legal scholar and noted my position at CGR, I put in a disclaimer at the bottom stating that this was not supported by the University of Florida or any of its parts. I see that other people who use their employer’s Internet domain do the same thing.

So far the only replies I’ve gotten are from reporters who merely said they enjoyed the press release, though an editor at the Houston Chronicle said that if he’s learned anything in the newspaper business, it’s that “the better-written satire is, the more likely readers will take it seriously.”

Our lunch out was pleasant although I couldn’t eat much of my spinach salad (not the croutons, bacon or eggs). Generally, I joked around and made a fool of myself.

When Liz said she’s sending Becky to Catholic school, Carol told her she would bring home all that anti-choice propaganda. But Liz said Becky’s already vehemently anti-choice, and then Carol told a story about escorting patients at the women’s clinic last Friday.

Later, when Carol and I were the only ones left in the office, I asked her if she knew Russ’s political views, and she said that in their car going home, someone said that Russ looked horrified hearing all the pro-choice talk, plus other kinds of liberal stuff.

“Well, he’s nice and he’s entitled to his opinion,” Carol said she told them. “At least he doesn’t bring out his Bible and lecture us every day.”

I like to shock Russ because he’s so easily shockable, like when I mentioned today that I once smoked pot with my mother. He looked stunned.

I also leave stuff like the Lambda Report and the xerox of the front page New York Times article about gay teens on the Internet out on my desktop.

I’ve never really known anyone who has Russ’s views before now – certainly not someone I have to spend so much of my work time with because we’re sharing an office.

I guess I need to watch my own tendency to proselytize. After all, Russ hasn’t tried to convince me that my views or lifestyle should change. Why should I feel the need to change him?

Russ is basically a nice guy, and he laughs at all my jokes. Maybe if he had a girlfriend, he’d loosen up and be less the angry white male. (Boy, that is sexist of me.)

Back at the office, Laurie’s son took a message while we were out from “Mike Murphy of the Sentinel” wanting to know what my title at CGR was.

I called the 407 area code and left a message on Murphy’s machine. I think he called last fall – so it looks like my article will be in the Orlando paper this weekend. Great!

After I spoke to Mom, I faxed her the responses to my paddling column.

Tuesday, July 4, 1995

8 PM. I’m just settling down, having gotten in from Orlando ten minutes ago. I had a nice visit with Ronna and her mother, and my car made it the 225 miles back and forth with no problems.

Last night I stayed up till midnight, watching a Nightline show on Coney Island’s still-popular amusements, which of course made me homesick. I slept okay but not great, dreaming that I was in New York and that Jonathan had come up from New Mexico and Mom from Florida to visit me in the city.

Yesterday Mom told me that Jonathan spent another day at the Hopi reservation and met with one of the tribal leaders. Having found distrust and rivalry among the different Hopi factions, Jonathan feels disappointed. Their “spirituality” was not what he’d hoped it would be.

At the Gallup camping grounds, he’d met a Jewish woman from New York and Florida who told him that her son lives in Sedona, and she said it was very yuppified there. At last report, Jonathan was deciding whether to head west to Sedona or just forget about Arizona and try Santa Fe.

Up at 6:30 AM, I was on I-75 by 9:30 AM. I just found a message on my machine from Ronna from 11:10 AM wanting to know if I’d left. So no wonder I startled Beatrice when I called half an hour later from the Wendy’s on Central Florida Parkway and International Drive after I’d had a salad bar and baked potato.

They both had just gotten up, having stayed up very late the night before. Five minutes later, when I arrived at her house following the simple directions, Ronna was in the shower and her mother probably had dressed very quickly.

I chatted with Beatrice, who looks only slightly heavier and older although she does remind me more of her mother, Grandma Sarah.

And like that proud grandmother, the first thing she showed me were photos of her grandson, who is almost a year old. He’s cute, though I couldn’t tell if he looked more like Sue or his father.

Beatrice said Melissa followed Billy back to Gainesville after renting a house for $1,250 a month in Broward for next fall. They need room for their two dogs, and Billy should be doing okay financially as a counselor at FAU’s Davie campus and in taking the overflow of a local clinical psychologist who needs an associate.

While Billy liked Gainesville and got certified in his year of supervised clinical work at UF, the department could promise him only the same deal I got: another six months and then “probably” more soft money would come in.

Unlike me, Billy didn’t want the instability and uncertainty, and Melissa’s one-year replacement teaching job was ending. Now it looks as if she’s going to teach at some temple school in Broward that offers better pay and benefits than she had here in Gainesville.

In San Francisco, Ed and Sue are renting a townhouse because they still haven’t sold their home in Philadelphia.

When Ronna came out, at first I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that changed: new glasses? To me, even with wet hair and in a T-shirt and plain skirt, she always looks pretty.

Then her mother remarked about all the weight Ronna had lost, and I gasped because Ronna is thinner than I ever have seen her.

Later, she told me she weighs only 130, about 35 pounds less than when she first began to lose weight on Weight Watchers when I was visiting her last May.

She pulled up her T-shirt and her stomach was half the size I remember. Beatrice said we both look great, “just like you did twenty years ago.”

We have aged well.

I told Ronna and her mother stories about my family and Jonathan’s trip and why I’d like to leave Gainesville and go back to New York, at least for a while.

We also talked about dieting. Robbie, who still lives with Aunt Roberta, has lost 80 pounds on a “negative calorie” diet. He eats five or six apples a day.

Beatrice talked about her $7-an-hour work placing signs and posters for Disney at the Florida Mall and other shopping centers.

Now she has the big house to herself, but she’s got only an $850 mortgage payment and $50 fees every month, so she doesn’t need to take in a roommate.

It sounds as if she goes up to New York City a lot, and next month she’ll be in San Francisco.

They put out an incredible low-calorie spread for my lunch. I’m glad it was only leftovers from the past few days and that it was no real trouble for them.

When Beatrice went to her office and we were alone, Ronna said I was probably the most stimulating conversationalist her mother had encountered in weeks, but I doubt that: I just don’t know when to shut up.

Ronna confided that she’s gone down one bra size, saying, “I’m glad you remember me when.”

She showed me wallet photos of baby Chelsea and Matthew, who looks just like I expected: short, balding and sweet-faced.

Matthew is the sole adoptive parent of 20-month-old Chelsea, who calls Randy “Re-re” (which is what Marc as a baby called me).

Matthew sounds like an amazing guy to take on an infant daughter just as he began a position heading the residency program at a hospital.

Although he must work very hard, he’s made time to see Ronna and have a relationship that could lead somewhere.

(I’m thinking of myself, of course: although I don’t have anywhere near Matthew’s commitments, I don’t seem to have time for a social life.)

I think – I hope –  that Matthew and Ronna will marry and be Chelsea’s parents. Unlike with her other boyfriends – Jordan, Steve, Ralph – Ronna doesn’t seem to harbor the same doubts about Matthew.

Anyway, her work at Hadassah seems to be fine, and she still goes to a lot of plays with Richard, who’s now a dean at Eugene Lang College at The New School, even though he’d really like to be involved in theater parties and ticket sales.

What’s nice about being with Ronna is that we can, all these years, be totally honest with one another. I could tell her, for example, when I needed some diet ice cream because I was getting low blood sugar-shaky.

I left at 5:45 PM, not wanting to go to Alan and Valerie’s party although I was specifically invited there. I hugged Beatrice goodbye, and Ronna and I embraced after she walked me to the car.

She said that late August and early September are not a good time to visit, that I should come in early August – so I’ll start making arrangements soon.

Thursday, July 6, 1995

8 PM. I was mistaken if I thought I could escape any repercussions from telling Frank Gilbert at the National Trust to go fuck himself. He called Roy Hunt and played the tape of my message to him. Roy called Jon, and Liz asked me to see her this morning to tell me.

I reacted badly. I felt enraged all over again, and I started using the F-word liberally, saying I wouldn’t apologize, that I didn’t want to see Jon, that he too could go fuck himself, that I didn’t want to talk to Professor Hunt, that I didn’t want to stay at CGR, that I couldn’t wait to leave.

Only when Liz began to cry – God, how did I let that happen? – did I start talking rationally and calming down. I said the first thing I needed to do was write a letter of apology to Gilbert with a copy to dawn Doheny. I told Liz I didn’t regret what I said, and I don’t really feel sorry, “but I’m a fiction writer.”

So I wrote out an abject letter of apology, even telling Doheny that I was offering my letter of resignation, effective at the end of my grant.

After Liz looked at it, she said I couldn’t get unemployment compensation if I resigned, and I changed that to say I’d be leaving. I also added some bullshit how I felt that because of the incident, I didn’t feel I could be an effective CGR staff member anymore and that’s why I’m leaving.

Liz and I went off to see Jon, and he was bothered by that line and the part about my leaving. I said it was a gesture I could make besides an apology. I also orally offered to resign and told Jon he could fire me. He said that if he thought that this merited firing me, he would do it, but it didn’t.

(I think he hates conflict.)

I explained that I was very embarrassed about putting Professor Hunt in a terrible position and embarrassing him before important people from Washington with whom he has to work.

Anyway Jon called Hunt and said I’d write him an apology and asked to apologize in person – something I dread. The apology to Hunt, along with a copy of the letter to Gilbert, went off in the day’s interoffice mail, so he won’t get that tomorrow.

But I faxed the letter to Gilbert and to Doheny as well as put them into snail mail.

Naturally, the strain affected my whole day. I’m sure Liz is shaken at the way I acted, and I feel weird, as if I need to live up to this image of myself as a foul-mouthed, tough-talking New York City Jew like Roy Cohn.

Part of me would really like to “fix” the people at the trust “good” – “fix ’em good,” in that expression I heard a million times growing up in Brooklyn.

I think of it and I just become more angry – and when I got home, I did leave an anonymous message (using a high-pitched Southern accent) on the machine of a Washington Times investigative reporter telling him that there is a lot of waste that the National Trust which should be investigated.

And I thought about telling Professor Hunt “in confidence” what I haven’t told Jon: that I’m HIV-positive. I know that sounds crazy, but what could he say then?

It scares me that I’m able to lie so easily. Am I psychotic, or evil, or what? Or is it just that I’m a good fiction writer and a good actor?

I don’t know what I’ve learned from this yet, and I probably won’t know for some time – but I feel I can probably learn something (other than not to be talked into a project I feel uncomfortable with), maybe something I can write about.

If only I could figure out why it is I never want to be stuck somewhere – at Broward Community College, for example, or at CGR – why I always need to see my job situation as temporary, why I react so viscerally to my perceived lack of independence, or just why I have such a low shit tolerance.

In some respect I’m obviously self-destructive. On the other hand, I haven’t burned all my bridges behind me. If I want to leave CGR, I don’t need to leave in a bad way any more than I had to quarrel with my parents to physically separate myself from them.

This is one of the few times in my life that I’ve put off writing a diary entry. Of course it’s not the biggest deal in the world. A lot of other stuff went on today. But I plan to take tomorrow afternoon off so I can avoid dealing with Professor Hunt until Monday.

I bet I have a dream related to all this tonight.

Saturday, July 8, 1995

7 PM. I got up at 6:30 AM and went to buy the Orlando Sentinel. My article was on the top left of the Op-Ed page alongside two other “grandparent” advice essays.

They didn’t edit my piece much although when I xeroxed it at the office at 7 AM, I cut out the illustration of a boy talking to a bedridden grandmother.

The bio note identified me as a visiting assistant in law at CGR. In addition to making photocopies, I used the office fax machine to send a copy to my parents.

After leaving the office, I went grocery shopping at Albertsons. Today’s New York Times lead story was that the murder rate for the first half of 1995 in New York City was lower than it has been since 1970, 25 years ago.

An article about a new diner on West 57th Street off 7th Avenue in Manhattan – called the Brooklyn Diner – also interested in me.

Although I only have vague memories of Ebbets Field, right away I recognized the names of famous 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers as well as that of their biggest fan, Hilda Chester (though the article didn’t mention her cowbells).

Just now I saw a report on the changing face, due to immigration, of Sunset Park, and this afternoon at the Plaza triplex, I saw Smoke, Wayne Wang and Paul Auster’s very literary film that takes place in Park Slope.

God, it all made me miss Brooklyn.

Wayland, at the door, told me that Smoke is attracting big audiences, and maybe it’s because there’s a hunger for the old-fashioned kind of neighborhood not ruled by the car, a place where you can encounter people on the street and in shops, not at malls, and where people tell wonderful stories as they talk to each other.

If there’s a theme to today, it’s that it’s beginning to dawn on me as I search for places to live – considering everywhere, it seems – that by next spring, it may be time to go home.

If I don’t take over Josh’s studio, I should return to Brooklyn. For the first 25 or 26 years of my life, it never occurred to me to live anywhere but Brooklyn. Except for those three weeks I spent at Marc’s Sheepshead Bay apartment in May and June of 1981 and the ten weeks I was at Judd’s place in Park Slope in the fall of 1985, it’s been nearly 16 years since I left Brooklyn.

It’s far from being paradise, I know, but perhaps I need to see if Thomas Wolfe – who wrote “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” – was right about not being able to go home again.

This is less weird, I suppose, then Jonathan wandering the Southwest. Mom told me he’s in Flagstaff now, where he’s at a not-so-nice campground amid a beautiful landscape. He had a rough ride with car trouble going there.

Mom worries so much about him, but like Grandma Ethel, Mom obsesses about every possible thing that could go wrong. What irks me is my tendency to do the exact same thing.

Today I read the newspapers, of course, and exercised and went to the health food store to buy ginkgo biloba capsules, and I wrote Alice, apologizing for being unable to come up with anything on the Santa Claus bio project.

I also wrote to Mark Bernstein in Florence and sent out the letter I wrote to Tom on Monday – I waited so I could send him the Orlando Sentinel piece – and I even replied to that creep who criticized me for my paddling story.

(I took an amiable, self-deprecatory tone but enclosed other pieces to show him I’m mostly a writer, not a CGR attorney.)

I read more of that Mike Diana defense brief, where I’m just getting to the legal points raised. It’s hard to believe that an appellate court would allow his obscenity prosecution for a comic book to stand, but then this is right-wing Florida.

I answered Josh’s E-mail message in which he provocatively told me I should have done lots more vile stuff instead of apologizing to the National Trust people.

And I dragged the 24-can carton of Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi to my office. (It’s just 25¢ a can this way, as opposed to the 55¢ if I use the law school soda machine.)

The only mail I got today were advertisements and Mom sending me a Miami Herald story about Neil Rogers being on the Atkins low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Although it sounds very unhealthy to me, people can lose weight on any diet.

The only Neil Simon plays I have left to read before I write my article are the early ones, collected in a book I got from the public library.

I began Come Blow Your Horn last night, and it reads like a period piece. Simon gives the “cover story” of his family, and the characters are one-dimensional when compared with his later family comedies like Brighton Beach Memoirs.