A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1995

by Richard Grayson

Friday, July 21, 1995

9 PM. After stopping at my office last evening, I went over to SFCC’s Downtown Center for the HRC Board meeting, arriving there at the same time as Richard Smith.

Craig came next, and it looked as though we weren’t going to get a quorum until a bunch of people came in together: Bob, Tim Martin, Kathy, Patricia, Helen, Susan and Bill.

Tim Burke is teaching in the building at that hour, and he’ll be leaving town soon, so he won’t be at any more meetings.

We adopted the amendments to the by-laws and then discussed a number of items.

Kathy tends to be so narrowly focused that it annoys me. She’s fixated on local politics to the point where she wanted to complain that the Human Rights Campaign Fund has done so many mailings that they’re siphoning contributors our group might get.

I think we explained to her that every national organization does that to local groups, and besides, HRCF gave us a lot of money for the referendum campaign last year.

Kathy also wants us to look into what she says is a terrible situation at UF, where gay employees are terrified, but when I asked her to give me specific examples, she really couldn’t come up with any.

I’m a lawyer, so I want evidence – or maybe I’m a freshman comp teacher and more also want evidence. Frankly, I think some gay activists like Kathy see homophobia where it doesn’t exist.

Although Richard Smith isn’t out in the Botany Department, Craig, a lab manager, also works there, and Richard said nobody’s ever complained about Craig.

It annoys me that Kathy feels the rest of us who work at UF are simply too afraid to challenge the school when she won’t give us specific cases of discrimination that we can challenge and protest.

Learning that the University of California Regents, prodded by Governor Pete Wilson, voted to end affirmative action in hiring admissions is something that bothers me a lot more.

(On Wednesday, Clinton strongly defended affirmative action, probably because he was afraid of totally losing Democratic liberals, his base, who are already alienated over his run to the center.)

When I got home at 9:30 PM, I had a phone message from Martin Hester of Avisson Press, asking me to call him at my earliest convenience. I was excited, of course, but he said to call in the afternoon.

At the office this morning, I did some stuff online, read the Times and forwarded to Liz a Wall Street Journal article on the right-wing fight to kill the Legal Services Corporation.

After taking care of some routine business and going home for lunch, I phoned Martin Hester this afternoon.

He told me first off, in response to my query, that yes, his mother’s name is Avis, and that’s how he got the French-sounding name for the press.

He said he liked my stories and wanted to do a book-length collection. Although he hasn’t gotten through everything, he knows that there’s enough material to make a book.

Avisson will mostly do hardcovers and concentrate on getting bound galleys to  reviewers so he can make sales to libraries. (This is similar to Kevin Urick’s idea for White Ewe Press.)

He doesn’t see his books getting into chain stores. But he feels I’d probably do okay in trade paperback, and he could offer wholesalers a discount that would make it worthwhile.

I was impressed with his professionalism. We called each other “Mr. – –” until the end of the conversation, when I insisted he called me Richard.

Martin said he’s publishing only “people who should be published by New York but who are not.”

Avisson’s first book will be poetry by Charles Fishman, someone I admire, a stalwart of the Long Island Poetry Collective whom I know from the 1970s.

But my book will also be one of the first, and he’d like to send me out a contract in the next week. Of course, I was delighted and told him so.

Martin said to call him with any questions, and we left it that he’d mail me the contract.

As soon as I got off the phone, I told Russ (I don’t know if he could figure it out from my side of the conversation, or if he was even listening) and he congratulated me.

When I emailed Liz, she got so excited that she ran over and hugged me.

It’s all happened very fast, and I don’t want to raise up my hopes only to be disappointed.

Even signing the contract won’t make the book real to me. Probably not till I see the bound galleys will I really let myself believe it.

I’m glad I had good news to tell Dad when I called to wish him a happy birthday. He said that Jonathan had just phoned in his birthday wishes from Flagstaff.

As I said to Dad, it will be nice to have a book published again after 13 years. But although I’m happy, I won’t allow myself to get too excited yet.

Tuesday, July 25, 1995

8 PM. When I got to work this morning, I read newspapers instead of turning on my computer because I was worried about my posting on the Gay Jews listserv.

I needn’t have been. The responses were kind and made me feel included; people agreed that I could be an atheist and Jewish (although one guy said I could not list my religion as “Jewish/atheist.”)

I also received a nice note from Kenneth Nunn, thanking me for complimenting his “Trial As Text” article. He said it was “high praise coming from a true intellectual like you.”

I didn’t do any real CGR work again today, and it makes me feel weird, mostly because Russ is so heavily involved in the historic preservation manual, the constitutional revision program, and the Palestine project – which doesn’t seem as pro-Palestinian as I thought yesterday since Russ told me that the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC are acting as advisors.

It will be good for me to be in New York a week from now. When I was in Baltimore and Washington, I was able to see my life without CGR, and in New York that should be even more true.

On the way home for lunch, I stopped at Walmart and bought some new crew neck socks, briefs and boxer shorts (which I wear over the briefs, as shorts, as I am now, when I’m lounging at home) in addition to the usual supplies (razors, decongestants, contact lens stuff).

My contract from Avisson Press arrived in today’s mail in a priority mail envelope, but I didn’t open it until I returned to the office in the afternoon. Instead, I read Newsweek while eating lunch.

In September of 1984, I remember their Garry Trudeau “The Year of the Yuppie” cover, and they’ve got a new one now: “The Overclass,” the “new elite of highly paid, high-tech drivers” who are “pulling away from the rest of America.”

Financially, I’m not one of them, but in every other way I probably am. I don’t think this phenomenon is so much more than the Yuppies a decade later, though.

It’s obvious that the educated, the symbolic analysts (Robert Reich’s term), the chattering classes, the brie-and-arugula eaters, the cyber-savvy – see, I can sound like a newsweekly, too – are very different from not only the poor (the underclass) but also from middle class Americans in dead-end jobs: the people you see in Walmart and Southern Baptist churches and on “trailer trash” talk shows like Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones.

You don’t hear the new elite on the radio unless you listen to NPR.

I like to think that I’m pretty down-to-earth, and I like to talk to regular people. All around me at this apartment complex are the same people you might see in mobile home parks.

But there’s no doubt that it’s only money and maybe a little more materialism that keeps me from being totally overclass. I do write books and I’ve been a college instructor and am a lawyer, after all.

The three-page contract from Avisson Press seems boiler-plate. If I wanted to, I’d change some stuff like the “satisfactory manuscript” clause and the “hold harmless” clause, but it’s not worth it. I don’t want being a lawyer to get in my way.

The “work” is called “an untitled collection of short stories,” and I’m getting 50% of subsidiary rights, 10% royalties and no advance.

Nothing in the contract set off any bells, so I signed and dated all three copies and sent it back to Martin Hester via express mail. He said he’ll mail me back one copy for my records.

Martin wrote that after I’m back from my vacation, he should have a good idea of what stories he wants to put in, and we’ll work on a good title for the book, though he will have final say.

If the book’s manuscript delivery deadline is October 15, he probably can get the book out a year from now. That means I can spend next summer in New York City trying to publicize it. At worst, I can sell it on the street.

The computer will make publicizing it easier although I’ll miss my Lexis/Westlaw access once I leave the law school.

Still, I should have some sort of Internet access and I can use (sparingly) fee-based online newspaper databases as well as E-mail.

Promoting my book is something I can throw myself into totally. Of course, it doesn’t seem real to me yet. Before it does, I’ll need to know what stories it will contain and what its title is.

But now I have a contract that will be binding when signed by the publisher.

Friday, July 28, 1995

9 PM. I had a restless night, waking up at 3 AM and wondering how I’ll survive once my job at CGR ends, say, next February. All my doubts about making a living started haunting me, and I was up nearly two hours.

When I got back to sleep, I had these weird, obsessive erotic dreams for a couple of hours.

I’ve had a postnasal drip all day, but I haven’t decided if it’s the start of a cold or merely sinus problems.

I went out at 8 AM and got the New York Times outside Publix, and in the car I turned to the editorial page and saw my letter in the lead position, with the headline “We Won’t Get Far Without Affirmative Action” over the three columns of letters.

They printed my entire letter, editing it for clarity, and after my name, city and state, wrote: “The writer is with the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida College of Law.”

I felt elated and thought it was a good letter. However, nobody called to say they’d seen it except for Mom, and I’d called her early this morning so she could tell Dad to buy the paper.

Mom said that Dad read it to people in his office, who were impressed. (He told them I was 32.)

I left a copy in Jon’s mailbox, but when I ran into him several times this afternoon, he just said hi. Either he’s given up on me or else he’s not pleased about CGR being associated with affirmative action. If so, I think less of him but am not surprised.

The once entirely reasonable policy of affirmative action has now become controversial anathema, and Democratic Leadership Council types like Jon didn’t like Clinton’s support of it. Screw them.

At times today, I found myself singing to myself, “Start spreading the news/I’m leaving today,” the opening lines to “New York, New York.”

The lyric famously says if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere, and I take it as a good sign that my letter got published in the Times on the eve of my trip.

When I got the mail at lunchtime, I finally heard back from Demos’s Jesse LeBeau, who sent me his changes to “Cough W/12 Symptom! And AIDS Or HIV.”

I copied his edited manuscript to a DOS file and took the floppy back to the office so I could work on it after lunch. Jesse’s suggestion that the two voices be in alternating in Roman and italic type and his other changes may have rescued the story.

I printed it out, hovering over the laser printer so no one else at the office could see it. Jesse wasn’t home when I called, so I left a message on what I hope is his voicemail.

(Russ said he’s got phone company voicemail instead of an answering machine, so perhaps that’s what this was.)

I left the office at 4 PM, saying goodbye to Russ, Laurie and Linda, the only ones who were still around. It hasn’t dawned on me that I’m on vacation yet.

Over the weekend I plan to go into the office. One thing I should do is temporarily unsubscribe to my listservs so my E-mail inbox doesn’t get overloaded.

I’ll think about it. If I’ve got 200 messages when I get back, it will be a pain, but I can go through them in an hour or two, deleting what I don’t want to read.

I definitely plan on doing some work on the Neil Simon essay in the next couple of days.

Mom reported that Jonathan, instead of spending a second night in Childress, Texas, got to North Dallas last night and tonight is at a Comfort Inn in  Natchitoches, Louisiana, one of his favorite places.

But he’s exhausted and very nervous about traveling with the van. He wanted to stay with me when he comes through North Florida, but of course now I won’t be around.

I told Mom it was too late for me to make up a key and tell someone at CGR to hold it for him because I won’t be seeing them after today.

But then Jonathan would probably just say my apartment smelled too bad for him to sleep in.


10:30 PM. I’ve just been on the phone with Sat Darshan.

She said that her kids are going back to India in a week for school. Gurudaya is a bit nervous about returning after spending this year in Phoenix, but a friend’s father, a wealthy Florida businessman, offered to subsidize her tuition, and so she’ll be joining Gurudaya.

Sat Darshan says she’s glad to be able to keep her girls away from “the American teen drug, sex and rock music culture” for a little longer.

She also told me that her mother may die this week because she’s undergoing a serious operation in Miami for a mass on her liver. Ravinder is flying down from New York City to South Florida to stay with Sat Darshan’s father.

I hadn’t realized that her father was kind of out of it after having so many mini-strokes; he can’t drive and he’s very forgetful. If his wife dies, he’ll probably have to go to Phoenix to live with Sat Darshan and her family.

Sat Darshan’s job at the VA sounds pretty good although she and her colleagues are loaded with twice as much work as they reasonably handle.

However, the Veterans Affairs Department is one federal agency that’s politically immune to budget cuts, so job security is excellent. Plus she’s learning a lot of software that she uses to process her reports.

Sat Darshan spent the first week of July in Los Angeles and was totally grossed out by the congestion, the traffic and and what she called “the decay.”

She also experienced the nightmare of getting a flat tire during rush hour on the freeway going from Universal Studios to her sister’s in South Pasadena.

She had her daughters and nephews in the car and was afraid they’d get stuck in some dangerous inner-city neighborhood. Luckily, traffic was slowed to such a crawl that she was able to barrel along in the rental car with the flat until they hit Glendale, which she knew was safe.

Grant drove all the way to Ellen’s to pick them up in his brand-new van with a car phone and take them back to Woodland Hills for the day.

Grant and Libby’s house is really nice, Sat Darshan reported. They have a big spread, and their new swimming pool was a delight for the kids – although to a Phoenician, Southern California seemed chilly. (Sat Darshan said it hit 120° today and she hardly noticed.)

Grant’s business was apparently just hanging on before the earthquake, but it’s now doing very well because of the many extensive repairs they are doing to damaged property all over L.A.

His workers also painted the outside of their house powder blue, Libby’s favorite color.

Libby talked about their upcoming trip to New York for her brother’s wedding. (Sat Darshan had met Wayne’s fiancée years ago at Mrs. Judson’s funeral.) Wayne and his wife plan to keep the house in Park Slope and put up aluminum siding – something Libby said was a ridiculous thing to do to a brownstone.

Anyway, Sat Darshan seems pretty happy in Phoenix although she’s clearly worried about her parents and her kids. I said I’d call her when I got back from New York.