A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1995
by Richard Grayson
Friday, August 25, 1995
7 PM. Last evening most everyone seemed to show up at the HRC Board meeting: Craig, Bob, Tim, Kathy, Denise, Helen, Abby, George (a new member), Bill and Richard.
We had a fairly routine meeting with the main business being the introduction of formal membership and Bob’s plan to bring syndicated columnist Deb Price down for Coming Out Week in October.
The problem is she can fly down from D.C. only on weekends. Friday night is a bad time for an event in a college town, and Saturday in the fall is difficult because she’d have to compete with Gator football games.
In the end, we decided to see if we could find someone else and to keep Price in mind for a future date.
There are already a lot of on-campus activities scheduled for Coming Out Week, especially Greg Louganis at the O’Dome on Wednesday night.
I left during the after-meeting session of the Human Rights Action PAC (we have to keep the PAC separate from the nonprofit Human Rights Council) because it was 9:30 PM and I was hungry and tired.
But after relaxing at home, I slept for a long time, reveling in the luxury of dozing off as NPR’s Morning Edition and the pouring rain intruded on my dreams.
I didn’t go to work till 10:30 AM, after I’d exercised, checked Lexis and looked at the New York Times.
Russ was reading The Book of the States, trying to get background info for the constitutional revision.
He mused aloud about having a one-chamber legislature and a parliamentary system. In his heart, Russ probably would like a feudal monarchy.
The women in office were going out for a lunch celebrating the 75th anniversary of female suffrage, so Carol and Laurie gave me instructions for taking phone messages.
Jon was in Orlando and Richard had left for the day, so I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to sit at the front desk while the women were gone. (Last evening I’d E-mailed Carol that I’d be in late today but would be there to “man” the phones for them.)
I managed to successfully transfer the first call to Tom, but I forgot to ask who was calling. For the next two hours, I found out just how hard it is to be a secretary and receptionist.
There were about twenty calls, sometimes two at once, and it wasn’t easy getting all the messages straight.
My stomach tightened up from the tension, and it felt like I was reenacting a phone-based version of Lucy and Ethel on the candy-making assembly line.
I’m sure the other lawyers in the office have no idea how hard Laura, Laurie and Carol work.
Just when I was going to ask Russ to help me, he went out for lunch in the new cafeteria.
When the women came back, they thanked me and gave me a card with a funny inscription:
All the women of CGR / Are bellying up to the bar. / But they gave an ovation / To Richard Grayson / Best man in the office by far.
It’s true: all the other males in the office are stiffs.
The one call I did take was really for Jon. Lise Fisher, a Sun reporter covering the story about the arrest of “the doobie tosser,” the guy who passed out joints to the crowd at this year’s Hempfest, wanted Jon to comment on the guy’s lawyers challenging the constitutionality of the marijuana laws.
After some fits and starts, I found an ALR annotation precisely on point, so I went home at 3:30 PM and called Lise back, speaking with her for quite a while. The story is going in tomorrow’s paper, and she said I helped liven it up a lot.
One reason I left the CGR office is that Russ, instead of being helpful, acted annoyingly priggish. He’s such a prude that he probably doesn’t know anyone who’s smoked pot.
I was happily surprised that CompUSA, the computer store where I helped Alice buy her fax machine, gave me a credit card from Beneficial National Bank.
Saturday, August 26, 1995
8 PM. Alice phoned this morning with dreadful news: her mother died yesterday. “I can’t believe it,” she said, sobbing.
Mrs. D had been very ill. Two weeks ago when Alice showed me photos of her mother at the 70th birthday party she made for her, I could tell that Mrs. D was in great pain behind the smiles.
She went into Community Hospital on Kings Highway for the fourth time since spring.
The day I left New York, things looked so bad that Alice had her Aunt Dottie fly up from Florida and was also faxing her brother in Mongolia – but he replied that the situation didn’t seem so bad.
And indeed, it seemed not to be. Alice thought her mother was getting better when she went to the hospital on Thursday night and saw Mrs. K eating dinner and watching TV with Dottie.
Yesterday, she had an apparently successful procedure to put a catheter in her neck. But in the afternoon she had severe chest pains and had a heart attack that the doctors were unable to treat.
I said all the lame things people say: what a great person her mother was, how wonderfully Alice had treated her, that at least her pain is over now.
But Alice said she’s devastated and shocked “. . . even though my father died a long time ago, even though I knew how sick she was. I don’t believe I’m not going to see her again.”
Alice has already changed the funeral services twice, first when her mother’s friend said all deaf people use one particular place, and then again when her brother finally got through and said the earliest he could come was a flight via Moscow that wouldn’t get in until Sunday night.
So now the funeral is Monday, upsetting Dottie, who had tickets to return to Florida that morning. It will be at I.J. Morris on Flatbush Avenue, with burial next to Alice’s father on Long Island.
Alice said she couldn’t bear to go to her mother’s apartment (Dottie got the clothes for Mrs. D to be buried in) and she dreads going through everything and finally selling the co-op.
I asked if there was anything I could do, and Alice said just to call my parents, which I did (and Mom sent Alice a card, as I did).
I thought I’d heard the worst news of the weekend after Sat Darshan had told me about her mother when I phoned Phoenix late last night. Mrs. K is still alive, but just barely; she’s been in intensive care on a ventilator after a series of medical nightmares.
Her operation at Jackson Memorial took ten hours, during which her heart stopped twice, and it had to be interrupted because she hemmoraged so severely.
They clamped her up with “packs” and after several touch-and-go days, they operated again, getting most of the cancerous mass.
But her one lung failed, and she kept getting numerous infections. She needs to have a risky procedure to widen her breathing tubes so that they can take her off the ventilator, but Sat Darshan said they started to wean her off it.
Ravinder was in Florida for the first surgery, but when he had to get back to New York for work, Sat Darshan took a week’s leave and flew to West Palm Beach.
Her father, unsteady on his feet – he can’t walk far and has falls a lot – has been acting confused since all his mini-strokes, so he needed someone to drive him from Delray to Miami, and Sat Darshan did that.
(I know she doesn’t like that kind of difficult driving although she said the turnpike was okay).
Her mother is conscious and responds to her name, but she doesn’t squeeze people’s hands when the doctors ask her to or respond to other requests.
Ellen couldn’t get away but plans to fly from L.A. next week. Sat Darshan had to return to work and left last Friday.
When Ellen asked her how their mother looks, Sat Darshan said, “She’s looked like hell for ten years, and now she looks like hell with tubes sticking out of her.”
Sat Darshan’s father didn’t want to stay at a hotel a few blocks away and be shuttled to the hospital, so she found someone who can drive him back and forth to Delray, but it’s very expensive.
Neither she nor her parents have very much money, but they’ll make do somehow. She and Ravinder had to borrow money from Josh for their flights to Florida, and they’ve got an expensive repair to the roof of their house in Phoenix.
On top of that, Sat Darshan’s worried her paychecks will stop if there’s a furlough of federal workers in October when Clinton and Congress have a “fiscal train wreck” over the raising of the debt limit.
After our call last night, I read Wired and listened to oldies that brought back great memories. (“American Pie,” for example, reminded me of when Sat Darshan and I saw Don McLean at Carnegie Hall on a snowy Friday night in February 1972.)
Early on Saturday morning, I found the Gainesville Sun article, “Hemp supporter receives more time to prepare trial.” It quoted me extensively, though I sounded pretty stupid in the direct quote, using “you” for the defense and saying a clever attorney could come up with many constitutional “things.”
However, I gave the reporter good legal information in the paragraphs that ended, “Grayson said” (without direct quotes).
After breakfast and shopping at Albertsons, I went to the office, where I photocopied the article and faxed it to my parents in Fort Lauderdale.
On Lexis, I found a very nice column about Tom Whalen in yesterday’s Times-Picayune.
A young black woman who’s a new law student asked if I could show her how to outline cases, and it was a pleasure to help her. (I miss teaching.)
Then I spent an hour on the Internet before leaving the office.
Soon after I returned home, Alice called with the news about her mother. I immediately phoned Dad, who at 69 is only a year younger than Mrs. D was.
Of course, he just came back from a grueling sales trip to Puerto Rico, carrying samples so heavy that when Jonathan picked him up at the airport, only Dad was strong enough to lift them.
Two years ago, when Grandma Ethel died, I felt I had moved up a notch because for the first time in my life I had no grandparents giving me a third layer of some kind of death protection.
I wonder how Alice must feel now that both her parents are gone.
Sunday, August 27, 1995
7 PM. Elihu phoned this afternoon to tell me about the fire that engulfed the St. George complex yesterday.
At 4 AM he was awakened and saw the abandoned building next door (which contained the main entrance to the historic hotel) in flames. Quickly donning clothes, he grabbed the cat as neighbors helped each other evacuate.
Elihu said that the 16 flights down were the scariest moments of his life because the windows were orange with fire and he thought at any moment the flames would come through and engulf them.
The fire department made everyone get blocks away, by the Promenade. It was an 18-alarm fire, the worst in anyone’s memory in Brooklyn.
Around 3 PM, they let the residents of the tower go back to their apartments. Elihu and his neighbors have no doors, as they all had to be hacked away, and his windows all imploded, taking the frames with them, leaving nothing but gaping holes in the walls.
He’s been cleaning constantly, but it will take months to get his apartment back to normal.
Six apartments were totally destroyed and Elihu’s neighbor, who had a two-bedroom, now has a very large studio since all his internal walls are gone.
Elihu’s brother was on vacation with his family in Montreal and their apartment was damaged worse, with the wooden floor all warped from water and Elihu’s nephew’s room looking bad although, oddly, the kid’s comic books and baseball cards were okay.
Except for smoke inhalation, nobody got hurt, but there’s lots of property damage.
I could hear over the phone the sounds of hoses spraying water and then clanking as they continued working to demolish the structure of the adjacent building.
It was surely arson on the part of the buildings’ owners because the historic landmark status made it impossible for them to change the exterior in a way that would make the property profitable.
The tower’s apartments that faced Manhattan were all okay; the damage was to the ones that faced the inner courtyard, like Elihu’s and his brother’s.
On the positive side, Elihu now has an unobstructed view of the street for the first time.
But he’s been unable to sleep, unable to keep food down, and unable to stop getting flashbacks from the trauma of walking down 16 flights in the fire.
His body aches because he held the cat all day; now he has to keep the cat from going into the bedroom lest he fall through the holes in the wall.
And Elihu said he didn’t know what to do if it rained tonight.
The hot water came on this afternoon – at 60 Pineapple Street, their water tower exploded – and he’s got electricity and working appliances.
The building management has been somewhat helpful. They’re going to give the residents padlocks for their temporary doors, and the insurance adjusters have already been there.
Elihu won’t go to work tomorrow or Tuesday. “August 1995 has been the worst month of my life,” he said – with good reason.
First Les didn’t show up (all Elihu’s cleaning, painting and redecorating is really for naught now), and then he lost all his computer files at work. He hates his job and would have left if he hadn’t thought Les was coming.
Really, he’s been through a nightmare. I thought about what he and Alice and Sat Darshan have had to go through, and I feel lucky but also insecure at the fragility of our lives.
Today’s Times had the obituary of Dr. Leslie Berger, a lovely man who served as chairman of the CUNY search committee for the director of the Instructional Resource Center that I was on in 1975.
Josh told me not to send him articles about Tom, for whom he really has developed a hatred. I won’t respond, knowing how touchy Josh can be.
Based on how he’s felt since his father died, Josh said that Alice “will be fucked up for a long time.”
I did sleep luxuriously last night, dreaming about my old neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Although I didn’t work at all on the Neil Simon article, I’ve given myself a deadline of next weekend for completing it.
Last evening I did some traditional weight lifting, and I like the charley horse I now feel in my torso.
Even though nothing’s happened to me, I feel emotionally drained by my friends’ experiences.
Tuesday, August 29, 1995
7 PM. Martin Hester called yesterday and we spoke for an hour.
I was sort of dumbfounded by the stories he chose for the book, as so many were ones I could barely look at myself and which I included only because he wanted everything.
Martin’s rationale is that my reputation as a funny guy has obscured my “literary side,” and so he wanted to pick stories that were neither humorous nor very experimental.
Most of the stories he chose (and he gave me the titles of 17, although some are “definites,” some “maybes,” and some “probably nots”) are from the 1970s and appeared in obscure litmags.
Although nearly all these stories were rejected for With Hitler in New York, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, this collection will mostly be unified in tone.
The stories are mostly representational, and a lot of them seem to be me at my worst: sentimental and contrived. The collection is a bit too sincere for me although he did include my two favorite stories, “I Survived Caracas Traffic” and “Twelve-Step Barbie.”
But Martin’s the publisher, and who knows? Maybe he’s right to do this.
At least now, I still have enough good later stories to make yet another book-length collection.
After we hung up, I fretted about his selections, but today in the office I reread “My Plan to Kill Henry Kissinger” and “The Man Who Gave Away Millions” and they were better than I expected.
Martin also surprised me by saying he’d like to publish the book in February; I had figured next summer.
But he wants to have Avisson Press come out with its books soon. Aside from me and Charles Fishman, he’s got a novel by Richard Krawiec, who had his first novel published by Viking in 1986.
Martin’s strategy is to get the books reviewed in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist and get library hardcover sales.
That was Kevin Urick’s White Ewe Press strategy, and it didn’t work that well for him, but the Library Journal “highly recommended” notice for I Brake caused Zephyr Press to go into a second printing.
I’m sure Martin thinks I’ve got a better chance of being reviewed in what he calls “the biggies” because they’ve reviewed me before, but it’s all a toss of the dice.
I spent a couple of hours last night going through every review I could find (if I could ever organize all my clippings, it would be a miracle) to send them to Martin for blurb-type quotes.
I think I’ve got the best already on the back of Narcissism and Me, but a lot of them say I’m funny, not good.
Although Martin has a scanner for the stories, he asked me to send him whatever I could in WordPerfect 6.0 and I’ll do what I can.
This week I can go over to the CIRCA lab and convert files from WP 5.1 to 6.0 once I get the files in WordPerfect in the first place.
In my package I’m also sending Martin my book title suggestions and a list of acknowledgement to the magazines where the stories first appeared.
I hope Martin can come up with a better cover than the cheesy one Kevin did for Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, but beggars can’t be choosers. (That’s why I didn’t choose the stories.)
I told Martin that I enjoyed publicity and talked about my agoraphobia, which has affected him. (He still won’t fly.)
He’s four years older than I am, and he’s published lots of books, including genre fiction, celebrity bios and self-help.
Naturally, Richard Kostelanetz sent Martin a submission after he learned about Avisson Press from me. But Martin said he didn’t mind: “I’m open, and it was interesting.”
Anyway, it’s nice that I don’t have much to do at work during this summer lull and could type up a couple of stories.
Russ went to Tallahassee for a workshop with Tom this morning, so I had the office to myself most of the day.
I called Ronna at Hadassah. She’s been fine, nothing’s been settled about her continuing her job in Philly, and the wedding is still planned for early February, with a belated honeymoon trip in April.
She and Matthew are going to the West Coast in a couple of weeks.
I guess she hasn’t noticed that I paid her electric bill. My own electric bill was smaller than I expected, less than last month’s or last year’s. (True, I was away for weeks but I’d kept the air conditioner on all that time.)
Some of the Fellows are complaining about coming in on Thursday, so maybe we can find another time for our regular meetings.
Wednesday, August 30, 1995
8 PM. I’ve just tried to eliminate some of the preciousness and obscurity in “The Bridge Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” one of the stories Martin definitely wants to use.
It began okay despite being a little twee, but in the end, the story became pretentious and incomprehensible. I hope this book doesn’t embarrass me. The Pope story also seems fey, but it’s got more of an edge.
I typed in most of “I Don’t Want No Education,” and I like it better than I thought I would. The story is actually about being in the closet though I didn’t know that when I wrote it after a dream at MacDowell in 1980.
Josh E-mailed that maybe bad reviews will hurt my chances of getting a better book published in the future, but it’s not as if I’ve had a book published in 13 years.
I can see that the publication of this book will make absolutely no difference in my life. It’s no breakthrough. While it will be pleasant to be published in book form again, even I could write bad reviews for some of these stories.
Still, people have all kinds of tastes. Perhaps Martin is on to something I and other people can’t see.
I called Alice this afternoon, and although I could hear the sorrow in her voice, she was about to interview someone on the other line.
Alice thanked me and my parents for our condolence cards. Her brother made it in time for the funeral, and he’s going to stay a couple of weeks and help out with their mother’s apartment and possessions.
I exercised at 6 AM today and was at work by 8:30 AM, leaving at 4 PM.
Tomorrow Liz and I have the Fellows’ meeting, which she’d like me to run – we’ll talk in the morning.
Thursday, August 31, 1995
7 PM. I became very agitated last night. For one thing, I started having problems with my computer’s 3.5” disk drive.
I now see that I’m unable to save stuff to diskettes, that the data is unusable or hopelessly contaminated. I didn’t know what to do.
Anyway, it meant that all the rewriting and typing I did of “Bridge Beyond” had to be re-done. Of course, I was able to get a hard copy of the file I saved on the hard drive, so I could copy that at the office today.
But, more importantly, I was upset because the story seemed so weak. It’s not the kind of story I feel comfortable having my name on today.
I wrote it over 20 years ago and it seems pathetic now. I felt the same way about half the stories Martin suggested.
My mind was whirring all night and I got very little sleep. I wrote Martin a letter telling him about my qualms and asking him to reconsider several stories that I prefer which he didn’t select for the book.
However, at 3 AM, I read parts of “Mini-People” and “Where the Glacier Stopped” and they’re not as bad as I feared. The prose is plain, and the stories are corny and overly coy, but they’re not pretentious. So I guess I’ll give Martin what he wants.
I finished inputting “Education” today, and I’m pleased with that story. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read “A Clumsy Story” or “In the Middle of the Atlantic,” but they can’t be that bad. The former story is supposed to be clumsy, after all.
The book is mostly me at age 25, a self-absorbed, sensitive, weird would-be writer. My embarrassment may not be the best indicator of the quality of the collection.
Besides, those 1970s stories may seem refreshingly innocent in jaded 1996. Maybe I’ll just suggest Martin look at “Coping” again because I think it fits his rationale for the book.
After barely sleeping, I knew I couldn’t go into work early today, but Liz said we could meet at 10 AM.
At that time, I went along with her suggestion that I run the Fellows’ meeting at 11:30 AM. I think I did a good job, thanks to Liz and what seems like an energetic, together group of Fellows.
First I had them talk about what they’ve done so far at their placements. Then Liz and I talked about their hours and how they record them, and then we discussed possible other times for our biweekly meetings.
Isabella was the only one who had a problem with Thursday at 11:30 AM, and in the end we stuck with the current time.
Isabella shows signs of becoming the group’s pain in the ass. Carol told me Isabella disparaged accountants and secretaries to her in an insultingly elitist way, and I’m sure she’ll be one of those attorneys who treat support staff like shit.
Finally, we had a discussion about the symposium. Monica, a real leader, agreed to chair the planning for it. They tossed around three ideas – immigration, affirmative action, and the revival of chain gangs – and so it looks as if they’re off and running. Monica will meet with Liz and me at 1 PM on Tuesday.
Liz now leaves the office at 3 PM to pick up Becky from school, and she’s been working hard preparing for her class. She said her Poverty Law students are excitingly enthusiastic, though her one problem is that nobody’s taken up the conservative viewpoint and Liz said she’s a poor devil’s advocate.
Surely they all can’t be radicals like Liz and me. I know from experience that there are lots of conservative students at UF, but maybe they are not the people who would register for an elective in Poverty Law.
A copy of Sun and Shade came in the mail with my “Boniatos Are Not Boring” story and an unexpected check for $35, which I can’t bring myself to look at.
I feel guilty about taking the acceptance from Hanging Loose for the same story. Perhaps nobody will see both magazines; hopefully, they don’t trade issues.
Although for some of my friends, August was a terrible month, I can’t help remembering it as one of the best Augusts I’ve had, mostly because of my terrific vacation in New York.