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

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, November 11, 1995

7 PM. Last night I had a long conversation with Sat Darshan, who told me about her mother’s death. Mrs. P wasn’t getting off the ventilator, and she kept getting these infections at the ICU, so the doctors asked her if they should keep trying.

After so many months, though, it was most likely futile to keep trying, they told Mrs. P. One alternative was to send her to a long-term care facility, where she’d be on the ventilator forever. Or they told her that she could invoke her living will and just die.

After a day’s thought, Mrs. P said she wanted to die. (She couldn’t talk very well, of course, but they could understand most of what she said by lip-reading.)

So last Thursday evening, Ellen got a plane after work in San Diego (she’s been commuting to her new job at Compton New Media, where she’s doing a CD-ROM children’s Bible; next week she moves to the beach area in northern San Diego County, closer to work) and Sat Darshan got on the same flight in Phoenix, and the plane got into West Palm Beach on Friday morning.

They drove to Jackson Memorial in Miami and spent a very emotional day with their mother, who seemed to have second thoughts but ultimately decided to go already. Mrs. P gave amazingly specific instructions (“Avis, you get the blue couch,” “Ellen, you get my diamond ring,” etc.) and they showed her pictures of their kids and had a very moving encounter.

It was hard to see her suffer, but also hard to let her die, especially for Ellen. (Wow, I just remembered Mrs. P once telling me, in confidence, that Avis was her favorite – something I have never mentioned to anyone.) They talked a while with a social worker. Their father was also taking it very hard, of course.

Once she got to a private room with a private-duty nurse, Mrs. P went into a seizure (“It was awful to see,” Sat Darshan said, “just terrible.”)

She turned blue and the doctor said she was dead, but then Mrs. P spoke, so the woman doctor from ICU that she liked came up and said they would do as they promised and let her fall asleep and not wake up.

Mrs. P agreed, and she said goodbye, and then the doctor injected morphine into her IV as they took her off the ventilator little by little. Suddenly her pulse became faint, and then all the wrinkles in her face disappeared as her pulse basically stopped.

Her eyes popped open, and Sat Darshan thought, “What new horror is this?” – but the doctor said she’d seen it happen before when patients see the light or God, and then her eyes closed and they declared her dead.

Back in Delray Beach, Sat Darshan saw her father cry for the first time in her life. Mrs. P wanted to be cremated and asked for a service, so the funeral home got a rabbi to make “a generic, non-offensive speech” and Ellen talked about her mother’s courage in the last two days, and friends came over with food, and Sat Darshan and Ellen got to see all these ridiculous Florida old Jewish people (“It was like a weird Seinfeld episode”).

Anyway, they packed stuff up, gave their mother’s clothes away, and left on Tuesday. Sat Darshan’s father will sell the condo and move in with her and Ravinder in Phoenix.

In Phoenix she’ll let him go online with her new computer, and she called the local JCC so he can get involved there. Ellen took their mother’s ashes, and next summer, when the grandchildren are all in San Diego, they can spread them into the Pacific, just blocks away from Ellen’s house in Carlsbad.

And that’s that – for now. I’m glad Sat Darshan shared that with me, because it sounds as if, horrible as it was, it was also a meaningful life experience.

They told her and others at the VA to be ready to be furloughed after Monday if the government shuts down. Clinton and the Republican Congress are playing chicken with the continuing resolutions on federal spending and borrowing.

I wished Sat Darshan good luck. One thing that surprised me was that her mother was only 72. But she was an “old” 72. (Her father’s 78.)

This morning I was up very early and went to the office at 8 AM; of course, it was Saturday, so no one else was around.

Last night I’d seen the text of this week’s Interact on New Jersey Online and noticed that the Vox Pop poll was on gay rights, so I asked Kathy to post it to everyone on the Human Rights Council list (which she did) and I also notified the GLB-Press list and New Jersey Pride, a gay rights group whose E-mail address I had, so they could all vote in the poll.

I did some other work and did more editing on my columns before going home. After I exercised lightly (I still hurt but it’s getting better), I showered and dressed and had an early lunch.

The carillon at UF was ringing twelve times for noon as I arrived at the CIRCA computer lab, where I made good PrintScreens of this week’s “Only in Jersey” column. (I don’t know where to look for my AT&T column.)

I wanted to get to the Plaza Theater for the 1:45 PM showing of Mighty Aphrodite. Wayland, who took my ticket at the door, said he knew I’d show up for a Woody Allen film. He’s still at Santa Fe Community College even though he got his A.A. already; he’s now getting an A.S. in hospital equipment.

I liked Mighty Aphrodite although given Woody Allen’s problems with Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn Farrow, it’s slightly self-justifying. Still, it was a neat movie. As Wayland said, “Not one of his best but good.” (He remembered I’d assigned essays by Woody Allen in class.)

Sitting across from me in the theater were Bill Black from the HRC board and a lady friend. When we left the theater, it was raining very hard and it was quite dark. I got soaked just getting to my car, so I came home to dry off.

I managed to get Justin on the phone. He said Larry was in his studio, working towards his show. Justin’s direction of Steel Magnolias at Gershwin Theatre was received well, and he’s pleased with it.

At Brooklyn College they keep cutting the budget; Justin is convinced Governor Pataki is deliberately killing CUNY and SUNY.

Justin is on three different lines, and he’s not sure of funding beyond June. Despite the large number of professors who took the early retirement package, the BC faculty is still quite old.

Judd said that’s heard the new Staten Island campus is gorgeous but it’s empty; they’ve got a great performing arts facility but no theater faculty and no shows to put into it.

After dinner, I went back to the office and had a real-time E-mail chat with Susan. Zack was sleeping over at a friend’s house, Spencer was in Hawaii, and she was online. She posted a note about New Jersey Online’s new Youth Soccer site to the CoSN list.

Josh E-mailed that his computer has the ERB virus, and I told him about the death of Sat Darshan’s mother. I also got a note from Steve Mizrach about law and the Internet.

The main reason I went back to the office was to xerox the column; it doesn’t make for very legible copies, but I like seeing the hard copies on paper. It’s something I can show people if I want to look for online writing work in the future.

I also did some other stuff before I got back home. Soon after that, Pete called. He’s got a cold and hopes it goes away before he flies to Prague midweek. He’ll be in Central Europe for twelve days.

Pete told me about the academic jobs he’s applied for at William and Mary, George Washington, and Salem State, and he said he’s actually making progress in writing his dissertation.

Well, it seems I’ve caught up with a lot of people this weekend. Making these connections is the most important thing in my life. “Only connect,” E.M. Forster wrote.

Sunday, November 12, 1995

7 PM. During the night I felt it was getting colder, although since my little studio is enclosed on three sides (unlike my last apartment in Camelot, which was open on three sides), it never gets very cold here.

Still, I called the time and temperature number before I went out at 7:30 AM. (Before the recording gives you the temperature, you have to sit through an ad that touts a local funeral home as “more convenient, less expensive.”)

It was 36°, but my car started up right away. Still, I don’t want to put on the heater in the car lest that terrible noise start again.

I put my laundry in washing machines, bought the Sunday New York Times and lots of groceries – mostly frozen foods to replenish my defrosted freezer – at Kash n’ Karry, and then put the laundry in the dryer before returning home to have some cream of wheat mixed with other cereals.

It warmed up to 58° today, but I didn’t go out again until 2 PM and I was back home a couple of hours later. The sun was bright today, and I got some fresh air for a little while.

Although my groin and inner thigh still hurt – I did muscle-strengthening rather than aerobic exercises today – I managed some pull-ups on the chinning bar in the woods across from the law school.

It took me about half an hour to retrieve some material on Zephyr Press that Ed Hogan had requested in an E-mail note. Josh E-mailed me back one word, “Bad,” presumably in response to the story of Mrs. P’s death.

I reprinted his message (with the “greater than” sign one uses to show a quote) and wrote, “I hope this is not a one-word reproach for my behavior.”

I xeroxed “Super Fab Senators,” that Washington Review of the Arts piece they laid out so well back in the ’70s, as I’d discovered I had only one copy left.

Instead of doing any Schoolyear 2000 work, I read what I liked – which means news articles, particular the Sunday think pieces.

Wednesday, November 15, 1995

8 PM. I knew my car was on borrowed time, but my luck ran out coming back from work at 4:30 PM when the car died out as I was approaching home. A guy who worked in the cleaners on SW 34th Street near here helped me push the car into his parking lot, and the AAA truck had to tow it away.

I called Vin at Osborn Mobil and told him the car was coming, and the AAA guy told me it was an engine problem. I just hope it can be fixed, even if it costs $1,000. I’m sanguine about this today because this morning I received news about something a hundred times worse.

Christy, my former secretary, was in a bad car wreck on Sunday night during that awful storm in Tallahassee that blew the roof off the Civic Center. She swerved to avoid hitting a deer that had suddenly crossed the road, and she crashed into a big oak tree.

Christy is totally paralyzed on the right side of her body. The doctors say her prognosis is good, but she has months of therapy ahead of her. Her family is with her. I called the hospital but she was out for therapy, so I’ll try again tomorrow.

They say she’s being very brave and seems to be in good spirits, but God, I can’t imagine what Christy must be going through.

Liz spoke to her this afternoon and found out Christy broke her C-5 vertebrae and her arm, and she’s got a huge gash on her forehead.

She can’t be moved to Gainesville for at least a month. As Carol said, Christy is someone who’s worked very hard to achieve her goals, and it’s terrifying how in one moment, somebody’s life can be turned so completely upside down.

I do think that that Christy is very strong and will come out of this even stronger – but what an awful fate. She’ll lose this semester and next, at the very least. Anyway, it makes me realize what’s really important in our lives.

Also, Patrick answered my E-mail and said that his wife had her first chemo treatment last week; she seemed okay the next day but then got very sick for three days and her hair started falling out. Yet Patrick said that she’s holding up all right.

Last night I slept very well, with wonderful dreams about Ronna and Teresa and New York City and my family back in Brooklyn in the old days.

The first person I saw in school today was Julie, who said I was in her dream – and in the dream, she found me in bed with Johnny Depp. “A lot of good that does me,” I told Julie. “It was your dream.”

Today I began to feel that I’m experiencing online overload. My desire to connect with other people and to follow news and information so religiously (to connect with the world) has made me too obsessive and compulsive about E-mail, Lexis, Westlaw and the World Wide Web.

I see that I substitute quantity for quality when it comes to connecting; I’d be much better off if I had one person with whom I could be more intimate. I got about 50 E-mail messages today, and some days I get as many as 80. It’s too much.

I should start unsubscribing to some lists if it keeps interfering with getting my work done. I don’t need to follow everything, and I don’t need to – as I did today – send articles to people (on state university gay rights policies, to Kathy, who forwarded it to the world; or on the future of West Publishing in the age of the Internet, to Altom).

Yesterday Josh asked if I’d pick up a tortoise in Fort Lauderdale and mail it to him by overnight express. I said I’d ask Jonathan, but when I did, Jonathan said that he thought doing so would be cruel and he wouldn’t want to be responsible if the tortoise died en route.

“Besides,” Jonathan said, “I’ve seen The Freshman [the film where Matthew Broderick has to deliver a Komodo dragon].”

Oh, I almost forgot: the local news cutaway on the NPR station used my quote from the interview as a sound bite on Phil Gramm and Lamar Alexander. It was a better piece than yesterday’s, and Liz heard it, as did Christy Sheffield Sanford.

I accepted Christy’s invitation to come speak to her writers’ group at the United Church on Monday, December 4.

She just returned from Tallahassee, where she heard and participated in a Mary Luft performance piece. Now she’s going to Sarasota for the French film festival. Christy must have some independent source of income.

Speaking of income, Tom writes from Stuttgart that he may stay there another year, as he’s earning the equivalent in DM of $56,000 tax-free.

The book he co-wrote with Daniel Quinn is being delayed again, till at least after Quinn’s new novel is published by Bantam in spring ’97. This is a decision of the accountants after Quinn’s cliché-ridden self-help book flopped.

Tom and Annette have a good two-room apartment, and classes are full and keeping Tom busy although he hated teaching Barth and Stevens. Annette finished her thesis on Nabokov and is also studying for her Staatsexamens in English and history.

In Zurich, they saw the Brothers Quay film of Walser’s wonderful Jakob von Gunten, called Institute Benjamenta; Tom said it was awful and totally missed the spirit of Walser’s novel. Too bad.

Today we took Laurie to lunch at the Olive Garden on Archer Road, right near my apartment.

Jon didn’t come because he was returning from D.C. (where it snowed), and he and Russ had to await their seminar guest, Dexter Douglas, Chiles’ chief of staff, and Richard and Tom didn’t go to the lunch, either – all of which was fine with Laurie.

We had a pleasant time and gave Laurie a farewell gift of batik pillows (with designs of a gator and a raccoon) that Joann bought with our pooled money.

Tonight on the phone, Justin said he didn’t intend to write so much about gay rights on New Jersey Online’s Vox Pop forum, but he got carried away.

Justin told me he’s lost 18 pounds and is taking his blood pressure medicine faithfully.

After I told him about Sat Darshan’s mother, he asked me to send his condolences to her.

Justin said he found the George C. Wolfe-directed Public Theatre production of The Tempest disappointing, even with Patrick Stewart as Prospero.

Thursday, November 16, 1995

4:30 PM. Russ offered to drive me home today, and of course I was very grateful.

After watching Hoop Dreams on PBS last night, I lay awake for hours. So this morning, as I was still tired and it was quite cool outside, I decided to spend six collars on a cab rather than fiddle around with buses.

I called Vin this afternoon after he’d gotten a chance to diagnose the problem. He told me the car needs a new fuel pump and relay, and the charges would come to around $400.

That’s a lot, but frankly, I’d rather pay anything up to $1,000 rather than have to buy a new car. Vin said he’d try to have it late tomorrow, and I do hope I can have the car for the weekend; otherwise, things are going to be really difficult.

I spoke to Christy at the hospital in Tallahassee and she sounded like she always did. I didn’t know what to say other than that to wish her well.

I told her we’re all thinking of her and that if there was anything I could do  for her here in Gainesville to let me know.

I’ll buy a book on tape to send to Christy. She was eating breakfast when I called; her mother was spoon-feeding her.

Laurie’s going to Tallahassee next week between her last day at CGR and her first day at the new job. Laurie’s parents live in Panama City, and she said she’ll visit Christy in the hospital. I’m going to miss Laurie terribly.

Liz has gone to Boston for a long weekend and is staying with her niece and nephew in Cambridge. This is a trip without Becky, and Liz said she was looking forward to being free.

At 11:30 AM, I went to a brown bag lunch I’d seen OutLaw advertise. The notice said that Professor Charles Pouncy, who teaches banking and other commercial law subjects – he’s worked in the government, for the Resolution Trust Corporation cleaning up the S&L mess, and has practiced privately in D.C. – was going to speak on “Queer Practice.”

What he talked about was a recent case by a Colorado appeals court affirming the jury award to a gay lawyer who’d been outed and fired by his firm.

The statute he used was Colorado’s “smokers’ rights” law, which forbids employers from firing people for legal activities outside of work.

But Professor Pouncy was more interested in the tort of invasion of privacy; the appeals court said the lawyer had been humiliated by being outed as a gay person. Do we consider it so terrible to be known as gay, Pouncy asked, that it deserves compensation?

There were about eight students there. David Jackson introduced the professor, and I recognized the cute first-year student I’d seen (his name is Deshaun) and some white guy – but not the other students, most of whom were African-American like David, Deshaun, and Professor Pouncy, who’s probably around my age.

Later, when I was getting a salad bar, I talked to him on line (not online) at the cafeteria, and he asked what I do at CGR. (Naturally, I couldn’t stop myself from talking at the OutLaw discussion, and I guess I mentioned that I was a CGR staff attorney or something.)

Anyway, it’s good to know there’s an openly gay male law professor at UF.

I deleted all my back E-mail files, both messages from me and those I received, except for ones that are vital. Last night I decided that since I don’t save my letters or my manuscripts, why save E-mail posts?

Yesterday Josh forwarded to me a message from his niece saying she wants to go to Northeastern in Boston that tried to make him feel guilty by playing on his sympathy: she referred to her “parents” using quotation marks.

As Josh said, we both went to Brooklyn College and “nobody paid for us to go to an expensive university.”

Basically, his niece wants to live in Boston so she can be with her boyfriend; that’s why Northeastern is suddenly her “dream school.” She doesn’t appear to have any sense of the huge expense this would involve for Josh.