A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1996

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, January 10, 1996

8 PM. Tomorrow is the first day of law school classes, so I’ve got to get to school early to find parking. My car is making anxiety-provoking noises, but I plan to leave CGR before lunch and then drive to Orlando in the afternoon.

With Avis adamant about not renting to me ever again, Belinda made car rental reservations at Budget and typed up an itinerary.

Today’s big news was that I discovered that Kirkus had given me a brief review in their January 15 issue in a new section of short reviews.

Frankly, I’m surprised at how kind they were in the two-sentence review:

An eighth collection from an underground post-modernist who writes Barthelme-derived comic fiction crammed with details adopted from pop culture and the daily news. Troubled Barbie dolls, desiccated yuppies, and dysfunctional singles populate Grayson’s slick lampoons—though the long title story, a resonant meditation on the themes of relationships, AIDS, and mortality, proves him capable of less self-conscious, more serious (though not less comic) work.

I faxed it to Martin along with the full review of Richard Krawiec’s novel. I bet he’s happy that Avisson Press’s first two books are getting noticed.

I also faxed the review to Mom, who later phoned me. Alone in the office again, I reread Schoolyear 2000 memos and made a lot of personal e-mail posts, including back and forth with Josh.

He had a nightmare experience when it took him five hours to get home from Brooklyn on Sunday during the blizzard, only to learn when he got in that his mother’s helper couldn’t come in.

So he had to go to Brooklyn on Monday morning. The IRT was fine, but at the Junction he was stranded at the B44 bus stop until he latched onto a sick old black man who someone felt sorry for and took down Nostrand Avenue in their car.

After staying with his mother on Monday and spending the night in Sheepshead Bay, he paid a car service $35 to fetch the helper yesterday. But because of the heavy snow, the D and N trains weren’t running, and it took Josh four hours to get to Manhattan.

Ellen said hi on e-mail after Sat Darshan gave her my address, and I got a bunch of other messages and sent out some.

I ran into Peter S, back in Gainesville to start the LL.M, tax program; he’d been on the waiting list in the fall.

The New York Times had a front page story on state universities’ growing prestige and selectivity, and its main focus was the University of Florida. I sometimes forget what a really good college this is.

Rosalie just got back from the San Antonio convention of the American Association of Law Schools. She told me the Gainesville Sun named her son “Athlete of the Week” on Monday and wanted me to send her the Kirkus review.

I got a card from Bert Stratton, who says that his kids are getting big and Alice is in grad school at Cleveland State. He invited me to come for a visit.

Crad sent a letter saying that he hadn’t yet looked at the stuff I sent him. After getting the settlement with his sister, he’s lived off the $1,400 income a month it provides since he left street-selling on July 17. (He wrote the exact date, and I see my own self-centered obsessiveness reflected wildly in Crad.)

Apparently Crad does nothing now except wonder why women don’t go for him and make racist and xenophobic remarks about nonwhite people. What a strange, unpleasant man he has become.

At home after 4:30 PM, I exercised for a second time so I can skip tomorrow. Boy, life is interesting.

Tuesday, January 11, 1995

8 PM. I’m at the Radisson Plaza after getting into Orlando just before 5 PM.

At 2:30 PM, I picked up the rental car, then stopped at home to get my luggage and drove the now-familiar stretch of I-75 – where the construction work has now been going on over four years – and the Turnpike.

During the last hour of the ride, I listened to President Clinton’s press conference on what turned out to be the CBS TV station at the start of the FM radio dial.

Getting off the Turnpike at State Road 50 (Colonial Drive), I took the East-West Expressway to I-4. It was nice to see a city skyline again; I like the four towers of Orlando’s SunTrust Building.

Although I’m quite familiar with the International Drive area where Ronna’s mother lives, I don’t know this part of Orlando at all, and I couldn’t find Winter Park.

I did manage to get a meter by the main Orlando Public Library, which is a marvelous building. They didn’t have any new issues of the advance review publications like Library Journal or Publishers Weekly, but I discovered I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in their old-fashioned card catalog.

I wanted to find a Wendy’s so I could get a salad bar and baked potato, but I couldn’t locate one; indeed, I didn’t see a single supermarket today as I drove around although there are plenty of 7-Elevens.

Finally I figured I’d come to a Wendy’s if I drove west on Colonial Drive. I did, but instead of a salad bar, I had to settle for a small prepared salad with fat-free French dressing.

In the library I’d seen a poster that said Wendy Wasserstein was speaking tonight at Rollins College, but I’m too tired to attempt to find the place and then stay out later than 7 PM, the time I came home.

Traffic here is really bad. My room is all right, although at this point I’ve seen better. There’s no Mr. Coffee or hair dryer here, and I didn’t want the key to the locked minibar.

I saw Owen from one of the hotel’s mirrored elevators, but although I waved to him, I don’t think he remembered me. Schoolyear 2000 was having other meetings today before tomorrow’s sessions of the Public Schools Council.

Last night in Gainesville, I didn’t expect to be as cold as it was, and I slept sporadically. This morning there was ice on my windshield when I left for school at 7 AM because of the parking situation on the first day of classes.

At work, I had the office to myself, as Russ stayed over in Tallahassee. I read as computer law-related material and the Times and I scouted around for material for my New Jersey Online AT&T and Johnson & Johnson columns.

I guess I’ll now watch some of the fifty cable channels I’ve got in the room. Hopefully I’ll fall asleep early and won’t wake up an hour after I drop off.

In an e-mail, Josh asked why are we surprised at anything Crad says or does: “He’s a nut.”

“True,” was the only reply I could give.

But Josh is also a nut in his way, and I definitely think I’m a nut – except that I’m not quite as nutty as they are.

Friday, January 12, 1996

9 PM. I fell asleep early last evening, around 10 PM, but I soon woke up when the smoke alarm went off.

At first I thought there was a problem with the heat in my room or with my smoke alarm, but I soon heard that there was a fire in the hotel and that all guests should take the stairs to exit.

I quickly threw on clothes, but although my delay might have killed me in a real fire, it saved me from walking down twelve flights last night, as I encountered a teacher I knew and two elderly Vietnamese men who walked all the way downstairs and were told to backtrack because a fire in the laundry room had been contained.

I never got much rest the remainder of the night after that. I was up at 5:30 AM and went out an hour later in the dark rain to find a 7-Eleven where I could get some hot water for my cereals and cocoa.

Today I felt old, because here I was: this 45-year-old man in a grey pinstripe suit with the kind of black dress shoes I associate with insurance salesmen and bankers. It was as if I were playing the role of a lawyer in a film, and I guess if I could have seen it that way, I wouldn’t have felt the discouragement I experienced whenever I caught my image in the many mirrors.

(There aren’t many mirrors around in my “real” life – only the bathroom mirror, which captures just one-third of me, and maybe public restroom mirrors and the car’s rearview mirror.)

We were seated at tables in one of the meeting rooms. Denice Gillis was in charge of the event, and I saw the Schoolyear 2000 people I knew: Wendy, Bob, Bill, Owen, Marty, Pam and some teachers and administrators I remembered from last year’s meeting, like Mary from Monroe County.

I sat at a table with Francis Watson, the consultant I spoke with about Tycho, and Bob Gordon from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

Bob Connors from the DOE talked first, about the Education Commissioner’s new initiative. Brogan still is drastically cutting the number of education-related statutes, and he’s into school choice and charter schools.

Surprisingly, though, Brogan seems supportive of Schoolyear 2000, which looks like it’s evolved into an all-purpose get-technology-into-the-educational-system program.

Wendy spoke next, and others followed with the usual computer-generated presentation graphics and buzzwords like “total quality,” “customer satisfaction,” “response systems,” and a dozen types of “networks.”

All over America, in Kansas City and San Antonio and Cleveland, people must be meeting in hotel rooms and watching the same graphics and listening to the same buzzwords and quietly going insane. Such is the role of the managers in the information economy.

But, like last year with Seymour Papert, this year’s keynote speaker, Gloria Gery, was a dynamic antidote.

She didn’t spare her harsh criticism of the way the K-12 education has used technology – and from what Bob Branson said in his introduction, she’s given blunt critiques of Schoolyear 2000, too.

To me, little she said was a revelation but I need the reinforcement sometimes to remember that we’re in a very strange time as the economy and the nature of work itself moves into a new era.

Schools as we know them are a relic of the early industrial era, and the changes so far have been incremental. Normal learning used to take place outside of schools and needs to do so again.

Like me, the others in that room are simply better adapted to learning in the stultifying environment of twentieth-century education because of the wiring of our nervous systems (we can sit still for unnaturally long periods) or our compliance to authority in the form of the old teacher-centered hierarchy.

Gery went on a bit too long for my empty stomach, but she was fascinating in ways that my summary of her talk don’t really capture.

Famished, I went to the Radisson’s tony restaurant, Lando Sam’s Bar & Grill, with Mary, who talked about life in the Keys. (I spotted Professor Little at the next table.)

On the lunch menu was a veggie burger platter – 370 calories and six grams of fat – that was excellent.

I had to rush back to begin my first workshop – or “discovery session” – where I sat at the head of a table in a small ballroom room where four others were also giving workshops. (The really important presentations were in other ballrooms.)

Luckily, although I prepared for sixty attendees, I had about six customers in total.

So instead of doing what I intended – regurgitating the same session every 20 minutes without a break six times in a row – I simply talked with people, expressing my enthusiasm for my subject (I am an expert, relatively speaking), and got some good ideas from them.

Soon it was time for our final whole-conference session, although by then a lot of people had peeled away.

We got to play with these calculator-sized “option finders” by voting in a survey that allowed the poll results to be shown to us immediately on a printed bar graph. Although it was fun, most of us had doubts about how often it could be used in a classroom.

Still, all of us basically agree about the need to use technology to redesign education.

Around 4 PM, I told Bob and Wendy I’d see them in 13 days in Tallahassee, and returned to my room, where I shed my suit and put on a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

Down on the fourth-floor exercise room, I exercised on an exercise bike, rower, Stairmaster and universal gym – just enough to work up a slight sweat and relieve some stress.

At 5 PM, I left for what turned out to be a three-hour excursion. At first I followed a general plan, but eventually I wandered into Winter Park.

Now I see why Ronna said the area around the Amtrak station there is so nice: Park Avenue is all boutiques and elegant shops, though more reminiscent of Great Neck and the Miracle Mile than glittery Worth Avenue in West Palm Beach or self-conscious Las Olas Boulevard In Fort Lauderdale.

However, much of eastern Orlando is pretty ugly America, I have to say. I thought I’d find shopping centers if I went far enough east on Colonial Drive, and I did come across a Publix, where I bought some food, and the Fashion Square Mall, where I walked around and ate a baked potato in their food court upstairs.

The shopping center may be the closest you can get around here to an urban environment, except for the artificial ones, like nearby Church Street Station.

The last hour of my drive proved I don’t know squat about downtown Orlando, for I constantly got lost as I attempted to return to the Radisson.

Still, as in Baltimore, I’ve learned that my method of giving myself time and free reign to drive around lost is a good way to experience a city. I discovered a whole district filled with Vietnamese refugees, Orlando’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center, some interesting architecture, and a lot of unremarkable streets.

Tonight I’ll probably sleep soundly.

Tuesday, January 16, 1996

8 PM. I expected this to be one of the most hectic periods I’ve had in my job at CGR, and today was when it started.

By the noon deadline, we had sixteen applicants for the Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowships. Liz refused to extend the deadline, causing one guy to look as if he were going to cry.

I spent the evening reading the students’ applications, and I’m very impressed with everyone’s qualifications, especially with their extensive public service volunteer work, which puts everything I’ve ever done to shame. The applicants have varied but fascinating backgrounds.

As nerve-wracking as these interviews are, it’s a part of the job I enjoy because I get to meet people.

Except for one on Monday morning, Laura has scheduled all the interviews between 9 AM and noon, so I can relax after lunch and change out of my tie and jacket. Tomorrow we’ve got half a dozen interviews going straight through the morning.

What makes me nervous is the Schoolyear 2000 meeting in Tallahassee next Thursday. The agenda has “presentation of new legal memoranda” on it, and right now I have nothing.

But this weekend I can throw together some memos based on the articles I’ve been saving in my word-processing files. If some of them come close to plagiarism, well, they’ll just be preliminary drafts, and they’ll get better when I make them mine.

Liz is also edgy because of the start of her Family Law teaching. Her class is three-quarter white males, some of whom have already made it clear that they plan to challenge her at every point.

Already some guys have piped up and said that working women aren’t good for society. Oy vey! God, I hate to sound prejudiced, but white men are so obnoxious. It’s that sense of entitlement they have.

I had tons of e-mail today, and I couldn’t stop reading all the posts to my GLB Digest, GayJews, and School Networking lists, and replying to a few people.

This afternoon Kevin responded to my wishing he would have come into my king-size bed at the hotel in Orlando by saying, “There’s a rumor I’ll be in Florida in a few weeks.”

It’s kind of hard to imagine meeting a guy I’ve had cybersex with – someone with whom I’ve been incredibly affectionate online – in real life. Surely our “relationship” can only be virtual. For one thing, Kevin thinks I’m ten years younger than I am.

At the office, I found that Robertson, one of the Brazilians I met last year, has come to UF to get his LL.M. and take other courses for a couple of years. Jon and Russ are getting him settled, and he seems like a nice guy.

At 11:30 AM, Liz and I met Vernetta Walker from the Florida Bar Foundation, who drove up from her office in Orlando to check on our fellowship program.

Ivey’s Grill was closed for renovation, so we went to Grandy’s, but we didn’t talk that much about our students’ placements, making lunch more enjoyable.

Back at school, Vernetta interviewed the Fellows for a couple of hours. Liz told me that we probably have the finest program of the six accredited law schools in the state.

We will again be having that dinner and meeting at an Orlando airport hotel in February, though this year I can stay for the Saturday panels rather than rush off as I did last year to teach at Nova.

I had only a small salad at the restaurant, so I went home to eat some more, and wouldn’t you know, I got a ton of mail today.

I took it back with me to the office. As if I didn’t have enough to read, I’ve got new issues of the AWP Chronicle, Poets & Writers and Wired.

I also got several bills, a form for me to fill out about my Avis car “accident” (I wrote, “I know nothing about any alleged accident”) and other pieces of mail.

The editor of the Oyster Boy Review sent a long, detailed letter explaining why he was rejecting “Moon Over Moldova” – who cares? – and Martin sent me the 40 Avisson Press address labels I wanted for the flyers.

He couldn’t thank me enough for the printouts on the stalking laws and the faxes of the two Kirkus reviews, “which certainly energized me – I was getting worried and depressed. But I have more confidence now.”

Martin although also thinks I could write “a fine short novel, a “regular” story: “Even the Kirkus reviewer started to see that on the Caracas story – it was only necessary for me to suggest that in the cover letter and they agreed.”

(It just occurred to me: maybe the Kirkus notice isn’t really a review but a compilation or condensation of Martin’s cover letter. That would explain its lack of criticism.)

Anyway, Martin continued: “My feeling is you could come close to doing a book like Miss Lonelyhearts or Wise Blood, and that’s high praise coming from me. I’m not Maxwell Perkins, of course, or anything close. This is just an idea. Think about it.”

The two novels he mentioned are great books, but probably not the kind of thing I’d enjoy writing.

Martin also said he just signed a book of short stories by Daniela Gioseffi, who of course is a great writer.

And I saw in an AWP notice that Avisson Press is having a poetry book contest. Well, that will raise some cash.

Mark Bernstein wrote a long letter. Clearly, he’s smitten with me, and I can’t figure out why. He wrote about seeing the World Wide Web and being bored, and he wanted to hear about my computer sex with Kevin (“a Vermont college student”), saying that I was a tease.

He also wrote about the Wolfsonian stuff I’d sent him and other stuff. Mark said we should both try to get jobs at FAU’s campus in Davie. It seems I do very well flirting with guys online.

Suddenly life seems incredibly thick.

Thursday, January 18, 1996

9 PM. “What a strange dance this life is, eh?” Ellen e-mailed all her friends today.

She told us that after a three-way corporate merger struggle, Softkey laid off most of Compton’s workforce, but she was one of 23 developers asked to move to the Learning Company to produce an encyclopedia, a Bible and other reference products for the Web.

So after just moving from Pasadena down to Carlsbad after the first merger, Ellen is now moving to the Bay Area “sometime soon.”

My own strange dance goes on. Last night I fell asleep early but woke up before 5 AM, unable to get back to my dreams.

After checking Lexis and exercising to a Body Electric tape, I went out at 6 AM to get newspapers, make an ATM withdrawal, mail letters and put gas in the car, all before the sun went up.

I was at the office by 8:15 AM.

Several times today Kevin and I exchanged affectionate e-mail. We flirt shamelessly and address each other in these weirdly intimate names. (Nothing lewd: I’m talking “babe,” “darling,” “lover”).

Except we haven’t met and don’t really know each other. My assumption is that Kevin is taking this about as seriously as I do, treating it only as a diversion from the real world of drudgery and celibacy.

Today was our easiest day of interviewing prospective Fellows because we had only four people, with an hour break in the middle.

And all four students seemed like winners: Derek, a black guy who was a Head Start and elementary school teacher in Atlanta and D.C.; John, a white guy with an M.P.A. who worked for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) and volunteers at Gainesville’s homeless shelter, who would be perfect at the Department of Environmental Protection; Harley, a Christian conservative with an incredible  background of working with poor people at various religious-affiliated organizations; and Mary Kay, a feminist who has interned with two different children’s rights groups and worked at Teen Court.

Out of the remaining six candidates, we need only three more, and I’m afraid we’ll have fewer than three duds and will have to deny a placement to a student who’d make a great Fellow.

I had to hang out around after our interviews because Russ and I were meeting with Carol and Stan to talk about the coming renovation of our office, which will be painted and given new furniture and pictures. (My wrist problem stopped after I put my keyboard in the drawer when I type.)

After we settled everything, I came home for lunch, where I found a letter from Secretary of State Sandra Mortham appointing me to the Literature Organizations Panel. We’re meeting early this year, on May 16. I expect it won’t be too much work.

Back in the office, I wrote most of my memo on U.S. v. Baker, about the University of Michigan student charged with interstate threats after he published that tasteless fiction on the Net.

By 4:30 PM, when I came back home for an early dinner, it was a warm 77° outside. After I called the main library and found out they had the January 8 Publishers Weekly, I decided to go downtown.

I wore my Walkman, listening to NPR’s All Things Considered, as figured I’d just run in, get disappointed, and quickly return to the car. But on the last page of the hardcover fiction reviews, there it was: my book’s review. It was the kind of review I’ve always gotten from PW: not good, but not bad.

Even when they put me down, they described my material (“self-absorbed baby boomers, T-shirt slogans, Henry Kissinger, silicone implants, Saturday Night Live, the AIDS crisis”) in a way that made the book sound interesting.

Of the stories, they said:

Most are written in a flat first-person, but in others, Grayson (Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog) shows a sense of humor and an appreciation of the weird. The costs of survival in the AIDS retrospective title story, and the isolating entropy of depression in “Where the Glacier Stopped” manage to imbue their drained narrators with some emotional weight. On the whimsical side, “Twelve Step Barbie” sees the doll in midlife crisis, and  “A Clumsy Story” artfully diagrams and parodies MFA-quality fiction.

The review ends:

But whatever Grayson’s approach – whether the troublesome roommate is a Wisconsin Lutheran (“My Plan to Kill Henry Kissinger”) or the pontiff (“The Pope in Park Slope”) – most of his characters carry only a faded familiarity, not an invigorating shock of recognition.

I can’t disagree with the last statement, and at least they’ve mentioned the names of my best story titles. Like Kirkus, they called this book my eighth collection, so it makes me sound very old, like I’ve been around for a while. I guess I have.

Stopping at the office to make xerox copies of the review and fax it out to my parents, I needed to call Martin first to get his fax setup.

Oddly, it turned out that he had left messages for me about Publishers Weekly after someone from Scholastic requested a copy of the book and said that they’d read the review.

I told Martin I just gotten it, and I’d fax it to him. I didn’t want to talk, so I said I had to go – but it was a funny coincidence. What a strange dance this is, indeed.

At least the book is being reviewed; now it seems real.