A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1996

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, February 3, 1996

8 PM. Late yesterday the skies were darkening ominously as Russ and I brought down the office coffee maker and the bottles of beer from the CGR refrigerator for Liz’s party.

Sure enough, before I could drive very far, the severe thunderstorm that had been predicted all day struck with force. Leaves and trash swirled, tree limbs snapped, traffic backed up, and power lines on NW 19th Street near Liz’s house fell, disrupting the flow of cars.

It took me nearly half an hour to get to Liz’s, and at 6 PM it looked as if Liz and Becky would have to eat all the pizzas themselves (since I wouldn’t).

But there was a great turnout for the party after the storm subsided. Nearly all the newly-appointed Fellows showed up, many with partners or children, and some of this year’s Fellows also came.

In addition, there was a big CGR turnout: Russ and Robertson were the first to arrive, and with me, the last to leave at 9:30 PM, after we helped Liz clean up.

I was particularly grateful to see Christy G, walking with her cane, her neck held in that halo, which looks like a medieval torture device.

The halo comes off on Valentine’s Day, and Christy hopes she doesn’t need surgery to fuse the ligaments in her neck. She still has no feeling on her right side. (It took me a while to understand how it’s possible for her to walk, but she says they are two different systems.)

Christy looked basically okay – I liked her short haircut – and she retains the cheerfulness and high energy level that made her such a great secretary.

Her cousin and his wife, a law student, accompanied her, and she lives with another cousin, a nurse who is Liz’s son’s ex-girlfriend. I regret that I didn’t contact Christy recently, but I intend to call her soon.

I wish that I’d had more time to talk with various people, like Marsha and Jill, who brought their children, or other new Fellows like John or Derrick.

I chatted with Barbara and her girlfriend, who turned out to be my old pal Cynthia, the Ph.D. student in psychology with whom I worked on the No on One campaign. They make a nice couple, and I enjoyed their company.

I also like Rhonda, the ex-army nurse, who talked with Cynthia and me about her experiences during the Gulf War, when she was stationed in Turkey.

Rhonda said that when she came into Liz’s office for the interview, she could tell right away that I was a down-to-earth person. Huh.

Only one law professor came: Diane Mazur, who is obviously a lot friendlier than Liz and I originally thought she was.

Though we ran out of pizza early, there was plenty of beer and too much soda, as I went along with Laura’s interpretation of Liz’s “six bottles of diet and non-diet soda” to mean six bottles of each.

It amazes me to see Marguerite, Jon and Beth’s daughter, walking and so big for her age. She’s adorable, and I played with her and some bigger kids on Becky’s Lego dollhouse.

Joann brought Paulo Roberto from Brazil, who’s teaching a segment of Baldwin’s international enrichment course on money laundering.

Laura was also there, and later Liz told me and Russ that she found out that Richard Hamann, entirely without prompting, wrote a beautiful letter of recommendation for Laura to get Carol’s job.

So Richard is not such a cold fish after all. I always like it when, to use the words of George Eliot in Mill on the Floss, “old friends show they are capable of surprising us.”

Barbara said she wanted to know who my boyfriend in Gainesville was. I told her that I prefer being alone but that I have a sort-of boyfriend in Vermont.

Barbara said she came to Gainesville to live with a lover, but they broke up, and she and Cynthia are in the stage where it’s a pain to keep going back to their separate apartments.

She figured I was about her age – 34 – and that cheered me up, but she was dismayed when I told her I plan to leave CGR this summer and wouldn’t be around for the year of her fellowship.

I chatted with Joy, Ellen, Mary Kay and other people throughout the evening. All in all, the party was a great success.

Russ was so loosened up that he shocked me; clearly, he’s not like Tom or Richard and can be much friendlier and less pretentious than he sometimes acts in the office.

The truth is, Russ is really not a bad guy, and I could have gotten a much worse office-mate.

I came home from the party realizing that I do know a lot of people in Gainesville, and a bunch of them are my friends. And these are all people I’ve only known since I graduated from law school, as nearly all my law school chums have left town by now.

I’ve really had a great life here in Gainesville, and it’s not going to be easy to leave in less than six months.

On the other hand, if I don’t go this year, I’ll just stay on for as long as I can out of inertia.

This way I can choose my own time to leave, the way Lori did when she quit CGR or the way Carol is doing as she retires: at a time when people will truly be sorry to see me go.

Today was a lazy, rainy day. I did the laundry and went to Publix at 7:30 AM, but I didn’t go out again until 2 PM.

I got an e-mail message from Donna Ratajczak, who says she’s going to telecommute to her job at Kaplan four days a week. I guess that will become more common in the future.

A post on the GLB-Discuss board asked if all these new state laws banning same-sex marriages in expectation of the coming Hawaii Supreme Court ruling violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, and I did enough research to write my own analysis. (My conclusion was the usual law student final exam answer: “It depends.”)

After getting some stuff at Mother Earth, I read ahead in Denis’s book, which holds up brilliantly. I must write Denis a letter when I’m finished, as I’m so impressed with the terrific job he did with Attorney for the Damned.

Although it’s supposed to get very cold for the next few nights, Florida is getting off easy compared with most of the rest of the nation.

Monday, February 5, 1996

7 PM. Yesterday Kevin left an e-mail that he’s okay. Getting rejected from Goddard’s graduate program in theater made him think about giving up his plans to be a playwright, but “for some reason” – probably the fact that cheerfulness can’t help breaking out if one isn’t clinically depressed – he started feeling better this weekend.

Kevin wanted me to know that I’ve become important to him.

“You’re really important to me, too,” I wrote back.

Now I don’t know how talented or intelligent Kevin is. I suspect he’s not well-read, but then neither was Justin – who said so himself – and Justin has managed to make what I think is a decent career as a playwright and director.

I also suspect Kevin is very naïve, and if he knew how long Justin has been paying his dues – or how long I’ve been paying my dues as a writer – Kevin would think: It’s not going to be that way for me.

At 26, Kevin is entitled to be naïve and grandiose about his work, just as I was. How else could I have written a story like “Go Not to Lethe”?

I’ve been wildly self-important for decades and I’m probably delusional, but if I didn’t insist on feeling that way, I would have sunk long ago.

This afternoon Kevin wrote a very short note, saying he’d be online later too “spoil” me.

Last night the electricity went off again, but it came on a little after The Final Cut had started on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. It’s the last of a trilogy about murderous Tory Prime Minister Francis Urquhart, who’s played devilishly by Ian Richardson. I loved the two earlier shows and I can’t wait for tonight’s conclusion.

Russ, of course, like any good Anglophile, also watches the show, so we have some taste in common after all.

When I arose this morning, it was 19° with the wind-chill factor at 5°, and I doubt if it got to 40° today.

It’s supposed to be in the teens again tonight – Florida citrus and tomato crops are in jeopardy – but the temperatures should soon moderate.

At work at 9 AM, I did a lot of promotion for my book today, writing letters to the librarians at places where they might be interested in the book: Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island, Broward Community College, Santa Fe Community College, etc.

I also wrote to several book editors at newspapers and magazines, and this evening I printed out the letters at home and made neat packets with the order form, the PW and Kirkus reviews, and some other articles.

I gave Carol the receipts for Friday’s party goodies and supplies and filled out a voucher she gave me. She was very upset because somehow she forgot to appoint Randall along with the other Fellows for this semester.

Randall didn’t get his $300 check on Friday, and Carol will make sure he gets a double check in two weeks, but she felt horrible.

Liz and I agreed that if Randall desperately needs the money, one or both of us will write him out a check.

Jon came into our office to tell Russ that the sugar growers who are fighting the proposed tax to help clean up the Everglades are threatening to sue Paul Tudor Jones, the leader of the campaign, for libel.

I suggested that Jon should only be so lucky, as it would give the environmentalists a chance to prove the truth of their statements at trial and put the industry in a bad light.

Later in the day, Jon told me that he was wrong, that he found out what the sugar growers were really threatening to sue Jones for: They claim he violated Federal Election Commission rules and interfered in the presidential campaign with an unauthorized expenditure for a candidate.

That’s because a TV ad mildly praised Senator Richard Lugar, a back-of-the-pack GOP hopeful. But the FEC is so backed up that I can’t see them taking any action until long after November’s election.

Liz told me that her sister’s book got a Newberry citation for being one of 1995’s best children’s books.

Josh must have realized he had pissed me off, because before I responded to his post on Friday, he sent me a “Hi, Rich, what’s up?” message. I replied with a short nondescript couple of paragraphs.

Reading Denis’s book has made me see that Josh was, in fact, psychotic during that time in 1988 when he believed he was being harassed by all those people.

Although I understand that his condition waxes and wanes, Josh is mentally ill and I don’t want to stir him up.

I guess if I realized all the time that he was a paranoid schizophrenic or whatever he is, I wouldn’t get so upset at his responses to my e-mails.

Back in the summer of 1988, I humored him far too much when we had these endless discussions about the “conspiracy” that went nowhere.

Wednesday, February 7, 1996

9:30 PM. I’ve just come in from the office, where I went to xerox more Caracas Traffic brochures and reviews and to get on e-mail.

It’s a gorgeous evening, much milder than the past few nights, and it’s supposed to be warm tomorrow.

I got into bed early, but then came awake with the news that Pat Buchanan had beaten Phil Gramm in the weird Louisiana caucuses, which were designed specifically so that Gramm could have a win before Iowa and New Hampshire.

As much as I despise Buchanan’s right-wing views, I dislike Phil Gramm’s arrogance more and I hope he gets humiliated and has to leave the presidential race early.

At work, I read the law school self-study report prior to the ABA accreditation visit, and I hope Professor Dawson doesn’t mind my e-mailing him some corrections of spelling and punctuation.

Kevin sent me a brief e-mail that said, “You should flatter me with your dreams.”

Nice line, sweet kid – but I don’t know what he means.

Liz told me that a lot of the Fellows are way behind in their hours: Monica, Randall, and Mark, for example.

The Fellows always seem so together at the start of the year and then kind of fall apart by the spring. Liz and I have no idea how their symposium plans are going.

I feel that we are giving them too much slack, that we need to figure out what’s going on and intervene if necessary. To a certain degree I feel responsible for whatever they’re doing with the symposium. But Liz says, “It’s their thing.”

This morning I received the $331 check for my Orlando travel, and I deposited that into the NationsBank ATM during my lunch hour.

I responded to a notice someone posted on the GayJews bulletin board. It was a letter from a Moscow journalist and professor who wants to write a book about gay people.

He sounds very naïve and ignorant, and his English is wonderfully fractured. After a short note, I got a reply from him tonight, so I started to tell him about my life.

He wrote back, wanting to know how I “became” gay. While he seems reassuringly sympathetic, there have to be gay people right there in Russia who could explain things to him.

I called Micki Johnson to tell her that the Nova Business Writing course materials still haven’t shown up. She promised to send them, but I’ll believe that when they arrive.

I left the office at 3 PM, stopping off at Albertsons and Barnes & Noble before going home to exercise for an hour.

Around dinner time, I looked up these New York Times and Newsday articles about the literary community in Park Slope, and after I took down the names of writers, editors and agents mentioned there, I found their addresses in my 1991 Brooklyn phone directory or on the property records in the Assets library on Lexis.

It’s probably a waste to send the material on my book, but both reviews mention “With the Pope in Park Slope,” and maybe it will catch someone’s eye.

I also wrote to the editors of the Florida Review after I saw their new issue at the bookstore since they first published my book’s title story.

I haven’t heard back from Joe Territo, and I’m not going to write an AT&T column unless he gives me the go-ahead.

Justin sent the brochure for the new play series Manhattan’s Basic Theatre Company is doing. He’s directing one of their shows, Federico and Giulietta, about Fellini and Masina.

I guess Ronna must be pretty tense these days in anticipation of Sunday. Let’s hope the weather holds up for her wedding.

Saturday, February 10, 1996

4 PM. It’s a warm, sunny afternoon. While I slept okay last night, I couldn’t get back to sleep when I awoke at 5 AM. I caught New York’s WCBS-AM and was pleased to hear how mild temperatures are in the city.

It should be in the 50°s tomorrow for Ronna’s wedding, so even if it rains, it won’t be a big deal. They said this is the best weekend weather of the winter, and I’m glad for Ronna and Matthew.

When Jordan got married, Ronna told me, she went into an emotional tailspin. I guess our situations aren’t comparable because I don’t have any sad feelings or even much nostalgia for our relationship.

After all, Ronna and I have been friends for many years, and it’s hard to recapture the feeling of being in love with her in the 1970s.

Also, when Jordan got married, Ronna also wanted to be married – but I certainly don’t. Not even if Hawaii legalizes same-sex marriage. Perhaps someday I’ll feel differently.

Maybe I have to meet “the right person” – but I think that whatever my sexual orientation, I have the temperament of a bachelor.

It’s been days since Kevin has written, and while I’m disappointed, I’m also relieved because I don’t want our relationship to get too intense.

I feel confident Kevin will turn up again. If he doesn’t – well, you can’t lose what you never really had.

The funny thing is another guy just responded to the match.com listing that I’d forgotten about long ago. His name is Stu, he’s 27 and lives in Tampa.

I doubt I’ll have anything in common with him. Probably he’s like that first guy that contacted me who was also into bowling.

Our GayJews writing workshop group is down to five online members. Today I read and commented on a story by Simon Thibeaux, who sounds like a very young man. Given his subject matter, I suspect he’s a college student and probably a francophone in the Maritime Provinces. It was a story about his uncle and had no gay content.

I commented as I usually do, in detail, never just saying “This is good” or “I like this” the way most other people do, but instead pointing out things I noticed in this story. I like this practice in criticizing fiction.

In response to my e-mail, the Lambda Rising Bookstore and Lambda Book Report in D.C. asked to see my book – to check out its gay content, no doubt – so I sent them the last galley copy I had.

In the public library downtown, I found the February 1 Library Journal, but there was no review. I think there’s still a chance I’ll get in their next issue, but that will be my last chance.

I decided not to call Martin to tell him about the lack of a review. Instead, I phoned Dad from the office and wished him a good sales trip to Puerto Rico. He leaves tomorrow morning.

Dad said he can’t get over how nobody would make an appointment for Wednesday because it was Valentine’s Day. Even weirder, some of his customers wouldn’t even see him on Tuesday because they had to “get ready for the holiday.”

The Plaza Theaters have gone from showing dollar movies and art films to becoming a first-run house, so the only place Noah Baumbach’s Alive and Kicking is playing in town is the Reitz Union tonight and tomorrow night, and I don’t feel like going then.

By 8 AM, I got my laundry done and bought the New York Times and some groceries. Because I need to defrost the freezer, I didn’t buy any frozen food. I wish I had a frost-free refrigerator; I didn’t realize how lucky I was before.

Josh said not to come to South Florida for the weekend of his nephew’s bar mitzvah because he’ll be busy with family. It’s just as well.

Josh finally got his own e-mail account rather than share Sharon’s. He uses the handle “Golem,” which Barry’s domestic partner said showed a lack of self-esteem.

“That’s the kind of psychological crap she loves,” Josh said contemptuously.

I skirted danger and replied that she may very well be right. Of course, I can always backtrack and say that all of us have low self-esteem.

I wrote letters to Mark Bernstein and some lit mag editors. Patrick wrote that Mary Ellen Grasso, who he says has mellowed since her husband was severely injured in an accident, called him last night “just to chat about things at school.”

Rosemary, Mary Ellen’s best friend in the Central Campus English Department, has diverticulosis and is retiring, so I guess Patrick was right when he spoke of the aging of the Broward Community College faculty.

I promised myself I’d look at the Nova Business Writing text and course materials that Micki sent, but I don’t want to do it just yet.