A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1996
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, February 24, 1996
7 PM. I haven’t even opened the Business Communications textbook, so it looks as if I’m going to have to take off Tuesday to prepare for the first class.
I also should call Phil at Webster College on Monday just to make sure the course is on.
It’s become summer already: it’s 80° right now. It was good weather for the AIDS Walk, and I decided I spend so much time alone that it would be good to socialize, so I went over to Drew’s this morning.
Drew is the guy I thought was named Reed when I met him at the OutLaw meeting. I spoke to him a year ago on the first day he was a law student, and I thought he was gay then – and sort of cute for a skinny white guy.
He has a nice apartment in the Duck Pond area, near where Christy and Tom live. When I go to people’s houses and see cozy furniture and artwork in comfortable surroundings, I’m aware that I basically live in a sterile barracks.
But I’ve never wanted to put energy or money into “making a home.” Now, is that because I have a poor self-image or because I think it’s not important?
I was the first to arrive except for Drew’s friend Brian, who lives in Jacksonville and works in a medical lab there. Diane Mazur biked over, and then Barbara showed up with her dog.
Drew served coffee, bagels and smoothies. (I had a plain half a bagel and water from his water cooler.)
Diane is definitely not as unfriendly as she first appeared. I think what Barbara called her military bearing – she was an Air Force captain – makes a bad first impression.
Although I enjoyed talking with everyone, I left a bit early to put my car in the public library lot and then go to Kirby Smith (the school board headquarters), where everyone was getting set up and I saw many people I know. Still, I always feel weird at these things because I’m usually there alone.
I gave a $10 donation to walk. I was sort of glad they’d run out of AIDS Walk t-shirts because I hate wearing “event” merchandise.
For a while I joined Abby, Tim, Bob, Craig and others behind the Human Rights Council banner on the four-mile march. Tim ran ahead and took our photo for the newsletter or something.
Later, when I saw the group from the law school – Barbara, Drew and Brian – I decided to walk with them for the remainder of the event.
Barbara confided that she would have become involved with HRC except for Kathy, who turned her off early on the No on One campaign, so much so that Barbara decided to work with the Just Say No people instead. I agreed that Kathy is a very needy, difficult person.
Barbara’s dog was freaked out by the balloons popping and the bagpipe player behind us, so she dropped out after a couple of miles.
I hope Drew and Brian didn’t mind my sticking with them. They are both 25 and have already lost a lot of friends to HIV.
Drew, who works as a waiter at a fancy downtown restaurant, will graduate in the summer because he’s staying on an extra term to get Civil Clinic – although he’ll still take the bar exam in July.
Drew lived in New Orleans for five years before law school, mostly as an undergrad at Tulane – but then he spent a year living and working in the French Quarter.
He told me that they’re starting a clinic based at Three Rivers for law students to help indigent HIV clients. It’s modeled on Fran Tetunic’s clinic at Nova.
Drew seemed like a neat guy, and I liked Brian a lot, too – although I fear that, as usual, I talked too much. At least I don’t have a crush on either of them.
I’m amazed at how many current UF law students are gay – for example, one of the Moot Court people who won the Final Four.
When I was a first-year law student, I knew only Lynette and that other woman, but they were both third-year students.
As far as I knew, nobody in my class was gay, though among the guys, I thought there were at least a few closet cases.
By October of my first year – I think on Coming Out Day – I directly told Karin, Larry and others that I was gay, and I’m sure that most everyone in our section either heard about it or figured it out.
But even though it was only 4½ years ago, it seemed like a different era. In our section of about 100, there were only six black students – as opposed to the 35 or so in an incoming class today.
I also think there’s a change in the way people in their early twenties are open about being gay now. It’s such a relief.
While I find it scary that Pat Buchanan can have such a following, it seems clear that the U.S. is not going to be a white Christian heterosexual country dominated by males anymore.
This past week, California’s Pat Brown and Nevada’s Grant Sawyer died; both of them were governors from 1958 to 1966 who built highways, universities and other public works projects. They both expanded civil rights, much as Governor Rockefeller did in New York State at the time.
Now, according to the conventional wisdom, government is the enemy and can do nothing right. Jesus, it kills me that we’ve gone backward in that respect.
I left Drew and Brian when we passed the public library parking lot. Driving back across University Drive, I was surprised at how many people had been walking blocks behind us, as I’d thought we had been at the end of the march.
At home, I had great mail. First, Happy #4 arrived with my story, “Suspicious Caucasians”: eight pages of text with a funny full-page drawing on an introductory page.
It’s a pointless story, but I like the corny jokes and bad puns and silly situations. Happy is a lively magazine, and The Happy Organization even sent me a check for $5. At the office, I xeroxed copies, using a little too much of CGR’s paper for my own use.
Rick mailed me the Atticus Books catalog of first editions and signed copies as well as a postcard from the store. He hadn’t seen the Entertainment Weekly mention of Mondo James Dean until I sent it to him. He said his students are getting “uppity” and told me he ordered my book.
Tom wrote from Germany that he’s decided to return to Stuttgart again for the next academic year. He’s having great luck getting his work accepted, and he’s writing a novel. In late May, George Garrett and Nicole Cooley will be Tom’s guests at the university’s Amerikanistik conference on Southern literature.
Bantam has now given Tom permission to bring out Roitheimer’s Universe, the sequel to The Camel’s Back, at the end of the year. Tom will handle all the details when he’s back in the U.S. in August and September.
Nobody in New Orleans had sent him the Times-Picayune column I mailed him, he said.
Eustace told Tom that Mark Zumpe, that great guy who owns the Uptown Square Bookshop, has AIDS and isn’t doing too well. That’s horrible. Mark is one of Tom’s favorite people in town.
I thought a lot about AIDS last night while I was trying to get to sleep. As I said to Brian and Drew today, I don’t know why I’m alive when so many of my contemporaries are dead.
I feel especially guilty because I was simply less adventurous and more timid than they were. The guys who got sick were, by and large, healthier than I was – at least when it came to understanding the importance of living fully.
In contrast, I was (and am?) so scared of my sexuality that I’ve been celibate so much of the time.
It’s weird being (almost) 45. Grandpa Herb used to tell me that when I was about three years old, I asked him how old he was, and he said, “Fifty.”
“Fifty!” I exclaimed. “You should be dead already.” Now I’ll be that age in just five years.
I should use that as the title of a book or story: You Should Be Dead Already.
Wednesday, February 28, 1996
4 PM. I’m a lot more relaxed than I was 24 hours ago. For one thing, I just exercised to a Body Electric video and had some blueberries afterwards.
For another, I got through my first Business Writing class last evening. Although I rambled and phumphered, I was okay, and I’ll do better next time.
I’m easier on myself as a teacher than I used to be – especially the way I felt after another Tuesday night class almost exactly 21 years ago.
After teaching my first teaching my first college class ever at LIU in March 1975, I felt like a disaster area. I remember I phoned Ms. Ehrlich to set up an appointment even though I’d stopped therapy with her six months before.
Anyway, Phil met me beforehand and had my class roll so I could call on students by name.
He said that our 1990 text is seriously out of date, something I obviously knew already – especially in regard to the second two chapters I taught last night: on office technology and international business. To start with, the book had no mention of CD-ROMs or trade with Eastern Europe.
I have only nine students, all of them working adults and several who work in offices at UF. I tried to be honest and open to suggestions and I need to adapt the course with their particular needs.
I bet they wish they had gotten me for American Literature on Saturdays because they told me their teacher has a Ph.D. and no other job and loves to lecture on Puritan sermons and other ephemera for the full four hours.
I do have time to prepare for this class, but if I go easy on them, the students will go easy on me, and i can still give them what they need to know.
Feeling relieved and relaxed, I came home to enjoy the primary results, which are producing an ever-more muddled GOP nomination race.
Forbes won Arizona’s winner-take-all, following his victory in Delaware on Saturday, so his campaign is revived, and Dole took the Dakotas. South Carolina’s primary on Saturday may be the big Dole/Buchanan test.
Soon after I got to the office this morning, I walked over to the main campus, to Weimer Hall, where a fire alarm went off as I sat in the lobby waiting until it was 10 AM.
The building was evacuated, and after the firefighters left, people were allowed back in. It turned out that somebody had set off a microwave fire.
I went to the WUFT-FM/89.1 newsroom, where Russell Lewis, a clean cut young guy, interviewed me for his series on baby boomers in a small studio for half an hour.
Walking back to the law school, I thought of wittier, more eloquent things I could have said and topics I neglected (especially civil rights and race relations).
But I guess the interview went okay. Russell will edit it into a coherent piece, no doubt.
Back at the law school, Rosalie told me that the Thomson Corporation, an Anglo-Canadian firm that owns Lawyers Cooperative books, Clark Boardman Callahan and other legal publishers – as well as Gale Research and the Thomson Register – has brought West Publishing.
If there’s no antitrust challenge, that means that one company will produce the vast majority of legal reporters, digests, texts, looseleaf services, etc.
Why would one corporation need to put out both USCA and USCS or two legal encyclopedias (Am. Jur. and CJS)?
Rosalie said this is the biggest news to hit law librarians in many years. She believes that West sold the company now because it will probably be worth less as vendor-neutral citations on the Internet become more prevalent.
I guess that Sears is selling its share of Prodigy and H&R Block is selling CompuServe for similar reasons. The online services are probably at their peak of value now before the Web takes over everything.
The “confidential” software licensing agreement from the U.S. Office of Technology Licensing arrived just in time for Schoolyear 2000 to use it.
I immediately faxed the 25-page document to Wendy at the Center for Educational Technology at FSU.
Russ was again going crazy with Jon coming in to bother him all the time about the sugar tax initiative.
Russ seemed at the end of his rope today, and no wonder: Jon demands that everything needs to be done urgently.
After one of the times Jon came in, Russ said, “I notice Liz doesn’t treat you like that.”
“Well, it’s a matter of working style,” I said.
On Saturday, Drew asked me if Jon was really as dumb as he appeared to be in his Florida Con Law class.
“Any way I answer that would get me in trouble,” I told him.
Rosalie said that she’s good friends with the father of Aaron Resnick, Jon’s student research assistant. He told her that Jon is making his son write several chapters for a book and plans on giving Aaron only a sentence of thanks in the publication.
Rosalie said her husband would give a student who did so much work at least a co-author credit, but Steve Sanderson is a much more highly regarded and well-published scholar than Jon.
Liz has told me that Jon has a bad habit of letting his students do his work, and I’ve seen evidence of that myself.
Anyway, I didn’t mention any of this to Russ today. As insufferable as Russ can be when he gets into his Tory high dudgeon, I still don’t like to see Jon exploit or overwork him.
And I was glad to see that by the end of the day, Russ was feeling better after he learned that the Florida Supreme Court accepted the brief he wrote in January on the tax limitation initiative.
I told him he should feel proud of himself. Tomorrow he and Jon are going to Orlando for another sugar tax meeting.
George Myers sent me part of an interview with him and some other Columbus arts journalists. Even the TV critic complained about the spelling and grammar skills of today’s journalism graduates.
Elihu wrote that tax time has made him really busy and that none of his Internet companions has appeared for a real-world relationship. I know the feeling with Kevin.
“Didn’t sex used to involve physical contact?” Elihu asked in his E-mail.
Still, the Web is the best networking tools ever invented, and I love networking.
Alice won’t be in Tampa when I’m there, so I’ll see her in New York this summer. She said if i can bring a guest to Teresa’s wedding, she’d be available because Alice loves weddings.
Laura continued to interview candidates for the head secretary position today, and John Tucker passed on to me a book he’d gotten from Liz: Close to Death by Patricia Smith, poems about the too-short life expectancy of urban black men in 1990s America due to homicide, drugs and AIDS.
I have to go over to Abby’s in a little while for another HRC newsletter mailing.
Thursday, February 29, 1996
9 PM on Leap Day.
I’ve experienced February 29 eleven times and I can’t remember any of them, though I suppose I could go back and look at my diary entries since 1972.
Last evening I arrived at Abby’s at 6 PM, pulling up just after Tim and Bob were lugging the boxes up to the house.
Abby and Craig are in Atlanta this week, undergoing campaign training by the DNC.
I don’t know how Abby’s husband Vince and her daughter Emma (from her first marriage) felt about us gay activists taking over their house for the evening, but they went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant shortly after I arrived.
Bob also left, to do campaign stuff, and not many people showed up.
As usual, Kathy bossed everyone around. She had me spend my time putting address labels on envelopes rather than the more urgent and tedious task of folding the contribution form and the sheets for Pride Week 1996.
(They merely repeated the mailing from last year, changing only the dates for Pride Week. The phone number listed to call for more information was Tim Burke’s even though he moved to San Diego. Whoever now has Tim’s number will probably be quite pissed off.)
Thankfully, the newsletter came from the printers already folded. It looked professional although it could have used some proofreading, as Kathy is semi-literate.
The only other people who showed up were Helen, Sue, Denise and her friend Wendy, a charmingly cute little lesbian who appeared to be 12 years old but was probably at least 20.
I left at 9 PM, using the excuse (lie) that I had to be in Orlando in the morning for a meeting. (Of course, it was Russ who went to Orlando with Jon today.)
As I reached the door, one of the women said, “Goodbye, cookie.” That made me feel good.
At home, it took me a long time to read the New York Times; I didn’t get to sleep till after midnight, so I feel sleep-deprived right now.
It’s turned much cooler and it’s grey and windy. We’re back to winter for a while, but hopefully I won’t need the heater again.
Today I learned the downside of networking on the Internet. It seems I accidentally sent a personal message to someone to the entire Computer Law list.
Late this afternoon, a lawyer in Miami sent back my note to Patty Lewis, and I was mortified. It was a chatty, breezy, self-disclosing letter. (I just came out to about 500 people!)
I was so embarrassed that I immediately sent off an apology to the list that sounded more reasonable (“We’ve all seen these things happen”) and jokey (“You all have my permission to reprint the message, under posts with the title ‘Look how stupid this guy is’”) than I felt.
As I told Linda about the situation, she couldn’t stop laughing, and I think it’s funny too – but I also want to crawl into a hole and die.
Of course, when I’ve seen this kind of thing happen, I usually feel sorry for the person and don’t think much of it.
Still, I immediately unsubscribed to the list as well as to four other listservs. I think I’m still on GayJews, where people already know I’m an asshole and I feel safe.
From the GayJews list, Tony posted that he got that job at the University of Nebraska that he wanted. “Mazel tov,” I e-mailed him.
But after today’s experience, I want to stay away from E-mail and listservs.
When I talked about it with Liz, she made me feel better. She advised me to do what she does: get lists in digest form and then ask for posts that look interesting.
Hey, I even felt compelled to tell Betty Taylor about it as I passed her leaving the building this evening.
She said something like that happened on a law librarian list when two men accidentally discussed a female friend in graphic sexual terms.
“There’s no harm done, really,” Mrs. Taylor said, “except they’ll probably never show up at another law librarian convention again.”
Still, in my books I’ve always been very open – embarrassingly confessional, you might say – and the worst thing this says about me is that I’m human.
I don’t recall disparaging anyone but the U.S. Patent Commissioner and myself. (I told Patty I was clueless about my work and didn’t know what I was doing.)
If anything, that kind of self-deprecating tone is probably needed among the staid lawyer types on the list. Ultimately, Liz says, I’ll probably write an interesting and amusing essay about the situation.
I made sure to be home from 1 PM to 2 PM for All My Children.
Today’s episode contained a trial scene where everyone in Pine Valley found out that a beloved character had been murdered, not by the defendant, a woman who hated her, but by a crazed homophobe who had been aiming for her brother, a gay high school teacher he was convinced had “recruited” his teenage brother.
I cried satisfying tears, not because it was sad, but because this story was so full of life. I’ve watched the show for many years, and at least two dozen of the characters seem like old friends.
I’d give anything if I could write a story with real characters and a plot that allowed them to seem so human.
The only regular letter I got today was a very moving one from Scott Sommer’s brother.
Dean Sommer thanked me for dedicating my book to his “best friend, Scotty.”
Dean started the Scott Sommer Memorial Foundation and raised $27,000, donating the money to the Land Trust Alliance in Cape Cod, near where the brothers went to summer camp.
The protected land is next to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, where there’s a plaque in Scott’s memory and his books are in the museum’s library.
“The passage of time doesn’t affect my speaking with Scott on a daily basis,” Dean wrote. “I’ve saved some of the trees from his rooftop garden and have made a meditation area behind the barn where his trees seem satisfied and the bird feeders and birdbath were called his love of nature and wildlife.”
Dean gave me his parents’ address in Boynton Beach, and I’ll send them a copy of the book.
He closed his letter:
Keep writing fiction and keep fighting the fight against the stupidity of our culture.
I’m so moved that I don’t know what to say. It makes everything else, like my mis-posted e-mail embarrassment, seem so trivial.