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

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, April 11, 1996

8 PM. This is the only night this week I won’t be going out. I went to Joycelyn Elders’ lecture on Monday, to teach at Nova on Tuesday, to the poetry reading last night, and to Professor Pouncy’s house tomorrow night.

I got a call from Vinnie Jones of WUFT/Channel 5’s North Florida Journal. Next week they’re doing a program on the legalization of marijuana, and because I was mentioned in the Sun article on the doobie tosser’s trial – last week Judge Elzie Sanders rejected the arguments that outlawing pot is unconstitutional, but he charged the guy with just a misdemeanor – they thought I would make the perfect attorney addition to the panel, which will also include a legalization advocate and an opponent from a local group that fights drugs.

I agreed to come to the studio to tape the show on Wednesday at 6:30 PM. North Florida Journal is shown on Thursdays at 8:30 PM, and hopefully I can get someone to record it for me.

But this means that between then and now, I’ll have to do a lot of reading on the subject to be prepared.

I also got an e-mail from Wendy, who said that my four legal memos we’d printed look good and they’ll be going out to a mailing list of 325 people.

She asked me to send them a disk with the memos so they can put them on their Schoolyear 2000 homepage.

“What’s next?” Wendy asked. I outlined the three major memos I’ve been working on, and I told Wendy I would have them all for her soon, by the end of May at the latest.

Even though Liz didn’t say anything, I felt that I had to tell Wendy I planned to leave CGR by July.

Russ said it was the honorable thing to do, but I suppose I was more motivated by feeling off the hook: once they know I’m leaving, they can’t berate me for not doing what they expected.

I know that this is one way I’ve avoided responsibility throughout my career: by not staying too long in one place, by always having a foot out the door.

On the other hand, it’s a strategy that seemed to work, even in places like Broward Community College and John Jay College, where I kept getting asked back.

I’ll make sure to leave CGR on good terms, and my pride won’t let me do less than a decent job for Schoolyear 2000 over the next couple of months.

I actually hope we can have another meeting in Tallahassee so I can get a sense of closure.

I think that if Schoolyear 2000 were only renewing the grant because of me, they’d be angry to find out I was leaving and wouldn’t be there for any of the grant.

At noon, I brought lunch to a brown bag sponsored by OutLaw at which Professor Michelle Jacobs spoke about juvenile females in the criminal justice system and how they are essentially put into the system for status “crimes” – like having sex – by their parents who bring in the police and the courts.

As usual, it’s poor people who get caught in the criminal justice system. Upscale wayward teens go to private treatment centers or psychologists.

There was a big turnout in the faculty dining room, and many were from Professor Jacobs’s Criminal Law class rather than OutLaw members. A bearded guy at the next table was clearly not a student, but if he’s a faculty member, I don’t know who he is.

I sat next to DeShaun and tried not to stare at him. Barbara was there, of course, and Drew and Professor Pouncy and a couple of other students I recognized.

I got home from work at 4:30 PM and have a lot of reading to do this evening.

Sunday, April 14, 1996

2 PM. This weekend actually turned out to be delightful: probably better than I deserve.

On Friday night, I arrived at Professor Pouncy’s after 7 PM, bringing some chrysanthemums I got at Publix.

This cute first-year student whose name embarrassingly escapes me was going out to get some napkins as I arrived, and only Professor Mazur was there.

Charles Pouncy was in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, and he made a delicious dinner. Barbara and Cynthia soon arrived, and I met Sean, who was best oralist in the Moot Court Final Four.

DeShaun, in a tie and jacket – I wasn’t the only one wearing jeans, but most people were dressed better – brought this guy Lowell, a medical student, and Denise, another law student, brought her girlfriend Lara, a golfer.

Pouncy has a nice apartment. Like normal people, he has art on the walls, plants, cozy furniture. When I see other people’s homes, I’m always aware that I live like a Spartan – or a nut.

The talk was a little heavy on law school, especially about professors and students who may or may not be “family.” Several students are currently in Pouncy’s and Mazur’s classes.

I was interested in hearing Lowell’s experiences as one of only a couple of gay medical students at UF.

Like all the others there, he seemed like a fine, together young man or woman. I can only envy the self-possession and self-confidence of these 22-year-olds who have already dealt with issues of sexual identity that it’s taken me decades to puzzle out and work through.

I realize that by never going to the University Club, I miss a lot. Guys complained that the straights are taking over the bar, and it’s not as easy to approach another guy there with the assurance that he’s gay. “That defeats the whole purpose of a gay bar,” someone said.

I don’t think DeShaun likes me, and I obviously made it worse with a remark about the intelligence of swimmers and dancers; I didn’t realize he’d been a dancer.

What I meant, of course, was that anyone who spends so many hours in an activity that’s primarily physical, not intellectual, can sacrifice something – but as usual, I gracelessly put my foot in my mouth. I know that dancers and swimmers have a kind of physical intelligence I don’t.

That aside, I enjoyed myself very much. I especially find Denise amusing with her Valley Girl sarcastic expression, “As if!” Along with everyone else, I left at 11:30 PM.

Charles Pouncy is an extremely intelligent man, very perceptive and someone I can relate to, perhaps because he’s lived in in the urban Northeast – in D.C., Philadelphia and New York.

Trying to be a good host to my brother, I’d given Marc my bed, but unfortunately I barely slept on the couch. It took me quite a long time to doze off as I mentally dished the party and mused about a dozen different things – but I did fall asleep eventually.

After I did grocery-shopping and the laundry early Saturday morning, I felt better after I lay down and rested till almost noon.

I worked with Marc on his résumé, asking questions to try to elicit something that would look and sound good on paper. At first we worked here, but then we went to my office, where we spent about an hour refining, editing and formatting the résumé to get it to one page.

I printed out seven or eight versions until we came up with the best one, and then I xeroxed that and saved it as well on a disk for Marc.

By then, it was 4 PM, and Marc told me what I already knew, that I needed new front tires desperately. So we went to Pep Boys, out past the Oaks Mall, and while the tires ($100) were being put on, Marc and I wandered around the Media Play  superstore across the street.

I enjoyed Marc’s company then and for the rest of the day. After we came home, Marc and I had our different diet dinners and then I asked if he’d like to go to the free concert at the UF bandshell at 7:30 PM.

I had heard about it at the party because the featured group was the Village People, that 1970s disco act that that comprised of a brawny construction worker, leather man, cowboy, Indian and cop – sort of the ultimate Christopher Street/Castro clone group of that era.

Arriving fairly early, Marc and I sat down on what later turned out to be the middle of a vast crowd on the grass. It reminded both of us of concerts in Central Park that we’ve been to, and it was great to see all those people out on such a beautiful evening.

I saw DeShaun there with some friends and another law student I know, Diana. It was also nice to sit near hunky boys in tank tops.

Marc and I talked about music and style, and his experiences hanging out with much younger people at his school, which were strikingly similar to my experience at law school.

The opening act was a local band, Pee Shy, three dynamite women – one played the accordion, another the clarinet – and I liked their unusual sound and off-kilter stance.

Marc and I noticed all the baby boomers in the audience wore white running shoes the way we did, while the young guys wore brown Timberland-type high-top work shoes. I wondered if other fashion choices I make typecast me as much as do the golf caps and pink pants of the elderly white men in Broward County.

I thought about Rick’s e-mail in which he said that young people today want to hear young poets read and how that’s normal.

Unlike most of the crowd there, Marc and I remembered the Village People as part of our past, not as some nostalgia act for a time when we were little children or not even born.

The Village People worked hard and put on a great show, which the crowd mostly got up and stood through. It’s obvious that they’re playing off the current rage for 1970s pop icons like The Brady Bunch, the Bee Gees and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, KC and the Sunshine Band and Gloria Gaynor.

Disco, in retrospect, seems wonderfully energetic and hopeful. The Village People also posed outrageously and talked about Fire Island and Key West as they sang great old songs like “Macho Man” and “In the Navy.”

The finale was, of course, the group’s signature song, “YMCA,” during which the crowd spells out the letters with their hands. (I couldn’t get the hang of it.)

We clapped with the disco beat and really had a great evening. If Marc hadn’t been visiting, I probably wouldn’t have gone by myself and would have missed a great time.

Last night I ended up sleeping pretty well on the couch. Marc got up in darkness and left at 7 AM. (I just called Fort Lauderdale and Dad said he got home safely hours ago.)

This morning I went out to Walmart, which is now open 24 hours a day, and bought a pair of brown shoes that I can wear to replace my worn ones. These shoes are more like the ones I saw DeShaun, Jordan and Sean wearing on Friday night.

After doing aerobics for an hour to make up for my not exercising yesterday, I shaved off my beard except for a little goatee, and after lunch, I went out to that new shopping center at Tower Road and Archer Road to get my hair cut.

I loved shocking the hairstylist by telling her how old I was. “No way!” is music to my baby-boomer ears.

Professor Pouncy said something interesting on Friday night after I said that most young law students just want their teachers to give them the law that they’ll need to pass the bar exam and then practice in their careers.

He said that they should instead view law school as a growing experience and expect to grow throughout their careers: “When you stop growing, you’re dead.”

I replied that there are a lot of people around who are dead but haven’t been buried yet, and he nodded.

A lot of the stress in my life right now is that I’m leaving the safety of Gainesville and my job for the unknown. But I feel better about that now because I know it will mean, if not serenity or comfort, then personal growth.

I can grow older without acting older, and I still need to learn a great deal. So I guess that’s the theme for this weekend, class.

Wednesday, April 17, 1996

8:30 PM. An hour ago I taped the TV show at the WUFT studio. I needn’t have prepared so much, for I hardly got a chance to say a fraction of what I learned about the different regulatory regimes for decriminalizing marijuana use and regulating its commerce.

Arriving early, I chatted with Michael, who was not with NORML, an organization he scorned, but another marijuana advocacy group – and he looked the part: long gray beard, open hemp shirt with lots of gray chest hair, and a philosophy from 1967. He seemed like a nice guy, though.

Karen Crapo, the drug counselor, was friendly, bright and not strident, and the host, Greg Smith, WUFT/Channel 5’s news director, was fair and polished.

The 28 minutes flew by, and it seemed as if I hardly got to say anything.

On cue this afternoon, by the way, I got a tremendous zit between my left eyebrow and hairline. Vanity, vanity. We’ll see the results tomorrow night.

Last evening while my Nova students took the Business Writing final, I was reading my material about marijuana legalization.

Phil left me the class roster, which had first been mistakenly sent to Iris Hart, who taught the group Argumentative Writing last year. (My students said she was tough.)

I was worried because my student Michael came in late because he’d had to go to a work meeting at Pepsi’s office in Jacksonville, but he still managed to finish writing his exam by 9:30 PM.

Although I need to get the grades in by Friday, I still haven’t marked either the finals or their business reports. I’ll send the grades to Phil so he can give them to the class.

This morning I had two e-mails from Brooklyn. First, Justin said he was emerging from his “gopher hole” and he asked me when Ronna is getting married and when my book is coming out.

Last week was spring break at Brooklyn College, but Justin spent it catching up with life. He only wrote me because he was up at 2 AM with insomnia.

Elihu wrote that with tax season over, he’s feeling relieved and delighted. At work, though, he’s doing little more than stapling and xeroxing and plans to start looking soon for a new job, though he doesn’t expect finding one will be easy.

Elihu is also facing opposition to his reelection to the St. George co-op board, but he seemed sanguine about the possibility of losing.

Liz told me that the bearded guy I saw at Sharon’s talk was Joe Jackson, a Legal Drafting teacher whom she invited to the pizza party. She said I should talk to him because he’s bright and funny.

Late in the day, after I’d had this long frustrating call from Marissa, an Alligator reporter doing a story on affirmative action who will end up misquoting me or making me look stupid or racist, Liz sent me an e-mail Wendy forwarded from Mike Eason of the Department of Education.

They’d like to continue the legal consulting project, even without me, but they’ve got to wait for the legislature to allocate enough funds.

Tomorrow at 10 AM is the CGR staff meeting, and Liz said that we needed to talk about my finding about finding someone to replace me.

I went home and thought about it, and I spoke to Dad, and I ended up e-mailing Liz: “How would you feel if I said I would stay on if the grant is renewed? Because that’s what I’d like to do.”

It had never really occurred to me that DOE would want to renew the grant, given the low level of work we’ve done this year.

I still think they won’t, but as much as I’d like to get out of Gainesville, I am afraid to leave something for nothing.

What I mean is, I now have a decent salary, and I have nothing planned for New York City or Miami except whatever happens.

Anyway, I’ll see how Liz reacts. If she says I can stay, that still doesn’t mean I will, but at least I won’t have foreclosed on the option.

I guess I’ll end up looking stupid if I stay on another half-year, but I don’t care. Even Russ keeps telling me to change my mind, and you’d think he’d like to get rid of me so he could have the office to himself.

We learned today that Rick Matasar has accepted the UF law deanship.

Thursday, April 18, 1996

9 PM. I just watched North Florida Journal.

Because I’ve seen myself on TV and videotape so many times, I don’t run from the room screaming when I’m on screen like the first time I saw myself on TV on that Brooklyn College TV show I did as a college senior in 1973.

But I’m still surprised that I don’t look like my younger, slimmer, more articulate self-image.

One reason I’m glad I don’t have to deal with Josh anymore is that he would say something sarcastic about my appearance. But to me, it was fine.

It’s hard for all of us to respond to questions in complete sentences without pausing and hesitating.

I asked Liz to tape this show, and Cari also said she would, so I hope I can get at least one tape. Just in case I don’t, I put the phone to the TV speaker and let my parents listen for the last half-hour.

Liz was thrilled that I agreed to stay on at CGR if the DOE grant is renewed, especially because Ellen told her last week that she’s definitely leaving although Ellen doesn’t want anyone else to know just yet.

That would have left Liz alone at the Social Policy Division, with only the possibility of that woman who’s a sociologist bringing her grant over from the medical school.

I’m glad I told Liz before today’s two-hour staff meeting because the meeting soured me on CGR. Like Liz, I’m uncomfortable with all those paternalistic international grants and goings-on.

When they started to joke about the Haiti grant being turned down by USIA, and Tom saying “Voodoo!” and Russ gleefully sticking pins in an imaginary doll, Liz and I looked at each other and each of us said something that probably made us sound like humorless PC types.

Why are clueless white men from the U.S. going to Third World countries they make fun of and telling them what to do?

We’ve got to have another meeting to discuss the CGR business plan. Tucker and Joann brought up the possibility of reviving a newsletter for CGR, but they’re afraid nobody will commit to write for it.

Matasar’s appointment as law school dean made the papers today, and like everyone else at the law school, we are looking at his comments like tea leaves, trying to predict the future.

Jon seems to want to get us more in sync with Matasar’s entrepreneurial mode. Matasar is interested in computers and distance education, Jon said – seemingly to get me on board.

After the meeting, Liz and I chatted. She prodded me to do something in the area of gay rights, specifically AIDS – where we can get grants most easily, or maybe elsewhere in education.

But the truth is that if the DOE grant goes through, I just want to do that for six months to a year and have free time to pursue my own interests and come up with a better plan for when I leave.

Liz thinks we should know about DOE funding in about a month, by which time the legislative session should be over. So I don’t want to do anything yet, and I’m going to continue with the assumption that I’m leaving Gainesville in July.

I know that I said that if I don’t leave Gainesville now, I’ll never leave, but I can stay another six months or a year. As long as my job is year-to-year like adjunct work or temporary full-time teaching, I can deal with it.

In another year, I can hopefully pay off all my credit card debt; I’ve already poked it down quite a bit.

I got the write-in candidate form from the Florida Division of Elections. They said they would accept it by mail now and keep it until filing begins on May 6.

So I signed the form and the oath and mailed it out, and we’ll see what happens if I end up appearing as Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s write-in opponent in November.

Yesterday a federal court ruled that Representative Corinne Brown’s black-majority district was unconstitutional, but Jon said they’ll probably stay the ruling and redistrict in the 1998 election, given that there’ll be an appeal and the election this year is so close.

This afternoon I graded the Nova short reports after grading the final exams early this morning. After assigning grades to each student, I sent the official copy to Nova and the other copy to Phil, whom I thanked on the phone for all his help with the course.

Thank God that’s over. I won’t do another eight-week Nova course again unless it’s American Lit or something interesting and I know I can avoid overburdening myself.

Barbara told me that Joe, the closeted guy on law review, was upset that the review had accepted a horribly biased note against same-sex marriage.

Diane Mazur told them that if the note was well-reasoned, they should let it go. However, after reading it, Diane found that it was based on a case that was vacated and it was just poor scholarship.

So now Joe is going to talk to the law review editors about it.

Barbara told me that the cute guy at the OutLaw party whose name I didn’t know is Blaine, and she said DeShaun probably doesn’t hate me. “He’s very shy except when he gets drunk,” Barbara said, “and then he gets wild at the bar.”

Rosalie told me that she and Steve were up at Cornell last week, where he’s a finalist to be dean of liberal arts.

They’ve never hired an outsider for the post before, and the acting dean is also a candidate. Rosalie didn’t enjoy seeing snow in April in Ithaca, but they were treated very well, and she met with the law school dean, who seemed very nice.

Kevin sent a brief e-mail: he’s facing “hell weekend” because he’s worried about how the performance of The Bald Soprano will go.

Alice said she does remember us seeing it at Midwood back in 1966 or 1967, but told me it was way above her head.

Alice also recounted a recent party at Peter’s friend Wendy Wasserstein’s house. She said she could spot every member of the Wasserstein family who was present because they all look alike.

Alice asked one sister if she was Gorgeous from The Sisters Rosenzweig and got into an argument with a woman who also went to Midwood about whether Woody Allen went to Midwood or Lincoln.

Tomorrow night is Liz’s pizza party, but that’s all I’ve got on tap for this weekend.

George Myers called. His Mac couldn’t read my DOS disk of “E-mail to the Next King of England,” but my sending it by e-mail worked fine. I didn’t tell him the Oyez Review is publishing a print version of the story.