A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1996

Tuesday, July 2, 1996

10 PM in Fort Lauderdale. Last night I got into bed early and put on the self-help tape I got it the library. Not unexpectedly, I was unable to get to sleep for hours.

I ended up sleeping a little more than four hours, from 2 AM to 6:15 AM. Yet not only was I able to drive from Gainesville to Fort Lauderdale without fatigue, but this evening I drove around Dade County for a couple of hours.

I picked up the rental car at 9 AM and left town about 45 minutes later; I’d already gotten everything ready, exercised and did last-minute searches on Delphi and Lexis.

It was a hot, sunny day. As I drove south, I listened to that self-help tape again. Called Fire Your Shrink!, it was a book by Michele Weiner-Davis, a female Jewish therapist from New York I could relate to.

A proponent of brief, focused therapy, she said she discovered that analyzing one’s problems in depth, delving into people’s childhoods, and letting then vent anger or sadness doesn’t get people unstuck from repetitive patterns.

She believes that taking any kind of action is preferable to the kind of psychoanalytic exploration that may be intellectually stimulating but which accomplishes little of practical value.

I do feel I know the way out of my present unhappiness with my job and Gainesville; in fact, I’ve already taken action to make things better.

Just as I instinctively knew to move to South Florida in 1980 and to go back to New York in 1984 and to go to Gainesville in 1991, I know what to do now. It will be hard to leave my present life, but it’s not as if I didn’t have a wonderful, interesting life before I went to law school at UF.

At 11:30 AM, I stopped in Orlando for a huge salad bar and a baked potato and Diet Coke at the Wendy’s on the strip at International Drive (not the Wendy’s I usually go to).

Back in the car, after the first tape ended, I began listening to Cornel West’s Race Matters until I got within reach of WIOD/610 AM in Miami so I could listen to the end of Neil Rogers and then to Phil Hendrie at 2 PM.

It was an exceedingly pleasant drive, including the stops at rest areas. Before I knew it, I was on I-595 heading towards Davie.

On the way to my parents’ house, I stopped off at the Nova campus, but Micki Johnson wasn’t in the office and her secretary was on vacation.

When I let myself in here at 4 PM, I was greeted by an excited China, who licked me continuously as I petted her. My parents and Jonathan kissed me and said I looked well.

Jonathan was about to go to work at the Army/Navy store. A little later, Marc came home for a short time between work and school. He bought a car today, a 1989 Cadillac.

I sat with my parents and talked for an hour although since we talk on the phone so often, there’s nothing we really had to catch up on.

After listening to NPR news on my headset as I had dinner, I read the New York Times and Miami Herald before I went out at 7 PM.

For a while I drove around aimlessly, going from I-595 to I-75 to the Palmetto past Hialeah and the airport and then east via the Airport Expressway and I-95 to I-195 to Biscayne Boulevard. Taking that all the way up to North Miami Beach, I then got on the Turnpike home.

Along the way, I got treated to the incredibly beautiful big sky of South Florida as night fell.

As I passed various neighborhoods, I thought about the days when I lived in North Miami Beach in 1983-1984, my travels to do computer training workshops in schools all over Dade County from 1986 to 1990, and to memories of Grandpa Nat in the nursing home, Grandma Sylvia in her condo, and Aunt Sydelle, who is still in the Aventura high-rise.

Just as New York City and Long Island felt like home last month, so does South Florida now.

Getting back here at 9 PM, I sat with China and my parents in the living room. First Jonathan and then Marc returned home and joined us.

I now feel more accepting of my family’s foibles and hope I can continue to be relaxed here.

Putting 450 miles on the car today made me think that maybe I could rent a car and drive to New York in August – because it may be the only way I can afford to go back North this summer.

Friday, July 5, 1996

10 PM. Last evening after watching a rerun of the famous lesbian wedding scene on NBC’s Friends, I took off for a three-hour drive.

My goal was to catch the 10 PM fireworks on Miami Beach around the boardwalk at 71st Street, but I also got to see the fireworks in other parts of town – notably, the ones in North Miami from I-95 and then from a Publix parking lot off Biscayne Boulevard.

Once I got off the 79th Street Causeway east of North Bay Village, the traffic in Miami Beach was so bad that I couldn’t manage to get close to the action. Nevertheless, I did get to see the sky light up from the other side of Indian Creek.

It’s been five years since I last saw July 4 fireworks during my last summer in New York, when I stood on Sat Darshan’s rooftop overlooking Brooklyn Heights and New York Harbor just before she, too, left the city in 1991.

Seeing the fireworks from the overpasses of I-95 reminded me of how, twenty years ago, I caught the Bicentennial fireworks from that high overpass over the Gowanus Canal by the Goya sign, also in Brooklyn.

I’ve been driving around South Florida a lot. As in New York City and Long Island, driving seems the best way to see familiar places and to jog my sense-memory.

I’ve also been looking around with an eye as to where I might like to live. If I’m priced out of South Beach, there are other neighborhoods that could become the next South Beach. Today the Herald mentioned three: the Design District around Biscayne Boulevard and NE 36th Street; the northern stretches of Miami Beach above 41st Street; and most intriguingly, downtown Hollywood.

This afternoon I walked around Young Circle, and while it seemed like a ghost town, there were several coffee bars, including one cyber-cafe (the Hard Drive Café), Romanian and Brazilian restaurants, an innovative theatre company, and a few boutiques, with a big South Beach-style club coming soon.

I imagine that South Beach will go the way of Soho and other New York city neighborhoods where the young, poor creative artists who pioneered the place got the shaft as the richies moved in. This afternoon I crawled along Ocean Drive, and while it’s fun, by now it’s also a very commercial scene in the Deco District.

But even if I end up renting in one of the dull, safe, sterile suburbs I’ve often lived in here, I can get over to wherever stuff is happening.

It’s a shame I so rarely participated in the community when I lived in New York or South Florida in the past. Obviously I’m not into club-hopping, but I do need to make friends.

Speaking of friends, I tried to call Patrick today, but he had a meeting at BCC-North. Also, Micki Johnson didn’t answer her phone at Nova, so I’ll just let things go until I hear from her again.

Later, I went to the Plantation Barnes & Noble, where I read magazine articles and bought the new issue of Swing, which has a little squib about the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War. This morning I had gotten a letter about the group from a Bates ad executive in Irvine, California, who mentioned seeing the Swing piece.

Unlike the other clubs mentioned in the article, the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War charges no dues (we have a saying that money will soon be no good anyway), but maybe I can send people order forms for my books. The article made me sound pretty clever, and perhaps people who like my sense of humor will also be interested in my fiction.

I know that immediate nuclear war is an idea that definitely has “legs” because it pops up every few years.

It shouldn’t give me pleasure to be in a magazine like Swing – but it does. Actually, I think it’s pretty well done, and the editor, David Lauren (son of Ralph), doesn’t talk down to twentysomethings.

In the Northeast Dade Regional Library in Aventura this afternoon, I noticed that the county library never ordered I Survived Caracas Traffic, but I did see the book’s reviews indexed in Book Review Index and the New York Times Index’s latest paperback updates.

At Barnes & Noble you see so many books, but the tremendous number of titles is more encouraging than discouraging: sometimes it seems anyone who’s not an idiot can get a book published.

Although I haven’t been a successful writer in the sense that I’ve made money or garnered critical praise, I do have a body of work out there. Combine that with all my other activities, and I can’t believe that I wasted my existence.

But after five years of being immersed in law school life, I know that I want to get away from the legal profession for a while. I need to get to the next stage of my life, even if I don’t yet know what that will be.

Ten years ago I was taking computer ed classes at Teachers College and about to start what would become an 11-month stint as a humor columnist for the old Hollywood Sun-Tattler.

Who knows what I’ll be doing ten years from now – or five years from now, or even two?

Monday, July 8, 1996

9:30 PM back in Gainesville.

Last evening my brothers and I sat around the kitchen table talking and then we watched Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist on Comedy Central. It was really nice spending relaxed time with Marc and Jonathan without a hint of tension.

On this trip I didn’t have one argument with my family, although I did get impatient when Mom fussed over me.

I know that if I don’t want my parents and brothers to criticize me, I certainly shouldn’t criticize them; it wouldn’t do anybody any good in either case. If a family member wants my advice, he or she will ask.

One great pleasure of the trip was the time I got to spend with China. From when she greeted me at the door, almost beside herself with excitement, I spent hours playing with her, petting her, rubbing her belly, and being licked gratefully.

Last night I finally got a good night’s sleep, probably because part of me was concerned that I needed rest for the long drive and part of me didn’t want to go.

I left around 8:15 AM and got home at 2 PM. Listening to the tape of Cornel West reading his provocative and insightful Race Matters, I found that the time went quickly as I used cruise control set at 75 mph for much of the drive.

The weather was good, and I didn’t stop for lunch till I got to the Wendy’s in Wildwood. Long drives actually relax me, particularly when it’s such a familiar trip.

As soon as I entered my apartment, I put on the air conditioner. Although it took hours to cool off, it’s comfortable now.

There were no phone messages and not all that much mail. I got no rejections and one acceptance: Red Hen Press asked for a disk of “Moon Over Moldova” for their fiction anthology and said they would send me a contract after they got it. I really wanted that story to be published, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Hot 105, the Miami radio station, invited me to their candidates’ forum on Saturday, July 20, and I got a couple of other items related to my write-in campaign for Congress.

My Nielsen diaries arrived. They’re for the week starting on Thursday, along with $2 for my two TVs. (I counted the tiny black-and-white one that hardly works anymore). Also in the mail, First Deposit Visa said my new secured card should arrive in a couple of weeks.

After I dropped off the rental car – thankfully, my own car started up fine – I went to the office from 4:30 PM to 5 PM although I’d told everyone I was taking the whole day off. I’m now down to only three available sick days, but I still have nearly 30 annual leave days.

Russ has obviously been incredibly busy, but I had only one phone message and little in my mailbox. On e-mail I learned that Tucker has been named assistant director of CGR and that Dean Matasar is meeting with us on Wednesday morning.

I think that if we are going to go around the table and discuss what we’re doing, that might be a good time for me to make it clear I’m leaving before the end of the year.

If I do it in a way that says I’m just clarifying what people know already, and if I praise CGR and act self-effacing, it shouldn’t upset anyone. But I’ll ask Liz first.

If anything, my trip to South Florida made me more certain that I don’t want to stay in Gainesville in 1997.

Last week Ellen e-mailed while Sat Darshan was visiting her in California. I had other messages from Elihu and a couple of other friends, but most of the 60 items in my inbox were the daily digests of GayJews and posts from other mailing lists.

After I read the paper, exercised and had dinner, I went out and bought $50 in groceries at Albertsons.

Crummy as it is compared with my parents’ house or Paul and Teresa’s home in Oyster Bay, it’s nice to be in my own apartment.

Now I’m starting to feel tired.

Wednesday, July 10, 1996

9 PM. Reading Jonathan Franzen’s Harper’s essay last night made me think a lot about my own “career” as a writer.

Despite his books’ glowing reviews, awards, and decent sales, in 1991 Franzen fell into a depression because as a social novelist, he was utterly unable to influence a culture that’s swept up with TV, news, computers, consumerism and pop culture.

It got to the point where he wondered why he should write more novels when he – like me and so many other Americans – rarely reads a literary novel these days.

In the end, what got him out of his funk were studies by an MIT professor about committed readers, the people who find meaning in novels. I can see where that would help.

I also understand when Franzen says he writes for himself. This is why I tell Christy that I consider writing my “hobby”: I’ve had so little impact on society, yet the need to make sense of the world through my writing and the thrill when I do connect (as when Gabriel Lampert today praised the title story of Caracas Traffic and said he wished he’d written it) makes everything worthwhile.

Up at 6 AM today, I did the usual, but because I was having a bad hair day, I decided to get a haircut before work at our meeting with Dean Matasar at 10:30 AM.

Last night Liz called me and said it’s not as if I hadn’t given her lots of hints about leaving town before this and said I shouldn’t feel bad. But she wanted to know if I planned to say something at the meeting.

As it turned out, we introduced ourselves only briefly, and I didn’t say anything except I was hired to research legal issues in educational technology.

I winced when Jon said I was CGR’s “genome guru.”

Matasar is awfully concerned with money, and he sees CGR as a generator of huge funds. His views sound very corporate, but he does understand some things very clearly – namely, that legal education as we’ve been practicing it is nearly obsolete and that law schools are engaged in a fight for survival.

Matasar said that the University of Florida College of Law has been known for three things: being big, being old and being cheap. And that’s not enough to keep us afloat.

Matasar also said that he’d never been at a school where people so seldom smile. I never noticed, but then I’ve never been to any other law school.

Jon appended a note onto a genome memo about his wanting to see me, but he was so busy today that I never got the chance.

He and Russ are fighting off lawsuit after lawsuit against Save Our Everglades – though Mary Barley’s lawyers got a federal judge to dismiss a trademark infringement suit that seemed incredibly frivolous to me. (The Tax Cap Committee claimed that Save Our Everglades’s petitions were too much like theirs and infringed on “trade dress” – but of course it’s political speech.)

Joann showed me a $5,000 check from WPBT to prove I’m “not writing into a vacuum” because, she said, it was a direct result of my first document on Common Ground.

But I still don’t have the third video, or the first (Tom has it at home), and I really could use them to complete what I’ve been working on.

This evening I skipped the special Human Rights Council board meeting at the County Administrative Building. It was going to be all about the forum for local candidates, and I am leaving town so I don’t really care.

This evening I did go back to CGR – Tucker, Russ and Robertson all were there as well – to use Cari’s Netscape browser. It’s so much better to see the Web on Netscape with graphics than it is with a text browser.

At Amazon Books, I found all my books (Hitler, Dog, I Brake, Caracas Traffic) listed, and I wrote “author’s comments” for them all.

For the first time, I also saw Justin’s Koool Page with his photos (he’s cute but not my type) and excellent graphics, and Christy’s innovative narratives-cum-visual art.

I found that the West Islip Public Library now has Caracas Traffic and saw the comment that I wrote about the candidacy of former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm for the Reform Party presidential nomination on a New York Times forum earlier in the day.

I definitely could spend hours with Netscape.

Rick Peabody sent a copy of the latest issue of the D.C. litmag WordWrights!, whose cover features a photo of him and Lucinda looking cool at the April 3 Scott and Zelda party at Atticus Books.