A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1996
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, August 1, 1996
9 PM. Twenty-seven years after I began keeping a daily diary, life seems even more interesting than I thought it was when I was 18. Some days, like today, seem so flooded with events and people that I feel a bit overwhelmed.
Last evening I answered a questionnaire for congressional candidates from the American Federation of Government Employees.
However, after learning that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with her fellow Miami Cuban-American, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, were the only two House Republicans to vote against the welfare bill, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for challenging her, especially when supposedly “liberal” Democratic House members from Florida like Peter Deutsch and Karen Thurman voted for the bill.
I printed out ten copies of “The Five Stages of Eating at Cuban-Chinese Restaurants,” put them in envelopes with SASEs, and sent them to various little magazines.
Submitting stories is an expensive hobby, with $1.79 in postage for each submission.
Pete Cherches phoned last evening and we spoke briefly, as he had to get off to watch a PBS show.
This morning, Lexis ECLIPSE picked up George Myers’s column from yesterday. He’s being sued by John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George magazine for his webzine george jr.
George got a threatening letter from a New York lawyer and asked his readers to come up with a new name.
Right away I knew this would become a tremendous news story. I e-mailed George’s column to a lot of people, including Andrei Codrescu, who replied that George should fight like hell.
As I left my apartment to put out my garbage and pay the rent, a woman in a car pointed out what appeared to be an almost newborn kitten by the dumpster. The poor thing looked near death and was so skinny and frail it couldn’t muster the strength to run away.
So I brought out a saucer of milk into which I put cat treats to soften them. The woman, who’s here to clean apartments in preparation for the new tenants coming in, blessed me.
Later I noticed the kitten eating from a can of cat food. We have too many stray cats here, but I couldn’t let a kitten starve if I could do something to help.
At the office, I got a rather brusque e-mail from Bruce Morrow, the co-editor of Shade, who told me to call the Avon publicist for a copy of the full book “or just buy a copy in a store.”
He said he wanted people to focus on the book’s subtitle, “Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent,” saying huffily that Shade “is definitely not about being black and gay.”
Jeez, I agree, but he seemed very defensive.
John Thacker e-mailed me, Ellen and Liz to say that Ecuadorean visitors are coming to UF on Saturday, and they want to know about CGR’s Social Policy Division activities.
I volunteered to go to the luncheon for the Ecuadorean vice president-elect, and then present something to her and the three cabinet members who will be there. It means giving up my Saturday afternoon for sitting around in a suit and tie with a lot of University of Florida bigwigs, but neither Liz nor Ellean can attend.
Later, when I mentioned this to Christy, she told me that her husband had been in Ecuador with the Peace Corps and that I should call Tom with any questions I had about the country.
At 11:30 AM, Liz and I met with Jon. He already knew I was moving, and he didn’t say anything about my leaving CGR before December. Instead, we focused on what I could do and what direction the Social Policy Division should take, especially if Liz is also going to be leaving.
(Yesterday, all the Three Rivers staff members wrote Liz a letter urging her to apply for the job as director.)
Jon showed us the pages of the ABA/AALS evaluation of UF Law School that dealt with CGR: Nearly all of it came verbatim from my self-evaluation, and so it was glowing.
Apparently, thanks to me, CGR came off better than the rest of the law school, as the report as a whole is fairly negative, with lots of criticism.
I didn’t get much direction from our meeting with Jon other than to keep on working with legal issues in educational technology and the human genome project.
I again called Bill Allen at the medical school, but he never got back to me.
Ronna finally e-mailed me. The Hadassah convention in Miami went very well, and then she and Matthew took a belated honeymoon on Cape Cod, which was blissful.
When I got home at 4:30 PM, there was a message from Libby. She had just called, so I phoned her back.
Libby said she wanted to send me a newspaper article and wasn’t sure of my current address.
Everything is fine, Libby reported. Grant’s business has slowed recently – it’s not like it was for the years just after the Northridge earthquake – but his CD led to a signing by a small record company, who are going to put an album that will be distributed in the U.S. and Europe.
Lindsay and Wyatt are fine. “My whole family is computer-literate except for me,” Libby reported.
Her brother and his new wife are also fine back in Brooklyn. She told me about attending their wedding and their trip afterwards to upstate New York. She said that Mason is still the same guy, procrastinating and marking time in that unsure way he had.
After Libby’s friend Thomas visited them, he decided to move to California, but to San Francisco, where he thinks he’ll be more comfortable as a gay man.
Libby said that I should come for a visit anytime – as early as this fall – and I told her I’d like to.
Maybe, instead of going to New York in October, I could do Los Angeles. They’ve got a guest house, and Libby said that if I want to move to L.A., I could even stay there for months until I found a job and an apartment. Don’t I have the best friends in the world?
I told Libby I’d call her again soon.
Saturday, August 3, 1996
9 PM. It turned out that I didn’t have to meet with the Ecuadoreans after all, as this morning’s meeting never came off. I was told Joann would handle the afternoon meeting.
Last evening, searching through Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone in vain for that quote (I now think it’s from Another Country), I ended up rereading the book and finishing it this evening.
For the last 50 pages, I had tears in my eyes, perhaps because of Baldwin’s story or his genius – the writing is much better than I imagined, filled with incredible scenes – or perhaps because I was grieving for the 18-year-old boy who read the book for the first time and couldn’t have gotten out of it what I got from it now.
My enthusiasm for the novel leads me to either want to see if I can secure the film rights and try to get a movie made or use the story – as Vicki Hendricks and the FIU students do – as a model for a novel of my own, at least in terms of its incredibly elegant structure. Ah, well.
I spent a lot of today online with George. He asked Steven Hill, the well-known Columbus attorney (at least to those of us who read Voorhees Information Law Alert); Carl Oppedahl, a leading critic of InterNic’s domain name dispute policy; and me to serve as his legal team.
By the end of the day, Oppedahl, as I expected, dropped out; he’s a high-priced attorney who’s involved in the big E-Data Systems patent cases.
George is getting very stressed out, and as someone who’s had national publicity, I thought I was in a good position to advise him.
I understand the narcotic effects of media exposure: it’s incredibly seductive and exhilarating, and yet at the same time it leaves you enervated and feeling possessed – but still you crave more.
Anyway, George is doing his first TV show interview tomorrow. I gave him Andrei Codrescu’s e-mail, which he later thanked me for because Andrei will try to do one of his NPR commentaries on the george jr. name dispute.
Newsweek hits the stands on Monday, and on their home pages, several people have posted (via George) the letter that George magazine’s attorney sent him.
Naturally, I agreed to talk to any media anytime, anywhere, as George’s lawyer, and I’m refreshing my memory on InterNIC domain name disputes.
I also told George to remember that unless you’re a murderer or already famous, there were two rules to this publicity game: (1) nothing ever gets as big as you imagined it will, and (2) you can always just not answer the phone when it rings. When everything seems to be getting out of hand, you can control it by simply not cooperating with the media.
Anyway, last night I slept desperately well, with a long dream that had a plot as intricate as a decade on a TV soap opera.
It rained all day, and I was grateful for the chance to relax.
After buying groceries, I read the Seventh Circuit decision in the Nabozny case, which said that a gay man could sue his former high school in a Section 1983 action when administrators failed to stop harassment and beatings by other students because of his sexual orientation. (I e-mailed Jamie, now 19, my congratulations.)
Online, I discovered that Steve Kowit had won first prize for his poem “A Trick” in the Atlantic Review’s Olympics writing competition.
And late this afternoon, I listened to a lot of jazz on the radio.
In the meantime George had responded to my latest e-mail by asking me to call him immediately. He was overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mails from people who knew about the upcoming story in Newsweek. The magazine will print photos of the sites side-by-side in their Periscope section.
“This is something you’re used to,” he said, “not me.”
I told George that I actually knew quite a bit about trademark infringement when it came to Web domain names. (They want him to give up georgejr.com.)
He forwarded me the letter from the Manhattan attorney Lawrence Shire in his reply, and I gave him a trademark infringement primer.
Outraged Netizens, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow – George didn’t know how famous he is – are e-mailing both George (offering support) and the magazine (attacking its position).
I expect that John F. Kennedy Jr. and his co-publishers assumed that George Myers Jr. was some ignorant little guy, not a newspaper editor, and they are going to regret the publicity.
But in the end, it probably won’t hurt them, and it will be great for George’s webzine. Selfishly, I wish my story and Christy’s were still up at george jr., but Richard Kostelanetz is up there now, and he deserves the web hits.
Naturally, Christy and I went back and forth on this all day.
Tuesday, August 6, 1996
7 PM. I continue to have sinus problems and dizziness.
Last night I couldn’t get to sleep until after 4 AM, and I woke up less than two hours later. Perhaps all the decongestant medicine I took kept me awake.
I took less of it today. Mom told me to go to the health food store and by the supplement cat’s claw (uña de gato) which she claims helps her sinus trouble. We’ll see if it works for me.
Late yesterday afternoon I got a call from the New York Times Letters to the Editor Department.
So at 6 AM today, I went on Nexis and found my letter, “Bilingual American Serve Global Markets,” which I wrote and e-mailed on Friday in reaction to the House passing the divisive, mean-spirited and unnecessary English as the Official Language bill.
I relied on a University of Miami study by Professor Sandra Fradd showing that few Hispanic high school graduates in Dade County are literate and fluid enough in Spanish to fill the jobs in South Florida’s important trade with Latin America.
The Times has published every letter I’ve written to them recently, identifying me as a staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibility.
From this came a ten-minute phone interview at 5:30 PM with WJNO-AM in West Palm Beach with liberal talk-show host Jack Cole.
Mom and Dad were able to hear it because I told them ahead of time to tune in to AM 1230. They said I was excellent.
Before I did the interview, I asked George why he’s so weirded out by publicity after getting his name in the newspapers several times this week. (For example, the george jr. story made the gossip column in today’s Boston Globe.)
George said he left hard news and got into features because it allows him to spotlight people he admires – but while he’s happily promoted others, George has never promoted himself, and he’s very uncomfortable doing so.
Speaking of newspapers, Libby sent me a photo of Lindsay on the high beams from last Thursday’s Los Angeles Daily News. It illustrated a front-page story “Atlanta Olympics spurs girl’s dream.”
Lindsay, 8, practices gymnastics as much as five hours a day, five days a week. Libby was quoted in the article. Obviously, she and Grant are not pushy parents; this obsession seems to be something Lindsay picked up on her own.
Libby also enclosed other photos of Lindsay and Wyatt.
I was pretty useless at work today, but with Russ and Jon in Tallahassee, I had the office to myself.
I sat next to Ellen at her farewell lunch at Chili’s this afternoon. Ellen’s closing is on Thursday and she leaves for Houston on Friday.
We gave her a card and chipped in for a J.C. Penney gift certificate Liz bought after she returned from her niece’s wedding in Maine.
Everyone knows I’ll be leaving at the end of the year, and I’m not certain I want a farewell party, but I know they’ll try to have one.
I got e-mail today from Ronna, Alice and Kevin but didn’t have time to answer any of them. It’s frustrating that I can’t e-mail Kevin at all in response to his messages.
Right now I feel exhausted. Surely I have to sleep better tonight. I want to get under the covers right now, but I know that’s counterproductive.
Today I finally got a copy of the published book of Shade so I could read the afterword by Samuel R. Delany and the Randall Keenan story, which appeared in the galleys as TK. (At first, I didn’t realize that meant “to come.”)
Friday, August 9, 1996
9 PM. Despite the doctor’s warning that the medication might cause insomnia, I actually slept very well last night and I felt better today – perhaps a little tired is all.
But I can feel my sinuses starting to open up, and I was less dizzy. Still, some of my morning exercises were still difficult when I had to lie with my head back, as with abdominal crunches, or to the side, as with leg lifts.
I went to work today even though I stayed in the office only till about 2:30 PM.
Russ bragged – in the form of complaining – that he and Jon had been in the office till 1 AM last night, and today Jon kept calling him from his car even as he drove down to Fort Lauderdale with Beth for a weekend cruise.
But basically the office was quiet, and I could do as I pleased.
Before work, I went to the NationsBank ATM, where I deposited the $21 check from Tom Whalen. He’d sent it from New Orleans, telling me to mail a signed copy of I Survived Caracas Traffic, but I’d already sent it out last weekend.
Tom asked for help on how to sell the 200 copies of Roitheimer’s Universe that he needs to, either because he promised the publisher or because he needs to earn his investment back. I’ll probably phone him over the weekend with some ideas.
This evening I got an e-mail from Brad in New Orleans, telling me about his long trip to Europe, which was wonderful. He had a great time in Germany and Italy and described his adventures with the skill of a real writer.
My other e-mail today was mostly from George and his lawyer Steve Hill.
I think George is getting far too obsessed with this. More than once he sent me the same message someone had sent him, and he seems to think that Steve and I need to be informed of every new burst of publicity.
By the end of the day George learned, via a reporter from the Washington Post, which will run a story in Thursday’s Internet column, that the George magazine lawyers plan to fight him to protect their trademark.
After that, he sent out an urgent message. He seemed panicked that he might be getting “legal paperwork” by Monday.
I seriously doubt that suing George Myers Jr. is the magazine’s highest priority and that they would rush to do it on a Friday afternoon in August, a time when most Manhattan publishing people are at their beach houses.
I also got an e-mail from Ronna, who complimented me on my New York Times letter.
Ronna’s going to be staying on indefinitely as a part-time worker in Hadassah’s programming department, which is a relief to her. She’ll work mostly at home in Pennsylvania and go to the office in Manhattan every once in a while.
Ronna, Matthew and Chelsea will be in Florida from September 13-21. I was going to suggest I could go down to Orlando that weekend, but that’s Rosh Hashona.
Maybe I could take a day off during the week – although of course by then I’ll be teaching at Nova in Ocala on Wednesdays.
This month is one of the four each year that Matthew is on call, so he rarely sleeps and is not at home very often.
Chelsea likes to be read bedtime stories. Sometimes she’ll pretend to “read” a book while Ronna is reading aloud from another book.
“Life in the parent lane – it’s good,” Ronna wrote.
This evening I started thinking about the TV shows I used to watch as a little kid; I’m talking about what were among the earliest TV shows there were back in the early and mid-1950s.
Everyone knows The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, etc., but I can remember some more obscure shows fondly.
Early in the morning I used to watch Gale Storm and Charles Farrell in My Little Margie, about widower Vern Albright, who worked for the investment bankers Honeywell & Todd, and his headstrong daughter, her ne’er-do-well boyfriend, the father’s lady friend, their elderly neighbor Mrs. Odets, and the black elevator operator played by Willie Best.
Another early morning show I also liked was The Stu Erwin Show. Willie Best was in this, too, and the little girl on this sitcom, Sheila James, is now California Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, a lesbian activist.
Amos ’n Andy is a show I’m rather ashamed to admit I found hysterically funny, mostly because of the antics of Tim Moore as Kingfish.
The absurdist in me was also delighted that despite the show’s title, the episodes I watched were mostly about the schemes of Kingfish and his disapproving wife Sapphire, and that the two titular characters were often unseen or very minor players.
Yes, the show was obviously racist, but I also remember seeing black lawyers, doctors, police officers and businesspeople: middle-class black citizens who were nowhere else on TV and seemed no more buffoonish than Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on The Honeymooners.
Other shows I remember from early childhood are another Gale Storm series, the cruise-ship sitcom Oh! Susanna! (with ZaSu Pitts); Beulah (another show with a black lead character, though the actors, black and white, were constantly changing – only later did I learn that they kept quitting over the racist scripts); Westerns with Gabby Hayes; Art Linkletter’s House Party (where kids said the darndest things); Queen for a Day (a sob-story competition that I performed at home with me as host judging Mom, Grandma Ethel and Bubbe Ita, lining them up and having them wear towels around their necks in place of mink stoles); and the game shows Beat the Clock and Concentration.
All that doesn’t even mention the shows that were actually for children, like Chuck McCann and Officer Joe Bolton’s cartoons on WPIX/Channel 11 and Sandy Becker and the Sunday morning Wonderama on WNEW/Channel 5.
Later on in childhood, I’d graduate to the anarchic Soupy Sales, who was the early 1960s equivalent of Howard Stern for kids. And as Paul Fericano knows, nobody could beat the classic Three Stooges.