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

by Richard Grayson

Friday, September 13, 1996

9 PM. It’s Rosh Hashona, although there’s no sign of it anywhere in my apartment. That’s one reason it may be good for me to see Ronna and her family on Sunday, so that I can be with other Jewish people.

Not that I believe in the religion or want to attend synagogue any more than I ever did, but it’s easy to avoid any formal observance in New York City, where you know it’s a holiday every time you walk out in the street.

Even in the car culture of South Florida, I was aware that the High Holy Days were taking place.

In contrast, here in Gainesville, and especially since I left law school, where I had Jewish classmates, I feel so isolated.

My Jewishness, for the first time in my life, makes me exotic, and it’s also made me see that being Jewish is an important part of who I am.

Last evening I got all excited after reading a fascinating interview in Wired with Walter Wriston, the retired head of Citicorp, in which he discussed the future of money.

It reminded me of my interest in the subject a decade ago and how I still like to keep up with whatever is happening with banking and the economy as the industrial age ends.

I read Lexis for a bit, and I discovered in Dean Matasar’s Marquis Who’s Who bio (mine is in there, too) that he was born exactly a year after me, on June 4, 1952. What an odd coincidence.

When I got to work this morning, the Haitian project people were already in the conference room for their all-day session.

Joann made some suggestions on my concept paper for the genomics center and Linda gave me some other revisions, so I got to work, and by the end of the morning I sent out the draft to Bill and Shelly Shuster.

I was fascinated by what I could hear from the conference room, as some guy was giving the participants the most basic information about Haiti.

During their break, I couldn’t resist stopping by and saying “Sak pase?” to the couple of Haitians among all the white Americans in the room.

Naturally, they talked back to me in Creole (“N’ap boule”), and I understood a little of it, and then I explained that I’m from “Brooklyn, New York” and that I know about Church Avenue, djon-djon, rara music and Boukman Eksperyans, and about Little Haiti in Miami and Spring Valley in Rockland County.

Growing up in Brooklyn, and not just because we had Gisele in our house, I learned about Haitian culture almost without realizing it.

At Brooklyn College I had Haitian classmates and I had Haitian students at LIU and CUNY as well as at Broward Community College and during my teacher training in Miami.

I have a lot of respect for Haitian culture, and it irks me that a white supremacist like Russ is going to be involved in going to that country, as Americans have always done, to tell them how to become democratic.

Oh well, I’ll come off my righteous high horse now.

At 11:30 AM, I went with Liz to Room 297 (The Pit) to hear Sharon Rush talk on “Diversity: The Red Herring of Equal Protection” as she discussed the subject to a big turnout of faculty.

As always, it was interesting for me to hear not only Sharon, but Jeff Davis, Ken Nunn, Rick Matasar, D.T. Smith (“Are you for quotas?”), Juan Perea, Pedro Malavet and the other faculty.

Betty Taylor sat next to me and said something quite courageous: that she never dealt with her own racism until she became the grandmother of children whose father is black.

How do we integrate society? If diversity is no longer a legal rationale – if it ever was – how can we include everyone without it being a zero-sum game? I understand that so many white men like me have a sense of entitlement we’re not even aware of.

I got a Happy New Year e-mail for my junior high school friend Jerry, and after I left a message for Kevin, he e-mailed me, spelling the name of the holiday correctly, which impressed me even though it’s not my preferred spelling.

George Myers said that the attorney George Walker Jr. “stiffed” him over the bill (the e-mail subject line was “$6,000.00!”); he must be quite upset but said that Steve Hill will stay on with the case.

No, I didn’t work on the Common Ground project today but instead made up my assignments for next Wednesday’s Nova class in Ocala.

Sunday, September 15, 1996

11 PM. I’m in Beatrice’s house in Orlando, in her bedroom, while she’s going to try to get Chelsea to sleep with her in the great room. Billy and Ronna are occupying the bedrooms on the other side of the house.

Last night Ronna had called during their dinner, which lasted very late, and told me not to bother to try to come so early that I could meet Matthew, as he already had a ride to the airport. So I didn’t leave Gainesville till 10 AM after I’d managed to read the news and Week in Review sections of the Sunday Times.

Picking up the rental car at the airport was easy. I got a Dodge Neon, and I’m so used to I-75 from my Ocala commutes and Orlando trips that the two-hour drive passed quickly.

Eating at the nearby Wendy’s before I got here, I arrived at 1 PM. Ronna and Chelsea answered the door.

Chelsea is an adorable bright child with a mop of blonde hair. She’s going to be three in a month, and after only a moment’s hesitation, was telling me “come see the fire” in her sing-along Disney video. By tonight Chelsea and I were old playmates.

Although she stayed up late last night and only had a short nap while I’ve been here, Chelsea and I were playing games until just a little while ago.

I can see that she must run Matthew and Ronna ragged, as she has so much energy. She’s very verbal and doesn’t talk baby talk and she can get this really intelligent look on her face.

When I got here, Beatrice, Billy, Melissa, Ronna and Taffy were having lunch. (Taffy is the daughter of Valerie and Alan, who was the first cousin of Uncle Richard and someone I knew slightly at college as part of the APO crowd.)

I brought Beatrice a picture frame so she could put up yet another photograph of her grandchildren.

Billy and Melissa recently moved into their house in Shenandoah in western Davie, and Melissa works at American Heritage School. Billy said the FAU campus in Davie is growing fast, and his counseling center is keeping him busy; he teaches part-time as well.

Ronna said they’d left the airport before Matthew’s delayed flight took off. Every year he goes to this convention of infectious disease specialists and he’s also a program director there, so last year they all went to San Francisco and Seattle.

Aunt Roberta came by after school, and it was good to see her. She told me about her three grandchildren, Essie’s kids, and I picked up on a lot of family stuff.

I go back 25 years with Ronna’s family, and I really do know her relatives, as I do Teresa’s relatives, better than I know my own.

After Roberta left, Valerie, who had sat with her in temple all morning, stopped by with her mother and her mother-in-law Ida for more talk and food before they left with Taffy, who’s 13 and strikingly pretty.

I watched Disney’s sing-along videos with Chelsea and we played with various objects; my showing her a flashlight turned out to be a good idea, for it amused her for 45 minutes in a series of games.

When Ronna got up from her own nap, Chelsea enlisted her as a fellow “mean guy” who chased me and flashed the light upon me.

At 5 PM, Melissa had to drive back to Broward. Billy is staying on all week; tomorrow he’s going to visit friends in Gainesville.

Sue, Robert and their son are coming from California on Wednesday, and they all plan to visit South Florida relatives and take the kids to Disney World before Matthew, Ronna and Chelsea go back to Philadelphia on Saturday.

I had not realized before that it was Sue’s meeting “the most adorable baby” at a Philadelphia party that Matthew had brought her to that led to Ronna meeting Matthew and becoming Chelsea’s mother.

It doesn’t surprise me at all to see what a good mother Ronna is although she said Chelsea has an agreeable disposition and is very polite.

Tonight, as Chelsea and I were playing when we went out to the park, Ronna told me that I was as good with kids as I always said I was.

Of course, Chelsea is easy – but then I’ve known a lot of little kids I’ve had rapport with, like Libby and Alden’s Lindsay and Scott and M.J.’s Brianna, going back to Teresa’s niece Heidi when she was four or five.

I’m great with children as long as I don’t have to be with them forever.

Beatrice had an enormous amount of food in the house, and I ate a little of everything: I had brisket, chicken soup with kneidlach, turnip salad, kasha with bowties, Roberta’s vegetarian “chopped liver” and other food I had been tasted in ages.

It’s good to be away from Gainesville.

Monday, September 16, 1996

9 PM. It’s been a long day. I’m tired and I have so much to do, but my two days away in Orlando were well worth it.

Like my weeklong visit to New York for Teresa’s wedding, the time I spent with Ronna’s family was intense because I was with them for such extended periods of time. I feel caught up on Disney’s animated films, as I watched Pocahontas with Chelsea this morning.

I know Chelsea’s expression “What’s your count?” – to which the proper reply is a number. (She learned this at preschool, where one teacher comes in and asks the other, “What’s your count?” and then writes down the number of students – as Chelsea “does” – on a pad.)

This morning, when Ronna and her mother were discussing how thin she has become (she looks terrific), Ronna said of Matthew: “It’s nice to be going out with someone who weighs more than I do.”

“Um, Ronna, you’re not ‘going out’ with him,” I said, and Beatrice said, “He’s got you there.”

I slept well, if sporadically, on the pull-out bed. Beatrice keeps it really cold, and I needed several blankets, although that was a pleasant way to sleep.

Billy came into this room around 6 AM to take a very long shower – but hey, he’s entitled to take as long as he wants in the shower. He drove to Gainesville to see his friend Rachel at 8 AM.

(Last night I told Chelsea, “the first time I saw your Uncle Billy, he was drinking juice out of a bottle, too.” And I think that’s exactly why I enjoy Ronna’s family so much: I have this long standing connection with them.)

One pleasure of being 45 that I never anticipated was the joy of knowing friends and their families for 20, 25 or 30 years. My parents are not people like Ronna’s family or Teresa’s, who gather others around them in a community.

For example, look how close Taffy is to Beatrice is. The 12-year-old was going on a Bahamas cruise with her parents and when three people go, another person can go for free; the girl chose “Aunt Beatrice” over her friends and grandmother even though Beatrice is just her father’s cousin’s widow’s sister.

By late morning today I became quite queasy and felt like vomiting – but it was probably just the result of being inside for 24 hours, being tired of all the intense playing with Chelsea, and the combination of a drastic change in eating and drinking habits that led to my being dehydrated and a bit hypoglycemic.

At her mother’s insistence, Ronna and I went off by ourselves while she and Chelsea took a nap, and Beatrice’s suggestion of Disney Village Marketplace in Lake Buena Vista was a good one.

We ate at the newly-opened Rainforest Cafe, where there was rain (complete with lightning and thunder every twenty minutes), tropical foliage, and noisy, lifelike robotic gorillas, elephants and lions all around us in a huge jungle-like space.

Although I was feeling very nauseous, once I ate my garden burger and the two cokes (not diet sodas) I ordered, I soon felt much better.

At one of the Disney themes stores afterward, Ronna bought some gifts for neighbors and co-workers: stuff like Goofy-shaped pasta and ice cube trays that would make ice cubes in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. (Disney must have trademarked that shape.)

Ronna and I strolled around, looking through the Disney stores and at the statues and real live ducks (not Huey, Dewey and Louie) at the lake. Then we went to Publix because Ronna needed to use the ATM and buy some items – like soap for Chelsea to take a bath tonight – before returning home.

When we got home, we had to awaken Beatrice and Chelsea to let us in the house because Ronna didn’t have a key.

After staying another hour to play with Chelsea and chat with Ronna and Beatrice, I hugged all of them and left at 4 PM, just as thunderstorms brewed.

Still, the ride back to Gainesville was okay. I listened to All Things Considered – it goes on at 4 PM in Orlando – and let my mind wander.

Home at 6 PM, I had just sat down to eat when Liz called at 6:20 PM, saying that an emergency had cropped up and she couldn’t make the Fellows’ meeting.

They were all outside waiting for someone to let them into the CGR office when I rushed over there ten minutes later.

As the Fellows kicked around ideas for the symposium, I used the conference room computer to catch up on my e-mail and Lexis, offering the Fellows a suggestion or comment from time to time.

At 7:45 PM, when the meeting ended, I walked over to the lockbox and got my New York Times – I had no time to read it today – and then drove to the airport to return the rental car to the same Hertz clerk who’d been there Sunday morning. (I’d gotten $1.13-a-gallon gas in Ocala.)

Now I’m really tired.

Tuesday, September 17, 1996

9:30 PM. For the last couple of hours, I’ve been trying to read not only today’s New York Times but yesterday’s and Sundays as well.

Up at 6 AM as usual, I got to the law school well before 9 AM and walked over to the main campus for my Advanced WordPerfect for Windows class at Turlington Hall’s Faculty Support Center.

I’m rarely as happy as I am when I learn a new skill, and this class showed me how to format paragraphs, create bullets, outlines and tables of contents.

Not everything the teacher did went perfectly, but from my own experience as a computer trainer, I know that’s inevitable, and this guy was pretty cool about it.

He was definitely gay, and although he was a bit thin on top of his head and a bit thick in the middle and was the worst dresser I’ve seen in a long time, I found him attractive.

Probably it’s that vulnerable quality I first saw in people as different as Ronna and Sean. I can sniff out others’ vulnerability and find it an aphrodisiac, probably because it means they’re less threatening and less likely to hurt me.

Ah, an insight.

Liz canceled her Poverty Law class today, and I asked Helen if this emergency was about Becky; she nodded and said Liz had called in after midnight and Becky was back at the Crisis Center, so I’m afraid she might be suicidal again.

Liz has an interview with the Three Rivers Legal Services board the day after tomorrow, so this crisis is coming just at the wrong time if she wanted to appear with a clear mind. I wonder if this problem will even make Liz decide not to seek a legal services job.

Joann came into my office to bother me several times about the genome project paper because Jon is going to Tallahassee tomorrow afternoon and won’t be back at CGR until after he meets with Vice President Holbrooke on Friday morning.

Apparently, Jon already had spoken to Holbrooke at his open house on Saturday and she seems interested.

Rick Peabody asked me to tell him if his new idea is stupid. Rick needs income badly, and he can’t keep doing adjunct work; Sally wants him to take a full-time job.

So he met with a young high-tech millionaire who was interested in helping him revive Gargoyle. She will provide the capital and have some say (which bothers Rick) in the operation – and she wants the magazine to be online.

“No offense,” he told her, “but I’m a paper-and-ink guy.”

As an alternative to her capital, Rick figures that Gargoyle, a literary magazine with a long history and good reputation, might be valuable to an MFA program without a litmag. He’d offer himself to them for a $35,000 salary – for which he’d edit the magazine, teach classes, whatever.

I replied that the idea didn’t seem stupid at all, though given the fatal combination of arrogance and stupidity that afflicts most MFA programs, I wonder if they’d see how valuable Rick could be to them.

Kevin replied to the e-mail I sent last evening. He told me he’s taking on more responsibilities at work and is anxious about it. Then he began to get really suggestive and sexy.

I sort of responded, but after talking on the phone like old friends, I had figured we’d gotten out of kissyface mode. However, I’m glad we haven’t because it still makes me feel good.

I caught up with Lexis and other stuff at the office today although I knew I wouldn’t touch the Common Ground project.

I think today was Laura’s surgery because she was out, and I didn’t see too many people at the office – which was fine with me.

At this point, I don’t really see Russ any more often than I do Jeff or Tom or Richard – and so I have less conversation but more privacy and freedom.

Tonight I printed out the assignment for the next out-of-class paper for Argumentative Writing. I’ve taken it straight from the text.

Tomorrow evening I plan to teach for only about an hour, and then I will let them write their in-class paper for the rest of the session.

Mom called tonight, and I told her all about my weekend in Orlando. She said that China and one of the rabbits had been ill although they now seem to be recovering after getting medication from the vet.