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

by Richard Grayson

 Thursday, October 10, 1996

7 PM. Well, I made it to Ocala and back last evening – just in time to watch the Vice-Presidential debate, in fact.

The last students finished writing their final essays at about 8:15 PM. Many of them shook my hand as they left, telling me that they enjoyed my class and would like to have me as a teacher again.

All in all, I’m glad I changed my mind and took the Ocala class – especially now that it’s over. I haven’t gotten the final grade sheet from Nova yet, but I did grade the final in-class writing, and generally they seemed quite good. Either I helped them to write better or I’m fooling myself into believing I did some good.

The Kemp/Gore debate was fairly boring except to a political junkie like me. Kemp is an interesting Republican in that he talks about poor people in the inner city even if he thinks unleashing unfettered capitalism is the answer to their problems.

Dole is obviously going to have to start getting personal and nasty with Clinton because his poll numbers have hardly stirred so far. But I don’t even know if people are paying attention. The angry mood of the 1992 and 1994 electorate seems to have been transformed by prosperity-Prozac or just outrage-fatigue.

I slept a bit, but not enough, and all day my left lower gums, near my wisdom tooth, have been sore and inflamed; it hurts right now.

My taping of Body Electric at 6 AM and Homestretch at 11:30 AM has been going well, and I’ll have a shelf of all-new exercise tapes to keep me from getting bored with the same old ones.

I got to work at 9 AM. On e-mail, I finally re-sent the message that Christy didn’t get when she had computer trouble. She’s still not on this planet; typically, she told me that she’s voting for Ralph Nader. (I wrote back that he’s not on the Florida ballot.)

After I told that guy Morris Moses in Miami about my background as a Democrat, he wrote, “You’ve got my vote!” But he wanted to know why I’m a write-in candidate for Congress against Ros-Lehtinen rather than on the ballot. I told him the truth: I can’t afford the exorbitant fee.

Ronna e-mailed that the advice she gave me about dealing with my parents was nothing, but she’s glad I appreciated it.

She expressed frustration that on the days she’s home with Chelsea, it’s difficult for her to provide the kind of enrichment and activities that Chelsea gets in pre-school. “I don’t know how stay-at-home mothers do that every day,” Ronna wrote.

I bought a 101 Dalmatians card for Chelsea’s third birthday next week. (When Ronna said that her brother would be exactly three times Chelsea’s age on their shared birthday, I pointed out that she meant ten times: Billy is going to be 30 next week, not 93 years old.)

Pete’s message bore the subject line “Not Guilty!” and he wrote, “Call me Dr. Cherches.” I congratulated him, and then asked, “Doctor, can you tell me why it hurts when I do this?” He replied that I needed to theorize more about it before he could say.

Tom wrote from Stuttgart that he’s enjoying his final year abroad. He and Annette had a relaxing trip to Dresden, and now she’s preparing for her history exams in November and he’s teaching and not writing much.

Roithaimer’s Universe – I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read it yet – sold fewer than half the copies of the earlier book, and like me with Avisson Press, Tom’s too embarrassed to contact his publisher after such poor sales.

After that and a recent discouraging rejection from a little magazine, Tom said he’ll never do another small press book again and that he’s not going to submit to little mags as much as he used to. And he doesn’t want to write any criticism this year.

He said that Crad Kilodney seems calmer about the stock market. Crad, Tom reported, lives modestly off his investments and inheritance, and “he beat us both into retirement.” Retirement? I feel as if I only recently started working.

Friday, October 11, 1996

9 PM. Last evening I read about half of the special centennial issue of The New York Times Book Review featuring reviews of some of the most important books of the twentieth century.

Reading those reviews made me want to go back and re-read Mrs. Dalloway, The Souls of Black Folk, Sons and Lovers, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, etc.

And it also made me want to read books I know only from reading synopses or criticism or seeing TV or film versions: stuff like The Magic Mountain, Light in August, The Berlin Stories, A Passage to India.

I realize that at 45, saturated as I am with reading material, it’s hard to imagine finding the time to read those books. Who was it who said, “Read the best books first, because you may not get the chance later on”? At least I’m grateful that I was such an avid reader as a teenager and young adult.

I remember the hundreds of paperback books I bought: the British classics published by Bantam with their uniform, italicized titles on their spines; the midlist novels (though I would have never used the term then, of course); my psychology books – I read a lot of Freud when I started seeing a psychiatrist at 15; Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s breathtaking The Medium is the Massage, whose graphic design blew my mind; the uniform editions of the works of Steinbeck; the paperback collections of early Mad comic parodies (“Superduperman,” “Batboy and Rubin”) that I loved when I was 13 and 14; books from TV shows like The Twilight Zone and novelizations of movies like Dr. Strangelove (which I remember buying at the newly-renamed Kennedy Airport when going with my parents to pick up or see off a relative who was flying).

These were all “mass market” paperbacks like the Pocket Books with their gold spines and the kangaroo logo. Today I surf the Internet.

Still, I’ve had two of my books reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, so as tiny as it is, I’ve played my part in their hundred-year history, and I’m proud of that.

After a night in which I’d dreamed about seeing Libby and Mikey in different settings, I got up at 6 AM to exercise while I was taping Body Electric. Today was the start of Homecoming Weekend, so things felt lots more casual than usual, even for a Friday.

I spoke to Dad, who apparently got a reprieve from being laid off. Ron Davis, the boss, called to explain that a computer system error had mistakenly told them that salesmen owed so much on their samples that they couldn’t send them their salary draws.

They said they would FedEx Dad’s check and send out a small line of samples for summer, so small that they weren’t going to have a sales meeting. So Dad realizes that while he still has the job for now, the company won’t be around for long.

The whole apparel business has never recovered from the last recession; Dad said his only customers who are doing well rely on the business of Latin American and European visitors to Florida.

Dad said this was the coolest morning they’d experienced in South Florida since early spring; here in Gainesville it was only 54° when I left the apartment at 8 AM.

At work, I graded the out-of-class Argumentative Writing papers from Nova, and this evening I assigned final grades, so all I need is the class roster to come in the mail.

Linda Baldwin asked me about my plans for South Florida after I leave my staff attorney position at CGR, but I just rambled, not knowing what to say. I have started surfing the Net to see if I can find sites that might give me a clue about job-hunting or whatever.

As I was looking over the mail at the front desk, I heard Laura tell Linda how annoyed she was with Helen and Cari, who had gone out to watch the parade. Apparently neither of them are very efficient, and Laura seems like she’d like to get rid of Helen especially.

Of course, I always feel guilty because I don’t work all that hard in my job, but then I’m not in the position of a secretary.

I was delighted when a Lake Butler teacher called today to ask if I could send him my Schoolyear 2000 legal memoranda for a graduate paper he’s writing, if only because it gave me something to do.

My gums are still sore, but less so today.

I plan to stay away from UF tomorrow; it will be the first Saturday in a while that I’m not teaching or doing duty at the CGR office. I hope I can catch up with some stuff now that I don’t have to go to Ocala on Wednesday evenings to teach anymore.

Thursday, October 17, 1996

4 PM. In last night’s debate, Dole did attack Clinton on his ethics fairly consistently, but the President didn’t respond, and in the end, nothing changed. The “town hall” format of the meeting worked against the kind of direct attack Dole’s advisers wanted him to take up.

Two of the twenty San Diegans questioned the candidates on gay rights – one was a gay Jewish guy, the other a lesbian MCC minister – and Clinton said he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Dole said he was against discrimination but opposed giving “special rights.”

Clinton didn’t want to say much more, however, and both of them used the rest of the time to talk about the economy or “whatever,” as Dole would say. I stayed up to watch the spin and analysis, so I slept only five hours.

This morning, Jon drove Joann and me to Grinter Hall for our meeting with Vice President Holbrooke.

It turned out that Bill thought we had postponed the meeting and never left his office, so it was up to me to present the Genome Sciences Center proposal and talk about stuff Bill had written, which included scientific and medical terms I don’t really understand. But Holbrooke understood them, and that was what mattered.

She liked the concept paper and told us what we need to do to it to make it acceptable for her to bring it to President Lombardi and his board. But we have to move fast, not only because this is a federal priority, but because the Genome Sciences Center is already being listed as an entity on the Women’s Health Conference scheduled for January 27-February 1.

Afterwards I told Bill that we all agreed that he will have to serve as the point man on this. It has to be a physician, not a lawyer, who’ll take the initiative and run with it.

Going from building to building in the rainstorm, I got soaking wet, but I didn’t work that hard the rest of the day, and I left the office at 3 PM.

Patrick said, sure, I could him as a reference if I needed one. Then he gave me the latest Broward Community College news: Greg has been read the riot act and he’s promised to shape up. The administration has begun advertising for a new English Department chair to replace Betty upon her retirement. And South Campus is searching for a new provost; President Holcombe apparently wants a Hispanic for the position.

Rick e-mailed late last night with bad news. Sally has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She’s being given heavy duty steroids for the next five days. “Gloom and doom doesn’t touch it,” Rick wrote.

Sally has decided to quit her job because the stress obviously aggravates her condition. Her family and friends are gathering round, and her parents wrote a check paying off Sally and Rick’s second mortgage.

Rick hasn’t slept in days, and he’s got the bookstore to worry about – Lucinda’s going out of town for six weeks – and teaching, and readings to do. I didn’t know how to reply, and I’m sure I did so ineptly. I don’t know much about M.S. and need to educate myself.

On Lexis, I found a quote by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen saying that she would have preferred to have a Democratic opponent in this election. She said the Democrats didn’t put up anyone because they were afraid her “reverse coattails” would help Dole. However, as I said in my June New York Times article, that argument is specious.

Friday, October 18, 1996

9 PM. Last night I read the latest issues of The Authors Guild Bulletin and Electronic Learning, and today at work, I did so much reading, on paper and onscreen, that I needed to bring my reading glasses into the office after lunch.

I woke up at 6 AM after a night of interesting dreams. I dreamed about visiting Josh in New York City, staying at his apartment even while I was wary of continuing to be friends with him.

That reflects my indecision about whether to respond to that e-mail. On the one hand, I remember our long friendship; on the other, I remember how maddening I found his daily e-mail messages over the past year or so.

Before work, I went to the post office to pick up a certified letter, which turned out to be just some notice for candidates about the canvassing for the Metro-Dade Elections Board.

My write-in candidacy against Ros-Lehtinen attracted absolutely no notice from the South Florida press – mainly the Miami Herald. It’s very different from the response I got from the Tampa/St. Pete papers when I ran against Bilirakis as a write-in two years ago. But that’s show biz – er, politics . . . oh, same thing.

On Lexis, I saw a Publishers Weekly review of a new Zephyr Press book, an anthology of Ukrainian writing edited by Ed Hogan. When I sent a copy of the review to Ed, he asked me to look out for more reviews.

I also noticed an article in the Charleston, West Virginia, paper about a performance by Yiddishe Cup, Bert Stratton’s klezmer band. Apparently they’ve played all over Ohio and neighboring states and they even have an album called Klezmerized coming out.

Before I went home at noon, I drove to the downtown library to return books, videos and audiobooks. I managed to again borrow The Fountainhead so I can show it to my Nova students in The Individual and Society class in two weeks.

I don’t plan to prepare for tomorrow’s class until morning. It will be a shortened session, as the at-home game against Auburn game begins at 3:30 PM.

In the mail I got an invitation for me and a guest to a graduation dinner for a Nova cluster in two weeks – the same group I taught American Literature in the spring of 1995. Perhaps I’ll attend, but I’m not certain I’d feel comfortable there.

This afternoon at work I took a call from a Palm Beach Post reporter, Jennifer Peltz. Some local residents are complaining because their subdivision is platted as the “Colored” section (or “addition”) to a town, and she wanted to know if historic preservationists have also tried to preserve old place names even if they’re offensive.

Jennifer said she knew that last year the legislature passed a bill allowing counties to change the names of the subdivisions without re-surveying them.

Anyway, I got back to her after doing a lot of research in property records and news files on Lexis. By then, I had some good stories about how the U.S. Board of Geographic Place Names and state legislatures have eliminated racist or derogatory names of natural features like Squaw Lake, Nigs Lake, and even the Shithouse Mountains.

We talked again later, and I faxed her some of the material. Jen is a native of Manhattan, and she sounds like someone I could be friends with. Anyway, I was glad to be roused from my torpor to do all that research.

Tucker came in and asked me for ideas he could take to a meeting of the Technology Committee, so I thought about it and came up with some things the law school should be looking into, such as ergonomics, what we’re going to do with outmoded computers (I think they should be donated to schools), and a few other ideas.

Getting home at 5 PM after shopping at Albertsons, I got a call from Mom. She’s going to Walgreens tomorrow for a flu shot, but Dad stubbornly refuses to go. He’s getting impossible, Mom says, so much like a cranky old man that his attitude exasperates her.

I’ve been very anxious this last week. It’s like last May, when I thought I had two months left working at CGR: I have begun to think of various scenarios where I could stay on, just for a few months more. I’m comfortable here. Now I can see why few people have the courage to quit steady jobs.

The other day, Jon said to Bill, talking about someone else, “He shouldn’t quit his day job,” and that’s exactly what I’m doing, even though I’m not desperately unhappy working as a CGR staff attorney.

How foolish am I?

I think back to other wrenching changes in my life. Most of them were thrust upon me – like when my parents suddenly moved from Brooklyn to Florida in 1980 or when I didn’t get another year as a full-time temporary at Broward Community College and ended up staying in Manhattan at Teresa’s in the fall of 1984.

Or if the changes weren’t thrust upon me, I made the changes out of desperation because I felt I had no better alternative – like my leaving Rockaway for Davie in January 1981 or my coming to law school here in Gainesville in 1991.

I’ve never made this big of a change in my life when I’ve been this comfortable financially or professionally.

But I don’t like bargaining with myself.

When Liz didn’t get the job at Three Rivers Legal Services, I was disappointed for her, but also for myself – because if Liz had to leave CGR, I might have been able to use her departure as an honorable excuse to stay on.

Leaving Gainesville isn’t going to be easy. But I have to act now because it’s only going to become harder and harder as time goes on, and before I know it, I’ll be an old man in this small college town wondering how I ended up wasting my life.

So I’ll have to live with this turmoil for now. As Susan Jeffers says, feeling fear is not a good indicator of whether or not you should do something.