A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1996

by Richard Grayson

Friday, November 1, 1996

8 PM. The rest of the evening I’m going to review the material for tomorrow’s Nova class.

At our meeting on Tuesday, everyone agreed that this group of students is by far the weakest Nova cluster. Out of the nine students in The Individual and Society, there are three or four who are really deficient in skills, and two guys still have not handed in the first paper.

Up today at 6 AM, I felt so energized that I went out – it was warm enough for me to wear shorts – and did a bunch of errands.

First I went to the outdoor stamp machine at the post office to get quarters, as I had given all mine away to the trick-or-treaters. Then I used my new Capital One credit card to buy gas, some sundries at Walmart and a couple of items at Publix.

I dropped off my rent check in the mail slot of the apartment complex’s office before returning home to exercise, shower and get dressed.

I was at work before 9 AM. Liz stuck her head in my office to ask a question about how to handle students who couldn’t attend her make-up classes in Poverty Law, and Jon popped in to ask me to write a memo calling for a meeting advisers following the election with Lieutenant Governor MacKay and his policy.

Jon said we need some uninterrupted time figuring out what Buddy’s positions are on the major policy issues that will figure in his 1998 campaign.

Russ came into my office to hide out from that obnoxious student who was pestering me about the fellowships and is now pestering him about something else, and we chatted for half an hour. He and Jon are upset over the lies in the sugar industry’s anti-Amendment 4 commercials and newspaper ads.

By the end of the day Jon had found an obscure statute that prohibits “corruptly influencing voters” in a campaign and got Lawson Lamar, the State Attorney in Orange County, to send the sugar industry’s PAC a threatening letter, one that Save Our Everglades will use to direct media attention to Big Sugar’s lies.

Shreeram called and we agreed to divide up the topics for the New Jersey Online Web Guide. He said he’d fax me the list with what he wanted me to take, because our memos didn’t jibe. Unfortunately, his wife had to use the fax at her office this afternoon, so I never got it.

Shreeram said the search for decent websites was very time-consuming, as he had to make his way through a lot of junk.

However, as I worked today I realized that with access to Lexis and Westlaw, I’ll have an easier time. I can search, as I have been, for sites already recommended by newspaper columnists or net guides. That way I won’t have to do a much more inefficient search on Lycos, Web Crawler or Alta Vista the way Shreeram is doing.

Everyone in the office, including me, got letters from the Florida Retirement System that calculated how many years of creditable service we have. I have 5.28 years and at that rate I wouldn’t get vested for another 4.72 years. Actually, I think they underestimated undercounted my time at Broward Community College, but who knows?

I discovered that Susan’s editors at New Jersey Online have published my quiz on the Politics page. They called it Mudfest ’96, and I used Cari’s computer to print out the test as well as the answers to it. The website calculated how many other surfers answered the question the way I did and what percentage that was.

My quiz looks pretty sharp. Of course, I’m not credited, and I guess I need to contact Jennifer about payment; I assume that I will get $100 for it.

I emailed Ronna, just one of the many people I owe responses to. She had said that she was looking forward to today because Matthew is no longer “on service at the hospital and working like a dog.”

For the first time in her life, Ronna says, she appreciates Standard Time, making it light out at 6:30 AM for her drives to the station to get the train for the long ride to Manhattan.

Monday, November 4, 1996

8 PM. For the second night in a row, I slept wonderfully even though I had a heating pad on my back. The area that went out of whack is the lower left side, where I’ve had the same problem several times.

Somewhere I read yesterday that age 45 is when a man’s body begins to deteriorate, but I also know that there are lots of compensations for growing older. Perhaps that’s because I finished Seligman’s Learned Optimism last evening.

Up at 6 AM, I listened to the news on NPR as I had breakfast and then got on Delphi and Lexis. I’ll be glad not to look at any more polls. My election eve prediction is that Clinton will get 48% of the popular vote, Dole 41%, Perot 10%: not a landslide except perhaps in the Electoral College.

I see the Republicans actually gaining three or four Senate seats and losing fewer than ten House seats. In other words, nothing much will change in Washington.

Tomorrow will probably be the high point of Clinton’s popularity – he’s lucked out in his timing – and his second term will find him an unpopular President in the midst of scandals (much of which still won’t be clear to most Americans), foreign policy crises, and a recession that will be here by 1998.

I do remember feeling so relieved when Clinton won in 1992, but even back then I never expected that he could be reelected.

Luckily, the Republicans screwed up, first with their overreaching and missteps in Congress, and then by nominating Bob Dole, a terrible candidate in a party which has many attractive figures who chose not to run.

I got to work before 9 AM and found that Tucker wanted to talk to me. He’s looking for a job, and he got a letter from CUNY Law School at Queens College inviting him to apply for a teaching position in environmental law, a joint appointment with the political science department at Queens.

For about an hour, I gave him the lowdown on CUNY, Queens College, the innovative law school, the borough of Queens, the neighborhood of Flushing and the ecology of Long Island.

It would be a great opportunity for Tucker, but a real change for him. Still, I was sort of surprised that he’d be job-hunting, but it makes sense, as he’s now got an LL.M. and could get paid a lot more if he were a law professor.

Although Tucker surely gets paid more than I do, he has to support four people on his salary.

At 1:30 PM, I went with Liz to the loan forgiveness committee meeting chaired by Nina Smith. Trish Varnes isn’t an expert writer, and Shirley’s only a bit better, so of course they were the ones to draft the proposal, and a lot of it made no sense.

I also get the feeling that we were again bringing up issues that we spent hours and hours thrashing out at meetings last spring.

The new manager at Sundowne left a message that he needed to know this week if I was staying in my apartment or not, so I told him that I would be vacating the place when my lease expires on December 31. Later I wrote a letter to that effect.

That makes it seem real, although I haven’t really accepted it. Actually, even if I count this week, I’ve got only eight weeks left at work – and there are four holidays, and I need to take off five or six days.

The New Jersey Online project will keep me so busy, however, I won’t have time until December to plan for my post-Gainesville life. In the afternoon I spent two hours looking at the websites I got from Star-Ledger articles.

This evening I tried to write annotations for the 15-20 sites I looked at with my text-only browser, but I became tired after half an hour. Maybe if I have insomnia tonight, I’ll get over to the computer and start writing again from my notes.

With 500 annotations, I’ll need to do about 20 a day to finish by the end of the month. As Susan said, it’s going to be very intense, but it’s also a very good introduction for me to many sites on the Net today.

I looked at a list of speed traps that included ones I know well (like Waldo and the one near my parents’ home, for example), a site that contained film scripts (I looked at Pulp Fiction and Heathers), a guide to country inns, and a database that could be searched for college scholarships that match the user’s qualifications.

Home at 5 PM, I read the parts of today’s New York Times I hadn’t already looked at, and I listened to and watched election eve news coverage.

This morning it was 50° when I went out, but it’s supposed to warm up by midweek.

I wonder if Rick will be pissed off that I sent him articles from the latest issues of the magazine Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis.

I think it’s very important when you’re diagnosed with a disease to obtain all the information you can and to get in touch with people who’ve gone through what you’re now going through, people who can empathize with you and reassure you that passive victimhood isn’t helpful.

Of course Sally is devastated now, but at some point she’ll get over that and realize that even though she has M.S., she has to get on with her life.

Thursday, November 7, 1996

8 PM. I’ve just been working on the New Jersey Online Web Guide project. Basically, I’ve been “cheating” by downloading information from web reviews in major newspapers and magazines on Lexis and putting it into a word processing file, using the categories I’ve been assigned.

I finally did get the fax from Shreeram today, and his list matched what I’ve been doing except I hadn’t realized the document needed to be formatted into columns.

God knows how difficult this must be for Shreeram to do without the access I have to search engines for print publications. Anyway, I’ve got about 200 sites listed, and I need 500.

On Lexis, I was able to find ten Bruce Springsteen sites easily, of course. Using “HTTP!” with the universal character at the end on Lexis or Westlaw, I’m assured of finding websites when I do my searches.

Alta Vista, Yahoo!, Web Crawler, Lycos, etc., are much more problematic, because they’re not as discriminating. This confirms my opinion that print publications are still more authoritative.

For example, the American Journalism Review article on web journalism noted that the New York Times excerpts less than 3% of the letters it gets for publication, which makes me feel pretty good about having five letters published there in the past couple of years.

But any idiot can post to the New York Times websites and forums – and the level of discourse there is quite low.

Even if few people bought I Survived Caracas Traffic, the reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Book Review and even American Book Review give the book legitimacy that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

That’s also true of little magazines printing my stories: I know that an editor, a stranger, has had to accept them. I like having gatekeepers.

Anyway, I got to work after 9 AM today and left after 4:30 PM. I’m definitely going to miss the rituals of going to an office, from greeting people in the morning to knowing what I’m going to do at a particular time.

Even when I’m hardly “working” (at least on CGR business, like today), I think I’d rather be in my office than sitting around at home. Of course, I could probably get used to more free time if I had a more active social life.

Teresa told me that on Election Day she realized she had to go to Fire Island to vote, but since the day was sunny with mild temperatures, it turned out to be a pleasant trip for her and Paul.

They’re supposed to go to contract on their house next week after they accepted an offer much lower than they wanted. However, if this goes through, they can move to the Locust Valley house in mid-January. “I’ve learned to be financially conservative about real estate,” Teresa said.

Jeffrey Knapp e-mailed that if he’d known that I was running for Congress, he could have gotten me many more votes than the eight write-in votes that I did get against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Oh well.

I read a New York Times editorial titled “Booming Brooklyn.” Today the Atlantic Center opens near that long-vacant LIRR Terminal site on Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.

Like Butler Plaza across the street from me here, it’s a shopping complex with “big box” superstores. Not far away, a new Marriott Hotel is being put up across from MetroTech on Jay Street.

Given the renaissance of downtown Brooklyn, I hope that LIU is now doing better since its campus is right in the heart of the neighborhood.

Jon said he’d called Buddy MacKay’s office to get some dates when we could go to Tallahassee to meet with him and his aides.

While I’m a bit leery of getting involved in this, my curiosity is such that I’d like to see MacKay and learn what he wants and expects from his 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

Mary Barley held a press conference yesterday to say that despite the defeat of the sugar tax amendment, they’re going to try to use the passage of the amendment requiring polluters to pay for Everglades cleanup to get the money out of the sugar industry. I guess Jon and Russ – or someone else – will be heading back into court.

Next Wednesday, I agreed to discuss the Florida Bar Foundation Fellowship program on a panel with Shirley from Career Services. (Liz is teaching her Poverty Law class at that hour.)

Liz was amused when I, like Joe, asked what I should bring to that OutLaw potluck dinner tomorrow evening. “Just go to Publix,” she said. “You don’t have to make anything.”

Friday, November 8, 1996

10 PM. I just got in from the OutLaw potluck dinner at Blaine’s house. It’s going to be a cold night, as the weather has definitely changed.

After attending a social event like the one just did, ordinarily I’d say something like “I talk too much about myself” or “Nobody ever thinks I’m attractive” or “So-and-so doesn’t seem to like me.”

But since I read Learned Optimism, I realize these statements are personal, pervasive and permanent, and I can dispute them in my mind.

For example, I don’t always talk too much about myself, and I’m sure nobody tonight thought I did because I can’t really recall a specific instance when I was doing that.

Or: This was a friendly party, not a bar, and I myself didn’t really find anyone else attractive either, and if someone had found me attractive, I might not realize it any more than other people realize it when I find them attractive.

Or: Maybe so-and-so was bored and distracted, and anyway, I can’t offer any specific evidence that showed he doesn’t like me.

Liz and Joe were there, as were Marty and Don Peters, and Tom, whom I know from the Computer Law Association and who is straight and one of Blaine’s roommates.

Also there were Charles Pouncy and Diane – whose last name escapes me – the law professor. Jeez, I guess this kind of block always happened to me, but now I attribute it to memory lapses caused by getting older.

The same thing happened when I was leaving work this afternoon and couldn’t remember where I had parked my car. This doesn’t really worry me, because it’s short-term memory, and I know my long-term memory is incredibly sharp.

I do feel I don’t get out enough; I’d like to socialize more, and I hope to do that in the future.

Last night I watched ABC’s Turning Point, which profiled four gay and lesbian weddings. It’s funny: I can remember fantasizing about a wedding when I’d come home from a date with Ronna when we were in college. But for the past 24 years or so, I’ve never once thought about being the groom at a wedding.

Yet after watching two men (or two women) stand under a chuppah in tuxedos and break the wineglass by stepping on it and then kiss at the conclusion of the ceremony, I wonder.

I don’t think it’s out of the question that I could one day be in a long-term relationship, but my track record is basically nonexistent.

It’s not that I’ve been in any bad relationships with other guys; I just haven’t been in any long-term relationships.

Part of that has been that I simply haven’t wanted to be in one, and I’m not sure that’s changed.

Well, we shall see. Perhaps as I get older, I’ll feel more like “settling down” – in terms of living in one place, keeping one job or career, and wanting to live with someone the rest of my life. Right now I still treasure my solitude, and it doesn’t seem oppressive.

I got to work at 9 AM and spent a lot of the day doing New Jersey Online work: grabbing the names of websites off Lexis and putting them into categories. I guess I’ll feel better if I have the sites down first and look at them later.

Some of the Web browsing, I’ll do over the weekend – though the law school server is going down for maintenance tomorrow.

I e-mailed Rick, Ronna and Pete – and Pete wrote back that he’s going to India tomorrow. He also seemed surprised that I’m going to move to South Florida, even though I’ve been telling him for months I was planning that.

Well, perhaps there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe it yet, either. I told Brian Burns that I was leaving the law school, and he said, “Bummer for us, but I guess it’s good for you.” That was nice to hear.

At work today, Jon gave me an issue of The New Democrat, the Democratic Leadership Council magazine, with a cover story on charter schools. I saw one of the authors was Chester Finn, the Reagan-era DOE official who’s very right-wing, and my instinct is to disdain the charter schools idea.

It’s not as bad as vouchers, but my hunch is it’s just another fad that probably won’t help the educational system.

When I saw Deshaun at the party, I asked him as a former teacher what he thought of charter schools, and he said it was probably going to create a two-tier system, as in the days of de jure segregation.

As usual, Deshaun was beautifully dressed: black turtleneck under a black sport jacket. I noticed he’s shorter than I am, and I always find that attractive in a guy. But since I’ve never detected any interest in me other than as a friend or colleague, I’ve stopped thinking of Deshaun as somebody I’d like to go to bed with. Well, maybe.

Kevin e-mailed me before I left the office. This morning he missed his bus, which wouldn’t stop as he ran for it, so he was an hour late and got chewed out at the office by some supervisor.

Kevin’s been seeing this guy Paul, who’s very secretive. Anyway, Paul’s father is visiting him in L.A., and when Kevin called, the father answered and said there’s no one named Paul at that number.

So Kevin figures the guy lied about his first name. You might expect someone would lie about a last name, but a first name? They’ve had great sex, though, Kevin said.

Perhaps I was too judgmental in my reply, saying I’d had dealings with guys like that and I can no longer handle it. That’s why I won’t call anyone on the Matchmaker phone system anymore, especially after I saw that guy Zeke – if that was his name, which I doubt.

This afternoon Laura asked me to take a phone call from an Orlando Sentinel reporter who’d wanted to talk to Jon about ethics and the election, and I tried to answer some of his questions. Although I’ll look for the article, I don’t expect to be quoted in it.

Yes, I love seeing my name in the newspaper, but I also know what a vain and shallow thing that feeling is.

Before the party, I felt distressed because size 31 pants – including the pair I bought at Belk Lindsey – no longer seem to fit me. I need a 32-inch waist. While I don’t seem to have gained much weight, my middle is noticeably thicker.

That also, I’m afraid, is part of getting older; it’s the fate of all mammals who reach a certain age. I felt quite good when Tom said, “Guys our age…” tonight and it turned out that Tom is only 31.

I can’t be harsh on myself for getting thicker at the waist. I’ll continue to watch my diet, maybe cut down on calorie intake (the only thing I ate at the party was Diet Pepsi, although they had plenty of food I like) and do the best I can.

Hey, tomorrow’s the Veterans Day holiday, so it’s the start of a long weekend.