A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Friday, January 10, 1997

7:30 PM. I brought out the space heater and it’s on now, as it’s expected to be colder tonight. Today it didn’t get above 53°, and tomorrow it should be in the 40°s all day.

I’m concerned about tomorrow’s long day of teaching and about car problems, given the long drive to Ocala. I took my car to Jiffy Lube this afternoon to get my oil changed and whatever else they could sucker me into.

The reason I don’t get my oil changed as regularly as I should is my hatred of those place’s hard-sell tactics. As the other customers there said, most of us have no idea if the car really needs a new air filter or a radiator flush or whatever.

I figured I couldn’t get out of there for much less than $100 and I was right. Let’s just hope they didn’t make anything worse.

I read all the historical stuff from the American Lit text this afternoon, and the UPS guy told me that the package for me from Nova has been in the Sundowne office all week.

The revised official course outline is even worse than the previous one, with very little reading and the same awful two big papers, including the research paper on Billy Budd. I can’t do any worse than that even if I’m giving the students more work.

I’m anxious, of course, about how well I’m going to sleep tonight, but I don’t want to be so concerned that I create insomnia-inducing performance activity.

I did sleep well last night, and I exercised for an extra half-hour today. It was good not to go into work. I’ll deal with Liz’s e-mail on Monday; it looks as if we may have money for only eight Fellows.

Last evening I got to SFCC-Downtown at 7 PM in a pouring chilly rain. Craig, Abby, Tim, Bob and Joe Antonelli – I think he’ll finally remember me now – were the only other board members to attend.

The meeting lasted nearly two hours, focusing mostly on Craig’s well-planned timeline for the year, with the idea to do everything one can to get the Gainesville City Commission to add sexual orientation to their antidiscrimination ordinance by fall.

There were a lot of announcements, and I found myself nominated, along with about twenty other people, to serve on the planning committee for the city gay rights ordinance.

Craig wants us to be prepared and to be able to avoid being thrown off-balance by the force of the expected opposition.

Given that I’ll be gone from Gainesville by late spring, I won’t be around for the action. I’m probably relieved, as this kind of activity is like pulling teeth.

Speaking of which, I awoke with a dull toothache – the result of grinding my teeth, no doubt. Well, if I’m not tensing my neck and shoulder muscles while I sleep, I guess I’m clenching my teeth.

Saturday, January 11, 1997

8 PM. I fell asleep before 11 PM last night and woke up just before 6 AM.

I lay in bed in the darkness for a while before getting up to have my mixed cereals (whole wheat, multi-grain and kasha) with my usual cup of nonfat milk and my sliced banana.

I left the house by 7:40 AM, when it was already light enough so that I didn’t need to put on my headlights.

But the temperature was just 32°, so I wore gloves and my heaviest jacket over a corduroy shirt over my black KGB Bar t-shirt.

My car took a while to start going over 55 on the Interstate with its 70 mph speed limit, but the Chrysler gave me no trouble. I-75 between here and Ocala now has several miles fewer of construction.

My Nova students did not know I was going to be their teacher, and some of them applauded when I entered the classroom.

It was good to see them again; three or four have dropped out, but I remembered everyone’s name, and I had warm feelings toward them from last year.

They didn’t have the textbook yet, so there was no problem with the course outline, and after going over the housekeeping stuff, I lectured for about an hour on the history of American literature from the colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century.

I also played a tape of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters, along with a narrative about her life, and we broke at just after 11 AM.

The drive back in daylight was, of course, much easier than the same route in darkness, though there were a lot of Gator fans – I could tell by the pennants on their cars – on their way to the noon celebration of the national championship at Florida Field.

I listened to the ceremonies myself on radio as I ate lunch at home.

At City College at 1:20 PM, I said hi to some of my old students in the other Nova cluster – Dave, John, Glenn – and met my new class.

They are a good bunch: under 20 students, a nice mixture of whites and blacks, Northerners and Southerners, men and women. I got the impression that their level is higher than the other Gainesville group.

With this group, I had to introduce myself, of course, and ask them to introduce themselves.

My lecture, after I dealt with the housekeeping stuff, was shorter, and we listened to the tape of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” which they could follow along in their books, since they had them.

(Phil had shown up before class. In Ocala, Roseann was in the office, but she’ll be leaving both Webster College and Nova Southeastern University soon for another job, and so far, she hasn’t been replaced.)

The class was so enthusiastic about “Bartleby” that I could barely get them to stop talking. I was quite pleased about that, and I think this is going to be an enjoyable semester. I plan to do fun things with both classes.

My throat is sore from talking so much, and it didn’t help that I had to shout over the noisy heater in the Ocala classroom, or that I had to talk with the heat on altogether.

By 4:45 PM, I was home, ready to relax and eat an early dinner. I watched the news on ABC – the weather has been just awful in the West and Midwest, so I guess we in North Florida have to consider ourselves lucky – and read the Saturday New York Times.

I filled out a survey of VCCA Fellows for the Virginia Center’s search committee for a new director.

Apparently, Bill Smart is not there anymore, and I guess that means he retired or was pushed out by the board, which will have meetings with VCCA Fellows in Charlottesville, D.C. and New York.

David Del Tredici is heading an advisory committee of Fellows.

I have some pleasant charley horse in my back, triceps and chest from yesterday’s exercises, and my dental pain has faded.

I think I’m going to answer some ads on The Matchmaker, even though I’ve never met anyone from that service with whom I was able to relate. Still, that’s probably my fault, as I hook up with guys who aren’t appropriate for me.

I’m a total idiot when it comes to intimate relationships, but at this point I’d just like to meet a guy I could go out to the movies or to dinner with.

I know that I sound every bit as neurotic as people I know who are unable to sustain relationships: people like Crad, who complains about the unfriendly women of Toronto, and Elihu, who really isn’t sure he wants a relationship at all. I guess it’s sad and funny how blind I am to my own brand of mishigass.

Anyway, I’ll be really busy this week, what with all the interviews of Public Interest Law Fellowship applicants.

Monday, January 13, 1997

7 PM. Tomorrow I’ve got to interview nine students applying for the Fellowships. All morning they were coming in and giving Helen their applications.

I did such a good job of publicizing the Fellowships that 26 people applied – ten more than last year.

And it appears the competition will be tougher because we can have only eight Fellows this year rather than the usual ten.

Liz and Laura forgot about a memo they got back in June saying the state would no longer pick up the FICA taxes for students being paid by CGR. So now we have to use the money to pay the FICA for this year’s Fellows as well as next year’s.

Liz is writing Vernetta at the Florida Bar Foundation, but I doubt we’ll be granted extra money. Had we known, of course, Liz could have added that into the grant. But CGR always seems to screw up.

It appears that Vice President Holbrooke’s committee met last Friday and said there was no money allocated for the genome project.

A week ago, I faxed stuff over to Bill, who said he was under a deadline of that afternoon to get something to Holbrooke, which I assumed he did.

Today Jon and Linda asked me to call Bill to find out what happened. I left a message for him on his voicemail and haven’t heard back.

The other CGR screw-up involves Common Ground – just when Jon is e-mailing me about talking to Holbrooke about the status of UF’s funding for the TV series.

It seems that WPBT-TV paid us without first getting their money from the South Florida Water Management District.

The station’s Dave Mullins called Joann, saying that the District wants to know where the results of the survey of students and teachers is, and apparently, they’re not going to release the WPBT’s money until they get it.

I had just followed Joann’s instructions on sending the final receivables. To her, it seemed obvious that we couldn’t really do a proper survey of students and teachers.

I’d wondered why the $10,000 came back to us so quickly when I knew I hadn’t really sent everything expected.

I told Joann I would be totally occupied with interviews all week, and she seemed glad about that because if we tell Jon right away, he’ll only be more gung-ho about us going into the schools.

Oh well – in precisely 11 weeks I will no longer be a CGR employee, so I can’t let myself get too upset.

I’ve felt sick all day, but if I get worse, I’ll just do the best I can. It’s a real pain to have to wear a suit and tie, especially when it’s so cold outside that I’ll be freezing without a heavy jacket.

All right, Richie, relax. As I said before why should I get myself upset? I’ll be long gone when next year’s Fellows are in place.

Liz feels better, but she was still sick yesterday. She told me she became ill the day after she got to Mexico on Christmas, and she was sick with this enervating virus the whole time.

She and Eric couldn’t do any hiking, but at least she finally got to see her son. He travels by freight train, and he said, “I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t like traveling by freight train.”

Sure, I’d just love to spread a hammock between two cars or lie in the narrow spaces of a filthy container compartment.

I got to work at 8:30 AM after a pretty good night’s sleep. Leora Tanenbaum e-mailed me, Lucy Komisar and others that the Salon story in PEN will be out tomorrow, but my big surprise was that the drug testing column I wrote appeared in yesterday’s Tampa Tribune.

I knew I should have looked at it, although since it appeared in the Metro section, I’m not sure it was in the edition we get in Gainesville.

On my lunch hour, I went to the downtown, Tower Road and Millhopper public libraries but none had the paper, so I ordered a copy by mail from the Tampa Tribune’s back issue department.

In the mail I got my Nova contracts to sign and return and a Christmas card from Evan and Susan, who’s gone back to work for a group of local newspapers in Brooklyn. She enclosed a photo of Jeremy and Tracy with Santa Claus.

Home at 4:30 PM, I exercised again because I probably won’t get a chance tomorrow, either because I’ll be too busy or too sick to work out then.

Well, it’s stressful for me, but I’m the one selecting, not the one being judged; on the other hand, the applicants have to sit through only one interview, and I’ve got more than 25.

Tomorrow our interviews run straight from 8:30 AM till 10:30 AM and then from 1:30 PM till 4:30 PM. At least we stop for the hours around Liz’s Family Law class.

I did manage to read all 26 of the Fellowship applications, and as usual, I was impressed with all the community activities and work on behalf of the poor that many of these students do.

Tuesday, January 14, 1997

8 PM. Last night I dozed off quickly while listening to the first of eight tapes of the audiobook of Armistead Maupin’s Further Tales of the City.

But I soon woke up and lay sleepless till nearly 2 AM. At least it seemed to me that I was sleepless, although I’m willing to accept that insomniacs like me have trouble distinguishing light sleep from wakefulness. Then I slept nicely, but I was up at 6 AM.

A good thing, too, because by 8:15 AM, the law school parking lot was mostly filled. Today, as I expected, was a hectic, somewhat stressful day.

We had eight interviews, going straight from 8:30 AM till 10:30 AM and then from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM and from 3 PM till 4 PM. (I was grateful for the one person in-between who called to postpone his time till tomorrow.)

The hardest part is having to repeat the same information again and again – such as the requirements of the Fellowship, the specifics of each placement, the way we’ll notify everyone if they’ve been accepted – and even asking the same questions over and over. (“How has law school met or not met your expectations?” “If you could be doing anything with your law degree in five years, what would it be?”)

This is the third year I’ve done this with Liz, and while I do very much enjoy meeting students and getting to know them, there were too many interviews at one time for me to think as clearly as I’d like.

Still, Liz and I are usually pretty much in sync regarding our views of the applicants, and we can quickly agree on the definite no’s – like my former research assistant Matt, who showed little evidence of interest in helping the poor or volunteering in the community. (I actually think he’ll end up doing something other than practice law.)

Of today’s eight, I’d say we had one definite contender and three possibilities.

The candidates tend to be either for only the environmental position or for all the others except the environmental ones. With only eight slots, I’d prefer that we fill just one of the possible two environmental law Fellowships.

Tomorrow we’re going to be almost as busy as today, with seven interviews, and then six on Thursday, and five on Friday (all in the afternoon that day). Thus, we’ll be finished interviewing by Friday.

Liz is going to e-mail the faculty references of all applicants who had them, and I’ve got to begin telephoning references for the six or seven who didn’t list any law professors.

Unfortunately, Jon saw me and asked me to write a letter in Dean Matasar’s name to all the AAU public law schools asking them how much outside grant money each school is getting.

Jon’s only goal, of course, is just to make UF look good.

It’s the same type of survey that Jon had me ask of law school public policy institutes, to show how much better CGR is than comparable centers at other schools.

Also, Jon has become even more obsessive about the genome project and he’s desperately trying to get me another meeting with Vice President Holbrooke.

While Bill did get his stuff to her on time, he said that the “Opportunity Committee” (yes, that’s the name of this mysterious group) won’t meet till January 28.

I’m totally disgusted and figure that if Jon is so interested, let him talk to Holbrooke.

When he asked if I got his e-mail on the status of Common Ground, I didn’t want to tell him about the problems. So I just said that Joann had spoken with Dave Mullins of WBPT and told him to talk to her about it.

Mike Murphy of the Orlando Sentinel called – he still remembered my piece about the kid at the movies from a year ago – but I told him that the Tampa Tribune printed my column and I’d send him something else for “My Word” when I felt passionate about an issue.

But Mike had actually called to tell me that somehow my piece had gotten lost in the newsroom over the past three weeks.

Friday, January 17, 1997

Liz said she’s never felt more misanthropic. How many times can you listen to a person tell you how much they want to serve their fellow human beings and fight for the underdog or how much they wanted to give back to the community?

We had four women today (three black, one white), and three of them have an excellent chance to be selected Fellows.

There was also a white guy from Miami (via Long Island) who had no public service but said he identified with the underdog because he’s so short.

(He was maybe an inch shorter than I am, for God’s sake, although Liz did say afterwards that he seemed tiny compared to me.)

Anyway, we’re going to have a hard time selecting our eight Fellows; nearly twice that number would all be fine, I think. I don’t have strong feelings about anyone, so on Tuesday I’ll probably defer to Liz, although I’ll look over my files this weekend.

I am proud of the fact that we give the same amount of time and say exactly the same things to every applicant regarding the basics – even to the ones who obviously have no chance.

Another reason I’ll defer to Liz is that she’s the one who has to live with them next year. So I don’t expect to fight for anyone, though I think we should not end up with eight black women.

I don’t mind if the majority of the Fellows are black women, as they were two years ago, because that’s a fair representation of the applicant pool.

Besides, white males – and whites in general – tend to dominate law review, moot court, trial team, etc., so it’s nice that African-Americans can predominate someplace.

While it’s impossible to separate out race – unlike what all those conservatives calling for a color-blind society believe – the women, and the black women in particular, tend to impress me more than do the white men.

As one interviewee noted, Nancy Dowd in her first Employment Discrimination class discussed how people tend to discount the privileges offered the white male, the able-bodied, the Anglo, the heterosexual, etc.

In a New York Times story today about an education report card of the states (naturally, Florida came off pretty badly), the report’s editor noted that critics said it was unfair to compare California to North Dakota because the former state’s “demographic problems” make comparisons difficult.

I e-mailed a letter to the editor asking if the “demographic problems” were that the majority of schoolchildren in California who are not white.

Well, I’ll get off my high horse now.

Last night I listened to the Maupin book on tape again, and when I slept, I slept well – but I didn’t sleep enough.

In a dream I was very distraught because Jonathan had died, and I said I would do anything if only he were alive again.

That made me realize how much I take my family for granted. Although I’m not that close to either of my brothers, I can never see losing contact with Marc or Jonathan.

Unless Marc one day has kids or step-kids, it’s unlikely that the three of us will have any family except each other when our parents are gone.

It felt like a luxury to exercise at 8 AM today and not get to the office until 9 AM.

My full pay came in today’s check – and with the annual raise, I’m netting $947 and change, about $22 more than my biweekly net paycheck last year.

Of course, before I leave, I’m getting only five more paychecks – plus the equivalent of three more checks for my accrued annual leave.

Alice e-mailed that Just the Weigh You Are is obviously going to be her most popular book. It was selected by three book clubs, she was interviewed for Newsweek, and she’s going on a three-city tour of Atlanta, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

After I’d e-mailed that journalism student, Stacy Bailey, my own memos on the White Paper and some articles, and she said thanks, that I’d given her more than enough information for her article.

Although I didn’t see Jon today, I managed to find time to draft a letter for Dean Matasar surveying the AAU law schools about their outside grants.

Now I need to unwind.

Although I have a lot to do on this three-day weekend and I still haven’t read half today’s New York Times, I think I’m going to get under my quilt now and try to stay warm, snuggly and inert.

As I predicted, once Netanyahu agreed with the Palestinians about a pullout from Hebron, the fanatic religious nationalist settlers are calling him a “traitor,” as they did Rabin.