A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, January 21, 1997

7 PM. Liz and I met in her office this morning to select the fellowship recipients.

Although last night I dreamed that we each had a list of eight names, none of which matched, Liz and I pretty much agreed on seven of the eight, and I let her convince me about one of the white guys, who worked in homes for emotionally disturbed kids.

Helen got the acceptance and rejection letters ready, Liz and I signed them, and that’s that.

I know that some of the students who didn’t get a fellowship will be very disappointed, but I think the process was fair. In the end Liz had some questions about not accepting anyone for an environmental position, but only two people applied for those.

Our eight candidates turned out to be three black women, two white women, one (assumed) Hispanic woman, one black man and one white man – a decent ethnic and gender mix.

I’m sure there’ll be some talk that we were prejudiced in favor of one group or another, but that’s part of taking responsibility for choosing Fellows.

Jon gave me back the draft of the survey letter for Dean Matasar, which I revised and then gave to Helen on a diskette.

I spent a lot of the day working on my article about Rep. Rodriguez-Chomat’s proposal to have welfare recipients pay back their lottery winnings, but after I e-mailed it to the “My Word” section of the Orlando Sentinel, Mike Murphy called and said it was way over the 500-word length of the column.

So I asked him if I could cut it and resubmit it, and he said fine. I was a bit embarrassed, but the truth is that it’s probably a better piece for being cut.

All my writing has become longer since word processors came along. I write a lot in a short amount of time, and I probably don’t cut as much as I used to when I dreaded re-typing a piece of paper.

On the other hand, I revise a hell of a lot more. In life, I tend to be pretty talkative and that carries over into my writing – including my e-mail.

I took two calls from reporters. I couldn’t help one who was looking for a comment by a local Democratic party official about the case of the Martins, the Fort White couple who taped Newt Gingrich and his fellow Republicans – Gingrich was reprimanded by the House today – except to tell her that she should try talking to Helen Strain or Abby Goldsmith.

I did give a few quotes to a St. Pete Times reporter about the ethics of Largo Mayor Thomas Feaster giving city employees discount coupons for the services of his funeral home with their paychecks just six weeks before the next election. But who knows if she’ll use it?

Tom and Julie stopped by to visit Russ and me on their way back home to Pensacola from a visit to Tom’s parents in Melbourne.

Tom hasn’t passed the bar exam yet (he’s aiming to try again in July), and apparently Julie doesn’t intend to take the exam.

She was barefoot, and she and Tom look hippie-slovenly, but they’re cool people. (It does surprise me that they’re so tight with strait-laced Russ.)

Tom is working for a Pensacola lawyer as his clerk and “gets yelled at a lot” while Julie hangs out at the farmhouse they’re renting near the Alabama border, where she spends her days watching TV and listening to right-wing radio.

I hugged Julie hello and goodbye and took their e-mail and regular addresses before they left.

The computers were all down for one hour this morning, but as I left, the young pimply guy from computer services was about to “upgrade” me. Let’s hope the new computer is an improvement. Of course, I won’t be using it for long.

“Are you counting the days?” Diana, one of the Fellows, asked me, about my coming departure from my job at the law school.

Not really, of course – and I suspect it will come as a real shock when I do leave. But even my spring semester “activity report,” which I have to fill out, has the typed notation, “Appointment ends 3/31/97.”

I wrote and printed out the next Nova assignment today, and tonight I have to finish reading for this week’s class.

Bob Karp asked if I could make the United Church of Christ panel discussion on gay rights on either Sunday, February 22 or Sunday, March 2, from 11 AM to noon; I said that the later date was better.

I finally e-mailed Patrick, Pete and Kevin this afternoon. But I haven’t had voice contact with them or with Ronna since December, and I really owe all of them phone calls. But there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

I checked out some E-zines that publish fiction, but the stories I read were so amateurish that I certainly wouldn’t want to submit to them.

Saturday, January 25, 1997

9:30 PM. It’s been a very long day. I made it longer than it had to be by deciding to do my laundry and other chores starting at 8 PM.

While my clothes were in the washer and then the dryer, I shopped for groceries at Albertsons, took out the garbage and went to the NationsBank ATM to deposit the $100 check (double what I asked for – I’m some negotiator) from the Tampa Tribune that came in today’s mail.

As I was going out tonight, I did get to meet my law student neighbor, Jeff, the guy with the Clinton/Gore bumper sticker who told me about my piece in the Gainesville Sun.

He said he first saw me at last spring’s symposium on affirmative action. Jeff must be one of the rare liberal white males at the law school.

Awakened by heavy rain at 4:30 AM, I managed to fall back asleep, and when I got up at 6 AM, it was cloudy – well, it was actually pitch black at that hour. By the time I left the house at 7 AM, it was dark but it had stopped raining.

I got to Webster College in Ocala early; the only ones there were Roseanne, who wanted to introduce me to her successor as Nova coordinator, Jackie Almodovar, who brought the TV and VCR into the building and my classroom.

James Sullivan talked to me before class: His company is soon transferring him to Americus, Georgia, but I said he could finish the class with me via e-mail, the fax machine and some combination of the Internet and the post office.

I began teaching at 8:35 AM. Several people straggled in late; some of them work quite late at night in hospitals.

Three women told me that they haven’t been able to afford to get the text, so I said I’d xerox and mail them copies of the readings for the first two classes. I’ll also bring the spare text that I have.

We had a good session and lively discussions on both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and W.E.B. Du Bois’s essay on Booker T. Washington.

The students found Henry Adams very difficult, but I made certain they knew that I, too, struggle with the text and then went on to do my best to explain “The Dynamo and the Virgin.”

A lot of what I do in class is what one of the English professors at Kingsborough told me back in 1978 is our most important task: giving students cultural literacy.

Just explaining to them who Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and his grandson and namesake were, for example, allows them to get the pun in the name of the Cabot Lodge motel chain. (There’s one near my apartment.)

I showed the first half-hour and the last twenty minutes or so of the Merchant Ivory film of Henry James’s The Bostonians, and the class liked it. It does have a lot of familiar actors (Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Tandy, Linda Hunt, Wallace Shawn) and a fairly straightforward narrative.

When I left Ocala, it was raining hard. I drove back to Gainesville in a terrible storm: my visibility was poor and the spray in the wake of passing trucks made things worse.

Earlier, when I stopped at a Publix in Ocala before class, I became enraged by the headline in the St. Petersburg Times “Senator: Stop gay diver’s talk.”

The story just made me angrier. State Senator John Grant, head of the Education Committee, is threatening to cut funding for USF if the school doesn’t cancel a speech by Greg Louganis.

Grant is a right-wing homophobe, and he said it was inappropriate for student money to be used to “promote” homosexuality and claimed Louganis has low morals simply because of his orientation.

After I calmed myself, knowing how bad rage is for my health, I realized that I have something new to write about. As I wrote Teresa this evening, the GOP-controlled Florida legislature has become a never-ending source of material for me.

I’ll write my article about free speech and homosexuality in the universities and discuss the 1981 Bush-Trask amendment that the Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional as well as a similar Alabama law that a federal district judge overturned about a year ago.

I could write the piece for the Human Rights Council newsletter or try the Gainesville Sun in February. (The Sun won’t print columns by people unless more than a month has gone by since the last one.)

At least Betty Castor and USF aren’t backing down from their invitation to Greg Louganis. Certainly when we saw him at UF in 1995, he was greeted warmly by a very large crowd at the O’Connell Center.

Anyway, even though I had only an hour between the time I got home and my afternoon Nova class, I went on Lexis and downloaded cases and articles on the subject.

The afternoon class in Gainesville was, if anything, even better than the Ocala class. They are a fairly sharp group of people who really seem to enjoy discussing the readings in depth. I’m getting to know this group and I like them.

We ended up staying past 5 PM, later than I’ve ever kept a Saturday afternoon class. One student said I just kept going like the Energizer Bunny, but I could sense that they were not at all restless.

Although I’m tired and my throat is sore, I feel gratified after my teaching day.

Thursday, January 30, 1997

4 PM. I’m feeling kind of cranky this afternoon. I left work at 2:30 PM, after we had a birthday cake for Cari and Jon gave me the copies of the survey letters that Dean Matasar wrote using what I’d drafted for him.

I drove downtown to the public library and got some books and tapes on the poets I’ll be covering in my next Nova classes.

I also looked at some newspapers. The Sun already did an editorial on Senator Grant’s attack on Greg Louganis and USF. Like the St. Pete Times, they raised the specter of the “notorious” Johns Committee. My article takes a different tack.

Anyway, I e-mailed it to Craig and Bob, asking if they also wanted me to do a piece on Grant’s bill, which I found on Lexis, to bar Florida recognition of same-sex marriages in other states.

Last night I read a couple of articles in Wired and went to bed around 10 PM.

As usual, I woke up within a few minutes of 6 AM, breakfasted by 6:30 AM, got back into bed to lie with my eyes shut in the dark room while I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition.

I kept the radio on at 7:30 AM, when I exercised to a Body Electric tape with the TV sound muted. It’s easy to follow the on-screen exercises without hearing Margaret Richard’s talk.

Then I hopped in the shower and dressed in a (somewhat wrinkled) plum dress shirt and tie, dark green dress pants and my dress shoes: more formal than my usual work attire.

I felt I needed to do this because I planned to hear Professor Tom Cotter speak on droit moral at the faculty lounge at 11 AM. This was a lecture I wanted to attend even if nobody else from CGR – or even Legal Research and Writing or Legal Drafting – was going to be there.

Hell, not even any librarians showed up, so it was just me and those stuffy old law professors.

Professor Nunn held the door open for me, but even the faculty members who know who I am don’t make me – or any other non-professor – feel welcome or even just comfortable there.

Still, I probably know more about intellectual property and artists’ moral rights than most of them, so although I was nervous, I did ask Professor Cotter a question about his use of pragmatism to define moral rights.

I wanted to know if his viewpoint depended on the  postmodern view that the audience, along with the artist, creates the total aesthetic experience.

Cotter agreed and cited reader-response theory and some other critical notions.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating my discomfort when I go to the faculty lounge, but other CGR staff members have discussed it, and last week Tucker wouldn’t go to a session without me accompanying him there.

In any case, I’ll be gone from the law school in a couple of months. I’ve spent three academic years at UF Law as a student and nearly three more working there. That’s enough for now.

But it’s been a terrific learning experience, the best one of my life, and I’m so much different than I was six years ago – at least in terms of the knowledge I’ve accumulated and the kind of daily life I’ve lived.

Looking at my beard today, I feel dissatisfied with it. Everyone’s got a goatee these days, and the grey hairs are spreading upward from my chin, and I’d just like to see how I look clean-shaven for a while.

Perhaps I’ll grow my beard back, but it may look better for me to have no chin than to have a grey beard.

Ronna e-mailed that she and Matthew are trying to buy a house and that she’s still going to work for Hadassah in New York one day a week.

She didn’t mention her pregnancy at all except to say that the whole family is well. She only just set up her modem and CompuServe yesterday.

My W-2 from Nova came today; I earned $6,245 from the school last year, counting the money I probably shouldn’t have been paid.

When I came out of the library at 3:45 PM, the sun had come out and the skies were a bright blue; it looked like a totally different world.

I probably need to take a day off every week from now on since I have plenty of leave time  and don’t expect to take a trip to South Florida before I leave here for good in late April. When I get my paycheck tomorrow, I’ll have to see just how many days I can take off.

The O.J. Simpson civil trial for wrongful death has gone to the jury, which will probably find him liable. At least I think they should.

Friday, January 31, 1997

8 PM. This morning I awoke at 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and tinkered with my piece on university free speech and gay rights.

I put the new version in an envelope to the Ocala Star-Banner’s “Other Voices” section, identifying myself not as a CGR attorney but as an instructor at Nova’s Ocala cluster and a Human Rights Council board member.

I doubt the article will see print in either the Star-Banner or the Sun, but after my recent op-eds on student drug testing in the Tampa Tribune and welfare recipients in the Orlando Sentinel, I can’t complain.

For my next writing project, I’d better get down to that memo on charter schools for Buddy MacKay.

A poll that Mom clipped from the Herald and mailed to me has MacKay tied with Bush and swamping either Butterworth or Nelson in a Democratic primary. Surprisingly, MacKay runs very strongly in South Florida.

Yesterday I missed getting the Orlando Sentinel, which had a letter criticizing me as “the biggest hypocrite of all” (as well as someone agreeing with my column).

The guy said I exaggerated the hatred of welfare recipients, and then he distinguished them from worthy recipients of state aid like people collecting unemployment benefits, college students getting grants, and nursing home residents on Medicaid by saying these people were or will be taxpayers.

I probably shouldn’t have bothered to respond – and the Sentinel probably won’t print my reply – but I had to point out that workers pay no income taxes in the state of Florida, and when welfare recipients buy something, they pay the same sales taxes that a billionaire does.

It’s amazing how virulent the antipathy towards poor people is. The struggling middle class instead allies itself with the rich. Only in America.

At work I got a call from Matthew Flamm, a writer at the New York Daily News. He’s doing a piece on PEN, and Lucy Komisar gave him my number. Lucy was skewered in the Salon piece and the reporter had probably spoken only to PEN members who belittled her because he said that my comments were very different from what he’d heard.

Since I wanted to be quoted, I tried to give him provocative sound bites – including the one Leora Tanenbaum didn’t use about PEN’s troubles beginning when Norman Mailer was elected president at the early stages of his senility.

That’s very mean, but it definitely will get me noticed. Sort of an advertisement for myself. Anyway, who knows if I’ll be quoted at all?

Alice said she’ll send me the latest issue of the Richard Simmons Newsletter in which she’s the monthly “Cinderella” in photos for losing 17 pounds.

As a literary agent, Alice has signed her first novelist: a gay guy in Jackson, Mississippi, “who writes in the style of Jacqueline Susann.” You mean they called the way she wrote a style?

God, aren’t we bitchy today, Richie?

Ronna e-mailed again, saying she liked my op-ed pieces.

Even though I put in a new right contact lens, I was so uncomfortable the past couple of days that I wore my glasses to work when I returned to the law school after lunch.

I also shaved off everything but my mustache and a patch of beard on my chin – and of course the skin above it is like oatmeal, with little pimples forming all over the place.

Since I had no CGR work to do this afternoon, I signed up with an Internet matchmaking service in Tampa. It’s always fun to fill out questionnaires about oneself.

After spending at least twenty minutes trying to be honest, I asked for twenty matches – but of their selections, there wasn’t anyone I wanted to try to contact.

The computer matches people fairly well, but they don’t give greater weight for any particular categories – which is how I got matched with politically conservative smokers who want to live on a farm and hope to meet guys in their twenties.

My KeyBank Visa came today. It’s got a $1200 credit line, thanks to my $800 secured deposit. And I got my W-2 form from UF along with my paycheck.

It looks as if my regular check – at least for the next two months – will be $950.

I currently have nearly five annual leave days over my maximum of 30 and one sick day. That means I can take about eight or nine days off, about one day for each week I have left to work.

This weekend I’ve got to read and grade the Nova papers and start preparing next Saturday’s material.

Although it was cool today, tomorrow is supposed to be warmer. There were long lines all over the country as Star Wars opened; all three of Lucas’s trilogy of space operas will be released this winter, supposedly with computer-generated enhancements.

I didn’t see Star Wars when it first came out in 1977, and only saw the three films on TV. They at least had the virtue of relying more on story than on special effects – which is more than I can say for the Hollywood blockbusters I avoid these days.