A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, March 27, 1997
8 PM. I feel like I’m coming down with a really bad cold. Jon Mills has it, Joe Jackson has it, Sharon Proctor has it, and so do several of my Nova students.
Actually, it makes sense that I’d be ill just as I’m about leave my job at UF. Colds for me have always been like little deaths, or more accurately, mini-mourning periods, and I need to mourn now that I’m about to stop going to work at CGR after more than 2½ years.
Besides, I’ve been stressed out, so I’m probably much more vulnerable to germs. It isn’t really a bad time to be sick since I don’t have to teach this weekend at Nova and my job at CGR ends on Monday.
I got up at 6 AM and heard the news about the 39 cult members who committed suicide in San Diego. They were young people with a group that designed Web pages.
Dressed in a suit and tie, I arrived on campus at the law school at 9 AM and took some calls. Liz brought over Joe’s law review article on Romer v. Evans, which he wants me to read and comment on.
Arriving at Rosalie’s class at 10:20 AM, I saw Sharon and met two more recent grads, Roy, a rumpled solo practitioner, and Kayla, who works for AvMed, my HMO.
Rosalie got a note that she had to pick up her daughter at school because the girl was ill, so she left after introducing us, and Sharon went first, taking up most of the time before she had to leave for a hearing.
We were supposed to talk about how we use legal research in our jobs, but the questions to Sharon and Kayla were mostly about how they got their positions – which is understandable, I suppose, since the students are about to graduate and pretty nervous about their uncertain futures.
I talked for only ten minutes, and although I was funny, I got only one question: “What’s CGR?” Like, someone had gone to the law school here for three years and had no idea. They looked like a pretty boring group, actually.
I had to go directly from Rosalie’s class to the symposium. Only about sixty or seven audience members showed, so it was much smaller than last year’s symposium, but the Florida Bar Fellows did a wonderful job anyway.
I think people at our law school just aren’t interested in the plight of migrant workers.
Russ came in and sat next to me, and I could see that (of course) he mostly agreed with Scottie Butler of the Florida Farm Bureau rather than any of the advocated for the migrant workers, like the legal aid attorney or the union organizer.
And I do understand that the migrant workers’ lives would be miserable even if the agribusiness interests weren’t so greedy. But what was depressing was everyone’s acknowledgement that given the realpolitik of Florida, nothing is going to change for them.
The IFAS professor said migrant workers need education and training most of all, but then, if they can compete in the job market, who’s doing to replace them in the citrus groves and vegetable fields?
I had some good conversations at the reception afterwards. Barbara doesn’t have to start at Jacksonville Area Legal Services till August 1, and she’ll buy a car and commute from Gainesville. Her salary will be $25,000, not $24,000, and she’s relieved because she was able to come out during the interview and still get the job.
Marcia and Rhonda and Jill told me I’ll be missed at the law school.
After coming home to change – today was the warmest day it’s been – I returned to CGR. Laura told me that I’ll get the $450 in OPS money for doing the DOE memo, but it won’t come until I’m after the faculty payroll.
So I guess I won’t apply for unemployment benefits next week after all. Well, we’ll see how I feel, physically and psychologically.
I answered a few inquiries and revised the PICAP documents and finally went home at 4:30 PM. I was so tired that I practically fell asleep when I lay down for an hour.
Sean began his note, “Long time no e-mail,” and explained about being busy at work and then arranging Doug’s fortieth birthday party for about fifty friends last week.
Sean explained that he kept asking about my being married and having kids because he assumed I was bisexual and not gay. He mentioned “Howard Cosell’s daughter,” thinking she was a serious relationship in my past.
It was stupid, I know, but I wrote Sean back immediately: a long letter really opening up to him, telling him that yes, unlike him I’ve had no problems getting excited when I was with woman, but I said it’s uncool to say one is bi these days – at least among people I know.
I talked about my 70%/30% line (which is what I told Dr. Wouk decades ago was the percentage I felt gay versus straight), about my relationship with Ronna, about my telling Ronna about him, and how hard it was for me to let him go.
I explained that he was the first guy I “messed around with” (his term) and wondered why he has to keep me a secret from Doug. If all that doesn’t scare Sean off, I don’t think anything will.
But if Sean and I are going to be friends, I want to be honest. We weren’t honest with each other in 1982. Not that we lied, but we just left things unsaid.
I wasn’t trying to turn Sean off so he wouldn’t write back, but I’m too old and life is too short not to be honest with him now. I feel better having told him all that, finally.
Physically, I feel wretched – or I can at least imagine how I’m going to feel if the pesky tickle in my throat evolves into a lollapalooza of a cold.
Friday, March 28, 1997
7 PM. I’m exhausted. I slept only three or four hours last night. All evening I kept thinking about what I’d written to Sean, about how I was being so egotistical and not thinking about his point of view. I wondered why I humiliated myself by telling Sean how much I cared for him in the past.
I tried to stop thinking about him by finally sitting down and doing my income taxes. That took several hours, and I ended up having to make out a $352 check to the IRS. That’s a hunk of money, but on the other hand, I had a good year last year, and I can afford it right now.
I watched more about the mass suicide of the cult members (now known to be people of all ages, males and females) who believed they were going to a spaceship hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp.
This morning I went on Delphi, sure there wouldn’t be a message from Sean for a very long time yet hoping that there would be, and there was. He repeated that Doug is very jealous, that he couldn’t deal with the fact of my existence, that when they first moved to Tampa, “Doug went crazy and threw out people’s letters and stuff.” Sean buried my books in the backyard before Doug could find them, “and they’re still there today.”
Sean was very sweet and he apologized for flirting with me, but then said that “if you have a nude photo of yourself, I’d be very happy to get it.” I was overjoyed to find that Sean still cares for me, and I thought about him during the trauma of my penultimate day at work.
At the end of the day, I talked to Liz about it. Sean had said if we ever got together “in person,” it wouldn’t necessarily be sexual, and Liz said she thought my scruples about not doing that behind Doug’s back were probably good instincts.
Yet I was really excited, at home at 5:30 PM, I reread Sean’s message, which led me to masturbate and have this incredible orgasm.
Then, rational again, I began to think: Sean is not as innocent I remember him as when he was 18. If he would do stuff behind Doug’s back, I’m not sure why I should trust him. I fantasize about meeting Sean somewhere, but I’d end up getting hurt, and Doug would be upset if he ever found about it.
I know I’m very vulnerable now, and Sean probably senses that; the letter I sent yesterday had vulnerability written all over it. Sean may not be Machiavellian, but I’ve got to be wary of him.
Maybe he sensed my vulnerability back in 1982.
That was also sort of a transition time: in May 1982, I thought I’d be leaving my Sunrise apartment and my job at Broward Community College in six weeks, and I didn’t know what was coming next.
At this point in my life, I’m so lonely and so needy that I could easily be taken advantage of. Maybe I’ll see Sean someday when I feel more secure, but as much as I’m tempted to see him now, it’s not the right time.
This morning at work, I heard Cari talk softly to Helen about her new job, so I asked about it. Later, Laura made a general announcement: Cari’s going to the engineering college to be a senior secretary to two professors.
It will be more money and Cari will have her own office in a brand-new building. I’m happy for her – and since I’m leaving, I feel glad that someone else is leaving CGR, too.
I took some boxes to my car, storing them in the trunk and the back seat.
At 12:30 PM, we all met at the Olive Garden for my farewell lunch. I sat at one end of the table, with Jon, Joann, Linda, Laura, and Cari – along with Barbara and Tucker, who also attended, as did Joy and the twins and Joy’s mother.
Everyone from CGR except Richard and Tom were there. When our lunch arrived, I enjoyed the minestrone and the conversation and was glad to be asked to toast Barbara’s and Cari’s new jobs.
They presented me with two gifts. However, first I had to listen to an incredibly embarrassing speech that Russ gave, talking about how he enjoyed the fun we used to have when we shared an office. God, I thought, he actually likes me.
He said how much I’ll be missed, and then Liz started talking about my virtues as I held my face in my hands. Cari said I was blushing crimson.
It’s really difficult for me, much as I crave attention, to hear myself praised in person. People said they’d miss my wit and my friendliness.
I first opened the smaller gift, Russ’s, and it was a book I’d always wanted: The WPA Guide to New York City. And the huge, heavy gift was the giant Columbia Encyclopedia, complete with a handle. The price said $125, and I only hope they got it at discount.
I didn’t know what to say; I could barely read the cards, and all I can remember is how much I thanked them and blurting out, “I love all of you!” And then I tried to make a joke.
Back at the office, all I could do was search the Web for stuff to read. I can’t believe Monday will be my final day at CGR. It’s been an incredible 2½ years, and I’ll never forget it. Jesus.
Well, it’s Good Friday, so Jesus is appropriate. I don’t quite feel sick, but I feel like I’m coming down with the thing that’s going around – Cari has it now, too – but we’ll see.
There was e-mail from Patrick, Kevin and Matthew Paris for me at home, but after eating dinner, I just collapsed onto my bed. I need to spend about a hundred hours in bed.
The talk I had with Liz at the end of the day helped. After I talked about Sean, she told me that last week her son’s father had traced her through the Internet and had e-mailed her.
She hasn’t seen him in 19 years, as he left when Eric was three years old and came back to see him for a very upsetting time when the boy was five. She told him she’d give Eric, who’s now 27, his address.
God, life is weird, a great confused novel.
Saturday, March 30, 1997
3 PM. I seem to have fought off the cold, so I either have an incredibly strong immune system or else I’m an incredible hypochondriac.
Today’s been a humid, rainy day, and I felt pretty sleepy, either because I still need to catch up on my rest or my sinus headache makes me drowsy.
Apart from going to Albertsons and Walmart this morning, I’ve stayed inside reading, eating, exercising and listening to the radio.
My Business Communications textbook awaits me, as I need to read three chapters for Tuesday’s class – as well as mark all those papers.
I just e-mailed Patrick, who says I sound discouraged about leaving CGR. I hate it when people say that. It’s just that those who stay in one job for years and years – like Patrick or Sean – don’t remember how weird it is to be in transition.
Actually, those comments are precisely the ones that make me determined to succeed in reinventing myself. While Patrick is a good friend, he can be negative.
I wrote Sean back as well, a deliberately flirty, playful letter. It’s hard for me to come to grips with the realization that I can’t really trust Sean.
In a way, I feel like he used me when we were together. Can it be that he just saw me for sex while he was emotionally involved only with Doug?
Well, that’s not the whole truth. I’m sure Sean was and is fond of me, but I also know if he would lie to Doug and keep secrets from him, he’d do so even more easily to me.
At this point, if I were a villain on a soap opera, I could blackmail Sean by threatening to go to Doug with his e-mails.
Of course, I don’t even save his messages and would certainly not do anything like that. But that such an idea even entered my mind shows me that I’m a little angry.
I definitely know that whatever I do, I can never be a part of Sean’s life. On the other hand, back in 1982, I don’t suppose I was ready for him to be part of mine. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet a guy I can really feel comfortable with intellectually and emotionally.
If Sean wants to have e-mail or computer “sex,” I can get something out of it – the way I do with Kevin, even as I know that there’s nothing real there. Yet because Kevin has never been pretending otherwise, he may be a lot more honorable and authentic than Sean.
Kevin e-mailed me that work is going okay and he’s got a date this weekend with the German guy with a cute accent.
Rick e-mailed thanking me for sending the review of Lucinda’s novel that appeared in last Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel. The big Gargoyle party is next weekend.
Pete phoned to thank me for my publishing advice. He’s making good money at the insurance company, but after four weeks he hates his boring job so much that he’ll stay only the six months of the contract.
And Pete said he can’t do computer work much longer, so he plans to apply for every post-doc appointment he can.
He went off to take a driving lesson: “First I got my Ph.D.; now I can face a road test.”
6 PM. After I wrote the diary entry above, I decided to get out of the house, so I went to the Tower Road library.
I was getting books of the authors I’ll be covering in class next week when I caught the eye of a tall, skinny black kid – maybe 18, maybe 15 – and we smiled.
I was attracted to him but didn’t think much of it until I realized he was cruising me. It was unbelievable: we both sat down at tables – or rather, I sat down with some newspapers and he sat two tables down facing me.
I couldn’t help looking at him from time to time. My stomach felt cold and flip-floppy. I didn’t know if I should approach him, how I should approach him, and I thought of how dangerous it was, envisioning a news article claiming that I molested a kid.
So I checked out my books and a video, and as I waited at the circulation desk, I lost sight of him.
But he was outside the library, at the end of the path, riding a bike in circles. “Hello, how are you?” I said and smiled as I passed him, and he smiled back.
I got in my car and he started riding in circles in front of me, but at a bit of a distance. Finally I motioned him over, with no idea what I would say.
“You’re making me very nervous,” I said. “Is there anything you want?”
“Do you live around here?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
Then he asked me if he could have a quarter. I wondered if I’d misperceived everything. I handed him a quarter and said, “Is that all you wanted?”
He gulped and said shyly, “Yes, I just didn’t know how to ask.”
He had a handsome face and talked without the Black English accent Southern natives around here usually have. I didn’t know what to do, so I smiled and started to go away.
Then I drove back, making a U-turn and I followed him as he rode down Tower Road. I got ahead, of course, and pulled into a parking lot near the Oaks Mall, figuring I’d wait for him. But then what?
Anyway, he must have stopped at one of the developments where he probably lived, because he never rode past.
I feel conflicted. It reminded me of an incident around at the old Fort Lauderdale library on Sunrise Boulevard with another high school boy, whose aggressive gestures clearly indicated he wanted me to meet him outside, and I couldn’t do it.
Now I think: I should have given that kid my number. It was weird, because sex was the last thing on my mind when I went to the library. I even thought before I left the house how schlumpy I looked in an oversized t-shirt and shorts, my hair messy.
But I’ve never experienced such a strong frisson between me and a stranger before.
It must be very hard to be a gay teenager; adult men generally won’t deal with them, and they can’t go to bars.
I feel bad that I didn’t make contact with this kid, tell him how to take care of himself and not get AIDS and not let people take advantage of him.
But like other adult gay men, I too was scared of getting involved, not just with the stranger, but an underage one. He obviously needed me to take the lead, and I didn’t, and so I feel I failed him.
What is he thinking now? I hope he understood from my look that I wasn’t rejecting him.
What is it that makes me a magnet for adolescents? How come I never got that kind of intense looks between me and an adult male all these years I’ve been in Gainesville?