A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Friday, April 4, 1997
4:30 PM. I’m hoping to go see Michelangelo Signorile (Out in America) at UF’s Weiner Hall this evening even though I need to get up early for another long Saturday of teaching tomorrow.
Although I didn’t yet grade the Business Communications papers, I did reread the American Lit poems and the difficult – for my students, anyway – prose pieces I plan to go over tomorrow. (Fran Holloway, in my Ocala class, apparently knows John Barth well – as a patient in the nursing home where she worked, on her native Eastern Shore of Maryland.)
This morning Sean e-mailed that he’d gone to see Greg Louganis at USF last night and felt that Louganis was a nice guy but a poor speaker – and based on his appearance at UF, I’d say Sean’s got it exactly right.
Up at 6 AM, I again managed to drift off to sleep before getting up for good an hour later. The air outside my apartment smelled foul this morning, and later I overheard people say they were looking for a skunk, so yes, those animals really do stink.
I got a haircut from Hugo at Cuts, Etc., my last one in Gainesville. I liked my hair long the way it was, but it looks good short, too.
However, the harsh lights at the hair stylists’ always make me feel old because I stare at my lined, jowly face. When Hugo went to answer the phone, I pulled back the skin on either side of my eyes and I could appreciate just what face lifts could do: goodbye lines under my eyes and those deep labionasal furrows.
After shopping at Publix and buying the newspaper, I came home to do thirty minutes of low-impact aerobics followed by half an hour of strength training or whatever they call it.
Unemployment has fallen to 5.2%, and the stock market, though up today, has sunk from its 7000 Dow high to about where it was at the start of 1997.
The FCC has given extra channels to the TV broadcast stations for the new digital, high-definition TV that will be the only TV available in 2006 – meaning we’re all going to have to get the new sets.
Mom complained about that when I spoke to her, though in Miami, a fairly large market, digital TV should be on the air by 2000. Hey, I’m actually going to be able to get NBC and CBS and other networks on TV without cable!
After not getting any mail for two days, today I got a phone bill and a brochure for a California writing conference. I mailed out some change-of-address postcards to organizations I belong to, like Lambda Legal Defense and the Authors Guild, but I don’t really know where the day has gone.
How did I ever manage to live when I worked every day?
Saturday, April 5, 1997
6 PM. If it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished, then I will probably be arrested soon for child molestation.
After a long day of teaching in Gainesville and Ocala, I decided to drive to the Tower Road library and return the books I got last Saturday. In the back of mind I thought that kid from last week who kept eyeing me might be there.
I wasn’t sure what I’d do if he was, but I’d thought about what Kevin and Sean each said about how maybe the kid might really have been alone, and I thought of the troubled gay 14-year-old in Trevor, the film I saw on Tuesday.
To my astonishment, as I turned into the library parking lot, the kid was on his bike at the entranceway, waving hello to me. “I just wanted to thank you for giving me the quarter last week,” he said.
I asked him his name and age, and he’s Benjamin, he’s only 16 and a sophomore in high school. He was hanging around the way he did last week, and I asked if he wanted to get a Coke, but he said he’d prefer to go to the nearby park.
I told him to lock up his bike and I’d meet him after I returned the books. He’s just a child, I thought as we drove off, and I made inane small talk, finding out that he has a restricted driver’s license.
I made a comment about high school being so hard, and he asked me, “Did people tease you a lot when you were in high school?”
“No,” I said, honestly. “You get teased?”
He shook his head. “Not really.”
We walked in the park, and I finally said, after he apologized for staring at me last week, that I was gay, and I’d thought he’d been attracted to me.
No, he said, he wasn’t gay, so I immediately apologized for misunderstanding and said that when I’m stared at, I usually think someone was either attracted to me or wanted to beat me up.
He asked me if got ever beat up, and I chuckled and said, “Not lately.”
He seemed gay, but I know that if he is, he’s not aware of it yet. I had no recourse but to take his denial at face value, and I was a little worried he’d attack me.
At that point I was ready to take him back to the library, sorry for my mistake – but he just kept walking ahead. He had on dorky shorts and sandals and a t-shirt from a Baptist church that he said he attends with his parents, with whom he lives; he’s their only child.
I started talking about my own experiences in high school, and the gist of my story was, don’t worry about how terrible it seems now, you’ll get over it and you’ll go to college and meet friends and be popular like I was.
He didn’t talk much except in response to questions like what kind of music he likes (R&B, mostly) and what books in the library he reads (thrillers, mostly). I certainly wasn’t going to talk to him about sex, although I did discuss domestic violence and how women were better than men at discussing their feelings.
“My biology teacher says women are superior up here,” he said, tapping his head, as I got him back to the car. But he was loath to leave, even after we shook hands.
Earlier, I’d given him my number and told him to call if he ever wanted to talk, but I explained that I was leaving town in a couple of weeks. Then I said, “I hope you won’t say I molested you or anything, because I didn’t touch you and I wouldn’t, because” – here I smiled – “I’m a law-abiding citizen.”
“Don’t you know me well enough to know I wouldn’t do that?” he said, and then, answering his own question before I could, said, “No, I guess you don’t really know me.”
Any attraction I felt for him last week – when I thought he was older, around 18 or so – had since disappeared, but now I felt sorry for the kid and was still unsure how crazy he was.
When he asked to hold my car keys, I got frightened and held onto them, but he only said, “Someday I’ll have one of those.”
He shook my hand again, his hand still dripping with perspiration, and I said goodbye and he said, “Well since you’re leaving town, have a nice life.”
I left him, still feeling he wanted to talk further; in my rear-view mirror, he looked so lost. I am worried about my name – I gave him my full name because I wanted to show him I had nothing to hide – on that piece of paper.
What if he tells his Baptist parents that I came on to him? When I told him I was not a Christian, that I was a Jewish atheist, he said, “I feel sorry for you,” and kept walking.
Do I have anyone to corroborate my story? I told only Kevin and Sean, and Sean couldn’t testify for me because that would not only reveal my existence to Doug but it would come out that I’d slept with Sean when he was 17.
I can envision myself being branded a child molester in the media, and even if I managed to disprove the charges, there would always be people who thought I was a pervert.
Perhaps my fiction writer’s imagination is running wild. Yet I do believe that in the end, whatever charges were made, because I know I’ve done nothing wrong, I would triumph. But that’s only because I’m naïve.
Last night I went to Gannett Auditorium to hear Michelangelo Signorile, and I was glad to be able to sit between Craig Lowe and Richard Smith. Both said they’ll miss me when I leave the area; I had already mailed Craig my resignation from the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Council.
Signorile was very eloquent, and he proved to be less than the outing maniac he’s portrayed as in the mass media; he seemed like a totally sane, reasonable person who gave valid reasons for outing public figures.
I was most interested in the subject of his latest book: how gay male culture in the big cities is another kind of “closet,” so detrimental to self-esteem that it has resulted in a new generation of gay men in their twenties having the same HIV rate as the generation my age.
In the question-and-answer period, an Asian boy from Miami talked about South Beach and how he didn’t approve of the gay culture there and was looking for an alternative. Signorile said he interviewed people who are finding alternatives in suburbs, rural areas and smaller cities.
And I could only agree when he stated that gay males need to look no further than their lesbian sisters, who have a caring, supportive culture to be emulated.
I often wished that there had been an equivalent to lesbian groups for gay men, but that culture of South Beach/the Castro/West Hollywood/the Village separates males and females, as well as whites and minorities, and the young and the old.
This afternoon I spoke to Benjamin about the difficulties that I perceived that he faces as a young black male in American society, and he said that he gets looks from white people when he enters stores.
I just remembered: I did touch him, apart from the handshake. In the park, he lay down on the grass, and when he got up, he asked me to take the dirt off the back of his t-shirt.
I did so, brushing it off his skinny back with my hand, glad that there was no dirt on his shorts – but he just stood there longer, as if he wanted me to touch him. Of course I wouldn’t.
The poor kid, I don’t think he’ll call me, and I really doubt he’d try to make trouble for me unless he’s truly disturbed. At least I behaved honorably, and I hope maybe one day he’ll remember me and realize I meant well.
If he’d said he was gay and wanted to sleep with me, I doubt I would have agreed to do anything – but at least then I just could have talked to him. Once he told me that he wasn’t gay, there was no way I was going to say anything about sexuality lest I be accused of trying to “recruit” him.
I hope Benjamin isn’t gay. Now why do I say that? I’m not sure. He’s struggling with it – perhaps – at 16, ahead of many people (at least men of my generation), so if by chance he is gay, he’ll resolve it early. Unless he tries something stupid like suicide.
Up at 6 AM today, I drove to Ocala, noticing heavy traffic going north on I-75; I figured it was a mixture of road construction and snowbirds on their way from Fort Myers and Sarasota and St. Pete back to the Midwest after Easter.
My Ocala class was registering today, and they had a big project due, so I let them out early. I was able to do more with the afternoon class in Gainesville, but they’re always a better-prepared bunch.
I loved going over Jarrell’s “Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner,” Bishop’s “The Fish,” Lowell’s “Skunk Hour,” Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz,” Brooks’ “The Bean Eaters” and “The Last Quatrain of Emmett Till.”
Then I had great fun as we discussed excerpts from Mailer’s Armies of the Night, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Barth’s “Life-Story,” and I told the class anecdotes about the writers along the way.
I showed them all my four hardcover books and my chapbooks and I read from Eating at Arby’s and “My Grandfather’s Other Son” in the Ocala class and “But in a Thousand Other Worlds” in the afternoon.
There’s only one more American Literature Saturday class three weeks from today. Of course, I’ll see the same students for Business Communications before then.
Speaking with Mom, I learned what Dad considered devastating news: the company gave back Guess’s men’s line to Guess, and Dad’s left only with the boys’ line, which does no business.
This means that my parents and my brothers are going to have to change their lifestyle. Mom says that all four of them have to “consolidate” and stay together, but of course that’s not necessarily true.
However, if I don’t want them to tell me how to live my life, I have to refrain from telling them how I would do things if I were they. It’s about the worst time for me to move back to South Florida, but hey, why not get the worst over with?
No doubt when Dad returns from New York today, he’ll be in the same deep depression he was when he thought he lost his job a few months ago.
Hey, I’ve got to turn the clocks ahead tonight for Daylight Savings Time.
Wednesday, April 9, 1997
3 PM. It’s been a frenzied day, and I’m still frantic and quite nervous about getting down to South Florida tomorrow. On the other hand, there is no need for me to try to rent an apartment.
This morning I called Ragdale to check on my application. Although they haven’t sent out the letters yet, they told me I’d been accepted for the month of June.
Immediately afterwards, I called Dad with the news. He said it would be all right if I stayed with them – “if you can take the abuse” – for the whole month of May rather than get an apartment immediately.
This way I can avoid paying rent for June. It’s going to be difficult, but of course I will pay my parents $400 or so for May.
I’m excited about spending June at Ragdale, which is just thirty miles from Chicago.
At 1 PM, I rented a car. Because they didn’t have a compact, they upgraded me to a Taurus.
My Gold MasterCard, which automatically covered me for collision damage, expired at the end of March, and I didn’t get a replacement because of the foul-up with my address, so I rented with another card.
I became so nervous about driving without collision insurance that I went back to Budget and tried to put it on, but the contract was already complete and it couldn’t be done.
It’s going to be on my mind that I’ll be responsible for car damage, but there’s nothing I can do but try to stay relaxed – easier said than done – and be careful and pray that nobody smashes into me.
I did manage to get everything into the car trunk and back seat: boxes of books, clothes, etc. It actually is most of my stuff except for all those boxes of xeroxed papers, a few suitcases worth of clothes, plus my appliances and furniture.
I thought about asking for another month extension on my lease, but I’ve already changed my address, so I might as well leave now. It will be easier to go to Chicago from Miami than from here.
The other change today was Laura’s e-mail message saying that the Department of Education won’t send money unless and until they have the completed memo. That means, I guess, that I’m not obligated to meet the April 30 deadline.
Laura asked me to mail or drop by my keys, and I did that so I assume my relationship with CGR is officially severed. I said that I would come in when I get back to discuss the memo, but I think I can more easily get out of it now. We’ll see.
Mike Murphy of the Orlando Sentinel phoned to say that my article (“letter,” he called it) about the road test will appear on Saturday. I had actually expected him to call today to tell me just that, as I knew I’d written a good piece.
I e-mailed Liz about Ragdale. She congratulated me, but she’s been in agony since Monday night, when Joe made it clear that their relationship is not going to continue after he leaves Gainesville this summer. She said that after a second conversation, the relationship may actually be over right now.
I was saddened to see two paid obituaries in the Times for Joseph Corteggiano, Teresa’s friend, the hair stylist, caterer and opera singer. I had been following his career since he started with City Opera and was on tour with other companies.
Rick e-mailed that the Gargoyle party turned out to be the best five hours of his life. He was really gratified by the turnout and people’s reaction to the revival of the magazine.
Somehow I managed to grade the papers for tonight’s class and to read most of the New York Times, which I fetched from the law school lockbox at 7:30 AM.
When I told Dad I was planning on not going back to Gainesville tonight, he said that sounded smart but that I shouldn’t try to drive any further than Orlando.
And he’s right: I actually should relax because there’s no reason for me to rush to South Florida now that I don’t need to rent an apartment for May.
10:30 PM. I’m in a hotel room on the sixth floor of the Rodeway Inn on International Drive, the tacky, glitzy strip I’ve always loved.
I’m tired after teaching my class in Ocala and driving the 70 or so miles here and then driving around this part of tourist-ridden Orlando, trying to find a decent-priced room for the night.
It’s a cool night. There’s a smiling crescent of a moon looking down on the spotlight of Universal Studios. I don’t expect to fall asleep readily despite being tired. I put my suitcase and two bags (one with school stuff) on the other bed.
It occurs to me that after years of security, stability and routine, my life is – at least for this summer – going to be more like the temporary, wandering life I led back in 1981 and then again in the years between the summer of 1984 and the summer of 1991.
I’m going to be living out of suitcases for a while. It will be challenging and different after having my own apartment and job and routine for so long in Gainesville.
I kept my Business Communications class less than two hours this evening, but I got through the crucial material.
The drive down here on I-75 and the Turnpike was uneventful, though not as relaxing as it is during daylight hours.
Thursday, April 10, 1997
8 PM. As I predicted, I didn’t sleep very much in Orlando.
My mind couldn’t get off what Martin E. P. Seligman on the tape I listened to on the drive from Ocala to Orlando, calls “the jingle channel”: that mindless, constant stream of phrases, thoughts and images running below the level of consciousness.
It’s like repeatedly hearing inane melodies like “The Candy Man” or “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” on AM radio.
I wish I’d been able to spend more time hanging out on International Drive. The hotel – and indeed, the whole area – was crawling with British, Brazilian and continental tourists.
The chambermaids were Haitian and the young women who checked me in had pronounced Israeli and Brooklyn accents, so I felt right at home.
Anyway, I did drop off after 2 AM, and of course I was up a little more than four hours later. At 7 AM, I went out to Gooding’s to buy bottled water, Dannon fat-free cappuccino yogurt, a California navel orange, the New York Times and tea – though I ditched the teabag because all I wanted was the hot water for my packets of oatmeal and grits.
After listening to NPR for a while, I decided that rather than lying about, it seemed best to get going before 9 AM.
In Orlando, it was a cool but not chilly morning with a cloudless sky.
As soon as I got myself on the Turnpike from I-4, I popped the first cassette of E.M. Forster’s Howards End in the Taurus’s tape deck.
Somehow I’d avoided the novel and its film version for 25 years. But after a little initial difficulty getting into the story, I found myself being drawn into the world of Victorian England as seen by Forster, and the drive down was pleasant.
When I stopped at the Fort Pierce service plaza stop, I noticed the ground was wet. As I drove south, it soon became cloudy and drizzly, and eventually a steady rain was coming down.
Maybe it was listening so intently to the tape of Howards End, but I completely blanked out and seemed to go directly from PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens to Glades Road in Boca without remembering driving through most of Palm Beach County.
The downpour was so intense in Broward County that I exited the Turnpike at Sunrise Boulevard rather than wait till I got to I-595. But the rain let up a bit just as I arrived at the house.
When I came inside, Dad said that I’d kept my weight down – which is what he always says. China went crazy when she saw me, her tail and tongue wagging as she rolled around the floor on the floor giving me her belly to rub.
After I hugged and kissed Mom and Jonathan came out to say hi, I tried to settle in. It’s been four months since I’ve seen my family, and they take some getting used to.
After eating lunch, I still felt a bit shaky and dizzy, so I lay down for about an hour and a half till I recovered. Then I went out to the Davie/Cooper City Library to read the Times and then to Publix to get some groceries for myself.
When I got back around 5 PM, nobody was home. So I unlocked the trunk and back seat of the car and carried about a dozen boxes, all those clothes on hangers, plus one lamp and several blankets, to the garage. I tried to place everything as inconspicuously as possible.
After my parents and China returned home, I had my own frozen Healthy Choice dinner as they ate their takeout Chinese food.
During the meal, I chatted a great deal, of course, and later I showed Mom and Dad the Ragdale brochure and the articles from Lexis about the colony. I’m still dealing with the reality of my going there. I’ve never been to the Midwest before!
After six years in Gainesville, mostly at UF law school, my life is about to change drastically. It’s going to take more than one sleepless night for me to adjust.