A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, April 12, 1997
9 PM. I’m feeling a bit like I’ve got a cold coming on, but it’s possible I’m just tired. With all the stress I’ve been under this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if I became ill, but somehow I feel I’ve put the worst behind me.
I know that I’ll be in Ragdale in June, and I brought a lot of my stuff from Gainesville down here, and I can stay here in Davie or rent an efficiency for May.
When I get back to Gainesville on Monday evening, I’ll start making plans to hire a mover to take the beds and furniture; I can probably get everything else in my car. I’ll check my car out before I drive it down here, and I’ll file for unemployment insurance if I can.
It should be possible to get through the next two weeks until my teaching at Nova ends without going crazy, especially since I don’t feel the obligation to get the DOE memo in by May 1. I’d told Laura I’d go to CGR to talk about that, but I won’t do it this week.
I’ve got grading to do, but I won’t let myself get overwhelmed. Even if I get sick, I think I’ll be able to handle everything. It is going to be a difficult transition because I’m facing the unknown and unfamiliar.
Last night I slept okay, and I exercised to a Homestretch tape before I had breakfast this morning. Although it rained very hard during the night, I was determined to drive to a place where I could get the Orlando Sentinel.
I had the tape of Forster’s Howards End to keep me company, and in my mind I’ll associate this time of my life with Margaret Schlegel and the Wilcoxes and Leonard Bast and “only connect.” The novel has abided with me in a way I couldn’t have foreseen.
Anyway, starting out at 9:30 AM, I drove up the Turnpike in drizzle and light rain. I exited for I-95 at Jupiter and then had to get off just before Fort Pierce, on West St. Lucie Boulevard, during a torrential, blinding downpour.
By the time I went to the bathroom and got a Diet Coke at McDonald’s, the cloudburst had passed, and it was another 45 minutes or so – about 12:30 PM – when I found the paper at a gas station south of Melbourne.
I ate a cheese sandwich I’d packed, and for some reason, as I bought more copies of the Orlando Sentinel (and one of the New York Times) at the Albertsons in Palm Bay, my face got all red and blotchy with a sudden niacin rush.
I had a fat-free brownie and some fruit punch and began the long drive back to Davie, going through some bad patches of rain.
I stopped in West Palm Beach, having gotten it through my head that I should find the 1981 article I’d written for the First Amendment Essay Contest that they’d reprinted from the Miami News to the Palm Beach paper.
Driving around downtown, although I admired the new Judicial Center and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, I couldn’t find the Main Library, so I parked to ask someone directions, only to discover that I was right in front of the library.
However, I couldn’t find the column in the microfilm of the Palm Beach Post, so I expect it appeared only in the now-defunct Palm Beach Evening News.
Off again, I went through a horrible monsoon in Broward County before getting home at 4 PM. I’d driven more than the mileage to Gainesville.
The Orlando Sentinel put my piece, titled “The Best $10 Investment I Never Made,” on the top left of their Saturday Special op-ed page of stories about road tests, and they didn’t seem to change anything.
My parents loved the article. Since I’ve been an ill-behaved house guest, I’m glad I gave them a little pleasure. (Do I detect E.M. Forster’s influence in that last sentence?)
Teresa and her Fire Island friend Camille are due in Miami tomorrow; another rainy day is forecast, of course.
Sunday, April 13, 1997
8 PM. My face hasn’t been this sunburned in years, and it’s fitting that it’s because of the day I spent with Teresa, because I always associate her with summer and the beach.
Last night I had terrible (but typical) insomnia, and I dropped off to sleep only at 2 AM or so. But at least I did realize that I wasn’t coming down with a cold.
Up at 7 AM, I exercised to a video, then showered so Jonathan could use the bathroom to get ready for work. I then had breakfast and went out to Barnes & Noble to get the Sunday Times.
At 10 AM, with the rain ending, I drove to South Beach and parked in a metered lot near the Governor Hotel on 21st Street.
Teresa hadn’t come in yet, so I walked down Collins Avenue, passing the hotel that advertises $115-a-week efficiencies – I’d be afraid to live in such a fleabag – and then over to Ocean Drive, where I sat and read the paper across from the hotel cafes and amidst the rollerbladers and sun-worshippers.
I could spot Teresa maybe 100 feet away by the way she walked and her blonde hair. Walking right in front of her and Camille, I startled Teresa, but I think it was quite natural that we’d meet by accident on the street in Miami Beach, since there’s such a close connection between us.
We hugged, and they said they’d lost my parents’ number and had just spoken to my namesake in Plantation. They were very hungry, and since Wolfie’s was just around the corner, we ate there, bringing back memories of Brooklyn College, when we used to eat at Wolfie’s at the Junction.
Because we’re in touch regularly by e-mail, we didn’t have much to catch up on. Teresa took Jade for an interview at SUNY-Purchase, which would be a dream school for her to pursue photography.
As I’d hoped, Teresa invited me to spend May with her and Paul in Locust Valley; they’ll be in Fire Island a lot then. And she said I should stay in Brooklyn after I leave Ragdale and her parents are in Mattituck for the summer. I’d really love that. To be in New York City in the summer would be great.
I suppose I could manage four months at “no fixed address” just like old times. It would do a lot to shake off the routines of Gainesville. I could stay here in South Florida a couple of weeks and go to Long Island in mid-May, fly to Chicago from New York and then go back to New York in July.
Teresa and I left it as indefinite, but I suppose that’s what I’m going to do.
We talked about Joseph Corteggiano’s death. When Teresa phoned City Opera to ask for his mother’s address so she could write a condolence note, Amy – Mikey’s ex-wife, who’s still working there – told her that he died quite suddenly of liver cancer. Joseph took so many baritone roles at City Opera in his years with the company, but neither of us ever had the chance to hear him perform.
Camille, Teresa and I walked all the way to the beach opposite the Cardozo. By that time, the weather had changed and the snowbirds could enjoy cloudless skies and 86° warmth. Actually, it was a little too hot; I could have used shorts and a t-shirt rather than a polo shirt and jeans.
The walk was tiring, but we went to the water’s edge and Camille stuck her toes in the Atlantic. Then we made our way back via Lincoln Road to a stop I suggested, Baskin-Robbins, and then up past the Performing Arts Center and Convention Center up Dade Boulevard.
I got my swim trunks from the car and joined them at their typically South Beach-seedy hotel room before we went out to the pool. There were several groups of Europeans in their skimpy bathing suits, the topless women smoking like chimneys.
When Camille went into the pool, Teresa remarked that while Camille was self-conscious about her body, “I realize that nobody looks at women our age anymore.” Teresa added that she’s put on fifteen pounds since her wedding.
Despite Camille telling me, “You don’t have an ounce of fat on your body” (definitely untrue), I also felt flabby among all those buff gay men whose pecs gleamed in the sun.
Of course, most of them will die before I do – God, that sounds awful; what I meant was that with the HIV rate in South Beach so high, unless the AIDS drug cocktails can help everyone, many of these muscular young guys will waste away.
I’m shocked to read all the explicit ads from men seeking anal sex partners without a condom. As Michel Signorile said last week, just because guys are out in South Beach or other urban gay ghettos doesn’t mean that they don’t harbor insecurities that cause them to needlessly risk their lives.
I mostly kept in the shade, but in the end, it was so warm that even I had to dip into the pool a little. The three of us chatted about all sorts of stuff. Camille is a recovering alcoholic, the daughter of alcoholics, and her husband is also AA. She’s a warm, funny, commonsensical person whom I like enormously.
Suddenly around 5 PM, it began raining, and that seemed a good cue for me to return to Fort Lauderdale. I kissed Teresa and Camille and said I’d be in touch soon about visiting. They’ve rented a car and plan to go to Key West for a couple of days before they leave on Thursday.
Because I had only a plain bagel and a fruit salad for lunch, and then some fat-free frozen yogurt, I was weak from hunger and very dehydrated, so I felt puckish on the drive home.
Still, I listened to the final tragedy of Howards End and tried to stave off light-headedness. Back here, I ate two Harvest burgers and a lot of veggies and drank a lot of Crystal light.
Then I skimmed most of the Sunday Times, realizing that reading it doesn’t have to be an all-day project. Tomorrow I go back to Gainesville, but there’s no reason to leave at the crack of dawn.
Wednesday, April 16, 1997
10 PM. I got home half an hour ago from my Ocala class. On the drive up I-75, I thought about how, two weeks from tonight, I’ll no longer be here in Gainesville.
Tomorrow evening the guy from Gator Moving is coming to look at the “cubage” my stuff will take up; he said they’d pick it up on April 30, and if it’s early enough, I can leave that day. If not, I can sleep in a motel around here or in Ocala or somewhere on the way to South Florida.
There was a message on my machine from what sounded like an elderly African-American man. “Thank you for your letter this morning,” he said.
He was referring to my guest column in today’s Gainesville Sun, “Chain gangs on Highways No Deterrent to Crime.” I didn’t know about its publication until 3 PM, when I got an e-mail message from Liz referring to it.
I then went out and got the paper, and at OfficeMax, I made xerox copies by reducing the column (which was boxed) just slightly so it could fit on an 8½” x 11” page.
They identified me as a Nova Southeastern University instructor and Human Rights Council board member. I’m so pleased. I feel that all the different issues I’ve written about show that I’m not just interested in one thing. I suppose I’m wary of becoming known as a gay activist who ignores unrelated issues.
The four issue-oriented columns I’ve had published in the last few months are all in sympathy with unpopular groups of people: gays, high school students who smoke marijuana, welfare recipients, and now convicted felons. I’ve always rooted for the underdog.
Last night President Clinton, after talking at Hudde Junior High School on Nostrand Avenue and then at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, went to Shea Stadium to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s has to root for the underdog, no? Even I was a bit interested on Sunday evening when young Tiger Woods became the first person of color (black, Thai) to win the Masters golf tournament. (Mom and Dad watched intently.)
Anyway, this morning I got up at 6 AM, turned on NPR, and promptly dozed off, not really waking again until 7:30 AM. I guess working full-time made me so sleep-deprived that I never realized the luxury of taking all the rest my body wants and needs.
This morning I had breakfast, checked my e-mail and Lexis searches on Eclipse, checked my bank balance via the phone, exercised, and graded the seven papers that I handed back this evening.
At 10:30 AM, I went out, got the paper and went to the library. I noticed that a new Avisson Press short story collection ($15, paper) got reviewed in Publishers Weekly. I’m glad Martin’s having some success as he continues to publish literary books.
Back home, I looked at the cartoons in the issue of Funny Times that had arrived in the mail, and I graded the American Lit papers of my Ocala students – at least all but the three who don’t take Business Communications.
I still have batches of papers to grade, and I have to make up two different finals and prepare for the last two classes.
I was on Delphi a lot today. Alice wrote that just as her book comes out from Chapters Publishing in Vermont, Chapters has been sold to Houghton Mifflin – so that should be good for her. Alice’s co-writer is lined up for TV and other appearances, and the radio shrink Laura Schlessinger read passages from Alice’s Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Cat? last week.
Alice sees going to the Brooklyn College reunion as an opportunity to network. In mid-June, she’s taking off a month to go on the road to see America by rail – she can no longer drive – with a 30-day Amtrak pass. Alice hopes to get a book out of the trip.
George Myers writes that JFK Jr. and George magazine, after ignoring service for 200 days, filed a countersuit on April 7; Steve Hill is drafting a reply.
George was glad that his recommendation helped me get into Ragdale and said he might want to apply there one day himself. He marveled that Teresa was kind enough to invite me to stay with her and said all my “buds” are great people. True enough.
Kevin wrote me a long e-mail tonight, and I answered him just now with an even longer one, I’m afraid.
Work is crazy and Kevin still feels a bit lost in Los Angeles. That Alex Karras lookalike who couldn’t take no for an answer keeps calling him and making strange noises.
Kevin hopes that Phil, a friend who has been living in Seattle, can come down for a visit; Phil is bisexual but I think Kevin hopes they could connect in L.A.
Tom e-mailed from Stuttgart that he finally saw the Bantam public relations stuff on his book with Daniel Quinn. His favorite bookstore in New Orleans sent it to him, and he says it looks good except for the $22.95 price tag and the choices for print advertising venues.
Tom assumes that review copies are out, but he hasn’t seen one. He has begun his last semester teaching at “the Uni”: five classes and over 130 students.
Patrick wrote that he’s been busy getting out P’an Ku and going to several committee meetings. He scored one of the five multimedia grants for Broward Community College faculty.
That gives him two release times and a new IBM computer, so he doesn’t have to teach this summer, “just develop some modules for technical writing on Power Point, something I would have done anyway.”
Pete e-mailed me and other friends with a travel-story, “The Road to Istria,” which looks good, and Liz said that she and Joe made up last Thursday and decided to spend the rest of their limited time together enjoying what they can of each other.
All these e-mail connections remind me that my life is involved with the lives of other people, and that will go on when I leave Gainesville.
Today’s Sun article and Saturday’s piece in the Orlando Sentinel have given me renewed confidence in my writing.
It’s funny how little I miss work. I guess I didn’t do much in the office the past few months anyway. And I feel that my four Nova classes are basically a full-time job.
I certainly haven’t had time on my hands since I stopped working at CGR. Of course, I don’t have to teach again till Tuesday evening, and I’ll be giving finals most of the next four classes.
Well, I guess I’ll either finish today’s Times or go to sleep now.
My face is peeling. So much for my suntan.
Friday, April 18, 1997
9 PM. Although I feel as if I’m not accomplishing very much, I don’t seem to be wasting time, either. Probably I need to cut myself some slack and realize I’m doing the best I can managing a difficult transition period in my life.
I did make up and print out the final exams for both my courses, and that entailed going out to buy more computer paper and a new printer ribbon.
I shouldn’t berate myself for spending more time sleeping and resting; I’ve never been a lazybones, and I probably need the rest my body wants to take.
At 4 PM, Laura called and said I could go over to Tigert Hall and pick up my check for annual leave today, but when I got there, I was told that the money had been deposited electronically.
I netted a little more than $2,500 from a $3,900 gross paycheck because so much was taken out in taxes. It was as if I’d earned all that money in a two-week period.
At least I know how much I’d net by weekly if I had $100,000 in annual income.
Seriously, this money helps a good deal since my Nova check won’t come for another four weeks.
I’m going to have moving expenses and other more unexpected expenditures coming up in the next month or two.
This morning I did step aerobics, and at noon I went to the law school to pick up the New York Times, the last Alligator of the spring term (I think) and the new issue of Florida Lawyer, the alumni magazine.
My classmates mentioned in Class Notes all seem to be involved in what sounds like deadly-dull practice in such areas as tax, probate law, corporate law, etc. I don’t envy them at all.
I was glad to see that Sean responded to the e-mail I sent him yesterday. He says he wishes he had my freedom to travel and my self-confidence, but he wouldn’t want to move around so much.
Then he wrote:
As far as keeping in touch, I’m sure we will. It’s kind of weird we didn’t talk (or write) for years and then, whammo, we’re talking again.
Hell, you’re the only person from my past I talk with. I don’t talk with Jeff, my high school friends or anyone else from those early years. But then there is you.
Anyway, if we lose touch (and we probably will), I’m sure we’ll run into each other somewhere else down this road called life. It’s sort of comforting.
So, Richard, take good care of yourself. Try to stay happy. Don’t get hit by a car or something stupid like that.
(your friend) Sean
God. It’s almost exactly 15 years ago that Sean and I were lovers, or whatever. He’s still one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known. I get all mooshy inside when I think about him.
Teresa wrote that she got in last night at 7 PM. Paul picked her up at LaGuardia and then they went to her parents for dinner.
Her parents said my staying in Brooklyn in July and August is fine with them, and they said I could even stay there in May, but Teresa thinks it would be more fun to have me in Locust Valley.
She and Camille enjoyed the trip to Florida, especially their time in Key West. However it rained every day; on Monday they went to an afternoon movie in Miami Beach to escape the downpour.
Camille also wrote me and said more about Key West, where they had a nice guesthouse near the water, cheap oysters, conch and key lime pie. And she said it was nice to see me in Miami Beach on Sunday.
Matty Paris said it will be good to see me in July. His partner, who ran the website, just had a breakdown (do people still have breakdowns?), so he won’t have my stories up on the website any time soon.
Matty talked about his own diary. He’s got 60,000 pages scanned into the computer. His older journals were more exciting, “as I lived a much more adventurous and stormy life till about my early 50s; now the journal is more meditative.”
While Matty doesn’t expect the Internet to bring about a revolution in consciousness, it does make it easier to “publish” unknown writers more cheaply:
“This culture is always going to isolate people. They can deal with them better that way. Society’s image of organized dissent is a bunch of loons committing suicide to hop aboard a comet.”