A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, May 1, 1997
7 PM in Fort Lauderdale. It turned out that once I got to sleep at midnight at the motel in Fort Pierce, I slept well. However, I was awakened out of a dream at 6 AM by a wake-up call I never asked for.
I unsuccessfully tried to get back to sleep, so at 7:30 AM, I walked across the street to get some grapefruit juice and hot water for my packaged oatmeal and grits. (I have to pretend I’m asking for tea “with the teabag out.”)
Around 8:30 AM, after taking a shower and getting dressed, I paid my bill (with cash, as I’m trying not to use credit till I have to) and drove down the Turnpike to I-595, a trip that took less than two hours.
My impression of Fort Pierce is that, unlike other Florida cities, it never boomed; it’s still very “small town,” poor and mostly black.
Back in Broward County, my first stop was Nova Southeastern University, and my first stop on campus was the bathroom, where I ran into Jorge Herrera, the assistant dean.
At the Bachelor of Professional Management program office, I filled out my American Lit grades, my mileage reimbursement forms for the Ocala classes, and my change of address and phone to here. Alyssa said I could pick up May 15 paycheck after 1 PM two weeks from today.
When I got to the house, I was greeted by China wagging her tail and licking me. Dad helped me get everything out of the car and into the garage, and I’ve spent most of today trying to get settled even though I know I’ll be here only 17 more days.
It’s a good thing that I’m older (on the Ragdale personal info form, I fit into the category 46-55 since I’ll be there on my birthday, older than 20-35 and 36-45 but not quite “over 55”) and time goes faster, because I don’t know how long I could stand it here otherwise.
If anything, my parents’ earnest attempts to accommodate me are the most annoying thing to deal with. Mom thinks she must buy “the foods [I] like” or that she has to have things for me that just aren’t important to me. But then she doesn’t want me to set up the computer, which is my priority.
Dad keeps exploding in exasperation. He’s trying to sell these tuxedo shirts to restaurants, but I have no idea how realistic that is. Dad is essentially like one step above a peddler; he hasn’t got a business plan or even figured out what kind of market there is.
I know I’m a little like them, and the wonder isn’t that I’ve failed at job stability or long-term relationships, but that I’ve been able to function at all in the real world of work and friendship.
But look at what “stability” and a long-term relationship have wrought for my parents.
Mom and Dad hate for me to acknowledge my age. When I told them I passed a Turnpike billboard’s “Free checking for everyone over 50” sign and thought, “Four more years,” they tried to tell me that I was mistaken.
CGR now looks like it will be okay for another year: “Controversial UF center gets 2nd chance,” said the Herald headline, and the CGR flap was the subject of the lead editorial and Tom Fiedler’s column.
Apparently the legislature was embarrassed by how they tried to sneak in the killing of CGR funding in the middle of the night before a budget deal.
Monday, May 5, 1977
10 PM. I had a delicious night sleep and got up at 6:30 AM. After I had breakfast and exercised, I called Gator Movers and was relieved to hear that I wouldn’t be getting my stuff till at least Wednesday, which meant I was free today.
I gave the movers directions here by e-mail and read the messages from this morning. Christy sent me an item about e-mail and the discovery process, and Sean answered some of my nosy questions.
He and Doug don’t do church and they haven’t had a wedding and won’t now “because after all these years, it’d look like we were fishing for gifts. I hate being the center of attention anyway.”
They come to Fort Lauderdale a couple of times a year because they’ve got a close friend here. I signed off my last e-mail “Fondly, Richard,” so he ended, “Fondle me, Sean.”
It’s terrible how Sean can still get to me.
Despite this morning’s chilly weather in New York, Teresa was off to open the beach house on Fire Island, where the season begins May 17. She and Paul plan to open the backyard pool in Locust Valley next week.
Jade drove to Vermont with two friends to visit her mother, and Paul is worried about them on the long drive.
Last night I read that the Amer v. Johnson trial was starting today, so I drove downtown, and after the usual trouble finding anything in the county courthouse, I followed the TV news cameras and arrived just in time for the 10:30 AM start.
This morning was all procedural stuff – interrupted by a totally deadlocked jury coming in on another case of the judge, John Frusciante; I was impressed with how he dealt with jurors after he declared a mistrial.
Returning to the courtroom after the lunch recess, I heard opening arguments. The plaintiff, June Amer, is a 45-year-old woman, born in Brooklyn and an adoptee herself. She seems quite shy but determined.
I spoke with her partner, who was sitting in the first row, and they seem an ideal couple to be parents. They already have a six-year-old son, Robbie, whom June conceived by artificial insemination, and they want to adopt a special needs child.
June already has been the guardian to a 15-year-old boy, and a Romanian child awaiting surgery in the U.S. was placed in their home for several months.
The couple met at the Dade correctional institute, where they both worked; June has been there for 17 years, and her partner stays home with Robbie.
(If June had been the one to retire, Robbie couldn’t get her partner’s health benefits because they’re not biologically or legally related even though she’s his second mom.)
June’s lawyers are Karen Coolman Amlong, a local cooperating attorney with the ACLU, and Michael Adams, an ACLU staff attorney. Bill Adams, a Nova Law professor, is also involved with her case.
Most of today’s procedural wrangling was about expert witness testimony and the defense bringing in legislative history.
I’d always wondered why Florida was one of only two states that bans adoptions by gays, and in the opening argument I learned that the law was passed exactly twenty years ago in the middle of Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign to repeal Dade County’s gay rights law.
June’s attorneys will make the equal protection argument of Romer that the law doesn’t have a rational basis because it’s based on the impermissible justification of animus toward one group of people whom it singles out.
It also appeared that they were trying to piggyback onto this a substantive due process argument: because of the law’s overly broad (as well as overly narrow) classification, June had no remedy to a denial of adoption – unlike any straight person in the same position.
For me, the trial was a refresher course in Con Law, Evidence (hearsay exceptions) and Civ Pro (motions in limine). The state’s Department of Children and Families was represented by a man and woman who seemed like decent people.
I left at 4:15 PM after the testimony of an Orlando man, Jim MacKellar-Hertan, another saint like June, who with his partner adopted a son in Washington State.
I sat next to his partner Bill, a fellow Disney World employee, and they seem as wholesome as any suburban couple.
My God, these folks are pure paragons of virtue compared to most of the people I know.
Back home I had dinner, read the New York Times, and read more e-mail.
Alice said that the Brooklyn College reunion was disappointing: “Thank God for Elihu – he was fun to hang out with.” So I’m glad I connected them.
Alice mentioned seeing Lynne, who’s divorced and living in Massachusetts, and Renee, who finally hooked a doctor.
Alice wrote: “I told Renee that she – like me, Elihu and everyone else you know – is a character in one of your stories. Renee got excited by this and says she wants to know which one.” I do think that I wrote about Renee in a story many years ago, but I can’t remember which one.
George thanked me for my comments about the May online issue of George Jr. and said his pretrial conference date on the trademark suit is May 30.
I tried to stay out of my parents’ way today, but wasn’t always successful. When I came home for lunch, Mom and Dad asked me for advice about refinancing their mortgage and Dad’s collecting unemployment, and they didn’t like my answers (that a bankruptcy would probably not allow them to refinance, that Dad may or may not be able to collect benefits if he claims his draw against commission was a salary).
I went too far when I suggested that they “economize.” Mom got defensive and said, “I guess I’ll die before I economize.” It’s hard for them to face reality; otherwise, they wouldn’t have deluded themselves for this long.
When Dad told me they couldn’t leave this area because “Jonathan has a job here,” I couldn’t resist saying, “He’s just got a job in a store. He could get that kind of job anywhere.”
I don’t know what will happen with my family, but it’s clear that sooner or later, financial reality will make their staying in this house impossible.
Tuesday, May 6, 1997
9 PM. I went back to the Amer v. Johnson adoption trial this morning and afternoon, and I chatted with June Amer during one of the recesses.
June seems like a wonderful person, but she looks so unhappy in her newspaper photos, as she did in the ones taken in court yesterday.
Unlike me, June clearly despises being the center of attention. She’s a private person, but also one of great strength.
She asked me if as a Jew, I could say that what she said yesterday – about the anti-gay 1977 Anita Bryant campaign reminding her of how the Jews were singled out in the Holocaust – was “all right.” I said it was, and I was impressed at her worrying that the remark might be offensive.
I was the only spectator in the courtroom all day. June’s partner, Gail DeShon, was home with their son, June’s biological son, whom they’re trying to adopt a brother for.
The sole witness today was David Brodzinsky, a Rutgers psychology professor with a Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo and an expert on adoption. He went over in great detail, under hours of direct and cross-examination, the psychological profiles and problems of adopted children.
He based his answers on the body of research he’s studied, as well as his own research, clinical practice and consulting. He’s seen about twenty gay and lesbian adoptive parents.
It seems that although the research suggests that children raised by gay men and lesbians show no difficulties beyond those of kids raised by straight parents, there haven’t been a lot of studies and very few longitudinal ones.
And most of the few studies done were about gay and lesbian biological parents or gay and lesbian adoptive parents who were biologically related to the kids, not “stranger” adoptions.
I suspect the battle of the experts will end up as a draw unless the state brings in wacko homophobes. Although a lot of the testimony yesterday and today was tedious, I did learn a lot about how adopted children adjust.
Last night I woke up at 2 AM and began thinking of Sean. I got online and e-mailed him what seemed at the time a playful, punning, clever and seductive note. In mentioning his final “Fondle me,” in response to my usual complimentary close, “Fondly,” I told him I didn’t know he was a “fondle-men-talist” and added all kinds of puns and double entendres.
In the light of day, however, I felt I wrote something embarrassing and juvenile.
Tonight, when I read Sean’s reply, I felt better. Sean said it must be nice to be able to “dazzle with words, but you know you can.”
Of course, Sean is very good at wordplay himself and he always has been. He ended with “Sit on my face, cum on my chest,” so I guess I didn’t offend him.
From Stuttgart, Tom e-mailed, saying that the spring semester is busy but going okay. He and Annette are due back in New Orleans on August 18 and school begins just three days later, so he’s not certain how he’ll manage at NOCCA this year. (I’ve got to read Umbra and write the NOCCA creative writing students about it before the school year ends.)
Tom contrasted Nicole Cooley’s selling her novel to Harper Collins for $5,000 with his inability to get his phone calls answered at Bantam, the publisher of his and Daniel Quinn’s afterlife book.
Tom’s had one story accepted, and he’s about to give his big reading of the novel that everyone thinks is about the university in Stuttgart.
He’s quite bitter that no one reviewed Roithamer’s Universe. I guess Tom’s feelings are understandable, but I want to avoid bitterness no matter how underrated I think my writing may be.
If only I could cultivate more indifference to whatever critical or popular reception my books get, I’d be happier.
Laura e-mailed me news of CGR. Helen left for a job with the state. She didn’t mention the DOE memo but clearly the idea was to get me moving or make me feel guilty enough to start cracking.
However, the further I get from CGR – and it’s five weeks since my last day at work – the less connection I feel and the less suasion CGR has over me. By now I’ve rationalized my failure to write the DOE memo, and I’m practicing avoidance like a true Grayson.
The movers called to say that they’ll be bringing my stuff around noon tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 7, 1997
8 PM. I’ve just shooed Mom away, telling her it’s okay that I don’t have a TV in my room anymore, though I did want to watch Ellen tonight. Still, it’s no big deal.
I’m lying on my familiar bed from Gainesville now, but it’s taking up an awful lot of space in Dad’s office, and I feel I’ve encroached upon his space even if I’m going to be here just another eleven days.
My stuff came today, and I spent the morning helping my parents clean up the garage so we could make room for it.
Moving has always brought out the worst in them – Dad’s impatience and exasperation, Mom’s obsessiveness, pettiness and caprice – so the only way I could endure the experience was to look at the humor in the situation.
Seeing all the crap that we’ve accumulated over the years in the garage has strengthened my resolve never to allow myself to acquire and keep stuff I don’t need. In truth, I could live quite happily had all the furniture and boxes that came today been swallowed up by a Florida sinkhole.
Everything did manage to fit in the space we’d cleared away, and one of the movers, a freckled redhead, was fun to watch as he worked in his tank top.
They messed up the computer desk, but that was so flimsy that I hadn’t planned on taking it, and if I can get a few dollars out of Gator Movers in compensation, it will be a small windfall.
Dad got a call from his company, complaining that he had had done no business in Puerto Rico, and he explained that was because they cut off the line too early.
Assured that he’ll continue to get his draw with only the boys’ line, Dad is going back to San Juan next week, and I’m to drive him to the Miami airport on Tuesday at 5 AM.
After lunch, I changed from my t-shirt and shorts into a sports shirt and long pants so I could look presentable in court for the Amer trial.
I heard the redirect of Dr. Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian psychologist who testified about gay parenting and adoption, and I heard all the testimony of Christina Zawisza, a lawyer who heads Children First, an advocacy group connected with Nova Law School.
Christina knows Liz, who has spoken well of her. A lobbyist and legislative consultant, she testified about the need for foster children to be adopted and explained how the statute outlawing adoptions by gay people was passed into law in 1977 without hearings, staff analysis, or the usual procedures.
Judge Frusciante managed not to lose patience with counsel for either side today although they were both pressing him on points that seemed absurd. The judge wants the trial to end on Friday, but things keep getting backed up.
I left when court adjourned for the day at 4:30 PM. So far I haven’t gotten a ticket even though I’ve just parked the car in the public parking lot without putting money into those machines beforehand.
I did get a shock when my Delphi bill was $68 – but $60 of that was the 15¢ access charge every time I call, and in April, I made 400 calls. Today I logged on only twice.
Alice e-mailed more about the Brooklyn College Class of 1972 reunion. She said that she burst into tears when she first arrived on campus and wasn’t sure she would be able to stay. She thought maybe it had something to do with the fact that her mother was the age she is now when Alice attended BC.
She said she can’t remember much about her undergraduate days except Howie, but of course Alice was never a campus kid like me; I practically lived at the college.
Elihu recounted what went on at the reunion in more detail than Alice did, but the gist was the same: that it was boring.
Elihu did credit Alice for helping him endure it with her humor and élan. He told me he went to the new gay bar near his house in Brooklyn Heights but said it seemed to be mostly couples.
Teresa got the house in Fire Island set up, and Jade got to her mother’s in Vermont okay.
Thursday, May 8, 1997
8 PM. Up at 6 AM, I listened to NPR, had breakfast and checked my e-mail.
Kevin wrote that his department at Warner Records is short-handed, so he’s been swamped with work, and that’s why hadn’t responded before.
Kevin got his tickets to go to Seattle for a Memorial Day week visit with friends there. He’s also going back to Gainesville in August: “My mother is having yet another wedding.”
The woman has been divorced three times already. It baffles me that these fundamentalist Christians can take marriage and divorce so slightly and not see the hypocrisy when they attack nontraditional families.
Nobody in my family was at all religious, yet both sets of my grandparents were married for well over fifty years and my parents will be having their 48th anniversary in a few weeks.
I also got a little note from Sean, a pretty “normal” one about stuff that I responded to in kind, with one or two raunchy things thrown in.
At court at 10 AM, I arrived just in time to see them take the first defense expert witness out of turn. A Sacramento psychoanalyst and M.D., Benjamin Kaufman is Vice President of NARTH, the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality.
I was prepared to dislike him and his homophobic views, but he was so rambling, incoherent and peculiar that I soon found him both entertaining and embarrassing.
Kaufman would be asked a question, and he would just ramble on and on, so that even the bailiff and the guys videotaping the trial (the only ones in the courtroom watching the trial except for me) couldn’t suppress grins.
On cross-examination, Kaufman was made to seem even more of a crackpot, though he might have been rehabilitated slightly on redirect.
He strikes me as a lively personality: outspoken, weirdly amusing and very self-absorbed. He had these odd frequent digressions about his own family. (“When my sons wouldn’t play ball with me, I felt like a failure.”)
Later, in the afternoon, this odd, slightly “off” couple sat in front of me, and they cornered Kaufman after his testimony. I heard their talk about their own lawsuit of some kind and how “the gay agenda” controls everything.
The wife noticed me listening and she lowered her voice, warning the doctor and her companion that “one of them” may be “spying” on their conversation.
Later I heard the couple arguing: she wanted him to accompany her to a Channel 7 interview and he wanted to watch more of the trial.
It struck me that if these three people are an example of anti-gay activists, they’re a pretty comical bunch, less threatening than just completely unhinged.
The videotaped deposition of another defense witness, Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, made him sound a little more reasonable, but not much.
He’s another one of these NARTH guys who believe that gay people can be “treated” and that homosexuality is a “developmental disturbance.”
Still, he did admit that there doesn’t seem to be much research on gay parenting, but what little there is apparently shows no difference between kids raised by heterosexual and homosexual parents.
And again, there seems to be almost nothing in terms of research of gay adoptive parents and their children.
However, Dr. Satinover said that studies would show the same kinds of problems that show up among kids raised in fatherless homes and that he believed there was no reason to lift the ban.
Weirdly, though, he said that if a gay man married a lesbian and they wanted to adopt, he would have no objections and they might make good parents because they were sacrificing their own desires for the child’s sake. These people are all crackpots.
To me, there seems to be a problem with all this social science research. While I understand the attorneys are trying to bring in studies that help their case and keep out studies that don’t, it seems obvious that even if the research looked “conclusive” one way or the other, it would not apply to every individual case, and constitutional rights like due process and equal protection should not be decided by the results of psychological studies.
Besides, the logical endgame of all the research showing that kids in fatherless homes have all these problems might be to forbid heterosexual married couples with children from divorcing – or at least make it more difficult for them to divorce. And even fundamentalists like Kevin’s thrice-divorced mother and the Republican politicians with their second “trophy” wives wouldn’t stand for that.
The President of the U.S., the Speaker of the House and countless other Americans have grown up in home without their fathers and seem to be doing okay.
Dr. Satinover’s videotaped deposition was interrupted by a plaintiff’s witness: Seth Gordon, a longtime Democratic operative in Miami who worked for state senators at the time of the passage of the anti-gay adoption law.
He was allowed to testify only in very general terms about the 1977 Dade County referendum and Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” crusade at the time the legislature passed the adoption bill.
It looks as though final arguments will be put off till Monday.
I spoke to June during the break. Since she grew up near me, we talked about Leon’s Bakery rainbow cookies and Brennan & Carr’s roast beef in Sheepshead Bay and about Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes in Brighton Beach. She’s going back to Brooklyn with Lisa and Robbie this summer.
During the course of the day, I also spoke to Michael Adams, June’s attorney from the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and even to Dr. Kaufman.
Instead of coming home for lunch, I ate at the Wendy’s on SE 17th Street, where I had not only my usual salad bar but also their grilled chicken – though I ate only about a quarter of the patty with the skin peeled off.
When I got home at 5 PM, the house was empty: my parents had taken China on her afternoon ride and my brothers were at work.
There was a message: “Call Laura in Gainesville.” But I don’t want to talk to her about the DOE memo and I’m going to try to avoid her till I leave Florida.
It’s not a good way to handle the situation, and I probably should face the music, but I’m embarrassed, and the more I’m pressed, the more I want to avoid doing that memo.
Probably this will make everyone at CGR dislike me, but I think that Liz still will mostly think well of me.