A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-December, 1995

Tuesday, December 12, 1995

8 PM. It’s warming up a bit. Last night I slept really well with pleasant dreams of teaching a class at Broward Community College and being in Miami Beach with Sat Darshan.

I slept late and didn’t get out of the house till after 10 AM, when it was already 48°.

My E-mail had messages from Josh, Wendy Cuellar, Joe Territo and others.

When I saw the subject line of Joe’s message, “Bearer of Bad News,” I knew what it was about. He told me they’ve decided “Only in Jersey” doesn’t fit in with the Star-Ledger Internet stuff, and they were suspending it after this week, “although we all enjoyed it.”

“Not a problem,” I wrote back. I said I probably agreed with the editorial decision and thanked Joe for working with me, etc.

It was very pleasant and professional, with a question about whether I should bill them for the column I sent yesterday.

Joe replied that he doesn’t know what Susan will say, but I should bill them since I wrote it before they told me about killing “Only in Jersey.”

At home this morning, I’d found four wonderful items for my column, which I’d polished nicely. So it took a while to sink in, the news.

Josh sent me a copy of a letter he’d sent Joe Hines, the Brooklyn District Attorney, expressing his outrage at Babbi Ebert’s arrest and telling me about some information Todd wanted about “Article 78,” which must be something peculiar to New York State law.

I wrote Josh that I was disappointed that New Jersey Online killed my column but also felt slightly relieved to be free of deadline pressure. I said I looked forward to doing other stuff with the free time I’m going to have now. All of that is true now that I’ve digested the news.

I called Dad, who sympathized and said he feels the same way working for a company that can fire him at any time. They already fired the Atlanta salesman from Jacksonville whom he roomed with in Los Angeles recently.

I wrote to Susan, telling her I hope she doesn’t feel weird, that I totally understand, and I segued into a friend/update mode after I thanked her for the chance to do the column.

At home tonight I took off the Lexis Eclipse searches – five of them – I used for the column.

At least now I can concentrate on my job at CGR. Annette Rice called to tell me the tentative date of the Tallahassee meeting was Thursday, January 25, the day after Liz and I will finish interviewing for the fellowship.

So I’ll need some memoranda by then; the freed-up time will help.

Wendy thanked me for the distance learning memo, which she circulated to Bob Branson, Richard Madaus and others and said I should get some feedback by the end of the week. She wished me happy holidays and said she was off to South Florida for vacation.

I thought about going there myself, and I made a reservation for a Budget car rental from Friday to Tuesday, but the price – $45 a day – seems exorbitant, and I probably will cancel it.

I wasn’t really in the mood to work, but the law school server kept slowing up and crashing all day, so I wasn’t able to use the computer nearly all day.

When Laura asked if I’d be going to Jon’s house for his Christmas party next Wednesday night, I said no. I really don’t feel like socializing with people I see every day at work. I also want to get myself ready to ease out of CGR as well.

The New Jersey Online thing reminds me that nothing’s permanent, and I’m beginning to think about life after CGR and post-Gainesville.

In the mail I got a boost when a small Indiana literary magazine, pLopLop, accepted my “This Planet Is Overrated.”

They print good people, including Richard Kostelanetz – to whom I sent a clip from Leah Garchik’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle, about an artist’s survey of how various people want their remains to be stored. (Typically, Richard said he wanted to be buried with all the stuff he wrote – so he could amuse people in the afterlife.)

If I felt wounded by losing the column – and wounded was the word that sprung to mind this morning – I’m healing now.

So much for getting out of debt. As I always say: easy come, easy go.

Thursday, December 14, 1995

10:30 PM. I’m in Fort Lauderdale. Last evening I decided this was as good a time as any for a visit, and I made car rental reservations one way from the University Centre Hotel to Fort Lauderdale Airport.

On Tuesday, I’ll pick up a car here and take it to Gainesville airport. (No cars were available on Monday at the airport.)

Things seemed slow at the office, especially with the computers behaving so erratically, and I figured it wasn’t critical that I’d be at this evening’s HRC board meeting.

Next weekend will be Christmas, and I’d have a problem with renting a car and then have the same traffic going home that I did last year.

Anyway, I got out my small suitcase and started putting stuff in it and otherwise preparing for the trip.

When I turned on the overhead light at 6:45 AM today, the bulb blew out, and I had trouble replacing it: the new bulb wouldn’t go in right, but I turned on the light switch anyway and blew out all the lights in the apartment.

(It soon occurred to me that if I shut the light switch, the circuit breaker would turn the power back on.)

I called Maintenance, and a guy came shortly before I left for work at 8:45 AM. When I returned later, I had a whole new fixture.

In an e-mail message I found at work, Josh told me about conversations he’d had with Rabbi Ebert and the Bay News reporter who wrote what sounded like a sensationalistic story.

The rabbi maintains his innocence, and if Josh believes him, that’s good enough for me after I heard Josh’s version of the facts – which do sound suspicious. I apologized to Josh if I said anything out of line.

Elihu told me all about his vacation in Tombstone. It sounded very hokey/touristy to me, but Elihu likes that sort of thing. He was amazed by the Arizona climate, topography and sky.

Elihu also said he’d never seen so many pickup trucks in his life. He’s obviously never lived in the South.

Brianna gave me a Christmas card and a loaf of carrot cake which she baked (Marc just ate most of it); I thanked her and wished her a great holiday.

Undergrad finals are tomorrow, so I got out of Gainesville just before the rush. Still, I spotted a bunch of UF students’ cars on the highway with me today.

After the heavy fog lifted at 10:30 AM, I went to the hotel and picked up my Ford Escort. Next week I’m going to have to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel to retrieve my car.

At home, I had lunch and left around 11:45 AM. The long ride was one of the best I’ve ever had: I never got overly tired or hungry, and I found highway driving a relaxing change from my usual routine.

At the Marion County line, I-75 became the usual construction nightmare. It’s been four years, and it seems as if the highway renovation will never end, but somewhere past Ocala to Wildwood, it gets a little better.

At 1 PM, I made my first stop, at the Okahumpka rest area near the start of the Turnpike. (It’s hard to tell where it begins now that there are no tickets given out until past Orlando.)

For the next hour, I listened to All My Children via the headphones connected to the ABC channel (9) in Orlando on my little TV, which no longer gets a picture.

I was wondering when I was going to get to Orlando itself when I looked up and saw the next exit was Kissimmee-St. Cloud, so I’d already passed it.

When the TV station faded, I turned on WIOD-AM 710 in Miami, and listened to Phil Hendrie’s funny talk show for the next couple of hours.

The car’s air conditioning didn’t work well, so I kept the window open all the way. I stopped at every rest area to use the bathroom.

In Palm Beach County a little after 4 PM, I began to get hungry – I hadn’t snacked at all except for a single fat-free brownie – and I decided to stop for McLean Deluxe in Delray Beach, where I could also call Sat Darshan’s father.

I found a McDonald’s staffed by the elderly on Military Trail off Atlantic Boulevard. At the pay phone there, I spoke briefly to Mr. P. The stroke has made his voice a bit slurred so I didn’t understand everything he said, but he sounded healthy.

I offered my sympathy on his wife’s passing. He said he wasn’t sure if he’s going to move to Phoenix to stay with Sat Darshan or go to Carlsbad, California, where Ellen has a new job.

As I listened to All Things Considered and drove into Broward, it began to get dark. I made the mistake of getting off the Turnpike at Commercial Boulevard, figuring I’d drive down University Drive to see my old stamping grounds in Lauderhill, Sunrise and Plantation. But the traffic was the worst I’d experienced in years.

So much has changed in the five years since I last lived in Broward, and of course, compared to my first visit here for Christmas 1979, the place is unrecognizable.

Coming into the house via the garage, I found Mom and China on the living room sofa. I hugged Mom hello, and China got so excited that she couldn’t stop licking me and wagging her tail and wanting me to pet her.

It felt good to be greeted so affectionately. I also hugged Dad when he came in from the other room. Jonathan was at work and Marc at school.

I had dinner with my parents, who don’t look as if they’ve aged much. (Although I saw Dad only a couple of months ago, I hadn’t seen Mom for almost a year.)

When Marc came home he showed me what he’s learning in his program at ITT: a lot of circuitry and stuff way beyond me. This quarter they’re covering computer processors, and he’s got an old XT set up in the garage. (Marc could not believe we still have them in the CGR offices.)

Jonathan was tired when he came home, so I haven’t talked with him much yet.

It’s good that I shook up my routine and came down today. I’d forgotten how extraordinarily beautiful and magical South Florida is at this time of year.

How I took it for granted when I lived here: the lambent sky, the pastel colors, the mild breezes.

Friday, December 15, 1995

8 PM. It’s really been good for me to get away. Last night I fell asleep at midnight and slept till 7 AM.

There was no skim milk this morning, so after I had a bowl of cereal, I went out to Publix to buy some stuff I like to eat, I filled up the rental car’s gas tank and got the New York Times.

Dad said he didn’t have much to do today, so after I dropped off the car at Budget by the airport, we drove into Miami and he took me to the CompUSA superstore by the Palmetto at NW 12th Avenue.

I wanted to look at hardware and software and to finally use my CompUSA credit card – which I did, on a cheap piece of mailing-list software. In the future I want to take advantage of my $2,000 credit line, so I figured I’d better use the card.

Dad said he felt at sea among all those intimidating technological devices that he didn’t understand – though it made him feel a bit better to see all those For Dummies books.

We then drove downtown, passing Miami Jackson High School, where I remembered teaching a workshop using PFS First Choice, an early piece of integrated software.

I have very happy memories of the schools and neighborhoods where I taught computer workshops all over Dade County between 1986 and 1990.

Being a teacher-trainer was a great job that gave me the chance to explore a lot of great places and interesting subjects.

We went to visit some friends of Dad’s, a father and two sons who run this discount menswear store on 20th Street.

Later, Dad told me they are very rich Jews, originally from Cuba, who lived for many years in Puerto Rico and own a lot of other stores. They obviously do a brisk business with visiting South Americans.

Dad has been getting commissions from them when he sells their goods to stores in Puerto Rico on his trips there.

We chatted with them about Gators football. One son asked me if I don’t get crazy in a small town like Gainesville, and I was pleased someone understood how I feel.

I do feel more comfortable in a big metro area like South Florida. The much larger population makes it easier to find people who are like me.

When I told Dad I wanted to see the Wolfsonian, the new museum in South Beach, he drove us over the Causeway.

We went up and down Miami Beach’s now-trendy streets. Everywhere there are clubs, restaurants, coffee bars and tony shops like the kind you’d see in Manhattan, coffee bars.

The streets are filled with with-it young people, who overwhelm the few old Jews still hanging on in the neighborhood.

Knowing South Beach as the decrepit, dying place it was for years, Dad had a hard time accepting how glamorous the area had become. We were about to give up finding parking when I spotted a meter on Washington Avenue.

When I said I was hungry, Dad suggested we go to the 11th Street Diner on the corner. It’s an old-fashioned diner hauled down from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

We ate outside on the deck, and although it took us over half an hour to get served, I didn’t mind dawdling over iced tea until my garden veggie burger finally came. I liked watching the crowd of neat people, many of them gay, sitting around us.

Down the block, I paid for our admission to the Wolfsonian, which included audio devices better than Acoustiguides because you could press in a number add an object and listen, as if on a phone, to a tape – which you could end at any time.

“The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945” exhibition looked at the role of designers in the modern world. They had stuff representing the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, Soviet futurism and fascist propaganda, and objects like the Trylon and the Perisphere.

Dad and I went through the galleries, looking at the posters, prints, paintings, furniture and appliances. Wolfson collected some incredible stuff.

Leaving South Beach, we drove north on Collins Avenue, a ride I’ve always loved. We went through the condo canyons and hotels, past Surfside and Sunny Isles and Haulover Beach and took the bridge to Aventura.

Then we drove north on Biscayne Boulevard/U.S. 1 through Hallandale and Dania and finally back home to Davie.

After exercising to a Body Electric tape, I took the station wagon to the West Regional Library for a while.

This evening, after returning from work, Jonathan told me about his trip out West and the people he’d met and the places he’d seen. It was interesting to hear his impressions of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, places I’ve never been.

It’s always good for me to get away from routine. I’m so much a creature of habit that sometimes I lose sight of what’s important as I attempt to check off the items on my “to do” list.

It would be nice to live in South Florida again. If I could live in Miami Beach, I think I’d have lots of fun.

Sunday, December 17, 1995

10 AM. One of the things this trip has been good for is to remind me that I had a full, interesting life long before Gainesville, law school or CGR.

That’s important because I expect that within six months, I’ll be out of my present circumstances and starting something new somewhere else.

Yesterday I spent hours walking around Broward Community College: first South Campus and then Central Campus, which BCC now shares with Florida Atlantic University.

There’s a building boom underway at both campuses, particularly at Central, where I explored the magnificent new BCC/FAU library.

Using Luis to see what Interact looked like this week, I found they still had last week’s page up. I don’t know if they’ll publish my final “Only in Jersey” column.

I also found the three most recent issues of Publishers Weekly, none of which had a review of my book. Unless one appears in the issue coming out tomorrow or the next week, I suppose there’ll be no PW review.

Before 1996 is here, I should learn if I Survive Caracas Traffic will get any reviews at all. Oh well.

Being on campus reminded me of how many happy memories I have of teaching English at South and Central and of taking FIU and FAU grad courses at Central and working in their old computer lab.

When I read the latest copy of The Observer, the BCC student newspaper, it struck me how much the school has grown since I first taught there 15 years ago. Now they have an active gay organization, something unthinkable in the early 1980s.

Still, most of the names of faculty at the English Departments at the campuses were quite familiar to me. And at FAU’s gorgeous four-story College of Liberal Arts building, I passed the offices of FAU faculty like John Childrey and Dan Kauffman, whom I’ve known for years.

I took copies of the FAU, FIU and BC spring class schedules back home to look them over. A part of me wishes I could again teach or take grad classes at Central Campus. But I can only live one life at a time.

I’ve been sleeping well on the foam pads Mom has put on the floor of Dad’s office. I went to bed late Friday night after I’d watched Double Indemnity, a film I’d always loved, and I’ve felt quite snug in this house. But I’ve also remembered how weird my family can be.

Yesterday morning, when I knocked on Jonathan’s door while Indian music was playing to ask if I could take a shower in the bathroom he’s temporarily sharing with me, he growled at me. (Literally: “Grrr!” And he said nothing else.)

I must have interrupted his meditating, but I’m not used to being talked to – or growled at – like that.

Then, when Mom and I came home at 5 PM yesterday and we tried to talk to Dad, he completely ignored us and silently left, slamming the door.

Later, he went on a tirade about how Marc hadn’t come home or called since Friday night.

When I asked Dad if he or Mom had ever told Marc to call if he wasn’t coming home, the answer was no: “We shouldn’t have to ask; he should know.”

That’s my parents for you.

I’m glad I was able to persuade Mom to get dressed and take her out for three hours yesterday. It seems like she doesn’t get out much these days.

We drove to Port Everglades and then along Las Olas Boulevard and A1A, where the beach was crowded with tanned sunbathers.

Turning left on Sunrise Boulevard, I drove us to downtown, where I parked at the library garage and showed Mom the Main Library. I’ve been there hundreds of times, but she had never seen it before.

I also took her to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, where we took in  exhibitions of Impressionist and Realist painters in America from 1880 to 1920 and of sketchbooks of William Glackens. I showed Mom some of the CoBrA art from the museum’s permanent collection.

We then went across the street to Blockbuster Plaza, all decorated for Christmas, and came home about 5:30 PM. Mom said she wasn’t used to walking so much.

Since I got here, I’ve barely had time to read the newspapers, let alone the issue of Wired I brought with me. But it’s good for me to get away from my routine. If there’s one thing I need in my life, it’s more spontaneity.