A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1996

Saturday, December 21, 1996

9 PM. It’s a bit milder tonight, with the low expected in the mid-30°s, and it got up into the 50°s today. After sleeping well, I tried to be less frenetic than usual this morning.

I’ve been trying to finish the seven-tape audiobook of Tracy Kidder’s Old Friends so that I can take it and Gail Sheehy’s New Passages back to the library since they’re overdue. (The Alachua County Public Library doesn’t charge late fines.)

This morning Mom phoned, saying she’d found the three Web magazines I’d bought at CompUSA in the garage. I must have left them on a table, planning to put them into my suitcase but I never did it.

Anyway, that mystery is cleared up, and since Mom will mail me the magazines, I won’t have to buy new copies.

Using the step I bought to do step aerobics to a Homestretch tape, I got a little more of workout than usual.

Today I looked at the new Authors Guild Bulletin, which arrived while I was away.

After reading a symposium on “Publishing Your Book,” I realized that after I buy Christmas cards – I’m planning on doing it on Thursday, when they’ll be cheap – I need to send a card to Martin Hester.

It’s been six months since I last heard from Martin. I’ve never seen another review of an Avisson Press title, and I suspect Martin has been totally depressed over the failure of the books he tried to publish.

If he couldn’t get my book – which had gotten reviewed in the New York Times Book Review – into the stores, he couldn’t succeed with any of them.

I feel guilty about not doing more, but I don’t know what else I could have done. If my book had been published in trade paperback, I could have tried to sell copies on my own.

A year ago, awaiting publication, I wasn’t sure if I’d get any reviews – then came Publishers Weekly, the nice mini-review in Kirkus, and then the biggie in the New York Times Book Review – even if it was just in “Books in Brief.” There was also that bad review in American Book Review. It was disappointing that no Florida papers mentioned the book, but the New York Times made up for that.

I was never crazy about the book’s contents, but those were Martin’s choices. I feel sure I could have put together a better collection of my stories.

Still, Martin did the best he could. His personality and attitude were – like Kevin Urick’s – not the ones best suited to a book publisher.

(It’s different with Ed Hogan, which is why Zephyr Press is still operating after fifteen years in business.)

Of course, Martin lost money on my book’s publication while I had only something to gain.

As we’d arranged, I met Christy downtown at Emiliano’s Cafe and Bakery for tea at 3 PM.

She met me in the street wearing what I consider a “Christy” costume: a purple cape and a stylish but eccentric hat: sort of a crooked, crushed-down version of a stovepipe, it reminded me of the one worn by The Cat in the Hat.

She brought along some color xeroxes of her web pages, which she’s planning to take to her job interview at the University of Toledo next week. That’s the one place she’s taught at, as a one-semester replacement, and she’d like to go back.

Christy says that the people in Miami are ruder than the people in New York City, and I suppose that’s true.

Linda Baldwin said to me this week how New Yorkers always seemed so helpful and friendly on her visits to the city, so maybe New Yorkers are getting a new reputation for being nice.

As usual, I enjoyed chatting with Christy about writing, the Web, art, and academia. She’s not really as naïve as I sometimes think, nor is she someone who exaggerates her own importance – at least not to me.

Christy and Tom leave for France – on Icelandic Airlines – in February; I was sorry that Tom wasn’t able to come along with her to tea today.

When I got home, there was a message from Pete, so I called Brooklyn. He said India was fine, though not quite the exhilarating experience it was the first time.

He’s going to the MLA conference next week – on the train to D.C. with Bruce Chadwick, who at 50 is still adjuncting at Brooklyn College and other places.

But it seems that Pete now realizes his hopes of an academic position once he got his Ph.D. were a bit inflated. The places he’s applied to – Western Washington, Virginia Commonwealth, Hampshire College – tend to be places I once applied to without any luck in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Pete says he’ll apply this year and next – because his degree isn’t being officially granted until January 1997 – but after that, his degree won’t be “fresh.”

However, if he can get a publisher for his dissertation, Pete may have better luck. In the meantime, he’s planning to find work as a computer programmer again.

It turns out that there are job openings with many companies that still use outdated mainframes and who can’t find COBOL programmers because schools stopped churning them out years ago. I forget what Pete called it – something like “classic” or “archival” mainframe work. Oh yeah: legacy systems.

Apparently, businesses are dealing with the switch to ’00 for the year 2000. By now I guess everyone knows that in a classic mistake of not looking ahead, nearly all computer systems treat the last two digits of a date as a year in the 20th century so that, say, people born in 1900 could lose their Social Security benefits because they’ll all be considered newborns.

Pete was going to dinner with Donna and Masa, and I told to say hello to them for me and to do the same with Harold Bakst, whom he’s meeting later this week for lunch.

Monday, December 23, 1996

7 PM. It seemed as if I was busy all day and accomplished nothing. I haven’t even read today’s New York Times or finished yesterday’s. I’ve just spent 25 minutes with someone working for Penn & Schoen, the pollsters. (Of course I know who they are.)

Most of the questions were regarding the abuse of pets and policies that could be implemented to stop it, like sharing information between agencies that monitor child abuse and domestic violence with those that handle animal welfare.

I wondered – and I just said this to Jonathan on the phone – if some politician is planning to propose animal rights legislation. On the other hand, there were also a number of questions about Goodwill Industries, gasoline taxes, excise taxes and HMOs.

I suspect that once the interviewer realized, as he said, that he had “a well-informed respondent,” he may have used me for a variety of different surveys.

After I worked out, showered and dressed, I went to Cuts, Etc. for a haircut and got the slightly daffy young woman, Simone, who used to cut my hair near my first apartment in the Student Ghetto.

She remembered me, too. Although she’s now the mother of seven-month-old twin boys, she seems as ditsy as ever.

At the office, I spent time answering e-mail, replying to Sat Darshan and Patrick, to Jerry from junior high (who sent me a Christmas card), and to Gabriel Lampert, whom I told I was leaving the GayJews list.

I also sent messages to various National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminars and institutes for college faculty, not that I think I have much of a chance of getting into any of them.

In yesterday’s Miami Herald, Broward Community College advertised for a number of administrative and faculty positions, including several English instructors at Central and the department head at South.

On the radio, I heard about a legislator’s plan for random drug searches of middle and high school students. Almost immediately, I started to write an op-ed column for the Gainesville Sun or Orlando Sentinel, but so far I haven’t made much progress.

It’s such an outrageous invasion of the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of students, and because of the hysterical drug war, most people will probably go along and support it. (Laura and Helen do.)

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Vernonia School District covered only athletes on high school teams, and that was bad enough.

When I told Jon the sponsor was Senator Ron Silver of Miami Beach, with whom he served in the House, Jon said he suspected that Silver’s staff wrote the bill without him ever reading it.

Jon also said I was right in the memo I said to yesterday after seeing Albert Shanker’s column in the Times. It reprinted a New Republic TRB column about a charter school the District of Columbia founded whose leader is a convicted violent offender, a woman who teaches black nationalism and anti-semitism.

I told Jon that if Buddy MacKay plans to make charter schools the cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign, he had better make certain to be careful. “An attack ad on something like this would lose him Broward in a primary,” I wrote.

My own discomfort with charter schools is really the problems in public policy, not practical politics; I don’t like government funding without accountability, and I don’t think money should be diverted to groups that have their own agendas – even if the agenda was one that I supported, like gay rights.

Robin Hemley sent me his new e-mail address which is msn.com; in fact, he’s going to be writing a column for the Microsoft Network, reviewing strange websites.

Teresa also wrote that she’s having trouble with AOL, and Kevin sent a “Hey, Babe…” message telling me he’d gotten two bottles of champagne at work and was heading out at noon (3 PM our time) to a French restaurant for the office lunch. After that, Warner Bros. Records was closing down for two weeks.

On Lexis, I found that Robin Hemley had been mentioned in Orlando Sentinel book critic Nancy Pate’s review of a new anthology of short stories about the idea of home.

That prompted me to send an e-mail to the guys at Red Hen Press who sent me a Christmas card photo today, telling them to get a copy to Nancy Pate, whom I snail-mailed the flyer for the Anyone Is Possible anthology.

At lunchtime, on my way back to work, I got lots of mail, including the new issues of Poets & Writers and the AWP Chronicle.

I ended up sending out a manuscript of stories to a new small press in Forest Hills although I doubt that I’ll have the same luck with them as I did with Avisson Press.

I also learned that Treasure House, which accepted “Spaghetti Language,” has folded. Rats – most of the stories that have been accepted lately won’t appear because of a similar reason.

I sent the piece to Rick Peabody although it’s probably too late for the special issue of Gargoyle and Rick probably won’t like the story anyway.

I also responded with queries or submissions to several of the open “submissions wanted” notices and sent an application for a residency to the Montalvo Arts Center in California.

Justin said in a mass e-mail that he just finished grading over 200 papers and giving final grades to over 100 students at Brooklyn College. He was on his way to spend Christmas in Reading with Larry’s family and would write a personal note to me soon.

Alice thanked me for checking out that woman for Andreas. Lately she’s been busy, going to Boston with Peter for Christmas and then to Vienna on the 28th – and she has to review the copy of Just the Weigh You Are by the first week of January.

Things seem awfully busy for what’s supposedly a slow week.

Tuesday, December 24, 1996

4:30 PM. I just returned from a stroll over to Walmart to see what Christmas Eve looked like there. Although it was quite crowded, I didn’t see anyone looking terribly frantic as they attempted to pick up last-minute gifts.

I slept deeply last night except for the bad sinus headache that I had earlier assumed was just eye strain. I’ve taken decongestants and hope that my sinuses clear up soon.

At 7:30 AM, I went to Publix to pick up gifts for Laura and the secretaries. I bought Laura a $5 Whitman Sampler and got Helen and Cari a slightly cheaper box of chocolate truffles. Laura kissed me and said she loves Whitman Samplers.

I managed to get the last of the gourmet pears that had been sent by our travel agent to the office. The one I had today was as exquisite as yesterday’s; if there are only ten perfect moments in a pear’s life, I caught these at the right time.

Liz came into my office with Helen, wanting to know what I had scheduled between Tuesday, January 14 and Thursday, January 23. Nothing, I said, so I was open to do fellowship interviews at all those times.

Liz and I agreed that, if necessary, we would interview on Saturday, January 18 . Now I need to create and put up posters reminding students about the January 13 application deadline.

I was happily surprised to find out that WPBT did send the $10,000 after getting my last package of Common Ground materials. I was certain that there’d be a problem with what I wrote. Anyway, that’s a relief.

Mostly today I worked on my op-ed piece attacking random drug testing for students. By 11:30 AM, I had two fairly polished versions.

The shorter 500-word one, I e-mailed to the Orlando Sentinel as a potential “My Word” column, and the 750-word version went out by snail mail to the Gainesville Sun, Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times – though it just occurred to me that the latter will probably run a column by the ACLU’s Robyn Blumner on the topic.

I’m hoping that at least one newspaper will publish the piece.

Now I should be working on the queercore band story. I’m not going to be able to write a well-made fiction, I realized – no kidding! – so the best I can do is a short experimental piece. I think I’ll call it “Meet The Queridos,” which is probably going to be the name of the band.

The office closed at noon, so I came home and read the paper and watched the sentimental Christmas show of All My Children.

As a kid, what I knew of Christmas holiday traditions came mostly from what I saw on soap operas. The plots would always slow down as families gathered together and enemies and rivals made at least a temporary peace.

Sunday, December 29, 1996

9 PM. Even though I didn’t work on it yesterday or today, I haven’t given up on the queercore band story.

Last night I found myself thinking about it, deciding to discard the name The Queridos for the band in favor of Boys Club, and I’m not even sure of that yet. The story still needs to come together in my head.

Yesterday I would have felt better about my writing problem had I bothered to buy the Gainesville Sun. In fact, last night I thought about picking up the paper on the off chance that they published my op-ed piece, but then it got late, and I felt tired.

Late this afternoon I did a load of laundry, mostly so that I could get out in the pleasant weather, and at 5 PM, walking back with my laundry bag, I saw my neighbor, the law student with the Clinton/Gore bumper sticker on his car.

He was about to drive away, and after I nodded to him, he said, “I read your article in the Sun. I agreed with what you said and thought it was good.”

“Thank you,” I said, surprised that he knew who I was and too embarrassed to tell him that I hadn’t seen it.

Of course my first thought was to get a copy of the paper, but where? The libraries had just closed at 5 PM, and nothing is harder to find than a copy of the previous day’s newspaper.

I looked through the newspaper trash bins in back of Barnes & Noble but found only copies of last Sunday’s Atlanta Constitution with the masthead cut off.

I drove around, looking in garbage pails, arousing the suspicion of a homeless man at a bus stop who might have viewed me as a competitor for dumpster treasures.

Finally I decided I can wait until tomorrow and go to the public library. I’m curious as to what parts of my essay they omitted.

Of course, Saturday’s paper is always the least-noticed edition of the week (which is why that’s where my stuff usually appears), and with the university community gone for Christmas vacation, yesterday’s paper must have attracted scant attention.

Still, it will be nice to see my byline and my words in print, especially since I only thought of writing the article last Monday morning and finished it the following day. They must have been hard up for pieces this week.

Last night I slept deeply, not awakening till nearly 8 AM. Struggling out of bed, I went to Albertsons and bought the New York Times, Miami Herald and $59 worth of groceries, toilet paper, band-aids and a bulb to replace my dead turn signal in the car.

The Times had a long piece on urban sprawl in the West. I hadn’t realized that Phoenix, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City were so polluted, but those fast-growing cities – along with the Denver and Seattle metro areas – keep adding more distant subdivisions.

Compared to Phoenix or Vegas, Florida’s growth has slowed – although the big news in Broward is still the immense school resources that will be required by the huge Weston development.

Still, in Broward, even the most rabid developers are coming close to the buffer of the Everglades, but they can keep going for miles in the Arizona desert.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these giant Western cities face the same problems Los Angeles has today and that eventually people will abandon them for denser, more livable places.

New York City begins to look as if it’s on a much more human scale. Even the sprawl of New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island suburbs is compact and urban by comparison to Phoenix, Salt Lake or Vegas.

I again did step aerobics exercise this morning. It makes me work up a decent sweat. Mostly I read the rest of the day, taking time to watch the year-end roundups on the Sunday public affairs shows.

While I was waiting for my laundry to dry after I’d finished the sections of the Times I brought to read by the pool, as a memory exercise I tried to remember where I was or at least what I was generally doing at the end of each of the previous 27 years I’ve been keeping a diary.

It shocked me to recall that it was 25 years ago that I spent part of New Year’s Eve with Scott and Sat Darshan (then Avis), making electric bagels.

It feels good to know that I’m still friends with them – and with Ronna, with whom I spent New Year’s Eve the next two years, 1972 and 1973, at Susan’s house.

I was also at Ronna’s house in 1978, I think, the year Evan threw up after drinking too much and I ran into Beatrice’s bedroom with little Billy to avoid the vomit smell.