A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1996

Saturday, May 11, 1996

9 PM. I was surprised when Terence called at 8 PM yesterday. We talked on the phone for two hours, interrupted by his getting a call from Anthony, who’s unhappy to be spending the summer with his parents in Nashville.

Around 10 PM I told Terence I needed to get off. As usual, I don’t know whether I’ll hear from him again.

I did learn his last name – Williams (“I would have told you before if you asked”) – and got more of a sense of the guy, like how he left his hometown roommate when the guy started doing cocaine and acting up.

Certainly, I know a lot more about Terence than he does about me, as he continues to show no interest in my life – or else he’s incredibly shy about asking questions.

I think that because many of his friends are students away for the summer, he likes having someone to listen to him.

He’s boy-crazy but also quite firm about making sure he will not let himself get into a relationship unless he can ferociously maintain his independence.

I like that, and I like his being this soft, fem guy who’s an incredibly tough cookie. (A lot of sissy guys have that steel underneath.)

He gets impatient when I joke with him because he can’t always tell when I’m being facetious.

I slept well and my neck and shoulder felt better today. This morning I reworked “Spaghetti Language,” doing three more drafts until I finally have an 11-page story I feel comfortable sending out to little magazines.

On Lexis I found an article from today’s Sun-Sentinel about the Florida Supreme Court ruling on the tax cap amendment and how it will affect the sugar tax amendment; Jon was quoted, so I brought the article to his house later.

I’ve stopped looking for reviews of I Survived Caracas Traffic. It’s a good thing the New York Times Book Review reviewed the book because that was the only newspaper review I got.

Martin meant well, but despite the Times, he couldn’t do much with my book, both because he’s not that competent at getting word out and because of the problems with distribution.

I have yet to see a copy of the book in any bookstore. I’ll probably go to a library soon just to reassure myself that copies of the book exist.

Clearly, it’s going to do much worse than my other hardcover books, which is saying a lot. Still, I got the four reviews out of it, and I could send the copies of the Times review along with all the copies of my new story when I submit to literary magazines.

Fiction writing will never be more than a hobby for me. If I want to make money, I guess I have to write a memoir, but everyone’s writing them these days, and what chance would I have to make mine unique?

This morning I looked for flights to New York. Terence said I could get a cheaper flight if I drove to Jacksonville, and maybe I should do that.

I also bought groceries, did low-impact aerobics, and paid the bills I got in the mail. After lunch, I left for Jon’s lake house.

While I complain about being out in the country, I had a good time for the four hours or so I was there.

Liz, Joe, and Joe’s daughter Leah were in the water when I arrived; they left early because they had to drive Leah to Tampa, where she lives with her mother.

Liz was thrilled to get a letter from her son, who told her he’s working hard organizing the Steelworkers Union in Portland; she was especially touched that he’d enclosed a joint.

I helped some of the women set up the stuff for all the babies – Micajah, Kylie, Marguerite – and I met the latter’s namesake, Jon’s mother Marguerite Mills, a very nice Southern lady.

Outside, Joey the Cajun chef was cooking the crayfish and the fried turkey. I said hi to Linda and Joann. They introduced me to Linda’s daughter Lisa, who works in the legislature in Tallahassee. Terry, the retiring head of the Center for Latin American studies, was also there.

Chris Slobogin, who’s going with Joann and the other CGR people to do judges’ training in Brazil, came with his kids, in-laws, nieces and a cute four-year-old nephew named Grayson.

I talked with Cindy Slobogin, who said Chris is going to be, along with George Dawson, one of the new associate deans under Rick Matasar.

I walked to the end of the dock and sat in the shade watching people swim and water ski and use those dangerously fast whatchamacallits. I saw my first ultralight aircraft with pontoons, which also looks scary.

And I chatted with Russ, Jeff and his wife Sherry, Helen and her twins, Cari and others. I also spoke with Pedro about the grading of exams, and I sat on the back porch with Ellen. Richard came by boat and he took kids and adults on rides around Lake Santa Fe.

When the food came, I ate only the salad and some spicy boiled new potatoes – and just a smidgen of fried turkey. The loads of children around helped make for a pleasant atmosphere.

Jon’s lake house is pretty far out of town, so I was ready to leave by 7 PM.

A ValuJet flight from Miami to Atlanta crashed in the Everglades this afternoon. All the passengers were killed, but they haven’t been able to recover the bodies.

Events like that really make you realize how fragile life can be. However, if I had to die – what on my talking about?! I do have to die! – I’d like to die in a plane crash. It’s quick, you’re not dying alone and everyone will think it’s tragic.

Am I sounding stupid yet?

Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day and I have to call Mom in the morning.

Tuesday, May 14, 1996

4 PM. Terence called at around 10:45 PM last night and we talked for ninety minutes – about food, hair, clothes, the kind of stuff I can talk about with him.

He went out on Saturday night with his friend Bobby, who likes to go to the University Club in drag, and they stayed out till 6 AM, so he slept till about 2 PM the next day.

Only when we were about to hang up – I told him I was tired and that I usually awoke at around 6:30 AM – did Terence reluctantly tell me about a dream he had in which I appeared.

I was in his apartment, and pointing to the clothes on the floor, I snidely accused him of having sex with another guy.

He told me to get out of his apartment if I didn’t believe he was innocent, and then other people came in, including one guy who was cute and whom he began to kiss.

Terence’s mother then walked in on them, upset – and then in real life, Bobby knocked on his door, waking him up.

Terence said the dream represents his fears about me: that if we ever got into a relationship, I’d be possessive and controlling like his friends’ boyfriends.

“All my friends tell me not to call you anymore,” he reported. “Anthony – after he saw you – said to me, ‘You’re slipping.’”

I assumed that Anthony meant that Terence’s standards were slipping, that he could do better than me (no doubt he could), but what he meant was that Terence was slipping into vulnerability and inevitable dependence on me.

I told Terence that what I liked about him was his ferocious independence and if we ever did get serious, which was unlikely, not only would he never let me control him but I had no interest in making him into my possession.

“As much as you fear a controlling boyfriend,” I said, “I fear someone who will be dependent on me, who won’t be able to go out with his friends on Saturday night while I do what I want to.”

I have to admit it does make me feel good that I’m getting to Terence, that he likes me. I hope he calls again.

I e-mailed Kevin this morning although he might have left the Los Angeles already. I wrote that I wish him well and that I care about him and I expect to hear great things about him someday.

Also this morning, I bought tickets on a Delta flight from Orlando to LaGuardia on June 12, with a return flight a week later.

I also reserved a week’s car rental with Hertz. It’s expensive, but I’ll get frequent flyer miles, and I haven’t had a car in New York for five or six years.

Now that I’m not talking to Josh, only a few of my friends live in Manhattan. Elihu, Pete, Justin and Larry are in Brooklyn; Ronna is in Philly; Scott is in Westchester.

With a car, I can drive around Brooklyn and Queens and visit my grandparents’ graves on Long Island and avoid being dependent on Teresa and her family.

Before leaving for work, I called Nova to find out about getting paid for my teaching. Diana, Micki’s secretary, explained that adjuncts’ checks go out on the 15th of every month, and because my class ended on the 16th, she’ll be sending out my check tomorrow.

This morning I revised and edited my memo, which ended up as 11 single-space pages with about 70 footnotes.

I sent it off to Wendy along with the blank RFP forms Joann had gotten off the UF home page, asking her to call Joann if FSU’s Center for Educational Technology was interested in CGR doing further research into the kind of legal issues we did for Schoolyear 2000.

I think by now everyone knows I’m staying at CGR although I haven’t told Russ directly.

Russ shocked me by asking me to sign a copy of Caracas Traffic, which he ordered from Goerings; I was both flattered and terribly embarrassed.

It’s touching to know that Russ would spend the time and money to buy my book. God knows what he’ll think of it.

When I emailed Patrick to say I was staying on in Gainesville at least till October, he said he could have asked me to fill a full-time temporary position replacing himself for the fall semester at Broward.

Since he’s doing it on a term-by-term basis, he said he could offer me a full-time temporary job for next January, and I wrote back that I’d probably enjoy that – although Joann said that with Ellen leaving, I should take over her Children’s Law class next spring.

Obviously, I can’t commit to anything yet, but it’s nice to have options.

During lunch, I watched one of the hilarious episodes of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, a Woody Allenesque show on Comedy Central that Marc taped and sent to me last week. I called to thank him for it.

Yesterday my neck and shoulder really started to hurt, but I felt a bit better today. I told Dr. Kantrowitz’s nurse about my bad reaction to Aleve, but the doctor didn’t call me back.

I really feel good this afternoon. Stuff seems to be coming together today. It’s an illusion of coincidences, of course, but I’m happy to enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 15, 1996

9 PM. It’s a pleasant evening here in Tallahassee. I’ve just come in from a twilight drive into the Civic Center area and then around the FSU campus.

Stopping at the strip mall across the road from the Quality Inn where I’m staying, I had some non-fat frozen yogurt at Baskin-Robbins and bought a few things at Publix, including a card I plan to send to Terence.

In writing the card just now, I realized that I could relate to the front-page New York Times story last week on the decline of penmanship.

When I first learned cursive script, I practiced the Palmer method and developed such a beautiful handwriting that my teachers couldn’t distinguish it from my mother’s graceful script.

As the years went on, however, my capital letters became printed ones, and my lower-case T’s, R’s, M’s and N’s all deteriorated to the point where I often cannot discern the words in my own diary.

Anyway, I feel relaxed this evening. My motel room is pleasant and I’ve got a king-sized bed and a TV with over 60 channels and a pleasant view from my third-floor window of a canopy of trees.

At CGR this morning, I barely did any work – although I did finish my annual self-evaluation letter, which is due next week.

I’m going to have to scramble to produce two or three more memos in the next couple of weeks, but I’ll just have to sacrifice quality for speed.

Leaving the office at noon, I had lunch at home and went to the University Center Hotel to pick up my rental car at the Budget counter, joking around with the woman on duty. (“Don’t try to pawn off one of those cars with only three wheels on me.”)

I left Gainesville at 1:30 PM, taking I-75 and I-10 (where the speed limit has now been raised to 70) and got into Tallahassee around 4 PM.

On the drive I played Green Day and The Fugees and listened to Bob Dole’s speech resigning as a U.S. senator – not just as Minority Leader – to become a full-time presidential candidate.

After his strategy to campaign while running Congress bogged down in partisan gridlock, Dole can now only go up in the polls. It’s not conventional wisdom, but I think he has a good chance to beat Clinton in November.

Anyway, after I checked in, I drove around for an hour and then went to Wendy’s for a salad bar and baked potato.

Kevin emailed back:

I haven’t forgotten you, and I never will…

You might be able to expect a call from me before I head out to L.A. on May 24.

A guy in town who found inspiration in his life through me this winter purchased my ticket on Friday. So everything is set. Now the path lies ahead of me…

I still have your book and use your photo as a marker to remind me of the gentle giant I love very much in my life and who, one day, I wish to run into.

One day, Richard, one day, but let’s don’t wait until we are too old to have any fun. Let’s embrace our youth. I love you, Richard.



That made me feel pretty good, of course.

Last night my shoulder and neck hurt a lot, and I had the heating pad on all night. They hurt again after the long drive up here, but I feel better now.

Thursday, May 16, 1996

4:30 PM. I’m back in Gainesville, as we had the quickest grant panel meeting ever in the history of the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

Although I barely slept last night, at least my neck and shoulders didn’t hurt so much, and I got to sample some of the broadcast networks and cable channels I can’t get at home: NBC, CBS, HBO, CNN, C-SPAN, etc.

I forced myself to work out with Body Electric at 6:30 AM on WUSF/15, the PBS station where the program originates.

Downstairs, I had some fresh fruit and orange juice at the open breakfast bar and I picked up my complimentary USA Today and some hot water for the cereal (one packet each of oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat) I had in my room.

I also went out to buy the New York Times, some fat-free yogurt and Health Valley fruit bars and to mail the sappy card I wrote to Terence, which probably won’t arrive till Saturday anyway.

I wore my burgundy blazer, pink shirt, gray slacks, jazzy reddish tie and brown dress shoes to the meeting.

Only three of the four panelists showed up: me; Page Edwards, a shy older man whom I wish I had a chance to talk to Atlanta (he’s a novelist and director of the St. Augustine Historical Society); and Stephen Wright, a poet and anthologist who’s taught English at Seminole Community College for 26 years.

The meeting room was set up with microphones and all our material by our nameplates.

Peyton Fearington, the Division director, began promptly at 9 AM, reading detailed instructions. We went through each of the nine grants, giving our scores and rationale, and then speakers for the applicants could address us.

They had two telephone hookups with Lynne Barrett of FIU’s Gulfstream and with Miles Ferdin of the Key West Literary Seminar.

Barbara Hamby and Rick Campbell were there for Apalachee Quarterly and Anhinga Press, respectively, and so was Mary Sue Koeppel from Kalliope. A woman from Jacksonville University who has a PBS poetry workshop TV series also came.

In the end, even the latter reached the 75% cutoff for funding, and most of the applicants had composite scores over 90%.

Since Governor Chiles hasn’t yet signed the budget, we didn’t have any iterations involving funding, and I was the only panel member who had a comment, about the paucity of applications this year.

Rick explained that since they changed the eligibility rules, an organization has to struggle to have enough money to meet the requirements.

Peyton thanked us for all our hard work, and Gaylen Phillips told us how to send back our travel vouchers.

It was 10:30 AM. I felt cheated out of an interesting daylong meeting and stayed behind to talk with Rick and Barbara, who said she ordered Caracas Traffic.

As I was leaving my hotel room after I changed and got ready to check out, I ran into Stephen Wright.

Embarrassingly, I didn’t recognize him immediately (obviously that’s a racial thing, which tells me how far I have to go), but I asked him if he’d like to have lunch since he was staying over because his flight back isn’t until tomorrow.

We went to Quincy’s and had the salad bar and baked potatoes. (I disgraced myself with my sloppy eating habits, I know.)

Stephen just completed editing an anthology about Gwendolyn Brooks, whom he met at a young age when he won first prize at the Florida Poetry Festival.

Stephen’s family has been in Sanford for years, and he knows Tucker’s family very well, having shared an office with Tucker’s mother in the Seminole Community College English Department.

That family was the founding family of Sanford, and Tucker’s grandfather was a famous general or admiral involved in some sad business with the Japanese during World War II. (Internment? maltreatment of POW’s? I didn’t get it clear and I didn’t want to ask.)

Stephen knew Margaret Maney, Mary Ellen Grasso’s co-author on You Can Write, when she was at SCC.

Tomorrow SCC is inaugurating their new president, Anne McGhee, who is very well-liked at Broward as dean and vice president; I know Patrick respects her a lot.

I suspect that Stephen is gay and he probably suspected I was also “family,” but I didn’t know how to bring it up, and anyway, we were comfortable with the assumption.

Stephen’s mother worked at Creedmoor Hospital for years, and he has other family in New York City.

It’s interesting to me to see how the poor black families of Florida, like those of Stephen, Bill Maxwell, Mercy Moore, Jody, Terence – use the community college system as a steppingstone to Ph.D.’s, J.D.’s, and middle-class lives.

After dropping Stephen off at the quality inn, I brought my own hotel receipt back to the division with my travel voucher.

(Since I’m listed as being from Fort Lauderdale, it’s to my advantage for them to calculate my 20¢ a mile on that route rather than my rental car fee.)

I thought that since I don’t have to return the car tomorrow that I would drive to the beach or Jacksonville and stay overnight, but in the end, I just drove home.

I did get off I-10 near Live Oak to see what Terence’s town was like – and it was similar to what I imagined: some nice old buildings but mostly a depressing, rural, rundown town where a Piggly Wiggly and an old Sears share the town mall, a two-bit strip shopping center.

Still, on U.S. 90 there were pretty clouds of purple and yellow wildflowers on the side of the road.

Getting back home at 3:45 PM, I found two messages, both from John Anthony of Swing.

I called him back, and he went over what Barron wrote about me and the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War for their July/August issue. It sounded good although I wish they would have plugged my book.