A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1992

Tuesday, November 3, 1992

2 PM. I got just enough sleep to avoid feeling crummy today.

I know I’ll barely sleep tonight, especially if I’m going to be heartbroken or elated by the results of the presidential election.

The latest reports indicate heavy voting, but I know enough to wait and see what the final figures are.

This morning I enjoyed my classes, even Seigel’s two-hour class, where I hemmed and hawed when called on. But I’m no worse than anyone else in there.

Evidence is a hard subject for me, but I like knowing it’s probably above my comprehension level. It makes me feel normal to have to struggle intellectually.

Our divorce negotiation taping went pretty smoothly. Ana and Keith were excellent opposing counsel, and the twenty minutes flew by. I found myself saying things a lawyer would say, just with my own high-pitched, nasal New York Jewish voice.

My tendency in negotiations would be to give in too easily. I like conciliation, not conflict, and probably I’d be a lousy advocate because I see everyone’s point of view.

I came home an hour ago and had lunch, and in half an hour I’ll exercise.

Since I graded the papers for tonight’s Nova class and don’t plan to lecture for very long, I don’t have to prepare. At Publix I got some “fat-free” raisin cookies, which I’ll bring for my students.

I need to read ahead in Baldwin’s class, but I’ll try to do that in the morning, and I’ll finish grading Vivian Lee’s class’s papers when my SFCC class writes tomorrow.

Keith, Ana and I will have another negotiating session tomorrow during our usual Family Law class time. Hopefully, we can come to an agreement and I can write my paper by Friday because I plan to be in Jacksonville all day Saturday.

Next week will be much easier with no Nova class and Wednesday completely off; I expect to catch up on some stuff then, as not following the campaign will free up a lot of hours.


Midnight. I’m waiting for Clinton’s victory statement from the Little Rock statehouse. Bush conceded half an hour ago. The popular vote seems to be Clinton 44%, Bush 39%, Perot 15% – about what most polls showed.

But it’s an Electoral College landslide: Clinton has over 320 electoral votes, Bush about 80, with states like Florida and Texas still out.

I’m really happy. As Dad said when I spoke to him a couple of hours ago, it’s been years since we hoped so much that a Presidential candidate would win.

I left for Gainesville High School at 5:30 PM after hearing initial reports of heavy turnout. Jack Biggs gave me my grade report sheet and material to send to Nova in Davie.

After lecturing for about 45 minutes, I let them start writing their final essay while I used my Sony Watchman and earphones to follow the election returns.

When I saw that Bush had carried only Indiana and Clinton had Georgia, Vermont and New Hampshire, with states like South Carolina and Virginia (both of which ultimately went to Bush) too close to call, I figured Bush was in trouble.

But when the polls closed at 8 PM and they projected Clinton the winner in over a dozen states, including places like New Jersey and Connecticut, I was certain the Democrats would win.

I periodically put the vote totals on the board as my students wrote. As they handed in their final essays and envelopes for grade reports, I said goodbye to each of them individually.

Really, they were a lovely class, and teaching on Tuesday evenings has been a great experience – although I hope to get paid eventually.

Back here, I’ve been watching ABC and PBS – not that I have much choice without cable. I can hear people whooping it up somewhere nearby, and I feel pretty elated that Clinton won.

Wednesday, November 4, 1992

4 PM. The morning after the 1970 elections, my sociology professor, Mr. Katayama, said that instead of getting Election Day off – yes, it was a holiday in New York City back then – we really needed to get off the day after an election. There’s sort of a hangover, especially when there’s been such a dramatic change.

I stayed up to watch Clinton speak at 1 AM. Within a few sentences he mentioned the word AIDS as part of the nation’s unfinished agenda, and he talked about preparing for a future when race or gender wouldn’t be a barrier to someone becoming President.

So we have a President who uses the word gender, a President and Vice President born after World War II, part of my own generation, guys who smoked marijuana, protested the Vietnam War, and grew comfortable with diversity.

For me, the cultural change, the generational change, is it almost more important than the political change.

Clinton ended up with 370 electoral votes and Bush 168. (Bush finally did win Florida.) The Senate and House will remain roughly the same, but with more women (six in the Senate), blacks (three representatives from Florida alone) and Hispanics and about 100 new Congresspeople.

I just saw Clinton give a short speech about continuity; he was as respectful of President Bush as Bush was gracious in defeat. Bush looks like he had all the air sucked out of him, but as much as I disliked him, I don’t feel like gloating. It’s like the day Nixon resigned and I couldn’t hate him anymore.

Aside from saying it was responsible for his bloodshot eyes, Professor Seigel made only one comment on the election, about how as law students, we shouldn’t take for granted the lawful way power changes hands in the U.S.

So – it’s a new era. I didn’t make any comment to my own students at Santa Fe; I just had them write their essays.

While I feel good about Clinton’s victory and I feel hopeful about the future, I don’t expect miracles.

Although I got little sleep, I wasn’t tired today. Classes were fine, and Ana, Keith and I agreed on a settlement after an hour-long negotiating session.

Vivian Lee wrote me a note about her class papers, but I didn’t want to phone her; instead, after I graded them (very haphazardly), I put them in her mailbox.

I’m now certain I don’t want to teach at Santa Fe next semester.

Look at it this way: I had taken one class there this term. Then I got the opportunity from Nova, and I will make more money for the eight weeks I taught for them than I would have at SFCC next term. If Nova doesn’t want me to teach another class, I’ll find some other way to make a little money.

SFCC’s English 101 final exam questions discussing an essay that students read is in a way as rigid as some of the stuff we did at Broward Community College. It produces deadly prose, voiceless stuff.

One of Vivian’s students, who ignored the essay topic and wrote in a hip, conversational tone, had by far the liveliest writing style in the group; too bad I had to give him a low grade.

At Nova, I have more freedom with choosing topics, making reading papers somewhat less tedious.

Tom wrote that he’s leaving Loyola, telling them he won’t teach next term after they asked him to take a $500 cut in pay.

The next day, some theory professor who published a couple of poems 20 years ago was called in to evaluate his class, and the day after that, the guy said he’d be taking over Tom’s spring creative writing class – without any creative writing experience or standards or education.

“Loyola obviously has no shame,” Tom wrote.

Crad writes that he’s giving up writing (“why not?”), that the Mark Leyner hype doesn’t affect him (“never read him . . . doubt I ever will”), that he hated the new Updike (Memories of the Ford Administration: “writing to be writing”), and keeps telling me I’m working too hard, that I’ll have to stop it or I’ll burn out.

He’s right. But I’ve got too much to do to slow down now.

I did tell my SFCC students I won’t be able to return their essays for a week – and since Wednesday is a holiday, that means a week from Friday.

Thursday, November 5, 1992

4 PM. It’s a gloomy day, and it’s starting to get a lot cooler. Can that be why I feel depressed?

I’ve been home since 10 AM, and I should be relaxed, but instead I feel more pressured than ever.

I just gave my Nova grades to the mail carrier. Grading my students was torture. A lot of them write well, but the grades are highly inflated. Of the 14 in the class, I gave two B’s, four B+’s, five A-’s and three A’s. Barbara told me to give only A’s and B’s and never to give more than one C+ all semester.

I haven’t marked up all the papers to return to the students, as I can’t yet face putting comments on the last few.

After Natural Resources, I met with Barbara. She gave me written directions and instructions for my day in Jacksonville on Saturday. In the morning I have to go to an industrial park south of the city off I-95, and in the afternoon I need to get to the Southern Bell skyscraper in a bad section of downtown.

I kind of dread doing this, but I feel obligated to Barbara. Naturally, I fear car trouble: Jacksonville is a long way from here, and I don’t trust my Bonneville to be okay.

I fear the uncertainties of traveling to a strange city for a hectic day. I remember my first day teaching in Sloatsburg when I was so ill in 1988 and my trip moving up here in August 1991, when the cars broke down.

Like Judy and Kathy, Barbara is going to that public interest law job fair in Atlanta, where she has half a dozen interviews for Legal Service jobs. She really prefers a job in Georgia because they will pay off her student loans for her.

The conversation about jobs upset me because I’m doing nothing to make plans after graduation.

But then I never did plan, did I?

Unlike Barbara, I don’t worry about paying back student loans. But then I never worried about paying back the thousands of dollars I borrowed from credit cards, and in the end that worked out.

Still, I feel I’m just drifting through life, without a sense of purpose. Shouldn’t I go back into therapy to see why I haven’t allowed myself to achieve what I’m capable of?

I’m unable to make commitments – to people, places, careers, jobs, or ideals.

And why am I both lazy and overworked?

Oh, it’s one of those days.

Laura called yesterday and said that Julin had eye surgery last week. Sure enough, this morning in class he didn’t look well. Although he can’t read, he lectured and told us what to read for next week; there’s no class tomorrow.

I have to meet Barbara again at 9:30 AM and then go to Family Law and then teach at SFCC. I plan to skip both my office hours and the department meeting tomorrow.

Last night Vivian Lee called but she was mollified when I told her that I’d put her papers in interoffice mail. God, I feel like a fuckup these days.

Barbara got all C’s in her law school classes when she taught at SFCC and Nova last fall, and I can see my own grades are going to suffer similarly this semester because I’m overburdened.

My most pressing need is to begin my post-negotiation memo for Family Law. Perhaps I can catch up on my reading for classes while I’m working on Saturday. In the morning class, I’m showing Ordinary People, but the afternoon class is writing an essay for Barbara.

Right now I have to type up some English 101 essays so we can do a workshop tomorrow at SFCC. I wish the school would let you cancel classes because I’d love to call in sick.

In New York City, all the CUNY schools and LIU allowed adjuncts three absences a term, but in Florida they don’t pay us if we’re out.

I guess everything will get itself done.

I’ve spent too much time devouring the details of the election, carefully scrutinizing vote totals in every race, looking at the exit poll results for different groups.

Maybe I’ve just got a post-election, post-Nova letdown.

Saturday, November 7, 1992

7 PM. Today’s adventure in Jacksonville went smoothly. The day was rainy, raw and chilly. Right now I have the heat on in the apartment, as the temperature is only 45°.

Up at 5:30 AM after getting adequate sleep, I gathered all my neurotic needs and left at 6:45 AM, making sure to warm up the car.

When I got the Times, I noticed a photo and map of the Jacksonville I-295 shootings and other attacks from overpasses, but naturally that didn’t concern me. It actually made me feel more at home at the center of things because Jacksonville was in the news.

I’ve driven up State Road 24 to Waldo before, and from there I got on U.S. 301 going north. It’s the rural South from there to I-10, about 45 miles away. The main industries seem to be farms and state prisons. I passed dozens of signs for “Boiled P-Nuts” and fresh okra, sweet potatoes, Vidalia onions and other vegetables, as well as catfish farms.

Starke is the tiny center of Bradford County, one of the many small counties around here. But they have the usual fast-food outlets as well as their county government, school board, Bradford High School and the Starke campus of SFCC.

After about 70 minutes, I got to I-10, a few miles into Duval County (after skirting through Clay County), which of course is all part of Jacksonville, the biggest city in area in the U.S.

I’ve traveled before on I-10, but in New Orleans and Los Angeles (and it’s right near Sat Darshan’s house in Phoenix). This time I drove it to the highway’s eastern terminus, where it becomes I-95 about five miles past the now-infamous I-295.

And then I saw skyscrapers for the first time in a long time – a real city.

Following Barbara’s directions, I went south over the St. Johns River (where I got a whiff of the garbage-like smell Jacksonville is famous for) and got off at Baymeadows Road, finding the Transtech Center in the industrial park without any problems.

The security guard was expecting me, and she had an ID badge ready for me to wear. The center is very posh; I didn’t realize AT&T would spend so much.

Barbara’s students were a bit dismayed by her absence, but when they realized all they needed to do was get their graded papers back, read the handout with its assignment, and watch Ordinary People, they were fine.

I played the film on a large screen TV and found it moving. Some of the students were sniffling near the end.

The text Nova gives Barbara for the class is Habits of the Heart, the communitarian book I read years ago, and she supplements it with other readings and films like Grand Canyon and War of the Roses.

Their assignment was to write an essay on therapy (a subject they’re studying) as it affected the family in the movie.

I’ve been thinking about therapy more lately, and Ordinary People made me realize how I missed its insights and even its pain. I need a refresher course of therapy.

The class ended at 11 AM, so I had some time to kill. If it had been warmer and sunnier, I would have explored the city more, maybe even gone out to the beach to look at the Atlantic Ocean.

But instead I went north into downtown and drove around for a bit, checking out the people mover, the Gator Bowl and the outside of Jacksonville Landing, the standard Rouse-type waterfront mall.

I wanted to make sure I got to the Southern Bell building for class in plenty of time. Parking several blocks away, I arrived early at the third-floor conference rooms where the Nova classes meet.

Barbara seemed to want me to have the students write in class, but only four out of seven of them showed up, and they were as anxious to leave as I was.

By then, it had started raining hard, so after talking for a while, I just left them with their assignment. (As instructed, I lied to both classes about Barbara having emergency dental surgery.)

After taking some wrong turns as I walked through the scary downtown – I kept thinking I’d be mugged – I found my faithful blue Bonneville and got on I-95.

But after realizing I’d missed the I-10 interchange, I got off at an exit and went into a McDonald’s parking lot to read my map.

As luck would have it, I pulled up next to a minivan that was stuck, and the guy asked me if I could give him a boost.

He had the cables, so I said yes, thinking I’d like someone to help me out if I were stuck.

It turned out that the guy was on his way to Cooper City and is an administrator at Nova. Small world. He’s taught classes all over the state and told me how to pick up I-10.

On the long ride home, as I listened to the Gator football game – they pulled off a win in the last few minutes as I arrived back at my apartment – I thought about that small world and how I really wasn’t agoraphobic anymore.

Today’s trip was tiring (God knows how Barbara does it) but I wasn’t the least bit anxious the whole time. Of course it made me feel good to know that.

I dropped off the Ordinary People tape at Blockbuster Video so Barbara can save $3 and came home to eat some vegetables, which I felt desperate for.

In the mail I got an application for another $1,745 SLS loan for the spring from UF’s financial aid office. That’s more than I could make working at SFCC and it’s pretty much made me decide not to even try to teach next semester.

Although I didn’t get any schoolwork done today, Wednesday is a holiday, and Tuesday and Thursday classes will end at 11 AM with nothing scheduled after that. So I should be able to catch up.

Monday, November 9, 1992

7 PM. Today was another grey, blustery, New York-style day.

I felt sleepy a lot of the day even though I slept deeply last night, spending what seemed like hours in dreams about law school finals, rides on subways and buses all over New York City, and wandering through the Brooklyn Museum.

Last evening I spoke to Ronna, my call interrupting (she’s got call-waiting now) one of her usual thrice-daily calls with David.

He wants to get out of his present position and came up with an idea for a book of original essays on coming out in higher education.

David and Ronna are working on a proposal to send to the editor who does St. Martin’s gay books, whom David knows from the gay synagogue he attends.

Ronna said she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep well since the Israel trip was announced, and she may decide to back out of it.

Her main concerns are the possibility of terrorism and falling behind in her work at the office, but I suspect she’s really nervous about what would make me nervous: the long plane ride, the fear that she’ll be so far away from everything she knows, and the fear of the unknown.

Perhaps I’m reading into it. As I said regarding the I-295 sniper attacks, my own fears are rarely related to reality, so I find it hard believing Ronna is really scared of terrorism, especially when so many people she knows travel regularly to Israel.

I told Ronna that I’m basically anti-Zionist, but I know Israel is important to her and she should go if she wants to.

Hell, even I would go to Israel in a minute if the trip were free. I’d be terrified, of course, but fear is not a reason not to go somewhere. Otherwise I never would have gone to law school, visited California or even driven to Jacksonville on Saturday.

The healthiest thing I’ve done in the past couple of years is not given in to my fears.

If she doesn’t go to Israel, Ronna may visit her mother, but she’ll probably be in Orlando and come to visit Billy and Melissa here in Gainesville when I’ve left town for Christmas vacation in South Florida.

Typical, no? But she said she will definitely be here next Passover, in early April.

Just as I pulled into the campus parking lot at 7:30 AM, I found Barbara getting out of her car.

After I gave her a report on her classes and handed her the papers I got (as well as copies of With Hitler in New York and Narcissism and Me), Barbara wrote me out a check I can cash on Friday after she gets paid.

She told me she was dizzy from all the interviews within a short space of time in Atlanta. Mostly the Legal Services people tested interviewees by arguing with them and seeing how they respond.

Later, Judy told me she had two interviews for judicial clerkships and one with Legal Services of Western Kentucky.

Most of the latter interview was taken up by them telling her how wonderful it would be to live in a beautiful part of the country where you don’t have to lock your doors and can live on a vast plot of land on your $18,000 salary.

My classes today were interesting as Baldwin began going over freedom of religion cases and Seigel spoke about habit and routine practice evidence.

But I felt sleepy, so when I got home at 10 AM, I put the covers over me and closed my eyes for an hour before I left for Santa Fe.

I had a good class today, teaching Orwell’s “Marrakech,” which allowed me to convey some of the knowledge and opinions I keep stored up somewhere in my brain.

That’s the part of teaching I love: sharing. Or is it merely me showing off? I hope not.

Back home, I exercised as usual, read the paper as usual, read a couple of cases for tomorrow, graded no essays (as usual) – but I don’t have to teach again until Friday because Wednesday is Veterans Day.