A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1991

Friday, November 1, 1991

8 PM. Last night I fell asleep after listening to the tape of Borges’s Labyrinths again.

Up at 7 AM, I had a leisurely morning, doing aerobics, reading the paper, and then using the computer to play those Discovery games as I reread the chapter on discovery in the casebook. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s going on.

“Good question,” Professor Mashburn said to me twice, and I know it’s my knowledge and understanding that enables me to ask those questions – neither of which had a definite answer, of course. But I’m getting the idea that it’s more important to ask the questions than to get the answers.

Although I didn’t get to school until after 1 PM, the day seemed lazy and our minds clouded over about an hour into our study group questions and answers in the cafeteria. Todd was out today, and Dan and Emira were worn out from the big Halloween party last night; they told me and Karin about the imaginative costumes our classmates wore.

I can’t imagine Emira doing really well in law school since she’s such a social butterfly, especially when I see that blank look in her eyes when we discuss hypos.

Actually, I probably study better on my own although I like the chance to thrash out possibilities with other people. This weekend I’ve got my usual workload of reading, and I also plan to get serious about my outlines.


Saturday, November 2, 1991

8 PM. In some ways the most pleasurable aspect of law school are these Saturdays spent reading my casebooks with a yellow highlighter. Today I did all the Torts, Criminal Law and Contracts reading for the week, though I’ve left the briefing of the cases till later.

Most of my classmates read the assignments a day before class, but I find I get more out of reading cases in a bunch, as it gives me a broader perspective on, say, affirmative defenses in negligence suits, excuses or justification as a defense in criminal law, or the Statute of Frauds in Contracts, all subjects I covered today.

The rest of the day was pedestrian: I exercised, I read the papers, and went out at 1 PM to have a McLean Deluxe (at first they put mayonnaise on it and wondered why I asked for a replacement for it: what’s the point of low-fat beef if you slather all that fat on it?), and to go to the library, where I exchanged my Borges and Isherwood tapes for a 22-hour monster, the unabridged Moby Dick.

I’ve never read Melville’s masterpiece, I’m embarrassed to say, but I’m not certain I can get through the tapes, either.

Pete called, and we chatted for half an hour. He’s a bit depressed. First, his application for a Fulbright to go to India was rejected. Pete, urged by Michael Kasper to call and inquire about it, was told that nothing was wrong, the quality of his work and the proposal were highly rated, it was just that others were rated higher and there are only so many funds to go around.

With his NYU classes not making this term and no prospect of his book getting published, Pete is also now facing the possibility of losing his dream job at Equitable.

The company is in severe financial trouble, and recently people have been laid off, including his boss’s boss, a man of 50 who’d worked for 25 years at the company. The guy who laid him off was himself laid off two weeks later.

Equitable may get rid of the whole data processing division and contract out for the work. Pete’s job, like hundreds of others, is on the line.

On the other hand, he is bored and dissatisfied at work (recently he’s been working five-day weeks) and feels the need for change. Last week he visited Harold in Minneapolis (yesterday 21 inches of snow fell there); Pete found the city to be “Midwestern bland.”

Harold, having sold a Western novel – Harold says it’s not really a Western, of course – for a $1500 advance, now thinks he made a mistake in working full-time when he could have been writing the sequel.

Pete says Harold is having a tough time adjusting to Minneapolis Community College’s course schedule and doesn’t like having to serve on committees. I guess Harold is very set in his ways; before MCC, he’d never taught anywhere but at John Jay.

While Harold will be in New York for Christmas, Pete will be in Southeast Asia for six weeks, a trip he’s really looking forward to, in part because his only hope for publishing right now is his “eating my way through Asia” book.

Pete is thinking about returning to school, so you know he’s dissatisfied with his life.


Sunday, November 3, 1991

3 PM. Last evening, before I fell asleep, I listened to the first two of 15 cassettes of Moby Dick. Why did I never read this book before? It’s amazing how modern Melville’s story is, and how clearly and skillfully told.

As hard as it might be to fit in the hours required to listen to the entire novel in two weeks – when the tape is due – I’m going to try. It’s a better break from law school than TV.

It was chilly when I went out to buy the Sunday Times, and I haven’t ventured out since. I’ve read much of the paper and I finished the Civ Pro chapter on discovery; I’ll probably leave case-briefing to just before my classes. As I’ve said, I find reading the casebooks the most pleasurable part of law school.

I did aerobics and watched the New York City Marathon, which allowed me to see my beloved city on TV. I miss New York a lot, although I know the stresses of everyday life there. The women’s leader, a Scot, lives here in Gainesville, as does Grete Weitz, who won the NYC Marathon many times.

It’s a grey day.

*

8 PM. Sunday evenings in November always used to depress me, especially on dark, chilly days like today – probably because night comes so early, and the week, particularly Monday morning, is in front of me.

I don’t feel quite that way tonight, but I’ll be snuggling up in bed early with my Moby Dick tapes.

I phoned Alice, who was planning to call me from work tomorrow. She and Peter were supposed to appear on Oprah, but the taping was canceled twice because they couldn’t find any other couple who lived apart.

Alice thinks the show probably won’t come off, and her agent said, “Wait till you have something to sell.” Alice always has got something to sell, though, doesn’t she?

She’s been meeting with publishing editors to talk to them about her ideas as a book packager, and she’s treated with lots of respect – probably because people think they can make money off her.

Alice’s view of writing and mine are so different. She writes only for money, whereas I’ve never thought about money. I guess it shows, huh? I hate to sound like an elitist snob, especially when I’m talking about my oldest friend.

Anyway, Alice is very good at what she does. I’m good at what I do, only I haven’t yet figured out what that it is yet. I think about my books on library shelves; maybe before the century ends, someone will take out Hitler or Dog from the UF library, for example.


Monday, November 4, 1991

4:30 PM. I’ve just come in on this wintry day. The temperature may not get to 50° today, and the sky is so grey you’d think it was going to snow. Even for New York City, today would be a chilly, bleak day for early November.

Teresa left a message saying that she’s okay, that the only real damage to the houses on Fire Island were caused by flooding from the terrible “blow” last week.

I’m glad none of us in the study group had the First Year Questions book to do hypos at school today. Earlier, Dan had told me that Todd thinks he studies better alone, so he dropped out of the study group.

I wish I could, too. Karin and I confessed to each other that Emira gets on our nerves because she’s such an airhead. But I figure it can’t hurt to see how other people analyze questions and legal principles.

It was odd to see everyone at school bundled up today, though there were a few hardy (foolish?) guys who wore shorts.

Our classes went quickly today, even Jurisprudence, which flew by with an interesting case about a guy who murdered his grandfather to prevent him from changing his will. Does the grandson inherit the farm because he was named in the will? A fascinating problem.

I xeroxed another Contracts outline, but I probably should be making my own. However, I just don’t have time. People berate me for reading the Times every day, but I won’t give it up.

Besides, it helps. Tomorrow we’re studying the voidability of minors’ contracts, and today I read that Paramount has to keep their 11-year-old star of Home Alone, Macauley Culkin, happy so he’ll do the sequel because as a minor he can legally void the contract at any time.

I picked up my schedule for next term; unlike Karin, Dan and Emira, I have Appellate Advocacy on Thursdays, which means I will be finished with classes on Wednesday at 11:20 AM. That will be a nice break.


Tuesday, November 5, 1991

2 PM. I’m on my lunch break, trying to relax. I’d really like to go hear Jesse Jackson at the O’Connell Center tonight, but I don’t know if I can do it. Last night I was practically under the covers at 8 PM and drifting off to sleep by 9 PM.

It was even colder last night, but I put the heat on, and this morning it wasn’t all that hard to get up and exercise and send myself off to school. At least today the sun is shining brightly despite the cold weather. Besides, I can adjust: I’ve learned that about myself.

Last night I had my first anxiety dreams about taking a final exam, and in a way, I can see that I’m going to miss this term’s class schedule. My classes today were fascinating, and I’m starting to get more of a handle on the concepts.

In Torts we were going over something incredibly complex but intellectually exhilarating, and I was impressed with some of the observations made by a classmate, Bill, because he’d discovered an entirely different but logical way to look at the problem.

I wish I’d been called on in Contracts; we’re on our last chapter of the term, Policing the Bargain. I guess there are only six more classes left.

I’ve managed to read ahead to next week in Torts, but I haven’t yet done my Crim Law and Civ Pro briefing for tomorrow. It would be great if I could get enough ahead in my reading to work on outlines and reviewing over the three-day weekend.

I listened to a little Moby Dick last night and was most impressed with Melville’s tour de force on the scary connotations of whiteness.

Tosha said it’s so much colder here than it is in Sarasota, and Karin says the same thing about Orlando – so you can imagine how I feel. I bet Miami is 25° warmer today than it is here in Gainesville. But I adjust.

I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s Jurisprudence class more than I am to our study group session afterwards.


Wednesday, November 6, 1991

1 PM. Yesterday’s Jurisprudence class was fascinating, because we started using legal positivism to, in effect, deconstruct the texts of statutes and look at how the words in them can be interpreted.

After class, Dan, Emira, Karin and I went to the cafeteria and Dan read us questions from his Torts flashcards. Emira seemed to know everyone who passed by and needed to say hi to them; she’s so flighty, I sometimes lose patience with her, but then I was interested in her photos from last week’s Halloween party.

If I was fifteen years younger, I probably would have gone myself, as my classmates looked as if they were having a ball. However, I had my fun as an undergrad twenty years ago. At forty, a big night out for me was like last night, when I went to hear Jesse Jackson speak at the O’Connell Center.

I sat alone in the back of the top bleachers so I could leave early. About a thousand people were there, and I spotted a few classmates, like Darin and Albert.

Jackson opened with a prayer for our murdered students (the grand jury is meeting now to hand down an indictment) and then went into his standard speech: “they work every day” and “a Yale scholarship is cheaper than a jail scholarship.”

On Saturday he’d announced that he wasn’t running for President this year. After an hour’s talk, mostly about economic issues, D.C. statehood, and the usual stuff – all of which I agree with Jackson on – I left the arena.

Coming home in the 40° cold, I was reminded of those nights during the winters back in the 1970s when I’d go to parties or films or other events with my friends from Brooklyn.

Mom left a message to say that Dad had seen an ad for a movie that had Wesley’s name in the credits; of course, it’s Cape Fear, and I’ve been expecting it. I bet Scorsese, De Niro, Nolte and Wes all get rave reviews, and I hope Wes gets nominated for an Oscar.

Surprisingly, I fell asleep right away, before I could hear the Senate results from Pennsylvania. At 6 AM, though, I heard that Democrat Harris Wofford trounced Bush’s Attorney General, Thornburgh, by stunning him with a populist crusade centering on health care and the economy.

At the newspaper racks, Martin was jubilant over the news. Honestly, I’m surprised that any of my classmates are liberal Democrats, but it’s gratifying to see that at least a few are.

I enjoyed Torts, but Crim Law was one of the worst classes I can remember. Nunn may be teaching for the first time, but he seemed incompetent today, taking up the whole class to confuse a simple issue. He keeps cutting stuff from our syllabus, too.

At Publix, I ran into Michael K, who said his section’s Crim Law teacher, Seigel, is excellent. (Also at Publix were Martin, Steve S and two other law students, making it look like a convention.)

Well, I’ve got to brief the Nelco case and head back for Civil Procedure at 1:50 PM.


Thursday, November 7, 1991

Noon. I’ve just come from another confusing Crim Law class. Nunn just seems to be floundering, and a lot of us feel we’ve hardly learned anything. I feel sorry for anyone who planned to be a criminal lawyer and who is getting this poor an introduction.

This afternoon I’ve got Civ Pro and Jurisprudence, but I’m prepared.

Yesterday the early arrivals in Civ Pro got into this great discussion about our teachers:  Gena, Doug G, Shay, Dori, Kim, Mike W and I discussed their strengths and weaknesses. Some people like Davis the best because he could teach Contracts in his sleep, but all of us agreed that he, Mashburn, and Dowd are excellent.

Mashburn has slowed down because we have plenty of time. I’m having trouble understanding summary judgment, but she said it would be complicated and we’d take it slowly.

After class, a lot of people went to a BarBri gathering to watch an Arthur Miller tape on Civil Procedure, but I went with Dori, Ken K, Kim, Marsha and Dionne from the other section to Marty’s workshop on preparing for exams.

Only yesterday did I learn that Marty had been let go along with six other law school staff members when budget cuts came down two weeks ago. Michael K, Dionne, Duane, Jeff and some other students have formed a group to help Marty keep her job, but unless the state legislature restores the money, it doesn’t look good. Too bad.

When I saw Marty last month, she didn’t think her job was in jeopardy. She said she’s getting over the shock now. As usual, her presentation was helpful, and she gave out schedules, calendars going from now till December 17, so we can plan our studying.

The important thing is to relax and have a positive attitude, I think. Of course, I’m not under the pressure of some of my classmates. I view finals as an intellectual challenge to do my best. Anyway, I picked up a lot of useful tips.

Angelina told me something interesting when I asked if she and her husband are going to the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville. She said they haven’t been getting on well for the past five weeks, and so they’re going to a beach motel for the weekend to try to work things out.

Her husband accuses Angelina of changing totally, and he blames law school for her incessant analysis and her new aggressiveness. Karin has told me that her family notices she talks differently, too.

I’m pretty certain I haven’t changed. My personality is probably too fixed by now, or maybe at my age, it’s harder to be influenced by the culture of law school.


Friday, November 8, 1991

Noon. I think I just made myself unpopular with my fellow law students by my comment at the end of Criminal Law. We were discussing Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional a law that allowed a Memphis cop to shoot and kill an unarmed 15-year-old boy fleeing a robbery.

Doug G, sitting next to me, expressed his astonishment that police were being limited so much, and others chimed in, agreeing that cops should be able to shoot criminals escaping from robberies.

I was astounded and wondered why these people are in the class: what do we need with a criminal justice system when we can have a police state? That’s not what I said, however.

I started getting hisses when I said, “Let’s look at reality. This law is used against poor minority kids . . .” and I went on to say it wouldn’t be used against stockbrokers being arrested for the felony of insider trading and trying to leave down their back stairway.

Doug and I argued good-naturedly, but as class broke up, I could feel people were looking at me funny. My desire to be well-liked sometimes conflicts with the rising gorge of injustice I feel.

I wish I didn’t get so excited. Maybe I was wrong to bring race into it – did people think I was trying to score some points with Nunn? – but I remember Clifford Glover, Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart, Arthur McDuffie, Rodney King, and then I know I’m right.

Before class, I was in the library reading the text when the guy across the table from me, reading the Alligator, hissed out, “Fuckin’ bastard.” I pretended not to hear, but then I noticed he was reading an article about David Duke.

The head of UF Students for Duke (can you believe it’s someone with a Vietnamese name?) was quoted in the article. So at least somebody at the law school besides me has the propensity to get outraged.

Well, relax, Richie – after Civ Pro and Jurisprudence this afternoon, the long weekend is starting.

Yesterday’s Civ Pro and Jurisprudence classes were fine, though now that I think about it, I probably again blabbed too much when I criticized Judge Bork’s decision in the Cyanamid case and said that allowing the policy of hiring only women who’d been sterilized (to avoid high lead levels from damaging a fetus) was sexual discrimination. People laughed when I said that lead probably affects men’s sperm production, too. Oh well.

I don’t follow basketball, but yesterday L.A. Lakers superstar Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was retiring after testing HIV-positive led the national news. Johnson is an idol to millions of kids, and after watching how he handled himself so gracefully yesterday, I can see why.

Perhaps as a spokesman for AIDS education, Magic Johnson can make a bigger contribution than he ever did in the NBA. Like Rock Hudson, he gives a face to the disease, but he’s the first major figure to be so open about it.

Maybe people will wake up and see that it isn’t just Kimberly Bergalis who “did nothing wrong” and got infected with HIV. Hey, I thought I was going to get off my soapbox. Why do I let all this stuff get to me? But I think I like myself better because it does.

Still, I’ve got to watch out or I’ll up self-righteous and humorless. Maybe I get angrier these days because I’m no longer idealistic. I keep thinking about moving to Europe. There have to be places, like Amsterdam, where people aren’t as fucked up as they are in the U.S.

I don’t think Duke will get elected next weekend, but if he is, it’s another signal that I should apply for a passport.


Saturday, November 9, 1991

8 PM. I was off-base with yesterday’s fear that I’d made myself unpopular. First of all, I know some people, like Shay and Lorraine, agreed with me. And nobody said anything to me when I returned to school yesterday; probably a lot of people weren’t even paying attention to my comment, which was totally defensible anyway.

Civ Pro yesterday ended our discussion of discovery and began the difficult unit on summary judgment. Reading the cases for next week was time-consuming because the issues are unclear even to Rehnquist. But using the computer exercise, I think I have a slight grasp of summary judgment.

Mom sent me a UPS package containing some household stuff I’ll never use, but also a heavy jeans jacket, two Introspect T-shirts, and the issue of Pleiades with my “R Evolution” in it. It’s not a great little magazine, but Edmund Pennant is also in the issue, and at this point I’m pleased to see anything I write in print.

Today was a cool, dreary day, and except for aerobics, shopping, and a McLean Deluxe out, I stayed in the apartment trying to work. The reading went slowly, however, though I did finish the week’s cases for Civ Pro, Torts and Contracts.

Marty said to concentrate less on class preparation, but I need to read the material to understand it, even if I don’t carefully brief the cases.

It’s now three months since I arrived in Gainesville, and there are only three weeks of law school classes left. Already I’ve learned an incredible amount, and I understand so much more than I used to when I read the paper or watch or listen to the news, so much of which is law-related.

I wonder how I got along all these years without any legal knowledge.

I’ve really stretched myself in 1991, especially since April; I’ve been in South Florida only two weeks total since then.

There was that wonderful trip to California, and then my terrific summer in Rockaway, and my experiences here at UF in Gainesville. Before April, living with my parents and Jonathan for six months was tough, but I didn’t fall back on being dependent on my family.

If I don’t have much time these days to contemplate the changes in my life, I keep becoming more aware of the richness and variety of experiences I’ve had, especially when I compare them with those of my 22-year-old classmates.

Once again, I feel I have a lot to write about – if I ever again have time to write. But of course there will be time. For now I have to concentrate on my first term at law school and getting at least passing grades in all my courses.

I got a call from Delta yesterday changing my flights, but actually I’ll be getting to New York City earlier on Tuesday, December 17. That’s only about five weeks away. By then I’ll probably be used to chilly weather; at least I won’t face the shock of going from 80° to 20° that I did in January 1989.

And I don’t have any obligations those three weeks I’ll be in New York, unlike back then – although teaching in Sloatsburg was a rewarding time for me. Nevertheless, I’m sure winter in New York will prove to be a pain in the neck since it’s three years since I’ve experienced it.


Sunday, November 10, 1991

9 PM. I didn’t accomplish much law school work today, although I finished the Criminal Law reading for the rest of the term. Still, I read the Times except for the book review (and I still have last week’s) and I listened to more of Moby Dick.

Melville’s little essays on every aspect of whaling and things related to it are some of the best parts of the novel. Although some nights I’ve fallen asleep with a tape still running, I’ve got a feel for the novel, and I feel ashamed I never read it. But then, I’ve got a lot to learn.

Cape Fear opens in New York this week, and the Times had a big story on Scorsese, liberally quoting Wes, who first wrote the script for Spielberg. I feel much more comfortable with Wes’s tremendous success than I did when I saw him at his house last spring.

If he goes on to become a great screenwriter and director, I’ll always have the pleasure of knowing that he once saw something worthwhile in the weird short stories of a kid from Brooklyn.

I was a kid back in 1978, wasn’t I? So was Wes. He’d just started seeing Marla then – she hadn’t yet broken up with her old boyfriend – so that must have been an important time in his life.

The next summer, when With Hitler in New York came out, Wes was already performing, and I thought he would have made a great musician; of course, I’m as ignorant about the music business as I am about Hollywood.

Anyway, I don’t feel in competition with anyone; I’m doing interesting things with my life.

Nearly everything I read in the casebooks is intellectually stimulating, but I wish I had more time to absorb it. Is there really such a need to cram all of this down a first-year student’s throat?