A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1995

Tuesday, February 21, 1995

8 PM. Last evening I read some of the Ralph Ellison stories that Tom had Brad xerox for me.

Tom now has a complete collection of Ellison’s fiction, and the pieces I read were all from his unfinished novel and dealt with a racist U.S. senator whose suggestion that Cadillacs be renamed “Coon Cage Eights” drives a black man to set his Caddy on fire on the senator’s lawn. It’s fascinating stuff.

I didn’t get to sleep until after 1 AM, and I woke up with my slight cold about the same.

At work I still have my old computer, and this afternoon Laura explained why: Mark Bergeron told her I need a different keyboard and monitor to go from an 8088 to a 386, though he can add a card to my current monitor.

I’ve made good progress working on the public meetings memo today. This evening at home, I discovered on Lexis that there exists a Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual which will probably provide me with what I need.

When Stacey came in, I told her that the last memo was too short and explained that we need to write detailed stuff for Schoolyear 2000 to keep our phony baloney jobs, as the politician says in Blazing Saddles.

She said she’ll have more time now that her seminar presentation is over, and I told her I expect her to put in at least seven hours, if not ten hours a week, for her salary.

I gave her the folder of material on the most recent issue – monitoring students on the Internet – and told her not to write anything but instead to absorb it all, to discuss the Internet/library analogy with Betty Taylor, and then to return next week to discuss where the memo should go.

Liz came in before lunch just to chat. She had to cancel two classes last week because she had the cold and cough going around campus.

Liz said Lee is still impressed with me because I talked to him like he’s an adult. She’s looking to into sending him and Becky to private or parochial school next year.

I showed Liz Bob Herbert’s column from Saturday’s New York Times on what budget cuts are doing to an excellent school: my alma mater Midwood High School.

At Midwood now, boys’ bathrooms are being used as classrooms and the school has just one art teacher. When I was there and the student body was so much smaller than it is now, we had about six art teachers.

I remember Miss Rosenblum, who showed us how to make “jumble” letters of the alphabet (the serifs became jutting points at jaunty angles) and who had us design buildings of corrugated cardboard.

(I made a church and put the cross flat on the roof. Miss Rosenblum said, “Who’s going to see it, the birds?” A good lesson for me.)

And I remember Mr. Viola, a bald man who taught me to appreciate painters from Vermeer to Ad Reinhardt.

“It’s horrible what they’re doing to education,” Liz said, meaning our new conservative Congress and state legislatures.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Colorado’s appeal of the decision striking down anti-gay Amendment 2. The case won’t be argued till next term and decided until 1996 – but it could be a devastating blow to gay rights or a real breakthrough.

If the Supremes reinstate the constitutional amendment striking down local anti-discrimination laws, we’ll see these homophobic laws enacted in state after state, and that will be scary. But a loss in the Supreme Court could also galvanize gay people even more than Bowers v. Hardwick did.

I’m not hopeful, as I see Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas needing only two votes, and they’ll probably get O’Connor and Kennedy for their majority.

I’d like to discuss stuff like this with Javier, but I haven’t seen him in over a month, and he’ll be graduating soon.

Home at 4 PM, I exercised and then went to the drive-in window at the bank to deposit my $217 IRS refund.

I got three rejections, but I’m sending out the stories again right away.

On my lunch hour, I mailed out the packages of With Hitler in New York and Narcissism and Me to Tom at NOCCA so he can distribute them to the students who bought the books.

Wednesday, February 22, 1995

8 PM. Last evening, watching a PBS documentary about Manhattan panhandlers, I realized how much I miss the energy and grit of the streets of New York.

If my job ends this summer, I’ll probably go to New York, at least temporarily. It scares me because it’s so expensive there and I’m used to living more cheaply – but that’s precisely the reason I should go, to remind myself that I’m still a New Yorker.

I’d sell my furniture or put it in storage. Moving back to New York would be a drastic change – but if I had to, I know I could have gotten accustomed to living in New Orleans. I probably can adjust to any new place as long as I’ve got some support (friends, interesting job, culture) there.

Today I wore a tie and jacket because of the CGR Fellows symposium, but I hadn’t realized that our morning staff meeting had been postponed for a month.

I went to the library and took out the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual, which is what I needed all along for this memo.

Although I worked on the memo for several hours, I don’t expect to finish it until late next week.

The symposium on the death penalty, from 12:40 PM to 2:10 PM in the auditorium, was more successful than I’d expected.

Moderated by Jon, the panel had two main speakers: Bryan Stevenson, a death penalty opponent and defender of Alabama death row inmates, and Alachua County State Attorney Rod Smith.

The four other speakers were Ken Nunn, Michelle Jacobs, Judge Stan Morris and a woman who lives in Gainesville but who’s employed by the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s office to work with death row inmates in the state prisons up here.

The discussion got lively when the audience started asking questions. One black law student raised Smith’s hackles when she talked about why nobody was executed for the murder of millions of Africans in the Middle Passage and then started going on about 400 years of oppression and how African-Americans shouldn’t be judged by Eurocentric laws.

I am about as radical as you can get, but she pissed me off a little, too, because that’s just the kind of rhetoric that’s led whites to the current backlash against affirmative action.

Of course, half the panel was black, and like me, they probably agreed with some of her remarks. But they could express the same qualms in a more lawyerly and logical fashion.

Rod Smith and Judge Morris objected to one student’s suggestion that they were supporters of capital punishment. They said that because of their positions, they couldn’t say how they felt about the death penalty; they have to carry out the law as it exists.

At the reception later, Smith told me that most of Florida’s state attorneys would vote to get rid of the death penalty if they could. He said he thought that Morris, who sentenced Danny Rolling to the electric chair, found capital punishment distasteful and probably morally wrong.

Liz, who had so little faith in this year’s Fellows, seemed pleased that the symposium wasn’t a disaster.

During the reception, I talked a lot with Rebecca, who really seemed like a space cadet to me. But at the same time, I found myself attracted to her.

Maybe it was because she reminded me a little of the kind of girls I dated in college. She was wearing a long, old-fashioned flower-print dress the way Shelli and Ronna used to.

God, my testosterone count must be very elevated today.

Anyway, I also chatted with Jon, Ken, Michelle, Liz and other Fellows as I ate crudités and slices of melon, pineapple and orange on toothpicks.

After returning to the office, I quit work on my memo at 4 PM and came home to read the Times and listen to All Things Considered before and during dinner.

Friday, February 24, 1995

9 PM. I’m in Orlando. Liz and some Fellows and other UF students are going out for coffee and tea in a little while, but I plan to remain in my hotel rom.

Today was a very bizarre day and I need to be alone even though I’ll probably stay awake most of the night.

Still, I haven’t been in this nice a hotel room since the Intercontinental at the Miami Book Fair in November 1993, and I haven’t been at a Hyatt Regency since I taught in Long Beach in April 1991. So perhaps my insomnia will be the way I can enjoy the privileges of relative luxury for several more hours.

At the office, Liz and Carol have been upset with me since the death penalty symposium when I expressed the view that “Most people would just as soon kill you as look at you” – something Josh used to say all the time.

I have a much more cynical and dark view of human nature than Liz or Carol; I don’t believe, as they do, that most people are “good.”

At dinner, our keynote speaker at this Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellows Conference, Linda Bernard, the head of Wayne County (Detroit) Neighborhood Legal Services, discussed child abuse and domestic violence.

She detailed the story of a once-angelic little boy who killed a woman quite sadistically for $20 at an ATM because he was hungry and wanted to buy some toy with the money.

This kid had been abused his whole life, had seen his mother wasted on crack and beaten by his father and other men: the usual horrible situation.

I know that Linda Bernard’s program and others she mentioned in Dade County and San Diego do wonderful work, but I’m still pessimistic about the future of the human race.

Of course, I’ve had this bizarre day, and I feel foolish and lonely and fat and old as I look at myself in the many unflattering mirrors here in my hotel room.

(Borges detested both mirrors and copulation because they increase the number of people in the world.)

I didn’t go into work until 10 AM today. Instead, I spent $35 at the post office and sent out 16 submissions (three rejections came in today) and I exercised (but all that does, from the looks of it, is stave off inevitable decay) and I must have done something else as well, but I can’t remember what.

When I got to work, I had a new computer and monitor, but before I could use it, Joann wanted to talk to me about Winston Nagan’s proposal.

As best as I can figure, it’s for some mediation center in Zagreb, which he’d like to expand to all Croatia and the rest of the Balkans.

She’s got to work like hell this weekend to get together a proposal for a USIA grant which is due next week, and Joann asked if I’d like to be the CGR point person/attorney on the project.

I said sure, but I’ve got to give her my résumé by Monday, and my résumé isn’t going to help very much because I have no publications in the field or experience that’s relevant – although I guess I can exaggerate some stuff that makes me look “international.”

When I got on the computer, I realized that the color monitor “blinked” every time I pressed a key, and I had constant “snow” on the screen.

After some attempts at P-mail (and a failure to respond to Josh’s query about who wrote “My Papa’s Waltz”), I became headachy and nauseated from the monitor.

Laura, who was all alone today, called Harold and he said the color monitor wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the 386, and he could replace it with my old monochrome monitor with a new card inside.

With little to do, I read the news sections of the New York Times and then went to the BP station downtown.

As expected, because my car’s been hesitating when I switch gears, I needed transmission fluid. But I needed two quarts, and the woman at the station said I obviously have a leak or something wrong with it.

I’ll have to bring it in there or to the Mobil station on Monday or Tuesday. What a pain.

Home at 1 PM, I had lunch and finished the packing a neurotic needs to do for an overnight trip.

Liz had edited what I have of the public meetings memo, and it needs a lot more work than I thought.

But I was unable to revise it because I couldn’t use my computer. Harold came up to repair the monitor just when Liz came in at 3 PM to say that she was ready to go to Orlando.

We had annoyingly slow traffic on the way to the hotel, and I just knew that since so much else had gotten wrong (the computer and car) today, the trip to Orlando would be a nightmare.

As we waited at the counter for a German guy to get through all his dealings, Liz remarked that we had plenty of time since dinner didn’t start till 6:30 PM.

I was dubious. An early bird (and neurotic), I would have gone for the car at 2 PM if I’d been able to use my own credit card.

It turned out that they didn’t have any compacts at Budget, nor any other cars, either – and none at their airport location.

Some cars were coming in, the lady promised, but there were three people ahead of us, and the wait could be 90 minutes.

Liz called Laura, who found us cars at a Chrysler dealership on Main Street and NE 35th Avenue.

By the time we got there, it was 4:30 PM, and I got stuck in rush hour Gainesville traffic just driving home.

I decided that I wasn’t going to drive to Orlando all upset and nervous. (I’d had a headache since the morning.)

Instead, I assumed I would be late and might very well miss the dinner, which was fine with me.

So I took a Triavil and had Healthy Choice chicken fajitas and left at 5 PM, listening to All Things Considered on the drive down.

The news out of D.C. is incredibly depressing, topped only by Phil Gramm’s announcing his candidacy for President after raising $4.1 million at one dinner last night.

Actually, though, driving on the Interstate and Turnpike in a new Chrysler – a Neon, whatever that is – relaxed me.

(Last Saturday I couldn’t believe how tense Tom got on I-10 when he took me to the airport; highway driving scares him.)

When I stopped at the Okahumpka rest stop just after Wildwood, the weirdest thing happened. Coming out of the men’s room, I ran into Javier and Bryan.

I felt like such a fool when I talked to them, saying dumb things. Javier said they were going to Miami, where he was going to report on the gay rights situation in Alachua County to the National Lawyers Guild.

I told Javier I’d talk to him before he graduated and left town before realizing I shouldn’t have said that.

While neither Javier nor Bryan looked as attractive as I remembered, I felt very weird as I drove to Orlando at dusk.

I guess I’m really embarrassed to have ever thought about Javier liking me. What I need to do is get on with my life and look for someone closer to my own age and interests and someone who isn’t part of an obviously devoted couple.

I think I’m going to give Javier call and ask to meet him for lunch to chat one last time, and that will be the end of it.

Anyway, I found the Hyatt in the airport somehow; it was an incredible pain just to get to their parking lot.

I passed the room where the dinner for the Florida Bar Foundation Symposium was getting underway.

It took half an hour for me to check in, go up to the room and change into my tie, ill-fitting new shirt and jacket.

I arrived after the soup (fine with me because I hate soup) and during the salad course, finding a seat at the table where Liz was next to Vernetta, the symposium coordinator; Linda Bernard, the keynote speaker; and other women and a little girl, mostly African-Americans.

I picked at my vegetarian main course and engaged in small talk about the baby boomlet and the coming Tampa anti-gay referendum and mayoral election.

After Linda’s speech, I chatted with some of our Fellows (Jaime, Matt, Rebecca, Wayne, Isabelle) and then went up in the elevator with Liz, Stacey and others planning to go out later.

I wish I’d brought exercise stuff because I’m right near the fitness room and I’m also close to the rooftop pool. I went out there for a little bit and looked up at Orion, Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Maybe I’ll go out again if I can’t sleep.

Saturday, February 25, 1995

9 PM. Boy, did I sleep wonderfully in my king-size bed with umpteen pillows at the Hyatt in Orlando last night. It was probably the best night of sleep I’ve had in a month.

I listened to the start of David Letterman (which I can’t get at home) but drifted off before the top ten list, and I didn’t wake up at 7 AM after many pleasant dreams.

A measure of the rest I got was my high energy level today – although I wasn’t able to squeeze in half an hour of exercise. (I’ll make up for it tomorrow.)

I used the Mr. Coffee in my room to boil water for my packets of oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat, and I ate my banana as I listened to an early morning local newscast.

Then I showered and dressed. I’d decided to forgo even the 8 AM breakfast for fellowship program advisers so I could get home.

After checking out, I did go over and  thank the Bar Foundation folks who organized the symposium.

In my car at 8 AM, listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition, I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous morning – it really is spring now – and drive around the area a little before going home.

So before getting back on the highway, I went up Semoran Boulevard and stopped at a Gooding’s for bottled water because I was thirsty. (I got one bottle free for paying $0.69 for the first.)

It was both relaxing and enjoyable to be tooling up the Turnpike so early in my neat little rented Neon.

I stopped for orange juice and my third bathroom break in the Wildwood McDonald’s, and in Ocala, at the Paddock Mall-area Publix, I got some fat-free yogurt, which I ate in the parking lot.

I still had some free time, so I took U.S. 441 rather than I-75 into Gainesville.

Once in town, I saw people walking across University Avenue as part of some charity thing. Finally I realized it was an AIDS Walk from the red ribbons on their T-shirts.

(Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis, who came out last year, this week revealed that he’s got AIDS.)

When I stopped to fill up the tank of the rental car at the BP station where I got my transmission fluid filled yesterday, I noticed two guys walking with one’s arm draped around the other’s shoulders.

I recognized them as two guys I knew from the No on One Coalition work sessions; one night I’d gone with them to Abby Goldsmith’s. I don’t know if they were together then or if they’d met each other the same time they met me. It made me wonder if the world is made up of couples except for me.

After returning the car, I came home to eat, get my mail and unpack.

I left for Webster College early. My class was anxious to begin writing their midterm essays, so after giving them a preview of our next class, I let them start right away.

While they wrote, I read the New York Times for today and yesterday and well as some other stuff, including the biographical information (about ten pages each) on Hawthorne and Melville for our next class.

(I printed out a copy of this week’s Supreme Court decision overturning the ban on government employees accepting honoraria for their non-job-related writing and its references to customs house officials Hawthorne and Melville.)

The last perfectionist among my students finished his midterm at 4:30 PM, and rather than heading home, I ended up going to my office, where Ben was studying and John Moon translating.

I much prefer having my old green monitor back and am happy that Lexis works so fast on my new computer.

After going through my E-mail, I revised the public meeting memo using Liz’s notes.

After having dinner at 6:30 PM, I put up a load of laundry, bought groceries at Albertsons and then got the stuff out of the dryer.

It wouldn’t stop running even after I opened the door so I had to grab my clothes as they flew around, reminding me of that quiz show where people had to grab dollars bills zooming around in an artificial wind in an isolation booth. It was very funny.

George Myers sent a copy of his Columbus Dispatch column in which he mentioned Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in discussing weird book titles.