A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1995

Friday, May 12, 1995

9 PM. Last evening I read New York State cases dealing with the landmarking of churches and synagogues.

As I was going to bed, the power went off during a particularly bad thunderstorm. Across the way, the apartments still had their lights on. Our electricity came on around 2 AM.

At work this morning, I found that Liz had forwarded Wendy’s message about the proposed book publication of our legal memos, saying, “Pour toi.”

Liz said she’s doing all right, but “mostly sleeping and crying.” I think she’s devastated. Lee’s been taken to a foster home where he’d stayed before and where he left on good terms, but she said she despairs “over all these losses.”

Liz said that only for the second time in her life, she’s completely lost her appetite.

I think that the state taking Lee away from her home goes to the core of how Liz thinks about herself. She is, after all, a family law professor and an expert in poverty law and social policy, so she must see this as a failure.

I don’t understand Liz’s relationship with Eric, her biological son, but it doesn’t seem as though they’re close. Unlike her brother or sister, her son never seems to visit or call her. So I can’t help thinking Liz experiences this week as a kind of slap in the face.

I really didn’t know how to deal with Wendy’s question, “How many memos would we have to do for such a publication?” until suddenly, after wondering why a minimum number was necessary for us to proceed, I realized that Wendy was simply asking for an accounting.

I told her about our ongoing memo covering recent cases and asked if she felt that was valuable.

Stacey produced the latest batch, which I took from her disk and appended to the memo. Then I kept editing the memo until I had something to print out and work with.

I don’t even know if describing these cyberlaw cases does any good because most are on appeal or haven’t been decided in trial court or will become moot after Congress passes new legislation.

Tom Ankersen called from Zambia, where he’s come down with malaria. He’s being treated there, but he wanted Laurie to investigate insurance for an emergency flight home if his condition warrants.

Laurie told him there’s an outbreak of the horrible Ebola virus in Zaire, so I guess he could be worse off.

Joann tried to reassure me by saying they’ll send me only to Croatia, where I have no chance of getting a tropical disease: “All that can happen is that you’ll get shot.”

Russ and I finally found the text of the new property rights bill. I called the legislature to see if I could get a staff analysis, but they were too busy today.

Late this afternoon, the legislature passed its budget, and in the end, education fared okay, with no real cuts.

Joann is going to Poland for three weeks and asked me to look out for RFPs on Haiti from AID. She said I was the only one in the office she trusted to take care of it, and I felt flattered by that.

Russ had trouble with his computer today.

In a way, I like sharing an office with him: he’s easy to get along with and pretty interesting.

Until today, I didn’t know that Russ went to do undergrad work in Vienna. He was in Europe on a trip and decided to stay. Russ also lived in eastern Slovakia for a year, and he’s traveled all over the continent. So obviously he’s not the stereotypical Christian conservative.

I worked busily up until 3 PM, when we had our party for Christy’s last day. She and Laurie – Laura’s out for this week – served wine, cheese and crackers in the Fellows’ room.

Jon came in late after dealing with two students who questioned their grades. (One, indeed, had gotten shafted due to Jon’s clerical error.)

Then Jeff and Ellen arrived, joining me, Russ, Karen, Kern and Linda, as well as Ben and Dara, who had just dropped by.

Stacey showed up, too. I was glad to hear that Professor Taylor told Stacey that she’d done a good paper for the computer seminar.

That reminds me: Prodigy is letting its users create their own web homepages without knowing HTML, and it will probably soon get a lot easier with similar programs. (Of course, I haven’t had the time or hardware or software to work on a website.)

Christy has a rough schedule this summer: she needs to pass Chemistry, which she’s already failed twice, to get into UF’s entomology program. Her real interest is spiders, not insects, but UF doesn’t have a major in arachnology.

She loved what she was doing in Malaysia last summer, and eventually she’d like to do field work after grad school.

I gave Christy a copy of With Hitler in New York after she saw it and asked to read it. Liz, whose presence was missed, left a gift of earrings for Christy. (The only ones in the office Liz told about what happened with Lee are me, Christy and Ellen.)

I didn’t get home till after 5 PM, when I did aerobics. I felt relieved when Laura C called to suggest we meet for breakfast tomorrow because I was too tired and sweaty to go out tonight.

Sunday, May 14, 1995

8 PM. Last evening I read the two chapters – on takings and historic preservation – from the zoning text that Russ lent me, and that’s all the CGR work I did this weekend.

At night I dreamed that I was at the law school watching Javier pull up in his red Thunderbird, with Bryan next to him and his family in the rear seat as I wondered if I should make myself known.

Boy, I really had it bad for Javier. He probably felt toward me the combination of wariness, amusement and disgust that Virginia Woolf felt when old Ethel Smythe was smitten with her – although sometimes I think he was totally oblivious, not just to me, but to a lot of stuff going on around him.

Up at 7:30 AM, I didn’t go out and get the Sunday Times till Barnes & Noble opened at 9 AM. I managed not only to read the paper but also cross off nearly everything on my weekend “to do” list.

I did another set of chest flyes last night and did very light aerobics and calf raises today.

Is this utterly vapid, my writing about exercise and diet and what I’m reading?

Well, I phoned Mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Although nobody was on the phone there, I got a fast busy signal for ten minutes before getting through, probably because Americans were all trying to call their mothers.

I’m concerned that after a month on antibiotics, Mom’s sinus infection has yet to go away, and I urged her to go to see another doctor. She did order the golden seal, echinacea and gingko biloba capsules I recommended.

I’d decided I wouldn’t say “I told you so” by mentioning what I’d assumed is Jonathan’s abandoned plan to move to Arizona, but surprisingly, Mom brought up the subject by inquiring when I’d be in Tallahassee.

It seems as though on the day of the Literature Panel meeting, June 6, Jonathan plans to set out for the Hopi reservation in northeast Arizona.

Mom said, however, that he didn’t plan to get to Gainesville on the first day, that he’d probably go only as far as Orlando.

She made her usual nit-picky, obsessive comments (like because I-10 washed out during this week’s New Orleans flood, she was worried about him driving through Louisiana).

I can’t imagine Jonathan taking all of his possessions and setting off to sleep in his non-air-conditioned van for a place he’s never been to and seems to know little about. We’re talking about a guy who’s never left his parents’ house except for some months in a dorm twenty miles away.

Moreover, I used to have to pick up people at the airport because Jonathan was afraid of the high overpass where I-495 goes over I-95 and the Turnpike. So how could he possibly embark on a journey that would make me quite nervous?

I know I couldn’t have possibly done that when I was 27 and roughly as dependent upon my parents as Jonathan now is.

Pete Cherches called, saying he was thinking of visiting me next Sunday if he could arrange it as part of this advertised deal for unlimited Amtrak service for a month (provided you don’t go back over the same route).

He thought he’d come to Waldo or Jacksonville and leave the next day to visit friends in Savannah and elsewhere, but in the end he called me back and said he decided to use the fare just to take necessary research trips to Boston and Washington.

Pete is now officially ABD: his NYU coursework is behind him, and only his dissertation remains.

I mentioned seeing his department chair, Andrew Ross, quoted in a New York Times “trend” article on why, in an age of information, dumbness (as seen in Forrest Gump, Beavis and Butthead, Dumb and Dumber) is celebrated.

Ross is undoubtedly right that it’s one part traditional American anti-intellectualism and one part the anxiety of the uneducated who don’t understand the technological changes and who hope that being ignorant won’t leave them behind.

Incidentally, today’s paper had an article about all the writers – most of whom are much better known than Pete or Justin – who have created a literary community in Park Slope.

I also got a call from a former Park Slope resident, Sat Darshan, who was returning my call from weeks ago.

She’s mostly enjoyed her job at the Department of Veterans Affairs (where she’s “a hated federal worker”; she says the West is virulently anti-federal government).

Her work was stress-free because all she did was transcribe hearings of veterans’ appeals on the denial of their benefit claims. She heard a lot of interesting stuff from hearings all over the West – like the guy who served in Korea and had Agent Orange symptoms even though the Army claims they used the defoliant only in Vietnam.

But last week she applied for, and late Friday was told she got, a new position at a higher rank as the administrative assistant for a hearing officer in the same location.

Sat Darshan has been surprised and impressed by the dedication of the VA workers, who really feel they’re holding up a contract the U.S. made with its military personnel.

“It’s not like a welfare office,” she said, where workers are cynical and apathetic, if not outright hostile toward the clients. (Sat Darshan and Shelli worked in their mothers’ office the summer before I met them.)

Still, it sounds like the VA takes a toll on her coworkers, all of whom seem to be on Prozac or other antidepressants.

“If I took those drugs,” Sat Darshan said, “I’d end up totally becoming my mother.”

Gurudaya is back from her school in Amritsar, and Gurujot is graduating her K-8 magnet school with “A” grades – “a miracle after a lot of hard work” – as well as the award for poetry writing.

She plans to take the girls to Los Angeles in July so they can visit Disneyland and Universal Studios, go a TV show, and see their cousins, who are with her sister during the summer.

Also, of course, she’ll get to see Libby and her family. I wish I could go to L.A. this summer and see all of them.

Tuesday, May 16, 1995

10 PM. Last evening I started reading the books I took out from the library yesterday to write my article for that critical anthology on Neil Simon.

I began with The Gingerbread Lady, which has to be one of Simon’s worst plays. It’s the only one with a major gay character, however, and that’s what I said I’d do my essay on.

God, I hope the other plays are better. I have to admit, though, that I’ve never found Simon all that funny.

When I got to school today at 7:30 AM, the air conditioning had totally stopped working – and I had on a tie and jacket. It was so uncomfortable that I could barely read the first summer issue of the Alligator.

Just before 9 AM, I drove Russ over to the stadium, where we had our portraits taken by the photographer.

Because of my blemishes and wrinkles, I wasn’t much in the mood to be posed, but after having my picture taken by so many newspaper photographers over the years, I’m a pro – and I guess I do like being the center of somebody’s attention.

Back at work, I again was uncomfortable in the stifling heat.

Patrick E-mailed from Fort Lauderdale. He just come back from his old hometown, where he and Bert attended a family wedding.

Patrick spent time on the campus at Buffalo, where he heard Allen Ginsberg read and saw Robert Creeley and Leslie Fiedler at a literary festival.

On the way back home to Florida, Patrick made a pilgrimage to Graceland, the shrine of his beloved Elvis.

Elihu E-mailed that he and Les haven’t yet worked out if Les will be moving in with him.

Together, they’ve got a lot of furniture but just one bedroom, which means that there would be no privacy for Les’s son when he visits, and Elihu thinks maybe they should just live near each other to start with.

I guess they’ll work it out.

After hearing that I might be leaving my job and Gainesville, Elihu inquired if I have gypsy blood and contrasted my love of novelty with his mania for stability.

In a snail-mail letter, Tom Whalen said he hoped I would keep my job at CGR even if I don’t really care what happens with funding.

It’s weird, I suppose, how I’ve moved around so much compared to my friends, but I still wouldn’t call myself adventurous.

Besides, not having a talent for intimacy keeps me free to go wherever I want by myself.

Still, I suppose Elihu’s been alone up until now, too, but he stuck to one place and would still be at Goldman Sachs if it hadn’t been downsized.

After I E-mailed Jeffrey Knapp that I made reservations at the Quality Inn in Tallahassee for June, he wrote back that he’d been waiting for me to pick the sleaziest motel in the capital before he made his own reservations.

I began to work on the recent cases memo, but by 12:30 PM, I happily handed my computer over to Karen because she needed to access the phone directories and CD-ROMs, and I left for the day.

I spent the afternoon in my air-conditioned bedroom, reading the paper, doing aerobics, taking a shower, and watching half a soap opera.

After dinner, I went back to the office at 6:30 PM and spent nearly three hours revising and writing parts of the memo.

Actually, I had done a lot of the work at home with a hard copy. So in the end, I did put in a full day’s work.

Friday, May 19, 1995

9 PM. Last evening I was in one of the first to arrive at Abby’s.

Sitting down between Abby and her neighbor, I stuffed big envelopes with The Guardian (an HRC newsletter that updated people on the Cincinnati decision), a leaflet detailing Pride Week activities, coupons pledging money to both the Human Rights Council and Pride 95, and return envelopes for contributions.

At the next table was a couple I’d never seen before, a white guy and a Latino guy.

Soon, more familiar faces arrived: Tim Martin supervised, and Craig was there, and Tim Burke (who had Pride T-shirts), Kathy Lawhon, the other Kathy, Roberta, grey-haired Richard Smith (whom people call “Mr. Smith”), and others I know by sight but not by name.

Eden gave me her address in San Francisco; she’s leaving Gainesville next week.

I heard that after tonight Bryan won’t be around to monitor calls to the Human Rights Council, so I guess he and Javier are moving this weekend.

Although I got a bad paper cut while sealing envelopes later in the evening, I enjoyed the work. Since I don’t go to bars, I don’t otherwise get much sense of the gay community.

However, I have to admit that I don’t share that many interests with many of the people there.

For example, the lesbians talk about sports a lot – though they seem to be more interested in their own softball and soccer games than professional sports.

Home at 9:30 PM, I went to bed an hour later.

Before work this morning, I shopped at Walmart, realizing that if I bought a twelve-pack of Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi, I’d save on the 55¢ can that I pay for at the law school vending machine.

Russ was interviewing again, so I went out and got the New York Times from the lockbox, as Daniel Prins had called last night with the summer combination after getting my subscription money.

Liz told me that she’d spoken to Wendy yesterday, and Wendy said there’d be a big budget meeting today and she might know something later.

I told Liz that if we lose funding and I don’t stay at CGR, I plan to put my stuff at my parents’ and go to New York this summer.

She wanted to talk to Jon because he’s about to leave for Poland for ten days, and after she did, Liz told me that Jon said that there would be money for me, either from an AID Haiti grant that they’re expecting or from the money they’re getting for the constitutional revision.

Later, that’s just what he did say when we saw him together.

After explaining that I’d be interested, I said that in order for me to stay on, I need my salary guaranteed until the end of December. (I figure I can get a lease for less than a year and live on unemployment through the winter if I have to.)

But I also let them understand that, given my philosophy about all jobs being temporary, they don’t have to feel guilty about letting me go. This way they can avoid a guilt trip that they might otherwise feel.

Privately, Liz told me that as much as she and everyone else likes Russ, it bugs her that Jon got him in by skirting affirmative action and a formal ad and search for the position. I told her it didn’t bother me.

Liz did say that she does think of me the way I think of myself: as a writer who takes temporary positions.

I helped her find a bill the legislature passed on Aid to Families with Dependent Children and researched some quotations for Liz’s speech in Miami on Monday to fire up young public interest attorneys.

After that, I worked on memos all day, formatting and spell-checking them, and typing up the introductory material. (I  forget how fast a typist I can be when I’m keyboarding and not thinking as I write.)

I told Russ that Governor Chiles did sign the sweeping property rights bill, which has ramifications for historic preservation codes.

Denise Stobbie asked me to contact someone at Publications about the legal memos book, but she wasn’t in when I phoned in the afternoon.

Then, when the woman called back, Dawn, the new student aide, screwed up when transferring the call, and when I called her office again, the woman was again on the phone.

As of 5 PM, she had not called me back.

Lexis found an article on NOCCA’s Lauren Levin being a presidential scholar in yesterday’s Times-Picayune. It mentioned Tom, who today sent me some of his recent Robert Walser translations.

So I called New Orleans, intending to leave a message on Tom’s machine, but I’d forgotten about Annette, who had come back from her ten-day trip to Germany.

Anyway, I enjoyed saying hi to her and said I hope to meet her someday.

For the first time, I let my hair down a little with Russ, showing him newspaper articles about me. He seemed to enjoy them.

By the end of the day, everyone got silly.

I had noticed Dawn’s incredible breasts in her tube top, and when Liz mouthed the words, “Did you see how she dresses?” after Dawn passed by, I said, “Yeah, it’s driving me crazy. And if it does that to me, God knows what it does to a normal person,” at which both Liz and Russ cracked up.

I read them a Tara Solomon Miami Herald column – she covers SoBe glitter people – and Liz said she couldn’t understand why I was interested in such stuff, that those people mentioned who go to parties in South Beach hot spots “have bad values.”

“I’m going to Miami to give a speech on how to serve poor people,” Liz said.

“Yeah, well,” I replied, “I think poor people should be served poached salmon with kiwi sauce and arugula.”

I told Liz to worry about my future, waving the $15 check I got from Hanging Loose, which today accepted “Boniatos Are Not Boring.” (Dick Lourie called it “a knockout story.”)

Hanging Loose is such a great magazine, and it’s from Brooklyn.

Also in today’s mail was a rejection of “Moon Over Moldova” – but the Demos editor said it was solely because it’s too long, that the story was “just the tone we want from writers.”