A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1996

Tuesday, September 3, 1996

8 PM. I spoke with Kevin for about an hour last evening (afternoon in Los Angeles). He had just finished reading my story “Suspicious Caucasians” and wanted to point out a particularly funny line.

I started to talk to him about his play, but I backed off from criticism when I could see that despite his “tell me what you really think,” what Kevin wanted was my approval.

So I didn’t mention the trouble I had with the focus or ask why the mother didn’t use contractions that are part of a natural speech rhythm.

Even from his e-mails, I know that Kevin has something of a tin ear. However, I’m Kevin’s pal, not his teacher or mentor.

I did learn that while he said the play’s mother didn’t resemble his own mother, the woman in fact is a Jesus freak.

Kevin grew up in that Westwood Pentecostal Church – which caused me to blurt out, “Oh, the Nazi church!” because it was leading the anti-gay efforts here in town two years ago – and he was active in it till his late teens.

His mother, 47, was “the cheerleader who married the quarterback” – although they stayed married for just seven years. She’s now on her third husband.

Kevin and I chatted about lots of stuff: AIDS, flying, his bus ride from Panorama City to work at Warner Bros in Burbank, cockroaches, Vermont. I can talk so easily with him, but the more I know about Kevin, the less affectionate-sloppy we get and the more affectionate-friendly we become.

Besides, last night I learned that in addition to being 6’3”, Kevin weighs only 160 pounds, so he must be extremely skinny. I mean, Sean was so skinny and he was 5’11” and 170. Anyway, while I think I’ve lost a potential lover, I feel that Kevin is definitely my friend.

I didn’t sleep enough last night. For a couple of hours, I listened to a book on tape, David Halberstam’s The Fifties. It hasn’t told me much I didn’t already know about the decade I grew up in, but it’s helpful to think about the political, cultural and economic climate of that era.

I was born during the Korean War when Truman was president. To today’s 18-year-olds, that’s a time as far away as the Coolidge administration and the Jazz Age was to me at 18.

This morning I woke to the news that the U.S. fired Cruise missiles into southern Iraq as a response to Saddam Hussein’s incursion into the Kurdish safe zone in the north. It’s a complicated situation, and who knows where it will end or how it might hurt Clinton’s reelection chances?

At work at 9 AM, I went to see Russ in the office he has to himself by now. He said he had a fabulous time in Peru, that everything went well and that he was treated royally and had interesting adventures. Good old Russ: I’m glad for him. Sometimes I think he’s actually a human being.

Jeff, Joann, and Linda came in wearing “I voted” stickers, as today was the first primary.

I spent much of the day in Richard’s office – he and Tom are in Argentina – trying to learn to use the presentation software. It was frustrating. I couldn’t find a book on the software package at Barnes & Noble, and the onscreen help didn’t do me much good, so I kept making the same errors and ending up at the same roadblocks.

However, by the end of the day, I managed to save some kind of slideshow on a disk and I feel I’m beginning to understand the program.

At least I’m not as bad off as poor Alice. I don’t understand why she finds computers so difficult.

She e-mailed me that last evening, saying that after she found out that her 69-year-old friend Meredith, in her first session on CompuServe, was able to do so much stuff that Alice has absolutely no idea how to go about doing, she started crying.

“Why me?” she sobbed to Peter, who in response “had a big laugh, maybe the biggest I’ve ever heard from him in 18 years. He told me, ‘Well, it’s either laugh at you or have great contempt for you.’”

Alice sold her second book as a literary agent: that tell-all about Kiss by their former manager. Although it went for only $7,500, it had been rejected 38 times before.

Ronna e-mailed to say that they went to a mikvah (ritual bath) in Allentown for Chelsea’s conversion and her Hebrew naming. She said it was fairly non-traumatic. Ronna insisted on an Orthodox rabbi, and named the baby “Sarah Rivka” for Ronna’s grandmother.

After I’d written Sandra Fradd at the University of Miami about the Times front-page story from Saturday (“Bilingual Parents Dismayed By English’s Pull on Children”) that mentioned her study, she said she hadn’t seen it. So I sent her a copy, which delighted her.

From FedEx I got the return of my materials from the South Florida Water Management District. It looks as if four different people have written notes on it and added additional pages of criticism.

But I couldn’t bring myself to look at it just yet. Since they took five weeks to get it back to me, I feel no pressure to rush the revisions.

Back home at 4:30 PM, I found Tom’s Roitheimer’s Universe had arrived. I only wish Martin had done my book in trade paperback for Avisson Press like that, with a great back cover instead of that blank white wall.

I feel fairly well-prepared for tomorrow evening’s class in Ocala, but who knows? Maybe I’ll take another afternoon off.

As I start to think about returning to South Florida in January, I am becoming not so much anxious as excited regarding the possibilities.

I’ve always had this very American idea that I can keep reinventing myself, but of course, all I’m really doing is changing the facade of a building. Still, I look forward to doing new things in a new (old?) place. There’s so much I learned here in Gainesville – and not just about law (that’s the least of it) – that I can take with me to South Florida.

I last lived there when I was 39 and now I’ll be 46 and have lived in a place where I’ve been completely on my own all these years.

When I see all that’s going on in South Florida – gay organizations and events, Jewish stuff, interesting politics, all those schools, the Miami of South Beach and MTV Latino and Russian refugees in Sunny Isles – I look forward to living in an exciting big metro area again.

Wednesday, September 4, 1996

10 PM. I got home from Ocala half an hour ago. This evening’s class went well, and I enjoyed teaching.

By 8:40 PM, I could sense that everyone’s attention had flagged, so I let them go. Of course, I was also a bit tired; I didn’t sleep that well last night. Now I have 18 essays to grade, but I’ll deal with them during the week.

Driving home via I-75 was a little scary, but I made it home okay, and now I have only five more classes to go.

I again took Wednesday afternoon off, using sick time for what I said was a dental appointment. The problem with teaching on Wednesday night is that it’s hard for me to work during the day.

Still, even if I took off the next five Wednesday afternoons, I wouldn’t be using up much leave time.

I have the Common Ground stuff to look at, but Joann said the reason why they haven’t sent the check from the South Florida Water Management District is that WPBT-TV hasn’t completed the third show yet, so it’s not as if I’m holding things up.

Last night I listened to the last half of Halberstam’s The Fifties.

I tossed and turned a lot in bed and I felt groggy this morning, but I forced myself to get up and finish breakfast by 6:30 AM so that I felt free to exercise an hour later. By 8:45 AM, I was at the law school in time to get one of the last parking spaces on the street.

I e-mailed Patrick and was glad to hear his wife is doing okay; I was afraid she’d gotten sick again. His daughter has just begun high school. God, I can remember the day she was born, when Patrick and I were in those cubbyhole offices at BCC-Central.

Patrick said that enrollment is up at all the Broward Community College campuses except Central this year, and if the jammed county public schools are any indication, the college will have explosive growth seven to ten years down the road.

I now can feel more secure in my office with some privacy because Jorge, this friendly bodybuilder from Stan’s crew, put up a cardboard cover for my window.

“Looks good,” he said when he finished.

“So people can’t look in,” I replied.

Saturday, September 7, 1996

9 PM. Last evening I watched PBS public affairs shows and reread the section of Habits of the Heart for this afternoon’s Nova class in The Individual and Society.

It was about what Bellah calls the four strands that Americans use to think about an individual’s role in society and the quest for meaning: the Biblical strand (represented by John Winthrop), civic republicanism (Thomas Jefferson), utilitarian individualism (Benjamin Franklin), and expressive individualism (Walt Whitman).

This afternoon I discussed this with my class for an hour and a half, and then I showed them Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which they either enjoyed or suffered through with exquisite politeness. The films I plan to show this semester all deal with the effects of modern media on American society.

Only six of the ten students showed up today, but I’ll count their attendance in their final grades at the course’s end. Anyway, it was a pleasant class for me at least.

So far this evening I’ve managed to grade four more papers from the Argumentative Writing class, leaving seven to go.

I’m also searching for op-eds, columns or editorials on the topics they chose, to show the students how professional writers handle the same argument. I did find one essay had heavily borrowed from a Newsweek column from two years ago; I bet the writer will be startled when I say that in my comments.

Leaving the City College building at 4:45 PM, I drove up Archer Road to the Tower Road public library, where I returned several videos just before they closed.

Last night I slept nicely, though I now find myself unable to remember the nagging question I had during the night that I was going to look up the answer to today.

Unable to fall back asleep at 7 AM, I decided to get out, do the laundry, fetch the New York Times and go to the post office to use their stamp machine and get lots of quarters (which I need for laundry and newspapers – though during the week, I can now use the Times lockbox).

I spent the morning listening to NPR, reading the paper and doing low-impact aerobics.

Onionhead, a little magazine in Lakeland, apologized for taking so long to accept “Willie 95.” I had to write back and tell them that Sun & Shade had already accepted the story for their July 1997 issue.

Although that’s a long way off and I fear that the magazine will fold before then, since both publications are in Florida, I don’t want to take the chance of being published twice.

That’s lit mag biz. Will I continue to be able to afford to keep up this “hobby” when I leave my job at UF? I have no idea if I’m going back to a life of barely scraping by, and I’m not sure I can deal with such uncertainty anymore.

Back in the late 1980s, I had the support of my credit card chassis that allowed me to work part-time or not at all – and then there were periodic unemployment benefits and student loans. Now I don’t know where my money will be coming from.

I’ve been considering not going to New York or Los Angeles this fall after all but instead pocketing the money a trip would cost. I’ll see how desperate I am for a vacation in mid-October when the Ocala class ends.

A year ago, I was getting $100 a week for the “Only in Jersey” columns I did New Jersey Online, and then, after I started doing the AT&T and Johnson & Johnson columns, I made $200 a week in addition to my UF salary.

Of course, the NJO gig was a lot less trouble and a lot less work than I have teaching the Ocala class, which nets me only about $170 a week.

Obviously, I can’t do adjuncting anymore unless I have a decent job and want to earn extra money. Teaching at a community college isn’t worth the trouble unless it’s a full-time job.

But who knows what January will bring? For a while, I’ll still have some income from cashing in my unused annual leave, and then there’s always unemployment insurance if I’m unable to find work right away.

Right now I feel I’ve got a lot to take care of, so I can’t think about anything beyond early October. Once I get those Argumentative Writing grades in, I’ll have only the easy Individual and Society classes every other Saturday until three months from today.

My most immediate concern is buckling down and forcing myself to get started revising the Common Ground materials. On Monday, I’ve got the CGR staff meeting at 10 AM, my meeting with DeShaun at 11:30 AM, and our demonstration of the presentation software with the LCD display at 2 PM.

It’s odd that I finally got my own office just as I feel I’m on the way out at CGR, at a time when it seems as if there’s no role for me there.

Liz has been so busy during the week that we haven’t had time to chat, and this weekend her siblings are in town for their father’s 96th birthday.

I don’t know if she’s still being considered for the job at Three Rivers Legal Services, but it’s obvious that even if she leaves the law school, it won’t be until the semester is over. Perhaps by now she’s decided against even trying to get Graddy’s position as Three Rivers’ executive director.

My bathtub didn’t drain from this morning’s shower so I’ll have to get Liquid Plumber when I go out early tomorrow.

It doesn’t feel at all like September – not even like a Florida September. Hurricane Fran hit the Carolinas pretty hard; down here, we’ve managed to duck all the hurricanes so far, faring even better than Long Island or New England.

Tuesday, September 10, 1996

8 PM. After a much-needed good night’s sleep, I awoke feeling chipper and energetic this morning.

Today at CGR I got a lot of work done. For one thing, I revised all of the materials for the Common Ground project. Had I known it would be as painless – if time-consuming – as it turned out to be, I would have done this work a week ago.

I still have to produce both a role-playing exercise and a “visioning” exercise for students, but those will be creative projects and more up my alley. Still, I should have worked on these exercises long before now.

On the other hand, I know I’ll get everything done – unlike Ellen, who left CGR without ever producing the final report on the guardian ad litem project, which was two years overdue.

Until today I didn’t fully comprehend that the South Florida Water Management District’s grant is with WPBT/Channel 2 and that at CGR, we are just a subcontractor. Now I understand why I’ve had to bill the TV station and send our receivables to them.

Joann told the station that I’d have the next batch of materials by early next week. We can get our $5,000 once WPBT sends everything to the Water Management District and they approve it.

This afternoon Jon pulled me into his office, where he had Shelly Shuster, the head of UF’s biotechnology program, which includes a small-company incubator in  Alachua, where the bulk of the genome research is being done.

Shelly – he’s a blunt, vulgar man, though coming from Brooklyn, I could relate to his style – says we’ve got to push our genomics center idea on Vice President Holbrooke and pressure her to move on the project. It was like he was telling us to make her an offer she can’t refuse.

To Shelly, UF’s genome research seems to be as much about making money as it is doing biology. He said he would e-mail me a one-paragraph description tomorrow and that we could draft a page by the end of the week and then have a proposal by early October.

Jon said that if the university isn’t willing to put up $50,000 now for planning costs and (most importantly to him) CGR salary funds, we might as well forget it.

Jon is focusing on the day after the election and our contacts in Gore’s office. The Human Genome Project is what Jon called a “Gore-y issue,” and he knows the Vice President will be looking toward his 2000 campaign. On Thursday, I’m meeting with Bill Allen, Jon, Linda and Joann to discuss this further.

For a change, I stayed at the office past 5 PM, spending the last half hour briefing Joann on the genomics center proposal and the amorphous ideas we have regarding it.

What’s appalling to me is that Shelly and the other biotech scientists may want us to give them the ethical cover for their business plans.

Shelly predicted there would eventually be a biotech disaster on the order of Three Mile Island, and I think he wants to be legally and morally inoculated so that some politician in the future doesn’t cut off his funding.

I spoke to Liz, who somehow got roped into that committee to create an annual law school alumni banquet.

She’s got an interview with the Three Rivers Legal Services board a week from Thursday. Liz said that there were three other candidates for the job, all of whom are highly qualified.

Today, as expected, the Senate passed the repulsive Defense of Marriage Act. To me, the surprise was that they finally allowed a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that it failed by only one vote, 49-50. That’s pretty amazing from a GOP U.S. Senate; of course, the bill had no chance in the House anyway.

The court trial in the Hawaii gay marriage case, Baehr v. Miike, started today, but the Hawaii Supreme Court won’t make a final ruling until 1998 or so.

After Kevin read “Boniatos Are Not Boring,” he wanted to know if I’m HIV-positive like the narrator.

I had long ago told him that I was HIV-negative, but I can understand why Kevin would be confused, given all the autobiographical stuff in his work – and I guess in a lot of my own work, too. Except I always fictionalize things a bit; I’m not writing memoir.

Tomorrow I’m taking off so I can grade papers and prepare for the evening class in Ocala.