A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1996

Friday, September 20, 1996

8 PM. If I felt sleep-deprived last evening, I’m even more so now because I had little rest last night.

My mind wouldn’t shut down. I felt I might as well be doing more than just lying in bed, so I read the special issue of Time on The Frontiers of Medicine that Joann gave me and later went on Delphi and Lexis.

Somehow I managed to function at work today, although of course I never work very hard. Still, I managed to do what seems like a decent first draft of the role-playing exercise for the Common Ground project.

When I went in to see Liz early today, she was very upbeat about last evening’s interview with the Three Rivers Legal Services board.

Liz said she was genuinely enthusiastic and had good rapport with the board members, who seemed receptive to her ideas; even the person she knew was most hostile to her seemed to end up nodding her head as the interview went on.

She was so excited afterwards that she kept Joe up most of the night.

It was all the more surprising that it went well, she said, because the Crisis Unit of Child Services released Becky that afternoon. Becky’s been put on Prozac now, and hopefully that will help her.

I know that since the suicide threat this summer, Liz has been unable to leave Becky unsupervised, and that’s been a strain on both of them – although Liz also said it’s brought Becky closer to her, “which is something she needs after being in all those homes.”

The Three Rivers board is going to meet again next week, as Liz was the final candidate to be interviewed, and she’s so optimistic that she’s thinking that her negotiating position will be to ask for $64,000 in salary and a starting date of January 1.

I don’t want to jinx anything by speculating what will happen if Liz leaves CGR, so I won’t. It’s possible they’ll offer the position to someone else, after all.

Joann called me into Jon’s office to meet with them, and Russ joined us. He was there to hear about Jon’s Tallahassee trip with Dean Matasar to the pre-Constitutional Revision Commission group headed by Governor Chiles’s counsel, Dexter Douglas.

It’s unclear whether there’ll be funding in this for CGR, but Matasar is trying to talk to the group at its meeting in mid-October.

Jon gave Vice President Holbrooke my concept paper on the genome project this morning; she said she would read it over the weekend and have an answer for him on Monday. Of course I’m taking Monday off for Yom Kippur.

It’s getting slightly but perceptibly cooler as summer turns into autumn; I just shut off the air conditioner for a while because even at its lowest setting, it was still too chilly.

When Teresa called at noon, I bet she was surprised I was home for lunch and she couldn’t just leave a message. It was good to catch up with her.

She and Paul have bought a house in Locust Valley, not far from Teresa’s little house and the train station. So they’ve got their house up for sale; the real estate agents are listing it at $575,000 although Teresa said they’d probably settle for $400,000.

They have six months to sell it so they can close on the Locust Valley house, a Cape Cod with two bedrooms upstairs and two rooms they can convert to bedrooms on the first floor. It also has three full bathrooms.

They’ve been having trouble with all the kids.

They discovered Jade started taking heroin, and so they did “a sort-of intervention” and took away her car and got her into a group therapy rehab program. Teresa said that sending Jade to her mother’s in Vermont for a month got her “scared straight.”

Not surprisingly, P.J. did not want to go back to Colorado three weeks after the wedding. Paul said he could stay if he’d found his own place in September, but when the month came and P.J. discovered that Paul wasn’t going to pay for his tuition at Nassau Community College, he used the money he’d saved for rent for tuition and is still at home.

“I’m making his life miserable,” Teresa said, “by insisting he pick up after himself and do his share in the house.”

Finally, Cat is upset that they’re selling the house because she wanted to marry her lunkhead boyfriend Jason on the property next June. Teresa said they could have a wedding there in October, but Jason lost interest when he found out how much Paul and Teresa’s wedding cost.

Teresa’s parents are fine, her nephew started the SP program, and her grandmother began to walk again in the nursing home.

I got a sweet e-mail from Kevin, who shaved his head and is at work on his second screenplay.

Rick told me in an e-mail that Gargoyle’s millionaire benefactor will fund the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue. Unfortunately, I don’t have any top-notch stories to send Rick right now, and I don’t want to send him one of my mediocre pieces.

In a sign that we are winning the culture war between the religious right and gay people, IBM became the largest American corporation to offer benefits to domestic partners of lesbian and gay employees.

Also, Rabbi Greg Kanter of Congregation Etz Chaim posted on GayJews the news that Take Back Broward failed to come up with the necessary signatures to put on the ballot a referendum that would repeal the county’s gay rights law.

Tuesday, September 24, 1996

9 PM. Although I got to school at 8:45 AM this morning, I still had to park all the way by Lake Alice, where I got one of the last spaces in that little dirt lot.

When I saw Liz briefly before her Poverty Law class, she said, “I’m okay,” which means that she’s not, not really, but that the worst is probably over.

I reread her e-mail message, which seemed to indicate that Becky is now in another foster home. Obviously that’s a big personal loss for Liz, but knowing her, it must make her feel a sense of failure.

However, Becky (and Lee) had such horrendous situations in their past, I don’t think any foster parent could deal with their problems successfully.

Laura said that she was okay, too, and she wasn’t wearing a sling, but her arm was heavily wrapped up though it seems to be healing.

I received a call from Victor, that guy from Save our Everglades, telling me that Mary Barley and a representative of the sugar industry are going to debate on WRUF’s new local 9 AM talk show on Thursday.

He said each of them was bringing along a citizen who agreed with them and asked if I would be interested in joining them on the air on the side of Save Our Everglades.

Victor knew nothing about Jon or Russ or their work for the group, so I explained and said that given my connection to CGR, it would look shady, but that I would talk to Jon about it.

Jon agreed that CGR would get attacked and suggested some names of local people who might agree to be on the radio, so I passed the names on to Victor and to Save Our Everglades.

This afternoon I was in the outer office when I heard that the Florida Supreme Court ruling had come down. I asked Russ about the outcome, and he replied glumly, “We won all three cases.”

I was so startled by his gloomy demeanor that all I could say was, “You’re kidding!”

Jon seemed jubilant, but Russ was either acting weird or else maybe he enjoys putting people on more than I figured. If it’s the latter, he has a terrible sense of humor.

The sugar industry has been running TV commercials attacking the fee as a tax that will not go to clean up the Everglades, but into politicians’ pockets.

Given the low intelligence level of Florida voters, I would not be at all surprised if the amendments are defeated.

I’ll probably be asked to do more in the campaign, and once the Ocala class is over, I’ll do it. As with the 1994 gay rights referendum, I find it a lot easier to get up enthusiasm to campaign for an issue rather than for a flawed human candidate.

Kathy Lawhon sent a mass e-mail that she’s leaving Gainesville this week to move to Valdosta, Georgia, where her girlfriend lives. I wrote her back, wishing her good luck.

Kathy was a pain in the ass on the Human Rights Council board, but successful social protest movements probably have always relied on people with prickly personalities.

Barbara came up to see me about something that disturbed her at the Public Defender’s office. She began by asking if I knew Tim Morris.

I said I knew him only by name and reputation and added that the HRC people didn’t like him very much.

Apparently Tim was arrested in some sort of dispute, and when the jail guards recognized him as a gay rights activist, they beat him up.

The investigator who was supposed to be helping him told Barbara that he was glad that Tim got beat up because he hates gays and think they deserve what they get.

Obviously, the investigator – who works for the Police Department – is a moron for not even considering that Barbara might be unsympathetic to his homophobia, much less a lesbian.

Barbara was so outraged that she wanted to go straight to Rick Parker, the Public Defender, but I suggested that she should first tell the attorney she works with what the investigator said.

Barbara agreed that this woman attorney was someone she could talk to easily. I told her to keep me informed.

After finally cranking out a somewhat ridiculous “visioning” exercise about the Florida environment for the Common Ground project, I gathered all the third reporting period receivables to be sent to WPBT/Channel 2, along with an invoice for another $5,000.

Cari helped me FedEx the package, and I gave a copy of the materials to Joann.

Later, Joann and I met with Jon regarding Vice President Holbrooke’s comments on my genome center concept paper.

She had written “vague” on various sections, but Jon said yes, she’s interested, and that this will be our first priority for External Relations. But there is no money for CGR yet.

When Joann said we don’t want to drag this out any longer, Jon had Linda attempt to make an appointment with Holbrooke for us to meet with her next week.

Ronna e-mailed, saying it was great to see me in Orlando. She apologized for not paying attention to anyone but Chelsea, but I told her I hadn’t noticed that at all.

She had a good visit with her family, she said, and they all went back to the  Rainforest Cafe, where she said her nephew slept through several “thunderstorms.”

I got a copy of Funny Times magazine with my “Legislators in Love” printed on a page alongside several cartoons.

Thursday, September 26, 1996

7 PM. Last evening I had a terrific class in Ocala.

Everything seemed to be connecting; by now I feel comfortable with all the students, and they have come to know one other.

Last night’s class just seemed to click: they were interested, they laughed at my jokes, they had good discussions.

There’s a real high in teaching when it goes well like that.

I didn’t even mind the drive home on I-75 last night. Blasting Green Day through my headphones, I wasn’t afraid of the highway construction or the darkness or the monster trucks trying to pass me.

And my Chrysler New Yorker – that dinosaur of a full-size sedan that they’ve stopped making now that it appeals to only to old farts – didn’t fail me.

Too excited to sleep well, I tried to read but really needed the lull of TV to calm my jets.

I finished listening to The Twelve Caesars. It gets less interesting after the Julio-Claudians and all those unrelated emperors who kept deposing one another.

I also finished – finally – the October issue of Wired. Like all “hot” new magazines, it seems to be losing momentum now that the initial excitement has worn off, and it’s just not as interesting as it once was.

Saturday, September 28, 1996

8 PM. Last night I slept well and was at the law school before 9 AM.

Downstairs, Russ asked me to help him with a bag of ice and some boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and Cokes and Diet Cokes. We set everything up in the conference room and made coffee.

For a while, nobody appeared, but then Betty Taylor brought up a crowd of alumni, and after that, we had steady visitors for an hour: perhaps 50 or 60 in all.

Unfortunately, only a handful signed the sheet that we’d left out so we could get their addresses and phone numbers.

Still, Jon got to schmooze with alumni, all of whom wore name tags with their class year. He gave them the usual song and dance about CGR.

I bristled when Jon joked about the primitive nature of Haiti and its language, but I continued to smile at all those potential donors.

A couple of them did seem to be decent human beings, and I spoke to the sole representative of the 50th anniversary Class of 1946, who said the school then had only six professors and 16 graduates. (Of course, those students had started during the war; after that, the college began to expand rapidly.)

Liz told me she hadn’t heard anything from Three Rivers Legal Services, but they said it would be “a week or two” before getting back to her.

In a few weeks, it will be my second anniversary at CGR. Although I sometimes think I should stay on because it’s easy to keep doing what I’m doing and get a regular paycheck, I know that I need to move on.

Having bought the laptop, I probably won’t be going on a trip to New York or Los Angeles this autumn. I’ve just seen Ronna, and Teresa’s family life in Long Island seems too stressful for me to visit at the moment. Flights to L.A. are quite expensive. So I’m probably better off saving my money for the times ahead that may be rough.

At home before noon, I lay down for ninety minutes to rest up from hours of being so ingratiating.

Unlike Russ and Jon and all those alumni, I have no interest in the Gator football game; it’s one reason I feel out of place here, where blond WASPs predominate.

It’s occurred to me that if Liz leaves for Three Rivers, Jon might want me to stay on for continuity’s sake. However, without Liz around, I’d likely feel even more alone at CGR. At least Liz and I share the same some of the same values and have similar sensibilities about the country’s racial and social divisions.

I also know that if I get too close to my family in South Florida, that will make me unhappy.

I get along best with my parents and brothers if there’s enough space between us because I have different values than they do – even if we share other (New York, Jewish) values that the people at the law school would never understand.

My November absentee ballot arrived, and I punched the holes in my vote card for Clinton and other Democrats as well as for the Save Our Everglades amendments and a number of other ballot measures.

Miriam sent me a postcard saying that she got the go-ahead to review I Survived Caracas Traffic, “which is wonderful work.” Her boyfriend is about to move in with her and her daughter, so Miriam’s life in Santa Fe is changing.

The mail brought the Authors Guild Bulletin and a one-page Human Rights Council election newsletter for members. Because the Ocala class will be over, I’ll be able to attend the October HRC board meeting if they still want me.

This afternoon, I prepared the final out-of-class paper assignment for Wednesday, did the reading in the text, and made up an activity sheet for the evening. I also read some more in Habits of the Heart for the next Saturday class.

In an e-mail message, Patrick complained that he’s got to spend this whole weekend grading papers. I have only seven left to do, and I keep putting it off.

If I do what Patrick suggests and become a sabbatical replacement at Broward Community College for the spring term, at least I know that English Department gig will last only four months.

But perhaps I’m better off trying something completely new and different when I get to South Florida.

Monday, September 30, 1996

8 PM. I just returned from the Fellows meeting.

Mary Kay is chair of the symposium and it seemed as if she let everyone throw out various ideas for topics – some valid, some much less so – until finally the Fellows voted to make Florida’s low-wage labor the subject of the event.

This way they’ll be able to discuss things like the state’s farm workers, the tourist industry, the minimum wage and welfare-to-work.

This morning I had the first of two workshops at the Faculty Support Center on Preparing Documents for the World Wide Web. The two-hour class was valuable hands-on experience programming in HTML, using the editor that comes with Netscape.

Dave, the trainer, was very effective, and I learned a lot – not only about Netscape, but also Windows. Now I know tricks like how to toggle between one application and another or how to downsize a window.

I didn’t even have to walk over to Turlington Hall. I got the 25-cent shuttle bus by the law school parking lot, and it let me off right in front of the building.

When I returned in late morning, Rosalie asked if I was the new CGR representative added to the college’s Technology Committee. “If that’s true,” I said, “it’s news to me.”

Christy e-mailed, apologizing for the delay in getting back to me. Her computer has been down and she’s been in Atlanta a lot lately because her good friend there was dying – at 59 – and just passed away.

Christy’s more pleasant news was that she’s been asked to show her work on a visit to Pratt Institute. That’s great! I told her I would like to be there to show her around Brooklyn.

Bob Karp asked if I wanted to write a “correspondent’s report” on the charter amendment trial for The Guardian. The final arguments are on Friday, November 15, and the judge is expected to rule shortly thereafter. I told Bob I’d be delighted to do that.

Rick wrote me about attending a depressing publishing panel in honor of Fitzgerald’s centenary – depressing because the editors and agents there advised people to write memoirs rather than fiction if they want their books to get published.

Speaking of fiction, I downloaded Robin Hemley’s Nelson Algren Award-winning story, “The 19th Jew” from yesterday’s Chicago Tribune on Lexis and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Robin told me that he was in Chicago at his in-laws’ to receive the award. He hasn’t even looked at Demos, which his students at Bellingham publish, and which he doesn’t think will appear again – even though they already accepted my “Cough!” story.

Robin gave me the scoop on the open position at Western Washington University  to pass along to Pete Cherches but said that he himself may be job-hunting next year.

Apparently, there are “some internal problems” in the department. Robin did say that Bellingham is probably the best place to live in the U.S.

Pete appreciated the information I got from Robin. Like me, he saw the last issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education online, but Pete said that he’s not going to bother to apply to colleges in places like Laramie or Missoula, where he could never live.

Although I graded the one early paper from Wednesday’s class, I’m delaying grading the papers from Saturday’s class, which at first glance seem to be incoherent.

Most of my Nova students have an abysmal grasp of logic and terrible sentence structure. Giving such papers a B or B-, which I do, probably means I’m going to roast in English teacher hell someday.

After all these years, I am still somewhat shocked by seeing the poor writing of adults with responsible jobs in the community. Whether it’s the guy who’s a member of the Dixie County School Board or the woman who’s the head administrator of a nursing home, their essays read like the work of mediocre middle-school students.

I came home between 4 PM and 6 PM to relax, listen to NPR, and have dinner before returning to the CGR office.

The Sundowne management put a note on my door urging me to renew my lease now. Earlier, I’d left the rent check for October in the slot of their office door.

Well, it’s three months more here and then I’ll be gone. Although the prospect of leaving is pretty scary, I don’t really feel it yet. Maybe after the Ocala class ends, I’ll be able to start taking it in.

Right now I’m just so involved in getting through each day that I haven’t had time to think about leaving CGR and Gainesville. It’s so easy to go on doing what I’ve been doing and pretend it’s going to continue indefinitely.

This should be the week that Liz hears one way or the other about the Three Rivers Legal Services job, and I’ve got a hunch she won’t get it.

Perhaps that’s for the best, as federal and state legal services funding is so uncertain that it’s not as secure a position as her job at CGR.