A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1995

Friday, December 1, 1995

4:30 PM. Tonight I have to sit on the WUFT-TV/Channel 5 studio set and take membership pledges for three and a half hours, which is an experience I dread.

What makes it worse is that I had such a bad night last night. I fell asleep a few hours after I returned from the Human Rights Council board meeting, but I woke up at 12:30 AM and was unable to get back to sleep for many hours.

Anyway, I felt crummy all day today, and then things seemed to start going wrong, so I basically took off from work after lunch.

New Jersey Online’s Laura Italiano called last evening with some questions about the column that I cleared up for her.

She also told me that Joe said I’m giving wire services credit for stories that eventually appeared in the Star-Ledger.

Maybe that’s because the paper appears so late on Westlaw and that newspaper articles there are so much more difficult to find than the ones on Lexis-Nexis.

Today, for instance, I went through 480 Star-Ledger citations, which brought me up only to last Saturday, and then Westlaw failed to print out nearly all the ones I’d saved – which will force me to go through the whole process again.

Another reason I left the office early was disgust after getting an e-mail from Kathy about last night’s board meeting. The meeting seemed okay, actually, although it was tedious, as usual.

What ticked me off was Kathy’s rehashing of a thousand complaints she’s mentioned before. I’m sick of her and the endless wrangling; it’s so unprofessional.

Kathy whines about her $7-an-hour job and how we don’t appreciate her and how other people don’t deserve to be on the board just for attending meetings, and going on and on.

I do understand why some gay activists need the movement: because without it, they wouldn’t have lives. I had to restrain myself from e-mailing Craig my resignation, but that wouldn’t be right, upsetting him just when we have to appear on TV tonight.

In my opinion, Kathy needs professional help, and I probably will end up resigning from the HRC board. My time is precious, and I’m not going to spend another meeting dealing with “board dynamics” – which mostly means Kathy’s neuroses.

At this point, I don’t feel I’m accomplishing very much for gay rights there.

The only thing at work today that I really accomplished was a fine conversation with Jan McKay, who helped me understand a lot more about the Tycho project and product.

It seems to me that Schoolyear 2000 made a mistake is signing off on Tycho 1.5 when AMS never produced a technical manual, as it had promised to do in the co-development agreement that I helped draft.

Jan feels that the best thing I can do now is explain areas of the co-development agreement that need refining in future agreements, like the technical manual provision, which needs to be made more explicit.

I’ll talk to Marty Beach next, but at least I have a better grasp of where I’m going with the new memo.

I also accomplished one other thing: I mostly finished my “Only in Jersey” column for next Tuesday although I haven’t even begun my “AT&T Insider” column yet.

Driving in the car late last night, I was able to get both WABC-AM (770) and WCBS-AM (NewsRadio 88). It was so great to hear New York City weather, traffic, and talk on those stations.

I got really excited when I saw a rave review from Kirkus of Denis Woychuk’s Attorney for the Damned. It praised Denis’s “war stories” about his defense of the criminally insane and called the book, published by the Free Press, “thoughtful and compelling.”

I got Denis’s latest phone number from Josh and called him.

Denis has taken paternity leave following the birth of his and Melinda’s new daughter, Lucy, a month ago. (Ava is “regressing,” he said – for obvious reasons).

He’d heard about the review and got it faxed by his agent and his publisher, so it sounds like people working with him on the ball – although Denis might not agree.

“Yesterday I met with this child who supposed to be my publicist and some more children from NBC Dateline,” he told me.

But since Denis’s publicist also worked on The Bell Curve, I assume she’s good – even if he told me that her grammar and sentence structure are terrible.

I advised Denis to follow the advice of his partner in KGB, Melvin Jules Bukiet, and do some publicity himself – or ask one of his young tyros like the newly-minted MFA who runs KGB’s reading series to do it for him. He needs to parlay whatever literary power KGB gives him into reading dates for himself.

Denis is glad to be out of his job until after the book comes out since he’s worried about repercussions “in this Republican time in New York.”

But things are going well for him: he won the big Rakowitz case earlier this fall, and then got the galleys, and then the baby was born. I told him I thought the book would be very successful and that I was very proud of him.

Am I envious? Of course, but the truth is that when I saw the review, I got happy-excited rather than that pang-in-the-stomach-why-isn’t-it-me? feeling. So I’m either more mature or more generous than I thought I was.

It helps that Denis is a down-to-earth guy. He’s not Internet-connected yet, so I can’t send him e-mail except to the homepage for KGB that one of his young barflies set up.

(“The young people who hang around the bar do everything we should have done back when we were trying to become famous literary writers,” Denis told me.)

Kevin did e-mail me back; he’s just been rehearsing night and day with the play. Maybe he’s another ambitious person as well.

I must have gotten a dozen résumés from law students for next year’s Florida Bar Foundation fellowships. Many of the applicants have good grades and book awards; some are on law review. I plan to wait until January to interview people.

Saturday, December 2, 1995

9 PM. Last night’s pledge drive at Channel 5 actually turned out to be fun, and the good feelings it engendered dissipated some of my annoyance with Kathy.

At various times I discussed her e-mail with Bill, Craig, and Bob, and each sort of shrugged and said, “What can you do with Kathy?”

Earlier, I had decided to skip the annual World AIDS Day candlelight march and ceremony this year. By now, over 300,000 people are dead in the U.S., and so many more are infected with HIV or living with AIDS.

There have been breakthroughs with some new drugs, especially the protease inhibitors recently approved by the FDA, but people – especially the poor – are still getting infected in their teens and twenties through unsafe sex.

Anyway, last night I parked across from the Reitz Union and was the first to get to the studio, along with a black woman who looked familiar to me as the host of a local public affairs show.

She was one of the three “talent” volunteers for the night, the ones who made the on-air pitches.

Sharon, the volunteer coordinator, made us popcorn and coffee, had soft drinks ready and ordered pizza.

I spoke with Bill and his friend Denise, whom I’d seen at the Woody Allen movie. They both work at the Institute for the Child, and Denise worked closely with Joann and others at CGR on Jon’s old TV show, Sunshine Showdown.

Denise said that CGR was one of the few places in conservative Gainesville where a liberal mentality dominates. I guess I forget how lucky I am to be working there.

Denise grew up in Connecticut and New Jersey and had previously lived in Burlington, Vermont. Bill is a product of North Florida and said, “I was the only person in my town who thought like I did.”

Soon the others came, and eventually we were ushered into the studio, where there were two rows of two pairs of seats on a large stage decorated with Christmas tchotchkes like fake candy canes, gum drops, wreaths and snowflakes.

We had several more people than the eight we needed for the phones, so we were able to take turns. The system was set up so that line 1 would ring, and then line 2, and so on, but if line 1 hung up, the person at line 1 would get the first new call.

I sat by line 4, so I got a medium number of calls. At first they were mostly pranksters, hang-ups or complaints about Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser being preempted by the Perry Como Christmas special.

But soon Perry’s elderly fans and others began calling. (Bill, next to me at line 8, did not get a call for the entire first hour.)

By 9 PM, we had surpassed the station’s prime-time goal of $2,000, and when we left at 11 PM, we’d raised $4,640, a good take for the night.

I spoke to several sweet little old ladies in beach communities along the Northeast Florida coast, including a lovely 92-year-old who pledged $10 but couldn’t remember her own address. (She said she’d outlived her savings anyway, so I didn’t want to take her money.)

We HRC folks had a good time. Roger took photos, and most of the HRC board members, plus Emma, showed up.

Even though we had our Human Rights Council sign up and onscreen, nobody watching seemed to know that we were a gay rights organization. I think we just looked like typical suburban do-gooders.

But for HRC, this was a very successful event, and it was good of Bill to suggest it.

Craig drove me to my car so neither of us would have to go alone to their parking lot, and he asked if I wanted to meet him and others at the University Club afterwards.

Of course, 11 PM was late for me, and I’ve never wanted to go to that bar anyway, even if it may be the best place to meet other gay guys in town. I’m sure the other HRC people must think I’m weird – which I am. I managed to get to dreamland by 1 AM and slept till 7:30 AM.

Today I had frustrations at CIRCA and was unable to make a PrintScreen of my “Only in Jersey” column.

First the New Jersey Online server was not responding, then I couldn’t print out from one Mac, and when I went to another, the connection to Netscape went down.

Then, when I came back to the CIRCA lab after lunch, there were no free computers. Annoyed, I left to catch the 1:25 PM showing of Clueless at the Plaza.

It took a long time for Amy Heckerling’s movie to make it to a dollar theater, but I knew I would love the retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma in the setting of a Beverly Hills high school where teenagers are obsessed with shopping, fashion, cars, and their wonderful slang.

Alicia Silverstone was excellent as the heroine. I remember writing when I was a teenager – maybe this is even in one of my stories – that I wished I could write a comedy of manners. I still do. I wonder if I could re-tell a novel like Galsworthy’s The White Monkey.

At the CGR office at 4 PM, I downloaded my “AT&T Insider” column. Laura Italiano forwarded me a fan letter and a flame, both about my mentioning Mom’s tofu turkey for Thanksgiving, the fan letter thanking me for mentioning vegans, the flame wrongly assuming I was making fun of them.

Tom Andersen introduced me to Ken, who did his Mesoamerica Project’s home page. I’d been seeing this guy around – he’s cute in a goofy sort of way; in Clueless parlance, he’s a Barney – and I’m glad I now know somebody who’s got actual talent as an HTML programmer.

I heard from Josh and Justin via e-mail. Justin and Larry got home to Park Slope from Thanksgiving weekend with both sets of parents, first in Connecticut, then in Pennsylvania, to find that their bathroom pipe had burst.

I re-did my Star-Ledger search on Westlaw, but again I couldn’t download what I’d saved. This isn’t my computer weekend.

This evening I went grocery shopping and did the laundry so at least I’d accomplish something today.

Tuesday, December 5, 1995

8 PM. Last evening I got to the United Church (it’s across the street from my first apartment in Gainesville) early and waited for Christy Sheffield Sanford to open up the door to the classroom with her workshop mates.

She was with Jim, who lives in her house and whom I met at the Thomas Center. That afternoon Christy had read at Jim’s American Lit class at Santa Fe, and I asked him to say hello for me to Cissy Wood, his teacher.

Only half the workshop members showed up, all of them men: a thin gay guy with long straight blond hair; a country-looking Southerner with a beard; and a kind of disheveled nerd type, as well as Jim.

I read “Twelve Step Barbie” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp,” stories that went over well, and then Christy had me talk about my career and show them my books.

It felt good to again be in a classroom and to be treated like a writer for the first time since I taught at NOCCA in New Orleans last February.

I stayed for the workshop session in which they went over a three-page story by one guy and a pretentious fantasy that totally lost me on page two.

But it was good to be in a writing workshop again and remembering that I have valuable things to share. I like learning from others, too. They all thanked me when we left at 10 PM.

Unused to not going to the bathroom for over three hours, I had to stop at the office to pee because I couldn’t make it home. While there, I decided to check my e-mail, which I did, and the last item was from Kevin.

When I responded, he immediately responded back, and we ended up going back and forth every two minutes, developing this elaborate fantasy about his meeting me back at my apartment and his describing our boxer shorts – his plaid flannel, mine polka dot silk – and my nuzzling the back of his neck.

I got excited. So that’s computer sex.

But when he started using the third person (“Kevin caresses Richard and wraps him in a blanket”), it freaked me out a bit because I felt they were four people in bed.

Although I felt tired, it was fun. I gave him my home phone number, but it’s just as well Kevin didn’t call. We’ll probably just keep this up as online fantasy.

Back here at 11 PM, I fell asleep quickly although my Kevin-fantasies lingered pleasantly until morning.

At the office, Liz had put a memo in my mailbox and Ellen’s about the Department of Education money, which she envisioned taking me to April 4.

Ellen is paid through mid-March, and Liz wanted to know if she would want to take over my grant in April. But Ellen doesn’t want to do the DOE stuff at all.

She’s teaching at both the law school and on the main campus this spring, so they somehow have to find money to keep her.

Liz told me that even if Ellen doesn’t get into grad school at Rice, she suspects Ellen will soon leave CGR because “she’s sick of scrounging for grants.” I can certainly understand that feeling.

Liz thinks our getting the new grant extension is only a formality, so I told her that in that case, I’d stay on at CGR till June 30.

If the money comes through, I’ll either extend my lease or sublet. We should know by the end of the year, so I won’t talk to my landlord until it’s definite.

Although I’d planned to keep working till mid-February, technically my current contract with Schoolyear 2000 ends on December 31.

Friday, December 8, 1995

4 PM. It’s been a chilly, overcast December day.

Last night I got into bed early and listened to classical music until I drifted off. I had many pleasant dreams, including one in which I was at a party with Mike and Mikey from college.

I wish I’d gotten more work done today on the distance learning memo, but I kept going down blind alleys.

Still, I’ve l got 16 pages, 14 of which are text (the other two newspaper articles I need to incorporate into the text), so at least I know I’ll have something to show Wendy by next week.

The problem is that distance learning incorporates so many education law issues. I hope I can force myself to work on the memo this weekend.

I didn’t do any work on my “Only in Jersey” column today.

All day Russ kept chattering away, though I guess sometimes I interrupt him. We were the only staff attorneys who came in today, so the office in general was very quiet.

I didn’t get much mail or e-mail, but Laura C sent a Chanukah card and told me she passed the Pennsylvania bar exam.

Josh asked me for info on his favorite rabbi from Sheepshead Bay, an elderly man who, according to a Daily News article I found, was arrested for flashing a woman on Ocean Avenue and Avenue V.

(I titled the message “Tuesday The Rabbi Whipped It Out.”)

I now have health insurance deducted, so today’s paycheck was $13 smaller than usual. My net pay should go back to what it had been when our 3% raise kicks in on January 1. At least now if I do get sick, I won’t have to panic so much about money.

I also got a check for $3.86 for the lunch voucher from our Tallahassee trip. When I took it to the drive-in teller after lunch, I noticed this pretty young guy in the next lane. He was so pretty, in fact, that at first I assumed it was a girl with her longer hair under that baseball cap.

I didn’t want to stare, but when his car pulled away, I noticed a rainbow sticker on his rear windshield, and that made me feel good.

Unlike last Friday evening, I don’t have to do any work at WPBT tonight, but I may go back to the office because Mark Bergeron said the law school server will be partially down tomorrow.

I feel I need to get out of Gainesville, if only for a day. I was thinking of going to visit Christy Greer at the rehabilitation hospital in Jacksonville where she’s been moved. Liz and Becky are going to see her next week, I think.

Saturday, December, 9, 1995

8 PM. Last evening I returned to the office and called up Interact and “Only in Jersey” on the NERDC/UF text browser for the Web.

I copied and pasted my work and then formatted them using word processing software. Employing a Times Roman font so they look better than the usual stuff I print out, I made some copies and faxed a copy to my parents.

Then I spent an hour working on my columns for next week. I e-mailed the text to myself so I can make last-minute editing touches before I send them off to Jersey City on Monday or Tuesday.

This afternoon I spoke to Mom for what seemed like a long time. I let her go on about EastEnders, her British soap, and the book she’s reading on Jewish family names.

She told me she watched the repeat of the PBS klezmer special that talked about and showed Uncle Dave Tarras and his son-in-law Sam Musiker.

Mom told me again about how she, at 12, went up to Gene Krupa – whom Sammy had worked with – at Sammy and Brauny’s wedding and got his autograph.

“He had just gotten out of jail for marijuana,” Mom told me, “and everyone wanted to shake his hand and congratulate him.”

In the mail I got a desperate plea for funding from the financially-strapped Associated Writing Programs. With the NEA budget slashed by the Republican Congress and the NEA Literature Program disbanded, writers’ organizations are going to suffer a lot. Many won’t survive. The artists’ colonies will be hit hard, and so will the small literary presses that remain.

Book distribution is now dominated by Ingram. The independent literary bookstores are a casualty of the superstore era. The generation that built the small presses back in the 1960s and 1970s are aging out of the business without any replacements in sight.

Soon there won’t be much literary fiction published, especially since even some of the big New York houses like Knopf have cut back their titles.

As much as I’ve always known that I Survived Caracas Traffic will make no impact in the world, I’ve got to remember that I’m incredibly fortunate to be published at all – in hardcover, especially.

While Avisson Press may end up with a good list of literary titles, the winner-take-all syndrome means that midlist authors like myself, Richard Krawiec and Bill Joyce will be totally ignored rather than just marginally noticed.

The only small press that published me that still exists is Zephyr, which made itself into a niche publisher of Russian literature. I can’t really see how Avisson will survive for very long.

After lunch, I decided to go downtown to the library, to check out if Publishers Weekly or Library Journal had a review of my book. Only later, when I heard that Hempfest was celebrated this afternoon, did I understand why parking was so difficult.

Anyway, after hanging out in the library only twenty minutes, I went to my office.

Josh swears that this rabbi in Brooklyn must be innocent.

While I answered back flippantly, I now realize that Josh’s paranoia and his obsession with victimization may lead him to take this case extremely seriously and personally. He’ll probably get annoyed that I’m taking this so lightly.

On Westlaw, I discovered what I should have found weeks ago: an article by a practitioner in the Education Law Reporter that perfectly answers all the questions about intellectual property and distance learning.

After downloading the article, I printed it out and appended it to my memo-in-progress.

Now I have the law (though it’s not yet footnoted) as well as the organizational scheme for my memo, and I’ve conceptualized what I need to do: put my content into the proper sections of this guy’s organizational scheme.

I see it all as maybe ten hours work, tops.

So I said to myself, why work today? Besides, I needed to put transmission fluid in my car and go to the Millhopper branch library, where I took out three books and a videotape. And then I stopped at Baskin-Robbins for a treat of nonfat daiquiri ices.

By the time I got home, All Things Considered was on NPR. Feeling tired, I lay down in the dark and listened; from time to time I tuned out and dozed off a little. Soon it was time for dinner, and the rest is goofing-off history.

But I do know how to get things done when I need to. In first year law school, I was never the type of person who did his Legal Research and Writing or Appellate Advocacy papers at the last minute – nor did I do that with my senior seminar paper.

Hey, I even got that Neil Simon article done, even though I doubt it will make it into Gary Konas’s anthology.