A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1996

Monday, January 1, 1996

7 PM. I’m still in Fort Lauderdale. I had one of my bad bouts with insomnia last night, and so I decided to postpone my return to Gainesville until tomorrow even though it will cost me an extra $50 for the car rental.

My mind wasn’t racing, but I just couldn’t get tired until very late, and when I was tired, I couldn’t fall asleep. A kind of performance anxiety dynamic took over. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 AM until I dozed off into the kind of messy, chaotic dreams characteristic of my delayed REM sleep.

I had these anxiety dreams about the CGR office. I know I’m concerned with all the work I’ve got in the next month: preparing memos for the January 25 meeting and interviewing candidates for the Florida Bar Fellowship and people who applied to be my research assistant, all while I’ve got to adjust to a new office.

Still, I won’t be at CGR six months from now, and my long visits to South Florida have got me started on thinking about my life after CGR.

I suppose my decision to leave a comfortable job is reckless; maybe I have one of those genes talked about in tonight’s news, one that prejudices a person toward novelty-seeking.

Last evening I watched Final Analysis, for which Wes is credited with the script, though the director fired him the day before I saw him in April 1981. Its plot made no sense if you thought about it for a moment, with the characters behaving as incomprehensibly as they did in The Ties That Bind.

I agonized over my decision about whether to go or not this morning, but heavy thunderstorms predicted for Central Florida convinced me to stay here. (Daytona and Orlando did get several inches of rain.)

I expect my body or brain wanted me to stay awake all night so I could remain here another day. The same thing happened last January. Now I’ve got that behind-the-eyes headache that tells me I’ve got a body that’s extremely sleep-deprived.

Dad is going to New York very early in the morning. Today he and Mom were yelling (okay, they were talking normally for them, but it sounds very loud to me) about what clothes he should take.

The storms are expected again throughout Florida tomorrow, but at least I’ll be more alert. I see that very cold weather will be back by the end of the week, so at least I got to experience today’s 80° temperatures here.

I managed to read the New York Times and exercise to a Body Electric video every day I’ve been in Fort Lauderdale. My family isn’t so bad, and I’ve really enjoyed the affection I got from China when she licks me as I rub her belly and back.

This afternoon I drove out to Dania Beach and stood on the wooden steps leading to the sand for half an hour.

Swimming in that area was prohibited because it’s a ship launching area or something, and it was cloudy and breezy anyway, but there were several people on the beach and some surfers and windsurfers in the ocean.

Then I went to the Sheridan Plaza 12 and caught an early show of Disney’s computer-animated box office smash Toy Story, which was delightful, though crying babies and toddler were constantly making a racket.

Back at my parents’ house, I made myself some Healthy Choice French bread pizza, which I topped with tons of nuked frozen vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, onion, lima beans, zucchini and even peas.

I ate my dinner as I listened to All Things Considered on NPR on my headphones. So I made a pretty decent day out of a compromising start.

I’ve been avoiding thinking about all the postal mail, e-mail, phone messages, Lexis Eclipse searches and the other information I’ve been missing. It’s good for me to break out of my obsessive-compulsive habits.

If I hadn’t been fired as a New Jersey Online columnist three weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to take these extended vacations in South Florida.

On the other hand, I spent a great deal of money here, mostly on car rental fees, when I’ve now lost that extra income from Newhouse News Media.

Still, I got to reacquaint myself with South Florida the way I did with New York last August, and I got to see Sat Darshan and renew our friendship.

Well, it looks like I’ve completed my first diary entry of 1996, a year that still seems as if it belongs in the future.

Tuesday, January 2, 1996

5 PM. About twelve hours ago, I started out for Gainesville. Last night I managed to sleep from about 10 PM to 6 AM, so I was rested for the long drive, but now I’m beginning to slow down after the long trip and frantic activity since I got into town. It’s amazing how much life I missed in a week away from here.

As I was stirring this morning, Marc was taking Dad to the airport. I’d already said goodbye to Dad, and after packing my bulging suitcase – I got two pairs of shoes and a lot of men’s shirts from my parents – I hugged Mom goodbye.

I made very good time on the Turnpike, and the weather held despite a tornado watch north of Orlando. It was 12:30 PM when I stopped for gas in Wildwood.

I decided the Wendy’s there was too crowded and that I’d wait till I got to Ocala, but once on I-75, not only did the weather change from hot and humid to mild and rainy, but traffic came to a halt the way it did at Christmas.

So I got off on State Road 200 (College Avenue) in Ocala and went to Quincy’s for their salad bar after finding the Wendy’s jammed.

Then I drove back with U.S. 441 – through horse breeding country, Paynes Prairie, and men working on the chain gang – until the road became Gainesville’s SW 13th Avenue.

I went straight to the law school, where I wished the new secretary, Belinda, a happy stay on her first day at CGR.

I took all my books and crap out of John Tucker’s office and put them on the bookshelves of our new office in the old conference room.

Laura suggested we move the desks around, but I said I’d wait until Russ came in because I didn’t want to do anything without his consent.

I didn’t have much snail mail, but I had over a hundred e-mail messages. Of course, most were from bulletin boards.

Last week CompuServe blocked access to a list of new groups that were “sexually oriented” because the German government threatened to bust them on child pornography charges – although I’ve yet to discover anything remotely erotic on the list.

Last Tuesday I got an e-mail (and a phone message) from Joe Territo asking if I could quickly come up with new Johnson & Johnson and AT&T columns for New Jersey Online because he had lots of space to fill.

I replied that I’d been on vacation because of a lack of deadlines but said I thought I could send him that J&J column I wrote in December – I’d erased it from the office computer’s hard disk, but I found it at home tonight – and that I’d send him a new AT&T column by Friday. More work.

George Myers wanted a story on disk,  preferably experimental or funny or both for his website George Jr.

Justin asked where I was and forwarded Joe Territo’s reply to his e-mail bemoaning the absence of “Only in Jersey” from Interact.

I managed to reach Teresa on CompuServe and she managed to reply. She had a nice holiday and thinks she and Paul will get married in the spring.

After finding a couple of sweet posts from Kevin, we spent a while online flirting in real time, as he was in Goddard College’s computer lab when I contacted him.

He left to trudge back in the snow to his room, but asked me a question “as a writer and absurd artist” (did he mean himself, me or both?) for a story he’s been writing: What would I do if I were in a room with him and I became twelve feet tall? I answered in detail.

Elihu wrote that 1995 ended so badly when it looked so promising last year. I need to reply to him and Justin.

I stayed in the office a little while after the secretaries left and then shopped at Publix among the returning and new UF students.

At home, I had a ton of regular mail, of course – but only two Christmas cards. Shelli sent a photo of her daughter, who looks just like her, and Wade obviously hadn’t gotten mine yet because he told me about Mrs. P’s death and Mr. P’s impending move to Phoenix.

I haven’t yet looked at most of the literary stuff that came in the mail, but Martin sent copies of the flyer for I Survived Caracas Traffic and a disk with its text (with and without an order form). Martin also requested that I research stalking laws for a piece of fiction he’s writing.

I got a total of $814 in checks from Newhouse New Media, my Capital One savings account and a Health Valley refund. I deposited these in the NationsBank ATM and mailed out six bill payments and a birthday card I got for Marc.

On Lexis, I saw that Steve Kowit is organizing protests for the GOP convention in San Diego under the banner of Artists Against Right-wing Tyranny (AART).

Wednesday, January 3, 1996

8 PM. It’s a chilly night, I’ve just come in from a quickie visit back to the office. An hour ago, on Delphi, I discovered the Johnson & Johnson column I’d sent to Joe was already on their J&J Insider web page.

My column is called “Off the Shelf,” and Joe sent me the HTML formatting specs I was to use. I returned to CGR to get it from the Web and turn the document into a WordPerfect file, print it out, xerox it, and fax it to Mom.

I also sent Joe the rather lame AT&T column I finished at home a couple of hours ago and I made more copies of the Avisson Press brochure with Martin’s “special offer for Richard Grayson fans” of a pre-publication price of $15. (The pub date is now February 20.)

Because his file was a WordPerfect 6.1 for Windows, I couldn’t get the graphics of the book’s cover that he put on it (though I faxed that to Mom, too).

Last night I had trouble getting to sleep but woke up at 6:30 AM. After exercising, I was dressed and out the door before 9 AM.

Stopping off to mail letters, pay the rent and return library books, I turned in the rental car at Enterprise – the cost, including insurance, was $317 – and sat and read the Times until they found a driver, a UF agriculture student, to take me home.

Even though we tried to adjust my chair and computer, my wrists hurt from typing today. I’m still not quite comfortable in the new office. It will take me a while to figure out the best way to do my work there.

Laura and Belinda reminded me not to hesitate to ask them for anything I need, but I always hate to be a bother to the secretaries.

I welcomed John Tucker back – we’d exchanged notes – and he seems by far the nicest of the guys in the Environmental Division.

Carol is back today, and Jon will be returning soon from Tempe, where the Gators were devastated by Nebraska in last night’s Fiesta Bowl.

I sent my “E-mail to the Next King of England” story to George Myers, but he said he needs a disk copy.

I also wrote Elihu and Justin, my two gay friends still in Brooklyn, and I dealt with Joe Territo.

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get back to Richard Madaus sooner about the confidentiality agreement, but I’ll work on my response to his questions tomorrow. I already did some preliminary research today.

While checking the  Consortium for School Networking Usenet group, I noticed that Susan Mernit posted a notice about a newly-created New Jersey Online page on Education.

Paul Houston, the language Ph.D. from UI-Urbana, told me that his MLA interview with UF went well and he expects to visit Gainesville soon.

In snail mail from Stuttgart, Tom said he and Annette are doing well and he’s writing and publishing a lot. Tom plans to return to NOCCA next year – then start working part-time after that.

Home at 4:30 PM, I squeezed in another half-hour of exercise to make up for none yesterday.

Friday, January 5, 1996

9 PM. I’m looking forward to my first weekend at home in a while even though I know I won’t be able to accomplish a fraction of what I’d like to do.

I was still slightly cold last night, but my main problem was that after falling asleep at 11:30 PM, I awoke five hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep.

So I got out of bed and read through The Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual. To my horror, I discovered that I’d missed a crucial exception to the public records law regarding research at community colleges.

I immediately starting drafting a memo to Richard Madaus as an addendum to my e-mail apologizing for my oversight.

However, later I realized that I had cited this provision of the statute but assumed that it related only to certain technology centers rather than to community colleges in general.

Since there’s no relevant court decision or Attorney General opinion on the law here, I think I’m safe in interpreting the “plain meaning” of the language to be broader than I first thought. But I’ll check out the legislative history to make sure I’m right.

Anyway, the first thing I did in the office today was e-mail all these thoughts to Richard Madaus. He later replied with thanks.

When Liz and I talked, she said that I shouldn’t assume that the folks at Schoolyear 2000 are aware of all these statutes.

She reminded me how they totally misunderstood the Open Public Meetings law and assumed that it applied to a Tycho training session.

My problem, Liz said, is that I assume that everyone is as knowledgeable as I am, and so I mistakenly believe that I’m doing very little for Schoolyear 2000 with my legal advice.

Meanwhile, I neglected to answer Kevin’s message of “Goodnight, sweet prince.” I’m a creep.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I went to the computer and  researched stalking statutes for Martin Hester, and while I exercised this morning, I printed out 67 pages of articles and court decisions on the subject.

I mailed it all to him with a note that he should call if he needed further questions answered.

Today Russ came in wearing an old-fashioned Austrian suit: one of those collarless things with a tie that was made like a bow in a shoelace. It looked bizarre, but only Fletcher Baldwin, visiting the office, had the nerve to joke about it. (He called the tie a “cravat.”)

Later, Jon told me that Baldwin was really depressed today because it was his 60th birthday.

We had a birthday luncheon for Carol at the Olive Garden at noon. Arriving late, I sat at the end, near Jeff, Ewa and Laurie, who said she likes her new job but misses us.

I had a good time, and I learned that Belinda’s mother-in-law, whom she visited at Christmas, lives on Beach 90th Street in Rockaway, and Belinda and her husband used to live there, too.

Later, I worked with Belinda after I got the schedule for next Friday’s Public Schools Council Meeting at the Radisson in Orlando. There’s travel money for me to stay at a hotel next Thursday night and rent a car.

I’ll be doing at least three 20-minute “discovery sessions” during the afternoon, either discussions or a workshop. I’ll make sure I prepare better than I did last year.

When I called up Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-California) House office to find out from her legislative assistant about the proposal to help schools get retrofitted for the Internet, he told me that the Congress was about to adjourn for three weeks.

Russ has another cold – and I was stuck in that overheated little office with him all day.

In the late afternoon, Julie and Tom came by to visit. They’re living in Pensacola now, jobless, with Tom taking the bar exam in some other state and Julie applying for a position teaching WordPerfect.

Sigh. I like them a lot, but they seem like an incredible pair of losers.

Tuesday, January 9, 1996

4 PM. I left work early today because they asked us to turn off our computers. Everything was very slow all day on the network, and the students needed to get through for drop/add registrations.

Besides, my wrists still ache and I need to rest them. This morning I finished my 50-page handout for the meeting on Friday.

Liz told me she can’t attend the Tallahassee meeting on January 25 – but I don’t mind, as I can sleep over this way.

If I can’t find a way to get UF to pay for a motel, I’ll spring for it myself and have a more relaxing trip. Plus, I’ll get to spend another night away from home.

I turned the heater up last night and I remained toasty warm even though the temperature was 18° when I woke up at 6:30 AM. It’s 40° now, but with the sun out, it feels almost balmy.

I exercised after breakfast. On Lexis, I found both computer law material I need and items for future Johnson & Johnson and AT&T items for my next columns, which I’ll do over the long weekend.

Since I was alone in the office, it was a good day to make personal phone calls. When I phoned Ronna, she said, “You’ve called to gloat about the snow.”

Matthew left her apartment in Manhattan early Sunday. But the storm got so bad that on the way to his parents’ house, he decided to stop there only briefly, run in to pick up Chelsea, and return to Philadelphia.

Soon after he arrived at their house, however, he learned that the entire Jersey Turnpike had been closed,. So Matthew ended up stranded in Linden under two feet of snow.

Ronna’s been taking advantage of the two days off from work to call florists, band leaders, etc. Her mother is coming up from Orlando a week early to help with preparations.

Matthew’s parents have rented a bus to take them and thirty other relatives to the wedding from Jersey. Sue and Billy and their families are also coming up and will stay at West End Avenue.

Matthew is moving back to his house in Elkins Park in a few weeks, and Ronna will join him there at the end of the month. She’ll be doing some work for Hadassah with a borrowed computer and CompuServe.

I told her that if I didn’t speak to her again before the wedding, to know that I’m thinking of her.

I also called Alice, who hasn’t gone out of her apartment in 48 hours. She said she’s joined the Authors Guild because she’s becoming a literary agent and wants their contact information. Later, I sent her the latest Authors Guild Bulletin along with an order form for the book, which she requested.

Martin told me he hadn’t yet gotten my research on stalking laws but the mail has been all screwed up in Greensboro, where they had 17 inches of snow. He told me the legal work I did is worth a couple of extra free copies of the book.

I asked him to send me Avisson Press labels, as I’d rather some of the leaflets came from the press and not me personally.

We didn’t talk about the lack of reviews.

Steve Spurrier, thought to be leaving UF to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs, instead announced he’s staying as a college coach. And why not? In Gainesville, he’s treated like a god – and he earns a million dollars a year.

While I was annoyed about Josh’s telling me the way to beat cold nights was to get someone to share my bed, he was breaking up with Sharon.

I’m sure he refused her plea that they see a couples therapist after they last broke up and got back together.

Josh still mooches off Sharon’s e-mail account, so he can’t talk about it – although he’s the strong silent type who probably wouldn’t talk about it anyway.