A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1997

Monday, May 12, 1997

8:30 PM. I have to get up at 4 AM to drive Dad to Miami airport for his flight to San Juan. Hopefully, the violent thunderstorms that I got caught in today will have subsided by then.

This afternoon a real tornado touched down in downtown Miami, causing lots of property damage to cars and buildings and making for some spectacular TV pictures. I heard about it during a courtroom recess when the Herald reporter said the tornado touched down in the newspaper’s parking lot at 2 PM.

At least I slept well last night. I had a dream in which Dad pushed all my antidepressants (they were pills but they looked slightly anthropomorphic, sort of like M&M characters) off a high ledge. I was furious with him but decided not to push him off the ledge in revenge.

The feelings behind that dream seem clear. Not so clear was another dream, the most phallic dream I’ve ever had: it wasn’t overtly erotic, but there were images of penises everywhere, sort of like the men’s room Keith Haring painted at Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center on West 13th Street.

At the end of the dream, I was on the street at night and I ran into the astronomer Carl Sagan, who pointed to the sky, where a dismembered penis floated among the stars and planets. Naturally, I had an erection when I awoke from that dream.

Leaving the house at 9 AM, I got caught in a heavy rain on my way to downtown Fort Lauderdale. June arrived before her lawyer and sat down next to me. We chatted with each other and the guys from Court TV about how newspapers get so much wrong.

The Herald article called her a foster parent, but she never was with the Romanian girl, and the Sun-Sentinel had her as a Broward, not a Dade, correctional officer. June is not a sophisticate, but she’s a good, hamishe person who must be a terrific mother for Robbie.

There was more video testimony today by Dr. Satinover, who comes across as a strident conservative, with his political and religious biases evident to me, at least.

I left before they played the tape of the legislative debate in 1977 and didn’t return to the courtroom until 3 PM, just before the final arguments.

Karen Amlong, June’s attorney, spoke for about an hour, summing up the case as she went over the testimony of Dr. Brodzinsky, the adoption expert; Dr. Patterson, who studies gay families; June herself; the gay father from Orlando who adopted his children in Washington State; Seth Gordon, the Democratic legislative aide; and the two defense witnesses.

She had lots of charts and visual aids and told the court that lesbians and gay men are adopting children in 48 states – New Hampshire is the only other state with a ban like Florida’s – with no problems whatsoever.

Cox v. Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the Florida Supreme Court case upholding the gay adoption ban, was decided before Romer came down last May, and I suspect the U.S. Supreme Court decision may influence this case a lot.

Sam Chavers, the counsel for the Department of Children and Families, did a fairly good job with his final argument, but his case is very weak. Of course, I’m prejudiced.

Without being homophobic – and he tried not to be – it’s very hard to justify the ban. And if he had been homophobic, that would only confirm the plaintiff’s charge of invidious discrimination based on the same kind of animus found unconstitutional in Romer.

I was very impressed with Mike Adams’s rebuttal, and not just because he’s cute; he eloquently yet plainly laid out the essential constitutional argument.

Why, in this statute, was there a line drawn between gay and lesbian Floridians on one hand and everyone else on the other? There is no prohibition against anyone else – former criminals, alcoholics, anyone – adopting children in this state. Gay men and lesbians, unlike everyone else, are prohibited from even submitting an application for adoption.

The judge said that he would issue his opinion within a month, probably before the parties. Then he said he wanted to talk to June and the lawyers, who told him they didn’t need to go out of the courtroom.

So Judge Frusciante told June that he’s aware how difficult her position is and that she should stay in close contact with her lawyers, and to understand that whatever his ruling is, the case would be appealed and the resolution would take time.

He said she was not doing this just for herself but that a lot of other people would be affected by her actions.

After the judge left the courtroom, the press came after the lawyers and June with lots of questions.

I walked to the parking lot with the local lawyer for the Department of Children and Families, a woman who never took an active courtroom role and who seemed inscrutable.

I got caught in a terrible rush hour downpour going home.

Tuesday, May 13, 1997

8:30 PM. Although I slept pretty well, all night I was aware I had to get up very early. Still, when Dad awakened me at 4 AM, it jolted me because I was in the middle of a dream.

After I had some oatmeal, I got online, reading and responding to an e-mail from Kevin titled “The Big Risk.” In it, Kevin detailed his frustrations.

He’s been working at Warner Records for over a year, still doesn’t have money to buy a car, and most of all, he doesn’t have any time to do activities related to acting or writing.

When he comes home from work, Kevin is exhausted, and he spends weekends sort of resting up. “The corporate world isn’t for me,” he wrote.

I responded that I know the feeling and said that he probably should make a plan to give up his job at a date certain. Kevin needs to try to make it in the arts/entertainment world. (Frankly, I have no idea if he can.)

I also told him not to act rashly and said that my own viewpoint, like everyone else’s, is colored by my own experiences. After all, I’ve just left CGR for . . . what?

So of course, I’m going to tell him to act on his desire to give up a secure but unsatisfying job for the scary risks of trying to succeed in a field that will allow him self-expression.

At 5 AM, Dad said he was ready to go, so I threw on khakis and shoes, grabbed my jean jacket and Walkman, and started up the car.

They were a surprising number of trucks on I-95 in the darkness of that hour, but it was only drizzling slightly and I got Dad to the American terminal at Miami Airport more than an hour before his 7 AM flight to San Juan.

Coming back here, I decided to go with the straightest route of NW 27th Avenue/University Drive even though I had to stop at numerous lights and go through Liberty City and other inner-city neighborhoods.

I listened to Morning Edition when it came on WLRN at 6 AM. Close to home, I stopped to get the New York Times and $9 worth of gas.

Back in the house, I finished breakfast and rested for 90 minutes before exercising. Then, calling the Unemployment touch-tone service, I claimed benefits for the past two weeks.

I never got a check for the first two weeks for which I claimed partial benefits, so I wonder if I’ll get this check. If not, I’ll go back to the unemployment office on Friday morning.

I phoned Aunt Sydelle and we agreed that I’d come between 12:30 PM and 1 PM. She wanted to know what she should make for lunch, and I said I’d prefer going out.

Actually, I ate beforehand, which proved a good idea because we didn’t go out until 2 PM and she took me to a restaurant she likes, the Crab House, where the only item on the menu that I would eat was the spinach salad.

Mom had given me Sydelle’s 1938 diploma from Tilden High School, which for some reason was in our house. Sydelle was glad to see it after all these years, but of course she won’t show it to anyone with the date on it. I figure my aunt must be 78, but like Dad, she looks younger and seems healthy.

She told me I could pass for 25 (yeah, maybe at a Braille readers convention) and said, “You got so thin!” even though I probably weigh exactly what I did the last time she saw me, at her grandson’s bar mitzvah in D.C. two years ago.

“Your father might as well live in another state, for all I get to see him,” Sydelle complained. She said she hasn’t seen him in a year, which I don’t think is true.

Like Grandma Sylvia, she was intent on foisting food on me; I nibbled on some fruit as we chatted.

Sydelle’s condo is a smaller one than the one upstairs that she had when she was married; she traded apartments with another man in her highrise.

(Going there, I got terribly lost amid the condo canyons of Aventura; Sydelle’s building is one of three highrises called Coronado, with a total of 750 apartments.)

Anyway, we were about the only diners in the Crab House, which is located in the Waterways, a pleasant, tony outdoor shopping center.

After our meal, I went back to Sydelle’s apartment till about 4:30 PM. She showed me some pictures of her wedding in 1943. Grandpa Nat made a young father of the bride, and Grandma Sylvia looked beautiful; both of them were younger than I am now.

We also looked at some Old World pictures, but Sydelle wasn’t helpful on family history; she couldn’t remember either of her grandmothers’ maiden names and said that Grandpa Nat’s family lived near Warsaw, something I’d never heard before. (He spoke Russian, not Polish, and I’d heard he lived outside Moscow.)

But my aunt did tell me some interesting stories. For example, when Grandpa Nat and his siblings brought their elderly parents to America, none of his five sisters would take them in because they were “too European”: in other words, peasants who didn’t know how to use a bathroom.

So Grandpa Nat threatened to leave Grandma Sylvia unless she agreed to let his parents live with them. Dad was an infant at that time. All six of them lived in a one-bedroom apartment for half a year, at which time the other Ginsbergs kicked in some money for their by then somewhat Americanized (i.e., civilized) parents.

Her cousin Pearl sent an article from the Lakewood, New Jersey, paper about Uncle Benny Cohen, the eldest of Grandma Sylvia’s siblings, and how he celebrated his 100th birthday at the Marriott Manor, where he’s the oldest resident in the nursing home.

Uncle Benny still reads books and the newspaper and watches Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour on PBS every night. The photo of him at 100 made him look like a terrifically vital 80-year-old.

The article said he and his seven brothers and sisters who survived childhood were born near Kiev, which is where I thought the Cohen/Krein family came from.

My day with Aunt Sydelle was okay. Apart from my parents and brothers, she is the only family I have, given that I don’t see anyone else.

Mom said that Dad got to Puerto Rico safely and was in his hotel by 10:30 AM.

Monday, May 19, 1997

11 PM. I’m in Locust Valley, in Teresa and Paul’s “Lincoln Bedroom.” My stomach has been hurting me for hours, probably because my eating routines have been disrupted.

So have all my other routines: I bought the New York Times at the airport but haven’t even glanced at it yet. Well, that’s part of traveling and doing new things.

Last evening I phoned Kevin in Los Angeles. He said he’s been less crazed and he decided not to quit his job at Warner Records right away but to make sure that he can go out for auditions as much as possible.

He sounded good, and I wished him a great visit with his friends in Seattle next week, and he wished me a good stay in New York and Chicago.

In Florida, I couldn’t get back to sleep after I woke up around 4 AM. As prepared as I thought I had been, there were still many last-minute things I needed to do before I left with Dad around 9:30 AM.

I think I drove Dad crazy because I kept forgetting stuff; we even went back to the house after driving as far as Pine Island Drive because I mistakenly thought I left the sweet potato I’d cooked for the plane at home, only to discover I’d had it with me all the time.

Maneuvering the two heavy suitcases, the bag with the computer, my big gray carry-on bag and the little garment covering and hanger with my sport jacket was a real pain all day.

On US Airways, they packed us in like sardines, and in the back of the plane there wasn’t enough space to store our carry-on luggage.

I’d been assigned a window seat, but a woman asked me if I’d exchange with her so she could sit next to her little girl, so I got the aisle seat I coveted, just five rows from the lavatory (although I used it only twice).

Years ago, I used to go through all these rituals before takeoff: I needed recorded music (preferably Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or something by Mozart), chewing gum, and all sorts of talismans.

By now my heart doesn’t even race at takeoff; I just sink into my seat, close my eyes, and try to relax. I actually find the whooshing white noise of the airliner cabin kind of soothing.

Mom had made me bags of broccoli and baby carrots, I’d made myself a cheese sandwich, and I had the pretzels from the airline’s boxed snack.

We arrived at LaGuardia at 1:30 PM, and I was the next to the last one off the plane because I had so much trouble with all my stuff.

Today turned out to be the first spring day in New York where the temperature got over 80°. I called Teresa’s parents, and her father gave me instructions on getting to Conselyea Street by cab via the BQE.

It didn’t take long, and Teresa’s father was thoughtful enough to be on the stoop outside so I could put my stuff right into the Cadillac without taking it into the house. Inside, I hugged Teresa’s mother hello, and we sat drinking Diet Coke and chatting.

They said it’s fine with them if I stay there in July, and they showed me the place and gave me the keys. The problem is there’s no air conditioner, but I can deal with that somehow.

I’ll have the two bottom floors to myself, with two guys named Andrew in the apartments on the top two floors. I’ll sleep in the highriser in the little room, where there’s a little TV like mine, and if they don’t leave the microwave, I’ll rent one or something.

They use the ground floor entrance. Although it’s brick, it’s a typical brownstone layout with the four floors. After I called Teresa, her father showed me all the intricacies of his ‘92 Cadillac, and I took off at about 4 PM.

It was already rush hour, and it took me over ten minutes just to get the BQE’s Metropolitan Avenue entrance, and the traffic crawled along at about 20 miles per hour even after I got on the LIE.

By then my stomach started hurting, and I figured it was lack of my usual food. Since I wasn’t sure when people would be home in Locust Valley to let me in, I went further on the LIE than Glen Cove Road and found a Boston Market in Hicksville.

At Boston Market, I had chicken soup and sides of rice pilaf, corn and zucchini marinara, as well as water – I’d been dehydrated – but my stomach still felt gassy and distended.

Anyway, following Teresa’s excellent directions, I found the Locust Valley house easily. Paul and Jade were both there when I arrived.

Paul told me about his work repairing and trouble-shooting for the gate company he works for and all his rich clients. He drives all over the tri-state area, from Bruce Springsteen’s estate in New Jersey to Judd Hirsch’s in New Paltz to Martha Stewart’s in Connecticut and to the Hamptons.

Teresa, Camille and Diane arrived from Fire Island with chicken for Paul to barbecue on the grill, and they made a salad and broccoli pasta and cooked Brussels sprouts.

We ate outside on the deck overlooking the lush backyard and the swimming pool. It was quite pleasant, and if I’d felt better physically, I would have appreciated it even more than I did.

This house is nowhere as big as Paul’s house in Oyster Bay was, but it’s really nice, and I have a lovely peach bedroom on the second floor across from the master bedroom. Jade is in the basement, with two big rooms to herself, and there’s a separate garage and a gazebo in the back.

I went with Teresa to drive Camille to the Syosset train station so she could get back to the Village, where she and her husband have a brownstone. (There’s a train station within walking distance in Locust Valley, but it makes many more stops.)

Anyway, after Teresa and I chatted for a bit – she showed me how she sponge-painted the walls (a really nice effect) – we joined Paul in the living room, where he’d fallen asleep watching TV.

I didn’t do anything I normally do today, and I don’t expect to sleep much tonight. But I am tired.

Tuesday, May 20, 1997

10 PM. I have the same distended stomach with gas pains that I did last night. My body, accustomed to eating my usual diet, is probably wondering what the hell is going on. The change in diet, weather and routine is a shock to my system.

While I feel discomfort, at the same time I know that I need to learn to adapt to new conditions and adjust to different circumstances if I’m going to be a less pinched and obsessive person.

Actually, I’m probably eating fewer calories than usual even if I’m not getting the nutrition I ordinarily do. Besides, I haven’t had time to adjust and figure out how to get a routine going here at Teresa and Paul’s.

Last night I slept surprisingly well although I got up at 5:30 AM with Teresa and Paul.

I exercised as best I could to a Body Electric show on my new little TV, which gets the show with no sound on WLIW/Channel 21 and with sound but no picture on WNYE/Channel 25. I ate my usual cereal, but without milk because they don’t have skim.

After sitting around for a long time, Teresa and I left around 9:30 AM, driving into Manhattan to go to the Lincoln Towers apartment of her friend Susan, who’s married to Moshe and who just had a baby by caesarean last week.

(I remember going to their building the day before Teresa’s wedding to pick up a dress and earrings from the doorman.)

Teresa’s mission today was to provide maternal support, as Susan needed to get rid of her do-nothing, domineering Trinidadian baby nurse.

Susan and Moshe are obviously very rich and successful, and they have a great new apartment on the 23rd floor. Their baby, Alexandra, is the cutest, most placid one-weak-old I’ve ever seen – not that I’ve seen many. But the infant seems both cheerful and intelligent.

I left the apartment at noon and didn’t return for three and a half hours. The sky had cleared, and on my own in Manhattan, I went in search of food and the West Side experience. Although I ended up with a blister from my new shoes, I walked up to 86th Street and around, mostly on Broadway.

The West Side, like all the city of in the late 1990s, is cleaner and more Disneyfied, but there are still beggars and street peddlers and people who look very “New York,” very unlike the people I see in any other place.

Just taking in the stores and people and sights was enough for me. At a Korean store I got some vegetable-and-fruit salad bar and yogurt, and at a newsstand I picked the New York Times (I still haven’t read yesterday’s paper), which is the only item that is cheaper in New York than it is in Florida.

I explored Fairway, Barnes & Noble (where I paid $4.95 for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, the only book of mine I’ve seen in a bookstore in the past decade), Zabar’s (filled with not only West Siders but lots of Japanese tourists), H&H Bagels, and the other neighborhood landmarks that were my usual haunts when I lived at Teresa’s apartment.

After reading the paper and eating on my old bench at Riverside and 85th, I passed the old building, Red House, which seems to grow more beautiful with the years.

Because my foot hurt, I took the M104 bus twenty blocks downtown. The fare is $1.50, but the buses now take MetroCard – just like the Throgs Neck Bridge uses E-ZPass.

After using the men’s room in Avery Fisher Hall, I checked out the new Sony Lincoln Square Theaters, the most expensive ($8.50 a ticket) and the most popular movie house in the city.

Back at the apartment, I hung out with Teresa and Susan, who’s really funny and sweet. Until she had the baby last week, Susan said she was the least maternal of business executives; she’s the head of a publishing company that does travel books.

The old nurse had left for good, and the new one, a Brazilian Mrs. Doubtfire, arrived at 5 PM, leaving Teresa and me free to go. Of course, it was rush hour, and we got stuck in traffic.

Teresa didn’t even attempt to get on the LIE and instead we went home via Northern Boulevard and the usual winding roads.

Back in Locust Valley, I called Alice. If we can’t get together this weekend, we’ll definitely have lunch next Tuesday.

Mom phoned, saying she’d already mailed out my unemployment check. She told me that Larry Brandt called and I’ve got my first class at Nova in Davie for August, a course called Business, Government and Society.

When I phoned Larry, I told him I could do it. He said he needed to see my transcripts to check if I am eligible to teach the class – which I’m sure I am. Apparently Larry didn’t realize that I’ve been teaching for Nova for years, so my transcripts should be on file at the campus.

After dinner, I sat down with Jade – who’d looked frazzled this morning but smashing this evening in a really nice dress that Teresa gave her.

I helped Jade fill out all those college financial aid forms for SUNY Purchase. We got through the college’s own form, the FAFSA, the New York State TAP, and a PLUS loan application. Teresa and Paul thanked me profusely, but it really was nothing.

My life in Gainesville now seems very far away.