A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1996

Wednesday, June 19, 1996

8:30 PM. I’m in Orlando, staying at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge North on International Drive. My flight got in late – we were in a holding pattern for over an hour before they would let us approach Orlando – and by the time I got the rental car and had a big salad bar and baked potato at Wendy’s (I was famished), it was 6:30 PM.

So when the desk clerk here told me the rate would be $40 plus tax, I decided to go for it. I spent so much money on this trip that another $50 isn’t going to kill me.

And I couldn’t face the two-hour drive home, knowing I’d have to deal with mail and phone messages and e-mail and grocery shopping and God knows what else.

I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight – the banking we did in the holding pattern will probably cause me vertigo the way it did a week ago – but I’ve got an icy-cold room with clean sheets, and outside is one of my favorite streets in America, International Drive.

I took a long walk up and down for a couple of miles and it’s exciting. Yes, International Drive is tacky, but there were sidewalks filled with visitors from all over the world. I saw Brits, Irish, Brazilians and Pakistanis as well as domestic tourists parading past the garish, gaudy tourist dives and every known fast food and casual dining chain in the galaxy.

I stopped for chocolate sorbet at Häagen-Dazs, surveying the scene from the window, and I read today’s Orlando Sentinel on a Lynx bus bench. (I love the colorful buses with the painted windows here.)

I left a message that I’d be staying out of work all day tomorrow and called Dad and Teresa to let them know I’m in Florida.

If I can’t sleep, I’ll read today’s New York Times, which I got in Edwards supermarket this morning.

Last evening I also read the paper and followed P.J.’s instructions to say he wasn’t home if a girl called.

Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well, but I stayed in bed from 6 AM till 8 AM listening through my Walkman earphones to NPR’s Morning Edition. When I went downstairs for breakfast, the cat badgered me into feeding her.

It was a rainy, chilly (62°) morning, but I decided to leave at 9:45 AM anyway.

As I was going to the car, after I’d hugged Jade goodbye and shook hands with P.J., their mother pulled up in the driveway to take P.J. to visit her mother in Maryland.

Jade introduced us, and Carolyn – an attractive blond woman who seemed perfectly normal on first meeting – said, “It was nice to meet you, Richie.”

It’s great that for a week I was Richie to everyone. Now I go back to being Richard.

Before I left, of course, I called Teresa. During this visit, she gave me yet another reason to treasure our friendship.

Last night I looked at the wedding photos, which came out great. There’s a nice one of me and Teresa although it’s hard for me to relate to a 45-year-old man in a suit and tie. (Teresa said nobody, including Paul’s mother, believed I was 45.)

In a heavy rain, I got stuck on the Grand Central after taking one last ride along the coast of Oyster Bay and Bayville.

Driving down Queens Boulevard, I used the men’s room at Stern’s in Rego Park. (It’s the old Macy’s store; the new Macy’s took over the A&S site at Queens Center.)

In Lefrak City, there seemed to be a lot of Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as African immigrants.

Despite the weather, my flight took off on time, and it wasn’t as bad as my trip going.

Although I didn’t get to see many of my friends or spend a lot of time in the city, this trip was an excellent vacation.

It’s important to me to have a life away from Gainesville and the law school and to know that I can pick up that life again.

Thursday, June 20, 1996

9:30 PM. I slept surprisingly well in my Orlando hotel room although my neck became sore and achy for the first time since I left Florida.

Last evening I spoke with Mom, who told me Dad’s Uncle Harry died in Cedarhurst at age 96.

In the Times, I saw the obituary of Dr. Mernit, Susan’s father, whom I knew had been very ill. I bought a sympathy card for Susan and her family as well as a thank-you card for Paul and Teresa.

I left Orlando after 10 AM and got to Gainesville around noon in the midst of a thunderstorm.

After going through my mail – mostly bills, rejections and junk – and seeing that there were no phone messages, I bought groceries at Kash n’ Karry.

I actually lost a little weight while I was away, probably because I watched myself so carefully and didn’t have the easy access to food that I do at home.

There was a lot to unpack, and I needed to throw out my suitcase because it’s so badly ripped.

Last Friday I ruined my favorite pair of shorts when ink from a felt pen stained them badly, so this trip wasn’t kind to some of my possessions.

I returned the rental car and took my own car (using the passenger door, of course) to work at 3 PM so I wouldn’t have to wait until tomorrow to catch up on my e-mail, Lexis, office mailbox, etc.

Schoolyear 2000 put out yet another pair of my legal memos, so I published quite a bit with them in the past month. But it looks as if that’s the end of the project.

Linda discovered that I filed as a write-in candidate for Congress and the Sun-Sentinel’s political editor Buddy Nevins put me in a list of candidates in Tuesday’s paper.

In the mass of over a hundred e-mails in my inbox, there was a lot of stuff on the Communications Decency Act ruling and gay rights, but not anything startling.

Tonight I exercised to a Body Electric video and read the Bergen Record from May 26; I’ll xerox their review of my book (the PW reprint) tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 1996

3 PM. Even though I slept on my special pillow last night, my neck throbbed with pain. Finally, at 5 AM, I couldn’t stand it any longer and I woke up.

I brought my heating pad to New York, but I never took it out of the suitcase because my neck was fine there. I slept on several different beds and pillows, but I must have been too relaxed to tense my neck muscles.

The fact that my neck hurt before I left and when I returned – especially on the day before I had to return to work – is my body telling me I must leave Gainesville.

Tomorrow I plan to tell Liz that no matter what, I’m leaving town at the end of the year. I won’t bother writing up a proposal for a course on Law and the Internet for this spring because I won’t be here in the spring.

I probably should have left when the Schoolyear 2000 grant didn’t come through, but it’s so easy to stay on – as Ellen said when I was with her for a couple of hours this morning.

Ellen has wanted to leave CGR for several years, but it took her this long to get out of her inertia. It helps that her boyfriend is in Houston and that she can get into a public policy Ph.D. program to achieve her goal of teaching social policy on the university level.

I envy her going to Houston, and I’ve never even been to Houston. All I know is that it’s a big city and much more cosmopolitan than Gainesville – a place where I could meet other baby boomers, gay men, Jews and people of all different ethnic backgrounds.

Anyway, Ellen gave me a list of her projects. I’m not interested in Brazil or the teaching of Children’s Law or Elder Law and I don’t feel qualified to teach either subject competently. Besides, the courses wouldn’t run till the spring anyway.

I said I’d be mildly interested in working with Tucker on a proposal to bring together environmental people and social policy groups in South Florida. It’s something she and Tucker planned to pitch to the MacArthur Foundation people.

I also agreed take her place on the Human Genome Project thing – but our part in it is mostly organizing a National Health Forum.

She thinks Jon will say there’s money in it, but not to believe him – and also not to let him promise the project’s organizing committee the use of CGR staff because that will mean a lot of research for me and Jon’s taking all the credit.

I told her I had no intention of becoming Jon’s lackey the way Russ is.

As Ellen said, she’s tired of having to make her own salary money, and whether she stayed another three or five years, there’s nothing the job can give her that she hasn’t gotten already.

I’m in the same position, I think, although I don’t know what I want to do.

Obviously, the place to go in January is South Florida although I’d prefer not staying at my parents’ house.

Seeing South Beach in The Birdcage yesterday reminded me that there’s no better place than Miami-Fort Lauderdale to spend the winter. Besides, I feel at home there.

Whether I decide to stay in South Florida past the winter or not, at least I’ve got a place to go in January and collect my bearings. I can collect unemployment or find some kind of work – whatever, as Bob Dole would say.

It will be a lot easier to move in January than in July, and I’m giving myself six months to get ready for it. A Miami winter may be just the inspiration I need to get myself out of this town and this apartment and CGR.

I realize I’m leaving a cushy job with many perks – but on the other hand, I can’t spend all these nights with a literal pain in my neck.

I called Hawes Chrysler and they said to bring in the car tomorrow afternoon.

Last night I read the Communications Decency Act case, ACLU v. Reno, which is brilliant. I only hope the Supreme Court understands the Internet as well as these appellate judges did.

Thursday, June 27, 1996

4 PM. I continue to be very depressed. Last night I slept badly, and my neck pain migrated from my left side to my right. Obviously, it has to do with the position in which I sleep.

Yet I slept in the same positions while I was in Oyster Bay and had no neck pain because I wasn’t tensing up the muscles.

Making me feel worse today is that I had to put a band-aid on the infected spot on my chin, and that made me feel self-conscious. It’s as if the spot is the messy, disgusting part of me coming out to the world.

I would have preferred not to go into the office today, but I had the place to myself and I needed to be there at 10 AM for my appointment with Ben Hom, the volunteer intern Jon wanted me to see.

We talked for over two hours, and I showed him how to search for stuff on Lexis; that allowed me to be a teacher/coach and to get to know someone else.

Quite inappropriately, I also told Ben about my frustrations with the job. But I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t give a fuck.

Jon gave him this big buildup about the Human Genome Project crap, and the kid was totally taken in by it. I cynically told him that nothing has happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it, and besides, I’m totally ignorant about the project and not particularly interested in it.

Things got to the absurd point that he was trying to encourage me to get involved and stay on and apply for grants.

The kid is well-read and intelligent, but I don’t know what he’s going to do in the office when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Ben is 26, a learning-disabled son of scientists: his mother is an entomology professor here at UF, and his father is a bioengineer.

He grew up in Berkeley, and after not doing well at UC Riverside, he did a lot of stuff like carpentry for years until he came here and buckled down at Santa Fe Community College, from which he graduated with high marks in May. He’ll probably be coming to UF in the fall.

Ben organized demonstrations against Tiananmen Square and the Gulf War, and he was cool with my being gay. He wants to be a criminal defense attorney and has all these idealistic fantasies about “doing good.”

I suspect that Ben is so enthusiastic that he’ll be incredibly annoying. Like when Lou Grant first interviews Mary Richards and says, “You know what? You’ve got spunk. . . I hate spunk!”

I spoke to Mom, who said she mailed my travel expenses check from the Florida Cultural Affairs Division. It was for about $350, less than I expected.

Mom told me I should try not to think about work when I’m not at work, and I know I need to do that.

I also told her that maybe I would rent a car and come down for a visit next week. It’s been six months since I’ve seen Mom. I would use sick days rather than annual leave, making up some story to tell people at CGR.

Martin sent a letter thanking me for sending him the Kirkus review of Greg Mulcahy’s book. He said it’s priced low because it’s a trade paperback and he figured Avisson Press would lose less money that way.

Martin wrote:

Ingram cut the legs out from under Caracas – they had three weeks’ notice of the New York Times review and still wouldn’t make a stocking order. Instead, they sent me a brochure for a seminar called How to Promote Your Books. I would have thought the New York Times Book Review was a primo promotion.

It is, of course.

Martin concluded:

The bottom line is that right now it’s library sales and little else except direct orders.

And that means, essentially, no bookstore sales. At least if the book had been published in trade paper, it would be easier to sell – but then, of course, librarians might not have bought it.

Martin is obviously incompetent. But perhaps if he weren’t, he wouldn’t have published my book in the first place.

Today everything seems like a tremendous effort, and I don’t even want to read the newspaper. I just want to get into bed, under the covers – which is what I’m going to do right now.

Saturday, June 29, 1996

8 PM. I feel much better than I did during the week period last night I was able to sleep with only a hint of neck pain, and I felt tip-top today.

It didn’t hurt that at 6:30 AM, I went out and found my letter in the New York Times. The editors improved the clarity immensely, and I’m quite proud of it.

Of course, a lot of that is ego – and my telling people about my write-in candidate for Congress.

But I also made points about Florida’s having the highest candidate filing fees, about the Hispanic community not wanting uncontested elections as in Cuba, and about the disingenuousness of the Democrats’ argument that the lack of opposition to Republican incumbents well lessen the turnout and thus help Democratic candidates in other races.

The Times identified me as a staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibility. Already the letter is on Lexis/Nexis.

This morning I went to the main library and looked for references to my candidacy, but all I saw were a Sun-Sentinel story I already knew about and my name on a list of candidates in last Saturday’s Tallahassee Democrat.

I did call Karen Branch, who writes the Dade political column on Mondays for both the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. (I’d like to see my name in a story in a Spanish newspaper.)

Because it’s the Saturday paper, not many people will see the New York Times letter – but as with my book review, it makes my candidacy seem official, being in the newspaper of record.

At the office today I xeroxed the letter and e-mailed Patrick some copies of those IBM Writing Project syllabi for English courses.

He replied that they made him feel like the Peanuts cartoon where the kids are staring up at the clouds and after Linus says he sees esoteric images like a map of British Honduras and the stoning of St. Stephen, Charlie Brown says, “I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind.”

I feel the same way.

A lot of people responded to my post on the GayJews list in which I agreed with the woman who finds it perplexing that same-sex marriage is now the main issue of the gay movement.

I said that ever since I was a teenager, three institutions I wanted no part of were marriage, the military and organized religion, so it’s hard for me, even as a supporter of equality, to get excited about other gay people’s desires to break into those institutions.

I guess I feel about this the way I felt about the Supreme Court’s VMI decision: I’m thrilled for the sake of equality, but I still wonder why any sane woman – or man – would want to subject herself to the barbaric atmosphere of that military college.

In my post, I predicted that within six months of the first same-sex marriage, we’ll have the first same-sex divorce.

Although most people disagreed with me, nobody flamed me. Most people think that same-sex marriage will happen in Hawaii within two years, but I think it’s more like ten to fifteen years down the road.

At home, I exercised to a Jackie Joyner-Kersee videotape I picked up at the library, though I found it wasn’t the kind of advanced workout I need.

Laura C sent a postcard of the Pennsylvania State Capitol and said she’s bored up there and may move back to Florida.

Around 3 PM, I went out to the Oaks Mall. At Burdines, I got two pairs of walking shorts like the I.N.C. shorts that got ruined that Friday when I drove into Manhattan and had a felt pen without a cover in the pocket. (Teresa told me to try hairspray, but the stain set in when Corey washed the shorts.)

I also bought a polo shirt and a nice long-sleeved shirt that were both from I.N.C. and 50% off the original price. After paying about $59, I walked around the mall.

At Belk Lindsay, I met Syles, who’s always dressed stylishly. I told her that I gave her a nice recommendation letter for the Florida Bar and I wished her and the friend with her good luck on the bar exam. Syles is going to work for the state attorney’s office in Orlando and her friend has a job with a big corporate firm in Tampa.

Later I ran into Jacquie Wood, who was having iced tea with a friend on a bench.

Jacquie is still doing her dissertation, and she said that Broward Community College made her quit her job because they wouldn’t extend her leave beyond five years.

However, she was okay with that, as she thought – as did her friend – that South Florida had changed for the worse in the past few years.

But I’m still a big city boy, and I noted that in Money Magazine’s new rankings, Gainesville had slipped from #1 to #7 and Fort Lauderdale was now at #4.

Telling people that I’m moving back to South Florida makes me feel that it’s really happening.