A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1996

Friday, March 1, 1996

9 PM. It turned chilly and the much-needed rain has been falling hard since last night.

I got up early enough to exercise to Body Electric at 6 AM, and then, at 7:30 AM, to go shopping at Albertsons, get gas at Amoco, and buy stamps (Tennessee Williams and Louis Armstrong commemoratives) at the post office.

Last evening when that calico cat showed up at my door, instead of the cheapo crunchy food, I gave her a gourmet can of salmon aspic. This afternoon, the soaked cat again approached and I gave her another can of Sheba cat food.

At the office, I found my post about my e-mail faux pas the first one on the Computer Law list, and I deleted it and all my other messages because I was too embarrassed to read them.

Rosalie said she saw my post and asked if I was “all right.” She was afraid someone in my office had seen it. I don’t think I said anything bad about CGR, though I was flip, so maybe she was referring to my being gay?

But obviously, if I told that to a relative stranger like Patty, why not to a slew of people? Did I unconsciously intend to out myself? Well, if so, it’s about time I did.

Or maybe Rosalie was talking about when I said in the e-mail that I really don’t know what I’m doing at work half the time. That’s just who I am.

Anyway, I still feel embarrassed, but that’s never a fatal condition.

Liz, Ellen and I met with Jon, and we seemed to go over the same ground: the question of a new Department of Education grant; bringing in an OPS person to replace me, with a couple of months’ overlap; and funding Ellen if she decides to stay on at the law school.

Jon seems to think I’m leaving to “write fiction,” and maybe he knows better than I do.

I phoned Martin this afternoon. The books, which sat on the dock for several days, came in, and he’s sending me some copies.

The New York Times wanted two copies FedExed to them because they are supposedly reviewing it in the March 17 Book Review.

“It looks like I’ve hit a home run the first time at bat,” Martin said.

Also, Doubleday/Anchor asked for a copy regarding the paperback rights, but I don’t imagine that’s serious.

The Times Book Review is big news, though. They’ll probably run a negative review in the “In Brief” section, but still, I’ll be noticed, and even dismissive review can only help sales.

I told Liz about it and called my parents, but I’d like to try not to tell anyone else – difficult for a big mouth like me – because I don’t want to look foolish were it not to be printed.

I have never forgotten my disappointment with the review of With Hitler in New York that People magazine was supposedly going to publish but never did.

I do remember that Zephyr Press knew several weeks in advance about the August 1983 review of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

That review happened when I had just moved to Miami, supposedly to start grad school for a Ph.D. in English – but the review didn’t impress anyone then, it seemed.

Maybe I could have done more to follow up on the TBR notice, but I don’t know what. If I had been living in New York City then, I guess I could have done a lot more.

Anyway, I’ll be thrilled just to see the review. It will help make me feel that I’m not just some dummy legal researcher in a little town in the South. People I know will see it and realize I’m still writing and publishing.

I had a long talk with Rosalie today, and a lot of it was University of Florida gossip – about Richard Scher and Jon Mills, and about this one and that one – and it made me realize how much I need to be out of the university community.

It’s so small-town here, and I don’t want to be gossiped about unless it’s because people know me from the media.

Dad said his trip to Orlando was a waste and he had trouble with the rental car. Today, though, his monthly check for March came, and it was “over $10,000” – the most he’s made in some time.

My parents don’t understand why I’m leaving a good job but by now they know it’s futile to try to get me to change my mind.

I want to go back to Brooklyn, where I started, and Teresa’s parents are giving me a chance to do that this summer.

If Liz seems to want me to leave before the current grant ends, maybe that’s for the best.

Hey, I could always take my reviews and try to sell my books on the streets of Manhattan like Crad Kilodney did for years in Toronto.

At noon today, I sat in with Monica, Joy, Felicia and Isabel as they planned the March 28 symposium. They seem to be doing okay on their own.

Grandma Ethel would have been 86 today; I still really miss her. In the New York Times death notice I paid for, I wrote “I’ll miss you.”

I plan to stay away from the office this weekend. This evening I sent out manuscripts and query letters in response to ads in Poets & Writers.

Tuesday, March 5, 1996

9:30 PM. I’ve just come back from teaching my Nova Business Communications class. I was a bit more focused tonight, though I should have paced myself better. Still, I enjoy my students, and we have interesting classroom discussions.

I couldn’t keep them past 9 PM, and anyway, I wanted to get home to watch the Junior Tuesday primary results – although without cable, I have to rely on CBS Radio news on the hour for now. But I suppose Dole is winning all over.

My book came today – anyway, three copies of it did, along with a note from Martin saying it looks okay to him although he’s not the world’s best typesetter.

I never cared for the typeface, and the blank white cover in the back reminds me of Hitler; my photo or some blurbs should have gone there. Still, the dust jacket is nice even if it doesn’t fit perfectly, and I like the title logo.

At this point I can’t bear to read the book, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready. Tom used to quote Walser or somebody who said an author’s book eventually becomes his enemy.

I’ve always looked at my books as gifts and ultimately as just books, but then I haven’t spent years working on a novel. My books are mere collections of work, most of which have appeared in print already.

Waking up early today, I exercised before I went to work.

Good hair days are rare for me, but my hair looked good today. I blow-dried it so that it was high and then I used water and gel to make it mushroom out and fall over my forehead the way some teenage boys do.

I spent a lot of the day working on my software license memo – real Schoolyear 2000 work – and I even used it as an example of business writing for my class tonight. I still haven’t finished the first draft, and it needs a lot of revision.

Randall wrote an excellent article on Three Rivers Legal Services for the Docket issue that appeared today.

The Sun-Sentinel called to say they’re printing my letter about the high school page they devoted to gay and lesbian students in their Palm Beach edition.

The editor said he’d send me a tear sheet, and I’m proud to be associated in print with gay and lesbian teen issues.

At the office, we didn’t get Internet access till this afternoon, when all the e-mail from last night and this morning suddenly popped up.

Josh’s tortoise Charles was badly burned, and he can’t understand how it happened. The other tortoise is dying of starvation, he reports. I expressed my sympathy, but I don’t know why he keeps tortoises as pets.

Teresa said her grandmother went back to the house in Brooklyn now that her parents have returned from Florida, though Paul said he sort of liked having her around.

She said that Paul had some kind of business court case, and at the courthouse, she met someone named Eric, who knew both her and me from Brooklyn College. She described him as “big, balding and fair-skinned.”

The only Eric I can recall from BC is Eric Wollman, and I barely knew him. Teresa said he hugged her so effusively that Paul assumed he’d once been her boyfriend.

Christy Sheffield Sanford e-mailed me last night after getting home from a writing workshop at the church that gone well. She congratulated me on the coming Times review.

Christy said she’d recently heard from Joel Weinstein, who mentioned to her that he’s printing my “Rules of Civil Procedure” story in the next issue of Mississippi Mud.

I guess I won’t tell Joel that I gave up on him two years ago and got it published elsewhere.

It turned warmer and sunny today, and law students were out on the concourse for a health fair. Various organizations had booths and there were performances by a troupe of young actors involved in health issues.

A shirtless guy stretched out by the Cheerios watching them had an incredibly cute back with great lats. One advantage of warm weather in a college town is that you get to see athletic young people wearing little clothing.

Leaving work after 3 PM, I was so tired that I needed to lie down for a while. Because I forgot to take a Triavil before I left for my class this evening, I’ll probably stay up late tonight.

Russ is going with Ellen and Joann to West Palm Beach tomorrow and Thursday, so I’ll have our office to myself.

Thursday is Belinda’s last day at work, and we’re going to have some wine and cheese at 3 PM although the only ones in the office that day will be me, Liz, Laura and maybe Tom.

On Friday, people will begin taking off for spring break next week, when I can go into work late and not worry about parking.

Friday, March 8, 1996

9 PM. I brought the heater out of the closet since it’s supposed to go down to 25° or lower tonight. Today it never reached 50°, so winter has returned even as UF’s spring break begins.

I’ve just been reading a little book Mom sent me. Accompanying a cassette of Dave Tarras’s recordings, it told the story of Uncle Dave’s life as a musician.

Like Mom, I wasn’t aware of all the nuances of his career or that he made forays into swing and jazz although he was totally illiterate in jazz and his son-in-law Sammy Musiker made him sit out the “jazzy” parts of their recording sessions and come in for the “Jewish” parts.

The story of what has come to be called klezmer music is fascinating. (Uncle Dave knew klezmer as a pejorative term for an incompetent, vulgar musician who played for “cheap bums.”)

I remember Uncle Dave fondly although, as the author Henry Sapoznik notes, he was a man “of senatorial bearing” whose excellence came from his technique rather than from passion. Passion was the province of his wild, dissolute rival, Naftule Brandwein.

Aunt Shifra isn’t mentioned by name except that it says that when she died, Dave, in a fit of grief he later regretted, threw out many of his photos and mementos of their early years in this country.

I think the last time I saw Uncle Dave and Aunt Shifra was when I was in college or grad school and I went to their apartment in what today would be a terrible neighborhood on Linden Boulevard around Rockaway Parkway or maybe Pennsylvania Avenue.

He showed me photos of his in-laws, my great-great-grandparents, and gave me a signed vinyl record of Enrico Caruso.

It’s too bad that Grandma Ethel somewhat lost touch with him after Aunt Shifra died and he remarried and moved to Coney Island because in the last decade of his life he became a living legend for the young klezmer musicians. I gather he was bemused by the revival of Jewish music.

Another thing I was unaware of was how vibrant the Yiddish theater and music scene was in New York City from the 1920s all the way to the mid-1950s.

To think that I took clarinet lessons from one of the great clarinetists. But I had no feeling for music, and I think that Uncle Dave knew that, and so my giving up after a number of lessons did not offend him.

Even today, I don’t have a visceral sense for music. Since I was little, it’s always been words on the page for me. The older I get, the more it strikes me how old I actually am.

Today I read a New York Times letter about electric buses ending service in New York City in 1963: I clearly remember those hybrid diesel buses with overhead wires running somewhere around Empire Boulevard in Brooklyn.

And I can remember the Church Avenue trolley really well: going on it with Bubbe Ita, Grandpa Herb’s mother, who used to let me pull the cord to signal that we wanted the next stop. The trolley ended service in 1956, the year Bubbe died.

Although I look young and am definitely present- and future-oriented, I was a child in a very different world, one in which there were still dramas on radio (they were dying out, but many programs were on both radio and [black-and-white] television) and the Brooklyn Dodgers played in Ebbets Field.

For much of my childhood, fountain pens and manual typewriters were the norm, replaced by ball-point pens and electric typewriters in the early to mid-1960s.

Is that what I want to get back in touch with when I return to Brooklyn?

It occurs to me that I was five years old in 1956, a year that’s a decade closer to 1926 than it is to 1996. And probably day-to-day life in 1956 was more like 1926 than like daily life today.

I wonder why, when I have incredibly vivid dreams as I did last night, I rarely dream about that world.

Instead, last night I found myself in my dream version of Manhattan with my grandparents and parents and brothers and Teresa, Ronna, Alice and other old friends in dark apartment houses and subway stations.

And my days, like today, are spent answering e-mail, surfing the World Wide Web, microwaving frozen vegetables and pizza, exercising to videos, paying for groceries and gas with the swipe of a credit card magnetic stripe, going to meetings that ultimately mean nothing, and spending a lot of time keeping up with “the news” – like February’s unexpectedly robust employment data sending stocks and bonds plummeting.

How did I ever get – oh, this is going to sound corny – to be 45 years old and a lawyer in Gainesville, Florida?

More than half my life is gone, and it’s as if I snapped my fingers.

Am I just nostalgic after reading about my great-great-uncle, or is this mid-life crisis, male menopause, or merely a literary conceit for purposes of this diary entry?

Saturday, March 9, 1996

9 PM. I just looked at one of my copies of I Survived Caracas Traffic. The book is physically attractive, but I can’t bear to read it yet. While I’m not crazy about the typeface, it isn’t really bad.

The other day I again expressed my fears about the book’s quality to Josh. When I told him about the NYTBR review and Doubleday/Anchor’s possible interest in the paperback rights, he suggested that if the book isn’t that good, I’d be better off not selling the paperback rights.

I guess we both deal in these little passive-aggressive ploys in our e-mail. Probably I should stop badmouthing my own product.

I’ve just finished reading the last of the three chapters in the Business Communications text that I’m supposed to teach on Tuesday – on writing memoranda, positive letters and special letters, and negative letters like denials of credit and refusals of requests – so I’m feeling especially businesslike.

Come to think of it, Josh told me not to teach at Nova, either, because he said I wasn’t getting paid enough.

It’s not quite as cold tonight as it was last night, but it’s incredibly chilly, and my hands are rough and dry from the cold weather.

I decided to do my laundry this evening rather than in the morning, so I’ve been in and out, and handling the clothes makes my dry hands even drier.

I got up around 7 AM, when it was 27° – but today was sunny and that helped.

This morning, before I exercised, I went to the post office and sent a copy of my book to Scott Sommer’s parents in Boynton Beach.

I also made a quick trip to the office, where I xeroxed more articles on my 1994 congressional campaign – when I was unemployed, I wasn’t able to afford copies – and the Dave Tarras book so I could send it back to Mom.

Ellen e-mailed that she’s finally settled into her new home and job at Compton’s/Learning Company/Softkey or whatever the merged high-tech company is now called. Ellen writes that she’s not used to the chilly rain of Northern California.

My car has been increasingly smelling of gasoline, and I should probably take it to a mechanic. I’ll try to do that on Wednesday, after I teach on Tuesday evening.

This should be a relaxed week at the office. Jon and Joann are on vacation and others will be out. Since it’s spring break, there will be plenty of parking no matter how late I come into work.

In a memo sent last evening, the Dean search committee announced that Paul Verkuil withdrew his candidacy at his exit interview “for personal reasons” (maybe because his wife Judith Rosen is president of UPenn).

So the search committee ended up submitting to President Lombardi the only three names that were left after three candidates withdrew.

Everyone at CGR prefers Morgan, the older guy, but I’m sort of hoping Lombardi picks Greene because I think having a black female Dean would be a real wake-up call to an out-of-touch law school.

But as I told Russ, any of the three final candidates (the other one is Matasar) will be an improvement on Dean Lewis.

I got an acceptance in the mail: Lynx Eye in Los Angeles is taking a story I recently reworked, “640K DOS 23742 08-08-87 1:17p” for their May or August issue. As instructed, I sent the editor back a signed copy of the publication announcement and information sheet to confirm.

That’s another long story taken by a litmag this year. Great!

In the afternoon, I read my Nova text, using a yellow highlighter just as I did in law school. This week I need to rely on the text less and speed up my pace so the students will have time to write in class.

At the Tower Road library, I read recent newspapers, mostly to see if the Gainesville Sun, Tampa Tribune or Florida Times-Union had mentioned my book. I also checked out a sale at Belk Lindsey but didn’t find anything worth buying.

Earlier, I’d gone to Walmart to get some vitamins and contact lens fluid and on impulse picked up a cassette of Green Day’s latest album, Dookie. The beat takes getting used to for older ears like mine, but it grows on you.

It helps that I was able to read that lyrics as I heard the songs for the first time. I bopped around my apartment to the music, somehow feeling younger as I listened to all that teenage angst.

Another pleasure last night and this afternoon was eating two of the most exquisite pieces of starfruit that I’ve ever had. Sold in a container to avoid the usual bruises, the fruit was delicate and luscious, slivers of five-pointed stars I’d sliced with my trusty serrated knife.

Tonight I finished the New York Times, which ended its fantastic weeklong series on The Downsizing of America, and I watched the funny new Muppets show on ABC while I did my laundry.