A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1994

Monday, January 17, 1994

3 PM. When I got up for the second time at 8 AM this morning, I turned on NPR’s Morning Edition and heard that there had been a serious earthquake in Southern California half an hour before.

I went to the living room and turned on the ABC affiliate, and I’ve had this station on most of the day.

Why? Well, how can you stop looking at a disaster? This isn’t the Big One, but it appears to be just as bad as the February 1971 quake, if not worse.

Like that one, this was centered in the Valley, and of course my first thoughts are about Grant and Libby and the kids. I heard Woodland Hills mentioned only once, in connection with fires, but over 70 houses in Sylmar burned and a three-story apartment building in Northridge collapsed, killing at least seven people.

Of course it was 7:30 AM in L.A. when the earthquake hit, so everybody was in bed. I got out my Los Angeles map and try to follow where things were happening.

On the radio, rebroadcasting the L.A. all-news station KNX, I heard my former student Frank Mottek reporting on how he experienced his first earthquake. (He must have moved from Miami only recently.)

Having been in Southern California three years ago – and it still seems like one of the happiest times of my life – I feel more of a connection than I otherwise would have.

When pictures came on in mid-morning and I saw the Santa Monica Freeway overpass collapse where it crosses La Cienega and Fairfax, I could picture where it was.

Several elevated highways collapsed all over in the 6.6 earthquake, millions of people are without electricity (there were power outages as far away as Seattle and Portland), hundreds are injured, and there is imminent danger of gas leaks and strong aftershocks.

After I let the cat in, he sat on the couch next to me as I watched TV even though it kept repeating the same news.

Probably we won’t know the full extent of the disaster for hours or days, but ABC News coverage has been nonstop, doing what TV has always done best in moments of crisis – whether during assassinations, blackouts or wars.

Maybe if today wasn’t a holiday, I wouldn’t be so fixated on the earthquake, but I don’t have to be anywhere, and of course I haven’t been able to do work.

I called Justin and Larry and spoke to each of them for half an hour. Both have the day off although Justin had gone to the college to see about the tech crew work  for next term’s first production.

It wasn’t as deadly cold in New York today, but a morning snowstorm turned to sleet and then to rain in the afternoon.

Larry told me he started taking an acting class last week and had a scene to do tonight. He’s not working at the museum on Mondays these days.

Both he and Justin have read all the Armistead Maupin books, so they loved watching Tales of the City last week.

Justin is going to teach a course that sounds like an Introduction to College for Mercy College at night. It reminds me of the stuff I did when I was an adjunct in New York.

Justin said they keep changing the location – it’s now at some intermediate school on Cortelyou Road – and they keep offering him other sections at remote locations, but he’ll be busy enough with all his jobs at Brooklyn College.

BC is absorbing New York City Technical College’s programs in stage lighting and other technical areas, so Justin thinks they may need him.

Besides, with the subscription series and his other work for BCBC, Justin is very useful to the Theater Department.

With all the faculty retirements and consolidations of CUNY programs, the City University is more dependent than ever on adjuncts. If I had to, I could probably get adjunct work in New York.

Justin was amazed how casually Mercy College hired him over the phone, but like Nova, they just need a reliable warm body with a master’s degree.

After doing a load of laundry and going to Eckerd for tissues and other supplies, I finished my short paper for Dowd. Now I’m going to read for Intellectual Property, something I should have done over the weekend.

Saturday, January 22, 1994

3 PM. I’ve got a throbbing sinus headache, but I think it’s my usual complaint and not a result of an infection from my cold. I haven’t seen any disgusting-colored mucus lately.

Yesterday I did manage to get in a second half hour of exercise, and I did some work, too.

Professor Taylor asked us to research computer litigation by our guest a week from Monday, and I pulled up cases and discovered this Don Conwell is not only the guy who represents the Take Back Tampa committee (which sponsored the now-invalidated repeal of the city’s gay rights ordinance) but he’s also the lawyer for David Caton, the state’s number one homophobe and the leader behind the American Family Association petition.

My heart raced as I read the St. Petersburg Times articles – only the last two of 17 hits were about computer law – and I felt very upset.

(By the way, the St. Pete Times sent back my op-ed piece today.)

I know, I know: he’s only an advocate, but it’s not like he’s the ACLU defending the free speech rights of Nazis. He’s with a big- time firm and presumably must agree with Caton; otherwise, he’d worry about it costing him clients.

Not knowing if Taylor knows that Conwell is homophobic, I felt angry and unsure how to react.

Finally I decided to call the Gay Switchboard and tell them about it. The guy on the line took down all the information, and I did tell him Conwell’s appearance was to talk about computer law.

If the Human Rights Council or any activists want to protest, they should be able to – just as Conwell should be allowed to talk to our class.

It will be hard to disguise my contempt for him, but I’ll probably just keep quiet and be politely silent, as I don’t want to embarrass Taylor.

It is something I feel strongly about, though, and I may not be able to resist saying something to him.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I turned on the end of a French movie in which Jewish students at a Catholic boarding school are ultimately discovered by the Nazis and are taken away as their friends, classmates and teachers are helpless to protest.

If Europeans had taken a stand and spoken out against anti-Semitism early on, maybe Nazism wouldn’t have happened.

The 10:45 AM bus was late this morning, but I got to Library West before 11 AM and had time to return my Yanomami books and read a couple of literary magazines before I went to McDonald’s for an early lunch.

I had a good class at SFCC today. There was a lot to say about Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Ellison’s “Battle Royal.”

When I broke off at 1:55 PM, saying I needed to catch my bus, Ivana – the Yugoslav woman whose husband is a Ph.D. student in microbiology – asked where I lived.

She’s just south of here on SW 34th Street, so she drove me home. Furthermore, she said she’d be happy to pick me up next Saturday at the Publix.

It would be wonderful to have a ride both ways, and I felt grateful to her. But I see I can manage with the bus if I am forced to.

I was home by 2:20 PM, early enough so that I could do laundry while eating my veggie half of lunch.

I spoke to Mom, who said my grades came. My B+ in International Law was recorded along with my two A’s and an H (deferred grade) in Legal History.

That’s good, as I was afraid I’d have trouble if Nagan’s grade change didn’t get on the record.

I read an interesting Yale Law Journal article on the possible changes in South Africa’s judicial system.

I also did my tax return after I got the report on my unemployment compensation “earnings.” I owe no taxes, of course, but because I had nothing withheld, I won’t be getting a refund.

I applied for an opening for a “professor of English” at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. While I really don’t like Jacksonville – admittedly, it’s just an impression based on one day in the city – it didn’t take long to fill out the application.

Sunday, January 23, 1994

10 PM. As soon as I could rouse myself this morning, around 7:30 AM, I went out for the Sunday Times and some groceries.

The cat banged on the door soon after I got home and spent most of the day here, spurning the dry cat food I’d just bought, the same way he turned up his nose at my earlier offerings.

He took his now-customary position on the right side of my couch, meowing until I removed my Feminist Jurisprudence text from his preferred spot.

Reading the paper, I found a fascinating piece in Arts and Leisure on the stories of cyberspace: the fictional postings people make on computer bulletin board forums, many of which are quite well-written.

This is not only redefining publishing but has the potential to change the way we look at literature.

Just as I later read in an article for Rosalie’s class that full-text searching of cases has removed the gatekeepers – West’s editors who devised their headnote and key number indexing system – the electronic bulletin boards are removing the editors, publishers and agents.

Now I, too, can write and download stories to anyone who comes across them and is interested in reading my work.

I haven’t done that yet because I’m still hesitant to give up my privileged role as a credentialed “author.” I’m suspicious of the idea that just anyone be a writer on the Internet.

Getting on one of Delphi’s gay Internet forums, I browsed for much longer than I expected. There really is a gay community online, and they’re all over the place, both geographically and intellectually.

It’s not surprising that gay and lesbian people would take to computer bulletin boards, given every kid’s nightmare that she’s the only one like her in the world.

At 3 PM, I called Libby and Grant in Los Angeles. Libby answered the phone and said they were all fine. There’s a lot of cracks in their home, but their chimney is the only one on their street still standing and they’ve been able to stay in the house.

“Of course, every wineglass we owned got smashed,” Libby said, “and there was endless stuff to clean up.”

The other day she found a huge bruise on her leg, “and it must have happened during the earthquake but I didn’t feel it at the time.”

They didn’t have water or electricity for a couple of days – not being able to turn on the lights scared the kids the most – but they barbecued and tried to make the best of it.

“We’re a lot better off than many people here,” she said – for example, their friends, a married couple with a child, who’ve moved in with them till they can find someplace to stay.

Libby said Grant thinks they’ll forget about the building code when tearing down damaged structures, so it won’t mean any new asbestos-removal business for him. But he can do some other contracting on homes.

For the last year, Grant’s business has been so slow that they’ve found themselves in precarious financial shape, even having to borrow money from Wayne to pay their bills one month.

Nevertheless, Libby said, their spare bedroom is ready for whenever I come out again for a visit – and that I should come before the kids get much bigger.

At least it was nice weather in L.A. during this mess although it’s gotten cooler in recent days – to about what it was here today, around 65°.

After hanging up with Libby, I walked over to the law library and read the article for Legal Research and xeroxed the remaining articles for Professor Erasmus’s class.

Walking back and forth in mild weather without a backpack was a snap, and I picked up a golf ball I found. (Yesterday, for some reason, I picked up a Honda hubcap I discovered on the side of the road.)

Back at home, after dinner and before some TV, I read about trade secrets for Intellectual Property.

Wednesday, January 26, 1994

7 PM. Last evening I fell asleep towards the end of Clinton’s soporific State of the Union address.

I’m not crazy about his healthcare plan because I prefer a single-payer Canadian or Western European type of system, not because I think his complex scheme is “socialized medicine” as the Republicans are calling it.

His “get tough” talk on crime is just more the same; it hasn’t worked since Nixon’s “law and order” campaigns. Putting people in prison for life doesn’t really solve anything.

Neither does cutting children off welfare – but okay, the idiot voters eat that stuff up.

After getting up at 6 AM, I had breakfast, let the cat in, and logged on to Delphi, where I had two mail messages.

One was from Harold, giving me the address and phone of his new house in Minneapolis, and the other was from the editor of The Humorous Vein, telling me he’d accepted “Horsing Around in Politics,” a piece on my Davie town council campaign, and saying “the check is in the mail.” (I got it this afternoon; it was for one dollar.)

I had time to exercise, read an article Erasmus had assigned and do laundry before I left for school. It was warm enough out so that I didn’t need a jacket.

Before class, I read an article Rosalie put on reserve and talked to her about it afterwards.

She said she went to one Lexis session yesterday and felt sorry for the one person there who was way behind everything but the basics.

Some law students still are hesitant to use computers; they seem to be the wealthier guys – often, the sons of attorneys – who seem to think going on computers is something they’ll have their secretaries do.

I enjoyed Dowd’s class, as we had a structured discussion, and I knew I made some intelligent points – like how liberal jurisprudence favors the status quo and those in power and values certainty and stability over needed change.

If I’m embarrassed about my own inability to discuss theory, I also know that most of the women in the class don’t have a high level of discourse, either.

It’s interesting, I noticed: in the class, I feel more attracted to women than I usually do. Is that because there are no guys to look at or because I get a testosterone rush out of being one of the few males in a sea of females?

The cat was ready to leave when I opened the door at 1 PM. During my lunch break at home, I printed out some articles for Rosalie’s class – but I suspect I’m the only one there (as well as in The Law of South Africa) who’s doing the reading. Does it help? ¿Quién sabe?

In class this afternoon, Erasmus began to discuss the judicial system and the South African advocate/attorney distinction (like English barristers and solicitors), but he threw off my concentration when, in referring to a comment I made last week, he attributed it to “Mr. Cohen.”

Rachel’s last name is Cohen, and I wondered why he associated me with that name. Obviously, he assumes I’m Jewish, and it made me feel weird because I’ve gone through life without an identifiable Jewish surname.

Perhaps it was because my comment about the levirate’s being an ancient Hebrew tradition. (I assumed it was, from the story of Onan in the Bible.) Maybe he figured I was a descendant of the Hebrew priestly class?

In Intellectual Property, Hunt lingered over common law copyright (only two pages in the text) for 25 minutes before going on to the right of publicity.

I get it now: Hunt spends time on the parts of the course he likes best and rushes through the rest of it.

When nobody answered his question about why Johnny Carson sued Here’s Johnny Portable Toilets in federal court, I couldn’t stand the silence anymore and raised my hand and said, “Diversity.”

Hunt did that typical law professor number: “You say diversity? Well, that answer has a 50% chance of being right. But it also has a 50% chance of being wrong. And you happen to be wrong.”

That’s the kind of response that would make me never volunteer again if I weren’t an experienced college teacher myself. At least I know better than to say something like that to one of my students.

Saturday, January 29, 1994

8 PM. Ronna phoned late last evening from Orlando. She apologized for not giving me more notice, but she said she decided to go at the last minute.

Ronna is still afraid to fly, but I guess I assumed her fear is no worse than mine, and I’ve never hesitated to get out of New York by plane in winter.

She’s only going to be staying until Tuesday afternoon, which means I’d have to rent a car tomorrow to visit her while she’s in Florida. But it’s been raining very hard since last night, and tomorrow should be just as bad.

I told her I’d call her in the morning to tell her if I was coming. Actually, if the weather were good, I’d welcome the chance to rent a car and travel out of town (as well as to use the car to do some errands in town). Well, I’ll see.

I just printed out my second short paper for Dowd and my one-page paper for the seminar on Monday. Half of my first draft got lost when the power went out earlier this afternoon. It took two hours to restore the electricity.

Ivana phoned before she picked me up at Publix during a lull in the storm. I had a fine class, although after I discussed the stories for 70 minutes, I had them write a CLAST-type essay.

That means I’ve got grading to do this week, but I’ve actually been derelict in not having given them more writing assignments.

I do enjoy talking to my students and learning their backgrounds. For example, Zohreh told me she and her family are going back to Tehran this summer.

She hasn’t lived in Iran for ten years and feels the government is totally incompetent. “Things are worse now, with inflation, than they were during the war,” she said, but her parents – they have money – are getting old and she wanted to return now that her husband has his Ph.D. in microbiology.

Jim, the only white male in the class, is from Alachua County and worked in radio stations locally before living in Prince Georges County, Maryland, at Andrews Air Force Base. He’s divorced, with a daughter, and works as a mechanic. Because he always bangs up his hands, writing can be painful for him.

Lately I’ve seen more students with problems handwriting – especially due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Ivana talked with Cassie Chism and her husband Gerald, also an SFCC student, while she waited for me.

The Downtown Center opened only a year before I arrived in Gainesville; it’s a nice little place and should grow.

Back home, I let the cat out and did some work. My SFCC check came: a pitiful $136 and change.

My play was rejected by an editor who said it “almost made it” and asked me to send more stuff. I wonder if big-time authors would get rejected if their work was sent to little magazines under names that wouldn’t be recognized; I suspect they wouldn’t fare that spectacularly.

Hey, for all I know, some of them get rejected by Roger Angell at The New Yorker all the time.

I’ve done almost all the reading for Erasmus’s third of the South African course; most of it was provocative.

In fact, this term’s reading has been the most intellectually stimulating I can remember. There’s just too much of it.

When the power went out, I was afraid I’d lost my hard disk, and I lay in bed, there not being much else that I could do.

The helplessness I felt, on a minuscule scale, is what people who’ve lost so much in the Los Angeles earthquake must feel to the 100th power. I guess I’d be devastated, even if I knew everyone else was suffering the same fate.

January 1994 hasn’t been the easiest month of my life, but then, January’s never been an easy month.

When I was an undergraduate, I often felt depressed during intersession, and the weather usually was pretty bad in New York – although not as bad as this year’s.

I spent January 1989 in New York teaching up in Sloatsburg, so it’s only been five years ago that I lived up North during at least part of the winter.

I wonder where I’ll be next January. New York City? Tallahassee? L.A.? One of those cities where I’ve applied for jobs at community colleges? (More applications came today.)

I don’t feel like doing any more work tonight.