A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1993
Monday, November 15, 1993
4:30 PM. It’s 85° now and it’s expected to remain summerlike all week. I certainly don’t mind. I slept okay last night. but it was still hard to get up this morning. I showered and put on fresh clothes before my morning class rather than afterwards so I felt less grumpy than usual.
After picking up my copy of the Times from the lockbox and putting my negotiation paper in Don Peters’ box, I decided to sit outside by a bench and read the news.
Various people greeted me as they passed by: Chet, Kevin M (“Don’t see you much these days”), Paul R (“Hi, Richie”), and I smiled and greeted all of them.
Yet when Javier passed by, he studiously ignored me even though he must have felt me looking at him. If I needed a two-ton weight to fall on my head, that was it.
There are two possibilities: one, Javier dislikes me – perhaps because I put down Gainesville or seem cynical and jaded, in which case even trying to become friends with him is hopeless, and I’ve just got to expect that not everyone will like me.
Or two, Javier is simply unfriendly. I don’t buy shy anymore because he knows I’ve always gone out of my way to talk to him. And if he’s so unfriendly, that would explain why I never see him talking to another student, and there’s no point in trying to be friends with someone like that.
When I get treated better by right-wing born-again ex-military people, I don’t need to go out of my way to be nice to a gay activist who knows I’m also gay. Javier may be a saint insofar as all of his activities for gay rights, but if he’s not human enough to relate to people – just be pleasant, for God’s sake – what good is he?
Ana came over to talk to me, first about how the coroner found that River Phoenix died of heroin and other drugs, and then about this and that: the Puerto Rican plebiscite (they voted to remain a commonwealth), her parents coming for her graduation next month, etc.
Then we walked into International Law and learned that Karin and Shara won their case in Trial Practice this weekend; next Saturday they go from being defense attorneys to being prosecutors. (Curry is playing the defendant.)
Nagan brought in the Bosnian flag – a shield of fleur-de-lis on a white background – to show the class as he told us the “story” of how the current war started.
Even if I hadn’t read his documents on reserve, I would have known most of it from the news. But it still was valuable to hear it the way Nagan told it because you lose the big picture in day-to-day journalism.
Tomorrow he’ll apply our international law principles to the case of Bosnia and see how the West (the UN, the U.S., the EC, the OSCE, NATO) screwed up.
I got a call from the Miami Book Fair’s Pamela Gordon, who told me to save the original receipts for my car rental so I can be reimbursed. I had no problems or questions, and she said she’d see me in a few days.
Tuesday, November 16, 1993
1 PM. Last evening at SFCC, after giving my students back their papers, I let them fill out the teacher evaluation while I waited outside.
Then we went over the first half-dozen poems in the anthology and had a pretty good class. (Of course, I get to decide what’s interesting enough to linger on and what’s so boring we can skip over it.)
Back home, I watched the final hour of The Great Depression on PBS as the start of World War II put America back to work. I believe the Buchanan/Perot/Jackson/Nader/AFL-CIO coalition against NAFTA is sort of like Lindbergh’s America First isolationists who fought Lend-Lease and wanted to keep us out of World War II.
As Nagan pointed out yesterday, there were fascist sympathizers in every European country taken over by the Nazis, England had Mosely and his ilk, and we had fascists here in the United States, too – just as we do now.
While the appeal to the lower classes against NAFTA is hardly fascistic, with some committed leftists opposing the treaty, it’s weird how the best indicator of an American’s social class is to find out her opinion of NAFTA.
College grads and professionals nearly all support it no matter their party, race, region, gender, religion, etc. or whether they’re “conservative” or “liberal.”
The country is changing.
This week I’ve read several articles about the problem of business schools; with the percentage of undergraduates majoring in business cut in half since 1987, an M.B.A. no longer seems like a ticket to success.
The pleasures of going back to law school at my age have included a chance to be among people in their early twenties, so many of whom reject the Reaganite ’80s and are interested in the environment and social problems.
Our school brought back its Poverty Law class this year; it hadn’t been taught for 20 years because nobody wanted to teach it before Liz McCulloch volunteered.
If law students, traditionally Establishment-oriented, are more liberal, that says a lot about people in their early twenties.
While they’re different from my generation, I admire them because they’re harder-edged and less idealistic.
(It’s too bad, however, that they’re not as well-read as we were; in his presentation in Legal History on Friday, even a bright guy like Doug G referred to “tenements” when he meant “tenets,” and I hear vocabulary errors like that from classmates a lot.)
But after what their generation has lived through, and what they’ve got facing them in the future, it’s no wonder they’re not idealistic. Besides, we Baby Boomers are an oppressive bunch.
In International Law today, Nagan began his analysis of how the world community blew it on Yugoslavia, and by and large, I agree with him.
After class, I went to Walmart, where I bought an $80 pair of “climbing shoes” – the kind of brown leather outdoorsy shoes I always wore – and a Barbie knockoff that talks when you press her abdomen. (I’ll bring it to the reading.)
We’re supposed to have a makeup session with Baldwin at 4 PM, but the suppression hearing may make it impossible for him to get there. After a good workout and a shower, I feel relaxed right now.
Wednesday, November 17, 1993
2 PM. I’ve just read yesterday’s D.C. Court of Appeals opinion, Steffan v. Aspin, in which a (very liberal) panel told the Navy they had to commission as an officer a top Naval Academy midshipman who was forced to quit after he admitted he was gay.
The ruling will probably be appealed by the Clinton administration (I don’t trust them at all), and it probably won’t survive en banc or Supreme Court review – not with the current judges – but it shows a way the courts will eventually reverse discrimination against gays, because the unequal treatment doesn’t pass the low-threshold “rational basis” test.
It’s a pleasure to be able to read this case and understand the constitutional issues so clearly and to be able to appreciate Judge Mikva’s logic. For that knowledge, I can thank law school, and particularly Professor Baldwin.
In our makeup session late yesterday, I volunteered to do the cases. Because I’d taken the facts from the briefs on Lexis, I knew stuff nobody else in the class knew. I was there with the facts when Baldwin was hoarse from being in court all day.
I could tell people were astonished, and I know Baldwin was pleased. Not that he’d let on, of course – but I enjoyed being called on even if it doesn’t raise my final grade (though I bet it does).
When I got home, I read more Police Practices as well as the Times and The Docket.
It took a while till I fell asleep, and then I awoke at 4 AM with my mind racing; I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I was imagining myself in a debate with David Caton of the AFA and thinking of all the strategies and arguments I could use.
Even if Javier isn’t friendly, he has inspired me, and I’m afraid I’ve got the gay-rights bug bad.
I ridiculously found myself thinking of all the windmills I could tilt at as a lawyer – the kind who’d be, in Charles Hamilton Houston’s phrase, “a social engineer,” and not “a parasite.”
Baldwin’s 8 AM class was enjoyable, but Nagan reverted to being boring when he kept reiterating stuff he’d said before about Bosnia.
I expect the class helps him refine the ideas in his mind, and today he did take his position farther than he previously had.
When I got home, I did the laundry and read the paper. (Since I couldn’t sleep this morning, I exercised at 5 AM.) Mark Leyner had a clever op-ed piece about the tattoos of U.S. Senators.
Yes, I envy Mark, but I’m enjoying my own life, and I’m afraid I couldn’t deal with the kind of celebrity he’s faced. On the other hand, I imagine it would be wonderful to be financially secure.
Still, I’m accustomed to struggling. Even if I did manage to pull off my 1980s credit card chassis, I never did really do anything outrageously expensive; the cash outlay was mostly lowering the denominator (giving myself free time to read and relax) rather than raising the numerator (I never did own a suit or a pair of dress shoes all those years).
No wonder my back hurts: I keep patting myself on it.
Thursday, November 18, 1993
5:30 PM. When I got home from school a few minutes ago, I was annoyed by a message from Mom: “Richard, if you’re there, pick up.”
When I called, Dad handed the phone to Mom, who told me Marty had called her.
“Grandma died?” I asked.
No, not yet. She hadn’t been feeling well the last couple of weeks and was taken to the hospital on Tuesday.
Now her kidneys have failed, and they’re talking about dialysis, but I said I expected her to die over the weekend.
Mom asked, “Where is Franklin General?”
“In Franklin Square,” I said.
“That’s a city?” Mom asked. “I guess I could call the hospital, but I didn’t know how.”
Exasperated, I told her to just call Information in the 516 area code. I told Mom I didn’t plan to go to the funeral because I’d seen Grandma enough over the years – but that Mom had to.
“I guess so,” she said. I got off the phone and right now I feel angry and upset. Mom’s neglect of Grandma enrages me.
It’s like so many other things in my family: swept under the rug. Of all days, tomorrow I don’t want to see my parents. Maybe I’ll just drive straight to Miami.
I’m upset about my weekend being spoiled, and I feel horrified that I can feel that way when my grandmother is dying.
But just yesterday I bought Grandma a Thanksgiving card which I mailed to her this morning.
I feel bad for Grandma Ethel, and bad for myself that I won’t be able to see her again and for the first time in my life, I don’t have any grandparents.
I felt awful earlier today when I saw Scott Sommer’s obituary in the New York Times. Scott was 42 – my age – and our first books were published together in 1979, with Wesley editing then at Taplinger.
I envied Scott’s success, but that seems pretty stupid now. His father told the Times he died of a heart attack at home. Was he on cocaine? I’m used to contemporaries dying of AIDS, but I don’t think Scott was gay – not that you have to be to get AIDS.
Anyway, Grandma is 83, and she’s going to die of old age; basically her body is just giving out. I wish I had gotten to see more of her these last couple of years, but I did get to see her a few times six months ago.
And I saw her two or three times a week in 1991 when I lived at her apartment in Rockaway during the summer and over Christmas vacation.
She outlived Grandpa Herb by over a decade, and I got very close to her during that time, so I’m very upset. And I’m angry with Mom and don’t feel like seeing her.
Earlier in the day, when I’d called Mom, she intimated she was very worried about Marc, who’s not selling cars anymore and is probably on drugs a lot.
I just don’t want to face my whole dysfunctional family.
I’d long ago decided not to go to Grandma’s funeral; Marc and I didn’t fly to be at either of our grandfathers’ funerals.
This is going to be a difficult trip.
Last night’s SFCC class was okay, although I had to stay late until the last person had finished writing his essay.
I didn’t catch up on enough sleep after listening to the news of Clinton’s big NAFTA victory in the House, although when I came home from Baldwin’s class this morning, I got into bed once I’d finished exercising and rested for a couple of hours.
Don Peters had a good final Negotiation class as we discussed the course, and then I sat through Legal History.
I feel like I don’t know how to feel. I guess I fear that I’m going to fall apart. Do I want to cry hysterically? I don’t know yet, but if I want to, I should.
As far as Grandma Ethel is concerned, I’ll miss her terribly, but I also have many memories of her. Grandma’s life is coming to a natural close.
I guess I’m upset she couldn’t hang on till I returned to New York City in May. Going to New York will be very different now.
I guess Mom will dread going to the funeral, but I’m glad she’ll be uncomfortable there. She rarely called Grandma, and in the last ten years, she only visited her twice or three times.
I guess I should try to eat dinner and see if I can digest anything.
Friday, November 19, 1993
8:30 PM. I’m in piss-elegant room 1301 of the Miami InterContinental in my king-sized bed with a mamma-mia view of Biscayne Bay (the check-in guy told me it was “the ocean”) and the Caribbean Cruise Lines, Bayside, the lights of downtown, etc. My TV set is in a Chinese cabinet.
It’s all wasted on a galoot like me. I could probably feel luxurious sleeping on the sofa here.
I didn’t sleep well last night, but I hadn’t expected to.
Grandma was on my mind. I remembered that living will she signed when the social worker brought it around and how it said not to keep her on life support and appointed Marty (or alternatively, Jeff) to make life-or-death decisions for her.
I did manage to sleep a little, but I was frustrated by insomnia till I woke up and realized I’d been dreaming that I had insomnia.
This morning I was still upset and nearly started to cry during a heated discussion with some of the conservative bozos in the class before Baldwin came in.
My mind wandered during the thoroughly confusing discussion, but luckily Baldwin ended early to give us twenty minutes to fill out evaluations.
I skipped out and drove to the hotel where they have Budget Car rental. They had a number of people waiting, and it took a while.
Then I went home and ate a little extra breakfast and took the huge suitcase I have filled with four times the stuff I could possibly use; I’m so embarrassed about it. What a neurotic.
By 10 AM, the dense morning fog had lifted, and I drove off in my little Mercury Topaz.
Instead of being anxious about the long drive, I find I rather enjoy it because it gets me out of my usual obsessive list-making and attention to daily activities and chores. (I think I even like plane trips now.)
The way I figure the trip, it takes about an hour on I-75, and then another hour till you get to the Orlando area, then two hours to Fort Pierce, and another two hours to Fort Lauderdale. I made it in about five hours and 45 minutes.
I had to stop at every rest area on I-75 and the turnpike to go to the bathroom, but most of the trips to the men’s room were quick. Since the tourist murders, there are new “24-hour security” signs posted and armed cops at each plaza.
I listened to Gainesville radio till it faded out and I picked up classical music on Orlando’s NPR station. Then I got Neil Rogers on St. Pete’s WSUN-AM, and from 1 to 3 PM I turned on my little TV and listened to ABC soaps.
I ate a cold sweet potato, a bunch of baby carrots, and I stopped at one rest area to eat the Kraft Free/Pepperidge Farm Light bread/Vidalia onion sandwich I’d made for lunch.
So I had food, entertainment, and decent weather. Even the long stretches between exits and service plazas between Orlando and Fort Pierce didn’t bother me the way it used to.
Traffic got heavier as I got into Boca and then Broward. As I drove along I-595 past University Drive, I was surprised at how ugly and plastic everything looked.
When Mom opened up the door, China immediately ran out, licking me, going crazy, her tail wagging, as I petted her.
Then I hugged Mom, who looked the same. Jonathan came out from a shower; he’s clean-shaven, but his hair is down inches past his shoulders, like Jesus or Michael Bolton.
I saw Dad when he arrived home, but Marc never came out of his room.
I was there an hour when I went into that room I’d lived in three years ago, to find him lying in bed watching an old movie.
I could see right away that he’s clinically depressed. Mom says he has a therapist but I think he needs medication: some kind of antidepressant.
Mom had spoken to Grandma’s doctor, who said she’s critical (but isn’t on the critical list), and Marty called to tell her he had to go to the hospital to sign a form that would okay dialysis.
I had told Mom about the living will form, but Marty didn’t know about it. I figured he might feel more comfortable knowing Grandma had legally given him authority to do what he thought best, and he certainly doesn’t want to prolong her life artificially.
She had a heart attack (or heart failure), her veins collapsed, and basically all her organs are failing.
To me, it’s simply death from natural causes and old age, but I know Mom didn’t want to hear that.
I had a frozen dinner Mom had bought and a salad. I took some of the organic greens Jonathan was feeding the rabbits (Cecily just got out of the animal hospital after surgery) and then drove into Miami.
A nice Jewish couple, Dr. and Mrs. Glass, met me and took me to the Book Fair reception area, where I got my stuff (info packet, T-shirt, honorarium check).
A dozen people, including Mark Leyner, have canceled because of the American Airlines flight attendants’ strike. Rick and Lucinda are here, but they’re not in their rooms.
Saturday, November 20, 1993
10 PM. Today was a long, full day. As expected, I got only a little sleep in this $250-a-night hotel room. I tried to exercise a little before I showered and dressed.
At 8 AM, I got the car from the valet parking and drove till I found a fast-food place where I could get orange juice and hot water (I order tea) for my packets of oatmeal and grits, which I ate across the causeway, sitting by the water in Miami Beach.
I walked along the beach on Ocean Drive, but the neighborhood is now so chic, it repulses me.
I liked it better a few years ago, when it was just starting to gentrify and before it became the hip backdrop of every fashion shoot and MTV video.
I drove around Miami this morning, going up to North Miami Beach, depositing my honorarium in the NationsBank on 163rd Street and going past the tacky apartment complex that was my home exactly ten years ago.
Back here, I called Rick, waking him up – of course. He told me we’d all just read a little or talk or whatever; with all these cancellations due to the airline strike, Rick said they’re happy when people just show up.
I went over to the Book Fair with Pamela Gordon, Denise Duhamel and her friend Nick in a van driven by a volunteer, a MDCC dean.
I missed the first half of the Donna Tartt/Jacqueline Deval reading (the one Mark Leyner was supposed to be at), coming in on Donna reading from what sounded like a very pretentious novel, the one that got her a half-million advance.
Some bozo in a bright red sports jacket was moderating, taking questions from the audience.
Later, after I’d met Rick and Lucinda (who’s very sweet) and we were in the authors’ reception area waiting to go on, I asked Rick (they had left after Jacqueline finished) who “the ringmaster” moderating was.
“Chauncey Mabe,” he said.
“I know him,” I said. “He once wrote that my face was sagging toward middle age.”
“He doesn’t look too good himself,” Rick said, and then after we sat down, Rick told me Mabe was behind us and obviously heard what we said.
They went over to talk to him anyway, and when I came over, Chauncey said, “Richard, what are you doing here?”
“Guess they lowered their standards,” I said. Oh well – if he hadn’t been mean to me, it wouldn’t have happened.
I met Lynne Barrett, who said she appreciated the letter I sent her once. Rick and Lucinda showed us copies of Mondo Elvis, which looks spectacular.
The reading/panel went okay, with a crowd of about 60. I saw Vicki Hendricks right away and waved to Jeffrey Knapp, but I didn’t see my parents in the back until we started.
First Rick and Lucinda talked about the anthology and took a Barbie, tore off her clothes and poured chocolate syrup over her à la Karen Finley. (Later I had to explain this to my parents.)
Lynne read excerpts from her story, Denise read two poems, and I read “Twelve Step Barbie” excerpts, getting laughs, not only for the story, but for the talking Barbie-knockoff doll I’d bought at Walmart.
We went outside and autographed copies – Denise, Lynne and I signing on the pages where our works began.
I didn’t sell a single copy of my book except to Lucinda (I bought Mondo Elvis) until I went up to Dan Wakefield and introduced myself.
He didn’t remember me but was kind enough to buy a copy of I Brake for his lady friend. (It did have his blurb on the back cover.)
I schmoozed with Jeffrey (he was asked to be an alternate grants panelist this year) and chatted with people and talked to Mom and Dad. Even Mom wondered why the St. Martin’s Press booth had no Mondo Barbie books.
Like Rick and Lucinda, I felt relieved when the reading was over (although at no point did I feel nervous about it) and could enjoy the street fair. As Jeffrey said, there weren’t that many authors we were dying to see.
I shook Mitchell Kaplan’s hand and told him he was doing a great job; it’s too bad the American Airlines strike caused so many cancellations. I probably saw other people I know, but I can’t remember now.
Feeling tired by 5 PM, I took the Metromover the two stops to Bayfront Park and came back home to rest.
At about 7:30 PM, I tried to dress up a little, putting on my baggy jeans, my favorite yellow-and-black plaid button-down shirt, a burgundy tie, my sport jacket and new shoes.
I figured I’d go to the lobby and see if people were going to that Rockbottom Remainders thing on South Beach.
This guy got on the elevator and he looked like a Book Fair person, so I started talking to him. It was Brad Gooch.
“Didn’t we meet once?” he asked.
“A long time ago,” I said, although we’d only corresponded and talked on the phone.
He was going to the Marlin Hotel for dinner, and I offered to drive him. We talked about varied topics on the way over, and as usual, I feel like I acted dopey.
I always feel insecure with gay men who have been out for a long time, as if I’m a total jerk in comparison.
Brad went to a teenage ritual murder trial in Jersey this week, and I told him about law school; he teaches at William Paterson College.
Anyway, I found his hotel on Collins Avenue, and we shook hands before he left. He was a fashion model, so he’s got those looks that are too perfect for me to contemplate – but Brad seemed like a nice guy.
I went a few blocks up to the Cameo Theater, and it was dark and loud and disco-ey.
Dave Barry, Stephen King, Ridley Pearson and the others in the band played frat-rock songs like “Suzy Q,” “Louie Louie” and “Stand By Me.” I couldn’t find anyone I knew and left after an hour.
Just as I walked into the hotel lobby, Lucinda, Rick and Pamela were about to leave for the Cameo, although Rick told me dreaded it.
I said goodbye to Lucinda, who’s leaving early in the morning, and I told Rick I’d drive him to the Amtrak station tomorrow afternoon.