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

Saturday, December 13, 1997

8 PM. I’ve just gotten back from Barnes & Noble. I’d forgotten how magical it could be to be out at night in South Florida in December.

Of course, I’ve been out before, teaching four nights a week, and it’s probably being on vacation which has gotten me thinking back to old times: when I first came here in 1979-80 and was so enchanted.

Just yesterday I was driving along University Drive noticing the intensity of the light and remembering that first day here, Christmas 1979, when I went out with Dad for a ride along a very different landscape than today’s: instead of superhighways and endless development, this area was semi-rural.

Anyway, I definitely see it differently now, and not only because my vision is now so bad that I gave myself eyestrain trying to read with my contacts the introduction to an edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the film version of which I watched on video this afternoon. I definitely need to see an eye doctor soon and get reading glasses or bifocals or whatever.

I was in all day until 4:30 PM, when I went over to see Mom and China and to pick up my mail. Mom said she’ll soon have the brochure of the house that she wants me to “type up.”

I said that if she really wanted to stay, perhaps she and Dad could refinance by taking out a second mortgage with Marc and Jonathan as co-signers. “No,” she said, “Jonathan’s leaving.”

So they’ve made up their minds to sell. Well, I’ve wanted them to do that for months, but now I feel bad for having been so pushy about it.

Mom said that yesterday Marc ran into a neighbor of Clarissa’s, who told him that Clarissa had died of a brain tumor seven months ago, a few months after she sold her house and moved to New Jersey to stay with an aunt.

I knew that Clarissa wasn’t healthy, given her history with the brain tumor. Mom said she felt very bad about it; I guess Clarissa was a member of our family for a while. She certainly was always nice to me. I’m sure Marc must feel strange, knowing that the woman he loved and lived with is dead.

Anyway, I came home with the copy of the Orlando Sentinel that arrived in today’s mail, and I was just about to have dinner and then go out to photocopy my article in the paper when I decided to log on to AOL.

There was a message from Gianni from just five minutes before I logged on, saying that he was moving to Coral Gables next week and that on January 10 he was flying to New York to see about what could be a regular gig there. He said he’d call me – “in fact, I’m going to call you right now” – so I got off and phoned him.

“Hello, Richard,” he said (he has Caller ID) and we chatted for a few minutes. I told him I was going out because – well, I didn’t want to press my luck and partly because I didn’t want him to think I was just sitting around and mooning over him.

But he said we could have coffee this week and I said I’d love to and would get back to him. I told him, “I still want my sweater back,” and added, “I’m joking!

“I suppose I should know you by now,” Gianni said.

See, I was totally wrong about him. Imagine what a fool I would have made of myself if I’d come on all hurt in an e-mail. Maybe we are going to be friends. Anyway, I was very happy about Gianni contacting me.

Last evening, I answered three personals ads on Yahoo, but I haven’t heard from anyone; I also placed my own ad there. I read and did enough push-ups to make the sides of my chest feel that pleasant soreness when I awoke this morning.

Alice asked if I could write a few paragraphs of the cover letter to send with the book proposals, which arrived on Thursday – but she didn’t get back to me after I asked her what kind of content she wanted.

What do I know from writing book editors? My own books weren’t published in the usual way, after all.

I slept deliciously, in part due to sinus congestion, and I spent most of the day doing a variety of neglected chores: commenting on papers from my Creative Writing students who gave me envelopes to mail back their stories; telling Christy apologetically that I don’t have the vocabulary to write criticism of her work for Karl Young’s Web page; e-mailing Micki to give her the names of FAU Business faculty she should contact to do adjunct work for Nova in Boca.

Sunday, December 14, 1997

8 PM. Last evening Mom phoned to tell me to turn on WPBT/2, the PBS station, which was fundraising by showing a series of one-hour films about old New York.

I watched the ones on Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and although they were geared to the present generation of retirees – the nostalgia seems to stop with the 1964 World’s Fair – they nevertheless brought back a lot of memories of half-recalled landscapes (candy stores and groceries with Salada Tea signs, the Church Avenue trolley, GM’s Futurama, field days and color guards in public school).

I fell asleep around midnight but woke up a few hours later and began reading the new issue of Wired, which contains some interesting think-pieces for their fifth anniversary issue, though the usual Panglossian tone predominated.

One would like to see a worldwide depression, if only to find out how these super-optimists would explain it. Just a few months ago, Wired was extolling high-tech Malaysia, which is now bankrupt, and its savvy leader, who is now blaming Jewish currency traders for his country’s woes.

I wrote down some ideas for stories or whatever and my mind was abuzz so that even three cups of chamomile tea couldn’t calm me down.

Nevertheless, I was up at 7:30 AM; however, seeing the downpour, decided I would stay in bed.

I did write Gianni on AOL, and coincidence time again, he logged on only a minute after I got up and called me wondering why I was up so early. I assumed he was the one who slept until noon.

We agreed to meet at 10:15 AM at the Coffee Beanery on Las Olas, a pleasant coffee bar that he said played Pink Floyd on their stereo. The two of us ended up spending three hours there, sitting outside at a table under an awning, talking about this and that, him smoking and drinking coffee and eating cheesecake and crumb cake and me drinking strong iced tea.

Gianni – his last name is Schwarzkopf, by the way (also in the interest of full disclosure, I admitted I was 46) – is moving in with this guy he met in Coral Gables. They know each other a few months and they seem to be in sync.

The guy is in real estate and is agreeable to Gianni’s eventual idea of living both in South Florida and in Manhattan although he recently sold off some New York property. (He already owns homes in Colorado, New Hampshire and somewhere else.)

It sounds like a good deal, especially since Gianni seems fond of the man, although he did say he was a little unsure and admitted he’d made some poor choices in his life this year.

It’s funny, but whatever attraction to Gianni that I had has almost worn off, and by now the thought of a physical relationship between us seems somewhat ludicrous.

He’s interesting to me, and I’m fascinated by the world of fashion and beauty, something so alien to my life.

Gianni didn’t seem to mind that I kept asking him all these questions. I learned that when he spoke of going to New York or Europe to do “editorial work,” he means consultation as a colorist on photography shoots and fashion shows, and he told me about all the horrors that can go wrong in coloring hair and end one’s career instantly.

He witnessed someone actually remove the skin on a woman’s forehead when the hapless colorist took off cotton swabs he carelessly neglected to change.

And he told me about how one gets hired by a place like Bumble & Bumble or Oribe and what kind of guys own these salons.

A lot of what he told me fits in with what I know about the tyranny of image, the manipulation of the media and our winner-take-all society. It didn’t surprise me that Gianni is no liberal, wondering why women on welfare can’t work like he does – though he’s not completely heartless.

I guess we talked about a million different topics before I got ready to leave. He’s doing seasonal work at The Gap in the Galleria, where his friend Kelly works, and of course he looked great in black dress pants, white dress shirt unbuttoned (he shaves his chest hair, I think), and the black sweater draped over his shoulders.

He also has a sense of humor: When he was describing a salon so pretentious and fumbling for a simile, and I said, “So pretentious that even you dislike it,” Gianni nodded, smiled and said, “Exactly.”

I came home to read the paper and exercise. I feel that I should never get bored because there’s always so much to be doing.

Monday, December 15, 1997

7 PM. It’s supposed to get into the 40°s tonight as another cold wave has reached us. Last night was also pretty chilly, and I don’t think it got much above 60° all day.

Richard Kostelanetz called last night – as usual, after 11 PM when the rates change, and also when I was half-asleep.

He can’t understand why I just didn’t go over to the Dean of Schmidt College of Arts and Sciences at FAU and ask him about the humanities chair that he didn’t get.

“After all, you’re his colleague,” Kosti said – as if one of many adjunct lecturers of English can just go chat with his supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor.

I made a half-hearted promise to talk to someone at FAU and listened to Kosti tell about other academic jobs he’s applied for, including a chair at Hunter.

Actually, I probably wouldn’t hire him myself, given his total naïveté about how academia works and his reputation as an iconoclast and troublemaker.

I slept too long last night although I was probably making up for lost time this weekend. Still I don’t want to get too lazy now that I’m not working. I didn’t get up to eat breakfast till 8:30 AM and didn’t leave the house until after I’d exercised a couple of hours later.

I returned videos to the library and stocked up on groceries at Publix and then read half of today’s New York Times, trying to get used to wearing reading (magnifying) glasses with my contact lenses in.

Alice explained that she needed two paragraphs from me for her cover letter to editors. I absolutely hate having to describe my stories, so I was as vague as possible, but wrote something so cheesy it’s a wonder the words didn’t gum up the phone lines when I e-mailed the thing to Alice.

God, did I really compare myself to “a wired Woody Allen, a gay David Foster Wallace, a Mark Leyner with heart”? Well, I know editors can’t think of anything but comparisons to writers they’ve heard of.

My personal ad on Yahoo attracted only two responses, both from boys in high school (“hi, I’m Steve and like all kinds of sports”). What am I, a magnet for jailbait?

I went to Nova to turn in my grades, but Santa was out for an hour, so I went to the library and web-surfed, using Nova’s incredibly fast Netscape Navigator Gold.

I found a couple of classified ads and took down fax numbers to which I later sent my résumé. And I discovered that my New York Times op-ed piece was reprinted in the Philadelphia Daily News on Monday, August 25 – the first day of the semester.

They gave it a different title, “New Jersey gets a good measure of media attention,” and used the same credit line, adding that the article first appeared in the Times. So I guess I can add the Philadelphia Daily News to my publications list. I wonder if the piece appeared in other newspapers.

Berkeley sent me a checklist saying that only Don Peters’s letter of recommendation had arrived. There are only a couple of weeks before the deadline of January 5, which is the drop-dead date for fellowship applications. It looks as if they’ll still consider me for admission but “applications which remain incomplete at the time of our review will be considered last, if at all.”

I don’t really expect to get into Berkeley, which after all, is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. (I checked their ranking in the U.S. News book when I was in Barnes & Noble on Saturday).

Going there is basically an impossible dream. Hey, I’m just thrilled to see they wrote “Richard” after “Dear” on their stationary.

The University of Florida was my first real brush with a decent research university, and in the national scheme of things, Gainesville ain’t in the top 50.

Sometimes I think of myself as another poor Jude Fawley, remaining obscure and never getting to attend his dream university. (I forget what Hardy called Oxford or Cambridge in Jude the Obscure.)

Chicago Review sent this rejection:

“Anything But Sympathy” is written self-consciously as a political/historical/self-reflexive work. The temporality of the diegesis [huh?] flows well, however. I feel that there are a lot of superfluous discussions that preclude your story from taking off. – Connie Chung, Reader.

Well, it’s good to know that Connie found work now that she’s no longer co-anchoring The CBS Evening News.

Sunday, December 21, 1997

5:30 PM. Gianni is coming over in about an hour after he gets off from work at The Gap. Last evening we didn’t go anywhere; instead, we sat outside the Borders café overlooking the water on a mild evening.

As Gianni drank coffee and smoked and I drank iced tea, we talked for about 2½ hours, though the time passed quickly. Gianni spoke a lot about hair salons and the beauty industry, all stuff that’s new to me.

He’s a bit of an Anglophile snob – his training is British – and he was telling me about a conversation he’d had with a “cultured” British woman who came into the store.

It still startles me how fem Gianni is; I guess I worry about him when he’s on his own, but he seems to have that tough inner grit that a lot of fem gay guys develop. Anyway, it certainly doesn’t bother me, as I like fem guys.

Actually, Gianni seems to be getting better-looking every time I see him. Which is why I’m a little concerned about his coming here: I don’t know what’s going to happen, although I know there’s no way I’m going to fuck him. God, I hate that word.

What I’d like to do for now is just kiss him for the first time and touch his face and maybe hold him. But it’s presumptuous of me. After we saw each other two weeks ago, Gianni proposed to make our relationship non-physical, and I agreed, though I feel a stirring in my groin whenever I think of him.

Anyway, I’ve got to get three film videos, and maybe we should actually go out.

Last evening he wanted to pick up more of his stuff in Pompano when we parted at 9 PM. On my way out of Borders, I discovered I could buy the Sunday Times, and I spent the four dollars, even knowing I’d get the paper delivered in the morning, so I could read it last night – which I did, till midnight. I slept okay and was up at 8 AM today.

Ronna called at 11 AM, telling me the wedding was beautiful. She arranged for me to come to the airport at 2:30 PM to see them before their flight, and I arrived a bit early, glad that nobody stopped me as I went through the Delta terminal’s metal detector past the point of “Ticketed Passengers Only.”

I passed a woman who looked a bit like Ronna’s sister, but I wasn’t certain because she was so obese. But as I approached her, I became sure it was indeed Sue and I could see in her eyes that she was trying to place me.

“Richie!” she said. “You’re so thin and I’m so fat!”

I sat down with Sue and we talked. Her new house is in Concord, in Contra Costa County. Her husband wanted to buy a house, and it was a question of staying in Alameda and paying $350K or paying $250K for the same house an hour to the northeast.

Sue works as a recruiter for VirX, a San Francisco based company that is working on HIV and hepatitis research. Ed is still working in Alameda, and he takes their son, who’s three, to day care there every day.

Soon, Ronna came along with Abigail in the stroller. I couldn’t believe how big Abigail had gotten and how beautiful the baby was, with dark hair and dark eyes; she resembles Sue quite a bit.

Ronna looked fine. Her hair is now a light brown rather than the grey it was this summer.

Matthew and Chelsea came along later, after returning the rental car. Chelsea is still a little pixie. She was very shy at the wedding as a flower girl and walked down the aisle with Vanessa and her brother, who was escorting her, hanging on to Vanessa’s train during the ceremony. I could see how well Chelsea gets along with the baby, and the girls look adorable together.

I still feel awkward with Matthew, and he with me, but I admire him enormously; he seems to be one of the most caring fathers I’ve ever observed, though Chelsea now seems comfortable enough with Ronna, whom she calls “Mommy.”

We went to eat at a table near the Miami Subs concession, and I even got to hold Abigail while the others were occupied – though I still feel a bit weird about holding other people’s babies.

Sue fed Abigail while Ronna ate her salad and we all took turns with different chores. They said Billy and Vanessa’s wedding was at the Unitarian Church in Fort Lauderdale, with the reception at a Pompano nightclub.

Both Ronna and Sue rave about their new sister-in-law in a way they never did about Melissa – who Sue told me “got everything out of Billy” in the divorce, so much so that he had to borrow money from Aunt Roberta for the wedding, leading Sue to wonder why Billy insisted on a European honeymoon.

Robbie, the best man, was late, which irritated Beatrice, but it turned out that the bride and her Brazilian relatives were even later.

All of them said the Brazilians were charming, from Vanessa’s “dreamboat” brother to her distinguished-looking vovô, and the food and music at the reception were wonderful.

Roberta dropped Sue off at the airport as she and Beatrice drove back to Orlando, where Beatrice is going to have a woman stay with her during the day. She manages to do stuff – even make the bed – despite her useless right arm, but it’s all very frustrating for her.

Matthew played with Chelsea, whose making faces caused Abigail to laugh, and Sue was wonderful with her nieces. It really made me feel good to be with such a warm family, and I’m so happy for Ronna.

Ronna and Matthew’s flight left at 4:30 PM, and after I said goodbye – God, it’s hard to travel with two little kids – I sat with Sue for another 45 minutes or so as she talked about her family. She said that when I’m in California, I could stay with them in Concord; their house sounds wonderful.

Sue is still as dismissive of Ed as she always was, but I know that’s an act – and she told me how sweet and smart their son is and did acknowledge grudgingly that Ed is a better father than she ever figured he would be.

Well, I need to get ready: Gianni should be here soon.