A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-December, 1996

Wednesday, December 11, 1996

10 PM. One of the pleasant dreams I had last night was set in a large classroom, where a professor asked the students the differences between current analog TV and the new digital TV format and standards.

I volunteered and gave an intelligent answer about technical matters before finally saying that the aspect ratio was different.

This was going to be the hardest thing for viewers to get used to, I said jokingly, “because now everybody knows life is supposed to be lived within the confines of a certain shape of rectangle.”

The class laughed, but when I awoke, I understood my remark to be a comment on the strictures I’ve always tried to break free of.

This evening I went out to catch a 7:30 PM presentation at the Main Library downtown, an evening with U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass.

Hass has been a tireless promoter of literacy and poetry. He read some of his work and talked about the importance of literature and how we needed to more effectively teach students how to read.

He also introduced two local poets: Campbell McGrath, a young guy from the FIU MFA program, and John Someone (Hass mumbled his name), who heads the MFA program at the University of Miami.

Although all the writers’ works were skillful, I always get the feeling at poetry readings that I’ve somehow read the poems elsewhere already.

The Broward Public Library director – the system was named by Library Journal the library of the year from 1996) – introduced Jean Trebbi, head of the Florida Center for the Book, which today dedicated their new collection devoted to rare books and manuscripts, and announced that Jean had received a Lila Wallace grant.

After the reading, I went up to talk to both Jean and Rosemary Jones, who used to run the Florida Book and Author luncheons; only Jean recognized me.

Neither of them knew I was a lawyer or that I lived in Gainesville or that I had published another book.

Remember our Florida Book Group that used to meet 14 years ago? In those days South Florida was a far less literary place.

Jean (jokingly?) suggested that they’d “love to have my manuscripts” for the Florida Center for the Book, but only after I fished around. But what I’m really looking for is a safe place for my diaries.

It was a little before 9 PM when I left the library. I drove across Las Olas Boulevard, shiny with Christmas lights, all the way to the beach and then I went up A1A along the ocean to Sunrise Boulevard.

The air seemed quite warm for mid-December. Driving with an open window, I felt really happy just tooling along the highways of South Florida.

When I got back here, I looked up and the stars were brighter than they ever seemed to be in Gainesville. I remembered how I used to look for Orion in the winter sky.

I would have enjoyed spending the whole winter down here.

At BCC-South this morning, I passed Steve Davis’s office and said hi. He went on for a while about how fabulous this area has become for performances of theater and music and how great South Beach was just to watch people.

Of course I had to agree when he said that in comparison, Gainesville must offer very little.

I spent several hours with Patrick in his office, and then I invited myself along to lunch at Wendy’s with Patrick and biology instructor Fred Searcy.

As we walked to the parking lot, we ran into Barbara, whom I hugged hello.

Fred and Patrick pointed out that South Campus has become majority black and Hispanic over the past couple of years. The campus is now certainly a lot bigger, with about one-third more students than it had five years ago.

In a way I envy Patrick’s stability – but I doubt I could have remained at BCC grading freshman composition papers all these years without losing my sanity.

The three of us talked about teaching, literature and law, and Fred spoke about the delights of San Francisco, especially for gay men.

It’s been really odd, seeing all these South Florida folks I hadn’t seen in years – even the retarded bag boy I encountered at Albertsons this morning.

Because of that and listening to Gail Sheehy’s New Passages, I thought a lot about my own life the last 48 hours.

I’ve decided I’m going to peak between 75 and 85.

If I can hang on that long, maybe by then I’ll get recognition merely because I kept at it for all that time. If I ever become well-known due to some weird random event, I’m sure some people will say I was “an overnight success.” Pretty funny, eh?

Friday, December 13, 1996

10 PM. I’ve just spent the last couple of hours at the Plantation Barnes & Noble. I wish the one near me in Gainesville had a cafe and all the books that the one here does.

I read parts of short story anthologies (God, there are so many), The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a biography of Kurt Cobain, a book of photographs of old Brooklyn, and other volumes.

I seriously thought about going to Friday night services at Etz Chiam, the gay synagogue that meets at the Unitarian church in Oakland Park, but I decided to wait until I move down here.

Last evening I helped Marc install the PGA Golf Tour game on his computer. He said he could probably sell the laptop if I didn’t want it. I noticed he was breathing very heavily, the way I might after walking four or five flights of stairs.

Mom and Jonathan have alerted me as to where they hide the cake, even the fat-free variety; otherwise Marc would eat it all at one sitting, they told me.

When I think about my family, I have to chuckle and shake my head or else I’d want to cry and tear my hair out.

This evening I left the house because I couldn’t stand being here while my parents and Jonathan were sitting on the sectional sofa watching TV as they do every night after they’ve had their usual takeout dinner. To me, that’s no life.

Even if I think my parents are too young to withdraw from the world (except as observers via the media), it upsets and depresses me to see Jonathan, a 35-year-old-mean (now there’s a Freudian slip; of course I meant man) living like a 15-year-old boy, without friends, a career, the experience of being on his own. Still, it’s not my place to say anything.

Mom, especially, is fixated on cleaning, caring for the pets and trying to anticipate other family members’ needs before they even know what they are themselves. She seemed surprised that I’m leaving on Sunday – as if she assumed I was going to stay for weeks.

Marc is smart enough to spend little time here; for instance, he doesn’t come here on Friday nights.

This morning I was at South Beach at 10:30 AM, first in the public library and then reading TWN, the gay paper, on a chair across from the Ocean Drive Art Deco hotels.

I didn’t walk around that much today because it rained on and off, but I did drive through much of South Beach, and I can see that there are plenty of places where I could live even if they wouldn’t be the safest or most luxurious spots.

I spent time in the Publix on Dade Boulevard near Alton Road, which is a trip in itself, as the South Beach cultures merge there.

I bought some six-packs of ethnic soda that I can’t get in Gainesville: diet versions of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, the Caribbean Champagne Kola with bubblegum flavoring, and yerba mate soda from South America, all of which I’ll take to the office.

Today’s South Beach is what Greenwich Village felt like in 1969, a place where I could go to be a different me than the one at home with my parents.

But then I always traveled to Manhattan when we lived in Brooklyn – unlike my brothers who didn’t seem attracted to the city.

During a sudden downpour on I-95 on my way back this afternoon, I barely missed getting into a seven- or eight-car pileup. South Florida drivers are still the world’s worst.

For days now I’ve been struggling with my queercore band story. Several times I’ve gone to the library and looked up “bands” in Short Story Index, hoping I could find a model to base the story on.

This evening I reread all my research material on the queercore scene from Lexis and the Web. After I absorb it all, I need to think more about just what it is I want to accomplish with this story; hopefully, then things will become clearer.

Can I write a story about a world unfamiliar to me? I don’t know.

I do identify with the way queer punks feel isolated, not only from mainstream culture but also from the fascistic disco/Ken doll/strictly-appearances nature of gay life as exemplified by much of what I see in South Beach, which reminds me of Christopher Street in the late 1970s.

The struggle I’m having with this story is simply part of my writing process, something I go through again and again most times I try to write fiction.

Saturday, December 14, 1996

6 PM. Last night before bed I finally began Tom Whalen’s Roitheimer’s Universe, which is clever and well-written although it’s not really my thing.

Tom could probably find reviewers among some of the science fiction aficionados who read and review for Wired.

This morning I thought seriously about leaving for Gainesville today. Knowing how hectic it will be when I get home and have to deal with e-mail, regular mail, phone messages, office stuff, shopping, catching up on my Lexis Eclipse, etc., I felt I needed a head start.

But it would be rude to leave here early when my parents have been so hospitable – even if I can’t imagine that my visit is anything but trouble and more work for them.

So after I exercised, showered and dressed, I drove down to South Beach on a warm, cloudless day and spent over three hours there.

I walked an awful lot – although mostly on Washington and Collins Avenues rather than on trendy Ocean Drive – and of course on the side streets and a little on Lincoln Road.

Miami Beach not only has gay guys all over the place, but it has litter, homeless people, drug dealers, a Citibank with a skate-through window, occasional whiffs of urine, an old man who tried to pick me up, bag ladies, crazy people talking to themselves, cops ticketing cars that overstayed their meters, overheard conversations in Spanish – in short, everything that makes me feel comfortable and at home.

Seriously, I like the way people can sit in cafes for hours. I read the paper at the Spec’s Records cafe as I sipped Diet Pepsi, and before I left South Beach, I went back to the 11th Street Diner, where that cute young guy who works there seating people smiled brightly when he saw me again.

I love the people-watching in Miami Beach: not just the gym-rat guys with perfect bodies or the cool young trendoids, but the Orthodox Jews going to Sabbath services, the slovenly poor people, the elderly crawling along behind shopping carts, the crazy viejo who for no apparent reason gave me the finger and called me a maricón as I passed him on a shabby side street.

Also, the strange mélange of trendy, expensive designer-label shops (Armani, Nike, Kenneth Cole, Benetton, Gaultier) and tacky stores selling funky low-priced items reminds me so much of the Upper West Side, a neighborhood I loved living in.

If things had turned out differently, I would now have a lease on an apartment in Miami Beach. But I’ll be back – and even in hot May, there’s enough down here to keep me interested.

From the beach, I went to CompUSA on the Palmetto near the Golden Glades, where I used my credit card to buy three magazine Internet guides from which I can steal websites to use in my New Jersey Online project – if that is still going on.

Then I went to downtown Hollywood, where I sat on a bench in the shade (my face got sunburned from walking, even though I tried to walk in the shade as much as possible in South Beach) and finished today’s New York Times.

Walking around the area around Young Circle, I could see that downtown Hollywood continues to improve. But it’s still not yet a critical mass of cool spots comparable to even mid-Miami Beach around Arthur Godfrey Road, which is starting to gentrify.

After stopping at Publix to pick up some stuff for tomorrow’s trip, I returned here at 4:30 PM. There were fire trucks in the street using their hoses to fight a blaze on the Ridge behind the house. (Earlier, Jonathan had seen teenagers smoking up there.)

Mom was sitting in the car with the dog, and when I went over there and rested my hand on the open car window, China bit it, not breaking the skin but certainly causing me pain.

Mom said the dog will now bite anyone, even Dad, who comes over to the car she’s while she’s sitting in it.

I got a letter from Secretary of State Sandra Mortham appointing me to the Literature Organizations Panel again. I’ll accept even though I may be in an artists’ colony in May or June. It’s a real long drive from here to Tallahassee, but maybe I could stop off at Orlando or Gainesville for the night.

I guess I should begin packing for tomorrow’s trip.

Sunday, December 15, 1996

7:30 PM. I’m still in South Florida. Last night I had one of my periodic spells of bad insomnia.

I was probably overdue for a poor night’s sleep, as I’ve generally slept soundly during this trip, but I know that performance anxiety – the knowledge that I needed to rest to be alert for the long drive – also kept me awake until after 4 AM.

So I got only two hours of sleep, and this morning I was so disoriented and cranky and fuzzy-brained that everything seemed a great chore.

Calling Budget, I extended the car rental another day and left a message at the office that I’d be out again on Monday. Then I tried to make the best of the day. To nobody’s surprise, my parents didn’t at all mind my extended stay in their house.

Today was another gorgeous bright blue day. We don’t get days like this in Gainesville in winter; although our winters are relatively mild up there, the climate is so different. In Gainesville, it’s definitely winter in late December and early January, with the daytime highs often twenty degrees cooler than they are here.

I managed to exercise to two Body Electric shows, the second time at 4 PM when nobody else was home, Mom and Dad having taken China on the late afternoon car ride she pesters them for.

At the Plantation Barnes & Noble café, I spent a couple of hours reading the Sunday New York Times, nursing some raspberry-sage iced tea as a nearby guitarist played rock and Christmas standbys.

Later I read the rest of the paper on Pine Island Park in Plantation among kids playing soccer and using the sliding pond, swings and seesaws.

I read a cautionary tale about one writer’s moving from suburban Plantation to hot South Beach; she found her new apartment impossibly noisy, with neighbors playing disco music at all hours and just stepping out to the clubs at 2 AM.

That made me think I might be better off living in a nearby not-so-fashionable area of Miami Beach that’s more hospitable to those of us who are early risers.

Anyway, it’s something to think about. Right now I don’t know if I really believe that I will be moving to South Florida at the end of April.

Patrick says he thinks I’ll never be able to leave my job, but I’ve got to. It would have been hard to leave CGR in two weeks under my original plans, but I would have managed to handle the transition somehow.

Last evening I opened the front door only to shriek when confronted by this weird creature in front of me, eating out of the one of the cat’s food bowls. Mom and Jonathan explained that it was an opossum – not that cute baby opossum they expected to see but one larger than the cats.

I suppose it’s the rat-like tail that made the animal so off-putting – and also the fact that as it stared back at me, I had no idea what it was.

Jonathan said that they’re marsupials that live on the Ridge, and one of the cats seemed to be getting on fine with it. But I wonder if they can spread rabies the way raccoons do.

Anyway, if I don’t sleep any better tonight, I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow.

As usual, my alertness increased as the day wore on, so I probably could have done the drive back to Gainesville although it would have been wearing.

I always assume that it probably wasn’t meant for me to leave here today – just as it wasn’t meant for me to move out of Gainesville this month.

Hopefully, the next couple of weeks will be quiet at work due to the holidays, and I can catch up on some of my projects.