A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1991

Sunday, September 1, 1991

9 PM. Today I managed to work a little more on my one-case analysis memo, and I read Contracts and Criminal Law. It’s actually no help to get too far ahead, because I tend to forget the material and wind up rereading it anyway.

More important is reading closely and keeping the material in context, and then writing case briefs the second time I go over it.

I hooked up the computer to my printer, but I need a new ribbon. I also managed to get through not only the Sunday New York Times but also the Gainesville Sun, St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel as well.

And I wrote Tom and left messages with Josh and Pete. Justin was on his way to Brooklyn College when I phoned, so I’ll speak with him another time.

Up at 7:30 AM, I’ve managed to have a pleasant day, going out only to get a salad bar at Wendy’s and then for a walk on the nearly deserted UF campus, which is starting to seem less formidable and more approachable as I get my bearings.

I haven’t really told anyone that I have no intention of becoming an attorney, though perhaps before I get my law degree, I may change my mind and want to.

For now, my intention is to be a law student, a role I may be better suited to. We’ll see. I suppose my ideas about being this hifalutin’ social critic and force in our culture are all a pipe dream, but I enjoy the feeling that I’m a freelance thinker/writer/whatever.

Yes, I know I’m not very productive, but when I did produce (stories, columns), nobody seemed too interested. Self-pity again. Spare us, kiddo. It’s unbecoming in someone so addicted to fun or his own warped version of same. Am I totally fucked up?

Monday, September 2, 1991

4 PM. I’ve just printed out a rough draft of my one-case analysis memo, but I probably need to ask Pat Thomson or one of the TAs about some questions I have. It’s due on Thursday, so I should have enough time to improve it.

Although I’m confident about my writing ability, legal writing is an unfamiliar genre. I’ve read ahead in Criminal Law and Jurisprudence, so all I need to do tonight is review my briefs for tomorrow’s Torts and Contracts classes.

I’ll have a lot of stuff to do for Civil Procedure, which is turning out to be the most demanding course, at least so far. Contracts is difficult, but it’s two credits this term, and this week, like the first week, we miss one session, so we don’t get very far.

I feel on most solid ground with Jurisprudence and Criminal Law because these classes rely least on case analysis although I’m certainly prepared for a rude awakening in these subjects.

However, I am beginning to relax regarding my legal studies. I don’t have the investment in law school that my classmates do since I’m here basically for personal fulfillment and the fun of learning.

I’d like to do well in law school, but there’s no reason I have to. I don’t want a summer law clerk position, nor am I going to try to get a corporate job. As of now, I’m not even sure I want to take the bar exam.

So what have I got to lose except time out of my life? I don’t know what else I’d be doing but teaching composition for low wages.

Justin said his frustration with the Brooklyn College administration is growing after unbelievable problems he’s had with the financial aid office (I assured him financial aid is always like that) and a five-hour wait on line at registration.

So many courses were closed due to budget cuts that students couldn’t get classes they needed. But Justin managed to get into some closed sections. The lack of air conditioning at Brooklyn College during a week of hot, humid weather was another problem, but Justin has enjoyed the two classes he’s gone to so far.

The six people accepted for the MFA in directing are a diverse, talented group, Justin said, and many of the graduate students in Theater are older, experienced, and come from other states or countries.

J ustin’s five classes sound interesting, and he’s stage-managing a thesis presentation of Aunt Dan and Lemon directed by a second-year student. (I agreed with Justin that it’s an off-putting play, as Shawn’s characters are unsympathetic and bizarre.)

Anyway, Justin seems to be making a place for himself at Brooklyn College, and I’m glad; that campus holds lots of fond memories for me. I think about my undergraduate days a lot, sometimes because of my readings for class, like cases on Huey Newton or Lieutenant Calley: What’s history to my young classmates is something I lived through.

Tuesday, September 3, 1991

8 PM. I still haven’t finished my memo for Legal Research and Writing. I don’t know why I’m agonizing over it so much; as my classmate Lorraine said when I saw her early this morning, it’s only one credit and it’s a pass/fail course.

But I feel I want the first paper I hand in in law school to be as good as I can make it. I asked Pat Thomson questions about the memo in her office this morning, and she answered more questions by other students in our lecture class at 10:20 AM.

We’re still on the first case in Torts, and I felt a little restless, but I can see that Dowd wants us to have a firm grounding on how to frame issues and proceed with analysis before we start going at it hot and heavy.

I was surprised at how quickly Davis disposed of three cases in Contracts; I really hadn’t prepared a brief on the last one, not expecting it to come up till next week. But at least I followed the discussion.

At 11:30 AM, I came home and had lunch, watched a little of All My Children (since I can’t get NBC, I’ve had to give up Another World), and changed into jeans, as my shorts – that black pair I’d worn to death the last couple of years – were made impractical once the zipper broke while I was in the bathroom.

Back on campus at 2 PM, I studied Civ Pro for tomorrow and went to Jurisprudence, where Collier is still stuck on this philosophical issue about sacrificing one person to allow the whole rest of the group to survive. We again went over the U.S. v. Holmes and Queen v. Dudley and Stephens cases.

At 4 PM I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, given by Marty Peters, to me and two others; I’d like to see what it says about my learning and work style. Perhaps I can become more efficient.

Tosha asked me, “You’re not really as old as Professor Nunn, are you?” and seemed shocked I could be 40.

“You’re the same age as my mother,” she said. But she was glad I knew all about the Black Panthers because I lived through that time, not because I knew something that everyone was supposed to know.

Every day I get to know more of my fellow students and to know better the ones I already know. A social order is developing as people start hanging out together and people get reputations for talking too much or for being highly prepared. I have no idea how people see me at this point.

Sometimes I’m dying to tell people about the books I’ve published or my publicity stunts – but I also like people accepting me, not as a writer, college professor or whatever, but as just another law student.

Wednesday, September 4, 1991

4 PM. I’ve just returned from school. Pimples have broken out on my forehead, but I’ve noticed that half my classmates seem to have acne blemishes this week. Probably it’s because most of them are young, but maybe it’s the stress of law school.

I went to Marty’s 3 PM workshop. Mark, a second-year student, spoke about how he studied very hard and used every study aid he could buy and still got only a C in Contracts I.

In contrast, for Contracts II, Mark reviewed his notes every day, every week, and at the end of every unit, and he took lots of practice final exams and did lots of hypos, concentrating less on preparing detailed briefs and more on taking detailed notes and reviewing them immediately after class with his study group. He also prepared flowcharts, one page for each class, and of course in Contracts II he got an A.

My problem is, I guess I wouldn’t mind a C in Contracts. Yes, it would be a blow to my ego because I’ve gotten only two C’s in my life, but I’m aware most first-year law students here have similar academic records and that half of them are so blown away by low grades that they don’t recover until they pass the bar exam.

Up at 6 AM, I exercised, ate and was out the door by 8 AM; I read the paper until Torts started. We began our second case, on substandard care (negligence), and I’m trying to make the connections and see the big picture and figure out Dowd’s analytic process.

In Criminal Law, Nunn seems straightforward; our cases dealt with acts of omission, like a woman charged with child abuse merely because she did nothing while a mother beat her infant while visiting the woman.

In Civ Pro this afternoon, Mashburn raced through complicated material on contempt orders, the collateral rule, and lawyers’ fees. She’s got a steel-trap mind, and it’s a pleasure just to try to keep up with her, but it’s exhausting as well as exhilarating.

Now I’ll have a light dinner, listen to All Things Considered, and do work: finish my legal memo, read Civ Pro, and most importantly, go over my notes from today, to try to make sense of them. Marty says we need to see things seven to nine times before we really know them.

Thursday, September 5, 1991

4:30 PM. I just got in after another long day. Even if this has been a short week, I’m glad the weekend is coming up. I’m enjoying law school and only wish I had more time.

I don’t mind the pressure, but I’d like to take a more leisurely look at the law. Prof. Mashburn, in one of her brilliant real-world asides said the curriculum of law schools hasn’t changed much since Dean Langdell’s day, but out there the profession is in a tremendous crisis and on the brink of what could be drastic changes in the system.

Last evening my one-case analysis took much longer than expected, and finally, at 8 PM, I just gave up and printed out what I had as the best I could do. Maybe the reason for law school’s pressure is that give the student preparation for a career in which there’s never time to do everything as thoroughly as a practitioner would like.

I got a lot more sleep than I did last Wednesday night, and consequently I could handle my four hours of classes better today.

On campus at 8 AM, I read Civ Pro until 9:10 AM, when Legal Research and Writing began. I enjoy learning about the reference tools and am glad we are getting lots of practice; next Monday at 8 AM, and for the next five weeks, we have labs in the library with our TA, Scott.

Crim was also interesting, as we discussed acts of omission some more. Larry was trying to make a point about Thought Police and attempted to say, “We don’t want men in black suits knocking at our doors,” only it came out “black men in suits,” prompting Nunn to say he was glad he switched to casual attire today. His class is relaxed, and alone among all our professors, he calls us by our first names.

I came home for lunch after buying a few items at Publix, finished my Civ Pro reading and then headed back to campus. Last night I did review the day’s notes, by the way; I’m going to force myself to do that.

Tosha told me she thinks Mashburn is too “by the book,” but I think the woman is amazing. She’s clearly an idealist who’s been out there in the rough-and-tumble of litigation, and my mind is constantly challenged to keep up with her.

Doug K, Lorraine and I signed up for Council of Ten tutoring in Civ Pro and Torts after Dwight told us we could do so. I was shocked that anyone would sign up to be tutored in Collier’s Jurisprudence section.

After our class this afternoon, I asked Shay, who sits across the horseshoe room facing me, “You were doodling, weren’t you?” because I couldn’t imagine anyone taking notes during Collier’s philosophical discussions. She was doodling.

Still, I like Collier’s soft style and I find his readings – I just bought the rest of his xeroxed materials – fascinating. I like feeding my mind. During the night it struck me that if Henry Adams were around these days in my position, he’d be going to law school, too.

Learning how lawyers think and reason will help me understand more about American society. I’m hesitant to admit how pleasant it all is. I also like coming to know my fellow first-year students as personalities.

The Soviet Union just about voted itself out of business today, forming an interim government to make the transition to a loose confederation of independent republics. I hope good things happen there, but I’m wary.

Friday, September 6, 1991

9 PM. This past month my life has been incredibly dense. There are times when I feel I’m living someone else’s life, which for a writer probably isn’t such a bad thing.

Cheryl had a get-together at her apartment for our group at 5 PM, and at first I didn’t want to spend time talking law school. Because I completely missed the point of a question by Mashburn, I felt I humiliated myself by telling the class the answer to a point we’d already covered.

Yes, I know: everyone in law school is going to have days like that, and probably some of my classmates didn’t notice the enormity of my gaffe the way I did, but I came home from school today embarrassed and frustrated.

It seemed like a good time to take Dean Kent’s suggestion and go over to the journalism school on the main UF campus. I walked around, looking at bulletin boards, and found Prof. Bill Chamberlain, who runs the M.A.M.C. program, or maybe just a part of it.

He knew me right away and figured I’m interested in legal journalism and First Amendment issues. He told me to see Prof. Bill McKeen, Prof. Lawrence Alexander, and Dean Kent about my studies next year.

Dr. Chamberlain said that if I’d wanted to, I could have started grad school this term and that I can take both law and grad classes next year; he told me to use the resources of the J-school and come to them with questions.

He was very kind, but walking through the campus, I wondered what I’ve let myself in for with this and if I, with my lack of tolerance for structured situations I find confining, can ever get through this dual-degree program.

I was in the mood to hibernate rather than socialize, but I had a good time at Cheryl’s. She and her boyfriend Casey, a second-year student, discussed study aids like canned briefs, but mostly we just talked.

Karin has been sick with a bad cold and she had been waiting at the infirmary for two hours and didn’t get seen by a doctor or nurse. Probably she’s got the same cold a lot of people have, brought on by stress, and it’s no wonder the infirmary is filled because undergrads – especially freshmen – are stressed out.

I don’t feel unduly burdened yet, but it’s hard not to be socialized into the pressure. Actually, I’ll probably be better off if I can prepare myself to be a C or C+ law student. All I have to lose is my scholarship, after all. Like Kenny H said, they don’t flunk people out here.

I was glad Angelina and Barry brought their spouses to Cheryl’s because it was great to talk to non-law students.

Angelina’s husband Danny is just what I’d expect: like her, he’s blond, Southern, well-built, with an easy smile and I’ll-try-anything attitude. He teaches math at an all-black middle school in town.

Barry’s wife of three weeks is Paula, a Jewish West Virginian who taught English at South Plantation High School for four years and who is now teaching two classes part-time at Santa Fe Community College.

We law students did talk too much about our professors’ foibles (Angelina found out that Mashburn “booked” – finished at the top of her class – in all but seven of her classes as a student here.)  But eventually we went on to other topics, like surfing, tennis and education.

Classes today were okay. Steve F and I xeroxed old finals of Mashburn and Davis between classes. Right now I’m tired but not sleepy although I intend to do absolutely no work tonight.

I’ve been dreaming about maps and taking trips to places but not being sure of the routes to my destination. Pitifully obvious, huh?

Mom kept asking me what remedies she had against Preston Henn’s latest dictatorial edicts at the Swap Shop: he’s fining vendors for reading at their booths and there are other new rules she finds ridiculous.

Dad is in Vegas for the Magic Show, but his business is dreadful. JC Penney and even Burdines are going downscale, and the Introspect clothes are too pricey for them.

The Florida economy is in very bad shape, and it’s affecting UF as well as everything else.

Last night I woke at midnight and listened to the last hour of ABC’s Town Meeting with America asking questions of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The U.S.S.R. really doesn’t exist anymore – I think.

Love bugs are everywhere now, and I’ve been letting a spider hanging from a web right above my refrigerator just keeping hanging there. At first I tried to swipe him with a towel, but he scooted to the ceiling so swiftly, I admired his pluck and decided he wasn’t bothering me.

Obviously, unlike the hero in Wesley’s movie, I don’t have arachnophobia.

Saturday, September 7, 1991

6 PM. I’m probably the only human being in Gainesville not at the Gators’ first home game against San Jose State. I went out only one time today, to get some groceries at Albertsons and have lunch at McDonald’s on NW 13th Street, but I’ve never seen the town so jammed.

UF alumni and other football fans have invaded Gainesville, and I could barely find a parking space in my own lot because people were leaving their cars here and walking to Florida Field.

Not being a football fan in Gainesville, I feel quite alien, more “different” than I’ve ever felt because I was Jewish or gay or whatever. In fact, I’ve never really understood the game, probably because I’ve never watched it with someone who could explain it to me.

Anyway, I got up late at 8 AM, and I spent most of the day inside, reading, exercising and doing the cases for Contracts. I need to brief the Jurisprudence cases already read, but I already did Wednesday’s assignment for Criminal Law.

The killer, as usual, is Civ Pro. But if I work tonight and tomorrow, I should at least be prepared for classes through Wednesday, and I certainly don’t feel stressed out or pressured.

Also, while I haven’t begun formally outlining, I’m getting a sense of where each class has been going and why I’m reading each particular case and how each one builds upon the earlier case.

Last night I remembered Rilke’s lines, the ones that used to haunt me, the ones ending, “You must change your life.” Well, I have changed my life in a way that would have seemed impossible a couple of years ago.

Monday, September 9, 1991

6 PM. I felt at loose ends in the early evening yesterday. Although I felt a bit ill, I was restless and couldn’t face any more schoolwork, so I took a walk on campus and found the Library West still open.

On the fourth floor among the PS Library of Congress catalog numbers, I found With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in the stacks. Neither had been checked out since 1987, and the books were somewhat worse for wear. Still, it was nice to see them on the shelf.

Downstairs, I looked at The Dictionary of Literary Biography, which seems like an excellent if somewhat cheesy series. Will my inclusion in a future volume get people interested in my short stories? Probably no more than did my Contemporary Literary Criticism entry, but at least I felt it gave me some legitimacy.

Karin didn’t get seen at the infirmary until 8:30 PM Friday, and she was unhappy with the treatment, but she said she felt better and her fever was gone. Angelina’s husband Danny came down with a bad cold Saturday night, and a large number of law students seem to be sniffling and clearing their throats in class.

At 8 AM, the small group – me, Greg, Rosemary, Jonathan and Richard (Gena was out because her kid was ill) met Scott at the library, where we did some exercises dealing with legal encyclopedias – Fla Jur 2d, Am Jur 2d, CJS – and we got a homework assignment.

Research is one area where I feel comfortable; I’m at home in the library and like getting to know the legal reference books.

In Torts, Dowd went over a new case, and tomorrow we’ll start dealing with another aspect of substandard care – the idiosyncrasies of the actor (people who are crazy or children or blind).

I was buying some breath mints at Wilbert’s when I saw Cheryl and again thanked her for the get-together on Friday. Then I stayed outside and read the Times, which I now get at the lockbox at school. (They give subscribers the combination: 1991.)

Contracts was interesting, as Davis gave his usual lively performance, and then I came home for lunch.

Before Jurisprudence, I talked to this guy Michael K, who’s in the class (like Jonathan, Richard and Rosemary, he’s in the other section for most classes). Michael is very bright, as I could tell from his class participation. He was in the M.A. program in the history of science, and he taught undergrads here.

In class, Collier continued our discussion of Lon Fuller’s Speluncean Explorers case, and we discussed natural law – which Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas has put into the news.

I came home tired, but I exercised (early today I couldn’t bring myself to work out), showered, had dinner, and I now feel relaxed. At school, I like having people call me Richard, and I try to use others’ names.

Tuesday, September 10, 1991

4:30 PM. In Contracts today, some students were called on and seemed, if not totally unprepared, not quite prepared either. Davis didn’t cream them but he did make them squirm.

I can’t imagine going to class without having read the material so I could at least get some facts of the case straight, and really, that’s all you need to do to avoid total humiliation.

If I can’t pick up the most important issue or I don’t understand points of law, that’s okay; I’m in law school to learn. I learn a lot from hearing my classmates’ errors.

Once I was quoted in an article as saying I liked to teach because it was a pleasure to see people’s minds work. My fellow students have sharp minds, and I’m always amazed how they can discern issues I barely notice.

Basically, I’m a repository of facts: because I’m well-read, especially regarding the events of my lifetime, I can recite names, places and dates nobody else can. For example, in Jurisprudence, when someone mentioned the Miami case of a storeowner killing a burglar with an electrified trap, only I could say it was the Prentice Rasheed case, and not just because he was someone Dad knew.

But for an attorney, knowing facts isn’t an especially useful skill; for a storyteller or a journalist, it’s a lot more valuable.

In the rec room, I was surprised nobody turned on the TV to the Thomas confirmation hearings till I did. I had to wait for the custodians to finish their break because they were watching Sally Jessy Raphael, but later other law students joined me, and when I came back after lunch, I saw Michael K, Michael M, Dan and others watching.

Unfortunately, 3 PM was Jurisprudence, and Thomas had only just started his up-from-poverty spiel. (I liked how Orrin Hatch emphasized that Thomas grew up without indoor plumbing: now there’s a great qualification for high office.)

Most UF law students are conservative, I guess, although the only rabid right-winger is this guy Lawrence, whom I’d already pegged as the next Roy Cohn even before I knew his political beliefs. Karin hates him. Actually, most students seem fairly apolitical, which is probably the norm.

Steve F told we were both missing the last page of one of Davis’s finals.

When I went to the reserve desk and saw Midori taking it out, I noticed that her copy had a missing page, so I took out the second copy and made copies for myself, Steve, Midori and one for the folder so other people don’t get screwed.

People say that some competitive law students tear out pages so other people can’t get all the information they’re getting. Wow, that’s creepy.