A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1995

Thursday, April 13, 1995

7 PM. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the death of FDR, and the news had many stories about it; Clinton spoke at a ceremony in Warm Springs, Georgia.

I asked Mom if she remembered where she was at the time, and she said Church Avenue, by the shoe store on East 45th Street. (I’m sure it’s no longer there, but I remember it from childhood.)

Yesterday was also the 40th anniversary of Dr. Salk’s announcement of the polio vaccine. In my memory, polio shots were part of my entire childhood, so I hadn’t realized that I was almost 4 before they were generally given.

I remember many trips to Dr. Stein’s alcohol-smelling office in Turner Towers, across Eastern Parkway from the Brooklyn Museum, to get my vaccines, and later, I remember lining up in school to get the sugar cubes filled with the oral vaccine.

At 5 PM yesterday, a knock at the door roused me out of near-sleep. It was UPS, with the carton of stuff from the Division of Cultural Affairs. I’ve now read all of the supporting material and about half of the applications. We have a one-day meeting on Tuesday, June 6.

I’m delighted that Jeffrey Knapp has joined the panel, along with me, Page Edwards, and two women I don’t know: Susan Westfall, a Key West playwright, and Gabriele Stauf, a Tallahassee poet who teaches at FSU.

There were only ten applicants, mostly familiar ones that were funded before: Florida Review, Suncoast Writers Conference, Key West Literary Seminar, FIU’s Writers on the Bay reading series, etc.

It shouldn’t be much work to sit down and try to write evaluations and score each applicant.

Last evening I read Umbra. The stories and poems (sestinas and sonnets especially) were excellent, and it’s nice to have the faces of the afternoon class in my head as I read their work. Tom quoted me, along with George Garrett, Dara Wier, and Christopher Middleton on the back cover. I’ll try to write a nice letter again to express my gratitude.

The NOCCA students’ fiction even inspired me to work a little on my “Moon Over Moldova” story. Maybe I can finish it soon.

This morning, looking at today’s St. Pete Times on Lexis, I learned about what was also a front page story in the Alligator and the Gainesville Sun: Cuban-American legislators have violently objected to a symposium at the law school tomorrow because it features three Cuban lawyers and scholars.

It’s just more of that typical Dade County anti-free speech agenda, but President Lombardi has to take these jerks seriously because they’ve threatened UF funding.

In my more reckless past, I’d have called these Republican politicians and given them a piece of my mind, but if I identified myself, it would only hurt CGR.

So I will support free speech by going to the symposium tomorrow.

Going into the office this morning, I saw Dan M at an outside table. Dan said he’s had lots of interviews but no job offers so far.

Next week he’s flying up to Syracuse, and he’s hopeful he’ll get a job there: “If I do, it will make my five finals a lot easier.”

There’s so much competition. UF’s LL.M. program in Tax has twice as many students – 80 – as it did last year, Miami’s reputation is getting better, and NYU’s LL.M. in Tax graduates hundreds of people.

Everyone is finding that a UF LL.M. carries more weight outside Florida, so Dan’s applying everywhere but the West Coast (because his wife is afraid of earthquakes).

Liz came in briefly today and recoiled when I showed her Saturday’s Sun article on the legislature cutting CGR’s entire budget. While she doesn’t think CGR will get defunded in the end, her friends who read the paper do and keep asking her what she’ll do if she loses her job – and she doesn’t know.

Well, I don’t know what I’ll do, either, but I think I’d enjoy finding out.

Although I understand why people are so reluctant to give up the security of their jobs, it’s kind of a foreign emotion to me.

I’ve always liked knowing that I’m working for a semester, a year, or some finite period of time.

I don’t believe in academic tenure or guaranteed job security; I guess that’s where my right-wing tendencies come out.

Although I’ve struggled and had hard times financially, I’ve always managed to find something to rescue me. At worst, I’d get the maximum unemployment benefit and a deferment on my student loans.

Eric came in this morning to talk with Russ, and I got to the chance to horn in on their conversation. Eric definitely seems gay, and while I’m not really attracted to him, he’s smart and interesting.

I talked with him after Russ had to go to a meeting with Jon and Joann.

Eric is going to St. Augustine soon to see the free place to live they’re giving him for his no-pay summer internship, which starts in early May.

He’s from Starke, but said he’d like to live in St. Augustine – or better yet, a city like Asheville, North Carolina. He doesn’t really like big cities.

Eric and I talked about Randall Arendt’s speech on city planning and zoning ordinances – he said he’d heard it all before and thought it went on too long – and other stuff, like his architectural studies major.

I don’t know if Eric is “out” and I’m not sure I sent him any signals or that he picked up any.

When Russ returned – his computer is still isn’t working – we chatted about Trollope (he’s currently reading Barchester Towers) and opera (he saw a lot of it in Vienna and said standing room at Wagner operas could be terrifying) before I decided to call it a day and leave at 4 PM.

Josh responded typically to my post about Croatia: “Don’t go there! The Croats are all Jew-haters, and they’re probably using you as bait.”

I left a birthday message on Ronna’s voicemail, telling her that she’s worth two 21-year-olds or three 14-year-olds.

At home for lunch, I listened to a Passover music program on the radio.

Carol heard it, too, during her lunch hour, and asked me what a Haggadah was.

I remember most of the Four Questions Mah nishtana ha layla hazeh mikol halaylot, etc.

I really would like to go to a seder. It’s been a decade or more since I’ve gone to one.

As I get older, I feel more Jewish – ethnically, not religiously. With my grandparents and their brothers and sisters gone, I miss that conversation with what I think of as Judaism.

We never did much of the Haggadah in our family seders – mostly we ate – but I do remember some of the traditions and told Carol about the cup for Elijah and the hidden afikomen matzoh and “Dayenu.”

Joann gave me the proposal she’s working on for the Balkans, and I gave her a couple of suggestions to improve it, but Winston hasn’t answered my e-mail request for a meeting yet.

I asked Joann, who was secretary of the Mississippi Democratic Party and press secretary to a Mississippi governor and congressman, if she thinks GOP Governor Fordyce will get reelected. Sadly, she said yes.

In the Deep South, Joann said, the Democratic Party is basically an African-American party now, with only a few white liberals who are left. 

Friday, April 14, 1995

9 PM. Last evening I read an article on recent school finance legislation by Kern Alexander, who’s been doing some work for Jon.

I saw Kern today and spoke to him after the symposium. He’s worked on the allocation of funds to school districts, and he explained to me why the Florida and Virginia cases fizzled.

I slept very well last night and had a wonderful dream in which I had lunch (steamed broccoli) in a restaurant with Tom and Pete and then found myself in a huge auditorium filled with people who wanted to work on a movie. Friends from various parts of my life were all there, and it was great to see them.

At 10 AM, I went to the auditorium and sat down near Dean Lewis. A large crowd was present, obviously brought there by the controversy.

President Lombardi, in what a St. Pete Times editorial called as a cave-in to the legislators’ attack on academic freedom, belatedly invited two FIU Cuban-American professors (who arrived late) and a Miami GOP legislator, Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, who harangued everyone with a long anti-Castro diatribe.

The protesting Cuban-Americans only made me feel more sympathetic to the professors from Havana, who came to discuss academic issues and probably don’t see themselves as pro-Castro politicians.

While I can understand the anger the exiles hold toward the regime, their lack of understanding of the First Amendment and their insistence that the U.S. – alone, of all nations – continue the embargo probably helps keep Castro in power.

One woman wore a “Commie Busters” T-shirt, and outside, six quiet protesters carried signs like Gator Blue Is Better Than Commie Red.

There’s something surrealistic about seeing anti-“Commie” demonstrators in 1995, especially in the week when former Defense Secretary McNamara finally admitted the government was “wrong, terribly wrong” about the Vietnam War back in the 1960s.

McNamara said that he knew as far back as 1967 that the war was unwinnable and would only create needless death and suffering.

But even today, the culture can’t admit that those of us who protested the war – from me in Brooklyn to Bill Clinton in London – were right.

Like race and sex, communism is something the American people are unable have a rational conversation about.

Actually, after some initial tension that never quite went away, the symposium proved interesting – but not interesting enough for the people who had come expecting verbal fireworks and not just a discussion about the intricacies of Cuban trade law.

Once again, I had little to do today, so I spent much of the day browsing the Lexis and Westlaw databases.

Jon asked me – jokingly? – to see how he could legitimately go to Norway as part of either the Brazil or Poland projects. He wants to visit a fellow former State House speaker, Tom Loftus of Wisconsin, who’s ambassador in Oslo.

Like the politician he is, Jon didn’t like the St. Pete Times’s editorial criticism of  UF and his friend President Lombardi.

Of course, as a former legislator himself, Jon probably believes the university should be accountable to Tallahassee. He just doesn’t want to see any bad publicity.

Liz, too, is very leery of controversy. She expressed relief that CGR and Jon weren’t involved in the Cuban symposium and was glad that our last CGR fellow’s article The Docket was not, as she feared, an attack on the law school as a racist institution.

Today was John Moon’s last day, and I wished him well in the future. Until recently, I didn’t know he was going back to Brazil, and until yesterday, I didn’t realize he was getting married there.

Although John is very erudite, he’s also rather stuffy. But I still like him despite what I’m sure are his very conservative beliefs.

Liz got a call from her brother Dickie, and only when I got home did I realize that her brother is Richard Eder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and Newsday, and the former correspondent and briefly theater critic (between Clive Barnes and Frank Rich) of the New York Times.

At lunch, I found my copy of Southern Lights in the mail. As Mom said, it does look beautiful, but I suspect the work in it is mostly awful – my work included.

They also sent me an expensive-looking invitation to a party at Skye Moody’s. The RSVP is “regrets only,” so I suppose I’ll have to call her.

I did a heavy-duty rewrite of “Moon Over Moldova,” but I still have at least the last third to begin writing.

This is my gayest story yet. I’m also making myself younger than I am and stripping away the kind of details that I stupidly think are important “because it really happened that way.”

Yahoo, it’s the weekend.

Wednesday, April 19, 1995

3:30 PM. Bored and a little headachy, I left work just before 3 PM.

Students were coming out of class, and everyone seemed giddy, probably because the term is over on Friday. Finals begin on Monday, when it should get a lot easier for me to find a parking space.

Last night I went to bed early, and even if I didn’t get to sleep right away, I had a good long rest.

I brought some Passover Manischewitz coconut macaroons into work today and put them out for people to enjoy, even if I find them too fattening to eat myself.

Carol told me that the DOE grant ends on June 30, but we still have $225 in student OPS money left, so she suggested I ask Stacey to stay on as a research assistant for a few weeks.

Carol feels bad that Stacey worked overtime on the National Health Forum and wasn’t paid for the extra hours. I left a message with Stacey about it.

Joann talked to the guy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and he gave her a price she said is pretty insulting: $1500 for the forums this summer.

Carol said the money would cover my salary for just one pay period. Even if it isn’t cost effective, I expect Jon is going to want me to do it, just so he can say that CGR has worked with the National Trust.

Part of me would like to put the forum on my curriculum vita, but I really don’t know much about historic preservation and don’t want to embarrass myself. Still, I’d get a chance to do something new at work.

Although Russ probably could do a better job than I would, the money can’t be applied to his salary, which has already been paid by the state.

We are really bailing out the National Trust guys, who seem totally incompetent to me.

When I called Mom to ask how her sinus infection was, and Jonathan picked up the phone, telling me about an Oklahoma City explosion at the federal building there.

Home for lunch, I watched the Oklahoma City affiliate of ABC, WOCO-TV, and their live coverage.

Apparently a bomb ripped the whole front (or back) off the building. So far it seems that only about a dozen people – most of them kids in a first-floor daycare center – were killed, but so many people are trapped as floors collapsed upon one another that I’m sure that over a hundred people will ultimately be found dead.

Scores of people were injured, most by flying glass all over Oklahoma City’s civic center.

Reports are still hazy, but the authorities say it looks as if it were car bomb like the one that destroyed the Marines’ barracks in Beirut.

The federal building housed, among other agencies, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – which has been blamed for the fiery deaths of the Branch Davidians in Waco exactly two years ago today.

We live in a world where nobody is safe. Hundreds of people had to get off the subway in Yokohama today because of a gas that sickened them, though it was not the lethal sarin gas that hit Tokyo subways last month.

Pan Am 102 and the World Trade Center weren’t safe, of course. One day, I suppose a terrorist will finally get hold of a nuclear weapon.

My back hurts, but it’s my own fault, because after I exercised, I stretched into the cobra yoga position, which is something I should avoid, given my past back problems.

This afternoon and evening I plan to prepare for Saturday’s American Literature class at Nova.

In reading articles on school equity suits, I see Kern Alexander’s name pop up again and again.

Kern’s the one who really should have my job in education policy at CGR, given that Liz’s chief concern is school equity. But of course he could never afford to take the cut in pay.

Do I sound as if I’m always saying I’m not as well-equipped for my job as other people like Russ or Kern?

Well, I guess, given my experience as a computer educator, that I’m a better fit for Schoolyear 2000, which is what’s been paying my salary.

But at this point it appears to me that I’ve done most of the work the initiative will need from me. While the law of computers and cyberspace is changing, it will evolve slowly over the next few years, with legislation and new cases.

Next Tuesday we’re having a surprise party at 4 PM for Nikki and Veronica, our student aides, who are leaving.

And on Friday, May 12, Christy’s last day, we’re going to get together at Jon’s office at 3 PM.

So I guess if I do leave CGR, I’ll get a card and a party, too.

Next Wednesday is Secretaries Day, and Carol arranged for us all to take Christy, Laura and Laurie out to lunch.

I think that tomorrow I’ll mention to Liz that my apartment complex has asked me if I’m going to renew my lease.

That’s a good way to bring up my future at CGR. Anyway, it’s a decision I need to make, one that requires planning.

Saturday, April 22, 1995

9 PM. It figures that on a 90° day when I’ve still got the air conditioning on at this late hour, I wouldn’t have A/C in my car – nor in my usually frigid Nova classroom at Webster College.

Today has been a long day since I concentrated on getting all my errands done before 9 AM and after 6 PM.

In fact, I’ve just settled down after doing the laundry, going to get stamps at the post office, a printer ribbon at Office Depot, household supplies at Walmart, vitamins and cereals at Mother Earth, and gas at a Shell station.

I just finished putting away my clothes and the stuff I bought. The one surprisingly productive part of the day ended when I used a fresh ribbon to print out another one of those “Saturday Special” essays for the Orlando Sentinel.

For the past three weeks they’ve been inquiring about the best advice you ever gave or took, and I made up a story of how Grandpa Herb advised me never to give or take unsolicited advice.

It would be great if they printed another little column of mine; although these are really long letters to the editor, they have the look of op-ed pieces.

I wrote for an hour until I realized it was almost 1 PM and I was going to be late for class.

Making today slightly more difficult was not sleeping well last night. The late reports on the Oklahoma City bombing and the search for survivors (hopeless), victims (difficult, due to bad weather and the precarious structure of what’s left of the building), and perpetrators (confusing, and also frightening, given how many nuts there are out there).

The FBI has put out an arrest call for two white males, names unknown. My hunch is that unlike what everyone suspects, these bombers are neither Muslims nor Arabs.

On the 34th Street wall, I noticed the visual protest of the Waco raid on 4/19/83, and on talk radio I hear right-wing nuts excoriating the Bureau of alcohol tobacco and firearms.

The Clinton-haters, anti-semites, racists, homophobes, gun nuts and Tenth Amendment fetishists among white Christians are as scary as Hamas or Hezbollah to me.

This morning I went to the office and found that David Doheny of the National Trust faxed me a letter confirming my conversation yesterday with Paul Edmondson.

David accepted my “offer” to arrange ground park transportation between Tallahassee and Gainesville. But after speaking to Joann, I learned we couldn’t get a UF van, so I felt I had to write him back and fax the letter at once.

In the letter, I accepted his offer to join them as a workshop leader, but I said that while I’d already reserved the classroom for June 28, “a UF van was unavailable” the night before.

It took a while for me to remember how to fax – but I’m pretty sure I succeeded.

Back at home after I went grocery shopping at Albertsons (I put all of today’s purchases on a Visa that I’d paid off), I had breakfast, read the papers and Lexis and did low-impact aerobics.

Today is Earth Day. The 20th anniversary in 1990 was a big deal – I took part in Davie – but today’s 25th anniversary was a glum low-key affair because the GOP Congress and the conservative wave are intent on rolling back laws like the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act in the name of economic freedom.

Still, I’m glad I can remember where I was 25 years ago: at Prospect Park, when I watched the band dressed as pigs who wore gas masks (The Smubbs) play anti-pollution songs, and I saw Governor Rockefeller gamely pedaling a bicycle.

Soon we’ll have the 25th anniversary of the Cambodian invasion, the Kent State killings, and the student strike of May 1970 – which was when I first got involved with the people in Brooklyn College student government and newspapers and made friendships that have lasted for years.

Does anyone remember Kent State anymore? For those of us in college at the time, it made us as insecure as Oklahoma City does today – except then the government was the one killing innocent bystanders.

Because of the heat in the room, today’s Nova class was restless. But I think I made our session interesting as we went over those pissers of 19th century stories by women, “A New England Nun” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Then we listened to poems by Frost, Dickinson, Robert Lowell, Dorothy Parker, Simon Ortiz and Marianne Moore on my tape player, and I went over other poems by Frost and finally Eliot’s “Prufrock.”

I’d cut out of this week’s newspaper articles using variations of “April is the cruelest month” and Justice Scalia’s using “good fences make good neighbors” in a decision published Wednesday, and Breyer setting Scalia straight in a concurrence, where he showed that Frost was mocking the neighbor who couldn’t give up his father’s banal saying.

And of course I talked about seeing the movie Tom and Viv last weekend.

Next class I expect them to do author presentations and hand in their Billy Budd papers. Since their morning class will just be a final, they asked if I could start at 11 AM, and I said that was fine.

When I got home, I called Skye Moody in New Orleans, thanking her for the “lovely job” on Southern Lights, regretting not being able to attend the party at her house tomorrow, and congratulating her on her new Times-Picayune column on downtown New Orleans – which came up today on my Nexis clipping service.