A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1995

Friday, September 1, 1985

9 PM. After sleeping well last night, I felt good when I woke up this morning.

I decided to deposit the Sun and Shade check and use half of it for a subscription to the magazine. I also deposited a $300 cash advance from my new Orchard Bank Visa credit line to make up for the $255 less than usual I got in my paycheck today.

After dropping off the rent check and going to the bank, I went to Burdines to pick up my glasses and lenses. My old left lens had caused my eye to be itchy and red, so I decided to throw the old lenses away.

I like the way I look in my new glasses with smaller, rounder, antique frames, so I wore them although the change of prescription made me dizzy.

At work at 10:30 AM, I noticed an E-mail from Wendy Cuellar that had been forwarded by Liz. It said that the Technical Assistance Program might provide the rest of the funding (another $25,000) for our grant. Wendy said we should know by next week.

I told Liz that if we got the funding, I’d be amenable to staying on at CGR a little longer. She said maybe then we could bring in that black woman she’d wanted to hire last year as a contract worker and get her in the back door, the way Jon got Russ in. That sounds like a good idea.

Last evening I reached Tom Whalen. He hasn’t written much this summer, but he’s read a lot. Bantam hasn’t yet acknowledged the receipt of the manuscript he did with Daniel Quinn, and when the editor called from London to say she hadn’t seen it, Tom FedExed her another copy.

Annette hasn’t been able to get an apartment in Stuttgart for them because people are reluctant to rent to a foreigner without meeting him first. She got the impression that some of the landlords think Tom is Turkish.

Tom hadn’t heard about my Avisson Press book and congratulated me on it.

At a recent dinner in his honor hosted by Lolis Elie from the Times-Picayune – most of the guests were African-American – Tom met a 30-year-old jazz critic who’s got a short story collection coming out from St. Martin’s.

When Tom told him he’s published 140 stories, some in good places, but can’t get a publisher for a collection, the guy didn’t know what to say. An Iowa graduate, he lived in New York and his agent schmoozed the St. Martin’s editor.

Tom said that Wes’s The Tie That Binds (postponed by Buena Vista to open next week instead of today) looks great from the trailer. His favorite summer movie was Clueless.

Next year Tom has to decide if he’s going to come back to NOCCA or stay another year in Stuttgart, but he couldn’t bring himself to retire because he needs the security of knowing he would have a job if he wants one: “I’m not like you.”

Indeed, Tom has always hoped I’d settle into a job; I can remember his saying in the early 1980s that he hoped I’d stay at Broward Community College.

Today I inputted “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama” and “Where the Glacier Stopped” into the computer, and they seemed okay.

I now have ten stories on disk, and tomorrow I’ll see if I can go to the CIRCA lab and save them as WordPerfect 6.0 files. That’s enough to send to Martin.

Unable to get up the nerve to go to the faculty luncheon and discussion of affirmative action – although Liz went, I don’t like the way the faculty look down upon us at CGR – I joined Carol, Laura and Laurie in watching more of Tom A’s slides of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

When I got home from work, there was a message from “Mason Klee from college” on my answering machine.

Mason said he was with Libby and Grant, who hoped they would see me in New York and are staying at the Marriott in the Financial District.

Mason, still being Mason, said he was at this telephone number: “(914) 6242.” I couldn’t get his real number through directory assistance, either.

He sounded a little goofy, saying he was sure I’d be famous and “was waiting for the movie .”

Saturday, September 2, 1995

5 PM. The Gators are playing their first game at home now, so 100,000 football fans swarmed into town today. I’m torn between enjoying the festive nature of these at-home game Saturdays and being repelled by the crowds and the hoopla.

Up at 7:30 AM, I went out to get the newspaper and buy a few items at the Publix.

Because of the crowds, I knew I’d had I’d have to get to the CIRCA lab soon after it opened at noon, so I exercised at 10 AM, had an early lunch and managed to find a parking space in the lot near Library West.

After the experience I had converting the memos, saving my stories on WordPerfect 6.0 was a breeze. I even had time to input “Mini-People” and then an ASCII file of “Coping” I found on an old diskette.

“Coping” is the only story I’m asking Martin to reconsider for inclusion, though if he doesn’t want it, I won’t be upset.

Later in the day I mailed one of the two diskettes I’d saved the stories on to Martin. If he can use these files, it will ease his burden considerably.

After leaving the computer lab, I went to next door to Turlington Hall, where I scoured the bulletin boards by the English Department and the MFA Program, taking down information I could use. Then I took out a couple of books on law and electronic media at Library West.

My big project now is finishing the Neil Simon article, but obviously my self-imposed Labor Day deadline is going by the boards.

Tuesday, September 5, 1995

9 PM. Today wasn’t the greatest day although my headache made everything seem worse.

Since I’ve gotten my new glasses and lenses, I’ve had headaches, and today was my first full day of work with the new prescription.

Russ was out today. When Jon came into our office, he asked if I knew anything about HIV testing, and when I said yes, a bit, he put me on a call with Jim Hellegaard from the college’s News and Public Affairs bureau.

Jim wanted to know if it was true that the new HIV test via a saliva sample was useless in saving time since he had heard that another test – the Western blot, I told him – had to be given before telling a patient he’s positive.

In researching the subject, I discovered a statute that mandates a confirmatory test and an administrative rule that defines “confirmatory test” as the Western blot. So the only advantage of the new saliva test over the ELISA blood test might be price and convenience.

I also discovered that the Florida legislature passed and the governor let become law without his signature a bill approving any HIV home test that gets approval from the FDA.

I need to do more work on that before my appointment with Jim on Friday at 11 AM.

Joann dropped off a proposal on wiring Poland for interactive video conferencing and told me to think about whether it’s something that would interest me.

After a quick lunch at home, I returned to CGR for my 1 PM meeting with Liz and Monica, who seems to be a fount of ideas with the ability to delegate authority – just the kind of student to take the lead in organizing the Fellows’ symposium.

I had a message from Laura Italiano, an assistant producer at New Jersey Online, and after I phoned her, she got back to me at 4 PM.

Laura said that Susan would like me to try to work up a sample column that would consist of weird stories about bizarre or offbeat events or news stories taking place in New Jersey.

Susan sees this as a weekly feature, with me as an op-ed columnist. They’d put my photo and an E-mail address where people could send me material or leads on the web page.

Using Lexis and Westlaw, I spent an hour at home and another hour back at the office tonight searching for suitable material.

While I came up with some items that are offbeat or which I could make a wisecrack about, I don’t know that if that’s what Susan had in mind. After I gave Laura my fax number, she said she’d send me an example from a San Francisco alternative newspaper that Susan saw.

I’d get $100 a column, and I told Laura I’d have something for her by next Monday.

Tomorrow I’ll spend a lot of time trying to find more weird New Jersey articles.

Ed Hogan sent me what he called “a munificent cheque” for $4.10. That was my royalties from Zephyr Press for the last few years’ sales of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

At this point, Zephyr is mostly a publisher of Russian literature books, but Ed asked me to send him recent clips. I told Ed about the book contract with Avisson Press and sent some articles, asking if he had an E-mail address.

Thursday, September 7, 1995

7:30 PM. I feel much more relaxed than I did yesterday, mostly because I managed to stop feeling so harried by early evening yesterday.

I did go to the office to pick up Laura Italiano’s fax, but she didn’t send it until after I phoned her again at noon today.

This morning’s CGR staff meeting didn’t last much longer than an hour, and it was relatively painless.

I gave the shortest of reports; unlike the others, I don’t have all these grants and projects pending, and my publications are still the Department of Education legal memos.

Jim Hellegaard sat in and listened because he wanted to see if he could get any news stories out of us. Later, Linda told me he used to work at the Florida Times-Union.

I’m ready for my meeting on HIV testing with Jim tomorrow. After speaking for a long time with two very knowledgeable people at the North Central Florida AIDS Network, I now feel I have a better grasp of the issues.

After receiving the fax that Susan passed on to Laura from that San Francisco alternative weekly, I realized that – at least in my judgment – the stuff I’ve gotten from the databases is probably better than what was in their “weird news.”

By the weekend, I should be able to give Laura at least ten paragraph-sized items for the column.

I’m hesitant about sending my photo before I see what Laura and Susan say about the stuff I’ll send them via E-mail.

So I feel better about those two things. I really would like to do the Neil Simon article as well – but I also have to figure out what Jon has in mind for the business plan.

I had plenty of work to keep me busy today. Liz came in to the office only for the meeting, but later I got to meet her sister Leslie, the author, who seems really sweet.

Today is their father’s 95th birthday, and their brother has also flown in for the weekend to celebrate.

Senator Packwood resigned today after the Ethics Committee yesterday, in a surprise move, voted unanimously to expel him from the Senate.

He was a pretty smarmy guy, but Packwood was also head of the Finance Committee, where the Republicans’ ambitious fall agenda – Medicare cuts, welfare reform, tax cuts – are to be thrashed out.

It’s going to be interesting if the GOP Congress can deliver and what Clinton will do in response.

Legal services for the poor will be decimated, no doubt. The only person more hated today than a poor person is a poor person with a lawyer.

Friday, September 8, 1995

10 PM. I don’t know where I got the energy, especially since I got up at 5 AM today, but I’ve only just returned from the office.

Earlier, I had left later than usual, at 4:30 PM (and so I’d missed two delivery attempts by the UPS guy with my contact lenses), but I returned to the office around 7 PM.

I’d worked on the sample columns for New Jersey Online off and on all day, and tonight I cleaned them up, adding punny titles to the ones that didn’t have any.

Then I made four separate files, each with five items, all approximately a page long or about 3,100 bytes.

I tried to send the four columns to Laura at Newhouse.com, but my messages got returned, saying there was nobody named “Italiano” at that domain address.

So I decided to send them out to Susan, and I hope that’s not too forward (going above Laura’s head and all that).

I’ll call Laura on Monday, but I wanted to get rid of the columns at least in one way before then.

I hope Laura and Susan like the work I did. The writing may be a little corny, but I think I gave them mostly usable stuff. We shall see.

In any case, I feel a sense of relief that I finished my tryout at New Jersey Online.

I’ve got a lot more possible material, but there’s no sense overdoing it. After all, if they’re going to pay me $100 for each column, I’ve already done $400 worth of work.

I’ve been keeping the windows open at night, going without air conditioning. Late last evening, when I was enjoying listening to the sounds of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” on an oldies station, one of my neighbors pulled up in his car and he was singing along to “Truckin’” on his car radio. It was nice the way the two radios and my neighbor’s voice carried the tune in stereo.

On Nexis, I looked for reviews of Wes’s The Tie That Binds and was surprised that I found only a couple since it opened everywhere today, including across the street at Butler Plaza.

The Variety notice was devastating, singling out some very bad artsy-fartsy crane shots that Wes directed and saying the movie would probably get to video fast.

Even the Times didn’t review it, which is probably a bad sign. The big picture that opened today was To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, with Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo as stereotypical drag queens.

Straight actors now seem delighted to put on dresses and camp it up, but the movie sounds stupid to me.

I want to see Kids at the Plaza tomorrow. Especially now that I’m done with the New Jersey Online work, I can take a little time off.

My morning meeting with Jim Hellegaard in the cafeteria went okay, but he finally agreed with me that there’s probably no story in the HIV home test and saliva test stuff.

When I told Jim I thought it was smarmy of the UF researcher to sell his test overseas to dentists to protect themselves from their patients, he said he couldn’t do a piece with one UF faculty member criticizing another.

Jim seems like a decent guy. He’s in his late twenties and most recently worked at the Gainesville Sun. He told me he’s thinking about going to law school one day.

Back upstairs, Jon came into our office to ask Russ and me what kind of criminal or civil case could be made against a state legislator who harassed state employees, threatening their jobs.

Since Jon didn’t give us any specifics, there wasn’t much to go on, and Russ and I could find only a few statutes that seem only tangentially related.

My own advice to the state employee would be to go public with the accusation, but then I’ve always been a believer of publicity in cases of mistreatment.

I got so angry at a story on the kowtowing of GOP presidential candidates to the Christian Coalition that I mailed off a statement of organization to the Federal Election Commission for a political action committee called No Special Rights for Christians.

I can see getting a lot of hate mail from that, but I think I could make a better case about them wanting “special rights” than they can make about gay and lesbian people.

As with my God Hates Republicans PAC, it’s interesting to throw homophobes’ own rhetoric back at them.

Saturday, September 9, 1995

9 PM. After getting to bed at midnight, I woke up at 7:30 AM and almost immediately put on a T-shirt, shorts, sneakers and my glasses and took my shopping list to Albertsons, where I picked up five bags of groceries – mostly fruits and vegetables (frozen and fresh) and frozen dinners, some dairy products – and the papers.

I now see that The Tie That Binds wasn’t screened for critics before it opened yesterday, a bad sign. Yet the New York Times review wasn’t all that bad.

But rather than support Wes, I went to the Plaza Theater at 2 PM to see Kevin Clark’s Kids.

Unrated due to its heavy doses of early-adolescent sex, the documentary-like film almost succeeded in being shocking. But I know full well that there are 14-and 15-year-olds in New York who fuck and get wasted as much as the kids in Kids. The aimless, sex-crazed, doped-up teenagers seemed to have no parents and nothing to live for except alcohol, drugs, and each other’s bodies.

Ultimately it was a very depressing film. It would give someone like Russ diarrhea for a week. I don’t think he’s aware that people like the characters in the movie actually exist.

On my way to the law school after the movie, I spotted David H on his bike on SW 34th Street. He was wearing his white tank top and white shorts that looked great with his dark skin.

I changed direction twice so I could see him as I drove by, but the second time I crossed his path, I felt horrible. What if he noticed me? This is like stalking someone, I told myself, leave the poor guy alone. He can’t help it if he’s so cute.

Anyway, he’ll graduate in three months and I’ll be fine if I never see him again.

Seeing Entertainment Weekly’s special issue on “The Gay 90s: Entertainment Comes Out of the Closet” reminded me that there was no reaction in the theater to two guys kissing in the trailer for Jeffrey.

Younger people today are less homophobic than ever. While the inroads gay life has made on American culture may be reversible, we’re never going back to the bad old days – not unless the Christian Coalition manages to take over everything in this country, in which case repression of gays will be only one of many serious problems .

Once people come out of the closet, you’re not going to get them back in. Eventually, even movie stars – not just character actors, comedians and singers – will be openly gay.

I was alone in the office for a couple of hours, going through about forty E-mail messages and doing some CGR work.

Listening to NPR this morning, I remembered that during the Gulf War, Kuwait was often described as “the size of New Jersey.” I thought I’ve read other countries describe the same way.

Sure enough, searching Nexis, I found quotes from dozens of newspaper articles applying that description not only to Kuwait, but also to Israel, Swaziland, Belize, East Timor, Slovenia, Latvia and other countries.

In addition, Puerto Rico was called half the size of New Jersey and the Netherlands and other regions twice New Jersey’s size.

Do you think journalists have decided to use New Jersey as a standard of measurement for the area of foreign states? Weird.

After getting “Willie 95 “ back from Iowa Review, I immediately sent it out to another literary magazine.

Mom called and said I didn’t get a Florida literature fellowship this year. But I’ve had so much good luck in other ways, the rejection doesn’t bother me.

Sunday, September 10, 1995

9 PM. Laura Italiano wrote, “Holy Ho-Ho-Kus!” after Susan forwarded the twenty column items I’d sent her rather than just the five she requested. She wants me to do a multi-paragraph bio and snail-mail her a color headshot for the column.

Laura said she’ll call me tomorrow, and she feels she can use what I sent for more than one column, just as I’d hoped.

I learned about this when I came into the office at 4 PM, after I’d walked across the street from my apartment to Butler Plaza to see The Tie That Binds.

The reviews I’ve seen are nearly all negative, with cutting remarks that must be hurtful to Wes if he sees them. But the movie wasn’t as bad as they said.

For a thriller, it’s slow-paced, and there are a few too many artsy-fartsy shots. While the plot was predictable, it seemed no worse than most movies of the genre.

At the end of the credits, I saw one song, “Acid Rain,” “by W. Strick” that was performed by The Commotions, Wes’s band in New York fifteen years ago.

Anyway, Russ was also in the office, but he was at Laurie’s computer and had on earphones, so I felt free to listen to The Doors while I read my E-mail, looked at news articles and wrote a bit.

I called my parents to tell them to send me one of my graduation photos from last year, the only color headshots I have.

They were pleased about my gig at New Jersey Online although Dad thought that I would be paid by “the Internet.”

“I guess this is something you really want to do,” Mom said. Well, more so than be a staff attorney at CGR.

But I’m not going to get too excited about New Jersey Online until I speak with Laura.

Also, I would not be surprised if Newhouse pulled the plug on New Jersey Online the way other big media companies have when their new media projects haven’t initially done well. Still, this could be a start for me.

A lot of ink in the press has been spilled on what compelled Senator Packwood to write those embarrassing diary entries, the very evidence that destroyed his political career.

The reason anyone keeps the kind of diaries that Packwood or I do is pure ego, an inflated sense of one’s importance in the universe.

While I’m a bit player in life, in my diary it’s clear who’s the star, and I know I write things that are every bit as grandiose and foolish as Senator Packwood did.