A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1994
Sunday, May 8, 1994
10 PM. Last night I went to take a bus ride and promptly sat down in a seat filled with water. So, with my bottom wet, I went down Columbus only as far as Broadway and came back here after getting the Sunday Times at the newsstand on 86th Street. Ronna returned home soon after I did.
I slept well, but Ronna did not; she stayed up very late, and when she finally did fall asleep, Joel woke up her up with a call at 2 AM.
Ronna’s relationship with Joel is getting her down. (I can hear her talking about it with Billy on one of their biweekly phone conversations.) She’s also upset because yesterday at Weight Watchers, she discovered she had gained weight for the first time. (But it was just half a pound, nothing from my point of view.)
I had time to read the paper at leisure this morning. The lead article in Business said that all the new interactive television systems will lose out in the end to personal computers, which are already interactive.
I get it. I feel like I have to react to a TV while a PC reacts to me.
Last night Ronna said that she was planning to leave for her cousin’s in Bensonhurst at 10:30 AM, but (unsurprisingly) today she didn’t get out of here until almost noon.
I followed her out a little later, after taking a shower so I didn’t reek from exercising.
Today was another dark, cool day. While the first day I arrived in New York was warm, ever since it’s been in the low 50°s in the morning, getting up to 65° at most. I should have brought fewer T-shirts and shorts and more long-sleeved shirts and sweaters.
After getting some groceries at the Food Emporium, I had lunch and went to the Theater District, where I had to pay $20 for balcony seats for Perestroika, the second part of Angels in America. Even though this performance had problems, $30 for both plays was definitely worth it.
Before I went into the theater, I wished Mom a happy Mother’s Day from a pay phone at Times Square.
The play started 45 minutes late. At first they announced one actor was ill and his substitute was on his way to the theater. Then they said the first guy would be playing his role but an understudy for another actor would go on.
During intermission, I got the story from an usher, who said the first guy, Jeffrey Wright, didn’t show up so they called his understudy in Brooklyn; finally Wright did arrive, but his castmate, Joe Mantello, was so annoyed at the delay that he “left the theater in a huff.”
The problems didn’t show up in the performance although I missed Montello’s portrayal of Louis.
Still, Perestroika continued the phantasmagoria of Millennium Approaches. I like Kushner’s intelligence and his ideas, and I’ve been moved by his exploration of interconnectedness.
Because some of the play has to do with the law – Roy Cohn and the Mormon character Joe Pitt are attorneys – I’d like to explore its legal aspects in an article for a law review or law-related magazine.
(Earlier today, it occurred to me that I should adapt my Internet defamation paper for the Authors Guild Bulletin or some other periodical.)
I cried at the end of the six or seven hours of Angels. It was 7 PM when I arrived home, and Ronna returned soon after that, having had dinner with her sister and brother-in-law before they drove back to Philadelphia.
Monday, May 9, 1994
4:30 PM. I’ve been in something of a funk today, perhaps because I have a sinus headache and postnasal drip, perhaps because I realize I’m about to go back to Gainesville and facing some scary choices about my life.
Although my friends have sometimes generously paid for meals out with them, I’ve spent far too much money here.
I don’t think I’ve been extravagant, considering the things I saw and the places I’ve gone.
But I’ve got just $700 in the bank – maybe $1,000 if you count my paychecks still due – and I have bills and living expenses to deal with until I start getting paid from Santa Fe in July for my summer classes.
Even if I can get Unemployment, it won’t be much. I do have about $3,500 in untouched credit, so I can manage. I think I’ve also got a new GM MasterCard in the mail.
I really need to buy a car, as I’ll need transportation, whether I’m in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando or somewhere else.
I’ve got to do some serious thinking and job-hunting in the next few weeks.
By the end of June (when I’m supposed to start teaching at SFCC), I’d like to know where I’m going to end up after the end of my lease at Camelot in mid-August.
I woke up at 4:30 AM and wasn’t able to get back to sleep. Except for a few hours outside in today’s mild and sunny weather, I’ve stayed in Ronna’s apartment.
I went down to do a load of laundry, and on the way to the elevator, I overheard a FedEx delivery guy give the doorman a package for David Marshall Grant, who was one of the cast members – he played Joe Pitt – from Angels in America.
Only in New York, kids . . .
Tuesday, May 11, 1994
10 AM. Yesterday around 5 PM, after buying some lozenges for my sore throat, I walked down to Lincoln Center as I listened to All Things Considered on my Walkman.
I tried hard to take in everything I could about the people and sights I passed on Broadway so I can remember it during the coming year.
I was supposed to meet Josh and Denis, who had to care for his daughter, at 6 PM by the fountain. Denis arrived first, with 19-month-old Ava in her stroller; he’d just picked her up from day care.
Denis was taking care of her because Melinda was at a meeting of the Medical Jurisprudence Society.
“Congratulations, counselor,” he said as he shook my hand.
“Not quite,” I said.
Denis seems to be doing well. He’s still working at his agency defending mentally ill criminals, but the really good news is that he’s got a book contract with the Free Press for his manuscript about representing some of his crazy clients like Daniel Rakowitz.
The manuscript was due last month, but although Denis’s editor is helpful, he’s still having problems with the manuscript.
While Denis is going to make real money from the book, he also sees it as a vindication of what he started to do in the MFA program at BC.
He said he often quotes me that most important thing an author realizes when a book is published is how little it changes one’s life.
“Change is incremental,” Dennis said, though I would have thought he realized that before, with his two children’s books.
He’s hoping to make something out of the building downtown with the theater company and KGB. (Later, Denis and Josh presented me with a KGB T-shirt.)
At first, Ava had that shy, I-don’t-want-to-be-looked-at attitude that 19-month-olds have, but she warmed up as the evening went on.
She’s a pretty girl with a mellow attitude; only towards the end of the evening did she become cranky.
I found it interesting that the presence of the baby made not only Denis, but also me and Josh, warmer and more nurturing than we usually are.
Josh’s big news was that he’s decided to buy a co-op on East 10th Street for Sharon to live in as a tenant. His friend bought it for $70,000 but will sell it for $45,000 because he never had good tenants and has to take a new job in Kentucky.
Josh can get a second mortgage on his apartment and will have to borrow $15,000 from his mother, but then he can charge Sharon only $750 a month and just cover his mortgage and maintenance.
It will take her three years to finish her doctorate at NYU, and then he can sell it, rent it to a friend (like me) or whatever.
We walked to Central Park, where Ava played with dogs and other kids and went down on the sliding pond at the playground – although watching her made me fearful she would hurt herself.
While Denis was taking care of Ava, Josh told me how depressed Sharon gets. She’s on Prozac, but “I never knew a person had that many tears to shed.”
Although I like Sharon a lot, she does seem sad all the time. Josh said she can’t take pressure and feels like giving up when she’s overwhelmed.
I know that feeling, and it’s one I hope I don’t face in the months ahead.
Josh, too, seemed upset. Watching Ava, he told me he wished he had a kid and felt that he’d let life pass him by while he’s been caring for his parents and letting them turn him into their referee.
When I told Josh his parents would manage if he didn’t exist, he said his aunt tells him the exact same thing. She says there’s no reason he needs to go over to their house every other day.
We had a truly vile dinner at some diner on Broadway and 68th. It was so awful that Denis just had a glass of scotch. But Ava seemed to like my spaghetti even if I didn’t.
By then it was getting late, so I went uptown and they went downtown.
When I walked into the apartment, Ronna was sitting at the kitchen table paying her bills.
This morning she had to make it 7:39 AM train to Hempstead to give a speech at a Hadassah meeting, and I helped get her up; for one thing, she heard me tape Body Electric at 6 AM.
(Today I taped four exercise shows on different channels, giving me a total of 16 new shows to exercise to so that my workouts will be less monotonous.)
I’m going to meet Josh downtown at 1 PM and later have dinner with Ronna on my last evening in New York.
Wednesday, May 12, 1994
10 AM. My usual pre-trip anxiety is stalking my body, making me want to fall asleep although I slept perfectly well last night.
Yesterday I walked over to the Hayden Planetarium to see the start of the annular eclipse of the sun, which was partially visible in this area.
In an annular eclipse, the moon is too close to block out the sun completely, so even in areas where it’s “total,” a ring remains.
Lots of people had the special lenses or cardboard glasses (resembling old 3-D glasses) to watch the eclipse safely, but the planetarium had sold out of them by the time I got there.
Nevertheless, I was able to line up with others to look into a telescope set up in front of the planetarium to see the start of the moon taking a black bite out of the orange sun.
TV cameras from NY1 and WNYW/Channel 5 were there taping or broadcasting live to studios, so I probably got on television.
A celebratory atmosphere prevailed, especially among the high school kids taken there who were more interested in partying than in astronomy. I can’t say I blame them.
Seeing the kids gave me the impetus to walk up Central Park West to West 89th Street to see where I spent tenth grade.
The old Franklin School isn’t the Anglo-American School any longer but is part of Dwight, a well-known old private school.
The building’s doors, now painted black instead of red, were open, so I could just walk into the lobby. The setup of the school seemed exactly as I remembered it from 1965-66, making me feel like I was in a dream.
Taking the local at 86th Street, I remembered how I used to rush out of school at 2:45 PM down to the AA subway stop for the start of my long trip home via three trains and a bus.
I was only 14 years old then and so screwed up that I wish I could go back in time to comfort myself and tell that kid that everything was going to turn out all right.
At 59th Street, I got the A downtown to Chambers, where I met Josh at the corner of West Broadway.
While I was waiting for him, three separate groups of people stopped to ask directions that I couldn’t supply. “I don’t know, I’m from out of town,” I told them.
Josh and I went to a pleasant café for salads. He was upset because it looks as if his friend is trying to back out of selling him the apartment although the guy tells him he’d let Julie be his tenant if he holds onto it.
Josh doubts the guy is trustworthy, and he’s afraid of the effect of the news will have on Julie, whose emotional state sounds scarily fragile.
She grew up in the Philly suburbs and felt unloved; her older gay sister is estranged from their parents, who don’t give Julie any support, either .
“Of course I’ve gotten only one side of the story,” Josh said, “although I wouldn’t tell Julie that.”
Josh told me that his father seems to feel that his brother can do no wrong and wants to send him money to buy a new house – the old house is in a changing North Miami Beach neighborhood – while he says that Josh is “a cold person.”
I told him it’s always like that: the dying parent idealizes the child who’s far away (the way Grandma Ethel did Mom) while disparaging the one who cares for him or her.
“But in the end, your father really has more respect for you and more confidence in you than in your brother,” I said.
“And if your father bought you a house in Florida, maybe you’d no longer be a cold person,” I added, managing to get him to smile.
We walked to the subway, where we said goodbye and said we’d E-mail regularly. I did some shopping and errands on my way home.
Ronna returned from work after 6 PM, and when David said he was too tired to join us for dinner, we went by ourselves to Empire Szechuan Gourmet. Ronna hadn’t been there since they’d renovated.
Over our meal, Ronna and I talked about habit and routine. She said I lived “the most transient life” of anyone she knows. That scared me a little because I always feel my life has so much continuity.
She let me pay for dinner, and then at The Wiz, we bought blank videotapes for her to tape programs; I showed her how when we got home.
Home: this apartment has been my home in New York this trip, and Ronna’s been wonderful to me. Without her, this trip wouldn’t have been possible because nobody else in the city really has room for me.
I fell asleep early last night while Ronna returned phone calls, and this morning we hugged when she left for work. I plan to eat lunch at 11 AM and leave just before noon; hopefully, it won’t take too long to get a cab.
My flight leaves LaGuardia at 1:30 PM for the two-hour trip to Atlanta, but my layover there is 90 minutes. I expect to be home before 8 PM, but it will be a long day.
9 PM in Gainesville. I miss New York City so much that I only just noticed that I misread a letter from Nassau Community College asking me to come for an interview in two weeks.
It was when I looked at it again that I saw it was for an adjunct, not a full-time, position. Well, obviously I’m not going to go now.
The bulk of my mail was either junk, bills or rejection letters from a dozen community colleges. No deus ex machina to save my life, so I’ll have to save my own life.
Phone messages were from Laura, who picked up her graduation gown before she left Gainesville; Karin, who wanted to ask a question about Baldwin’s Political and Civil Rights exam; and Prof. Dowd’s secretary, who said to call her regarding my lost paper and then called again to say they’d found it.
My only E-mail was from Josh when he thought I’d already gone home. I do have to read the material from the University of South Florida’s School for Library Science, though; I’ve got a good feeling about it.
I left the apartment at noon, and after I gave the doorman Ronna’s keys in an envelope, he hailed me a cab and I got my last glimpse of Manhattan from the Triborough Bridge.
At LaGuardia an hour early, I had some yogurt. Basically my trip was uneventful and tedious, nearly seven hours from door to door.
On the two-hour flight to Atlanta, they didn’t serve a real meal, nor was there a video or headphones to occupy me, so I listened to my worn tape of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
The wait at Atlanta was nearly two hours between landing and second takeoff, but the flight to Gainesville was brief – we started landing right after the takeoff – and less bumpy than the first flight.
I didn’t wear my lenses all day because they hurt even back in Manhattan this morning.
Going down the stairway from the plane, I could feel the Florida heat and humidity.
The cabdriver who took me home, a black guy from Poughkeepsie, said, “Everyone should go to New York City for a week or two to recharge their batteries,” and he’s right.
My mind is a swirl of people, places, events; I had the most terrific time I could have hoped for, and even if I am now broke, I will never regret all the money I spent on this trip.
I miss Ronna and Josh and Korean salad bars and the buses and subways and the doorman and Ronna’s apartment.
I do understand that I was on vacation, and that’s always different from living and working in a place. New York is too expensive for me to live in, and I’m sure its charms would dissipate in the face of rush hour commutes and struggles to live affordably.
So I consider myself lucky to have experienced the last few weeks.
Friday, May 13, 1994
1:30 PM. It’s about 90° and just walking to school and back has totally soaked my shirt – but I feel good. According to the little sheet I saw in the Student Services office, I got all A’s this last semester.
I’m tempted to go back there and check one more time to see that I wasn’t hallucinating, but as I handed back the sheet with the grades handwritten next to each class, I said to the secretary, “It’s easy to remember this,” and she said, “Yep.”
Well, if it is true, then I couldn’t have done better. In fact, Nagan’s B+ in International Law was the single lowest grade of my last year in law school. I’ll obviously keep my “high honors” degree and I probably moved up a couple of notches from #10 in class ranking.
I know, of course, in the larger scheme of things, graduating UF’s College of Law with a 3.57 GPA doesn’t mean a heck of a lot, but I am proud of myself. I’ve proved I could succeed in a new environment.
At school I saw Shara and Emira and Marc W, and I just ran into Pete B at Publix, and we all congratulated each other. Pete said he’s not doing to wear a suit jacket under his gown, and I guess I won’t, either. It’ll be a very hot afternoon.
Right now I’m downloading to my hard disk all the files that mention me in Westlaw’s Papers database. Earlier, I did the same with stories on Lexis/Nexis because I expect to be cut off any day now.
I’ve cleaned the bathroom and kitchen at least tolerably well, although I expect Mom will freak out. She and Dad will be here in a couple of hours, and it’ll be odd to have them as guests.
I spoke to Marc last night and he told me he’d like to visit next week. He said he thought he could find me a car if I gave him the money, though I’m not sure I’d give him $2,000 directly. Maybe we can look for a car up here.
Apparently he’s going through with plans for computer repair training, and I told him that even if his student loan was discharged in bankruptcy, to pay off one month on the loan so he can avoid default and be eligible for a new loan.
Last night I slept well, and at 7 AM I did three loads of laundry and went shopping. I don’t remember it being this hot this time last year, when the late mornings were still pleasant. It’s brutal out today, and of course it’s going to be this way for months.
My stomach is a little acidic, but I’m really glad about my grades. My last semester at law school was my best. Hurrah!
Sunday, May 15, 1994
11 AM. My parents left about ninety minutes ago. It was a strange weekend. They arrived in the Cougar on Friday at about 4 PM, and we talked as I helped them unpack.
Mom presented me with a heavy leather briefcase, but when she asked if I’d prefer that she return it, I had to tell her that though I appreciated the gift, I really had no use for it because it was both too heavy and too shallow to store many books and papers in.
I don’t think I offended them then, though I’m not too certain about the rest of the weekend. It’s not that I’ve become an ingrate or a snob; I love my parents but I’m unaccustomed to dealing with them.
Their behavior seems odd to me, as if they’ve grown into cranky old people overnight, and I’m afraid I needed a lot of patience with them. Still, there never was any kind of a blowup.
Mom didn’t say a word about my housekeeping habits although I’m sure my apartment must have tested her patience, and when they left this morning, I hugged and kissed them both.
My parents remind me a lot of my grandparents in the way they talk to one another and to me: their non sequiturs, little explosions over the silliest things (these explosions dissipate quickly and harmlessly) and their lurking racism and sexism (mostly manifested in Dad’s stupid jokes).
I think they were worried that I’d be embarrassed by them at graduation, but of course I could never be. It was odd to deal with both my parents’ visit and my own graduation at the same time, especially given my uncertainty about my future.
I know I must be a disappointment to my parents: one of eleven out of 199 graduates to get High Honors, I refuse to use my law degree to get some kind of stability. They can’t understand that. Maybe I can’t, either: Am I sure of myself or just making sure I will never be conventionally successful? Well.
We went to Sonny’s Bar-B-Q for salad bar on Friday evening, and when we came back, Dad turned on the TV and we saw that Clinton had finally named a Supreme Court justice: Judge Breyer, the safest possible choice, who’s smart but bloodless and who will probably be okay.
I didn’t sleep much on the couch on Friday night. Saturday morning, after breakfast and exercise, and after my parents had dressed, I put on a suit (luckily I was able to give my jacket to Dad before the ceremony), and Dad dropped me off at the Performing Arts Center, where I was one of the first to arrive, along with some of the black students, who wore kente-cloth strips for solidarity.
As my fellow graduates kept arriving, I tried to circulate and say hi and congratulations to most of them. Karin and Lorraine introduced me to their relatives, and I kissed Laura and Brenda and chatted with a whole lot of people.
It’s going to be strange not to see them anymore after spending three years together. At least we were able to share this one last bonding experience.
They hadn’t had a law school graduation at the Center before, so the logistics were complicated. It was late when we were finally told to go backstage and find our names on index cards on the floor.
It was sweltering under the heavy robes and that ridiculous hat. Deans Reed and Patrick (Savage was out because of a horseback riding fall) tried to explain where we were to go and how we were to sit and stand.
I sat between Barry and Angelina, with Karin and Greg next to them (along with a joint degree candidate we didn’t know), so it was just like that first day of orientation, when we sat alphabetically in the auditorium.
After we marched in during the processional and found our seats onstage, it soon became clear that we’d be unable to hear the speakers very well.
Dean Lewis’s opening remarks were garbled because the sound didn’t carry backwards. And I could understand only fragments of the speech of University of Miami Dean Mary Boyle; luckily, both of these speakers didn’t talk very long.
Because Dean Savage was out, the names were announced by Amy Mashburn as we handed her our cards. For the first few people, she neglected to say “with honors” or “with high honors” after their names.
(There were red H’s and HH’s on the index cards with our names; on the back of them we had to fill out whether we had jobs for the placement office.)
Like graduation last December, there were several graduates who brought what sounded like scores of relatives and friends who blew whistles and sirens. (The noise for Joe C and Danny S drowned out the names of Laura and Nick, who came after them.)
I was unaware of everything, including how much applause I got, because I was concentrating so hard on not letting my cap fall off and going where I was supposed to be going.
Amy Mashburn said, “Congratulations” and “Good luck with the election” (lots of people asked me about that, but Friday was the filing deadline and of course I am not running for Senator), and then I went to Nancy Dowd, who placed the hood Joe Little gave her on me and moved the tassel from right to left.
We hugged and she said, “It’s been a pleasure.” (Earlier, she’d told me she panicked when she thought she lost my paper.)
Then I crossed the stage to get my poster-sized diploma from Dean Lewis as a photographer took our picture and I found my way back to my seat by following Barry in front of me.
The whole class stood up and applauded Rich T’s name; I knew he’d been ill, but Angelina told me Rich has cancer.
It was nice to hear my classmates’ names as tried to follow along in the program, which listed our hometowns (I put Fort Lauderdale), previous degrees and schools, our activities (I had none), book awards and scholarships.
The whole ceremony took a little over an hour, and then there was punch served outside, where it was brutally hot. Most people took photos of graduates in their gowns, and I think I wandered into a lot of them as I searched for my parents and friends.
December grads Kathy and Judy came as visitors – both are working for firms in, respectively, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville – as did Dan R, who’s an assistant state’s attorney in Ocala (“Low pay but interesting work”).
It really makes me sad that I probably won’t see people like Bob, Donna, Karin and Martin anymore. After I turned my regalia back in at a truck outside – that was our last standing-in-line experience as classmates – I went back home with my parents.
During graduation, I’d really sweated, so I was glad to change clothes, and I spent an hour looking at everyone’s names and the rest of the material in the commencement program.
I’d gotten a notice passed around about a party at Kevin J’s family’s farmhouse outside of town, and if Mom and Dad weren’t here and I’d had a car, I probably would have gone over there.
Instead, we just sat around all afternoon, although I did use their car to get stuff at Mother Earth, Walmart and Albertson’s, the kind of stuff I’d last gotten when I had a rental car during the spring break.
I really felt like being alone and I guess I wasn’t a good host to Mom and Dad although I enjoyed our ride around town later in the afternoon, before we had our “spud ‘n’ salad bar” dinner at Quincy’s.
Dad went to the dollar movie to see Philadelphia, but I didn’t feel like going and read the Times in the living room while Mom watched the little TV in the bedroom.
I did sleep well last night, and by the time I finished breakfast, Mom and Dad were dressed. They went out to get something to eat and returned shortly to say goodbye. I hugged and kissed them with real affection, but now I’m glad to be alone.
The cat, who had been angry at me since I returned from New York and who’d refused to enter my apartment, finally came inside yesterday morning, sleeping in the closet till we returned from graduation.
I’ve got so many decisions to make and so many options to consider and so much to do, I’m tempted to do nothing except be paralyzed.
Welcome to Life After Law School.