A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1996

Tuesday, August 20, 1996

8:30 PM. I’m planning on taking a sick day tomorrow. Originally I was merely going to take off the afternoon, but now I think I won’t go in at all.

In the winter, staying home the afternoon before my first Nova evening class just made me more nervous, because I didn’t have the distractions of work. However, if I don’t go in at all tomorrow, maybe I can sleep late and accomplish more than just preparing for class.

Last night I fell asleep after 10 PM and was up around 6 AM. I exercised at 8 AM, an hour after I’d eaten, and when I arrived at school, the parking lot was full and I got the last space in the street. When I returned after lunch, I wasn’t so lucky and I had to park at one of the faraway little lots by Lake Alice.

As grumpy as I am about having the students back, it does make things more interesting. I said hi to Barbara, and Laura took Holly and Jill around after they’d completed their paperwork.

I even have a Monday appointment with this student who wants to discuss applying for the Florida Bar Fellowship for next year and said he has questions about the program.

It’s also not so bad to have the undergrads and grad students coming back to town. I went shopping at Albertsons this evening, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a swarm of good-looking young guys at the supermarket.

This morning I finished that bullshit for the introduction to our presentation on the Center for Genome Studies. Tucker thought it was “brilliant,” but in the afternoon I learned that Joann didn’t like the approach I took and wants me to revise it in a whole new direction.

I don’t mind, but as I told Jon, I have to figure out what tack to take with the Dean. We spent a lot of today figuring out how we can use the presentation software to create a slide show; apparently the Media Library has the screen device we need to project on an overhead.

Becky was in the office with Liz again today. Liz had her first Poverty Law class, but I didn’t hear how it went.

By the end of the day, I had moved all my books and other stuff into the new office.

Tomorrow Steve’s boys should move my computer in even if I’m not there. I’m just waiting to get a phone connection and for them to move my filing cabinet to another side of the room. It’s the smallest office in our complex, but I’m so used to small spaces that I actually feel more comfortable in them.

Joann finally found out that, like us, WPBT also hasn’t heard from the South Florida Water Management District regarding my instructional materials on Common Ground. She’s got a call in to find out if we can get the TV station’s feedback and also to see when they are sending our money.

Although I dread hearing what an unsatisfactory job I did, I’ll be happy to get a sense of direction on how to proceed with revising the materials.

Christy, back from Atlanta, sent an e-mail asking if I knew the LSU creative writing people, as she’d like to get a job in Baton Rouge or New Orleans when she returns from Paris next spring. Good luck to her.

I sent George an item from the Fort Worth paper which unnerved him because it said that George magazine sued him over his George Jr. website. Of course that was just some careless journalist’s misreading of a wire story.

A Columbus attorney, George Walker, Jr. (another George Jr.!) has joined Steve Hill on George Myers’ behalf.

Rochelle gave me the American Book Review address in Illinois to send my completed review to, but she annoyed me when she said that living in Miami can’t be much better than living in Gainesville.

“You New Yorkers are all so provincial,” I wrote her back. “Miami’s one of the greatest cities on the planet – almost as good as L.A.” I can only imagine what Rochelle thinks of Los Angeles.

While I dearly love my hometown, I do hate how smug lifelong New Yorkers can be. It’s just that people like Rochelle are willfully ignorant.

To me, nearly every big city in the U.S. seems to be a great place to me – whether it’s Miami, D.C., L.A., Orlando, Tampa, Baltimore, etc. And although I haven’t yet been to San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston or Pittsburgh, I imagine they’re all quite wonderful in their own ways.

I called the Nova textbook coordinator in response to her message to tell her that the University of California Press has reprinted Bellah’s Habits of the Heart. She asked if I could find their address and phone and fax numbers. I don’t know why she couldn’t do it herself, but I did it and called her back.

Late this afternoon, when I got to parking lot by Lake Alice, I noticed a Chinese woman about my age asking strangers for directions. It turned out that she was the mother of a UF freshman who’d just moved in at College Park, where I used to live. I couldn’t let her walk all that way by herself, so I drove her there.

So once I was on University Avenue anyway, I took the car to the service station’s full-service pump and had the oil, water and transmission fluid checked. Then I got on I-75 for the one exit home to Archer Road.

My car has a very hard time picking up speed, and I can’t comfortably get it up past 67 mph, but I’ll probably go on U.S. 441 once I get out of Alachua County. At least now I’ve got some idea of the I-75 traffic at around 5 PM, the time I plan to leave tomorrow.

Mom called this evening to tell me she got six different letters from Albuquerque, all in the same handwriting, asking for membership cards in the Committee for Nuclear War.

Wednesday, August 21, 1996

3 PM. As expected, I’ve got sweaty palms and soles, and I’m queasy.

I also woke up with a touch of stiffness in my neck, the first time I had that symptom since June, and it means I’m tensing my muscles in my sleep. I also was kind of dizzy this morning.

Obviously, these are all symptoms of anxiety similar to the ones I had six months ago before my first Business Communication class.

Tonight is scary because it’s a new experience. I’m driving to Ocala to a building I have never been in. On the other hand, I know from experience that my classes usually like me, and after all, I’ve taught Argumentative Writing once before.

For my students, this will be their first Nova class, and some of them will likely be feeling some anxiety, maybe even wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. But I figure that by the time they start writing their diagnostic essays, I can relax – and hopefully they can, too.

While I can spend time imagining all the disasters that could happen tonight, I know I will handle anything that happens.

I’m prepared in that I’ve reread the horrible Rottenberg textbook and have had my syllabus and handouts ready for days – just as I printed up the syllabus for the Saturday class last evening. So I’ll be okay.

Last night I listened to pop music on the station Terence introduced me to, and I got to sleep around 11 PM. This morning I tried to relax, so I read the Times in bed till 10:30 AM and then exercised.

The mailbox contained an empty manila envelope with a James Dean stamp, so I knew I had an acceptance for “The Five Stages of Eating at Cuban-Chinese Restaurants.”

It will appear in the first issue of Java Snob Review, a new literary magazine due out this fall from Bellevue, Michigan. Now all I have to worry about is that the story doesn’t get accepted elsewhere – especially if it’s at a “better” place.

Because several of the stories that were supposed to come out – in Cough, Oyez Review and PlopLop – never seem to have appeared, I feel wary about any new acceptances.

I know that even when and if they’re published, hardly anyone will see these stories, but I think “Five Stages” is good work – or at least it’s the kind of story I wrote because it’s something I’d like to read myself but can’t find anywhere.

And each new acceptance gives me confidence in my writing ability, just as it did back in the mid-1970s when I was starting out.

I guess I’m going to be too nervous to accomplish much between now and when I leave for Ocala.


10:30 PM. I’ve been home an hour and I’m still a little wired from teaching. I did another half-hour of exercise before showering and dressing this afternoon, so I can skip tomorrow’s workout in case I’m wrecked from not sleeping.

Naturally, the Nova class went pretty well. I left here at 5 PM and it took nearly an hour to get to the school though of course, I was delayed because I had trouble finding it.

Now I realize that my classroom is a storefront right on Pine Avenue (U.S. 441) across from Wendy’s and Domino’s Pizza. It was hard to find a parking space because of the Webster College evening classes.

I learned that this is the first Nova cluster they’ve ever had in Ocala. Two years ago, when I was supposed to teach this course, it got canceled because not enough people had registered. There are actually students in my class who signed up for it in 1994 and have been waiting for two years until Nova had enough people to form the cluster.

Roseanne, the coordinator, works at Webster College and seems very nice. I clued her in as to why the Nova people are so disorganized.

There are about 18 in the class, and it seems a nice mixture of people, many of whom know each other from Webster College. It’s mostly people in their thirties and forties, and I was glad to see several black women in the class.

I had them all introduce themselves first. Then, after introducing myself, I told them about Nova and the B.P.M. program, and finally we got into the outline of the course and my plans to modify the text.

All of them were as dissatisfied with the text as I am. Going over the first chapter was a bit boring, but I hope not too bad.

After a 7:30 PM break, I had them write brief essays – some only wrote a couple of paragraphs – and the last guy, who works for the eccentric Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus equipment, finished at 8:45 PM.

I drove back the way I came, getting on I-75 at U.S. 27 in Ocala. The car seemed to ride better without the air conditioner on – and luckily, it smelled nice outside, especially around Paynes Prairie.

But because of the road construction, the ride wasn’t pleasant: I had to maneuver in the dark between those orange-and-white striped traffic barrels, and for a while there was just one lane. I’ve got to figure it’s a forty-mile, 45-minute ride.

But when I saw the sign for the first Gainesville exit, I thought, “Home arrelly!” – what I used to shout when I was a kid of two or three when I recognized the car coming to a familiar landmark near our house on East 54th Street and Tilden Avenue in Brooklyn.

Saturday, August 24, 1996

7 PM. My Nova class in The Individual and Society this afternoon went well.

Luckily I received my contracts and other items in the mail before I left the house, because otherwise I would have gone to Webster College, which has closed here in Gainesville.

Instead, Nova classes are meeting at another for-profit school, City College. Like Webster College, it’s also on Third Avenue, but off SW 24th Avenue, much closer to where I live.

The students were glad to see me, I think, because they know I’m easy and not too boring. We had some interesting discussions on communitarianism and the Introduction to Habits of the Heart.

I think they liked Metropolitan Avenue, which I was able to show once I finally found a TV and VCR. It’s a good portrait of the Williamsburg neighborhood trying to fight off decay, blight and neglect in the 1970s, and I always enjoy seeing the scenes of meetings where I can spot Teresa’s parents and grandmother.

The City College folks were having a barbecue and picnic outside, and they invited us to join in during our break. I let the class go at 4:30 PM and told them I’d see them in two weeks.

Next weekend not only will I be off from teaching, but Monday will be a holiday at UF. That’s also the deadline for doing the review of Shade for American Book Review.

My sinuses still bother me, but I don’t know what to do except keeping taking decongestants.

Last night I read the new Poets & Writers, including an article on FC2, the successor to the Fiction Collective.

The article mentioned the first series of books by Spielberg, Baumbach and B.H. Friedman in 1974. I learned that back then, Ron Sukenick was unemployed and so broke that the other members had to lend him the money to publish 98.6.

It’s funny, but it hardly seems like a whole generation has gone by since I worked for the Collective. I did enjoy the three or four years I worked in their offices, first at the Brooklyn College downtown campus – I wonder who owns that Schermerhorn Street building today – and then in Boylan Hall.

Working with Peggy Humphreys and then Gloria Rohmann was a pleasure, even if Baumbach was a pain. I learned a great deal by reading manuscripts, recording and tallying the members’ votes, and digging through their files.

I wonder if any of my old correspondence with author/members is kept at the FC2 locations in Normal or Boulder.

This morning I learned from an article in the Columbus Dispatch that George filed suit in federal court in Cleveland for a declaratory judgement against Hatchette Filipacchi Magazines and John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Random Ventures company. So negotiations must have failed. I bet the magazine’s lawyer, Lawrence Shire, is quite surprised.

Later, George told me he’d snail-mail me a copy of the complaint.

Someone wrote him that they saw George Magazine’s threatening lawyer letter in the Manhattan Spirit and George wanted to know what kind of publication that was. I explained to him that it was a well-known free weekly and a good one. (Of course, since I won their 1988 short story contest, I’m prejudiced.)

Mark Bernstein e-mailed: “I wonder if you had any concept of the enormous impact your urging me to get connected had? I now use e-mail a great deal and it has had a very major role in my professional activities. Amazingly enough, no one before you had ever urged me to do it.”

Mark leaves for Vienna in one month, and he invited me to visit.

After I returned home from teaching this afternoon, I remembered about Joe Jackson’s housewarming party. But I’d already put my lenses in the enzymatic cleaner, so I’m not sure I’ll go. I’m awfully tired.

I wrote Miriam and sent her a copy of I Survived Caracas Traffic because I didn’t want to bother Martin.

I haven’t heard from Patrick in a long time, and I’m worried that his wife has gotten sicker. I need to contact him.

Thursday, August 29, 1996

4 PM. Yesterday’s Nova class went as well as I could have hoped. I left when I finished dinner at 5:10 PM, got off I-75 at Micanopy to avoid the construction and took U.S. 441 the rest of the way.

Oddly, just south of the Marion County line, in the middle of nowheresville, I noticed a “bar and lounge” called Club Diversity with an upside down pink triangle out front.

Al igual las cucarachas entran pero no pueden salir un roach motel, the gay guys who go in there probably don’t come out (no pun intended).

Probably I’m just paranoid about the rural South – but I always hear the banjo strumming of the Deliverance theme when I travel on isolated country roads.

It took me 50 minutes to get to Webster College, and I arrived just at the 6 PM start of the class. I lost one student from last week but picked up another one so I won’t have any fewer papers to grade.

To start, I had everyone wear the “Hello, I’m            ____” name tags (I gave them the tags and magic markers) so I could get to know their names.

I went over their assignment and then I talked about the writing process and the chapter on how to write an argumentative paper. Next week, of course, I’ll have lots of papers to grade but hey, that’s my job.

After a break at 7:30 PM, I read aloud Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” No one knew the essay, and my “translating” it into modern English as I went along seemed to keep them interested. There was a fairly lively discussion afterwards.

Swift’s satire is truly relevant to today’s Americans with our demonization of the poor and our neglect (and with the new welfare bill, our mistreatment) of poor children in particular.

I can sense that not all my students are totally happy with me – but I’m doing the best I can and I can’t please everybody.

My car stalled out at a light on U.S. 441 just outside Ocala, but it started up immediately and I was able to get home in an hour without incident. While I’m not crazy about driving home in the dark, I have to do it only six more times.

The good thing about these eight-week Nova classes is that the course is already, after only eight days, 25% over.

Back home, I turned on PBS and watched the convention coverage: a speech by Gore, the nominating speech for Clinton, and then I sort of enjoyed the roll call of the states as the spokesperson for each delegation engaged in a long litany of Clinton administration accomplishments, home-state virtues, and plugs for local politicians.

I couldn’t get to sleep anyway, so at least there was something interesting on TV.

When I did sleep – from 1 AM to 6 AM – I slept heartily, but I’m pretty tired right now. Still, I managed to get to my office by 8:45 AM (parking is more plentiful on Thursday), and I even exercised before I left home.

Nobody seemed to notice my absence yesterday afternoon, so I probably will skip asking for sick leave even though I really should. Laura introduced me to the new student aides (no, the cute guy wasn’t one of them).

On e-mail, Ronna told me she took Chelsea into Manhattan to work with her. The baby was well-behaved on the train ride, and at the Hadassah office, she’s got scores of Jewish “aunts” to coo over her.

George said that his lawyers have given him gag orders not to talk to the press, for fear that the other side will say he’s trying to get publicity for himself.

Rick Peabody sent a mass e-mailing to all his friends; his new address is on MCI’s service.

Walking on campus, I crossed paths with Dean Matasar and cheerfully told him I enjoyed his talk and proposals.

“This can be a fun place,” I said, “if you have the right attitude.”

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s all attitude.”

I went with Tucker to the faculty lounge at 11:30 AM for that continuation of the discussion on teaching that they had in the spring. Intimidated by faculty who came in late, I gave up my seat in the crowded room and sat on the floor.

It was fascinating to listen to the discussion, led by Chris Slobogin. Hearing Walter Weyrauch, Charles Pouncy, Nancy Dowd, Ken Nunn, Jeff Davis, Sharon Rush, Michelle Jacobs and other law professors talk about students, their own teaching, and the problems they have was really interesting. They clearly do not feel like the Olympian gods first-year students take them for.

Michelle mentioned that she felt she had to stop the practice of first-year students hissing at comments they disapproved of.

That reminded me of the day in Criminal Law when I was hissed at when I said that in Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court’s failure to find anything wrong with a cop shooting a scared (and innocent!) black 15-year-old who fled from them was racist and disgusting. I remember sticking to my guns but feeling shaken by my classmates’ hisses.

The only one that backed me up even a little was Angela, a blonde woman with a Southern accent. None of the black students said anything, even in a class with a black professor. It was unnerving for me.

Now it seems so obvious: Would I let any of my students hiss at something another student said in class? Of course not; it’s horribly rude. Yet back then I took it as an example of law school culture that I could do nothing about, something I had to adjust to – as if I were a student in the cruelty culture of VMI or The Citadel.

The Human Rights Council newsletter came out, and there were no candidates’ responses to questionnaires – just brief summaries of their stands in columns by Craig and Abby.

The only candidates our Human Rights Action PAC endorsed in Tuesday’s primary were Margaret Eppes for the county commission, and John Tileston, who’s repudiated his Johns Committee investigative work, for sheriff.

I need to lie down for a while now.