A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1992

Wednesday, February 12, 1992

4 PM. I’ve taken the afternoon off, and I feel like I’m playing hooky the way I did sometimes in high school when the first springlike day would occur.

I’m in front of my open window and the sun is shining brightly, higher in the sky than it’s been at this hour for months. The air is mild, and I just showered after doing aerobics.

Last night I read till 10 PM, and I didn’t have much trouble falling asleep, but I woke up at 3:30 AM and couldn’t get back to dreamland.

So I read the Civ Pro hornbook until 5 AM, when I worked out to an exercise tape, and soon it was almost time to get up anyway.

Although I felt tired, the congestion in my head had gone away, and I felt good.

Karin was the only one besides me in the classroom that early, and we decided to go to the library, where we found the book Chadha, about the case that overturned the legislative veto. (On Nexis, I’d discovered a review of the book.)

We quickly scanned the book, and in class, it was like we knew the secret code that Baldwin knew but that nobody else did.

Like me, he loves minutiae, and when he asked what passport Chadha held, Brenda, who’d been called on, said “Indian,” and someone else said “British.”  When I raised my hand and said, “Kenyan,” people laughed.

That puzzled me, but I soon realized people thought I was joking; however, they soon realized I know more about the case than they did.

Karin is too shy to volunteer to talk, but when Baldwin asked what year Chadha’s visa expired, Karin whispered “’72,” and I said “’72” when Baldwin turned to me.

After class, Steve H and Barry expressed astonishment at my knowledge. I know Baldwin thinks I’m pretty sharp, along with some others, like Laura V and E.K., who also do extra reading.

I’m growing fonder of Baldwin and his acerbic comments every week.

Today was the UF student government election, and Lawrence (whose beeper went off during Con Law, at which point Baldwin said, “I guess it’s time to move on to the next case”), Derrick, Paul R and Martin made us all vote for the Gator Party.

Before Contracts, I read both the District Court and appellate court cases in the Reporter so I could talk about the Ballantine Beer case, but Davis finished it up himself.

We then went over some great publishing cases, dealing with “best efforts” and “satisfactory manuscript” clauses.

After class, I showed Davis the Authors Guild Bulletin and their articles on contracts, and I told him that Irving R. Kaufman, who’d authored the last opinion, died last week, and his obituary quoted him correctly predicting that his obituary headline would be about the Rosenberg case.

I also told Davis I’d always pronounced the kosher food company “Rokeach” (like each) and was surprised he called it “Ro-kay-ach” like a Hebrew word.

I went over to the Florida Job Service, where I was interviewed by one of these old Southern WASP ladies who said she was going to “preach” to me.

Because my job prospects as a college instructor are poor, she said I’ve got to look for other jobs.

“Minimum wage?”

“Yes. You know, the economy is in trouble, and we’ve got to count on people like you to do their part and help get things moving again.”

I played along, telling stories I heard from my grandparents about the Depression. I don’t know if she fell for it or not, but she wants me to come in every week and look for jobs on the computer. However, I don’t have to sign in.

But she did have a great success to tell me about: “A man with a master’s degree just like you just got hired as a security guard. He’s never done it before, but he’s got that spirit I want you to have.”

I nodded at this sage advice. Once outside, I thought: Yeah, right. The rich threw a party in the 1980s and now people like me are supposed to pay for it.

Things are so bad in higher education in Florida that because of enrollment caps at the state universities, they have to turn away transfer students from Florida community colleges who were previously promised admission. Representative Norm Ostrau, from my own state House district, has proposed allowing third- and fourth-year classes and bachelor’s degrees at community colleges, but who is going to pay for that?

The old lady at the Job Service decried the decrease in the education budget and told me to look for part-time work as a tutor.

It’s possible they’ll take away my benefits, but if I get this extra 13 weeks, it would be a windfall anyway.

At home I got a phone call from a voice I couldn’t place: “This is Jeff Sarrett.”

My first thought was that Grandma had died. But no, thank God. He didn’t ask how I was and just said that he and his father were going through Grandma’s apartment and he started talking about the photographs I’d taken.

“Photographs?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “let me get to the point. You know that coin thing over the couch? Grandpa promised it to me before he died.”

“Jeff, Grandpa promised it to Marc, as far as I know. So I took it – after I asked Grandma if it was okay. She said it was for Marc.”

“Yeah, well, she’s a little confused about it. I understand Grandpa gave you, Marc, and Jonathan jewelry.”

“I don’t wear jewelry,” I told him. “But look, I just did what I was told to do. You need to call Marc. Grandpa may have forgotten and promised it to both of you. All I know is that it doesn’t belong to me. I was going to bring it to Marc next month.”

He took Marc’s number. When I hung up, my heart was beating fast.

God, Jeff is just like his parents. I had no opinion of him till today, but even if he did think he was promised the coins, he should be embarrassed to call me.

I know, I’m weird and don’t care about material things – whatever I got from my grandparents goes with me wherever I go because it’s in my head.

To me, there is nothing tackier then relatives arguing about a dead person’s possessions. It makes me feel dirty just to hold on to that stupid thing in my closet.

What do I do? Well, it legally belongs to Grandma, so I can ship it to the home in Woodmere. If Marty and Arlene want to talk her into giving it to Jeff, it just shows what kind of slimy people they are.

If I had the nerve, I’d donate the coins to charity in Grandpa Herb’s memory. But I’m not the owner. Still, I hate to have to bother Grandma with this.

I don’t know how Marc feels, but I hope he’s less mercenary than the Sarretts. (I’m sure Mom will be just as embarrassingly possessive and petty as her brother.)

I’ll just wait till I learn more facts. How creepy. If I was concerned with taking stuff out of the apartment, would I have left my own microwave there? (I had to tell Mom that I left it with Aunt Tillie.)

At school I met Harris, who gave me some tips about my Appellate Advocacy brief, and I left at 2 PM to shop, walk around and hang out. I needed a break.

Thursday, February 13, 1992

3 PM. It’s another springlike afternoon. I dozed off early last evening after listening to an audiotape of Thoreau’s Walden, which I’d like to play a few more times before I return to the library. Thoreau is a good antidote to Cousin Jeff’s phone call.

Mike W, who used to collect coins, advised me the probable value of the coins in the frame is minimal.

Although I had a great sleep, I fortuitously awakened at 11:30 PM, so I was able to hear Bill Clinton on Nightline, explaining a letter he wrote to a ROTC colonel.

Somebody had released this letter yesterday after stories that Clinton lied to get out of the draft in 1969. He told the draft board he would join ROTC at the University of Arkansas law school once he returned from his second year in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

But although he hated the Vietnam War (like me, he worked for the Moratorium Committee in October and November 1969), he knew he wanted to enter politics, disliked deceiving the draft board, and the letter he wrote was so articulate, anguished and morally decent, I began to have new respect for Clinton, at least the 23-year-old Clinton.

Ken K, a diehard Bush supporter, volunteered to me that he thought the letter would backfire on the anti-Clinton forces that released it.

Myself, I think it’s too late. At Publix, Clinton’s face is on the tabloids, along with disgusting stories about “kinky sex with hookers” and his supposed out-of-wedlock black son.

Tsongas will win New Hampshire unless there’s such public revulsion over this sleaze that Clinton garners a big sympathy vote.

I think Cuomo obviously wants a big write-in vote, and I hope he gets it. Kerrey and Harkin, both vets, are impugning Clinton’s patriotism, and that disgusts me.

I faced my own 1-A status and draft physical in January 1970, a time when everyone had turned against a war even the hawks knew we couldn’t win, and certainly anyone like me or Clinton who hated Vietnam and worked against the war would have been crazy to go over there at that point.

All my friends and I failed our draft physicals or did what Quayle did and got out by joining the National Guard or Reserves.

Up early, I was at school at 7:15 AM. Property and App Ad went OK today, and so did Civ Pro.

Alice called while I was home for lunch to thank me for the birthday card and her Nexis file; she hadn’t seen two articles, including one in the Jerusalem Post.

Her book wasn’t in the stores the week of her Good Morning America appearance (typical publishing industry efficiency!) and her editor says that if Alice wants to push it, at this point she’s basically on her own.

I should do work now, but I think I’ll goof off instead.

Friday, February 14, 1992

4 PM. The weekend is here. It’s not a long holiday weekend for me because UF doesn’t observe Presidents Day, but my initial brief for App Ad isn’t due till the following Monday.

It would be great if I could get it done early, however, and didn’t have to rush at the last minute the way most students do.

Actually, I’m still ahead in my reading of Con Law and Contracts, so I plan to force myself to work on the brief.

Yesterday I approached Barbara Goldsmith in the cafeteria. She’s the TA in our App Ad section whom I heard was an English professor. I told her about my own experiences, and she explained she been at USL in Lafayette.

Because I know she got good grades, Barbara surprised me by saying she hated law school. But she said she found no evidence of intellectual activity in law school, including among the professors.

She seemed just as surprised with my satisfaction with school.

Barbara adjuncts at Santa Fe Community College and said they’ll probably have new classes in the fall, if not in the summer, and if I could drive to Lake City, the community college there is desperate for part-time teachers.

School went all right today: we had decent classes with Julin and Mashburn.

Our group was supposed to design the Torts hypo for next week, so we met after Property in the lounge.

I came down there after the others, and I felt like somebody who arrives at a party where everyone else has already gotten stoned: I couldn’t understand what the others were chortling about.

Barry, Larry, Steve H and Kenny H had made up this idiotic hypo dealing with cartoon characters from a show-within-a-show on The Simpsons.

They were hysterical with the idea of cartoon characters’ heads being blown off by a defective product. I felt they were acting so immature.

Later, Karin confirmed that she felt the same way (she had to leave early for a conference with her TA), so it’s not just me being an old fuddy-duddy.

I could have written a witty hypo if they wanted to make it funny, but their idea is simply stupid. It surprised me that these guys in law school we’re so childish – especially Barry, as Karin said, because he’s older and married.

I also didn’t like when they made fun of Lorraine because she’s fat and wears dowdy clothes. I told Karin that if they ridicule our classmates behind their backs, I figure they probably do the same to us.

I never liked Barry, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why, and I’m still not sure I can.

But basically I went along with the majority; at least my name isn’t going on the hypo.

Dean Lewis had a notice on the board about a harassment incident in the library yesterday, but it was so oblique you couldn’t tell if he were referring to sexual harassment, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia or just thuggery.

In the student government referendum, 58% of the voters wanted to defund the Gay and Lesbian Student Union because they “disagree with the gay lifestyle.”

The GLSU president said he considered it a victory that 42% of the voters were against the proposal. Welcome to America in 1992.

At a campus as homophobic as UF, there are good reasons for people like me not to be active in GSLU – which is why they probably represent less than one-tenth of gay students here.

Last night I read the AWP Newsletter, which led off with the Harry Crews interview.

In some ways I feel like one of the superheroes whose comics I read as a young teenager: I have a secret identity (as a literary writer) that none of my law school classmates or professors know about.

Saturday, February 15, 1992

8 PM. If this week was springlike, today turned summerlike with the high temperature around 80° under sunny skies.

Up at 6 AM, I exercised early and went to the law library in late morning to play with Lexis and Nexis. I found a couple of law review articles and one new case for my Appellate Advocacy research, but I think I should begin writing the brief soon.

I read ahead in Contracts, Con Law and Torts, so now I’m prepared until a week from Tuesday; next weekend I’ll need to devote to my brief unless I can force myself to do work on it before then.

While the cases I read today were interesting, I can’t read any more law tonight. I didn’t even get to today’s Times yet.

Sat Darshan called with news of a big change in her life. Two weeks ago, eleven years to the day that Bayerische Landesbank hired her, they summarily fired her.

Her assistant had nowhere to go to but Sat Darshan’s job, and the woman was looking to get her into trouble with the supervisor, who had never liked Sat Darshan.

The assistant discovered an error or problem – Sat Darshan was dealing with an unapproved vendor – and she was fired before she knew what was going on.

For days she was in shock even though she felt “liberated” as she left the office for good. They gave her severance pay till the end of March and then she plans to collect unemployment.

Ellen told Sat Darshan that she must have unconsciously sabotaged herself, that ordinarily she’d have been more careful, but part of her wanted to get out of the job.

I marvel that financial security alone kept Sat Darshan employed there for over a decade.

She also told me that she may be getting married, to Ravinder Singh, a 35-year-old cab driver who arrived from the Punjab several years ago.

She met him last year at the Sikh gurdwara but didn’t keep up with him because she thought he was interested in a marriage only so he could get his green card and stay in the U.S.

He did marry an American woman, but it ended after a couple of months because the woman supposedly wanted him to give her a cash settlement for making him a legal alien.

Before she got fired, Sat Darshan saw Ravinder again, and they’ve talked a lot and she thinks she’s gotten beyond “that fake-polite Indian reserve” and now knows the real person.

I didn’t have the heart to warn her that she should wait till she’s certain because she’s so vulnerable now, following the loss of her job.

We all know Sat Darshan’s history and how she hates being unattached, moving almost seamlessly from Helmut to Josh to Simon to Anthony/Krishna and marriage. She always hated being alone, and now her life is on shaky ground.

She’s considered moving to Woodlawn in the Bronx, where some of her friends live, but Sat Darshan doesn’t expect to return to the corporate world because of the discrimination she knows a Sikh will encounter.

She’s also considering moving to Phoenix, where she has American Sikh friends and where they’re nicely integrated with Punjabi Sikhs. Ravinder said he would consider going out there to look around. They would both like to go to grad school, possibly in education.

To me, leaving New York City makes sense for her, and Phoenix sounds like a change that would do Sat Darshan good.

First of all, she could get by there with $300 a week unemployment, which wouldn’t go far in New York. Her friends even found her a new apartment for $350 a month. (The housing market in Arizona crashed years ago.)

Although Sat Darshan would prefer not to move until the kids come home from India in May, she’d be willing to consider going before that.

As she was getting off the phone, I asked if she’d spoken to Libby and Grant. When she said she would soon, I told her I was worried about them in all the terrible rainstorms, floods and mudslides in Los Angeles.

Sat Darshan didn’t realize that Libby and Grant live right in the San Fernando Valley, where most of the problems are.

I wonder if Dad had any problems in L.A. I don’t even know if he’s home yet.

Sunday, February 16, 1992

4 PM. This afternoon Harry Crews was signing his new novel at Omni Books, but when I saw him through the store window, I decided that if I went in, I’d only feel like an asshole, the way I did with Padgett Powell – plus I’d have to spend $20 for the book. Crews looks like a Hells Angel with his Mohawk haircut, sleeveless T-shirt and tattoos.

I can’t think of a writer more unlike me, although I do remember admiring his “Why I Live Where I Live” essay about Gainesville years ago in Esquire.

At the UF library, I got out Solicitor General Freed’s book for some Con Law background, and I copied the article from the New York Times of December 24, 1980 that mentioned my giving $10 to the Neediest Cases Fund in honor of my grandparents, who were then still all alive. (A year later, they wouldn’t be.)

I watched two videos I borrowed from the public library: Bill Moyers interviewing Meese and Bork, and a documentary on the ruthless architect of 20th-century New York City, Teresa’s idol Robert Moses.

Tuesday, February 18, 1992

8 PM. Tonight I wish I had cable TV so I could watch the New Hampshire primary returns.

Today was a long day because I attended two C10 tutorials in addition to my three classes. I’m tired and headachy now.

Yesterday afternoon I was surprised that Karin wasn’t in Torts. Today she told me she was at the police station after getting satanic death threats from her crazy ex-roommate.

College officials acted speedily, Karin said, after she found photos of herself scribbled on with all kinds of satanic symbols and death threats.

After taking a statement from her, within an hour they gotten a confession out of her ex-roommate, who will probably be expelled.

Today Karin went to the state attorney’s office because she may press criminal charges.

UF  Vice President Art Sandeen personally escorted Karin home. The school must be nervous about their own liability for putting Karin in housing with a nutjob and for a long time refusing to do anything about it.

She seems calm, but that’s Karin’s manner. It must be a horrible experience for her, and to put it in Torts terms, the university probably breached their duty to follow a certain standard of care in this case.

Last night Tom called to read me a letter from Allan Gurganus, to whom he’d sent a copy of his recently published piece, “In the Restrooms of Europe.”

Gurganus, who wrote the bestselling Oldest Confederate Widow, was apparently turned on by the cheesy bathroom sexual encounters Tom bleakly described.

It’s hard for me to imagine anyone taking the story as titillating, but then I find anonymous bathroom sex disgusting.

“Stay hard,” Gurganus ended his letter, apparently taking Tom to be gay and a kindred spirit.

It was good to speak with Tom although I couldn’t place the literary writers – mostly new Gordon Lish protégés – he kept mentioning.

I’m out of the literary loop, as weeks of the New York Times Book Review remain unread in a pile on my floor.

Mom called to read me a wonderful letter from Robin Hemley, belatedly thanking me for sending Narcissism and Me.

While I’ve gained a lot from law school, I’ve lost whatever slender connections I once had with the world of fiction writers and poets.

A few hours ago, Pete phoned me after getting back from Fort Lauderdale. He gave me a brief rundown on his trip to Asia.

He found Thailand touristy, with Thai food inferior to what we eat here, but he liked the cuisine and the friendly ethnic Chinese of Malaysia.

Singapore, Pete said, is an expensive police state – chewing gum was banned while he was there – with glistening surfaces; it reminded him of Zamyatin’s We.

Going from Hong Kong to Canton was like going from the year 2000 to the year 1940, but he had good meals in the PRC.

Macao’s food was an exotic combination of various Portuguese lands from Brazil to Mozambique mixed with Chinese cooking.

The weather was steamy everywhere he went.

I admire Pete for being a real traveler, one of the few I know.

My own next trip will be to Fort Lauderdale. I’ve got till tonight to get a $161 flight from and to Orlando for spring break.

I’ll drive there and keep my car in long-term airport parking. It would be a lot cheaper and easier just to stay here in Gainesville, but I need a change of scene.

The harassment episode Dean Lewis obliquely alluded to, by the way, was of a lesbian law student by three males. That’s horrible, but at least the law school takes it seriously.