A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1992

Wednesday, December 2, 1992

4:30 PM. Seigel’s exam has left me in a stupor. Yet as badly as I may have done, I still think I got at least a C, and I know there’s nothing more I could have done to prepare for it. So when I get my grade, at least I’ll know it represents the best I could have done under the circumstances.

I slept fine and went off to school in the pouring rain this morning. Bob, Dan R, Lee and I joked before we went to our classroom to get the exam, and then once Seigel had given out instructions and distributed it, we raced home or went to the classroom to write it in school.

At first I thought I’d have plenty of time, but as the hours went on, I began to get a bit frantic. As usual, there was simply too much to handle, and I blanked out on parts of the test and wasted time on other parts.

A couple of times I discovered something I knew was a hidden issue few people would spot, but that was very rare.

Arriving back at school at 2:45 PM, I returned my exam to Danny, Seigel’s secretary, along with a group of classmates – law review types like Jason, Duane and David A, who kept saying how they had to frantically whittle down 6 or 7 pages into the maximum of 5 pages.

I could barely eke out 5 pages, so I know I must have missed a lot of issues.

Because I needed to decompress after the test, I stood around talking with Judy, Lorraine and Doug G. Although we’ve learned not to discuss the specifics of the test, we talked about it in general and compared notes on our other finals.

Lorraine still believes that grades are a crapshoot, and she may be right. Still, I knew that I did well on all four final exams on which I got an A.

The Evidence final, in contrast, leaves me with the feelings I had after tests in which I got a C+ – but I’d be willing to settle for a C+ in Evidence.

If other people lowered the curve, I might go as high as a B, but that would be a gift. Enough.

I threw the exam question into the nearest garbage pail and erased the files with my answer from both hard and floppy disks at home.

After a light workout to relieve the stress, I finally ate my lunch vegetables – four hours later than usual. (I did eat a cheese sandwich and a sweet potato while doing the exam.)

I’ll open the New York Times and veg out with TV or radio for the rest of the day. Judy said she was going to study, but I can’t imagine doing that.

Well, two finals down, two to go. I’ll make up a schedule for studying the remaining courses, but I have more time than just about anyone I know, especially the people who didn’t go to summer school and have to take Con Law 2 and Property 2.

Nearly everyone else in my class took Corporations, which has lots of material to go over.

My back, which wasn’t in such great shape when I woke up, is even worse now because of the time I spent at the computer.

By the time I had to return my paper, it had turned sunny, but it’s still pretty cool out.

I took the phone off the hook all day, and the only interruption I had was the exterminator, who checked for termites. (Most of them were probably hiding in my final exam.)

Why do they make law school exams so stressful? Is it necessary? Or is it a lot like the 30-hour shifts medical schools force first-year residents into: some vestige of a macho past, a kind of sink-or-swim ritual?

In any case, I’ve just fallen victim to the mentality of the herd. Especially by third semester, I should be over this silly feeling that I’ve got to do well in every class.

Hey, if I think I did my best, I should give myself a 4.0 index and not worry about what letter a mere law professor assigns to 2184 (my exam number).

Getting away from my fellow students, though, shifts the responsibility for my own feelings squarely on my shoulders.

I noticed that very few guys in my class shaved today. Do they really not have time? I shaved, as usual, under and around my beard.

I still feel hyper. Well, I’ll come down eventually . . .

Thursday, December 3, 1992

9 PM. Last evening I read the Times and also a book I’d gotten from the library on landmark Bill of Rights cases. Aimed at a high school audience, it nevertheless was a decent summary.

Unable to sleep, I watched a PBS program on nutrition and health till 1 AM. I thought of the Evidence exam only once, thank God.

Up at 7 AM, I went out in the bitter chill to get the newspaper from the lockbox at school.

After exercising, I spoke to Alice for half an hour.

Thanksgiving at her mother’s apartment in Brooklyn was okay, she said, because she and Peter brought along the board game Careers (which they play all the time) to keep Alice’s mother busy so she wouldn’t get into her emotional talks about family life.

Alice has been to three doctors recently, but none we can find a cause for the severe weakness she has in one leg. She’s given up racquetball and says she thinks the doctors are missing something.

Alice discovered that one of her P.S. 197 sixth-grade students from the mid-’70s is Donna Minkowitz, a lesbian writer often featured in the Voice, so she left a message on the woman’s answering machine.

“She was a bright girl,” Alice said, “one of the few students who liked me.”

And Alice is moving – perhaps. After so many false starts, I’m inclined to be skeptical. She signed the contract for a two-bedroom co-op near Gramercy Park, on Third and 17th, but has to get a mortgage and approval from the co-op board, who sound like real snobs.

Alice asked if I could provide her with one of the eight letters of recommendation that she needs. I’ll do it, but I need to find decent stationery.

I went through my notes from Baldwin’s class and took out the cites to cases he mentioned, looking some up in the library (and right now downloading some from Lexis to my hard disk).

Other than that, I didn’t really study. I did laundry and went to the public library, where I returned books and borrowed a new book by Cardozo Law Professor Edward de Grazia, Girls Lean Back Everywhere, about obscenity trials from James Joyce to 2 Live Crew and Mapplethorpe.

Even if traditional studying is more conducive to a better grade – and I’m not sure that’s true with teachers like Baldwin (or Collier) – I do learn more by following my interests.

Tom sent some new publications and writes that Crad, once he sells out his recent books, plans to leave Toronto and live off his inheritance.

Tom thinks Crad should leave behind the adolescent blather he’s been publishing and write more literary material. But Tom doubts Crad will do that.

Because I was so obviously cool to Crad, he no longer writes back to me. I just wish he would – well, I don’t know how to put it . . . be a different sort of person?

In the end, I just couldn’t take Crad’s bile, his bigotry, his whining and his adolescent need to shock.

There was a time when I thought he’d be extremely successful because he did write some wonderful stories early on.

But in recent years, Crad hasn’t produced much I’ve admired. Instead of growing, he seemed to be regressing and getting less sophisticated as he got older.

I still suspect Crad may be an alcoholic, which might account for some of his behavior.

Tom will be getting paid 5,780 DM a month (tax-free) in Stuttgart next year, and he hopes to get his sabbatical pay from NOCCA as well. He’s already begun preparing the courses he’ll teach in Germany.

Tom ended his letter: “Clinton is in, thank God, but this world isn’t getting any saner – here or abroad.”

I’ll say. The UN Security Council vote tonight authorized the U.S. to send troops to Somalia to get desperately-needed aid past the warlords to the starving people.

Friday, December 4, 1992

9 PM. This was an easy week, of course. Despite the pressure of the Evidence final, I didn’t feel under any real tension.

Actually, my four finals are spread out among four weeks since the make-up for Baldwin’s final is a week from Monday.

Up at 7 AM (notice how I’m pushing the envelope of sleep past 6 AM?) after dreaming about teaching a high school class that I hadn’t properly prepared for, I donned my heavy jacket and gloves and warmed up the car so I could get my New York Times.

Larry, who’d come to work at the library, was amazed I’d get up so early just to get a newspaper. But I also went to Publix.

I lay in bed reading and listening to the news until 10 AM, when I exercised for half an hour, showered, and went off to Santa Fe. By then, it had gotten warmer.

I hung out in the unit before class. When I told my fellow teachers I had a hard time teaching James Baldwin’s essay, Diana said she did, too, and that made me feel better.

After I mentioned my appointment to the grants panel, Fred invited me to his New Year’s Eve party. (Coincidence?) Of course, I’ll be in Fort Lauderdale then.

Still, I will miss some of the nice people I’ve met at Santa Fe.

My English 101 students are a fairly bright bunch for a community college class, but their vocabulary is pathetic; I’ve been taking for granted that they know the words I use, yet probably every class I say some word whose meaning they’re unfamiliar with.

Only Carlos, the Puerto Rican kid, asks me to explain words he’s never heard – and despite his Spanish language background, he’s got one of the better vocabularies.

(Well, actually it’s because of that background that he can figure out the meaning of Latinate words by himself.)

Today I graded their CLAST grammar tests; I’ll hand the Scantron sheets into the department to be scored.

In the mail, I got the page proofs from Rick and Lucinda.

“Twelve Step Barbie” is on pages 49-55 of the book. It’s great to see the story in the jazzy typeface and page layout St. Martin’s is using for Mondo Barbie.

So far I’ve found only one typo, but I’ll reread it a couple of times before returning it.

Excited, I wanted to go to school to xerox some copies, though first I stopped at the parallel bars by Lake Alice to do a set of dips.

In the library, I ended up chatting for half an hour with Marsha and Jack. From them, I heard about Dean Lewis’s Evidence final, which was half multiple choice and half essays that were mostly on policy.

I think I’d have been a lot better off taking Lewis. Marsha said though she liked Seigel for Criminal Law, he made that subject seem difficult, too.

Baldwin scheduled a review session for 5 PM on Wednesday, which is a good time for me.

Anyway, I got home to catch most of the news about the troops heading for Somalia.

When I told my students we’d be missing the President’s TV address at 12:30 PM, I heard some mutter – after I explained what it was about and which President was speaking – “This is none of our business.”

It seems to be the conservatives who are most opposed. Now that communism is no longer a threat, a lot of right-wingers have returned to isolationism.

I have mixed feelings about Somalia. I like the fact that we’re intervening to save some starving black people. This isn’t Panama or Granada – and it’s not mostly because of oil, as in Kuwait.

But I can’t figure out how this will end, how we’ll extract ourselves. And if we’re in Somalia, shouldn’t we also be in Bosnia?

Monday, December 7, 1992

7 PM. Last evening and this morning, I read First Amendment sections of the Emanuel’s Con Law study guide I found earlier in the term.

Later, after coming home from SFCC and eating lunch, I reread oil and gas cases in our Natural Resources text, getting through about half the ones we covered; I also read some note cases I printed out from Lexis.

While I don’t feel pressured, I know that after tomorrow, I won’t have much time to study before Friday’s final.

Still, Natural Resources is a two-credit course, and I should pay more attention to Political and Civil Rights.

Up at 7 AM, I went to school to get the Times and then bought $35 worth of groceries, mostly frozen dinners and vegetables, at Albertsons.

After exercising, I showered and dressed and went off to teach. As usual, I chatted with Diana and Fred before class.

I gave my students handouts and tips for the final, and five students took the CLAST test they’d missed on Wednesday.

This Wednesday is our final class and I’ll go over the grammar test, answer questions and give them a last-minute send-off for Thursday’s departmental exam.

The two older married sisters in the class, Mary and Bonnie, are taking the exam right now because they can’t get sitters on Thursday.

It was sunny today and got past 70°, so I had the pleasure of going without a jacket – and the same pleasure I got on Friday seeing this cute guy at the pool when I went to see if I had mail. Too bad that for the second time I didn’t have my contacts in as I passed him; he’s got a tight chest, tiny waist and supple muscles.

Today I read in the Times about an episode of Seinfeld, an NBC comedy I’ve never seen (and can’t get here without cable) in which the four main characters bet who could go the longest without masturbating.

The fun of delaying it either deliberately or just because you’re preoccupied is that you have better, bigger, longer orgasms.

On Saturday morning, for example, I could feel my testicles humming for hours beforehand (no pun intended).

As I get older, I find I have far fewer orgasms, but they’re more intense than the ones I had in my twenties when I rarely went without masturbating every other day whether I was having sex with someone or not.

Will I ever again have sex with anybody I don’t see in the mirror when I shave?

On the other hand, I’ve avoided getting infected with HIV, and I’ve been spared the numbing grief of seeing people I love die after they waste away.

Diana says she doesn’t believe any kind of sex is totally safe, including wet kisses.

A lot of gay men have apparently gone back to “unsafe” sex because of all the other losses they’d suffered and survivors’ guilt.

Joe Antonelli was profiled in the Alligator today. He said that among all his friends, he’s the only gay man in his fifties who was active in the post-Stonewall ’70s gay scene who is still alive and healthy.

Although I haven’t been part of that world, about fifteen or twenty guys I knew have died of AIDS. But I know people who’ve lost over a hundred friends to AIDS.

Sex and death. In today’s Times, one critic said that’s why Coppola’s Dracula is a surprise movie smash; like Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds in 1939, it struck a nerve in the American psyche because of the HIV epidemic.

At the law school, McCulloch posted the post-negotiation memo grades, and I discovered I got an A.

So far 25% of my Family Law grade is A and 45% is a B+. If I get an A on the final, I’ll get an A in the course, but I don’t expect that.

Friday, December 11, 1992

3 PM. I slept okay last night once I calmed down. My thumb is very sore. It hurts when I touch it even lightly in the wrong place (on either side), and everything seems more difficult, including tying my shoelaces and just holding a book in my left hand.

However, I’m lucky it’s my left thumb I hurt. At least I was able to write out my inadequate answer to Julin’s final.

I’ve just reread my journal entry for July 15, and I could simply repeat it verbatim, as my experiences with this final were the same as the ones I had on the Julin’s Property 2 exam: the time pressure preventing me from consulting anything but the Florida Producers 88 lease we needed to answer one question; the frustration of being unable to carry out my initial organizational scheme; the inability to show what learning I really had; and the incredible complexity of the first and longest question.

Afterwards I couldn’t stop chatting with Larry and Todd and others. Finally, I went to sell back my text for $15 and came home for lunch.

The time writing exams goes quickly, so you don’t realize how tense you are until afterwards. There is no way I could be taking Baldwin’s final with the rest of my class at this hour.

(I think Kevin C is taking it now; he must have postponed Natural Resources because he wasn’t there this morning.)

Before the test, Kathy said that if she gets good grades this term, it will prove that studying doesn’t matter because she worked much less than she did last year.

I may have over-studied, but I’m still glad, for my own sake, that I learned all I could.

I thought I’d be reading Political and Civil Rights this afternoon, but I can’t face it. I could barely get through the business section of today’s paper, and even a very light workout seemed exhausting.

It’s a chilly, blustery day – although I hear there’s a severe winter storm in the Northeast.

Well, three finals down and one to go.

Monday is going to be the most hectic day of the semester. I’ve got the pressure of the exam plus the headache of holistic grading at SFCC immediately afterwards. There’ll be no time to unwind after the test the way I’m doing now.

I guess I’m just as happy not to be going up to New York this year. Today is cold enough for me. My skin gets so dry here that I constantly have to apply lotion, and my throat dries up from the heat.

I haven’t even read over all of my notes for Baldwin’s class yet, but I don’t think I can do myself any good if I read it over more than twice.

Baldwin’s exam is closed-book, and I like that; he’s the only professor I’ve had at UF who gives closed-book exams. It saves bringing in all those useless outlines and notes and study guides.

I have a good memory for the names of cases, and that helps, and I’m sure the 25% of my grade based on classwork and attendance is either a B+ or an A.

Also, I can write better than most people.

Anyway, even if I get a C+ from Baldwin, what’s the difference? I know I know this stuff pretty well, and I don’t have to be as insecure as Martin – who is actually auditing Baldwin’s Con Law 2 class and even took the exam although he got an A in Con Law 2 with Collier this summer.

Gee, my thumb is stiffening up. I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help it heal.

Well, I feel at loose ends except for my thumb. Maybe I’ll go shopping for groceries now or play on Lexis for a while.