A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1996

Friday, February 16, 1996

6 PM in Orlando. I just returned to my hotel room at the Renaissance, getting off the Bee Line Expressway on Semoran Boulevard right by the airport.

I checked in a couple of hours ago, and I have this really luxurious room with a king-size bed, pleasant decor, a radio in addition to the TV, and a hair dryer and coffee maker (which means I don’t have to go out for hot water for my cereal in the morning).

Last year I was so stressed out because I left Gainesville around 5 PM, but this year I made sure I had a relaxing day. I still remember what a good night’s sleep I got in the Radisson last year. I can’t expect to sleep that well tonight, although last night I got only about 4½ hours sleep total. Because I felt tired, I made the mistake of shutting off the lights, getting into bed and listening to “music of the ’80s” (are those now oldies?) on the radio.

Although I fell asleep at 10 PM, I woke up after one sleep cycle and turned on Nightline, about Pat Buchanan’s campaign co-chair having ties to militias, the Aryan Nation and other white supremacist anti-Semitic groups.

Big surprise, huh? Anyway, I then listened to talk radio coverage of the GOP candidates big debate in New Hampshire.

Late today at the hotel, I caught CNN’s Inside Politics, where one commentator picked Lamar Alexander to win, followed by Buchanan and Dole. What an upset that would be! It looks as though anyone of the three could win, with Steve Forbes fading fast.

I listened to Rush Limbaugh once I got into the Orlando area. (Driving down here, I had my headphones attached to my little TV so I could catch the ABC soaps: first All My Children on Gainesville’s Channel 20, and after that faded out at the Okahumpka Plaza at the start of the Turnpike, I switched to Orlando’s Channel 9 for One Life to Live.)

Anyway, listening to Rush Limbaugh, I was amused to hear him arguing with fellow “conservatives” who support Pat Buchanan’s anti-free trade, protectionist economic policies.

It appears as if the Republicans coalition of libertarian supply-siders (Forbes), conservative budget-balancers (Dole) and populist, protectionist Christian Coalition supporters (Buchanan) are going at each other so angrily that they’ve forgotten about Clinton, who keeps making these great photo ops dispensing sympathy and federal aid on flood-ravaged communities in Pennsylvania and Oregon.

This morning, while Jon talked with Laura in his office, Liz had me, Russ and Belinda take out the breakfast goodies she’d secretly brought to celebrate Laura’s promotion to Carol’s old job as CGR office manager.

Unfortunately, Jon was having a hard time getting Laura’s salary better than the lower end of the pay scale. In any case, it will be more than she’s making now.

Joann, Linda and an uncharacteristically cheerful Richard – maybe he’s mellowing – joined in to congratulate Laura.

Russ told me he had a good trip to South Florida yesterday, and he collected a lot of neat maps at the South Florida Water Management District office.

I didn’t do much at work today except read some law review articles. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from enforcing the Communications Decency Act until a three-judge panel can rule on its constitutionality.

I had no problem picking up the Avis car at the Radisson on SW 13th Street. I can return it there if I leave everything at the front desk even if there’s no one at the rental booth.

My trip down was relaxing because I got so caught up in my soap operas that I barely noticed how long it took. Only when I got off the Turnpike did I run into bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-4.

By now I know my way around Orlando better, and at 5 PM I took the Bee Line Expressway to Orangewood Boulevard, going right through Williamsburg, where Ronna’s mother lives.

I stopped at the Wendy’s on Central Florida Parkway off International Drive, where I had a baked potato, a real salad bar – lots of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and other veggies – and a Diet Coke. (I needed a little caffeine.)

I plan to eat very little at the dinner tonight. I’d better get moving and put on my suit and tie. I tried to call Beatrice to ask how Ronna and Matthew’s wedding went, but nobody was home.

Saturday, February 17, 1996

9 PM. Once I slicked back my hair and put on my black dress shoes, rose-colored shirt, jazzy tie and grey pinstripe suit last evening, I felt kind of spiffy for an old guy with age spots and sagging pectorals.

(Apropos of nothing but the word, it occurs to me that Spiffy was the name of Jonathan’s baby blanket, the one he used to “knit” as he sucked his thumb raw. It had a felt duck sewed into the satiny-soft lining. Where is Spiffy today when we need him?)

I went downstairs to mingle before dinner with Liz and Becky and some of our Fellows. Holly was staying with her parents, and Marsha drove down with Barbara, who asked me if anyone else at the symposium was “family.”

“Search me,” I said. I didn’t know anyone there except for UF people, Vernetta Walker and her aide, and Liz’s friend Kathleen Dolan-Valdes, whom I met last year.

At dinner, I sat next to Becky, who’s as pleasant and charming as a 13-year-old girl can possibly be. The others at the table were Fellows from the University of Miami.

To kick off the dinner, Vernetta introduced the Florida Bar Foundation’s president, Darryl Bloodworth, who warned us that the Bar Foundation’s Interest On Trust Accounts (IOTA) program, which funds the fellowships, legal services and other projects to serve underfunded communities, is now under attack in the legislature.

This year’s keynote speaker, Henry M. Coxe III, a Jacksonville attorney, gave an interesting talk on what it means to do public interest legal work. Unfortunately, to many Florida lawyers, it means very little.

Coxe, who received the 1995 Pro Bono Award from the state’s Supreme Court, discussed the rewards and challenges of his own public interest cases, as well as the conflicts he encountered.

Case in point: An 18-year-old girl kept her pregnancy a secret from her parents and smothered the baby when it was born in the bathroom. She wanted to take a deal offering only two years in prison on the condition that she take birth control for ten years, and civil libertarians criticized Coxe for accepting that for his client. He acknowledged being uncomfortable with the deal’s implications for civil liberties.)

After dinner, I went to the hotel bar with Liz and some of the Fellows: Jill and Rhonda (who arrived very late), Barbara and Marsha, and John and Randall.

Like Liz, I had only club soda and left at 10 PM. I’m sure the Fellows consider me to be what we called in my day a party pooper. Actually, I am a party pooper.

I ate little at the dinner except veggies, but my stomach became very gassy so that by the end of the evening when I went back to my room, my abdomen was tender and distended. Luckily, gas isn’t that difficult to get rid of in privacy.

It took me a couple of hours to fall asleep, but I did sleep steadily and probably could have extended my night past 6:30 AM if I didn’t have to get up.

It was cold in Orlando at that hour: 33° with a wind-chill factor of 17°. Turning on CNN, I showered and dressed more casually than I had last night. I mixed my oatmeal, cream of wheat and grits packets and added some skim milk I got in a long-shelf-life aseptic box.

Going downstairs, I bought the newspapers and was delighted to see my article, “It’s ‘101 Dalmatians’ vs. Woody Allen neurotics” in their “Embarrassed by kids in the movies” feature on the Sentinel’s Saturday Special Op-Ed page.

I showed the article to Liz at our breakfast for the various law schools’ fellowship program directors, where I sat next to Nova’s Fran Tetunic, whose law clinic for disabled people sounded fascinating.

Fran told me that she’s also helping with the new case challenging Florida’s ban on gay adoption.

I also chatted with the woman who runs the program at the University of Miami, where the Fellows work in a children’s law clinic.

The others at our table included St. Thomas’s Dean of Student Services and FSU’s Meg Baldwin, a well-known women’s rights advocate and law professor who’s an old friend of Liz’s.

After breakfast, we had an introductory meeting in which Fellows from each school shared their experiences. Our student, Sylvia, talked about how working at the public defender’s office has changed her life by putting on a new career trajectory.

A St. Thomas student said the same thing about her work to obtain visas for Cuban detainee children. Other Fellows talked about helping HIV-positive people or battered women trying to get clemency after being convicted of killing their batterers.

The next sessions were five breakout groups, and Liz facilitated the one I attended, with Barbara and Holly from UF; Aaron and Ginger, two interesting students from Nova; Hoot, an FSU student who is a former labor organizer (and a good old boy if I ever saw one); and others from St. Thomas and UM.

Finally, we went back to the amphitheater for a two-hour panel discussion moderated by Professor Phyllis Wimberley. The panelists included three former Stanford Law students who worked in programs with teen parents in Palo Alto, special education kids in Albuquerque, and Minnesota farmers threatened with losing their land.

Throughout the symposium, I was immersed with the spirit of these do-gooders whom the GOP Congress sees as the enemy. (If only they would stop advocating for those in poverty, Republicans claim, the lazy poor people would supposedly get off their duffs and go to work “just like the rest of us.”)

It’s such a pleasure and a relief to be in a roomful of people committed to helping society’s underdogs instead of demonizing them. And, of course, it also makes me ashamed at how little difference I’ve ever made in helping the lives of people in poverty.

There’s so much that lawyers can do. They don’t have to be the butt of pirate and piranha jokes. But the attitude toward public interest law among some people is, Oh, you’re doing this because you can’t do real law and make big money.

In 1996, public interest law is in crisis because it’s getting harder to be paid even the modest wages that legal services attorneys once enjoyed.

Yet the panelists offered suggestions on how to persevere, and I think that most people left feeling hopeful and undiscouraged.

My own opinion is that UF and the other Florida law schools need to have a loan forgiveness program for students who graduate and do public interest work.

The meeting ended at 12:45 PM, and after saying goodbye to everyone, I checked out of the hotel and headed home, stopping first at a Wendy’s on Semoran Boulevard.

The ride back up to Gainesville was a bit boring, but I didn’t really mind: I still enjoy tooling along a highway pushing 75 mph in a new rental car.

After dropping off the keys and rental contract at the desk at the Radisson, I went to the CGR office, where I xeroxed copies of my Orlando Sentinel article, which was illustrated with a delightful drawing.

Sunday, February 18, 1996

8 PM. When I got up this morning, it was 28° and I struggled with deep frost on my car windows as I drove to the laundry room, where I did three loads. Then I went to Kash n’ Karry for groceries and the Sunday New York Times.

Back home, after doing an hour of exercise to make up for the lack of a workout yesterday, I began reading the paper – though I still have a long way to go before I finish.

I got a call, supposedly from an AT&T guy who told me that he needed to know if I still wanted their service.

Immediately I grew suspicious, knowing the practice of “slamming” or stealing long-distance customers.

But he tried to allay my fears by explaining that there had been a computer breakdown, and I started to believe him.

However, when he told me about a free gift of a $10 certificate, I asked him where AT&T’s corporate headquarters were. He didn’t answer, instead explaining calmly how I could verify his authority.

Finally I said, “I don’t believe you and I’m going to hang up now.”

I then called 1-800-CALL-ATT and talked with the sales rep, who took down the information about the call.

It upset me that I was almost fooled, and I’m pretty bright – which means that this reasonable-sounding con man is going to fool someone.

Before I went over to Christy Sanford’s at 3 PM, I stopped at work to check my e-mail.

Alice thanked me for a birthday card and alluded to her proposed literary agent contract I got in the mail on Friday. Alice borrowed the format from her own agent, and she wanted me to explain the legal significance of some of the clauses.

Josh e-mailed, wondering where I was.

“Orlando,” I replied, and I uploaded the article from the Sentinel, which came on Lexis today.

As usual, Christy was a wonderful hostess. Her friend Janet came over later and we spent three hours looking at Christy’s websites and other stuff on her Mac’s Netscape browser. (She’s got the beta version of the latest upgrade.)

Christy’s projects generally involve short text and lush, often sexual, images appropriated from 17th and 18th century art. I’ve always liked her stuff but I find it a bit too self-conscious about sensuality.

Still, I expressed enthusiasm Red Mona as well as her project based on The Princess of Cleves, and other of her works. It’s obvious that Christy puts in many hours doing her art.

She’s also very sophisticated technologically, using Adobe PostScript and Photoshop, Eudora e-mail and advanced HTML as well as her scanner, laser printer, fast modem and powerful Mac.

It all makes me feel like a technological doofus by comparison.

She showed Janet and me George Jr., George Myers’s online magazine – which he’s obviously taking seriously – and other literary mags on the web.

Then we looked at sites devoted to platypus photos and information, a museum celebrating the history of the vibrator, and a wonderful site based on the recent Vermeer exhibition.

But I ended up with a bad case of eyestrain and my usual conflicted feelings about the Web. There’s too much there, I can’t sort it out, and ultimately I trust paper and print and books more.

During a break for coffee (chamomile tea for me), Christy told me that even though she’s had state and NEA grants arts fellowships, nobody – as far as she knew – has ever reviewed or written criticism about her work, whether it was poetry or performance art.

Christy is definitely onto something. Her work seems comparable to art I’d expect from the visual arts world. But I’m not visually-oriented and I prefer my text “straight.”

Monday, February 19, 1996

8 PM. I’d thought about taking a sick day today. I wanted to do some more preparation for my Business Writing class at Nova and figured that if the University of Florida wasn’t going to have a holiday for Presidents Day – well then, I’d give myself one.

But instead, Protestant-ethic guilt made me just get to work a little later than usual: after I’d exercised, around 9 AM.

Today was Russ’s 28th birthday, and Jon was loading him up with work on the Everglades cleanup amendment. Russ is so harried that I can’t see how he wouldn’t resent my relative indolence.

I spent a good part of the day reading the Sunday Washington Post and St. Pete Times online and dealing with e-mail.

I spoke to Alice about the contract form for her new literary agency and told her to eliminate one confusing clause and to make another more specific to protect herself.

She said she’ll be in Tampa at the end of March. It might be fun to take off and visit her there.

Josh replied that he liked my Orlando Sentinel piece, “but I would have just told the kid to shut up” at the movies. That’s characteristic of the way Josh responds, both to other people’s work and to children in general.

On Westlaw I found a great review of Larry’s work from yesterday’s Reading Eagle-Times. The art critic called him “a post-modernist master.”

I sent the article to Justin, who is ill at home today, with all his health-food store cold remedies of no avail. Larry’s in Reading for the holiday weekend, so of course he saw the review.

Justin said the Federico and Giuletta play was going well, but he was too sick to get out to the theater this weekend and make some needed changes.

For him, tomorrow’s a long day teaching, counseling and doing other work at Brooklyn College, so he needed to rest up today.

Ellen sent a mass e-mail telling everybody that her cyber address is no longer valid. She’ll be staying in company housing at first when she leaves San Diego this week for the Bay Area, so she didn’t have a street address yet, either.

Christy wrote a gracious reply to that thank-you message I sent her after yesterday’s visit.

In a way, though, the e-mail I thought most about this evening was the one that didn’t come from Kevin.

It’s taken a lot of willpower for me not to contact him. But it’s not pride so much that’s stopping me as it is an awareness of the futility of doing so.

I’ve obviously got to deal with my loneliness in a more constructive way than hopeless attachments to unavailable young guys.

But I’m glad I did allow myself to be vulnerable to getting at least a little bit hurt.

I think I need to erase Kevin’s name from my e-mail address book so I’m not tempted to write to him again.

Shopping on my lunch hour at Target, I saw this cute, gay-looking salesclerk about 20 who had a black eye. Of course I was immediately attracted to him. Silly me.

Back at school at 2 PM, I was one of a small crowd, nearly all students, to chat with Dean Rick Matasar of Chicago-Kent, the latest Dean candidate to visit.

Later, I met with him along with the rest of the CGR staff when he visited our office. He’s a Jewish guy, younger than I, and seems very money-oriented.

Of course he’s right when he sees UF as a law school where tuition has to go up – and thus one where there will be lots more money in the future if he becomes Dean.

I got a first-rate legal education at UF for very little money; along with FSU, it’s probably the only place that I could have afforded law school.

In Orlando, the students at the private law schools told our Fellows how lucky they are not to have to go into deep debt.

On Wednesday, Liz, Ellen and I are meeting for lunch, and the next morning we’re meeting with Joann, who wants to discuss the Social Policy Division’s role in the MacArthur Foundation grant.

Then, on Friday I’ve got a meeting with Liz and the current Fellows. A lot of them still have to put in many more hours in the next two months if they’re going to successfully complete their fellowships.

Leaving the office at 4 PM, I came home to finish the Times, eat dinner, and catch the New Hampshire primary eve coverage on TV.