A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1995
Sunday, October 22, 1995
8 PM. This morning it was 43° when I went out to Kash n’ Karry, so I had to wear my heavy denim jacket, not the paper-thin one I wore yesterday. Still, it warmed up to another cloudless, dry, perfect day.
My car is making the same clicking noise it did earlier this year, and it comes on only when I’ve got the air conditioning (this morning, the heat) running. For a while, I suppose, I can keep the A/C and heat off most of the time, but it will have to be fixed again, along with the leak of transmission fluid.
I still haven’t gotten around to finding someone to repair my computer’s floppy drive, and I’ve been unable to upload to or download from a 3.5” disk. I tend to procrastinate when it comes to fixing mechanical objects.
Late this afternoon, in the office, I managed to make my first full-length pass of the Neil Simon essay. My temptation was to send it off right away, but I know it needs a lot of editing. I’ll probably give it a little editing and hope Gary Konas can do something with it.
Other than that, I spent my usual news junkie Sunday – and I still haven’t touched the Times Book Review.
The magazine section had a cover story by Chip McGrath, the book review editor, “The Triumph of the Prime-Time Novel,” whose thesis is that TV’s one-hour dramas are a writer’s medium in ways that films are not and that they’re the equivalent of sprawling nineteenth-century novels in which we watch everyday middle-class life and characters change over the years.
Although I don’t watch most of the dramas he mentions – even the one I can get here on ABC, NYPD Blue – I tend to agree with McGrath’s contention.
Of course, I’ve always liked soap operas, junky and formulaic as they are, because they’re heavily plot- and character-driven and have the leisurely pace of mundane real time.
I haven’t read many contemporary novels as good as the short-lived My So-Called Life. And I liked St. Elsewhere and what I saw of Hill Street Blues.
However, most sitcoms are banal and unwatchable to me. Most nights I never turn on the set, but of course without cable, I’ve got only PBS, ABC and Fox to choose from here in Gainesville.
Tomorrow marks the end of a year on the job at the Center for Governmental Responsibility. I began work on Monday, October 24 of last year. It’s been a great learning experience for me, and let’s face it: it’s a pretty cushy sinecure.
For the first time in my life, I’ve had an “office” job, and as McGrath said in his article about TV shows, it is in the world of work where, for better or worse, people spend the most time interacting with others.
I remember how strange that first day at CGR felt – I should look to see what I wrote in my diary – and how hard it was to get used to the routine. But I have to admit that everyone in the CGR office made it really easy for me.
Wednesday, October 25, 1995
9 PM. I feel surprisingly relaxed this evening.
Last night I spoke to Mom and Dad, who still hadn’t gone to Carnival Air about his lost ticket. He figures he doesn’t need to buy a new one since they don’t know his old one is lost. I don’t get his rationale, but I’m not going to question Dad.
I told them about Robert Winson’s death. Mom remembers Miriam from when she visited me in 1981 – just at about this time of year – and Dad met Miriam at the B. Dalton reading and party for I Brake in 1983.
It’s still kind of shocking that Robert’s sudden death happened and that Miriam is such a young widow.
Mom said she had their address in Santa Fe, which I’d given her in case Jonathan stopped there; I bet Jonathan would have liked Robert, who was so devoted to Buddhism.
I got an e-mail reply for Ed Hogan, who said he probably wouldn’t have known for a while if I hadn’t written him. Ed met Robert a couple of times around the publication of his mentor Philip Whalen’s Two Novels.
Ed said he’d tell Leora Zeitlin, another old Aspect/Zephyr Press partner of Miriam’s. What I like about e-mail is that it allows me to quickly connect to other people.
Two weeks after I read it, I’m still impressed with Claudia Johnson’s article in the AWP Newsletter about how “connection” is as important as “conflict” in telling stories – whether it’s fiction or the screenwriting she teaches at Florida State.
There’s really nothing more important in my life than making connections with other people.
Last evening I decided to see if Chip McGrath was right about NYPD Blue, so I stayed up till 11 PM watching it on ABC.
It was a pretty good show with interesting characters, nice pacing, gritty outside shots of New York City, and a decent story. Still, it ain’t a nineteenth-century novel.
I managed to rest pretty well last night, and since I decided to exercise an hour after I had breakfast, I didn’t get out till 9:30 AM. Finding it impossible to find parking at the law school, I went to Kash n’ Karry, where I ran into Craig Lowe.
He said he wished I could take him with me to Tallahassee tomorrow so he could avoid the Board meeting. Obviously, it’s going to be painful, with Kathy so worked up.
I can see that what Justin once said is partly true: that gay activists (any kind of activists?) are sometimes using politics as a way of compensating for something missing in their lives.
I’m far too selfish to devote myself to a cause as passionately as someone like Kathy could – and thank God for that, I say.
I spent the morning reading and didn’t go to work till 12:30 PM, after I’d had lunch. And I didn’t have much to do at work since I’d spent several hours last night going over the DOE/AMS co-development agreement.
They seem to have put in very little about the development of the Tycho product; most of the contract was devoted to what happens after they start to market Tycho.
I downloaded some stuff from Lexis about the settlement of the Stratton Oakmont/Prodigy libel case in return for an apology. (Both sides now want the Nassau County justice to vacate his ruling that on-line servers are responsible for libel posted by their users.)
Our network is all screwed up, and I’ve been unable to get on Westlaw all week, and I was able to get Lexis only via my modem.
I was going to leave at 3 PM while Russ was still teaching (alone today, since Jon was still in Miami) – but Julie came by and we chatted.
Julie said she and Tom looked me up on Lexis. “We knew you were some kind of minor celebrity,” Julie said, “but we hadn’t realized just how minor you were.”
After getting home at 4 PM, I exercised again so as to make up for not doing it tomorrow, when I’ll be in Tallahassee all day. As long as I can get at least four hours of sleep, I should be fine – and even if I don’t sleep at all, somehow I’ll get through tomorrow.
It’s going to be a long day and I’m sure it will be a pain in the ass. Liz and I will probably have some unexpected travel problems – like last time, when our battery died because we left the headlights on.
Thursday, October 26, 1995
9 PM. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired, so I’ll leave today’s New York Times for tomorrow – or, if I can’t sleep, for later tonight.
Our trip to Tallahassee went quite well. Last night I slept soundly, and that proved a boon because Liz woke up at 2:30 AM and never got back to sleep.
Liz accepted my offer to do all the driving.
Up at 6 AM, I put on a dress shirt and tie and nice pants and sport jacket, and I took my bag filled with lens stuff (which I needed: my right lens got so messed up that my vision was blurry all through the meeting, and I needed to rinse the lens several times), food, and my usual assortment of pills and papers.
I stopped at the office for about fifteen minutes to look at my E-mail and check my office mailbox. The most significant message was from Joe Territo asking if I could do editing online from Friday to Sunday; I e-mailed back that I’d be happy to if I had the technical capability to do so.
Liz brought her coffee and a pillow with her when I picked her up. Luckily, she lives off NE 39th Avenue near the airport.
The Avis people said I could drive today, but they’d have to check for the future, given my accident at JFK in June 1990.
So Liz and I were off on the road to Tally (not Bali – unlike Hope, Crosby and Lamour), and we had good conversation on the way: stuff about our families, and work, of course, and food and men and politics and books.
Driving on I-10 and I-75 is mostly boring, and talking passes the time. We were in the Tallahassee area nearly two hours before the 1 PM meeting, so I decided to go through town via U.S. 90.
We got to stop by the Capitol and Supreme Court and the other big public buildings, and I found the McDonald’s where we had lunch before I drove us to the office park where CCLA is located. (I was proud that I found it without consulting directions.)
Bill Cline of Schoolyear 2000’s engineering design team, who recognized me from Fort Lauderdale last January, came in at the same time we did.
Liz hugged and kissed Wendy, so I did the same. Richard Maddaus was there, as was Peter, the guy from the Department of Education who’s working with Liz on the new six-month grant.
Bob Branson led the meeting to what was, for me, an unexpected turn: He wants to explore using the intellectual property that we are creating – our legal memoranda – to make a product, presumably on the Web or by some electronic service.
It sounded rather grandiose and silly to me, but everyone else seemed to take it seriously, and actually, I guess the idea isn’t so bad.
Richard spoke about the incredible changes in the world since just last year. He said that nobody foresaw the explosion of the Web, which now accounts for 43% of his community college library catalog requests once the terminals got Netscape and Lynx.
(Perhaps not so oddly, students prefer the text-based browser when using a library catalog.)
Richard’s comments comparing our time with the Renaissance (“They didn’t know they were in the Renaissance then”) forced Liz to suppress one of her cynical comments until the drive home, but he made an interesting point about the new Barnes & Noble in town: It has a larger inventory of books than the library at Tallahassee Community College, and there’s little overlap because the latter has out-of-print books nearly exclusively.
I felt like an idiot when I spoke, though I know I am probably more articulate than anyone else from CGR would be because I know the niche area of computer law that deals with educational policy and issues better than all but a few people.
After Bill Cline told me his design team found my booklet useful, he asked a fairly simple copyright-from-the-web question about PrintScreen and xeroxing that I answered in both a complex way (listing the four fair use factors) and a simple way (“It depends on the specific fact situation every time”).
Wendy brought up about five different issues to explore, including analyzing the AMS co-development agreement and updating prior memos.
We had some interesting discussions, though Liz later noted that Bob actually said, “We’re competing for the mind share of students with less productive intellectual material.”
Anyway, the meeting lasted two hours but didn’t feel that long. Clearly, they are all thrilled with the job CGR is doing.
When we left, Liz asked me if I felt they gave me too much to do. Not at all, I said.
Stopping off at a Baskin-Robbins on Thomasville Road – for a change of pace, I took a different route back – Liz said she doesn’t know how she’s going to replace me because few lawyers know the kind of stuff I do about computer law, cyberlaw and intellectual property and still have a background in social policy.
She confided that Ellen has applied to the Ph.D. program in social policy at Rice – her boyfriend lives in Houston – and so Liz hates to think about being alone at CGR with no one she likes except the support staff.
I almost feel guilty about leaving. Maybe I should talk to Liz about the possibility of my doing CGR work from somewhere other than Gainesville.
Anyway, she managed to fall asleep on the drive home, and I listened to NPR. I was tired and a bit hungry and dehydrated, and my right eye vision was blurry, but really I was fine.
After dropping Liz off – she forgot her pillow – I brought the car back to the airport and got home at 7 PM.
There were two messages, and I returned the one from Laura Italiano, who wanted to apprise me of how she changed – she should have said improved – the last item in my column, about the M&Ms website.
She made a hot link to their site and to another item – which is what we need to be doing apart from pure text.
After having dinner, I looked at my mail and got on Lexis.
Saturday, October 28, 1995
It’s 8 PM, although Daylight Savings Time will end tonight as we magically turn the clocks back one hour. Yesterday I felt too tired to write much in my journal.
On Thursday night, I stayed up late after speaking for an hour with Donna Ratajczak, who called to talk with me about law school.
She still works for Stanley H. Kaplan, and they’re working on a book about law school, aimed at prospective students. Donna wanted to know my impressions of law school and how I felt about the experience.
We had a nice chat, and we also caught up with each other’s doings. She went to rural southern China recently and was so astounded to see how differently the subsistence farmers live.
She’d been to Japan before because Masa is Japanese, but when they returned to Tokyo after visiting China, she was struck by her realization that “Japan feels like home” – that is, it’s a modern Western consumer society, which China is not.
I got to work yesterday at 9:30 AM, and I answered Donna’s e-mail queries – on the phone, I suggested that was the best way to proceed – with lengthy answers, and I quickly went through the rest of my forty or so e-mail messages.
Yesterday I was very upset after getting a call from Avis Car Rental, accusing me of not reporting an accident with the car Liz and I took to Tallahassee.
According to the woman on the phone – who knew about my prior 1990 accident at JFK – the bumper was hanging by a thread, and I couldn’t have missed it.
But I don’t even know now if she was talking about the front bumper or the rear bumper. I told her Liz and I didn’t have an accident and didn’t notice anything wrong with the car. Obviously, she didn’t believe me.
It was one of those instances where the more loudly you proclaim your innocence, the less credible you sound. And of course it raises all those “you’ve been a bad boy” voices from childhood.
Anyway, I was really upset and angry, and I never returned her late message, which was supposed to tell me if I could rent again from Avis.
I also felt stupid when I had to reply to Joe Territo at New Jersey Online and tell him that I didn’t know how to FTP, which he’d told me was all I needed to do so I could do the editing job.
Josh emailed that Todd’s son Max was beaten up by some thugs in Bensonhurst; it’s so like Josh to focus in on an act of victimization.
Josh’s niece said that Middlesex Community College in Edison is all right, but it reminds her of the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and it’s a larger school than she expected.
She’s taking remedial math, freshman comp, and some science courses. She isn’t crazy about New Jersey and said she and her boyfriend may try to get into UF next year.
Liz got her pillow back, and we set a Thursday date to meet with Ellen about where the Social Policy Division is going.
Russ’s old-maidish ways were getting on my nerves again, but I left the office at 11:30 AM to go to the faculty enrichment lunch lecture: the ones Slobogin is always e-mailing everyone about, but which I’d never had the courage to attend before.
Several people didn’t show up, so there were extra lunches, but I didn’t touch my plate. I sat next to Richard Hamann and Gail Sasnett-Stauffer, the dean of students, with whom I chatted.
Across from me were Henry Wihynk and Pat Thomas, and I asked them about their acting and directing in community theater.
The speaker was Ronald Staudt, a Chicago-Kent professor on leave as a corporate fellow at Lexis-Nexis. (The company’s Lori Lesser, remembering my job interview with her, came over to say hi.)
Staudt is an expert on the use of technology in legal education, and his presentation was a demonstration of an electronic coursebook put together by a law professor.
Complete with hypertext hot links, I could see how such a system could transform first-year and elective law classes, but like a number of the professors – Nunn worried about the cost to the students – I was also a bit skeptical.
I spent the rest of Friday afternoon at the Reitz Union attending the Internet and Computer Law Association’s “Law and the Internet” roundtable.
At the reception, I spoke with some students, and I finally met Steve Mizrach, the anthropology grad student who studies techno-anarchists and cyberculture; we’d e-mailed after we’d both had pieces in Pebbles. (He was the only one not in a jacket and tie).
Upstairs in the conference room, I sat next to Betty Taylor at a long collection of tables – a rectangle, not a circle – during the three hours of talks.
First, Sandra Chance of the Brechner Center led a discussion on legal, social and economic aspects of the Internet and how First Amendment issues applied.
Then there was a roundtable on the viability of a vendor-neutral citation system for online legal references and information.
Altom’s group and students at the other Florida law schools want to put all Florida Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeals decisions on their Web pages.
This afternoon, I returned to the Reitz Union to take part in the roundtable’s second day, but we had only half the crowd we did yesterday; professors like Betty and Rosalie and some engineering people and undergrads who attended yesterday weren’t there.
So it was mostly hardcore members of the UF Computer Law group, plus two guys from Nova Law and this gorgeous guy Tony Lewis, a grad student in public administration at Florida State who’s been working with this professor to put government information on their Web site.
Some law students gave reports on using the Net for case management and trial preparation, and others discussed privacy issues in the collection of information.
I’m glad I went, if only to see how Gen X lawyers will deal with technology. These kids grew up with computers, of course.
Tony was the only guy I was attracted to, although most of the other guys there seemed to be gay, which seemed weird. It struck me that I can’t tell with twenty-somethings, and I think I know why.
Gestures of the hands and face that were once “gaydar” giveaways now seem entirely common among young people, both straight and gay.
Is it because young men are no longer afraid of being expressive? Most straight men my age and older are so uptight about expressing themselves.
Or else it could be that there are just a lot of gay men out there. It seemed to me I see them everywhere – at the roundtable, as I walked on the main campus, at the CIRCA lab where I printed out my NJO column from the Internet, and back at the law school where I worked for a couple of hours until about 5 PM.
Sunday, October 29, 1995
7 PM. It got dark about 5:45 PM today now that we’re back on Standard Time.
It was 43° when I woke up this morning, but it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day.
After putting my laundry in the washing machine, I headed for Kash n’ Karry for groceries and the Sunday New York Times. Before coming back to the apartment, I moved my stuff to the dryer.
I’ve read the whole paper except for the Book Review, and I’ve also read the St. Pete Times, Washington Post and Gainesville Sun online.
At 2 PM, I went to the office and tried to gather material for future columns. Then I drove to the Thomas Center, where Christy had arranged the reading for Barbara Hamby and David Kirby.
I kissed Barbara hello and congratulated her on winning a book prize: the University of North Texas Press will publish her Delirium any day now, but for now, all she has is postcards.
Barbara introduced me to her husband David Kirby, whose work I’ve long admired – and I said as much. He said he liked my stuff, too.
He proved to be an excellent reader, and I enjoyed his poems – many of which read like the kind of autobiographical narrative prose I like to write myself.
David and Barbara are both good talkers as well as good poets, and the ninety minutes or so flew by without my feeling bored.
Christy had made lots of cookies and brownies (which I, of course, did not touch) – but I did chat with people afterward.
I bought David’s latest book for $10 (he autographed it, “To Richard – who taught us all to brake for Delmore Schwartz”) and I had a good time talking with him and Barbara. Both have qualities that I admire: commitment, passion, an intense interest in the world, but also self-effacing good humor.
Christy is also very sweet. She introduced me to several people, including her friend Kimberly Townsend Palmer, or K.T., who got a copy With Hitler in New York from Jonathan when they were students at Broward Community College in the early 1980s.
K.T. knew my brother as a 19-year-old bodybuilder, so was surprised when I told her how Jonathan was now a thin spiritual vegetarian.
I said he’d just returned home after living in Arizona for a while, not wanting to make him sound weird to someone who graduated UF law school and who is now, as Christy described her, “the premier art critic in Gainesville.”
Instead of joining the others for dinner at a Thai restaurant, I came home so I could spend the dwindling hours of the weekend alone.