A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1993

Sunday, May 16, 1993

7 PM. I felt worse and worse as the day progressed yesterday. and by evening I was gulping down cough syrup and doing Nexis searches like COUGH! W/12 SYMPTOM AND AIDS OR HIV. (That’s a great title for a story.)

I haven’t had fever, but I’m so congested that I’m scared I might have pneumonia and maybe PCP, the illness most AIDS patients get.

Of course, the rational side of me knows I could not easily get the virus from what Jody and I did two months ago, careful as we were. (I think he disliked the way we had sex and found me inept, which I am.)

Anyway, it’s unusual to get one cold on top of another, but it’s happened before. Maybe I fought the virus off during the week but my immune system gave up once I got home.

Then again, the wrenching New York/Florida transitions have often given me colds. I’m just afraid of vertigo or some long siege of illness like I had in the winter of 1980 or the summers of ’82 or ’86.

I went to the public library yesterday and found the Gainesville Sun last Sunday reprinted the Valerie Takahama review of Mondo Barbie and inserted “Gainesville’s” before my name. So somebody at the paper knows I live here.

I’m sure few people I know noticed it, especially since most college students were out of town.

The Advocate, the national gay magazine, also mentioned my story and other gay-themed ones in their latest issue. I’m happy for the recognition.

Seeing the Tampa phone book in the library, I looked up Sean – and to my surprise, he was listed at the address I found in property records. I never could get a directory assistance operator to find a listing.

At home, I dialed the number, planning to hang up (luckily, Caller ID is only effective locally – for now), but I got the answering machine.

Presumably it was Doug who said, “We’re not home now. . .” because it didn’t sound like Sean. Of course, he might sound different after so many years.

I’m just glad to know he’s still alive. I shouldn’t intrude on his life, especially since I’m aware of how it would upset Doug.

Maybe I shouldn’t call Jody, either; his actions made it clear he doesn’t want me in his life, and I should respect that instead of trying to fulfill my neurotic need to reassure myself that he doesn’t hate me.

Last evening I read all the material the Arts Council sent on how to evaluate the applications. I got through only the first two organizations, and I didn’t start rating yet – it’s going to be a lot of work.

I have a hard time evaluating budgets and fiscal items and feel more comfortable with literary judgments.

But, for example, the Latino Stuff Review didn’t send along copies of the magazine, so I don’t know how to evaluate them. But I think I can get through everything in four weeks.

The really bad fellowship applicants I can skim once I’m assured they are hopeless. But the applicants can see my comments so I can’t be dismissive and certainly not cruel.

As naïve it sounds, I feel an obligation to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. Amateurs don’t deserve these grants, not when there’s so little money available.

I now can appreciate how hard it is for the NEA Literature Fellowship readers – though, as Pete noted, nonentities seem to get a lot of their grants.

I managed to get through Sunday on five hours’ sleep: exercising, reading the paper, watching Brinkley and McLaughlin, walking by the law school and Lake Alice.

Ronna called to say hi and to thank me for the supplies I bought. I miss her a lot now; I miss New York City and Grandma and my other friends. It may be a long time before I can go back.

Thursday, May 20, 1993

10 PM. Last evening I watched the final hour of Wild Palms. Apparently viewers stayed away from it in droves, but I kind of liked its style even if the plot was incomprehensible, a paranoid fantasy (like Stone’s JFK?).

Again I slept later than usual, waking up at 8:30 AM. Once I start teaching in five weeks, I’ll have to get up early, and this fall I’ve got 8 AM and 9 AM classes, so I should enjoy lazing in bed while I can.

As I fixed breakfast, I noticed the silhouette of a cat on my window ledge, so I invited him in and he explored the apartment as I ate.

The cat seemed more interested in being inside than in the saucer of milk I put out; however, I let him go outside (“persuaded” him is more like it).

After I finished eating, I lay in bed for an hour, trying to recall a dream in which I met a plane that had landed on the beach in Rockaway.

I exercised, showered and dressed and then went to school, where I chatted with Bob and his friend Tim, this guy who came in the term after we did.

In Legal Counseling, Weyrauch continued our discussion of various counseling issues involved in the first case study.

Just now I’ve read the next few and their titles alone indicate how dated they are: “The Case of the Homosexual Dean,” “The Case of the Cultured Prostitute.”

They sound like 1950s Perry Mason mysteries and read like the antiquated psychology books I used to read 25 years ago, when people still were strict Freudians.

Still, their very political incorrectness provides us with stuff to discuss.

I hung out at school for a bit before leaving, not eager to begin my “weekend” so early. Although I don’t have class on Fridays, it’s not like I need the chance to rest.

Having lost my access to Lexis as well as Westlaw till the summer rosters get to the databases, I realize how much I’ll miss the services after I graduate.

I spent an hour using Delphi to get on various Internet databases and services, but I had trouble negotiating my way through cyberspace. Still, I found the University of Maryland library system has copies of all my hardcover books.

I wrote a letter to Sat Darshan, whom I haven’t heard from in nearly six months.

In the early evening I took a drive out to the deserted SFCC campus, which was deserted, and walked around the Millhopper Square strip shopping center.

I thought about going across the street to Hardee’s where Jody works, but decided that was a bad idea.

I think about Jody more than I expected to. Maybe I remember him more fondly than I actually felt toward him.

Of course, what I remember is the touching and holding and hugging, not the conversations that went nowhere because we had so little in common. That hint of intimacy made me realize how much I’d missed it.

I finished reading all the organization grant proposals and many seem worthwhile. Apalachee Quarterly has improved a lot since they first published me in the late ’70s, and I’m impressed with Kalliope, the women’s lit mag at Florida Community College at Jacksonville.

WUWF-FM, an NPR station in Pensacola, runs a show featuring stories by local writers; although the work is amateurish, it does involve the community and expose people to short fiction.

The FIU Writers on the Bay series, which I’ve attended in the past, also is beneficial, not only to MFA students but to everyone, even if they do tend to invite Les Standiford’s fellow writing program professors.

I’ll score the organizations and then begin looking at the fellowship manuscripts.

Monday, May 24, 1993

7 PM. Last night my dreams took place in Gainesville, and that doesn’t happen often when there’s an identifiable location: usually I’m in a part of New York City or South Florida.

I got up at 4:30 AM, and unable to return to sleep, I finished reading the last of the back issues of the New York Times Book Review. After about an hour, I fell asleep for a little while.

Before school, I not only exercised but also got through about 30 poetry applications. I have about 30 left. So far I’ve given only one or two scores of 8 but lots of 7’s.

Last year there were only two poetry fellowships given so I’m not out of line. Nothing really sweeps me away with its brilliance, but I’m worried as to whether I’ll be able to spot a “brilliant” poet. Competence is much easier to discern.

At least I know I’ll be able to get through all the scoring in the next three weeks before the meeting in Tallahassee.

I suspect I’m making a pest of myself at school because I crave company; I’ve been latching onto people to talk with them. Today I did this to Dawn, Derrick, Judy, Pauline, Ana and others. I feel like an insurance salesman.

In today’s class, we discussed the setting of a fee and billing in the first case study, and we began the second case study, “The Homosexual Dean,” about a college administrator accused of lesbianism by a student.

The case took place in 1963 and it has whiskers. Still, it can lead to an interesting discussion, and I like Weyrauch’s low-key, wry style.

I came home and had lunch, then went out to SFCC, where I couldn’t find a fall schedule – I’d wanted to figure out what classes I could teach – so instead I spent an hour in the library, reading periodicals (including College Composition; I need to keep up with that field).

Mom just phoned; she has terrible laryngitis from a cold.

She told me Jonathan had found a photo of Barbie in Ron Ishoy’s column – so he did use the material I’d sent him. Mom hoarsely read me the item, which was an excellent plug. She said she’d send it along.

Although they took in $500 over the weekend, the flea market business has generally been bad.

Marc sold his Jeep or whatever that car was, and he’s giving up the apartment he shares with Jeff (who’s left the flea market) and is moving into the house with Mom and Dad and Jonathan, although probably he’ll rarely be there since he spends most of the time at Clarissa’s.

Tomorrow is Mom and Dad’s bankruptcy 341 hearing; it’s at 9:30 AM, like mine was. I told Dad where to park near the Federal Building. (He’d thought he had to go to the county courthouse.)

Dad will be here in two weeks, as he’s got appointments in Jacksonville. I said that since I have lots of free time, we could celebrate my birthday.

My back stiffened up on me again, but I keep stretching and moving around because I’m determined not to let it get to me. However, I know I’m getting old.

I spoke to Judy about my increasing farsightedness. I now have to hold small print farther away in order for it to get into focus. Judy suggested I buy a pair of reading glasses, the kind they sell at Eckerd or Walmart.

I’m happy Ron Ishoy used the Mondo Barbie material I sent him, but I do worry about my need to be validated by the press.

Wednesday, May 26, 1993

7 PM. My parents called me last night to tell me about their bankruptcy hearing. Because of a room shortage, they weren’t in the same courtroom I was, but instead went to an administrative hearing room upstairs.

They arrived at 9:10 AM and met Robin, their lawyer, who told Mom to remove her gold bracelet and necklace and Dad to take off his watch.

Their case was supposed to be called third at 9:30 AM. However, the first case was continued and the second party didn’t show up.

Mom and Dad were sworn in, took seats where witnesses sit, and were asked a few questions by the substitute trustee: addresses, business, etc.

The only big questions were how they calculated the value of their furniture (Dad: “I know what I paid for it”) and the trustee’s puzzlement about Dad’s collecting Social Security: “Are you disabled?”

“No. Unfortunately, I’m eligible because of my age.”

The trustee looked surprised, as Dad of course doesn’t appear to be anywhere near 65.

By 9:35 AM, they were outside hugging their lawyer. Pretty simple.

This morning I went to the rental office and told Gordon I’d talk to him next week about renewing my lease here.

My lower back again ached, so perhaps I shouldn’t have done aerobics, but they were low-impact.

In Legal Counseling, I was one of just a handful of students who would have billed the client in our case study $1,000. Weyrauch said it seemed to him that you should bill at least $3,000. He said that those who agreed with me were undervaluing their services.

The truth is, I thought even $1,000 was a bit high.

But I’m used to being undervalued; after all, $1,000 is what I get for teaching a term of English composition to 25 students at BCC or SFCC.

To me, the lawyer in our case study did seemed like about 20 hours’ work.

Are college teachers undervalued or are lawyers overvalued? Ironically, the lawyer in our case had saved the academic career of his client, the lesbian dean.

I had to go to the post office to pick up a box Mom sent. There were several dress shirts, sport shirts and T-shirts inside, and two pairs of shorts that come down below my kneecaps, as well as some magazines (the PEN and Brooklyn College Alumni newsletters) and a combination vegetable steamer and pasta cooker for the microwave.

I read a couple of decent manuscripts that I fished out from the fiction fellowship applications. They weren’t brilliant, but the writing was highly competent, kept my interest and sometimes had flashes of real wit.

Saturday, May 29, 1993

7 PM. It’s rained most of the day, and I went out only early this morning for the newspaper and some groceries. I’ve been somewhat lonely, but at least I got a lot of work done.

By now, I’ve gone through all but about 20 of the fiction manuscripts from people applying for fellowships, and I can see the end in sight.

Going through these stories and novel excerpts can be depressing, except it also convinces me that I’m glad I haven’t written unnecessary fiction. Most of the material is bad, although some of it veers toward competence.

However, with the exception of a handful of manuscripts, I’ve seen nothing that deserves serious attention, and even the better material tends to be pedestrian in style, design and execution with predictable plots and characters.

I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff that might make salable popular novels, which are usually poorly written.

I’ve read excerpts of novels by twenty-somethings full of references to Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, artsy-fartsy stuff by people who probably teach English in high schools and community colleges, second-rate Harry Crews imitations, and a third-rate wannabe Sholem Aleichem.

There’s a novel about a reincarnated soul who’s been a rock, a whale, and a French poodle; one featuring Bolshevik Baptists and an elephant, set in rural Florida during the Depression; a time-travel novel in which Oscar Levant, Gary Cooper and Al Jolson go to ancient Egypt to talk to the pharaoh; and endless slice-of-life stories about Jamaicans, crackers, Jews, African-Americans and Cubans where the slices are nearly always wafer-thin.

The amount of pretension, ponderousness and just plain bad writing is such that it’s a miracle that I’m currently still able to stitch a subject and predicate together to make a sentence.

When I was a preliminary judge for the Fiction Collective First Novel Contest at George Braziller in the mid-’70s, I read similar kinds of (bad) manuscripts.

Even the ones I read today in which the authors alluded to their MFAs were pretty awful.

In one respect, I suppose it’s heartening to know that hundreds of people in Florida are sitting down to write novels in their spare time. If only that many people read novels, I’d feel better.

Anyway, it’s good for me to remember that as awkward and undistinguished a writer as I sometimes consider myself, I know I have it over this crowd by a – well, one of them could come up with a properly slick word.

Still, should I take so much pride in having been awarded two literature fellowships from Florida against such weak competition?

At 11 PM last night, Channel 5 in Ocala ran Tony Richardson’s 1962 film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, one of those movies – David and Lisa was another – that I’d watch repeatedly as a teenager when New York’s Channel 9 (WOR then) would run the same film at 8 PM every night for a week on Million Dollar Movie.

(I can still see the show’s black-and-white introduction with scenes of nighttime Manhattan set to the music of “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind.)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was the kind of angry, cynical movie that appealed to me as an adolescent—and it still does.

Monday, May 31, 1993

My back was better today, and I felt quite chipper all around on this holiday. I definitely am getting used to the leisure time I have now. It gives me a chance to read and explore subjects other than law.

Up at 8 AM, I had breakfast and listened to the radio before going out to get some things at Walmart.

The black-and-white cat was perched on my ledge and came inside when I opened the door. After putting down a saucer of milk for him in the kitchen, I had to move into the bedroom to do some chores as he lapped it up.

When I returned, the cat had vanished, and I assumed he went out, as I had left the door open enough so he could leave.

About fifteen minutes later, I was startled to see and hear the cat jump down from my refrigerator! I don’t know how I could have missed him.

It was a cool, cloudy morning, and I used the dash course equipment in the woods to do a few dips, pull-ups, and chin-ups before coming home to low-impact aerobics.

Then I watched a talk show on tanning. The other day I thought I spotted something weird on my chest; today I pulled most of it off, and it bled a lot. I plan to watch it as a sign of skin cancer.

If only I could take back all those years of sunbathing I did between the ages of 16 and 31. But like the young people on the talk show, I felt a tan made me look attractive and I didn’t think about wrinkling or skin cancer.

At the law library, I spent a couple of hours on Westlaw. Shara came by, looking for Paul B to help her print out a brief she’d been writing for off and on for weeks; she’s working and not taking any summer classes.

When I inquired how Larry was doing in Guatemala, where the president has in effect staged a coup to put himself in complete control (á la Fujimori in Peru), she said Larry called his stepmother yesterday.

His Spanish classes have been canceled due to the turmoil, but he’s safe better off staying put in the provinces for now rather than risking a trip to the capital to catch a plane home.

At Library West, I read some literary magazines and took out Phillip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre as well as my own books. One hadn’t been borrowed since 1987, but two people (law school classmates?) took out another last autumn. I figured the books needed an outing.

In the parking lot at Publix, I ran into Jacqui. I recognized the Broward Community College sticker, like mine, on her car. She’s teaching English at UF this summer for twice what I make at SFCC, which is why she turned the community college down.

She, too, hasn’t been to Broward since Christmas. When I told her I’d be graduating in a year, she asked if I’d really be a lawyer, and she wasn’t surprised at my indecisive answer: “With you, nobody ever knows.”

At the law school I noticed the minutes of the April 20 faculty meeting, where they voted a new grading policy: the mean average for all classes except advanced ones is now 3.0, a straight B.

That will eliminate the biggest complaint about the school: the low grades. Unfortunately, it comes too late to help those of us already finished with required classes, and we’ll have lower indexes than those coming after us.

That means they need to change the requirements for “honors” and “high honors” graduates (currently 3.0 and 3.5).

May was always my favorite month. Since my undergraduate days, it’s meant not only the good weather up North but the last weeks of the school year – either as a student or teacher.

In the 1980s, it was the month I usually returned to New York.

This year’s May – mostly because of my New York trip, but also the relaxed routine here – proved to be another wonderful month.