Debra Dickerson

Debra Dickerson

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 5 1997 3:30 AM

Debra Dickerson

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       I spend the entire day indoors wrangling with editors. It turns out that writing a diary is a tricky proposition. I have now had someone find fault with absolutely everything about me--today, it's the way I record my thoughts. Eventually, that's done, and I have to face my U.S. News editor. Though I faithfully cash their checks, I have so far produced only one piece for them. When I was in the Air Force, we had what was called a "come to Jesus meeting" wherein I confess my sins, engage in ritual self-criticism, and get forgiveness. I lay out my ideas, he shapes them into good ideas. Then I agree to a production schedule that basically requires me to research and write three articles about five minutes apart. Now all I have to do is hide from my book editor for as long as I did from my magazine editor. Then it's dinner time.
       I'm reading The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken and waiting for him in Grendel's, a mystifyingly popular Harvard hangout that legend holds was saved from extinction by Lawrence Tribe (he defended it when the city tried to revoke its license). Weekends, people actually stand in line so they can sit on hard wooden chairs at cheap wooden tables and drink widely available beers. New Year's Eve 1994, I came here with a friend, two lonely women pretending not to be, and discovered that I had asthma. Party poppers and champagne corks exploded around us as Vicky watched me curled up in a fetal position concentrating on breathing through an esophagus the circumference of a drinking straw.
       He's 10 or 15 minutes late, which concerns me not at all. The door bursts open and he hurtles through, jaw stern and worried. He's searching for me so intently, he doesn't actually see me. I find this hilarious, since I'm the only Negro on the premises. I don't call to him because I enjoy watching him move. One of my most cerebral friends, a writer and a Harvard Law student, had only this to say about him: "Look at the ass on that guy."
       When he finally sees me, he's apologizing and explaining that he's double-parked, no spaces. Oh, I say, are we leaving? I'm used to overbearing men making unilateral decisions for us. But no. He just wanted me to know he wasn't lollygagging. But we could leave if I wanted to. This doesn't quite compute for me. Finally, I get it. You were being thoughtful? I say. He gives me a strange look and runs off to continue the search for a parking space.

Debra Dickerson is a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report.