Wednesday, February 11, 1981
7 PM. I am more convinced than ever that I do not want to stay in Florida beyond the next twelve weeks. But I refuse to admit that I made a mistake in coming here.
For one thing, it was here that I began to feel hopeful about my future again. For another, I’ve begun to work on my book, the most important thing in my life now.
As I wrote Avis today, once I have finished my book, I’ll be more than happy to die, feeling as though I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to.
I can’t take my parents’ craziness, and I want to be far away from them. Tonight, for example, there was a game of Uproar as they squabbled about taking Aunt Sydelle to dinner.
I did not feel like spending another evening in the middle of their stupid fight, so I left the car before we pulled out of our parking space. After more than a year of living on my own, I cannot get used to “scenes” again.
What I like about Florida are the quiet moments by myself – like last night. I read and wrote and went out to sit on my terrace at 11 PM; it was so mild I could wear a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Anyway, I do feel defensive about my move. Everyone from Grandma Ethel to Aunt Arlyne to Josh is just dying to say “I told you so.” Well, I’ve gone beyond the point where I give a fuck what other people think.
My parents are still under the delusion that I’m going to get a “respectable” job in P.R. or advertising. Today Dad said, “You can’t just live from place to place, from friend to friend.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“That’s not a life,” my father said – and walked out of the room in exasperation.
I just think his definition of “life” is narrow. After thirty years, I finally feel comfortable with myself and I’m not going to give up my hard-won freedom for some illusory “security. “
Avis wrote me a long, beautiful letter and signed it, “Love, Sat Darshan,” and then wrote out her name in Gurmukhi.
She’s happy now, and I told her to do what makes her happy. If she wants to wear a turban in the Sikh fashion, she should, and not worry about people thinking she’s weird.
Of course Avis is weird; I have not known any good people who weren’t weird.
Today in the paper an evangelical Christian leader seriously proposed capital punishment for homosexuals. I expect it may come to that: for gays, Jews, blacks, Hispanics. But if it does happen, I won’t go silently; I’ll fight.
I’m no longer going to waste any time on life’s trivialities. Maybe I’m a deluded, pompous ass, but I think my time is too valuable for that.
I hesitate to quote a Frank Sinatra song, but damn it, it is important to do things my way. That’s Emerson’s whole message in “Self-Reliance.”
I want to spend my time accumulating friends rather than money. There will probably be a nuclear war or an economic catastrophe anyway and most people will lose everything.
Today I had a pretty good class at Broward Community College. Afterwards, I got a call from Bill Braucher, the Herald columnist, about Burt Reynolds for Senator, and I also got a call from Channel 10’s Morry Alter, interested in doing something on the Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club.
There was Avis’s great letter, too. She’s back at Brooklyn College two nights a week, taking a chem course, and she speculated on how things have and haven’t changed in the decade since we first met there.
Friday, February 13, 1981
5 PM. Today was a pleasant Friday the 13th. I slept very well last night, and when I woke up this morning, my stomach was feeling fine. I’m certain that yesterday’s problems were all caused by nerves.
Today was a mild and humid day in which it rained on and off. In the English Department this morning, I heard two professors discussing a fiction writing course one of them was giving at night. As they passed me, they nodded patronizingly.
Damn it! It drives me crazy that I’m probably the most prolific young writer of serious fiction in the whole of South Florida, but I can’t get a class teaching creative writing – something I know better than any lunkhead at BCC.
Everyone there is pleasant, but BCC is really the bush leagues. If I showed them all the literary magazines I’ve been published in, they probably wouldn’t understand the whole scene. Not that most of the English professors at Harvard would be able to make heads or tails out of Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar or Rick Peabody’s Gargoyle.
No, here they know only Hemingway (still the object of worship here by most male would-be writers), Faulkner, Fitzgerald and maybe a couple of others like Bellow, Updike and Cheever. To them, Philip Roth is the hot new young writer.
I had a good class again, and some of my students seem to be fine writers. There’s a woman who has teenage kids and this one guy Joe Glantz, who can write a beautiful paragraph; they’ll probably both get A’s – especially Joe, if he continues to wear shorts to class.
After school – Monday is a holiday – I went to the cleaners, had lunch and bought some posterboard to make a “Burt Reynolds for Senator” poster. The photographer for the Sun-Tattler came at 3 PM and was very quick; he took three or four shots.
The mail brought a W-2 form from Touro College, some miscellaneous notices, and a letter from Bert Stratton, who didn’t know about the Library Journal rave of his book until I told him.
Later, I went to the print shop and gave them my Florida Literary Fellowship grant application; earlier I phoned Tallahassee to find out if I could use a xerox of my book as a manuscript, and they said I could.
The printers said they’ll have it ready for me on Monday; the deadline is March 2. I asked for a $3,000 grant from the Florida Arts Council, and I don’t expect to get it. Still, it’s worth a try.
I have $1600 now and I expect to get about $350 from CUNY in the retroactive pay raise in early March.
I’m trying to delay getting my BCC pay, which is easy since they require official transcripts and three letters of recommendation. I’ll be surprised if I get unemployment benefits, but it would be the answer to my prayers because it could keep me afloat financially until next fall.
– Alice called just now with exciting news. When she got on the line, she said breathlessly: “What’s the best thing that could have happened to me?”
“You got a job!” I said.
“Right!” Alice cried. “Managing editor of Weight Watchers magazine!”
I felt overjoyed for Alice. It all happened so fast. Phyllis Schneider quit last week to take over Junior Miss, and Alice applied for her position. With Phyllis and June putting in the good words, Alice was informed just an hour ago that she got the job.
She gave Ray two weeks’ notice at Seventeen and no doubt she will have an ecstatic weekend since it’s Valentine’s Day, her birthday and a Monday holiday off.
Clicking on the line announced that someone else was calling, so I got off with Alice, and the next caller was Gary, who said he’d be over here at 8 PM tonight.
Tuesday, February 17, 1981
9 PM. Driving home from Fort Lauderdale a little while ago, I realized that whatever happens, I will never regret my decision to move to Florida. I feel at home here now; South Florida is a part of me in the same way that New York is.
It’s good to live for some time in a different place. Maybe it won’t show up in my writing for years, but living here has given me a broader perspective. I have more respect for the land and more respect for the South and for people who live outside the Big Apple. In many ways the South Florida lifestyle makes a lot more sense than does the Manhattan lifestyle with its endless rushing to nowhere.
I spoke to Grandpa Herb last evening. He sounded a little better but said that having the tube in his penis was very painful. Grandma Ethel had not come to the hospital that day because she was feeling ill, but Marty and Arlyne were there.
Marc and Rikki are living in the Brooklyn apartment for now. Mom spoke to Rikki this afternoon, and I listened in on the extension. Rikki said that Grandpa Herb looked better to her and that his urine is now free of blood. I just hope that’s the one truthful statement Rikki made in her catalogue of lies and fantasies.
Rikki said she called Fredo and told him that he had a lot of nerve harassing Marc’s parents and turning others on them. Fredo demanded the title to Marc’s car, but Rikki said he wasn’t going to get it: he’s already in possession of the car, Marc’s gold jewelry and his coin collection.
Rikki said it all came about because Fredo wanted her back and “thought I would leave Marc if he was poor, but I’m sticking by my man.” She tried to impress Mom by telling her how hard she’s been working to clean up the apartment and how little Tara’s grades have improved since she and Marc got to Rhode Island.
But they can’t stay in Warwick because she doesn’t get along with her mother – although she assured Mom that Marc was “the apple of my parents’ eyes.” She told Fredo that her father wants to meet him – “face to face, man to man” – but who knows what that means?
Anyway, Rikki said, Fredo thinks she and Marc are living in Connecticut so for now they’re safe in Sheepshead Bay.
Gary came over at 5 PM yesterday. His Uncle Izzy didn’t want to go to Coconut Grove, so we picked him up and ate in Miami Beach.
Gary is such a snob about Miami Beach being such a tacky place for old people like his uncle, but I love the atmosphere there: all the bright lights and glamorously seedy old hotels on Collins Avenue, the old Jewish people kibitzing on their porches.
Isaac Bashevis Singer (who’s got a street in Surfside named after him) said that Miami Beach reminds him of Poland, and I treasure the place because it will be different soon.
Uncle Izzy’s ever-present cigar smelled like the ones Grandpa Nat used to smoke, and as we drove downtown, I was awash in memories.
I’ll never forget the wonder of seeing Collins Avenue for the first time in December 1969 – and that magic has never worn off, for I dreamed all night of the hotels and the beach.
We ate in Picciolo, a restaurant on First Street in a very bad black and Cuban neighborhood just by South Beach. The place reminded me of 1940s Florida: it was very Old World Italian.
Next to us, an old Italian woman requested that the accordionist play, “Ah, Marie!” and he complied, continuing on with a medley of Italian songs.
I had the chicken parmigiana, which was delicious, and I felt so peaceful; outside, palm trees were swaying in the rain and somehow it seemed out of a dream or an old Technicolor movie.
The conversation was okay, too. Gary’s uncle is an irascible old bachelor, but he’s a good man. He told us his cousin Doris, the old lady I drove to Gary’s wedding, also lives in Miami Beach and is now blind.
Gary’s uncle noticed a three-dollar mistake in the bill – in our favor – but he insisted on telling the waiter because obviously Izzy wouldn’t dream of “cheating” the restaurant. Izzy also insisted on paying for all of us.
We drove Izzy back to 67th Street (right by the Carillon, where I stayed in 1969), and deciding it was too late to go to Coconut Grove, we took a ride up A1A to Fort Lauderdale, stopping off to pick up Gary’s ticket for tonight’s Air Florida flight.
We got back to my parents’ house at 11 PM and I took the bed near the door because it doesn’t pull out all the way and Gary is so much taller than I. I slept well and this morning Gary took me to the mall for breakfast at Danny’s.
Then we went to the post office, where I mailed my Florida grant application, and to the printers, where I picked up my new résumé. Gary wanted to sit out by the pool and get as deep a tan as possible before returning to winter in New York.
I joined him as soon as I picked up the mail. CUNY sent me another W-2 form – this one for $24.01 from New York City Community College, the check I never picked up.
I got my first response to my blurb queries. Eric Roberts’ agent said that Eric wants to see my book.
Paul Fericano sent a great postcard. He’s been busy because Kathy has been pregnant and having complications. Paul said we should keep in touch, and he’s using my quote as a blurb for his chapbook.
Paul also wrote: “Caught your Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club mag via UPI. That’s the spirit, man! We’re gonna do it, pal, so keep me Kellogged (I hate Post).”
Jack Saunders, Delray Beach’s Poet-Pretender, thanked me for the dough I sent him and said he can review Hitler for the local paper, and Jack mentioned that John Bennett of Washington State’s Vagabond, who’s publishing Jack’s book, will be down here in April. Maybe we can all get together. Great!
Gary stayed out by the pool all afternoon; I joined him to read the Village Voice and the Times Book Review and get a little sun myself. But your attitude is different when you actually live here in Florida, and I feel guilty about sunbathing on a weekday.
I took Gary to the airport at 5 PM, and he said I could stay with him when I come to New York. He is terribly mercenary and really into possessions, but he’s all right. After catching dinner at the Wolfie’s on Sunrise Boulevard, I went to the Fort Lauderdale library.
Tonight Josh called to tell me he’d sold a porno story to some skin mag for $100. “It sure beats rejections from little mags,” Josh said. Very true. Josh’s good fortune makes me glad because if anyone deserves a little success, it’s Josh.
No Burt Reynolds for Senator article has yet appeared in the paper; maybe tomorrow.
Thursday, February 19, 1981
5 PM. I feel uneasy today. It’s just that nothing much is happening and I feel as though I’m in limbo.
– Maybe I spoke too soon. Jeffrey Knapp, head of the South Florida Poets-in-the-Schools program, just called and said he’d received my materials.
He loved “Hitler” and remembered the Coda piece and said I was too self-deprecating in my cover letter. Jeffrey said that things in Broward are very fucked up and that budget cuts have made things uncertain.
But he did say I could have a weeklong $400 residency in Dade between now and the end of the term. I told him I would call back when I returned from New Orleans and my work at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Tom will be a gracious host, and I’m sure his students will treat me with respect – something I’m unused to. And I’ll be there for the weekend before Mardi Gras, so Tom said I’ll get to see New Orleans at its craziest.
I have a flight next Wednesday at 5:50 PM out of Miami; it will arrive at 6:50 PM Central Time, two hours later. On Thursday I will give readings and answer questions at NOCCA, and on Friday Tom and I will do workshops. I’m a little nervous, of course, but I have to learn to start traveling and finally get over my agoraphobia.
The Plantation public library called to say that they have decided to order my book, and I answered a dozen ads for creative writing jobs listed in the AWP Job List that I got today. So I cannot honestly say that nothing is happening.
I’ve given up on the Burt Reynolds for Senate story ever appearing, but you have to lose sometime. I’ve slowed the pace on the book I’m doing of my diaries; my interest has begun to wane, but I don’t intend to quit on something so important to me.
Last night I went to Sunrise, had dinner at Always, and then went to the Jewish Community Center for the poetry reading.
I recognized some of the people I’d met on Sunday at the reading on the boat: Selma Marshel, a 45-ish woman recovering from a stroke; Magi Schwartz, a large poet from Hollywood; Lenny DellaRocca, 27, laid back and funny; Kirt Dressler, the editor of the Florida Arts Gazette, whom I think dislikes me.
First there was an open reading. If I had known, I would have brought some poems. Of course, most of the readers were not very good, but then again, almost all the poems had some competent and even magical lines.
Then Judith Ortiz Cofer, the featured poet, read. I could tell immediately that she’s a true professional, and afterwards I bought a copy of her chapbook, Latin Women Pray, saying I’d try to review it for some small press publication.
Kirt judged the open reading and gave out four prizes; that was nice. The first prize winner, Lana, has only been in Florida a month and had to go back to New York today for the closing on her house at Beach 125th Street and the boardwalk in Rockaway.
It’s so odd here: you ask someone how long they’ve been down here, and they say, “Three months” or “A year.” Broward County is like a huge, well-off displaced persons camp.
A little while ago I heard Jonny crying to Mom that he was miserable because he had no friends. Jonny should join some organization or club to meet people. If I hadn’t joined Student Government, I might have missed meeting the dearest friends I’ve ever had.
My big worry is Grandpa Herb’s health. Yesterday Grandma Ethel told me, “I need you.” They had to put the tube back into his penis, and Grandpa sounded terrible. Arlyne said he won’t eat because he wants to die. I feel helpless, yet I’m glad I’m not there.