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May 5, 2017

A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-October, 1981

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Monday, October 12, 1981

4 PM. Last night I read for several hours. One thing I read was the Sunday Times Career section, noting again with chagrin how low college teachers’ salaries are.

Then, on public radio, I heard about the large turnout at the National Writers Congress and the complaints about the writer’s position in society. All the news – about blockbusters, conglomerates, media tie-ins – is familiar to me, of course, but I know now that a lot of writers are as fed up as I am.

The writers voted to form a union, though I don’t know if much will come of that. Till that time, writers will continue to get the shaft.

This morning at Broward Community College, I found a memo from Dr. McFarlane, the vice president for academic affairs, who informed me that I was ineligible for an incentive award based on my extra graduate credits.

The reason? I’m only a temporary appointee. But I checked all their stupid manuals – Policy, Procedure, Guidelines – and found no mention of temporary personnel not being eligible.

I fumed as I went to my 8 AM 100 class, and of course today would be the day when the door was locked and we couldn’t get in. I handed back their exams, which most of them failed, but I told them how stupid I thought the departmental tests were and that I wasn’t going to count them.

Hell, all this obsessive emphasis on the distinction between facts and inferences is absurd. I’ve taught at Long Island University, Brooklyn College, John Jay, Kingsborough, the School of Visual Arts and Touro – and nowhere was this taught, not to mention taught to the exclusion of everything else in a remedial writing class.

Without a doubt, BCC’s comp program is the worst I’ve seen: the texts are bad, the curriculum is ridiculous. From now on, I’m teaching writing my way. I’m smarter, better-qualified and more knowledgeable than anyone in the department.

I sent back McFarlane’s memo, writing on it that I was asking to see the specific regulation about temporary teachers, and I told my shop steward, Alan Merickel, about it.

If the regulation is written down somewhere, fine; I’ll accept that as another example of the typical crookedness of academia. But if they’re setting a precedent with me, I’ll file a grievance procedure. As Joan Crawford told the Pepsico board of directors, “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!”

One day I’ll write an exposé about the mediocre education at BCC. What can they do to me? Unless I’m arrested or do something horrendous, they can’t fire me; the worst they can do is not rehire me. And since I don’t want to be rehired, I have nothing to lose.

Academia has no future. I want to get into a field in which I won’t be so exploited.

“Computer Programmers Can Write Their Own Ticket,” said one article in the Careers section – and Josh said he can now go anywhere, as Simon did, and get a job and be treated with more respect than he had been in supposedly humanistic academia.

I would like to learn some technological field – definitely word processing at the very least – but maybe computer programming, too. I’m bright and would be able to handle it.

If I have to earn money at something other than writing because writers are exploited, I should not be exploited at my job, too.

I got through the day on a mixture of rage and intensity. When I got home, I called FPL, and they want a $100 deposit to turn on the electricity in my apartment.


Thursday, October 15, 1981

7 PM. I’m in my new apartment, spending the first night here. Two years ago today, my lease in Rockaway began.

I certainly never thought I’d end up here. This afternoon, while I was shopping in the supermarket, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks and thought: “What the hell am I doing in Sunrise, Florida?”

Last night I slept long and well and had enough dreams to make me feel refreshed. At school, I had a good class and then got several suitcases together to bring over here after lunch.

I spent the afternoon cleaning and figuring out where I want everything. My typewriter and most of my papers and books are still at my parents’ house, as are some clothes.

I feel strange here: it’s almost as if I’m in a completely new city, not just eight miles from my parents and the college. Some things about the apartment annoy me, of course – little things, like not enough light right now and the lack of color and cable TV.

But I should get used to it in a couple of weeks. Remember, two years ago, when I moved to Rockaway, I had never spent more than a week out of twenty years away from the old East 56th Street house.

Since then I’ve lived in my own apartment in Rockaway for over a year, and I’ve spent a month at MacDowell and three weeks at VCCA, as well as a month on my own at Marc’s Brooklyn apartment and a week at Teresa’s and several days at Tom’s in New Orleans and at Kevin’s in Maryland.

Still, after being at my parents’ again for the past dozen weeks, I’ve gotten used to being pampered.

But, heck, this place isn’t exactly a concentration camp. I am a little scared, though. I worry about getting dizzy at night and if I’ll be able to cope.

Miriam’s plane comes in at 5:30 PM tomorrow; I just hope this weekend visit doesn’t turn out to be a disaster. What if she thinks I’m a weirdo? I don’t really know Miriam, except through her letters and her poetry.

Well, I’m still getting publicity: I had a good interview with Anne Groer of the Orlando Sentinel Star’s Washington bureau about the Burt Reynolds for Senator campaign. Maybe another item will appear in the Herald tomorrow. I’d like one of the wire services to pick it up so we can get on TV.

Ms. Groer loved it when I told her that Burt Reynolds’ charisma and acting ability “makes him every bit as qualified to be Senator as Ronald Reagan is to be President.”

Marc called Mom yesterday and said he thinks he has an ulcer: he’s had severe stomach pains for weeks, ever since he had to run away from Fredo. He has nightmares and he overeats; obviously he’s ridden with guilt over what happened with Rikki. Mom suggested he consult Dr. Pasquale, but Marc said he had nothing to talk to a therapist about.

Grandma Ethel reported that she has bruises all over body, and I’m worried that her lymphoma has returned because of all the stress of Grandpa Herb’s long illness. I don’t think she’ll outlive him very long. In a way, I am surprised that all my grandparents are still alive. Grandma Sylvia’s aneurysm wasn’t supposed to give her more than six months when the doctor found it last fall.

Well, here I am in apartment #7 of 5960 N.W. 16th Place, Sunrise, Florida 33313. Tomorrow I have to be up at 6:30 AM and I doubt if I’ll sleep much tonight, my first night here.

Suddenly my confidence seems to be gone.


Friday, October 16, 1981

4:30 PM. Miriam’s plane is due at the airport in an hour. I’m nervous about whether she’ll have a good time and if she will like me; I hope I can keep her amused while she is here.

Last night I slept well but was upset by a dream in which I won a $12,500 NEA fellowship. Oh, the feeling in the dream was ecstatic, but now I feel I’ve jinxed my chances in reality. We’ll see.

One thing I did not expect this morning was no hot water. But I should have realized that not having the gas turned on would affect the water heater.

I managed to take a shower – at least I did wake up quickly – and then on the way to school, I picked up the Herald and found the story called “A Bandit for Senate” in Geoffrey Tomb’s column.

It was brief but funny. Of course, I did come off a little foolishly, but Tomb did get Burt’s reaction from the set of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: “I’m very flattered, but I want to see how the other actor does before I enter politics.”

What I didn’t expect was a double whammy: Ron Sympson’s column for the Fort Lauderdale News & Sun-Sentinel used my press release about my running for the Davie Town Council on a platform of “equine equality,” to represent the town’s horse population.

And he used my campaign jingle, to the tune of “Mr. Ed”: “A horse is a horse, of course, of course / And no one can talk to a horse, of course / But here’s a man every horse can endorse / And his name is Mr. Grayson.”

I taught my two morning 100 classes in a freewheeling way, reading their own essays and Josh’s brilliant Newsday article manuscript.

In between classes, I went to Sunrise City Hall but discovered I couldn’t pay my gas deposit until the previous service was disconnected and the last tenant’s bill is paid up. Since the Maynards weren’t home, I have no way of knowing the previous tenant’s name. I hope Miriam won’t mind going over to my parents’ for a warm shower.

I had my afternoon classes write themes while I marked papers. At Freddy’s garage, I picked up the station wagon, which still doesn’t ride all that well. Jonny drove me there and I left the Buick at Mom’s.

In the mail, I got a letter and an article in German from Helmut, which I haven’t had time to read yet, and a rejection for a job at Wichita State.

When I got home, I was interviewed by the Florida Radio Network in Orlando, so I guess the story about the Burt Reynolds campaign appeared in today’s Sentinel Star. I’ll have to get a copy somehow – maybe from Dad, who’s in Orlando today.

Maybe I shouldn’t have asked Miriam to visit. I don’t know if she expects me to be something other than who I am. But I do feel I can’t pretend with her – or with myself. Look, her visit could turn out to be fun. I just wish she (or anyone) wasn’t coming on my first weekend in this apartment.

I better go to the airport now.


Saturday, October 17, 1981

10 PM. I’m lying on the mattress from my old couch, which is also where I slept last night. Miriam and I decided we needed to “space out” for awhile, and that’s good.

I am really enjoying her visit, and I think she’s enjoying it, too. I was delayed yesterday by a phone interview with the St. Petersburg Times and with heavy traffic. As I was walking to the Pan Am terminal, I heard my name being paged.

Miriam was at the counter and we hugged; she looked much the way I vaguely recalled her, only shorter, with straighter hair and smaller teeth. She had a nice flight from San Francisco, and of course she was a bit disoriented by the surroundings in Florida.

We talked easily and quickly and became good friends right away, speaking about MacDowell, VCCA (where we were in the same studio), Jewishness, gayness, San Francisco vs. Boston, Florida vs. New York, and our various relationships (family, friends, lovers), ambitions, and experiences.

I was glad to have someone to be with, to tell my long (and hopefully funny) stories to, and to have intelligent conversations with. Miriam’s visit has been the high point of this fall so far.

Last night we drove out to the beach at Fort Lauderdale, had dinner at Danny’s – she hadn’t been anyplace so Jewish in a long time – and drove around Davie.

At my apartment, I decided to take the foldaway couch in the living room but discovered it was too lumpy to sleep on and I finally settled for this mattress on the floor.

Miriam sleeps soundly (and a lot) but I could only manage to drop off at 2 AM and awake at 9:30 AM. I almost felt as if I were visiting Miriam at her place. She didn’t complain about the lack of hot water; more bothersome was that there was no coffee for her – that’s all she has for breakfast – so we went out to McDonald’s right away.

It was a cool, cloudy day – not really a beach day – so we drove all over. I took her to see Opa-Locka’s Arabian city hall and surrounding streets, the highrises of Miami Beach and the tacky old Art Deco downtown, and over the Arthur Godfrey Causeway into Miami.

From there, we drove to Coconut Grove and had lunch at CocoPlum. Then we headed through downtown Miami and Little Havana, up Biscayne Boulevard and over to parents’, where I collected my mail (letters from Susan Mernit and Matthew Paris) and introduced Miriam to Mom.

Back here, we schmoozed for a while, dawdling and watching TV before going to out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Deciding to forgo the movies, we just came back here.

Miriam is a very pleasant houseguest. She meditates for twenty minutes mornings and evenings, but she’s not California-crazy although she’s more “natural” than we Floridians are used to. She says, “Huh!” a lot after I say something – and now I wonder if I do that, too.

By her own admission, Miriam is “touchy-feely” and she’s very down-to-earth. I would not at all mind having her around longer: she’s shown me how I much I miss my friends in New York and how sterile life can be without good friends.

Ten years ago today I discovered that Shelli had slept with Jerry and my world collapsed, at least for a time. When I looked at the date on this page, I remembered it only because I told Miriam about it when we were having lunch at CocoPlum.


Monday, October 19, 1981

8 PM. I was just looking through a score of poems that Miriam left me. A few hours ago, I dropped her off at the airport in Miami. Her visit felt like a sea-change for me.

Funny: all at once, it’s become fall in South Florida. Today’s high was only 80° and it was breezy, like it is in January.

I was in bed late last night and I called out, “Hey, Miriam, I really like you . . . I just wanted you to know.” She came in here – she stayed in the living room the last two nights – and touched my shoulder, kissed my cheek, and said, “You’re a peach.”

Miriam made me realize the limitations I’ve placed on myself and what I really want to do with my life. I want to have a full, exciting, loving life the way she does.

Of course Miriam is wealthy and can live on her trust fund’s interest; in that, she has a freedom I’ll never have.

She and I talked and talked, and I feel she knows everything about me. Miriam is the oldest of four; her parents are from Englewood, New Jersey.

Her father was in ladies’ coats but was always an intellectual, socialist and atheist – now he writes books, mostly psychohistory. Her mother is a teacher, a writer herself, and very high-strung and not always easy to get along with.

Miriam didn’t read until quite late. She went to socialist summer camps and progressive schools and then to Harvard in 1972. She loves sex and says she knows she isn’t pretty but is sexually attractive.

Like me, she often feels more of an attraction to her own sex but much more emotional intensity in relationships with the opposite sex.

Unlike me, she’s slept with most of her friends, all of whom seem to be interrelated in that way of our generation.

Highly ambitious as a poet, Miriam still wouldn’t do anything crazy.

For two years she lived in Boston with a guy named Clayton, a wealthy WASP whose family hated her; the two of them got on until one day he left “because he said I ate with my fingers and wasn’t athletic.”

She was raped by a neighbor who later destroyed her apartment. In 1977, she got the flu and neglected it and it turned into pleurisy; only a lung operation – the scars are still on her back – stopped her from dying.

After getting her M.A. in Lit from Harvard – we discovered we both did graduate papers on lesbian imagery in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” – she left academia. She taught a little but doesn’t have to work.

A year ago, she moved to San Francisco and had a tumultuous relationship with John, a 22-year-old computer genius with a motorcycle and blond hair down to his ass.

He left her for an old love, Michelle. (His first lover was a boy in Boston named Mike, “so all his lovers’ names began with Mi….”)

After the breakup, Miriam started therapy with the woman lover of a friend, and she says she’s learned a lot about herself from those sessions.

Her stories about San Francisco intrigue me; she thinks I would be amused by life out there. The last thing she said to me was, “Visit me.”

Like me, Miriam loves artists’ colonies – VCCA, MacDowell, Yaddo, Cummington – saying they’re the only freebies that have come her way as a result of being a writer. She has several best friends, including Sue Standing.

I slept wonderfully both Saturday and Sunday nights, as if under the sleep-loving Miriam’s influence. Both days I woke up after 10:30 AM – although this morning I briefly dragged myself out of bed at 7:30 AM to call in sick at BCC, an act which made me feel vaguely guilty.

I had vivid, intense dreams while Miriam was here, as if she was making me see how bland and colorless my life – even my dreams – have lately been.

Having her with me for the past three days helped me make the transition from my parents’ house to my own apartment. And I think she was helped by coming here to bridge the dissonance between San Francisco and her past in Boston/New York/New Jersey.

Since she didn’t eat breakfast but loves coffee, yesterday at noon we sat by the patio of the mall drinking coffee, eating bran muffins, and going through the Sunday New York Times. (Earlier, I’d been interviewed by yet another Florida paper, the Jupiter Courier.)

We drove out on State Road 84 to where it becomes Alligator Alley and then went out to the beach at Fort Lauderdale.

Miriam is the first person in months with whom I could talk frankly about sex – though I was still embarrassed over the paucity of my own sexual experience. I felt stirrings of desire for her but didn’t quite know how to handle it; we ended up not making love but teetering on the edge of mutual attraction.

We had a funny Jewish dinner at Deli Masters and then came home to talk the night away. Somehow, without sleeping with me, Miriam made me feel more sexual and more attractive.

This morning we lay next to each other, laughing and having a sweet time the way I can do only with close old friends. See, I can meet new people who are important to me.

I finally was able to pay my gas deposit at Sunrise City Hall and then Miriam and I went over to my parents’ and took some more suitcases and my typewriter back here.

At lunch, I showed Miriam a map of South Florida and read her my South Florida stories, which she found wonderfully silly. I think she was fascinated by the area, a bit repelled by it, and will write at least one poem about her trip to Florida. At the Pan Am terminal in Miami, we hugged tightly.

Tonight I cleaned the apartment. I haven’t exercised in four days, but I’ll have to get back to my routine tomorrow.

The mail: Susan Mernit sounds depressed. She quit the New York Book Fair, which was taking too much of her time; Spencer has colitis and a fever from the sulfa drugs he was given. Helmut seems to be a little anti-American, part of the wave of pacifism sweeping Germany and the rest of Europe; he sent a long diatribe and said he doesn’t want my respect but my affection.

Tom asked me to again visit NOCCA to teach creative writing to his students, this time with Crad, who says he can come in January or February; that could prove exciting.

Josh called and said he’s unhappy with work, that his wonderful article still hasn’t come out in Newsday, that Simon was in Florida this weekend on his way to computer school in Georgia, that Simon’s girlfriend isn’t pregnant but he may marry her anyway, for immigration purposes.

I broke part of my wisdom tooth yesterday. I have a lot of papers to grade, but I’ll put them off till tomorrow.

That’s about it.

So tomorrow I go back to Business As Usual. Except I’ve changed because of Miriam’s visit. Now I am sure that I don’t want to stay here; I don’t think I want to go back to New York, either. We’ll see what happens. But there’s more to life than teaching at BCC, that’s for sure. TC mark

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