A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1981

Friday, July 24, 1981

10 PM. Back in Florida again. It’s a little overwhelming, all this running around. But I have happy memories of Virginia. My last day at the colony was really special, as the magic of Wednesday night continued.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as perfectly happy as I was on Wednesday night driving back from the pizzeria in Madison Heights: Cathy and Greg sand “Help Me Make It Through the Night” in their beautiful Southern accents as the wind swept through the back seat; I gave Cathy a big kiss – “to see what it’s like to kiss a girl with braces.”

Yesterday she wrote me a letter in which she said she feels blessed to know me and hopes that she is not too tall for us to one day “lie together platonically, our bodies fitting perfectly.”

Susan helped me pack and left me a Tab and a very sweet poem. From the way she hugged me, I knew that she really did love me. And Diane took a photo of me and Lou, and Sally also hugged me goodbye.

The drive to Washington with Peggy went quickly; she’s young and preppy and a little naïve, but she has grace and intelligence and seems surprisingly resilient.

We talked so intently that the time went fast and we missed our exit on the Beltway. Finally she parked in the long-term lot of National Airport and I got a taxi there.

Unfortunately, the driver was unfamiliar with the part of Maryland where Kevin lived. For $19, I ended up having to lug my three pieces of luggage five blocks, which was frustrating – I always had to leave one suitcase behind and then go back and get it several steps later – and scary.

I was soaked in sweat by the time I got to Kevin’s, where I finally had dinner. (Kevin is a very bad eater and serves white bread and Hawaiian Punch instead of whole wheat and fruit juice.)

Kevin finished typesetting Disjointed Fictions (about 60 pages 5” x 8”) and sent the pages off to George on Monday. After he finishes a double issue of Bogg and redoes the two Gargoyle issues, he’ll begin typesetting Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

Kevin plans to use a black cover with an illustration for my book. Orders for Al Drake’s book are trickling in, and in a couple of months Kevin will know if he made a profit on it. He’ll have to teach five or six classes this fall, but he doesn’t plan to write anyway.

John Elsberg’s book is going to the printers soon. I called John and told him that he should love VCCA when he goes there in October, when the new house should be ready.

Kevin kept me up half the night talking; I like him, but he can be a bit boring and predictable in his opinions. I missed the magical eccentricities of my VCCA friends.

We woke up today at 10 AM and futzed around till I got a cab to take me to the airport.

As I become more experienced in flying, I’m getting less nervous. After I checked in at Air Florida, I had a good meal in the terminal’s fancy restaurant and then caught the first half-hour of Another World, which I hadn’t viewed in a month.

The plane was late and I was worried about the weather; Washington was delightfully cool, but it was pouring. However, the flight to Tampa proved to be fairly smooth.

As usual, I was tense and nervous at times, but the two hours passed quickly – and the 45-minute flight from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale was so pleasant that I looked out the window the whole way. (I spotted University Village and other landmarks as the plane came in.)

Mom and Dad were waiting for me at the gate; I hugged them, but I felt less happy to be “home” than I thought I would. Whenever I’m away from my parents, I forget they can be annoying.

After we ate dinner at Danny’s, I came home to say hello to Jonny, who was busy watching movies (The Godfather) on cable TV.

How do I feel? A bit lost. A bit proud. I’m very tired, however, and will leave reflection till tomorrow.


Saturday, July 25, 1981

Midnight. Yesterday I bought a copy of the Washington Star, the headline of which announced its own demise (“Star To Close On August 7”). My horoscope in the paper read as follows: “It’s time to let go of the past and take a ‘cold plunge’ into the future.”

I have been in Florida a day now and I feel more lost than ever. Things are always changing every time I come home. Now they’re widening University Drive into six lanes; the stationery store in New River Plaza (which was La Fuente Plaza a year ago) is in a different place, as is the cleaners; the Davie post office is finished; and more condos keep being constructed.

It’s almost a metaphor for an ever-changing life. Last night I was as dizzy as hell, but somehow I managed to sleep. In my exhaustion I slept until noon but awoke with a severe toothache caused by grinding. Obviously I’m very tense.

It rained on and off today, and I didn’t do much. I sent out the letter accepting my appointment to the Orleans Parish School Board; they had wanted it within seven days of receipt.

I couldn’t bring myself to fill out the zillions of other forms and to start sending away for my transcripts – this despite taking three hours to answer all my other correspondence, submit a manuscript to Applezaba Press, read through the Village Voice and American Book Review and AWP Newsletter, and balance my checking accounts.

At dinner in Arby’s, when Mom and Dad began to speak of New Orleans and how we should drive there – in two cars or one – I told them I’d think about it and we’d talk about it later.

Well, maybe I just need a few days to adjust to the idea of moving; in Virginia, it didn’t seem quite real. (Perhaps when it did seem real, I shunted it aside.)

I want to be rescued from going, and my only hope seems to be a Florida Fine Arts Council fellowship that will require my residence here. The grantees are supposed to be notified “by August” – and on Monday I’ll call Tallahassee and find out how soon it will be.

This is probably just last-minute panic, for I don’t really want to stay in Florida. Actually, I don’t know what I want.

Dr. Weddington of LSU wants me to come for an interview this week, but they won’t pay my fare to Baton Rouge. I don’t think I’ll get the job anyway, and even if I did, I’d be unhappy at that school.

After all this spring’s rejections for full-time college teaching jobs – including LSU’s – I had decided to forget about academia. Remember? And seeing the unhappiness of the tenured writing professors I met at VCCA made me even more convinced that academia is not for me.

What I’d like to do now would be to get an interesting full-time job that would pay about $13,000. My experience at VCCA also convinced me that I never want to be a full-time writer: it’s too isolating.

If I had a job like the ones some of my friends in New York do, I think I’d feel better about myself. Oh well.

Dad seems to be doing all right as a salesman although he’s making less than he thought he would earlier this year. Jonny has had three sessions with a woman therapist whom he likes. Mom is getting still heavier.

In New York, Grandpa Herb saw a doctor, but he still feels very weak. Grandma Ethel and Grandma Sylvia are both still complaining. Marc is seeing some woman and he’s trying to get a vendor’s license to get into a flea market.

My teeth still ache and I feel fat and hungry all the time and I hope I’ll be feeling more rational in the next few days.


Sunday, July 26, 1981

9 PM. It’s a cool Sunday night – for Florida in midsummer, that is – and I’ve just walked in. After dinner, I took a ride out to the beach. I love the beach in Fort Lauderdale, and tonight it seemed more magical than ever.

Sitting by the ocean wall, I watched the sunset, the boats, and the beautiful boys walking by. I thought a lot about the people at VCCA, particularly Cathy. I am a little in love with her, though I have strong feelings for Susan, too.

That they both could fall in love with me a little has in some way changed the way I look at the world. I was surprised that they found me more attractive than guys I thought were very cute, like Will or Greg.

I think I’m probably more attractive to women than I am to men, though. Gay men find it hard to get past the physical. (I know.)

Although I spent half an hour lifting weights this afternoon and did pushups and sit-ups until 3 AM as I watched Blazing Saddles on cable TV, I’m still far from well-built. But Cathy and Susan loved me anyway, and Sookie and Diane also tried to seduce me.

Cathy wrote:

Dear Richard,

I feel that my life has been blessed since I met you, and although I am too tall, I think that our souls are about the same size – about 6’5”. . .

Some nights when you can’t sleep, think of me and how we might fit nicely together, my front to your back, and how my arm might have felt around your waist in the most platonically beautiful way ever, and think of touching my head ever so slightly.

And then, my platonic love, sleep the way you’ve never slept before.

Goodnight.

Cathy

Susan’s poem was called “Places You Depart”:

on this cool day
you are flying
away from here

go fast
and be a traveller
who is loved well
in every port
who always finds friendship
and quiet
good talk, a clean place
to work

inside your head
you are running
and you don’t know
if you go away form
or toward
a place you depart
or what spot on the map is yours
claim everywhere

when you rest
make believe
you are creating a new world

Now with people like that who love me, how can I be such a rotten guy?

I still haven’t reconciled myself to moving to New Orleans – I answered several want ads in the paper here today – but with Cathy and Susan’s help, I will. It’s scary, true, but I’ve never been less afraid.

I didn’t want to go to Virginia, either, and I found the place to be – I keep using the word – magic. Cathy told me I’ll never be alone, wherever I go. I told her I, too, feel blessed, that if I should die tomorrow, I would die knowing that I’ve had the happiest life I could have asked for.

“The worst thing that can happen is death,” said Cathy, “and that isn’t so bad.”

Today I called Grandma Ethel. She thanked me for my letter and said that Grandpa Herb is very ill and refuses to eat; she had hoped the doctor would put him in the hospital.

I also phoned Josh, who got a new computer programming job – with an IBM machine, for more money, in Brooklyn Heights – so he’s really happy.

Simon got on the line and told me he’s leaving for San Francisco in a week: he’ll check into a hotel and is mailing his possessions to his brother in L.A. “I’m a little apprehensive,” Simon said, “but I’m glad to be going.”

If I only I could emulate Simon. Well, I’ll have to. New Orleans won’t be perfect, but New York and Florida aren’t perfect, either. And I ain’t perfect myself.


Monday, July 27, 1981

9 PM. Last night I finally got around to filling out most of the New Orleans School Board’s personnel forms and sending away at Brooklyn and Staten Island for my transcripts.

The morning, pretending to be a Fort Lauderdale News reporter, I called the Division of Cultural Affairs in Tallahassee and learned that the Secretary of State approved the grants last week and they will be announced by the beginning of August.

I figure I’m an almost even bet to get a grant and I’ve been spending way too much time and energy thinking about it (and the Tropic short story contest as well).

I should know from experience that you never get what you need desperately. And I do need this grant desperately.

No, I don’t. I’m just scared of going to New Orleans, and the grant is the last thing that could prevent that.

But I’ve got to accept whatever happens with the grant. I know it’s no reflection on my talents as a writer because I’m sure I’m one of the most talented people in the state.

The decision is based on a variety of factors, most of which I have no control over. And if the decision goes against me, I’ll go to New Orleans. I don’t expect to be happy there, but I think I can learn from bad experiences, too.

I think Florida is safe but it could also prove to be stagnating because of my family and the lack of cultural stimulation here. And who says Florida will always be safe?

I worry about the humid weather and the dirtiness of New Orleans, but it’s not that that really bothers me.

While I think I’d be happier living in Phoenix or Los Angeles or San Francisco, I’m sure that if I were about to move to any of those places, I would find fault with them, too.

If I don’t get the grant, it may be a blessing in disguise, for New Orleans will teach me independence. I’ve been a better person every time I’ve take a scary risk. My experience in Virginia confirmed this again.

In the past year, I’ve become a fairly good traveler, I’ve slept in a number of strange beds, and I’ve handled everything that came up without having a breakdown.

This morning I got up early, watched the preparations for the Prince Charles/Lady Diana wedding, and then went off to the bank and the Broward Community College library, where I read research books all morning.

I got letters from Alice, who’s happy to be going off to Washington State, and from Paul Fericano, who sounded a bit stoned but as beautifully weird as ever.

In the afternoon, I spent time at the pool, rewrote a story for a new Florida Arts Gazette contest, caught up on soap operas, and read the Village Voice.

We all went out to dinner at Neighbors, where I enjoyed a hamburger. Back home, Reagan went on TV pumping for his tax plan and then the Democrats came on plugging theirs.

Not much is happening. But that’s what I want for now. In a couple of weeks I’m making the biggest move of my life, and for the moment I need quiet and time.


Tuesday, July 28, 1981

9 PM. I guess I overdid my weight-lifting on Sunday. I awoke today unable to straighten out either of my arms. My biceps are so sore and tense that it was impossibly painful for me to stretch out my arms. I must be in worse shape than I thought.

Last night I called Gary to find out about his two-week trip to California. He said that he had a few meetings in Los Angeles but had a great deal of time to explore the city on his own.

After business was concluded, Gary drove up the coast, past Big Sur and Carmel and all those delicious places you always see in movies. In San Francisco, he enjoyed himself by doing all the touristy things.

He said Los Angeles wasn’t his “cup of tea” but that he fell in love with San Francisco and even interviewed for a job with the Bank of America there.

While I was on the phone with Gary, I got a call from Elaine Taibi, who had been proofreading the first issue of the Brooklyn College Literary Review. Matthew Paris had selected my “Diary of a Sophomore” and “Diary of a Junior,” and Elaine said she was worried about the explicit sexual references.

The magazine is trying to get funding from the college and she didn’t want to offend anyone. I was horribly embarrassed and told Elaine to delete any references she wanted to.

Not that I think my work is so obscene; I can’t really write a good sex scene. But lines like “I played with her clitoris” might be objectionable.

Elaine said she thought the stories were wonderful “rite of passage” material and told me the other proofreader said it was the only good thing in the magazine.

Elaine also seemed disappointed that I won’t be coming back to New York; it’s obvious that she believes it’s the only place for civilized people to live.

I was so embarrassed to know that Elaine and others were reading my intimate diary details that I finally decided to open the letter from Helmut. He was glad I wrote and said he had tried to find out my address “with the pretension of writing you.”

Helmut hopes to finish school in October 1982; the government is no longer supporting him, so he drives his taxi around a lot. Much of his letter was leftist criticism of United States foreign policy and vague statements about the dignity of human life.

He thinks Florida is exotic “but it is a training ground for reactionaries who want to invade Guatemala, Cuba and El Salvador.”

Helmut said that “With Hitler in New York” ran in a German New Wave magazine and he apologizes “as your German agent” for not securing copyright. I think it’s great that it was published in German!

I stayed up very late watching cable TV in the living room: a program about Norman Mailer on the ARTS channel and then a martial arts movie featuring enough karate blows to kill the Soviet army.

When I got into bed, I felt very dizzy and had to take a Dramamine. I slept late and woke up feeling sore and achy. I went out for an hour in the sun but otherwise spend the day in my room, watching TV.

They’re showing pilot episodes of a new soap opera about teenagers, Young Lives, written by Ronni Wenker-Konner, Alice’s cousin’s wife. It’s actually very well-written and I envy Ronni her job. I’d give up every story I ever wrote if I could produce a soap opera that millions of people would say. That’s really what I’d like to be doing.

So why am I going to New Orleans to teach gifted high school students a kind of writing I myself consider elitist? Tom’s a great guy and a superb writer, but he disdains the popular culture that I love. He already warned me not to tell the NOCCA students to watch TV. But if they don’t, who will they be writing for? I want to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Well, still no word from the Fine Arts Council of Florida about grants. It probably won’t come until at least the weekend. In the meantime I’m watching Prince Charles and Lady Di get married, and Reagan and the Democrats fight over the tax cut bills, and I’m getting a lot of rest.

I’m coming to accept whatever’s in store for me. Maybe I’ll even learn to like New Orleans. Part of me wishes I could get away from the neurotic mishigass of my parents and Jonny.

We’ll see what develops next.


Thursday, July 30, 1981

10 PM. What a day! I slept restlessly all night as I dreamed about the Florida grant. At 8 AM something made me go downstairs and scan the Broward section for news. There it was: an article about the county’s share of grants, and my eye fell on one line: “Grayson got $3,000.”

“Mom! Dad!” I screamed, and they came out of their bedroom, thinking I was dying. I showed them the paper and we all danced around with joy. I couldn’t believe it.

Only three writers and one choreographer in the county got grants: Kirt Dressler got $1,800 and Judy Cofer got $2,900. I couldn’t believe it, yet all along I knew I would win.

I called Tallahassee and they confirmed it, though they said I wouldn’t be officially notified for several weeks. Mom told me to take a tranquilizer because I couldn’t stop jumping up and down.

I called Grandma Ethel, who seemed glad to get some good news for a change, and Grandma Sylvia felt the same way: “They don’t give it for nothing,” she said. “You got it because you worked hard.”

The rest of the day was a blur: tropical storms, soap operas, Chinese food for dinner, an acceptance from Fat Tuesday, a rejection, a haircut, the feeling of excitement everywhere I went.

What does this mean? For one thing, I’m staying in Florida. I have to because of contractual obligations; otherwise I’d forfeit the grant. And it wouldn’t seem right to cheat; also, if I ever got caught, my reputation would be sunk.

Besides, Florida’s the one state that’s offered me money; I feel I owe her loyalty. Telling Tom will be tough, and I’m not going to do it until Saturday.

But I have to accept this grant because it means more than just the $3,000. It may mean a job, readings, more sales for Disjointed Fictions and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Now that I have the state seal of approval, more people will take me seriously. I’m almost respectable.

Gee, I can’t think too far beyond this weekend, but obviously my priorities are to (1) get a job, and (2) get my own apartment.

The news didn’t make any of the other papers but I did find a story about Selma’s post-stroke struggles in the Sun-Sentinel. I called Selma up and told her how wonderful it was to see her picture and her words in the paper.

Debbie Solomon wrote the article, and Selma mentioned that Debbie said to say hello to me. I told Selma I’d take her to the next Poetry in a Pub meeting. Of course I never mentioned my grant to her. Careerism is secondary; life and friendship come first.

I did call Gary and Josh and Teresa and Kevin and George; I guess that’s about my limit for today. I wish I could get in touch with Alice, but she’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

Kevin said he’ll begin typesetting Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog on Saturday, and George said Disjointed Fictions is in type; he’ll have to saddle-stitch it because it’s 64 pages but he said I could use the last 11 pages (my bibliography) as a résumé.

George told me he’s becoming a workaholic and is worried because he likes his job at the Patriot-News. Both the publisher and the number two man are ill with, respectively, cancer and a stroke.

Josh said he begins his new job on Monday: it pays $20,000. Teresa sounded out of it and had to get off to go to the ballet with her mother. Diana, Teresa reported, is getting married to Charles (no kidding!). Teresa herself has been going on job interviews.

Everyone in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania reports cool weather.

Now I’ve got to calm down. This day has been the most exciting one in two years.


Friday, July 31, 1981

5 PM. I just realized that today’s entry closes a dozen years of this diary.

A week ago I was flying from Washington to Fort Lauderdale; just about this time we were landing at our stopover in Tampa. Now, unlike then, I know where I’m going – or rather, staying.

Ever since I accepted the job in New Orleans, I had been hoping my Florida grant would come through. I really didn’t want to go there – not for a job that paid $9,000 at most. But I didn’t think I could get anything better.

Will Florida be better? I don’t know. In some way I feel am escaping, running away, being a coward. This is probably the easier way. Hey, I got exactly what I wanted: the $3,000 grant which assured my remaining here in Florida.

In a way I feel I’ve disappointed my friends – Teresa, Alice, Josh – who hoped to visit me in New Orleans. And of course tomorrow I’ll have to call Tom. That’s going to be very difficult, but I’ll have to find my courage.

The worst that can happen is that Tom never speaks to me again. He’s a hard person but not vindictive, I think. Still, I am scared of facing him. There was no way I could have known until this week that my Florida grant would come through.

So now I’m obligated to remain in Florida for the next year. What do I do? Obviously I can’t live on $3,000. Do I try to put together a series of adjunct jobs? At most that will give me about $4,000 more.

I’d probably be better off with a full-time job, a job doing anything. Now that I’m officially recognized as a writer by the state of Florida, I feel I could work in any kind of office and still feel secure in my career identity. But will anyone hire me, or will I be told I’m “overqualified”? It’s not going to be easy.

And I can’t stay with my parents much longer. I need privacy, a home of my own, and my parents and Jonny need to be rid of my presence, which must prove disruptive here. I like the idea of my own apartment, but money will be a problem – hence my first consideration: a job.

I also need to make friends with people my own age, and I want to have lovers. As Dad said the other night, Fort Lauderdale is a mecca for gays, so I shouldn’t have much trouble – at least not more than I’d have anywhere else. I know there must be good people here; they’re just hard to find.

A job, a home, friends, lovers: I guess I’m asking for a lot, huh?

Last night I called Marc and discovered that Grandma Ethel had already told him about my grant, but Marc didn’t know it would mean my staying in Florida. I also called Pete Cherches, who’ll be down here this weekend, on his way to San Francisco.

Look, it’s bound to be an interesting experience here. I already like Florida and feel comfortable here, and I do have a sense that the future is here: by 2000, Florida will be fourth in population, after California, New York and Texas.

I have new books to look forward to and the possibility of getting my diary book published, and other good things: the Brooklyn College Literary Review, The People’s Almanac 3, the Gargoyle interview, more reviews. Maybe I can emulate Crad and sell Disjointed Fictions on the street.

Today I went to Fort Lauderdale and dropped off a copy of With Hitler in New York at the Herald’s Broward office for the story they’re doing on me. Then I drove over to Sunrise Boulevard to spend hours at the library and to have lunch at Wolfie’s before going to lie on the beach for an hour.

I’ve got a lot to do. TC mark

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