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

Monday, September 21, 1981

8 PM. Today was very stressful, though it didn’t have to be. It’s my own Type-A behavior, which I’d better correct or I’ll end up having a stroke like Selma did.

Also, I’ve got to make sure I eat better: yogurt on the run is not a good lunch and a Quarter-Pounder with cheese is a terrible dinner. I didn’t get a chance to exercise for more than ten minutes today, either. I slept only a few hours, and this morning I had trouble with my lenses.

I didn’t have to sub for old Miss Burns at 9 AM, but I did for Dr. Tarullo at noon; however, I just ended up doing a stand-up comedy routine which had the class in hysterics.

Sometimes I think what I really want to do is perform in front of an audience. I know little about a comedian’s craft, but from teaching, I am learning something about timing and why a certain joke will get a laugh in one class and not another.

Broward Community College teachers are terribly overworked. My 11 AM class went well, as did my 1 PM and 2 PM classes.

At 3:30 PM, I had an interview with Vernon Mays of the Fort Lauderdale News. He’s the editor of the men’s page, which has a weekly column called the MaleBox in which a local man is featured. I had the chutzpah to nominate myself, and he took me up on it.

We had an hour chat, during which he seemed to type everything I said. A photographer is coming to the college at 2:30 PM tomorrow – about half an hour after the start of the English Department meeting.

I also called Rosemary Jones of Gale Research, whom I read is in New York trying to get authors for the annual Florida Book and Author Festival. She’s going to contact Taplinger, and I hope the festival can use me.

Why is it I feel I must leave no stones unturned in my careerism? It’s not healthy to be so fanatical.

When I got home, there was the Small Press Review and the Village Voice with its new Voice Literary Supplement. Immediately I began going through these periodicals, trying to come up with ideas for publicity.

For example, I sent the VLS the Minneapolis Tribune review for its “Worst Review of the Month” feature. And I submitted to every press I could think of.

That meant writing half a dozen letters and going to the post office. It couldn’t wait; I had to do it immediately. Why do I have this terrible sense of urgency about my writing career?

I got an intelligent rejection of “What Is Distinguished, We Call Love” which convinced me that the story needs to be fleshed out and that more conflict has to be put in. It shouldn’t have won the Tropic contest; it’s not that good. But I have time to rework it.

Brad sent me a typically cynical letter, disparaging Florida and my parents – or the stereotype he assumes they are. (“It must be nice to be fed chicken soup and be harangued about getting married.”)

He’s so unhappy and bitter – and in the Voice, I caught a personals ad from a guy in Flushing who has to be Brad. He said he was 28. Somehow he went from being five years older than me when I was 18 to two years younger now.

Poor Brad: he’ll never grow up. I now feel light-years ahead of Brad and am very glad I didn’t get involved with him in 1969.

A person I did have a positive conversation with tonight was my brother Marc. He told me about the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park, about his going next week to Philadelphia to see the Stones, about problems with his lenses, and about the fall New York weather. Marc is really okay.


Wednesday, September 23, 1981

5 PM. I didn’t sleep well again last night, and today I had a dull headache but still managed to get through the day. All of my classes went smoothly, particularly the 1 PM class, where I’m usually at my worst.

I did leave campus twice, though; I kept my office open so no one would know I was AWOL.

At 10 AM, I returned home to fetch the mail. There wasn’t much for me but junk mail and a letter from Rick. He’s now working in a D.C. bookstore to raise money to buy the press a typesetter.

On the NEA front, Rick reported that President Reagan wanted to give Western writer Louis L’Amour some award, so he called the NEH and then the NEA; Duffey, Biddle, Wilk and MacArthur all pretended they knew who L’Amour was, but they’d never heard of him.

Then Reagan phoned Biddle and told him to call some wealthy Republican party fat-cat and apologize for funding “pornography” in the Literature Program. Rick said this is all hush-hush and there are bound to be big repercussions.

Rick reported that a Washington Post article on Bread Loaf said that John Gardner is turning into a lush and that Tim O’Brien seduced all the girls there. (I came across evidence of that in the woods four years ago.)

At noon I left campus again to deposit my paycheck in the bank. My net pay was a measly $366, as I got no credit for my second master’s degree or for any of the classes where I substituted. I checked with Casey, who said his check was for the same amount. They’ll probably screw me the best they can.

Last night I became enraged when I got to thinking of how unfairly I’d been treated in the past by Kingsborough, CUNY, Touro, etc. Now I’m still being exploited. Yes, maybe I should be satisfied with what I’ve got, but I can’t help feeling angry. Judy Cofer makes more money at the University of Miami than I do and works only three days a week.

BCC really does suck, both in the quality of education and the attitude the administration has toward both faculty and students. Even if I’m asked to stay on, I won’t; I am certain of that. Mom and Dad will call me a schmuck, but I know what’s best for me.

As I’ve said, a year or two in Florida will do me a lot of good, but any more than that and I’ll be stultified. If I have to go back to scrounging up adjunct courses in New York next year, I’ll do that. Or I’ll take a different kind of job.

In New York, Mayor Koch handily won both parties’ primaries, Andrew Stein narrowly beat Dinkins, and Liz Holtzman squeaked by as Brooklyn District Attorney. I’ll have to call Teresa to see how things actually worked out.

Last night I dreamed that Ronna wrote me that she was getting married and I felt very pleased to hear it. In reality, Ronna hasn’t responded to any of the letters I’ve written since June. Typical.

John Irving is on every talk show in the country, on every magazine cover – but no one ever accuses him of being self-aggrandizing. So I’ve got to try to act as if I were important, too, without getting carried away.

To be a writer, Irving said today, you almost have to be a kind of egomaniac to assume that other people will be interested in what you have to say. He also said that being a writer is dangerous work.


Friday, September 25, 1981

4 PM. I truly am grateful the week is over; it’s been a bitch. It seems like I’m in for some rough times ahead, and I feel under a lot of tension. My teeth ache from grinding them – something I do only in times of stress.

Am I ungrateful? I suppose. Patrick says he’d be thrilled to trade his part-time status for my full-time job, and of course I’d feel that way, too – I did, when I was in his place. But BCC is an educational slum – and unlike the ones at CUNY, the teachers are not adequately compensated.

I overheard Alan trying to convince Rosemary to join the faculty union; she protested that she couldn’t afford the 1% deduction. What an asshole. Anyway, I joined the union.

Alan said most of the older women look upon their teaching jobs as second incomes to supplement their husbands’ salaries; in our department, they were carefully selected by Hamilton for their loyalty.

Obviously, if they had any brains, they’d see their low salaries as a feminist issue – both most of them are dumb, even for English teachers.

Alan told me to ask Rosa about the union; she doesn’t talk to him because he gave her a hard time at the interviews last year. He told me Rosa is unqualified and got the job only because she’s Dr. Grasso’s best friend.

Grasso has barely been civil to me for the past couple of weeks; it’s as if she can hardly look me in the face. Maybe it was my comments in the Phoenix in the story about my grant.

Today people kept telling me that they saw the Fort Lauderdale News article yesterday. Last night, when my parents got home from their sales trip, they were dismayed at the article because I was jokey and mentioned my book’s poor sales and the bad review.

“People won’t take you seriously,” my parents said. As if they take me seriously anyway. As if I take publicity seriously! No, it means little to me because I know it’s all ridiculous. Of course I love the ego-gratification, the feeling that people perceive me as special.

I am fascinated by the mechanism of publicity – but to me, it’s all just preparation for The Big Time.

I had my 100 classes write today and we went over our themes in my afternoon 101 sections.

I looked tired today and my eye has been bothering me. One of my students asked me if someone had punched me in the eye because all around it, it was red, like a fresh bruise. Maybe I’m developing conjunctivitis; in any case, my vision has been blurry with my lenses.

Laverne came to share hunch with me. She’s okay, but she can never be close to me; I just don’t feel anything for her. The only reason she thinks we have something in common – we don’t – is that she has no other friends.

Laverne is not too bright: the mother of a young child, she is separated from her husband and living with her parents. She is into none of the things I’m into, and vice versa.

With all of my friends, I knew I could be friends with them right away – like this summer, with Susan, Cathy and Sybil. With Laverne, there’s nothing there but a mild interest. But then, I feel the same way about most of my teaching colleagues at BCC; I can’t see myself being friends with them.

I got home drenched and tired, and right away Mom started in about my messy room. I tell you, I just want to sleep away the weekend. I thought I’d love a cool, rainy day like today, but I feel worse than I’ve felt in months.

I’m considering taking next Wednesday off. Fuck what they think at BCC – as Josh said over the phone, we Jews should stick together and Rosh Hashona should not be a day of work.


Sunday, September 27, 1981

5 PM. I did not go apartment-hunting today. Instead, I slept late and lay around most of the day, reading, watching TV, half-sleeping, thinking.

These lazy Sundays have always seemed important in my life, whether they’re here or in my old room in Brooklyn or my apartment in Rockaway.

Last night I finally got through to Mikey and learned that his mother is gravely ill. She became extremely weak on Monday, and Mikey left work to find her lying on the floor of her apartment. She was rushed to Peninsula Hospital by ambulance and has been there ever since, in Intensive Care.

The doctors are not very hopeful: she’s very weak, has become diabetic, needs oxygen, and doesn’t recognize Mikey. Yesterday he was told that some of the fluid they extracted from her lung was malignant.

“Shit,” I told Mikey. “What else can I say except that I wish there was some way I could help you?”

Mikey had to ask for adjournments on his first trials this week. He’s been living in Rockaway and trying to go to the office. On Friday, the IRT was delayed at Beverly Road for two hours.

Without brothers, sisters, a father, grandparents, aunts or uncles – his one aunt lives here in Davie – Mikey is totally responsible for his mother. It’s such a heavy burden for him to carry, and while I know he’s dependable and the most decent guy of all my friends, I worry about the strain he’s under.

“Shit” is right. God, the summers in Rockaway won’t be the same without Mikey’s mother. For a decade, going to the beach for me has always meant at least some time sitting with her and Mikey. I’ll miss her a lot. Her Christmas dinner last year and that Sunday dinner this June were really special for me.

Dad is flying to New York now; within the hour his plane should be going over Rockaway and touching down at JFK. Marc will be there to pick him up. I remember last September when Dad flew into the city and I met him in front of 1407 Broadway.

Last night I fell asleep after watching Wild in the Streets, a movie Dad had taken me to see at Canarsie’s Seaview Theater when I was in high school. It’s about teenagers taking over the country and placing everyone over 30 in LSD-therapy concentration camps.

A product of the hippie era, the film is badly dated but brought me feelings of nostalgia. I thought the rock-singer/President, played by Christopher Jones, was so cool and sexy that I spent the next few days trying to mimic his gestures and words and attitude.

Here in Broward County, I’m 30 and I live in a society increasingly dominated by the older generations. I guess that now includes myself. We baby-boom people will always be an important force, but that could be good or bad.

Kenneth Warren, in his review of George’s Natural History lists George among “the baby boom writers just beginning to publish . . . who have a sense of mass culture.” Odd that no male among us has achieved real fame yet.


Tuesday, September 29, 1981

3 PM. I had vivid dreams last night; most of them took place in New York and most of them were nightmares. The dreams made me realize that just as I idealized Florida when I was struggling in New York, now that I’m living here in Florida, I’m idealizing New York.

I dreamed of being pushed and shoved in the filthy subways, of running panic-stricken through dark alleyways, of seeing screaming headlines in the New York Post.

Last fall those long subway rides on the A train or the IRT Seventh Avenue line took so much out of me: it was constant exposure to the various daily horrors of the city.

And now that it’s turning chilly in New York and beginning to get less hot and more comfortable here, I’m appreciating our semi-tropical climate; that appreciation is bound to increase as the months wear on. I’ve been complaining about Florida too much.

Today’s one class went well, and The Aspect Anthology arrived from Zephyr Press. It contains my “Roominations” plus Susan Lloyd McGarry’s article about me. It’s a beautiful-looking book.

At 1:30 PM, I went over to see the apartment in Sunrise. It’s on NW 16th Place, off Sunset Strip. The owner, Mike Maynard and his wife, a young couple, seemed to be honest people, and I liked the place.

It must have belonged to one of their parents, for it was decorated in a style I call “Jewish grandmother” – something like my own grandparents’ apartments.

There is a small kitchen with its own front entrance (which, like the main door, faces the pool); a living room; a bedroom with a king-sized bed; a bathroom, nicely fixed up, and another half-bathrom.

I had good feelings about the place, the way I did when Mrs. Calman showed me my apartment in Rockaway two years ago. The rent is steep – $395 – but they’re willing to give me a six-month lease. That means I can move back with my parents to save money just before I leave Florida in June.

It’s part of a condominium association, and my neighbors will mostly be elderly people; it seems quiet and safe. I pretty much have decided that I’ll take it.

My parents said they would lend me $790 to pay the first month’s rent plus security. So tomorrow I’ll probably give the Maynards a check and sign a lease.

It seems as good a place as any to spend half a year; the limited time period makes me feel better, too, as I know it’s not a permanent step. I’ve figured it out on paper a dozen times and I’m sure I can swing it financially: it’s an investment of about $3,000 including utilities.

That means that if I consider my grant money for rent and utilities, I’ll have my BCC salary to live on for my remaining expenses. Of course, the flaw in that is that I’ll have to live somewhere else between next April and August unless I can afford to get the Maynards to extend the lease for another few months.

But the future will take care of itself – and remember, I’ve lived rent-free for the last nine months in Davie, Brooklyn and Virginia and saved at least $2,000 that way. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog