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

Friday, September 11, 1981

8 PM. Another week gone – the weeks and days are going quickly. I’m very happy with the way my life is going now. I enjoy my work, I have friends, and I seem to have enough time for myself.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours visiting Selma. The more I see her, the more remarkable she seems to be. Selma is an example of someone whom life couldn’t destroy.

Somehow she found the strength to go on after her crippling stroke, her husband’s alcoholism, their separation, her paralysis, money problems, everything.

Like Jonny, Selma believes in psychic phenomena, reincarnation and karma; I can’t say they’re wrong. Years ago, when she had a heart attack, she felt herself floating above her body in the hospital, wondering why the doctors were so carelessly ripping off her clothes.

She felt peace and no pain until a doctor yelled, “She’s back!”; then there was a terrible jolt in her chest. So Selma has no fear of death after that experience, which she later realized was similar to those described by Kübler-Ross’s patients.

Selma will be going to New York to visit her new granddaughter for the Jewish holidays. I took the article she wrote and am going to send it off to Alice for her suggestions.

Today I taught six classes: four of my own and two of Jacqui’s, whose baby was very ill. I suppose after that, I can appreciate my own regular schedule. I was not as good a teacher as usual, but I did manage to get through the day without any problems.

I’ve assigned each of my classes paragraphs for next week, so I’ll have a lot of marking to do – but I don’t expect that to overwhelm me.

After class, Laverne gave me a list of free symphony concerts – and her phone number, so there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s actively pursuing me.

Patrick’s wife had a baby girl: her first child, his second. He told me about teaching last year at Boca Academy, a private high school where it sounded like he was doing a great deal of hard work and getting paid peanuts.

Mick told me how he headed a search committee for new English faculty last year and how all seven candidates he recommended were dropped in favor of people chosen by Dr. Grasso and Dr. Pawlowski. (It turns out Rosa, one of the new permanent hires, was Dr. Grasso’s daughter’s piano teacher.)

When Betty Adkins was running the department, Mick said, she was a tyrant, and when the faculty members kicked her out, the administration reinstated her. Mick agreed with my assessment of BCC as an outwardly cheerful and informal place with a dark underside.

It’s not a place I’d like to stay around for long – though I can’t say that there is a place I would like to stay around for long. Because I don’t plan to be back next year, I feel free to be myself.

Back home, I found a letter from Justin in which he enclosed a New York Post clipping from June 19: Page Six referred to me as “Richard Grayson, the inveterate political prankster” in an article on the Rita Jenrette for Congress Committee.

Justin is doing fine and seems to be well on the way to becoming a writer; his play will be done in a workshop next month. He said Ari worked as a musical director at the Williamstown Musical Theatre Company this summer and Annette (“she thinks you’re cute”) has been working at different acting “jobs” and ordinary part-time jobs.

Justin said he regrets that it’s already autumn. He should come down here, where it will be summer until late November.

I love hearing from my New York friends. At 6:45 AM, WOR-TV has a local New York newscast that I watch on the days I get up early.


Sunday, September 13, 1981

8 PM. My parents should be home any minute from the menswear show in Miami; I hope they were busy today and got a lot of orders.

Earlier, I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who sounded a little better than usual. She told me not to tell Mom, but she called Marc the other day and he told her he had been crying in the middle of the night. “I just woke up and started crying that I wanted my father,” Marc told Grandma Ethel.

I haven’t spoken to Marc in weeks; all I’ve heard are second-hand reports via my parents or Aunt Sydelle (who saw him at Joel’s when she went with Scott and Barbara to take Michael out for the day) and now Grandma Ethel.

“He really needs a psychiatrist,” Grandma Ethel said of Marc, and then added that because of her depression, she could use one herself.

She put Grandpa Herb on the phone. I hate to ask him how he’s feeling because I know how ill he is, but he seemed content to hear I was doing well and to advise me to save money, “in case I want to borrow from you.”

I slept soundly, dreaming that Avis and Anthony had called me but their voices were too faint to carry over the phone for me to hear them – obviously an indication that I feel I’ve lost them to Sikhism.

I spoke to Teresa, who said she had a nice weekend with Deirdre on Fire Island; Teresa’s already taken a house for next year.

Now that the Democratic primary has been postponed for a couple of weeks, Frank is hinting that Teresa must go soon; apparently he’s getting flack from others in the borough president’s office for keeping her on. Teresa said she “really fucked up a good job,” and I’m afraid she’s right.

Things are so bad that she’ll probably end up asking Frank to give her severance pay and allow her to collect unemployment and just leave. Maybe she should have taken the job offer with that mortgage board or whatever it was: it may have been boring, but it was something.

I love Teresa, but she seems to get herself in these destructive relationships with men (Don, Paul, Frank) that cause her endless grief; her life is a continual lurching from crisis to crisis.

This morning I was up early – I think my body’s adjusting to those 8 AM classes – and sat out by the pool for an hour, getting a little color in my cheeks. Now that I’m living in Florida and am over 30, I don’t want to be super-tanned all year, but I know I look better with a slight tan.

When I went to the Broward Mall to buy the Sunday New York Times, I ran into three of my students. Dressed in a t-shirt and gym shorts, I felt a little odd – but why should I? College teachers have bodies, too. And Florida is a casual place.

I just wish I had a better body. My muscles are okay and even my stomach is firm – but I’m still about twenty pounds overweight. I try as best I can to watch my diet and exercise daily. I don’t eat as many hamburgers as I used to. My problem is bread, which I love.

At the BCC library this afternoon, I read the August issues of Publishers Weekly, including their ‘fall announcements’ issue. I hate being competitive, but I’m glad no friends my age are publishing books.

Neil Schaeffer’s The Art of Laughter is coming out from Columbia, and LSU is releasing a book of poems by Susan Ludgivson. I see Taplinger has cut its list and the only fiction on it were a couple of novels in translation from Brazil and Israel.


Tuesday, September 15, 1981

3 PM. Am I a monster? Sometimes I wonder. I don’t seem to have the same interests that most people have. Sometimes I am very arrogant and see myself as superior.

After my 11 AM class, I had lunch outside with Laverne (all she eats is fruit). I found her so incredibly boring, but I’m sure she thought the same of me. She asked me about my hobbies: Do I swim? Do I play an instrument? Do I play any sports or do I go to concerts? She asked if I liked plants or pets, and both times I had to say no.

From Laverne’s point of view, I don’t do anything. But I write. Laverne can’t write – her first paragraph proved that – and all my students proved that. I asked them to write about the advantages and disadvantages of living in South Florida, and all they could come up with were mindless tourist-bureau clichés.

They’re not much better than the CUNY remedial students, really, despite their being white and middle-class. My quarrel with them is not so much that they can’t write but that they can’t think.

Maybe I’m overly critical, but I wonder if their teachers also can’t think. It isn’t just BCC: at every school I’ve taught that, the majority of teachers were pretty mindless and uncreative. Is it hubris for me to feel superior to these people?

I’ve really done risky things with my stories, my publicity stunts, and with my diary book. People are bound to get angry. Who is this Richard Grayson anyway that he thinks that he’s such hot shit?

Yet my old friends don’t feel that way, and I don’t feel superior to them.

I called Josh and Alice. Josh is unhappy in his job and feels his company made him promises they never expected to keep. He misses Simon and me, and I think he feels that we’re doing better than he is. Josh may be bored, but he isn’t boring, and eventually he will succeed.

Alice had just returned from a week in Washington; she’d been to the Shoreham to cover the President’s Council on “Physical Fatness” and then spent the weekend with her brother, who was his usual sarcastic self. Alice said that her brother’s mean cracks about Peter bothered her so much that she doesn’t feel like seeing him again.

Alice is like me in that she’s intense about her projects. So is Peter, who had a fight with his agent because she wants him to use a female pseudonym.

I now see why famous people tend to be friends with other famous people, even if they’re not in the same fields; it’s hard for most people to understand the drives they have.

As Hotel New Hampshire comes out – James Atlas gave it a mixed review in the Times Book Review – I’ve been rereading Garp, and I remain impressed with Irving’s writing. Besides his imagination, what I like about him is his chutzpah.

Why can’t I be interested in things most people are? I consider so much of life a waste of time. I wonder if I’m becoming a pompous ass.

I even fear that I’ll get intotrouble at BCC. Suppose Tom Bush went to Clinton Hamilton with my letter and I was fired. I’d have to make a big federal case out of it, and what would the end result be? Publicity, and I’d lose my job.

My parents would be mortified. They only want me to be the nice Jewish boy. They’d love it if I’d settle down to a permanent job at BCC and rot here forever.

Florida is a great to spend a year – so is Broward Community College – but I can’t help having bigger plans.


Wednesday, September 16, 1981

8 PM. Wednesday nights are pleasant. Tomorrow I have an easy day and I know that the week will end on Friday.

The rest of the family has gone over to the Littmans to watch the Leonard-Hearns fight on subscription TV. It’s raining hard, and I just heard long, continuous thunder. A tornado?

Yes, I am happy. No, I don’t think I’m a monster. Patrick finished reading Hitler and commented, “You’re not very modest, are you?” Maybe not – but immodesty doesn’t make a person a monster.

Yesterday I called Avis at work and spoke with her for half an hour. She was glad to speak with me but said that not much was new.

Anthony got involved with an international “New Age” group called Pilgrim’s Progress, and this weekend they are going to New Hampshire for a conference of the group.

“Most of them didn’t seem interested in yoga,” Avis said, “but we’re going to try to teach them.”

She said her job is interesting and that by doing yoga, she manages to be oblivious to the horrors of New York: “By wearing only white, I repel most of the creeps on the subway.”

Avis said they won’t be coming to Florida because they need to save money in order to buy land. (Another reason is probably that she doesn’t want to see her parents.) She hasn’t gone back to college at LIU this term but hopes to take a week off for a midwifery course sponsored by another “New Age” group.

Last evening I went out for pizza and was the only diner in the place; I read the paper and had a friendly conversation with the waitress and cook, both of whom were from New York. Then I went to Grand Union to buy groceries, which made me realize how much I enjoy shopping for food by myself and how much I miss it.

Back home, Mom and Dad were here and they showed me Jack Kassewitz’s column in the Miami News that a neighbor had given them. Under the lead “Author, Author,” he mentioned my grant, Disjointed Fictions – he called the book “humorous” – and the forthcoming Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog (“sounds like a shaggy dog story to me”).

It never hurts to get publicity even though I don’t think it can result in any sales. I called George to tell him the news of our first mention of Disjointed Fictions in the paper.

He was just getting into a bath to ease tension after a long day at work. With both the publisher and the associate publisher of the Patriot-News out of commission, things are very hectic and George is under a great deal of stress. He has another trip to Dallas in the morning.

Apparently George has been uncovering all sorts of hanky-panky that was going on at the paper for years. “You’d be proud of me, Richie,” he said – and I am.

Last week George took a physical (“complete with a glass rod”) and the doctor told him he was fine but should get a punching bag to take out his frustrations.

He couldn’t talk on the phone “about certain things” but said he’d sent me a letter “with some personal stuff” in it: questions about his marriage, I assume. His confiding to me in our correspondence has me feel closer to George.

I told him I loved the book and was grateful for the job he did on it. He’s already sold more copies of Disjointed Fictions than Kevin has of Albert Drake’s book. Eight of the people to whom he sent a leaflet ordered copies.

It was great to speak with old George; he’s really a true friend.

I fell asleep early but was awakened by a call from Peter. He explained that the copies of Disjointed Fictions that Alice ordered had arrived and he’d been so impressed after reading it that he had to call me up.

“I knew you were good,” Peter said, “but now I’m certain you’re going to be an enormous success . . . You’re my kind of writer.”

Embarrassed but very grateful, I asked Peter how his book was going. He told me that he would not let them use a female pseudonym on his book, partially because of how his son would feel: “A 10-year-old wouldn’t understand.”

God, I love Peter and take back everything I thought about him after he and I spoke last June. People can be so wonderful.

Wednesday at BCC went fairly smoothly. I had four good classes; they’re all pleasant but each has a special character. I felt a little nauseated in my 1 PM class, but I got through it as best I could.

I think the students sense that I do care about them and genuinely like them. However, I don’t believe in working like a maniac. Reagan is right to make the presidency a 9-to-5 job and to take afternoon naps; he’ll probably make clearer decisions that way. So much “work” is actually unnecessary.

From our conversation in the office today, I gathered that Mick, Jacqui and Alan all dislike Dr. Grasso as chairman, and Dr. Pawlowski as well. It’s nice to have people to chat with; I have lots of friends on campus I see constantly: Jonny, Angela, Selma (who is taking an adult ed course at BCC), Laverne, the department secretaries.

I’m not socially isolated anymore.

On Saturday I sent out a bunch of stuff to a new literary agent, Saul Cohen of SBS Enterprises, and today I got a reply. He thinks I’m nuts but would like to see more stuff. So I’m sending him a copy of Hitler: he wants to know what’s the deal for the paperback rights.

He signed himself “Uneasily, Saul.” Perhaps he can sell something like my South Florida Stories. But if not, I can always publish it myself.


Thursday, September 17, 1981

8 PM. Last night I was sobbing like a lunatic as I finished rereading Garp. John Irving is a master at novel writing, at creating life and a world on the page. I could never do anything like that, for I think on a smaller scale.

But I would hope that maybe someday I could attempt something as ambitious as Garp.

Irving seems to be pretty immodest, too, and he seems to be saying that a writer has to be that way. So I refuse to worry about being egotistical.

Gosh, it felt good to bawl like a baby: sometimes I think I’m happiest when I’m crying like that, crying over the – this sounds dumb – the beauty and the sorrow of the world.

I lay in bed thinking about how good Life has been to me; it’s really most undeserved. I’ve always said that I could die happily tomorrow, but at this point I really feel that. Sure, I get annoyed at the little things of life – traffic, car repairs (my air conditioning problem turned out to be solved by the simple replacement of a fuse), my parents’ mishigass.

But when I take the long view, I honestly think I’ve been luckier than I had any right to be. While I’m too cynical to be a Pollyanna, I have been fairly cheerful lately.

“Stay healthy. Take risks,” concluded Paul Fericano in his latest letter. They mean the same thing.

“You sound optimistic and happy,” wrote Dr. Pasquale. I am.

Tomorrow ends my fourth week at BCC, one-fourth of the term, my first month teaching full-time. I had a so-so class today, but they can’t all be winners.

Miriam writes that she’s coming for a visit on her way to Boston! She’ll be here Friday, October 16 and will stay for the weekend! Now I’ve got to make sure I have an apartment. I saw a nice little place in Davie, a duplex – but the owner wants $325 and I’m going to see if I can bring her down.

I marked my 2 PM class’s papers; they are surprisingly good writers, most of them.


Sunday, September 20, 1981

9 PM. A year ago I had gotten ill after teaching at Brooklyn College, John Jay and Kingsborough that first hectic week of the fall term. I was depressed and broke and felt like a failure.

But I toughed it out last fall, and it turned out to be a good time in my life. I succeeded at my jobs at the schools and I made the decision to move to Florida.

As if by instinct, I knew what I needed. Most people told me I was crazy to leave New York, but I can’t imagine myself being this happy if I were still living there.

Last year I promised myself that I would not be an adjunct the next September, and I’m not.

If I hadn’t come to Florida, I surely wouldn’t have gotten a grant or a full-time job. I’ve got to realize that I did control a lot of what happened to me – up to a point, anyway.

This morning I awoke feeling rested and went out to sit out in the sun for an hour. Then I picked up Selma and took her to Poetry in a Pub, now at the Holiday Inn on State Road 84.

Today was the worst reading I’ve been to; almost everyone was awful, especially the newcomers. It was a classic assortment of the worst of poets manqué: a German doctor who admonished teenagers to be chaste; a long-haired hip dude wearing a fedora and a leather vest and jacket (in Florida in September?); several bitter divorcées; a gay man and lesbian, both of whom who exuded Sensibility to excess. Even Kirt Dressler seemed hard-pressed to retain his cutesy, jovial style.

Judith Ortiz Cofer was the featured poet, and at least she was good, as usual.

When I bought one of her two chapbooks and asked her to sign it, she realized I was the guy who got the grant in fiction and she was very sweet – especially after we compared notes on Bread Loaf, which she loved.

She’s now teaching full-time at the University of Miami and said it’s very hard to teach and write and care for her family. Judy urged me to call her since she feels we have parallel careers going.

When I was about to go, she touched my arm, and I felt that she knew what I knew: that we’re both professionals and most of the other “writers” there were hopeless amateurs.

Jacqui and Mick were both there. I told Mick that what he thought was a stye looked to me like conjunctivitis, the “pink eye” virus that seems to be epidemic down here now.

Laine Kluger came over and said she liked my “Rockaway Beach” t-shirt; she was there in June but it wasn’t the same as she remembered it.

Selma and I left before the winner of the open competition was announced, as there was no energy in the proceedings and we were both horribly bored. On Thursday she and Alex are going up to visit the family and see her new granddaughter.

I noted in the Florida Arts Gazette that eleven Florida writers got grants, and only two of them – Jim Hall and Lola Haskins – got more money than I did.

My grant was listed as “Fiction,” but others were listed as “Living and writing” or “Living expenses” or “To complete a manuscript.” I assume that means I can use the grant money to buy writing time and pay my expenses.

Mom called while I was out, and Jonny said that she and Dad were upset because the menswear show was completely dead; it probably wasn’t worthwhile for them to go to Orlando.

After reading the Herald and the Times, I exercised and had a light supper and am now preparing for bed.

I feel good because I’ve been busy and I have a lot of projects going: selling and publicizing Disjointed Fictions, looking forward to Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in February, and working on the South Florida book, the diary book and other writing projects. In a couple of weeks I’ll know if I got the NEA fellowship, but this year I don’t really need it.

In the next month I’ll get myself an apartment and settle down for the next year or so; I’ve got to make my Christmas reservations for New York soon.

Yesterday I had a nightmarish fantasy about my parents getting killed in a car accident: the most horrible scenario imaginable. I don’t know how I would cope with the loss of my parents and how I would care for the rest of my family: Marc, Jonathan, Grandma Sylvia. TC mark

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