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A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1982

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Sunday, September 12, 1982

4 PM. Though I’ve got a bad sinus headache, I feel better emotionally today.

Since last night I’ve spent most of my time awake reading. Last night I devoured several more of the issues of The New Yorker that Mom’s neighbor gave me.

What a treat to be in the company of intelligent people – not only the cartoonists, but John Updike, Pauline Kael and the authors whose books first appear in the magazine.

I also read The Sporty Game, a wonderful book about the airline industry which confirms my faith in Delta and its L-1011 Tri-Stars, the best planes around.

Today, sandwiched between my fifteenth workout at Bodyworks – to celebrate, I became as nauseated as I was on my first visit, a month ago – I read both the Miami Herald and the New York Times.

Whatever I’ve said about New York, there is no doubt that its great virtue is its diversity and its toleration – no, its celebration – of variety. South Florida is bland, and here everyone hates the outsiders, the ones who are different: Haitians, Spanish-speakers, gays, Jews, people who live in houses made of brick rather than stucco.

I guess my best criticism of this area is Eating at Arby’s, with its idiotic little stories. I wonder what the reaction to my little book will be.

I refuse to be ignored, and very likely I’m going to find myself in a controversy. I hope that my practice with the publicity I’ve already received will help me get through it.

It occurs to me that being in the public eye can be very dangerous, especially for a homosexual here. Today’s front-page Herald story on the murdered University of Florida professor Howard Appledorf brought out all the scary details of his life.

Appledorf and I have a number of things in common: like him, I’m a Jewish academic, gay, a publicity-seeker, humorous, fairly well-liked. It seems that his trouble – and possibly his death – stemmed from his being closeted.

Three weeks before, the three boy prostitutes who killed him forged checks in his name; he dropped the charges when they threatened to publicly announce Appledorf’s homosexuality.

If it was I (but then I wouldn’t have gotten involved with creeps like that in the first place – perhaps a significant difference between myself and the professor), I would have told them to do their worst and tell everyone about me.

Florida, as I’ve said, though, seems like a nearly impossible place for an open gay to exist – despite the fact that Bob Kunst got 60,000 votes in his primary race for Governor. I would very much like to be out of the closet and try to live my life without reference to my sexual identity.

My affair with Sean has definitely changed things; I can’t help feeling differently now. Though most people would say what we did was wrong, I cannot imagine how it hurt Sean, myself or society; the very idea is ludicrous.

I loved Sean and still love him. I feel wonderful talking about him with the people I can trust: Ronna, Kevin, Stacy, Teresa, Alice, Miriam, Tom, Rick, Susan Mernit, Lisa, George.

Granted, Sean was 17 years old and my student. But it was love; I’m not like the community college president profiled in today’s Tropic, a man accused of propositioning and sexually harassing students and faculty.

Hell, I don’t know why I’m bothering to justify myself in these pages. . . Now that being honest is more important to me, I don’t feel I can remain in this area. Anyway, nobody’s asking me to stay.

Nobody’s asking me to move to New York or San Francisco or D.C., either, but I think I’ll feel more comfortable there.

There’s much I love about South Florida, but I’m glad that school and car and family problems have led me to rethink the details of what kind of life I want to live.

Look, I’ve got to forget the best case scenario and concentrate on the worst-case scenario. (The best-case scenario, of course, would be the NEA fellowship or a job offer at a good college.)

Okay, Richie: imagine it’s August 1983. You have about $1,000 in the bank, money left over from your last paychecks. There have been no significant advances in your career – just the Winthrop College conference, a couple of nice reviews or articles on your books – but no financial gains.

Your parents aren’t in a position to give you any help. Your lease is up. They don’t want you back at Broward Community College, and that’s okay with you.

You’re not in love. You’ve been turned down for every college teaching job you applied for, including the great one you fantasized about getting and for which you paid your own way to the interview. Your performing career began and ended at Wynmoor Village a week ago.

So, fella, what do you do?

First, what don’t you do? You don’t return to your parents’ house, which is already crowded with confused baby-boomer sons.

Well, at worst, you’re eligible for unemployment. You could go to Washington and try to line up adjunct teaching jobs – or you could do the same in New York.

The Big Apple would probably be a little easier if you were truly desperate, since there are people there whom you know you could count on.

At the very worst, you could move in with your grandparents in Rockaway. (I just called them and no one was home – a good sign? Oddly, I now look back at the time I spent with them and it seems beautiful in retrospect.)

You could try to get any kind of job, probably through your friends. You could very likely teach somewhere – at CUNY or Touro College or wherever.

You could even try to be a waiter or to go back to Alexander’s; that would be humiliating, defeating, horrible – but at least you’d be around, working at an honest job, and able to be there when the tide turns again. You’re too smart to remain a bum for too long.

You can remember what Emerson said about a man being at his best when he is most beleaguered. I have faith in you, kid. You’ll survive.

You’ll probably even survive tomorrow; you’ll survive car breakdowns and nasty classes and mean bosses and too much work and mindless people and hate and heat and bad health.

Still, I can understand your being scared and wanting to retreat to your room and your books.

I’ve been writing endless pages of notebook filler: jokes, ideas, story titles, quotations.

Yeah, I’ll survive. (I can almost see my doubt printed on the next line at 4 PM tomorrow.)


Monday, September 13, 1982

4 PM. Yeah, well, I survived today. Coming home from school, my car conked out in almost the exact place it did last week. This time, however, I got it started again.

At Mom’s, I left the car and took Marc’s; he’s sick in bed with a virus anyway. I taught my classes well, told Dr. Pawlowski I wouldn’t be back at Broward Community College next year, and coped with business, heat and the glare of the sun.

Yesterday I called Grandma Ethel, who told me that she and Grandpa Herb had gone to Uncle Jack’s unveiling in the morning. I also called Gary, who was at home, very ill with bursitis of the knee – poor guy, it must be hard on him.


Tuesday, September 14, 1982

3 PM. Well, I’m feeling pretty good now, mostly because I’ve just come back from a workout at the health club, which always improves my mind.

Perhaps things will look better in a few days when I decide what to do about the car. (Right now I’ve got Marc’s Pontiac.)

But my happiest times the last few weeks are when I’m in bed at night, either sleeping or reading or watching TV or listening to the radio.

Perhaps because of my persistent sinus trouble, I’ve been having delightful dreams – almost all of them taking place in New York, though in a New York which has only existed in my dreams. I also dream about old friends like Brad and Mikey and Teresa.

I can’t wait for darkness to descend to blot out the glaring light of day. For the past six weeks, every day has been around 90°, and it almost seems to be getting hotter; certainly it doesn’t appear to be getting any cooler.

I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s better to endure winter than this long summer. Obviously, I’ll feel better about living in Florida – and also probably about teaching at BCC – when December rolls around.

But I know I want to change my life.

In Sunday’s “worst-case” scenario, I forgot about the possibility of going to an art colony for the fall of ’83: VCCA, MacDowell, Millay or Yaddo. If I apply for all of them, I’ll almost certainly get in one – it’s easier in the fall, when there are fewer applicants. I could do that if I have nowhere else to go.

Selma was supposed to meet me at BCC yesterday, but she didn’t show up; when I called her, she said she’d been so depressed that she didn’t have the energy to make the trip. It’s hard to believe that Selma gets depressed, but she surely has more right to be depressed than I do.

Gary Stein of the Fort Lauderdale News got the Coda article I’d sent him and a couple of other local journalists over the weekend. I didn’t think anyone would notice, but I’m glad I left no turn unstoned, as usual.

He called me yesterday and came over this morning to interview me. (Earlier, I made a brief appearance at BCC, making certain Dr. Grasso noticed my presence.)

Gary Stein is a nice man, about 36 or so, from Chicago, a former sportswriter for various papers, including the Gannett chain in Westchester. I enjoyed our talk; he’s the first journalist to whom I’ve read sections of Eating at Arby’s.

He likes his job as a columnist but agrees with me that South Florida is a bizarre area; he’ll probably leave after a year or so (he’s been here about a year).

He asked me about my political career, my books, my students, etc.; I don’t know what he’ll come up with in his column. I suppose I’ve been in the Fort Lauderdale News, Sun-Sentinel or their West section about fifteen times already.

Anyway, after lunch I went to Bodyworks. There are cute muscular guys there, and I’m always trying to figure out who’s gay, if anyone.

About homosexuality: hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a gay-related story on the news. Just yesterday, on the Today show there was a black major-league baseball player who’d come out; later, on NPR’s All Things Considered, a story on a highly successful gay bank, Atlas S&L, in San Francisco; and still later on the news, a passing reference to “a coalition of blacks, liberals, feminists and gays” who helped elect D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

The world is changing, yep.

I miss Sean – I hope he calls this weekend.


Thursday, September 16, 1982

8 PM. Today was a pretty good day. I’m feeling better about my life in Florida.

Part of it is that my car hasn’t been breaking down (it stalled only once today and started right up again). Also, I am getting adjusted to my schedule and feeling better about Broward Community College.

Finally, unless I’m crazy, I can detect it get just a couple of degrees cooler. There’s been a breeze the last few days – a very warm breeze, to be sure, but a breeze nevertheless.

Late last night, I called Teresa, who seems happier now that both Sharon and Doug are out of her life.

She had her last weekend at Fire Island and seems relieved not to be involved in the work of the primary campaign.

Teresa has discovered, much to her surprise, that she likes working in the Attorney General’s office on “substance.” The people there are friendly and she’s making a good salary. Her job ends after Election Day, but now she really hopes to stay on.

One thing that does bother her a little is that Barbara is moving out into Stewart’s apartment; Barbara was the last of the original group of her women friends from the building (including Jan and Diana) to remain single there.

Oh well. Teresa said that if she doesn’t go out to California, she will come for a visit at Thanksgiving.

I slept late today and went over to Bodyworks, where I had the whole place to myself. It’s now time for me to get into the waist classes.

When I called Josh the other day, he asked how the Nautilus was going, and I told him I’ve seen a couple of changes in my body but nothing major.

Josh is working uptown at Avon, where the people are obnoxious. Burt Eschen gave him new extended-wear lenses, but Josh’s vision again worsened; Burt thinks it’s the close computer work.

I tried to find out from Mom last night what the story was with Marc’s eye problems, but all she wanted to talk about was a phone call from Grandma Ethel, who told Mom that I’m moving back to New York.

“How come?” Mom demanded. It was late, I’d just gotten home and was in the middle of taking my own lenses out, so I cut her off. All I had said to Grandma was that I might return to New York.

Anyway, I got back home today at noon, showered, and went to pick up my mail: some magazines, letters from organizations (the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, PEN) and a Rosh Hashanah card from Ivy Garlitz, sweet kid that she is.

On campus, I found my P’an Ku office in the Journalism Department, way on the other side from our English offices. “Good luck with the magazine,” said the department chairman, Max Hall. “You’ll need it.”

It’s going to be a lot of work, but I will probably learn a good deal about magazine production – something that might come in handy one day.

Our meeting for all the temporary full-timers with Dr. Grasso was set for 3:30 PM. She gave us the lowdown about the guidelines we need to follow for the remedial and comp classes. We have to be very strict in our grading now.

Dr. Grasso is scared shitless that when the results of the October CLAST tests come in, BCC will look bad. “Everyone in the state is frightened,” she said. With the Gordon Rule coming in next spring, it will mean even more changes.

“Our department has been decimated and I’ve got to rebuild it,” she said. Not with me, though.

When the meeting ended, Lisa took me out for a drive in her new car, and then we had dinner at Boomers. I enjoy Lisa’s company: we had both BCC gossip and Brooklyn College MFA program gossip to talk over.

Lisa was upset because half of one of her classes dropped out; it should only happen to me. She’s beginning to like her job but can’t see staying at BCC for a long time. I’m glad I told Dr. Pawlowski I won’t be back.


Friday, September 17, 1982

It’s just 8 PM, the sun is down, and the Rosh Hashanah services are starting on my radio. So it’s 5743 – the start of a new year.

The year finds me in good health; I’m reasonably happy and I have few complaints. If last week was terrible, this week was a great improvement. I feel better about my job; talking with Dr. Grasso has convinced me that I can stay at BCC if I want to. I only hope I don’t have to.

If I stay at BCC another year, it will mean another year of not getting any writing done. True, I am fairly comfortable, but comfort ain’t everything.

That rather silly column of Gary Stein’s began, “The world according to Richard Grayson. . .” and ended, “‘I’ve still got the big novel in me,’ he said. We can assume Eating at Arby’s isn’t it.”

I wish I hadn’t said that, but it’s true that if I don’t leave BCC, I’ll probably never write more than a lot of little stories.

Anyway, I see now that I’ll never be able to get ahead of myself financially working as a community college teacher in Florida.

This morning I got a nice surprise in my P.O. box: a MasterCard, with a $1,200 credit limit. That will help me, of course – and it will help me get deeper in debt.

I’ve already got about $1,000 in credit card bills and only about $500 in the bank and in cash. Of course, I’ll be getting paid regularly now, but still, I’ll never be able to put away enough money to live for even half a year on my bank savings.

I can’t pretend I’m going to get an NEA fellowship, though with the one-in-ten odds, it’s hard not to fantasize about it.

Today at school went okay, except for those snotty adolescent JAPs in my 9 AM class. Odd how I seem to find the smart-ass Italian kids in the 10 AM class so much nicer.

This term I’m going to be a real bastard and give Fs. As Phyllis said, “If you win the popularity contests, you’re not the best teacher you can be.”

I find that, against my will, I’m becoming a part of BCC: I feel at home there. I suppose I shouldn’t fight it. What I did in all my classes today was scare the hell out of everyone with news of the CLAST and Gordon Rule.

(The radio rabbi is now reciting the “Sh’ma,” using a different pronunciation than the one I learned in Hebrew school.)

I got letters from Tom, who’s been ill with the flu but teaching anyway, and from Justin, who loved living in London although he got two stomach viruses there.

In London, Justin wrote a lot of the screenplay of Bliss (I’ve taken the novel from the library) and read Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

Back home, he just got a job with Flora Roberts, the literary and theatrical agent. Good for Justin!

Yesterday I was walking across campus when a heavyset woman in her forties stopped me.

“I was in your class on Thursdays, the one you gave up,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you I read your book and loved it. I’m from the Bronx and it reminded me of so much.”

What more could a writer hope to hear? I may have only a few fans, but they’re the best fans.

Tom began his letter: “We won’t have Gardner to kick around anymore. Motorcycles. Jesus . . . But at least he did write Grendel.”

So here I am in my “modest Sunrise condo” (Fort Lauderdale News), beginning 5743.

I’m sorry Grandma Sylvia isn’t alive. Today the check on her condo cleared, so she’s made a New Year’s present to my parents.


Monday, September 20, 1982

5 PM. Reagan was just on TV, ordering the Marines back to Beirut as part of a multinational force to restore order.

By now the world has been shocked by the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps. Even the Begin government seems shaken by their ultimate responsibility for the killings.

Hundreds marched outside the Prime Minister’s residence with signs saying “SHAME” and demanding Begin’s resignation.

It’s ironic that when I left my parents on Saturday, I didn’t realize that events would so soon prove I was right. Dad had argued with me, saying, “If the Israelis weren’t there [in Beirut], there’d be chaos.”

It reminds me of the Vietnam War, with Israel being stuck in a quagmire in Lebanon; even the tear-gassing and arrests of the Israeli peace activists seemed to be reruns of 1968.

Today was okay. I got to school early and had good 9 AM and 10 AM classes – no real hassles.

At 11 AM, I took Selma back to my office, where she talked about her anger towards her husband, who refuses to pay for any physical therapy.

She told me about an episode in Chicago, after she came home from a year’s stay in hospitals, when she got so enraged at Artie for baiting her (he was often drunk, but at the time she didn’t realize it) that she threw hot meat sauce on him; he tried to kill her and she ended up calling the police.

Of course, nothing was resolved, although it seemed to be when they made love furiously that night.

Selma does have a good story to tell, which is why I think she could turn it into a book.

Wheeling her around the campus, I became aware of how many obstacles are placed in the path of disabled people.

I’m not a saint, though, and sometimes, after a while,  Selma’s stories begin to bore me. At 12:45 PM, I took her to where she was to have an adult ed nutrition class.

My 1 PM class was obviously upset with the low grades on their paragraphs; I gave Fs to about a quarter of them. Boy, is Mr. Grayson becoming a tough teacher!

But I see now that passing kids along, conning them into thinking their work is acceptable when it clearly is not, doesn’t show respect for them; it doesn’t show caring.

Although I’ve got paragraphs from both morning classes to grade, tonight I really don’t feel like doing any marking. I had wanted to get home early so I could go to the gym, but a tremendous thunderstorm prevented me – and everyone else – from getting out for an hour.

My mail today consisted of two books I’d ordered from Alyson Publications – one is for kids, Young Gay and Proud!; the other is on the issue of man/boy love, The Age Taboo.

All day on campus I just keep looking at the tanned, muscular bodies and bare arms and legs of boys in their late teens and early twenties. But it doesn’t drive me crazy so much as keep me interested in life. Is that a weird thing to say?

Oddly, the one student I thought was gay has stopped coming to my 10 AM class.

Yesterday the Miami Herald had an article on the ethics of student/professor sexual relationships and the Broward section had three pages devoted to “The Gay Life,” an examination of the county’s gay community.

Evidently it’s more sophisticated than I thought: there’s a gay neighborhood, Riverside, in Fort Lauderdale, and a political group whose dinner drew major Broward politicians.

The next time someone asks me, as Selma did today, why I don’t want marriage and kids, I think I’ll simply tell them I’m gay.

I am tired of hiding, and I intend to come out to my straight male friends: Mikey, Josh, Mike, Gary and others. TC mark

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