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A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1982

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Tuesday, August 24, 1982

7 PM. Last night I read the final 200 pages of Gay Wilson Allen’s Waldo Emerson. As of now, I admire Emerson more than any other writer; he’s a man I’d like to emulate.

Of course, he had many faults, especially a kind of emotional coldness (self-protection?) I’d want to avoid, but I don’t think I could have a better model.

What I love most about Emerson is his love of wisdom and the truth, his sense of humor, his randomness which turns out to be not so random after all, his moral courage, his independence (self-reliance) and his view of Compensation.

Like Emerson, I have learned to appreciate cheerfulness as one of the most important qualities a person can have. I have to go back to his essays now and see if I read them differently after having read his life – and Allen’s biography is so comprehensive I feel I’ve been living the life along with him.

Anyway, I’m glad to use Emerson’s quotation as the epigraph in Eating at Arby’s. Perhaps someday – and in fact, I’m sure of it – I’ll be able to use Emerson more directly in my own writing.

I slept well with heavy dreams, and only one problem intruded this morning: my car died on the way to school.

But it started up almost immediately. That’s the second time it happened, and I’m sure that it will happen again at the worst possible time, like on my way to school tomorrow. Oh, well, I’ll get up very early just in case.

We had a division meeting that lasted from 10 AM until noon; it covered various minor problems. I made up introductory sheets for English 100 and 101, and then I left school.

The mail brought the Village Voice and a note saying that Houghton Mifflin isn’t interested in Pac-Man Ate My Cat. I don’t think the other publishers I queried will be, either, and I have the feeling I’m going to have to self-publish it next year.

The trouble is it’s too literary for the commercial types and too commercial for the literati. In fact, that’s probably my whole problem as a writer. (Emerson had similar problems.)

I worked out today and found it invigorating, though I feel no stronger than before. Still, it can’t hurt me – unless I injure myself (a probability, but they won’t be grave injuries) – and it’s good for me to discipline myself to use the gym every other day so it will become a positive addiction.

Yesterday I discovered that after a tense day at work, I had to exercise, so I did a 10-minute run-through of stomach exercises (which left me more sore than did the Nautilus). One thing I’ve noticed is a loss of appetite, though I wonder if that could be a sign of illness.

Tomorrow is going to be a rough day: I introduce myself to four new classes. I’ll never forget Jim Merritt saying to me in March 1975, before my first class at LIU, “In the long run, you judge them, but on the first day they’re judging you.”

Still, even bad first impressions can be changed. I believe I’m basically a good teacher and a good guy, and eventually that comes through to the majority of students.

It’s been brutally hot (94°) the past two days, and the glaring whiteness of South Florida may prevent the kind depression that chilly and gloomy days bring, but it’s also hard to take.

So we now start a new academic year – and in a few weeks, the Jewish New Year will be here. I know this year can’t be as good as the last one, but I’m gonna make the best of what I’ve got.


Wednesday, August 25, 1982

3 PM. I still have to return to BCC this evening for my creative writing class – the first one I’ve ever had. Maybe it will put me in a better frame of mind.

The first day went okay, but I just feel so . . . unspecial. I now remember how the dreariness of schoolwork can get me down. The Saturday 101 course did make with only 15 students, so I’ll be giving up three hours of lying in bed for an extra $750 or so.

Well, I do need the money, and at least my weekdays won’t be any more hectic. Wednesday – today – is my worst day with six hours of classes from 9 AM until 10 PM. Still, it ain’t bad to be back, and I was glad to see former students like David Gonzalez and Karen Davis, people I like.

My 9 AM 100 class looks nice. They had scheduled it in the same room as John’s 100, so I had to take them to another room.

The 10 AM class I like less; first of all, it’s in room 118 right, outside my office, in a room I dislike both because of its small size and because the teachers in the offices can hear every word I say.

There are three obnoxious guys in the back and I caught the word “faggot” whispered. Damn. Now that I’ve actually had homosexual experience, I feel differently about sexual slurs. They seem to hurt more because they’re true. I am a faggot.

I wish I could say to the class, “Yeah, I’m a faggot, so what? Wanna make something of it?” I know the majority of the kids would be with me – are with me, anyway.

I shouldn’t let some sub-morons get to me, but I’m afraid I resort to the Alice syndrome and think that if only I was a famous writer, a celebrity, that I wouldn’t have to put up with shit like that.

Last spring, when I was always in the paper because of my writing and my campaign for the Davie town council, I felt better. In New York, I was with people who know me well; in Virginia, I was a writer among writers and artists. At Broward Community College, I’m just another English teacher making $14,000.

There was a postcard from Susan Mernit in my p. o. box. She’s enjoying cool Bread Loaf, though work in the dining room is hard, and her grandmother died while she was away. By now she must be back home in Brooklyn.

Last night I called Teresa, who was preparing food for the surprise birthday party she’s making for Barbara tonight at Stewart’s apartment.

Fire Island is fun (she’s seeing lots of Mikey and his new girlfriend), work is tolerable and lucrative, and politics is, as always, interesting – though if Koch wins the primary for governor, Teresa may never get another political job because Frank has it in for her.

I’m sure Teresa has a lot of career frustration at this point, too. I hung up when Renee came to visit her; Renee’s getting married in October and wanted help with wedding plans.

After lunch today, I met my 1 PM 101 students; they seem like a good bunch, with two favorite former students in the class.

I came here an hour ago and took off all my clothes and started cracking my neck, jaw, back, etc.; I was very tense and sweaty. I plan to rest until 5 PM. My stomach exercises the other day made me charley horse, and my biceps, triceps and deltoids are also real sore from yesterday.

I saw that student aide Russell talking to Dr. Pawlowski about his bodybuilding. If Dr. P. is hung up on the kid, I think it’s sweet.

It’s strange that Jacqui’s no longer around the department, but she was right to leave; I just hope that I don’t end up like Miss Burns, still teaching after 50 years. Imagine BCC in 2025.


Thursday, August 26, 1982

5 PM. I relaxed all yesterday afternoon and then made some Jerusalem artichoke spaghetti for dinner. I’m very consciously trying to diet and to limit my intake of red meat.

At BCC early last evening, I talked with Patrick, Mick and Casey (and his son), all of whom have Wednesday classes.

My creative writing class has only 13 students and they’re a good mix of all adults: a Delta flight attendant, a bank teller, an unemployed musician, etc.

We talked for an hour and a half, and we got to know each other. I gave them a writing assignment for next week and dismissed them at 8:30 PM. Then I hung around for an hour with Patrick and Mick, talking shop.

At home I watched a Quincy show dealing with agoraphobia; they got it down pretty well. Especially good was the climactic scene, where the agoraphobic woman must enter a shopping mall, which she fears, to escape the murderer.

The camera can make the world look funny and dizzy, the way it appears to agoraphobics. I must write something about agoraphobia one day.

I called Marc, who said he enjoyed his Programming in BASIC course at the South campus. Tonight he’s got his Introduction to Computers course.

I hope he manages to learn programming; he seems like a natural for it. There’s such a demand for programmers that he might not even need an A.A. degree to get a job.

I fell asleep listening to a radio show with nasty talk show host Alan Burke, who used to be a TV celebrity in New York during my childhood.

Up at 8 AM, I checked my mail at the post office – nothing – and went to BCC. My 9:30 AM class looks like an okay group: they’re all white, mostly young, with a decent sprinkling of older people.

I was through by 11 AM and decided to take off. It’s been wearyingly hot lately and will probably stay this way for at least another month.

At Bodyworks, I went through my exercises; the instructor added three more Nautilus machines to my routines.

I do feel better already, after just two weeks, and I think I can see the start of bodily changes: a biceps vein that wasn’t there before, a shade more chest definition. I plan to go faithfully and see what happens. Sometimes I think I can’t change my body until I change my body image.

Maybe I used to be scared of looking good because I was uncomfortable with my body and with my sexuality. Now that I’ve had a great homosexual relationship, I think I feel better about myself and my body image.

Me with muscles? I’d like to see how different I’d feel and how people would relate to me.

Josh wrote a letter to demonstrate his word processor and printer; it looks great to me. He was depressed after visiting his parents:

I wish I wasn’t the only responsible child in the family. I know that my living in the same state as my parents isn’t really going to change my mom’s life all that much, but I can’t shake the feeling that my mom’s life is like a living room with only one chair in it and even the chair wants to split for the coast.

I look at my parents – they are the age of your grandparents – and I keep thinking that I am all they have and that I have a responsibility to them which I cannot, or should not, shirk.


Saturday, August 28, 1982

8 PM. Last night I slept soundly and had vivid dreams: there were unusual landscapes and strange happenings. In one dream, Marc, Dad, Aunt Sydelle and I revisited New York Hospital on First Avenue; supposedly several members of our family had died there.

In another dream, I encountered a penis-shaped black lizard that spit at me – talk about your phallic symbols!

It was a pleasure to get to school today: on Saturday there’s no traffic, few cars, only one building with about 10 classes.

My English 101 class has about 18 students, all people who’ve been out of high school for years (with the exception of one guy with cute legs). I enjoyed talking with them, and I’ve got a hunch this course will be pleasurable.

It was worth it just to see our provost, Dr. McFarlane, in T-shirt and shorts; he came down to check on the air conditioning, which didn’t go on until we’d been in class for an hour.

After class ended, I felt – finally – that end-of-the-week sense of relief that had eluded me yesterday.

I got a letter from Sean in Gainesville.

He opened with “Dearest Richard,” and told me about his troubles with registration, with getting his electricity, “gass” and water turned on, with his broken lawnmower:

In spite of everything going wrong, I like it here. I’m sure it has something to do with the feeling of independence living alone gives you. Whatever, I hope everything works out okay!

I really miss my friends. Though I didn’t have many, they were very special to me.

I consider you a very, very special friend. Which in turn means I miss you very, very much.

Please stay happy for me. I never want you to be sad, so keep smiling!

– Love always, 

    Sean

I get naches from that kid; I love him and feel proud of him.

Clearly less pleasant was my other piece of mail, a Visa bill for $500. I’m paying $100 and for the first time am incurring a finance charge.

Dad was jogging along as I pulled up to the college this morning, and I later saw him and Mom at their house in Davie, where I dropped off the station wagon so that they can take it to sell their goods at the Hialeah flea market tomorrow.

After lunch, I drove to the gym and went through my expanded workout. I did okay but not terrific; I still find it hard to believe that such a short period of exercising – however intense – can help me.

Still, I feel my muscles getting sore. The Nautilus Book said to always go every other day (so my body won’t adjust to the routine), so I won’t go back until Tuesday. But I do seem to feel better from the exercising, and the steam room helps my sinuses.

Anyway, it’s a start toward a better body.

I spent the rest of the day indoors, resting, reading the fall announcements issue of Publishers Weekly (there are few books by young fiction writers and lots of books about cats), watching Entertainment Tonight, listening to an ancient Pete Seeger/Arlo Guthrie concert, making fattening French toast, avoiding cleaning my toilets (I want to save that noble feeling for a future date).

I called Alice, but Peter said she’d just gone to the office to get some work done; he told me his trip out west with Jim went perfectly.

Then I called Elihu, who didn’t have much to say – the bond market went wild but is calming down; the summer seemed to pass without him realizing it.

I feel better tonight. Now it’s a real treat to be able to sleep late tomorrow. I guess, all in all, I’ve got it pretty good.


Monday, August 30, 1982

8 PM. Today could have been worse, I guess.

When I arrived at school, I found this memo in my box from Dr. Grasso: “See me.” I knew what it was about.

On Friday – I didn’t want to record it in my diary because it was too painful, but I think it’s really what was bothering me that day – she had told me that Phyllis Luck had a student who had gotten a B in my 100 class, a student who clearly could never pass 101.

I taught my first couple of classes preoccupied with my 11 AM talk with the boss. It was difficult for her to dress me down, but she did. I’ve been grading too high in 100 and some of the other teachers have been complaining.

I explained how difficult it was for me to fail people – especially those who tried very hard, rewrote their essays (sometimes more than once), and did well on grammar tests – but Dr. Grasso rightly told me that I wasn’t doing a service to these students.

“The world doesn’t care how hard they tried, or if they came from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said. “The world cares only about competence and results.”

I had to swallow hard and accept her words.

At CUNY, because of the writing assessment test, I had to teach remedial students but did not have the responsibility of grading them. Students who didn’t pass the exam got an “R” in the class and just had to repeat it.

By passing students who are not up to par, I failed myself, and in the long run, I’ve really failed them, too. Dr. Grasso told me it happens in the high schools, that grade inflation is rampant, and that we’ve got to take on the difficult job of being honest with these students; some will never be able to get out of college.

“You have to respect their right to fail,” Dr. Grasso said.

Intellectually, I totally agree; emotionally – well, I want to be liked, and I like most students. But I’ll change my ways.

I feel chastened and somewhat humiliated, but at least I’m proud of myself for not getting defensive – the easiest thing to do.

Still, I think this is just about makes up my mind for me: I’m not going to apply for the permanent job at BCC. This is definite.

To Dr. Grasso and Dr. Pawlowski, I can say that since I’m not sure I want to commit myself to teaching and/or the college, I don’t want to waste their time in the interview process.

Probably they’ll respect me more for not wanting the job. Maybe a fraction of the reason is that I really don’t want to spend another year – and definitely not years – at BCC.

If I stay in Florida, I want to get out of the suburbs and move to Miami. And I think I need to get away from teaching.

Dr. Grasso said she quit teaching in frustration after two years and that her experience in the real world of P.R. and newspaper work made her a tougher and a better teacher when she returned.

But I may just leave this area altogether. I don’t think I want to go teach in New York again just yet. But am I self-sufficient enough to move to a place like San Francisco, where I’ve never even visited?

More and more, I think of moving to Washington as an alternative. It’s a place I’m familiar with – at least in a superficial way. And I have friends there: Kevin, Rick, Gretchen, Eric and my cousins, and maybe even Shelli.

I could probably line up adjunct jobs in D.C. if I had to.

Washington is a real city: a place where people walk the streets rather than drive everywhere. There’s a good mass transit system, a large population of young professional people, a large gay population.

And I do love politics: maybe I could do okay there and turn my love of politics and satire into a new career. Washington is a smart, sexy city – and it’s close enough to New York by bus, Metroliner, and Eastern Air Lines shuttle to make visits easy.

This is something I will have to give consideration to in the months ahead.

To continue my daily summary:

The 1 PM 101 class went fine, and I came home at 2:30 PM and changed for the gym. There I did my Nautilus exercises quickly; I know I planned on not going to work out today, but I needed it after school.

Bob told me that they don’t have an abdominal machine because people were getting “incisions” (was that the word he used?) from them in their South Miami club. So, it’s back to stomach exercises for me – although I’ve learned sit-ups and leg raises don’t do much.

On my way home from Bodyworks, I went to the Plantation library, returning the books I’d finished (including Ellis Island and Other Stories – Mark Helprin is a trickster, but I liked only the title piece).

Mail today was okay: Evelyn Angstrom sent me an $85 check for my performance at Wynmoor Village on Monday night. I’ve got to start working on what I’m going to do onstage for an hour. Though this gig may be a disaster, I’ve still got the $85 – and I can learn from disasters.

Crad Kilodney wrote from New York that he found people in The Big Apple area more unsympathetic, psychotic and rude than Torontonians. He sold a few books every day – Fifth Avenue was better than Sixth – but felt pretty low and discouraged.

Rick sent a postcard telling me that his Taplinger letter was returned “addressee unknown.” I sent him the new address. Boy, does he seem excited about publishing a Paycock Press paperback of With Hitler in New York – but I can’t let myself get my hopes up.

Besides I have enough (“no, it’s never enough,” as George Garrett told Tom Whalen) books coming out.

Also in today’s mail were the Village Voice and Diane Kruchkow’s Small Press News.

It’s an exhilarating feeling to know that I don’t have to teach tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 31, 1982

2 PM. I’ve been trying to write a humorous article, but I just gave up.

Last night I called Teresa, who sounded very good. Since she and Sharon stopped speaking and now that she doesn’t have the responsibility of taking care Suzie, Teresa is loving her weekends on Fire Island.

In the city, it’s gotten to the point where she has almost gotten enjoyment out of her job at the Attorney General’s office: “I’m even getting into substance instead of politics.” Maybe Frank did Teresa a favor by sidelining her during the campaign.

She’s seeing a lot of new women friends and she’s also seeing a lot of Mikey, whose new girlfriend Amy is “very bubbly and outgoing – not what you’d expect.”

After her job ends with the election, Teresa is planning to go to San Francisco to visit Deirdre, and she invited me to come along.

I slept well, though I woke up with a sinus headache. I got to school at about 10 AM, did some work typing up dittoes, and learned that Saturday is a holiday.

By 11:30 AM, I had nothing left to do, so I went over to Mom’s for lunch. Again she asked if she could borrow some money, but I have none.

No mail except a silly favorable review of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in that dumb Occasional Review. I shouldn’t complain, but I almost feel . . . bored.

Well, I’ve got about eight hours till I go to bed and I guess I’ll find something useful to do.

Two-thirds of 1982 are gone; tomorrow is September. As usual, it’s hard to believe life is going by so quickly. TC mark

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