Thought Catalog

A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1982

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Friday, October 1, 1982

6 PM. I’ve got a bad sinus headache tonight. It’s been bothering me for a couple of days, but right now I feel awful. However, I hope to feel better tomorrow if I get to sleep early. Obviously, this humid, rainy weather isn’t helping my sinuses.

This morning, when I awoke to yet another heavy shower, I felt finally that I’d had enough. In the past two weeks it’s rained every day, and even I am ready for some South Florida sunshine.

Today went pleasantly at BCC. My 9 AM class was somewhat obstreperous, and I told them that I was quitting my job because of them. I know capitalization is not the most interesting thing in the world, but they are college students, not 12-year-olds.

During the break after the less-unruly 10 AM class, I went to my parents’ and had lunch while no one was around.

Tomorrow Mom and Dad go to Orlando for the week – for a menswear show, some business, and perhaps for a visit to the new EPCOT Center.

My 1 PM class went well and I told them not to make me look like a schmuck when I’m being observed on Monday.

Before leaving campus, I had a long talk with Lisa. She’s glad she’s got a full-time job and money coming in, but she feels a bit lost, and she misses her friends and the intellectual variety and vigor of Brooklyn College and New York City.

She’ll probably apply for the permanent English Department openings at BCC but will be just as happy not to be her next year.

Patrick will probably get one of the positions, though I know he’s not crazy about the school and the department, either.

Of the other temporaries, Mimi is already looking for high school jobs; Dave is way over his head; Bob is still idealistic and will probably end up heartbroken; John seems the other likely candidate for a permanent job, though he, too, isn’t delighted by BCC.

Today I learned that the school was once segregated and that black students had to attend classes at Dillard High, once the all-black county high school. It’s hard to believe that legal segregation existed less than 20 years ago.

Today, in Small Press Review, I found Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in their Small Press Book Club selection list (along with The Pushcart Prize III).

They called it “funny, playful . . . engaged in the shift from persona to person, from voice to voice that characterizes experimental fiction. Grayson achieves some startling effects in ‘A Sense of Porpoise,’ in which a porpoise replaces a boy’s dead father. The situation produces the pun, but also some fine speculations on the relationship of child to parent. ‘Why Van Johnson Believes in ESP’ has the character of both parody and the play that is at the heart of newer narrative techniques. The complications of narrative voice become even greater, often funnier, sometimes more frightening in the autobiographical stories about growing up in New York in the late 60s and early 70s.”

Nice. I believe that the exposure I’ve gotten for Dog – from the Washington Post to the Times Book Review, from the recent Coda piece to this – will add up, little by little, and that eventually I’ll find myself recognized.

For this guy, no overnight success, just a long process of chipping away. But if I do make it – and ya wanna bet I don’t? – I’ll know that it will have been done by hard work – not just by writing but also by chutzpah.


Monday, October 4, 1982

8 PM. I started the week in high gear, and reading the paper this morning I discovered I’d made the Miami Herald for the second day in a row.

The Broward editor printed my letter under the title, “BCC Teachers Work Hard, Earn Little.” It was a rebuttal to a woman who last week wrote in wondering why we had a faculty union when we earned “salaries of upwards of $30,000 for very light teaching duties.”

Rosemary Lanshe tacked the letter on the department bulletin board, and Lew Grande called me a hero, but I don’t know what the administration’s reaction will be. Of course, it’s just another example of how I have the smarts to get in the paper.

Both Phyllis (who gave me my airline tickets to Charlotte for next month from the travel agency where she moonlights) and Mick saw the John Lomelo poem yesterday and predicted that Mayor Lomelo would be pleased by it.

My morning classes were okay if a little rowdy. In the 10 AM class I heard those three goons in the back of the class call another kid (not to his face) “the fag”; they’ve also made anti-Semitic remarks. Today they guffawed throughout the class.

Of course, it didn’t bother me that much because I’m going to have the last laugh. And so will the gay kid, Robbie, an outgoing, fairly smart theater major who reminds me a little of Sean, except that Sean is so shy.

Tomorrow Sean will be 18. I hope he has as good a birthday as he made my birthday in June.

I was observed by Pawlowski and Grasso at 1 PM. Unlike Lisa, who said she felt “demoralized” after her observation (she had a very animated discussion on slang), I eschewed creativity and taught right out of You Can Write.

I was more nervous than I expected and got flustered at one point, but the lesson was workmanlike and generally okay. We’ll see what Grasso writes on the observation form, but I really don’t care – unless I feel I can learn something from it.

I can see how most of the other new people are feeling a bit disgusted with BCC. Most of them will probably apply for the permanent openings, but knowing how things work at BCC, I doubt that all four positions will get filled.

So unless I really fuck up, I can probably return next year as a full-time temporary – as a last resort. I sent away for graduate catalogs from various universities; maybe I’ll try going back to school if I can get a good fellowship that will pay my way.

For the fifteenth day in a row, it rained heavily, if sporadically. I really enjoyed going to Bodyworks this afternoon, for my body now craves the exercise.

I got one bite on the press release on Eating at Arby’s: a guy at the Palm Beach Post to whom I said I’d send a review copy as soon as I got some more books.

Last night I read the first half of Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up gay. White is very lyrical and writes beautifully, though so far the story is a little too flat for me.

However, I admire White for being an openly gay author, though he probably feels typecast. The other day I was reading about the Jewish Book Council and I felt that none of my books qualified as “Jewish” books.

While it’s very clear the tone of my work is what I’d call “hip-New York-Jewish,” the Jewish stuff is pretty much taken for granted.

Probably it’s the same way with my gay material – I’ll never be a “gay writer” any more than I’ll be a “Jewish writer.” Yet I do think of myself as an “American writer.” Does that sound odd?

Jonathan told me Fredo called again. Like me, Jonathan believes Mom and Dad should call the police or FBI.


Tuesday, October 5, 1982

3 PM. I’m feeling a little under the weather (rain, of course) this afternoon. My sinuses hurt and my stomach is upset.

Maureen called shortly after I left BCC to ask if I’d substitute in a 102 class tonight, and I agreed to do it, as it means about $28.

Today is Sean’s birthday and it bothers me that I probably won’t get to talk with him; if he does call tonight, I’ll be out. I did get a letter from him this morning, however.

The poor kid, he had a bad accident with his bike (right after he got it fixed, too) when he was cycling home in the rain; he and a Trans Am were both making a right turn and he crashed while trying to avoid getting run over. He wrote that he’s a mass of scabs and bruises and said he wished he had someone to patch him up when he got home.

Sean told me he’s made only one or two friends (“What can I tell you? I’m not Mr. Popularity.”) and he seems a bit forlorn. I suppose he’s learning fast – and not just at school.

He told me Jeff got angry with him because Jeff didn’t like the guy he, Sean, was dating; now Jeff isn’t angry but Sean is.

I probably shouldn’t read much into Sean’s sign-off of “love” rather than “love always,” but let’s face it – we’ve both got to let go.

I see now that a popular, more well-adjusted (?) gay kid wouldn’t have wanted or needed a relationship with me. Probably our relationship was neurotic – but I can’t help believing that we did each other good and not harm.

Though I enjoyed seeing Sean’s birthday horoscope (“you have a good writing style . . . Gemini, Leo play important parts in your life”), I’ve got to put the love part of our relationship in the past.

I spoke to Teresa last night. The Abrams people seemed relieved when she quit her job at the Attorney General’s office, and that triggered old resentments; Teresa never did understand why they dumped her from the campaign.

She’s now working full-time in the Cuomo campaign, where the old political band has been replaced by a crop of eager kids in their early twenties.

She spent yesterday with Averell and Pamela Harriman, who endorsed Cuomo at a big press conference. Teresa said her campaign work is not just altruistic, that she’s looking for a job – perhaps with Pamela Harriman’s new group, Democrats for the 80s.

I told her about Gretchen’s job as cook to the Harrimans; Teresa describes them as “American royalty” but felt the Governor, who’s 90, looks like he’s at death’s door. When Renee arrived for a visit, I told Teresa I’d catch her later and hung up.

I phoned Jonathan – Marc will not pick up the phone, since he’s scared Fredo will answer when he says hello – and we had a long talk.

He’s quite happy these days, enjoying his job at the store and his classes at Florida Atlantic University. FAU, says Jonathan, is far more academic than BCC: the teachers – who work only two or three days a week, as opposed to our five-day week – are much better, and the students are more serious and scholarly.

Jonathan feels he wants to do philosophy, though he’d also like to be a film critic or historian (not a director, thank God). He’s really quite intelligent.

At BCC today, I had to laugh inwardly when Bob said he considers himself a writer rather than a teacher. He’s got an unpublished novel which is probably awful and he is woefully ignorant of how publishing works. Both Casey and John also have unpublished novels.


Wednesday, October 6, 1982

4 PM. The sun returned today, and with it, extremely hot temperatures.

Unfortunately, the classroom building at BCC wasn’t air-conditioned last evening or today, and that made for a very uncomfortable situation. My car started to stall out a couple of times, and I now think it may be the extreme (over 90°) heat that causes it.

Yesterday I went over to Davie in time to take a call from Mom. The Orlando menswear show was “dead,” she said, but I guess they didn’t go there with high expectations.

To me, the most puzzling thing about the current economic disaster is the public’s patience with it. There have been no riots, few complaints, and a general attitude of good will toward Reagan.

You’d expect this year to be a disaster for the Republicans, but they’ll probably sustain only minimal losses. I don’t understand this any more than I comprehend the Israeli public’s patience with Begin and his policies.

I didn’t mind taking over the 102 class last night; they were a pleasant group of adults with whom I went over footnotes, Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.”

I had a conversation with Ronna last night. She’s still at Redbook; the Hearst changes haven’t been drastic yet, and she wrote her first article for the magazine.

She’s still seeing Jordan but they’re not getting married, and the rest of her life seems status quo. I enjoy talking to her about books, though; she says she likes talking with me, too.

I wonder if we’d be closer if we hadn’t gone together for two years. It’s funny that I can’t help feeling a little differently toward Ronna than I do with other women friends.

I slept well, woke up early, and went off to BCC, where I had my morning classes write paragraphs – more grading to do, but I’m going to save it for the weekend.

Today we were paid, not only our retroactive increases but also for our overload courses, so my checks came to $634 (plus $25 for the credit union), which I deposited right away.

I’ve already spent $500 of it ($300 to the printer, $200 to pay Visa part of my credit balance), and it’s going to take me a while to get out of debt.

I didn’t keep the afternoon class long, as it was sweltering in the building, and if the A/C isn’t on tonight, I won’t keep my creative writing class very long, either.

I decided to go to Bodyworks today instead of tomorrow; finally I think I can definitely discern broader shoulders and a firmer chest. Working out makes me feel better mentally, even if it doesn’t turn me into a hunk.

Gary Stein called yesterday and said I should send him a copy of Eating at Arby’s because someone at the paper wants to review the book. Good! Enough for now. . .

*

10 PM. I just got a call from a market research surveyor in New York who asked half an hour’s questions about “non-prescription pain relievers.”

Obviously, Johnson & Johnson is quite worried about the publicity surrounding the tainted Tylenol capsules. Well, I would use Tylenol again, though I’ve always taken the tablets rather than the capsules, and told him so.

It was so unbearably hot at BCC tonight that I let the class go after sweltering for 90 minutes.

I’d be a better creative writing teacher if I weren’t so self-absorbed (or possibly, if I had better students); I’m probably an intelligent critic, but I’m not very encouraging to my class.

I guess most of them probably shouldn’t be encouraged to write. How many more people do we need with unpublished – and unpublishable – novels in their drawers?


Thursday, October 7, 1982

7 PM. I’m feeling tired but happy.

After six weeks of school, I am somewhat inundated with papers to grade, but I’ve settled into a comfortable routine. I no longer feel paranoid about staying on at BCC; I’ll let whatever happens, happen.

If my life is a bit empty without Sean and with most of my good friends in New York or Washington or California, I’ve been doing a number of things that I enjoy.

Two more results from my Arby’s press release today: In the morning, a woman from the Broward Jewish Journal phoned to request a review copy, and later, without expecting it, I discovered myself in the “Names and Places” column in the West section of the Hollywood Sun-Tattler.

There was my photo (on file at all the papers now) and the headline, “It’s True: Just Tell ‘Em Read Richard’s Book.” (Odd, it’s the first time I’ve been referred to by my first name, like “Liz” or “Ron”):

So the folks back home don’t believe your horror stories about driving on I-95? You get a few chuckles when you tell your favorite yarns about shopping at our area’s malls? Fear no more! Davie resident and Broward Community College teacher Richard Grayson has published ‘Eating at Arby’s: The South Florida Stories.’ It puts into print those daily dilemmas only we South Floridians can truly appreciate.

[A good quote.]

Richard, known for his witty sarcasm and last March a hardly serious candidate for the Davie Town Council, etc.

They did quote me:

‘It’s a pleasure to bring great literature to South Florida,’ he says. ‘I hope the taxpayers agree the grant money I received was well spent.’ You can be the judge of that if you care to part with $3 to buy the book.

Well, I think I’ve already done pretty well with publicity this past week; I’ve been all over the papers. This morning in the Miami Herald, Sen. Chiles derided the Republicans, saying they tried to get everyone, even Burt Reynolds, to run against him – and he joked that his wife might have supported Burt. It’s weird to remember that that was my idea!

Last night I finished A Boy’s Own Story and mailed it off to Sean; I wish he’d call me. Now I’m starting Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets.

I slept till 9 AM and went to BCC, where I intended to mark papers but didn’t get anything done. I’ve fallen behind badly.

Instead, I socialized – with Bob, with Lisa (she wrote her first poem since coming to Florida, and it’s a good one, about the rainy season, which now seems to be over), and with Tom Clayton, our visiting teacher from Valley College in L.A. (where Roy has gone this term in a faculty exchange), who uses the “Garrison method” to teach comp.

I saw a couple of students in my office and spoke with Karen, a creative writing student who wants to work on P’an Ku with me, and just fooled around.

Back home, I lay in the sun for half an hour, did my laundry, did my stomach exercises, listened to All Things Considered, watched Dan Rather, and read the New York Times.

I love to read and I can’t help feeling sorry for those who don’t. It seems to me that information – and access to it – equals power.

Whatever success I have is based on reading, in finding all about whatever I got involved in: student government, the world of little magazines and small presses, newspaper publicity, book publishing, higher education.

My students may eventually be functionally literate, but in a decade they’ll be back where they started. I myself need much more of a background in the sciences; well, I hope to keep educating myself.


Saturday, October 9, 1982

8 PM. Just now, driving back home across Sunrise Boulevard from the Galleria, I felt a hint of what Florida will be like in a month or two, when “the season” begins.

This afternoon I started thinking and realized that I’ve been back two months and haven’t even been to Dade County, much less Coconut Grove or Miami Beach. I haven’t even been to the beach at Fort Lauderdale.

I’ve been to the movies only once since August. What I’ve been doing is teaching at BCC, marking papers, reading and writing at home, working out at the gym and dreaming nights about New York. My social life has been confined to the long distance lines of Network I.

So late this afternoon I decided to drive to the Galleria, where the high-class shops and rich people always cheer me up, especially when I delude myself into believing that I fit in there.

I thought I’d try to use my Neiman-Marcus charge card, but I saved myself a bundle by merely browsing.

I was lucky enough to find Bob and his father Ben, who runs the mall’s Fashion Opticals – Ben’s half-brother is Cohen of Cohen’s Fashion Opticals, and Ben used to work in Kings Plaza – sitting in one of the new cafes open on the ground level.

We talked until Bob’s father had to get back to work; I then persuaded Bob to join me across the street for dinner at Wolfie’s. I was looking forward to my weekly dose of red meat in the form of a hamburger.

But I was also hungry for intelligent conversation, and although Bob is incredibly fastidious – I’ve never seen him without a tie, not even today – he’s very bright.

He works harder than anyone at BCC because he really does care; his father said he’s constantly marking papers. Bob arrives at school at 7 AM and leaves at 3 PM.

As fussy as he is, though, he’s not pompous. I like him. But it’s a wonder the real world hasn’t eaten him alive.

Now, I know other extraordinarily honest, caring and ethical people – Mikey, for instance – but Mikey has street smarts that Bob could never understand.

Bob told me Dr. Grasso pumped him about Dave and dropped remarks that implied Dave was incompetent. Honestly, I believe Dave is probably no more incompetent than Miss Burns or half of the other people in the department, and Bob feels the same way.

He doesn’t want to make BCC his life’s work, though he may apply for one of the permanent positions. It’s interesting to see how all the new people are adjusting.

Lisa is doing okay but feels like Bob and I do about BCC; Dave seems over his head and lost; Mimi is so rattled she barely talks to anyone in her rush to class and to grade papers.

Anyway, it’s pleasant to touch base with someone from BCC outside of school.

Up early today, I had my 2½-hour Saturday morning class, and then went over to my parents’ house. They weren’t home although I’d waved to Dad earlier on Nova Drive while he was jogging and I was on my way to teach.

I called Mom this afternoon but hung up on her because I was so exasperated after she began being so ridiculous about Fredo’s calls.

I told her I had mailed a letter to Fredo (which I did), informing him that if I discovered that he was attempting to extort money from my parents or harass them, I would go immediately to the FBI.

Mom kept asking me all kinds of questions and I was so annoyed because after a week of us not getting a chance to really talk to each other, all she had to say to me was this nonsense.

With every week, it seems, my estimate of my parents’ intelligence and competence seems to diminish. Were they always so naïve, so flaky, so silly?

Sometimes I think Jonathan is the only one of the four other people in the family who is sensible. It’s funny how I came to Florida to be dependent upon my parents, and I ended up more independent than I was when we were living in different cities three years ago.

Perhaps if I had big problems, I could confide in my parents, but I doubt it. I don’t think I’d ask their advice on anything because I trust myself more than I do them.

When I went over to their house today, I made myself promise not to get annoyed with anything they said, and yet I couldn’t control my anger later, when I was on the phone.

Mom called me back to talk, but I was already on my way out and didn’t feel like sharing anything with her. I know this sounds awful, that I’m probably a snotty ingrate who’s acting insufferably, but this is how I feel.

Maybe I’m carrying independence a little too far. Maybe I really do need my parents more than I think I do. Sure, I can pay my own bills (and even – gasp – do my own laundry!), but don’t I need emotional support from my family? Is it my anger that’s causing the rift between us?

I know it seemed to have started last winter, when I felt they disapproved of my council race and the other publicity I was getting.

My relationship with Sean – an important event in my life, which I kept a secret from them (only because I felt they wouldn’t approve?) – deepened the gulf between us, and I hardly spoke to my parents in the two months I was away.

Maybe it has to do with Marc’s return to their house, or that I feel angry that the four of them are a family and I’m not included. But I deliberately excluded myself!

Oh well, I almost think I’m trying to convince myself that I care about this.

Kevin phoned but had no big news. He’s driving himself crazy with his teaching at the three schools. Snow World’s page proofs area back from the printer, and he should have the book by December; the pub date is March.

After that, he’s doing another story collection by Drake and a Joe Lerner science fiction novel, both of which are already typeset.

Knowing that my diary book was sent back by Saul Cohen, Kevin asked to see it, saying perhaps he could publish it in 1984. I’m not sure I want the book published now; I’ll have to read it over and see.

Perhaps one sign of maturity on my part is that I don’t think everything I write deserves publication.

Kevin said the NEA fellowship winners will probably be notified by phone this week or next; I just wish I could stop fantasizing about the $12,500.

I spoke to Grandpa Herb, who didn’t say much of anything but who sounded strong.

Sean never did call, even though I asked him to. I think I overwhelmed him a little, and the kid is just too polite to tell me to buzz off. Probably I should try to find a new lover and leave the poor guy alone. I’m clinging to him and that’s unfair.

Well, I thought I could bring myself to mark papers tonight, but I’m not in the mood; that will make Sunday not a fun day.


Sunday, October 10, 1982

1 PM. Twelve hours ago, at 1 AM, I was awakened by a collect phone call from Sean in Gainesville. I had been deep into a dream, and it took me a while to shake it off.

Sean said he been depressed: the two friends he does have in town had gone away for the weekend, and he couldn’t get to the mall to go to the Phone Center Store to order phone service or to buy Atari game equipment for his TV.

He’d received $180 for his birthday, he told me, and he was deciding how to spend it. As he went over the various video game options, I realized he was very much a kid – but that didn’t stop me from loving him.

He’s such a sweet, unaffected child/man – “for sure,” as he’d say. (Sean says his new word is “royal,” which is to replace “tubular,” I think).

School is okay, Sean said, though he’s doing better in his science courses than in his religion course, where he got only a C+ on a test on Judaism. (He forgot what a talis and what tefillin were.) “But Catholicism is coming up next,” he said, “and I should do better on that.”

Sean still hasn’t made any friends, but he got a lot of letters and cards on his birthday and said he liked Arby’s (“The cover was beautiful”) and was halfway through A Boy’s Own Story, which he liked but which puzzled him a little: “Am I so, you know, well-adjusted, that it [being gay] was no big deal to me? I mean, I think I handled it much, much better than the kid in the book” – or the English teacher who sent him the book.

We blabbed on for over an hour – the call should end up costing me $18 – about the Gators’ loss to Vanderbilt, registering for the draft (“I’ll wait till they send me a letter”), and all his bicycle accidents.

We got off when we both had to pee badly, and Sean said he was no longer depressed. I was fine too.

*

7 PM. I need to talk to someone. Since none of my friends are home, can I talk to you, dear diary? Perhaps it’s just an off-day, but right now I feel terribly dissatisfied with my life.

As I got to the end of my 9 AM class’s batch of papers, I felt more and more rage and my red-penned comments began to get more angry as I fixed one illiterate paragraph after another.

Now that I’m grading honestly, the highest mark anyone got was a B-. I practically screamed aloud as I went over the last few F papers. The banal ideas, the weak sentence structure, the childish vocabulary, the poor grammar – I just can’t take it anymore.

Hey, I know I’m not the world’s greatest stylist, but I have to be honest: reading bad writing is physically painful for me, not to mention the despair it causes me. (I told you not to mention that! Soupy Sales would say.)

I just can’t bring myself to get to the 10 AM class’s papers. I think I’ll try Tom Clayton’s “Garrison method” and spend the week having individual conferences in which I go over students’ work with them instead of marking them at home.

Is this burnout? I’m so impatient lately – yesterday with Mom is another example.

It can’t be that I’m so intelligent that the slowness of others bothers me to this degree. I know I’ve got a Mensa IQ, but I’ve never felt so surrounded by imbeciles before.

Living in Florida I don’t think I’ve met more than a dozen people I’d call my intellectual equals – and the truth is I ain’t so smart myself!

More and more, I see Eating at Arby’s as a work of anger and perhaps a work of cruelty. On the one hand, I feel superior intellectually to nearly everyone here; on the other hand, my democratic instincts tell me I’m suffering from hubris and that I’ve got to be taken down a peg or two to give me some humility.

Solution, anybody? TC mark

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