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

Tuesday, October 12, 1982

8 PM. I was very restless last night and found a Buick-sized palmetto bug in my bathtub.

This morning I went to Broward Community College, marked my papers, made up an English 100 midterm, made an appointment to speak to Betty Owen about P’an Ku, and walked around in a daze.

Yesterday I got a call from Lynn Demarest of the Herald’s Neighbors section; he’d seen the Sun-Tattler piece on Eating at Arby’s and wanted to interview me.

So today he came over to my place at 2 PM. I tried to be funny, but I think I blew it and just ended up looking like an asshole; when I tried to get serious, it became even worse. When will I learn that you can’t get complex ideas across to a working reporter?

The guy obviously thought I was an idiot, wanted to know if my previous books were from vanity presses, etc. He had no knowledge of literature, of course, or of the avant-garde, but he didn’t seem willing to give me a chance.

Oh, he liked me, but it was only because he’s got a subject he can make a fool of in print.

Well, I suppose it’s what I deserve and perhaps what I need at this point in my career. I told him I’m leaving BCC after this year and I probably said something about illiterate students that I shouldn’t have (though it may not matter – when Dr. Rose, the academic dean, saw me today he said, “Hiya, Casey”).

Anyway, I wouldn’t mind seeing the news of my retirement in print so it would be known to everybody and get me off my duff so I could start looking to do something new next year.

On Thursday at 9 AM, a photographer will coming be over and I think they want me to look like a fool in front of the Arby’s on University Drive.

It’s funny how neither the Coda article, the Small Press Review piece, nor any of my blurbs made any impression on Lynn Demarest. I think he’s going to call up the state’s arts council and find out their reaction to my “conning” them.

In the mail, I got bills from American Express and Mobil and letters from Sean and Miriam.

Sean said he loved the book and said the dedication meant so much to him that he couldn’t really tell me how much. (The letter was written a week ago, before he called.)

He’s such a good kid; I’d like to be in Gainesville, if only to be near him – not that I’d expect to be his lover there. Since he told me that Jeff disliked the guy he was seeing, Sean is obviously with another guy now, and that’s fine with me.

Despite Vito’s chuckle last June when I told him Sean was my “friend,” he is my friend.

Miriam wrote a nice letter. This weekend she’s getting married to Robert in a Zen ceremony (she’s in love with the woman priest who’ll be officiating). All her old Jewish New Jersey instincts made her get a nice white dress.

Then they’ll head back to San Francisco, where her massage license test is coming up soon and she’ll be doing a poetry reading with Philip Whalen.

A year ago, Miriam’s weekend visit, just after I moved into this apartment, caused me a great deal of joy. Miriam exhorted me to take risks, to live life fully, and to enjoy the day-to-day.

In today’s letter, she told me I’m doing a very hard thing: trying to be a writer and a full-time college teacher, too.


Thursday, October 14, 1982

6 PM. The past couple of days have been hectic but not terrible. On Wednesday, all my classes went well, and I even began to feel fond of my students – some of them, anyway.

Today Lisa and I were talking and we both said that whenever we have good days, we decide that we should stay at BCC. But I know that I’ve got to leave. For one thing, I do finally want to write a novel.

Reading Ted Mooney’s amazing Easy Travel To Other Planets – I know a book is terrific when I don’t envy an author, especially one younger than I – inspired me to write a brief outline for a novel that takes place in New York during the summer of 1980. More about that later on.

It’s funny, but in many ways I am very much at home at BCC, the way I was at Brooklyn College as a senior, when I knew dozens of people on campus. Of course, that’s just another reason for leaving; it will be bad if I get too attached to the school.

My creative writing class was especially good last night, but I also enjoyed my 1 PM 101 and found that my individual conferences with 100 students seemed very productive.

On Tuesday night I got a call from a woman at the St. Lucie County Public Library in Fort Pierce who invited me to speak at their Book and Author Festival in February or March, and of course I immediately agreed.

They’ll pay my expenses for gas and a night’s stay at a hotel, and there will be a “very small” honorarium. Great – one more little step up in the world.

This morning the Neighbors photographer came and took pictures of me by the local Arby’s. I half-dread the story because the reporter will be out to make me look like a fool.

Still, I suppose that may help to sell the book.

Dad called just a few minutes ago to say that all 500 copies had arrived by UPS.

This weekend I can begin mailing out review copies, but I probably should wait until the Neighbors article appears and send copies of that out with the books. The official publication date is still two months away, after all.

At school today I was royally bored, but I got there early (right after being photographed) and had to stay until 3:30 PM when Rosa’s students finished their assignments in the class in which I was subbing.

Marilyn (back from Connecticut) and Maureen both read Arby’s and enjoyed it, so I think the book does have mass appeal if even secretaries like it. Just sitting here, I’m getting really excited about it.

There’s been little mail all week, but it’s probably for the best since I’ve been so busy anyway. The next week will be very hectic, and I feel hard-pressed to fit in my Nautilus workouts – although I realize how important they are.

Today I wore a short-sleeved knit shirt and I realized that my chest looks better than it ever did.

Funny, but I can’t think of much to write, even after a day of not writing. My mind is filled with so many things I have to do.

*

8 PM. I couldn’t stand it and went over to my parents’ house to fetch the two boxes of books.

Both Marc and Jonathan were at school (next term Marc will be a full-time day student at BCC-Central), but Mom and Dad were there, and they seemed pleased to see what the books looked like.

I also did a few errands that will save me time tomorrow. I got gas, withdrew cash from the bank machine and bought enough stamps to mail out the first five review copies.

I’d love to sleep heartily tonight but I’m afraid my mind is buzzing with mental activity. And I’ve got a rough week ahead of me: lots and lots of crap to take care of.

Still, I’m happier than I’d be if I were bored.


Sunday, October 17, 1982

6 PM. Just noticing the date, I remember it was a Sunday, October 17, that shattered my world eleven years ago: I learned that Shelli had slept with Jerry and was choosing him over me. It all seems vaguely comic now, but I was in real pain in those days.

I am somewhat surprised that Shelli never responded to my sending her my book after that seemingly friendly conversation we had when I was in Washington in August. Oh well: rejected again.

Hey, I truly dread this week. It seems like a week made for all kinds of trouble: car trouble, sinus trouble, mechanical trouble, trouble at school.

Tomorrow will be hectic: three classes, a meeting with Betty Owen, and then the grand faculty meeting will make it a real 9-to-5 day. I hope I can get to Bodyworks, as I was too tired to go today; besides, I want to see if this “irregularity of training” idea works.

Wednesday will be as hectic as it always is, although I’ll be giving my midterms in the morning classes; on Thursday I’ve scheduled a P’an Ku meeting to which no one will probably show.

Although I like my Saturday class, going to BCC six days a week – even if I don’t have to teach every day – is not good for my health. More to the point, I need more than Sunday away from school.

I didn’t sleep at all last night – due to dizziness (which I thought had gone away for good by now), insomnia, and another 1 AM phone call from Sean. Again he was depressed and lonely, this time to the point of drinking screwdrivers alone in his trailer.

I suppose I would have been miffed if he’d forgotten me completely as he went on to fall into the swing (mixed metaphor – forgive me, I’m tired) of college life, but I’m increasingly disturbed by his failure to make any friends outside of the three people he knew before he went to Gainesville.

As usual, the qualities that one originally prizes in a lover are the ones that turn out to be, in the long run, the biggest pains in the ass.

Sean was shy and vulnerable, and he needed someone to lean on; if he had friends his own age, he wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with a fat old English teacher.

And I certainly needed someone like Sean, someone non-threatening with whom to have my first gay experience. But talking to him across 350 miles of telephone wires, I see how little we have in common.

He’s 18, and I don’t know if he’s young for his age, but sometimes he seems like a child. Of course, that may be something he puts on for me.

Anyway, I worry about his drinking and now suspect that he’s a definite candidate for alcoholism, since he seems to use drinking to cope with loneliness and frustration.

Talk to people, I tell him, join clubs, you don’t have to go only to gay bars to make friends (and since friends, not tricks or alcohol, are what he needs, gay bars are probably the last place he should be going); don’t be so goddamn shy.

And it’s always, “Well, yes, I’ll try. . .”

Look, I know it’s bound to be difficult for him – I was basically shy at his age, too – but I think in time he’ll be able to do it.

He’s a college sophomore, which is what I was, more or less – no, I guess actually I was a junior and 20 years old – when Shelli dumped me in 1971.

So I suppose I shouldn’t expect more from Sean than I would of my own fucked-up, babyish 18-year-old self.

Probably Sean could use some therapy, of course, though his “problem” isn’t homosexuality any more than mine was.

He does love me. He told me the dedication in Eating at Arby’s was the best birthday present he ever had, so at least I feel I returned a little of the joy he gave me on my birthday in June.

And I do love him, too – though now my feelings are less sexual and more fatherly (big brotherly?).

After we talked for an hour, he scooted back from the pay phone at Majik Market to his trailer and I lay in my bed unable to sleep.

At 3 AM, I got dressed and went out to try to find a Miami Herald; all I could get was a Fort Lauderdale News, which I read until 4 AM.

The Herald came at 5:30 AM, and there was my puss, reading my silly book in front of the Arby’s sign – this on page 3 of the Neighbors section.

At first, the article confirmed my worst fears: Lynn Demarest had me look like The Compleat Asshole. I sounded like a pompous jerk who had misused state funds, who denigrated his students: a coward and a braggart.

In bed again, I brooded, first trying to deny that the article bothered me, then realizing that it didn’t really matter very much.

After all, I had gotten exactly what I wanted: Lynn Demarest’s snotty outrage at Manny and Zelda and my hijinks was what I had aimed for.

As usual, I manipulated the media; after all, I never had to stress that my book was the product of a $3,000 state grant. I could have just not mentioned the arts council fellowship or at least downplayed it. But I did the reverse, knowing how it would appear.

Lynn, of course, avoided mentioning any of the good things I told him: all the praise I’d received, my coming writing conference job at Winthrop College, my fellowships at MacDowell and VCCA, and my good reviews for With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

But every single time I said something stupid to Lynn, there it was, in good old black-and-white. Tomorrow I’m bracing for a backlash at school because of my remarks about illiterate students (“They’ll hate you,” Mom said).

At least I said I was leaving BCC (“Maybe I’ll become a celebrity”) after one more year (which Mom interpreted as 1983-84: how like her to believe what she wants to believe).

Anyway, I never did get to sleep. At 11 AM, I went out, xeroxed the article, ran some errands, had lunch. For most of the afternoon, I was incoherent, lying on my bed in a state resembling sleep.

One call came as a result of the article and it was about what you would expect: an elderly Sunrise retiree whom I motivated to finally get going on his long-delayed novel and who needed a ghost writer or editor. I gave him some good-natured advice, declining the honor of the position myself.

I read the Times Book Review, featuring front-page pieces on new novels by Updike and Vonnegut; I suspect I’m more of a Vonnegut than an Updike although I, too, would like to write ruminating, rambling novels and try everything once.

Still, I don’t have the equipment to be an Updike any more than I have the equipment (so says The Nautilus Bodybuilding Book) to be a Mr. Olympia.

Will all my antics, as Tom Whalen says, mean that I’m never taken seriously as a writer? I have a sense of Yuma (Arizona, pop: 80,000), but I’d like to write serious stuff, too.

Probably it doesn’t matter: if I ever do get this planned novel written, nobody in New York will have heard of my looniness.

I asked Mom: What if I’d written a “straight” collection of narratives about South Florida, sensitive and ironic? Would anyone pay attention to “serious fiction”? Mom says yes: “You could make them pay attention.”

Well, I Brake for Delmore Schwartz is a serious book – the best thing Demarest did was get all the titles of my books right, including that one – and we’ll see what happens when it’s published in a few months.

Right now, I need to worry about what will happen tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 20, 1982

11 PM. It was a long day, but I feel I accomplished something, so I’m exhilarated rather than exhausted.

I did enjoy appearing at Rosemary Jones’s creative writing class last night. For one thing, it was the first time I’d been to the beach and seen the ocean since I returned to Florida in August.

I got there very early, so I took a leisurely drive up A1A to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where I’d never been before.

After getting a bite at a very touristy Burger King, I sat out on the beach for a long while; as the sun began to set, it became cool and windy. Sometimes I forget how magical Florida can be, the way it was to me before I lived here.

Rosemary’s class meets in the clubroom of the posh Ocean Club highrise apartments on Galt Ocean Mile. The refined, intelligent WASPs of Fort Lauderdale are so different from the elderly Jews of West Broward.

I spoke for an hour or so, talking too much (I now realize) about the minutiae of my career and also about the problem of finding readers for serious literature in a junk culture.

The class members seemed to enjoy my talk. Some suggested that I write articles about education or that I try my hand at a newspaper column; one man said, “I’d like to read about your views of the world.”

I sold $30 worth of books and autographed them, and of course that alone was wonderful and made the evening worth it. Arby’s does seem to be a fun book that many people will enjoy.

Rosemary’s class has some heavy hitters: a number have contracts for romance novels, family sagas, and other commercial books.

After sleeping well, I got up early and this morning gave my midterms at BCC. The day progressed slowly, and I felt tired after three hours of classes.

I didn’t want to attend our department meeting, where I sat next to Al Lemaire, a Moral Majority type who carries the Bible with him wherever he goes.

As the meeting dragged on and Mick began his usual assault on Dr. Grasso – this time related to the textbook policy – I decided I’d heard it all before, and when Lemaire got up to go, I used him and his Holy Bible as cover to leave the room, too.

Not having enough time to go home to Sunrise before my evening class, I went over to my parents’ place and sat by the pool for an hour. It was glorious – nice and mild – and I felt relaxed with my lenses off.

Mom made me dinner, and I was in a good mood for my evening class. (Getting my paycheck in the mail didn’t hurt, either.)

When I returned to BCC, Patrick said I’d missed a real donnybrook as Mick “lost it” and berated and belittled Dr. Grasso and then attacked Jim Ledford and even Luke Grande for being her “puppets.”

Finally, Dr. Grasso “lost it completely” and she told Mick off as the meeting descended into general chaos.

The whole scene was terribly embarrassing, Patrick said, particularly because the shouting could be heard outside, even by the students in Bob’s class in the next room. (Later, Carlos Diaz, who’d been teaching across the hall, asked me what about “all that commotion” was about.)

It was all very ugly, and there will be repercussions in the department for days and maybe even weeks.

Patrick said he was glad Dr. Grasso finally stood up to Mick’s bullying, but he hoped people wouldn’t choose sides or that it would give the administration a chance to say, “Look, we have to come in and run this because the faculty aren’t in control.”

Phil told me that NBC offered him a job writing Days of Our Lives and Another World and so of course he will be leaving his job at South Campus. But I know DOOL is made in Burbank and AW in Brooklyn.

Still, Phil flattered me by saying, “You don’t need to be teaching in this place, either.”

I had a great class with my creative writing students; we all seemed to have a really good time, and I felt that I, too, learned a lot as we went over a couple of their stories.

Some days, teaching at BCC does have its rewards, and today was one of them. I bet I’ll be unable to fall asleep now, but then I don’t have to be on campus until late tomorrow.TC mark

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