A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1983

Saturday, April 2, 1983

8 PM. I’m feeling very relaxed; a few days away from Broward Community College has done wonders. Being there only three days out of the last two weeks has been a real vacation for me.

Now it won’t be so bad to go back on Monday, especially since there are only three weeks left to the term. April may not be the cruelest month after all.

I didn’t go out last night but instead went to sleep early. This morning I was up at 8 AM.

A couple of hours later, I got a call from the University of Miami’s Ross Murfin. He wanted to tell me he was sending out the letter awarding me an assistantship for $6,000 and to let me know I’m an alternate for a fellowship.

All along, he’s been extremely kind to me, and I have good feelings about UM.

So. . . my worst case scenario for next year is to accept the assistantship, get a student loan, live cheaply in South Miami, the Gables, or Kendall, and write. The best-case scenario is that I’ll have the job at FIU. Miami, here I come!

I spent the day in Dade County with my cousin Michael. Aunt Sydelle had a cold and a beauty parlor appointment, so she didn’t mind my taking him away for the day. And I had a great time with Michael – he’s always had the best sense of humor in the family.

Michael is a cute, bright kid of 14 whose gestures and voice are a carbon copy of his mother’s. He’s going to the Bronx High School of Science next year and is moving to Park Slope with his father and Lynn next week.

As a New York City kid, Michael is street-wise and up on things. Actually, he’s more knowledgeable and easier to talk with than Sean, who had never heard of Sichuan food or the IRT.

In some ways, Michael is the most intelligent person I’ve been with since I left New York, and I’m convinced Manhattan has a sense of sophistication and an awareness level most of my college kids can’t match.

I admire Michael for coming through all his problems and still keeping a sense of humor. He tells wicked stories about Sydelle, whose craziness he manages to find amusing rather than oppressive. He says his grandmother is an alcoholic, which I guess is possible.

We went out for pizza at Loehman’s Plaza, then drove over to the beach and all the way down to South Miami Beach, over to downtown and then to the Grove, where we walked around, relieved not to see all old people.

Michael said Coconut Grove reminded him of Woodstock, and he said he liked Florida generally but didn’t think he could live here. We drove through Little Havana and met Sydelle at the Publix near her place in Aventura.

On the terrace we talked. Sydelle has a terrific view of the bay and the beach and the ocean. (Marc and Jonathan and Mom won’t go out on the terrace, but the 22 stories don’t bother me.)

I was really sad to end the day; it was awfully good to have a chance to see Michael and to be in Miami. I’m getting really excited about living there.

I got a message that Kevin called, and I wondered what he’d say, because earlier I’d gotten a letter from Rick telling me Kevin was very depressed over the failure of Snow World.

But Kevin had made a decision to change his life, and he sounded positive. He’s decided to give up White Ewe Press, his dead-end teaching jobs, his car and his apartment – and move to the Virgin Islands, where he can write and live cheaply and collect unemployment after one more year of the adjunct biz.

I’m sorry that the press didn’t work out, but as Kevin’s friend, I’m glad he’s made the positive decision – it’s a good move.


Sunday, April 3, 1983

4:30 PM on a warm, sunny Easter Sunday. It seemed I’d never get to Easter, but here we are, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

Last night I dropped by Lisa’s to share coffee and muffins with her and her friend Debbie. We chatted about nothing in particular, but I felt good because of the informality of a Saturday night get-together.

It reminded me of happy nights spent in Josh’s apartment on Avenue I, or the Judsons’ brownstone in the Slope, or Ronna and I hanging out in Brooklyn. I came home at 11 PM after going with Lisa as she walked her new dog, Saraji, whom she obviously adores.

After a somewhat restless night, I awoke at 9 AM and read the papers in bed. One horoscope for Gemini read: “Keep financial problems under wraps until you can deal with them. A return to school could help your career.”

Pete Cherches called to say hello. He said Ed did a fine job on the new book. (I don’t know why I keep looking at my copy, as if I’m waiting for something bad to happen so I can go to it for solace.)

Pete’s got a new book coming out from the press who did his gorgeous Unfamiliar Tales.

He is getting fed up with his proofreading job, but at least he’s stayed on long enough to get a two-week vacation, which he’ll take in California the beginning of May. But he’ll be back for the Book Fair on May 13.

I went out for the Times and to shop at Albertson’s; then I had lunch and sort of goofed off all afternoon. There are about ten papers to grade for Tuesday night, but I’ll leave them for then.

I wrote a letter to the NOCCA writing class of Tom’s whose work in Umbra is so sophisticated it makes me despair over the bad writing in P’an Ku, and I also wrote to Rick and to Rosemary Jones.

I didn’t want to sit out in the sun because there’s no sense in overdoing a tan and damaging my skin further, but I do feel somewhat at loose ends. Maybe boredom will make me appreciate going back to BCC tomorrow.

I guess they haven’t picked the new English teachers yet, but then I haven’t been hanging around the department much, nor do I intend to do so in the next few weeks. I can always use typesetting for P’an Ku as an excuse for not being around.

*

10 PM. I’ve just come back from seeing The Outsiders, which Michael had recommended; like all boys his age, he loves the novels of S. E. Hinton.

Although I always enjoy seeing Matt Dillon, his mannerisms are beginning to annoy me, and I found the movie disjointed, confusing and sloppy. Of course, Coppola did have some good moments, but I was disappointed.

It’s a great night: cold but mild enough so that I did not need a jacket. The crickets are chirping now. And time goes on. Da dum.

I found a letter Grandpa Herb wrote me last July in Virginia, and then, later, on a TV show called Grandpa, Will You Run With Me?, I saw the late Jack Albertson singing a song about old age; with his light moustache and thick glasses, he looked like Grandpa Herb, and I started to cry.

Yet the sadness I feel at Grandpa’s death is, or seems to be, an uplifting sadness. It’s so much worse to feel despair than grief, because there is hope in grief and none in despair.

Today I saw a picture of what I thought were teenage boys, and then I realized it was the Mets’ pitching staff for this season.

I bought Ronna a card for her 30th birthday in ten days.

All I think I think about sometimes is my unwritten novel. Will I ever have the discipline and the distance and the time to write it?


Monday, April 4, 1983

7 PM. Suddenly I feel so sleepy – but I had a low energy level all day even though I slept long enough last night. Still, I did manage to accomplish the little that I set out to do.

Today’s mail brought rejections from several colleges, the usual junk mail, and letters from Miriam and Justin, who critiqued my book – which I still haven’t really looked at thoroughly.

I had conferences with my students in remedial writing this morning and then did some office work and reading.

The mood at BCC, at least in our division, is very sour. I wonder how the reading Patrick has scheduled for Friday will come off.

Lisa and I had lunch at a new coffee shop in Davie. Intrigued by an item on the menu, I asked our waitress what a “Jewish hoagie” was. A native Southerner, she drawled, “I don’t know. . . I guess it has pepperoni on it.” (!)

I had a so-so workout at Bodyworks, mainly because my biceps and back were still sore from Friday’s chinning. And I was tired, too.

Grandma’s plane was supposed to be in by now, but Arlyne called from MacArthur Field to say it hadn’t even taken off; it will be delayed for hours. I hope Grandma isn’t too nervous.

I’m disappointed, I guess, in a lot of things. I still have not gotten my 100 copies of the new book, and the reality of its publication is beginning to fade, especially since I haven’t been able to reach my New York friends or see the photos Andreas took at the publication party.

I’m disappointed in myself for not losing weight. And I’m disappointed with myself for not trying to meet guys, even if I don’t like the idea of bars and I feel that nobody will find me attractive anyway.

See, here I don’t come into contact with many people my own age, and in the suburbs, most of the few in their late twenties and early thirties are straight, married couples.

I get a skewered picture of people because in West Broward, they either seem to be elderly types or young teenagers. That’s why I feel a move to Miami will help me meet people of my generation – especially people who are educated, witty, liberal, and hopefully, gay.

I know I like boys, but I don’t have much chance to meet guys in their twenties and thirties the way I live here. In New York, I could meet hundreds of people my age.

Sean hasn’t written or called. I think I’m getting over him as I realize he didn’t really fit into my life any other way than sexually. Yes, I loved him, but our relationship could never be one of equals, and I felt uncomfortable in the role of “big brother.”

Still, that didn’t stop me from being attracted to him, nor does it stop me from drooling over gorgeous teenagers.

Am I ashamed of this? A little. Being gay was hard enough –

Someone just knocked on the door, and a thrill ran through me. I hurried to put the diary away and went to the door.

“Who is it?”

A teenage boy answered, “Miami Herald, Broward Edition.”

“I already get it.”

Crazily, I had thought for a moment it was Sean – the only person who’s ever come here without calling first. His visits were exciting, partly because they meant I would see Sean, but mostly because they meant I would have sex with him.

“I already get it,” indeed!

Well, use this in your novel, Grayson! Work on it!


Tuesday, April 5, 1983

3 PM. I’ve just come back from settling Grandma in her apartment at Sunrise Lakes, the one Arlyne’s mother lived in. It’s pretty luxurious for Grandma, who’d rather be staying there than downstairs at Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney’s, which is where I found her.

Claire is very ill, and that’s why Grandma didn’t feel like coming to Florida: she really doesn’t want to be around another sick beloved family member.

Claire was up all night, Grandma said, and soon after I arrived, Sidney took her to the doctor. She has Parkinson’s disease, a very bad hiatal hernia, and looks extremely depressed; in fact, Grandma now looks better than her once-vivacious younger sister.

Grandma’s put on a little weight and has gotten her hair cut. She still is very fragile and has a hard time doing things, though; it took several minutes before she could open and close the lock on the apartment door, and even now I am not certain she can do it.

It seems odd to have Grandma in Florida, especially since she’s alone – but I’m glad she’s here in Sunrise, just a few minutes away by car.

I slept well and decided to go into school early this morning. Today’s mail brought some unexpected good news.

First, there was a postcard from Ed, asking me for my parents’ address so UPS could deliver my 100 books there (by law, they’re not allowed to deliver to a post office box).

Another postcard, dated the day before, from Susan Gubernat at Zephyr, asked me for my birthdate for the copyright application, and then went on to say, “the April 15th issue of Library Journal will have this to say about your book: ‘Grayson is a fabulous storyteller and stand-up talker. . . Highly recommended.’”

If it’s true – and of course it must be true – this could be the single most important review I’ve ever gotten.

Why? Well, if everything Kevin has told me is accurate, a positive LJ review can boost sales of the book significantly.

I remember Kevin saying he’d sold out Drake’s first book’s first printing on the basis of an LJ rave. Woweee!

I still need to see the review in front of me before I completely believe it, and that’s not going to happen for at least a couple of weeks. I feel very, very good about the review, however.

George Myers wrote that the publisher of Lunchroom Press, which did his Modern Times, has put him in charge of an annual literary magazine called Menu. Both George and his publisher will be at the New York Book Fair in May.

George says that the second edition of Disjointed Fictions has now sold out completely and is thus out of print. He won’t even be able to consider reprinting until he’s paid off three loans which come due in a year.

I wrote George back, thanking him for his offer to let me try to place the book elsewhere, but I said I’d think about it for a while.

So now both Eating at Arby’s and Disjointed Fictions are out of print, and White Ewe Press may be folding. That means I’ll control the rights to those three of my books and be able to keep all the future royalties for myself (though I’d want to compensate Kevin and George, of course).

If I Brake for Delmore Schwartz goes into a second printing, I’ll start getting 20% royalties.

And maybe Rick can persuade Taplinger to give up the paperback rights to With Hitler in New York, though if they’re smart, they’ll hold onto it.

A German editor, Juergen Schoenich, wrote to tell me he loves my work and would like to try to get more of it published in West Germany.

All of this is really exciting to me.

I still have to mark ten papers for tonight’s 102 class, but I’m too nervous and excited to do it. I feel that maybe my career is slowly taking off.


Thursday, April 7, 1983

2 PM. Fat, fat, fat – I feel so fat and bloated. I’ve got to do something about my weight. Although I’ve been working out on the Nautilus for eight months and I’ve toned my body, my stomach is still huge. None of my old clothes fit me anymore.

Obviously, the only way I’m going to get rid of my fat is to diet – and be very careful about it. Perhaps I should cut down on my Nautilus routines and instead attend some of their exercise classes.

But I really feel the solution for me is to eat less; exercising won’t help if I continue to stuff my face. I’m hardly a compulsive eater, but I eat the wrong things. I eat out too often because I don’t have the patience to prepare meat; thus, I rely on starchy foods with high carbohydrates.

Another thing I have to realize is that, unlike my students, I’m not 18 anymore and I haven’t been 18 since 1970. I can’t expect to look like a teenager.

It’s definitely summer here now, and people are wearing fewer clothes, and I feel very self-conscious about my fat.

Yesterday afternoon I did some errands and read a lot. In the library I found the recently-reprinted 1939 WPA Guide to New York City, and as I fell asleep looking at the book in bed, I had vivid dreams about the “old” New York I remember from childhood: the old Roxy movie theater, the Church Avenue trolley, and other places that now exist only in books or in dreams.

I got a postcard from Bobby Frauenglas, who wants me to send him an outline of the Brooklyn book I plan to do with his Sunrise Press, so he can have something to show Citibank when he applies for a grant (he’s already received not-for-profit status).

The new Publishers Weekly has an interview with Susan Schaeffer. She’s remarkable, but I don’t want to be as obsessive as she is about my own writing; Susan writes 20 hours a day while she’s working on a novel and she invariably gets ill after she’s finished.

PW also contained a good review of John Yau’s book in the National Poetry Series, chosen by Ashbery (of course).

I got a letter from Blair Apperson, a 17-year-old in Riverside, California. He – I assume he’s male – found Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in the public library and picked it up because he was intrigued with the title:

It was the best book I have read in a long time. . . Your writing fascinates me to no end. Your thoughts seem to come out so disjointed but you always put everything in its proper place like it was meant to go there from the start.

What was most unexpected but really interesting was all of the references and inclusions about gays. I am gay but throughout the book I could never figure out if you were gay, bisexual, or even straight, for that matter.

If you are straight, then you are obviously very insightful. . . and if you are gay/bisexual, then I would like your writing even more just for that reason because now and then you will state something which seems to be exceptionally ‘on target’ and profound.

I would really appreciate any information on any other stories/books you have because you are rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

I hope this won’t depress you, but you would have to be second-shoe to Stephen King, who in my eyes reigns as God of literature.

Please keep putting out terrific books and I will continue to follow your writing faithfully. . .

How sweet. How nice. I’m in love with the kid already. Damn it, but sometimes it all does seem worth it.

This morning I subbed for Phyllis and talked with Lloyd Valchek, one of the P’an Ku artists.

This weekend a number of English teachers are going to Gainesville to grade CLAST exams, so I can leave campus early tomorrow and come back for the reading at night.

It’s been so hot and sunny all week that I’m definitely looking forward to being cool in New York in May.


Saturday, April 9, 1983

11 PM. Yesterday I signed the letter I got from UM’s English Department, accepting the fellowship. Pardon me – assistantship. It’s something of a comedown for me, I guess.

Even being a full-time teacher at BCC has more status than being a grad assistant, and after all, I’m not the same person I was when I might have gone into a Ph.D. program back in 1977.

In the intervening seven years since I last was a grad student, I’ve not only grown up a hell of a lot, but I’ve also matured as a teacher and a writer.

I guess I’ll have to take a course that’s required of all grad assistants – “Teaching College Composition” – but by now I’ve taught over 1,000 students in 50 classes at eight or nine different colleges.

I’ve been teaching full-time for two years, I’ve published five books and over 150 stories; had fellowships, scholarships; appeared at writing conferences, on TV and radio, in the newspapers; I’ve gotten dozens of reviews . . .

While I still feel I’ve got a lot to learn about writing, I am no longer a mere apprentice.

But it’s 1983 and these are tough times, and I have to settle for what I can get. At least I’ll be able to write (and teach).

Last evening, I picked up Grandma at 6 PM and we went over to Danny’s for dinner. The place was empty, so I suppose most of the snowbirds have gone.

Grandma annoys me with her old-lady fixations, repetitions, and helplessness, but it was a pleasure to treat her to an evening out.

For two years she did nothing but take care of Grandpa as he was dying, and she deserves some relaxation. After the meal, we walked around the mall, and then I took her to see Tootsie – she probably hadn’t gone to a movie in three years.

Before the film started, a very pretty woman came over to ask, “Is your name Richard?” It was Lisa, the old receptionist at Bodyworks.

She seemed so interested in me, and I couldn’t imagine why. Don’t tell me I’m attractive, especially not to someone who saw all those hunky guys every day.

Of course, in the movie, Charles Durning seemed dashing and handsome, despite his grey hair, obesity and middle age.

Grandma seemed to enjoy the comedy.

On the way upstairs to her condo, we stopped off to see Uncle Sidney, who said Aunt Claire may be coming home from the hospital tomorrow.

We ran into Claire’s friend Adelaide, who remembered me from childhood (mine, not hers); all I remembered of her was her speech impediment – sounding like a leaky steam valve.

Grandma and I watched TV till 11:30 PM. I enjoyed our Saturday night “date.” It cost me $20, but Grandma said, “You’ll get it back in twenty years from my will.” People are tenacious.


Monday, April 11, 1983

3 PM. I’ve just come back from Bodyworks. What I love about working out is that I don’t think about anything but working out while I’m on the Nautilus machines; all my problems disappear. An escape? Why not? It’s constructive.

Actually, today didn’t turn out so badly. All my car needed – cross your fingers, kids – was an $8 thermostat. Alice sent the photos of the party taken by Andreas. My classes were okay.

So . . . what’s bothering you, Grayson? It’s a letter I got from Sean:

Dear Richard,

Hi – Sorry I haven’t written in such a long time, but I’ve been very busy with the semester coming to an end and with Doug and I driving back and forth to visit each other on alternate weekends. I’ve hardly had a minute to myself.

But that’s no excuse, so please just forgive lack of communication. Okay?

He goes on to thank me for the Square Pegs book I sent him (“As literature, it’s garbage, but coming from you . . . it’s special”), and then writes about his visit to Doug’s parents’ in upstate New York, where it was cold and rainy (“For a few minutes, I think I even saw snow!”), but where he and Doug had fun.

The letter ends:

Things are looking up in Tampa. We have a deal on a house which looks like it’s gonna go through! And life goes on. . .

Well, I don’t know what else to say, so I’m gonna close.

Goodbye,

Sean

That ending really got to me. This was the first letter he didn’t sign “Love” or even “Keep smiling.” There were none of his usual silly drawings – just “good-bye.”

Well, I guess he doesn’t have to draw me a diaphragm. I suppose he could have not written, and I’m not sure which is worse – but now I feel so completely shut out of his life.

It brings back echoes of past feelings; Shelli leaving me for someone else, Ronna breaking up because I was a bit of a failure and couldn’t provide her with things like the house Sean and Doug are buying, and both Shelli and Ronna not returning my calls or letters.

Well, kiddo, the other side of the coin – the advantage of being older – is that you know you’ve gotten through this before and you will now. You can’t make anyone love you, and if you could, it wouldn’t be worth it. (“Oh no?” says the neurotic little boy in me.)

Still, getting dumped hurts. Yes, yes: intellectually, I know it could never have “worked out” with Sean, and like my breakups with Ronna and Shelli, this will prove a blessing in the long run. (I almost Freudian-slipped and wrote “wrong one” in place of “long run”). But right now I feel like crying.

And I can’t help feeling that if I was taller or younger or thinner or better in bed, Sean wouldn’t have stopping caring for me, even though I know that’s nonsense.

I’m not sorry our affair happened; it was a very good experience for me, and Sean liberated me, and I’ll always love him for that.

Now, as he says, “life goes on.” If he’d been more honest with me – oh, what’s the point? If he’d been honest about seeing Doug, I might never have gotten involved in the first place.

At the end of Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Peter Finch tells the audience, of his lover: “He wasn’t the person I wanted and needed . . . but he was something. We were something.”

Sean is probably wise in wanting to end our friendship; it would be too painful for me now. Really, 75% of our relationship was in bed. We had little in common except need. Sean was smart enough to see that, and eventually I will feel it as well as intellectually know it.

Hey, this will all be in a novel someday. . .

Everything else – school and its pressures, my career, the weather, my family – seems mere background material now. I’m going to hurt for a while and then finally I’ll stop hurting and feel wiser and gladder.

Hey, Grayson, isn’t it nice to see that you can be hurt, that you can feel human? You ain’t invulnerable. TC mark

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