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

Friday, April 22, 1983

4 PM. Finally, the last day of classes. I’ve got a headache, a fitting remnant of the term at Broward Community College.

The school is really going down the tubes, and it’s a good time to be getting out. Patrick said we should put up a sign on our side of the building: Salon des Refusés – et Mimi.

Clinton Hamilton unveiled a new plan for reorganization of the college that is so byzantine that nobody can figure it out, except to realize that it’s unworkable.

It looks as though one person will be in charge of English, Foreign Languages, ESL, Journalism, Speech and Reading – and also have to teach a regular load of five classes. That makes no sense.

Also, Hamilton gave us an edict that henceforth, all sections of the same course, regardless of teacher, will use the same textbook. He also wants all teachers to be on the same pages every week. It’s a real sick plan.

At school, I try to avoid Grasso and Pawlowski, and they try to avoid me. By now, barely anyone in the division is civil to anyone else.

At least I had a good creative writing workshop last night. My class intends to continue to meet without me after the term ends – and I think that’s a compliment to me.

I managed to get a little snooze-time in, so this morning I felt a little more refreshed. All I did in class was collect papers and chat. I even wore sneakers to class (and gym shorts under my jeans).

Because Mom took the car to the flea market again, I had to wait until 2 PM, when Marc’s last class was over, to leave campus, but during my free time I managed to get a haircut.

I also read the papers (newspapers, not school papers) and had lunch with Lisa and a very depressed Bob. Patrick invited us to his house tomorrow night, and I think I’ll attend, if only for a little while.

Next week my daytime classes’ finals are on Wednesday, and on Tuesday and Thursday nights I’ll pick up papers and have my final workshop. Monday, I’m free.

After dropping Marc off at home, I came back here. Today would be a good day to sit by the pool, but it’s roped off to be fixed.

My car’s “temperature/pressure” light went on, so I stopped off to buy some coolant, as the fluid had all drained out.

In today’s mail, I got both a MasterCard and a Visa from the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. I now have dozens of credit cards and over $5,000 in credit on bank cards alone. I just put most of them away in a drawer.

Tom writes that he likes I Brake and that Dr. Tews liked my letter to Tom’s students about Umbra. He also sent “A Teacher’s Options,” a great little story he’s got in the new North American Review.

And the Berkeley Poets Cooperative magazine arrived, with the announcement of its contest winners, including me, but my story won’t appear until the next issue.

I’m tired, restless, horny, headachy and fidgety.


Monday, April 25, 1983

8 PM. I’m still in a low cycle. (Do I sound like a dishwashing machine?)

My face is all broken out, and as usual, I imagine everyone is staring at the ugly red zit over my right eyebrow. I have an upset stomach and diarrhea. I also feel very clumsy. This evening, in Publix, I dropped my grocery bag and broke a jar of applesauce.

Last night I finished The Third Wave and then fell into a very deep sleep with convoluted dreams, the kind I have when my sinuses are badly clogged. All day today I felt slightly out of synch.

Mom awakened me with a call at 10:30 AM. She said that Marc would come by to fetch me in half an hour so I could pick up the car at the service station. The damage came to $20, which I paid in cash, and so far the car has been riding all right.

Still, I’m afraid to try out the air conditioning, and I think that when I get back from New York, I’m going to lease a car. It will be an extra expense, but in the long run, it may prove cheaper; at least I won’t have to pay for so many repairs.

My mail – mostly rejections and garbage – could be disposed of quickly, and at BCC, there was very little for me to do.

Bob seemed angry at Lisa for not bothering to tell Patrick she wasn’t going to his party; only Bob and Tom showed up. As Lisa said, she didn’t want to be “one of the boys,” sitting around and kvetching about BCC.

After lunch, I went to Bodyworks, where I did ten negative Nautilus exercises; I already ache from the dips I did. But it was great to be back after a four-day layoff. In New York, I’m going to have to find some way to keep at it. Even though I feel like dying after I finish each workout, they’re very important to me.

I suspended my newspaper subscriptions and called the University of Miami’s financial aid office to see if all was okay with my Guaranteed Student Loan form; they said they won’t get it back to me for some time.

If I can borrow $5,000, have the $6,000 from the grant, and do some part-time work (either teach or whatever) for another $2,000, I would have about $13,000 to live on for the year – about what I’m living on now.

I’ve got to find a cheaper apartment or, if I have to live in a more expensive place, find a roommate. Somehow I shall manage. I suppose I’ll have to think of myself and not worry about my family.

I lay out in the sun at the pool between 4 PM and 5 PM (actually, between 3 PM and 4 PM if you go by standard time, which my body is still on), and later went over to Sunrise Lakes, where Uncle Sidney told me that Grandma Ethel and Aunt Claire had gone out to play cards.


Thursday, May 28, 1983

4 PM. Yesterday I went to bed in a rotten mood, disgusted with myself and with humanity. But this morning I woke up with optimism and love for my fellow humans. Like Scrooge, I seemed to have changed overnight.

Yesterday I was shocked to get a call from Gary. “Hello, stranger,” he said. I never expected to hear from him again, but we spoke as if nothing had ever happened.

Gary’s spent the last three months in terror because his boss told him he was going to be fired this summer. But yesterday a job came through with Citicorp – in the credit card division – and he’ll be leaving AmEx soon. (Once they hear he’s going to a competitor, security guards will be called to escort him out of the office.)

After all his employment tribulations, I get the feeling Gary must be somewhat incompetent, yet he’s managed to snare yet another job at a higher salary, with better benefits, and a midtown location. It’s the Peter Principle, I guess.

Now he can go ahead with his life and make plans to move to Manhattan and rent a summer home. I told Gary I’d call him when I’m in the city, and I guess I will.

While we were gabbing, Prof. Lim of CSU-Long Beach called the house in Davie, and Jonathan took the message that I’m to be interviewed for the job on Monday at 4:30 PM (our time, I presume). I called Long Beach to tell them I wanted to be called here in Sunrise.

It would be typical of Gary to screw up my job interview by telling me about his new job!

After reading Emerson’s “Experience” late last night, I fell into a lovely deep sleep. I lay in bed till 10 AM, and then I went to Bodyworks, where, instead of doing a heavy-duty upper body Nautilus routine, I just did sit-ups, chins, side bends and calf exercises.

Back home, I showered and lay in bed, reading the New York Times and USA Today.

Going out to take the garbage, I ran into that cute redheaded guy doing his laundry. “How ya doing?” he said, smiling. He was wearing only shorts – not a bad start for the day.

The mail included a letter from Rick, who hadn’t seen the Library Journal review of Gargoyle, and the new Publishers Weekly (I’m in the index).

At BCC, I told Dr. Grasso I’d forgo the FIU summer class. At lunch, Lisa and I imagined being in New York in a week. She’s loaded down with papers, and I suppose I should feel guilty because I have only one class left to grade.

I found an article with a mention of my new book in the West section of the Sun-Tattler; by now, that’s not much of a surprise. After xeroxing it, I headed to Pembroke Pines to renew my driver’s license.

It did not seem like three years since I had last been there: in April of 1980, when I was here during my Easter vacation. So much – here comes pure cliché – has happened to me in Florida since then.

The lady at Motor Vehicles, taking my new photo and looking at my old ID, said, “You look better with a beard.”

Stopping off at Mom’s, I discovered that my hunch proved true, as all of the softcover I Brake for Delmore Schwartzes had arrived.

Tonight is my final creative writing workshop, my last official class at BCC this semester.

I’ve got to keep in mind that good days can follow bad days – sometimes when you least expect it.


Friday, April 29, 1983

3 PM. I feel a bit shaken.

After handing in my final grades at BCC, I drove over to the library in Fort Lauderdale. Intending to get some information on CSU-Long Beach for my phone interview next week, I kept exchanging stares with a very cute teenage boy.

We kept passing each other, going up and down the aisles, and it struck me that we were cruising each other. I didn’t know how to make contact. Finally, I saw him jerk his head twice, as if to say, “Meet me outside.”

I froze. All I did was stare at my book. Ten minutes later, when I went outside, he was no longer there.

I’m either an idiot or a saint. It was rare enough for someone to be attracted to me, and rarer still for it to be someone to whom I was attracted to.

But I was scared. Perhaps my caution was justified. I could just see the headlines now: “College Teacher Charged with Molesting Youth.” And I certainly didn’t want some anonymous bathroom sex.

What I wanted was to go someplace to talk, and if we liked each other, maybe come back here and see what would happen naturally.

If I weren’t so foolish and/or careful, I could have that boy’s arms around me now. I thought he was beautiful.

And I feel bad if he feels rejected, or that I teased him. The poor kid was probably just lonely – as I was. Would it have been a crime? Yes. You can stop right there: It would have.

Oh kid, wherever you are now, I hope you can forgive me.

When I got back here, I felt so rattled that I decided to phone Sean in Gainesville. I figured I could use talking this out as a pretext for saying goodbye before I left for New York and asking him where I could send him my book.

But when I dialed his number, I got a recorded message: the phone has been disconnected, and “no further information is available.”

I don’t know where Sean is: in Tampa, here with Doug, or with his mother. If he’s here, he obviously does not want to get in touch with me. For months, he’s been here every other weekend and he hasn’t called.

I guess I really feel it tonight because it’s a year ago, on the Friday after finals week ended, that he came to my house for the first time. That Monday we made love.

Now I just feel so empty. I want the next few days to pass quickly so I can be in New York again. I want to put Florida out of my mind for a while.

As bad as I feel at this moment, it will eventually prove to be good, I think, if only in my writing.

That boy today: I’ll always think about him with a sense a loss, perhaps exaggerated by my own notions of romance. And I can never look back on my relationship with Sean without feeling a hundred different things.

Losses, real or imagined, have always been at the core of my writing; I was most prolific after the breakups with Shelli and Ronna, for example. Now I can do it again.

My novel is coming into focus and I see at its center the relationship between the narrator and his lover. There’s a lot of material in my head, but more of it is fading into the background.

Being in the library was like having an epiphany: it made everything so clear. With this novel, I can say something important, something I feel, something that’s not unique to me but something I’ve never really seen in a novel before: the love affair of a guy of 30 and a kid of 17, say.

It’s the kind of thing that might even be commercial. You can explain it in one sentence: “It’s the story of a man who falls in love with a boy.”

I guess Death in Venice beat me to it, but I have the freedom to do what Mann could not do. My novel is already being written in my head.

Is that any consolation? We shall see. . .

*

7 PM. I just walked in and I need to write.

An hour ago, I decided to go back to the library. I had this crazy idea that the kid would still be there, that I could talk to him, apologize and explain I wasn’t being a tease.

Or if he wasn’t there, I could sort of do penance by waiting for him all night. . .

But the library was closed.

If only I’d had more courage. He who hesitates is lost, and I’ve lost this kid, just as I’ve lost Sean.

No, it wasn’t just sex. Hell, I see a hundred better-looking guys every day. There was something between us; it hit me like a sneak punch when I first looked into his eyes.

If only I’d been prepared. But all I wanted to do was my research and get home quick.

I can hardly remember what this guy looked like, but I’ll never get out of my mind his standing by the phone booths and jerking his head, signaling me.

I will always be ashamed of not following him.

What if he were a hustler? A con artist? Obviously, he knew how to cruise, and he knew the rules better than I did. (Part of me was scared he’d think I was an oaf.)

But I think about boys his age, and how lonely it can be to be gay, and how they won’t let you into bars. . .

I can’t help feeling I acted dishonorably.

Honor may be a ridiculous concept in this situation.

Oh, it’s all magnified a hundred times because of Sean – the anniversary of the beginning of our affair, the fact that his last letter ended “Goodbye,” that his Gainesville phone’s been disconnected, that I’ll never see him again.

I sent him a copy of the book, at his mother’s address. Thinking she might see it, I couldn’t even inscribe it with “love.”

I feel like a perfect fool. . . Okay, nobody’s perfect.

My parents are leaving in the morning, and I probably won’t see them for weeks.

I should go see Grandma Ethel, and it’s been about a year since I last visited Grandpa Nat in the nursing home. But all selfish Richard can think about is his self-pity. No, that’s not totally true.

When I left the library, I drove out to the beach, where it was gorgeous, and on the way back, I laughed out loud at the sight of a drunken black man sparring with an imaginary opponent on the side of Sunrise Boulevard.

I love life. I do.

My weird feelings tonight are probably tied up with the letdown at the end of the term.

Yes, I know how much I hated BCC, but it’s been the focus of so much of my energy. I used my unhappiness at work as a device to keep from thinking about more important things.

Last night, I had a terrific final creative writing workshop, going over three stories, getting and giving sharp comments, being praised at the end of class by my students.

Afterwards, I stopped at SupeRx Drugs, where I saw these two young guys who know me and whom I have terrific crushes on. They said hi and smiled.

Then, at Mister Donut, the chubby girl at the counter handed me my bran muffins and said, “Do you remember me, Mr. Grayson?” She was my student last summer.

What is it with teenagers? It’s their sense of innocence, I guess. They seem so fresh and uncynical and honest.

I lay awake much of last night, telling myself I was disgusted with the world’s racism, prejudice, violence and inhumanity.

You know, the incident with the kid at the library made me see how much of my life I’ve wasted on trivia – like the daily newspapers. I’ve forgotten Rilke’s admonition: “for there is no place / which does not see you. You must change your life.”

And now? I guess I’ll lie here and watch this season’s Dallas finale. Or reread Emerson’s “Compensation.”

I don’t like myself much tonight. TC mark

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