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

Monday, August 1, 1983

10 PM. It turned out to be a busy day.

Up early, I received a call from Gary Robbins, the Hollywood Sun-Tattler columnist, who asked if he could interview me about my presidential bid; I scheduled our meeting for 1:30 PM at my office at the college.

I finally managed to get through to the Peoples Gas System to arrange a turn-on at the new apartment for tomorrow. Unfortunately, Mrs. Baron said she can’t be home all day, so everything might not work out as planned.

At BCC, I graded papers and xeroxed yesterday’s Miami Herald piece. I had a pretty poor class today when I tried to read them some of my friends’ (Peter Meinke, Susan Ludvigson, Judith Ortiz Cofer) poetry, and they hated it.

Since Marc’s car was being fixed in preparation for his trip to New York in a few days, I drove him home once the rain stopped.

At the Davie post office, my box wouldn’t open, so I left my key there; I should start getting my mail forwarded to Miami in a few days.

Back on campus, I had my lunch and began putting more books in cartons when Gary Robbins appeared. The interview went terribly as my worst aspects came out: my bad taste, my cuteness (at times I can be disgustingly cute), my smugness, my tendency to speak rashly.

I deserve to be skewered in his column, and I’m sure the photograph will be awful. I liked Gary, though: he talks in that upper-class, jaded way that Wesley does.

Actually, he was a lot nicer to me than I deserved. I’m beginning to wonder if I should just stop all this ego-tripping.

After a brief and unsatisfactory workout at the gym, I came home to read the papers. Patrick called to ask if I could get into his personnel file and find the letter of non-reappointment Dr. Grasso sent him.

(It turned out not to be there, but I got into school early tonight and forged a letter of non-reappointment for myself, xeroxing it along with my original letter of appointment.)

Patrick told me he called Tallahassee to find out who the Broward literature fellowship recipient was, and it turned out to be Judith Cofer. I was stunned; I had thought I was ineligible to apply because, like Judy, I’d gotten the grant only two years ago.

I asked Patrick to read me the eligibility guidelines from his application material, and it stated that you couldn’t get a fellowship if you’d gotten one “in the last two years, since 1981-82.”

Did I misinterpret the rules, or did Judy? I would think “since” includes the ’81-82 grant period, especially since it was just two years ago. (Last year Judy was on the grants panel.)

I do remember Susan Ludvigson telling me Judy had applied for a fellowship, but I let the remark pass, assuming she had misunderstood Judy.

Anyway, it seems quite unfair, and I’m not ashamed to say that I left anonymous tips at the Herald and Fort Lauderdale News after the Cultural Affairs Division confirmed the story. (The secretary I spoke to couldn’t account for the discrepancy.)

Look, it may be petty, but I feel it’s quite unfair, both to the rejected applicants like Patrick and to people like me who assumed they weren’t eligible to apply.

Of course, I don’t want Judy to find out I’m behind the exposé; anyway, the fault isn’t hers, it’s that of the Cultural Affairs Division, who should have caught the error.

This evening I had a terrific class, going from poem to poem. I really had fun and I could tell I was reaching the students, making them appreciate poetry.

Back in the office, I marked the morning papers and decided the hell with it, I already know what grade everybody’s getting – practically all A’s and B’s – and filled out a final grade report.


Thursday, August 4, 1983

9 PM. I slept fine last night, though I’m not used to such a narrow bed.

I’ve got to adjust and tinker with everything until I figure out what’s the best place for what (the phone, my typewriter, etc.). Meanwhile, I’m staying loose.

One thing I do like is the sound of the train whistle as it crosses 163rd Street. It makes me feel at home even though I’ve never lived anywhere – except Virginia – where I’ve heard train whistles. At night, it’s especially nice.

One problem I had last night is that an air-conditioning unit is not as good as a central system. I kept getting chilly and then I’d turn the machine to the lowest setting. But I was still cold, so I shut it off, and then, within half an hour, I was roasting again.

Well, this no doubt is True Suffering which will make me a better writer.

My key ring is considerably lighter now that the two BCC keys and the three Sunrise keys are gone.

This morning I drove up U.S. 1 to Fort Lauderdale – it was a surprisingly swift and pleasant drive – and applied for Unemployment. I brought the termination note from “Grasso” that I forged. I have to go back next Wednesday.

At breakfast, I picked up the Sun-Sentinel and found my letter criticizing the Gordon Rule and its effect on college English teachers. Stupidly, I announced that I was “quitting” BCC. Let’s hope the bureaucrats at Unemployment are not readers of the editorial page.

It wasn’t a bad letter, actually: though BCC came in for criticism, the bulk of the attack was on Sen. Gordon and his 6,000-word rule.

Anyway, I’m no longer an employee of BCC. Instead, I’m a gentleman of leisure – at least for a couple of weeks.

I had a good negative workout at Bodyworks. They told me that my membership ends next week, August 12, but that I have some accrued freeze time coming to me after that.

I went to Mom’s to watch Rachel and Mac’s wedding on Another World. My post office box mail hasn’t reached me in Miami yet, and I’m still getting some mail at Mom’s.

For the next couple of weeks, I can stay in Davie some nights and catch up on HBO movies because Marc and his friend left this morning on their trip to New York. They were planning to spend the night in North Carolina.

Today I got this card:

Salutem In Domino
C. David Luther, S.T.D.
Archbishop of Altoona, Pennsylvania
in tradition with the one, holy
catholic and apostolic church,
has anointed and ordained
Bradley Sanford Falk, S.G.S.
to the Sacred Priesthood
and the greater glory of God
on the thirteenth day of July,
in the incarnation of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
one thousand nine hundred and eighty-three

And Brad enclosed another card, a quote from St. Augustine:

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

God bless Brad. It was just about this time of year in 1969 – I bet if I checked my diary, there’d be something about Brad on this date – that he was the most important other in my life.

Thinking about Brad made me want to write a story about him – not in fragments, as I’ve done a couple of times, but in a chronological narrative, starting in the summer of 1969 and going up to today.

In fourteen years – and who would believe in 1969 that I’d still know Brad today? – we have lost and found each other again so many times, and since 1969, we’ve had only a few meetings, but those have been important to me.

1969 seems so long ago. . .

Yeah, I’ve got to start writing narratives again. I don’t know if I can call it “fiction.” But I’m ten years out of college, and my college days are period pieces, almost out of a different time.

I need to write another story collection – a unified one this time – or a novel. Even Mom said that maybe my not getting the FIU or UM full-time jobs may be for the best because I’ll be able to concentrate on writing more.

I spent much of the afternoon in Sunrise, cleaning up the apartment and putting things back the way they were when I moved in back in the fall of 1981.

Mike Maynard and his girlfriend came over at 8 PM, and he thought the place looked clean. I gave him back the keys and he gave me back my $395 deposit. Mike said if I ever wanted to buy the condo or rent from him again, to let him know.

Then I drove down to Dade, feeling very content.

Hey, even though I don’t want to get sentimental about either the Sunrise condo or Broward Community College, I did accomplish a lot in both places.

On the way here, passing my grandparents’ old condo at The Moorings on NE 14th Avenue, I got a strange feeling, but not an unpleasant one. Time is a weird thing.


Friday, August 5, 1983

Almost midnight.

Late this afternoon, I stopped in to see my parents in Davie. They said that Marc had called last evening from South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina (just north of Florence); he was heading on to Fayetteville to spend the night there.

Everything else seemed okay at my parents’ house, and I didn’t stay long.

I went back to North Miami Beach down University/NW 27th Avenue and along 163rd Street, about a 40-minute drive.

At home, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I opened one letter, from Ed Hogan: “Paydirt! The Times Book Review is scheduled to review your book August 14th.”

Of course, Ed has not seen the review, and I’m not sure if “scheduled” means they’ll definitely do it. I won’t believe it until I see it.

And it may be a bad review; I’m certain it will be mixed, and I know I surely don’t deserve a rave. Let’s just hope there’s one good line we can quote. If so, it will be a dream come true.

After I had dinner at the Burger King right over here at 163rd and NE 22nd, I went to the North Miami Convalescent Home to see Grandpa Nat.

He was in bed with the covers (and cookie crumbs) over him. He’s gotten very thin and he looked a little more grotesque, what with his teeth out and his constant rubbing of his face.

Of course he didn’t remember me. When I asked him if he knew who I was, he said, “Sure, you’re Herb Sarrett.”

I told him no, that Herb Sarrett had died, and Grandpa Nat exclaimed, “He passed away? No! Nobody told me!”

I explained that I was Herb’s grandson, just like I was his grandson, and he acted as if he could place me, but I don’t think he could really figure out who I was.

(It’s kind of logical, I guess, that Grandpa Nat would mistake me for Grandpa Herb, since people say I look like he did when he was younger.)

I tried to talk to him about normal things, but he kept saying, “I don’t bother with them.” He agreed with everything I said and managed to read the names of USA Today’s sections: Money, Sports and Life.

As visiting hours ended at 7 PM, I said “Adios” to him and got up to leave before it occurred to me to ask, “Do you know what adios means?”

“Sure: goodbye,” said my grandfather.

I drove out to the beach, where it was cool and breezy: I do like this neighborhood a lot. Back at home, I ended up spending the night on the phone.

First, I spoke to Susan Mernit, who’s doing well, teaching, writing reviews, working on short stories: she seems happy.

Next, I phoned Ronna, who’s doing freelance and volunteer work and going on job interviews.

She said that her sister had a sidewalk sale on her Willow Street stoop, and Norman Mailer and his wife stopped and bought some tchotchkes.

Tomorrow night Ronna’s having dinner with Sid and Cara. She said that both of them are doing fine, Sid at the Bergen Record, Cara doing a newsletter at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Teresa called after 11 PM. She sounded low: work is horrible, she said, and the heat is finally getting to her.

But at least things are picking up at Fire Island. Last weekend she made dinner for 20 people, including the New York Post crowd.

Deirdre is coming from California for a visit, so that should cheer Teresa up, too. And at least she rented the beach house for three weeks from Monday to Friday and has come out well financially.

Teresa told me to be on the lookout for a condo in Miami priced in the low 50’s, which she said she’d buy and rent to me. In October, she and her friend Patty will travel to Italy, courtesy of Grandma Agnes’ money.

When I hung up with Teresa, I knew Josh would still be awake, so I figured I could get in one last call for the night.

He said that going back to work after his great European trip sucked. I read him the letter Christine sent yesterday; as expected, Josh is more smitten with her than I am.

This weekend Josh and Artie are going to an Elvis Costello concert.

And me? What am I doing this weekend. We’ll see. . .


Sunday, August 7, 1983

8 PM. I spent most of the weekend in Davie.

Friday night I slept here in Miami, of course, though I stayed up till 2 AM watching the Friday Night Videos on NBC.

At my parents’, I can catch MTV, and I do like it – but it surprises me that young people like my students, who are used to the creative surrealism of rock videos, can’t relate to avant-garde writing or films.

Oh well. (“Oh well” is the last refuge of the banal.)

I drove up to Davie early on Saturday. Finding no one at home, I read and watched TV and took a nap in Marc’s room – once my room.

Marc called from New York, very upset that his car leaked out all of its transmission oil again. Those clowns at Freddy’s service station are so incompetent that if they were lawyers, they’d have been disbarred, and if they were doctors, they’d be broke from successful malpractice suits.

Everyone agrees that New York is a hot and muggy jungle this week, so I suppose I wouldn’t feel any cooler there. Actually, the last two evenings down here have been almost pleasant – with a hint of a breeze.

Yesterday morning I called Grandma Ethel, who sounded awful. Her angina was acting up again, “from aggravation.” Her air conditioner broke, Marty hasn’t visited in three weeks, and she keeps getting bills from doctors from Grandpa Herb’s final hospitalization.

“So? Throw them away,” I tell her.

But Grandma loves to worry. “It’s my nature,” she keeps saying. No wonder nobody wants to visit her.

“It’s a lonely life for me,” she sighs – which is true, I’m sure, but a lot of people’s lives are lonely. (Whose life isn’t? I’d like to know.)

Mom and Dad came home from the flea market late because they went to Hialeah to buy more shirts.

The three of us went to Sonny’s Bar-B-Q for a salad bar dinner, and then they took me to a place where they have diet ice cream and diet cake and diet candy. The store was mobbed (with fat people). Dad said, “It’s a gold mine.” The place stays open to 11 PM every night.

I think my parents are slowly being convinced by Jonathan to become vegetarians. Vegetarians can still eat a lot of desserts.

Jonathan was one of the 32 people in Broward Citizens for a Nuclear Freeze who commemorated the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima by listening to speeches and throwing flowers into the canal across from the Galleria.

He’s a good kid but fundamentally unhappy. I see he’s as rigid as I was. This morning he told me he hadn’t taken off a day from work in two years, and when I suggested he take a vacation in New York, he laughed – with the nervous laughter of the neurotic – and said, “There’s nothing for me there.”

Both Grandma Ethel and Jonathan are lonely, but they aren’t willing to change their routines.

Am I? At least I’ve lived in different places; I can sleep (or not sleep) just about anywhere.

I forgot to take Triavil with me to Davie, but I had an acceptable night’s sleep without the pill. I think I’m ready to give it up now.

This morning I went to Bodyworks and then lay about the house until noon or so. I left for home after lunch and spent the afternoon reading the papers and writing letters.

Alice called, saying she’d just returned from Colorado (Peter’s still there with his son). The writing conference went splendidly, but this was their third year, and by now they’re old pros.

Alice and Peter at least got a break from the heat: the Colorado mountains were very cool in the nights and the mornings.

This is the first summer in four years that I haven’t gotten away to the mountains in either New Hampshire or Virginia, and I miss it.

I complimented Alice on her Hong Kong article in Weight Watchers, and she told me she was turned down, stupidly, by some state bureaucrats, for the job of editor-in-chief of Vermont Life. Oddly, Alice now seems serious about leaving New York for a job elsewhere.

She told me she’s decided to drop her agent and switch to Peter’s – Barbara Lowenstein – whom she really dislikes but who seems to be quite effective.

Alice said she’d look for the Times Book Review next weekend and wished me luck.

I called Kevin, who has lined up a five-course, three-day teaching schedule for the fall.

His real hope to escape the adjunct grind is to get the teaching job in Nigeria he applied for. Kevin has had lots of Nigerian students, and one of them is rooming with him now.

The new Al Drake book is out and will be published in November, but White Ewe Press now seems like a lost cause.

I gently told Kevin my new book “might” be reviewed in TBR, but he said, “It won’t help, because it’s not in the stores.” I didn’t want to tell him it is.


Wednesday, August 10, 1983

It’s after midnight, and I’m still in Davie. I guess in the morning I’ll go home to Miami.

Today I had to get up too early because I had to be at Unemployment at 9:30 AM. I went to the orientation session and signed for my waiting period.

After that, I drove to Bodyworks, but I was so weak and nauseated I could hardly get through my exercises.

Back at my parents’, I futzed around; no one else was home.

When I called the Pompano Fashion Square B. Dalton’s, they said that next Sunday’s New York Times Book Review had come in and was “sitting right here.”

I still wasn’t feeling well, and I knew the trip up to Pompano would be dreadful in the heat, but I had to go. I felt absolutely miserable as I drove up on I-95, and I thought I’d never get there.

When I arrived at the mall and spotted the bookstore, I felt faint. I was shaky as I turned to the contents page of the book review and saw my book and my name listed.

On page 12, there it was, being reviewed by Ivan Gold, along with David Evanier’s One Star Jew.

But there was nothing about my book until I turned to where the review – titled “Uneasy in Brooklyn” and illustrated with a Star-of-David-shaped inkwell – was continued on page 29.

After discussing Evanier’s book, which costs $15, Gold started on mine:

A less hefty tariff will gain you access to Richard Grayson’s fifth book, “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz,” whose title may have had life as a bumper sticker before it was placed on this collection of 15 short stories, all previously published in little magazines like The Smudge and Street Bagel. The stories generally revolve around a chap named Richard Grayson. This character, like Mr. Evanier’s, is a writer from Brooklyn, uneasy in his Jewishness and very concerned with the aesthetics and mechanics of turning things into fiction, and fiction into things.

Mr. Evanier’s and Mr. Grayson’s stories are full of insanity, nutty therapists, cancerous relatives, broken homes, fiction workshops, youthful theatricals at Catskill bungalow colonies and the morbid wizardry of telephone-answering machines. Writing at less than the top of the their forms, both writers appear as sensibilities in search of story, grab bags of meaningful memory, acute perceptions and mordant social comment, which neither seems able to sift through and transform into art. Yet now and again for Mr. Grayson the shticks become inspired, as in a two-page meditation on the letter “Y” (“Y/Me”) in the present volume and in the story “Inside Barbara Walters” in “Disjointed Fictions” (1981).

The histories of some of Mr. Grayson’s other characters, like that of Saul in “That’s Saul, Folks,” are artfully telescoped and given equal valence with the history of the times. That is to say, where were you, reader, when the lights went out for the city of New York? In “Is This Useful? Is This Boring?” fictional beings named Joyce Carol Oates and Donald Barthelme square off over the issue of the fragment as a viable literary form, but then they patch up their differences. The title story threatens for a while to turn into a well-made story about two friends involved with the same woman, and both fearful, in the computer age, of continuing to lead the hand-to-mouth artistic life, but it pulls back just in time. If one is not blessed with a gift for extended narrative (a problem Mr. Grayson faces squarely in “How Not To Write a Novel” in “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and Other Stories,” 1982), then why not go for the sprint? And in a 24-page pamphlet, “Eating at Arby’s” (1982), Mr. Grayson mastered, or invented, a style equidistant between Hemingway’s short stories and Dick and Jane, a feat probably useful and, at that length, far from boring.

Nice Weather, Aren’t We? in the present collection, the grandfather of the character Richard Grayson has been leafing through an anthology of Jewish stories put together by a famous writer named Ballow. He looked at me conspiratorially. Personally,’ he said, I prefer your little antidotes.’ Others may, too.

WOW – just imagine how I felt. . . how I feel.

I bought eleven copies of TBR and couldn’t stop myself from telling the cashier about the review.

Wanting to share my good news, I stopped off at Lisa’s in Lauderhill and found her watching Another World and playing with the puppies. She thought the review was great. I sat with her for a couple of hours, drinking iced tea and talking.

Then I came home and showed the review to Mom and Jonathan. Dad had gone to Fort Pierce this morning and he was doing so much business that he was still in Palm Beach at 6 PM.

Too hungry to wait for Dad to come home, I had dinner at the mall by myself (though I ran into three former students, all of whom greeted me warmly).

Back here, I called Ed, who saw the review on Monday. “It’s not a rave,” he said, “but I’m pretty happy.”

The Times wanted him to send a copy to Anatole Broyard for a possible daily review. I told Ed that Broyard would hate the book – but it would be wonderful to get panned in the daily Times.

The book is in a dozen New York stores, Ed said, and of course he’s pleased – as well as grateful to me for sending the book to Gold. It was a hunch that paid off.

I called Patrick, who was of course impressed by the review’s comparison to Hemingway, and I called Josh, who said, “You’ve made it, man.”

Have I? What will this mean in terms of my career? Anything? The world won’t be beating a path to North Miami Beach, I’m sure.

But of course I feel wonderful just to be in TBR – in the same issue as my idol, Peter De Vries.

To be treated seriously is a rare delight. Let me enjoy it a bit before the inevitable letdown. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog