A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1983

Monday, July 11, 1983

10 PM. The more I think about my decision to rent the apartment in North Miami Beach, the better I feel about it. I think I’ll be comfortable there.

Last night I fell asleep after watching the first two episodes of Brideshead Revisited, which is being repeated on PBS this week.

As has been the case the last two nights, I fell asleep swiftly but woke up after a couple of hours and couldn’t get back to dreamland.

I thought about everything, it seemed, though I felt elation rather than worry or depression. I’ve really had the nicest life.

This morning and evening, I taught The Death of Ivan Ilych, and I humor myself by thinking I could die contentedly, having done what I’ve done.

Probably that’s not true. I’m so neurotic: one touch of the flu and I become a wreck. Still, when I really see things clearly, I am certain I’ve been extremely fortunate.

I was up at 8:30 AM, tired but eager to get on with the day.

My first stop was the post office, where I found letters from Susan Ludvigson and Stacy, which I haven’t gotten around to reading yet; Susan, bless her, did enclose a check for the books I’d sent her.

I was intrigued by the AWP Job List for the summer. First on the list was a visiting writer position at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, where I’d been told I’d placed second to Andrei Codrescu in the spring of 1981.

I called the new chairman, Mark Hochsberg, at home, and he said to send updated materials; he seemed to remember me. The job is from September 5 to November 19, and pays $5000.

I’d take it, of course, and come back to Florida for the winter. But I don’t suppose I’ll have to worry about the Juniata job complicating my life.

Still, it’s a nice fantasy, being a Writer in Residence, teaching only one comp course and one fiction writing course in the Pennsylvania countryside all autumn.

Of course, it would put me in a sticky situation in regard to the University of Miami.

But what’s the use of talking about it? I sent out the materials – as I did with the completed and xeroxed stuff for the Guggenheim – and now I don’t have to think about it anymore.

Today Lisa came in to work, having changed her mind once again. “I don’t want to go into business. I don’t want to do anything but be a teacher,” she said, explaining that she’d had a particularly brilliant lesson on Friday night.

Lisa feels that she can’t make it in business unless she has the help of that agency, and she doesn’t have the $1200 to pay them.

I taught my class (more and more, I think that Clay is gay but just isn’t at all interested in me), went to Mom’s, worked out at the health club, and marked the ever-present student papers: every time I turn around, there seems to be a new batch to grade.

I visited the new West Regional Library out just past the Broward Mall – it’s a nice setup – and then had only a slice of pizza for dinner, as I had no appetite.

The evening class went okay. The students, of course, hated Ivan Ilych for its tediousness, its slowness. Of course that’s the whole point of the thing.

There’s a lot more to tell, but suddenly I feel very, very tired.


Tuesday, July 12, 1983

8 PM. I was dizzy most of last night. I think I must have fallen asleep for a little while and then woken up with a jolt. In any case, it was real vertigo, and I was unable to lie down without everything spinning.

So I did the best I could: I watched all the middle-of-the-night news shows and finally drifted off at 5 AM.

Up at 9 AM, I felt tired and headachy most of the day, but my dizziness seemed to be gone. It feels like it’s been weeks since I’ve had a decent night’s sleep.

Still, I managed to be semi-productive today. At the college, I taught a Borges story which the class, naturally, found incomprehensible, and the “Battle Royal” section of Ellison’s Invisible Man.

I guess I’m fairly well-liked, and I must have a reputation as an easygoing teacher because students are always asking me what I’m teaching in the fall.

Bob was very talkative today. He got a job at Fort Lauderdale College, a business school. Yesterday I saw his poetry chapbook – pretty dismal bilingual stuff – which he self-published under the pseudonym of Peter Denys.

After class, I stayed in my office to mark papers, and miraculously, I got everything done for tomorrow morning’s class. Unfortunately, I still have twenty papers for the evening class left to grade. “It never seems to end,” said Lisa.

At 1:30 PM, I went to the dentist, where I got a cleaning and a gum treatment; I figured I’d better go before my dental insurance runs out.

Tomorrow is payday, but most of my money will go to the check for August’s rent in the new apartment. I’ll be really strapped for cash for the next two weeks.

Things should ease up a little at the end of this month, when I’ll get two paychecks and get back my deposit for this apartment.

Back home at 3 PM, I read in bed for several hours: the Times, the Miami News, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, American Demographics, the Village Voice and the totally inept Metro, a very pathetic Miami “arts” newspaper.

Teresa called at 5 PM. She’d been on Fire Island for the last ten days, having a hell of a time enjoying herself.

The other sharers decided to buy out Amira’s share, but Teresa herself was against that, so she is still on good terms with Amira, who took a share on Kismet, where there’s a younger, livelier crowd.

Teresa became friendly with an older couple who have a house in Fair Harbor but live in Miami most of the year, and they want her to visit them.

She sounded glad that I took a place closer to the beach. The new apartment has twin beds, so she can sleep in my room – as can any of my guests.

Tonight Teresa’s driving to Albany because Commissioner LaRocca has “summoned” her. She has no idea what it’s about, but if they want her to move to the state capital, she’s not going.

Stacy writes that she and Jeanne have been subletting in Soho for a month now and eating their way through it, so much so that she’s gained six pounds:

“Soho is about as creative, colorful and entrepreneurial as it gets here in the city. Every block has some fashion and ‘reno’ (renovation) alert. . . We have to look for a permanent place in the neighborhood.”

Susan Ludvigson writes that she’s in the mire of the French language in preparation for her Guggenheim year in France. All of the other students have already had beaucoup français, but Susan is finding the verbs murder.

For dinner, I made myself some Lean Cuisine chicken and rice, and I’m about ready to sack out.

But I want to call Josh, who sent me something from R.R. Bowker that indicates that Eating at Arby’s is going to be listed in Forthcoming Books in Print, and also an article about Yaddo from Saturday’s Times, which I’d missed.

On the CBS Evening News, I saw this guy Mike Martucci – the face and the name came together, and I remembered him from freshman year at Brooklyn College. I can’t remember if I had a crush on him or not.

Anyway, his seven-year-old son, bald but very cute, was featured in a story about New York cancer patients who need blood but are threatened by the drop in blood donations due to AIDS panic.

That poor little kid. That poor father.


Wednesday, July 13, 1983

5 PM. Last night I spoke to Josh, who sounded fine and all ready to go to London.

That article he gave me on Yaddo mentioned some people I knew from MacDowell, such as David Del Tredici and that awful Lesley Hazleton. I figure I’ll never get to go to MacDowell again, and I don’t think I’ll make Yaddo, either. Oh well.

Josh was surprised when John Fahey’s manager left a message on the answering machine; Fahey was sending Josh a manuscript for the next Grinning Idiot.

Josh also got material in his p.o. box for the Grinning Idiot Party, which I registered with the Federal Election Commission.

I told Josh I was moving, and it turns out I’ll only be a few blocks from where his brother lives in North Miami Beach. I still feel good about my new apartment.

Last night I slept reasonably well, dreaming I was back in my old bedroom in Brooklyn.

This morning I checked out my mail: nothing but a turndown for a credit card because of “excessive inquiries.” I don’t suppose I’ll get that loan now, either. I’ll just have to survive on my wits.

I had a good class today. We went over Capote’s “Miriam” and I read stories by Crad and Pete.

On his way in, Clay said, “Ah, my favorite class,” and on the way out, he smiled and said, “You’ve made my day.” He’s so cute and intelligent and friendly – as I see it getting hopeless, I find I’m just liking him that much more.

I marked some papers and then went to the credit union, where I deposited my paycheck (larger by $9 because of the July 1 tax cut) and took out $100.

I have only about $200 to get me through the next two weeks, but I suppose I can manage.

At home, I decided to forgo Bodyworks since my biceps and back still ached from Monday’s workout. Instead, I did enough stomach exercises at home to work up a good sweat.

Really, the rest of my body is fine; I’ve got to concentrate on losing the bulge in my middle.

Marc told me to call Jane Stone in Washington, who turned out to be an interviewer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

She interviewed me about my Presidential candidacy for half an hour, and I got in all the requisite jokes. I’m sure I’ll get a nice article out of this.

Lisa phoned to say that she’s ill with a stomach virus; she’ll be in tonight, but tomorrow I’ll take over her morning class.

She has a job interview with the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization in Miami, for a position as regional director of their Hollywood/North Miami Beach office.

Well, I just finished grading all the essays, and I’m going to eat and go over to BCC.

*

11 PM. Luckily, I left early, for I got a flat tire – also luckily – right by Broward Boulevard and University Drive.

Managing to pull into a gas station, I found the two boys left in charge there as utterly helpless as I was, so I called the AAA.

I phoned the school and left word with Miss Burns to tell my class to wait for me, but I also called home and Dad was kind enough to come down. He waited in my place as I took his car to BCC and got there only about five minutes late.

(I also had to cancel Lisa’s class; she’d called back, saying she felt too ill to come to school).

We had a decent class, and I picked up the car at my parents’. I have to buy two new front tires: more expenses. Well, I’ll just put it on my Sears credit card. Will I ever, ever get out of debt?

I called Mrs. Baron and told her I’d come sign the lease on Friday rather than tomorrow. No sense driving myself crazy unnecessarily.


Friday, July 15, 1983

7 PM. TV-less, I managed to get through the evening by finally returning to Vargas Llosa’s wonderful Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

Lisa called with very good news: the chairman of the English Department at Northern Virginia Community College called and asked her to come up for an interview.

The position is for a poet who can teach remedial writing, and Lisa seems to be qualified. She’s paying her own way; most important, this has boosted her confidence. If BCC didn’t think enough of her to interview her for a full-time permanent position, NVCC did.

I hope she gets the job, and to be honest, I would love to be living in the D.C. area.

I slept fairly well, dreaming of Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, and was up at 7 AM.

Before class, I went to the library to xerox the 1969 Times review of Putney Swope by Vincent Canby, who liked the film more than any of my students did.

It was just too “Sixties” for them – I can see we’re of different generations. Their critiques said the film was “tasteless,” yet these are the same adolescents who flock to mindless horror films, make-out movies, and every simplistic sci-fi sequel.

Actually, I suspect most of the movie’s targets were above the students’ heads. Is there an audience for the kind of writing I want to do, I wonder?

These kids could never (and I mean never – when they’re my age or older) get through Peter DeVries or Garcia Marquez or even Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. The ’80s are truly the Dumb Decade.

The stories we’ve covered that they do like are the simplest: “The Lottery” and “The Catbird Seat.” Of course, they’re fine stories, but isn’t there room for more complex fiction? Those are more like the stories I read in junior high.

Then again, I’ve got to remember these are community college students who, a generation ago, might not have finished high school and probably wouldn’t have gone to college at all.

They were amazed – and amused – that I read the New York Times every day. “Boy, he must have a boring life,” said Mark, the gay kid. He couldn’t even write the paper about Putney Swope “because I have nothing to say about the movie except it stunk.”

And I’m the boring one, right? I had to explain about fifteen vocabulary words in Canby’s review.

Look, a kid like Clay may be wonderful – and I’m sure he likes me, for he went out of his way to tell me to have a nice weekend – but it’s hard for me to relate to someone who is that young.

Ten summers ago, I was in graduate school and watching the Watergate hearings; Clay was in third grade and watching Sesame Street.

Speaking of Congress, Rep. Gerry Studds of Massachusetts admitted he was gay in a speech on the House floor yesterday after an investigating committee revealed he’d had an affair with a 17-year-old page ten years ago.

The boy, now 27, said the affair was a “wonderful experience” and he called the Congressman “a witty, warm and gentle man.”

Unlike other politicians who’ve been caught soliciting, Studds served nobly; it would be great if his political career could continue beyond his present term.

He admitted it was “an error in judgement,” but he violated no laws (the D.C. age of consent is 16) and has little to apologize for.

I suspect he really cared about the boy, as I did for Sean. I just hope that when Sean is 27 in 1992, he’ll think as well of me.

I went to my new apartment and paid August’s rent, signed the lease, and got my keys. Mrs. Baron is remarkably efficient, a woman after my own heart.

I definitely like the North Miami Beach neighborhood, which seems more urban, more New York-ish, more Jewishy than any place in Broward.

I’m usually a worrywart, but I don’t foresee many problems with the new apartment.


Monday, July 18, 1983

4 PM. Last evening, after dinner out, I marked all the papers I had to and then called Susan Mernit. She’d just returned from a barbecue on the roof of Barbara Baracks’ Fort Greene apartment.

It’s been over 90° for a week in New York, and Susan says her only real respite is at the ice-skating rink.

She’s teaching Monday through Thursday at Poly Tech – a six-credit remedial class with a dozen students.

Neil Schaeffer interviewed her a couple of weeks ago and said she could have two sections of freshman comp at Brooklyn College in the fall. He mentioned that Susan (Schaeffer) liked her poetry a lot, and in passing, he seemed to indicate to Susan Mernit that he would also give Lisa courses if she wanted them.

After hanging up with Susan (who said another of her book reviews came out in Newsday), I called Lisa, who sounded glad to hear she’d have work at BC if she wanted it.

Lisa said that without me, she didn’t know how she would have gotten through this year; naturally, that made me feel very good.

Although I had a difficult time getting to sleep because of a bad sinus headache, eventually I dozed off.

I was awakened at 7 AM by a call from Christina Del-something, a 21-year-old woman in Athens, Georgia, who was incensed that I’d asked Jane Wyman to be my Vice-Presidential candidate (“because she’s already dumped Reagan once”).

Christina had read an article about me on the back page of the Athens paper; she thought it was a wire-service story.

So Jane Stone’s article must have appeared in the Florida Times-Union this weekend and been picked up by AP or UPI. It sounds like a good piece.

Christina and I talked for an hour; she’s very witty and quick, very pretty (she says she’s a model) and smart. She goes to Randolph-Macon Women’s College of Lynchburg (where I lectured almost exactly two years ago today).

Anyway, she’s very funny and said she’d send me a letter and a photo. So, being a celebrity does get you women, huh . . . even if you don’t want them.

There was a lot of mail in my p.o. box, and some of it was interesting. The Cocoa Beach Public Library wrote back to me and sent me their order form; they were informed that I Brake for Delmore Schwartz is out of print.

Leora Zeitlin of Zephyr wrote that they’ve decided not to re-bind any books but print up 150 new hardcovers, on which I will get 2% royalties. I hope they don’t lose any orders because Bookslinger (the distributor) is telling people that the books are o.p.

Leora also wrote: “It seems the New York Times may run a review. Ivan Gold, a local writer who frequently writes for them, is writing a review so the question is whether the Times will print it. Did you send him a book yourself?”

Of course I did – you can’t expect me to rely on my publisher, can you? Leora said that Zephyr loaned him my other books.

Oh God, a review in Times Book Review and I’ll know I’ve made it. But I don’t expect Harvey Shapiro will take me seriously.

If he did – it’s amazing how much power one person can have – and they printed it, I’d finally get some real recognition as a serious (if funny) writer. Gold will have “discovered” me. Shit, it won’t happen.

I had a pretty good class today: we went over an Oates story.

Clay must have money; he mentioned his father has a $400,000 house in Coral Gables, and Clay said he’d seen Evita in New York.

Unlike Sean, he’s extremely friendly with the other students, and he answers a lot in class. In one way, I’m happy he’s too well-adjusted to be interested in me (happy for both of us, really).

I’ve got to go back to BCC tonight, but I’m definitely calling in sick Wednesday.

I got my new Dade phone number – a nice one, 947-0065 – and I feel optimistic once again.

I just feel very, very lucky, and I expect to have some really good news soon. My horoscope says a “windfall” is coming my way.


Tuesday, July 19, 1983

9 PM. Today was a letdown after yesterday, and to top everything off, I really hurt my collarbone at the gym.

Pretty stupid, huh, especially after Josh broke his doing dips . . . I go and do the same thing. But I’m pretty sure it’s not broken. I didn’t feel any pain until I got home; I have twinges when I extend my right arm.

Tomorrow will be a sick day for me, and I probably won’t get much accomplished, but I’ll have the satisfaction of using another sick day before I leave BCC. Bob is so dedicated – read: stupid – that he actually came to school with flu and fever today.

Yesterday Lisa was upset because when she asked Dr. Grasso for a letter of recommendation to take to Virginia, our esteemed chairman said, “Well, I don’t know what I can write. I only observed you once, and I never wrote a formal report.”

What a bitch Dr. Grasso is – it’s her job to observe us (twice, not once, a year) and write reports. Lisa feels she’s on everyone’s shit-list at BCC and can’t understand why.

Tonight she’s at the board of directors of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization; she’s one of two finalists for the job. Lisa doesn’t really want to take it, but she went anyway.

Last evening’s class went okay, and afterwards I started throwing stuff out as I cleaned up my office. It’s hard with so many books. I’ve got four cartons of books in my car; some students were nice enough to help me carry them from my office.

Today’s class, on A Doll’s House, was fairly dull, and I felt too preoccupied to teach.

There was no mail except a turndown for a credit card. Apparently “too many recent credit inquiries” are doing me in.

Late this afternoon, I went to the Fort Lauderdale library and found all the issues of the Florida Times-Union from Thursday to Sunday, but there wasn’t any article about me. I don’t understand – unless it appeared on Monday or appeared in a different paper.

I got a call from some reporter in North Carolina, but by the time I phoned back, he wasn’t in.

I called Teresa, who couldn’t talk long but said that the Commissioner was pissed at her “for going over his head” on some matter, and he wants her to come to Albany. To do what, she doesn’t know yet.

Teresa went to the Appointments office, and they were supposed to meet with her boss, but he canceled, and the Appointments guy took a two-week vacation, so it’s all up in the air.

I also called Ronna and Grandma, but neither one was home. (I’ve called Grandma every day recently, and she never seems to be home – which is probably a good sign, actually.)

Yesterday I think I was a little over-optimistic. I’ve still got a lot of struggling to do before I achieve any kind of security or real success.

Towards that end, I typed up a new résumé – with the Miami address and phone – and xeroxed 200 copies. (What will I miss most about BCC? The xerox machine.)

I feel kind of funny with “teaching assistant” the most recent job title, but I’ve got to avoid feeling superior. I feel like “shaming” people with my title and hoping someone will say, what’s this great writer doing as a lowly graduate assistant?

But I doubt anyone will think that. Grayson, you are not half as important as you think you are.

Sometimes I believe success will only make me unbearable.

Tomorrow I’ll mark some papers (I’ve got about 35 to do) and pack a little and run some errands. If only it weren’t so hot, I could function better.

Hey, we’re coming up to the end of fourteen years of this diary. Year number 15 begins August 1. And I’m coming to the end of my life at BCC and in this wonderful apartment in Sunrise. TC mark

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