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

Tuesday, September 20, 1983

4 PM. I just leafed through the new Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers, which arrived today. Scanning the New York City section – by far the biggest in the book – I came across the names of friends, acquaintances and people I’ve read or just heard of.

What surprises me is my realization that many of the writers, and even more so, the poets, have not gotten anywhere near the recognition and publications that I have. I suppose some of them may even envy me.

Funny, isn’t it – because I feel like such a failure, trapped in a dreary dead-end teaching job. Yes, I can pay my bills and survive to fight another day, but I’m weary. Probably it’s still the difficulty of adjusting to my new job, the commute, the schedule.

Up at 6:30 AM, I underestimated the severity of rush hour traffic on the Palmetto and so took the Turnpike to Hollywood and got to school just in time.

The 8 AM class was okay because they were all from Mimi’s 102, and there are only a dozen in the bunch.

But the 12:30 PM was a real headache. By 1 PM, I had only four students, and I had to go from room to room to scrounge up others; then people slowly kept coming in and I had to repeat myself and give my introductory spiel several times, and I felt foolish and tired and wasted.

In the three hours between classes, I read the stories in the new lit text and went over to Mom’s for lunch and to hang out.

Teresa is escaping to Europe in a few hours. Last night, when I called her, she was feeling quite ill, with aches and pains and queasiness and a 101° fever.

When I suggested her problems might be psychosomatic, she agreed and said she was feeling guilty for goofing off all summer and now was going away for 18 days.

I told Teresa she was entitled to a vacation even if she hasn’t been working hard or looking for a job.

The past weekend was her last at Fire Island – it’s still nearly 90° in New York – and she had cleaned up before closing the house.

There’s a new guy she’s started seeing, but she wasn’t sure she’ll be in the relationship by the time she gets back.

Teresa was worried about being sick on the trip. However, with Bill Breitbart’s prescription for erythromycin, she felt sure she would “get past it.” I admire that in her and would also like to be able to “get past” things.

Lisa also called last night. She was curious as to how things were going at Broward Community College, and we both said we’d like to be in New York this time next year.

“But when I say that to my mother, she tells me ‘Well, we can’t always get what we want,’ and it makes me furious,” Lisa said.

I know the feeling.

At work at BCC, I have acquaintances, but there’s no one who’s on my wavelength or even a nearby one.

Without Lisa, without Patrick, without Sean (when the phone rang last night and nobody answered, I fantasized it was Sean – I miss him so acutely that I’m going to have to write my novel, if only to recapture Sean), I feel very alone at work now.

Luckily there are letters, like the one I got today from Dave Slater in the English Midlands. He’s a writer who knows my work via Paul Fericano and John Elsberg. “You are writing stories I want to read,” he says, mocking his own Salinger-like style.

When he picked up Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, he realized immediately “here was someone who knew all the passwords, the codes, the initiation rites of My Gang.”

God, I guess letters like this one are more than I have a right to expect: A guy in England actually understands and appreciates what I’m doing. That should be more than enough for me.


Thursday, September 22, 1983

5 PM. I’m waiting out a thunderstorm until I can go out to dinner. Today is the last day of summer, with 100 days to go in 1983.

After sleeping well, I got up at 6 AM. I’m getting used to rising in darkness, and it’s really kind of fun. It was refreshingly cool when I left the house, before sunrise. I had to wipe the dew off the car’s windows.

As I drove across 163rd Street, the moon – full and huge and silvery – was in front of me; by the time I reached 27th Avenue/University Drive, it had faded in the sunlight. I made it to BCC by 7:30 AM.

I was surprised to see that annoying kid Devin Robins in my 102 class, but he seemed too sleepy to be anything but docile – and unlike in last year’s 100 class, he has no buddies to give him support to be obnoxious. The rest of the class is wonderful and they’ll keep him in line.

Later, I made up my class rolls. With about 17 students in each class, I shouldn’t have that many papers to grade. Even when the research papers come in, there will be only about 80 of them – which in a regular semester, would come from just three of my five classes.

When I went to Mom’s during my long break, I was surprised to find her and Marc home; they’ve decided to go to the flea market on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays.

At 11 AM, I attended, with two others, the demonstration of a database search using DIALOG. If I can learn as much as I can about the new information technologies, I could find myself in a position where I could more easily get jobs. I’ve always heard that to be a specialist in several disparate fields is a good way to make yourself invaluable to somebody.

After lunch, I met my 12:30 PM class and gave them a quick run-through of the first chapters of You Can Write. They’re a good bunch, and I enjoyed the class.

I was home at 3 PM. The only mail was bills, though at school, I xeroxed Mick’s copy of Coda to read. I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading and writing letters.

As I adjust to my new routine, it’s beginning to become comfortable.

*

7 PM. Since it was still raining, I just went to the mall for dinner. But I had no appetite and hardly touched the Mexican food I’d bought.

Coming home, I decided at the last minute to turn left at 18th Avenue, and I skidded all over the wet roadway; luckily, no cars were near me, for I’ve never had an auto so out of control.

I felt a bit feverish, as though I were wrapped in cotton, but now I think I’m just tired. It’s been a radical change in my habits to get back to teaching – and to wake up at 6 AM every day.

Well, after tomorrow’s three classes, I’ll have survived my first week back on the job, and I’m sure things will get easier as the semester progresses.

Since I won’t get paid for a month, I’ll probably be strapped for cash, but I do have credit to rely on – and using it isn’t so bad now that I know that I’ll have an eventual regular paycheck to rely on.

The world is in its usual mess, with U.S./Soviet tensions at fever pitch, our Marines in a quagmire of combat in Lebanon, the Central American civil wars continuing, and riots against the Marcos regime in the Philippines. (If Reagan decides to stick to his schedule and visit Manila, we might see something truly horrible; I hope he stays away.)

I’ve given up on appearing in USA Today. In all this time, I haven’t even seen the byline of the reporter who interviewed me two weeks ago.

I’ve been keeping a low profile in the past couple of weeks. Since the initial contact after the review came out in the New York Times Book Review, I haven’t heard a word from Zephyr Press, so I assume it didn’t change anything.

As Sean wrote in his last letter to me: “And life goes on. . .”


Sunday, September 25, 1983

6 PM. The weather has definitely changed in the last day or two. Last evening it was actually cool out, and for the first time, I slept with the windows open rather than with the air conditioner on.

Although today was again sunny, a strong breeze cooled everything off. I can see it becoming pleasant to be outside once again.

On a whim, after contemplating what I wrote in yesterday’s diary entry, last evening I went over to Loehmann’s Plaza, where I caught an 8 PM preview of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill.

Because I came in so late, I had to sit in the fourth row, but I enjoyed the movie, a study of baby boomer friends who get together for a weekend reunion in South Carolina – Beaufort, I think – following the funeral of one of them.

The cast did an excellent job, and while the script wasn’t terrific, I could relate – and so could the rest of the audience, most of whom were in their thirties or forties – to the people and the issues in their lives.

Kasdan, who’s 34, and his characters seem a little ahead of where my friends and I are now, but that may be because of my misapprehension of my crowd as somehow “still kids.” Nobody I know seems that world-weary yet.

Leaving the theater – and, yes, I did feel slightly awkward going to the movies alone on a Saturday night – and driving down Biscayne Boulevard, I felt the way I used to back in the days when I dated Ronna in college and we’d go to movies on Saturday nights.

I wished I had someone with me – even just an acquaintance – to go out for coffee with. Although it was late, I didn’t feel like sleeping.

So I stopped at a newsstand, bought the paper, and read until 2 AM, and then my mind raced as I lay in bed for another few hours. I kept thinking about my novel – but of course, thinking about it doesn’t get me very far.

Maybe, though, if I think about it enough, when I finally do start to write it, it will come out smoothly, the way some stories used to, when I’d type straight from my unconscious – or so it seemed.

The novel is taking shape in my mind; I know what I want to do with it. Probably these are rationalizations, but if I had time, money and/or a word processor, I feel I could finish the book in six months.

Up at 10 AM, I went out for more newspapers, then read in bed until 1 PM, when I again fell asleep. Two hours later, I awoke and finally managed to get out of the house. At the mall, I had a great turkey sandwich.

Mom called, telling me that yesterday Kevin had sent a copy of the review that appeared in Cream City Review. She was so delighted with it, she began to read it aloud, but I stopped her out of sheer embarrassment.

Tomorrow a new week at school begins.


Monday, September 26, 1983

7 PM. Last night I had trouble getting to sleep because the room, or my bed, or my pillows, smelled musty. I decided that I was coming down with a cold; Mom has quite a bad one.

But finally I drifted off and had a pleasant dream and woke up feeling relieved. I wonder: does anyone else sleep the way I do?

I wake up half a dozen times each night, following the conclusion of every dream. Then I usually have to go to the bathroom (poor bladder control? a sign of more prostate trouble ahead?). Unless I’m agitated about some problem, I usually get back to sleep quickly.

I finally got up today at 7:30 AM and felt fairly rested. Although I didn’t leave the house until 8:30 AM, I had no trouble getting to BCC half an hour ahead of my 10 AM class.

I even had time to go to my parents’ and pick up a copy of the review of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog that Kevin had sent. It was basically favorable but condescending, saying that I needed to develop “a personal style” – I thought my whole problem was my personal style – and telling me “with a lot more work,” I can be a fine writer.

Oddly, the reviewer called my stories the funniest he’d read in years and then said the “straight stories” were the best in the book.

It’s boring to have to teach English 101 and cover the same material – especially when it’s out of the textbook – three times in a row, and it’s also hard on my throat.

But I certainly cannot complain about my students, who’ve made the best of a bad situation. The real work will begin when their papers start coming in next week.

I got a few more students from other sections today, and in one class, I’m up to twenty, but several of them on my roster may have already dropped out.

With no breaks between classes, I have no time to socialize with other teachers, but there isn’t anyone there I could be friends with, anyway. So the long time-wasting bull sessions with Lisa, Patrick, Bob and Dave are gone, and I now feel BCC isn’t as friendly as it once was.

Still, tomorrow I have a three-hour break, and maybe I’ll try to make friends. But the people like Caryl Crow – who is in my old Sunrise condo with his wife, thanks to my telling Mike Maynard to find a replacement tenant from the new BCC English teachers – and Ron Sipowicz seem very serious and “older.”

After all this time teaching at BCC, I still find myself the “baby” of the department – but then the school isn’t known for its hospitality toward younger teachers.

Don Powell told me he started teaching at BCC 28 years ago, and it’s the only job he’s ever had. He’s been there half his life. God, how can that happen?

(Answer: People let it happen.)

After an okay workout at Bodyworks – I still find it difficult to believe that I could lift weights twice as much and twice as hard as I do now and never have the kind of body my 18-year-old students have (when will I ever accept this?) – I came home for the day.

Rick sent his usual letter, a grab bag of interesting stuff.

Apparently City Paper had a little report on my Presidential candidacy. Rick said that George is upset after breaking up with Patricia, and he’s preparing to move to D.C. It might be good for old George to finally get out of Harrisburg.

As for me, I’d love to move back to New York City. A story in the Times by Sara Rimer (formerly the Herald’s New York correspondent) details the delights of fall, the quintessential New York season. I haven’t spent a fall in New York in three years.

But another Times story, on the ridiculously high cost of rent for young singles (and everybody else), combined with the horror stories about expensive rents that Stacy sends me – she and Jeanne are now actually considering moving to Staten Island – make me realize that I could never again afford to live in New York unless my present circumstances change.

Right now rents even in Old Mill Basin and Flatlands are probably close to $400 for a studio.

Could I live with Teresa? How could I impose on her like that, and wouldn’t I want permanence? I wouldn’t have my own bedroom and would have to squat in her living room.

Could I stay with Grandma Ethel? She might not object, and I bet I could cheer her up and get her out of the house, but I’d be giving up, again, lots of privacy and independence.

It’s a problem. But of course I’ve got a year – another year – in Miami ahead of me. Oh well, things will work themselves out.


Tuesday, September 27, 1983

6 PM. I’ve just returned from dinner at Corky’s. As usual, I sat at the counter – and ordered a cheeseburger deluxe and iced tea, which costs $5.10, just enough so that I can use my credit card to charge the meal. (I used my credit union Visa, which has a billing date of the 29th, so I won’t have to see the bill for a month.)

Tomorrow I should be getting my unemployment check, which I need to pay the rent. But I’ll still be left with no money in the bank. If I didn’t have all my credit cards, I don’t know how I would have survived.

A call from Personnel at the college informed me that my paperwork is done; they just wanted to know if I wanted to stick with the INA Healthplan, which would otherwise have expired at the end of September on Friday. (I said I did: their North Dade office is just a few blocks from here.)

Yesterday’s workout made my thighs and ass sore; my arms ache, but that may be from fatigue rather than exercise.

Last evening Michael Ladd called to tell me that in addition to myself, seven other presidential candidates had accepted the invitation to the Presidential Forum.

Most are pretty nutty people, and Michael doesn’t know if they’re reliable. His boss wants him to have ten confirmations before they go ahead with the idea, and the deadline is this week.

Michael asked me for advice in marketing a non-book book about Florida, Real Floridians Don’t Have Tans, and he invited me to come to his creative writing class at BCC-South tomorrow night.

He’s not someone I’d ordinarily be friendly with, but he’s a nice guy and I did help him out. Naturally, he doesn’t know anything about publishing; even at this point, he asked me if my books were done by a “subsidy publisher.”

I slept sporadically and had some unpleasant dreams. In one, Maud was telling me that she didn’t believe I would ever move out of my parents’ house. (I always felt she was judging me harshly as she went about her cleaning.)

In another dream, I was on an airliner about to crash (I woke up in the middle), and there was another bad dream that I’ve blocked out.

Up in darkness, I could have used a sweater as I left the house at 7 AM.

At BCC, I had a nice 8 AM 102 class: they’re a very good group, and today they were joined by two volunteers from Lemaire’s class, one of whom I’d had before.

During my three-hour break, I read USA Today (I’ll never be in it), PW and the Herald; I visited Mom; I filled up my gas tank; and I prepared for the afternoon class.

Next week, my real work will begin as I get essays from all my students. Right now I’m coasting: I haven’t even recorded the grades the other teachers sent me yet.

Back home at 3 PM, I read my mail, which included Poets & Writers’ Guide to Literary Agents by Debby Mayer.

I sent out one query letter, to International Creative Management, but right now I don’t have much that’s concrete. It will take forever for me to have my novel in a form where I’d let anyone glance at it.

Although I should probably be grateful about it, for the past couple of weeks life has been pretty dull. It’s been mostly work and home, not much contact with others, and nothing’s been happening with my writing.

I think about Sean every day. About Grandpa Herb, too. I miss them both so much, it seems the emptiness they left will never go away.


Thursday, September 29, 1983

10 PM. My bad temper yesterday was caused more by self-disgust than by annoyance with my family. I realized I was being an idiot.

Anyway, Marc arrived at 8 PM last night, and I went out with him to Burger King, where he had dinner and I got some much-needed veggies at the salad bar. Then he went off to meet Adriana at FIU, where her marketing class is.

Maybe next week I’ll let Marc sleep here on Wednesday night. That way he can avoid the long drive to Davie from Adriana’s home on Miami Beach and I can sleep an hour later and have no trouble making my 8 AM class on Thursday morning.

Last night I fell asleep right after the season premiere of Dynasty but was awakened by call from Michael Ladd.

What was it about? I really must have been mostly asleep if I can’t remember: something about the debate, I guess. I soon fell back asleep and had a pretty good night. There were a lot of New York City dreams: I was on all these weird subway lines in Brooklyn, and in one dream Grandma Ethel gave me a $1000 check to invest in one of those new CDs.

My unemployment check failed to arrive, and if it doesn’t show up tomorrow, I’m going to have to get a hefty advance on my credit card to pay next month’s rent. Probably I’ll go to Landmark Bank, which sent me another letter saying I was such a good customer, they’d be raising my credit limit again.

In my 8 AM class, I went over Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and read aloud her “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a story that works well in recitation.

During my long break, I went to the house and was surprised to find Dad home, waiting for a Federal Express package.

His trip to the Gulf Coast had gone well, he said, and he accomplished enough so that he decided to come home last night and save paying another hotel bill.

Everything went okay except he got an $11 parking ticket in Lakeland and he encountered a severe thunderstorm on his way home on Alligator Alley.

Back at BCC, I felt bored. Unlike the last two years, now there’s nobody to schmooze with during my breaks. I did some xeroxing and prepared for class and had lunch.

Joey Breen, the kid with cerebral palsy, is now working in our department. He told me he’d written a screenplay about his life and gave it to his friend Anson Williams, an actor on Happy Days, who told him it was too much like a documentary.

The kid has guts, though; I’ve read about him in an article in the Fort Lauderdale paper. Sometimes when he’s walking, cops will pick him up, thinking he’s drunk because of the way he walks and then they get more suspicious because of the way he talks. Stupid police.

My 12:30 PM class went okay, although a number of the students had trouble creating a clear thesis sentence; we went over some sample ones, and I talked about prewriting and thinking clearly.

I felt I was doing more than when I teach out of the text, which is really all they want us to do but which is just rote learning. Today was real learning: it involved clear, logical thinking and planning, the most important thing students need to learn.

After class, I went to Bodyworks. My membership there will expire soon. Next week I’ll make an appointment with the Pro Nautilus Center, which is cheaper. I never use the pool or sauna at Bodyworks, so why should I pay extra for them?

Back at Mom’s, I caught my breath, washed off (I didn’t take a shower till tonight), and finally got back here at 6 PM after stopping off to pick up dinner – a tofu burger and fruit salad at the Unicorn – and my mail at the P.O.

The reporter from the Asbury Park Press sent me his story from Sunday’s paper, which was a nice little piece. It did give me a lift to know I’m still getting some publicity these days.TC mark

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