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

Thursday August 11, 1983

8 PM. I already feel somewhat let-down, just one day after seeing the Times Book Review. After all, what does the review of my book mean in terms of my life? Not much. I’m still hot and tired and fat and lonely. Well, what did I expect?

Richie, no matter how famous you become, nothing will change your feelings about yourself except you. Ahem.

This morning I slept late, got my things together, and returned home to Dade. (The Hollywood Sun-Tattler article never did appear. I guess they decided to junk it.)

Mrs. White, the sister of Mrs. Baron, who’s on vacation in New England, changed my fuse and explained that I should keep only one air conditioner on at a time.

More and more, I guess, I regret taking this apartment, but now I’ll just have to live with it. . . in it.

Nobody called except the New York Times telling me I couldn’t have home delivery in this area. I did some shopping and xeroxed 300 copies of the review, and I wrote a few letters, but I didn’t have much energy today.

I’m so thirsty all the time. I wonder if it’s merely the heat or if I’m diabetic.

Ronna surprised me by sending me a letter she wrote Saturday, the day after I spoke with her.

She said she and Jordan aren’t seeing each other anymore; it was selfish and thoughtless of me not to have asked her about their relationship on the phone.

She said she’s “alternately fine and going crazy,” and I certainly understand how she feels.

It’s funny, but last night I dreamed I was married to Ronna. I’ll always be very fond of her. Maybe I can help her now: I used to be good for her when she was between boyfriends, and I never minded (not that much, anyway) playing second fiddle to her lost loves like Ivan or, now, Jordan.

They were together for so many years (four?), it must be very difficult. Look at me: I still think about Sean every day, and we were together a comparatively short time.

I’ve just come back from the 163rd St. Mall, where I had dinner upstairs in the food court (overly salty teriyaki and frozen yogurt for dessert) and looked at all the beautiful young people. Compared to them, I feel like a big lump.

Walking through the mall, I realized nine out of ten people were speaking Spanish to each other. Despite what I thought was a broadminded attitude, I discovered I resented hearing so much Spanish.

Así es la vida.


Friday, August 12, 1983

8 PM. I called Susan Mernit last night. She was terribly excited about my review. Since she reviews a lot and has friends who’ve been reviewed in TBR, I asked her what to expect.

“Being taken seriously,” Susan said. “And other papers will ask for review copies. But the important thing is that this separates you from the thousands of authors whose books aren’t reviewed there.” As to the impact on sales, Susan couldn’t judge.

This morning I made my debut as book salesman. Dressed in long pants and shoes, carrying a briefcase of books, I ventured out.

At the B. Dalton at the 163rd St. Mall, I got a nice reception from the manager, who was clearly impressed by the review. I tried to be very professional, using Ed’s invoice and writing everything up clearly and carefully.

In all, I put three copies each at three stores, including the B. Dalton at Aventura and the Corner Book Shop at Loehmann Plaza.

Waldenbooks wouldn’t take any copies on consignment because it’s against their rules, but they took my phone number, and I told them I’d go directly to Michael Meyer at their headquarters in Connecticut. (Reading Publishers Weekly pays off when I want to sound knowledgeable about books).

My P.O. box had a half dozen letters. There was a check from Broward Community College for $88 for subbing; an AmEx bill for $139 (my contacts); a note from Ruth Pine confirming my appearance at the Jewish Journal Book Luncheon on November 17; a postcard from Ronna (of the Brooklyn Bridge: “Wish you were here”); three issues of Exquisite Corpse, a lively crit-mag by Andrei Codrescu out of Baltimore; and a letter from Crad.

His bad luck got even worse as he was assaulted by a drunk while he was selling his books one night. The man began abusing him verbally, and Crad got into a scuffle with him.

Crad was kicked in the face. His lip was bruised and he also ended up with bruised ribs. All the witnesses disappeared, and at first the police threatened to arrest both of them, but Crad finally got a sympathetic cop familiar with his Rustler column.

He filed a complaint, and a hearing is set for the man (who claimed he “didn’t remember” touching Crad).

Goddamn, it’s just pearls before swine.

Crad is upset that none of the other Toronto street writers seem to want to continue; I think he’s got to stop, for his own well-being.

I must remember all Crad has been through and be a sympathetic host when he visits in January.

Another person who obviously needs support is Ronna, and I called her at 3 PM. A letter and then a postcard is not like her: I knew she was in trouble.

She did tell me she was pretty bad last weekend. It’s very hard to break up with someone, as I well know, and of course her being 30 and unemployed doesn’t help the situation.

Ronna says she doesn’t feel she’s the type to go out to the Columbus or First Avenue bars and try to meet people, and she’s right: Ronna’s not the type who makes a good singles bar candidate.

Ronna still loves Jordan, of course – though she didn’t say so – and he did stay over the other night when they tried to be platonic.

“I didn’t get over Ivan until he got married,” she sighed.

“The first or the second time?” I joked, but I told her how I still think about Sean.

But Ronna will pull herself together, I’m sure: she’s sensible, and beneath that exterior of jello, stronger than she knows.

Naturally she was thrilled with the review although she said that nobody in New York will read the Times Book Review until the Sunday paper comes out.

An hour ago a Miami News photographer came to snap my picture for the story on my Presidential candidacy.

Another week, another learning experience.


Saturday, August 13, 1983

7 PM. I’m in Davie, planning to spend the night.

When I called Grandma Ethel in Rockaway, she said Marc left for home this morning, so I’m not going to get to sleep over in his room in Davie anymore.

Grandma and others have told me it’s turned delightfully cool in New York with highs of 70°. That seems like paradise now compared to what it’s like here in Florida.

Last night I dreamed it was October and the first cold wave had gotten down the peninsula, giving us relief from the heat. Today was another 93° scorcher.

In New York now, the Sunday Times is going on the newsstands. I wonder if the review will have any effect.

Kevin Urick, when I called him, said he thought it wouldn’t do a thing – but is he right?

My picture was on the front page (top half) of the Miami News Weekender, with an article on the Op Ed page.

Incidentally, the photo of me at the typewriter was excellent – the front page caption was “Good Humor Candidate” – and inside, Karen Payne did a nice job with the story.

She even interviewed the chairman of the state Democratic Party, who called my campaign “frivolous.”

But on page 3 of the Hollywood Sun-Tattler, a thoughtful column by Gary Robbins said that people who are fed up with politics as usual might be tempted to support me.

As usual, I’ve gotten better press than I deserve. I liked the Sun-Tattler front page teaser: “Born to Run.”

Naturally, I feel good about all this publicity. Perhaps this weekend, I’ve reached the critical mass where I’ve become a real public figure. Who knows?

Probably, as Kevin said, I’m in for a letdown. I fantasize that my phone will be ringing off the hook soon, but in reality probably few people noticed any of my press.

Possibly the best news came in a letter from the state telling me I was eligible for 26 weeks of $125 unemployment checks.

This is almost more important than anything else, for it means that I’ll have enough income to scrape by for the next few months – unless it’s challenged by Broward Community College or someone discovers I’ve got a $6,000 fellowship at the University of Miami.

Even if I don’t get the student loan, I can now keep afloat and make my minimum payments on credit card bills.

Yesterday I went to Florida International University to see if any English courses were listed TBA – and I found several 1101’s and 1102’s, so I left a note and my résumé with Charles Elkins, the English chairman.

Actually, I’d probably be better off with Unemployment. But if FIU is expanding, a foot in the door might help me get a full-time job someday. I’d be just as happy to teach comp there as I would to have gotten the fiction writing job that I interviewed for, the one Lynda Schor got.

Incidentally, I did some library research on her, and I no longer feel so bad, for she’s 45 years old and has been published in Cosmo and Mademoiselle. She’s a Jewish Brooklynite feminist and I’d like to meet her.

Also today, I got the official notice of our comp staff meeting at UM. It’s 10 AM on Wednesday of next week, ten days from now. I’ll try to work up some enthusiasm by then.

At Bodyworks, I had a hard but brief negative workout, and then, at the Broward Schools Credit Union ATM, I deposited my BCC check and withdrew some cash.

I also xeroxed 100 copies of the two articles that appeared today – photocopying will be expensive once again, now that I no longer have access to the English Department machine at BCC – and I hung out at the Fort Lauderdale library.

Lisa called at 10 PM last night to tell me she reread my book and loved it. She seems worried that she’ll never be a real writer, that her years in the Brooklyn College MFA program were a fluke and a mistake.

I told her that if she really wants to write, she’s got too make an effort to stay on the literary scene, to subscribe to little magazines, and to keep submitting her work.

South Florida doesn’t give writers much chance to grow.


Tuesday, August 16, 1983

6 PM. I’m on vacation now, and I might as well enjoy my free time as best I can.

Last evening I went to the North Miami Beach city library, which is pretty pathetic, but which allowed me to catch up on my magazines.

Back at home, I witnessed a stunning display of lightning. The nights here, even in summer, are really quite pretty.

I think I may have to tell American Book Review that I can’t do a review of Marvin Cohen’s Aesthetics in Art and Life because I can’t really understand the book.

I like Cohen’s word-play, but it’s all so abstract I can’t follow the argument. I’m no critic, anyway, and I hate reviewing books unless they impress me and inspire me. Obviously, I am no well-rounded man of letters.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been watching a lot of video music on MTV and elsewhere, and I’ve been quite impressed. There has to be some application to fiction (the way Joyce was influenced by cinema).

What surprises me are the often disjointed and surrealistic images and the highly personal metaphors in the videos. You’d think that if my students could accept these images, they’d no longer think that experimental fiction was so “weird.”

Perhaps it’s that MTV places no demands on them to “explain the material” while written work does – merely because they’re used to it being that way. If we could cross over from the visual to the literary, we’d be all right.

I called Brad to wish him a happy birthday and to congratulate him on his ordination as a priest. Since his grandmother was present, we didn’t talk long, but Brad did tell me, “Everything is wonderful.”

And he said, “You never forget, do you?”

When I hung up, I felt good – and realized I hadn’t told him about the Times Book Review review. Then I felt good about that, too, for it meant that I am not always uppermost in my own thoughts.

Pete called from work at the law office to congratulate me, though he figured the review wouldn’t help me much in terms of immediate reward.

A new chapbook of his, 1983, “an unemployment diary,” will be published, and he’s still waiting to hear from the Fiction Collective about Kennedy’s Brain.

I slept well and stayed in bed till noon, reading and talking to Lisa, who met Bob at Unemployment yesterday, and without thinking, began talking with him. Like Lisa, Bob now says he hates Broward Community College.

At 1 PM, I went to Unemployment myself and signed for my waiting period week. Also, the clerk had to change the spelling of my name from GTAYSON, the way some dumb bozo had typed it in.

Next Tuesday, I sign for my first check, and after that, my regular hour will be Wednesday at 1:30 PM. quite enough time for me to get to my class at the University of Miami by 4 PM.

Despite a case of diarrhea, I had a light workout at Bodyworks, where my membership has been extended to mid-October.

At my parents’ house, Mom was waiting for Marc and his friend to return home from New York. Dad is out of town for a few days.

I knew Mom was worried because I sounded so depressed yesterday, but I can’t stand for her to be so solicitous.

Unlike my brothers, I don’t confide in her – and I find it uncomfortable when she touches me, though generally I like being touched by others.


Wednesday, August 17, 1983

9 PM. I’m trying not to be depressed. Finding a $50 bill on the floor of a store in Coconut Grove helped, I guess.

It’s funny how in the last month all this money keeps coming to me unearned: first the overpayments from BCC and now this cash.

Last night I was feeling pretty good, actually. I was exercising and watching Health, a Robert Altman film I’d never seen before.

I also slept fairly well, dreaming that I was shoveling snow off our old porch in Brooklyn. In winter in New York, I often dreamed of summer beaches, so I suppose this is the same kind of compensation.

Again there was nothing in my post office box today, but the lady at the P.O. said that there’s usually a two- to three-week delay in forwarding mail.

I haven’t received any of my Village Voices or Publishers Weeklys, and taking out the P.O. box just made everything that much slower. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll never get all of my mail.

– Excuse me while I have diarrhea.

– Whew. Today is the second day in a row that I’ve had a swift attack of the runs. Perhaps it’s related to that funny smell in my refrigerator. Actually, I felt quite queasy for a bit last night and I don’t feel that well now. I think I’ll take a Triavil.

Of course, it could be plain unhappiness. I feel so depressed. I stayed in bed till 1 PM, and my only calls were a wrong number and a call from Mom that totally bummed me out.

American Express cancelled Dad’s card for non-payment. From taking in their mail from time to time, I see that they’re always getting threatening letters from one credit card company or another. Dad had to put his last car repair bill on my Mobil card.

Anyway, I was determined to get out today, so I went to Sunny Isles and had an omelet at the Rascal House, where the elderly Jewish customers just made me feel more depressed.

Then, at the 170th Street Theatre on Collins Avenue, I saw Risky Business, a surprisingly good movie with Tom Cruise, another young actor I fell in love with at first sight.

I guess I’ll always be attracted to boys of 17, 18 and 19, and though as I get older it’s less likely I’ll be able to have relationships with them – I missed doing that in the years when I was young myself – I can still take pleasure in looking.

Instead of returning home when the film ended at 4 PM – the summer light seemed so starkly bright – I took refuge in the Aventura library, where I read a whole page of “For the Record” in the National Review before I came to this item and a familiar name in boldface:

The Federal Election Commission has formally certified the Committee to Make El Salvador the 51st State, at request of Democratic presidential candidate Richard Grayson, who points out that when El Salvador won its independence from Spain, it asked Congress to include it in the Union. Congress (ever short-sighted) refused.

Maybe I am media-crazy by now, totally addicted to my own publicity, but it seems to provide satisfaction in a small way, for a little while. Perhaps if I were more fulfilled in others ways, I wouldn’t need the publicity.

Last evening I did an interview with Geoffrey Tomb of the Herald about my Anybody But Askew committee, and I know it will give me pleasure to see myself quoted in his political column on Sunday.

After the library closed at 5:30 PM, I drove back to the Beach, all the way down a deserted Collins Avenue (no tourists in evidence) and over to Miami and the Grove. There, I had some pizza (the diarrhea culprit?) and went to the local bookstore, where I bought some books and picked up the gay weekly and that $50 bill lying on the floor.

At least I didn’t sit home all day and let myself wallow in self-pity. If I had, I wouldn’t be ahead by $50. (All right, so I spent $15 of it, but I still came out $35 ahead.)


Thursday, August 18, 1983

Noon. I’m still in bed, partly because I’m depressed, partly because I have a stomachache, and partly because there seems no reason to get out of bed.

I did get out at 10 AM to go to the post office – again, no mail – and to buy various newspapers which I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading. I wish there were some way I could get paid for reading newspapers.

The past two weeks have been difficult, but after all, I’ve had a lot to adjust to.

First, there’s the new apartment. It took me a long time to adjust when I first moved to Rockaway, and though I can’t remember having this hard a time when I moved to Sunrise, I suppose that was difficult, too.

Then there’s the loss of my job. However I felt about BCC, it took up a lot of my time and energy and gave me some kind of sense of identity. I enjoyed, for the most part, the contact with my students.

For the past two weeks, I haven’t been working, and I’ve been in a new apartment with lots of problems. It’s been hot and I’ve been lonely.

Although I’ve had the great news of the TBR review of my book, not much seems to have come of it. I’m not certain what I expected, but I guess it was more than I got – which was nothing more than some congratulatory phone calls from friends.

Last night I called Teresa, who also sounded depressed. They’ve “loaned” her to a new agency, the Inspector General for the MTA, where she’s being treated like a “go-fer” by a woman who sees Teresa’s job as being this woman’s personal secretary.

“It’s humiliating,” Teresa said.

She called the Appointments office, but they said there was nothing she could do, that Commissioner Della Rocca wants her out of the World Trade Center.

Since Teresa has no “rabbi,” there’s nobody she can go to – and when I suggested she write a letter to Andrew Cuomo, she said, “He wouldn’t even read it.”

At her new midtown office, she has no desk, no phone, and worst of all, no chance to use her PR skills. Teresa is so disgusted with politics, she says she doesn’t even care to vote anymore.

Her sister said she should quit and live for a while on the cushion of $5,000 of her grandmother’s money. Tonight she’s meeting Frank to discuss her future, but Teresa says he just lectures her.

Even though she’s had many days off and lots of time at the beach, Teresa says she feels too tired to get excited about a new job.

Her listless voice worried me although she claimed she was just tired. The good news was – or seemed to be – that she’s seeing a sociology professor at York College.

I miss her terribly, and I miss New York very much.

Well, I suppose I’ve got to get out of bed sometime – but really, I’d so much rather stay in my chilly bedroom in my gym shorts.

Maybe I’ll go out and eat something that will make my stomach hurt more, or I’ll get even more frustrated by taking another trip to the post office.

Cripes – I don’t mean to wallow in self-pity. I’m really okay. But I feel a sense of powerlessness – which is probably why I get pleasure from manipulating the media and getting my name in print. At least I can control that part of my world.

Part of me wishes that Hurricane Alicia had struck here instead of Texas. Am I just bored, perhaps? Whatever it is, I don’t like myself a whole lot today.

*

8 PM. I was right about today. (This is an “I told you so” entry.) I felt so depressed that I didn’t get out of bed until 5 PM.

I was very lethargic and headachy. I half-slept, and I read from Sylvia Plath’s Journals (at 18, she wrote ten times better than I did) and watched a soap opera or two. The phone rang once: a little girl with the wrong number.

Finally, I put on a shirt and jeans and my lenses and went out to the Aventura Mall. At J.C. Penney, I bought a pair of shoes and a pair of sneakers from a British salesman who was beleaguered by hordes of South American families.

Since the footwear was on sale and since my feet are so tiny I can take boys’ sizes, they cost only $28 altogether – and of course I put it on a charge card.

I did the same at Sears, where I bought a pillow and chocolate-brown sheets, which were also on sale. Pampering myself helps, as does living as if I had money.

Dressing in torn T-shirts and cutoffs, sleeping on tattered sheets – that all makes me feel I’m a lowlife. All other things being equal, when I’m surrounded by nice things, as at Teresa’s or my parents’, I do feel a little better about myself.

I’d hardly call this splurging, since I last bought a pair of shoes in the spring of 1981 – 28 months ago – and I’ve been wearing them ever since.

I had a baked potato and chicken at the Treats section of the mall. A guy approached me, asking, “Aren’t you Richard Grayson?” He read about me in the paper, but he also went to BCC, where he was on the newspaper.

Now a student at the University of Georgia, he told me he’d be registering Republican, and I could tell right away that (1) he considered me a buffoon, and (2) this was the kind of kid who had never questioned himself or anything in his life. Another in this generation of fascists!

Treating myself to a sinful Turkish Coffee ice cream cone, I reflected on what this kid thought of me and what others may think. I bet lots of people suppose I’m a spoiled, pampered brat.

Am I? I don’t think so. Maybe I could have been if my parents had continued to have money or if I didn’t develop agoraphobia or if I had chosen careers in which I would have had to struggle less than being a writer and a college teacher.

On the whole, I’m not a bad guy. My biggest faults are self-pity, self-consciousness, and an insatiable need to be noticed, along with a tendency to gossip and to be a little too cute.TC mark

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