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

Thursday, December 1, 1983

4:30 PM on a hot and humid first of December.

I got only two or three hours of sleep last night, but I felt surprisingly energetic today – that is, until about an hour ago. I just had an early dinner at Corky’s and am so drowsy that I’m prepared to fall asleep soon.

In Davie last night, my mind was racing as I thought about questions to put on my final exams, syllabi for next term, the credit bureau and my crazy juggling of credit cards, my campaign, the possibility of going to New York, and the two phone conversations I had last night.

When I finally got through to Josh, he was busy putting the next issue of Grinning Idiot together. He has some big names for the magazine, including John Clellon Holmes, whom Leslie, one of his students at Arkansas, solicited.

Leslie calls Josh often, and he finds her a pest: she’s crazy about him, but he thinks she’s very plain – although he admits she’s witty.

Tomorrow Josh begins work at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and I wished him good luck in enjoying the new job. You never know with Josh.

Josh had a good talk with Crad when he came to New York, but now that he’s read all of Crad’s work, he doesn’t think Crad is as good a writer as I think he is.

I conceded that Crad often gets melodramatic, but Josh said that was the part he liked the most. (I should have guessed.)

Teresa called while I was on the line with Josh. (I guess call-waiting works when I call-forward to Mom’s.) She just phoned to express her pleasure in the Wall Street Journal article, but I talked to her for a long time.

Teresa still feels very isolated and misses the good old days before Deirdre, Jan and I moved away and before Barbara and Diana got married.

Worried about having her apartment stolen out from under her, Teresa said it would be good if someone she could totally trust could sublet it while she’s living in Europe.

When I heard the rent will be about $450 a month, I told Teresa I’d definitely consider it. That’s not all that much for a gorgeous place in Manhattan – I’d never get that price anywhere else – and somehow I’d find a way to pay the rent.

It would be fabulous if I could live on West 85th Street, in an apartment that’s been like a second home to me for seven years.

We’ll think more about it. There are obvious pitfalls, and I’m not really certain Teresa will actually go to Europe.

I had a so-so 102 class today: I didn’t have much to say about The Importance of Being Earnest other than that I found it funny, but I tried.

After class, I decided I felt awake enough to go to the gym, where I did multiple sets with very light weights.

Back home in Davie, I was alone – and by lunch I caught two calls for myself. One was from the Washington Bureau of Scripps-Howard papers; the guy was looking through the Federal Election Commission printouts and my PACs caught his eye, so I had to give my usual spiel.

First Cox, then Scripps-Howard: one newspaper syndicate after another. That’s pretty good, I think.

A very intelligent-sounding lady from the Friends of the Palm Beach County Library called and said they’d like me to speak at their annual Book and Author Luncheon in March.

Last year they had Red Barber and Sloan Wilson, and I was flattered to be considered in their league – and amazed when the woman said I’d be paid around $200! She’ll send me all the details.

I also got a message from Miami-Dade Community College, which wanted me to come in for an interview. When I phoned them back, they said, “¡Llámenos más tarde!

Back at school, my office was still being painted, so I went to class early and got through to the end of You Can Write. I’ll be glad to be teaching only one section of 101 next term.

I got home about 3 PM, read the papers, went out to eat, and here I be.

It’s funny: this morning at 7:30 AM, I parked, as usual, in the faculty members’ lot. Two teachers came over to me and said, “Are you a faculty member?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What department?” – as if they didn’t believe me.

“English. I’ve been here since January 1981,” I snapped. “And I’ve been a college teacher since March 1975. I’m 33 years old and you’re not going to tell me I still look like a student.”

They saw I was annoyed and said, “Well, take it as a compliment. You look 22, not 33.”

I certainly don’t think so.

Last night, after I had mentioned something about Lynn to Teresa, she said, “Is he young?”

“Yeah, he’s about 42,” I said, and then laughed.

“You can tell how old we’re getting,” Teresa said, “when we agree that 42 is young.”


Sunday, December 4, 1983

7 PM. I’ve got my air conditioner on. Incredibly, we’ve been running about ten degrees above normal; it hit 85° today.

Sometimes I forget how beautiful it is here in the winter. At 5 PM, I drove out to the beach and it felt so good to see the sun set in the west and feel the warm breezes and smell the ocean air.

Danny’s in Surfside had an enormous line, so I drove back to Miami over the 79th Street Causeway and started up Biscayne Boulevard, but Pumpernik’s had the same long line.

Well, this what happens when the snowbirds come for The Season. I had to settle for a Big Mac and fries.

Last night I slept well: it was the deepest sleep I’ve had in a week and I dreamed of babies and my own little bungalow in Miami.

Up at 9 AM, I drove to Bodyworks, where I decided to alternate my lower-weight, higher-rep exercises with the usual heavy duty negative workout.

I tried to work out hard because I don’t plan to go back to the gym until Wednesday. (Tomorrow afternoon is the faculty meeting; Tuesday I’m tied up with interviews and other stuff.)

No one was home in Davie, so I showered and then went out by the pool, where I lay in the sun for an hour: a rare pleasure these days.

Back in Miami, I worked out with calisthenics and stomach exercises as I read the Sunday papers.

Barbara Goldsmith’s article “The Meaning of Celebrity” in the New York Times Magazine fascinated me, for she put her finger on the nature of today’s celebrity.

Because adults have now lived their whole lives with TV, it’s almost as if reality doesn’t matter: image is king and perception is queen.

Very likely, in my drive to become a celebrity – and it first hit back in the summer of 1978, when I made Page Six of the New York Post with the Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists scam – I’ve lost sight of my original goals as a writer and artist.

Probably I’ve been corrupted. If I haven’t “sold out,” it’s only because no one’s asked me to.

Yet if my goals have changed, that may not be so terrible. Surely it’s better to reach a mass audience than to barely be heard.

Last Monday more people read about me in the Wall Street Journal than all the people who’ve read the entirety of my stories in five books and 150 little magazines.

Christopher Lasch says that narcissists make fine celebrities, and obviously I always have been a narcissist.

This may be rationalizing, but maybe my fiction will be less self-centered because I can focus my narcissism in reality – that is to say, the unreality of the media eye.

Just as I wrote about it years ago, now celebrities are icons, infused with the magic of gods. Goldsmith argues that synthetic celebrity is meretricious and destructive, and I agree.

Can I be an anti-celebrity celebrity and have it both ways, the way I’ve tried to in my short stories? It’s gonna be interesting to find out.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t become a victim of sudden enormous success, the way someone like Eddie Murphy has.

At 22, he has nothing more to gain by being funny: the crowds laugh and cheer if he tells them to go fuck themselves, which he does over and over again.

But despite Justin’s involvement in the show, Murphy’s HBO special was vulgar, incredibly homophobic, unfunny – and worst of all, it was so boring that I switched the channel.

On Saturday Night Live, Murphy was and still can be funny – but alone on stage, his tremendous success and celebrity causes him to be a flop.

Of course, since all that matters is perception, he’s a bigger success than ever. But we know, when we’re alone, what really matters.


Tuesday, December 6, 1983

6 PM. Last evening I went to the Aventura Mall to pick up my suit.

While I was walking through the shopping center, a ruddy-cheeked Santa Claus approached from the opposite direction. Kids shouted out to him, and he replied, “Hello, boys and girls . . . and hello to you, Mr. Grayson!”

Very weird. I wonder if he knows whether I’ve been naughty this year. I suppose Santa was really one of my present or former students.

My suit was with the elderly Jewish tailor in a side room of the store. As he got it ready, I stared at the sewing machine and thought of Grandpa Herb at his sewing machine all those years ago in the Slack Bar on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn. Sometimes I imagine he’s still there. . .

Speaking of imagination, I had an amazing series of dreams last night; many took place in Paris, where I was living.

They were a little frightening because I was alone in a strange country, but somehow I managed to get on with people, and in the end, I liked the place.

Is there a more glorious feeling than to wake up just after midnight thinking you’ve slept eight hours and discovering you have the luxury of another six hours of sleep?

Every time I awoke – at 2 AM and again at 4 and 5 AM – I expected I’d have to get up.

Curiously, when morning finally did arrive, I felt tired and a bit headachy. (Forget my body aches – I really did a number on myself with Sunday’s heavy-duty workout.)

Nevertheless, I gamely went over Acts I and II of Romeo and Juliet with the 8 AM class. I finished rereading the play last night, and though I’d never taught Shakespeare before, it was interesting to try it.

At 9:30 AM, I did an interview with KTOK in Oklahoma City that went really well. So did my 12:10 PM (9:10 AM their time) Seattle interview on KVI. I’d like to know if those Cox and Scripps-Howard articles came out in newspapers yet.

Between classes, I got all of “Inside Barbara Walters” typed on the computer and printed out six lovely pages for the NEA fellowship application.

I’m almost sure it’s the kind of thing that will be passed over yet again in favor of the boring drivel written by the types who populate the AWP Readers’ List I got in today’s mail.

Academia as Snoozeville: those people listed sounded so boring that if I were somebody arranging a public reading at my college or library, I wouldn’t have any of ’em.

In my afternoon class, I lectured on usage and then learned that the computer certificates won’t be given out until tomorrow. (The flyer mistakenly said “Tuesday the 7th,” so I assumed the day, not the date, was correct; I was wrong.)

U. S. airplanes invaded – or should I say “attacked” – the Syrians, who shot down two jets. Lebanon is becoming a no-win situation: Vietnam II.

This Presidential candidate says we should turn tail and run, get our asses out of there. But of course, image is king and we can’t appear to be unmanly. Me, I’m not that manly to begin with.


Wednesday, December 7, 1983

8 PM. I’m in Davie. The weather has turned chilly – or normal, I guess – and either I have bad sinusitis or a cold coming on.

I didn’t feel very well today: I was too tired to work out and my skin broke out again and my contact lenses hurt because I kept secreting mucus in my eyes. That’s the bad news.

Now the good: As I was drifting off to an early sleep last night, first Christina and then Teresa called to say that my name was in Time.

Both had just gotten their subscriptions and were leafing through the latest issue. In a sidebar, “On the Record” of the “People” page, they found:

Richard Grayson [boldface], 32, humorist-author and one of this year’s jester candidates for the U. S. presidency, on why he would like Jane Wyman to be his running mate: “She has experience dumping Reagan.”

I found it myself when I went to the store before school this morning. I’m on the same page as Miss Piggy, Prince Edward and Michael Jackson.

Four million people read Time, twice the readership of the Wall Street Journal, but I didn’t expect nor did I get any calls, since Time didn’t identify me as a North Miami Beach resident.

Anyone wishing to contact me will have to dig through the FEC printouts. But, as Teresa suggests, people who know me will see this.

It’s definitely a coup, though if it gets me any farther, I won’t know. I do have another interview scheduled on WFLA, the Tampa talk station, tomorrow night.

Teresa and I talked for an hour. She said she’s fed up with politics and is in need of a real change in her life.

“Can I say I’m your P.R. person?” she asked. And again Teresa advised me to accompany her to Italy in late spring.

I had been half-asleep, but after I got off the phone, I was too wound up to relax. I finally drifted off at about 2 AM and dreamed of both my grandfathers; I bet they’d be proud of me if they knew what I was doing.

And I also dreamed about being in a Time cover story on “Young Jewish Achievers.” Ha.

At the post office, all the mail was good. Marquis Publications sent me an application form for Who’s Who in the South and Southwest. This time I intend to buy the damned book so they’ll put me in it.

I got a replacement credit card (Visa) from Landmark with a higher credit line.

Even my electric bill was a delight: only $35, down $50 from the previous month, and because my deposit of $90 was refunded, I didn’t have to pay anything and still have a credit of $55.

Lucky duck, huh? I can’t believe the luck I’ve been having in this last half of 1983. It’s quite scary.

At BCC, I gave three class lectures on wordiness and jargon.

The North campus English Department called and granted me an interview for their permanent opening; it’s scheduled for Friday at 1:30 PM.

I suppose I should be flattered. After all, Lisa and Bob didn’t get interviews at their own campus last year.

At 2:30 PM, the hardy band of survivors who managed to finish Sue’s workshops gathered in the Faculty Dining Room and got our certificates for completing the course in computer literacy.

Glen Rose was there, and he kept complimenting us. Obviously, he and the college administration are real gung-ho over computers, and they want to encourage us to learn more and to use them.

We also received certificates for 20 hours of free training (worth $200) at Radio Shack.

Surprisingly, Dr. Grasso and the others think my running for President is really funny.

I try to downplay it as much as possible; the only one in the department who makes sarcastic remarks is Dave Shaw. It kills him every time I get in the media. If he only knew how little it all meant.


Thursday, December 8, 1983

6 PM. In an hour I’ll be doing the Paul Gonzalez show on WFLA in Tampa. He told me they’ve been doing interesting promotions all day.

Of course, I wonder if Sean will hear it, but since he listens only to disco, there isn’t much chance of that.

The other night I realized that if I were still involved with Sean, all this publicity would be more difficult. So I suppose it’s for the best that I’m running for President while I’m not seeing anyone.

I’ve just spoken to Patrick, who said that the presentation that Dr. Grasso and Rosemary made on the CLAST prototype wasn’t well-received by South Campus faculty, who found it self-congratulatory and smug.

Patrick and I traded campus gossip. Next Friday is the reading he’s organized, and he told me to bring some books to sell.

Although he seemed surprised I did apply for the North campus job, Patrick advised me to “play it straight” and really try for it.

We’ll see. At least I’ll get a chance to wear my new suit (though I’ll probably just wear the jacket). And we’ll see if I’ve gained any more confidence over the years.

Remember in 1979 when I was sure that Department of Educational Studies hiring committee interview at Brooklyn College was such a disaster and it turned out that they really loved me? I am a bad judge of my own public performances.

I slept fairly well in Davie, and in this morning’s class I went over Acts III and IV of Romeo and Juliet.

It was chilly, almost – about 59°– and I hurried over to Bodyworks after class. I did a low-weight, high-rep program of nearly all the Nautilus machines; we’ll see what effect this has.

I did make myself weak to the point of faintness, and I returned to Davie and collapsed into bed. That led to a good rest, though, and I woke up – yes, I did fall into a semi-sleep – and read the papers.

Back at BCC for the afternoon class, I had a good lesson on wordiness.

Then I started typing “The Autobiography of William Henry Harrison’s Cold” into the computer. I was halfway finished and ready to call it a day when Sue came in to print something, and that gave me the impetus to go home.

I’ve had an early dinner (or a late lunch), no mail, a slight stomachache, a dull headache, and here I am.

Gary left word with Jonathan that he’s flying in tomorrow afternoon. I shouldn’t have that much work this weekend, but next week will be a killer. No calls about the mention in Time, though Judy Van Alstyne and Chip both said they caught it.

*

8 PM. I just got off the radio after doing an hour on WFLA. Paul Gonzalez told me it was one of his most fun programs.

I had a good time too, especially with the callers, but I did get very flustered when Sean called and asked me about the Davie Town Council race and Eating at Arby’s.

What a creep to throw a curve like that at me! But I’m glad to know he hasn’t forgotten me and still feels fondly toward me.

I can’t wait to hear the tape Paul said he’ll send; I wonder if I sounded discombobulated when Sean called in.

The audience response was gratifying. I thought Sean might call me at home now, but who knows. Weird, huh?


Friday, December 9, 1983

8 AM. It’s a cool, cloudy morning.

I had disturbed dreams last night. One, about Sean, was nearly a nightmare. I never dream about Sean – though in the past I’ve wanted to.

Last evening I had to speak to someone about what had happened, and I called several friends, none of whom was home before I got to Susan Mernit.

Spencer answered the phone. Since he quit his job, he’s been doing extremely well freelancing, so his and Susan’s fears about a lack of income seems to have abated.

Susan herself is making great progress with her novel, and her term at Poly Tech ends in two weeks; at Brooklyn College, she has to come back in January to give the exit exams.

She filled me in about various doings, and I told her about my publicity barrage and other stuff, finally explaining how Sean had called me on WFLA.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “It sounds like a bad short story!”

Susan felt Sean was cruel to have disappeared and left me no way to contact him in the first place, and that he compounded his cruelty last night by calling me with 50,000 people listening in on the radio, giving me no way to respond to him personally or to find out where I can reach him.

Before we hung up, Susan mentioned running into her old boyfriend Seth, who is now the live-in lover of Laura, with whom Susan works with at Brooklyn College.

I took the phone off the hook after that. If Sean had decided to call, I wouldn’t have to speak with him; if he didn’t call, this way I wouldn’t know. It seemed the only power I had.

The dream about Sean was awful: he was so matter-of-fact, uncaring, and sarcastic. I even began to doubt it was he who called the show. Did I imagine it?

How could Sean do that to me just as I was putting him out of my mind? Was he drunk?

Cruelty isn’t Sean’s style, and certainly his questions were admiring rather than snide. So if he wasn’t being cruel, the only other possibility is that he was just being stupid and had no thought of hurting me.

Maybe he never realized how important he was to me because I was never very important to him.

When a later caller asked what I thought of “pedestry” [sic] in education, I answered wittily, but you can imagine what went through my mind.

Well, I’ve got classes and then a job interview, so I’d better start the day. All I keep thinking is that fiction isn’t half as amazing as real life.

*

8 PM. What a day, what a week, what a life!

As for Sean, it now seems obvious to me that he must have realized that calling up the radio station would fluster me.

If he’s got half a brain, Sean should also have known that I’d be hurt or mystified by his disappearing like that last spring.

I did send him the new book at his mother’s address and he never responded to my letter.

Ronna, who thought Sean was being “mean,” said, “Maybe he’s like a little kid and figures that if you can’t see him, he’s not really there.”

(That seemed to make sense when she said it but now that I’ve written it down, I can’t figure out what it means. Oh, but Ronna has her own – much more important – problems.)

Still, I do know that Sean isn’t dead, that he seems to be all right: alive and well and living in West Tampa. And maybe he’ll call one of these days now that we’ve spoken – in a manner of speaking (literally), that is.

Let’s give the kid the benefit of the doubt for now. I’d like to think Sean did not mean to be hurtful but is genuinely fond and admiring of me.

Aside from that, today was an eventful day. Not because of my classes, which were sparsely attended and in which I did little.

No, it was the interview at North Campus. I got there at 1 PM and had lunch in the cafeteria, where the atmosphere seems looser and friendlier than at Central.

While waiting in the English Department – where a stereo played rock music – I saw Trish Joyce, who looked haggard and said she’s had a rough term.

Charlie Staats, the youngish, bearded chairman, took me to meet the committee – I noticed there was a list of six to eight interviewers – who were quite friendly and loose.

Again, I’m not good at reading these things, but I think I was fairly impressive.TC mark

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