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

Tuesday, November 22, 1983

4 PM. I feel empty today. Last night, awakened by stomach cramps, I didn’t sleep very well.

During the day, I felt bored. Giving the CLAST tests is much less interesting and more tiring than lecturing or leading a class discussion.

I graded papers and read while the classes were writing, and then, in the office, I wrote on the computer but somehow lost the whole file.

I’ve had no word about next semester, and when I got home, there was the letter from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines informing me of the five winners of the GE fellowships. Except for Alice Notley, who’s deserving (if not young), the others were nonentities. The two guys in fiction weren’t even listed the Directory from Poets & Writers. The winning stories appeared in Cimarron Review and Sou’wester, two magazines I’ve been published in; both printed my most conventional stories.

Hey, Grayson: they didn’t owe you that fellowship, and lots of deserving writers must have also lost out.

Maybe it’s just that Rick’s letter, and Tom’s, and the Associated Writing Programs newsletters have made me realize that I’ll never be taken seriously by the people who make things happen in literary circles.

Do I care? Fuck it, I wasn’t cut out to be a writer anyway. . . At least being in the papers and on radio helps me remember I’m special. Is that egoism? Of course, but without it, I couldn’t survive.

Well, I’ve had lots of rejections already, and I’ve got lots more coming, so I’d better get used to it.

These days, whenever I get down on myself, I like to torture myself about Sean: how last Thanksgiving I expected to see him. Fuck that, too. Sean wrote, “I never want you to be sad,” so I shouldn’t be sad.

Last night I dreamed I was in downtown Columbia, South Carolina: a place I’ve never been in reality.

Twenty years ago today, it was a Friday, and I was home from school with a slight cold. Downstairs, Carolyn, the cleaning woman, let out a scream: Walter Cronkite had interrupted As the World Turns to say Kennedy had been shot, and within the hour my little Japanese transistor radio said the President was dead.

Why do we always go back to that day, that weekend? Was it TV? Or the fact that there hadn’t been a Presidential assassination in anyone’s lifetime? Or was it what JFK represented?

I guess it was a loss of innocence, the world losing its virginity. Everything afterward seemed to be slightly askew, too far and too fast and all screwed up.

I was only 12 then, taking my bar mitzvah lessons, in eighth grade at school. Jesus. This weekend will probably be as depressing as Thanksgiving of 1963.

Tomorrow at school, we grade the CLASTs, and that should give me a real headache.

I’m sorry if I sound like such a crybaby now, but at least I’m only bothering a diary and not real people.

Why do I keep having to apologize to myself?


Wednesday, November 23, 1983

10 PM. On Thanksgiving Eve, I am feeling much better about myself and my life.

Last evening I went out shopping for groceries, had dinner, got to bed early and slept pretty well.

This morning I was in a good mood. Over breakfast, I started reminiscing about my days in junior high school. Those were happy days that I rarely think about anymore. In Meyer Levin J.H.S., I was popular and felt as though I belonged.

I did belong to the Sultans. Our secret password was “Teragram Nna”: Ann-Margaret spelled backwards. I remember us buying red sweatshirts and iron-on yellow letters at the Triangle sporting goods store at the Food Fair shopping center on Ralph Avenue.

We used to meet after school on Fridays at the house of one of us: Gene, Billy, Steve, Arnie, Jerry and me. We’d listen to records and play punchball and “Chinese” (handball played against the wall, with a sidewalk box for each player).

Maybe on Saturdays we’d meet at Buddies with its little Fairyland amusement park and eat the 1962 equivalent of junk food and play in the game room (the 1962 pre-video equivalents of today’s Pac-Man and Donkey Kong) and my friends (not me) would go on the roller coaster.

We went to each other’s bar mitzvahs, and we traveled to the Junction and downtown Brooklyn by bus to hang out and eat donuts or pizza. We stood freezing on long lines on Saturday mornings in front of the Loew’s Kings to see James Bond movies like Goldfinger, and we listened to early Beatles songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

It all seems so wholesome and innocent now. It was innocent. We were good kids. Someday I’ll write more about that time of my life.

Back to 1983: Today’s CLAST grading went fairly smoothly.

Most of the English Department were there, and I sat at a table with Dr. Grasso as leader, so I made sure to grade strictly – and quickly. The idea of holistic grading is to get an impression and make a swift judgment.

I was pleased that when I was in dispute with another reader, it was usually because my score was lower; I wanted Dr. Grasso to get rid of her conception of me as an easy grader.

Anyway, we were through before 2 PM, and although I graded about a hundred papers, I didn’t feel exhausted the way I used to at John Jay when we graded the CWAT. In fact, today was almost fun.

This term I’ve enjoyed my job more than I did last fall and spring. (I did enjoy my summer classes.) After leaving school, I went to Bodyworks for a brief but hard negative workout; I think I strained my thigh muscles.

Back home by 4 PM, after taking a cold shower, I read Publishers Weekly – my subscription started up again – and the newspapers.

By 6 PM, I felt refreshed and drove up U.S. 1 to Fort Lauderdale, where I found the Palm Beach Post story on the mall debate.

The photo of me speaking at the podium looked good – I seem well-built because only the top third of me showed – but the article said I wore “jeans, running shoes and a sport jacket that was too small.”

Giggling now as I write this, I realize I’d better take myself over to Macy’s and buy a new sport jacket, one which my shoulders and chest won’t looking like they’re bursting out of.

(Of course, my sleeves were rolled up, and I suspect the reporter was unfamiliar with what unconstructed jackets are supposed to look like.)

I did some other research in the library because I’ve been wondering if there’s a book – a nonfiction book – on the subject of bank credit cards. For some reason, I’m fascinated by the subject, and I’ll have to give the idea more thought.

Also, since I’ve been asked by Open Places to contribute something to their humor issue, I’ve been thinking of working on a piece using the jokes, puns and maxims I’ve filled my notebook with. The S.J. Perelman-like structure will probably be built around a mythical Caribbean nation.

I’m so glad I can still create, and even more, that I can still laugh, especially at myself.

The gorgeous night air and the drive down U.S. 1 – and even the Big Mac I got on the way and being recognized at McDonald’s by an old student, a deaf kid who couldn’t spell but who was really a nice guy: all that made me feel I’m really lucky.

Back home, my building’s parking lot had been resurfaced – the old potholes were terrible – and I found Adriana and Marc at my kitchen table, smoking a joint (which Adriana nervously and needlessly extinguished as I walked in).

They asked me to join them, but I just wanted to watch Dynasty and see what the show’s characters were up to.

This morning, Jonathan told me the story of his holdup. He certainly didn’t lose his cool, but he said that was because he figured the gun that the robber held on him was probably only a pellet gun.

Once again, I feel in love with life – and tomorrow I’ll have a great deal to be thankful for.


Sunday, November 27, 1983

9 PM. I’ve just finished rereading The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde is such a genius: what a way with words!

As for me, I’ve had a totally delightful weekend doing nothing.

Bad, huh? Well, I tried. Actually, I’ve relaxed a lot over the past four days away from Broward Community College. I got an awful lot of reading done and feel I’ve had a bit of an education going over various books, magazines and newspapers. I feel on top of life again.

Sean is probably back in Tampa, and I survived without feeling the need to humiliate myself by calling him in Davie at his mother’s.

In 1971, going to Washington for Thanksgiving weekend – and flying back by myself – was a turning point in getting over my breakup with Shelli. Sean is now safely, and happily, in my past.

The future? It seems pregnant with possibilities.

Serene Collins wrote a wonderful article in the Miami Beach Sun-Reporter: very sharp, it was. And there was a nice picture of me, too.

Last night I got the files of my clips from the Presidential campaign in order. Then I read until 1:15 AM, when I watched An Officer and a Gentleman on HBO.

It was 4 AM when I fell asleep, and I was up at 9 AM. Except for six papers for Tuesday morning, I got all my grading done.

I did get to speak to my friends. Grandma Ethel told me that she can’t seem to shake her depression. She feels so alone and imagines if Mom and the rest of us still lived in New York, everything would be different. But she had a nice Thanksgiving in Oceanside, at least.

Pete said his visit to San Francisco was a great break from work. He mostly “ate and walked,” but he also wrote a little and gave a sparsely-attended reading at Beyond Baroque in L.A.

When I phoned, Pete was on his way to a party at the Hoboken home of Mark Leyner, where he’d hoped to hear the latest on his book that the Fiction Collective is still considering.

Since Peter Spielberg and Ron Sukenick both have books for next fall, Pete’s book may not have a chance of being published before 1985 if they accept it.

My book, Pete said, is getting great distribution: it’s displayed in all the literary bookstores of San Francisco and is still in the window of the East Side Bookshop on Eighth Street.

Since he’s returned to New York, Pete has started doing freelance copy-editing and writing for a cable TV advertising firm: “a good prospect for you if you come back here.”

Pete also said he gave my number to Michael Kasper, who’ll be down here in late January.

Also here in late January will be Amy and Mikey.

Amy told me she’s been going crazy the last two weeks with the hundred dinner parties the library is planning for next week, the biggest fundraiser the New York Public Library has ever held.

She fears all these disasters but imagines that everything will “come together, as it always does.” Still, the logistics of dealing with 100 different parties and hosts and the press are a real challenge.

Mikey is also very busy with several trials. Tomorrow he starts a long case defending a 16-year-old accused of killing an old man, and Mikey thinks it’s going to be very tough.

Mikey and Amy haven’t had time to discuss wedding or apartment plans, and I gather that Amy’s parents are giving them a little trouble. Nevertheless, they’ll be down here the last week in January.

My next visitor will be Gary, who plans to arrive a week from Thursday – assuming his boss okays the days off – and stay at his aunt’s in Delray Beach. The Citibank Preferred Card project will be held at the Bal Harbour Sheraton the following Monday and Tuesday, so I can see Gary that weekend.

The unpleasantness of his visit last winter is happily forgotten, it seems, and I will be glad to see him again. In the back of my mind is a project – a book about credit cards – and I want to sound Gary out about it. Maybe we could spend some time in Palm Beach/Singer Island or someplace.

Originally Gary thought he could come down to Florida for a trip to Orlando or Key West, but his new car was broken into and he had to lay out $500 for repairs and a burglar alarm, so he’s having cash flow problems.

I called Teresa, who, as I figured, went to the Berkshires house for the holidays. The whole clan also went up – four generations – and after being snowed in on Friday, they began to get on each other’s nerves since they had nothing to do but eat.

(“It was worse than bad weather on Fire Island,” Teresa said, “since they don’t smoke or drink.”)

When she got back to New York, Rachel called to explain about a party she was giving and how various people from Fire Island called her and said they wouldn’t come if Teresa was invited.

Rachel planned to invite Teresa all the same, but Teresa said she wouldn’t go anyway and was understandably depressed about alienating so many people: “Is it their craziness or is it me?”

Teresa feels as isolated as I do. Her old friends, like Barbara, have gotten married, and others, like Deirdre and Jan, have moved away.

“The new group isn’t taking care of one another, going out to dinner, hanging around,” Teresa said. “Even Juliana doesn’t understand me. We drove back from Albany today and she didn’t connect at all with what I was saying.”

Everyone says what Teresa needs is a man to marry, “but it isn’t that simple.” In the meantime, she bought herself a VCR and is taping bootleg movies, Another World episodes and old Mary Tyler Moore shows.

I agreed that machines are often better companions than people; computers, for example, never get annoyed with you, never gossip, do what you say (for the most part) and are almost invariably responsive and cheerful.

(Obvious novel plot: A man love with his computer.)

Teresa’s problems are very real and probably familiar to many of us baby boomers. Talking to Teresa, Gary, Amy, Mikey and Pete, I get a sense of our generation that I don’t get around here: Miami Beach, reports American Demographics, is America’s oldest city, with a median age of 65.7.

The other night, I called Kevin in Washington. He seems so lost, and his attempts at optimism just made me feel worse. Now he’s planning to go to law school if Nigeria doesn’t come through with a teaching a position.

I can’t imagine anyone less equipped to go to law school, but maybe it will be work out. That’s our generation: we all seem to be drifting from one thing to another, trying to find the niche where we fit in and can live our lives.

Meanwhile, Kevin’s just scraping by with his adjunct classes. He works like a demon the first three days of the week and collapses on Thursday and Friday.

Kevin said Publishers Weekly ignored Al Drake’s new book (although they gave a glowing review to Sandra Thompson’s Close-Ups, putting her in Ann Beattie’s league), so he’s more depressed than ever about White Ewe Press.

I just hope Kevin gets some lucky break soon because he needs one badly.

I did get one another call today, from a “talent agent” who read the article in the Sun-Reporter. The usual: he’s got a great idea for a movie, “based on a true incident,” but the Hollywood studios won’t deal with him.

He thought that “a writing professional” like I would jump at the chance to help him out and make lots of money besides.

When I declined, he said he was going to call Isaac Singer: “I know this will make a lot more money than that Yentl.”

Sure it will, and I’m certain that Isaac will get really excited about it.

Celebrityhood is definitely a great issue for a writer to tackle. Zelig and Stardust Memories are Woody Allen’s take on it, but other films – Star-80, King of Comedy, etc. – also deal with the strange notion we have of fame today.


Monday, November 28, 1983

8 PM. The Wall Street Journal printed a story about me on the front page of their second section.

Entitled “This Presidential Candidate Wants Jane Wyman as His Running Mate,” the article by Brooks Jackson told of all the crazy committees I’ve registered as PACs with the Federal Election Commission, describing me as a “32-year-old humorist, author, unemployed English teacher and candidate for President. . .”

The slant of the article was on PACs, but noted

Mr. Grayson is in the humor business for laughs – which is fortunate, considering how little money he’s making from it. His first book, ‘With Hitler in New York,’ got mixed reviews and sold about 500 copies. His most recent, ‘I Brake for Delmore Schwartz,’ a collection of stories, received a mildly favorable review in The New York Times, but it’s no runaway bestseller, either.

I didn’t know about the article until I returned home from work at 3 PM and got a call from KDKA in Pittsburgh, who interviewed me an hour ago (a very funny interview, by the way).

Before I left this morning, I got a call from a station in Rochester who will interview me at 6:30 AM tomorrow, but I didn’t realize they’d seen the Wall Street Journal.

I also did an interview with KYXI, the CBS affiliate in Portland, and I got a call from The CBS Morning News: when they come to Miami, they plan to see me.

National TV exposure is just what I need – that, and People magazine. The Wall Street Journal, though, is a real coup.

This morning I began worrying what I will do if I don’t get any classes at BCC in January. You never can tell with the administration and Dr. Grasso, so I’m very wary, especially since I don’t have a schedule yet.

But by now I have enough confidence to realize that I’d make something happen. Today school was okay and my classes went quickly.

I got a snotty letter (“Thank you again for yet another letter of inquiry”) from FIU’s English Department head, who forwarded my résumé to Jim Hall because there’s a “$20,000, nine-month tenure-track creative writing job” open. I won’t get it, but I don’t really care.

I threw out the new Associated Writing Programs Job List because every creative writing job required a doctorate. If colleges don’t want me, at least the media does.


Tuesday, November 29, 1983

4 PM. I was glad to get home about an hour ago. My contact lenses, particularly the right one, had been killing me all day.

I’d never had such discomfort with them. Mucus kept coming out of my eye; I think I’ve developed some kind of allergy, for my sinuses also feel congested.

Last night I shut off the phone and went to bed early, getting a good night’s sleep. Even so, my heart beat like a triphammer when the alarm went off in the middle of a dream.

I did two interviews this morning, on WBBF in Rochester and WFLA in Tampa, and then went to teach my morning lit class. They’ve been a good bunch, and I’ll miss them.

At Bodyworks between classes, I worked with lighter weights and more reps to see if that helps tone and define, rather than build, muscle.

The latest theories about obesity say our bodies have pre-set weight points, which is why dieting never works permanently.

I know damn well I’m not eating any more now than I have for the last four years. Until they can figure out how to control weight, the best bet is to eat as intelligently and sparingly as possible and to exercise.

From a program I saw on Cable Health Network, I’d be a good candidate for a lipectomy, the surgical sucking-out of fat (in my case, by my sides). Well, I’ll work on that when I get enough money to have the plastic surgery for chin augmentation.

My afternoon class went well, and Dr. Grasso gave me a schedule of five classes for next term, so I’ll have a job and a salary, both of which I need.

No phone calls today, though Aunt Sydelle did get called by Scott, who saw the WSJ article. But I’ve been lucky enough for one week, I guess.


Wednesday, November 30, 1983

8 PM in Davie. I’m alone in the house, enjoying a few hours of privacy and quiet before the other family members return.

Soon after I finished yesterday’s diary entry, the phone began ringing. I got interviewed by Common Cause magazine (actually, the reporter had spoken to me earlier) and Cox Newspapers (the reporter said people in Palm Beach and Miami told him, “You’ve got to talk to Grayson” when he told them he was doing a story on minor Presidential candidates, and when we finished the interview, he said, “You’ve lived up to your reputation”), and a guy from Harper’s asked if I could send him campaign material (I sent him my best clippings and a copy of With Hitler in New York).

This morning, before leaving, I had my calls forwarded to Davie.

I still have to return calls from radio stations in Tampa and Savannah; I have an interview scheduled in two weeks at a Lafayette, LA, station; and I did an interview with somebody in Sacramento.

I can no longer keep track of the stations although I know I’ve done Sacramento and Portland, OR, twice.

A woman called me from CBS News; she works for Nightwatch, the deadly-dull overnight news show, and said she’d raised the idea of my appearing on the show with her bosses.

The woman said she’d get back to me to see if they could fly me into New York to do the show, but she sounded rather flaky and undependable. She seemed very concerned about my going on other networks first. I don’t expect anything to come of this.

I think that’s about it for today. Off the air, the Sacramento interviewer asked me if I was getting “burned out,” and I said I wasn’t.

But I can see how it happens. It’s awfully hard when people expect you to be funny all the time. And I’ve given basically the same interview fifty or sixty times already.

It’s work being a celebrity, and constantly having to be “on” is annoying. Still, I could learn to live with it.

Yesterday I had a long talk with Alice. Her Thanksgiving in Brooklyn was miserable because she was alone with her mother, who spent half the time crying (about Alice’s dead father).

“Thank goodness she’ll be going to Bangkok soon,” Alice said. Her mother plans to stay there with her brother for six months.

Alice has just returned from teaching at a writers’ workshop in Indianapolis where she “never saw anything but the motel.” She worked with Lawrence Block, mystery writer and Writer’s Digest columnist, whom she found very down-to-earth.

As usual, Alice wowed the crowd with her talk. She knows how to relate to people – as when she told them how thrilled she was to sell her first $1,000 article this year: they applauded her because Alice seems like one of them, struggling too but just on a higher plane.

I must see her article in this month’s Weight Watchers about her experiences floating in an isolation tank.

Alice and Peter got Anita to be the agent for their joint book project, which sounds incredible. Basically it’s the story of their relationship, living together and the sex, and how they stay together and have sex outside the relationship.

While their old agents felt the book was too sensational – Peter’s agent thought it would end his career as a Young Adult author – Anita liked their presentation.

Each will write his or her own long sections (Alice’s will be taken from her diaries) and both will co-write the conclusion.

If it does get picked up – and Alice is almost afraid it will – their lives will be subject to close public scrutiny. They’ll have revealed intimate details about themselves and their relationship, and I warned Alice to be prepared for a whole lot of flak.

But she and Peter should take the gamble. While Alice is worried about her prudish boss and the corporate mentality of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz people who own Weight Watchers – they would have been shocked if they knew she fooled around with this male journalist at Jean Nidetch’s 60th birthday party in Dallas last month – I told her it would be worth the risk and that by the time the book came out, she’d probably no longer be editor-in-chief at Weight Watchers anyway.

Celebrity.

I turned on the TV last evening, and saw Channel 10’s Mark Hyman – whom I refused to let in my classroom – doing a piece on Judith Ortiz Cofer. She read in her standard U.S. Poet non-singsong lilt as photographs of her parents, the subject of her poems, were shown. Judy was also shown with her students at the University of Miami.

Judy – whom Jonathan went to hear speak at FAU’s English Club tonight – understands publicity and the media, and I bet she ends up a big star.

Celebrity.

I went to see Cary Grant at BCC this afternoon. The opening film sequence was terrific, and the man looked amazingly young and vibrant for 80, but I was very bored with the insipid questions asked by the audience: there were requests for kisses and handshakes, pleas for him to make more movies (he understands that no one would want to see them), and questions like “Do you remember being seated next to my sister-in-law at a dinner party in 1967?”

Grant was charming, witty and immensely likable – but he didn’t really have much to say. Will that be my problem once I get to be a celebrity?

My classes were okay today and I got my paycheck.

Crad wrote from Plainview that he was bored to death on Long Island: his father annoys him, his sister was overdue with her baby, and his grandparents are more frail than ever. He had a long phone conversation with Josh, whom he really likes.

I got my credit report from CBI. Basically it looks good, but I corrected a few errors (for example, they have a judgment against me for $67 from July) and sent in the form for them to check on these mistakes.

It’s scary how much that printout can say about a person and how important a credit report is.

Tomorrow is December and the first night of Chanukah.TC mark

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