A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1984

Wednesday, February 1, 1984

8 PM. Today was a long day – not as long as yesterday, but I am pretty exhausted.

At 6 AM, I woke up with a lot of energy; maybe the 45° cold had something to do with that. I was on campus by 7:30 AM and xeroxed the research materials from Book Review Digest, Contemporary Literary Criticism and the MLA Index to show the students the wealth (and minute detail) of literary material available.

Both my 8 AM and 10 AM classes went okay; in between, I was frustrated by a visit to a very inefficient bank. (Later in the day, I cashed in my $2500 CD – and the $25 interest I’d earned – because I need to start paying off my credit card debts.)

At 11 AM, I read the papers, worked on my computer ed homework, and spoke to Rich, who read me an article in the student newspaper about a gay student group in need of a faculty adviser.

Rich suggested I’d be a good person to do it because I’m leaving and don’t care about people’s reactions. I would do it if I were asked, certainly.

I’m sure Rich is a closet case: he’s extremely effeminate although he has a wife (“who doesn’t understand homosexuality”) and daughter.

It’s a pity people can’t take being gay for granted. I don’t like to discuss it with anyone at Broward Community College, not because you get hatred, but you get ignorance, which is almost as bad.

I have a mad crush on this guy Frank Brandt in my 8 AM class. He’s slight, has beautiful blond hair, and dresses the way I like: in nice button-downs or sweatshirts, straight-legged levis, white socks and sneakers.

He’s funny and shy and a real theater buff. (He wrote about losing the lead in Anything Goes to Robbie, who’s probably a better choice, because he’s got a sunnier disposition.) Today I learned that Frank is graduating next term.

Of course, a relationship is only in my head, but still, it’s nice to have crushes. At Bodyworks today, there were some real cute guys working out all around me.

Meanwhile, celibacy seems to be taking its toll again as my prostate appears to be acting up. (Since I started writing this, I’ve had to go to the bathroom twice, and during the night last night I went about ten times.)

I’d better start masturbating more or meet men somewhere.

My interview with Scott Eyman of Sunshine seemed to go okay; we discussed things over lunch at Burger King for 90 minutes. I talked about BCC, my writing, South Florida – the usual pontificating.

He asked me some adversarial-type questions, and although we’re the same age, of roughly equal intelligence and with similar references, I’m not sure how well we connected or how he can come up with a Sunday-supplement story from any of this.

Although I expect the piece to be fairly sympathetic, Scott is shrewd, so I bet it will be more than a puff piece. Which is good: I need that. I should tell him to talk to my enemies.

I think he found me pretentious when I described myself as an “artist.”

(Just made trip #3 to the bathroom and I still feel I have to go. Uh oh. Here comes prostatosis again.)

After bringing Scott back to my office at BCC so I could give him some newspaper clips and books, I went to the gym, where I found it tough to get back on the Nautilus after a week’s layoff.

Speaking of layoffs, whenever I sleep at other people’s homes – with Teresa last spring, with Tom last week – I feel weird about masturbating, but evidently if I go on for too long, even just four days, without an orgasm, my prostate doesn’t like it.

Portnoy would have loved this prescription: Cure yourself and have fun, too. But I may have to see a doctor because tetracycline may be necessary to knock out this infection.

Shit. (Or should I say “Piss”?) Well, I better not let this go. Urinary urgency is such a horribly annoying symptom.

The new American Demographics and a very good American Book Review issue on “Taste” are on the bed for me to finish. I guess I did accomplish enough already today.

In our interview, Scott asked me if I felt more comfortable with success or failure. “Success,” I said. “I like being successful.”


Friday, February 3, 1984

10 PM. I’m in Davie while Marc and Adriana are spending the night in my apartment in North Miami Beach.

I had to do my computer class homework, and the FAU/FIU lab on campus was open tonight, and since I also intended to go to the gym tomorrow, I was more than agreeable to letting Marc stay at my place.

Besides, I’ve spent the last six nights there, and I should get used to sleeping in different places. Adaptability: I’m going to have to get used to moving around, I think.

I’ve just shut off the TV after watching a fine film, The Year of Living Dangerously.

Last night I dreamed about Shelli and about me and Teresa going on a plane to Europe.

This morning in my classes I taught Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” with those beautiful lines in Bellow’s translation: “Whatever doesn’t really happen is dreamed at night” and “No doubt the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the true world.”

The editorial in the school paper (“Grayson’s Antics: Abuse or Amuse?” [sic]) condemned me.

I didn’t pay much attention to it, nor should I. It begins: “Unbelievable . . . That’s him . . .” It had a photo of me and a caption saying I was obviously not very good at public relations. That shows how much they know.

Also today, I learned that a kid hated me because I failed him last term. Only I didn’t fail him; I gave him a C, and it was just a clerical foul-up.

The stupid kid didn’t bother to come in and say, “Hey, I didn’t deserve an F, what gives?” He just took the grade and felt resentful. I changed it today, of course, as soon as I found out.

I got new glasses, finally, and I went to First Nationwide to take out a loan on my CD. The woman at the bank couldn’t figure out how to process the loan at all.

I would have been shocked at their incompetence had I not been made more secure by the realization that the business world is full of incompetents and that even I – a nobody college teacher – could compete in that world because I have brains.

Who’s gonna let me compete? In New York, someone will.

I’m sick of teaching. The Chronicle of Higher Ed had their annual freshman survey which showed the kids are wising up: only 0.2% plan on becoming college teachers.

Of course, they are little fascists. I got half a dozen essays praising Ronald Reagan, who is about as popular with 18-year-olds as Michael Jackson, another “most admired person” essay topic favorite. Shit.

According to the Chronicle survey, only 11% of freshmen think that doing original writing is a worthwhile goal – the very lowest of about 25 different goals in the survey. There’ll be very few writers from the post-baby boom generation.

I spent an hour in the computer lab tonight and finally did get my program done, but it’s such a frustrating process because the computer is so literal and therefore so dumb.

I predict there’ll be a backlash against computers – not from the idiot neo-Luddites but from computer-literate people who realize the machines are overrated, particularly in education.

Madelyn Zalman, one of the adjuncts, told me she’s reading my stories and finds them “very perceptive.” Embarrassed, I said, “I just plagiarize.”

Later in the day, she saw me again and said, “You’re right. You plagiarize from life.” A nice phrase.

It’s been a full week. Funny, being here in Davie in February reminds me of three years ago when I came to Florida to stay: the huge sky and all the stars, the country smell, the crickets.

Have I accomplished anything worthwhile in the three years I’ve been here? I’d like to believe so, but I’m not sure.


Sunday, February 5, 1984

6 PM. I called Ronna last night to see how she was doing; she’d just gotten out of her first shower in a week and said it had been “tricky” with her incision. They were letting her out of the hospital today to go to Brooklyn to stay with her mother and grandmother.

Ronna said her incision still hurt, her stomach was distended, but she experienced relief from pain with Percodan.

Hordes of visitors had come to see her – so many, in fact, that she was made exhausted by them. (“How can you tell your friends that you’re too tired to talk?”)

She finally had enough patience to read and watch TV, and I let her go after about ten minutes. Ronna did say she “loved” getting my calls; I hoped they helped a little.

Last night I slept heavily and had a dream in which Sean and his lover came to visit me at my family’s home (either in Brooklyn or Davie). It was all very civilized, but I was upset because Sean was acting so aloof and in a hurry to get away.

I had another dream about making love to a guy – whom, I don’t know.

In today’s Fort Lauderdale paper, I noticed this heading on a letter on the editorial page: “Grayson Top Teacher at Community College.” The praise was so fulsome, I couldn’t finish reading the letter, written by Ben Shapiro, one of the elderly students in my creative writing class.

Ben really seemed upset and willing to spring to my defense. This whole “Legislators in Love” thing is turning into a regular “Lovegate” scandal. But I am pleased to be called a top-notch teacher by a student.

I didn’t do much today: wrote a few letters, called Grandma Ethel (she said my postcard from New Orleans was “beautiful”), sat out by the pool for an hour.

I didn’t get to the 8 AM Tuesday class’s paragraphs, which look truly dreadful; they’re probably as bad as they seem to be. I’ll leave marking them for tomorrow.

It’s now 6 PM and it’s just dusk; it’s getting a bit chilly out but the sky is crystal-clear and I’m glad to be in Florida. (I sound like my characters Manny and Zelda from Eating at Arby’s.)

Another week begins tomorrow: rush, rush, rush. I’ll be up at 6 AM, but I don’t intend to hang around school late tomorrow, not even for extra subbing money.

I need to go to Bodyworks and then come home and grade papers. I’ll be getting three batches this week. Ugh, I can hardly look at them by now.

I still haven’t read anything about my making the Super Tuesday primary ballot as a delegate candidate. The only reason I want that is because it will give me some legitimacy for any TV reporters who want to follow me “campaigning.”

The past week has been wonderful. Count your blessings, kiddo: you’re a lucky guy.


Wednesday, February 8, 1984

7 PM. I goofed off most of the afternoon; the sad part is that I felt a trifle guilty about it.

Teresa called during Another World – she was home sick with the flu – and we discussed the goings-on on our favorite soap and other stuff of no importance.

I phoned Ronna in Brooklyn later, and she said she was feeling much better, hadn’t had any Percodans since she left the hospital, and was even Tylenol-free today – but her incision was still draining.

“That’s what happens to fat people,” Ronna said, although with her weight loss, she told me she looks better than she has in five years.

I advised her to pamper herself and take all the sympathy she could get while it was coming, for there aren’t many times in people’s lives when they’re entitled to kvetch freely.

When the Miami News arrived, I saw the expected story on the presidential primary ballot on page one.

I knew the Dade Elections Commissioner was releasing the ballot today, so I called their office and discovered that, yes, I am one of eight uncommitted delegate candidates in the 16th Congressional District.

The gist of the News story was that people will be very confused because this year, for the first time, the delegate selection will not be tied to the preference vote (or “beauty contest”); voters will have to vote for several candidates for delegate (four, in our district) in addition to a presidential candidate.

Mondale, Askew, Glenn, Jackson and Cranston all have full slates, and the other candidates don’t have delegate candidates or have partial slates.

Anyway, while I obviously won’t win, maybe I can do fairly well based on name recognition. I didn’t check, but presumably Mom is on the ballot as an alternate delegate candidate.

What this does, of course, is give me a kind of legal legitimacy and gives me an excuse to “seriously” campaign. And that gives the media, particularly TV, an excuse to cover me.

I’ve already written C-SPAN, which will be covering the primary out of Storer Cable and the Miami Herald newsroom, and I should contact CBS Morning News, Today and Good Morning America.

I did get one letter today concerning my campaign, from a seventh-grader in Castleton, New York, asking very politely for some campaign material. Of course, I sent him off some clippings, which are all I have.

My horoscope for today said – not that I believe it, you understand – that a prominent person is working behind the scenes to help me. It would be pleasant to believe that was true.

In the ten weeks left to the semester, I have a number of things to look forward to. One is the primary and any attendant hoopla surrounding it. I’d better take all the media exposure I can get, even if it wearies me – because if I don’t catch it now, I’ll never get it.

On a different scale, there’s the Sunshine article which, being in the Fort Lauderdale Sunday paper, will be much noticed by everyone in Broward.

And in a couple of months, there’s Jaimy Gordon’s review of my books in American Book Review, which may or may not be favorable but which will at least add to my credibility as a writer the way the New York Times Book Review review did.

(For one thing, Eating at Arby’s and Disjointed Fictions will get listed in Book Review Index, making them seem more legitimate.)

And though I shouldn’t even think about it, I can’t help hoping that I’ll beat the enormous odds and snatch a Guggenheim – though intellectually, I understand that I’m an unlikely candidate to get that.

Teresa will be coming in March, and there may be other surprises.

Some of them could be bad news, of course: death or illness or accident. My whole world could go crazy in a second, making all this speculation pretty stupid.

Kinahora, I need to keep the evil eye away from me.


Thursday, February 9, 1984

6 PM. I feel relaxed tonight.

Tomorrow I’m going to read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” in my classes and that’ll be it. I did not get to grading any of the papers handed in yesterday, so I’ll have about sixty papers to grade over the weekend, but I have no other plans.

Last night I slept okay and woke up in anger and frustration after a dream in which I kept getting insulted by a bank teller.

My 8 AM class was its usual comatose self; they didn’t even get any of my jokes. I’ve decided to go very slowly with this group while letting my 2 PM class zoom along because they’re ready to do so.

During my first break, I went to buy birthday cards for Jonathan, who’ll be 23 tomorrow, and for Alice, who’ll be 33 next week. I also typed up, on the TRS-80, a campaign leaflet for the primary, and when no one was looking, I xeroxed 200 copies.

The student newspaper printed my letter in response to their “Amuse or Abuse?” editorial. It was very humble and apologetic on the surface, but dripping with sarcasm:

I am paying a high price for my transgressions. When this term ends, I will no longer be able to say proudly, ‘I am a Broward Community College English instructor.’ No longer will I be able to spend fifteen hours a week teaching the grammar I dearly love. No longer will I know the pleasure of grading my students’ essays. And of course, I will forfeit my salary of $15,600 a year.

I said I thought I might turn “Legislators in Love” into a song I can perform with my new rock group, Men Without Work.

Dr. Grasso thought the letter was a scream, and Ben Popper shook my hand and said, “What you inferred [he meant implied] isn’t true. You can come back here if you want.”

Oy vey. I’m flattered, but I don’t need the option. Well, maybe I do.

After my 2 PM students were their usual brilliant selves, Patrick came by before his FAU grad class. If all goes well, he’s moving next week, but at South Campus, he’s had no word about summer courses or about teaching next year.

I left Central Campus at 3:30 PM, stopped off at Unicorn Village to get dinner (tofu, salad and pasta), and came home.

This elation I’m feeling now seems unnatural, but I do feel very good about myself.


Friday, February 10, 1984

8 PM. I feel so happy, I’m almost scared. My life is superb these days, and as I look back, I see what a very lucky life I’ve led.

Fifteen years ago, in the winter of 1969, I was at my lowest point ever, a prisoner of agoraphobia, totally terrified, friendless, afraid to even leave my room. If anything, I thought I’d end up in a mental hospital.

I’m certain that my parents – or anybody who knew me – could have never dreamed that I’d live the life that I have since those days.

How did it happen? Pure dumb luck? “Fate”? Ahem – strength of character? Does it matter?

I never thought I had it in me to live my life the way I do now. It’s not a matter of bragging about my accomplishments. My attitude is far more important than anything I’ve accomplished.

I like myself. I’ve had good relationships. Hey, right now I might be lonely or sexually unfulfilled, but I’ve had some really great relationships with wonderful people like Ronna and Sean.

Teresa just called a little while ago to report, while watching her videotape, that Mac on Another World was alive. “I just had to call you or I’d have busted,” she said.

Of course, I’m grateful (and a little relieved) by her call, but the important thing was that she felt the way she did. I, too, was glad to speak to Teresa before she goes off for a week’s vacation in Mexico.

An hour earlier, I had called Ronna in Brooklyn. A deep-voiced Billy answered, and I asked, “Can I speak with your beautiful sister?”

To me, Ronna will always be beautiful; she’s turned into quite a woman. The Stray Cats are at Sunrise Musical Theater tonight, and I thought about their song “(She’s) Sexy and 17”: I knew Ronna when she was both. (She still is sexy to me.)

We talked about her visit to the doctor (she’s apparently allergic to her suture, and that’s why she’s still draining, but he found no infection), about the death of Soviet President Andropov (the news came over the radio just as I got up this morning), about her grandmother wanting to take her to Orlando for two weeks. (Guess who shouted encouragement to that idea.)

Ronna and I didn’t discuss anything of great importance, but I truly loved speaking with her.

Last night I spoke with Susan Mernit for an hour, catching her up on my news (she loved “Legislators in Love”) and finding about her life.

Susan’s been publishing dozens of reviews – in Newsday, Virginia Quarterly Review and academic journals.

Her fiction and skating and therapy are going well, and she had the usual adjunct dilemma this term. (I forget how late the spring term begins in New York.)

She was interviewed at Pace but turned down their low-paying courses when she was offered two classes at Baruch, and then she was interviewed at Hunter and took their two classes over Baruch’s.

Then Brooklyn College called, offering a weekend class, which Susan finally declined because she’s got her two at Hunter, one at Poly Tech at night, her Forest Hills nursing home writing workshop gig.

Susan also has her work at Teachers and Writers Collaborative – although that’s all but collapsed due to the incompetence and greed of the administrators, whom she hopes one day to trash in print.

Susan and I talked, resuming our friendship where it left off as though there’d never been a two-month gap in communication.

I slept well, and this morning was one of the few times I didn’t wake up before the alarm. The morning was mild and sunny and I savored the ride up University, thinking of Susan with her five-day-a-week IRT Lexington line commute. I’d much rather see cattle at 7 AM than be one of them.

As my car approached BCC, I spotted Dad on the side of the road, running his however-many miles for the day.

I felt good today, in a nice pink Oxford shirt with a pink wool tie.

In both my 8 AM and 10 AM classes, I read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and the students seem to have enjoyed the story. How could anyone not? Flannery O’Connor is my idol. What a writer she was!

After leaving BCC at noon, I went to Bodyworks, where I had my first good negative workout since before I left for New Orleans. I can already feel my muscles getting charley horse.

From there, I went to Davie – no one else was home – where I took a short shower and then returned to school.

For two hours, I worked on the computer, getting out letter after letter. I made up a form letter for CUNY colleges, asking if they had adjunct courses for the summer or fall, saying I was a full-time BCC teacher on a leave of absence.

Then I wrote letters to Elihu, Harvey, Paul, Sybil, Bobby, Susan Ludvigson and Eric Willcocks, all using the same basic form, but with minor changes for each person.

Maybe this was tacky, but I saved about four hours of typing and was able to send out letters that I ordinarily wouldn’t have the time to write individually.

When I gave Ben back the key to the computer room, he asked me if I wanted to come back next September. (See: an old Northeasterner like me, he also still thinks that school starts in September, not August.)

No, I said, but someday I might like to come back to BCC to teach again.

“Let me know and we’ll make room for you,” Ben said.

I guess it’s great that I have that option. TC mark

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