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

Thursday, March 1, 1984

5 PM. I fell asleep a few minutes after I finished writing yesterday’s diary entry, at about 6:30 PM. An hour later, I woke up and had some Chinese food and then I went back to sleep again.

Although I slept pretty well, I awoke with a bad headache. A note, “See me,” from Dr. Grasso did not start my day off right. I was so befuddled, tired and headachy, I don’t know how I managed to teach my 8 AM class.

It turns out that Fran Brown complained bitterly about my sending the 8 AM class to the library yesterday when I left for my interview at WPBR; apparently the students really annoyed her.

So I got sent to the woodshed for it, but it wasn’t too bad. I’ll survive. Still, I hate feeling like a little boy in the principal’s office when I see Dr. Grasso like that.

Yesterday Betty Owen told me that they’d discovered I’d been paid as P’an Ku advisor for this term by mistake; now they’re going to take the $325 out of my remaining paychecks. Great.

After what was to me a bore of an 11 AM class, I was told by Sandy that Mark Hyman of WPLG/10 Eyewitness News was coming by with a camera crew. Last weekend I’d sent Mark a press release, and it worked.

But being on TV was hard work: I had to walk so they could get shots of me (for whatever reason), and over and over again I had to answer the same questions, and then they’d shoot reaction shots of Mark laughing or mugging for the camera.

The news on TV is so staged and phony, but people believe it. They got shots of me grading papers, and then camera crews shot me teaching my 2 PM class; Mark even asked my students for their reactions to my candidacy.

After the media left, I managed to get through the lesson. Then Donna, a woman in my 11 AM class, came with a late paper and brought along her friend Mitchell, a baby-faced guy who wanted to know all about Delmore Schwartz.

We talked about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and Rimbaud and Verlaine and Baudelaire, and at least on my side, the sparks were flying.

The kid has gorgeous blue eyes, longish straight brown hair and a terrific smile with braces. (I’m partial to braces from my experiences with Sean and Shelli.)

Then Patrick came by, as did Mick and Casey, all of whom complained about how we English teachers are becoming zombies from overwork.

There’s a movement afoot to get our class load reduced to four classes of a total of 100 students each term, but I don’t think it will work – even though that’s the state-mandated size for high school teachers.

The workload we carry is impossible: five classes of almost 30 students each. I already feel like a candidate for a rest home.

I’m back in Davie tonight; with all I’ve done this week, I’m in need of the extra time I can save driving to and from work. All week I haven’t even been able to go to the gym, the first time I’ve missed four days in a row ever.

This turned out to be an incredibly hectic week: first Larry’s visit and then Blair’s visit, the radio show on Wednesday, the magazine photo session yesterday, and then today’s TV interview. And I’ve been teaching, too.

Maybe the weekend will calm me down, but I expect the next two weeks to be equally hectic. There’s Tuesday’s luncheon speech in West Palm Beach, and then there’ll be more media, I’m sure.

Of course, I want this, and need it, but you know, it’s awfully draining. All this emotional giving: at the end of the day I feel empty.

I’m not thrilled – not the way I would have been year ago – about tonight’s TV appearance. For one thing, I’m nervous about official college reaction; for another, the whole thing is such hard work.

Today Askew and Hollings dropped out, leaving Mondale, Hart, Glenn, Jackson and McGovern – and me – as the Democratic presidential candidates.

I even got a call from WACPAC in Washington, saying they may want me to speak at an April Fool’s Day function. Woweee.


Friday, March 2, 1984

5:30 PM. Last evening I got bumped by Bozo the Clown. That’s right, Mark Hyman’s feature on me never appeared.

A teaser at 6:30 PM said something about a “unique Presidential campaign,” but the film clip was of Bozo, not me, in full clown regalia. He announced his candidacy, and I guess Eyewitness News figured he was more colorful than I.

That’s show biz. Perhaps it will be on tonight. The odd thing was how little disappointment I felt. I guess it’s because I’ve gotten more than my share of stroking lately, but also, I do feel pretty detached from my media image.

Last night in Davie, I didn’t watch TV after 7 PM and found that a calming influence. My parents and Jonathan spend too much time on TV; the downstairs set seems always to be on, the focal point of the whole house.

My classes went okay – we discussed a story by John A. Williams – and the weather turned warmer and bright. After leaving school, I worked out at the health club, something I desperately missed all week.

My post office box was filled with mail, and right away I went to deposit the $512 check from my Citibank CD, which finally matured after three months.

Back home, I did some more weight-lifting, going for definition with low weights and high repetition.

At 4 PM, I called Ronna, now back at her apartment and ready to go to work again next week. She’d just returned from her doctor, who pronounced her recovered from surgery and said she didn’t have to come back for three months.

The big news in today’s mail, I guess, was that Neil Schaeffer answered my letter. As I expected, there are no courses for the summer, but he did offer me two fall courses at Brooklyn College for $2,000 each.

Amazing that I could make that much for what now seems, after Broward Community College, so little work. Shall I do it? Well, it’s certainly a serious option.

Would it depress me because I’d feel like a failure to return to Brooklyn College?

Not if I remember it’s only temporary. I could get a place near the school – maybe in the old neighborhood – and maybe take one other class somewhere and make do till I returned to Florida next January.

It’s something to think about.

*

7:30 PM. The teaser for the 6 PM news had me saying, “I’ve got the support of my entire family – except my Uncle Hymie, who’s supporting Jesse Jackson.”

At about 6:54 PM, they put me on; I called Teresa and let her listen so that I could share it with someone.

The anchors led into the report with my joke about replacing the Kissinger Commission on Central America with Bianca Jagger and Menudo.

Then they had shots of me walking around campus, teaching, and the interview outside; later, I was back in my office talking some more till Mark’s voice-over conclusion.

The editing was slickly superb; I was impressed at how well the people at Channel 10 put it together.

At this point in my life, I have no problem watching myself on video or listening to my voice, and I have to admit I thought my timing and delivery were really professional.

It was a very funny bit, and I’m sure Mark Hyman likes looking good, too. I know I’ve hit on something; but I’m not sure what.

Teresa thinks I should play down the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War, and maybe she’s right – but I enjoy making people feel uncomfortable.

And that’s probably why I’ll never be a successful mainstream entertainer. But I do love show business.


Saturday, March 3, 1984

4 PM. I’m in Davie, having just returned to the empty house after lying out by the pool, reading Sandra Thompson’s Close-Ups.

Her memory-laden, fragmented, present-tense style is good, moving, contagious. Reading her book makes me want to write again.

For the first time in a long time, I feel I’m back in the magical winter Florida I discovered four years ago when I first visited my parents; I felt the same way three years ago when I lived in this room for four months, taught one course at BCC, and wrote my diary book.

It’s warm and sunny out, yet it’s not hot. Winter – the dark, frigid snowy winters I used to dread – seems a long way off. But it should be spring even in New York in a few weeks.

Teresa is still sick and says that the thrill of her vacation in Mexico has worn off already. With Teresa’s boss now dating Amira and both of them happy about it, Teresa really has a no-show job.

So next Friday she’ll come here and stay till Wednesday; she can say she was campaigning for Mondale, whom Governor Cuomo is supporting, in the Florida primary.

But it’s winter that she can no longer stand.

“I was telling Deirdre about my ideal place and she said, ‘Bet you’re describing Palo Alto,’” Teresa said. “And she’s right. I’ve got the seven-year itch. Maybe when I was in California, I was too young to appreciate it. I can’t take New York anymore.”

What’s so different now about the New York Teresa loved?

“Everyone’s energy level is so low. . . I think maybe I should live in Italy, but then I think I haven’t really worked in two years and maybe I should get busy.”

That reminds me of something Ronna told me yesterday: “The other night I was awake for hours, wondering how I could have been unemployed for a whole year. What’s wrong with me?”

Ronna’s major medical didn’t cover her surgery because her tumor was a preexisting condition, they said, and she’s still in debt.

Josh told me he’s working very long hours on some new programming project. The copies of Grinning Idiot #2 have arrived from the printers in Austin, and to Josh, the magazine looks good.

He said he mailed me a copy. There’ll be an ad for it in the next Voice Literary Supplement. He wants to get serious about the magazine and get out enough issues so he can apply for CCLM grants.

Stacy wrote me after she had a sort of fight with Jeanne, who wanted to know if she would join her in seeing the film documentary on “Burroughs” last Saturday night.

“Edgar Rice Burroughs?” Stacy asked.

“No,” Jeanne said. “William, the guy who wrote Naked Lunch.

Jeanne seemed quite annoyed when Stacy said no, she wasn’t at all interested.

“This interchange disturbed me,” Stacy wrote.

She feels that she and her girlfriend are on different wavelengths, but I wrote her back that nobody can expect their lovers to share all their likes and dislikes.

Unless Jeanne is a lot more literary than I thought, it doesn’t sound like a big deal to me. But then, who am I to advise lesbian couples about their relationship?

Today is my mother’s birthday. I bought her a card with a blond little boy on it and the saying, “When you’re little, you want to run away from home, but when you’re big, you want to run back.”

Appropriate, especially I’ll be staying here tonight for one more night.  Tomorrow Marc and Adriana will be back from the Yucatán.

I stayed in bed in Miami till noon, reading and resting and watching HBO. Then I went to the computer lab and created a graphic of a bottle of Pepsi: tedious but fun.

Tonight I’m taking Lisa to see the play at BCC, Anything Goes, starring my ex-student (and slight crush) Robbie.

Last night Lisa and I talked. She’s happier at her job and feels more comfortable than she did at BCC, but hates the long hours and low pay.

In her letter, Dr. Grasso wrote that she hopes Lisa is happy at B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Dr. Grasso also told her I’m leaving BCC and that she’ll miss me, but that I probably know what I’m doing.

You know, at times I doubt it, but for the moment, I am happy.

My paycheck from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts for $250 arrived – as did a letter from Mark Berman in Florence. He says I must leave BCC for the sake of my writing career and perhaps my sanity.

I know. I’ve got a lot to think about.


Sunday, March 4, 1984

It’s about 2:30 AM, but I want to write before I get to sleep.

Tonight was loads of fun. For the first time in I don’t know how many Saturday nights, I was actually going out!

I met Lisa in front of our building at BCC. It was the first time she’d been back on campus since she left her job last summer, but she said Dr. Grasso’s letter has made her feel better about the college.

She’s also looking forward to teaching a couple of classes for Barry College starting in April.

We took our seats in the front row of a sold-out Lecture Theater. The playbill and poster for the show were designed by Clay, my mad crush of last summer.

Back then, although I knew he was very smart, I had no idea Clay had that kind of artistic talent. It sort of makes me feel I have pretty good taste in guys.

Anything Goes is a slight bit of fluff, but it has great Cole Porter songs and can be amusing with the right cast. (The last time I saw it was at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1969 or 1970.)

Darren Wilson’s sets – he got an A with me last term – were ingenious, and another ex-student of mine, Carol Tarnopol, was funny as the society matron.

But I really got naches from watching Robbie as Billy Crocker, the male lead. In class, he was very quiet, but I was fond of him and admired the ease in which he moved, and his loose, informal style.

The three creeps in the back row of that class called him “the faggot,” and if I heard it, he must have, too, but you could see that he knew they were just hoods and that he had more important things on his mind.

On stage, Robbie was transformed from a shy, skinny blond kid to a handsome leading man with a great flair for physical comedy and a terrific singing voice.

The three high school girls sitting to my left thought he was “incredibly cute,” and so did I. But way beyond the physical attraction – which never was really strong before last night – was my admiration for the kid’s talent, determination, and his dreams.

You know, I feel really proud to have been Robbie’s teacher, and Clay’s, and the teacher of so many others – especially Sean.

It’s been almost a year since I got Sean’s letter that ended, “Life goes on. Goodbye – Sean.” By now, almost all the hurt is gone, and when I think of Sean, I automatically smile, and I feel that he probably does the same when he thinks of me.

After the show, Lisa and I went to the Denny’s on Oakland Park Boulevard, near her place, and talked for hours over coffee (Lisa), tea (me), and muffins (both of us).

It felt grand, sharing stuff with her: literary news, gossip, whatever. She’s taking her BBYO kids to the New Orleans World’s Fair in June, and they’ll be staying at Tulane. I told her to look Tom up while she’s there.

It was 2 AM when I got back here to Davie, and I guess I’d better get to sleep now.


Monday, March 5, 1984

7 PM. I’m taking tomorrow off to give the talk at the Friends of the Library Luncheon in West Palm Beach.

Since I don’t have to be there till about noon, I don’t intend to leave before 10 AM; that means I can sleep till 9 AM, three hours later than usual.

I should be able get back to BCC in time for my FIU computer ed class midterm.

Today I had loads of energy and used it well. I had two good classes at BCC going over Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” and showing them some of Harvey Pekar’s comics.

During my break, I graded my 2 PM class’s papers so that Lynn can return them tomorrow when I’m out for the day.

I still haven’t gotten around to the papers from the 8 AM 101 class, but I’ll have time on Wednesday; I can grade the other class’s papers during my break on Thursday.

This morning, Joanne, the delightful but rather conservative secretary, told me I was “in the wrong business.” After viewing Eyewitness News on Friday, she said I definitely should try show biz.

Only one of my students saw the piece, and very few other people mentioned it.

Leaving BCC after lunch at 1 PM, I found a pleasant surprise at the post office: my tax refund of $1,179. (Now I just pray I’m not audited, but I have a sinking feeling I will be.)

After a quick change into a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers, I went to the credit union to deposit all but $79 of the check.


Tuesday, March 6, 1984

9 PM. Aside from sitting on and breaking my glasses just now (they were an old pair, and I’ve got the new ones), today was wonderful.

Last night I went to bed early after getting a call from Ann Prospero, who said she wanted me to send her my books for a possible story in Miami-South Florida Magazine.

Nothing will come of it, I predict, for their glossy, upscale publication really won’t be interested in someone like me. But at least someone else will be reading my work.

I slept fine, and this morning, it was a luxury to lie in bed until 9 AM. It was warm and sunny, kind of like New York in early June.

I reminisced about my childhood and high school and college days, thinking of stuff I rarely think about anymore: how skinny and well-defined my body was when I was seventeen; my addiction to Rolaids; the places Shelli and I used to go in the spring of 1971.

Last night I dreamed about a Manhattan subway ride. My horoscope today said, “Gain indicated through written word – you find ways of transforming hopes, wishes into viable concepts. Popularity increases.”

After getting a new tire put on, I drove up I-95 to West Palm Beach, arriving at the new Royce Hotel near the airport at 11:30 AM. In the lobby I met Bob Tolf, who was supervising the display of his books.

The president of the Friends of the Palm Beach Library, Mrs. Eckler, greeted me and introduced me to Dr. Rose Agree, who was intelligent, likable and a teeny bit pretentious – but in a nice way – and she was certainly taking her duty to introduce me very seriously.

Bill Robertson, the Herald book critic, showed up under the impression that he was supposed to introduce both me and Bob Tolf, but he just presented Bob.

Bill obviously knows me well by now, and I think he takes me seriously.

I sat on the dais between Dr. Agree and Dorothy Wilken, the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission, who was fairly ignorant about the state of Florida’s higher education system but who agreed with me about the need for a state income tax.

It was a pleasant and delicious lunch: stuffed breast of capon with apple-almond dressing, broccoli, and redskin potatoes.

After Dr. Agree’s florid and flattering introduction, I did my thing for half an hour, and I got quite a lot of laughs. They were really with me, unlike the people who came to my last luncheon talk I gave.

Bob Tolf’s talk on Addison Mizner, the famous South Florida architect, was hampered by mike trouble. I was really lucky to have been spared that.

Nevertheless, as I know from our joint appearance in Cocoa Beach last year, Bob is a pro, and he did a fine presentation that intrigued me. I’d like to find out more about Mizner.

When the luncheon ended, I was astounded by the number of people who bought my books. About twenty copies of my books were thrust upon me to autograph.

Many of the people complimented me on my wit. A lot of them also mentioned that they were from Brooklyn, too. (The biggest response I got to anything I said was one of my references to working at the Flatbush branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.)

There were a good number of Jews in the audience, but they were much more responsive than the Jewish Book Luncheon crowd at the Holiday Inn in Plantation last November.

I got my check for $150, and after I donated 40% of my book sale proceeds to the Palm Beach Library, I ended up with another $50 – not bad at all.

It was 3:30 PM, and I didn’t get to my graduate computer ed class at BCC/FIU till an hour later, but I hadn’t missed much. We learned more about the PILOT program’s graphics today, and I took to it really well.

We have to do a final project for the course, and I’m planning on programming a lesson on lesbian writers, complete with graphics and sound effects.

I got home at 7:30 PM, feeling grateful, relieved and a little proud of myself. Mostly I’m just lucky.


Saturday, March 10, 1984

10 PM. Alice called last night, and from the sounds of water, I could tell she was in the bathtub. She still seems hopeful about getting back with Peter.

When he returns from Boston to New York in June, he’ll go back to his apartment and she’ll remain in hers, but they will still see each other and go to couples therapy.

Alice’s own therapist is taking off for several months because she’s pregnant (“I just thought she was getting fat”). In between, Alice and Peter will take several trips together, including one to Peru in early April.

She says she still loves him and needs him very much and feels that he cares for her enough to change. I hope so, but who knows? Love is a rocky business.

Mom told me that Marc hasn’t seen Adriana since they came back from Mexico.

I don’t know what that’s about, for when they kissed goodbye on Sunday at her parents’ house, it appeared that everything was fine. However, I’ve never been very perceptive as far as deciphering my brother’s feelings.

Getting back to Alice: she’s gotten involved in the rent strike lawsuit against her landlord, and that’s taking up her time.

She’s happy about teaching at a writers’ conference at Cuyahoga County Community College in Cleveland with Nancy Evans. (I must write Bert Stratton about this.)

Alice’s brother was in the hospital with dysentery, but their mother is in Bangkok to take care of him and he’s going to be fine.

Today I didn’t do any schoolwork at all. Instead, I read magazines and newspapers. The Sun-Tattler article mentioned that as a delegate, I’d vote for myself for President at the Democratic convention, and went on:

His mother, Marilyn Grayson, an uncommitted alternate delegate candidate, says she is leaning toward supporting Gary Hart.

‘I guess I’m not her favorite son candidate,’ Grayson quips. ‘Miss Lillian never did this to Jimmy.’

Funny line. They used it to end the article.

I went over to Jonathan’s store to buy some more of the Levis corduroy jeans I like; he introduced me to his boss, who obviously dotes on Jonathan.

C-SPAN is covering the Florida primary from the Storer Cable building here in North Miami Beach, but they never contacted me.

Only a few days remain until Super Tuesday, but with the complicated ballot, election officials say we won’t know the winning delegates until at least Wednesday morning.

It was a gorgeous day, bright and mild, like New York in May. Grandma Ethel said there was hardly any snow in Rockaway.

Tomorrow’s the Sunshine magazine article in the Sunday Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel, and I’m a little nervous about it.

I suppose I’ll have only myself to blame if I end up looking like an asshole. There’s nothing I can do about it now.

In a postcard from Paris, Susan Ludvigson apologized for getting the Guggenheim recommendation much too late to meet the deadline, so I have no chance for a fellowship now.

Them’s the breaks. Better luck next year.

Today’s horoscope: “Teaching process figures prominently. . . You will win.”


Sunday, March 11, 1984

I slept pretty well, dreaming a bit anxiously about the Sunshine article. (In one dream I was in Seattle, about to go on a talk show.)

The piece turned out good. The photo portrait was lousy, but the one on the contents page made me look well-built.

Titled “Stop Him Before He Strikes Again!” (from the Post Page Six “John Hour” story), Scott Eyman made me sound pretty heroic even if he did describe me as “pudgy” and said my “squeaky, nasal” voice is like those of Chip and Dale when they get excited.

“You all know Richard Grayson,” the piece began. “Sure you do.”

After recounting some of the events of my Presidential campaign – Wyman, Streep, Davenport, etc. – he went on to Legislators in Love (“good enough to almost get him fired”), Future Fetuses of America, the Davie town council race.

Then: “Grayson does not stop with reasoned social proposals; they are, in fact, his way of amusing himself with his version of performance art. More seriously, four volumes of short stories . . .” etc.

Next, he puts me in the Burger King sucking ice cubes, mentions why I left New York (“an inner-ear disorder”), goes back to the John Hour and recounts how I tried to promote With Hitler in New York with varying success.

“His spirits remained high” after he – I – moved to Florida and set up the Sylvia Ginsberg fan club. Then I’m quoted a lot: “If Hitler had been a smash hit, it wouldn’t have been good for me. I . . . like the idea of people who become successful in their sixties. . .”

Then Scott remarks: “As a transplanted New Yorker, used to the congestion of intellectualism, Grayson needs Florida like a cat needs a gynecologist.”

But he lets me admire the natural beauty before I start theorizing about South Florida as “an early warning system for the future” of America.

“Alienated? Me? Not at all. I’m on the inside; it’s the rest of society that’s on the outside.” That’s the pullquote.

“Grayson has attempted to make a virtue out of his inability to accommodate himself, and allowed himself to be perceived as a colorful ne’er-do-well. . .

“Anybody expecting to find a depressive Woody Allen-ish mope will run smack into a well-structured foundation of independence, honesty and self-respect. . .

“In spite of the fact that, as he admits, ‘In terms of the world, I’m a nobody,’ Grayson justifiably considers himself successful. ‘For one thing, if you let others judge you, you’re already a failure.’

“He likes teaching because, while it sounds corny, ‘it’s nice to see people think, and occasionally you do, even at Broward Community College.’”

Then Benjamin Shapiro is trotted out to praise my teaching abilities (no, I won’t quote that), and Scott analyzes:

“Grayson is the sort of talented artistic renegade who may actually achieve success, provided anonymity is not more comfortable and his own tendency towards underachieving doesn’t compel him towards being just another eccentrically talented failure.”

That’s shrewd, even if it’s a contradiction of the earlier statement, except I don’t think Scott realizes that writing is not my whole life, that I’d move on to something else if I knew I couldn’t succeed there. I could be successful at many things.

Some more quotes about my uncertain plans and then he quotes me one final time:

“‘I just have a gut feeling that things have a way of working themselves out. . . And if they don’t, I’ll kill myself.’ Is he kidding? I don’t know, and maybe he doesn’t either, but Grayson ends one of his stories. . .”

And we’re left with a quote from the story “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz,” which is how we began.

It’s a fine job, a bit too worshipful, I think; I feel embarrassed by it, as if he’s nominated me for sainthood or something.

As Emerson said, when newspapers agree with me, I begin to feel uneasy. I wouldn’t have minded some heavy-duty criticism. TC mark

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