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

Monday, February 20, 1984

4 PM. I didn’t do any grading yesterday, but I’ve been marking papers for the last two hours. While I still have about 25 to do, most of them are for Wednesday’s classes.

What did I do yesterday, then? Well, I spent a couple of hours working out with my waist exercises, and then I had a bad headache, probably sinus, which caused me to lie down.

I read Harper’s, the New York Times Book Review, and the Atlantic, and I surprised myself by writing a bad story for Crad’s Worst Canadian Stories anthology and a collection of jottings from my notebooks for a humor issue of Open Places.

Soon after I awakened at 9 AM – three hours later than normal – I got a phone call from the photographer from Sunshine, who asked if I was going to be in my office today.

When I explained that today was a holiday, he said he’d come by tomorrow morning after my first class: “Scott said you had a real tiny office, so we thought we’d shoot you there.”

I wonder if this means the story will be appearing soon.

In my post office box, I found a copy of Crad’s Pork College, a very well-produced little book by Coach House Press. In the preface, Crad says some silly things and in passing mentions a friend who is a writer in Florida.

The hilarious “post-preface” is allegedly by Crad’s psychoanalyst brother, Dr. Martin Kilodney of Plainview, N.Y., who says that Crad needs help and goes on to refute everything Crad said in the preface.

Dr. Kilodney charges that I “ripped off the Florida Arts Council for $3,000” to publish Eating at Arby’s and tells the readers that I put Crad up to publishing Pork College as “a sort of rude joke.” Splendid.

After a negative workout at the health club, I went to Davie to shower.

Marc will be staying here tomorrow night. He said he’s got a lot to do before he and Adriana leave on their ten-day Mexican vacation on Friday; I guess that means I can sleep over in Davie in his room anytime next week.

While I was at Mom’s, I got a call from Blair, who was at Miami Airport. He’d been flying all day and was about to get on his flight to Jamaica; Blair said he’d be back next Monday and would try to get together with me then.

I hope so because I’m intrigued by Blair. He sounded very “California” over the phone.

Mom was tired from working the last few days; she said Dad left for Tampa this morning.

On the way home, I stopped off at Corky’s for a hamburger at the counter, where I had a pleasant conversation with a young accountant who was amazingly friendly.

It’s always a great pleasure to meet fine people by accident. Well, there are always surprises in life – like Blair’s phone call.

I feel pretty tired now, but I think that it’s just the heavy pressure of sinus trouble; it’s very humid and will probably rain soon.

The Iowa caucuses are tonight – the first big test and media event of the ’84 campaign – and though I wish I could stay up later to watch, I have to get up at 6 AM.

I’ve also got to get my things ready for tomorrow night’s stayover in Davie and figure out what I’m going to wear for the photo session.

*

7 PM. I graded all but eight of the essays I brought home this weekend and then got a salad for dinner. This has been a good holiday weekend for me.

This morning, when I saw the yahrzeit candle burning on Mom’s counter, I thought about Grandpa Herb and how much I would have liked to share with him my doings of the last year: the publication party for my book in New York, the reviews I received, and the radio, newspaper, magazine and TV coverage I’ve gotten.

The other day Grandma Ethel reported that Aunt Claire told her, “Every time we open a paper, Richard is in it.”

I’ve been truly lucky. It may very well all end soon, but if it does, I’ll have had a better time than most. I don’t like to sound morbid, but I am always ready to die, I think. I’ve managed to cram a lot of living in.


Wednesday, February 22, 1984

8 PM. I decided to put off grading the papers; I don’t think I should be expected to give back papers that were handed in only two days before.

Most were late papers, anyway; if I’d had them on schedule last Thursday, I would have had five days to grade them.

If the students complain, so be it. I cannot and will not give them any more effort than they themselves put in to the course.

Well, my depression of last evening was short-lived; I lay in bed for about an hour, that was all, before my high energy level came back and I realized that I was merely feeling sorry for myself.

Sandra Thompson called, and that cheered me up. She had been quite upset about the bad review some bimbo at the New York Times Book Review gave her book.

That review arrived only two days after she got her first copies of the book, “so I didn’t have much time to enjoy it.” The University of Georgia Press did sell the paperback rights to NAL/Plume, which is a good thing, and she got good reviews elsewhere (though Library Journal’s was dumb).

Sandra taught a workshop at the Suncoast Writers Conference in order to try to sell her books. She said it was worth it, for she encouraged one boy from University of South Florida who liked to write in fragments but who had been forced to write short stories from outlines in his classes.

Sandra said she thought there was a fiction writing job open at USF, but she wanted to stay at the St. Petersburg Times even though the full-time work keeps her from writing.

I apologized for not having having read her book yet, and I did feel very embarrassed.

Then she told me the reason for the call was actually official St. Pete Times business. They’re starting a column of essays like those in the New York Times (“Hers,” “About Men”) – about family relationships, home – and she thought I’d like to try my hand at it, on spec.

They’d be 1,000 words and pay $100-$250. I’ll definitely try to work up a couple of essays. Maybe I could write about my parents or grandparents, long-distance friendships, or living in furnished apartments.

For dinner, I bought tofu and a salad at Unicorn Village, and then I wrote to Crad, telling him how much I liked Pork College; to Justin, whom I really miss – he’s another one who deserves more success with his writing; to Rick; and to Stacy. I’m very lucky in my friends.

Last night Josh called to tell me that the Devil Broadcasting Company schtick in Show Business was “the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.”

He recently spoke with John Fahey, who seems to be going through a nervous breakdown. Fahey, in therapy, recalled repressed childhood memories of being molested by his father, and lately these memories have been haunting him – so much so that he told Josh that he hadn’t slept in weeks.

Although of course Fahey is a famous musician, Josh seems to be the only one interested in his writings – and Josh wondered if he himself should publish Fahey’s autobiographical book.

I told him to consider it but to find out all he could about what it entailed.

I also offered all the help I could in promoting Grinning Idiot, which is very important to Josh.

The magazine keeps him from being just another computer programmer, the same way my presidential campaign and media stunts keep me from being just another community college teacher.

The air in this part of North Miami Beach is heavy with a jasmine-like scent now, and I feel relaxed and calm. Despite everything, I managed to accomplish a good deal today. Most chores got done on time.

Look, kiddo: the world may not be perfect, but you’ve had a pretty good deal.

I hope Dad is all right, though; I can’t help worrying about him. My parents do mean a lot to me.


Friday, February 24, 1984

8 PM. I’m tired after what seemed like a long week, although it was really a short one.

Up at 6 AM as usual, I was wide awake, if still not accustomed to getting up that early. In my two BCC classes, I discussed the term paper that will be due the last week of class, on April 16.

That seems like a long way away, though it’s only seven weeks, and I’m sure the remaining two months of the term will go by swiftly.

For me, this is my second or third “last hurrah” at BCC – and I’m not going to say I’ll never be back; I want to leave that door open if Dr. Popper is willing to do so. But I do have plans to make if I’m to leave here at the end of April.

The apartment is my major concern. I don’t know whether to tell Mrs. Baron that I’m leaving or just leave; I’m not certain how enforceable Florida leases are, but I know it’s not like New York, where landlords welcome the chance to be able to raise the rent on a vacant apartment.

I’ve got to arrange for a storage room at the warehouse in Davie so I’ll have a place to put my papers, my books and the few possessions – extra clothes, linens, kitchenware – that I own.

By mid-April, I should transfer my mail from the P.O. box here to the house in Davie; I hope there’ll be no trouble with that.

Well, after my last class today, I left BCC – Dad had already driven Marc to Adriana’s so her parents could take him to the airport – and went to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

At the county courthouse, I got two sample ballots – huge posters – for the March 13 primary.

In the 16th Congressional District race for delegate, I’m pretty much lost in a sea of names coming after the Askew, Cranston, Glenn, Jackson, McGovern and Mondale delegates and the three uncommitted candidates whose names begin with letters that come before ‘G.’ I’m #53 in a lineup that starts at #23.

Mom fared better; there are seven candidates for the one alternate spot, and she’s next to last on a much less crowded ballot.

(I’ve just come from xeroxing the ballot at Jaffe’s.)

Once home, I called Valerie Aspinwall at WPBR to confirm our date for her radio show, Wednesday at 10 AM. She gave me the directions to their studio on A1A in Palm Beach.

There were a couple of letters for me today, both of them in response to the computer-generated letter I wrote two weeks ago.

Sybil says she’s still writing a good deal and still teaching high school: she sounds as warm and funny as ever.

Paul Fericano says that his life is filled with the thrills of raising his daughter. He has been contracted to do four days of workshops and readings at Western Pen, the Pittsburgh prison, in early June.

Paul has begun work on a novel, but he’s disgusted that his “wickedly funny” political pieces have been rejected by all the major liberal magazines. Still, he got an offer to do standup comedy around San Francisco clubs.

“The lows seem harder to climb out of,” Paul writes. “Maybe it’s age, but I doubt it. . .” He seems discouraged, if not depressed.

Teresa called after Another World. She’s sick again – fever, nausea and aches – and she was sick much of the time she was in Mexico.

But she got lots of sun there and had a good time with Deirdre, and their trip was “made” by four gay guys from Houston who provided them with dancing partners and young companions in a resort where almost everyone was elderly. “The guys also paid for everything,” Teresa reported.

Despite her queasy moments, the trip was fun, and being sick has given her an excuse to ease gently into Manhattan life again.

I called Ronna, who sounded much better. Her recovery from the surgery is almost complete, so she’ll be going back to her place on Sunday and will return to work next week.


Sunday, February 26, 1984

9 PM. I’m in Marc’s room in Davie. I just settled in after a very pleasant dinner at TGI Friday’s with Larry and his girlfriend Judy.

It’s been one of the blessings of living in South Florida that so many people from New York pass through here in the winter – and all of them seem happy to give me their good company, not to mention a free meal.

After sleeping well last night, this morning I got all my things together to bring my stuff from North Miami Beach here to stay for a few days. I’ll miss my mail and my newspapers will pile up, but I have no real problems with it.

Here in Davie, I can sleep until 7 AM rather than until 6 AM, so I don’t have to go to bed so early.

My negative workout at the health club was good. Yesterday’s stomach exercises already had me charley-horse in that area, and now I feel my hamstrings, triceps and biceps beginning to ache.

(In case nobody realizes it, I like the feeling of muscle soreness; it gives me an awareness of my body along with the realization that all my exercise has tangible effects.)

I spent most of the day alone in the house here, reading the papers and watching movies on TV, and yes, grading papers.

I must have gotten through 30 or 35 papers. I’m almost all caught up except for about five from the 2 PM class, and I’ll have lots of time to do them on Tuesday during my office hours.

Larry said that the friends he and Judy were staying with were taking them out to lunch and then to the airport so they could rent a car.

They arrived here at about 4:30 PM, just five minutes after Mom and Dad returned from a good day of sales at the flea market and five minutes before Jonathan got home from the army/navy store.

Larry looks the same as he always did back in Rockaway, and Judy was a nice surprise: she’s a pretty, very personable woman who lives in Lynbrook and who works for Stern’s department stores.

We talked for a couple of hours in the living room and then went out for dinner.

I’m really glad Larry phoned me because I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his company – and he and Judy are a fine couple, more down-to-earth than most of my friends, yet quite bright and a pleasure to be with.

Larry’s still with Milton Paper, and everything seems the same in Rockaway; the streets are still broken up from sewer repairs, for instance.

Tomorrow Larry and Judy are staying in town and going to the jai-lai matches in Dania (remember how lucky Larry and I were there when I last saw him when he and Mikey came to visit?), and then they’re off to Epcot, Disney World and Busch Gardens.

Larry said they’ll call next weekend before they fly out of Fort Lauderdale.

I had a great zucchini-mushroom-and-broccoli quiche at Friday’s, but the noise there was deafening; both Larry and I ended up with headaches because of it.

Earlier in the day, I spoke with Grandma Ethel, who sounded hoarse but said that the weather in New York had been beautiful lately.

Well, I’ll be there myself in eight weeks for a long stay. That’s pretty soon from now, huh?

This week shouldn’t be too stressful. I’m going to try not to worry about the midterm in my FIU computer course.

On Wednesday, I’ll meet my 8 AM class and send them to the library so I only get docked for missing my 10 AM class to appear on WPBR. I hope the trip to Palm Beach and the radio show go well.

Tomorrow I expect a call from Blair, and although I’ve had fantasies about him, I have no expectations other than to satisfy my curiosity. Probably he’ll turn out to be an unbearable little creep.

I wonder if any of the press releases I sent out yesterday will result in media phone calls and more publicity. Aren’t I a hog? But it’s fun and fairly harmless at that.

I do wish BCC had a real spring break, though. My hand hurts from writing now. I’m going to watch Star Wars on HBO.


Tuesday, February 28, 1984

7:30 PM. I just finished watching the evening newscasts. Gary Hart appears to have pulled off an upset victory in New Hampshire.

The networks are reluctant to call the results because the polls are still open, but only a moron could fail to get their drift.

This derails the Mondale bandwagon, but it’s still very strong. Glenn placed a poor third, but Hart’s win probably allows him to survive; he may contest the Southern primaries, where Hart isn’t strong.

As for the Florida primary, I think we may play second fiddle to Massachusetts in two weeks, and probably chances for press coverage of my little lark are diminished.

Who knows? Maybe Hart will try to corral us uncommitted delegate candidates into his camp.

Blair called at about 8 PM last night; he and his friends had just gotten in at the Marlin Beach Hotel.

I told him I was very busy teaching all day, but I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about it, and at 10 AM at school, I called his hotel room and said I’d get rid of my next class and take him to lunch. His flight was leaving at 2 PM, and he seemed glad to have a chance to see me.

I got through my 8 AM class and even subbed for Jacqui at 9:30 AM; then I let my 11 AM class go to the library while I planned to hotfoot out for the beach.

As the students filed out, one girl, Del, came up to talk to me about her paper, but I told her I had to rush to the Marlin Beach Hotel to meet a friend before he left town.

I knew she would understand because she’s a lesbian. I gave her my phone numbers so she can call me at home.

It was a dark, chilly day, and I couldn’t get over all the young people in bathing suits at the Strip.

After finding parking, I waited in the lobby of the Marlin Beach for Blair, who said he’d be dressed in black and that he had “blondish-greenish-purplish” hair. He sure did.

He’s a tall, skinny, punkish kid: effeminate, inarticulate and sweet. I took him to Mr. Grumpps in the Galleria and got used to people staring at us. (He had on several earrings, lots of leather, and a Harley Davidson black T-shirt.)

In a way he was cute, but it would take a lot for me to be attracted to him, so I didn’t feel so bad about being fat and old and dumpy.

Blair is a kid – and he’s lively and bright, but he’s also very fucked up, and at times I was bored by his talk. He liked Jamaica; he went with his Santa Cruz roommate Neil and best friend Victor, who paid for the trip, and he said he felt a little guilty for not sleeping with either of them.

Blair liked the Marlin Beach, but said it was obvious that the employees were picked for how well they filled out a pair of shorts.

As for myself, I was glad to go there finally – it’s really a nice place. I saw a shirtless boy on a bike there who looked a lot like Sean with that freckled, ruddy Irish body – only with more muscles than Sean.

Anyway, Blair talked about his college courses (soc and psych) and other stuff, and I got him back to the hotel at 1:20 PM. We exchanged addresses and said we’d stay in touch.

I managed to return to BCC at exactly 2 PM, when I began my comp class on cause and effect. Nobody seemed to notice I’d left campus for three hours.

After I was done, I went to the FIU computer class. Because Mary Alice’s voice was gone due to a cold, we didn’t have our midterms and instead had fun and frustration learning the color graphics of PILOT.

Tomorrow I’m going to send my 8 AM class to the library and then hope I again don’t get caught: I’m leaving for Palm Beach afterwards, having already given my 10 AM class instructions to go to the library without me. I’ll return to BCC in the afternoon.

Well, what did I learn from meeting Blair? For one thing, I see that being 32 is a lot different from being 18.

I never want to have a relationship with an adolescent again. Sean was a special situation, and our world – the world of our relationship – wasn’t the real world.

Also, going into a gay bar no longer seems scary; the people there are just ordinary guys for the most part.

And though I may try to understand Blair’s punk style, and though I may even like it, I know that it’s something for younger people.

Still, I’m going to buy the Siouxsie and the Banshees album that Blair recommended.


Wednesday, February 29, 1984

6 PM. If I was tired last evening, I’m totally exhausted now. I slept less than two hours last night and had to make it through a very busy day.

It’s turned amazingly cold, and forecasters predict lows in the 30°s for tonight. Hey, it’s March already, and it should start to be hot.

Today was Leap Year Day, and I did some leaping around.

Last night was horrible. I watched the primary results – Hart scored a stunning upset by taking 40% of the New Hampshire vote to Mondale’s 28% – but I couldn’t fall asleep for anything.

Granted, the couch in Davie isn’t very comfortable because it’s narrow and hard, but I slept on it for several months three years ago, and Marc has slept on it for years. My mind was racing.

I also felt a bit nauseated this morning and began to wonder if I wasn’t coming down with the virus that’s been going around.

After meeting my 8 AM class and sending them to the library, I guiltily sneaked off campus and rode up the Turnpike and I-95 to Lake Worth, to A1A by the beach.

It’s stunningly beautiful there: the water looks like a surfer’s paradise and it also seems so much calmer on shore than it is here, and also less vulgar.

Radio station WPBR is obviously a congenial place. While waiting outside, I got the strong impression that everyone who worked there enjoyed doing so, and I remember what Jed had told me about the Aspinwalls, the station owners.

I’m pretty certain Jed realized I was the guy who answered his ad last fall, but he didn’t let on – and neither did I. He seemed like a very nice guy, but not my type: pale, paunchy, with wispy blond hair and glasses.

However, I’m sure if I’d gotten to know him, we might have hit it off. I remember how much he said he had missed the guy in his life who had gone off to Denver, and I hope he hasn’t gone back to his former workaholic celibacy – as I have. (But I know it’s temporary!)

Valerie Aspinwall was as kind as she could be. She introduced me to previous guest, a woman editor at Newsweek, who seemed to be familiar with my work. (“You get a lot out of your outrageous narcissism,” she said.)

And when Valerie kept saying on the air what a “successful and talented writer” I was, I felt so embarrassed and I had to demur.

We talked about my presidential campaign, and I made her laugh. Of course, I always do enjoy the challenge of trying to be funny on live radio.

After we finished the show at 11 AM, I stopped off in Boca Raton to have lunch and then drove back to Davie.

As I entered my office at BCC, I found a note from Sandy saying that the photographer from Sunshine Magazine would be there at 1 PM to take a “wild” picture of me.

And then I turned around – for it was 1 PM – and he was there. Explaining that the story had been pushed up to a week from Sunday, he said that his editors didn’t like the serious portraits of me and wanted something more in keeping with my crazy stunts.

So he brought one of those arrows which go around one’s head, the kind Steve Martin made famous. Perhaps foolishly, I didn’t object – and we took an hour’s worth of photos with my head being pierced by a narrow. Real dignified author, huh?

Other photos included me sitting in my office reading a book upside down; jumping up and down like a maniac; sitting on my car; standing next to the “Welcome to Davie” sign; and hitchhiking along University Drive.

I’ll probably look pretty ridiculous, but at least I didn’t have to dress like Michael Jackson or Boy George. All in a day’s work for a budding celebrity.

Then I took a much-needed haircut, which I definitely should have done before my photo shoot. TC mark

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