A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1984

Monday, March 12, 1984

6 PM. Mom and Dad thought yesterday’s Sunshine article was very good, as did a number of people who saw me at Broward Community College today.

I also got in today’s Broward edition of the Miami Herald, thanks to Doug Delp, who put me into his column (along with my photo) under the item “His Mother’s Choice,” about Super Tuesday.

I got to get in a few good lines, and more than that, I cannot ask for, no?

I spoke to Teresa last night, and she’s still not sure if she can get here this weekend; for one thing, she doesn’t have even have one hour of comp time coming to her.

If she does arrive, it will be on Friday, because on Monday night Richie Kessel invited her to the party for his swearing-in as state consumer affairs chief.

I went to bed very early and slept soundly for about ten hours; it was really quality rest. This morning at BCC, I introduced drama in my 102 classes.

Eliot Tillinger gave me an autograph of Gary Hart that the senator had signed at a rally. Well, I don’t know what Super Tuesday holds for me tomorrow, but the campaign has been a lot of fun.

I was going to just drop the whole thing about running for President after tomorrow, but there’s still the possibility of that WACPAC dinner speech on April 1.

I’m not really sure I want to make that commitment, but I might get some national publicity from it and maybe even some money.

I had lunch with Leon, who told me of the horrors of the Broward County school system and said he would never let his child attend public school in Florida.

Back on campus, I hung out for a while in the Theater Department and spoke with Robbie, who said he thought all of the weekend’s performances of Anything Goes went well. I told him how much I enjoyed the show and how good he was.

Later, I saw Clay and asked him if he’d done the poster for the play; he said yes, that he’s majoring in art now. I complimented him on it and he said, “Thanks, Richard.”

It was nice to see his smile, and I loved being called by my first name.

Yesterday I was getting on the glass elevator at the 163rd Street mall when I came face to face with this guy getting off. He was this cute redhead, obviously gay, who used to hang around our building at BCC.

“Hi,” he said, and I said “Hi” and smiled back in those quick few seconds as we stared at one another.

What these incidents tell me is that there are a lot of guys out there I could probably have relationships with, great guys who might even be attracted to a “pudgy” 32-year-old.

I guess I feel good about people in general. In the Sunshine profile, Scott Eyman said I have a lot of self-respect, and I do think that’s true.

After stopping off at Mom’s to show her the Herald piece (in which she is even called “Miss Marilyn,” like “Miss Lillian”), I came home to North Miami Beach and spent two hours lifting weights.

I decided not to go to Bodyworks, as I think I’m actually getting better results – even a little definition – from the free weights.

I use thirty pounds and do a hundred reps of ten exercises; it’s very time-consuming, but I also get to watch my soaps and read the papers.

I ate very healthily today: salad and yogurt for lunch, salad and tofu for dinner – but now I desperately crave sugar.

Bob called me, so I chatted with him for an hour. He was put in Rockland State in New York for therapy, and he said he feels much better although he’s still on lots of medication.

Bob is such a sensitive, gentle soul that it’s hard for him to function in a fast-moving, vulgar world. He may go back to teaching in Europe for the University of Maryland next fall, but he doesn’t really want to.

I hope Bob continues to get better. Mental illness is such a waste, especially for an intelligent person.


Wednesday, March 14, 1984

9 PM. Super Tuesday is over, and the Democratic nomination is now a two-man affair.

Last night I was astounded when Lisa called and mentioned that she voted for Mondale “because his position on education stresses the humanities more than Hart, who’s into science and math.”

I guess I was a bit hard on Lisa, telling her she was spending too much time with old Jews, but being for Hart seems very much a way of defining yourself as a baby boomer.

Myself, I got 4,210 votes as a candidate for delegate. I learned that only a few hours ago when Michael phoned me to read me the results from the front page of the Sun-Tattler. I went out to get a copy.

I finished ahead of all but one of the uncommitted candidates for delegate – the one who beat me was a former state party chairman – and I got more than double the votes of the Jackson and McGovern delegates. I even beat two of the Glenn delegates and nearly tied a third.

Of course, the Mondale delegates won easily, with totals ranging from 22,500 to 17,000; the next top vote-getters were the former Askew and Hart delegates, who had from 5,000 to 6,000 votes.

Jewish last names definitely helped; the one Glenn delegate who did very well was named Cohen.

I came across my photo in a small article in the Miami News; on Monday I did an interview with the Baltimore Sun and they reprinted it.

Mom told me Jonathan did an interview with the Globe, one of those Palm Beach scandal sheets, when the reporter couldn’t locate me; I’m sure Jonathan did a credible job of being funny on my behalf.

I was going to drop out of the ’84 race, but I see there’ll be more publicity if I stay in. I don’t plan to send out any more press releases; instead, I’ll just wait for phone calls.

Last night I stayed up late watching the election returns, but I finally did fall asleep. All night I had bad dreams; at 6 AM, I awoke just as Jonathan and I were about to be arrested on a false accusation of bank robbery.

It was a rather easy day at school, as I used the phonograph I found in a classroom to play my old Theater Recording Society record of The Glass Menagerie.

Before I left at 11 AM, I did manage to take a call from Payroll, who told me they’ll be taking $81.25 out of my four remaining paychecks to equal the $325 overpayment.

Actually, that’s good news in a way – since I had assumed I’d be getting only three more paychecks. Even with the cut, I should be taking home about $2,300 more this semester.

At Bodyworks for the first time in a week, I had a hard but brief Nautilus go-round; we’ll see how it affects me after all the high-rep, low-intensity free weight workouts.

Home at 2 PM, I relaxed for a couple of hours, watching TV and reading my mail.

Rick sent a new letter and mentioned an article about him (and Doug Messerli of Sun and Moon Press and Merill Leffler of Dryad Press) in Small Press, which coincidentally arrived today.

Rick is our generation’s Ezra Pound or somebody; he’s more aware of baby-boom lit than anyone. He sent a clip of a column George did about Mavericks.

We’re a pretty good bunch. Rick also mentioned getting a fine letter from Crad, who told me in his last letter that he’s mulling over the questions Rick and Gretchen sent him for his Gargoyle interview.

Grinning Idiot #2 arrived, and though I haven’t gotten into it yet, it looks good. Josh’s dot-matrix printer makes for a simple but trendy typeface and layout, and the artwork is also fine.

It has work by Crad, Bukowski, Fahey, Harvey Pekar, Ron Schreiber and others, and I know that for Josh, the magazine is a very important labor of love.

After a late lunch at Corky’s, I went to the cleaners and to Publix, I had my press clips xeroxed, and right now I’m about to nod off, I think.


Thursday, March 15, 1984

6 PM. Last night I got a call from Ann Prospero, the writer at Miami/South Florida Magazine to whom I’d sent my books. Oddly enough, I saw her on Barbara Nightingale’s show on Sunday.

Ann has a column called “Cutting Edge,” about local people in the arts, and she’s going to write about me for the May issue. I think Steve Eliot clued her in.

Anyway, she asked me serious questions about my work, and this piece will not be a “weirdo” spot but a “young, talented writer” spot, and I’m glad.

We had an engrossing conversation; she was a very shrewd reader of my work and had all sorts of good questions.

I phoned Ronna, who said she’s feeling better, but that she does get tired very early in the workday. She also realizes she hates her job – “but that’s all right.” The scar is healing, and she’s become rather fond of it.

Somehow we got around to discussing the classics course we took at Brooklyn College in the summer of 1972.

We reminisced about how Ronna would always come in to my 11 AM class because she got up too late to attend her 8 AM.

I remember how she used to wear green knee socks with shorts, and she said my cutoff jeans were so short that when I had change in my pockets, they stuck out of the shorts.

I also remember some shirts I used to love to wear that summer: a white one with little green and purple flowers, a red and blue Aztec-y striped one.

Our classics teacher, Mr. Collins, had a beard but only a wisp of a mustache, and when class ended, I used to drive Ronna to work at the home of Mr. Fishbein, the lawyer.

She was absent on the day the tests were handed back, and I took her paper, but then I lost it. Boy, did I feel guilty! But she was just glad I remembered her grade, and that she had done well.

That was a dozen years ago: the summer of the McGovern convention in Miami Beach, my parents’ hotel in the Catskills, and Jerry and Shelli’s marriage. God, that material is so good, I have to use it one day.

Josh’s call woke me up out of a dream. He wanted to know how I did in the primary.

Josh said he had gone with Artie to B. Dalton for a publication party in honor of Raymond Kennedy, a sort of relative of Artie’s.

Kennedy’s books are published by Knopf, and he’s got a great critical reputation, but Josh said the guy lives in Brooklyn with a psychotic wife and not a penny to his name.

Only eight people showed up at the bookstore, and “you could see everyone felt sorry for him.” Only in America, I told Josh.

We discussed his plans for Grinning Idiot, and I told Josh to go up to the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, now at 2 Park Avenue, across the street from where Josh works.

I slept fine, with lazy, erotic dreams.

This morning – this whole day – was gorgeous: sunny all the time, and right now the birds are chirping away and it’s about 72° and the sun is just beginning to get lower in the sky.

I had my best 8 AM class with that Tuesday/Thursday group. I really tried to work hard to get their interest. At 11 AM, we discussed drama, and only five people showed up for the 2 PM, so I let them out early; they’re so far ahead of the syllabus anyway.

In between classes, I went to the cleaners to give in my new corduroy jeans to be shortened, and I called the Supervisor of Elections to find out how Mom did in the primary.

It turns out my mother managed to get many more votes than I did. In her first – and probably last – bid for public office, Mom got 7,556 votes.

She got as many votes as Askew, Cranston and Hollings got in the New Hampshire primary – and then some. I think she’s rather pleased.

I decided to kill the press release dropping out of the race, and I made up a new one bragging about the vote totals of myself and Miss Marilyn. Time to go out for dinner now.

*

10 PM. Teresa just called; she’s not coming tomorrow. I am really disappointed because I had put aside a lot of stuff to make time to spend together. But she’s going up to Albany to talk with Richie Kessel’s staff at the Consumer Protection Board.

His swearing-in ceremony and party made Teresa realize that she probably needs to get moving on a new job, and now that Richie is Commissioner, he feels maybe he can hire Teresa despite whatever objections Governor Cuomo’s appointments people might raise.

Next weekend Teresa’s going to with her parents for the closing on their dream house on the beach at Mattituck, way out on Long Island’s North Fork. Teresa’s grandparents’ parents are getting too old to keep the house, and Teresa’s mother has had her eye on it for years.

For a change, Teresa seems very “up.” She said that she met three men (one of whom wears loads of jewelry and drives a Cadillac – but I said he could be okay despite that flaw) and that she’s made an appointment with her friend Betty’s therapist.

Ann Prospero called to ask about my Presidential campaign; apparently she mentioned my name to someone and was told about it. I guess I’m getting well-known.


Friday, March 16, 1984

7 PM. This morning at 6 AM, I almost said the hell with it and called in sick. But my conscience got the better of me even though it was a grey morning and I needed more sleep.

I yawned my way through the day at BCC, but I was “up” for my classes, and during my breaks, I even got some grading done.

At 11 AM, I went to the tail end of the St. Patrick’s Day party and listened to the banalities of the staff. I’m constantly amazed at the racist comments I hear today from so-called enlightened people who always preface their remarks with disclaimers.

Last night another all-white jury acquitted another white policeman of killing another black teenager, and there were disturbances in Miami. Yet calm was restored early, and by no means did a full-scale riot develop.

Can’t white people understand the frustrations at the constant injustices?

After lunch and some chores, I came home, and by then the sun had come out and I no longer felt like getting under the covers for a good snooze. Instead, I read the papers and lifted weights for a couple of hours.

Last Sunday, I answered a Herald want ad from List magazine, a software publication in Vero Beach.

I knew I’d written a good enough letter so that I’d get a call from them, and even then, I wondered if I really wanted that kind of job.

Sure enough, today I got a call, and after a brief conversation with the editor, who said the jobs he advertised were vaguely defined, I said I’d come for an interview next Friday, at 11 AM.

That’s the day I would have gone to the interview at SUNY/Farmingdale if I’d bothered to call them back this week.

Now that all the excitement of the primary is over, I realize that there are six weeks left in this term and that I haven’t given much thought to my future.

Teresa is so confused by her career and life options that she’s decided to see a therapist, and perhaps I could use one, too.

Well, I’ve been in this position before: getting a job interview and not being sure I want to even go. In this case, I don’t have much to lose.

It’s only a three-hour drive, and at the very least, I can learn something and possibly get some freelance assignments. Vero Beach is beautiful, but I might feel very isolated there; it’s not urban or Jewish.

Still, the Treasure Coast is relatively unspoiled compared to the Gold Coast, and maybe it will be a place for younger people: the Yuppies (Young Urban – or Upwardly Mobile – Professionals) of the baby boom generation who are so active in the Hart candidacy.

Unlike many of our parents, who were social conservatives and economic liberals, we’re economic conservatives and social liberals – against big spending and school prayer, unlike people in their sixties, who support both.

And I do count myself in that group. I’ve never had an argument with capitalism, not even in my most radical college years, when I thought it was terrible of “fascist” companies like American Express to recruit on campus.

However, I always thought things were the fault of greedy and corrupt corporations and individuals – but not the capitalist system. I still feel that way, basically.

The rich and the big corporations are given special treatment, and by and large, they’re crooks, but they don’t have to be.

I guess I was impressed with honest businessmen like my father and grandfathers. Even Great-Grandpa Max, a mean millionaire, made his money honestly, through hard work.

Anyway, for me, the question is: What do I really want to do with my life? Even if I said I want to write, that can’t be the answer because I can’t earn a living writing fiction.

Maybe I should be angrier at a system that prevents that, but by now I’ve had to accept that. I do love teaching, but education in the U.S. is hopeless.

Josh, depressed as he is, manages to produce a great magazine like Grinning Idiot despite being a full-time computer programmer.

The choices in “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz” are very pertinent now: what Ivan Gold’s review called “the hand-to-mouth artistic life” versus practicality. My hero’s decision to go into computers – which disappointed Crad – is one I’d make.

Four years ago, I was struggling to make ends meet and not writing. Now I’m fairly comfortable – even if I am overworked and underpaid (I probably shouldn’t have been honest with the List editor about my current salary, because he couldn’t believe it was so low) – and maybe I’m not writing now either, but that may be my own fault.

Sooner or later I’ve got to stop futzing around and get down to serious writing again. If I don’t do it soon, I’m probably always going to be a mere dilettante.

A Guggenheim or NEA fellowship would give me the chance to prove myself, but they’re not in the cards. The new AWP Job List arrived, and there wasn’t one position I could apply for – so teaching isn’t the long-term solution.

Rick’s new Gargoyle arrived today, in a book-sized handsome format. Rick is so classy: he’s beaten the establishment (Partisan Review, Antaeus, etc.) at their own game.

So have I, in a way. I’ve made the New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly. It’s all delayed gratification, kiddo.

In the Gargoyle interview, Elaine Equi tells Hugh Fox that we writers born in the 1950s will be just the right age “at the turn of the century.” Not to worry: just keep plugging away.


Saturday, March 17, 1984

7 PM. It was a gorgeous day. I’m sorry Teresa wasn’t here because she would have been in sun-worshipper heaven: not a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze, 81°, not hot or humid.

Half an hour ago I saw a fiery orange sun begin to set as I looked down 167th Street. Beautiful. Hey, despite everything that’s wrong with Florida, I really do love it here in the winter.

In another month it will start to get brutally hot, but by late October, there will again be no more gorgeous spot than here.

I skylarked all day, letting my dreams guide me through the morning and then going off to Bodyworks. I worked out hard, mostly lower-body work because yesterday I lifted weights at home; my workout hard enough to leave me feeling nauseous.

The other day I bought a sleeveless shirt, and I like the look of my muscles in the gym mirrors as I worked out today. Vanity! I still need to lose the 20 pounds of lard around my middle. In time, I will.

In Davie, I ate and showered and got the Buckley-Little Catalog of out-of-print books from authors, in which I put Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. I expect no responses, but it never hurts to have your name in the public eye; people may remember it. Everything adds up.

Jonathan told me he’s gotten a huge $50 raise and will be moving into the FAU dorms in mid-May.

Mom’s gotten me a space at the mini-warehouse for April 1. Six weeks from today I’ll be writing this from New York, from Grandma’s apartment in Rockaway.

I drove over to the FIU library, where I read The Chronicle of Higher Education, which angered me, as usual. The average community college instructor in the humanities makes $21,000: nearly $5,000 more than I earn.

Every time I have guilt over having such an easy life, I also remember that I am still paying my dues.

After going grocery shopping, I came home to read newspapers and magazines, do sit-ups, answer my mail (letters from Dave Slater in England, my fan John Poplett in L.A., others) and listen to the news (Mondale won big in all of today’s caucuses, it seems).

I don’t want to work for List magazine. After reading an issue, I can see the whole thing would be boring. As much as I try to love computers, I have difficulty with the idea of making them my career.

No, I want to do what I want to do. But I also know I’m not going to be able to. Maybe like Teresa, I need a shrink.

*

7 PM. Just to break the suspense: I didn’t get a Guggenheim. Dad called a little while ago. Although my usual practice is to call my parents every day, for some reason I haven’t spoken to them since Wednesday.

Anyway, a letter arrived from the Guggenheim Foundation. Dad thought it was important and opened it, a regular form letter. Mom, finding it later, threw it away, thinking I’d seen it.

How do I feel? Too early to tell, I guess, but I’m not surprised.

When I wrote, a few hours ago, that most things have fallen into my lap, I didn’t mean to say I haven’t had a lot of disappointments.

I can’t say I’ve struggled for everything good that happened, but I did work very hard and nothing came out of a lot of the work I did: like today, when I sent out copies of With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog to trade paperback publishers, hoping to interest them. So far this has not worked.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that I’ve never had any luck with all my book submissions, and yet I’ve managed to get books published when the publishers found me.

Maybe that’s the ticket: making myself visible. At least I know that my accomplishments are my own, I’ve had no mentors making deals for me (like Michael Blumenthal, Jayne Anne Phillips), no rich parents keeping me afloat (like Scott Sommer).

But that’s mean-spirited, for I’m sure those people and others like them worked very hard, too. Can’t I appreciate my accomplishments without putting down others? Am I like Mayor Koch? (He’s number-one on the non-fiction bestseller list.)

I’ll survive without the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. If they were the difference, well then – I wouldn’t be worth very much, would I?


Sunday, March 18, 1984

4:30 PM. A mild, sunny day.

I think I’m going to call List in Vero Beach and tell them I did get a Guggenheim in order to get out of going on that job interview.

I read through an issue of List, and I’d be bored silly trying to work for them. I wouldn’t want to be isolated in Vero Beach, either, no matter how much they pay me.

And who knows? Maybe – as in “Gimpel the Fool” – what isn’t true now will be true someday.

In December 1980, I was at Grandma Ethel’s when I got a call from Notre Dame telling me they were sorry but I wasn’t going to be one of the lucky few to get an MLA interview.

“That’s fine,” I said brazenly, not wanting the caller’s supercilious pity. “I just got a full-time job at Broward Community College in Florida.” That shut him up.

And didn’t that spur-of-the-moment lie come true eventually?

I’ve been thinking of coming back here for the second summer session. If I could teach a couple of courses at BCC, I could afford to take more graduate computer education classes at FIU.

I noticed there are several sections, including one of creative writing, listed as TBA for Term IIIB. I won’t move on it till registration in a few weeks.

Ah, who cares? I’ll be content to go where life takes me. I’ve found that as long as I’m receptive to most everything, things eventually come my way.

My first job teaching at LIU fell into my lap, as did the job at BCC (three times!), as did the books published by George Myers, Taplinger, White Ewe, and Zephyr.

As did my NOCCA visits, the two South Carolina writers’ conferences I taught at, and so much else related to my career.

Of all the things I’ve really counted on to “rescue” me, only the Florida Arts Council grant came through. Something will happen this year, too – if it’s only a fellowship at Ragdale or some CUNY adjunct courses for the fall.

I do want to write; I want to stop planning to write and just do it. How I’ve always scorned those people who talk about doing something instead of just doing it.

Josh called this morning, and I told him the names of review magazines where he could send the new issue of Grinning Idiot.

His Village Voice display ad didn’t net him a single order, but that doesn’t surprise me; people who look at display ads in the Voice Literary Supplement aren’t likely to shell out a couple of bucks – write a check – and send it to a post office box.

Josh said he threw Leslie out (in a friendly way) after she stayed at his place for two days; this week she’ll be staying at another friend’s and going on an interview at Seventeen.

I read and slept till noon and then drove downtown via Biscayne Boulevard to see if Tuesday’s Baltimore Sun had arrived at the main library. It had, but naturally, I couldn’t find any mention of me in it.

I ended up driving around Coral Gables and the Grove and then getting stuck in the world’s worst traffic jam by the Rickenbacker Causeway and U.S. 1.

I didn’t look at any papers from school, though, because I know I’m caught up till tomorrow. All in all, this has been a relaxing weekend, although I do wish that Teresa had come so that I would have had someone to share the weekend with.

Last night, cleaning out my drawers, I found the last letter Sean sent me, with its abrupt “Goodbye – Sean” at the end. It’s a year old, I’ve had the pain for a year, and though it’s better – much better – it still hurts.

Is it that I won’t really get Sean out of my mind until I have another relationship – or is it that I can’t have another relationship until I get over Sean? Tune in next week . . . next month . . . next year.


Monday, March 19, 1984

5 PM. I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I guess not getting the Guggenheim did bother me. For one thing, it made me face the reality of a bleak financial picture.

Today I got four credit card bills, and I was able to pay off about $1,200 in debts. By the end of the month however, I’ll still be about $3,000 in the hole.

With no income for the next few months, I’m in a precarious position. If only I didn’t always have to live this way!

Sometimes I think that the best thing to do is take advantage of all the credit lines I have, run up a bill big enough to let me live on it for the rest of the year, and then declare bankruptcy.

Fuck it, if that’s the only way I can survive, I’ll do it.

I don’t want to have to be back at BCC this fall. The fall schedules were posted today, and I feel great relief not to see my name up there.

I guess what kept me awake is that I realize that the past three years at BCC, despite all the hard work and aggravation, may have been the easiest time I’ve had.

I’m heading into a period of my life that’s bound to be as difficult, or even more difficult, than what I faced in New York from 1979 to the end of 1980.

For the past three years, I’ve had a comfortable place to live, the security of a paycheck every two weeks, and relative luxuries like cable TV, membership in a health club, and lots of long-distance phone calls.

I still believe I’ve been grossly underpaid, but doesn’t everyone think that?

This is a real gamble I’m taking with my life, and very possibly I’ll regret it. But if I don’t leave BCC now, I feel I never will. Grading papers today made me physically ill.

Thank God I got through all my morning classes and that once I left campus, I was able to relax and enjoy a warm, sunny afternoon.

I’m getting a little scared about the second half of 1984. I don’t know what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living or how I’ll support myself.

But I’ll survive. . . probably. TC mark

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