A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1985

Friday, March 1, 1985

9 PM. March already. I called Grandma Ethel to wish her a happy birthday. She said she was very “blue” and wished Mom would call her.

I didn’t know what to say except, “Mom’s very busy” – which is true.

“You’re the only one who calls me,” Grandma said.

Now that Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris are both ill, they don’t stop by as often as they used to. Sad – but I told Grandma I’d call her in a couple of months.

After 11 PM last night, I called Teresa and woke her up. Knowing her, I said, “I bet you’ve got your glasses on, the lights are on, and Johnny Carson’s on TV.” And I was right.

If Teresa’s IRA gets liquefied by next week, she’ll try to get a flight down here.

Amira called her and said she might be coming to Florida, too. I’m glad – and somewhat astounded – that she and Teresa are civil to each other.

Amira told Teresa, “You know Richie – you better make sure to tell him he’s welcome when he comes back to New York.”

So Teresa did – and I now think, despite everything, that I will head to Teresa’s on her birthday.

“Your bed board is waiting for you,” said Teresa. That really made me feel good: wanted, at home. I was able to relax and sleep well.

Up at 10 AM after some pleasant dreams, I read and went over to my parents’ to pick up my mail.

The GRE scores finally got sent to Teachers College. I hadn’t seen my scores – or hadn’t remembered them: 660 on the verbal, 620 on the quantitative.

Of course, that was back a dozen years ago, and the tests have changed radically – but my scores are good by the standards of today. My 630 on the Advanced Test in Literature is probably around the 90th percentile.

Now that I’ve learned about tests and measurements, I’d love to see the results of the IQ tests, Iowa tests, SATs and psychological tests I took as a student.

I’d really enjoy seeing that battery of tests Dr. Karen Machover gave me in December 1966 as part of a report to Dr. Lipton when I started seeing him.

At the apartment, I typed up my last critical review of an article for LOGO class at FAU. Slowly but steadily, I’m getting most of my projects done, and I can see that the remaining workload won’t be impossible.

After stopping off to pick up a new right lens at the optometrist in Fort Lauderdale, I got stuck in a terrible traffic jam on NW 62nd Street on the way to I-95.

Up in Boca, Sheila let us play in lab for most of the class.

I love list processing, and I’m proud that I created a “NOGOLOGO,” a pseudo-LOGO that refuses to obey any commands. I showed it to Sheila, who seemed impressed. Next week we’re off for spring break.

As I drove home, I thought about my seatmate telling me that she was doing an independent study and I decided to find out if I can do one for the summer, too. Then I’d get some credit and also be able to legitimately claim my student loan – yet I could stay in New York.

Reading a USA Today article about successful people who nevertheless feel like impostors, I felt I fit the pattern exactly.

I’m a first-generation professional, ambivalent about competing with my father. I always attribute my success to hard work rather than talent, and I constantly tell people, “Well, I’ve been very lucky” or say that my successes were flukes.

I’ve devalued myself and been happy with less than I deserved. What I need to do is examine myself, my goals and my achievements, and how I’ve constantly undermined my efforts.

That’s the cause of my writing block, and that’s what Scott Eyman meant a year ago when he wrote in Sunshine magazine that I was an “underachiever.”


Sunday, March 3, 1985

7 PM. I just came back from my parents’, where I had take-out Chinese food with Mom, Dad and Marc, who were tired but happy after taking in over $1300 today at the flea market.

It’s Mom’s 54th birthday. “We’ll be senior citizens together,” she told me.

Last night I had a bad sinus headache that finally cleared up with some sleep. In a dream, Teresa and I were running through midtown Manhattan – which suddenly turned into downtown Miami – and then into Brooklyn.

The dream landscapes I’m prone to imagine are often composites of New York and Florida. It is odd how a place – or the image of a place – will stay with a person.

Today, as I promised myself, I drove into Dade County. It felt weird going back along a route I drove every day for nine months.

By now, I’ve lived in so many places it’s hard to connect with the daily routines of Rockaway, Sunrise or North Miami Beach – not to mention Sheepshead Bay, VCCA, MacDowell or Millay.

West 85th Street seems real enough to me, and so does East 56th Street in Brooklyn, because it’s connected with my childhood and 22 years of memories, but the other places seem like dreams.

I know that I went to the supermarket, the post office, the cleaners, etc.,  and that I had particular routines in North Miami Beach, but the memories are vague.

I’ve never had a good memory for details. I just don’t notice things the way a writer should.

Today, for example, I realized I have absolutely no idea what color Teresa’s eyes are – nor could I tell you the eye colors of Josh, Justin or Susan.

Speaking of memory, I visited Grandpa Nat in the nursing home, newly renamed Meadowbrook Manor.

When I got to his room, he was babbling some nonsense over and over again. The place seems a little cleaner, although it’s still a horror to most people. (I think I’ve gotten used to it.)

In the corridors and looking into the rooms, you see quasi-human beings. It would be good for most Yuppies to visit such a place – so they can see where all their hard work and acquisitions could lead.

Not that there’s any connection. If a person exercises and eats right, he or she can probably avoid some chance of ending up as a living vegetable – but it can happen despite all precautions.

Strapped into his wheelchair, toothless, constantly scratching his body, Grandpa Nat seemed to have gotten smaller and more wizened.

If I really thought about this man being my grandfather, the Nathan Ginsberg I knew till 1977, I couldn’t stand it. But I joke with him, I play with him, I get amused by him.

He repeated my name after I said it, but when I questioned him, he called me “Howard” and “Irving.”

He did ask me, three times, “So what do you do?” and the last time, I told him I was a millionaire and asked how much money I could lend him.

“I want as much as I can get,” he replied.

“That Nathan is a real joker,” said the Haitian guy who had come into the room to put away Grandpa’s clothes.

Grandpa’s old roommates – the last ones I remember – have died, replaced by a comatose shroud and a silent senile man.

Curiously, a color TV was playing a USFL game, though I can’t imagine which of them could understand anything that was going on.

Occasionally, Grandpa sounded rational – as when, after I told him I rented a car, he asked, “How much?”

After I told him, he shouted, “Ten dollars a day!” in that rising inflection. It’s funny how money stays with him more than anything.

He told me “Nobody ever writes me,” and when I started to leave, he asked, “What’s your hurry?” in such a plaintive voice that I stayed for another ten minutes.

And when I did leave and we shook hands goodbye, he took my hand to his lips and kissed it. I touched him on the top of his head, which still is covered with the bristly white hair I remember.

He talked a lot about diamonds, and he knew that 2 + 2 equaled 4 but not that 2 + 3 equaled 5. (The look on his face – I felt he was searching through an empty drawer in his brain – was so pathetic, I couldn’t let him go on trying to figure it out.)

After leaving the nursing home, I drove down Biscayne Boulevard to NE 6th Street, where the road was closed due to the Carnaval Miami celebration. I made my way through crowded downtown streets, many of which were blocked off, past the civic center buildings new and old.

One day I have to ride on Metrorail; the view up high over Government Center must be breathtaking.

Driving through the slums of Overtown and on I-95 and the turnpike, I headed back to Davie.

Well, a new week begins tomorrow.


Monday, March 4, 1985

10 PM. I’ve just returned from the computer lab. I got so frustrated in class when a program wouldn’t work, I didn’t feel like staying on.

But my CAI project is due on Wednesday, and so after my cottage cheese dinner, I headed back to do battle with the Apple.

Although I got a lot accomplished, I still have several hours’ work ahead of me.

My program is a sample citizenship test for prospective Americans; I used a paperback I found for the background and sample questions, and I tacked that on to John Kallas’ handy-dandy multiple choice program.

I do wish we were learning on IBMs instead of antiquated Apples.

And some of the women in the class really bug me because they’re so incredibly stupid about this stuff. Half of them, I would never entrust to teach anyone’s kids, much less my own. Ah, well.

I slept soundly for ten hours.

Mom and Marc were at the start of the Miami Beach indoor flea market at the Convention Center, so nobody was home at University Drive this morning.

I got my mail – mostly credit card bills, though I did get a note from Alice (she was in Jamaica this past weekend, in California the weekend before) – and some other stuff.

After doing some errands, I paid my bills, corrected the Telescope galleys and sent them off in the mail, and started designing my CAI project for BASIC class. At BCC half an hour ahead of time, I started typing it in.

Pam was late because she was in a car accident, so she had her friend (another young lesbian who’s Pam’s counterpart for the North Broward schools; she’s in my FAU LOGO class) come in and teach us about REM and HTAB/VTAB, which I, of course, already had in Pam’s other class.

I got a 98 on the midterm, and that’s 20% of my semester grade.

Although I tried to relax when I came home, I was so hyped up that I figured I’d better go back to school after an hour, and I ended up staying there from 8:30 PM to 10:00 PM.

My right eye felt sore, and I just hope it’s not an infection from my new contact lens.

Tomorrow, of course, I don’t have my Measurement class because of FAU’s spring break, so I should have a few hours to go to the computer lab at BCC. On Wednesday I have to go down to the Florida Job Service, and of course I have class from 4 to 10 PM because FIU isn’t on spring break.

I bet Teresa is coming now that I feel I don’t have much time to spend with her.

Really, these 18 credits aren’t a breeze. They may not be the equivalent of a full-time job, but I’ve got a lot of work.

I haven’t spoken to Ronna in over a week, and I should call her tonight.


Wednesday, March 6, 1985

2 PM. It’s a warm and sunny – what else? – day. I’ve just completed half an hour of mild stomach exercises, and I don’t really feel like busting my butt anymore, although it may need busting.

Speaking to Teresa last night proved to be a real tonic.

She hasn’t heard from Bruce or Laurie, and Bruce’s superiors at Advest are treating her very condescendingly; her brother-in-law suggested she threaten them with going to the SEC about Bruce’s churning of her account.

It’s too bad all Teresa’s relationships end up going the adversarial route (she’s lucky to have two lawyers in the family), but this time she’s probably justified, as Bruce clearly behaved unethically all these months, not telling Teresa he’d lost her money.

The man at Advest whom she spoke to said, “Lady, you’re crucifying this guy, ruining his career” – as if Bruce were an innocent victim.

Meanwhile, Fred Grayson’s plans for a Yellow Pages-type directory in Manhattan seems sound. Fred, at least, has a good reputation as a book packager – unlike Bruce, he’s no crook – and the project seems fairly well-thought-out.

Teresa said Fred has the publishing business already in place, an energetic staff, and a terrific software presentation and set-up. She would be the advertising manager.

It all sounds reasonable to me, though of course, I’ve got my usual stick-in-the-mud reservations – like, do any businesses really need to advertise in this directory? Still, it would be better for Teresa than another political-hack job.

If all goes well, Teresa might be here this weekend or next week. She told me that this summer I could stay as long as I want – and I feel that at least I’ve got some sort of home in New York.

Mom and Marc are busy this week with the indoor flea market at the Miami Beach Convention Center; I’ll probably go there tomorrow.

I feel a bit restless now and not in the mood to work – but I do have two classes later.

*

10 PM. Today’s classes went all right, although right now I feel pretty computered out.

Luckily, I have tomorrow and Friday off to relax and catch up on my work.

In class, Pam went over READ/DATA statements, which I’ve been using in my programs. While others are complaining about the amount of homework she gives us, I managed to do most of mine in class.

Ray’s LOGO assessment items were tricky and frustrating, but I eventually figured them out.

I got 100% on the LOGO midterm, and Pam said we all got A’s on our graphics quiz, so I’m keeping my grades up following last week’s disaster.

This Saturday in Mary Alice’s class we have our spreadsheets final, on Monday Pam is giving us another quiz, and on Tuesday I find out my grade on the statistics test in Measurement.

There is something satisfying about completing tests and projects and getting graded on them: it’s a sense of closure that you rarely find in the real world, where you’re less likely to know where you stand.

Bravo to the schoolteachers of Mississippi, where a wildcat strike has been spreading from district to district.

Mississippi teachers, the lowest paid in the nation, aren’t unionized, for the most part; the strike started spontaneously as an outburst of disgust over low salaries and government inaction and insensitivity.

What really got them going was the state legislature giving themselves $6000 in raises while the governor threatens to veto any teacher’s increase over $1500.

So far, the state government has fumed but doesn’t know what to do. With a teacher shortage brewing, if they fire the strikers, who will they get to replace them?

As “Me and Bobby McGee” goes, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

In another seven weeks I’ll be back in New York.

This time in Florida has been better for me than I expected. I’ve had a lot of time to be on my own, to study, to read, even to write a bit, and I’ve had the chance to examine where I am and where I want to go from here.

Actually, I really have no idea where I go from here. I think I’d be content to teach in New York, either as an adjunct teaching English as I did last fall, or to do something with my computer education courses.

I also think I’d like to return to Florida next winter. It may seem as though I’m drifting aimlessly, and perhaps that is the case – but then again, what greater good came out of my three years of stability teaching full-time at Broward Community College?

When I first came here in January, I felt I had to agree with Ronna when she wondered why I constantly uproot myself – but I feel differently now. I don’t need to settle down.

Perhaps it’s coming to Florida; they say that once people make the big move from up North to come down here, it really doesn’t matter how many more times they have to move.

When my parents moved to Florida and we left the home on East 56th Street, that was the big trauma. I’ve felt at home in all the other places I’ve lived, but no other place has been – or will be – a home the way that house in Brooklyn was.

What is the line: “After the first death, there is no other.”

With Grandpa Herb and Grandma Sylvia dead, I also feel almost like that. I know my parents’ deaths would be a terrible blow, but they would be adult crises, not those of an adolescent or a child.

Last night I read, listened to a John Giorno concert on radio, and started using the Japanese-language cassettes I bought on a whim.

After a good night’s sleep, I enjoyed my usual morning routine – reading the paper in bed, eating cereal in the kitchen, listening to the radio – and then went over to my parents’ to drive Mom to the Miami Beach Convention Center for the World’s Largest Flea Market.

Marc had gone to the flea market in Sunrise, and Mom would be in Miami Beach by herself, to be joined later by Dad.

It was sort of fun to be in Miami Beach, to get the feel of a real city with sidewalks and parking meters and stores not found in malls.

After I helped Mom get her stuff into the Convention Center, I went to have lunch at Wolfie’s at 21st and Collins, by the library and Bass Museum.

What a clientele Wolfie’s has: all those elderly Jews who are so demanding and so amusing.

As I walked past the “hotels” with the old people sitting out on the porches in lawn chairs, I had the sense I was seeing something that wouldn’t exist again.

In ten years or so, all these old Jews will die off, and future retirees – more American, better educated and more affluent – won’t come to Miami Beach anymore; they’re already ensconced in the condos of North Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

At that point, like the Wolfie’s at the Junction I ate in when I was a freshman at Brooklyn College, the Miami Beach Wolfie’s – with its mammoth pictures of Clark Gable, Kate Hepburn, W.C. Fields and a movie star I couldn’t identify – will make way for something with less character, like the McDonald’s which replaced the Brooklyn Wolfie’s.

A long, traffic-filled ride back home annoyed me. Even though I passed within a few blocks of my old North Miami Beach apartment, I didn’t bother to stop off to look at it.

I spent the next couple of hours in Jonathan’s room, working out with his weights.

These two days off have been a good break for me, but I’m glad I have class tomorrow.


Sunday, March 10, 1985

7 PM. Sometimes I forgot how gosh-darned beautiful Florida can be.

Half an hour ago I went out to the post office and to the supermarket. (Advances have made this possible even on Sunday evening – and don’t forget that I can pay for my goodies with a credit card.)

The sun was just setting, the sky a mixture of rose and shades of blue, the cows in the nearby fields were lying down, and I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

Now the crickets are into their nightly chirping. But aside from that, it’s quiet.

Most of my neighbors must be resting after an all-night party last night. At 4 AM, it sounded like there were three giggling girls and three or four rowdy boys in the next room. But they’re kids, and they’re entitled.

I spent last night reading and studying my Japanese. Japanese is a difficult language, and so far I feel confident only with dozo, sayonara and arigato, but repetition will help.

I practiced at poolside today, much to the amusement of some preteen girls who must have assumed I was a lunatic.

Did I have a good night’s sleep! One dream was more pleasant than the next, culminating in a morning flying dream.

I was floating effortlessly, defying gravity, not flying high but indoors only a few feet off the ground. Nevertheless, the feeling was exhilarating.

This being Sunday, I spent much of the day reading the papers. I also did stomach exercises: crunches, reverse sit-ups, trunk twists, side bends.

My chest and shoulders are still sore from Friday’s workout. I think I’m in better shape now than when I was all bulked up from Nautilus: low-weight multiple sets are better for me than lifting heavy weights fewer times.

I can’t say I’m not lonely, but I’ve been making good use of all the time I have. I’ve been trying to enjoy this leisure.

Grandma Ethel said it was beautiful in New York today.

This week I plan to get the purchase order project out of the way and concentrate on my LOGO projects. I’m caught up in all my classwork and looking forward to a full week of school. The end of the term seems in sight.

Really, these 18 graduate credits, once under my belt, will be an accomplishment I can be proud of. Now that The Writing Business is out, I really can’t think of anything to look forward to in terms of my literary career.


Monday, March 11, 1985

9 AM. Last night, when I called Josh, I got the bad news I was expecting: “Butch is gone.”

It happened on Thursday, Josh said, but he didn’t feel like going into details, so I didn’t press him. He said the dog’s presence was all over the apartment: when he eats, he automatically bends down to put scraps on the floor.

Butch had been with Josh for over ten years. Josh went through his whole adulthood with that dog at his side, so it must be very hard for him now.

To make matters worse, Josh called Wanda in London, figuring now that Butch was gone, he could make his long-delayed trip to visit her. But Wanda told him she had gone back to her old boyfriend – this after they’d been corresponding daily.

He really needed to hear that now, huh?

I invited him to come to visit me, but Josh said he hates Florida and would have nothing to do here.

We talked for a while more, though I really did not know what to say. I’m no dog lover, but I certainly know how much he adored that dog.

I slept heavily, drifting from dream to dream to dream. Up early, I heard the news that Soviet President Chernenko died, just 13 months after he took over following Andropov’s short time in office. Now it looks like power will finally pass to a younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev.

The arms control talks started in Geneva, but if Reagan goes through with his Star Wars plan, no progress will result.

I’m going over to my parents’ now to see how they are doing after working at two flea markets this weekend.TC mark

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