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

Thursday, March 21, 1985

9 AM. I never slept at all last night. When I come home on Wednesdays after six hours of class, I’m usually pretty hyper, and knowing that I had to be up so early today made me too anxious to sleep.

Since I was up all night, I got to my parents’ at 6 AM, and when I expressed my annoyance — in a controlled, rational way — my parents had their usual reactions: Dad got upset and Mom tried to lay a guilt trip on me for making Dad “sick.”

The whole thing was entirely Mom’s fault. She knew about Dad’s trip since Tuesday morning and didn’t give any thought to me, telling me at the last minute that I’d need to drive him to the airport so early.

Later, I learned that she didn’t call Grandma until 10 PM last night to tell her that Dad was going to be staying with her in Rockaway. To me, that shows Mom has no consideration for other people.

I don’t blame Dad at all. He had a cold, and his back’s been hurting him, but that’s because he’s been working so hard.

It’s not my fault that Dad has to work so hard — or feels he does, taking on so many lines that he can’t get all his samples in the station wagon.

I can barely pay my own bills, so I don’t see why I have to feel guilty for my parents’ financial situation. If anything, they’re the ones who squandered all their savings and made bad business judgments.

When they were my age, they were riding around in new Cadillacs and taking trips to St. Maarten and Las Vegas several times a year; Dad was living off money made in his father’s business.

I feel sad for Dad, but I didn’t cause his financial problems and I’m not responsible for solving them.

My parents owe me $500 or so, which I’ve actually forgotten about and I don’t intend to ask them for — but I’m not going to let my mother try to make me feel guilty.

One reason I’ll be glad to be back in New York is so that I can be away from my family, especially Mom. I feel I don’t want my parents involved in my life — not that they show much interest anyway.

Dad was summoned for a sales meeting for Palmetto’s — a line he never should have accepted — and they sent him tickets to fly back and forth today. However, since the menswear show at the Coliseum is also in New York, he’s going to stay on through Sunday and Monday.

I felt bad for him because he didn’t look well, and I know from experience how flying with a cold can be dangerous.

At least he’ll be free on Friday and Saturday and can rest up. In fact, I wish I could get to New York for a few days.

Getting back to what happened yesterday (Wednesday), I awoke to find my photo in the final item in Steve Bousquet’s column in the Herald:

“Richard Grayson, the guy who argued for voting rights for horses when he ran for Davie Town Council, is now a ha-ha hopeful for state education commissioner. Check these credentials: He taught English at BCC and now studies at FIU and FAU. How he avoided Nova remains a mystery. Grayson has a name for Broward’s new four-year university. Since Tampa took the name University of South Florida, he suggests University of Very South Florida.”

“Very Funny” was the caption of the piece, and I was very pleased. It’s a witty item that would also make a point to anyone who understands how Florida’s state university system works.

Yesterday I also got my advance registration notice for FAU; in two weeks I’ll register for some courses for summer term B and drop them when I come in to pick up my guaranteed student loan check.

After a dreadful lunch at a terrible “Sichuan-Hunan” restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, I went to the Unemployment office to sign for my last check and got a nice surprise: I’m eligible for eight weeks of extended benefits.

Obviously, I’m not going to stick around Florida just to collect the checks. I have to return to Unemployment in two weeks. Hopefully, I can mail in the following two claim forms so I won’t have to extend my stay here till May 1 (six Wednesdays from now).

As for the last check, to be signed for on May 15, I’ll forgo it; after all, I didn’t expect to get any more money after this week.

In our BASIC class, we had a quiz on which I probably got 100% — at least I know I didn’t blow it like the last one.

Between classes, I went to the the Pit Stop to get a sandwich and encountered a girl who’d been in my English 101 and 102 classes several years ago.

She was crazy about me, I recall, and probably a little crazy in general, as that would explain her behavior.

She told me how glad she was to see me and how I was the best teacher she ever had, and of course I said that was very nice to hear.

Then she asked if she could kiss me. Flustered, I nodded and offered her my cheek; instead, she put her arms around me tight and kissed me on the lips.

We resumed our conversation, but her hand was still on my back, and when I said that I had to go, she asked, “How about one for the road?” and again embraced me and kissed me.

Just then, Jay Clarkson, another former student I also had for two terms, came by and said, “Richard, I saw you in the paper today! I’ll vote for you!” and he gave me a friendly smile and a wave.

Although this girl’s exuberance was strange, I left feeling good about myself as a teacher after these exchanges with former students.

In LOGO class, Ray lectured for about an hour and gave us some difficult recursive and interactive assessment items. I didn’t finish until 10 PM, and I was probably the only student who did finish.

Then I came home at 10 PM and got Mom’s phone call about having to take Dad to the Miami airport this morning.

Rick sent me another letter. The poor guy is obsessed with the idea that people our age have been passed over in every field. Why he should see himself as a loser, I don’t know.

On Tuesday night, I called Josh, who still sounded subdued following his dog’s death (though to be honest, I’ve rarely ever caught Josh in a good mood).

He said he and Candy have a flight down to Florida for a week from today but he was probably going to back out of the trip.

I told him the worst thing he could do during his two-week vacation would be to stay home and be reminded of Butch. I said that if he didn’t want to come to Florida — though I’d be delighted if he’d visit — he should go somewhere else.

Since I was in Miami at 7 AM after I dropped Dad off at the airport, I decided to take my first ride on Metrorail.

I was the only car parked at the Vizcaya station, and the Metrorail car I got into going downtown was not crowded at all: the only standee was myself, who wanted to get a better view.

The ride into downtown is certainly spectacular: the Miami River, the skyscrapers and the fanciful, colorful high-rise buildings along Brickell.

In fact, I liked the ride so much that I stayed on and rode all the way to the most northerly station open, Escambia Heights, near Liberty City, and then took the train back to Vizcaya.

Throughout, I was one of very few passengers at an hour during which subways would be jammed in New York City.

At the station as I first got on the train, one black guy said, “What’s happening?” to me, and I smiled and nodded warily. As another black guy got on, he said, “How you doing?”

Miamians obviously aren’t used to the anonymity and brusqueness that mass transit should bring. In my whole life, I never said hi to anyone when getting on a subway car.

But the trains are spotless, silent and swift, and I loved the ride.


Saturday, March 23, 1985

8 PM. Although I didn’t sleep more than four hours last night, I had a high energy level today — at least until about half an hour ago, when I began to conk out.

In Mary Alice’s absence, class this morning was taught by Robert, the lab assistant. We went over the Filing Assistant database program on the now-orphaned PCjr.

As usual, the ladies had their problems; it made me wonder if I’ve got the patience to teach teachers about computers.

Actually, computers may be the one field where it requires more patience to teach adults than it does to teach children.

The FIU-BCC classes were listed in BCC’s summer schedule, now out. The one course that interests me is a highly intensive eight-day, all-day class in Teaching Word Processing that runs from June 24 to July 3.

If I have to come back to Florida to pick up my GSL check, it might be good to get these three credits of a highly useful course under my belt.

Of course, the class may be cancelled. And I don’t know if I can wait so long to pick up my GSL check. I still haven’t mapped out my summer plans.

Instead of eating, as I usually do after the Saturday morning class, I went to my parents’ and exercised, using Jonathan’s weights and bench.

Last night, as I turned to get something out of the cabinet, Mom said my back had become “massive.”

I checked myself out in a mirror, and I see that I’m more muscular. But I’m too fat. The extra lard around my middle is disgusting.

And try as I might, I can’t seem to firm up my chest; it’s bulky but not defined. In fact, I have very little definition anywhere. My upper arms are big but shapeless.

Oh well, I try.

I made a quick beeline to the movies in Inverrary so I could catch the new Woody Allen film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, which opened last night.

It was a gem that only a genius like Allen could pull off. Like his story, “The Kugelmass Episode,” the film plays with the boundaries of fiction versus reality when a minor character comes off the screen of a silly 1930s movie to meet poor Mia Farrow.

The elderly Jewish audience around me plainly hated it: they couldn’t understand what it was about. Of course, Allen has an old Jewish couple in his film’s movie theater, kvetching and complaining just like the genuine articles.

At the West Regional Library, I found the entry for me in the latest Contemporary Authors – New Revision Series. I’ve got over two columns quoting reviewers from Ivan Gold to Mark Bernheim and telling the story of my Presidential campaign.

Even if it embarrasses me to look at it, I have to read it all. I have to take myself seriously instead of always undercutting myself as a writer.

All in all, today was the best day I’ve had in quite a while.


Tuesday, March 26, 1985

9 PM. Today was a big improvement over yesterday.

Last night I relaxed by watching the Oscars, but I also managed to get some studying done.

Combined with the studying I did today, I’m sure I got at least a B on the Measurement test. I’ve learned a great deal in the course, and it’s made me want to take more education courses.

It’s funny, but I almost regret not staying here after next month so that I could take more classes at FIU and FAU.

Josh just called a little while ago and said that he and Candy are definitely coming in on Thursday night. Guess who’s got to pick them up at the airport at midnight? Oh well, that’s part of living in Florida.

They’ll spend Thursday night here, but Candy can go to her mother’s in Sunrise Lakes after that, and Josh wants to spend time with his brother in North Miami Beach.

Maybe I’ll be able to get Josh a car at Palm Rent-a-Car, where I went today to sign a new contract for the next month.

Josh’s visit will be a bit disrupting, as Teresa’s was, but I’ll be glad to see him. He still sounds like he’s in a terrible funk over the dog’s death.

Very kindly, Josh is still pushing me for a job at Blue Cross, but even at a $25,000 salary, an office job sounds like a living death to me.

We’ll see. I’ve got to think about it more, but I really don’t want to start working right away, which is what I’d have to do on this job.

Today I was up at 9:30 AM — I slept well but got to bed late — and then did various errands and studied. It’s been mild and sunny but not hot: perfect weather, really.

I worked out for an hour, and then, after washing up, went to FAU at Commercial Boulevard.

Since I finished the Measurement test by 5:30 PM, I was out of class early and able to eat dinner out and then go to the supermarket.

I took out a $500 cash advance on my new Southeast Bank Gold MasterCard. What I’d like to do is get that card’s bill, and my new Bank One Visa’s, up nearly to their credit limits and pay off smaller credit card bills. It will make it easier for Mom if she doesn’t have to forward so many bills to New York.

I haven’t heard from Teresa and don’t know if she was offended by the way I treated her during her visit. In any case, I can’t depend on staying at her apartment in New York.

It isn’t fair to her, considering the way I feel. Besides, she might learn, as I have, that privacy can’t be beat.

What I’m going to do in New York, I don’t know, however, and that’s making me a bit anxious. How long can I stay with Ronna? Her apartment is too cramped for three people, so I couldn’t stay there more than a couple of weeks.

Grandma’s? Living in Rockaway isn’t really a solution, either. I really may be facing a rough time with no place to hang my hat.

The fact that this is unresolved with my arrival in New York only a month away is definitely making me antsy.

It would be so easy just to stay on here — just like it would have been easy, three months ago, to stay on in New York.

Will I ever learn anything from all this moving around? Or am I merely driving myself crazy?

I’ve been too worried to call my parents’ to find out how Dad is doing in New York, but I’ve got to speak to Mom tonight.

Although my LOGO projects are hanging over my head, I still have two weeks before the first one is due, and I guess I do work better under pressure.

Maybe I’ve got ten hours of computer time left before my projects are completed. If I have to, I’ll cut out reading newspapers, exercising and other lesser priorities.

I’ve gotten so used to my current routine: it feels so comfortable that I almost wish the semester would never end.

I guess I feel safe here, even if I’m virtually friendless and feel fairly alienated from most people in Florida.

But I’ve got to move on to the next step in my life and try to see if I can make something else work. I’ve got to test myself.


Thursday, March 28, 1985

4 PM. I want to relax this evening before I go to pick up Josh and Candy. I won’t leave until 11 PM, and I need to rest between now and then, as I don’t expect to get any sleep tonight.

The third program Pam gave the class proved to be terribly difficult, and after futilely working on it in lab for ninety minutes, I’m sure it involves a sub-procedure which she didn’t yet teach us, namely how to bring along corresponding elements of an array in the new positions when you sort.

The rest of the day was routine: lunch at Hurdy Gurdy’s, bill-paying and bank errands, watching Another World, reading the papers, exercising.

Last night I spoke to Teresa, who was babysitting for Barbara and Stewart’s infant son while they were attending the opening of a play Stewart was reviewing.

In a surprisingly quick settlement, Teresa got back all the money Bruce had churned from her AdVest account, and she learned that Bruce has gone from their firm to PaineWebber. (“He should have gone to Payne Whitney.”)

Now Bruce is threatening to sue her if she doesn’t return his $1000 deposit for the Fire Island house. Teresa should just send him back the money, but you know Teresa: she wants to see him suffer.

At this point, money’s no problem for her. When her tax refund comes and when she sells the co-op on Ocean Parkway, Teresa should be well-heeled again.

She’s been busy training others for the Family Pages selling spree, and other activities have also kept her occupied. She said that she couldn’t quiet the baby down and he hadn’t gone to sleep until 10 PM.

It sounded like she expects me to stay at her apartment when I get to New York.

So maybe I can stay at Teresa’s for a while.

I also phoned Ronna at 11 PM, and Lori answered the phone (poor woman, I got her out of the shower) and said that Ronna was out at a concert at Merkin Hall.

When I called back a little later, Ronna said she had a bad cold and needed to go to sleep, so I took only five minutes of her time. She’s been busy, too: working nights at concerts for her job at the Hebrew Arts School and then coming into the office as usual during the day.

I wanted to tell her more stuff, but I’ll speak to her soon. It’s too bad Ronna didn’t come down to visit, though perhaps it was for the best: Reality has a way of bringing dreams down to plodding dullness, irritation and boredom.

I’m not sure how I feel about Josh’s visit; it would be a whole lot better for my schedule if he were coming a week later. But since I did manage to get him a rental car reservation, he should be more on his own than Teresa was — and he’s got Candy.

Heaven knows how they’ll manage on that one twin bed (with one pillow), but that’s not my problem. I think Candy’s mother used to work at Nova, so if she still does, it will be convenient to be on the same campus.

I hate to be such a workaholic. You know, I really don’t have that much pressing business, so I need to lighten up and try to enjoy my friend’s visit.

After all, in New York last spring, I was the one who had all the free time while my friends had to work. Probably Josh will understand. He’s kind and thoughtful to offer me a chance to work at Blue Cross, but I’m not ready for that yet.

If nothing comes from Columbia for my application to Teachers College, I’d like to get some kind of teaching gigs, adjunct or otherwise, and work in the summer and fall in New York.

Then, next winter, I’d like to come back to Florida and be a student at FIU and FAU again, taking whatever computer ed courses are offered, along with other interesting education classes and maybe classes in other fields.

Learning is my first love, and I wish I could find a job where I could work with ideas.

Some more thoughts: It’s just struck me how incredibly lucky I am. Schmuck that I can be, I usually take for granted the amazing luxuries of my life. Chief among them is my freedom.

Unlike Josh or Ronna or Alice, I’m not embroiled in office politics. I don’t have to worry about my boss’s boss’s boss. The only pressure I’m under is my own. I set the deadlines, make the demands, make the rules.

It’s like a flash of lightning hitting me: I already have what so many people want.

Yet I complain. Even when I taught at BCC, I had a fairly flexible schedule and little interference.

As an adjunct, I’ve had even less responsibility. If John Jay wants to lay me off, fine, I accept that cheerfully, but that also gives me the freedom to walk away from John Jay whenever I want and to feel no loyalty to them.

I’m already living a 21st century life.

Crad is undoubtedly correct when he says that Ontario should give its citizens a guaranteed minimum wage even if they’re not working. We’ve just got to get the old Protestant ethic out of our heads.


Friday, March 29, 1985

1 AM. I brought Josh and Candy home, and they’re sleeping on the other mattress, which they’ve taken into the front room so they can have privacy.

They make quite a couple. I don’t know how they’ll avoid getting on each other’s nerves because they are opposite in temperament. Candy is bubbly, cheerful, a bit ditsy and somewhat dense; Josh is quiet, moody, sullen and somewhat rigid.

Although they are both given to non sequitur, their trains of thought seem to move on tracks that are continents apart — so that following their conversation is like being led blindfold through an amusement park funhouse.

(I know: mixed metaphors. But it’s the middle of the night.)

In the few minutes I was alone with Josh, he told me he doesn’t know what he’s doing here. He seems disoriented, but a lot of people are when they get off a plane.

Wanda’s dropping him was a terrible shock: “I’ve hardly ever been this affected by a woman.”

Coming on top of the dog’s death — which itself was a devastating loss — the breakup has left him numb, shaken and defenseless.

When Candy sent him a sympathy note after Butch died, they got together and she suggested he accompany her on her visit to Florida.

Because he figured getting out of the apartment would do him good, he agreed — but I can tell that he’s here, and with Candy, because he doesn’t know what else to do.

His brother plans on taking off from work tomorrow, so Josh wants to rent a car early and drive to Miami Beach to see him.

Josh sent me regards from Joyce. She is such a nice person.

I had no trouble driving to Miami Airport; in fact, it was quite a treat.

*

3 PM. I have to be leaving for FAU in Boca soon. My head is killing me. As expected, I didn’t get much sleep.

Josh was anxious to get out early to meet his brother, so we were out of here by 8:15 AM, had breakfast at Denny’s, and an hour after that, Josh had rented the car and was off to North Miami Beach. (I gave him directions on the map.)

Meanwhile, Candy and I drove to the Strip to gaze at the Spring Breakers, and then I took her to her mother’s at Sunrise Lakes, where Mrs. Hurwitz had left the key under the doormat.

After getting the mail (lots, none substantially interesting), I’ve been lying down, but I’ve got a headache that won’t quit.


Sunday, March 31, 1985

2 PM. I’m expecting Amira and her friend within the hour. She called my parents on Friday night but didn’t leave her number. Last evening she phoned me from South Miami, where she and her traveling companion were staying with a friend.

Amira admitted that she was impressed with South Florida’s warm and sunny weather, its physical beauty, and the bars and restaurants her friend took her to. She also thought Vizcaya and the Grove were beautiful.

After finally sleeping well last night, I woke up early, feeling refreshed. As usual, I spent the morning reading the Sunday papers.

I found an ad from Baruch College, which is looking for someone to take over their new masters program in computer education. That means that CUNY is finally getting one, and I may have a low-cost alternative to Columbia and NYU.

Maybe I can attend Baruch while being an adjunct there (last fall, I turned down a class at Baruch, remember?) and at other schools.

As of now, I do plan to return to Florida next winter. Oh, I sometimes hate the narrow-mindedness here, but I find that I’m just as upset with the New York provincialism of my friends when they visit.

Josh, who’s never moved out of Brooklyn, and Amira, who’s never lived anywhere but Manhattan, seem astounded by everyday facets of life most people take for granted — say, that just because a phone call is in the same area code doesn’t mean it’s not long-distance.

More than anything else, I hate the parochial viewpoint. I feel that living in different places helps me to see things in a broader way. If I had the courage, I would live in other places besides New York and Florida: on the West Coast, or even in another country.

As for the rest of the year — the remaining three-quarters of 1985 — I think that the best plan is to play it by ear.

At the very worst, I can return to Florida in August and find a job teaching English in a high school; Patrick says Broward County is desperate for high school English teachers.

Or I could get combat pay in the New York City public schools — though I’d have a tougher time economically and professionally.

Ideally, I’d like to live in Manhattan from May to December, teaching and taking courses, and then spend the winter in Florida. But I’ve spent the last year doing just about what I’ve wanted to, and I know that can’t last forever.

I also hanker to try life in Boston, Washington, Philadelphia or Baltimore: a small step away from New York, but it would be different.

I’m not yet ready to go all the way across the country to California, though I have the feeling I’d love San Francisco.

Sometimes, though — usually when I haven’t yet adjusted to the latest change in my life — I feel like settling down. But I know that the more adaptable I am, the better off I am.

Probably I’m overreacting to my years of agoraphobia and my delayed adulthood. I lived in the same room till I was 28, and now I want to experience more of the world.

*

It’s after midnight.

Amira and Cate got here at about 5 PM. At the sight of each other, Amira and I hugged as she said, “Rich-iee!” the way she usually does, in a squeal.

Cate is 22, a slim, extremely pretty girl with dark blond hair, a quiet manner, and something about her that makes her seem older than she is. In her relationship with Amira, Cate seems the more mature and more protective one.

After chatting a bit in the apartment, we drove to the Fort Lauderdale beach to watch the sight of the Spring Breakers at the Strip.

Amira got a kick out of seeing that scene, but Cate said she’d rather be around the blue-haired old people in Miami Beach, where they’d spent the afternoon.

After watching the sun set, we went to Spats in the Galleria for dinner, during which the whole story of the night Teresa returned to New York got recounted to me from Amira’s point of view.

As much as it pains me to admit it, Amira is more in the right than Teresa is. I trust Amira more than I do Teresa.

That night sounds like it was a nightmare.

Cate was also there, and as she told me, she had no reason to dislike Teresa at first — even though Teresa, when she met her, found Cate disgusting and told Amira (and later, me) so.

Apparently, that night Teresa said some repulsive things to Cate, so repulsive that even Teresa’s father told her to shut up.

Amira said that Teresa’s mother was in shock: it was clear she had no idea of some of the things Teresa has done.

Although it was hard to listen to all of this, I also needed — or wanted — someone with whom to share my growing frustrations with Teresa.

Reluctantly, I have to conclude that Teresa, whatever her virtues, can be a person who wrecks other people’s lives. It’s sad because, as Amira said, Teresa can’t possibly feel good about herself.

After dinner, we drove back to West Broward, and I took Amira and Cate to see my parents’ house. Mom was upstairs, still not feeling well, but Dad was charming.

He’s a good conversationalist, and I felt proud of him, especially as I knew how they’d say how young and good-looking he was.

After stopping at Albertsons to get a few things, we came back here. I said there was no sense in them paying $40 for a motel in West Palm Beach tonight when they could stay with me.

So, like Josh and Candy, they took the other mattress into the front room. It’s a great joy to have them here.

Because of my experience with Sean, I obviously feel supportive of Amira’s relationship with Cate.

Cate managed to get Amira through her unemployment, her pregnancy, all the trouble with Adam, and the fiasco with Teresa.

Early tomorrow morning they’re going to leave for Disney World, and Josh will be coming over soon after that.

I’m grateful to have my New York friends visit.TC mark

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