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

Monday, April 1, 1985

10 PM. It’s been a strange day, and I feel somewhat disoriented. Part of it has been seeing Josh and Candy, and Amira and Cate these past few days.

Part of it is also working with my family and Josh to move our stuff into the new warehouse space this morning. It’s so weird, seeing so much of my life in boxes.

It wasn’t so much the boxes of books I wrote, or of books and magazines I own, or the clippings and stories which give record to my public career activities.

More than those, it was the personal effects which got to me:

The clothes I forgot I used to wear – including some of my favorites.

The photos we spent a good half hour laughing at and getting wistful over: all of us boys – even Josh – with long hair, photos of dead grandparents and uncles, of houses and apartments we used to live in, of Brooklyn College five years ago, Mom looking thin and beautiful, Dad looking the age I am now, Jonathan in rubber diapers, Marc in graduation cap and gown, Ronna holding her books in front of her, Avis, Elspeth, Jerry, Teresa, Mason, Mara, Mike and Mikey, Leon, Skip, my friends in the Ol’ Spigot office: everyone frozen on film.

And the blanket I hid under when I was depressed in Rockaway; Lambie Pie, earless and ragged but whose music box still plays; letters from Crad and Rick; love letters from Shelli; college transcripts.

My whole life reduced to boxes in a warehouse.

Well, I don’t mean to sound melancholy or cosmic or pretentious. I’ve just managed, in the last year, to live with so little from my past, so seeing what was in all those boxes came as a shock.

Josh came here at 8:30 AM, declaring over and over that his brother “married a monster.” She does sound horrible: a belittling, nagging shrewish wife to Josh’s brother.

Josh said that his nephew is real cute and that his brother has a nice home and a fairly good business in lawn care, despite his sister-in-law’s protestations about their having no money.

Josh did spend a good deal of money on his brother and his family, and I know Josh felt really glad that he spent time with him after so many years apart. Josh said he even enjoyed being with my family.

And I have to admit that Mom, Dad and Marc can be real pissers when they want to be. They all have a sense of humor I can appreciate, an ironic sense, a fairly quick wit. Dad and Marc can do a routine looking through records that rivals similar sketches in TV comedy.

I do like my family: I’ve underestimated them, and I’ve got to remember how important they are in my life.

Finishing up at the warehouse, Josh and I took a drive out on State Road 84 to the Alligator Alley toll booth, had lunch at Taco Viva, and picked up some tasteless alligator-bites-girl postcards for Josh to send to the folks back home.

In the mail, I got a Glendale Federal MasterCard, in a joint account with Dad, for a $1000 credit line. This is getting ridiculous already. My intention in applying was to get turned down for credit and thus to get to see my credit report.

On the envelope of his letter, Rick scribbled, “Saw you in Coda!” I hope that means they printed my photograph.

Justin sent the announcement for Ferry Tales, which runs on weekends at the Meat and Potatoes Company’s theater till May 7.

I got other mail, too, but had to run off to class, where I think I got Pam to explain the sorting routine to me.

As the class was introduced to LOGO, I started to combine my craps game with my joke-telling machine, and I realize I’ve got all the operations and primitives that Sheila wants for our FAU LOGO project.

If I just work on the kinks, I should have an acceptable project by next Friday for sure.

Because he’d barely slept all weekend, Josh was very tired, so we didn’t go out tonight.

He said Teresa called while I was out and said I’d gotten an invitation to a wedding. It sounds like it’s Larry and Judy’s, and it will be a pleasure to celebrate their marriage.


Tuesday, April 2, 1985

8 PM. Last night I finally had a good, long conversation with Ronna. I feel I can talk to her the way I write in my journal, that she won’t think I’m silly if I tell her about my thirst for learning or my plans for the future.

I also like to listen to her own plans for her life. Right now, she has loads of job frustrations. Also, her internal censor is stymieing her playwriting.

Unfortunately, Ronna’s well-developed critical sense makes her embarrassed to just write things out. She’s keeping a journal, but she uses that more for her therapy sessions than for writing.

I slept soundly, though I couldn’t compare with Josh, who conked out early and slept through the night. When I got up to go to the bathroom, Josh asked me what time it was, and when I said “Four,” Josh wanted to know if it was daytime or nighttime.

Today was one of those rare dark, chilly, rainy days I treasure but which can’t be pleasant for visitors to Florida. Josh didn’t seem to mind, though.

After he took one of his famous 15-minute showers (“It’s the only place I can think”), we went out to breakfast and then to one of the Griffin Road groves, where Josh had some citrus sent back to his parents in Brooklyn.

We drove to the beach and watched a subdued scene of Spring Breakers; it was too dark and cold for the beach and so they seemed fairly tame today as they looked out from hotel balconies and walked the Strip.

After lunch, we stopped in downtown Fort Lauderdale so I could sign in at the Florida Job Service. I still haven’t received my last check.

Tomorrow I go to Unemployment and apply for the Extended Benefits. The program ended on Sunday, but I should qualify for the last two weeks, and today the House approved a phase-out that might make those now getting benefits able to get their eight weeks in. I guess I’ll find out soon.

If I can get an extra $300 by hanging out in Florida till May 1, I probably will.

In late afternoon, Josh went to his brother’s and I drove to the Commercial Boulevard FAU campus, where I learned I got my third A on one of Prof. Murray’s tests.

Today our Measurement class had an interesting guest, Jim Rockwell, head of psychological testing for the county, and we discussed IQ tests and their use and misuse in schools.

At this point, K-12 teachers seem to be laboring under a testing barrage started when the back-to-basics and accountability trends burgeoned in the mid-’70s.

I think we’re probably due for another shift in the winds, à la the ’60s revolt against “the tyranny of testing.”

A newspaper report surfaced that there’s a plan to make Broward Community College and Miami-Dade Community College four-year schools, but I doubt it will be taken seriously.

The Florida legislature convened today, with growth management the big issue. But will it be too late to control the rampant growth?


Wednesday, April 3, 1985

8 PM. Josh must have decided to stay at his brother’s again tonight. That means he’ll be here early in the morning.

His and Candy’s flight leaves at 4 PM or so, and I have to take him to drop off the rental car before that.

Last night I slept and let the decongestant work to relieve my throbbing sinus headache. That and the change in weather probably helped. Today was fair but quite cool for April in Florida: it got up to only 72°.

This morning I went to various banks and took out $1800 total in cash advances on the three credit cards I’ve received in the past few weeks: the Bank One Visa, the Southeast Gold MasterCard, and the Glendale Federal MasterCard.

I put the money in my credit union account, bringing that up to about $4000. With the money I’ve got in my Citibank (South Dakota) checking – another $2500 – I have more money in the bank than I ever have had.

Of course, I owe more than $10,000, but I want to cut down my expenses on the older credit cards and build up bigger balances on the new ones.

At noon, I went over to the BCC computer lab and worked out one BASIC problem that was vexing me. Then I drove to Unemployment, where I learned that I was not alone in not getting my check from two weeks ago.

Everyone on line had the same story, and when the worker got to me, the first thing she said was, “Don’t tell me: You didn’t get your check.” Apparently, a whole day’s batch of claim forms never reached Tallahassee.

I re-signed for that check, and I signed for my first check under the expiring Extended Benefits program. If Congress and the President don’t approve an extension, I’ll just sign for one more week via the mail.

However, if Reagan signs the bill giving those already under the plan a chance to collect their full benefits, I may get some extra money. In any case, I should get a check for $600 sometime next week.

Driving home along Sunrise Boulevard, I found myself next to Marc in his car, coming back from the flea market. He’d had a good day, he said.

At BCC, the campus was deserted because they’re now in their short spring break. Pam gave us back our last quiz (I got a 96) and gave us our fifth and final quiz, on which I got 100%.

She taught us ON…GOTO (GOSUB) and double subscript arrays and gave us no homework over the two-week FIU hiatus. Now all I’ve got left in BASIC class is the final exam.

It’s hard to believe I may be back in New York in little more than three weeks.


Thursday, April 4, 1985

8 PM. Last night I did some stomach exercises – I haven’t had a good workout since Saturday – and spoke with both Susan and Justin.

Susan has been busy teaching at Hunter College and through Teachers and Writers Collaborative, and she’s also been working on freelance magazine articles.

Her Coda piece on adjuncts – I received my copy today – has been well-received so far, and she’s just finished a new piece on writers’ health insurance options for Coda.

Susan said she’d like to make $5000 a year writing articles. She and Spencer plan to go to Britain this summer, and so she probably won’t teach then.

It’s interesting how we all have to scramble to earn money. Justin, who called me after midnight following another long rehearsal, will be scrambling, too, as he’s decided to quit his job at Eddie Murphy Productions after Eddie’s tour ends in mid-May.

After two years there, Justin doesn’t want to be a secretary any more: “I’ve done that all my working life.” I applauded his risk-taking. He’ll try to get more directing jobs and other theater-related gigs.

The play’s rehearsals are sometimes frustrating, as his lead actors have very different approaches, and Alice Spivak, though Justin’s friend, doesn’t take direction very well and fights him constantly.

I asked Justin to get me tickets for Friday, May 5, and the following Sunday; I’m not sure which day I can make it.

Both Susan and Justin asked me what my plans were, and I had a hard time telling them, because I don’t know myself.

They seemed to think I’m settling into something permanent, but I can’t feel any sense of permanence in my life yet.

When I get to New York, I will be going to Teresa’s at first. From our conversation a few hours ago, it was obvious she expects me – and I want to start out in a familiar place.

“I’ll just play it by ear,” I told Susan, resorting to a metaphor I don’t really understand.

Teresa said she’d send back my acceptance of the invitation to Larry and Judy’s wedding in Lynbrook on Sunday, May 19.

New York seems to be encroaching itself on my consciousness. There’s Justin’s play, my reading at Darinka, Larry and Judy’s wedding, an invitation I got to another dedication at the Poets’ Corner at St. John the Divine, the New School course on artificial intelligence that I registered for. . .

Teresa is dating Victor, a 49-year-old divorced father of six, a former NYPD cop who works as a headhunter. He adores Teresa and lends her his car to do with as she pleases. But she feels indifferent toward him and says “he doesn’t have a good command of the English language.”

Teresa’s life sounds full these days, which is good for her – and for me, because it takes the pressure off.

This morning, Josh got here at 10 AM and went with me to FAU/Commercial Boulevard to register for the summer so I can get my guaranteed student loan check; it took no time, and a part of me wishes I could actually take the classes.

Everything has fallen into place except that I haven’t heard from Columbia. Once that happens, I can make a clearer decision as to how to spend the rest of 1985.

Josh admitted that his sister-in-law wasn’t so bad this visit, and he worried that his brother will “kill himself” by working so hard with his lawn business.

Josh and Candy hadn’t spoken since Monday night, when they had an abrupt conversation, but I figured I’d drive them both to the airport.

However, at Sunrise Lakes, nobody was home at her mother’s condo, and Josh kept calling all afternoon without getting an answer. He even called Candy’s mother at work, but they told him she was out today.

So I assumed that Candy would get to the airport with her mother. Although it struck me as very peculiar that Josh and Candy came down here together, then did not see each other the whole time, that’s how they are.

After Josh brought his rental car back, we had lunch in the Hallandale Pumpernik’s, where we were both touched by our conversation with an old widow sitting next to us. She seemed desperately lonely and sad; it was obvious she’d been a cultivated and educated woman in New York.

Then I drove Josh to Miami Airport to get his plane.

I’m glad he finally came to Florida. Of my close friends, only Ronna hasn’t been here to visit me.

I can remember what I was doing on April 4, 1968, when I learned Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed. It was a terrible time; I always relate the national turmoil to the confusion I myself felt at that age.

I was 17 then, 17 years ago. That means I’ve lived half my life since then. Imagine: half my life I’ve been out of high school.

Soon it will be more than that, and eventually I’ll be an old man at Pumpernik’s.


Friday, April 5, 1985

2 PM. It’s Good Friday and tonight is the first night of Passover.

Although attendance is optional due to the religious holidays, I expect to go to FAU-Boca and attend our LOGO class, as I have a good deal of work to do on my project.

Last night Josh called from Brooklyn. He said he had Candy paged at the airport, and five minutes before the plane’s boarding time, he finally got Candy’s mother on the phone.

Candy’s mother was cold and nasty, he reported, and when she finally put her daughter on the line, Candy told Josh she’d made other arrangements – and when he heard that, Josh hung up on her.

Although Candy should have called Josh, you can’t blame her for being hurt and angry after Josh treated her so shabbily. If he didn’t want to have much to do with her, he would have been better off coming down here alone.

It’s funny how easily I can see where friends like Josh and Teresa go astray in their relationships; I wish I could see myself that clearly.

Crad sent The Green Book and The Blue Book, his two latest. His new long story, “Mr. Schlepp and His Ace Mechanic,” is a real gem. The other stories in the books include some favorites of mine, like “Jap Scientologists Ate My Grandfather.”

“Bad news: I have to move this summer,” Crad wrote. His landlady, granddaughter of the old couple who first rented Crad their basement, is pregnant and needs more room.

Crad is going to have a hard time finding a cheap place to live in Toronto these days. He told me that he got a listing in Who’s Who in Canadian Literature.


Monday, April 8, 1985

8 PM. Last night I spoke to Ronna, who said that her cold is better and that she enjoyed spending the holiday with her family. This year she’s keeping “kosher for Passover” and was baking matzo-meal rolls when I phoned.

Being off from work brightened her spirits, Ronna reported, although the New York weather has been erratic: 75° one day, 35° the next. It won’t be long now before I experience it myself.

Last night I had a pleasant dream in which Larry and Mikey complimented me on an appearance I’d made on a TV sitcom. I only vaguely remembered acting on the show and tried to get a videotape so I could see myself.

This morning I indulged my money compulsions and took out cash advances on my new credit cards so I can pay off my old ones.

Is this sick? Or is this the American way? (Or is it both?) It gives me a kick to have $8500 in the bank, even if I owe $5000 more than that.

Still, I fit the electronic Calvinist’s profile of a high-income Yuppie. A solicitation from Diners Club I got today began: “Because you have such an important position in the business world. . .”

I got my $67 New York State tax refund and a $300 check from Unemployment; I think it’s one from many weeks ago that never got to me, but I’m also confused, especially with the conflicting messages about Extended Benefits. Tomorrow I’ve got to call the Unemployment office.

Another piece of mail I got was about Barry University’s computer education graduate courses. Actually, their coursework most closely parallels my interests, but they’re twice as expensive as FIU and FAU.

Still, the school is very sloppy: I’d asked for this information several times before, and even today’s mailing came the day registration for next term ended.

At my parents’ house, I did 200 reps of flyes with Jonathan’s dumbbells and weight bench even though yesterday’s chin-ups and pull-ups had already left me a little sore.

Exercise makes me feel wonderful, and I’ve got to keep it up.

Although I’ve got schoolwork to do, all I could manage today was to get into my Measurement text. I’ve really got to get to work on my LOGO projects. I think I’ll combine the classroom activity presentation for both courses and save myself the trouble of doing any more programming.

Actually, all my projects for this week require writing rather than using the computer.

It did my heart good to see, on the national news, the student sit-in at Columbia. Hundreds of kids are protesting the school’s investments in South Africa.

With clasped hands, chants of “We will not be moved,” administrators pleading and threatening over bullhorns: watching it reminded me of my own college days.

Most of these kids were only babies during the big ’68 Columbia protest when I was in my last term of high school.

Apartheid is a great issue because it’s so clear-cut in its evil. Seventeen-year-old Amy Carter, more power to her, was the latest to get arrested at the D.C. South African embassy. I’d be really proud to get arrested for protesting apartheid.

It was a nice break to not have class this evening. I don’t have much on tap tonight, but I would like to get to sleep early so I can do some schoolwork tomorrow.

This week is the calm before the hectic storm of the next two weeks.


Tuesday, April 9, 1985

10 PM. Well, I didn’t get to sleep early last night; in fact, I had such a bad case of insomnia that I didn’t fall asleep until 4:30 AM.

Consequently, I felt out of it most of today: headachy, fuzzy, tired.

I lay in bed till nearly noon, then got my mail, which was just a letter from Tom, who’s got his usual frustrations with his undisciplined adolescents and the annoying educational administrators in New Orleans.

After grocery shopping at Publix, I had lunch out – that was a pleasure – at Hurdy Gurdy’s. Then I lay down till the time came to go to school.

Dr. Murray was late today, but we did go over the MMPI and other personality tests, interest inventories, and other methods to assess aptitudes, personality traits, etc.

Why didn’t I sleep last night? My mind was racing. I tend to become obsessive with what I’m involved in. I have to pull back and look at the situation and not be so much of a Type A.

Example: The credit card situation has gotten out of hand. I spend too much time juggling money around and thinking about money.

Another example: School. Now, suddenly I feel the need to take more and more graduate courses.

I can’t be satisfied with a $22,000 credit line or 18 credits in education. Notice: both deal with credit. I want credit. I want credit for what I’ve done.

Sometimes I feel I’m wasting so much time. Still awake at 2 AM, I decided to write a short essay on the future of avant-garde literature that I sent to Telescope today. At least that was constructive.

I obsess about my body too: I overdo the exercises and end up sore all over.

Again, all these obsessions may be constructive: wanting to have money, to have college credits, to have muscles, to have publications — but I’ve got to learn when to stop needing all this stuff. The same thing with publicity.

Is there a scale on the MMPI that would score this kind of obsessive personality?

Also, I was worried last night about the immediate future. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I think, “What’s to become of me?” But unlike her, I can’t think about it tomorrow; I think about it at 3 AM while I’m tossing and turning.

Sometimes I think I’m so together – Sean once wrote me how much he admired that I was “really together” – but often I feel like a total fraud.

I know that’s not uncommon among high achievers, but that doesn’t help me much. I need to stop needing so much.

Do I even know what I’m saying right now?

Thanks to the Triavils I took when I got home, and the sleep I missed last night, I can hardly stay awake now.

I wrote up a project implementing LOGO in the classroom for tomorrow night’s class. It’s not very good – I hate lesson plans – but it will be adequate for Ray’s class.

Last night I kept thinking about Columbia and wondering if I’m going to hear from them. Unless they offer me a spectacular deal in terms of a fellowship or something, I can’t afford to go to Teachers College.

All six of the courses I’m taking now cost as much as one class at Columbia. There’s no way I can justify spending that much money, not when I haven’t really earned money at a job in a year.

No, I’ve got to delay my gratification – gradually, I’m getting good at it – and work on working and bringing income in.

Is this redundant or literary writing?

The shock of the coming end of the term and of returning to New York in a couple of weeks has finally dawned on me, and I need a good pair of dark glasses to protect my eyes from the hard glare of reality.


Wednesday, April 10, 1985

5 PM. I should have stayed in bed today, for the day has been a succession of mishaps.

This will sound weird, but when I was driving around today, I started thinking about the notion of accidents, and how, as a teenager, after I’d been in therapy with Dr. Lipton for a while, I believed there was no such thing as an accident.

When I told this to Dr. Wouk, he scoffed and said, “Sometimes you can even get involved in somebody else’s accident – like today, when I came back to the parking lot to find that someone had rammed into my car.”

Thinking about this earlier, I parked far away from other cars in the shopping center, but as I returned to my car, I discovered the rear right tire was flat. There was a six-inch needle or spike going in and out of it.

At the service station, the mechanics declared the tire useless, and of course since it’s a rental car, I knew I’d have to replace it, so I did.

At least I had a credit card to ease the pain of the $46 bill. Five years ago, if I’d had to replace a tire, it would have been a major calamity: remember how painful every car repair was when I lived in Rockaway? That’s one reason I know I’ve been smart to get credit cards.

All this time, I was already late for my 2 PM appointment at FAU-Broward to use the CHOICES program. (CHOICES stands for Computer Heuristic Occupational Information and Career Exploration System. At this point in my life, I felt I needed some guidance — plus it is totally free.)

I hadn’t had lunch, either, and was getting hungry and cranky. Although I phoned FAU to say I’d be delayed at least ten times, the number was busy.

Finally, I hurried off to FAU, where the woman in charge was annoyed with me for being late; she obviously didn’t believe my explanation of car trouble. Yes, it was one of those days.

I played with the CHOICES computer until it broke down – and there was no one to help me fix it. Obviously, the career choices it gives are entirely dependent on the selections of interests, aptitudes, etc., that you enter.

On the first go-round, I suspect teaching was eliminated because I asked for a higher starting salary.

Want to hear the best careers the computer selected for me? The first one was “Dancer” and the second one was “Choreographer.”

Ha! I can barely put one foot in front of the other!

After that came, in order:

Sculptor; Illustrator; Fashion Artist; Cartoonist; Producer, Stage and Motion Pictures; Actor, Stage and Motion Pictures; Producer, Music; Conductor, Orchestra; Art Director; Screen Writer; Film Director; Writer, Instructional Materials; Fashion Coordinator; and finally, Advertising Account Executive.

Well, I need to think about that for a while.TC mark

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