A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1986

Wednesday, January 22, 1986

3 PM. Last evening’s Public Policy class was okay. The teacher is spirited, but she’s not the keenest intellectual: she mispronounced “laissez-faire,” “entrepreneur” and “Keynesian,” but at least she’s a liberal Democrat.

In fact, considering the present mood of the country, it’s surprising how liberal the class is. I was expecting most of the students to be dyed-in-the-wool Reaganites.

At home, I phoned Grandma Ethel, who sounded fine and said it’s been pretty mild in New York lately. Grandma had just come from helping Jean Morse celebrate her 89th birthday.

Then, after three nights of busy signals, I finally got through to Ronna. She had just gotten off the phone with her mother, who was in Miami. Bernice is probably going to buy a house in the same development as her sister’s in Orlando; from the way she described it to Ronna, it sounded very nice.

Billy visited Gainesville but thought the University of Florida was too big a school for him. He liked the idea of commuting from home to the University of Central Florida, but the people there told him he was overqualified. (Ronna gave them credit for that.)

Billy also liked Rollins College, but it’s small and expensive – so right now they’re going to see if he can get money if he goes back to Brandeis.

Work at the Hebrew Arts School is the same, and there haven’t been any new job interviews lately. Ronna said she missed me, and I told her I hoped to see her in Florida.

This morning the phone rang. Not too many people have my number, so a phone call is a rare event. It was Chet Lutwig, assistant principal of Fort Lauderdale High School.

I’d heard they had a vacancy in computer ed, and so I sent them an application to see what would happen. Anyway, he wanted me to come in for an interview, and I said I’d be there at 1 PM.

After some banking and other chores, I had lunch at the Galleria and went to the school, which is the oldest in the county. Most of the Fort Lauderdale establishment are graduates, so the school is favored, and many teachers have been on staff ten or twenty years.

Mr. Lutwig chatted with me for half an hour. I told him I didn’t need to work because I was financially independent and he said the instructor I’d replace “is in your position” and wanted to work only part-time in business.

He has five classes, starting at 7:30 AM and going till the end of the day, about 3:30 PM, all in Computer Literacy or Computer Programming. There are two women on the faculty who also teach computer classes; they come from a middle school and from industry in New York.

The school’s computer program is just getting underway, but they’ve got two new labs with Apple IIe’s as well as two labs with IBM PCs.

The student body, he said, is a nice mix: 35% poor black kids (“but they’re good kids, not militants”); 35% white middle-class kids; and about 30% wealthy white kids from the Intracoastal.

He’s seeing at least a dozen people, so I don’t expect to get the job, but if I were called back for a second interview with the principal and the other computer teachers, I’d go, and I couldn’t turn down the job if it were offered.

I’d be giving up a lot of freedom, but this would get me in computer education and after a year and a half at Fort Lauderdale High School, I could take my skills to private industry and not have to worry about making a living.

It’s nice to know I was considered and that I have all these options. I was right to invest in my education.

Ray won’t be in class tonight because he’s at the Computer Educators conference in Orlando, but I plan to go over to Davie and see if I can get stuff out of the warehouse.

It’s a warm, sunny day. God, it would be strange to be a computer teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School, of all places. But I’m a fatalist and feel that if it’s not right, then it won’t happen.


Saturday, January 25, 1986

7 PM. Lisa called last night, and because she was so upset, we ended up talking for 90 minutes. Yesterday was the final for the most troublesome of her classes at the high school, and she had to give end-of-semester grades to all her students.

Because so many of them failed to do the required work or just goofed off, Lisa was forced to give them F’s – and that killed her, as it did to give C’s to students who, with a little effort, could have gotten A’s.

After hearing Lisa describe the myriad techniques she used with her classes in an attempt to stimulate them, I have no doubt she’s the most innovative and caring teacher in the school.

Yet the students look on her as loony for bothering to be so concerned.

She feels they can’t shake loose from the adversarial relationship; it’s like the John Jay class who seemed to take pleasure in fighting my efforts to help them.

It’s easy to see why it’s the good teachers who burn out.

Lisa says that she’s much more emotionally involved with her high school kids than she ever was with college students.

The way it sounded to me, as I told Lisa, was a case of “pearls before swine.” She’s putting all this emotional and intellectual energy into these kids, and she’ll go on doing her best until she either quits or becomes one of the standard poker-faced fuck-you types who teach by rote and who have long ago stopped caring or educating.

Alice had told me to pick her up at the Yankee Clipper at 10 AM, but when I got there, the parking lot attendant told me that Alice was at the Diplomat in Hollywood. Although I was somewhat annoyed, I knew Alice wouldn’t have made the change unless it was unavoidable.

Besides, it was a gorgeous sunny and mild day, and as I drove own A1A, I could check out the ocean, beach and great bodies.

At the Diplomat, Alice apologized and introduced me to two of her tour-mates, Jami Bernard, (who reminded me of Stacy), a writer for the New York Post, and Eric from Ladies Home Journal.

The tour had been badly run, they said, and they’d seen more hotel rooms than they wanted to and not enough stuff to write travel articles about.

Alice (who’s got assignments from American West and Grit) and the others wanted to visit Davie and see the town’s Western theme.

So we went to Teepee Western Wear, the Davie Town Hall with its horse statue, the Rodeo Arena, Grif’s Western clothing store and feed store, and Spyke’s Orange Groves. At all these places, Alice and the others queried the store managers and owners, took photos, and moseyed around.

We had a hard time trying to find people on horseback, but finally we did – although Alice was unable to find someone hitching up a horse to the hitching post at McDonald’s.

I enjoyed listening to some of the Davie old-timers. Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce was closed, or I would have gotten some brochures.

Anyway, this driving around took up time, and Eric and Jami wanted to get back to the hotel for a 1:45 PM ride up the New River on the Jungle Queen.

Alice stayed with me, and we went to have lunch at Spats in the Galleria. I was glad for the chance to talk about personal matters.

She’s no longer seeing Peter “except when I can’t control myself,” but they’ve been together once a week or so. I think it’s really over, but that the relationship will drag on for a while – at least until Alice finds someone she cares about as much.

I took her here to see my apartment, which she said was okay (though maybe she thought it was sterile and creepy), and then we got to my parents’ just as Mom and Dad and Jonathan were driving home from the flea market.

Since Alice is also doing a piece on the flea market, Alice asked if I’d take her to the Swap Shop tomorrow, and of course I don’t mind; it’s a pleasure to spend time with someone I can really talk to.

Mom and Dad were happy to see Alice; she kissed both of them, and they all chatted for half an hour.

Later, Alice told me that though I’d warned her how fat Mom had become, it was a shock to see her. “She used to be so glamorous-looking,” Alice said.

She said Jonathan looked anorexic and terrible (she’s right) and that there seemed to be some tension between my parents (right again: she picked that up from the way Dad barked at Mom, the way he usually does with all of us).

“I used to think, growing up,” Alice said, “that you had a perfect, Ozzie-and-Harriet family.” That, of course, was never true.

Alice’s perceptions were interesting and valid.


Sunday, January 26, 1986

7 PM. I spent most of the day with Alice until a couple of hours ago when I took her back to her hotel on the beach.

Her visit, like Pete’s, was a welcome change from the weekdays when I don’t really have any friends to talk with.

I picked her up at noon at Riverside Hotel on Las Olas, where they’d taken the group for brunch. One of FPL’s frequent power losses (a play on the initials) was occurring at the time, probably due to a thunderstorm just beginning to gather force.

It looked as if we were racing the rain down Sunrise Boulevard, and we both got to the flea market at the same time.

Alice, worried that she wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone if people left because of the weather, hopped out of the car to interview some vendors.

After I parked, I got in the thick of the flea market, and as I’d known I would be (that’s why I’d never gone there before), I felt depressed by the tackiness of it and felt uncomfortable with the large crowds and the unfamiliar, confusing aisles of tables.

It was a good fifteen minutes before I found Mom and Jonathan, and it took another fifteen before I could locate Alice.

She said I could leave for an hour while she worked, and as I was antsy, hungry and headachy (I’ve had a doozy of a sinus headache since last night), I was glad to.

When I returned, a bitterly whipping wind was scuttling dust and sand everywhere, and I had to help Mom and Jonathan take apart their canopy: no easy task in the turbulence.

What really depresses me about the flea market is that my family have to work like dogs there. It seemed so tacky, so hard.

I know I sound like a snob, but the worst teaching job I’ve had can’t compare with how bad it must be to work in that flea market, and I wish my parents and brothers didn’t have to be there.

How come I escaped that life? How did my values change from those of my parents and brothers?

This sounds pompous to me, but it’s obvious we’re very different. Was I always that way, or was it my experiences in colleges that changed me?

No wonder I feel so different from writers who come from backgrounds where the parents were doctors (Susan) or professors (Miriam) or bank presidents (George Myers): Not only were they wealthier, but the kind of wealth their parents had gave them more freedom to pursue artistic, not moneymaking, interests.

Normally I would be the generation who’d have children who’d become a writer or an artist. It’s so odd that I became one myself.

Anyway, Alice got tons of material for her story as she interviewed vendors and Preston Henn’s daughter Bonnie in the management office.

We had some problem figuring out which Holiday Inn they’d moved Alice to (since the group had to leave the Yankee Clipper); apparently the PR woman in charge of this tour was a total incompetent.

If it weren’t for me, Alice said, she never would have been able to get any material for her stories on Davie and the flea market.

We finally ascertained that she was checked in at the Holiday Inn at Sunrise Boulevard and the beach, but before I dropped her off, we stopped for a snack at Wolfie’s and a last conversation.

I’ll miss Alice.

By the way, she said Jami thought I was cute and very nice and said she wouldn’t mind seeing me again. I was definitely attracted to Jami, too.

Alice says that when she looks at young guys, even if they’re very good-looking, all she can think about is how callow they are.

Not me. When I look at their young faces and smooth bodies, all I can think is how beautiful they look.

Well, that’s what makes a ball game. The way I look at guys is no different from the way the average heterosexual slob looks at women.

I think I’m also fairly typical for a male in that when I’m horny, I imagine I could have sex with anyone who wasn’t grotesque – though I know that’s not true in practice.

Well, well, I seem to be pontificating a lot this evening.

Shouldn’t I be watching the Stupor Bowl XX now?

Last night Bill Moyers’ CBS Reports on “The Vanishing Family” brought the bad news home.

Most black children are now born to single mothers, mostly teenagers, while the teen fathers get trapped in the street and are done in by no hope of employment; the boys end up murdered or as conscienceless murderers themselves. (When life has no value, it’s easy to kill someone.)

What a terrible tragedy is playing itself out in the inner cities. I’ve seen it with my John Jay and Baruch students who are children having children. It’s such a mess. I don’t see how we can help the situation.

The horrible part is that it’s a cycle that seems endless: Moyers presented three generations of single mothers on welfare, guys who have no way to express their manhood except for being baby-makers (though not baby-supporters) in a world of ever-present violence. Sickening!

Reading over what I just wrote, I see that Jaimy Gordon was right in her American Book Review essay on my books: I’m not a graceful stylist. My writing has feeling, but it’s clumsy and adolescent.

Perhaps I’ll never really succeed as an “adult” writer, that my best writing is already behind me.

What to do? Ten years ago I thought I’d be famous one day. Now it’s dawning on me that it’s already too late for me. The “hot” writers are 23, 24, 25.

Of course, the one thing I have in my favor is that nobody else has experienced life the way I have, and nobody can perceive it quite the same way.

But I guess that’s true of everyone?


Tuesday, January 28, 1986

2 PM. The space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after it was launched.

Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to go into space, was aboard, along with six other astronauts. As of yet, they haven’t announced their deaths, but it’s obvious they must have just blown apart in the explosion.

I was driving down University Drive when a bulletin interrupted a radio call-in show: first they announced “a malfunction” aboard the space shuttle, and then an explosion. I felt sick to my stomach as I heard the news.

I’d been on my way to the credit union, and I wondered if people there had heard. But as I wrote yesterday, we live in a global village. Someone had brought out a TV set and people were watching it numbly.

For some reason, I felt comforted by the sight of the TV, reassured by the sense of community it gave. Oddly – or maybe not so odd – I wanted to be with my family.

Marc, Jonathan and Mom had seen the launch live, and Mom said she’d had a premonition: That teacher is going to die, she told herself. I watched the repeat of the launch and the terrible explosion and fireball.

Today is one of those days when a public tragedy dominated private lives. I’ve got the TV on now, though I don’t know what good it can do.

*

10 PM. I just returned from FAU.

I’m surprised at how affected I was by the space shuttle tragedy. Even while I was in my car for those first 15 minutes of news reports, I felt stunned. It was like when the Kennedys and King were assassinated or when I heard about Kent State or the assassination attempt on Reagan.

Right now I’m not sure if the media practiced overkill with many hours of live coverage or if that is what we all wanted to watch.

It wasn’t until 4:30 PM that NASA announced the presumed deaths of the crew members; at 5 PM, President Reagan, who had canceled tonight’s State of the Union address, came on and gave a reassuring talk.

(Although I despise the man’s policies and think he’s dumb, on TV he’s the kind of leader we need.)

At FAU, there was a huge crowd around the TV in the common room, but I was worn out. I actually felt the same hollow feeling I had last when Grandpa Herb died three years ago.

But why? I’ve never followed the space program closely, although I guess I did identify with the teacher, the first civilian to go into space; I’m sure, like many others, I had fleeting thoughts about what it would be like to go myself.

On Saturday, Alice told me she’d applied to NASA in the recent competition among journalists.

But that couldn’t be it entirely.

I felt awful when the Air Florida plane crashed into the Potomac a few years ago, but I’d known about plane crashes all my life; I’d seen others on TV. This was the first manned space flight to end in disaster.

I asked Marc if he remembered how, in 1961-1962, when we were in P.S. 203, how we watched the Mercury launches, and he, too, recalled being told to pray for astronauts Shepard and Glenn. People were really scared they might die.

But I’ve grown up with these launches, and recently the Space Shuttle flights in particular had become so routine as to be boring.

Now I see it’s really surprising this kind of thing didn’t happen sooner.

The Space Shuttle was an icon, a symbol of High Technology and what it could do. Perhaps, awful as it is, we have to be reminded that nothing is completely safe. The astronauts were taking a risk, as we all do.

Every time I go on an airplane, I think about dying in a crash, but the risk always seems worth it. As many people have pointed out, we even take a risk when we get into a car or onto a subway or a bus.

I think this is how I’d feel if someone I knew died in a car crash. It’s important to remember that living life itself is a risk.

Class tonight was interesting, and I participated a lot. Except for a middle-aged woman, I’m the oldest student in the class; most of them are super-materialistic business majors whom the instructor loves to chide.

I see that my mind is sharper than theirs, and it’s possible that if I chose to go into business, I could be more successful than these people.

This afternoon I went with Marc to the warehouse, where I got out some xeroxes of my stories published in little magazines.

Reading a few, I was pleasantly surprised at their strengths. Some work evoked my college days, an era which seems historical in 1986.

I’m totally certain Zephyr Press or any other publisher could make one and possibly two good books out of what I have.

I really have to get my material together, and also get my press clips, too.

I’ve undervalued myself as a writer. While I may never be able to write stuff that good again, some of my uncollected stories deserve to be in books. Really, nobody ever saw these stories in litmags.

Teresa phoned last night. She has had no word from the Comptroller’s office, and it looks as though the job might have gone to someone else. She’s still got some hope, though it fades every day. Frank says he’ll try to get her something else.

Everything with Michael seemed fine, at least. For a change, Teresa didn’t complain about him neglecting her or treating her badly.TC mark

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