A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1986

Tuesday, April 1, 1986

5 PM. Not exactly a disaster, but I need time to digest today. Before I left this morning, I got a call from a producer at WXYT radio in Detroit; I’ll do an interview tomorrow at 5:30 PM, which means I’ll have to get out of class and go over to my parents’.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I walked into the Governmental Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale this morning. A black woman ran the hearing, with me in my corduroys, sport shirt and sneakers on one side of the long table and on the other side, five business-suited attorneys and AmeriFirst Vice Presidents. One man was apparently an outside counsel, but a woman V.P., presumably also an attorney, did most of the talking.

I suppose it was rather intimidating, and I’m sure the absurdity of the scene – like something in a movie – will stay with me for a long time.

Of course, the situation triggered all these weird childhood feelings, especially when I saw how much trouble the S&L had gone to in its marketing studies and accounts of other banks’ practices.

I couldn’t help feeling I’d caused these important people a lot of trouble and would be punished for it. But since I was in touch with those feelings, I could act and react more calmly.

First, they went over my complaint and each side agreed or disagreed with each charge. Early on after that, after a huddle between the attorneys, they offered me the AmeriFirst 55 plan.

But a condition of my accepting it would be confidentiality; I could not tell anyone about the settlement or I could be sued for breach of contract.

I asked to leave the room to “consult my attorney by phone.” Actually, I called Mom to ask her advice. She said that if I accepted the offer, I would be doing something other than what I set to do: namely, to expose and to try to stop age discrimination.

Of course, Mom was right, and her remarks confirmed my own judgment. I let them wait for a good while as I went outside and took a walk around the block a couple of times.

Then I came in and rejected their offer, saying I wouldn’t be happy until their discriminatory practice – the AmeriPlus 55 plan – was ended or made available to everyone, regardless of age.

Naturally they didn’t want to do that.

The hearing officer took me aside and said that the S&L had offered me total redress of my complaint, and that if I didn’t accept it, she’d probably have to end the case on the argument that since I wouldn’t accept their offer, no hurt was done originally.

Had this been a class action suit, I could have gone further, but she said the Human Relations Division had a narrow scope. After some testimony and questioning about the plan versus other AmeriFirst accounts, the hearing was adjourned.

I expect to hear that my complaint has been dismissed. But in a way I will have gotten what I wanted: the public awareness created by the publicity I got over the senior discount issue.

Having rejected their offer, I was free to go to the press, so I called the Miami Herald and gave them a rundown of what happened. Since I intend to go to New York soon, I don’t really want to come back before another hearing before the Human Rights Board this time.

I guess there’s still a slight chance the case could go on, but it’s over for me, whatever happens. Right now I’m too close to the situation to tell how I really feel.

I did some banking and then came home, where I had loads of paperwork awaiting me. I’m also trying to work off the tension of the hearing. But I’ll be fine.


Wednesday, April 2, 1986

10 PM. What a week this has been – but it’s all been good. Last evening I enjoyed class. We discussed consumerism and somehow the discussion turned to senior discounts, and the teacher asked me to tell my story.

Some students in the class had seen me on TV or in the papers. Funny, but I could see them looking at me, their fellow student, in a different light, and later, in the parking lot, several waved or said, “Bye, Rich!”

Up at 5:30 AM, I got the paper from my door and found my photo on the first page of the Herald’s Broward section. “Writer Rejects Senior Benefits” was the headline, and the story pretty much told my side, as AmeriFirst refused comment.

I still haven’t heard from the Human Relations Division, but I did hear from WINZ, who woke me up at 8:30 AM after I’d fallen back asleep, calling to ask for an interview.

I obliged the station, and an hour later I heard myself on the news. (The anchor was my former student Frank Mottek.) I’m getting used to the sound of my own broadcast voice: it sounds familiar to me as anyone’s on TV or radio.

For some reason, I decided to wear a t-shirt and gym pants today instead of my usual sport shirt and corduroys. At BCC early to use the computer lab, I couldn’t help noticing all the well-built young guys in their shorts and tank tops.

When Mike Winerip came to interview me at BCC a few years ago, he thought everyone looked as though they were on the soma of Huxley’s Brave New World. Half the people at BCC look like models.

I don’t quite fit in, but somebody not looking close might have figured I was a student. Or am I kidding myself?

The lab didn’t open on time, and I hung out for a while; Scott, a student I had five years ago, came over to say hello, and I was happy to see him.

When the lab still hadn’t opened, I went over to my parents’ house, where I ate lunch, watched TV and exercised for an hour, doing dips on Jonathan’s exercise machine – the one he built himself – as well as calf raises and shoulder exercises with dumbbells.

Then, back to BCC, I finished my homework in the lab and went to Ray’s BASIC class on the bubble sort.

At 5:15 PM, I had to duck out to do half an hour on the Bob Hynes show on WXYT, Detroit. It was an okay interview; Bob ended by saying I’d done a good job of talking tongue-in-cheek about the celebrity shortage.

After a sandwich, I returned to the computer lab, where Ray, Dave and George all seemed impressed by my People article. I was touched by the sincerity of Dave’s compliments, since he’s usually so sarcastic.

I got the bones of my programming project for this week working okay, and after a long conversation with my classmate Trish Black, the computer teacher at Blanche Forman Elementary, I left at 8:30 PM.

At home, Justin called to congratulate me on the article. He felt it was funny and that it sounded like me. Poor kid, he’s having bad luck with all his projects and plays right now, but he’s really glad for me.

I’m feeling satisfied after three very full days, but I’m also worn out.

It will take time for me to digest all this.


Thursday, April 3, 1986

4 PM. I don’t know how I’m going to get through my Money and Banking class tonight, for I’ve got a splitting headache and feel exhausted. Last night my mind was too active – on everything from BASIC programming problems to my literary career – for me to get much rest.

And today I kept active, figuring I probably wouldn’t be able to rest anyway. At least I was productive. I xeroxed yesterday’s Herald  article along with my résumé, which I need to send out to a few colleges.

Since I need one more article to write about for my Community College class, I went to the BCC library, where I had a strange experience.

Neil and the other librarians descended on me, calling me “TV star” and “celebrity.” As luck would have it, three of my former students were also there, and they also came over to me.

I felt very embarrassed by the attention, but in a way, I loved it, for I felt like . . . well, a celebrity.

They were all so kind and interested in my life, and whatever I said seemed of interest to them, whether it was my People article or the fact that I live on West 85th and Riverside in Manhattan.

“You lead a glamorous life while the rest of us are drudges,” one librarian said. It was very odd, as if I’d become special simply by virtue of being on Dan Rather or in the newspapers. Probably I have a lot to learn about how publicity works and affects people.

In the computer lab, with people I know and see every day, I felt more comfortable. In fact, George had to go out for an hour and left me in charge of the lab while he was gone.

During that time, I worked on the project from yesterday, having the usual frustrations and the ultimate satisfaction of getting my programming to work.

(One classmate suggested that it’s merely the satisfaction you get when you stop beating your head against the wall.)

I love computers and education, but I find I’m not as sharp as I could be because of all my other interests. Still, it’s not as if I’m just a jack of all trades and master of none; I have mastered several trades, even though I may not be living up to my potential in all of them.

Back at my parents’ house, I returned with my elegant computer program to pick up the laundry. By then, they were all back from the flea market, and Jonathan was happy to get his mala – a chain of 102 wooden beads to which is affixed a photo of Bhagwan.

“Everyone in India wears one,” said Jonathan – or Swami Sangit Ansu, his Rajneeshi name – “but Bhagwan put his  photo on his to freak everyone out.”

Mom said that Marc told her that I could have his car, since he’s using only the van these days. Maybe I could save about $300 and not have to rent a car again this weekend.


Friday, April 4, 1986

11: 30 PM. After four busy days, today I pretty much goofed off.

Last evening, in Money and Banking, Ms. Wiggenhorn finished our discussion of stabilization policy and began international money theory, which we finish next class.

Next week is our quiz, and the following week will be our final. I think the final grade in this course will be a heartbreaker for me, since I’m so tantalizingly close to an A.

In the snack bar during the break, I told Mark about the People article – he was duly impressed – but when I told him I was going to New York soon, he said that instead of doing that, “You should be settling down and getting a steady income.”

In the People article, I used Mark as the “Fort Lauderdale marketing major” who shuns celebrityhood because it’s too uncertain a career, and I guess I had him to a T. He’s so boring and stodgy.

Alice had warned me that a 22-year-old would be boring, but I think even she didn’t realize that I’d find Mark an old fogy. I’m sure that in fifteen years, if we’re both still alive, people will think that he’s older than I am.

“Why should I settle down?” I said to Mark. “I’m young.” God, if 22-year-olds act so old today, I’d rather be 34 than 22 any day in the week.

After a good night’s sleep and a calm day, I can reflect a little on this week. I feel great about it! Now that’s exuberance, not reflection, but what I enjoy is the feeling of being involved in life.

I don’t feel alienated the way some people with boring jobs must feel. Once again, risk-taking paid off. It seemed pretty silly last August when I gave away my celebrity shortage leaflets in humid midtown Manhattan, but it led to a feature story in People.

And my age discrimination complaint got me pretty far. This teaches me that I should take some more calculated risks. Going back to New York is one, I suppose, and I can’t turn it down. Because I feel very safe here in Florida, in a way I’m scared to go back to New York.

Here I feel as though I know tons of people and I feel comfortable. New York offers me excitement and a different kind of involvement: with the city and the people I’ve been friend with for years.

Everyone says I can’t live my life the way I’ve been living it, and yet it has worked, so far, for me. Today I slept late, didn’t exercise and went to BCC only for an hour to work on my final project in BASIC.

I ran into Phyllis, as sweet as ever, who asked me, “Are you coming back here to teach?”

Well, I have applied for a vacancy in English I saw in the Chronicle, just as I’ve applied for half a dozen other jobs at various colleges – without expecting any of them to pan out, of course.

Crad sent me a long letter. He’s boycotting his landlady’s shower because she told him he wastes hot water, and he’s looking for a new place to live since he feels he can’t stand her erratic moods: one day she’s carping about something he did, and the next night she brings him dinner.

Although the weather has become mild, Crad is angry the way street sales of his books are going (or not going). He admits to intimidating passersby, and his letter contained a long racist diatribe. I’m offended by his casual use of “nigger” but don’t know if I should tell him.

Crad’s only salvation is his weekly visit with his “distinguished woman writer friend”: a woman who sounds unstable to me. But then, Crad seems pretty unstable himself these days.

He’s a genius, but he’s paid a terrible price – one that to me isn’t worth it. Crad is all but unfit to live with other people. He’s going to publish a new book with a disgusting title, something about pus oozing from dead dogs.

I wish Crad would get off the street, but I know he feels it’s the only way he can get his books to the public.

I had Chinese food with my parents tonight. We talked a lot, and Dad admitted that his generation – especially those who, like him, didn’t have to go to war – was luckier than mine.

Dad said he had it so good in early adulthood that he assumed he would always be making tons of money. He very badly mismanaged his money: “I hate to think about how much money – maybe a quarter of a million – that I let slip through my hands.”

To me, it was ignorance and a lack of financial education that ruined Dad’s finances – he should have gotten a money manager if he couldn’t handle the money – but of course he always believed that he could, and why not?

Now Dad barely manages to make ends meet. He also never realized that the world was going to change. I’ve taken his mistakes to heart and am determined not to make them.

Naturally, being human, I’ll make other mistakes, and of course, just like Dad, I will be too blind to figure out what they are until after the fact.


Tuesday, April 8, 1986

11 PM. One reason I think I was so upset about the car yesterday was my nervousness about having so much to do before I leave for New York. This morning I called Delta to find out if I could change my flight to one week later, Thursday, May 1.

I ended up with a cheaper fare – $69 – and later in the day I braved the crowd of old people at the Delta office on Sunrise and University and got my new ticket.

When I called Teresa at the Comptroller’s office, she said the new date was fine, since her friends from Australia can now stay for two weeks at her apartment.

She sounded well, said she enjoyed People (though she told Michael the opening was not in my own style), and has been busy with work. Rarely does she get to the West 85th Street apartment. We had a nice chat and then she had to get off to write a press release.

Now I’ll have an extra week after school ends to get my apartment ready for Marc, get myself packed for New York, buy some clothes (shoes and pants and shorts).

Maybe if Ronna’s mother could convince her to come to Orlando for Passover, I’d go up there and/or bring Ronna down here to show her South Florida.

This morning I visited Patrick at BCC-South, and we had a good long talk about the usual nonsense. I probably shouldn’t have applied for the BCC English position because it turns out it’s at Central. Going back to BCC wouldn’t be very good for me. The busywork and drudgery are not worth the $20,000 salary.

I had lunch at the new Old Spaghetti Warehouse in Sunrise near where I used to live. The meal was good and Florida-cheap, the only problem being that I spilled tomato sauce on a handsome brand-new shirt.

Back home, I exercised a little and went over my economics notes again, hoping this stuff will sink in some more for Thursday’s quiz.

Before class tonight, I showed the People story to Ms. Pynes and a couple of my fellow students in the cafeteria; they all thought it was funny and impressive. With this week’s issue now on the newsstands, I probably don’t have much chance for any more ego-gratification from my article.

In class, we saw some films about environmental pollution – somewhat outdated CBS documentaries with a dark-haired Walter Cronkite showing the Concorde as the airplane of the future – and one on how Westchester copes with its solid waste.

As important as environmental issues are – as Ms. Pynes admitted about herself – I’ve never been able to get too passionate about them. Still, the films and our discussion afterward were fairly stimulating.

All in all, today was pretty good. My life really has been an interesting one. I may not know where I’m going (or as Tom asked me, “When are you going to decide what to be?”), but I’ve had a lot of fun on the way there.

I’ll always imagine I’ll die young because I’ve packed so much living into the last seventeen years.


Wednesday, April 9, 1986

9 PM. Remember the Anthony Newley musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off? Great title, and tonight I feel the sentiments, at least a little. I think maybe I’ve had enough of Florida and will be glad to be gone in three weeks.

My family is starting to make me feel uncomfortable. This morning a Herald story about senior discounts – once they learned that their counsel said they were illegal, the Broward County Commission voted to change the charter – mentioned me, and some crank called my parents’ house.

Dad said the man put on a Cuban accent – “It sounded like a young guy pretending to be Cuban and also pretending to be old” – and said, “You want to get rid of senior discounts?! We fix you good!” and hung up.

All day Jonathan had been nasty to me, and finally at dinner Mom said, “He’s just upset about the call.”

Then Jonathan said, “If you want to get your name in the papers, that’s fine, but to involve the family, that’s disgraceful!”

I told Jonathan he was being ridiculous, that I have no control over what some nut or wiseguy does. I didn’t want to get into a big argument, so after finishing dinner, I left.

But Jonathan’s comments burned me up, even though they’re probably motivated by jealousy. It would be natural for my brothers to resentful towards me, the way Mia Farrow’s sisters felt in Hannah and Her Sisters.

They might feel: “Look at us, we’re the ones who work our asses off in the flea market with Mom and Dad, and Richard – who doesn’t have to put up with them and can saunter in any time he feels like – gets all this attention.”

I don’t know, but that’s probably how I’d feel if I were Marc or Jonathan. Unfortunately, I feel pretty guilty about my accomplishments because of that.

I remember how sad I felt the morning after I first got a copy of With Hitler in New York – my first real book – in May 1979.

Dad came in for a tranquilizer because he was so nervous about his business problems, and he looked at my copy of the book. I felt bad because I was the “Grayson” on the jacket spine and not him.

I feel fairly certain that one reason I’ve held back from success and have been afraid of success is the fear of showing up my family. Justin hinted last August that was one reason I keep coming to Florida: that I make my family feel that I need them when I really don’t.

As I wrote on Monday, I half-dread having Marc stay in my apartment because I don’t have enough faith in him, and yet if I showed I didn’t trust him to be responsible, that would be insulting and unfair.

As far as Jonathan goes, I shouldn’t get upset over something he said. He’s a fucked-up kid, wearing his mala with the Bhagwan’s picture on it; at 25, Jonathan still acts like a teenager. In his room are dozens of stuffed animals and photos of and books by Bhagwan.

I hate to resort to “when I was his age” comparisons, but at 25 I had gotten a B.A. and two master’s degrees, was popular and was publishing stories and I’d been a college teacher for three semesters.

I guess I feel guilty because worry that my academic success led to my brothers’ academic failure – that they felt they couldn’t compete with me, and so they retreated.

Of the three of us, I’m the only one who’s so far had a sustained career outside the family business. Even Dad worked for his father until Art Pants folded and Grandpa Nat retired, and then Dad floundered.

I worry about my own dependence upon the family – hence the issue of Marc’s car. Mom’s having to send me my mail, my need to keep stuff in their warehouse. . .

But, of course, looking at reality, I have succeeded outside the family: not only in my career but in living on my own. However, I feel I’ve sabotaged myself, too, in being unable to break away in my head.

In coming to Florida in 1981, I was playing the role (as Marc was also to play) of the son who failed on his own and who needed to return to his parents. That’s part of our family myth.

Oh well, at least this has stimulated my thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s also got my stomach churning. Maybe I can put these insights to good use.

Today I did a lot of studying of economics, and during the lab portion of my BASIC class, I made headway on my final project.

Gary Stein mentioned my People article in a humor column he did for today’s Fort Lauderdale paper. I can’t help it that I’m getting famous.

Do I sound stupid? Yes.

It’s time to try to get to bed.


Thursday, April 10, 1986

11 PM. Last night I watched Dynasty and St. Elsewhere and went to bed feeling a little better. Is there a difference between feeling better and just feeling less bad?

Tonight I’m in good shape. My heavy-duty studying paid off, and on tonight’s Money and Banking quiz, I got another 10. Since we drop our two lowest quiz scores, I end up with 20 points out of 20 – where 17 is the cutoff for an A.

Those three extra points will offset the fact that the 35 on the midterm was just barely an A. Next week on the final, I need 33 points out of 40 to get an A in the course, and if I work hard, I may be able to pull it off.

I saw Mark before class, and we started to flirt a little. Although he can be boring, he’s very cute and has a great body. After the quiz, he took my phone number because he was leaving then and said he’d call to find out what he’d missed.

I’m sure nothing will happen between us, but I feel glad just because the possibility is there. When I came home a little while ago, ABC’s 20/20 had a powerful repeat on homophobia and increased gay-bashing because of AIDS (at least that’s the excuse).

It’s a hard time for gays to be open and out of the closet, as prejudice is growing worse.

On the other hand, when reports like these are aired and such establishment types and hosts Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters condemn anti-gay violence (if not prejudice), maybe some good is done – the way The Cosby Show’s number-one rating in South Africa must change the hearts and minds of some people.

Naturally, I’d like to believe that education can help. Anyway, I studied a lot today.

Because of Jonathan’s remarks, I limited my visit to Davie to picking up my mail when no one was home, and I intend to steer clear of my family this weekend.TC mark

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