A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1986

Monday, March 3, 1986

9 PM. I’m worn out tonight. Teaching the computer workshop went okay, but it took a lot out of me, mostly because I was so anxious about it. I’ll feel more comfortable next week. But now I’m tired.

Last night Josh told me he saw a Village Voice notice of a memorial concert for “violinist Evan Paris” at some West Side church. It was sponsored by Gay Men’s Health Crisis, so naturally Evan died of AIDS.

Poor guy. I didn’t know him well. Basically I knew him as Ronnie’s brother, Frances’s son, and Allan’s roommate after Elihu left their Morningside Heights apartment. I knew Evan was gay and a talented violinist; I kind of thought he was a little stuck-up, which is what Josh said about him.

Maybe I saw him three or four times. I remember going to a party at the apartment on 120th and Amsterdam (right across from Teachers College), and I remember Evan wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and being very thin, though I can’t recall his face or anything he ever said.

But he’s the first person I know firsthand whom I’ve learned has died of AIDS. Shit.

Then again, sometimes when I’m depressed, like today, I think I wouldn’t mind dying. Suffering, I’d mind: yes, I’d hate that.

But dying itself has always seemed a relief to me. The best thing about being a human being is that you die. I’m a coward where pain is concerned, but I don’t fear death – unless I’m fooling myself.

I picture it as a huge black hole of nothing. Quiet. Empty. I don’t think being alive is always a great proposition. Is that depression talking? Maybe. I’m tired.

In Miramar this afternoon, the teachers at Sunshine Elementary seemed to feel I was on their side – and I am.

Mostly today I tried to get them comfortable with the computers (Apple IIc’s), turning them on and off, convincing them they couldn’t break the machines, etc.

I think it’s terrible that they’ve been told to take all these kids to the computer lab once a week.

Imagine thirty kindergarteners at fifteen machines with one teacher, a computer novice, to watch them. With all these basic skills kindergarteners have to master, it’s absurd to me.

Next week I’ll do Bank Street Writer and introduce LOGO. I want to base the course on what the teachers need to know. I’ll do okay, I guess.

I barely had time for a couple of Sicilian slices of pizza at Gaetano’s before getting to Joe Cook’s class at BCC/FIU.

He lectured on the community power structure, which was interesting – but I find most of my fellow students’ comments to be too anecdotal and without relevance. The teacher’s disease is Talking Too Much.

No good mail today: the Division of Elections accepted my withdrawal as a candidate for Education Commissioner. Nobody cared about my campaign, and I guess there was no reason they should have. It was foolish of me to do that half-assed.

Today was Mom’s 55th birthday, but I barely got to see her. She was busy with setting up for the Miami Beach Convention Center flea market. Now it’s Jonathan who has the flu.

I’m going to sleep now, if I can. I can’t think.


Tuesday, March 4, 1986

4 PM. I had my usual insomnia last night. There’s been a change, though, in the kind of insomnia I’ve had in the past few months. Before, I always couldn’t get to sleep; now I usually wake up after sleeping for an hour or two and then can’t fall back asleep.

In the past couple of days, I decided that I’m a pretty lazy guy. Let’s face it: I’m not enamored of work. The “work” I enjoy is really “fun.” Not much is going on today. I didn’t get any mail except junk mail. No phone calls, either.

I made a half-hearted attempt to go to the warehouse and straighten out my things, but I gave up when the job seemed too tough. Hey, look – so I’m lazy: Somebody’s got to watch society.

One trend given increasing scrutiny is generational conflict. Especially down here in South Florida, with its large population of wealthy retirees, a Baby Boomer can’t help resenting that people over 55 or 60 get discounts at banks, movies, restaurants and stores, not to mention public transit.

Of course, the Yuppie myth has fueled the idea that all of us Boomers are driving BMWs – when in reality, our real income is far less than that of our parents at a comparable stage. And Baby Boom families have two breadwinners.

Twenty-five years ago, Dad could easily support a wife and three kids. Today a guy would need a $200,000 income to do that. Meanwhile, today’s seniors are the least likely age group to be poor (except those over 85, widows and minority people) while 40% of the poor are children.

With a smaller generation behind us Baby Boomers, who will be the workers that will provide the money to give us our Social Security? Wait till 2015 and then you’ll see generational conflict. I bet we’ll be reviled in our old age by the generations that come after us.

Oh well, maybe I won’t be around to see it. I sound like Grandma Ethel when she says, “Well, I don’t know how many more years you’ll have to send me a birthday card.”

But it’s hard not to think of death when I hear about stuff like Evan Paris’s dying of AIDS. I still don’t know if Sean is all right. The other day I tried the Tampa directory assistance, and of course there’s still no phone listing for Sean. Could he be dead?

It’s hard to believe it, and I know this must sound melodramatic that I even think about it, but statistically, it’s a possibility. Sean wasn’t incredibly promiscuous, but he told me about a number of guys he slept with, and I’m sure he was fairly active.

I wonder about the other gay people, friends I’ve lost touch with. Elihu? Vito? Allan? Skip? Leon? Jerry? Are they okay, do they have AIDS, or are they already gone?

And while I know the possibility is remote that I’m going to get AIDS, it’s almost a “There but for the grace of God. . .” phenomenon.

Saved by Neurotic Apprehension, the headline should read. I was too chicken or too crazy to go the bars, the baths, the trucks on West Street to pick up guys. It’s funny that that could be what saved my life.

Who knows how I could be cheating death right now: by avoiding eating fish or being too scared to fly to Europe?

As Allan once said when he and I were walking along Broadway and saw a sign advertising K-Y Jelly for 69¢: “It’s all cosmic.”

So is that my excuse? For living my life this way, you should pardon the expression?

It’s a beautiful day, about 70°, not too warm or too chilly. It’s a Spring Fever day. Remember spring fever? It doesn’t really exist in South Florida.

Where am I going, what am I doing? I’ve got exactly three months – one-quarter of a year – till I’m 35. I’ve lived five seven-year periods.

Remembering the old saw about one’s cells turning over completely every seven years: does that mean I’m becoming my sixth self?

Ed Hogan wrote, saying he understands why some people are infuriated and exasperated with my writing. Hell, I’m one of those people. I’m very self-indulgent.

True, I do monitor every penny in cash or coin that I spend (today I spent nada so far) – but that in itself is self-indulgent. March 4, 1986: it’s been a day like any other. And yet . . .

(Exasperating, infuriating and self-indulgent conclusion.)


Wednesday, March 5, 1986

1 PM. I filed a complaint of age discrimination with the Broward County Human Relations Board against AmeriFirst Savings and Loan Association for refusing me their “AmeriPlus 55” program.

When I noticed their ad, I called a branch office and of course I was told that I couldn’t get all the benefits of the account because I was only 34. This morning, the lead article in the Miami Herald was about

–– I’ve got the news radio on, and right now they’re talking about me, “live from the Broward County Courthouse” –– I can’t believe it: this was the lead story on the news!

They didn’t mention my name, though.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Herald story said that discounts of all kinds to senior citizens are clearly illegal. The head of the county board, who’s 70, said he definitely felt that this kind of discrimination was against the law: both Florida statutes and the Broward County ordinances which protect people from discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of race, age, sex, etc.

It sounded as if they were looking for a test case, and I decided I’d be it. I drove downtown at 8 AM, taking with me a copy of AmeriFirst’s advertisement in today’s paper.

At first, the woman there, Eileen Suchick, didn’t think I had a good case, but after calling the S&L, she discovered clearly that I’d have to pay more for a safety deposit box and credit cards and I couldn’t get other services like free travelers cheques and free cashier’s checks. So we decided to go ahead.

She took all the information and I signed the form and statement. I got a copy and went to tell my parents, whom I didn’t want to get surprised by this. Mom wasn’t upset, but Dad doesn’t like the limelight and told me, “You have a hell of a nerve!”

To me, the case is so obvious, it’s beautiful. As I asked the woman at the bank I spoke to, “You wouldn’t have an account for ‘whites only,’ would you?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, this is discrimination, too.”

“No, it’s not. All the Florida banks have special accounts for senior citizens.”

Of course, that doesn’t make it legal.

Somehow the media found out about the complaint. While I was shopping and having lunch, Eileen – who’s 34, like me – called Dad, who told me to expect phone calls from the press.

We’ll see. Is this a big egotrip for me? Yes. But that’s not all it is. A principle is at stake. Well, I’ll see what happens.

*

11 PM. Crazy day, huh? I called WINZ to tell them to stop referring to the case as “reverse discrimination,” and they interviewed me, of course – though I never did hear that interview. I did hear the other reports on the news.

The WINZ reporter gave my name out, an so when I went to Davie to pick up the mail, I got called by WNWS (the reporter said she’d interviewed me four years ago for The Western News when I ran for Town Council) and the Herald.

It was a relief to get to Ray’s BASIC class. I got 96 on the midterm and enjoyed listening to Ray discuss the AI conference he went to last week.

He’s very enthusiastic about it and showed me an expert system he developed using a package; the system helps the user select software by asking two questions – “so it’s as good as a Radio Shack salesman.”

When I told Debbie Nycz about my lawsuit, she said she had to give me credit for doing things other people didn’t have the nerve to do. Nerve: that’s what Dad called it too. Yet I don’t think of myself as nervy. (Nervous, maybe.)

Back home at 7 PM, Jonathan said Justin Gillis, the Herald reporter, was on the line; he needed more facts for tomorrow’s article. Also, I called back a reporter from the Sun-Tattler and did an interview. I hope I’m being articulate.

Earlier, I left messages with Teresa and Josh, and I called Ronna at work to tell her. She’d just had a wisdom tooth pulled but was feeling okay. It was important to me to share this with my friends.

With Jonathan, I watched the Davie Town Council meeting on cable TV. Mom and Dad were there to speak against the rental project, but the proposal got tabled and we saw our parents on their way out of Town Hall.

Where will this thing lead? Time will tell, but tonight I’m glad I filed the complaint.


Thursday, March 6, 1986

4 PM. In days to come, I may regret bringing this complaint, but so far I’ve been handling things well.

In my public statements, I lean over backwards to be fair, saying that I understand that many seniors need discounts and that I understand AmeriFirst’s position in wanting to market a service to a particular age segment.

Basically, I’m taking the stance that I’m bringing this complaint to clarify the law, and that if I didn’t, somebody else would. I was horrified to hear myself called “The Yuppie Avenger” on radio this morning.

I read the Herald’s story first: “Man Challenges S&L’s Age-Based Discount.” It was fairly straight-forward (although it led off by calling me “a droll short story writer”) and I came off okay.

At 9 AM, I was a guest on Al Rantel’s show on WNWS, and he pretty much agreed with me, feeling that Mrs. Weissman in Miami Beach started the whole thing by challenging her landlord’s discount to renters under 50.

After the half-hour interview, Dad called me up to say that I sounded responsible and intelligent, and I know if Dad, my harshest critic, felt that way, I was fine.

Next, I was a guest for an hour on WNJO in West Palm Beach. As the host kept escalating the rhetoric, I kept moderating my position.

Mrs. Weissman refused to appear on the WNJO show with me because she said she’d been so vilified in the media that she had been the victim of many death threats and was on the verge of a breakdown.

Obviously, these things can get out of hand, and I’ve got to learn from her experience. Probably people were incensed by the $50,000 in damages awarded her. I’ve consistently said that I seek no damages, and if I were awarded any money, I’d donate it to research on Alzheimer’s disease.

The Hollywood Sun-Tattler featured me on the front page: “Man, 34, Protests Senior Discounts,” in a story that presented the issues fairly.

Probably when the Sun-Sentinel comes out tomorrow, I won’t fare as well, for the Fort Lauderdale paper tends to see me as a kook; to their reporter, I also made more statements, which are certainly well-founded, about the relative incomes of 60-year-olds versus 20-year-olds and about banks overcharging their customers.

Every reporter asks me: “How far do you plan to take this?” – and by now I’ve decided to say that I’ll accept whatever decision the Human Relations Board makes. I don’t intend to make a crusade out of this. If I come off as some sort of shrill opportunist, I’m dead.

Besides, I certainly do have doubts about what I’m doing. If, because of my case, all senior discounts were ruled illegal, I’d probably be hurting a lot of people.

It’s a very, very tricky area: legally I’m right, but as the epigraph to Hardy’s Jude the Obscure states, “The letter killeth.”

Maybe we need to amend our laws to permit these discounts; I honestly don’t know. Anyway, that’s not for me to decide.

One talk show host told me I’ve “opened up a whole can of worms,” and I see that, but I am still bothered that senior discounts can occur in violation of, yes, the letter of the law, subject to challenge at any time.

Perhaps it isn’t “discrimination” to give people added benefits rather than depriving people of their rights; maybe our society needs more of that.

A spokesman for AmeriFirst appeared on the WNJO show on the condition that I not speak to him – which was fine with me – and he explained their position rather well, I thought.

Am I naïve to think that I can get some people to think, maybe to understand that there are complexities and ambiguities in life? Today it’s all black and white: “Alla way USA” vs. The Evil Empire, Rambo vs. Commie gooks, right vs. wrong.

Of course, I am naïve to think it could be otherwise. The media, as Neil Postman pointed out in his book, are incapable of dealing with complex issues like this one or affirmative action. Well, I’ll just take this day by day.

Yeah, I’m a troublemaker, but so were most of the people in history whom I admire. As long as I do what I’m doing right now – take the phone off the hook and have time to get my thoughts straight – I’ll be as okay as I can be.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a sinus headache all day, I still found an hour to exercise, and Chevy Chase S&L sent me a letter saying my Visa with a $5000 credit limit is on the way. I got an ATM card from my Republic credit line which is good at NYCE in New York and Publix Tellers here.

I’ll be grateful for the tedium of my Money and Banking class at FAU tonight.


Friday, March 7, 1986

3 PM. I just came from being interviewed for a story for The CBS Evening News.

Last night I had terrible insomnia as my mind wouldn’t stop racing, so I took two Triavils at 5 AM and also took the phone off the hook so I wouldn’t be pestered.

I got up a little groggily at 11:30 AM, and as soon as I placed the receiver down, the phone rang with a call from the CBS News producer.

After making myself look presentable enough to appear on network TV, I got over to my parents’, stopping off to get the Fort Lauderdale News.

“Crusader Challenges Seniors’ Discount,” ran the top headline in the Metro section. The article was better than I expected. And the Herald ran an editorial today which, without mentioning me by name (“a Davie man”) supported my position.

So far so good. Yesterday I was invited on the Neil Rogers show on WINZ next Wednesday evening.

With some hesitation, I accepted, mostly because I feel I owe Neil for helping me sell so many copies of Eating at Arby’s.

I am worried, though, because Neil tends to be very outspoken and I’m afraid of stirring up resentment against myself.

Well, if I play good cop/bad cop, I’ll probably end up okay.

With CBS, I felt the reporter, Bernard Goldberg, was trying to make this confrontational – that is, after all, the style of public discourse on the nightly network news – but I hope I deflected that.

Neighbors listening in told me I made some good points. Still, I have doubts as to whether my actions will do more harm or good.

However, that won’t be easy because the second part of the term is all theory. The material is as dry as the desert. Last night we went over classical economic theory, and now we’ll go on to Keynes and Friedman.

During the break, Mark asked me if I’d been doing anything “crazy” lately, so I told him about my complaint. Obviously he was impressed. I know publicity makes a person more attractive.

In a way, Mark reminds me of Sean.

Four years ago, I got all the publicity for running for the Town Council and from that Herald profile by Mike Winerip and the reviews of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, I remember I’d see Sean in the lobby and go over to him with my latest news.

Once I even caught him looking at my photo in an article about me in the paper. That was when I could first tell how he felt about me.

I got home at 10 PM and began catching up on my reading when Teresa called. She’d been in Albany for a few days. Work is okay, though she leaves home at 7:30 AM and doesn’t get back till twelve hours later.

They take so much out of her paychecks that she’s netting only $2200 a month. She did get a MasterCard that she had to deposit money in a South Dakota savings bank for.

Teresa discovered that the woman at the Comptroller’s office whom she’s replacing – who finally leaves the office today – was having an affair with the press secretary.

“It’s ironic,” Teresa said, “as if I were seeing what it would have been like to replace myself at Andrew’s.” The woman broke up the boss’s marriage, then lost interest in the job and let a lot of things slide as she got into the punk rock scene.

So the others in the office see Teresa as someone who can straighten out a bad situation and there’s a huge reservoir of good will she intended to use. Teresa sounded fine, actually.

As I mentioned, although tired, I couldn’t get to sleep till 5 AM.


Monday, March 10, 1986

9 PM. Today was a productive day. Heavy rains fell intermittently, but I didn’t mind because nine out of ten days here are sunny, and I like a change in the weather.

Josh phoned last night, the only break I had in an evening of reading. He was violently against what he called my “campaign” against old people because he believes most old people are sick and need a break.

I understand Josh’s feelings. He’s always generalized from his own experiences, and now he’s going through the heartbreaking blindness and illness of his mother. Josh’s mother is like a saint to him, and he feels he’s caring for her when his father is not.

Her blindness is almost total now, just like her own mother was at 76 (Josh said his grandmother had a nervous breakdown when she lost her sight), and Josh feels sure that he’ll inherit the macular degeneration; his eyesight is already worse than his mother’s at a comparable age.

This knowledge, and the deaths of Josh’s sister and niece, have given him a dark view of life. And why not?

He got into a big fight with Artie, and now he realizes he was totally in the wrong but he feels so bad he doesn’t even want to be friends with Artie again – if Artie would forgive him – because he’s embarrassed he acted so stupidly.

(What it was, was that he accused Artie of stealing an idea for a product – earmuffs with headphones built in – that he planned to sell mail order.)

This morning I found “Shades of Grayson” in Steve Bousquet’s Herald column. He printed my press release about hiring monkeys to solve the teacher shortage problem, but a misprint rendered the joke unintelligible.

I’ve withdrawn from the Education Commissioner’s race, but it’s typical that the newspapers ignored my tax proposals and picked up on a silly idea. More and more, I’m convinced that Neil Postman was right about all the public discourse becoming entertainment and baby talk.

That being so, I xeroxed ten copies of Fab Fed Magazine, my publication turning the members of the Federal Reserve Board into teen idols, and mailed three of them to different editors at The Wall Street Journal and one to USA Today. Maybe I can figure out a couple of other places to send it if I go to the library.

I used my new gold Visa card and got two cash advances of $2000 each and deposited them into my credit union share draft account. With the help of Chevy Chase S&L, I just created new money and increased M-1 by $4000. Not bad for a Fed fan.

I met Greg at the credit union and later saw the Gilmans in the BCC parking lot and Dave at the computer lab; all said they’d seen me in the paper. (Dave told George, my ex-student who’s in charge of the lab: “You better be nice to him or he’ll sue you.”)

While at the lab, I previewed Bank Street Writer, which I later introduced to my class at Sunshine Elementary this afternoon.

It was a good session, and although I worked hard, I felt very gratified afterward.

Most of the teachers had a hard time with Bank Street Writer, but I know they learned the basics of using it. I’m not a bad computer trainer after all; I’ve enjoyed doing it unofficially for years.

After teaching, I stopped at my parents’ for dinner. Dad and Mom have decided not to go to the Miami Beach Convention Center flea markets again.

They made $300, but that isn’t worth all the work they put into the job. Yesterday 1.3 million people were at the Calle Ocho Festival, and the flea market always occurs on the exact same date.

Over Italian food, my parents told me they are not going to vote for Art Lazear in the Davie election tomorrow because they think he’s a phony.

Ever since at the debate four years ago, when I overheard Lazear disparaging me (someone said about my running, “Well, you’ve got to give him credit,” and Lazear replied – when he could have afforded to be generous – “No, I don’t give him credit. The way he’s using bad language,” a reference to my taking Jimmy Carter’s “I’ll whip his ass” line), I’ve thought of him as a fifth-rate Nixon.

At the Town Council last week, he talked out of both sides of his mouth, but ended by siding with the developers. He’ll probably win tomorrow (with developers’ money, he’s outspent his opponent 20-1), but I won’t vote for him.

At my parents’, I caught the start of The Flamingo Kid, which reminded us all of old Brooklyn and Rockaway, and then I came back home to Lauderhill.TC mark

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