A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1986

Monday, April 21, 1986

9 PM. This morning I slept late; the last two nights I’ve been unable to get to sleep until 2 AM or so despite being tired when I go to bed.

At noon I passed my parents’ house and took my mail out of their mailbox. Discover sent me a form for a “pre-approved” $2500 credit line, so I sent it back even though I know that if they do recheck my credit file with TRW, they’ll reject me again.

However, if they do send me a Discover card, I’ll be very happy. That would mean I’ll be over the $50,000 mark in credit lines.

Crad also wrote me; he found the People article funny and said, “You seem to be enjoying yourself. I’m tempted to say that no writer deserves to be so happy.”

Last night I read all of Jack Saunders’ books and they all seem to express similar sentiments. Crad and Jack see the writer/artist as an outcast, a misfit who could change society if only stupid people would listen to them.

I wrote Jack back a complimentary note, but a brief one, as I don’t want to get involved in a correspondence with him again – one that would end up in one of his books.

I agree with Crad that Jack has intelligence and determination, but the man repeats himself endlessly: he’s the one great writer; the media and the arts bureaucrats ignore him; there’s a conspiracy out to silence him, etc.

Although I agree with much of what Jack writes about our junk culture, the man doesn’t know when to stop complaining and lighten up. He’s too angry to see any of the humor in his situation.

Anyway, getting back to Crad’s remark: I’ll take happiness over literature any day if I have to make that choice.

Unlike Crad or Jack, I know that even if I were promoted as well as I should be, and even if my books were on the best seller list, I wouldn’t have much effect on society.

Well, that’s not really accurate. First of all, my books being my books, I wouldn’t expect to them to get on the best seller list.

Have I sold out? No. Have I settled? Perhaps. I’m still a fighter, still a rebel – but I know my limitations, and society’s, and I’m not willing to sacrifice my happiness for somebody’s neurotic notion of “art.”

Look, I already sound quite pretentious.

People published three letters on the celebrity shortage article: one asked how they could waste their space on such “crap” when they could be helping struggling people become celebrities (no sense of humor); the second offered himself as a volunteer to fill the ranks of celebrities (sense of humor); and the final letter said:

“My hat’s off to Richard Grayson and Fred Bernstein for writing this wonderful piece of humor and to People for publishing it. Please let’s have some more of this heartwarming satire!” – Phyllis Diller, Los Angeles.

Gee, what a nice compliment coming from a famous comedienne. I always did like Phyllis Diller.

This afternoon I had a great hamburger at Corky’s in North Miami Beach and then I drove into downtown, where I got on the new MetroMover at the Fort Dallas Park station.

The people-mover is a computer-driven, one-car vehicle that runs along tracks and stops every couple of blocks on a loop around downtown.

The views are interesting as it passes the major buildings: the Southeast Financial Center, the Knight Convention Center, the not-yet-complete CenTrust Building, Freedom Tower, Miami-Dade Community College and Bayfront Park.

At Government Center, it connects with Metrorail. One ride around was fun and free on this first week of operation.

Probably, like Metrorail, nobody will use it, but it would make a nice ride at Disney World. Too bad New York’s subways don’t look like Miami’s rapid transit.

I had dinner at my parents’. Jonathan, seeing me at the door, said he’d come down to eat later – but as Dad and Marc said, that’s his problem.

Sore from yesterday’s chins and dips, I did work out a little with my light weights this afternoon. All in all, this was a pleasant day.


Tuesday, April 22, 1986

9:30 PM. I’m still having trouble shaking this cough.

My Public Policy final tonight was perhaps the toughest of the tests in the course, but I’m certain I got at least a 90 and therefore an A for the semester.

This class could have been more challenging, but I enjoyed it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my FAU classes this semester, it’s that I’m smarter than most of the business majors taking these courses.

If I really had money – say, if I won the lottery – I’d try to get three degrees at once: the M.A. in Computing in Education at Columbia, the Ed.D. in Community College Teaching at FIU, and a second bachelor’s degree – this one in business – at FAU.

In the past two years I’ve amassed 40 credits, 33 of them in education, all A’s (probably) except for one B+. And none of these courses was in English, literature or creative writing. I feel very multi-talented these days.

Today was another gorgeous day, but I wasn’t out all that much. I’ve been sleeping late because I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep; last night I had a hard time trying to control my cough.

This morning I thought a lot about death. I wondered if Sean is dead of AIDS.

Would it make a difference to me? Yes, a great deal, and it’s not because I’m afraid I got it from him. With Sean alive, at least I know he’s out there, in Tampa or wherever, even if I have no way to see or contact him.

Although I haven’t been touched by the AIDS epidemic the way so many have – none of my close friends has, as far as I know, died – it’s still affected the way I look at life: as temporary, as a gift.

Being an agoraphobic teenager and then recovering – though I didn’t know for how long – started me thinking I was living on borrowed time. And then working as an adjunct or a one-year full-timer at Broward Community College made me see life as temporary. AIDS has only made both feelings more intense.

Sometimes I think I’ll live until I’m in my seventies or eighties, but I know I could die much younger. “Why not me?” is what I’ve always thought, rather than “Why me?”

And I know the world will go on very well without me, the way it does after everyone else’s death. People Woody Allen seem to dread death, and while I’ll probably be as scared as anyone, it also holds out some relief.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I equate death with unconsciousness, with dreamless sleep, with nothing – and that’s more reassuring than it is frightening.


Wednesday, April 23, 1986

9 PM. Mom didn’t have a seder tonight, but she made dinner for all of us. We had matzoh and gefilte fish, but the main course was some kind of spinach lasagna.

It was a pleasant evening. Jonathan’s anger towards me seems to have cooled, and we all got along well. Mostly my parents and brothers talk about the flea market, which is understandable since that’s a big part of all their lives.

I went to their house after taking the BASIC final, which was really a gift from Ray. He was teaching his in-service course, so I left the finished exam at the computer lab desk with George, to whom I said goodbye.

And so ends the spring 1986 semester. It always feels a little sad at the conclusion of a school term.

Tonight in our discussion, Dad said he couldn’t believe that Uncle Monty died ten years ago, but I was sure of the year because I remember my diaries. It’s five years ago that I ended my first full winter down here, the first term I taught at BCC.

After that, I headed back to New York to stay in Marc’s apartment in Sheepshead Bay. The next year, 1982, I stayed in Florida in May and June and had my relationship with Sean. The year after that, I was free for Term IIIA and so I stayed at Teresa’s for five or six weeks; that was a good time.

In 1984, I also went to Teresa’s after the last day at BCC: I left my apartment in North Miami Beach, flew to the city, and the next day Teresa left for Europe. Living alone in Manhattan that May made for one of the happiest times of my life.

Last May in Manhattan, even with Teresa in the apartment wasn’t all that terrible, either; I basically enjoyed myself. And so in a week, I’ll be back at West 85th Street.

Whether this coming May will be as good as the other Mays of the past five years, I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to being in New York again and seeing my friends.

I expect to feel a little disoriented at first, but after all my travels back and forth in the last few years, I should be getting used to the changes between Florida and New York.

Within a month I can adjust to about any new place.

Remember how miserable I was at Justin’s right off? But I got used to it, and by late October I hated to leave Park Slope. When you think about it, I’ve been really lucky, having lived in so many comfortable situations in the past five years.

Gee, time has flown. It’s nearly seven years ago that I moved to Rockaway when my parents moved to Florida. I miss Grandpa Herb. Dad said Grandma Ethel started crying on the phone when he spoke to her yesterday.

Arlyne and Jeff went out of town to look at some college, and Aunt Tillie was too ill to have a seder, and Grandma felt lonely and miserable.

Dad suggested she come for a visit, but Grandma protested that she’d have nothing to do here, and then Mom said on the extension, “Yeah, what would she do all day?”

Mom shouldn’t have given in so quickly. It’s odd that she’s not close to her mother. Dad later said to her, “If it were my mother and I hadn’t seen her for a year, I’d just want to see her again.”

Actually, Mom probably hasn’t seen Grandma Ethel for well over a year, not since October 1984, and Marc and Jonathan haven’t seen her since she was last here, after Grandpa Herb died, in March or April 1983.

I’ll have to spend a lot of time Rockaway in May. Now that she can’t get around, it must be hard for Grandma Ethel.

Right now I have a splitting headache, probably because I didn’t get to sleep until 2 AM and I was wide awake five hours later. I’m still coughing quite a bit.

Tomorrow, I’ve got to exercise; I feel as though my body has fallen apart.


Friday, April 25, 1986

5:30 PM. Last night I dreamed that Sean’s mother called me and left a number where Sean could be reached. The area code was upstate New York, but that seemed logical since in his last letter to me, Sean reported visiting Doug’s parents’ home way upstate near the Canadian border.

Rarely do I dream about Sean, and he didn’t appear in this dream, either, though I still think about him often. AIDS makes me think about him more than I would otherwise because I wonder if he’s ill or dead.

A Times report today said that AIDS cases in New York haven’t leveled off, and a JAMA study shows that even though gay men in the city have drastically changed their sex habits, it hasn’t prevented more of them from getting the virus.

The majority of gay men in New York seem to have antibodies to AIDS, and in time, many of them will get the disease. One doctor predicts that AIDS cases won’t level off until just about all gay men are infected, and then there’ll be nobody new to infect. Horrible.

Although I’ve had three colds in the last nine months, I don’t believe I’m infected. Probably I should take the test for HTLV-III antibodies. But I believe it’s likely that nothing Sean and I did in bed would have infected me.

Sean was fairly active sexually, but he’d been with other guys for only a year, so he was probably (note: that’s the second probably, along with one likely, in the last three sentences) not contagious in 1982.

And, of course, aside from Sean, there’s no real way I could have picked up the AIDS virus. I’d be much more afraid to get involved with a guy my age in New York, for chances are that he’s infected. Well, I’ve handled celibacy for a long time, and I can always get involved with women.

Meanwhile, I’ve got other things besides sex on my mind.

This morning I exercised briefly with a quick circuit of light weights. Then I went over to BCC South, to say goodbye to Patrick.

I’d brought him Jack Saunders’ books, but he’d read them when Jack submitted them to a technical-report-writing contest that Patrick judged, and he thought they were utter crap.

Patrick and I schmoozed for an hour. BCC’s dismal CLAST test results – at least in comparison to other state schools – has the college in hot water.

Patrick said he’s heard that over a hundred people, many of them from all over the nation, with excellent credentials, have applied to become BCC president, making it unlikely one of the local cronies will get it.

Meanwhile, Betty got her long-expected sabbatical for next year, and Patrick may end up as acting English Department chairman on South Campus (Betty’s job as Division Director would go to someone else) – unless they give it to Shelby, a former chairman from North Campus.

Patrick would make an excellent administrator; they seem to be grooming him for the position.

Teachers College sent a lease agreement for a room for the summer (at $298 a month); I would have taken it if I had not been going to Teresa’s.

Of course, I’m still afraid that the deal at Teresa’s won’t work out, but even if she breaks up with Michael, I could live with her now that she’s working and I’m not.

Nassau Community College acknowledged my job application for an English position, but since I’ve applied five years in a row without success, I’m not expecting an interview.

Before I leave Lauderhill, I’ve got to begin cleaning this apartment. Also, I want to get transcripts from FAU and FIU reflecting this term’s grades, and I need to get together all my résumés, transcripts, letters of recommendations, newsclips, etc., to take to New York.

I’m meeting Mom and Dad at the Old Spaghetti Warehouse for dinner in half an hour.


Tuesday, April 29, 1986

8 PM. After two nights with little sleep, I made up for it last night, and usual, that first night of good sleep in a while felt delicious.

I had a long, involved dream – which felt like I’d dreamed it before – in which I kept getting captured in the Soviet Union. Probably the U.S.S.R. was on my mind because of a nuclear power plant disaster, which may have killed over two thousand people.

Anyway, I awoke feeling refreshed this morning. I drove up to FAU in Boca only to find that the grades won’t be out until tomorrow, but at least I filled out a transcript request form.

Today was another sunny and hot day, hitting 92° in Fort Lauderdale. Driving along the turnpike, I reveled in the sheer physical beauty outside. I love South Florida because of the climate and the natural beauty.

What I hate about it is the mindset of the people. I’m afraid the Florida mentality will prevent this state from progressing in the future.

People down here scoff at “Taxachusetts,” but states like Massachusetts are better prepared to meet the new economy; already Massachusetts has the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. Why? Because it has terrific schools and universities, good transportation, lots of cultural amenities and a well-educated workforce.

In the old industrial days, factories might want to relocate to Florida, where they’d get low taxes, cheap labor and sunshine. Today a corporation wants brain power, quality – and they don’t mind paying for it.

I’m sure I was right all along about having a state income tax, and someday people in Florida will wonder how stupid people could have been to have fought against it. Actually, no one’s had to fight, because just bringing up the issue is enough to kill a political career.

I got calls from Herald and Sun-Sentinel  reporters to tell me that a decision has been reached in my complaint. As I expected, the Human Relations Division ruled that because I rejected the offer from AmeriFirst to give me AmeriPlus 55, my complaint was being dismissed.

I gave the reporters some quotes about generational equity; I’ll see what mishmash comes out in the papers tomorrow.

The Herald reporter told me the County Commission has passed or will pass a law making discounts based on age legal, and the reporter said it was strictly a result of my case.

If that’s true, then I’ve really done my bit to change the system; at least I’ve forced the government to change their laws. And that’s something. It’s nice that it happened while I was still here in Florida.

By the way, last week Mom told me that Jan Strickland of the county school system had called, and for days I avoided her calls, figuring that she would berate me for not doing a good job in my Sunshine Elementary computer workshops.

But today I spoke to her, and I only needed to clear up a minor point on one of the payroll forms I’d left with her. The Impostor Phenomenon at work again. I’ve got to watch that.

My parents always told me, “Oh, Richard, you can do anything,” but such vague praise rang hollow, and I always discounted it. I also have a fear of success, of being given more work and harder challenges. And of course I fear outdoing my father and brothers.

Joan Harvey’s book has given me exercises to deal with these feelings (for example, I have to realize that my brothers would be no more successful if I was unsuccessful), and I’ll try to work on these issues.

Teresa called to say hello. She goofed and didn’t check a speech she handed out to reporters to make sure that some Koch-bashing in the original draft was deleted, as Ned Regan had wanted. The text Teresa gave the press contained all the criticism of the mayor in the previous version.

The discrepancy between the Comptroller’s spoken remarks – which didn’t mention Koch – and the copies of the speech Teresa gave out have turned into a mini-scandal.

Teresa read me a newspaper item in which she blamed the mistakes on an accidental typing up of an unauthorized draft of the speech.

“But the one who gives out the press release is the one responsible for it,” Teresa said, “so I may be out of a job.”

I hope not, for her sake and mine.

Probably I’m not lucky enough to get two good nights of sleep in a row, but I’m going to try.


Wednesday, April 30, 1986

8 PM. I’m waiting for Marc to come by so I can give him last-minute instructions about the apartment.

My flight is at 1:30 PM tomorrow, and I’m already nervous. It’s funny: this will be my fortieth flight since I first began flying again when I came to Davie at Christmas 1979, and I still am not used to being in a jet.

I’ve pretty much got everything packed. I need to do a wash at my parents’ tomorrow, so I figure if I get there by about 10:30 AM, I’ll have enough time.

Why am I so nervous when this is a leisurely leave-taking, unlike last year? I can’t remember how I felt then, but it’s hard to go. I feel so much a part of this area.

My photo was again in the Herald, and there was a story about me in the Sun-Sentinel, too, and I just spoke to a Sun-Tattler reporter. Basically, the stories were brief and factual and didn’t print my comments about the inequities between the generations. Okay by me.

I also got a message from a Howard Community College professor in Columbia, Maryland, who wants to interview me by phone about the job opening there. It’s crazy that all this happens just as I’m leaving.

At my parents’ house at 11 AM today, I collected the mail, which included a shiny new Discover card and the letter from the Human Relations Division dismissing my complaint.

The Discover card has a $5000 credit limit, double the $2500 limit mentioned on the form I’d sent back. If that’s true, I’ve really hit the jackpot.

I used the card this evening in a bookstore where they said I was the first person ever to pay with Discover; they had just gotten their material to process the charges last week.

At 12:45 PM, I was at Lisa’s school in Boca. It felt very odd to see so many kids all in one place; with all those white affluent teenagers, I felt I was on the set of a John Hughes movie.

Spanish River High School is a huge, sprawling modern complex. Lisa’s class treated me with respect, which means they were mostly quiet and didn’t make rude remarks.

I talked and read my work for too long and didn’t realize the time; I should have paid more attention to them and asked if they had questions.

Staying with Lisa during her work period afterwards, I realized I could never teach high school and put up with the paperwork, bureaucracy and the administration’s tight-ass attitudes.

It’s a miracle that these kids learn anything with the system the way it is. Lisa’s too good a teacher for them, and they don’t appreciate her – but they will, later on.

She and I had some diet ice cream in a Boca store after school ended, but I didn’t have time to go back with her to her house in West Palm Beach. After we said goodbye, I stopped at the FAU campus, where I picked up my grades.

As expected, I got A’s in Money and Banking as well as The Changing Environment of Society, Business and Government, giving me a total of 16 credits at FAU with a 4.0 index.

I drove back to Davie, where I picked up my pants at the tailor, put gas in the car, and bought a Mother’s Day card which I mailed to Mom before I went home to say goodbye to her, as she’ll be at the flea market when I leave tomorrow.

Jonathan didn’t come out of his room to say goodbye to me, but he sounded friendly. I’ll see Dad tomorrow when he takes me to the airport, and Marc should have been here by now.

So ends my winter and spring of ’86 in Florida.

Tomorrow will be May, and the first four months of this year will be over. I doubt the next two-thirds of the year can live up to the first third, but that may be my neuroses at work.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog