A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1986

Saturday, March 22, 1986

4 PM. I’ve been feeling lethargic today, so I just tried to rouse myself with some exercise. But I did a quick circuit of one set of 15 reps of seven exercises with 62 pounds on the barbell and I’m already exhausted. At least I got my heart pumping and worked up a hint of sweat.

Maybe later I can do some waist exercises, but my stomach is still rocky. It took me a long time to get to sleep last night, and I woke up late after one of those sinus-clogged, obsessively complicated dreams.

At my parents’ at 11:30 AM, I tried to start exercising but gave up before I began. In the mail I got a payroll form for my FIU course at Sunshine Elementary; I’ll get $400 for the whole thing.

I’d better notify FIU now that I can’t also do the May Computer Graphics workshop. Officially, my title is Adjunct Lecturer, Teacher Education Center – and I’ll add that to my new résumé.

I may not be feeling great right now, but I see that I’ve rather unexpectedly accomplished quite a few things already in 1986. If the People article comes out, I’ll have a great credit under my belt. I‘m teaching computers through FIU. I got a lot of publicity on the senior discount issue, making all the local papers, doing three radio shows and appearing on The CBS Evening News.

I’ve increased my credit lines by about $6000, including that Chevy Chase gold Visa and credit line increases on existing Visa cards. And I’m doing well in my Public Policy and Money and Banking courses at FAU. I’m a pretty well-rounded person.

The campaign for Education Commissioner didn’t work out, but that’s just as well. And nobody followed up on my Federal Reserve Board fan magazine, but I’m still hoping.

It looks as though Zephyr Press will be publishing a new book of mine, albeit in eighteen months to two years, but I can be patient.

For now, I have all the money that I need.

In a way, it’s scary how well everything is going; I almost don’t feel comfortable with this. Why? Deep down, a part of me feels I don’t deserve it. That’s probably why I’ve always tended to sabotage myself.

My biggest accomplishment today was getting a haircut, and my biggest emotional lift came when I was told I looked like I had lost weight.

I feel queasy now. Whew. Maybe I’ll write some more later.

*

11 PM. I soon felt better and even exercised a bit more.

At 6:30 PM, I went over to my parents’ for our usual Saturday night Chinese takeout dinner and had a pretty decent time. Dad has decided not to go to New York for this week’s menswear show.

With few friends here in Florida – there’s no one I can really hang out with regularly – I need the companionship of my family. But I also need to spend more time with friends, which is one reason I’ll be happy to go back to New York in a month or so.

It was really chilly as I left Davie a few hours ago. I’ve been lying around, reading Computer Living  and American Demographics.

Last night I kept thinking about the words that either Uncle Morris or Grandpa Herb once said: “We’re only boarders here.” Life itself may be permanent, but people are temporary. Knowing that seems to make sense out of the way I live.


Sunday, March 23, 1986

8 PM. I did get in my exercise today, going over to my parents’ at 10:30 AM and working out until noon or so. I felt great afterwards, as I always do, especially after a good shower.

I spent most of the day, as I seem to spend every Sunday, reading the newspapers, watching TV news shows, and just thinking. I haven’t spoken to another person all day, but I just realized that now.

I also didn’t spend any cash, though I used a MasterCard to charge my groceries and other supplies (including the Sunday New York Times) at Albertson’s.

I feel pretty good about myself these days. If my career as a fiction writer didn’t take off the way I once hoped it would, I see now that I have enough other talents to keep my head above water.

And I’ve always liked the idea of being a generalist, a jack-of-all-trades and a master of two or three. Not that I’m getting conceited; if anything, I think I’m more modest than I was ten years ago.

I’ve lost the brashness of the guy who could write those early, crazy stories in Disjointed Fictions and With Hitler in New York. I no longer assume that people will find me and my life inherently fascinating.

But if I’ve lost some of my bravado, I’ve gained confidence. I feel can handle myself in a variety of situations, whether it’s being interviewed on The CBS Evening News or teaching LOGO and word processing to teachers or understanding what makes our banking system work.

Besides, I’ve had fun.

It’s been three years since I was in New York for the B. Dalton book party for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz that was a highlight of my life. And though I’ve had setbacks (though at the moment I can’t think of any) since then, I’ve come out okay.

Three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about microcomputers in education, and now I’ve got all these graduate credits under my belt.

It makes me think that three years from now I could be doing something new and different – something I can’t even imagine now.

Once I feared change, any kind of change; today, while I still get butterflies in my stomach and have sleepless nights worrying about the future, I’m much more confident that I can endure change and even benefit from it.

By most people’s standards, I suppose I’d be considered a failure, or more likely, a person who never tried hard enough to succeed. But I have succeeded – and here I resort to cliché again – beyond the wildest dreams I could have had when I was half the age I am now.

Anyone knowing me in 1968 and 1969 could have never predicted I’d have done as well as I have. At best, they would have said one day he’ll be able to leave his house and get over anxiety attacks and lead some boring, ordinary life. How did I ever end up having so much fun?

Sometimes I think about some of the stunts I’ve pulled – the John Hour, getting my grandparents on Barry Farber’s radio show, the Sylvia Ginsberg fan club, running for the Davie Town Council, trying to loan money to Ed Meese, my exposé of Jewish writers’ weird sex lives – and I have to smile and wonder where I ever got the chutzpah to carry this stuff off.

If today’s entry seems self-congratulatory and self-serving – well, nobody else is around to congratulate me.

I’ve done serious stuff, too, like teaching about 1500 students, writing several books, etc. Well, no point in telling myself this.

Or maybe there is.

When I get nervous about things going too well – as I do often – that indicates that I feel I’m unworthy of good times, and I need to remember that’s just not true.


Tuesday, March 25, 1986

4 PM. Today’s yet another rainy day. This has been the wettest and coolest March I can remember in the six years I’ve spent the month in South Florida.

Yesterday, before I left for class, a staffer from People called to read me the article. Her reading, in a monotone, took about fifteen minutes, but I was very pleased.

Fred really punched up the jokes and tightened the article, although there were whole big sections I recognized as my untampered work.

I was pretty ecstatic, but later, at 11 PM, when Fred called to tell me that we would be sharing a byline for the article, I felt disappointed. Of course I was agreeable, and rationally I do recognize that enough of the article was Fred’s so that he deserves equal credit.

On the other hand, it makes the article less special and less mine. But maybe I should get used to writing in collaboration. Last night I watched the Oscars, and rarely does a movie – or, for that matter, a TV show or even a play – get written by one person.

I’m afraid that I’m selfish and that I wanted it all: Fred’s improvements to my article but also sole credit for it.

Secretly I had hoped that this piece would make everyone in the U.S. realize what a witty, brilliant person I was and that I’d go on talk shows and finally achieve my own celebrity.

Now that I’m not the sole author, that isn’t going to happen – but this scenario wasn’t always just a fantasy.

Probably part of the reason I couldn’t sleep last night is that I was disappointed about the writing credit. Now that I’m facing my feelings of resentment, I think I can move on. “America’s Celebrity Shortage” is definitely a funny piece.

It’s so rare for People to use freelancers (Fred told me it had been so long that he had to go look into how much I was going to get paid) that I should consider myself lucky. I can still put the credit on my résumé and the $1500 in the bank.

Last night’s Community College class was a little dull after hearing the People article read to me. I read aloud my last report and we had other reports and discussion, but no guest.

It seems it’s that time in the semester in all of my courses when things are dragging and everyone’s looking beyond the term. With no interesting FAU or FIU courses offered this summer, I’ll be glad to go to New York.

Teresa said that she’s having her friends from Australia come to town in mid-April, but I’ll be fine with staying at Grandma Ethel’s till they leave.

Teresa seems very happy these days: work is good for her, she’s in Albany a lot, and tomorrow she flies to Syracuse for the day. Maybe she’s more relaxed now that she’s productive and has more self-esteem. I’m glad for her.

Yesterday, provoked by U.S. naval forces in what Libya considers her waters, Colonel Khadafy ordered bombing of our planes. The U.S. sunk a Libyan vessel, and today the hostilities are still going on.

Meanwhile, the stupid Sandinistas have crossed the border into Honduras, and now Contra aid will probably be approved. It appears the world is interested in going to war.

I’m too old to be drafted, but I don’t really want the U.S. to go through the agony of another Vietnam.


Thursday, March 27, 1986

10 PM. My BASIC class yesterday was fairly interesting, as we went over arrays. I already knew much of the stuff I’ve learned in Ray’s course, but it’s good to refresh my memory and to learn BASIC in a structured way.

I learned some interesting stuff from Ray, Debbie and others. Apparently FAU is in real trouble, and serious investigations are going on. Two years ago the Legislature gave them money to hire 25 full-time faculty in Broward, but the college used the money to hire Boca faculty.

Already in hot water for not providing better service to Broward (FIU has done much better with one-tenth the money), FAU may face serious problems with the state.

Changes are in the air. The FIU/FAU/BCC tower in downtown Fort Lauderdale is scheduled to open for the fall semester. Adams will be out as BCC president, and there’s the possibility he’s not just retiring, that there may be an investigation of financial irregularities under his tenure.

And Ray and Debbie say Nova University, having lost the support of its big financial backers, may be up for sale at a bargain price of $20 million. It’s possible, Ray says, that the state may buy Nova and set up a tenth state university in Broward.

That means there might be university jobs opening up. I’ve been reading the ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education and applying for openings at community colleges in places where I’d like to live.

On Tuesday I saw an ad for an English instructor at BCC. Originally, of course, I ignored it, but today I decided, what the hell, it might just freak a few people out and I’d be interested to find out what reaction I’d get.

Ray said the BCC instructors without doctorates would be wise to enroll in Joe Cook’s Ed.D. program if they wanted to teach in the new university. I’m definitely considering getting my Ed.D. at FIU because I wouldn’t have to take too many more courses.

As Ray said, Joe Cook is Mr. Flexible. Perhaps I could get both an M.A. from Teachers College and an Ed.D. from FIU. It would take years, going back and forth, and money, but it would stand me in good stead nine or ten years from now, when the college faculty shortage begins.

Anyway, it’s something to think about.

Nearly ten inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours, most of it last night. I got home just as a dreadful thunderstorm – with incredible lightning, hail and a downpour that flooded streets – was beginning.

Up at 5:30 AM today, I read the paper (the Libyan military exercises are over; the Senate has passed Contra aid), had breakfast, and then fell back asleep from 7 AM until 10 AM.

In Davie, Dad was very upset following his prescribed 25 minutes in the sun. The part of his face where he lost his pigment was very red and blotchy – mostly it’s above his eyes – while the rest was tanned.

I told Dad that I really hadn’t noticed the blotchiness – and he could see from the look on my face, that until he talked about it, I hadn’t – but of course we all magnify our own imperfections and think everyone is looking at them.

I know that if my skin looked like Dad’s, I’d feel just awful about it. However, I also know that I’d be exaggerating the way others saw it.

Feeling antsy again this afternoon, I worked out for half an hour, and that helped. A People staffer called to ask me for my social security number so they could pay me.

I got turned down for a credit card from a very aggressive bank, so I think I won’t be able to get any new cards this year unless they’re pre-approved.

Perhaps I’m reaching my final credit limit in terms of cards and all I can do now is get my existing cards’ limits raised.

I studied my Money and Banking text before this evening’s class, where Ms. Wiggenhorn discussed stabilization policy and its limitations. Six students, including me, got perfect 10’s on last week’s quiz, which had generally high marks.

I made an appointment with the eye doctor for 9 AM tomorrow. Although I’m not looking forward to getting up early, sometimes I feel better if I get out and start the day before the morning drags on.

I just noticed that tomorrow is Good Friday. March is almost over, and so is the first quarter of 1986. Life seems to be flying by at record speed. In less than a month, I’ll be in New York and it will be really be spring even there.


Sunday, March 30, 1986

8 PM. I’m a little apprehensive about the next couple of days. I’ve got to teach at Sunshine Elementary, and I’m not as familiar with the software I have to present as I’d like to be. I’ll spend a couple of hours going over the documentation tomorrow morning and maybe tonight if I have trouble sleeping.

It’s hectic to run from Miramar to my Community College class at BCC, and it’s likely that while I’m busy, People will be coming out on local newsstands. Then, on Tuesday morning, I have to appear before the fact-finding committee of the Human Relations Division.

So I’m tense about the next two days. I also don’t know what to expect with People coming out. Will it be a big disappointment, a story tucked away in the back of the magazine, or will they play it up?

It’s hard for me to cure myself of the childhood delusion that one event will make me a “success,” after which time I enter a magical world where no harm can come to me.

Even now, despite my better knowledge, a part of me hopes that this People article will be that one event. Life doesn’t work that way, however.

Yesterday I was thrilled when Lisa called from her parents’ house in Boca and suggested we go to the movies.

I got to the new Coral Square Mall at 7 PM and bought two tickets for the 7:45 PM showing of Hannah and Her Sisters.

Lisa didn’t arrive till quite late, and we ended up having to sit in the fourth row, but I enjoyed being able to watch people as I waited for her.

In New York City, I can people-watch on the streets and on subways and buses, and I miss that in Florida’s car culture. It was fun to look at people dressed for Saturday night; I got some idea of young people’s fashions, for one thing.

Lisa loved the film, and so did I, again (I didn’t tell her I’d already seen it), and after the move we went to TGI Friday’s for salads and baked potatoes.

This week Lisa is on vacation and she’s trying to unwind and distance herself from her students.

I have no doubt she’s an excellent teacher who gives much more than most of her pampered rich kids deserve. She told me she’s in love with one boy who’s a borderline failure because he doesn’t try, and Lisa talked about her frustrations.

She’s always liked working with teenagers – I suspect that like me, she has a thing for older teenage boys – and she enjoys teaching, but sometimes feels nothing she does gets through to her students.

Her rented house in West Palm Beach sounds gorgeous, and it’s in a secluded neighborhood that will be torn down to make way for the airport expansion. That’s how she and her roommates got a sweet deal from the owner.

Lisa has no assurance that she’ll be back at Spanish River High School next year, though I expect she will; however, teaching is clearly taking a lot out of her emotionally. It was a pleasant change to be out on a Saturday night.

Today I went to Miami Beach because I hadn’t been there all winter. I drove up Collins Avenue from the Art Deco District to Sunny Isles, then I cut across and visited Grandpa Nat in the nursing home.

If I wasn’t so used to seeing him, I’d feel devastated. He’s so thin now, and he keeps chewing with his sunken jaw and touching his face and shoulders constantly; his clothes have holes in them.

Though I play the tough guy while I’m there – mostly for myself – by talking to Grandpa as though he were lucid, it’s hard to see what becomes of a person.

He’ll be 88 in a couple of weeks, and he’s lived nearly nine years in this incoherent state (and I don’t mean Florida, although that fits, too). It’s really so sad that I can hardly comprehend it.

“Happy Easter!” I said when I walked in.

“Happy Easter!” he parroted. Most of his answers to my questions were either repeats of my own words or something unintelligible.

The only reaction I got from him was when I told him that in New York, I lived on West 85th Street near Broadway.

“Oh my God!” he said sharply, but I don’t know what he meant.

Who could have imagined in July 1977, when we all thought he was going to die after that heart attack or stroke, that Grandpa Nat would still be clinging to life in 1986?


Monday, March 31, 1986

9 PM. Today was one of the more satisfying days of my life, probably because I could see myself doing well in a variety of roles. If I’m not quite a Renaissance man, I’m something more than a dilettante.

Up early, I read the paper, walked to the credit union to deposit $700 I’d gotten in cash advances from ATMs, and paid the rent.

Stopping off at the Publix Teller on Broward Boulevard, I went into the supermarket and discovered the news dealer had arrived with a fresh shipment of magazines, including People, which I took from the his piled-high shopping cart before he put it on the racks.

I couldn’t find my story in the table of contents, but thumbing through the issue, I discovered it: “Unless We Bag a Few New Stars, the U.S. Will Face a Tragic Celebrity Shortage” by Richard Grayson and Fred Bernstein.

Illustrated with a full-page photo of paparazzi shooting a bejeweled, glamorously dressed woman with a paper bag over her head, with the Hollywood sign in the distance, the whole article took up four pages, with another photo page devoted to a model pretending to be Barbara Walters interviewing a tree (“If you were a star, what kind of star would you be?”)

I’m very pleased with the piece. In Davie, first Jonathan and then Mom and then Dad read the article, and they all thought it was good; of course, they’re my family.

While in Davie, I got a call from Joyce Brown of the Human Relations Division, reminding me about tomorrow’s hearing.

Also, the People publicity department called to find out if they could give my number to radio stations wanting interviews. Of course I said yes, though Fred is probably taking the good ones for himself.

I hope he’s not going on Live at Five and getting TV exposure I could use. (I’m kidding!)

There was tons of mail, including the AWP Job List, with some creative writing vacancies I’ll apply for; loads of banking stuff, including my CBI credit file, a Virginia Beach Federal money market account checkbook, the PIN number for my Chase money market account, and applications for credit line increases on my Bank One and Chemical cards; and the leader of Americans for Generational Equality told me to “give ‘em hell” on senior discounts.

After xeroxing the article at Jaffe’s and having lunch at the Broadway Diner, I came home to read newspapers and prepare for class.

“It’s the computer man!” said the Sunshine Elementary school secretary as she opened the door for me at 3:30 PM. I showed the teachers the SRI math software today.

It was kind of disorganized because I’d never seen the material before, but I enjoyed myself and I think they learned a lot just by using it and experimenting with it.

One thing I keep stressing to them is that the computer is dumb compared to a teacher. Knowing how limited the machines are makes the teachers feel better.

After a quick bite, I went to my FIU Community College class, where Kitty Hunter, BCC’s Academic Vice President, was our guest.

Like most of the BCC administrators, she surprised me by her intellectual depth. She’s very future-oriented and interested in issues ranging from the role of the community college in relation to business and government to the need to educate people for a world economy and a world culture. Her remarks and the discussion which followed were stimulating.

Can you tell me why today was so satisfying? I felt competent in all my roles as writer, “computer man,” banking maven, social activist, and educator. I feel integrated and whole.

Let’s hope tomorrow’s hearing at the Human Rights Board at isn’t a big disaster.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog