A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1986

Monday, April 14, 1986

10 PM. I’ve just shut off the TV after a press conference by the Secretaries of State and Defense about a U.S. air raid on selected Libyan targets tonight.

While our Community College class was meeting earlier this evening at Mr. Laff’s, I could see from the TV by the bar that White House spokesman Larry Speakes was having a press briefing that lasted too long for it to be merely a report on the network news.

When a map of Libya came on screen, I assumed that we’d taken action after getting conclusive proof that Khadafy was responsible for the bombing of a West Berlin disco last week. and that indeed was what happened.

At 9 PM, when I came home, Reagan got on and made a short speech explaining the air strike. Though I said yesterday I’m repelled by the current bellicose mood, I think we may be right to go ahead and do as the Israelis do, and respond to acts of terrorism.

However, I’m not sure it will do any good in the long run.

Back to earth – or to my life at least: I’m proud of the way I functioned today even though I was feeling rotten. My cold is very annoying, but I was away from home for nearly twelve hours today, and probably I was better off for having my mind diverted from my physical complaints.

This morning I went into downtown Fort Lauderdale and waited for the main branch of the library to open. It was a glorious morning – sunny, warm and breezy – and I enjoyed walking around the area till the library opened.

Regretfully, I didn’t get to see much of the Computer Affair event, though I did some away with some documents.

However, Jean Trebbi spotted me and greeted me effusively. She’s been doing wonders with the library’s Center for the Book and other programs, and she was kind enough to listen to me babble on about my doings.

Jean said I should get in touch with her when my next book comes out. “I think you’ll end up as a Jean Shepard-type raconteur,” she said. I’d be happy with that.

At my parents’, I looked at my mail, most of it from various banks. Every credit card I’ve applied for since January has turned me down, though the Dollar Dry Dock in New York responded to an ad form I filled out in last week’s New York Times by giving me a $2000 line of credit to be put into an IRA for 1986.

I’m not certain how this works, but they gave me a checkbook, so I guess I can draw on the credit line eventually.

Unfortunately, my car rental for March as well as for February got on this month’s American Express bill, and it was a whopper, nearly $1200. However, I may be better off paying it now and using my credit lines for cash advances, which are more pay-as-you-go.

And I guess American Express will be happy to note that I have no problem paying off such a large bill, which also included MCI long distance and my optometrist appointment.

At Broward Community College’s computer lab, I played with PILOT and some Apple programs that I took to Sunshine Elementary with me. Ray had just come from seeing Jan Strickland, because he’s starting a workshop a Broward high school on Wednesday.

I saw Jan at Sunshine Elementary, where the principal slightly embarrassed me by telling her all about my 1984 Presidential campaign, which he’d read about in the Herald.

My last session with my teachers was informal; only six of them showed up, and I demonstrated some material and answered questions.

I don’t know how I rated on the evaluations, but I didn’t do my best during the course. I wasn’t organized enough, but then again, I wasn’t provided any guidance or the proper materials.

I would say I was no more of a fuck-up than Mary Alice was in our FIU grad classes in PILOT or Microcomputer as Teaching Tool. But I think that given time, I could do a fine job teaching more of these computer education workshops.

As I mentioned, our Community College class met at Mr. Laff’s, that new restaurant/bar across from my parents’ house.

Actually, it’s so close I could have walked it – and when people start doing that, it will be when West Broward becomes so dense it’s a regular city, like New York; at that point, University Drive will be like Broadway.

Joe Cook was as hoarse as I was, and he reported all my symptoms; silly as it is, I feel glad that I’ve got something that’s “going around” because it makes it less likely that I’ve got some problem with my immune system.

I had a burger, a good one, and talked with my classmates. Earlier in the day, I’d been in the men’s room at the FIU/FAU building at BCC; I was washing my hands as Debbie Nycz walked in.

We stared at each other for the longest time; it was as if we both knew something was wrong but couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally it hit me, and I said, “What are you doing in here?” It was so bizarre that we couldn’t stop laughing.

Anyway, my FIU Community College class is over now.

Not bad for sick guy today, huh? My next big day isn’t till Thursday’s Economics final.

Tuesday, April 15, 1986

9 PM. It’s great how little things can sometimes make you feel good. On my way home from FAU’s Commercial Boulevard campus just now, I stopped at the Eckerd’s in Inverrary to pick up some cough medicine and other supplies.

While looking for a card for Teresa’s birthday, I overheard two elderly couples speculating about what day next week they’ll go back to Brooklyn. Immediately, I felt a kinship with them.

As I got on line for the checkout, I checked out the cashier, a handsome, open-faced guy of about 19. He was just my type: very cute, tanned, slim, in a white shirt (I love white shirts) with brown hair nicely swept back and a diamond stud in his left ear.

He spoke to me right away about the customer on line before me: “Isn’t it too bad her mother dresses her that way?”

“I didn’t notice,” I said. (Of course not; I’d been staring at him.) We talked all the time he was ringing up my order and taking my credit card and putting my stuff in a bag.

Damn if he wasn’t flirting with me! He probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it meant a lot to me that someone I considered gorgeous would think I was cute, too.

How nice, especially when I’m feeling sick and kind of old. If strangers can enrage us, they also have the power to lift our spirits.

I did sleep well last night, so I woke up still feeling sick but refreshed. Lying in bed most of the morning, I listened to the news about the Libyan invasion; most of Europe is against it, though the majority of Americans seem glad something was finally done.

Nobody wants to travel to Europe this summer, and for the first time I think I share the feeling, the fear of terrorism, rather than just my usual fears about traveling.

At my parents’ today only to pick up the mail, I was surprised to see Dad on the phone because he was supposed to be in New York City today.

Marc told me he’d bought a microwave for the apartment. I hope he doesn’t go overboard in buying stuff while I’m gone because that could make him unable to meet his basic expenses. But as I’ve said before, I’ve got to trust him.

Jonathan gave me his usual scowl, so I left quickly.

After spending a couple of hours in the library, I went over to the computer lab, where George, Debbie, Ray and Dan Friedman of FAU all were hanging out.

Ray and Dan had gone to see the FAU/FIU/BCC Tower downtown. They said the equipment – from computers to TV facilities – are first-rate, but as usual, FAU has no programs scheduled there as yet.

Rick wrote me, saying he thinks I’d be unhappy at the Maryland community colleges where I’ve applied, but I don’t think he has an understanding of the kind of teaching I’ve been doing and the kind of students I’ve had.

The Francis Marion College Writers’ Retreat leaflet arrived; Susan Ludvigson will be there again. Bob Parham is now the department chair, and I suppose if I’d applied to FMC (they had a one-year vacancy), I might have gotten the job.

But Florence, South Carolina is a place where I probably would be unhappy, as I’d feel too isolated there.

Tonight in our Public Policy class, Ms. Pynes reviewed the term’s material and we filled out teacher evaluation forms; next week is our final.

When I got home from FAU, Josh called and he sounded good. We had a nice long chat about nothing really substantial; still, it was pleasant to chew the fat with an old friend.

Thursday, April 17, 1986

9:30 PM. It looks as though I got an A in Money and Banking. I did get a 10 on last week’s quiz, and by my reckoning, I got 36 out of 40 on tonight’s test. Even if muffed three extra points, I should still get an A.

Surprisingly, the teacher knew me, for when I got up to hand in my final after we’d graded it, she asked how I did and she said she couldn’t believe how well I’d done after my first lackluster quiz scores. Then she congratulated me on my A.

I did work hard in this course; at first it seemed I was in way over my head, but I studied a great deal and concentrated on understanding the concepts. This is a private triumph, though; nobody I know could ever understand why this means so much to me.

Most people would say, “Why do you care?” Well, why do I? Because I was proving myself in an entirely new area, not related to writing or teaching or even computer education.

Now I’m halfway through finals, with the Public Policy and BASIC finals next week. I should manage to keep up my A average in those courses and go 4.0 again this term. For tonight and tomorrow, though, I plan to relax.

I’m still coughing up a mess of green slime, though I’ve been sleeping well. Last night I had lovely dreams, including adventures with various friends. I miss them: Josh, Ronna, Teresa, Alice, Justin, Pete, Mikey and Amy. But I know an awful lot of people in South Florida, too.

In one sense, it’s easy for me to stay here. Life is inexpensive and undemanding, and I can always take courses and find ways of making money. And maybe I will return in August. As long as I can spend the summer in New York, I could endure the rest of the year here.

If I’d spent last fall here, it would have been okay, though I think living in Brooklyn was a better experience because it was new.

This morning I stayed in bed late and then went to my parents’ house, which was deserted, and I studied for several hours, taking a break to read USA Today outside.

I’m pretty tanned, and although I haven’t exercised this week because of my illness, I noticed that my body’s been looking okay. If it’s hard for me to get rid of my thick, round belly, at least I’ve built up my chest and shoulders to offset it.

The trouble today is that everybody’s a bodybuilder and there’s a kind of muscle-inflation; most of the guys in my class tonight, for example, have physiques that would have been judged outstanding 25 years ago – but today everyone’s well-built like that.

I got bills from Southeast Bank MasterCard, Sears and Peoples Bank Visa today. To me, paying the bills is a treat because I like moving my money around. If Mom doesn’t mind mailing me my bills to New York, I don’t mind paying them.

Peoples Bank lowered their APR from 17% to 15.9%, and I sent them $700 even though my credit line is only $500; I want to show them I’m worthy of a higher credit line.

Jack Saunders sent me four books and a lot more paraphernalia. He got mad at me years ago; I never knew why but felt it had something to do with my getting the Florida grant. It’s clear that Jack is still obsessed with his not receiving grants.

While I’ll probably enjoy reading Jack’s books, I am a different kind of person than he is: more willing to compromise (to sell out?).

In a way, Jack is very much like Crad: they see themselves as iconoclastic misfits who strongly believe that their work will change society, if society would only listen. Both Crad and Jack want nothing more than to be full-time writers; neither feels he gets the respect he deserves.

I, on the other hand, am more diffident about my writing talent, know quite well that the world isn’t waiting for my latest book and think that in the long run, my writing won’t have much impact on society. Of course, I also believe that I can work to change society in other ways besides being a writer.

Today was a gorgeous day: cloudless and warm, not at all humid, with gentle breezes. April has been a glorious month here. I hope May is pleasant in New York.

Friday, April 18, 1986

5 PM. I’m still quite congested and coughing a great deal.

Speaking to Ronna last night, I learned she probably won’t be coming to Florida for Passover as I’d hoped. Instead, she’ll be here in mid-June when her brother and grandmother move out of the apartment in Canarsie.

Ronna reports that her mother is “deliriously happy” in her new house in Orlando and enjoys her job, which takes her all over Florida. It’s sad that I won’t be able to show Ronna South Florida, but at least she’ll finally get to see the Sunshine State for herself.

Ronna said she’s got a lot of work on the Hebrew Arts School’s NEA grant applications, which are due on May 1, but we didn’t talk much about our lives; instead, we mostly had a freewheeling conversation about lots of things.

So I’ve read most of the books Jack Saunders sent, and while I’m intrigued by them, how he can think that most people would enjoy his writing is beyond me.

His writing is all about his attempts at being a writer, and he includes letters to friends, to Miami Herald book editor Bill Robertson, to Florida Secretary of State George Firestone, to New York publishers: all of them repetitive complaints.

Yes, Saunders has intelligence and energy, but he’s not the artistic genius he thinks he is. He’s also extremely naïve. He actually expected that his employer IBM would let him write his “megalith” on company time?

I’m not sure if he’s putting it on; he can’t be as much of a crank as he sounds. Certainly, he’ll come off as a nutjob to any of the NEA officials, book editors and newspaper people to whom he writes; if I got “letters” like his, I’d ignore them, too.

Yet I agree with most of what he says about the New York publishing industry, academic and the grant-givers, and I’m glad he’s writing. Is his work fiction? Not unless this diary is fiction.

Saunders boasts about his prolific output, yet his “books” are the kind of writing I don’t attempt to publish: my diaries and letters, which would make up as many “books” as Saunders publishes.

Like Crad, Tom and myself – like most writers who’ve published in little magazines and self-published – Jack Saunders badly needs an editor. I guess I like him because he appeals to my own feelings about being an ignored writer while mediocrities get the rewards.

But by now I’ve gotten past that feeling. I know for sure that even if I had twice the talent that I have, the world wouldn’t be waiting breathlessly for my next book, nor would a book of mine change the world.

Saunders believes that – or seems to – about his own work, and I think Crad sympathizes with him because he feels the same way.

It’s interesting that I haven’t heard from a single one of my literary friends about the People piece; I want to know what their reactions will be. Crad might be outraged that I’ve sold out, but he’ll probably be too polite to say so.

Rick didn’t mention the People article in his letter, so I’m assuming he didn’t see it; I sent him a copy with my reply to him. No word from Tom, Miriam or anyone else remotely “literary.”

I did some banking business today, and the latest news about my “hobby” is that Bank One Visa raised my credit limit from $2500 to $3000 and Republic lowered its interest rate on my credit line to 13.5%.

(The Fed lowered the discount rate again today, despite a surprisingly robust first-quarter GNP report.)

At the computer lab, I used IBM Writing Assistant (Jack Saunders probably wrote the manual for it while at his job) to whip up a new résumé, and I tried out IBM Graphic Assistant, which is pretty neat.

I do feel bad about something I said to Mark before our Money and Banking final last night. We were talking, pretty much fooling around, and I joked, “You’re the most boring person ever met.”

“Well, I don’t tell you everything I do,” he said.

Why did I make such an insensitive remark? Probably because I felt that Mark never showed the interest in me that I did in him. But I was childish and cruel and hurtful, and I don’t feel good about it.

Saturday, April 19, 1986

8 PM. One week after my cold began, I’m starting to feel like I’m not sick anymore.

Last night I coughed my head off, and this morning I had the usual spewing out of the phlegm that gathered while I was lying down, but for most of the day I’ve been relatively cough-free.

I didn’t want to do any weightlifting today, but at my parents’ house, I used Jonathan’s bars to do dips, chins, and shoulder lifts.

My relationship with Jonathan has been bad since that threatening phone call ten days ago. Since then Jonathan has been barely speaking to me. I’ve really never communicated well with either of my brothers, though I do love them.

In a dream last night, I was furious with my parents for keeping Marc and Jonathan as children. In reality, they’re not children, but my brothers now work so intimately with my parents that they’re pretty dependent on Mom and Dad.

Of course, such family concerns are and have been natural in business and agriculture. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that kind of arrangement, even though most of my Yuppie friends think it’s weird.

I just hope Marc and Jonathan don’t resent my parents one day. Dad is about 60 and Mom is 55, and though they’re relatively youthful, they won’t be here forever and certainly in their later years they won’t have the means or the ability to support Marc and Jonathan.

For Marc’s sake, I hope he can make it on his own in this apartment; it would give him a sense of independence that he needs. He’s lived with Mom and Dad so long, he’s too close to see that in reality they may well be more dependent upon him than he is on them.

As for Jonathan, I just don’t know. I remember him as a bright, talkative, friendly 10-year-old. Now he dresses only in his religious “sunrise” colors, is rail-thin, and often seems somewhat “off” – though on occasion he can converse very intelligently.

I wish he’d given therapy more of a chance or that he wouldn’t have quit college. If he had been able or willing to go away to a good school, maybe he’d be more well-adjusted.

I was extremely lucky to go to Brooklyn College at the time I did. Even though it was a commuter school, I made good friends and felt like I was an important part of something.

Last night I had Chinese food with my parents, as we usually do on Friday nights, when Marc and Jonathan are both out. We watched the news.

As the days go on, I feel less happy about our Libyan raid. All our allies are against us, and now terrorist acts have started. One of our six Beirut hostages was killed.

It’s amazing to me how conservatives bellyache about the media’s “liberal bias” when they’re so easy on Reagan after skewering Carter. Remember how night after night we were subject to “the 233rd day of captivity for the American hostages in Iran”?

What about these guys in Beirut? Everyone calls Carter a wimp, but all 51 hostages came home alive. But when 250 Marines Reagan sends to Beirut end up dead, it’s totally forgotten when he manfully invades little Grenada.

Everything the While House does is with the President’s phenomenal popularity in mind. On Thursday night in the FAU elevator, I heard two of the younger guys in the class talking, and one said grimly, “We’ll be at war in six months.”

In a way, as I’ve written before, I’m glad Reagan’s regime will play out to its logical conclusion, because people will start to think and maybe some will abandon this militaristic, nationalistic, “We’re #1,” “USA alla way” attitude.

It may take a war or a big disaster to shake us out of this conservative mood. It’s so ugly the way people worship money and glamour today. Behind the humor of my celebrity shortage article was real outrage at our values.

At the dinner table, following some dismal news story about the latest report on education – this one calling for an end to the undergraduate education major and better training of teachers – Mom said that things will start to get better in our schools now that everyone is aware of the problems.

“I doubt it,” I said. “People don’t care, and kids will just get dumber and dumber – along with their teachers – until the U.S. is overtaken not only by Japan but by South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

I’d like to be proven wrong, but I don’t see anything on the horizon that will change our values. Enough speechmaking for one Saturday.

I received nine pieces of mail from nine different banks today; if it wasn’t for banks, I’d probably be facing an empty mailbox most days. The good news: Chemical MasterCard raised my credit limit from $1000 to $1500.

I shouldn’t have applied for all those new cards in February; I am better if banks keep raising the limits on my existing cards.

Tom sent me a copy of The Eustachia Stories, saying that he’s angry that Joron of Velocities Press in Berkeley was delaying sending the books out.

“This is a good argument for self-publication,” Tom wrote.

Dealing with his small press publisher made bringing out the book “a nightmare.”

Tom liked the People article and xeroxed it for friends who enjoyed it and who wondered how the magazine let me satirize their raison d’être.

Alan Nadel kindly wrote that though I didn’t get the Purdue job, “Other members of the panel besides myself also thought you would have been a good choice.”Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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