A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1986

Thursday, August 21, 1986

4 PM. Today’s been dark and rainy, a real New York day. And cool, too – I probably won’t enjoy temperatures in the 60°s again until November in Florida.

While I’m glad I’m going back, today I feel intent on drinking in the sights and sounds of the city.

Yeah, I’m a little nervous, too: I’ve got some anxiety gnawing in the pit of my belly.

Last evening Josh came over at 7:30 PM, and as usual, we headed to Marvin Gardens. I’ll miss my dinners with Josh a lot. Afterwards, we took a long walk up and down Broadway, stopping in at video, book and record stores.

As we parted at 79th Street, I saw the Times delivery truck had arrived at the newsstand by the subway entrance, so I got today’s paper and read it in bed.

That’s another luxury I’ll sorely miss: getting the Times the night before.

I slept well and didn’t feel like getting out of bed this morning because it was so dark and rainy.

But at 10:30 AM, I began an hour of exercises; cooling off, I read the PEN Newsletter, mostly about January’s PEN Congress and all the controversy, mostly about women’s issues, surrounding it.

I forget that I’m one of very few PEN members in this country. Maybe in Manhattan, being an author isn’t a rarity, but in the rest of the country, there aren’t many people who’ve published books.

If I sound like I’m giving myself a pep talk, I probably am. I need to have more self-confidence. It’s so easy to dismiss the things I’ve already done – easy because society undervalues them.

This afternoon I saw She’s Gotta Have It, a delightful film by Spike Lee, a 29-year-old Brooklynite.

What I most liked about the film was that it seemed to be Lee’s unique vision; a lot of it was rough and raw, but it had heart and energy. No one else has taken today’s Brooklyn’s middle-class blacks and shown them the way Lee did in this movie.

He’s intelligent and innovative, and I hope he gets nurtured by success.

I can remember eight, ten years ago when I loved to try new things in fiction. A lot of the risks I took didn’t work out, but when they succeeded, it was so exhilarating, there was no feeling in the world like it.

Walking up Broadway from Lincoln Center, I thought about my “career.”

I need to take risks again, I need to feel some anxiety – because I’ve coasted for too long.

In April, at the end of my last stay in Florida, I examined what I’d accomplished there since January, and I felt good.

I feel similarly about the last four months. (I’m trying to dwell on what I did get done, not what I didn’t.) Certainly it was better than the middle four months of last year.

The other day I wrote about how I like the feeling of a sense of closure as I leave New York. I also relish the idea of a new beginning in Florida.

Yeah, it will be hard to adjust, but look how adaptable I’ve become. I’ll make things happen, the way I’ve been before.

This year has already been a good one: the People article, the Fort Lauderdale News column, writing “Caracas Traffic,” the senior citizen discount affair, the business courses at FAU, my new credit cards and bank accounts, the Teachers College courses in computer education, getting certified as an EPIE software evaluator, my book at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, maybe the Contemporary Literary Criticism entry, even the Tropic magazine contest – I’ve had a lot of positive experiences.

Now that I know that I’m not dying of AIDS, I’ve got to work on the personal side of my life and make an effort to be with people and make new friends. If I just had a couple of close friends in Florida, it would be wonderful.

I’m optimistic. I’m also scared. (Which proves I’m also normal.)


Friday, August 22, 1986

7 PM. I’m out on Grandma’s terrace in Rockaway.

Last evening I waited for half an hour in front of Szechuan Broadway, but Alice didn’t show up.

Figuring that she’d gotten stuck on her way home from New Jersey in the pouring rain, I went into the restaurant and ordered dinner.

In a little while, a waiter came over and said that Alice was on the phone for me. She said she’d just gotten in at Port Authority.

Then I felt a little uncomfortable about having already ordered dinner, but I didn’t get upset because I knew Alice would understand.

By the time Alice arrived at 8 PM, I’d already eaten half of the cold sesame noodles but hadn’t started on the main course yet.

We talked over dinner for a couple of hours. Alice told me she’s been thinking of committing suicide, that nothing that happens in her life, good (she doesn’t need surgery) or bad, seems to affect her. She just feels, “What’s the point?”

I’ve been there, I told her. She’s obviously depressed.

As she talked, I thought I detected that most of her emotional malaise is a result of her relationship with Peter.

Remember how a few months ago they were “engaged to be engaged”? That’s all forgotten now: she says it’s always a bad time for Peter to even talk about marriage.

Probably Alice’s anhedonia is masking some rage toward Peter.

She also says how she feels she hasn’t lived up to her potential, that nothing comes easily to her, that she feels like a failure compared to others her age. I could have closed my eyes and thought Josh or Scott were sitting across from me because in the past week, they have told me almost the exact same story.

All are outwardly successful but are thinking about changing their careers. (Alice said she’s bored with celebrities and wonders if it’s not too late to become a psychotherapist.)

I think a Baby Boom phenomenon is at work here. This may be the midlife crisis of the Yuppies.

Awake in the middle of the night, I thought about putting Alice, Josh and Scott into a story, using the title “Modern Demographics,” and employing demographic statistics as openers for different segments. The stories would be fragmented, and I’d play with different narrative techniques.

I’ve got to work on that when I get back to Florida; for now, I’ll just let it stew in my mind.

Anyway, I told Alice that it might be a good idea to return to therapy, and she said she’d probably do that once she overcame the fear that it’s hopeless.

Alice used to believe that money, fame and success would make her happy, and I suspect part of her still does – but she’s also wise enough to know that doubling her income won’t solve much of anything in the long run.

Up early this morning, I left the apartment at 8:30 AM when Vilma came to clean up. I didn’t know where to go first, so I took the train to Park Slope.

I wanted to see Susan before I left, so I was happy when she said I could come over at 10:30 AM.

Killing time, I went to the Grand Army Plaza library, where, to my surprise, I found Volume 38 of Contemporary Literary Criticism. I’d envisioned how the first page of my entry would look, and it looked just like that: my name and birthdate, my photo, a brief introduction, and then six pages of excerpts from reviews.

Naturally, I immediately photocopied the entry. I don’t think I’ve been so excited since my story in People came out. What a great treat to leave New York with!

In the same volume are entries for John Irving, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ntozake Shange, Truman Capote, Peter Handke, Claude Levi-Strauss, George S. Kaufman, Christopher Durang, J.R.R. Tolkien – and me!

I suffer so much from the Impostor Phenomenon that I’ve really got to work to feel that I belong in this book, that it’s not some mistake.

This afternoon, on the terrace here, I read the review excerpts in the entry: I sound like a really interesting, innovative, funny – if somewhat undisciplined – writer . . . which is what I guess I am.

The reviews were balanced, and none was terrible. (They did not include the Minneapolis Tribune “worst book I ever read in my life” review.) I definitely can use these pages in applying for jobs and grants and for publication queries.

When I got to Susan’s, I watched her diaper the baby, who’s grown a lot since May. I had a lot of fun playing with him, as he’s got a pleasant temperament and reacted well to me.

Susan said she tried to call me all Wednesday morning (Teresa must have constantly been on the phone) to say that Miriam Sagan had been on Good Morning, America.

Miriam had written me that she’d been interviewed for a Mademoiselle article about Radcliffe grads from a decade ago, and Susan said Miriam was one of three women interviewed on a New York City street. The others were a doctor and a lawyer, and Miriam was introduced as “a poet.”

Wow, I’m really happy for her.

Susan also told me about her lunch with Tama Janowitz, whose Slaves of New York will show up on the Times Book Review best seller list this week.

Tama seemed very down-to-earth, a bit ditsy, and very vulnerable: she said she’d always been this misfit who spent all her time writing.

Apparently, Tama’s mother, a highly-regarded poet and creative writing professor, schooled her on the ins and outs of the business of writing.

Now Tama can’t believe the success she’s been having. Probably she, too, suffers from the Impostor Phenomenon. (When Tama found out her book made the best seller list, she could hardly wait till 11 PM to call her mother to tell her – until she realized that she was rich and didn’t have to wait till the long distance rates changed.)

Susan had a young mothers’ support group meeting at 12:30 PM, so we took the baby out just before noon and went to Roma Pizza – my favorite pizza place in the world – for lunch.

She gave me xeroxes of all her recent articles and said that it’s still hard to believe that she’s really making a living at this.

Really, Susan’s doing quite well; she forgets that few women have not only a thriving career but a stable marriage and a terrific baby.

I walked her to her meeting, just down the block from where I lived a year ago on President Street, and then I took the Flatbush bus to the Junction, where I got the Rockaway bus.

Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris were at the apartment when I arrived, and I was grateful to get the chance to see them before I leave the city.

I spent the afternoon here with Grandma, who seems okay today. God, it’s going to be hard to leave New York City: Manhattan and Brooklyn and Rockaway. It all feels very bittersweet.


Saturday, August 23, 1986

8 PM. My last night at Teresa’s.

I slept very well in Rockaway last night. This morning I took a walk on the boardwalk. The beach looked so white and pristine on the first full day open since its restoration.

Walking down to Beach 118th Street, I looked in the lobby of my old building. It’s nearly seven years since I moved in there – apartment 5-J, I believe – and five and half years since I moved out.

Grandma, of course, cried when I left. With Jeff going to Michigan next week, she’ll have none of her grandchildren in New York, and I feel bad for her.

I told her I’d be back in the spring, of course, but I also hope she’ll come to Florida this winter, as she hasn’t been down there in over three years.

The ride home on the subway was horrendous.

But at least telling Prof. Backstedt, the new English Department chairman, that I wouldn’t be teaching at FIT this fall proved a snap. He merely said, “Congratulations on your job” and “Sorry you can’t be with us.”

What a relief. But I guess he knows the adjunct system.

I did my final load of laundry this afternoon, and I’m just about all packed. I think I’ve got everything under control. Now I’m going out to get the Sunday paper.

I hope to enjoy my last day in New York, though I expect to be alone.


Monday, August 25, 1986

10 PM. I’m in what has become “my” bedroom in my parents’ home in Davie. Since I last wrote in the diary, a lot has happened.

Yesterday it was great to get to see Ronna, who made my last hours in Manhattan really special, and I did hug her, half a dozen times.

Ronna says that our relationship proves that my life does have continuity – and she’s right.

As hard as it is to make these transitions, both New York and South Florida are my homes.

Ronna and I talked about Florida, our fear of flying, and her job and relationship prospects. She said she admires me because I don’t allow myself to get stuck in a routine. I never considered what I do admirable; crazy, maybe.

We walked to H&H Bagels together, and then she came back with me and helped me get my stuff to West End Avenue, where I hailed a cab. It was nice, for once, to have someone to hug goodbye.

The trip to LaGuardia was quick and inexpensive, but unfortunately my flight was delayed over an hour. I wasn’t at all nervous, and I was so busy talking with the woman next to me that I hardly noticed the takeoff.

Still, I never feel really comfortable on a plane. I watched Return of the Jedi, which didn’t end until just before we landed at 10:30 PM.

Dad was at the airport to pick me up. Once out in the air, I remembered how thickly hot it is on Florida evenings in the summer.

I came home to Davie feeling very tired. After kissing and hugging Mom – it’s funny to go four months without seeing your mother – all I wanted to do was sleep.

And I slept very well indeed because I was exhausted mentally. It really is very hard to go from one life to another.

This morning I was able to go through a ton of mail and pay a dozen credit card bills. Then I borrowed Dad’s car to go to Broward Community College to register at Florida International University.

Right away I saw people I knew from the BCC English Department: Chip and Dave, who said he’s also teaching BASIC for Florida Atlantic University.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t register because I haven’t been admitted to the Ed.D. program and have already taken too many courses at FIU as a special student. I tried to contact Joe Cook, but he wasn’t in at the Bay Vista campus.

Unable to register, I felt frustrated, and that got worse when I learned I couldn’t use Marc’s car, which has become unreliable lately.

So Dad took me to the airport, where, using my Sears credit card, I rented a car for the week at Budget. For the price of a subcompact, they gave me a sporty red convertible.

I spent much of the afternoon indoors – it is very hot – but I did go out for lunch to the Bagel Whole, where it felt good to be welcomed by Sam, the owner, who asked me about the West Side and his friend Danny, who runs the newsstand on 79th and Broadway.

Later, I went to the Davie Book Store, where the owner said, “Back from New York?” and to Gaetano’s pizzeria, where the owner there knew my order – one slice of Sicilian and a small Diet Coke – and thought I hadn’t been around for only three or four weeks.

Back at BCC, I saw the Foreign Languages chairwoman, Mrs. Burdick, who hugged me, and Phyllis Luck, who told me that as usual, she’s loaded up on courses at BCC and Nova. (She said that Dr. Grasso has plenty of adjunct classes if I want one.)

I met George, who took me to see Ray, now Dr. Cafolla, having completed his dissertation this summer.

Ray and I discussed computer education: my Teachers College courses and work at EPIE and his new book projects (including one on Turbo Pascal), and a project at IBM that concerns testing DOS 5.0, which Dave, Dan Kaufman and Robert from the BCC lab are involved with.

It turns out that Joe Cook’s course won’t meet till Monday, September 8 (next Monday is Labor Day), but Janice Sandiford signed my “admit non-admitted” form or whatever it’s called so I can register.

(When I got home, Joe phoned back, but I told him the problem had gotten fixed; he said he’d be glad to see me in his class.)

While I don’t yet have a car or an apartment, I feel I’ve done okay for one day.

Jonathan – or Ansu, as his Rajneeshi friends call him – has a beard and very long hair brushed back into a ponytail. He wears only shades of red now.

It’s odd, but I’m so used to New York, where people looking any way they want to, that Mom had to bring it to my attention that Jonathan’s clothes are only one color.

Mom let me put all my clothes in this room’s closet and drawers, and she said I shouldn’t be in a hurry to leave.

Dad’s got a show in California next week. His holiday line sold really well, but he doesn’t have much to do until the fall lines from Sasson, Beniko and Bugle Boy arrive.

Well, that’s day one in Florida. I’ve got a feeling this fall may prove more interesting that I expected.


Tuesday, August 26, 1986

7 PM. It’s not easy to adjust. I just came in now, and although it’s quite hot, there’s a slight breeze and it’s probably less humid at the moment than it was in New York for most of July.

Outside, some kids – there are now dozens of little kids at this condo – were feeding bread to five Muscovy ducks as a cat looked on. That’s the sort of thing that makes me glad to live in Florida.

Tired as I was last night, I could not get to sleep. My mind raced. Should I take on adjunct courses at Broward Community College? Should I take only two graduate classes at FIU and try to concentrate on my writing? What can I do about a car, an apartment, a job?

I didn’t get to sleep until 5 AM, and I didn’t sleep much. The sun seems to rise later here than in New York.

At 8 AM, Dr. Grasso called and asked if I wanted to teach. She had only English 101’s available, and the pay is still $16.50 an hour, the same as it was five years ago when I taught my first class at BCC.

So I said no, that it wasn’t worth it, and I thanked Dr. Grasso for thinking of me.

Telling Mom and Jonathan about it downstairs, I had to contend with Dad, who rushed down the stairs while he was shaving, all excited about my job prospects.

He didn’t hide his disapproval of my refusal to do adjunct work, and when I followed him upstairs to explain that all that work would net me only $40 a week, he said, “What are you netting now?” and “It could lead to something else.”

“What?” I asked.

“Another course,” he said.

“Great. Then I’d get $80 a week for two-fifths of a full-time job.”

I was very upset by Dad’s disapproval, and I still am, a little, but it was Jonathan, of all people, who set me straight.

“How old are you, Richard?” Jonathan asked.

“Thirty-five.”

“That’s old enough so that you shouldn’t care what Dad thinks – and also old enough to know that Dad’s an idiot.”

Still, it rankles. Deep down, especially since I’m living here, I feel like a child devastated by a parent’s disapproval. But I’ll have to live with it.

Rationally, I know I made the right decision. I’ll be much better off concentrating on my writing, my graduate work, and my banking activities.

After opening a money market account at First Union, one of the South’s new merged banking giants, I went over to BCC-South, where I read all today’s papers in the library.

Passing the registration line, I met Elliott, a former student whom I liked, who told me he would take any course I was teaching this term.

“They can’t afford me here,” I said.

Working as a college teacher for $15.60 an hour would be a step backward, and I’d have no respect for myself.

Methinks I doth protest too much.

I registered for FIU at BCC-Central, where I learned the economics class was canceled, so I don’t have to worry about taking on too many classes. I didn’t have to pay a late fee, either.

For less than $700, I paid my FIU tuition at the BCC business office. The BCC freshman and sophomores also on line took me for one of them – probably since I was dressed casually in shorts – and that made me feel good.

Glen Rose, Tom Brown and other administrators and teachers all seemed genuinely pleased to see me on campus. Maybe I’m better-liked than I thought.

Back home, I went out to the pool. About half an hour in the sun was all I could take, but I did get some color in my face, arms and chest; my legs are still pale for a Floridian in late August.

Marc dropped by while his car was being fixed, and together we took my rented shiny red Dodge convertible’s top down and drove around the area.

“This is living,” Marc said – even as I felt that the gods were going to punish me for trying to be sporty, hip and casual.

We went to Rick Case Hyundai to look at some cars.

If I were to buy a new car, I’d select a Hyundai, but I need air conditioning and an automatic transmission, and to get that, it would cost too much money. I need to spend $4000, tops, and preferably closer to $2000. I’m better off getting a used car, as usual.

After dropping Marc off here, I went to my Educational Software class with Jan Sandiford, a nice lady: a former nurse whose field was originally vocational and technical education. Like a lot of teachers, she backed into computers and learned a great deal over the years.

I knew four out of five of my fellow students: Sue Spahn, Debbie Nycz, Robert from the computer lab (who’s also a BCC theater teacher), and a Palm Beach computer teacher who was in Ray’s BASIC class with me last spring; the other student was a Dade elementary teacher.

Debbie told me she got her husband a job in her department after he was shamefully eased out on North Campus. She said the BCC presidential search committee has narrowed down the finalists to five, one of whom is Clinton Hamilton, though he probably won’t get the job.

Anyway, our course will concentrate on software development, not evaluation, and we’ll work together on a major project that we could actually submit to an educational publisher.

It seems as if this course will be a good complement to my Software Evaluation class at Teachers College, though I worry that my programming skills are not up to snuff.

Anyway, Dr. Sandiford has structured the course loosely, and it looks interesting.

After class, I went to the Delta office and turned in my Christmas flight ticket for credit. Then I stopped at the Broward Mall, where I had dinner, got a $500 Discover cash advance at Sears, and bought a pair of Bugle Boy jeans and the new Fiction Writer’s Market.


Friday, August 29, 1986

5 PM. This afternoon I feel kind of empty and lonely. I’m tired of staying with my parents and Jonathan.

They all mean well, but I’m used to living by myself, and they’re driving me crazy. Because none of them worked this week, everybody was home all the time.

If I don’t get out tonight, I’ll go mad, I think.

Right now, if I were still in New York City, I’d take a walk down Broadway, eat out, maybe rent a video.

I am terribly lonely without my New York friends. Why did I inflict this on myself?

I’ve really got to make an effort to make friends down here. I don’t know; without a car, a job, an apartment, my life feels so unsettled. And I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to write the way I’d hoped to.

I miss New York City so much. Well, that’s to be expected. Look, if I really hate it, there’s nothing stopping me from getting on a plane back. My only obligation is my coursework, and I could always drop the classes.

Well, let me give myself time. From my experience, I know it takes time to adjust.

Meanwhile, my job number one is to stop feeling sorry for myself.

Hey, I’m just in a crummy mood now. It happens.

*

9 PM. I’ve just returned from a long trip to Miami.

As soon as I finished writing the last entry, I got into my rented convertible, took the top down, took my shirt off, and got on the Turnpike heading south.

I knew what ailed me and I knew what I needed: a dose of the South Florida that I’ve come to love.

I tried to make myself feel like someone on vacation, even a sexy young guy out for the evening. And with the late afternoon sun beating down and the wind at 55 m.p.h. making my hair go wild and keeping the rest of me cool, I almost made myself believe it.

Down I-95 I rode till the end of the line, when I got stuck in rush hour traffic on my way to Coconut Grove.

Easily finding parking, I walked around the familiar neighborhood, which seemed pretty empty. I doubt if I saw fifty people on the streets as I walked.

I’ve always thought of the Grove as Miami’s Greenwich Village, but it’s just a fraction of the Village’s size. CocoPlum, where I’d expected to eat, is gone, replaced by a good pizzeria where I got a couple of slices and a drink.

I took another little walk and bought some novels in The Bookworm; also, I picked up TWN, the gay newspaper, to find out what’s going on. Then it was back in the car.

I listened to Brazilian music as I rode up Brickell Avenue on my way to downtown Miami, where the CenTrust Tower is almost complete and the Bayside project construction has begun.

So much of what I drove by, I realized, has come about just in the six years I’ve been down here: the Metrorail, the people mover, the Southeast Bank Building, the Cultural Center, the Knight Center, the Hyatt, etc. And the old main library is gone.

I took the causeway to Miami Beach, where it’s always a thrill to see the ocean and bay and sky and palm trees and view of the Miami skyline, but it was even more terrific to be in a new convertible at 7 PM as the sun was lowering in the sky.

I passed all my favorite sights, from downtown Miami Beach to the Deco District up Collins past Condo Canyon, Surfside, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles over to the mainland again via the Lehman Causeway (built when I lived in North Miami Beach), up U.S. 1 past Aventura and Gulfstream, into Hollywood and onto I-95 to State Road 84.

These past four months in New York I’ve seen all these places in my dreams, but I’d forgotten the affection I feel for the sights of South Florida – as strong a bond, in a way, as I have with New York.

Both places are “home” to me now, and I hope they always will be. Today’s trip was every bit as stimulating as a walk or bus ride in Manhattan; it’s just different.

I’ve been here only five days, and I can’t expect to fit in immediately, but I’ll adjust. And every time I go back to New York or Florida, I become that much more adaptable. It just takes a while.

It’s Labor Day weekend, so why don’t I give myself a break?TC mark

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