A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1986

Monday, September 22, 1986

5 PM. In an hour, I’ve got Prof. Cook’s class.

I’ve been so busy today that I haven’t been able to get around to reading USA Today or the Fort Lauderdale paper, and I still have to go through about 20 pieces of mail. I have to reconcile two money market checking accounts, pay three credit card bills and deal with other stuff.

An editor at Putnam would like to look at around ten of my uncollected stories for a possible book, and Sun & Moon Press is also willing to take a look at my work.

Last night I couldn’t sleep – I just wasn’t tired – and so I got about two-thirds of the way through Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. That’s the book I started reading four months ago that led me to the writing of “I Survived Caracas Traffic.”

Although it’s all cool surfaces, I like Less Than Zero more than I thought I would. Rich, blond, tan, beautiful, very fucked-up teenagers in L.A. drive around, score drugs, get stoned, have banal conversations, watch MTV, party and sleep with each other.

These people need help, but because everything is so pretty –like the boys and girls themselves – it’s both attractive and repulsive. It’s heavy into bisexuality, and I suspect Ellis is gay and that if I met him, I’d immediately have a terrible crush on him.

I’ve got a thing for smart, tall, well-built, gorgeous guys in their early twenties and late teens. Probably I always will. Ahem.

But Ellis did inspire me – or make me envious enough – to write. I forced out five pages today, though it’s still leading nowhere. Still, I consider that a triumph since I barely slept and did a lot of other things today, too.

At 9 AM, I got a call from Mike Burke at the Sun-Tattler. He loved the piece I sent him and asked if I wanted a regular column in the newspaper. I said yes but told him I’d like to have it biweekly, at least to start; the pressure to be funny on a weekly basis may be too much.

I told Mike I’d send him some new stuff by the end of the week, and he said they wanted me to come down to the paper to shoot a photo and have a drawing made of it for the column.

Great: me, a newspaper columnist. I’ve always wanted to be Russell Baker, and now I’ve got my chance.

Scary, huh? It’s really a good opportunity.

This morning it was gloriously rainy, dark and cool for this time of year – only about 45° – and I enjoyed my ride to the Unemployment office in Fort Lauderdale to get some more interstate claim forms, one of which I sent out today. I have only a 10% chance of ever collecting, but it’s worth the little effort I’ve made.

Marc brought over the PIN number for my new Choice card, and I took out a $400 cash advance at Publix and used the machine to make a lot of other cash advances, too.

Because I didn’t feel like driving to the credit union, I stayed in the shopping center and put the cash into my First Union and First Nationwide accounts.

Also at the center, I xeroxed five more copies of “Caracas,” which today was rejected with a form notice by the North American Review. While I still have faith in the story, after three rejections, I’m beginning to wonder.

At the Broward Community College computer lab, I not only wrote for an hour but I made up a good “literary writer” résumé and seven letters to the department chairs of the colleges where I’m applying for jobs.

I got all that stuff out today. What a relief.

At the lab, I saw George, Robert, Janice Sandiford and Ray, who told me I could take Robert’s place on the project for IBM in Boca. It pays $10 an hour but should be fun. Ray said he’d talk to Dan Feldman at FAU about it.


Tuesday, September 23, 1986

11 PM. I feel pretty good tonight.

Last evening’s class was fun. First, we discussed Bloom’s taxonomy – standard fare for an education course – but then we did a simulation exercise, The New Truck Dilemma, in groups of five.

One of us was the foreman and the others were telephone repairmen. After being given instructions for playing our roles, we had to come to a consensus on how to allocate the one new truck. Obviously, the exercise teaches negotiation and management skills.

For next week, we have to do reports on various games and simulations. Joe is heavily into all this stuff, which I like because it reminds me of the 1960s and acting exercises and sensitivity training and encounter groups.

While a lot of that was fairly silly and some of it proved terribly destructive, I’ve missed that kind of “touchy-feely” approach. Maybe the ’60s will come back in the ’90s.

The other night on HBO, I saw a great concert that featured singers from the ’60s at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and the audience dressed as if they were back in the ’67 Summer of Love.

After I got back home from class last night, I read the papers and caught up with my mail. I slept soundly, dreaming of adventures on other planets with Spencer and Susan.

This morning I went to do my usual errands, but I also spent time xeroxing stories so I can send my manuscripts to book publishers. At Jaffe’s before lunch and here on University Drive later, I got about two-thirds of the stories xeroxed.

This is costing me, but it’s an important investment.

Do I really expect one of these big New York houses will publish my next collection of stories?

No, not really, though of course I have hope. But as long as there’s a chance, I have to do it. The same goes for applying for teaching jobs and work at writers’ conferences.

The best that happens may only be that people get to read the Contemporary Literary Criticism entry on my work and keep me in mind for the future. And that will eventually help.

Anyway, in Software Evaluation class today, Sue demonstrated some interactive videodiscs, including the fractions one we were planning on working on for the Florida Educational Computing Conference – but the publisher may not give us permission to use the material.

Both of my graduate education classes this term are loosely structured, but in Dr. Sandiford’s class, I’m not sure I know yet what’s expected of me.

After class, I went to the Main Library downtown to hear Norma Klein, the YA author, speak as part of their “celebration” of Banned Books Week – as Jean Trebbi noted in her introduction, the name itself is awkward – about her battles with censors who take her book out of school libraries.

Before the talk, I saw Rosemary Jones and Bill Robertson, who looked at me and said, “You keep getting younger-looking.”

Don’t I know it – and I guess a lot of it is the casual way I dress and my attitude. (Then again, it could be my acne.)

Not only did I see them and Jean, of course, but also Lee Hoffman and Nedda Andrews from the South Florida Book Group. It’s amazing how many people I know down here.

At the xerox place earlier in the afternoon, I saw Monica’s youngest son, who must be around 13 now. Then Monica came in with Blake and said hello. She sold her condo at Saddle Up and is moving to Deerfield.

I might take Monica up on her invitation to stop by, but the one I’d like to see is Blake, who just graduated from law school. Although Blake’s not as cute as he used to be and he’s kind of wimpy and probably too close to his mother, he’s always seemed like a real nice guy who is probably gay.

Anyway, getting back to tonight: Norma Klein’s lecture at the library was intelligent and scary. She feels we’re just seeing the beginning of this wave of book banning and intolerance, and I’m afraid she’s right.

Some religious fanatic (self-described) tried to take over the stage and say how “secular humanists” were really the ones banning books, namely “Christian” ones.

Finally, Library Director Cecil Beach came and got him off the stage so that Klein could go back to answering relevant questions.

While Beach earlier had described Broward County to “native New Yorker” Klein as the city’s “sixth borough,” as far as I’m concerned, this place still has traces of the Deep South.

Still, there are plenty of open-minded, tolerant people here, and I saw two young guys with shirts buttoned up to their collars who wouldn’t look out of place in the East Village.

Well, I’m not writing very well tonight and I have to be up early tomorrow to pick up Dad from the red-eye flight from L.A., so I’d better sign off.


Thursday, September 25, 1986

4 PM. I just got back from the library. Mom said that Ron Ishoy from the Herald called to tell me that the item I suggested for his column will be in the paper tomorrow.

At the library, I spent time reacquainting myself with the International Directory of Little Magazines and also Writer’s Market.

“I Survived Caracas Traffic” came back from The Atlantic with a form rejection; it’s zero for four now, and I’m beginning to get worried.

I stayed at the library for hours and read everything from fiction criticism to the latest papers.

The Times had an article about a study on young Americans, who can almost universally read on a fourth-grade level but who can’t handle higher-order reading and thinking and computational problems – like figuring how much change they’ll get back at a restaurant, understanding a bus schedule, following logic, or making inferences.

Something like only one out of a hundred black Americans can perform these tasks; about 12% of whites can.

In the Voice, Pete Hamill advises young writers and artists to flee New York for a place like New Orleans with its low rents in the French Quarter.

Hamill goes on to predict that because of the real estate swine, the only young artists to remain in New York will be the phony East Village publicity-crazy fakers. He says that you can have four airline stewardesses in an apartment but not four writers, who need the luxury of solitude.

In the Wall Street Journal, there were articles about growing dissatisfaction among and with part-time and temporary college teachers; about the continuing decline of the contemporary family despite all the right-wing and neoconservative lip service to “family values”; and the trend away from copy-protection of software.

I wonder if one out of a hundred Americans could take the pleasure I do in ideas. As time goes by, I’m beginning to appreciate that my intellectual and communication skills are possessed only by a small minority.

On the West Side of Manhattan, it seems everyone is as smart as I am, but most of them are probably just smart dressers.

Last night, after unwinding with network TV (Dynasty and the more intelligent St. Elsewhere), I put together manuscripts for the five book editors. Today I mailed them out at the Davie post office, where this very cute guy about 18 was eyeing me more than I was eyeing him.

The way he smiled at me when he picked up one of my packages, which I’d dropped, I could tell he was gay. Sean and I used to have that kind of eye contact in class before we really knew each other.

Anyway, that made me feel good.

This morning, after I worked out – boy, did my body need it – I picked up my airline ticket and then made $1200 in ATM withdrawals, depositing all of it in the credit union.

I’ve gotten Unemployment claim forms from New York State at my Lauderhill address, but no word yet on benefits.

I’ve still got to deal with today’s mail. One thing I’ve got to do is send stuff off to the agent Mike Congdon.


Friday, September 26, 1986

8 PM. I finished Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero before going to bed, and that proved a mistake because all night I had bad dreams about going to aimless, affectless parties where people were doing drugs.

Ellis is a good writer, but the kids he writes about are so burned-out, it’s hard to care about them. Maybe this is just another old-timer saying, “It was different in my day,” but we seemed so much more joyful, passionate and naïve than kids today.

I read that the marijuana they smoke is five times more powerful that we smoked fifteen years ago. I used to get mildly stoned, and I was never sure if it was the grass or if I was just giving myself permission to feel giddy.

Last night I saw a TV show about the summer of 1969, which has always been the crucial time in my life, because that’s when I recovered from agoraphobia and went out into the world again. “A classic case of rehatching,” Mike Winerip called it in his Herald article about me.

I’m convinced that nostalgia for the late ’60s and early ’70s is just starting to take off. First there was that HBO special the other night and now this show last night.

I’ve been rereading my stories about that time, and I think they hold up well. If the book editors don’t think so – I sent another manuscript off today, to an editor at Morrow – then I can wait till times change.

Am I only person to feel revulsion at Vanity Fair? Brad Gooch did the lead piece, an interview with the hot actress Kathleen Turner. What got me was inside the magazine, in the photo credit for the Annie Leibovitz photo of Turner on the cover, they listed the price of everything she was wearing, who designed it, and where you could buy it.

I remember in the mid-’70s, in stories like those in Disjointed Fictions, I made fun of Perrier water and Cuisinarts, but those items seem almost quaint in today’s money-obsessed consumer culture.

I have to believe that a general revolt against super-materialism will set in soon. But perhaps I place too much face in the cycles of history.

Anyway, when I got up this morning, I saw my puss in the paper in Ron Ishoy’s column item, “The Mixson Days”:

Should Gov. Bob Graham be elected to the U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson could become interim governor for three days.

Graham plans to leave office Jan. 3.

The new governor would take charge at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 6. Never one to miss an opportunity, Davie writer Richard Grayson has written the lieutenant governor offering to chronicle the short-lived Mixson administration in a book, albeit a short one.

Grayson says he’s the perfect person to be the official historian, having once written a book of 24 pages entitled Eating at Arby’s: The South Florida Stories.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to give too much thought to the occasion yet,” Mixson wrote back. “When I do work on it, your request will be given every appropriate consideration.

We can’t wait for the movie.

I know I’d promised to keep a low profile, but I couldn’t resist this – and it does relate to my writing, after all.

Today I outdid myself and took out $1600 in cash advances from ATMs and deposited it into the credit union. Then I worked on my credit cards and bank accounts, getting them ready for my trip. I’m now back to having about $33,500 in the bank.

Justin neglected to send me the Dime Visa card I got at the President Street address, but I guess I can get it when I’m in New York.

No, I didn’t do any writing today. When I got to the computer lab at 4 PM, I found it was closed.

My parents don’t understand why I’m going to New York. “Because I don’t have to stay here,” I say.

Having lived with Mom and Dad and Jonathan for five weeks, I’ll be glad to get away. At least I’ll be coming back from New York to my apartment in Lauderhill.

This trip may prove a disaster, but I’m not going to make it self-destruct out of guilt.

If my parents object, I’ll just tell them I never said anything when they made all their gambling junkets to Las Vegas and the Caribbean. To Grandma Ethel, I could ask: Which do you regret, the trips you took and spent money on or the trips you never got around to taking?


Monday, September 29, 1986

10 PM. I’m feeling much better tonight and I’m still planning to fly to New York on Wednesday. While I can foresee bad things happening there, I also feel it’s worth the risk.

Obviously, I didn’t feel that way yesterday, but I think I was operating on a long-ago-learned response to this kind of situation. Superstitiously, I would always imagine every conceivable disaster before an event, and I’d drive myself crazy, hoping that would take away any real disaster.

That is, if I think and worry a lot about getting sick in New York, then I probably won’t get sick – or I’ll be prepared for the possibility, which then won’t be as bad as I imagined.

How many times in my life have I approached a situation that made me anxious and got so crazy beforehand that reality could never have been so bad?

Last night, casting about for some wisdom, I looked through a couple of Jonathan’s Bhagwan books.

Bhagwan’s jokes are stupid and juvenile, but I found that he occasionally made sense, especially when he said that cowards are always miserable and that it takes courage to be happy.

Anyway, I had calmed down a bit by 10 PM, and then I called Ronna; talking to her made me feel lots better. We shared our career frustrations – she got turned down for another job – and our anxieties about flying.

She’ll be going to Orlando on Wednesday, and her mother said I could stay there. But they’ll have a full house, and as Ronna said, there’s probably a better time this coming winter for us to connect in Florida.

But it was great to talk and laugh with her. That Sunday I left New York, she really made me so much better.

I ended up sleeping soundly, but because my sinuses were so stopped up, I couldn’t rouse myself this morning and felt sleepy most of the day, which was very humid and still around 90°.

This afternoon I took some decongestant and used nasal spray and I think my nasal passages are starting to open up.

Miriam wrote me after attending her sister’s wedding, which sounded like a trip (they had a lesbian rabbi and lots of craziness). New York City depressed her because, she said, “You’re right about it. I saw 50 homeless people sleeping on Waverly Place, and I felt as if I were in India or Brazil. . .”

She sold a story to Family Circle “for an incredible sum,” and her agent’s doing well by her, though she wants Miriam to totally rework the second novel.

An editor at E.P. Dutton also wants to see my work, but that will have to wait until I come back from New York. The New Orleans Review rejected “Caracas”; like a trouper, I sent it right back out again to another magazine.

I’m really starting to get excited about being a newspaper columnist. I wish I could write another column before I leave.

I’ve taken care of all my bills for the next month, so that will be under control.

I ran into Monica and got her new address and phone. She said I could come to dinner, and I’d really like to, especially if I could get friendly with Blake.

Tonight’s class was good. Bud Call of Broward Community College Instructional Resources showed us how to use overhead projectors and make transparencies, and he took us on a tour of the graphics lab. Then we started giving our presentations on structured experience and games in the classroom.

When I told Joe I’d be absent on Yom Kippur, he said he’ll be in London next week. Maybe one day I’ll go to London, too.TC mark

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