A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1986

Friday, November 21, 1986

4 PM. Last night Patrick called to remind me that I’d agreed to read tonight at some affair he and Jim are putting on at Broward Community College’s South Campus.

I’ll be there, but hopefully I can slip away early.

All Patrick and I talked about on the phone was BCC gossip, and I wish I could get away from that. While the college seems to be Patrick’s whole world, I haven’t worked there in 2½ years.

Then, at 11 PM, I got a call from Ronna. What a sweetheart she is.

“Mission accomplished,” she said, reporting that she’d bought a 1987 diary for me at Golden’s the day before and would mail it to me this weekend.

“It made me feel close to you to do this,” she said. What a woman! God, after knowing Ronna for sixteen years, I’m continually more and more impressed with her.

It’s hard for me to believe that some smart guy hasn’t seen her qualities and married her yet. My relationship with Ronna has been one of the high points of my life.

I still am crazy about her, and if I thought it would work out, I’d marry her in a second.

Up at 9 AM this morning, I had a lot of stiffness from yesterday’s workout on the chinning and dip bars.

Today’s mail brought a note from Leora Zeitlin. Because of the National Endowment for the Arts exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Zephyr Press has gotten some queries from foreign agents, including one Frenchman who’d like to represent European distribution of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

Good news, I guess, but I won’t hold my breath.

Also in the mail, I got the paperwork for my upcoming Broward class from Florida International University (which I’ve already sent back to the Teacher Education Center for Sophie to process) and the new Associated Writing Programs Job List, which gives me lots of new creative writing jobs to apply for.

Michael Burke called from the Sun-Tattler office to touch base and to find out if I’d gotten my check. He said the reaction to my column was good and he wants to continue to run it every other week. The next one will appear tomorrow.

Well, we have here at least some signs of progress.

Earlier in the day, at Florida Atlantic University, I filled out a readmit form for next semester and read recent issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education in the library.

Then I went over to Pine Island Ridge to meet with Mildred Cleinman and her co-author Rhoda Koenig, both very nice Boston Jewish ladies in their sixties.

Despite what I just said about not doing things for free anymore, I sat with them for 2½ hours, read their manuscript on the humorous side of Florida condo living, and struggled to give them advice. They’ve tried just about every New York and local publisher without success.

Although they’re probably right that there might be a market for their kind of book, their manuscript needs work: it’s rough and not funny enough or consistent in tone.

A good editor could probably get it in shape, but in book publishing, the old-style line editors are gone, replaced mostly by packagers and dealmakers who accept only agented manuscripts and publish them basically untouched.

I related to them my experience with Eating at Arby’s. Really, the best and most honest advice I could give them was to self-publish and self-promote, but Mildred and Rhoda said I was their last hope before returning their manuscript to the drawer.

Obviously, I don’t have time to work on their book. If they had an interested publisher, I would do it, but I feel I performed a mitzvah in just giving them an afternoon of my life.

Do I sound terrible? Look, I really didn’t mind sitting with them, but I was giving them the value of my knowledge and experience with writing and publishing, and that should be worth something more than the iced tea and cookies they gave me.

Teachers like Patrick (and I guess me, at least in the past) are used to being exploited and doing stuff for free, but they make themselves victims.

Despite what Dad thought, the smartest decision I’ve made since returning to Florida in August was turning down adjunct courses at BCC. Accepting so little money for my teaching would have made me feel awful.

Can you imagine 23-year-old investment bankers on Wall Street who earn $200,000 a year doing anything for free? I’ve done enough free readings and talks and consultations to last a lifetime.

Boy, see how defensive I sound? If I feel this way, I probably should have turned Patrick down when he asked me to read tonight.


Saturday, November 22, 1986

10 PM. Not many people showed up for last night’s reading at the BCC-South campus. I think maybe only six or seven members of the audience were not part of the program.

Beforehand, I spoke with Patrick and with Betty Owen, who’s trying to do all her remaining doctoral courses at the University of Miami this term.

I also chatted with Jim, whose beard has turned grey and who is currently teaching six courses at BCC and three at Barry College, and with Eileen and Barbra and a few others.

Onstage, I went after Jim and some other guy, who did a sleep-inducing performance of Yeats’s Purgatory.

I got some laughs reading from Eating at Arby’s, and I made the kind of jokes about BCC I wouldn’t dare make as a faculty member: for instance, I used the old chestnut about Dr. Hamilton’s library burning down, destroying both his books, one of which he hadn’t finished coloring yet.

Immediately after I finished reading and got offstage, I left, sort of like those important guests on Johnny Carson who don’t stay for the whole show.

When I told Patrick I usually didn’t do stuff like this except for money, he felt I was being a snob, but it’s psychologically important for me not to give readings or take time away from my other activities without being paid.

Alice said she’s cut out all her activities but the most profitable or the most satisfying. Professionals insist on payment, she said, and I feel I’m as much of a professional as Alice is, even if my Sun-Tattler columns and my fiction aren’t exactly lucrative.

I also don’t like being associated with the small-mindedness of BCC, and I will be glad to put it behind me in five months when I return to New York.

After leaving the campus, I did some late-evening shopping at Albertsons.

Trying the store’s Honor ATM with my C&S Bank MasterCard, I discovered that that credit line, like my C&S Visa, had been upped by $500. (Today the bill came and I saw the proof.)

I paid off my Beneficial MasterCard, and in fact I overpaid the bill by $1000, hoping that will show them I’m ready for a big credit line increase someday.

After getting a fairly good night’s sleep, I woke up at 9 AM and went over to my parents’ house after stopping at the post office to mail manuscripts off to E.P. Dutton, Simon & Schuster, and Atlantic Monthly Press.

I also picked up today’s Sun-Tattler. They printed my non-bank bank piece, which is a pretty neat reflection on language. They titled it “Let’s Call This My Non-Column Column.” I think this non-thing thing is as Orwellian as you can get.

I’m proud of my columns. While I may never have success of Janowitz, Leavitt or McInerney when it comes to fiction writing, none of them could write the columns I do.

Whatever my failures as a literary writer – and I got another rejection today, one without even a note attached – I’ve carved out a niche for myself elsewhere.

This year, I’ve published the People celebrity shortage article, the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel piece on senior discounts, and now the Sun-Tattler columns.

Also in 1986, I started teaching computer education workshops and learned a little more about the field. And I’ve written five or six decent (if so far unpublishable) short stories.

Slowly I’m getting my confidence back.

Zephyr Press may or may not make a foreign deal for my book, but I can definitely look forward to more columns, the Editor’s Choice II anthology with my story, and perhaps the publication of “I Survived Caracas Traffic” and other new stories.

The Contemporary Literary Criticism article was a big boost for my confidence this year, too. As long as I’ve got little triumphs to keep me going, I’ll be okay.

After working out while watching C-Span, I went to the computer lab and began writing the abstract of our class educational videodisk project for the Florida Instructional Computing Conference.

Then I went to the public library, where I read newspapers and magazines and took out three books to help me get ideas for the 50 Plus article.

Right now I feel very tired.


Tuesday, November 25, 1986

8 PM. The Iran arms deal has become a true scandal, with President Reagan and Ed Meese announcing today that the money Iran paid for the arms we shipped them (in return for hostages) was funneled, through Israel and a Swiss bank account, to the Contras trying to topple the Nicaraguan government.

This looks like Watergate all over again. Good, I say, if it brings an end to the Age of Reagan.

Last night I had a dream which made me feel terrific joy. It may even have been a dream within a dream:

Ronna had given birth to a boy and she told me I was the father. One day, with Ronna out of town, I was watching the baby with my parents at the UN, overlooking the East River.

Teresa called, and although the baby was only two months old, he picked up the phone and said “hello” and “goodbye” to her. He’s so cute, so smart, so adorable, I thought – and he’s my baby.

Sweet.

Last evening we taped our lectures in Joe Cook’s class, and I enjoyed talking about how to prepare a manuscript for submission.

The two women in the group commented on how handsome I look on TV, and watching myself afterward, I felt immodest enough to agree. The TV camera is kind to me, and I feel comfortable with it.

Having been on Jean Trebbi’s and Barbra Nightingale’s cable shows, on a number of local news shows during my 1984 presidential campaign, on Brazilian TV and on the PBS mental health documentary and on the CBS Evening News last spring, I’ve learned how to behave on camera, though I’d like more experience.

Since Joe canceled our taping of a discussion for the last week of class, I really don’t have anything else to do for the course.

Ditto for Dr. Sandiford’s class, as I got the abstract for our FICC project written. Hopefully, Sue Spahn (who didn’t come to class today) will do most of the programming work for the presentation in Orlando in late January.

I’m going to re-use the research paper I did for Software Evaluation at Teachers College last summer; I’d settle for a B in Software Development.

I spent most of the afternoon in the computer lab, getting free lunch and dinner, courtesy of FIU’s hospitality management program, who laid out a Thanksgiving feast of turkey with all the trimmings.

And I had a good time talking with Robert, George, Debbie, and Sharon and Bill from class, all of whom were good company.

Last night and this morning I spent some time at the Publix Teller ATM, taking out cash advances from Discover, Choice and various Visas and MasterCards; I can also take out money from my Chemical Bank SuperSavings account now that it’s linked up to the Cirrus network.

To simplify my life, I’ve closed out several of my money market accounts and am consolidating them into my credit union share draft account.

I finally got a hold of Justin last night. He’s been busy with his acting workshop, the Glaspell play with Ali’s group (a presentation last week went well), and work at Shearson.

Justin’s also been asked to serve on the board of directors of the Meat and Potatoes Company. For Thanksgiving, he’ll go to Pennsylvania to stay with Larry.

A virus that gave Justin swollen glands alarmed him, but after seeing that most of his friends and co-workers were sick with similar illnesses, he realized that he didn’t have AIDS.


Friday, November 28, 1986

9 PM. Tonight I finished the 50 Plus column for Alice, though I have grave doubts about its quality. Though I do think I’m more versatile than I used to be, I’m not accustomed to writing articles to suit a particular periodical.

This afternoon I spoke with Alice, who called to see what progress I was making, and I told her I’d read her the story over the phone tomorrow morning. It is a relief to be finished with that.

With most of my schoolwork for the semester done, and only one session of my computer literacy workshop at Palm Springs Elementary left, I’m facing a month of free time in which I can tend to my own writing and reading.

In December, I’d like to work more on my fiction and write some new columns for the Sun-Tattler. Also, I hope to read more fiction, make my applications for writers’ colonies for next fall, and study and practice VisiCalc for the workshop I’ll be teaching next year.

After sleeping well in Davie last night, I found myself alone when I awoke this morning, so I could work out the way I usually do on Saturdays.

With 110 pounds on the barbell, I was able to do ten sets of ten reps on the bench press; I also worked on my biceps and triceps while watching Born Yesterday and Superman I.

Today’s mail brought a letter from Crad, who sounds fine: Not only is his relationship with Gwen going well, but his book sales have been good, he got an Ontario Arts Council grant, and he’s written 60 pages of his next book project, which will be twice as long as his usual books.

For my own writing, I’d be happy if I could get just one of my stories accepted by a little magazine before 1986 is out. The odds of that happening don’t look good, however.

My toilet seems to be doing okay, as the problem I had yesterday doesn’t appear to be serious.

After going out for a burger and baked potato at Wendy’s, I’ve been home since 2 PM, mostly writing and watching TV.

It was twenty years ago today, also on the Friday after Thanksgiving, that I had my first appointment with a psychiatrist. Boy, was that a fucked-up 15-year-old who walked into Dr. Lipton’s office.

I remember some of the questions he asked me: “Do you smoke pot?” (when I said no, he asked if I was socially retarded, but of course I could tell he was being sarcastic) and “Do you like girls?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What do you do with them?” he asked.

“Uh, I talk to them,” I said.

God, I was such a child then. I could be the father of a 15-year-old now, and 15 seems very, very young to me.

In a way. I wish I could get in touch with that boy in Brooklyn in 1966. I remember how unhappy I was and how I used to get nauseated all the time, especially during my panic attacks in class at Midwood High School.

But at 15, I still hadn’t gotten as bad as I’d get at 16 and 17. I remember being able to ride buses without discomfort.

Back then, I was a skinny little kid with glasses, very bookish and shy – or is that only how I remember it?

Maybe I’m attracted to teenage guys because I see myself as a teenager and I know how much I needed love and guidance and friendship. Back then, I felt much more alone than I ever have as an adult.

At the time, I doubted I could survive for another twenty years. But then, I was always stronger than I knew.


Saturday, November 29, 1986

4 PM. This morning I read my article to Alice over the phone, and she thought it was pretty good although she couldn’t guarantee that the editor would like all my puns.

Singles over 50 are very sensitive, I knew, so if I couldn’t be sarcastic or cynical, the only humor left to me was wordplay and gentle kidding.

Anyway, I felt good that Alice liked the piece and am relieved that the work is over. Writing any kind of article on assignment is an interesting challenge for me, but it’s also anxiety-provoking.

If I could do a 50 Plus article regularly, Alice said, I could make good money: “more than you’re used to.” Well.

I really am pretty much free right now, and I relish the chance to explore more of my own interests.

At my parents’ in Davie, I did aerobics with the noon Body Electric show on Channel 17, and after a shower and lunch, I picked up my mail. There was the usual affirmative action form from a college I applied to (Oberlin) and an invitation to apply for Mellon Bank’s new Gold MasterCard.

Naturally, I sent back the application form, but since Mellon just raised my credit line from $1500 to $2000, I doubt they’ll give me another $3000 in revolving credit.

Looking at my TRW report, they’ll see that I’m overextended – unless they’ve got a credit analysis program that’s more interested in other factors, like my payment record.

I hardly ever get solicited by credit card companies anymore, though I get their incessant notices about life, health and auto insurance.

This afternoon the West Regional Library was so crowded that cars were parked all over the grass, so I decided to just go home, where I’ve been reading and listening to folk music on public radio.

It’s been a cloudy day, about 84°, and I’m enjoying my leisure time.TC mark

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