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

Wednesday, November 12, 1986

8 PM. One of my worst traits is an inability to suffer fools gladly, and as the years go by, with everyone getting stupider, this will become an increasing problem for me.

Another commission on higher education, headed by Education Secretary Bell, said the Reagan administration is “abetting in an act of national suicide” by making it harder for students to attend and pay for college.

Well.

Coming home at 6 PM, I got a call from some woman outraged about something she said I wrote in the Sun-Sentinel.

I had no idea what she was talking about until I remembered that weeks ago, a staff writer had called me with a question about South Florida: Why is it more Northern than Southern?

I said it was because people were more intelligent here, that it was a well-known fact that the further south of the Mason-Dixon line you go, the stupider people get – until you get to Jupiter Inlet, where the cool Caribbean breezes reverse the process.

Apparently, this humorless woman took what I said seriously when someone read the article to her. I didn’t feel like talking to her, so I hung up, and I didn’t answer when she called back except to tell her to call the editor.

Thank God I don’t work at Broward Community College anymore, where something like this would have gotten me in trouble for “giving a bad impression of the college.”

Yes, it’s pretty funny.

Today I had a good computer literacy workshop at Palm Springs Elementary although I had to lecture in the library because the computer room had just been painted and it smelled terrible.

Without hands-on computer work, I had to fill in time, but I surprised myself with how much I know about computers; at least I could speak off the cuff for several hours and not bore the teachers and administrators to death.

Yesterday at 3 PM, I finally got out of the house and went to Pembroke Pines to see Soul Man, an offensive comedy about a rich white kid (C. Thomas Howell, who’s cute) who poses as black to get a scholarship at Harvard Law School.

It’s a very Reaganite premise (anti-affirmative action, materialistic) though there’s a sappy liberal message tacked on at the end.

Last night Teresa called to tell me about a job possibility as a computer literacy teacher in a Manhattan school district. I phoned the woman who’d called Teresa’s number and thanked her but said I couldn’t consider the position.

It seems that she’d gotten my résumé from the Board of Education. It’s nice to know there are possibilities out there.

Today went fine.


Thursday, November 13, 1986

8 PM. After a productive day, I feel great.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing about today is that I wrote, in one three-hour sitting, a story I feel is very good. Called “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit,” it details my credit card chassis and basically explains why I chose to live off credit cards the way I do.

Everything seemed to come together as I sat at the IBM PC in Broward Community College’s computer lab this afternoon. It was one of those instances where time sort of stopped as I felt the words flowing out of me.

After I edited it, both on the computer and the 15 pages of hardcopy, the manuscript is ready to be xeroxed and sent out.

I feel the heady sense of exhilaration I sometimes feel after completing a good story, and right now I believe (as I did with “I Survived Caracas Traffic”) that this story is good enough for The New Yorker, Esquire or The Atlantic.

Undoubtedly, as the weeks pass and the rejections pile up, I’ll feel less confident. But for now, as almost every writer at the Book Fair said, the act of writing itself is the important thing.

My work habits may not be normal, but if I can come up with a substantial story as good as this one once a month, I’ll be doing very, very well.

This morning I awoke early and took the Turnpike down to Florida International University for my interview for their doctoral program in higher education.

Arriving early, I went over to the Teacher Education Center and met Sophie, the secretary there whom I’ve spoken to many times. She said she’d keep me in mind for any computer literacy workshops that come up in January.

My interview – with Joe Cook, Barry Greenberg and Prof. Vos, the chairman – was brief, and of course I loved the chance to spout off on teaching in general and teaching writing in college in particular.

After leaving the room for a minute, I was called back in and told I’d been admitted on the promise that I’d retake the GRE. No sweat.

Back in Broward via the Palmetto Expressway and its new link to I-75, I had lunch at the counter of the Bagel Whole, where I kidded around with Sam and the waitresses.

Then I headed over to BCC, where I wrote my head off.

At my parents’ house, Mom and Dad kept complaining about the various stupid people they have to do business with. The young women at the L.A. office are really screwing up Dad’s Bugle Boy shirt orders.

Dad says the company hired lots of new help at low wages, and the new workers are so incompetent that my parents’ phone never stops ringing with constant complaints from his customers.

This is another example of what I wrote about last night: the growing stupidity and incompetence of the population. As more and more jobs require college-level skills, there aren’t enough good workers to go around.

Today a man at the flea market asked Jonathan how come none of the shirts Jonathan sold were American-made. “How many Americans do you know who want to sit at a sewing machine all day and make $200 a week?” Jonathan asked the man.

The clothing business in America is dead as far as manufacturing goes, Dad said; the kind of companies that used to make the goods for Art Pants no longer exist.

Very few people – maybe Chinese or Haitians – have the cutting or pattern-making skills of Jewish and Italian immigrants like Grandpa Nat.

Even computer work is now going abroad, as operators key in data in the Bahamas and Barbados rather than in the U.S.

Marilyn Weekes of the Sun-Sentinel called about my Division of Elections fines, and we had a nice talk. I expect a good article.

Then Gary Stein, sitting by her in the newsroom, got on the line to let me know he’s been fielding my hate calls – actually, just that one from that angry Southern lady. We had a good laugh over it.


Friday, November 14, 1986

8 PM. Two terrific days in a row are too much to hope for. Today was a letdown, as I felt mildly out of sorts, and I couldn’t sleep last night.

Although I caught up on the pile of reading matter by my bed, I felt tired today. And the rainy weather didn’t help.

But I got a haircut and did some banking and generally tried to make the best of a day when my timing was slightly off and I felt below par.

If I believed in biorhythms, I’d say I was at the peak of a cycle on Wednesday and Thursday, but at the low point today.

Last night I phoned Marvin, and he returned my call a little while ago. We’re going to meet tomorrow night at a restaurant on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.

By now I feel that it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that our meeting won’t lead to anything else, probably not even another date. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all that, but we’re on different wavelengths.

His answering machine message started with a Barbra Streisand imitator singing, “People who call people / Are the luckiest people in the world. . .” and then she went into a Funny Girl-type shtick about leaving your name and phone number.

I don’t like Streisand-worship, the kind Elihu had: it always reminded me of the Judy Garland-worship certain gay men are (or used to be) into.

Anyway, the message wouldn’t have been so bad, but before the beep, Marvin gets on and apologizes for it in a sort of lame way.

To me, the apology was redundant and could only annoy both those who felt the Streisand parody was clever and also people like myself who thought it was dopey.

I guess I sound pretty judgmental. Anyone’s entitled to a stupid answering machine message; it’s just that I can’t imagine any one of my friends (including Elihu) having a message like that.

Let’s face it: I may be a lovable fellow, but I’ve got a prickly personality with strangers. And few people are going to share my admittedly eccentric values.

I suspect Marvin is a man who places a high value on security; obviously, I don’t. I’m pretty sure he’ll think I’m weird. Oh well, dinner can’t hurt.

By the way, I’m pretty certain no one else will respond to my ad. I got some come-on from a guy who sounded like a hustler and wanted me to place an ad in his “newsletter”; I threw that out right away.

I’m also fairly sure Marvin isn’t going to be my type physically and that I won’t be his.

Look, I’m resigned to celibacy until the real thing comes along, if it ever does.

Every day you hear about AIDS, and I can easily go without sex if it means I’ll avoid dying a miserable death.


Saturday, November 15, 1986

4 PM. I was relaxing last night when I made one of my usual trips to the bathroom. As I came back to change the TV channel, I heard water rushing out of somewhere, and it didn’t sound good.

The bathroom floor was flooded with water coming out of the toilet’s tank. After mopping it up as best I could, I called the answering service for SandalGrove.

Naturally, no one could come at night. (How come bathrooms never get flooded between 9 AM and 5 PM on Monday through Friday?)

Anyway, knowing I couldn’t get through the night without going to the bathroom, I called Mom, who said she’d make up the spare bedroom for me.

When I got to Davie around 11 PM, I fell asleep right away, and I had wonderful dreams about New York City, particularly Brooklyn: I was driving along Eastern Parkway, and it seemed magical at the time.

This morning I did my usual Saturday exercises that took me up to 1 PM. Back here, I called the answering service again, but nobody’s called back and I have to pee.

Typical of how things work out for me. I’d love to call Marvin and cancel our date, but that would look bad.

What a pain it is not to be able to stay here in my own apartment. Well, I’ll get my stuff together, plus my clothes for tonight, and go to Davie again. Quelle drag.


Sunday, November 16, 1986

2 PM. Last night proved to be a good experience, though I’m certain Marvin and I aren’t destined to have any kind of relationship.

What it was, was an old-fashioned Saturday night date: dinner out, a movie, and late-night talking over coffee.

I spotted Marvin in the parking lot of Dalt’s, a restaurant on Federal Highway off Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. He’s nice-looking enough, but definitely not my type, and I could tell right way that I wasn’t his.

Marvin is much more gay than I am, or at least he dresses with red-rimmed, pink-tinted plastic glasses which are just for effect, a plastic red watch, and lots of jewelry.

Not that he was flamboyant . . . oh, this is coming out all wrong (probably the way I came out all wrong).

At first, I felt odd because immediately upon entering the restaurant, a guy at a table called Marvin over and it looked like they were good friends, and then the waitress started talking to him like the two of them were best buddies.

Coming back to me, Marvin asked if I minded if we waited for his friend the waitress to get an open table in her area. Of course I didn’t, but I had the feeling we were on his turf although he claimed he knew hardly anyone in Florida.

He took me over to the table to meet his friend Gary, and Gary introduced his dinner companion, who said, “You don’t have to introduce me to him. He was my teacher.”

It was a boy in my class at BCC many years ago, a bright kid, good writer, sweet and shyly gay the way Sean was.

“Michael?” I guessed.

“Steven,” he said, and then I remembered his last name: “Goldman.”

He said he had graduated from FAU and worked at a P.R. firm, and that he read about me all the time in the newspapers.

Marvin and I let them go back to their dinner and went to the waiting area, where I ran into Neal, the BCC librarian, out with some guy, and we chatted.

Now it seemed as if I knew everyone in the restaurant, too, which made me feel pretty good.

Anyway, we finally got to our table, and Marvin explained that he’d only been to Dalt’s five or six times, but the first time he was there, Amy, the waitress, plunked herself down and told him her life story. Both were new to South Florida and having trouble adjusting.

Amy told us she had gone back to California recently and had gotten a new job as the Florida sales rep for some menswear firm.

“Did you work the MAGIC Show in L.A.?” I asked, and she said yes. Marvin seemed impressed that I know about such things; of course, the only reason I do is Dad.

During dinner, Marvin and I talked, and I never felt uncomfortable or at loss for conversation. He’s obviously a bright guy, and he did seem good-looking although definitely not my type.

Who can say why I’m attracted to one person and not another? With Marvin, it was probably the shape of his head, and I don’t go for curly blond hair.

He talked a lot about the difficult adjustment and how he missed Chicago and how hard it was to have quality friends here. Marvin doesn’t mind cold winters; he moved here to be with the only family he has, an aunt and her daughter, his cousin.

When we got through with dinner – it rained hard all evening – I suggested a movie, so we drove to Oakland Park and Powerline, to Movie City, and went to see the 10 PM showing of Peggy Sue Got Married, which we both liked.

After the movie, we had coffee (actually, he had decaf and I had iced tea) at Denny’s. Marvin said watching straight people have sex in movies bored him, which struck me as a bizarre thing to say. When I told him that I’d had girlfriends, he seemed very surprised.

Sometimes I feel like such a weirdo with other gay men, because my relationship-orientation with mostly women makes me unsure of what’s expected.

When I told Marvin that after making love with a guy (Sean) for the first time, one of my reactions was how similar it was to making love with a woman, he said he couldn’t understand that: he’d never had sex with a woman but it couldn’t possibly be similar.

We talked about AIDS. Marvin said he knew only one guy who died of it, and he lamented the fact that so many gay men were giving up sex entirely: “You can still have all the fun you want if you’re careful.”

Maybe he’s right, but I’m still not convinced. Anyway, as far as Marvin goes, the question is academic. We said we’d call each other, but I don’t think either one of us really cares if the other doesn’t follow through.

But I had a good time, if only because it was such a change to be out on a date on Saturday night.

I got back to Davie at 1 AM, and unfortunately, I was too exhilarated to sleep. Eventually I slept, but only from 4 AM to 8 AM, when I got up for good.

I’ve already read the Sunday papers and called Rockaway to see how Grandma Ethel was doing. She said it was sunny and not too cold in New York.


Wednesday, November 19, 1986

8 PM. Tomorrow I have to take the car in to get the brakes fixed. Yesterday morning I noticed they were not very tight, and by the time I got home from Miami last night, I had to put my foot all the way down on the pedal.

When I started the car today, the brake light went on, but I had to go to Hialeah to teach. Luckily, I made the trip there and back safely – although not without some fatigue to my right thigh and my nervous system.

Yesterday when I picked up my mail in Davie, I found another manuscript rejection, also exceedingly polite, from a New York publisher: Holt, this time.

But I’m getting a thicker skin: I hardly batted an eyelash and went over to the BCC computer lab, where I printed out more copies of “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit” and “I Survived Caracas Traffic,” which I mailed out to various little magazines later in the day.

In the twelve years since I started submitting and in the last six years of my absence from the litmag scene, it’s apparently much harder to get acceptances.

Today there are more writers but fewer independent little magazines, and in the “big” littles I’m competing against agented manuscripts by well-known authors.

But as I said, I’m regaining some of my former toughness. Rick Peabody, to whom I wrote a letter today, once said that he and I are survivors, and although I’m an unlikely survivor, I think he was right.

This business with the 1990s that I’ve been playing with: I really do believe that if you just stick around long enough, times will change and people will come around to your way of thinking.

I arrived at Horace Mann Middle School in El Portal at 4 PM yesterday, in time for the tour and presentation of their computer magnet school by its director.

Horace Mann is in a bad neighborhood, has a bad reputation and needed to be integrated, so this fall they began Florida’s first magnet school in computer technology on its third floor.

Although it was too bad our class couldn’t visit at a time when the students were there, we did go through all the classrooms and see how the computers are integrated with every subject. For example, art classes are held in rooms with Commodore Amigas, which have amazing graphic capabilities.

They have Apple IIe’s, IBM PC’s and a bunch of PCjr’s networked to an AT host; there are two Fat Macs in the office, and laser printers – all in all, great hardware although the software seemed surprisingly meager.

It’s a startup situation, though, and fairly typical today of what schools like this have to manage with.

Our class of seven, including Dr. Sandiford, adjourned to El Dorado, a nearby Cuban restaurant, for dinner, during which we discussed our project for the Florida Educational Computing Conference. I’m going to write the abstract for our next class meeting.

Then we all left, full of arroz con pollo, fried plantains and black beans, and returned to our separate homes.

Last night I spoke to Ronna, who said she’d try to do me a favor of trying to get me a 1987 National diary. I’ve got one, but it’s the wrong size, and after 18 years, I’m kind of neurotic about my diaries.

Despite a cold, Ronna seemed in good spirits and still enthusiastic about her new job at Yeshiva University, where she never has to work overtime.

I’m very glad Ronna’s out of the Hebrew Arts School, where she was so underappreciated and underpaid.

She told me her sister has taken a leave of absence from the city health department to work on a federally-funded AIDS project.

Sue is in Jamaica, where there are few gay men or IV drug users, and she’s testing low-risk groups for the HTLV-III virus. The project may yield some results about how best to proceed with AIDS education.

Today was another record-breaking hot day: it hit 89° in Miami, which has happened only once before in November, and that was on November 1.

In Hialeah early, I took off my shirt and sat in Amelia Earhart Park for half an hour before I went over to Palm Springs Elementary for their Thanksgiving luncheon.

It was nice to be a guest there and get some great American and Cuban food – I could become addicted to fried plantains – but I felt like a villain for starting class (late) and interrupting everyone’s feast.

In the computer room, I had them on the machines most of the time, looking at CAI software.

Although there’s only one more week to the workshop – not next week because of the holiday, but December 3 – I already feel good about this teaching experience.

I’d enjoy being a computer literacy teacher full-time. It’s much less stressful than teaching composition or remedial writing.

Last night, after dreaming about my horrible John Jay College class of a year ago, I woke up feeling relieved that I don’t have to deal with those students anymore.

Now I’m going to catch Reagan in another apologia for his Iran arms deal.

*

8 PM. After watching Reagan muddle his way through his press conference – he seems more like Rip Van Winkle than Rambo – I phoned Alice to find out why she’d called earlier.

It seems that she’s gotten this gig editing a newsletter to be put inside the magazine 50 Plus which will feature personals. Anyway, Alice needs some copy and asked if I wanted to come up with, on spec, a humorous article with tips on dating for older adults who’ve been away from the singles scene.

I’ll try, I said. I figure I’ll call Aunt Sydelle and ask her for some suggestions since she’s the only older woman I know who might help.

(Of course, Aunt Sydelle may not be single for long; she and Bill are planning a May wedding, according to Dad, who saw them today while visiting Grandpa Nat at the nursing home.)

Alice said she hopes this insert will become a regular feature of the magazine because she’d get $2000 a month for editing it. That makes me think I’ll be well-paid, too.TC mark

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