A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1987

Saturday, February 21, 1987

8 PM. I decided to come back to my apartment this evening, if only to go outside at 6 PM. the first time I was out on one of the winter’s warmest days.

I spent most of the day in my parents’ home, sleeping late, reading, listening to Neil Rogers on the radio, studying my Roman history notes, exercising, overeating, and napping. Such a decadent life.

Actually, I feel in one of my black moods; it’s one of those times when I realize my life is too Spartan, too bland, too careful, too lacking in excitement.

So what if I saved money by not parting with a cent all day? I crave the adventures, the company, the romance of an exciting life. Well, if I feel that way, I probably should go to Sarasota to visit Susan.

It’s interesting how, when one’s life is bland, one reacts to small trips as if they were exotic odysseys. This weekend marks the six-month mark of my stay in Florida, and this New York native is getting restless.

Remember how agitated I was on that Sunday, six months ago, when Ronna came over and we went for H&H Bagels before my flight?

Not to mention how crazy I’d been going for weeks beforehand, unable to decide if I should remain in New York or return to Florida.

In a couple of months, I’ll be shaking up my life again. The relative security and continuity I’ve had on this tour of no-duties in South Florida has been beneficial in that I’ve begun to write regularly again.

Since December, my fiction output has sputtered out, but that’s because I’ve concentrated on my columns. With my goal of completing four more columns before I leave, I probably won’t return to fiction for a while.

Crad writes that Ticknor and Fields rejected his manuscript, but not because of its quality; he was told they couldn’t afford to do any “low revenue” books this year.

The slump that the publishing industry’s in may be an indication of the future. In a culture where literary and books and literature aren’t valued, there may be only a small market for any volume other than the best-seller.

Even the small presses are looking for books that make money, and when some publisher realizes he or she can make money from authors like Crad or me, they’ll publish us. In fact, Crad sent a manuscript to a small press in Windsor who’s given him a contract.

It goes back to what I said yesterday about the difficulties Oliver Stone had in financing Platoon.

The ’80s have not been my decade, and I’ll be gleefully happy to see the whole veneer of show biz greed and complacent conservatism collapse in scandal, financial collapse, or whatever.

In fiction, it’s been so long since playful experimentalists like Donald Barthelme have been noticed that everyone’s forgotten their work.

Probably when the next wave of experimental fiction writers – and I may be part of it – comes along, it will all seem new again.

Crad complains about having to move, says he’ll be “very, very pissed” if his manuscript doesn’t bring him a big Ontario Arts Council grant, and says he’s back with Gwen – whose “existential crisis,” now resolved, no longer threatens their relationship.

The guy can be such a baby sometimes. I guess I should be more sympathetic, for I, too, do my share of complaining and kvetching, and I am also too easily shaken by pressure.

Of course, deep down I know I’m strong as a horse and able to take what comes up if I have to. Probably I also appreciate my life and luck more than Crad does.

Of course, he’s in icy Toronto, and I’m here in sunny Fort Lauderdale.

Dad called from California, where he’s gotten some surprisingly big orders from department stores.

Monday, February 23, 1987

9 PM. I just got in. Today I had lots of energy, so I must be doing something right. Last night I finished studying Roman history, and I think I did pretty well on this morning’s exam.

Surprisingly, Dr. Breslow’s essay questions were much broader than I expected; for example, I answered one which said, “Analyze and discuss the Struggle of the Orders.”

My answers took up 2½ blue books, and I left at noon. Probably I won’t get any lower than a B, though I’m not sure how Dr. Breslow grades.

Of course, one thing I am certain of is my ability to write coherently.

In our Higher Ed course, if the handouts from their reports are any judge, a number of the people in the class write on the level of freshman comp students.

There are so many typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes that it’s scary to contemplate that most of these people are college teachers.

Their reports on the history of American higher ed are as dull as the cliché “dull as dishwater.” And their comments are often irrelevant non sequitur. I feel as though I’m in company I don’t belong with.

(See, they’re even influencing me to write monstrous sentences.)

After class, I joined Mom and Jonathan for a pleasant spaghetti supper, and that sort of took the edge off my boredom.

This afternoon, at City Fed, I cashed in that $100 CD that matured this weekend. After two years, I earned $21 interest: big deal.

At the BCC computer lab, I saw Ray and Robert for the first time in weeks. Ray was updating his résumé and sending off job application letters, just as I was doing.

FIU doesn’t appreciate Ray’s two book contracts, his published articles, or any of his other work. And the new FAU job of Director of Educational Technology was specifically designed to keep him and Dan Kauffman from applying.

It’s sad to see the usual academia politics everywhere.

I got the Associated Writing Programs Job List with about a dozen jobs I could apply for; however, it’s a waste of time and energy to apply for more than a few.

Today I got a rejection from Georgia State with an apology; they’d selected their choices “from hundreds of applicants” in December and forgot to notify the rejectees until now.

Is there any sense in applying to places like Old Dominion or the University of Wisconsin when they rejected me for jobs this semester? No. And do I want to teach eight sections of comp at Northern Illinois University next year for $14,800? Again, no.

While I do worry a lot about whether I’m being unethical by living off credit card debt and student loans, it’s not as if I haven’t tried to find teaching jobs.

Yeah, I know I’m rationalizing.

Probably Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky and the other Wall Street crooks did the same thing. Except they really didn’t need the money they stole.

And I haven’t done anything illegal. If I can pay back all my debts, I’d like that very much. But, if I can’t – well, the banks and universities haven’t done badly by me: I’ve paid my dues in 21% finance charges and adjunct courses.

I’d have preferred to be a working writer and teacher, but my columns make me $20 each, my 170 published short stories earned me under $1000 in total, and even though I’ve taught as many as twelve classes a year, my teaching has never brought me an annual income higher than $15,000.

Boy, am I defensive.

Wednesday, February 25, 1987

8 PM. Last night I finally got to speak with Justin. This weekend’s performances of Performance Hell uptown went pretty well, he said.

This coming weekend they’ll be doing a show for Philip-Dimitri Galas’s lover and mother, who are the executors of the late playwright’s estate.

A play of Philip-Dimitri’s is opening off-Broadway soon and that should get a lot of publicity, Justin said.

Performance Hell is a collection of two dozen or so of Philip-Dimitri’s vaudeville-type sketches. For an upcoming performance before a downtown crowd at Darinka, they’ll select more of the avant-garde material.

Justin finally got the good news that the L.A. theater company considering his work will be doing his diner play three Sundays in March and April, and he hopes to fly out there to see the show.

Despite his successes, Justin still feels he’s struggling and wonders if it’s all worth it. I gave him a little pep talk he probably doesn’t need, but it’s important to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Still, Justin and I danced around the old “banging our heads against the wall” metaphor.

After a disagreement with his agent, she dropped Justin as a client – which is probably just as well, since she didn’t seem to be doing much for him.

While we were on the phone, Justin opened the two pieces of mail I’d gotten at his address, and they contained a First Chicago credit card and credit card checks.

I’d applied for their First Card using the Brooklyn address, but I’m surprised I was approved. Justin said that I got a $1500 credit line. He’ll send the stuff to me in the mail.

That’s the first new Visa or MasterCard I’ve received in six months. Unable to get any more credit for myself in Florida, I’ve been trying to get some cards for Marc.

This morning Sophie called from FIU and asked if I’d like to teach a word processing workshop at some school in Miami on Wednesdays. I said fine, and she told me she’d set up the dates and send me a contract.

Word processing is something I feel comfortable with, and it’s another teaching experience I can add to my repertoire and my résumé. So that will be nice. I think the school is in Little Havana.

I stopped off at the Division of Motor Vehicles office here on Broward Boulevard, and after taking the eye test and paying the fee, I sat for a renewed drivers’ license that doesn’t expire until my 42nd birthday in 1993. Formerly, my licenses had been for three or four years.

Can I even imagine what I’ll be like – or what the world will be like – six years from now? I expect things to be drastically different.

Traffic made me a little late to pick up Dad at the airport; I felt terrible that he’d been there for 20 minutes before I arrived.

Actually, I should have picked him up early this morning in Miami, but Mom had already told Dad someone would fetch him in Fort Lauderdale.

So Dad left Los Angeles at midnight PST and got into Miami at 8 AM and waited there 3½ hours for a 20-minute flight to Lauderdale, which seems ridiculous.

Since I was up at 5:30 AM anyway, driving to the Miami airport would have been no problem for me, though we would have later had to go to the airport here to get his luggage.

Anyway, Dad said he ate breakfast and slept in Miami.

Dad looked good, though I know he worked like a dog (a horse?) during his days in L.A. He wrote about $700,000 in orders before and during the show. I hope I can be that energetic when I’m 60.

Grandpa Nat was also a ball of lightning at 60, the way he’d cut pants so energetically at “the place.”

While I’ve got the Ginsberg energy, I’ve also got the Sarrett phlegmatic nature in me.

If that sounds crazy, listen to this: today scientists announced they’ve isolated the gene that causes most manic depression. It’s more biology and heredity than we used to believe.

Thursday, February 26, 1987

7:30 PM. I like to think of myself as the kind of person who is rarely taken aback, but yesterday I was speechless for a moment when I was renewing my driver’s license and was asked, “Are you currently addicted to drugs?”

“I’m sorry,” said the young woman behind the desk, “but we have to ask you this question.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Some people say yes,” she told me.

It’s a wild world, as Cat Stevens used to sing.

I’ve just finished a Chinese food dinner with my parents and Jonathan. Tonight I intend to stay in Davie because there are some movies I want to catch on cable TV.

I’ve been having a good time the past couple of days. With no classes at FAU next week and no teaching, I’ve got only my Monday night FIU class in the next ten days.

Both this morning and yesterday morning I managed to work out: weights yesterday, aerobics today. I hope to exercise tomorrow, too.

I’ve also spent many hours in the BCC computer lab managing to turn out two first drafts of columns. One is that Freddy Gator/Cecil B. Sawgrass piece kicking around my brain for week. It needs a lot of tightening up.

The other is sort of a tossed-off column about a South Florida Ibsen Festival featuring such adaptations as An Enema of the People, Herd of Gobblers, and The Faster Builder.

Like my soap opera column, it allows me to pun and make fun of South Florida – it’s easy although the jokes are probably cheap.

But of course, Neil Rogers is now having such tremendous success with something similar: his campaign against the elderly people of Hallandale.

The town’s outrage has led to AP news stories, TV coverage and a war of words about jaywalking, the early bird special and senior-citizen selfishness.

Anyway, I’m sure both these columns can be fixed up to make them publishable.

Last evening, I bought a loose-leaf binder and plastic pocket protectors for my disks, and today in the lab I made copies of some of the disks I have, including MS-DOS, PC-Write, LOGO, Turbo PROLOG, KNOWOL and ESIE.

Going out to lunch with Dad at the Deli Barn, he told me all about his trip to L.A. He saw Cousin Robin and said she looks terrific for someone who’s 40. We are a young-looking family generally.

In other news, Dad reported that Aunt Sydelle and Bill are having problems and they may not get married after all.

I don’t know what happened with Adriana’s pregnancy and I haven’t asked.

After driving Dad to the mechanic to pick up Jonathan’s van (Jonathan and Mom had to take the station wagon to the flea market today), I went to BCC.

In today’s mail, I got the bill for my Avco Master Card. Last month I paid off $1,000 of my $2,000 credit limit because of their 21% interest rate, and now I see they’ve raised my limit to $2,500.

Along with the First Chicago card – which I hope Justin remembered to mail – that means I’ve increased my credit line total by $2,000 this week. Not bad. Can I hit $100,000 in total credit lines this year?

Getting more credit gives me the same sense of exhilaration I used to get from the publication or acceptance of a short story.

Of course, I still get that thrill, too, but lately it’s been a rare occurrence.

Publication of reviews of my books used to give me that same feeling, and I still feel great every other Saturday, when a new column is published.

The Sun Tattler didn’t feature a preview of Saturday’s op-ed page, so I don’t know what column they’ll be running.


9 PM. I just watched TV’s lowest-rated show, Our World, an episode about the summer of 1972. The footage of the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach stirred up memories.

I vas dere, Sharlie.

Looking back, I see that we young McGovernites were too arrogant: we thought we knew everything at 21. The world soon reminded us we didn’t.

Well, the Nixon lovers got theirs, too, as that third-rate burglary brought the President and all his men to ruin.

Linda Ellerbee ended the show by saying that the summer of 1972 was probably the year the Sixties ended.

But of course we didn’t know it at the time.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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