A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1987

Wednesday, April 22, 1987

9 PM. The hot weather that lasted from August to December is now back, and tomorrow is supposed to be in the 90°s, so I’m not sorry I’ll be leaving South Florida soon.

Up at 11 AM this morning (I went to sleep at 4 AM), I listened to Neil Rogers on the radio talking about his SOFAR (Save Our First Amendment Rights) petition to get the FCC to rescind their vague censorship decision of last week.

For an administration of conservatives who came to power telling us they were going to get the government off our backs, the Reaganites seem to be putting the government in every facet of our lives.

With the Hardwick decision upholding sodomy laws, lie detector tests, drug tests (one hopeless presidential candidate, Pete du Pont, is advocating mandatory drug testing for all high school students), AIDS tests, and all the restrictions on what we can listen to and what we can see and what we can read – don’t forget the Meese Commission on pornography – I feel that Uncle Sam is encroaching into my life as never before.

I wonder if the Sun-Tattler will ever run my Grundy Awards column on local censorship – or if they’ll censor it themselves. Tomorrow I’ll look to see if they’ve got a preview of Saturday’s column.

By my standards, the six columns the paper has been sitting on are tame; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the newspaper doesn’t run any of them.

I had a good class at Gratigny Elementary today; the teachers took the glossary test and all passed it, and then they worked on the software evaluation form I gave them.

Next week we can relax, basically, because I’ve covered everything on the Teacher Education Center syllabus.

Before class, I had lunch at Corky’s on 167th Street. Next week I should go visit Grandpa Nat before I leave Florida.

I’m starting to get nervous about my trip to New York.

It’s not about the plane flight – I’ve been on planes forty times in the last seven years, and even if the trip is terrible, it’s only three hours – but the uncertainty of what’s facing me in New York.

What if this or that happens, I think – and I usually think the worst.

That attitude is a result of being in a routine in Florida for so long, and that’s precisely why I need to keep shaking up my life by going back and forth, by continually forcing myself to adjust to new surroundings.

Look how long I lived with my parents in Brooklyn because I was afraid to break out of my routine. Not having left South Florida in eight months, I’ve gotten seduced by a “safe” and familiar routine.

Yes, at times people need stability, but they also need the excitement of change.

Look, I know I’ll enjoy seeing my friends and the sights and sounds of New York. I also need to renew my credentials as a New Yorker.

Remember how traumatic it was for me to move from the Upper West Side to Justin’s apartment in August 1985 and how unhappy I often was when I lived in Park Slope?

Yet I also took a great deal of pleasure in the experience, and when I look back on it now, I remember mostly good times.


Friday, April 24, 1987

4 PM. For the past hour, I’ve been getting my things together. If all goes well, by this time next week I’ll be in New York.

Last night I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who said the weather is very changeable now. She told me they’re tearing down Rockaways Playland to make way for a big condo project, a report confirmed in today’s New York Times. Life keeps changing.

Today was one of those unbearably bright and hot days I hated all last fall. I’ll be glad not to put up with many more of them, though New York City in July and August can be uncomfortably steamy.

This morning I canceled my electric and phone accounts and newspaper delivery.

My stomach turned rocky soon after lunch. I went to Burger King, a mistake I won’t repeat again. After eating much of the salad bar I put on my plate, I bit into a couple of ghastly-tasting sour, acidic pineapple chunks.

Before I left, I made sure to tell the manager to remove the pineapple because I don’t want anyone else to have such an unpleasant surprise.

I feel really depressed about things – not so much my own little life as the way the larger world is going. My optimism about the future is shaken.

Yesterday the Florida Legislature overturned all local gun control laws and made it easy to get a permit for a concealed weapon.

As if on cue, last night all the TV networks converged on a shopping center in Palm Bay where a crazy gunman killed six people and wounded more than a dozen by firing into crowds at a Publix.

Today in the Times I read about more racist attacks and anti-gay violence. Am I wrong to feel that real fascism is possible, especially with so many people ignorant of our history and our constitutional rights?

What is Warren Burger’s commission on the bicentennial of the Constitution doing? Bread and circuses, as in ancient Rome: galas at Disney World and Philadelphia celebrations like last summer’s extravaganza at the Statue of Liberty, no doubt.

It’s a fucked-up world.

Will someone burst in here and take me to jail for writing the word “fucked-up” in my diary?


Sunday, April 26, 1987

Midnight. I came back to my apartment at 8 PM, and for most of the last four hours, I’ve been going through my clothing and papers, throwing out a ton of stuff, putting away books and papers in that banker’s box I bought yesterday when I went over to Jaffe’s to xerox my Grundy Awards column.

Mom and Dad said the column was good, but I’ve been hesitant to read it myself, and I’m not sure why; I guess I’ll feel upset if it’s really bad.

Last evening I read some of the computer education books and articles I seemed not to have time for all year. Then I watched a silly vampire movie and fell asleep.

A dream in which Gary wrote a satirical movie lampooning me was delight, both while it was happening and after I woke up.

I suppose I feel a little bit guilty about ending my friendship with Gary, but it wasn’t as if I were the only one to let the relationship slide, and in truth, we hadn’t been close in many years.

It’s that way with a lot of high school friendships, I imagine: people just go in different directions.

After reading the Herald in bed, I got dressed and went out to get the New York Times.

The girl at the bookstore – we flirt every Sunday morning, and for some reason I always like to look good when I see her – seemed surprised when I told her I wouldn’t be taking the paper next week.

“Have a good trip,” she said, after I told her I’d be in New York.

On the radio, some “whiz kids” from local high schools were answering “brain bowl” questions and they were stumped when they were asked who was the only U.S. senator to be elected by write-in votes.

I stopped the car at a gas station, called in, and gave the correct answer: Strom Thurmond.

I also answered another question the students couldn’t answer, about the only black 20th-century U.S. senator: Edward Brooke.

The host said, “Look how competitive some people are. He stopped while driving and paid twenty-five cents to answer. They say America needs competition, and this man is a good example of what America needs.”

(Irony: the host is a right-wing Republican active in anti-gay groups.)

Riding down I-95, I found I could answer all the questions the students were asked. I could even correct a “right” answer: Technically, de Gaulle and Pompidou were not succeeded, respectively, by Pompidou and Giscard but by Alain Poher, Senate chief, who both times became acting president of France.

My mind is full of useless information like that.

At the counter of Corky’s in North Miami Beach, I digested my lunch and an article about New York’s young literary celebrities and their social whirl: Jay McInerney, Gary Fisketjon and their circle; the David Leavitt/Meg Wolitzer axis; Tama Janowitz; and Kathy Acker and the downtown litmag editors.

The only connection I have to any of that is that I know Joel Rose and Catherine Texier of Between C and D, who are going to publish “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp.” The article said that many writers published in Between C and D have gone on to book contracts.

Wow. I feel very old and out of it. These writers are all younger than I, and they are “the New York scene” while I’m a hick from Davie, Florida – even though I’m a real New Yorker, a native of Brooklyn, a graduate of public schools and CUNY.

After reading this article and the Wall Street Journal profile of David Foster Wallace, I’ve decided that if I do manage to get into MacDowell for the fall, I’m going to go, definitely.

One reason I don’t expect to make it – I’ll probably be politely told that I’m on the waiting list – is that all these young writers with better credentials than I are now applying.

But I’d like to make contact with some New York writers. Not that I could ever be a part of their circle, but I’d like some of them to know I exist.

When I was at MacDowell in 1980, I felt very young. Now I’d probably feel old, but I’d like to meet some of these young successes. They’re literary yuppies who appear to take themselves very seriously.

Maybe the reason I ended up teaching computer education workshops in Miami is that I never took myself seriously enough as a writer.

I wonder how different my life would be if I were chic.

All right, Grayson, enough self-pity and playing the Ugly Duckling. I still probably have more fun than these guys.

Grandpa Nat was asleep when I entered his room at the nursing home. He soon woke up, though, and I tried to make conversation. He didn’t know me, of course, but he could tell me the names of his children, Daniel and Sydelle.

When I started reading aloud from the New York Times, instead of making faces and rubbing his face as usual, he sat quietly and seemed to be listening.

Dad told me his father now goes to class for two hours a day; people read to him and about eight other brain-injured patients, and they try to stimulate their memories by engaging them in discussions and asking questions.

That’s what I try to do; today I showed Grandpa pictures of New York City. He didn’t seem to remember much, though he saw one group of buildings and said, “East Side.”

I can’t imagine Grandpa Nat surviving much longer. He turned 89 a couple of weeks ago, and somehow I don’t think he’ll make it to 90.

Back in Davie, I read till my parents and Jonathan came home from the flea market, where they’d had a bad weekend.

Over dinner (Chinese food), Jonathan told us that Marshall had removed Bhagwan’s photo from his mala (the chain of beads worn around the neck).

Apparently Bhagwan’s been saying some really weird things lately, and Marshall is fed up.

I hope that Jonathan, too, begins to see that Bhagwan is not the saint he used to put all his faith in.

It feels odd not to have classes tomorrow.


Monday, April 27, 1987

6 PM. I just read Saturday’s column, which struck me as being pretty good: not especially stylish, but it had its moments, and I made my point.

Last night I slept only a few hours because my mind was racing at about 65 m.p.h.

But I still got up at 9 AM and drove to FAU in Boca to pick up my grades (A’s in both courses) and to make sure my student loan check – for which I was deemed ineligible because the Roman History course was not on the graduate level – got sent back to the lender.

Back in Broward, I did some chores, got my boarding pass for Friday’s flight, picked up my mail, read the papers, and went to the library, where I got into recent issues of American Banker and some magazines.

The Guggenheim fellowship list came, and most of the writers who got them were established figures like Harold Brodkey and Frank Conroy. I didn’t expect to be competing with people like them.

It’s kind of wrenching, I guess, to be leaving this apartment – not like last year, when I merely left it in Marc’s hands. I’ve still got a lot of packing to do, and I’d better get to work.

Today’s Teresa’s birthday, and I’ll give her a call later.


Tuesday, April 28, 1987

10 PM. I’ve spent the last three hours packing and sorting and throwing out the details of my life: my clothes, papers, possessions. Probably I underestimated the time it would take to do all this.

I’ve now got everything out of drawers and closets and cabinets. One suitcase is packed till it has nearly burst. God, it’s hard to fit my life into two pieces of luggage and a carry-on bag.

I don’t remember it being so difficult when I left Florida the last three years. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten more settled lately.

Last night, when I called Teresa, she sounded tired. She’d had a great visit with Deirdre in San Francisco, where the weather was much better than in New York (where the forecast for tomorrow is snow flurries), but Teresa was jet-lagged after taking the red-eye and then working the whole day.

Perry, still feeling weak from hepatitis, remained at her apartment. I hope his place is finished and he’s gone by the time I get there, but I won’t be surprised if he’s still around.

While it won’t make the start of my trip very pleasant, I’ll survive; probably I’ll just go to Rockaway to spend a few days with Grandma Ethel.

Last night I slept over in Davie, and as usual, I slept long and well there.

This morning I went for a haircut, and when I returned to my parents’ house, Marc was there with this woman whose name I didn’t catch, but she was from Boston and seemed the most intelligent and prettiest woman I’ve ever seen with my brother.

They were on their way to Bayside and were leaving China with Mom, who dotes on the dog.

I spent most of the afternoon doing chores and running errands, but I took a break to go to a movie. Tin Men was playing at the Inverrary Cinema for a dollar, and I enjoyed it a lot. Mostly I needed to take my mind off moving.

Today was another hot, bright day, and while I’m not sure I’m ready to face snow flurries, I would enjoy some cooler weather.

This year I am returning to New York with less of a tan than ever before. I’ve decided that while I look better with a tan, I don’t need the wrinkles or the risk of skin cancer.

I’ve been considering shaving off my beard when I get back to New York. Two years ago, I shaved it off and hated what I looked like, but perhaps my face has aged.

One day I’d love to be able to afford plastic surgery to fix my chin (or lack thereof).


Wednesday, April 29, 1987

It’s nearly noon. Surprisingly, I did sleep very well in my own bed last night and even had a nice homoerotic dream.

This morning I lay in bed for as long as I could stand it, then I took the TV and some boxes to the car and will take them over to Davie later.

I’m teaching my last class at Gratigny Elementary at 2:15 PM, but since I’ve already covered everything on the syllabus, I don’t intend to keep the teachers very long; I’ll just show them some programs they have at the school, like Bank Street Filer and Bank Street Speller.

Although I just took a shower, I’m already sweating like a pig. Oy vey.

I suppose once I’m in New York City, I’ll feel relieved to have this tension of moving over with. It’s incredible how much there was to do; I’m just grateful I started early.

Tonight will be my last night in this apartment at SandalGrove. Altogether, I’ve stayed here about a year, which is amazing.

When I return to Florida, I don’t know where I’ll be living. But God works in mysterious ways. (What the hell do I mean by that?)TC mark

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