A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1987

Monday, April 13, 1987

1 PM. Last evening I called some friends. After leaving a message with Alice, I called Lisa, who couldn’t talk very long, as she had company, but said she was better if still a bit tired.

I then phoned Susan, who told me she was busy with assignments from Woman’s World and Working Woman.

Everyone at her house is fine, but they’re getting a bit crowded now that Nathaniel is getting bigger and becoming more a person who needs his own space. Even with a babysitter there, Susan finds it hard to work at home because Nathaniel constantly interrupts her.

She is also getting a new agent, someone closer to our age and more approachable than Gloria Loomis.

In Roman History this morning, Dr. Breslow gave us back our papers (I got a “+”) and answered questions in preparation for next week’s final.

Out of class at noon, I did some grocery shopping at Publix and came home to have lunch.

Right now I’ll head over to Broward Community College and review the material for my A.I. class. In Joe Cook’s FIU class tonight, we’re supposed to have Kitty Hunter, the BCC vice president, as our guest speaker.

*

10 PM. I just got off the phone with Ronna, who was at the seder at her mother’s in Orlando. Her train trip was tedious and exhausting, but she did get to see parts of the South for the first time.

I don’t know if I’m coming up; she said it’s kind of far, considering I’ll be seeing her in New York in two weeks. If her mother can get her a flight back, she’ll stay longer, till Saturday.

There were 17 people at her seder: Ronna, her mother and grandmother; her sister and brother-in-law; her brother and cousin Robbie; her aunt and uncle and her uncle’s mother and his nephew Alan (whom I know from Brooklyn College) and his family; and Ronna’s great-aunt and great-uncle from Fort Lauderdale.

To be honest, I miss the kind of big family seder that Ronna’s family is having. I wish Orlando was closer and that I didn’t have school so I could have just pop up there.

I wished Ronna a happy birthday and said we’d talk tomorrow.

Joe Cook’s class was okay. Steve, who was absent last week, told me that he heard I had given a terrific presentation and “did better than our professor.”

That’s nice to hear. I feel I’ve got a first-rate mind, but I don’t often get a chance to show my stuff.

After class, I went over to my parents’ and popped a frozen dinner into the microwave. Mom and Dad had gone over to help Marc with moving.

I feel like sort of a hypocrite saying I miss a seder since I don’t believe in the Jewish religion.

But I feel a loss, not being part of something I remember from my childhood. When I was a kid, I actually sometimes kept kosher for Passover and didn’t eat bread.

Remember how we used to celebrate the High Holy Days by getting dressed up and going to the synagogue? I hated doing it, and when I rebelled as a teenager, my parents were very upset with me. But a few years later they stopped observing the holiday, too.

Well, that’s progress, I guess.


Tuesday, April 14, 1987

8 PM. Alice called last night with “a big favor” to ask. Her mother, visiting her brother in Honduras for the past couple of months, became ill with the same sort of intestinal blockage that she had years ago, and Michael said she needs surgery.

So she’s going to fly back to New York, where Alice arranged for her to be checked in at Kings Highway Hospital, where the surgeon who did the last operation is.

Alice got her mother’s friend Aaron to pick her up at Newark at midnight, but there’s no direct flight from Tegucigalpa to the New York City area, and Alice’s mother would be facing a two-hour layover in Miami. Could I go and stay with her since she’ll be in pain and upset?

I said I would, but as it turned out, the one Challenge Air flight from Honduras was canceled today. The trip was put off till tomorrow, and I expect to be at Miami Airport at 7 PM then. That means I won’t be going to Orlando, I guess.

All of a sudden, everything seems out of joint and I feel disoriented. Part of it is that the term is ending, my eight-month stay in Florida is ending, my stay in this apartment is ending.

Last week I read that depressed people actually view the world more realistically than do optimists.

The psychologists expected to find that depressives had skewed views of the world, but it turned out that the happier people falsely believed that they had more control over life situations than they actually possessed.

At FAU this afternoon, Dan had a short class to end our A.I. course for the semester.

Ray came in to discuss recursion, which he’s begun to specialize in, and brought along the books The Recursive Universe and Gödel, Escher, Bach (which I tried to read but found too difficult after buying it at the B. Dalton in the Omni in 1979).

Recursion is definitely a mind-blowing concept; Ray suggested it could even be the key to the patterns of the universe.

Although I find the concept hard to understand, I want to learn more about it, so I told Ray and Dan that I’d be interested in their proposed program in knowledge engineering and that if anything can get me back to South Florida in late August, it would be Dan’s course in Expert Systems in the fall.

I’ll miss my Tuesday afternoon drives up to Boca for class.

Somehow I feel very empty right now. I’m going to call Ronna later, and while I’m sorry I’m not going to see her, I also am afraid that I can’t selfishly allow myself to get too close to her again.

Why should I hurt her by being a sometime boyfriend? I’m gay, and that’s not going to change, and even if I’m not seeing any guys, I can never give Ronna the whole commitment she needs.

We can always be friends as long as we both realize that’s all we can be.

It would just be much easier if I didn’t have intense sexual feelings for her.


Wednesday, April 15, 1987

4 PM. Last night I had “the dizzies” as I lay down: the same kind of positional vertigo that I had years ago when I was ill with labyrinthitis. It took a long time for me to settle down and not have the room spin.

Ronna called me at 11 PM, after the second seder in Orlando. When I told her about Alice’s mother, she said it was just as well since she’s going back to New York by train tomorrow anyway.

Today I read Alice’s latest magazine articles. The Writer’s Digest piece, on what annoys her as a teacher at writing conferences, was excellent (and featured her photo), but the Glamour article – “I Was My Parents’ Radio” – was superb.

Having known Alice for nearly thirty years, I never fully realized how different she felt and how she was forced into becoming a grownup more quickly than the rest of us as she and her brother had to negotiate with the hearing world for their parents.

It was a very honest story. Alice pointed out that her bluntness is a result of having to explain things in a no-frills way, without hesitation or embellishment.

If anything, the article made more nervous about seeing her mother tonight.

While I probably understand Mrs. D’s badly slurred speech more than most people, I miss close to half of what she says, and I wonder if I can really help her. I don’t know how ill she’ll be or what I’ll need to do.

Well, I guess I’ll just do the best I can.

I got my new C & S MasterCard to replace the one that I lost last week; it’s amazing how fast it got here.

This morning I went to the Publix ATM and took out $1200 in cash advances, which I deposited into my credit union account.

The stock market’s been going down as the dollar sinks, the trade deficit grows, and a trade war with Japan seems on the horizon.

On Monday, when Steve gave his report in Higher Ed class, he mentioned that some economists think a depression coming, and I saw Dr. Grasso nodding in agreement.

The incredible debt – government, business, personal – that’s been piling up in recent years has to result in some sort of economic dislocation.

For me, the best scenario would be hyperinflation so I could pay off my credit card bills with less valuable money.


Thursday, April 16, 1987

4 PM. Though I’m not sure how much good I did, I basically accomplished my mission at the airport last night.

After getting some pizza at the Broward Mall, I drove down to Miami. There wasn’t too much traffic, and the ride gave me time to think about my writing.

If I could do another story like “I Survived Caracas Traffic” this summer, I’d be very pleased. I’d like to use the same narrator, put him in New York City last summer, and incorporate some of the material from my “Random Walk” and “Credit” stories.

It’s funny how I’m not interested in experimental fiction now. Probably I’ll turn to realism just as everyone else becomes experimental. Always out of synch, that’s me.

I got to Miami Airport at about 7 PM.

Alice’s mother’s flight got in from Honduras at 7:50 PM, and it took another half hour before I saw her being wheeled out of Customs, so I had a lot of time to watch people come, go, and sit waiting alongside me.

Mrs. D was very surprised to see me, but I think a familiar face must have helped. The guy wheeling her spoke only Spanish, so I didn’t have much more luck communicating with him than she did.

I understood about 75% of everything she said as we talked while they wheeled her through the search area. She gave me her x-rays to hold to make certain they didn’t go through the metal detector; that was probably the most important thing I ended up doing.

Then she was taken to Immigration, where I wasn’t allowed to go, so I waited for her at the gate where the Challenge Air flight to Newark was scheduled to take off.

Once she boarded, they let me on the plane, and I sat with her in the front row, making sure she got some ice for her dry mouth. She didn’t really look all that bad although she was obviously in pain.

Funny, I noticed her seatmate had the issue of Glamour with Alice’s story. It would be ironic if Mrs. D saw it because Alice certainly didn’t want her to, feeling her mother would be embarrassed and angry.

We hugged goodbye as I got off the plane.

I stayed until took it off, thinking that in two weeks I’ll be on a plane headed to New York myself.

This was the first time I’d ever been on a plane without being a passenger, and it was probably good practice, as I thought how easy it would be to just stay on board and go back to New York right then.

Back at the main terminal, I called Alice and told her everything was fine. She and Aaron were going to Newark at midnight to pick up her mother and take her back to Brooklyn, where her surgeon will be waiting at Kings Highway Hospital.

Alice asked how she could ever repay me, and I said I’d be happy just to be reimbursed for the $5 tip I gave the guy wheeling her mother around.

Coming home from the airport, I drove up N.W. 27th Avenue/University Drive, which I realized – not for the first time – is one interesting street.

Like Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, driving along it gets you through so many distinct neighborhoods, from Little Havana to Liberty City, where the Metrorail joins it, past Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus and Opa-Locka, and then Calder Race Track and the new Dolphins Stadium under construction.

Then you pass the Broward County line and go through Miramar and North Perry Airport and Pembroke Pines into Davie, where I stayed at my parents’ house overnight, sleeping soundly and deeply in their guest room.

Mom and Dad seem really serious about moving, especially now that they’ve gotten word from the condo association that they can no longer park their van in the parking lot.

These douchebag condo commandos just have to be sticklers for their petty, idiotic rules. Now that I’ve seen what it’s like living with insufferable people, I will never buy a condo.

My parents are placing ads for the townhouse in the black and Caribbean newspapers, and I think they should move fast in buying a house because interest rates are rising now that inflation is back.

Getting up at 10:30 AM, I did aerobic exercises with the TV for an hour before showering and coming back to Lauderhill.

Right after I finish writing this diary entry, I plan to start studying for the Roman History final.


Friday, April 17, 1987

4 PM. After doing my studying yesterday, I called Justin.

His trip to California was good, he said, and everyone seemed to like the performances of his play although Justin felt funny because he was more of a spectator than someone intimately involved in the production.

Nevertheless, he said the L.A. theater group did a good job, though at points he would have made different choices had he been the director.

He’s been busy with lots of rehearsals for Performance Hell, which I’ll be able to see next month when it moves uptown.

Lisa called and we made plans to get together on Saturday evening. Although she’s feeling better, she said she wishes the school year were ending.

Her patience with lazy students is a fraction of what it was last year, and she’s annoyed that the Palm Beach County School Board has decided to eliminate their intensive writing program, wherein English teachers have four classes of 25 students who write an essay a week.

Money is the problem. That’s typical of Florida education.

When I have insomnia, I go all the way: I was up all night and didn’t get to sleep until 7 AM.

Trying to do something useful instead of just lying in bed, I read the three books on back pain that I got out of the library.

Compared to most people’s back problems, mine seem minor, but I know I need to keep exercising to strengthen my abdominal muscles so they can better support my lower back.

Yesterday’s workout made me just sore enough to postpone any exercise until tomorrow.

The FCC expanded their rules on obscenity on the radio, and like last year’s Hardwick ruling upholding sodomy laws and the Meese Commission report on pornography, it will have a chilling effect on personal freedom.

Despite all the setbacks the Reagan administration is having, the old prunes who want to tell everyone else what’s good for us now seem ascendant.

Sometimes I get so depressed when I see the way the country is going. Studying the decline and fall of the Roman Empire makes me realize that U.S. society is already past its peak in the years following World War II.

There are times I’m not sure I care to see what’s coming.

It will be interesting to see which of my six columns the Sun-Tattler will print next Saturday, as all of them make sharp remarks about the government, censorship, and the “early bird” mentality.

If they don’t want to offend anyone, the paper won’t run any of my columns.

While I love the exposure that comes with the publication of a new column every two weeks, I feel stupid continuing to work on new columns that the paper doesn’t print.

The last two Sun-Tattler columns were cute and inoffensive, but all of the remaining columns I’ve submitted have more bite.

Should I try to write more “acceptable” columns or just tell Mike Burke it’s time to call it quits? Next week I’ll have to write him and tell him I’m going to New York for the summer.

At least the newspaper gave me a nice opportunity the past six months.


Tuesday, April 21, 1987

11 PM. Like Macdonald Carey says, “Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.”

The sandman didn’t come for me until about 6 AM this morning. I used to get insomnia often, but now when I get it, I don’t sleep the entire night.

Finally I drifted off and awoke at 10 AM, when I got a call from some writer named McGowan for the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

He was doing some kind of story about organizations and wanted to know the qualifications for and makeup of the membership in the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War.

Is he kidding, or what?

Marc came over at noon and we went through the apartment, finding his stuff everywhere. He had no idea how much junk he had left here.

I helped him carry out boxes and other stuff, some of which I put in my car, and I went back to his new apartment with him.

Marc’s duplex is really spiffy, and it’s in a complex full of young people; it seems like a nice place to live.

I had one of my last lunches at the Bagel Nosh, where Sam said I made his day when told him that New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission head Michael Lazar had been indicted in the corruption scandal. Apparently Lazar had made Sam’s life miserable when Sam had a cab in New York.

At the Broward Community College computer lab, I made up a software evaluation form for my students and cleaned up the files on my floppies.

George showed me a very powerful database program, Dataflex, which he’s excited about learning and trying to make money with.

Marc left China with Mom most of the day, and when I went into the house, that dog was so excited and affectionate. I’m beginning to get very fond of China myself.

Jonathan made us soy burgers for dinner.

Then I went to FAU at Commercial Boulevard. After selling back my textbooks for a ridiculously paltry sum, I went to the library to look at recent issues of The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

I found English jobs open at BCC, Miami-Dade, and the University of Miami, so I later went down to the computer lab to print out letters of application and résumés for the latter two positions.

Meanwhile, I saw articles about the exploitation of college writing teachers and the dispute over what should be taught in a Ph.D. program in English. There’s a split between the old-line literary scholars and the specialists in rhetoric and composition.

For me, a traditional Ph.D. in English would be a waste of time. I have no desire to write a dissertation on someone like Henry James the way Wade and dozens of others have.

As much as I resent the way I’ve been treated in academia – during dinner at Mr. Laff’s after our last Higher Ed class yesterday, Joe Cook and Carolann Baldyga could not believe I made only $13,216 for teaching twelve sections of English at BCC in 1981-82 – I’m glad that I’ve been forced, by not being able to get a cushy ivory tower job, to engage the real world and not be an elitist.

Well, the countdown to going back to New York has started. Ten, nine, eight . . .

Although I’ve accomplished a lot lately, I still have plenty to do before I leave. I’m fairly well organized, so I’m not worried.

It’s going to be traumatic, leaving Florida after so many months, but I do miss New York and my friends.

When I called Josh last night, he was working on an 18-page article about his experience with the false positive AIDS test. I’m sure it’s a fine piece, and I hope it gets published in a big place.

At the moment, as disgusting as it sometimes is, Life seems full of possibilities. Still, AIDS, government repression, poverty and all the bad things of the world prevent me from being an optimist.TC mark

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