A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1987

Wednesday, December 2, 1987

9:30 PM. I just got in on this chilly night; it almost feels like it is December. Actually, it’s probably just a brisk 55° or so.

I’ve had a good day, being very conscientious with my two classes, and I feel good about myself.

It’s not everybody who could teach computer literacy in the afternoon and literature (Chekhov’s “A Lady with a Dog,” Mark Twain’s “The Diary of Adam and Eve”) in the evening and have good classes in both.

Last night I had a devil of a time getting to sleep, but I didn’t mind. Eventually, I knew, I would sleep.

I stayed in bed until 11:30 AM today, when I did aerobics with the Getting Fit lady on WPBT. (It seemed too cold to go across the street to exercise.)

Instead of a burger at Corky’s, I had lunch at the 163rd Street Mall in my old North Miami Beach stomping grounds. The turkey sandwich I had at City Deli was fantastic.

At Van E. Blanton Elementary, I had a good session. The teachers were interested, and we managed to overcome the limitations of the configuration and number of computers.

I stayed late at the school, till 4:30 PM. Next week is our final session, but I’ve already covered everything.

As I drove home along NW 103rd Street and up NW 27th Avenue/University Drive, the sky was a bright blue that became tinged with scarlet as the sun set.

At my parents’ house, I had a bite of dinner and then looked at my mail. The big news was that California Federal increased my Visa credit line from $2500 to $3500.

I notice that the bigger my credit lines get, the bigger my increases get; it’s another thousand for me to play with.

Also, I got a couple of bills, which I paid, and the AWP Newsletter and USA Today, which I haven’t read yet.

Oh, and I got another pathetic paycheck from Broward Community College for $375 for three weeks’ work: nine classes.

Before my BCC class, I talked with Susie Drucker, another English adjunct. Not only did we both attend Brooklyn College, but Midwood High School, too – though she was six years ahead of me.

I met with some students before class to discuss their papers, and class itself went very well. This English 102 group is a great bunch, with some (five or six) very sharp cookies and good writers.

Well, the work week is almost over; I just have tomorrow’s class, and I’ve already graded the papers for that.

This weekend I have to do some work for my BASIC programming class on Tuesday, preparing the first lesson and creating some worksheets.

I also want to send out copies of “640 K” and “Kindly Withdraw” to little magazines. And I should work on my writing some more.

For some reason, I feel very productive after teaching today – even though I got up so late. Instead of feeling tired after four hours of teaching, I feel energized.

I’m getting ready to watch St. Elsewhere and read the newspapers.

Next week I won’t have much to do except grade the English 101 papers, and for the following week, all I plan to do in my final BCC classes is collect the research papers.

As I said the other day, while I’m glad I had the experience of teaching English again this term, I would do it again only if I had an elective class in literature or creative writing.


Thursday, December 3, 1987

10 PM. I felt good teaching tonight.

The other day Mom gave me this gorgeous deep-blue distressed denim Bugle Boy shirt that sells for $40.

Tonight, wearing it with my Bugle Boy denim jacket, I felt a lot more fashionable than usual. Although I’ll be 36½ tomorrow, but I think I look good for my age.

Anyway, I got to BCC early this evening to xerox “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” from Between C and D. If my salary at BCC is bad, I am supplementing it with the money I save by xeroxing for free.

In the new class listings for next term is my Creative Writing 101 course on Saturday mornings. I need to get students, so this weekend I plan to try to publicize it by writing the News/Sun Sentinel book editor, Chauncey Mabe.

I’ll include my résumé and my latest stories, and see if he can write about me, or failing that, at least mention the class.

I should also write Mike Burke at the Sun-Tattler, and maybe he’ll help if he’s still there. And I could try the Herald Broward bureau.

It won’t kill me if the class doesn’t run, but why not try to publicize the course so I can teach creative writing again?

This evening I discussed the term paper with my students; in two weeks, it will be the final class of the semester.

If I teach at BCC in the spring term, it will be exactly seven years after I started teaching at the college.

I slept very, very well last night, and this morning at 10:30 AM, I went over to my parents’ and exercised with a Body Electric tape.

Back home, I spoke with Josh, who learned that his illness is the flu. His first question: “Doc, is it HIV-related?” Poor Josh.

I saw a guy on Geraldo Rivera who outdid Josh’s fear of AIDS: a heterosexual man from Fort Lauderdale who took the HIV test two dozen times.

However, the man has now gotten over his paranoia and is volunteering at Father Fred’s AIDS Center One clinic.

Josh is incredibly screwed up in some ways.

He’s leaving his job at Blue Cross tomorrow, and he says the morale there is very bad because their information center is probably going to be subsumed by a rival group in the company.

On Monday, Josh begins work for Joyce at the city DOT.

After showering and dressing – it was nearly 1 PM by the time I got out – I did some banking, ran other errands, went shopping and had lunch at Gaetano’s pizzeria, where I’m more or less a regular fixture.

Back home, I read the papers and the AWP Newsletter, and I prepared for tonight’s class.

In the mail I got just one bill and some forms Sophie needed signed and sent back to her so I can get nearly $250 in travel expenses for my Teacher Education Center workshops. God, I feel FIU really treats me well.

This weekend I’ve got to work on my syllabus for the Riviera Junior High BASIC workshop. I’ve also got about 25 papers to grade for next week, so I won’t have too much time for my own writing.

Still, I’ve gotten an idea for another “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp”-like satire of business, which I may use for my YU Press Briefing Book column.

Why do I feel so cheerful? I guess part of it is from talking to the other part-time teachers, who seem so victimized, so defeated.

I tell them I don’t have to work at BCC (which is true), that I’ve got a lot of money in the bank (also true – I have about $42,000 at the moment).

But I don’t tell them about my huge debts, and I exaggerate my past business successes.

Hey, I lie, actually. I tell them I’ve made money in New York real estate and in the stock market. That’s because that’s what I’d like to be doing. I like seeing myself as this shrewd operator with a lot of “fuck you” money.

I’m starting to like money better than I used to. I do feel I deserve to be rich.

Maybe I’m listening too much to WWN, “the motivation station,” and all the success-oriented lecturers who talk on it.


Tuesday, December 8, 1987

9:30 PM. It’s been raining most of today, which isn’t bad for a change, though it was messy to drive back from Southwest Dade tonight.

Last night I had trouble falling asleep. I was worrying a lot about my BASIC workshop because I felt unsure of how to proceed.

Anyway, I finally drifted off at about 3 AM and in the early morning I had a nifty dream:

It’s Saturday night and I’m in New York. A movie based on my life is playing at Lincoln Center. I’m afraid that if I go to see it, I’ll have an anxiety attack, but at the last minute I conquer my fear and make a late entrance. Somehow I know all my friends are already in their seats. The usher escorts me to the balcony, and as I sit down, on the screen I see a skinny blond boy (me) in bed with an equally skinny blonde girl. They’ve just had sex, it’s in the early ’70s in a Soho loft, the girl says sex was okay. The guy playing me tells her, “I’ve been waiting to get a crack at your ass for years.” In my balcony seat, I think: “Well, it could have been worse. It’s not exactly my life the way I lived it, but I’m glad the film was made.”

This morning I graded some papers – I still have a dozen left for Thursday – and did some errands.

At 1 PM, I drove into Dade and had lunch at the 163rd Street Mall because I liked the turkey on rye I had at City Deli last week, so I thought I’d try it again.

The sandwich was really good, but I lost my appetite as I glanced at a USA Today article about the parents of an AIDS patient who died in March.

Suddenly I put their last name and the face of the guy in the photo together and realized it was Lance, Teresa’s former next-door neighbor!

Yes, his parents did live in St. Louis, I remembered, and he was living out in California. The article said he died at the University Hospital in Irvine in March, just after his 31st birthday.

Tonight I called Teresa to tell her, and she said she’d seen Lance’s headshot and name in Newsweek’s “A Year in the Life of AIDS” issue but wasn’t sure if it was him because the magazine called him an accountant.

USA Today said Lance was a controller at a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in Santa Ana. Poor guy.

Though I barely knew him, I felt very upset, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him as I drove to the FIU campus.

I knew Teresa would be upset because he was a very nice neighbor. When she was in the hospital, he visited her often and helped her when she was recuperating at home afterwards.

The one time I was alone with him, in fact, was sometime during Teresa’s illness – in the summer of 1978, I think.

I drove him back to the West 80s from Mt. Sinai and we went to the Burger King on Broadway and 82nd. He told me these whopping lies about being the lead in a TV movie David Lean was directing. The guy was a charming compulsive liar.

He was a cute kid (he’d gained weight in the photos), very promiscuous – or so he bragged – and a little obnoxious. When I first met him, at one of Teresa’s parties, he sneered when I said I still lived with my parents.

In USA Today, his mother said he came home from New York “with his tail between his legs” but that he was happy at the restaurant in California.

He tested positive for HIV in the summer of last year and probably deteriorated quickly. Now his parents – who knew he was gay but never acknowledged it before he died – work with AIDS groups: his mother takes calls on an AIDS hotline and his father gives lectures around St. Louis, where they live.

When I told Teresa, she said she lost track of him after getting a few cards in the early 1980s.

I remember seeing one he sent for her birthday. It said something like: “I close my eyes and feel you’re there next to me. – Love, Lance”

Teresa said that even though she almost surely would have never seen him again, knowing he’s dead does make a difference.

We both wondered if either of his roommates, Karen or Ari, knows that he died. Perhaps Justin would know. Sad.

Anyway, at Riviera Junior High, I taught my BASIC class, which takes a bit of patience. I think it’s going to be a difficult haul, and that I’m not explaining some concepts properly.

Oh, well. I see that after this winter, I’m going to tire of teaching computer ed workshops just as I’m tired of teaching composition.

At FIU, where I had a soda, one of my former BCC students, an older guy who used to live on the Lower East Side, told me my Saturday creative writing class would probably include housewives and retirees with rhyming, terrible poetry and “stories about talking animals.”

I’m afraid he may be right. I now realize that I’ve got to look for someplace new to go and for something new to teach – or do something other than teaching.

By April, I’ll be able to say that I taught computer workshops for FIU for over two years. It will be time to move on to another challenge.

Teresa seems well. She’s been going to the movies alone and with friends, she’s got HBO now, and she spent a fairly decent Thanksgiving at Mattituck with her family.


Wednesday, December 9, 1987

10 PM. Last night I watched the summit coverage. Yesterday Reagan and Gorbachev signed the first arms control agreement that will actually result in the destruction of a whole class of intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

To my mind, it’s the best thing Reagan has done. I hope it leads to more agreements. It’s very ironic to see Reagan being praised by the peace activists who called for a nuclear freeze and yet criticized by his erstwhile right-wing allies.

It’s not clear how history will record this INF treaty, but it seems a good start toward a more peaceful world.

I was very restless last night. At first I liked hearing the steady rainfall, but after hours lying awake, the sound began to grate on my nerves.

I exercised at my parents’ house, and then, before I left for Miami, Chauncey Mabe called. He said he can fit something in about my creative writing class if I get it to him by Friday.

Mr. Mabe told me that “I Survived Caracas Traffic” was a very good story, and I was pleased to hear it.

He’s a good books columnist, and I’m not saying that just because he liked my story.

He saw enough in Jack Saunders to write about him, and even today, he said how surprised he was that Saunders’ work stays with him.

After eating lunch at Corky’s, I had a short last session of the computer literacy workshop at Van E. Blanton Elementary.

They were a good group, but too large, and there weren’t enough computers and hardly any software.

Much of the time today was taken up with the paperwork to make sure they all get their credit for the class – it helps get them raises –  but I’ve got it all done now.

It seemed I didn’t have much time between the workshop and BCC. Before class, I had a good chat with Sally, Patty and Chip, whose new text is coming out from McGraw-Hill.

In class, I had only about eight students, some of whom handed in their papers early. Tomorrow I still have a dozen papers to grade before class, but I’ve also got to get the notice – on BCC stationery – about my creative writing class over to the News/Sun Sentinel building.

And I really should go to FIU to hand in the paperwork, too. Perhaps I can accomplish all that.

I’m really glad the term is ending. As a teacher, I love the sense of closure at the end of a course – or at the end of a three-week workshop like today.

Tomorrow night I should be feeling a sense of relief, with no more BCC teaching and only the daunting task of grading 56 research papers.


Thursday, December 10, 1987

9 PM. Today felt unusual in the sense that life’s possibilities seemed endless.

I woke up early after another unsettled night, and after reading the Times and working out, I began grading papers.

Chauncey Mabe called again. Obviously, he was really impressed with “Caracas Traffic” and said that if it was nonfiction, they could use part of it in the “First Person” section of Sunshine magazine.

I explained that I never had a lover who’d died of AIDS and it would certainly be obnoxious and unethical to pretend that I did.

We got to talking, and he suggested we have lunch. Since I had to go to downtown Fort Lauderdale to give him my press release, I said today would be fine.

Before I left, I collected a batch of mail that included letters from Crad, Tom, and Miriam.

Crad’s letter began on a sad and shocking note: Gwen died last Monday.

As Crad was writing to me on Tuesday the news had just broken on TV. According to the friend who found her, Gwen basically drank herself to death.

Crad knew that she was an alcoholic, but apparently she’d hid her drinking from him and said that she must never drink or she’d die of it, as her father had.

Gwen had shut Crad out of her life since the summer, and I think maybe in her own crazy way, she was protecting him from being around to see this.

Crad cried and cried, of course. If there’s a memorial service, he won’t attend it because he wouldn’t want all the proper Canadian literary people “wondering what this bum who sold his books on the street was doing there.”

Last year Gwen had told him that 1987 would be his year, but it’s been one of the worst years of his life, with so many disappointments.

Poor Gwen. Poor Crad.

He got screened out at another CBC Literary Competition, and he probably won’t get any grants, either. He feels he had nothing to lose by letting his anger loose in stories to get revenge.

Crad’s mother had another heart attack, his maternal grandmother was put in a nursing home, and his grandparents in Jamaica “are hanging on – but for how long?”

He says he’ll never be happy again. (Was he ever happy?)

Meanwhile, Tom was upset by the murder of a student’s mother: she was shot by a burglar. Crime in New Orleans is so horrible.

The NOCCA principal said the Writing Program will be the saving grace for this kid, who’s already in therapy.

“There is no saving grace,” Tom said.

After a parent spent two hours telling Tom what a terrible teacher he was, Tom walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to Zurich for Christmas. “Needless to say, Debra fainted,” Tom wrote. “But what the hell, it’s only money.”

Watching the students screw up Walser’s beautiful prose depresses Tom, but Gordon Lish sent back his story with some stamps, saying he wanted to see more.

“Even if he takes a story, which I doubt, it still won’t change my opinion of him,” Tom says.

Miriam wrote that liked “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp,” and her husband loved the story. She sent me the tape of her work with the band.

Her poetry reading in Nebraska was fun but odd, and she felt anti-Semitism under the surface. A reading she did at Las Cruces “felt like home.” She and Robert are coming East for the holidays.

With time to kill before my 1:30 PM lunch with Chauncey, I went over to the Main Library, where I said hello to Jean Trebbi and read the December issues of American Banker.

(Banc Ohio sent me a notice that they’ve raised my Visa credit limit from $2500 to $3000. Every little bit helps.)

Chauncey met me downstairs at the News/Sun-Sentinel building after they called up and said I was there.

He’s a young, bearded guy from western Virginia who’s lived in South Florida for ten years with his wife and three kids.

Only recently has he become a staff writer at the paper; before that, his book column was done freelance.

Chauncey said he probably would like to go back up North and live in D.C. or Richmond, but that being a book editor is too terrific an opportunity to leave.

There’s a lot of politics at the papers: different factions, lots of sucking up. “Today’s editorial assistant could be your boss tomorrow,” he said.

Over lunch at the Lagniappe Cajun House, I probably talked too much. All he had to say was, “How did you become a writer?” and I was off and running from the mouth.

But I let him say enough so that I can tell that he’s very upstanding, idealistic and real.

He hates Raymond Carver, as I do, and thinks Updike and Oates are really short-story writers and not novelists; he told me Vonnegut and Irving are frauds and that there’s so much trash hyped as literature in American today.

He liked my stories – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” too – which almost surprises me because Chauncey seems to have such high standards

–– Interruption: I’ve just been watching Reagan’s post-summit speech, which I thought masterful, probably because for once I’m in agreement with him – about the INF treaty.

Gorbachev and his wife are also masters at PR and the use of the TV image.

Is there anything else besides PR these days? ––

Anyway, I had a good talk with Chauncey and he said we’d probably get together again.

Back home, I got a stomachache from the Cajun food but finished grading the papers before class.

I dismissed the students early after returning their work. Robert Shillingham, that beautiful guy (he again wore a tank top), and Susan Pruzan, a cute Army veteran, stayed late to talk to me.

Susan went first, and after she left, Robert said, “I think she likes you.”

I get very strange vibes from him and can’t tell if he’s totally straight or not.

While we talked about his term paper, I couldn’t help feeling a sexual tension in the air. Maybe it was totally on my part and I’m projecting, but while we were looking at his paper, he touched my shoulder to make a point.

He’d written a paper about inflation and the money supply, and that’s a subject I know a lot about.

The guy is a boat builder and seems very macho, but there’s also something soft about him: he’s blond and very fine-featured, with a baby face and a perfect body.

He may have been right that it was Susan who liked me, but did he mean something else?

It’s difficult for me to believe that such a gorgeous guy could see anything in me.

Susan, I could believe, because women aren’t so concerned with men’s looks, especially when they’re older and very bright.

But I guess I’m not that monstrous-looking in the right light.TC mark

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