A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1987

Tuesday, November 3, 1987

10 PM. I’ve just been working on editing another of Dr. Cook’s manuals, this one on handling common instructional problems, such as disruptive behavior or student apathy.

Earlier today I finished two other manuals on the role-play and lecture methods of instruction. I feel I’m learning a great deal in this editing process. For one thing, the material itself is valuable to me as a teacher.

Also, I find it instructive to be forced to make choices regarding someone else’s writing. Rarely when I write my own stories or columns do I spend as much time worrying over the placement of a comma or a word. Things just seem to fit naturally when I’m writing – or they don’t, in which case I can change them.

But as I become familiar with Joe Cook’s prose style and its quirks and idiosyncrasies, I realize that there are many ways I can improve or clarify meaning or correct some mechanical error.

They say there are no real line editors of books in trade publishing today. I can see why: it’s too demanding a job for most young people; it’s easier to make deals and hold the author’s hand.

Although I would not want to make a career out of being an editor – I would miss working on my own prose – this editing job has been an enlightening experience.

Today was my free day this week.

Up early, I pondered a dream I had around 5 AM. In the dream, I am in Brooklyn: a storm is coming, and I’m being threatened by a group of menacing people.

I start driving a car frantically, scared that in my haste, I’ll have an accident or the car will overturn.

After I finally park the car away from the menacing group, I sit near the window in a restaurant in a parka-like covering which protects my whole body from the elements. Ignoring stares, I keep sitting there and wait for the end of the storm.

As the sky clears, I go out again and drive home calmly and safely, and the dream ends.

Obviously, this dream is a positive one because I manage to protect myself from both hostile people and a hostile environment; once I feel out of immediate danger, I stand my ground (literally) and make it home in the end.

Anyway, at 9 AM today, I went out to the Publix at Broward Boulevard near NW 70th Avenue, and I withdrew $500 in cash advances on my Optima Card. Then, at C & S Bank, I got another cash advance from a teller.

Right after that, I deposited the $1500 to my California Federal checking account. On Thursday I’ll have to withdraw another $3369 to get a bank check in order to pay my rent through the end of March at Sun Pointe Cove.

Marc brought China here for most of the day, and the dog seemed to be more agitated than affectionate; Mom said she’s been that way since she had her hysterectomy.

At the West Regional library, I worked on the manuals for a few hours.

Home in mid-afternoon, I read the newspapers. It began to storm heavily, so we had dinner in the house this evening.

Afterwards, I did more editing, taking a break only to watch the last half of Peggy Sue Got Married downstairs with my parents. (Mom, of course, fell asleep before the end.)

Well, I feel like dull Jack with all work and no play and little to write about. I have been lonely lately – and also horny. One nice thing about the library was that I was around some cute guys.

Lately I find that I have to remember to masturbate every few days. What happens is that I go too long without an orgasm – three or four days – and every time I urinate, I feel afterwards that I have to go again and sometimes some semen-like fluid comes out.

I should have exercised today, as I feel very sluggish. How can I write when I feel so lifeless, so faceless?

In the Times, I saw an article about a study of creative writers which indicates a correlation between writing talent and bipolar depression, the polite term for manic depression.

Actually, when I’m depressed, I sometimes have more to write about. I guess I don’t have the “highs” I used to get – and when they do come, it’s usually in the middle of the night, and my mind races as I lie awake in bed, and then in the morning I feel wretched.

Today was Election Day, but there were no contests in Broward and few around the country. I remember Election Day last year, and how excited I was over the Democrats winning the U.S. Senate. A few days after that came the news of the Iran/Contra scandal.

That was the beginning of the end of the 1980s. I read another article today that said that Yuppies are passé, that everyone is realizing that home and family are more important than a BMW and a million dollars.

I’ll believe that when I see more evidence of it. I just wish that America’s love affair with the lifestyles of the rich and famous would end. The stock market hasn’t crashed far enough, if you ask me.

God, am I beginning to sound like a crank? Do all disappointed and frustrated geniuses eventually become cranks?

Why not?


Friday, November 6, 1987

8 PM. This is my first night in my new apartment.

God, after moving so many times, I’ve discovered that it never gets any easier; it only becomes a familiar unpleasant experience. But I guess I shouldn’t reprimand myself for not adjusting instantly.

After all, how many people have moved as often as I have? This is my fifth apartment here in Florida, after ones in Sunrise (my favorite), North Miami Beach, Nova University’s student housing, and SandalGrove in Lauderhill.

I plan to be here – I know I’ll be here – less than six months, but I should try to make myself comfortable. The hardest part is adjusting to the little irritations.

Por ejemplo, the light in the bedroom is not bright enough, coming as it does from one night-table lamp; I’ll have to buy a brighter bulb.

Also, the phone jack is in the living room, not the bedroom; I’ll adjust to that, and at least Mom bought me a new Panasonic phone with an answering machine, automatic redial, one-digit dialing of numbers, and other great features.

Right now I have no TV, but eventually I’ll get my old black-and-white set from Marc. And of course I’m not sure where everything is or how I want to set up the apartment just yet. Sometimes things take weeks or months to find their own places.

I’m planning to go out in a little while, to a 9 PM BCC lecture by a New York video and performance artist. I figure I need a little diversion.

This morning I dragged over a lot of stuff to the new apartment before I showered. It took me a couple of trips during the day, and some shopping, but even though I felt depressed, I managed to bring most everything here.

I started to cheer up when a woman doing a traffic survey of visitors to the Davie Shopping Center, where I went for lunch, refused to believe I was 35 and said I was probably only 20 or 21. God, that made me feel good.

I’ve got my clock radio for companionship here, and of course my parents’ house is only three or four minutes away, whether I walk or drive.

Joe Cook said he had the last manual for me, and I arranged to pick it up and drop off the other four that I’ve completed, at his house on Sunday. I’ll do the exchange with his doorman on Williams Island.

I have only that Monday set of papers to grade, and since I’ve already read them, the job won’t be that difficult.

Maybe I can relax a little this weekend. I’ve felt under lots of pressure.

The Dime Savings Bank raised the credit limit on my Visa from $1000 to $1200 – not much, but every little bit helps.

Also, since I shelled out $3369 for my rent here, I won’t have to pay for housing expenses till April, and I still have $38,000 in my numerous bank accounts.

According to polls, Americans seem to have shrugged off the stock market crash and have continued high confidence in the economy. The affluent and those between 18 and 29 are most likely to be optimistic.

With the Fed pumping money into the economy like mad, interest rates and the dollar tumbling, it does look as if we’re going to avoid an immediate recession.

But to my mind, that will just make the inevitable reckoning worse. If anything, this optimism makes me more confident that a real depression is coming.

Judge Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court is in jeopardy already – and it’s not questionable ethics (he had stock in a cable company while he made a ruling affecting the industry; his stance on asbestos regulation has also been under attack) which has gotten him into a fix, but an admission that as a student, law clerk and professor, he occasionally smoked marijuana.

Can they find a 41-year-old who didn’t occasionally have a social joint in the 1960s and 1970s? I certainly would never think that I was or ever had been a “drug user,” but from 1971 to 1981 or so, I must have smoked marijuana a hundred times, mostly at parties.

I never bought grass for myself, but I liked sharing it with friends even if I never felt terribly affected by it; mostly I got a pleasant buzz. Am I now some untouchable? If so, I’ve got lots of company.

If anything, Ginsburg’s use of grass reassures me that he’s not some wild reactionary.

While it’s too bad Reagan won’t withdraw his nomination, I do enjoy seeing ultraconservatives being put in the position of defending marijuana smoking.

*

11 PM. I enjoyed Betsy Damon’s lecture at BCC. She talked about her career as an environmental, performance and video artist and about women artists in general and how they need to empower themselves.

Her work seemed interesting and her talk was inspiring, even for me as a man.

It was good to see someone from New York City, an artist from downtown who’s been to colonies, someone I could relate to.

The line I liked best was her saying, “Don’t hesitate to go into debt for your art.”

Of course I have already done that in spades – although I don’t have that much to show for it, do I?


Sunday, November 8, 1987

8 PM. After dinner at our parents’ (I had picked up Chinese food at Kanton Kanton), Marc and China just came back here with me to bring over the TV that Marc had put in his van.

Marc said the apartment looked nice. Everyone’s especially impressed with the view of the lake and water spout from my front door.

I’m adjusting well to living here, and now that I’ve got a TV, it seems more like home.

Television really is an electronic hearth, and although I can get only four or five stations on my old black and white set – as opposed to the forty on cable – I do feel a need for a TV, just to have it around.

I’ve had a bad sinus headache since I dragged myself up this morning. Last evening I took care of a lot of little chores, but I still have put off grading those papers until tomorrow night.

Last night I went to 7-Eleven and got the Sunday Miami Herald, and this morning I got through most of the New York Times and all of the Fort Lauderdale paper. Little by little, I’ll develop a routine here.

At noon I got dressed and drove to Joe Cook’s apartment building on Williams Island (he lives on the 19th floor of a luxury high-rise) and exchanged my completed manuals for the remaining unedited one, on Design of Instruction.

On the way home, I tried to find a favorite old pizzeria at the Loehmann’s Plaza at Marina del Rey, but the place had closed down, as did a deli I used to go to and many other stores.

Probably they’ve been hurt by the Aventura Mall, but I couldn’t find a decent parking space in the mall’s crowded lot, so I instead had lunch at Pumpernik’s in Hallandale.

Back at my parents, I put up a wash and exercised a bit. I spoke to Ronna, who’d just gotten back from a weekend with her cousins in Edison, New Jersey.

She attended a singles mixer for Orthodox young people but felt everyone there was “centrist” (?) or even “ultra-Orthodox.”

Ronna said the most liberal form of Orthodoxy, “modern,” wasn’t represented, and she feels more comfortable with those people.

She herself is a Conservative Jew, Ronna said. I hadn’t realized there were all these gradations of Jewishness.

The party she and Lori had last week went very well; Lori’s friends are lively, and Ellen brought a perky friend who created a new sitcom which will appear on CBS next year.

I miss Ronna. She said there’s some kind of air inversion in New York City and the sky is unhealthy-looking.

It was fun to have dinner with my whole family, including China, who seems to know me as the one person who rarely plays with her. Although I think she’s adorable, I’ve never quite gotten over my childhood fear of dogs.

Marc got the Dollar Dry Dock/Vietnam Veterans of America Visa card I sent away for him – with a $1000 credit line.

I’d like to try for one myself, but I suspect nobody will give me a new credit card till at least next summer, if then.

Marc told me he’s thinking of buying a two-bedroom condo in Plantation next year. He likes the model townhouse he saw at this development not far from here.


Monday, November 9, 1987

9 PM. Today was a terrific day. Although I slept fitfully last night, I was happy to get up late (9 AM) and be greeted with the New York Times delivered at my door.

Frankly, I was shocked that the paper got here, but I was able to enjoy it all the same. The rest of the morning I graded papers while listening to talk radio.

This has been a strange political year, what with the Hart and Biden episodes and now Judge Ginsburg’s marijuana flap.

Jesse Jackson said that Presidential candidates will now have to pass an adultery test, a plagiarism test, and a marijuana test.

Where is all this piety coming from? I surely would never be able to pass inspection as a candidate for high office or even an appointed official.

Polls say that two-thirds of Americans say it’s irrelevant that a Presidential candidate smoked pot in college, but why is there this morbid fascination with people’s personal lives?

At noon, I showered and dressed and then drove down to Dade County. After lunch, I had my final session with the group at Coral Way Elementary.

I lectured a bit, collected their lesson plan assignments, and then helped them as they had hands-on time with the computers and the limited software we had on hand.

Then an odd thing happened: One of the students gave me an envelope with my name on it, and when I peeked inside, there was a thank you note and what I thought was a $20 bill.

Embarrassed, I said, “I can’t take this.” The teachers said they were going to get me a present but didn’t have time.

“We are Cubans,” one said, “and we will be insulted if you don’t take our gift.”

So I said thank you to each of them as they left and decided, somewhat sheepishly, to keep the money.

But when I went to show it to Dad after I returned to Davie, I discovered it wasn’t a twenty inside but a fifty, and a ten, and a single. Sixty-one dollars! I feel horribly embarrassed. Is it ethical to keep the money?

Mom said, “They probably know you don’t make much.” It’s not as if it’s a bribe. I would have passed them all anyway.

I guess I should feel good . . . but I feel sort of weird instead, as if I’m not worth the money. Maybe I’m a better teacher than I realize.

My English 101 class tonight went well; I went over process analysis and had a good time. Now I’m free till Thursday evening, and it’s a great feeling.

Tomorrow I have to go to FIU to hand in the paperwork for the Coral Way course.

It’s become noticeably cooler in recent days here in South Florida, and there are indications that “the season” is underway as the snowbirds are starting to arrive.

I’ve always like the holiday, get-away-from-winter vibe in this area from November to April, so I think I’m going to enjoy myself a bit more in the coming months.

Although I don’t want to teach English again next term, I’m very glad I got to do it for the past month and will continue for another six weeks.

I felt funny for disparaging FIU’s Lynne Barrett as an unknown in a letter to Rick. He wrote back that she’s a good friend and a very nice person and good writer.

Rick didn’t get the financial backing he’d hoped for, and the next issue of Gargoyle will be his last. That must be hard for him.

Only a CCLM editor’s grant or SUNY-Buffalo’s interest in Gargoyle’s archive can salvage the magazine.

Rick writes:

Between C and D won’t trade with me. They only print 250 copies and are known. Makes me very depressed . . . Big names (relatively) starting to get in touch to be in the mag since they hear it’s dying. Shit! . . . I would like to call all my chips in and do a dynamite issue. But how? I just can’t scrape up that kind of $ . . . Good to see your ‘Caracas’ story!”

Maybe Rick would do a book of mine if I subsidized it. I see he’s done another of George’s books – which I have to order.

Perhaps if I subsidized either a fiction collection or a collection of my columns, Rick would enjoy editing and producing it for Paycock Press. It wouldn’t be Gargoyle, of course.

Rick sent some more goodies: Gargoyle figured in a Washington Post Book World “Book Bag” quiz, and Rick did a daily review of Emily Prager’s first novel for the Post.


Tuesday, November 10, 1987

10 PM. I just got off the phone with Teresa. I’m surprised at how much I miss her, but I do.

She got unemployment benefits after all. Last week, after Teresa met with a sympathetic worker at the Labor Department and appealed to the woman’s state-employee mentality by claiming that not knowing when she’d get paid at the employment agency made her ill, they reopened Teresa’s file and approved her claim.

So now she’s getting $180 a week; of course, she’s keeping it a secret from Pam and Norton at the chicken store.

Teresa said she plans to look for a car because she needs something to get her through the winter.

Teresa’s parents are driving down to the Tampa Bay area to spend most of January, and Teresa says she’ll probably come down then, too.

This morning I got up at about 9 AM, read the Times – what a luxury to find it on my doorstep every morning – and went out to make my regular Tuesday withdrawal of $500 in cash advances from Optima.

I deposited a total of $1050 in my Cal Fed account and then I realized I could no longer delay getting new front tires.

Because I didn’t want to risk going to FIU on the worn tires, I took the car over to Firestone (because it’s within walking distance).

After leaving the car there, I walked across University Drive to my parents’ and found Marc there with China.

That dog is beginning to get to me. As Marc was asleep, the dog wanted to play with me. When I rubbed her fur, she looked at me with those lovable eyes, and I melted.

It was hard to leave her, but I had to go home and work on editing the final manual for Joe Cook.

I finished at about 2:30 PM, which turned out to be good timing because my car was ready just at that hour.

At FIU’s Teacher Education Center, Sophie was glad to see me, as she’d been trying to reach me by phone. She introduced me to the TEC director, and Ray was also there for a while.

After I handed in my paperwork for Coral Way Elementary, we sat down and tried to figure out which of the many workshops I’ll be able to take on.

Apparently, computer education components are in great demand, and TEC doesn’t have enough teachers like me. I agreed to do a 35-hour class in BASIC programming at Riviera Junior High, beginning two weeks from today.

Because that extends into January and February, I probably will not be able to take the Expert Systems course at FAU.

Nor can I take Joe’s FIU Developmental Education class on Wednesdays next spring because I’m teaching other workshops from 4 PM to 7 PM in January and February.

I probably won’t be able to take any graduate courses at all, as it looks like I’ll be teaching computer workshops four days a week most of the winter.

I have mixed feelings about all this work. The money and the experience will be great, but I probably won’t have time to either be a student or do much writing.

Well, we’ll see. It won’t be as if I’ll still be teaching freshman comp at BCC; I’ll be free of papers to grade. And maybe I can make enough money so that I can take some of the pressure off the rest of 1988.

After all, I’ve hardly worked most of the past two years.

I do feel that it’s far removed from being a writer, but I should take my cue from Pete Cherches, who doesn’t let his job as a computer programmer stand in the way of his real career as a writer and performer.TC mark

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