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

Friday, December 11, 1987

9 PM. I needed to unwind today, and mostly I did. I spent the morning exercising, reading the papers, and going to the ATMs and the bank.

At noon I drove to FIU to hand in the paperwork on the Van E. Blanton Elementary workshop. Sophie said I’ll get paid for it at the end of next week.

Then I jumped back in my trusty Camaro and drove home. Luckily, I-75 has made getting to FIU via the Turnpike Extension almost painless; I love I-75.

After lunch at Gaetano’s, I picked up my mail, which included the first of this month’s credit card bills. Bill Smart wrote a note thanking me for my recent contribution to the VCCA’s new fund and Chris Barnes thanked me for sending my books to the MacDowell library.

I finally heard from Susan. Spencer was laid off in the big Chemical Bank cutbacks, and he was ill for a while, but he’s started going on interviews and is freelancing again.

Zach is a delight to them, and she apologized for not writing sooner.

I guess young couples with kids are part of that trendy “cocooning,” wherein they make themselves a tight unit and sort of hold the rest of the world at a distance. She’s busy writing lots of articles.

This evening I went out to dinner at Jade Garden with my parents.

Right now I feel pretty worn out. I haven’t been able to even think about sitting down at the computer to write.

But next week at this time, I’ll be free.


Saturday, December 12, 1987

11 PM. I just got in. It’s a crisp, clear night. There are stars out, and I could see my favorite constellation, Orion, very distinctly.

I’m was at my parents’ house across the street for most of the evening, watching The Color Purple on HBO. Whatever the faults of Spielberg’s movie or Alice Walker’s novel, it’s a great story, showing the main character suffering, growing and finally achieving happiness.

Yes, the movie was corny, but it did have that sense of life ongoing in all the characters’ lives. I only wish I could write something like that.

Jonathan, at dinner, said that when we dream, we’re really on another plane, a different level of existence.

I can’t follow his cosmology, but last night I had several dreams about Avis, and not just Avis, but her husband Anthony, her parents, her sister and Wade, and even Helmut.

If it was one dream, I would have thought it special to see Avis again – I do miss her – but three dreams make me feel she’s trying to tell me something. Although we were once close friends, I haven’t had contact with her in many years.

Up early, I spent the morning working out to two Body Electric videos. While taping today’s show, I stupidly hurt myself doing dips on the terrace; I backed my ass right down on one of the arms of the weight bench.

Now I feel very bruised and sore. It was so needless, as I just knew I was coming down the wrong way.

After a shower, lunch, and collecting the laundry, I came back here and actually fell asleep. The exercise must have really tired me out.

An afternoon nap is such a luxurious rarity; it felt wonderful, and again I dreamed about Avis.

Finally I got myself together and paid a dollar at the Art Towne Cinema for the 4:30 PM showing of Made in Heaven. The movie wasn’t great, but I liked the idea of heaven depicted in it and the way two people could be destined for each other.

Then, after the movie, I arrived just as Jonathan, Mom and Dad were sitting down to a dairy dinner. I had two onion rolls with egg salad and pickled onions, and also baked beans.

Except for the exercise, I was really a couch potato today. But I don’t feel guilty about not working. Well, my head feels very heavy now.


Sunday, December 13, 1987

6 PM. I really took a vacation this weekend, doing no writing, no grading, no school preparation. Instead I’ve been seeing movies.

This afternoon I went out in west Pembroke Pines to see Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s look at greed in the marketplace. It was very good, touching all the bases of the zeitgeist.

Probably since October 19, they had to superimpose on the screen the title “1985” as the story begins.

As the first of a five-part series in the New York Times said today, that era has ended, even if not everybody is aware of it yet.

The ’80s were a Gilded Age of Greed, much like the Roaring Twenties and the era last century that Mark Twain wrote about.

It was a time when corporate raider Ivan Boesky could give a commencement address lauding greed as a virtue (Michael Douglas gives a similar speech in Wall Street), when speculative fever and takeover frenzy ran so high that an insane man in Ohio could cause a major company’s (Dayton-Hudson’s) stock to soar when he announced a totally ludicrous takeover bid.

Yuppies in Manhattan earned six-figure salaries in M & A (mergers and acquisitions) and had to break the insider trading laws to make millions that they felt they were entitled to.

Every conversation in New York seemed to begin or end with talk about real estate, as more and more homeless people stood on street corners and in subway stations and begged for quarters.

Just eight weeks after the crash, it all seems unbelievable that it could have been that way.

But in 1981, Reagan cut back programs for the poor, broke the air traffic controllers’ union and brought back lavish black-tie dinners and expensive china to the White House.

It was a time I detested, and it can’t disappear quickly enough for me, though I’m sure it will linger on for a couple more years.

There probably won’t be a recession in 1988, and the stock market will climb back up – but there’s still a day of reckoning ahead.

The government puts it off, but it has to come: what Peter Peterson called “the morning after,” when someone has to pay for this decade-long blowout of a party.

Am I ranting and raving again?

The big trouble with a depression, if it comes, is always the possibility that it could lead, not to a New Deal, but to a Third Reich. While I don’t have that much faith in the American people, I won’t mind living in a dangerous time.

Who was it who said, “I love a peace but I adore a riot”? Maybe I’m just full of it, but I think that bad times reduce life to its essentials and thereby have a purifying effect.

At least you might be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Well, we can only keep living and watching the soap opera to see what story lines and characters emerge.

I’ve got one more week of school, then a two-week vacation to end 1987.

Crad wrote that this was one of the worst years he has ever spent. For me, it’s turned out a little better than I had hoped. The important thing is that I managed to survive with no losses.

A year ago, my Sun-Tattler column was the most important thing in my career, but even then I knew it could disappear at any time.

(I bought the paper today and noticed all three columnists were over 70 – and they contributed nothing on the level of my columns.)

So that’s me – but I did write well, and I had 18 columns in print. Two good stories came out in the fall, and if I didn’t do as much writing as I might have hoped, I did more than in any recent year.

My health was good, and I continued to earn grad credits, live comfortably, and eat and sleep well. I taught a variety of computer education workshops for FIU, and I had the experience of teaching English at BCC again. Going to MacDowell was very good for me. I had good times with my friends and family.

Crad said he hates Pollyannas, but I’m not one; I know it’s a cruel, harsh, un-thinking and unfair world out there. But I believe I can make a separate reality for myself much of the time.

It’s not my nature to be overly optimistic, but I also know that even a disaster can teach you a great deal. The important thing is to survive with one’s wit, values, and humanity intact.

This morning I read the papers and exercised. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and mild but not hot. I kept the sliding doors open and let the fresh air into my room.

This week shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve got just the one BASIC workshop and the three classes in which I have to pick up term papers. Yes, it’s a lot of grading, but I can mark the papers holistically and have the final grades in by Friday.

Probably I could have put my free time to better use this weekend, but what’s the point of living if I can’t goof off once in a while? Today’s movie cost only $2.50 and yesterday’s cost a dollar, so my pleasures were not expensive.

My bruised rear end hurt last night, but it felt better today, and the injury didn’t restrict my activity.

I’m kind of lonely these days, but that will change. I should make sure that I enjoy what might be my last winter in Florida and not take for granted the gorgeous weather.

Spring for me in New York is only four and a half months away.


Wednesday, December 16, 1987

8 PM. Late this afternoon, I shaved off my beard, and I still haven’t recovered from the trauma.

I’d bought a beard trimmer, but when I used it, I didn’t realize how powerful it was and it took out a big chunk of my beard.

As in July 1985, I decided on the spur of the moment to cut off everything, and the trimmer made it easy.

Anyway, I felt very old afterwards: naked, unprotected, even weak (the Samson syndrome?). It felt strange to go back to BCC and face (literally face) my students looking like that.

In fact, I became so upset that I got sick to my stomach and had severe nausea and diarrhea; I’m sure the cause is emotional.

Mom and Jonathan agreed I look better with a beard, as did several of my students. It’s that fat under my chin that makes me look so heavy; one day I’ll have to have liposuction done on it.

For now, all I have to do is wait and let my beard grow back. The skin, unused to the air, feels like oatmeal and is sweating. Well, I guess it’s good to shave every few years, both to see what I look like and to sort of purge myself.

My stomach is beginning to settle down now, but at BCC, I felt I was going to vomit.

Except for tomorrow night’s class, I don’t have to be anywhere official for three weeks, and by then, I should start to be looking “normal” again.

I should be feeling exhilarated with the end of the term, but instead I feel empty.

Last night I called Tom because I knew he was going to Zurich this weekend and a letter wouldn’t reach him in time.

He and I discussed literature, his frustrations teaching at NOCCA, Gwen’s death and its effect upon Crad, and Debra’s terrific time in Switzerland. I told Tom he did the right thing in shelling out the money to go to see Debra.

I also finally got to speak with Ronna; in recent weeks she hasn’t been home when I called.

She had a stomach virus last week but is fine now. Work is okay, and she’ll probably take the last week in January off and come to Florida.

Ronna promised me she’d come here from Orlando for at least a couple of days. If only I didn’t have to work four days a week then.

It’s obvious Ronna hasn’t been seeing anyone else the last four months.

This morning, after a workout (in which I slightly strained my back), I finished the final grades for Monday night’s class and mailed out some fiction submissions.

Then I had lunch at Bagel Whole and went to see Less Than Zero, a pretty awful film which bore only a slight resemblance to Ellis’ book; of course, an affectless, anomic movie was out of the question and the film did take a stand against drug use.

On the way home, I bought the fatal beard trimmer at Kmart.

I still feel like my stomach is going to explode.


Friday, December 18, 1987

5 PM. Last evening I was at the salad bar at Wendy’s when Dad walked into the restaurant. Not wanting to shout out “Dad,” I called out, “Danny!” and he said hello – but he didn’t recognize me at first.

When he realized who I was, he broke up laughing, saying that when I’d said hello, the thought went through his mind: “Who is this guy? One of my customers, maybe?”

It’s still very hard for me to get used to my bare face. My beard can’t grow fast enough to suit me. Next time I mess up my beard, better to leave it on than rashly shave it off.

It felt odd in class last night with my students as I just collected their final papers.

Robert Shillingham came in late and said, “So I won’t see you again?” I just smiled. Then he shook my hand.

I’ll never know if the guy was giving me signals that he liked me or was just weirdly over-friendly.

But it’s nice to think that such a fantastic-looking guy could have been interested in me.

I graded the papers half-heartedly and holistically, and this afternoon I returned to BCC, where I collected my last check; said hi to such people as Dr. Grasso, Richard, Mercy and Jacqui; and handed in my overly-generous final grades.

For teaching three classes for nine weeks, I earned $1,710. Actually I made about $22 an hour, which is actually better than I expected and came as a surprise.

I noticed that so far two people have registered for my creative writing class. But of course, 18 places are still open, and I feel it’s unlikely that the class will run.

Either way, it’s fine with me. On the one hand, I’ll have Saturday mornings free; on the other, I’ll get a chance to teach creative writing for the first time in five years.

Teaching composition was fun – my evening students were nice people – but I hated grading papers and my heart wasn’t in the job.

I am now certain that I don’t want to teach either English 101 or 102 for another couple of years unless I’m forced to do so because of dire financial straits.

Back home, I read from the book Alice sent me as a Christmas present: Ted Solatoroff’s A Few Good Voices in My Head.

The last two essays – about the deleterious effects of creative writing programs and the retreat of serious writers to academia, and about the decline of trade publishing from the days of a gentlemanly cottage industry with cultural responsibilities to today’s conglomerate-run, bottom-line-oriented trafficking in mass-market “products” – were excellent.

I realized once again that the struggles I’ve had as a writer are not unique, and they’re not my fault: I’m struggling with a system that really doesn’t have a place for me anymore.

And of course, it’s not unusual, in the history of literature, to have a long apprenticeship as a writer. It’s actually today’s Brat Packers who are having careers that are not “normal” by past standards.

Today was another chilly day – though it probably got up to about 72°. This morning I worked out, did some banking, and read the papers.

Rick Peabody said he might consider doing a book of mine, “though I’d have to be solidly behind the manuscript.”

We’ll see. First I’ve got to begin writing some more. I can’t keep putting that off, can I?


Sunday, December 20, 1987

10 PM. The weekend is over, though it doesn’t matter that much because I’m free for the next two weeks.

We’re on a countdown to 1988 already; I’ll have to break out my new diary soon.

When I chide myself for being lazy and undisciplined, I overlook the fact that for over 18 years I’ve been setting down my thoughts on paper every day and that my diaries contain several million words.

But this isn’t serious writing: it’s fun, it’s therapy, it’s a habit. I used to dream that I’d left pages blank, and I’d feel the same anxiety as in dreams about not being prepared for a test.

My family had their best day ever at the flea market today, taking in nearly $4900. So they’ve done well this Christmas season.

The flea market is open tomorrow and Tuesday, when it’s ordinarily closed, and I volunteered to do some chores for Mom and Dad.

It took me a long time to fall asleep last night, and I didn’t get up till 9:30 AM today.

Last night I’d read the Sunday Herald (Tropic magazine printed a letter of mine), and this morning I read the Times and News/Sun-Sentinel.

At the bottom of his column on the Key West Literary Festival, Chauncey mentioned my creative writing class.

I can hardly believe that I’m the author of “165 stories,” as it said in the paper, but a decade ago, I was so naïve and therefore productive.

I’ve just been reading over the first of the material I wrote at MacDowell. Parts of what I wrote aren’t bad, but I wish I could remember what it was like when writing seemed to come to me so much more easily. Oh, well.

I wrote back to Ed Hogan telling him I’ll send him those ten copies of With Hitler in New York.

I sent him the two recent stories and wrote that if, as he suggested, we take material out of Hitler, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and Disjointed Fictions, we might have enough material to make a new book now.

However, Ed also wrote – I didn’t notice this before – that Zephyr Press has “a lot of irons in the fire,” so I doubt if anything will come of this right away.

In a way, I almost don’t care; I’m never going to drive myself crazy panting for publication. I’d rather be writing steadily than having a new book published.

Eventually, I’m sure, another book will come out. As I said to Ed, “Hopefully we’ll all be around for a long time and we can work something out.”

If not, not.

I’m not going to kill myself like Tom McHale over my declining fortunes as a writer. As I wrote the other day, I’m a survivor – and I can write for just myself, as I do in this diary.

At my parents’ house this afternoon , I had lunch and later exercised; I’ll probably be sore tomorrow from all the chin-ups I did.

Somebody said I had that “Don Johnson” look. After not shaving since Wednesday night, my beard is beginning to grow in, though I’ve never had a heavy beard. I’m not very hairy anywhere.

Of course, I remember how, when I grew my first beard in 1980, how exciting it was in when I saw the different colors come in as the beard thickened.

By next week, the growth should cover my double chin, and I’ll start to feel less goofy.

When I looked up into the overhead mirror at an NCNB Bank ATM, I realized that without my fatty jowls, I actually look good clean-shaven – though my mouth is a little prissy.

Vanity, vanity.

Gary Hart is leading all other Democrats in the polls. He appears to have tapped a reservoir of discontent with those who are disgusted with the media, the election process in general, and maybe more than that.

But the common wisdom is that the Democrats have already blown their fifth presidential election in twenty years.TC mark

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