A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1988

Saturday, January 2, 1988

4 PM. I got my annual rejection from the National Endowment for the Arts today. This makes at least a decade that I’ve been turned down for a fellowship.

The $20,000 would have made 1988 a lot easier, but it’s only money, after all. I’m glad I got the letter today so that I can stop hoping.

I’ll apply again for 1989 and get turned down again, I’m sure. Well, I’ll have to continue to live on my wits.

I also got another story rejection from a little magazine today, but those are par for the course; as I once said to Wesley Strick about the bad review With Hitler in New York got from Kirkus, “I eat them for breakfast.”

Last evening I had dinner with my parents and Jonathan, played with China, and watched The McLaughlin Group, Wall Street Week and Nightline with their predictions for 1988.

My own feeling is that Bush will be elected in November, though it also could be Dole. I don’t think the Democrats have a chance, though I suspect their nominee will be Mike Dukakis and that he’ll lose by a whisker to the Republican.

The economy will muddle through this year with maybe a minor slowdown; I don’t expect any Wall Street rally or another crash – but if a second crash comes, it’s all over. Most likely we’ll sink into a deep recession next year – the legacy of a decade of big spending and horrible fiscal policy.

This morning I was up early and started working out at 9:30 AM. I exercised to two Body Electric tapes and did some weight-lifting. Boy, did I sweat! I also did my laundry.

If my Broward Community College creative writing class does run, this will be the last of my luxurious Saturday mornings. I’ll miss them, but I’m sure I’ll learn something from teaching creative writing again.

There was good news in the mail, from Libby. She had a little girl, Lindsay, in November. Her pregnancy was very difficult – she developed toxemia – and the baby was very small and in intensive care for several weeks.

(I just remembered that when I visited Libby after she had her ovarian cyst removed at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope years ago, she and I watched a newborn preemie on a respirator, struggling to breathe and survive.)

Mrs. Judson came to L.A. to help out, and the baby now seems fine: she looks very cute from the photo Libby sent along.

Libby wrote that she hears from Mason and Avis, who are both fine. I’ve got to send along a little gift for Lindsay, who’s worth ten dozen NEA fellowships. It’s nice to see life going on.


Sunday, January 3, 1988

9 PM. Last evening my parents and I ate out at the Best Deli, a New York-style place on University Drive in Plantation.

After the meal, Dad needed to go to Albertson’s to buy Loving Care so he can color his hair for this week’s trip to New York. I bought the Sunday Herald, which I spent half the evening reading.

The other half I spent at the computer, working on “Think Negative.” This story is very rough, but I am going to enjoy shaping it. Word processing makes the text so malleable that writing and revising are almost like sculpting.

Unfortunately, after being surprisingly productive, I was so hyper that I couldn’t sleep last night.

It was 5 AM before I could get to dreamland, and although I read and prepared for Tuesday’s BASIC class, I felt very frustrated.

I did sleep until 11 AM, though, and forced myself to go across the street and exercise to the Body Electric show I taped yesterday.

Two years ago, I wrote in my diary that I knew what I wanted to do but that there was no name for it. Since January 1986, I’ve taken courses in fields outside computer education, and I’ve written articles for People, the News/Sun-Sentinel and the Sun-Tattler, all with a serious social comment.

I’ve also read up on economics and business and history, and I pursued that suit against the S&L for its age-based discount. Not bad, really.

I’ve also returned to writing short stories. What I really want to be is a writer-artist-intellectual-teacher-political activist-satirist-social critic-performer-computer education maven.

Basically, I want to take part in history, in something bigger than myself. I’m not smug by any means, but I’m happy with how I’ve been living my life. I’ve been doing a combination of things no one else has been doing.

I love life and I feel very fortunate that I’ve gotten the chance to do whatever it is I’ve done.

Even though I haven’t gotten an NEA fellowship, I feel confident that eventually someone will recognize that my contributions could be valuable to society.

This evening I brought Chinese food over to my parents’ house for the four of us: me, Mom, Dad and Jonathan. Tomorrow evening I’ll take Dad to the airport for his flight to New York.

Tomorrow is also the day I have to decide about registering for grad courses at FIU and/or FAU. I’m likely to register and then have the option of dropping the classes by next week. We’ll see how difficult they make it for me tomorrow.

I’ve just prepared worksheets for Tuesday’s BASIC class at Rivera Junior High; they’re for review and to introduce the GOTO statement.

I have the feeling that a few of my students are totally lost, and I want to make sure they can catch up. Next week, we’ll take a break and go into low-res and maybe hi-res graphics.

Aside from the BASIC workshop, the only other obligation I have this week is Saturday’s BCC class – assuming it runs.

Teresa will be here Thursday night – I have to call her to confirm this – and I’m looking forward to her visit. Sometimes I can get too rigid about my routines, and I’ve got to be flexible enough to set aside my usual schedule to accommodate Teresa.

I feel I’ve accomplished something during my two weeks off.

My biggest disappointment was not writing a column for Paul Fericano. I tried, but nothing seemed to come together. I feel embarrassed about it.

Well, I should concentrate on what I did do. I’ve used my time pretty well, though I felt I wasted quite enough hours. On the other hand, wasting time is often a more valuable activity than it seems at first glance.


Wednesday, January 6, 1988

9 PM. I had a very good BASIC class at Riviera Junior High yesterday, as I reviewed and then went over the GOTO statement.

The students now have enough programming knowledge to appreciate the logic of BASIC and to see how little errors – like line placement – can cause results very different from what was expected.

I was feeling good as I drove home in the rain, and when I got to Mom’s, she told me that I’d gotten a call from Julie Ramos, the director of the Rockland Arts Center.

I figured maybe she was going to ask me, as the alternate, to step in for the spring’s Writer-in-Residence, so I didn’t get too excited.

However, it turned out, when I called Julie at home, that I’ve been selected as one of the two Writers-in-Residence for next year, pending approval of the grant by the New York State Council on the Arts.

We discussed what kinds of workshops or things I could do to fulfill the community service requirement, and I tossed out some ideas.

Julie said I’ll get her letter soon, and I should get in additional material to her before February 15, the NYSCA grant deadline.

Terry McMillan, the very good young black novelist, is coming for the spring, and I was amazed to be in her company.

In fact, I’m astounded that I could be chosen out of so many applicants. I can’t allow myself to get too excited because the NYSCA money might not come through.

However, if this works out – and I expressed a strong preference for the fall, from September to December – then next to the NEA fellowship, the thing I most wished for in 1988 has come through.

It’s scary and I feel stunned. Part of me feels they’ve made a mistake and I’m not up to the job. The other part of me is so thrilled at this opportunity, I don’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.

Even if NYSCA denies the Rockland Arts Center the money (about $4000, 60% of which goes to buy me writing time), they can’t take away the fact that I was chosen as Writer-in-Residence. It’s the first recognition I’ve had in a long time.

I didn’t tell anyone but Mom, who’d heard the phone conversation, and Dad, who called this morning from New York, where it hit 7° (with a wind-chill factor of -30°) today.

It was hard to get to sleep last night. This morning I had to go over to Mom’s to await a large UPS shipment of shirts and make out the checks to pay for them.

So at 10 AM, I exercised for an hour, and the shirts came at about 11:30 AM. After I showered and had lunch, I went to BCC.

Seven people have registered for my creative writing class, and Dr. Grasso told me she needs ten to let it run. She said she’ll call on Friday and let me know.

I registered for Dan’s Expert Systems class at FAU, but I’m sure that won’t run because I was only the second person to register for it. I probably won’t even pay the fee. So I won’t be a student this semester, and that seems to have worked out.

Today I got three rejections, though all were encouraging, and I spent a couple of hours in the library looking through the International Directory to find more little magazines to send my stories to. I plan to really make a big assault to get some fiction published this year.

In the mail, I got my new $3000 credit-line Key Master Card (the one that’s secured by a CD). At the bank, I got a cash advance on it and other credit cards and deposited the money in my California Federal account.

This afternoon I bought mailing bags to send the ten copies of With Hitler in New York to Zephyr Press, and I finally got them out at the post office.

The covers have stuck together in the warehouse, and I sent Ed books with covers, but damaged ones. I have a boxful of books without covers (but otherwise in good condition) in the apartment.

Tonight, while eating pizza in the Broward Mall, I had a brainstorm for a silly press release.

When I went to BCC to xerox the release I did on the computer and to find the addresses of Florida papers, I ran into Robert Shillingham, the blond student from last term whom I liked.

From the way he greeted me, I decided that he really is just weird and probably not gay at all.

If I still had the Sun-Tattler column, I probably would have written about my idea: a political committee to support “Undecided” in the Florida Democratic Presidential primary. (“Undecided” will be listed on the ballot with the seven major candidates.)

Anyway, we’ll see if any of the Florida newspapers bite and call me up.

The sense of possibility that the call from Rockland gave me has pervaded the whole day. I feel as if I’ve accomplished a whole lot.

I probably should cross my fingers and toes till I hear from NYSCA and not even think about making any plans to spend the fall in Rockland County. Doing that would just be a kinahora, right?


Thursday, January 7, 1988

5:30 PM. It’s been a cool, rainy day – though with a high of 75°, it’s quite hot compared to most of the USA.

Last night Ronna called. She was excited about my news and says she hopes NYSCA funds the Rockland Arts Center so they can get me.

Ronna’s been busy with work, and she’s also been going to an aerobics class with Lori. We had a good talk, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in three weeks.

This morning I went over to Mom’s and exercised to one Body Electric tape, after which I did chin-ups for half an hour.

Back here, I shaved, and when I picked up the mail, I knew there was good news inside when I saw a paper-thin manila envelope.

The Albany Review accepted “They Don’t Make Nostalgia Like They Used To,” a story that came back from two magazines just today.

I sent it out only a week ago Monday, having completed it the night before. This gives me new confidence in my writing. And it’s a story I started at MacDowell and finished over Christmas vacation.

The Albany Review looks like it’s a good magazine, too; the editor, Theodore Bouloukos II, seems cool and asked for a contributor’s note.

Yay! I’m getting published again.

Just like in early 1987 with the Florida Review accepting “Caracas Traffic,” another magazine has started off 1988 with an acceptance. Combined with the good news from Rockland, it makes me feel my writing career is no longer stalled.

I also got a check from Intriac for $350 – with a note of thanks from Joe Cook for the editing job.

Bobby Frauenglas sent me a nice note. He, too, resents the conservative, cliquish literary scene and the closed, money-hungry publishing world, but he says he has faith in my writing and that eventually I’ll find an audience.

Rick Peabody sent along a clip from the December 31 Washington Post, apparently part of an update on people covered in the Style section during the year.

It says Rick has found a new co-editor and financial backer, and the magazine will go on. Great! Gargoyle is much needed, especially now.

Teresa’s flight is scheduled to arrive at 8:30 PM, but what with the usual delays and a bad snowstorm stretching from Alabama through Georgia and the Carolinas, I expect the plane will be delayed.

I’m hopeful that Teresa will be comfortable here. I hope she doesn’t mind sharing the bedroom with me; otherwise I’ll sleep on the couch.

I also don’t have coffee for her, but I can run out and get some from a diner or coffee shop. It’s probably not going to be very sunny this weekend, but a snowstorm is expected in New York.

I called Grandma Ethel, who’s still sick with a headache. On Monday, the doctor found her pressure was 195/100 – dangerously high. “I hope I don’t have a stroke,” she said.

I told Grandma to rest and take her medicine, but I’m afraid that she may not survive this year.

That would be a great loss; New York wouldn’t seem the same without my visits to her in Rockaway.


Friday, January 8, 1988

2 PM. Teresa is out by the pool, soaking up the sun. I’ve got a bad headache because I didn’t sleep at all last night.

Teresa’s plane came in at 9 PM. The Eastern terminal was very quiet, as most flights had been canceled due to heavy snow in Atlanta and the Southeast. The storm went up the coast to New York, and so Teresa got out just in time.

I’m afraid Dad may not be able to get his flight back here tonight, as snow is still falling in New York.

It’s nice to have company, but I wish I felt better.

Before I went to the airport last evening, Mom and I had dinner at 3 Guys from Italy.

She told me that Dad attended a party Bugle Boy gave in a fancy restaurant on Fifth Avenue between 15th and 16th, right by Art Pants’ old “place” at 87 Fifth Avenue (and the earlier “place” at 95 Fifth Avenue).

I know that area as the now-fashionable Flatiron District, but Dad was amazed  to see how it changed.

Teresa said that in our neighborhood, The Boulevard co-op is up between 86th and 87th, and that it’s a really handsome building; also, they’ve fixed up the west side of Broadway between 85th and 86th.

Getting out in the mild night air was a treat for Teresa, who was holding her mink coat. We took a drive and I picked up a coffee cup and teapot at Mom’s – so Teresa can have her morning coffee. (She brought the coffee and filters.)

She dozed off around 1 AM, but I couldn’t sleep. Partly, of course, it was that I felt uncomfortable sharing the bed with her, but also I was just too contemplative to relax.

Rarely does my New York life enter into my life here in Florida, and it confuses me.

Teresa has talked a lot about her job in the Henry Street chicken store and all the problems with Norton and Pam, and I’ve heard a great deal about Teresa’s family.

Living with Teresa seems familiar, but it’s confusing because I’m used to doing it in Manhattan. Teresa said she’s had it with winter weather and she says she can’t see spending another year in the cold and snow.

After breakfast, Teresa came with me to the bank, and then we sat out by the pool at my parents’ house. At first there were a lot of clouds, but once they dissipated, it was quite hot.

I did the laundry for Mom and got the mail: nothing very interesting, certainly not like yesterday. For lunch, I took Teresa to the Bagel Whole, and then she went out to the pool here at Sun Pointe Cove.

Sophie called from FIU to say that I’ll be teaching a class in Appleworks for the Productivity Software workshop at Miami Northwestern Senior High on Mondays and Thursdays, starting two weeks from yesterday.

I don’t know Appleworks, so I’ll need to spend a lot of time on preparation. But the class is more hours than the Secondary Applications workshop, so it pays more.

I still haven’t heard from Dr. Grasso to see if tomorrow’s creative writing class has met the minimum registration to run. At this point, I really don’t care, and I’d probably feel relieved if it didn’t run – which means that it will, I guess.

The Muscovy ducks here are driving me crazy, coming to the door every time I open it to go out. But it’s my own fault for feeding them.

Teresa finds it so unusual to be in the warmth and sunshine, but I now take Florida winters for granted and ordinarily I wouldn’t think of sitting out at the pool.

Josh called last night, full of bad news – including the passing of Todd’s brother-in-law, who burned to death in a car collision caused by a drag-racing Staten Island teenager.

Josh is Dr. Gloom. He even suggested that I write Libby to tell her that her baby should be monitored for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). What a response to a birth announcement that would be!


Saturday, January 9, 1988

10 PM. Teresa’s fallen asleep watching TV, the way she always does – like Mom.

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to the pool to see Teresa after I took a nap. The pool here is very pretty and has a hot tub.

I stayed out with Teresa until the sun set at about 5:30 PM. Then we changed, and I took her out to Corky’s for dinner. After that, we went to visit Mom.

Dad’s flight, like all the others leaving New York, was canceled due to yesterday’s snowstorm. We chatted for a while with Mom and then Jonathan came in with Marshall.

Back here at 10 PM, I managed to fall asleep, and though I slept sporadically, I did get in seven restorative hours before I woke up this morning.

At BCC at 9 AM, I met my creative writing class. There are only nine students registered, and although Dr. Grasso said we needed ten to run, I think we’ll be okay.

It looks like a nice group: all are non-matriculated students, so grades won’t be a problem.

This class seems varied, from a high school senior to a high school teacher (a colleague of Lisa’s at Spanish River High School) to a few senior citizens. Most are interested in stories and essays; a couple want to write plays or poems.

I asked them their goals for the course, and most said they want to be prodded to write. Briefly, I spoke about my own career and writing and explained how a workshop in creative writing functions.

I let them go at 10:30 AM with the hope that some people will have stories or poems to go over for next week’s class.

After checking to see how Teresa was doing at the pool, I walked over to my parents’ house and exercised with today’s Body Electric, which I taped from WLRN/Channel 17.

Dad came in at 12:30 PM, saying he’d had a killer of a week in New York. From the flight up to the trip down, the bad weather made his life miserable. But he looked okay and went straight to work at the flea market.

Returning to the pool, I saw Tara Schneider, one of my English 101 students from last term, in the water; she lives in the next building.

I surprised Teresa (and myself) by jumping into the very cold pool, and then I sat in the hot tub, which was much more comfortable. I got pretty tanned today – just as much as Teresa did, in fact.

We went to Gaetano’s for some pizza and then to Spyke’s Grove, where Teresa got to look at live chickens for a change and where she bought some citrus fruit.

After that, it started clouding up and so we decided to visit my family at the flea market. At his booth, Marc looked good and said he was feeling better. I’d called him and sent a card on Thursday, his 33rd birthday.

At the other spot, Mom, Dad and Jonathan were not very busy; today was a pretty dead day at the Swap Shop.

Teresa and I looked around and then we drove to very far West Broward, taking State Road 84 all the way out to the edge of the Everglades and then down U.S. 27 to Griffin Road and back. By then, it was raining and had gotten considerably cooler.

The toilet got stuck and began overflowing, but the management sent a guy with a plunger over, and he fixed it right away.

Teresa and I relaxed by reading, and she took a shower.

At 7 PM, we went out to dinner at Garcia’s, where Teresa enjoyed two margaritas and fajitas, as well as fried ice cream for dessert. I had a simple combination platter of a taco, enchilada, and rice and beans – but it was good.

Teresa wants to go to the beach tomorrow but fears it will be a rainy day. She loves the beach and said she would only want to live by the beach in Florida.

Myself, I hate the sand and the glare and the heat – and I don’t want to get any more sun. So I won’t be sorry if tomorrow is cloudy.

I like having Teresa here, but of course I’m not used to being with someone for so long.

If I had a good friend like Teresa – someone I could eat out with, talk with, do things with – in Florida, it would be so much less lonely being here.

But Teresa has gotten me back in contact with my New York life, and it makes me happy to remember that I do have another life somewhere else.TC mark

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