A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1988

Thursday, February 11, 1988

8 PM. I’ve made it through teaching four days in a row, and I must be getting used to the schedule, for I feel I haven’t worked very hard at all.

Still, I’m glad that after this period, my workload will lighten, freeing up time for writing and other pursuits.

Yesterday I had a good class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School even though some students came late due to an accident that closed the Palmetto Expressway.

I lectured on the state computer education requirements, the differences in programming languages, and the future of computers in society. When I do stuff like that, I feel like an intelligent social science professor – which is still something I could be one day.

Sometimes I think of going back to grad school in political science or economics or sociology. Perhaps someday I’ll do just that.

The car’s funny noise got worse by last night, and this morning I took it into Freddy’s new repair shop in a warehouse off Orange Drive.

The car needed a new water hose or something; anyway, it cost me $95 when I picked it up early this evening. (At dinner last night, Jonathan said I could use his car today.)

Also last night, when I got home, I found a message from Bert, and when I returned his call, he said he and Alice and their kids were down from Cleveland to visit their parents this week.

We made a tentative date for lunch on Saturday after my creative writing class. His mother moved to another apartment at Boca Lago, but I’m sure I can find the place.

This morning, after Dad brought me back from Freddy’s, I worked out for half an hour, and after I showered, I went to the Broward Community College computer lab to do some class prep on the Apple GS.

At the English Department, I picked up my pittance of a paycheck and was delighted to be greeted by old colleagues: Marina, Richard, Phyllis and Dave. It’s nice to be able to return to BCC and feel that people actually like me.

After lunch at the Bagel Whole (“You’re alone today? Where’s your girlfriend?” said the waitress.” “She’s in New York.” “Oh, you’re really alone.”), I drove to Miami.

Most of my students didn’t show up, and I didn’t keep the class the entire time, but I did demonstrate how a spreadsheet works, both in Appleworks and VisiCalc.

I had to leave early to get my car before Freddy closed. Dad was at an appointment with Burdines – he seems to be terribly overworked – so Mom came with me so she could drive Jonathan’s car back. (Jonathan, of course, wouldn’t dream of stirring during his 5 PM-6 PM meditation hour.)

The car seems okay now. I went back to BCC to xerox some students’ writing for Saturday’s workshop.

I love the campus during the quiet time around dusk. Today was a sunny, warm, dry day, and it definitely feels like spring has arrived in South Florida.

At the Broward Mall, I got some pizza at Cozzoli’s for dinner. It was nice to sit by myself. An idea for a short story is rattling around in my brain.

When I first returned to Florida four months ago, I missed seeing my columns come out every two weeks and was angry that the newspaper stopped using my work.

But by now I’ve almost forgotten that I ever wrote for the Sun-Tattler, a paper I never read anymore.

It’s odd that the column could have been the most important thing in my creative life throughout most of 1987, and now it’s gone. Having moved on to other things, I never get ideas for a column anymore.

A few months from now, I’ll go back and reread my columns to see how they hold up.


Friday, February 12, 1988

9 PM. Last night I went out to Publix and Eckerd Drugs to buy food and other supplies.

Then I finished Breslin’s He Got Hungry and Forgot His Manners, a neat angry satire about the New York City welfare system, the Mafia, the Catholic church, and the way America wastes people.

Up at 6 AM to listen to the beginning of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, I fell back asleep and woke up at 9 AM.

An hour after breakfast, I was across the street in Jonathan’s room, working out to the hour-long Body Shaping video. It was a good exercise session, and afterwards I felt totally relaxed.

Back in my apartment, I read till 1 PM, showered and had some lunch. The mail brought the usual credit card bills and a letter from Sat Darshan/Avis.

I couldn’t bring myself to open her letter. I’d sent her a Christmas card but wasn’t sure how she’d take it. So I did some chores, read the manual for my new Interplak plaque-fighting electric toothbrush that arrived via UPS, and wondered what Avis had to say.

I needn’t have worried that she was angry. But she wondered why I contacted her after she felt I had cut her off.

She said she would love to see me and speak and write again: “There are a lot of years to catch up on. That is worth at least one long evening together. I haven’t lost my taste for gossip, and I doubt you have.”

She’s still close with Libby, but they saw each other only last year when Libby and Grant visited New York and she and Dharma Singh went out with Libby and Grant and Mason.

Now that Libby has had her baby and “my kids are coming this summer” (I guess she’s expecting, and I know twins run in her family), Sat Darshan said she doubts she’ll see Libby for a while.

I’m glad she’s doing well.

At the Delta ticket office, I got my seats for the flights to New Orleans and back and changed my New York flight to Wednesday, May 4.

This evening I met my parents for dinner at Chinatown, the restaurant where Dad, Marc, Ronna and I ate two weeks ago.

Mom and Dad are overwhelmed with work these days. A big shipment of shirts for the flea market had arrived earlier this evening, and they’d just gotten done opening the cartons and sorting the goods.

My parents really need to get a freestanding house with a garage so they can save the money they spend on the warehouse.

Mom likes this house in western Davie, but Dad is nervous about the expense because he’s not anticipating continuing to make big money.

The Bugle Boy fall line stinks for Florida, Dad says, because most of the shirts are heavy knits, and the department stores, mired in takeover battles (Campeau – who owns the Allied Stores, like Jordan Marsh and Maas Brothers – is trying to take over the Federated chain, which includes Burdines and Bloomingdale’s), are running scared because of the economy.

Also, Bugle Boy’s deliveries are habitually late, and that leads to big cancellations of Dad’s orders.

Dad has to go to Los Angeles at the end of the month, and when he comes back, he’ll have almost no free time. I wish he’d give up the flea market on weekends, but he’s committed to Mom and my brothers.


Saturday, February 13, 1988

9 PM. I feel good tonight after a terrific day.

Last night I slept well and woke up in fine fettle at 7:30 AM. Every Saturday morning seems colder than the last; it was 44° when I left the house for BCC today.

I had a really good creative writing workshop. We went over three very different pieces, and I’ve got enough material coming in to last for the next couple of weeks.

Several of my students make perceptive and shrewd comments, and the ones who are not as sharp are good-natured and add value to the workshop. And of course, I do learn a lot as a creative writing teacher.

I’ve got some ideas for stories, and hopefully, as I get more free time, I’ll have a chance to write some of them.

Driving up to Boca Raton, I got stuck in turnpike traffic, but once at the Boca Lago complex, I found Bert’s mother’s new apartment with little difficulty.

Alice had just driven down from her parents’ place in Delray Beach with their new baby, Jack, 4 months old.

Bert greeted me, and I said hello to Alice and his mother, as well as to Teddy, now 6½, and Lucy, 4.

While the older kids went with their grandmother to Burger King, Bert drove Alice, the baby and me to Off Broadway, our usual meeting place.

Over lunch, Bert told me that his agent is still sending around his current book after twenty rejections, and he’s decided to revise A History of the Blues, an old novel.

But now he’s writing less and playing the clarinet more.

When Bert told me he was into klezmer music and had attended a five-day klezmer festival in the Catskills, I knew he’d know Dave Tarras’s name, and of course Bert said that Uncle Dave is revered as a god in klezmer circles.

Back at his mother’s, he showed me a book which had some material on Uncle Dave, including the story of how, when he landed at Ellis Island, his clarinet was fumigated and he had to go to work in Great-Grandpa Max’s fur factory to make enough money to buy a new instrument.

Dave Tarras would be about 90 now, and presumably he’s still alive – otherwise, I’m sure I would have heard about her uncle’s death from Grandma Ethel or read about it in the papers – and Bert said it’s a shame that the great klezmer revival came too late for Uncle Dave to still be playing.

Anyway, Bert got me all excited about this topic, and I want to do some reading on it.

Bert and I also talked about books and writers and real estate and Cleveland.

When I said that Harvey Pekar hasn’t been on Letterman since the time he ranted on about GE last summer, the day before Josh and I saw him, Bert said that Harvey gets great press in Cleveland and his books sell well.

But although he’s got terrific quotes about American Splendor from every place from Newsweek to USA Today, Bert said that Harvey hasn’t seen much money and plans to go on working as a file clerk for the VA till he can retire in eight years.

Alice said Harvey complains about his wife, who dislikes most of his friends.

The Strattons are very well-read, and we did our usual after-lunch visit to the strip mall’s The Book Store, which actually is a good bookstore. (I met one of my best students, Tom, there.)

I also accompanied them to Sears to buy air freshener for Bert’s mother. The baby is very cute and even-tempered; Alice discreetly breast-fed him during lunch, and they carried him around in a Mexican-style sling.

It was fun to have our annual reunion, something we’ve been doing for five years now. Back in Davie at 4:30 PM, I picked up my mail and had an early dinner with my parents and Jonathan.

A court of appeals voided the Army’s ban on gay people serving in the military. For the first time, judges said that homosexuals are entitled to equal protection under law. Of course, the Supreme Court will surely overturn this decision.


Monday, February 15, 1988

5 PM. Although I did sleep pretty well, my head still aches and I’ve been having diarrhea for the past two hours. Hopefully, all I’ve got is a sinus headache and a little upset stomach, but I didn’t feel very good most of the day.

At least I didn’t have to go to work sick today. I did go over to BCC’s South Campus this afternoon to visit Patrick. He was just getting over the flu and talking to one of his creative writing students who knew me from Patrick’s reprints of my columns and stories.

(I never show my own work to my students because I assume they don’t pay their tuition to have me shove my writing in their faces.)

Patrick asked me if I wanted to go to a reading some of the South Campus English faculty are doing tonight or if I want my creative writing students to join his at the end of the term.

I politely said no on both counts. My students aren’t ready to read their work in public. And I don’t read in public unless I’m getting paid.

When I said this, Patrick’s student asked, “Don’t you do any charity work?” and I said, “Yeah, I teach at BCC.”

I didn’t say that I had no interest in hearing BCC English teachers read their poetry and fiction tonight – not when I could be home enjoying a bout with diarrhea.

Boy, I sound cantankerous. Actually, I enjoyed seeing Patrick.

I intended to get some work done this afternoon, but I just didn’t feel up to it.


Tuesday, February 16, 1988

Noon. I can’t seem to shake this sinus headache. I have no fever, so there’s no infection, but I feel all stuffed up.

I have to go over to Riviera Junior High, of course, but after so many weeks and so much familiarity with my students and the school, I’m not worried about getting through the class. The show must go on.

Want to hear a disgusting story?

In a Hallandale restaurant the other night, patrons waiting on line for seats during the early bird special refused to get out of the way to make room for an exiting 86-year-old man with a walker.

The man’s son, 56, visiting from New Jersey, eventually got his father out of the restaurant and passed a remark about the rudeness of the people.

Well, one 66-year-old man took offense, chased after the guy, and knocked him out with one punch.

The assaulted man, who had a heart condition and needed daily kidney dialysis, had a stroke and died. His poor old father doesn’t comprehend his son’s death, and the retiree who did the punching may be charged with murder or manslaughter.

All this because people refused to move out of the way for a disabled elderly man! After all, what if they lost their precious places on line?

This is what the elderly Jews of Hallandale are like. I tell you, Neil Rogers was 100% right about them: they’re animals. Actually, animals are better behaved.

Why are Jews of a certain age so obnoxious? People have pointed out that this crowd had to endure the deprivations of the Great Depression, but that doesn’t explain their me-first, “I’ve got it coming to me” attitude. That excuse sickens me.

No wonder younger people down here pull guns when someone cuts them off on I-95: they learned the behavior from their parents.

Sometimes I feel I’d rather be dead than live in a world populated by people who have no concern for their fellow human beings. I certainly wouldn’t want to bring a baby into this world. (That may sound like facile rhetoric, but I really believe it.)

Last night Jonathan made pasta for me and Mom and Dad. When I watched him taste some butter, I remembered how, as a baby, Jonathan used to love to eat butter all by itself.

We started talking about what a cute baby Jonathan had been, and Dad told a story I’d never heard before. Mom and Dad took Jonathan to Queens to get an outfit for my bar mitzvah: a cute little suit with short pants.

On the drive home, my parents were remarking how cute Jonathan would look when, all of a sudden, sitting alone in the back seat of the car, Jonathan piped up: “I’m not wearing that fucking suit!”

Dad said he was so amazed at the language that he almost lost control of the car.

I just called Alice at the Woman’s World 800 number to wish her a happy 37th birthday. She said that everything is fine and she doesn’t feel old.

Alice’s brother returned to Honduras; he’ll be stationed there till August, and her mother plans to stay until late April. But Alice is wary about visiting because of all the press reports about violence, drugs, and the whole Contra war.

*

11 PM. I’ve just watched NBC’s coverage of the New Hampshire primary. Bush beat Dole on the Republican side, thus saving his candidacy, though there still may be some life left in Dole’s challenge. Pat Robertson finished last, behind Kemp and du Pont.

On the Democratic side, Dukakis won, as expected, followed by Gephardt, Simon (whose candidacy may be over), Jackson, Gore, Babbitt and Hart.

When I walked into my parents’ house early this afternoon, China greeted me with such unbridled affection, I felt overwhelmed. The dog kept licking me as I petted and hugged her, and then she turned over so that I would rub her belly.

She clearly knows me and likes me. I’ve never had that with any dog before.

The mail brought seven credit card bills, all of which I paid before heading out to lunch at Gaetano’s and my BASIC workshop at Riviera Junior High.

Class went okay today; we’re winding down to our final two sessions.

Aunt Sydelle called and said Bill’s ankle isn’t healing very quickly. Sydelle, after being elected president of her condo, made a big speech and was introduced by Dade County Commissioner Barry Schreiber.

Dad and Mom have been looking at houses, but Dad feels they can’t afford the one that Mom likes because it’s about $136,000 and would mean monthly mortgage payments of $1200.

My sinuses have started to drain and my head is finally opening up.


Thursday, February 18, 1988

8 PM. Last night I began reading Terry McMillan’s Mama, a nice, cleanly-told, unsentimental novel about a black woman raising five kids in the 1960s. Clearly, it’s close to the author’s real experience with her own mother.

Terry McMillan has obviously faced hardships I couldn’t dream of experiencing, and I admire her a great deal.

I fell asleep after I got my weekly dose of St. Elsewhere, the only TV program that I find (refreshingly) depressing.

Up at 8 AM, I went across the street to work out an hour later; I’ve been making sure I don’t overdo the exercise.

When I got home, there was a message from Sophie on the answering machine. Calling her at FIU, I discovered the Edison High School workshop, scheduled to begin on Monday, has been canceled due to low registration.

I have mixed feelings about that because it would have been easy to teach and I could have used the extra $350.

On the other hand, I’ve been complaining about not having enough time to write, and it’s as if my bluff has been called.

After a month’s heavy schedule, I now can relax a little. Whether I can force myself to write is another story.

Today I got a letter from a literary agent in New York, Nat Sobel of the Sobel Weber agency, who said he so admired “I Survived Caracas Traffic” that he wrote the Florida Review for my address.

He’s primarily interested in novels and nonfiction books, though he has recently sold some short story collections.

While I’m gratified that someone in New York publishing noticed me – and of course I’ll write him back – I doubt that he’d be interested in me when no other agent or editor has been.

Still, if nothing else, this renews my faith in my “Caracas” story.

My 11 AM optometrist appointment started when a technician, a cute guy who is probably gay and who I joked around with, tested my eyes.

Then Dr. Snyder examined me and said all is well. I got three pairs of lenses for the next few months. Before I leave Florida in May, I’ll pick up the pairs I’ll need for the summer.

When I got home after having lunch at Corky’s in Lauderhill, I found a long message from Teresa.

She ended up having a wonderful time in Mexico. After a lonely start, Teresa met a lot of nice people, and since the weather was perfect, she got a terrific tan. I’m glad for her.

My last class at Northwestern High School went fine. I let the students use the word processor and data base to do whatever they wanted, and I got all the paperwork in. Because this class usually met twice a week, it was a concentrated workshop.

Do I really deserve the $950 for these eight sessions? Probably not, but most of my teaching life, I’ve been grossly underpaid. And I have learned an awful lot about using Appleworks.

When I first realized I wasn’t going to be able to take any graduate courses this year, I felt that I would stagnate – but I learn so much from my on-the-job experience teaching these TEC workshops.

Yesterday one of my students told me how much she enjoyed my workshop, and she contrasted it with another experience with University of Miami computer science professors “who talked way over our heads.”

I have a lot of patience and I’m still enough of a computer novice myself to know that it’s crucial to start with the basics, like learning how to turn the computer on.

By now I’ve probably shown a couple of hundred teachers how to use computers, and I’ve tried to make their first experiences positive ones.

I feel good about myself professionally tonight. I think I’ve achieved a nice balance in my career.

At 37 – well, almost – I am beginning to realize that I can’t do everything, but I’ve succeeded in a variety of fields and endeavors already.

And if I don’t have a lot of money, at least I know where to get it.TC mark

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