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

Monday, January 11, 1988

8 PM. I drove Teresa to the airport early this morning. As we got there, her flight was boarding, so I assume she got to New York okay.

I enjoyed her visit, but I’m glad to be back in my apartment by myself. Teresa’s personality is so overpowering that it’s hard to be really comfortable when I’m with her all the time.

I did sleep well on Saturday night (and I had one erotic dream about Shelli, as well as the classic actor’s nightmare of being in a play and not knowing my lines).

Sunday dawned cool and cloudy, a big disappointment for Teresa, for she had wanted to go to the beach to work on her tan.

As it turned out, although I spent half the time in the sun that Teresa did on Friday and Saturday, I got a better tan than she. This is probably the darkest I’ll be all year.

She was up early because she had fallen asleep so early. Teresa takes up about two-thirds of the bed, leaving me hugging the edge; I’ll be glad to have the bed to myself tonight.

We set out late morning to explore A1A, which we drove down into Dade. Teresa and I parked the car at 85th Street (a coincidence she relished) and walked along the boardwalk and then the beach.

It was cool and overcast, but Teresa is adamant in her love of the beach; she insists that the only place she’d live in Florida is on the beach.

We drove down to the Deco District and had the buffet Sunday brunch at the Carlyle.

To me, it was dreadfully expensive, but I did enjoy the view as we sat outside on the porch (though somehow porch seems too plain a word to describe the porch on the Yuppified, Soho-ized, gentrified Carlyle).

South Beach attracts an arty, gay, European and New Yorkish crowd, and I suggested to Teresa that she might enjoy living there.

After leaving the hotel, I drove us back to Broward, where we saw Planes, Trains and Automobiles at The Movies at Pembroke Pines.

Now that Teresa’s a regular moviegoer, she especially enjoys going into another theatre in multiplex cinemas and seeing a different movie without paying for it.

But then, Teresa often seems happiest when she’s getting something for nothing. She’s incorrigible, and the only thing I can do is sit back, relax, and watch her with bemusement.

Rarely does she ever ask me about my personal or professional life, and that’s basically fine with me because I don’t want to make Teresa my confidante.

Teresa is Teresa: As we do with an outrageous character on a soap opera, we forgive her her excesses.

She went with me to my parents’ for our usual Chinese dinner on Sunday night, though she finds our eating habits bizarre. They probably are, but food is a very important part of Teresa’s life.

To me, she’s a food snob, but maybe I’m the one who’s a food slob. We bickered a bit the way we usually do, taking pleasure in contradicting one another.

At my parents’, though, she behaved wonderfully, and she does fit in comfortably in a lot of places.

However, China was over, and the dog barked at Teresa for two hours non-stop before finally being mollified that Teresa was not an intruder.

China barked at Teresa the way she does at Marshall on Friday nights, probably because Lhasa apsos are watchdogs bred to guard their masters’ homes.

After we watched Paper Moon on Cinemax, Teresa said goodbye to Mom and Dad and Jonathan, and we came back here.

I showed Teresa some stuff on the computer; we watched TV; and finally got to sleep.

This morning was chilly and foggy, but at least the planes were taking off.

All in all, Teresa and I have very different values but we’ve managed to live together for weeks and months over a long period of time. Basically, we’re used to one another now.

I don’t need company the way she does, probably because as a writer, I view solitude as an ally and free time as a gift, not a pain in the neck.

I’m not very social, though I can be charming when I want to, and I’m fairly unconventional by Manhattan baby-boomer standards.

Then again, so is Teresa, in her own way. Maybe we’re a well-matched pair of friends. Other people might have trouble understanding that, I suppose.

Anyway, when I got home this morning, I got right back into bed and read not only today’s Times but Sunday’s big paper.

Teresa’s sister called, thinking Teresa was leaving this afternoon. Donna told me she’d call Teresa in New York and told me the winter is proving horrible for her and most New Yorkers.

I had lunch out, went grocery shopping, and came home to find the toilet overflowing again. Cleaning up the mess was a disgusting task, and I just hope that today when the maintenance man came later, he fixed it for good.

I also had trouble with the toilet at SandalGrove, remember?

I have to see about extending my lease another month, otherwise, I’ll be out of here in 80 days and I’ll spend April at my parents’ house.

This afternoon I did some xeroxing at Broward Community College, as I’m assuming that my Saturday class is going on as scheduled. A student even handed in a story – a thriller, it appears – to go over next weekend.

I xeroxed handouts for my Teacher Education Center workshops and also material I have to send Julianne Ramos, the Executive Director at the Rockland Center for the Arts.

Today she sent me an official letter notifying me that I am one of two writers selected as Writers-in-Residence for the 1988-89 years and giving me information regarding the NYSCA grant process.

I also received a packet of materials on the Rockland Center for the Arts: its history, its present officers and board, a recent newsletter, and clips about fundraisers, art exhibits, music performances, etc.

The Center is a descendant of the Rockland Foundation, founded in 1947 by Helen Hayes, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Maxwell Anderson and others.

Apparently, back in the 1940s and 1950s, Rockland County was home to many artists, attracted by the relatively cheap country living near New York.

A lot of famous writers, actors, artists, etc., still live in Rockland (though high living costs probably have driven most beginners away).

I’m incredibly excited about this. What I need to do is update my résumé and write a list of proposed workshops, courses and lectures, and send them to Julie along with the material I xeroxed today.

Susan Mernit left a message on Friday that said she talked to her friends in Rockland and they would like to meet me; they can help me find housing and so forth.

She also said Barbara Baracks is going to Europe soon and might consider subletting me her Park Slope apartment. I’ll have to get back to Susan soon.

I also need to call Tom for help. Today he sent along a fascinating article of his discussing Alice and the old knight in Through the Looking Glass that was published in a literary journal.

Am I really going to be Writer-in-Residence at the Rockland Center for the Arts? It still hasn’t sunk in, and it probably won’t seem real until – and if – the NYSCA grant comes through.

However, even without the funding, I’d like to be Writer-in-Residence.

I’d even do it for free. I could meet people who might help me or at least teach me something; I’d get a chance to be a writer in a community, and I’d have a great item to put on my résumé.

I really feel this could help my development as a writer. Certainly, it’s the best career news I’ve had since Zephyr Press published I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

I wish I could believe it more, that it was somehow more tangible. Anyway, assuming it comes through, I’ve got to work on my creative writing workshop ideas for the fall.

And right now, I’ve got lots to do, including preparing for this week’s TEC computer ed workshops and my BCC class. So get moving, Grayson.


Tuesday, January 12, 1988

9:30 PM. There seem to be lots of little annoyances in my life, but they’re easy to overcome.

For example, the buzzer in my car (for an open door or the seat belt reminder signal) is on all the time ever since I went over a bump driving home from Riviera Junior High School tonight.

Actually, my door on the car doesn’t always close and has three times swung open as I drove away. Well, I can get that fixed.

I need a new bathroom mat because the old one got messed up with urine-soaked water when the toilet bowl ran over. I can get a new mat.

I couldn’t find my loose-leaf binder full of diskettes this morning. But it turned out that last week I’d left them at Riviera and got them back today. No real harm done.

The good part of my life is that I got the Writer-in-Residence position at Rockland, that I like teaching BASIC, that I’m in good health and in South Florida in January.

Last night I phoned Teresa. She got back to her apartment before noon (“Look how much I accomplished in so short a time”) and then met the couple she planned to sublet Anna’s apartment to.

Going with them to oversee Anna’s move was traumatic. Teresa said she felt she wasn’t tan enough, and Anna was not only thin but had an engagement ring and a fiancée.

It was very tense, and Teresa said she wanted to say something to Anna because this would be her last chance – but she didn’t – “and you’re the only person I’ll ever tell how much I miss her as a friend.”

Sad.

Anyway, the couple are a bit nervous about living in the West 104th Street apartment without a lease. If they don’t stay, Teresa will have to place a new ad in the paper and try to find a more suitable subtenant.

I slept from midnight to 8 AM. This morning, after exercising here with my three-pound weights, I prepared for today’s class, got some cash advances to deposit into my checking account at CalFed, and picked up my mail.

I left for Dade after lunch – lottery fever was sweeping Sam’s bagel restaurant, with everyone buying several tickets on the first day of the state’s instant lottery – and at FIU, I collected the material for tomorrow’s initial class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School.

At Riviera Junior High today, we had fun with low-res graphics. During the course of playing around, my students discovered some important principles of programming, such as the need for loops and branching.

It’s intellectually stimulating to me when I see a person think and come up with a new idea, building upon something he or she has already learned.

Back home, I had dinner by myself and prepared sheets for next week’s BASIC class. Tomorrow morning I’ll prepare for my class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes.

The evaluations from my workshop at Auburndale Elementary came in, and they were quite good. I should see them as a record of my effectiveness as a computer teacher.

Right now I’m tired and my throat is sore. I want to attempt to call Susan before it’s too late.


Wednesday, January 13, 1988

7 PM. I would have liked to watch the rest of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on HBO with my parents just now, but even though I don’t work tomorrow, I felt I couldn’t spare the time.

Last night Susan and Spencer’s line was busy for an hour – until I finally gave up and went to sleep. In my dreams, I had reunions with some college friends: I talked with Elspeth and danced with Consuelo.

The other day Teresa reminded me that Elspeth’s daughter must be about 5 or 6 by now, and Mark and Consuelo’s older son David is about 15. Time really does fly when it happens to other people.

This morning I went over to my parents’ and worked out with Body Electric; it felt good to come back after a three-day break. Just as I drove over there, I saw this incredibly muscular guy coming out of Scandinavian Health Spa without a shirt.

I could work out for years and never look like that. Of course, he’s probably 15 years younger than I am, and for my age – almost 37 – I look okay.

Back here, I worked on the computer, making up a new literary résumé to send to the Rockland Center for the Arts, and then walked over to PIP Printing and made copies of the glossary of computer terms I plan to use in my workshops.

Then, at the BCC/FIU/FAU computer lab, I printed out letter-quality letters of not only my résumé but the “I Survived Caracas Traffic” manuscript I’ll use in a probably vain attempt at another NEA fellowship application.

I also printed out enough copies of the BASIC worksheets I made up last night for next Tuesday’s class to avoid having to use the xerox machine.

After lunch at Gaetano’s, I drove to Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School.

Because I’d never been there before, I wanted to make sure I got there in time, but I needn’t have been concerned: it was a straight trip via University Drive, the Palmetto Expressway and Ludlow Road/67th Avenue and didn’t take long.

The workshop, like most of them, began problematically.

First they put us in a room without computers. Then I discovered the computer room had IBM XT’s, not Apples like the ones in the elementary schools.

I’d neglected to bring IBM software, and there was no software available to me in the school.

How do they expect me to teach about software in the content areas if I’m not provided with anything to demonstrate?

But, it’s typical, I’ve learned, of the frustrations I have to endure in the public school system; basically, I make do with what I have. Next week I’ll bring my own software from home.

I had about a dozen teachers and administrators in my class. Since this is not a school-based workshop, the teachers came from all over the county, and some of them came quite late because of heavy traffic or other problems.

Although I felt I wasn’t very good today, one teacher came up at the end and said I was “dynamic.”

I realize it’s a lot to throw out in one day to people who’ve never used a computer before, and so I let the class go at 5:50 PM. (The class is supposed to run from 4 PM to 7 PM).

Next week, at least, I’ll have the software and a better idea of what I want to accomplish. If today’s first class wasn’t exactly promising, it wasn’t a disaster, either – and the problems were beyond my control.

Driving back to Davie was a snap, and I enjoyed a pleasant dinner with my parents and Jonathan.

Well, except for Saturday’s creative writing class, this work week is over, and next Monday is a holiday. That will give me time to prepare for all my TEC workshops and to get out the NEA application and all the material that Julianne Ramos needs. The letter should get out by Monday.

Usually I’m pretty good about meeting self-imposed deadlines. Yesterday and today my life seems so work-oriented, it’s almost as if I have little else to write about.

Today was a sunny, 80° day. If Teresa were here, she’d be soaking up the sun every minute, but I just enjoyed having it pleasant while I work.

The 1988 Presidential campaign is really heating up. On the Democratic side, the media are now focusing on Bruce Babbitt, who’s still dead last in the polls.

Babbitt is saying things no one else is willing to – for example, he proposes means-testing for the sacred Social Security and a national sales tax, among other measures to get revenue to balance the budget.

I prefer Michael Dukakis even though he’s bad on TV, seems fairly humorless, and is not good on gay rights (he banned gay people from adopting children in Massachusetts). Still, Babbitt’s ideas are good.

Of the other candidates, Gephardt leaves me cold; Gore is okay but too young and something about him seems phony; Simon’s plan to start expensive new public works programs don’t sound realistic. Jackson and Hart both have charisma, but neither can get the nomination.

It’s still a Bush/Dole race on the GOP side, but after being written off by everyone, Kemp is moving up in New Hampshire polls.

If I had to guess now, I’d say that in November, the Republican ticket will be Bush/Kemp and the Democrats Dukakis/Gore – but that’s probably totally wrong.

It looks hard for the Democratic Party to win the Presidency anymore, and as I’ve said, I wouldn’t mind watching the Republicans try to cope with the incredible mess that’s coming as a direct result of Reagan’s eight years in the White House.


Saturday, January 16, 1988

5 PM. I had a restless night, but the tiredness didn’t hit me until this afternoon.

This morning I had a pretty good class at BCC. The worst thing about it was that the air-conditioning was on full blast and I was freezing; my students all had sweaters or jackets, but I had on only a short-sleeved shirt.

I started off by reading about what is one of my favorite stories, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

Then I brought out Crad’s Worst Canadian Stories anthology, and I read one of the terrible stories, which gave the students both a laugh and a chance to look at what makes a story bad.

After the break, we went over Gil Berman’s first chapter, which isn’t really a mystery novel after all.

One student, Linda, a European woman, read it aloud, and then I elicited comments. Some were extremely intelligent and to the point, and we spent well over an hour on the work.

Gil – whose wife, Roz, also enrolled in the class – took the criticism very well and wrote down many comments which he said he found useful. All in all, it was a good start for the workshop.

I rushed home at noon to tape Body Electric, getting most of the show, a new one I’d never seen.

An hour after lunch, I exercised to two earlier shows, giving myself a workout that exhausted me.

I gave myself a slight puncture wound with the weights; I just hope it doesn’t get infected. Although I should have had a tetanus shot in the last few years, it’s something I’ve neglected.

After doing my laundry and taking a shower, I called Grandma Ethel, who said she fell in the snow on her way to the supermarket this week but didn’t hurt herself.

I came back here to my place at 3:30 PM and paid the half-dozen credit card bills I got today.

What I have to do in the next few days is sit down and force myself to write about the creative writing workshops I’ll be doing as writer-in-residence at the Rockland Center.

The New York State Council on the Arts application has to be in by February 15.


Tuesday, January 19, 1988

8 PM. I feel like crawling back into bed to escape the world right now. Not that anything really terrible happened today, but I felt frustrated and annoyed.

I had timed getting to FIU to pick up the material for Thursday’s course pretty closely before my class at Riviera Junior High, and when I got to Sophie’s office, she was chagrined to learn that the mailman had picked up the envelope for me from her work desk.

She called the mailroom and gave me directions on driving there (it’s on the other side of the FIU campus). But I couldn’t find the building and I kept getting stuck in front of long red lights, so I decided not to be late for my class.

When I got to the junior high, I tried to call Sophie, but all the lines on the office phone were busy. My students came late and several didn’t appear. They seemed uninterested today, and I probably wasn’t teaching very well, so we ended early.

Sophie, when I finally got through, said she’ll try to get back the envelope – but of course this means I have to make another trip to FIU, taking about 90 minutes of my time and money for gas that I won’t be compensated for.

I’m going to pick and choose if Sophie has any more workshops for me in March and April; I’m getting disgusted with the incompetence and frustrations I have to put up with.

For example, I have absolutely no subject-area software with which to teach tomorrow’s class in the secondary subject areas. I’ll have to make the workshop more of a computer literacy one; there’s nothing else I can do.

Well, I won’t be doing this much longer.

If NYSCA turns down the Rockland Center’s grant proposal, I’ve decided that I’ll still remain in New York City this fall anyway. I’ll teach computer workshops there if I have to, or else I’ll do office work.

I do plan on returning to Florida next Christmas to spend the winter here, and maybe I’ll do some TEC workshops then. But there are other things I can do here as well. I can write and take classes and make money somehow.

My income is way ahead of what I made last year, and I still have my credit cards.

Although I got a “pre-approved” application (which means it isn’t really pre-approved) for a Gold Visa card from Citibank at my Manhattan address, I’m holding off on applying for any new credit till the summer because I want to have six months of no inquiries on my credit file.

Of course, by then the banks’ new information system may be online, and I won’t be able to get any new cards anyway – but at least I’ll give it a try.

Today I made my usual Tuesday $500 cash advance from my $10,000 Optima Card and put the money into the bank. (On Friday, I’ll max out the $5,000 Optima Card’s credit line.)

Today I paid the half-dozen credit card bills I got in the mail and I overpaid Diners Club. I’m going to use the $300 cash advance line to keep my Diners Club account active.

And I’m going to keep overpaying, as I did with American Express, so I can establish a good credit record.

Last night I called Teresa after seeing a newspaper photo of the west side of Broadway between 84th and 85th; a water main broke and the street and sidewalk were totally torn up. Teresa and the rest of the neighborhood had no water all weekend.

She said that business at the chicken store are not very good. Several times Norton has told her not to come in because there was nothing to do.

Brooklyn Heights just isn’t the neighborhood for take-out Yuppie chicken. Teresa says Josh is right when he says the Heights is a dead place with too many old people and snobbish types; there’s little street traffic.

Norton’s pride is involved in the store, and moreover, his life savings are in it, so he’s quite depressed and dismayed by the lack of business. The Henry Street Chicken Company had seemed like such a great idea.

At least Teresa has the comfort of also working off the books for Frank (starting today) and getting her unemployment checks; plus, she decided to formally rent the West 104th Street apartment to that couple who first took it as a sublet, so she’s got some extra income.

I slept well last night, though I dreamed I was trapped – literally – in high school.TC mark

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