A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1988

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, October 1, 1988

7:30 PM.  I just watched The Computer Show, which always has great information.  Tonight they looked at optical scanning technology.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to scan all my diary entries into a computer, which would “read” the text, recognize the letters and put them into word processing files?  Someday. . .

Already we have so many advances that make life easier.  The latest I’ve been using is a kind of voice mail, where I can call up banks, and by using a push-button phone, get information on my checking or credit card accounts.  I called Citibank Visa and got credit line increases of $600 and $525 for both Richard A. and Richard S. on their cards.

Remember how Megatrends talked about “the electronic Protestant”?  I love dealing with a computer rather than a loan officer.

I was shocked, when I got home late last night, to find a message from Alicia, “the girl you’re moving in with tomorrow.”  I couldn’t believe she’d call after not calling me back on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or most of yesterday.

I agonized over what to do, and in the end, I was too cowardly to call her back today.  She hasn’t called, either.  Ronna suggested that she probably had second thoughts and wanted to live up to our “agreement” but hoped I wouldn’t move in.

I offered to write Alicia a check the night we met, and she didn’t want it.  I phoned her a week later and she didn’t call me back, and hadn’t called me back till late yesterday.  So I don’t feel obligated to help her pay October’s rent.   I’m very glad I decided to stay here, where I’m comfortable – even when Teresa is here.

Yesterday at 5 PM, I went over to Ronna’s.  She got out a piece of writing from a notebook she kept and then we recorded the writing conference I had with her.  This afternoon at Teachers College, using my Walkman, I transcribed the conference onto the computer and then wrote an analysis of it and printed out the whole thing.

This assignment turned out to be much more valuable than I thought it would be.  Lucy Calkins’s class has already done me some good as a writing teacher.

Ronna’s roommate, Leah, a winsome young actress, came in after we finished taping, so I finally got to meet her.  While I watched the news, Ronna took a call from Mordecai, a 24-year-old Orthodox guy who wants to get into her pants.

Later, while Ronna was with Leah in the kitchen, I fixed her answering machine.  God knows how this unmechanical slob managed to do it, but I felt proud I did.

We went to Hunan Balcony, where we had great chicken with walnuts, and then we caught the 9:15 PM show at the Metro of Mazursky’s Moon Over Parador.  Although the film had some comic moments, it didn’t add up to much.

Back at Ronna’s, we hugged and kissed and cuddled for half an hour.  I still can feel Ronna’s body next to mine.  It’s too bad I couldn’t stay over, but neither of us had time.

Today Ronna had laundry and housework to do, and later she was going to the movies with Jordan (who broke up with the blonde), Leah and Sandy.

Upset by Alicia’s phone message, I didn’t get to sleep till 3 AM (at least I had Saturday’s Times to read), but eventually I slept well and exercised this morning.

I RSVP’d to Ali and Liz that I was coming to their party welcoming Larry to New York City on Sunday, October 16.

Teresa had company when I called, so we didn’t talk for long, but she told me that her father’s birthday party went well, that she’s asking $110,000 for the house in Berkshires while the tenants want to pay $99,000, and that Perry found her an $80,000 apartment on the water in Bayside.

For the second time in a week, I had a pleasant lunch at Grandma’s, the new diner across Broadway from Columbia’s main gate at 116th Street.

My Interplak waterpic is  broken, and I may have to buy a new one to keep my teeth and gums from turning to mush.

I can play with LOGO on my rented computer’s desktop, but my BASIC will not boot.

Monday, October 3, 1988

7 PM.  It’s supposed to get quite chilly for the rest of the week, so I’m about to see how I endure the first cold weather of the fall.  Teresa hasn’t come home yet, and she’s probably staying at Bill’s tonight.

Last evening I began reading Mina Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations for the second time.  I also watched part of an execrable TV movie bio of Liberace.

This morning, I exercised for an hour and I read in The New York Review of Books an essay by Benjamin Friedman on “The Campaign’s Hidden Issue,” based on his book Day of Reckoning.

Friedman feels that the false prosperity and high debts of the Reagan years will give way, not to a depression, but to a long, slow, sure erosion of American living standards and our position in the world.

As the world’s largest debtor, we’ll no longer be able to call the tune, and Japan and Germany and the other nations who are our creditors will be able to control more of our destiny.

It’s astounding that most people today believe that Reaganomics worked and is still working.  But the massive tax cuts, the huge defense buildup, and few cuts in other programs has led us to a “prosperity” very similar to the one I’ve conjured up with my credit card chassis.

On NPR, I heard my old poli sci professor, Han Sungjoo, talking about South Korea’s international relations.  Evidently he’s back teaching in Seoul now.

This afternoon I went to Teachers College and worked in the computer lab until 3 PM, when I went to the Sachs Lecture in Milbank Chapel.

The talk by Herbert Simon, professor of computer science and psychology at Carnegie Mellon – and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics – was supposed to be on artificial intelligence, but he actually talked about the real thing.

“Learning from Examples and by Doing” was a deceptively simple lecture that dealt with production rules, like those used in expert systems (if this condition is satisfied, then take this action), and using them in teaching algebra and other subjects.

I liked attending the lecture and hearing what Herbert Simon said, but I felt I didn’t get that much out of it.  Howard Budin nodded to me as I left the chapel, but I decided not to attend the reception.

Ronna called, and I told her what Alicia had said.  Ronna still thinks I was right in not to call her, but I can’t help feeling guilty about not moving in with her even if Alicia acted too casually and irresponsibly for her own good.  Still, there is no point on dwelling on that now.

Crad writes that he’s typesetting (on a typewriter) the third draft of Excrement, which may run to ninety pages.  I hope it’s better than the parts of the first draft which I’ve seen.

Tom also sent a letter with another published piece of fiction.  He says that DeLillo’s Libra is great and that his sanity will be saved by the new Calvino book.

Once again, I have to marvel how Tom lives such a literary life that seems unable to connect with everyday society.

Of course, my problem is that I’m too much in the world to be a good fiction writer. I made some notes for a future story today but did no fiction writing.

Speak of the angel: Tom just phoned.

I guess I owe him an apology because he definitely does live in the real world.  He wants to go ahead with the Lowlands Press book called The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was.

I’ll get it typeset, laid out, and printed, and he’ll cover the costs up to $1,500.  He’s sending me the stories picked and some more information.

Tuesday, October 4, 1988

8 PM.  Today was chilly and dark, and it even looked as though it might snow. I wore my Bugle Boy padded baseball jacket for the first time.

Last night on TV, I watched a 90-minute Bill Moyers documentary on presidential politics and then the last of the four part “Canada: True North” series, this one on immigration.  I hadn’t realized that Canada had consciously decided to become a “mosaic,” not a “melting pot” like the U.S.

Canadians are so sensible and non-nationalistic.  Our government grants us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” while the Canadian citizen gets “peace, order and good government.”  I wish we were a little more like Canada, and I hope they don’t become more like us.

Mulroney’s called an election over the U.S.-Canada free trade pact, and the betting is that the Conservatives, and the treaty, will win.

I went to bed late, and in my final dream, I was in a hotel in the country and driving around in someone else’s car, which I found hard to stop.

In the end, the car halted just in front of a guard rail by a steep cliff.  Does that mean my life is on the edge of a precipice?

In the dream, I was always certain that the car would stop in time, so maybe there’s nothing to worry about.

After exercising to Body Electric at 9:30 AM, I called Sat Darshan and made a noon appointment for lunch.

The Lexington Avenue bus made me five minutes late, but I did find an umbrella under my seat.  (Later, I found a package of batteries on the subway.)

Sat Darshan and I went to the Great American Health Bar.  I said I had thought that Bayerische Landesbank’s office might be closed today because of the death of Franz Josef Strauss, Bavarian premier and conservative strongman.

Sat Darshan hadn’t heard the news and was overjoyed to hear that “the old fascist had kicked the bucket”; she couldn’t wait to go back and tell everyone in the office.

The girls will be coming from India on Friday afternoon with Sister Rita, who solved the immigration problem blocking the visas by finding the girls’ grandfather, who signed a paper giving up rights to them.

So Sat Darshan’s got her fingers crossed.  If all goes well, the kids will be here for the weekend, along with Sister Rita. (“What am I going to do with a nun for three days?”)

She and Dharma Singh have new Sikh names for the girls – Gurujot and Gurudaya – and Sat Darshan plans to stay home from work all next week and get the girls accustomed to English, the U.S., and Sikhism.

They speak Tamil and very little English; Sat Darshan is going to have their intelligence tested at a tutoring center.  The younger girl should be in kindergarten and the older one in second grade.

Anyway, that’s pretty exciting news for the Khalsas, and I hope everything goes well.

I told Sat Darshan about her old boyfriends Scott and Josh and other stuff. We had a pleasant meal, which she generously paid for.

After seeing her to her building, I walked to the 42nd Street library, where I read the rest of last week’s issues of American Banker and the newly-redesigned Wall Street Journal.  There were several good articles about credit cards.

Back home, I got tons of mail from Mom.  BancOhio still hasn’t gotten either of the checks I sent for the Visa bill, so I sent another one today.

If the last two checks get there, I’ll be paid up and then some.  (The big problem facing bank cards is that more customers are avoiding interest payments by paying their cards off every month.)

When the cleaning woman came, I finished my work and went to the Upper Cut on 72nd Street, where Lourdes cut my hair and trimmed my beard very short.

At 68th and Broadway, I used my Key Visa and coupons worth over $7 to buy two bags of groceries at Food Emporium, and then caught the M5 bus home.

Back here I read the papers (including Sunday’s Miami Herald, which I’d bought at Hotaling’s on 42nd Street) and called Mom.

Yesterday she and Dad applied for a mortgage, so now they just have to wait for Sun Bank’s approval.

Mom picked up a fax machine for Dad at Jay’s store, and he was installing it when I called.

One of the items Mom sent me today was a Chemical Bank MasterCard for Ethel Sarrett; I figured Grandma could use a credit card, and it didn’t cost me anything to get a second card for a family member on my account.

Teresa called me from her mother’s house – she’d spent the day in Brooklyn with Pam – and was happy that I reported that Frank sent the $660 check he owed her.  The bank keeps calling her, as they want to set up a closing for the East Side apartment.

I’ve been thinking about the book of my stories that Tom wants to publish, and I have to figure out the best way to get the typesetting and printing done.

First things first: the stories selected are all from a decade ago, and I may want to update some of them because there may be too many 1970s references.

It might be fun to play around with the old texts.  At least the book will give me something to show for my Rockland Arts Center residency and the Florida fiction writing fellowship.

Thursday, October 6, 1988

10 PM. Late yesterday afternoon, Pete called me to say he was giving a reading that evening at Greenfield’s Café in Park Slope, so, with nothing else to do, I took the subway to Brooklyn.

Pete was the last reader on a three-person bill. First up was Susan Sherman, a political/feminist poet whom I last heard read in the Brooklyn Museum a decade ago.

She was okay, I guess, and she was followed by a woman who had some sweet but boring poems and an interminable bad short story.

Pete’s stuff, from his book – the one he’s having a hard time getting publishers interested in – was up to his usual standards: the prose was funny, sharp and surprising.

I met Harriet Brown, a Brooklyn College MFA student whom Lisa used to talk about; Harriet knew me from Lisa, too.

On the way home, we rode the F train to 14th Street together. Harriet’s been doing lots of freelancing and making enough money to keep on with her own writing.

The apartment was empty when I got home, so I assumed (correctly) Teresa was staying over at Bill’s.

After sleeping deeply for seven hours, I awoke with a small headache caused by the steam heat, which is also on now.

This early cold spell is somewhat shocking for me (last night I wore a sweater and my jacket), but it’s good to force me into fall and winter and their discontents.

This evening I had dinner at Patzo’s with Teresa and Bill, a very sweet, a heavy-set, long-haired man of 45 who obviously adores Teresa. In fact, he’d like to get married and have kids already.

Teresa, on the other hand, wants a better “package”: someone who has a high-powered career and the money that comes with it so she can “do her thing.”

Bill is currently not working and seemingly between careers, so he doesn’t have much money.

I liked Bill a lot. He seems good for Teresa and certainly he’s good for me, as he never tires of having Teresa around at his place.

Tomorrow they’re going to Fire Island for the weekend, so this apartment reverts back to me for a few days.

Phillip Lopate had a great 7 Days piece on subletting – he comes in from Houston every summer – and I identified with some of his feelings, but this apartment actually is kind of like home for me.

I liked the place a decade ago, before I ever expected to be living here. Despite the occasional invasion of my privacy and my space, I’m happy to be here.

I did some revising today, but I feel guilty about working so little. I made a list of all my current reading and writing projects and put it in a file on the computer.

Actually, I’m free for the next two weeks and I’d better be more productive.

Saturday, October 8, 1988

6 PM.  It seems to get more like winter every day. It’s 44° right now, no warmer than what it was when I woke up early this morning.

When happened to the greenhouse effect?  Surely it can’t remain this chilly all October.  I want some bright blue weather.

I just spoke to my parents, who say it’s cooled off in South Florida and the weather is now perfect.

I told them I’d gotten the floor plan of the new house they’d sent, along with the sketches of the front of the house and a map of the area where it’s located. The house looks spacious and elegant, with four big bedrooms and a vast garage.

Dad said he was happy because today he got a commission check for $17,000 that will replace the money they put for the down payment.

My own Florida grant check hasn’t yet come, but I expect it before mid-November.

Last night and today, I finished Nancie Atwell’s book, In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents, which got much better as it went along.

Atwell really inspires her eighth graders to be writers and readers.  Especially helpful to me were her step-by-step suggestions on how to start a writing workshop.

I now feel I’ve got some good information to give to the Nanuet teachers at the Miller School in two weeks and to use when I start working with their students two weeks after that.

Up early, I had breakfast and then went back to sleep: the perfect pastime on a rainy, gloomy, shivery day.  I did exercise – I haven’t missed a day in a long time – and I got some laundry done.

When I went out for lunch, I wore my heaviest jacket and a flannel shirt.  I was warm except for my head and hands.  As I told Mom, I didn’t expect I’d need a hat or gloves so soon.

Tom sent the manuscript for the book today, along with an agreement and two short notes, the first of which said: “Hooray – another Grayson.  This [the agreement] more or less covers it – the rest is up to you – but if you need any help or have any questions let me know – and save receipts, send them to me with the bill, and the check will be on the way.”

The second note said, “Just looked over the collection.  Terrific.  I think it’s a good grouping.  You may want to update a few dates.  But a very good collection, yes?!”

I hope so.  I read over a couple of stories, which seem strong to me.  Updating will be the main problem before I figure out how to get the manuscript typeset.

At least a new book will give me the illusion of progress.  I can’t expect any reviews, but you know how I love trying to get publicity.  I’ll try George Myers and Chauncey Mabe, at least.

This will help me with the Rockland Center and the Florida Arts Council, whom I can thank in the acknowledgements.  Already they’re getting some “product” for their grant money.  And it won’t hurt my ego, either.

Not having a book published since 1983 bothered me.  With this book coming out in 1989, that will make a six-year gap between books, and that’s not too bad.

I still have another collection – mostly “realistic” fiction – available, and maybe that will get published, too.

I don’t want to get excited about this Lowlands Press book just yet, but I am feeling good.  Tom is a great friend to do this for me, and I’m so grateful to him.

I’m seeing Ronna this evening, once she gets through some printing with Leah and Sue.

Sunday, October 9, 1988

8 PM. I just put Josh on the M5 bus on his way home.

He came over at 5:30 PM, and he told me about recent incidents of harassment, including a man swinging an ax handle and prank phone calls on his home phone (that just began recently).

When I questioned these incidents, Josh got excited, and once again, I didn’t rock the boat and didn’t tell him I think none of this is real.

When Josh doesn’t speak about the harassment, he’s perfectly normal: I showed him LOGO on my laptop computer, and we discussed the election, the situation in Chile, the Tawana Brawley case, and other current events.

After several months, Josh finally finished War and Peace and is about to begin Moby Dick. And he’s going to start volunteer work for GMHC this week when they get their new 386 computer system.

For dinner, we had turkey sandwiches at Cooper’s Café on Columbus and 83rd. (Josh paid for me, and I left the tip.)

While I wish I knew how to help Josh deal with his fixation with the harassment, it’s probably best just to keep his mind on other topics of conversation.

Last night I met Ronna downstairs at 7:30 PM. It was freezing out – it went down to 37° last night although it’s about 55° now.

Ronna and I had a pleasant meal at Patzo’s, where she told me about painting the kitchen cabinets and I picked her brain about production of the book.

Ronna and I watched TV and talked until 11 PM, when we got into bed and fooled around.

This morning Ronna showed me the hickey on her nick that I’d given her. “My first one,” she said, and I felt embarrassed.

I think our sex is pretty good: we’re playful and spontaneous.

But I really don’t have anything to compare it with. Being with John didn’t seem that different, and I can’t remember sex with Shelli, except that it doesn’t resonate with the good, warm feelings I get with Ronna.

Probably I try not to think about our relationship because I’ll feel guilty.

Why? The usual: I’m keeping her from developing a relationship that will lead somewhere (to marriage, children, a stable family life).

But we’ve gone through this before and Ronna tells me I’m not taking her away from anything. Certainly she has an active a social life as anyone I know and a cadre of loyal friends of both sexes.

Today, she had to leave at 9 AM because Ellen was coming over, and later she was having lunch with Lori and Alex.

(I was just wondering if Ronna wants me to be her escort at their wedding. I hope not, but only for financial reasons: I don’t own a suit or even a sport jacket or a pair of dress shoes. If she needs an escort – and Ronna’s too independent to “need” one – Jordan would be a much better choice.)

I slept sporadically last night. My upper back hurt a bit – probably I’m just getting old and tend to strain myself during sex. Ronna complained of a headache, too, before she left.

After working out to a Body Electric tape, and I watched the Sunday news shows (Bush is 26 points ahead of Dukakis in Florida, a recent poll says), and then read about two-thirds of the Sunday Times and Washington Post.

Today at Teachers College, the computer room was so crowded that I was unable to get to transfer material to and from my different-sized disks because the sole computer with a 3.5” drive was occupied.

Josh says that maybe I should just put the stories on a disk and give the disk to a typesetter. I’ll see.

Tomorrow I hope to go to Rockaway and spend most of the week there.

Teresa will be back from Fire Island tomorrow – on the phone this afternoon, she said she’s “tiring of being a couple” – so I think I’ll go to Rockaway and spend a few days with Grandma Ethel.