A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1988

Tuesday, November 1, 1988

6 PM. I’m at Grandma’s on a terrible day; it’s been raining heavily, the winds are very strong, and the temperature is stuck in the 40°s.

Mom just phoned with bad news: My car is dead. The transmission went today, and when Marc took it over to his friend the car mechanic, he learned the engine is dying, too.

I need to write a letter to my insurance agent and cancel my policy, and I have to sign over the title of the car to Marc so he can sell it for a couple of hundred dollars.

When I spoke to Marc yesterday, he didn’t mention it, but Mom said he’s been having loads of trouble with the car.

It was funny because today I was remembering all the problems I was having with the car last April and May.

Because Teresa said I could take her car to Rockaway for a couple of days, I have a lot more freedom than I do when I usually visit Grandma, but I was nervous about Teresa’s car having problems.

The roads were flooded and visibility was poor, so it was a real test for her car, but it did fine.

Teresa returned home last night, telling me that what I’ve dreaded has happened: she and Bill have more or less broken up.

Over dinner at Patzo’s, Teresa told me they had a good weekend on Fire Island. As a couple, they get invited to things Teresa never gets invited to as a single.

But on Sunday night, Teresa wanted to watch one of her trashy miniseries, and she and Bill got into a fight about it.

Like me, he dislikes her putting on the Today show in the early morning and all those network sitcoms she watches.

I can certainly understand why she would prefer to be in her own home and do what she wants. Unfortunately, that kicks me out of the bedroom and destroys my privacy.

Last night I also had to hear a lot of yelling and screaming into the phone as Teresa was in one of her usual messes.

As the closing on the East 87th Street apartment could not be postponed any longer, it was scheduled for 3 PM today, so Teresa had to get the money from her parents.

Finally, Perry agreed to help get Teresa out of the deal. He’s going to talk to the sponsor and try to have Teresa sell her rights or something before the apartment’s closing.

When Teresa called her sister, Connie must have told her how hard she worked (as an attorney) on the apartment, and Teresa started shouting, “Don’t keep saying ‘I told you so’!”

Teresa told me that in April, it looked like such a good deal, but because of the poor real estate market now (and to me, it’s still hard to believe she can’t even rent it for $1200), the whole thing has been a nightmare.

As long as the apartment is out of her life, Teresa will be relieved to take a loss (on the purchase and closing costs and the price of her ads trying to find a renter).

I first tried to sleep on the couch last night, but I was uncomfortable, so then I moved to the futon on the floor, where I slept deeply, if only for six hours.

This morning, I exercised after Teresa left for work, and then Ron Anagnostis called, changing the date of my meeting with Sloatsburg teachers to December 6, the Tuesday before I leave.

The meeting will be from 9 AM to noon, and he’ll get substitutes for fifth- and sixth-grade teachers so they can be there.

Actually, that makes the week after next less hectic for me, giving me that Thursday off.

And I also have off this weekend, because Teresa phoned to tell me Howard Budin left a message saying that the workshop has been canceled due to lack of registration.

Grandma badly cut her arm last week. Otherwise, she seems to be feeling better, though naturally her brother’s death upsets her greatly.

Yesterday she and Marty went to the funeral parlor in Great Neck. The rabbi gave her a black mourner’s ribbon, and he spoke of her (and Claire, who was too sick to come) arriving in this country with Paul when they were children.

Aunt Rose has two daughters and five grandchildren whom I’ve never met.

Grandma said that Susan and her husband came with Randy, who’s now divorced and living with Susan’s family. Susan’s son who was hurt in that motorcycle accident is still messed up from it.

Grandma also reported that some of her Shapiro cousins were at the funeral, along with Aunt Minnie and Uncle Irv, who of course were not related to Paul but were his neighbors in Great Neck.

Grandma and Marty went to cemetery in the wilds of northern New Jersey and she “broke up” when the coffin was lowered into the ground and she took a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave.

Marty got annoyed because they didn’t seem to want him and Grandma to come back to sit shiva, so he brought her home.

Yesterday Aunt Tillie left Uncle Morris on the boardwalk at Beach 116th Street, as she usually does while she goes shopping, but he wandered away.

Tillie searched for him frantically, and a neighbor called the police, who had a man resembling Morris’s description in their custody: he had wandered into a boardwalk nursing home.

God, all of this is so depressing. Getting old is horrible.

Ed Hogan called last evening, responding to my letter about the chapbook. He said I should do some research into typesetting places in New York.

Ed, Leora and a new Zephyr Press editor will be in New York on Thanksgiving weekend for a new book fair taking place at the Small Press Center.

Pete Cherches sounded terribly sick when I phoned him. My throat is really sore, but I hope I can avoid the cold everyone is getting.

Friday, November 4, 1988

2 PM.  At last, it’s 62° and sunny.  This is what October should have been like.  But I did make it through a cold October and I’ll survive November, too.

Five weeks from today I’ll be in the South Florida sunshine.

Right now I’m tired.  The futon was uncomfortable, and although I slept deeply for four hours, that wasn’t enough rest for me.

Teresa was here when I got back from the diner, and naturally her presence tends to dominate the apartment.  At least last night she shut her bedroom door.

She showed me a treatment for a “dramedy” TV series that Bill wrote.

I thought it was very shoddily written, inane and unsophisticated; however, it’s possible that network TV would buy it because they’re into such crap.

When Teresa told me about Bill’s writing plans, they seemed very unrealistic, and he does sound like a bit of a psychological mess.

After not working eighteen months, Bill’s self-image is terrible, so as much as I’d prefer to be alone here, I think Teresa is better off not living with Bill.

I called Julie, who gave me the number of a teacher at Tappan Zee High School, and I made up to visit her creative writing class from 10:30 to 11:15 AM on Thursday, November 17 – the day I was supposed to be in Sloatsburg.

That gives me a hectic week, but I do have the unexpected freedom of these two days due to the cancellation of the Teachers College workshop.

With the election almost here, it looks as though things are turning out as I expected.

Bush will win by a comfortable margin, but Dukakis will carry a few big states and do better than the Democrats did in ’72, ’80 or ’84.

Despite today’s low unemployment statistics, it looks as if the economy will finally slowdown in 1989, though probably with a soft landing.

Of course, the stock market might crash again on the bursting of the LBO frenzy bubble, or the dollar may begin to sink as it dawns on foreigners that the U.S. isn’t doing much about the budget deficit.

It’s as if Reagan made a pact with the devil that nothing bad can happen during his term; Bush can’t be so lucky.

I think I’ll go to Rockaway on Tuesday, so I can watch the election returns in peace.

Teresa thinks she knows something about politics, but she’d probably rather watch sitcom reruns, not understanding why I would bother to watch the returns if the presidential election’s outcome is already known.

But to a political junkie, though, there are all the state-by-state returns, and the Senate, House and governorship races. I love Election Night.

I’ll just have to be back in Manhattan early on Wednesday for my Teachers College class.

For the next month, I’ll be in Rockland County a lot – eight days – teaching in various schools and visiting classes.

Probably I won’t have much time to write, but let’s face it, this residency is my swan song as a fiction writer.

My interests have changed, and apart from the occasional story and story collection, I won’t be publishing fiction very much anymore.

However, I’ll still be a writer and I want to explore newer interests like economics and business, health care, and education.

When I have little incentive to read fiction, it’s time to get out of the business and basically relegate writing short stories to something I do with my left hand.

The two grants and the West Side Spirit prize are about as far as my writing can take me as of now.

In Florida, I’ll get started on The Greatest book. Having another short story collection out will be fun.

I’ll keep up with my computer education work and see where I want to go and where life takes me.  So far, being flexible about my future plans has worked out fine.

Saturday, November 5, 1988

8 PM.  Teresa didn’t come home yesterday, so I had the place to myself, even at night, and I slept very well.

She and Bill were just here, dropping off lots of stuff on their way to dinner, and I don’t know what Teresa’s plans are for tonight.

Tomorrow she’s catering yet another family celebration, Grandma Agnes’ 90th birthday party at her sister’s house.

Today continued the mild temperatures of yesterday, but it rained heavily off and on.

When I called Sat Darshan yesterday, she said that her sister and Wade and the boys were driving up from Philadelphia today so it would be a good time for me visit and meet Gurujot and Gurudaya.

Around noon, I got to the brownstone on Dean Street, where I spent much of the day.

Gurujot and Gurudaya are very cute, but Sat Darshan and Dharma Singh have taken on a lot.

The girls speak only a little English, and while they seem to be learning quickly, I’m not sure they understand everything.  They talk to each other almost entirely in Tamil.

Obviously, coming to the U.S. is a traumatic change for them, but they seem to have adjusted fairly well in a short time.

Gurudaya, about five years old, whined and cried and refused to walk with us even when we all went out for a stroll.

Sat Darshan said she had to teach them not to spit on the floor – doing that is a common practice in India – and I noticed that Gurujot had put her shoes on the wrong feet.

They’ve already got lots of toys – crayons, Lego, a musical electronic keyboard – and Sat Darshan played a videotape of Cinderella for them.

Ellen and Wade look fine, though a little older, just like I do, and they seem to be thriving in Philadelphia. They have great jobs at Penn and a big house in Center City that was dirt cheap by New York standards.

Gabriel is eight, a very cute kid who seems very bright (he was reading a C.S. Lewis novel).  I could tell he was bored and didn’t quite know what to make of his Sikh aunt and his two new cousins from India.

Clearly, he was more used to hamburgers than the food Sat Darshan served, though he had a muenster cheese sandwich while the rest of us had miso soup with noodles.

His little brother, Jesse, is 2½ and sweet and carries around an ear of plastic corn that Ellen brought back from the Cannes film festival. (Apparently plastic fruits and vegetables are big toys these days.)

Ellen and Wade and Sat Darshan and I talked about the upcoming Bush victory and the conservative college students of today and compared the problems and virtues of Philadelphia and New York.

I enjoyed seeing the McAllisters again after so many failed attempts in Virginia and Florida, and I was happy to meet Sat Darshan’s girls.

It was interesting to see Sat Darshan as a mother, cajoling, comforting and reprimanding her kids.

When she got angry, she called her daughter by the girl’s full name – “Gurudaya Kaur Khalsa” – in the time-honored tradition of mothers.

The kids called her “mataji” or “mamaji” and recited the Sikh prayer before eating.

Sat Darshan told us that Dharma Singh – who was in Newark, taking the New Jersey licensing test for acupuncturists – wants to go to a school of osteopathic medicine and become a doctor, since physicians are starting to take over the practice of homeopathy.

I left Brooklyn around 6:30 PM and got drenched when I was caught in a downpour coming home from the Argo Diner.

Monday, November 7, 1988

4 PM. Although I’m exhausted and really sick, I made it through today. I didn’t sleep at all last night although I had Teresa’s bed to myself. My cold kept getting worse and worse.

Obviously, I’ve learned that the Viralizer I bought can’t prevent or cure a cold, though perhaps it can help with symptoms.

I felt unbelievably crummy during the night. My frustration at not getting any rest was overwhelming. But somehow I got through today.

My first class at the Miller School was a disaster: I didn’t have the students write, I talked too much about myself and my work, and they were obviously bored.

Dr. Gold told me I had to change and get them writing right away and focus on them, so I did that for the next class, and it worked better: We had freewriting and then group share.

I had a break from 10:45 AM to 12:15 PM, during which I left a note for Julie at the Rockland Center and had a bite to eat at the Nanuet Diner on Route 59.

Then I had three classes back to back until 2:45 PM and met with Jerry Finelli, the writing coordinator.

I feel like a total fool for screwing up the first class, but Mr. Finelli and Dr. Gold were both very nice about it.

“They’re babies,” Dr. Gold said, and I was talking above their level. But I had never been in an elementary school before, so how could I expect myself to know exactly what to do?

Well, it’s over, and I’m very tired, though I think the congestion makes the fatigue so much worse.

Now I need to rest up for the remainder of the week. All I have is Calkins’s class on Wednesday.

Next week will be a killer, but if I take care of myself, I could be over the worst of the cold by next Monday.

I won’t go to Grandma’s because I don’t want to infect her, and I can’t sleep any worse on the futon on the living room floor than I did last night.

My throat is very sore and scratchy, and my head is getting really stuffed up. If my cold is like Ronna’s, I’ll get laryngitis in a few days.

Ronna gave me great support when I phoned last night.

Thank God the day is over and I made it to Nanuet and back. It’s almost as if I was testing myself by starting in the worst of circumstances.

 

Tuesday, November 8, 1988

7 PM. The election returns are coming in, and as expected, Bush won all the Southern states, including Florida, where the polls just closed.

The hints from the networks are that the exit polls show a closer-than-expected race, but I’m sure Bush will win.

Despite my exhaustion last night, it took me a long time to get to sleep; I was so congested that I felt miserable.

Finally, I did fall asleep and got a decent, much-needed seven hours of rest.

I felt crummy today, as my cold has really broken out, but I was able to be up and around most of the day.

When I returned from lunch at the pizzeria, the cleaning woman was here, but I remained in the apartment, staying out of her way as she worked.

Teresa didn’t come home until 4 PM, and she and Bill just left for an Election Night party at Lola’s.

Bill looked kind of pissed off at her, but before he got here, all she did was complain about him.

She’s supposed to be staying with Bill tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a big fight and she ends up back here.

I probably couldn’t be any less comfortable on the futon anyway.

When I called Grandma to tell her I wouldn’t be coming, she told me that she was a mess after taking a bad fall on Friday in front of Tillie’s building.

Grandma didn’t know how it happened, but her face and hand were bruised and bloodied – as if her arm were not damaged enough from the bad cut.

She went to the doctor yesterday, and to top everything off, he told her that she’s slightly diabetic.

Grandma is using a cane now, but she’s in so much pain from the fall that “I can’t do anything for myself, not even go to take out the garbage.”

I feel bad for Grandma and wonder if she’s starting to fail and won’t be able to live alone for much longer.

After I got off with Grandma, I phoned Florida and told Mom to call her.

“How did you get such a bad cold?” Mom asked me. I don’t know; obviously, the Viralizer was useless as a preventative.

I don’t ever remember being sick on Election Night. Teresa pretends to be a political junkie, but her opinions are ill-informed and often incorrect.

Nobody I know likes this stuff the way I do. If things go as I predict, Bush will be declared the winner after 9 PM.

Right now it’s 7:30 PM, and Bush has nine states, including the crucial Ohio, and Dukakis has won only West Virginia.

*

8 PM. Bush has won Michigan and Texas and now has about 200 electoral votes. But liberal Democratic Senators like Lautenberg and Metzenbaum are winning, too. Dukakis has about 30 electoral votes, and it will be hard for him to get up to 150.

*

9 PM. Bush is still a couple of electoral votes short of victory. Dukakis did take New York and Illinois, and the Democrats won an upset Senate victory in Connecticut. The Florida Senate race is extremely tight and probably won’t be decided for hours.

The election is going about as I predicted. Bush was elected by people who thought he’d continue prosperity and who bought his sleazy lies. But he’ll be a very unpopular President.

Friday, November 11, 1988

2 PM.  I just came back from having lunch at the Ottomanelli Café.

During my trek into the cold outdoors – actually, the weather today is seasonably cool and the sun is shining – I also made up my own set of keys for Teresa’s car.

She said I could have the car on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, so I’ll be saving lots of money on car rental fees.

I’m adjusting to being Teresa’s roommate again, and once I accept that I’m in her domain, I’ll feel better.

I did manage to sleep for about five hours, and that’s about all I’ve been getting these days anyway.  I feel tired.  My nose is very stuffed up, but I’m coughing less today, and the sore throat is gone.

I did work out to an exercise tape this morning although it took more out of me than usual. And I also did my laundry.

After I finish writing this, I plan to lie down for a few hours.  Teresa probably won’t be home till 6 PM or so.  There’s no mail today and there have been no phone calls.

Do I sound like Bill, who Teresa says is always making lists of mundane chores to avoid doing any writing?

I hope not, though I’ve had to recognize that, as a matter of temperament, I’m not cut out to be a full-time writer.

Perhaps if my work were in demand and I was being paid for it, I’d rush to my keyboard every morning.

But I shouldn’t blame my lack of zeal on the world’s indifference. Instead, I should accept my limitations and do the writing that I feel I simply have to do.

Once I do that, I can go on with my life. I’m a person with a lot of interests. I just need to find new outlets for my creative energy and intelligence.

After working in the Sloatsburg school in January, the rest of 1989 will be the Year of South Florida.  The longest I plan to stay in New York next year is from late June to mid-August.

I don’t know that I’ll get any Teacher Education Center work from Sophie in Miami come February, but if I don’t, I’ll find other work.

I figure I can always teach at Broward Community College’s Term IIB starting in late March or Term IIIA in May.

Teaching part-time there means very little money, but it’s work, and now that I’ve taken Lucy Calkins’s course, I want to try her writing process ideas in a college comp class.

I also could start taking grad courses in economics or other social science fields.  At Florida community colleges, all I need is 18 graduate hours in a subject in order to teach it.

I’ve always found things to occupy me, and I like being active in the world.  With the demise of the Miami News and the Sun-Tattler, there will be fewer outlets for my publicity escapades in South Florida, but I’m known to the Herald and the News/Sun-Sentinel.

And I can always take on a self-improvement project, like teaching myself a new programming language or a new natural language.

Because of the grants – thought I’m getting nervous that I haven’t yet received the Florida fellowship check – money isn’t all that big a problem.

During this fall, I’ve gotten about $3000 in credit line increases, and I’m not yet having trouble making payments on my credit chassis.

So perk up, kiddo: there’s still a lot out there for you.