A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1988

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, December 3, 1988

3 PM. I’ve been working out for the last half-hour even though I feel as if I may be coming down with another cold.

Last evening I picked up Chinese food and brought it over to Ronna, who was cooking for the Chanukah party she and Leah are having tonight.

I’ll be there, but I doubt I’ll stay very long. Tomorrow I’d like to finish the ESL paper, which I haven’t worked on today.

Ronna was making vegetable soup and donuts, and Leah was making pasta and various sauces. Like most of Ronna’s friends, Leah is lively, funny and sweet.

Ronna told me her minuscule raise came through, and she’s putting together a portfolio in preparation for job hunting. We chatted about this and that over the cold sesame noodles and the chicken with walnuts I’d brought.

Leaving  Ronna’s at about 10 PM, I got back here a little while after Teresa had arrived home. Now that she’s not seeing Bill, Teresa doesn’t have much of a social life.

Yesterday morning she fought with Lola and ended up hanging up on her after Lola once again canceled a date with Teresa in order to be with some new guy who’d asked her out.

I agree with Teresa that women friends shouldn’t act that way – that a man is always better and therefore it’s expected that a female friend will step aside for the better offer.

But Barbara phoned this morning, saying she missed Teresa since their Fire Island fight in August, and Stewart told her to call Teresa if that’s what she wanted.

Today Teresa went to visit her sister, but she’ll be home this evening.

This morning I went to the 42nd Street library and read through November’s issues of American Banker.

I also found recent issues of Processed World, which is a very interesting magazine focusing on radical concerns about health, business and politics.

I’m looking forward to see what they do with my “Credit” story. While I know it will be cut a lot, I hope it still sounds good.

I felt it best to stay away from trying to write the ESL paper today. Maybe I’m just lazy.

Sunday, December 4, 1988

5 PM. Feeling queasy all day, I didn’t go out. Teresa brought me back a little food, but I haven’t felt like eating.

It never got above freezing today, and the wind-chill factor was close to 0° F. I started to get bundled up to go to Teachers College, but in the end I felt too sick to do so.

Teresa’s been in the house with me most of the day, and I’ve had no privacy, but feeling the way I do, I’m not sure that I’d want to be alone.

At least I did finish the ESL paper late yesterday afternoon. Now I just have to print out my papers and hand them into the teachers’ mailboxes.

As usual, I wish I could just blink and be in Florida. I want to go, but after seven months, it will be hard to leave my routines here.

Last night, I arrived at Ronna’s at 7:30 PM. Jordan and Sandy and some other guests were already there.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed myself a great deal at the party.

Unfortunately, Ronna spent most of the night standing over the stove making potato latkes. I tried to spend some time with her, as did other people, but the demand for latkes was heavy.

There were about 30 guests in all, half Leah’s friends – mostly actors and other theater people – and half Ronna’s. Her sister and Robert came, and so did her cousin Betty, and Ellen and Jane and Ron.

Lori and Alex are still on their honeymoon, but I got to see some photos of the wedding taken by Sue.

I suppose both Jordan and I felt a little awkward being together at the party, and Sue didn’t help matters by asking aloud which one of us would make the best husband for Ronna.

I overheard some of a long discussion between Jordan and Sandy in which he recounted the history of his relationship with Ronna.

I didn’t listen much – mostly I was talking with Sue and Robert and Jane about AIDS – but I heard Jordan talk about the time he and Ronna were mugged at knifepoint on the beach and how terribly her mother behaved that night, getting angry rather than sympathetic.

(Ronna’s mother told me about that night. She was angry because he should have known better than to take here there: Brighton Beach isn’t safe at night, not like the beach at Neponsit or Belle Harbor, where Ronna would go with Ivan or me.)

Jordan is a nice guy, and while I think he and Ronna

Jordan is a nice guy, and while I think he and Ronna could be happily married, I have no business telling anyone what to do.

I do find Jordan somewhat pompous, as when he was lecturing some Puerto Rican guests about the history of Chanukah. It was Jordan who said the prayers when Ronna and Leah lit the four menorahs in Leah’s room.

The food was good, but I controlled myself (I’m sure the food isn’t responsible for my stomach distress today).

Betty told me about her apartment in Prospect Park South and how she may go to Amsterdam to live for a while once she gets her M.A. in English from CUNY. She left early; I figured she was going out somewhere with her lesbian friends.

Betty, Ronna, Sue and Robert are all going to Orlando this week. Their grandmother is in the hospital with congested lungs, but she’s expected to get better.

Ellen told me that Kate and Allie is going back into production as a CBS midseason replacement, but the office politics on the show are driving her nuts. They’ve got a new director, and Ellen has crazy enemies on the staff who are trying to undermine her with the boss.

Jordan told me how depressed he was about the Democrats losing, and Sandy said she can’t stand the thought of Quayle being Vice-President.

I laid my economic depression theory on them, and Jordan said I should not wish for one “because you’re one of the most marginal people in society and would be hurt worse than the yuppies you disdain.”

I forgot he’s a lawyer making $100,000; I shouldn’t have said I hoped all the yuppies would go broke.

Well, I didn’t bother to answer him, but I think he’s wrong: as a teacher who knows about computers, I’m at least as employable as he is during an economic downturn.

Jordan and I will never be friends, and there’s no reason for us to be, but he’s okay.

Feeling tired, I left around midnight, after most people but before the core group of Ronna and Leah’s friends.

I hugged and kissed Ronna at the door, telling her I’d phone her when we were both in Florida.

It’s over 16 years since we had our first date on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1972. In January, I’ll have known her for 18 years – basically half our lives.

Monday, December 5, 1988

8 PM. I’ve just come from Teachers College, where I printed out my papers for Lucy and Prof. Kleifgen. Because of hardware malfunctions, what should have taken ten minutes took over an hour. What a pain.

I have to be up early again tomorrow so I can be at Sloatsburg at 9 AM to meet with the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers. I hope that my experience there will be as gratifying as the time I spent at the Miller School in Nanuet.

Today was my last day there, and I find I’m really going to miss those kids. I’ve got copies of their stories to remember them, and Mr. Finelli, the assistant principal, asked me to put them in a kind of book. (Dr. Gold was absent today.)

Last night Ronna called and we talked about the party and said goodbye – but I expect to phone her while she’s in Orlando.

I slept well enough so that I felt better today. Without rain, it was an easy trip to Nanuet; I got there early enough to get gas and buy some groceries at Pathmark.

And today went quickly as I had my final session with the third graders. Not only will I miss them, but I’ll miss the ambience of the school and the teachers who were so friendly to me.

In a time when elementary education in this country is in a real mess, it’s great to see a top-notch school. In Dade County, I see elementary schools only after the school day and only from the teachers’ point of view.

 The kids were great today, even – especially – Mrs. Slaybaugh’s class, whom I finally reached.

I started talking about memories and my own experiences and suddenly everyone had a story to tell, and stories were filling up the room the way Lucy said they sometimes do.

Even the girl who was so silent and angry last week talked about the day she was adopted and the day her brother had a birthday party (her great-grandmother died during it).

Mrs. Roberts’ class all signed a nice letter to me. When they’d asked me to give them all my autograph, I told them okay – but only if I’d get their autographs.

Their stories are little treasures. . . Do I sound ridiculous, all enthusiasm and treacle? Well, I guess it’s because it’s over and I remember only the good times.

I have a new respect and fondness for kids of 8 or 9, and I do think more about having a kid now – though I don’t imagine I’d be a very good nurturer as a father.

Of course, I saw these kids mostly at their best – unlike what their parents or regular teachers see.

During my break, I had lunch and also bought a scarf and some long underwear at Sears in the Nanuet Mall.

Back in the apartment at 4 PM, I relaxed a bit. Alice left a message for me, but I don’t think I can see her before I go.

At 6 PM, I went out and had dinner at the American Restaurant and then went up to Columbia. I was so tired that I took a taxi back. Teresa’s not home, so she must have gone out to dinner.

Christmas is everywhere: on the streets, in the stores, on the radio, in kids’ heads. Today was cold: the high was 42°, but it wasn’t windy, so I didn’t mind it.

“Gorby gridlock” starts tomorrow with the arrival of the Soviet leader.

I would have liked to exercise today, but I’ll have plenty of time to work out in Florida. Besides, I exercised heavily for over an hour on Saturday.

I’ve been meaning to write this for days now: I’m a very lucky person.

Tuesday, December 6, 1988

3:30 PM. I’m in Teresa’s bedroom, where I spent the night after I read her note that she was going to stay over at Bill’s.

I just called Julie at the Center and reported on my morning session with Ron Anagnostis and the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers at Sloatsburg Elementary.

Julie said that everything sounded fine and that I was free for the rest of 1988; she’ll be back from Puerto Rico on January 4, the Wednesday I start in Sloatsburg.

I hope that the experience there goes well. From the beginning, I haven’t had the greatest vibes.

The school isn’t as free and open as Dr. Gold’s school and the mindset seems regimented and a little product-oriented in terms of writing.

Even today, Ron began by telling me about the pressure they’re under regarding scores on the fifth- and sixth-grade statewide tests, which include a holistically-scored essay.

The teachers of the two fifth-grade and the two sixth-grade classes and the learning unit class made up of LD students from both grades all seemed pleasant.

Because they’ve got so many activities scheduled in gym, reading, computer, etc., it’s going to be difficult to arrange a coherent schedule, and I won’t be able to see every class in the same order each day.

But at least they’re going to do the scheduling; at first I was going to do it until I realized that busy-work isn’t my job.

With the Nanuet experience under my belt, I feel a bit more sure of myself and what I want to do with the Sloatsburg students.

The ride to Sloatsburg is 42 miles each way, and I am worried about snowstorms and icy roads. Julie said I was welcome to stay at her house if I ever needed to.

Maybe I’ll luck out, but January doesn’t offer me much hope. Today I made it up there and back in under an hour each way, but in bad weather, I’ll leave myself a couple of hours. After all, Sloatsburg is in the Ramapo Mountains.

Last night I said goodbye to Josh, who didn’t remember that I was leaving. He told me he liked Excrement and dropped Crad a note about it.

That reminded me that I haven’t been able to find time to write Crad, so I called Toronto and congratulated him on the book.

Crad said the reaction to it has been favorable except among some of his friends who are in the book.

Crad is, well, Crad: He still has the same old grudge against humanity and recites the same complaints. He’s a genius, but I’m glad I don’t have to live with him.

I actually found a parking space right in front of Grandma’s Restaurant on Broadway, so I could have lunch and then get here in time to park the car so that it’s legal till Thursday.

Unfortunately, Ruffina was cleaning when I arrived, and she’s still here, so for the third day in a row I missed exercise. Maybe if Teresa goes out later, I’ll get a chance to work out.

But I’ve felt weak the last few hours. It’s probably low blood sugar from being hungry.

Now I have to get ready to go to Florida. Tomorrow I’ll do my packing and attend the workshop Georgia Heard is giving at Teachers College. (Actually, I can miss it if I need to.)

And I need to call Grandma Ethel and a few others before I leave New York. Well, it all seems doable.

In 48 hours, kinahora – boy, am I superstitious – I’ll actually be in Florida. It’s hard to believe.

Maybe that’s why I’m feeling a little shaky right now.

For now, I have no real obligations for nearly a month, so I should relax and work on the publication of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was and some new writing.

I wish it were as easy for me to relax as it is to tell myself to relax. Well, one day at a time.

Sunday, December 11, 1988

6 PM. I’ve just returned from a ride through Southwest Broward. The night is just falling here, and this area remains beautiful to me – not the condos or malls but the endless sky stretching over flat land and the palm trees at sunset.

This is the first Sunday evening since October that I don’t have to feel the end-of-weekend dread left over from childhood: there’s no work tomorrow.

I have three weeks here in South Florida, and at least by the time I get back to New York, the days will start getting longer.

The high in New York City this week was in the 20°s, so I made it out in time to escape the real cold of December.

Last evening I found a videotape of Marc’s bar mitzvah.

Previously I’d seen the tapes made from my parents’ wedding film and my own bar mitzvah movie, but I was interested in seeing what I looked like when I was a 16-year-old high school senior in January 1968.

Alice was my “date” at the bar mitzvah. (She’s probably at the twentieth reunion of Midwood alumni right now; I’ll call her later to find out what happened.)

Because I didn’t dance, apart from the immediate family business, there wasn’t much footage of me at the bar mitzvah.

It was weird to see myself at that age: my hair flopped, Hitler-like, over my left eye, and my thick glasses made me look nerdy. Because I was quite thin, I gave the appearance of being taller than I was (about 5’4” then).

Mom looked beautiful at 37, my present age: she wasn’t fat, her face was unlined, and her gown was sexily low-cut.

Dad had a cigarette in his hand most of the time the camera caught him. Marc was a pudgy, cute bar mitzvah boy, and Jonathan, at age 7, looked adorable.

It surprised me to see Grandma Ethel looking so fat because I’m used to her older frail self, and it was slightly eerie seeing my dead grandparents, Nat and Sylvia and Herbert – not to mention Uncle Monty, Great-Grandma Bessie, step-cousin Merryl, and many others who’ve since died.

However, Great-Uncle Joe Cohen looked very much like the man I met in Kings Plaza a few months ago. It’s interesting how some people don’t seem to age.

Because the film was accompanied by schmaltzy Old World music and had a jerky feel, it reminded me of some Czech or Hungarian films of the ’60s or one of those documentaries showing German Jews living it up before the Holocaust.

The styles of 1968 now seem very old-fashioned, and the idiotic touches of the photographers (marching food, including a fruit cup making a 360° turn; Marc “dreaming” the events of the evening; and a “good” Marc reading a prayer book arguing with his evil “twin” reading a comic book) fall somewhere between hilarious and fatally dopey.

Mom, Dad and Jonathan came in at 8 PM after a so-so day of business at the flea market. They took in $3400 in the two spots, but most of Marc’s business has been wiped out by a change in the layout that has taken traffic from in front of his booth.

After watching the HBO concert on behalf of human rights and Amnesty International, a record of the world tour by Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman (whom I love for her purity, sincerity and radicalism), Sting and others, I went to bed.

This morning I exercised, as I did yesterday, to a Body Electric video, and I spent much of the day reading.

Mom got me a pair of Reebok walking shoes that I’ve been wearing today.

Monday, December 12, 1988

8 PM. Last evening I called Alice to find out about the reunion. She had just gotten home, so it was fresh in her memory.

Jeanne, whom she went with, had a great time, but Alice said she got a lot less attention than she does in the real world.

“In a way, it was just like high school,” she said. “Very few people asked me what I did, and people didn’t seem as interested or impressed as they usually are. Maybe it was because I was one of the few women without a third [married] name on my nametag.”

Most people looked remarkably young, Alice thought, with the women looking better than the men: “Overall, it was an attractive group of successful people.”

About 300 people showed up, among them Gary, who told Alice how angry he was with me for not calling him.

Well, I made that decision after I phoned him in May of ’86 or ’87 and all he did was complain that I hadn’t called or let him know where I was. I haven’t missed his friendship, and I don’t intend to call him now – even though he gave Alice his card, as did his friend Marty.

Although I remembered the names of most of the people Alice mentioned, I had a hard time picturing them.

One couple who were boyfriend and girlfriend in high school are still married after 17 years, and Alice said there was a lot of exchanging kids’ photographs.

Clifford Schwartz got the award for changing the least; in fact, with his red hair, Alice said he looked the same as he did when he was in 2-1 at P.S. 203 with us.

People came from California, New Mexico and Canada, and Alice said it was interesting to speak with them – even with people she didn’t know, like the ones who said they were truants or bad students but who are now successful in their own businesses.

The stars of the reunion were probably Didi Conn, the actress, and Marc Mellon, the sculptor.

Although I’m not sorry I returned to Florida, it would have been interesting to attend the reunion. Well, I told Alice, maybe I’ll come to the next one.

This morning I deposited my parent’s weekend receipts of $4300 in their bank account and then worked out before I visited Broward Community College’s South Campus.

The English Department is now all together in a neat temporary building – there are lots of them, all attractive, around the campus – where I found Patrick doing some xeroxing.

It was good to see him and the others: Betty Owen (who kissed me), Barbra, Vicki, Scott.

Patrick’s got a new Tandy 1400 laptop that came as part of a grant that Robert Buford got, and he likes it a lot. It sounds like BCC has really done a lot with computer technology.

Patrick’s now making $32,000 as salaries have increased. In general, things seem better for teachers at BCC even though the workload is still as heavy as ever.

Nobody had heard I’d gotten the $5000 Florida Arts Council fellowship. For some reason, the state no longer publicizes it much.

Patrick got a grant from Mobil to do a one-day writing conference, and I agreed to be a part of it; there’ll even be some money involved.

We chatted for such a long time that I didn’t have time to grab lunch before my 2:30 PM optometrist appointment.

The traffic in Fort Lauderdale was horrendous, worse than I can ever remember. But I picked up new lenses for the next three months. (The technician yelled at me for wearing the lenses for too long.)

When I got home at 4 PM, there were five credit card bills in the mail, the first batch for December, and also a Christmas card from Libby.

She sent a photo of her and Grant and Lindsay, who looks pretty big for a baby who was so premature and small that they didn’t think she’d survive.

I’ll write Libby back, and I also need to call Sat Darshan.

After Mom and Dad came back from the flea market, they took me out to dinner at Corky’s, where I can still get a good hamburger.

I feel very relaxed and happy tonight. It’s 70°, though a cold wave is on the way.