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

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, December 13, 1988

8 PM. Ronna called last night, just an hour after I’d tried her mother’s house in Orlando and got no answer.

She told me she’s not leaving today and would stay until Saturday, mostly because her grandmother is not doing that well in the hospital: she needed to be placed in the cardiac care unit because – I think this is right – her arteries keep closing up.

Ronna said that her mother needs to come to South Florida tomorrow on business and Ronna might accompany her. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but it would be great to see Ronna for even part of the day.

When I went to FIU this afternoon, Sophie was glad to see me. If I didn’t have to be back in New York in January, she said she’d put me to work right away.

We spent an hour going over some workshops for the spring, and tentatively I’ve got two and a half.

The half is the second part of a productivity software course at Miami Springs Senior High School.

The original instructor was so bad that they canceled it in mid-course. I spoke with the English Department chair there and found out what she needs: they’ve got PS/2 Model 30s and IBM Writing Assistant and Planning Assistant.

Obviously, a workshop leader has to gear the material to the teachers’ needs, and this guy was too technical (like most of those who come out of computer science departments).

There’s also a Computers in the Secondary Subject Areas class at Northwestern High School and a class in Critical Thinking in the Language Arts at North Beach Elementary.

For the latter course, the TEC people at the county schools will send me the component, and I bet I can handle it.

Now that all of them – Janet, Rosa, et al. – know I’m back, Sophie said she’ll steer all the work she can to me for as long as I can stick around.

That probably means I’ll stay in Florida till mid-June, when the schoolyear ends. (Maybe I can apply to VCCA for September or October.)

It felt good to be in demand, to be needed. I’ll be happy to be working for FIU again, and it also will look good on my résumé.

Little by little, I’m getting back into the groove of South Florida. Now the biggies are finding an apartment and looking for a car.

Wednesday, January 14, 1988

10 PM. This last week in Florida – well, it don’t get any better.

Seeing Ronna today was special. (Do I sound like the saccharine-pious Church Lady character from Saturday Night Live whose trademark line is “Isn’t that special?”)

Up at 9 AM, I exercised and potchkeyed around until it was time to meet Ronna.

Last night she called to tell me that her mother had to come here for a meeting at the Howard Johnson’s on 163rd Street by the Golden Glades interchange before returning to Orlando tonight.

It seemed crazy to me for them to attempt such a long drive in one day, but I was glad for any chance to see Ronna.

Although her mother was half an hour late, I didn’t mind: I took the first parking space by the entrance to the lot, and when I saw Ronna, I felt happy.

I hugged Ronna and her mother, who told us to meet her back at HoJo’s at 3:30 PM.

Because Ronna had a headache, we stopped at Publix to get her some Tylenol and then had lunch at Corky’s, which has been redecorated since spring.

Although last night was cool, it got up to 68° today, and it was mostly sunny and a nice day to be outside.

Ronna’s week in Florida sounded hectic. Yesterday she spent four hours in the hospital with her grandmother.

Most of the family were in for the weekend of her grandmother’s birthday, but of course they didn’t have the planned party, though the dozen of them brought a cake to her grandmother’s hospital room and sang “Happy Birthday.” (There were no candles because of the oxygen in use.)

On Sunday, Ronna went back to Gainesville with Billy, and she said he’s got a pleasant garden apartment in a cute college town that reminded her of Penn State’s University Park.

This was finals week for Billy, who told Ronna that he’s not sure he can stick out the five years at UF to get his Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Ronna’s mother has been frantic about her new job and about Ronna’s grandmother, whose money has all but run out.

This morning a social worker from the hospital phoned and said that Mrs. S probably belongs in a nursing home, but Beatrice doesn’t want her mother to go into one. Still, home nursing care may be more than the family can afford.

Ronna and I drove across 163rd Street to the beach, but because traffic was terrible – naturally, the drawbridge was up – we had to scurry back to meet her mother.

However, because Beatrice needed to make phone calls at her associate’s house in Fort Lauderdale, Ronna and I got some extra time together.

I took her back here, where she called her office to go over some work and to tell them she wasn’t coming in until Monday.

Mom and Dad and Jonathan were glad to see her, but we had only 45 minutes before we had to fight the rush-hour traffic into Fort Lauderdale.

I got Ronna back just at 6 PM, and they headed off to Orlando right away; tomorrow, Beatrice has to be in Lakeland at 1 PM.

Although I really love Ronna, I suspect our heavy-duty sexual relationship is over for good. Of course, it was hard to find any passion in today’s rushed and brief a meeting.

Ronna is a doll, though, and someone I respect greatly for her values, her cheerfulness, her pluck and her wit.

She’s a mensch, and it’s been a pleasure to see her grow into such a fine woman over the last 18 years (half her life).

When I got back here, China met me at the door and licked me silly before I joined the family for dinner.

Marc gave me the $500 that Ron gave him for my old Camaro. Ron was going to try to rebuild the engine and put in a new transmission and keep the car for himself, but it still wouldn’t run, so it’s been junked.

As I said yesterday, now I’ve got to look for a car and apartment for next year. But things have been progressing well here, and I’m taking it one day at a time.

Thursday, December 15, 1988

10 PM. Last night I was restless, so I stayed up late watching news shows about the U.S. decision to talk to the PLO now that Arafat, at the UN in Geneva, gave in to demands that he renounce terrorism and recognize Israel.

The Israelis, who still haven’t been able to form a government, now look isolated and intransigent. Even the American Jews, alienated by the decision to change the “Who is a Jew?” law, are not automatically backing up Israel.

I missed exercise today because I got up too late, but my legs were still sore from yesterday’s workout.

Dad showed me how the fax worked, and it’s convenient that it doubles as a copier.

I got a call this morning from some Florida arts magazine or newsletter. After congratulating me on the grant, the editor asked me if I could contribute something for their next issue.

The deadline is soon, and they want 1000-1300 words, so I’ll probably rely on old material from stories and columns and let them choose. They also want a photo of me and maybe of some of my book jackets.

This weekend I have to get serious about finding someone to typeset, design, and print my book. I’ve been dragging my feet, though you’d think I’d be thrilled about another the publication of another book.

Except I’ll hardly get any notice or reviews for it, and the sales will be small. The book’s style, content and manner are antithetical to the times.

At BCC-Central’s library, I read the Contemporary Literary Criticism 1987 Yearbook, checking out the reviews that Jill Eisenstadt, David Foster Wallace and Glenn Savan got.

After seeing the photos of the authors in the yearbook, I realized that two weeks ago I was sitting near Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection (about a gay kindergarten teacher who helps raise his female roommate’s baby), at the Ottomanelli Café.

He really seemed interested in this other guy, sitting between us, who’d just moved to New York City from Fort Lauderdale. I overheard their conversation and knew that McCauley was a writer, but I couldn’t place him.

Too bad I didn’t get to know him; he seemed like a good egg.

Although I didn’t go into the English Department at BCC today, I still want to let Dr. Grasso know that I’m available to teach at Weekend College in Term IIB or the first summer session. Maybe I’ll just write her from New York.

After making some cash advances at a couple of banks, I deposited $1700 (including the cash from my dead Camaro) into my CalFed account.

Later, I went cash advance-crazy as I took a dozen credit cards to Publix’s ATM and the ATM at NCNB. Tomorrow I’ll deposit another $1000.

In January, I’ll get the remaining $2000 from my NYSCA grant, and I should start getting paychecks from FIU by mid-March.

I’ve got my money tied up in various bank accounts now, and because of my heavy debt repayment schedule, I now have to raise money from the cards almost continuously. Still, I’ve been able to pay every bill in advance.

But I’m going to have to shell out money for a new car and for my rent here; also, I’m also probably going to buy the laptop I’ve been renting.

This evening, Dad and I went over to Marc’s, and while they watched Throw Momma from the Train, I went upstairs with my old Tandy computer.

They stopped making the 1000EX, and all the new models have the smaller 3½” disk drives for hard drives.

I copied some of the disks Sophie gave me, but I realized that the teachers at Miami Springs High School want me to use IBM Writing and Planning Assistant, so I’ll have to get their programs on disk.

Dade County’s Teacher Education Center sent me the component for Creative and Critical Thinking in the Language Arts.

I can do this workshop. It does involves heavy-duty research in critical thinking since my students are expected to read five articles in the field and make an annotated bibliography.

But I have time from now until February, and I should enjoy the challenge; it’s like taking a course in an unfamiliar subject.

From the Pushcart Prize, I got a letter saying that Ken Gangemi, an editor, had nominated me and I could send up to six stories from 1988 little magazines for them to consider for the 14th edition.

They’ve ignored me for 13 years – about 150 of my published stories in all – so I don’t expect them to catch on now. (Once, they listed “What About Us Grils?” in their back-of-the-book compilations of runner-up pieces.)

I sent “Nostalgia,” “Citicorp” and “Caracas Traffic” although the latter two appeared in late 1987. If it were 1978 or 1979, I’d have a lot more published stories to choose from.

But I don’t worry about my career. At least this year, I don’t have to feel bad when I don’t get the NEA fellowship. With two state grants totaling $8750, I’d be greedy if I lusted after the NEA’s $20,000, too.

Of course, I am greedy. But the NEA has rejected me annually since 1978. And I’m certain that this time around, my perfect record of a decade won’t be spoiled.

Teresa phoned today after I’d unsuccessfully tried to reach her for three days.

Although she’s exhausted after the Christmas party at the Mollie Parnis firm, her catering proved a success, and today they paid her nicely.

After the party, she went out with some women from the company who took her to a lesbian bar where, she said, all these butch types kept hitting on her.

“I could see getting into a homosexual relationship,” Teresa said, “but I’m turned off by stereotypes and caricatures.”

She bought a “terrific” new TV, and she’ll be in Mexico at Club Med from January 15 to 30 (Deirdre and the baby will meet her there), so I’ll be alone for the second half of my stay in New York.

Teresa said that when she got back this afternoon, the apartment was freezing. “After a horrible hot summer, I knew this would be the coldest winter,” she said.

She kept referring to “the C word” because she knows I don’t like to hear about the cold. Yet I must have adjusted a bit because when everyone here in Florida keeps complaining about being chilly, I still feel comfortable.

Dad told me he wishes that Mom would quit the flea market. He’s made $125,000 this year and feels that she doesn’t need to get up at 5:30 AM to work so hard and subject herself to the crazy whims of Preston Henn.

Dad can understand my brothers putting up with it because they can make a good living there and support themselves, but at this point he can support Mom – “or if she wants to wants to work, she could take an easier job in a store.”

Dad confided that he himself can no longer stand dealing with the flea market customers or management.

It’s not like the days when he loved seeing the cash come in; now he’s making a lot of money on his own as a Bugle Boy salesman.

I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who still isn’t feeling well. She’s got chest pains and headaches, and all her friends are in Florida except for Tillie and Morris, who haven’t been over because the weather has been so bad.

Grandma told me she herself hasn’t been out in weeks, not since I was there.

I don’t know what we’re going to do with Grandma as she deteriorates. I feel that if she had a better attitude, she’d be so much better off. After all, her health problems are nothing as serious as those of Ronna’s grandmother.

Saturday, December 17, 1988

10 PM. Dad is in the hospital tonight. “I can’t fathom it,” he said as he was taken to his room, and neither can I. It’s one of those times in life when you feel stunned from a blow.

Since Wednesday, Dad has been complaining about pains in his abdomen. He felt that his stomach was distended, and he had pain when he touched it. But although he didn’t do his regular running, the pains didn’t stop him from work.

Last night Dad, Mom and I had dinner at Gaetano’s, and although he was in pain, he still had an appetite.

But I was worried when the pains didn’t go away. At first I thought it was gas or something like the bad pains I used to get from time to time ten years ago.

Tonight at 6 PM, I was putting up dinner for myself when Dad came in. “I have to go to the hospital,” he said, his voice breaking. He was shivering, and not just from the cold.

I hugged him, and he told me that he stopped in at the drop-in doctor at University Drive and Peters Road where I go. They found his white count very high, suggesting an infection.

The doctor wrote on the paper for the hospital, “Rule out appendicitis,” I suppose because Dad has no nausea or vomiting.

The doctor said Dad might have diverticulitis, but he didn’t want to prescribe an antibiotic and told Dad to go into the hospital so he wouldn’t have to face the possibility of being rushed there in the middle of the night with terrible pains.

I didn’t know what to do. Dad wanted to wait until Mom came home, and that took about an hour. It was a long hour. I helped Dad find his insurance card (and I thought of myself, without insurance) and get some pajamas and other stuff to take along.

Naturally, Mom was very upset when Dad told her, and so was Jonathan.

“It’s just at the worst time,” Dad said, meaning before Christmas at the flea market. But there’s never a good time to get sick.

I drove him to Humana Hospital Bennett, to the emergency room where Mom went when she was hit by the van. Then I sat with Dad as they took all the information.

The guy doing his admittance form had never processed an admit before, and nobody there seemed to know what they were doing. In fact, everyone at the hospital looked as if they were searching for something they’d lost.

Dad was admitted as a patient of Dr. Reiter, the associate of the guy at the clinic. The people at the emergency room couldn’t believe Dad was 62 because he looked so young.

We took him up to his semi-private room, and Mom stayed with him as he changed and got into bed. I went down to the visitors’ room, where I watched TV and phoned Jonathan and Marc.

Finally, Mom and I came home and had something to eat. Marc found someone to work with him tomorrow, but they all still have to get up very early.

Dad phoned and said they’d already taken some blood and urine tests, and his temperature, normal at the doctor’s office, was now 100.5°.

God. This kind of thing concentrates one’s mind. “Everyone has to die sometime,” says the philosophical, death-obsessed Jonathan.

Dad, like Jonathan, hates doctors and hospitals and is very paranoid about medical procedures. I worry that he’s got some terrible disease.

Grandma Sylvia had colon cancer that kept recurring, but Dad never bothers to get a rectal exam the way he should with his family history and age.

I hope it’s nothing more than diverticulitis, something antibiotics can cure.

“Thank God you were here,” Mom said to me several times, but I didn’t do anything that someone else couldn’t have done.

It hadn’t been a great day, and I was feeling unproductive, but none of that matters now.

I have wondered what would happen to this family if Dad died. Life is always precarious, but most of the time we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s secure.

I’m exhausted, but I don’t think I can sleep.

Sunday, December 18, 1988

10 PM. Dad had an appendectomy this afternoon. I just left him, and although he’s uncomfortable and in pain, at least the worst is over.

Early today, I spoke to him several times. Dr. Reiter, the internist, saw him this morning and they were doing tests.

Last night they put him on antibiotics in case the appendix should burst and peritonitis set in, but Dad said he had almost no pain. They were going to take more x-rays and give him a barium enema and lower GI series.

I left the house at noon on this very cold day in South Florida after talking to Mom and Jonathan, each of whom managed to find a pay phone once.

Mom told me to call the Littmans and Aunt Sydelle, and it turned out I was glad I did, because otherwise I would have been completely alone today at a stressful time.

I didn’t really eat since breakfast; I tried to eat some yogurt and a muffin at the hospital cafeteria, but I was too nervous.

Although visiting hours officially begin at 1 PM, the hospital seems more lenient, and I went up before  that. Dad wasn’t in his bed, but he soon came up after all his tests, which were unpleasant.

But while Dad doesn’t like doctors, he’s a good patient. Although he was very nervous, I could see he felt relieved when Dr. Reiter came in and said it was probably his appendix.

The tests showed no cancer in his colon, and Dad’s gall bladder, liver, pancreas and kidneys all checked out okay. “You seem healthy except for the appendix,” Dr. Reiter said.

I asked how appendicitis starts; the doctor said it’s not clear, though the theory is that some fecal matter comes in and infects the useless organ.

I had wondered why they’d ruled out appendicitis last night and now seemed so certain that was the problem.

But Ronna, whom I called when I needed someone to talk to, explained that the “abdominal pains – rule out appendicitis” I saw on the doctor’s note didn’t mean they were ruling it out; it meant that it’s the first, obvious thing they should look for and try to rule out.

So Ronna cleared everything up for me: the doctors believed all along that the appendix was the problem.

Once Dad knew that and he spoke to the surgeon, he asked that the operation happen today, as soon as possible, as he didn’t want to wait till tomorrow.

Irv, Mavis and Francine came, and so did Aunt Sydelle and Bill, and while they all made Dad a little crazy, I felt grateful not to be the only one there all afternoon.

At first, I thought they’d take Dad right away, but he had to wait: the operating room was closed because it was Sunday, and the surgeon, Dr. Seagal, had to assemble an OR team on short notice.

They gave Dad a shot of Demerol for the pain, and he filled out all the consent forms for the surgery and answered questions about his medical history.

The waiting was rough, but as they were prepping him for surgery, I began to feel relieved.

When Mom called, Dad didn’t want me to tell her that he was having surgery since neither she nor Marc nor Jonathan could get away from the flea market.

As carolers and Santa Claus sang “Jingle Bells,” I helped them move Dad on a stretcher down to the operating room. Because they didn’t have an IV holder, I held my hand high with the IV bags of fluid.

“This is his son, who’s acting as our IV holder,” said the nurse to the surgeon as we arrived.

“Have fun,” I said to Dad as the doors of the OR closed. I know that sounded stupid, but I’ve read that people are suggestible before surgery and thought it might help.

Dad was being moved to a different room on another floor, but the nurse said she would make sure his belongings were in the new room before he got there.

It was nerve-wracking waiting for the surgery to be over.

I needed company and felt a heavy responsibility: I was the one who had to make decisions about hiring private-duty nurses and what to tell my mother and brothers.

When the surgeon came to tell us it was over – the operation took half an hour – and that Dad was in recovery, everyone felt better, of course. An appendectomy is routine surgery, but many things can go wrong.

The others left, and I got some fresh air and something to eat. Then I got to third floor just as they were wheeling Dad to his new room.

I said hello and he said hello back, though now he says he doesn’t remember that. He stayed asleep until the nurse woke him to take his vital signs. “You have a visitor,” she said.

Dad and I talked in two-word sentences, and the nurse asked him if he was an athlete because his pulse and pressure were so good. (Better than mine, I’m sure.)

I left a message on Marc’s machine, and after he got it and called Mom, the two of them arrived at 8:30 PM, after I’d been with Dad by myself for a couple of hours.

When Mom and Marc came, I went to the lounge and called Sydelle and the Littmans, as I’d promised, and I ordered a private nurse for Dad for the 11 PM-7 PM shift.

Mom wasn’t too surprised that he’d already had the surgery, and she stayed with Dad after Marc went home, giving Dad ice chips and putting on his socks.

I’m totally exhausted now. Today seemed about a month long. But at least I came through. Mom and Marc both said it was a good thing I was here, and I was glad to be there for Dad.