A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1988

by Richard Grayson

Monday, December 19, 1988

9 PM. I had a sleep-deprivation headache all day, so I’m going to bed right after I write this.

I was at the hospital from noon to 4 PM and then from 6 PM to 8:30 PM with breaks for lunch and dinner. I didn’t want Dad to be alone.

Mom and Marc came this evening for an hour and a half, but Jonathan didn’t show up; I think he may be squeamish about hospitals.

Dad is running a slight fever tonight, but basically he’s doing well. Naturally, he’s in intense pain from the incision, which is like a knife wound.

An innovation helps Dad: around his neck is a tube of Demerol that he can release periodically by pressing on a wristwatch-like device that controls its flow into the IV.

He was on a liquid diet until dinner at 5 PM, and he was getting an antibiotic intravenously.

I was glad I got him a private-duty nurse from 7 AM to 3 PM. While the night-shift nurse didn’t do much because Dad was asleep the whole time, this woman, Loretta, helped a great deal.

Mostly I just sat with Dad and made small talk. I’m good at that, as I do it a lot with Grandma Ethel in Rockaway and with Teresa in Manhattan.

This morning I also tried to help around the house, putting up the dishwasher and two loads of laundry. And I deposited $4000 into the bank for Marc.

Today has been milder and sunny, and in the afternoon I walked from the hospital to my CalFed branch to TGI Friday’s for lunch. This evening I walked over to the Broward Mall to have dinner in their food court.

The area on Broward Boulevard between University Drive and Pine Island Road is growing dense enough with malls and shopping plazas (Macy’s has opened at the Fashion Mall, across from the hospital, but two-thirds of the stores there are vacant) and offices complexes so that it’s almost like a city – though it would be easier to stroll if there were better walkways.

Perhaps in the future, people will realize that even in Florida, one doesn’t have to drive everywhere.

Friday, December 23, 1988

7:30 PM. I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by New York City Chinese food or if Kanton Kanton’s food has grown appreciably worse, but I could barely eat what Dad had brought in for dinner. (Yes, he’s up and around now.)

Nothing tasted right to me, and I’m still hungry.

As we had dinner, Mom and Dad and Marc didn’t talk about anything but the flea market, and while I suppose that’s quite natural, I felt bored with their conversation.

I see that I won’t be so distressed about going back to New York in ten days. At least there I have friends. Here I feel so isolated, and if I’m not using that time alone being a prolific writer, what’s the point of staying here?

As I wrote a few days ago, I can feel my life changing.

From 1969 to 1979 was my post-adolescence, from being a college freshman to an author and college teacher, all the while living in my parents’ house in Brooklyn.

For the last nine years, I’ve been moving between New York City and South Florida, never really settling down in one place for more than a year.

Well, next spring my parents will be moving out of this townhouse that’s been my fallback Florida home for most of the 1980s.

And it looks like my New York home since 1983 – Teresa’s apartment on West 85th Street – won’t be there for me, either.

Teresa phoned from work this morning, and she seems to be serious about moving into the place on 104th and West End.

She wanted to know if I’d be willing to live there, too, and of course I said yes. Even if this guy David agreed to pay all the back rent, Teresa no longer trusts him and doesn’t want him there.

Nothing’s been resolved yet, and David still thinks he’s taking Teresa to court. “He’s got to understand that if I don’t get to keep the apartment, he won’t, either,” Teresa said.

I just hope it doesn’t become a protracted case because then Teresa will have to pay both rents herself until it’s settled.

It’s going to be traumatic for Teresa to move, but the change will probably help her get out of her rut.

And my rut? This morning I worked out, read the papers, went grocery shopping.

This afternoon I took a break and went to the Fox Sunrise to see Torch Song Trilogy, which was surprisingly good – better than the play, actually.

Harvey Fierstein was born to play that part, of course, and he was brilliant.

The movie made me think about my own lack of commitment.

Why haven’t I ever been able to find what they call in the obituaries a “companion,” a “life partner”? Why do I still hang around Ronna, giving her false hope that one day we might get married and have kids?

Part of it is that I myself think about marrying Ronna – just for her to have a child.

And maybe to have a child for me, too. In the hospital I realized that I won’t have a son there for me when I’m 62 and facing surgery.

Well, that’s melodrama.

Although I’ve been honest with Ronna, our friendship has been more than platonic, and that’s been my fault.

At least we haven’t slept together all fall, at least as far as I can remember.

The truth is that as much as I care for Ronna, sexually I’d rather be with a guy. I’d like to find someone to live with, eventually – at least I think so today. Who knows?

So how come I’ve never gotten involved with anyone since Sean? The truth is (second time you said that in four sentences, so we must be onto something) that if I told Sean back in ’82 that I wanted to be with him forever, that if it was I going up to Gainesville every weekend instead of Doug, Sean and I might be together now.

But no. I still feel I was right in giving Sean room, even if he didn’t want to take it. He was 18 years old, and I wanted him to experience life on his own, the way I had.

As much as I liked Brad, I’ve always felt grateful I didn’t get involved with him when I was 18, because, for better or worse, I got to develop into my own person.

Jeez, I haven’t percolated like this in a long time. Is it the holiday spirit or Dad’s surgery or the contemplation of being in my forties in the ’90s that’s got me thinking?

After the movie, I went to the West Regional Library, where I read Sunday’s Times and took out four books on self-publishing.

Back at home, I got four credit card bills and the letter from the Cultural Quarterly, the Broward Cultural Affairs Council’s glossy magazine that’s asked me to write a 1500-word piece for them.

Sample pieces by Eth Clifford and David Kaufelt were banal and bland, and my first impulse was to call them and say I can’t write anything – the deadline is in two weeks – that wouldn’t offend their readership or the County Commission.

But then I realized that I could write about why I live in Broward and the places where I like to hang out, like Tree Tops Park or the Broward Mall food court or at the beach in Dania.

Saturday, December 24, 1988

4 PM. I feel very unproductive today.

At noon Marc called Dad with an SOS to take lots of shirts to the flea market.

Marc told Dad he should get me to help him, but there was no way I was going to the flea market on Christmas Eve.

If Dad wanted to go to that nuthouse three days after getting out of the hospital – well, he’s old enough to know what he can and cannot do.

Of course, I did carry all seven boxes of shirts to the car for Dad, and I assumed Marc (or maybe Jonathan) would lift them out of the car at the flea market.

Because Jonathan’s Camaro is broken, I’ve been totally without wheels all day, so I actually resorted to sitting out by the pool, something I haven’t done all the time I’ve been here.

Although it was somewhat relaxing, I no longer have the patience for sunbathing that I used to, especially since I now slather sunblock all over me to avoid skin cancer.

Years ago, the desire to get tan provided me with the discipline to sit out on a hot day – today was in the mid-80°s – but now that I have to enjoy sunbathing for its own sake, it seems purposeless.

I hardly slept at all last night. It was after 2 AM before I got to bed and before 7 AM when I awakened. At least I did work out today for an hour and 15 minutes. And I paid some more credit card bills.

It occurred to me while I was out at the pool that a full-time job might have consumed less psychic energy than my credit card chassis and that I might be writing more if I had a full-time job I could leave at the office.

I’ll be glad to give up the cards by the time I have to declare bankruptcy, which could come as early as next year.

As I see from the first statements of the finance charges I paid in 1988, I’m like one of those Third World countries who have to spend way too much of their national budget servicing their debt.

Part of the reason I couldn’t sleep was that I was worried what will happen to me when my house of plastic cards collapses.

I mean, bankruptcy should be painful, no? At least that’s what I’ve been taught.

Of course, this week Drexel Burnham Lambert settled with the government by pleading guilty to numerous trading illegalities and paying $650 million – which will hardly dent their standing as the decade’s hottest Wall Street firm.

In the 1980s, the rich crooks seem to get off lightly. We’ll see how I do. Can I just chalk everything up to the cost of doing business? Well, I guess Ivan Boesky and Oliver North have a few sleepless nights, too.

The trick is to realize that nothing’s that bad if it’s done on a grand enough scale and they spell your name right in the newspapers.

I sound like a man totally devoid of ethics. Ho ho ho!

Thursday, December 29, 1988

5 PM. Although I slept well, I again awoke with a feeling of anxiety and dread. Mostly it’s related to my returning to New York in a few days.

I’m nervous about the plane ride (there have been lots of airplane problems lately; the weather may be bad; the airports will be jammed with holiday travelers), about going to Sloatsburg (will I be good enough? will I be able to get there in bad weather? how will I do on my first day, when I’ll be coming off a nighttime plane ride and probably a sleepless night?) about the cold weather in New York (will I be able to stand it, especially since I’ve grown accustomed to 80° days?), about being back at Teresa’s (will I get any privacy?), about my health (will I get sick? will my front caps finally break?), and other obsessions.

Though I spent about ten days in New York in January 1985 and 1986, now I’ll be there for nearly the whole month.

(Dad has just come in the room to fax something to the L.A. Bugle Boy office. I probably won’t have any less privacy at Teresa’s.)

Jonathan’s car seemed to be working today, and I took it for several hours.

I made a big deposit at CalFed, and I’m going to deposit more of my cash advances tomorrow. I’ve already written out checks for most of my January bills, and I’ll still have about $4000 in my account when they’re paid.

But starting in February, I’ll have big expenses: my rent for the next four months and the purchase price of a new car.

Except for the $2000 from the Rockland Center for the Arts, I won’t have any money coming in until March, and I don’t expect any new credit line increases.

I’ve decided not to use a change of address card and forward my mail from West 85th Street here because Teresa may be moving and my parents definitely will. Instead, I’ll just have Teresa open my mail and send me anything of importance.

Well, I’ll have to work out my anxieties about New York. Actually, out of the 24 days I’ll be in town, I have to be in Sloatsburg only six days and one evening, and two of those dates are in my first three days in New York.

Although I need time to prepare for my Critical Thinking workshop at North Beach Elementary, I have no Teachers College classes or other obligations if I can get this Broward piece written.

Right now I’ve done all I can on the new book except to send it to printers and designers for cost estimates, and I may wait with that until I’m back in Florida in February.

When I’m in New York, I’ll need to go to Rockaway and fulfill my grandchildly obligations, depressing as they can be.

Some comforts for January are that the days will begin to get a bit longer, Teresa will be in Mexico for some of the time I’ll be at her apartment. and Dad will be in New York for ten days while I’m there.

Having written all this, do I feel any better? A little, but I’ve still got a drop of anxiety in my belly.

I need to spend the next four days enjoying every moment of the glorious weather here and maybe doing some creative visualizations about teaching in Sloatsburg, imagining scenes in which I do well.

I am also anxious because I always get antsy at the end of the year, even in years like the last two, when I’ve been in one place.

On the other hand, it should be encouraging to know that I’ve survived another year – and, really, 1988 has been very good to me.

Tom writes that schoolwork and preparation for the film series has made him cranky and not a good companion for Debra, in town for the holidays.

The visit of George Angel, “a serious young writer,” was helpful to both Tom and his NOCCA students.

Tom thought my gifted third-grader’s story “was better than what I have to read from my students.”

Right now Tom is feeling dissatisfied with his own work. Still, he is one of 13 writers (including Ron Sukenick) giving a joint reading in New Orleans this week.

Saturday, December 31, 1988

8 PM. This afternoon I got out all my diaries since 1969 (I don’t know why I put it like that: those are all the diaries I have) and read the first and last entries in each of them.

I thought I’d feel uplifted seeing how I felt and what I did on 19 New Year’s Eves and New Year’s Days, but instead I felt exhausted afterwards and somewhat depressed.

As I lay down in a half-sleep, I thought of the words of Emerson that I read by the pool the other day: “Life only avails, not the having lived.”

From today’s vantage point, I see a life of missed opportunities and wasted potential. I always seem to be cheerleading, telling myself to take risks, but the risks have been too few and far between. Has it all been worth it?

Well, the diaries read pretty well, and they may be the most important thing I’ll leave behind when I’m dead: the record of one crazy little life.

I repacked the banker’s box the diaries are stored in (this one goes in there right after I finish this entry), and I’m very glad that I have these twenty volumes taking me from ages 18 to 37, my entire adult life.

When I got up from my nap, I had something sweet, a frozen yogurt/chocolate-chip cookie sandwich, and I called Grandma Ethel, who told me that it was a lovely day in New York.

Here it continues to be impossibly beautiful: I can’t remember a December that was so warm and sunny.

I was glad to hear that Grandma was going out to dinner this evening with some of her friends although I warned her to be careful walking since she isn’t used to high heels.

As 5 PM approached, I wanted to take a long drive. First I passed the site of my family’s new house. Lumber is now there, and it looks as though they’ve begun the foundation.

It reminded me of how Marc and I used to play in our house on East 56th Street when Mom and Dad would take us there while it was being built. That was over thirty years ago.

I walked around the Pine Ridge shopping center, browsing in the book and video stores. Although I’d been looking all day, I wasn’t able to find a copy of the final issue of the Miami News, which went out of business today.

The other big media change here happens at midnight, when stations switch their affiliations: WTVJ, Channel 4, owned by NBC, becomes an NBC station at last, and the existing NBC affiliate, WSVN (7) goes independent. CBS bought independent channel WCIX (6) in Miami, and to offset its weak signal in Broward, got the West Palm Beach ABC affiliate Channel 12 to switch to CBS. (A new West Palm Beach station, 25, goes to ABC.) It’s causing a lot of confusion.

On tonight’s NBC Nightly News, there was a positive story about Miami’s comeback as a winter tourist mecca: the glamorous Miami Vice image, the spread of drug-related crimes to most other cities, and a boom in European tourism because of the weak dollar (they’re now going topless on Miami Beach) have livened things up. The Art Deco hotels, the Latin ambience, and the glitzy new skyline also help.

Maybe I could write about all this in my article for the Cultural Quarterly. (Hint, hint: Grayson, you should feel guilty for not working on it.)

After walking around the shopping center, I drove all the way west on State Road 84, going as far as the edge of the Everglades on U.S. 27, heading toward the light as the darkness set in the east.

With open windows, the breezes felt great as I listened to All Things Considered’s recap of the news events of 1988.

It must have been 10° cooler way out by the Everglades; wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, I felt almost chilly.

Just as night fell around 6 PM, I headed back east on Griffin Road.

No big review of the year or exhortations to myself this New Year’s Eve. I’m just going to turn on the Orange Bowl Jamboree parade.