A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, January 1, 1989

9 PM. Last evening Marc brought China over here because he was going to spend the night in Miami with Adriana.

It’s odd, but I’m the only one for whom that dog will lie on its back and indicate that it wants its stomach rubbed. And when I’m through rubbing her, China can’t lick me enough.

Mom and Dad and China all fell asleep in the family room with the TV on, and Jonathan, as usual, retired early to his room. After watching a little TV, I fell asleep around 11 PM, and when I got up next, it was 12:30 AM on the first day of 1989.

Although I had good dreams, I again awoke with that knot of anxiety in my stomach. It’s not going to go away until I’m back in New York and have started working in Sloatsburg, so I might as well get used to it.

When I went out to get the Sunday Times, I noticed workmen (one was a cute young guy, shirtless, in shorts) working on the Broward Federal Savings and Loan building in Sunrise. By late afternoon they’d changed all the signs to California Federal. That’s one of the last of 1988’s many bailouts of financial institutions; the FSLIC scrambled to make deals before the year ended and tax breaks were lost.

Another reason for my morning anxiety was my worry that this will be the year in which I’ll have to declare bankruptcy. I’m as insolvent as they come, but so far I’ve managed to keep the cash flowing. However, I won’t be able to remain liquid forever. Well, bankruptcy happens to a lot of people and companies.

After lunch out at Corky’s, I came home and sweated bullets (it must have hit 87° today anyway) working for ninety minutes on my Cultural Quarterly article. Then I went to Albertsons and bought groceries for Mom and erasable typewriter paper and an eraser for me.

I used my ancient typewriter – it looks like an Art Deco antique with its keyboard of individual round characters – and worked from my computer screen to type up the final draft of the article.

At first it felt very strange, and I kept waiting for the carriage return to be automatic. But like riding a bicycle, typing the old-fashioned way came back to me, and you know something? I think typing up the story improved it.

If I’d just printed it out on a computer printer, I wouldn’t have worked as hard to clean up the writing. Because I didn’t want the chore of typing one extra word, my prose came out leaner.

I sent it out with a cover letter, my résumé, and a photo, and then felt so hyper that I walked around the perimeter of University Village five times in the dark.

Dad brought home Chinese food, and we had dinner while I watched 21 Jump Street (a good show about AIDS – the kid who had it was gay but pretended to be a hemophiliac).

God, I’m relieved that article is finished. I hope it’s okay for publication. It’s certainly not offensive; actually, I sound like a shill for the Broward County chamber of commerce, but I meant everything I said.

I hope this experience is one I remember throughout the year: Writing the article was difficult, but it’s gratifying to have worked hard on the finished product.

Wednesday, January 4, 1989

It’s 3 AM on Thursday, and I wasn’t going to write in my journal at all but I don’t know what else to do. The last day and a half has been a nightmare, only I haven’t been able to sleep at all. I feel overwhelmed by despair. Today – yesterday, I mean – I cried more than I cried in all of 1988.

I don’t even feel like writing about this. All I feel is a sense of doom. Going back to last August, I had this feeling that Sloatsburg would be a disaster, and so far it has been.

What’s happened? Not all that much, really, and I’m sure any objective observer would say I’m blowing this out of proportion.

But right now all I can think of is the winter of 1980 and being so sick with labyrinthitis. I always blamed that illness on the stress I felt on one particular very cold day the week before when I traveled to Yonkers for some stupid job interview and then for another one at New York City Community College.

Objectively, I handled myself well that day, but it was so stressful, I got sick and it took me months to recover. I don’t know how I can avoid another terrible illness after the stress I experienced today, and I don’t know that I can get through another winter like 1980.

It’s 8° now, with a -30° wind-chill factor. Since it was 85° on Monday, it’s as if my body’s been shocked by an over 100° change in temperature.

I had to come back to during the worst cold snap of the winter, so of course it had to happen. And Teresa’s car had to get stuck in Sloatsburg; that was my worst nightmare.

I knew I wouldn’t get off so easily after yesterday went too well. The plane was delayed half an hour while we took on extra fuel in case we had to land at an alternate airport because of snow in New York.

But it didn’t snow much at all – though we flew through rough weather and I shuddered a lot, sitting next to me was a pleasant 11-year-old boy with whom I had a good talk that made the second half of the flight go faster.

I got a cab at the airport right away, and Teresa had everything ready for me here: my bed stuff was out, and she’d bought cereal and milk and orange juice.

We went out for dinner at the diner, and I called my parents, who’d left a message, and I even slept for five hours last night.

This morning I put on my long underwear, and though I was uncomfortable in that tight parka that no longer fits, I got up to Sloatsburg in plenty of time, and the day at school basically went well, considering.

It was exhausting because I taught two hour-long sessions and three 45-minute classes, working my ass off with those kids. I tried so hard, and it seemed to be going all right, and Ron, the principal, sat in on two classes and was pleased.

Then, at 2:45 PM, I got into the car, started it up – and it moved about a foot and it died. Giving me a boost with Ron’s cables didn’t help, nor did fooling around with the carburetor. A custodian really tried to help, and so did the AAA when I called.

Everyone kept saying how bitterly cold it was, and I had to be outside most of the time we were trying to start up the car.

The AAA guy towed the car to his station, and Ron drove me there. By then it was already dark and there was nothing they could do tonight, so Ron drove me to a car rental place, and somehow, fighting back tears unsuccessfully – I managed to get home to Manhattan.

I was crying because when I called Teresa from the service station, she was mad, yelling that I must have done something wrong because she had just fixed the car and she needed it, and when I came in, I couldn’t stop sobbing because I felt terrible.

I’m crying now – this is hard to write. Teresa kept hugging me and telling me it was all right and said she was sorry.

Anyway, I have an enormous headache and can’t sleep. I don’t even want to imagine the next few weeks.

Thursday, January 5, 1989

1 PM. I continue to feel profoundly depressed, but I’ve forced myself to get out of bed. Right now it’s 18° and tomorrow morning it’s expected to snow. I feel trapped in a nightmare.

While I know that if the car started up yesterday at 3 PM, I’d be feeling a whole lot better, I can’t seem to shake this deep depression.

Although I slept a little from 4 AM to 8 AM, my headache hasn’t gone away and everything seems inordinately difficult.

I know that it’s a feeling of helplessness that has brought on this depression, that the car’s failure to start represented my being trapped in a situation I had no control over.

I never wanted to be here in January, but I figured it would be worth it to be writer-in-residence at the Rockland Center.

Right now I’m sorry I came back, sorry I got the grant, and sorry I didn’t return to Florida last September. Never again will I stay in New York City for any part of the winter, that’s for sure.

At least I know that if I can endure the next three weeks and one day, I’ll be back in sunny, warm South Florida, a place I don’t intend to leave for a long time.

Getting off myself as a topic, I spoke to Ronna last night. She says she’s still in the denial stage of grief about her grandmother and maybe it’s starting to turn to anger.

The funeral was quite painful for everyone, and Ronna feels very sad.

She said that at least her grandmother’s angioplasty last March allowed her to see her first great-grandchild and to attend Billy’s graduation from Rollins and see him get settled in on his own for grad school in Gainesville.

Ronna told me that her grandmother didn’t have the strength to go on fighting in December the way she did after her first heart attack last spring.

Ronna’s grandmother’s death is depressing, but right now I’m in the mood where everything is overwhelming evidence that life isn’t worth living.

I realize that I’m seeing life through a somewhat distorted lens, but I don’t know how to make the cognitive leap to change my attitude.

After all, cold weather and snow are a part of winter, and cars do get stuck. I know it isn’t what happened; it’s my reaction to it that’s the problem.

When I called the repair shop, they hadn’t even looked at the car yet. Teresa hoped we could pick it up today, and I dread telling her that we can’t.

Friday, January 6, 1989

10 AM. If my first day at Sloatsburg was the coldest day of the year, my second day was the biggest snowstorm of the season so far.

At 6:30 AM, Ron called me and told me that although the school had not been closed, it might close early and I’d better not come, especially since I’d had car trouble.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mark at the car repair place told me that he installed a new ignition control model (for $180) and the car was ready.

But I was tired and it was late, and I didn’t want to run into evening rush hour traffic. Besides, I knew I had to come up today, and except for the additional money another day of car rental would cost, I didn’t want to make an extra trip.

However, today’s snowstorm meant that even though I wasn’t going to teach today, I had to go to Sloatsburg to fetch Teresa’s car.

Leaving at 7:30 AM just as the snow was starting to gather force, I had a scary drive all the way up there and back.

I went out with Route 4 into Route 17 and gave back the rental car. For $10, a guy drove me to J & L Car Repair, where I got the car back.

I’m just grateful I arrived home safely and didn’t get into one of the many accidents that were all over the Thruway, the Palisades, and other roads.

Later I have to call Ron to arrange an alternate date for teaching. After all the planning last summer and fall and all the switching dates back and forth, didn’t they realize – as I did – that snow might foul up everything?

Yesterday afternoon I bundled myself up in layers so bulky that I didn’t know where my body ended, and I kept knocking over items as I shopped for groceries and drugs.

I had lunch at the Ottomanelli Café. As cold as it was – the temperature rose to about 22° yesterday, which is what is now – I didn’t really mind being out.

Teresa just left for work. She must be relieved that I brought her car back.

By the way, when I called Julie to touch base, she said it looks as if I may be the Center’s last writer-in-residence. They got word from NYSCA that due to state budget cuts, there would no longer be funding for writer-in-residence programs.

Last evening Teresa brought me dinner from work – delicious tortellini and a bean salad – and I got into bed at 8 PM and finally had a decent night of sleep.

While I’m still not sure I’ll survive January intact, I plan to make this time go as quickly as possible. Winter is a bitch.

I’ll stay indoors most of the day, but despite the snow, I intend to go out later for a little while.

Saturday, January 7, 1989

3 PM. Snow continued to pile up yesterday into the evening, with accumulations of four inches here in the city and more in the suburbs.

When I called Sloatsburg to speak to Ron, he was out, and the secretary told me they were closing the school early.

I did go out for some pizza and I bought Publish It Lite, on sale at Software Etc. The program will allow me to do my own layout for the book, thus saving me money in the end.

Though I can’t use the 5¼” disks on my laptop, I can send away for 3½” disks, and also I can use the larger disks on my Tandy in Florida or on Teachers College’s computers here.

At home all afternoon, I did some laundry and called a few friends, leaving messages with Alice, Josh and Justin and Larry.

Josh got back to me and said he’d come over at 6 PM. Although I didn’t want to go out, Teresa said she’d bring home some chicken (sent by taxi from Norton’s store in Brooklyn) that she served the office workers for lunch.

Since I slept well the past couple of nights (last night I got ten solid hours) and exercised (to a tape yesterday, to the 10 AM Body Electric on Channel 31 today), I’m feeling much better.

I probably have a form of SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and need the brighter light and longer days of Florida to keep me from getting depressed in the winter.

On the other hand, in retrospect, I adapted pretty well this week. After all, I came in from Florida at 7:30 PM, and the next morning I began teaching at a strange school in a strange place to students in fifth and sixth grade, a level I’ve never taught before.

Ten years ago, doing that would have been impossible for me, and even five years ago, it would have been much more difficult.

I didn’t feel the radical disorientation I used to feel when I’d move between Florida and New York, even in the summer.

This week I survived the bitter cold, the awful problem with the car, and a treacherous 100-mile round-trip car ride in a snowstorm, so maybe a little pat on the back is in order.

Josh came over at 6 PM, a couple of hours after Teresa got home.

I told him about my visit to Florida and other news, and he told me that the harassment continues – but with a twist: somebody finally talked to him.

A man jumped out of an alley and told Josh, “If you don’t cooperate with us, we’ll break your fucking legs” and repeated other threats.

In addition, the harassers are now boldly approaching Josh when he’s with other people. His friend from Rochester, a psychologist, witnessed blatant incidents and told Josh he’s not crazy.

These men are always around, and Josh can’t figure out why.

To keep them from getting their hands on his money, Josh keeps prepaying his mortgage, so that he now owes only $25,000 of the $95,000 he borrowed.

He asked if I believe him, and when I said I don’t know, he told me it didn’t matter as long as I acted if an “accident” of some kind befell him in the near future.

I said I certainly would, and I’d know it hadn’t been an accident.

Josh is seeing another systems analyst, Roberta, who lives in Brighton Beach and reminds him of Gena Rowlands.

But they may break up because he can’t bring her to orgasm.

This is the first time Josh has had this problem with a woman. Roberta said it’s important that she have orgasms and told him she never had this issue with her other boyfriends.

After Teresa nuked our chicken, etc., in the microwave, we had a pleasant dinner. Teresa and I have been getting along very well, and she and Josh were being friendly, too.

Talking about high school reunions – Teresa’s trying to see about getting together a 20th Bryant High School reunion – led Teresa to take out a carton labeled “Junk and Memorabilia.”

In it were old photographs and newspapers, including the  New York Times issues from when Nixon resigned in 1974 and when Cuomo was elected in 1982.

It was fascinating to read the real estate ads (apartments were ridiculously cheap), movie ads, bank ads (interest rates were so high in ’82), the financial pages, and the metro and national news items.

A Kingsman issue from 1973 (Ronna’s tenure as managing editor) provided similar fun, and we saw photos of Elspeth, Stefanie, Avis, Melvin and other friends from college – not to mention the photos in Teresa’s ’69 high school yearbook and the ’73 Broeklundian yearbook, where I resemble Veronica Lake on steroids.

After Josh left at 10 PM, I quickly fell asleep.

Today I took the bus to the 42nd Street library and found the latest issue of Processed World, which arrived there just this week.

They cut my article, and in the editorial preface they took a dim view of the credit card schemes of “Gary Richardson.”

An article by a credit collector followed, and he said I could wind up in prison because I lied about my income and employment on applications.

Although this frightens me, I’m not going to worry about it now. When I get back to Florida, I’ll figure out what to do.

At worst, I’d try to get all the publicity I could out of a trial and prison sentence. Maybe I’d finally become (in)famous enough to get my books sold.

But I may be able to get away with declaring bankruptcy; even the collection agent said there’s little anyone can do about that, and he also noted that a recession may bring a deluge of credit-related bankruptcies.

After lunch at the Pizza Hut on Fifth and 48th, I returned to the library for some research, looking at the recent issues of American Banker.

Using the transfer I got on the downtown M5, I came home on the M104 bus and made my way here from Broadway in the slush.

Tonight I’m meeting Justin and Larry and Ben and Fred and their friend Randy for dinner. Thankfully, they wanted to come up to our neighborhood.

Sunday, January 8, 1989

3:30 PM. Ronna just left.

I was at her house at noon and chatted with Leah until Ronna was ready to go out. We had brunch at the Argo, talking about her feelings about her grandmother’s death and its repercussions. Although Ronna is still very upset, she seems to be doing all right.

Her mother will probably stay in Orlando because of the business they’re starting up, but Beatrice might also move to South Florida eventually.

We came back here and talked some more. Ronna said it would be nice if one of us fell in love this year, and we agreed to keep looking.

After spending New Year’s Eve with Jordan, she knows that marrying him would be as big a mistake as marrying me. (She didn’t say that last part; I did.)

She’d like to leave her job at Yeshiva University within a year, but she’s not desperate to go. Everything’s working out with Leah and her at the apartment, and Ronna plans to be in Florida sometime this spring.

We spoke about how we first met eighteen years ago this month, and I told her about Sloatsburg and my teaching and my credit card article.

Ronna is a very important person in my life, but like in the movie I saw last night, The Accidental Tourist, sometimes people need to move on.

I’m glad that we haven’t had a sexual relationship for a long time, and while the old attraction just won’t go away, it’s better if we don’t act upon it.

Last night I was with four gay men: Justin, Larry, Ben and Randy. (They couldn’t reach Fred.)

Meeting at the 84th Street theater, we bought our tickets for the 8:15 PM show and then headed to the Ottomanelli Café for dinner.

I had a good time with them, talking about our Christmas holidays and movies and plays and gossip.

And I liked the film a lot, though I’ve somehow stayed away from Anne Tyler’s novels. Justin and Larry had both read the book and said the film captured its essence.

We had coffee and dessert at the Argo (so I was there twice in the last 24 hours) and said goodbye at midnight.

After picking up the Sunday Times at the newsstand on the way home, I read the paper until I dropped off to sleep at about 3 AM.

This morning Teresa went off to brunch at her friend Bonnie’s.

I left a belated birthday message on Marc’s machine today – he probably won’t be upset because he usually doesn’t remember my birthday – and I called Grandma to tell her I’d try to see her soon.

Dad’s plane is due in tonight.

Monday, January 9, 1989

Noon. It’s another dark, gloomy day. I miss the sun. But at least I can feel relaxed because I’ve got today and tomorrow off.

Last night I spoke to Ron Anagnostis and we agreed to make up the snow day on Tuesday, January 24. That will give me this Wednesday, next Wednesday and Friday, and then Monday and Tuesday before the presentation on Thursday, January 26.

Yesterday’s 45° temperature melted most of the snow, but more snow is expected tonight and tomorrow.

Going to meet Alice at the corner of Broadway and 86th last evening, I spotted the actor Jon Cryer, who’s very cute. (On Saturday night at the Ottomanelli Café, I saw Ellen Wheeler, a young blonde actress I’ve loved on soap operas.)

Alice and I had dinner at Szechuan Broadway, where I got to enjoy the cold sesame noodles I can’t get in Florida.

Alice had just come from June and Cliff’s, where their daughter had a third birthday party.

In the middle of our conversation, I asked Alice if she was seeing anyone, and she said, “Yes, his name is Peter, and we’re getting married!”

Earlier, I’d told Ronna that I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter and Alice got back together again. As for them getting married . . . well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Last week Alice phoned Peter to say she felt enough time had passed so that they could have a friendly lunch, and he agreed.

As they walked to the subway afterwards, Peter said, “Look, if it’s really that important to you and the only way we can stay together, I’ll marry you.”

So they’re engaged. Because Alice’s mother is leaving for Australia at the end of the month and won’t be back until August with her brother, the wedding won’t be until then at the earliest.

After looking at various apartments, including the one Alice owns in the Financial District, they’ve decided to live separately despite being married.

Alice doesn’t want to put up with Peter’s sloppiness, loud music and other habits that drive her crazy, and Peter is happier living alone.

Besides, Peter’s son is graduating from high school in June and is very unhappy with his mother and stepfather in California.

He’s no student, so college is out of the question, but he’s got a band, and Peter said he could come to New York, sleep on his couch, and Peter would try to help him in the music business.

Alice said that although her life in suddenly complicated, she and Peter seem to be getting along. It helps that they’re back in couples therapy.

It sounds to me like something out of a trendy women’s novel or just another crazy New York City 1980s relationship, but I guess Alice and Peter will work it out.

Though they both dated during their separation, neither was sexually involved with anyone, and I expect they’ll stay together, married or not.

I came back here at 7 PM and finished the Sunday paper. When Teresa returned home, we watched Hope and Glory, a sweet memoir of childhood in World War II England, on HBO.

Dad phoned at 9:30 PM, just as I was getting in from buying some cereal and fruit at the Korean store. He had a bad flight, but they gave him a nice room at the Days Inn, and he’s glad it’s not that cold. I’ll meet him for dinner this evening.