A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1989

Wednesday, February 22, 1989

Noon. A hard rain is falling now, the first rain that we’ve had, really, in this warm dry month – and it augurs a change: Tonight is supposed to be chillier than it’s been all winter.

I bought an umbrella earlier, but I left it in the car, so I hope it lets up before I have to leave for work.

Sophie said that the course at Miami Jackson High School is set for six Saturdays from 9 AM to 12:30 PM on April 1, 15, 22 and 29 and May 6 and 13.

With the Broward Community College writing conference and the Miami Sunset High School course on March 11 and 18, that means I’ll be working every Saturday but one until mid-May. I don’t mind because there isn’t much traffic on Saturdays.

Yesterday I had a brief class at Northwestern High School, where I demonstrated some software – including IBM’s Writing Assistant, which I start teaching today at Miami Springs High School – and let everyone leave by 4:45 PM.

At my parents’ house, I had a batch of mail waiting for me. Among the usual credit card bills was my new corporate card for Computer Learning Systems from American Express.

I used it to pay for the Italian food I picked up for the family at Three Guys (of course, Dad reimbursed me for the money).

This is the first new card I’ve had in ages, and I know I won’t get any new MasterCards or Visas because of my humongous unsecured credit lines.

I also got my transcript from Teachers College; I like seeing my grades and the courses I’ve taken. The transcript includes the summer and fall classes: the three computer workshops, AIDS Education and Human Sexuality, and The Teaching of Writing.

Back at my house, the mailbox contained the New York Times for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and I spent the evening trying to plow through them, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

This morning I went to the ATMs and deposited more cash in my checking account. I also phoned Sat Darshan at work to give her my number.

She said life goes on as usual: Krishna is taking pre-med courses at Hunter so he can get into osteopath school, and he’s always studying.

I again got up at 7 AM and exercised at 8 AM, before breakfast. My last dream of the night had me and Dad taking a bus to downtown Brooklyn, where I had left Teresa’s car.

The other night she told me the car was broken into. Someone stole some of her cooking supplies and two cases of wine she’d planned to serve at lunch at Phyllis’s office, where Teresa was auditioning for a regular gig – which she’d do in addition to her work at her present job.


8 PM. The first session of my course at Miami Springs High School went very well.

Janet Thrower from the Teacher Education Center came over and told the class that she was sorry the first teacher didn’t work out and that in the future they should always let her know right away if something’s wrong with a workshop.

The instructor had never taught teachers before, Janet told me, and he treated them like college freshmen.

Instead of talking very much, I got everyone started right away on word processing. I told them of two elements of my philosophy: have fun with it and don’t worry about what you don’t need to know.

With only ten people in the class – and three were experienced word processors – I was able to work with individuals and small groups. Eventually everyone saved and printed out a document, so at the end they felt a sense of accomplishment.

I feel I’m a good teacher because I’m flexible enough to change style and content to suit the needs of the students. Maybe that wouldn’t work with kids, but I’m training professionals – and this is a smart group of people (one woman typed a section of García Marquez’s latest novel).

I stayed at the school for the entire three hours and came home late after a light dinner for myself at Wendy’s. I’m really tired.

Thursday, February 23, 1989

8 PM on the coldest night of the winter in South Florida – but after spending January in New York, I don’t expect to be bothered by 40° temperatures.

Despite my weariness last night, I didn’t get to sleep till 3 AM.

In the evening, I dialed the number the L.A. operator gave me for Wesley, intending to leave a message. But Wes picked up the phone after I identified myself.

I told him how much I enjoyed the film and how happy I was at his success.

He said it was good to hear my voice, and like Scott Sommer – whom he sees often; Wes just got him a new agent – I remind him of a pleasant time in his life. Both of us found it hard to believe that time was ten years ago.

Wes and Marla left Riverside Drive four years ago and they’ve been in Los Angeles ever since. They have two little boys, Sam and Jake, ages 2 and 1, and they sound like they’re happy and prosperous.

The film is doing well in urban centers but nowhere else. Wes said it never should have opened wide because the good reviews and word of mouth are really necessary for it to draw an audience. Last week two idiotic comedies that got terrible reviews were the box office leaders.

Anyway, I didn’t want to stay on long, so after telling Wesley a little of what I’ve been doing, I wished him well and said goodbye.

Getting in touch with Wes also touched a nerve within myself.

When he told me about his many rejected screenplays (he did the final draft on last year’s DOA but didn’t get screen credit), Wesley said, “I never gave up writing.”

But I did . . . more or less. When Wes asked if my residency in Rockland was productive, I said, “Somewhat,” but I didn’t write a thing.

Maybe I need to emulate Bert Stratton and learn to get my creative satisfaction from something other than writing, the way Bert has with his klezmer band. I’ve already started doing that, I suppose.

Of course, I still think of myself as something of a writer.

With the exception of six or seven short stories, my newspaper columns, and a handful of articles, I’ve published nothing new in the last seven or eight years. I have half a dozen stories that are unpublished, but they’re probably unpublishable.

I couldn’t help comparing myself to Wes and feeling a little bit like a failure – not because I haven’t been “successful,” but because I stopped writing fiction.

Of course, Wes wrote several novels that were rejected, and it took him years to finally turn a script into a movie.

Well, people drift in and out of writing – like Wes’s sister Ivy, whose name I saw today on a page of Poets & Writers on a list of “missing” writers who can’t be located.

Other names familiar to me from the little magazines of the 1970s were also on the list. They just faded away, sort of like I did. Like Stanley Hoffman, who published that novel Solomon’s Temple and nothing else.

I stayed up late, wondering why I’ve followed the path that I have.

But basically, I do feel happy. I feel losing my ambition to become a writing superstar is preferable to feeling bitter, and I’m satisfied with the work I’ve put out.

Maybe I’ve never expected enough of myself.

Last night I also spoke to Ronna and Teresa. I told Ronna about Uncle Dave’s death, and she talked about some of her projects. Teresa and I chatted away about the daily trivia of our lives; I wish I had a Florida friend with whom I could do that.

Today was the last day of the Northwestern High School workshop, which wasn’t as good as it could have been – but most of the teachers learned something, I’m sure.

I’m glad I do these short-term courses. Now I’m free until Wednesday, and I have only all those Saturday courses and three remaining Wednesdays at Miami Springs High School.

That means I can get to work on The Greatest chapbook and maybe catch up on some other projects. Or maybe I’ll just goof off, as usual.

I feel I still haven’t found exactly what my role is in this galaxy.

Saturday, February 25, 1989

10 PM. The cat that Mom has been feeding for months disappeared a week ago, and we no longer have to struggle to keep him out of the house when we open or close the front door.

Mom said that the last time she saw Rusty (the name she’d given the cat), she put out a bowl of dinner for him, but instead of rushing over to eat, he stared at her and walked away. The cat had never done that before.

Tonight Mom wondered if he got angry with us – “or maybe he met with foul play.”

I joked that we should put up posters that say, “MISSING CAT – FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED.”

Florida’s been plastered with “MISSING PERSON – FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED” posters with the photo and description of a college student who disappeared in Gainesville.

Her father, a bigwig at Arvida Corporation, has got a publicity machine going – not that I blame him for using his resources.

But people disappear every day, and just let some mother in Liberty City call the Herald and say her son is missing: they wouldn’t print even a tiny notice in the paper, much less big headlines in every edition.

I wish I could say I was productive today, but mostly I just read.

In the library, I finally looked up paranoia in a psychology reference book. The symptoms and characteristics of reactive paranoid psychosis seem to fit Josh perfectly.

The typical case is an intelligent male in his thirties, sullen, prone to perceiving slights and insults when none are intended. He usually fixates on some giant conspiracy and can come up with logical-sounding answers when his perceptions are challenged.

The thing that clinched it for me was the book saying that most paranoids, apart from their main delusion, are perfectly rational and can hold down jobs and live as normally as their perceived conspiracy lets them. Usually they’re not dangerous.

I don’t know if this is passé, but the book said that a homosexual element in paranoia is common, and I wonder if that fits in with Josh’s obsession with Phil Straniere (or vice versa).

Could all the prank calls and harassment while Straniere lived next door to him be a figment of Josh’s imagination as much as the recent events are? Who knows?

I don’t know see I can get Josh to see a shrink now after all my efforts last summer failed. And the book said that it’s very hard to treat paranoids, though sometimes neuroleptic drugs can help.

Josh’s problems began long before he met Phil Straniere, before his last couple of girlfriends broke up with him, before Josh was obsessed with the fear of having AIDS. It may go back to his childhood and the way his parents raised him.

Then again, like so many “mental” illnesses, the cause might be biological – some sort of chemical imbalance or impaired brain function.

I’ve known Josh since he was 18 or 19, and I feel a responsibility to help him, but I’ve no idea what I can do – especially while I’m here in Florida.

The book said that psychiatrists shouldn’t challenge a paranoid’s delusions and say, “This isn’t happening”; they’re supposed to say things like, “I know it seems that way to you.” Which is what I have been doing.

Josh, like the “typical” paranoid profiled in the book, feels he’s a failure because he never made it as a writer, musician or artist.

I wish I could be sanguine about the state of my own mental health, but I once had problems described in the book: “agoraphobia,” “panic disorder,” and even a touch of “obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Living alone, I find I talk to myself at least once every waking hour. Can I be certain I’m not heading for craziness?

Maybe Josh’s paranoia, like my panic attacks, is the outgrowth, however warped, of some primitive response in the part of our brain that’s a legacy of our caveman days.

Tuesday, February 28, 1989

8:30 PM. I just walked in. For the third time I found a stony frog in front of my door. It takes him a while to notice me and hop away; perhaps he was asleep.

Since noon, we’ve had about six inches of rain here – although, in typical South Florida weather conditions, Miami was completely dry.

Earlier I saw the Muscovy ducks all curled up. I couldn’t tell if they enjoyed getting soaked, but I did notice the water sort of sliding off their backs, as in the cliché.

Yesterday there were five pretty white birds with long, banana-like beaks out here, and I love the multi-sized family of turtles I see by the lake.

Let’s face it: I like the animals in South Florida a lot better than I like the people.

This evening I brought Italian food over to my parents’ for me, Mom and Jonathan. China was there, too, as Marc had a date.

Yesterday he had an exterminator in his apartment, and today he discovered his $2000 gold watch and $300 bracelet were gone.

“Why do you have such an expensive watch?” was the first question when he reported the crime to his apartment complex’s office.

To me, it’s a reasonable question, but that certainly wasn’t the time to ask it.

I hope Marc gets the watch and bracelet back. He told Mom that the guy seemed scared to come down the stairs yesterday – which he thought was odd, since China’s such a tiny dog.

Tonight China only wanted to fight with Mom and me, and we weren’t obliging her.

Mom told me that Dad called and said he’s doing okay in L.A.

I wanted to see a tape of a new CBS show from last night, the Eddie Murphy-produced What’s Alan Watching?.

It was clever, using TV in a self-referential way (like TV 101): a 17-year-old boy, played by a cute actor, keeps zipping through programs with his remote control, and you get parodies, fantasy, and short bits of real TV, all rapid-fire.

Of course, I probably liked the kid playing the title character. God, will I ever get over cute 17-year-old boys?

Can you believe what the Hollywood police tried to do to Neil Rogers? When they busted a porn theater (why they do that, I don’t know, but it seems an obsession of South Florida cops), they arrested the manager, but a detective told him he could get some dough if he’d call them whenever Neil came to the theater because they wanted to bust him.

It was in the paper this morning. As Neil said, this kind of homophobic witch hunt is totally unacceptable in 1989.

It depresses me because I could be Neil Rogers. Or, for that matter, Salman Rushdie. The only good that may come out of The Satanic Verses affair is a greater appreciation of non-representational fiction.

Poor Rushdie is still in hiding, and a Riverdale newspaper and two California bookstores were bombed today.

At least President Bush is strongly coming out in favor of the First Amendment – though he’s mainly preoccupied with the sinking Tower nomination.

This morning, after doing aerobics at 11 AM, I worked on my chapbook . . . and I liked it more and more.

I set up the pages (the margins and stuff), corrected the typos, and tightened some sentences. And it’s starting to hit me that after six years, I’ll have another book coming out.

I was at the computer for hours today, and I finally figured out what was wrong with Jackie O’Connell’s formula in her gradebook spreadsheet. I’ve got to work more with the word processing and spreadsheet programs before tomorrow’s class.

Yesterday Sophie gave me a new assignment. It’s Computers in Elementary Ed, but at this school what they really want to know is how to integrate the computer into the gifted curriculum.

I’ll again be taking over from an instructor who didn’t give the teachers what they wanted. The class will be two days, all day from 8 AM to 3 PM, at Tropical Elementary, the school next to Riviera Junior High where I already know some of the teachers.

This workshop should give me the opportunity to learn more about education for the gifted as I prepare for it. Being in computer education has allowed me to see a variety of grade levels and different curricula.

I feel good about myself for a change.