A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, January 21, 1989

4 PM. Connie just called me after Teresa called her. Teresa isn’t coming home tonight as planned. She had a horrendous time in Mexico because she caught the flu.

Teresa was nauseated and vomiting, and she had body aches, and a bad headache and cold. She spent the whole week in bed. Connie told her about the Thursday court date, so Teresa will have to come home on Monday or Tuesday.

I feel terrible for her. What a bad time to get sick. And of course the hypochondriac in me wonders whether I will be sick next.

I hate to think that Teresa’s horrible time has an advantage for me, but it does mean an extra day or two alone here. But I feel so bad for her.

Teresa’s been so unhappy recently, and she was so looking forward to her vacation. Now she has to come back and face that stupid court date.

It was frigid today: 16° this morning, with a wind-chill factor of -10°. I wore long underwear and several layers.

In Brooklyn, I got stuck with the car on some ice that had formed when a hydrant burst at Nostrand and Avenue J. Some cops came along and helped me by pushing the car as I rocked it back and forth. God, I hate winter.

After mailing my big package to myself in Florida, I had lunch at Grandma Ethel’s and then stayed with her for a few hours. If I’d known Teresa wasn’t coming home tonight, I would have slept over in Rockaway.

Grandma, of course, cried when I said goodbye. She’s very lonely now that friends are dead or in a nursing home or in Florida for the winter.

And she has that bitter taste in her mouth and tongue again, the acid from her reflux esophagitis.

I wish Grandma Ethel would join the rest of us in Florida and get away from depressing New York. I’ll miss her, cranky though she can be.

The car is squeaking terribly, but it seems to be running all right. Just in case of problems, I’ve reserved a rental car for Monday and Tuesday.

Sunday, January 22, 1989

2 PM. Like a spy, I’ve just come in from the cold. It’s a bit milder today – around 34° now – but I still can’t adjust to the winter up North.

Last evening, Ronna came over at 7 PM after she’d spent the day with her friend Judy making artwork for a freelance project Judy’s doing for IBM. She’s paying Ronna $100 a day, so Ronna went back today.

I didn’t feel like going out, so we ordered in Chinese food and then spent the rest of the night stupefied in front of the TV.

I would have liked to have asked Ronna to stay over – or at least I would have liked to make a move toward her (just imagining it gave me an instant erection), but I knew it wouldn’t be cool on our last get-together.

So, without trying too hard, I was as non-charming as I could be. This way Ronna won’t have any sense of loss when I return to Florida – except maybe for missing one of her friends.

Sometimes I still think that because Ronna and I are so comfortable with each other, we should be together – but we want very different things out of life.

She deserves the full treatment: husband, kids, a life of tranquility.

I walked out with her, picking up the Sunday Times at the newsstand on Broadway and 86th.

Across in the street, in front of The Boulevard, Ronna kissed me and said it was so cold that she wouldn’t ask me to walk her home. For that I was grateful.

Back here, I got a call from Deirdre, who told me Teresa wouldn’t be coming home. Apparently she was unaware that Teresa had told Connie to call me.

When I said, “Teresa was really sick, huh?” Deirdre said, “Well, she had a cold – like me and everyone else there and wanted a few more days to dry out.”

Hm. Maybe Teresa had told Deirdre not to alarm me by telling me about her flu in detail. It’s also possible Teresa exaggerated her illness to her sister – maybe for sympathy or for a rationale for staying on in Mexico.

This morning, after exercising for the eleventh day in a row, I read the Times and watched the Sunday talk shows before I went out to eat french toast at the Argo diner.

I’ll finish the papers and probably nap and maybe turn on the Super Bowl to see what Miami looks like. (Rain is expected in South Florida today.)


6 PM. I just returned from my second time venturing out today.

Ron Anagnostis left a message that he’d like me to attend an 8:10 AM conference with him and the five teachers to discuss Thursday night’s presentation.

I really think Sloatsburg is taking advantage of me. When this is all over, I’ll have gone there nine times (not counting the day of the snowstorm).

And they stuck two one-hour sessions at the beginning and end of my day, making me teach for a total of 4¼ hours a day: that’s more than the equivalent of five of the 50-minute periods that I’m used to from teaching college classes.

But I’ll probably try to leave early tomorrow anyway. Teresa’s car is still making that squeaky noise, and I want to allow time for mechanical trouble.

On Riverside Drive, as I watched the streaks of rose and turquoise over the January shore, a man jogged past me wearing nothing but gym shorts, socks, running shoes and mittens.

He had a great body and he seemed to laugh scornfully at me, bundled up in my parka, as he ran past.

Either he belongs in Florida or Southern California or else he’s so adept at survival in a Northern winter that to him, it might just as well be 70°.

Lola Szladits was in the Times in an article about the Berg Collection’s current exhibit of writers’ diaries. Right now, my own diary serves as a therapist, and boy, do I need it.

Monday, January 23, 1989

5 PM. It’s a beautiful day for January. Right now it’s 50°.

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Jodi from the Broward Arts Council. My Cultural Quarterly article is going to the typesetter tonight and she wanted me to come up with a title.

I gave some suggestions, and they’ll either use “To Broward With Love (Sort Of)” or “Why I Live Where I Live.” It will be out in April with the magazine’s next issue.

I had just done a Body Electric workout and right now I feel as good as I have in the last day.

Yesterday I decided to do a wash, and when both dryers downstairs didn’t work, I went out to the laundromat.

While waiting for the clothes to get done, I had a dizzy spell so intense that I had to clutch at a basket to avoid passing out.

The laundromat personnel looked at me, so it was pretty obvious.

The spell passed quickly, and when I got home I took a Bonine, but the dizziness frightened me. I also had chest pains again during the night and this morning.

Maybe it’s just stress or a neurotic preoccupation, but when I get to Florida, I want to have a medical checkup as soon as possible.

Up at 6 AM, I left at 7 AM, and was up in Sloatsburg by 8 AM for our meeting.

The kids got letters home to their parents about the Thursday presentation and we seem to be getting good participation.

Although Ron had spoken about having the group split up in two, I realized that if I were to introduce the writers, I could only be in one place at one time. So we’ll go with one big group and hope it doesn’t run on too long.

They’ll rehearse on Thursday morning, but although Ron asked if I could be there, I really don’t want to be, and that wasn’t in our original agreement.

So far, I think I’ve done everything Sloatsburg has asked me to.

Today I really worked hard. I talked about proofreading and editing, and I worked with students, singly and in groups, as they edited their work.

The Learning Unit simply writes, of course, but today they were writing up a storm – even the “bad” kids.

Surprisingly, unlike any other class, they asked me questions about a writer’s life and about the details of book and magazine publication. It’s weird that special ed kids would think to do that.

Although I felt very tired during the course of the day, it was a good feeling. I accomplished a lot with the students today.

The kids like me – I was going to write “really like me,” but then I remembered that today I told them to avoid “really” – and I like them and their teachers.

Teresa’s car is squealing and screeching and squeaking, but it got me to Sloatsburg and back.

She’s not home yet, and I don’t know if she’ll be home today or tomorrow.

For my own sake, I hope she comes back tomorrow so I could have another peaceful night like last night, when I fell asleep at 9 PM.

But even if I go back to the futon tonight, I’ll get through tomorrow. With five days in Sloatsburg under my belt, I feel the worst is over. I hope so, anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 1989

7 PM. Teresa will probably be back at any time now, so I want to write quickly. It was good to be alone last night because I got the rest I needed – though right now I feel that I’ve probably lost the battle against getting sick.

During dinner with Alice at Szechuan Broadway just now, I started to feel that familiar catch in my throat, signaling the postnasal drip that always begins my colds.

I must have been exposed to a dozen different viruses in the last week, so I’m certain I’ll be sick. But at least I got in my six teaching days in Sloatsburg.

Today was fairly pleasant since most of the kids were editing and writing final drafts. Julie came in at the tail end of my session with Miss Santy’s class, and we went out for lunch at the Orange Top Diner in Tuxedo.

She audited my final class (Mrs. Goldblatt’s) and then I introduced her to Ron, whom I told I would be in on Thursday during the afternoon, so I could prepare for the presentation.

Julie told me to follow her back to the Center, where she made out my final check, for $2000, and also a $30 check to cover my car rental.

She told me I should have called her or Claire at the Center when I got stuck with the car: “That’s what we’re here for.”

After Claire gave me the newsletter, which mentioned my activities, I left the Center and drove to Nanuet, where I deposited my checks at the Chemical Bank drive-through window before coming home.

Although I felt grateful that it hit 60° today, I wonder if this seesaw weather pattern is what’s making me sick.

Teresa’s car really needs to be fixed; it’s squealing like a greased pig.

Alice came over at 5 PM, after dropping something off at her agent’s, three blocks from here. After chatting for a while, we went out to dinner.

Alice seems happy these days, though Woman’s World’s change of office to a new location in Englewood Cliffs is a pain.

Wednesday, January 25, 1989

Noon. My throat is sore, I’ve got a headache and postnasal drip, and I slept only three hours last night. But other than that, I’m fine.

The apartment’s been in an uproar all morning, and when I compare my life to my roommate’s, I realize I have few problems.

Teresa has gotten herself into a real mess after screwing up yet again. Her sister, brother-in-law and two other lawyers agree that her subtenant David has got a good case based on court precedent.

Housing Court in New York is very pro-tenant, and Teresa just might have to pay this guy the treble damages he’s asking for.

From my vantage point of the living room floor (where my futon is), I heard just what I expected to hear: Teresa’s side of dozens of phone conversations, sobbing, screaming, threats, hanging up, recriminations, etc.

She called Perry and sort of threatened to involve him. He said her only bargaining chip is with the landlord, who could give her subtenant a lease. Perhaps then David might drop his monetary claims.

Otherwise Teresa is threatening to commit suicide. She says she will never pay David that money, that she doesn’t have it.

But she worries that if he finds out about the East 87th Street apartment, he can attach that or get a lien on it – and that’s her parents’ money.

Connie told her that she’s both unlucky and stupid to get involved in all these real estate deals.

Really, nothing has turned out right for Teresa. The roommate agreement with David doesn’t mean a thing if Teresa didn’t live in the apartment, and she was doing something illegal: rent gouging.

Meanwhile, her left ear still hasn’t popped after the pain that started on the descent into LaGuardia. When she called me from the airport, she was deaf in one ear.

She’s still very congested; she said this was probably the worst cold she ever had.

I suspect that her two days of vomiting was caused not by a stomach flu but by drinking large quantities of tequila and other alcoholic drinks. She told me she had to sneak out of Club Med because they were about to catch her for staying on extra days without paying.

Although she made it sound funny (and I laughed at the story), now that I think of it, Teresa really was committing theft of services.

Yes, millions of people have sneaked into hotel rooms, but that doesn’t make it right, just as many people in New York probably do what Teresa did with the 104th Street apartment.

The lesson I take from her experiences is that justice always catches up with you. When it does, you should accept its consequences.

For some reason – a sense of deprivation? – Teresa feels that she can flout rules. But every time, it seems to get her in trouble.

What this will mean for me and my credit card chassis, I’m not sure – but I will take responsibility for my actions.

I’m still supposed to go to Mikey and Amy’s for dinner this evening, and I guess I’d rather with them in Riverdale than here with Teresa.

I am very glad that I’ll be leaving New York in two days. Teresa got a weekender trip to Fort Lauderdale that’s available next weekend, but I’m not sure she’ll make it.

I’m going to try not to worry about how my cold will affect tomorrow evening’s presentation or Friday’s flight, though I can see what flying with a cold did to poor Teresa.

Right now I’m going out to take her car over to the station on East 96th Street to get it inspected and to check out that squealing noise.

When I come back, I’ll probably do Teresa’s laundry. She was angry at the maid for not doing it, but it was really my fault because last week I told Ruffina not to bother.

It’s turned colder today, but the temperature is still above normal for late January. My head really hurts.

Friday, January 27, 1989

Noon. I just brought Teresa’s car back from those rip-off artists on the East Side.

I should have never left it with them, for I got charged over $100 and they didn’t do anything but reject the car for inspection and give me an estimate that repairs would cost $1350, much more than the car is worth.

Teresa will take it to her sister’s mechanic, and I’ve offered to pay towards reasonable repairs. I’m going to pick her up at work this afternoon, and we’ll drive to the airport; then she’ll see her parents in Brooklyn.

Well, despite my nerves yesterday, everything turned out fine in Sloatsburg.

I got up there with my rental car at 1 PM, had a pizza at the local place on Route 17 and began work, putting the kids’ pieces in some kind of order and writing down notes so I could give positive comments about each one.

When I told Ron that I was nervous, he said he was, too. (As a kid, I could never imagine that principals got nervous.)

After finishing my preparations just about the time school closed, I went off in the car for a long ride in the rain. We were lucky the temperatures stayed mild and we didn’t get snow or ice.

I got lost along the winding roads of Rockland County, and curiously, that seemed to calm me down.

Eventually I made my way to the Nanuet Mall, where I called Teresa to find out what happened in court.

She had a lady judge who seemed sympathetic to her, and Teresa threw a kind of fit, crying and calling David every name in the book.

They went into conference and Teresa agreed to let David have the lease if he would drop all charges and demands for damages.

He was reluctant, but the judge admonished him, saying that he’d gotten a good deal. Teresa typically thirsts for revenge, but all in all, she cut her losses. It certainly could have turned out worse.

While in the mall, I got new running shoes at Kinney and looked at the laptop I plan to buy in Florida: the Tandy 1400 LT, which is $1299 on sale. I can use my Radio Shack credit card with its $1500 line.

After I had dinner at the diner across the street (Ron reimbursed me), I went back to Sloatsburg. I was so busy with last minute additions and deletions to the program that I didn’t have time to get nervous.

We had a big turnout, about 120 people, and Ron began by thanking everyone involved, from the PTA to teachers and students.

Julie spoke about the Center’s role and their programs, and then Ron gave me a great introduction. I spoke for a bit about process writing and what I tried to do and what we did do in the classroom.

Then I introduced the students, who sat on a high “author’s chair” next to the microphone.

I felt very proud of my kids – yes, I felt they were mine – and I gave everyone a bit of praise, especially the nerdy kids, the misfits and the scared ones. And of course, I also praised the truly brilliant writers among them.

The 40 or so authors took just about the time we’d expected, and everything went perfectly. I thanked Ron, the teachers, the students, the PTA, the Center, NYSCA, and then refreshments were served.

For me, it was the public high point of my writing career, at least since the I Brake for Delmore Schwartz publication party at B. Dalton. I got so much praise from parents, school board members, teachers and kids that I thought my head would float off into the night.

Ron told Julie that I was superb, and everyone said I worked so well with the teachers, treating them like equals and colleagues, that it wasn’t only my skills as a teacher or writer but that it was my personality and style.

I left so happy I could have gotten home blindfolded, even in that terrible rainstorm with its heavy fog.

Before I left, I kissed Julie and thanked her. She said no writer-in-residence had such a public sendoff. I feel the experience was totally rewarding, and I’m glad I put up with everything and did it.

Getting into Manhattan around 11 PM, I stopped off at Ronna’s after I found a space near her building. She said she’d just called me, and she seemed surprised and happy to see me.

We had tea, and she told me she just finished all that freelance work with Judy. Ronna got paid $500, which she certainly can use. I kissed her goodbye and came home and talked with Teresa until 1:30 AM.

Teresa said few writers would have done everything I did, like take Lucy’s course – which I got an A in (my grades came last night).

I slept soundly from 2 AM to 9 AM. So far, I don’t feel panicky about flying.

Monday, January 30, 1989

4 PM. Up early this morning, I deposited some cash into my CalFed account and got a haircut before coming back home to exercise.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the warmth of South Florida.

After I read some of the local papers, I drove down to FIU. Although Sophie didn’t have any new courses for me, she gave me some information on the three that I currently have.

My main course is Critical/Creative Thinking in the Language Arts at North Beach Elementary for the next three Wednesdays.

I’ll need to dive into the pile of books and articles on the floor tonight and tomorrow in order to prepare for Wednesday’s lecture.

The workshop in Computers in the Secondary Subject Areas is one I’ve taught twice before, and it’s at Northwestern High School, a school I’ve taught in before. This time we’ll be using their IBM PCs rather than Apples, and I feel somewhat prepared for that change.

The third workshop is not until February 22, and it’s four Wednesdays at Miami Springs High School, finishing up the Productivity Software component.

Although I’ll need to study the IBM Writing Assistant software, it should be no problem to teach them word processing.

The total salary for the three workshops is $1500, and I’m sure more will come along in time.

I still haven’t gotten a car or gone over to Sun Pointe Cove to rent an apartment, but I think I’m doing okay for someone who just arrived late on Friday evening.

Stepping from one city to another, from winter to summer, from one job to another – it gets easier but it’s still a little mind-boggling. Still, I like my peripatetic life.

Tuesday, January 31, 1989

8 PM. I spent all of last evening going over my materials on critical thinking.

I’m inclined to believe that “critical thinking” in and of itself is an educational fad, as much of the work in the field seems without an adequate theoretical base.

The much-discussed aspects of critical thinking seem arbitrary, and most of what passes for teaching critical thinking is either informed logic (with an obsession for naming fallacies – as if giving mistakes in reasoning a name will prevent people from making them) or mere word puzzles (“A man lives half an hour’s drive from his office. Every day he leaves his office at 5 PM and arrives home at 6:30 PM. How come?” The students are supposed to ask questions until somebody figures out he lives and works in two different time zones).

This afternoon I typed up a sheet with some information on it and I later printed it out at Broward Community College’s computer lab.

But I’ve got to listen to the teachers in tomorrow’s workshop before I hurtle into my own syllabus. What do they want to get out of the course? Always I’ve got to take my cue from the students.

I need to remember that I have a lot of information and experience to impart to teachers in language arts: my work with writing process in elementary school, all the knowledge I gained in Lucy’s class, my creative writing workshops, etc.

I’m only slightly nervous about going to North Beach Elementary. While I’m prepared, I need to find out where the teachers in my workshop want to go.

Where do I want to go? Well, I’m not certain.