A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, March 11, 1989

9 PM. When I graduated from junior high school, the only serious entries – beyond “good luck” and “congratulations” – in my autograph book came from people in their college years, like my cousin Robin and Aunt Arlyne’s brother Barry.

Barry wrote, “Life is rich, warm and beautiful” and went on from there with some caveats I thought profound at 14 – and pretty stupid a couple of years later.

But I was thinking of that line just now as I drove across University Drive from my parents’ condo into my own development.

The smile of a moon I had to notice because I’d been watching Moonstruck with Mom and Dad, but I also noticed the clear stars of Orion and neighboring galaxies, the couple playing catch on the volleyball court, the duck shit in front of my door, and the cyclists riding to nowhere on the second floor of the Scandinavian Health Club.

And it all seemed rich, warm and beautiful. Does life get any better than this? I feel a sense of oneness.

“Are you on speed?” Marc asked when I picked up the phone at our parents’ house. I was talking fast, and now I’m writing fast.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so good and I’m afraid to examine it carefully because it might be like tearing cotton candy apart.

Remember those nauseatingly sweet cotton candy cones (wrapped around white paper) we used to get at carnivals and Coney Island and Rockaway?

The purple one was the sweetest. The way it would clump up in your mouth and dissolve slowly. It was too sweet. Life feels sweet too, now, but I’m not certain why.

I didn’t sleep all that well. I slept, but I had only one decent dream, and mostly my sleep was so light that it felt I had one eye open.

I’ve had a headache since last night at the Chinese restaurant – not a sinus or tension headache but an occasional sharp pain at the top of my skull, where I’d be wearing a yarmulke.

The car wouldn’t start at first in the morning’s 50° “cold” and I flooded it and panicked and called Dad,  but got it started before he got here.

I made it all the way to Kendall and got to Miami Sunset High School just in time, following my students to the room.

I have about eight in the class, mostly media specialists who really need to know how to use Circulation Plus, the software they use in school libraries.

In the morning I lectured on the parts of the computer and they looked at the “Apple Presents Apple” tutorial.

We broke for lunch at noon and I went to Pizza Hut with Jackie Sherman, the only teacher there from Sunset, a lovely woman.

She grew up on Avenue N near Ocean Parkway and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1935. She couldn’t get a teaching job then because she failed the speech exam.

I’d heard about that exam from Teresa’s mother: since so many people wanted teaching jobs in the middle of the Depression, they had strict standards and penalized people with Jewish or Italian accents.

Coming here in 1950, Jackie couldn’t get a job in the schools for years because they had quotas for Jewish, Black and Hispanic teachers, but eventually she became a media specialist and now works at night at Sunset.

It was she who’s been trying to get the course there (and it’s on Saturdays because she works at night).

She had interesting stories to tell, as did Josefina, the Cuban woman I drove home, who was one of three teachers from Miami High School who wanted to learn Circulation Plus.

I picked up the manual at her house in Westchester because next week we can use the library’s computer.

Josefina told me how she and her family escaped Cuba in 1961. She became a Spanish teacher, but her husband never learned English. He worked in a factory where the Italian-American boss decided it was easier for himself to learn Spanish than for all his workers to learn English.

Anyway, in our afternoon session, Jackie was kind enough to get me a VCR and I showed tapes of Educational Computing from last summer.

The shows featured CAI programs, so if I didn’t have the programs, at least I could show them tapes of how the screens look as someone uses the software.

Then we worked on BASIC, which requires great patience on my part – but I enjoy it – and finally I demonstrated word processing and spreadsheets.

I didn’t get home till 5:30 PM, and I had a sore throat and was tired but didn’t care. I felt I’d done a good day’s work.

For the first time my answering machine said, “Hello, you have two messages.” One was Teresa (“Don’t you love me anymore? You didn’t call all week.”) and the other was Tom, with the book’s ISBN number. Now I can send it to be typeset!

I phoned Teresa, who was preparing dinner for Amira and her boyfriend tonight. Teresa and her friend Randy saw True Believer at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema (with the car double parked in front of the chicken store, so Norton and Pam could watch it), and they both liked the movie.

Teresa’s got a new checking account at Manny Hanny for The Fanciful Chef and she’s paying most of her bills with it. Now that she’s got a DBA (doing business as), she can deduct a lot as business expenses.

She told me that Heidi wrote a book about a coyote family for a school project, and it sounds great, like the kind of thing my Rockland kids could be doing.

Jonathan was having dinner when I arrived at the townhouse.

Mom said Dad had stormed off after they’d had an argument, but when Dad returned, he offered her his hand to shake, and they smooched as Jonathan and I talked, trying not to invade their privacy.

Dad told me a story I hadn’t heard before: When he and Mom flew back from Miami on their honeymoon to Cuba, they did it in an Economy Airlines 36-seater which gave them such a rough ride that when they hit an air pocket and dropped twenty feet, Mom’s pearl necklace jumped right off her neck and shattered when it slammed against the plane’s ceiling, with the individual pearls falling all over the plane.

They had to make an emergency stop in Raleigh to fix something, and Mom made Dad follow the pilots into the bar to see if they were getting drunk (they were drinking Cokes).

Yesterday, in response to a letter from a finder of lost stocks, I opened a strongbox with some of Dad’s parents’ papers. We found the needed stock certificates and other interesting items.

One was a letter from the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Assistance Society) that told Grandpa Nat that a Nachman Ginsburg (Grandpa sometimes spelled his name with a U, sometimes with an E) arrived in New York on November 12, 1913 at age 16 and he was headed for his brother Itzhak’s (Ike’s) house on Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn.

That means Grandpa Nat was older than we thought, and he was over 90 when he died.

And Grandma Sylvia, according to school records looked at by Social Security, was born March 15, 1899, which means she died at 82, not 80 or 81.

Today feels like it’s filled with stories.

Wednesday, March 15, 1989

Noon. Beware the Ides of March.

I did sleep last night, but it’s hard to sleep only on my left side; my left arm aches from being under my head and the pillow, and even my left ear hurts.

Whenever I turned over on my right side, instantly I was hit by an unpleasant wave of vertigo. I don’t know how long this will last, but I expect it to continue indefinitely if my 1980 condition is any judge.

I became obsessive during the night, thinking that my neck and left shoulder were Cuban and the rest of me Anglo. Weird.

This morning when I tried to exercise, I went on the floor to do stomach crunches and wham, instant dizziness. So I just did some low impact aerobics for 15 minutes – just enough to get up a little sweat.

I suppose I have to think of myself as handicapped, or to use the newer term, physically challenged – at least till the dizziness goes away. I’ll have to adjust to new ways of sleeping and eating.

I remember in class at Broward Community College, my students and I once read an essay by a German Jew taken to a concentration camp who was sure he’d never be able to sleep without his accustomed pillow – but sleep he did.

You can get used to anything.

I’ll just make do and work around my dizziness. What else can I do? This isn’t going to kill me, after all – unless it’s a brain tumor.

Some good news: I actually wrote a lot last night. It was just reminiscences of college, but it was something.

Also, Art Lazear lost his Davie Town Council seat to former Dolphins quarterback Earl Morrall.

The losing candidate in the other council race spent $25,000 and yet got only 25% – less than I did when I ran in 1982.

Wish me luck as I go off to do the best I can at work in Miami Springs.


10 PM. I’ve been dizzy but I’m functioning.

It actually proved to be good therapy to be at work, although at first I didn’t think I was going to make it through the class.

Still, once we got started and people needed my help, I was sucked into the rhythm of teaching.

Every one of the teachers in my class at Miami Springs High School told me how much fun I make learning and some said they will miss me.

I wish teaching were always this pleasant and rewarding.

I’ve just completed the paperwork for the course, but I think I’ll wait to submit it until next week, after I close out the Media Specialists workshop on Saturday.

Then I have next Wednesday’s workshop on computers and gifted education at Tropical Elementary, and after that, I have the next ten days off (more if the Miami Jackson High School workshop is canceled).

I’ve had to stretch for some of these workshops: the one on critical and creative thinking, and the Writing and Planning Assistant series I learned for Miami Springs, and now I’m going to try to learn the Circulation Plus library checkout system and to explore the elementary gifted curriculum.

I started doing TEC workshops three years ago this week, and I’ve come a long way in that time.

Now that I think about it, I began teaching my first class at Long Island University just about 14 years ago this week.

So I’m beginning my fifteenth year as a teacher.

Reading my February 1980 diary entries about my vertigo then, I see that I felt not just overwhelmed by my illness, but also frustrated with a system which treated me – a college adjunct – as a piece of shit.

I desperately wanted to get out of teaching and find a new career.

But I stuck with it, through the years at BCC and then back at CUNY, and since 1986 at FIU. I’ve taught in classrooms from third grade to graduate school.

Something must have made me stay in teaching for so long. It’s an odd choice for a profession for someone who suffered from school phobia.

Friday, March 17, 1989

8 PM. I’m trying not to feel pressured, but I can’t help it. Because I was gallivanting all over Miami with Pete Cherches today, I didn’t have time to prepare thoroughly for tomorrow’s workshop at Miami Sunset High School.

I did spend a couple of hours reading the Circulation Plus manual, but it’s certainly too difficult for me to learn without using the software.

However, the screen format and commands are similar to Appleworks, and I can have my students use the Appleworks tutorial, particularly the one about the database.

I wish I had an Apple IIe or IIc so I could preview the disks and see what I’ve got. But I’m sure I can wing it tomorrow.

I feel dizzy right now, and I know stress only makes things worse. This dizziness isn’t going to pass easily or quickly. More likely it will be like 1980 and I’ll just have to get accustomed to living with it.

At least I know I was able to function today even though I drove over 100 miles. I just pray I can get through tomorrow’s all-day session and then Wednesday’s at Tropical Elementary.

Last evening, Mom and Dad were in an uproar about the house. The lawyer says Dad could lose his $15,000 deposit if they don’t sell the townhouse as specified in the mortgage agreement.

Mom and Dad have not been on the ball in trying to get the house sold and hardly anybody calls in response to their ads.

“If nobody sees it, I can’t sell at any price,” said an agitated Dad, who claimed he wasn’t excited.

He and Mom feel under severe pressure now, because they’ve got to sell the house in the next five weeks. At the very least, they’ve got to rent it.

I was tempted not to eat with them because they were so nervous, but Dad promised not to talk about the house any more.

Jonathan was off at some Tibetan monk performance, and Marc was bringing his new girlfriend, Cookie, to meet the family.

She’s a neighbor of his whom he met two weeks ago, and they’ve been inseparable since. Cookie seems nice enough, and she’s pretty in a New York City JAP way.

Her father is a druggist who owns a pharmacy on Ocean Avenue and Avenue M and who’s friendly with Joel Deutsch.

Her parents live in Canarsie and go to the beach club owned by Arnold Marshel and run by his son Richie, and since Cookie went to Canarsie High School and Brooklyn College, she knew several people that Marc, I, or our parents knew.

Basically, you could say she’s our kind of people – coming from that world of upper-middle-class Brooklyn Jews.

China was particularly friendly with me last night and couldn’t seem to leave my side as I stroked her fur, which was pretty knotted up; she needs a haircut.

(So do I, but I’ve been afraid of dizziness when I have to lean back to get my hair washed.)

I came home and slept the best I have since my vertigo started. I still can’t sleep on my right side without getting very dizzy, but at least I got much-needed rest.

Now tonight I may not sleep at all. I have to be up at 7 AM and all this week I haven’t been able to finally get to sleep much earlier than that.

I’m kind of anxious right now. I just took the phone off the hook. Earlier, Teresa left a message that she’ll be calling back, but I don’t have time to talk to her. Whew!

I just took a deep breath. I feel about as dizzy as I have been all week.

Last night Pete called, and I agreed to pick him up at noon today. We drove from his mother’s house in Tamarac via the Sawgrass, I-75 and the Palmetto into Little Havana, making our way up Calle Ocho.

Pete wanted to stop at a record store. He likes Latin music, but he said we needed a special kind of store, the kind that serves 80-year-old Cubans, and we couldn’t find one.

But we did stop near Domino Park, where we watched los viejos play their beloved game, and then walked around getting the feel of Little Havana. To me, it’s always been almost a foreign country.

Pete would have liked to find a local restaurant, but I felt uncomfortable eating there, so he had to settle for the Latin American Cafeteria at Bayside.

While I know he doesn’t appreciate the plastic atmosphere of a Rouse Company development, Pete did admire the view of Biscayne Bay.

We sat on a quiet, bench-lined area overlooking the water and discussed literature and writing. Because Pete has been working full-time at work on a project the past three months, he hasn’t had the time to devote to his own writing.

After leaving Bayside, I showed Pete the Deco District and then we went to a West Indian record store on 167th Street in North Miami Beach, one Michael Kasper had recommended. (Michael’s mother lives on Miami Beach.)

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the French-language records Pete wanted, and I didn’t feel like back-tracking to Little Haiti, so we continued north, stopping for soft drinks among the super-animated Jews of the Diplomat Mall in Hallandale.

There I told Pete for the first time the story about Josh’s paranoia.

When I tell it to someone else, it sounds absurd that I didn’t see Josh’s obsession as paranoia right away. As I told Pete, I still don’t know how to deal with it.

Pete said Josh, like Delmore Schwartz, may turn on his friends, and I might end up as one of Josh’s alleged tormenters – at least in his mind.

It was a long drive back up to Tamarac, where I dropped Pete off at 5 PM. On the way home, I turned the car radio to WLRN to hear the news.

Another 1% rise in the producer price index scared the stock market today. I feel a recession is only months away, coming just as I predicted.

Too tired to eat out with my parents, I brought in pizza for dinner by myself.

Saturday, March 18, 1989

9 PM. I’ve been awake continuously for 36-plus hours now and I’m not really tired. Perhaps I don’t need as much sleep as I think I do.

Although I was a mess today because of my insomnia, I managed to function decently all day –  just as I did in my first day at the Miller School in Nanuet last November, and as I did three years before that when I was observed at Baruch where I taught two classes and then two more at John Jay before attending a class at Teachers College.

The hardest part was in the morning. As I drove down the Turnpike Extension, I felt drowsiness overcoming me, so I pulled in to the Burger King across from FIU and ordered a big cola with caffeine to keep me awake.

Most of our workshop session was held in Sunset High School’s library work room because it had the computer with the hard disk drive, bar code scanner, and the Circulation Plus system all the libraries (media centers) are getting.

The system has the look and feel of Appleworks, and while I couldn’t boot the tutorial-demo disk, at least my librarians (media specialists – I’ve got to remember that) were able to get a glimpse at the software coming to their schools.

Rather than going from manual checkout to Circulation Plus, they really should be going to an online system like the state universities have; it’s going to happen in the next ten years, anyway – or it should.

By the time I was showing other things after lunch, I was tired, and I’d lost Tonya Schwett and Jackie Sherman to illness (an ear infection like mine – and bronchitis).

I was feeling quite nauseated when we called it a day at 2:30 PM. On the ride back to Broward, I got a bit panicky and had to stop the car, fearing I’d throw up.

Probably the nausea was caused by my eating (unexpectedly) some cucumber in my lunch sandwich; I can’t digest cukes.

But I soon felt better and made it home, where I fell into bed and rested after paying today’s bills.

At 6 PM, I had a burst of energy – third or fourth wind – and went to my parents’ for dinner.

Dad got only one call from the ad today; it’s very discouraging for him and Mom.

I feel relaxed now and don’t care if I sleep or not.

Sunday, March 19, 1989

6 PM. One week after my dizziness began, it’s still with me, but I’m trying to adapt as best I can. I did get a decent night’s sleep on my left side, and if I have to, eventually I’ll learn to sleep comfortably that way.

The only wave of vertigo I had today was when I tried to do stomach crunches – and I’ll adapt that exercise, too.

I’d planned to work out to a Body Electric tape at my parents’, but Dad was in a foul mood.

He even insulted callers about the house. When one man said, “How do you get 2620 square feet in a townhouse?” Dad, annoyed, replied, “Buy it and find out.”

I’ve felt that disapproving stare all my life and I didn’t feel like being subjected to it, so I took Jonathan up on his longstanding offer to take his VCR.

I also took the old color TV from the spare bedroom, and amazingly enough, I managed to hook them up so that the VCR played my exercise tape.

Now I can work out in my own apartment every day!