A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, March 22, 1989

8 PM. Dad just phoned and told me the outcome of the murder trial on which he served as a juror the past two days. For him, it was a “nerve-racking” experience filled with tension.

The defendant was a 19-year-old black woman accused of killing her live-in boyfriend last year.

He was a 33-year-old crack dealer who had started living with her when she was 16; each of them had a child already, they had a child together, and she was now six months pregnant with somebody else’s baby.

They had some kind of violent argument and she came to the door as he was entering and stabbed him in the neck with a pair of scissors.

Last night at dinner, Dad seemed to think the case would be over quickly. He’d heard the witnesses (up to the defendant’s direct examination), and Dad felt it was probably a case of self-defense.

But today, witnesses were recalled, and the woman’s testimony seemed less credible. There was a lot of emotion in the trial, and at one point during the lawyers’ summations, the courtroom had to be cleared when spectators began screaming.

Of the six-member jury, the two women (“mousy housework types,” Dad said) were certain the defendant was guilty of second-degree murder and they convinced two other men.

Dad and another man weren’t sure that the defendant had gone to the door with the intent to murder – Dad’s first impulse was to acquit, actually – and after going over and over the testimony and rehashing the judge’s charge to them, the jury voted to convict her of manslaughter.

“She showed no emotion as she heard the verdict or even when they handcuffed her,” Dad said in amazement.

The jury members walked to their cars together, as some were afraid they’d be attacked, and Dad sounded very wound up. “I wish it’d been some civil trial,” he told me.

As he said, the woman did the world a service by killing a drug dealer, but it’s scary to think about the brutal lives these people lead. What hope is there for the children of this woman and the dead man?

In the ghetto, to be a crack dealer is to be successful. The man had his girlfriend take photos of himself holding wads of cash and liquor bottles.

My own day went smoothly.

To my surprise, I fell asleep around 10 PM, and when I awoke for the first time during the night, it was 4:30 AM, and I was lying on my right side without feeling dizzy.

After going back to sleep for another hour, I was out of the house by 7 AM and at Tropical Elementary’s Center for the Gifted an hour later.

Robbie, the teacher there, and Elaine, the aide, were both ex-students of mine from the Appleworks course at Riviera Junior High School last year; it was nice to be made welcome by familiar faces.

I also met Janet Johnson from TEC, who’s very sweet.

Most of the people in my class were administrators in the gifted program or teachers who deal with the gifted at several schools. They told me the previous teacher had lectured too much on computer literacy.

So I tried to control my “teacher disease” – talking too much – and let them have hands-on experience on the Apple IIe’s.

Unfortunately, there were only five working computers and not much software. But some worked on Appleworks (I had the tutorials) and others looked at Carmen Sandiego or Flight Simulator, and I showed some people LOGO and BASIC programming.

There were a couple of teachers who have more computing background in some areas than I do, but the range of my experience is broader.

I also showed them ELIZA, a program always good for a discussion about computers and what they can and cannot do.

I was told our session went okay, but I guess I’ll find out if they dump me for a new teacher for the final session five weeks from today.

Next time I’ll bring my laptop and some videotapes.

Although I worked a full day, till 3 PM, I didn’t feel tired despite not getting a chance to exercise.

Last night Teresa told me she enjoyed her weekend in Philadelphia for Deirdre’s niece’s bat mitzvah.

Thursday, March 23, 1989

9 PM. I may be free for more than the next eight days.

This morning I drove to Liberty City at 10:30 AM to meet Willa Young, the circulation director (and maybe assistant principal) of Miami Jackson High School.

She and an English teacher told me they planned to change the schedule from all Saturdays.

As of now, the component is Tuesdays and Fridays for two hours starting April 18 and ending with the planned Saturday session on May 13.

They felt their teachers couldn’t handle three hours in a row. Of course, I never keep the classes that long, but I don’t care. TEC will end up paying me extra mileage for nine trips rather than six.

I wouldn’t have expected an old, inner-city school to be so computer-intensive, but they’ve got roomfuls of IBM PS/2 Model 30s, Tandy 1000s and Apple IIe’s.

Ms. Young said her principal is committed to making everyone computer literate, and she showed me her own Macintosh SE with a laser printer and a scanner (!) on which she hopes to do all the school’s publications.

(Too bad I don’t know enough about the Mac to do teacher training on that.)

Mostly my teachers will be novices, and they want word processing. After some discussion of the various programs, we decided on PFS: First Choice.

I made copies of the program for myself, and it looks pretty good. Ms. Young said she’d speak to Joanne at TEC about the new dates, and I’m sure Sophie will get back to me.

Actually, at this point I wish I had more work scheduled. But maybe I can try to get some writing done in my free time.

In Tuesday’s New York Times, which I got in today’s mail, there was a front page story on the Dade school district, the nation’s fourth largest and most innovative – but struggling under a deluge of refugees from Nicaragua and other Central American nations.

The district is building 49 new schools, but that’s not enough: every six weeks enough kids arrive to fill an entire new school.

It’s actually exciting to be part of a dynamic school system and to get to watch it in action. So I’m going to stay at TEC at FIU all next year rather than try for another job.

However, I’m going to need extra money. Last night I figured out that when I adjust for inflation, teaching part-time at BCC actually pays less than the $600 a course I got at LIU in 1975. So I can’t really afford to teach more than one course at BCC in the fall and spring.

But this summer I’ll send out résumés everywhere, the way I did when I looked for adjunct work at CUNY and other colleges in New York City.

I’ll be back here in late August and stay till May 1990; then I’ll go to New York and spend the summer and fall there if I can.

I arrived home at 1 PM, and after having lunch, I read the papers and worked out for over an hour.

Picking up the new TV at Service Merchandise, I immediately took it over to my parents’, as I didn’t want the responsibility for Mom’s color TV getting stolen at my place.

I went back there at 6:30 PM, when the prospective buyer of the house, Andy Freund, a young IRS agent (married with two kids), brought over the contract that his lawyer drew up.

He wanted to show the house to a co-worker, so I let him look. He seems like a nice guy, and I hope nothing falls through. Tomorrow Dad’s taking the contract to his own lawyer to see what he says. I’ve got my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly.

Marc and China came over for dinner, which Mom and Dad brought back from Wendy’s. It was a pleasant meal, and I enjoyed playing with a frisky China afterwards.

My family is weird, but I love them.

Last night I filled in Grandma Ethel on what’s been happening here. She said, as usual, that Mom never phones.

In New York, Mayor Koch has declared a water emergency. He seems to be trailing Dinkins and Giuliani in the polls.

Saturday, March 25, 1989

9 PM. My dizziness affects me mostly as I go to bed these days, just as it did after I started to get better nine years ago.

Once I’m asleep, though, I can now sleep on my right side, and I’ve been able to exercise in any position.

I’m grateful that the dizziness isn’t worse; I can handle the occasional “lurching” I feel during the day.

Up at 8 AM, I began exercising at 9:30 AM to the new Body Electric show I taped last Saturday; then I worked out to the show I taped at 10 AM today.

I did ten days’ worth of laundry in two loads before returning to my apartment with today’s mail.

Among the bills and junk, I found a newsletter for people with panic disorders and agoraphobia.

Recent studies indicate agoraphobics have too few receptors in the brain and that the cause of the problem may be too much of one brain chemical and/or not enough of another.

But agoraphobics do tend to have certain types of parents, so the condition may be somewhat psychological in origin.

Obviously my mother’s overprotectiveness could not have caused me to get daily anxiety attacks; looking back, it seems obvious that the condition had a physical cause.

But my own feelings of fear in the outside world, my horror at “messing up” at life (the way I “messed up” my room – at least in Mom’s opinion) could have fed the whole state of mind I had.

I ordered a new bottle of Triavil 2/10 from Deutsch Pharmacy today; I don’t care what anyone says, I’m convinced the drug helped me more than psychotherapy ever did.

“Would anyone advise a diabetic to see a psychiatrist?” wrote an agoraphobic in the newsletter.

Still, I do stay pretty close to my family in Florida, though nobody can say that I’m bound to them the way Jonathan is.

In the past ten years, I’ve moved around constantly between New York and South Florida (and writers’ colonies), as if I were always telling myself that no one place is permanent and thus a refuge I could imprison myself in the way I did on East 56th Street 20 years ago.

I’ve made myself feel “safe” in numerous apartments and in different jobs. It’s not strange that someone whose panic attacks primarily took place in classrooms should spend his professional life in classrooms; obviously, I’m overcompensating for my old fears.

With my current TEC position – I did my first workshop over three years ago – I move around constantly, from school to school, from one unfamiliar classroom to another. The same was true of my Writer-in-Residence job in Rockland.

This afternoon I saw New York Stories at the Broward Mall. The Scorsese section was the best, though Woody Allen’s piece was fun; the part that Coppola directed was embarrassingly bad.

I sure wish I had some company. Will I ever have good friends in Florida?

Well, I can’t say I go out of my way to meet people. My life is too dreary and too self-centered.

Sunday, March 26, 1989

9 PM. Last evening I watched Cops for the first time. It’s a Fox network show that features actual Broward sheriff’s deputies arresting prostitutes, drug dealers, drunk drivers, etc. and other facets of their jobs.

It wasn’t bad, but our local powers-that-be – except for Sheriff Nick Navarro, who mugs for the camera, playing the brave law enforcement officer in the series – are concerned it hurts our image as a resort.

To me, South Florida actually seems more inviting because it has big-city problems. After New York and Los Angeles, Washington and maybe San Francisco, it’s the hot spot, the international city, a place where trends begin.

The more South Florida resembles New York City, actually, the more I like it.

I called Teresa, who was watching TV, and we enjoyed a Saturday night talk. She’s pleased I’m coming on June 1, and so it looks as if I’ll be at her place for the sixth consecutive summer. I don’t know if I’ll leave in late August, but I have lots of time to decide.

Teresa put in a Voice ad for Fire Island roommates, so she feels summer isn’t that far off.

All the New Yorkers I’ve spoken to said this weekend was gorgeous, with highs around 63°. That’s our coldest temperature at night now.

This year, since I’m skipping May in New York, I should go from summer to summer – but I had my fill of winter in January.

Teresa and I chatted about her friends and family and items in the news. I hate to admit it, but I miss having her around to talk with.

Sometimes I get very lonely here. I know I don’t make an effort to seek out new friends. Working for TEC, I move around so much that I don’t develop job-related friendships.

Maybe I should teach at BCC during the day just for the chance to meet people. No, I don’t expect another Sean will ever come along, and I don’t really mean a lover – I’d just like someone I could go to a movie with, or have dinner with, the way I do in New York.

I did an aerobic workout at home this morning, and then I went to my parents’ house, where I used Jonathan’s weight bench and outside apparatus to do bench presses, chins and dips.

After a shower, I told myself, “I am beautiful” several times, the way I heard suggested on a self-help tape, and then I went out by the pool.

Actually, I’m sure nobody there cared about what kind of body I had. There were about a dozen people out, mostly younger guys who looked kinds of redneck-y, with long blond hair and tattoos.

I read the Times Book Review, which featured an article by a writer who said there are too many books published and that authors should think before they commit to another volume.

One thing about not writing for writing’s sake: whatever work I have produced and published in recent years, it all just had to come out.

That doesn’t necessarily make it better, but at least I’m not adding to the pile of competent, so-what books. Lazy people rationalize whenever possible, huh?

I didn’t stay out more than 30 minutes, but I’ve got enough sun for a while, thank you. At least my legs are no longer so pale. I’ll feel compelled to spread skin bronzer on them before I wear shorts in public.

Alice called and said she’s glad the Sally Jessy Raphael show is over. She feels it was a great accomplishment to get on, and neither she nor Peter was nervous, and both felt they sounded articulate.

But they were the last of four couples brought on the show, appearing in the last fifteen minutes. (The others were all married.)

The producers didn’t want to allude to the magazine article because it’s no longer on the stands, and Alice and Peter couldn’t get in a plug for the book proposal.

Peter’s miserable 79-year-old mother in Venice, Florida, hated the article – she said Alice sounded like a “tramp” for discussing her sex life with Peter – and told Peter that if he didn’t tell Sally to kill the program, it would be the death of her.

I’d always figured Peter exaggerated his mother’s obnoxiousness, but apparently Mrs. F is a monster. He ended up by lying and telling her they did cancel the show.

I think Grandma Ethel, who’s the same age, wouldn’t be so upset; certainly she wouldn’t say so even if she felt embarrassed when she watched it.

Alice said her brother will be back from Australia for six weeks, starting in June, and she was glad I’ll be coming back then, too.

So was Justin, who called from Reading tonight. He and Larry are taking a long weekend because they’ve been working so hard.

Justin’s office move – which he coordinated – is now over, and they’re at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street, in Dad’s old neighborhood.

His boss still is unpredictable, and Justin feels the job, unlike the work at Shearson, demands too much of his time and energy.

He’s getting his theater company going, and he’s been working on his plays. They did his Resurrection play at the Chuck Maryan workshop again, and while the reading was good, the class reaction was mixed.

And Justin directed a reading of the Werbachers’ new play as well.

Wednesday, March 29, 1989

5:30 PM. I just finished rewriting “Coping.” Now I’ve got that and the first story in the In The Sixties collection complete. I worked for an hour yesterday afternoon, another hour last night, and another hour just now.

It feels great to be writing – or rewriting – or editing. I’ve been sticking to the schedule I made up, and I’m sure I’ll have the entire book manuscript ready by the deadline of April 30 set by Galileo Press.

While I don’t expect to get published by Galileo, their contest has given me a reasonable goal I can strive toward.

My manuscript must be about 36 pages now, and they want between 60-125 pages. So at worst, I’m a quarter of the way through.

When Galileo Press returns the manuscript, I can send it to other small presses – or just publish it myself.

This morning I reread some of The Greatest, and I felt pleased with the work. I don’t feel bad about inflicting another book on society because nobody else is doing work like I am.

Just maybe the time is right for my sensibilities and the public’s to jibe. I have no expectations for the book, but the title is provocative, and if I sell it on the street in Manhattan maybe something exciting will happen.

After lying in bed for a few hours yesterday I began to feel better and I exercised and then brought in Italian food for me, Mom and Jonathan. (Dad had gone to Sarasota on business.)

Back home, I cracked open my laptop after watching The Wonder Years, and by 11 PM, I felt tired.

I slept soundly – it’s delicious not to worry about dizziness – dreaming of being in Boston with my grandparents and friends from Brooklyn College.

Around noon, I drove into Miami to give Willa Young the video on desktop publishing so she could pick out software.

Glad to see me, Willa introduced me to the principal, who’s bought all the great computers.

Despite its inner-city location and armed-camp feel, I like Miami Jackson High School; there’s a lot of positive energy there.

Willa said that 38 people signed up for my workshop, so we may end up splitting it into two groups. We won’t know until the first workshop on April 18.

On Friday, when she spoke to Sophie, Joanne Kaspert at TEC thanked me for the support I’ve given her at Miami Jackson.

I don’t mind going out of my way if it means I can do a good job and help the teachers.

On Monday, I saw the first of a five-part PBS series, Learning in America, and the picture they painted of us versus the rest of the world in education should alarm people.

After leaving Liberty City (or is that Overtown?), I stopped for lunch at Corky’s in North Miami Beach.

Teresa called to say she’d had a terrible day yesterday.

She was parked legally, but when she tried to go out in the morning, a double-parked car blocked her, so she kept honking the horn. Annette and another neighbor came out and yelled at Teresa for disturbing the peace.

Teresa must have told them where they could go and kept her hand on the horn, but after Annette left, the other woman – a white Yuppie – opened the door of the car and started hitting Teresa.

Teresa fought back until the woman snatched the keys from the ignition and ran away with them.

Someone called the police as a crowd gathered.

The woman who’d taken the keys came back without them, but the police said there was nothing Teresa could do.

She couldn’t have her arrested for assault because nobody was really hurt, and the woman also filed a complaint against Teresa.

Teresa’s brother-in-law says he can get the woman for third-class robbery, and Teresa’s inclined to press charges because driving to work today, her car began steaming up.

The parking lot attendants said there was a hole in the radiator, and if the woman had the key, she could have used it to open the hood from the inside and vandalize the radiator.

“I want to get out of here so badly,” Teresa said.

Jack Silverman, her landlord, asked Teresa why she was always causing trouble, and she said, “You know, Jack, I’ve been waiting thirteen years to say this: Fuck you! Mind your own business!”

I’m sure Teresa’s aggressive behavior made this incident happen – it wouldn’t happen with me – but it could have happened only in Manhattan with its bizarre alternate parking.

Maybe Florida isn’t so bad: I never have to think about a parking space.

Tonight Teresa’s got a blind date with a tall Irish guy in real estate whose ad she answered.

She said Peter looked handsome on the Sally Jessy show, but Alice’s posture needed improvement. (I noticed that, too.)

“It’s a pity they didn’t get to plug their idea more,” Teresa said.

Thursday, March 30, 1989

8 PM. Last evening, after eating a spinach salad and a muffin at the Broward Mall, I drove down Broward Boulevard and Las Olas to the beach.

There’s almost no sign of Spring Break this year, as the crowd along the strip had some college-age kids, but not many, and the other people were elderly.

Fort Lauderdale killed Spring Break, and I suppose the city fathers are happy to be rid of it. Although the thing got out of hand in ’85, it’s sad that the tradition is over.

I stopped in at the Main Library before it closed and found a copy of my article in the new Broward Cultural Quarterly.

I’d called it “To Broward With Love (Sort Of)” but they dropped the “Sort Of,” perhaps for reasons of space.

It’s not a very good piece: it sounds like I’m blue-skying the area. Well, maybe it will earn me some brownie points with the few gantse machers who read it. At least my photos and bio looked good.

Back in Davie, I watched the Academy Awards with my parents. The show was the usual overhyped, boring extravaganza, but I was happy to participate.

This morning I noticed it seemed hot in the apartment; I thought I’d never cool off from my aerobics.

It turned out the air conditioning system in the complex was broken, and it didn’t get fixed till late afternoon.

Working at my parents’ house this afternoon, I finished the two diary stories for In the Sixties. I hesitate to say I’m writing: mostly, I’ve made some changes so that they read a little better.

These stories were slimmed-down versions of the diary sections I wrote for the novel I did in the summer of 1975. Back then I was four years away from the material, and now I’m 18 years away from it.

I’ll work more on In the Sixties tomorrow. I’m not sure whether I should include related stories from my earlier collections.

I feel dizzy again tonight; maybe I’ve spent too much time at the computer. I’ll try to take it easy.