A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1989

Monday, April 3, 1989

4 PM. It’s a warm, sunny day, but I’m happy to be inside.

I’ve just finished going over about a third of “The Facts Are Always Friendly.” The writing seems clean enough, so I’m not making many changes.

Last evening I watched Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop on network TV. I’d never seen the movie before, and I thought it was entertaining.

Ronna called and she said she’d try to get train tickets for Fort Lauderdale so that she’d arrive on Wednesday evening, April 26.

I’ll be teaching at Tropical Elementary all that day, and I’ll have to teach at Jackson High School the next afternoon, but it’s the best time for me to have Ronna here. It’s too bad she couldn’t be here during these weeks when I’m not working.

Last night I had a difficult time getting to sleep because of the dizziness, and as I write this, I’m still dizzy. My head feels congested and spongy.

I’m starting to get sick of being sick and wish I could be feeling better already, but if 1980 is a guide, I know that this vertigo could come and go for a long time.

This morning I exercised, read the Wall Street Journal, made some cash advance withdrawals and deposited money into my checking account.

Dad went to see Ron in Pompano Beach to look at a car for me.

On Friday, Dad was very upset to learn that Bugle Boy was taking their back-to-school line out of circulation just before his show next week. That meant a loss of about $20,000 in income for Dad.

Later on Friday, Mom left two messages on my answering machine while I was out. Dad was supposed to pick her up at the beauty parlor, and he was an hour late. Neither Marc nor I was home, so she said she was going to take a cab to the Broward Mall to find Jonathan and Marshall.

When I heard that, I got worried – it was then 8 PM – and I went over to my parents’ house. Dad’s car wasn’t there, so at least I knew he hadn’t died in the house.

Mom came in with Jonathan and Marshall and she was crying, wondering if she should call the police or hospitals.

Then Dad came in, shouting, “You must be the stupidest person in the world!”

He didn’t have the phone number of the beauty parlor to say he’d be late, and when he got there, it was closed and Mom wasn’t there.

She was probably across the street calling. But she didn’t call their house and leave a message Dad could have gotten; instead, she called me and Marc.

I left as he was yelling and she was crying.

They calmed down by Saturday, when Sid Berger came over to measure the floors of the new house for tiles. He’s still in the tile and carpet business, only here in Pompano now rather than in Brooklyn and Bethesda.

Marc has been doing well at the flea market with his new assistant, a black man from Turks and Caicos.

Tom sent me his NOCCA Writing Program students’ Umbra magazine. Jeff Timpe’s fiction really does remind me of my own, and the other NOCCA kids seem up to their usual level, though they aren’t as brilliant as they were eight, nine or ten years ago.

I’ve got three manuscripts to read for the Broward Community College writing conference on Saturday; at the end of the week, I’ll xerox copies for our workshop.

Patrick said to bring copies of my books to sell, as the other workshop leaders (Greg, Bob, Barbra, and Peter Hargitai) are doing, but I’m sure I won’t be able to get rid of them.

I should just give away copies of With Hitler in New York since Mom and Dad won’t have room for all the books in their new warehouse.

Tuesday, April 4, 1989

4:30 PM. I just finished printing out the “Diary” stories. This morning I printed out “In the Sixties” and “Coping.”

Using the typewriter, I placed page numbers at the top of each sheet, and so far I’ve got 88 pages. Last night I finished “Facts,” and when I print that out, I’ll be at page 102.

The thought hit me that maybe this Galileo Press contest is a way for them to take in $10 for each manuscript submitted and then publish writers who’ve already been assured that their manuscripts will win.

Jack Stephens and Julia Wendell seem like honorable people, though, so I expect the Galileo competition is on the up-and-up.

Of course, I wouldn’t blame them if they used a contest to publish manuscripts that they already love that way; it’s done all the time in the small press scene.

Still, I’m sure they’ll give my work some consideration.

And what happens when I get it back with a polite letter of rejection? Well, maybe I could get Tom to do another Lowlands Press book, with me paying for everything this time.

Or I could get some other small publisher to do it. I think nostalgia for the late ’60s and early ’70s is just starting.

Dad was away last evening, playing tennis with Francine. But Mom said he saw Ron’s father’s car, an ’81 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham, a big car but clean.

Ron wants $2000 for it, and I guess I’ll discuss it with Dad tonight.

After dinner with Mom and Jonathan – we watched the evening newscasts, with all the networks reporting from Havana, where Gorbachev is meeting with Castro – I came home and called Grandma Ethel. Her tongue is burning her terribly, she said, and she was due to return to the doctor today.

I again watched Learning in America, which last night focused on the inequities in education in this country.

Affluent suburban school districts spend over three times the money per pupil that inner-city districts can afford. We’re wasting the lives of a whole generation of minority kids in the cities.

In general, children are devalued in the U.S. of 1989, but minority children – who will soon make up one-third of the entering workforce – still suffer more than white kids.

Because these kids aren’t being educated, they’ll be unemployable, and we’ll have to build more prisons and spend more money for welfare and police protection.

One business leader quoted in USA Today said he’s afraid we won’t have a recession because the American people need to see what our backward economic policies have done to the country over the last decade.

Reading the interesting projections in Cheryl Russell’s 100 Predictions for the Baby Boom, I get the feeling she’s missing the forest for the trees.

It’s as if there are warning lights flashing everywhere – I see them on TV, in newspapers, in conversations with teachers and business people – and nobody’s paying attention.

Like here in Florida: A new poll shows an overwhelming majority of citizens think our roads are awful, but the same people refuse to pay taxes that could improve the situation.

Look at the Alaskan oil spill. How many lives, human and animal, have been ruined? Yet for Exxon, it’s a full-page newspaper ad apology and then business as usual.

Am I any better than Exxon? Look at the trash I throw out, the air conditioner I keep running.

Well, I don’t worry about surviving to my old age because I don’t think I want to grow old in a world that seems oblivious to its own self-destruction.

Enough bombast?

Last night I slept well, and I dreamed about Grandpa Herb and Grandpa Nat. Not only do I miss them, but sometimes I even forget what they were like, and that scares me.

Today has been productive. At BCC-South, I used the word processing lab and Betty Owen’s photocopying privileges to make multiple copies of some of the manuscripts for Saturday’s writing conference.

Although I’ll probably teach at BCC-South in the fall, I can already feel myself getting angry over the unfairness of the low salary. Maybe I’d be better off taking just one class and not getting myself too worked up about the job.

Friday, April 7, 1989

3:30 PM. I feel depressed about my continued dizziness. While I’ve tried not to complain, I’m getting frustrated with the problem continuing for nearly four weeks.

I felt dizzy this morning, as I do now, and at lunch at a restaurant I got that spinning feeling that makes me feel I’m going to pass out.

I don’t know what to do. When I eat out with my parents, Dad makes a comment every time I jerk forward or back in response to a wave of vertigo.

Maybe I should go to a specialist, but I remember that in 1980 I went to four or five doctors, and none offered me any relief.

Still, can I really just wait until this somehow goes away? It’s starting to affect my life a great deal. And of course, a part of me wonders if I have a brain tumor or something equally serious.

I have no health insurance and can’t afford to see doctor after doctor. The depression I feel stems from the lack of control I have over the problem.

Last evening I did go out and eat dinner alone in the Fashion Mall, then drove up to Boca Raton, to the Park Plaza Hotel at the Arvida Center, to hear Stan Weinstein, the Professional Tape Reader, a highly respected newsletter writer, in a talk sponsored by the Kidder Peabody brokerage firm.

Weinstein’s system is somewhat complicated, but he makes a good case for his way of technically tracking stocks and markets.

Right now he said he doesn’t believe in “that Ravi Batra depression crap,” but he does think that a recession caused by the Fed will begin later this year, that the Dow has already seen its 1989 high, and that the Tokyo stock market is ripe for a crash.

I came home at 8:30 PM and read till about midnight, when I fell asleep briefly. But then I couldn’t sleep much the rest of the night.

I finished Russell’s Predictions for the Baby Boom and began skimming through Ken Dychtwald’s Age Wave: The Challenge and Opportunities of an Aging America when my name leaped up at me.

I was reading the left-hand page, about the unfairness of senior discounts, when suddenly I realized I was on the right-hand page. Oh, I thought, that’s interesting, there’s something about me. And then: What?!

Then I read it, on page 85:

“In the years ahead, the discounts routinely given older Americans may be challenged as the image of seniors as automatically poverty-stricken disappears. For instance, in Dade County, Florida, Richard Grayson sued his bank for providing special discounts to seniors. He claimed it was discriminatory. He won the suit, but the state legislature changed the law to make such discounts legal. In time, all discounts based on age alone may come under challenge.”

Interesting, huh?

There’s no note on where Dychtwald got the information, and in the usual journalistic fashion, he got nearly everything incorrect: I didn’t “sue”; I filed a complaint. It was in Broward County, not Dade. And I didn’t “win.”

This morning I exercised, read the papers, and xeroxed the remaining stories for tomorrow’s fiction workshop at BCC. Now I have to read all the stories; the others are probably just as bad as the first few I looked at.

I hope I’ll be okay tomorrow. I’ll just take Bonine, I guess; I probably should take a pill now. The medicine does help, but I don’t like to be on it all the time.

I’d like to be feeling fine eight weeks from now, when I’m supposed to be in New York, but I can’t count on it, I know.

Jeez Louise. I hate this dizziness. Right now my head feels spongy and I feel things rocking slightly from side to side.

What causes this? A virus? Can it be psychosomatic? If it is, why is it happening now?

In 1980, the vertigo did finally go away, but it took a long time and left me feeling very depressed.

Saturday, April 8, 1989

8 PM. Yesterday, when I read the stories submitted by people in my workshop, I realized why I prefer teaching computer education to creative writing.

Most of the stories struck me as so amateurish that I did not want to have anything to do with them.

But the very last story I read turned out to be superb: An old man, desperate to fight off death, sees a TV show about the running of the bulls in Pamplona and decides to do the same thing, only with the cars on Hallandale Beach Boulevard.

I’m not making it sound as good as it was, but the story was sure-footed, shapely and eminently publishable.

And after today’s writing conference, I’m glad I participated and I even think I might want to continue teaching writing.

I’d like to keep my hand in, which is probably why I’ll teach at BCC-South next academic year. I like the people there, and the atmosphere is so much friendlier than BCC-Central’s.

After a surprisingly restful night, I arrived on campus at 8:40 AM, in time for registration.

Patrick introduced me to his longtime friend Joy Walsh, editor of Moody Street Irregulars, the Jack Kerouac newsletter, and a writer of poetry and fiction.

I also said hello to Bob, who was leading the nonfiction workshop; he looked as if he’s gone through a rough time, and he said as much. Apparently he had a nervous breakdown while going for his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee, and he’s been having lots of problems.

The poetry workshops were led by Eileen and Barbra, Greg was doing mystery fiction, and Peter Hargitai had the other short story workshop.

Except for one young guy, all my students were over 60, but having seen names like Morris, Selma and Pearl on their stories, I’d expected that.

At 9 AM, Joy gave a little talk about her own writing, her Jack Kerouac studies and diary-keeping, submissions and rejections.

I like Joy a lot; Bobby Frauenglas had introduced us at the 1985 New York Book Fair.

It was nice to see familiar faces like Gil and his wife, who were in my Saturday morning creative writing class a year ago.

And Pat Pierce – whom I remembered her as the teller I used to go to last year at California Federal – came over to say hello. She left banking and is now a full-time nursing student.

Pat said she had no idea I was a writer; in fact, she’d assumed I was only 22 or 23. (Naturally, that made me feel better than the two dozen compliments on my writing and teaching that I got later in the day.)

Because our workshop sessions lasted from 10 AM to noon and 1 PM to 3 PM, it was hard to get in ten people’s stories, especially since some were in the 15-17 page range.

But I did it, and though I would have liked to spend more time on each piece, I think it well – and my students did, too.

Sometimes old people can be a bit cranky, but generally they were a decent bunch; a couple were a little too pompous for me, but when I’m in front of a classroom, somehow I usually can muster the patience of a saint.

I remember what Tim O’Brien said to me about most of the people at Bread Loaf: they couldn’t write well, but because they were interested in literary expression, they were generally kind, tolerant and interesting folks.

I felt tired when, at 3:30 PM, we reconvened after the workshops and went to the media room of the library for the readings.

Joy went first, reading a group of poems about a modern Mary Magdalen character.

I didn’t think I’d do very well since I was exhausted after reading so many of my students’ stories aloud, but I got lots of compliments – at least twenty – on my reading of “But in a Thousand Other Worlds.”

Barbra read some poems; Peter, the start of his novel; and Bob subbed for Eileen, who was called away, reading a section of his unpublished novel that was cleanly written and not bad at all.

After the reading, I felt energized by the numerous conversations I had with students.

One woman told me about FIU’s MFA program, and I heard a lot about the South Florida writers: Jim Hall, Les Standiford and Lynne Barrett at FIU; Lester Goran and Jeffrey Knapp at the University of Miami; our poet laureate Ed Skellings, et al.

Finally, some of us went over to Lord Pembroke’s Pub, joined by Patrick’s wife (who didn’t look bad, considering her health) and daughter (who said I sounded like a character on the ALF cartoon show on TV).

Also there were Joy, Barbra, Peter, and a couple of friends, along with Denis O’Donovan, who said he’d been trying to find me for years and who sat in on my morning workshop.

He’d lost a lot of weight, and later Patrick told me that someone was urging him to publish Denis’s book because Denis is dying of AIDS.

I felt bad for him, but somehow I’ve never been quite comfortable around Denis. Maybe it’s because I sensed he was attracted to me and I found him very unappealing.

I hope it was a good day for Denis, though.

It was a good day for me because I got to socialize. Patrick really did a yeoman’s job of putting the whole event together, and he deserves a great deal of credit.

I tend to feel funny among South Florida writers. I’ve always set myself apart from whatever writers’ scene there was in Broward – out of a kind of New York City snobbery, maybe, or just my own need to be thought of as special.

Well, pride goeth before a fall, right?

I didn’t sell any of the four copies of With Hitler in New York I brought, so I gave them to people in the Pub.

Because I took a Bonine early this morning, I didn’t feel dizzy all day, not till just a little while ago.

It was 8 PM when I got to my parents’, where I made myself a bagel and bialy dinner. I’m tired, but it’s not a bad feeling.