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

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, April 11, 1989

4 PM. After watching Grandview USA – a so-so movie I taped – I just went outside to take out the garbage and pick up my mail.

The air is thick with smoke and haze from wildfires that are raging in the Everglades. It was bad this morning, but it’s worse now – like Los Angeles on the most miserable day imaginable – and I don’t think it’s healthy to be outside.

I felt sickish last evening, but once I had some of the pasta that Jonathan made for dinner, I perked up – or as one of my Miller School third graders wrote, I “perkered up.”

Dad came home as I was leaving, saying he’d done some decent business at the menswear show.

At home, Marc called and put Cookie on the line. She had a job interview today, but they only wanted to see her if she knew Lotus 1-2-3.

I’d given Marc a tutorial disk, and Cookie wanted to know how else she could learn it overnight. It seemed kind of impossible to me.

Last night’s episode of Learning in America focused on curriculum and said that computers could be a great help in schools, only there’s not enough teacher training.

The show also noted that computers subvert the way we normally think teaching is occurring: with one teacher in front of a group of kids, imparting information by lecturing.

As Albert Shanker said in his column on Sunday, most people think of that as “real” school, and although they disliked the experience themselves, they feel that more of “real” school is exactly what their children need.

I’m afraid that education in the U.S. won’t improve – simply because inertia is too powerful a force. Drastic, radical changes in the system have to take place, but the bureaucracy barely budges.

I had some really pleasant dreams towards morning: I was making love with Ronna, and then I was watching this bare-breasted woman dancing on the beach. That’s latent heterosexuality shining through, I guess.

I finished the Times issues from last week. I always scan the obituary notices for names that sound like they’re the names of young men who’ve died of AIDS.

In last Thursday’s Times, there were three of guys who died at 33, 37 and 42. One obit mentioned his family and his companion, and under that was another notice, signed by the companion; it ended, “See you when I get there.”

That struck me hard. Maybe I could use that as a title?

Though I’ve had a headache today, I haven’t been too dizzy.

I got two checks from FIU totaling $830 for the Miami Springs High School and Miami Sunset High School workshops. That’s all I’m going to get until the rest come near the end of my stay in Florida. Well, I’ll make do, I guess.

I spoke to Alice at her office. She still hasn’t seen the Sally Jessy Raphael tape and doesn’t intend to watch it. In fact, Alice sent her own tape to her mother in Australia.

Alice’s planned trip there at the end of the month fell through, which is disappointing.

Peter is in Japan for two weeks, and Alice needs to find a new tenant for her Wall Street-area apartment. She’s been doing some articles for assignments “although I should be working on my book.”

I phoned Josh’s office at the New York City DOT again, and this time someone said he’s out this whole week.

At best, I hope he’s taken a vacation, but I suspect something bad has happened. Either he’s gone crazy, really crazy, or maybe one of his parents died.

I don’t know what to think. I’m very worried, and I’d feel lots better if I knew Josh was under treatment.

I’ve been reading a lot but otherwise have not been too productive this week. Well, I accomplished a lot in the previous two weeks.

I’ve never known the fires in the Everglades to be as bad as this. You can actually see the air you’re breathing, and the smoky smell comes through the car and house air-conditioning.

Saturday, April 15, 1989

It’s 10 PM and if you had any children, you probably wouldn’t know where they were. You’ve just watched Bright Lights, Big City on Cinemax at your parents’ and feel like a second-person kind of guy.

Your father was convinced he’d already seen the movie and you knew he hadn’t because it was premiering on cable tonight; once it started, Dad realized it, too.

Your mom woke up near the very end, at the mother’s deathbed scene, and asked a lot of questions and then fell asleep again. “She’ll say she saw the movie now,” Dad said.

It’s been raining since 5 PM, and after putting your clothing in the dryer and folding your mom’s towels which you took out of the dryer (you’re the kind of guy who likes doing laundry), and then, saying goodbye, you drove across University Drive to your apartment, where there was a message from Teresa on the machine.

Last night she saw Gretchen Cryer perform, and guess who was sitting at the next table? Justin and What’s-his-name, and Justin had a beard like yours and looked terrific, and Teresa was glad she remembered – she meant recognized – him.

The other news from New York City came earlier, when Pete Cherches called and said he’d finally gotten a New York Foundation for the Arts grant – in nonfiction, the first year they offered the grant in that category.

You felt happy for Pete, the same way you felt at lunch when you learned that Cathy Smith-Bowers got a South Carolina Arts Commission fellowship in poetry. The good guys are finally winning the grants.

Last night you read Age Wave and realized that you, too, are gerontophobic. You have stereotyped views of elderly people. But you’re glad you’re not young anymore – you wrote that in a letter to Crad today.

All these hot young writers: Will they make the transition to being hot middle-aged writers or hot old writers? Can an old writer be hot?

Russell Baker, in his column, praised James Thurber for ending his autobiography, My Life and Hard Times (which you’ve read half a dozen times since first buying the Bantam paperback on Church Avenue when you were maybe 12 years old) . . . for ending the book at such an early stage in the author’s life.

Baker didn’t say, but he did the same thing himself in Growing Up.

If you write about the distant past, you’re far enough away from it so that you can see it clearly and you’re beyond embarrassment. That’s how you feel about your college stories now.

You were dizzy last night and this afternoon and in the early evening. Reading your 1980 diary, you saw that you were dizzy for months after your first labyrinthitis attack.

God – here I go back to the first person before I puke – 1980 was such a strange, difficult time for me.

I read about Marc’s coke deals and his wild life with Nikki, Grandpa Herb’s cancer, Janice’s death, Avis’s relationships with Simon and Anthony, the daily rejections I got from editors and agents and colleges, inflation out of control, no money, car troubles, vertigo.

What a time. It seems another life, but I’m still too close to write about it.

Up at 10 AM, I had breakfast – I was starving all night; while I love Thai food, I get hungry a couple of hours after eating it – and then  exercised, wrote Crad, did some errands, read: the usual stuff.

Abbie Hoffman died in bed the other night, and they still haven’t figured out why.

People said he was depressed that today’s youth were so conservative and materialistic, but I think he was smart enough to know that if he hung around longer, that would change.

So far it looks like he died of “natural causes.” At age 52?

Of course, one never knows when one will die. Take me . . . please. I might yet be part of the baby boomer “age wave” or I could expire at 38 or 48 or 53.

Even if I die tonight, I got the most out of life.

Am I kidding myself when I think I don’t fear death? We shall see . . . Maybe I’ll fear it more as I grow older.

Sunday, April 16, 1989

8 PM. I got up in the middle of the night and decided to watch Beetlejuice, which I’d taped off HBO. Although the movie had incredible moments and great special effects, it didn’t quite make it for me. I went back to sleep from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM.

After I got the Sunday Times and Sun-Sentinel, I went to get a cash advance at the City Federal ATM in Pine Ridge Plaza, and I got stuck in the bank’s lobby.

Luckily, a Publix worker saw me gesturing, and I slipped my card through the door so she could use it to open the door again, freeing me. Eight people got stuck there yesterday, she told me.

I saw the humor in the situation, but of course I was out in five minutes. It wouldn’t have been so funny if I’d been trapped there for an hour.

Today I exercised, read the papers, did laundry and not much else; I’m still not finished with the Times.

It was cloudy and damp much of the day, with a couple of heavy thunderstorms.

At 6:30 PM, I picked up Chinese food and brought it over to my parents’ for dinner.

It’s hard to believe that a month from now they will no longer be living in the University Drive townhouse.

For the last decade, that house has been my only more or less permanent home. I’ve moved around constantly, but my parents and Jonathan have had the same address since 1979.

Of course, their moving will be nothing like the trauma when they moved to Florida from Brooklyn; they’re now going only a couple of miles away.

And certainly I can never feel about that townhouse the way I did about my childhood home in Brooklyn, where I lived from age 7 to age 27. But I do have an affection for University Village.

They’ve got a new cat friend, a stark black stray called Lucky who comes for snacks. Just like China, Lucky today lay on her back so I could rub her belly.

Well, this week I go back to work. I begin my workshop at Miami Jackson High School on Tuesday, and I’ll be there again on Friday.

The two hours will probably go fast. I need to practice some more on PFS: First Choice, though I’ve been using it to write letters this past week.

I mailed out a résumé to Nassau Community College, which is again looking for a temporary full-time English instructor. The salary is $36,000, which should make it attractive enough for me to spend the winter up North.

Now I feel confident that if I want to work hard, I can make a decent salary.

Yesterday Pete suggested I could do well as a trainer in private industry. Certainly there are few younger people with my skills, knowledge, talent or intelligence.

A Barbara Walters special on the Dumbing of America once again highlighted the ignorance of high school graduates, some of whom thought the U.S. Civil War took place in the 1970s.

I shudder to think how dopey this current generation is, but it’s the fault of a society which selfishly never invested in its future. Despite any rosy scenarios painted by optimistic authors or George Bush, I can’t imagine the U.S. not paying for our short-sightedness.

Maybe there won’t be a depression, just a slow and steady erosion of our standard of living and quality of life.

While I’m excited about the future, if I were to die young(ish), I’m sure I’d be missing out on mostly unpleasant times.

If I do live a long life, I’m starting to believe I might want to emigrate to a more stable society, like some of the European Community nations.

Wednesday, April 19, 1989

8 PM. At my parents’ house tonight, we had gefilte fish and matzo, our only concession to the Passover holiday.

In contrast, when I phoned Teresa last night, she kept going on and on about the seders she’s attending.

Tonight she and her sister’s family are going to Norton and Pam’s house, and tomorrow night she’s taking her friend Markowitz there. (Markowitz isn’t the guy’s real name, but Teresa calls him that because he resembles a character by that name on the yuppie TV show – which I hate – L.A. Law.)

Teresa’s big on Jewish holidays, but then she makes a big megillah out of all holidays and events. For me, I’m just as happy not to go to seders and Christmas dinners and weddings and shit.

I certainly don’t believe in the tenets of Judaism the way Teresa does, even though she’s not Jewish.

Of course my parents aren’t the slightest bit religious. When I was a kid, they pretended to be, for the sake of our neighbors in Brooklyn, but by the time I was in college, they didn’t give a damn and gave up all pretentions.

I’ve also been greatly influenced by the atheistic example of Grandpa Herb. My other grandparents weren’t overtly religious, either.

Atheism (like vegetarianism) in our family goes all the way back to Great-Grandpa Isidore Saretsky, and I’m comfortable with that tradition.

Teresa said she filled her house in Fire Island, agreeing to share her bedroom with Mark Davis, a ’73 Brooklyn College grad neither of us knows despite being in the same school together for four years.

This way she’ll live there all summer for $600 as opposed to the $3500 it cost her last year (though you have to assume she’s exaggerating the numbers as usual).

In a way, I miss Teresa, but in another way, I’m glad not to be a first-row audience for her crazy, self-destructive New York City life.

While I don’t know how much I’ll see of her this summer, I expect she’ll spend most of her June weekends in the city. By July, she’ll probably escape to Fire Island for good.

I called Justin and told him that Teresa said that he and Larry looked very handsome when she saw them at the club where Gretchen Cryer performed. It was certainly a coincidence that they had seats next to each other.

Justin was awaiting a call about a directing job, but he did say that he and Larry were fine. Tonight they were going to a seder at Justin’s aunt’s house in Larchmont.

After my usual morning routine, I went out and made six ATM cash advances for deposit into checking, and I got a graphic designer from the Yellow Pages who agreed to create a cover for The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was for $40. (In his most recent letter, Tom had asked me about the cover design, so I had to get moving.)

Tom’s been writing poetry and reading it, but he’s finding the final two months of the school year tough going.

He said he didn’t send a manuscript to the Galileo Press contest: “A few years ago, I offered them something, and they weren’t very nice to me. I’ve noticed they choose area writers they already know.”

So I guess I should expect no consideration for In the Sixties and will end up self-publishing it.

In real-world publishing news, Tom said that Debra got the contract for the Walser book ($500). Good for her.

Tom ended the letter by saying, “My landlady is thinking of selling this building. I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want to move or have to rent elsewhere or busy [sic] anything in this city.”

Today’s mail brought a poem by Tom with a yellow Post-It note attached: “Richie – I’m fucked. My landlady wants to sell the house.”

Gee, that will be a real trauma for Tom, I expect. All I could think about first was: How will he ever move all those books?

I’ve known Tom for a decade, and he’s always lived at 6109 Magazine (so much for the permanence of Lowlands Press’s address).

But can it be that difficult or expensive to find a place to live in economically depressed New Orleans? Maybe it is.

They put up trees and bushes and flowers in front of my parents’ new house today, and Dad got the homeowners’ insurance policy.

As of now, Mom and Dad plan to move around May 5 or 6. I’ll still be here, of course, to do what I can to help them.