A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Friday, April 21, 1989

9 PM. Some unfinished business is bothering me tonight.

On Wednesday Sophie called me to say she’d gotten in the desktop publishing workshop request from Jackson High School. Weeks ago, I agreed to take it over from Bill O’Brien.

However, Willa Young wanted it to start next week, and that wouldn’t give me time to learn whatever system they had chosen. Willa didn’t mention this when she gave me back my video on Tuesday.

When I called the school this morning, I couldn’t get her in, but I figured I’d see her later. However, Willa didn’t come to my class, and now I think the best thing I can do is tell Sophie to give the workshop to someone else, somebody who’s familiar with the Mac. I’ll drive out to FIU to talk to Sophie about it.

The other piece of unfinished business is an anthology I was apparently supposed to put together from the students’ writing at the Miller School.

Dr. Gold, the principal, called Julie at the Rockland Center, and Dad told me that Julie left a message saying that I should phone Dr. Gold.

She wasn’t there on my last day teaching in Nanuet, and I’m not certain what was expected of me: Was I supposed to edit all the students’ papers?

Well, again I’ll take the bull by the horns and call Dr. Gold on Monday. Sometimes I tend to make people annoyed by forgetting to follow up; it’s a bad trait that needs fixing.

Other than that, things are okay.

At Jackson High School this afternoon, I used the Apple to demonstrate some software for the first hour, and then I had most of the teachers on the Tandys, doing word processing with PFS: First Choice.

It’s not going as smoothly as it did at Miami Springs High School, but that’s because some of the disks were defective, causing the programs to crash; also, it’s harder for me to give individual help to 18 people rather than just eight.

But we had some practical, real-life lessons when problems with printing their documents resulted from failures to save their work to the disks they had to bring over to the one computer connected to the printer.

On my way to work at the high school today, I stopped off at Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus.

In the fall of 1981, I was supposed to teach creative writing there before Broward Community College hired me to teach full-time and I couldn’t make the 9 AM class in Miami.

I’d like to teach at MDCC once to see how it compares with BCC and the CUNY schools. Well, I’ll send them a résumé before the fall semester, and I’ll do the same with FAU, FIU and other local colleges.

I was tired out by the hourlong rush hour ride home, so I wasn’t very animated during dinner with my parents. We went to Corky’s in the Pines; their restaurant in Lauderhill went bankrupt and closed.

Today Mom had Marcella, a Peruvian woman from the flea market, over to the house to help her pack for the move.

Marcella’s husband is still in Peru, where the economy is now so bad that his mother’s clothing business is failing because people cannot even afford necessities.

I met Marcella’s little daughter, Lissette, who’s half-Japanese (her father was killed in a car accident) and quite adorable.

Mom said that Cookie was upset last night because she didn’t get the job at Coca-Cola that she’d been hoping for.

Apparently Cookie moved to Florida to live with her grandmother and she decided to stay on after the old woman died and the family sold her condo.

Now Cookie’s father would like her to come back to New York, where her parents and other grandparents live – right now they’re all at the Raleigh Hotel for Passover – “but now that she’s met Marc, I’m not sure she will,” Mom said.

Ronna left a message from LaGuardia before her flight from Orlando. She’ll probably call this weekend, and she gave me her mother’s number so I can call her.

Monday, April 24, 1989

10 PM. I just watched the final episode of PBS’s Learning in America, which ended with an interview with George Bush.

Clearly, he’s not an idiot like Reagan, but I came away with the feeling that the President – like most people – doesn’t grasp either the gravity or the nature of America’s education problems.

If the people of Florida and other states are unwilling to pay for better education with their tax dollars and their time, inertia will win out.

Despite a few well-publicized successes in this little school or that one, the system won’t improve and eventually even our graduates will be unfit for the skilled jobs of the future.

Before the show began, at 8:30 PM, I decided I would call Grandma Ethel, but her friend Lillian answered the phone and said Grandma couldn’t talk to me.

Lillian told me to call Aunt Tillie and said that Grandma wanted to see Mom soon.

I assumed that Grandma’s physical problems – the bitterness in her throat – had been diagnosed as a fatal disease, but Aunt Tillie said not.

On Saturday, Marty took Grandma to the doctor, who could find nothing physically wrong with her that could explain her symptoms. The cause seems to be mental, not physical: she’s suffering from a severe depression.

It’s a shame Grandma is suffering so, and I wish I could do something, but maybe what she needs is a good antidepressant medicine and some talk therapy.

Tillie said that all Grandma talked about today was how she wanted to die, and Tillie reported that Grandma moved very strangely, from chair to chair, as if she were about to faint.

When I called my parents’ house, they were out, and Jonathan, who had spoken to Tillie when she phoned, said that if Grandma came to Florida, he’d move out. He said it almost in panic: “I can’t live with a kvetch.”

I didn’t say what I wanted to say beyond observing that he hadn’t seen Grandma in six years, but Jonathan was acting like a creep. Confronted with any sort of change, he panics, thinking only of himself and his needs.

Actually, it would be good if Grandma did come to stay with Mom and Dad if it would get Jonathan out of their house.

Mom hasn’t seen her mother since 1984, and certainly she won’t go now, not in the middle of moving.

I suspect, given time and medicine and proper psychiatric care, Grandma’s present crisis will pass, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked by a suicide attempt on her part.

When I get to New York, I’ll do all I can to help, but for now I feel terribly sorry for Grandma, just as I do for Jonathan. Neither of them were as lucky as I was in getting psychological treatment early in life.

Before tonight’s depressing phone calls, I’d planned to spend most of this diary entry writing about the reasons I was feeling so good about myself today.

Should I just forget about that now and wait to see if the good feelings I had today still seem to be real tomorrow, when I might be sick or tired or depressed?

After all, it’s easy to feel good when things are going well. The hard part is in hard times. Can I draw on my strengths then? Does anyone understand what I’m writing?

Today was a terrific day. Take my word, and not my words, for it. I’ll fill you in tomorrow, and we’ll see if today still seems terrific in retrospect.

If it doesn’t though, that proves little. No matter how terrible my life becomes – even if I eventually believe that I’ve just managed to fool myself temporarily – nobody can take away today’s good feelings.

Wednesday, April 26, 1989

6 PM. Ronna’s train is running 2½ hours late. It was supposed to be in already, but it’s not going to be here for another couple of hours.

Ronna left three messages from the Winter Park station; the last one was at 3 PM. Her mother had waited with her, gone to a 90-minute business meeting, and then come back to wait with Ronna some more.

What a drag it must be for her. On the last message, Ronna told me to have dinner by myself.

But the delay did give me time to exercise, take a shower, read the paper, and write this diary entry.

Yesterday’s class at Jackson High School went well. My FUNdamentals SX tutorial, duplicated for everyone in the workshop, was a big hit. If I’d had these disks for the first day’s class, it would have been even better, but it proved a fine way for the students to learn the basics of computer use.

I drove home via I-95, and despite the rush hour traffic, it was a faster ride than taking the streets.

At dinner last night, Mom said she spoke with Arlyne and will be going to New York next week to see Grandma for a few days.

Arlyne said that Grandma sometimes stops taking her medicine, particularly the tranquilizers. Marty took her to a geriatric psychologist.

Obviously, Grandma has mental problems, probably stemming from the traumatic experiences she had 50 and 60 years back.

I fell asleep around 10 PM, and despite several awakenings, I felt okay when I got up at 6 AM today.

As I drove along the Turnpike Extension, the air was thick with acrid smoke from the Everglades. I arrived at Tropical Elementary at 8:30 AM and didn’t leave until the school day ended at 3 PM.

All I had were seven administrators from the gifted program, and because they all knew each other, there was a lot of joking around.

At first I thought the session was going horribly. They didn’t seem interested in my IBM-compatible laptop. One guy said, “Well, that’s a nice little toy, but I need to look at the Apples.”

But I did get compliments as everyone was leaving, and some people said they liked me as a facilitator.

One administrator told me I should think about becoming a teacher of the gifted in Dade County and gave me the name and number of the director of the gifted program: “We need teachers like you.”

And their evaluations were all very good, leading me to assume that most Teacher Education Center facilitators, like the woman I replaced, are horrible instructors.

So I felt much better about the workshop after it ended than I had when it first began.

I did like see Robey and Elayne, the teacher’s aides who help run the program, who are old students of mine from the Appleworks class at Riviera Junior High last year.

I was home by 3:30 PM, and now I’m heading to my parents’ house for a bite before I go over to wait for Ronna at the Fort Lauderdale Amtrak station. (It’s now also a Tri-Rail stop; I saw our local commuter train for the first time yesterday as I drove up I-95.)

Using Print Shop during the lunch break at school, I generated a little sign that says “Welcome, Ronna.”

I have a headache, probably from staring at computer screens all day, but kinahora, I have not been dizzy today. I’m afraid to say that my dizziness problems are over, though, and I expect they’ll recur all my life.

Lucille Ball died, just a few days after having open-heart surgery. Last week, when I was turning the TV dial, I caught an episode of her and Carol Burnett faking it as airline stewardesses, and Lucy was as hilarious as I remembered. No one did physical comedy better.

Friday, April 28, 1989

11 AM. It was terrific having Ronna here. I’m glad she visited me, and she said had a good time.

On Wednesday evening, after I had dinner with Mom and Jonathan, I drove to the Amtrak station in Fort Lauderdale and waited for her train to arrive.

It didn’t come in until after 8 PM, and Ronna was wiped out by the four-hour wait in Winter Park and the five-hour trip down here.

We went to Sonny’s Bar-B-Q next to my apartment so she could have some dinner. Back here, Ronna unpacked and gave me some presents: boxes of herbal tea she’d gotten at the Crabtree & Evelyn in Winter Park.

We talked and talked into the night and didn’t get to sleep until after 1 AM. Yesterday we woke up late and didn’t leave the house until 11:30 AM.

First I took her over to the new house, where the door was open, enabling me to give her a tour.

The closing is next Friday, and my parents are as busy as cockroaches. Making things more difficult is that Mom is going to New York next week and then Dad is going to New Jersey the following week.

As we were pulling out of the driveway, Jonathan came along, so we stopped to say hello. He’s not enthusiastic about moving, but of course it’s hard for him to tolerate any kind of change.

Ronna and I drove all the way down University Drive/NW 27th Avenue, and I showed her around Opa-Locka, Liberty City and Little Havana. Then we rode across Calle Ocho to Bayside for lunch.

Bayside may be plastic, but the view is gorgeous, and it was pleasant eating outside, overlooking the water on a mild, cloudless afternoon.

Back in Davie, we stopped to buy some things – Ronna wanted to send postcards – and then we went over to my parents’ house to say hi.

When we returned here, Ronna joined me for some exercise, and then we got cuddly and huggy.

We didn’t have sex, mostly because neither of us thinks it’s good to continue the way we’ve been going on for years. But we did express ourselves sexually by touching and massaging and embracing and kissing.

My headache disappeared after we finished making out like teenagers. Because both of us need at least a little physical affection, I don’t think it hurt.

We might have even gone further if my parents hadn’t come to pick us up for dinner at the Kumquat Tree, but it’s probably good they did.

During the meal, Ronna told us about her mother’s business with Melanie; they’ve got a contract to supply Disney World with workers, and they’ve been successful in attracting hotel customers.

But as they’ve been setting up the business, Ronna’s mother hasn’t been drawing a salary, so no money has come in. They’ve had a couple of offers to sell the business, but Beatrice and Melanie want to see if they can do better with it.

Ronna said that she enjoyed her visit to Orlando, and her mother seems to be doing okay living on her own there, without Ronna’s grandmother and brother. Billy came in from Gainesville last weekend to see them.

Dad talked about how he got started as a salesman here in Florida. He didn’t know anyone and would just drive around until he saw a men’s clothing store, and then he’d stop the car and make a cold call.

In his first job, working for Ivan’s family’s company, he couldn’t sell suits because of Florida’s climate, but he took on any menswear line he could get until he gradually made lots of contacts.

Dad showed us a fax he’d gotten from Bugle Boy that annoyed him: the company is trimming their salesmen’s commissions from specialty stores from 6% to 5%.

After the surprisingly decent Chinese food – I had excellent lemon chicken – Ronna and I returned here, where she wrote out her postcards while I potchkeyed around.

We went to sleep early because I had to set the alarm for 7 AM. Wonderful dreams made the night pleasant although I was awakened several times by kissing noises, Ronna’s attempt to stop me from snoring.

Not only did I not realize that I snore, but some of that time I thought I was actually awake.

In the morning I took Ronna to the train station and waited with her until the Amtrak train arrived after a Tri-Rail commuter train came and went.

Before she boarded, I gave her a big kiss and hug and said I’d see her in New York in a little over a month.

Having Ronna here made me realize how much I miss my New York friends and how I wish I had good friends here in Florida.

I just took a shower after doing aerobics.


9 PM. I’m so tired that I want to get to bed (although being tired doesn’t always mean I’ll fall asleep right away). Although my circuits may be overloaded now, today went well.

I dropped off the Tropical Elementary paperwork at the Teacher Education Center office at FIU after lunch. Sophie wasn’t in, but I gave it to Dr. Whatshername, the new TEC director (the fourth in the three years I’ve been an adjunct), who asked me how the workshops were going.

Then I went across State Road 836 into the heart of Miami and arrived at Jackson High School just as the kids were getting out.

I had only about eight teachers today, and I introduced them to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, which they wanted to play the whole session. Coincidentally, the game was featured in an article in the Herald today.

Some of the teachers, like Mark, got it right away, but others had problems – like John, the English Department chairman, a gay guy about my age, who didn’t know geography at all.

Another English teacher, Chris, is an aspiring poet who said he was going to an open reading at Books & Books tonight.

When they found out I was a published fiction writer, they seemed surprised and asked me different questions.

Sometimes I think I should just shut up about my writing and concentrate on computers, but it tickles me to have people know I have another side.

My parents picked me up for dinner at 7 PM, but a niacin pill gave me such a terrible flush (usually it doesn’t affect me at all) that I felt too queasy to eat very much.

Mom told me how Arlyne was so snotty to her when she called.

“Why is she that way?” Dad asked.

“Because she’s a cunt,” I said, and my parents broke up laughing.

Marty and Arlyne make like they’re always taking Grandma places or calling her, but I know that’s not true. The truth is I’ve lived with Grandma day to day, spending way more time with her than anyone except Aunt Tillie, who’s in the next building.

Dad says that Grandma complains about my attitude but she does appreciate my visits.

However, I don’t know what will become of Grandma. The doctor said if she doesn’t improve, she’ll have to place Grandma in a psychiatric ward, which would be horrible.

Mom has to leave Florida to see Grandma at the worst possible time, when she and Dad are moving. I told them I’d try to help out with things while she, and then Dad, are out of town.

I’ll be back in New York five weeks from today, so I’ll get to see Grandma then.

Marc apparently had a fight with Cookie that so upset him that he didn’t come to close up at the flea market, leaving the woman who works there in the lurch until Dad came.

Everyone in my family is crazy to varying degrees. I’ll be glad to be away from my parents and brothers for a few months.

Today I gave my 30-day notice at the Sun Pointe Cove rental office and I started filling out change of address forms on my credit cards.