A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Monday, May 1, 1989

4 PM. Up at 6 AM, I exercised at 8 AM, and had read the Herald and Wall Street Journal. By 11 AM, I was at Broward Community College’s South Campus.

Betty was busy with students, but she said. “Good news, I hear?” when she saw me, and later we spoke for half an hour about what I’ve been doing the past four years.

They’re going to have a committee of three faculty members interview me for the fall semester full-time position, probably next week, but Betty gave me the impression the job is mine if I want it.

Patrick is my godfather on South Campus, but most of the department members seem to like me, including Kit Gallagher, who told me she’d heard wonderful things about my short story workshop at the writers’ conference.

Later in the day, I got a call from Pearl Levine, one of the students in that workshop.

Remember how much I liked her story? I encouraged her to try to get it published.

She was calling to thank me after she got an acceptance from a little magazine in Madison, Wisconsin.

Pearl said she read Hitler, Dog and I Brake and loved all three books.

She also told me the Saturday creative writing class at BCC-Central this spring is miserable, mostly because they’ve got a lousy teacher.

Patrick showed me a new Prentice Hall textbook he’s going to use in English 101 this summer; previously, he hadn’t used a text, but this one seems good and comes with a software package.

We met with Roland, the Prentice Hall salesman who remembered me from BCC-Central, and Carol, a division head or something with the company who lives on 98th and Broadway.

Betty asked me for an updated curriculum vita, so I printed one out on Patrick’s printer, using his Tandy laptop.

Several people in the English Department said it will be nice for them to have me around.

Barbra and Peter seem to like me, but I’m not sure about Scott, and Greg hasn’t been very friendly, but of course he won’t be around in the fall since his sabbatical is the reason I’ll be there.

I have mixed feelings about being a full-time instructor at BCC. It’s been over five years since I last did that, and I’ve grown accustomed to having a lot of leisure time.

In the fall, I won’t be able to sleep later or read all the newspapers. On the other hand, it’s for a limited time, and 17 weeks can go by quickly.

I’ll have enough money to stave off bankruptcy at least till mid-1990 and possibly beyond, and I’ll probably have a better social life, though there’s no way I can expect to meet another guy like Sean.

Well, I don’t want to count my disks before they’re formatted, so I’ll make certain I don’t get excited about being back at BCC just yet.

At lunch at the Bagel Whole, I talked about the economy with Sam. He foresees a depression, too, with a sharp turn to the left politically in the 1990s.

Sam said he predicted Venezuela’s current economic problems in a series of articles he wrote for a Caracas newspaper during the oil boom year, so he’s got a track record.

The economic signals seem to indicate a slowdown, but they may be as confused now as they were after the stock market crash (now called a “break” or “event” by today’s wildly optimistic bulls).

Even though the Dow and Nikkei indexes seem to just keep going upward, I still believe the world stock markets will crash again.

In the afternoon I read while listening to and half-watching Another World, now about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Imagine my following a soap opera for that long, ever since its debut when I was in junior high.

I had dinner with my parents and Jonathan. China was so affectionate, she couldn’t stop licking me.

Dad said Mom’s nervous about flying to New York by herself because she’s done it only once before. I’ve flown by myself on all but a couple of flights; to me, flying means being alone.

At the FIU/FAU computer lab at BCC-Central I copied LOGO onto fifteen 5¼” disks, which I’ll use with my Jackson High School workshop tomorrow.

I wrote letters to Sat Darshan, Josh, and Mark and Amy.

Tom bought the house from his landlady!

Tuesday, May 2, 1989

8 PM. I tried to phone Tom last night and got no answer. Then I read his letter more carefully and saw that he went to visit Debra for six days.

Tom said he didn’t want to buy the house, but he apparently had no trouble getting a mortgage.

I’m sure the $65,000 he spent will be worth it.

Even in a national depression, the economy of New Orleans couldn’t get that much worse, so the house should hold its present value.

Tom sent me the letter Welch D. Everman wrote as a judge for this year’s Umbra awards.

I met Welch at the New York Book Fair years ago when I took his check for some Fiction Collective books. He’s a professor at the University of Maine-Orono, a place I once applied to for a creative writing job.

As the years pass, I move further and further from that MFA/AWP world of creative writing programs and teachers.

This morning I was pondering what to do after the next academic year, what I want to be doing with my life in the fall of 1990.

For some reason, I thought about applying to law school and decided I’d go only if I could get into Yale or Harvard.

Why would I want to go to law school? Like most people, because I don’t know what else to do.

Actually, it would be a challenge, and maybe it would be interesting, and maybe I could become a law school professor. Who knows?

I’m also thinking about graduate programs in business, communications, economics, the Ph.D. in English, an M.A. in gerontology. I’m sure I could handle any of them to a certain degree. (Would you believe I hadn’t intended the pun? Seriously.)

When I read interviews with writers or actors who hated their other jobs and always knew they didn’t want anything else but to be a writer or an actor, I can’t relate to the feeling. I probably would if I were a real writer.

When I told Ronna it’s only recently I’ve realized how smart I am, she expressed surprise, saying she knew how intelligent I was all along.

Except Ronna’s smart, too, and undervalues herself the way I did.

Sean was another highly intelligent person who also didn’t know how smart he was. But then, I knew him he was young.

On the other hand, there are people like Tom and Debra who know how smart and undervalued they are. Tom writes that Johns Hopkins Press “doesn’t know what it’s got” with Debra’s Walser book.

What am I babbling about?

Last night I felt dizzy again, but I slept okay, was up at 9 AM, read the papers, went to the bank, exercised, paid bills, and taught at Jackson High School late this afternoon.

I figured I’d show the teachers LOGO since they’ve got color screens and IBM-compatibles, and it went pretty well. I threw a lot at them, and some were overwhelmed.

Mark Fairhope, though, played around and got some great designs done. He was the quickest with Carmen Sandiego, too, which shows how smart he is.

I’m sure he’s straight, but I’d like to be his friend anyway because I can tell he’s sweet and smart and level-headed and kind like Ronna or Sean.

Like anyone else, I’m attracted to good bodies first, but in the long run, a good mind is a hundred times sexier.

After surviving the rush hour drive home from Miami, and I brought Italian food for me and Dad and Jonathan.

As I was leaving after the news, Dad was planning to call Mom to see if she’d arrived in Rockaway.

I feel at loose ends tonight.

What are “loose ends,” anyway? I need the OED. I need a light. I need to find out what I really need.

I feel foolish, but as I said in class today, it’s not bad to feel foolish.

Friday, May 5, 1989

5 PM. Last evening, when I went over to Dad’s, China greeted me at the door.

Dad and Marc were about to go over to the warehouse to get shirts to sell at the flea market this weekend, so I went with them, staying in Marc’s car with China as they worked.

She’s such an affectionate, intelligent dog. As Dad said when we were eating dinner, “I never thought I could love a dog.”

But we can actually love not only China but also Lucky, the black cat who came over to play with us when we arrived back at the townhouse.

Dad said he feels bad about leaving Lucky at University Village when they move.

I was excited to get the galleys of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was, which look professional and much better than could have done myself with desktop publishing.

This morning I bought a red pen to go over the galleys this weekend. My goal is to return them to the typesetter on Monday.

In contrast to my poor health earlier yesterday, I had a real sense of well-being last night as I filled out the Manny Hanny student loan application I got in the mail.

Today, when the Teachers College summer bulletin arrived, I sent a form back to Continuing Education, registering for six credits: three credits of Lucy’s Summer Writing Institute and three different one-credit computer workshops.

The classes don’t begin until late June, and if I don’t get the loan, I can drop the classes in time to get my money back. I put the tuition payment on the Gold MasterCard I got from Citibank in Dad’s name.

Now that he’s got his mortgage – the closing should be over at this hour – it can’t hurt him if I use and pay for the card.

If I do get the loan, I’ll net $3000 in money once the six credits are paid for. Either way, I can’t really lose, because I should know by late June if the loan’s been approved.

(Of course I worry that somehow I’m outsmarting myself. However, the worst that will happen is that I’ve run up a $2000 credit card bill and will take six credits at Teachers College.)

Ronna said her job seemed stupider once she returned from Florida. The perspective of being away from New York made her realize how dissatisfied she’s been at Yeshiva University.

She thanked me for my hospitality and said it was a pleasure for her to have been here. “The pleasure was mutual,” I told her.

I fell asleep after a Barbara Walters special on the need for teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills and awoke at 6 AM.

My “letter” did appear in USA Today along with nine others about who should pay for the savings and loan bailout.

I drove to Fort Lauderdale to get three months’ supply of contact lenses at the optometrist, where my vision was checked at 20/15 with my lenses on.

I stopped off to say hi to Mom, who’d gotten back from New York at about midnight.

Mom said the Long Beach doctor examined Grandma Ethel thoroughly and determined her problems are psychosomatic.

Basically, Grandma has nothing to do but ruminate now that so many of her friends are gone.

Jean Morse is now in a retirement home on Oakland Park Boulevard down here, and Grandma has only Lillian Goldberg and Tillie and Morris.

Grandma keeps saying she wants Grandpa to “come and take her away,” but I think if she were in a place with activities, she’d snap out of her depression.

Jeff drove Mom and Grandma to the doctor in Long Beach. He’s working in a special program at Arthur Andersen this summer and told Mom he’ll become either a CPA or a lawyer.

Wendy has to write her dissertation for the Ph.D. in computer science at UC Irvine, and then she plans to become a college professor.

I left as Mom and Dad were getting ready for a 2 PM “walk-through” of the new house and then the closing at a lawyer’s office in Fort Lauderdale.

After lunch at the Bagel Whole, I deposited my $560 check from JC Penney Bank – the CD that matured – into my CalFed checking account and went shopping.

Outside Publix, I got paid $3 for answering a twenty-minute survey that was obviously from some rental apartment complex, trying to figure out how to scare up tenants.

Back at home, I exercised a little, making sure not to reinjure my back.

The April unemployment rate rose from 5% to 5.3% as new job creation slowed drastically. That seems the latest evidence that a slowdown has begun already.

However, most economists don’t see a recession coming in the next couple of years. I believe they’re wrong.

I’ve been dizzy again today, but I’ve also had an insatiable appetite. I’m as hungry as a grizzly.


9 PM. I’ve just come from seeing the new house with Mom and Dad.

A couple of hours ago, I met them at their current house, where I got a call from Amoco, telling me I was preapproved for a MasterCard if I want one.

Although I already have one from them, I said yes, knowing I can get a $500 line of credit.

Then, after Dad drove Jonathan to the Broward Mall for his regular Friday night dinner with Marshall, I suggested Dad, Mom and I go to eat across University Drive at Jade Garden. The food was not good, however.

When we arrived at the new house, Dad said he heard a weird noise. Mom and I dismissed it as crickets.

The keys to the front door didn’t work, so Dad had to go through the garage, and it was then we confronted the piercing high-pitched squeal of the smoke alarm.

Holding our ears to muffle the sound, we tried to stop it without success until finally I clicked off the circuit breaker; luckily, the first one I touched got rid of the noise.

The carpeting and paint job looked good, and I do like the house, though it’s hard to believe it actually belongs to my parents.

Mom put down some papers we’d brought over so that the deliverymen don’t make a mess, and she and Dad went around enumerating the various problems to be solved and tasks to be accomplished. This is their usual manner, with Dad half-hysterical (“What are you, a moron?”) and Mom half-daft.

Though the sod in the backyard looked awful and the newly-planted trees are still in shock, I like the space in back of the house – and even the beginning of the natural ridge that Dad originally wanted the builder to level.

After we stopped to buy lottery tickets and I got back into my car, I wished my parents lots of luck in their new house.

Tuesday, May 9, 1989

9 PM. When I called Teresa yesterday, she was on the phone with a real estate agent.

Later, she called me back and told me the tenants in her East 87th Street apartment skipped out without paying the rent for May, leaving Teresa with a $1100 monthly mortgage to make.

Technically, the rent should be paid with the couple’s security deposit, but Teresa spent that money that long ago. (I think under New York law, she’s supposed to be keeping it in an interest-bearing account.)

Now she needs to rent the apartment right away, and that may not be easy these days.

Teresa says she’ll take anyone, even a short-term tenant, as she tries to sell the apartment in a very bad market.

All her real estate deals seem to give Teresa nothing but trouble.

The guy who rented the apartment called her on Sunday to say his wife “was mugged by a UPS man” in the apartment on Friday, so they decided to move to Arizona – and he was calling from there.

What a ridiculous story. I wished her good luck finding a tenant.

Teresa told me she had a great time on Fire Island over the weekend, but her niece and nephew ran her ragged.

Today I got a letter from Josh. He started off by saying he’s sure Grandma Ethel’s problems aren’t in her mind: “She’s probably got a brain tumor.”

It’s typical of Josh not to believe in psychological causes for anything because he’s convinced he’s not “nuts” (his word) and that the harassment is continuing “seven days a week” at his house, at his workplace, and at his parents’.

He even claims others associated with him – Brynna, Leslie, Artie – have experienced this harassment.

But at this point nothing can make me believe that Josh isn’t mentally ill.

That’s why I’m glad he’s taking a battery of psychological tests to try to prove it to himself and others – for what he fears most is that something will happen to him and everyone will say he was crazy and did it to himself.

This evening I wrote Josh a letter, but I decided not to save the document and instead shut off the computer. I’d better tell him what I think in person.

When I was at BCC today, Betty said the interview will probably be next week, which is good for me because I won’t be working then.

Patrick wasn’t in, so I left Crad’s new book for him – he’d like the Buffalo connection – plus a LOGO disk.

Last evening I discovered I didn’t have IRS (Individual Record System) forms for the workshop, so this morning I phoned Joanne Kaspert at the Teacher Education Center, and she brought them over to Jackson High School herself during the workshop.

Today everyone worked on their own: word processing, previewing CAI they’d bought, doing databases, playing Carmen Sandiego or Rocky’s Boots, using Typing Tutor.

Actually, it’s a lot harder for me to keep going around from person to person than it is to lecture – just as it’s harder to run a writing workshop than it is to lecture.

So much for those old-time teachers who believe lectures are “true” teaching and everything else is playtime.

Both last evening and tonight I brought in food for me, Mom and Jonathan.

Luckily, their lack of air conditioning comes when we’ve got record cool weather (though it still hit 80° today).

Dad is okay in New Jersey, and even Grandma seems to be sounding more like her old self.

I had other errands to do today, like shopping, washing the car, and filling out change-of-address forms at the post office.

I’ve got tomorrow and Thursday off, then I work Friday and Saturday and start my last workshop on Monday, May 22.

I’ve begun to throw out stuff in preparation for leaving this apartment: three weeks from tomorrow I’ll be out of here.

I had diarrhea again tonight after I took a niacin pill and got the full effects of the “flush.” Usually the niacin has no effect upon me, but lately, once a week or so, it turns me into a menopausal lobster.

Maybe I’ll stop taking it. Even though I’ve had a sinus headache, I haven’t felt dizzy for the last couple of days. I’m grateful for that.