A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, May 21, 1989

8 PM. Last night I had my first dinner at my parents’ new house, and though it felt a bit strange, it’s the kind of luxury I could easily accustom myself to.

Sitting out in the screened-in patio after dinner was a treat we couldn’t experience before. And there was so much room that we didn’t have to move out the kitchen table, either.

Mom and Jonathan talked about how upset they are by changes at the flea market that have affected their business and that of the other vendors.

Preston Henn, in his usual capricious way, keeps moving things around, so now the customers don’t know where to find the vendors they usually go to.

All the clothing people are together in one section, and Mom and Marc have decided to put their two spaces together.

But business remains poor, and some vendors are leaving for Flea World in the Orlando area, a flea market that’s run by people who aren’t lunatics.

Back home, I stared for a while at the enormous red-orange moon over the lake before going inside and reading Sunday’s Herald.

After a fairly restful night with vivid dreams, I was up at 7 AM. Lately I’ve been sleeping weirdly, perhaps because I’m starting to get anxious about going to New York.

I exercised, read the Times, wrote to Dr. Gold and the third graders at the Miller School, sorted through my published stories to take ones I can work on in New York, and also went through my clothing, throwing out stuff that no longer fits or which is hopelessly worn.

I’m a bit nervous about tomorrow’s workshop at Miami Edison, a school I’ve never been to before. I don’t know what room I’m in or what computers I’ll be using, so I’m taking both Apple and IBM software.

At Jaffe’s this afternoon to pick up the stamp pads I made with my parents’ new address, I also xeroxed the workshop component, which really doesn’t ask that much of the students.

But then it’s impossible to really learn word processing in just ten hours.

My final ten days in Florida may be hectic, but I should find time to take care of things over Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, May 22, 1989

8:30 PM. I’m tired and headachy after my first day of the Miami Edison High School word processing course. It went as well as it could have.

My ten students are all paraprofessionals – teacher’s aides or assistants – and easy to work with; all except one are black women.

But of the twenty Apple computers in the room, half don’t work. And most of the ones that do work have color monitors, making reading an 80-column screen difficult.

So the three working monochrome monitors had to be shared by groups who looked at the Appleworks tutorial that I made copies of when I got to the school.

When I phoned Sophie this morning, she told me the room number and said that Rosa Harvey of TEC would meet me there with the workshop packet, but I didn’t learn if I had Apples or IBMs till I got to the school at 3 PM.

Most of the class didn’t arrive till 4:30 PM, half an hour after it officially began, because they can’t leave work at their own schools until 4 PM.

Rosa said it’s difficult to plan calendar computer courses because they need the rooms for community schools at 7 PM. She told me they’d have a lot of work over the summer for me, but I explained about my going to New York.

Last night I spoke with Tom, who’s been busy with school and the renovation work on the apartment next door since he decided to buy the house.

He’s putting down $30,000 and will have monthly payments of $411 on a 30-year mortgage.

After they finish the other apartment, he will move into it because it’s got an extra room that can serve as Debra’s office. She’s going to stay in New Orleans with Tom for most of the summer.

They’ve definitely decided to spend next summer in Switzerland. I can see the promise of that will keep Tom going for the next twelve months.

He told me hadn’t read Crad’s new books yet and wouldn’t read the “bad poetry” anthology because he sees enough of it as a teacher.

Someone told him about my Pushcart Prize honorable mention. Clarence Major reviewed the latest volume in yesterday’s Times Book Review, mystifyingly calling it an exemplar of the experimental tradition as opposed to the stodgier O. Henry Prize story collection.

Susan Schaeffer’s new novel, Buffalo Afternoon, got a fantastic review, and Knopf is pushing it hard. Apparently Susan spent years interviewing Vietnam veterans and used the material to create a great book.

Good for Susan: she’s someone who puts everything she’s got into her books, sometimes to the detriment of her own health.

I saw the book today in the B. Dalton store at the Omni, where I killed time before class. I wanted to get to Edison early, especially because I had Jonathan’s car.

This morning I worked out and got a haircut from Nikki, who had morning sickness; I hope she can carry this baby to full term.

The lead story in today’s Wall Street Journal carried the headline “Pushing Plastic – Credit Card Issuers Ease Their Standards to Get New Accounts – Lured by Hefty Profits, They Sign Up Many Customers Who May Prove Risky – Borrowing from A to Pay B.”

Well, perhaps I was wrong last week when I told Suzanne, the Special Report writer, that today it’s getting harder to get cards; actually, it may be easier. Jonathan, because he has only two cards, keeps getting solicited with pre-approvals from every bank in the country.

If a recession hits, a lot of people are going to be facing the same problem I am. The Wall Street Journal article says, “Nowadays, many financial institutions are getting just as addicted to issuing credit cards as some people are to overusing them.”

Tuesday, May 24, 1989

8 PM. Driving into Miami this afternoon was like driving into hell.

As I started out, I heard warnings on the radio about a severe thunderstorm over the Everglades that was rapidly heading east, and going south on I-95, the sky became progressively darker until it turned a deep purple when I got off at NW 62nd Street.

Just as I left the highway, the downpour started. In the parking lot, I had to wait nearly twenty minutes in my car until the rain relented enough for me to make my way into the school.

Today’s session went okay, considering the terrible equipment I’m forced to use. This morning at Radio Shack I had bought computer paper so they could print out their work, and I made sure to bring Bank Street Writer as well as Appleworks for my students.

After 6 PM, the storm caused the room to black out, and my class learned a real-world important lesson on frequently saving your work to disk.

They’re a nice bunch of ladies, and they seem to like my easygoing style. I know they need to take these in-service workshops to improve their job ratings, and I see how exhausted they are at the end of a school day, so I don’t demand much of them.

Still, I try to give them their money’s worth even if they’re not paying anything for the course.

At home, seeing a video allegedly made by actor Rob Lowe, in which he went to bed with a 16-year-old girl, got me thinking: Seven years ago, I was 30 and having an affair with a 17-year-old boy whose teacher I was.

I cross-examined myself mentally, and I pretty much decided what I’d figured out years ago, that I didn’t take advantage of Sean.

Hell, it was my first homosexual experience, not his, and if he hadn’t come to my house, I never would have tried to take our teacher/student/friend relationship any further.

The real proof came in October 1987 when Sean called me: after five years, he certainly didn’t sound like he had anything against me.

I loved Sean, of course, but that’s no excuse: any creep or pervert could say they “loved” the kids they took advantage of or abused.

Thursday, May 26, 1989

4 PM. This morning I got ready for the interview at Broward Community College’s South Campus, putting on a blue dress shirt and a tie I borrowed from Dad over jeans (clean ones) and sneakers.

The interview was something of a letdown. Scott Feaster, Judy Nichols (who I don’t know) and another teacher asked me few questions, and they seemed perfunctory – like “How do you feel about teaching at 8 AM and evening classes?” (I said I assumed I’d do both) and “What was the last book you read?” (Blood-Sucking Monkeys from North Tonawanda).

I felt I went on too long discussing what I think are real issues in the teaching of writing, stuff they didn’t seem particularly interested in. I guess I came off as kind of pompous.

The atmosphere at BCC-South is much looser than that at Central; for example, they see English 102 as a lit class, not a comp class, and I answered as if I were going to teach it at Central.

Betty is traveling in the Southwest, but Scott said she’d get back to me next week.

To be honest, I don’t know if I have the job and won’t be that sorry if it doesn’t happen: I’ll feel a little humiliated for a while and then get over it. But I think Betty wants to hire me.

The fall term, I see from the schedule, starts on Wednesday, August 23, and I’ll have to return before that, giving me only eleven weeks in New York City.

On the other hand, if I do get the job, I’ll be secure for four months, I’ll be making a decent salary, and I can totally relax this summer in New York. I wouldn’t need the money from a student loan and so could take only two or three credits at Teachers College.

Stopping by my parents’ house, I discovered the page proofs for The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was.

They looked good, and I’ve just sent them back via UPS Second Day Air. Since I had no corrections to make, I assume they can begin printing the book soon.

After having lunch – a decent burger and fries – at the new Flamingo Diner, I came home and paid off the four credit card bills that came in the mail.

I also got an offer from Key Federal Visa: if I deposit $250, they’ll raise my credit line to double that, thus giving me $250 in unsecured credit. Not a bad deal, so of course I jumped at it.

I’d wanted to xerox the title story from the page proofs to show Tom and to keep for myself, but the copy shop had closed early for Memorial Day weekend.

Sunday, May 28, 1989

3 PM. Tom called last evening, wanting to set up a date for me to come to NOCCA. We agreed on February 6, 1990.

I’ll work at the school that day and give a public reading in the evening; on the next day, a Friday, I’ll also come to work with Tom’s classes. I’m sure I won’t screw it up the way I did last year.

Tom said that he, like me, found the last two stories in Crad’s Blood-Sucking Monkeys below par and not interesting, but he is also getting tired of Crad’s adolescent attempts to shock, his racism and male chauvinism, and his antediluvian attitudes.

I suspect Crad’s difficulties come from not being socialized. Because he hasn’t held a job in the real world for most of his adult life, he’s even more of an outsider and outcast than he’d ordinarily be, even with his temperament. Crad has rarely had the chance to see how intelligent middle class people live.

As usual, Tom mentioned books about foreign authors I’ve never heard of. He’s got 19 stories coming out in little magazines – which sounds like me in the old days.

It goes without saying that Tom is more literary than I am; in fact, he’s the most literary person I’ve ever known.

My own current reading in fiction is practically nonexistent, though of course I read widely as a teenager and in my twenties.

Reading an essay by Annie Dillard in today’s Times Book Review over lunch, I realized that according to her, I am doing everything exactly wrong: I don’t live to read and write (though I do think I try to avoid writing about trivia); I write short, small pieces rather than big-project books; I read non-discriminately, in various fields.

Sometimes I feel better if I think of my writing as a hobby – an important hobby, to be sure, but a hobby nonetheless. That way you can look at my “career” and say, “He’s done okay for an amateur.”

At this point in my life, I know that I don’t have the talent or discipline or drive to become a great writer, and I don’t apologize for that.

Had I the choice of living my life or the lives of the most famous writers – take, for instance, the Big Three of the 1930s: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner – I’d opt to be Richard Grayson in a New York minute. Who needs alcoholism, depression, paranoia?

I have no concern with my reputation after I’m dead, except maybe I hope the people who knew me smile when they think of me.

If I sound like I’m copping out, I don’t care.

I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who sounds better. She told Mom, “I think I went a little crazy for a while.” I hope her improved health and outlook continue for a while.

This morning when I got my Sunday New York Times at Pine Ridge Plaza, I told the guy who owns the store to cross me off his list.

“It’s two and a half pages in the winter,” he told me, “and now look: there are just seven names on the list.”

After exercising to Body Electric, I went to Mom’s garage and did 100 consecutive bench presses with 20 pounds on the bar.

I’ve been throwing out stuff in preparation for leaving this apartment. Why is it that I like putting my life in these short-term, discrete compartments? Well, I feel a sense of satisfaction every time I close out another episode in my life.

I think I would like to teach at BCC in the fall because I’m suited to jobs of limited duration like my Rockland writer-in-residence position and my Teacher Education Center workshops.

When I told Teresa I had her to thank for my being flexible and adaptable, she said her friends are astonished that I can keep moving around the way I do.

The alternative is to give in to my tendency toward agoraphobia. Then I’d live a pleasant, predictable, safe – but unsatisfying and cowardly – life.

Hey, I sound pretentious. Don’t keep patting yourself on the shoulder, kiddo, or your arm may fall off.

Monday, May 29, 1989

3 PM. It’s been a weird Memorial Day for me; I’m not used to feeling the sense of an ending, as well as my anxiety about the plane trip and my stay in New York.

Last evening I brought Chinese food over to my parents’ house.

Early this morning, Andy, the new owner of the townhouse, had called Dad to tell him that in his first night there he’d been awakened at 2 AM by someone ringing the doorbell.

As he struggled to find his way to the door, he couldn’t imagine who it was. It turned out to be Dolores and Tony, who told him he couldn’t keep the U-Haul truck parked overnight and that he had to follow the rules.

What nosybody morons! Obviously he wasn’t blocking them at that hour. What possesses people in condos to act like the Gestapo?

Well, they were dealing with the wrong guy: Andy unleashed a torrent of abuse and would have beaten up Tony had not Dolores intervened. He said if they ever bothered him again, he would “blow their fucking heads off.”

What a horrible introduction to the condo on his first night. Actually, Dad still owns the property till Andy’s wife signs the papers tomorrow.

But I’m glad my parents are out of there. I know I’ll never buy a condominium because of what they had to put up with from their neighbors.

After dinner, I brought my printer and most of my software over to Marc’s, and I spent a couple of hours copying files from the 5¼” disks to the 3½” ones I’ll be able to use with my new laptop.

China was quieter in her own home, but she let me rub her stomach as she lay on Marc’s waterbed. Her eyes stared at me in a way I’d never seen before: intently, as if she were a person.

Before leaving at 10 PM, I showed Marc Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and some other games he could play.

Last night I didn’t sleep very well, as my mind kept racing. Yesterday I decided to write up a proposal for a nonfiction book on the credit card industry.

No one’s done a general book like that – the kind of book I’d like to read – and I think it would be salable. Why not put my knowledge of credit cards to good use?

I can already see the proposal: how it will look, what I want to say. If I could get a decent advance, I’d be delighted.

It would be the kind of book to get reviews all over the place and maybe good sales. I’d talk about my own experiences, but mostly it would be a history of credit cards and all the changes and issues regarding them in recent years.

I know I could do it, though it would require a lot of research and interviewing and traveling.  I’ve had this idea before but never followed up on it. When I’m in New York, I should.

I’ve been promising myself for weeks to sit down and write a list of goals for the next year and the immediate future.

There are little things I love to do, like the new article for the Cultural Quarterly (I’m thinking about writing about being a snowbird), but I also need to promote the chapbook the way I worked at promoting my other books.

If I do get the student loan for the summer, I’ve got to take six credits, and that will tie up a lot of my time.  On the other hand, if I teach full-time here in the fall, I can’t take any courses then.

The trouble is there aren’t that many courses at Teachers College I’m excited about – but maybe I can take something at Columbia. We’ll see.

Unable to sleep, I read the Herald at 4 AM and potchkeyed around the apartment.  Today I did the laundry at Mom’s but wasn’t very productive otherwise.

My parents didn’t acknowledge their fortieth anniversary yesterday; I was the only one who even sent them a card.

I guess our family isn’t big on milestones like Teresa’s family, which uses every excuse to throw a party. I don’t plan to do anything special for my birthday on Sunday although I’d like to go out to eat with a friend.

Tuesday, May 30, 1989

8 PM. This is my last night in the apartment I moved into sixteen weeks ago. Because I haven’t gotten mail here, I have trouble remembering the address (2701 SW 79th Avenue #107). Well, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to move.

This afternoon I sent a big package of my stuff to Teresa’s apartment via UPS so I can go on the plane with one suitcase rather than my usual two.

Although I’m nervous, of course, it’s not like the challenge I faced when I left here on January 3 and had to work in Sloatsburg in the heart of winter.

Now, when I get to New York, I don’t have to do anything. Still, I’m enough of a worrywart so that I can’t quite be comfortable.

Up at 9 AM today, I made my final cash deposit at CalFed, bought the Times, and worked out to a Body Electric video.

I spoke to Sophie, who said I’ll be getting two FIU checks on Friday – for the Tropical Elementary and Northwestern High School workshops – and she’ll mail them to me. They should add up to about $1000.

I phoned Sherry Ringler at Book Crafters, who said they received my page proofs and will send them to BookMasters in Michigan. She advised me to send the cover mechanicals to Ed Blissick there.

I didn’t get a call from Scott at BCC, so I’m leaving South Florida not knowing if I’ll be teaching there in the fall. However, I’m sure to find out fairly soon.

I got a call from Lisa Thatcher, the editor at Special Report, who said she wants to send me the editor Suzanne wrote and so needed my New York address and a phone number where the magazine’s fact-checkers could reach me. They’re using my Gary Richardson pseudonym rather than my real name.

At the Bagel Whole, I had my final meal of the season and wished Sam a good summer. I spent the afternoon packing and getting things shipped to New York.

At 6:30 PM, I brought Showtime pizza over to my parents’ house, where Dad had been working all day, setting up his Bugle Boy woven shirt samples that arrived this morning.

Here’s the plan for tomorrow: After exercising early in the morning, I’ll bring over the VCR and color TV to Mom’s. I’ll load up the car with the rest of my stuff before I take a shower.

Then I’ll come back here, shower, dress, and take the last of my possessions out of the apartment. At the rental office I’ll turn in my keys and give them my forwarding address.

I’ll have lunch at Gaetano’s, then drive to Edison High School for the final word processing workshop. (If I get there early enough, maybe I can drive out to Miami Beach to see the ocean one more time.)

In class, I’ll work with the students, making certain everyone prints out their projects using either Bank Street Writer or Appleworks.

I’ll either send the final course paperwork to the TEC office via the interoffice mail downstairs or give it to a reliable teacher’s aide to take to her school and mail it from there. Or I can FedEx it later, I suppose.

Then I’ll return to my parents’ house to have dinner and sleep on the couch. On Thursday, Dad will get me to the airport around 10:30 AM and hopefully my plane will take off on time.

I’m glad I ran through that even though it makes me nervous to think about it.

For the next twelve hours, I can forget about all that running around and try to relax.

So this was my sixth apartment in Florida. . . Or was it my seventh?