A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1989
by Richard Grayson
Monday, July 10, 1989
8 PM. Arriving at Ronna’s apartment at 3 PM yesterday, I was told to keep quiet because Leah was sleeping and ill.
She sounded awful when she woke up, and she obviously has a very bad cold or respiratory infection.
Oddly, I had dreamed about Leah the night before, a dream in which she asked to borrow money.
Ronna said that last week Leah had gone out with a guy named Richard Ginsberg – which was my original name.
While Ronna poured some strawberry preserves into jars – she’d picked strawberries in New Hampshire while visiting her cousin – I admired her newly-acquired furniture and read the Lexis transcript of the Supreme Court’s Webster decision.
Jordan had brought it over on Saturday night, when he and Ronna saw Batman, and he’d annotated it a bit.
Like many of us, Ronna and Jordan are very distressed over the weakening of abortion rights. Jordan knows some people who are getting together to learn menstrual extraction, and I told Ronna to tell him I’d be interested in that, too.
In Florida, Governor Martinez has already called the legislature into a special session to pass a restrictive law.
Now that politicians have to deal with abortion, maybe Republicans will get hurt by their anti-abortion stands, for the majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal.
As we walked down West End Avenue, Ronna told me that she’s set herself a deadline for leaving Yeshiva: she doesn’t want to be there in December and have to do publicity for the honorary degree the university is giving Dan Quayle.
Well, if the Vice President can motivate Ronna into getting a better job, perhaps he’s performing some function, after all.
We walked down to Lincoln Center, where we shared lemonade by the reflecting pool. Then we went to the plaza by Fordham and looked at some booths at a crafts fair and watched some excellent square dancers.
On the street were a group of Peruvians playing traditional music from the Andes, and they were good, too; I liked the weird high-pitched vocals.
Ronna and I walked up Columbus Avenue and had dinner at Jackson Hole before coming back here.
I showed Ronna The Greatest, which she thought looked fine, and we went to the window to watch as the mother pigeon fed her newborn chick by putting regurgitated food down her mouth. (Birds do have mouths, don’t they?)
Ronna also looked at the Sloatsburg book and laughed at some of the writings of the kids. Many of them I can remember clearly.
At 9 PM, I walked Ronna to Food Emporium on 90th and Broadway and thanked her for a terrific day.
I confided in her about all my problems: my vertigo, the Institute, writing, loneliness, and the feeling that I should be doing something more important with my life.
I listened to Ronna talk about her life, too. I’m very glad we’re still able to share so much. Ronna’s a special person, and I’m not the only ex-boyfriend who knows it.
Tuesday, July 11, 1989
8 PM. I met Lucy this morning as I was entering Horace Mann Hall and she asked me how I liked the Teaching of Writing Institute.
“I’m getting a lot out of it,” I said, and that’s really true. The talk about writing and the teaching of writing has been so intense that I probably won’t realize how much it’s affected me until weeks from now.
Lucy did a fabulous job at her morning lecture. What I like about her is her energy and her willingness to change. Today, for example, she questioned many of the things she herself has said about “good writing” because she’s seen how kids react to them. I left her lecture feeling exhilarated.
In Dorothy’s class, I worked on revising – well, editing, really – drafts of the stories for Narcissism and Me.
I think I’m going to spend the money to self-publish it, though I should probably see what kind of reaction The Greatest gets. But I have faith in my writing once again.
People at the conference seem less troubled now, and when the students taking the course for credit met with Lucy at noon, she allayed more apprehensions.
The projects (two if you’re taking it for 6 credits, one if you’re taking it for 3 credits like me) don’t have to be elaborate, Lucy said; however, they do have to be meaningful.
Rather than do a writing project – which would be too easy for me – I’m going to do a project for Randy, writing a 5- to 10-page paper about my plans for implementing a writing process curriculum in my classes at BCC.
This is something that could be valuable to me. I’ve bought a lot of books and plan to read all I can to figure out how I can do what I want to do.
Randy had an excellent class on evaluating student writing and how to deal with the mindless tyranny of grades. The discussions were very helpful to me.
What’s going to be hard is to keep up my faith in teaching writing as process when I’m in an environment that rejects or doesn’t understand that approach.
At Broward Community College, teachers think they have to grade every paper, correct every error. Randy said we have better things to do with our time.
What got me disgusted with teaching English was that ridiculous “marking,” writing the same comments over and over on papers that weren’t worthy of that much energy.
I got a neat checklist of nonfiction pieces on teaching writing process and other ideas from Randy. I’m not going to be my students’ editor but their teacher, a fellow writer who’s more experienced and who wants to be a facilitator in a student-centered classroom.
I liked Lucy’s role-playing of conferences with students at the end of today’s session.
Back at the apartment, I worked out and did my usual chores. Despite my vertigo, I’ve been sleeping eight hours a night lately.
This morning I woke up refreshed at 6 AM, read the Times and fed Judy’s fish before starting my day.
It’s just as well that Alice canceled our dinner date this evening; she’d forgotten that it was her brother’s last night in America.
Alice gave me the name and phone number of Phyllis Diller’s publicist/contact so I can send them a copy of The Greatest with my dedication to Phyllis.
While eating pasta marinara for dinner at the Ottomanelli Café, I read Newsweek.
The pigeon seems to be holding the baby very close to it. At first I thought the baby pigeon was dead because I could barely see it under the mother’s breast, but the fuzzy thing is moving.
Friday, July 14, 1989
8 PM. It’s surprising that despite my nightly dizziness, I’ve been without insomnia since the Teaching of Writing Institute began. Last night I fell asleep at 9:30 PM and I slept till 7 AM.
I suspect it was the regularity of my routine that helped me sleep better; if so, that bodes well for teaching at Broward Community College this fall.
Fall! In a little more than five weeks, I’ll be at BCC teaching. Oh, I don’t want to leave New York City!
June and the first half of July have been deliciously cool here, not oppressively hot and humid like last summer.
I’ll miss Riverside Drive and Central Park and the Victorian buildings of the Upper West Side and the hectic, wild diversity of life on Broadway.
But I’ll remember all of it, and I’ll be back.
I’ll remember the Institute, too. It was a terrific experience to learn and grow and share ideas with so many interesting people.
Lucy gave her final 20-minute speech this morning, and I realized she reminds me of Jesse Jackson with his rhetorical flourishes, evangelical flavor, and familiar anecdotes. “Teaching is hard” was the refrain that ran through her last talk.
We started in our Writing Section at 9:30 AM and went for nearly two hours in a share session as teachers read their work aloud. After each person read, we applauded and then wrote little notes to them.
Most of the people write very infrequently, so it was nice to see just how well they could do.
I read most of “My Grandfather’s Other Son” and got a lot of laughs and favorable reaction. I could see I have the confidence and authority most of the others don’t – but whether my confidence and authority are justified is another matter.
After we all read, we had bagels and then rushed upstairs to Randy’s class, where we broke into small groups and discussed books we loved, books we treasured and reread, and finally books we suggested do well in secondary English classes.
Bill (who didn’t attend the morning session) proved what an asshole he is when he suggested the novel by “Terence Mann” (the character played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams) as a good choice.
I was the only one in the group to figure it out and kept quiet until later, when I told Karen, who was in a different group. She said it was emblematic of Bill’s shallowness.
After Karen and I traded phone numbers, she and I went with John to the final auditorium session at which six people read (including Tony Palumbo from our section).
Most of the pieces were excellent, though I disliked the flag-waving Zionism in one and was bored by another.
Leaving at 2:30 PM, I said goodbye to a few people, but I didn’t want to linger. After getting a burger at the American Diner, I came home to read the papers and try to wind down.
I exercised and spoke with Josh, who returned the message I left on his machine. He said he’d bought Pete Cherches’s Condensed Book but that “not much new is happening.” I asked him if he were busy this evening, and he was.
Today is the bicentennial Bastille Day, and the Group of 7 leaders plus many other prime ministers and presidents were in Paris for the celebration.
Earlier in the week, Bush was in Poland and Hungary, the most quickly liberalizing of the Eastern European nations.
It looks as if, at the end of the twentieth century, communism is kaput; it didn’t work anywhere.
But I suspect capitalism will be tarnished if there is a worldwide depression over the next decade.
Sunday, July 16, 1989
2 PM on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I’ve been reading Bartholomae and Petrosky’s Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts: Theory and Model for a Reading and Writing Course, trying to figure out how to incorporate their ideas for college composition into a plan for my own BCC classes.
It amazes me how I ever taught writing at LIU, CUNY and BCC without being aware of writing process and research into how basic writers work.
When I think back to all those workbook exercises and lectures on “comma rules” and the distinction between facts and inferences, and the emphasis we placed on the neat, formulaic, dead-on-the-page five-paragraph essay, I cringe.
The idea that writers know what they’re going to say and how they’re going to sound before they put pen to paper is so stupid; even though it went against everything I’ve ever known about writing, it was my assumption all the years I taught.
Now I see that my burnout as an English teacher wasn’t dysfunctional; it was a sign of health that I could see that what I was doing was a colossal waste of time.
I’m very anxious about how I’ll implement what I’ve learned in my fall classes, but my students have to know, as Bartholomae and Petrosky state, that writing begins in “anxiety, confusion and uncertainty.”
Look at how people learn. I’ve learned more about pigeons in the last week than I ever knew before simply by observing the newborns and their mother and father (at least I think the other bird who feeds and watches them is their father). It’s made me want to take out library books on pigeons. That’s the excitement and joy a real learning experience can provide.
Can I get my students to learn in that way? I hope so. Over the next month I’ll be preparing, and I’ll do my best in the fall.
Look at it this way: I’m bound to be better than I used to be, and students thought I was a pretty good teacher.
It took me a while to get to sleep last night, but I slept okay. I dreamed about meeting a guy like Sean, someone I really liked and who wanted me as a friend and lover.
This morning I read the paper, exercised, fed the fish (Brian and Judy are due back tomorrow night), and watched Bush’s press conference from the Paris summit and bicentennial celebration.
Josh called and said he’d be over in an hour or so. I’m nervous about what to say to him.
1 AM. I was just lying in bed, unable to sleep, when I remembered I hadn’t finished today’s diary entry.
My hours with Josh went fine, as he didn’t mention his delusion at all, except by obliquely referring to it when he said somebody “is as nutty as me” or when a beggar harassed us and I gave him a dime and Josh said, “I’m so used to people harassing me, I hardly noticed him.”
We walked up to 100th Street in the pouring rain only to find out that the 7 PM show of Do the Right Thing was sold out an hour ahead of time. So we just ate dinner at Patzo instead.
I was grateful for Josh’s company. When he doesn’t talk about the conspiracy, I feel I’ve got my old friend back, and he’s the irascible, argumentative, warm-hearted, interesting guy I used to know.
But I know he feels he’s not really being himself: I can talk about what’s bothering me, like the vertigo, but he can’t talk about his problem, his major problem.
Justin and Larry called at 8 PM and invited me to see a show at a Lower East Side club on Thursday night. Anne Lilly, the woman from Performance Hell, is in it.
I watched Alien, on network TV for the first time. I remember Wes telling me he saw it at the ABA convention in L.A. in 1979.
The summer of 1979, when With Hitler in New York came out and my parents announced they were moving to Florida, is with me a great deal this summer. So is the summer of 1969, when I turned 18, took my first class at Brooklyn College, met Brad, discovered Greenwich Village, and started keeping a diary.
Wednesday, July 19, 1989
8 PM. Last night Grandma and I watched a series of Norwegian documentaries on the future of the earth’s environment.
Neither of us will be around in 2048, the year the programs focused on, and I’m glad I won’t be – not if ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect do what they’re supposed to do to the planet.
I fell asleep after 10 PM. My sore throat and sinus headache went away and I was able to sleep on either side without vertigo.
Feeling refreshed when I got up at 8 AM, I had breakfast only after working out to Body Electric. Making exercise an important part of my life has gotten me through some rough times, and I intend to keep working out for as long as possible.
At 10:30 AM, I left for Brooklyn, saving money by transferring to the Avenue U bus and then walking down Ocean Avenue to Kings Highway.
At the Kinney Shoes on the Highway, I traded my old running shoes for a new, shiny white pair, and then I went to see Dr. Wein.
As Robert Hersh had warned me, his office seemed chaotic, but he took me right away and listened as I told him my history of dizziness.
He seemed skeptical that I had labyrinthitis, and he checked my hearing, which is fine, and had me follow his finger with my eyes while I was in various positions.
Dr. Wein found only a little nystagmus, the eye movement that accompanies vertigo, but when I tried to stand with my eyes closed and one foot in front of the other, my sense of balance wasn’t good.
He told me I should go to Lenox Hill Hospital and get an ENG test. “Don’t be scared,” said the doctor, “but they’ll pour hot and cold water in your ears and make you very dizzy.”
I thought about it during the day and decided I’m too afraid of the test to go. Perhaps I’d go if my dizziness were worse, but today I felt fine.
In response to my question, Dr. Wein did say my dizziness could be psychosomatic, and while I’m sure I feel a physical sensation, I’m open to the possibility that I could be getting dizzy from stress. After all, 23 years ago I got nauseated every day, and the cause was psychogenic.
What could the tests show the doctor? First, if I’m really dizzy, and then which ear was affected. Then what? They’d test for diabetes and other problems. And then? They’d prescribe meclizine, which I’m taking now, or valium or some other drug.
Unless I get worse, I’ll just wait out the dizziness and see if it goes away the way it did in 1980. In Florida this fall, I’ll have medical insurance and can better afford the tests if I need them.
From the doctor’s, I took the bus to Kings Plaza, where I had lunch at Bun n’ Burger.
I got back to Rockaway at 2 PM. For a while I sat with Grandma Ethel and Aunt Tillie, who comes up every day to watch the CBS soap operas, and then I read the Times out on the terrace, where it was breezy.
Aunt Tillie asked me about the death of Guiding Light’s “Alan Spaulding” – Chris Bernau – and in the paper I read the obituary of Philip Winslow, 48, New York City Arts Commission member and the landscape architect who redesigned much of Central Park. He was reported survived by his longtime companion, Harris Sarney – my old Midwood High School drama teacher.
I think of all the AIDS widowers in New York City – people like Mr. Sarney, Brad Gooch, Teresa’s friend Joseph Corteggiano, dozens of others.
In the paper today there were four obits of young men who died of AIDS, and one said, “He had many friends, some of whom preceded him in death.”
I should consider myself lucky to be dizzy rather than to have really suffered like those men.
Every time I visit Grandma at the beach, I get athlete’s foot, so when I went to the drugstore at 6 PM to pick up Grandma’s prescriptions and Tillie’s stool softener, I bought some antifungal powder. If only all illnesses could be cured so easily.
Today was a glorious day: warm in Brooklyn but breezy here. Despite myself, I got tanned; it must have happened during my walks.
Teresa called and said the TV problem was merely a dead battery in the remote control device. She had just come in at 5 PM and was on her way to the hairdressers and then to stay over in Park Slope with Pam and Norton.
Grandma and I called Mom and Dad in Florida. Dad sounded tired after four days of the Miami menswear show, but he and Adriana were very busy writing orders.
I also phoned Betty, but she hadn’t made up my class schedule yet. In a month, I’ll be back in Florida. Too soon, too soon.
Thursday, July 20, 1989
8 PM. Even without benefit of my 1969 diary, I know where I was twenty years ago today because it was the day when men – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – first landed on the moon.
It was a Sunday night. I was 18 and had just finished my first class, Poli Sci 1, at Brooklyn College’s summer session after spending the first months of 1969 almost entirely in the house. I was just beginning to see the world again.
The next day I’d be at Kings Highway – the same place I was yesterday – and would buy the New York Times with its enormous headline “MEN WALK ON MOON.” I’d answer Brad’s ad in The East Village Other and meet him that week. I’d make my first trips alone into Manhattan, to be a part of that (West) Village scene.
That summer of ’69 will always be a special time in my life.
Like that summer, this one has been relatively cool and rainy. (I remember Gisele saying that the moon landing had somehow screwed up the earth’s weather.) Today it’s been raining buckets all day.
I again slept very well, and at 8:30 AM, I got up and worked out to Homestretch. After breakfast and a shower, I kissed Grandma goodbye and went to Brooklyn, getting drenched in the process.
Robert gave me Novocain (from a new pen-type dispenser that didn’t hurt) and the drilling itself was almost painless, a far cry from my visits to Robert’s father I remember from thirty years ago.
“Dentistry has advanced a lot,” Robert said.
Alas, I was born too soon to get the advantages of fluoride and other new ways to keep kids from getting cavities, with the result that if the Hunt Brothers ever try to corner the silver market again, their first stop will be at my mouth.
Robert said the filling might not hold and that eventually I’d need a crown on this tooth and the one next to it, which are basically thin shells surrounding massive fillings. I was lucky I didn’t need root canal: this cavity stopped just short of the nerve.
But, barring future emergencies, I did finish with the dentist for 1989.
Walking to Kings Plaza, I took the B2 (Avenue R) bus to Kings Highway, where I got the Q train, which I took to its last stop at Sixth Avenue and 57th Street.
As a tenth-grader, 24 years ago, I used to take the old Q train along the same Brighton Line tracks when I went home from Franklin School.
This week I spent a lot of time around my boyhood and adolescent haunts in Brooklyn, from Kings Highway to Kings Plaza, and I still feel the neighborhoods there are a good and pretty place to live.
Robert advised me not to eat for several hours, but I didn’t get home (at 57th Street, I took the M5 bus so I wouldn’t have to walk in the rain) till 2 PM anyway.
The mail Mom sent contained 13 credit card bills. I got $500 credit line increases on both my BancOhio cards and on my Peoples Bank Visa. Emboldened, I called up Choice and got a $1000 increase (to $5500) on one of the Visa cards I have with them.
That means I’ve got a total increase of $2500 for the month of July. Not bad.
After having a sandwich at the diner and depositing $1000 at Chemical Bank (I’d forgotten to do it in my rush to get to Rockaway on Tuesday), I spent the afternoon with my cards, bank statements and checkbooks.
Reading the Snowbird Sun-Sentinel, I saw that the FAU campus at BCC-Central will begin this fall but won’t hire new faculty or have new classes until 1990-91.
Not feeling up to going with Justin and Larry to that Lower East Side club late tonight, I made an excuse to get out of it.
Alice had phoned to ask if I’d like to attend a screening tonight of the new Al Yankovic comedy UHF, but by the time I returned her call, she didn’t feel like going, so we’ll meet for dinner tomorrow instead.
Teresa phoned from her mother’s house in Brooklyn before she left for the long rush-hour car ride to Bay Shore to get the 9 PM ferry to Fire Island.
I decided to mail my only copy of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was to Phyllis Diller via her agent with a short note explaining who I was and why I dedicated the chapbook to her.
I also ordered my 1990 diary by tearing out the page in this volume.
The pigeon babies have turned dark and they’re starting to look like adult pigeons. “You’ll soon wonder why you thought they were cute,” Teresa said. We’ll see.