A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, July 22, 1989

7:30 PM. Alice came over about this time yesterday. I saw her from the window, where I’d been people-watching for the previous fifteen minutes.

Now that Teresa took away one of the hanging plants, I can have the pleasure of sitting at the window seat and looking out at our block.

Alice was hungry, so we immediately left for the Ottomanelli Cafe.

She’s relieved that her brother went back to Australia but upset because he and their aunt decided to sell the house on East 51st Street.

When her mother comes home next week, Alice has got to break the news to her that she has to leave the house she’s lived in since she was nine years old.

The house needs too many repairs, and it will cost too much to buy out Alice’s aunt.

Real estate maven that he thinks he is, Alice’s brother doesn’t like the way the neighborhood is going. Michael probably thinks – wrongly, I believe – that part of Brooklyn will become a slum.

They’d like to set up their mother in a high-rise apartment on Ocean Parkway.

Alice feels sure she’ll have her book manuscript at St. Martin’s by the August deadline even though it will be a lot of work to get it done by then.

She finally met her editor, who didn’t seem all that excited about the book, which will come out in hardcover and trade paper.

Back at the apartment, I showed Alice some stuff on my computer. The only program she knows is XyWrite, so I introduced her to other word processing programs, along with some games and programming languages.

It was fun showing her my software, and after I walked her to the subway, I realized I love being a teacher.

Maybe I’m not a born teacher, but I feel as if I was meant to teach. It’s exciting to give people new options and to empower them to change their own lives for the better.

For me, the rise of the personal computer was one of the few good things about the 1980s.

I didn’t sleep very well and had my first anxiety dream about teaching at Broward Community College.

In the dream, I had to deal with an obnoxious class, and Dr. Grasso reprimanded me for not dressing like a teacher.

But I expect having Betty as my department chair at South Campus will make teaching at BCC less rigid than it was at Central.

If I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do today, I did manage to enjoy New York City.

After a morning spent exercising and doing laundry, I took the crosstown bus and transferred to the Fifth Avenue bus to see parts of the city I’m not used to seeing every day.

After lunch at Pizza Hut, I read American Banker issues in the library and then walked among the crowds of tourists up Fifth Avenue from 42nd to 59th.

The city’s street life is exhilarating, the aspect of New York I’ll miss most when I’m in Florida.

Unfortunately, the East 59th Street airline ticket office was closed, so I couldn’t get to change my Delta ticket.

Somewhat annoyed, I walked over to Madison and took the M4 bus uptown, knowing that it would go across 110th Street and then up Broadway, leaving me off in front of Teachers College. I enjoyed sightseeing from the bus window.

At the computer lab, I printed out the whole Narcissism and Me book manuscript.

When I got home at 5 PM, I found that Bowker had sent my new publishing outfit its ISBN log, so I can now give the book an ISBN number.

Although I haven’t spoken to Teresa about the project, I’m sure she’ll agree I can use her address for the press. I like the idea of having a New York publisher.

While I’m excited about doing another book project, The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was books still haven’t even arrived in Florida yet.

Sunday, July 23, 1989

10 PM. I’m glad I’m glad I’m making my remaining days in New York full ones and seeing my friends.

Although today was a hot, humid day, it wasn’t unbearable. This morning I took the IRT to Park Slope to meet Pete for brunch.

It was the first time I’d seen his apartment, which is a very nice studio in a modern building on Garfield Place; they turned some old brownstones into one simple, elegant building.

Pete was working on his computer when I arrived. Yesterday he installed a new hard disk and he was having some problems with it.

We ate at the Oasis, a decent but unspectacular place, and then walked down Seventh Avenue to 10th Street, where we stopped at a store selling used books and miscellaneous tchotchkes.

Pete and I browsed through the fiction section and talked about literature. He reads much more than I do, but I find I can always hold my own in conversations because I read so much fiction when I was younger.

Pete mentioned the eight or nine places he plans on trying with his new book manuscript. He was disgusted when Doug Messerli of Sun & Moon Press sent back his manuscript with a form letter.

Pete is excited about his five-week trip to the West Coast and said he’s particularly interested in seeing Vancouver.

Before I left, I wished him a good vacation and said I’d be in touch and send him my chapbook; he’ll probably be in Florida again this winter.

Back home, I got a call from Harold. I knew he’d gone away to Atlantic City for the weekend because Pete had told me.

Harold had a ringside seat at the Tyson-Williams fight (which lasted about 90 seconds – I saw it on HBO), thanks to a friend from his Reuters days who was covering the boxing match.

It was Harold’s first visit to Atlantic City, and he got to see the casinos, the boardwalk and the slums for the first time.

I was fascinated by Harold’s telling me about his four weeks in the Berkshires (in Beckett, where Teresa’s house is), learning how to build a house.

Similar courses are given by others in Maine and Vermont. Basically, they teach you how to build a real house: maybe it’s not elaborate, but it’s someplace you can live in for little money on your own land.

Harold would like to buy some property upstate or in New England – around Burlington is his first choice – and take the time (which he has plenty of) and make a home for himself (literally!).

Harold’s still working at John Jay, but of course there is no future in adjunct work, and he’s unsure whether there’ll ever be college teaching jobs for people without a Ph.D., something he’s not interested in getting. We made a dinner date for Friday.

At 7 PM, I walked over to Ronna’s, where Sue and Ellen were playing with 2½-year-old Jeremy while Ronna cooked spaghetti and scrambled eggs.

Ronna’s father had left Jeremy with her all day, and she took him to the Central Park Zoo and other places.

Jeremy looks a lot like blond version of Ronna: same expressions and sloping eyes, only his are hazel-colored.

Although he’s not talkative, Jeremy is adorable, friendly and placid. I enjoyed playing with him; for a two-year-old, he seemed remarkably easy to please.

It was good to see Sue again — she’s colored her hair red and cut it short — and I love Ellen, who’s had a number of jobs, most recently at VH1, since I last saw her.

Now she’s working on a musical and hoping to use it to get into the BMI workshop (the one Alice and Peter were in when Lehman Engel ran it).

Sue is still in the South Bronx, doing God’s work, telling 14-year-old girls with VD that they’ve tested HIV-positive.

And I love being with Ronna even when she’s busy being a hostess and a babysitter to others.

Ronna’s father and stepmother came in for half an hour before they took Jeremy back home to Westchester. Sue dropped me off here on her way to take Ellen home.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to visit Crad on Long Island.

Tuesday, July 25, 1989

11 AM. I almost didn’t visit Crad yesterday because I got very little sleep on Sunday night and had bad vertigo in the morning.

I didn’t think I could manage driving all the way to Plainview, but as usual, I underestimated my ability to adapt.

Once I made certain I wasn’t too dizzy to drive, I rented a car at 87th Street and started off toward Long Island at 10 AM.

Taking the 59th Street Bridge into Northern Boulevard, I eventually got on the Long Island Expressway, which was familiar to me from drives I took in the 1970s to Queens College, Bayside, Glen Cove and Manhasset.

I wasn’t anxious at all, and thanks to Crad’s mother’s directions, I found her house easily.

Located in a very Jewish neighborhood, the house is a typical suburban home from 1957.

A split level, it was laid out something like our old house in Brooklyn from the same year. It even had the same round speckled tile in the “finished” basement.

Crad’s mother greeted me with a kiss. A very friendly woman, she’s had four heart attacks, has diabetes, high cholesterol, and a benign brain tumor that makes her dizzy.

Crad’s father was in bed when I arrived; he has emphysema and wasn’t well enough to go to work, though he seemed okay later.

Crad had only just awakened even though it was 11 AM. Of course, that was early for him.

“Welcome to the suburban dream,” he said.

Noting that we had both put on a little weight, he told me he had brought three shirts to give me because they no longer fit him.

Not only would I not wear Crad’s shirts, of course, but thanks to my family, I have far more shirts than I need. So I declined his offer graciously.

We sat in the living room and then had lunch at noon.

Crad’s mother made crabmeat, which I don’t eat, but there was enough salad, deviled eggs, cheese and bread on the table to fill me up.

Crad and I spent most of the afternoon on the patio in the huge backyard surrounded by tall trees.

I ended up talking so much that my throat hurt by evening.

At times, I felt very dizzy and wanted to leave early. But the vertigo, which made me miserable at dinner as I tried to pretend I was fine, suddenly lifted and I became talkative again.

I left at 8 PM, having been in Plainview for nine hours.

Though Crad has disdain for his parents, they obviously worship him.

They seemed surprisingly nice, actually, and after dinner I enjoyed talking with them about the New York of the 1950s and 1960s, reminiscing about places that no longer exist.

Crad himself is still a crank, and he smokes those smelly cigars which can destroy all forms of life. (His room was covered in a gray haze.)

Crad can be racist: he hates blacks, Arabs, Canadian Indians, and most non-European immigrants.

His attitudes are generally antediluvian: he disdains all forms of exercise, healthy foods, animal rights, vegetarians, feminists, etc.

Basically he’s a right-wing troglodyte, except on free speech issues.

I’m glad I see Crad only once every few years because he is not easy to take.

Yes, I feel he’s a genius as a writer, but I also feel he sees himself too much as a one-man truth squad, single-handedly standing up to the Canadian literary  establishment.

He’s very harsh in his judgments of people like Stu Ross, who gave up street-selling and who is angry over Crad’s portrayal of him and others in Excrement.

Crad continues to feel he was justified in using them as characters and can’t understand why the book’s publication has cost him friends.

Granted, the book was excellent, and he’s received many kudos from readers, including one complimentary phone call – although it hasn’t gotten a single book review.

Crad is uncompromising. It’s a trait that has made him a good writer and a brilliant literary technician as well as given him the strength to sell his books on the street for a decade.

But he says he’s lazy, and he seems to baby himself a lot, getting up in the early afternoon, telling me that he could never adjust to a work schedule like the one I’m going to have at BCC.

As I’ve noted before, Crad’s isolation makes him seem weird to most people because he isn’t socialized by a job or other activities.

Being on the street gives him a distorted view of humanity. If I knew people mostly from seeing them pass me by on Broadway, I’d hate most human beings, too.

Crad’s latest hoax seems to be working: Every publisher so far has rejected the work of Irving Layton when they’ve gotten the manuscript of Layton’s poetry purportedly written by a “retired Ugandan army colonel” named Herman Mlunga Mbongo.

I guess it will be funny when the poetry hoax is revealed, but I think Crad already proved the same point with his CBC short story competition hoax.

Do I like Crad? Yes, because he’s brave and funny and really very vulnerable. But he’s so righteously indignant that being with him isn’t much fun.

Crad’s mother made steak and baked potatoes for dinner, and I enjoyed the Greek cookies afterward.

Both she and Crad’s father tried to impress me with how much they knew about Jewish culture and cuisine and Israel.

They meant well, but of course I don’t care about any of that and actually don’t like Israel very much.

I got lost going home, but I didn’t mind because it had been years since I’ve driven in Nassau County and I liked wandering about.

I ended up taking the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway into the Southern State and then the Cross Island to the LIE back into the city.

Getting home at 9:30 PM, I fell asleep almost immediately without writing in my diary.

I’ve just been watching the pigeon mother and father guarding their twin children on the rear window ledge nest.

The pigeon babies are now almost the size of their parents, but without the sleek texture of the older birds’ feathers.

Today is hot and hazy, with unhealthy ozone-filled air, a good time to stay in my air-conditioned bedroom.

Friday, July 28, 1989

4 PM. Pete called this morning and asked if he could join Harold and me for dinner, and of course I said yes. He and Harold will be here around 7 PM.

Last evening I met Mikey at 6:30 PM at Amsterdam’s. We waited by the bar for half an hour before Amy joined us.

Amsterdam’s is a little too pricey and Yuppie for me, but it’s the kind of place where Mike and Amy eat all the time.

Though they don’t share the quintessential yuppie attitude toward money and power, they are yuppies in their stomachs.

Actually, we had a very nice meal: some chicken roasted with ginger and sesame.

Amy’s new job at the hospital in the Bronx sounds fascinating, and she seemed enthusiastic about it – though she said she could see how social workers burn out.

She has two dozen clients there, mostly young people who are schizophrenic or have substance abuse problems.

Her psychiatric background led me to tell her about Josh.

While admitting she’s not an expert on paranoid delusions, Amy said Josh definitely sounds as if he’s got that kind of psychosis. In treatment, he might be helped by drugs.

But there’s no way I could ever get Josh in treatment. Amy told me she thought it unlikely the delusions would just go away by themselves.

Mikey has been busy at work with one particular Medicaid fraud case. His office isn’t affected by state budget cuts since the federal government funds most of their work even though they’re nominally under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general.

Mikey knew several lawyers who came into the restaurant, including one who works for Attorney General Abrams and was mentioned in the Times article about the suit against Visa and MasterCard for deliberately keeping debit cards off the market.

(They’ve never done much with their joint venture, Entree, and twelve states say the credit card companies are conspiring to keep their business lucrative by cornering the debit card market and then sitting on it.)

Mikey and Amy plan to go away for a week in Southampton next month, staying in a house they rented.

On their way home to Riverdale, they drove me back here.

I’ve just been reading a terrific 7 Days article by Daphne Merkin about how everyone seems to crave celebrity in these days when private life is on the verge of disappearing.

Saturday, July 29, 1989

8 PM. Last night Pete and Harold got here within minutes of each other.

I hadn’t seen Harold in nearly two years; he grew a mustache and got gray at the temples in the interim.

Over a pleasant, low-key dinner at Marvin Gardens, we had some interesting conversation.

Pete brought up the Senate’s passage of a bill to outlaw NEA funding of any art that’s “obscene, homoerotic, sadomasochistic,” or which offends particular religions, sexes, races, the handicapped, etc.

Jesse Helms, outraged by Mapplethorpe’s photos and Serrano’s Piss Christ, got the rest of the yahoos to back him up.

Though the Senate bill deals only with government-funded art and is probably not going to survive a conference with the House, it still sends a chilling signal.

Of course, years ago at the Miami Waves conference panel discussion on censorship, I argued that government repression could make art more important, as it has in communist and fascist countries.

Harold says American anti-intellectualism is to blame for this, and that it’s the same attitude that makes us treat teachers like shit.

“This kind of thing is why we’ve fallen behind Japan and Western Europe,” Harold said.

He still seems to be searching for a place to move to, but at least once he gets there, he can build his own house.

Like Pete, Harold finds the East Village has by now lost most of its charms – except for some good restaurants.

After wandering around Shakespeare & Company for half an hour, I walked Pete and Harold to the 79th Street subway station and wished them a good year.

Sunday, July 30, 1989

9 PM. I’m at the beach. Grandma just went to take a bath.

We’ve been spending our evening way we always do, watching TV – in this case, the Fox network’s Sunday lineup.

I got to Rockaway at 3 PM and found Grandma downstairs at the benches talking with the other elderly ladies.

With her occupied, I walked over to the annual Rockaway Irish Festival on Beach 108th Street to listen to the music and look at whatever cute young guys I could find.

(When Grandma introduced me to her friends, one woman said, “What a handsome grandson; I wish I had a girl for him.” Uh, make that a boy, lady.)

On the Rockaway bus, I saw a very cute guy: blonde, blue-eyed, with a perfect WASP nose and a yarmulke.

Well, it doesn’t hurt to look.

As for my own body, I’ve done about all I can with exercise. I’m toned but still fat. Now I need to lose weight.

Going on Nutri/System when I get back to Florida is a good idea. I just hope I’ll be able to follow the diet and lose the pounds.

One reason I’ve stayed pudgy is because looking this way is safer sexually. If I had a really good body . . . well, it would be like being a different person.

But now it’s a little too late to be both thin and young, so I might as well be thin.

Like teaching at BCC, losing weight will be the challenge for the next six months.

It would be great to come back to New York next summer 30 pounds lighter.

Of course, that would mean not stopping at Roma Pizza in Park Slope for lunch the way I did this afternoon.

Monday, July 31, 1989

6 PM. It’s been a cool, dark, drizzly day.

Grandma has just gone down to play cards.

It’s rare that she does that these days. The decline in her condition since Grandpa died six years ago is small but unmistakable. Things that normal people do without thinking become enormous projects for her.

I knew when I came that she’d be obsessed with my getting her a set of keys for Marty, since she mentioned it last time.

Mom can be obsessive like that, but with Grandma, the need to do something takes over her life.

I made my own spaghetti for dinner because Grandma overcooks it. But she gave me a plate that was greasy and crusted over with crud.

Unable to see carefully, she doesn’t always wash the dishes as well as she could.

Lately, Grandma says she hasn’t been feeling well, but her main complaint is depression.

I urged her to come to Florida, but she feels too tired and worn out to go, she says.

Of course, that’s a vicious cycle: she’s sick because she doesn’t get out and do things, and she doesn’t go out and do things because she’s depressed.

In seven months, she’ll be 80, and while I’m here, I find myself wondering whether she’d be better off living or dying.

From the bulletin board downstairs, I see that a majority of the shareholders has voted to take the Dayton Towers buildings private, so it looks as if Grandma will ultimately get some kind of financial windfall from owning the apartment – if she sells it, that is.

But she always says, “It won’t come in my time.”

Out of the apartment at 11 AM today, I made some cash advances and deposited $700 into my Chase checking account on Beach 116th Street.

Then I made up the keys before I took the bus to Kings Plaza.

I went to the bargain noon matinee of When Harry Met Sally, Rob Reiner’s Woody Allen-ish story of friendship and romance between a man and a woman in New York over 16 years.

I was in Shakespeare & Company last summer when they filmed the scene upstairs; they made us observe strict silence and I had to wait to get my books checked out at the register.

At Bun n’ Burger, just like in the old days, I grabbed a quiet lunch at the counter while I read the newspaper.

The lead article in the Wall Street Journal warned that even a “soft landing” of the economy will hurt many people and make the Bush administration vulnerable to bigger budget deficits and political protest from those hurting.

On the bus riding down Flatbush Avenue and over the bridge to Rockaway, I thought about the twenty years I’ve been keeping a diary.

In many ways I’m a different person from the 18-year-old entering college I was back then, and the world has changed a lot since August 1969 – but we’re both still recognizable.

I feel like a survivor, but I also know I’ve had an easy life and that my biggest challenges are ahead of me.