A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Monday, September 11, 1989

9 PM. I still feel bad about what I said to Grandma, but somehow I can’t bring myself to call her. I told Mom to apologize for me when she calls. Why did I get so angry?

Anyway, I went to bed early and got up early. Now that I’m accustomed to waking at 6:30 AM, it’s pretty easy to do.

I felt clean and bright, but my 8 AM class in a room without air-conditioning took care of that soon enough.

Most of students in both of my English 102 classes didn’t read “Patriotism.” Why even bother to give reading assignments?

It wasn’t the greatest teaching day, but I ordered the video of Paul Schrader’s Mishima for Wednesday from Terry at Learning Resources.

In my 11 AM English 101 class, I read the students a Times article about bigoted lyrics in pop music. No one reacted at all to the content of the essay, which detailed racism, sexism and homophobia in rap and heavy metal songs.

My students sometimes seem out to lunch. I bet they would vote to elect any telegenic fascist in a New York minute.

I also had them create expert lists as preparation for the first essay.

Coming home at 12:45 PM, I ate lunch and then read the papers and exercised.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I returned to the campus, where I finished reading Jackie’s romance novel. She called me again last night, but surprisingly, I didn’t hear from her today.

I was photocopying when Paul Heidelberg of the Sun-Sentinel’s Southwest edition strolled in for our interview, which ran over two hours.

I talked a great deal, but then so did he – about his days in San Francisco in the early ’70s (which sounded exciting) and his own ambitions to publish.

Paul attended the Key West Literary Festival, and he told me about a bad experience with a snotty agent.

Instinctively, I asked, “Was it Nat Sobel?” It was! Damned if I’m not the only one to whom Sobel proved he’s an asshole.

I was wrong in thinking this article was about my new book; it’s part of a series about the BCC-South English Department faculty who are writers. Paul has already published articles about several instructors, and he spoke to Adrienne last week.

I did give Paul a lot of xeroxes of reviews and articles, and while I’m sure he’ll treat me well, the resulting article will tell me more about the reporter than anyone else – just as every published profile of me has always done.

By the end of the interview, I was nearly fainting from hunger. Luckily, I brought my Nutri/System spaghetti and meatballs dinner entrée, which I heated up in the office microwave.

Adrienne told me she and Tony had seen my photo and a nice article about The Greatest in the Sun-Tattler on Saturday. Somehow I missed the paper that day, but I found it at the library.

“Grayson Publishes Sixth Book” referred to me as a former Sun-Tattler humor columnist and did a very good job of reporting the facts.

It was part of their “Books” page, and in the next article there was the news that Sterling Watson will inaugurate FIU’s reading series this fall; I’ll probably go see him.

After picking up my mail, I got home at 8 PM and had my vegetables, dessert and iced tea.

I’m still urinating three times as much as normal, but I did cheat this morning by eating a cookie, which tasted so sugary I could hardly stand it.

Last evening I finally got in touch with Teresa.

The Labor Day weekend ended with a big party at her house on Fire Island. Now, little by little, she plans to close up the beach house.

Teresa signed the lease on the Oyster Bay Cove cottage, where the rent is so high that she needs a roommate. She plans to live there with Suzanne, but they’ve already had a falling-out.

The landlords are Bruce Robinson, a gynecologist who went to Brooklyn College with us – he was the editor of Calling Card – and his lover.

Teresa’s going to New Jersey today to work with a caterer acquaintance in order to learn the ropes for her own nascent business.

Last week she went to the city to clean up the apartment for her subtenant.

For Teresa, this latest move is as scary as going to California once was, and she wishes she had more support from her family.

Tuesday, September 12, 1989

8 PM. Although I slept pretty well last night, I’m very tired now. Unfortunately, the degree of my tiredness and the amount of sleep I get when I’m tired don’t always correlate.

I woke up at 5:30 AM and I made myself some Nutri/System pancakes, using chocolate flavor enhancers; they really were delicious. I read half the Times and exercised to Body Electric before I went off to BCC-South at 10 AM.

My belt now can be pulled in another notch, so I’m obviously losing weight. I need to buy new pants and shorts, but I plan to wait until I see how thin I get and at what weight I’ll stabilize.

I asked my remedial class to write a paragraph as badly as possible; it was hard for all of us, and afterwards we talked about the qualities that made for bad (and therefore, good) writing.

Then I had them do expert lists and I went around the room questioning them about the subjects they knew a lot about. We turned on the TV at noon, but President Bush’s speech to the schoolchildren of America – about drug abuse – began just as our class time ended.

Jackie came in to my office, and for an hour I talked about her novel with her. I can’t be as generous with my time as Betty is, but at least I did read the whole 500-page manuscript. Who knows? Maybe it can sell. The junk they put out is probably no better than Jackie’s trashy novel.

I came home to spend the afternoon reading, relaxing and watching TV. I just finished reading 7 Days, which I’m glad I subscribe to, because it gives me a feeling for New York City. Voting ends there in less than an hour, and my prediction is that Dinkins will beat Koch in the primary.

The city is going through a period of self-examination the way it did in 1977, when Koch was first elected, right after the fiscal crisis. The 1990s want to start already, or is it just me who gets that feeling?

It felt odd yesterday to be interviewed at such length. I hope I didn’t say anything incautious which will turn up in print and come back to haunt me.

The paper will be sending over a photographer to take pictures while I teach the remedial class on Thursday. I wish I had gotten to my goal weight already.

Surrounded as I am every day on campus by impossibly young, tan, muscled bodies in shorts and tank tops, I find I’m becoming even more self-conscious about my 38-year-old body.

The Sun-Sentinel reporter, Paul, told me he was 40, but he looks a good decade older than I. Through most of the 1990s I’ll be in my forties. Will it be the time I expect it to be? Probably not.

Thursday, September 14, 1989

2 PM. Last evening’s creative writing class was fun. We went over the first chapter of Jackie’s novel and a sweet but perky children’s story by Lois. Both were 25 pages long, so they took up the whole three hours.

I enjoyed the session a lot. Work keeps coming in every week so I don’t have to worry about running out of material.

On the way to school, my car started smoking, the way it had the Wednesday before, but it wasn’t so bad on the way home, and today it smoked only a little. It’s coming from under the car, and I have no idea what it is.

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer sent me a letter thanking me for my condolence note. She and Neil and the kids were in London, doing publicity for the British publication of Buffalo Afternoon, when they got word of her father’s accident. She says she’s been “a disaster area – alas, not eligible for federal funds.”

Susan writes that she thinks about the good old days at Brooklyn College whenever a new student shows up for tutorial and she wants to scream. It was good to hear from her.

I couldn’t go back to bed after I woke up at 7 AM today, so I made breakfast and read the paper. I put on a businesslike shirt and tie for the photographer from the Sun-Sentinel, who told me to keep doing what I usually do with the remedial class.

We did freewriting, and a lot of them wanted to share with the whole class; then I talked about picking a topic for the first writing project.

So far, the remedial class is going better than the others. The one student who transferred out, to English 101, today asked to be let back in – and partially, at least, that’s a compliment to me.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t all that hungry so I stayed at BCC for a while, talking to Barbara and Patrick.

I plan to exercise soon, and then I want to mark about a dozen English 102 papers. At 6:40 PM, I have to leave for Nutri/System.


9 PM. I just finished reading and commenting on all the English 102 papers handed in on Wednesday.

The last one, by Liz Siegel, read like it was plagiarized, and I told her so in my comments. I said that if she did write the essay, she should take that as a compliment.

And then I said that if she didn’t write it, it’s very sad that she has so little confidence in herself that she wouldn’t hand in her own work.

Of course, she just may be a very good writer; I’d like to believe that.

At Nutri/System, I waited in at 176, losing 2½ pounds last week.

While I certainly haven’t lost the 15 and 20 pounds that some other people who started with me three weeks ago lost, I’m satisfied with my progress. I feel it’s more likely that I’ll keep the weight off if I lose it slowly but steadily.

The nine pounds I’ve lost has begun to make a bit of difference in my appearance; at least Mom and Dad say so.

Tonight’s Nutri/System class was on exercise, something I don’t need to get motivated for. No one has to sell me on the benefits of working out.

I don’t mind staying on the Nutri/System diet even if I stop losing weight; if that happens, I’ll figure about I’m at the point where I was meant to be.

Perhaps I need to follow the program more strictly and forgo my morning orange juice in favor of their drink. But if I can lose two pounds every week, I’ll be pretty happy.

Earlier today, I sent Tom a box of The Greatest books. Now I have to get that flyer done for him – that’s my next big goal.

Tomorrow I’ve got to return a call from Ron Ishoy, the Herald’s Broward columnist.

At least I know I can look forward to the Sun-Sentinel article coming out.

Friday, September 15, 1989

9 PM. I feel real tired now, but tomorrow I can sleep as late as I want. Probably I should take the whole day off. I’ve got a dozen papers to look at and comment on, but the only pressing business I’ve been putting off is creating a flyer for The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was.

I spoke to Ron Ishoy this morning, so something about the book will appear in his Herald column. That covers the three area newspapers. Ten years ago there were a lot more newspapers here in South Florida, but then again, local newspaper sections won’t sell any books and the flyers might.

Although I slept well, I probably could have used a few extra hours of sleep beyond 6:30 AM. My classes went okay today. We saw the second half of the Schrader Mishima film in the English 102 classes, and I tried to have a writing workshop in English 101, but it wasn’t working out that well.

Also, I was distressed to get another obviously plagiarized paper, a description of Paraguay that read like a government tourist office brochure. In my comments, I told this “writer” to do another draft, taking out the glib bullshit and putting herself in it – she lived in the country – so I could hear a recognizably human voice behind the essay.

Adrienne and others tell me everyone taking college English plagiarizes, that even parents encourage it. That’s a very sad commentary on American education as well as ethics.

Betty was pleased when I showed her the old Caedmon theater records from the garage Mom gave me yesterday.

I used to send away from them when I was in high school: recordings of plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Miller, Williams, Sartre, with excellent casts. I loved After the Fall and Benito Cereno and Paul Scofield in King Lear and No Exit with Glenda Jackson.

Fewer people have turntables today, as CDs and tapes have replaced vinyl records, but I’m sure they’ll get better use out of these classic records in the BCC-South English Department than they would anywhere else.

I was pretty good on my diet today, and I did my usual half-hour of exercise before I went to the computer lab at BCC-Central to print out some stuff.

Dad already knew about the Wall Street Journal article I sent him about a factor telling vendors to ship goods to Campeau department stores at their own risk, as Campeau may go bankrupt.

The junk bonds are starting to come home to roost, but when I ridiculed them last year by panhandling on Wall Street and getting into the New York Post and Business Week, I didn’t realize that they’d affect my family so directly.

Bugle Boy has indeed stopped shipment and canceled orders for Burdines and Jordan Marsh/Maas Brothers. If those two (once three) big department stores get sold to out-of-state chains, Dad stands to lose more than half his income.

In USA Today, one analyst who’s been bullish said we’re in a severe but unrecognized recession that will make itself known when it hits hard before the end of 1989. The junk bond woes have been making the markets nervous, and it’s possible some new panic may set in.

The world is jumpy. The Soviet empire may be breaking up, and Gorbachev’s hold on power seems shaky right now. China, the Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, East Germany – the whole Communist world – is changing rapidly. But where will it lead?

Meanwhile I’m making my Nutri/System cupcakes so I can have them for dessert.

It’s now four weeks since I was a total wreck that last Friday night at Teresa’s. I’ve been a little dizzy the last day or two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my vertigo returns the way it did at the end of June. However, I expect it will also go away again.

For a change, it didn’t hit 90° today.

Monday, September 18, 1989

8 PM. Last night I called Alice, who’d just come off a fabulous week.

Not only is her new book finished and ready to be turned in to St. Martin’s in time for it to appear in the spring catalog, but an agent at ICM, the super-agency, wants to take Alice on as a client and has all sorts of projects for her, including ghosting or co-writing some celebrity bios.

She’s been named a contributing editor of Working Mother, and she drove down to Radnor, Pennsylvania, to meet with TV Guide executives who were interested in an idea she had to put stickers in the magazine so people could stick them next to the shows they plan to watch.

Instead of brushing her off as a neophyte, the two TV Guide execs “couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the idea” and promised Alice they would compensate her if they used it.

So my high-energy old friend is doing well these days. “I’ll call you if I become a millionaire next week,” Alice said as she hung up.

Ronna phoned for a brief talk. She wanted to answer my phone messages, but she was away all weekend, first in New Jersey and then Connecticut.

Her cousin Esty gave birth three weeks prematurely, and the baby is very sick with numerous birth defects and is on a respirator.

Esty has moved with friends near Downstate so she could see the baby on Saturday (Shabbos). Ronna’s aunt is up from Florida, and Ronna says they don’t know if the child will survive.

Up at 6 AM, I got to school early. My English 102 classes told me they pretty much hated Mishima. A lot of them had trouble reading the subtitles.

When I was in college, I went to so many foreign films, I bet that most of the movies I saw had subtitles.

Those were the early ’70s, the glory days of those student discount passes at the Rugoff and Walter Reade theater chains. We’d get these stiff cards with little discounts we could tear off when we went to their theaters to see films, and a lot of the movies I loved were foreign ones. Yes, I can get nostalgic for 1972.

I left BCC after I had my Nutri/System roll and chocolate shake following my English 101 class.

The students and I were barely connecting today, and maybe I wasn’t making much of an effort.

Already I see people coming in late and being absent a lot, and I feel the idealism I started the term with waning considerably.

Back home, I exercised, read the Times and Wall Street Journal, whose lead story said, “The party’s over,” referring to the decimation of the junk bond bonanza of the go-go ’80s.

Campeau’s troubles are likely to be repeated at other leveraged companies, and if a recession hits, watch out.

The AWP Job List has a number of jobs I’m going to apply for but don’t really want; I’d like to test the water just to see if it’s any easier for me to arouse any interest on the part of creative writing programs these days.

Ron Ishoy printed this in his column, under the headline, “A Modest Book”:

And now comes Richard Grayson, noted perpetually struggling Broward writer, who has just published a new collection of fiction entitled The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was. This book was completed with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Florida Arts Council. It’s dedicated to comedian Phyllis Diller, who saw a funny piece by Grayson in People magazine and wrote him an encouraging letter . . .

So is the story really the greatest? Yes, he says, within budget. ‘It’s the best I could do for $5,000,’ Grayson says. ‘If the taxpayers wanted me to do better, they should have given me $50,000.’

I liked the mention, particularly the “noted perpetually struggling Broward writer” tag. So now only the Sun-Sentinel piece has to come out before I’ve finished with my South Florida publicity – which, of course, won’t sell a single copy of the book.

It’s nice to have a long Monday afternoon and evening in my apartment. Making it especially pleasant is that  I have only one class, at 11 AM, tomorrow.

Hurricane Hugo did severe damage in Puerto Rico.