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

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, October 11, 1989

8 PM. I’ve just showered after a low-intensity workout. Tomorrow I probably won’t get to exercise because I’ve got such a busy schedule.

I’m a bit anxious about it. Any time I teach the first class of a new computer workshop, I’m somewhat nervous.

I’ve been at Miami Northwestern High School twice before, so familiarity isn’t a problem, but I always worry about my safety in that neighborhood even though I haven’t had any problems before.

And although my car’s been riding fine, I’m concerned about the trip and whether I’ll have mechanical trouble or run into heavy traffic.

This will be the first computer education workshop I’m teaching while I’m on Nutri/System and I worry if I’ll be too weak or have to run to the bathroom.

Well, I can keep Life Savers in my pocket and snacks handy for the former problem, and I can put all my water drinking in the morning and evening to alleviate the latter problem.

I have to be at Nutri/System at 8:40 AM, which means getting up early despite my late class tonight. Somehow I’ll manage.

In my discussions of “A Hunger Artist” in the English 102s and last week’s issue of Newsweek in English 101, I found my students as appallingly ignorant as all the official reports say.

More disturbing is their attitude: it’s as if they’re proud of their ignorance.

When I told them E.D. Hirsch has a new volume of Cultural Literacy for elementary school students that includes people and events they’d never heard of, they seemed indignant they should be expected to know what Ramadan is: “I’m not Muslim, so why should I care? It doesn’t affect me.”

This is not unrelated to the open bigotry of the Spencer Gifts “Sheik” mask. Since I got no response to my pleas to cover the controversy, I’ve sent letters to the editors of all three local papers and to Kitty Oliver, the Herald columnist who knows a lot about ethnic diversity in Broward.

I guess Arabs are really unpopular because I can’t seem to get anybody to care. That only makes me angrier.

If nobody follows up on it by next Monday, I’m going to do more to get some attention.

Barbara says that all the faculty dressed for Halloween last year and urged me to do the same.

But I know that Patrick didn’t, and I stand with him. I’m appalled at how adults have appropriated a kids’ holiday.

To me, it’s the most pathetic example of the baby boomers’ refusal to grow up.

Do I sound like some October Scrooge?

Saturday, October 14, 1989

7 PM. I just went out to buy Sunday’s Herald.

It’s dark enough so that I needed to put on my headlights, and the full moon was bigger and more silvery than I’ve seen it lately.

I think the moon is actually closer to the earth because I’ve been hearing about very high tides on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

This afternoon I got some schoolwork done. I read all the papers from my English 102 classes’ third assignment.

It was a good idea to get them to rewrite one of the stories from the point of view of a character other than the narrator because many of the papers were entertaining and written with a lot of imagination.

Yesterday I got a call from Carmela McIntyre of Florida International University’s English Department. I’d sent a letter to Mary Jane Elkins, the department chair, after reading her review of Annie Dillard’s latest book last Sunday, and Ms. McIntyre wants me to come in for an interview on Tuesday.

I had spoken to her over the summer, remember? Now she says there may be a class for me in the spring, maybe even in Broward, a technical writing class.

It would be nice to finally get in with FIU’s English Department, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’ll be satisfied just to do Teacher Education Center workshops for FIU and teach two classes at BCC come January.

I don’t expect the Sun-Sentinel profile of me to come out tomorrow because the one on Adrienne came out Wednesday. It was short, and Adrienne felt she sounded stupid.

I like her a lot, but sometimes she can act immature. Really, there was nothing to write about her, except about her novel.

Apparently she worked very hard on it during her MFA program, but it hasn’t been sold, and at 31, she’s published only a handful of stories.

She and Tony are getting tight with Barbara and her husband.

Barbara assigns her classes term paper topics that they pull out of a hat, and she showed me the preliminary bibliography for one student’s paper on the topic “The IRA: Terrorists or Patriots?”

In it, the student had articles not about the Irish Republican Army but about Individual Retirement Accounts.

Maybe that’s what happens when students write on topics they know nothing about and could not care less about.

I saw the November-January Special Report: On Living as I passed my walk-in doctor’s office in the shopping center. Since nobody was in the waiting room, I just walked out with the magazine.

So I stole it. But after all, I didn’t get paid for the story, even though Gary Richardson’s name is in bold print and “as told to Suzanne Harper” is in italics and smaller type.

“The Man Who Charged Too Much” is often taken verbatim from “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit” in Processed World, too.

I don’t expect anyone can figure out who Gary Richardson is, but I do know people who might like to get me in trouble.

Well, I don’t feel I have real enemies, but obviously that Ruth What’s-her-name in Hialeah hates me enough to send Lowlands Press that nasty note. Que será, será.

As one attorney put it in an American Banker article I read in the Fort Lauderdale library, the credit card companies should blame themselves, not consumers, for the rise in personal bankruptcies.

They got greedy and gave too much credit away – just like everyone else in the 1980s.

I’m glad the article left in my point about my running my personal budget the way Reagan ran the U.S.A.’s budget. I just may have been right about how the 1980s would end.

This morning I worked out for an hour and weighed in at 163¼ at Publix’s scales, so I hope my Thursday weight was just a fluke.

Another sign of changing times: Not only did the Florida legislature’s special session kill all of Governor Martinez’s bills to limit abortion, but for the first time this decade, the U.S. House voted to fund abortions for poor women who are the victims of rape or incest. Bush may sign the bill.

Since the July Webster decision by the Supreme Court, the pro-choice people have all the political momentum. Perhaps the tide is finally turning.

Tuesday, October 17, 1989

8 PM. I was planning to read and comment on the dozen or so papers I got from students yesterday, but I’m too tired. Today was stressful, because I had car trouble.

When I drove to school at 10 AM, the car kept “missing” as I accelerated, and the vibrations grew worse. I already had made my schedule close by having an appointment with Carmela McIntyre at FIU at 2 PM.

At school, I called Dad, who checked with everyone at home and said it would be okay if I took Jonathan’s Camaro to Miami.

My remedial class didn’t go all that well today. As I told the students, I hate it when I have to say old-teacher things like “Can I have your attention?”

They just kept talking – well, it was only a few of them, in particular one girl, Shira Cohen.

Originally she seemed lively but now she acts as if she’s hyperactive. Her writing is very poor, too.

Later, I began to wonder if I had just bored the students and realized their inattention may have been partially my fault.

Teaching can be so wearing.

So then why was I rushing to get Jonathan’s car, gulp down lunch, and drive to FIU in a car without proper air conditioning on yet another 90° day for a teaching job? You got me.

Ms. McCarthy was very nice, and we talked for half an hour, sharing experiences as college writing teachers; actually, she works much like I do.

Before Ms. McIntyre had to hurry off to pick up her daughter at pre-school, she introduced me to Mary Jane Elkins, the department chair, for a short chat.

Because FIU’s English Department was so small for so long, they’ve never really gotten their act together in terms of composition courses.

Several times they’ve canceled classes in Broward because there was no one who wanted to go up there to teach.

Anyway, I agreed to teach Technical Writing at the BCC-Central campus on Wednesday from 4:30 PM to 7:10 PM next spring.

But I turned down a Business Writing class because it conflicted with the BCC-South creative writing class I’m scheduled to teach.

Actually, it’s a good thing I turned down the second course because, as Sophie reminded me when I stopped in to see her downstairs at the Teacher Education Center, as an FIU adjunct, I have an FTE limit, and if I’d taken two English classes next spring, I couldn’t do any TEC workshops for her.

Certainly I don’t want to give up my computer classes.

Although I’ve never taught technical writing except as a substitute at BCC-Central, I’ve always wanted to try it.

I’d told Betty I didn’t want to teach it at South this semester because I felt I had too much to adjust to, but it will be easier next semester at FIU when I have more time to devote to the course.

Sophie said the paperwork on the Northwestern High School course hasn’t come through yet.

Before I left campus, Sophie told me she isn’t happy with the new TEC office, where they’ve crammed her desk into a tight corner.

Back in Davie at 4 PM, I took my car over to Firestone, who may be more expensive than Freddy is, but they’re within walking distance of my house.

The problem is not major, and I should have the car back tomorrow afternoon.

I also sprung for new tires; it turns out the balding ones I have on now were two sizes too big for the car.

At my apartment, I exercised for half an hour at 5:30 PM, mostly to reduce stress. (I’d already worked out for an hour this morning before I left for BCC.)

Last night I called Ronna at about this time. Jordan had just stopped by for dinner on his way to folk dancing, so Ronna called me back later.

She’s had a pesky chest cold, and it got worse after she went away for the weekend with Steve, the guy she’s been seeing.

Ronna and Steve went to visit his cousins outside of Boston. All I know about Steve is that he’s from Ronna’s synagogue.

He’s probably religious because they ate in a sukkah over the weekend, but Ronna’s shul is Conservative, so he can’t be that religious.

I hope Ronna may have finally found the right guy, but I don’t want to press her for details.

Of course, I’ve known Ronna for nearly 19 years – half my lifetime and most of hers – and while her getting married would definitely change our friendship, I think we’ll always have some sort of relationship. Look how friendly she remains with Jordan.

Ronna’s got that free trip to Israel with the Yeshiva University girls’ basketball team if she wants it.

As Jordan said, since they assume she is going unless she tells them no by mid-November, it’s going to be difficult for her to get out of it.

She’s nervous about the trip and the possibility of terrorism at Christmastime, but Ronna has always wanted to go to Israel.

While I can understand and empathize with her fear, a free trip to Israel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so at least she should get her passport now.

Everything else is fine: Ronna would like to get this job at the New York Public Library; her tutoring is going okay; and her cold is mostly a change-of-seasons nuisance.

I wish the seasons would change in South Florida already.

Thursday, October 19, 1989

1:30 PM. I’ll be heading to Miami for my computer ed workshop immediately after I write this.

I’m tired – last night I couldn’t sleep – but at least the weekend is in sight.

Teresa phoned at 4 PM yesterday from the 85th Street apartment to say that Alice and Peter were on Donahue.

Like me, she thought Alice looked better and Peter worse than they did on Sally Jessy Raphael’s show.

It sounds like Teresa is spending a lot of time in Manhattan and Fire Island but not much at that expensive Oyster Bay Cove carriage house.

Perhaps it was a mistake for her to rent it. She has work coming up – parties, a wedding, and a bar mitzvah – but although she says she’s busy, I don’t know if any money is coming in.

Teresa spoke to Deirdre on the night of the earthquake and said that for once, her friend didn’t seem to be in control.

With her husband abroad, Deirdre had the two kids to deal with, and her parents had just arrived for a visit a couple of hours before the earthquake hit.

At 5:04 PM PDT, Deirdre was stopped at a red light and her first reaction was that someone had rear-ended her car very hard.

The rescue efforts are still going on and there’s a billion dollars’ worth of damage in Northern California.

Last evening I arrived at BCC later than usual. Betty, who’s been out of town or busy off campus the last couple of weeks, had her Open College Creative Writing class join my group for the evening.

We did Morris’s philosophical story, and I gave him the harsh critique he said he wanted. He’s so stubborn, it didn’t have any effect.

Although I admire Morris for wanting to keep taking classes at his age, he can be extremely pompous and pedantic.

When we went over the third chapter of Jacob’s novel, I couldn’t restrain myself from giggling at the goofy moments.

The truth is I don’t always enjoy my fiction writing students, who sometimes get on my nerves.

They’re just going to continue their genre fiction, writing SF, romance, horror, mystery – and never do much that’s literary.

They were talking so much, they didn’t want to go home at 10 PM, but I did, so I left first.

I’m glad there are only seven classes left.

This morning I exercised to Body Electric at 8 AM and then took Jonathan’s Camaro into Firestone to have a new tire put on; I picked it up when I returned from BCC.

My remedial class went well today: I divided them into groups and had them proofread and edit papers. It was a good activity which, if nothing else, taught them how hard my job is.

I did manage to read and comment on the English 102 papers that were handed in on Monday, so I can postpone the rest of my schoolwork till the weekend.

I’ve still got a long day ahead of me.

Friday, October 20, 1989

6 PM. Yesterday afternoon’s class at Northwestern High School lasted nearly three hours, as I went to look at one teacher’s IBM PS/20 Model 50 and help him install stuff on his hard drive.

He’s a drafting teacher and had AutoCAD software, a mouse, and a computer system I’d die for.

As the schools start getting high-end machines like this – another teacher there has a Mac II – I’d better make sure I keep up with the technological advances.

The Apple IIe’s are not going to stay around in education, even if there are so many of them in classrooms: compared to the new hardware, they’re just toys.

Of course, the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I also learned quite a bit yesterday at Northwestern.

After my class ended, I fought rush hour traffic from Liberty City back to Davie, where I had time for dinner before my 7:10 PM appointment at Nutri/System.

Julie, our group leader, had seen my photo on the Sun-Tattler book page on Sunday. I weighed in at 163, losing 3¾ pounds for the week.

In nine weeks I’ve lost 22 pounds, and by now I’m so used to the foods at Nutri/System, I feel nervous about having to go on Maintenance.

However, it’s going to take me a while before I reach 150; I’m sure the next 13 pounds will not be that easy to come off.

Stopping at my parents’, I picked up my mail and phone messages, and Mom paid me for the tire I’d bought for the Camaro.

Sophie called to say Miami Springs High School wants their workshop only one day a week, on Wednesdays like the one I did there last year, but I’m not going to subject myself to a grueling Wednesday next term.

Anyway, I’ll be teaching earlier on Wednesday evenings, so I won’t be able to do Teacher Education Center workshops that afternoon.

That’s too bad, because Wednesday is always the most popular day for Miami schools’ workshops.

Carmela McIntyre called and said that Barry Bader of FIU/Broward told her that I don’t need to fill out new personnel forms because I already work at the university.

So I guess the technical writing course is going on as planned. I took home Lannon’s Technical Writing text from Greg’s office and I’ll study it. As I said, the best way to learn something . . .

Nicole, a reporter for the Community News, a freebie paper, called.

She’d seen my letter in the Sun-Tattler about Spencer Gifts’ Arab mask (I found the letter in the paper only today when I went to the library) and she wanted to interview me for a story she was doing on local Arab-Americans.

She found out that Spencer Gifts had removed the “Sheik” mask from the Hollywood store, so maybe my efforts did do some good after all.

I left my parents with a present I got them: the video of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

At home, I paid bills and went to bed, too tired to read the day’s New York Times.

I slept okay but not great, and I awoke to a howling wind. Fall – maybe even winter—arrived in South Florida overnight.

After weeks of hot weather and a string of record highs of 91° and 92° the last six days, the temperature dropped sharply.

It was about 58° when I left for work and very gray and blustery. Because I’d never taken my jacket from Mom’s house, I shivered in a long-sleeved flannel shirt.

In my mailbox I found three copies of the issue of Special Report with my “The Man Who Charged Too Much” and an offer for a preapproved Visa from Republic National Bank for someone with a Chinese name – the previous tenant, I guess.

People at Sun Pointe Cove leave abruptly. I found abandonment notices on the doors of two different apartments on this floor.

My parents today got the same notice from Republic National Bank, and Dad was approved for the Platinum Card by AmEx, so I guess the banks are moving along with their credit card business even as Visa comes to Florida with plans to quash what they call “fraud” and “abuse” in personal bankruptcies.

It seemed odd today to see my usually scantily-clad students bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets; if anything, the change in weather was too abrupt for me.

For the first time, I shut off the air conditioning and have the window open now.

My classes went okay today – poetry in the English 102s, reading an essay on sexism in language in English 101 – but I was too tired to care much and thrilled to get home, where I had lunch, read yesterday’s Times, did aerobics, watched Another World, and mostly felt numb.

At Mom’s, I got my mail and brought Dad back here to pick up Jonathan’s car. Marc is driving Dad to the airport for a flight to New York tonight.

I’m exhausted but gratified that I got through a very long week. Tonight I plan to sleep for about 24 hours.