A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Friday, January 12, 1990

10 PM. Last night I called Teresa and told her what’s been going on here the last three weeks.

She stayed on longer than she had planned in San Francisco, managing to sneak onto first class on both plane rides – Teresa always has enjoyed trying to get something for nothing – and was glad to have missed the bitter cold in New York.

Because Citibank made some kind of mistake in one of her deposits before she left New York, Teresa’s checks were bouncing all over the place when she got back. So what else is new?

She and her family are all flying to Disney World on Tuesday, and Teresa says she’ll drive down here the following Sunday. She can stay only till the next Thursday because she needs the cash from a party she’s catering that weekend.

It will be good to see her again and have some company, but I’m glad she’ll be here only four days.

Tomorrow I’m going to pick up Pete at his mother’s house at 11:30 AM and we’ll try to go to Art Deco Weekend on Miami Beach.

I was happily surprised when Ronna called last night. She said she’s been neglectful of all her friends in the last month; she and Steve have spent most nights together.

Their relationship went from casual to serious quickly, and now Steve says he’s ready for marriage.

Steve’s 39, a lawyer who dislikes being a lawyer (“Don’t they all?” I asked). He doesn’t read much or isn’t up on things; his friends are the most important things in his life.

Ronna says he’s very sweet but has a bizarre sense of humor – Billy calls it “passive-aggressive” –  that embarrasses her in front of friends. (“But you’d like it.”)

After Ronna kept saying how the two of them don’t share the same values, I told her there’s nobody who’s going to be her twin, and that if she loves Steve – she does – she should consider getting married.

It made me feel good to tell her that I knew that when she gets married, our relationship will change and diminish, and how I would understand.

“I’ll always want to be in contact with you,” she said.

Ronna is now actively looking for a job. Billy – who’s decided to leave the University of Florida after he gets his M.A. in psychology and not go on for a Ph.D. – has got her interested in the field he wants to go into: training and development.

Other than that, not much has been doing, and it’s clear her life has recently revolved around Steve. But it was good that she took the time to call me.

She may be in Orlando next month, but that will depend upon her decision about marriage.

Today was just about the day nineteen years ago, at Sindy and Kieran’s engagement party, when I first met Ronna. She was 17 and I was 19.

Although January 1971 was a long time ago, I remember that evening clearly – but not because of Ronna: I was starting a relationship with Shelli, sort of, and just beginning an active social life.

This morning at BCC, I learned I’m probably keeping my classes.

That one girl in Creative Writing is going to prove to be a nutjob, and for the most part, the class is interested only in genre fiction.

Well, we shall see. Being at BCC during the day does give me a chance to socialize with friends, so that’s good.

I came home at 1:30 PM – today I ate Nutri/System food – and read the papers, did aerobics, and made lists of all the stuff I have to do.

Sophie called to say she got the package for the Coral Gables workshop as well as a check from the Miami Springs workshop, so I’ll drive to FIU and pick it up on Tuesday. (Monday is a holiday.)

Saturday, January 13, 1990

8 PM. Today was unusual for me: I spent the day with a friend and ate real food in a restaurant for the first time in nearly five months.

Last night I slept very well and had an idyllic dream about being in bed with a whole mess of people (though nothing sexual happened).

Up at 7:30 AM, I made low-fat pancakes for breakfast and then went to Albertsons, where I bought $120 worth of groceries.

There was so much stuff that I had to drop off the frozen Healthy Choice dinners at Mom’s because I didn’t have room for them in my freezer.

At least I’m set for the rest of the month as far as major shopping goes.

After I got everything put away in my apartment, I exercised, showered and dressed, making sure I arrived at Pete’s mother’s house on the dot at 11:30 AM.

As we drove to South Beach, Pete told me all about his trip to Caracas, Trinidad and Tobago.

He didn’t notice I’d lost weight until I told him. (“I’m not very visual,” Pete said.)

He’s still on his one-month spartan, one-month pigout eating plan, which he says keeps him from gaining back more than five pounds.

Pete asked me about writers’ colonies and temporary writer-in-residence positions because he’s getting tired of New York City and would like to take a few months off somewhere.

His NYU classes in experimental writing still run every semester – he starts a new one soon – and he’s giving a private class in short prose fiction.

Pete’s parents have wanted to move into a smaller home for some time, but their Tamarac house has been on the market for four years and they can’t get a buyer at a price anywhere near the $250,000 they paid for it.

Tired of driving on I-95, I went across North Miami Beach and the new Milt Littman Bridge down A1A as I pointed out places of interest in Bal Harbour, Surfside and Miami Beach.

Traffic started jamming up as we got to the Deco District, but after much searching, we managed to get into the municipal lot.

It was 1 PM already, and I was hungry, so we got a table outside the Cardozo.

Pete wanted street fair-type food for himself  – greasy stuff – so he just had Perrier while I ordered a salad with nuts and raisins, using my own fat-free dressing.

We did a lot of walking up and down Ocean Drive, and the crowds were large. (When I got home, there was a message from Adrienne asking if I wanted to go to Art Deco Weekend with her and Tony tomorrow).

To me, the weather was cool, but some people were wearing tank tops and t-shirts.

South Beach is okay, but there are still a lot of boarded-up buildings, as well some un-renovated hotels that cater to elderly Orthodox Jews or Cubans.

Still, there are a few trendy spots. I like the fact it is like a city – you can take walks – and of course the beach still looks good.

At 4 PM, we left South Beach because Pete wanted to see an exhibit at the Center for the Fine Arts downtown. I got to the Cultural Center just in time to allow us to see the show before the museum closed at 5 PM.

Pete had heard about the artist, who uses narrative in his installations, from Michael Kasper, and Pete even bought a book of the guy’s writing.

I like his work, but I can’t remember his name. Generally, I like all artists who incorporates text into their work.

Of course, Pete knows far more about the art world than philistine me.

Back in the car, he told me he’d become interested in the Supreme Court and took a trip to D.C. in October to hear oral argument in several cases. That sounds like something I’d like to do.

He met a very frail Eudora Welty there, and after he told her he was a fan of her work, she said in her Southern accent, “What is your name, suh?

Pete said Harold is still working at John Jay as an adjunct. Harold’s also teaching a class of mostly black middle-aged women on weekends for some private college.

Pete saw Leora Zeitlin at the Zephyr Press table at this year’s New York Book Fair, held again at the Small Press Center. Unfortunately, Ed Hogan wasn’t there.

After dropping Pete off in Tamarac, I came home to eat a frozen Healthy Choice dinner.

Actually, I ate less than usual today, though I did sneak in packets of Weight Watchers peanuts and apple snacks.

Tuesday, January 16, 1990

8 PM. Today was extremely stressful.

The day started off fine when I woke up feeling refreshed at 6 AM.

By 10 AM, I’d already had breakfast, read the business section, listened to Morning Edition, done aerobics and showered, and I was out the door, heading for FIU.

When I couldn’t find any open parking spaces after riding around the campus for twenty minutes, I decided to join the dozens of cars parked on the grass.

Stopping off at the art museum, I took in a neat exhibit of cityscapes and urban paintings and sculpture that made me homesick for New York City.

At the Teacher Education Center, there were foul-ups with my contracts (which apparently got lost in the mail), travel requests, and other forms.

Also, the packet Sophie had for me wasn’t for next week’s Coral Gables workshop but for the one that begins in February at Southwood Middle School.

In fact, only by accident did I learn that the location for next Monday’s workshop was changed from Coral Gables High School to Drew Middle School in Liberty City. While it’s closer than the Gables, it’s in a cruddy neighborhood.

Unable to find Carmela at the FIU English Department, I introduced myself to Elaine, the secretary, and we talked for a while.

By then it was noon and I was hungry, so I headed for my car on the grass at the visitors section. There was a $10 ticket on my windshield.

Well, it’s easier just to pay the ticket than to explain my status as an adjunct faculty member in two departments.

Back home, I had lunch and went to BCC-Central, where I found my FIU mailbox and visited the English Department, where Phyllis, Dr. Grasso and Mme. Cuvillier all expressed astonishment at how much weight I’ve lost.

(As in October, Sophie never noticed.)

Then I drove to BCC-South to xerox that girl Reyna’s story and see if the gym was open. (It wasn’t.)

Things were going okay, so I decided to stop off at JM Pontiac to see when my car would be ready.

They’ll have the car tomorrow, but I have to pay $520: my $250 deductible and the $270 towing fee, which the insurance company wouldn’t pay because it’s so big.

Well, I wouldn’t have put the car in Daly’s lot if I thought State Farm wouldn’t pay for it. Their storage costs alone came to $80 because my agent wasn’t open for four days.

And then I never would have mistakenly sent the car to a body shop if the State Farm agent hadn’t told me to.

I’m upset that I’m going to have to sue the city of Fort Lauderdale for the damage caused by their sinkhole and deal with what I’m sure is more aggravation.

I decided to go back to Davie and pick up the rest of my frozen food in my parents’ freezer since I now had room for it in my place.

Although I felt beaten down, as I drove off, I told myself that I’d soon be home and could relax and perhaps do more aerobics.

But then Jonathan’s right rear tire blew on Nova Drive as I neared Pine Island Road.

I knew Jonathan would be coming home from the flea market within the hour, but with $30 worth of frozen food in the trunk, I couldn’t wait for him.

So I locked the car by the side of the road and ran the mile back to the house, where, breathless and sweaty, I was unable to get anyone on the cellular phone. (At least I did get in more aerobic exercise from my run.)

Jonathan came home at 4:30 PM, and after finally getting AAA on the line, he drove me to the car, where I waited for the tow truck.

While he offered to wait with me, I was happy just to have his cellular phone – and to have been able to change out of my sweat-soaked shirt at the house.

The old tire was blown beyond repair, and Firestone won’t get that type of tire till tomorrow.

I can’t tell you how my head is pounding. I just want to crawl into bed.

Wednesday, January 17, 1990

3 PM. Last night I didn’t sleep that well, but at least my head stopped pounding.

Because I knew I wouldn’t have time later and because it gave me a semblance of control, I forced myself to exercise at 8 AM. Then I planned what I’d do during today’s three classes at BCC and FIU.

Driving without a spare tire, I was grateful I didn’t get a flat as I made it to BCC to do xeroxing before class.

In Creative Writing, we workshopped that crazy Reyna’s story of teenage love. It was good to be able to model the process, though 50 minutes is too short a class to properly do a workshop.

Actually, Reyna’s story wasn’t that badly written. Although it was aimed at 14-year-old readers, most of the other students liked the story.

Clearly, though, Reyna is a nutcase; Patrick told me she’s been a figure of fun around the campus for years. He thinks her parents just drop her off at the school early in the morning and pick her up late at night.

In English 101, I had my students interview and introduce one another. I like the number of older people, Haitians, Jamaicans and Trinidadians in the class; it’s an eclectic group.

Shayna, my talkative buddy from last term’s remedial class, transferred in; I suspect Scott couldn’t deal with her.

Patrick asked me to bring in some literary criticism of my work for Chris, his son, who chose me as the author he wants to write about for an English 102 assignment at Central Campus.

I saw Lynn as we were both leaving South Campus, where he had been substituting today. Sometimes I forget that I do know lots of people in South Florida after being here for nearly a decade.

After lunch, I took Jonathan’s car to Firestone to get the tire; it should be ready in an hour.

Tomorrow morning Marc will drive me to JM Pontiac, where I can finally pick up my car. I’ll have to sue the city but I don’t want to think about that now.

I have to look at my agenda for tonight’s Technical Writing class, but basically I feel relaxed – at least compared with yesterday.

Dad came home from New York with a bad case of the flu that he caught from Mom before he left.

I don’t know how he worked with fever and his other flu symptoms for the last few days.

Mom is forcing him to stay in bed until his Miami menswear show begins on the weekend.

This year’s flu – called the Shanghai flu – has really hit hard. I’m glad I took the vaccine because even if I do get sick, my case should be relatively mild.

Friday, January 19, 1990

8 PM. I seem to have a lot of energy today.

This morning, after exercising and reading most of the Times and Wall Street Journal, I called BookMasters about the printing job for Narcissism and Me.

I needed to send them a final payment for the typesetting, which I did today before I left for BCC.

In the workroom, I spoke with Kit Callahan, who is probably the only other adjunct around during the day.

While I’m still in the process of getting to know my classes, so far they seem pretty nice.

Reyna (or Weslee or Magda – she goes under a number of names) is obviously going to be a problem in Creative Writing.

If she’s not psychotic, she’s disturbed in the same way Sukhreet was: one of those wacky women who long to be “artistic.” It will be a challenge to keep her from going too far.

The rest of the students seem okay, and of few of them, like Michelle and Matt and Lori and Glenn and some of the older women, are fairly bright.

After I had my English 101 students freewrite, I took them to the library for the rest of the period. Because they’re such a diverse group, I find them easy to deal with.

While I know all about the Gordon Rule’s requirement that each student write 6000 words in English 101, I’m not going to bust my ass teaching for $1180 per class.

If that sounds crude and cynical . . . well, so be it. I can do a better job teaching half-assed (at least when I’m relaxed, which I wasn’t last term) than most teachers doing their best.

Back home, I had lunch and spent the afternoon doing errands. At 4 PM, I went to the eye doctor and picked up my last batch of contact lenses for the year.

I’m tired of driving all the way out to northern Fort Lauderdale for such expensive lenses. Come spring, I’ll probably get my lenses at Sears or someplace closer.

Passing the Main Library, I saw blacktop covering the spot in the street where my car fell in. I dread initiating the process of a lawsuit against the city.

Right now I’m figuring on postponing a lot of things till February after I come back from New Orleans.

Teresa’s arrival on Sunday has made me start cleaning up already.

But the apartment is still a pigsty because it’s hard to really care about a place I know I’ll be leaving in 3½ months.

I’m starting to think about my return to New York.

This May will prove to be an adjustment, especially since I’m not going to Teresa’s right away and may not be living there at all this summer.

But I’m ready for change, or I will be by then. I can handle staying at the beach in Rockaway.

It’s not the Upper West Side, but I don’t expect to have much time left with Grandma and I really want to do what I can to keep her from being depressed.

And in August, I’ve got that two week residency at the Mark Twain Center at Quarry Farm in Elmira.

When I called Grandma and mentioned I was busy these days, she said: “I hope you’re making money. You need money. I don’t need money now, but I will soon. Marty says I’ve got to have money if I want to go into a nice nursing home.”

Does this dialogue sound Bellovian? I’ve been re-reading Seize the Day.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Jonathan’s ex-guru, died in India.