A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Monday, January 22, 1990

9 PM. It’s been a long day, and in a way I’m glad Teresa didn’t visit, for I’m too busy and too tired to be a good host.

She called from Long Island last night and said the trip to Orlando was a terrible experience because the kids were behaving terribly.

They liked the plane ride and the van to the hotel, but they were cranky and scared of most of the rides and attractions at Disney World.

“For an adult, the place wasn’t much fun,” Teresa said, “and it was such a letdown because I’d always wanted to take the kids there.”

Teresa’s nephew kept hitting her and saying, “I hate you,” and her niece wasn’t behaving much better.

On Friday they went to Evelyn’s on the Gulf Coast, and Teresa decided to return home yesterday, and cater a party on Thursday for a client. She needs the money and will try to visit me next month.

Teresa had planned to ask me when she saw me, but we decided it over the phone: I’ll take her apartment starting June 1 and pay all the expenses.

Because her costs are so high, she’ll probably give up the Oyster Bay Cove house and live in Fire Island full-time come May. Her furniture will go into storage until the fall, when she’ll decide what to do next.

The subtenant at West 85th Street will be moving out when she gets married at the end of May, and she won’t be wanting the apartment after that.

I’m happy to be returning to the Upper West Side for the summer.

Teresa told me that while she was visiting in California, Deirdre’s baby kept having seizures, and the boy is definitely neurologically damaged.

Because the parents are both physicians, it’s even harder for them to cope. It’s not anything fatal, but the child will never function normally.

I spoke to Justin and Larry last night. Justin has been working five days a week, which forces him to do all his Theater, Inc. business and his own writing in the evenings and on weekends.

Larry is trying to get a job with a design firm for which he’s been doing some work, and he’s also designing ties. They sounded pretty happy.

Up at 7:30 AM today, I left for BCC at 10 AM, having breakfasted, read the Wall Street Journal (the stock market again fell sharply today on fears of stagnation), and exercised mildly.

At BCC, I spoke to Betty, who’ll try to arrange for Kit to teach my English 101 classes next week while I’m in New Orleans.

I’ll be docked pay, of course, which isn’t fair; at least CUNY allowed adjuncts three absences a term.

But I don’t work hard at BCC, and it’s nice not having to go there every day. I think I do a better job with just two classes.

They went well today – in English 101, I wrote an essay about social security taxes on the board, and the class got to observe my process of brainstorming, drafting, and revision.

The creative writing students liked the Nora Ephron and John Waters essays. But I’ve got to do something about Reyna, whose behavior is getting intolerable.

I spoke with Patrick, Vicki and Barbara about her and then sat down with Doris Sands, who was familiar with Reyna. The girl’s real name is Weslee Guttmacher, and Doris thinks she was diagnosed as psychotic and was institutionalized since she was last at BCC.

Her lack of impulse control and her unacceptable and inappropriate behavior is getting disruptive, and I couldn’t hide my annoyance today.

Doris said I should go to Susie Malter, the dean of students, and tell her what’s been going on in class.

But on my way to the parking lot, I told Robert Buford about the situation, and he advised me not to do anything orally; he said I should put everything on paper for legal reasons.

So I’ve got to write a memo – just like my FIU tech writing students. I’d better consult my text.

Home at 2 PM, I had lunch and didn’t have much time before I left for Miami.

Accidents kept me from getting there earlier than 4:15 PM, but I still had time to spare.

Charles Drew Junior High School, like the elementary school next door, has a great reputation – Dan Quayle visited there last fall – but it’s in the heart of Liberty City and a lot of people dropped out of my workshop when they learned the site had been moved from Coral Gables.

Marge Sykes from TEC stayed to get everyone settled, but I had only ten students (when there’d been twenty  registered and others on a waiting list).

It’s a very diverse group with different needs and with varied experience on computers. I have complete novices and computer teachers frustrated because the state computer literacy guidelines are so difficult.

Both these teachers and their kids instinctively know “computer literacy” is unimportant: they just want and need to know how to use the machines. But we’re stuck with an obsolete curriculum.

It’s just more state micro-managing of education. Why can’t they just stand aside and let teachers teach?

The computers are Tandy 1000SXs, and luckily I’d brought the Fundamentals SX disk, a tutorial for beginners. The Tandys can use StarTrack to emulate Apples, so that’s a plus.

I let everyone go by 6:45 PM; it’s scary to be in Liberty City at night.

Starving, I stopped off to get my mail and passed my parents on the road; they were returning from the second day of the show at the Miami Merchandise Mart.

After eating my Nutri/System dinner, I paid the ten credit card bills from today’s mail. While I still have to read the Times and USA Today, at least I don’t have to go anywhere in the morning.

Tuesday, January 23, 1990

2 PM. I didn’t realize this job at Drew Junior High would make me feel so harried – but after all, I’m teaching 18 hours a week. Even if I let classes out early, the driving time to Liberty City and back adds to the time.

I’ll leave in an hour or so; yesterday I ran into surprisingly heavy traffic. I still haven’t quite finished yesterday’s Times.

I didn’t sleep that great last night, and this morning I tried to make up for it by lying in bed with my eyes closed.

When I went out for lunch, I transferred money from my Chemical savings account to CalFed checking to cover the payments for the credit cards and the one to Book Crafters; Sherry Ringle called and said they were all ready to begin printing Narcissism and Me and says I should have the book before Easter.

I’m still worried about my car and my tooth. The car makes a squeaky, creaky noise, and God forbid I get stuck in the ghetto at night, or even during the day.

I suspect JM Pontiac did a half-assed job, but what else is new? I just don’t have time to pursue a suit against the city of Fort Lauderdale now, but this whole experience has been an encounter with incompetents from beginning to end.

As for my tooth, I can only blame myself; I’m sure the tooth will crack while I’m eating one of these days. It’s basically a shell with a massive silver filling. But if I could avoid tooth and car problems until after my trip to New Orleans, I’ll be happy.

I still haven’t prepared for tomorrow’s technical writing class, but if I can get through the next two days, Thursday and Friday will be calmer.

My credit union newsletter seems to be suggesting that many members are declaring bankruptcy.

Wednesday, January 24, 1990

9 PM. I feel relaxed because I’ve gotten over the hump of the week, teaching 13 of the 18 hours I’m assigned, and I’m not much the worse for wear.

Yesterday all went well at Drew Junior High, where I demonstrated Carmen Sandiego, BASIC and LOGO to the teachers in my workshop.

They’re a good group, but I also realized that I know more than I sometimes think I do.

Driving back up to Broward via I-95 and the Turnpike proved easy, and I wasn’t even hungry, so I lingered at my parents’, where I’d gone to pick up my mail.

Mom and Dad were frantically busy at the menswear show while most of the other salespeople wrote few orders. For Dad’s sake, I’m glad Bugle Boy is still hot; although he complains about being overworked, Dad admitted it’s better than being underworked.

After giving China her demanded belly-rub, I came home and had a Healthy Choice dinner, watched The Wonder Years and read the paper.

The trouble with my sleep habits is I still wake up early; up at 6 AM, I couldn’t return to dreamland, so I listened to Morning Edition on NPR, had breakfast, lay with my eyes closed, and at 9 AM, exercised.

Again I took out $300 from Chemical Super Savings and another $900 in ATM cash advances; now I have plenty of leeway in my checking account.

Book Crafters called and said if they cut out my half-title page, they can get the book to 64 pages, an even number of signatures; otherwise, I’ll have seven blank pages.

Naturally I agreed. It looks as if I’ll see Narcissism and Me in print sooner than I’d expected, and that’s something to look forward to.

Reyna behaved herself in class today as I went over Joan Didion’s “On Keeping A Notebook” and we discussed notebooks, diaries and journals.

The two guys in the class who have brains, Matt and Glenn, haven’t shown up this week, but I got a new student, Michael, who transferred into the class on Peter Hargitai’s suggestion. I tried not to stare at his impressive biceps, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with looking.

On Wednesdays I check out New Times’ personal ads, but I haven’t seen one worth responding to for the past few weeks, and nobody whom I’d sent letters to has ever called anyway.

In English 101, I talked about narrative and we read Thurber’s “The Night the Bed Fell” and Langston Hughes’s “Salvation.”

BCC part-time work isn’t worth my while financially, but I like the social aspects of it.

Patrick met his half-brother and half-sister for the first time Sunday night and said he’s got a book’s worth of material from that.

Patrick, like Barbra and others, has cautioned me to stop losing weight. I decided I have been a bit too obsessive about my diet, so I didn’t write down the calories of everything I ate today.

For a couple of hours this afternoon, I decided I was getting too thin, but tonight I looked at myself naked in the mirror and decided I’m fine.

My FIU technical writing class went well, and the team project we tried worked effectively. I won’t see them again for two weeks, for next week at this time I’ll be in New Orleans.

I still haven’t gotten to today’s New York Times, but tomorrow, with only my last session in Miami Springs, I should have plenty of time. Well, time enough to catch up on the news, anyway.

Thursday, January 25, 1990

8 PM. I slept well but still have shoulder and arm soreness because I can lie down only on my left side without vertigo.

After breakfast, I started catching up on the newspapers. Perhaps the ’80s economy is finally beginning to unravel. The Tokyo and New York stock markets are volatile and trending downward as foreign investors may be pulling back from the U.S. now that Japanese and German interest rates rise.

The S&L bailout is going to cost far more than anyone predicted, and big banks report big losses; the Bank of New England, beset by problem real estate loans, may actually fail the way those Texas banks did.

U.S. interest rates haven’t come down as expected, junk bonds are defaulting, and apparently I’m not the only one considering bankruptcy.

The guy who sent me the Fresh Start! newsletter could probably get more subscriptions from my fellow members of the Broward Schools Credit Union if the chairman’s newsletter column is any indication.

I finished the word processing workshop at Miami Springs High School this afternoon, and I feel good about it.

I copied lots of disks for one of the secretaries in the class. (She gave me a dollar for each disk.)

All the students thanked me for helping them learn something that’s made them abandon their typewriters.

Doing TEC workshops is a pretty good deal for me because it gives me freedom, variety, satisfaction, and a chance to learn myself.

Four years ago, when I did my first workshop for TEC at Sunshine Elementary in Miramar, I was pretty green and kind of scared, but I’ve gotten enormous experience since then and I’m happy to continue for a while.

It’s hard for me to keep up with the field of computer education when I have so many other interests, yet being a generalist is my strength.

I’m not doing a great job at teaching technical writing, but for my first time with the course, it’s been okay, and I’ll improve the more I do it.

Finally I called up and found out I can sue the city of Fort Lauderdale in small claims court.

Before I do that, however, I’ll have to get all the information I need from the police department and the city; they want plaintiffs to hand in all evidence when they file suit. I’ll wait till I’m back from New Orleans.

A week from now at this time, I’ll be giving my reading at NOCCA. Perhaps I’ll be nervous about the trip, but so far I’m looking forward to it.

I’m also happy I’ll be back in Teresa’s apartment starting in June. It will be good to be an Upper West Sider again, if only for a couple of months.

Really, things have gone very well, and I shouldn’t fret about my dizziness or car problems. I’m smart enough to realize happiness is a byproduct of living and not something one has to seek out.

Every few days I think about Josh and wonder how he’s doing. It’s a little ache to know that he became psychotic, but I can’t do anything for him now. He never answered my letter.

Tuesday, January 30, 1990

9 PM. I just finished my Nutri/System dinner: their thick-crust cheese pizza, which I microwaved with onion slices and the Green Giant one-serving packet of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

I drank about six glasses of iced tea and had for my fruit serving some crushed pineapple with coconut extract – sort of a piña colada. And I can still have milk and dessert later. I cheated only with 100 calories of Weight Watchers low-fat peanuts.

Of course, I had liquid diarrhea most of the day, but I suspect it was from taking penicillin.

I’ve stopped the antibiotic for now; my tooth is sore when I bite down on it hard, but that just convinces me Dr. Auerbach was right when he diagnosed my pain as probably an injury and not a pulp problem.

Of course, I could be having diarrhea as an anxiety reaction to tomorrow’s trip. Remember the day before I left for MacDowell?

Well, I do know that no matter how bad I feel tomorrow, I’m going to get on that American Airlines jet at Miami International Airport. I can’t let fear rule my life.

I got a letter from Crad in which he said he didn’t get a good report from his physical. The doctor found one of his liver enzymes functioning abnormally, and he had to take a test for an enlarged liver.

Changes in diet and lifestyle can reverse the damage, but Crad will have to give up virtually all alcohol (only one drink a week), cut down on fat (“no more Kentucky Fried Chicken or french fries or beans-and-egg breakfasts”) and walk for an hour a day.

Crad admits he’s been drinking to put himself to sleep every night as well as to relieve “nervousness,” even though I told him this was a bad idea.

He’s always disdained healthy diet and exercise, but now it’s going to have to be a part of his life; he’s lucky he discovered the problem before it worsened.

When I stopped off at my parents’ an hour ago, I learned about Mom’s first visit to a gynecologist in a decade.

He couldn’t find an infection that might be causing her urinary frequency, but he’ll send her to a urologist if tests warrant.

Mom’s blood pressure was a high 140/100 (she’s always said she had low blood pressure), and the doctor insisted she have a mammogram and was shocked she’d never had one.

I hope everything is all right for Mom. Her experience and Crad’s have convinced me to get a checkup when I return from New Orleans.

Last night I spoke with Teresa, who’s still screwing up. I blame a lot of her problems on her hasty decision to move to Long Island.

(Yes, the plane crashed half a mile from her place and right near her landlord’s in Cove Neck – she and Brian, her Fire Island fire-chief friend, thought it was thunder and only later did they discover why so many sirens were racing past when the TV bulletin came on. Teresa said sick sightseers were combing the neighborhood for “souvenirs.”)

She’s been unable to dream up enough catering business to be able to afford her rent.

Her rent checks have bounced three times (naturally she blames the bank), and she says she doesn’t intend to pay rent for February until her landlords help pay for her renovation so she can get a roommate who’ll have a private shower and bath.

I’ve said for years that Teresa lives life so carelessly it frightens me. She has this sense of entitlement caused by a poor self-image; on her last four flights, she sneaked aboard first class.

When I talked about my diet and exercise and how I decided I’d buy a scale (which I did today) to weigh myself regularly, she said she refuses to give up the food she loves.

And besides, she said, when she was thin back in ’87, she had married men chasing her.

(She admitted that Brian is also married. Despite his training as a fire chief, he wouldn’t go out to help the crash victims because he didn’t want anyone he knew to see him on the North Shore and tell his wife.)

Anyway, I wouldn’t trade the delight I feel when I look in the mirror for any fattening dessert.

Of course, Teresa’s business is food, so she couldn’t diet even if she had more discipline; in fact, she said it would be bad for business if it looked as if she didn’t enjoy her food.

Well, I sound like I’m putting down other people, but really, I need to look to myself and see if I – no, how I – practice the same self-deception that Teresa, Crad, Mom and others do.

Look at how I avoid intimate relationships, for one thing. And how I deal with tomorrow’s panic, for another.

After sleeping very well again last night, this morning I did aerobics and caught up on work.

Avoiding the highways, I took the streets straight through to Liberty City and got to the TEC workshop early.

Working today in a room with four Apple IIe’s, I demonstrated Print Shop and music software (including Music Construction Set), and the class tried out various games, disks and tutorials.

They’re a good group who ask intelligent questions, and I’m enjoying this workshop.

While I still have some packing to do, I’ll save it for the morning. Hope I sleep tonight.

Wednesday, January 31, 1990

9 PM in New Orleans. Tom has put me in the bedroom in the back while he’s sleeping in the room that he uses as an office.

Even though the weather is mild, I’m a bit chilly. I’m unaccustomed to drafty old houses.

The main thought I have after being here for several hours is: what different worlds people live in. Tom’s life, his concerns, the littlest details of mundane living, are so different from what I’ve grown used to.

The flight here was smooth and short; the flight attendants played games with us, asking passengers to guess who was the oldest of them or seeing which of us had the oldest penny or the photo with the most people.

On the taxi ride from the airport, I encountered familiar sights on I-10, the Airport Highway, Carrollton and St. Charles.

It was about 65° and sunny when I got here at 4 PM; Tom arrived at the house a few minutes after I did.

When I finished putting my stuff away, I went with him on his daily walk through Audubon Park; probably I slowed him down a little.

Later, I’m afraid I made him drive me to an upscale uptown Winn-Dixie because the convenience store didn’t have any Healthy Choice frozen dinners.

I hate being a fanatic about my diet, but it’s important to me. When Tom first saw me, he said, “You’ve shrunk.”

As usual, much of Tom’s talk is about literature and books and authors I’ve sometimes not heard about, often heard about but have not read, or occasionally have read but are nowhere near as familiar with as he is.

Of course my interests are now more political or economic, sociological or whatever, as opposed to literary. (I gave up trying to watch the State of the Union address on Tom’s scratchy old TV.)

It’s been years since I’ve felt a part of literary life – if ever I did. Yes, I write stories; or rather, I’ve written stories.

But after the latest two chapbooks and maybe that In the Sixties collection I’ve planned out, I think it’s time to call it a day as far as fiction writing is concerned.

If the NOCCA students ask me, I’ll have to tell them that. I don’t know what Tom’s reaction will be.

Certainly I don’t have his knowledge of or respect for literature. George Angel, who’ll be here in three weeks, has high ideals and ambitions: not to be published or famous but to write fiction well.

Perhaps I’m going to be a disappointment to Tom, but I can’t force myself to get wrapped up in literature again. The world doesn’t need or want another fiction writer.

I’m just talking. Maybe I’m still pretty disoriented. I had bad stomach pains, but I think it was probably gas, and I feel better now.

New Orleans always seems broken-down to me, unlike New York, which is my home, and new-and-shiny Florida.

One thing I’ve been realizing it gradually over the last five months: there’s a lot more for me to like in Florida than I’d previously acknowledged, and I’m comfortable living there so long as I can still spend part of my life in New York.