A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, February 20, 1990

2:30 PM. While I’m grateful for the time I had to myself over the past 24 hours, I avoided grading any papers, which will make the next few days less pleasant.

In an hour, I’ll drive to Liberty City for the ninth of ten workshops at Charles Drew Junior High.

Pete called yesterday. He was home with a bad cold but said he’d be in Florida the weekend of March 3 to earn triple mileage on his frequent flyer plan.

Last night I called Ronna who, like Pete, was in bed with a bad cold.

She and Steve have not yet decided to marry and she’s not sure they ever will. A week ago Friday they decided not to see each other for a while, but Ronna called him Saturday afternoon and told him to come over.

He’s been pressuring her to marry him since the fall, but now Ronna’s own friends are also putting pressure on her to make a decision about marriage.

I don’t know what she’ll do, but it’s none of my business and I’ll support her either way. I haven’t met Steve so I have nothing on which to base an opinion about him.

Meanwhile, Ronna’s still searching for position in training and development.

Despite her cold, she sounded fairly cheerful, and it was good to speak with her.

She probably won’t be traveling to Florida before May, when I’ll be back in New York.

After hanging up with Ronna, I turned on the TV and watched 21 Jump Street and Alien Nation on Fox. Rarely do I spend two hours in front of the tube, but it was a pleasant diversion and won’t kill me.

Everything is okay in moderation, as I told Tom, who is kind of a hardass in his opinion of TV.

I sent Tom a copy of Narcissism and Me (the dedication is to him), and Alice is getting the other advance copy. But since I paid the balance of the Book Crafters bill, I should receive the other 500 copies shortly.

I slept well, with lots of dreams about Brooklyn. This morning I read the paper, exercised, and took care of some little errands and chores.

I printed out “In the Sixties” and plan to xerox the story and send it out to little magazines, starting with some of the “bigger” ones like TriQuarterly, Chicago Review and Paris Review.

Twelve years ago it appeared in a very obscure magazine, and I think my revised version deserves new publication.

If it’s accepted, I’ll start sending out my stories again, particularly the other ones in that are in my proposed realistic/autobiographical collection focused on the ’60s and early ’70s.

Jean-Francois, one of my students from English 102 last term, was arrested for attempted murder in Hollywood, where he allegedly shot a 14-year-old boy in a drive-by at a park.

Jean, a light-skinned black kid with blue eyes, is reportedly a gang leader of The Legion, and the attack was supposedly revenge for the killing of a Legion member by one of the Zulus gang.

I’m surprised, because Jean is an intelligent kid who wrote good papers on Public Enemy and Do the Right Thing and seemed easy-going and thoughtful.

But I’m not naïve enough to believe Jean is incapable of this; I don’t know him that well. On Friday I saw him on campus talking to friends.

What is it that makes a bright, good-looking, articulate black 19-year-old male want to be in a gang?

He’s someone who could have gone really far. His ACT and SAT scores were very high.

The pizzeria owner for whom he worked as a delivery man is convinced he’s being framed, and that’s certainly possible.

I remember covering the arrest of Larry Sparks for attempted murder when I was writing for The Ol’ Spigot at Brooklyn College.

When the case against Larry was dropped, it never made the news. Now, of course, we know more about how the government was harassing black activists back then.

Should I do anything to help Jean? I guess I should talk to Betty first.

This morning I spent about fifteen minutes staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. Talk about narcissism! But at 38 – almost 39 – I have as good a body as I’ve had since I was 17, except I probably have more muscles now.

Actually it’s kind of a standard reasonably fit guy’s body, but in recent years I’ve been so pudgy that I now feel like Mr. Universe.

Still, it hasn’t changed my life. Emotionally, I’m not convinced I ever looked as bad as I must have when I was 45 pounds heavier.

When I come home from Miami tonight, I’ll have a bunch of FIU Technical Writing and BCC English 101 papers waiting for me to grade.

As good as I slept last night, I still feel a bit tired now.

Wednesday, February 21, 1990

9 PM. Only half my teachers showed up for yesterday’s workshop at Drew Junior High, and they were all happy to leave early.

Basically, this ten-session course has gone on for too long, but at least it’s ending next Monday.

Before I came home, I stopped off at my parents’ to collect my mail and was happy to see the $519 check from the city of Fort Lauderdale for my accident.

At least now I can stop worrying about suing. The check, along with today’s BCC paycheck and some cash advances, will cover the onslaught of mid-month credit card bills (ten in the last two days).

My major concern is my AmEx bill, which should come by the weekend. It’s going to be for over $1000.

Of course, showing I can pay off that much may get me a preapproved Platinum Card, and the $10,000 credit line with that card might keep me afloat a bit longer.

I also got the tentative Teachers College summer schedule. In the first summer session, Ann Williams is teaching Addictions and Dependencies, and Richard Courage has a class in the Teaching of College English.

While I’d love to take those courses, unless I get a loan, even a single three-credit class is beyond my means.

Last night I finally got in touch with Teresa, waking her at 9:30 PM.

She has no money at all now and can’t afford to visit me, but she plans to stay in Oyster Bay Cove and says I should live with her in May till the West 85th Street apartment is vacant.

Last week she catered a big party for her landlords in lieu of paying her rent, and she also hopes to drum up business among their wealthy older gay-couple friends.

Speaking of friends, Teresa has latched onto two women who run stores in town and is spending lots of time with them, the way she always does with new people. But she hasn’t had much business and so will be forced to work hard in Fire Island this summer.

Not only does she have to worry about getting summer roommates at the beach, but the guy who rented her East 87th Street apartment got transferred, and Teresa is facing a $1000 March payment with no prospects of renting the place.

Selling the co-op is beyond her dreams at this point; the market is so bad that realtors are asking her as the seller to pay the fee.

Like others in the city, Teresa is paying more than the apartment is worth. Sometimes I think she’s like Midas in reverse.

While Teresa hopes the co-op will increase in value if she holds onto it for a few more years, I don’t see New York City real estate recovering any time soon.

After sleeping well, I awoke at 7 AM to the pleasant news that the Tokyo stock market had plunged 3%, its worst drop since 1987’s Black Monday.

Here’s one of the last excesses of the go-go 1980s: Just before Drexel declared bankruptcy last week, they paid out $10 million bonuses to top managers. Truly greedy, no? But that was Drexel’s style – and the decade’s.

Today I enjoyed my BCC classes.

In Creative Writing, we workshopped Weslee/Reyna’s latest Valley Girl boy-crazy fantasy. She enjoyed the story more than the other students, who were annoyed by the shallowness and the Valspeak in the narration and dialogue.

After typing up some of the better description papers early this morning, I was also able to have a workshop in English 101.

Several students who knew Jean-Francois from high school weren’t surprised by his arrest: apparently, he’s gotten into gang-related trouble before.

Although I have my doubts that it rose to attempted murder, I’m now fairly certain Jean was at least somehow involved in the incident.

But I remain surprised that someone so intellectually sharp could be so morally dense and do things that are just plain stupid.

Isn’t it bad enough that more black men are in prison than in college? Do the brightest ones have to end up in jail, too?

I was happy to come home to a message from Sat Darshan, who said the unbelievable has happened, or will: apparently she’s coming down here in April for her first visit to South Florida.

Sat Darshan and the girls will be staying in Delray with her parents  during Easter week, and I’m looking forward to seeing them.

All these years, her parents haven’t wanted her to come down, presumably because her Sikh dress would embarrass them. As if people who live in Kings Point don’t have enough to be embarrassed about already!

In the past few days, I’ve seen Donna and gotten in touch with Alice, Ronna, Pete and Teresa and heard from Sat Darshan and Teachers College, so I feel connected to my other life in New York again.

My FIU Technical Writing class went well. After handing back the papers I’d graded earlier today and collecting a new batch, I talked about partition and classification and outlining.

After next week’s class, we’ll be off the first week in March for spring break.

Monday, February 26, 1990

9 PM. Today was a surprisingly productive day.

After I finished grading the English 101 papers by this time last evening, I promptly went to bed. While I slept well, I woke up several times during the night (as usual).

At 4 AM, I turned on the CBS radio news and learned that the opposition had upset the Sandinistas in the Nicaragua election and that the Tokyo stock market plunged again, having its second worst day. (As I expected, Wall Street didn’t bat an eye.)

Up for the final time at 6 AM, I went out in the bracing cool air and got the Times and Wall Street Journal, which I read after breakfast.

After working out to Body Electric at 8 AM, I called BCC Payroll, who said they’d send me out a new W-2 form.

At 10 AM, after doing some household chores, I left for BCC. In Creative Writing, I went over the rest of the “I Remember” pieces.

After a short English 101 class during which I workshopped and returned papers, I rushed out to pick up a salad bar at Wendy’s and scarfed down lunch at home in order to get to Central Campus in time for that seminar by Lynn Quitman Troyka of Queensborough Community College and CUNY’s Instructional Resource Center.

Lynn’s textbook publisher, Prentice-Hall, sponsored the talk and gave us free food (which I didn’t eat, of course) and dictionaries. Most of the BCC South and Central English faculty were in attendance.

Lynn talked mostly about what she’d learned from psycholinguistics and gave us some good ideas for getting students to experience the reading process as well as the writing process.

Her ideas resonated with me, but then I’m very “New York,” having learned my stuff at CUNY, LIU and Teachers College.

(When I went up to Lynn at the end, she said she was glad to hear a familiar accent.)

The hardass conservatives of Central, led by Dr. Grasso, I’m sure, couldn’t cope with her statements about not having to grade every paper and not spending all your time writing comments in the margin.

Well, they may think that their time isn’t that valuable, but I refuse to be a drone and a drudge, especially when it doesn’t help anyone.

I had to rush off to my final workshop in Liberty City.

After I demonstrated some programs and lectured, we had a long discussion about technology in education and the absurdity of the computer literacy competencies mandated by the state.

This weekend the fifty governors called for a revolution in education, but all I’ve seen from these 1980s reforms is more bureaucracy, testing and micromanagement: precisely the elements teachers need to revolt against.

If Computer Literacy for the K-8 Teacher wasn’t my most effective workshop, the misguided raison d’être of the course was partly to blame. Anyway, it’s over.

Before driving back to Broward, I stayed at the school to complete the paperwork, which I dropped off in the TEC envelope in the junior high’s interschool mailbag.

After collecting my own mail at Mom’s, I came home to have dinner.

John McCoy of Bank One wrote me back, saying I was right in speculating that my Visa card had been canceled because I fit a statistical profile. He said that using such profiles was a necessity because of the high volume of bad loans and credit cards.

It is doubtful I’ll get my credit line reinstated, but at least I tried, and I should consider myself very lucky I received an equivalent $3000 increase in my Choice Visa accounts.

If more banks start to cancel my accounts, I can’t pay them off like I did Bank One and I’ll have to declare bankruptcy before the start of the recession I hope for.

Even now, for the first time ever, I need to avoid mailing my credit card payments the day I get the bill because I require time for my own checks to clear.

It’s becoming obvious I will have to face bankruptcy before the year is over.

Well, like the Wall Street high rollers and junk-bond pirates and takeover raiders and leveraged buyout artists, I had a good run for my money in the 1980s. (Actually, it wasn’t my money.)

Now I’ll have to face the consequences.

Wednesday, February 28, 1990

8 PM. February maybe the shortest month, but this year it’s been one of the busiest, and the last four weeks I’ve really been kept running.

It’s only in the last couple of days that I’ve had time to catch my breath, and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the future.

Right now I’m most concerned with the results of the tests and x-rays Mom took in the hospital today. An hour ago, when I stopped at the house, she was asleep, and Dad said she was exhausted.

The doctor didn’t get the results because the fax machine at the hospital broke down, but he should know something by tomorrow.

Why am I expecting the worst? Is it a neurotic “premonition”? Maybe I feel our family has been so lucky in the past, with nothing more serious than Dad’s appendectomy to deal with.

This is going to sound awful, but for the last year or so I’ve occasionally thought that Mom isn’t going to live until old age. I don’t know why.

Naturally, the thought terrifies me: while other people’s mothers might die, and that’s horrible, I could never imagine it happening to my mom.

Even though I’m prepared for news about cancer or something just as bad, I know I really won’t believe it if I do hear it. Losing Mom would be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to cope with.

God, I’m so selfish, talking about my own pain. What about Dad and Marc and Jonathan? What about Mom herself?

Am I just indulging in a fiction writer’s “what-if” scenarios?

When I was younger, I always imagined the worst when Mom or Dad was late without a logical explanation.

Am I overreacting? There is no point in trying to imagine the worst, but I can’t help hearing words like surgery and chemotherapy and radiation bursting like bubbles in my brain.

Relaxing last evening meant that I had to rush through grading the Technical Writing papers for this afternoon’s class when I got home from BCC today. I also feel I did a half-assed job of preparation for the class.

On the other hand, I need to appreciate that I’m teaching this course for the first time.

Remember how I felt after teaching my first college English class at LIU that night in March 1975? I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Or remember just four years ago – also around this time of year – how scared and unprepared I felt when I taught my first TEC computer ed workshop at Sunshine Elementary in Miramar?

Well, in a way I still feel I don’t know what I’m doing, only now I’ve got more experience in how to fake it.

Except for Betty, all the people I spoke to at BCC dismissed Lynn Troyka’s presentation as useless.

Of course, the people in the South Campus English Department are all pretty dumb. Greg is an idiot, Barbara’s stupid, and although Patrick is smarter, he’s set in his ways.

And of course at Central Campus, they’re hopelessly ossified, immune to doing anything except the way they’ve always done it at the school since the days of segregation (which was actually not that long before I started teaching there).

Because people like Dr. Grasso have never taught at any other college and haven’t allowed themselves to be open to new ideas, they’re as dogmatic as the Pope (without being as worldly).

Today I felt totally disgusted with the college. I’ve got to do something other than teaching – with my life, I mean – or I’ll end up like the people at BCC.

Well, no: I could never be that.

I’m aware that people at school think that I think I’m too good for BCC. And they’re right.

At least I’ve got friends in New York like Alice who tell me that I am too good to teach there.

In a lot of ways, it comes down to something to do with my coming from New York City.

Maybe this sounds crazy, but I feel I could relate to Lynn Troyka because we talked the same language – and I don’t just mean our accents.

Of all the people in the BCC English Department, I think that only Peter Hargitai can relate to what I’m saying now – which leads me to believe that Peter won’t remain at BCC for long.

At least he shouldn’t. For people like Barbara, Vicki or Greg, BCC is as far as they can go.

I’m really confused tonight, trying to sort this stuff out.

But at least today I ate well – I mean healthily – and exercised and dressed nicely and worked out my finances and even got in some teachable moments here and there.

Now I need some mind candy before bed.