A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, March 22, 1990

2:30 PM. In half an hour, I’ll be heading for Southwood Junior High. Next Thursday is the last class there, and then I’ll have all of Thursday off as well as all of Tuesday.

I got the TEC request for Sunset High School, where I start next Friday. Because of the spring break, my final three classes there will be on April 20 and 27 and May 4.

Sunset High School is only a bit closer than Southwood, but the neighborhood is also nice, and I don’t mind long trips down the Turnpike Extension.

Before I went to sleep last night, I heard on the 10 PM news that the Tokyo market had plunged nearly 10%; it made up about half that loss by the morning (here), and the U.S. markets haven’t been affected, but I wonder how the combination of a weak yen and higher interest rates will play out.

The Wall Street Journal’s lead story today was on banks cutting down on credit to businesses because they’re under more severe security by regulators due to earlier bad loans. Some people speculate a credit crunch could bring on a recession the way it did in 1980, when Carter ordered tightening.

I’m barely managing to get by on my credit chassis, and now I expect I’ll have to return to Florida in early fall to face bankruptcy. Once I start missing payments, I can’t let my parents deal with the phone calls from creditors.

It’s not going to be pleasant, but I went into this with my eyes open, and I got six or seven great years out of the system.

Still, I’ve got to think about my future, and I’m going to have to make some big changes and live a very different sort of life.

I love teaching, but computer education has limited possibilities, and I’m tired of English.

If I get my degree in another field, like art or geography or history, I can teach on the college level. To be a community college teacher in Florida, all I need is 18 graduate credits in the subject area.

Without all the papers to grade, teaching twelve sections a year of art or history or social science might be manageable.

Oh well, I keep thinking ahead.

I didn’t sleep well, so I stayed in bed past 8 AM. After breakfast, I watched the Video Professor’s introductory tape on Aldus PageMaker for the Mac.

I’ve already seen most of the tapes on Appleworks and the introductory ones on dBase III+, Microsoft Word and DOS.

I returned two tapes to the library and picked up another two, the second levels of Word and DOS.

This is an excellent way for me to learn new programs without having to spend money or time on more classes.

Once I’ve gone through all the Video Professor tapes in the West Regional Library, I’ll see if the Main Library has others.

Oops, lost track of the time, gotta go.


10 PM. The class at Southwood went okay, though I need patience to deal with a few of the teachers who find it hard to remember, even after seven weeks, how to do the simplest AppleWorks tasks.

About half the teachers quickly catch on, but there are always some that aren’t too swift.

In a way, it’s a shame that more top-quality, really bright people don’t go into teaching – but with the system the way it is, who can blame them?

Today I didn’t even need to snack till I came home and had dinner.

I was supposed to call Tony and Adrienne tonight to make arrangements for tomorrow night, but they’re not at home.

Saturday, March 24, 1990

9 PM and already I feel sleepy. When I got to my parents’ at 5 PM today, I got this month’s American Express Gold Card statement. I owe $1700, and that’s with the $618 refund from Delta.

Although I took out $800 in cash advances this morning, I’ve been paying such big sums on my credit cards, I’ll need to wait till the end of this coming week to get enough cash to cover the AmEx payment.

I should be able to do it by April 1 – but of course, I get nervous when I see “payment due upon receipt.”

Up early, I did my usual morning thing. The Nautilus gym at BCC-South was closed, and I’m not going to try it again on Saturdays.

At noon, bringing my Walkman and the tape Crad sent, I got in the car to drive up to Delray Beach.

On the Street with Crad Kilodney is fairly pointless, at least to my ears. At some parts, I felt hostility toward Crad, as when he browbeat and ridicules a man who doesn’t know who Margaret Atwood is.

The Torontonian drunks and screamers on the tape are boring – I’ve heard it all before on the streets of Manhattan – and while there are a few chuckles, Crad doesn’t come off any better than he did in Excrement. In a lot of ways, he’s not a nice person.

But I’ll keep my criticism to myself and not comment on the tape except to say thanks for sending. Crad acknowledged getting my book but said he’s been too busy to read it.

He sent the article on his Irving Layton manuscript hoax that went out over the wire services. So he managed to do it. I think it’s a waste of his time – as is the tape.

Bert and Alice are staying at Alice’s mother’s place in Gleneagles, one of the nicer Delray complexes. The family’s all going to the Club Med in Port St. Lucie tomorrow.

Because Alice had to stay with the three kids, Bert and I went out by ourselves to a deli on Atlantic Avenue.

Alice’s father and sister both died in the past few months, and her mother, 80, isn’t doing well.

Bert told me he and Alice are disagreeing over her insistence that their son, who’s 8, go to psychoanalysis of the strict Freudian sort, the only kind of therapy they offer at the center where she takes the kids.

She thinks Teddy is seriously disturbed, but he sounds like a fairly normal shy bookworm to me.

“He doesn’t like sports,” Bert said, and I said, “So?” Apparently not liking sports is a big deal to Alice.

Bert finally threw out all but a handful of copies of Gigging; he gets much more gratification from his klezmer band than he ever did from writing, and he practices the clarinet every day.

Of course, he noticed my weight loss. (I made do in the deli with a can of tuna on a bed of lettuce, onions and tomatoes and a can of Dr. Brown’s Diet Cel-Ray.)

Bert and I talked about books and writing and real estate, and I left Delray at 2:30 PM after a pleasant couple of hours. It was nice to see Bert again.

Monday, March 26, 1990

8 PM. No, I didn’t get around to marking the English 101 papers today. I thought maybe I could do them tonight while watching the Oscars, but now I’m too tired and headachy.

I didn’t feel guilty about not going to work today. When I called Cynthia at 8 AM to say I wasn’t coming in, she just assumed I was ill (maybe I sounded sick?) and said, “Feel better.”

The reason I had no free time today was a call I got from ABC-TV. Julie Young, who works for Vin Di Bona Productions there, saw the  Committee for Immediate Nuclear War listing in the Encyclopedia of Associations and left her number with Mom.

When I came home at 2 PM and heard Mom’s message, I already felt pretty certain that no more will come of this than it did from that packet I sent to HBO’s Comedy Channel after they called me.

Anyway, Julie is working on a pilot for America’s Funniest People, which sounds like a ripoff of ABC’s surprise #1 hit, America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Basically, they’re looking for short bits by ordinary funny people in four cities, including New York.

She asked to see a demo tape, which she said didn’t have to look great. So I figured what the heck and rented a camcorder at a video store way out west on State Road 84.

After Marc helped me set it up, I taped myself doing a monologue, completely unprepared and unrehearsed, sitting in the chair in Dad’s study.

When I played it for Mom (and Dad, who came home from work in the middle of it), they laughed as I recounted the stories of my numerous campaigns.

But I suspect my style isn’t sound-bite-quick enough for a mainstream network show; I sound too much like a monologist in the Spalding Gray mode.

Still, as inept as the tape was, production-wise, I can see that I’m at home in front of a camera, and it was a good learning experience, like everything else I’ve done on video: Barbara’s show on cable, Jean Trebbi’s Library Edition, the interview with Joyce Horman that Josh directed, the CBS Evening News and other TV news segments, and the videotaped teaching I did in Joe Cook’s class.

A little while ago I dropped off the demo tape, along with some clips, as Priority Mail at the post office.

Tomorrow I’ll return the camcorder, perhaps after Marc and I fool around with it a little.

This morning I was able to send out the $1750 check to American Express Gold Card by using all my available credit to make every little cash advance I could.

But I’ve got $1000 in credit card bills that have to wait until I can cover them with fresh cash advances.

What a drag this whole thing is becoming. There’s no way I can avoid bankruptcy this fall; I just pray I can last the next six months.

Eighty-seven people were killed in a Bronx social club in a fire started by a Mariel refugee.

The tragedy has once again thrown the spotlight on New York City’s poverty; these people, mostly Dominicans and Hondurans, have nowhere else to go but these illegal social clubs.

Teresa phoned tonight, mostly with real estate news.

She found a woman who wants the West 85th Street apartment in September, and her new Japanese businessman tenant is ensconced on East 87th Street.

Fire Island is fully rented for the summer, and she’s getting offers to rent the Oyster Bay Cove house for the summer while she’s at the beach.

It’s hard to believe I’ll be back in New York in less than six weeks. What I’ve still got to do here seems endless.

Tonight’s Oscar night, and I feel a patriotic duty to watch it and be bored.

Friday, March 30, 1990

9 PM. This evening I opened what I assumed was a standard rejection of “In the Sixties” by Mississippi Review only to discover they’d typeset the first paragraph for their June issue featuring 125 first paragraphs to stories.

Well, I’m happy to get into the magazine, so I’m sending back the page proofs and my contributor’s note, but actually the writing seemed much weaker with all the sentences in isolation.

Last night I slept soundly but only from 11:30 PM to 5:30 AM, when I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I took advantage of the extra time by making ATM cash advances, reading the newspapers, and exercising.

After depositing some money in the bank, I arrived at BCC just a bit before 11 AM.

Betty had Judy Cofer ready for her 11 AM reading, but they changed the venue from my creative writing classroom to the library’s media room so several other classes could attend.

Betty asked me to introduce Judy, so I quickly grabbed a copy of one of her novels and made notes from the jacket flap.

I also talked to Judy, who told me about her forthcoming book of essays and poems about growing up Puerto Rican.

I began my introduction with a personal reminiscence of the first time I met Judy, at a 1981 reading at the Sunrise Jewish Community Center and how I could tell right away that she would be going places as a poet.

Then I listed her fellowships and awards and publications. (I forgot to mention her teaching, but that omission was probably just a reflection of the importance I give to teaching.)

Judy read two short passages from The Line of the Sun and some poems, enough to confirm that she’s obviously a very fine writer. I know my creative writing students appreciated her, for they asked intelligent questions afterwards.

I was touched when Judy said her first national recognition came in an article I wrote for Coda in 1982.

Actually, I don’t know Judy all that well, of course.

I’ve heard stories that she’s pushy and political, but that’s always what envious people say about women writers who become successful; I don’t believe those kind of stories anymore.

Besides, Judith Ortiz Cofer is a writer who does a writer’s job. Unlike like a lot of people I could name, there’s nothing phony about her.

Judy is not teaching now that she and her husband have moved to a farm outside Athens, Georgia, while their daughter attends the University there.

I couldn’t stay because I had to rush to my English 101 class, so I bought a copy of her novel and left it with Peter to get autographed.

Later, knowing that I had to drive down to Sunset High School, I ate lunch in the workroom and at Wendy’s (where I had the salad bar) rather than go to the local Thai restaurant with Judy, Betty and the others.

Judy has been doing lots of readings, so she was used to the five she did at BCC, starting with Adrienne’s Wednesday night class, where she was so good that my former student Lois came back today to hear her again; it was nice to see Lois again.

When Peter introduced Judy at 9 AM, he apparently said that he “envied” Judy’s success. It’s a measure of the long road that I’ve traveled that I honestly don’t.

Why should I feel envy? I’m not Judy, nor do I want to be.

Where I do feel a kinship with her is that she can’t be pigeonholed, either. Critics don’t know what to do with Judy because she doesn’t fit into preconceived categories: she’s not a Nuyorican poet, and she writes in English, not Spanish.

Hastily driving down to Kendall, I arrived at Miami Sunset Senior High before 3 PM.

The teachers in my workshop are nice, but they’re all at different levels of computer knowledge and experience.

Unfortunately, there are only a few AppleWorks program tutorial disks, and some of the dozen Apple IIe’s in the room had only 64K, not enough memory to run AppleWorks.

I did the best I could, running from person to person and group to group, and while I got help from the experienced AppleWorks users, it’s always hard when the teacher individualizes instruction.

(By the way, I did the same thing in English 101 today, having conferences with students as I went over their papers.)

Our next workshop meeting is in three weeks, and I now know what to expect and how to prepare. But with a total of only ten hours in this component, we can only scratch the surface of AppleWorks.

Driving home during rush hour on the Turnpike was fairly painless, mostly because I was going north rather than south.

At Mom’s, I collected my mail, and once at home, I paid my bills, watched the news, read USA Today and had a Healthy Choice dinner.

Now I feel the anticipation of a whole weekend before me.

Saturday, March 31, 1990

It’s 10 PM, but I’ve already set the clocks ahead for daylight savings, so the clock radio, VCR, microwave and answering machine all say 11 PM.

(Actually, only the answering machine “says” 11 PM; the others read 11 PM.)

Up at 7 AM today, I did the usual morning stuff.

When I do aerobics now, it’s harder for me to work up a sweat because I’m so much thinner. I guess I need to work out harder or longer.

Most of the day I stayed inside, catching up on my reading. Despite myself, I listened to that hateful Mike Thompson on radio because he was discussing the “outrageous obscenity funded by the NEA.”

Bush and his NEA head, Frohnmayer, have come out against the restrictive covenant passed by Congress last year, but the religious right is stepping up its anti-NEA campaign, sensing a surefire fundraising issue in an election year.

God, I wish all this right-wing 1980s shit was over already.

When I called Grandma, she said she was still having liquid diarrhea, causing herself to soil her clothes and bed. On Wednesday, Marty is taking her to a specialist for tests; it sounds like she’s getting a lower GI series.

Adrienne called to ask for advice: Tony’s Kaypro died, as did their printer. Her old Kaypro still works, so Adrienne wanted to know what kind of printer she should get. Since she values letter-quality print over speed, I suggested she try another daisy wheel, and tonight they bought one at Radio Shack.

Adrienne said that having Judy Cofer in her class was a terrific experience for her and her students.

I lay in bed reading much of the afternoon as heavy rains fell, but at 4 PM, I drove downtown to the Main Library, where I read recent issues of American Banker.

Earlier, I applied for the new AT&T Universal Card by phone. If AT&T has any sanity, they’ll reject me – but they have deep pockets, and if anyone would risk another credit card given to me, it would be them.

Back in Davie, I found myself driving behind Marc and China in the van as they pulled into Mom and Dad’s driveway.

Marc said the flea market sales are down 15% from the first quarter of 1989, and Dad expects a bad menswear show in Miami tomorrow; some salesmen aren’t even bothering to go. Dad says we’re in a recession.

Today’s mail brought a business card of Chauncey Mabe’s with a note that I should call him because he’d like to do a profile of me.

This stirs mixed feelings because I’ve already started spending too much time imagining what I’ll say and what “construct” the newspaper article will make of “Richard Grayson.”

In recent years, I haven’t appeared in the papers much, but then again there are fewer newspapers than back in ’82 or ’83, when I seemed to be in print every week. (The Hollywood Sun is cutting back to a three-day-a-week schedule, a sign of its impending doom.)

While I like Chauncey, I know his taste in literature is very different from mine, and I expect he dislikes my non-representational stories.

Oh well, I’ll just call him on Monday and hope we can get the whole thing over quickly so I don’t spend hours musing about it.

Remember, Grayson: You’re not as smart as you think you are.