A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1990
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, June 2, 1990
8 PM. As I was turning left into the Rockaway Boulevard entrance to Kennedy Airport this afternoon, I was hit hard on the passenger side of my rental car by a car driving north.
I never saw him; I had the green light. Probably I’ll go over the incident in my mind a million times. I wish I could forget it, but the truth is, I don’t remember anything but impact, flying glass, and the sickening sound and feel of metal being crushed.
If anyone had been sitting on the seat, the way Grandma Ethel had been during the week, they probably would have been killed.
The other driver, a kid who borrowed his mother’s car, banged his head against the windshield and went to the hospital with the paramedics to get x-rayed. I signed a waiver refusing to go to the hospital. My blood pressure was 120/85 when they took it.
The injuries I have seem to be limited to cuts and bruises, though now that the natural anesthetic of surprise is wearing off, I keep discovering new pains and cuts. My right hip
hurts a great deal – well, not that much – where it hit the seat belt, but the seat belt obviously prevented greater injury.
On my right shin there’s a bump the size of a golf ball, and the inside of my thigh will be black and blue soon. My right hand has all these little cuts from the flying glass.
I totaled a car and walked away from it, as they say – just when I was thinking, Well, here I am at the airport to return the car and there’s not a scratch on it. I’d just filled the tank with gas in Cedarhurst.
Yes, I could say, “If only I’d gone through Howard Beach” or all those other “if only’s,” but there’s no point in second-guessing myself. I’ve been through a terrible ordeal, and I survived.
Mom and Dad urged me to see a doctor because they’re concerned I might have internal injuries: you know, the kind that people who walk away from accidents die from during the night.
I just hope I’ll be able to walk tomorrow. In a way, I feel exhilarated by coming so close to death and surviving, and I don’t know whether it’s my feelings of invulnerability or what that are being triggered.
Perhaps it’s too early to know how this will affect me emotionally, but I feel I handled myself well. There’s a lot running through my mind, and I’ll just free-associate.
This morning while exercising I kept thinking what a great body I finally have, and tonight I think, Who cares about that vanity shit? On the other hand, I feel that being in good shape helped me get out of that car wreck okay.
Will I have nightmares about this accident? Post-traumatic stress? I seemed so calm even as I couldn’t believe what had happened. I kept asking the kid if he was okay; I found his glasses in the street: they’d been thrown several feet from his car.
The cops took an inordinately long time to come. I could barely hear this Avis guy as I spoke to him on the phone over the din of traffic.
We’ll see how American Express and my insurance company handle this, but worrying about money now just seems extremely stupid, though my immediate thought is that I should pay the bills I found in Grandma’s mailbox after I finish writing this.
It’s weird, like in books and movies when people struck by earth-shattering tragedy focus on the mundane tasks they think they’ve got to do.
I could not believe the cops, paramedics and tow-truck drivers left me at the scene of the accident to get to the Avis office by myself. I walked about a mile around the airport’s perimeter road and then hailed a passing cab to take me there.
And I spent $47 on the cab ride back home to Manhattan, but fuck it, it’s only money and I’m going bankrupt anyway.
Well, I’m at a loss. I should be a good journalist and report things as they happened, but I’ve always been a bad journalist, instead relying on random thoughts like these.
I’ll be 39 on Monday. Amazing that I almost didn’t make it. And accidents like this can happen at any time. All in all, I feel very lucky. (Luckier than Avis Car Rentals, Inc.)
It had been a pretty rotten day up until the accident anyway. No, not really, it wasn’t. And I’m now stupid enough to think it still wasn’t a rotten day.
Monday, June 4, 1990
9 PM. My 39th birthday was pleasant, and I enjoyed it in my own peculiar way. So now I’m 39, the age forever claimed by Jack Benny – not that most people younger than I am know who Jack Benny is.
Last evening I decided to read rather than watch TV, and I devoured one of those ad-filled Whittle books, George Gilder’s Life After Television, whose thesis is that HDTV – high definition TV – is no breakthrough, that instead, digital TV – the “telecomputer” – is the medium of the future, and that its interactivity will revolutionize education, culture and politics, overthrowing the top-down, dictatorial, mass-audience mush of television.
Not a bad vision of the future, but I’m not sure he’s right. Still, what we call “multimedia” in educational computing is starting to come into its own. Of course, there have been a lot of overblown promises in new technologies from robotics to AI expert systems to videotex.
It’s hard to tell anything about the future, even whether currently popular technologies like the compact disk or the fax machine will survive innovations. But fiber optics could marry the computer, TV and telephone if established interests can be fought.
I also began reading Charles Sykes’ Prof Scam, a scathing attack on the professoriate with their “7½-hour workweek” and ridiculous research into arcane sub-sub-specialties, and above all, “the flight from and hostility towards classroom teaching.”
Sykes is a right-winger, but I agree with much of his argument. The Ph.D. is an idiotic, antiquated credential.
At 10:30 PM, I showed the apartment to a young lawyer and his parents, who are friends of friends of Teresa’s. But she’d be crazy to rent it to an attorney.
When I told Teresa about my accident, her first reaction was that I could get lots of money in a lawsuit. The thought had never crossed my mind.
I’m fine now except for bruises – I keep finding new ones – and scratches and a bit of neck whiplash that began last night. I don’t want to deal with crooked lawyers and doctors.
Besides, if I’m going bankrupt, who needs the money I’d get from a lawsuit? Apart from my revulsion at adding to the litigious climate of America, it’s just too much trouble.
It was typical of Teresa to think of that first thing – as was her reaction to my telling her I’d be alone tonight: “Well, I didn’t have a good birthday, either.” As if I can’t have a fine time by myself!
I read the Times and Wall Street Journal in bed late last night. Donald Trump really does seem to be having problems with his debt load, and by this evening I came up with what seems like a clever idea to get myself publicity.
Tomorrow, by Trump Tower, I’ll hand out leaflets urging New Yorkers to remember how much “The Donald” has done for the city and to ask them to contribute checks to a “Trump Rescue Fund” so he can pay off his creditors, sort of the way the folks in It’s a Wonderful Life came through for Jimmy Stewart.
I’ve always been a master of disingenuousness, and I think this could get me on TV. What’s the point? Satire. Fun. Publicity for the hell of it.
This afternoon I spent an hour on the street – on Sixth Avenue and 56th Street, to be exact – with a sign around my neck, SUPPORT LITERATURE: HELP A STRUGGLING WRITER GET A MEAL AT ELAINE’S.
I sold only two books for $5 each. Both times the buyers passed me by at first and then walked back. Most people probably couldn’t read the sign or get the joke of the Narcissism and Me title – about half the passersby were foreign-born – and treated me in the way they ignore every beggar.
I wasn’t certain whether to try for eye contact or not, and I don’t know if I needed a different sign or stance or location, but I’m willing to give it another try.
After all, the money I made covered my cab ride home – and it was worth $10 just to see the look on the faces of the people waiting for the bus who’d been ignoring me as a pitiful beggar when I hailed the taxi. It came immediately, and I said loudly, so the people could hear, “Riverside and 85th.”
In addition, the money paid for the TCBY cappuccino frozen yogurt I treated myself to. Plus, it helped to give me the Trump Rescue Fund idea; because this stunt involves a celebrity, I’ll get a better response tomorrow, I’m certain. We’ll see if I still have a sense of what makes a good news story.
Josh returned my call today while he was at school learning Ada language programming. His mother fell and broke her hip this winter, and his father’s getting a bit senile. Josh didn’t sound crazy, but I’ll see when he comes over tomorrow evening.
I finally got to speak with Pete on Saturday; he’s been traveling a lot (“I decided the only way I could stand living in New York City is if I do that”) and will tell me about his trips to the Soviet Union, Romania and Italy when I see him.
Mom and Dad sent me a birthday card with a $250 check, for which I thanked them profusely, and I also got cards from Marc and Jonathan (my parents picked out my brothers’ cards, I’m sure), Alice, and Ronna.
And I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who went to the doctor today.
Not a bad birthday at all. Actually, it was one of the best.
Tuesday, June 5, 1990
9 PM. I awoke at 6 AM and exercised to Body Electric at its new time, 6:30 AM, on WLIW/21. Then, after breakfast, I fell asleep for a couple of hours.
Anxious to get my Trump Rescue Fund prank going, I took the M5 bus to Trump Tower and started handing out leaflets.
Most people ignored me, some didn’t get the joke, and others didn’t think it was funny.
After 20 minutes, a suit came out, identified himself as from the Trump Organization, and said he appreciated my efforts but thought they would be “counterproductive.”
OK, so I played it straight, too, and immediately agreed to leave; we shook hands and I walked over to Sixth Avenue.
But after finding the location not suitable, I finally wandered over to the Port Authority, where I saw the tabloid headlines: TRUMP IN A SLUMP, UH-OWE, etc.
That gave me new conviction, so I took the crosstown 42nd Street bus to Second Avenue, where I stood outside the Daily News building.
This time I wore my sign that said SAVE THE DONALD, and I got a good response from passersby, including people from the News. Although I was disappointed no one came to snap my photo, James Brady did laugh when he took a leaflet.
When I got home, there were obscene messages on the machine, including from people who called me every name under the sun. After that, I made sure I didn’t answer the phone.
The machine got lots of hang-ups (just now someone left a message saying they’d like to make a contribution but want more info), and the only call I got was from Susan Sachs of Newsday.
I played it straight with her, but when she asked me if I plan to run Trump for senator like I did with Claus von Bulow, I knew she knew my dirty secrets – so I revealed one more: that my own grandmother had favorably reviewed my first book in her newspaper. Probably I should get a bit of ink tomorrow.
Josh came over around 5:30 PM, and we talked here for 90 minutes. He was impressed with my weight loss and asked me questions about my diet and exercise habits.
We had Greek salads at the American Diner (I avoided the feta cheese, olives and anchovies) and I updated Josh on my life.
He didn’t mention his paranoia except when he told me about his mother’s long hospitalization after her broken hip. At one point the anesthesia affected her mind, and she carried on that they changed her room when they hadn’t: “You’re too polite to say anything, but I realized the irony of my trying to convince her it wasn’t really happening.”
He’s still at the DOT, even though Joyce got the ax from the new commissioner, a Dinkins appointee. (Joyce may go back to work at the UN; I told Josh I’d heard her on the radio during the Aylwin inauguration in Chile.)
Josh asked me about Crad, Tom and Debra, Ronna, Alice and my family. He seemed perfectly rational, and after dinner he said he was going to walk home.
Josh told me he knows his co-op isn’t worth what he paid for it, but he doesn’t care because it’s his home and not an investment. And he actually didn’t make out badly with those stocks (the condom companies and others) now that the market has reached new highs again.
Still, I’m convinced the recession is finally, finally here.
Wednesday, June 6, 1990
9 PM. I just watched myself on CNN’s 8 PM newscast after having caught myself for the first time two hours earlier on the 6 PM show.
Probably the segment about Trump-bashing that featured me will be repeated all through the night, and I hope some people who know me will see it.
What did I write 48 hours ago? “I think this could get me on TV.” Talk about exhilaration! But publicity is a dangerous high.
I understand that, even if Chauncey Mabe doesn’t (I got the Sun-Sentinel article from the out-of-town newsstand at Times Square yesterday), and so I’m not completely comfortable with the giddiness I feel right now.
Last night, to preserve my sanity, I took the phone off the hook, but that didn’t prevent me from having terrible insomnia. I slept only from 3 AM to 7:30 AM.
After my workout, I placed the phone back in operation, and immediately Cable News Network called to ask questions about the Trump Rescue Fund.
Soon after, they called back to ask if I could meet them for an interview, and I thought a great visual would be me handing out leaflets, wearing my SAVE THE DONALD sign, standing on the corner of 86th and Broadway. They said they didn’t want to stage anything – yeah – but if I was going to be there around 1 PM, the camera crew would also be there.
I prepared by making a new sign using the letters from the Daily News headline BANKERS SUE THE DONALD and affixing a big photo of Trump to the poster I hung from around my neck.
(The Newsday mention was in the final paragraph of a public relations story and referred to me as “a prankster last in the public eye for drafting Claus von Bulow for Senator.”)
I rehearsed in front of a mirror, taking care with my wardrobe and grooming.
Well, it worked. The Upper West Side crowd, perhaps hipper, all seemed to get the joke, and CNN got great footage – of which they used only a few shots and sound bites.
It’s remarkable how TV cameras create a community, for we began talking, me with people in the crowd, as if we were all small-town residents who knew each other all our lives. The global village? Perhaps video has accustomed not just me, but everyone, to be TV performers.
The phone rang constantly, and I had to just monitor the machine all day. Harold called from his office at John Jay – the students finally ended their occupation of the school – where he was doing his final grades, and Justin phoned from work to wish me a happy birthday and to tell me about a vaguely positive review the play got in the Clinton News, and Teresa asked if I could get her plane ticket tomorrow with the OnePass free flight certificate at a Contintental office and reserve a cab to take her to Newark early Friday morning.
But I had lots more hang-ups and weirdoes. I did pick up for Richard Johnson of the Post’s Page Six and a reporter from the Daily News. If mentions appear in those pages tomorrow, I’ll have made a clean sweep of the tabloids, plus I’ve appeared on (inter)national TV.
Not bad for someone afraid of success. Still, I know what Chauncey Mabe meant, and this escapade is just another example of the cleverness that comes easily to me. I don’t want to get too pleased with myself, but from its conception on Monday, I executed the Trump Rescue Fund perfectly, and I was certainly right in my news media judgment call.
I felt harried all day, though, even if I didn’t go out after 2 PM. I had lots of papers to read, and naturally today would be the day I’d get a sack of mail.
Crad sounded more depressed than ever in his latest letter. (When I xeroxed the Sun-Sentinel story, I excised the part in which I “mocked” Crad for expecting posthumous glory; now I can send it to him.) He sent along a copy of his “serious” Black Moss Press book, Girl on the Subway.
Rick, on his way to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, sent the new issue of Gargoyle, and Mom sent me lots of magazines and four letters from collections departments of credit cards whose credit lines I’d gone over.
With the month ending, I can barely pay the bills and I need to keep covering the checks I write. And I can’t pay the one bill I got today, plus Teresa’s latest phone and Con Ed bills – at least not just yet.
I did call Mom to tell her to watch CNN, and the whole family got to see me on TV at 6:45 PM or so. Hopefully Jonathan taped the 8 PM news hour.
Well, I’ve announced my arrival in Manhattan in the media.
Why is this man laughing when his financial situation is much worse than Donald Trump’s?
Thursday, June 7, 1990
9 PM. That old joke about time being what keeps everything from happening at once: if it’s true, then the first week of June has been time-less for me.
Last night I spoke to Ronna, who’d just flown in from Florida, as did her mother (because Beatrice’s Aunt Ida died). I hope to see them on Saturday.
Ronna said she’d had a good trip to Orlando, and I told her about the car accident and my Trump Rescue Fund.
By this evening I’d filled in most of my friends: Alice called, and so did Justin and Pete and others. Last night I wasn’t on CNN’s 10 PM news hour, but Dad saw me again this morning, so they probably repeated the story several times, and Jonathan taped it.
At 11 PM last night I went out to Broadway and 86th to get Friday’s Times. Going to bed after midnight, I caught up on my sleep and didn’t wake up till after 9 AM. After exercising and eating breakfast, I got a call from Grandma Ethel, who said my unemployment check had arrived.
That made me decide to get out of jury duty; I need to get to Rockaway to pick up my check and see Grandma, and with everything that’s been happening, I can’t afford to lose so many hours.
So I wrote a letter saying I’m a Florida resident and enclosing copies of my driver’s license, W-2 forms, pay stubs and voter registration. That should take care of jury duty.
When I hadn’t heard from Teresa by 10 AM, I decided there was little chance her trip would be canceled, so I took the subway to Grand Central and got her ticket at the Eastern/Contintental counter at 100 East 42nd, using her OnePass mileage certificate.
At the Main Library – it saddens me to pass the Berg Collection and to know that Lola Szladits is no longer there – I caught up with May’s issues of American Banker, and then I went uptown by train, stopping to make some deposits in my Chase and Chemical accounts.
Yesterday I began getting frantic about my financial situation, but in the mail today Mom sent my last check from Florida International University, for the Teacher Education Center computer workshop at Miami Sunset High School: $372.
My Florida unemployment check will also help, and New York State has approved my application for a student loan; now if Manufacturers Hanover also gives its approval, I should be netting $1700 within a month. So that makes me feel easier.
But Teresa left a message saying she hoped I hadn’t bought the ticket: Bruce doesn’t want her to make the trip because of her health. When I called Teresa at her sister’s – she was catering an office party for her brother-in-law later in the day – she couldn’t stay on the line, as they were trying to figure out how she could avoid going into the hospital.
I haven’t heard from her since, and I assume she’s got no reason to come here tonight, so I don’t know when I’ll see her.
I’m very concerned. Teresa has been as careless about her health as she is about everything else. God, I hope she’ll be okay.
When I phoned the airline, they said as long as she’s got a note from a doctor, the ticket can be exchanged for a flight at a later date.
My first order for Narcissism and Me arrived: a $16.60 check for five copies from a gift and book store in Oklahoma City. How did they find out about the chapbook? Mom said she’d mail me a set of invoices I’d made for the publishing firm so it can look professional.
And it’s another little check I could deposit. After returning to my bank to deposit that and my FIU check, I went around the corner to Amsterdam Avenue and read magazines and newspapers in the St. Agnes branch library for an hour.
I’m doing what I intended to do, what I did eleven years ago when With Hitler in New York was published: figure out every angle on how to promote my books and myself as a writer.
I intend to leave New York City without the four cartons of chapbooks now in my closet – even if I have to give them away on the street or sneak them into bookstores and libraries.
Sure, I’d like to earn money from my writing, but for the first time, really, I’ve got a lot of books I can use as “calling cards” or introductions to my work. I plan to send them out to people who review contemporary fiction and can help me or whatever.
After getting some TCBY frozen yogurt across from the library on Amsterdam, I came home and read the papers, fiddled with my bank accounts and credit cards, did chest flyes and bench presses (I put a kitchen chair by one corner of the bed and rest my head and shoulders on it), and watched the news before having dinner at 7 PM.
The news is weird: The NEA is really fighting for its life, and a federal judge in Florida – CNN was reporting live from outside the federal building on Broward Boulevard – declared 2 Live Crew’s album “obscene.”
It’s as if we’re now going into hysterics over the slightest challenge to “conventional morality.”
Why now, all of a sudden? It’s the times. My opinion is that people are realizing we’re rushing headlong into an economic nightmare and international instability that hasn’t been seen since the 1930s.
I called Tom and explained why I hadn’t written. Tom said that he’s been struggling to shake off a depression but will probably feel better once school and New Orleans are behind him and he and Debra are in Switzerland.
He ridiculed the idiotic review Walser’s Masquerade got in the Times Book Review, and Tom told me he finally wrote Crad a letter. (Crad had written me: “I wonder why I haven’t heard from Tom in two months.”)
The days have got to stop being so full. I want a less dense life.