A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1990
by Richard Grayson
Friday, June 8, 1990
8 PM. Life gets denser, but it’s my own fault. Last night I barely slept because after I went out at 11 PM and bought today’s Times, the article about the banning of the 2 Live Crew album in South Florida just got to me.
When I awoke from four hours’ sleep at 7 AM, I had an idea. Bleary-eyed, I staggered to the computer and wrote a press release for “Radio Free Broward,” an organization of “the South Florida snowbird-in-exile community” dedicated to sending copies of the banned album from New York, where I assume it’s readily available, to “the captive counties of the Gold Coast.”
I know this couldn’t wait for the mail, so after I went to the Teachers College computer lab and printed it out, I walked down Broadway till I found a store with a fax service and I sent it to the three major newspapers and WNWS and WINZ radio in Miami.
By the time I arrived home, there were calls from the radio stations, and I did interviews with both. I also got a couple of calls from guys who wanted me to get them the album.
Explaining that I hadn’t worked out the logistics yet, I took their names (one guy would give me only his first name, and it’s scary to think that in America a man is afraid to order a record album), addresses, and phone numbers.
WPLG-TV/Channel 10 phoned and interviewed me. They’d hoped to do a live satellite hookup on the 5:30 PM news, but WABC-TV here wouldn’t let them use their studio.
However, I just heard the result of my TV interview when Mom called and played the tape of Ann Bishop’s report on the news.
The Miami Herald also interviewed me, and a story will appear in tomorrow’s paper. I tried to stress I’m doing this as a writer and First Amendment supporter; after all, the federal judge deemed words obscene, not photos or music.
The sheriff’s deputies arrested the only record store owner in Broward brave enough to sell the album, and I’m glad other people aren’t taking this lying down. I have no interest in the filthy music itself, but it’s the principle: if adults want this, they should have it.
The eggs in the nest on the ledge hatched today, and there are now two fuzzy yellow baby pigeons (with black beaks) huddled under their mother’s warmth.
So life goes on. Scott and M.J. will be here soon to go out to dinner.
Saturday, June 9, 1990
8 PM. Last night Scott and M.J. got here in the rain at 9:30 PM, and after chatting in the apartment – Scott brought a camera and took photos of us – I accompanied them to Popover, an Amsterdam Avenue spot where popovers are the specialty.
Since I’m still nuts about my diet, I avoided as much fat as I could, eschewed the popover, and had a mixed salad without eating the dressing, bacon, or cheese.
Still, the evening’s object was just to see Scott and M.J. They’re now house-hunting in the Scarsdale area of Westchester and will probably be in a house by the end of the year.
Scott, of course, still has the same job he’s had for a dozen years. M.J. works hard, too, and is going to teach a night class in architecture at FIT this fall.
They were in Florida in March, but Scott’s parents had their weekend so tightly scheduled that there wasn’t time to call me.
We had a pleasant meal, though I’m sure Scott thinks I’m a sad case because there’s no significant other, no permanence, to my life.
While I feel comfortable with Scott and M.J., as if we’d taken up where we last saw each other nearly a year ago, I don’t have too much to stay to say to them.
As M.J. and I waited for Scott to get the car, she said he doesn’t have too many friends, not even as many as she does although she hasn’t been in this country that long.
Mom called and said I’d gotten the $350 check for my travel expenses from FIT, so it looks like my financial squeeze won’t be that bad. This month’s credit card bills will be coming soon, and I guess I can keep the chassis going.
This afternoon I used a credit card to buy $65 worth of groceries in Food Emporium, where the two women in front of me remarked on the superior selection at Publix supermarkets in Florida.
The phone rang only once today: Ronna, telling me she couldn’t see me tonight after all. Although I turned down other invitations for tonight from Pete Cherches, Alice, and Justin and Larry to see Ronna, I don’t mind the chance to be alone.
As far as my writing career goes, I’ve decided to take a different tack than Crad; street-selling is not for me.
Instead, I’m going to send my chapbooks to young reviewers in Manhattan – for example, those publishing in the Voice Literary Supplement who seem like they might be sympathetic to my work.
Better, I think, to get a few semi-influential people aware of me – maybe one in ten or twelve will like my fiction – than to spend all those hours on a street corner dealing with the general public. As I’ve told Crad a dozen times, it’s not cost effective.
Today I read Girl on the Subway. Crad’s “serious” pieces, especially his autobiographical ones, are flat, a bit melodramatic, and suffused with his gloomy self-loathing.
Although they all have moments, my overall response is to be very happy that I’m not Crad Kilodney.
Sunday, June 10, 1990
7 PM. While eating dinner just now, I heard on the news that members of 2 Live Crew were arrested in Hollywood last night after performing their “obscene” songs in a nightclub. Where is this going to end?
Mom called this morning and read me the Herald article from the national section (on an inside page where a front-page story on the controversy jumped) that discussed me and Radio Free Broward.
It mentioned my signing petitions for dissident Chinese writers as a PEN member and my helping Terry New, whom I spoke to on Thursday, with the Book Lift project to send books to Czechoslovakia.
On another inside front section page in today’s Herald, I was mentioned in a story on Trump-bashing in New York City. Pretty neat trick, huh?
The Trump Rescue Fund was pure satire. I have no idea what kind of person Donald Trump is, and I don’t wish him any harm; what I was doing was hailing the end of the 1980s and its values of greed.
The Radio Free Broward idea is something else: it’s serious. While I’d like to make fun of the censorship, it scares me too much.
There’s a racial element in this, too, and perhaps other writers and artists aren’t defending 2 Live Crew because their lyrics are disgustingly sexist.
But it’s like that pastor’s statement about not speaking out against the Nazis when they took away Jews, communists and homosexuals because he wasn’t in those groups, and when they finally came to take him away, there was no one left to speak out on his behalf.
Today they’re arresting 2 Live Crew. Who’s next?
I was pleased to see a story on Mark Leyner in the Sunday Times Magazine. His new book, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, is a campus cult hit, and they published 16,000 copies, put him on a ten-city author tour, etc. Good for Mark!
Ronna was supposed to call this morning – or so I thought – to see if I wanted to join her and her family for brunch at Popover.
But she didn’t call till 3 PM, and by then her sister had driven their mother to the airport. Ronna said Steve was with her, but perhaps she or they (it wasn’t clear) could see me for dinner?
I felt annoyed and hurt, though I tried not to show it and said I’d be going to the final performance of Justin’s play – which I probably should be, except I don’t want to spend the $10 or so it would cost.
Tuesday, June 12, 1990
10 PM. I made surprisingly good time out to Rockaway once I decided to put off my banking till today. The train ride to Flatbush Avenue yesterday afternoon was fast, and I got the bus to Rockaway right away.
Unfortunately, it started raining hard as soon as I got to the beach, so instead of walking, I had to take a second bus for the dozen blocks from Beach 116th Street to Grandma Ethel’s house. Essie Wallace, that talkative nonagenarian, was visiting when I arrived.
I realized what Grandma had thought was a check was another challenge to my unemployment, this time from Broward Community College – which, like the one from Florida International University, was overruled.
However, in today’s mail I found my $362 unemployment check and the card to report this weekend. I’ve decided to change my address to Manhattan so I don’t have to keep running back to Rockaway, and I’ll just have to hope there won’t be a problem on the Tallahassee end.
Last evening I watched the TV news with Grandma: stories on 2 Live Crew arrests (now, more localities in the South are banning their album) and the Supreme Court striking down the flag-burning law (making the way for the super-patriots and super-smarmy Republicans to pass a Constitutional amendment which will, for the first time, amend the Bill of Rights).
Will a liberal backlash begin in the ’90s or is this decade going to be to repression to what the ’80s were to greed?
I finished reading Prof Scam and I read some magazines and Debra’s latest story, a copy of which Tom had sent me. At 9:30 PM, I got into bed, as Grandma had already done, and once again I slept soundly.
By morning I felt I had caught up on all that sleep I missed last week. I even lay in bed after breakfast and didn’t exercise until 9:30 AM.
Grandma never noticed the large bruises on my legs, and I didn’t say anything about the car accident. I could tell she didn’t want me to leave the apartment this morning, but I was anxious to get home.
Grandma does seem a bit better, but she’s very disappointed that Mom won’t be coming after all – because, Mom said, Marc is still sick with a severe throat infection that won’t go away.
I know the doctor frightened Marc with questions about his chances of having HIV infection, but I suspect Marc just doesn’t take care of himself; he’s like Teresa in that regard.
Mom said Marc’s gained back nearly all the weight he lost. Grandma said that she thought that I had lost weight since my last visit, and I may have gotten another pound or two thinner, but I’m going to continue with my diet one day at a time for as long as I can.
And of course, even if I go crazy once in a while, I can still get back “on the wagon” the next day. Right now, for me, “going crazy” means ordering TCBY nonfat frozen yogurt with the sugar in it instead of the sugar-free variety.
After showering, dressing and getting my stuff together, I left Grandma with a kiss on the cheek and went out into the beautiful day. On Beach 116th Street, I deposited my checks – about $725 in all – at Chase Manhattan and got on the bus to Brooklyn.
The long subway ride went quickly because I played a mental game: I tried to remember all the important events in every summer since 1969. Naturally, I remember the summers of the 1980s best, but I could conjure up the highlights of the years of the 1970s, too.
Getting out of the subway at 72nd Street, I walked up Broadway, stopping for a salad bar at a Korean grocer on 78th.
Back here, I read the papers and balanced my checkbooks. Unless I do get that $1700 I’m netting from the student loan, it will be very hard to get through the summer.
Right now, nearly every one of my credit cards – except Diners Club, which has no cash advance line and which isn’t accepted widely – is charged to the max, and it’ll be a week or so before my recent deposits clear.
By this weekend, June’s credit card bills should start rolling in, though of course I still have about three weeks before payments are due. I’ll just have to keep running my chassis and hoping for the best – but I’ve got a $1000-plus Gold AmEx bill due this month, and I’ve got July student loan payments.
With credit so tight because of the S&L fiasco, it’s unlikely any banks will raise my limits this summer, and every time I go over my limits, I get those damn notices. Well, my own financial day of reckoning is at hand, even if the nation’s isn’t.
I got no phone calls while I was away in Rockaway, and there were no new letters about Radio Free Broward, either.
At the St. Agnes library, I discovered I made Page Six in Saturday’s Post: Richard Johnson referred to me as a “West Side writer” and used my quote, “If people don’t want the Trump era to end, they’ve got to give till it hurts.”
I also said I donated a check “in the mid-two figures” to Trump on my own.
I’m still sending out books to young and/or hip reviewers. Something Post editor Jerry Nachmann said hit me: he left TV because while TV influences everyone, newspapers “influence the influentials.”
Rather than deal with the masses the way Crad does, I think I’m better off targeting people who might be influential. Maybe I’ll go back to street selling one day, but I’d rather do it in a neighborhood like this than in midtown, where there aren’t enough literate, literary types.
In 1980, I was in Davie on April 1, so Mom put me down in her household’s form, even though I had filled out my own census form at my apartment in Rockaway.
This year I again got counted twice: in my Davie apartment and here, by a census taker who came by tonight (even though I told him I wasn’t living here in April and had filled out a form in another state).
The census taker said most of the professional types in this building hadn’t returned their forms, and the count was going badly.
Oh well: I guess that once every decade, the federal government recognizes my dual nature, and I suppose I make up for all those folks whom the Census Bureau loses track of.
I got an ugly zit on my forehead, and of course I made it worse by squeezing it. It’s a good thing I’m not going on TV again tomorrow.
I spent the evening reading, eating, watching the cheeping baby pigeons and TV programs about ISDN (the integrated systems digital network George Gilder raves about in Life After Television), smart cards (credit cards with a microchip in them) and other high-tech stuff that will supposedly change our lives.
Sunday, June 17, 1990
3 PM. I didn’t get around to telling Alice about my impending bankruptcy or my ideas for the credit card book, but ironically, while I fear that she’ll be judgmental, I find myself feeling uncomfortable because I’ve been judgmental of her.
Alice is my oldest friend, and last evening she tried so hard to see that I was having a good time that it made me feel rotten for thinking how shallow she can be.
We met at 96th and Broadway (the trains aren’t running between 42nd and 96th) and had dinner at Hunan Balcony, where I had my usual dish: steamed chicken with broccoli, no sauce.
Alice started by telling me about the writing conference she did in Long Beach, California, sponsored by a college, and how she may be organizing it next year.
She’d like to have me teaching at the writers’ conference, but she seemed to make it sound so commercial: she didn’t have any poets in mind and thought I’d be better off teaching publicity rather than short story writing.
Basically, everything Alice has ever written has been for money, and our values are nearly diametrically opposed. After I got through telling her all about the Book Lift to Czechoslovakia project, Alice asked me for suggestions on how she could “make money off what’s happening in Eastern Europe.”
And while she kept saying she only wanted to make me happy last evening – Alice viewed it as my birthday celebration, something very important to her – when I said I didn’t want her to spend money on a Broadway play and there no were no movies around, she wouldn’t hear of going to the Bloomsday reading at Symphony Space.
In fact, Alice didn’t know what Bloomsday and Ulysses were, and I don’t think she really knew who Joyce was, either. I keep forgetting that Alice and I were always on the same level in school because she’s an overachiever and I’m an underachiever.
God, I feel smarmy even thinking that, and I feel disloyal when I consider these aspects of Alice. Actually, I’ve never understood why she’s so money-hungry when her tastes are so unpretentious.
Alice’s main goal is to own a two-bedroom co-op, but it seems obvious to me that she could have had one years ago, when prices weren’t so sky-high, if she didn’t do other things with her money, like invest in other apartments and homes “for security in old age.”
To me, that’s a myth; in old age, the things you need most are friends, a flexible and cheerful nature, and the best health that you can achieve.
My investment for my old age – if I make it – is to exercise, eat well, and take care of my body and mind. Ouch! There I go again, sounding like a self-righteous prig.
But I did the same thing with Tom when I was in New Orleans this winter. The opposite of Alice, Tom rejects mass media values and lives in a world of literature and film.
Well, it’s like I said about Pete and Harold: everyone seems to make his or her accommodations. Although Alice is no nature-lover (Peter actively dislikes nature, she says), I think she did appreciate our walk on Riverside Drive and watching the sun set over Jersey as we sat by the 79th Street boat basin.
Still, a typical Alice comment is this: When I remarked what great skyline views the apartments across the river must have, she said, “Yeah, but when you wake up in the morning, you’re still in New Jersey.”
Am I being too hard on Alice and too smug about what I perceive as my own superior value system?
Obviously, Alice is more fun than some humorless person who cares deeply about the world and public affairs and altruism, but I guess I keep thinking about her values because fundamentally, they’re repellent to me. Not all her values, of course, but like Teresa’s, aspects of Alice’s attitudes toward money and power seem symbolic of the ’80s.
Which is odd, because neither Alice nor Teresa is anything like a Yuppie: both go against all those stereotyped expectations.
Well, enough friend-bashing. I just feel pretty satisfied with my own life. I don’t need an accident or an AIDS diagnosis to get me to appreciate the riches I already have.
What I’m looking for in the ’90s is a simpler life, and that’s why giving up all the credit cards should come as a liberating relief. It will be scary to change, but I have faith – boy, this is the most obnoxious statement I’ve made today – in my ability to reinvent myself in times of change.
Monday, June 18, 1990
5 PM. About this time yesterday, Dad called from the Days Inn after he checked in, and I met him at the hotel at 7 PM last evening. He thought I’d gotten thinner, which is possible, since I’m without a scale here.
Dad and I went out to dinner at the Urban Café on 58th Street, across from the Coliseum, and I enjoyed grilled chicken and a salad as I continue to learn how to eat out and still remain thin.
Although all the specialty stores are complaining there’s no business – and sales at the flea market are half what they were a year ago – Dad’s department store business remains fairly good.
Unfortunately, he’s expecting bad news at a major meeting tonight. Dad knows it’s going to be bad when the salesman in Puerto Rico told him that he was ordered to come just for the evening’s announcement.
Dad suspects Paul Davril has lost the license to manufacture Bugle Boy tops. Their contract runs out next spring, and there were rumors that they and the Bugle Boy jeans people haven’t been able to agree on terms.
That will once again mean a drastic decline in Dad’s earning power, as when he lost the Sasson name years ago. But Dad had a good run with Bugle Boy, better than I expected, and in his position, he has no control over who gets the license.
He’ll be depressed and shaken, I know, but I hope he can adapt.
Well, he’ll have to, along with everybody else, if the economy is headed for the nosedive I predict.
After Florida, Dad found the weather in New York coolly delightful, and we walked for a while before returning to his hotel room to hang out and watch Fox’s Sunday TV lineup.
I took a cab home at 10 PM – Dad gave me five dollars for the fare – and when I confronted the enormous number of credit card bills Mom sent, I realized I had to act quickly.
So at 11 AM today I went to the Dollar Dry Dock branch at 86th and Lexington and closed my IRA money market account. I’ll have to pay a 10% penalty to the IRS, but I can’t help that; by mail, I’m going to also close my IRA at Chemical.
Both were earning paltry dividends anyway (about 5.5% interest), and the money wouldn’t have done me all that much good in retirement – if I ever get there.
It took nearly two hours to get my cashier’s check for about $1800, but I was patient and had brought along the papers to read.
USA Today’s Money section highlights the growing boom in personal bankruptcies, and The Wall Street Journal says that Trump, like me, may have to take part in the bankruptcy boom.
After lunch, I deposited the check and $800 in cash (surprisingly, my request for a Choice $500 credit line increase got approved) into the new automated boutique-like Chase branch on 74th and Columbus.
Once my check clears, all the checks I wrote on recent bills will be paid off, and I’ll have over $1300 to pay the rest of the month’s bills. That will be a relief.
Manufacturers Hanover sent a notice that my second loan check has arrived, but I’m no longer as desperate for the $1700 I’ll net from the student loans. Well, at least now I know I can make it through the summer financially.
God, it will be a relief when I’m bankrupt and without plastic and no longer have to devote so many hours a week to my credit cards and bank accounts. I might even find the time to write again, so I’ll be starting over in a positive way as well as a negative one.
Tuesday, June 19, 1990
5:30 PM. We’re having the same very violent thunderstorm that occurred yesterday at this time. The sky is a deep purple, it’s raining hard, and the smell of ozone permeates the air.
Mom phoned me at 8 PM last evening, as I started to watch the first opera, Das Rheingold, in Wagner’s Ring series, on PBS.
Dad and the other salesmen got the news: Paul Davril isn’t getting the Bugle Boy license past next year, but they said it was their choice, not Bugle Boy’s decision.
When Dad called to say he’d be over tonight, he said the story is in today’s Daily News Record. But he’s philosophical about it, as his bosses are very upbeat.
Meanwhile, they’ll still have the Bugle Boy name for their tops for another year, until the holiday line of ’91. (The current line is this year’s holiday goods.)
It might even work out for the best; perhaps the Bugle Boy name is fading. In any case, Paul Davril is a big company – and if I’m right about the economy next year, it might not make any difference because business will be bad for everyone.
I slept well after watching and listening to as much Wagner as I could stand. In a curious dream, Grandma Ethel announced she was running for governor of Florida because she thought it could help me get elected lieutenant governor.
Up at 7 AM, I exercised, skimmed the Times, had breakfast, and began writing some letters, including one to Charles Hecker, the Herald reporter who did the Radio Free Broward story.
The letter went on and on, much too long, and finally I realized I was writing an essay about censorship and all the stuff I’ve been reading about and thinking about for weeks.
I put it aside, and I wrote a letter to the literary agent Andrew Wylie, telling him about my proposed Plastic Riches book. I got out some clips of stories by and about me and had them photocopied when I went out for the salad bar at Gristede’s.
Soon after lunch, I typed the “Report from Radio Free Broward” into a six-page essay I plan to submit first to the Sun-Sentinel.
Every day I get another letter from someone asking how to get the 2 Live Crew tape, and I suspect the story was in the Hollywood Sun-Tattler since the recent letters are all from Hollywood.
Planning to take my disk to Teachers College to print out later, I got so caught up in revising and editing the essay that I worked solidly from 2 PM to 4:30 PM without a break.
It was bliss to be in that state of productivity, to feel like a writer again. The time flew by, and it was too late to go to Teachers College – Dad will be here around 7 PM – and besides, the weather was getting bad. So I’ll wait until tomorrow, which will give me a chance to reread the essay and the Wylie letter.
Maybe I should try sending copies of my chapbooks to all the literary agents in the city, just to see the reaction.
Although I’ve sent out about 25 books in the last two weeks, I’ve had no response from anyone. Well, if I’m not as good a writer as I thought, now is the time to find out. At least I’ll know what literary people think of me.
Today I was writing for the love of it and because I felt I had something important to say, so even if this doesn’t get published, I’ll have had a good experience.
When I called up Chase’s banking information line, I discovered my available balance was over $3000, so I was able to mail out all the checks I’d written since last week.
In a week to ten days, I’ll start to have available revolving credit again, and with my unemployment checks and my student loan and maybe $1000 from my Chemical IRA, I shouldn’t have to worry about paying bills until I return to Florida in September.
I feel I’ll never catch up on my reading or correspondence, but I like the detours my life takes.