A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1990
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, August 1, 1990
10:30 PM. Life is so full, I don’t even have time or space to do more than note that I’ve finished my twenty-first year of diary-keeping and tonight begins the twenty-second year.
I just showed Teresa’s apartment to a couple of young women. Earlier, Donna called to ask if her friend could phone me about also seeing the place, so it looks like I’ll be out of here at the end of the month.
I feel exhilarated now, after getting home an hour ago. Our final class of Interactive Screenwriting: Interface Design was fascinating, as people demonstrated or talked about their projects.
I was worried my project wasn’t elaborate enough, but it seemed fine, and I’m glad I xeroxed copies of the rough sketch of Token Express and the flowchart of the system so I could show them to the class.
The projects varied in scope, subject matter and purpose, but some were truly amazing, especially the ones done by the people in the Intensive M.A. program who used HyperCard with its links.
Robin said she liked the methodical way I researched ATMs and ticket dispensers. I feel a bit sad the class is over, and with it, my summer term at Teachers College. God, learning is such a joy.
Yes, I like accumulating credits and decent grades – now I have 74 grad credits in education, 34 of them at Teachers College – but I love learning for its own sake.
Last night, after my parents put me in a cab home, I slept well but not enough. Chase still hasn’t fixed my deposit problem, but I mailed out credit card and GSL payments anyway, and if the checks bounce, I’ll blame the bank. I deposited $260 in cash today anyway to provide a small cushion.
Today was dry and cloudless, about 85°, a near-perfect day. I spoke to Mom just briefly before; she and Dad were watching Pretty Woman on pay TV in their hotel room after seeing a matinee of Les Misérables, which they said was terrific.
Some interesting things I haven’t had a chance to mention before today:
Robert Siegle wrote that he’s planning on interviewing me for a sequel to Suburban Ambush: Downtown Writing and the Fiction of Insurgency although it will have to wait until after his Fulbright year abroad.
Watermark Books in Wichita called and wanted to order copies of Narcissism and Me. They probably don’t remember they rejected my manuscript about a year ago.
And the front page of the Snowbird edition of the Sun-Sentinel had a story headlined “Seniors May Lose Discounts,” which said marketers are coming to see that discounts to an affluent elderly group can no longer be justified.
The article mentioned my 1986 age discrimination complaint against AmeriFirst Savings (which is about to fail). It’s nice to feel vindicated.
Thursday, August 2, 1990
9 PM. I awoke at 6 AM to the news that Iraq had invaded and conquered Kuwait. The UN Security Council had already met to condemn Iraq.
Saddam Hussein had been threatening the OPEC nations who overproduced oil, and everyone had assumed that the troop buildup on the Kuwait border was just a show of force.
The TV news made it seem like it’s an international crisis on the order of Hitler invading the Sudetenland. Oil prices, the dollar, and gold soared. We shall see what happens next.
I exercised at 6:30 AM, and a couple of hours later, I picked up my parents at the Days Inn. I spent the morning driving them around Brooklyn, from downtown to Park Slope to Eastern Parkway to the neighborhoods in East Flatbush where they spent most of their lives.
Dad pointed out houses he’d lived in with his parents, and we drove past public schools Mom and Dad attended and places they remembered as homes or businesses of friends or relations.
It must have made my parents feel very odd to see streets so familiar to them from their childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, forty and fifty years ago. I’d seen many of these places recently.
We drove past three houses where I lived with my parents: 2233 Ocean Parkway, where we first lived in an apartment in Uncle Sidney’s family’s house; 388 East 54th Street, half a block from P.S. 244, where I went to kindergarten and first grade; and 1607 East 56th Street, where we lived from 1957 to 1979.
We went to the old neighborhood so my parents could get stuff at Deutsch Pharmacy, and then we walked around Kings Plaza before touring Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach and Coney Island.
In a way, all those memories and flashbacks were overwhelming.
We got to Grandma’s at 1 PM, and Aunt Tillie, feeling better, was there watching her soaps. I listened to Tillie talk about how she met Morris and how Uncle Jack met Betty (who was her friend first).
Those reminiscences were spurred by Mom telling Tillie how nice the just-renovated house that Tillie’s parents owned at 65 East 42nd Street looked. Tillie said Great-Grandpa Saretsky bought that house in the mid-1920s, before any of their five kids were married.
Grandma was less depressed and catatonic today. It was warm but gorgeous in Rockaway, and Dad and I took a long walk on the boardwalk and then I drove him into Cedarhurst to look around the neighborhood where his sister’s family lived for so many years.
Back in their hotel room in Manhattan now, I’m sure my parents must feel bombarded with memories after seeing places like the catering hall on Eastern Parkway where they were married – it’s been the First Baptist Church for as long as I can remember – and Samuel J. Tilden High School.
We stayed at Grandma’s till after 7 PM, and of course Grandma was sad when my parents had to leave, but to my surprise, she didn’t cry.
Mom and Dad and I had dinner at the Floridian, where the beets are still tasty. But instead of the burger I had there at least once a week for over a decade, I had a salad and spaghetti with very little sauce.
Dad drove us back into Manhattan and they dropped me off here just a little while ago. I’ll see my parents tomorrow morning before they leave; their flight back to Fort Lauderdale is at 3 PM.
Chase finally seems to have straightened out my deposit, but I have no available balance and over $2500 in uncollected funds.
Ordinarily, I would have started planning the rest of my summer now that school’s over with, but Mom and Dad’s visit has kept me so busy I haven’t yet read today’s newspaper. I’m glad, however, that I’ve been able to spend time with my parents.
Monday, August 6, 1990
10 PM. It was pouring when I got up this morning. I did aerobics, listened to NPR and read the Times before I turned on FNN as the stock market opened.
I know I promised myself I’d watch less TV, but I was curious to see how the Iraq situation and the increasing realization that recession is probably at hand would play itself out. The Dow ended up falling about 93 points for the day, not far from its morning low.
Although the UN, NATO, the European Community and Japan all seem to be behind an oil boycott of Iraq and its Kuwaiti puppets, it may be that the very success of a boycott will worsen economic conditions in the Western world.
With monetary policy a hostage to rising inflation and fiscal policy a prisoner of the huge deficits, I don’t see what the U.S. government can do.
I called Sat Darshan, who’s gone through a terribly stressful month. They were supposed to move into a renovated building on Atlantic Avenue on July 1, but the city building inspector wanted a payoff that the landlord didn’t want to give, so the certificate of occupancy didn’t get approved till last week, after their landlord gave him the money while wired with a mike from the D.A.’s office so that they could nail this guy.
Finally, they moved in on Thursday. Next week, Gurujot and Gurudaya go off to their Sikh school in India, and Sat Darshan has been busy getting them ready.
When she was in New Mexico, she met this nice guy from California and she had decided to get a divorce, but then they had all the trouble with the apartment, and since they moved, she and Dharma Singh have been getting along, settling into separate parts of the house.
She doesn’t have much hope that things will change, but for now, she needs to take a breather. Yogi Bhajan is coming to New York in mid-August, but Sat Darshan said she’ll call me at the end of the month.
This afternoon at 5:30 PM, I met Ronna in front of the Regency at Broadway and 67th, where we got tickets for the 7 PM show of Mo’ Better Blues. Then we had dinner – I had diet lemon chicken – in an Empire Szechuan place on Columbus Avenue.
Ronna is disappointed she didn’t get the job she wanted at Cara’s old place of business, and she’s a little concerned that she turned down the $36,000 job she was offered at another place, but I’m sure her instincts are good.
Ronna moves slowly, as always (although her fortune cookie said she’s very quick-moving; mine said I know the secret of having friends), but she seems to be doing this job hunt systematically.
It’s been a difficult time in her life, too, what with the stress of breaking up with Steve. This past weekend she entertained a couple of her numerous out-of-town cousins.
The film wasn’t great, but like Woody Allen and a few other directors, Spike Lee always makes even a so-so movie interesting. I like his Brooklyn settings and the blackness of the dialogue – even when I can’t quite get what people are saying, I know it’s authentic – and the sexiness of his romantic scenes, but Blues felt clichéd to me.
Ronna and I walked uptown, though I went with her only as far up as 86th and West End before coming back here.
I was able to get cash advances on my Diners Club and Chemical MasterCards today, so it appears my credit chassis will get me through August. At Chase, I straightened out the problem with the overdraft fees.
Tuesday, August 7, 1990
10 PM. I was just engaging in an unfamiliar activity: attempting to write fiction. After about an hour, I quit when the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere – two guys talking at breakfast – but I’m surprised I turned on the computer when I had the impulse to write.
What could have brought that on? Maybe it’s the prospect of war in the Middle East. The evening news reported that U.S. troops are on the way to Saudi Arabia, for God-knows-what kind of confrontation with the Iraqis.
Now that USA Today has declared we’re in a recession and the world seems more dangerous than it was during the endless Cold War or Vietnam, the ’90s have truly begun.
See? I said something would happen this summer, I didn’t know what, but it would trigger the end of ’80s thinking. This Iraqi invasion of Kuwait will probably be the defining moment of Bush’s presidency, and the next few weeks may tell us where we’re going.
But the waiting, the real waiting, is over: the world is a very different place now than it was in the ’80s. Thank God – though it may be much worse.
Up at 6 AM – it rained all night – I exercised at 6:30 AM, and then fell back asleep after having oatmeal and cocoa. I listened to NPR and read the paper and was figuring out what to do today and how long I could avoid even thinking about doing a Walser essay when Denis phoned.
He couldn’t take working, so he made today a little holiday, and we agreed to meet for lunch at 1 PM at Marvin Gardens. In the meantime, I went out to shop and make cash advances, which I deposited at Chemical.
By tomorrow, I should cover all the checks I wrote on my Chase account, and somehow I’m going to get through my bills this month.
At Shakespeare & Company, I found a copy of the Mississippi Review with “Beginnings,” the first paragraphs of rejected stories. I’m not sure I should be insulted to be included, as most of the writers are total unknowns (though their openings read pretty well).
What the heck. I can put the magazine down on my résumé, which is pretty thin in the publication department in recent years.
Denis looks fine, a bit older but still in decent shape. His job as a legal advocate for the mentally ill seems to be taking its toll, though, and he’s thinking about going half-time or taking a job with the EPA.
Mostly, though, we talked about his “thwarted ambition” to be a writer. He’d like to make money writing books and articles, and though he’s sold to Penthouse and had those kids’ picture books contracts, he basically seems to have lucked into that.
Not that Denis hasn’t got talent, but he’s not informed about the business; he thought “stringer” was synonymous with “freelancer” and didn’t know that hardcovers and paperbacks weren’t ordinarily published simultaneously.
However, his work with the criminally insane, or whatever they call them nowadays, gives him great subject matter. He definitely has the zeal to write – something I envied a bit, though I told Denis that long ago I’d resigned myself to the fact that I’d never be a “successful” writer. (Was that the reason I attempted to write a story this evening?)
After lunch, we went to some bookstores and talked on a bench outside the Planetarium for hours. His view of the economy is similar to mine, and Denis is well-versed in legal matters, the art world, different cultures (he travels a lot), and the New York sensibility.
Although Denis has several apartments, he mostly lives on West 63rd Street near the park, and he plans to buy land in Tuxedo, where he and his girlfriend go every weekend. (I know Tuxedo because it’s the next town past Sloatsburg on Route 17.)
I left Denis at 5 PM, not realizing how badly I had to go to the bathroom. As I walked home, I realized to my horror that I couldn’t hold it in for another six blocks, and not knowing any public bathrooms nearby, for the first time since I was a child, I found an alleyway and urinated in public.
Thank God I wasn’t arrested, but I didn’t like contributing to the Manhattan-as-bathroom atmosphere.
I spoke with Grandma Ethel, who went to her doctor in Far Rockaway earlier. Her blood pressure was over 200 – frighteningly high – and they gave her a heart monitor to wear for the day. Obviously, Grandma’s problems are physical as well as psychological; I keep forgetting she’s 80 years old and from a family where none of her parents or siblings lived that long.
Dad phoned and gave me Cousin Michael’s number, but he seemed to have a machine without a message.
In the Times obituaries, I found the name of Dr. Maxwell Starr, 79, of Phoenix. In September 1969, I met his son Daniel in Washington Square and I later met Daniel’s mother and sister Kate in their Brooklyn Heights apartment.
Also, in Sunday’s Times, I saw that Prof. Daniel Fuchs from Richmond College just had a wedding for his daughter, who’s 23.
Remember Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the start of World War I? Could the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait be like the Serbian archduke’s assassination in Sarajevo?
I confess to being less worried than fascinated, if only to see the some of the smugness of the ’80s washed away. It now appears that neglecting the poor and our infrastructure, building up our military to fight a nuclear war and not the kind we may be facing in the Middle East, and forgetting about fuel conservation may be some of the reasons we’re in this fix.
Saddam Hussein may be an Arab Hitler, but I think we’re as unprepared to take him on as we were to fight World War II following Pearl Harbor. Nobody knows what our troops will do in Saudi Arabia, and I don’t know how I feel about it yet, but maybe if the Allies had stopped the Nazis when they took over the Sudetenland, millions of lost lives could have been spared.
I’ve been having a very intense summer – and I like it this way.
Wednesday, August 8, 1990
3 PM. President Bush went on TV this morning to announce that U.S. troops were arriving in Saudi Arabia, but he said we weren’t going to try to roll back Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait, and for the moment, things are tense but there’s no hint of fighting.
At Radio Shack, I bought a videocassette player – not a VCR but a VCP that just plays and can’t record. I’ve set it up although I need an extension cord so I can get the TV, VCP and cable box on the same outlet.
Let’s see . . . Yes, that seems to work, even if I don’t understand why.
I had $500 available on my Radio Shack card, and I figured I might as well use it if I’m going bankrupt. (I also got a portable tape player for $20 to replace my broken Sony Walkman.)
Now, with the VCP, I’m not at the mercy of WNYE and WLIW’s exercise shows and can use some of my tapes. Also, I can show Grandma videos of the house in Florida and maybe we can rent some movies when I take it to Rockaway.
Grandma has already told me that she doesn’t want me to put up the new shower curtains and mat that Mom bought. (Grandma discovered them in her closet.)
What I really need to do is sit down and figure out what I want to do in the time remaining to me in New York.
Can I really write that essay on Walser? Denis and Alice both asked if there’s money in it, and while I’m not averse to writing for no pay (since that’s how I have always done it), I’m not certain it’s worth it to me to write a critical article, which seems like drudgery.
Probably Tom doesn’t expect me to do it. Well, it sounds like I’m making up my mind, but I’ll think about it and decide over the weekend.
Also, I need to spend less time figuring out addresses of people to send my books to, mainly because I can’t afford the postage. Still, yesterday Alice left a message that made me feel that at least some people appreciate my fiction.
Alice said she’d phoned Steve Kowit, whom I’d recommended to teach poetry writing at the CSU-Long Beach writers’ conference, and he said he’d be happy to do it and raved on about how talented I was and how he wanted to meet me. I admire Steve’s work a great deal, too.
I’ve got my credit chassis going again, and I’ve covered all the checks I wrote on my Chase account. But I’ll need $1500 or more to cover the checks for the rest of the month, and it’s going to be very tight.
If I can manage when I net the money from the cancellation of my secured cards, then maybe I can stay in New York beyond September 10.
Ideally, I’d like to stay until early October, collect all my unemployment here, and then go back to Florida and deal with bankruptcy and making a living. I’ve decided not to pay my student loans for September and see what happens.
Brian from next door joined Judy and the boys in California, so I’ve got to feed the fish and take in their mail till the end of the month. It’s been a week since Teresa has sent anyone over to look at the apartment, and I now expect she won’t rent it by September 1.
I voted by absentee ballot in the first Florida Democratic primary: for Chiles for governor, and for the gay rights referendum in Broward, which I’m sure will fail. (And I’m glad I’m not in Florida to see that happen.)
I left messages with Justin and Larry, Mikey and Amy, and Elihu because my time in New York is running out.
Last year at this time, I was getting ready to leave in ten days. Then I knew I’d be teaching full-time at Broward Community College, and the year before that I had had the Rockland Center for the Arts grant, and the year before that I was going to MacDowell.
This is the first year since ’86 that I really am going back to something unknown, and at least in ’86 I had more than $30,000 in credit still available. There’s no question: the rest of 1990 is going to be scary.
Thursday, August 9, 1990
10 PM. Yesterday at 5:30 PM, I decided to walk over to Central Park and see if I could get tickets for Richard III. As it turned out, I could have arrived just before the show, but I didn’t mind waiting; instead of standing at the end of the line, I just sat on a bench finishing the Times and got up when they started giving out tickets.
I walked back home via Central Park West and 85th Street, and after a quick dinner, I returned, walking just as briskly.
Shakespeare in the Park is always a treat, but after seeing Denzel Washington in Mo’ Better Blues and now Richard III, I think he’s an overrated actor.
He played Richard in a very traditional way – a hunchback, limp and all – and though the play’s performances were good (especially Mary Alice as old Queen Margaret), the staging wasn’t that interesting.
I liked the battle scenes, and of course, Richard’s seduction of Lady Anne over her father-in-law’s coffin, but my remembered knowledge of the War of the Roses is sketchy enough so that it took me too long to catch onto the dynastic maneuverings.
A long play, it ended after 11 PM. This morning I lay in bed past 8:30 PM and worked out to a Body Electric tape, which made me sweat; it’s nice to put some variety into my routine.
Other than that, I did the usual morning things: breakfast, checking my checking accounts by phone, seeing the world was still intact. (Saddam hasn’t moved into Saudi Arabia yet, although all kinds of horrible scenarios are being concocted, along with analogies to World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.)
I thought I might head over to the UN this afternoon to see if I could catch the atmosphere in a global crisis, or even get into the Security Council meeting that condemned the takeover of Kuwait.
But first I wanted to make some cash advances and deposit the money into Chemical, so I can start making some payments on cards for which I’ve written Chemical checks in advance.
And I took advantage of Food Emporium’s sale (90¢ off) on Healthy Choice dinners and the use of Judy and Brian’s freezer to store the cartful of them I bought.
When I got home with my groceries and my Korean salad bar, I found a message on my machine from Janet Ungless of New York Newsday, who said they wanted to take my Op-Ed piece, the one on Radio Free Broward and the 2 Live Crew censorship controversy.
I phoned back and Janet asked me to send a photo. (I went to West Side Photos and took a passport photo but decided to send my 1981 photo from Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.)
Naturally, they don’t know when the article will come out, and I’m not going to get too excited because I know how Newsday stalls.
However, even if it doesn’t get printed, at least I’ll know it was thought good enough for a major New York City newspaper. If it does get printed, I’ll get great exposure and have an excellent credit.
Derailed by this news, I never got to the UN, but I instead I spent time reading and talking to Justin at Shearson, where he’s been working five days a week and thus hasn’t had much free time.
Larry is now unemployed, his job at the Met over, but Justin said at least they’re both not jobless at the same time the way they were earlier in the year.
They’re spending the next two weekends Grandma-sitting in Reading and visiting Justin’s parents in Connecticut.
At 5 PM, I went over to the Red Cross Building across from Lincoln Center for a cholesterol screening. Mine is 164, which is fine and puts me at low risk for a heart attack or stroke because my only risk factor is that I’m male, and it’s not worth having surgery to change that.
Still, you’d think that with my strict diet, I’d have lower number. Perhaps my HDL (“good” cholesterol) is high and they didn’t separate HDL and LDL on the simple blood-from-a-finger-into-a-machine test.
After walking home, I watched the news and then CBS’s 48 Hours on “Over Their Heads,” about people in debt. I’m not a compulsive shopper, nor do I have a car to be repossessed or a house to be foreclosed upon, but my credit cards certainly qualify me for attendance at Debtors Anonymous.
Still, bankruptcy does seem like the best way out, especially if I don’t care about being in the credit card system again.