A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1991

Sunday, January 20, 1991

11 PM. Last night I slept deeply for a long time. My body is fighting off a virus.

While I may be off-base, I suspect I’d be really sick if it weren’t for my healthy diet and my supplements. My immune system is probably as strong as it’s ever been.

When I awoke at 8:30 AM, I was alone in the house. After breakfast, I began reading the Times – it’s such a convenience now that it’s delivered – and at 10 AM, I forced myself to do aerobics, which wiped me out, putting me back in bed until 12:30 PM.

After I showered – because Saddam Hussein is the leader of the Ba’ath party, I’m boycotting baths till the war is over – I got a salad bar at Wendy’s and picked up China, who was my charge for the day.

She made a pleasant companion, though she kept me out in front of the house for longer than I liked. (I had the paper with me, so I wouldn’t have minded except that I had no back support as I sat on the ledge.)

Rockland Community College had an ad for three English vacancies, and maybe I’m nuts, but I’m going to apply, mostly because I’m so fond of Rockland County. I almost hope they don’t hire me, as it would be easier just to go to law school.

The Times Arts and Leisure section had a great feature on David Lang, whom I got to know and like at McDowell. It was about how his work, now gaining renown, is influenced by pop music, including The Clash, who were mentioned in the Too Much Joy trial as an influence on that group.

One day I’ve got to take a few music courses and learn more about the music of the 1960s and 1970s that I somehow was oblivious to growing up.

Steve called at 6 PM, but since my parents and brothers still weren’t home, I decided to take China with me and then bring her back here and stay with her until someone returned from the flea market.

China loves driving around, and she was surprisingly well-behaved – although Steve had to sit in the back seat so she wouldn’t snap at him.

When I got to his parents’ condo, Steve’s father was out, but I met his mother, a lovely, youthful woman about 80 with a Jewish accent.

Although Steve is only a little older than me, he seems older, and it’s not just that he’s bald (he’s also about two inches shorter than I am): it’s that his values are more Old World. But that must come from having religious parents from Europe.

After leaving China with Mom and Dad, who had just come in, Steve and I went out for dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant and then drove around Fort Lauderdale.

After spending three hours with Steve, I think he’s a perfectly nice guy. I didn’t talk much about Ronna, though I did tell him how we met at an engagement party at the Mayfair Chinese restaurant exactly twenty years ago this weekend.

That led me to mention Ivan, whom he’d never heard of, though he did remember Ronna talking about Henry.

Steve is funny in a stuffy, Orthodox way, and he seems to have a good heart with his feet firmly planted on the ground. (I know: mixed metaphor again. Plus cliché.)

Actually, Steve would probably make an ideal husband and father. He seems like a man anxious to settle down and give his parents some new grandchildren.

As he showed me photos of Ronna taken at some holiday celebrations with his relatives in Boston, I could tell that he’s crazy about her.

Obviously I can understand his being so in love with Ronna, but I have to assume she knows what she’s doing if she doesn’t want to continue seeing him.

There’s something about Steve’s personality – though I can’t put my finger on it – that makes me understand why Ronna wouldn’t consider him marriage material.

He told me about his family and his job as a labor lawyer; among other clients, he represents the Teamsters local featured in Goodfellas, who are now under indictment on RICO charges from the feds.

As I dropped him off at his parents’, Steve told me his relationship with Ronna is “up in the air” and he’s uncertain if they’ll get back together.

In any case, I told him I’d probably see him in New York and I wished him a good flight back tomorrow morning. (Luckily, he flew on Continental, not the now-defunct Eastern, which stopped flying at midnight.)

Back at home, there was a message from Teresa, but when I phoned, I woke her up: like Mom tonight, Teresa fell asleep on the couch watching the war on CNN.

Wednesday, January 22, 1991

10 AM. I’ve just made an appointment with the optometrist for early tomorrow. Unable to wear my lenses, I feel I have a stye on my upper right eyelid.

However, there’s nothing on the lid, and there is a reddish patch above the pupil that looks like either irritation or infection. I hope it’s nothing serious.

We’re all under the weather here. Jonathan’s cold turned into a sinus infection, and he’s at the doctor now. Dad’s been having fever and pains in his side. It could be a kidney infection or some serious problem, but he’s such an ostrich when it comes to dealing with his health that last night he wouldn’t even take my thermometer to see what his temperature was.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from John Scholz, the director of graduate studies in political science at SUNY-Stony Brook.

He called after getting my GRE results on the Advanced Poli Sci test and wanted to encourage me to apply. I might even be able to get a fellowship that would give me expense money beyond tuition.

We talked for a while; of course, at first he had no idea how old I was.

Their department is small but prestigious and heavily into three areas: American politics, political psychology and political economy.

It’s nice to be wanted, and I’d like to get a full-time, tenure-track job at a university. I also think I’d prefer teaching poli sci to teaching English, but I’m not sure I want to deal with all the statistics and quantitative research involved.

Stony Brook has gotten most of their recent grads placed in jobs at universities, so it seems stupid not to spend the $50 for an application fee and transcripts and spend the time on an application.

I could live with Teresa on Long Island or maybe stay at her parents’ house in Mattituck during the school year when they’re in Brooklyn.

Well, it’s another option, and while too many options tend to confuse me, it’s a lot better than thinking – as I sometimes do – that my choices are minimal or nonexistent.

In last night’s American Literature class, some of my students hadn’t gotten the text yet, but I managed to have a decent class as we sat in a circle and discussed Ann Beattie’s “Weekend,” Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” and Updike’s “Separating.”

The three elderly Jewish women dominate the discussion, but at least they talk. The class seems to be going okay. I’m going to try to get the video for Seize the Day to show them.

Home at 9:30 PM, I watched the PBS miniseries, Making Sense of the Sixties, which looked at the conflicts between antiwar protesters and the “silent majority” (hard hats, Chicago cops) during the Vietnam years.

I can see a hint of the same thing happening again, especially as the Persian Gulf war now looks as though it could last weeks and probably months.

Yesterday a Scud missile got through our Patriot system in Israel and did lots of damage to Tel Aviv. Israel is not going to resist retaliating for much longer.

Saddam Hussein may not have miscalculated after all: Here in the U.S., while the vast majority of people now support Operation Desert Storm, if the war drags on – and if there’s a bloody ground war after the air campaign ends – many Americans (including me) may join the peace demonstrators, just as people did after years of conflict in Vietnam when we just wanted the war to be over because it wasn’t worth the casualties.

And with the Iraqis setting fire to Kuwait’s oil refineries, the war may not be the tonic for the economy that Wall Street thought at first.

Up at 5:20 AM, I exercised and went to BCC, where I summarized You Can Write‘s first two chapters for my 8 AM class, explaining why I was going to downplay the textbook’s focus on facts and inferences.

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable wearing my glasses driving and at school, but I have no choice.


9:30 PM. Another weird Wednesday is over.

It’s a weird day because I have to go to BCC for my English 101 class at 8 AM, my English 102 at noon, and my FAU Food and Nutrition class at 4 PM.

Luckily, my parents live only a few minutes away from the campus so it’s easy to get home during my long breaks.

I had a good class at noon. We got into a circle and discussed the books and films they’d written about as influential in their lives, and then we workshopped one essay by a boy who was a good sport.

Although many of the kids in this class can’t write that well, some are pretty good, and most of them seem very pleasant. I am trying to create an environment where “teachable moments” can happen as often as possible.

It’s odd how enthusiastic about teaching English I’ve become and how much better at teaching I’ve gotten just at the point where I’ve decided to stop doing it.

At home, I read the Food and Nutrition text and skimmed the paper. Since the war began, I’ve been reading the news less intently because I’m sick of the media coverage of it.

Mom and Dad had CNN on nonstop in the living room. Just now I asked Dad to lower the sound. After a week, I hate the Persian Gulf war.

The media reports are all sketchy because of censorship by all governments involved. All we’re getting is an endless trickle of information that’s mostly rumors and speculation – and nobody’s putting it into context.

I agree with Kurt Vonnegut that there’s no point in antiwar demonstrations now when the nation is gripped by a kind of war fever or hysteria.

But if I, a news glutton, feel overwhelmed, I’m sure the average American must feel bombarded, too.

I’d like life to be a little more – a lot more – than this stupid military conflict.

Barbara Holland is kind of a ditzy teacher, and she’s not all that knowledgeable about nutrition, nor is she that well-organized.

Still, I understand that she’s doing this for adjunct money, and I know she’s giving us more value than FAU is paying her for, just as I aim to do for my students at BCC.

There’s no class next week as we are supposed to visit a nutrition facility on our own.

I hope my eye problem isn’t serious, though the hypochondriac in me already sees my eyeball having to be removed due to cancer.

Sunday, January 27, 1991

8 PM. I looked for Alice at Miami airport for 25 minutes before I had her paged, and we finally hooked up. Because of the tight airport security, we decided it would be better not to go out, so we spent two and a half hours in the airport restaurant.

It was an emotional visit because I finally told Alice about my bankruptcy. She was shocked, of course, and although she tried not to be judgmental, it was written all over her face.

I guess I got defensive and maybe even offensive, calling her “part of the establishment.”

But in the end, she was more concerned about my fate than interested in judging me: Alice is worried I’ll go to prison or something equally awful will happen to me. She thinks I may have irreparably ruined my life.

It made me understand her attitude better when she told me she had a horror of debt because her mother lived on credit cards when she was younger, and every month there was a stack of bills her mother couldn’t pay.

I spent a long time explaining how I created and managed my credit card chassis, and while I know Alice disapproves and feels I should have channeled my intelligence into something more constructive, because she’s my friend, she accepts me, bankruptcy and all.

She did comment that I seemed bitter about “being screwed by society” (my words), and I said I’d rather be bitter and do what I did than be a victim.

As my creditors’ meeting approaches, I’ve been thinking often of how I managed financially in the 1980s.

Look, if I did something criminal – and that would be the fraud I committed on applications – I fully intend to pay the price.

I believe in justice and nemesis, and I’m ready for whatever punishment the law gives me. I won’t plead guilty to anything, but I probably won’t deny the charges at a trial although I do want to explain what I did.

Alice feels this could definitely get me on Donahue, but I’d like to try writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times before that, and if they didn’t want it, I’d send it to Newsday. Only once it was published would I try to get on Donahue or the other national talk shows.

I’d wait till the term is over because it’s not fair to disrupt my students’ lives, but I’m certainly willing to “tell all” – especially if someone offers me money to write this story.

Of course, I’d do it for no money – which is the difference between me and Alice.

While she wouldn’t think of writing anything without the hope of making money, I gave away my fiction, my columns, and my essays for nothing – or almost nothing.

It would be ironic if I finally get noticed widely for something that many people would consider a crime. But that’s America: look at our Watergate criminals writing books and giving lectures and making TV appearances.

Simon & Schuster nixed Alice’s book because they wanted a diet, a meal plan, and Alice (sensibly) gave them the one recommended by the New York City Board of Health, the same plan that Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous and any good dietitian would recommend.

Alice wanted her book to be a way of motivating people, but of course S&S wants to fool people.

No, I didn’t point out to Alice how “the system” worked then. She’s a Girl Scout and I love her for it. Remember how she worked for less money than she was entitled to collect on Unemployment?

Alice told me she’d spent four days on a press tour for the Brevard County tourist folks and she gave me some of the worthless souvenir tchotchkes they’d thrown her way.

The Long Beach writers’ conference is on April 19-21, not a week later as I’d assumed. I’ll be teaching a class on Saturday and one on Sunday, and Steve Kowit and I will give an hour reading on Saturday during a late afternoon cocktail party.

Alice’s mother is about to move into a co-op in Sheepshead Bay, even though she and Alice’s aunt are unable sell the East 51st Street house in this market.

By the time I hugged Alice goodbye, I think we were all right, though her last words were about my bankruptcy and her worries about my future.

Thursday, January 31, 1991

8 PM. Tomorrow morning I take the stand in federal bankruptcy court. While I’m scared, I’ve also rehearsed the scene in my mind and know that it won’t last longer than half an hour.

I’m also pretty sure that although I may face some rough questioning, nothing will be decided tomorrow even if some creditors are there to interrogate me.

I feel reasonably certain I’m prepared for whatever happens, including the worst: my being charged with fraud for lying about my financial situation on credit card applications.

I’ll accept whatever punishment the law gives me, and that includes prison time, as unlikely as that might be.

So what could be the worst thing that could happen? If I can deal with prison – and you know me, I’ll find a way to turn that into a plus by writing about it or by otherwise making good use of the experience – that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?

Dad was very upset when he came back from the doctor even though the sonogram found nothing but a small cyst in his liver.

I had to explain to him that (as best as I understand it) a cyst is only a blob filled with fluid and not a tumor which could be cancerous.

But the doctor wasn’t even present today, so Dad felt frustrated: he’s impatient to learn what’s wrong with him.

Aunt Sydelle tried to get him an appointment with Dr. Reichbach, her internist in North Miami Beach – I once took Grandma Sylvia to see him – but he’s out of town.

Reichbach’s associate couldn’t take Dad, either, although he gave him the name of a good gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Broward.

Despite his worries, Dad was a gracious host when Ronna and her mother came over at 2 PM. He took them on a tour of the house and was quite friendly. Marc happened to stop by just then and also chatted with them.

Ronna and Beatrice spent last evening at their aunt’s in Delray, and they visited another relative in Wynmoor Village for lunch.

Beatrice wanted to go to the flea market to get a gold bracelet like one she bought there last month, so I played backseat driver as we drove to the Swap Shop.

Ronna and her mother said they weren’t prepared for South Florida’s hot weather. Today was 86° and humid.

I managed to find Mom and Jonathan’s booth, where Beatrice got a couple of shirts – at a discount, of course – for Billy.

We all talked for a while, and Mom introduced me to some of her vendor friends, and then we went to get the gold bracelets.

Ronna wanted to see the beach, so I directed Beatrice to drive down Sunrise Boulevard to the Fort Lauderdale Strip. After that, we went to the more secluded beach in North Hollywood where I’d been on Tuesday.

Ronna walked barefoot on the beach and took photos – as a New Yorker, this was an incredible winter treat for her – while her mother and I sat on the bench and talked.

It was about 6 PM when they dropped me back at the house. Ronna hugged me goodbye, and out of her mother’s earshot, she asked how I was feeling about tomorrow and wished me good luck.

After eating dinner, I watched the news.

On CNN’s Moneyline, the top stories, in order, were: (1) the bank insurance fund of FDIC needs a bailout; (2) the savings and loan bailout needs more funds; (3) the terrible credit crunch for consumers and businesses; and (4) Alan Greenspan’s prediction that a war lasting until May or later will deepen the recession.

So in the macroeconomic world, amid this huge financial disaster, I’m basically about as significant as a quark. I need to remember that as I get ready for tomorrow in bankruptcy court.