A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, November 14, 1990

1:30 PM. My stomach’s shaky right now. In a little while I’ll drive to North Miami Beach to meet Richard Larin, the bankruptcy lawyer.

At least I did get a good rest last night, and except for my nervous stomach, things have gone pretty smoothly so far today.

I probably shouldn’t have eaten my lunch before my noon class, but I wanted to have the time free later.

I’m really anxious about this meeting and scared that the lawyer will find that I’m not eligible for bankruptcy or that he foresees numerous problems with my case.

I did get paid today, so after my 10 AM break I drove to the credit union to deposit the check. Now I can pay Larin his full $1500 fee so he can get started as soon as possible.

Perhaps I’m not doing the right thing in filing for Chapter 7, but all I’ve got to lose is the $1500, and if the case does work out, it’ll be great.

I had hoped to get more grading done today, but even though I had my classes write, I wasn’t free because I kept helping the students with their process.

In a way, I saw the writers’ workshop concept working.

While it certainly isn’t easy for a teacher to deal with students and their writing on an individual basis, it does obviate the need for so much time grading at home.

My stomach is a mess right now. I’m glad nobody else is home, as the quiet is calming me down a bit.

I wish didn’t have to teach Betty’s creative writing workshop this evening, and I hope that after seeing the lawyer, I won’t be in a bad frame of mind.

I need not to let Betty down.


4:30 PM. The meeting with the lawyer went okay, as I tried to explain how I used cash advances and credit card payments for living expenses.

Richard Larin seemed to think my best defense is that these are all long-term debts; I ran them up gradually over a period of five or six years. And I paid on time every month.

American Express is taking the biggest hit – about $17,000 – but they’re used to it, and I can show they offered me even more credit just recently.

When one of Mr. Larin’s clients owed $105,000, the man stupidly went on a vacation to Europe the month before filing. The trustee raised objections on her own, and they “had a rather nasty adversarial hearing.”

But his bankruptcy got approved anyway.

Mr. Larin says he hopes to do things so there’s not a “Rule 2004 examination,” and I hope he does, because this kind of adversarial hearing will cost me another $1500.

(I assume he wouldn’t screw me just to get a bigger fee.)

On Monday I’ll meet with a paralegal and they’ll be able to file my petition before the end of the month.

This won’t stop the creditors’ calls till then, but at least I can keep giving them a lawyer’s name and number.

Once December rolls around, the creditors will cease and desist. And because the hearing won’t come till late January or early February, I’ll have two months’ breathing room.

Saturday, November 17, 1990

8 PM. I barely slept all night Thursday, so consequently, I was a wreck yesterday after two nights of little rest. I kept doing clumsy things and I was boring in my classes, had a headache and dizziness and a need for sweets.

Maybe in the past I could function on that little sleep, but not now, when I’m working so hard and feel under so much pressure.

I had to grade papers for the Saturday class and I could barely bring myself to focus.

And at 4 PM, I got an unpleasant surprise when my LSAT score arrived in the mail. It was 38, only the 81st percentile, and one less than the median score of last year’s class at UF’s law school.

I felt really terrible, like a failure, and quickly saw all the doors closing shut, all my options disappearing.

But today, I realize not much has changed. My GPA of 3.53 is above the UF median, and so my composite index matches theirs; besides, FSU’s standards are a drop lower.

At this point the Florida schools with their cheap in-state tuition are the only law schools I can afford.

Still, it was disappointing to know I could never get into a top school. I deposited the catalogs from Yale, Stanford, Penn and Columbia in the garbage.

I probably could get into three-quarters of this country’s law schools, however, and I should remember I took the LSAT with almost no preparation.

The easiest part for me, the first, was experimental and didn’t count, and though I scored best on reading comprehension, I missed nearly a third of the logic questions.

Well, it’s good for me to learn that I can’t do everything – but I’m still not too bad off.

I could probably get into the law schools my friends went to: American (Scott), Cardozo (Mikey), St. John’s (Connie), Fordham (Denis), Brooklyn (lots of people). I’ll decide in a week or so if I want to apply to any other schools.

Now I have to be even more sure that I have strong letters of recommendation for FSU and UF.

I got my 1992 NEA application in the mail, and though they won’t accept them till January, my application package for another go at the lottery of literature is already done.

Obviously, I expect to be turned down again this January; it would be extremely ironic and incredibly lucky if I were to get the $20,000 after filing for bankruptcy.

Dr. Grasso asked if I was available for next term in the event that Pat Menhart’s doctor didn’t allow her to come back to work.

Naturally, I said yes, because I need the money desperately. But since I have no control over BCC’s hiring plans – or any law school’s admissions policies – I’m just going to let Fate do its work.

Thank goodness I rested last night: I fell asleep at 8:30 PM and woke up at 5 AM to grade papers before today’s class at South Campus.

I started off by using an essay by Alice Walker, “Beyond the Peacock: Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor,” which was not only a nice, non-academic piece of criticism but which also answered some of the concerns about racism that enveloped the class when I read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” that first day.

Actually, the student’s objection to the word nigger, which seemed at first to be a failure on my part, turned itself into one of those “teachable moments” that Lucy Calkins used to talk about.

We had a good class today, writing and discussing “A Hunger Artist.” I like working with adults, many of whom are good writers.

It’s actually my favorite class by far, even if four hours is a long, long session.

Now I’m free for another day and a half. Maybe the hardest part of this semester is already behind me.

Monday, November 19, 1990

3:30 PM. I’ve just come from the lawyer’s in North Miami Beach. I saw Victor Rams, an associate, who took all the information from me.

It seems I have about $100 over the $1000 allowed property. And I need to give him the amount of tax refunds I got the past two years and my Visa, MasterCard and other payments for the last 12 months.

That will take time, but obviously I can go through my check registers.

Maybe I’ll do that later, but since Mom said the phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook today, I might put it off till tomorrow.

Now I’m grateful I forced myself to do all that grading yesterday, as I don’t have work to do today, tomorrow or Wednesday.

The papers that came in today from my 8 AM and noon classes can wait till the weekend.

On Wednesday I’m taking all my classes to the library because today I got their tentative research paper topics.

Actually, school went well today. Sleeping a lot and the vitamins I stuffed into me seem to have fought off this cold or virus or flu, though I still have a scratchy throat.

But even though I kept waking up during the night, I had a surprising amount of energy today. At 5:30 AM, I even managed to get in half an hour of exercise.

The Herald had a story about the recession causing BCC’s spring enrollment to boom, just as it did when the economy was bad in ’81-’83.

Unfortunately, because the state is short of funds, BCC is having to turn away students and not open new sections of courses when existing ones fill up.

Today, as I said, was surprisingly pleasant. I enjoy talking with some of the newer people in the department, like Gordon, Sue and Elise. Central Campus seems friendlier than it did when I was last there full-time in 1984.

And basically my students are okay. It’s not their fault they’ve been the victims of America’s terrible school system and can’t do work that my classmates and I did in sixth and seventh grade.

Actually, I just keep on lowering standards and demanding less of my students, but after all, we can’t just throw them all away.

God help us, they may even be better-educated than their younger brothers and sisters.

Besides, we need these students in this era of declining college enrollments. Back at my first teaching job at LIU, I realized that when adjuncts failed students, they were just jeopardizing their own jobs for the following term.

I was angry that Simon & Schuster canceled Bret Easton Ellis’s new novel, American Psycho, just two months before the pub date.

The book is about a yuppie stockbroker who is a mass murderer, and the grisly scenes upset women at the publishing house and led to articles in Spy and Time. I suspect Paramount, the parent of S&S, interfered.

While I may despise the subject matter and attitudes of ’80s Brat Pack fiction, Ellis certainly can write well, and the time to reject the book was when it was submitted.

This cancellation is just another example of censorship, like the 2 Live Crew case and all those attempts to censor speech on campus when the speech isn’t “politically correct” – meaning it’s racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, etc.

Remember my 1981 essay, “Liberals and the First Amendment”?

Meanwhile, the federal courts have employed prior restraint in barring CNN from airing the contents of tapes made by the government between General Noriega, in his Miami jail, and his attorneys.

While I realize that Noriega’s right to a fair trial is also an important constitutional issue, the First Amendment seems to protect less and less speech these days.

On Friday, Judge Backman denied Charles Freeman’s request for a new trial, and he’s still going to be sentenced later.

I showed my classes all my 2 Live Crew clips from this summer as an example of collecting research material.

Tuesday, November 20, 1990

8 PM. Yesterday’s mail brought a deferment from Manufacturers Hanover for my student loans; I don’t have to make payment again till January.

Also, the University of Florida acknowledged my law school application, and the various colleges to which I applied for creative writing jobs sent form letters.

This afternoon I began the tedious task of writing down my credit card payments for the past year and finished only at 6 PM.

Now I need only to look through my 1989 diary to find the amount of my 1988 IRS tax refund. Once I’ve got that, I can fax all this stuff to the lawyers.

Tomorrow morning I’ll use the English Department computer to print out my card-payment spreadsheet, and by Friday the lawyers should have all they need to file my papers.

Last evening I spoke to Ronna, who said she’s going to four different relatives’ houses for the upcoming holiday weekend.

Work has gotten more pleasant since she got a new manager at the office, but Ronna would still like to leave Yeshiva University. However, this is the worst time to be job-hunting.

Her brother-in-law got a new job in Philadelphia, one that pays enough so that it’s worth it for Sue to give up her job in the Bronx and try to find another in Philly.

When I finished telling Ronna about my bankruptcy, LSAT score and law school applications, about living with my parents and working at BCC, she inquired about my mood.

Ronna’s known me long enough to figure out how I’m feeling, and I love her for asking.

This past month I’ve felt relatively isolated: I’ve been out of touch with my New York friends, I’ve lost contact with Crad, and I haven’t heard from Tom.

But of course I do socialize on a daily basis with people at BCC.

I slept from 10 PM to 6 AM and was able to grade papers before class.

In the 8 AM English 101, I gave the CLAST prototype and met with students individually to mark their papers – it’s so much easier to go over them in person – and to get their research paper topics.

The 9:30 AM class was well-prepared by Pat Menhart, who was extremely organized, and I don’t have to do too much more with them, especially since they’ve done research.

Phyllis came back to the office with a student who was just called up with his reserve unit; he has 24 hours to report to a base in Georgia, and then he’ll head out for Saudi Arabia.

Several other teachers reported their students had also been called up, and it was so sad to watch Phyllis talk to the boy, a big blond Southerner, about getting his work done in the desert while he’s going to be sitting around waiting for war.

One day Saddam Hussein says he’ll start releasing all hostages over a three-month period after Christmas, and the next day he announces Iraq is sending 200,000 more troops to Kuwait.

Bush, Gorbachev, Thatcher (who didn’t win today’s first-ballot Tory leadership vote and may be on the way out after a dozen years) and the 30 other European leaders are in Paris, signing a treaty between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. But the formal end of the 45-year Cold War was overshadowed by the Persian Gulf tensions.

I seem to be alone in my conviction that a shooting war will be avoided. But I just cannot believe Bush doesn’t know what a catastrophe war with Iraq would be.

Even if we won, my God, what would we do, set up a puppet government in Baghdad? Surely there’s a way to negotiate.

They’re trying to make Saddam out to be another Hitler. But the thought of boys like Phyllis’s student dying in the Saudi desert – for what, nobody is sure – just “makes you want to cry,” as Phyllis said.

At home, the holidays are gloomy. CNN’s Moneyline did a feature about the banks’ losses from credit cards now that more and more people are forced into bankruptcy. The D-word crops up every day now – although most economists still call for a brief, mild recession to end by next summer.

Now I’m returning to my original conviction that it will take years to work out the excesses of the 1980s – like my own.

Luckily for my family, recessions do seem to help flea markets as bargain-conscious consumers shun high-priced stores.

I got a haircut when I left BCC at noon, and I spent the afternoon with my spreadsheet, my calls from creditors, my newspapers, CNN and CNBC and National Public Radio, and half an hour of exercise.

It’s nice not to be grading papers.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

3 PM. Up at 5 AM, I exercised and got to BCC at 7 AM to use the computer.

I printed out the spreadsheet of my credit card payments and then went to xerox copies.

During my 10 AM break, I left campus to come back here, where Dad helped me fax the three sheets to the lawyers’ office. Unless I hear from them, I’m going to assume they’ve got all the information they need now.

Also during my break, I got a salad and some other stuff at the health food store, and I bought stamps and took out $50 from my Chase checking account with my ATM card.

I had all my English 101 classes go to the library, where I showed them how to use the public library’s online catalog as well as BCC’s computer databases: InfoTrac, NewsBank, the CBI indexes and a new CD-ROM version of the Readers’ Guide which just arrived today.

Even now, my eyes still hurt from those screens. But I love dealing with information that can be accessed so easily . . . well, most of the time.

The day went quickly and when I got home at 1:30 PM, I didn’t know whether to scream or eat a banana because I’m so thrilled at the prospect of four days off.

When I called Grandma at the home, she sounded very depressed although I know she was trying to hide it.

It’s not pleasant living there, Grandma said, and she sees people “acting like babies.” She fell last week and is getting a walker soon.

Marty and Arlyne invited her along for Thanksgiving dinner, but she didn’t want to be with their friends, so she’ll have her holiday meal at the home.

She said Marty would like to give up the apartment in Rockaway, but I hope he doesn’t – and neither does Grandma, probably because it would shatter the illusion (although I’m not sure she really believes it) that that one day she might be able to go back to her home.

I’d like to be able to stay in the apartment in Rockaway when I visit Grandma next May.

While I know that I could get to the home in Woodmere via the LIRR or subway and bus from anywhere in New York City, it would be much easier if I could travel there from Rockaway.

Today I also left a message for Teresa in Oyster Bay and spoke briefly to Justin in Brooklyn.

The plays that Justin’s been directing opened, and his initial misgivings about this theater company turned out to be on target, for the technical people and the management are either incompetent, uncaring or lazy.

There were a lot of glitches on opening night, and the show hasn’t been a pleasant experience for Justin, who, after all, was used to directing in his own theater company and could take certain things for granted.

With his job at Shearson over, Justin doesn’t have a new temp job yet. At least Larry is still working at the Metropolitan Museum; one of his works is hanging in their employee’s art show.

They’re heading to Reading for Thanksgiving tonight, although Justin has to return to the city Saturday for the show.

Understandably, he sounded a bit downcast. Justin and Larry probably are doing badly financially. Well, who isn’t? This is the gloomiest holiday mood in years.