A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, November 22, 1990

8 PM. This was a pleasant Thanksgiving. I don’t know when I’ve needed a holiday more. I’ve got about 50 papers to grade before the weekend is over, but I didn’t do any today.

Instead, I went through all the college catalogs I’ve been sent and began discarding some as I narrow my list of options for next year.

UF and FSU law schools will act on my applications as soon as they get my LSAT/LSDAS files, their brochure says. So it’s possible I could know by January if I’ve been accepted to either school.

Yesterday I got my GRE scores and they were pretty good: only 580 (54th percentile) on the quantitative, which was to be expected since I’m rusty in math, but I scored nearly a perfect 780 (99th percentile) on the verbal and surprising 700 (90th percentile) on the new analytical section.

I know I don’t want to go for a Ph.D. in an English program and be faced with all that critical gobbledygook and those archaic requirements, but maybe there’s an interdisciplinary program, like FSU’s Ph.D. in Humanities, that I can win a fellowship for. I’ll apply to that program and I’ll consider going if I get a $10,000 University fellowship.

I’ve sent away for a couple of catalogs from other law and grad schools, but right now I figure I’ll end up in Gainesville or Tallahassee.

With $17,000 in student loan debt, I’ve got to continue my education as cheaply as possible, and the big Florida state schools are bargains.

Earlier, I thought I might try a wholly different location, and I think I could – no, I’m certain I could adjust to many new places.

But I prefer a warmer climate, and even if UF is mostly a football/party school, Gainesville has all the cultural amenities of a major college town. And with Chiles as Governor, Tallahassee might be an even more interesting place to be.

Staying in Florida will be advantageous financially and it’ll be less of a shock than, say, moving to California.

I woke up at 7 AM to the news that Prime Minister Thatcher had resigned rather than face possible defeat in next week’s Tory party leadership balloting.

After nearly a dozen years, the Iron Lady is going away. Like Reagan, she had a distinctive, somehow bracing style, even if I considered most of their policies disastrous. Perhaps Gorbachev, Kohl and Bush will all go within the next few years.

Bush actually was inspiring this morning as he spoke with, and had a holiday dinner alongside the Marines and British Desert Rats in Saudi Arabia. The First Lady, dressed informally in camouflage fatigues – how can anyone not like Mrs. Bush? – was there, too.

With the Congressional leadership behind him, the President finally stressed the one casus belli that might make sense: Saddam’s getting hold of nuclear weapons.

I doubt that any war will be worth it, but if there’s one reason I can see to lose American lives, it’s to prevent someone from killing more people in a nuclear attack someday.

With this Reagan-like media setting, Bush is sure to win back some support, at least temporarily.

In Parliament, at Question Time, Mrs. Thatcher, announcing that Britain, too, would be sending more troops to the Gulf, was as combative as ever.

If there were any questions that the 1980s were over, it was resolved yesterday when Drexel Burnham’s junk bond wizard Michael Milken – a man who earned a $550 million salary by getting everyone deep in debt – was sentenced to prison for an astonishing ten years.

Friday, November 23, 1990

8 PM. I just graded my sixth paper of the day, and already I’m in a daze. No, it’s not because their writing is so goddamned awful, but because this girl idiotically revealed her disgusting prejudice.

In comparing Boston and Fort Lauderdale in an otherwise banal and monstrously-written essay, she first mentioned that Fort Lauderdale is “overpopulated, especially at the beach and because of the Spanish people that live here.”

Then she ends the essay by saying she prefers Boston because it doesn’t have “heat, traffic and so many Spanish people.”

I went ballistic, and right now my blood pressure must be back to its pre-Nutri/System levels. What a stupid person this girl is, to be so open. I commented that she’d be smarter to hide her prejudices in class and from the teacher.

It just shows how they can’t think. Did it ever occur to her I might be Hispanic or have a Hispanic wife or parent or just be someone who hates prejudice?

Of all the papers over the years, the ones that have driven me most up the wall are the idiotic comments about blacks, Hispanics, gay people, Jews, Arabs, French-Canadians, etc.

At least before, I could think she was a nice, if dopey, kid; now, I don’t even want to look at her.

Take a deep breath, Richie. God knows why I let things like this get to me. My stomach is in knots. Whew.

I slept well and this morning I exercised, caught up on all my newspapers and magazines, and felt the luxury of not having to work.

I got only one creditor call and I calmed them right away by giving them my lawyer’s number.

In the mail I got a letter from the lawyers telling me to call Mary at their office in regard to my petition papers.

Their office was closed today, so I’ll phone on Monday; I hope nothing is amiss and that all they need is my signature.

I’d just like to have the filing formally over with, so I could forget about it for a few weeks until the hearing.

I’ve been in Florida two months now, and I can’t recall a time in late November when I’ve been so homesick for a Northern winter.

The grass is always greener, I know, but maybe I’m finally getting over my association of cold weather with depression and warm winters with the carefree times I remember from my earliest vacations here.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to grading papers, but I wish I’d done something a little more offbeat today. I feel like a drudge with no life.

I don’t have a close friend here and there’s not a soul I can confide in the way I can with Ronna or Justin or Alice or others in New York – not that there are many of those left, either.

I’m looking to law school or maybe grad school as a way to jump-start my life, which seems stalled.

I guess I felt most alive during the 2 Live Crew trials, when I was interacting with the reporters and attorneys, people who were – or seemed – sharper than the teachers I meet at BCC.

It’s not to my credit that I’m still teaching at BCC a decade after I began there. Classic underachiever is what it is.

I want to be reading good stuff again, not just keeping up with the news (which I love to do) but really engaging my mind.

I think a lot about my undergraduate days and the heady days and nights I had between 1970 and 1974 and how the world seemed to be blossoming then.

Monday, November 26, 1990

8 PM. Half an hour ago, switching channels, I heard Paul Kangas on PBS’s The Nightly Business Report refer to a press release I sent him (and others) about Pauper: The Magazine of the Nineties, that will deal with the lifestyles of the poor and obscure and feature the Pauper 400, a listing of the 100 poorest people in the U.S.

I didn’t hear my name mentioned, but I missed the start of it; I’ve set up the VCR to tape the rebroadcast at 12:30 PM.

Boy, it’s scary how good I am at knowing how to get publicity. Perhaps other media people will pick up on the release.

Meanwhile, my own bankruptcy petition papers are ready, and the lawyer’s office said I can come in on Wednesday at 3 PM to sign them.

So there’s no problem. I’m not sure why I couldn’t drop by today or tomorrow, but judging from the time I was kept on hold, the firm is probably swamped.

When I called Aunt Tillie last night, she recited a litany of complaints. She has her usual cold, and a sore on her lips, and she still can’t wear her upper plate because it makes her gag, and she doesn’t sleep and her hiatus hernia makes eating impossible, etc.

“I’m so disgusted,” she said, echoing the line Grandma always says. Her niece Evelyn invited her to Thanksgiving dinner, but Tillie felt too sick to go, and she’s embarrassed to be in public without her dentures.

God, getting old is not something I look forward to if it means a life of all the pain and suffering my relatives have experienced.

Up at 5 AM after a lousy night’s sleep, I exercised, ate, showered, dressed and got to BCC at 7 AM to type some essays into the computer so I could use them as workshops in class.

I had each class get into a circle and workshop some essays, and it seemed to work.

The anti-Hispanic essay was one I used in the two classes without the author of the piece, along with a great comparison between Northern and Southern Italians by Lucia, who went to high school in Sicily.

Her paper was ten times better than the other one, but as I told the classes, Lucia didn’t have the handicap of attending high school in the U.S.

Matsushita Electric bought up MCA-Universal, so now Japanese, Australians and Italians own four of the seven biggest U.S. movie companies as we continue our slide toward being a second-rate country.

The problem is education, of course, and I see the results of our pathetic system every day; I try, but after twelve years of American “schooling,” these kids have problems too serious to remediate at this level.

Well, we Americans are good at starting wars, and Bush and Baker will be at the UN Thursday to get a new resolution passed in the Security Council, setting a deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

No doubt it will end with some euphemism for saying, “After that, it’s okay with us at the UN if you bomb Baghdad.”

I still believe war can be averted, that it must be averted, but I may have overestimated Bush’s grasp on reality.

After listening to experts say that Iraq is years away from producing a nuclear weapon, I now think Bush is using that phony issue to try to get public support.

He did the same thing in his ’88 campaign, going from issue to issue till he lit on one the public liked.

Which reminds me: whatever happened to our main concern of a year ago, the vaunted “war on drugs”?

Bush isn’t entirely to blame. We Americans have an attention span conditioned by TV commercials and Sesame Street.

Wednesday, November 28, 1990

4:30 PM. I’ve just walked in after signing my bankruptcy petition papers at my lawyers’ office in North Miami Beach to find in today’s mail a notice pre-approving me for a Dollar Dry Dock Visa with a $4000 credit line.

I’m tempted to sign it and send it in just to see the response I’ll get, but I’ll probably save it as a souvenir. Pretty ironic, huh?

But it shows that if I’d kept up with my payments, I would have been able to keep my credit chassis going – with the AmEx Platinum cards and Reserve Credit line and now this new Visa.

But I’d still be spending hours each week trying to move cash advances fast enough to turn into minimum payments.

Alan Greenspan says we’re not in a recession, but the New York Times has a front page story that says New York rents are falling for the first time since the Great Depression, and the Wall Street Journal’s lead story was about the bust of the California real estate bubble and the erosion of house prices.

Mom, seeing mortgage fixed rates going down, wonders if they should apply for a change from their ARM, but I tell her to wait, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Yesterday, alone at the flea market, Jonathan took in $740, a record for a non-December Tuesday – so somebody’s spending money, but perhaps only at places like flea markets.

Last night I shut off the TV and lights and got into bed at 8 PM so I could catch up on my sleep and have time to exercise before leaving for school this morning.

I had all my classes take the prototype CLAST. You’d think that would have made it an easy day, but sometimes I find that when my students write, the day seems longer.

But I did manage to grade about twenty of the Saturday class’s essays and read most of the newspapers.

Leaving campus at 1 PM, I got a salad at Albertsons, where I also got the sinfully delicious Simple Pleasures Toffee Crunch. This new product contains Simplesse, a fat substitute put out by the Nutri Sweet Company, in a fantastic fake ice cream that’s really creamy.

At the credit union I deposited my paycheck, and having time, made my way into Dade County via U.S. 441.

Passing by a 15 m.p.h. school zone, I grew nostalgic for all the Wednesdays when I’d go to some school and lead a computer ed workshop.

I miss my Teacher Education Center work terribly; it’s not the money, of course, but the feeling I got when I enabled teachers to use the new technologies.

Now I feel I’m out of the fast-moving computer education loop. While I want to stay in touch with the field, all I can do right now is read my Electronic Learning magazine when it comes every month and try to stay abreast of trends like multimedia, virtual reality and expert systems (which we used to mistakenly call “artificial intelligence”).

Victor Rams took me into the firm’s library in North Miami Beach, and I read over my papers, corrected some pages (they left out a numeral in my 1989 tax refund, called BCC Broward County College) and signed them in about seven places.

Victor, who’ll probably go to the court hearing with me, told me I might have to give up my laptop to Radio Shack because it may be considered secured debt. Well, the machine is obsolete anyway.

He didn’t mention anything about an adversarial 2004 hearing, but I’m still expecting one and know I can handle it.

For a guy declaring bankruptcy, I felt pretty good. I caught my reflection several times during the day and realized I looked sexy.

FSU sent back a postcard saying my file will “be ready for Committee review” when they get the LSDAS report from Law Services.

I kept flashing on New York scenes today. I remember certain times from this summer with great affection: that day in Staten Island, driving near the mall; taking Grandma to TCBY in Woodmere one afternoon; bringing Teresa’s stuff from Oyster Bay to the ferry at Bay Shore; the great evenings I had at Elihu’s, at Sat Darshan’s, and Ronna’s in the days before I left the city.

I miss Grandma a lot, despite her constant complaints, and I miss Brooklyn and Rockaway.


3:30 PM. The UN Security Council, with Secretary of State Baker presiding, is now on TV, about to vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq doesn’t leave Kuwait by January 15.

So it seems the world lurches toward war even as the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings keep parading witnesses, mostly military men, who counsel patience and urge giving the economic sanctions time to work.

I’ve got the same headache I’ve had since my 8 AM class, when I showed them all the databases on computers in the library.

I had my 9:30 AM class write while I graded another ten essays from the Saturday class. I still have another ten to go, but I can do them tomorrow afternoon.

I would have had a more relaxed day except while I was eating lunch, I got a call from Allen Myerson of the New York Times Sunday Business section. Evidently Peter Passell gave him the Pauper press release I’d sent.

Myerson interviewed me for fifteen minutes, and he asked if I could FedEx the dummy issue I said I’d done.

Sure, I told him, I’d get it to him soon, but he said he needed to write about it tomorrow. I guess the Sunday Business section goes to bed on Friday because it comes out before the news section on Sunday.

So I ran back to BCC and spent an hour on the computer, coming up with a ridiculously amateurish six pages of articles and features.

If I’d had more time, I could’ve come up with better jokes, but the very idiocy of my simple “cover” and line drawings may tickle Myerson’s funny bone.

Using the Times’s Federal Express account number, this dummy faxed the magazine’s dummy at the FedEx office on U.S. 441.

Naturally, being featured in the Sunday New York Times would be fabulous, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. Still, the very fact they were interested enough to call makes me confident, the way I felt last June with the Trump Rescue Fund and Radio Free Broward.

Actually, if some publisher put out Pauper as a magazine, it would probably be a great novelty item.

I guess I’m not going to fall apart; if anything, I’m the only guy I know who can turn poverty and bankruptcy into an asset.

Right when I got the Pauper idea, I knew I had something good, but I purposely didn’t mention it in my diary because I wasn’t sure any media would be interested.

Well, I can’t let myself get excited because I’ve been disappointed so many times before. Remember how I thought People would review With Hitler in New York back in 1979? (I still think that exposure might have changed everything for me.)

In today’s paper, a Times Op-Ed columnist titles his piece, “What Recession? It’s a Depression.” Yes.

Friday, November 30, 1990

4:30 PM. The weather turned cooler, cloudy and windy: a pleasant change, almost grey enough to seem like the last day of November.

I’m tired and still have about a dozen papers to grade, even though they’re poetry logs and shouldn’t take that long.

There are only two full weeks of school left, and at this point I’m so exhausted I don’t think I’ll be upset with just part-time work next term.

If Pat Menhart doesn’t come back – the 9:30 AM class all signed get-well and Christmas cards to her, and I mailed them and paid for the postage – I’m sure I’ll be able to get at least a couple of courses, even if I heard Betty definitely canceled those 25 classes at South.

I’ll be able to take a couple of classes myself and follow up on the obscenity trials and do other stuff – like my silly Pauper magazine idea.

FedEx told me the Times got my package at 9:30 AM, but I have no idea if the silliness of my “dummy” issue will turn Allen Myerson off or make him laugh.

If he does print an article – or more likely, it will be just a jotting or two in one of their regular columns – that will be terrific, and if not – well, I’ll get my name and ideas in the public eye again one of these days.

I’ve done it too many times now to think that all those previous times were flukes.

It’s like when I began publishing short stories, and the acceptances from little magazines accumulated, I knew I couldn’t be merely lucky.

Those submission days seem a lifetime ago, but last night I dreamed I sent out a manuscript of short stories and got several rejections from publishers, along with suggestions for improving and revising the book.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison of course rejected me for the spring term Visiting Writer position. Ron Wallace appended a note to the form letter: “Sorry – the committee was very enthusiastic but couldn’t finally agree. I hope we can get you here one day – RW”.

And guess who thanked me for sending him a copy of my chapbook? I got this note:

Nov. 25-90,

Richard Grayson:

Gracias por tu nueva producción ‘Narcissism and Me’. 

Deso y estoy segura que tendro la buena accogida de tus anteriores producciones.


Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega

in POW status

Nice guy for a dictator, huh? But maybe Bush would send me a nice note too, if he had the time that a federal prisoner does.

My classes were difficult today. These kids are so babyish that it’s very difficult for me to remain patient with them.

Well, it’s time for All Things Considered and my Healthy Choice mesquite chicken dinner.