A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1990

by Richard Grayson

Monday, December 3, 1990

4 PM. I could not face grading another set of papers today, so my 9:30 AM class will have to wait a week to get back the papers they wrote last Thursday.

With my difficult schedule, I need a break. Besides, I am much more understanding than most teachers are about accepting late assignments.

Two weeks from tomorrow, my temporary full-time job ends, and if Pat Menhart returns next semester, it now looks as though I may not even be able to teach part-time.

Dr. Grasso seems to have covered all the Central Campus classes, and since Betty canceled so many classes at South, there may not be any open for me.

It is a first; usually part-timers are in demand. Certainly, the classes are, but the students are being turned away in droves. That is what’s going to make this recession a depression.

And, yes, the Times did print a paragraph on my idea. Under the headline “For the Downwardly Mobile,” it appeared in Business Diary’s The Economy section, along with stories about Greenspan’s “meaningful downturn” quote, the fourth monthly decline of the index of leading economic indicators, and the revised GNP third quarter numbers.

The article called me “Richard Grayson, an unemployed Fort Lauderdale, Fla., computer teacher and the magazine’s publisher, editor and staff” and said that while I swore my publication’s plans “are no joke,” “his press release sounds suspiciously parodistic, saying that a Pauper 400 list will answer the lists of the super-rich in the wealth-oriented magazines.”

It went on: “Mr. Grayson has his own woes. He said he was laid off in the Dade County schools’ budget cuts, his unemployment insurance has run out and he supports himself with a temporary job teaching English. He doubts the publication – ‘a kitchen table job’ – will make him rich.”

A drawing of an eighteenth-century figure at a poorhouse ran under the article. Nice job.

Yes, I know, if the article hadn’t run, I’d still be as clever, but this gives me the opportunity – as when I begged on Wall Street for money to make my own leveraged buyout for RJR Nabisco four years ago – to satirize and comment upon the current economic scene.

I wonder if I should send Richard Larin a copy of the Times piece after I make certain that he’s filed my bankruptcy petition with the court.

I left BCC at 10 AM after my first two classes and got the rest of Sunday’s paper, along with today’s Times and Wall Street Journal. Then I had to rush back to grade papers for my noon class and eat lunch.

I slept pretty well last night and woke up early enough to exercise before breakfast. Today I used the textbook to teach bibliography entries, note-taking strategies, and the formalities of in-text citations.

Since I got home a couple of hours ago, I’ve been trying to catch up on the news. Continental Airlines filed for Chapter 11 today.

I got a card from Sat Darshan asking me to call her (she doesn’t have my phone number); a note from Dan Meltzer, thanking me for sending my book, which he enjoyed; application materials from Fordham Law and the University of Florida’s M.A. program in journalism (I applied for a joint J.D.-M.A. degree, remember?); and a letter from the English Department at Saginaw State asking for my dossier and a writing sample, as I made the first cut for this job.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll regret not teaching for the spring, though I’ll miss the social stimulation and use of the department xerox machine.

Now that I don’t have to worry about creditors calling all day, perhaps I can focus on projects like the 2 Live Crew obscenity trials book or whatever. And I’ll definitely take a course or two at FIU or FAU.

But I’ve dropped plans to rent an apartment; I need to be frugal, even if I do take over full-time for Pat Menhart in January.

I have to save for this summer and for law school and for the extra $2000 for the attorneys if I have an adversarial proceeding.

Although I’m tired, I feel pretty good about myself.

Wednesday, December 5, 1990

5:30 PM. The CNN crew from Miami were here from 2:30 PM to 4 PM taping me.

Last night Marc Walton from CNN’s Atlanta headquarters called and spoke with me. His unit does news specials – I’ve seen some of them – and wanted to interview me for an upcoming program, Holiday Jitters, which is, I guess, about the end-of-year national mood.

I explained my story wouldn’t be very visual and that my dummy issue of Pauper magazine was rough to the point of absurdity, but Marc felt my spiel was good enough to sustain the piece.

Just before I left for my noon class, I got a message from CNN at Atlanta that the Miami crew could come this afternoon, and so I was here and ready.

Everyone else was at work or elsewhere. Dad made himself scarce, not wishing to be associated with poverty. (Since his paycheck was $22,000 last month, I can understand that.)

Kim Siegel, the producer, and a cameraman first wanted me to drive up, get out of the car and enter the house.

We did several takes, and while they apologized for making me do things over, I was interested in the process and felt like a professional actor.

I even made a “discovery”: on the second take, I had a hard time getting my car door to slam shut, and I thought that looked funny and apropos (old junky car for a poor guy), so I purposely did it the next time.

In Dad’s office, they had me type into the computer, placing my “copy” on the desk, and I pretended to be working on the magazine.

Later, I placed the magazine “dummy” in my hands and showed the various pages. I used my How to File for Bankruptcy book as a background prop.

In the living room, we did the real interview. They had given Kim ten questions to ask, and although I was tired, I tried to do the best schtick I could.

I dressed the way I had for BCC, only I added a tie and a paper-clip tie clip – nice touch, I thought.

Well, it ain’t Andy Rooney, but I think I could be something like him if I were given a chance.

Who knows if I’ll even get on the program?

Actually, this Pauper idea isn’t all that clever – it didn’t strike me as a major brainstorm – and I’m surprised CNN and the New York Times have been interested. I guess on some weird level, I do know what the public wants.

Up at 5:30 AM, I forced myself to exercise despite exhaustion, and the day didn’t start off well: I forgot to lock the door in the faculty men’s room and Dr. Caballero came in on me on the toilet seat; then I mistakenly walked into my 8 AM room for the Tuesday/Thursday class; and later, I said “goodbye” instead of “hello” to a fellow teacher.

Somehow I got through today’s classes, using the same sample term paper I used yesterday. Because they’re all grading like crazy, the English faculty are walking around like zombies.

Dr. Grasso told me she’d gotten a call from Lisa, so I asked her for Lisa’s number and phoned her this afternoon.

It turns out she’s been in Fort Lauderdale all these years working at the Sun-Sentinel’s Newspaper-In-Education office, doing teacher education workshops (sort of like what I did) in Broward schools.

Lisa quit her job after three years because her boss finally got to her, and she’s nervous about where her income will come from now.

She doesn’t want to go back to teaching – three years at Spanish River High School cured her of that – and while she’s been doing a lot of New Age channeling, giving readings at spiritualist bookstores (the ones Jonathan goes to) and loves that, there’s not much money in it.

Perhaps I’ll get to see Lisa soon. I miss her.

Right now I’m pretty tired, but at least I’ll be finished teaching early tomorrow; I’ll get some rest in the afternoon. Actually, I’m not complaining about being busy.

Ken Geringer announced that he was closing Club Futura because of all the bad publicity from the 2 Live Crew arrest and obscenity trial. Ken’s own obscenity trial begins on January 22.

Saturday, December 8, 1990

8 PM. Despite my weariness, I barely got any sleep last night. I slept fitfully from 10 PM till 1 AM, and after that I was awake the rest of the night.

It was a bad night, like some of my worst recent experiences with insomnia: before I taught my first class at the Miller School in Nanuet in November 1988; before the Saturday Teacher Education Center workshop for librarians at Miami Sunset High School in the spring of 1989; the series of sleepless nights in August 1989 when I took the Alcohol and Health class at Teachers College and then before I returned to Florida.

Still, I managed to function okay today, though at a lower-than-normal . . . see, I can’t think of the right word. . . level? Not quite, but level will have to do.

One thing I know from experience: after these bad patches of insomnia, I always have one night when I sleep like a baby. I guess I had a lot on my mind: Grandma, BCC, student papers, law/grad school, my future.

At South Campus this morning, I had an okay literature class: the students wrote essays about the stories, and then we discussed “Bartleby the Scrivener” and began talking about “The Death of Ivan Ilych.”

I think I may spring a more traditional final exam on them next week. I’m too lenient, and some students are trying to take advantage of me. Well, the class will be over next week.

I dismissed them at 11:15 AM because of my GRE test.

When I didn’t sleep last night, I figured I’d skip the test, but I felt well enough to drive to FIU in the Cougar, which Jonathan still refuses to drive. He wants to sell Dad the half-share he bought of it, but Dad – to his credit – wants Jonathan to suffer the consequences of the deal and his neurotic refusal to get accustomed to the car.

I arrived at FIU just before 2 PM, and they put us in a regular-sized classroom where I was the only one taking the Political Science advanced test. Why I registered for it, I’m not sure, except I’d had thoughts of getting a Ph.D. in poli sci a couple months ago.

Anyway, I figured I could test my knowledge of the field. While I finished the test in two hours, I had to skip a bunch of questions. I’m very weak on theory and research methods, and I know statistics would give me a lot of difficulty if I did try to do grad work in the social sciences.

Well, it was like being on a quiz show, and I felt I was stretching my brain.

Sunday, December 9, 1990

8 PM. It’s the last full week of the semester. I managed to read and mark up my 8 AM and 9 AM classes’ papers about their goals for 1991. I circled words that were problematical and made as few comments as possible, giving them a check, check-plus or check-minus for organization and development.

Perhaps I can get them to realize the importance of revision this way. I’ll grade the noon class’s papers during my break tomorrow, I guess.

My own goals for 1991? I haven’t had time to think about them yet. Interestingly, many of my students’ “goals” were mere wishes rather than plans: lose weight, get a 3.5 GPA (absurd in most of their cases), buy a car, and in one case, go to Hollywood and star in a movie with her favorite actress, some sitcom star named Joanna Kerns (that was from the girl who wants to get away from “Spanish people”).

I didn’t sleep for eleven hours last night, but I did get seven and a half hours of solid rest. And after I had breakfast and worked out, I remained in bed until 11:30 AM, lying there with my eyes closed.

What I wanted to do today was read the Times (done except for the magazine and book review), do some bench presses to work on my chest (done), buy some groceries and drugs (done), mail out transcript requests for my application to the M.A. in Mass Communications for the joint J.D./M.A. degree program at the University of Florida (I just did that).

I also called Grandma at St. John’s Hospital. She was sitting up, having just eaten lunch, and said her dizziness had subsided. But she told me she dislikes the nursing home.

She would like to return to her apartment but seems to know it’s not possible. “I’m at the end of my life,” she sighed.

“I guess so,” I replied, not wanting to say “Don’t be silly” or some other denial of what she knows is true. (On the other hand, Grandma may not be at the stage Ivan Ilych was when he wished people would level with him.)

Grandma expressed a wish to live here with Mom. Of course, there’s no possibility of that. Mom couldn’t live with Grandma; she barely could stand to be with her one day in Rockaway. No wonder Marty resents Mom.

But I don’t think Mom (and Dad) should have to take care of Grandma. Perhaps if she were a person with a different spirit (when I told her I was planning to go to law school, her response was the expected admonition, “I hope you know what you’re doing”), my parents would be amenable to having Grandma stay here.

I’m the only one who’s actually lived with Grandma in recent years, and I know how depressing it is to be around her – not because she’s old and sick but because of her attitude and stubbornness.

For a fleeting moment, I thought I’d ask Grandma if she wanted to live with me – presumably in Gainesville or Tallahassee – but that could never work out.

I just wish there was some alternative to the home, some way Grandma could have live-in help at her own place.

It turned very chilly last night and was a record-breaking 45° early this morning.

Dad has caught the cold half my students have been suffering from, and he’s also upset about a fax from Los Angeles he got late on Friday. Paul Davril Inc.’s acquisition of another men’s line, which seemed like a done deal, unraveled, and now Dad doesn’t know what the company will do and he expects a drastic reduction in his income.

The Friday report of November’s unemployment figures was much worse than expected: the unemployment rate shot up to 5.9%, and 267,000 jobs were lost last month. The Fed has already lowered reserve requirements and the federal funds rate, and a discount rate cut will probably come this week.

A lot of people think if there’s a deal in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. economy will turn around, but Saddam Hussein isn’t the problem. He let most of the American hostages free today, and the rest should be out soon. Obviously, Saddam isn’t a madman.

Bush is clearing out our embassy in Kuwait, and while nobody’s talking a deal, I predict there will be no war, that Iraq will give up most of Kuwait, and Bush will have to settle for that.

The majority of the American people still would support military action, but there’s already the kind of antiwar movement (in the cities, on campuses, and in Congress) that took four or five years of war in Vietnam to develop.

Still, Bush seems to want to get rid of Saddam and won’t be satisfied unless the dictator is ousted. It’ll be interesting to see how the crisis resolves itself.

I never did call the lawyers this week, but I assume the bankruptcy petition was filed. I’ve all but stopped getting phone calls about past due bills. I’d like to get bankruptcy over with, but I still expect trouble in an adversary proceeding.

Well, I’m prepared to go public because I’ve got nothing to lose if my petition is denied. My Pauper publicity proves I can get media attention, and I feel certain I’ll be a guest on Donahue or Oprah if I talk about my credit card chassis.

At this point, I’ve become accustomed to paying cash for everything, and it makes me a lot warier about spending money in a drugstore or supermarket.

Tom sent me a newly-published story; attached was a Post-it Note saying he’s exhausted but has managed to write four new stories.

I’ll write Tom and other friends once this semester is behind me. I’ve got so much I want to do, it’s likely I won’t get to most of my immediate goals unless I’m not teaching full-time next spring.

I figure I’ll know about Pat Menhart when I give back the office key next week. Dr. Grasso will either take it or tell me to hold onto it.

Monday, December 10, 1990

8 PM. I thought I’d never fall asleep last night. Even though I felt tired and got into bed at about this time, I had really bad insomnia. I couldn’t get comfortable or stop thinking about things I need to do, and I kept having to urinate.

It was about 2 AM when I finally drifted off, and uncharacteristically, I was awakened by the alarm clock hour hours later.

I managed to make it through the day at school, but then all I did was have my students revise their papers while I graded papers and conferred with them individually.

I had such a headache this afternoon that I didn’t get to the papers for tomorrow. Maybe I can fall asleep early and have time to grade some before my 8 AM class.

During lunch, Dr. Grasso said to drop into her office one day this week. I suppose she wants to discuss next semester.

Well, I need the money, and if Pat Menhart is too ill to return, I’ll take a full-time position, but I really dread a full semester of so many Gordon Rule classes.

At this point, even with the coolie wages, I’d be happy just to teach part-time, and be able to live a little.

I’d like to get my application for UF’s M.A. program in mass communications (as part of the joint degree with the law school) finished already, but so much is involved, and I can’t find the time.

This afternoon I lay down, read all the papers, did very low-impact aerobics, and drank herbal tea. (Because I’ve been eating more and more lately, over 1800 calories a day, I needed the tea to keep me from overeating).

Around 5 PM, Alice called. After having a big fight with her mother around Thanksgiving, Alice said that once her mother moves into her new apartment in Georgetown, she’d rather not see her anymore.

Simon & Schuster will probably pick up Alice’s diet book for an advance in the $30,000-$50,000 range.

Last week she met with people from S&S, as well as from NAL, who wanted to check out Alice, watch her Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael tapes, and quiz her in preparation for a publicity campaign for both the hardcover and paperback.

All diet books have to come out in January, so she needs a contract soon to have the manuscript done by April; because the publisher wants a short text, Alice should be able to complete the project in time.

She’s finished doing the brochure for the writers’ conference in Long Beach. Alice has scheduled Steve Kowit and me to give a joint poetry and fiction reading.

I know I’ll be terrified as my trip to the West Coast next April approaches, but confronting my fear of the long trip is the best thing I can do for myself.

And of course, I’m also very excited about finally going to California. I may be a bad traveler, but I love having traveled.

Too bad I won’t really get to see Los Angeles – although I’m going to try to extend my stay beyond a mere weekend.

Maybe I can get my courage up and ask Libby if she and her husband can let me stay with them for a couple of days.