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

by Richard Grayson

Tuesday, December 11, 1990

3 PM. I feel good after just exercising to a Body Electric tape.

It’s a delight to know my body is in good shape, that I’m taking care of myself and continuing to eat right. (Yes, I continue my practice of writing down what I eat, the approximate number of calories and grams of fat, the exchange group and number – like 2 milks, 1½  starches, etc.)

Why I have this feeling of well-being now, I don’t know, and of course the neurotic/superstitious guy in my forebrain figures these kind of feelings are precisely those which precede disaster.

I went to Office Depot and bought some pens, a notebook with recycled paper (I misplaced the notebook I’d been using since I got to Florida), and a few diskettes so I can copy some of the programs on the BCC computer.

Then I went to J Byrons and looked at men’s clothing. Though I’m less than half a year away from being 40, I still feel comfortable in the young men’s department.

The store, like most retail outlets, is already discounting heavily; Dad’s Bugle Boy tops are selling at 30% discounts.

Although I didn’t buy anything, it’s a joy to realize that I could wear about any item and look good, that I don’t have to worry about selecting clothes that hide my fat.

Some people say they never get used to their slimmer selves, and while I have a hard time accepting my present body, I remember being thin as a teenager. I know what it feels like to squeeze through tiny openings, like in a small kitchen when somebody else has got the refrigerator door ajar.

When I was 15, 16, and 17, I was skinny; I didn’t start getting chubby till the year I spent at home, and even in my freshman year of college, I probably weighed what I do at present.

My beard is now thick again and it needs trimming. When I go away next August, I may shave it off and see how people react to me clean-shaven, the way my students at BCC first did in October.

I find myself more excited than scared about starting over in Gainesville or Tallahassee. I feel a sense of possibility.

Crazy, isn’t it? I’m bankrupt, celibate, living with my parents at age 39; I have little social life; I don’t enjoy my (temporary) job; and I could go on with logical reasons why I should be profoundly miserable.

Yet I feel joyous satisfaction with my life. If this is insanity, I’d like to stay crazy.

Happy Hanukkah.

Wednesday, December 12, 1990

7 PM. Last evening I read Time’s cover story, “The Sleep Gap: Too Much to Do, Too Little Rest,” and of course afterwards I had my usual insomnia.

I’m sure that yesterday’s sense of well-being came in large part from the eight hours of sleep I got the night before. And I felt less energetic and sharp today because I slept only five hours, from 12:30 AM to 5:30 PM.

Earlier this term, when I was able to sack out by 8:30 PM, it wasn’t so hard to get up at 5 AM or 6 AM six days a week.

Well, the semester will last only another week, and then I can sleep late for a while.

Today Dr. Grasso made out a schedule for me for next term, and while she gave me an 8 AM and a noon class on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, the Tuesday/Thursday class is from 12:30 PM to 2 PM.

Of course, even if I stay part-time, I know the schedule is subject to change. As of now, I have two English 101s and one English 102.

While I’ll have half the workload I now have, instead of getting $1120 every two weeks, as I did today, I’ll be getting about $230: around one-fifth the salary.

Still, times are hard, and this is the absolute last time I have to do this. Next year I’ll be in law school or grad school or doing something other than being at BCC and living in South Florida.

I can’t see anything that would keep me here, and law school seems within reach.

The pilot program for the artists-in-residence at Florida community colleges next year won’t be for writers, so that option is gone.

I managed to get through the final day of classes by grading papers the hour before I had to hand them back and keeping my students only if they had questions.

I’ve got 8 AM finals tomorrow, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, and on Monday I’ve also got a final from 12:20 PM to 2:20 PM.

While I’ll have all these sets of research papers to grade, I’ll go through them quickly and grade the final CLAST-type essays holistically. At least I’ll be finished with class at 10 AM tomorrow and Friday.

When I left campus at 1 PM, I heard on the radio that Charles Freeman was about to be sentenced, and I wanted to go to the courthouse to show my support for him, but I was just too exhausted.

An hour ago, I saw him crying on TV as he emerged from the courtroom. Judge Backman fined him $1000, which he is to donate to an arts magnet school. The judge reacted angrily when Freeman suggested he was singled out because of his race.

Of course, Bruce Rogow will appeal, and I expect the verdict will be overturned.

Charlie did thank the people of Broward County for their support and said if the verdict were set aside, he will donate the money to the school anyway.

Meanwhile, last night Jack Thompson was on CNN’s Crossfire, upset that a new Madonna video, “Justify My Love” – banned from MTV because it’s too racy – was being sold to teenagers in stores. God.

From the parts I saw, Madonna’s video looked pretty sexy but totally harmless; however, if I were a parent, I’d monitor what my kid brought home and watched.

Society is crumbling in America, but not because of obscenity. The real obscenity I see every day is demonstrated by my ignorant, barely-skilled, unable-to-reason BCC students.

We’ve allowed a generation of people to grow up without educating them for the future. Hell, they can’t write or think or read the way my classmates and I did when we were in sixth grade, and they don’t have the skills to be auto mechanics – not auto mechanics in the computer age, anyway.

Maybe I’d feel more optimistic about the future of the U.S. if I taught at the University of Florida or any decent private college, but I wonder. . .

Yes, BCC attracts poor students, but lots of high school graduates don’t go on to even a community college, and one-third of high school students in Florida drop out before graduation.

Education Secretary Cavazos resigned today, the same day the Bush administration said scholarships targeted at minority students are “discriminatory.” This is the kind of shit that comes from our federal “civil rights” officials in our country now.

Friday, December 14, 1990

3:30 PM. Teresa had phoned at 10:30 PM Tuesday night, when I was half-asleep (or trying to get there, anyway). She said she’d speak to me at another time because she needed me to think clearly.

When I phoned Teresa on Wednesday, she wasn’t home, and she finally reached me last evening at 8:30 PM.

The bank foreclosed on the East Side apartment because she’s behind in her maintenance payments. Not only are they taking over the apartment, but they’re calling in the balance of the $82,000 mortgage.

When Teresa called her sister, Connie – true to form – screamed at her for screwing up and went ballistic when Teresa expressed a desire to speak to a bankruptcy lawyer.

“Just because Richie’s doing it doesn’t mean you should,” Connie said, coming close to, “If Richie jumped off the Empire State Building, would you?”

But after tremendous fights – Connie and her husband are ignorant about bankruptcy and think of it as the worst shame possible— Connie finally put Teresa in touch with a bankruptcy attorney, who said Teresa’s case was no big deal.

She lives in a cash world in her business, and the attorney laughed when Teresa said she had no credit cards but Bloomingdale’s.

Basically he told it to relax and call him when First Federal of Rochester attempted to collect the money; there’s no reason to file at this time.

“You’ll never be able to buy a house now,” Connie warned, but Teresa said she’d always intended her mother to be the buyer so her parents could have a mortgage for a needed tax deduction.

Besides, Teresa is beginning to see my point of view – and her late grandfather’s – that property can indeed be a bad investment.

(After watching my parents go crazy these past few days with a botched job of widening and repaving the driveway, and seeing all the problems attendant to homeowning, I still plan to be a renter my entire life.)

Anyway, Teresa told her sister she owes their parents money, and isn’t she better off paying them than an S&L that’s insolvent?

I tried to explain to Teresa that her position is just part of a much larger macroeconomic picture: all over the Northeast, financial institutions are being hit by defaults caused by the deflation of real estate prices.

The forces in motion seem inexorable to me, so why not do what I did and swim with the tide?

A Wall Street Journal story today mentioned banks’ increasing worries on credit card loans as defaults rise.

And the economic numbers that came out today were very bad, suggesting a severe recession and tough inflation ahead.

I occasionally marvel at how well I predicted and timed my own credit explosion and implosion.

The real problem with giving up the East Side apartment is Teresa’s Japanese tenant, who’s awaiting a kidney transplant.

She’s going to offer him the West 85th Street place as a legal sublet even though she would prefer to keep it; at least then she will feel she did her duty as a landlord.

Her own landlords in Oyster Bay Cove are in the same position: they can’t sell the house for prices thousands of dollars lower than the offers they rejected for it years ago.

Teresa likes her job at David Sneddon’s catering business and she’s arranged lots of parties and brought Pam in as manager in one store – where Pam is learning the joys of not being an owner: if Con Ed threatens to shut off power because of an unpaid bill, it’s not Pam’s problem.

Teresa went on for a while complaining how her parents are mistreating her grandmother. It was 10 PM before I got off the phone and into bed.

After sleeping soundly for seven and a half hours, I felt good today, especially because it warmed up a bit.

While my 8 AM class took its final, I graded most of their research papers. This class will get mostly C’s. I know they had problems with three different teachers, but God, they were an immature bunch.

After making up the finals for tomorrow’s class, I went over to South Campus, where I hung out for an hour. It’s too bad I can’t teach more than three classes as a part-timer next term because I prefer teaching at the more relaxed atmosphere there.

Betty agreed to write me a recommendation for my application for an M.A. from the UF School of Mass Communications and Journalism, as did Dr. Grasso. I sent out my application to the program this morning.

Robert was helping Patrick put Microsoft Works on Patrick’s new IBM PS/2 Model 55, which already has lots of great software bundled into the machine.

I would love to learn Windows 3.0, the operating environment that’s become the new standard graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced “gooey,” as we did at Teachers College this summer).

Barbara and Adrienne (and her little Yorky, Doodles, an adorable dog) were getting ready for the South Campus English Department Christmas party this evening at Vicki’s house. (Although I was invited, I didn’t have time to go.)

I spent time schmoozing with Cynthia, her student aide Sally, and with Scott – who told me about working as an extra for a Hollywood Boulevard crowd scene in Cape Fear, being filmed locally – and then came home to eat lunch and read the papers.

I’ve got about 40 essays to grade before tomorrow’s class.

Monday, December 17, 1990

8 PM. Late yesterday afternoon, I started grading more papers out on the terrace. Around 6 PM, China ate all her dinner and seemed to perk up a bit, but she was still wheezing and unable to jump onto the couch in the family room.

Although I had three spasms of positional vertigo during the night, I managed to sleep well, and today’s finals at BCC went okay.

I managed to grade all the 9 AM class’s research papers during their 8 AM-to-10 AM exam, and I was as pleased by their comments as I was by those I read from my Saturday class. While I may not be a perfect teacher, sometimes – and for some students – I can be effective.

As usual at the end of the term, there are some desperate people who promise to have late papers in my mailbox. These students make frantic calls they want me to return as soon as possible when they have let weeks slip by, sometimes without even attending class.

There are a lot of fuck-ups at BCC, and even the average B-/C+ student can’t seem to follow simple directions.

The noon class met from 12:20 PM to 2:20 PM, and while I didn’t get to mark more than half the term papers, I’ve managed to complete the final grades for two classes and hand them in to Flora, the Central Campus department secretary.

By the time I got home, I was too graded-out to do anything more. Besides, I wanted to read the Times, Herald, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Today’s big news was the possible future insolvency of the bank insurance fund as some big banks are expected to fail next year if the recession gets worse.

Starting at 6 PM, I taped CNN, which is running Mark Dalton’s Special Reports feature, Holiday Jitters, every evening this week.

The series is perfect for me because it focuses in on the Nervous Nineties after a decade of greed.

Jesse Jackson, Henry Kissinger, Helen Gurley Brown and Kurt Andersen of Spy (itself a relic of the ’80s) were giving commentary tonight, so I expect I will fit in just fine.

I’ll tape it every night this week, though I don’t expect to be on until Friday.

I’m starting to get letters from law schools like the University of San Francisco and Sanford in Alabama, trying to get me to apply. I’m not sure if the Student Locater Service of LSDAS actually results in their contacting me because of my GPA and LSAT score – so far, all I’ve gotten are form letters – or if they send this out to everyone who’s registered.

These letters may mean that my LSDAS report is complete; if so, then UF and FSU have gotten it and my transcripts.

I haven’t really had the time to sit down and plan the rest of my stay here in Florida. Teaching only part-time in the spring, I’ll have to budget myself carefully and of course remain at my parents’ house.

But I’d like to take an FAU class or two on the BCC campus, preferably a late afternoon undergrad class like Food and Nutrition or the History and Appreciation of Jazz.

Teaching three composition courses at BCC will be enough work for me even if I’ll net only about $2800.

Right now I’ve got about $1500 in the bank, with another $1100 check coming on Wednesday.

Because I’m still getting dunning calls from banks, I finally wrote Victor Rams to ask for the case number of my bankruptcy petition.

While I still fear an adversarial 2004 hearing, I know that if my petition is denied, I can try to get as much publicity as possible. I’d love to go on Donahue, Geraldo, Sally Jessy or Oprah. Hey, maybe I can finally get a book contract after all that.

I’m not afraid or ashamed to talk in public about what I did with credit cards, and while the truth may hurt me, in the end I’ll be a lot better off.

Marc reports that China seems to be improved tonight, and I’m relieved she’s feeling better.

Dad arrived in L.A. late Saturday night; he had yesterday at leisure at his hotel in Marina del Rey and today was the first sales meeting at PDI.

Thursday, December 20, 1990

3 PM. Last night my sinuses were so bad that I felt dizzy every time I lay my head on the pillow, and I didn’t get more than a couple of hours’ sleep.

Up at 3:30 AM, I never did get back to dreamland. Consequently, I’ve been totally screwing up today, doing things like drinking from a cup I’d just put  dishwashing liquid in and walking aimlessly from room to room unable to recall what I was looking for.

This morning I was served with a summons to appear in court: the Broward Schools Credit Union is suing me over one of my credit card bills.

I was taken aback seeing my name in legal documents and the xerox of the application I filled out, in which I gave my job as Director of Training with Computer Learning Systems.

I phoned the attorney who filed the summons and told me – see how messed up I am, I meant him – of my bankruptcy; he said I should contact my lawyer.

I hate to call their office, so I sent the summons to Victor Rams along with a note asking for advice. I hope he’ll take care of it.

On a day like today, I’m suddenly struck with the seriousness of declaring bankruptcy, and I can’t intellectualize that gravity away.

Still, what’s the worst that could happen? My petition will be denied, and I’ll have been discovered to have committed fraud.

(I know: my tenses are all wrong, but I can barely hold a pen today).

I could go to federal prison, and scary as that is, it would almost be something to look forward to, because if I could survive prison, I’d feel the way I did when I survived the prison of my mind – my agoraphobia – so many years ago. In a way, prison would be purifying and elemental in its horror.

If I’m not prosecuted, the worst that can happen is that all my debts will stand and creditors will hound me the rest of my life – unless the banks are forced to lay off all the people who do the hounding.

I’m more concerned about Mom and Dad being harassed, but I can have them forward all the calls and letters to my new number, wherever I’m living.

The truth is, I’ve looked forward to law school as a way out, a way to remake my life, but I don’t even know if I’m going to get into UF or FSU.

A lot of this is sheer exhaustion talking.

At BCC today, while I cleared out of Pat Menhart’s office, Martin Scorsese was shooting a scene from Cape Fear with Robert De Niro in the lecture theater attached to our building, where a classroom was labeled “Freddie’s office” and where all the gofers and assistant whatevers were roaming around.

As I left BCC for the last time this term, I heard Scorsese shout “Cut!” from the auditorium.

I feel I really screwed up as a teacher this semester. Cut!