A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Friday, February 1, 1991
10:30 AM. Just got home.
I slept okay but woke up way before dawn. After reading the Herald and exercising, I had breakfast and drove downtown.
Getting to the courthouse at 9 AM, I didn’t see Robin Winer. Just a few minutes before my name was called, Richard Larin showed up.
I sat through about eight other bankruptcy cases, including one for Brothers Restaurant on University Drive.
After being called to the witness stand and sworn in by the clerk, I was asked to state my name and address for the record.
Lucy DiBraccio, the trustee, then asked if I owned the property where I lived.
“No, that’s owned by my parents.”
“Are you employed?”
“Yes, at Broward Community College.”
“Do you own any property?”
“Have you had any interest in a business in the last six years?”
“Do you own an automobile?”
“Yes, a 1981 Pontiac Bonneville.”
“Did you read your petition before you signed it?”
“Is it a complete list of your creditors?”
“Is everything on your petition true and accurate to the best of your knowledge?”
“Are there any creditors present?”
Nobody, except the man from the Broward County appraiser’s office, who asked, “Did you ever live at 921 Mockingbird Lane?”
Puzzled, I said, “No,” and he nodded.
My case was closed, and I was given a paper that said that due to a change in the bankruptcy law, I didn’t have to attend a final discharge hearing and that my creditors would have sixty days to object before I got my final discharge in the mail.
Richard Larin followed me out of the courtroom and chortled, “That woman never read your papers . . . I called her a couple of weeks ago. You’re really lucky.”
“So you think it’s going through?”
“Yeah,” he said, chuckling, as he went back into the courtroom to his other clients.
I now suspect that he and Hoffman exaggerated the difficulty of my case to jack up their fee, but it was worth it.
5 PM. I haven’t yet come out of the daze caused by being in bankruptcy court. It was as if I’d gone to the hospital prepared for major surgery and suddenly been told I didn’t need the operation, that I was fine and could go home.
And until early April, when I get (hopefully) my final discharge notice, I can’t feel myself being ready to celebrate.
I told my parents, of course – Dad felt slightly better today – but I felt like “talking it out” a little more.
So I called Alice, who’d been so concerned. Mixed with her relief that nothing bad was going to happen to me was a definite astonishment that, in her mind, I was getting away with something like murder.
I too never thought the creditors’ meeting would be as quick and routine as it was.
Of the eight cases before mine, all were asked at least a couple more questions, if only how they were paying their bills when they were unemployed. (One gaunt man in his forties, who admitted he was sick, obviously had AIDS.)
What I find hardest to believe is that I was so perceptive in figuring out the economics of the 1980s and what would result from it.
Indeed, just as I parked the car in the Federal Building lot, the 9 AM news came on the radio.
After the usual reports from the war, I heard the January unemployment numbers, which were so bad that by the time I got back in the car and was driving home along I-95, I heard on the 10 AM news that the Fed had lowered the discount rate. Within another hour, major banks had dropped the prime rate.
All the dismal economic statistics that came out today squelched the optimism about a quick end to the recession.
With states laying off workers, with airlines going bankrupt and out of business, with consumer confidence in the toilet, with the possibility of a prolonged ground war for control of Kuwait, things are not going to turn around quickly.
Anyway, back to my own situation: now I have to think more about how I’m going to proceed with my life in the 1990s. The semester at BCC will be over in three months.
Today’s mail brought some more unsolicited material from graduate schools (Temple, Drew) and law schools (Mississippi) trying to recruit me because of my GRE and LSAT scores.
I have to decide if I want to apply to other places besides UF and FSU law schools and the SUNY-Stony Brook Ph.D. program in political science.
I also have to figure out what I want to do as far as where and how I plan to live. I’ve had these debts hanging over me for so long that I almost can’t function without the burden.
To make another hospital analogy: I feel like a disabled person who’s had the surgery that makes a wheelchair unnecessary; even knowing that I now can walk, I feel unstable on my feet.
Saturday, February 2, 1991
8 PM. Last night, when I phoned Teresa to tell her about my creditors’ meeting, she was preparing dinner for guests, so after congratulating me, she had to get off.
I slept well, though once again I woke up before 6 AM. I had time to read the papers and eat a leisurely breakfast before leaving the house.
Because I wanted to use the xerox machine at Central Campus, I stopped there first, and while I was photocopying, I looked at my mail.
Dr. Grasso sent a note to all the adjuncts that there would be no part-time work available this summer, but there are two full-time temporary positions open for the second summer session, each with an English 101 and English 102 class, one from 9:30 AM to 11 AM and another in the evening.
The department secretaries will decide who gets these positions by picking two names of applicants out of a hat. I thought it might be fun to let my summer plans be decided by chance, so I entered my name in the lottery.
While I’d rather be in New York from late June to early August, I can’t turn down the chance to earn $4500 in six weeks because I’ll be needing that money for the next academic year, when I hope to be in law school, or failing that, a Ph.D. program.
For some reason, I expect to be lucky. We’ll see. At least if my name isn’t chosen, I can go to New York knowing I didn’t turn down work and income.
My class at South Campus went okay today. The number of students is down to about 20, and they’re all adults and easy to deal with, though I felt I was somewhat disorganized and distracted in class.
I’ve got a new set of papers to grade. The semester always seems easy until I have to grade students’ writing.
Home at 12:30 PM, I had lunch and did some record-keeping for my classes before starting my workout at 3 PM.
I’ve got a humongous pimple over my left eyebrow; my skin, which had been pretty clear lately, probably broke out because of the tension of this past week. Now, however, I can get back into some kind of routine.
With the pressure of the hearing in bankruptcy court looming this past week, I didn’t enjoy seeing Alice and Ronna as much as I otherwise would have. Still, it was good to touch base with two dear friends, if only for a few hours each.
Pete is coming to Florida in a few weeks, and I may get to see Bert, too. Otherwise, I’ll concentrate on school until spring break in the final week of March.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll have time to catch up on all the little items on my “to do” list. I need to write back to Libby, call Grandma and Aunt Tillie, go through my law and grad school catalogs, get out new applications, and read the magazines piling up.
But first I have to plan my classes for the coming week, and I need to do grading. Maybe I’ll have the English 101 class write on Monday and Wednesday so I can have individual conferences with each student. And I need to go to the library to further prepare for my Tuesday night American Lit class.
On Monday or Tuesday, I need to speak to someone in food services so I can do that report for my FAU Nutrition class.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have added the burden of being a student to my schedule, but I find I’m learning a lot about nutrition, if only from reading the text; that’s something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
I feel I waste so much time, and I need to stop turning on the TV to watch the war coverage, most of which is so vague as to be meaningless. How about some Big Picture talk?
Now that the time for the big change in my life is getting close, I’ve had thoughts of putting off law school (or grad school) till next January or even to the fall of 1992. But that’s probably because I haven’t heard from FSU yet.
You know what? I may not apply to any other law schools. I don’t really want to live in the cities where the law schools who’ve sought me out are located, anyway. If I don’t get into FSU or UF, I should just wait another year.
I’ll also have to consider going to SUNY-Stony Brook in poli sci if I get $8900 plus tuition. After all, I don’t expect to get that kind of financial aid (grants, not loans) in law school.
It’s sort of like the BCC summer-job lottery: my law/grad school plans are currently out of my control.
Well, wherever I end up, I’m certain it will be interesting – but I know I need to make money more of a concern now that I no longer have credit cards to rely on.
Monday, February 4, 1991
8 PM. I feel tired now. Probably I needed more sleep than the six hours I got last night.
In a dream, I ordered lunch at a fancy Manhattan restaurant, and then, when the bill came, I regretted spending $100 on a single meal. My God, I thought, I could have spent this money on two weeks’ worth of normal lunches, and I reminded myself I now didn’t have credit cards as a cushion.
My classes went okay today, but both the students and I seemed to be performing at less than our best, and I do feel out of sorts. Partly it’s what I said yesterday about being tired after living with my family for over four months.
They’ve all been home so much lately, and now that I’m here more during the weekdays, I find they get on my nerves, especially Mom.
For a woman so concerned with the cleanliness and order of home, she herself can be remarkably slovenly. It’s not just her weight; the other day Dad expressed disgust when he caught her picking her nose and looking at the snot.
Sometimes I wonder if Mom, who was once devastatingly beautiful, made herself so unattractive on purpose.
Every time I write or think something like that, I feel mean-spirited and sharper than a serpent’s tooth.
Anyway, Dr. Verblow said Dad’s liver and gallbladder were fine, and if his symptoms are lessening, he probably just had a virus.
However, it’s also possible that he has a polyp on his liver, and if the pain and nausea don’t disappear, he should go for tests.
Dad seems to feel somewhat relieved, so he had to find something new to worry about: Paul Davril has decided to market their shirts under the name they used before they licensed Bugle Boy.
The name is Introspect, and Dad fears that kids will have no idea what the word means and no way to easily remember it.
Of course, I like the name, so it’s probably bad – but at least now I’ll get to wear stuff that says I’m introspective rather than a bugle boy.
I called FSU and found out my file at the law school is complete and just awaiting the admission committee’s decision.
In the library this afternoon, I took out books on Roth and Pynchon to prepare for teaching their fiction tomorrow night, and I felt myself drawn, for the first time in years, to the excitement of literary criticism.
Rereading Irving Howe’s vicious attack on Roth, I became apoplectic once again, and I wandered through interpretations of The Crying of Lot 49 as if I were a kid at Disney World.
While at the library, I finally read the Village Voice coverage of the 2 Live Crew trial by Lisa Jones, the young black woman I met there. Immediately I knew that if there’s a book in that trial, Lisa could write rings around me.
I don’t know what it is, but my writing doesn’t have the eye for detail and the knowing stands that most Voice writers seem to manage without ever working up a sweat.
As Jaimy Gordon said in the American Book Review, I’m a clumsy stylist. These diaries are exhibit A: I plod and plod and plod some more.
In some of my fiction or humor, I can be inventive, clever or playful, but I can’t sustain tone and my sentences seem to lack all grace.
Reading the NOCCA alumni newsletter Tom sent, I had mixed feelings when I saw that the high school kids I taught in New Orleans over the past decade now have a Ph.D. in literature from Harvard or Yale. All those NOCCA kids seem to be overachievers, even the ones who work in bookstores.
My parents never pushed education – at least not higher education – on me or my brothers, and I’m still the only one in the family with a bachelor’s degree.
Not that I’m making excuses for myself, but frankly, with a B.A. from Brooklyn in ’73, I never thought about trying for an Ivy League school or a hotshot academic career.
So I shouldn’t complain that at 40, I’m teaching at a community college. Did I ever really attempt (risk) anything more? Will I do so now, finally?
Friday, February 8, 1991
6 PM. Remember on Saturday, when I said I expected to be lucky in the BCC summer job lottery?
When I returned from my noon class, Dr. Grasso said, “There’s the lucky devil now,” to Leon and Gordon. Flora had picked my name as one of the two for a full-time job for the second summer session.
If I sound blasé now, it’s because I wasn’t surprised. I remember feeling the same way only once before: at the gay pride celebration at the Hollywood Sportatorium in June 1983 (the only other second summer session I taught) when I won the raffle for a weekend at a Key West guest house – a trip I never took because I didn’t want to go by myself.
So I’m all set for summer teaching this year: I’ve got my schedule and I’ve sent away for texts.
While this means I won’t be spending the summer in New York, I’ve always known this summer would be different; for one thing, I wouldn’t be living on the Upper West Side at Teresa’s.
Mom will probably keep paying rent on Grandma’s apartment in Rockaway, so I could stay there while I’m in New York from early May to around June 21, the Friday before I begin teaching back at BCC.
This will mean being in South Florida during the summer, but in this economy, I can’t turn down the opportunity to earn about $4500 in six weeks, especially when that’s only slightly less than I’m earning in the four months that make up this semester.
And as I’ve said, I don’t really mind teaching, and the summer session at BCC is relaxed. If nothing else, I’ll be eligible for decent unemployment benefits come fall.
I guess I won’t go back to New York in August if I’m moving to Tallahassee or Gainesville; instead, I’ll prepare myself and leave early, before the fall term starts. (Of course, if I go to Stony Brook’s Ph.D. program in the fall, I’ll be heading up to New York anyway.)
By the time I leave here in early May, I’ll know what I’ll be doing.
I’ve got to make the most of my time in New York City in May and June, not take anything for granted, and see as much of the city and my friends as I can.
As I often do, I dreamed about New York last night, though it was mixed up with Florida: in a dream, I drove over the “Key West Bridge” to New Jersey, where I was taking an engineering class.
Up at 5:30 AM, I exercised and went to BCC early for computer time and xeroxing.
I had a good English 101 class, met with a few students I hadn’t conferred with earlier, and came home to relax for a couple of hours and read the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
The word is that the ground war may begin this month, perhaps soon, although all the reports from the Persian Gulf regarding the damage to Iraq’s military might are sketchy and contradictory. The land war may be short and decisive or long and bloody, depending on which person you ask.
On the one hand, Bush is being pressured by Congress not to resort to battles that could create hundreds of casualties. On the other hand, the Arabs fighting with us want to end the war before Saddam wins a political victory by standing up to the U.S. for a protracted period. Every day that he survives, Saddam becomes more popular with the Arab masses.
Meanwhile, the stock market continues its rally, and nearly everyone is bullish even as the economic signs and financial news continue to be bad. But bad news is ignored while everyone’s concentrated on the war.
Still, I’m not going to give up my hope for a Depression-style downturn just yet.
At noon, I had my students write an in-class essay while I managed to grade about half the papers of the Saturday class. I have ten papers left to grade, and I’ll get around to them tonight or early tomorrow before school starts.
I feel tired this evening but also keyed up, so I may not be able to fall asleep easily.
Mom and Dad took Jonathan to the mall to meet Marshall for dinner, and they too will probably eat out; Marc and China, who had been here, also left.
So right now I have the rare pleasure of being in the house by myself. I guess I can stand living here another six weeks this summer. It’ll be different, anyway.