A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1991

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, March 2, 1991

8 PM. Dad just called from Houston, where he’s changing planes.

Yesterday he went to the chiropractor, who gave him a treatment and sent him to an osteopath who prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxants, gave him a few cortisone shots, and scared Dad by saying he might need surgery to correct the disc problem.

(Of course, last year a doctor told me I might need surgery for my hemorrhoid – a problem that never reoccurred – and it was an osteopath who suggested sinus surgery in 1982 when it turned out I was suffering from hepatitis.)

Anyway, I kept my mouth shut the last two days and did my duty by driving Dad to Miami airport this afternoon. There were no skycaps at the curb, so I parked and took Dad’s suitcase to be checked in.

Dad said the flight to Houston was all right and he wasn’t in much pain. He swore to me that he won’t lift anything.

I‘m relieved he made it off and that I don’t have to see Dad for ten days because he just exasperated me over the past month.

Yesterday I tried to call Grandma on her birthday, but the hospital said she was no longer in room 230. God knows what’s going on.

Anyway, I slept fairly well last night and had a good class this morning, reading Max Shulman’s “Love is a Fallacy” and going over some fine points of punctuation and the difference between revision and editing.

Next week I’m devoting the class solely to individual midterm conferences; it is the midpoint of the semester next week, after all.

BCC has three weeks of school before spring break. Then I’ve got another three weeks in April before I go to Los Angeles myself, and after that, I come back here to finish out the term and prepare to leave Florida.

So it totals a little more than nine weeks in all. The light is definitely peeking through at the end of this winter semester tunnel.

Still no word from law schools, of course, and I’m getting antsier, especially now that it’s getting closer to spring and I don’t know where I’ll be living for the next few years.

Whatever I do, I know I don’t want to live in South Florida again: Broward Community College is a dead end for me, my computer education job at FIU is gone, and I’d like to put a vast distance between myself and my family for a while, especially since I fear taking their mishigass for granted.

I’ve got about a dozen papers to grade tomorrow, and of course I’ll delay the inevitable as long as I can. All I plan to do tonight is finish last week’s New York Times Book Review.

Bush says he’s not gloating about the allies’ military victory, but he certainly has a right to say “I told you so” to people like me.

I’m glad that by and large the fighting has stopped a week after Bush announced the start of the ground war.

While I can’t imagine Bush’s current 91% approval rating holding up till November 1992, I also can’t envision – absent an economic depression – Bush losing the election to any Democrat.

Am I destined to live my entire adult life, save for the Carter hiatus, under Republican administrations?

People are certain the recession is just about over, and I see stories that even claim the Northeast real estate market is coming back to life.

I was probably wrong about the economy – but if so, I timed my own bankruptcy perfectly, to fall just in the middle of the peak of filing. If everything goes right, in a month my bankruptcy should be final.

I discovered a great new sweet potato-like vegetable called a boniato. It’s Hispanic, purple on the outside, gray on the inside, and quite delicious. To me, it sort of tastes like chestnuts.

Monday, March 4, 1991

7 PM. I got my acceptance notice from FSU’s College of Law this afternoon.

Jonathan brought in the mail before 3 PM, while I was reading in Dad’s office, and when I walked into the kitchen, my heart began to beat quickly as I spotted the envelope.

It looked thin, but I saw the second page was a “notice of intention,” so I knew the letter would begin, “I am pleased to inform you that . . .”

I sent out word that I’ll be in the class entering in August 1991, and I feel pretty good about it.

Although I always expected to get into FSU, I’m relieved to have gotten the definite word.

Part of me can’t really believe that within six months, I’ll be a law student living in Tallahassee. Although I’m scared about the change, I also know it’s something I’m ready for.

After I read the acceptance notice, I drove back to BCC and xeroxed it and then sat in the English Department office, thinking.

Back home at 5 PM, I was greeted by Mom, who congratulated me, as Jonathan had told her about my acceptance.

I reread the admissions booklet and I’m anxious to learn more about FSU, the law school, and Tallahassee. Maybe I’ll drive up there during spring break to get a sense of the place.

I picture it kind of like the Garden District of New Orleans, with new and old state capitol buildings.

I’ll go to the library and get all the information I can, and I wrote the admissions office to send me applications for available scholarships and loans.

Luckily – or maybe shrewdly – my financial aid application at the university is already complete.

I wrote Prof. Golden to withdraw my application for a teaching assistantship in the university’s doctoral program in humanities; I’m much better off graduating FSU with a J.D. rather than Ph.D.

Well, there’s a lot to think about, and a new life ahead of me.

In Iraq, most of our POWs will be released soon, and a dozen allied prisoners have already been freed.

But it looks like civil war is breaking out in Basra and southern Iraq, where the Shiite population is revolting against Baath party rule and there’s more violence now than during the 100-hour ground war.

Tuesday, March 5, 1991

2 PM. With Dad in California, Jonathan at work, and Mom away at the hairdressers, I have the luxury of being home alone this afternoon – unlike the last few Tuesdays.

My acceptance from FSU law school feels better the longer I live with it, and suddenly it seems like it’s spring.

Just getting that uncertainty out of my life feels good, and somehow I no longer am so bothered by the pressure of my BCC workload.

I probably won’t get to the dozen papers my 8 AM class gave me on Monday; after all, when I worked full-time, I told students to give me a week to return papers.

Nevertheless, I feel a sense of responsibility that is all out of proportion to the salary I get for part-time teaching.

Last evening I called Ronna just as she was going out to her first class in Introduction to Judaism, a text-based course given at her synagogue, Ansche Chesed, so she called me back after her return home at 10 PM.

Ronna’s been sending résumés out, but of course this is still no time to be looking for a job.

Her biggest news was that Billy and Melissa got engaged on Valentine’s Day. Their wedding will be down here in Broward in November; Melissa’s parents, elderly European retirees, live in Lauderhill.

It will be a small affair, only 80 people, so I’m not invited, and I won’t even be down here in November to see Ronna.

It feels weird, knowing Ronna will be in Fort Lauderdale for something other than seeing me.

She’s a bit dubious about her brother’s marriage because Billy’s only 23 and Melissa just 19, and as Ronna said, “That is very young.”

After all, Ronna said, she was 19 when we started dating: “People can change so much after that time.”

When I told her about my FSU acceptance, Ronna expressed her New Yorker’s suspicion of Florida schools. But I said that I don’t really need a first-rate law school, and given the very low tuition, I’ll be getting quite a lot for my money.

When I went over to South Campus this morning, Patrick’s response to my acceptance was, “Do you think you’ll stay there longer than the week you were in Miami’s Ph.D. program?”

He also said Tallahassee is a real Southern city with nothing but the university, but that’s not true. State capitals and state university cities – places like Madison, Columbus, Charlottesville, Sacramento – have been booming and becoming real meccas for hip young people. And Tally is growing faster than any of them.

True, Leon County is pretty small, but the presence of state government and FSU and FAMU gives it a critical mass of the kind of people I’d like to be around.

They have a better literary scene than Broward does, for example, and there was a big antiwar demonstration there in January.

Patrick doesn’t understand or care about that, and he’s also negative about new things. He was dismissive of my computer education plans and my Nutri/System diet, but I succeeded with both of those changes in my life.

Betty, busy as ever – especially with Cynthia out over a month – congratulated me and told me she figured I could get into any school I wanted to.

It was nice to be on South Campus during the week to see Chris, Judy, and Eileen, all of whom greeted me warmly, but I was sorry I missed Adrienne.

Yes, I’m a bit scared and somewhat apprehensive about going off to law school in a city that I’ve never been to and where I know no one. But how thrilling, also! It’s a chance to start over.

When I left New York in the winter of 1980-81, John Lennon had just been murdered; his song “Starting Over” was on the radio all the time, and I took it as a personal anthem. The same with Rilke’s “You must change your life.”

I will change my life, and even if I “fail,” I’ll succeed because I won’t be giving in to fear, habit and complacency.

Friday, March 8, 1991

3 PM. Even though I slept for a long time last night, I feel tired now.

Yesterday I finally got around to grading those papers at 5 PM when I took them out to the patio.

Today I marked the English 102 papers between classes, and I started on the set of Saturday papers although I still have about ten left to do. Maybe I’ll wake up early tomorrow morning to finish them.

I haven’t even read the Times today. My subscription to USA Today is lapsing next month, and because of reduced income, I’m going to have to stop getting the paper.

Besides, I need to get more control of my time, especially once I start law school.

They say first-year law students can spend 60 or 70 hours a week reading and studying each week, and my 40-year-old eyes get tired more easily these days. The truth is, I worry about keeping up with younger students.

On the other hand, if a legal education is mostly training in how to think, I probably can do well since I’m already logical and well-organized.

And I know that most 23-year-olds have never spent the amount of time reading that I have.

What if I hate law school? Well, I plan to stick with it for a year, and if I decide I can’t go on, I’ll quit.

I know that a year of legal education would not be wasted on anyone, much less a guy like me who manages to get something out of everything.

I’m a teacher-proof student. Even with a teacher like FAU’s Ms. Holland, I’ve managed to learn a lot about nutrition, and I find I’m eating more whole foods and fewer processed sweets. (Even the low-fat variety don’t appeal to me as much as they used to.)

At Ms. Holland’s suggestion, I’ve been nuking sweet potatoes and boniatos, placing them in the refrigerator and eating them cold when they’re sweet like candy bars.

Dad called after his second day at the Las Vegas menswear show and said he’s feeling okay. I’ll pick him up at the airport on Monday.

Today my brothers are home; lately everyone’s been gone from the house so much that I’ve been getting used to my beloved solitude again.

And I also know that in two months I’ll be away from my family – hopefully in Rockaway, though I’d even be thrilled to stay at Teresa’s on Long Island.

Although I’ve been here less than six months, I’m already very restless. Scared as I am about going to California, New York and Tallahassee, I’m looking forward to the adrenaline rush that the changes will provide.

When I used to dread plane trips to another city, I would always think, If only I could be home already. However, routine and boredom are much more difficult to deal with than even extreme fear and anxiety.

My car continues to leak oil. It doesn’t surprise me that the mechanic couldn’t fix it properly. Americans are incompetent about everything except weapons systems.

The February unemployment rate was 6.5%, with a higher job losses than anyone predicted. Yet everyone is saying that’s just because of the war, and prosperity is right around the block. Maybe the block will turn out to be a miracle mile?

Part of me wishes the economy would improve; after all, now that my bankruptcy looks like it’s going to go through, I have nothing to gain by bad times.

On the other hand, the moralist in me would like to see the United States pay for the crazy greed and incaution of the 1980s, if only to totally discredit Reaganomics.

Do I sound like Alice when she played the moralist about my credit cards? Guilty as charged.

Anyway, intellectually it’s going to be interesting to see where the economy goes from here.

I read a lot of Ethan Frome criticism, including a 1961 essay by Ken Bernard, in preparation for teaching the novel next week.

This class in American literature has made me recall how much I used to like reading books about authors and their works.

I had an okay 8 AM class, and at noon we went over Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I hope to get the film Smooth Talk (a version of the story) for Monday.

Monday, March 11, 1991

3 PM. It was a week ago that I got the news from FSU. Amazing how quickly we take new information for granted, as if it’s always been a part of our lives.

I just spoke to Alice at work, and she congratulated me – at first I didn’t realize on what, but then I recalled I mentioned getting into law school in a phone message I’d left.

I told her the brochure for the Long Beach writing conference looks great. She pointed out a box there I hadn’t noticed, about the Kowit-Grayson reading at Saturday evening’s reception.

Well, it will all be exciting for me, and I want to do my best to justify Alice’s faith in me and make her as the coordinator of the conference look good.

I’ll be nervous and disoriented and probably not at my best, but I know that however I feel, I’ll give it everything I’ve got.

Alice and Peter taped another Donahue last week, and it should be shown soon; he invited couples who had been on the show before to return.

Dad was supposed to be coming into Miami airport at 5 PM, but he may have missed his connection in Houston because his flight from LAX (where he’d flown from Vegas) had generator trouble and was forced to make an emergency landing in El Paso.

I’m sure I’d be a total wreck if I were on that flight – but I know I’d survive.

I made rental car reservations for LAX myself and got a good price: $98 for the week.

Up at 5:30 AM today, I worked out (since doing calf raises on the stepladder on Friday, I’ve been so sore that I can hardly walk) and then went to BCC, where I used my English 102 papers in English 101 as a workshop.

Although it went well, my students’ comments about the papers – more critical than my own grading – made me realize I’ve let the noon class slack off.

Today at noon, I played the Smooth Talk video, but they’re going to be writing the rest of the week.