A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Monday, March 25, 1991
6 PM. I finally dozed off listening to Mind Extension University, the cable channel, where the professor in the course called The Western Tradition always puts me to sleep with his droning accent: British? Scottish?).
I didn’t wake up till 8 AM, which now seems obscenely late to me. I purposely planned on not doing any work today on any item on my to-do list, as I wanted a day to veg out and even get bored.
I think Grandma is back at the Woodmere health-related facility; at the office, they said she’s there, and when I called the third floor, they told me to call back after lunch – although when I did, the line was busy.
Marc went to the flea market today and he told Mom he had a dream in which he went to a therapist, where he got violently nauseated. I called the Nova University clinic to see if I could get Marc an appointment, but they have a four-month waiting list.
A little while ago, I saw Marc and he seemed to be feeling somewhat better. He needs to be able to take off a week from the Swap Shop now and then. They’ll hire a man so he won’t have to work Sundays.
Unlike Mom and Jonathan, Marc needs change; I was surprised when he told me he’s now been at the flea market for eight years.
It’s a wonder he didn’t have some kind of breakdown long before this. I know I would have.
I spoke to Teresa, who was at Brian’s beach house. Now that Brian has received a “Dear John” video (yes, that’s what Teresa called it) from his wife in Sweden, he has to come to terms with the divorce, and Teresa isn’t certain how that will affect her relationship with him.
I think Brian will be all right: it sounds to me that he and Teresa have settled into a comfortable routine, just like an old married couple.
I expect Teresa will probably leave her job with the Fairway people soon.
Though she didn’t say it, I can tell when Teresa talks of “wanting to take it easy” and of “being eased out” now that David and his partners have hired a man to run the day-to-day operations of the stores, restaurants and catering business.
At least Teresa seems to remain on good terms with David and Christine, who understand that she may leave.
Teresa’s own catering business has been very busy lately: she’s done a Soho art gallery party for Jerry Garcia and fundraisers for the City Council speaker, Peter Vallone. (The latter jobs came courtesy of Frank, whose name was spelled wrong in a front page Times story today about the financial problems of Peter Kalikow).
After Teresa and I discussed the livened-up plot of Another World for a while, I realized how much I miss hanging out with her.
Tuesday, March 26, 1991
9 PM. Instead of watching the Oscars last night, I finished Rabbit at Rest, a brilliant work by Updike that made me want to read more fiction. It also started me thinking about writing fiction again. I wish I had more time to read literature.
I slept till 8 AM again today, but immediately I exercised to Body Electric on WXEL/42. While I never got around to schoolwork or planning the California trip today, I did get a number of things accomplished.
I finally spoke to Grandma Ethel, who sounded nearly catatonic. She didn’t even complain that much except to say, “Things are no good . . . I’m just waiting to die.”
She had no memory of being in the hospital and sounded very confused. I didn’t stay on the phone very long, sensing that for Grandma, holding a conversation was torture. In six weeks or so, I’ll see her for myself.
This morning I did some shopping, getting sundry items for the house and finally replacing my Interplak brush. (I’d like to visit the dentist but can’t afford to.)
Mom gave me a couple of hand-me-downs I feel grateful for: a pair of faded stonewashed jeans that no longer fit Jonathan but look fine on me and a tweedy sport jacket with elbow patches that Dad doesn’t need anymore.
Mom says she’ll give me money to buy my first non-running pair of shoes in five years.
After lunch, Dad and I spent the afternoon getting filthy in the warehouse that he’s giving up.
I threw away about a dozen bankers boxes of xeroxed clippings, but I needed to go through them to get a copy or two of each article first.
Obviously I can’t save clippings from every time I made it into a magazine or newspaper because I’ve been in over 500 articles. But I like to keep at least one copy of most clippings.
I also threw out doubles of my literary magazines, which had been gathering dust for nearly a decade. Many haven’t aged well; once again, I’m trying to keep it at least one copy of the better little mags like Transatlantic Review, Shenandoah and Confrontation.
I threw out some correspondence, but I’ll save for another time a big box of letters from Ronna, Sean, Shelli (who sent me my only “love” letters), Avis and other correspondents.
Well, this will make sure I have no biographers. How did nineteenth-century writers save so much of their correspondence? Did people have more room in those days? Did they lug letters around with them from continent to continent?
The biggest find was a manuscript of A Version of Life, that 300-page “book” that uses a diary entry for twelve years of my life, from August 1969 to July 1981.
Back home, once I cleaned up, I found the mailing I sent away for last summer from the Brautigan library in Burlington, which catalogs and binds and keeps unpublished manuscripts.
I’d intended for A Version of Life to have a home there because I know it will never get published, and this way I can let go of it and imagine that at least someone will read it one day.
So I filled out the form and made out a check for the $25 registration fee, and I’ll mail it all out tomorrow.
While I hadn’t intended to read any of it, I poked around and it sort of got me hooked. I have no idea what a disinterested observer would make of the manuscript, but it’s fascinating for me to read about events in 1971 or 1975 or 1979.
Nearly a decade has passed since the book “ended” in 1981, and I’ve lived another life since then, so I need to let the manuscript go.
Letting go was also what I did with all the stuff I threw away. Before I moved out of my parents’ house back in Brooklyn in 1979, I never got rid of anything.
Although I regret throwing away manuscripts, books and letters that I’ve let go of in my many moves since then, I like making fresh starts.
As I wrote the other day, I’ve already discarded the documentation and paraphernalia of other periods in my life, so my publicity stuff and literary stuff and computer education stuff can also go – most of it, anyway.
And there’s still at least 75% of my junk in the warehouse.
In law school in Tallahassee, I’ll probably surround myself with legal texts, but I should keep a few important items from my former incarnations.
Remember my Time magazine covers with their autographs? My stamp collection of first-day covers? My issues of Publishers Weekly and American Demographics and Small Press Review?
If every ten years or so, my life changes, the change after this one – in 2001 or so – will hopefully be a move to a more civilized nation.
The CBS Evening News began with a story about one out of every eight children in America going hungry (hungry!) and ended with a piece about the homeless who live in New York City subway tunnels, their numbers doubled in four years.
Yes, I could do what the other people I know do: make a safe place for myself in America, away from the central cities, the ghettos, the underclass, the homeless, and keep myself in a sterilized world of malls, office parks, campuses, and guarded, fenced-in subdivisions.
But I don’t want to live in a society where I have to run away from a dangerous, alienated underclass. Parts of America are worse than many Third World countries.
Wednesday, March 27, 1991
8 PM. This morning after exercise, breakfast and a shower, I went out to do some errands.
First, I mailed out my manuscript of A Version of Life to the Brautigan Library. It’s really the kind of book they want: my private vision, written for me and not for publication in mind.
Actually, I’m not sure I’d ever let my diary entries get published. Anyway, that’s a dead issue now, although the library says that they sometimes publish or quote excerpts from books in their own publications.
I agree with the idea of the Brautigan Library and I’m glad my diary book may find a caring home.
At Sawgrass Mills, I bought a cheap pair of black dress shoes with laces, which I’ll probably wear twice a year.
Home for lunch, I noticed that Dad’s fax machine was back from the repair shop, which charged $150 for fixing it.
I spent the early afternoon alone, reading, and then at 3:30 PM, I left for the House of India restaurant, on Andrews Avenue and Oakland Park Boulevard, where our Food and Nutrition class met for dinner.
I’ve had Indian food in New York City a couple of times, and while I find many dishes too spicy for me, today I tasted a bit of everything except curried goat.
I knew I could count on basmati rice, tandoori chicken (with the skin peeled off), and the delicious naan bread (which I ate in small quantities because it’s so greasy).
But it was wonderful to be out at a large dinner with people, like at a wedding, and I loved socializing with my FAU classmates.
I came home at 7 PM with yellow-stained fingers and a good disposition, but things here weren’t pleasant. Apparently Dad had just stormed out of the house, and from my room I heard Jonathan and Marc screaming at each other.
When I read my 1970s diary excerpts, I felt very close to the guy who couldn’t wait – but wait he did – to get out of his family’s house and its neurotic mindset.
Thursday, March 28, 1991
4 PM. Since I put off doing schoolwork another day, I might just as well leave spring break week a clean sweep until Saturday.
Actually, I checked my 8 AM papers, and I have only about 15 left to grade; the real problem is the English 102 midterms. I can grade the American Lit midterms on Tuesday before class if I’m pressed, and I don’t have to get the Saturday class papers back for another nine days.
My bankruptcy should become final on Tuesday, when it’s scheduled to be discharged.
I’ve received only one letter in connection with it: a copy of a note Sears sent Richard Larin, giving me the option of reaffirming my debt in exchange for possible renewed charge privileges.
Sorry, Sears: I know you’re in bad shape, but you may have to do what I did and file for bankruptcy.
I slept soundly last night and relaxed this morning as I watched thousands of people in the streets of Moscow, illegally demonstrating against Gorbachev and communism and for Russian Republic president Boris Yeltsin.
Today Dad and I went over to the warehouse in two cars.
As we were leaving the house, he lamented that his fall business will be a “disaster” because of poor economic conditions, the end of the Bugle Boy line, and the fact that the Introspect line is filled with items too heavy for warm Florida.
Introspect’s ad agency made a little video about their plans and sent it over by FedEx; it looked MTV-y, and in it they promised the biggest rollout of a men’s apparel line in history. We’ll see.
I wore a t-shirt and shorts to the warehouse because I knew I’d get dirty, and I sure did as I threw away books and more books, and lots of xeroxed clippings.
But I’ve set aside enough so that I’ve got a record of each of my uncollected stories in the little magazines and as many of my publicity clips as I could find.
The most pleasant discovery was finding about thirty copies of Eating at Arby’s, which I thought I’d completely run out of, some plastic-enclosed copies of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, and a few copies of both printings of Disjointed Fictions.
Mostly what I’ve got left are all those boxes of the hardcover With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.
It hurt to throw out copies of good literary magazines and small press books, including stuff by Crad, Pete, Rick and Tom. But the books were all messed up from being in the warehouse for so many years.
I’ve got the big box of letters in my car trunk, but I’ll probably end up throwing them out, too.
Just looking at the names on the return envelopes – Rose Judson, Lola Szladits, Blair Apperson, Bernard Malamud, Pete Hamill, Nat Hentoff, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Stacy, Robin, Sean – overwhelmed me.
Well, I’ll have to think about what to do with them. Most of what remains at the warehouse can be dealt with in one more visit.
As we were leaving, Dad’s car wouldn’t start, and although I was able to give him a boost, he didn’t quite make it to Firestone; my car had to push the station wagon for the last 1000 feet or so.
It was 1:30 PM by the time I was able to wash up and have lunch. Not only was the warehouse work physically tiring, but it was also emotionally exhausting seeing so much of my life in those boxes.
But it’s good to let go so I can move on to the next stage of my life. Traveling light is best, and I still have my diaries as documentation, so I need to buy a fireproof box to store them safely.
I feel numb.
10 PM. After dinner, I drove to FIU’s North Miami campus for Peter Meinke’s poetry reading.
Someone called out “Rich!” as I was getting out of my car, and it turned out to be Patrick, whose whole FAU lit class came with their teacher, John Childrey, who’s also a student in FIU’s MFA program.
Mick was there, too – he became chummy with Peter last year – and Jeffrey Knapp, who greeted me by saying, “I hear you’re gonna be a lawyer.”
I wonder how he knew that; perhaps from Michelle, my former student, who’s now at FIU, or maybe from Vicki, who must have heard it from Patrick or Betty.
Except for Eileen, no other BCC teachers were there, but I did see the FIU creative writing program’s two fiction writers, Lynn Barrett and John Dufresne, neither of whom greatly impresses me.
(Patrick thinks Lynn is a cokehead because she’s always sniffling, as if she’s got a constant cold.)
Introducing Peter, Les Standiford said he was pinch-hitting for Jim Hall, who’s on a book tour for his latest thriller. (Apparently Jim has his creative writing students copy a successful novel as a formula.)
Peter Meinke, however, is a real writer with a vision. While my mind wandered a bit during his reading, it kept moving back to his clean lines of poetry.
When I talked to Peter afterward, I mentioned going to FSU law school, and he said, “Well, you always look like you’re getting younger, so why not go to law school?”
Friday, March 29, 1991
1 PM on Good Friday, just before Passover’s first seder.
Late last night I called Ronna to wish her a good holiday. She had just come in from buying wine for the seder at her cousin’s in New Jersey. (Everyone else will be at her mother’s in Orlando, where they’ll have a small engagement party for Billy and Melissa.)
I asked Ronna if she still sees Steve, and she said, “Not since he picked me up at the airport when I got back from Florida in February.” She said they’ve rarely spoken since then.
That must be hard on both of them: Ronna and Steve cared for each other a lot, and it’s sad they couldn’t work things out.
I had an anxiety dream about grading papers, so I better hop to it. Well, skip to it, anyway. How many ways can I keep avoiding grading those essays?
This morning I did it by reading the newspapers, working out and reading books – or parts of them – at Bookstop. (The public libraries are closed today.)
I especially looked at guides to colleges and law schools and one book on how to survive in law school that fed my anxieties.
While I was glad to see that FSU’s average age is 28 and that a quarter of the students have graduate degrees, I’m concerned about how I’ll do in my studies.
Most first-year grades are lower than students expect, and look at the LSAT: I didn’t do nearly as well as I thought I would.
I know that thousands of people, including dummies like Jack Thompson, have gone through law school, but it will be a different kind of educational process than any I’ve experienced, what with those ulcer-provoking Socratic method classes where you’re called upon to give facts in cases.
Everyone always considers the workload staggering, but as the book said, suppose you devote three hours for every class hour: at 15 credits, that adds up to 60 hours a week, which still gives a student time for some kind of personal life.
It’s not like I’m used to being a party animal, but will I survive in the cutthroat competition of law school? I’m terrified, and the reality of my fear is just starting to hit home.
On the other hand, what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll flunk out or hate law school so much I won’t want to go on.
No tragedy in either case, and I’ll have the experience of some legal education plus living in Tallahassee under my belt.
And most of all, I love going through something scary, something challenging.
Ronna once said (in a remark she later disavowed) that I’d be “hiding out” for three years in law school.
But if anything, I’ve been “hiding out” this year at BCC. I feel too comfortable there, in an English classroom, in my parents’ house, in a community where I have a discernible identity.
One of the scariest things about FSU law school is that in a way I have to reinvent myself, be in a place where I’m not the writer or the college teacher or the guy who gets in the media with those crazy stunts.
Can I shake off those identities? It won’t be easy, but it’s gonna be very interesting. . .