A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, April 17, 1991
7 PM. Tomorrow’s the big day, and so far I’m not terrified. I’ve been making lots of trips to the bathroom today – now I can understand why I had that hemorrhoid trouble when I went to New Orleans last year – but plenty of Kaopectate seems to have that situation under control.
I packed everything in my suitcase and stored it in the garage, where it’s not bothering Mom’s carpeting, and where I’ve also got my carry-on bag stored.
I slept okay but not enough. Up at 6 AM, I was at BCC around 7 AM and graded all the papers that I needed to return for my first class. In both classes, I reviewed the research paper and saw individual students.
During my break, I exercised in my parents’ family room – luckily, no one else was home – and prepared for the trip. I read the Times, which I may forgo in California; I need to become more flexible regarding all my habits.
My Florida Atlantic University Food and Nutrition final was pretty easy, and I’m certain I scored 90% at least, so I’ll get an A – not that it matters. The class was worthwhile for the additional information I learned about nutrition.
But, as usual, I’ve become a bit too rigid in my food habits. The prospect of a trip – and not being able to eat the way I usually do – causes me worry, particularly about tomorrow’s plane ride. This will be my first transcontinental flight and the first time I’ve ever had to change planes, but I’ll be a veteran after I make it through tomorrow, right?
What am I nervous about? Getting an anxiety attack on the plane, first off – though 25 years ago I had panic attacks every day in high school, and I survived every one of them. I never vomited despite all those times I felt overwhelmed by nausea. The Triavil not only works against panic, but it’s supposedly an antiemetic.
Naturally, I’m also worried about dizziness. Like nausea or panic, it’s a feeling of loss of control. But I get dizzy every night when I lay my head on my pillow, and if the plane makes it worse, well, I’ve deal with it before.
The most extreme vertigo has to stop sometime, even though I fantasize about spinning forever, totally out of control. If I get nausea, vertigo, diarrhea, faintness, I’ll get through it. It can be very painful and uncomfortable, but I won’t die from any of those things. And I’m always saying I don’t fear death, anyway.
I got the schedule for the writers’ conference. Registration begins Saturday at 8 AM, and Alice wants all the speakers to be at the 9 AM opening session and to have lunch with conference attendees at noon.
My short story workshop isn’t till 3:15 PM and it will end at 4:45 PM, when I’ve got the reading with Steve Kowit. Then we’re going out to dinner, but if I’m tired, I can skip that, I suppose.
On Sunday, my self-promotion workshop is from 10:30-11:45 AM, then lunch, then my office hour from 1:00-2:15 PM, and then we’ll have a final general session from 2:30-3:15 PM to answer any other questions.
It sounds like work, but I’m used to teaching a lot; I’ll just have to make sure I prepare on Friday and on Saturday morning, and I’ll rely on the skills I’ve learned, mostly doing the Teacher Education Center workshops in computer education, to make connections with new groups quickly and easily.
I know tomorrow will be a long day – literally, it will be three hours longer for me. And I know it won’t be easy, and I’ll have moments of fear, anxiety and panic. I brought a tape at Bookstop – Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – and I’ve got all my tapes and pills and goodies for the trip.
If planes aren’t late – and I know they’re always late, and things never go exactly right (for me, that uncertainty is the real terror of traveling) – it won’t be any longer than the eight-hour bus ride I took in September 1987 from Keene, New Hampshire, to New York City when I left MacDowell. Ah, but I was on the ground then.
Thursday, April 18, 1991
7 PM Pacific Time. I have a raging headache and diarrhea, but I made it to California. I’m pretty scared right now, but I guess somehow I’ll handle tonight in this Best Western motel near LAX in Inglewood.
Last night I played the Feel the Fear tape and found it inspiring, even if it dealt with risks more than phobias. I did get some good rest, but I was up at 5 AM.
An hour later I exercised to Body Electric, took a shower and had breakfast. All the while I wasn’t very nervous at all.
Dad drove me to the airport at 7:45 AM, and I had to hang out only about twenty minutes before I boarded the Delta 727 jet to Dallas. After fifty or sixty flights, my heartbeat rarely races at takeoffs anymore, although when we encountered turbulence due to thunderstorms near New Orleans, I got a bit nervous.
I traded my eggs and potatoes on the lacto-ovo-vegetarian meal I had in exchange for some more fruit with the elderly couple going to Las Vegas sitting next to me, and I listened to the Feel the Fear tape.
Because we went around the bad weather, our flight got into Dallas/Fort Worth late, and I had to scramble to make the flight to Los Angeles, which of course was at a gate all the way on the other side of the U.S.’s largest airport.
I didn’t even have time to think about being in Dallas or Texas for the first time, and although I rushed to get on our flight, it didn’t take off for a while because people kept coming from other flights.
Apparently, Dallas, like Atlanta, is a Delta hub, and nobody can get anywhere without stopping at one of those two cities.
Anyway, the second flight was longer, but it seemed shorter because it was a larger plane (a 767), they had a movie (Pistol, a mawkish, amateurish film about basketball player Pete Maravich – but it passed the time), and it was smoother.
God, I just had a heart-pounding vertigo attack. That’s the kind of thing I was afraid of. Well, let’s get on with it:
We landed at LAX at about 1:05 PM – which was, of course, after 4 PM for me. I got my luggage, and then, about an hour later, I’d gotten the rental car from Avis and was checked in here at this motel.
What were my first impressions of L.A.? Well, I liked seeing snowcapped mountains as we flew and seeing hills in the background even as I drove to the motel. I didn’t stay here long, and perhaps I should have rested, but I decided to ride around. My method was to follow the map as best I could, which meant I got lost a lot.
I drove up La Cienega into Fairfax Avenue and went to Wilshire Boulevard and saw the County Art Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits. Then I backtracked on Wilshire into Beverly Hills (the famous sign, probably one of many, guided me) and I found a parking space on Rodeo Drive, so I walked around.
The tony shops were all familiar to me from New York or Florida – Cartier, Tiffany, Ferragamo, Giorgio, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc. – and I wasn’t overly impressed, though I did like the still-unfinished Via Rodeo, a sort of movie-front continuation of the street, which is architecturally more interesting.
I drove out on Santa Monica Boulevard past the Mormon Temple, and then I got on I-405, the San Diego Freeway, and got stuck in traffic just like a typical Angeleno.
Looking for a Wendy’s salad bar, I got totally lost in nearby Inglewood, though I did see the L.A. Forum and Hollywood Racetrack.
Finally, I bought some carrots and cabbage at a Ralph’s supermarket in a nearby, mostly black, neighborhood, as well as a McDonald’s garden salad (weak) and low-fat frozen yogurt.
The bad diet I had today doesn’t help my stomach, and all that flying and maybe even riding around has probably screwed up my ears. I did call Dad but spoke only a minute to say I’d gotten in okay.
Los Angeles? Well, it’s sort of like half New York, half Florida – and I’m sure I could live here. Because of TV and films, I’ve seen L.A. so much in images all my life that it seems pretty familiar, though things like street signs and walk/don’t-walk signs are different than those I’m used to.
Anyway, I got back to the motel after 6 PM; I’ve kept the TV on even as I’ve written this because I’m nervous. My right ear throbs a little and I’m afraid to lie down because I don’t want the room to start spinning.
But I can handle it, I guess. That’s what the Feel the Fear shrink says we should tell ourselves: whatever happens, we can handle it.
Friday, April 19, 1991
8:30 AM. My head swam as I put it down on the pillow last night, but I ended up falling asleep during the 10 PM news.
The opening credits of Fox’s show Beverly Hills 90210 featured the Rodeo Drive scene I had visited just a few hours before.
I slept sporadically, but basically I got a little rest. NPR’s Morning Edition came on at 3 AM, when I was wide awake because my internal clock – and the familiar voice on the radio – told me it was 6 AM, my usual wakeup time.
I managed to fall back asleep two hours later with the help of Excedrin PM, herbal sleep capsules and exhaustion. At 6:30 AM, I worked out very gently to an aerobics show, and then I showered and dressed.
It’s a dark, cool – about 55° – morning. My stomach is a bit upset, probably because it’s not used to the “breakfast” I had: two Hostess low-fat blueberry muffins (they aren’t available back East yet), a fruit bar, yogurt and orange juice. It’s not what I’m accustomed to, but maybe I could use less fiber with my stomach so loose.
Because my contact lens disinfecting unit seemed to break, I spent $22 on a new one, which is heating up my lenses as I write this.
6 PM. I’m in my luxurious room at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, and I intend to stay here the whole evening. I’m tired and disoriented, and late this afternoon I had a bad experience.
I took a drive by myself to Orange County, and near Knotts Berry Farm, I found an El Pollo Loco fast food restaurant. I’ve read they have good, healthy stuff, and I ordered their charbroiled chicken salad, which tasted delicious.
But in my car just a few minutes later, I got such bad diarrhea that I soiled my briefs and even my jeans. I used a bathroom at a Carl’s Jr., but I was really scared: I had terrible liquid diarrhea and I was miles from the hotel, with no clear way to get back.
I panicked, but now I see that I did “handle it”: I’d brought along my drug kit and I took Kaopectate and a Triavil for my nerves, and instead of relying on the freeway, I managed to return by taking streets – which I followed on the map – that contained enough fast food places so that I could make emergency bathroom stops.
First I thought I had food poisoning, but now I think it was a combination of jet lag, fatigue, a very drastic change in my predictable and bland diet – even the Egg Beaters frittata I had for lunch must have kept my stomach wondering what I was doing to the poor confused organ – and also it was a test: it was the worst panic attack I’ve had in a long time.
And I handled it. Even though my stomach is still rocky, I feel better psychologically. I’m nervous about tomorrow’s conference, of course, but I’m also disoriented about all the new stuff my mind and body have absorbed in the last couple of days.
At 9:30 AM today I checked out of the Best Western and took the San Diego Freeway into the Long Beach Freeway. Then I purposely got lost so I could see Long Beach.
The one overriding impression I have of Southern California is of its vastness. South Florida is hemmed in by the Everglades and the Atlantic, but the Los Angeles Basin sprawls in all directions: peninsulas and mountains here, valley suburbs there, and freeways everywhere.
I do like the gripper roads and the lights that allow two cars to enter the freeways, and I’m pretty good about keeping up with things, but I guess it was all kind of stressful.
I’m also spending more money than I expected. Except at the conference, my meals aren’t being taken care of, nor are any of the incidentals at the hotel.
But it was great to see Alice in the lobby when I arrived, talking with her friend Vanda, a Women’s World writer who lives in Santa Monica and came for a visit.
After checking in, I immediately had an early lunch with Alice. She keeps thinking I’m going to law school to practice law and make money and can’t seem to understand how I’d enjoy the intellectual experience.
It’s our typical breakdown in communications: she’s profit-oriented and can’t see things any other way. (I had to tell her that Long Beach State probably won’t care if they make lots of money on the conference. They’re a university run by the state, I said, and they can’t spread out the profits to the faculty or administrators.)
Her diet book was taken by Long Meadow Books, which is an imprint owned by Waldenbooks, and they’re giving her “only” a $15,000 advance, so Alice is unhappy. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain the way I see things to Alice.
Peter joined us, and we were going to tour the Spruce Goose until we found out that the admission to Howard Hughes’s airplane, near the Queen Mary, was $17, so we just drove around instead.
Peter has been walking along downtown Long Beach. Like me, he enjoys getting the feel of a new place. Tonight he’s going to a Clippers basketball game.
I like what I see of Long Beach: a nice ethnic mix, including lots of Cambodians; good public transportation, including the new light rail train to downtown L.A. that Peter plans to take this evening; a nice convention center and beach (the bleachers from last week’s Grand Prix auto race are still up); a glitzy downtown, including bank buildings and the Greater Los Angeles World Trade Center.
It’s all too much to take in, though. I need to center myself tonight, eat sparingly, and get ready for tomorrow.
Saturday, April 20, 1991
10 PM. This has been an extraordinary day in my life, and I feel very good. Whatever else happens on my trip to California, the last day has made it well worth all the cost.
Last evening I was about to go out for a walk when I got a call from Steve Kowit, who’d just arrived from San Diego. I met him downstairs and we spent the evening together. He was older than I expected, 53, but a lovable and shrewd and hamishe man; I’m thrilled we finally got to meet.
We talked about writing and teaching English at a community college (he teaches at a terrific school, Southwestern College in Chula Vista) and about my future plans and his buying a house near the hills of Mexico and his MFA program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
I watched him eat dinner, and we were so engrossed in conversation that it was an hour before I noticed Alice was at the next table with other speakers who’d also recently gotten in. Steve and I talked till about 10 PM, and I came back to my room and promptly fell asleep.
Up at 5:30 AM, I had breakfast an hour later and took a drive; I’m really getting to know Long Beach. While it’s not the most beautiful place, I still can’t get over the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
At 9 AM, in a ballroom, all the staff members were introduced by Alice (who, Peter and I agreed, still has great legs) and we gave spiels about our workshops. There are about a hundred registrants, which isn’t bad for a recession.
Since I didn’t have to appear till 3:15 PM, I left after the introductory session and went to the fitness center, where I rode a stationary bike and used the equipment for half an hour.
Then I found a Wendy’s near CSULB and had the salad bar, and afterwards had my usual Weight Watchers cheese and rice cakes I got at Ralph’s supermarket. With more of its usual food, my stomach fared better today.
Before I went off to lunch, I did catch the last half-hour of Steve’s poetry writing workshop, which was dynamic. At the official lunch back at the hotel, I talked to some participants and speakers, and then I attended the interesting soap opera writing workshop run by Richard Allen, co-head writer of Days of Our Lives.
Richard’s wife Sherrie is an actress in commercials, they’ve got two kids, and last week they met Wesley Strick at a kids’ birthday party. (I must call Wes; the Allens said he and Marla just bought their dream house and that Wes “still looks like a boy.”)
At 3:15 PM, miked up for audiotaping, I began my workshop, “Get Your Short Story Written and Published.” I feel I rambled, but people came up to me afterwards and said they felt they got something out of the workshop, and they applauded, and people told Alice and Terri Browning of CSULB (who’s very nice) good things about me.
During our reading immediately afterwards, Steve and I had to compete with food and clinking glasses and preparations for a wedding reception, but despite having to strain my voice, “But in a Thousand Other Worlds” went over extremely well. (I’m a ham.)
Steve did a nice job, too. We introduced each other, and Steve’s praise was so fulsome, I made a show of slipping $20 in his pocket, making people laugh. It’s such an ego boost to have people appreciate my work.
At 6 PM, all the speakers assembled in the lobby and we went out for dinner, courtesy of the university, at Mum’s, a nearby Italian restaurant just up Pine Avenue downtown.
Sitting at a long table, I got to speak with Sherrie and Richard Allen; the Oscar-winning songwriter Joel Hirschhorn (“The Morning After”) and his actress wife Jennifer; cookbook author and chef Rena Coyle; book reviewer and horror writer Alan Ryan; and Ellen Byron, a playwright, performer and article writer.
From them, I learned a lot about the L.A. world of people connected with “the business,” the entertainment industry. (Many of them seem to be Jewish or Italian or ex-New Yorkers, some of them now bicoastal.)
This was a group of talented, dynamic people who’ve done a million amazing things, who have friends all over the place, who know the same restaurants and acquaintances. I tried to listen more than do my usual blabbing so I could learn stuff.
I walked back to the hotel with Peter, Alice and Terri, who seems to feel the first day of the conference went very well indeed. I know I do.
There’s a lot more I could write, but I’ll be assimilating all this stuff for weeks.
Grant gave me directions to get to his house in Van Nuys tomorrow evening. Before that, tomorrow I’ve got my publicity workshop, office hour, and our wrap-up session.
Sunday, April 21, 1991
10 PM. I’m in the Fletchers’ cozy guest cottage, lying in what had been my old friend Mrs. Judson’s bed when she visited here, and I feel really happy. Grant and Libby have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Today was as good as or better than yesterday.
The conference was an unqualified success: they’ve asked Alice to run it again next year, and Alice has asked me to come back. It’s too early to think about that, but I’ll always be grateful to Alice for getting me out to California and to Libby and Grant for allowing me to extend my stay.
I woke up at 5:30 AM and exercised for half an hour, creating my own routines in front of the mirror. Then I packed in preparation for checking out at noon, and I went out to the Denny’s on Long Beach Boulevard to have the same kind of breakfast I had yesterday, though for just one-fifth of the price of the Hyatt Regency’s restaurant.
Back at the hotel, I attended Richard Allen’s sparsely-populated workshop, and at 10:30 AM, I began my own “Promote Yourself” workshop and had five times as many participants, so I ran out of handouts.
I guess I was good because I got positive feedback from people, lots of laughs, and amazingly, all the books I brought with me sold out. I ended up with $36, which covered the $31 for incidentals like meals the hotel charged me for when I checked out at noon following my workshop.
I had lunch – my own – with Alice and Bonnie Nadel, her literary agent friend. Out of all the sixteen speakers, Alice said, only one was a dud: Richard Green, the stereotypical obnoxious Hollywood agent.
Robert Ferrigno may have come immediately before his one workshop and left immediately after it, but he was well-received, and as our most famous writer, he really was doing a mitzvah just by showing up. After all, his Horse Latitudes is a best seller, and he sold the movie rights to it for half a million.
At 1 PM, I had my office hour, during which I met with fascinating people: a hacker who created dBase III and who’s written a book on dBase IV that Macmillan is publishing; Gary Gordon, a former mayor of Gainesville, Florida, who’s published a Zebra Books Western and who moved to California to break into screenwriting; and Kraig, a 21-year-old Santa Barbara college student whose story I critiqued.
The final panel session featured questions and banter and a raffle of our books. So many people complimented me that I got a lot of practice trying to be gracious rather than just embarrassed as usual.
Alice was elated as the conference ended. She and Terry really did an excellent job even if Alice modestly said that she lucked out with good speakers.
For hours, we sat around the bar talking: me, Alice, Peter, Steve Kowit – what a joy Steve turned out to be: a good teacher and a good friend – and Alex Petrucelli, who replaced Alice as Redbook’s entertainment editor, and Susan Farewell, who’s a travel writer. (I was flattered that Susan said she thought I must know Southern California really well by the way I talked.)
This writers’ conference really strengthened my friendship with Alice and Peter, and I’ll always have fond memories of the weekend I spent in Long Beach.
I got into my car at 6:15 PM and was in Van Nuys in less than an hour. Going over the mountains on San Diego Freeway at dusk was thrilling because the scenery was more beautiful than I imagined; it puts flat South Florida to shame. The hills are great.
I know I sound inarticulate, so I’m going to postpone until tomorrow my narrative about my first evening with Libby and Grant and Lindsay and Wyatt except to say they’re great, too.
Monday, April 22, 1991
4 PM. I realize my California diary entries haven’t been articulate, but I’ve been experiencing so many new things, it’s hard for me to put into words what I’ve been feeling.
I got to Grant and Libby’s house around 7 PM yesterday, and immediately I felt welcomed. Grant answered the door and we finally met. “Your old friend is bathing her kids,” he said, and in the bathroom I saw Mommy Libby taking care of Lindsay and little Wyatt (or not so little: he’s 23 pounds, huge for a six-month-old) in their bath.
This is a lovely house which Grant, a contractor, fixed over. His business of cleaning up asbestos from buildings is expanding so fast that the recession hasn’t hit him. He works out of this place; I can hear his employees in the next room now, although he’s gone to take a rest after an incredibly long work day.
We talked for a long time after we had some salad (the Fletchers, like my own family, are junk-food vegetarians) and I like Grant a lot: he’s smart, kind and generous.
Grant has done a lot of work for Hollywood big shots and knows the bullshit of the people in the industry.
Libby is as sweet and loving as ever, and she’s obviously a brilliant, caring mother.
Lindsay took to me right away – “I like this guy!” – and although my visit has excited her, she’s still a terrific three-year-old. And Wyatt has an incredibly placid disposition.
This morning I was up at 6 AM and watched the local news, not coming into the main house until 7:45 AM. Libby was breast-feeding the baby while Lindsay and I had breakfast (my oatmeal, her eggs).
At 9 AM, I went with Libby to take Lindsay to her preschool at a local Presbyterian church. Because Yolanda, who helps with the cleaning and babysits, came this morning, we had time to go up to Griffith Park Observatory on a high mountain that overlooks the L.A. Basin.
It was thrilling for me to see the whole area, the Hollywood sign, downtown L.A. and the other downtowns. Libby said that Grant could have told me exactly what was what but she didn’t really know.
We saw the Greek amphitheater, the zoo, an odd monument to James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause has scenes at the observatory): a bronze bust on which someone had stuck a cigarette in his mouth.
Also, there was the equestrian area of Burbank where Libby used to board a horse. We stopped at a little Burbank bakery, and then we drove around the Valley before picking up Lindsay at 12:30 PM.
Lindsay and I played outside for over an hour, and although I didn’t get any formal exercise today – I didn’t shower, either – I got quite a workout running around with her.
By 2 PM, she needed a nap, and while I too was pretty tired, I was also famished, so while everyone was resting, I drove down Victory Boulevard to Coldwater Canyon Avenue and tried the new McLean Deluxe, the low-fat burger McDonald’s introduced today.
It was good, and I didn’t get sick from it. My diet has to bend a little, but I’m still keeping track of my food, and I know I’ll return to my usual rigorous diet when life settles down.
I called Mom and Dad from an outdoor phone by a strip mall on Victory Boulevard as elderly Jews and Mexicans passed by (I love the fact that L.A., unlike Florida, does have some street life) and I told my parents I was having a good time.
Mom’s big news was that I was admitted to the law school at the University of Florida although the letter said nothing about the joint program with the journalism school. I’ll have to think about that when I return to Florida, as I’d been assuming I’d go to Florida State.
Before heading back, I bought some nonfat milk and yogurt (Libby has 2% fat dairy products because of the kids and her lactating) and diet Cokes.
Holding Wyatt, I tried to feed him juice – he seems to want only breast milk from Libby and tried to find my nipple – and I had a ball playing with him, as I did earlier with his sister.
We’re going out to dinner later.