A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1991

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, May 2, 1991

8 PM. I started feeling quite dizzy this evening, but I think it’s just that my sinuses are bad, not that I’m about to have another really bad bout of vertigo.

Last evening I spoke to Ronna, whom I told about my California trip. She said Gainesville is a pretty little town, and Billy and Melissa will be moving back there so he can finish his Ph.D. in psychology and maybe she can get a master’s.

Ronna isn’t sure if they’ll return for the fall or spring semesters; their wedding is going to be down here in Fort Lauderdale in November. It will be nice to have Ronna visit me when she comes to see her brother in Gainesville.

I was just looking at a map of Florida, and Gainesville, though far, is a lot closer than Tallahassee. Orlando, Tampa/St. Pete and Jacksonville are all within a three-hour drive.

It still hasn’t quite hit me that I’m actually going to law school in Gainesville, but I know I will, unless by some fluke I get that film writing fellowship in L.A. I couldn’t refuse the $16,000, and I‘d use the year to learn about screenwriting and the film industry and to establish California residence so I could apply for in-state tuition at one of their law schools, like UCLA’s, assuming film didn’t work out for me.

I don’t even know why I think I might have a chance at that fellowship – my stories aren’t particularly cinematic – but I won’t be surprised if I do get it, just the way I wasn’t surprised about getting the Florida fellowships or the New York State grant for being writer-in-residence at the Rockland Center.

But I doubt Gainesville will turn out to be another myth/miss in my life; it won’t be like my plan to move to Albany to start grad school in 1979 or going to New Orleans to work with Tom at NOCCA in 1981.

I’m no longer afraid to be somewhere new, and I’m starting to get psyched up for law school. I like studying. Look what my greatest pleasure was on a day of leisure: I went to libraries (Broward West Regional in Plantation, Dade North Regional in North Miami Beach) where I spent time reading – after dropping off copies of Hitler and Dog.

Okay, so magazines and reference books aren’t law school texts, but the point is I love studying. Alice said she’s never heard of anyone going to law school with the attitude that it would be fun, only something to be endured, and Tom wondered if I can cope with the academic bullshit, but I feel comfortable as a student.

(MY FAU grades came today. Hey, I got an A in a chemistry course – the department that my Food and Nutrition class was in.)

Last night I watched two movies on Cinemax: Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train and then a lousy movie about a TV producer, which I loved only for the L.A. shots and scenes of “the industry.”

I still think about how badly I behaved when I visited Wes, mostly because I’m not yet wise enough to always take pleasure in my friends’ successes. I reacted by not being as warm as I do feel toward Wes, and by seeming blasé and coming off like a total ne’er-do-well.

Why did I have to tell him about my bankruptcy when I didn’t tell Libby and Grant? Well, I’m sure Wes has better things to consider than my idiocy, and if he is one of those people – yes, I’m afraid I’d be one – for whom success is sweet only if it’s accompanied by others’ failure, then I made him happy. But I don’t think he is.

I miss California. Oddly enough, I especially miss Lindsay. When Grant, nodding toward his daughter, said, “This is what it’s all about,” I understood completely. Remember how Lindsay would do her best Valley Girl: “Cool, baby, dude, cool. . .”?

It’s blazingly bright and hot here, and I think I’ll welcome the kind of dark, chilly days I experienced last May in Rockaway.

Probably I should have graded papers today, but I couldn’t. I did toss off a short note to Crad, to let him know I’m still alive – but I’m not giving him a return address.

I caught up on the Times, including the issues I missed out in L.A. Next week I can start getting the local, not the national, edition.

Dad offered to give me $300 in spending money for New York, but I said I didn’t need it for now.

Monday, May 6, 1991

9 PM in Rockaway. Although I feel quite tired, I know that when my head hits the pillow, it will start spinning like a Chanukah dreidel. I never had such bad vertigo on a plane ride as I did today, but it was a particularly bad flight.

Starting at takeoff, I had a huge anxiety attack rivaling the ones I used to get in high school, with even that weird electric sensation of my body being left behind.

I know I’m an agoraphobic and therefore overly sensitive to movements and physical feelings others don’t notice, but I had taken two Triavils, and I didn’t think I’d get as bad as I did.

I couldn’t do more than pick at the fruit on my plate, and I could barely comprehend the action in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Kindergarten Cop, because I felt so sick.

And when the pilot announced that Kennedy Airport had been closed, I felt that an awful reprise of my terrible flight back from L.A., with our emergency landing in Fort Myers after being hit by lightning, was coming up.

Circling made me dizzier, but at last, we did get to land at the reopened airport. Struggling with my luggage – I still don’t know if the videocassette player was damaged because I haven’t tried it yet –   I found an unlucky cabbie to take me to Rockaway.

The apartment didn’t smell as musty as I’d expected; perhaps the heat never came on all winter and the cold preserved it. After calling Dad to let him and Mom know I’d arrived, I went to Key Food – which is a dump compared to Florida and California supermarkets like Publix, Albertsons and Ralph’s.

Their selections are crummy, and the Healthy Choice dinner I bought looked as if had already been thawed, so for dinner I had broccoli, Weight Watchers cheese on rice cakes, blueberries and a yam. Luckily, the microwave works okay.

I spent most of the last 3½ hours putting stuff away and trying to clean up. There is so much to do that all I can handle right now is major damage control, like removing dead roaches from the bathtub, and taking care of necessities, like setting up what I need for tonight.

Teresa phoned to say she was going to Italy on Friday night. Things got very bad with David and Christine and with Brian, for whom something snapped last week. Brian wants to cool their relationship, isn’t ready for a commitment, etc.

All the stuff with David and Christine, her former employers and friends, is just the past repeating itself with new names.

At first Teresa decided on a trip to San Francisco to get away, but Deirdre couldn’t get a day off from the university lab. Then, when a friend wanted to take a vacation, they called around and found a great deal on Alitalia.

Teresa said if I meet her at Kennedy Airport, I can have the car while she’s in Europe. It just might work out.

Odd that I find myself sexually aroused now, though perhaps it’s being alone in my own place for the first time since last year. Or maybe it’s the kind of erection I get when I sleep.

Last night, for the first time, I realized I not only dream in color, but I dream in smell. I met an old man whom I knew to be Sam Hellman, father of my Hebrew school classmate, Mitchell Hellman, who used to drive me home and leave me off at the corner instead of in front of my house. I recognized the guy from the cheap stink of his after-shave lotion, which he hadn’t changed in thirty years.

Actually, of course, I don’t remember what Sam Hellman smelled liked.

Maybe, if I get out the sofa bed, now I might be able to sleep. At least if I can’t, I have lots in the apartment to keep me busy tonight, cleaning and straightening up,

I’m still worried this will be like the time I came to Rockaway from Florida in January 1980 and I got first a wicked stomach virus and then that long siege of vertigo. Go, go. . .

Tuesday, May 7, 1991

9 PM. The sound of ocean waves crashing is a pleasant one. Maybe that’s one reason why, contrary to expectations, I slept soundly last night, dreaming dreams of success.

In one dream, I read in Newsweek about my Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club idea; in another, I found half a dozen of my story titles on a New York Times Book Review-type best seller list along with titles by Stephen King.

At 6 AM, I awoke feeling refreshed. The VCP works, but I found Body Electric on WLIW/21 at 7:30 AM and exercised to the show rather than a tape. After breakfast, I vacuumed and dusted, and then at 9 AM, I left to visit Grandma Ethel.

It was a bright, mild day. The Woodmere office didn’t know how I could get to the home by public transportation, but someone told me that it was just off Central Avenue, and I recalled there were Nassau County buses that went up Central that I could get in Far Rockaway, so I took the Green bus there.

On Seagirt Avenue, I found the N31 bus and asked the driver to announce my stop. The bus headed past the familiar Central Avenue of Lawrence, Cedarhurst and Woodmere, and I got off just after it turned into Broadway.

At first I went into the nursing home by mistake, but they told me the health-related facility was next door. Actually, I had been favorably impressed by the nursing home, which was nothing like the war zone Grandpa Nat lived in in North Miami.

At the HRF’s desk, I was told Grandma’s room was 321, and as I approached, a walker stuck out of the door and Grandma was behind it. She stopped for a moment and so did I as we stared at each other; then I went over and kissed and hugged her.

She looks bad, but no worse than she did last September in the hospital. In fact, she’d gained weight and just had her hair done. But she’s still depressed, as I discovered as I sat on her bed in the room she shares with another woman.

She’s just waiting to die, and Grandma feels she’s not getting medical care when she wants it. Her gums, tongue and lips all bothered her – that bitter taste again, though her lip did look infected: something that just began a few days ago.

They force everyone to get dressed and out of bed every day. Last week, she said she felt too sick to get dressed, and they didn’t give her the four usual meals until she got up and put on clothes for the dining room.

I assume they were trying to condition Grandma to fight depression. Marty, in his weekly visit yesterday, had told her I was coming, and she asked me about the apartment and my family in Florida.

We talked for a while, and then she took me to the TV/smoking room, where we sat around. Some residents are mobile, others are in wheelchairs, and some, like Grandma, use walkers.

It’s not exactly a great place, but the people there aren’t totally out of it, and I could see from the bulletin board there are numerous activities – movies, religious services for Jews and Christians, current events discussion groups, and the like – and a good menu, which adhered to all the laws I know from having to make up such a menu for my Food and Nutrition class.

After Grandma exhausted her complaints, we started to run out of stuff to discuss, but together we sat and watched TV until they called her into the spotless dining room for lunch.

Hungry myself, I had a fruit bar and a bag of defatted peanuts while waiting for the bus (with the same driver I’d had on the way there).

In Far Rock, I took a Haitian van to Beach 116th Street, where I went to the bank, got some Korean salad bar and groceries at Waldbaum’s. (Everything here is about 40% more expensive than in Florida.)

After lunch, I spoke to Mom, who had called, and then I went to visit Aunt Tillie, who holds her hand over her mouth because she doesn’t wear her teeth anymore. She also complains, but Tillie, despite her many ailments, has more strength than Grandma.

Like everyone else, Tillie seems to think it’s best to give up Grandma’s apartment this summer.

At 5 PM, I excused myself from Tillie’s, and I came home to have dinner, read the Times, and listen to All Things Considered.

I left messages with my phone number here with Pete, Josh, and Justin and Larry. I didn’t talk long with Sat Darshan, whose kids just returned from India last night; I’ll call her next week, as I’m sure she’ll be spending time with Gurujot and Gurudaya this week on her vacation.

I did speak with Elihu, who’s still working at that accounting firm he hates, but he said he may get a job with a pleasant boutique firm. In any case, Elihu says he plans to be out of there soon, but he’s still Mr. Straight-Arrow Employee With a Mortgage.

He seemed surprised I’m going to law school, but what’s he gonna say: “You’re nuts”? I expect some of my old friends will think that, however.

Living here in Rockaway last September, I began to consider this place my own apartment, and it’s becoming that once more.

Thursday, May 9, 1991

2 PM. It’s a grey day, almost gloomy, but I don’t mind. Ronna phoned last night at 10 PM, when I was falling asleep, but still we spoke for a little bit.

She’s been seeing this guy, Ralph, who answered her ad in Jewish Week, and after a couple of months, it sounds serious.

Although I had back-of-my-mind fantasies about getting together with Ronna – I guess I’ll always find her sexy – I’m glad her involvement with Ralph precludes that this summer.

It’s so much better for us to be platonic, and hey, maybe Ralph can convince her to marry him. If so, he’d be ahead of Jordan and Steve.

I wish Ronna would get married already because time is running out if she wants kids – and I know she’d make a great mother.

Odd how some women get marriage proposals from every guy they go out with seriously, as Ronna does, and others get just the opposite, guys who run away from commitment, as Teresa does.

Yesterday I spoke to Alice and complimented her and Peter on their Donahue appearance. After thirteen years, Alice and Peter have about the best heterosexual relationship of all my friends.

I slept soundly again, though the sofa bed, like the one I slept on in Florida, isn’t great for my back.

At 7:30 AM, I exercised, then had breakfast, and after showering and dressing, I walked to Beach 116th Street, where I left about a dozen books of mine in the library’s book drop, and where I got a salad at the Koreans’ and some stuff at Ark Drugs and Waldbaum’s.

Although I returned home at 10:20 AM, I was at the home in Woodmere by 11 AM, thanks to a smooth, quiet ride in a van and the fact that I quickly caught the Nassau bus.

When I spotted it, the bus was already pulling out at Seagirt Boulevard, but I ran fast and made the bus by the next stop in front of the Far Rock library on Central Avenue.

Grandma Ethel was in bed today, though dressed, of course, and I noticed she seemed to be having trouble breathing. She looks very old, but her wrinkled skin always gave her an older appearance.

Grandma definitely wants to give up the apartment, as she feels she’ll never “get better.” I left a Mother’s Day card with her, and today she told me not to bring her any more clothes because she had no room for them in her small closet.

While the health-related facility may not be the best place to end one’s life, it reminds me of artists’ colonies or the military or a school dorm, and I’m sure I could enjoy being in a place like Grandma’s if I weren’t too sick when I got old.

It’s half a century too late for me to change my grandmother’s gloomy attitude, so I just cluck sympathetically as she complains and despairs. Hopefully, she won’t drag out her life too much longer.

I got the bus and van back, stopping at the McDonald’s by the Cross Bay Bridge for a McLean Deluxe. (I had a 91¢ coupon for the 91% fat-free burger – which of course is misleading, since most food is largely water and thus fat-free; I know the sandwich has 320 calories and 10 fat grams.)

Then I came home, via the boardwalk, to the apartment. I sort of like living in Rockaway and taking buses and vans and seeing how people live here. I’m vain about my ability to be “street smart” and rely on public transportation and the gypsy vans driven by Haitians and West Indians.

I’d have liked to try buses in L.A. and gotten a real feel of life there, but I did go to supermarkets and drug stores and fast-food and health-food places. Alice may be a travel writer who’s gone everywhere, but she sees only top-notch hotels, restaurants, and tourist places.

Ronna said her brother could probably recommend some apartment complexes for me in Gainesville. Housing is my most pressing problem right now, but I’ll get it settled by early July, one way or the other; I’ll handle it.

I left messages with Harold and with Mikey and Amy, although nobody but Ronna returned my earlier messages. The truth is, I don’t have that many friends left in New York City anymore, and all of them have full lives without me.

With Teresa’s West 85th Street apartment unavailable and this place in Rockaway gone after the summer, I think I may decide to remain in Gainesville and go to summer school next May, June and early July.