A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1992

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, August 1, 1992

6 PM. I’ve just had dinner while listening to news reports of starving Somalis; of Haitian refugees being turned back by the Coast Guard again, thanks to the Supreme Court; of Bosnian Muslims and Croats being put in sealed cattle cars and sent to what sound like concentration camps as part of Serbian “ethnic cleansing.”

It’s not at all surprising that the world let the Nazi Holocaust happen. Sometimes I think the Committee for Immediate Nuclear war actually does represent the quickest way to put people out of their misery (self-inflicted, of course). Do other species work so hard at self-destruction?

Bush has sent 4,000 troops to Kuwait, probably to provoke Saddam and start a war which can get rid of the Iraqi dictator – as well as drive up Bush’s poll numbers.

I’m cynical enough to believe the GOP leaders who say they’ll be even with the Democrats by Labor Day and ahead shortly thereafter.

The masses are asses. They fell for Perot, a charlatan, but if Perot had done what he promised – and in his economic plan, released this week, he did reveal how much pain getting to a balanced budget will entail – the voters would have dropped him in a New York minute for the same fool’s paradise rhetoric that they lapped up in the 1980s.

The truth is that the American people probably deserve Bush’s reelection.

Gee, I’m in a sour mood.

Actually, I feel good about my own life. I watched TV till 1 AM, slept till 8 AM, read the paper, had breakfast, relaxed, exercised.

At 1 PM, after I finished reading Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men, I spent my second dollar of the day (the first was for the New York Times and Gainesville Sun) to see a movie, Basic Instinct.

I didn’t particularly want to see any of the films at the dollar theater, and this one had a particularly violent and homophobic plot, but it was a box office smash and wasn’t as bad as I expected.

However, the storyline made no sense (typical of 1990s Hollywood), and I’d probably like any movie just because going to the theater is such a rare treat for me.

When the movie let out, I went to the public library and spent the rest of the afternoon reading periodicals.

Yesterday I got my phone service changed, but my number (904-372-9842) will remain the same in my new apartment.

I’ve begun to let people know about my new address: I told Josh, Alice, and Justin, and today I send postcards to Mikey and Libby and Grant.

I also phoned Sat Darshan in Phoenix, but she wasn’t home, so I left a message.

When she called me back, we had a long talk. As I said when I hung up, it was good to hear her voice.

She arrived in Phoenix in mid-May and has spent the last couple of months getting adjusted.

Today the girls left for New York, where they’ll spend a day with their father and then fly back to India to school, so Sat Darshan is alone in Phoenix for the first time.

Next Monday she begins her job at the Montessori school, which will be a big change from the work she did in the Manhattan corporate world.

They’re having monsoon season in Phoenix now; the humidity can get up to 55% (very high for the desert) when the rains come, and they have downpours that flood the streets.

Sat Darshan described a car trip (she bought a used car) she and her daughters took to Tucson to visit friends; a torrential rain made the driving horrific.

Sat Darshan’s house is a few blocks off I-10, which is a freeway in central Phoenix. Everything is real spread out in town, and she has to drive three miles to the supermarket and three miles in another direction to do other errands.

“I’m marrying that Indian guy from New York,” she told me, not even using his name, Ravinder.

He’s arriving in a few weeks, and they’ll get married soon; after that, he’ll be able to get his green card.

Ravinder has some ideas on how to make money, and he’d eventually like to open a travel agency.

I’m not surprised they’re getting married, as Sat Darshan seems to need a man to make her happy, and perhaps, with low expectations, this marriage will work out wonderfully.

I was surprised to hear that Ellen left Wade. She was unhappy in Texas and had an opportunity this summer to work in some capacity in the film industry in Los Angeles; she told Sat Darshan she’d like to stay there if she could.

Sat Darshan suspects Ellen was seeing a guy in Philadelphia, and then she met a man in Texas who’s with her now.

“I know she’s had to put her career on hold all these years because every career move was Wade’s,” Sat Darshan said, “so I’m supportive of her, but I don’t understand how she could leave her kids behind.”

(I remembered how Ellen disapproved of Sat Darshan’s sending her own kids to school in India. Maybe she was envious.)

After much cajoling, Sat Darshan got Ellen’s number in L.A. from her mother (“You can imagine how my mother is reacting”), who says that Wade calls her up every day crying. Poor Wade: he must be devastated.

“Well,” I said, “not too many people I know are still on their first marriages.”

“Except Libby and Grant,” she replied. “Maybe Ravinder and I can take a ride out on I-10 to visit them in L.A.”

She said I can visit her in Phoenix, which makes me fantasize about a cross-country trip on I-10 with stops to see Tom in New Orleans, Wade in Texas, and then Phoenix and L.A.

So the McAllisters have separated while Sat Darshan is remarrying. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.

Tuesday, August 4, 1992

9 PM. I’ve just come back from the library, where I spent the last couple of hours reading.

This morning I realized that my worst enemy is boredom, because it gives me too much time to think and feel depressed.

So when I find myself obsessing about my finances and getting into that destructive mindset that nothing is ever going to change, I take myself out of the house – or at least out of my own world through reading.

Last night I read Charles Busch’s wonderful Red Scare on Sunset, in which he does exactly what I’d do to comment on Hollywood blacklisting: present the left-wingers as the horrible villains bent on world domination and the red-baiters who named names as noble heroines.

Exaggeration doesn’t always work with dumb people, though; Busch couldn’t understand when audiences would come out of the play believing that a guy who’s playing in drag favored McCarthyism.

Today at 12:15 PM on WUFT-FM, I heard an excellent City Club Forum talk by the Time drama critic William Henry: “Are Artists Godless Perverts?”

Henry told the crowd that the current right-wing war on artists is really a war on gays.

On One Life to Live, the homophobic plotline has progressed to where a police commissioner has asked a young cop to make a list of all her department colleagues who may be gay.

And the Republicans are clearly going to attempt to keep the White House by gay-bashing.

Today I also read three plays by Terrence McNally: It’s Only a Play, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and my favorite, The Lisbon Traviata, about gay opera nuts. McNally is funny and has a nice sensibility.

In the afternoon I went out for “50-Cent Tuesday” and paid, yes, only four bits to see the good-for-a-chuckle –  especially for a law student – My Cousin Vinny at a dilapidated theater in a not-so-hot part of town.

(Actually, the hick Alabama town in the movie bore a resemblance to the environs around the theater.)

I haven’t heard from SFCC, but I’ll call the English Department tomorrow, much as I dread doing so.

The phone keeps ringing but people won’t leave a message, and I suspect they’re all from AmEx. The one time I did pick up, I pretended to be my girlfriend and I was told I should have Richard call back a Mr. Denver at an 800 number.

I’m a month behind in my Optima bill, but I will avoid AmEx as long as I can now that they’ve canceled my card. Still, I wish I could pay them now.

I feel bad I have no money, and I let it get to me when I’m not keeping myself otherwise occupied.

I’ve come to realize that after all these years, I still have lousy self-esteem. Otherwise, why would I feel the need to get good grades – or to get published – or to see my name in print?

The operative word is “need” – the way Marsha needs to get A’s. Now, I can understand Marsha’s lack of self-esteem, but you’d figure I was beyond that, that I could define myself as a terrific person merely on the basis of who I am, not what I do.

Last night I felt at loose ends and read some excerpts from the Thirties/Eighties manuscript.

It always makes me feel better to look back at old diary entries and to know that I’ve gotten through other hard times and that I always manage to cope.

Hey, this isn’t such a terrible time in my life. I’m not doing lots of self-destructive stuff. My attempting to read fifty recent plays and the other reading I do . . . well, I try to be the kind of person nothing is lost on.

Kelly Wise, with whom I had that disastrous interview at Andover in 1979 – I must have come off like an asshole – has set up a summer program to get minority students prepared for grad school. The Times had a front-page story on it.

One black guy at Brooklyn College was told by an English professor his freshman year that he wasn’t good enough to be a student at BC. That’s typical of how stupid people in power discourage the talent they envy and fear.

Thursday, August 6, 1992

3 PM. Last evening I watched Fox’s 90210 and Melrose Place and read Christopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater and Laughing Wild, part of which – the monologue about AIDS – I heard him read at the PEN fundraiser at the 92nd Street Y with Ronna in the fall of 1988.

Playwrights today really have a hard time. They need to be associated with a good group, like Manhattan Theatre Club or Playwrights Horizons, or run their own company, and they’re always at the mercy of the Times and Frank Rich’s review.

This morning I went to Albertsons and bought $13 worth of groceries, which should get me through most of the rest of my stay in this apartment. Although I have $34 of credit available on my secured MasterCard, I paid cash.

After exercising (my muscle pull hurts less today), I called Teresa, who was frantically getting ready for a party that was scheduled for this afternoon.

Her sister and the kids were visiting, so she had to get off, but she said I didn’t miss anything by not coming to New York this summer.

I went over to Criser Hall to hand in my change of address card at the registrar’s office.

I also wanted to check why my payment of the infirmary fee hadn’t gone through, but the Financial Services office was jammed. Today is the last day of finals for the undergrad summer term, so I guess they’re behind in their work.

At Library West, I spent a couple of hours reading periodicals. I found those good essays on rap music and censorship in Boston Review that Collier had mentioned.

There were other good essays on virtual reality (as part of a series, Terminal Reading, edited by Sven Birkerts), and I also read Richard Ford’s Hopwood Lecture in Michigan Quarterly Review and the most recent issue of American Demographics.

I don’t have the talent or the knowledge to create the kind of intellectual and cultural criticism I eat up, but I think I can use the material in some of my dumb stories – even if no one seems to get what I’m doing.

I ran into Jacqui from Broward Community College at the post office. Like me, she’s been in town for one year, but we’ve never met before. (I’ve never seen Ronna’s brother Billy either.)

Jacqui is living with her daughter at Corry Village, near the law school. She said the Ph.D. program in French was too traditional for her, so she transferred to English this summer and was happy with the one class she took, which used some of the newer criticism. Her McKnight Fellowship and credits will follow her into the new program.

We talked about law school – she’s thought about taking the LSAT – and I took her number and said I’d call.

It started to get cooler as I walked home just before a heavy thunderstorm.

For the last couple of hours, I’ve been packing. I put about a dozen boxes filled with my stuff into the outside closet so I can have more room and so I can move the boxes out easily into the little parking lot nearby.

It’s funny that I’m almost looking forward to my parents’ visit. If I weren’t moving, we might have been able to have a pleasant time.

I’m going to make every effort to let Mom have plenty of room to run things and not let myself blow up at her when she makes me feel like an infant.

After all, she’ll be gone by the end of the week, and I can do whatever I want then.

Yesterday I was thinking how being in Rockaway last summer was so special, but of course I came there after living with my parents for over seven months.

In the last year I’ve had the complete freedom of living by myself. Although it can be lonely, I have all my privacy and no one else’s moods or whims can intrude upon me.

I’m glad to be moving because the change of scenery at the new apartment will be a tonic. Besides, it’s important for me to be forced to vary my routine. Otherwise, I could become like Alice, terrified to move only a few blocks away because she can’t deal with going to different stores or whatever.

Alice could end up like that woman across from Bloomingdale’s who wouldn’t move and whom they had to work around when they tore down her building and replaced it with a new one.

I got a call from a Miami Herald reporter about a story she’s doing on the book Organized Obsessions. She found the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War mentioned in it, so we talked about for a while.

The reporter must be new to South Florida because she’d never heard of me. After I told her I’d been in the Herald a lot and talked about some of the things that got me publicity, she said, “You’re a very interesting person.”

Yeah, it will be nice to be mentioned in the Miami paper again.

I walked over to Goerings and found the book, which is basically a rip-off of the weird organizations listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations.

It’s gratifying that some idea I put out in 1983 is still getting noticed nearly a decade later. It makes me wonder if maybe my books, which are out there, will be noticed eventually.

Monday, August 10, 1992

9 AM. That gut-wrenching feeling of anxiety has not let up. My teeth ache, too, although I can’t pinpoint the problem and feel it’s most likely the kind of ache caused by bruxism that I had several times in the past.

Remember when I went to New Orleans a couple of years ago and got terrible pain in the same general area? Or the pain I felt in August 1984 in South Florida with a bad cold as I was about to return to New York City? Or the same pain I had at MacDowell in June 1980?

I’d forgotten how unnerving change can be for me.

If I had gone to New York this summer, the changes would be more drastic, and moving now would be even harder, but I’d have been distracted by all the novel adventures, good and bad, in New York.

Now it feels like the last three weeks were easy: all I had to worry about was giving in to depression or boredom.

I don’t know why my anxiety level is so high. I can begin to move tomorrow, but I don’t have to be finished until Friday morning, and that’s plenty of time.

Still, I haven’t moved with this much furniture in a long time; all seven of my South Florida apartments were furnished.

At 5 PM yesterday, Dave Hellmich of SFCC called, offering me a Monday-Wednesday-Friday noon English 101 and a second class immediately afterwards at 1 PM.

After taking both, I panicked and called him back, saying I’d just keep the noon section. If I took the second class, it might be too much for me.

As it is, I have only an hour from the end of Family Law on Wednesday and Friday to get to SFCC and start teaching.

Yes, I desperately need money, but time is still a priority. Besides, the pay is so minuscule – in real dollars, half of what I used to make at LIU or a third of what I made at CUNY – it’s not worth it.

I imagine Mom and Dad have left Fort Lauderdale by now and will be here between mid-afternoon and evening, depending on whether the station wagon breaks down.


9 PM. My parents are in the next room. They surprised me by showing up at my doorstep at 1:30 PM just as I finished lunch.

I no longer feel that sense of dread, so perhaps I was dreading their arrival more than moving.

I guess over the past year I’ve seen Dad only four days and Mom only seven days.

After being with them for nearly eight hours, would it be nasty to say that I’ve had enough of them?

No, they’re wonderful, really – but they’re Mom and Dad, the same as ever, and they drive me crazy, however well-meaning they are.

Dad’s nervous shrieking, Mom’s insistent obsessiveness: they’re harder, not easier, for me to deal with because I’m so unused to dealing with them.

Am I glad they’re here to help me move? I’m not sure. Sometimes I like them a lot, but none of us are at our best together under stress, and moving is stressful.

Dad seems to be coming down with Mom’s cold, and I’m sure he’ll give it to me. That sounds awfully ungrateful, I know, but I guess I would have preferred they just send me money to help me move.

I must be a horrible person, not to mention a terrible son.

It’s funny: one reason I don’t feel like opening up to them about the kind of things I routinely talk to friends about is that I don’t want to get close to them.

Now I feel I’ve totally misrepresented what went on today: we actually got along pretty well.

We drove out to Santa Fe Community College and I took them around the law school (where Pauline was showing around three of her kids) and we went to a furniture store, where we looked at computer stands, all of which seemed overpriced to me.

I accompanied them to a bagel restaurant for lunch (where I found the Herald article from today’s paper; it mentioned me in a couple of paragraphs) and to Sonny’s Bar-B-Q for salad bar dinner, and to Albertsons so Mom could buy lots of bleach and cleaning supplies.

She will clean this apartment better than the crooked management ever could have imagined we’d return it.

I don’t expect to sleep at all tonight – not with my parents in the next room coming in to go to the bathroom and not with the prospect of moving tomorrow.

I wish I could be a better, more generous son. Probably if they’d stayed at the Holiday Inn, I’d feel more generous.

How can I even say that?! My parents have always made their home my home, so why can’t I make my home theirs for one night?

Gee, I never felt like this the times Dad stayed on West 85th Street with me. Am I just getting more unfeeling? Or is it just all these unresolved family things?

I should have told my parents not to help me move. I shouldn’t even take their money, even if that meant not going to law school.

It’s my fault, not theirs, that I’ve chosen the “easy” way out every time: going back into early childhood, I let them shelter me, only ending up with a much more difficult adjustment in the long run.