A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, August 2, 1997
4:30 PM. I’ve just come back from seeing Kiss Me, Guido at the Sony (formerly Loew’s) Village, a multiplex on Third Avenue and East 11th Street. It was the first time I’ve paid $8.75 for a movie and the first time I sat on the fifth floor of a theater.
Kiss Me, Guido relied on stereotypes of the gay West Village scene and the Bronx Italian-American milieu, but it was nevertheless good. My assumption is that someone in Hollywood is already thinking of making a sitcom out of it.
It was a real New York City film, and the protagonist’s neighborhood reminded me of this one in Williamsburg.
I feel sad and subdued about leaving New York City, the same way I felt five weeks ago when I left Chicago. The hard part about traveling, the hardest part for me, is the leave-taking.
Yesterday afternoon I went to the P.O. contract station at the card store on Metropolitan Avenue and mailed out a box to Teresa’s parents in Mattituck: a thank-you card, my book, the frame I got at the Morgan Library as a gift for them, and their mail.
Then I took the G train and B67 bus up Seventh Avenue to see Justin. When he answered the buzzer, I said, “Suicide bomber here,” and he said he’d be right down to bring me up.
His computer was on, and we spent at least an hour with Justin giving me a tutorial on how to use e-mail via Netscape on SpryNet. I think it will be a lot better than AOL.
We were on the Web, and I noted that Justin has bookmarked Playbill’s online site, though he’s not crazy about Peter’s columns. He was surprised that I knew Peter, though of course to me, Peter will always be Alice’s boyfriend first, a theater critic second.
Larry was going to Reading after work today because the same painting that was in the Met’s staff show is in a museum exhibit in Reading. So I didn’t get to see Larry this trip.
Justin played some funny films from the Voyager CD-ROM series Our Secret Century, which are these awful films we were shown in school as kids in the ’50s and early ’60s. The ones telling boys how to protect themselves from “perverts” and girls from pornography were pretty bizarre.
Then we went out to Connecticut Muffin on Seventh, where Justin bought me an iced tea. His grant check came, so he is probably okay for money now – plus it looks as if his job at Brooklyn College will go on for another year.
We strolled through Prospect Park and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza library, where we played with the new computer databases and the city’s new experimental info kiosk and I found copies of I Survived Caracas Traffic, I Brake for Delmore Schwart and With Hitler in New York on the Fiction/Literature shelves.
We said goodbye on the library steps, me saying, “I’m not really a hug sort of guy” to deflect Justin’s embrace.
I then walked past the Brooklyn Museum – and across the street, Turner Towers, where I used to go to Dr. Stein, my pediatrician – to Classon Avenue, where I waited at the corner bus stop across from the park with all the chess players.
As a white person, I stand out in that neighborhood, which is probably why a car with two older white women stopped to ask me directions to the Children’s Museum on St. Marks Place. I could tell them where the street was, but I had to admit that the Children’s Museum had moved around since I was last there – in about 1962, when it was an old mansion in Crown Heights.
The bus ride through Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill and Williamsburg got me home at 6:30 PM, and I spent the evening reading the hipper-than-thou alternative weeklies I’d fished out of Manhattan newspaper boxes.
They make me feel so hopelessly clueless. Sometimes I miss the late 1960s and early ’70s – before everything, including entertainment for five-year-olds, wasn’t so damned ironic and smug.
I’ve lost the habit of TV-watching, but will I have garnered any time for myself if I continue to stay so tethered to the online world of the Web, Lexis and AOL?
I subscribed to the New York Times at Mom’s house, and I left a message with Bettina Edelstein at Op-Ed giving her my new phone and fax numbers. Today’s non-timely Op-Ed piece, by Ann Hood, about her father’s death on Easter weekend, is probably also something they’ve had hanging around the office for months.
I think I’ll go into Manhattan again later. I did pack for the trip, but I haven’t yet begun the cleaning I want to do here before I leave for Florida.
Sunday, August 3, 1997
4:30 PM. Last night I left the house at 6 PM, and after getting into Manhattan, for a change I took the Tenth Avenue bus uptown.
I got off at 72nd and Broadway, where I’d noticed the newsstands had the Sunday Times on sale. After buying a copy, I went to Starbucks, got a comfortable chair facing out on Amsterdam Avenue and read the main news section as I drank a grande-sized iced tea. (Their smallest size is “tall.”)
It was great to be on the Upper West Side on a Saturday night in summer, and it made me feel like it was old times – those years between 1984 and 1990 when I spent every summer there.
Returning to Williamsburg at 9 PM, I read for several hours. The caffeine in the tea kept me awake, along with the heat, and after a futile hour trying to doze off, I got on the Internet, read more sections of the Times, and listen to the radio.
What I should have done is cleaned: I’ve got to scrub the bathrooms and kitchen tonight.
Anyway, it was nearly 3 AM before I finally fell asleep, and I was up at 7 AM, though I lay in bed an hour longer. I did my 30 minutes on the exercise bike while listening to NPR and then I got on the Net and read the entries in Justin Clouse’s online diary for July.
When I was cooled down enough to shower, I got dressed in my standard wardrobe of t-shirt and shorts. It’s hot – about 90° – and humid today, although I’ve gotten accustomed to this weather. I regret that I’ll miss the drier, cooler weather on tap for this week in New York.
At noon I was at Alice’s, and after helping her out with some computer stuff, we walked over to a Chinese restaurant on Sixth Avenue and 11th Street.
Alice has decided to take photos of all her friends, so she took a shot of me in front of the Jefferson Market Courthouse and then asked a man to snap one of us together.
“We know each other 40 years,” I said, hoping the man would say what he did, that that was impossible because we looked too young.
Alice and I talked about a lot of different things, and I amused her by telling her about the brochure Justin showed me on Friday, a play prop for a psychiatric sanitarium that figured in a show he directed.
The text had the usual claptrap you’d expect, with a smiling photo of me representing, presumably, a happy patient at the funny farm. Justin had scanned my photo off the Project Vote Smart website last year. I thought it was hysterically funny myself.
We chatted some more at Alice’s apartment before I hugged her goodbye at 3 PM. She told me to be sure to send her my stuff so she can work her literary agent magic for me.
Back here after I used my last $1.50 on the MetroCard, I began to feel that gnawing sense of unease I always feel when about I’m about to leave someplace where I have been happy.
I’m glad I got to see, as I walked from the subway, a little Italian-American parade up Conselyea Street, with marchers, a small band, and guys hoisting a statue of the Virgin Mary and Christ child.
I called Teresa’s parents in Mattituck, but Heidi said they were at the beach.
When I called Fort Lauderdale, Dad took down my flight number, saying that if anyone could pick me up, it would be Jonathan because Dad’s still working at that hour at Surrey’s.
I’m going back to Florida tomorrow mostly because of the meeting with the Nova English department guy, but unlike the way my father took the first job offered to him, I won’t take the composition course if I decide it’s not worth my while.
It seems ridiculous if they’re going to pay me the same amount as I get for the Business, Government and Society course where I teach eight Saturdays when first-year composition is twice as many hours and three times as much work.
I guess I dread being drawn back into my family’s world, but I know that even when I’ve lived with them in the past, part of me was always quite independent and I didn’t get sucked into their mishigas.
My flight is at 8:45 AM tomorrow, and the Northside car service I phoned told me it would be fine if I just call damn in the morning to get picked up at 7 AM. That should give me more than enough time to get to LaGuardia.
Alice asked if I’m nervous about flying, and I said no, not really, it’s the changes that I have to go through that bother me. I know that when I get to South Florida, I’ll have to deal with all kinds of problems like car troubles and I’m not looking forward to that.
Still, I do have about $17,000 in open credit lines – Orchard Bank just increased my limit from $1,500 to $2,000 – and if I want to or need to resort to the credit card chassis they kept me afloat a decade ago, I can do that for a while.
By the time I’d be unable to make minimum payments, I’ll be eligible to declare bankruptcy again because my final discharge was nearly seven years ago.
I wish I’d left more time to clean this house thoroughly, but I’ll do the best I can. It’s begun to rain heavily, so let’s hope it cools off.
Wednesday, August 6, 1997
11 AM. Once again yesterday, I couldn’t bring myself to write in my diary, so I’m using the remaining part of Tuesday’s page now. Part of it was simple exhaustion and a late hour spent frustratingly trying to correct numerous computer problems.
But it’s also hard for me to deal with the complicated and conflicting feelings I have about being in this hunk of time in my life. I have so much rage, and it seems to emerge at inappropriate times.
I nearly always keep it to myself, but my mental conversations are probably making my blood pressure rise as much as if I vented my anger verbally. I don’t believe in the catharsis theory of anger; instead, I’ve found that the more one expresses anger, the angrier one gets, and instead of feeling relief, one just feels worse.
I’m furious with my parents, Jonathan, “the system,” CGR, the law, Judge Frusciante for his ruling in the Amer case, Jon Mills, etc. – and much of this anger is highly inappropriate and misdirected. I need to understand why I feel this way.
I see Jonathan, who’s always lived with our parents – he’s still a boy, really – and I see what I could have been, and what I fear, maybe irrationally, what I could still become. Intellectually, I know that will never happen.
At Nova this morning, my interview, or meeting, was with Dr. Ed Stieve, dean of liberal arts; Dr. Lynn Wolf of the Writing Center; and Scott Stoddart, another English professor.
When they told me the pay for a course was $1,200, I balked, but it’s actually $1,500 because an MFA is counted as a terminal degree – plus I get a $200 stipend for travel because the class is a Monday/ Wednesday/Friday section.
During the meeting, I felt kind of sickish because I thought, Here I go again, I’m stuck teaching comp, but I’ve decided to stay with the class. It will be 1997 high school grads, but the course enrollment is only 15 and they don’t require more than seven papers. They want me to come up with a syllabus by next week.
On Monday I read over my Nova evaluations by the Gainesville and Ocala students; they were so good, they made me feel just great. If I can view teaching comp as a challenge and a learning experience, I’ll be okay.
Besides, Nova is a burgeoning university, and I’ll have free e-mail, xerox, computer access, etc.: the perks of being an adjunct. And I get up early and I’ll be finished at 9 AM.
I didn’t want to accept a second course because it’s on Tuesday/Thursday and might interfere with the other adjunct jobs I could line up. The bad part is because I want to be close to Nova to get there at 7:45 AM, I’ll have to live near my parents.
But once I get my own place, I’ll be able to shut them out of my sight and maybe my mind. I looked at apartment classifieds yesterday, but I need to give myself a little time.
Today I promised myself I’d concentrate on reading the Business, Government and Society text, and I need to figure out a composition syllabus. So I have work to do. I can also do stuff that makes me feel good, and that means leaving the house.
I spoke with Marc last night. He said he plans to leave his job, or at least “look around,” in another couple of months. In early September, he’s going to Orange County, California, for a series of workshops paid for by his company.
I suggested that his store management experience would make Marc a good candidate for a big corporation where he can get a decent salary and benefits and where there’s hope for advancement.
Marc is very tense and has gained a lot of weight, but he’s in constant back pain for which he takes prescription muscle relaxants. I don’t know why he stays in this house.
South Florida isn’t the ideal place for me to be, but it actually may be easier to live here, at least temporarily, than anyplace else, though I think I’d be fine if I stayed in New York, too.
My life has always been so tentative and temporary – I told Dr. Stieve I couldn’t teach in the winter because of my Villa Montalvo residency in California in March – but living a transient life is the result of the horror of permanence I saw represented by my parents’ and brothers’ lives.
Likewise, the clinging relationships that surrounded me have always caused me to avoid any long-term committed relationships. Also, I’ve never had the slightest desire to own a home.
Kevin sent me a sweet e-mail.
Thursday, August 7, 1997
7 PM. Once again, I’m having a hard time writing in this diary. But this time, it’s because I’m excited by good news. If all goes well, I’ll be teaching creative writing at Florida Atlantic University this semester.
Here’s how it happened: Yesterday I went downtown. At the library, I xeroxed the Palm Beach Post article about E-zines that mentioned my Blue Moon Review story.
I also took out cash advances from some of my credit cards. I’m afraid my other accounts will be canceled because I’m a “deadbeat” who pays off his bills without acquiring interest.
Going into the FAU Tower, I got the FIU and FAU schedule and noticed that FAU had lots of English 101 and 102 and Business Writing sections listed with “TBA” as instructor.
Last evening, at the West Regional Library, where I’d gone to begin reading the second chapter of my Business, Government and Society text, I also used their text-only Web browser and noted that there were several more sections at FAU added just that day.
So this morning, after working out, I spent an hour crafting a two-page résumé and a letter to Dr. Pearce, the chair at FAU, and once I got the department’s fax number, I faxed the three pages there.
Then I went to Barnes & Noble, where I drank iced tea and read my Business, Government and Society text and the Sun-Sentinel. When I returned home, I got the mail and found that Teresa had sent the unemployment check.
When I went into Mom’s bedroom to tell her I’d gotten it, she said to call Dan Murtagh at FAU at 1:30 PM; before that, he’d be in interviews.
CNN broke in with footage of a plane that had crashed in Miami, and almost simultaneously Marc phoned from his car to say that he was going to buy some merchandise near Miami Airport and had just witnessed the crash.
Marc described billowing black smoke, cops going crazy trying to divert traffic, flames shooting up from a row of buildings, and chaos as nobody knew what to do.
Mom and I followed the reports on TV and from Marc, who was stuck in the pandemonium. Apparently a cargo plane had crashed on takeoff into a warehouse.
At 1:30 PM, I called Dr. Murtagh and he asked if I could come by soon, so I hurriedly put on some khakis, a dress shirt and the tie I wore to the Nova interview and drove up to Boca.
I was nervous but excited, even about teaching English 101. For many years, I’d tried to teach at FAU, but they ignored me until today. Drs. Pearce and Murtagh interviewed me for an hour, and I tried to sound professorial, smart and competent.
I could tell I impressed them – as Matthew said, I am a good storyteller – and they said they’d contact me in a few days. I was glad I took my umbrella because a fierce storm was brewing, and it hit just as I got to the car.
It turned out to be the most incredible downpour I’d ever driven through, yet I wasn’t nervous, knowing I’m a careful driver. Still, the intense rain, forked lightning like I’d never before witnessed, and the lack of visibility made me decide to get off the Turnpike at the Pompano Beach rest stop and use the men’s room, have some TCBY, and hang out till the storm let up a bit.
However, it was fierce for quite a while, and I didn’t get home till 5 PM. Dan Murtagh called and offered me a Monday/Wednesday evening English 102 class that goes from 7 PM to 8:20 PM.
He said they really wanted me to teach Creative Writing at 11 AM on Monday/Wednesday/Friday but I had told them I taught at Nova those mornings. I quickly said that I could take the Creative Writing section, that I had plenty of time to get to FAU from my 8 AM Nova class. He seemed pleased.
I’d wondered why, during the interview, they’d asked so many questions about creative writing and my fiction.
Both Dr. Murtagh and Dr. Pearce will be out for several days, but he said to come in next Monday or Tuesday to sign a contact, and then he called back to ask me my social security number.
I was – and am – ecstatic. Teaching creative writing (“with an emphasis on fiction,” he said) at a university – even as an adjunct – was always my dream. I still can’t believe it.
And if FAU pays between $1,800 and $2,000 for a class, between my two FAU and my two Nova classes, I should be making about $7,000 for the fall semester. That’s enough to get by on, certainly, and I’ll have Tuesdays and Thursdays off. I still feel unsure that this is real.
Monday, August 11, 1997
9 PM. In the morning, I made up my Nova composition class syllabus, and in the afternoon I drove out to FAU to sign my contract. I’m being paid $2,000 per course, the minimum I thought I would get.
After enduring the whole rigmarole of filling out I-9, W-2, workers’ comp, automatic paycheck deposit and other forms at Human Resources’ Processing and Reporting office, I paid $27 for a parking decal at the police station on the other side of the campus.
The drive from here to FAU is over 60 miles roundtrip, nearly as long as my trips from Gainesville to Ocala, so I should move closer to Boca. On the other hand, I need to be in Davie before 8 AM three days a week.
I feel as if I’m sliding back into my comfortable role of aggrieved, low-paid victim of the adjunct system. But I also realized that these feelings are distorted by the present situation.
Most important, I need to get out of my parents’ house and away from their negativity and mishigass. I’ll feel better once I have a place where I can be master of my domain (Seinfeld). I’ve locked the bedroom door and am loudly playing Mahler’s Second Symphony to achieve that kind of effect right now.
I also will feel better if I remember that I’m not going back to being just another adjunct. Eventually, I know, I will find a way to shine, just as I did in Gainesville.
I’m now doing what Schumpeter says capitalism does, practice creative destruction in order to grow my self-economy.
Yes, I feel bad that I’ll be grossing $500 every two weeks at FAU: exactly what I’m netting now on unemployment. But let’s not forget I grossed even more than my FAU salary for two classes when UF paid my annual leave the second time by mistake.
If I worry about being a drudge – well, this year I haven’t worked and will not work at all for the four months between late April and until late August. And I’ll end up grossing over $32,000 for 1997, not much less than I earned last year.
Whoever said that reinventing myself was going to be easy? This is only an interim step. A year from now I want to be starting some graduate program in Seattle, Portland, Berkeley, Austin, Phoenix or somewhere else I’d like to live.
I need to figure out what degrees and what schools to consider, take the GRE and maybe the GMAT (yes, I’m considering business schools), get out the applications and transcripts, ask for letters of recommendation, etc.
Meanwhile, here in South Florida, I’ve got to consider adjuncting for Nova and FAU a learning experience. If I’m bothered because it seems as if I’m not using my law degree and it’s as if I never went to law school, that’s a misapprehension.
I may not have worked as a computer educator in seven years, but I still haven’t lost what I gained from my grad courses and my work as a teacher trainer in the Dade and Broward public schools – even if nobody has used an Apple IIe in years and BASIC is basically like Esperanto these days.
I can’t go on, I’ll go on, as Beckett says. Rick Peabody says that both of us are survivors. The reason I can uproot myself is that I’m hardier than most people, and given my family background and history of agoraphobia, that’s astounding.
Besides, I’ll feel better about being at Nova and FAU once the campuses aren’t deserted, as they are now, but are filled with hundreds of young and old college students and activities.
Trust yourself, kiddo: this is the hard part, but it’s also the fun part. Would I rather be stuck in the safety of Gainesville? Nah, not really. Security has never been something I’ve put a premium on.
So is today’s diary entry all one big pep talk to myself? Maybe I need one.