A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, August 23, 1997

8 PM. I worked most of the afternoon and evening yesterday, preparing for today’s Business, Government and Society class at Nova.

Michael didn’t call last evening, and of course, despite my protestations, I missed hearing from him. In fact, I just phoned him. He worked all day and needed to take a shower (“I stink”), but we chatted for a while.

I’d written Sean about Michael, and today I got his response: “Most of us would have to pay to have a 19-year-old interested in us. Poor Richard!” Sean may like that shallow life of parties, heavy drinking (I don’t think he’s into drugs), etc. – but he’s really a good person with a nice sense of humor, and I’ll always be fond of Sean.

Anyway, I slept well, got up at 6:30 AM and was at Nova in my classroom before any of the students were there. This being Nova, things were screwed up: Larry Brandt had to make sure the students went to the right room, and they’d never been notified of the room change.

Also, only half of my dozen students were able to get the text before the bookstore ran out of copies, and the UPS strike prevented recent deliveries.

Flexible, adaptable and unflappable after years of teaching at Nova – and my experiences as a teacher trainer at various locales in Miami for Florida International University – I did the best I could this morning.

This cluster is graduating at the end of February, and they’re a nice mix of men and women, whites and blacks and Hispanics, all over 25 or so. I enjoyed teaching about business power in society, the business environment, the role of government, etc.

The talking strained my voice, and I finally reached the point of no return at noon, so I let them out early. The students agreed to let me revise the assignment list to more short papers rather than one long research paper due at the end.

Home at 12:30 PM, I felt tired and hungry. I phoned Tom after getting e-mail from Brad asking me to call Tom. He and Annette got into New Orleans 20 hours late, so he missed the first day of work and was docked the day’s pay.

After all these years teaching German college students in Stuttgart, Tom is not ready to go back to teaching New Orleans high school students, particularly because he just finished the term in Germany.

I knew he wanted to talk about A Newcomer’s Guide to the Afterlife, which Bantam has done almost nothing to promote and whatever they did do was geared to a New Age-y audience when the book is a clever, intelligent parody and a literary work.

I tried to come up with suggestions, but what Tom needs are reviews so that the book can get some foreign sales and that his own manuscripts that are at agents and with editors can get noticed.

“This book will be my death,” Tom said, meaning that it will make it impossible for his novels to get published. I can feel for Tom, who works so hard at his books and is a consummate man of letters. What place is there for him in today’s publishing environment?

I’m resigned and content to being on the fringes of the literary world, but I’ve also had more success than Tom has, with only a fraction of the effort he’s put in.

On the other hand, I don’t really enjoy some of Tom’s work and I don’t think that editors will, either. He’s a good writer, but his work is very cerebral, and that may be the kiss of death. If Tom were less well-read, he might have been a much more successful writer.

I’m surprised, though, at the Newcomer’s Guide to the Afterlife’s paucity of reviews – unless people are mistakenly assuming it’s New Age gobbledygook.

I’m almost all ready for the first day of class on Monday. Of course, at 8 AM I can spend half the class giving a diagnostic essay.

Monday, August 25, 1997

3 PM. The first day of classes – and it’s not over yet, as I have to drive back to Boca this evening and teach English 102 at 7 PM – has been more stressful than I could have imagined, due to a stupid accident I had.

In my creative writing class, I showed the students that I’m head-over-heels dedicated when, in the middle of class, sitting on the desk part of a chair, I tumbled over backwards, falling on my back and head. How absurd I must have looked.

Both the girl in front of me and I saw it happening and realized there was nothing to do to stop it. I got up immediately and continued for the rest of the session despite the incredibly big bruise on the inner side of my left upper arm.

Looking at it now, it’s scraped and purple and blotchy, on the way to a deep black-and blue mark.

I also hit the back of my head on the chair as it hit the floor. I don’t feel a bump now, but it hurt for a while. I do have a headache, but I’m sure it’s just a sinus headache or a tension headache.

My error was trying to report it as I’ve been told to do, so that in case I am seriously injured, there will be a workers’ compensation claim.

So I went to the English Department, and of course it was chaos there, with students coming in trying to get overrides to get into closed sections, adjuncts asking questions, and people wandering in lost on their first day on campus.

Rebecca, the departmental secretary, tried to get to me quickly, but Human Resources put her on hold for 20 minutes until someone got back to her.

Because it was a head injury, they told me just to write a narrative of what happened and that I should go to the emergency room of Boca Community Hospital, that the doctor would know I was coming in, and that it wouldn’t cost me anything.

Getting directions from a student, I managed to go in the wrong direction twice, and when I finally got there, it was incredibly hard to find the right place to go or even to find out where to park.

Because the ER only took triage cases – although I don’t know where they would go since there wasn’t anyone at the ER reception desk – I went over to Rapid Care, but after I signed in, I could see there were at least a dozen people ahead of me, and the care didn’t look too rapid.

So I just left and drove home thinking of Tolstoy’s the Death of Ivan Ilych, where he has this slight fall – “Lucky I’m an athlete,” he says, reflecting the same vanity I feel (“I made a quick recovery,” I told the students) and then of course he dies from some undiagnosed trauma that resulted: the incompetent Russian doctors say he tore loose his pancreas or something.

Anyway, perhaps my brain is filling with blood as I write this and I’ll be dead in ten minutes. Not likely, I guess. I wonder if I’ll have a personality change from hitting my head, and if it will be an improvement. If I were in a soap opera, I’d definitely have amnesia by now.

I’m joking, but I’m really kind of shaken up and want to lie in bed for a while.

Last night our neighbors’ burglar alarm kept going off, making me unable to sleep as the sound grated on my ears and nerves. But I did eventually sleep okay, culminating in a final dream in which I was walking down a street in Canarsie in total darkness, looking for my home, only to discover at sunrise that I was on the wrong block.

My 8 AM Nova composition students are all recent (i.e., spring) high school grads – children, really – except for one woman. I talked for 25 minutes and then had them do their diagnostic essay.

I read them my course outline, the one that makes me sound like an ogre. They all look okay, their essays aren’t great, but I don’t think I need to send anyone to basic writing.

I got to FAU at 10 AM, but because the woman I stopped in the parking lot to ask the time told me it was almost 11 AM, I rushed to the General Classroom Building South, wondering during what time warp I’d lost an hour – only to discover that it was indeed an hour before my class was to begin.

There are about 23 students in the course: way too many for a creative writing workshop.

Tuesday, August 26, 1997

10 PM. I’m as fit as a slightly dented fiddle with no serious repercussions from my accident except for some bruises and some disappointment that nobody caught it for America’s Funniest Home Videos. But I was still a little shaken when I drove to FAU last evening after torrential thunderstorms.

I kept my class only 45 minutes so they could get their text at the bookstore before it closed at 8 PM. It seems like a nice group: I’ve got a good percentage of older, working, and part-time students, many of whom had their first English comp class at other colleges.

We meet in the Macintosh lab, with a computer for every student. If someone had told me that, I could have put it in the course outline and planned lessons accordingly.

The FAU campus is deliciously quiet at night, and it’s a pleasure compared to the rush-hour atmosphere of the daytime.

Before returning home, I went to Target and the West Regional Library. Michael called soon after I got in, and we spoke for an hour. His stepfather and mother refused to get him a car – or rather they didn’t discuss it with him.

He’s had a terrible life, being abandoned by his mother at age 6, and now (he says) being treated as an outsider in her family. His constant theme is betrayal and his revenge fantasies – on his ex-boyfriend, his ex-best friend, his mother, “real” father, and stepfather. So he’s not a person I want to get involved with.

I don’t think I gave him my new number, but I don’t want to meet Michael now, much less sleep with him. That’s why I’m glad I got to know him before I let my sex drive move ahead of my brain. He’ll probably think I’m betraying him, too, poor guy.

I couldn’t get to sleep till 2 AM. I glanced at the Nova papers, which are a mess – but the students all have a command of grammar and sentence structure. I may make a few comments but perhaps not return them till Friday.

Bob Karp emailed me that he came across my Times Op-Ed article, probably looking for the Michael Signorelli column above it; Bob complimented me and figured out how I got it done on Nexis.

The Raleigh News & Observer reviewed an Avisson Press book on Sunday, and the review was accompanied by an article entitled “Publisher of Last Resort.”

It’s so typical of Martin Hester that the newspaper had to seek him out. He’s calling Avisson a “limited distribution” publisher that sells only to libraries and not bookstores.

I guess I sound like an ingrate, but Martin lacks street-smarts and I can’t help thinking I was right about publishing I Survived Caracas Traffic in trade paperback rather than hardcover.

And I guess I admit it: the publicity hound in me was annoyed that he mentioned other Avisson authors and not me.

Teresa e-mailed that Jade is at Purchase, so at least the getting her there is finished. She said Carolyn threw her and Tony out at some point, but she was worried that Jade would be homesick this week. Jade has “temporarily” got two roommates, thanks to a SUNY housing shortage.

I’ve got to prepare for tonight’s Nova class and the three classes tomorrow: it’s going to be a full day. But I did sleep between 2 AM and 7 AM, and I even exercised. At least I seem to be in good shape.

Wednesday, August 27, 1997

4 PM. Yesterday I sat in the Barnes & Noble cafe drinking my usual BlackBerry sage iced tea, served by Lainee (with a free refill) while I prepared for my classes and checked over the Language 1500 diagnostic essays.

My evening Language 2000 class at Nova looks great: I’ve got only 10 students so far, and they are all older black, Latino or female working people, the kinds of students I’ve always most enjoyed teaching.

The course is basically a lite version of the Bachelor of Professional Management program’s Argumentative Writing, with a different addition of the Rottenberg text, plus a heavy-duty research paper component.

I read the class my Times Op-Ed piece because I found it illustrates principles I’m trying to get across: the thesis statement, how to quote and use the ellipsis and brackets, how to organize an essay, etc.

Letting the class go early, I stayed behind chatting with one woman, a paralegal who plans to go to law school. I’ve discovered the women in my classes who want to go to law school are really encouraged by my telling them about my experiences as an older student and how being a good writer helps in law school.

Back home, I relaxed by reading Wired. Michael didn’t call, and I felt relieved until nearly 11 PM, when the phone rang. I was already trying to fall asleep and I told him that I’d speak to him tomorrow evening. But I stayed awake worrying how I could break things off with him.

This morning I emailed Michael, saying I had forgotten that I was teaching at 8:30 PM in Boca tonight (which I am) but also that I had plans to see friends afterwards (which I don’t).

I also said I didn’t want to have a phone-every-night relationship with someone and if that was what he needed, I didn’t think it would work out between us. But I did tell him “I think you’re a great guy and I will speak to you soon.” Hopefully he’ll read that and not phone me tonight.

I realize the chances of meeting someone on AOL are minimal and that I should probably forget about it.

Over the next 16 weeks, I’m going to be very busy. (Patrick emailed that since he’s got two release times at BCC, I’m working harder than he is for less than half the pay.)

I need to figure out a plan for 1998 that involves my taking the GRE and GMAT and applying to grad or business schools for next fall so I can get to a university in a city where I’d like to be living.

Because I want to go West and I’ll need the lower cost of a state university right now, I’m thinking Austin, Phoenix, Seattle and a few California cities.

Anyway, I woke at 6:20 AM after not having slept enough and went off to Nova an hour later.

The freshies were fine today: I had them interview each other in pairs and give a report presenting the other student. That worked out well, allowing us to get to know one another, and I began talking about writing. Basically I feel that if I go by my instincts, I can get them to think seriously about their writing.

Because I left my cooked jewel sweet potato at home, I returned here to pick it up. I also checked my e-mail: a note from Teresa saying she was just heading to LaGuardia to pick up cat and her husband and that Jade seemed okay with her classes at Purchase beginning tomorrow.

At FAU by 10:20 AM, I read the Times in the canteen, and then had a pleasant creative writing class. We chatted a bit about Monday’s accident and I got them freewriting: first on anything, and then on the topic of their name, which they began to read aloud so as to introduce themselves as the period wore on. We didn’t finish, so we’ll have to do that on Friday.

Home at 12:35 PM, I was very tired after lunch, so I lay down. I had a hint of a stomachache but it went away.

These Mondays and Wednesdays are difficult, but at least I know that after tonight’s FAU class, I can relax for a day.

Of course, that’s not quite true because I’ve got so much work to do – not to mention moving this weekend. But I always seem to complain about my workload and I always seem to cope with whatever I’ve got to do.

Besides, I’ve had rough semester schedules before, and 16 weeks isn’t a very long time. Maybe to Michael or my freshies it is, but not to someone who’s 46 years old.

Saturday, August 30, 1997

2:30 PM. I’ve had enough moving today. Even after just taking a shower, I’m tired and hot and stressed out.

Last night I slept very well, probably knowing how tough today would be. I dreamed I met that woman in West Palm Beach who needed a sperm donor.

Yesterday I saw she’d placed a new ad, saying she preferred an Irish, Scots or British donor. That made me angry because she’s so interested in making her lover’s kid look like her.

I wouldn’t bring any child into the world with parents who care so much how they look. I know women like Sharon Rush and others who adopt black kids; girls especially have enough pressure to look a certain way.

Somehow during the night I lost part of one of my top teeth. I guess it cracked away. It feels sensitive, but I’m not in pain although I do get odd sensations when I eat or drink.

This adds to my sense of helplessness; actually, it is starting to throb. I know that one dental emergency can basically eat up all the money I’d earn teaching an entire course.

I guess that’s why I feel justified in keeping the money from my extra University of Florida paycheck and using my credit cards.

I am worried about paying my bills at the new apartment: $530 a month is really more than I can afford.

It’s actually a pretty crummy apartment, as I’m sure Dad thought when he helped me move the little bed over here in his station wagon early today before he went to work at Surrey’s in the Coral Square Mall.

What makes it especially difficult to move is that my apartment is at the furthest point possible from where you can park – plus it’s on the second floor and there’s a switchback stairway.

I still have plenty of stuff to take over, but I’m sleeping at my parents’ tonight. This week I’ve had so much stress, and the reason I paid for two extra days was so that I could move in gradually.

I have to pick up Jonathan at work at 4 PM anyway. His van has had been in the shop for five days, and the mechanic can’t fix it. Dad’s station wagon is also on its last legs: it drives terribly and has no air conditioning.

Possessions are a curse. I wish I’d thrown out more stuff before I left Gainesville. For four months I’ve been living happily in other people’s houses, getting everything I need out of a suitcase and a half. The rest I lugged from Florida to Long Island to Chicago to Long Island to Brooklyn back to Florida, and I never used or wore anything inside it.

As I’ve said ad nauseam, I would really prefer to live in hotel rooms – or, since I’ll never be able to afford that, furnished rooms. I’m determined in the six months or so I stay in this new apartment, that I get rid of this much stuff as I can. And I won’t buy anything new unless I throw out something similar.

The area around the apartment stinks of horse manure because there’s a rodeo at the arena this weekend. But the smell isn’t so bad; It’s sort of reminiscent of a zoo.

Other problems with the apartment: it has three incredibly large windows and no shades or blinds, so I’ve got to put something up. The upper key doesn’t work the lock. The bathroom is kind of dirty, so I don’t feel obligated to keep it that clean.

It’s not that I didn’t know that skeevy people live in an apartment complex like this; they did at Sundowne, where I lived for nearly three years. I will get used to it.

Sunday, August 31, 1997

9 PM. I’m still at my parents’ even as my apartment is slowly taking shape. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done it all by myself, though I will need help in transporting this bed there and doing some other chores.

Last evening I went to Walmart to buy things I needed and brought more stuff over and started fixing things up. Coming home tired and ready for bed, I first signed on to AOL to check e-mail. There was none; however, I did see the top news story, “Princess Diana seriously hurt in car crash.”

The brief AP story said her companion, the businessman Dodi Fayed, and the driver had been killed. I ran to my parents’ room with the news and Mom turned on CNN, which had sketchy reports from Paris, where the princess’s car, trying to outrun paparazzi, crashed in a tunnel by the Seine.

I went to bed and only learned that Diana had died when I saw Dad reading the Herald as I ate breakfast. I was surprised at how sad I felt then; I even teared up a bit.

The Princess of Wales seemed like a nice young woman who tried to make the best of a very difficult and confusing situation she’d gotten into when she was really only a girl of 19. The TV networks ran round-the-clock coverage from British stations, and I listened to some of them as I took more stuff over to the apartment and unpacked it. Then I got tired and lay down for a while.

At 4 PM, I got up from my rest and finally figured out had to set up the TV and the video cassette player –the VCR is broken, perhaps by the humidity of the garage over the summer – and I even worked out to a Body Electric video although I was still sore and stiff from moving.

My radios are at the apartment, and I used the microwave to heat up dinner before I came back here at 6 PM.

This evening I called Michael. I know, I know: I should be grateful he stopped phoning me every day. But I’m lonely and horny, and although I wouldn’t let myself take advantage of him, I did want to meet him tonight, finally. And yes, it’s probably because I have my own place.

But this time he was the one to put me off – karma – which is probably for the best. He is a kid, after all, and we have nothing in common. It’s just that right now I really don’t have anyone else here I can talk with the way I can talk with Michael. Perhaps that will change.

I’m feeling better about my apartment: I noticed several new residents who are Nova grad students, and there seem to be a lot of hunky guys and some intelligent people – I even spotted an NYU car decal – among the usual white-trash, pickup-truck, Confederate-flag crowd.

Actually, I haven’t even seen the Rebel flag here yet, though I’m sure some people have it.

Still, the Stars and Bars is not everywhere around here the way it was in North Central Florida, and I do have a sense of relief because I no longer feel as though I’m living in “The South.”