A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1991

Friday, January 11, 1991

8 PM. I was disappointed by a letter I got in the mail late this afternoon. No, it wasn’t my NEA fellowship rejection; that’s an annual event I almost look forward to.

It was from the University of Florida law school. They put my application in the “for further review” file, meaning my GPA/LSAT index wasn’t high enough to be part of the 50% of their class they take only based on that index.

Now they need to look at my recommendations (I didn’t submit any), my personal statement, my undergraduate record and my “activities subsequent to graduation” to determine if I have “special qualities” or “leadership ability.”

Well, if they don’t want me, fuck them. I guess the competition is intense, but I needed a boost right now, three weeks before my creditors’ meeting, something to get me through the winter, and now I won’t know about UF until April.

Well, maybe I’ll hear from FSU soon, and actually, I think I’d prefer living in Tallahassee to Gainesville.

The state capital is a larger city with more to it than a university: it’s got more culture, two big colleges (Florida A&M as well as Florida State), all the government offices, and a fairly liberal and cosmopolitan reputation.

FSU’s catalog doesn’t say they have the same admissions decision procedure as UF, and it’s easier to get into, so maybe I’ll get a letter of acceptance from them before January is over.

What will I do if both Florida schools reject me? Well, I’m still getting material from second-rate law schools and if I got full tuition at one of them, and it’s in a good place, I’ll probably go.

And if I don’t go to law school, I’m still not returning here, except for a visit to my family.

Perhaps I’ll regroup where I’m most comfortable, in New York City, and see what else I can do with my life. It would be more adventurous to go to another city, but I won’t do that unless I know what I’ll be doing.

It looks as if I’ll be teaching four classes at BCC for the next four months, plus taking the FAU course. Along with my bankruptcy proceedings, that should keep me more than busy enough.

Unfortunately, teaching four classes will give me a gross income of $4600, which is pathetic. At least the bankruptcy court can’t say I’m not working hard or trying to earn money.

The whole reason I began with the credit card cash advances was my outrage at being underpaid and exploited as a college English teacher.

At least I’m getting to teach twentieth century American literature on Tuesday evenings. It’s kind of exciting. I spent a couple of hours talking to Mary Ellen and Mick and getting the Norton Anthology of American Lit 2 ordered.

It’ll be fun to teach some works I love. I have only about 15 students in the class, and they don’t all take it for writing credit (even for the ones who do, it’s just 3000 words), so it won’t be as much grading as my other courses.

Tomorrow’s English 101 class, of course, requires 6000 from every student, but it’s at South Campus, where I can be free to experiment with process writing, and it’s on Saturdays, just once a week.

In my English 101 and English 102 classes today, I had my students divide up into pairs and spend five minutes interviewing each other (ten minutes total), and another ten minutes writing introductions, which they then read aloud.

The exercise practiced note-taking skills and was fun; I joined in both times, because there was an odd number of students.

It almost pains me to say how comfortable I am at BCC-Central and how much I enjoy my classes.

Well, the grading hasn’t started yet, and so far my students haven’t begun to show themselves to be obnoxious, inarticulate, and ignorant. Give them time.


Saturday, January 12, 1991

9 PM. I slept soundly last night, and this morning I had time to exercise and have a leisurely breakfast before getting to South Campus half an hour early.

My English 101 class seems nice, a good mixture of older students – nurses, working mothers and salesmen – and people from Poland, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, Colombia and Peru.

Because I can do as I please, I had them freewrite and do the interviewing exercise, and I talked about writing so much that my throat is a little sore.

Home a little after noon, I spent much of the day reading while the TV ran the debates in the House and Senate, probably the most thoughtful and eloquent debate I’ve heard.

In the Senate, the quasi-declaration of war passed narrowly, 52-47, but the House gave Bush a larger margin, and after that, the President came on TV.

He looks weary and burdened, but he did seem to indicate he’s not going to use force immediately after midnight Tuesday.

Though I may be totally wrong, I’m still hoping Saddam Hussein will begin withdrawing from Kuwait after the deadline passes, once it looks as if a general Middle East peace conference will take place.

If not, we’ll probably be bombing Baghdad by next weekend.

Is it because war is so unthinkable that I don’t see it happening?

The country is divided, just like in the days of Vietnam, and demonstrations for peace on campuses and in cities look like the 1960s all over again.

With runs on banks like in the 1930s, the 1990s do seem to be echoing the decades that were most progressive and tumultuous.

I managed to put all my students’ names on two spreadsheets that I’ll use as a roll book, and I made syllabi (probably mostly fictional) for my weekday English 101 and English 102 classes.

Looking at the Norton Anthology, I don’t know which selections to assign in American Lit, and I think I’ll wait to see what my students are interested in.

But imagine finally getting to teach The Education of Henry Adams or The Crying of Lot 49, books I love.

The Too Much Joy obscenity trial begins with jury selection in Judge Johnson’s courtroom on Monday.

Meanwhile, one of the young guys on the 2 Live Crew jury (not the foreman, who probably is gay) has been arrested for murdering a man staying at his Davie apartment.

Also, Charles Freeman, unable to get any help from Luke Campbell, was forced to close E-C Records.

God, this whole “rap on trial” story cries out to be told in a book, but I don’t have time.

Between my four classes and homework and the FAU Food and Nutrition course and bankruptcy and applying to other law schools and filling out financial aid forms, this spring term will be another busy time for me.

I did call Grandma Ethel, who sounded mournfully unhappy. Her life is over, she kept repeating, and she’s waiting to die.

Marty “broke his leg” (maybe his ankle?) falling down stairs in somebody’s house, so he can’t get over to the home to visit her.

I hate calling Grandma, but at least I feel I’m making contact when I’m here in Florida and can’t visit her in person.


Monday, January 14, 1991

9 PM. Fifteen hours until the next significant deadline, though nobody expects the U.S. to start a war at 12:01 AM on Wednesday.

I haven’t been expecting a war at all, but it looks as though I may have overestimated human reason and underestimated human folly.

The blowhards on talk radio call for the U.S. to “turn Iraq into a parking lot,” “to bomb Baghdad back to the Stone Age,” and to quote George Bush at his most unattractive, “to kick Saddam Hussein’s ass.”

Americans are in love with simple answers to complex problems. “No new taxes” won the election in 1988, after all.

People predict a quick U.S. victory (and it will be an American war, just like Korea, despite all the rhetoric about a UN-sponsored multinational force) because the air raids over Iraq will be overwhelming.

But I don’t see this as a six-day war, maybe not a six-week war, and possibly not even a six-month war.

Still, who knows? Economists continue to predict a brief, mild recession ending soon, and wars are even harder to forecast than the economy.

What’s heartening is that unlike with Vietnam, a large minority of people have already organized into an antiwar movement, and there’s enough people who support the President but have doubts to make any drawn-out war extremely unpopular.

A lot of American soldiers may die needlessly. In twenty years there’ll be a monument to them, and it will all start up again somewhere else in the world.

I slept surprisingly well from 9:30 PM to 5:30 AM, getting up to exercise before breakfast.

Today was dark and chilly with a high only in the 60°s; it was grey, like a New York City day.

I did freewriting with my 8 AM English 101 students and then that writing exercise about their names.

After using the department computer to take care of some personal business, I drove downtown to the county courthouse.

Unable to find the Too Much Joy trial in any courtroom, I went over to the Federal Building to see if I could catch some 341 hearings in bankruptcy court.

But today they were having only other kinds of hearings in all the courtrooms, so I decided to leave.

Impeached Federal Judge Alcee Hastings was in the elevator with me, and we spoke briefly; he seemed like a warm, intelligent man.

Back at school, I had lunch in the English Department conference room with Pat Menhart, Phyllis, Mercy and others.

The bookstore is temporarily sold out of the English 102 text, but I had my students share some freewriting, and we had a decent class as I went over Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken,” which I copied to the blackboard.

Before today I had never overheard BCC students discussing world events, but this morning, in and out of class, they argued over the justness of a war. One guy joked, “Are we all ready to move to Canada?”

Home for the rest of the day, I monitored CNN and CNBC and read all the papers.

It took me over an hour to fill out the Family Financial Statement, similar to the GAPSFAS I filled out yesterday, but the form preferred by FSU Law.

Adrienne call to chat. She’s got four English 102 classes and one lit section this semester. Once again she asked if I were applying for the permanent position on South Campus, and so that it would sink in, I told her that a person couldn’t be both a writer and a full-time BCC instructor.

I’m sure she’d like to think she could, but I suspect Adrienne will opt for the security and put off her next novel until it’s too late.

Of course, there’s no guarantee she would have ever made it as a novelist anyway; I’ve never seen her fiction and can’t judge – although I’d be surprised if she were more than merely competent.

I advised her to file for unemployment once this term ends, but she didn’t do it last year, and some people never learn.

Although I finished the first chapter of the Food and Nutrition text, I still need to read chapter 2 before Wednesday’s class.


Thursday, January 17, 1991

4 PM. It seems like forever since the war started.

After a pretty interesting Food and Nutrition class last evening, Ms. Holland dismissed us at 6:20 PM. As I drove home, I heard the first reports that action seemed about to be starting.

When I got back to the house, I turned on the TV, and the voices of correspondents in Baghdad were reporting flashing lights in the air and finally the bombs of U.S. jets.

During dinner, my parents, Jonathan and I kept listening to the TV; finally the White House press secretary came out and read a statement from Bush saying the liberation of Kuwait had begun with Operation Desert Storm – probably the heaviest, most concentrated aerial bombardment in history.

All evening, the networks – and especially CNN (whose reporters were alone in being able to get through from Baghdad) – had ceaseless sketchy reports of fighting.

Well, actually there wasn’t that much fighting, and that’s a mystery to me. It appears that despite this long-known deadline, the U.S. and its British, French, Saudi and Kuwaiti allies caught the Iraqis by surprise.

Only two planes were downed in over 500 sorties, and so far there’s just one confirmed American casualty. It appears we decimated Iraq’s air force and knocked out its nuclear and chemical capabilities, forestalling an attack on Israel.

Today the price of oil plummeted and the Dow soared over 100 points on what appears to be euphoric news. Bush made an effective speech at 9 PM yesterday, and his strategy so far looks like it worked perfectly.

I can’t understand why people are out protesting in many cities. If we can finish this war in a few weeks – maybe even in a few days – with minimal loss of life . . . well, I guess I’d have to admit that Bush was right and I was wrong.

General Powell, Secretary Cheney and British Defense Minister King all cautioned on over-optimism, saying Kuwait was far from being freed of Iraqi control and that a ground battle could result in many casualties.

All day there was no regular TV on the networks, and as I said Tuesday, even I feel I’ve been inundated with more news that I can handle.

Last night I didn’t sleep much – and in that, I’m surely not alone.

I don’t know how I feel: numb, I guess. This isn’t a war like Vietnam, where we built up to it so gradually that it just became part of our daily lives.

This is like World War II, with humongous WAR! news headlines: an all-out effort that totally dominates everything.

I spent a lot of the day in Judge Johnson’s courtroom, where I was one of very few spectators at the Too Much Joy obscenity trial. Naturally, the war vastly overshadowed the case.

The only reporters there were Dexter from the Herald and Barbara from the Sun-Sentinel, and they stayed only briefly.

Too Much Joy are three white guys from Westchester – kids, really – and they’re bright and cerebral, the kind of band you sometimes hear on “progressive rock” radio stations.

I missed their testimony yesterday as well as prosecutor John Countryman’s case, when he called two deputies and played the videotape they made of the band’s Club Futura concert.

Today we heard testimony from the band’s manager and Anthony DeCurtis, the editor of Rolling Stone who assigns record reviews. DeCurtis, who has a Ph.D. in English and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter – I guess Phi Beta Kappa was supposed to impress the jury – testified as to Too Much Joy’s artistic quality and political intent.

Their rock ‘n’ roll performance of the 2 Live Crew lyrics was so devoid of sexual content and insinuation that this whole trial seemed even more of a waste of time than the previous prosecutions for obscenity. Still, Countryman did his best to try to get the jury to concentrate on the supposedly obscene words.

I got lots of interesting notes from the testimony and eloquent closing arguments – but feeling tired and wanting to avoid rush-hour traffic, I left as the judge gave the instructions to the jury.

Unless I misread them totally – they’re a middle-aged panel of three women and three men, one black – the jury has probably already reached a not guilty verdict.

How could Jack Thompson and Nick Navarro put these talented kids in a situation where they could get a year in jail for singing songs they probably don’t even like?

It’s depressing.

Or maybe I’m thinking of my own day in court two weeks from tomorrow. I’m starting to get really nervous about my creditors’ meeting.


Friday, January 18, 1991

2 PM. I just shut the sound off on the TV, but it’s tuned to CNN, where I can look at people in gas masks at CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau.

Last evening, when I heard reports of explosions in Tel Aviv, I went out to the dining room to tell my brothers and parents, who were eating dinner, and we spent an anxious evening glued to the pictures of the TV.

Reports were sketchy and often inaccurate, and people kept interrupting with fast-breaking word from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Pentagon.

At first it appeared that Iraq had hit Israel with chemical weapons launched from Scud missiles and that thousands were feared killed.

Everyone put on gas masks and went to sealed rooms in Israel, where it was the middle of the night. There were also air raids going off in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia. The allies hadn’t taken out all the hidden mobile missile launchers, and Iraq was getting missiles through to Israel as they had threatened.

Would Israel now retaliate and break up the coalition? Would Syria and Egypt and even Saudi Arabia feel compelled to fight Israel alongside their Arab neighbor? Was Tel Aviv destroyed?

Exhausted by the tension at 10 PM, I fell asleep, and by morning, the damage turned out to be minimal.

There were eight missiles, but they had conventional arms, not nerve gas, and only a couple of people were casualties. Israel has not so far retaliated with its air force. And the U.S. anti-missile destroyed the one Scud headed for Dhahran.

Still, it made it clear that this war isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. Just a few minutes ago there were reports of a new air raid in Israel, but now on the screen is a picture of a guy without a gas mask outside in the street in Tel Aviv, where it’s night again.

Whew, war is scary.

As I expected, the Too Much Joy jury returned a verdict of not guilty within fifteen minutes, sending a strong enough signal that Countryman announced that he was dropping the case against the Club Futura owner Ken Geringer, though Sheriff Navarro says he will continue to arrest anyone who sings the lyrics from As Nasty as They Wanna Be.

But for now the obscenity cases against rap in Broward County appear to be over, though there’ll be the appeals of federal judge Gonzalez’s ruling on the album and Charles Freeman’s conviction.

This morning I had my 8 AM class write their first essays, which will be due on Wednesday, and then I drove downtown.

At bankruptcy court, they were having 341 hearings, the creditors’ meeting I’ll be facing in two weeks.

I’m glad I got the chance to sit there for an hour so that I have an idea what to expect.

The trustee – I assume it was Lucy DiBraccio – called cases, swore in the debtors, and ask them questions about their property, expenses, employment and debts.

She was never abusive, but she questioned how people ran up cash advances of only $5000 on credit cards, so she’s obviously going to be very suspicious of me.

The only thing I can do is tell the truth and explain how my system worked. I won’t say I ever claimed to work at Computer Learning Systems, but if I’m asked, I’ll tell her that CLS was me.

If I tell the truth as best I can and I’m given the chance to explain (without discussing my motivations), she may let me through.

If not – well, I’ll be facing the huge expense of adversary hearings.

Few creditors did show up – Sears, mostly – and people who owned real property suing the debtor. In no case did a credit card bank come forward.

I’ll spend a couple of days gathering all my material in my “defense.” It should all be over in less than thirty minutes; most of the hearings took five minutes.

Back at BCC, I had a great English 102 class, teaching Yates’s “Leda and the Swan,” “The Second Coming” and “Sailing to Byzantium.” 


Sunday, January 20, 1991

11 PM. Last night I slept deeply for a long time. My body is fighting off a virus.

While I may be off-base, I suspect I’d be really sick if it weren’t for my healthy diet and my supplements. My immune system is probably as strong as it’s ever been.

When I awoke at 8:30 AM, I was alone in the house. After breakfast, I began reading the Times – it’s such a convenience now that it’s delivered – and at 10 AM, I forced myself to do aerobics, which wiped me out, putting me back in bed until 12:30 PM.

After I showered – because Saddam Hussein is the leader of the Ba’ath party, I’m boycotting baths till the war is over – I got a salad bar at Wendy’s and picked up China, who was my charge for the day.

She made a pleasant companion, though she kept me out in front of the house for longer than I liked. (I had the paper with me, so I wouldn’t have minded except that I had no back support as I sat on the ledge.)

Rockland Community College had an ad for three English vacancies, and maybe I’m nuts, but I’m going to apply, mostly because I’m so fond of Rockland County. I almost hope they don’t hire me, as it would be easier just to go to law school.

The Times Arts and Leisure section had a great feature on David Lang, whom I got to know and like at McDowell.

It was about how his work, now gaining renown, is influenced by pop music, including the Clash, who were mentioned in the Too Much Joy trial as an influence on that group.

One day I’ve got to take a few music courses and learn more about the music of the 1960s and 1970s that I somehow was oblivious to growing up.

Steve called at 6 PM, but since my parents and brothers still weren’t home, I decided to take China with me and then bring her back here and stay with her until someone got back from the flea market.

China loves driving around, and she was surprisingly well-behaved – although Steve had to sit in the back seat so she wouldn’t snap at him.

When I got to his parents’ condo, Steve’s father was out, but I met his mother, a lovely, youthful woman about 80 with a Jewish accent.

Although Steve is only a little older than me, he seems older, and it’s not just that he’s bald (he’s also about two inches shorter than I am): it’s that his values are more Old World. But that must come from having religious parents from Europe.

After leaving China with Mom and Dad, who had just come in, Steve and I went out for dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant and then drove around Fort Lauderdale.

After spending three hours with Steve, I think he’s a perfectly nice guy. I didn’t talk much about Ronna, though I did tell him how we met at an engagement party at the Mayfair Chinese restaurant exactly twenty years ago this weekend.

That led me to mention Ivan, whom he never heard of, though he did remember Ronna talking about Henry.

Steve is funny in a stuffy, Orthodox way, and he seems to have a good heart and his feet firmly planted on the ground. Actually, his type probably makes an ideal husband and father.

Steve seems like a man anxious to settle down and give his parents some new grandchildren. As he showed me photos of Ronna taken at some holiday celebrations with his relatives in Boston, I could tell that he’s crazy about her.

Obviously I can understand his being so in love with Ronna, but I have to assume she knows what she’s doing if she doesn’t want to continue seeing him.

There’s something about Steve’s personality – though I can’t put my finger on it – that makes me understand why Ronna wouldn’t consider him as a husband.

He told me about his family and his job as a labor lawyer; among other clients, he represents the Teamsters local featured in Goodfellas, who are now under indictment on RICO charges from the feds.

As I dropped him off at his parents’, Steve told me his relationship with Ronna is “up in the air” and he’s uncertain if they’ll get back together.

In any case, I told him I’d probably see him in New York and I wished him a good flight back tomorrow morning. (Luckily, he flew on Continental, not the now-defunct Eastern, which stopped flying at midnight.)

Back at home, there was a message from Teresa, but when I phoned, I woke her up: like Mom tonight, Teresa fell asleep on the couch watching the war on CNN.