A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1989

Monday, October 23, 1989

9 PM. Last night I slept better than I’ve slept in a long time – from 9:30 PM to 6:30 AM.

But I suspect I needed the rest because I’m still fighting off the cold that all of my students seem to have. I’ve got a sinus headache and sore throat.

I did feel refreshed for the start of school this morning. All this week I’m having conferences with my English 101 and 102 classes, having them work on assignments while I speak with people individually, look over their writing, and assign them a grade based on their portfolio.

Although I dislike the last task, I enjoy one-to-one contact with students. Some of them tell me how incompetent a few of their past BCC English teachers were, though I’ve heard that mostly about adjuncts.

During my break, I spoke a bit to Adrienne, who seems less mature and intelligent to me as time goes on. Maybe I’m hyper-critical. She’s very sweet, but I tend to avoid rushing into friendships until I can observe someone over a decent period of time.

I left campus at noon, stopping to look at the spring semester class list at the registrar’s office, where a student came over to ask what I’d be teaching so he could take me.

They’ve got me up for creative writing at 11 AM and English 101 at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; I’m not crazy about teaching English 101, but my schedule is compact.

I had an hour or so to eat lunch and then relax before I drove to Miami Northwestern High School, a trip that, as it turned out, proved to be unnecessary.

Because they were having a faculty meeting and then an open house, I assumed my class would be late – and one guy showed up. Then I figured I’d hang out there and not tell anyone and get paid anyway.

Actually I was doing something other than hanging out: Because I was in the computer lab, some students were able to stay late there, and I helped them with the software and printer to use Print Shop to make campaign posters for student elections.

I also made 5¼” disk copies of some software I found, including a phone directory, Word Perfect (which has a bug in it), Lotus 1-2-3, a calendar maker, etc.

When I got home and found a message from Mom that Sophie had called at 3 PM – when I was already at the school – to say that my workshop today was canceled, I got upset at the wasted time and gas.

I could have relaxed for four hours, but instead, I fought traffic and got myself tired for nothing.

By this time, I started feeling crummy, but I forced my body to do a light workout before dinner.

A caseworker went to see Grandma Ethel in Rockaway, and she felt Grandma needed to be hospitalized, so she’s now in Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, awaiting the care of a gerontologist.

Mom said that her brother is furious with her because Mom isn’t around to take care of Grandma so he has to be the one to drive her to the doctor and today to the hospital.

My uncle and aunt are the world’s biggest assholes. It’s not my mother’s fault she moved to Florida; she didn’t come here ten years ago to escape taking care of Grandma Ethel.

Maybe now Grandma will get some needed psychiatric help, either through psychotherapy or drugs. It’s a shame her mental problems are making her life so miserable. Aunt Tillie and Lillian Goldberg can’t deal with her anymore.

Wednesday, October 25, 1989

5 PM. I ended up not looking at my students’ papers last night. Instead, after watching The Wonder Years, I called Justin and David.

David’s lymph node biopsy results turned out to be benign, and every test he went through was negative, thank God.

David had to vacate his Reading apartment because the landlord decided to sell the building, so he and Justin put some of the stuff at his parents’ and took the rest to Brooklyn.

Theatre Inc. is doing well, though the company’s not-for-profit application and the trademark problems with the name are still not resolved.

Last Sunday, Justin’s play had a well-attended reading, featuring Veronica, Kenny and other actors Justin knows.

Justin quit his job, which sounded intolerable from the beginning; he went back to his temp agency and hopes to have something lined up soon.

Both Justin and David congratulated me on my weight loss, and I felt happy to be in contact with New York friends.

Patrick and Betty seemed more subdued than usual today; perhaps they were pissed that I skipped yesterday’s all-college English Department meeting at Central Campus.

Adrienne went, as did everyone from South but me, and she said she couldn’t believe some of the people from Central “who thought a thesis statement was the be-all and end-all of writing.”

They’ve been teaching composition that way for so long, they don’t know any better – and that’s one of the problems with spending your whole teaching career in one place.

Of course, maybe I overdo it in the opposite direction with jumping around from place to place, but I get bored so easily, and I want to see more of the world.

I had a talk with Adrienne, who’s nervous about the future. Once this term ends, she and Tony are going to have to find ways to bring in extra income.

Adrienne is thinking of going back to school to take grad courses in another field – probably in math – because she sees that she’ll never write fiction if she teaches English full-time at BCC.

On the other hand, the people in our department at South and the students at BCC are very nice, she said, “and there are probably worse places to teach.”

I spoke to Sophie, who confirmed Thursdays for my workshop at Miami Springs High School; I’ll teach it starting November 30 and December 7 and 14, and then four classes in January. I’m happier to be going to Miami Springs once a week rather than twice.

I finally got my Northwestern High School contract, and the pay is better than I thought: $960. The Miami Springs workshop should pay even more.

I left the BCC-South campus at 12:30 PM and came home to have lunch, read the Times, relax, exercise and shower.

After I picked up my mail at Mom’s – Key Federal will double my $250 deposit on the Visa secured credit line – I went to Publix, where I weighed a little over 162.

My pattern has been to lose several pounds and then consolidate the loss in alternate weeks, so I’m not worried.

Lately I’ve been skipping my snacks; my box of Nutri Crisps still has plenty of chips in it.

Tonight I’ll go back to BCC for my fiction writing workshop. I have to get there early so as to have time to read the stories we’re covering in class.

Thursday, October 26, 1989

1 PM. I’ll be leaving within the hour for Miami, even though I’m not feeling that great. This morning I got up from sleep with a start and immediately I knew I’d made myself dizzy again.

Even as I write this, I got a jolt. It had been only in the past couple of weeks that I’ve been able to sleep on my right side without vertigo, and now I seem to have upset the applecart, as I did in late June in New York.

I can only hope that this won’t last weeks or months before it fades away. It’s encouraging that my dizziness always goes away, but discouraging that it keeps coming back.

I was able to go to BCC and get through my remedial class, but my head felt spongy. This morning, as I lay on my right side or straight back, I immediately got the “warning” signal of vertigo, so I rushed to put myself upright. I don’t want to attempt positional change now.

Well, I functioned with this in the spring and summer and I guess I’ll function in the fall. There’s no point in going to a doctor; as before, I’ll just keep taking Bonine.

Yesterday afternoon Sat Darshan called from work at the bank.

She’d gotten my letter and said she was ordering two copies of my book – which embarrassed me so much that I didn’t know what to say.

I told her about my diet and school life, and she told me that she and Krishna  have pretty much decided to separate in about a year. Their marriage has been in trouble for some time, and he “found somebody else.”

Because they both want to stay in the ashram community and there are only a limited number of apartments in the new house (the outside is up, but the inside won’t be finished until winter), they’ve got no choice but to take a three-bedroom apartment and “live as friends and co-parents” of their daughters.

Although I wasn’t surprised, I know this must be a difficult time for Sat Darshan. It will take courage for them to get divorced, she said, and she’s not sure what will happen. I’m going to try to be a supportive friend to her.

Last night’s fiction writing workshop was okay, though Morris with his pedantic pomposity, Michael with his juvenile ramblings, and Jackie with her ditziness all got on my nerves.

I hope I can get through today’s workshop at Northwestern without getting really sick. But at least come noon tomorrow, the work week will be over and I’ll get a chance to relax and rest.


8 PM. I’ve just returned from Nutri/System, where I weighed in at 161½, losing a pound and a half for the week (actually, it was probably closer to two pounds since I wore long pants and a dress shirt instead of the usual t-shirt and shorts) and 23½ pounds overall. Not bad.

I continue to enjoy the classes with Julie – tonight we talked about thought refocusing – and there were lots of Halloween decorations and familiar people at the center.

I got through my workshop at Northwestern High School.

Anthony Riley got us permission to use the Macintosh II in the main office, so we spent the session in there. He’s a printing teacher and is getting his own Mac II plus a scanner, a laser printer, PostScript, HyperCard, etc.

While I’m no Mac maven – the only Macs I’d worked on were the old models and the Mac SEs at Teachers College – I can basically make my way, pointing and clicking, through the pull-down menus and icons of the Macintosh’s screens.

We spent about 90 minutes at the computer, playing with different font styles, using Cricket Draw and MacWrite, fiddling with the accessories.

As some of the teachers noted, the Mac II is looking more and more like an IBM PC and the IBM PCs look more and more like the Mac IIs.

Both Northwestern’s PS/2 Model 70 and their Mac II have hardware more powerful than we have at BCC or FIU, so in this course, I’m learning as much as I’m teaching, which is good.

Unfortunately, the Macintosh screen always gives me eyestrain and a headache, and combined with my dizziness and rush hour traffic through Liberty City and up NW 27th Avenue/University Drive, I thought I’d be sick or have a panic attack on the way home.

But I managed to keep my anxiety under control although I was tired by the time I returned to Davie.

When I picked up the mail straight from my parents’ mailbox, I got a pleasant surprise: I’ve been awarded a Quarry Farm Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College for two weeks in August.

I’ll get a $2000 stipend and live in the house, owned by his in-laws, where Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and other books.

I’ll have to give a reading, and I’ll need a car – but I can rent one. It will be a good experience and look nice on my résumé.

As I told Mom, I get so few rewards from being a writer that I’d better take the ones I’m offered.

Now let’s see if I can sleep.

Saturday, October 28, 1989

It’s 8 PM, though I’ve just changed all the digital clocks on the radio, VCR, answering machine, and microwave back to Standard Time.

I’m going to sleep early because of a bad sinus headache that’s been with me for days and which has probably caused the return of my dizziness.

Last night I fell asleep during the third game of the World Series, postponed from ten days earlier when the earthquake hit.

This morning I went to BCC (when I say BCC now, I mean South Campus) and worked out in the Nautilus room.

It had been years since I’d used Nautilus equipment, so I made sure to use light weight and not over-exert myself. I didn’t do any other exercise today because I’m not sure of the effect of the workout.

The very first time I tried Nautilus seven years ago, I felt faint and was very sore the next day.

This morning I had the gym to myself except for one guy sitting at the front table, reading a book; he said his job was to watch the room.

Back home, I felt hungrier than usual all day: perhaps a result of the workout, or it could be psychological. In any case, the only cheating I did was to have an extra serving of broccoli in the afternoon.

At my parents’ house, I did laundry and watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit with Jonathan and China.

Dad said his business trip to New York was good.

On Tuesday evening, he went to Brooklyn and sat in the hospital with Grandma Ethel for two hours.

She felt better, Dad said, after he told her that she needed to rely on her inner resources to make herself well.

Dad liked the new Woody Allen film – which is opening here next weekend – and enjoyed being in New York, especially because the weather was so warm for late October.

The Campeau department stores aren’t going to get most of their Bugle Boy merchandise shipped for Christmas because the company is afraid they won’t get paid for the goods.

This means Dad will be out thousands of dollars in commissions. Dad says it’s now too late for Burdines and Jordan Marsh/Maas Brothers to come up with a plan for money. He assumes that the Allied and Federated stores are having trouble with all of their suppliers.

If you multiply Dad by hundreds of other people affected by the Campeau debt problems, it seems as if the department stores’ difficulties alone could drag the economy into recession. And if the stores don’t sell goods for Christmas, when will they make money?

Last night I went to another department store, Sears – Dad says that it will fail, too – and bought myself some sexy Bugle Boy pants, the baggy kind with the drawstrings on the bottom (so I don’t have to fix them).

Dad also gave me some Bugle Boy black denims he got from the show – he stayed late and the guy taking the jeans off the mannequin gave the pants to Dad – but they’re a 31-inch waist and a tight fit.

However, I can easily get into a 32”: not bad for a guy who bought his first 36” last winter. I’m very happy with my thinner self, happier than I expected to be.

I just hope I can avoid vanity; lately I’ve been admiring myself in mirrors.

Sat Darshan called to finish our conversation from Wednesday, when she was interrupted by a phone call.

She sounds more and more like the Avis she was in the old days, but perhaps that’s only because I’m getting closer to her again.

The Bayerische Landesbank didn’t go into junk bonds, so they’re happy with the market reversal, as they expect to do better than competitors who invested heavily in junk.

As part of Europe’s 1992 consolidation, the bank is opening in Milan, Paris and other cities.

“Fifty years ago we Germans took over Europe in tanks,” Sat Darshan’s boss said, “but today we’re doing it in business suits.”

The possibility of German reunification is exciting, Sat Darshan said, but Helmut told her it’s also scary to people in West Germany.

Central Europe is now about as unstable as it’s been since 1914 – and look at what happened then. The 1990s are going to be interesting times.

Today I spoke with Teresa in Fire Island as she struggled to get ready for her landlord, who was coming to turn off the water for the winter.

This is Teresa’s last weekend in Fire Island. It’s been 75° and sunny, so it still felt like summer to her.

Because her subtenant on West 85th Street stays with her boyfriend on Long Island on weekends, Teresa can sleep in Manhattan then. She says the woman will be out of the apartment by Memorial Day.

Teresa’s Oyster Bay Cove house is taking some getting used to. Mostly she’s spooked by the isolation and the country noises and the abundance of space, even though the place is furnished by now.

I spent a lot of time working on my credit cards the past couple of days, and by making lots of cash advances, I’ve been able to keep my chassis going.

The $500 increase in my First Atlanta card – to $3900 – that I got today will help. (The First Atlanta Visa was my first credit card; when I got it in 1981, I had a $700 credit line.)

My Diners Club credit balance was transferred to the revolving Club Plus $5000 credit line, so getting and returning airline tickets did me no good. However, I’ll use Diners Club whenever possible so I can free up my other cards for cash advances.

I’m a credit card Campeau Corporation.

Sunday, October 29, 1989

8 PM. I just got off the phone with Grandma, who sounds in bad shape in the hospital.

She said she’d just told a doctor she was getting chest pains, and he went off mumbling something.

“This hospital is not for me,” Grandma said. “The people here, what they carry on.”

Obviously she’s in a psychiatric ward, and most of the other patients are really messed up mentally.

They give her “lots of pills” and try to get her to eat (“I have no appetite . . . I lost three pounds here.”) and take part in group activities “like children’s games and making Halloween decorations.”

What happened was that the social worker from Meals on Wheels came last Monday, when Grandma wasn’t feeling well, and the woman immediately decided to take her to the hospital.

I hope the decision was correct.

Grandma needs psychiatric care (“Oh, your father was so wonderful. He said, ‘You’re not sick, they tell you, but actually you’re sicker than those who are physically sick.’”) – but hospitals can be death traps, and I know how jaded and uncaring doctors are.

While Grandma seems very depressed, she sounds totally rational, and I’m not sure she belongs with psychotics or schizophrenics.

I wish I were in New York so I could see her and help her in a concrete way.

I feel pretty down myself. It’s not only Grandma; naturally, I’m not that unselfish.

At 2 AM, I awoke feeling very dizzy and I had the damn positional vertigo all over again. I was up the rest of the night, trying to salvage the time by reading.

Just when I thought the dizziness had finally gone away, it’s back, and I’ve been feeling woozy all day. What if it gets worse?

Well, at least I have medical coverage now. I hope it will be no worse than it was in July: I can cope with that.

What triggered the relapse, I wonder? Sinus problems? Or could I be doing what my grandmother does – getting sick from a psychosomatic illness?

If so, my dizziness is as real to me as the burning feeling in Grandma’s throat.

And I do feel lonely and like a drudge in my teaching. I needed to do something fun this weekend, and instead I did the usual: reading, schoolwork, exercise. What good is being thin if – – I was going to say, “if nobody loves me,” but I am not going to lapse into self-pity.

No, this is a sign I need to change my life. Change is painful but not changing is worse.