A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1989
Wednesday, November 1, 1989
1 PM. This is my midweek midday break. On Wednesdays I get to relax at home from 12:30 PM to 5:30 PM before I have to return to BCC.
I should be reading some student papers now, but I probably won’t. I never got to those papers last night. Instead, I just dawdle and let my students wait to get their papers back later. I’m becoming an increasingly irresponsible teacher.
The truth is that much of the time I don’t enjoy teaching English. Maybe if I had a job teaching only creative writing or if I taught composition to better students than BCC gets, I’d feel differently.
While I’m not sorry I took the full-time position at South Campus this semester, I see once again that I’m not happy teaching college English.
After working at CUNY in the fall of 1985, I vowed I’d never teach remedial writing there again, and two years later, I disliked returning to BCC-Central when I took on those three night classes in mid-semester.
Now I realize that even with process-oriented techniques, I still find the work drudgery and not intellectually stimulating.
It’s not that I’m lazy, either. I could read about education or business or fiction for hours and hours. Well, maybe that’s not work, and I am lazy.
My students don’t seem to care, either. In English 101 today, we tried to look at Newsweek, but my students were like bumps on a log.
Every time I ask a question, they look blank. Once again I heard a student say, “That doesn’t affect us, so why do we have to know or care about it?”
Maybe I’m romanticizing my own college years to say that we cared passionately about so many things, but it did seem that the people I hung out with as an undergraduate had more curiosity about the world and approached it less passively.
It’s scary how self-satisfied my students are in regard to their own ignorance. If it sounds as if I have contempt for them, well, I have to admit I do, a little. Most are nice people, very sweet – nicer than my generation, probably – but they’re so bland and uninterested and uninteresting.
They have no idea what they’re missing, and their previous education is to blame.
Ironically, today was the day when the Fort Lauderdale paper profiled me with an article accompanied by a photo of me, 17 pounds fatter, in front of the classroom.
The article made me sound successful, mentioning quotes from the Times Book Review and Rolling Stone, my “real estate deals” (well, I have made money on real estate by living in cheap places), and CompuLearn, my consulting firm.
The profile also covered my shuttling between South Florida and Manhattan and my grants.
I xeroxed the article without the photo, but it will be a good reminder of how I looked before – and when the picture was taken, I’d already lost nine pounds from my Nutri/System starting weight.
11 PM. I just got home from BCC a little while ago and changed into my bedclothes – a t-shirt and gym shorts – and brushed my teeth with the Interplak after I had my Nutri/System chocolate pudding, a treat I’d saved for myself.
After a pleasant night class, I feel more kindly disposed toward my students and teaching at BCC. My fiction writing students were more likable, for some reason, on this particular evening.
I read to them from Crad’s books before we went over two decent student stories: a clever satire by Carolyn, who writes her tales with authority, and a rather muddled – but literary – story by Lois, which was about a small town in New England during the Great Depression.
Earlier, during the afternoon, I called Grandma Ethel, who said she was having problems with low – not high – blood pressure. She felt bad, yet I seem to have detected a slight adjustment on her part to the hospital routine in the psychiatric ward.
The nurses make sure she doesn’t lie in bed and push her to activities and “meetings.” Perhaps she’s being given antidepressants, which usually take weeks to kick in. She didn’t sleep well last night, but she’s eating more.
I wish I were in New York so I could visit her and help along her recovery.
Grandma, too, said she wished I were still living at Teresa’s so I could be only a train ride away.
Well, if she’s still around in May, I’ll help her. I can’t move in to Teresa’s apartment – if I do – until Memorial Day, when her subtenant leaves, and my staying with Grandma in Rockaway might be helpful for both of us.
I wish I knew what I was going to do next fall, but I suppose worrying about it now is silly. I keep looking forward to the end of this semester, but really, I’ve settled into a routine I’m comfortable – if not altogether happy – with.
But I miss New York and my friends there. My time in the city last summer was too short.
Thursday, November 2, 1989
9 PM. I’m so glad tomorrow’s Friday. The past four weeks have been very tiring, but I finished the Northwestern High School workshop today.
Luckily, one teacher – René Romero, the drafting teacher who’s got a PS/2 Model 70, showed up, and I spent several hours going over software with him and letting him and Martha Perez, the computer teacher I first met when I came to the school in January 1988, pirate some of my programs to their 3.5” disks.
I also forged a workshop completion form signature for Anthony Riley, the printing teacher, because he came to most sessions and I know he’s learned to use the Mac II.
At the Teacher Education Center, they may think it’s odd that only two teachers out of twenty finished the component, but I doubt I’ll get into trouble.
I drove home through the streets of Liberty City and up University Drive as it got dark. After a quick dinner, I went to Nutri/System, where I weighed in at 160½, a loss of a pound since last week.
“Richard, what’s wrong?” asked the nurse, an older German woman I don’t like as much as the others.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I said. “I’m doing fine.” I’d weighed myself at Publix before driving to Miami and I weighed 159 on their scale.
Unlike three weeks ago, I’m no longer concerned with weekly fluctuations in my weight loss, as the trend is clear. I think the more gradually I lose the weight, the better it is to keep it off anyway.
Last night it took me a while to come down from the stimulation of teaching till 10 PM, but finally I went to sleep. Up at 6 AM, which is getting to be my normal morning wakeup time, I had breakfast, read the Times, exercised, and prepared some assignments.
When I got to BCC, I xeroxed the sheets I’d printed out, and I had my remedial class write today. Next week I’ll catch up on my grading; I’ve fallen embarrassingly behind.
On the other hand, I worked hard the last month, and with all the teaching and driving and other stress, I stuck with my diet and exercising and other routines and I don’t think my students suffered unduly.
Julie’s class at Nutri/System tonight was on effective communication. I like discussing that kind of stuff, and I bet I’d make a good Nutri/System counselor.
After a woman in our class mentioned seeing the Sun-Sentinel profile of me, Julie said she wanted to see it. She also said she met Mom on Tuesday night.
I stopped off at my parents’ on the way home to drop off a dessert that Mom forgot to take that I’d picked up for her.
Dad was back from his trip to Sarasota and Tampa, and China wanted to lick me and get her belly rubbed.
Teresa left a message about getting some of Mom’s tuxedo shirts from the flea market for her cater-waiters, but she wasn’t in when I called her back, and now I’m unplugging the phone because I want to go to sleep – or try to, anyway.
This weekend I plan to see the new Woody Allen film; after all these weeks, it’s about time I went to the movies.
Dad gave me these nice new Bugle Boy t-shirts that look real good with my new slacks. I guess it’s because I look good.
Am I too forgiving of myself? If I am, how is it going to hurt me? I’d rather err on the side of gentleness.
Saturday, November 4, 1989
9 PM. I didn’t look at the pile of student papers I’ve got to grade before Monday, but I did most of the stuff I wanted to accomplish this weekend.
This morning, after making Nutri/System pancakes for breakfast, I went out to get $800 in cash advances and the newspaper. I now have over $3400 in my CalFed checking account, and I’m starting to feel better about my cash flow.
At 10:15 AM, I went to BCC and worked out on the Nautilus equipment, warming up and cooling down with the DynaBike.
Only time will tell if I’m going to be as sore as I was last week and if the Nautilus workouts will prevent me from losing weight.
I tried not to overdo it, because unlike when I worked out with the machines seven years ago, I’m not eating enough to provide all the energy I need.
Once again I was the only one in the gym except for the student aide watching the place.
I’m still at the stage where I keep looking at my body in the mirror, and there are mirrored walls around the gym.
At Sears I bought a new pair of shorts, a size 32 that certainly wasn’t snug. I had just enough time to shower and change and eat lunch before catching the 1:45 PM show of Crimes and Misdemeanors at the new Fountains Theater.
Woody Allen’s film finally opened here yesterday, and it’s as good as everyone says.
It was surprising that I seemed to be the only one in the audience who got Woody’s line about the
smarmy Alan Alda character, “I love him like a brother – David Greenglass.” My laugh rang out in an otherwise silent theater.
I would have expected some of the elderly Jews there would remember the Rosenbergs. (Later, Dad told me everyone in the Manhattan theater laughed at this line. I think that’s the reason I prefer New York.)
Martin Landau did a terrific job as the ophthalmologist who does something totally immoral and then discovers, to his surprise, that he can live without guilt or punishment from God.
The wicked and venal are rewarded, and the good people suffer in the film. I’m not sure what Allen’s point was, but it’s exhilarating to see a film deal with moral issues and God. It made me want to write.
Instead, I came home and called Grandma, who said she felt very bad. She tells me the problem is her “nerves,” so at least Grandma seems to be recognizing the nature of her illness.
A man came in to take her blood pressure, so she had to get off. Grandma’s blood pressure is low, not high, for some reason. (I got my lowest reading yet – 105/62 – at Eckerd Drugs’ blood pressure machine yesterday.)
After doing did laundry at my parents’ house, I came home and read Sunday’s Herald. Again, no mention of my chapbook in the monthly South Florida Reader column, which focuses on local authors.
Although I’ve had my books reviewed in the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Bill Robertson’s book page in the Herald has never mentioned me in all these years.
I dislike the Herald for many reasons, but basically they’re so damned smug. Also, I hate how they’ve pandered to the right-wing Cuban-Americans in Dade politics.
Looking over the authors invited to the Miami Book Fair (sponsored by the Herald), I saw the familiar suspects.
BCC-South took a booth, and I volunteered to help Patrick run it over the weekend, but I’m sure I won’t sell any books.
I’ve thought of just giving away copies of With Hitler in New York, though; Mom and Dad would like me to empty out their warehouse.
Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like to be a writer whose work was in demand.
Hey, buddy, you’re coming close to self-pity here.
The East German pro-democracy demonstrations are exciting, but will they end like the ones in Tiananmen Square?
Thousands of East Germans, knowing that the borders are open again, are going to Prague and from there by train to a new life in West Germany; they don’t expect the reform campaign to amount to much.
Eastern Europe is changing with a rapidity that’s almost scary. There’s a new post-post-World War II order forming.
People are up in arms about Mitsubishi buying Rockefeller Center, just as they were when Sony bought Columbia Pictures, but Americans have only ourselves and our government to blame.
If Americans want to have high living standards without paying taxes, then we need Japanese and other foreigners investing here to keep us afloat.
Tuesday, November 7, 1989
8 PM. Last night I managed to sleep a solid eight hours between 9:30 PM and 5:30 AM, with nourishing dreams.
This morning I accomplished a lot. By the time I left for school, I’d exercised to Body Electric, read the New York Times, and typed up and graded my remedial papers.
In class, we gathered into a circle and went over five essays on students’ goals for the coming year. In the remedial class, I’m going to alternate in-class writing with these workshops for the remainder of the term.
Scott Coventry said he could a design a cover for my new book with his desktop publishing software, and after thinking about it tonight, I’m inclined to let him give it a try.
After lunch at home, I went to a walk-in clinic and got a flu vaccine for $20. Because so many of my students seem to be getting the flu and because I remember getting it in January 1987 (though I shrugged it off relatively quickly), I decided a flu shot would be worth the money.
The nurse vaccinated me and made me wait twenty minutes to see if I had an allergic reaction. I didn’t, of course, though my shoulder has been sore.
Stopping off at Mom’s, I found the galley proofs of the new book. Exactly six months ago, I got the galleys for The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was.
Anyway, I read the galleys of Narcissism and Me and think it’s an even better book: sharper, funnier and less dated.
Tom sent me the list of the fourteen people who bought the Lowlands Press book: Sat Darshan and her sister and brother-in-law, Teresa’s parents, Bobby Frauenglas, Kenneth Bernard, Edmund Pennant, Josh, Terry Malley, Susan Schaeffer, Bert Stratton, Pearl Levine and someone named Mabel. That makes me feel good.
Fifteen copies – Sat Darshan bought two – isn’t bad.
I’ll do better with both books when I get to New York City and take them out on the streets, and maybe I can sell some copies of The Greatest Short Story at the Miami Book Fair.
Tonight when I called Grandma Ethel, she said the doctor told her she wouldn’t be going home this week. Her burning sensation has returned, though she seems to be aware it’s psychosomatic.
Although Grandma said she felt bad, she did go out to the dining room to eat dinner with several of the women she’s met on the psychiatric ward.
Marty and Arlyne broke the news of Claire’s death to her when they visited, and while Grandma was upset about her sister, she had expected it.
“There’s nothing I could have done for her.” Grandma Ethel said, quite correctly.
Mom told me she didn’t do so well at Nutri/System last week, but it’s hard for her, being limited to only a few vegetarian entrees.
She said Julie is crazy about me. “Unlike most intelligent people,” Julie said, “Richard participates in the classes and doesn’t feel like he’s above it all.”
Actually, I look forward to the classes, as simplistic as they sometimes are because I feel I can use the support and the reminders about changing my behavior. I’ve always felt my best quality was my openness.
The flip side of that is negative, of course, leaving me a dilettante and a person incapable of the single-mindedness necessary for success in most fields. But on balance, I’d prefer to be the way I am.
A year ago, I was sick with a bad cold, lying in Teresa’s bed, watching Bush trounce Dukakis. Tonight’s election results aren’t in yet, but I’ll check the news at the top of the hour.
Wednesday, November 8, 1989
1 PM. I’ve just finished lunch and am going to lie down. I slept only a couple of hours last night, and right now I’ve got a headache that’s probably a combination of lack of sleep and sinus. It’s raining out, so for a change the sunlight isn’t streaming in here the way it usually does in the afternoons.
I got fed up with my BCC students today, and I was sarcastic to one guy in English 102 who never shows up (I often see him walking in the opposite direction when I’m going to class) and who said to me, “I can’t stay today. You’re not doing anything important.”
Even the other English teachers seemed out of sorts today. I asked Cynthia for a personal leave form for next Wednesday; it’s best to use it on the day I teach six hours.
One reason I stayed up late was the election returns. Doug Wilder’s margin in the Virginia governor’s race was razor-thin and still subject to a recount, but it looks like he’s the first elected black governor.
Lots of people must lie to pollsters to hide their racism, because the polls had him way ahead.
The same thing happened in New York, where Dinkins just edged Giuliani. In New Jersey, another Democratic governor was elected, and from all the races, it appears that a pro-choice position is important for candidates after the Webster decision.
Thursday, November 9, 1989
8 PM. I’m grateful they’re giving us tomorrow off even though Veterans Day is on Saturday this year.
Last evening’s fiction writing class went okay, but the students’ peculiarities continue to get on my nerves even as I regard them with affection born out of extended contact.
How did Baumbach and Spielberg ever stand our MFA workshops for two whole years?
The fiction we went over in class was pure garbage: a chapter from Joanie’s reincarnation novel; a virulently anti-abortion, anti-feminist story by Carolyn, who equated abortions with the murders of adults and children; and a hopelessly confused SF story by Scott.
What am I doing at BCC? Several of my students tonight said I looked tired.
Well, next week they’ll meet without me, and they’ll probably have a better class when Morris and Barbara run it in my absence.
Adrienne is welcome to them on Wednesday night next term.
At least I fell asleep soon after I got home at 10:30 PM, so I got the rest that my mind and body was craving.
Up at 7:30 AM, I exercised to Body Electric on channel 42, which comes in fuzzily from West Palm Beach at 8 AM.
Then I went out to buy the newspaper, milk and gasoline before coming home for breakfast and getting back into bed.
I dawdled too long, interested in the Times’ election coverage. Giuliani carried my old neighborhood in Brooklyn as well as Rockaway, Staten Island, and most white areas handily, and Dinkins got only 30% of the Jewish vote.
Still, he did get elected, and I’m glad because New York City needs a black mayor now.
In an op-ed piece, the pollster Louis Harris compared the current trend of voters to favor more government intervention (except on abortion) to the anti-government sentiment of the late ’70s and early ’80s that brought us Proposition 13, Ronald Reagan and the New Right.
Just maybe the Democrats will get their act together, though I’m sure that absent a severe economic crisis, Bush will get re-elected in ’92.
Getting to BCC only ten minutes before my class began, I had conferences with some of my remedial students as they all wrote an essay.
Betty told me that by Monday, we should have a schedule for next weekend’s Miami Book Fair table.
I’ve been thinking about giving away copies of Hitler, which is officially out of print; at least it’s not in the new Books in Print. (My imprint for Narcissism and Me, however, is listed.) The problem is that people don’t value a book they get for free.
After leaving BCC, I came home to have lunch and then I got a haircut from Nikki, who’s due at the end of year and is showing much more than she needs to.
She and her boss John – who himself lost and kept off eighty pounds last year – are really the first people who noticed how much weight I’ve lost.
Tonight I weighed in at 185 – I mean 158; 185 was where I started. So I’ve lost 27 pounds, though because I had on shorts tonight (it hit 90° today), it may actually be that I’ve lost less than that.
My dinner was ruined when instead of Spanish rice and beans, I got two packets of beans and red sauce, and I found a hair in my frozen vegetables. So I went to Nutri/System early (and got a dinner replacement, even though it was too late to eat it tonight).
I gave Julie a copy of the Sun-Sentinel article. Even though tonight’s class was on thought refocusing and I had it before, I found listening to it again valuable.
Twice today – this morning when I was running late for my class and had trouble with my lenses and lots of little problems, and then at dinner – I felt “everything is going wrong.”
It was because I focused only on the negatives. I’ve done that all my life, seeing things as either totally good or bad. But I did manage to deal with the stress well.
In East Germany this week, the cabinet and the Politburo resigned, and as thousands kept fleeing to the west via Prague, today the government announced they were opening the borders and that East Germans could travel abroad freely.
This effectively knocks down the Berlin Wall. History is happening in Eastern Europe, and it’s happening very quickly.
Friday, November 10, 1989
10 PM. Watching the news from Berlin makes me feel I’m watching a turning point in history. Last night people from East Berlin began heading through the gates into the West, and Germans celebrated by climbing on top of the wall, shouting and drinking champagne, hitting at the wall with instruments that chipped away what already has come down symbolically.
East Germans apparently have been walking to West Germany without visas, and the Communist government has talked of free elections, like those in Poland and Hungary. It thrilled me to see people testing a new kind of freedom. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall went up, and it’s always been the major symbol of East/West tensions and a divided Europe.
The world is changing with breathtaking speed, but an exciting time is also dangerous, as June 4 in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, proved.
For all his high poll ratings, President Bush seems singularly unequipped to lead in this new world order. He never got critical with China after the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, and he does nothing to encourage reform in East Germany.
I got up at 8 AM and spent the morning enjoying the luxury of lolling in bed. Of course, I used to do that nearly every morning; it’s only the last twelve weeks I’ve been working full-time.
I read the papers, listened to National Public Radio, exercised and then went out to deposit cash advances in the bank, to buy skin bronzer (my legs look good, but they’re too pale), and to go to my parents’ house to prepare my Nutri/System desserts.
I didn’t accomplish much today, but it was good to be away from school.
Teresa called last night to say that she, her sister and brother-in-law and the kids will be coming to Florida in January. In lieu of getting Christmas presents for each other, they decided to vacation in Disney World, and Teresa will come down from Orlando to stay with me for a while. I’ll be happy to see her.
On Wednesday she got her car towed from in front of Norton’s store in Brooklyn Heights, and the car had all the stuff she needed for that night’s party.
The workers at the Gold Street facility where the car was kept were celebrating Dinkins’ victory and kept her for hours before she got the car back, and then Norton wouldn’t let Pam go to Manhattan to help Teresa.
Luckily, only 40 of the expected 100 guests showed up because it was raining so hard; otherwise, Teresa said, the party would have been a disaster.