A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1989

Sunday, November 12, 1989

8 PM. It’s been a pleasant three-day weekend, if my usual lonely one. Still, I’ve tried to put my time and solitude to good use. Next weekend I’ll be around plenty of people at the Miami Book Fair anyway.

I got up at 8 AM and went out to get my reserved copy of the Sunday Times. Back in the apartment, I made myself Nutri/System pancakes and then worked on a list of term paper topics for my English 101 students who are too dull to think of one on their own.

After reading what I felt was a really racist paper last night – the girl said Officer Lozano, now on trial in Miami for the murder of a black motorcyclist in January, was the victim of an injustice and kept praising him as a blameless police officer – I realized the truth: I don’t like many of my BCC students.

Not only are they ignorant, mercenary and self-centered, but some of them are mean-spirited and politically far to the right of those (few) undergrad professors I dismissed as “fascists” at Brooklyn College twenty years ago.

The idea, I suppose, is to just concentrate on the good students, the ones who are either bright or open-minded or interesting, and I do have some of them in every class.

Although my lower back has been tricky since Wednesday, I worked out to Body Electric and later used the weight bench in my parents’ garage.

In the afternoon, I finished reading the paper and doing the preparation for tomorrow’s classes. Because I’m taking a personal day on Wednesday, this week shouldn’t be hectic even though I’m beginning a new workshop at Miami Springs High School on Thursday afternoon.

Actually, Thursday will be my busiest day. Tomorrow shouldn’t be so bad, especially if I get more sleep than I did the last two Sunday nights.

At my parents’, Jonathan had brought China over. She stares at me with those brown eyes and at times she tries to talk to me. It’s always hard to say goodbye to her, because she doesn’t know where I’m going and I wonder if she expects to see me again.

The last few times when she’s been at Mom’s and heard my car pull up, she’s run to the glass beside the front door and watched me come up the path to the house as she licks the window pane. Dogs, like grandparents, give their love unconditionally.

Euphoria still reigns in the streets of East Berlin as hundreds of thousands of East Germans stream to the West; almost all return home after sightseeing, shopping and visiting, but I’m certain that now that the wall has opened, the Soviets and the East Germans will never be able to close it again.

This weekend seems the definite end of the Cold War, though I still hear the reactionary talk-show hosts babbling on about Soviet duplicity and how this is all a trick to gain world conquest.

What will the right-wingers do without the Communists to serve as their enemy and symbol of everything evil? The 1990s will be as interesting and dynamic as I always thought they would be.

Today I read about planned celebrations of Earth Day next April, twenty years after the original day of worldwide demonstrations about the environment. Next May will also be the twentieth anniversary of the Cambodian invasion and the Kent State killings.

Jimmy Carter is starting to be the subject of media speculation that he was not the devil incarnate after all. Carter’s selflessness after the presidency contrasts with Reagan’s accepting $2 million for a few days of appearance in Japan.

The times they are a-changing.

Monday, November 13, 1989

8 PM. I did sleep okay after I finally drifted off. Dreams of Manhattan punctuated the night, and I awoke just before my alarm at 6:30 AM. (I almost always beat the alarm, of course. Since the term began, it’s awakened me only once.)

At BCC I had lots of xeroxing to do before teaching. I signed up to help Patrick at the Book Fair on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Supposedly the three BCC English departments are involved, but Patrick will probably have trouble finding volunteers outside South Campus.

I’m actually looking forward to the Book Fair as a time to get away and socialize, even if I can’t get into many of the events because I’ll be tied up at the BCC table outside.

As Betty told me the other day, it’s unusual for us to have any presence south of the county line. Miami-Dade Community College’s administration is aware of the “white flight” problem they have with many students in North Dade shunning MDCC’s North Campus for BCC-South.

While my English 102 students wrote their CLAST-prototype essays today, I read and graded papers.

During my break, I sat outside with smokers Adrienne and Barbara, who said I now look “slight.” Today I wore a pair of Sergio Valente jeans I bought in Macy’s at Kings Plaza four years ago but which were always too tight for me. Now they’re not even snug, and I’m glad I saved them.

Mom had two other pairs fixed for me, including the Bugle Boy jeans Dad got at the New York City menswear show.

My English 101 class was distracted, as was I, as I attempted to discuss extended definition with them. But all my students perked up and seemed happy when I said I was canceling class on Wednesday.

Home at 1 PM, I had lunch and then finished reading the papers. An aerobic workout to a Body Pulse video didn’t even have me sweating. Perhaps my fitness level is getting higher and I need something more taxing. However, recent research indicates that even light exercise is enormously beneficial.

I got a ton of mail, including seven credit card bills. Because I’ve got more money in the bank now, I’m not cutting it so close with my credit chassis, and I’m able to pay more than the minimum. I’ll get my $830 BCC check on Thursday, and an FIU check should be coming soon.

Miriam Sagan wrote me after I sent her a copy of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was. She and Robert and their nine-month-old daughter are all doing fine.

Mostly she’s been playing “earth mother,” but she’s also doing a few poetry workshops, helping out with Robert’s Fish Dance magazine, and getting a new chapbook together. I’m glad to be in touch with Miriam again.

Tuesday, November 14, 1989

7 PM. I woke up at 7 AM today and accomplished a good deal before I left for BCC three hours later: I had a vigorous aerobic workout, graded all the remedial papers and typed up and printed out the essays we looked at in class.

Once again, I had the class sit in a circle as we had a workshop, and this one worked beautifully. I selected four essays from my English 102 class on “What is wrong with the opposite sex?” Two were from angry men and two from dissatisfied women. I was surprised at the hostility in the papers and the stereotypical, 1950s-style complaints about the clingy, jealous, lying female and the macho, boorish, uninvolved male.

You couldn’t get me to be a teenager today for any money. It’s interesting that working with recent high school graduates as closely once again has made me see I must have been very mixed-up to get involved with Sean. Of course, I was 7½ years younger than I am now, and Sean was a pretty special guy.

However, I don’t care how special or cute he is, there’s no way I’d think of getting involved with an 18-year-old today. But Sean is 25 by now, and I’d consider a relationship with someone that age; at least I’d feel a 25-year-old had gone through some adult crises.

Cynthia said my day off tomorrow was confirmed, and Morris took the creative writing class’s papers so they can proceed without me tomorrow evening.

This afternoon I drove to Fort Lauderdale. I discovered that Wendy Abernathy, who did the cover of The Greatest, is in a new business on Federal Highway. Although she was busy with a client, I left what I wanted done for Narcissism and Me with one of her partners, and hopefully she’ll call me.

Sophie phoned this morning and said Teacher Education Center needs a teacher for a 30-hour computer literacy calendar course to be held at Coral Gables Senior High School in January.

I gave her Mondays and Tuesdays in January and February, and if they don’t like those times, then I won’t do it.

Thursday, November 16, 1989

8:30 PM. Today went better than I could have predicted. It was as if I had terrific timing and could accomplish all the tasks I’d set for myself. Maybe doing a creative visualization last night helped.

A good night’s sleep surely did: I slept deeply from 10 PM to 7 AM, and I felt very rested this morning. I exercised and was out of the house by 9 AM to meet Marc at the warehouse to get two cartons of With Hitler in New York for the Book Fair.

I know I won’t be able to sell them, whatever Patrick thinks. At BCC, as I was loading my books onto his van, Patrick asked, “How much money do you plan to charge for these books?” I told him I wouldn’t pay more than three dollars to anyone willing to take a copy.

Marc was wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt he’d gotten at their concert at the Orange Bowl last night, and he said his ears still hurt from the loud music.

Marc is now a couple of pounds heavier than I am. He said he’d read an article critical of Nutri/System that said most of the people gained back most of the weight they lost.

While it’s discouraging to hear that, Marc is only seven or eight pounds above his goal, and he admitted that he didn’t follow Maintenance properly.

I figure I can be stricter and more disciplined about it, though I also know that maintaining my weight loss is the real test and much harder than anything I’ve accomplished so far.

Tonight I was disappointed when I weighed in and had lost two pounds, but not because I wanted to lose more. I wanted to lose less so I could stay on the program for as long as possible.

I didn’t have time to change tonight, and it’s getting chilly anyway; however, long pants and work clothes didn’t stop me from weighing in at 156. The nurse gave me the Maintenance handbook to look at.

As Marc said, it’s scary at first when you go off the program. Like me, Marc felt pretty good on it, and his ulcer disappeared – just like I stopped getting diarrhea so often.

Well, I’ll take it one day and one week at a time. Now I wish I’d made my goal the 145 pounds the computer said I should weigh instead of 150.

This morning when I got to the college, Cynthia gave me the paycheck from the day before, and I put my cartons of boxes into Patrick’s car and got information from him about the Book Fair logistics.

My remedial class wrote while I finished grading the essays my English 102 classes did on Monday. I’d worked two hours last evening but hadn’t gotten through them all.

Home for lunch, I called Sophie, who said the TEC rep would probably be in my class at Miami Springs High School.

Sophie also told me that TEC agreed to the dates for that Coral Gables High School workshop from mid-January to the end of February. I’m surprised, but I’m happy about it even if it means I’ll be working nearly as hard as I did this October.

The class at Miami Springs High School went well, and I think I helped some of the teachers get over their fear of computers. I know my playful attitude helps, and it’s so satisfying to teach an adult something she can really use in her job and personal life.

IBM Writing Assistant is a neat, simple word processing program, and I tried to talk as little as possible about DOS. There are about a dozen teachers and other staff members, all female, in the workshop.

Rush hour traffic was jammed on South River Drive before the Palmetto Expressway, but I-75 and I-595 were a breeze, even in 6 PM darkness.

After a quick dinner, as I said, I went to Nutri/System, weighed in, got my food for the week, and went to Julie’s class on strategies to cope with Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 17, 1989

9 PM. In the morning English 102 classes, I read aloud some of Crad’s Pork College and gave back their CLAST prototypes as I explained the holistic scoring on the essay exam.

In English 101, I went over extended definition. When I walked into the classroom at 11 AM, the students were watching TV and they protested loudly when I turned it off. Someone had written on the blackboard: “Hello class, I’m Mr. Grayson.” I thought: Who needs this shit?

Sophie had just called with another possible TEC workshop for February, and I thought how different I felt about yesterday’s class in Miami Springs.

Teaching computer education workshops is not only easier and more satisfying, but it pays better, too. And I don’t have to deal with adolescents who don’t want to be in my classroom.

Instead, I’m working with professionals who need to learn something I can teach them. (In my head I’m writing a comparison/contrast essay in standard five-paragraph freshman comp form, with a thesis statement and three minor inferences.)

At 10 AM, I went with Adrienne to sit in on Peter Hargitai’s class in the Mystery Novel at which Jim Hall was a guest. Jim talked about his very successful thriller novels, set in Key West with his protagonist Thorn.

I’m told Jim’s books are good, and they’ve been sold to the movies and been on the bestseller list – but I just have no interest in the genre. I was surprised to hear how naïve Jim had been about the movie business when he first dealt with those vultures. 

Saturday, November 18, 1989

9 PM. I had a refreshing sleep last night. This morning I went to BCC but found the Nautilus room closed.

In the parking lot I met Patrick, who told me how Friday went at the Book Fair. He said a lot of schoolkids were there and he talked to dozens of people but didn’t sell many books.

After exercising at home, showering and then having lunch, I drove downtown and arrived at the Book Fair just when I said I would, at 2 PM.

Barbara had been there since morning, and she was at the table with Jud, the Hungarian student who lives with Peter and Diane Hargitai.

The crowd consisted of the usual urban street fair types, and since our booth was far from the readings in the big building at Miami-Dade, it didn’t seem particularly literary.

We ran out of free BCC pens early on, but the only books that really sold a few copies were Peter’s, especially his Magyar Folktales, illustrated by Diane, a book suitable for children and of interest to Hungarian-Americans.

Oddly, three of my books sold yesterday, but none moved while I was there, though I gave away copies of Hitler.

Barbara left at 3 PM, and I saw Adrienne and Tony briefly, but they were going to events and not sitting at the table. I did talk to Peter a lot; besides me, he’s the only real writer on the faculty.

Barbara’s poetry is monstrously bad; she has a tin ear, and basically she’s like one of my creative writing students who decided she could become a poet. Eileen isn’t any good, either, and Patrick doesn’t have great taste as a poetry editor.

I suspect Greg could never write a thriller anywhere near the level of Jim Hall, who was surprisingly friendly and introduced me to his fiancé. I also spoke with Jeffrey and Dina Knapp for a minute.

Rosemary Jones came by, and at first I didn’t recognize her because her hair had turned grey. She took The Greatest and Peter’s books and said she’s looking for authors for the next year of the Florida Book and Author Festival.

I also saw Michael and Yvette Ladd, both of whom looked a lot older. I thought Michael was never going to stop talking as I chatted with him for what seemed like an hour.

While he’ll never be the brightest guy in the world, Michael, like his wife, is sweet and well-meaning.

I didn’t get much of a chance to look at the fair, since I sat at the table most of the time, but then I haven’t read a book in the last three months anyway.

Like me, Peter finds BCC students a sorry lot who can’t do reading assignments. Obviously he’d rather be someplace else. He said he’d like to go back to Budapest again.

I felt very removed from the world of books at the fair – if it was a world of books. As Peter said, it was “a good place to get a panic attack.” I was bored a lot and the wind kept blowing the chapbooks and broadsides around.

Finally, at 5:30 PM, Peter and I closed up, putting plastic over the tables. “No one will steal anything,” Diane said, “because thieves know books have no value.” I got home after 7 PM, but I’m proud that I didn’t break my diet despite all the food at the fair. (Actually, most of it looked revolting.)

Last evening I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who now realizes her “burning sensation” acts up when she starts “thinking and worrying.” A psychiatrist comes to talk with her every day, and she’s still taking lots of pills.

Grandma said she dislikes hospital food, but she’s gained ten pounds since she arrived; I think that’s good, because she’d been malnourished. They haven’t told her yet when she can be released to a convalescent home.

I think she sounded a bit more cheerful.

Sunday, November 19, 1989

8 PM. I’ve been marking papers and have about four or five to go. I guess I’ve read about a dozen in the last hour, but I just finished two excellent ones.

A woman wrote a hilarious piece about being trapped in an audience of disruptive elderly people in the Inverrary Cinema, and a guy detailed his childhood love of Disney films like The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, Jerry Lewis comedies, and James Bond movies.

That reminded me of how Grandpa Herb rewarded my graduation from sixth grade by taking me to see The Absent-Minded Professor, how Grandma Ethel used to take me to Radio City at Christmas and Easter, and how my junior high pals and I stood outside on Flatbush Avenue on a freezing Saturday morning in January waiting to get tickets for Goldfinger.

Marc and I saw the first James Bond film, Dr. No, at the Nostrand before there was a James Bond craze. God, I have a lot of fond memories of the movies. Unlike me, my 21-year-old student saw these films on TV.

As I told Patrick today, I’m very glad he offered the suggestion I teach at BCC this term even if I find it frustrating at times.

Last night I kept thinking of any advantages BCC-South students had over my adult professionals, and all I could come up with was a clever but nasty line: “They have better tans, which not only makes them more pleasant to look at but also gives me the satisfaction of knowing many of them will get skin cancer.”

That’s my New York attitude showing. Yes, the students can be vapid and obnoxious, but I’ve learned things from them, too.

And being “dissed” (slang for “shown disrespect”) by an 18-year-old may be annoying, but it does tell me that no matter how smart or important I think I am, it will never impress some kids – and maybe that will give me a larger sense of perspective on my self-image, ambitions, and pretensions.

This morning I read the Sunday Times and worked out. At Publix I used the free coupons I got from Green Giant as compensation for finding a hair in my frozen microwavable veggies to get six single-serving packages.

After lunch, I headed to Miami and sat with Patrick from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM. Earlier, Greg and Vicky had been there, but nobody else from BCC was coming today.

I was glad I had come to help out. It was nice just to sit and chat with Patrick – about other people in the department and local “poets.” (Like Peter and me, he thinks Barbara has no talent, but Patrick believes Eileen does great work – though he feels she’s not written as well since they broke up.)

A few people we knew, like Lenny Della Rocca and Jeffrey Knapp, came by occasionally, as did some BCC teachers.

I sold one copy of Greg’s book (a self-published mystery) but gave away some copies of Hitler. I ended up with $7 in sales, and with two $3 parking lot fees, I came out $1 ahead for the weekend.

Back home in Broward, I had dinner and then started in grading papers.

I’m becoming uneasy about all the euphoria about Eastern Europe. Bush and Gorbachev are meeting in Malta early next month, but events are moving so fast, they’re taking on a life of their own.

I suspect a Tiananmen Square-style massacre is likely before too long as the old guard somewhere – Czechoslovakia, East Germany or the Soviet Union itself – tries to avoid giving up power completely.

With the Communist economies in shambles, even Gorbachev isn’t very secure in his power – though I feel eventually freedom will win out.

But freedom usually doesn’t happen as easily as it has appeared to be doing in 1989.