A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1997

Wednesday, August 13, 1997

9 PM. I put a deposit on an apartment today; tomorrow afternoon I’ll know if my credit checked out okay and my application was approved.

It’s larger than I wanted, more expensive, and not really where I wanted to live, but it’s the kind of place I like around here: not one of those shiny new places that Marc would go to and that Mom would delight in, with their health clubs and sports cars in the parking lot, but a real-people place, old and a little gritty, near Nova High School and not far from the downtown section of Davie Road.

It’s a second floor corner one-bedroom, with nice gray carpeting and a frost-free refrigerator with more room than I need. I hope I get it, if only because I’d like not to have to look any further.

I visited other places and even went to see a real estate agent, but stuff was either too expensive or too large and usually both. Gainesville spoiled me. A lot of the newer places have only two-bedroom apartments, and I don’t think I want a roommate – not a stranger, anyway.

The managers of Bala Gardens are Richard and Marie, a rough-hewn couple my parents’ age, and they live in one of the three buildings. There’s laundry facilities and the usual crummy pool, which I’ll never use.

After seeing the place, I immediately went to the NationsBank ATM to withdraw $500 and then to the post office to get the necessary money orders for $25 (application fee) and $530 (one month’s rent, security deposit).

If it all works out, fine. If not, I figure it’s not meant to be.

This morning I got a message to call Santa at Nova. She asked if I could teach a Language 2000 class (College Writing II) in the evenings. I said I could do it on Tuesday, and Dr. Stieve scheduled me for Tuesday from 6 to 8 PM. (The evening classes are only two hours, for some reason.)

So now I have five classes: a real bad schedule, actually, because each classes is a different preparation and they meet at such odd times.

Later, Dr. Stieve called to offer me a Language 1500 immediately after my 8 AM class because an adjunct quit, but I couldn’t take it because I need to get to Boca for my 11 AM Creative Writing class.

Seeing the FAU schedule on the web, I am pretty sure my classes there will run, but in the depressing world of adjunct work, nothing is certain.

Susan Mernit once said that adjunct work was deceptively seductive because it’s so easy to get. But I know that because of my upcoming residency at Villa Montalvo, I won’t be doing it again come January. So it’s basically just 16 weeks.

Thursday, August 14, 1997

9 PM. Marie phoned at about 2 PM, telling me that my credit was fine, and I can move into the apartment on September 1. She agreed that if I paid cash for two days’ pro-rated rent, I could begin moving in on Saturday, August 30.

I’ll come to sign the lease two weeks from tomorrow. The lease will be for a year, and if I leave before that, I’ll just forfeit my $530 security deposit. So I’ll be in my own place in downtown Davie in a little more than two weeks.

Last night I began listening to the tape of Eric Lax’s biography of Woody Allen, and I found the stories of his Brooklyn boyhood fascinating.

Woody Allen is a decade older than I am, so we came of age at very different times, and our childhood experiences were not that similar – I liked school, or at least I did very well in school, was well-behaved and not at all athletic. However, I did find that the stories about his boyhood resonated with me.

Again, I slept till nearly 7 AM, a habit I need to break once I begin teaching. But I did sleep well and had pleasant if unmemorable dreams.

On AOL this morning, I got an e-mail from Mark Savage, who’s gearing up for his second year of teaching and who’s investigating master’s programs. He needs a master’s to keep his New York State license but also one which would allow him to teach in Jersey.

Mark said he’s seen his sons off and on in the past month and that the boys are currently visiting Niagara Falls with Consuelo.

I sent an Instant Message to Teresa, and we had a “conversation” for about twenty minutes. She’s very upset because Carolyn is doing the take-Jade-to-college thing.

Paul won’t stand up to his ex-wife, and Teresa’s feeling frustrated because she, not Carolyn, is the one who did all the work of getting Jade into Purchase. I sympathized with her, basically giving her time to express her feelings and mirroring them.

I also suggested that in the end, Teresa could feel satisfied with the good job she’s done. She told me she wrote Jade a heartfelt letter and was about to send Carolyn an angry note when she decided to do it as Paul.

I told Teresa I admired her ingenuity, but of course the deception can be discovered, and if that happens, in the long run, that will only hurt her, not Carolyn. But I certainly understand why she’s hurt and feeling unappreciated after doing so much.

(If I were her, I’d just walk away and let Jade sink or swim in college on her own, but that would be out of character for Teresa.)

I got a reply from Brad Richard, who said the problems from his Bell’s palsy are going away more quickly than he expected, though his eye is still dry and a little droopy.

He liked “Spaghetti Language” and it reminded him of a story about a friend’s young lover, who when asked if he disliked the clothes at an Old Navy clothing store (because he’d been frowning at them), said, “No, I like the clothes; I just don’t like the way they’re lit.”

Brad also sent two excellent poems: one about Andrew Cunanan, the other in the voice of a homophobic Southern thug who’s murdered a guy after robbing him.

At Nova, I got my Polaris e-mail account, and introduced myself to Dr. Larry Brandt, and also to Charley Henderson after Micki told me he needed a speech teacher in Jamaica – but there’s no way I could fly into and out of the Caribbean every Sunday.

Micki also said twelve people have refused her offer to teach Argumentative Writing in the new Ocala cluster, and the class begins soon.

Actually, I found a version of Annette Rottenberg’s argumentation text that will be used in the evening Language 2000 class I picked up the other day. Santa gave me the texts and course outlines when I went to the office on the Parker Building’s third floor.

I like the atmosphere at Nova. The people there are very nice, and it’s so much more diverse than the University of Florida, with lots of black and Hispanic people on campus.

After a visit to Walmart, I went to Barnes & Noble to chat with the woman at the café who likes to harass me as she serves me iced tea.

Reading The Weekly News, Jewish Journal and Miami New Times, I realized how much more comfortable I feel sitting in Plantation than I ever did in Gainesville. I’m in a cosmopolitan place with a Jewish weekly, a gay weekly and thousands of people who are “more like me.” I feel like I belong in South Florida.

I was delighted to see the American Book Review finally come out with my review of Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent, which they entitled “Variations.”

It took up a whole 11” x 17” page plus another few paragraphs on the page it jumped to. It’s great to see my work in print after so long, but it will be a bitch to photocopy; I’ll have to figure out how to do it.

Despite the UPS strike, the package I sent from Union Square two weeks ago was delivered, presumably by a supervisor, while I was out today.

Friday, August 15, 1997

4 PM. Naturally, once I gave up on the Times and sent my size-of-Jersey piece out to other papers, Michelle Shih called at 2 PM and said they’re going to run it tomorrow.

She faxed me the three pages; they’d cut the article by a third and may cut it further, depending upon space limitations. They won’t close till 8 PM or so tonight.

I’ve spoken with Michelle several times after I made some corrections and checked out all the newspaper quotes on Nexis.

I just hope I’m not getting excited over nothing. I remember four weeks ago, feeling embarrassed because I’d told Teresa and her parents, Alice, Ronna and Matthew, and others about it.

Right now, however, it’s hard not to get excited about my Op-Ed piece, and if it doesn’t come out tomorrow, I’ll feel devastated. But I guess I’ll handle it.

I can check the New York Times on AOL during the night; I’m not sure when they put the next day’s paper online. In New York City, the Times is no longer available in the late evening, except on Saturday evening.

This morning I figured out how to get the ABR review of Shade copies; it took up three sheets, but at least the typeface is big enough so that it’s easily legible.

On AOL this morning I had simultaneous chats with Camille and with Josh. Camille was looking for information on treating depression in adolescents for a friend whose son dropped out of college in his freshman year and attempted suicide, and she didn’t know how to download, so I helped her.

Josh said his mother phoned this morning and told him she was terribly upset because she’d just learned that her parents had died. Yesterday she told Josh that she loved him when she first married him but didn’t anymore.

Josh expressed sympathy for that poor Haitian guy who was raped with a toilet plunger while in the custody of police at the precinct in Flatbush. They injured him severely and shouted racist remarks as they beat and sodomized him.

One remark the cops made that sounds right was, “It’s Giuliani time now, not Dinkins time!” The mayor was much more forceful than usual in dealing with police brutality, but it’s about time, after all.

Behind the drop in New York’s crime rate is the ugly story any black or Hispanic young guy in the city will tell you about repeated police harassment.

Javier replied to my e-mail with a short note. He left his job in Hollywood to work for a law firm in Miami. Bryan still works at AvMed and they continue to live in Kendall. Other than that, Javier didn’t say much, except his practice is mostly business law.

I felt pretty relaxed today and basically took the day off, whatever that means. Dad was off today, and he and Mom aren’t here now, so I’m alone in the house for only the second time since I arrived.

I need to stick around in case someone from the Times calls. Funny, just yesterday I took the Times Op-Ed piece off my list of publications in my curriculum vitae.

Saturday, August 16, 1997

7 PM. Last night I read an absurdly optimistic cover story from an old Wired. “The Long Boom” was a take on the world economy from the magazine’s usual juvenile technology-will-solve-all-problems perspective. I don’t think I’ll renew my subscription.

Last night I awoke at 11:30 PM and then at 1:30 AM and checked out the New York Times site on AOL. When I logged on at 3:30 AM, I found my Op-Ed piece in Saturday’s issue, and when I woke up at 6:30 AM, I got the paper outside.

My article was placed in the middle of the page with four inches around it and illustrated with a delightfully whimsical illustration showing anthropomorphic maps of Israel, Slovenia, Taiwan, etc., in a police lineup with New Jersey.

“New Jersey Is Not Beyond Compare” (oddly, on Lexis, the headline was “Everything Compares to New Jersey”) looked really good. It was a thrill to finally see my name on the Op-Ed page byline typeface.

The story was from “Fort Lauderdale, Fla.” And the bio note mentioned that I was the author of I Survived Caracas Traffic and a former New Jersey Online columnist.

The only response I’ve had to it outside of my parents (my brothers didn’t read it, or if they did, didn’t mention it) was from Justin, who also got my birthday card. He and Larry had a wonderful vacation in Maine last week, and he congratulated me on the article.

I guess I forget that not all people like to hear about friends’ successes. I probably sent out e-mails about it to too many people (Alice, Teresa, Patrick, et al.).

Yesterday I even called Ronna, who couldn’t talk because she was busy with the kids and her friend and her two kids who were visiting. But at least I told Ronna I’d be in Davie in December when she comes here for her brother’s wedding.

This morning I was e-mailing Sat Darshan, asking about her new job, when Josh “Instant Messaged” me. Now I remember why I stopped speaking to him.

Unlike yesterday, he was obnoxious. Josh asked rude, provocative questions about Sat Darshan and seemed surprised that the Times had published my piece today even though he must have gotten my e-mail about it.

Well, Josh is the same guy who assumed that when Denis sent me an announcement about his reading at Barnes & Noble, Denis’s “real message” to me was, “Nyah, nyah, I’m reading at Barnes & Noble and you’re not.” While I envy my friends’ successes as much as the average person, I also take pleasure and pride in them.

Okay, I’m probably more self-centered than most people. But the rewards I get from my career are not that frequent, and I like to take to take pleasure in them.

Just sitting in the Barnes & Noble café reading the Times was nice; I’m glad that I’m on the same page, so to speak, as Michelangelo Signorile’s article criticizing AIDS groups for sponsoring charity drives related to circuit parties (the Morning Party in Fire Island, the White Party at Vizcaya), where drug-taking and other unhealthy activities go on.

I got a really nice e-mail from Bruce Morrow, who said I’d written the most intelligent review of Shade that had come out and that his publisher was thrilled. It’s great that I can help a book of fiction by black gay fiction writers.

Seeing a New Times ad seeking writers for their new Broward and Palm Beach editions, I faxed the Op-Ed article and seven others to the Miami Weekly – although, stupidly, to the wrong person. They’ll probably think I’m an asshole as well as an egotist.

I’m going to feel very embarrassed if one of those papers to whom I’d just mailed off the Jersey piece calls, wanting to use it.

Monday, August 18, 1997

9 PM. I just called BellSouth and finally their computers were no longer down and they were able to take my order for phone service.

It’s hard to remember my new address at Bala Gardens Apartments: 4195 SW 67th Avenue, Davie, FL 33314. My phone is (954) 581-2375. I’m writing it here, even though I wrote it in my address book just in case I lose that.

Last night I didn’t sleep very well; I think that trying to listen to the Erich Fromm book on tape as I dozed off was a bad idea.

In the morning I got on AOL and got an Instant Message from Josh: “Hey, what’s with you and New Jersey?” I didn’t respond because it was his usual obnoxious, grating comment.

I remember how I used to dread his e-mails before I finally told him to fuck off. It’s hard for me to remember that he’s mentally ill, but that doesn’t excuse him. I should have known better than to tell him about my Op-Ed piece. He envies any success that friends like Denis and I have and feels more comfortable with losers like Todd, James and Simon.

On the other hand, I got really nice notes about my column from Christy, Alice and Mark Savage, who said his mother told him about “this funny article on New Jersey,” not realizing I’d wrote it. Mark said I was the only cub reporter he had trained who’d ever “made it.”

See, that’s a friend – even though I know that Mark would give a great deal to get published in the New York Times.

Micki called, desperate to find someone to teach in Ocala tomorrow night. I gave her a few names of Santa Fe Community College English instructors and also offered Kevin McGowin and even Christy.

Tuesday, August 19, 1997

10 PM. I’ve been on the phone for the past 90 minutes with the guy I met on AOL. He sounds very sweet and nice, but he’s only 19, a Broward Community College student from Aruba who lives with his mother, stepfather and their two babies.

Michael has this killer accent, and for some weird reason he thought I sounded cute. I’ve always liked younger guys, and he wasn’t put off by my being 46, but I think about him being only a year older than Jade, and I don’t see how we could have a relationship even though he says he’s very mature for his age.

Teresa called last night and said she’ll send me my unemployment check. Jade is getting psyched about starting Purchase, and her mother is taking a back seat although she’s coming down the day Jade has her placement test.

I chatted with Teresa on AOL this morning, but she was going to Atlantic City to meet Deirdre, who’s visiting her mother at the beach house.

Josh was online while I was but he didn’t know I’d blocked him out. Later I was online and saw that Javier and Patrick were also on, but I didn’t want to bother either of them.

Sean answered my e-mail, telling me that his dog’s annual party was a success “although I worked too hard and drank too much as usual.” He’s going with Doug and five others to the Divine Decadence weekend in New Orleans, and they’re all going to wear kilts in the parade.

Sean’s social life seems exactly the kind of shallow, hedonistic world that people like Michael Signorelli and Larry Kramer and Gabriel Rotello speak out against. I can’t help thinking that Sean was such a bright kid who could have really accomplished something in the world, but that makes me sound so creepily judgmental.

The Sean I knew wasn’t the real Sean, I guess, because even then I knew he spent most of his free time in bars. Michael, like Sean, is a computer science student and very intelligent, and I imagine he could become just like Sean although he seems a little more focused.

Of course, Sean seems to be successful in the tech world; I just am not smart enough to understand what he does. I don’t like what I just wrote about him.

Anyway, this morning I picked up my new edition of the Prentice-Hall Handbook at Nova, and in the afternoon, with Santa’s help, I photocopied the syllabi and course outlines that I printed out for Language 1500 and 2000 this morning. I also printed out the syllabus for Saturday’s Business, Government and Society class and made ten copies of that.

They were painting the halls of the Parker Building and I couldn’t stand the fumes, so I left as soon as possible to do errands: buying stamps at the post office, returning some tapes and taking out two new ones from the public library, and depositing my $30 rebate check for my modem in the bank’s ATM.

Alice said she hated reading yesterday’s New York Times piece on the crisis in book publishing for mid-list authors. She said I was the third person to ask her if he should submit his manuscript under a pseudonym.

But just as I won’t lie about my age, I’m proud of my experience and don’t want to pretend that I haven’t published books before. Besides, as Alice said, I’ve never really published with a major New York trade publisher, so in some sense I am a new writer.

Anyway, I tend to be more of a pessimist than ever-optimistic Alice, who has full confidence that she and her clients will be the ones to get the contracts.

Friday, August 22, 1997

1 PM. Despite my pledge, I spent nearly two hours on the phone with Michael last night. Granted, I had finished my English 102 syllabus for FAU and other work, but I don’t think I discouraged Michael from talking for so long.

I’m flattered by his interest in me, and I tried to be totally honest with him about my reservations about any possible relationship, but maybe my honesty and sincerity just made me more attractive to him.

Tonight I can’t talk to Michael, as I need to spend the time rereading the first four chapters of my Business, Government and Society text so I can be coherent in tomorrow’s class. Even if I’m getting paid poorly, all my students this semester deserve my full attention.

There’s a nationwide teacher shortage as public school enrollment reaches record levels, thanks to the echo baby boom, but jobs go unfilled because teachers’ salaries are so bad. Indeed, UPS drivers now make more money than most teachers.

At Office Depot at 10:30 AM, I xeroxed my FAU syllabi and course outlines – at my own expense, of course, the way many teachers do. Then I sat in Taco Bell and read part of the Times while I drank lots of Diet Pepsi.

A front page story in the paper discussed how the protease inhibitors are failing some of the AIDS patients they rejuvenated and now these guys are dying, too. I assume every guy I might have sex with is HIV-positive.

I told Michael to be careful, and he assured me that he’s very safe, but to him that just means making other guys wear condoms. What bothers me about him is his belief that every guy, like his ex (whom he saw for only two months) is out to “play” him.

Granted, his ex, a 35-year-old psychotherapist, sounds sleazy (“Who breaks up with someone by e-mail and then has sex with your friend half an hour later?” Michael said), but Michael doesn’t see that he shares responsibility by placing trust in someone he shouldn’t have.

I contrasted my own breakups. Michael said, “It sure sounds like this Sean guy ‘played’ you,” but I explained that I was aware of Sean’s boyfriend and his other activities all the time we were together. I just misjudged how strong his relationship with Doug was because I deluded myself in the face of reality.

And when Shelli broke up with me, it wasn’t that she did anything wrong by sleeping with Jerry; we weren’t getting along and she fell in love with someone else. I mean, 26 years later, that seems totally innocent, and I know she didn’t mean to hurt me. Do I sound pretentions?

I got my rejection for a Florida Literature Fellowship in today’s mail. Every day this week, I’d been checking the Division of Cultural Affairs website, because I knew the grants would be announced.

I was crestfallen for about ten minutes, but I’m over it. I know there’s a lot of competition and that my work is idiosyncratic – and no, I don’t want a copy of the panel’s comments. (It was empowering to throw the letter into the trash at Office Depot.)

Still, I could have used the $5,000, but then again, I’m sure the writers who got the grants can use the money, too. I’ve gotten two fellowships already, and my New York Times Op-Ed piece is only a week in the past, so I can’t complain.

Well, being a writer, of course I can complain. But what’s the point?