A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1990

Friday, April 13, 1990

11 PM. I just spent the last two hours watching the Masterpiece Theatre version of A Tale of Two Cities, which always gets to me, particularly when the world seems to endlessly repeat the folly of the French Revolution.

All across the world this Good Friday (no, I don’t mean to sound cosmic), despite and in part because of all the recent success of democratic movements, there’s also more chaos.

Gorbachev may finally be getting ready to move on Lithuania, with severe economic sanctions if not military power, and that could mean the end of everything.

Already it seems too late for the Soviets to draw back from economic chaos; political chaos may be next.

Up at 7 AM, I made pancakes and read the newspapers and exercised only a little less vigorously than usual before I showered and drove to the library in Fort Lauderdale, where I returned my Lotus 1-2-3 and Introduction to WordStar videos.

Back home, I had lunch and then drove up the Turnpike to Delray Beach.

Kings Point looks like a vast army barracks, and it took me a while to find Sat Darshan’s parents’ ground floor apartment.

I heard Sat Darshan say hello before I entered; instead of a turban, she was wearing a topknot like the girls, who were eating lunch.

I hadn’t seen the girls since November ’88, and they’ve grown quite a bit and seem much more Americanized.

I gather they’ve been a handful, especially the older one.  While Sat Darshan was disciplining the girl in the other room, Mrs. P told me in a lowered voice that she thinks Gurujot is in dire need of therapy.

Although the girls have real behavior problems, they spent most of the afternoon watching videos in the bedroom.

It was a cool day for this time of year – about 75° and cloudy – and I spent my time at Kings Point talking with Sat Darshan and her mother, who of course still calls her Avis, a name that sounds odd to me now.

They told me that Wade was turned down for tenure at Penn even though he got 14 of 16 votes on the committee; it seems that a Personnel Department vendetta against the English Department did him in.

I hate academic politics. With the house and a family, Wade would be in trouble if he had to leave Philadelphia. Next year he’ll be put up for tenure again and hopefully get through then.

In a way, I’m glad to see the inequities of academia touches even Ivy Leaguers like Wade, but it’s petty to think like that.

I talked a lot with Sat Darshan about places to live: Florida and New York City and Germany and New Mexico.

Helmut, Rose and other West German friends are quite uneasy about unification, though Sat Darshan seems open to moving to quiet, cheap East Germany and may even apply for a job at the new East Berlin or Leipzig branches of her bank.

Sat Darshan said Gurujot vomits every time they go for a car ride and acknowledged that both kids have been acting up in Florida. But besides swimming in the pool, there’s not much they can do here except look at videos.

When it rained on Monday, they went to Hollywood to see Sat Darshan’s grandfather in a nursing home.

Although he’s 96, Mr. Glass has all his marbles and recognized “Avis” immediately, even though he hadn’t seen her since the summer of 1977, when she and Helmut visited New York.

He wants to die but can’t seem to let go, Sat Darshan reported, and she wishes she could have talked to him about it.

Sat Darshan’s father has been going crazy working on the Census – now judged to be an unprecedented flop, with only a 55% response rate nationwide and a probable undercount of millions.

The girls will be going off to their Sikh school in India in August, and I expect that will relieve Sat Darshan of some pressure at home.

Their ashram’s co-op deal fell apart, and the members of the community are unsure where to go next.

Although Sat Darshan didn’t talk about her marriage, she did say that if her building is sold – for the past six months, the owners have been asking $450,000 for the brownstone – they’ll have to move.

We talked a little about our Brooklyn College days, which are now almost 20 years ago. I first met Avis 19 years ago, to be exact. Both of us are curious as to what happened to Shelli and other people from Brooklyn whom we’ve lost contact with.

I am glad I’m still in contact with Sat Darshan. Somehow it’s comforting seeing her after all these years: older, heavier, following all those years in Europe, of marriage, of being a Sikh, and now the mother of two children.

When I left Kings Point at 5 PM, I told Sat Darshan I’d phone her next month in New York after I had time to get settled.

For me, this was a good Good Friday the 13th, and I’m glad I called in sick and didn’t teach at BCC.

Saturday, April 14, 1990

10 PM. So much has been happening lately that here it is – with April half-over tomorrow and me due back in New York in three weeks – and it all seems to have sneaked up on me.

I’ve been coping well and actually had time to enjoy myself in April. This past week I got to see two of my oldest friends, Alice and Sat Darshan.

My scar seems to be healing okay, though tonight I asked my parents to put Vaseline and aloe vera lotion on my back where the skin is raw from the big Band-Aid adhesive; I replaced it with a smaller Band-Aid.

This week I have my usual BCC and FIU English classes, the second AppleWorks class at Sunset High School on Friday, the interview with Chauncey on Tuesday (I don’t know when they’ll schedule the photo session), and on Thursday I get my crown at the dentist.

Then on Saturday, the dermatologist takes my stitches out and tells me if I’ve got melanoma.

It hasn’t been a quiet year, but I guess once I’m in New York, I’ll have time to think and figure out where I’m going.

Because I met so many of the goals I set for myself last summer – publishing the two chapbooks, losing all the weight and changing my diet, teaching college English again, continuing to learn more about computers – I’ve now got to set a whole new series of goals for myself.

I know that impending bankruptcy will make the coming year difficult.

While in the library to return the computer videos I took out yesterday (I learned about Lotus 1-2-3’s graphing and macros and the idiotically-named commands of WordStar), I looked in InfoTrac for articles on credit cards.

Imagine my surprise when the first entry under the subheading “Usury” was “Guess How I Got Rich Without Working” by Gary Richardson in the September/October 1989 Utne Reader.

They must have reprinted a version of the Processed World article. The Broward library didn’t have a copy, but I’ll find the magazine when I get to New York.

I guess I can put the article on my résumé. See, I knew it was good: the Utne Reader is a classy reprint periodical.

But when I got six credit card bills in the mail, I depleted all but $60 of my CalFed checking account, and that’s including the big IRS refund I got this week.

Unless I qualify for unemployment benefits or get that student loan – both prospects are doubtful – I won’t be able to make it through the summer without getting some kind of income.

The Platinum Card invitation probably won’t come through, and I expect to be turned down for the AT&T Universal Card any day now.

Today I did get one rejection, or presumed rejection. No, I’m not talking about the story I got back from TriQuarterly; I mean the tape I sent to the America’s Funniest People producers.

No note was enclosed, but from what I’ve read, they were looking for lowbrow one-liners, and my humor is too cerebral, too PBS. I’m sure they wouldn’t take Spalding Gray, Pete Cherches or Eric Bogosian, either.

Tuesday, April 17, 1990

9 PM. It didn’t take me long to lose (yesterday I spelled the word with two O’s, like all my students do) yesterday’s feelings of doom.

For one thing, I realized I could indeed make enough cash advances to cover the checks I wrote yesterday, and I deposited $1000 in the bank this morning.

I also took a drive out to the city of Plantation’s library, which is not part of the county system. It was a favorite haunt of mine when I lived in Sunrise and Lauderhill.

From the library, where I read magazines and browsed in research books, I went to TCBY Yogurt and then did some shopping at Albertsons, bumping into Marc as I was leaving; I even handed off my cart to my brother.

Somehow that made me feel good, as did running into Rick from Showtime Pizza (where I often get my lunch salad) delivering food to someone in this building.

What that told me was that I was connected to other people. Today just seemed to go well.

I drove to Fort Lauderdale to meet Chauncey, stopping at the Main Library, where I ran into Jim McKillop, who appeared to have gained the 50 pounds I’ve lost.

At 1 PM I signed in at the newspaper office, picked up my badge (yes, there you need those stinking badges), and went up to the big room that looked – well, like a newspaper office.

Chauncey took me up to the cafeteria, where I nursed a Diet Slice and rambled on for a couple of hours as he covered a legal pad with a fast scrawl.

God, being interviewed is like getting drunk on the sound of your own voice. It also made me reconsider my life.

Basically, Chauncey seem to feel I could be successful (in the view of what the world calls success) as a writer, humorist, whatever . . . if only I tried.

He asked if I was scared of failure, and I said of course I was but the real problem is that I’m scared of success.

The best question he asked was, “Why should I take you seriously when you could be like Jack Saunders or other crackpots?”

I didn’t answer that one adequately, and when I said I didn’t want to be rich and famous because then I wouldn’t own my own life, Chauncey replied, “I hardly think someone with as many credit cards as you do owns his own life.” He’s got a point there.

I lied about making money from investments, both to make myself feel better – hey, world, fuck you – and to avoid dealing with the credit card issue. (I didn’t tell him about my schemes; he merely saw my wallet.)

I showed off a lot and admitted I was showing off, like when I named all the members of the U.S. Senate by the states in alphabetical order.

Chauncey probably felt, as did Scott Eyman, the last person to interview me for the paper, that I’m a classic underachiever and that I’m too good to be at BCC.

God, I want to hear that. But why don’t I do something about it?

Because, as Chauncey said, it’s very hard to make it – lots of luck is involved – so if you don’t push with all your heart, you’ll never get there.

I may find I can begin to make myself into a “success” now that I need to in order to avoid bankruptcy.

On the other hand, perhaps Chauncey misjudges how easy it would be for me to be popular on TV or to get a publishing contract.

No, actually I do know in my heart – if we’re speaking cardiacally – that I am that good.

Perhaps I need a heavy dose of self-help tapes and WNN, “the motivation station.”

But as I said to Chauncey, if I get famous, maybe I won’t be able to leave my house anymore.

I brought up agoraphobia and rattled on about politics, economics, education, generational inequities, demographics, cheerfulness and all the topics this diary, if it were human, would have become bored with eons ago.

I did get off some good lines, and it was like a performance to me; rarely do I get to express myself so fully and to exercise long-neglected muscles of the intellect like that.

Chauncey liked my photo idea of typing at the laptop computer in the food court of the Broward Mall; he said I could make a fortune in PR.

Because of a backlog, the story probably won’t appear in the Lifestyle section – presumably on its front page – until after I leave Florida.

Actually, I like that because then I won’t be bothered by so much attention and can avoid crank calls and local hate mail.

I like Chauncey and he seems to appreciate me, so unless I’m totally misreading him, I’m sure it will be a nice piece.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see how I appear in the article and which “Richard Grayson” – maybe one I’ve never seen before? – will show up on the Sun-Sentinel’s pages.

This evening I went to Nutri/System – I’m really enjoying being in Julie’s maintenance class, and I like Jean McFarlane a lot – and thank God, I gained 1½ pounds so they’ll stop hounding me about being underweight.

Next time they can give me a letter to take to a Nutri/System in New York.

They’re getting a lot of new food in and their program is getting more geared toward satisfying craving.

Well, I don’t have to give 7 Days a change of address for my subscription because they ceased publication. They’re the first victim of a coming New York City yuppie magazine shakeout – I bet Spy will die by ’92 – caused by the end of the ’80s and the great lack of ad pages.

Since Friday, all the talk in Florida has been about Senator Chiles and his admitted use of Prozac to treat depression.

I’m just hoping Americans/Floridians have grown up since 1972 and Eagleton, and they now realize that depression is a treatable condition and those people who do get help are the intelligent and healthy ones.

(When Chauncey asked how I reconcile my depressed view of the world with my day-to-day cheerfulness, I replied, “Prozac.”)

Friday, April 20, 1990

9 PM. I’m very tired now, both because Friday is my “busy” day (I teach for five hours at BCC and Sunset High School) and because last night’s sleep was so unsatisfying.

Tomorrow at 11 AM, I return to the dermatologist to get my stitches out and to find out the results of the biopsy.

While I assume that if I had melanoma, the doctor would have called me by now, I’m not taking anything for granted.

(Well, yes, I don’t expect to be told I have cancer, so I am more complacent than I care to admit.)

Last night I read Emerson’s essay “Circles” from the book I repeatedly read and annotated in Rockaway ten years ago.

As I pointed out to Crad when I told him to write me in care of Grandma Ethel, the address where I’ll be in May has the same last line – “Rockaway Park, NY 11694” – that I had in 1980.

God, I was so depressed that year, and my life seemed like it had been turned upside-down. I bet I’ll think about that time quite a bit in New York this summer.

After eating breakfast early, I read the Wall Street Journal (a front-page story was about Florida’s commercial real estate glut approaching Texas-bust levels) and the business pages of the Times (I’ll get to the rest of the paper tomorrow), worked out, and then went to BCC.

Cynthia told me Eileen got the full-time remedial position, which is good news.

All the full-time faculty were at Judy Nichols’s house today at a daylong “retreat.”

My classes went pretty well, and when English 101 ended, I decided I had enough time to go home for lunch.

Dad’s car was in front of my after I left my apartment and was waiting for the light on Nova Drive to turn north on University. It’s comforting to keep running into members of my family on the road.

Only six people showed up for the workshop at Miami Sunset High, but it was nice to see Jackie Sherman, the librarian I met last year, join us.

The school’s computers and printers are such bad equipment that I had a hard time getting them to work with my disks today, but the people in my workshop seem to have learned something – or at least so they said.

It was 6:30 PM when I got to my parents’ empty house. Everyone was out to dinner, so I watched the news and looked at a pile of mail.

Now I’m going to try and catch up on sleep.