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

Thursday, May 11, 1989

7 PM. Is anyone competent these days?

Mom called me at 2:30 PM to ask if I’d bring over some lunch to the new house. On Monday, Circuit City was supposed to bring over the refrigerator she’d bought, but luckily they didn’t show up because the man who laid the kitchen floor said it needed three days to “rest.”

At 10 AM today, as she’d arranged with the people at Circuit City, Mom arrived at the house. They said they’d come by 2 PM.

When I brought Mom some lunch, she told me that when she called the warehouse in Hialeah, they told her they’d been to the house and no one was there, so they’d left a note on the door.

Of course there was no note, and with no TV or radio (or much of anything else), Mom couldn’t have missed the sound of the bell.

She called the Plantation store where she bought the refrigerator, and a woman listened sympathetically and said she’d find out what happened and call right back. Naturally, she never did.

When I got home a little while ago, there was a message from Mom on my machine: They’d come at 6 PM and delivered the wrong refrigerator.

Mom was practically in tears. That company deserves to go out of business. In Japan, people would not stand for that kind of gross incompetence.

I just turned off ABC’s evening newscast, which led with the situation in Panama; General Noriega nullified the election after the opposition won, and opposition leaders have been beaten up.

During the report, there was a graphic featuring Venezuelan President Perez and a map of his country behind him – only the country pictured was Colombia! When I phoned ABC-TV News in New York, the woman with whom I spoke treated me like a crank.

Maybe I am a crank in 1989 America. After all, Venezuela, Colombia – what’s the big deal? And I do feel as if I’m starting to rant and rave.

Today in Barron’s, I read “Elliott Wave Theorist” Bob Prechter’s prediction for the future; he successfully forecast the bull market of ’82-’87 and thought the Dow would zoom to 3600.

Now he foresees the worst depression in modern history and something like the new Dark Ages: armies of homeless in “Bush camps,” street gangs and terrorists roaming the world, and “hate rockers” singing “Buddy, give me a dime or I’ll kill you.”

It sounds crazy, but sometimes I wonder why I bother being optimistic about my own future when the world is in such sad shape.

A new scientific report tells us we should wear sunscreen all the time to avoid skin cancer. Of course, I’m making the problem worse because my car’s air-conditioner is contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Remember Earth Day, 19 years and some weeks ago?

All right, kid, stop it already or people will say you’re as crazy as your friend Josh.

Today’s mail brought Josh termed “a new document: for my “files”: a letter from his pal Christine in Rochester – no, Syracuse – saying how she’s been getting all these weird calls since he visited her.

Oh Lord, as Neil Rogers says, I don’t know whether to scream or to eat a banana.

Saturday, May 13, 1989

7 PM. I’ve just returned from having dinner with my parents and Jonathan. Although it’s early – and very much daylight out – I’m tired and feel the need to rest.

I think, if it’s like this now, what will it be like in the fall, when I’ll be at Broward Community College full-time?

Still I don’t expect to be destroyed by one semester at BCC, though I’ll probably gripe a lot. On the other hand, I’ll probably be well-paid, and I can look forward to a more restful winter.

Besides, while I may not be thrilled to be working full-time at BCC this fall, it probably won’t make me depressed. My health was never better than in my three years of full-time teaching there.

I don’t imagine I’ll like returning to teaching English so much that I’ll want to apply for another community college job, however. I know I enjoy leading computer education workshops more.

Up at 6 AM, I got to Miami Jackson High School before 9 AM and stayed the full four hours. Mostly I supervised as my students worked on their own, writing final exams with the word processor or playing Rocky’s Boots or using the database to enter student records.

I did demonstrate a number of programs for about 45 minutes. I like the atmosphere at Jackson, and there were a lot of nice teachers in the class.

I got over my crush on Mark Fairhope pretty quickly, but I’m sure he’s a sweet, intelligent (probably straight) guy.

Every workshop turns out to be a learning experience for me: from this one, I’ve gotten proficiency with PFS: First Choice and other software new to me.

Over the years I’ve built up a decent collection of my own software, but the disks are an unmanageable mess.

Driving home was a breeze until it took me half an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get the five or six miles of University Drive from Stirling Road to my parents’ house. By the time I got there, I was cranky and hungry.

Satisfied after a decent dinner, I came home to read the paper and pay four credit card bills, taking care with the change of address notices. My Key Federal secured cards will have ATM access soon, so that’s good.

But I don’t expect any new credit card windfalls after I scored with the Chemical cards this week.

In the fall, I’ll apply for higher credit limits on my Citibank cards and maybe some others, but there’s no way credit card issuers will give me any new cards, so I needn’t waste my time applying.

It looks as if Mayor Koch is doomed to lose reelection to either Giuliani or Dinkins.

I hope Koch goes because another four years of him would hurt New York enormously. I’m sure people feel it’s time for a change.

A refreshingly candid new personality in 1977, Koch was the right man to get the city’s confidence back after the fiscal crisis. But his last term in particular has been a disaster of corruption and neglect.

I wish President Bush had some kind of agenda on the national level. All he seems to do is react to crises or other world leaders.

Yesterday, on news of an unexpectedly low rise in the producer price index, bond prices soared and the Dow rose 57 points.

But if inflation is slowing, so is the economy. A new forecast by business leaders said no recession is in sight till at least 1991, that the vaunted “soft landing” is on its way. We’ll see.

I feel a bit dizzy tonight after a relatively vertigo-free week.

Well, I’m down to the homestretch of this tour of duty in South Florida, and it’s been a nice time of my life. I’m antsy for the exhilaration of Manhattan and sick of Florida driving by now.

In the fall I’d better not take any classes as a student: I’ll have my hands full at BCC – and with any TEC workshops I teach.

Sunday, May 14, 1989

9:30 PM. I just watched the last episode of Family Ties, the NBC sitcom that lasted seven years and made Michael J. Fox a star.

I was only a very occasional viewer, but I was familiar with the characters, who presented a portrait of a warm, loving family.

It was Sean who told me about the show. He’d already gone off to Gainesville by the time it premiered.

Seven years ago this month I was seeing Sean every day. Although I don’t think about him much now, I can’t help smiling when he comes to mind. I hope he’s happy and doing well.

Gee, I guess I’m in a nostalgic mood because of the TV show and maybe because tonight was the last Sunday dinner of takeout Chinese we’ll have at the University Drive house. Tuesday the movers come.

I can remember ten years ago going into my old room on East 56th Street in Brooklyn for the last time.

All the furniture had already gone to my new apartment in Rockaway or to Marc’s new apartment in Sheepshead Bay or on its way to Florida.

The room somehow seemed smaller when it was empty. I felt empty myself.

Obviously, this move on the part of my parents and Jonathan is hardly comparable. I’ll be passing University Village all the time, happy that I don’t have to brave the traffic to try to get out of there.

Mostly, I’ll miss Lucky, the black cat whom I fed dinner tonight, and he’s been around only for the past few months.

Everything else and everyone else will still be the same, just moved a couple of miles away. It will be a pleasure not to have to pass the nosy neighbors – the rednecks and all the little kids – every time I visit my parents.

And yet, of course, I remember a lot of happy times in that house. It was my permanent address for most of the last six years, and throughout the 1980s it was the place I thought of as home as I moved around between New York and Florida.

Enough cheap sentiment.

Last night I needed rest, and I got it. I had a number of nourishing dreams.

I called Grandma Ethel to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and was glad to hear her sounding better.

She said she keeps calling Marty and Jeffrey “Richard” and hopes she can be well when I visit.

The last thing she said was, “I hope you’ll keep calling me for years.”

Up at 9 AM today, I read the Sunday papers, exercised, did laundry, went downtown to the Fort Lauderdale library.

Last night I got a call from a reporter or writer assigned by Special Report to interview me.

We didn’t do anything more than arrange for her to call me Monday evening, but I have to speak to her about the article before I say anything of substance.

I’m not sure I want to use my real name when I talk about my credit card chassis.

If I’m only being interviewed and not writing the article, I really don’t have much to gain from it – maybe just ego gratification, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of bragging about what I’ve pulled off and have that destroy me.

If banks find out, they could pull my cards away – and a story about me in Special Report isn’t worth that.

So I’ve got to question the writer about what she wants to do in the article. I’m not being paranoid, just cautious. I’ve got a lot at stake, and it would be silly to throw it away casually.

Monday, May 15, 1989

2 PM on a rainy afternoon. It’s odd to be in Florida this time of year, but it hasn’t gotten brutally hot yet – I guess I’m used to 90° by now, at least when it’s not humid – while in New York it’s barely reaching 70° these days.

My 38th birthday will be three weeks from yesterday, and of course I’ll be in New York then. My time there will seem very brief this year – less than three months, and I know it will go by quickly – so I plan to make the most of it.

Betty still hasn’t called to set up an interview with members of the department, and if I don’t hear from her by the end of the week, I’ll phone her and let her know I’ll be out of town at the end of the month.

Sometimes I think I don’t care if I teach at BCC full-time or not, but I need the money, and it will help me if I ever want to teach community college English full-time again.

Next year I’ll definitely be out of Florida by early May, and I hope I can spend the fall of 1990 elsewhere after a summer in New York.

I was at FIU today, handing in my packet for the Jackson High School workshop to Sophie, who also took my change of address form.

The word processing class at Edison High School has nine students, so it appears it’s going to run.

While eating lunch at the pizzeria on my return from FIU, a woman with a little girl asked me if I was Richard Grayson.

She turned out to be Dorian, the former Sun-Tattler reporter I met when I was in that Faulkner class for one day at the University of Miami.

Dorian finished her coursework for the Ph.D. program, but her dissertation is dragging on and she’s not been able to motivate herself to finish it.

The recent Times story indicated that many ABDs have the same problem and take eight or nine or ten years to get their degree.

Dorian agreed with me that doctoral programs are archaic, more suited to the nineteenth century than the twenty-first, and of course I went on about what I’ve been doing.

She said she was impressed when she noticed that one of the writers in the Michigan Quarterly Review fiction symposium mentioned me (it was Kostelanetz, of course).

Her little girl seems very smart and cute. I was happy to bump into Dorian.

Last night I had erotic dreams. I was in bed with a black woman in one dream and a blond guy in another, but in neither dream did I have sex; I just sort of hugged and kissed the imaginary lovers.

Up at 8 AM, I had an intense aerobic workout after the exterminators came and left, and then I showered and drove to FIU.

At the college library, I tried to find out about Suzanne Harper, the woman who’s interviewing me tonight, but the only bibliographic item I could find on InfoTrac or the Reader’s Guide was a Seventeen article (or story) titled “Twins.”

In the Wall Street Journal, there was a report that AT&T may enter the credit card field. While profits are down, credit cards are still banks’ biggest profit centers. Rates have recently edged up as losses have risen.

I could never duplicate my feats of 1983-86 by getting so many Visas and MasterCards because new software alerts banks to people like me who keep applying for more and more credit cards.

Basically, my only hope to get new credit is to apply for increases on my current cards and hope they base their decisions not on credit bureau reports but in my attractiveness as a customer. And since I keep high balances, I am the most attractive of credit card customers.

Maybe the Special Report article could be mostly me giving hints about credit cards to people.

Unless the magazine agrees not to give specifics about my scheme, I’ll make sure they don’t use my real name; otherwise, I won’t cooperate.

In any case, I’ll record the call on my answering machine to preserve it for legal reasons.

Thursday, May 18, 1989

4 PM. When I went over to the new house yesterday, Mom mentioned that she dreaded going back to University Village because there were about three dozen plastic trash bags on the patio that needed to be put out so the sanitation men could pick them up.

She asked if I could come over later and help them out. Instead, I went to the townhouse and did the job by myself, lugging the bags over by hand at first and then by using the shopping cart. It was hard, sweaty work, but I knew my parents would be appreciative, and I didn’t mind.

After all, I hadn’t helped much yesterday during the actual move, and here I could do something useful without having to listen to Mom and Dad scream at each other.

Besides, I got to witness our obnoxious ex-neighbor move out on his wife under the watchful eyes of four Davie police officers.

Tired and hot, I picked up a turkey sandwich to each at home. When I called my parents, they were – as I expected – delighted that I took care of the trash bags.

I did more straightening out of my files of papers, books and periodicals, and I listened to the news from China, where Gorbachev’s visit and the Sino-Soviet rapprochement have been overshadowed by students and workers marching in Beijing, demanding democracy and hailing Gorbachev as a reformer they want their leaders to emulate.

While the Soviets have introduced political reforms, the Chinese reforms have been mostly economic up till now.

But with a million people marching in the streets, it’s clear the times they are a-changing in China.

Meanwhile, back home, the New York stock market continues to climb on good economic news and it seems like May 1987 all over again. You know what that means: another crash this fall.

Well, I’ve been preaching gloom and doom so long I don’t know any other sermon. I’ll learn another come 1990 if nothing’s occurred to change the current cheerful economic picture.

I couldn’t sleep, so at 2 AM I turned on A Tale of Two Cities, the 1935 film with Ronald Coleman which I somehow missed all my life (and I never read Dickens’s book either).

The scenes of the storming of the Bastille reminded me of last night’s photos of Beijing and also of Teheran in 1979 and 1980.

While I enjoyed the film, I was still awake at 5 AM. Finally I slept, but for the first time all week I’ve been dizzy today, probably because my sinuses are stuffed up.

I hope I’m not this dizzy when I have to fly to New York two weeks from today.

My car has been stalling out regularly and frequently, but it always starts up again. I’m certain I’ll get stuck with it before I get out of Florida, but I don’t know what to do.

If I take it to a repair shop, they might make it work better. I wish I were knowledgeable about car repairs.

Wendy Abernathy called to say my artwork was ready, and I was delighted when I picked up the mechanical for the chapbook cover: it’s a cheerful, whimsical design.

Still no word from Betty Owen or Sophie today.

Last night – this morning, actually — I had a dream in which I couldn’t figure out how to mark papers the way the BCC English Department wanted me to.

I can feel myself getting defensive about wanting to teach there, and at the interview I’ve got to avoid the attitude that I couldn’t care less if I’m hired or not.

On the other hand, I hate to let them think they have power over me.

Boy, this sounds very neurotic.