A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1992

Wednesday, December 23, 1992

8 PM. It’s almost 1993. I remember how far in the future that seemed when I renewed my driver’s license six years ago at the DMV at Broward Boulevard and State Road 441.

This morning I renewed my license again because the last one expires on my 42nd birthday next year, and I figured I might not be back here again (although presumably I could have renewed it in Gainesville).

My license now expires on my 48th birthday on June 4, 1999. The date is even more mind-boggling: it’s hard to believe I’ll be alive at such a futuristic-sounding time.

Yeah, I know: The new century begins in 2001, but 1999 seems like the last decade of the millennium.

Anyway, I’ll say one thing for the state of Florida: they make some things that were bureaucratic hell back in New York really easy here.

All I had to do to get my new license was go to the back of the Eckerd Drugs at the Davie Shopping Center, where there’s an office run solely by an elderly woman in a crisp examiner’s uniform.

After waiting my turn for fifteen minutes, I read a line of letters for the eye test, answered a couple of questions, paid $15, got my photo taken, and I had my new driver’s license after just six or seven minutes had passed.

The examiner offered to take my photo again because it had a “bubble” in it, but I don’t mind, as it looks as if I have grey temples and a birthmark.

I drove around this morning, listening to Neil Rogers on the car radio.

Even the offices at BCC are closed for the vacation this year, so I couldn’t visit anyone, not even Cynthia, on campus. Probably they had to shut down the school for two weeks because of state budget cuts.

Because I forgot my address book, I can’t write or call some of the friends I’d hope to get in touch with while I was here, like Laura or Patrick.

I’ve been forging ahead in the Legal Ethics text and it’s slow going. Probably Slobogin will pick and choose passages for us to read.

How come I never had to take “fiction writer ethics” or “literature teacher ethics”? The answer is obviously that ethics is taught only in those fields like law, medicine and business, where everyone is assumed to be unethical. Nobody in our MFA program ever had to teach us not to plagiarize another writer’s story.

Thursday, December 24, 1992

4 PM. A cold front is supposed to arrive tonight, but right now it’s warm and sunny.

I just took China for a walk. When I called out: “China, you want to go out for a walk?” she came running from my parents’ bedroom.

I wish I were more like China: she’s a bright, confident, curious explorer.

In the week since I headed down the Turnpike to Fort Lauderdale, I haven’t accomplished much – but maybe for me, not accomplishing much is an accomplishment. I have watched a lot of TV.

The favorite thing I’ve seen so far has to be the Nestlé’s commercial with the dog puppet Farfel, a favorite from my childhood: “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestlé’s is the very best . . . choc-late” – and he’d snap his mouth shut on the “late.”

Dad once took Marc and me to the Green Acres Mall to see Jimmy Nelson and his other puppets make a guest appearance at the Gimbel’s there.

At the time, they had a show, Studio 99½, on the old (pre-PBS) Channel 13.

I remember the dummies Danny O’Day, the aristocratic Humphrey Higsbye, Ftatateeta the cat, and a bombastic puppet whose signature line was, “Hel-lo, Mr. Summkind!” (The show had a puppet based on the producer David Susskind.)

Anyway, tonight we’re going to Clarissa’s for a Christmas party.

It’s been a while since I celebrated the holiday. In 1984, I went to Teresa’s family gathering at her sister’s, and I was also with her family in 1981.

Back in the mid-1970s, I used to go have dinner with Libby and her family in Park Slope, but that ended when she moved to the West Coast.

In 1974, I think, I spent Christmas Eve with Simon, who had a party and didn’t want to be left alone when the other guests left.

Ten years ago on Christmas Eve, Sean knocked on my door in Sunrise, and we saw each other (and made love) for the last time. How could I have not realized that he was seeing someone else?

I drove by that old condo in Sunrise a couple of days ago; the neighborhood is mostly black now.

Twenty years ago on Christmas Day, I drove up to the Bronx to see Ronna at her father and stepmother’s, and we went to Fort Tryon Park. I was so in love with her that day and we were so young.

This morning, after Body Electric and breakfast, I drove to downtown Fort Lauderdale and spent hours at the main Broward County library, reading various books and periodicals.

I prefer the main Alachua County library even though it’s far smaller, but that’s probably because I’m accustomed to it.

I don’t yet know how or when I’ll be going home. Home? Yeah, for now, Gainesville is home.

By Christmas 1999, Gainesville will probably seem like a distant part of my life, the way my homes in North Miami Beach, Rockaway, and even West 85th Street do now.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to move around so much. I spent too many years neurotically tied to the house I grew up in on East 56th Street in Brooklyn.

Friday, December 25, 1992

1 PM. Last evening, after putting on one of my new shirts and the first pair of long pants I wore in a week, I went with my parents to Clarissa’s house for the Christmas Eve party.

Jonathan, as I expected, didn’t attend. He seems more comfortable with his animals than he is in social settings, and that’s a shame because he was such a gregarious child.

We brought China, but when she barked at the elderly couple who arrived before us, Marc suggested that Dad take her back here.

If our parents brought us boys up the same way that they now treat China, it’s no wonder we turned out as spoiled as the dog is.

At first Jason mistook me for Jonathan. He seems like a good kid, although Clarissa worries about his weird nature.

Dad thinks Jason is “too much of a wise guy,” but that reflects Dad’s old-guy nostalgia for what he faultily remembers as better-behaved generations.

To me, Jason seems like a perfectly ordinary 15-or 16-year-old boy, and I give all kids that age some slack.

When I watched Jason unsuccessfully attempt to load and run some of Marc’s computer games on his PC – I guess it’s really Clarissa’s, but it’s in his room – I could tell that at least Jason can read adequately.

Steven, Marc’s childhood friend, arrived with his wife and their delightful daughters, who are 10 and 7.

Steven moved here last year and has been working hard at his job at Circuit City the last few weeks.

He looked tired and older than I thought he would be, but he suffers with ileitis and has a lot of responsibilities.

Steven’s wife Eileen is an ex-New York City public school teacher who’s now working at a posh Coral Springs private school.

Marc’s roommate Jeff, a Jewish guy from Montreal, seemed really nice; he works at the flea market selling T-shirts but wants to go out to L.A. and try to become an actor.

Jeff is personable and very cute, and he was great with the little girls as they talked about TV sitcoms and cartoons.

The other guests were Clarissa’s friends and neighbors, including her best friend Teri, whom she met at work.

I gather that Clarissa does very well financially. She’s had this townhouse at Red Bridge (on University Drive in Sunrise) for a dozen years.

Although the party featured lots of delicious-looking Christmas goodies, I remained my usual low-fat-diet Scrooge self.

I enjoyed talking to some of Clarissa’s friends, including an attorney who went to Nova Law when she was older than I was and who now loves her probate work.

When Dad overheard me tell her I was 40, he remarked, “Why don’t you write it out and put it on your shirt?”

Dad is so neurotic about his age that when someone else, after mistaking me for Marc’s younger brother, asked my age, I said, “I can’t tell you because my father is in the room.”

Except for Teri and her husband, we were the last people there after midnight when Jason could no longer be contained and began opening the many gifts sitting under their (tasteful) artificial Christmas tree.

Marc, Clarissa and Jason got me a set of Aramis products.

Other gifts were for Mom and Dad (“Who’s ‘Dad’?” Jason asked as he looked at the label on one present), who in turn got Clarissa and Jason some things they’ll probably never use.

Clarissa, Jason and Marc spent a fortune on one another. Clarissa got Marc season tickets to the first season of the Florida Marlins baseball team, and Marc gave her a gorgeous onyx ring.

“Not an engagement ring?” asked Jason with either feigned or real disappointment.

He scored a pile of clothes, toiletries, CDs, etc. – and one gag gift: a “Portable Parent,” a device which plays remarks like “You’re gonna take someone eye out with that thing!”, “You broke it – are you happy now?” and “For the last time I’m telling you – no!”

It was good for me to again celebrate Christmas the way I did with the families of other people in the past. We got home at 12:30 AM.

Saturday, December 26, 1992

8 PM. Today I had a pleasant day with Pete, picking him up at 11 AM and taking him home an hour ago.

It was the first time I’d seen him in a year and a half, but with old friends, it’s always easy to pick up where you left off.

First we drove into North Miami Beach, across 167th Street to the beach, and then down Collins and Harding into South Beach, parking by Lincoln Road.

We walked along the slowly-reviving shopping district. Although Lincoln Road isn’t the retail mecca it was when I first visited there 23 years ago, it’s getting some trendy new stores.

Most of the cafés were closed for the holiday, but Pete and I found some decent food at a Zabar’s-type appetizing/gourmet store. We ate it at a table outside, and for dessert got fat-free ice cream from Baskin-Robbins next door.

We used the restroom at the Washington Avenue McDonald’s, where I saw a man – presumably one of the many tourists from Europe and Latin America – videotaping the food on the tray in front of him.

Then Pete and I spent nearly an hour walking around South Beach, which seems to be as close to Manhattan as you can get in Florida.

If I ever move back to South Florida, I’d live on South Beach – assuming I could afford a place there. It’s filled with young urban types I feel comfortable around. (And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many great-looking bare-chested guys.)

We got back in the car and I drove us over the Venetian Causeway to downtown Miami and from there into Coral Gables.

Thanks to my experiences teaching computers at so many Miami schools, I still know my way around Dade County’s roads.

Pete wanted to get some books, so we went to Books & Books, where Mitchell Kaplan, at the register, greeted me as I walked in.

I’m pretty sure he knows me, but I find myself very shy among literary people, and I didn’t want to ask him about the Mondo Barbie reading.

Pete and I had a good time among the fiction and nonfiction volumes. I wish I had more time to read literature, as I feel I’ve missed out on so much in recent years.

Maybe I’ll have some more time to read non-school-related stuff in 1993.

I finished 250 pages of my Legal Ethics text, and that’s all I plan to read for now. I also began Derrick Bell’s race law text, and if I can get through 200 pages of that before the term begins, I’ll be way ahead of the game.

Anyway, at Books & Books, Pete and I traded names of recommended titles and authors, and he selected a book of Hawthorne stories and a Bret Harte western to buy.

Now that Pete’s in NYU’s grad program in American Studies, he’s reading more material related to the field.

Pete said he despises The Education of Henry Adams, which I admire. But then I tend to read for ideas or story, and Pete looks at style first.

For me, style is secondary, as any person who reads me – or probably who looks at me – can immediately discern.

Pete said that Ed Hogan wasn’t at this year’s New York Book Fair, nor were many other small press publishers from the old days.

Back in 1978, I knew all the little magazines, small presses and their editors at the Book Fair, but by now I’m so out of touch with that scene that I wouldn’t know anybody.

Leaving Coral Gables, we drove back up to Broward, stopping at Dania Beach to watch the sun set. It was a gorgeous part of the day, which had been warm and sunny.

Although the lifeguards left at 5 PM, that didn’t stop one young guy from a vigorous swim. Another guy took a bucket of water from the ocean and poured it over his head, presumably to invigorate his dreadlocks.

It was already dark when I dropped Pete off at his parents’ house in Tamarac.

Back here, thanks to China’s absence, I had my chicken fajitas to myself. I also microwaved a big batch of veggies from various frozen vegetable bags.

Tuesday, December 29, 1992

7 PM. I made reservations at all three major car rental agencies to drive back to Gainesville on Monday. The cost is under $40, so this is the best way to go.

This morning I went off to JT’s, where JT and Nikki greeted me effusively, both remarking that I “kept the weight off.” It’s nice to go somewhere and be welcomed.

Nikki told me that the Gainesville stylists don’t know how to layer my hair when they cut it – but then again, JT charges more than twice what they do in Gainesville.

Ronna phoned from Orlando, where it’s 60° and raining. But it seems like lovely weather to Ronna, who left New York on Sunday when the wind-chill factor was -5° degrees.

She spent the train ride sitting between a pervert and a drunk and didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time. But she’s been sleeping a lot since.

Billy and Melissa are also there all week, along with their dog, Blackie, and Ronna’s seen her aunt, uncle and cousin Robbie, who’s supposed to be writing a book (“but I suspect it’s been a while since his fingers have hit the keyboard”).

It’s not practical for me to come up to Orlando when I don’t have a car and I’m leaving here on Monday, two days after Ronna goes home.

But if all goes well, I’ll be saying with her up in New York this spring, and she plans to come down again for Passover.

When Ronna’s mother told her to get off the phone and go with her to the Florida Mall, I said I’d call her tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 30, 1992

4 PM. I didn’t sleep much last night, just from 10:30 PM to midnight and then again from 6 AM to 8 AM, when I forced myself to get up and do a light workout with Body Electric.

I’ve been groggy most of the day, which is a shame because it’s gorgeous out.

I did go out in the early morning to get the paper and some frozen dinners and again in the early afternoon when I walked China around the circle.

Feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin felt wonderful. Yesterday it was 50° in Gainesville when it was 80° here, so I’d better appreciate it while I can.

I’ve been on the phone a lot since last night, when I finally got through to Justin. He sounds more like Larry every day: for a minute, I wasn’t certain to which of them I was speaking.

They’d just come back from spending Christmas in Reading with Larry’s parents – sad to say, his grandmother died last month – and the weekend in Philly with Justin’s family, who gathered for the bris of his newest nephew.

For Justin, this was an exhausting semester at Brooklyn College. Last week he handed in his term papers for his grad courses and his grades for his Intro to Theater students.

He’s decided to stop teaching at that center for immigrants on Church Avenue; it’s too much, and he found the last group was so discouraged about the economy that they didn’t pay attention, feeling that learning WordPerfect wouldn’t help them get jobs.

Justin also got roped into being the line producer – that’s the one who does all the work and gets no credit – for a weekend show and workshop with Betty Buckley, who was a difficult and temperamental star to work with even if she could sometimes also be wonderful.

For the spring semester, Justin will teach Intro to Acting and finish his coursework for his MFA.

He’s started to get antsy about his “re-entry” into the work world and said that many of the internships that BC theater grads tend to get are the kind of things he did when he first came to New York and worked for that theater company and Alexander H Cohen.

Justin loves teaching, and I think he’d like to keep at it. I even got the first hint he’d consider leaving New York City for a good academic position – though not for at least another year or two.

Larry’s company recently was awarded the audiotape franchise for the Guggenheim, so now he’s a lot busier, between being in charge at the Met and shuffling off to MoMA, where his boss is headquartered.

During the night when I couldn’t sleep, I watched cable TV’s Mind Extension University and the Coen brothers’ fabulous Barton Fink.

When I called the nursing home today, an illiterate, incompetent woman answered and kept telling me that Grandma wasn’t there.

She made me spell out Grandma’s name several times. The first time I said “Ethel Sarrett,” she thought I said “Edna Zarrick.” and when I spelled it again, she said, “Oh, Esther Farrell.”

She put me on hold for fifteen minutes, during which time she twice came back on and answered as if I were a new call. Finally, I got someone with brains who gave me Grandma’s new room (203) and the second-floor phone number.

Grandma explained that last week she and Christine moved to a new room to escape their old roommates and be together – “only now I find that she constantly gets up during the night.”

“As someone who’s lived with you,” I told Grandma, “I’m sure you do some things that annoy Christine.”

Today at 2:50 PM, I did a phone interview about the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War on a nationwide radio program based in Denver. I used my usual schtick, enjoying – as always – the quick give-and-take of a live show.

Later, when I called Ronna, I first spoke to Billy, who told me he’s scheduled to complete his Ph.D. program in May and is awaiting word on the internships he’s applied for all over the country.

Like those for medical doctors, psychologist internships are hard to get. Billy says he’d prefer to work at a counseling center rather than at a VA hospital.

He liked teaching at Santa Fe, but UF pays better and they’re letting him teach Abnormal Psychology this coming semester. Melissa finishes her M.A. program this term, too.

I told Billy I’d call them when we all got back to Gainesville.

When she came on, I asked Ronna about her recent activities in Orlando, and she said she’s too familiar with the area to do any sightseeing: “Now it’s just like going back to visit Brooklyn.”

I wished her a wonderful new year and told her I’d visit her this spring. It will be amazing to see New York City and Grandma and Ronna and Justin and all my other friends again.

So this is the penultimate day of 1992. Right now I feel really placid, but that’s probably just a result of sleep deprivation.