A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1990

Sunday, April 22, 1990

7 PM. I can’t remember any other Earth Day celebration before today’s except for the original one 20 years ago.

Then I went to Prospect Park and saw a singing group called The Smubbs dressed as pigs (representing the polluters?), and heard Governor Rockefeller say, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the pollution.”

And as I was leaving the park, I saw Rockefeller riding a bicycle. I even got a photo of him, which I must have somewhere in storage.

That day Dad came home saying the Union Square demonstrators pounded on his Cadillac and berated him for having a gas-guzzler.

I’m inclined to be skeptical of the worldwide Earth Day activities today. While the cause is good, like everything else in the Bush era, it’s all PR and empty rhetoric combined with photo opportunities and commercialism.

Of course, it’s still better than Reagan, who was actively hostile to the environment.

Anyway, at 1 PM I drove to nearby Forest Ridge for the town of Davie’s celebration.

This year I missed the governor – Bob Martinez and other politicians came to speak at noon – but I did go on a 90-minute walking tour along Pine Island Ridge, which the state and county have managed to preserve.

Along the way, there were about ten stations where parks volunteers talked about the historic ridge, about the pines and oaks, butterflies and birds, Seminoles and Tequestas, bromeliads and orchids that are part of the place.

From my days as a kid in Brooklyn, I’ve always been fascinated by local history, and while I knew much of the geologic history of the ridge and the events of the 19th and 20th centuries (the Seminole Wars, the first settlements of whites, he draining of the Everglades), I learned a lot today about the flora and fauna.

I was especially impressed by the plant that the Indians cultivated for its juice, which had to be separated from the toxic pulp; this plant, the coontie, is millions of years old.

Sometimes I think the greenhouse effect would be beneficial if it could kill off humans and restore at least this part of the world to the sea it once was. That’s the founder of the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War talking.

Up at 7 AM today, I read the Times and the Sun-Sentinel (Chauncey’s story about Jim Hall and his new book had a space where a photo should have gone and a photo credit but no picture, so I shouldn’t expect too much from the coming article about me), did aerobics, and watched a Beirut hostage get released.

Today I did more walking than I have in months, and it felt good.

I regret the fact I’ve spent so much time driving in the last few months; obviously, I’ve done my share to pollute the planet.

I also use paper cups and plates and plastic garbage bags, and I don’t separate and recycle all my trash.

Yes, I should be more aware of the environment, but like everyone else, I’m addicted to my comforts – like air-conditioning.

Actually, I came home with a throbbing headache that I haven’t been able to shake.

I just remembered it’s Teresa’s birthday on Friday; I bought a card weeks ago, but I’ve got to mail it in the morning.

Mom said she’ll order a microwave from Macy’s and have it sent to Grandma’s as a “present”; she wouldn’t let me charge it to my credit card.

My head really is pounding now, so I’m going to try to go to bed early. Perhaps catching up on my sleep will make me feel better.

Wednesday, April 25, 1990

9 PM. By early afternoon today, I finished all the grading for this evening’s FIU class, but now I have fifteen of their research papers to read and grade.

Since final grades are due on Friday at noon for Broward faculty, I have to hand them in tomorrow.

My best bet is to do what I did last term at BCC: grade the papers holistically after a quick reading and then get the final grades in.

Next week I can put comments on the papers before I leave them for the students to pick up in the FIU office.

But I also have fifteen BCC English 101 papers I need to grade by Friday, so I’ll have a lot of schoolwork – for me, anyway – to do tomorrow.

Luckily, my only appointment is the session with the Sun-Sentinel photographer at 11 AM.

I still have to decide what to wear. Should I wear my usual shorts and Bugle Boy T-shirt? Would a tank top make me look sexy or silly?

Oh, who cares?

I slept fine, and while I was making pancakes at 6:50 AM, I was delighted to hear an NPR Morning Edition story on Rick Peabody and the final issue of Gargoyle.

Rick sounded intelligent in the interview, which also had others speak about the magazine with well-deserved respect.

I wrote Rick a congratulatory note and told him to concentrate on being selfish for a bit. He did an amazing job with that magazine.

Later, I told my creative writing class that Rick went through 10,000 manuscripts for the last issue, letting the students know that even magazines they’ve never heard of like Gargoyle, which pay only in copies, are extraordinarily hard to break into.

Then we went over a piece that really allowed us (both the students and me) to flex our critical muscles.

I think I did a good job teaching Creative Writing this term even if I didn’t spend much time preparing.

Most of the students told me they enjoyed the class, and a few said they were sorry it was ending.

My English 101 class, on the other hand, has been nearly as bad as the one last term. About half the class disappeared during the course of the semester and will receive W’s or XF’s as their final grade.

I didn’t know what to do with them today. Luckily, the English Department essay awards ceremony was scheduled for noon, and we were encouraged to bring our students.

The winning remedial and English 101 essays were quite good – publishable, I’d say, or nearly so.

It’s nice that BCC recognizes the work of writers and shares their writing with a larger audience; that’s exactly what we talked about last summer at Teachers College.

Speaking of Teachers College, when I got my mail, I was happily surprised to learn that the school had approved me for a Stafford loan for the summer.

That means I can take my grad courses after all and have some money (about $3000) to live on.

At the McFatter Vo-Tech Center late this afternoon, my Technical Writing students came in just to get the papers I’d graded and to hand in their final reports; some asked if I would be teaching at FIU again this summer or fall.

While I liked the class, half the time I didn’t know what I was doing. Of course, nobody but me knew it was only the first time I’d taught the subject.

I called Teresa but hung up the first time because the machine said I’d reached a different number.

Then it occurred to me that she call-forwarded the Oyster Bay Cove number to Fire Island. When she phoned back later, we had a good laugh about it.

Teresa seems to be glad I’m coming, and she says there’s no problem with my staying in Manhattan on weekends in May.

She rented the Oyster Bay Cove house for the summer to two oceanographers, but the guys need to be there for part of May because that’s when they have to start measuring the seabed of Long Island Sound for NOAA.

I’m starting to get excited about being back in New York.

I got a call from Adrienne, who’d just read “My Grandfather’s Other Son” and admired it so much she had to phone. Gosh, that was nice to hear.

I feel pretty good tonight – about as good as it’s safe to feel on this planet.

Friday, April 27, 1990

9 PM. Darryl Baskin of the Mark Twain Center in Elmira wrote me an embarrassed letter saying the group’s donor had objected to creative writers in residence and wants only Twain scholars there. So he asked me to release them from our agreement.

Naturally I will. What else can I do? (I suppose a lawsuit is the first thing you are supposed to think of these days, but I hate lawsuits.)

When I read this at 6:30 PM, after a long day, I felt disappointed, but I was more annoyed when Mom said, “Don’t be upset,” than when I read the letter.

Instead of saying what I would say – “You must be upset (or disappointed)” – my mother was trying to negate my emotion.

Well, she just doesn’t know any better.

I do. Anyway, that sheds light on the way I was raised.

As for not spending two weeks in Elmira this summer, I’ll be saving myself both the expense of a car rental and of paying rent at Teresa’s while I’m not using the apartment; I’ll also get to spend more time in Manhattan. Usually these things turn out for the best.

I didn’t sleep well last night. Up at 6 AM, I had a morning of oatmeal, aerobics, the Wall Street Journal and grading.

I phoned Teresa in Fire Island, where it suddenly turned into summer, to wish her a happy birthday. She was busy and I had to get to school, so I didn’t stay on long.

At BCC, I told Betty – just in case I don’t get a chance to do so next week –  how much I enjoyed teaching for her this year.

She told me she hopes I come back to South Campus and said it must be scary not to know what I’m doing. It’s natural that Betty would think that, for BCC is her life.

But I’m really looking forward to forgetting all about the college the way I did six years ago: too much of my time this year has been spent involved with BCC.

I began this morning’s Creative Writing class by reading aloud two articles from the new issue of Poets & Writers, one on getting rejections and the other on NEA censorship.

(Today Joe Papp refused an NEA grant for the Shakespeare Festival because he wouldn’t sign the statement pledging not to use the money to promote the kind of stuff Jesse Helms doesn’t like.)

In English 101, I gave back papers and told the students about their Gordon Rule and CLAST requirements.

Before I went to Sunset High School, I had time to have an unrushed lunch at home and still manage to Kendall early.

Although only four teachers showed up today, we had a good session with AppleWorks, as I could work with everyone individually.

The English teacher who requested the workshop is such a nerd and so slow to catch on; he’s exactly the kind of high school English teacher, like Midwood’s Miss Shapin, who could really turn a kid off literature and writing.

The sad part is that the guy actually means well. But why are so many teachers pathetic like that?

Well, I’ve got a lot of moving to do because I have to be out of this apartment on Monday.

It will be a hectic weekend, but on the other hand, I have only half a dozen papers left to grade.

Having survived so many moves back and forth between New York and Florida over the last decade, I’m sure adjusting to the Big Apple this year will be challenging – though in a new way.

While it won’t all be fun in the city, I’ll try to be more adaptable, and hopefully I’ll be less bored – and less boring – by summer’s end.

Monday, April 30, 1990

10 PM. I’m in my parents’ spare bedroom, feeling drained and a bit stupid.

I hadn’t realized how taxing moving would be. Physically, it’s tired me out. Lately I’ve been having lower back aches and pains as a matter of course, and I hope all the heavy lifting that I did today will not make them worse.

Of course, I wasn’t supposed to do any heavy lifting because of the scar on my upper back, but I expect I didn’t do much damage there.

I’m also worn out emotionally. Living by myself in the same place for eight months has made me set in my ways, and I feel out of place and disoriented here at my parents’.

Mom doesn’t help by making herself very curious about all my possessions, as though I brought stuff here purposely to annoy her.

Since, unlike the last couple of years, I haven’t been eating with the family this year, I’m not used to the routine and rhythms of the household – not to mention the rules.

I’m reminded of my adolescence, when my mother seemed much more concerned with the household’s furniture and carpeting than with me.

Because Mom works only two days a week now, she’s sort of reverted to her crazy housekeeper of the 1950s and ’60s.

Well, I got up at 6 AM, and after breakfast, I read the papers, did my grading, exercised and got stuff ready for the move before I left for BCC.

Edith Goldstein wrote a letter to Betty and had my other creative writing students sign it; I glanced at the first sentence, which said something to the effect that BCC was crazy to lose such a great teacher.

I told the class I was leaving of my own volition and asked Edith not to send the letter, but she said she was going ahead with it.

Well, I’m flattered – no, I’m gratified – and the letter can’t make Betty think anything but good of me.

I’ve started to say goodbye to people in case I don’t see them.

It was interesting to hear Judy Nichols tell me how different I was from what she expected: a vain, loud boor. Instead, she said, I was “a soft-spoken, scholarly guy.”

Well, she shouldn’t have believed my press; I never did.

Today’s Creative Writing class went well as we went over three poems. I find I enjoy leading a workshop more and I’m getting better at it.

I do know that as a creative writing teacher, I have a lot to give the students; it’s nice to reach back into my brain for stuff I read or learned or heard years ago.

Few of my English 101 students had their research projects, but a lot had excuses. Still, they all said they would put the papers in my mailbox by Friday.

Some will and some won’t. I know the ones who have five papers to make up – the people who’ve rarely shown up – will never do in three days what they couldn’t do in three months.

Back at the apartment, I had as leisurely a lunch as possible, and then I began moving.

It took over two hours and three separate car trips back and forth (and Dad helped me put the TV, VCR and microwave in the warehouse tonight), but I got everything out of my place by 4 PM, handed in in my keys at the Sun Pointe Cove rental office, and came here.

The last few days have been stressful. For a while I was too numb to figure out everything I needed to do and in what order to do them. It took all my concentration to finish reading today’s papers.

Right now I can’t think about what I have to do for my FIU and BCC classes and all the other tasks that need accomplishing before I leave.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new to-do list.

After paying all but a couple of my April credit card bills, I have a negative balance (down about $65) in checking, so I’ll have to hold off on mailing my payments.

Wednesday’s BCC check and some fresh cash advances should cover them.

It’s one more month I got by, though just barely.

Of course, next month I won’t have a big AmEx Gold Card bill; in the past two months I paid off $1700 and then $1200 on that account.

Hopefully I can hold off bankruptcy until I get back to Florida when the summer is over.

We’ll see how well I sleep in a strange bed tonight.