A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1989

Monday, October 2, 1989

4 PM. I developed a whopper of a sinus headache a couple of hours ago when a front came in, dropping the temperature 10° in an hour and causing (much-needed) heavy rains.

I brought my car over to Freddy’s at 1 PM, and Fidel Castro’s former mechanic is working on it now. Probably it’s some really big job.

Dad picked me up at Freddy’s and dropped me off at home, so right now I have no transportation although I can take one of my family’s cars tomorrow because Dad will be in Las Vegas for the menswear show there.

It’s surprising how soundly I slept last night, going straight through – with my usual awakenings, following dreams, to urinate – from 10 PM all the way to 6:30 AM.

I had pretty good English 102 classes in which we discussed Carver’s “Cathedral.” Sean Fitzgerald finally came back, claiming he was out with a cold last week.

During my break, I read the piece Paul Heidelberg did on Kathy Jones that was published in Friday’s Sun-Sentinel. Probably they didn’t want to run stories on two BCC-South teachers back to back, but if anything could deflate me, it’s being in the same category with someone as pathetic as poor Kathy. I don’t expect much from the article now, and probably the photos will stink.

I phoned Sophie, who said Rosa Harvey called and the Northwestern High School is scheduled for next Monday and Thursday and the following two weeks. It’s supposed to run from 2:45 PM to 6:05 PM, but of course I’ll end up finishing before that.

It’s good that I’ll be off from BCC next Monday – it’s Yom Kippur/Columbus Day – but I’ll be pretty busy for the next three weeks. I’m going to have to go to Nutri/System on a different day, too.

However, I need to keep my hand in computer education even while I’m teaching English at BCC, and the money is definitely good.

In English 101, I read aloud some decent essays that I’d graded during the break. I left school right after class to come home, have lunch, and take the car over to Freddy’s.

I suspect I’m having more problems than just the oil leak, for the car isn’t going into motion when I first put my foot on the gas. Well, it’s only a car and it’s only money.

Getting stuck is aggravating, but I’ve always survived it. At least I know I’m not going to be stuck in -40° wind chill the way I was in Sloatsburg in January.

I exercised and read the Times. Jackie Mason, by calling Dinkins “a fancy schvartze” and telling Jews they’re “sick” for voting for blacks, has just about destroyed the already inept campaign of his candidate, Giuliani.

Koch was too scared or maybe too honorable – who knows, given how gracious he’s been acting – to bring up racist talk in the primary.

Giuliani tried, calling Dinkins a “Jackson Democrat” and putting a photo of Jesse Jackson alongside one of Dinkins in an ad in a Yiddish paper. I’ll bet it totally backfires and only raises Jewish support for Dinkins. Jews don’t like to be thought of as racists.

Alice and Peter should be finishing the taping of Donahue at this hour; I hope their appearance went well and I’m exciting about watching the show when it’s broadcast.

I’m starving and will eat dinner soon. Today, around 11 AM, I felt faint, so I got a roll of wintergreen LifeSavers in the cafeteria. But as I taught my class, I needed to pop only one in my mouth before I felt better, so at the end of the class I threw the rest of the candies in the trash can.

I spoke to Teresa on Fire Island. She still hasn’t moved into the Oyster Bay Cove house and seems a little afraid to.

Tomorrow, Teresa says, she plans to get the rest of her things from West 85th Street and take it to the new house, which is on Cove Road. I know that place because Theodore Roosevelt’s grave is right up the street.

Teresa’s first catering job is a bar mitzvah on the first Saturday in November. I wished her luck.

Tuesday, October 3, 1989

2 PM. Late yesterday afternoon, Mom brought over the Camaro for me to use while my car was being repaired. She also gave me my mail, which included bills and the usual junk, plus a letter from Tom.

Attached to a flyer was the notation, “Thought you might want to put Ruth on your shit list.” Ruth sent the flyer back to Tom with the words, “If he writes a book called With Hitler in School, I might buy it to see if it’s accurate.”

Who is she? A woman from the April writing conference workshop at BCC-Central. I have no idea what I did to engender such hostility; I can’t even remember the woman.

Perhaps I said some things about her story, but usually I’m so pleasant and meek I can’t understand why she’d call me a classroom tyrant.

Rather than waste time thinking about it or planning revenge, I tore up the note and took Ruth off my mailing list.

Of the other seven in that workshop, five are in my class now and another is Pearl Levine, who was very kind to me last Thursday.

I guess this woman is just a nut or a miserable old bag. Certainly she’s not worthy of my attention, but hate mail – like that note I once got from “Joseph Goebbels” in Miami Beach – is upsetting.

Mom went to Nutri/System yesterday and gave 40 pounds as her goal. “That’s all I can deal with now,” she said.

It will be harder for her because her strict vegetarian diet restricts her to only five different dinner entrees.

Up at 7 AM, I exercised at 8 AM and watched Alice and Peter on Donahue at 9 AM.

Alice looked very good this time: her posture was fine, as was her outfit and makeup. Peter also looked good.

With three other couples, they discussed the rules of relationships. Naturally, Donahue’s middlebrow audience in the studio and the callers on the phone thought Alice and Peter’s living arrangements bizarre and unnatural but my friends explained things well.

When I spoke to Alice afterwards, she said they were frustrated in not having the time to get their points across as Donahue flitted all over the audience with his microphone.

Unlike on Sally Jessy Raphael, in this studio they had monitors so Alice could check how she looked – that helped her maintain good posture.

I congratulated her and Peter on a good performance and said, “Next time, you’ll be even better.”

Really, relationships are all about choice, as a pro-choice commercial during the program said. Why some people feel the need to make others live their way is something I’ve never understood.

There were a few people in the audience who thought Alice and Peter had a good idea if it works for them, but so many people got all hung up on monogamy.

Sexually, America is so backward. In Denmark, I see, the state has legalized gay “marriages,” giving those couples the same rights as straight couples who’ve gone through a wedding ceremony.

Sometimes I think life must be a lot freer in Western Europe. Their standard of living is as good or better than ours, even in a formerly backward economy like Italy’s, and they don’t have to put up with the Christian Right.

I guess there are neo-fascist parties in France and West Germany, but the mainstream is so far to the left of the U.S., it’s not funny.

There was another column in the Times today – the “Careers” column – about the shortage of Ph.D.s in academia. It does make sense to go for my doctorate now, I guess, but I couldn’t deal with the standard Ph.D. program in English.

After a good remedial class, I went to the library and looked up Ph.D. programs in English Education. There’s one at Teachers College, and maybe I should apply there, since I’m comfortable in the place and know people there.

I’m also going to send for information from other schools, but there are not many programs, and I’d have to get huge financial aid for it to be worth my while.

On the other hand, I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life teaching the kind of classes I’m teaching now at BCC. Perhaps I’d be happier in another field.

Of course, English education might enable me to get a job like Lucy Calkins, training teachers or teachers-to-be. I’ve got to think about it a lot more.

Wednesday, October 4, 1989

5 PM. Yesterday afternoon I felt really antsy and kind of bored. Mom drove me to pick up my car – the repairs cost $70 – and then I came home, feeling I was in a rut.

I’d weighed myself at Publix, and although the man behind me said, “I wish I’d weigh that,” I was disappointed because I weighed 168½. If that’s what I weigh tomorrow I’ll have lost only half a pound this week, even though I haven’t done any real cheating.

The only “cheating” I do is with some extra fruit or vegetables or Nutri/System food; I certainly haven’t had cake or even bread. It struck me that losing the remainder of the 35 pounds is going to be very difficult.

I felt bored with the diet and with my routine at BCC.

Why do I get bored with jobs so easily? I want to resist putting down roots and getting comfortable. Is it because I’m afraid it’s a trap, that nothing’s permanent, that I’ll only get hurt?

That sounds reasonable to me, and it would also explain why I’ve avoided emotional commitments. I’ve got to work on that a lot more.

The best I could do last evening was take a drive to downtown Fort Lauderdale. The new, still-unfinished I-595 makes the trip a breeze, at least when there’s no traffic.

At the library, I read all the latest banking and credit card news in American Banker and found a good article in The American Spectator that was about the second generation of literary brat packers.

All the later books of McInerney, Janowitz, Ellis, Leavitt, et al., have bombed, both critically and sales-wise, but a new generation is being scouted out – people like John Burnham Schwartz, whose face was plastered all over New York bookstores this summer.

Though the article’s writer feels these authors will last about “as long as hamburgers placed in front of Wimpy,” they all seem to be privileged, well-connected, Ivy League types.

Though I rarely write fiction these days, I might get back to it if I believed there was a chance anyone would pay attention to me. Or is that just rationalization?

I enjoyed watching the season premiere of The Wonder Years when I got home. Afterwards, I fell into a pretty decent sleep.

Today in my English 102 classes I had a good time discussing Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” a story I first taught at LIU thirteen years ago (to people who actually knew what life in Harlem was like).

In English 101, I started talking about doing library research. Actually all my classes were okay, and it was payday, so I felt pretty good.

This afternoon I exercised and read, and now, with a raging headache (sinus?), I’m preparing to go back to BCC to teach creative writing.

Thursday, October 5, 1989

9 PM. Last evening I had a good creative writing class.

Carolyn wrote another of her macabre tales with a twist, and this one was surprising even to me.

Scott had a vampire story I didn’t really get because of my lack of knowledge of vampire lore, and we went over a sketchy, unbelievable story by Edith Goldstein.

The class really is a pleasure to teach; it feels more like a club, and of course that’s the most a teacher can ask for.

This morning I made some cash advances, which I deposited into the bank on my way to school.

At BCC, I read my remedial papers; I’ve been writing my comments on Post-It notes, which I use as guides for my individual conferences.

Today’s remedial class went well, and I met with about half the students as they wrote a new assignment.

On Tuesday I tried to write an essay on the blackboard, and someone called out the topic “safe sex,” but I had problems. So today I brought in xeroxes of safe sex guidelines and information and went over them with the class.

Following the tone I set, the students acted very mature, and I think I did something important if I helped one person reduce his/her risk of HIV infection. Teaching health education appeals to me.

Later today I got my summer grades, and while I got an A in the Teaching of Writing Institute, I got an A+, my first, in Alcohol and Health.

I hung around BCC till 1 PM and said hi to Patrick’s wife before I left.

At Nutri/System, I weighed in at 166¾ , losing 2¼  pounds for the week and 18¼  in all. So I’m halfway to my goal. The 150-pound goal is arbitrary, but I know I don’t want to be fat again. I also know 95% of people who lose weight gain it back. How can I avoid that?

I’m trying very hard to incorporate what I’m learning about behavior in classes, like tonight’s session on eating triggers. I’ll never again be able to eat the way I used to, not if I want to remain thin.

It’s like being an alcoholic or a drug abuser; I cannot handle food the way normal people can. My use of food was out of control for many years.

I had about five papers handed in on Wednesday, and I should read them, but I’m too tired. The next three weeks, with my work at Northwestern High School, will be stressful and rough to get through. But I’ll take it one day at a time.

Saturday, October 7, 1989

8 PM. I’ve been doing just about everything I can to avoid looking at my students’ papers – just as I did two years ago when I took over those three night classes at BCC-Central, and before that for three years of full-time teaching in 1981-84.

I find I always leave grading to the last minute, and I’m still unable to work that out.

If I had fewer classes and students, perhaps I’d totally enjoy being a college English professor, but as I told Adrienne yesterday, I hate being a drudge.

Oh well, the papers always seem to get done somehow. Probably if I had graded them all yesterday and today, I would enjoy the next two  days a whole lot more.

I slept soundly, dreaming that China developed the ability to talk. Today, when I stopped at Marc’s to collect my 5¼-inch disks, I took China out for a walk in the rain, and afterwards, she lay back as I rubbed her stomach.

I didn’t hear a word out of her, but I talked, telling her the kinds of things I confess mostly to my diary and my own mind. She responded with glances that were as intelligent as any of my therapists’.

I worked out for an hour today, but I think I may have overdone it the last couple of days.

You’d think I’d be less interested in exercise now that I’ve lost 18 pounds and probably have a better body than ever in my adult life, but I feel that working out will help me lose those last 17 pounds.

By the end of the month, I should know if 150 pounds is a realistic goal or not. The main concern I have is not ballooning up again.

I read the newspapers, wrote out checks for credit card bills that will come later this week or next, did my laundry, and listened to another gloom-and-doom economist being derided on talk radio.

And why not? The stock market set a record high every day for the last four days, and the Dow is now way above what it was before the crash two years ago.

I suppose I should admit defeat. It’s obvious nothing is going to happen in 1989 to change the economy, which, to my mind, continues to defy not only gravity but logic.

Yet the 1990s will be different. Today the Hungarian Communist Party voted to disband and rename itself the Socialists as they try to avoid a defeat similar to that of the Polish Communist Party in the upcoming free elections.

In East Germany, thousands have been protesting as hundreds pour into the West; they, like the Chinese protestors in Tiananmen Square this spring, are looking to Gorbachev as their reformist idol, but East Berlin is as oppressive a regime as Beijing.

The Chinese took it as a slap in the face when the Dalai Lama got the Nobel Peace Prize this week. Japan’s Sony Corporation took over Columbia Pictures. Bush’s administration fouled up an attempt by dissident Panamanian military officers to overthrow General Noriega.

The world is changing. If the Cold war is over and the Soviets aren’t our enemy, it seems as if we’re our own enemy now. I’m rambling.

Being thinner makes me feel sexier and that makes me feel lonelier. Even if looked like a model from the pages of GQ, nobody’s going to walk into my apartment to find me.

I’ve cut out the personals section of the Miami gay paper for two weeks now, intending to answer ads, but I just don’t seem to get around to it. Avoid, avoid. I’m doing a pretty good job of that.

I’m supposed to pick up Dad at the airport at 10 AM tomorrow. He leaves Las Vegas at 11:30 PM Pacific time tonight, gets into Atlanta early in the morning, and has a two-hour layover.

Later I’m going to see Tony and Adrienne in Hallandale.

Tuesday, October 10, 1989

7:30 PM. I just finished reading and commenting on my English 101 papers. Before that, late this afternoon, I read the English 102 papers, and working on them was not as tedious as I expected.

If I remember to react to my students’ writing more like a human being and a reader than as an English teacher, I enjoy grading a lot more and I find it easier.

Most of the work isn’t really that bad, and some of the English 101 narratives were fascinating.

Since I went to bed early last night and slept well, I was able to have over three hours to do aerobics and finish the New York Times before I left for school today.

I asked my remedial students if they wanted to go to the reading Peter Hargitai was giving for Barbara’s poetry class, and surprisingly, they did.

Peter was much better than Denis O’Donovan, the other writer there, as he read two stories and several poems from his excellent book From Budapest to Bellevue.

Although Peter’s second story was a bit long, I got a lot out of it, and I hope my students did, too. I like the remedial class a lot because they’re a nice group of kids. I’ll simply postpone the activities I’d planned for today until Thursday’s class.

I left school around 12:30 PM and came home for my Nutri/System lunch. Being thinner makes me feel sexier, and I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that, but I probably can get used to it. Seeing all those cute students in shorts every day may be getting to me.

Anyway, I mostly did schoolwork this afternoon, but I did get in another half-hour of exercise because I don’t think I can manage to fit it in on Thursday, what with Nutri/System in the early morning, then BCC and my workshop at Northwestern High School.

In the mail I got a notice from the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee about an offensive Halloween mask that Spencer Gifts is selling.

It’s “The Sheik,” a gross caricature of a stereotyped Arab, part of a product line that features monsters like the devil, Dracula and Freddy Krueger, but no other ethnic group.

I called the Spencer Gifts at the Hollywood Fashion Center and the manager said that, yes, he had the item in stock and couldn’t take it off unless management told him to.

The ADC already complained to Spencer Gifts’ management and were told that the mask was not offensive to any of them at the company and that it was “fun” and “in the spirit of Halloween.”

I was incensed that such ethnic stereotyping could be going on in 1989, and I phoned the three local newspapers, but probably none of them will cover the story unless I give them some good “visuals” like me picketing the store.

Why am I so upset? Arab-bashing is just as bad as bashing any other group. Yes, I’m Jewish and gay, but just because this doesn’t affect me personally – – well, it does affect me personally, because I’m a human being.

Do I sound self-righteous?