A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1989

Friday, September 1, 1989

6 PM. Two weeks ago I was at Teresa’s, in a panic and feeling awful, afraid of the plane trip here the next day.

But the last two weeks have gone as well as I could have hoped, and now I’m about to move into my new apartment at Sun Pointe Cove. Just as I’d planned, I paid for six months’ rent on the new gold Citibank MasterCard.

I looked at the apartment, which is different from my last two at that complex in that it’s on the second floor, not the first, and the floor plan is the reverse of the other ones.

Last night, when I saw the nurse at Nutri/System, I weighed 180¾ pounds, meaning I’d lost 4¼ pounds – which is pretty good.

With nine others, I went to an orientation meeting for their weekly Behavior Breakthrough classes.

Marc says that the classes were informative and supportive, and I like the idea of going to them weekly; it’s as if I’m attending a college class and being in a self-help group all at once.

I got my food for the week, and though it’s expensive, it’s worth it if I lose weight. The $60 would cover a week of my dinners in New York City, so I’m probably saving money. (Naturally, I charged it.)

Last night I watched ABC’s Nightline panel discussion with veteran correspondents about the start of World War II fifty years ago today when the Nazis invaded Poland.

This morning I looked for Auden’s “September 1, 1939” in literary anthologies, but I couldn’t find it, so in my English 102 classes we talked about Updike’s “A & P” and the elements of fiction.

In English 101, I went over a Times article I xeroxed and the stories written by some of my Nanuet third grade students, which the BCC students enjoyed.

I think I’m conveying to them my own enthusiasm for writing and how writing can be a positive force in their lives.

Because I knew I’d be moving today, I left campus at noon, taking books and papers to read over the Labor Day weekend.

At home, Mom received a call from Grandma Ethel, who said she’s so ill that she needs to enter a hospital.

Grandma believes she has cancer, but when Mom called her brother at his bagel restaurant, Marty said the doctor can’t find a thing wrong with Grandma that would justify her complaints.

Obviously she suffers from angina, high blood pressure, and arthritis, but that wouldn’t account for her illness – still manifested mostly by the bitter taste on her tongue.

Marty is going away for a couple of weeks, so I don’t know how Grandma Ethel will get along. She’s talked about suicide but is afraid to get on a plane and come to Florida to stay with us.

I didn’t go over to Sun Point Cove until after I’d had the salad bar at Wendy’s, and by the time I finished with all my paperwork in the rental office, it was getting very dark and soon rained heavily.

Back home, I exercised, read the papers, played with money (I got a $600 credit line increase by calling the last of my three Citibank Classic cards), and tried not to feel too hungry.

The whole family, including Marc and China, are currently in the house, but although I want my privacy, I’ll stay here tonight. I’m tired and I don’t want Dad and Mom to help me move.

Remember the old commercial?: “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself.” That’s how I feel about moving, even if it means I have more work.

I wrote Susan Schaeffer a note after I read that her father, Irving Fromberg of Deerfield Beach, was killed in a fall from an Alaskan ski lift.

Julie Ramos sent me a nice letter about my book.

After a week of robust economic statistics and revisions of earlier gloomy ones, most forecasters now say a recession is unlikely in the next six months. Okay, I give up: there ain’t gonna be an economic downturn.

Saturday, September 2, 1989

9 PM. Last evening I brought some stuff over to my apartment and today I kept returning with more.

I’ve got the place pretty well set up now, but I’m going to sleep here at my parents’ house again tonight because it will be easier.

I just returned about ninety minutes ago and had my Nutri/System vanilla pudding with banana flavor enhancers for my evening snack. The surprising thing was that it seem to satisfy me.

Though I worked like a horse today and must have burned off a lot of excess calories, and though in mid-afternoon I felt weak and had diarrhea, the only cheating on the diet I did was to have three cookies.

That’s remarkable when you consider that last Saturday I needed to eat two bagels. Well, maybe the cookies were more calories, but I still feel like I’m doing better.

Today I made two trips to Albertsons, where I bought (and charged to MasterCard) $150 worth of supplies and food, including lots of frozen vegetables which I can heat up in the new microwave Mom bought me.

While I still haven’t taken the microwave out of the box, I’ve already set up the TV and VCR in my living room and the clock radio in my bedroom, and I’ve put away most of my clothes, household supplies, paperwork, and books.

Just when I thought I didn’t accomplish enough, I got a second wind after dinner and went back to work.

Once I settle in, I’ve got plenty of schoolwork and work related to my writing to do.

Already I got a message – I hadn’t even realized the machine was set up – from Jackie, that pushy would-be romance novelist in my fiction writing workshop.

This morning I was up at 9 AM, which now seems very late. What a luxury it is to have a day off – not that I relaxed much today.

Tom wrote that he liked The Greatest – “It’s not your best book, but it wasn’t supposed to be” – and he sent the flyer about the NOCCA reading series.

I’m on for February 1, 1990, and I won’t miss my flight this year. Hopefully, I can redeem myself for my no-show in 1988.

Tom was going to miss the opening of school because he and his brother were driving to Lake Charles to see their father, who’s having major surgery with a dangerous heart condition; the outlook is pretty bad.

Grandma told me she’s still feeling awful – “that burning in my tongue, my throat, my shoulders” – but the doctor Marty took her to see today said he can’t help her and told her to see another doctor. At least that’s what Grandma said. You’d think she would be happy to hear she didn’t have cancer.

My vertigo is still with me, but mostly to the extent that I can’t sleep on my right side.

Tuesday, September 5, 1989

4 PM. I just stopped by my parents’ house, but the mail hasn’t yet arrived.

This morning I got up around 7 AM, had breakfast, and went out and got the Times.

After reading the paper, I worked out to a Body Electric tape and then took a shower.

At the CalFed branch in Pembroke Pines, I deposited $500 in cash. There’s a young teller there, Jake, who always chats me up. He’s really cute and sweet. (His last name is Sweet.)

Hey, at BCC I’m surrounded by these gorgeous boys every day, so I can’t help looking at them and wondering if I’m ever going to meet somebody special.

Of course, cute as they are, I don’t really want somebody that young. I’ve already had a relationship with a 17-year-old, and I prefer someone closer to my own age. You know, like 18? Only kidding!

My remedial class had to go to the Writing Lab, with Bill orienting the students to the lab’s routines and the drill-and-kill exercises there.

I’m more relaxed about it this week that I was last; I accept the fact that the school wants them to do grammar and mechanics work in the lab. That just means I can try to run my hours with the class as a writing workshop.

Jackie kept making a pest of herself, wanting to show me her whole romance novel. She practically rushed out of her house to get it to me.

It’s 500 pages, and I’m sure it’s pure dreck, but I promised to read it. (“Be brutal,” she said.)

She really thinks some New York editor is waiting for it with bated breath because this woman told her to send it when they met at a writers’ conference.

Maybe once I get it over with, she’ll stop bothering me.

Apparently Jackie was very upset the first night when Morris pooh-poohed popular fiction; she took it as a personal attack.

Several members of the class told Betty about that incident. I didn’t see the personal nature of it, but Betty said that according to what she heard, I handled it well.

Leaving the campus at 1:30 PM after eating my Nutri/System roll and slice of cheese, I went to Wendy’s for the salad bar. Although I’ve been hungry all day, I’m learning to desensitize myself to the feeling.

Back at home, I went over my manuscript for the Narcissism and Me chapbook. Because it’s in IBM Writing Assistant, I’ll need two external drives to print it out, so I’ll probably have to wait till Marc brings me my printer.

Once I get the manuscript finished, I’ll send it to Sherry Ringler at BookMasters for an estimate.

Peter Hargitai said his latest book, which he gave me, was printed very cheaply in Hungary, where they need American dollars – but I don’t think I feel safe having my book done there.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to get my English 102 classes to write on the stories we’ve read. Although I don’t want to assign them a topic, I’m a little scared the assignment won’t work without one.

I’ll get my English 101 class started on writing workshop, too.

I hope I get my first paycheck tomorrow; I still have no idea what my salary will be. Adrienne says she doesn’t know hers, either. Since Tony doesn’t yet have a job, they’re still going to have to scramble for money for the next year.

Wednesday, September 6, 1989

2 PM.  I just had my Nutri/System lunch and am trying to relax. So far today has been stressful, although there’s nothing major wrong – just some minor annoyances I have no control over.

I just tried to call Teresa, but my phone is out of order. Another problem? Well, it’s frustrating, but I can take it this way: Nobody can bother me with phone calls until I go back to BCC this evening.

The main annoyance was that everyone in the South Campus English Department but me got their paychecks. Even Adrienne got two (we both missed the first paycheck).

It’s very frustrating to call Payroll and Personnel downtown: I couldn’t get the right person, the guy I wanted was in a meeting, the guy I got said he didn’t know what was up and would have to get back to me.

Betty saw I was upset and offered to write me a personal check – so like her – but I don’t need the money; it’s just that I have no control over the situation and it makes me angry.

I shall remember my Serenity Prayer and accept things I can’t change or don’t have control over. Not getting enough sleep and being on the diet didn’t help, but at least I slept a couple of hours and I didn’t go out and buy a brownie because I was stressed out.

Last evening I had a long talk with Tom.

On his first day back to school at NOCCA, he had only five students in the afternoon class and eight – soon to be six because he’s getting rid of a druggie and a psycho – in the morning class.

His father survived the first operation and was having a bypass yesterday. Tom hates his father’s wife, who made his mother’s life hell when she was dying of cancer (she was having an affair with his father and Tom knew it), and basically all of his feelings for his father are gone, too.

In St. Louis in August, Tom wrote several stories and spent time with Debra.

Because Stanley Elkin had heart surgery, there was nobody to teach the MFA fiction workshop at Washington University, so Howard Nemerov stepped in. Nemerov is awful in the class. He doesn’t know a thing about fiction. But how do you tell the Poet Laureate to take a hike?

Tom talked about literature, mostly. He likes the new Handke novel despite its bad reviews, and he said that no contemporary American writers deal with the kind of ideas in their fiction that European writers do.

Tom is thinking of hiring Nicole Cooley next year after she gets her MFA from Iowa. Nicole hates the program for its crass commercialism: everyone there is angling for contracts with New York publishers for their short story collections.

And Tom is looking forward to working part-time at Loyola, hoping to get his foot in the door for when he retires from NOCCA.

He wants me to make up a flyer about the chapbook – Lowlands Press is the publisher, after all – and send it out to my mailing list.

I’ll also need to send copies of the flyer to Tom so he can send them out to his own mailing list. More drudge work.

I did get a call at school from Kevin, a Sun-Tattler reporter, who liked the book and hopes to put something about it in the paper.

After watching Bush’s ho-hum phony “war on drugs” speech, I tried to sleep, but my mind kept moving.

Today I had my English 102 classes write and brainstorm their own topics; I know they’d rather be spoon-fed, but I’m trying the process approach.

After reading Freire for the Classroom, a book of essays about the empowerment philosophy and dialogic techniques of Brazilian teacher Paolo Freire – which seemed on the lips of everyone at the Teachers College Writing Institute this summer – I feel I can make a difference.

But fighting the fucked-up system is so hard. I don’t have the energy for a war of attrition, so I think I’ll just be a hit-and-run terrorist this term at BCC.

I had my English 101 students interview each other, write a paragraph introducing the person, and read it aloud.

It seemed to work really well, and my classroom sounded alive, not like a dull chamber of teacher talk.  I can’t ever go back to being a talking textbook.

Saturday, September 9, 1989

9 PM. Last night I slept okay but had a nightmare in which the heads of the people in my family were replaced by giant round eyeballs.

Today was the first day I stuck almost completely to my Nutri/System diet and didn’t really feel uncomfortable. That’s either because I didn’t work today and so burned fewer calories, or else I’m adjusting to Nutri/System.

One woman in Thursday night’s session said she could get through the diet just as long as she kept telling herself that one day she could eat the food she loved.

I’m probably so set in my ways that I’ll never even want to go on Maintenance.  I do think I could adjust to eating Nutri/System for the rest of my life if I had to.

This morning I got a badly-needed haircut from Nikki, who’s six months pregnant, and then I came back home and exercised.

Unfortunately, I pulled the same side muscle that always gives me trouble, so I tried not to strain it any more.

I chatted with that muscular guy with the pickup truck who’s living in my old apartment downstairs.

His name is Jeff and he’s from Davenport, Iowa – he was shocked I’d heard of it – and I just hope he’s a semi-professional bodybuilder because nobody else deserves to look like that.

Thinking I might use the Mishima video with my 102 classes, I went to the main library in Fort Lauderdale, not realizing they only allow three days with a video.

At least I got to catch up on issues of American Banker there.

I still think it’s possible the economy might surprise everyone and collapse this fall.

Many Wall Street analysts expect a stock market correction because of the big run-up in prices, but I’m not sure the stock market has anything to do with the real economy these days.

Of course, no one really knows anything – except that all the financial gurus sound wildly optimistic to me. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the 1980s are about 97% over, thank God.

In the middle of the night, I woke up with an idea for an essay, but I only thought it out, I didn’t write it.

The idea came from a comment a guy in one of my classes made when I passed him at 8 AM yesterday morning and said, “Hi, Stan.”

“How can you know my name with so many students?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m learning everybody’s name.”

But the truth is, I know Stan’s name because he’s the only black man in that class.

When I taught at LIU in the mid-1970s, my students were almost all black people, so I tended to remember the few whites’ names first.

This isn’t racism; it shows that I can more easily identify people in a minority because their characteristics stand out.

For the same reason, I tend to remember the names of disabled or handicapped students right away.

Right now, at BCC, it’s hard for me to distinguish among all the blond boys and girls because there are so many of them.

Something is definitely smoking or steam is coming up from the bottom of my car; previously I’d thought it was the engine.

Crad mailed me a letter containing a detailed critique of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was, including all five typos he found.

I never give him any negative criticism and felt slightly annoyed, but then I’ve got to remember that Crad is basically nuts.

He’s getting up his hopes for a romance with a 23-year-old girl, but I wouldn’t bet on his being happy. If she falls for him, she’s probably as crazy as he is.

Now that I’ve gone to AA meetings and read about alcoholism, I’m certain Crad functioned as an “enabler” in his relationship with poor Gwendolyn MacEwen.

How did he not realize she was an alcoholic? She obviously was in the final stages of alcoholism before she died.

Teresa left a message that she’s been busy and that “Scott called for you and said it was urgent, and I don’t know what the fuck he wants . . . Sorry about the vulgarity on your machine.”

This afternoon I finished editing Narcissism and Me and sent the manuscript to Sherry Ringler at BookMasters for an estimate.

This will be my last fiction book except for the In the Sixties/Caracas Traffic collection I plan to work on this winter.

Although I was never really suited for writing fiction, I did go pretty far for someone who wasn’t.

No, I won’t give up being a writer, only a writer of fiction. I’ve taken short stories as far as I could go, and I have no desire to write them anymore.

I’ve spent the day avoiding reading Jackie’s romance novel, but I’ll have to get to it tomorrow.

A columnist at the Bradenton Herald wrote to say that he liked my book a lot and planned to use excerpts from the first story in a forthcoming column in the paper. Sounds good if true.