A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1992

Wednesday, January 1, 1992

4 PM. I spent New Year’s Eve reading my Constitutional Law hornbook, which put me to sleep by 10 PM.

I read all of the Appellate Advocacy material I brought to New York, but I haven’t had the time or inclination to get past page 79 in the hornbook I brought with me.

A week from today is the first day of classes, but maybe it’s good I took a break from the law.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve regained my identity as something other than a law student at UF; it’s pleasant to see how easily I can fit in again to my friends’ lives in New York.

Up at 6 AM, I exercised to three different Body Electric programs. Trimming my beard, I cut my upper lip with the scissors and couldn’t stop the bleeding for an hour.

Dad phoned last night and told me to meet him at the Days Inn late tomorrow afternoon.

I’ll stay over at the hotel on Thursday and Friday nights, so I’m going to try to have lunch with Ronna on Friday and then meet Alice and Judy for drinks later.

Today I went out to Ark Drugs and bought some stuff, including two boxes in which I’m mailing to Fort Lauderdale various photo albums and other items from the apartment which Mom may want. Somehow I’ll get them to the post office tomorrow. I guess I can get everything I want into my luggage.

Marty and Arlyne can have my microwave; it served me well, and they should get something to compensate them for all the work they’ll have getting rid of this place.

I’m reminded of New Year’s Day 1980, a dozen years ago, when I was closing up my own apartment in Rockaway.

It’s a measure of how unsentimental I’ve become or of how many places I’ve lived, but I’ve passed Beach 118th Street a number of times in the last two weeks without even thinking I had an apartment on that block for 16 months. By now I’m much more comfortable with the lack of permanence in my life. This lack of permanence seems more or less permanent, and that’s okay with me.

I spoke to Sat Darshan. She’s serious about going into TESOL so she can have an interesting after-work job; Sat Darshan liked teaching adults in English at Berlitz when she lived in Bremen. I told her to check out the programs at Baruch College and the New School.

We talked about how everyone in our generation has gone through so many different incarnations, particularly regarding careers. I suspect the quick-changing economy has a lot to do with it, but Sat Darshan thinks baby boomers just don’t want to “settle down.”

Maybe people weren’t meant to settle down, and that’s why people like me, Jay (accountant/chiropractor), BJ (engineer/real estate tycoon) and her other friends switch fields.

Sat Darshan spoke to Ellen yesterday. It’s Ellen who’s doing the article on me for the Dictionary of Literary Biography; Wade didn’t have time, so she decided to tackle it. Good luck to her.

College Station and Texas A&M isn’t the McAllisters’ favorite place, but he has tenure while others are jobless, and Ellen’s working on her Ph.D. in, Sat Darshan thinks, something related to computer animation. Switching fields again. . .

Actually, all of a person’s “incarnations” seem to relate to one another and who the person actually is. I see little difference between studying law or journalism and my work as a fiction writer, English professor, computer educator and humorist.

Ronna has her cold back again, and it’s been three weeks since she got it. She apologized for giving it to me, but I blamed it on Leah. Her pal David isn’t going to get to meet me this trip, which is too bad, because I suspect we’d like each other.

Thursday, January 2, 1992

2 PM. I had trouble falling asleep last night as I kept thinking of different Januarys in my life.

It especially astonished me that it’s been 17 years since I was working as a messenger for the Village Voice, wandering around Manhattan, and attending the MFA program years ago.

Somehow I’d thought it was no more than a dozen years ago, but it was 1975.

I’ll be seeing Dad this evening at the Days Inn. It was in January 1966, 26 years ago, that we braved all those traffic jams during the transit strike when Lindsay became mayor and I was in tenth grade at Franklin School.

But I promised myself I wouldn’t get sentimental about the past. The judge in his black robes can drop dead. Yesterday the transit fare rose to $1.25 and Mayor Dinkins just finished his State of the City address.

This morning I exercised for an hour, and after breakfast I lugged those two big boxes to the post office so I could send them off to Mom.

Yesterday, I did the laundry so I won’t have to do it again before I leave. It doesn’t look like I’ll get to see Teresa or see Justin again, but I’ve got to visit Grandma and say goodbye to Aunt Tillie and call other friends before I leave.

I feel tired today but I may have knocked out my cold.

Friday, January 3, 1991

10 AM. I’m in room 851 of the Days Inn. Dad has gone off to a breakfast meeting of the Introspect salesmen who plan to demand that the company pay for their trips to this sales meeting because business has fallen so much.

Yesterday I spoke with Teresa, who said she’ll come over on Sunday, although I said I’d probably see Grandma then. I left Rockaway at 2:30 PM and got to Columbus Circle by 4 PM.

When I saw Dad reading the paper in the hotel lobby, sitting next to the window, he looked fine and no older than I remembered him. He said I looked slightly thinner although of course I’ve gained nearly ten pounds in the last year. (So I guess I do need Alice’s book after all!)

We went up to the room, where Mom called. She gave Dad a pair of slacks for Grandma to replace the pair that was stolen, and she also sent along some mail for me, mostly newsletters from organizations.

Dad and I were both hungry, so we had an early dinner at the Urban Grill, then walked to Worldwide Plaza, where all the movies looked good but none started for over an hour.

So we returned to the hotel, where, after watching the news, we paid for a film, The Fisher King, which was actually still playing at the Worldwide Plaza; I found it excruciatingly boring.

Both Dad and I slept till 8 AM, which is extraordinarily late for me. After I showered and dressed, I went out to a Korean store and got hot water, yogurt, an orange and a banana; back in the room, I put oatmeal and grits into the hot water and had a good breakfast.

Alice just phoned, and I’ll have to call her later but tentatively I plan to meet her and Judy at 6:15 PM.

There are heavy rains scheduled for tonight and the weekend, with coastal flooding, so I might try to see Grandma today rather than wait till the weekend.

I’ve got to call Ronna to see if lunch is still on. At least the temperatures are mild; it’s 44° now.

Saturday, January 4, 1992

10 AM. Yesterday was a long and satisfying day. After reading the papers in the hotel lobby, I walked across 57th Street down to Fifth, where I got to see the stores still decorated for Christmas.

Strolling down to Rockefeller Center, I watched the ice skaters for a while. This year’s Christmas tree seemed kind of short and squat compared to the taller, more regal ones I remember. Given the mood of the city during these hard times, maybe that’s appropriate.

At the Gotham Book Mart, I explored the little magazine room in the back. I feel so far removed from that world now, but you know what? If I wanted to, I think I could work hard enough to become the same little mag “name” I was in the late 1970s.

Walking up Sixth Avenue, I continued my exploration of Manhattan before I called for Ronna at the Hadassah Building on West 58th.

Ronna took me to lunch at the Great American Health Bar. Because her cold hadn’t gone away and she was coughing up gross phlegm, her doctor called in a prescription for an antibiotic at the drugstore.

Ronna enjoys her job at Hadassah, is glad she’s out of P.R. and into educational programs, and likes working in Midtown rather than Washington Heights.

In the spring she plans to start walking home from work again as she did when she first started the job in October.

Eric and Melissa got back from their honeymoon and were in Orlando when Ronna called on Thursday night before they returned to Gainesville.

Ronna has no vacation till June, but I’ll probably see her in Gainesville then, sometime after Jordan and Grace’s wedding.

She and Ralph spent New Year’s Eve in Westchester with Lori and Alex, who are doing well; Lori doesn’t even have to work.

I thanked Ronna for paying for my delicious steamed veggies over rice (no sauce). After knowing her for 21 years, more than half my life, I still think she’s terrific.

I rushed to get to Penn Station to make the 2:05 PM LIRR train to Far Rockaway. The long escalator at the 34th Street station reminded me of how I used to transfer from the D to the Q when I was in tenth grade at Franklin School in ’65-’66.

I guess the longer I live, I’ll be flooded with more and more memories in my internal database.

I got off the train at Hewlett and walked to the nursing home. In Manhattan the skies had been gloomy, but on Long Island it was sunny and mild.

I found Grandma downstairs playing Pokeno, a bingo game with playing cards that’s kind of like poker. Although I couldn’t follow the play, I sat down near her and must have brought her luck because she won a nickel on the last game of the afternoon.

Upstairs in her room, I gave her the pants Mom sent along. Grandma said she weighed 141 that morning, so she’s looking well.

A nice-looking old man who had a stroke and can’t talk too well came in and gave Grandma two Hershey’s kisses. She said the man is crazy about her and keeps bringing her little gifts.

Actually, Grandma is probably one of the most attractive old ladies at the home. I told her I’d be seeing her friend Sally Lurio’s granddaughter Judy later, and Grandma said she and Grandpa met the Lurios when they were all young married couples in the Depression.

Her memory is spotty: she could remember the name of the Lurios’ “dope-addicted” son, Arthur, who OD’d, but couldn’t recall if Mrs. Lurio had died or not.

As we hugged goodbye, Grandma of course started crying; I said I’d send her a card when I got back to Florida.

I got the 4:45 PM train back to the city and watched as we went through Valley Stream and Queens in the darkness.

Some black teenagers going to a big rap concert at Madison Square Garden expressed their concern about trouble there, but after Saturday’s fatal crush at CCNY, I was sure security would be tight.

I like New York and its people and their vitality, even as I cringed from the lunatic who approached me in Manhattan and said, “Let me put my hands under your arms to warm up!”

The IRT local uptown wasn’t too crowded, even at rush hour, and when I met Alice at Pasta Roma just down the block from the hotel, I told her The Last Ten Pounds was well-written and a book I could recommend without reservations.

She wondered if the last part, about her personal story, would upset her mother because she spoke about her mother’s life and her weight problem. I said I doubted it, but then I’ve written about my parents so much, albeit as fiction, that it’s hard for me to judge.

Judy had been warned to expect someone from her past, and she was dubious, but she didn’t remember me that well.

Probably she was glad to see a childhood friend of the family rather than an old boyfriend or college acquaintance; after all, I never knew her as an adult.

My memory is much better than hers, and she must have been surprised at how much I knew about her family.

From my nutrition course, I also knew a bit about her own business as a registered dietitian (she has an MBA), and of course I saw her name associated with Weight Watchers for years.

Both Judy and Alice hugged me as I left and I told Judy to say hi to her mother, Doris, whom I always was fond of. It was good to see her, and of course it’s always wonderful to see Alice, whom I’ll next see on TV. (Today she’s on 100 American Radio Network stations.)

As I got to the hotel lobby, Dad called me from the mezzanine – great timing – and I joined him for dinner.

The salesmen asked Dad to be their spokesman because he’s the oldest (though they don’t know how old – like me, Dad has peers 20 years younger) and the one the bosses most respect.

He was not happy with the new line because Introspect is going for a more sophisticated look and they see the line as a collection where tops and bottoms go together.

But different buyers work in different areas (bottoms, knit tops, and woven tops) and most of Dad’s customers won’t be able to sell the clothes he’s got to show them.

I suspect the next time a company calls to ask Dad to recommend a salesman for Florida, he’ll offer himself as a candidate for the job because he can’t “make a living” with the new line.

Back at the hotel, we watched The Doctor, a good film, on pay-TV and fell asleep before midnight.

It’s dark and rainy today, with the promised coastal flooding. I’ll return to Rockaway sometime this afternoon. Dad left an hour ago, giving me two $50 bills and a kiss. It was great to see him.


8 PM. I left the hotel at 11 AM and took the 57th Street bus to Fifth, then walked down to the Museum of Modern Art, where I got in for a $4 student admission.

It had been a long time since I explored MoMA. Starting off at the painting and sculpture galleries on the second floor, I covered nearly all the museum in a few hours, moving briskly but lingering at old favorites like de Chirico’s courtyards, Grosz’s The Engineer Heartfield, Arp’s Mountain, Navel, Anchors, Table, and Monet’s Water Lilies (where Ronna and I would sit for long stretches), as well as Lachaise’s Standing Woman and Rodin’s Balzac in the sculpture garden.

I took in the design exhibits and the photography, as well as the clever installations in their “Dislocations” show and Art Spiegelman’s drawings and other materials for his Maus comic books about his father’s experiences in the Holocaust.

I still have a decent sense of which works are in which artist’s style, but it’s been two decades since I took my college and high school classes in Contemporary Art, and I haven’t kept up. Well, I can’t keep on top of everything.

As I made my way back to the Days Inn, stopping for a McLean Deluxe and Korean salad bar, I got really wet as the strong gusts made my umbrella useless.

After eating lunch in the hotel room, I gathered my stuff and left Manhattan. The train ride back didn’t take too long, and I was in Rockaway by 3:30 PM.

For half an hour I did my own exercises, and then I read the paper, the PEN newsletter and Lingua Franca magazine before having a light dinner.

Dad phoned at 6 PM, still at work at the office, where there was no heat. Actually, we Floridians lucked out: today’s temperature range in the 40°s is way above the norm for New York in January.

The rain stopped by the time I got here, but I can see that the ocean surge from the storm has covered all but a small strip of the beach.

However, I feel snug and secure in this cozy place.

Sunday, January 5, 1992

9 PM. This is my last night in Rockaway – not just for this trip but forever because Grandma’s apartment will be someone else’s the next time I’m in New York.

Ever since my grandparents moved here in ’67 or ’68, and especially in the nine years since Grandpa Herb died, this apartment has been a second home to me.

If you add up all the nights I’ve spent here, it must add up to over a year, and I’ll miss this place. But life is change.

Usually I take early morning flights, but to assure a decent-sized plane from Atlanta to Gainesville, I had to fly out of LaGuardia at 1:30 PM tomorrow, so I don’t have to rush.

This trip has been a wonderful three-week break. Part of me is still a New Yorker, and while I expect the connection will get more tenuous in the next few years, I’ll keep in touch with the city.

This morning I went out early to buy some food and the Sunday Times; I tried to get reading the paper and my workout out of the way because I expected Teresa at noon.

She was a bit late, but we had a surprisingly good time. While I’m glad she didn’t stay past 5 PM, it was good to see her: she looks terrific, fairly slim and blonde and still youngish.

We first went to the new All-American Cafe on Beach 116th Street, where she told me how stressful the visit of Brian’s soon-to-be ex-wife has been.

Yesterday Teresa ran into her at the Bay Shore Mall and decided to go to a Friendly’s and talk to her alone. Like many Swedes, the woman is blunt, but she and Teresa seem to have come to some sort of understanding, although Teresa feels she still has a hold on Brian.

But the hold on him is more Brian’s problem because the woman spends 50 weeks a year in Sweden.

I guess if they didn’t have a six-year-old daughter, they wouldn’t need to be in touch but Brian is a caring father and wants to be as involved as he can be, given that his daughter lives on another continent.

Teresa has a problem with an upcoming bar mitzvah she’s doing because the synagogue insists she get liability insurance, which has been difficult and expensive to arrange.

Next week she and a girlfriend are going to visit someone’s condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for a two-week vacation, and she may drive her brand-new Explorer down to Florida in March.

Teresa is living in David’s house by the bay, but effectively she and Brian live together although he has his own house near his mother’s.

She seems happy to be in Fire Island year-round and is glad to be avoiding the expense of Oyster Bay Cove. (Her ex-landlords are suing her – so what else is new? – for damage to the house.)

Teresa’s sister and brother-in-law are politically well-connected now that Queens’ Saul Weprin has become Assembly speaker (because the old one was convicted of corruption).

That connection comes in handy because business (law) is bad. Donna, who’s recovering from gall-bladder surgery,  may be made a civil court judge.

Teresa and I walked on the boardwalk and took a long drive out to Far Rockaway and the Five Towns.

Then, back in the apartment, I asked her if she could use any of Grandma’s stuff. We filled up several cartons with dishware, pots, pans, a complete set of wineglasses, and all kinds of cooking utensils that would otherwise get thrown out.

“Your grandmother was a real balabusta,” Teresa said, noting the shine on many pots and pans over sixty years old.

I feel good knowing someone will make use of Grandma’s kitchen stuff; Teresa even took some of Grandma’s recipes for nut bread and Passover pastries.

After I helped her load up the car, we hugged goodbye, and as she returned to Fire Island, I went to pay Aunt Tillie a final visit.

I feel worse, almost, about leaving Tillie than Grandma because I know Grandma is well-cared-for and not alone and has Marty visiting her regularly.

Well, the next time I come to New York, I’ll have an excuse to come to Rockaway and see Aunt Tillie.

Back up here, I got calls from Alice and from Elihu and spoke to Dad, who thinks he’s coming down with the municipal cold.

But at least we visiting Floridians can’t complain about the weather: Sunday’s high was 53°, and the temperature should remain in the 40°s the rest of the week while Dad’s here.

I know tomorrow will be a long, difficult day traveling, and I’m prepared for problems but am trying not to worry.

Monday, January 6, 1992

9 PM. Back in Gainesville, I feel exhausted although today went smoothly.

I made sure I slept as long as I could, and then I exercised at 7:30 AM and had breakfast. I went out to get the papers, and before I left the apartment, I read them, packed, and put away what I could.

Trying not to get sentimental, I nevertheless took a long look at each of the rooms in apartment 10N before I went downstairs to meet the car I called.

It was a bright, mild day and I found a penny at the curb, although when I got into the car, I sat down on a wet seat so I didn’t think the penny was lucky.

At the airport restroom I changed into a pair of jeans I took from my suitcase before I checked it.

The flight to Atlanta began boarding not long after, and while I was nervous on takeoff, I tried to let the fear wash over me, welcoming it as a sign of growth, of once again doing something new.

Actually, airplane travel isn’t very new to me since I’ve flown regularly for the past dozen years. I was lucky in that on both flights, I had nobody sitting next to me and the flights were on time and smooth.

Flying without my lenses on enabled me to avoid dry eyes and the dislocation I feel when looking at the ground at an angle.

The hour layover in Atlanta didn’t seem long, and the 45-minute trip to Gainesville was pretty because we touched down at sunset and I walked down the plane’s steps into 68° weather.

My car started immediately, and while I was tired after traveling for six hours, I drove straight to the law school to write down my assignments and my grades.

My grades were better than expected, and even now I feel I need to double-check them because I didn’t get a C or even a C+.

I got B’s in Torts, Civil Procedure and Contracts, and A’s in Criminal Law and Jurisprudence. That seems to add up to a 3.43 index, which is much higher than I imagined.

It was odd to be back at the law school – I saw Ray and Paul – but now I feel I’ve gone through my baptism/bar mitzvah there.

At the very least, I don’t have to worry about losing my scholarship. I have no idea where I rank in my class, and I don’t want to care, because I achieved a great success on my own and not in relation to anybody else.

Before heading home, I got some groceries at Publix, which was filled with college students buying food for the new semester that began today for undergraduates.

Back at the apartment (which smelled new – and like home), I seem to have missed Alice’s appearance on Entertainment Tonight, and she wasn’t in USA Today’s special diet section.

After eating dinner, I opened my luggage and put everything away in its place, more or less.

Returning Mom’s call, I told her I got in okay; she received the packages I sent her. (Just like Mom, rather than thank me for the old photos I sent, she kept harping on the one I missed.)

But I didn’t stay on the phone long. And right now I can’t deal with the accumulated mail – mostly Christmas cards, it appears.

There’s plenty to do tomorrow. Right now I just need to lie in bed and vegetate and think or not think.

Tuesday, January 7, 1992

7 PM. I slept okay last night, but I still feel tired because of the complete change in my life from New York to Gainesville.

The spring semester of law school begins with our first class in Constitutional Law at 8 AM tomorrow, and I’m already feeling time-pressured.

I did read the entire Constitution, but I also need to read Marbury v. Madison and the casebook materials related to it. Baldwin had us pick up syllabi, and he expects us to do a lot of work.

I guess I can do the Contracts reading between my classes. Since I finish at 11:20 AM tomorrow, I’ll have time to read for Appellate Advocacy, Property and Civ Pro for the rest of the week; we don’t have Torts till Monday.

I was at school today to pay my fee (I arranged it so I had enough credit available on my Visa to use the card), buy texts, leave a copy of Hitler with Marty Peters as a thank-you for all her help, and to see what the reaction of my classmates were to their grades.

Most had been to see them yesterday when they were posted at 5 PM, and a third-year student told me many were “bummed out.”

I said I didn’t care about grades and had prepared myself for C’s, but she replied, “You may have thought you were prepared but might have been very depressed anyway after you saw low grades.”

I’ll never know, of course, and now I can’t be hypocritical or pompous and disparage the grading system when I’m a beneficiary of it.

There seem to be a number of people who got more A’s than I did – somebody apparently got four (I hope it’s Karin) – but most of them also got a C+ or C as well.

Martin also got two A’s, but Dowd gave him a C, and he thinks it’s because he’s male and Dowd’s agenda is to give high grades to women.

He said the grading is supposed to be anonymous, but teachers do have a record of who has what exam number.

Donna told me some people have decided the grading system is totally arbitrary and that others will probably give up “trying so hard.”

I met Shay at the bookstore, and though we didn’t discuss our grades, she, like I, was pleased with hers.

Laura asked if I did okay, and when I said, “Fine,” she asked, “Was there ever any doubt?”

Well, yes, lots of doubts. Part of me hates myself for getting so involved with grades (by the way, I got an S+ in Legal Research and Writing – I missed that yesterday) just because I did well.

But in a way, I may have opened more options, like being a law professor or a clerk for a federal judge.

There was a Wall Street Journal article on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I noted the INFJ type that I am is labeled “the Author personality” in shorthand, so I guess that whatever I do, I’ll always be an Author first.

It was 44° here when I went out at 8 AM to mail my unemployment claim card and buy the paper at the P.O., but it hit about 67° later. Dad called this morning and was astonished I did so well.

Frankly, so am I, mostly at my consistency. It’s going to be interesting to see how the dynamics of our class change once people have sorted out the top students, the middle students and those on the bottom (some people did get several D’s and D+’s).

“Don’t become your grade,” Mashburn admonished us, and I intend not to. Anyway, three B’s don’t exactly put me in the Legal Genius category.

Also today, I deposited my unemployment check, paid some bills (but I’m still saving opening my Christmas cards and letters from friends), left Marc a happy birthday message on his machine, did the usual exercising and New York Times reading (look, it didn’t hurt my grades), and tried to concentrate on this term rather than think about my accomplishments of last term.

After all, nothing says I can’t go 2.3 after going 3.4 last term.

Am I just unwilling to acknowledge my own competitive nature? As a college teacher, I should know that grades aren’t as important as everyone thinks.

Well, even if I covered it pretty well in the hornbook, I’d better go read Marbury now.