A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1990

Tuesday, March 13, 1990

9 PM. I’ve just watched The Wonder Years, an episode about a 1970 make-out party.

It reminded me of Mark Savage’s New Year’s Eve party that year, and how I took Shelli into a bedroom and we kissed as the snow fell on the el and the rest of Trump Village.

(Could anyone have known what “Trump” would mean twenty years later?)

God, what great memories I have of falling in love with Shelli that winter, even if we were both neurotic babies.

I wonder where Shelli lives now, what she’s doing, what she looks like, what kind of person she is.

Well, enough nostalgia. I keep thinking, I’ve got to write about that time, but I’ve told myself that for years, and I’ve never been able to get anywhere.

This evening I got fitted with my new glasses (I had to close my eyes while the technician worked because I still had my contacts in), and then I walked over to Bookstop and looked at the hardcover fiction.

Most of the authors of new novels and story collections are far younger than I – a lot are ’87 or ’88 graduates of some Ivy League school – but the old “world has passed me by” feeling doesn’t inspire much regret or anger anymore, unless I’m more practiced in denial than I suspect.

No, it’s just a fact of life that I’ve never been published by a big New York trade house, and at this point I don’t expect to be. “Deal with it” is a phrase that Marc used a lot a decade ago, and I feel I’ve already dealt with that issue.

“You’re Richard Grayson from BCC? The guy who ran for President? Are you still writing?” asked the old man working the polls at the Pine Island Ridge Country Club clubhouse when Mom and I went to vote this afternoon.

My car’s radiator went this morning, and at the first sign of trouble (leaking and steaming), I took it right over to Firestone, not wanting to get stuck anywhere.

So at 3 PM, Mom picked me up and we voted (no on both propositions: the one-cent sales tax increase and the exemption of senior citizen developments from complying with age discrimination law). Since we’re in an unincorporated area, there were no municipal offices to vote for.

Then we went to Publix, where Mom shopped and I took out $1000 in cash advances, scraping the bottom of my credit card barrel and going over the limits where I could get away with it.

At BCC-Central, I picked up my measly FIU English paycheck, and when I called Sophie, I learned that FIU’s Teacher Education Center won’t be paying me the $1000 from the Drew Junior High workshop until after the Southwood Junior High one is over – probably not till April.

But at least Sunset High School seems to have accepted my dates for the workshop. That means I can’t take the class with Frederick Wiseman, but I decided I’d didn’t have the time to anyway. I like not rushing here and there every day.

I’ve been in South Florida nearly seven months now, and the one thing I’ve learned is that I like it here too much to strike out for someplace new like Southern California.

While I want to continue living part of the year in New York City, it’s too gorgeous here in winter to leave.

Wednesday, March 14, 1990

6 PM. Today has been one of the worst days of my life. I should be at my FIU class now, but I had to dismiss them early when I became ill in the middle. Actually, I was starting to feel sick before the class began. I had cramps, and I knew diarrhea was coming.

I excused myself at the beginning of class, but after the third time I had to leave for the bathroom, I told them I couldn’t go on. Then I started to feel like I was going to vomit.

Carol Malone, an RN, offered to drive me home, but I just let her walk me to my car. The drive down Nova Drive never seemed longer, and I feared I’d lose control, but I got home okay.

Maybe I have food poisoning: I’m hot and there are red rashes on my arms and legs.

Or was I – am I – having a panic attack? And will this incident mean that I’m going to be again crippled by disabling panic attacks?

I don’t think so. Even if panic started as a result of the terrible diarrhea, that diarrhea probably wasn’t psychogenic. Maybe the salad I got for lunch was bad.

It happens. Or maybe I’m coming down with a stomach virus. Dad said he was sick all night, trying but unable to throw up.

Right now I don’t feel nauseated, but my stomach is empty; I certainly have no desire to eat. I have no fever, and I’ll see what happens.

While I’m scared, it’s not overpowering panic; I didn’t want to call my parents. I’ll wait and see how I feel.

What else went wrong today? This morning I got as far as Broward Boulevard on my way to the library when the car’s temperature light went on.

I took it back to Firestone, where I left the car. When I came home and went to the bathroom, the toilet overflowed. What a disgusting mess.

–  I just now went to the bathroom again; although I still have liquid diarrhea, it seems to be at the end of it.

God, I felt so embarrassed in class. But my students must have felt terrible for me; it was a nightmare trying to plod on while I was so sick. In all the years I’ve been teaching, that never happened before.

Look, I don’t need to magnify it. It happened, and maybe it won’t happen again for another fifteen years. Although I don’t think I’m seriously ill, I do worry about my agoraphobia coming back.

That’s probably unrealistic; I know I can keep taking Triavil or some other drug and get the kind of help they didn’t have 25 years ago if panic disorder does strike again.

Maybe it’s a virus or food poisoning or possibly a result of all the stress I had today.

The car and the toilet got fixed. I was embarrassed that the maintenance man found that my Tucks pad clogged up the toilet. I’ve been putting them down there for six weeks, but now I can stop, as my hemorrhoid has gone away – at least it was gone for today’s bout with diarrhea.

The car supposedly needed a new thermostat.

If I do have a virus, I’ll call Sophie tomorrow and cancel the workshop; I can always do another Thursday if she can’t get a substitute.

It’s funny: this afternoon I went out by the pool for an hour, just to treat myself, to make myself feel I was on vacation after all the aggravation with the car and toilet I earlier.

And I felt so good, being thin at a pool for the first time in so many years.

I keep saying I haven’t looked so good since I was in high school, and I wonder if there’s a connection between that and my being sick in class. Remember how I used to get nauseous every single day in high school?

Am I having the same kind of breakdown I did in 1966? I doubt it very much.

Hey, I was so proud of myself for making time, even with the problems I had, to exercise late this morning.

In some ways, nothing’s gone right since my car fell into that hole on the Saturday before Christmas.

Well, I guess I’ll go over to my parents’ to get my mail.


8 PM. I just had a light dinner: a Nutri/System hamburger, which is both a comfort food and low in fat. I figured it should be easy to digest.

Mom suspects my diarrhea was caused by the things that went wrong earlier, and she’s probably correct.

Since I came home from school, I haven’t had diarrhea except for the time I went as I wrote the last entry. So I doubt I have a virus.

Food poisoning is a possibility, but so is emotional upset. It’s not a return of my panic attacks. Maybe I let the day’s stress out in the form of diarrhea.

Friday, March 16, 1990

Noon. I feel much better about everything.

On Wednesday night, I slept deeply from 9 PM to 9 AM, and I stayed in bed most of the morning, not wanting to face the world.

But after forcing myself to exercise, I spent an hour filling out student loan forms for this summer at Teachers College.

If I can’t get a loan for the summer, fine – but I figure it’s worth a try. Even if the loan doesn’t materialize, I’ll probably shell out $1000 for one class at TC. I’m a course junkie.

After coming back from grocery shopping, I ate lunch and began thinking about selling my books on Manhattan’s streets this summer.

What if I gave away some copies to homeless people who could sell the books and get money for them? Some guy is having them sell a newspaper. People would respond better to someone selling something on the street rather than just asking for a handout.

Although I wouldn’t be making any money, I’d be helping homeless people and getting my books into circulation. Well, I need to think about it some more.

I was a little scared about getting sick while I was teaching at Southwood Junior High, but I actually had a terrific class there, one of the times I’ve really enjoyed teaching, because I wasn’t lecturing but instead helping people learn something actively.

I didn’t even mind the long drive back and forth. When I stopped off at Dad’s at 8:30 PM, he said Mom got a clean bill of health from the doctor’s report.

The mail made me very happy. I finally heard from Tom, thanking me for dedicating the book to him.

He sent me some stories he wrote in St. Louis, said that Debra’s Walser book looks great and that George Angel had only five people at his NOCCA reading.

Now I have to ask myself: why did I assume that Tom was angry with me? Everything I’ve been thinking about his attitude toward me was wrong.

I misperceived it all so badly. Is it because of my own attitude towards Tom? I’ve really got to think about it.

After getting my book, Elihu wrote me. He said he was in a time of personal crisis because after ten years at Goldman Sachs, he was forced to accept an early retirement package, and his whole life had been his job.

After I ate dinner, I called Elihu and we talked for an hour. We hadn’t spoken for seven years, and it was good to be in contact again.

He bought a co-op at the St. George and was working ten-hour days on Wall Street for so long that he doesn’t know what to do with himself now.

Elihu hopes to get some kind of office job at Brooklyn College for which he had an interview this week.

For now, he’s decided to avoid looking for another Wall Street job, which sounds like a good idea. The latest Barron’s says the city is in a recession, that there’s an end-of-an-era feeling as people realize the party of the ’80s is over and the bills are due.

Next week Elihu is going to a reunion with Don, Estelle and Bob, Ruth and Marty, and some of the other original Mugwumps from the old days at Brooklyn College.

Elihu sees Jerry in his Brooklyn Heights neighborhood but stopped talking to him.

Nor does he speak to Sat Darshan, who he also sometimes sees on Atlantic Avenue – but he didn’t really know her and was closer to her sister.

While Elspeth stopped talking to him a while ago, Elihu is still tight with Elayne, who’s now married and has a kid.

To me, Elihu’s life sounds rather boring: he never left Brooklyn and hasn’t taken any risks with his life.

(About a decade ago, I thought he was crazy when he told me he wanted to “build up equity.”)

And while Elihu leads a very conventional life, he also seems kind of immature: He said he told our old Midwood classmate Sean Wilentz, “Your name is Robert,” and he “corrects” our classmates who’ve stopped using their nicknames or changed their last names to less Jewish-sounding ones.

I’ve always been firm in the idea that people deserve to be called whatever they want.

I still like Elihu, though, and maybe I’ll see him this summer. You know me: I like to stay in touch.

On Tuesday I spoke for an hour to Ronna, whose cold and cough are still lingering.

Because she and Steve have been bickering, she’s been spending less time with him.

When they had planned to get married, they would have bought Sid and Cara’s house in Bergenfield, near Steve’s Teaneck apartment. (Sid and Cara are moving to Princeton after getting transferred by Merrill Lynch.)

But now a wedding between Ronna and Steve is no longer imminent.

She’s still exploring the field of training and development in her usual plodding manner.

Ronna said she’ll definitely leave Manhattan if she gets married because she plans to have children right away and doesn’t want to raise them in the city.

Dad is going to New York tomorrow. It was in the 80°s there all week as a freak warm front canceled out winter.

Monday, March 19, 1990

10 PM. Today was an odd day. For one thing, it rained heavily. In the last few months, rain has been rare, and while I enjoyed the downpour this afternoon, I doubt it will help much with South Florida’s drought.

For another thing, I had no appetite today. Well, that’s not true: I definitely enjoyed my food, but I’ve eaten only about 1100 calories and I was never hungry.

Why am I starving some days (like on Saturday) and can do without food easily on others?

When I went to pick up the mail this evening during a lull in the showers, Mom mentioned that Marc is disgusted because he’s gained back most of the weight he lost.

I’m positive that 90% of Nutri/System’s clients do the same. It’s no trick to take off the pounds while you eat their food, but the real challenge is maintaining your weight on ordinary food.

I’ve barely touched my Nutri/System food (tonight I had their pizza) and have continued to be strict about my diet, obsessively writing down everything I eat, calculating both food exchanges and total calories.

I’m glad I went ten pounds below my Nutri/System goal even if it means not getting the refund because it will take me that much longer to gain back the weight.

And every day I stick to my diet – well, it’s not really a diet anymore – means that the habits of good nutrition are becoming more ingrained. I exercise religiously, too.

Tomorrow I have a 2:30 PM appointment with the dentist. This new expense of getting my tooth crowned comes at a bad time.

Because I’m being careful to pay back large sums on my credit card bills, I have serious cash flow problems with the mid-month rush of bills.

I made out checks for the bills I got today and Saturday, but I can’t mail them until last week’s bills clear and I can take cash advances to cover these new checks.

My credit card chassis is turning into Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory.

I got admitted to Yaddo from October 17 to November 12, and while I wrote back accepting the dates, I doubt I can go. By that time, my finances will probably be in very bad shape and I’ll need to be in Florida, working and starting bankruptcy proceedings.

I still don’t know what my fall plans are, but I’m leaving all options open – except teaching English at BCC. Even if another full-time job opened, I don’t want it, and the part-time work is much more trouble than it’s worth.

I took my English 101 class to see some lecturers from the PWA Coalition as part of today’s BCC-sponsored daylong AIDS seminar.

Peter, who gets out of teaching at every opportunity, clued me in, and I’m glad my class, along with Barbara’s, was there, the speakers deserved an audience.

Diagnosed a year ago, the guy who did most of the talking was very articulate. (Another PWA Coalition member up there with him was somewhat quieter.)

Things have changed to the extent that most people are now aware you can’t get AIDS from casual contact, so some of the panic of prior years has faded away.

While the students were pretty quiet – only a few asked questions (I asked several myself) – they were polite and at least somewhat attentive.

However, I’m generally disturbed at how few of my English 101 students are attending class regularly or handing papers on time.

This term I’m going to fail them if they can’t or won’t do the work. Otherwise, it’s not fair to their English 102 or Tech Writing teachers next semester.

Betty told me to call Susie Malter, the Dean of Students, about Weslee/Reyna, the psychotic girl in my creative writing class.

I told Susie I have the situation under control, as I deal with Reyna’s disruptions on a firm behavioral basis. Saying “That’s not appropriate now” or “Talk to me privately” usually works.

Susie was aware of the problem and had met with the girl, who is very frightened of authority.

Susie said that Reyna is stuck at the development of a sixth grader; indeed, her exuberant outbursts would probably be common in an elementary school.

Anyway, Susie seemed impressed with my handling of the situation.

Yesterday I spoke to Adrienne, who had gone with Tony and Barbara to Mick’s poetry reading at the Main Library on Friday.

Adrienne found Mick to be like most of the local poets: bland and unsophisticated in his manipulation of language.

She got into an argument with the very pompous Bill Senior, who said that South Campus English faculty are too laid-back and lazy to be effective.

Like most of the full-time English teachers at BCC-Central, Bill is an asshole.

Peter told me that Denis O’Donovan is near death in a Miami hospital; he said I’d find him unrecognizable.

How awful – but I don’t intend to visit Denis. As cruel as this might sound, I never liked him that much, though I can’t put my finger on why.

Peter said that Henry Logan’s Palmetto Press has been trying to get out a book of Denis’s poems before he dies, but they’ve been held up by printing delays in Hungary.

Peter suggested that if I do another book, I should use Hungarian printers because they’re efficient and the country needs hard currency. But I doubt I’ll self-publish again.

Last night I watched the Video Professor tape on dBase III, giving me a better picture of that software package. I’m going to watch the next level video on Microsoft Word now.

I’ve really got to start considering my future career plans. The one thing I know for sure is that I want to keep learning.