A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1981


Sunday, August 2, 1981

7 PM. It’s been a rainy and cool (80°) day.

Tom called this morning and said he agreed that it would be a better career move for me stay in Florida. He had to move fast and see if he could hire Valerie Martin and Jeannie Thompson at a quarter-time each.

I told him I regretted the trouble I’d caused by getting the grant, but Tom good-naturedly said, “I’ll pay you back one day.” And Eustace said, “Don’t think you’re top dog in Florida, Grayson – or Harry Crews will come down and beat the shit out of you.”

Tom had me promise to write the students a letter explaining my decision to turn down the NOCCA job and made me agree to come again for a guest visit during the coming year. He told me that when I called him yesterday, he was on acid and he said I’d caused him a pretty bad night.

The final issue of Lowlands Review will be out in October, Tom said, and he told me about all his recent visitors, including Rick and Gretchen (“she’s the brains of that operation, for sure”).

I’m glad everything worked out okay.

Pete called from his mother’s house in Tamarac and we made arrangements for me to pick him up tomorrow afternoon. He told me he had dinner with Loris Essary in New York and said Loris is overweight and sloppy – not the way either of us pictured him.

At 1:30 PM, Wayne Begasse, a twentyish blond photographer, a student at the Art Institute and an intern with the Herald, came to take my photo.

As usual, I felt kind of silly, but in the past couple of years I’ve been photographed by a number of people – for the National Enquirer, New York Post, Miami Herald (today was the third time), the Fort Lauderdale papers (twice), the Courier-Life papers (twice), the Sun-Tattler (three times).

Craig Matsuda, a young reporter who’s been with the Herald for two years, came over at 2 PM and interviewed me in this room for an hour or so. As usual, I tended to run off at the mouth, and I’m sure I’ll end up looking like an asshole.

Mostly I talked about South Florida and my plans for the story collection. I just hope I didn’t sound too pompous. We’ll see the results this week.

So – now I’m set here in Florida. I’ve written or called all my friends. I guess I have to make a life for myself here. My first priority is a job – or jobs: a way of supplementing my income enough so that I can go on to my second priority, an apartment.

I also need and want to make friends that I can go out with socially and that I can confide in. I did it in Virginia, but here it will be more difficult.

This has been one hell of a week. Last Sunday at this time I was sitting on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, wondering about my life. Since then, everything worked out the way I wanted it to: that may be a blessing or a curse.

But as crazy as it might get here, I know that I am going to be relaxed. I am down to one Triavil a night, and I hope I can soon eliminate the drug entirely. I plan to lose weight and to exercise regularly. I want to read a lot and maybe take a course in something new. I want to have sexual partners.

Look how many good things have come my way this year since I moved to Florida: the course I taught at Broward Community College, the visit to New Orleans and the NOCCA teaching, the end of my fear of flying, the publicity blitz over Grandma Sylvia’s fan club and drafting Burt Reynolds for Senator, the first prize in the First Amendment Essay Contest, the VCCA fellowship, the Gargoyle interview, the new edition of Disjointed Fictions, great moments with friends in New York and Washington and Virginia – and now the $3,000 grant.

I should be surfeited with luck.

Monday, August 3, 1981

Last night I watched Fame on cable TV with the family; I think I’ve seen it enough by now. I slept restlessly, and at 7 AM, I heard the news that the air traffic controllers’ strike was on.

When I went downstairs and saw the paper, I completely overlooked my photo and the article about me on the front page of the Herald’s Broward section.

I looked good in the photo – blandly handsome – but not much like me. “State Grants Tale-Teller His Wish,” said the headline.

The story wasn’t bad, stressing the fact that I had made only $1,000 from all my writing up to now. (An exaggeration, but I knew it would sound good to say “his lifetime writing earns tripled with the $3,000 Florida Fine Arts Council grant.”)

And it said, “he once pawned his gold Phi Beta Kappa key in New York to keep on writing” – another fiction. The article said I was unemployed and “hunting for a way to write and make a living,” and ended with me humbly saying, “I’m relatively young and I figure I’m just getting started.”

After nearly three years of experience with the media, I’ve learned enough to tailor myself to the audience – and I think I did a good job.

I got two phone calls: one from the editor of Broward Life, the local slick, who asked to see writing samples, and the other from Maurice Huttinger, a “movie producer” who needs a “dialogue man” – we’re supposed to meet for breakfast on Wednesday, but he sounds like a nutjob.

Dad was very nauseated this morning, and he stayed home sick today. He has diarrhea, leg cramps and weakness, and it sounds like the virus Marc, Mom and I had in June.

This morning I felt a bit queasy myself, but I went to the warehouse, the bank, the print shop – I xeroxed my article – and the post office. Then I followed Mrs. Pike’s instructions and found her house in Tamarac.

It was enormous, very luxurious, and must have cost at least $300,000. Pete showed me his two latest books – color xerox art stuff – and the new Nothing issue of Zone, which is still only in manuscript. (It has stuff by the usual crowd, including Baumbach and his son Nico.)

As we drove around, Pete told me he hated Florida and dreaded the idea of living here. Of course, I would hate living on the Lower East Side.

Pete is much more art-oriented than I am; he really doesn’t like literature. His work is much closer to that of people like Opal Nations, Tom Ahern and Derek Pell than I am. I don’t think I’m at all visually oriented or avant-garde.

In September, Pete begins his doctoral program in performance studies – no, I don’t quite understand it – at NYU.

Pete filled me in on news from back in New York: his friend Jack Roth is still in the Brooklyn College MFA program with a fellowship; Harold is still working at Reuters; when Laura applied for unemployment, they found she was teaching at two schools, so they won’t let her teach at CUNY anymore, which is shameful but probably a blessing in disguise.

Laura doesn’t publish and she told Pete that she’d run into Ron, who’s stopped writing entirely. That seems to be the fate of most MFA students.

Over lunch at Wolfie’s, Pete and I discussed the small press scene. We both believe that a lot of presses and magazines will go under because of the budget cuts – and that literary Darwinism may prove beneficial in the long run.

Thursday, August 6, 1981

10 PM. I now feel as happy as it is safe to be.

When I think about the problems I had this time last year, I realize how much better off I am now.

This time last year, I was broke, unsure of where I would get work; I had to take care of my grandparents; Janice was dying; Avis was getting married; I went to Marla’s birthday party and spent a weekend with Teresa on Fire Island.

In retrospect, they seem like rich times, but I felt tormented and very depressed. I was still dizzy last night but I slept late and made up for it.

This morning, as I was about to go to the station wagon, I heard an unfamiliar voice shout, “Richard!” It was a neighbor, Ruth, who cut out the Herald article, thinking I might want an extra copy. How nice! Cathy was right: I have friends I don’t even know.

I drove to Pete’s parents’ house, and his friend Lisa came down from Boca Raton. Lisa just got her MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, where she’d been a teaching fellow (she taught English 0.2 in Small College this summer).

Lisa grew up on Avenue K and East 57th Street and went to P.S. 203; then her parents moved down here (“the first Jews in Pompano”) and she went to Broward Community College-North, transferred to USF in Tampa, and then took her MFA at BC. She lived on Campus Road.

Like me, Lisa hates Manhattan and loves teaching; I think we could be good friends. Last night she visited her friend Colin and his lover in Fort Lauderdale; she mentioned how gorgeous Colin is, and right away I knew he was the guy I liked at the first Poetry in a Pub I went to.

Lisa had been there, too – though Colin stopped going after that time. She said she was surprised that I “knew” him because she’s talked to him about me; I hope we can all get together. A poem of hers about Colin appeared in the latest issue of Junction, Lisa said.

For the fall, Lisa’s not sure whether to adjunct in New York – she’s going back in ten days – or here, but she did tell me there was an ad for a full-time English teacher at Nova University. (I answered it tonight.)

Pete, Lisa and I drove into Miami and hung around Coconut Grove, where we had lunch at Coco Plum and browsed in bookstores and record shops.

I found a copy of Young Miss, which featured Alice and Peter’s movie reviews and Alice’s interview with Stephanie Mills, and I picked up The Weekly News, the free Florida gay paper – where tonight I learned about the local gay bars, organizations and even a synagogue near Grandma Sylvia’s house.

There are ads for roommates and personals ads, and I feel a whole new world has opened up for me. The gay men in Coconut Grove are all very attractive, and I know I’m not up to their standards. I’m fat, but I think I can lose weight – and I also think I probably looked cute today, in my gym shorts and pink preppy shirt.

I had a great time with Pete and Lisa as we talked about the MFA people and the poets we like and dislike. In Broward, we stopped off to get the Sun-Tattler, where I made the “Who” column – a nice article – and then at the warehouse, where I got Pete a copy of the issue of Gargoyle that he was in (and that Rick never sent him).

Then we went to the bar at Houlihan’s in the Broward Mall. I never really enjoyed myself sitting at a bar before, but the place drew a nice crowd. The time passed so quickly I couldn’t believe how late it was when we finally left.

I feel very good about Florida now. Even if I don’t get the job at Nova that I just applied for and even if I don’t get to be friends with Lisa and Colin – and I don’t expect to – I see there are possibilities here.

Friday, August 7, 1981

9 PM. My happiness continues.

Tonight I got a call from Anthony. He and Avis had got my letter and they decided to phone their congratulations on my grant. Avis got on and they both sounded good. I wished them a happy anniversary, and Anthony said they were planning to celebrate by going out and getting drunk.

Anthony is going away for a few weeks on a bicycling tour of New England and then to a meditation conference in Maine. Avis’s office has moved to midtown and she gave me her new work number so I can call her there.

“I know I should have written,” Avis said, “but I have no time.” I feel overjoyed that they’re still my friends.

Last evening I had another good talk – with Teresa, who was sounding good. She’d just spoken to Deirdre in California, and Deirdre is doing very well since her divorce. She’s going to Brussels for a month to study the techniques of cloning frogs.

Later I called the Bay Area myself to tell Paul Fericano about my grant; he was really happy for me. Kathy quit her job at the credit union, so things will be tight financially with them for a while. But since they’re working on getting her a better job and since they have so much love, I’m sure they’ll get by.

I told Paul I’d love to meet him in New York in October for the American Writers Congress.

Today I got my official letter of notification and congratulations on the grant from Secretary of State Firestone. He urged me to write letters thanking the Broward members of the legislature, so I did.

I spent the day at the library, reading everything I could get my hands on. Publishers Weekly had an article that said most books are actually subsidized by the author because she puts so much time into the book and never gets adequately paid for that time. Even the janitor at the publishing house is better compensated.

The new AWP Catalogue of writing programs arrived, and I tried not to feel bitter as I looked at who was teaching where, especially in the jobs I had applied for. (In all instances, I was better qualified.)

I read, read, read: newspapers, magazines, reference books. It will all come in handy someday; none of it is wasted.

At Arby’s, I had a salad bar for lunch and admired some cute boys. Back home, I exercised and took a call from the principal of the Northeast High School Adult Center. He got my résumé and wants to interview me for a creative writing job on Tuesday at 1 PM.

Dad said we have to get rid of my Buick. The mechanic said the transmission is going and it doesn’t pay to fix it. So I’ll use the old station wagon, which is a better car anyway.

I’m beginning to excited about getting an apartment – maybe I’ll get one with a roommate – and a job or jobs. I continue to feel very lucky. Twelve years ago I couldn’t have imagined my life turning out so well.

I still have an enormous capacity for rage and depression, but I can now see things with the perspective of the long run. At times I wish I were 18 again, but only if I had the knowledge that I’ve got now.

What’s important to me these days? Writing, as always. My family. My fantastic friends. Books. Honesty. Having fun. Finding love (and don’t forget S-E-X). Taking risks. Seeing things beyond myself.

Avis said, “They say the thirties are your charmed decade.” I’m going to make certain they are.

Sunday, August 9, 1981

9 PM. Last night I fell asleep with the radio on and it intruded into all my dreams. My final dream this morning featured Gerald Ford telling me how to find God; when I awoke, I realized that the preacher on the radio did sound like Ford.

Alice called and said her trip was superb. Peter was fantastic in his appearance in Washington State and her classes there went well, too. They were both very impressed with San Francisco but did not like Los Angeles. Their week in Colorado was cool although at that writing conference they didn’t have the triumphs they did in Washington State. All in all, Alice said, it was her best vacation ever.

They sent Alice the lease to the co-op on West 12th Street, but there’s no way she could afford monthly payments of $1,900.

Alice was happy at the news of my grant but sad that I won’t be going to New Orleans because she wanted to visit me there. She was pleased I had a good time in Virginia. I told her I’d seen her articles in Young Miss and liked them.

After talking for so long to Alice, I realized I was late for Selma’s, so I rushed over there. She looks good even though the doctors have told her she’s going blind. Selma said she is going to fight it, but she’s learning Braille just in case.

She’s being evicted because her son is “rude” to the alter kockers at their condo – Alex is a bright but very small boy who’s had a rough life – and so they’re moving to a new apartment at Sunrise near University.

Selma showed me an article that she wrote for Ladies’ Home Journal, a true narrative of her stroke and her life since then. As Debbie Solomon told her, it was probably too well-written for LHJ.

The Poetry in a Pub is now at the Cabaret Carousel in Fort Lauderdale, a nicer place than the Village Zoo.

Kirt Dressler greeted me with congratulations and a remark about my short tenure in Florida. I’m now certain he doesn’t like me.

Neither of his good buddies, Debbie Grayson or Lenny Della Rocca, said hello to me although both of them know who I am. I’m sure both of them applied for grants and are upset that I, a newcomer, got one.

Judy Cofer wasn’t there; Kirt told us she got a scholarship to Bread Loaf, which she surely deserved.

I did get some nice words from Jeffrey Knapp, who seems genuinely friendly as well as likable. He told me that Jim Hall was the only Dade County writer to get a grant. (He got $4,500.) Jeffrey said Ed Skellings, the fool, didn’t even show up for the literature panel meetings in Tallahassee and that I got the grant strictly on the merits of my work.

That made me feel better as I watched one bad poet after another at the open reading; I don’t want to put myself on these people’s level. Denis O’Donovan was the featured poet, and he read some interesting stuff. He likes me but I find him a bit creepy.

After knowing such fabulous people in Virginia as Cathy, Susan Mernit, Sookie, Sybil and Susan Ludvigson, it’s hard to settle for people who are not as nice – nor as talented. I have such good friends in New York and all over – Tom, Paul, Crad, Miriam, Rick, Kevin – but I can’t seem to meet a really good friend in Florida.

After the reading, we went next door to the Broward Art Guild celebrating the opening of their teachers’ show. I walked Selma around to look at the exhibits and chatted with Dennis and with Barbra Nightingale and Gary Kay, two of the nicest poets there, both of whom seem to admire me. I guess I do have some potential friends here.

But I can’t see myself staying in Florida beyond next June, the end of the fiscal year when my grant expires. I’ll move back to New York or to New Orleans – or maybe to Washington or San Francisco. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a teaching job somewhere by September 1982. I doubt it, but anything can happen.

Tuesday, August 11, 1981

9 PM. Last night, while driving to Tamarac in a thunderstorm, I saw my first shooting star, one of the annual Perseid meteor showers. If you’re supposed to wish on a shooting star, I didn’t – because all the wishes that I wanted to come true have come true.

Late this afternoon, I went back to Nova University for another interview, this time with both Richard Hilliard and with Jim Smith, the director of the Day Division, a warm and upfront guy. It was an enjoyable interview and I think I came off as very personable and confident and competent.

There are four other candidates for the job, and they said they’d let me know, either way, on Friday. I feel good about my chances, but I’ll also understand if I don’t get it. Either way, I’ll be fine.

See, I don’t feel I need the Nova job – or the $1,000 Tropic prize or the $12,500 NEA grant. I’ll manage with what I’ve got. The $3,000 Florida grant is good enough for now. I don’t have to worry about my financial survival. Somehow I’ll get by, even if it means taking a job at Burger King.

The important thing is that I am happy and productive. I don’t want to sound too optimistic because this is a world where terrible things can happen without warning and without reason. Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy, had been missing from the Hollywood Mall since last week. Today they found his head floating in a Vero Beach canal. What kind of monster could do that to a kid? If I found the creep – this sounds asinine – I would kill him by myself without feeling guilty.

On Sunday Selma was very taken with my Einstein quote: “The universe is subtle but not malicious.” Sometimes I wonder.

Last night was pleasant. Pete and I were among only a few people to show up for The Last Metro at the $1.50 Mercede Cinema. (Pete paid.) It wasn’t Truffaut’s best film, but it was pretty good; I’ve always been soothed by his narration.

I wished Pete a good trip to California. He’s a nice guy but he said he’s never been in love and doesn’t want to be; he also said he tries to erase all feelings from his fiction. I think he may have been hurt when he was very young – perhaps by his father’s early death. I’m afraid Pete sees me as a sentimental slob.

Susan Mernit sent me a long letter today, congratulating me on the grant and telling me about the last week at the colony. I’m sorry I missed the fun.

Susan has been followed by strange men twice since she got back to New York, and although Spencer took her out to a romantic dinner, the first night back, all she could see was the city’s filth.

I called Tom, who’s happy that he’s got Valerie and Jeannie hired for this year; there are no hard feelings on his part about my not taking the job, I can see. I do hope I can get to New Orleans sometime this year.

This afternoon I went to see Mr. Light, principal of the Northeast Adult Center in Fort Lauderdale. He was overly impressed with my credentials and said I could have both creative writing courses (on Thursdays) if they run. The pay is bad – $10.10 an hour – but I’m willing to settle for that.

The Littmans returned tonight from their long trip and stopped off with their camper before heading home to North Miami Beach. They went to Washington, New York, Niagara Falls, New Jersey – they spent two weeks in Atlantic City – and Myrtle Beach. Needless to say, the Littmans were glad I’m staying though they said I ruined their plans to spend Thanksgiving with me in New Orleans.

I called Josh, who’s been having Josh-style hassles in his new job – which he says he may quit to go work for United Artists.