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


Wednesday, August 12, 1981

11 PM. Last night I slept heavily and had three dreams which even an anti-Freudian would cede were phallic.

At 3 AM, I got up, went downstairs and fetched the newspaper as a friendly lizard crawled by. I read the news as I sipped orange juice and then got back into bed.

At 10 AM, Maureen from Broward Community College called. She said Dr. Grasso wanted to know if I’d be interested in a full-time sabbatical replacement position of five courses. Of course I said yes, and Maureen said that Dr. Grasso would be in touch with me next week.

So now if I don’t get the Nova job, I’m assured of a decent income anyway. This news made today’s letters from the chairmen at Florida Atlantic University and Barry College saying they had no adjunct jobs mere nuisances and not disappointments. I’ve been luckier than I deserve, really.

I got two other calls today. One was from Ruth Pine of the Jewish Community Center; she wants me to come over to see her at 11 AM on Friday to discuss a reading I might be able to give.

The other call was from a Mrs. Robinson; I’d answered an ad from the Times that she and her husband had put in months ago. They’re producers and are interested in my writing comedy for future cable TV projects, such as an Andy Kaufman special. So I’m luckier than I have a right to be.

Certainly my career is at a high point now, and I appear to be a success. Of course, things change very fast. In the spring of 1979, I looked like I had it made and a year later I felt like a failure.

Today I didn’t do much. After doing some chores for Mom, I ate breakfast out at The Bagel Whole, watched soap operas while I exercised, and wrote letters to Sybil, Cathy, Susan, Miriam and Stacy.

Late this afternoon I grew bored and antsy, so I took a ride up Sunrise Boulevard toward the beach and on impulse went to see Endless Love again. Driving home in the dark – I love the dark in Florida when the summer heat seems more bearable – I thought about Shelli, my first love.

God, a decade ago we were passionate in that desperate way. It was as though we couldn’t get enough of each other, or of sex. Ten summers ago, Shelli and I had sex a couple of times a day, every day. And we laughed and hugged and fought like madmen.

I wish I knew where Shelli was, for I’d like to know what’s become of her. Though I suspect she despises me – if she ever thinks of me – I have no hard feelings toward her.

As I drove through the now-familiar Fort Lauderdale streets, I thought how strange it is that I’m here. Ah, but I like a lot about South Florida.

When I got home, Mom and Jonny were entertaining J.D. and Joanie while Dad was out seeing jai-lai in Dania.

Teresa phoned after taking her cousin to see Fiddler on the Roof with Herschel Bernardi at Lincoln Center. She’s having great weekends on Fire Island, and her job is now tolerable because she’s been following Andrew around as he campaigns for reelection.

Tomorrow she’s going to a hearing, chaired by Senator Moynihan, about Social Security; Teresa wrote Stein’s position paper on the subject, using quotes from Ted Kennedy’s convention speech of a year ago.

The past two weeks here have been among the best of my life. I almost think I’m in a dream and will wake up cold, poor and despairing.

Thursday, August 13, 1981

5 PM. Again I slept heavily, probably because of my sinusitis.

Dad called at 11 AM: he was stuck with the old station wagon in Miami Beach. He had taken it to deliver some packages and he didn’t have his AAA card, which was locked in the other car’s truck. But I didn’t have the key, and Mom was away with the Camaro, so I couldn’t drive down to use the cables and try to start him. The problem ended when Dad realized it was the carburetor. My car is still at the service station while we decide what to do with it.

The mail brought a letter Miriam wrote me and mailed twice to Brooklyn, both times getting getting the address wrong. I tried to call Miriam last night but had no luck.

Jim Hall wrote that he’s sent my vita on to someone else at Florida International University and he congratulated me on the grant. He will be going to El Paso for this academic year. Jim said he’d like to see my work and get together some day.

Dr. Tews wrote a letter of regret that I’m not moving to New Orleans to work at NOCCA, and Dan Meltzer sent a card from the Rhode Island Creative Arts Center, a new artists’ colony on campus at Roger Williams College. I might like to go there for a couple of weeks next year, but it’s $88 a week. Dan said it’s for “MacDowell losers” – I guess they didn’t take most of us who got in last year.

I was supposed to pick up Pete this afternoon, but I didn’t have a car, so I stayed in, wrote letters, watched TV, exercised and spent an hour by the pool.

Gary just called to say he’d seen a letter of mine in the new Village Voice, a letter complaining about nasty remarks someone there wrote about Fort Lauderdale. I always like seeing my name in print, so I’ll buy the Voice when I can get to the mall.

Gary said that he picked up a copy of Inside Sports, which had an article about sports people’s salaries. Our old pal from Brooklyn College, Peter Rose, was listed: as associate counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, he makes $36,000 – not all that much for a big lawyer but a fortune to me. Ah, well.

Tonight I’m going to get out for dinner and then by by Pete’s at 7 PM.

I think that this surfeit of good news is finally starting to get to me. I expect a spate of bad news for a while.

Friday, August 14, 1981

I didn’t get a call from Nova University today, so I assume I didn’t get the job. That’s okay. It will be okay even if Broward Community College doesn’t come through with the full-time position. I’ll get by. I would have gotten by without the grant, too. I published 100 stories without any grants.

“The Paradox of Patronage,” an article by Paul Theroux in the September Harper’s about grants and literature, made me feel a little ashamed. I don’t want to become a grants junkie or a ward of the state.

In an abstract way, I don’t believe in arts grants; as Theroux says, they probably do more harm than good because now every writer believes he or she could not write a big work without an NEA fellowship or a Guggenheim.

And what great literature has the NEA or the state arts councils produced? None. Theroux says that grants are probably responsible for the decline of humorous writing and social satire.

Look at me: I’ve got an MFA, grants, fellowships, small press publications, and absolutely no audience. I could become a prototype for the MFA writer: the politico, the grants junkie, the bland acceptable type. Now I have to worry what people will think.

Or do I? I can tell everyone to take a flying fuck – at least in print – and I can be as free as I used to be. I know that I’m the type of person who doesn’t crumble adversity. I don’t take setbacks well, but I do learn from them eventually.

Anyway, I really don’t have much to worry about. I’ll get by this year, but I’m not going to be complacent. There won’t be all that much money, and I don’t expect to be “successful.”

In this week’s Times Book Review, there’s an article about writers and their parents. My parents may be shocked by A Version of Life, and in a way, I hope they will be, because otherwise I wouldn’t be taking any risks. I like to be just a little bit embarrassed by my work.

Kevin called after having finished typesetting “I, Eliza Custis.” He misjudged the number of pages the manuscript would come to and so has decided to add “Summoning Alice Keppel” (an old favorite) and “The Smile in the Closet” (an embarrassing piece).

Kevin said the proof pages should be here next week and that I should go over them carefully. They’re only xeroxes, but I want to keep copies for myself – to keep me going until I see the book.

Anyway, last night I had dinner out by myself and then went over to see Pete. We watched TV for an hour as we chatted about the literary scene. He told me the Fiction Collective seems to be dying, that Tom Ahern told him that Harrison Fisher is desperate for a job, and that R.C. Morse has given up on writing, has become gay and gone into advertising.

We went to see Eye of the Needle, a decent thriller, in Inverrary, and then I drove Pete back to his parents’ and wished him a good trip to California.

Driving back down University, I kept picking up Radio Havana and some Caribbean stations; on a Bonaire station, some radio preacher was spouting agitated nonsense about Helmut Schmidt being the Antichrist who will make everyone carry a ‘666’ credit card.

I fell asleep at 2 AM and woke up early for my appointment with Ruth Pine at the Jewish Community Center. She was charmed by me – I love putting on a show and being me for an audience, even if it’s only for an interview – and said she’d try to work out a proper format for a reading/show, possibly as part of their “Discovery” series.

I do think that a part of me wants to be a performer; I find an audience’s laughter a real high.

There was no mail for me, which was almost a relief. I spent the afternoon writing letters, exercising, watching TV, and reading. Sandra Thompson had a funny article in the Herald about how hard it is to adjust to Florida after New York: she was really brilliant.

For dinner we all went out to Deli Masters and then came home to watch Being There.

Driving back from Tamarac after a rainstorm, we saw an incredible rainbow: a clear, complete arc across the sky with a fainter rainbow surrounding it. I’d never seen anything like it, and Jonny voiced what I was thinking: “It’s like a multicolored McDonald’s arch.” Sad that we relate to nature through media images.

Well, it’s three weeks since I arrived in Florida, and things seem to have worked out. I might have been in New Orleans now, and who knows, that might have been for the best. Jim Hall got a teaching job at the University of Texas at El Paso for the year despite his grant. But I guess I really didn’t want to go to New Orleans.

I love the nights here, probably because the days are unbelievably hot. Living with my family is getting on my nerves, and the sight of all those beautiful Florida guys wearing very little clothing is driving me bananas. But I’ll be okay: you can bet on it.

Tuesday, August 18, 1981

7 PM. “You should be floating on air,” Dad said to me this afternoon. But I feel quite depressed now, despite the fact that I’ve gotten everything I wanted: remaining in Florida, a grant, a full-time teaching job.

Oh, I guess it’s just temporary. After all, it’s natural to be depressed after four straight days of rain when I’m unable to get out. More than 20 inches of rain has fallen on parts of Dad County, and we’ve had about 8 inches here in Southwest Broward. I feel isolated and bored and lonely, and I have a terrible sinus headache.

This continued gloomy weather is almost unheard-of here in Florida. Sooner or later, the sun will shine again. But right now I feel a sense of failure that has little to do with my career.

Dr. Smith of Nova called to say they’d given the job to someone else but that I was their second choice and they considered me “a fine young man.” He seemed glad – as he should – about my full-time job at Broward Community College and was going to offer me an adjunct course until I told him about it.

After I hung up, I cursed myself telling him about the BCC job because I could have used another course. All of a sudden I feel so money-hungry.

When the chairman of the English Department at Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus called, I told him I’d see him tomorrow. Well, interviews are good experience, I guess – but I should have enough work with five courses at BCC.

Stupid me, I never asked about the salary. But it’s got to be at least $10,000, doesn’t it? With my grant, should have at least $13,000 income for the next year, more than I’ve ever made, more than I would have made at NOCCA – and still I want more money. Greed.

Dad got his July check from Sasson; it was for $5,000, but he felt cheated because they had put on it his shipments for August 1. It was all his own money, and still he felt cheated. I see now that if you are in something for the money, that becomes all there is.

I feel this stupid need to accumulate money. For what? Would you believe I feel insecure – now, when I’m more secure financially than I’ve ever been.

I feel queasy about BCC. I don’t think Dr. Grasso likes me. Then why did she offer me the job? Maybe someone told her to do it because I got the grant; perhaps the Herald article made them look bad when I said I had taught there in the spring but had no classes for the fall. It made the school look as if they fired a genius. Of course, that was my intention in talking to the reporter as I did – and it proved to be a shrewd move.

Look, Grayson, if you’ve going to go after what you want, you can’t let wanting to be liked stand in your way. If I could be a total bastard, I’d be better off.

All last night I tossed and turned and felt very agitated; I think I was having a sugar fit. I’ll never be able to lose weight! Or find someone to love me.

Baloney, Grayson – you’re just in a bad mood, which will pass. You had to come down from your high sometime.

I wonder how Alice does it: never loses her tremendous optimism. When I expressed doubts that my career from now on would be one long rise to the top, Alice seemed stunned. Sometimes I think that writing all those upbeat articles has stunted her sense of reality. She doesn’t seem to see the ugliness and pain in the world. That may be why she’s happier than anyone I know – except for Richard Simmons.

I’d feel a lot better if I knew that Richard Simmons gets depressed, too.

Thursday, August 20, 1981

9 PM. Well, I’m really a full-time, if temporary, instructor at Broward Community College.

Last night I was too excited to sleep. I had to be at the college at 8:30 AM. Dr. Grasso met me and gave me my schedule, which she said was “weird.” It is.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they gave me classes at 8 AM, 11 AM, and 2 PM, with two-hour breaks between each class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have an 11 AM to 12:30 PM class, and on Thursday evening I have class from 7 PM to 10 PM.

That means that I’ll have to call Miami-Dade and tell them I can’t take their part-time courses. I don’t think I’ll need them anyway. My salary will be at least $13,000 and possibly more; combined with the grant, that’s more than enough for me to comfortably live on.

Of course, I would have preferred teaching creative writing at MDCC, but I’ll have to settle for five sections of comp at BCC: three of English 100 and two of English 101, which I taught last spring.

The day was very hectic as I went from meeting to meeting and met a large number of people. First I was introduced to the other two new English Department people: Rosa, who’s been a Broward high school teacher, and Casey, who’s taught at Temple and Delaware.

At the general faculty meeting, the Executive Vice President for the Central Campus, the Provost and the Administrative Dean all reminded me of Jerry Falwell: three-piece-suited plummy Southerners who seem bland and a little obnoxious. They introduced about 35 new faculty members, stressing their “terrific” credentials.

Obviously, some of these people are great teachers, but by New York standards – I still judge things that way – they’re mediocrities. Like Dr. Bergen at Miami-Dade, Dr. Grasso can’t find qualified part-timers, for which she is desperate – even though registration is down and all the literature and creative writing classes didn’t materialize.

During the meeting, I learned that the college is in a state of flux with many administrative changes. Everything seems disorganized. Did you ever hear of a school where students are placed in remedial courses by their own choice?

Dr. Grasso kept Casey, Rosa and me in her office for over an hour as she gave us texts and information about the courses. Technically, we’re supposed to keep 15 office hours a week in addition to our 15 hours of teaching. What crap!

I guess I don’t take this very seriously. I wouldn’t want a permanent position at BCC. Adjuncts are lucky in one respect: they don’t have to put up with a lot of this shit about office hours and such.

At 1 PM, Dr. Pawlowski called a Communications Division meeting – they just took Speech out the Communications Division and moved it to the Humanities/Social Sciences Division, which struck me as funny – during which more bullshit was covered.

I was tired but decided to go to the union meeting at 3:30 PM. Up until May, there was no union, no bargaining agent for the faculty. We’ll be working without a contract until the new union works one out with a mediator. But they expect a 10% pay raise at the very least.

Sometimes I can’t believe how backward Florida is. But I should be grateful, for here I’m able to get a grant and a full-time teaching job. Money won’t be a problem anymore. There’ll be other problems, but not money.

We all went out to a fine dinner at Gigi’s tonight. Dad seemed in good mood: he’s been doing a lot of business lately because so many tourists are coming from Latin America and Europe. Money, it appears, will not be a problem for any of us this year. I almost want to knock on wood.

Friday, August 21, 1981

9 PM. Tonight it hit me as I was driving to dinner in Tamarac with my family: a wave of nausea and dizziness.

It’s been a lot to take in, this month of August. I got everything that I wanted: an arts council grant, a full-time job in academia, and all the stuff that goes with that: My own office at school. My very own exchange (475-6595). A salary of at least $13,216 plus $3,000 in grant money. Major medical, dental, life insurance, disability, a credit union (to which I’m giving $50 of my salary a month).

I’m 30 years old and I’ve never had a full-time job before.

Last night I called Avis, but she didn’t seem to understand anything I was saying and did not have much to say herself. For the first time in the decade that we’ve been friends, I had to struggle to find topics of conversation. While Anthony’s been away, she’s been going to the ashram to meditate every night.

If Avis would think more and meditate less, maybe she wouldn’t be the bore that she’s become. I don’t plan to call her again.

I had to wake too early, and it interrupted a beautiful dream about old Brooklyn in which Grandma Sylvia was young and Kings Highway a clean, busy shopping area.

At BCC this morning, the President had a nice breakfast for the new faculty at the Hospitality Center. I sat with Jim Sherman, an older man who’s teaching automotive technology at the South Campus, and I made friends with two young guys teaching data processing. I also got friendly with Joe Molinaro, an artist and sculptor about my age who has an MFA. He and his wife just moved down here.

During breakfast there were brief speeches by President Adams, who surprised me with his insight, and the vice presidents; then the provosts of each campus introduced the new faculty members.

We were then shown a slide show and given a huge packet of forms from the Personnel Department. For two hours they explained our benefits and told us how to fill out the forms (including a bizarre “State of Florida loyalty oath”). I didn’t have a file folder because my temporary appointment hasn’t come through yet.

Back at the Communications Division at noon, Dr. Pawlowski gave me an office in a group of offices with some very good younger people around: Jacqui Hall, Mick Cleary and Alan Merickel. They seem like fun to be around.

I switched classes with several others and added a 2 PM class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I dropped my Tuesday night class. This will leave all my evenings free and give me just one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I typed up a syllabus on a stencil but used the wrong side. Obviously, I’m a bit befuddled: there have been too many new names and new things to remember. I need to work this weekend, but I also need to rest up.

I called Mrs. Wilson, the secretary at Miami-Dade, who was upset when I told her I couldn’t take the morning classes, but I said I’d keep the Monday night creative writing class if it stayed open. (Only eight students have registered so far.)

After I came home, I exercised and looked over my benefits package and stared into space.

A whole new life is opening before me: a new job, new friends, a new place to live. It’s scary but exciting. And right now I’m numb.