A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1988


Friday, February 19, 1988

9 PM. Last night I spoke to Josh, who sounded kind of glum.

The lawyer that Joyce got him is handling both ends of his housing situation – the negotiations with his present landlord regarding a settlement and those with the owner of the co-op he’s trying to buy – and the process is going too slowly for Josh.

It sounds frustrating. Josh will probably be out of his Brooklyn Heights apartment in April, and he may end up living with his parents until his new Manhattan apartment can be occupied.

At work, he and Joyce and Svetlana are constantly being thwarted by the longtime city employees, who are incompetent, distrustful and cliquish.

Josh has just one IBM AT for himself, and he and Svetlana have to share a printer and move it from room to room.

It’s a bad situation, but I’m familiar with that New York City civil service mentality and the inertia it produces.

Last night it took me hours to get to sleep, but I was up at 8 AM.

After I finished up my half-hour of exercise, Dad told me his station wagon radiator was leaking and he needed my help in putting some samples in Jonathan’s car before his meeting at Burdines.

I also helped Dad put the other goods in the warehouse and followed him to Freddy’s, where he brought the station wagon to be fixed. But when we got there, we learned that all of Freddy’s employees had quit because they hadn’t gotten paid.

Dad needed to get back to the house to take a shower, so he asked me to buy a can of Stop-Leak to see if that would stop the leak in his radiator.

I did, but then my engine began emitting steam! Luckily, it was simply that my radiator was bone-dry and needed lots of water. I don’t think Dad’s car’s leak was fixed, but I left after I picked up the mail.

Following a shower, I had lunch at the Bagel Whole and drove to FIU to drop off the Northwestern High School paperwork with Sophie. Next week I finish the Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School workshop and then the Riviera Junior High BASIC class.

The two new classes – at Flagler Elementary and Riviera – begin after I return from New Orleans.

When I got back home, Teresa called and told me all about her Club Med experience. She was surprised at the number of little kids there, but that took away some of the meat market aspect of the place.

Because she met some nice people who goofed on everyone there, Teresa had a nice time; she enjoyed rebelling against the automaton-like G.O.s and their petty rules. The weather was perfect, the food was good, and there was always something to do. Eventually she and her friends found a nearby nude beach for sunbathing.

“It was like summer camp,” Teresa said.

At Frank’s office today, she was awaiting news on the Post negotiations. Unless the unions agreed to givebacks, Murdoch was threatening to close down the newspaper today, leaving the deal to sell to Kalikow dead.

From 7 PM to 8 PM, I was on the Debbie Ellis Show on WNWS, 790 AM. Beforehand, I was a bit nervousness, but that faded by the time I got to the studio on U.S. 441 by the Dade-Broward line.

After Al Rantel finished his show, Debbie and I met him in the hall and we moved into the studio during the top-of-the-hour news.

As Chairman of Florida Democrats for Undecided, I walked my usual thin line between being a serious social critic and a stand-up comic.

I realize that my satire makes people uncomfortable, often because it’s hard for them to tell whether I’m being serious or not. Of course, I myself am not quite sure, but I love the ambiguity.

The callers tonight were moronic, as usual, and as I was driving home from the WNWS studio, I heard one guy make fun of my nasal, high-pitched voice.

Sometimes this voice problem bothers me, but then I think if I’ve got an easily imitable and distinctive voice, it may be an advantage in getting public attention.

Who knows? But I enjoyed doing the show.

Tuesday, February 23, 1988

10 PM. I’ve just heard the radio news on the Minnesota caucuses and South Dakota primaries.

On the GOP side, Dole won both, with Robertson making a strong showing. Bush virtually ignored both contests, and Kemp is probably finished.

Of the Democrats, Gephardt won South Dakota, with Dukakis second; that probably kills Simon’s candidacy. The Democratic results from Minnesota aren’t in yet.

I’ve spent much of the day doing paperwork for my Teacher Education Center courses. Tomorrow I close the one at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, and next Tuesday I have the last BASIC class at Riviera Junior High School.

At Riviera this afternoon, I showed my students a glimpse of other computer languages: Pascal, PILOT, and mostly LOGO.

Nobody’s gotten word about the scheduled Productivity Software workshop, so it’s possible it might not make. That would leave me $950 poorer, but it would also give me more free time than I’ve had in months.

I figured out that this academic year, between my classes at BCC and my computer education workshops for FIU, I’ll have taught the equivalent of at least seven classes, a full-time job at most colleges.

Last night I read Peter N. Carroll’s It Seemed Like Nothing Happened for three hours. He takes a very partisan point of view of the 1970s, but since I agree with his positions, I’m enjoying the book.

I slept fairly well last night. This morning I stayed in bed to watch the cast of St. Elsewhere on Donahue.

Later, I used the Publix ATM and others to withdraw nearly $2000 in cash advances and deposit them in the bank. I paid off both my student loans through November, so I won’t have to think about them for a while.

I’m still considering taking out another loan for the summer, but the Teachers College tuition is so high; I know damned well that their courses aren’t worth it.

The economy now appears strong enough to get through this election year without a recession, but I expect that around this time in 1989, we’ll be at the start of one. If the economy holds up, of course, that’s good news for the Republicans.

In reading about Nixon’s wage and price controls and various other attempts to cool off inflation in the early 1970s, I realized that while I was a college student, I paid no attention to the economy.

I remember it was hard for people to find jobs when I graduated in 1973, and New York City, of course, was not in very good shape. By mid-1974, a bad recession had started, the one that killed off our family’s Art Pants Company.

I can recall working at a succession of minimum-wage jobs (then paying $2 an hour) at Alexander’s, The Village Voice, and the Brooklyn Public Library before I began teaching at Long Island University about 13 years ago.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been teaching for so many years. How terrible I must have been when I first started, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I wonder how old I look to the junior high kids I saw coming out of class today when I arrived at Riviera. How do they see me? As a middle-aged man?

am middle-aged, at least by the definition I had for the word when I was their age, or even when I was 25.

Of course, older people are so much more vital today, and as the baby boom ages and the median age curves upward, America will see a new emphasis on the older person.

Much of what I was talking about in yesterday’s diary entry was the youth culture of the Woodstock era. But there’s no youth culture now.

While teenagers and college students have their own music, they share it with older people who also watch MTV and listen to the same radio stations. The social and political views of young people are very close to those of Americans of any age.

If a young guy has long hair or short hair, an earring or a Bugle Boy shirt (the ones I wear, of course) – you can’t tell anything about him. In 1970, long hair on guys meant they were like you.

The peace-symbol chain I wore told everyone where I stood. Is there anything like that today?

Wednesday, February 24, 1988

10 PM. I’ve just wasted the last couple of hours watching My Tutor, a soft-soft-core movie about the relationship between a 17-year-old boy and the older woman (29) who’s his French tutor.

The actor, Matt Lattanzi, is cute and hunky and just a little effeminate (he’s married to Olivia Newton-John). He reminded me of Sean, of course. And the situation was similar, except that in having sex with another guy, Sean was my tutor.

I’m certain that a relationship like that won’t happen again, and even when it was going on, knowing it was going to end made it more special.

Well, after two days with a rocky stomach, I’m feeling good tonight. I’m anxious about New Orleans, I think, but except for my Saturday creative writing class and next Tuesday’s BASIC workshop, I have a free schedule until I go.

The last class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School was today, and it was a good session. I really feel I accomplished something despite the lack of software available, and I enjoyed being with the teachers who were my students.

Today I got a wonderful long letter from Sat Darshan. I’m so glad we’re friends again. She says she senses I’m happy with my life but asks, “How are you, really?”

Well, I really am happy. I’ve gone from being a neurotic, scared, petulant kid to someone who loves his life.

Sat Darshan says that she knows I’d be happier if I wrote a best-selling book, but I’m not sure that’s true.

Yes, when I saw the winners of the $25,000 Whiting Awards in Poets & Writers, I was envious for a moment – but as I said in my letter to Nat Sobel, my time will come.

And even if it never does, I’ve had a great time along the way.

This morning, when I came home after a good workout at my parents’, I got a call from a reporter at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

He interviewed me about Florida Democrats for Undecided, and from the typing he was doing, I expect an article will appear. I’ll look for it in the paper’s issues in the main Broward public library.

Naturally, it was gratifying to be interviewed – it makes me feel I haven’t lost my touch for publicity – but I felt quite happy even before the call: As I walked from the car in my t-shirt and shorts and went through the passageway heading to my door and felt the cool breeze and saw the fountain in the middle of the lake, there was a moment when I was suffused with joy.

I’m being romantic tonight.

Sat Darshan writes that her kids coming this summer are Indian sisters, 5 and 8, that she and Dharma Singh are adopting. She welcomes the change.

Sat Darshan said she has had no contact with anyone from college except her fellow Sikh – we knew her as Helen – who lives with her husband in Española, New Mexico, where they run a security guard service.

Every summer, Sat Darshan visits New Mexico for the 3HO solstice celebration.

In January, she went to Europe, accompanying Yogi Bhajan as he taught white tantric yoga in Berlin, Rome and Paris. They stopped in Bremen, where she saw Helmut and got very upset when she returned to his apartment.

Although he’s now in the basement, Helmut lives in the same house on Parkstrasse where they lived together upstairs, and Sat Darshan couldn’t believe he still had all of her old possessions.

It was as if nothing had changed, but as Sat Darshan said, things always seem the same in Europe: her friend Rose’s apartment was exactly as she had last seen it in 1979.

Hal from Brooklyn College – now in private practice on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope – is the lawyer for the 3HO ashram, where she and Dharma Singh currently live. Sat Darshan has spoken to him, but he doesn’t know what her name was back in the old days.

Gosh, it was good to hear from Avis. Although I’d never call her that again, part of me will always think of Sat Darshan as Avis.

Crad asked me to send him bad poems for a new anthology, The World’s Worst Poetry, so I mailed him the latest issue of the BCC literary magazine that one of my students gave me on Saturday.

Monday, February 29, 1988

8 PM. I’ve just been packing for the trip to New Orleans. I’d love to be able to get everything into two carry-on bags which would save me from having to check any luggage on the flight.

I’m going for just four days, and when I visit Grandma Ethel in Rockaway for that long, I can easily get everything into one small bag; of course, I have to dress better in New Orleans than I do at the beach.

Last night I slept very well with no recurrence of the dizziness. I dreamed about being with Libby and her mother and brother, Mason and Avis – like back in the old days when we’d celebrate Christmas together.

This morning I turned in my Delta tickets with no problem, and I’ll get a refund on my credit card.

Other than that, I didn’t have much to do today but futz around. Probably I would have been less anxious about my trip if I’d had to go to work today.

Instead, I did some errands, read all the papers (five, count ’em, five), and in the afternoon I went to see Moonstruck at the Broward Mall.

I can understand why Teresa loved the movie, for it’s about the same upper-middle class Brooklyn Italian milieu that her family comes out of.

I enjoyed the film, too, and the scenes of Brooklyn Heights, Little Italy and Lincoln Center made me homesick.

It’s nearly five months since I left New York, and I’m getting anxious to see it again.

After I come back from New Orleans, I’ll stay in Florida only another eight weeks, so hopefully I’ll be back in the city before I go bonkers from Big Apple-withdrawal.

When I came out of the movie at 6 PM, it was still light out, but there was a full moon clearly visible in the pale blue sky; it was not nearly as big a pizza pie or the one in Moonstruck, but it got me thinking: I wish I had the talent and ability to write a credible novel about family life.

It felt good when China ran to meet me at the door of my parents’ house, and it was nice to see Marc over for dinner. Jonathan made pasta, and Mom contributed the salad; the only thing I contributed was my appetite.

Dad called this morning from L.A., where the weather is terrible. I’m glad he got to California okay and I hope the trip isn’t too stressful for him.

Although Dad looks young, in a couple of months he’ll be 62, old enough to collect Social Security if he wanted to get it early. (He doesn’t, of course.)

He’s been under a great deal of pressure these past few years, even as he has been earning close to six figures.

I know I complain about having to put up with my family, but the truth is that I’ll miss them when I leave Florida.

But I’ll be happy to see Grandma Ethel again. Tomorrow is her 78th birthday, and she won’t be around for more than a couple of years, I expect.

Grandpa Herb and Grandma Sylvia each died around 79 or 80, and that’s about when Grandpa Nat had his stroke. Grandma Ethel has always been in frail health, and she’s long outlived her parents by now.

Funny, the movie, with its emphasis on luck and superstition, reminded me of the story Grandma Ethel told about when she was very ill in the hospital:

In a dream, she saw a priest coming toward her, and at first she turned away because she wasn’t a Catholic, but he held a candle and told her she would be all right.

That marked the turning point of her illness, when she began to improve. After her recovery, Grandma discovered that on the day of her dream, one of her neighbors on East 43rd Street had lit a candle for her in church.

Somehow that story makes me feel reassured. I always foresee disaster, and I’m usually so scared about the future. If only I could believe that everything would turn out okay in the end.

But we live in a world of the cruelest surprises, and I can imagine dozens of horrible scenarios and very few comforting ones.

Tomorrow is March, and two months of 1988 are history.