A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-October, 1983


Wednesday, October 12, 1983

8 PM. I’m in Davie.

Marc’s car broke down on the way to my house, so he took mine and said he’ll take me to school in the morning – or else Jonathan will drop me off on his way to FAU. Dad’s still on the road – probably in Jacksonville tonight – so I’m here with just Mom and Jonathan.

I feel tired now, but I’m very happy. Once again, life seems filled with possibilities. Three phone calls last night got me started thinking that way.

First, I called Susan Mernit, who had just finished dinner as Spencer had to run off to the chiropractor.

Susan’s juggling her one class at Brooklyn College, her two at Poly Tech, the Teachers & Writers Collaborative work (though after a meeting earlier that evening, Susan suspects financial pressures will cause them to go under), and her teaching at the nursing home. Yet Susan still manages to write every morning.

She and Spencer have started taking tai chi together, and Susan’s become very friendly with Barbara Baracks, whom she’d like me to meet.

I’ve always liked Barbara’s work and I suspect I’ll become friends with her, too, because we have things in common: we’re the same age, both write in similar styles and about kindred concerns, and are both Jewish and gay.

That’s what I miss here in Florida, I told Susan: being able to talk with people who understand what I’m trying to do with my life. She said it sounds a great deal like what her life in Ohio was.

It’s easy to get into the papers here in Florida, but hard to find someone on my own level. When Susan describes her activities in New York – and said that Spencer’s band played a big blues bar in the Village last week – it all sounded so golden.

She told me WNEW/Channel 5 postponed her movie until November. Susan wants me to return to New York. She’s one close friend I’ll have there that I didn’t have before I left.

About an hour later, Mikey called with some “news.” Of course I knew what it was, and I said, “It’s about time!” when he told me he and Amy are going to be married.

“Everybody says that,” he said.

“Why not?” I replied. “It’s the logical thing to say.” And it really is: they seem happy and well-suited.

There are no ideal couples, but Mikey and Amy are both sensible and they seem to bring out the best in one another. I suspect he’s calmed her down and she’s made him sparkle more.

Before the wedding, which will be next spring or fall, they’ve got to find an apartment – though that’s going to be tough, given New York’s horrendous real estate situation. Amy told me they’d like to borrow money to buy a co-op.

In any case, she’s currently overwhelmed with a big dinner she’s planning for the Library, and Mikey’s bogged down with trials and casework, so it will take time to find a place to live.

“It sounds like fun,” I said.

“For you, it’s fun,” Mikey replied. “We’re alternately floating on air and as nervous as anything.”

I was gauche enough to mention I’d be looking for an apartment and to keep me in mind in case they saw anything too small for them but which I might like. Actually, Mikey’s West 23rd Street place would be ideal for me.

The last call I made was to Teresa, who phoned me back after her parents left. (She’d had dinner in Brooklyn and they’d come up after driving her home.)

I was very gratified to hear that her trip to Europe was “charmed” – that it was “the best three weeks of my life.”

“I almost didn’t come back,” Teresa said. “No kidding.”

She and her friend got along well despite their illnesses and different tastes, and they ate their way through a succession of glorious meals.

In Florence, they stayed with Paul, an American writer, a former doctor who gave up medicine to work on books, and he and Teresa had a pretty heavy thing going – heavy enough so that he asked her to bum around Europe with him for six months.

She agreed and would have done it had Paul not “New Yorked” her by getting the typical Big Apple case of male commitment hesitancy.

But the trip got Teresa thinking, and she said her attitudes had changed. Before, she was personally ambitious and wanted a man with big bucks. Now she realizes she likes the life of bumming around: she’s done enough of it with her Fire Island days at the beach for the past four months to know that’s what she wants.

I don’t know if this resolve will wear off with Teresa’s jet lag, but for now she plans to live in Italy for a while. (“Our grandfather would turn over in his grave,” her sister told her.)

To afford to do that, she has to stay on her job longer. She was hesitant about how that would go over, but she was gratified by a nice welcome home from her boss and co-workers.

Now they’re busy working on a bond issue election, and Teresa, the old campaign hand, actually does have work to do, and it’s the kind of work she enjoys.

Her lease expires in May, so she’s got to stay around to re-sign; after that, she can sublet. (I wish I could afford to take her place, but she plans to charge $800.)

Teresa’s told this plan to only a few people, “close friends who won’t think I’m nuts.”

I don’t think she’s nuts at all – I told her that if I manage to score a Guggenheim, I’ll join her in Firenze – and she said it was a terrific idea.

Barbara, she said, viewed Teresa’s trip to Europe in the same category as her mink coat, but Teresa said the trip really changed her outlook.

She feels more comfortable with the intimate, formal European lifestyle, and though I pointed out that the Upper West Side is about as European as you can get in America, she said it still had the hectic pace, rushed restaurants and trendiness typical of most of the U.S.

As Elihu said on Saturday, it’s interesting to see how we change as we grow older. Teresa is now thinking of living the kind of life Avis had in Germany eight years ago.

So you can see why I feel life is filled with possibilities.

This morning, I had my live interview with Art Dineen for his show on KSTP in the Twin Cities; as usual, I had a grand old time, with the host playing straight man to me.

My classes went okay; however, after teaching three hours of comma rules, I was “punc”-ed out by 1 PM. A solid workout at the health club revived me, and I returned to my office and caught up on all my grading – for today, anyway.

Spending time in the BCC library, I found entries for both Scott Sommer and Ted Mooney in the latest volume of Contemporary Literary Criticism.

They’re both 1951’ers, like me – but I’ll get in there eventually; meanwhile, it’s good to see baby boomers represented, and I was particularly gratified to see Rick Peabody’s review of Scott’s last novel included in his entry.

After having dinner at Danny’s in the Broward Mall, I came back here for the evening.

Last night on the 11 PM news, the CLAST hearings at BCC were featured.

Although the school administration favors scrapping the test, Dr. Grasso appeared as a holdout in favor of it for “student accountability.” For once, I agree with the administration: CLAST will cause more trouble than anything.

Last night, for the first time in months, I dreamed about Sean – three times.

In the first dream I was back at the University of Miami’s registration, sitting and feeling bored as I watched TV. Sean and a friend came by, and behind the safety of a newspaper, he kissed my cheek.

The second dream took place in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where I was in a restaurant with my family. Sean met me there and we agreed to see The Big Chill, playing at a theater several blocks away. As we walked there, we were joined first by Elspeth and then by Ronna.

The last dream was a continuation of the second. At the movies, Sean took my hand and held it – just the way he surprised and delighted me by doing when we saw Victor/Victoria.

Monday, October 17, 1983

7 PM. I slept very well last night after an hour reading Emerson.

Registration began at BCC for the spring, but I still don’t have my schedule, and I’m not sure if I’ll be back on a full-time basis.

There’s a permanent vacancy at the North campus which they intend to fill for the spring, and I may apply for it, just to have something in reserve.

I taught my three classes today and enjoyed them; they’ll all be writing in class on Wednesday, so I’ll get a chance to catch up on my grading at that time.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I try to run in and out of the college, and so far no one seems to have noticed I’m gone.

Today I had a pretty pathetic negative workout, both because I was dizzy and because I ached from yesterday’s aerobic stretching and calisthenics.

At the post office on the way home, I picked up a handful of mail – a credit card bill, the usual magazines – and a long letter. Whoever wrote it misordered the pages.

Finally, I realized it was from Bob. It was one of the most shocking letters I ever received. Bob revealed that it’s been he who’s been calling me up and not saying anything; he’s been afraid to.

So much for all my romantic fantasies. . .

Bob is really sick mentally. He’s been forced out of his job at the high school, he said, because the state said he couldn’t teach without a certificate.

He writes:

So what’s new? I was supposed to check into a hospital for psychiatric treatment – severe depression – but I could not afford to do that. No insurance. I have been seeing a psychiatrist . . . I think I was ready to crack again.

You understand. It comes about once every two years. They are feeding me so many pills that I need a computer to keep track. They also suggested I stay away from people who I met over the past year so that I could simply relax and not think about so many things.

I try calling you and Patrick sometimes, but I hang up before I finish dialing. They really said I had to start again and clear my head of everyone and everything if the medication was going to work. So all I do is write. I write and write until I am literally sick.

He says he got the Herald and the Sun-Sentinel to interview him about his getting some “shitty literary award” and said he kept mentioning me and Patrick.

The letter is so disjointed:

A reporter called up from the Sun and wanted to speak with me but a friend answered and said I was away on vacation. I really do not understand. It seems to me I should talk to any reporter who shows an interest.

Is this normal?

I am going to Club Med for a week. I leave Thursday. Can you believe it? Me at Club Med? Suppose I lose my pills in the ocean? The whole Club Med will swim and become doped. . .

Then I’m supposed to go to Atlantic [Atlanta?] for a translation convention. They tell me I’ll meet publishers there who will be looking for translators. I’ll probably stay in my room. I hope they have cable. . .

He ends by writing about grade problems he had with a student, and how he had to fight Dr. Grasso all the time he was at BCC:

All this while I was simply trying to teach at the high school and stay sane. . . I think my teaching career is over. I do not think I will ever be able to teach a class again. I’ve had it.

In any case, I wish you the very best and I hope we can keep in touch. I feel bad. I haven’t even been able to call Patrick . . .

– Bob

The poor guy. He sounds as though he’s really had a breakdown. Probably he’s manic-depressive – or what they now call “major-category” depressive.

I called Lisa at the BBYO office and told her she shouldn’t hold Bob’s letter to her against him, that he’s really mentally ill. She mentioned that Monica told her an article about Bob did appear in the Sun-Sentinel.

Lisa said Bob told her his mother was a manic-depressive and that he held off for months before telling his parents he wasn’t rehired at BCC.

Lisa also said: “So they wouldn’t give me an interview because they thought I was on the same level as an alcoholic [Dave] and a mental case [Bob]. They probably thought I was a lesbian – or a radical.”

Lisa sounded very unhappy at work: “I make all these speeches about my kids’ work and Zionism and stuff – but I don’t believe anything of what I’m saying – and I end up getting these old Jewish ladies all fired up anyway.”

She asked me to be her date at her friend Debbie’s wedding, but I don’t own a suit or even a sport jacket that fits properly.

I called Patrick before he left his office to teach his auto mechanics at the vocational center, and I read him Bob’s letter.

Patrick was silent mostly, though he sighed a lot. He said his wife thought Bob was very strange at that reading when Bob said his mother was a prostitute.

And Patrick told me that when Bob substituted for Mrs. Hiltzer, Bob told the class she’d gone for an abortion. That got back to Dr. Grasso and caused more trouble.

But Patrick hasn’t heard from Bob himself; he said he thought Bob had gotten really involved in some Jewish singles group.

Jesus, I feel I should have been better to Bob. I never gave him much thought. The guy wasn’t my friend, but he had no one to turn to, and obviously the fact that he wrote this letter to me indicates something. Wow.

Tuesday, October 18, 1983

6 PM. I’m tired after a long day.

Up at 6 AM, I did benefit from a good night’s sleep, but still managed to feel sleepy during the day.

At 8 AM, I had a rather low-key class discussion of Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg,” a story I enjoy but since LIU days have never been able to get students to like. It must be the cynical attitude of the story.

During the break, I did some grading and other busywork and then went to Mom’s, where I slept on the couch for an hour.

My 12:30 PM class was also low-key, as I didn’t have much to do and had little energy for teaching.

After a chat with Selma, who was waiting for her ride from Social Services, I went to the computer workshop with many of the other Communications Division faculty members.

Basically, Sue Spahn gave us some primitive hands-on experience with LOGO on the TRS-80 color computers. We did very primitive “programming,” drawing squares and triangles by making the LOGO turtle move and turn.

What I hate about computers is that they take everything so literally. When they respond I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT, you feel they’re pathetic, but also lovable.

Next week we start word processing, which is what I’m most concerned with.

I didn’t get out of school until 5 PM, so it was a 13-hour day. There was only a little mail, and I brought home a couple of slices of pizza for dinner.

Staying over in Davie tomorrow does break up the week a bit.

Wednesday, October 19, 1983

5 PM in Davie. Because of a clogged sinus, I had one of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had. I was dreaming by 9 PM last night and I didn’t get up – except for the usual post-dream awakenings and trips to the bathroom – for ten hours.

What dreams I had! There was Mark Savage, who shared his home not only with Consuelo and their kids but also with a pair of elephants.

In a rare dream, I was making love with Shelli and suddenly it came back to me how it felt to be on top of her, holding her, kissing her, seeing her face. And I was with Ronna and Ivan in another dream, playing sexually with both of them.

In yet another dream, Jonathan was deaf, communicating with sign language, and driving our whole family around Brooklyn.

If I could remember everything I dreamed, I’d be able to write a (boring) epic novel.

Well, I felt relaxed and energetic this morning, and even before school, I accomplished some tasks: went to the P.O., paid bills from Sears and the Herald, picked up my slacks at the cleaners.

The experiment in having my 101 classes write at school proved to be a failure. Almost no one could finish. I’m going to look over their papers and let them all write them over at home.

Weirdly, today I seemed to have some magnetic power, as people kept telling me how great I was.

The girl in my noon class who’s one of the theater people told me that Robbie Phillips, whom I had a year ago, said I was an excellent teacher.

Another guy in the class said he knew people who’d read my book and thought I was a good writer.

Bev, from the registrar’s office, told me: “Loads of kids are coming in who want you for English. Let me know when you get classes.”

And at the 11 AM break, I saw Clay at the snack bar. I’m sure my face betrayed the joy I felt at seeing him. As usual, he smiled broadly.

I’d almost forgotten how beautiful he was: that strawberry blond hair, broad shoulders, skinny body. Look, I know he ain’t the best looking guy around, but to me he’s gorgeous – the way Sean was.

I stopped to talk to him, explaining why I was back at BCC, asking him what his plans were.

Clay said he recently went to Washington to look at a couple of colleges – “I was going to go into marketing, but now I’m not sure” – American and GW, but he wasn’t impressed with them.

(“A lot of obnoxious JAPs,” I said, of American University, and he agreed.)

I had to go, but he did say, “See you, Richard,” calling me by my first name.

Look, I’m sure nothing will come of this, but if it’s going to, it will develop slowly – in the way good relationships always do.

If not . . .well, just seeing Clay around school gives me pleasure. And you gotta take pleasure where you can, right?

But I don’t want to become the popular hip young teacher at BCC Central – nor the gay teacher who hits on kids. It’s just that with Patrick and especially Lisa gone from the campus, I’ve got no one my age to relate to there anymore.

Florida is such a bad place to be a baby boomer. I feel so cut off from my generation.

After having lunch, I deposited my paycheck (I’ve got $1200 in checking but owe nearly four times that much) and had a nice workout.

I’ve got tons of papers to grade, and already I feel sleepy. Wednesday night at my parents’ really does break up the week, though.

Thursday, October 20, 1983

8 PM. I didn’t think it was possible to sleep so well and still be exhausted so early. But today was a lo-o-o-ng day (is that another example of me being cute?), and last night’s rest in Davie was very much needed.

Last evening I didn’t really do much grading, though I did go to BCC to work in the library on preparing lessons. I watched TV till 11 PM, and then slept pretty well until 7 AM.

An hour later, I was having a class on Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” getting very little response and carrying the ball myself.

Then I had a conference with a woman in the class who wants to be a writer (she has the talent). She has read my books and asked for advice on freelance markets and on the morality of writing about one’s friends and family. I tried to help.

Next, I graded papers for several hours, stopping to chat and to format the Scripsit word processing program to my very own diskette. It was easy, and I don’t seem to have the computer problems the older faculty members have. They really can’t relate to the computers.

At 12:30 PM I taught my 101 class, starting comparison/contrast.

One student brought his son, who was so cute as he raised his hand and would contribute to the discussion. I tried to take him seriously and not talk down to the kid; afterwards, the father thanked me for being so patient.

Patrick came over at 2:30 PM, after I’d spent half an hour tutoring another student, an ex-Coast Guardsman who’s bright but is having trouble with grammar.

Patrick told me he called Bob last night, and Bob said he was on tranquilizers and antidepressants. Apparently, Bob had lots of trouble controlling the kids at the high school: he treated them like college students and told them to leave or transfer out if they didn’t want to stay.

There was a blurb on the men’s page of today’s Sun-Sentinel about Bob, who also made Kitty Oliver’s column in the Broward Herald on Sunday.

It mentioned his award and the poetry contest he wants to set up “to bring greater understanding among the peoples of South Florida.”

I didn’t want to stay for the general faculty meeting in Bailey Hall (which was what Patrick had come for), but everyone kept telling us we must attend.

So I stayed 45 minutes and heard nothing of interest except the usual bullshit from the good ol’ boys who run Broward Community College.

I was anxious to get home because Mom had told me that Marc said there were lots of people calling my apartment in Miami.

Just as I entered the house, I caught one call: it was a reporter from the Des Moines Register, who wanted to interview me about my plan to move the U.S. capital to Davenport, Iowa. We had a good conversation.

From 5:45 PM to 6:30 PM, I was on the radio with Mike Morin on the “What’s My Line?” segment on WJOK radio in D.C.

Although I had difficulty making out what the callers were saying, I did pretty well – and after half an hour somebody guessed I was running for President and won a Richard Pryor album and some tickets to a show.

For another 30 minutes, Mike and I had a rousing good interview – and after we were off the air, he suggested I try to get on Letterman.

Marc called and said that this morning I’d gotten loads of calls from papers and radio stations; I’m missing so much now that I’m working almost all day, so I’d better get an answering machine or call-forwarding.

When Marc told me that Ed Hogan called, I phoned Boston. Ed wanted to update my bio for the long-delayed flyer, but of course I’m back teaching at BCC, so there’s not much to update.

The book is still selling well, with reorders from distributors and lots of sales to jobbers; they’re behind in filling orders and will be printing 500 more copies in paperback.

The University of Miami, apparently thinking I’m still a grad student there, sent me the Guaranteed Student Loan application to send to a lender – and I did. We’ll see what happens.