A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1982


Monday, March 1, 1982

8 PM. March already.

Amazingly, I managed to do all the chores on my list yesterday. After barely sleeping on Saturday night, I woke up early Sunday and read the papers, then typed up some mimeoed sheets for my classes and began marking papers.

Kevin called while I was in the shower. With my hair full of shampoo and my body soaking wet, I learned that we made Book Week in the Washington Post.

Kevin had been reading the book news column and was stunned to see a little piece on Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog – about the book’s title, of course.

He read it to me, and while the article didn’t comment on the contents of the book, of course the publicity is worth a great deal.

Kevin, being based in Washington himself, was even more impressed than I was – especially since he says the Post, like most papers, usually avoids local small presses like poison.

Since I haven’t seen either the Post piece or Kirkus Reviews, they aren’t quite real to me yet, but I do have hopes of getting more publicity and reviews.

Whether or not they translate into sales matters more to Kevin than to me, since I won’t get any more money even if Kevin sells out the whole first printing.

Buoyed by good news, I spent the afternoon in the sun, reading Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, a dear old friend of a book. Then I exercised, graded more papers, and went to bed at 9 PM.

For a change, I slept very well; when I sleep well like that, I awaken to find it’s hours earlier than I expected.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: Yesterday I was treated kindly in a Davie campaign wrap-up article in the West section of the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel.

In all three classes today, I taught grammar and had energetic, stimulating lessons. I enjoyed myself at school today.

The mail brought a postcard from Susan Mernit, who’s as happy as a clam on the second day of her movie’s shooting. She says the actors – old vaudevillians like Sally DeMay, who I met when we were trying out for the David Susskind show on short people a few years ago – are amazing.

On Saturday Rick Peabody asked if I’d be interested in doing an interview with Tom McHale for Gargoyle, and he also sent along Gretchen’s Journal, which George published as a special issue of Cumberland Journal.

After shopping at Publix, I came home this afternoon to exercise up a storm while watching soap operas.

Tomorrow night is the big candidates’ night at Davie Town Hall, and I’m starting to get anxious about it. I’m worried about hostile questions and looking stupid.

I think I know enough about the “issues,” but I don’t know whether I should stress the fact that I’m running only to give Art Lazear token opposition. Maybe I should just avoid that until I’m asked.

Anyway, the candidate forum is the last thing I have to do in this “campaign.” All the papers have interviewed me, I’ve been to the editorial boards (although their endorsements of Lazear – except for The Western News – have not yet appeared), and I can’t think of anything left to do.

Poor Art Lazear: he’ll be busy as hell, but that’s what he wants. Anyway, I’m a little scared, especially if there’s a large crowd and we’re covered by cable TV.

Gale Arnoux of Associated Writing Programs called to say they’d received the seconds to my nomination for the board of directors from Tom and Kevin, and I sent off a statement for the ballot.

I called Mikey, who says he’s been working on some very “trying” cases (pun). Larry got tickets for them for Thursday morning, March 18, so they’ll be here in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, March 2, 1982

10 PM. What a day!

I didn’t make a fool of myself in tonight’s televised candidates’ forum, and consider it a miracle that I managed to go on at all, considering that I was driving in a car that caught fire just a couple of hours before.

In fact, I’m lucky to be alive. I’ve had one of the most stressful days in a long time, and I look forward to some peace.

I slept poorly last night and woke up with a headache that remained all day and is still with me.

The Herald endorsed Lazear and said they didn’t know why I was running, except perhaps as some wry joke they didn’t understand.

That made me feel creepy, but I was buoyed when I saw Scott Campbell’s article on me on the third page of the Fort Lauderdale News West section. It has a gorgeous photo of me sitting cross-legged on my desk.

The article begins: I think Davie should attack Cooper City. We should quit annexing little pieces of land and just go for conquest. We could arm the police with tactical nuclear weapons. This would also serve as a warning to (Sunrise Mayor) John Lomelo.”

Welcome to the world of Richard Grayson, an ongoing political satirist in search of straight men. . . What can be done to improve Davie? ‘Move it to Vermont for the summer.’

Grayson also thought the name Davie is too informal and should be changed to David. . .

Grayson sits cross-legged on his desk. . . In this pose, he spoke in alternating textures of surprising good sense and surreal good humor. He began to look like what could happen if Indira Gandhi and Woody Allen had a child.

In addition to teaching he is the published writer of titles such as With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, all on sale at better leftover bins everywhere. . .

While some think there is no room for a candidacy like Grayson’s, perhaps local politics could use a touch of humor now and then. Politicians and the press have a tendency to take local politics extremely seriously. More, as most polls and voter turnouts show, than the public.

After that, Scott has me get serious – talking about consolidation, literacy, and teaching. And he writes that Art Lazear said “he thinks that by accident of alphabet, Grayson could pull in some votes but I’ll win.”

And I reply: “I’ll probably get the Davie intellectual vote, which I count as four.”

Nice! I thanked Scott over the phone.

After getting through my classes today, I called to make an appointment with the eye doctor because my lenses were getting very blurry. They said they’d take me right away.

I drove down to the beach and learned I had only 20/70 in my left eye; the doctor said my lenses were full of some kind of fungus and he replaced them both.

However, I may need a special lens because the astigmatism in my left eye has grown worse.

Because Dad’s car was in the shop, he had my station wagon and I took the Buick to the eye doctor.

A gas smell had been in the car all day, and as I drove home on Sunrise Boulevard, the smell became unbearable. Then the car started smoking up a storm.

I managed to get past the I-95 overpass and headed for a gas station but everyone there started screaming as I approached: “Get away from the pumps! Get away from the pumps! You’re on fire!”

Shit! I pulled into the furthest corner and ran out. Yellow flames were popping out from under the car.

“The gas line is on fire! She’s gonna blow!” screamed a heavy-set black woman who seemed to be in charge of the station.

I ran and called the fire department, but just as the fire trucks, the police, and the Florida Highway Patrol all got there, the fire put itself out. But it was still smoking and the car is a goner.

I called the AAA and Jonny, who came to pick me up. We had the car towed to the tow-truck driver’s service station, and Jonny took me home, where I changed into good clothes and went over to Davie Town Hall for the big event.

I’m at my parents’ house now and I think I’ll keep you in suspense about the rest until tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 3, 1982

8 PM. I was pretty frazzled by the time I got to Town Hall last evening.

I had planned several hours of quiet and exercise to put me in a positive frame of mind so that I would really shine in the “debate.”

But I was so worn out from the car disaster that I almost decided to go there and withdraw as a candidate; I thought that might be both gracious and a way of getting me out of a long night since I’d already received more than enough publicity and I’d made my serious point.

Few people were at Town Hall: the candidates, the press people who made up the panel, Renee and a Sun-Tattler photographer, and about a dozen citizens.

The format was quite odd: we were placed in the back room and called upon individually to come out and answer questions from the moderator, Mayor Suellen Fardelmann of Cooper City, and two reporters.

Before the debate, I checked myself in the TV camera since no mirror was available; then the cameraman told me I was being broadcast. (My parents, watching this at home, later told me they cringed at this point.)

Anyway, I was first and started weakly by half-apologizing for running. Although I was a bit stiff, as Chuck Eckstine told me later, I fielded all the questions well and was never at a loss for words.

Lazear came out next, then Toni Webb (who was so nervous she could hardly speak), and finally Bud Jenkins.

When I called Dad, he said Lazear sounded like a real politician, as did the rest, but I spoke my mind and was the only one who said people should realize we might have to raise property taxes.

We all got to deliver final statements, and Lazear knocked my proposals on consolidation and ended with a pious “God bless you all.”

After the debate, while I was speaking to some fellow ex-Brooklynites, I heard him say, to a man who said, “You have to respect him for running”: “He went around joking and swearing. He’s just an egotist and I have no respect for him.”

As I was about to leave, he called me over and hypocritically said some friendly words. He’s nothing but a two-faced politician, and I’m glad I didn’t withdraw.

I keep saying I’ll be happy with 10% of the vote, but I’d like to get twice that or more and maybe even give him a few sleepless nights.

Funny how one negative comment from my biased opponent could bother me more than all the praise I got in the papers.

Well, that’s the end of the campaign for me. I guess learning to field questions can’t hurt, and I think I know how a real candidate must feel in case I have to (or want to) write about it.

Because I have no car, I slept at my parents’ – which was odd. I had a bad night and felt crummy this morning.

Dad drove me to school, and somehow I managed to have three great classes, nice chats with fellow students and faculty and a very pleasant working day.

When Jonny picked me up at 1:30 PM, he told me, as Phyllis suspected, that he’s planning to drop out of college for a semester and see what working is like.

Last weekend he worked for Crazy Al, a guy who sells printings (clowns, rabbits, etc.) at Holiday Inns. Maybe it’s for the best: let Jonny work and see that world and perhaps somehow he’ll know what he really wants to do with his life.

I went out to dinner with the family for Mom’s birthday and they dropped me off at home. I have no car, but tomorrow is Staff Development Day at work and I don’t think I’m required to attend.

Thursday, March 4, 1982

4 PM. Today, for the first time in months, I had a day of doing nothing, and instead of feeling relief, I feel bored, headachy and overtired. I realize now that I never want to be out of work.

Two years ago my depression in Rockaway was caused by too much free time as well as by career problems and illness. I’m beginning to wonder if I want to be a writer after all.

Certainly I could never bring myself to write full-time, the way Scott Sommer does. (His new novel, The Last Resort, was praised wildly in PW and LJ although Josh told me he’d read a different review which criticized Scott for presenting such a depressed view of things.)

Like Pete Cherches, I think I’m moving more into the world of entertainment. My experience with the media can only serve to help me if I decide to make a new career. Oh, hell.

I slept soundly and had great vivid dreams; in one, Avis had given up Sikhism, dyed her hair platinum blonde, and become a punk rocker.

I spent most of today in bed, reading, watching TV, and listening to the radio.

Alice called to say that she’s going on a press junket to Costa Rica and will have a six-hour layover at Miami next Thursday. I’ll drive down so we can spend a few hours together. Great!

Last night I told Mom that she was beginning to remind me of her grandmother, Bubbe Ita. We’re all getting older (very profound, eh?) and I like the way we’re changing; life is a real soap opera.

Dad is very worried about the IRS. Now that all his W-2 forms are in, he discovered that he earned well over $100,000 last year and doesn’t have a penny to show for it.

If he hadn’t gotten the Sasson job when he did, he could afford to pay the mortgage for only one more month.

Right now, I’m pretty sure, we’re on the edge of worldwide depression. Unemployment is high, interest rates are still up there, and inflation has slowed considerably; gasoline prices are plunging because of the world’s oil glut and OPEC is running scared.

Some sections of America – the blacks, much of Michigan – are already in an economic depression. Reagan still intends to stick to his tax cuts and defense buildup, but no one is buying it.

They’re trying to give us Vietnam II in El Salvador, yet they won’t succeed, for people won’t stand for American military involvement there.

Every year of my life seems to bring that much more uncertainty and instability to the world.

My whole generation of baby boomers has grown up in a very different place than our parents did. For Mom and Dad in their twenties and thirties, every year seemed to be more prosperous and stable than the previous one.

When I’m Mom’s age, in twenty years, the world will probably be unrecognizable.

Even now it’s hard to believe that I used to register at Brooklyn College without computers, that I paid 33¢ a gallon for gas, 15¢ for a New York City bus ride, and 10¢ for a slice of pizza, and that Harry S. Truman was president when I was born.

See what a day without any work can do to me?

Josh sounded so depressed last night. He hates the computer field, and his only outlet seems to be the Nautilus machine at the gym.

As for myself, I still don’t have the slightest idea what’s going to happen after this summer. (That’s a passive way of putting it, ain’t it? See, I must be at least mildly depressed.)

No word from Saul Cohen in weeks. No doubt every publisher in sight is rejecting my manuscripts when he sends them out.

Saturday, March 6, 1982

11 PM. Being alone on the weekend is probably good for me, preventing me from taking my ambitions too seriously. Sometimes I think I’m losing contact with the person I used to be.

After being in Florida for so many months, I’ve forgotten a great deal about my life in New York – as an undergraduate, grad student and adjunct.

It will be good to see Alice on Thursday, if only for a few hours. For 25 years, Alice has been a constancy in my life, and though she’s changed enormously, too, we know where we’ve come from.

I have no idea if I’ll ever find the kind of life I want – because I have no idea what kind of life that is. But I am pleased that I’m doing some unusual things.

I spent tonight watching Auntie Mame. I first saw it in 1958 at either the old Roxy (long gone – all I remember of it are the incredibly elaborate staircases with regal red carpeting) – or at Radio City (soon to be torn down, according to a Village Voice article I read today).

If life is a banquet, I have eaten pretty well in the intervening years. It would have been funny if I’d died when my car blew up on Tuesday.

Like a lot of people, I fantasize about others’ reactions to my death, but since I’m not dying like Ivan Ilych, it’s easy to leave it at that. I think I’d get quite a nice turnout at my funeral and if someone saw to it, I could get a decent obituary right away and the maybe some posthumous literary recognition.

Phoo – why do I let myself go on like this?

I slept soundly from 9 PM until 7 AM and woke up to my Caribbean music show on WLRN radio.

It was a dark, rainy morning, a perfect day to spend in bed, but I was at my parents’ house by 11 AM, switching channels on their cable TV but unable to find anything interesting on thirty stations.

John Belushi died in his room yesterday: he was 33 and the autopsy seems to indicate nothing. They’re calling it “natural causes.” It’s spooky to think that someone my age can die of natural causes, whatever the hell they are.

A story I wrote at MacDowell got accepted by Welter, a magazine at the University of Baltimore. Called “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz,” it’s a story about Josh, of course. I’m glad it’s accepted. (Sun Dog at FSU in Tallahassee rejected “Arby’s.”)

Still, all my stories – including the ones in the new book – seem very remote to me now.

I remember how I used to anxiously await the mail for the day’s rejections and acceptances, and how excited I felt when a new story would arrive in a little magazine; I’d rush off to the Junction to xerox it.

Those days seem so innocent now, so naïve. The book I’d really like to see published is A Version of Life, and I don’t know what’s happening with it. Also, I’m afraid to see it because it may not be the book I think I wrote.

Strange: I just had a flashback to the 1964 World’s Fair, to the Federal Pavilion – I can see it on a fairgrounds map – to the ride that my 8SPE2 class (Mr. Neil Berger, homeroom teacher) took within the building and how we all got copies of the front page of the Herald Tribune for the day we were born.

My front page was about Korea and a plane crash and Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran.

Where was I and what does that have to do with anything? I’m sleepy.

Overall, I think none of this is worth anything because within my lifetime there will probably be a nuclear war which will end everything – but most especially, end consciousness.

At least if I die – make that “when I die” – people will still be around who remember me and my work. But, if nobody’s here, what’s the point of anything?

A new book says that thermonuclear war is more likely than not, and yet all of us daily ignore the possibility as we avoid thinking about it: Some crazy movie actor pushes a button and millions of years of evolution, not to mention human progress, comes to an end.

Of course, if you’re interested, I didn’t do much today. I read and exercised and found the Post Book World item in the library, and I shopped and ate a great cheeseburger at lunch and masturbated before breakfast.

Monday, March 8, 1982

3 PM. I feel as though I’m coming down with a cold. The weather has turned sunny but quite cool, and I think I got a bit chilled during the night. I didn’t sleep very well, either. But, I came home an hour ago and exercised and I plan to rest for the remainder of the day until it’s time to go to Selma’s at 8 PM.

I taught grammar in all three classes today and am a little hoarse from that; also, I’m tense about the election and the trip to Cocoa Beach and even Alice’s visit on Thursday.

School went quickly today; I do enjoy BCC, and teaching three hours a day no longer seems like very much.

For the first time in a couple of weeks, I had a big batch of mail. The best news was that my tax refunds from the IRS and New York both arrived. I immediately deposited the $440 in the bank. Thus ends my immediate cash flow problems.

After this Wednesday’s check, I will have about $2,000 in the bank. It’s so good not to have to worry about paying bills.

“Arby’s” was rejected by Epoch and Iowa Review, and I’m beginning to think it will be very difficult to place.

Probably it would do better as a chapbook. It’s not literary enough for a literary magazine and not the type of thing a slick mag would go for. Another rejection also arrived. But at least I got the Welter acceptance on Saturday to get me through these rejections.

Stacy writes that she is madly in love (to the point of getting swollen glands) with a co-worker, a (female) fellow New York City civil servant. What to do? she queries. How would I know?

And Kevin’s clips of Book World and Kirkus arrived, but so did a sample issue of Kirkus which I’d ordered.

The review is bad: they said “boorishly [not “boyishly”] charming” and only “intermittently amusing.”

But they also panned John Hawkes, Meg Wolitzer (Hilma’s daughter), Linda Grey Sexton (Anne’s daughter – though she got more respect) and almost everybody – while they gave stars to Ken Follett and a couple of Regencys.

I think I understand Kirkus. They like to think of themselves as the arbiters of which books will be big, and they give good reviews to books which they know will prove popular. (Self-fulfilling prophecy at work here).

They can afford to take cheap shots at small press or experimental books, and they always cover their tracks by giving some backhanded compliment.

Anyway, now I get what they’re about, so the review bothers me not at all. Well, maybe a little.

Debby Mayer did get a good review for her novel, Sisters, which sounds almost like a YA – and like Scott Sommer’s books, it’s been sold to the movies.

Of course, I’m working a different side of the street, and the stories in Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog were all written between 1970 and 1977, over five years ago. I don’t feel they’re a true reflection of my present writing abilities but instead are an adolescent’s trying out a number of styles.

Too, I’m not wedded to a self-image as a writer; my identity doesn’t rise or fall with good or bad reviews.

Do I protest too much? Perhaps. Some quotes from Kirkus:

Grayson’s two story collections together suggest the literary equivalent of a kid’s messy room: cozy for the kid, junk strewn everywhere, but horrifying to anyone standing in the doorway. . . Pitiful indeed are many of these stories – cheap, silly, little more than names, puns and jokes about the author’s desperation for readers. . . For the most part, juvenile literary clowning, only faintly – and erratically – amusing.

You can’t win ’em all.

Tuesday, March 9, 1982

4 PM. I feel so damn lucky. Yes, because I’ve been privileged to be a candidate in today’s election and be a part of the political process – because I’ve gotten so much support from the people of Davie, blah blah blah . . .

That’s what Art Lazear will say at his victory party at the Arrowhead Country Club. But I was luckier than he. Any votes I do get will be gravy, and all I’ve had in this election is fun and no work.

When I voted this morning, not one of the poll workers recognized me though the man who took my ballot said jokingly, “It feels like a winner.” I am already a winner.

I don’t know what I’ll do tonight.

I could go over to Toni Webb’s buffet or to see Day for Night at BCC. I could stay home or go to my parents’. No one will be able to reach me there because my parents and Jonny are going to dinner with Aunt Sydelle at Turnberry.

I would really prefer to be alone and incommunicado, but I may be too excited to do that. I know I’ll dream about the vote.

Yesterday afternoon, I went over to xerox all my recent articles and reviews.

At the copy center, I met Debby Rosen, the North Campus English instructor, who was xeroxing union stuff. I helped her collate it and we had a fine talk. She said I’d like the North Campus better because the teachers there are younger and hipper.

Then I went to the Tamarac library, to Arby’s for dinner, and then home to relax until it was time to go over to Selma’s.

Brad called from his grandmother’s and we chatted briefly; it was great to hear from him and to know that he still cares after all these years.

As it turned out, I was the only person at Selma’s except for Dottie, this woman who went into a long spiel, complete with those blackboard diagrams, about Amway.

I felt embarrassed, but I also figured it would be interesting to listen to if I ever wanted to do a story about these kinds of scams.

While I was polite, I kept pointing out the problems with the program being a pyramid scheme, the problems with marketing, etc., and I said I would never get into something without researching it carefully.

Selma seems to have fallen for it. The positive, enthusiastic manner obviously hooked someone in desperate need of hope because of her stroke and her husband leaving her.

I suppose a lot of people are gullible enough to be taken in by Amway.

When the woman realized I wasn’t interested and wouldn’t budge, we had coffee and ended up having a great conversation about her son, 13, who’s had severe school phobia for five years.

He seems to have all the symptoms I had but to a much greater degree. It’s hard for him even to enter a school building.

Because the boy can’t hide his problem the way I managed to, it’s become a behavioral problem for the teachers.

Dottie has had terrible battles with unsympathetic teachers and administrators. I told her to consider trying Triavil or some other antidepressant/tranquilizer for her son.

Thanks to two Triavils, last night I slept soundly, dreaming of beautiful Brooklyn scenes, and I woke up feeling refreshed.

I was in top form as I went over The Death of Ivan Ilych this morning and process analysis in the afternoon.

Today I felt super-capable, handsome, intelligent, and proud of myself. I stayed in school, marking papers, until 3 PM, and then I had a late lunch at Denny’s.

The votes won’t be in for hours, but this has already been a super day.

Wednesday, March 10, 1982

8:30 PM. I’ve just been lying on the floor in darkness, trying to calm myself. This was how I spent most of yesterday after 4 PM.

I decided not to go to any parties but to try to relax and meditate about what running for Town Council accomplished.

At 10 PM Teresa Defino of the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel called and told me I’d gotten 357 votes – just over 25% of the ballots cast.

My words to her, “They won’t have Dick Grayson to kick around anymore. After this defeat, I’m leaving town and moving to Sunrise,” found their way into this morning’s paper.

When Renee called and asked if I’d run again, I said, “No. Running for Town Council is like kissing your sister. It’s okay the first time but you don’t want to do it again.” That was in today’s Sun-Tattler.

I was very pleased at my share of the vote, though it was about what I expected, and I called Teresa and Josh to tell them about it.

On the 11 PM news, the election results showed up on the screen: GRAYSON 357 26% LAZEAR 1,049 75% [sic] , just as if it were a big time election.

And this morning on the 7:25 AM local break during Good Morning, America, the newscaster goofed and said that Toni Webb and “college instructor Richard Grayson” won even though we both were defeated.

But WPLG was right in one respect: I am a winner.

Running was an ego trip, of course, but I didn’t really hurt anyone or make myself look ridiculous. I got lots of publicity, almost all excellent, and I made myself known.

Also, I achieved a sense of poise at editorial board meetings, and at the televised candidate’s night. I did achieve my goal of actually being a candidate on a ballot, and one out of every four Davie voters, for whatever reason, gave me their support.

I was so “up” this morning: I enjoyed bantering with the teachers, secretaries and students at BCC, and I had three very good classes.

It was fun seeing the election stories in the paper; it’s come to the point where I can no longer afford to xerox every article about me. At 1:30 PM, I left school, deposited my paycheck, and came home. But I found it hard to unwind.

Unwinding became impossible after 6 PM, when Josh phoned to tell me I’d made this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.

Edwin McDowell used the material I’d sent him in his column, “Books and Authors.” Josh read it to me – all he’d seen was my name in caps at the beginning before he called – and then I ran out to the mall to buy ten copies in the bookstore.

Two of my lit students work at the register and I told them about it: the whole experience all seemed so perfect.

The item was called “A Broader Constituency,” and mentioned that Hitler sold only 500 copies, so I was looking for a best-selling title.

He mentioned my 150 stories in little mags, that I work at Broward Community College and live in Davie, Florida, and discussed the good and bad reviews I’d received. It was a wonderful piece.

The New York Times Book Review: I sneaked in with a letter last spring, and now I’ve gotten in a mention in a column item. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get in the front door with a real review.

But until then, God bless Mr. McDowell. Everybody literary reads TBR – and some will remember the item from the Post’s Book World. I feel too lucky, even though I worked to get those mentions and all the publicity.

Will this mean fame and fortune? I doubt it, not right away. I’m not sure I want it now; it might overwhelm me.

Alice will be in Miami tomorrow. Then I think I’ll take Friday off, so I won’t feel so pressured about driving to Cocoa Beach after school.

I’m so grateful for everything that’s been happening. Life is almost unbearably sweet.