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


Monday, March 22, 1982

7 PM. I did manage to mark the papers to give back to today’s classes, but I haven’t yet marked the papers for tomorrow’s lit class. Perhaps an hour tonight and an hour in the morning will do it.

Teresa phoned last night. She said that the New York County Committee dinner is next week, and few seats or tables have been sold.

Whether this is due to the recession, the general lack of interest in the county committee, or the fact that $150 is steep when they just had a $100-a-plate-dinner in the fall, Teresa isn’t sure – but she is anxious that it will go well.

Two weeks ago Frank was named press secretary to Ed Koch; Frank called Teresa to tell her, and now that she’s no longer working for him, she and Frank get along well.

“Stupid me,” Teresa remarked. “Instead of sleeping with him, I should have been learning from him. He’s the best P.R. man in politics and I’m sure Koch will be Governor now because Frank can shtup the press.”

Teresa has decided not to take the job with the state convention, so she may get here earlier than April 4. Deirdre will also be flying here from San Francisco, and she’s excited about seeing Teresa after all this time, too.

I imagine things will be more relaxed then, and I can spend time loafing with Teresa and Deirdre and their families.

This morning I had my 100 classes bring in the Miami Herald and we looked at articles. It’s sad that so many of them are unfamiliar with newspapers and can’t understand much of them.

After Jim and I watched the space shuttle blast off, I checked my departmental mailbox.

A little handicapped boy in Rego Park asked me for my autograph; I was quite touched. And some man asked for a review copy of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

Both letters were sent to me at school, no doubt a result of the Times Book Review column.

Publishers Weekly reviewed The Montmarte Murders by Richard Grayson, which – amazingly enough – also has a pub date of May 5.

I’m getting nervous: if they don’t review me in the next two issues, I’m sunk. I still feel I’ll get a review in PW, however.

VCCA accepted me for July 12 to August 1, and I might go there instead of to Ragdale. It’s cheaper, more familiar, and Cathy and other friends might be there.

The Fine Arts Council gave me a report form to fill out about what I’ve done with my fellowship money, but it doesn’t have to be done until July.

And like a fool, I applied for three more jobs in the Associated Writers Program Job List.

Paul Fericano sent me his mini-book, the poem Sinatra, Sinatra, which is a small masterpiece. It won “the Howitzer Prize,” given by the Newton Foundation of Las Vegas. What a card Paul is.

Mike Winerip and a Herald photographer came at noon; he read Hitler while she spent my 101 class photographing me as I tried to give a lesson on commas. It was all very disconcerting, but the students took it well.

I wonder if I could be rehired at Broward Community College, or if, in fact, all my publicity is damaging. Drs. Pawlowski and Grasso regard me with a jaundiced eye, and I fear the other teachers think I’m a self-aggrandizing showoff.

Mike took me to lunch at Hurdy Gurdy’s and spent two hours hurling questions at me. He’s a serious man who aspires to write in-depth New Yorker-type articles, and I can tell he’s a very precise journalist and also very painstaking with his work.

I didn’t ask him what he thought of my work and told him I was too shy to do so. Some of his questions were very difficult, and I felt wary about sounding either too pompous or too simple.

He thinks I’m doing something “noble” – and I feel very embarrassed at the thought. Mike also thinks my publicity stunts are a waste of time: “Why bother?”

Of course there’s a contradiction in my attraction to media celebrity and my revulsion toward it.

Mike Winerip isn’t going to make me sound like an asshole, but I’ve had a bad feeling about this article from the beginning. I can’t explain it, but I feel it will get me into trouble somehow.

Oh, well, I asked for publicity, so I shouldn’t complain.

Wednesday, March 24, 1982

4 PM. Although it just turned cloudy, it’s been very hot again today.

I spoke to Josh last night. He wanted advice on putting out the first issue of his literary magazine.

Artie has seen Bob Hershon at the Print Center, and they’ve decided to make it a typewriter-typeset, camera-ready, 8½” x 11” job – 250 or 500 copies. They’ve got work by John Fahey, Bukowski, Burroughs, Grayson and a few others.

I’m glad Josh and Artie are getting involved with a little magazine, but I think they’re quite ignorant about production.

Josh’s brother has decided to move to South Florida and start a new life, which probably means that Josh will be down here sometime in the next year – which is good news for me.

I also spoke with Kevin, who said he’d gotten absolutely no response to the Times Book Review mention. Kevin is trying to get me on the nationally-syndicated, Washington-based Charlie Rose Show, and he thinks we have a shot at it: that’s the program Denis O’Donovan appeared on.

All last evening I read Mina Curtiss’s Other People’s Letters, a somewhat pompous but interesting memoir by a woman of letters. A biographer of Bizet and a Proust scholar, Curtiss knew the Bloomsbury set and was analyzed by Ernest Jones.

I feel safer away from any kind of literary life and I’m not sure that genteel way of life survives in our junk culture. The closest I’ve come to it is at MacDowell and VCCA.

Tom sent me the new Umbra today and I greatly enjoyed reading his students’ brilliant work.

I read aloud some of the prose pieces in the office, and while the other teachers were amazed that high school kids could write on that level, they all said they “hated surrealism.” Jacqui said she thought it was unhealthy to teach such things to teenagers. That’s BCC for you.

This morning I taught comma use in my 100 classes and then had my 101 class write (though most of them didn’t finish and took their papers home).

I had a conversation with Jennifer Epstein, whose husband works for the Herald’s Neighbors section. She’d love a full time job in the English Department despite not having a master’s, and I hear she’s sucking up to everyone. She’s a little too sweet for my taste.

Mick is away this week, and while he’s supposed to be at a conference (in either Tallahassee or Gainesville), Phyllis tells me she thinks he’s looking for a job at another college.

With 48 TBA sections now listed for the fall, I think chances are good that I’ll be asked back at BCC as a full-time temporary.

Casey and I went to the Hitching Post for lunch, and it was fun to go out with someone for a change.

I guess I have made friends at BCC – not people to whom I could be as close as my New York friends, but that will never happen. On our drive back, I noticed Sean cycling home: he skipped my class again today.

We got our paychecks, so I paid my electric and phone bills – about $65 combined, an easy sum for me to get together. Right now I have $950 in checking, $450 in savings, another $450 at the S&L, and $300 at my credit union.

For the rest of my time in Florida, I should have no money problems, but I’ve got to be wary of spending money too freely.

Kevin owes me $500, but I’m in no hurry to be paid back. If the book doesn’t sell, I’ll take more copies rather than money.

After this week, we’ve got four more weeks to this term, a week of finals, a few days off and then the first summer session. In three months I’ll be back in the Big Apple.

Saturday, March 27, 1982

9 PM. Saturdays are the most pleasant day of the week: I get up to the sounds of my Caribbean music show on WLRN. Then I have a leisurely breakfast and read the papers in bed, I drop by my parents’ house to get the mail, and I sit with them as they come in after their run and eat bagels and watch cable TV. In the afternoon I read and exercise and shop and think.

I’ve been thinking about something Governor Graham said yesterday on All Things Considered: that Florida is the future.

What he meant, of course, is that what America will be like in the 21st century can best be seen by what’s happening right now here. Our demographic pattern, for example: so many elderly and retired people. Our housing: clusters of condo villages. Our economy, based on services and information rather than products or manufacturing. Our more leisure-time lifestyle. The cable TV revolution. Miami’s status as a Third World city and more.

I’ve become, somewhat to my surprise, a dyed-in-the-polyester Floridian. Florida is the closest thing to California the East Coast has, and being here has been great for me. I don’t regret moving at all, and it would take something special to get me to go somewhere else just now.

Last night I called Tom, and in passing he offered me a full-time job at NOCCA that Dr. Tews said he could have for another writer – but I’d rather stay here.

I had called to compliment Tom on Umbra (earlier, I’d written a letter to his students).

He told me Jeanie Thompson got all exercised over the TBR mention of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Jeanie thought I actually was trying to manufacture a bestseller – that’s so typical of someone without a sense of humor – and that my AWP Board of Directors campaign statement was “radical.”

In it, I wrote that I sought to represent the younger members who will never find full-time creative writing jobs (I finally got a letter of rejection from the University of Denver today) and that “AWP seems to be a collection of self-satisfied professors who cease being interested in young writers when we stop being tuition-paying students.”

All the other candidates for the Board are quite stuffily academic (except for two of the organization’s designated candidates, both now academics, so even AWP sees what I see about their organization). What is it they say about generals who are always fighting the last war?

I spoke to Pete Cherches about this today. He’s out of academia (though he’s got a great no-show tutoring job at Brooklyn College) and is moving into performance.

Pete and his musician-accompanist have been playing clubs with their 40-minute act, and I bet he wows them. He says that even non-arty, non-literary friends of his brother’s like his stuff, which leads him to think he has commercial appeal.

Pete is going to record “It’s Uncle” for a regular disco-type or rap record format – and he is also doing video and has another book coming out. (He told me I could use the Zone Press imprint for Eating at Arby’s and that printing – excluding typesetting – should be under $500.)

Pete said that Harrison Fisher, a very talented poet our age – widely published, very accessible and weird (Tom Ahern sent me Fisher’s terrific UHFO along with his other Diana’s Almanac Press books just this week) – has become frantic at not being able to get a job in academia and has decided to settle for that same fellowship deal that SUNY/Albany offered me back in 1979.

Fisher will hate it in that ultra-conservative, deadly-dull academic pit.

God, I can’t believe bright people like Wade McAllister are actually still doing doctoral dissertations on Henry James! I’ve given up on academia, and knew it last week when I clipped out an ad for a fiction writer at Williams College and didn’t bother to apply.

Forget it, it’s a dead place. And no more bitterness. Our generation of writers will be better than Baumbach, Spielberg, and company precisely because we weren’t handed cushy jobs teaching la-di-da subjects. (By the way, BCC ain’t academia: it’s high school).

The Sinclair Corporation wrote that they’ve been deluged with orders for the ZX81 so there will be a delay, but mine will be delivered in a month. The Voice said the ZX81 is a good computer on which to learn BASIC – “which all third graders will know in a decade.”

Now, in all this looking forward, am I losing the soul of literature? I don’t think so.

Jane DeLynn wrote – and she’s right – that serious novels are boring. If you couldn’t force me to read Anne Tyler or Gail Godwin, how do you think you’re going to get younger, less intelligent people to read them? Even brilliant literary-minded kids like Bill-Dale Marcinko wouldn’t be interested.

Somehow all of this – Florida, computers, the end of academia, the total decline of commercial New York literary publishing, the cable revolution, the emphasis on celebrities in a junk culture, we baby boomers aging along bumpily – will all come together.

And I think I’m in a better position to record all this than an effete Manhattan intellectual like James Atlas, even though he’s smarter and a better writer than I am. I’d rather emulate Richard Kostelanetz.

Well, that’s enough ranting and raving for now. It’s time for jazz and Proust.

Sunday, March 28, 1982

2 PM. It’s my kind of Sunday: cloudy, windy, cool, and lazy.

Last night I called Paul Fericano in California and we chatted for an hour. Kathy was at her mother’s, so Paul was glad I called.

At first I pretended to be an attorney for Ol’ Blue Eyes initiating a lawsuit over Sinatra, Sinatra, but Paul knew it was I.

The little chapbook has gotten an enormous amount of publicity because of the hoax of the Howitzer Prize, which both San Francisco papers and numerous other press people have taken seriously.

Paul is so like me: he’s funny, innovative, and sharp in using the media.

He and Kathy are involved in a heavy fight to bring rent control to Millbrae (their own rent went up $50), and he’s getting a lot of publicity on that, too.

His Commercial Break is being printed at Braun-Brumfield now, but it should be great; the Sinatra publicity is paving the way. Since the chapbook costs only 20¢ to mail, Paul sent out 500 copies.

We talked like old friends – which, by now, we are.

After waking up late, I read the Herald in bed, went out and bought the Times, had tacos for lunch, and now I’m home, my lenses off, in my shorts, intending to sleep and exercise and read the News/Sun Sentinel and force myself to grade all these papers.

Dad went to New York yesterday. Jonny said he loves his job at the army/navy store, where he makes $95 a week.

Monday, March 29, 1982

9:30 PM. I just watched the last episode of Brideshead Revisited. It was not the greatest TV series ever done, but it was quite good. What I liked most about it was its extraordinary faithfulness to the novel. The TV series moved slowly, languidly, like a book.

Last night I got to thinking that maybe I’m too practical these days. All my talk of computers and cable TV and reading The Wall Street Journal – it’s going overboard.

I’d like to spend time away from TV and newspapers and the cacophony of the junk culture. I’d like to read good literature. I’d like to write stories again – or a novel.

But I find that as a writer, I am always going into the world and then staying away from it. I can’t lose sight of my original goal: to create, to be honest, to show my view of the world.

I didn’t start out to become “rich and famous” – I don’t need that. Could I possibly live all that much better than I live now?

I slept soundly even though I kept waking up amazed that it wasn’t yet morning. When morning finally did come, I was – despite ten hours of sleep – quite tired.

It was an atypical Florida day: cool, dark, rainy and extremely windy, as if we were having an old-fashioned Nor’easter.

My acne has flared up for the first time in months, and I felt fat and bloated today, with dirty, messy hair. Still, I managed to get through all my classes without disgracing myself.

Sat Darshan sent me $8 for my book (although “Avis Camerlengo” signed the check).

She said that Dharma Singh is considering studying Eastern medicine (acupuncture, acupressure) under the tutelage of a doctor in Los Angeles; they’ll consult Yogi Bhajan to see if it’s a good idea.

She isn’t crazy about going to Southern California, but “Libby is there and you will be too when you start going on talk shows and making movie deals.”

Miriam liked my clippings and sent them off to Ed Hogan. She was surprised the TBR piece was about the concept of my book and not its contents, but Miriam is very naïve when it comes to the real world.

In another age, she might have been an important poet – but she’s not going to be because the future will have no important poets.

In the late afternoon, I went down to the Koubek Center in Miami (in Little Havana, the place where the Miami Waves Festival took place in October) and was in the audience for the first of three programs National Public Radio’s All Things Considered is doing from Florida.

Susan Stamberg and Sanford Ungar, the hosts, were on stage, as were the director, the crew and all the tapes; most of the show was already recorded.

There were features on the rural Panhandle, on the Palm Beach social set, on Liberty City two years after the riots, and on Miami’s new status as the capital of Latin America.

The show strengthened my belief that Florida is a good place to be right now. It wouldn’t hurt me to establish myself as a “Florida writer”; right now I could have the territory all to myself, as it were. (In New York City, every third person is a writer.)

The sun emerged from the clouds just before dark, and the ride home on the turnpike was pleasant because of the weird, clarifying light.

Well, I’m going to watch the boring Oscars now; at school I put a dollar in the Oscar pool.

Tuesday, March 30, 1982

9 PM. I was feeling very sorry for myself for a few hours this afternoon, but I got over it quickly. A beautiful sunset, a decent meal, a bath, and a phone call to Josh made me see how stupid I was being.

I was disappointed that Publishers Weekly didn’t review me; now it’s unlikely that they will because of the time limit. If it’s not in next week’s issue, we can forget about PW – and that means no reviews in Library Journal or any other places, no sales for Kevin, and nothing for me.

But Mike Winerip said the Herald feature story on me will appear this weekend or next week, and Josh told me that I made Ed McDowell’s column in the Sunday Times Book Review again.

So I cannot complain about any lack of publicity. And I probably need to feel ignored, a little, just to keep me fighting, struggling, on edge.

Part of my unhappiness stemmed from disgust with my looks: I’m incredibly flabby and my acne has flared to an all-time record – no, that’s not true; it just hasn’t been this bad in the last few years.

This morning Sean was sitting in the lobby when I came in, and I sat down next to him to chat.

I learned he’s only 17 years old. (Jailbait!)

He’s lived in South Florida all his life and got out of Nova High School early to take BCC classes in this, his senior year.

He was going to transfer to a Florida university, but “now it’s getting too late,” so he’ll probably stay at BCC another year even though the classes here are easier than the honors classes he took in high school.

Sean has no idea of what he wants to do or be, but he’s very intelligent (his papers are all brilliant) and seems sensitive. He said he likes disco but also Haydn. He just got his driver’s license and wears braces on his teeth.

We talked obliquely about gayness, discussing the films Making Love and Personal Best – but I guess I intellectualized too much.

Sean is cute but not handsome. He doesn’t really have the body type I like, nor the features: he’s tall and skinny without muscles, and he doesn’t have dark or blond hair but kind of mousy medium-brown.

Logically, Mr. Spock, I shouldn’t be attracted to him at all. I’ve had (and have) other gay students, and I’ve certainly met many men I find a lot more attractive.

What I feel for Sean isn’t so much sexual attraction: that’s part of it, but only part. I can’t help it, it’s weird, but I feel like I love him.

Of course nothing will happen between us, and my infatuation with Sean will pass. He’s much too young for me to have a relationship with; it would be statutory rape, after all.

But I’ll always bless him because he’s made me feel alive again: I think my feelings for Sean are the forerunner of a mature, real love for me – I can feel it.

I’m sure Sean’s already into that glitzy gay scene, that he goes to bars and has lovers. He probably thinks I’m an old fuddy-duddy – and I am.

Hell, how can I expect to relate to a 17-year-old when I can’t even relate to my own brothers?

Between classes, when I went over to Mom’s, she told me she thinks that Marc needs a shrink. He was terribly upset last night.

Marc told Mom he’s racked with guilt about the incidents with Rikki and Fredo, and that he takes drugs to escape his problems. He doesn’t want to go back to New York, for there’s nothing for him there. (Mom suspects he owes people a great deal of money.)

Mom said that he needs therapy to get himself together and then said, “His problem was that he had an older brother in whose shadow he grew up.”

Great – that’s another thing that added to this afternoon’s depression.

My classes went all right today, and while Patrick and I were having lunch in the Hospitality Center, Gov. Bob Graham walked in for a luncheon in the private dining room.

He was surrounded by photographers, TV cameramen, reporters, lackeys, and police officers; it was very absurd to see a movie-like scene of a politician’s visit as I was sipping my grapefruit juice a few feet away.

Anyway, this afternoon my main problem was boredom: for once I had no lessons to prepare, no shopping to do, no papers to grade. And that led me to feel depressed.

I’m so fucked-up – but at least it took me only a few hours to see how lucky I am.

Talking with Josh for an hour helped, and so did my conversation with Teresa, too. She’ll be coming in at West Palm Beach on Sunday night, and I’m really glad she’s coming here.

While I love my life, sometimes I think I’m not worthy of it. Still, I do think I’m making progress – but I need to start writing again.

Anyway, we all get into moods; my present happiness is more defined and true because of this afternoon’s malaise.

Really, the only thing that could make my life any better right now is getting a review in Publishers Weekly