A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1981


Tuesday, November 24, 1981

7 PM. I’ve just been giving the condo a semi-thorough cleaning.

I’m beginning to feel that I’m catching up on things. I’m all caught up on my correspondence, and now I’ve also sent out postcards requesting information on all the Ph.D. programs that have creative writing options.

I want to make a thorough search of all possible opportunities for the next academic year. Again, I’m almost certain I could stay on at Broward Community College, but I think I’d go nuts if I did.

I sent Paul Fericano my South Florida stories. Paul has decided to self-publish his next book of poetry. There doesn’t seem much hope in trying to get a decent small press for a poetry book: both Linda Lerner and Miriam Sagan have that problem.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother publishing, but then I go into the Plantation library, as I did yesterday, and see With Hitler in New York displayed – by a wonderful coincidence, next to Joel Agee’s Twelve Years — and it all seems worth it.

I’ve got to write a “canned review” for Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, and it’s something I’ve been putting off. I’m a bit worried that this book will be found too pretentious, maybe too juvenile. It’s nowhere as flashy as Hitler and I don’t know how people will react to it.

Does it matter, really? My first book got two dozen reviews and sold about 500 copies; if this book sells half that much, I’ll be surprised. What do I expect from Dog? Only another credit on my résumé and a physical object I can show people and enjoy myself.

If there are any reviews, they’ll be in Publishers Weekly (okay, but qualified), Library Journal (“for collections of experimental fiction”), Kirkus (they’ll murder me) and American Book Review (almost surely a pan).

Maybe I’ll get some local Florida coverage, but that will be it. No reviews in Time (no “at 29, Ted Mooney will be the early warning system for fiction in the 80’s”), no Harper’s, no Atlantic and certainly no New York Times Book Review.

The best luck I could have would be to get reviewed in the Voice Literary Supplement, but I doubt that will happen. Ahem.

At school at 10 AM, I marked papers and went to the boring, but mercifully short, English Department meeting.

Apparently, the outside evaluations team has seen the weaknesses in BCC’s English program and there will be crackdowns. Right now 40% of the classes are taught by part-timers and they’re going to advertise widely for new full-time faculty.

Dr. Grasso told me she thought Gance’s Napoleon was great. Obviously it was a big event for her to get to the theater; she said she had to get directions from her son, who is “always running into Miami.” (That’s because he’s smart enough to get out of Broward County as much as he can.)

I guess tomorrow will be a fairly easy day and then I’ll have a long weekend without too much work. Perhaps I can even become bored. I’d like to spend some time at my parents’ and catch up on cable TV movies.

The next couple of weeks shouldn’t be that hectic until the term papers start coming in.

And in three weeks, I’ll be in cold New York. I’ll probably be miserable there, but I need to get away. I’ve also got to see my grandparents, Marc, Alice, Teresa, Avis, Josh and my other friends.

The last few diary entries have been dull, but then my life has been dull and my imagination seems to have disappeared.

Thursday, November 26, 1981

10 PM on Thanksgiving Day. I just walked into the condo. It’s a gorgeous night, about 70 degrees. The windows are open and the crickets are chirping. I feel that I have a great deal to be thankful for.

Although life is filled with pain – I saw it at the nursing home today – I’ve been quite lucky. I have good health, I have a nice place to live, a decent job, a purpose to my life, good friends. I don’t lack anything that’s really important.

My parents and brothers are well, and although my grandparents are not, I was able to speak with each of my four grandparents today and this will probably be the last Thanksgiving for that.

Last evening, I had dinner with my parents and Jonny at a Chinese restaurant and I felt a bit annoyed with Dad’s snide remarks.

For example, when I told Dad that Dr. Grasso’s observation report had rated me as “outstanding.” he quipped, “Yeah, you’re out standing in the rain because you’re not smart enough to come indoors.”

That’s the sort of thing I’ve gotten from my father all my life, and while I know he doesn’t think it’s hurting me, I don’t need to hear that anymore.

This morning I called Grandma Ethel at the hospital. She had a headache and blurry vision and was unable to enjoy today, but she didn’t complain. She did sound a bit worried about having her last test, a barium enema, but she can probably go home this weekend.

When I called Grandpa Herb’s, Aunt Tillie answered; she and Uncle Morris had brought dinner over. Grandpa Herb didn’t sound too well, either, but I told him I would see him in three weeks.

I went to the nursing home to see Grandpa Nat, who does seem to be deteriorating slightly. He rubbed and scratched himself like a monkey and had no idea who I was (“You’re Greenberg”). I took him out for a walk. Grandpa Nat looks the same, but I don’t really connect him with the man I once knew.

Grandma Sylvia hasn’t been to see him in weeks because she’s been ill with bad back pain. (She doesn’t know it’s from the aneurysm.)

I have a pretty strong stomach, so I am not really bothered by the nursing home smells or seeing a woman resting in a puddle of her own urine or watching wheelchair-bound elderly people making spastic faces.

As I walk the corridors and look into some of the rooms, I see the living dead lying motionless in their beds. It’s important to remember that life is also that as well.

I was at the Littmans’ in North Miami Beach at 4:30 PM, the first guest to arrive. Irv’s brother Jules soon arrived with his wife, Sherri, and stepdaughter, Phyllis, 17, and then my parents, Jonny, and Grandma Sylvia came.

I was glad she was well enough to go out. I think Mom and Dad are too hard on her; I don’t think they appreciate the hell her life must be. Of course, she’s made a number of her own problems, but I think she’s done remarkably well, considering.

She feels very guilty about not getting to see Grandpa Nat last Sunday. She told me she got a call from a man who said, “Hello, Grandma,” and who inquired about the family. At first, Grandma Sylvia thought it was Scott, but soon she realized it was someone who called for Robin to find out how everyone was. None of us know where Robin is.

We waited to eat until Sherri’s parents came with her son Paul. Sherri’s father is in a wheelchair and is in a convalescent home following a series of strokes.

The dinner was superb. Fran made eggplant pie and a terrific salad with gorgonzola cheese and there were some great sweet potato pies. Mavis’s turkey was as tasty as turkey can get, and there were good side dishes.

I sat across from Paul, a very sweet-looking, slender boy about 21 who seemed to be more graceful and confident than I could have ever imagined being at that age. His sister was cute, and they seemed very close.

Even Jules was moderately friendly, a change from his usual nastiness. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. I guess I even surprised myself.

Mavis, Irv and Fran are so much like family that I don’t even notice their eccentricities anymore. I feel very much at home in their house.

According to what Mom said at dinner, Marc “is like a new person.” His ulcer is under control, he’s lost weight, and he’s working busily on a variety of ventures, including a flea market and some home-sale products.

Marc will probably be coming down here in January, but of course I’ll see him in New York before then.

As usual, I was dizzy last night when my head hit the pillow, but I’m getting accustomed to the dizziness, which always goes away after an hour or two. I slept all night, dreaming of being in Dad’s old building on Fifth Avenue and taking a sideways elevator/subway down to Washington Square. (I often dream about streets in Manhattan).

This morning I was up at 7 AM, and though I’m accustomed to waking early, I felt creepy lying in bed for too long past that hour.

Anyway, it was a mild, cloudy day. When I called Teresa to wish her a happy holiday – she and Barbara were having breakfast – she said it was very cold in New York, as I could see in the pictures of this morning’s parade.

Since last Thanksgiving in Oceanside with Marty, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, I’ve had a very good year. Although I will never stop complaining, I’ve got to know that I am truly one of the lucky ones.

Friday, November 27, 1981

10 PM. I slept well, dreaming that I owned a store on Flatbush Avenue, but again I woke up very early. It was great to have another day off; I think that I’m feeling rejuvenated.

After shopping this morning, I went over to my parents’ house and spent an hour and a half sitting in the sun; I’m slightly red now and I always feel good when I’m sunburned.

South Florida is beginning to once again seem like the haven I found it the past two winters. After lunch, I went to get a haircut and beard-trimming from Lisa, who is so cute and sexy I could eat her up.

In the mail, I got an application for a Henry Hoyns fellowship in creative writing at the University of Virginia. I’ve sent away for every fellowship I could find out about so I can have options for getting out of Florida for the next academic year.

The columnist Gary Stein of the Fort Lauderdale News wrote in today’s paper:

You get a lot of bizarre press releases in a newspaper office, but one that crossed my desk last week ranks right at the top of the list. It comes from a gent in Sunrise named Richard Grayson. He sent a telegram to Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. urging her to vote for Muhammad Ali as the next U.N. Secretary General.

‘Ali could knock out world strife,’ he writes, ‘and strike a blow for peace.’ Grayson got a response from Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s office. ‘I got a letter that said they’re committed to Kurt Waldheim,’ signed Grayson, who teaches at BCC. ‘I still think Ali would be a great choice. Well, at least he’d be a better choice than Leon Spinks.’

Hey, I’m still pretty good at getting my press releases in the paper.

Saturday, November 28, 1981

9 PM. Grandma Sylvia died, probably Friday night.

This afternoon I called Grandma Ethel at home; she said they let her out of the hospital with the news that nothing is wrong with her except nerves. Grandpa Herb was glad to have her back.

I went out to the Broward Mall for dinner and then took a long drive up to Parkland and back. The phone was ringing as I entered the apartment. It was Jonathan. “I have bad news,” he said, “Grandma Sylvia passed away.”

Aunt Sydelle had called at 6 PM as they were having dinner; she said she had been trying to get Grandma Sylvia all day and that when she called the neighbor, they said Grandma’s car was still there.

Mom and Dad figured her aneurysm had burst and they tried to reach me, but Dad ran out by himself and rushed to North Miami Beach. He found her in her bedroom; she must have died during the night.

Dad called Sydelle, who, of course, got hysterical. Dad must be pretty hysterical himself. I wish I had been home to go with him; I’m much more in control at times like this.

Now, the Ginsbergs have plots in New York, but it would be much cheaper to bury her in Florida. The man from Riverside told Dad we should come to the funeral chapel at 10 AM tomorrow and make whatever arrangements we want.

The last I heard, Dad was still waiting for them to take Grandma’s body.

How do I feel? Sad.

I was right about Thanksgiving being the last one I’d spend with all my grandparents, but I’m glad Grandma Sylvia had such a good time at the Littmans’. She ate well and was talking animatedly.

I didn’t kiss her goodbye (I kissed her hello), but we had a nice talk that night – she was upset about the cancellation of Tic Tac Dough, her favorite TV show – and when she left, she smiled and waved at me. She loved me a lot.

The last time I heard her voice she was saying to the others what a terrific grandson I was. Hey, I made her a front-page celebrity the last year of her life! We were friends and I learned a lot from her. I don’t feel that sad; she died peacefully at 80, in her own bed, with all of her faculties.

I called Josh to talk, and also Mikey, whose own loss was so recent. He told me Larry’s mother died on a visit to the Concord five weeks after Mikey’s mother died. On the other hand, Mike told Mikey that Mandy is pregnant. So is Cousin Scott’s wife. Life goes on.

Sunday, November 29, 1981

4 PM. I didn’t sleep much last night – nor did my parents or Jonny.

I was getting some wrong numbers all night. One person asked for “my brother Ricky” and the other asked me (I think) if I was Richard Grayson and then hung up.

Dad, Mom and I drove over to the condo in North Miami Beach early this morning. Yesterday Dad found Grandma Sylvia with her feet on the floor, as if she were about to get out of bed. She had planned to go to the nursing home that day because she had laid out Grandpa Nat’s clothes on the bed.

We went through the apartment, looking for valuables and important papers. Dad cried a lot; he hadn’t expected to be upset. “Even though I knew she was dying,” he said, “I sort of thought she’d go on forever.”

We picked out a gown for her to wear. It was upsetting to go through the closets. For myself, I took only a pair of earrings with Canadian coins.

At Riverside, we spoke with an oily funeral director who really fitted the part: short black hair parted in the middle, cheap black suit, overly jokey manner.

After figuring out relative costs, Dad decided on buying a double plot at Lakeside, a cemetery near Miami Airport, and holding the funeral in Florida. Since plane reservations aren’t easy to get, we’re not having the funeral until Tuesday at 11:30 AM.

The graves cost $650 and the funeral will cost $2,500. We selected a wooden casket. We’ll have a police escort but no limousine, and there’ll be an obituary notice in the Herald. I might say a few things at the funeral, but they’re getting a young rabbi who is supposed to be good.

We gave all the information (though I couldn’t remember Grandma’s mother’s maiden name), and the whole thing took a very stressful hour.

Back at the condo, Mom found Grandma’s social security number, which we need for the death certificates, which are necessary for banks, Grandpa Nat’s survivor’s benefits, etc.

I called Grandma Sylvia’s Florida brothers Uncle Bernard and Uncle Daniel and also Cousin Leo in Boca Raton. Mom called Marc, who (rightly, I think) decided not to come for the funeral. We also called Sydelle, who’ll be coming in on Monday at 4 PM.

I went to the condo office so they could post a notice. Hy, Grandma’s friend, came by in tears, and the retarded girl from next door came by to offer her sympathies.

Mom, Dad and I ate at Corky’s, then came home to more bad news. Jonny said Marty had called to say that Uncle Jack had just died. That, on top of Grandma Sylvia’s death, will greatly upset Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb. Cousin Chuck went over to break the news about his father to them.

Jonny also told us that a woman who said she was Grandma’s neighbor called the house to find out how she was. When Jonny said she had died, the woman got very upset, and she couldn’t understand why the funeral would be in Florida.

Finally Jonny realized she was Grandma Ethel’s New York neighbor who was visiting Florida. The mixup was funny, but also sad.

Monday, November 30, 1981

9 PM. Tomorrow is Grandma Sylvia’s funeral. I’ve been coping so well, but I wonder if I’m repressing everything and tomorrow I’ll fall apart. Somehow I doubt it.

Last evening I called Alice (who said Peter told her that I was a great host during his short visit here last weekend) and Teresa (at the house in the Berkshires) to tell them about Grandma Sylvia’s death.

Finally, I called Grandma Ethel, who sounded okay after hearing about the deaths of Uncle Jack and Grandma Sylvia. I guess she has to worry about her and Grandpa Herb’s own health problems.

I slept amazingly well and managed to get through the long day at school by having short 100 classes and taking my 101’s to the library so they could work on their research papers.

I arranged for Casey to take my one class tomorrow; I have now used up all my sick days for the term, so I’d better not get sick. There isn’t much to go, however, as the fall semester will be over two weeks from tomorrow.

I did get good news in today’s mail.

First, Miriam wrote that “it looks like Zephyr Press is going to do your book.” It will be a paperback collection of 15-20 stories; Miriam sent me the early rejects. The press is having financial problems, so my book will be their only one for 1982 and it will appear at the end of the year.

“Kostelanetz told Ed that you’re the best of our contemporaries,” she wrote, and said a personal letter will follow.

Second, I was invited to join PEN, the most prestigious writers’ organization; I feel it is a great honor and bodes well for the future. Little by little, I’m making it.

At 5 PM, I picked up Cousin Scott at the airport and we down to North Miami Beach. Scott looks well and we had a good chat. Dad and Aunt Sydelle were at the condo after dropping off Grandma Sylvia’s New York brothers Uncle Benny and Uncle Joe at the Holiday Inn.

Aunt Sydelle was half-hysterical, of course. But after Dad went home and I had lunch with Sydelle and Scott at Arthur Treacher’s, I could see that Scott knows how to handle his mother well.

As one of my students said: “At least funerals bring families together.”

Aunt Sydelle, Dad and Scott keep saying they can’t believe Grandma Sylvia is dead. How come I can? After all, we knew for a year that the aneurysm was going to kill her.

Maybe, like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, I’m too logical and not emotional enough?