A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1987


Friday, January 2, 1987

4 PM. While I’m feeling stronger, I’d better write. I just took a shower and changed out of my sweat-soaked underwear into a fresh pair.

Mom finally called and said she’d be over later with some Tylenol – which I’m running out of – and some rubbing alcohol to help bring down my fever.

I had a slice of bread with jelly, couple of cookies, and ices. My fever is still over 101.5°F. When I get colds, I never get fever, so I’m pretty certain this is influenza, either Type A or B.

Although I had the Hong Kong flu in 1968, I don’t think I’ve had the flu since I was 18 – not that I can recall, anyway.

The flu has been widely reported in Broward, so it’s not unlikely that I picked it up somewhere. At least this should give me immunity to influenza for a while. I feel I’m generally strong, and this is probably not a severe case.

Though I’ve heard there’s a drug called amantadine that offers relief from flu symptoms, I don’t have the strength to get myself to a doctor.

The fever and the blinding headache that goes with it is my worst problem, and next to that is my chest congestion.

Saturday, January 3, 1987

2 PM. I went to a nearby medical walk-in center this morning. My fever had stayed high all night, so I figured that I might get myself checked out.

The doctor took a strep culture, which turned out negative, and he said I probably have the flu. He prescribed cough medicine with codeine and an antihistamine and told me to continue taking Tylenol for the fever.

It cost $75, but it was worth it. Of course, I feel like a total mess, but there’s little I can do.

My parents came over last night and brought me some medicine and clean laundry.

They stayed at the door of the apartment only for a moment, not coming in because they didn’t want to catch what I’ve got. Dad already has a cold and is worried about his business trip to New York on Wednesday.

It’s quite cold out, with today’s high only about 60°, a real shock after the last four months.

I picked up today’s Sun-Tattler, which ran my column about South Florida being underwater in the next century. I haven’t read it yet – I was planning to savor it when I felt bad – but I think it’s a good piece.

I feel awful now: my body just keeps producing mucus and phlegm.

What a baby I am, huh? Quit complaining, kiddo: you’ll live.

Sunday, January 4, 1987

3 PM. My fever got up to 102.8° last night around the time I first fell asleep. I had terrible chills and kept sweating as I put two covers over me.

Josh called at 11 PM, depressed because Chloe had come over that night to break up with him.

She said she met someone else, someone who was more “demonstrative” and who didn’t have a “laissez-faire” (Josh’s term) attitude about seeing other people. Apparently, Chloe wanted more commitment than Josh could give.

I know how bad Josh must have felt, but I was barely coherent, and he said I should get back to sleep.

During the night I had to change my T-shirt twice because it kept getting soaked with sweat, as if I’d been exercising furiously; I also had to change the sheets.

This morning I felt I’d lost five pounds of water weight. When I took my temperature, it was 98.6° exactly: my fever had finally broken during the night.

I felt much better, and although my temperature has since come up to 100°, I have more strength and energy than I did. I was able to go out to Publix to buy some badly-needed groceries, as well as the Sunday papers.

Although I still feel pretty weak, I can finally see beyond being sick. This was a pretty terrible start for 1987, getting sick on New Year’s Eve.

Right now I’m still sweating like a pig, and my stomach has started churning. Maybe being sick has made a hypochondriac of me, but I do have some concerns about my long-term health.

I think I may have a heart problem. Yesterday, when the nurse took my pulse, she had to redo it because she couldn’t believe how fast my heart was beating.

For years I’ve had a fast heartbeat, which I know is a side effect of Triavil.

I used to think I’d live a long time, but now I’m not so sure I’ll make it to 50 or even 45. I’d never tell anyone this, because they would say I was being ridiculous.

The truth is, everyone’s going to die, and we don’t want to face it. Some people just take longer to die than others.

My life has been fine, and if I have to forfeit longevity because of taking Triavil, then I’ve made a good trade because an agoraphobic life is hardly life at all.

It would be ironic that a drug which enabled me to get out of the prison of my house in 1969 and lead a full life would also shorten that life.

Boy, do I sound morbid.

Notice how my handwriting has gone downhill since I’ve gotten older? Ten years ago, I had such a neat, precise handwriting, and now I can hardly read my own writing sometimes. My lower-case R’s, N’s and B’s are nearly illegible.

The theme of today’s lesson, class, is deterioration and decay. The objective correlative is my body and mind.

Tuesday, January 6, 1987

1 PM. Long conversations with Josh and Teresa have made me feel connected to life in New York City.

Josh is really a sad case, because he had a really good thing going with Chloe and didn’t recognize it. Just a week ago, he told me he didn’t love her, but I bet now that she’s gone, he feels he does.

Josh is very uptight about vulnerability. James criticized him for being unable to hug anyone, and Chloe must have felt he wasn’t demonstrative enough.

One problem that Josh had with Chloe is that she wasn’t Jewish, and of course Josh’s father has made him slightly wiggy on the subject.

Josh told me his children would have to be raised as Jews, but Chloe is an atheist who would never convert.

“But, Josh,” I said, “since I’ve known you, you’ve only gone out with Gentile women.”

“That’s true,” he said. “I guess it’s a way of avoiding commitment.”

It was Josh, not Chloe, who wanted to make sure they were free to see other people – yet it was Chloe who found someone who could offer her more than Josh could.

Ironic – and sad.

Teresa sounded fairly chipper although she said that it was cold in New York and her Mexican vacation was probably a mistake.

For the first time in her life, she told me, she was glad to get back to her job because while she was lying on the beach in Acapulco, she had time to ruminate about her relationship with Michael and feel worse about herself.

At least in the office, she’s so busy hustling jobs for people who need work so she can make commissions that she doesn’t have time to think.

(To get back to Josh for a minute, he says the main reason he neglected Chloe, in addition to hassles with his parents and landlord, was that he hates his job so much. But he’s been there for close to four years and doesn’t do anything about leaving except talk.)

Anyway, Anna remained in Mexico because she met a guy there: “a Sicilian from Toronto.”

Teresa didn’t particularly like him or his friend who kept trying to get Teresa out of her dress all New Year’s Eve, and she thought it was foolish for Anna to waste $700 – she gave up her seat on the charter flight home – for three or four days in Acapulco when, if the relationship turned serious, Anna could use the money for many trips to see him in Toronto.

Teresa herself said she met no interesting men except maybe for a 17-year-old boy who was cute and funny.

She amusingly described the flight back. At the airport duty-free shop, she ran into the pilot, who despite looking bleary-eyed was buying liquor.

On board the plane, she took her assigned seat next to an eight-year-old who casually turned to her, and without an introduction, explained how he had bitten off another boy’s finger in a fight at school.

The movie playing was Top Gun, with all that aerial derring-do that made me queasy when I saw it at the Loew’s 84th Street; imagine how that film, especially the plane crash scene, went over during severe turbulence.

And several people got locked in the lavatories for most of the flight.

Back home, Teresa’s father had a severe case of the flu that lasted ten days.

Teresa and Phyllis went to TRW to try to clear up Teresa’s credit rating, and so she is hoping the new mortgage on the Berkshires house comes through.

They’re refinancing for $50,000 (rather than $35,000) at 8.8% (rather than at 14%), and if it all works out, Teresa will buy out her sister and own the house by herself.

It was really good to speak to Teresa last night.

The Atlantic articles on American politics after Reagan and today’s parallels to 1929 were fascinating.

Basically, John Kenneth Galbraith is saying that some kind of crash is inevitable when speculative fever takes over any market. No doubt Manhattan real estate prices will tumble one day, too.

“Whatever comes up must go down” is how I look at it, and it’s a title I’m thinking of using for a new long story that would take place last summer in Manhattan and be a companion piece to “I Survived Caracas Traffic.”

I envision the story combining “A Random Walk Down Broadway,” “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit” and other writings: a long, fat, idea-filled piece of fiction.

This morning I woke up feeling a little better. Dad is still really congested, and his car wouldn’t start. To save him the trouble of buying something to keep warm in New York, I brought over my lined raincoat to wear there.

But I’m worried about his health when he flies out tomorrow; he’s getting to be an old man, and he shouldn’t get on a plane with such a bad cold.

When I think about how my parents get exploited by Dad’s companies and the flea market owners, it makes me want to rip off the system.

Last night NBC News had a White Paper, To Be a Teacher, that showed what a hard job it is and how undervalued teachers are. One guy, a dedicated algebra teacher with an M.A., has to work as a stock boy in a liquor store to supplement his income.

That, and the way the Broward Community College Board of Trustees haughtily denied the faculty a retroactive pay raise – along with so many other injustices – make me glad I’m living off credit cards.

Am I just like all the other crooks, trying to justify doing something that’s wrong? Probably, but I don’t think I’m hurting anyone, and I refuse to be a victim.

Have I been paid fairly for my teaching and my writing? Have I been able to get the kind of job I’m qualified for? Yes, it’s rationalization, but I’d rather do what I’m doing than be a slave.

And as with the federal debt, the money I owe will have to be paid back eventually. Certainly, if I get a break, I’ll do that, just the way Mexico, Argentina and Brazil will pay their debts if they can.

But if my comparatively little debt ends up like the debt all around us – the federal budget deficit, the leveraged buyouts on Wall Street – and can’t be paid, I’ll walk away from it without guilt.

As the saying goes, if you owe Citibank $100,000, you’re in trouble; but if you owe Citibank $100,000,000, Citibank’s in trouble.

Thursday, January 8, 1987

7 PM. After a pleasant evening last night and a nice early dinner with the Strattons today, I fell into a black mood when I picked up my mail a little while ago.

Beneficial National Bank wants me to send back its MasterCard because I wrote a check for bigger than my credit line. But after my last bill, I’d deliberately overpaid them by $1000. Currently they owe me $986.

When I called, the incompetents over there couldn’t make sense of it, so I wrote a letter which will hopefully clear everything up. I don’t like the idea of a credit card being taken away.

Also in the mail was my annual rejection for the National Endowment of the Arts creative writing fellowships. They don’t even send a list of the winners anymore.

Again, that $20,000 could have really been valuable to me. And now I’ve been rejected seven or eight times, and stupidly, I’ll probably try again, though I may go to my grave with only the Guinness Book world’s record for all-time number of NEA fellowship rejections. Fuckshit.

Maybe it’s because I was talking to Bert and Alice about my career today, and last night I was telling Kelly, Marc’s roommate, that I used to make about $14,000 teaching full-time at BCC, but I feel very much the injustice-collector tonight.

I feel angry and hostile and mean. Every time I think about getting the shaft, I am thrilled to pieces that I’ve been living off credit cards and student loans, and I’m more firmly resolved to continue doing so.

Let them put me in jail finally; society is so fucked up, I don’t care. Right now, for 1987, as it was true for 1986, living well is the best revenge.

I’m an outlaw, but nobody knows it. If the University of Miami calls and offers me adjunct courses for the spring, I should turn them down, as I’m better off using my “fuck you” money.

Right now I have about $32,000 altogether (Mom gave me a check for the $1000 she and Dad owed me), and I should use that money to continue living well.

I’ll take courses, write fiction and my columns, and read all the newspapers and magazines I please. I’ll sleep late and exercise and go to the movies occasionally and eat out a hell of a lot: you know, be a real hedonist, the way I was last year.

Since nobody appreciates what I do as a writer and a teacher, I’ll keep my talents to myself.

Enough already.

Last night Mom and I went out to Garcia’s, which was the first Mexican restaurant she’d been to in years. Although she found the food a bit spicy, we both enjoyed our dinner.

Earlier, Dad had called her to say that he’d arrived safely in cold New York.

After dinner, Mom bought a birthday cake and we drove up to Marc’s, arriving at the same time as their flea market friend Jeff.

Several of Marc’s and Kelly’s friends were already there, as well as Kelly’s mother Mary Pat (from Cape May, New Jersey, she also works at the flea market, where she sells jewelry) and her grandfather Hank.

Marc was engrossed in playing with his new puppy, a tiny Lhasa Apso named China, whom he treats like a human baby.

Eventually, we pried Marc away from the dog to blow out his birthday candles so we could enjoy the cake.

Mom and I stayed past 10 PM, after all the other guests had left. For me, it was a rare treat to be out among people in the evening after being sick in bed for so many days.

After sleeping over in Davie, I told Bert this morning that I’d be at his mother’s condo in Boca at noon. I got off the turnpike on Glades Road at 11:30 AM, so I had time to stop at FAU to buy my textbooks for the AI course.

In the bookstore, I met a cute guy who was one of my students three years ago in my last term teaching at Broward Community College.

“That was the best English course I ever had,” he said, and he told me he was doing okay at FAU.

When I arrived, Bert and Alice’s kids were eating lunch: Teddy and little Lucy had grown up a lot since I last saw them.

Bert’s father died a few months ago, so his mother is alone. Alice’s parents moved to Delray Beach, having sold their house in Columbus.

Over lunch at D’Lites, we had a good time talking about Cleveland, literary politics, Harvey Pekar (I missed his second appearance on Letterman the other night), and whatever else we could think of.

Although Bert’s agent now has his cop novel at St. Martin’s, Bert doesn’t have high hopes for a sale and says he now gets his satisfactions elsewhere.

Now that his father’s gone, Bert probably controls a lot of real estate, and while Cleveland isn’t New York City or Boston, I’m sure he can become a wealthy (or wealthier) man.

I like Bert and Alice a lot and look forward to our annual winter meetings. They seem to have a real nice family.

Well, it’s a week since I started feeling really sick with the flu, and I’m getting stronger. Maybe I can start exercising again. Right now I feel like a slug.