A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1988


Friday, April 22, 1988

9:30 PM. Last night I spoke to Teresa. Earlier in the day she’d left a message that she had the opportunity to come to Fort Lauderdale this weekend.

That was something I wasn’t looking forward to on this last weekend in my apartment when I have so much to do. But as it turned out, Teresa’s friend had been able to use her nonrefundable tickets after all.

Yesterday I changed my own Delta ticket to the 11:45 AM flight to LaGuardia on Thursday, May 5 – so I’ll be back in New York City in less than two weeks.

After all the car trouble I’ve had this week, I’ll be glad to be going back to subways, buses and walking for a while.

My car ran okay yesterday after I returned the rental car, but this morning I again had trouble starting it, and when I had Dad drive it, he said I definitely needed new brakes. I knew that, too, I suppose.

Anyway, after depositing the $2000 I took out of Publix Teller in cash advances last night, I brought the car over to Firestone and walked back to my parents’ house, where I exercised for an hour to the Body Shaping video.

Today’s mail brought lots of goodies, and I had plenty of reading material all afternoon. I picked up my car at 5:30 PM and paid $374 for the brakes and two new tires which they convinced me I needed.

I took my car to my parents’ house, but as we were leaving for dinner, I noticed the rear tire was flat. After returning from the restaurant, I called the AAA. Now I have to fix my old tire and maybe buy a new spare.

Dad gave me $300 of the $374 I charged on Diners Club since he’s the one, not me, who’ll be using the car after I go to New York on May 5.

Anyway, I just hope I can avoid any more car problems in the remaining six workday trips I have to make into Dade County.

Last night Teresa was telling me how she cleared out her desk in Frank’s office while no one was around.

Frank claims that Teresa always screws up in the same way: she can’t get along with the other people in the office and consistently blames others for her problems.

Now she’s lost her only good friend in the politics/public relations business. Teresa realizes that the world of P.R. isn’t for her, and she wants to proceed with her catering business but lacks confidence.

Colin, the married lawyer she’s still seeing, “is a real worm,” but he’s got a car and can be generous at times.

Teresa said she ran into Amira, who is promoting the Citibank NFL Visa card (“You are probably the only one who’s ever heard of it,” Teresa told me) and traveling with the football teams.

I also had a brief conversation with Ronna, who’s on the tail end of a cold that began on her birthday.

She told me that Lori got engaged to her boyfriend on her birthday last weekend, but we didn’t talk about the consequences of Lori moving out.

I know that it wouldn’t be good for me to move in with Ronna. Although I love her, I’ll always be attracted to guys.

I just wish Ronna could find a great guy who’d give her the marriage and kids that she wants.

Maybe if I were a better friend, I’d reduce contact with Ronna to avoid problems. Selfishly, I love seeing her and being with her – but it’s not really fair.

Last night I dreamed that both my grandfathers came back from the dead to tell me what it was like.

I’m sure I had that dream because of Rick’s father’s death and yesterday’s news that Uncle Bernard, Grandma Sylvia’s brother, had died (they took the body to New York for burial) and next week’s unveiling for Grandpa Nat.

Anyway, the treats that arrived in the mail included Crad’s books. Nice Stories for Canadians is Crad in his simple, banal mode – although the curmudgeonly iconoclast keeps breaking through.

To me, Crad’s stereotyping of women, minorities, gays, and various occupations and nationalities is the least attractive aspect of his work, but I accept them as minor faults.

I Ate Mrs. Ewing’s Raw Guts contains three stories of revenge, featuring a long title story about Crad’s former landlady, The Old Bat (who was certainly horrible to him but seems to have had Alzheimer’s disease because she kept denying that she remembered prior episodes of bizarre behavior).

Another story was about a religious fanatic jewelry vendor who has tormented Crad on the street for years. And a final nasty, funny story centered on that pompous reviewer who lambasted a trio of Crad’s books in 1986.

Malignant Humours, published by Black Moss Press in an extremely handsome edition with a hand-tinted cover photo of Crad on the street, contains reprints of his better stories. I’m envious.

But the March issue of Albany Review, an 11″ x 17″ local magazine, came out with my “Nostalgia” story in it. I’ve been so busy, I’ve saved looking at it till later.

Monday, April 25, 1988

9 PM. If anything, today was more stressful than any of the days I worked last week. And again, it’s car trouble that’s driving me crazy.

It’s as if my Camaro wouldn’t let me leave Florida without giving me a good zetz. Until last week, I was able to rely on the car for months without it breaking down.

I stayed in bed till 10:30 AM, and then it occurred to me that I should start my car – just in case it decided to trick me. Yes, it started three dozen times since last Wednesday, but today was the first day I needed it for work.

Sure enough, it turned over and I got it started twice, but after that, it refused to start. Dad came over and tried to give me a boost, but that didn’t help, and it just made me frustrated and hot. (It hit 93° today.)

I took Jonathan’s car to work, stopping off first at the bank, then at Corky’s in North Miami Beach for lunch. While I tried to calm myself down, I was still pretty tense.

My workshop at Coral Gables High School went okay, I guess, but I resent not having PCs with color monitors or graphics cards. I also resent not being given CAI software to teach the material the course outline says I’m supposed to do.

Frustration breeds frustration, and I had more of it in the worst Miami rush hour I ever experienced. A severe thunderstorm made the traffic worse, and it took me half an hour just to get out of Coral Gables.

Altogether, it took nearly 90 minutes to get back to Davie. In no mood to be with my family for dinner (I would have been a real pain in the ass), I ate at Gaetano’s and then went to bring back Jonathan’s car, pick up my mail and keys, and get licked by China – the only truly pleasant event of my day.

Crossing University Drive, I called the AAA once I got to my apartment. It took them 80 minutes to arrive – more frustration – and they couldn’t start the car, either. The gasoline wasn’t getting to the carburetor.

In the morning, I’ll get it towed to All-American, and then I’ll have to again rent a car so I can go to Grandpa Nat’s unveiling and then to work at Riviera Junior High. Talk about hectic.

I knew that this morning’s phone calls – to disconnect my phone, change my USA Today subscription address to New York City, and make an eye doctor appointment for Thursday at 4 PM – went too easily.

Jesus, days like today are worse than days of severe emotional trauma because at least those allow me to write about my feelings in depth. Here, I feel worn out by little gnats and flies and fleas like the ones that torment China. All I want is sleep, release.

Tuesday, April 26, 1988

10 AM. Last night I read the cover story in USA Today: “Stress Kills.” Then, at 10 PM, NBC News presented Stressed to Kill.

I suppose I do have that Type A behavior – the impatience, the feeling that I’m struggling against the inevitable – that brings on strokes and heart attacks, and I’m sure my high blood pressure, in combination with other bodily effects of stress, can lead to one of those early cardiovascular “accidents.”

If I could relax and not let things get to me, I would. I really have to change.

In two hours, we’ll be going to Grandpa Nat’s unveiling. It was typical Type A behavior that brought on his heart attacks in 1977, with the final one leading to his decade as a brain-damaged semi-vegetable. He got angry while playing cards and keeled over.

Dad exhibits the same kind of excitable, impatient behavior, and so do I. Now I’m at the age when first heart attacks sometimes happen.

Well, most of the time I’m not like this. In New York this summer, I’ll be relaxed.

Still, I’d better learn to react more coolly to unexpected events and to view them as challenges to be met rather than insurmountable obstacles.

But I find it hard to deal with the incompetence all around me. Right now, I want to recite a litany of stupid mistakes from this morning alone.

But let’s just say that my car has been towed and is being fixed (I need a new distributor cap and gas pump), and I rented another car at Sears.

Now I have an hour before I leave for the cemetery. If I’m not careful, I could end up staying there. I’m going to try not to get excited.


9 PM. I arrived at Lakeside Memorial Park for Grandpa Nat’s unveiling around noon and noticed Bill standing with a cane by his car; although I’d met him briefly only once, at the nursing home, I recognized him immediately.

Aunt Sydelle was inside the office, and we joined her there to wait for the rabbi and the others.

Sydelle said she and Bill are going up North next week, first to visit Scott and Barbara and the kids in Washington, then to Bill’s daughter in Albany, and then to New Jersey to attend a bar mitzvah of some cousin of ours. They only just returned from California.

I dislike Bill, who said that Robin’s neighborhood in West Hollywood is “filled with feygelehs.” Just about everyone in the family seems to feel the way I do about Bill, who’s not very friendly and has an air of superiority.

The rabbi arrived next, followed by Irv and Mavis Littman (who whispered to me that the rabbi doesn’t wear his toupee on the tennis court).

While we waited for the others, I listened to the banal small talk. (Aunt Sydelle asked, “Rabbi, do you know if Ted Koppel is Jewish?”)

Finally, Mom and Dad arrived with his Uncle Daniel and Aunt Anne, both of whom looked very frail and sick.

The unveiling of the footstone didn’t take long. The rabbi said some prayers, talked about life and death, mentioned Grandpa Nat’s good qualities (the same ones that apply to 98% of the human race) and his survivors: “Sydelle, Danny, Bill, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and brother Harry.”

Why the rabbi left Mom off, I don’t know, but it was very embarrassing: Bill knew Grandpa Nat only for a year and only as a vegetable, while Mom had known Grandpa Nat since she was a teenager.

Anyway, I finally remembered that I actually had been at Grandma Sylvia’s unveiling, too, because I recognized the footstone. I tried to feel something, but I couldn’t relate the graves to my grandparents.

I looked at our small group – including my brothers, who arrived a little late in the van, and who, like me, were having trouble keeping their yarmulkes on – and I only felt numb.

Maybe I’m repressing my feelings, but it was hard to feel sorrow at my grandparents’ deaths at this late date. I did enjoy their company when they were alive, though.

The older people went out to lunch at the Littmans’ country club while Marc and Jonathan went home and I drove to the nearby FIU campus, where I stopped in at the Teacher Education Center to see Sophie.

After I got a sandwich at the Miami International Mall, I waited for my class to begin at Riviera Junior High.

Today I let the class work on databases. We had some frustrating printing problems, and I felt a bit dizzy and headachy.

I’ll be glad to go on vacation a week from tomorrow night. Unlike the past three years, this year I worked a lot in Florida and I feel nearly as burned-out as I did after I left my full-time job at Broward Community College four years ago.

I drove home in my rental car; my own car won’t be ready until tomorrow. Well, I still have tomorrow’s class, and then the stress of moving. It hit 96° in Fort Lauderdale today, and I hope it cools off when I have to move my things.

God, I wish I could just blink my eyes and transport myself and my belongings to New York – but I said something similar last October when I was getting ready to come down here, I recall.

Saturday, April 30, 1988

3 PM. I’m in my parents’ spare bedroom, a familiar and cozy place, now cluttered with my possessions. I’ll have to start making sense out of my belongings this weekend. Probably I’ll end up mailing a package to myself in New York.

Last evening I walked over to Sonny’s Bar-B-Q and had the salad bar for dinner with my parents.

By then, Dad had calmed down and become philosophical about all the boxes of my stuff that I had brought over and the many boxes of his own goods that had come in during the day. Getting his monthly paycheck of over $12,000 helped, I think.

In the last two months, Dad has earned more than $30,000. As the economy rolls along and Dad continues to do well, I just hope he and Mom are managing to save some money for a less rosy future.

I had a splitting headache as I went to sleep, but it was gone when I woke up this morning.

After my last night in the apartment, I handed in my keys at the rental office and left Sun Pointe Cove.

My creative writing students at BCC all came to class today, and they’d brought enough bagels, danish, juice and other goodies that a group twice our size could have eaten it all comfortably.

I read a story, and we went over some poems by Tim, a short-short by Gil, and a translation of a German essay by Linda. And we bullshitted, the way we usually do, about books and literature.

Before we left, I gave everyone a signed copy of With Hitler in New York – I figured it was a cheap gesture. It’s a decade ago that I was first contacted by Lou Strick at Taplinger and nine years since the book’s publication.

It’s now hard to remember what I expected of the book, but I clearly recall that one year after its publication, I was in the most dire poverty of my life in my little studio apartment in Rockaway.

I had been ill with labyrinthitis, and I was totally broke and unemployed. I had to borrow money from Grandpa Herb and my friends and my parents, and I was eligible for food stamps.

To get money, I had to sell two silver ID bracelets – one of them a bar mitzvah gift from my parents – and I can remember how the guy at the gold and silver stand at Kings Plaza looked embarrassed when he took them and gave me $10. He probably thought I was a drug addict.

What good did being a published author do me then?

The story I read to the class today was Crad’s newest, “No Chekhov in Yorkdale,” in which he enumerates all the useless, garish and trendy items one can buy at one of Toronto’s tourist malls, and keeps up the refrain that despite all the consumer goods available there, one cannot buy a book by Anton Chekhov, not even at the shopping center’s three bookstores.

What a great piece. We live in such a sick culture; as Crad said, what censorship has accomplished in totalitarian societies, we in North America have done with free market capitalism.

I live in hope that we will move to a less materialistic, less bottom-line era, but I don’t know if things can ever improve to the point where Chekhov’s stories will be appreciated and valued enough so that they’ll be obtainable in shopping malls.

It was nice to hear my students say they enjoyed our class – a couple said they were sorry it was over – and I’m glad I had the opportunity to teach creative writing again.

Back home, I exercised twice to the Body Electric show I taped earlier today on the new downstairs VCR, a “gift” from me to my parents.

After an hourlong workout and doing the laundry and other chores, I feel tired but relaxed.

Only three more TEC workshops remain, and then I go to New York on Thursday. There I can relax and not work for a few months.

The first third of 1988 ends today, and tomorrow is May. Usually I’m in New York by now; this is the latest I’ve stayed in Florida since 1982, when I spent all of May and most of June here. (That was when I was seeing Sean so that time seems special, too.)

I worked a lot these past four months, and I got more experience as a teacher of computer education and creative writing. I didn’t write very much, but I can’t do everything.

The New Orleans trip, or non-trip, was a fiasco, but I did drive to Orlando, and both Ronna and Teresa visited me here.

I haven’t kept in close contact with my New York friends while I’ve been so busy, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to resume friendships easily there.

Right now, I plan to lie down, close my eyes, and relax.