A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1987


Thursday, January 22, 1987

10 PM. It was warm and sunny this morning, but a cold front moved into South Florida about noon, bringing with it deeply dark skies, howling winds, and torrential rain. I made it to my parents’ by 1 PM.

Wall Street continued its manic rise today, with the Dow around 2150 (it hit 2000 only a couple of weeks ago).

To me, there’s something very eerie about the stock market boom when the real economy is so troubled by debts and deficits and all sorts of structural problems. A crash seems more likely every day, because a kind of speculation fever is taking over.

At the Broward Community College computer lab, I edited my latest column (tomorrow I’ll edit the hard copy of the third draft), formatted a half-dozen disks, and crammed some VisiCalc before I was to teach it.

Although my class went okay, at times I felt I wasn’t in command of the subject matter. Of course, with computers there are always some unexpected problems, and I’ve seen all my teachers goof up sometimes.

Either the seven women I’ve got are swifter than most or I pushed them, but we got through a lot today. After they left at 6:45 PM (yes, I was surprised I kept them that late), they knew the basics of the spreadsheet program.

Now I’ve got to keep studying to keep up with the more advanced work we’ll be doing. Anyway, I felt more gratified than wiped out when class ended. And unlike teaching English, I don’t have to grade papers!

Maybe I should look into training in private industry; nothing I’ve been doing is necessarily geared to education per se.

Teaching even one class makes me appreciate time off; it’s good to have a weekend coming up, though I’ve got lots of reading, writing, and studying to do.

I stopped off in Davie to have a pleasant dairy diner with Jonathan and my parents. We watched the big snowstorm that hit the East Coast from Atlanta to Charlotte to D.C. to Philly, NYC and Boston.

In a way, I miss the city-stopping fun of a big snowstorm. But it may get into the 40°s tonight here and that’s winter enough for me.

I’ve let my hair grow longer than it’s been in years, and my beard is thick and full. I sort of like it; last week’s tan makes me look better, too.

Friday, January 23, 1987

5:30 PM. Despite being so tired last night, I got very little sleep at all, which is one of the reasons I’ve felt out of sorts today.

I’ve already made two errors in writing this: “depsite” for “despite” and “todays” for “today,” so it’s obvious I’m not on top of things.

Probably I’d be at the low cycle of my biorhythms chart if I checked it. I’d hoped to accomplish more today, but I just couldn’t function well.

At the BCC lab, I answered the letter I got from Tom, who’s back in Baltimore. His and Mike Presti’s film course went well, except for some technical problems with the films themselves.

Tom, too, got turned down for an NEA fellowship again, but he seems involved in a lot of writing.

He’s finishing the manuscript of his latest novel and his other projects on hand, although he has decided to stop writing his realistic character stories for a while, as Tom feels they’re mere imitations.

Tom found the same Stephen Dixon story in two little magazines and wonders if there’s no longer a rule about double acceptances.

Maybe I should just resubmit my old stories to little magazines again. After all, most of them appeared in places that had small circulation and which are now defunct.

This morning I got a call from Alice, who seemed slightly annoyed because she’s been trying to respond to the messages I left for her and I don’t have an answering machine.

Alice got back with Peter again when he called her shortly before the New Year – “so, thank God, I had a date for New Year’s Eve.”

Alice says she’s happy they’re together, but she knows Peter will never marry her or live with her.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m sure in a few months Alice will go back to being dissatisfied with the relationship, which she said is “fine” now because she no longer has any expectations that she’ll change Peter.

Is this true love or merely the neurotic inability of two people to get along on their own? As with Teresa and Michael, the relationship can never go anywhere.

Do I do the same thing with Ronna? I hope not, and I don’t think so. Ronna and I don’t really have a sexual relationship, and we’ve been separated by 1300 miles for much for the last few years.

For all I know – though I doubt it – Ronna may have a boyfriend now. I would hope that Ronna and I are more friends than people trapped in an unhealthy coupling like Marc and Adriana, Alice and Peter, Teresa and Michael.

Alice reminded me to send her a bill for $200 for the 50 Plus column, which I later did. She, too, had gotten a bad case of the flu, with a high fever and body aches.

Alice asked if I’d be interested in working with her and Jeanne (who just had a baby) on a twentieth reunion of our Midwood High School class for 1988. Although I said I’d give her any help I could, I never really felt close to Midwood since I was so unhappy there.

Although we didn’t have to suffer the foot of snow they got in New York City – I watched the noon news on Channel 9, WOR-TV, from New Jersey – it was quite chilly here today, with the high around 60°.

As usual, I’ve got lots of reading to do. At the BCC library, I took out some of the stuff about the philosophy of higher education put on reserve by Dr. Cook. I think I’ll probably stay over in Davie tonight and hope that I’ll be up to exercising tomorrow.

All this week I’ve spent about $12, which is about what I’d spend in one good day in New York.

I need to get a good night’s sleep; I feel my brain isn’t working right and everything I do is slightly confused. Well, we all have off-days.

Saturday, January 24, 1987

5 PM. Last evening I went to Davie, where Mom made herself, Dad and me soy burgers for dinner. With smothered onions, they taste almost like the real thing.

Dad’s Bugle Boy shirts from Paul Davril have been selling wildly, but of course they couldn’t possibly ship all the orders he’s written, both because they don’t have the goods and because the retailers’ credit will get turned down by the factors.

It started to get very chilly, and Dad put up the heat; later, I found out the temperature had gone down to the mid-30°s during the night. Of course, it’s still better than the below-zero wind-chill factors they’ve got in the Northeast.

At 8 PM, I began reading the material on the various philosophies of education that Dr. Cook had given us, and when I finished at 10 PM – the work was interesting – I watched Martin Scorsese’s film, Into the Night, which was very good. Griffin Dunne, the lead actor, once tried to pick up Ronna in a bar, I remember.

Up at 9 AM, I realized I needed more sleep, so I went back to dreamland rather than begin my exercises. Although I confined my workout today to the half-hour of aerobics with the Body Electric show and another half-hour of bench presses and chest flyes, I felt pretty good.

At 2 PM, I went over to the BCC lab, where I worked on the KNOWOL knowledge base system, following the book.

“KNOWOL?” said Ole, the lanky blond guy who runs the lab on Saturdays.

I explained I was taking an A.I. class at FAU, and we talked a little. He’s Czech, I think, and very sweet if a bit computer-nerdy. Everyone else in the lab was Vietnamese.

After about two hours, I felt pretty comfortable with KNOWOL.

Yesterday my Turbo PROLOG disk arrived via UPS, and I guess I’ll have to start learning that soon, too.

Before I left the lab, I cleaned up some of my PC-Write files and was surprised at how much uncollected, unfinished fiction I had.

“You May Already Be a Winner” is a story I should get back to and figure out how to shape and end it; the story has a lot of good things in it.

It warmed up to about 70° today, so it felt nice out.

Tuesday, January 27, 1987

9 PM. I’ve just come home. It’s a chilly night, about 40° now, but I feel energetic and optimistic, a far cry from the way I felt last night.

Today was a terrific day: although nothing special happened, everything went all right.

This morning, I worked out, using very light weights and lots of repetitions. Then I made headway in my higher education text. On Sunday evening I got another 125 pages read, and I’ve got about 100 pages left to read.

In Davie, I got my mail – a rejection of a story, a credit card bill, and the phone bill. I paid Southern Bell $100 a couple of months ago, so I’ve had big credits on the statements and should not have to pay again until April.

Mom was being very affectionate, and while playing with my hair (uncharacteristically, I didn’t pull away), she found a couple of what she said were grey hairs – though I think they may have been platinum blond.

Mom said I’ve had one silver-white hair in the back of my head ever since I was a baby; I didn’t know that.

Back home, I jotted down some ideas for a column; they haven’t started to gel yet, but I’m playing around with the ideas.

I’d like to do one column as a takeoff on SAT-type reading comprehension texts (Pete Cherches did this very well in Condensed Book), and I’ve got a notion about using Cecil B. Sawgrass, frog symbol of the new Sawgrass Expressway and Freddy the Alligator, symbol of the South Florida Water Management District in another column.

Up in Boca, I had my usual pizza lunch while reading USA Today. Then I went to the computer lab two hours early and wrote some letters and helped a classmate who was having trouble with her KNOWOL disk.

In A.I. class, we worked on creating a KNOWOL knowledge base with a simple problem Dan gave us, but as usual, it was very tedious work and I kept getting bugs in the program.

The nice part was that I seemed to be about an hour ahead of everyone else in making errors and then discovering how to correct them.

I overheard Dan tell Dave that he’s interested in writing short stories and has joined a writers’ workshop in Coral Gables. Isn’t that something: a computer professor wants to do what I do. (Dan knows from Ray that I’m a writer.)

I’m sure he has no idea how difficult it is and how much rejection he would have to take. It was amusing to listen to him and Dave talk about being fiction writers and working on novels about college life.

Well, maybe this will give Dan more respect for people like me.

There’s no class next week, so I should have time to perfect my first KNOWOL project, which seemed to be working when I left FAU.

After dinner at D’Lites, I drove down I-95 to Broward Boulevard and went to the downtown main library, where I used the InfoTrac database system to find and print out articles about artificial intelligence; another project for class is a database of 10 articles on A.I. related to education.

With the database and printer, I took five minutes to do what would otherwise be a job of several hours.

If it’s true that in an information-based economy, someone who has easy access to information is rich, then I should do well. I enjoyed helping a student learn to use the database for a search; probably I’m a born teacher.

Last night Josh called, sounding upset. On Saturday morning he “woke up screaming” from a dream about Chloe, and that night he was alone in the Thalia, waiting for the film to start, when Chloe, also alone, moved from her seat next to his.

He felt as if he were back in a dream, especially after Chloe said she had dreamed about him the night before. They went to the back of the theater to talk, and both were very upset.

Chloe told him her boyfriend is a philosophy Ph.D. who lives in his father’s building in Manhattan and also in Boston, where he teaches, and since he was in Boston that night, Josh concluded the guy was married and told Chloe so. It all sounded very familiar and unpleasant.

Back home, Josh called Chloe to apologize about the comments he made about her boyfriend, but they ended up in a fight and Josh hung up.

Then he thought, “This is the last time I’ll talk to her and it shouldn’t end that way,” so he phoned her again to apologize. “Don’t put this in a story,” Josh said.

“I think I already have,” I said, “but it wasn’t about you.”

Breakups, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are all alike, basically.

Josh now realizes that Chloe was deceiving him for six months and he feels both sorrow and rage.

For example, he and Chloe had a running joke that she was having an affair with The Refrigerator, the Chicago Bears football player: “How could she have joked about being with The Refrigerator the night before when she really was with this other guy?”

I tried to be a good listener, for Josh was clearly in pain, but I had no advice or words of wisdom.

The 24-year-old he went out with liked him, and they got along – but Josh wasn’t really attracted to her and he’s sort of turned off sex right now.

Although Josh might have been distant and taken Chloe for granted, it would have been better if she had told him about the other guy months ago rather than just spring it on him the night she dumped him.

Chloe says it isn’t easy on her, that she still has feelings for Josh, and I’m sure that’s true, but she should have been more honest earlier.

Así es la vida.

Friday, January 30, 1987

4 PM. I’ve just come from seeing Woody Allen’s latest film, Radio Days, which opened today. Like other fans, I wanted to see the first showing; fortunately, it was right here at the Inverrary triplex.

The movie was a mood piece, plotless kind of memoir showing how radio affected the lives of a Rockaway family in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

With an ensemble cast, and lots of episodes, both with the family in Rockaway and with the glamorous radio people in Manhattan, the movie was sweetly nostalgic.

Although I’m younger, naturally I related to a lot of it, especially the glimpses of the Rockaway neighborhood (around Beach 116th Street) that I know so well.

One scene at the Prospect Park Zoo also made me nostalgic for my childhood trips there. Allen is an amazing director; I love to watch him stretch and grow.

I’m convinced that there’s a great deal I could write about the Rockaway I remember from the 1950s and 1960s. The summers I’d spent at Lincoln Court seems more real to me than the rest of the year back in Brooklyn.

Not only were my parents and brothers there, but I was surrounded by relatives: all four grandparents, Great-Grandma Bessie, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris, Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney and their kids, and Aunt Arlyne’s parents, Helen and Bert.

I remember old Mrs. Rosenthal with her walker, and mean old Mrs. Bessmer, and Etta and Dave Horowitz, and Gil Karol and his family, and Schnitz Davidson and his friend who could talk only about baseball, and Murray Sherman’s amateur theatricals (which I appeared in), and playing bag-ball and a game where we threw the Spaldeen on the roof of the bungalow, and Grandpa Herb taking me out to the parking lot by the boardwalk to teach me to ride a bicycle without training wheels, and treks to the 35th Street amusement park with my friends.

I remember the night I slipped on Grandma Ethel’s waxed floor and split my forehead open, and running away to Grandpa Nat’s when I’d disobeyed Grandpa Herb, and listening to transistor radios, and looking up to see if we could see the Mercury rocket of Gus Grissom, and my grandparents’ endless pinochle and mah-jongg games, and the 16mm film someone made of me and Brucie fighting with big gloves in a real boxing ring and us putting on shaving cream between rounds for the “commercial.”

I remember playing at the beach and seeing the fireworks on Tuesday nights and our porches with their hammocks (I liked Uncle Marty’s from the Coast Guard) and yellow lights (to chase away bugs) and the slotted floors (I once mean-spiritedly let one of Marc’s board games down between the planks) and getting dry ice from the corner luncheonette.

God, what memories. I definitely should go back to that material the way Neil Simon and Woody Allen have done. Maybe I have to be older, or more time needs to pass before people get interested in the 1950s and early 1960s.

That’s the way I’ve felt about my college memories. If I have time, I’ll be able to get it all down on paper, in a way that makes the material fresh and not clichéd.

I do consider myself an artist, and that’s a stretch of the ego, but a necessary one if I’m to be an artist. My stories were/are often original and quirky and funny and poignant.

One of the reviewers who wrote about Fiction/86 mentioned “STUFF”: Standard University Fiction Fodder, the kind of stories you see in the Pushcart Prize and O’Henry anthologies, the stuff always in vogue in academia: the well-crafted, finely-wrought, very safe fictions.

I don’t write STUFF.

Maybe I’m not all that great, but I am myself, an original. I’ve always believed I was in this for the long haul, and that if I’m lucky enough to hang around a while, I’ll do okay and produce some good work.

According to the weekend preview in the Sun-Tattler, tomorrow they’ll be publishing my column whose premise is South Florida seceding from the U.S. to form its own country, the Kingdom of Condominia, with Reagan as our king once he leaves office – or else maybe Julio Iglesias or Jackie Gleason.

I think it has some pretty funny lines. It’s such a thrill to know that a lot of people will read it.

Yeah, maybe I’m a bit lazy for a writer, but hopefully I can make up for that with bouts of productivity.