A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1987


Sunday, March 22, 1987

8 PM. Well, I’ve got a full week facing me. I start that computer literacy workshop on Wednesday, and I’ll be teaching on Thursday, too, though I think I’ll manage that with no trouble.

I’ve got to make time to finish my two term papers, which are due in two weeks.

Last night I read my Roman History text until a cockroach started climbing up my shoulder. Yech! I hate having a cockroach in bed!

After killing it, I eventually got to sleep.

Up at 8 AM, I had breakfast, read the Herald, went out to get the other papers, read the News/Sun-Sentinel, showered and went to Davie, where I finished off the New York Times, had lunch, and went to Kmart, where I bought two t-shirts and a pair of shorts.

Except for shirts, I badly need clothes.

My pants are a disgrace. Just before I was about to teach last Thursday, I went to the bathroom and discovered that my corduroys had worn through the inseam. The only pair of blue jeans I own is similarly holy.

I hate shopping for clothes, though, and I dread having to buy several new pairs of jeans and corduroys. Dress pants? I think the only pair I own came from my only suit, which I bought in 1982.

I don’t own a pair of regular shoes, and the little underwear I own is about to fall apart.

Just think of all the money I’ve saved by being so poorly dressed – except for shirts. Sometimes I wish that my family would expand the items they sell at the flea market or that Dad would take on other clothing lines besides Bugle Boy shirts.

My jackets are still left over from the days when Dad was selling Sasson jackets, but since I live in Florida (or New York in the summer), they have held up well.

Obviously, I need to get a whole new wardrobe (except shirts and jackets) before I leave Florida because in New York, everything costs a lot more.

I also need to get a pair of replacement contact lenses before I go. And I have a list of other things to do, too, before I go.

While I hate thinking about this, I’ve moved between New York and Florida many times already, and I always have enough time to do everything.

The AIDS epidemic is now a daily staple in the news, and the number of AIDS patients will swell to an unimaginable extent by 1991.

On Friday, the FDA approved the sale of AZT, which has stemmed the advance of the disease in some people. But the drug is very expensive: $10,000 a year.

I wish I was doing more to help and not just selfishly trying not to catch the disease. I’m now certain I didn’t pick up the virus from Sean, and I plan to do nothing to risk getting infected.

Why? Life’s not all that precious to me, but I do want to survive – mostly, I think, because I’m a writer.

Yes, I know I haven’t exactly set the world on fire with my short stories, and every Sunday the New York Times Book Review gets harder to read as I see so many new books by younger and more talented fiction writers. (Susan Mernit and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer each reviewed such books today.)

But I still feel I’m basically a late bloomer, and as I get older, I get more mature and what I have to say gets more important.

With so many Americans younger now than I am, eventually my remembrances of my childhood will seem as distantly nostalgic as those of Neil Simon or Woody Allen.

When I berate myself for lack of literary ambition, discipline and talent, I try to remember that I’m unique.

Some critic can always argue that I failed miserably in fulfilling my early promise, but in some ways it’s amazing that I’ve accomplished as much as I have.

I guess I’d like to avoid dying mostly to see what I’m going to turn into, what the world will turn into, and what – if anything – I can accomplish in the future.

Tonight I had Chinese food at my parents’.

When I saw Jonathan turn pale in the kitchen, I thought he suddenly felt nauseated or was having the kind of anxiety attack I used to get – but Jonathan said he was having “an out-of-body experience,” something apparently that happens when you’re a sannyasin.

I think a decent psychotherapist could do more for my brother than Bhagwan ever could – and considering all the money Jonathan spends on Bhagwan books and videotapes (not to mention red clothing), it’d be cheaper in the long run, too.

You know, I may be a little fat and lazy now, but I’d rather be like this than be the nervous, skinny, neurotic kid I was twenty years ago. I’ve got a decent disposition, a good appetite, and I can relax.

Anxiety doesn’t get anyone any medals.

Wednesday, March 25, 1987

8 PM. Lisa called last night. Because I hadn’t heard from her in a long time, I thought she had lost interest in being friends, but it turns out she’s been very ill. In fact, two weeks ago she had to have surgery to remove her gall bladder.

Since December, Lisa had been suffering from stomach pain, gas, indigestion and other symptoms. Her doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and all her colleagues told her she was merely suffering from stress.

In February, Lisa had a very bad attack and went to a new doctor, a gastroenterologist who put her through a battery of expensive and painful tests.

When the report came back that she had gallstones, Lisa was relieved to know the source of her problems at last.

The surgery was painful, but once she recovers, Lisa can go back to a normal schedule, and she doesn’t even need a special diet.

I know I’d view gall bladder surgery as the ultimate trauma, but Lisa seemed to handle it well.

Then again, I guess if you’ve been sick and you know surgery will make you better, you can endure it more easily.

Because she has run out of sick days, Lisa has to return to her school next week, sooner than she’d planned.

Teaching at the high school has begun to get her down, so she’s put in to teach in the school’s new gifted program, which she hopes will prove more interesting.

She has to take gifted education courses at FAU (in fact, she comes to the Commercial Boulevard campus on Tuesday afternoons, when I’m at the Boca campus), but it sounds worthwhile to me.

I hope to see Lisa again before I leave for New York.

Even though the conditions were less than ideal (as usual), today’s computer literacy workshop at Gratigny Elementary went well.

I have eight or nine teachers and aides in the class, which we hold in the library, where they have seven Apple IIc’s, the portable computer I’ve never worked on before and which I’ve never seen in any other school.

After giving them a brief introduction to computers, I let them work on the machines with the MECC disks that the school has in their software library.

It’s interesting how each of the Miami public schools has such different software and hardware.

Early this morning, I went to Jaffe’s, where I laid out my own money to photocopy the worksheets for the class that I made up yesterday.

I drove down to North Miami Beach, where I had lunch at Corky’s before going down to N.W. 119th Street and Miami Avenue, where Gratigny Elementary is located.

Leaving the class out a little early, I put away the CPUs (I guess that’s one advantage of the IIc’s: you can lock them in a cabinet while keeping the monitors out) before heading up I-95 into Broward.

I probably beat the worst of the rush hour to come.

In downtown Fort Lauderdale, I went to the main library, where I did the last of my research for the Higher Ed paper, which I’ll start writing this weekend, and I took out another book about Roman history, the seventh and last, for my paper in that class.

Tomorrow I’ve got to teach in Kendall, and I hope that guy Dave lets me use some of his CAI software with the teachers.

I feel pretty busy, which isn’t terrible because it keeps me from being bored. Sometimes I feel my life is a battle to balance enough stimulation to avoid boredom but not so much stimulation that I get anxious.

At least I slept well last night, dreaming that I was the captain of a victorious football team.

Thursday, March 26, 1987

9 PM. The work week is over for me.

Today’s workshop went pretty well. After lecturing on the history of computers, I let the teachers on the machines with the software that Dave, the teacher’s aide, had kindly left for us.

In addition to the usual boring MECC disks, they also have some neat stuff: Broderbund’s Print Shop (some of the teachers printed out banners) and Mouse Paint, a nice sketchpad.

It’s important to give the teachers time on the machines so they can learn by themselves, by trial and error – although, of course, with my help and guidance.

I really like Dave. He told me he bought one of the first Apple II’s when he was 14 and that he used to be “a crazy kid, writing video game programs all night.”

Dave is also a musician (the long blond hair cascading past his shoulders made that easy to figure out) and liked the Apple’s MIDI capabilities.

He was a student at the very school where he works – probably not too long ago, since I guess he’s about 22 or 23.

Leaving Green Glade Elementary at 6 PM, I took the turnpike and I-75 to Griffin Road, making it to Davie in less than an hour.

The family was eating tuna, egg salad and other good stuff, so I joined them for dinner, as did Marc and China, who came in right after I did. Mom made a soy burger for the dog, who is getting bigger and cuter. Marc and the puppy seem very attached to each other.

Dad was elected to the condo board of directors after they threw all the members of the old board out. He was a very reluctant candidate and is the only one of the five members without an executive position.

Anyway, last night I read the handouts on PROLOG from Dan’s and Ray’s manuscript for their book. To me, PROLOG is the most interesting computer language, and I’d really like to learn it well.

I’m very glad I took the A.I. course and I’m reasonably sure I’ll get an A in it, although we haven’t had much stuff to be evaluated on.

This afternoon, after having some pizza at Gaetano’s, I drove into West Dade and hung out on the FIU campus before heading over to Green Glade Elementary to teach.

Josh called and said he was writing about his experience with the AIDS test. It’s given him a sympathy for AIDS victims he never would have had otherwise, he said. Before, people with AIDS were an abstraction to him, but now Josh can put himself in their place.

The mole removal was quite painful (made worse by a sadistic doctor) and required 11 stitches; it was probably nothing in the first place, but that’s what got Josh started on thinking he had AIDS.

Saturday, March 28, 1987

9 PM. I’ve got a headache this big, as they say on the TV commercials. But at least I have the satisfaction of having completed my paper, “Trends in American Higher Education, 1976-1986.”

I knocked out the whole thing – which turned out to be 18 pages of hard copy – at the BCC-Central computer lab from 2 PM to 5 PM.

After the first couple of hours, I got pretty bleary-eyed, but I was determined to complete it, and I did. I even got a nice letter-quality printout.

How come they don’t give athletic medals to writers? This was a good performance, if I do say so myself.

And I can be very self-critical. Take today’s Sun-Tattler column, “Green Celebrities Do Sing the Blues,” about Cecil B. Sawgrass and Freddy Gator. It’s bad.

Maybe the column contains are sparks of wit, but it’s not at all sharp. Mostly it’s a failed attempt at whimsy. Well, they can’t all be great.

What irks me is that the paper seems to hold back my more biting and satirical pieces. Because they’d offend readers? I don’t know.

But I’m not going to write another column unless I get a terrific idea for one. Sixteen columns – even if they don’t run them, I wrote them – and 100 pages are enough for now. If I got a Florida Arts Council grant, I’d consider collecting them all in a book.

Hey, I finally opened that UPS package, and the Doubleday editor, Susan Schwartz, thought my stories were “marvelous” and “inventive” – but of course Doubleday isn’t the right publisher for them.

She gave me the names of editors at other houses and said I could use her name. Anyway, that’s a lot better than the tripe the E.P. Dutton editor wrote.

Tuesday, March 31, 1987

10 AM. Right now it’s raining heavily, and it looks like it will be a surprisingly cool day.

Yesterday I got through both my classes. In the morning at FAU, Dr. Breslow took us from Antonius Pius to the rise of Constantine the Great; it was quite a confusing history, with all those emperors going in and out like a revolving door.

Instead of stopping at my apartment, I went to Davie, where I had a bite to eat (although I wasn’t famished the way I usually am on Mondays) and lay down.

Marc brought China over, and playing with the puppy made me feel a little better. That dog is three times the size she was when Marc first got her.

Still feeling exhausted, I dragged myself to the BCC campus, but the interesting reports in Higher Ed class – on academic freedom, black colleges, and student activism – revived me.

In our discussions about student activism of the 1960s and early 1970s, I recounted some of the events at Brooklyn College and CUNY that I was part of, and I guess I got carried away talking about it.

As another student in the class said, “That was such an exciting time.”

I’m still convinced there’s a hunger for stories about that era, which has been so maligned in our conservative age.

My story “Coping” takes place in the aftermath of Kent State; that was probably the story the E.P. Dutton editor meant when she said that no one who didn’t grow up in New York City and attend Columbia University would be interested in.

Oh well.

Back in Davie after Joe Cook’s class, I microwaved a frozen Weight Watchers entree and settled down to watch the Academy Awards with my parents.

Someone recently said there are only two national religious holidays left – the Super Bowl and the Oscars – when Americans worship their idols on their video shrines.

As expected, Platoon won for best picture. It’s a prime example of what I’ve been talking about in that for a decade, potential backers kept telling Oliver Stone that “no one is interested in a realistic movie about Vietnam.”

Stone, in his Best Director acceptance speech, said that only if we can stop another long Vietnam-type war from happening in our lifetime will those soldiers not have died in vain.

I was glad that Hannah and Her Sisters got Woody Allen the Best Screenplay award and two awards for supporting roles.

And Steven Spielberg, in getting a special award, said that movies should not shunt aside the word in favor of the image because a generation of non-readers can’t produce the writers who really do make everything happen.

I fell asleep around 12:15 AM and slept well. Lately I’ve been dreaming a lot about New York, and as the time approaches for me to return – it’s just a month now – I’m feeling more and more excited.

In yesterday’s Times, there was a photo of the corner of West 85th Street and West End Avenue, where an idiotic and greedy developer wants to put a platformed 10-story monstrosity on top of that beautiful red castle-like building on the northeast corner.

I could see from the photo that the sliver skyscraper in the middle of the block is already up.

I’ve decided that even if I don’t get a student loan for the summer, I’ll take a class at Teachers College. I could take that Computers and the Arts course for two points, which would cost me $750: that’s steep, but it would allow me to have use of the college’s computers, which is worth money to me.

Well, I have to go up to Boca later today, and I need to get to work on my Roman History paper. Stupidly, I’ve been so lazy the last couple of days, ever since finishing my Higher Ed paper.


11 PM. I shouldn’t scold myself, as I did this morning, for being lazy. When I want to, I can work quite hard.

I left Davie at 11 AM and returned to my apartment here in Lauderhill, got my stuff put away, and went out to lunch.

At the Commercial Boulevard campus of FAU, I spent 90 minutes in the computer room, writing my Roman History paper. I hadn’t realized how much of it I’d already completed.

Anyway, I ended up with 14 pages – twice the length asked for – but I couldn’t see doing it any shorter.

At 3:45 PM, I got on I-95 and drove to the main FAU campus.

In class, Dan gave us several more chapters of his and Ray’s book on PROLOG and told us to go through the exercises by next week.

We didn’t have to stay, but I want to finish most of the material, which was on recursion and list processing, both of which I’d learned about a few years ago with LOGO.

Leaving school at 6:15 PM, I arrived home to have dinner with the NBC Nightly News.

Today’s big story was the decision in the Baby M surrogate mother case awarding the baby to the natural father (by artificial insemination) and his wife; the judge found their contract with the surrogate mother was valid.

I decided to drive to downtown Fort Lauderdale to drop off the library books from my history report.

Then I walked over to the FAU/FIU/BCC Tower’s computer room, where I got hard copies of some more outlines for Higher Ed class, printed out an edited copy of the Roman History paper, and worked some more on PROLOG.

Home at 9:30 PM, I watched TV (Moonlighting and Max Headroom) while I did some chores.

Well, I have to teach tomorrow and Thursday, and I’ve got to get moving on my final for Joe Cook’s class – but since that isn’t due until April 13, I feel I can hold off for a few days.

See how lazy I can be?