A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1985


Wednesday, October 23, 1985

9 PM. Amazingly, I’m not at all tired after another one of my killer Wednesdays.

Last night I decided I wasn’t going to fool with insomnia, so I took one of the codeine-laced Tylenols. It worked wonderfully, for I slept soundly from 9 PM till 6 AM: nine hours of much-needed sleep. That helped today go much faster.

At Baruch at 8 AM, I had a fairly good class, and then I took the subway to Times Square, where I picked up a copy of Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale News. I checked out the stories and the local real estate ads; it looks like I can get a good rental for about $400 to $500.

Then I took the train up to the familiar 86th Street stop and had a leisurely breakfast at the corner Greek diner before dropping in on Teresa. She had called and left an excited message yesterday, but her phone was busy all the time I tried to get her back.

Teresa had wanted to tell me that she saw Sat Darshan yesterday; it was the first time Teresa had caught Avis in her Sikh garb, but she said Avis “was deep in conversation with a normal person so I didn’t say hello.”

Teresa also ran into Robert Rothman, who’s gotten bald (I expected that) and no less pompous.

“See what just one day in the working world can get you,” I said.

Her interview at Howard Rubinstein seemed to go well. (When she took credit for my publicity, the interviewer said, “Grayson? Didn’t he run a movie star for President?”) But Teresa said that she may deliberately fail the writing test she still has to take so that she doesn’t get the job.

Basically, she still doesn’t want to work. She’d rather play – and now she’s into Norton’s idea for a chicken store in Brooklyn Heights. I said I wasn’t worried about the venture because they were going to a bank for funding.

“But banks won’t always okay a good idea,” Teresa said.

“I meant they’ll steer you away from a bad one.”

As usual, Teresa thinks she knows everything; her mind is made up, so I don’t want to confuse her with the facts. While I may know nothing about business, I know what I don’t know.

Also, I know that start-up costs will prevent any kind of profits for some time. And that unexpected problems and expenses always pop up. And that running any kind of store is not the breeze Teresa envisions.

Like so many others, Teresa gets caught up in the fun aspects of starting a business: naming the store, decorating and designing it, making up stationery and business cards, etc.

From my parents, I’ve learned that any kind of store or sales requires very hard work and little glamour; if it were the other way around, Teresa might be well-suited to that kind of retail life.

Oh well, I hope I’m proven wrong, but I see this as just another detour for Teresa. Remember how rich the Family Pages was going to make her?

This morning, when I got to John Jay, Livia Katz told me that Doris has been in the hospital with bronchial pneumonia.

I had my classes write, but these people are so hopeless that about half of them could not even follow very specific directions, repeated several times, for the format of a “Once I was ——; now I am ——” essay.

After class, I got my paycheck and deposited it, along with the $142.28 royalty check from Zephyr Press that I picked up at Teresa’s.

From the bank at Columbus Circle, I went up to Columbia, where I had pizza before my programming class. Programming is intellectually challenging to me, and I did enjoy tonight’s class.

It’s wonderful that I had the energy to get through today. I’m amazed.

Thursday, October 24, 1985

9 PM. Well, this week is over and it’s been the best week and the least taxing week I’ve had since I’ve started this fall schedule.

I got a second good night’s sleep in a row and this morning’s class at Baruch was a breeze since the last half was in the computer room. Roberta said her job is very hectic, mostly because she has to run back and forth from the remedial lab to the ESL lab. They really need to hire two people.

At 10:30 AM, I got some Visa cash advances at the banks on 23rd Street, picked up my Baruch paycheck (now it seems our retrospective increases may not come until next spring) and then stopped off at the First Nationwide at Broadway and the Battery before heading home to Park Slope.

I took care of some chores, then went to Dr. Hersh, where I had my last appointment. He cost me $310 in all, but I know my teeth are in good shape: now that I’m flossing regularly, my gums are pink and healthy, and I’m going to try to make sure they stay that way.

It’s been interesting going back to East 56th Street and the old neighborhood on a regular basis; indeed, it’s been interesting to be living in Brooklyn again these past nine weeks.

Although it hasn’t been a picnic, I’m richer for the experience, and I should thank Justin – who’s probably watching the premiere of Pippin at this moment. Already, Justin’s friends, anticipating his return, have begun calling the apartment.

It started clouding up at 3 PM when I got out of the dentist’s. I felt energized as I waited for the Flatbush Avenue bus at Avenue N and East 55th Street.

I took the bus to Sears, where I bought $100 worth of floppy disks for my Baruch students; I figured I should use my Sears card rather than a credit card or a T&E card. Hopefully, I’ll be reimbursed by my students.

After we passed the Junction, I was the only white person on the bus, and as I waited again at Flatbush and Tilden, I must have stood out among all those black people. But it’s interesting: I didn’t feel different from them after a while. Nobody stared at me. I felt perfectly safe.

It’s a good experience to learn how inner-city minority people live – and I’m learning that (again) from my Baruch and John Jay students. It’s a nice change from the middle-class suburban white kids at Broward Community College. Who said college teaching isn’t the real world?

Friday, October 25, 1985

5 PM. Today’s been the most relaxed I’ve been in weeks. I had the time to sleep late, exercise and indulge myself a little.

Last evening, when I spoke to Mom, she told me that Dad’s flight arrives at about 8:30 PM tomorrow. Dad will drop by here on Sunday morning; then I’ll go with him up to Manhattan – perhaps taking a suitcase to drop off at Teresa’s – and then go back to Grandma Ethel’s in Rockaway.

At least that’s the tentative plan. Since I’ll be seeing Grandma on Sunday, it made no sense for me to go to Rockaway today. I slept late – for me, 9 AM is now late – and then lifted weights for an hour while watching a videotape of this week’s St. Elsewhere.

I’ve just completed another little workout, and I’m slightly sweaty and tired. In between, I took the bus to downtown Brooklyn, and at the Business Library on Cadman Plaza, I went over this month’s copies of American Banker, looking for stories on credit cards and interstate banking.

It appears that the glory years for bank cards are over now that the public and Congress are upset over high interest rates and fees and now that the competition is coming from Sears’ Discover card (though initial reports from the test market in Georgia show fairly low use).

Back home, I responded to letters from Rick and Crad. Crad sent along an interview from a mostly music-oriented Toronto street paper; it captured the essence of Crad Kilodney, the social misfit, neurotic and genius. Crad’s typeset all his new books and is now proofreading them.

Rick is tired, though he’s teaching only two sections (and of creative writing, yet), but the new issue of Gargoyle should be out soon. He and Gretchen are now wildly in debt. The Washington Post Book World accepted his review of Gilbert Sorrentino’s new book, and he may be able to review books for them on a regular basis.

A talk before a bunch of George Washington University freshmen proved to be a fiasco as the students all but giggled him out of the room. Their attitude: “Who is this failed hippie?” Fuck them, I say.

Rick writes that the word was the last New York Book Fair was a good one, though he, like I, wonders about the fortunes of the small press in the ’80s, especially when the young writers in their twenties have successfully bypassed the small press in favor of the New York publishing world.

With college students who are now 17 and 18 years my junior, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m nearly 35, which, after all, used to be considered “middle age.”

It’s a different world today, of course, with vigorous people still active in their seventies, but as time goes on, my life, and that of my generation, becomes more and more a part of history.

My students were only babies during 1969, the year of the first moon landing, Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Stonewall – while I was the age they are now.

Rick and I and people our age have a perspective that no one else can have. Someday, I know, people will be interested in how we looked at things.

Saturday, October 26, 1985

7 PM. I used today fairly productively even though it seemed as if I wasted hours just lying about. I completed all but the last chapter (and the last homework) in my programming text; I got some letters written; and I packed one suitcase suitable for taking to Teresa’s tomorrow.

Last night Teresa called, as antsy as ever. She had absolutely no inner resources to fall back on when she’s alone, and the start of the weekend panicked her.

At Howard Rubinstein’s office, she took a writing test; she was given some data from a mythical report and asked to create a press release. “I didn’t intend to fail it, but I may have anyway,” said Teresa, who’s really lacking all self-confidence.

I think not working may have hurt her sense of self-worth the way it did mine this past summer. She told me that the Rubinstein offices, located in the Burlington Mills building on Sixth and 53rd, made her feel claustrophobic.

I dread having to deal with Teresa’s neuroses once I begin living at her apartment again.

The nine weeks I’ve spent here in Park Slope may not have been paradise, but I had ideal roommates in Jim and Ben: they respected my privacy and I didn’t have to get overly involved with their lives. Justin is lucky to have Jim and Ben.

But just as I adjusted to this situation and all the others in which I’ve lived, I will adjust to staying at Teresa’s again. I’ll miss the privacy here, the comfort of this bed – the couch in Teresa’s living room still isn’t very comfortable – but there’s nothing I can do about it. If the situation becomes unbearable, I’ll shell out the big bucks necessary to sublet on my own.

This week is the midterm mark at Baruch and Columbia, and I am starting to see daylight. With Columbia not that far from Teresa’s, I’ll be able to use the DEC-20 more and I’ll have time to work on my Computer Graphics project, too.

After next Saturday, there’ll be just one more Graphics class, on November 16, before our projects are presented on December 14. In Florida, I should be able to look at my old disks and see if I can find some old programs that will help me.

And if I can avoid taking any sick days this week, I’m going to leave for Florida a week from Monday or Tuesday and stay there for nearly a week. Dad should be en route here now. I haven’t seen him in four months, and I look forward to spending at least a little time together.

We get an extra hour tonight as daylight savings time ends. The other day, Peter Filichia was quoted in a Times “Metropolitan Diary” piece: in April, he kept calling the time phone number, ME 7-1212, and learned they didn’t switch the time an hour ahead until the temperature had changed.

November’s coming up, so five-sixths of 1985 will be gone soon. While I have regrets, I’m going to come out of this year okay, I think, with more gains than losses. But nothing in life is certain: look what happened to Leon Klinghoffer’s vacation cruise.

Monday, October 28, 1985

6 PM. It’s been dark for an hour, and chilly weather arrived today, so there’s no longer any fooling ourselves: winter is almost here.

I’ve really begun to long for Florida. Tonight is probably the last night I’ll spend in Brooklyn after nearly ten weeks here.

Yesterday I looked at my diary entries for exactly six months ago, when I left my apartment at Nova University and came to New York. It was a difficult adjustment to return to Teresa’s, and I expect another difficult period now.

But if I can remember that I will adjust after a certain period of time, I’ll be okay.

Time’s both our friend and our enemy. At dinner at the Grand Canyon last night, Dad asked me why I was staring at him. “You’re grayer,” I said, not telling him that he reminded me a little of Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

“I got old,” Dad said. “At my next birthday – I can hardly believe it – I’ll be 60 years old.”

Earlier, as we walked down Seventh Avenue from President Street, Dad remarked that the block we were on had been his territory when he worked for that private investigating firm while he was still in high school.

And I told Dad that the year he used to drive me up to Franklin School on the Upper West Side was twenty years ago; we both clearly remember the traffic and the chaos of the Blackout, which was almost exactly twenty years ago.

In some ways those days seem very far away, yet I can remember so many details about them.

Anyway, it’s amazing that Dad and I should be eating dinner together in Park Slope, not having seen each other for four months, having gone through the last twenty years since 1965 the way we did.

In one way, it delights me the way a family saga novel does: the plot takes twists and turns but the characters go on. Dad told me that Grandpa Nat still looks the same, and if he lives till next April, Grandpa will be 88 years old.

If I live that long – which I highly doubt – I could have fifty years ahead of me. It seems impossible, and I’m not sure I would like to be in the world of 2035.

Dad said that most of the Sasson salesmen are in their thirties, and like the manager, don’t know very much and aren’t competent; it seems as though quality people don’t exist in the clothing business anymore.

Dad got a new line, which he hopes it will help him to make a living. The problem of “making a living” in Florida is very real for many people. In New York, the cost of living is high, but real estate values have gone out of sight.

Had Mom and Dad remained on East 56th Street, their mortgage – a ridiculously low $240 a month – would be paid off now, and Dad could almost be retired. Yet if he regrets moving to Florida, Dad doesn’t say so.

He told me that once Jonathan decided to quit the army/navy store, Mom asked him to try working in the flea market. She and Marc were going to have to hire a kid to help them anyway, and so far Jonathan seems to like working there.

He quit the store because in the new location, the manager treated him like just another kid, not the responsible assistant manager who used to open and close the other store.

As Dad said, Jonathan stayed too long in that job anyway. “He fears any kind of change,” Dad said. “I guess we all do.”

I’ve tried to conquer my own fear of change by constantly moving around. Whether it’s made me more fucked up or stronger is debatable, but I think that in the long run I’m a better person for my peripatetic ways.

Last January and at the end of April, I hated “uprooting myself,” but now I see that’s a natural part of adjusting to a new situation. I expect to feel quite uncomfortable at Teresa’s for the next few weeks.

But eventually I’ll discover some benefits, and I’ll get used to my new surroundings. And it will be hard to return once more to Florida. However, the more experience with change I have under my belt, the easier it gets next time.

After Dad left for Rockaway and Grandma Ethel’s, I spent a couple of hours going over the pile of mail he’d brought: not only bills but some American Demographics magazines and other stuff.

I joined Bankcard Holders of America, a D.C.-based organization of credit card holders that should be right up my alley. But I won’t get apply for any more cards for the rest of this year; enough’s enough.

Up early this morning, probably because of the time change, I was at Baruch before 7:30 AM, when the elevators first start running as the elevator operators begin work. (I prefer the elevator operator the students call Myrtle the Turtle to the guy known as Whiplash Willie.)

My students bought my disks, and in the lab, Roberta showed them how to work HomeWord, an easy word-processing program.

I would teach a bit more slowly than she does. However, I’m glad I didn’t get the job because I see it is too much for one person. Roberta has to run back and forth between the ESL and comp labs – which aren’t in adjoining rooms – and she says eventually they’ll have to hire another person.

I went uptown and had breakfast on Broadway and 58th – I was right across from the Coliseum, where Dad was, but I couldn’t get in without ID – and after a trip to the bank, I went to teach at John Jay, where my classes were okay today, though I was nearly as sleepy as my students.

Back in Park Slope at 4:30 PM, I picked up my laundry and then made an early supper.

Teresa said she’s free to move me out of here tomorrow, so I’ll go to her place after teaching at Baruch.

Tuesday, October 29, 1985

8 PM. Back at Teresa’s.

I suppose I felt less stress today than did the little catfish I introduced into Justin’s aquarium.

At the pet store on Seventh Avenue, when he was taken out of his tank, he squirmed nervously, and before putting him in a plastic bag, the storeowner had to squirt him with some kind of stress-reducing device.

Teresa and I were told to introduce him gradually to the new tank, letting him float in his plastic bag for twenty minutes before setting him free.

Last night I slept well, and because I’m still not used to Standard Time, I was up at 6 AM. I used the time to pack and get all my stuff together. My class at Baruch was a bit obstreperous today, and I discovered I lost several papers, but at least I got through the day with little pain.

Up here at Teresa’s at 11:30 AM, I went with her first to her parents’ in Williamsburg. She’s been having a lot of trouble with the Renault, which she just had put in her father’s name (to save on the insurance).

While we had pizza for lunch, her father took the car to the service station. Later he returned with some things fixed and some still needing repair.

Teresa would like to take the car to the Berkshires this weekend, so she’ll probably bring it back to Williamsburg tomorrow to complete the repair job. Of course today we needed it.

We spent a little time at Teresa’s father’s little phone store on Metropolitan Avenue (he runs it with his Korean partner, Steve) and then went to the Slope, where I picked up my laundry and we went to the pet store.

Teresa thought Justin’s apartment was very spacious. We brought down all my stuff: the two suitcases, my big red bag, the little nylon bag, two laundry bags and my dumbbells.

I decided to give my keys to Jan, since she’d probably be home when Justin returned, and I definitely can’t be there. I’d said goodbye to Jim earlier this morning.

After getting all the stuff into the car, Teresa and I went to the new suburban-style Key Food at Fifth and Sterling and bought $50 worth of groceries and supplies. It was a struggle to bring everything up here, and it was hectic to put everything away once I was settled.

But I managed, with Teresa’s help, to get most of my possessions squared away. When I go to Florida next week, I’ll take one suitcase and leave it there, and I’ll return to New York with just my carry-on luggage.

It’s hard for me to get used to the sound of TV and Teresa’s phone conversations, but I’ve got my Walkman on.

Still, I’ve lived in this apartment enough to feel fairly comfortable here. Remember, I didn’t expect it to be easy.

Wednesday, October 30, 1985

8 PM. I managed well my first day back on the West Side.

Last night I opened the couch at 9 PM and fell asleep almost immediately. I slept very well, a full eight hours, and was raring to go at 6 AM. The IRT wasn’t crowded at 7 AM, so now I see I can give myself a little more time in the morning.

At Baruch, I did a little grammar and had midterm conferences with my students. Relating to them on a one-to-one basis always makes me feel good. I learned that one student, who writes fairly well, is repeating the course because her previous teacher failed all the Hispanic kids in the class. Incredible.

I asked them how they were doing in their other classes. Look, maybe I’m not Mr. Chips, but I can’t help caring. I hope that comes through.

From Baruch, I went uptown, where I bought some very good bread pudding (I miss the Publix bread pudding, though), and at Coliseum Books I bought the Naisbitt Group’s 1986: The Year Ahead, which has Naisbitt’s usual optimism but contained some points of interest. I read it in the John Jay library.

After lunch, I had two pretty decent classes in which we went over essays in our reader. It was kind of fun. All in all, I felt good about myself as a teacher today.

When I got home at 3:30 PM, Teresa was in bed, watching TV. She looked very unhappy, and though I didn’t try to make her feel guilty (that would be stupid and pointless), I got the feeling that she was uncomfortable with the contrast between my busy schedule and her trying to fill up hours.

I stayed only long enough to exchange my teaching books and papers for my student ones, and I went off to Columbia. Before class, I played with the DEC-20 for a while.

We went over the “either” constraint in FPL, and as usual, I found the programs intellectually stimulating if somewhat difficult. Chris and Minh gave us the assignment for our second project, which looks easier than the first. Next week is our midterm.

It was a treat not to have to go all the way back to Brooklyn; the four stops from 116th Street to 86th Street seemed like nothing. No one was home when I got here, and I finished my dinner (that began with pizza before class) with yogurt, a muffin and kiwifruit.

For some reason, I’m feeling optimistic about the future.