A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1986


Monday, February 10, 1986

10 PM. Today was a pretty good day. Hell, it was a fine day. For all my whining last night, I ended up doing some constructive things.

I keep thinking that if I spend my time positively and constructively, then I can’t get into too much trouble. So I made out in advance all my checks to pay this month’s credit card bills. Then I lifted weights while watching TV.

I slept well, having pleasant dreams in which Shelli and Avis appeared; it must be four years since I’ve seen Avis or spoken to Shelli. Towards morning, I dreamed that I opened my mail to find that Sears had sent me a Discover credit card with a $20,000 credit line and that I’d gotten a $1000 check from CUNY.

Usually I get up at 6:30 AM and fetch the Miami Herald outside my door. I go to the bathroom, look at the front page of each of the newspaper sections, turn on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, and somehow drift back to sleep till about 9 AM.

After writing my paper on an article for tonight’s Community College class, I went over to Davie. The Chevette is tricky to drive, but little by little I’m adjusting to it, and coming home tonight I realized I was compensating for the lack of power breaks without thinking about it.

It’s always important to remember how easy it is for human beings to adjust to change. I think most people’s lives are much more inflexible than they need to be; we can go without more than we imagine we can.

Oh, I almost forgot: a reporter from USA Today called in response to my Don Johnson press release, and she interviewed me for about ten minutes. Whether this will make the paper or not is something I have no control over, and I’m not going to make myself crazy about it.

No article has yet appeared in the Miami News, and I doubt one will, but I also know that eventually some reporter will see the Don Johnson for “Miami Vice” President Committee on the Federal Election Commission printout and call me, and the story will get into print.

Similarly, I can’t worry too much about People‘s reaction to my story. I did the best I could on the first draft; now it’s in Fred Bernstein’s hands. While I’d love to have him say the story was fine and needed only minor changes, I suspect that in reality he’ll want me to do major rewriting before even considers sending it to New York.

I expect to get the story back by the end of the week and for it to get back to me for a third or fourth revision — that is, if the process gets that far. It would be far too easy for me to get $1500 and a People byline for one day’s writing.

Sure, I’m a little anxious about it — but I have to be fatalistic.

Today’s mail didn’t contain any of the goodies I dreamed about, but it was okay. My grades arrived from Teachers College: an A in Programming I, which I expected, and a B+ in Computer Graphics.

Of course, I would have liked an A in that course, too, but I didn’t deserve one, and with all the work I had teaching last fall, I’m satisfied with a B+.

At the shopping center, I had my blood pressure taken at a Seventh-Day Adventist van; my pressure was 144/80, which isn’t great but is in a normal range.

After lunch at the Bagel Whole, I went to Broward Community College and spent ten minutes working out that BASIC program I had so much trouble with last week; seeing Ray in the hall, I gave him my printout.

Back home, I called Susan and Spencer. For the past week I’ve been dying to find out what happened, but I was afraid to bother them and scared that something went wrong.

Spencer answered and said Susan had a boy, Jeremy Adam, and that both of them were taking naps. She lost some blood during the delivery but was otherwise okay. They had a bris in the hospital and brought the baby home last Wednesday.

“He’s a terrific little kid,” Spencer said. The baby is long (“He’ll be tall and skinny like me”) and looks mostly like Susan. I expressed my pleasure at the good news and told them to be very happy. It will be fun to see the baby when I’m in New York.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading my Money and Banking text; this week’s quiz is on the monetary base and money multiplier, money creation, and the Fed’s tools to control monetary policy: the reserve requirement, discount rate, and open market operations.

These are all terms I didn’t understand a month ago.

Back at BCC, I enjoyed tonight’s Community College class. Though too many people provide that is tangential and anecdotal, our discussions are stimulating.

I like Joe Cook’s philosophy of education and admire him as a teacher. Tonight he lectured on the history of the community college in America and on the Florida system in particular.

It was a full day.

Tuesday, January 11, 1986

10 PM. For several hours last night I read my 1976 diary. At 24 and 25, I was a curious mixture: confident to the point of arrogant, yet very uncertain and self-questioning.

One impression that stuck with me is how unhappy I was living with my parents. Dad’s business was going down the tubes; he and Mom were always fighting; and Mom was constantly carping and being obsessive about the house.

It must be true that people forget how bad things were. I felt like a stranger in that house, yet I stayed there for a reason: it enabled me to have the time and money (the little I needed) to write.

Clearly, I was making a rational sacrifice, and in hindsight, I think I made the right choice: 1976 was probably my most productive year as a writer. And among all the rejections I got, more and more acceptances would pop up to give me the confidence to keep writing and sending out my stories.

I think I’ve believed the myth that I dreaded leaving my parents; actually, I may have been less attached to them than I thought.

The 1976 diary is a good read for me, reminding me of incidents I forgot long ago. There are even some nice little vignettes like the Orthodox old man at the bank who told me, “I only read novels and vile stories.”

I’d forgotten that Marc and I used to send marijuana in the mail to Avis in Germany, or that I’d taken such an active role in the Fiction Collective, or that the MFA program badly strained my relationship with Josh.

Checking my mail this morning, I found a letter from Chevy Chase Savings and Loan asking for proof of income before they’ll consider my application for a gold Visa. Evidently I hadn’t been convincing on the phone.

My first impulse was to throw the letter away and forget about it, but I decided to brazen out the lie, so I did one of my famous cut-and-paste jobs and created phony pay stubs. If these don’t work, I’ll have lost nothing, but if they work, I’ll have a $5000 credit line.

I couldn’t reach Fred Bernstein today, and I felt almost relieved; despite what I said yesterday, I’m nervous about his verdict on my article.

This evening’s Public Policy class was okay except for the dumb comments of some students. I’m glad our teacher is a flaming liberal, though. I got a 92 — an A — on last week’s test.

Again, today was warm and sunny. It’s easy to take this weather for granted — but it is incredible that it’s mid-February.

Wednesday, February 12, 1986

3 PM. Fred Bernstein phoned a couple of hours ago. “What happened?” he asked. My manuscript never arrived in the mail. He told me to get it out to him Federal Express; the messenger just picked it up, and supposedly it will be in Missouri tomorrow morning.

I had been all set to hear Fred’s reaction to the piece. After rereading it, I know it needs tightening and punching up. I also feel bad it didn’t get there because I wanted Fred to think I was more of a pro. Now I have to wait yet another day in anxiety.

It seems nothing I do is having any results. Someone from AP called Teresa’s machine and wanted to know about the Von Bulow for Senator committee, but I called AP in Washington a couple of times, and the reporter won’t return my calls.

The Fort Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel columnist called, and we talked about the Don Johnson press release. I’m pretty sure she’ll use it in her political column this Sunday, but I had hoped for a bigger story in the Miami News or USA Today.

Today’s horoscope (not that I believe it) said I’d have “luck with writing, publishing.” So where’s the luck? Maybe it meant I’d have bad luck.

When Teresa called to give me the message, she was at work yesterday. She and Michael had gone to the Berkshires on Saturday, and they got snowed in, with no electricity or phone.

On Sunday, when the phone service was restored, Comptroller Regan called Teresa to tell her to meet him in Albany (which is only a few hours away). She accompanied him on campaign stops to Rochester and Buffalo, where he spoke at a Conservative Party dinner.

“Richie, they totally listen to me!” Teresa exclaimed. “And the Comptroller asks me for my advice!”

Yesterday they had a press conference about an audit of the Parking Violations Bureau, the scandal that began with Queens Borough President Manes’s suicide attempt (he resigned yesterday) and is quickly enveloping the whole city government.

Everyone was there,” Teresa said. “Gabe Pressman included. It was incredible. I feel as though I never stopped working.”

I’m very glad Teresa has a job she seems to enjoy; she’s always liked the glamour of politics and the media.

Crad writes that he, too, was upset by the Challenger disaster, and he enclosed a poem — pretty corny, actually — that he wrote about it.

His mother had a heart attack but is home from the hospital already. She’s a diabetic and hadn’t been sticking to her diet.

Crad told me that even if he were wealthy, he’d still sell his books on the streets of Toronto, though he’d take off several months each year for the winter.

I had asked him why he didn’t just do what Josh suggested: take a decent job and then have enough money to give away his self-published work. Crad replied that he’s a writer, not a worker who writes as a hobby. Besides, he said, he hates any kind of work.

But actually, Crad’s only jobs were menial 9-to-5 factory warehouse jobs. (He worked in the Houston planetarium before he started writing seriously.) Genius though he is, I still believe that Crad has cut himself off from the mainstream of society.

He’s about to have another disappointment in love, he says, with a 22-year-old poet. Tom told him not to get involved with someone so young, and Crad thinks Tom’s a hypocrite, but I assume Tom’s speaking from experience.

I’m still pretty nervous about not having insurance on the rental car. Tomorrow I’ll probably go with Dad and Irv to the West Palm Beach auto auction, though that will make for a hectic day, what with my Money and Banking quiz at 6 PM.

I also wanted to be home to take a call from Fred. Oh well.

I’ve got to wash up now — I’m sweaty from a brief workout — and get to Ray’s BASIC class at BCC.

Saturday, February 15, 1986

9 PM. Late yesterday I got myself out of my funk by getting dressed: not to go out, but just so I’d feel better. I made myself a nice dinner, and then I wrote a letter to Crad and worked on my BASIC programs before settling down to watch Dallas.

I even flossed my gums: a sure sign that my depression was lifting. At 10 PM, I called Grandma, who said that it had just started to snow in New York; it’s been snowing every couple of days, she reported. Grandma said she finds it difficult to walk very far these days. I told her I would see her in a few months.

I dialed Ronna’s number a few times, but the line was busy and finally I gave up and went to sleep.

Up at 7 AM, I read the Miami Herald and had breakfast, then settled in for a couple of hours’ extra sleep.

Leaving the house at 9:30 AM, I went to Davie, where there was no word from Unemployment — but I did get a $342 check from Baruch College for the CUNY retroactive pay raise. That means I should get a check for about $500 from John Jay.

Plus I got a few credit card bills. At least there was no bad news in the mail.

After putting up a wash, I went to Jonathan’s room to set up the weight bench and the weights. While watching a C-SPAN class on political campaign media and advertising, I bench-pressed 95 pounds for 100 reps; then I did some flyes.

After a light lunch, I went out by the pool. At that time of day, the sky was cloudless and there was a cool tickle of a breeze. However, these days a little sun goes a long way with me, and I went back inside within forty minutes.

Again I worked out (shoulders and triceps) — this time while watching The Empire Strikes Back, the second of the Star Wars movies. (I saw the first one on TV a few years ago.)

It was pretty corny, but the story is set up as an appealing adventure of good versus evil, and like all American boys, I identified with Luke Skywalker. (In addition, I think Mark Hamill is cute.)

Finally, I took a long, refreshing shower, got dressed and came back here, where I read the Times — the local New York edition — from Wednesday and Thursday. And while I was doing that, I did more weight-lifting; I hope to be real sore tomorrow.

Mom phoned to invite me to dinner, and I went back to Davie at 6 PM. Dad brought in Chinese food from the Kumquat Tree, and I shared lemon chicken, moo shu chicken, fried rice and lo mein with my family.

At the flea market, Mom got a set of outfits for Susan and Spencer’s baby; I’ll send it out on Tuesday when the post office reopens.

I watched TV for a while — the insipid Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (imagine how a celebrity shortage would affect that show!) — and then I returned home.

The crickets are chirping away tonight, and Orion is so clear you can almost see the outline of him hunting.

I’ve got to study for the big economics test on Thursday, and I have to get my BASIC programs into Ray’s “structured” BASIC. (I’m so sloppy and linear that I find it hard to get out of the mindset of “spaghetti language” and into structure.)

Maybe this upcoming week will offer me some good news. And if not, I’ll just keep plugging away.

But I do feel much better than I did yesterday. One day of depression doesn’t necessarily carry over, thank God.

Monday, February 17, 1986

9 PM. This morning all of a sudden, I had a twinge of pain as I took a step.

The pain was located on my hip or pelvis on the right side, where the appendix is, and since then it’s gotten much worse. I find it hard to walk now, though when I’m resting, I feel little or no pain.

Probably it’s a result of that too-heavy workout on Saturday. Either the amount of weight or the number of reps was too great, and I strained myself. At least that’s what I hope it is.

I’ll rest up and see if it heals by itself; otherwise, I’ll have to see a doctor. What a nuisance.

I’ve just come back from our Community College class at FIU/BCC.  Dr. Norma Goonen of FIU spoke about her Ed.D. thesis in educational administration, which was a fascinating study of assistant and associate deans of education at Florida state universities and their “rites of passage.”

Most were white WASP males, former department chairmen who got their positions via sponsors or the old boy network, and most were dissatisfied with their jobs, salaries and lack of power.

Afterwards, we had some interesting reports; I offered one on CUNY’s 73% community college dropout rate.

Last night I studied economics until fairly late. I had dreams about the uses and sources of the money supply, so it must have gotten through somehow.

Up early, I got to the Unemployment office at 9:15 AM. Happily, all I had to do was get another month’s worth of interstate claim forms.

I filled today’s out and mailed it at the main Fort Lauderdale post office, where I met a woman I’d describe as an old lady who told me she was mailing a birthday card to her 97-year-old grandfather. Incredible — but we’ll be seeing more of that as people live longer.

I should visit Grandpa Nat again; he’s nearly 88. It’s hard to believe he’s been brain-damaged since his heart attack or stroke for almost nine years. Never did any of us imagine he’d live this long in that condition.

For some reason, despite Presidents’ Day, the credit union was open, so I was able to deposit my Baruch paycheck.

Since the low point of Friday, every day has brought a little good news. Saturday was the Baruch check, yesterday was the Fort Lauderdale News article (in class, Debbie Nycz told me she saw it), and today I got a call from FAU’s Financial Aid office: “Did you know there’s been a guaranteed student loan check for you sitting here since January 10?”

Of course, I had no idea: the bank never notified me, and I’d assumed it wasn’t going through. Wow! I hope I have no problem when I go to Boca Raton to pick it up tomorrow.

That’s an unexpected $2300 and change. Imagine if I also get one (or both) of the gold Visa cards I applied for. Or if People takes my story and pays me $1500. I’d be in Fat City.

Well, I almost am already. I’ve been doing a lot of shifting around with my money. I feel as if I’ve discovered a secret about banking our textbook only hints at: that as deregulation and technology proceed, it’s getting harder and harder to determine exactly what money is.

Wealth, I’ve learned, is a stock concept and income is a flow concept. With about $22,000 in all my bank accounts, I still could not be considered wealthy because I owe about $40,000.

But I’ve got my own “money” flowing like mad from one bank to another in an extremely complicated system I’ve devised. Meanwhile, I’m making myself a good customer at a lot of financial institutions.

It’s good to stay on top of things.