A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1987


Thursday, February 12, 1987

9 PM. Today’s weather was just about perfect: the sky was cloudless, the high temperature about 73°.

After a spate of cool days, it felt like one of those days in New York City in late spring – or if you’re lucky, in early spring – when you become absolutely certain that the chilly, stormy weather of the winter is over.

It was a day for playing hooky. I taught my VisiCalc class, however, and I enjoyed it because I was prepared and on top of the subject matter.

Maybe my students got a little frustrated, but computers do that. I would very much like to do this kind of teacher training in New York or elsewhere.

It’s also pleasant that I can leave my class on Griffin Road and be at my parents’ in five minutes to join Mom, Dad and Jonathan for soy burgers and corn.

I just returned home, and it’s still beautiful out.

This morning I got a call from the SandalGrove office, and someone came over here with a lease renewal for me to sign. My rent went up $10, to $385. I still don’t think I’ll have trouble getting out of the lease early.

For the next 45 minutes, I worked out, using heavier weights than usual. It felt good to get all sweaty and breathless.

In Davie, I picked up today’s Sun-Tattler, which says that on Saturday “satirist Richard Grayson imagines an English-only America,” so that means my column about Boca Raton becoming Rat Mouth will be published.

At the Broward Community College computer lab, I finished my column on the Grundys and later I sent it off to the paper. It’s a relief to still be four columns ahead; one more and I’ll be okay till the end of April.

If I can write five more columns in the next two and a half months, I’ll have columns going till the end of June and that will make about 17 of them.

Since the columns are about 5-6 pages each, on average, that would add up to about 100 manuscript pages: not a bad output for about seven months.

I was also able to do some VisiCalc work in the lab.

Anyway, there’s not much else to tell about today. The only mail I got was an appeal from The Authors League Fund.

Remember how they sent me $300 when I was desperately poor in 1980 and never asked me to return the money? I sent a check for $10.

The good deed I did yesterday was driving an old lady from my parents’ condo to Loehmann’s.

She had been told to take the bus from Sunrise Lakes to Nova Drive and walk south, but the shopping center is quite far from Nova and even from University Village, so I told her to hop in my car.

When I mentioned this to Dad today, he said I’d done a very nice favor, but it was really quite selfish of me because I got to feel good at very little cost.

In a way, I’m sorry that Teresa didn’t come down for what looks like a really nice weekend, but I’m also grateful that I didn’t have to clean up my apartment for her visit.

On tap for the weekend is the usual schoolwork, writing, exercise and correspondence (I owe letters to Rick, Miriam and Tom.)

Friday, February 13, 1987

9 PM. Right now I have a bad headache, probably from my sinuses, and hope it will go away once I get to sleep.

Up early this morning, I went to FAU’s Commercial Boulevard campus to sit down with a PC. I tried to write, but all I could get out was my correspondence. Well, that’s something.

Trying to do Dr. Kauffman’s assignment on KNOWOL, I discovered that my first rule took up 30,000 bytes and I couldn’t fit another one on the disk. Dan obviously had no idea what he was getting us into with this project.

What I’ve learned, mostly, is that expert system production, even with a good engine, is so consuming of time and computer memory that in most cases, it probably isn’t worth it.

Back in Davie, I got the mail: a couple of bills but nothing important, just my $20 Sun-Tattler check for the last column.

My W-2 forms from CUNY were never forwarded, so next week I’ll have to call the Board of Higher Education and find out why.

I drove downtown to the main library, where I took out some books on Roman social life and customs for my term paper.

Tuesday, February 17, 1987

10 AM. When I stopped off at my parents’ house before class yesterday, Mom told me that Dad was still in Atlanta, waiting for his connection to L.A. even though he’d booked a 7:30 AM flight out of Fort Lauderdale.

That flight (on Eastern, a carrier I despise) took off two hours late and circled Hartsfield Airport for several hours due to heavy fog in Atlanta. Running out of fuel, the plane landed in Mobile, and an hour later they took off for Atlanta.

Dad was afraid he’d miss his connection, but the plane to L.A. hadn’t taken off yet. Nor did it: they announced mechanical trouble and Dad got on a Delta flight later that afternoon.

The irony is that Dad had canceled a cheaper flight on Delta when he needed to get to L.A. earlier, and he would end up getting there later than when his original flight arrived – for far more money and aggravation.

Mom also told me that Stacy had phoned and asked me to call her back because she was thinking of coming down for a visit.

I had to rush to Joe Cook’s class, which was mind-numbing because the first two reports were horrifically boring. Dr. Grasso’s report was interesting, but by then it was very late and everyone was exhausted.

I’m not overly fond of this class, mostly because of the people in it. It’s amazing that college instructors are unable to synthesize material and focus on the big picture; instead, most concentrate on trivia and can’t distinguish the important from the irrelevant.

Back at home, my phone was ringing off the hook as I entered. It was Josh, who has a case of FRAIDS.

For the past six months, he’s had a purplish thing on his chest, and all of a sudden he thinks it may be Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Because of all the recent publicity, Josh started thinking about all the women he’s slept with, wondering who was most likely to give him AIDS.

Several years ago he was sleeping with this woman Pat, who lived with her boyfriend who was a heavy drug user.

Pat’s now married and living in Virginia, but a year ago Josh saw her old boyfriend at the Cadman Plaza diner and he looked terrible and was incoherent.

So yesterday Josh went to the guy’s apartment (“a rent-controlled place he’d lived in for ten years and said he’d never give up”) only to find out that he had moved out five months ago.

That made Josh freak out because he assumes the guy got AIDS and died.

After saying this seemed like a big leap, I talked with Josh for another hour, discussing his health (Josh hasn’t been sick in years), the purple thing on his chest, and the fears he had.

This was an experience I’d gone through myself and with Justin, but Josh was the first straight person I’ve known who had this AIDS panic.

Although I tried to be reassuring, I knew I really couldn’t calm Josh down. He had read of horror stories about a perfectly healthy guy with an eruption on his nose that turned out to be KS.

After getting off with Josh, I called Stacy, and we had a good long chat.

Stacy’s father and stepmother are in West Palm Beach now, and her sister and her kids are also down here. And then the 4° temperatures arrived in New York, making Stacy think about coming down for a visit. But she’s not sure when she can.

At the Transit Authority, she’s waiting for her promotion to come through, and wanted to wait until it did. Stacy’s been there for four years already, and she makes much less than I thought she did, since she said her promotion will only get her salary to $42,000.

Stacy was very friendly, and I don’t want to lose touch with her again. I told her that whenever she comes to Florida, she’s always welcome to stay with me.

I also called Ronna, who sounded fine. Her New York ad brought 15 replies so far, and she’s already met a couple of nice guys and plans to call others. The two lines she had in her ad cost her a whopping $96!

I told her she’d better book a flight now if she wants to come to Florida for Passover. If I don’t see her in Orlando then, she and I will meet up in New York two weeks later.

Ronna said Josh should call her sister, who’s looking to test straight people for the HIV antibody as part of her Health Department project in Jamaica.

Finally, I phoned Teresa, who told me she had put an ad in the Berkshire Eagle about renting the house there.

She and Phyllis had gone up for the weekend (temperatures were below zero, and snow was everywhere) and they got many calls. Now Teresa thinks she has the perfect tenants: newlyweds willing to pay $650 a month for the house.

When Michael came back from Club Med, Teresa finally decided to tell him she didn’t want to see him anymore – which I think is a terrific idea, since she’d only been making herself miserable. Why spend time with someone who dreads your company?

Anyway, she couldn’t face the idea of staying in the Berkshire house without Michael, and Teresa wanted to avoid going crazy trying to arrange a summer rental. This way, most of her expenses are covered.

She’s off “draw” at work and has been getting her commission checks, so her finances should begin to improve. Her credit’s still a bit screwed up, as the TRW form she sent me indicated. But she sounds pretty healthy.

Of course, now Michael has begun calling her. That’s why she didn’t answer my earlier calls: she thought I might be him.

Teresa said Donna plans to move into the 104th Street apartment next week.

Talking to four New York City friends made me feel great, as if I’m a part of life there. I guess I am.

I didn’t sleep much last night but feel okay.


3 PM. I’m going to FAU in Boca soon. For once, I decided to go there later in the day.

There was a load of mail for me in Davie this morning, including six credit card bills and two good letters.

The Florida Review sent me a $95 check for “I Survived Caracas Traffic” – that’s the first time I’ve ever been paid in advance for a short story – and Joel Rose wrote that he’s accepting “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” for the Fall 1987 issue of Between C and D.

Apologizing for not writing sooner, Joel said he’s been busy with his novel, for which he’s got a contract.

My second acceptance in two months: naturally I’m pleased. Between C and D is the hippest Lower East Side literary magazine, too, so I appreciate being in it. Hurray!

Marc had left China, his puppy, in Davie, and the dog was really affectionate as she sat quietly in my lap. Usually she nips at me, but today she probably wasn’t teething.

I think she’s very cute, with big eyes and all that soft fur. Usually I don’t like dogs, but China is adorable.

I had lunch at the Bagel Whole, where the waitresses, the other diners at the counter and I reminisced about Brooklyn. This is the time of year when I feel most like a New Yorker in Florida, since half of the Big Apple seems to be down here.

Leaving the restaurant, I went to the downtown library, where an outdoor concert was in progress. It was sunny and spectacularly mild, and I felt lucky to be living my life.

Probably something will come along to change my mood, but I should keep in mind how fortunate I am.

I’ve decided to do an “easy” column next, about my campaign for the Davie Town Council. All I’ll have to do is recount my adventures and recycle my old jokes.

Wednesday, February 18, 1987

9 PM. In A.I. class yesterday, Dr. Kauffman said he was disappointed with KNOWOL and gave us disks of ESIE, Expert System Inference Engine, shareware that gives us a shell to create knowledge bases.

In class, we printed out the disk’s manual and started to put our KNOWOL project on this new system.

Back home from Boca, I called Susan Mernit.

She said she’ll contact me when she gets to Sarasota about my coming up there for a visit. All of them have been ill lately, and the cold winter seemed to have Susan down and looking forward to Florida.

She’s been very busy with her freelancing and has sold many articles, “including one to Woman’s World – no thanks to your friend Alice.”

I complimented Susan on her recent Times Book Review review, and she said she’s doing another short review for them.

She’s also teaching one day a week for Teachers and Writers Collaborative at the very nice public school across from Josh’s house on Hicks Street. And Susan has other projects coming up, including work with some book packagers.

The baby is now talking his head off, and they had a nice first birthday party for him. “It’s just a pleasure to watch him grow,” Susan said.

This morning I awoke to a heavy rain. It was a bleak day, but I put the time to good use, spending five hours at the computer, first at Commercial Boulevard and later at BCC.

Recycling my horse and cow puns, I wrote and edited my column about my campaign for the Davie town council. As usual, I started with a messed-up first draft and then edited and polished it in a way I never did with my writing years ago.

The finished column is ready to be sent off to the Sun-Tattler. If they print all five columns I’ll have on file, that will take me to the end of April.

My goal is to complete four more columns so that I can have them appearing in May and June while I’m in New York. I’ve got nine weeks to write those four columns, and I’m sure I can do it.

I spent two hours working on ESIE, and my frustration in programming was exceeded only by the satisfaction I felt when my expert system started working.

Josh told me he called the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, who recommended an internist he’ll be seeing on Tuesday.

Artie discovered Pete Cherches’ reading comprehension test from Condensed Book (the piece I borrowed from and adapted – or stole – for one of my columns) in the latest Harper’s. Way to go, Cherches!

Thursday, February 19, 1987

8 PM. My VisiCalc workshop ended today. I gave the students a post-test and had them fill out evaluation forms; now I’ve got to bring the paperwork over to the county school board offices.

Before class, I spent a couple of hours at the BCC computer lab, writing up and printing out the test and experimenting with VisiCalc and also with Multiplan, which I showed the class as a means of comparison with another spreadsheet program.

The six women in the class were a nice bunch, and if the next VisiCalc class runs – it’s supposed to start next Wednesday – I’ll be much better prepared.

With every class I teach and with every class I take, I learn a little more about computers and I become more proficient in using hardware and software.

Well, I’m free until Monday, but I have to spend at least three hours studying Roman history for the midterm. I need to go over my notes and the text and figure out possible essay questions.

Some seem obvious: the causes of the Punic Wars or the Struggle of the Orders, perhaps an essay on the types of magistrates or Roman expansion into the eastern Mediterranean.

Since Roman history is not a priority in my life, I probably won’t do well on the test, but as I discovered last year in my Money and Banking course, the other students’ concern with grades is contagious.

Of the four other students in the class, three are history majors and one is a history graduate student.

Naturally, I wouldn’t have taken the course but for the possibility of getting a student loan, and I still don’t know if that will happen. FAU’s financial aid people need me to submit a completed tax return for 1986. We’ll see what happens.

Today was a mild, muggy day and I felt kind of lazy.