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


Monday, October 12, 1987

4 PM. The area has been under a hurricane warning since this morning, and workers and students have been sent home early in the expectation that Hurricane Floyd will hit this evening.

Floyd is a minimal hurricane, and I don’t expect the media panic will prove justified. I remember being in New York City two years ago when the TV stations were getting hysterical about the imminent arrival of Hurricane Gloria, which turned out to be a bad storm but hardly a great disaster.

Floyd is moving toward an area south of Miami anyway, although hurricanes are fickle; last night the storm was predicted to hit the Gulf Coast.

Anyway, I went out early to xerox my material for Wednesday’s workshop and to buy the New York Times. Because of Columbus Day, the banks are closed and there’s no mail.

For me, today is a good day to lie in bed and read and relax and maybe sleep now I’ve gotten most of my chores done.

I had been thinking of seeing Dr. Grasso to see if any of the new weekend courses were available for me to teach, but of course Broward Community College was closed today.

Now that I’m in Florida, I’ll have to make the best of it. This coming weekend I’ll do some serious looking for an apartment.

Yesterday in the Miami Herald, a 22-year-old woman wrote how she’s sick and tired of listening to baby boomers talk about the 1960s.

She went on a long tirade about my generation, who have sold out to materialism but who insist on boring people with their stories of Woodstock and Kent State.

This enrages me because I feel that society and the media have undervalued the experiences I had as a college student back then.

I’ve never seen a single fictional movie or TV show that dealt with that time and place – while I’ve seen dozens that deal with the petty traumas of today’s high school students.

And I’ve read plenty from Bret Easton Ellis and his clones about their being 22 and going to clubs and using coke and feeling aimless.

One thing that may spur me to write about my undergraduate days is to set the record straight.

My immediate problem, as usual, is that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps I should start by picking up my diaries, starting with 1969, and reading straight through.

I’ve just got to force myself to do it and it will get done, the way the writing I did at MacDowell got done.

Of course, the girl who wrote the Herald article did make a good point about all the baby boomers who did sell out.

However, a lot of us didn’t, and we continue to hold some of the healthier values of the 1960s and feel certain that this conservative era is coming to an end.

Bush announced his candidacy today, and the conventional wisdom is that with such a weak Democratic field, the Republicans will easily win the next Presidential election.

Although I think the odds do favor the GOP, Michael Dukakis or Paul Simon might be able to get elected.

In any case, a Republican victory in 1988 may be well-deserved, considering that the next administration will have to clean up Reagan’s mess. As Russell Baker has written, George Bush would make a great Herbert Hoover.

What if I’m wrong, and there is no Great Depression of 1990 or thereabouts? Well, I’ll probably just take advantage of the good times in a way I haven’t until now.

Unemployment is now down to 5.8%, and in the healthy parts of the country – the East Coast and California – the problem is that there aren’t enough people to take all the jobs.

Why should I keep trying to get jobs in creative writing at a university when they are so scarce? Even in a depression, I can get work as a schoolteacher, if nothing else, and I’m educated and skilled enough to find jobs that are even better.

Tuesday, October 13, 1987

9 PM. Hurricane Floyd didn’t do much damage at all; it turned out to be just a bad rainstorm.

I spent hours finishing all 450 pages of The Day the Bubble Burst, which was almost novelistic in its depiction of the events leading up to the 1929 crash. It would be glorious if such an event would happen again on Wall Street.

This morning I felt I had no privacy. Marc came over and the dog was running everywhere, and even with Dad in New York, the house seemed entirely too crowded. Mom kept coming into my room to answer the Dade phone, and I couldn’t exercise.

Somehow I hurt my upper back anyway. I knew I had to get an apartment, but where to go?

I looked at several places and finally put a deposit on a furnished one-bedroom at Sun Pointe Cove, just across University Drive.

The apartment costs $595 a month, but utilities are included and I won’t have to rent furniture. Furthermore, with a seven-month lease, I can avoid losing my security deposit. I paid $100 in application fees, and once they do a credit check, I should be approved.

Unfortunately, the apartment, E-105 – the same number I had at SandalGrove – won’t be ready until November 5, which is three weeks away. Well, I’ll stay here and save money.

I’d have preferred to pay less, but the place is in walking distance of my parents’ townhouse, and I won’t have to spend the money on gas coming here as I did when I lived in Lauderhill. And I can save money by eating at my parents’.

I had lunch at the Bagel Whole, where Sam welcomed me back and where the waitress remembered my usual order.

From there, I went to BCC-Central, where Seren, the English Department secretary, asked if I’d be interested in teaching. One part-timer had to quit because of illness, and she teaches three night classes.

Seren didn’t know where she would find a teacher for them, and Dr. Grasso is out of town and won’t be back till tomorrow.

I said I’d do it if they need me, and Seren said I should expect to hear from Dr. Grasso tomorrow although she may already have found another teacher.

Either way, it’s okay by me. I’m fatalistic about it. Although the pay is horrible, I’m free evenings because I’m not taking any grad classes.

This would give me a chance to see how I like teaching English again, and if I were teaching on campus, I’d have no qualms about using BCC’s computer lab.

On the other hand, two sections of English 101 and one of 102 mean a lot of work, and it’s hard to take over a class in the middle of the term – though that was how I got started at Long Island University in March 1975.

Well, we’ll see. Dr. Grasso may not want to hire me again.

Tomorrow is my first day of work for FIU, at Auburndale Elementary in Little Havana.

I don’t like the new component, called Teaching Computer Literary in Elementary School, because it covers as much material in eight hours as the old Computer Literacy component did in fifteen.

Hopefully, these teachers may have had Computer Literacy already, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m not very nervous, though I almost feel I should be.

But I’m fairly confident about my knowledge and I know that I’ve got to see where these teachers are in terms of computer experience before I design a complete syllabus.

I can’t find my Apple disks anywhere, though I suppose they’ll turn up eventually.

At BCC, I visited with Marina Burdick for a while, and we talked about New York and Brooklyn College, our mutual alma mater, and I also saw Lynn Grow and others.

While I’m becoming a little more at home in Florida, I still feel weird, as if I’m at a point in my life that I can’t quite figure out.

I guess I need to settle into a routine. Teaching will help, and once I get into my own apartment, I’ll be fine.

Wednesday, October 14, 1987

10 PM. I’ve just come from BCC, where I taught my first English class since leaving in April 1984.

After Dr. Grasso phoned this morning, I met her at the office.

Patty Evers is a Nova High School teacher whose father is dying; she needs to be with him and her mother in another state.

I found that she left things very confused in her English 102 class, and I’m sure the same is true of her Monday and Thursday night English 101 classes.

For example, she never gave out a syllabus and still has two assignments left ungraded; I don’t know if she ever had a roll book.

Tonight I attempted to soothe the class and we tried to figure out where to go from here. I read John Updike’s “A&P” aloud and we discussed the story and some of the elements of fiction.

Well, I can muddle through the next eight weeks. I didn’t ask what my pay was, but to me, this is semi-volunteer work. (Which means I’ll postpone my volunteer AIDS work once again.)

I feel it was fated that I went to BCC yesterday just when they needed a teacher.

Already my heart has sunk at the prospect of marking so many papers, but at least I’m not teaching remedial.

And unless Dr. Grasso makes good on her plan to give me a weekend creative writing class, I don’t plan to teach at BCC again next term.

It was nice to see Phyllis, Luke, Joann and the others I remember, all of whom seemed pleased to see me. Of course, I’ll be teaching at BCC nights only, so I probably won’t see that many faculty members regularly.

I also saw Ray, who looks good with a beard. He’s still teaching the same old FIU computer ed courses, and his book on PROLOG will be out in January. Ray said he’d figured I’d be back soon.

Today I also began my Teacher Education Center work for FIU, teaching at Auburndale Elementary in Little Havana, where I had about 25 teachers in my workshop.

Though some of them had lots of experience, most were computer novices. The TEC rep and computer teacher, a middle-aged man, was very helpful.

I tried my best to introduce them to using computers in their teaching, but this new component, with only eight hours of class time (versus the old 15 hours) doesn’t give me much time.

I stayed till 5 PM, and after a long drive home in rush hour traffic, I had to eat dinner swiftly before rushing off to BCC for my 7 PM class.

Still, after teaching close to six hours today, I don’t feel tired. After all, I had a long vacation and I enjoy the stimulation of teaching.

While I’m not the greatest English or computer education teacher around, I try my best, and I know I’m better than many.

For the next two months, I probably won’t get much writing done, but maybe I’ll surprise myself.

Look at it this way: my BCC work for low pay is like a debt that will one day be repaid by the law of compensation. At least that’s how I need to think of it.

Last night I read all of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929, and I now feel I’ve got a broad picture of what led up to the last days of October 1929 on Wall Street.

Coincidentally, today’s Dow Jones average fell a record 95 points on bad trade deficit statistics. I still think a crash is a couple of years off; the 1927-28 market was pretty volatile long before the bubble burst.

Mom went to the doctor this morning; yesterday they found she had an infection on her toe, and she’s on antibiotics now. Mom’s attorney sent her to the doctor in preparation for her lawsuit over the accident.

On my way to Miami this afternoon, I had lunch at Corky’s in North Miami Beach.

It’s funny how at Corky’s, the Bagel Whole, Gaetano’s pizzeria, BCC, etc., I keep seeing familiar faces: people who know me from here but are unaware I have another life somewhere else.

It’s pretty strange and wonderful how I’ve settled into two jobs all of a sudden. They’re very temporary, like the rest of my life, but there is continuity.

Even if I end up hating my classes at BCC, I feel like things worked out amazingly well.

Although I’m now starting to get tired, it’s a good feeling because I was productive today.

Friday, October 16, 1987

9 PM. I just watched the rescue of an 18-month-old girl who had been trapped in a deep well in Texas for sixty hours; the networks covered it live, and it reminded me of a similar incident in Woody Allen’s Radio Days.

McLuhan’s Global Village that I read about as a teenager is surely here.

With CNN, I can be all over the world in seconds – in the Persian Gulf, where the Iranians have attacked a Liberian tanker owned by the U.S.; to the White House, where the press secretary announced that Nancy Reagan is having breast cancer surgery tomorrow; and to Wall Street, where the Dow fell over 250 points in history’s heaviest trading day.

It’s ironic that I read two books about the 1929 crash in a week when the stock market fell so sharply. However, I expect a violent rally next week and figure the bull market has a lot further up to go before the real crash occurs.

Yesterday I started coughing, and today my chest became increasingly congested, bad enough so that I started taking cough syrup tonight. Whether this is a result of my cold or the start of a new illness, I’m not certain.

Last evening I found a huge stack of papers in my English Department mailbox at BCC; each contained two or three batches of ungraded essays.

The English 101 class was naturally upset by Ms. Evers’ departure, but I tried to calm them down. I think I may have taken on too much in taking over all three of her classes.

At 8:30 PM last night I let the class go, so I guess I get three hours’ pay for half the teaching time. But Patty Evers will get paid for her teaching time even though she didn’t grade any papers.

There’s no way I’m going to drive myself crazy for $15.60 an hour.

I now remember how I hated facing those student papers every week. Well, it’s just for eight weeks, and I’m not going to do it again next term.

Yesterday’s workout was more strenuous than I thought, because I was sore all over today. It’s nice to feel my muscles, though I did some aerobics with a TV exercise show at noon.

Avoiding the grading I have to do, I ran some errands.

The mail brought a few bills to pay and the spring/summer issue of the Florida Review from the University of Central Florida. “I Survived Caracas Traffic” led off the issue and ran from pages 5 to 21.

I reread the story tonight and it still seems good to me. I’m very pleased with the way it looks and glad that they printed the last version of the story with the final changes I’d made.

Next year I’ll submit this story for my Florida Arts Council grant, and if I don’t win, I’ll be certain I’m dealing with morons.

If I don’t get an NEA fellowship this year, I’m still going to use this story as my manuscript again; it’s my best work in years.

At least I don’t have to be ashamed of not producing good fiction lately.

I went to Midas Muffler this afternoon and found out it would cost over $200 to fix my muffler, which had just about fallen off. Still, with my Optima Card, paying didn’t hurt so much: it had to be done.

The only other problem with the car is that I need a new front tire. I plan to sell the car this spring, and at least it will be in good shape.

Alice called, and I was upset to hear that last night she learned, from Donna McKechnie’s lawyer, that the book project is off.

Naturally, Alice is very sad (“I didn’t cry, but I was on the verge of tears”) because she’d put so much work into the biography and had so many hopes resting on it.

Donna McKechnie really treated Alice shabbily, ignoring her calls and letters since July. Alice still doesn’t know if Donna didn’t like the writing or freaked out when she saw her life laid out like that on paper, or what.

Because Alice didn’t have a contract, she isn’t entitled to get any money, but Alice’s agent (who also was very disappointed) is pressing the lawyer for something, even if it’s only $500.

Alice said she missed me and seemed agreeable to my moving into her apartment if she does buy a co-op.

I had dinner with my parents at Sonny’s Bar-B-Q. They’d been at the lawyers’ all afternoon, discussing the case from the flea market accident. I hope Mom collects at least $5000 (after lawyers’ fees), as she deserves it.

Monday, October 19, 1987

9 PM. The stock market crashed today. I’ve been expecting this for months, but I still thought it wouldn’t happen for another couple of years.

The Dow Jones average fell over 500 points, landing finally at around 1700. It lost 23% of its value, compared to the 12% one-day loss on October 29, 1929.

Nobody’s using the word crash, but it has to be considered one. Having last week read two books that dealt with the 1929 crash, I can compare and contrast (the rhetorical mode I taught at BCC this evening) today to that crash.

Both days were unpredictably frantic, with panic selling and no buying. But the average person was speculating in stocks back in 1929, and that didn’t happen today.

I had expected that stocks would rally today, but as in the weekend in ’29, a couple of days’ rest caused a total change in market psychology.

Obviously program trading – a subject I discussed in my computer literacy workshop this afternoon – had a lot to do with exaggerating the Dow’s plunge, but no two events can have exact parallels.

The big question is whether the market drop represents the start of another Great Depression.

At the very least, it portends a recession. The mass psychology part of it is important; I suspect the number of articles and books laying out our economic problems have finally reached enough people to form a critical mass.

Is this the start of the big change I’ve been hoping for?

Time will tell, but even I – a friend of the law of gravity, probably one of the few Americans who rooted for the Dow to fall – am shocked by the swiftness of the crash.

The other big news today was a U.S. naval attack on an Iranian oil platform in the Persian Gulf. Everyone knew we were going to retaliate for the Iranian attack on Friday, but now no one’s sure if this is the end of it or if the Iranians will try to get back at us.

Reagan’s reflagging of the Persian Gulf oil tankers always seemed as if it would get us into armed conflict. It’s very weird. I get the feeling we’re turning the corner on history, and things are going to change drastically.

It might be very premature to say it, but perhaps the 1980s ended today. If they have, I feel a little sadder than I thought I’d be. After all, I wanted a stock market crash, I want to see a depression, I want the mood of the country to change.

Still, it’s sad to see people robbed of their illusions, even if they were living in a fool’s paradise.

About my own little life, I feel good tonight. I taught two new classes today, and I feel productive and capable. I enjoy teaching, and I’m good at communicating ideas to people.

Last night Josh called. Not much was going on at his end, but during our conversation, I realized once again how faint-hearted and security-conscious Josh is.

He was shocked that I rented such an “expensive” apartment (Josh’s horror exceeded even Grandma Ethel’s), shocked that Lisa would consider joining the Peace Corps and going to Africa – especially after her illness.

And Josh said Joyce could probably get me a secure job at the Department of Transportation. Josh plans to go there December 9; he’s been waiting to see if Blue Cross will lay him off.

I don’t know why Josh has become so timid about taking risks, especially after he blew all that money on Carter-Wallace stock; he lost half his investment thinking that it would rise because AIDS would lead to more condom sales.

I just know I’m glad I’ve taken risks and I wish had taken more in past years.

Up early, I read the Herald, Times and Wall Street Journal and followed the markets on CNN all day.

Marc was over with China – that dog is as affectionate with me as she is with everyone else – and Dad was home all day.

I left at 1 PM, grabbing my mail (mostly junk and two bills) and went to Little Havana, to the Coral Way Elementary School, where I taught my computer literacy workshop.

They’ve broken it up into four two-hour classes, so I didn’t do much today except try to explain the parts of a computer and to demonstrate its use.

Most of the teachers are, of course, Cubans, and I’m still not used to hearing Spanish everywhere, including the office of a public school. But I must have done something right because I got applause at the end of the workshop.

The English 101 class at BCC seems like a good group. Naturally, they were upset that Ms. Evers is gone, but by the end of class I felt I had won them over.

I feel totally confident in front of a class. Remember how nervous I used to get? Even last year I’d be nervous before a computer workshop. Not now. Actually, working is enjoyable because I haven’t done it in so long.

If only I didn’t have to grade papers, I’d be very happy to be an English teacher again. Of course, I’m sure I’ll have bad days and evenings in the next two months, but that’s part of the game.

Well, I want to watch the late news tonight and see what the world is making of today’s events on Wall Street and in the Persian Gulf.

The London, Hong Kong and Tokyo stock markets also fell sharply today. I’d like to know what average people think of today’s crash.

Jonathan may have broken his toe when a ten-pound weight fell on his foot while exercising. He’s in severe pain and should have seen a doctor. Accidents seem to be happening to the Graysons this month.

It’s been a full first two weeks for me here in Florida.