A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1983


Tuesday, February 1, 1983

4 PM. A week ago, I reached the peak of frustration and unhappiness with my job. But it was good in that I reached some decisions that will make my life easier.

Helped by the acceptance to the University of Miami’s doctoral program – not that it means much without a fellowship – I’ve adopted a new attitude.

Lisa’s anger and frustration have put her in a similar position. Neither of us is going to do more than necessary at Broward Community College. We’re going to teach our classes the way we want to, ignore the Gordon Rule, and relax. I, for one, intend to go to meetings only for amusement.

I’m going to “coast” through the rest of the term, though I don’t intend to short-change my students. In fact, they’ll probably learn more if they have a happy and enthusiastic teacher. I’ll concentrate on what I like about teaching for the next three months.

Life can be so exciting, and I don’t want to waste time being miserable when I don’t have to be; there’s enough misery for me and for everyone else.

This morning I was at BCC for the hour it took Marc to get through his tennis class. I don’t care if they complain about my not keeping office hours; I’ll relax and see how far I can push them.

I learned that of the other full-time temporary teachers, only Mimi, Patrick and Chip got an interview with the search committee for the permanent positions; it looks like Dave, Lisa and Bob did not.

At 11:30 AM, I went to Boyd Anderson High School in Margate to meet Mrs. Hope Reinfeld, an ebullient English teacher who invited me to speak about Eating at Arby’s.

Hope is a cultured woman who lived in the Virgin Islands for many years; teaching in the county school system since 1979, she hates the narrow-mindedness and sterility of South Florida.

Another teacher, a young black woman, sat in; she told me she quit just last week after years of frustration with paperwork and administrative interference, as well as truly terrible pay.

The students were advanced, so they were smarter than average (and whiter than the typical Boyd Anderson class). It gave me a chance to try out my humor on young people; in the past few months I’ve had audiences of senior citizens and middle-aged women.

The kids asked fairly interesting questions, though I didn’t like it when they were hinting around to see if I was gay. (“Are you a married male?” one boy asked. “No, I’m an unmarried male,” I answered. Another student asked me if I was like Chip in the book).

By and large, however, they were as respectful an audience as teenagers can be – and their teenage cynicism is healthy. It’s obvious they took to my book: Mrs. Reinfeld says that people now call each other “Manny” and “Zelda” when they’re acting silly.

I got lots of applause, and the talk was a success; I feel good about it. I was serious, too, when I encouraged the would-be writers in the class and told the others to persevere and to be playful.

Eating at Arby’s is beginning to show signs of becoming an underground cult classic. More and more, I see that it obviously hit a nerve among many people here.

Today’s mail brought Coda (nothing in it of interest except an article on word processors – I want one), the first order for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz (I sent it on to Zephyr Press), and a worthless college job list for Florida.

What I intend to do is practice mental aikido. Rather than complaining and struggling with the fucked-up situation at BCC, I’m going to let BCC use its power against itself.

The CLAST scores were released today, and BCC was below average on all tests, as were all South Florida schools. Miami-Dade Community College was the worst, of course, and black students did terribly throughout the state.

Still, BCC’s writing essay scores were below those of Florida Keys Community College and Palm Beach Junior College. That’s pretty shitty.

Wednesday, February 2, 1983

8 PM. Today was dark and gloomy as last week’s killer storm from California ended up here, causing tornadoes and flooding. A cold front has just passed through, and the temperature went from 75° to 60° in a couple of hours.

I’ve got a sore throat which is either the result of talking too much or is the beginning of a cold. I almost wouldn’t mind a cold now, for I’d like to have a legitimate excuse to stay home from work.

Still, tonight I can relax. All my papers have been graded, all letters written, all lessons prepared. I’m caught up – for next 24 hours, at least. And I can lie in bed and watch TV and sleep late tomorrow since I don’t have to take Marc to BCC.

Last night’s class went well, though I began losing their attention after 2 ½ hours. I don’t know why I was conscientious enough to keep the class till 10 PM.

We went over Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and O’Connor’s “Revelation,” and I read aloud from “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Planning will get you everything. Or nada. . .

Anyway, I enjoyed myself even if my students didn’t.

A memo from Dr. Pawlowski revealed that he and other administrators have set up a committee to try to save their jobs. But I’m sure the decisions, like all decisions at BCC, are made first and only then are opinions asked.

Lisa said she’s over yesterday’s depression and into anger now. She had the balls to confront Dr. Grasso with questions about why she wasn’t granted an interview. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do that (nor would Bob, who’s in the same position as Lisa and who is just as upset), but Lisa felt she didn’t want to go around for the rest of the term with her head held low.

Dr. Grasso, uncomfortably, told Lisa that she had nothing to do with the committee’s decisions and said she knew of nothing, nada, that Lisa was doing wrong as a teacher.

Dave, when he learned that the interview letters had gone out, said “Fuck ’em.” Or as I said in one of my classes, answering someone’s question as to why I was leaving BCC, “This school sucks.”

Dr. Grasso said Lisa could apply for the two new positions or for the one temporary opening caused by Miss Burns’ long-overdue retirement after 50 years of teaching.

Well, BCC-Central’s English Department will change when the younger people make up a majority in the next few years.

In the car going home, Marc still seemed surprised at my vehemence when he asked again today if I was definitely leaving BCC. Enough about that miserable place.

Tom Whalen sent me the 35-page manuscript of “The Enchanted Forest” so I can tell him what I think of it. Tom’s other news: He and Ellis Marsalis are teaching a mini-course on Miles Davis at NOCCA; he got appointed to the Louisiana Arts Council grants panel (“which means a drive to Baton Rouge I dread”); Madison Smartt Bell, whom Tom published as a Princeton undergraduate, may have “the best first novel since V” out from Viking; and Tom and Mike Presti are all but finished with their sci-fi novel collaboration, although both George Garrett and Bill Harrison have advised Tom only to work on his own.

Tom said he might go to New York for Easter. I wish I could meet him there.

I had a good negative workout on the Nautilus machines today, but I was surprised to learn that Bodyworks is under new management. They promise improvements and longer hours, so it’s possible things may not deteriorate.

I wish they’d put in an abdominal machine, because that’s where I need exercise most. My stomach is as huge as ever.

Today I began doing neck work. If I can firm up my flabby neck and jaw line, maybe I’ll shave off my beard. If I ever get rich, I think I’ll splurge on plastic surgery for my chin.

Thursday, February 3, 1983

5 PM. I’m totally exhausted. It’s been a week since I’ve been able to get more than five hours of sleep. I’ve still got to teach tonight and then be up at 7 AM tomorrow.

Let’s face it: I’m burned out. I can’t take it anymore. Two years ago I moved down to Florida to try to make a better life for myself, and this isn’t it.

When I was first hired at BCC, I was eager and enthusiastic. Now I’m cynical and I don’t care – yet I can’t not care enough to make myself relax. Fuck it.

Going to BCC day after day and being with people who are as overworked and frustrated as I am just makes everything that much worse. And then there are the endless mounds of paper always waiting to be graded. The job is always hanging over my head.

I just spent the last few hours with Pete Cherches. I was going to tell him that I’d gladly forgo my larger salary as a college instructor for the lack of pressure of a menial proofreading job like his, but then I learned that Pete makes more money than I do!

Granted, proofreading legal documents is boring and exhausting, but at least he doesn’t have any homework and he’s not constantly being besieged by people who want his help.

No wonder the “helping professions” are where burnouts occur most; sometimes I feel I’m being sucked dry by my students and the administrators at BCC.

When I spoke with Casey today, he agreed the committee was unbearably stupid in not asking all the temporaries for interviews. Dr. Grasso tried to persuade them to do that, but Ledford, Lemaire, Lanshe & Company are so idiotic they didn’t listen.

Hey, all I feel like doing is writing more obscenities like “Fuck it.” Lisa and Bob got shafted, and even Patrick and Mimi, who got interviews: will they get job, and if they do, will they be happy?

The whole school stinks, and as Casey and Luke said, it’s only getting worse. I know if I stayed at BCC, I’d come to the point where I’d want to walk into Building 6 and start blowing people away with a gun.

As much as I think Dr. Pawlowski does nothing as our Communications Division director, at least he used to be a faculty member and so he can sympathized with working teachers more than the new dean they bring in will.

Oh, what’s the use?

Over egg creams at Danny’s, Pete told me he didn’t think my going to grad school was a good idea. Maybe not, I said, but it’s something, and it sounds better than what I’ve got.

Bob said today that his eyes start to glaze over when he enters the classroom or starts on a new batch of papers.

I haven’t spoken to Mom in a week because all I would do is complain to her, and I don’t want to do that. I hate feeling like this, especially on such a gosh-beautiful day. Besides, I’ve got to get moving – back to that shithole campus. Fuck.

10 PM. Despite my terrible mood, I had a good class. I do like teaching, like working with students’ writing and sharpening their minds.

If only I could sharpen the minds of the administrators and some faculty! I become enraged when I think about BCC, the administration, the stupid departmental search committee not offering Lisa, Bob and Dave interviews.

I’d love to tell them all what I think of them and their stupidity. My rage will probably not help me to sleep tonight, but I took two Triavils at 7 PM so perhaps that will work.

Friday, February 4, 1983

8 PM. Last night Mom called to say that Marc had bought a car at the auction in West Palm Beach. She said we could discuss finances in the morning.

I tossed and turned all night and woke up at 6 AM in a panic. I wrote Ed Hogan a letter saying I probably couldn’t make a New York party in March because of the expense.

I realized how much in debt I am. On my various credit cards I owe about $1,200; combined with the $800 I owe on my credit union loan, that adds up to $2,000. How can I survive?

My monthly paychecks come to a net of about $900, and $400 of that goes to pay my rent. The walls started to close in again the way they did in 1980 and I couldn’t pay my bills. I felt awful when I told Mom I’m going to have to wait to pay her and Marc for the car.

I didn’t want to get out of bed today, and I went to school in a terrible mood. It was totally uncalled-for, but I shouted at a talkative student: “Goddamn it, Sue, either stop talking or get the fuck out of here!”

I don’t know how I managed to get through the next two hours of class. And then there were people wanting to talk, wanting information on the P’an Ku meeting – I had no energy and nothing to give.

I came home at 2 PM, and shut off the phone; then I lay in bed, vegetating for the rest of the day. I dread going on, and I feel suicidal, for I see no future for myself.

Maybe I need to remember how desperate I once was. Perhaps this will help me write my novel. Or maybe it will help me empathize with the millions who are now,  through no fault of their own, without jobs, without money, and without hope.

Probably I have more of a sense of what it’s like to be poor than people like Alice, who can only envy others who are better off – to her, poor people don’t really seem to be people – but that’s the whole Manhattan mentality – or Miriam, who doesn’t have to work and can afford an endless adolescence.

I’ve got to believe that the pain I have now will help me grow.

The national unemployment rate, to everyone’s surprise, went down from 10.8% in December to 10.4% in January, but it’s probably a fluke. In Florida, the unemployment rate shot up to 10.2%. A lot of people have just given up looking for work, and they’re not being counted.

You hear economists saying that unemployment will remain around 8 or 10% all year because of “structural” unemployment: the changeover from heavy industry and manufacturing to an information/service/high tech economy.

But you never see anyone ask these economists what they would do if they knew they would be out of work for three years. Reagan bleeds only for the rich and the corporations.

Wow, I can work myself up into a good fury again.

I got housing brochures from the University of Miami which I’ve only glanced at – but they look swell.

I applied for three jobs on the Associated Writing Programs Job List, too. But even getting a job won’t solve my long-range problem.

Isn’t it funny how my major depressions are caused by career and money problems? I got over my last love affair with only 10% of the pain I’ve been feeling lately. More and more, I feel I’m losing control over my own fate.

Oh, I really don’t want to have to entertain boring, materialistic Gary fresh from Club Med Guadeloupe. I feel very old and very tired.

When Glenn came to my office to talk today, I could see he looks at me as a chump. And in a lot of ways I am a chump, a prize chump (as they used to say in 1940s movies). Even a smart 18-year-old boy can see that.

Sunday, February 6, 1983

8 PM. Gary is in the next room, watching the start of the TV epic The Winds of War.

I’ve got about twenty papers to grade for Tuesday night and I still haven’t caught up on my magazines. But I’m feeling better about my life for some reason.

Gary can be a pain in the ass like any other guest, but he’s really no problem. He arrived at this time last night, looking tanned, shaggy-haired, mustachioed and a little spaced out; the drive from Miami was crazy he said, after a weird week at Club Med in Guadeloupe.

He loved it there once he got accustomed to it, and he said the $1,000-plus was well-spent. It sounds like an awful place to me, but I guess the idea is to revert back to childhood for a week and forget all one’s high-pressure career responsibilities.

There are marathon drinking sessions and every kind of drug; there’s lots of sun and water sports and casual sex. (Gary said he had just one one-night stand.) I was surprised to learn that a number of older couples go to Club Med.

Gary described the place’s director, Jerome, as a kind of Gallic Ricardo Montalban from Fantasy Island. I heard endless stories (and from Gary, there are no other kind) about friendships made, romantic chases, and details of daily life there from breakfast to bedtime.

Gary was very tanned, but he also appeared to be exhausted. We had dinner at Hurdy Gurdy’s , where we talked (naturally) about Gary’s life.

He’s been seeing Summer for two months; she’s a fellow market research exec at a small consulting firm, about 26 or so, who lives in Gramercy Park and is vulnerable following a broken engagement, after which she became promiscuous.

Gary said Summer goes out to get drunk many nights a week and apparently she’s got Gary into getting drunk a lot, too. “I’ve become less anal,” he told me.

He’s considering what looks like a firm offer from J.C. Penney, which is trying to position itself in financial services the way Sears has done with Shearson/
American Express.

Gary has become more sophisticated, more confident and sharper – but he still bumbles a little and can still make stupid remarks the way he did in high school and college.

Back at the condo, we watched TV, and I settled Gary into the couch in the living room while I read the Publishers Weekly Spring Announcements issue.

I got an idea for a book called The Snowbird’s Guide to Florida. It would be easy to do; I could compile (and rip off) some details from newspapers and magazines.

Within the next couple of weeks, I’d like to send outlines and proposal letters to various New York editors. Maybe I could get a couple of thousand dollars for an advance.

This morning Gary went to Miami Beach to his uncle’s while I read the papers. While I was at our P’an Ku meeting, Gary made tracks to Fort Lauderdale beach but later professed a marked preference for the warmer weather of Guadeloupe.

The P’an Ku meeting went okay; Betty did show up, as did a couple of the South Campus editors from last year. I got Glenn, Monica, Karen, Pete and the obnoxious Alan from Central Campus.

Betty explained that we have only $6400 in the entire budget, which is less than last year’s printing bill.

I think it will go all right; our next meeting is in two weeks, again on a Sunday afternoon. If I’m going to work weekends, I’m going to stop coming in on Tuesdays and Thursdays until the evening classes begin at 7PM.

Gary was on the phone with Summer for an hour when I arrived home at 5 PM; it must be serious if they’re talking so much long-distance. He repaid what he ran up on my ITT bill by taking me out to the Phoenix Palace for moo goo gai pan.

We didn’t get to go to Lisa’s dinner for Pete, but I spoke to both of them during the day.

Monday, February 7, 1983

9 PM. “Good news is coming; soon you may expect good fortune.” So read the fortune cookie from last night’s dinner at the Phoenix Palace.

I could use good news and good fortune. Also a good night’s sleep, which I haven’t had in oh so long. (I am so tired that I think I just wrote a phrase in Chinese.)

One bit of good riddance: Gary left early this afternoon for snowy New York. Apparently he was unable to be apart from his beloved Summer for another minute, so he returned early.

Last night he was on the phone with her for nearly two hours – in addition to the one hour he’d spent with her yakking in the afternoon. I finally went out and announced, “You’re crazy,” and then slammed my bedroom door shut.

The poor sap – he’s heading for another disaster with this woman. You can see it’s like an accident waiting to happen.

Gary is a prude (who slipped and said promiscuity isn’t – or shouldn’t be – “legal”) and is worried because Summer used to go out after her broken engagement angrily picking up sailors, seminary students and assorted Mr. Goodbar types.

She sounds like a mental basket case, but I suppose that Gary’s type. Eventually, his fears will be confirmed and Summer will revert back into a one-night-stander (standee?).

I hope my “friendship” with Gary is over now. He’s so self-involved, and never once did he ask me about my life, my career, my plans – unless I volunteered the information. Gary is a decent guy, but he’s a nerd.

If being a Manhattan-type success means all that shit that Gary and others represent, I guess that isn’t what I want. My values aren’t exactly noble, but I dislike the Club Med and Quaaludes and Sunday brunch/bloody mary scene.

I shouldn’t stow thrones, living as I do in a Pyrex pyramid, but as the Duke used to say, ya gotta draw the line somewhere.

I had a mostly miserable day. Last night’s torrential rains brought me a king-sized sinus attack, and my head feels like it’s in one of those vises I caught my thumb in during shop class in junior high.

The mail brought nothing but another list of colleges to which I could apply and never hear from again.

I decided to work with my English 100 students individually this week; I do find that rewarding because I enjoy them as people. Also, they seem to write better if I can talk to them about their problems, rather than just be a commentator at the bottom of the page.

At 11 AM, I subbed for Bob. Then, at noon, I went to Davie and had lunch. Mom said Grandpa Herb is now so ill that she can’t stay in Rockaway when she goes to New York with Dad.

Arlyne said Mom can stay at Oceanside. She and Marty are going to Cancun this week, and they are afraid Grandma Ethel will panic when they tell her about their absence.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see Grandpa Herb again.

I really hate myself for not visiting Grandpa Nat at the nursing home – it’s nearly nine months since I’ve seen him last – but he doesn’t know who I am and I feel like he’s not the same vigorous, excitable man who was my grandfather. It’s selfish of me. Maybe I’m no better than Gary.

I dragged myself to a workout on the Nautilus and came home and collapsed into a half-sleep. Tomorrow I intend to sleep late if I can. I’ve shut off the phone and just want to lie here forever – or at least for the next 12 hours.

I have ants all over my kitchen. I think Gary brought them with him from Club Med.