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


Tuesday, November 1, 1983

7 PM. I’m yawning as I write this. I’m tired. Up at 6 AM, I did sleep okay, but the day was a long one.

First I had breakfast on University and Griffin, then made it to school by 8 AM. I went over some poetry with the class; as usual, most of the students have trouble with it.

Maybe poets should write in the style of a first-grade primer the way I did in Eating at Arby’s or do what college textbook writers are now told to do: “dumb down” their texts for semiliterate freshman.

From class, I went straight to Bodyworks, where I had a semi-successful workout. In the mornings, though, something is different, and I don’t have the energy for exercise that I do in the afternoons.

At my parents’ by 10:30 AM, I showered and returned some calls.

I’ve got an interview with a Toledo radio station Thursday at 9:15 AM – I’ll take that in my office – and one with an Oklahoma City station on December 6; God knows why they’ve scheduled it so far in advance.

I gave an interview to a Miami News reporter who evidently didn’t know they’d already run a story on my presidential campaign.

Probably they’ll junk the piece, but I kept stressing the forum at the Skylake Mall on Saturday and kept mentioning the other candidates who’ll be there.

Back at school, I helped Fred Curry run his program and use the printer; then I printed out some stuff of my own.

God, the machine is wonderful! Although I have trouble with the TRS-80, I don’t seem to panic the way the older people do around it. Everyone keeps asking me to help them.

At 12:30 PM, I had only half a class, but I did pretty much through get through the lesson on cause and effect.

Then came computer class, where we practiced word processing for most of the two hours; the others didn’t want to start with VisiCalc and the spreadsheets yet. But I seem to have taken to the computer like the proverbial duck to water.

One great advantage of being at Broward Community College is that the TRS-80 is right next door to the office – and of course there’s also the xerox machine. I could actually typeset a book on the computer, using the letter-quality printer, and then I could use xerography to print it.

I could use the computer for résumés, press releases, and my own fiction. God, the possibilities are endless.

But sitting at a computer screen does bad things for my lenses; I’ve never been in such pain from dry eyes as I was today.

Increasingly, I’ve been getting mucus deposits in the morning. Marc said it’s the allergies caused by the Florida weather that are the trouble.

In the mail I got an invitation to a publication party in Manhattan for Jeff Weinstein’s new book. Jeff wrote that he “loved” I Brake for Delmore Schwartz. And that was about it.

I still have ten essays left to grade if I’m going to return all the papers tomorrow, but I probably won’t get to them. I do wish I had more time; however, I’ve been accomplishing quite a lot, especially when you consider how loaded down with these student papers I’ve been.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll pack to stay in Davie overnight; since I won’t be going to the gym tomorrow, I should have a whole chunk of time to catch up with grading and correspondence.

I really have been working a full-time job, I guess. Oh well, I’m more than halfway through the term, and in another seven weeks it will be Christmas vacation.

Ron Hulewicz seemed startled when I said I didn’t want to stay at BCC; he said he was out of teaching for five years and couldn’t wait to get back.

“Maybe I just need a sabbatical,” I replied, and then I said I’ve been going back to school every fall since I was in kindergarten.

“What are you, about 25?” he asked. When I told him my age, he seemed startled. That made me feel good.

Last night I dreamed that Grandpa Herb told me he wasn’t really dead.

Friday, November 4, 1983

Midnight. Forty-five minutes ago I saw myself on WPTV/Channel 5 in West Palm Beach, telling the audience why I want to be President.

The station comes in funny down here in Miami. I told my parents to watch it because it’s on their cable in Broward, but they’re nearly senile by now and so misunderstood my call and were watching some other station.

I also called Teresa to listen to the broadcast over the phone, but she had to say good night to her guests, who were about to leave, and by the time she got back, the segment was over.

Oh well.

The reporter, Chris Lanierd, a young blond guy, told me he thought I was great, and he said he’d wanted to meet me since he heard me interviewed on WQCS in Fort Pierce in March.

How did the West Palm Beach leg of the Florida Presidential Forum go? Okay in my book. I drove up there after lunch and after school, and when I got to the Cross County Mall offices, Michael Ladd didn’t know who I was. That’s about his speed.

Actually, Michael is a good guy, if somewhat of a nerd. And he’s a conservative Republican, a Proposition 1 supporter, and probably a Reaganite with some dopey ideas.

His girlfriend, whom he met from an ad in a singles magazine, was also there. For a while I assumed they might be the entire audience for the debate.

The mall manager seemed extremely nervous about the whole event, as I would have been if I were in her place. But Gilda Vogel, the PR person for the mall, a nice Jewish lady from Valley Stream, helped us a lot as we set up; her husband Al arrived a little later.

To Michael’s chagrin, only two other candidates who’d accepted the invitation showed up (which didn’t surprise me): Elijah the Prophet, who flew down from Baltimore with a friend, and George Britt, a black Pennsylvania Democratic state committeeman.

Richard Kay, a North Palm Beach lawyer running against homosexuality and bilingualism, who got thrown out of the Democratic state convention in Hollywood, also showed up.

The reporters from the Broward and Palm Beach bureaus of the Miami Herald were there, and I had a good time talking to David Finkel, who flew down from St. Pete to cover the thing for the Times; we talked about Sandy Thompson, whom we both admire.

Before we spoke, I was tense but okay, and after a rather shaky start, I enjoyed getting into the action of the debate. The others were all super-serious and very conservative (all were anti-ERA).

The crowd was minuscule to nonexistent, just a few curiosity-seekers here and there. Mostly people gawked for a minute and then walked on, as I would have; the only person to stay for the whole thing was a black Reaganite, which probably says something.

Thirty people voted in the “Shoppers 1984 Presidential Poll,” and George Britt and I tied for the lead with five votes each. Two people voted for me for Vice President.

I made people laugh, and that was worth it. I like getting up in public and making a fool of myself.

Of course, my students are used to that; earlier in the day, I had three pretty obstreperous classes. Several people in my classes said they saw my photo on Eyewitness News or heard my name mentioned on the NBC station this morning.

Chris said he had a call in to NBC News to see if they were interested in the tape. I don’t expect they will be, although what I need is national exposure.

My photo, along with those of the other candidates, was in today’s Palm Beach Evening Times; I got a copy just before I reached the mall.

Both the drive up with the Turnpike and the drive down with I-95 took well over an hour, but I found the rides relaxing.

Tomorrow at 9 AM, I’ve got to be at the Lakes Mall for a 10 AM debate, and then we’re scheduled for 3 PM at Skylake Mall.

I have about twenty papers to grade, but I can do that on Sunday, when I plan to rest up. Life is really hectic, but I am having fun.

As for politics in the real world, Teresa said she’s been busy campaigning for the transportation bond issue. She reported that a whistle-stop tour on the LIRR with Governor Cuomo today brought back lots of good memories from last year’s gubernatorial race.

Saturday, November 5, 1983

7:30 PM. Of the three local newscasts I just watched, the Presidential Forum made only WPLG/10, the ABC affiliate, and I was the only candidate who got to speak about why he wanted to be President (because it’s a job that pays well, etc. – my usual schtick).

All three network affiliates in Miami were at the Skylake Mall this afternoon, and I suppose I could still get on at 11 PM. Unfortunately, NBC wasn’t interested in the footage that their West Palm Beach station took.

Last night’s debate made the front page of the Herald, with Elijah the Prophet’s photo; they downplayed my candidacy because of the previous article they ran. There was also a story in today’s Fort Lauderdale paper.

I guess I came off well in all the media, though I fear I looked rather fat on TV.

Dad went to both of today’s events. This morning in the Lakes Mall was pretty funny. It was just me, Elijah and Britt, whom I suspect drinks more than a little.

The idiotic mayor of Lauderdale Lakes was drafted as moderator of the debate, and he’d obviously been a politician for so long that he failed to be humiliated by the way it all went.

I was as outrageous as possible, probably too much so. When asked about social security, I said, “I’ve worked with old codg. . . er, I mean senior citizens,” and a lady passing by acted as the perfect straight man and pointed at me and said, “I know what you were going to say!” Except she said I was going to say alter kockers, which is even funnier.

The highlight of the debate was when George Britt responded to a question by saying the people had already heard him on this issue and that “everyone here knows where I stand.” Taking his seat, he promptly fell over backwards on the platform.

He injured only his pride, but it was such a funny scene that I’m laughing even as I write this. Only a few people were standing nearby, and there was no press around.

Towards the end of the forum, Marlin Thacker of Alabama, a country hayseed in a pickup truck, finally arrived after getting monumentally lost. He said he’d come along to the Skylake Mall with the rest of us, so there were four candidates again.

I made sure Marlin followed behind me on I-95 to North Miami Beach. The Skylake Mall was the only place that set up folding chairs, and the ultra-elderly Jewish people who hang out there took any excuse to sit down, so we had a big crowd for a while until we totally lost them as things became more and more ridiculous.

I think my own low point in the debate came when I called for the legalization of marriage between humans and herrings and told the crowd, “It wouldn’t kill you to applaud.”

“Not nice,” Dad said aloud – which is probably why he ended up with two votes for Vice President in the straw poll.

Thank God I won the straw ballot for President, avoiding an embarrassing defeat in my hometown.

“How do you feel now, Richard?” said the Channel 4 reporter as the camera zoomed in on me and I tried to keep from cracking up.

At the end, I shook hands with everyone – Elijah’s friend said he really liked my jokes – and I thanked Michael, giving him a copy of my book.

George Britt had to go to Texas to consult with his 15-year-old campaign manager, and Marlin Thacker said he’d take him in his pickup truck as far as Alabama, so I pointed them toward the Turnpike and waved goodbye.

Now, although it might be too fresh in my mind, I have to evaluate this experience. Maybe it’s time, once the current wave of radio interviews (prompted by that newsletter) ends, to drop my candidacy while I’ve gotten all the mileage out of it, before I actually become a lunatic.

I’m sure the media can and does turn people into lunatics.

I’ve learned that it’s not easy to be funny in front of crowds and that outrageousness can often turn into sickening wackiness or bad taste.

Still, the events themselves don’t really exist until the media (press, radio, TV) get a hold of them.

I’ll be content to be out of the limelight for a while; I’ve had all the print and TV and radio exposure I need for now.

I’d like to keep my name out of the paper for a few weeks, at least.

Sunday, November 6, 1983

7:30 PM. About ninety minutes ago I decided to go to the new Wendy’s on the corner of 163rd Street and Collins.

The causeway traffic was at a standstill due to an accident at the beach, right in front of Wendy’s and The Castaways.

Getting a salad bar and a great baked potato stuffed with broccoli and cheese, I enjoyed watching the activity in the restaurant. There were nice-looking young people, tourists, and three cute little kids – two brothers and a sister – who were incredibly funny as they played with each other.

One brother kept teasing the sister by pointing out items in the old 1890s Sears Catalog design on the Wendy’s tabletop: “You don’t have this . . . tú no tienes esto.” Finally the older brother stepped in and told the other kids not to talk to each other except through him.

I was pleased to see how easily they swung from English to Spanish and back and how completely unconscious they were in their bilingualism. This is how American kids talk in Miami today.

After dinner, I took a ride down Collins Avenue. I’ve always loved the neon lights of Miami Beach, and the brackish smell of the ocean made me feel good as I remembered the same smell from Rockaway, Mill Basin in Brooklyn, and St. George on Staten Island.

As you can tell, I’m feeling happy after what was a perfect day.

Up at 8 AM, I went to the gym when it opened and had a negative workout so vigorous that I already feel my chest, shoulders and triceps aching.

Apart from all the Nautilus machines, I think I like doing dips, chins and “necks” the most – and they seem to be the exercises that do me the most good. I did one exercise after the other to get a good aerobic workout.

Then I went to my parents’ – Dad was on his way out, so that left me alone in the house – where I exercised a little more, doing waist trimmers.

Back at home, I read more newspapers, lay out by the pool (since there are no reclining chairs, I just set out a beach towel on the cement, and that proved comfortable), and went to Jordan Marsh, where I bought two pair of corduroy jeans (the old Levi’s) on sale for $15 each. Sadly, too many of my old pants no longer fit me.

And that was my very terrific day. Except to Dad briefly, I spoke to no one, but I didn’t feel lonely. On the contrary, it was a relief after all the action at the malls and all the publicity.

Last night I did make the 11 PM news on WTVJ/4 and WSVN/7. Although I looked much better than I did on the earlier news, I still tend to appear very bulky on camera.

Oh well, I’ll never be lithe or lean or slender – or drop-dead handsome – and I’d better learn to do the best with what I have. On Channel 4, I sounded pretty funny. I do understand what TV news needs: short, pithy statements that suggest with style and nonchalance.

Remember McLuhan’s saying that TV was a “cool” medium? He was on target.

On Channel 7, it was just a film clip without interviews, but the anchorman specifically mentioned me and one of my jokes.

What does it all mean? I’ve still got to sort that out, but for now it’s more clippings for my now-unmanageable file of xeroxed publicity, more videotapes of me on the news, some more experience in front of an audience – and a growing sense of limits.

And of course, it’s going to make for interesting memoirs. I’ve had fun – to some people, that itself is very threatening, but I’d rather be one of life’s fun people: someone like Lillian Carter, who died last week.

Where do I go from here? Lower profile, I think, unless this weekend’s publicity suddenly catapults me into doing more TV. But I doubt that will happen.

What’s more likely is that I’ll do more radio shows, and every once in a while someone will call to interview me because I’m still on the Federal Election Commission list of Presidential candidates.

But I don’t expect to get on national TV – David Letterman or some network newscast – and that’s really all that’s left, except People magazine, and I don’t expect to make that, either.

All this publicity and media exposure is heady stuff, and this weekend should keep me for some time until I start feeling like a nobody again.

I do wish I had big blocks of free time in my life, without financial pressure, so I’d feel secure enough to write fiction – but then again, maybe I’m just fooling myself and if I really wanted to work on a novel, I’d make the time.

The trouble with writing fiction, of course, is the lack of immediate gratification. Will I ever have the discipline to work on a novel? I honestly don’t know.

Yesterday the post office returned the letter I sent to Sean in Gainesville last June. I had marked the envelope “Please Forward,” and it was stamped “Moved – Left No Forwarding Address.”

By now I am over Sean. But the experience of loving him has made me miss touching, holding, telling secrets to, and laughing with another person. I want to get involved with someone again.

Wednesday, November 9, 1983

7 PM in Davie.

Last night I called Lisa, as it had been days since we’d spoken. Last week she put her beloved poodle to sleep, suffering as it was with incurable diarrhea. It must have been a very difficult decision, and I’m sure she was very upset.

She spent the weekend in the Catskills at the BBYO convention, where she said most of the others were a lot more enthusiastic about the organization than was she.

Yesterday I’d gotten a call to go to an interview tomorrow night for a job teaching part time at Nova High School for Barry University. When I learned Lisa was the other person being interviewed, I decided to bow out; I’d never have time to teach another course anyway.

This morning I wrote letters and did some chores before coming to BCC to teach three deadly-dull classes on bibliography; there’s just no way to make that stuff interesting.

After grading papers in my office for an hour, I went to computer class, where today we learned how to copy and kill files.

It amazes me how much trouble the older teachers like Luke have, and I’m convinced they think differently than we who were brought up on TV and other technology.

Earlier, at my parents’ house, I’d gotten a letter from Rick, so in computer class, I answered him and printed out my own letter.

At 4:30 PM, I left BCC, too tired (and too charley horse) to go to Bodyworks. Instead, I went to the West Regional Library, where I found that Los Angeles Times article about my wanting to move the capital to Davenport on page 2 of the paper.

Also, I bought the Miami News to see the story about my temple appearance tomorrow night. Oddly, I’d already heard the story as I drove to school this morning and was listening to the news read for the blind on WLRN.

By now, I’m so used to hearing my name mentioned on radio and TV that I take it for granted. I have to do an interview on KPSI/Palm Springs later, and for me at least, my jokes are starting to get a bit stale.

I suppose I’ll just give a reading tomorrow night at the temple and maybe say a couple of things.

Luckily, I can relax on Friday because it’s a holiday. I’ll have papers to grade, but I do feel that I’m over the worst of this term until the final deluge of research papers a month from now.

Dr. Grasso, who sat next to me in computer class, told me that next term I’ll be probably teaching a bunch of 102 classes, which is fine with me: the more literature I teach, the happier I am.

After coming back here to the house in Davie, I fixed a sandwich for dinner. Dad just returned from his sales trip to the Gulf Coast a little while ago.

Thursday, November 10, 1983

Midnight. I just got home and I’m quite tired, considering I got up at 6 AM and was at work an hour later.

It’s been a long day, but a fruitful one – and tomorrow is Veterans Day, the first weekday holiday I’ve had since I started working at BCC again in September.

Last night Teresa called and said that since she, Juliana and another friend can’t get flight reservations for Florida, they’re thinking of driving down for the Christmas holidays.

“Do it!” I urged Teresa, and told her I’d be on vacation then and that I was determined to repay her kindness and hospitality from last summer.

She said Cuomo’s transportation bond issue passed by a larger margin than expected. Teresa, though, has mixed feelings about the end of another campaign.

“I get depressed around the holidays,” she confided to shrink Bill Breitbart.

“That’s normal,” he said.

“Yeah, but I start at Election Day,” Teresa told him.

At 11 PM, I got a call from Gary, who showed surprising imagination when he won a Halloween costume party’s first prize. He came as Groucho in four different costumes: as a veterinarian, professor, explorer, and in a nightgown and nightcap, all from scenes in Marx Brothers movies.

Citibank pulled a project Gary was working on in San Francisco, but he’s trying to relocate it to Tampa or Miami for December; in either case, I’d like to see him. I hope this winter brings more visitors to Florida than last year’s did.

After my 8 AM class today, I did an interview on KEX in Portland and then went to Bodyworks. Back in Davie, I found the new issue of Berkeley Poets Cooperative with my prize-winning story, “I Don’t Want No Education.”

Michael called to say that there’d been a good article about the forum in Saturday’s Palm Beach Post with a photo of me speaking; he said he’d pass it along. He also gave my number to someone at the Miami Beach Sun-Reporter, as they may want to do a story on me.

I also got a call from someone at the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, reminding me of the meeting tonight to plan for President Hess’s visit to Miami in January. I explained that I had to give a speech and sent my regards to Elaine Taibi.

Back at BCC, I corrected some papers, taught my 12:30 PM class, and then, at Mick’s urging – and despite myself – I checked the Chronicle of Higher Education for jobs; there were none worth applying for.

When I told Mick I’m giving up, he said, “Come on,” as if I’d been joking.

At the post office, I got lots of mail.

A postcard acknowledging my application for a job at some college – the new wrinkle is you have to supply the self-addressed postcard – arrived, as did two letters from the University of Miami.

One was from Financial Aid: a form announcing me they were getting me a guaranteed student loan for $2,500 a term and asking me to sign and return it.
The other was from the Dean, informing me that my “below average midterm grades” were jeopardizing my assistantship for next year; Lester Goran obviously was pissed or envious or both and gave me a failing midterm grade.

Among the other papers and bills were two pieces of mail from Zephyr Press, which both contained checks.

The package had in it the long-delayed flyers for my Eating at Arby’s mailing list – plus $55 to spend on envelopes and postage. I’m not overly impressed with the flyer. In a letter accompanying the package, Ed said he was disappointed that American Book Review did not have a review of my books in their new issue.

The other, separate, letter from Ed contained my first royalty check – for $67.66 for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

Ed wrote that it was the first royalty check Zephyr Press had ever sent for any book they’ve published (even Philip Whalen’s): “It represents 20% of our net on the first 46 cloth copies past the 75-sold mark.”

I can’t figure out what the hell that means. But Ed says they’ve received payment on 350 copies (cloth and paper), billed jobbers for 74 copies, and billed to the trade another 490, for a total of 914 copies.

The ship date for the next paperback printing of 500 copies is November 27, at which time there’ll be 1650 copies in print. Miriam’s book has gone off to press already.

Here’s something odd, my horoscope for today: “Contractual obligations will be fulfilled if you do your part. Cash flow will resume, royalties will be paid, and you’ll be rid of unnecessary burden.”

The burden I’d like to be rid of is about twenty pounds of fat. I couldn’t believe I went up to 168 pounds, but I discovered it tonight after I kept changing clothes and realized I looked fat in everything.

My belly bulges out over my belt. Disgusting! I’ve got to lose weight before I’m embarrassed to appear in public.

Still, I managed to go to Temple Beth Am tonight and speak before a crowd of about sixty people.

While eating dinner at the counter of Corky’s, I reflected on the way I was fifteen years ago, when I could barely function. In 1968, I couldn’t have even sat in the audience, much less gotten up to speak, in any auditorium.

Tonight I even managed to perform onstage in the sanctuary of the synagogue, wearing a yarmulke, standing in front of the ark.

Lisa – who did get the job at Barry University’s Nova High campus – introduced me with a great buildup, and I tried to be as gracious as possible, thanking Temple Beth Am, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, and the Jewish Community Center for sponsoring the event.

The woman taking tickets was surprised at the size of the crowd and said that my TV appearances must have helped.

The tickets the people paid a dollar for said “An Evening with Richard Grayson.” I was too shy to ask for one, but now I wish I had one. Can you believe people who would pay a dollar for an evening with me?

I talked as best as I could, read from Eating at Arby’s and the Grandma and Grandpa stories from With Hitler in New York, took questions, got laughs, and many people came up at the end to talk with me, including a guy who asked me to speak at his temple’s men’s club.

Before we left the synagogue, I asked Lisa to come with me to Burger King for drinks and some talk.

It’s painfully obvious that she’s not as enthusiastic about Jewish community work as she pretends to be in all her speeches – unlike many of her co-workers, for whom it is a mission in life.

She spends many hours working, attending meetings, giving talks, arranging this and that – and she takes home just $200 a week. Pitiful.

She’s afraid to tell her boss that she’s taking on another job, but she needs the money. Besides, the people at Barry University told her they want her to “be entertaining, not work the students too hard, and give A’s and B’s.”

I drove home at 11:30 PM and here I am.

I see that Bill Smart rejected my stuff for the VCCA anthology, so I can’t say that everything’s going my way. But November has been a very good month so far.