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


Saturday, October 1, 1983

7 PM. Another Saturday night. It’s the first of October, the start of the last quarter of 1983.

I’ve been pretty unhappy lately as the exhilaration and relief I felt at returning to Broward Community College has melted, as those emotions always do in the face of day-to-day realities.

I survived September, and that was no mean feat. Since my unemployment check hasn’t come (I got no mail at all today), I expect I won’t receive a paycheck from BCC this Wednesday, either.

It seems so long since I’ve received any money except from cash advances on credit, and I’m beginning to believe that I’ll never make another deposit into my checking account.

The loneliness I feel should be put to more constructive uses than just moping.

Let’s step back and look at the big picture. This year has been trying – it hasn’t been as bad as ’80, but I didn’t feel the ease of ’81 or the triumph of ’82, either. I’m only beginning to realize how much losing Grandpa Herb – and losing, in another way, Sean – has affected me.

But loss has spurred me on to write before – as in ’74, when I left therapy and broke up with Ronna. Career-wise, I’ve gone places, but my anticipation for more has increased and my pleasure in small things has lessened.

Grayson, the name of the fame is Delayed Gratification. You know that quote about the baby-boomers you want to put in your novel?: “The 1990s will be our decade – but first we have to get through the ’80s.”

I still believe that – believe that if I avoid death and the world avoids nuclear war, I will triumph by the time I’m 40. But it’s going to take a lot of struggling till then.

Part of it is, in fact, my being 32: it’s not as exhilarating to struggle as it once was, and I often feel tired and old. On the other hand, I’m wiser, and I should be, by virtue of experience, more patient.

As Josh said today, “You won’t be doing what you’re doing now forever.” Being back at BCC and living in Miami are holding actions.

The important thing, kid, is to survive – to be around when the world changes and to be there to pick up the goodies.

If you can give yourself a seven-year time limit and tell yourself that, yes, you’re going to have to struggle every step of the way: If you stay here, you’ll have to go on teaching at BCC and feeling isolated, or if you go to New York, you’ll have to live like a troubadour (or bum), going from Grandma to Teresa to existing on adjunct courses and odd jobs. But in the end, little by little, step by step, you’ll find that you’ll wake up in 1990 and you’ll have made it.

Instead of going back to grad school in reality – for which you never had any patience, as your experience at the University of Miami showed – pretend you’re starting out as a freshman, like your BCC students, but in a seven-year-program that will lead to a valuable and worthy degree.

Is this shit I’m writing? The vague kind of nonsense that I laughed at yesterday when my students handed in their God-awful thesis statements?

(One Puerto Rican girl, very upset, told me I was cruel in my comments, and that made me feel like shit all day. I was so upset I couldn’t write about it in yesterday’s diary entry.)

Basically, I’m now trying to give myself a pep talk – the kind I always get annoyed at when I hear Mom giving one to Dad.

It isn’t working.

Pete, who arrived in Florida today, said my books are in St. Mark’s and prominently displayed at the East Side Bookstore. In the library, I found myself in the New York Times Index for the Edwin MacDowell article in January and the Presidential bid in May.

Hey, Richie: It just seems as though you’re going nowhere. Every day you’re setting things in motion for the future – like the xeroxed articles about my campaign I left today at various locations in the Diplomat Hotel, where the AFL-CIO endorsed Mondale (and not me) for President.

Monday, October 3, 1983

7:30 PM. My apartment – and my bedroom in particular – has become a haven for me.

Today I came home at 6 PM, and I was tired and somewhat world-weary, but after an hour alone with my thoughts, stretched out on my bed in my shorts, eating dinner with the cool breezes blowing on my bare back (which, like the rest of me, is gloriously sore from my last workout), I feel relaxed.

I spoke to Grandma Ethel and told her I’m definitely moving back to New York. She told me Wendy got a studio in Manhattan and had to pay $850 a month, but I explained that I wasn’t limiting myself to the East Side and that I had friends who could find me cheaper places.

I spent the afternoon with Pete, who gave me copies of his delightful Purgatory Pie chapbook, Colorful Tales, a sort of avant-garde Mad Libs, and Benzene magazine. Nobody down here would understand either; they are for people in New York and San Francisco, people I more identify with and want to live among.

I want to enjoy seeing my books in East Village bookstore windows and make use of my connections in the city. Now that sounds terrible, but my “connections” are truly friends with whom I share common interests. I’m ready for the struggle in the Big Apple again.

Pete accompanied me to the Selkirk Studios in Fort Lauderdale, where I got the tape of my second Library Edition appearance, and then I took him to the piss-elegant Riverside Hotel for lunch.

He’s got two chapbooks coming out soon, and when he returns from California in November, he should find out if Mark Leyner has successfully pulled off the yes votes for his Fiction Collective collection, Kennedy’s Brain, which would give Pete a legitimacy he doesn’t have now.

He’s doing very well as a freelance proofreader and is also managing, by some legal loophole, to collect unemployment. Actually, he’s making more money than I am in my full-time job teaching five classes a term.

If I can be like Pete or Mark Leyner – or Susan Mernit or hundreds of others – I can survive in New York. I have confidence in my abilities.

Back in ’79-’80, I had never before lived on my own, had never had a full-time job, and I was so much more scared of the world. By next summer I’ll have been on my own for five years and I’ll have had experiences working and traveling that will help me adjust to my new situation.

What could keep me from returning to New York? At this point, not much. Not another year at BCC, certainly. Not an academic job, unless it were an excellent position in an excellent place – and realistically, I know that is not going to happen.

Today at BCC, I taught definition for three hours in a row and received about 35 papers I have to grade. I won’t say any more about work because it’s no longer an important part of my life. My body is there, my mind is sometimes there, but basically my life is the rest of my world, not BCC.

Last night I dreamed it was Grandma Ethel’s funeral, and Grandpa Herb, who was still alive, was so inconsolable that I took him to Dr. Lipton. I wonder if Dr. Lipton is still alive.

Naturally, I didn’t mention this dream to Grandma, who said “Grandpa will forgive” me for not coming up for the unveiling.

Miriam wrote that she’s back in San Francisco after a week with her and Robert’s families in New Jersey. She said that I Brake for Delmore Schwartzis almost “sold ot” – I assume that’s her usual careless spelling and she means “sold out” – at least in paperback, and that they’re definitely reprinting.

She won the Pinchpenny chapbook contest – and her own Zephyr Press chapbook is coming along nicely.

Wednesday, October 5, 1983

8 PM. I’m in Davie in Marc’s room – the room I lived in from January to April 1981 and in August and September of that year. Marc is spending the night at my house.

Last night I made fairly good progress on grading, but I didn’t sleep well, and by 5 AM I decided to polish off the rest of the papers.

Stopping at the post office, I picked up the back issue of the Clearwater Sun with the article about the Presidential candidates, including myself.

The reporter quoted me as saying that students who fail Florida’s functional literacy test “should be sent to the gas chamber,” a very bizarre exaggeration of what I did say.

I drove to school in a headachy daze, but I found that I woke myself up by trying to give my lecture at 10 AM a lot of energy.

Between classes, I was delighted to find a paycheck in my departmental mailbox. It was for $573.26, a nice sum that will help my checking account a whole lot; it should bring my balance over $575.

I was less energetic in my 11 AM class and even less so at noon; I wonder if nightclub performers or actors in long-running plays feel the way I do.

Coming out of my last class and returning to my office, I saw Caryl Crow and Rich Rothenberg cackling about my photo being in USA Today.

There it was, in an article called “White House Fever” in the Newsmakers column on page 2.

The weird thing is that I had to dig the paper out of my wastepaper basket because I had read it earlier and didn’t see the story.

I clearly remembered seeing the articles to the right of that one – but I never even recognized my own photo (although I did have a dim awareness there was a photo of someone on the page).

The photo had me with my handmade “GRAYSON FOR PRESIDENT (OF USA)” – (which I figured they’d use since they always refer to the country as USA) – and me making a V-for-Victory sign.

They mentioned three other candidates, but I got the most space and the photo. They called me “an unemployed writer and English professor” and said my “campaign pitch is a string of one-liners” and got in the Wyman and Streep jokes.

Certainly, it’s good publicity, but after everything that’s happened over the past couple of years, I no longer believe that even exposure in a national newspaper will make me famous.

I doubt if Johnny Carson is trying to get me as a guest, nor will I get asked to go on Nightline or Good Morning America. Still, people will surely see it, and I bet that eventually people will know who I am.

Over at the Unemployment Office, I learned that my last check was sent out of Tallahassee on September 24 – but it never got here.

I was advised to wait two weeks and then try to get the money again; after all, I do have it coming. After stopping at the credit union to deposit my paycheck, I had a light workout at the health club and returned to Davie at 5 PM.

I hope Marc doesn’t screw around in my apartment tonight. I mean, I don’t care if he screws around – I hope he does, at least with Adriana – just that he doesn’t snoop or let strangers come in.

Dinner with Jonathan and my parents – tofu burgers and salad – was different; I’m unused to being part of a family meal. Dad said that it was odd for him too, since Marc’s so silent and I’m just the opposite, talking every second.

I really wanted to do stomach exercises and grade the papers for tomorrow afternoon, but I’m really tired now.

The World According to Garp is on HBO, but I probably will fall asleep before it ends. I also wanted to call Teresa and find out about Europe – but that can wait. My first priority is getting a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, October 6, 1983

11 AM. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, and here I am in Davie, resting between classes. I’ll close my eyes for an hour and then head back to school for my 12:30 PM class.

Later on, I’ll probably see Pete, though I’d rather just go home and get into bed. Still, it’s not often I get the chance to see friends from New York. I feel exhausted, but I graded all the papers for this afternoon. Over the weekend I’ll have about 40 more papers to mark.

On the way to the parking lot, I saw Selma being helped by a man from Social Services as she walked to class. She looks no worse and said her cardiogram has improved.

I told her I was back at BCC, but that I’m not happy and that the job is just a paycheck and a way of marking time. Still, I think I do better than some “dedicated” English teachers like Bill.

When I returned from my 8 AM 102 class, Lynn, Jacqui and Bill were going over a test Bill gave to his remedial students. One sentence was a multiple choice of whether to choose who or whom, and Jacqui and Lynn were trying to figure out the right answer. It was clear Bill was chortling over how clever he was in putting such a brain teaser on the test.

I shocked everyone by saying I didn’t care much about the distinction between who and whom and that I told students it was something only “fuddy-duddy English teachers” cared about.

They got really angry, and I guess I shouldn’t have baited them – but whom is definitely not something remedial writing students need to know.

After Bill left, Jacqui told me he gives them tests in which he asks them to define terms like “predicate nominative.”

What shit. You’re supposed to teach them to write clearly and effectively, not show off and try to make them look dumb by comparison.

Real writers don’t worry about picayune, outmoded grammatical distinctions, so why should students who have trouble composing complete sentences?

Their problems are so severe that there are much more important things to teach.

God, I wish I did not have to be back at BCC! All those little people and their little lives.

I did watch all of Garp last night, soared with it, and cried again at the conclusion.

Whatever people think of John Irving, he did it his way and I admire him for not wanting to be ordinary; I think he deserves his success.

Like Garp, I feel that life is an adventure, and if I died in the next hour, I would go feeling I’ve had a grand time.

I may be nothing but a drudge who grades English papers, but at various times, for limited moments, I’ve soared, too. And that’s much more than most people ever do.

Sunday, October 9, 1983

3 PM. More and more, I am coming to loathe South Florida.

I know I have the tendency in relationships – and living in a place is a relationship – to color things either black or white, and I know there must be a lot of good points about this area (though after “winter weather,” I get stuck), but it’s not where I want to live.

David Tipmore, the guy who called me up a few months ago and asked for a copy of Eating at Arby’s, ridiculed the book in his column in Marquee magazine.

It was a real cheap shot, the kind of things second-rate critics do when they go for a laugh at the expense of fairness. Yes, I know: if I can dish out the ridicule, I should be able to take it.

I can take it – but I see it as symptomatic of what’s wrong with South Florida. Granted, there are assholes everywhere, but down here they run the place.

Last night Mom said she doesn’t think I’ll “stay too long in New York.” I bet she thinks I’ll come running back here if I stub my toe in the Big Apple.

I may have done that three years ago, but by now I’m a big boy, and I see that Mommy and Daddy have so many problems themselves, they shouldn’t be expected to help me solve mine.

She also expressed the hope that I’ll “get a good position” in New York. Damn it, I’m not going there for a position, I’m going there to struggle like hell to be a writer.

I know nobody’s handing out any fellowships or publications, and I’m going to have to fight for everything I want, but I’m prepared for it.

So toughen up, Grayson. You’re in for a lot of rejections in the 1980s – you’ll get kicked in the teeth plenty of times, and often it will seem as if the whole thing isn’t worth it.

At those moments, one thought to keep in mind is that it would have been safer to stay in Florida, teaching at BCC.

Linda Kleindienst devoted her whole weekly column in the Fort Lauderdale News to me and my proposal for a state personal income tax.

She treated me well, but of course most people will read it and say, “That idiot again.” But I know I’m right.

Proposition One will pass next year and Florida will be nothing but a giant mess of a peninsula. Once people up North discover that services here suck, we’ll see whether the phenomenal growth of the Sunshine State continues.

Sure, the old people will continue to come – but businesses, the young, the productive will all stay away, and I bet the growth will be a lot less than current demographic projections.

Driving past Sean’s mother’s house in Davie after my workout, I saw her camper and two cars in the driveway. I wondered if Sean and Doug were in for the weekend: tomorrow is Columbus Day, and maybe they came over for a visit.

All the way home I thought about it and finally decided to call Sean at his mother’s. If he were there, I’d have the advantage of surprise – all I would have said was “happy birthday” and that I hoped he was doing really well.

Back at my apartment, I nervously dialed the number and asked for Sean. A little girl answered and said he wasn’t there, then turned and said, “Someone calling for Uncle Sean.”

I hung up. Maybe the cars belonged to Sean’s half-sister’s family and other members of the clan.

Already fidgety, I ran out to 163rd Street and found the horrible Marquee notice. Shit – and I still have 30 papers to grade.

Monday, October 10, 1983

7 PM. An hour ago, I went over to the mall to get something to eat. Not being smart, I picked the Chinese fast-food place and got something resembling sweet and sour chicken and fried rice.

I miss the great Sichuan dinners I had in New York. As Pete said, after people live in Florida for a while – like his parents – they forget what good food tastes like. If only there were someplace down here that served good cold noodles in sesame paste. Yum!

Unsatisfied by my “meal,” I went to the health food store and bought some key lime frozen dessert concoction, which probably isn’t very healthy but did satisfy my craving for something sweet.

Recent medical studies have indicated that some people who are overweight do not overeat – I certainly don’t – but are fat because of a complex psycho-biological craving for carbohydrates, which trigger a feel-good chemical called serotonin. I’m sure I’m one of those folks.

I stopped to get the Fort Lauderdale News and then sat in my car, eating my carbs and reading the paper. I came across my name in Gary Stein’s column; he took the information out of USA Today.

It’s strange how often my name does appear in print – it’s getting to the point where it’s not worth xeroxing or saving every mention of it.

I suppose I’d better get used to things like this Marquee magazine cheap shot: that’s the reality of celebrityhood. As long as they spell the name right, right?

Last night I slept pretty well after 3½ hours of grading papers. At about one paper every seven minutes, I’m going to have almost a full day’s worth of grading every week.

This afternoon I got to all my papers for tomorrow morning, and I’ll get to the afternoon class’s papers during my break.

Today’s classes were okay: I did grammar and sentence structure in a workshop/off-the-cuff situation.

It was a humid, sticky day, and I came home with a sinus headache. Because of the Columbus Day holiday, there wasn’t mail, so I was able to get right to the papers. (Another reason I miss New York: Columbus Day was always a school holiday there, and it still is.)

Either not much else happened today, or I’m blocking it out. I don’t like writing about BCC because I hate thinking of that place as an important part of my life.

On Saturday, Elihu said that the people he works with at Goldman Sachs are the people he spends more time with than anyone else, including friends, family and lovers. In a way that’s horrible.

But I suppose I’ve seen the other BCC faculty members more than I’ve seen any of my friends – of course I don’t really have any friends here in Florida.

And I suppose that despite all my complaints about this area, if I had friends it would be bearable.

What I do like about South Florida is the weather in winter, the huge sky – unlike any Northern sky I’ve seen, the quality of the light, the palm trees and beaches, the informality and the lack of pretension.

Only the last qualities are in the people here rather than the physical environment, and those traits don’t make up for the lack of intelligence, innovation and progressive politics or the resistance to outsiders of all kinds.

I know that with New York’s tremendous energy level and intellect come that provincial obnoxious condescension and sarcasm.

But I need the spicy stuff now – like Sichuan food. Bland people, like bland food, are for convalescents. When I came here nearly three years ago, I was a convalescent.

My first year out in the real world by myself was a tough one, and I needed security, warmth and protection. Now I’m ready to fight again: I’m stronger, more experienced, more resourceful, less scared – though as I write that, a cold chill hits me in the solar plexus.

Hey kid: if you’re not scared, you’re taking it too easy and something’s wrong.

Twelve Columbus Days ago I was terribly depressed about my breakup with Shelli – so much so that I swallowed a bunch of Triavils – but now that seems out of someone else’s life.