A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1984


Tuesday, April 24, 1984

8 PM. Today I really worked hard. There’s so much to do, and every minute seems crowded. Tonight, an hour ago, when I got through with my computer education final exam at FIU, I felt so tired that I wanted to cry.

I got an egg salad sandwich and a Sprite and wolfed down “dinner” in my cubbyhole of an office; then I put coolant in my car and took off across State Road 84 and down I-95 to my apartment.

This morning, I was out of the house early enough so that I had time to drop some more boxes off at the warehouse before school.

I also went to the post office to send my letter to the MacDowell Colony special delivery; I took the coward’s way out and wrote instead of phoned to tell them I’ve decided not to come.

Perhaps some lucky devil on the waiting list will get a lot out of his or her stay there.

My morning was a blur of students. There was so much paperwork to move around, I felt – and I still feel – completely overwhelmed.

I had my 8 AM and 11 AM classes’ finals today; I gave back their CLAST essays, gave them grade advisory forms to fill out, and had them work on essays.

Meanwhile, I graded research papers. I still have a batch to do. Always at the end, when the final grades should be given out with some thought, I am too rushed to be thoughtful.

Then there are the excuse experts; God knows why I’m so lenient with them, for I never let myself off so easily. I wish I could deal with the plagiarizers, but I’m too hurried to care, and maybe their plagiarism is a symptom of what’s wrong with giving research papers to community college students.

I hate research papers, and when I read my students’, I remember the same dopey things I used to do. It’s such bullshit. When I was in college, I rarely felt I learned anything from doing research papers, though I did become adept at bullshitting.

At 12:30 PM, I went to my parents’ house, where I had lunch and then collapsed on the living room couch for a semi-nap.

Although I had intended to work out, I’m not Superman – I don’t even feel much like Clark Kent – and I’ll have my last visit to Bodyworks tomorrow and then freeze the membership.

At the airport, I turned in my Northeastern ticket, and then in class, we looked at each other’s PILOT programs and then took a difficult final. I hope I did okay, because I really want an A in the course.

I’m tired – but I said that already. I’m tired of being tired. (What?)

A Herald article on the “uproar” at the University of Miami English Department confirms that my opinion of the place was correct.

Russo is indeed an idiot; he’s fired lecturers hired by previous chairmen, including Kathy Bell and two who were Teacher of the Year, and he’s hired Evelyn Mayerson – a novelist with a degree in psychology – as director of composition.

The graduate assistants have asked the university president to intervene, and one departing teacher says the morale is dreadful: “Everyone’s terrified they’ll be next.”

So I was right when I saw that department as much more fucked-up than most. Thank God I got out of UM after just a few days of the Ph.D. program.

I still have not looked at the ten or so term papers I have to hand back tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get to BCC early and grade them even though my final doesn’t start till 10:10 AM.

No more getting up at 6 AM, thank God. Although I should have profound thoughts now, all I feel is numbness. I need to sleep.

There’s still a bunch of stuff I have to do in terms of moving, but I can’t deal with it now. I just want to get under the covers and relax.

But I do feel a bit proud of myself. I’ve worked hard and accomplished a lot this year. Maybe it will all pay off eventually.

I deserve a break – but doesn’t everyone think that?

Wednesday, April 25, 1984

9 PM. Tired as I was last night, I could not get to sleep. I found several ants in my bed, probably because I took off the dust ruffles and shook things up down there, and that made me a little uneasy.

Perhaps I was overtired, for my mind kept racing. The heat didn’t help; it’s warm enough at night to be a bit uncomfortable but not warm enough so that I can turn on the air conditioner without freezing.

I called Teresa, who was watching Another World on videotape. She said she really hasn’t been all that busy and that her plans are going smoothly.

She did confess to a great deal of anxiety about going to Europe, but that seems natural. The house in the Berkshires is not rented, and that’s “casting a pall” over the trip.

Teresa said she has the car and will pick me up at LaGuardia on Friday.

I still couldn’t fall asleep after watching a few hours of TV. I decided that if my plane should crash on Friday – and I’m certain it won’t because I’m not ready to die yet – but if it did, I’d be going out at a good time.

The local newspapers would give me some publicity and I’d sound like a candidate, not for the Presidency, but for sainthood. I’d be the good teacher, the up-and-coming writer, the guy who tried to do anything for a laugh.

Not bad really – though probably not enough to compensate for an early demise.

At 3 AM, after an hour’s sleep, I was again wide awake, so I decided to put myself to work, and I began sorting stuff, taking out bags of garbage, and taking boxes out to the car.

This morning I decided to take the TV, too. Now almost nothing’s left in the apartment. I’ve crammed lots of clothes into two suitcases, and I’ll be taking two carry-on bags.

Aside from the usual bathroom stuff, there’s my clock-radio (which I’m taking) and the phone, which I’ll bring over to Mom’s.

I managed to grade all the term papers for today’s 10 AM class, and three term papers that were late all came in today.

I will really miss my students. Their final essays were truly amazing; that “once I was ___; now I am ___” template worked better than any assignment I’ve ever given.

Frank Brandt wrote about his deep depression when he lost the Anything Goes part to Robbie, his exile from the theater department, and his joy at being cast in a professional production of Tribute, as well as his anticipation of Gainesville.

Michelle Jackson wrote of childhood scorn: she was called “half-breed” by both blacks and whites. But now she and her partner are rich beyond her childhood fantasies with a business called. . . Half Breed.

Pam Eames wrote how a kiss from a girlfriend made her realize that she was more attracted to women than men, and how she discovered she’s bisexual even though everyone tells her that’s a cop-out.

Others wrote about drugs or alcohol; a lot wrote about getting over shyness or losing weight or gaining muscles. They made me realize how each of my students is an individual, and most of them are really special people whom I admire.

I had one last workout at Bodyworks, heavy on the negatives, before I froze my membership. Then Marc and I went to Freddy’s service station where they put a new hose on my car.

I told Marc to sell the car while I’m gone, that we’ve been lucky with it and we shouldn’t press our luck. If Marc can get $600 for it, I don’t mind having to get a new car when I come back.

Marc sounded optimistic about business at the flea market and about his courses at BCC; he just got his first C in a math course. He said that they’re giving him a Pell Grant to go to school this summer, so it actually pays for him to remain a student.

He knows he could never be a computer programmer but would like to get into the repair aspects of computers. Marc speculated that we could rent a house together “way out in West Broward” and save money. I’m glad to see he’s so positive these days.

I came back to Dade, had my last burger at Corky’s, and drove around at twilight. God, it’s beautiful here. But it’s starting to get uncomfortable during the day. (Teresa says it may be 75° in New York on Friday.)

My next-to-last night in this apartment is about to begin. I wish it were Friday already. But I do feel I’m “over the hump,” both in terms of grading at BCC and in getting moved out.

Thursday, April 26, 1984

11 PM. I’m in the kitchen of my parents’ house in Davie. Tonight I’m going to sleep downstairs in the living room.

Last night I had a very rough time getting to sleep, and I awoke with liquid diarrhea, which lasted for two hours.

That made me decide I didn’t want to spend another night in the apartment, so I hurriedly got everything in valises and bags and came to Davie, where I bathed just in time to get to our Communications Division meeting at 11 AM.

(Just before, I was able to have a few minutes to bring the secretaries a bouquet of carnations.)

Since I didn’t have breakfast – I just felt too sick – I decided to eat something from the bagels and danish at the meeting, and although I did have some more diarrhea, my stomach settled down. It was rocky most of the day, but I attributed it to nerves rather than any kind of virus.

The division meeting was mostly a social affair, but the English Department meeting afterward was hot and heavy: more bullshit from an administration afraid of lawsuits over CLAST basic competencies.

The administrators want all the accountability to fall on the English and Math Departments, but they won’t supply any monetary or moral support – just the opposite.

I left the meeting early because I had to grade term papers, which I did very haphazardly. My final, from 2:30 to 4:30 PM, was of course the last final of this semester for any teacher at the college, but at least I got all the grades in by 4:30 PM.

I graded rather carelessly, I know, but I think my judgment was generally sound.

Patrick came by to take his FAU final as I was giving the final essay to the students, and we talked. He said I should definitely call Betty and see if there are going to be temporary fall positions at South Campus because of renewed CLAST money.

Neither Dr. Grasso nor Dr. Popper said anything to me about August, and so I think they either are certain I don’t want to return, or they have been told by the administration not to rehire me.

As I was packing my things in my office, a guy from the Art Department happened by and said he thought I had put up with an awful lot of shit at BCC. Oh well.

This time I’m not definitely leaving in my own mind, so that probably means I’ll never return – yet deep down, I feel that once again, sometime in the future, I’ll have some connection with BCC.

As Patrick said, “In Broward County, it’s the only game in town.” The question is, Do I want to keep playing the game?

Mom and Dad very generously helped me repack my suitcases; I’m such a horrible packer. So, in about 15 or 16 hours, I’ll be in New York after an absence of nearly eleven months.

I fear I’ll be feel out of place there, but I’ve got to give myself time to adjust. A good night’s sleep would help.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be 90° and humid, so I’m leaving just in time.

Saturday, April 28, 1984

5 PM in New York. I’m totally exhausted and plan to get to bed early tonight; we lose an hour for daylight savings anyway.

I’m in Teresa’s bedroom, and it all seems very familiar and very strange. It’s almost as if the past ten months had never happened: that I had never lived in North Miami Beach or spent another year teaching at BCC.

I don’t feel very well now. Every time I eat something, I get queasy – but I’m sure that it’s all just part of nerves. I’m ready to get sick now if I have to.

After months of working so hard, and especially after the hectic pace of the last few weeks, I’m quite ready to collapse. Now that I have the time to get sick or just “veg out,” I could almost look forward to it.

New York has been in the mid-60°s during the day, which is still chilly for me; I misjudged the weather and didn’t bring enough warm things. Obviously, it’s a late spring this year, for the trees are only now beginning to bud.

I slept well downstairs in Davie on Thursday night, and in the morning I went to BCC to hand in my grades and say goodbye. Dr. Grasso wished me good luck, Sandy hugged me, and Dr. Popper said to call him “when (I) come back to the area.”

Jonathan took a message from Carolyn Wesse at Centenary College in New Jersey, where I applied for a federally-funded summer position teaching writing from late June to early August.

I have an interview there next Thursday at 1:30 PM. Since it’s far, I plan to go to Newark Airport and rent a car to drive out to Hackettstown, which is quite far away from the city.

Dad drove me to the airport in Fort Lauderdale at 11 AM, and I got right on the plane.

To avoid any anxiety, I took a Triavil before takeoff, and while I was a bit uncomfortable, I had no moments of panic during the flight. Airplanes are the only way to go; as Teresa said, they’re “magic.”

I had never arrived at LaGuardia before. Teresa met me by the luggage carousel at the new Delta terminal. She looked fine, with a new punkish cut, and we hugged.

Getting into Juliana’s car, Teresa could not believe we hadn’t seen each other in over ten months; when you speak to someone twice a week, it really lessens the distance.

How did it feel to see the familiar sights as we drove back to the West Side? A bit dreamlike – and that feeling is still with me. But as soon as I arrived at the apartment, it felt as though I had never left.

This place feels like home the way my parents’ house in Davie feels like home.

And immediately, I was thrust into Teresa’s hectic world. To me, she’ll always be a kind of Auntie Mame figure, rushing here and there, always meeting people, making plans, doing things.

Since it was her birthday, and also because she was leaving today, the phone rang even more than it usually does.

She didn’t sound all that enthusiastic about her trip; Teresa hopes maybe this time she’ll get the wanderlust out of her system.

She was in Europe only six months ago (I saw her photos), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Teresa came home early, with Amira on Memorial Day, instead of staying on alone till mid-June.

Teresa and I went to Zabar’s to buy pesto, knishes, and crackers and paté. An hour into my arrival in New York to be in Zabar’s, the ultimate New York experience, was truly bizarre.

Then Barbara came over, and Juliana came upstairs, and Betty came by, and they all drank champagne – as did two guys who came to see about renting the house in the Berkshires.

I felt like I was transported into the Yuppie Kingdom: so much of what people do here is outside my everyday experience.

We took a taxi (a Checker, because only with the jump seats could we seat five) to Columbus and 70th and had dinner at Cantina, a Tex-Mex restaurant.

Earlier, Barbara and Juliana had gotten smashed on champagne and grass, and the couple of margaritas they drank with our dinner didn’t help matters. Perry joined us at 10 PM, following his shrink appointment.

The meal was fun, especially when Barbara finagled all the waiters to our table with a banana cream pie with a candle on it: they very enthusiastically sang, “Happy birthday, dear customer!” to Teresa as the whole restaurant looked on and cheered.

Everyone seems to be doing well: Perry’s got his real estate deals and has been working on a development in Utah; Betty finished another year of law school and is going to San Francisco until Labor Day, to work on some legal aid project: Juliana plans to sublet and move to Albany for a year; and Barbara seems as happy as I’ve known her – and she doesn’t seem to have any major complaints about Stewart.

We walked home up trendy Columbus Avenue, past scores of restaurants and boutiques.

When I got into bed – Teresa in here and me on the year-old living room couch – we conked out immediately, but while I slept heavily, dreaming heavily, Teresa got up at 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep.

All morning I felt very sleepy, so I stayed in bed talking to Teresa as she packed and did other chores and took a zillion phone calls.

Teresa’s sister and her family are in the Berkshires, and Teresa was very nervous about the house not being rented for all weekends – but it all got settled today and there’s little I have to do right now.

I do have a list of errands, like checks to be deposited and mailed out, business things that need looking after.

We went out to a Greek diner for a noon breakfast, and an hour later, we took Teresa’s luggage over to the East Side to help a mildly hysterical Amira pack her things for the trip.

I like Amira a great deal, but she and Teresa are so different, I wonder how they’ll get along for a whole month in Europe. They were already screaming at each other.

Oh well, I’ll miss Teresa a lot. Being with her for only 24 hours reminded me of how much I enjoy her zest for life.

She said that she gave a lot of thought to what I said a year ago – how she needlessly complicates her life – but decided that when she had an uncomplicated winter, she was desperately unhappy.

I hugged and kissed Teresa and Amira and watched them make sparks as Teresa’s car, with its muffler hanging down, left East 89th Street.

I walked to Second Avenue and took a bus downtown – the fare is 90¢ now. Bus riding is the best way for me to see Manhattan. I got off at 42nd and walked around midtown, which seems much the same as ever.

New Yorkers look so much hipper and more sophisticated and intelligent than people elsewhere. I can’t explain it well, but I see faces here that I would never see in Florida.

And of course, I did see someone I knew – Prof. Zita Cantwell, of the Brooklyn College curriculum committee – at the Gotham Book Mart.

Getting the M104 bus at Sixth Avenue by Radio City, I went uptown and stopped off for some food. The local groceries are incredibly expensive. While Tropicana costs $1.49 a half gallon in Florida, the price is $2.47 here.

I doubt I will stay in New York, and right now I don’t think anything will keep me from going back to Florida in August. After three months here, I’ll be glad to return, I imagine.

Betty said that I have an ideal life, where I can enjoy New York but not really have to suffer through the bad parts of it, like housing, winter and rush hour.

Right now, I find it hard to believe that I have all this free time. I plan to sleep real late tomorrow. I also want to learn how to operate the VCR; I’m trying to record the 6 PM news now.

As expected, I do feel a bit homesick.

Monday, April 30, 1984

5 PM. I’m supposed to meet Josh at the Citicorp Atrium at 7:30 PM so we can get to that PEN reading for Third World writers.

Although today started out sunny, it soon turned into one of those grey New York days that I miss in Florida.

Last night, Susan Mernit returned my call and we made plans to meet for breakfast. When I got off the phone, it rang again: it was Ronna, who’d just returned from a weekend with her cousin in New Hampshire.

Ronna said she was on Broadway, on her way to 80th Street get bagels. Naturally I told her to come right up. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and didn’t have time to change, but I was glad because (narcissist!) I wanted to show off my tan and my muscles.

Ronna looked beautiful; I’ve never seen her looking prettier. Her hair was cut short, she was wearing jeans and a Purdue sweatshirt, and I found her irresistible.

We hugged and kissed and then talked in the bedroom. It’s obvious our attraction to each other hasn’t faded. I love seeing all my old friends in New York, but with Ronna, it’s different: my heart leaps a little.

After an hour up here, I went out with her to the bagel bakery on 80th Street and then walked her back to 95th Street. She gave me a bagel and a kiss at the door.

In a way, I was disappointed she didn’t ask me in, but I think Ronna and I should not act on whatever sexual tensions there are between us. Better to be friends.

Jordan is in Greece now, and her sister just got engaged to a Columbia biochemist who answered Sue’s Village Voice ad.

Ronna thinks her mother will move to Florida soon, and I talked a lot about Florida and the enthusiasm I have for it.

Back home, after getting messages from Josh and Grandma, I phoned Barbara de Lamiere of Home Planet News and made arrangements to meet her on Friday at 1 PM at Sheridan Square.

Both Josh and Ronna told me they’d gotten letters from Neil Schaeffer, inviting them to the English majors tea on Wednesday, and today I called Brooklyn College and put my name on their RSVP list.

This morning Susan came over about 9:45 AM, right after teaching her class at Hunter, and we walked over to the 4 Brothers diner.

Susan got excited when she saw her friend Dvorah there. She was with Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose secretary she is, and we were introduced to the great man, who was eating oatmeal with a shaky hand.

I told Singer I’d last seen him a few months ago at Danny’s in Surfside; apparently he and his wife just got back from Florida, too. I guess we like the same restaurants.

Dvorah and Susan chatted, but it was obvious that Singer wanted to be left alone with her to discuss his work – there were Yiddish newspapers and notes all over their table – and I headed for another table, assuming Susan would soon follow.

She finishes up the spring term at Poly Tech soon, and then Hunter. On May 20, her film is supposed to be on TV, and then she leaves for three weeks at VCCA the next day.

Susan decided that it isn’t worth it to teach the summer session at Poly Tech, and we discussed how hard it is to be an adjunct and a writer: the usual. . .

Susan and I still feel we’re paying our dues and that we’ll end up the better for it – unlike writers like Baumbach and Sukenick, whose work has suffered for their being so academic and out of touch with the real world.

Susan, though, is much more dedicated and disciplined than I; as I told her, I don’t even know if I’m still a writer. Or at least I’m not sure I’m a fiction writer.

We’ll see each other soon, I hope, but I know how busy Susan is.

After we parted, I did some errands on Broadway and walked up to the state unemployment office on 90th Street. (All the actors and show people who get laid off call it “Club 90.”)

After filling out all the forms, I had an hour’s wait before I saw a counselor, an unusually friendly woman who took my claim, which of course is against Florida; New York State just acts as an agent. Now I’m supposed to send a written claim to Tallahassee every Monday until I hear from them.

Once I got that taken care of, I went home and used my water-filled travel weights for the first time, working up a moderate sweat. With all the walking and less eating, I am sure I’ll lose weight while I’m here, and I don’t feel that fat anyway.

Taking Patrick’s advice, I sent Betty Owen a letter about my availability for the fall at BCC-South and also sent out some publicity stuff to the Times and Post. Now I’ve got to go and get ready for tonight.