A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1985


Wednesday, February 20, 1985

3 PM. Last evening I was shocked to learn that I’d gotten an A on last week’s Measurement test. Of course that made me feel good.

Dr. Miller went over test reliability and validity, and we took a statistics lab exercise in preparation for next week’s statistics exam.

After dinner (glazed chicken from Lean Cuisine and corn from Green Giant — I rarely cook anything that doesn’t come in a pouch), I read for a while and then lifted weights while watching TV. By 11 PM, I was asleep.

Up at 7 AM, I felt raring to go and was at the BCC-South Library by 9 AM.

Terry at the Learning Resources Center — another gay woman pal of Pam’s — gave me that educational software package to analyze for my evaluation project.

It’s an amazingly bad product from Gorilla Software in Gainesville: there’s no feedback at all, they never tell the student why she got an answer right or wrong, and the rules of capitalization were vague and misleading.

I have that project and a more difficult one, the purchase order for a computer lab, to do for Computers in the Classroom; I already completed the vocabulary list of 100 computer-related words.

My goal is to get as many projects and papers out of the way as fast as possible.

Sue Ribner phoned, asking if I’d write her a letter of recommendation for VCCA this summer; she’s applying there and to Cummington.

As Sue said, it’s in my own interest to give her a good recommendation because if she’s accepted, I can sublet her apartment, but naturally I was delighted to do it anyway.

For the last four weeks, Sue’s sister has been in New York Hospital fighting cancer, and Sue has had the responsibility of worrying about her sister and taking care of both her aged parents and her sister’s kids.

It made me feel good to be in touch with Sue again. She’s such a great person.

After lunch, I drove to Fort Lauderdale and signed for an unemployment check.

In two weeks, I can do it by mail, but I have to be at the Job Service that day anyway. And then, four weeks from today, I go back to sign for my final check.

Crad wrote that he’s livid — and rightfully so — that Coach House Press lied to him and never submitted Pork College for the Stephen Leacock Medal, the prize for the best humor book published in Canada.

Crad figured he had a chance to make the short list of finalists, and Coach House’s editor promised to submit it even though he said it was a waste of time.

Thad McIlroy told Crad that no Canadian publisher will want The Worst Canadian Stories, funny as it is.

Because of the very cold weather in Toronto, Crad’s street sales have gone way down, and he’s low on money. But he did get a great review of Pork College in Books in Canada.

I don’t think Crad’s ever gotten a bad review — although one would probably be a good experience for him.

Now I’ve got to go for my marathon six-hour session at BCC: Pam’s giving us a quiz in BASIC and we’re starting words in LOGO.


11 PM. Surprisingly, after such a long day, I don’t feel exhausted — but I am ready for bed.

In Pam’s class, we took a quiz and then went over low-resolution graphics, which are primitive compared to IBM LOGO or even PILOT. The Apple II+’s are such antiques, and even the Apple IIe’s aren’t much of an improvement.

There won’t be a midterm next week, but we have to create a graphics project.

In Ray’s next LOGO class, we do have a midterm. Tonight I played around with IBM LOGO, easily completing one assessment for the class.

Patrick’s bronchitis still hasn’t gone away, and he sounds awful.

You know, I’ve fallen so much in love with taking grad classes that I’d almost like to stay in Florida for the first summer session. But really, apart from BASIC II, PASCAL, and Courseware Design, I’ve taken all the computer ed classes offered at both Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

Maybe I can do this again next winter, though.

Saturday, February 23, 1985

2 PM. Well, the old car made it up to Boca and back yesterday, but I think it’s not long for this world. The smell of gasoline permeates the car, for one thing.

In any case, cars can be replaced.

I was pretty horrid yesterday, no? When I drove up to Boca, I had lunch at Friday’s in the Town Center, hating all the talkative people around me.

In the FAU library, I read recent issues of Publishers Weekly and the letters I got from Rick and Susan.

Rick related being the oldest person at a screening of a new movie. It does seem that all the actors and actresses are now younger than I, and all the movies are about teenagers or people in their twenties.

Maybe Rick is right and the world has passed our generation by. He did say that some of his students were interested in what I said in the Gargoyle interview.

PW review of “new” fiction from Ploughshares reported that “today ‘new’ fiction is conservative — definitely not avant-garde, self-reflexive or fiction about fiction.”

Instead, it’s all dreary kitchen-sink realism by people like Raymond Carver, Jayne Anne Phillips and Richard Yates.

Will the stories I’ve written and published ever come back into fashion again? I’d say the odds of that are about the same as Nehru jackets and peace symbols coming back into fashion.

Susan writes that she’s totally involved with her journalism work, “which may not be much better than adjunct teaching, but I want to prove myself in it.”

Both Rick and Susan congratulated me on the Telescope acceptance.

In LOGO class, I handed in my Turtle Graphics project, and we learned more about list processing primitives; if I didn’t know some of them already, I’d be really confused.

I think I’m suffering from mid-semester slump: at least temporarily I’ve lost some interest in my studies.

FIU won’t be offering any computer education courses this summer, Mary Alice said this morning, when class was cancelled because there was no one to open the doors at BCC.

FAU might offer Courseware Design or the second BASIC programming class or maybe one in PASCAL, but those are all things I can get at schools in New York.

My scheduled flight back is nine weeks from today. (I just heard an airplane taking off.)

That reminds me: Last night I dreamed that People Express had become Animal Express and would only allow pets on their flights. Pretty funny for my subconscious, huh?

Since class wasn’t held this morning, I went over to my parents’ house, which was deserted, and worked out while watching Yentl and Terms of Endearment, which allowed me a good cry.

When I spoke to Grandma about her upcoming “big” 75th birthday, she said maybe it would be her last. “I hope not,” I told her.

I miss Grandma, with all her complaints. I just wish she weren’t so sick and unhappy.

But I can understand how she can wish for death.

I myself won’t get off so easy as to die young. I bet if I died this year, it would be really tragic: “a talented young man going before he got really started.”

But that’s too good to be true: Imagine what great things people would say and think about me if I died now.

(“What an asshole” might be one of them.)

But as I said, dying young is the easy way out. I figure out if I can survive heart trouble (the family background is good, but I am too fat and my arteries are probably already clogging up) and cancer (here I have less good news: three out of four grandparents had some form of cancer — though only one of them died from it), I’ve probably got another 40 to 50 years to live.

Then people will just say something like, “Oh, I thought he died years ago.”

I keep wanting to visit Grandpa Nat, but I need a more reliable car to get me to the nursing home in Miami. He’s almost 87: imagine that.

All my grandparents lived to at least 75, Grandma Ethel’s age. Grandpa Herb died at 79 and Grandma Sylvia at 81.

Of course nothing’s a sure thing, and I could suddenly drop dead five minutes from now.

Monday, February 25, 1985

10 PM. Today was frustrating because I finally had to get rid of the car. Although I knew this was coming, it was still upsetting.

When I took it in to get gas and check the oil, the service station manager found not only an oil leak (caused by what had supposedly been fixed a week ago) but also a dangerous gas line leak and a leak in the transmission fluid.

Because the man told me that fixing the damage would be so expensive as to not be worth it, I assumed he was right; otherwise, he would have tried to get me to part with my money on the repairs.

Also, he warned me that the car was too dangerous to drive. Since my life is still worth something, I went over to my parents’, and Dad was kind enough to take me to rent a car.

But did we have problems! The Fort Lauderdale traffic was at a standstill, and we kept getting sent from one place to the other when, by sheer luck, we came across a small rental agency that would give me an ’85 Chevette for $300 a month.

The $600 that I’ll pay for the rest of my time in Florida (I didn’t get collision or personal insurance, so I’ve got to be careful) isn’t outrageous and was by far the best deal we found.

At least now I have a reliable (I hope) auto, and I don’t have to worry if the car is going to make it up to Boca every Friday. Maybe now I can even visit Grandpa Nat in Miami.

Dad was a real peach to take me; he was very patient during the hours we were out together.

He told me he feels he made the mistake of his life by not putting away money when he had a lot of it. By now, he could be retired, a wealthy man, instead of having to work seven days a week.

And he’s going to have grueling time of it. Although Dad claims he’s 48, not 58, with his employers, they still think he’s a little old to be out selling young people’s clothes.

Dad is lucky that he can pass for a man ten years younger than he really is. But he did squander his money. Unlike me, he knew nothing about personal money matters.

Really, all our lives could be so different now if Dad was as rich as he was fifteen or twenty years ago. Remember my $40-a-week allowance in 1971? Or my 1973 graduation present of a brand-new Mercury Comet?

I guess I’d be just another snotty rich kid, easily able to survive as a writer by living off Daddy’s money.

So, no, I’m not really sorry for myself; though it’s a struggle, I like trying to make it on my own.

When my parents were in their twenties and thirties, they lived in relative luxury, but they’ve had a hard time since. I really believe the problem is a lack of knowledge or education, which hurt them as much as it did my grandparents.

This afternoon, Dad also confided that he never thought Mom would get so obese. “She was such a beautiful girl and woman,” Dad said. “Her father said to me, ‘Wait til she gets older, she’ll be stunning.'”

I feel Mom got fat out of resentment at Dad for making the last years so difficult, and that’s why she won’t lose the weight.

I’m glad I’m not married.

Speaking of which, I spoke to Ronna last night. She had her usual job frustrations, which are not as boring as she thinks they are — at least not to me — but at least she’s been writing for her New School class, and she and her therapist are examining how she manages time.

I also phoned Josh, who said that his dog was still around — but barely — and that Leslie was visiting from Arkansas, and that his job still sucks.

At 4 PM today, I took the Computers in the Classroom midterm and went home early to eat dinner. Then I headed back to the lab and did a BASIC graphic of a butterfly, which took me two and a half hours.

BASIC is challenging, but compared to LOGO, it’s such an ungainly language.

Lisa Merrill of Poets & Writers sent me a copy of The Writing Business, which looks okay: nothing spectacular.

I haven’t had a chance to delve into the book yet, but I see I’m one of only ten or so contributors, most of whom are on the Coda staff.

We’ll see if being a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate helps sales — or interest in my own career.


Tuesday, February 26, 1985

11 PM. I accomplished a great deal during this long day. Up at 6 AM, feeling refreshed, I read the paper and then decided to attend a legislative seminar sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce at Davie Town Hall at 7 AM.

A big crowd of business types were there. Scott Cowan, former Davie mayor and now Broward County Commission chairman, spoke, along with Davie’s state Senator Tom McPherson and state Representative Tom Armstrong.

The topic: the hot issue of 1985, growth management. Florida expects the equivalent of the present population of Georgia to move here by 2000, and something’s got to be done to avoid ecological, financial and human calamities.

I was impressed by all these legislators, who were obviously well-informed.

Florida grew by letting developers rule, but as McPherson said, we can’t allow that anymore — not with our water supply endangered.

In fact, McPherson believes it’s already too late to save the Biscayne Aquifer and that in fifteen years, Broward residents will be drinking desalinated sea water “if we’re lucky.”

Armstrong spoke about inadequate transportation getting worse. Although new projects are always being worked on, they can’t keep up with needs. By 2000, he predicted, they’ll have to widen I-95 to 22 lanes to keep traffic flowing at present levels.

Armstrong said that if the legislature doesn’t do something, the problem will eventually solve itself — but only because it will become so horrible here that no one will want to move to Florida and current residents will leave.

Cowan spoke about waste management, a real problem already and growing worse every day.

But as usual, the bottom line is money, and nobody here wants to take responsibility for raising taxes. To start, we need a personal income tax and then a lottery and casino gambling. Users’ fees alone will not solve the problem.

I left Town Hall feeling stimulated intellectually but aware that, this being Florida, good intentions are no match for inertia.

I spent the rest of the morning doing errands, finishing my software evaluation, and reading.

The rental car is riding okay, and of course it’s a pleasure to now have air conditioning and a radio.

In Measurement today, Dr. Miller discussed reliability in testing and gave us our statistics exam.

I sweated bullets, but after class, I talked to other students whose answers (on standard deviations, Z scores, Q, medians and means) matched mine, so I think I did pretty well. It would be a real triumph for me to get an A in Measurement.

Next week we have no class because FAU is on spring break.

Back home, I wrote three critiques of three different articles about LOGO for Friday’s class. Little by little, I’m getting all my long-range projects done. Next up: the purchase order for a lab for Computers in the Classroom.

I ran into one of my former students from last spring: the cute blond guy, Kyle, whom I had a slight crush on. He gave me a big smile when he said hi.

Boy, I was productive today.