A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1982


Friday, October 22, 1982

6 PM. I still have a dozen papers to mark before tomorrow’s class; Saturday is no longer free for me, and that makes Friday afternoons and evenings somewhat less relaxing than they used to be.

I couldn’t sleep at all last night because I kept thinking about Broward Community College – and the secondary reaction was that I was angry with myself for spending so much time on my job.

I’ve got to leave, but I’m scared of being broke and unhappy again. However, I think I’m even more afraid of stagnating. I’ve got to take the risk or I’ll never forgive myself.

Little by little, my writing efforts are paying off.

So I didn’t get the NEA fellowship. So Pac-Man Ate My Cat was rejected by the last places that had it, Toothpaste Press (they liked it but are over-committed) and Bantam (“Video game books are passé now, and parodies are even harder to sell”).

Still, I got invited to be a guest on Neil Rogers’ WNWS radio show from 8 to 10 PM on November 18, four weeks from tonight. And when I called The Metro, a new local Village Voice-type publication, to subscribe, the man said he’d heard of me but didn’t know from where.

I hate dealing with some of the infants in my English 100 classes, as I had to today; they’re so immature. I’m teaching material I knew cold by eighth grade. Even though many of the faculty members are good people, I feel I’m surrounded by mediocrity and pomposity at BCC.

What I hate most of all is the drudgery, the routine, the narrow-mindedness, the shallowness, the coarseness of it all.

Afte reading Publishers Weekly, Tom’s interview with Borges, and articles about García Márquez until 2 AM, I felt as though I’d be cheating myself if I’d stay on in my job.

Although my parents and Patrick caution me not to give up security, I feel more cheered by Rosemary Lanshe and Phil telling me to risk it and see what’s beyond the provincial world of BCC. I’ve got to get out.

I remember how Dad warned me in December of 1974 not to quit my job at Alexander’s; if it was up to him, I’d probably still be there.

But I’m sick of annoying you with my career problems.

Basically, today was all right. Despite being tired, I felt strong today; I can see and feel that the Nautilus training has made a difference.

I’m not lonely so much as horny, even though I don’t know when I’d have time for an affair. All day I’m surrounded by young, gorgeous guys – I occasionally even get turned on by the girls, too – and I’d like to do more than just sneak peeks.

Status report on being gay: it’s fine. If anyone ever asks me point-blank why I’m not married, I’ll probably tell them. (Of course, being gay is not the only reason. If I were straight and still me, I wouldn’t be married either).

So what else is new?

I’ve been following the election campaign with the zest of a political junkie. While I’d like to see a big anti-Reagan Democratic landslide, I don’t believe it will happen. The election will be a wash, which means a moral victory for Reaganomics.

Americans are very patient people, even when they’re hurting. I hope for a change in ’84. (Last week Dr. Pawlowski says he hopes Reagan is reelected; like Reagan, Pawlowski is an asshole).

I’m probably the only registered Republican left in America who would like to see big spending programs started up again. I just don’t believe inflation is all that bad when compared with unemployment and stagnation. Of course, it’s simplistic and easy for me to say.

Sunday, October 24, 1982

7 PM. I didn’t get to sleep until 3 AM last night; it seems I can’t get two good nights of sleep in a row.

Still, I managed to accomplish most of my goals for this weekend. While I didn’t mark my 9 AM class’s papers, I think I’ll use this week to mark their papers individually with them.

I read Megatrends until very late, though I did it only when I realized I had insomnia.

This morning was very brisk and cool as I went out to buy the Fort Lauderdale News, which did not contain a review of my book. Oh, well – the past two weeks have been so filled with pleasant surprises that I’ll be happy to settle for a humdrum week with no publicity and no excitement.

Sometimes I imagine that if I had won an NEA fellowship, the good news would be almost too much to bear. Let it go to writers who need it more than I do, to people who are more talented and less resourceful.

My eyes ache from reading so much and from being tired. I read newspapers, magazines, and cereal boxes today.

Gary called this morning as I was watching the New York marathon and getting a kick out of seeing the runners spill out from the Verrazano Bridge onto Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue. New York City is still deep in my blood.

Gary had just come back from a business trip to St. Louis (hateful) and Chicago (fun). His bursitis is gone, but his leg has lost its muscle tone and he’s exercising with weights to bring its strength back.

At work, his boss has left and been replaced by “a guy who’s so far too good to be true.”

Gary may come down to Florida this winter, since he needs an inexpensive vacation so he can save his money to buy his apartment when the building goes co-op.

We talked about Megatrends – of course Gary is familiar with Naisbett’s work since they’re in the same field. I had to ask him if he’d received my book, and he said yes, it seemed quite witty. Good old Gary, still the same guy he was in high school.

I got one other call, from some JAP who works at Neighbors. She sounded very dippy and said she was from Sheepshead Bay but was “trapped here in Sunrise due to strange circumstances.”

She wanted to see me about “collaborating” on a book. Naturally, her book on South Florida would have been much longer (and better – at least that was the implication).

I was very polite but declined her offer to meet with her today; no doubt she’ll pester me some more.

Jesus, there are zillions of people who are great talkers and who never seem to do anything. I’m losing patience with them: all those dreamers with great ideas, great “contacts,” and harebrained money-making schemes. You’re supposed to do it and shut up while you’re doing it.

Except for Phil, who may be exaggerating his accomplishments, I don’t know one dynamic, creative person around here.

Sometimes I wonder what being “a Florida writer” has cost me. Obviously, it’s gotten me a grant and more publicity and recognition than I could have received in a decade in New York. But I think I’ve also been warped in some way.

Am I nothing but a cheap publicity hound? Have I forgotten what my original goal was when I started to write? Have I crippled myself with all this publicity? Am I nothing more than an entertainer, and not a very good one at that?

Monday, October 25, 1982

7 PM. When I arrived home a little while ago, the phone was ringing. Mom said that Jonathan had had an accident at work, and she and Marc had to bring him home.

Demonstrating the use of a knife, Jonathan dropped it and cut his knee open. Although the gash wasn’t long, it was wide – “like being stabbed,” Jonathan said – and Marc was hard-pressed to stop the bleeding.

Perhaps Jonathan needs stitches; right now he’s trying to relax. I hope he’ll be all right.

Aside from this excitement, today was – as I had hoped – a low-key day. This morning it hit a record-breaking low of 59° in Miami, and I needed a jacket. It was nice to see my usually scantily-clad students wearing sweaters and looking as if they were dressed for fall in the Northeast.

Last night I called Teresa, who was resting after having scratched her cornea in a freak accident on Friday night in Nyack, where she was campaigning with Mario.

In the ladies room, she cut her eye, either with toilet paper or her own fingernail. She was in obvious pain as she joined the candidate and some New York reporters at dinner, and Teresa said it was the worst night of her life; even crying just put her in more pain.

A New York Post reporter drove the Cuomo van back to the Bronx and put Teresa in a cab for the Manhattan Eye and Ear Infirmary, where an ophthalmologist deadened the pain with anesthetic and covered half her face with a bandage.

Aside from that though, “it’s been the best month of my life.”

She keeps getting more impressed with Mario, “who’s so intellectual, working with him is like taking a college course.” And at the Cuomo HQ, she’s developed her own identity; no longer is she associated with Frank or Sharon.

“I hope he wins,” Teresa said (as do I) – but of course she has no assurances of a job if he does: “At least I’ll have had an exciting month and more political experience.”

There were personal letters galore in my p.o. box today.

Stacy, bless her, is in her usual romantic rhomboid – “last week 4 people [Carole, Jeanne, Jim and Ada] told me they loved me” – and she’s begun writing her music again for the first time in years. Who knows how Stacy will end up? But I admire her for plunging into life. Unfortunately, she’s frustrated at the Transit Authority.

Rick liked Arby’s but said I’ll be creamed locally and called a “naive” writer. The fiction issue of Gargoyle is selling well; for some reason, Steve Dixon went crazy over the inclusion of our radio symposium (I can’t imagine why) but Richard Kostelanetz calmed him down.

Rick is going into the rare book business and told me to hang onto the old, original Disjointed Fictions, which will be valuable one day.

Larry, too. said he liked Arby’s and sent along a funny Kudzu comic strip. He says things are quiet in Rockaway.

Miriam described her wedding weekend: a family dinner at the Zen center’s chic restaurant, a ritual hot tub bath, the female priest’s nervousness about officiating, a friend’s talk about Robert and Miriam at the ceremony leaving them both in happy tears, and a cake decorated by Robert with all sorts of mishigass. I wish I could have shared the day with them.

Justin thanked me for Arby’s. He had a successful reading of his play but isn’t sure if Karen or someone else will produce it although he’s had inquiries from a literary agent.

Clive has the screenplay and will take it to the woman who directed My Brilliant Career. Meanwhile, Justin is waiting, waiting, waiting.

Tuesday, October 26, 1982

6 PM. Another cool day: this one was as cloudy as New York in late September. Although I do feel more energetic, it’s almost too drastic a change for me.

Jonathan seems to be all right, though he remained in bed all day, not wanting to disturb the injured leg.

Last night I watched the conclusion of Little Gloria…Happy At Last, about the custody fight over Gloria Vanderbilt. It was a nice bit of 1930s social history, even if Ivy Strick’s mother-in-law seemed to have been the weirdest of children.

This morning I got to school at 10 AM and marked papers. I answered several ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but most require a Ph.D. Perhaps I should get one if I want to move on to a real college.

I’ve already written to several graduate schools, and today I wrote Miami. If I could get a deal there similar to the ones that Judy Cofer and Jeffrey Knapp have, I’d enjoy it.

BCC’s five English Department vacancies have appeared on the college’s blue vacancies notice and will soon be advertised in the Chronicle. But there’s no way I’ll apply for any job at BCC.

Reading Megatrends, I agree that we baby-boomers are changing the ethos of the workplace. Unlike the dinosaurs at BCC, we don’t give a hoot about security and longevity.

What we want is a say in the way things are run. I can’t believe that Dr. Hamilton knows more about teaching English than I do, so why should I allow him to treat me like a vassal?

Unless organizations like BCC change, they’ll never attract quality people – and I don’t think they want incompetents like Dave littering their faculty. Or maybe they do.

One thing nobody at BCC can deny: I’m intelligent and articulate and no dummy.

I got a spiffy haircut and beard trim from Pam at 1 PM, then went back to school.

Tom wrote that Arby’s is “sustained angry satire” and wonders if anyone will realize it. He invited me back to NOCCA to teach. I guess soon I’ll reach the point where I have to turn down invitations.

Next Wednesday they’ve got me and Luke Grande reading at a Video Festival at the Art Department; I’ll do “Inside Barbara Walters” and some Arby’s pieces.

Dear Lista Foster saw Rosemary Jones’s copies of Arby’s and sent me a check for $15 for five copies. How sweet. There are such nice people in the world.

When I got home, I got a call from Myra Gross, who is now working full-time for a P.R. agency in Deerfield Beach. The job sounds like fun, but Myra is upset that as a literary agent, she hasn’t been able to sell any books.

She said that I have “a lot of chutzpah,” that most writers don’t have the personality to push the way I do. However, I think it can be a disadvantage. As Randolph Goodman told Alice: “He spends too much time getting into the paper and not enough time writing.”

The past couple of days have been pleasant enough to lull me into staying on at BCC: I’ve had good classes and good relationships with faculty and students. When I go to a shopping center and one of my students or ex-students greets me effusively, I can’t help feeling that I’ve been doing a worthwhile job.

Of course my life is very pleasant, but I do want to risk an even better life. “Risk an even better life”? – That makes no sense.

Hell, see what my students are doing to me; I’d write “AWK” (for “awkward”) next to that line. (Leonard Michaels wrote that eventually he put “AWK” next to everything on students’ papers, including spelling errors.)

Well, it really feels like Halloween and the end of Daylight Savings Time.

I miss Sean – and I miss sex, too.

Thursday, October 28, 1982

4 PM. The milder weather has been bringing out the worst in my Type A behavior since I now have the energy to do everything that I want to do.

Tonight I’ve got to pick up Dad at the airport; as usual, Mom got his flight information wrong. Sometimes I wonder how my parents function.

Three years ago, when I began living on my own for the first time, I was terrified that I could not handle the details of everyday life; I feel 1000% more confident now.

One task I just took care of was calling the NEA Lit program. I pretended to be a reporter asking for the press release on the Fellowship winners.

The secretary told me it was out but she didn’t have the authority to release it to me and that I should call back. But I learned what I needed to: I didn’t win. Now I can stop fantasizing and start being realistic about next year.

Hell, the money will come when I don’t need it. Not that I need it so much now. Three years ago, winning that $10,000 would have made a real difference. Now I’m tougher and I’ll survive better.

When I got to school, I found in my mailbox a course preference sheet for Term III-B; Dr. Grasso said people alternate teaching the first and second summer sessions. I wasn’t expecting this.

Now I’ll be free from May 1 to June 20, and I definitely do not want to stay in Florida during that time. I’ll have to contact all my friends and try to locate a sublet in New York City; Teresa is especially good at finding things like that.

This is going to mean a big expense since I’ll have to pay rent here and there as well, but I need to get away. I’ll have fun in New York – and I’ll have the usual traumas. And I’ll come back refreshed, ready to teach from June 20 until early August, when it’s quiet at BCC.

Maybe I can get a part-time or temporary job in New York while I’m there so I can lessen my expenses.

At school today, Lisa, Patrick and especially Dave were all depressed about job problems. BCC ain’t no paradise.

I was kind of embarrassed that an article on the BCC Video Festival began with a quote from “Inside Barbara Walters” and mentioned me more than anyone else.

The Fort Lauderdale News’s West section reporter, Teresa Defino, who knows me from the Davie election, had sought me out; I didn’t try to get this publicity.

Still, I’m glad she mentioned Arby’s and the article had a couple of good quotes. But at least Steve Eliot’s photo was twice the size of my mug shot, so I don’t have to feel that embarrassed about hogging the spotlight.

Ed Hogan sent a bulletin: the publication date of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz is February 1, 1983. Susan Lloyd McGarry will write the introduction, and they’ve finished typesetting.

I wrote Ed back, asking to see the proofs, not so much to look for typos but to get myself excited about the project.

Ed said the cover looks sharp (an angle design of a car).

Miriam loved Arby’s, and Stacy, typically, said it made her cry. Stacy’s letters are very strange; I cannot follow her romantic entanglements or her problems at work.

I got my first MasterCard bill: a whopping $460, but it includes a $250 for airline tickets to and from Charlotte. Of course, the minimum payment is only $42, but I don’t want to end up owing thousands of dollars. (”We are eager to raise your credit limit,” the folks at First Atlanta Bank tell me.)

Reading PW, I felt joy when I discovered that Dennis Cooper’s Tenderness of the Wolves was nominated for an L.A. Times Book Award in poetry, along with Penn Warren, Ginsberg and Forché.

We baby boomers are finally making it! I’m proud of Dennis Cooper.

Friday, October 29, 1982

8 PM. If an intelligent way to approach life is to make the most of the good days and make the least of the bad ones – and I think it is – then I should ignore today.

Granted, it wasn’t a major disaster, but I felt disgusted enough to get into bed at 2 PM, to unplug the phone, and to try to block out the world. I supposed the week had been going along too well.

Both Lisa and Dave have been telling me about problems with students, and today I had mine.

This one guy, Benett, in my 10 AM class, has been a problem since day one. He’s incredibly crude, racist, and obnoxious. I’ve tried to get him on my side, but today I lost my patience.

I was asking students to give me an adjective, and after two girls said “little” and “short,” I laughed and said, “You’re looking at me.”

I heard Bennett say, “Then they would have said faggot.”

“That’s a noun,” I told him. “And here’s another noun for you: asshole.” He and a couple of his friends walked out of class.

I’m sure the majority of the class is on my side – one student, the ex-girlfriend of one of this guy’s buddies, even wrote a paper on Benett’s cruelty – but it’s just like the elementary school teachers said: one kid can ruin a class.

The rest of the day was colored by that incident, and with it, my attitude toward my students. Instead of smiling at them as I walked along the campus, I ignored them, even when they said hello.

I feel like I don’t have to take abuse from surly, illiterate adolescents, not at my age and position in life. As I told Dave, I don’t really care about the students anymore. Lisa and Bob and others do; I don’t give a fuck anymore.

In a way, I’m glad today happened, and I hope it happens periodically, so I can remember that BCC is not where I want to be.

Even Dr. Grasso seemed disgusted with the school today; she said they may bring in a non-teaching “super chairman” for all three campuses. (BCC is actually three different colleges with very different rules and styles.)

I think, though, what makes me angriest is how I let these kids get to me. And no, I’m not overlooking the homophobia (or the anti-Semitism – this same kid said “kike” once and Lisa was terribly upset about an anti-Semitic remark a “good” student made).

But I now realize that, no matter how famous or successful or old I get, to some people I’ll always be a faggot (or a kike). Still, that’s not the issue.

This kid will end up nowhere, or maybe he’ll change – I don’t care – but if I continue to teach at BCC, I’ll have to face years of students like him.

Granted, bullies and bigots and hateful people are everywhere – but I don’t have to spend my time trying to teach them.

And, of course I know I’m twice the man he is – it all started today because I can laugh at myself – but that doesn’t make me feel better now.

Coming home exhausted and headachy, I find a note from Alice on her personalized Weight Watchers stationery: “Dear Richie, I liked much of your book. Will call after I’ve gotten back from Trinidad.”

That only made me feel worse. If Alice has to suffer any humiliation as a travel writer and an editor-in-chief of a slick magazine, at least it’s at the hands of sophisticated and intelligent people. She doesn’t have to deal with lowlifes.

Last night I picked up Dad at the airport; his plane got in at 9:30 PM. He said there wasn’t much business at the Coliseum menswear show, but he had a nice suite at the Sheraton, and New York was unseasonably warm.

I skipped the gym today.

Sunday, October 31, 1982

4 PM. I decided to treat myself to a Halloween afternoon out. I had a burger deluxe and iced tea at the Broadway Diner, a Greek diner which is actually owned by Greeks, then saw my first film in nearly three months: My Favorite Year. And I topped it off with a carob ice-cream cone at Häagen-Dazs.

In my present life, that counts as hedonism.

It’s good, though, to have time away from the apartment, away from books and marking papers. I almost feel ready for the week to come.

The film was a sweet evocation of the old Sid Caesar show in New York; it’s supposedly based on a true incident when a young Mel Brooks had to babysit with Errol Flynn, by then an alcoholic has-been designated to guest star on Your Show of Shows.

I liked the light mood of 1954 New York; there’s no doubt that there was something golden in Gotham in the years after the war.

I was only a kid in the 50s, of course, but I think it was one of the best times to grow up: we had so much, from Howdy Doody and Winky Dink to hula hoops and miniature golf.

I wonder if late 60s/early 70s nostalgia will ever work. I think I could do a comic, not melodramatic, novel about my college days. The hard part is that we took ourselves so seriously.

In today’s Times theater section, I saw a face I haven’t seen in a decade: John Bucalo was in an ad for Annie. Despite his beard (now well-trimmed), John looked so clean-cut in a herringbone sports jacket, shirt and tie, and carrying a briefcase.

I remember John as our resident radical faggot (the word doesn’t hurt when we use it), Skip’s friend (lover?), someone with an outrageous sense of humor. He was one of the first streakers at Brooklyn College. Memories can be sweet.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I read 100 pages of Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy, another book that tries to convince us a new order is taking shape (a new “paradigm,” she calls it).

I’m dubious about psychedelics and the touchy-feely stuff, but generally I think she’s got a point. I know I feel very much like a self-actualizer.

I don’t believe in failure, except as a way of learning. Life’s a process to me, and I always do best when I take risks.

And I’ve come to welcome change and even the pain it causes – that’s why I feel I’m better off with uncertainty than staying on at BCC. I don’t want to “fit in,” to be a slave with the college as my master. . . Oh God, here I go again.

I didn’t sleep much; not even an aimless midnight drive helped tire me out. This morning I read the papers and didn’t do much else. There were no phone calls from or to anyone.

No trick-or-treaters have rung my bell; given the recent Tylenol scare, they’re probably afraid of being poisoned.

Tonight it should get dark early, probably in another hour or so.

The week ahead shouldn’t be that hectic, with the exception of Wednesday, when I’ve got that noon reading in addition to my usual hectic schedule. That day I’ll probably be bleary-eyed from enjoying, or not enjoying – depending on who wins – the election returns on Tuesday night.

Well, I’ve still got the old Times Book Review to finish reading.

I was glad to see the Herald’s Bill Robertson took my suggestion and reviewed Walser’s book; I cut out the review and sent it off to Tom.