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


Friday, October 21, 1983

10 PM. Five weeks of teaching at Broward Community College have gone by very quickly. I can’t remember a time when life seemed to move so fast.

I suppose that’s good. My weeks are busy and full, with no time for depression. Although I owe a fortune, my bank account is adding up as the checks keep coming in.

Every day seems to bring a new surprise or something of interest. So I’ve got every reason to be happy – and I suppose I am happy, about as happy as I possibly could be.

This week I had five straight nights of extraordinarily good sleep. Even last night, when I thought I might be too exhilarated to sleep, I was in dreamland by 9 PM, and by 6 AM, I was raring to go.

I picked up my mail at the post office before school. Crad writes that he’s had several abrupt changes of mood, but he does sound better; getting his $1,000 grant helped.

He’s moved to a new location in the sleaziest part of downtown Toronto (“It’s colorful the way vomit is colorful”) and is enjoying being miserable; oddly, his book sales aren’t any worse there. He’ll sell on the street until December 31, and then that’s it for him.

As usual, I got a letter from Ed Hogan right after speaking to him. Sales are good, according to distributors, although they still have to be paid for about 30% of the copies sold.

Ed enclosed a scathing review of my book, and one of Raymond Federman’s, by Florella Orowen in Boston’s Fiction, Literature and the Arts Review:

Aristotelian logic does not flourish in Richard Grayson’s stories. He instead favors the disjointed narrative. . . It is the patter and tone of a comic monologue wherein the writer calls attention to himself at intervals, reminding us how hard he is working. . . 

This kind of hysteric comic speculation has pleased readers of Tom Robbins who may discover in Grayson a new idol. Like Robbins, Grayson draws on popular culture and undergraduate sophistry to communicate with his peer audience, but his answers beg the question.

To ‘ignore’ Emerson, as he claims to do by citing him, is to demonstrate one’s immunity to the System, although Mr. Grayson is very much a part of that system. Grayson’s is not the nonconformist ethic of the Beats, but is rather a cozy conformity. . .

Grayson’s fiction mirrors the minds of its audience, exploiting the commonplace . . . the shamelessly narcissistic diction flatters its readers to become the ‘I’ of the story and thus to ‘write’ vicariously through Grayson’s creation. It is an insidious technique, but to his audience, it works.

Hmm. She attacks my “audience” almost more than me. I could dismiss her as an overeducated Cambridge intellectual, but she may be onto something, and I almost hope she is, for if Orowan is right, I’m doing the things that made Robbins, Vonnegut, Irvine, Brautigan, et al. quite popular.

I think she ignores other elements of my work, and of course, I wrote lots of the stories in I Brake for Delmore Schwartz years ago, before I even thought about an “audience.” I don’t see that I have much of an audience now. Not even a thousand people.

Aw, well, as my buddy Waldo Emerson said: “Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be defended in a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success.”

Besides, reviews that pair me with other writers – Jim Harrison, Brian Swann, David Evanier, and now Ray Federman – are always weird.

School was okay today: quick and painless, with lots of kids absent for the UF homecoming and Gator Growl in Gainesville.

Back home after a short trip to Bodyworks, I answered three phone calls in quick succession. First, WIND radio in Chicago called, and we arranged a drive time interview for 7:40 AM (ET) Monday.

Next, NBC News – radio, I guess – called, and they taped me, obviously in response to this morning’s article in the Des Moines Register.

Someone at WCDR in Cedar Rapids also did a taped interview. I knew damned well that my plan to move the U.S. capital from D.C. to Davenport, Iowa, would catch the media’s attention.

All the reporters said they’d been trying to get me, so I decided that in lieu of an expensive answering machine, I’ll get call forwarding so I can get my calls at my parents’ or at work.

I do think I know what people want to hear, and maybe I am insidious, flattering people by saying that all unemployed people should join me and run for President.

So I do the same thing as I do in my writing. But it seems perfectly attuned to this time and place, and for once, I might have something in my “cozy conformity.” Of course, Florella Orowan might be full of shit.

After a pleasant dinner at Corky’s, I went to the Diplomat, to the state Democratic convention that opened today.

A large crowd was waiting for Mondale on the steps of the hotel, and I stood among them.

Over a dozen years ago, I sat on these steps in the early morning, waiting to pick up Mikey after a long Democratic National Convention session in 1972. The New York delegation’s HQ was the Diplomat, and I hung out there with all the state politicians for that week.

When the TV cameras went on tonight, the crowd began chanting “We want Mondale!” (Askew’s people were in evidence, but the enthusiasm was all for Mondale). I decided I’d better get out of the way, so I took a spot off to the side near the curb.

And of course, Mondale’s car stopped right in front of me and he got out inches from my face, so I was the first to shake his hand. “Thank you for coming out,” he said, but he gave me a peculiar look in our two seconds of eye contact, as though he was trying to place my face.

I’ll probably be on the 11 PM news in a little while. All I said was, “Good luck, Mr. Mondale.” He’s much better looking in person and not as dull as he appears on TV.

It was good to be out at night for a change. The beach and Collins Avenue still sparkle a little, even in these tourist-hungry times. It’s still warm, with highs reaching 86° to 88° every day, and I still need the A/C on at night.

Sunday, October 23, 1983

6 PM. It’s been an interesting weekend.

I didn’t see myself in the TV stories on the convention Friday night, but I did get a call from the director of the Davenport Public Library, wanting to know if he should go ahead with a “capital improvement plan” to become the new Library of Congress. I told him he could start by ordering I Brake – but he said he already had.

Mom and Dad are in New York City now, and the unveiling for Grandpa Herb was today.

This morning at 6 AM, I managed to get good reception for WABC/770 radio, which made me feel homesick, as did the scenes of the marathon on TV; I wish I could be in New York now.

Mom and Dad are doing so badly. Yesterday Mom called and asked for my long-distance special code, as they cut theirs off for non-payment.

On Friday Dad learned (1) he had to spend $275 for new brakes for his car; (2) Sasson wasn’t going to pay for his New York trip; and (3) worst of all, Sasson men’s jeans filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11.

God know what’s going to become of my parents financially, and I feel even more pressure (self-imposed) to try to make a lot of money so I can help to support them.

From now on I take big risks and try for big money. I’ll never apply for another teaching job, that’s for sure.

I’m not rationalizing, but I need to do more than be a writer of artistic noncommercial nonsense. At this point, I won’t even bother with my novel because there’s no money in it.

Josh shocked me when he called and said he’d gotten fired on Wednesday night, just before he was to go on jury duty the next day.

They claimed he couldn’t get along with management, but the truth was that they sent him out on an interview with a client just last week. The personnel man at Lever Brothers liked Josh but said he had to get out of jury duty because they needed Josh to start right away.

Naturally, Josh told his bosses he wouldn’t do it. I suggested he consult a lawyer and see if he has grounds for legal action. It would appear so – especially if he can prove they fired him because he drew jury duty.

No judge would take kindly to that, I’m sure – although the bosses can always claim they fired him for other reasons.

In court, Josh told the story to the head of the jurors division, who seemed to feel Josh had a case; he also gave Josh a dismissal due to being fired.

Yesterday’s mail brought a lot of stuff. George responded to my “Hey, what’s up?” letter by saying he’s been very unhappy and that since his girlfriend left him, he’s decided to leave Harrisburg.

George is looking for jobs in Washington, the West and Europe, and he said he’d definitely visit me sometime this winter.

I also got a long letter from Susan Schaeffer, as manic and graceful a correspondent as ever. She heard “through the grapevine” that I’d left graduate school and thinks it’s for the best, though she believes that I should aim for publication to get a good teaching job, not knowing that I’ve since given up on that goal.

She’s in poor health again, with cataract surgery in the offing. Dissatisfied with Dutton, she’s switched publishers again, and while complaining she wrote, “I’m sure you’re thinking that you should only have these problems I have; no doubt you will.”

The movie of her last novel will probably get made, but she’s turning down a huge advance because she doesn’t want to be marketed “like pantyhose or Intellivision.”

Susan advises me to return to New York – “there are too many old people in Florida” – and said she’d help any way she could.

When I was really depressed in early September, I wrote Ann Landers, asking her for the most effective means of suicide.

Yesterday I got a short letter from her saying she can’t answer “because I don’t condone suicide as an answer to one’s problems, dear.” She did tell me to get in touch with some suicidology group.

Landmark Bank did indeed raise my MasterCard credit limit to $1900 – so they should easily approve my student loan.

In the afternoon, I went to Davie, and for the first time in months, sat out by the pool.

Since I was having a conversation with Ruth, my parents’ very intelligent and sophisticated neighbor – she gives me all her New Yorkers and Smithsonians after she’s through with them – I lay on my back to face her. Consequently, my back and legs got very sunburned.

After saying goodbye to my parents, I drove home feeling either nauseated or anxious. It may have been an anxiety attack, but I got over it very quickly.

Soon after I got back, the phone rang: it was John Arnold of the Herald. The Des Moines Register story made the UPI wires, and he wanted to do an article.

After interviewing me for half an hour, he sent over a photographer.

This morning at 6:30 AM, in the dark, I read the article, on the first page of the second (local news) section: “Teacher/novelist [sic] in North Dade follows own presidential script.” The photo was a small head shot, but I looked cute.

So was the story: “Richard Grayson is a writer with a plot. He wants to take over the country. . . his campaign mainly consists of calls and cleverly written press releases. . . He made a rare appearance at the convention in Hollywood. ‘I couldn’t get anyone to vote for me in the straw poll. I looked for people who looked like lunatics. . . There were a lot of them. But they were all for Mondale and Glenn.’”

This is not funny at all: 150 Marines were killed in a terrorist explosion in Beirut. It will be the Gulf of Tonkin all over again.

Monday, October 24, 1983

8 PM. I’m in Davie, in my parents’ bedroom, where I just shut off the news.

The Beirut bombing has stunned this country, and once again our government seems unable to understand that we have to walk away.

The craziness is not my Presidential candidacy, but Reagan’s belief in a simpler world where there are good guys and bad guys and where good guys never back down.

But the situation in Lebanon is unbelievably complex – as I joked on a radio interview last week, “You have the Philanderers and the Mennonites and the Druids and the Hittites. . .” – and how do you fight anonymous terrorists?

I heard some students say we should declare war on Lebanon, which shows their deep understanding of the situation.

Presidential candidate Grayson says, “Yes, let’s give in to terrorism and get the hell out of there.” At least it might save more lives and needless grief.

I did my interview on WIND today at 7:30 AM (an hour earlier in Chicago), but last night I got a call from only one woman, who said that my jokes in the Herald article “made my whole day brighter.”

Now, that does seem important.

Teresa called and said she’s been very busy on the bond issue campaign, which she has mixed feelings about, since she’s not crazy about making her Commissioner “look good.” But she does like being on the campaign trail with Mario Cuomo again.

The work will be done on Election Day, and Teresa may come down for Thanksgiving; I hope I can make her trip enjoyable.

She’s found someone – Betty’s brother – to sublet her apartment after she signs her new lease in May, and little by little, she’s telling everyone of her plans to live in Europe.

“People are dividing on this along generational lines – like their reactions to The Big Chill,” Teresa said. “Only the baby boomers understand.” She told her parents yesterday, and they reacted the way anyone would expect any parents to react.

Teresa really does want me to go with her, and I keep telling her I’ll consider it. As she says, we could live very cheaply in an Italian pensione – “and it doesn’t have to be 50/50 expenses.”

Obviously, on the one-in-a-million chance that my Guggenheim came through, I’d certainly go to Europe.

One thing is certain: I will not be in Florida next year. If I hadn’t signed a lease for my apartment, I probably would have been gone by now; I’d have left after the hassle at the University of Miami.

When I called Rockaway at 11 PM, Mom answered. When Marty picked her up at Kennedy Airport, he mentioned hearing about my candidacy on Cable News Network.

The unveiling took place at 2 PM at Beth David in Elmont during a pouring rain. Aside from the immediate family – the Sarretts, Minnie and Irv, Tillie and Morris, Paul and Rose, some cousins came: Minnie’s son Kenny; Lynne, Susan and Randy; and Paul’s daughter Myra, who told Mom she ordered my book for the Great Neck library after the New York Times review.

The rabbi was the one from Oceanside, who in the film Rocky III presided at the funeral of Rocky’s trainer, played by Burgess Meredith.

Afterwards they went back to Oceanside, where there was lot of catered food. Grandma Ethel cried and carried on, as expected, but when I talked to her, she sounded calm and we steered clear of the subject of Grandpa Herb.

It’s over eight months that he’s dead, and I still miss him but somehow feel he’s with me. I think he’d get a kick out of my running for President, though he might not admit that to me.

The same goes for Grandpa Nat, who’s still alive, living just a couple of miles down Dixie Highway from me, but who can’t understand much of anything.

God, who could have imagined how life would turn out and that we’d all be where we are today? It’s all so mysterious, sad, and beautiful.

Mom said she spoke to Dad in Manhattan, and that the Sasson jeans people told him not to worry, they’d get the business back on its feet, and Dad did do good business yesterday at the menswear show at the Coliseum.

I slept and dreamed of a disgusting obese man, Mr. Wolf, who kept coming to me for money I owed him: installment payments of $49 a month for some jewelry. He was sort of like Nero Wolfe, the fat detective, or maybe “the wolf at the door,” an expression I used when talking to a reporter about being jobless.

After this morning’s radio interview, I decided to stay overnight in Davie tonight, so I packed my gear, a bit concerned that I’m missing important calls or mail. But that will teach me Life Can Wait.

At school, most of the teachers and some students had seen the Herald article, which in the Broward editions was much more prominent – on top of the page – with a larger photo and bigger type size. One girl heard me on WQAM, the country-music station that broadcasts NBC news on the hour.

I taught three lessons on comparison/contrast and then went to Mom’s; since the offices at school were being carpeted, I had a good excuse to leave.

I watched TV, worked out at Bodyworks, marked papers, and went to the Plantation library, where I was looking for – and found – the 1982 edition of Short Story Index.

Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog was indexed in it, and I enjoyed going through it so see what subjects they listed my stories under: Sex, Boys, Jews in New York, Humor, Satire, Television, Mental Depression, Mothers and Daughters, College Students, Political Activism. It sort of lets me know how others see me.

Both Marc and Jonathan have evening classes, so I’m alone in the house, doing the laundry and relaxing.

Tuesday, October 25, 1983

7:30 PM. Am I tired! In half an hour, I’m scheduled to appear on KVEN radio in Ventura; the talk-show host called me a little while ago and said there was a small article about me in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times.

Last night I spoke to Mom, who said she bought my 1984 diary at Rogoff’s on Beach 116th Street, as I had asked her to. She didn’t realize she needed exact change for the bus because she hadn’t been on one in twenty years.

Mom said that Grandma is terribly depressed and just wants to lie down and die. Of course, if I saw a blank half of a headstone waiting for me, I’d probably feel the same way.

She doesn’t want to come to Florida even though Arlyne’s mother’s apartment in Sunrise is empty till December.

I also phoned Ronna, who got a job at some Hebrew music school and concert hall near Lincoln Center. She’ll be doing PR, and the salary’s only $14,000, but her unemployment is running out and she has to have a job. At least it’s in the neighborhood.

We had a good talk. I miss Ronna very much and wish I could see more of her.

Josh called and said an aide of Jack Anderson called him about our committee Hoodlums for Hart. The reporter phoned me because Josh wouldn’t talk with him, and I gave the guy the usual bullshit.

I was up at 7 AM. In my 8 AM class, Frank Mottek mentioned seeing my name in the paper. It turns out he’s the afternoon anchorman on WINZ, the all-news station; I always did think he had a cultured voice when he spoke in class.

Back home, I graded papers and watched the incredible news of the Marine invasion of Marxist Grenada in the Caribbean; it’s as if every day is bringing new military madness. What’s going on?

My 12:30 PM class went okay, and I loved working with the Scripsit program during our computer class.

The older teachers find it so difficult to learn, but I just can’t wait to get my fingers moving on the keyboard. I could really write up a storm on the computer. I can’t wait to use it again.

But getting home after 5 PM is a drag. I still have so many papers to grade, but I’m falling out of my seat with exhaustion.

Saturday, October 29, 1983

It’s 7 PM – though my clock, already set back for Standard Time, reads 6 PM – and it’s dark outside.

After a restless night’s sleep, I found myself awake before dawn. Marc phoned at 8 AM, saying he’d just dropped Adriana off at the doctor and that he’d be over in a few minutes.

As I ate breakfast, I realized that she was probably having an abortion, and when Marc arrived, he told me about it.

For the past few weeks, they’d suspected she was pregnant: not only had she missed a period, but she had been getting sick all the time. Also, Marc noticed her breasts had gotten larger.

Yesterday afternoon a doctor confirmed the pregnancy. Before they really had a chance to think about it, they made an appointment with a downtown Miami Beach hospital for this morning.

Last night they went to the Police concert at the Orange Bowl, and this morning Marc didn’t go to the flea market with Mom, asking Dad to take his place because he felt ill.

(Dad, who’s fairly perceptive, later told me that he thought Marc probably was sick because he was “aggravated about something.”)

They needed $60 more for the $260 fee, and of course I gave it to them. It isn’t the first time I’ve given someone money for an abortion. In college I donated to women who needed them.

Marc asked me not to tell Mom and Dad, and he didn’t want me to let Adriana know that I knew. Actually, though I’ve spoken to her on the phone, I’ve never really met her. In photographs, she does look really cute.

Her parents are very old-fashioned Venezuelan Jews, Marc said, who would die if they knew about her pregnancy. Although they’re youngish people, the father is homebound, recovering from a very bad shotgun wound, and neither parent speaks much English.

As I lay back down on my bed, and Marc, exhausted, lay on its twin, I tried to think of things to say – a long-standing problem in my relationship with Marc.

Of course, he’s so silent, I always have to do all the talking anyway, and this morning the best thing I could do was be quiet.

He did explain that there was never any other choice – unfortunately, there couldn’t be – and when I asked him how Adriana felt about the abortion, he said they didn’t really talk about it because “there was nothing else to be done.”

I wondered how he himself felt, but I didn’t ask. Marc used condoms, which of course aren’t totally reliable.

I figured the biggest favor I could do Marc and Adriana was to leave my apartment and let them have the use of it for the day.

He had to pick her up at the hospital at 11:30 AM, so at 10 AM, I drove up to Broward and went to the health club to work out.

After that, I went over to Davie, where Jonathan was getting dressed for work and half-watching The Fountainhead, which he found laughable for its “philosophical dialogue . . . but King Vidor directed it very stylized, like a silent film.”

After I showered and Jonathan left, I watched the movie’s end and also the entire showing of Taps on HBO.

I felt blue – or hollow (since Halloween is a couple of days away, I guess it’s appropriate) – so I took a long drive all the way up University Drive to its end in rural Parkland.

Although it was warmer today, the weather has definitely changed from the incredibly hot and humid summer to the more mild and drier climate that makes me remember why I first moved to Florida.

I felt sort of crummy about the abortion. No doubt there was no alternative, and I don’t believe a month-old fetus is a person, but it sure had the possibility of becoming a person. A nephew or niece. I guess it had no sex yet.

Weird: today, this morning, Marc and I were lying side by side in the twin beds the way we used to when we shared a room. I’m not clear why I got the little room in the Brooklyn house to myself after Jonathan outgrew his crib and he moved in with Marc.

Maybe because I’ll probably never have kids, I feel bad that I can’t be an uncle. Oh, I’m so selfish.

What my brother and his girlfriend must be feeling! I wonder how this will change their relationship; no matter how simple an abortion is today – and thank God and Justice Blackman that it’s legal – it still can’t be taken lightly.

I hate having to keep a secret, and I never seem to be able to do it; of course, I’ll never say a word to my parents or Jonathan, but I wish I didn’t have the responsibility.

But then I do keep my own sexual orientation a kind of secret, or at least I never talk about being gay, and I never told my family about Sean.

Sean. Will I ever forget him? No, but I have forgiven him, if there was ever anything to forgive.

I’m glad that if someone had to get hurt, it was I and not him because I’m so much better prepared to deal with hurt than Sean is. Of course, I don’t really know if I hurt him, do I?

I’m just about reconciled to never seeing him again – but I bet I drive by his mother’s house around the holidays. Hey, it’s almost November already.

I went out by my parents’ pool at 3 PM for an hour. When I returned to the house, Mom and Dad were back from the flea market after a pretty good day.

Marc called, and I picked up the phone. He said, “Everything is fine,” so I put Dad on the line and returned to my apartment, stopping on the way to get some money at the credit union ATM and to have some pizza at the 163rd Street Mall.