A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-December, 1982


Saturday, December 11, 1982

5:30 PM. Dusk: a gorgeous time of day here. Now is when I really appreciate living in South Florida.

Grandpa Herb told me it was snowing today in New York. He sounded as weak as he said he felt. His hands are failing him, he told me; they don’t seem to grasp things the way they used to.

Grandpa Herb will be 79 in ten days, and I’m afraid he won’t live to be 80. He did manage to outlive both his parents, and most of his life he was in reasonably good health for a man who smoked several packs of Pall Malls a day.

I had called him to thank him for my Chanukah gift, a $10 check which I still haven’t picked up from Mom.

Last night I broke a tooth during dinner. It was a shock, but part of this tooth, an upper front tooth, cracked years ago; now the whole back of it is gone.

I suppose I was lucky, for it didn’t seem to cause me any pain – and I do have dental insurance while I’m working at Broward Community College.

But last night I was very upset; the last thing I wanted was to do a reading at the college. I think I responded in the way Dr. Gentile and I used to discuss: my “helpless” reaction.

At BCC, I saw Jonathan’s car in the lot next to Bailey Hall, and we talked in the darkness. He had come straight from work. Finals at FAU are over for him; he did say that he thinks philosophy is what he wants to do with his life.

We went to the practice concert room and found a small crowd. Eventually about forty people showed up, including several students (two of them were from my creative writing class) and friends.

Dr. Grasso showed up with Rosemary Lanshe; I’m not sure she said hello to Jonathan when she ended up sitting next to us.

Patrick really arranged the whole affair and he deserves all the credit for its success. He made up little programs, and he introduced us as we read.

I went first and got a good reaction to “Beds,” an old piece from Interstate, and the Manny and Zelda stories. I enjoy making people laugh and it’s fun to perfect my stage presence.

As soon as I finished and sat down, my parents walked in; they’d been unable to find the place. (It must have looked as if they timed their entrance to avoid hearing me read: that was pretty funny.)

Luke read from his self-published book about London, and though he has adoring students, it’s clear to me he’s no poet. Still, the man is sincere, and maybe – just maybe – that counts for more than I think it does.

Then Patrick read a story about growing up in Buffalo, a story that surprised me with its skill and intelligence; it’s certainly a publishable piece.

Lisa came next, and I felt relieved and delighted to hear her keen grasp of poetry. She definitely knows her stuff.

Then Bob apologized for not being a great poet and went into a hilariously deadpan shtick about his shortcomings, which on his honeymoon night led to his decision to become an English major.

Bob is aware that he’s a wimp – he said so himself – and that self-knowledge helps him transcend wimpiness. He believes that literature and creative writing ennoble people; he read Plath’s “Daddy” and four of his own poems.

Finally, Mick read a number of his poems, many of them published in little magazines, all of which I thought were fuzzy, busy, or too easy.

My mother reported that Jonathan told her that Lisa and I were the only real writers there. That may or may not be true. I did, however, feel much better about being a part of the BCC faculty last night.

I got compliments from Karen, my bubbly (too bubbly if you ask me) creative writing student, and a pair of vapidly stunning gay guys who are in Patrick’s class.

Maybe for Bob, writing can be therapy. But for me, it has to be more. Ed Hogan editorializes about this in the latest Small Press Review.

Ed notes that The Aspect Anthology didn’t sell half as well as copies of the magazine used to, and he reasons that writers bought issues to get a feel for a place they wanted to submit their work to.

If we’re printing poems and stories as self-gratification (the equivalent of a hobbyist taking up the guitar), then is the small press movement really worthwhile?

Ed is intelligent enough to wonder. How many others are?

Magi Schwartz, who runs the South Florida Poetry Institute’s cable TV show, was in attendance at the reading and gushing over everyone.

I don’t enjoy feeling that I’m on the same level as Mick or Luke, who to my mind are English teachers who write as a hobby. Maybe that’s one reason I need to leave BCC – at least for now.

On Friday, my student Marisa Finley expressed surprise when I told her, yes, my books were actually in the library; “I knew you wrote,” she said, “but I didn’t know you were a writer.”

Later that day, another student, Eliot Tillinghast, said he wasn’t browning me but said he couldn’t understand why someone like me wasn’t at some Ivy League school or big state university.

“Bad job market,” I said – but is that just an excuse? Am I any better than BCC? I have to find out.

After the reading, we all went to Hurdy Gurdy’s and got a table for twelve. Bob and I shared potato skins, and I met Lisa’s friends Debbie and Ronnie, as well as a gorgeous blond musician who’s a student of Bob’s.

In many ways I do feel a part of BCC; it’s close to what I felt a decade ago at Brooklyn College.

When I went to bed last night, I had dreams about friends from BCC. In one, Patrick, my father, and Jonathan were in the East 50s in Manhattan; in another, Casey and Mick and I were on vacation in the country; and in one dream, Dave wrote a poem whose first line was “You must enjoy poetry, Rich.”

Still another dream featured Ronna – but I was the one going to graduate school at Penn State and not she.

This morning I had a pleasant final Saturday class. There are times when I know I’m a terrific teacher. Unlike Patrick or Bob or Mick, however, I’m too selfish to give that much to my students because I know it takes away from my own writing.

I think I now understand why Malamud refused to read my book; his energy has got to be spent on his work and not on others’.

I spent most of the afternoon in bed with a lack-of-sleep headache. My body aches, so I assume I had a good Nautilus workout Friday. It’s four months since I began, and I know my body has improved.

Oddly, my biceps, which were always big, haven’t gotten bigger – but my calves have bloomed, my chest is firmer, my shoulders are wider, and I’ve got triceps I never had before.

Today I drove past Sean’s mother’s house. Only her trailer was in the driveway, not Sean’s car.

In the New York Times I read a piece about my old School of Visual Arts student, the Israeli sculptor Ilan Averbuch, whose works are now on Manhattan streets. I always knew Ilan would make it.

I remember changing his grade to an A when he told me he needed it to avoid some immigration or visa problems. Probably Dr. Grasso wouldn’t approve. But I think of Hardy’s epigraph for Jude the Obscure: “The letter killeth.” Another reason to leave BCC.

Still, after experiencing three mild winters in a row, it’s going to be almost impossible to return up North. If only there was some way I could remain in South Florida, I’d like to do it. Well, we’ll see. . .

Tuesday, December 14, 1982

5 PM. It’s been a cool, dark day – rather pleasant, if you ask me, a nice day for lolling about.

Ed Hogan wasn’t in when I called last night. I left a message with one of his housemates, but at about 10 PM I took the phone off the hook because I was falling into a deep sleep.

I had vivid dreams, including a long final dream about being a part of a murder story that took place in North Carolina; it was all very elaborate, with maps of the area and videotapes.

I got bad news at the dentist. I’m going to have to put a crown on my broken tooth and also replace the two caps I’ve had on my front teeth since the late 60s.

It’s going to cost me $825, and I know Travelers is pretty stingy in its coverage. Still, if I need the dental work done, I need it, and some insurance is better than none.

Today I got one $15 order for five copies of Arby’s from a man in Coconut Creek who wants to “expose others” to my work. Slowly but surely, like Crad, I’m building up an audience.

One thing I did this year that proved to me how much better it is to do things for myself has been to self-publishe Eating at Arby’s.

Again, like Crad, I’m no longer interested in spending the time and effort involved in getting my work published by little magazines, small presses, or even commercial publishers.

Crad and I have each published five books, and out of those ten books, not a single one came about as a result of blind submission or a literary agent.

Saul Cohen couldn’t sell my work; a big publisher couldn’t afford to publish it. But I could make money with my books – or a small publisher could. If I want to see Pac-Man Ate My Cat in print, I’ll probably have to do it myself.

At BCC. I hung around for about an hour today, grading my 101 class’s final exams. I still have lots of term papers to do, but I can get to them during tomorrow’s finals. I have to be up early to make an 8 AM final, so it’s going to be a long day.

Yesterday’s abbreviated workout must have done some good, because my gluteus maximus and quadriceps muscles are very sore – and that indicates that they are growing.

What I need is a good night’s sleep; I’m going to try to get to bed early.

Lisa told me she took an apartment near here, in Inverrary, with a 19-year-old woman that the roommate service found for her.

I had lunch in Tamarac, went to the library there, and took care of other errands; then I came home to read the papers and Publishers Weekly.

Money will be a problem now that I’ve got to shell out all that cash for the dentist; I’ll pay up front and get partially reimbursed by Travelers.

Perhaps I can use the expenses to itemize my deductions on income tax this year. I had decided to forgo the trouble, but now I think I probably should itemize.

I still have moments of panic when I think about leaving BCC. I’ve become very comfortable getting a paycheck every two weeks and having what seems to me a lifestyle of luxury.

Oh, well. This is bound to bother me all year, and I probably will eventually resolve the problem.

(The phone just rang – a reporter for The Broward Jewish Journal will be interviewing me at school on Friday.)

I finally got all my Christmas cards out. Whew.

Saturday, December 18, 1982

5:45 PM. Just in from the cold – or the relative cold, anyway; it’s about 55°. Last night it got down to the low 40°s.

Ed called me at 11 PM, saying that he’s been very busy with the book’s production. They’ve just about finished the paste-up, and they’re helping Susan Lloyd McGarry revise her introduction. Ed hasn’t finished the cover yet, but he will be sending off the galleys this week.

Right now the pub date is March 1. McNaughton & Gunn say they can do the book in five weeks, so we should have copies by mid-February.

I got up early this morning, unused to the unusual chilliness in the apartment. Today was the final Saturday class. While I enjoyed teaching this particular class, I’ll be glad to sleep late on weekends now.

On the way over, I passed the Alvings’ house and grinned when I saw Sean’s tan Nova in the driveway. Last night I tried to call him in Gainesville but he must have been on his way here.

His return has excited me, but I’m also sure it will bring me pain because I know so much has changed. I’m not even sure he will call me, and I have no idea if he’s interested in seeing me.

When I phoned the house, his mother said he was out. Obviously, if he’s just arrived, he’ll want to spend time with his family and friends – and I’m sure he’s gone out to the bars tonight.

I keep expecting him to knock on the door and I fantasize about seeing him again.

This fall weather reminds me of the rough times I went through breaking up with Shelli and with Ronna; I’m annoyed with myself for being so vulnerable to Sean.

Yet I’m also pleased in a way, for this means I’m not yet dead emotionally, not if I can still feel these crazy feelings about Sean.

My class took two hours to write their final essays. I haven’t even looked at them but I’ve assigned the students overly generous final grades already, based on their term’s work and their research papers.

In the mail, Kevin sent a review of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog from a Dutch book-buying service. The translation was awkward but concluded that the book required more knowledge of the English tongue and American customs than most Dutch had, and therefore they said they were buying only a few copies for the Netherlands libraries.

I stopped off in Davie for a quick lunch – tofu salad on a bagel – and to chat with Jonathan, who was preparing to go to work. (The others were at the flea market, having a so-so day.)

When I got out of my car by the Sunrise library, teenage girls in a van kept looking at me and giggling. I realized when I heard one squeal, “He looks just like him!” that they thought I was some celebrity, and when one shouted out, “Hi, Scotty!” I waved back happily.

They thought I looked like Kin Shriner, the gorgeous actor who plays Scotty on General Hospital. That was a real ego-boost for me, and I got another one right away.

In Library Journal’s annual Small Press Roundup I found: “Humor is also the hallmark of Richard Grayson’s excellent collection Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and Other Stories. These range from the surreal and punning to the poignantly reflective.”

Kevin was pleased that they also mentioned John Elsberg’s book – this means orders and money – and they also listed Zephyr Press’s Aspect Anthology as one of the best books of 1982.

Monday, December 20, 1982

7 PM. Sean phoned at about 9 PM last night. Although he hung up quickly because of stomach cramps (“I have that effect on people,” I joked), he called back and we talked for an hour.

It surprised me how little we had to say once we got the basic news out of the way. Sometimes talking to Sean is frustrating because he’s so Gary Cooper-silent.

He said he didn’t think he’d done well on his finals, but he’s so smart, I’m sure his grades will be fine. Sean said he could have done better if he weren’t so “lazy.”

He’s glad he’s lived on his own in Gainesville, but he told me he’s getting very dependent on his roommate James, who does the cooking and takes care of their home.

Next term Sean will have a rougher schedule. He drove down here with a friend and two people who paid him $25 each for expenses.

When I asked him what seemed different, if anything, about South Florida now that he’s lived elsewhere, Sean said, “People seem shorter here.”

His sister had a little boy on Thanksgiving, and they’ll be staying until next week. Sean is staying in his old room because his apartment by the pool is empty with all his stuff in Gainesville.

He wanted to know about my doings, and I told him.

“Will I see you while you’re here?” I asked.

“Prob’ly,” he said.

I’m glad he did call, but I’m not certain what I feel for him now.

This morning I picked up my mail: Christmas cards, mostly – from Alice, Libby (her brother and mother will be coming out to California to visit her and Grant in January), Lola Szladits (“I finally met Liz Smith and we embraced as co-dedicatees of your book”), Jim Rivers (who didn’t know about the Publishers Weekly review of his book that I mentioned to him; I sent it off to Jim today), and Stacy, who says she wants 1983 to be “the definitive love story” for me.

After handing in my grades at school, I went to a seminar in time management as part of Staff Development Day.

The speaker, Dr. Gayle Carson, was one of those perfectly-coiffed, trim and tailored women who do these high-powered presentations. (I tend to see them on jet planes, where they’re always working.) I enjoyed her lecture; Dr. McFarlane sat next to me and was very friendly.

I think I already practice most of her techniques with my daily schedule and planner sheets. Like Dr. Carson, I lay out my clothes the evening before I’ll wear them; I try to answer all my mail that day and take care of errands as soon as possible. I know I can run rings around most people at BCC.

When I asked Dr. Carson if being so efficient doesn’t sometimes lead to trouble with other employees being envious and supervisors being annoyed, she said that maybe when one is in that position, one should take the risk of leaving for something better.

It’s funny how “winners” can always spot one another. I suppose that I didn’t always see myself as a winner, but I’ve got loads of confidence now.

When I see how Sean doubts himself, I wonder if confidence isn’t merely the result of experience and at least partially a function of age.

Lisa and I had lunch at Hurdy Gurdy’s. She’d like to stay on at BCC for one more year but doesn’t think she could take it after that.

This afternoon I deposited my last paycheck of 1982, worked out at Bodyworks (that cute guy said hello to me today), watched TV and wrote letters.

I’d feel more elated about Christmas vacation if I didn’t have that dental work tomorrow and if this term hadn’t dragged on for so long.