A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1985


Tuesday, February 12, 1985

8 PM. Today, a month after I arrived in Florida, I feel really good about myself and what I’m accomplishing here.

Last evening, I was pleased by my 100%/A+ assessment by Pam on the computer journal evaluation and I was the first one to finish the quiz and got only one wrong answer out of 50 questions.

On today’s Measurement test, I didn’t do nearly as well. Multiple-choice tests can be tricky, particularly when you’re intelligent and see that more than one right answer is possible – but I probably didn’t do any worse than most of the class, and Dr. Murray allows us to retake without penalty.

What really made me feel good today was an acceptance of the story I wrote just two weeks ago.

Telescope, an influential and intelligent little magazine, wants “My Basic Problem” for their “male feminism” issue!

And they sent me a lovely acceptance letter with a contract specifying a $6-per-page payment. I don’t think I’ve been as happy about a story acceptance in many years.

A little over ten years ago, New Writers took “Rampant Burping,” and this, too, seems like a new start for me.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a story – or sent one out – and never have I had an acceptance come so quickly. It makes me 100% more confident about my writing.

I saw the envelope at my parents’ and automatically assumed it was a rejection, but in the car, I opened it and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I went back to tell my parents, and Dad said, “I just want to tell you one thing: You get discouraged about your writing, but you have to realize that if you weren’t good, you wouldn’t have so many editors accepting your work.”

I plan to go on writing stories like “My Basic Problem”: “high tech” fiction about baby boomers in the 1980s. I feel like a writer once again. In a few weeks, this may seem like another fluke – but it isn’t.

I got letters from Susan and Tom today, and they both made me feel like a writer.

Tom said that “Moira Crone from LSU, guesting for us, (with an MFA from Johns Hopkins with Frederick Barthelme and Mary Robison in her class), started to talk about Richard Grayson being one of those nay-sayers concerning writing programs and writing, but I didn’t let her hang herself.”

I’ve barely heard of Moira Crone, know only that she did a book with the Fiction Collective, and am surprised that she knows who I am. It makes me wonder if other literary types know me and what they think of me.

Susan is back in gear, loving her bright creative writing students at Hunter.

She enclosed two manuscripts for me to read, and she’s rolling in assignments: The National Jewish Monthly, St. Pete Times, Saturday Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Feminist Studies, Pioneer Woman.

And Susan has pieces due out in the Village Voice, American Book Review, Midstream, The Nation, Coda, Georgia Review “so I am turning into one hell of a busy writer, and I love it!”

God bless her, she’ll be the next Cynthia Ozick – only less pompous and more intelligent.

Maybe I can be more like Susan. Or more like Alice. Of course, I operate in a somewhat different world than either of them.

Because of that, I decided to send out my press release on my Education Commissioner candidacy. It’s a whimsical proposal about firing all teachers and replacing them with unpaid volunteers, the idea being they hardly pay them anything anyway, so why not be less hypocritical?

I know, I know: I said I wasn’t going to stir up trouble, but I can’t be silent on education.

It killed me when Secretary Bennett said kids not getting student loans “will just have to divest themselves of stereos, cars, and vacations at the beach.”

If I get into trouble – well maybe it’s worth it. Remember Oliver Wendell Holmes on “the actions and passions” of one’s times.

Thursday, February 14, 1985

9 PM. Everything’s been going great until a little while ago, when tired and hungry, I pulled in at home and saw my car was smoking furiously. Well, it’s to be expected.

The immediate problem is that I have to get to Boca tomorrow. If I have to, I’ll get up there by taxi, but I’m not going to miss my class, especially when I spent three hours just now working hard on my LOGO project.

I’m all finished except for the one-page written statement of goals. My model of the solar system isn’t all that accurate, but it’s a well-executed and well-designed program for a beginner, and I’m proud.

Last night Ray was talking about problem-solving by breaking things up into what Piaget calls “mind-sized bites.” Coming after my three-hour BASIC class with Pam, I listened intently as Ray compared BASIC to LOGO.

There’s no real way you can break up a problem in BASIC – except in a linear manner. In contrast, LOGO is much more elegant.

I’m figuring out that BASIC may not be around all that long. “Spaghetti language,” John Kallas called it.

Boy, I really do feel like a computer maven.

This morning, even though I’d been at the BCC computer lab from 3 PM to 10 PM yesterday, I was back for more after I dropped off a copy of Mindstorms in Sue Spahn’s office.

While I worked on my File Cabinet list of 100 vocabulary words (the final project for Computers in the Classroom – I’ve completed it) and the BASIC homework (on FOR/NEXT and FLASH/INVERSE), Rosemary Lanshe brought her English 102 class into the lab, and Ray showed them how to use Writing Assistant on the IBM PCjrs.

Acting somewhere between a teacher and lab assistant, I walked around and helped Ray, Rosemary and the real lab assistants help the students boot their disks and get started.

Rosemary said that she’s trying to interest other English teachers into getting their students to the lab to use word processing to hand in their papers.

Each student is given a disk on which she will hand in her papers. I learned a great deal watching the kids write and seeing how they take to the word processing and the computer.

Yesterday when I ran into Chip, he told me the college was thinking of making word processing a required course.

This afternoon, after a short exercise-while-watching-soaps session, I drove to Fort Lauderdale to pick up my new left lens (now I realize how much I also need a new right one) and then went to the FAU Commercial Boulevard campus.

Their computer lab is great, with IBM PCs with graphics capabilities and plotters, as well as TRS-80s and mainframe terminals.

For three hours I worked on my LOGO project: it was challenging, tiring, frustrating and exhilarating.

When I finally got out of the lab, I was weak with hunger and pretty dizzy, so I raced home on the Turnpike.

I can’t deal with the car now. After eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, swallowing some vitamins and a tranquilizer, I took the phone off the hook.

Earlier today I did get a call from Diane Hirth, the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel’s political writer, about my press release.

I played it as seriously as Lady Chatterley’s father, talking about my interest in education. All I had to do was get started and I was fine in the interview.

I don’t know if there’ll be a story in tomorrow’s paper or in her column on Sunday, but I’ll be glad if it’s a good one and maybe I’ll learn something if it’s not.

Maybe I’m jeopardizing my unemployment benefits (I got a $480 check today), but it’s worth it to me.

All I have left are six weeks of benefits anyway. I’m pretty sure nobody at Unemployment will remember me; it’s only if someone with a grudge against me tells them I’m a grad student. We shall see.

At 11 PM last night I called Ronna, to be the first to wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day. (I’d already sent her a card.)

She was feeling a little blue – because of her job problems and a little because of her sister’s wedding. I’d imagine any single older sister would feel funny at her younger sister’s wedding.

“But you could have been married and divorced twice already!” I told her, thinking of Ivan and Jordan, both of whom pestered Ronna to marry them.

“I feel divorced,” she said.

Ronna said she talked to Susan, who’s been up and about from her surgery for weeks now, and I told her how I felt about Teresa.

I’ve also been having doubts about Columbia. What if their computer education program is like their MFA in creative writing, just buying a degree?

I wonder how superior their classes are to FAU’s or FIU’s, and I wonder if I need them.

I probably could walk into the Board of Education office in downtown Brooklyn in May and get a job teaching computers in the public schools of New York. I’ve got to weigh my options carefully.

If Columbia does not give me enough financial aid, there’s no sense spending money to learn things I already know or can learn more cheaply at FIU, FAU, or The New School.

I called Justin this afternoon; he was busy but said he’ll call me tonight. (I’ll put the phone back on the hook later.) Justin said “a lot is going on.”

Friday, February 15, 1985

2 PM. Soon I’m going to go to Boca and hope the car makes it up there. Dad and I put water in the coolant case – the radiator was already filled – and we drove it around with no overheating.

I spent the morning with Dad, and it was one of the most pleasant times we shared together.

We went out to McDonald’s for breakfast – “It’s the only place I can relax in the mornings” – and Dad told me he had to take two Librax last night after being in the presence of two hyper people.

First, Lennie kept trying to get Dad to join him as a partner in his House of Deals, a cavernous Kmart-like store on Broward and 441.

Dad keeps telling Lennie he’s crazy – which he is: he bought 15,000 dozen socks, for example – and Lennie loves it.

Dad said Lennie has no friends other than his teenage entourage who he tries to impress (and probably succeeds).

Dad told me one kid came up to Lennie and said, “Did you go to the track last night?” Lennie pulled out a $100 bill, gave it to the kid, and said, “Here’s your share of the winnings,” even though Dad knew he’d lost.

At Pompano, Lennie was surrounded by teenage sycophants and the pitiful Jackie Mason, whom he keeps employed for the season at his Newport Hotel.

Lennie called the manager of the track to have “this famous comedian” – his royal court jester – present an award to a race’s winner.

Mason was introduced, but he ran away because he got scared when the house began to get upset and fidgety.

Last evening Dad went to pick up this guy, Carlo of Palmetto’s, a hot women’s jean and clothing line, who called him weeks ago and demanded, “I hear you’re the best salesman in Florida. Why is that?” and told Dad how he’d make him rich.

This man was a raving Type A, rushing about, ordering people around, demanding personalized service at his hotel. (The restaurant had to cook him an omelet and serve grapefruit at dinnertime because he wouldn’t eat anything else.)

“It was like a comedy,” Dad said, with Carlo interviewing Dad and then abruptly yelling, “Let’s celebrate! You’re my man!” and ordering ice cream: “half-vanilla, half-chocolate, and half-strawberry.”

(It sounds to me like this guy was all coked up.)

Dad said he didn’t get home until 11 AM and was so nervous he had palpitations.

He feels that this Palmetto’s line may be really hot, but he’s worried about such an erratic boss – who’s only been working there for two months.

Dad has no experience with ladies’ lines but since they didn’t ask him to give up his men’s lines, he’s got nothing to lose but time.

We went grocery shopping together and I showed him my apartment, which he thought more cheerful than my old apartment in North Miami Beach.

The bad news is I seem to be coming down with a severe cold. Everyone’s got it. On Wednesday, Patrick sounded like he had walking pneumonia.

At least I’ve gotten my LOGO project done, two weeks before deadline. It’s got to be at least a B.

February is half-over and I have so much to do and only ten weeks until I leave Florida.

Saturday, February 16, 1985

5:30 PM. The car overheated when I got to Boca yesterday and again when I came home, but I made it back and forth all right.

This evening I’m going to borrow Dad’s car to drive to Fort Lauderdale to meet Bert and Alice Stratton at their friends’ house for dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant.

Yesterday we began going over list processing in LOGO class at FAU: that’s the more powerful – and to me, more intriguing – aspect of the language.

Having completed what is at least an adequate Turtle Graphics project, I plan to start early on the list processing project.

Perhaps I can convert and modify one of Michael Callery’s procedures to IBM LOGO from Terrapin LOGO.

Home at 8 PM, I found the phone ringing. It was a reporter from the Miami News, who interviewed me for about fifteen minutes.

Today a small story appeared on the op-ed page. I claimed that I’d prefer that Ralph Turlington seek reelection, but I offered a proposal of a $20,000 minimum salary for teachers.

Most of my other proposals – a 1% personal income tax to finance the education expenditures – were omitted, but they did call me “a writer and consultant.”

I’ve got to remember to use the meaningless but impressive term consultant more.

Falling asleep at 10 PM after writing to Mrs. Judson, I got a good rest. I’ve been dreaming a lot about the New York subway system and also about Avis.

I’ve begun to miss Avis a great deal, which is odd, since I avoided calling her all the time I lived in New York.

My life in New York now seems a little unreal to me, and once again I have the fear that I’m just a hick from Florida.

But just because I adjusted so easily to the change in lifestyle here, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t adjust as swiftly back to New York’s hectic pace. To be honest, I feel at home in both places.

Patrick’s wife called to say he had bronchitis and wouldn’t be able to make it to class today, so I took notes from him and told Mary Alice.

We used Multiplan again and went over the spreadsheet program’s more complex capabilities; for once, we’ve even got homework to hand in next week.

I spent much of the afternoon at my parents’, where I worked out with Jonathan’s weights.

At the warehouse, I was able to find some manuscripts which I can use for the NEA application – but I have no hope of getting the fellowship this year.

Still, the deadline is soon, and it’s worth a try, even if the odds are against me.

Sunday, February 17, 1985

Just after midnight, and I just got in. It’s funny that when I deprive myself of a social life, it doesn’t seem like deprivation, and the rare times when I’m out with people seem so special.

I had a real nice time with the Strattons and their friends, Russ and Jane. I drove the station wagon to Jane’s house on a comfy-looking street off the 17th Street causeway.

It soon struck me that all of them have money. Jane’s house was beautifully decorated. She knew “Pippie” – Alice – in camp; Alice’s parents were wealthy people back in Columbus.

Russ and Bert went to Hebrew school at a Reform synagogue in Shaker Heights. They’re sort of like Long Island Five Towns or North Shore types.

All of them went to the University of Michigan, and Russ’s roommate there was Lawrence Kasdan, who directed The Big Chill.

Bert and Alice showed their photos from the Yucatán; coincidentally, Russ and June were in Cozumel this week, too.

We went to Sagami, a nearby Japanese restaurant that just opened up, and as usual, I was the only non-sushi eater.

Fort Lauderdale does have yuppies – Russ and Jane recognized friends there – but they’re Florida yuppies, suntanned, less intense, and duller than those in Manhattan.

Whatever different backgrounds we have, I find I can always make connections with baby-boomers who went to college.

I don’t know how I come off to strangers, but I certainly felt comfortable and didn’t worry about being accepted. We shared some interesting conversation and some laughs over dinner.

Then we drove out to Port Everglades to see the ships docked there; I’d never been in the port, and it seemed like a dreamlike landscape at night.

After getting some Frusen Glädjé, we said goodnight. I told the Strattons I’d see them next year in Florida or maybe in New York if Bert comes in to celebrate the sale of his book.

Not yet ready to go home, I drove around downtown Fort Lauderdale, nearly deserted late on Saturday night.

I went along Las Olas and the riverfront, over the bridge on Andrews Avenue and through the New River Tunnel, and past the new main library and governmental center.

I hate to admit it, but I do find beauty in Broward County.

As horrible as South Florida can be – and both Jane, who’s been here ten years and works in Miami, and Russ, who lives in North Bay Village and who works on Collins Avenue, near the Carillon, said there were things about it that they couldn’t stand – I tend to get attached to familiar places.

Florida’s a part of me, just like New York is: a lot of memories are here, and being a generally optimistic person, I feel good about those memories. Even the sad ones take on a sweetness with time.

Two years ago this weekend, Grandpa Herb died, and I remember everything that happened and how depressed I felt.

If I’d been stronger, I would have gone to the funeral, but I was afraid – and I knew I had to be in New York in just three weeks for my publication party. Oh Grandpa Herb, I still miss you. But you had a good life, and so have I.

At my parents’, as I switched cars, I stood in the parking lot and looked up at the clear sky and saw Orion’s belt, which Ronna had first pointed out to me when we were dating in college.

And driving back here, I passed Sean’s mother’s house, where Sean gave me my terrific 31st birthday present.

I may gripe and get frustrated and angry and pompous and even mean, but deep down, where it counts, I know I’ve had a terrific life.

A lot of it has been my own doing, but I’ve also known all the best people – and I’ve had more than my share of good luck.

Tuesday, February 19, 1985

3 PM. I’ll be leaving for Fort Lauderdale soon, as my FAU Measurement class begins in an hour.

Yesterday’s FIU class went okay; next week is our midterm.

In class, I was reviewing a software package on capitalization with this middle school English teacher, and I had trouble believing how slow and haltingly this woman read. It’s shocking that she could be teaching grammar when she doesn’t know it herself.

She’s a lesbian, as are many of my fellow graduate students in computer education. Pam, our teacher, is definitely gay, although it hadn’t occurred to me until Patrick mentioned it. Mary Alice is probably gay, too.

Interesting that computer education is a field that would attract lesbians. Maybe straight women are more scared of computers than gay ones?

Last night I spoke with Justin, Ronna and Teresa.

Justin’s big news was that Ari is moving out on March 1 after finding an apartment in Manhattan.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take his room because I won’t be back in New York until May. Perhaps this is for the best, and I’ll find better arrangements.

Meanwhile, Justin is very busy at work. He edited a video of stills and film clips that they’re going to use as a preview for Eddie’s upcoming concert series.

Justin’s also directing a new play at the workshop this Sunday; he’s got a new agent; and someone’s interested in doing a production of Attachments.

Consequently, he has very little free time, especially since things at the Eddie Murphy Productions office are really hopping. Justin could use some help there.

Ronna said her sister’s wedding was lovely although the band forgot to play anything as she, the best man, the ushers and bridesmaids walked down the aisle.

As soon as Sue appeared on her mother’s arm, she broke down sobbing and cried all the way to the altar and throughout the ceremony. This made Ronna cry, and their mother, and then both her cousins, too.

Ronna’s father came at the start of the ceremony and left immediately afterwards; she was upset he couldn’t stay to get in any of the photos.

The dinner was fine, Ronna said, and Robert’s friends and relatives were sweet Midwesterners.

Having her New Hampshire cousins stay at the apartment was a bit of a burden, but Ronna and Lori spent last night at her mother’s in Brooklyn. Ronna’s grandmother and aunt are returning to Florida on Friday.

I’m glad Sue and Robert’s wedding went well.

Teresa’s big news was that Barbara gave birth to a boy the day after she helped Barbara and Stewart move to Fort Lee.

Although Barbara wanted a girl, she’s now happy with little Cameron (though Teresa said she worries about him becoming gay — which I think is obnoxious and ridiculous).

Teresa spent most of our conversation dumping on Bruce and Laurie, with whom she spent the weekend in the Berkshires.

She said that Bruce fell into a rage at her on Saturday night and she was so scared that she locked herself into her room as Bruce screamed to Laurie, “She’s trying to ruin our lives!”

Naturally, Teresa said she did nothing to provoke it, but I’m certain she did her usual bossy number on them.

Granted, Bruce and Laurie aren’t a stable pair. Bruce refuses to talk about all the money Teresa gave him to invest.

He did give her the first payment on the Fire Island house, but now Teresa says she doesn’t want to spend the summer with them.

She’d like to try to take the house away from them — good old Teresa — but she’ll probably try to find a new place for herself, “though that’s very expensive.”

Teresa complained that she’s got no friends, but she can really only blame herself for that.