A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1984


Tuesday, January 10, 1984

8 PM. Today was rough: lots of stress. The big news is that I’ve had a schedule change, and it’s not very good.

Now I have an 8 AM class five days a week. This will make for early evenings and extremely long Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Ben interrupted me during my 2 PM class to say there was a schedule problem and they needed to see me after class.

Dr. Grasso explained that one of Judy Van Alstyne’s classes was cancelled, and because of her health, she can’t take an 8 AM.

So I’ve got this 8 AM Tuesday/Thursday 101, which has met with two different instructors already, and they’ve taken away my Monday/Wednesday/Friday noon 102, which wouldn’t have existed if my former students hadn’t signed up for it.

Over two dozen English sections have been cancelled.

I got a hunch why this happened when George Irish came to see me after transferring out of Chip’s honors section and into my 10 AM 102. George said Chip took glee in catching errors and rarely gave a grade above a C; all he did was give quizzes on nitpicking questions.

They’re all like that here: Rosemary, Chip, Hulewicz, Lemaire, Ledford. So it’s no wonder five new faces – all former students – turned up in my 11 AM class today.

The bad side of popularity is that I’ve got big classes. And now I’ve got a terrible schedule. Every morning I’ve got to get up at 6 AM in total darkness.

And on Tuesdays, I don’t get home till nightfall because of my FIU grad course. I just came home a few minutes ago.

The only benefit is that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I will be through after my 10 AM class, and you can bet I’m going to be leaving the campus by 11 AM. At least I’ll have the whole afternoon to myself on those three days.

Maybe it will work out, but right now all the changes are crazy-making, and I feel under lots of tension.

Last night I spoke to Dr. Rose Agree about my West Palm Beach talk. She shrewdly got the Miami Herald, anxious for a breakthrough in the Palm Beach market, to sponsor the Meet the Authors Luncheon and give us free ad space.

Dr. Agree is slightly pompous, but she means well, and they are paying me quite a lot.

This morning I lay in bed till 9:30 AM, something I won’t be able to do anymore, and didn’t get to BCC until just before my 11 AM class.

I found a letter from a John Poplett of Oak Park, Illinois, in my mailbox:

Dear Mr. Grayson,

You are a hot-shit author of some hot-shit stories. A librarian friend left a copy of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz on the floor of my apartment in a contrived inadvertence. . .

They are wonderful productions. I hope you are taking good care of yourself for the sake of your future work as well as your present person. I hope you stick to your guns (the butter will take care of itself). . .

P.S. – Courage is one of your fortes.

How wonderful! I think that man is so kind to write such nice stuff to me. That really makes it all worth it.

I apparently missed myself on Storer Cable last night. Ben said he saw the Jean Trebbi show I did in September, and he felt I was “honest” and “impressive.”

My FIU graduate computer education class started okay, though my machine had to be fixed because it didn’t work at first.

We started very basic stuff in PILOT, and I picked up the hang of it after a while; I’m not used to the Apple.

All the other students in the class are female Broward County schoolteachers, and boy, are they dumb! Our instructor said she’ll be starting a master’s program in computer education at the university in the fall.

Wednesday, January 11, 1984

4 PM. My new schedule is going to take some getting used to.

Waking up at 6 AM every weekday isn’t very pleasant. I suppose it will get better as I get used to it; in a few weeks it should start getting light out at that time.

The big pain in my new schedule is that the evenings seem closed. I need to be in bed by 9 PM if I’m to fall asleep by 10 PM or 11 PM to get seven to eight hours of sleep.

Although I was able to leave campus at 11 AM today, it doesn’t really make up for the luxury of sleeping late.

To avoid phone calls, I now have to take my phone off the hook at 10 PM, and so this kills any socializing I could do on weekday evenings.

My classes went okay today as I began discussing the elements of fiction. The problem is that now I’ve got all huge classes with 25 or more, so I’ve got lots of papers to be graded.

Well, I am just going to relax on my word counts and let Senator Gordon come and arrest me for not making each student write 6000 words. (I hear the Word Police knocking on my door right now.)

Look, I’m probably not ever going to be back at Broward Community College-Central, there are no openings at South campus, and North campus has told me to get lost. So do I really need to worry about being in compliance with a rule I disagree with?

Probably, because I have a damned sense of responsibility. That’s a fault I should try to correct.

I bet my old noon class was perturbed to see Ms. Van Alstyne in my place today; by that time. I had already left the campus and was working out at the health club.

From there, I went to my parents’ to shower and have lunch. Because I didn’t get paid today – I won’t for two weeks – I needed to take out some money at the credit union.

There was no mail of any consequence, so for the last three hours I’ve been home, reading the papers and working out a little more; I’ve got to reduce my waistline.

These days I feel awfully lonely. It’s hard to see so many good-looking young guys all day and not have anyone I can be intimate with.

It ain’t just horniness: I’m really lonely for a friend. I see hundreds of people during the week, but no one I can open up to and hold and hug and be silly with.

It’s not Sean I miss so much as what we had together: the sharing. Other people may not believe this, but I’m human and have needs. Shit – this is getting real sloppy.

Well, I expect I’ve made the Toronto Globe and Mail today; the paper comes here a day later, so I should see the article about my candidacy and my plan to annex Canada.

I got a call from radio station CKO, on which I’ll do a nationwide interview Monday at 1:40 PM.

And a reporter for the Edmonton Sun called me; yesterday I spoke to the Globe’s man. (Why do Canadians talk so funny? They say “eh? ” after every sentence.)

I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. In all my terms at BCC, I’ve never had three 90-minute classes (actually, they’re 75 minutes, and I have an hour-and-45-minute break between each of them).

I won’t get home till after 4 PM, and then I’ll have only a few hours before it’s time to try to get to sleep. When the papers start coming in to be graded, I’ll be in real trouble.

When will I have time to live, much less time to write? I feel my creativity is effectively being stifled.

I don’t know what the fuck to do with my life. That guy in Illinois told me to take good care of myself for the sake of my future work. At the moment, I doubt there’ll be any.

Thursday, January 12, 1984

6 PM. Never a dull moment. I stirred up a real hornet’s nest today – or should I say a nest of Southern WASPs?

A few nights ago I had this bright idea (and I use the term in its negative sense) to write, on Broward Community College stationery, a letter to members of the State Senate.

It began, “As you know, the Florida Endowment for the Humanities regularly funds projects of interest to scholars.”

My next paragraph spoke of my own survey, to be called “Legislators in Love.” (I got the name from the Jackson Browne song “Lawyers in Love.”) The implication of FEH funding was there to those who didn’t read carefully.

I asked the Senator if she would answer the enclosed questionnaire, which was filled with 15 innocuous questions like “Have you ever been in love with a member of the opposition political party?”, “Have you been loved while in office?” and “Do you think love is important to the future of Florida?”

Well, I mailed it out to twelve State Senators, and this afternoon, the shit hit the fan. I can’t believe how seriously they took this. President Adams (!) had Dr. McFarlane summoned to his office downtown, and they sent Dr. Rose to get me out of class at 3 PM!

I was scared shitless at first, but when I called the President’s office, they said he wouldn’t talk to me (he’s too important) and that they’d have Dr. McFarlane call me at home. I figured out what it was about, and the drive home gave me a chance to collect my thoughts.

Why was I so nervous? Because the “big boss” wanted to speak with me? Was Hugh Adams more of a man than I? Why did I have to be scared? The worst they could do was fire me, and while that would be awful, I also knew I could go to the media, who’d have a field day with this: “College Prof Fired On Account of Love.”

The survey was so tongue-in-cheek anyone could see the joke; I even told them to return the questionnaires by Valentine’s Day.

I also realized that whatever they did, I’d never be hired again. But so what? I’d already been turned down for a permanent job.

And I realized that unconsciously, I may have wanted this to happen just so I could never have the possibility of returning to BCC – that would get me off my ass and into action. I realized that overworked and underpaid as I am, I wasn’t beholden to the college.

Sure enough, as I got home, the phone was ringing away. I didn’t run to answer it, though; that gave me a sense of power.

When I’d taken out my lenses and gotten undressed, I picked up the phone. On a sheet I took notes (I’d written little messages to myself on it: Stay Cool, I Love You, etc.).

McFarlane was very kind and asked me about the survey, but I got him to tell me what he knew.

It turned out that Howard Walden, or Walton, executive assistant to Senate President Curtis Peterson, a pork chopper from upstate, got ahold of my survey and didn’t think it was appropriate.

I took the blame for two things: using BCC stationery and calling myself “Professor” (though I thought I heard Ben telling Lynn the other day that we could all use the courtesy title).

I apologized for involving BCC and said I’d write a letter to that effect, and McFarlane asked me to bring him a copy of the questionnaire tomorrow.

I also said I would call the Senate myself – but he didn’t want me to do this, and when I, in all innocence (hah!) asked if he wanted me to make a statement to the press, he clearly got nervous.

Nevertheless, I did call this Howard guy, who turned out to be the humorless redneck I expected. While I played dumb, not being able to understand what offended him about the survey, he kept sputtering away.

“This is the worst example of scholarship I’ve ever seen from someone on the state payroll!” he said, and he called my survey “ridiculous.” (He pronounced “worst” as “wust.”)

“Do you think love is ridiculous?” I asked.

“For State Senators, it is!” he said.

When I explained I was leaving BCC and didn’t want to tarnish a fine school’s reputation with my besmirched name, he was mollified but still annoyed; clearly, he thought I was an idiot.

But I’m glad I took the matter into my own hands rather than being powerless and letting higher-ups decide my fate. Because there are no “higher-ups.”

It’s not that I think I’m so special. Everybody’s special, and I’m just as good as any State Senator or college president.

And I try not to be a hypocrite; I practice what I preach. With my students, I’m a helper, a facilitator, and not some dictator or ogre they live in fear of.

It’s funny, isn’t it: this is the first time, despite all the good work I’ve done at BCC, that the president of the college has noticed me.

What did I learn today? Well, it ain’t over yet, but as Lisa said, “Florida isn’t a funny state. If you did this in New York, people would’ve gotten the joke.”

I may have gone too far, but I think not. Clearly it was a proactive act – like Eating at Arby’s or my candidacy for President.

God bless America, and I mean that sincerely – in any other country I’d be in jail, I’m certain. Now I feel relieved because I know my career at BCC is over and I can get on with my life.

Friday, January 13, 1984

5 PM. Have I, deluded by my own publicity, finally gone too far and finally fixed myself? I’ve always said that those who live by the media, die by the media.

Yesterday I disguised my voice, and posing as an aide in the Senate President’s office, left a message on the machine at the Tallahassee bureau of the Orlando Sentinel. I felt that the paper was removed enough from South Florida so they wouldn’t suspect me.

This morning I brought a copy of the survey form to Dr. McFarlane, along with two letters. One was a copy of a letter I’d written to Dr. Adams, offering my apologies and my resignation; the other was a note to McFarlane (I tried for a Flannery O’Connor-ish tone), informing him I gave Howard Walton “a piece of my mind” and told him not to bother Dr. Adams or BCC for my mistake.

Of course, this only added fuel to the fire, and Ben interrupted my last class to tell me I’d been summoned to McFarlane’s office.

“Privately, I think what you did was hilarious,” he told me.

I was expecting the boom to fall, but Dr. McFarlane was more upset than angry. I took full blame for the situation.

He was scared shitless – as Dr. Adams apparently was – that just as the legislature is about to consider funding of higher education, this could jeopardize BCC’s money. Can you imagine?

He said he admired my wacky courage in taking on anybody and called me a “free spirit,” but declared he would have to ask me to write a letter disavowing BCC’s involvement in the project.

I did so immediately, at his secretary’s typewriter, and then sent out copies to the Senators.

One thing McFarlane didn’t want to do – or didn’t want the appearance of doing – was censor me; he told me the survey “should continue.” I think he was afraid of a First Amendment/academic freedom controversy that would just inflame things further.

Dr. Grasso, also sitting in at the meeting, said I’d given her a much-needed laugh and wondered if someday she wouldn’t be watching TV and seeing this very scene in a movie.

They all said they had wanted me to stay on, but they understood why I felt I wanted to leave. As I was about to leave the campus, I got a message that Donna Blanton from the Orlando Sentinel had called.

I had to go to Storer Communications to tape Barbra Nightingale’s show, and I was very late. At the studio, I met Norman Nathan, the elderly poet and FAU English professor, who went to NYU with Delmore Schwartz.

By the time my turn for the taping came, the Big Mac and fries I’d wolfed down in a hurry were making me really nauseated.

Somehow I managed to get through the taping, though once or twice I thought I’d vomit in front of the camera.

Seeing the show afterwards, I realized how videotape can lie, because I appeared relaxed and spontaneous as I fast-talked Barbara and read from Eating at Arby’s.

I’ll get a copy of the tape – “which you can use as your audition tape for Johnny Carson,” said the technician.

Although I felt really sick, I got home okay and called the Orlando paper, taking full blame for the love survey. The story will also run in their sister paper in Fort Lauderdale, with a photo, yet. Tune in tomorrow.

Sunday, January 15, 1984

7 PM. A relatively quiet weekend was a good antidote to one of the most hectic weeks I’ve ever experienced.

Still, I got through it without any scars – I hope. Donna Blanton’s story got this banner headline on Saturday’s Orlando Sentinel: “Prof’s love quiz for Senators stirs only a what’s that?!”

Closer to home, my photo appeared on the front page of the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel: “BCC instructor’s survey on love habits of legislators doesn’t win their hearts.”

I came off as a dummy, of course, but for those who could see beyond the newsprint, I probably was seen as a pretty funny guy.

President Adams declared the matter closed, several Senators got the chance to expound on academic professionalism (and my lack thereof), and I took the blame.

The Fort Lauderdale story ended abruptly: “In 1982 Grayson unsuccessfully ran for a seat.” On a bus?

The Orlando story, however, let me get in some good lines: “I always knew love could cause trouble, but I never thought it could cause this much.”

And: “I’m going to New York, where I hope people have a better sense of humor.”

One TV station called, but that was only because Lisa phoned them, and I decided not to get back to them. We’ll see tomorrow what reaction I get at school.

Of course, no one but I realizes that from beginning to end, I engineered the whole thing, manipulated everyone from the State Senate to the news media.

It’s what I have done since 1978, when I got Page Six of the New York Post to fall for the “Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists” scandal – which most people must have thought “caught me in the act.”

But as with the Page Six notice (and lots of other publicity in the last five years), the story wouldn’t have been on page one of the paper if I hadn’t orchestrated the coverage with the message I left at the Orlando Sentinel’s Tallahassee bureau.

Another object lesson in how the media works. In the short run, I may come off the fool, but in the long run, I’ve learned more about perception and reality. Wouldn’t you know they’d call it “Prof’s love quiz”?

Oh, Marshall McLuhan, you knew what you were talking about. My parents and brothers, Lisa and Patrick all saw the headlines – and I called Teresa and Josh.

Teresa herself could make news as Michael Oreskses of the Times wants Teresa to go public with the tale of her do-nothing job; he feels it’s perfect since all her attempts to get a meaningful position with the state are documented.

Right now, Teresa says she needs a “fabulous job” – one good enough to get her out of the stagnation of no work and easy money.

She probably won’t go to Europe this summer and will be happy if I come stay with her, especially because she won’t be in the apartment very much, as usual.

I called Mark and Amy last night, and they’ll be here next Saturday afternoon, so I’ve begun cleaning up. I’ll give them my bedroom, of course, and take the couch in the living room for myself: the only sensible arrangement.

And of course, they can stay here alone while I’m in New Orleans; I hope they enjoy their privacy in Florida for a couple of days.

Still, I do wish their visit and my trip to New Orleans weren’t coming so soon; this week had better be quiet, so I can relax a little.

I did an interview last night on an Edmonton radio station; the article about me came out in Friday’s Edmonton Sun.

I called Crad after getting a letter from him yesterday, for I wanted to find out if he’d had any interviews. Apparently, the Globe and Mail never ran the story about me.

Crad sounds more cheerful, though he’d be loath to admit it, and he plans to stay on the street selling his books until Coach House Press brings out Pork College, probably next month. He just doesn’t want to look for some menial job.

Rick writes that he saw Wynton Marsalis play with brother Branford and dad Ellis; George came down to D.C. from Harrisburg with David Bianco for the show, and it sounded like a perfect evening.

Wynton was just on the CBS Evening News, which showed the D.C. gig, and he’s been nominated for Grammys in Jazz and Classical. I hope to see Ellis while I’m in New Orleans.

Why am I so attracted to people in the limelight? I’d hope it was because I worship excellence, not because I’m taken in by superficial glamour.

Yesterday I worked out, went to the library, read, and did a few errands. Today I slept late (and had a great dream of watching myself on TV and enjoying it), finally saw Chariots of Fire on HBO, did some housecleaning, and watched the Democratic debate from New Hampshire.

When I read that a Tallahassee federal judge had ordered Richard Kay onto the Florida ballot, I wrote the judge and asked him to place me on the ballot, too.

But since Kay, an attorney, had filed suit – and since the judge probably didn’t want to rule on the dubious constitutionality of the current ballot law and so he gave Kay what he wanted, I’d probably have to spend a fortune in court costs to achieve what Kay has done.

Bobby Frauenglas wrote that Sunrise Press didn’t get the New York State Council on the Arts grant – as if he expected they would. (He did. I know better.) So he can’t publish a book by me: something I never really expected would happen.

Anyway, all these goings-on recently seem to have led me to my plan for the rest of 1984.

For the next 3½ months, I’ll stay put at BCC, teach my classes, enjoy the relative warmth of a South Florida winter, and have fun.

I’ll give up the apartment on April 30 – which will make it nine months that I’ll have lived here. After a weekend in New York, it’s off to MacDowell to try to write.

Then, back in New York for Memorial Day, I’ll shuttle between Teresa’s in Manhattan and Grandma’s in Rockaway and try to find a way to make some money. At the worst, I can collect unemployment.

If things don’t work out, I could return to Florida, but I want to give myself the rest of 1984 in New York to try to make something happen.

I won’t delude myself about the possibility of an academic job. There’s no question I’ll be giving up a lot of comfort if I leave BCC and South Florida – but if I don’t risk it now, I’m afraid I never will.

I don’t want to turn into a safe, boring English teacher. (Actually, I don’t think I could, no matter what.)

With money tight, I’m going to have a rough time in 1984, which will be more insecure than any year since 1980, when I left New York.

But next January, I can always come back to Florida for warmth and security if I have to. Nothing is permanent.

Monday, January 16, 1984

4 PM. I have chest congestion and a cough, so an hour ago I went to sit out by the pool without my contacts so that I could get at the vitamin D of the sun. My theory – based on something I once read – is that staring at full-spectrum sunlight makes one healthy.

However, I took along a book: the thinnest hardcover I could find on the bookshelf. It was The Great Gatsby, and instead of using it as a prop, as I’d intended, I finished the first three chapters.

Fitzgerald’s prose is gorgeous, his instincts about characters and narrative always shrewd. My margin notes – from when I taught the book in English 12 at LIU (eight years ago? seven? six?) – were by and large cribbed, but they gave more meaning to the book.

I had forgotten the simple joy of reading for pleasure, not something “useful” like a newspaper but a great novel. I wish I had more time to read good books. Well, this summer at MacDowell, I will.

Last night, after falling asleep early, I had a rich and satisfying rest. There’s no ecstasy like that of thinking it’s morning and realizing the clock says it’s only 11:35 PM.

At BCC today, everyone (of course) commented on the Saturday news story.

A student reported the Art Department was abuzz, talking about me this morning; Steve Eliot had been dying to know what crisis had caused Glen Rose, pale and shaken, to suddenly cancel their big meeting with him on Thursday.

Since then I’ve learned that President Adams never phones Central Campus, so I caused a real trauma.

Everything I’ve learned from this just points up the shallowness and hypocrisy of the system. People don’t talk except in “the chain of command” – as if we were an army at war. No wonder the school, and so many other institutions, are so fucked up.

Imbecile drones like Cora Swift nodded gravely in my direction, and they obviously couldn’t understand why I took the whole thing so lightly. They really are more scared than I had thought they were.

Some students said my name and the “love quiz” were mentioned on various radio stations and that one early morning disk jockey did a skit about it. I taught my classes and left campus early.

At the Democratic party headquarters, I filled out a form to run as a delegate to the convention. I listed myself as “uncommitted,” a sure way to get on the ballot because I don’t have to be approved by any candidate.

Hopefully, this means that one way or the other, I’ll be on the March 13 presidential primary ballot; I even had Mom file as an alternate delegate. Maybe with my name recognition, I’ll even get a few votes.

At 1:45 PM, I had a delightful interview about my presidential campaign on CKO in Toronto, in a Canada-wide broadcast. I felt too tired and too sore to do much exercising.

I think I could get used to this term’s Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule: I have two delightful classes, and I’m finished by 11 AM. The days are beginning to get perceptibly longer, and I’m living in the best place in the U.S. to be in mid-January.

I do have to see that I don’t get carried away with my publicity; this last time I came very close to going too far. Luckily, everything came out all right in the end because I managed to be in control all the while.

I guess I suffer from hubris, and if this was a classic tragedy, I should be getting my comeuppance soon. However, I plan to lay low for a couple of weeks if I can. Still, I’ve already made 1984 an interesting year.

Tuesday, January 17, 1984

8 PM. I left the house in darkness at 7 AM and I just returned in darkness. It’s been a long day, certainly, but I had a great deal of energy and everything went fine.

My 8 AM class went okay, and I find I’m getting used to the early hour. I do enjoy the relaxing drive, looking at the morning-misty dairy pastures on University and seeing the patterns of clouds in the still-dark sky.

Even just now, driving home was pretty, with clouds framing a full moon.

Just before I got here, as I stepped out to get my mail at the post office, a voice called from a passing car: “Mr. Grayson!” It was a girl in one of my classes, she said, though I couldn’t recognize her in the dark. But it made me feel that I’ve got a place in this world.

This morning, the 11 AM class went fine. When I got out and went to the English Department mailbox, I found a letter from a Mrs. John C. Fosgate of Winter Park. She read of my “plight” in the newspaper and wanted to offer her support:

Sure, they were shocked, up in arms, and assumed you were ‘nuts.’ Love – that is, divine love – is always refuted or rebuffed. . .

Don’t move to N.Y.!! Fla. needs you! Stand your ground! Do not apologize. . .

Keep up the good work! If you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, what care you? – so was Christ – so was Paul. . . My prayers attend you as you proclaim love!

Wonderful! I should send it to Drs. Adams and Hamilton, who are big with evangelicals. Still, the woman’s gesture was nice, and though she misread me, I would like to think that I’ve earned a little of her prayers.

But it is pretty funny.

I had lunch at my parents’ house, where I got a call from a reporter from the Baltimore News-American.

At school, I spoke to a woman at the Palm Beach Public Library, who said she’s arranged an interview for me on Valerie Aspinwall’s show on WPBR on February 29 at 10 AM.

I remember talking to Jed, the guy at that station whose ad I answered months ago, and how he told me how nice his boss, this Valerie Aspinwall, is. So I’m looking forward to this appearance.

Kathleen Emrick, the library coordinator, is also trying to get me on WHRS/Channel 42, the new PBS station up there. I think they’re doing just a terrific job on my lecture.

After a wonderful 2 PM class – I am a good teacher – I relaxed a little before going to the computer lab for my FIU course.

We learned more today, and got a demonstration of PILOT’s sound effects and graphics. I like the hands-on experience, and Mary Alice takes us step by step. (For most of the schoolteachers, she has to – they’re pretty slow.)

During our break, I went back to my office and had a sandwich. My eyes were tired, but I printed out my hard copy of the homework and then left BCC after a 12-hour day.

The mail in my P.O. box had one great surprise: Home Planet News’ Barbara de Lamiere asked me if I’d consent to an interview. Unfortunately, the letter had gotten lost in the mail and was dated December 20.

She’s probably so pissed at my lack of response that she’s no longer interested. I’ll write back immediately and explain what happened.

Also in the mail: that Massachusetts bookstore sent me a $3 check for the copy of Eating at Arby’s I’d sent them.

And Rick Peabody’s Mavericks, a book about nine small press publishing pioneers, arrived.

This has been a very satisfying day. I couldn’t ask for much more.

Really, I feel very happy and very lucky. What a terrific life I’ve had!