A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1983


Saturday, September 10, 1983

8 PM. Most of the friends I’ve told about my quitting graduate school weren’t all that surprised.

Teresa said she expected it. Josh, who seems increasingly unhappy with his work and his inability to find a girlfriend, thought I had “balls” to quit the way I did – but he also figured they’d ask me back and I’d go.

Lisa was upset until I told her I felt relieved; she still feels nostalgia for academia. Pete was a bit surprised I didn’t even last as long as he did in NYU’s Ph.D. program but he understood how I felt: “You’ve made a clean break.”

Have I?

This is the first year in fifteen that I haven’t been in school (college) as a student and/or teacher. It’s a first for my diaries, which go back to 1969.

I think part of the fear of leaving academia was related to my experience in September 1968, when I felt too afraid to start Brooklyn College. Initially I seemed to be doing okay, but I soon let agoraphobia take over and I ended up spending much of that year desperately unhappy in my house.

Yet there’s little comparison between the confused, neurotic 17-year-old boy and the 32-year-old man I am now. I could never go back to being agoraphobic, certainly.

I’ve been living on my own for a number of years now, and all my successful experiences and relationships reinforce good feelings about myself in relation to the world.

Emotionally, I’m fine; it’s financially that I’m skating on thin and dangerous ice.

In 1968, I – and my family – had no money worries, but I still think we’re better off today.

Yesterday and today business was dreadful at the flea market, Mom reported. I hope things go better for Dad tomorrow, when the fall menswear show at the Miami Merchandise Mart begins. Three years ago, he was doing so much business he couldn’t handle it, but the last two years’ shows have been disastrous.

As the state employment counselor said to me, South Florida was the last place to go into the recession and we haven’t experienced a robust recovery yet.

Dad says it’s partly the Latin American troubles and partly that Americans are spending money on necessities, like cars, that they put off buying during the recession: “No one’s coming to Miami now; the tourists go to Disney World and EPCOT.”

I’ve been thinking of going to New York late next month, after my next visit to Unemployment on October 19. Grandpa Herb’s unveiling is that weekend, and I’d like to be there, especially since I missed his funeral.

The fares are low now, and I could spend time with Teresa, who’ll have quit her job by then. Maybe I could press my media campaign, too.

Manhattan can be gorgeous in the fall, and I wouldn’t mind experiencing some chilly October weather. It might be good for me psychologically.

I did get a boost from Sandra Thompson’s review of my book in the St. Pete Times. It’s perfect – with a terrific photo and excerpt from the end of “Hold Me.”

I plan to savor it after I finish writing this – but it also embarrasses me a little. “Self-conscious writer draws strength from humor,” was the headline.

I wonder if Sean saw it. He’ll never contact me, but I still hope he saw my photo and had warm feelings about me.

Obviously, my life would have been complicated if he was still here – and I always knew nothing permanent could ever come from our relationship – but I would still have liked to see him from time to time.

Of course, that’s selfishness; it should be enough that Sean has my eternal gratitude for playing Prince Charming to my dormant sexuality.

It was hot and sunny – what else is new? – and I spent much of the day in Davie, hanging out. I got an application for MacDowell, and I think I’m going to apply for April/May.

Tomorrow, I plan to lay about the apartment and mark time till Monday, when I’ll see if USA Today does anything for me. Hey, even after the emotional turmoil at UM, this turned out to be an okay week. I’m more than holding my own.

Monday, September 12, 1983

8 PM. Last night I slept amazingly well, dreaming up a storm of delightful scenarios.

Toward morning, I began thinking about the USA Today story and I dreamed that I went out and found my picture, not in USA Today but on the cover of Time: I was beardless, wearing a crew-neck sweater and jeans, sitting at a typewriter – with the legend “GENIUS” below my image.

Wishful thinking. As it turned out, I didn’t even make USA Today. Although I felt disappointed and a bit foolish (I had told several people to buy the newspaper), I’m pretty sure the story will appear eventually.

But I figured this would be a week of disappointment and depression. I have to admit I felt pretty low this morning as I drove up to Broward, and at Bodyworks, I just didn’t have my heart in my exercises, and I didn’t do very much.

At Mom’s, at least, I got my $250 unemployment check, which I desperately need. Although she was staying home today, she said that she and Dad were fairly busy at the show yesterday; at least it wasn’t the total disaster of last fall or spring.

Home at 2 PM, I tried to stave off depression by answering ads for jobs and by applying to MacDowell and Yaddo for the spring. I’ve got to line up as many options as possible.

Right now, obviously, my big concern is my negative cash flow – a nice euphemism, eh? I’m obviously beginning to abuse my credit, yet without a steady income, I have no choice. But I can’t keep borrowing forever.

It would have been easier had UM’s financial aid office not screwed up. I could have had my $2,000 guaranteed student loan by now.

I’ve got a month to go before I become truly desperate. By borrowing another $400 in cash advances, I can get through till mid-October. But then what?

Obviously, I can keep borrowing and borrowing, but by next spring, I’d have no choice but to declare bankruptcy. And right now I have absolutely no income coming in except the $250 unemployment check every two weeks.

If I could find some way of bringing in $100 a week, I could survive. Oh, I can fantasize about my student loan coming through or getting some grant or award, but realistically, I know nothing’s going to happen unless I make it happen.

I don’t have much time, and so I’m beginning to feel a bit desperate.

Last night I talked with Ronna; God knows how she (or Stacy) has survived unemployment for so long. We commiserated a lot about being out of work. Ronna said that it was an unbearable 99° in New York yesterday.

I really don’t know what to do. I see now that perhaps I’m guilty of hubris, of being too big for my britches. Will that be the tragic flaw, as in classic tragedy, that leads to our hero’s downfall?

It doesn’t matter now. What I need is to figure out a way out of this mess, and I can’t let myself fall into despair. Stay tuned, folks.

Tuesday, September 13, 1983

4 PM. Nothing in USA Today today, either. It’s always so frustrating when I get in this position.

I remember four years back, when I thought I’d be in People because they asked for a photo from Taplinger; every week I’d run to the newsstand, my heart beating wildly, only to be disappointed.

The same thing happened last May with the New York Times, but that article eventually did appear – while I was out of town.

A reporter for the Asbury Park Press called an hour ago about my Presidential campaign, and I did my usual shtick. “Did you ever consider a career as a comedian?” the reporter asked.

Last night Jean Trebbi phoned. She had been very concerned about me but said she was relieved I didn’t let my troubles interfere with our taping of the show.

She assumed that I hadn’t really quit for good at the University of Miami and she seemed sad when I told her it was final.

She also seemed to think I shouldn’t leave Florida, but then, given her position, Jean has to believe this place is viable culturally.

It’s not, and it will be years from now when it is, if then.

When I return to New York, I’ll have lived in Florida for over three years: more than enough time here.

At least I got some good letters today. Crad was called by the drunk who assaulted him; the man claimed he didn’t remember the incident at all.

So Crad agreed to meet the man, who had been bewildered by the arrest warrant. He told Crad he was a devout Christian and said he was divorced and the sole support of two children.

Crad believes the guy really doesn’t remember, but he plans to go ahead with his complaint because he wants to make certain the guy doesn’t attack anyone else again. Probably they’ll put him in an alcohol abuse program.

Crad’s good news was that Coach House Press, Canada’s most prestigious small publisher, will rush out a volume of his silly Pork College stories by the end of the year – plus they’ve gotten him a $1,000 Ontario Council grant.

That’s a definite breakthrough for Crad, and he seems ready to take this new book on the street, though I think he should give up street-selling by now. This good news restores my faith that eventually somebody recognizes talent and persistence.

In his letter, Rick said that in a way he’s glad my teaching career “has fallen apart.”

He feels there’s no hope for literature in academia, between the Associated Writing Program types and the literature profs, “the old farts who hate literature that isn’t dead and pinned down . . . How does one get through that without being tainted? I’m also glad George is getting the boot out of journalism . . . though I fret over what will become of all of us. I can’t afford to play with my time and finances (ha!) in the small press world for much longer.”

Networking with Crad and Rick – and with Joy Walsh, Patrick’s friend in Buffalo, who thanked me for sending her I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and sent an extra copy of the New York Times review – keeps my spirits up.

The last letter was from a guy whose ad (in the local gay paper) I answered. He’s in West Palm Beach:

Yours is the only response out of the 6 I received that I’m answering; it was by far the most sincere and sensitive to what I probably should have written in the ad, such as, ‘GWM, 28, just learned to enjoy life after removing head from sand 3 years ago, scared to death of getting AIDS, fell in love for the first time this year with a guy who moved to Denver, seeks safe, physical intimacy instead of ‘wham, bam, thank you sir’ . . . wants to be held and to hold once in a while without the need for ‘standard guy action.’ How’s that?

So far it sounds perfect. He continues:

I’m normal (probably too much), not weird, and I think I’m interesting, basically your all-around nice guy . . . but I do come across strong on first impression, for some reason.

I’m not sending a photo. I’m very insecure, without reason, about how I look in photos. I could send a VTR of a TV commercial I’ve done, but that’s expensive, and stupid if you don’t have a recorder.

Interesting enough? My name’s Jed and my number is 964-4177. The best time to call is between 11 PM and 1 AM weeknights, or Saturday afternoon (I work a weird schedule). Hope to hear from you – Sincerely, Jed.

Very cautiously, he didn’t mail the letter till Sunday, long after he wrote it on August 24. Frankly, it all sounds too good to be true. I will call him tonight or tomorrow night.

At least it will prove interesting. I want love so badly that I can’t let myself believe in it.

Wednesday, September 14, 1983

8 PM. Well – things have changed.

Last evening I began to get very bored and depressed. Aimlessly, I wandered through the 163rd Street Mall, wondering what the hell I was doing living in Miami.

I came home and stupefied myself with sitcoms, deciding I was too depressed to call Jed. I slept okay and again had anticipatory dreams about USA Today – yet I was prepared for disappointment.

This morning I readied myself for my workout in Broward and stopped at the post office, where I picked up my mail and USA Today. Again there was no article and no photo.

Tom sent me a letter encouraging me to “Bartleby” it at UM. I had written him right after I learned about the research assistantship but before I quit.

After a good workout, I felt somewhat better – but my suicidal fantasies continued. At Mom’s, alone, I read the Fort Lauderdale paper and was startled to see a want ad for full-time temporary English teachers at Broward Community College-Central and North.

I called Personnel and spoke to an idiotic Hispanic woman – when I told her I had two master’s degrees, she said, “Yeah, but do you have a master’s degree? – and left my numbers with her.

Since nobody was in Davie to take a message, I stayed there and had lunch until Jonathan came home from his training session with the county mental health association.

He was elated after a visit to Fellowship House, a home for the mentally ill, where he’ll be working. “I met so many great people,” he said enthusiastically. And having put on about 10 pounds, he looks good.

I left, giving Jonathan instructions in case someone from BCC called, and drove back to North Miami Beach.

Not five minutes after I got home, Dr. Grasso called. She recognized my name on a list Personnel gave her. I told her UM didn’t work out and said she could teach them a few things. I also said I didn’t realize how good BCC was until I left.

“Jacqui McCall told me the same thing,” she said.

The state has mandated that all comp classes be smaller than 21 students, so she’s been forced to add on 12 sections as of this coming Monday.

“You’re hired,” she told me, and I felt ecstatic. I have to come in Friday for Staff Development Day.

On Monday, students will be taken out of various sections and put in my classes. I have the best schedule I’ve ever had: Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes at 8, 10 and 11 AM and Tuesday/Thursday classes at 9:30 AM and 12:30 PM.

With fewer students, the work should be bearable. And oh, do I need the money! It’s technically only for the fall, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I stayed for the spring. too.

In any case, a hell of a lot of financial pressure is off me.

It’s going to be a long drive to BCC, but Mom and Dad’s house is right there, and I can go “home” for lunch and have a place to change clothes or relax.

Everything’s working out so wonderfully, I can’t believe how lucky I am. You can bet I’m going to stop complaining this term and be grateful I have a job.

It’s sad that I have to feel that way, but I suppose I’ve been brought down a notch. BCC isn’t all that bad – and it should be better now. Secretly, I won’t mind returning to familiar surroundings. It will be like coming home.

I called Lisa, who said she was glad I had a job and would remain in Florida but hoped I wouldn’t “become one of them.”

When my parents got home from the menswear show, Mom called and sounded as relieved as I am. I also called Josh, who told me I should have definitely asked to borrow money from him if I’d needed it. Now I won’t have to.

I’m going to collect unemployment until I get my first paycheck, though, because who knows when that will come?

A week ago, when I quit UM, I could not have imagined things would work out so well so quickly.

Thursday, September 15, 1983

7 PM. I called Jed last night and we talked for 90 minutes.

I can’t imagine what he looks like, but he’s got the professional voice of a radio talk show host, which he has been at a Palm Beach station for many years. Also the editor of a local rock magazine, he’s been a workaholic much of his life.

When he was younger, he didn’t have many friends because his overprotective widower-father seemed jealous of his only son’s time. He fell in love for the first time this year with a guy now writing for the Denver Post, whom he’ll visit in two weeks.

I get the feeling he’s been very uptight, but I liked him a lot, and I have the idea he’s good-looking. Maybe we talked too much; I’d like to meet him, but we made no plans.

I couldn’t get to sleep for anything and didn’t doze off until 4 AM.

Up at 8 AM, I decided I’d better go to BCC to see if I really have a job. I’ll tell you: it’s funny to admit this, but I felt thrilled at the reaction my return got.

Everyone seemed happy to see me, and I felt the object of genuine affection. The return of the prodigal son?

Casey and Mimi, Mick, Phyllis, Ben Popper (the new Communications Division director), and all the others made me feel at home.

At lunch with Casey and Mick and Roy, who told us that his visiting professor gig at Valley College in L.A. last year was a paradise compared to BCC, I heard the usual gripes and complaints.

But I’m not going to let them get to me. BCC will not change until Clinton Hamilton leaves office; until then, he’ll try to run it like the small Christian school he once had under his thumb.

However, I won’t be around to see the changes because I don’t intend to stay at BCC.

At a 2 PM Division meeting, we learned we’re all going to have to take ten hours’ in-service computer and word-processor training which will lead to a certificate.

Good: at least BCC is forward thinking in its technology. The department has a new super-copier (the old mimeo machines are gone), and I’ve got an office (the one Bob and Alan Merickel used to have) with a phone and typewriter – all stuff not available at UM.

Dr. Grasso changed my schedule, taking away the 8 AM MWF class and giving me an 8 AM on Tuesday/Thursday. I have two sections of 102 and three of 101.

On Monday, students previously selected by Dr. Grasso will come into the new sections that I and some part-timers will be taking over. The state has provided an additional $210,000 to reduce class size, and I’m certain I’ll be around in the spring, too, and probably the summer.

After the meeting broke up at 3 PM, I headed to the Pines Center of South Campus to see Patrick. He told me that Betty would have hired me as their new full-time temporary if I hadn’t taken the Central position, but instead she got Greg.

South Campus would have been closer and more convenient, but I’ll be okay at Central, where everyone knows me by now.

It’s funny that Patrick, Bob, Lisa and Dave all applied for jobs at Central for this academic year and I didn’t – and look who ended up teaching there.

I’ll use You Can Write for 101, of course, and a new literature anthology for 102. Would you believe I’m actually looking forward to teaching again? I need the money, of course, but I’m also grateful to be back.

Not very often does one get a second chance in life, so I’ve got to make the most of it.

So, in 1984, I’ll have three years’ full-time teaching experience at BCC, and I guess steady employment looks good on a résumé, even if it doesn’t get me a teaching job elsewhere.

Now that I’ve adjusted to my new apartment and I’m back at my old job, things should settle down. Perhaps chaos isn’t always the best thing.

Sunday, September 18, 1983

2 PM. I’ve just returned from a late lunch at Corky’s and grocery-shopping at Publix. It’s a humid, cloudy afternoon.

I’ll spend the rest of the day doing some cleaning and preparing for my first day of classes tomorrow.

Three weeks ago, I was preparing for my first day at UM – it’s very ironic how everything worked out. As difficult as it will be to start classes in the middle of the semester, I won’t have any problems adjusting to my surroundings at BCC.

And instead of the usual Sunday night jitters, I’m actually looking forward to returning to work.

Look, I’ll hold out as long as I can. As I told Mikey yesterday, I’m too old for the starving artist (or grad student) bit.

Now, $16,000 a year may not be much, but it’s far better than the $6,000 a year as a teaching/research assistant at UM would have got me. I feel optimistic that other sources of money may be coming in, too.

First, there is my guaranteed student loan for $2,000 and the Citibank ALAS loan for $3,000. If UM lets either get through, I intend to take the money and put it into those new CD accounts that become legal when interest rates are deregulated next month.

I might even buy some stock in Florida banks or thrifts which will probably be courted by bigger financial institutions as the barriers to interstate banking fall.

I guess I’m thinking pretty big for a guy with $3,000 in debts and $200 in the bank, but all I need is a couple of thousand to get me started.

There is also the chance that I’ll get one of those $5,000 CCLM/GE fellowships. Next year I’ll know if I got the Guggenheim (although realistically, I have to rate my chances as very slim), and I’ll also apply for grants to the Florida Arts Council (they wrote me that they’ve rescinded Judy Cofer’s award) and the NEA.

I’ve got to start making options for next year, keeping in mind that everything may fall through – just as it did this year.

My two obvious alternatives are to try to stay on at BCC or to move back to New York; any grant would make it much easier to do the latter.

Last night I typed up a new, two-page résumé for academia – but now I plan to apply only for jobs that are in places where I’d like to live.

Last night I slept heavily, waking up at 10 AM. I spent the first three hours of the day reading the various newspapers. I love getting all the information I can.

On Meet the Press, Dr. Boyer, head of the Carnegie Commission, discussed his report on the American high school which stressed higher salaries and lower workloads for teachers and emphasis on English and writing skills.

This may not be such a bad time to be an English teacher, after all. Even on the college level, there are still openings in remedial writing and composition. Forget creative writing and literature.

Oddly, elementary school teachers are now in great demand as the kids of baby boomers start school.

Although I was disappointed by not making USA Today last week, I remain convinced that my weird Presidential candidacy will get me national attention before the election year is over.

I’ve been sending “statements of organization” to the Federal Election Commission every day: Gangsters for Glenn, Hoodlums for Hart, Mobsters for Mondale, Criminals for Cranston, Numismatists for Change, Antarctica Freeze Committee, American Motorists Steering Committee, etc.

Sooner or later these PACs on the FEC printout will catch someone’s eye; I don’t even have to try to publicize them.

This year will be a year of consolidating what gains I’ve made rather than any new accomplishments like last year’s publications and publicity.

After the debacle at UM, my sights are lower – and hopefully, I’ll be less vulnerable to disappointment.

Monday, September 19, 1983

6 PM. After a restless night and my first day back in class at BCC, I feel less exhilarated than I felt five days ago when I learned I was going to get my old job back.

It’s natural, I suppose: I’m back to reality. BCC isn’t where I want to be, but I have to make the best of it.

Facing another year of endless grading, of hassles with difficult students and a conservative administration, and more lectures on process analysis than I care to conjure up, I feel a sense of futility.

I’ll be able to pay my bills – but this year won’t lead anywhere.

I guess now I’m experiencing the kind of disappointment one can only encounter after achieving some long-sought goal.

I’ve had books published, and finally I’ve been noticed by the New York Times Book Review, and I’ve seen that this has meant no fundamental changes in my life.

Ah well, Grayson – but you can feed yourself and now you don’t have to do anyone’s xeroxing but your own.

Last night I got calls from Pete and Teresa, but was so sleepy I had to tell them I’d phone them back another time.

Up early this morning, I drove to BCC and was there by 9 AM.

Having decided to get to my 10 AM class in building 9 early, I discovered – just minutes before the class was scheduled to begin – that I was now teaching a 101 in building 7.

At 11 AM, I had another 101, and Dr. Grasso having once again revamped my schedule, I’ll have another at noon starting Wednesday.

My schedule is no longer so great: three classes in a row on M/W/F and a three-hour break the other days.

The noon hour won’t be free any day, so I’ll have to limit my outside engagements or cancel class for things like the Jewish Book Luncheon.

My students – coming from a hodgepodge of classes, all at different parts of the book, having completed varying assignments, accustomed to their former instructors – were remarkably well-behaved in a difficult situation.

In the 10 AM class is Sharon Feldman, whom I met at Lisa’s on July 4th, but so far I have no repeat students, and indeed, I didn’t find any former students of mine roaming about.

Today was the first totally gloomy, rainy day we’ve had in weeks. Ordinarily I’d have appreciated the change in the weather, but today was a day I needed sunshine.

I’ve given up on USA Today – at least I’d like to, but I know (as with People four years ago), I’ll keep looking and hoping to see my face in their pages.

By 1 PM, I was tired and headachy and very confused – the problems of getting my students from so many different teachers are monumental – and I came home to read the papers, watch TV, and otherwise numb myself.

Michael Ladd may be coming over soon with some information on that shopping center debate among weird Presidential candidates – though now my BCC schedule makes my appearance there problematical.

I feel tired and old and fat and neck-less, but I’m sure a good part of that is just a function of first-day tensions.

Tomorrow I have to be up around 6 AM – in real darkness – if I’m to get to my 8 AM class on time. Groan.

Paul Fericano and I are in touch again. He’s busy with his daughter Kate, now 8 months old, whom he describes in detail – excessive only if you can’t understand what being a father means (a category I fit into neatly).

While Kathy works, Paul is parent and househusband, and he struggles to write. The lack of attention to Commercial Break is very hard for him; the book, his best work, got only two reviews.

Certainly, I’m not the only writer who’s suffered from lack of attention. It comes with the territory.