A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1984





Friday, January 20, 1984

9 PM. Another week over. This one was relatively peaceful in between two whirlwinds. I got enough rest last night to make me as energetic as possible today.

It’s not bad being through teaching at 10:50 AM on Friday, with the whole day ahead of me and no work the next two days.

I do have about fifty papers to grade, but I’ll go through them quickly; there’s no sense picking out every error because the students don’t learn from that anyway.

After my last class, in which we went over Frank O’Connor’s “First Confession,” I walked over to the FIU/FAU computer lab and I wrote up and entered my program, a five-question lesson that would accept exact, vague, and and/or answers.

Last night I went through the PILOT editors’ manual. I find programming an interesting intellectual exercise that seems to have more of a point to it than crossword-puzzle-solving.

But even after this limited exposure to computer programming, I can see that BCC and the whole country are going overboard on using computers in education.

There’s an awful lot they can’t do, and “computer literacy” won’t mean much in a few years when anyone who can read will be able to follow the new software.

As for programming, there’s no need for most people to bother. I drive a car and know very little about how it works, for example. However, if I do decide to write computer-assisted instruction (CAI) materials, programming will be necessary.

After a workout at the gym, I came home to pay some bills and shower; then I picked up last Friday’s videotape at the cable company and went back to Davie to watch it – twice, once with Mom and once with Dad.

I can now look at myself objectively: a big improvement over when I used to run out of the room when my image came on the screen. The show was pretty funny, and I did fine, considering I wasn’t feeling well and was under a lot of stress.

I have fairly good timing, a nice deadpan delivery, and I’m relaxed, spontaneous and able to be silly. However, I’ve got to avoid cuteness (a weakness in my writing as well).

My voice I’m getting used to, and I can’t do much about my lisp or nasality. I sound more New York Jewish than effeminate, though I do seem fey at times.

As for my appearance: well, obviously I’ve got to lose 20 pounds – though I didn’t look fat onscreen. My hair was neat, but I don’t want a blow-dried image, and I’m going to try a new hairstyle now that Pam is no longer at J.T.’s. (Lisa suggested I go to Burdines.)

My face is youthful – I have nice eyes – but the big problem is my neck. That neck fat is incorrigible, and the only solution is lipectomy; exercise just hasn’t worked on that hereditary wattle.

At least my beard helps a little, and I should probably try to let it grow on my neck and under my chin (where I now shave) to see if that can give the illusion of less fat. It may just look worse, though.

Although this all sounds quite narcissistic, it’s actually very cold and calculating. Image is important if you’re going to be photographed and videotaped, and it will be fun to see what I can do with mine.

Hey, these past few years I’ve had extraordinary experience with publicity – and maybe I can learn to improve my style and substance.

Because I might get killed in a car crash tomorrow or get some fatal disease, it will pay to have fun here and now.

What a delight it will be tomorrow morning not to have to be up with the seagulls. But I’ve got a lot of cleaning to do to prepare for Mikey and Amy’s arrival.

I’ve got to remember that this weekend is their time, and I should try to forget my selfishness and make someone else happy for a change.


Sunday, January 22, 1984

3 PM. In Davie – but I’ll be returning to North Miami Beach soon. Mikey and Amy will be back at my apartment by 4:15 PM so Mikey can watch the Super Bowl, an event I care nothing about.

I believe in the laws of compensation that Emerson puts forth in his essay: about every defeat being a blessing, every loss creating a gain. I know it’s Pollyanna stuff, but I have to believe in something.

Recent studies show that victims of accidents, rapes and other violent crimes who blame themselves in part for what happened seem to recover faster than those who feel no responsibility and chalk everything up to the random absurdity of life.

Seeing Mikey and Amy, I also see what I’ve lost. Living alone, away from trendy Manhattan and most of my old friends, I’ve forgotten how normal people socialize and I can’t seem to enjoy what normal people do.

Last night we went to Raffles, a bar and “fun food” (chicken wings, fried cheese, potato skins) place at the 163rd Street Mall; Marc and Adriana hang out there a lot.

It wasn’t that I felt out of place. But I felt annoyed at Mikey and Amy for taking so long to decide what to eat.

I’m used to ordering for myself, and I’ve forgotten those negotiations necessary between two or more people to decide where to go, what to see, what each one likes the other one to wear, etc. Have I become a monster?

Mayor Koch, a lifelong bachelor, has written a book in which he describes with relish how he humiliates and bullies other people and toadies to the more powerful. He is always right; the others, always wrong.

That’s what comes from living alone, I think, even though Koch is an especially arrogant, cowardly and unpleasant man. Could I become that kind of person? I guess I’m lucky I lived with my family for as long as I did.

Seeing Making Love on CBS after dinner reminded me of Sean. Maybe Sean will be a better person for having lived with someone and learned what that’s like. I make fun of the Me Generation, but is anyone out there more Me than I?

Mikey had a bad cough last night, and all I could think about was whether I’d catch it. As if other people’s illnesses were nothing, mine everything. Shit. I feel like such a creep.

I don’t envy what Mikey and Amy share because I don’t want that with anyone. What bothers me is that I don’t envy them. If I felt jealousy or admiration or envy about their relationship, at least I’d be normal.

Hey, I’m notnormal. I’d like to think it has a lot to do with being a writer, but I don’t know. I love solitude and I’ve forgotten how to relate to my friends.

Most of the time I’d prefer being alone to being with others. I’ve become impatient and intolerant. But not unhappy, though.

Today I drove Jonathan to work (his car is being fixed), slept late, worked out, read, listened to music, dreamed of levitating and of the name Belisario (where does that come from?), and I’m as happy as a pig in you-know-what.

Now I feel sleepy again, so I want to sleep. What a creep I am, huh?

I’ve got 25 papers to grade, and I dread that – but at least I’ve already read them through once. I’d rather stay here alone than go back to my apartment and spend time with Mikey and Amy, and I feel so guilty for that.

They are wonderful people, yet I’d rather be by myself. I don’t want to exaggerate this. Right now I do wish I could stop time – or fast-forward it, like videotape – to a week from now, with the New Orleans trip behind me, and me alone in North Miami Beach.

I think I’ll sleep a little and hope Mom and Dad and Marc – uh oh, too late; they’re home now. Goodbye.


Wednesday, January 25, 1984

10 PM in New Orleans. I slept fitfully but fairly well at the motel. In the middle of the night I awoke with a feeling of extreme sadness, but it passed.

The morning was bright and warm, and I went to my parents’ house for breakfast, which I brought with me.

My parents were obviously feeling guilty about last night and both offered to drive me to the airport. I went to Bodyworks at 10 AM and came home tired after a brief but intense negative workout.

At noon, I drove to the airport with Mom, who took my car back to her house; she said they’ll pick me up on Saturday night.

My flight on Northeastern was the first time I had flown since last June, so I was pretty nervous. But breaking the flight up with the stop in St. Petersburg seemed to help, as it made me more accustomed to taking off and landing.

For most of the three hours on the plane, I was fairly relaxed. Indeed, the worst part of the trip was in New Orleans, when we sat on the ground for nearly an hour until we were able to get in at a gate.

Tom was at the airport to meet me. He looks the same. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I was last here in New Orleans.

On the ride back to town, we passed sights that are now familiar on I-10, Carrollton, and St. Charles.

At NOCCA, Tom introduced me to his prize student, Susan Bernofsky, with whom he’s been translating Walser.

We also went in to say hello to Dr. Tews, and to see Ellis Marsalis, who was playing the piano, accompanying with the other musicians in his group.

Tom took about 18 copies of Ellis’s new album (for which he wrote the liner notes) for his brother Ralph.

Although Tom was offered a full-time job at Loyola, it would have meant a substantial pay cut and having to teach mostly freshman comp. He also decided not accept the invitation to apply as headmaster for a local private school.

This year Tom has nine students in the morning and six students in the afternoon.

The New Orleans Teacher of the Year award has gotten him a lot of publicity. In the January issue of New Orleans magazine, he’s listed as one of “84 People to Watch in ’84.” But lately he hasn’t been able to write.

A lot of it is because his two SF novels, his two collections of stories and prose poems, and his book of Walser translations all remain unpublished. He has been getting stories out in little magazines, though.

We talked for hours about teaching and writing and books and literary gossip, though of course Tom is far more knowledgeable than I am about books. I don’t think I’ve read one-tenth of what he has.

I do like the familiar apartment, the books everywhere. And now he has videotapes, as he bought a VCR when his Loyola film course ended a couple of weeks ago.

It’s very good to be away from Broward Community College and to be able to see what a chickenshit place that is; perspective is a wonderful thing. Here in New Orleans, it’s chilly – in the 40°s – but so far I haven’t really felt that cold.

I did speak to Mikey and Amy before I left Florida. They were enjoying the warm and sunny days, and they thanked me for my hospitality.

It really wasn’t that big a deal to let them stay in my apartment, but I’m glad I gave them a chance for privacy and enjoyment of Florida. I’m sure their trip would have been awful had they stayed at her grandmother’s instead.

Alice called, saying she will be at a spa in Tarpon Springs this weekend and in Orlando next weekend but understands why I can’t visit her that far away.

Peter is going to stay in Boston to write until April, and Alice is planning her annual party at Andreas’s studio.

I’m really tired.


Thursday, January 26, 1984

5 PM. It’s a cold, drizzly day in New Orleans.

While last night was quite chilly, the space heater was next to the mattress on the floor, and I was tired enough to sleep well. I awoke at about 6:30 AM. This place is pretty familiar to me, even though it’s been two years since I’ve last been here.

I do associate New Orleans with damp and chilly weather and with the smell of the kerosene in the space heater, and Tom’s bathtub where I have to dunk my head to wash my hair and where the towels go on nails in the wall.

We had breakfast: I went out and bought some cereal at the convenience store, and at 8 AM, we walked over to NOCCA.

At the office, I said hello to Mrs. Basha, the secretary who got me to sign the necessary forms; she said she’d do the “fibbing” on the rest of them, making it seem I’d been here for more days so I could get more money.

The morning class was quiet, and I had a hard time bringing them out, so mostly I rambled on about my own career as an object lesson that they could take as a warning or an inspiration. I found the time went quickly.

Between classes, Tom and I walked home, had lunch and rested up a bit.

The afternoon class is down to six, and Nicole, Tonya, Anna and Rachel are old friends, of course, so I did some other stuff with them, talking about the nature of experimental fiction and other junk.

Anna, who has all my books, asked me to read from Eating at Arby’s and to read “That’s Saul, Folks,” which I did – and that spurred me to thinking and talking.

When class ended an hour ago, I felt really drained, but of course I’ve still got workshops to do tomorrow. And that means I’ve got to spend tonight reading their manuscripts.

Tom has been his usual great self – though he’s so dedicated and concerned, I know that I never could have lived up to his expectations had I taken the job here as his assistant three years ago.

Compared to Tom, I feel like such a literary and cinematic ignoramus – and I amrelatively ignorant about literature and film. (Even Jonathan knows more about film than I do.)

I just got a call from a reporter from the Detroit Newswho said he’ll do a story on my Presidential campaign.

Listening in, Tom thought the interview went well, and the man said he’d send me a press clip. (Tom introduced me to the afternoon class as “the next President of the United States.”)

I have a mild headache and I’m really tired, but otherwise I’m okay. At least I’ve gotten through the first day.

Tom gave me his NOCCA outline and syllabus, which I must give to Dr. Grasso and show to others at BCC; they won’t understand it, so they’ll be really impressed.

Being away from Florida will do me good. Perspective on my career is helpful: I can come to New Orleans and NOCCA and measure my own progress or lack thereof, and I can see BCC in a more realistic light.

So far, January has been a very good start for ’84.


Friday, January 27, 1984

5 PM. Tom and I just got back from an hour’s walk around Audubon Park and past the mental hospital for adolescents.

It’s still chilly for me, but it’s a clear, bright day, and the park runners were out in their shorts. I love Audubon Park with its ducks and oaks and the view of trolleys on St. Charles.

Last evening I read a bit of The Camel’s Back, the SF novel Tom wrote with Mike Presti under the name T. M. Whale. It’s incredibly complex yet accessible and highly entertaining.

Tom showed me an obnoxiously condescending letter from the leading SF agent, who didn’t bother to get past chapter three.

I can see that the failure to get The Camel’s Back or his other SF novel, Corridors, published has really hurt Tom. Now he’s gone back to writing stories which he can get published.

Of course in the last year he’s published two fine stories, and Rick Peabody will be putting “The Enchanted Forest” (in my view Tom’s best work) in Fiction 84.

We went across the street to the Audubon Tavern for hamburgers and Barqs, and I got to bed (or to mattress) at about 11 PM.

During the night I heard a gunshot ring out, then a din of voices, then the sounds of sirens. I don’t know what it was about. But maybe this isn’t unusual in New Orleans.

Mostly I slept very well, though I kept getting up and thinking it was already morning.

However, this house is so damp and drafty, it will be amazing if I don’t come down with a cold. But at least I haven’t gotten sick yesterday or today. It’s a relief to have my day’s work over with.

In the morning class, I read “Rosh Hashona,” “Y/Me” and selections from Arby’s, and then I conducted a workshop in which we went over two stories by first-year students.

We finished at 11 AM, and while Tom was in Dr. Tews’ office, I spoke with Ellis Marsalis, whose great new album, Syndrome, I heard last night.

Ellis always has lots of projects going. We talked about Fort Lauderdale, where he sat in at Bubba’s with his sons Wynton and Branford. He said he’s always busy on some new project and doesn’t have time to read the newspapers.

But Ellis said that Tom did convert him to Robert Walser, whose work he enjoyed a lot. He compared Walser’s stories to Miles Davis’ music.

Tom and I ate at a health food restaurant (he keeps paying for me) and then stopped in at a lovely musty old bookstore whose owner must make absolutely no money but who keeps it going nevertheless.

I waded through the used books, remembering old novels – old friends – I’d read. It made me regret, once more, how much I’ve missed by not reading enough in the past couple of years.

The afternoon class went superbly, but I was working with great material. Nicole Cooley’s story, “Notes for a Story About My Father,” was so rich that it worked on half a dozen levels, and there wasn’t much to criticize so I kept pointing out her brilliance.

Anne Lambert had the germ of a terrific piece, “The Last Dream of Henri Rousseau,” which explained – sort of – how he came to paint The Jungle.

Shelly Anderson’s story was vague but even it had possibilities – many more than any work I’d seen in my creative writing classes at BCC – and Rachel Watts weighed in with a 6-page third-person piece that was truly disturbing and resonant.

I gave it all I had, and both Tom and I – as well as the girls – felt it had been a very successful workshop.

Tonight Eustace, Mike and Jane are supposed to drop by. I’m tired but certainly glad that I did come to New Orleans once again.


Saturday, January 28, 1984

2:30 PM at New Orleans Airport. My plane is scheduled to leave in half an hour, but it hasn’t yet arrived from Las Vegas.

I’m my usual nervous pre-flight self, but I took Triavil, a Bonine, a Dramamine and will gulp down some Emetrol in a while.

Last night Jane and Mike both joined us in taking out sandwiches from the Italian place across the street. We had a good conversation across the kitchen table – about films, books, psychic phenomena, New Orleans, etc.

It was a pleasure to see and speak with Jane and Mike again. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see Eustace, but I spoke to him at length on the phone today. He’s having terrible plumbing problems since his pipes burst during the freeze, and last night he had to take his daughter to a basketball game.

Everyone laughed at the stories of my Presidential campaign, and that made me feel good.

Amazingly, I slept very well last night, and of course I didn’t have to get up that early. Today was a bright, clear, 60° day.

Tom and I went out for a ride, first to Ralph and Emery’s to pick up some videotapes, then to the post office, where I got some New Orleans postcards. I sent them to Teresa, Ronna, Josh and Grandma, as well as one to Sean at his mother’s house; we’ll see if it elicits any response.

We went out to the Museum, which is near the Big Lake in City Park, and that was fun, as was a walk out by the levee afterwards. I recognize where I am in New Orleans a lot more now, and after all these visits, I’ve become very fond of the city.

After lunch, Tom took me here and we hugged goodbye. each thanking the other. I hope to see him in New York in June.

Right now I feel a bit sickish and nervous, but in four hours I’ll be home in Florida (I hope).

*

Midnight in Miami. My flight didn’t take off until 3:25 PM, but we made good time, getting into St. Petersburg by 5:30 PM (an hour later – we were back on Eastern Time) and arriving at Fort Lauderdale an hour after that.

During the flight I was extremely calm and felt only occasional discomfort as we took off. By now, I’m a seasoned air traveler and only vestiges of my neurotic past keep me thinking I’m scared to fly.

Dad picked me up at the airport, and after a quick trip to Davie, I came home, stopping off to fetch my mail and have dinner at McDonald’s.

Mikey and Amy left the apartment pretty clean, but I did have to change the sheets and get my things unpacked.

This will be the first night in over a week that I’ve slept in my own bed, and of course it’s always nice to be home. “Home arrelly,” as I used to say as a kid when we neared East 54th Street and Tilden Avenue.

But I also do love to travel, and I had not been away from Florida since last June.

The trip to New Orleans was a complete success in every respect.

I worked hard, and the students and I enjoyed and learned from each other. I renewed my deep friendship with Tom, whose great love for literature and for teaching inspires me rather than intimidates me.

For the first time in ages, I feel myself burning to write – and to read good writing, not trendy trash or news. To write, I must change my life. (Tom probably hates Rilke, but that passage still works for me.)

I also got to see New Orleans for a fourth time, and I grow fonder of it with each visit. As always, traveling makes me less neurotic, less rigid, less compulsive and obsessive. Even Mikey and Amy’s visit helped.

God, I’ve actually been with friends for the past week, and I’ve shaken up the dull routine. I feel invigorated right now – and very grateful for what really has been a terrific life.

It’s all been sweeter than I had a right to expect. If I die tomorrow, I will have felt I lived a complete life: the adventures I’ve had, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been. This sounds so sloppy, but I do love life.


Sunday, January 29, 1984

7 PM. Tonight President Reagan announces his candidacy for reelection. At least he knows what he’ll be doing for the next four years.

To my mind, his reelection is a forgone, if depressing, conclusion. The only hope I have is for the future; if Reagan really screws up his second term, his policies will be discredited and the ’86 and ’88 elections will be a lot different.

As for me – well, everyone thinks I should be worried about my future. Is it self-delusion or self-confidence that I’m not?

For the next three months I’m secure. I’ve got my job at BCC – and I don’t intend to work any harder than I have to – and my graduate computer class and a few speeches, my usual publicity schticks, some visits from friends, a warm winter, and enough money to pay my bills.

I’m set for May at MacDowell, and after that is a blank. But something will turn up. And it seems silly to worry. What if I die before I have to look for a new job or a new place to live? Then I’ll only have wasted time worrying. No, the thing is to live each day to the fullest.

A new press release of mine was printed verbatim in this week’s Show Business newspaper in New York. It’s a pun-filled exercise about my Devil Broadcasting Company, an alternative to religious programming aimed at sinners and featuring such shows as Satan Place, I Love Lucifer, Surfside 666, and The Vice is Right.

I haven’t lost my old touch for publicity, and I can even operate in places other than politics or education.

My other mail included the usual bills, notes from Robin Hemley and George Myers, and a letter from President A. Hugh Adams of BCC wishing me well in my “new position.”

I wrote a response to Dr. Kay’s letter criticizing me in the Sun-Sentinel and spoke to Patrick and Lisa, both of whom still seem bruised by their experience at BCC-Central nearly a year after leaving.

Lisa’s interview at Miami-Dade Community College-North was “enjoyable . . . they’re so loose,” but she’s sure they really wanted a working journalist for the position.

Patrick will probably be back at BCC-South as a temporary next year, though he’s looking to apply for jobs at Catholic schools in West Broward, where he’ll be moving soon.

I slept late, read the papers, exercised and went shopping today. Deliberately, I left all my school stuff at BCC; I don’t want to face that until tomorrow. This should be a fairly easy week at the college: although I have work to do, it will be routine.

New Orleans really did clear my head. I know I can’t be Tom, and I don’t want to be, but I would like to lead a life that is more literary and less trendy.

Both Tom and I lead fairly monkish lives; we’re basically asocial, asexual, early-to-bed, non-drinking workaholics, but he spends his time with more nourishing material – his books of fiction, his films, his creative writing students at NOCCA – than I do. There’s a big difference between reading USA Today and reading Robert Walser.

Of course, together Tom and I complement each other. I know I can never hope to touch Tom’s expertise in, say, foreign fiction any more than I can touch Pete Cherches on the East Village art scene.

But I would like to be thought of as something more than a publicity-hungry zany humorist. If I were writing seriously – and that means writing funny stuff, too – I probably wouldn’t need all my diversions.

Tom does manage to read the newspaper, after all, even if he doesn’t know who Boy George is. (I discovered that when “Karma Chameleon” was playing in the background at the café we had lunch at on Saturday.)

You can’t know everything, naturally, there being only a limited amount of time.

I wonder how Ronna’s feeling right now, since tomorrow is her surgery. Probably they’ve given her a sleeping pill. If I was in New York, I’d be with her this week, but there’s not much I can do from here. Shit, I hope all goes well tomorrow.

Last night I spoke with Teresa, who told me that Mac on Another World was in a plane crash on Friday. Odd how close we are to fictional characters.

I wonder if any traumas await me at BCC tomorrow. I’ll find out in twelve hours, I guess.


Tuesday, January 31, 1984

8 PM. These Tuesdays are killers. Up at 6 AM, at BCC by 7:30 AM, I taught a rather comatose class from 8 AM to 9:30 AM.

Then I went to the dentist for a checkup and the usual dire warnings about my gums, which must be the worst of that species on the continent.

Back at school at 10:30 AM, I hurriedly xeroxed materials I needed for the 11 AM class lesson. After that class ended, I grabbed lunch and went to the computer lab.

It was quite frustrating because for 90 minutes, I couldn’t get my program to work properly. (Later I discovered that Mary Alice, our teacher, had loused up a command. She’s not all that much ahead of us students in her knowledge of PILOT, and computer languages are so unforgiving.)

I felt so exhausted that I just didn’t feel like teaching at 2 PM, yet miracle of miracles, even teaching the essay format revived and even stirred me, and after class, I was feeling “up” again.

After catching the end of the English Department meeting, I went back to my office, where I returned a message from Scott Eyman (?) of Sunshine, the new Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel Sunday magazine.

Scott is new in town, has read about me, and wants to come to school at noon tomorrow to talk to me.

I had been looking forward to getting things done tomorrow, but what can I do? “Those who live by the media, die by the media.” Or at least they have to give a lot of interviews.

I rushed to computer class, which was fun in a way, and didn’t get out till 7 PM. After putting my diskettes in my office, I decided that 11½ hours of school was enough.

When I got home, the first thing I did was call Ronna at the hospital. She sounded hoarse and weak, and she said she was in pain but very glad her surgery was finally over.

The tumor was benign, thank God, and they did not have to remove the ovary along with it. I didn’t want to keep her long because she was tired, and Jordan, Lori, and Cara were with her to keep her company.

I’m very relieved. In many ways I still love Ronna the way I used to; I only wish I could be more help to her, but I’m too far away to do much now.

I then called Mom, not aware that she and Dad had been working the menswear show at the Merchandise Mart (where Adriana works) for the past three days.

The good news is that business was better than last year – this has been the first good year since they were doing fantastic business in January 1981.

Well, this has been one hell of a January for me: The new term. People Magazine. “Legislators in Love.” New Orleans. Mikey and Amy’s visit.

If I died tonight, I would have had a far richer life than I could ever have hoped for. All the rest is truly lagniappe. TC mark

Article originally posted by Thought Catalog.

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