September 20, 2016

A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1979

Report This Article
What is the issue?

late-september-1979

Thursday, September 20, 1979

10 PM. I’m exhausted. It’s one thing after another. Today the battery from my car was stolen, and it cost me over $70 and no little aggravation. I had been looking forward to a relaxing afternoon, too.

When I awoke this morning, I discovered it was freezing: about 45°. I couldn’t find a parking space near Brooklyn College (why didn’t I take the D train as I had planned?), so I drove up Flatbush Avenue, intending to drive into Manhattan.

flatbush-ave-south-of-easternBut on the side of the library at Grand Army Plaza, I found I could park, so I decided to save the money I’d pay for the parking lot and take the subway into Manhattan.

My class at the School of Visual Arts went well, as did my meeting with Dorothy Wolfberg afterwards. She’s considering giving me another class for the spring semester.

I went into the subway at 11 AM, and after waiting twenty minutes, I was told that because of a subway fire, we were to go to another stop with free passes. What a hassle.

At the Division of Jurors, I found it took a very short time; they have me excused for a year. From the City Hall area, I went over to Josh’s and found him and Avis eating breakfast with Simon and Lynn.

1980-bk-heights-henry-stBecause Josh is so unhappy at Hunter, he’s been considering quitting. He may tell them he has hepatitis and try to get courses at NYCCC or another school. Hunter is very snobbish, and Josh feels the students are so good, he can’t teach them anything; he’s used to the illiterate NYCCC students.

Avis was looking through the Voice for jobs, and she found one at Baruch, tutoring English for $8 an hour. After Josh left to teach his class at Pace, Avis and I took the train to Grand Army Plaza.

We found my car’s hood open and the battery gone. I felt heartsick. Resisting an impulse to say, “Everything happens to me,” I walked into the library and called Jonny.

1973-comet-engine“My battery was stolen,” I said.

“What?!” Jonny screamed. (Somehow, when you’re calmly telling someone bad news and they overreact, it makes you furious.) I told him to drive down to meet us.

Meanwhile, I called the AAA, who called the nearest station, who called me back and said a tow truck would be down within the hour. I was not hysterical at all, but I was very disgusted. “Are you sure you want to stay in New York?” I asked Avis when I got back to the car.

Another guy behind me had his battery stolen, too – apparently a whole line of cars parked there did – and he said to me, “How can you be so calm about it?”

tow-truck“What should I do?” I asked him. “Jump up and down and tear my hair out?” He was a real asshole, but he made me feel as if I was handling the situation like a trouper.

Finally the tow came; we followed him to their station at Utica and Lenox, where they installed a new battery, and I paid the $70 (Jonny brought money from home).

It was unreal. As I told Avis, it was as though we had landed in some parallel universe, or another dimension. “You should get rid of the car,” she said.

towing“I know,” I said. “Maybe I should get an apartment with you in the Heights.” Avis seemed enthusiastic about the idea; in fact, I think she was hoping I would suggest it.

After dropping her off, I tried to relax, but people kept calling: Vito (who, after asking me all sorts of questions about Joey, told me that Avis and I would ruin our friendship by living together); the reporter from the Montreal paper (I wasn’t in a very funny mood for him); others.

At 6:30 PM, Avis picked me up, and over dinner at the New China Inn, we had one of our great talks, as in the old days. I wonder if we could live together, Avis and I.

new-china-innThere are many problems: Kingsborough is very hard to get to without a car, and Tuesdays it would be impossible to get there from my class at SVA in an hour.

Could Avis and I get along? Could we afford the Heights? These are questions I have to discuss with Dr. Pasquale tomorrow. There are other problems, too.

Mom came home tonight, saying that things are not going well in Florida and Dad is a nervous wreck. Everything stinks.


Friday, September 21, 1979

rosh-hashona9 PM. Rosh Hashanah again. Ten years ago, it also fell on a weekend. That was the weekend before I started college, when I went to Washington Square and had an adventure. One year ago I met Wes, and he told me he wanted to publish my book.

Despite my final words in yesterday’s entry – “Everything stinks” – I have to say that this has been the most exciting and productive and satisfying year of my life.

Now, of course, I feel very confused. I talked about this with Dr. Pasquale late this afternoon. I feel anger and resentment toward my parents for “abandoning” me and moving to Florida.

I don’t know where I’m going to live, whether I’ll live with Avis, how I’m going to manage financially and emotionally. I don’t know what to do about my car. I don’t know whether I want to keep teaching or to try something dr-pasquale-bldgelse that might prove more satisfying.

Almost nothing seems certain, but I don’t feel as suicidal and hopeless as I did last night. (I began to write “hopeful” by mistake: a positive Freudian slip.)

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I said to Dr. Pasquale, “but I’ve got a hunch it’s going to be good.”

He told me I have to work on feeling good “intra-psychically.” Of all the patients he sees, Dr. Pasquale said, I have by far the best coping skills and resources to control my life.

coping-book“That makes me feel good,” I said.

He said he didn’t say it to make me feel good but because it was true. Of course, he went on, many people confuse coping in life with feeling good inside: being super-successful doesn’t make one happier.

Still, it is good to see that in reality I am anything but helpless: I’ve made things happen, and I am a do-er.

Right now I feel relaxed after the calmest day I’ve had all week.

Last night I slept well, dreaming of making love to Laurel Rossellini, one of my SVA students, a very pretty blonde who’s a rock star groupie.

sba-dollarThis morning I had a scene with Mom. Just when I was telling her how upset I was about my finances, she had the insensitivity to ask to borrow $35. I became incensed and hit my fist against the door, scraping my knuckles badly.

It was rainy, and I like rainy Fridays. School was easy because I just had my students write; of course now I have fifty illiterate essays to grade this weekend – but not tonight.

Even though I’m good at teaching and I know that it’s important, I can’t say I enjoy it. It satisfies one part of me – the organizer, the compulsive cleaner-upper – but it lacks any kind of creativity and delight. Too much discipline makes me feel straitjacketed.

publicityThat’s why I was so excited by the reply the publicity agent Richard O’Brien (Publicity: How to Get It) sent me. “What a great letter!” he wrote, after I thanked him for helping me. It turned out that he’d seen the Voice, Times, News and Post stories and been intrigued.

He told me to send my stuff to Lorne Michaels, the producer of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, using his name: “He’s probably looking for writers now, and I’ve got a hunch you’re the type he’s after.”

O’Brien suggested I “assault” Michaels “relentlessly,” and so this afternoon I sent him nine packages and letter containing material that might interest him.

Writing for TV would seem like a dream come true (at least now: after doing it a few years, I’m sure, like everything else, it becomes routine and you snl-bowiebecome jaded).

Mark Sherman called and said he’d supply campaign posters for me, and I said I’d come up to his studio on Monday afternoon to take more pictures for the Enquirer. The publicity is worth it, I guess.

I spent a happy evening writing letters.


Monday, September 24, 1979

5 PM. It’s another beautiful day. For some reason, I have enormous energy today. One thing I’m glad about: I don’t feel oppressed by too much work.

I’ve made a schedule for my Kingsborough students: on Mondays and Wednesdays we’ll do grammar, on Tuesdays we’ll work from the reader, and on Friday’s they’ll write in class, thus giving me the weekend to mark papers.

kcc-campus-marquee-bwAs this past weekend demonstrated, I can handle sixty papers a weekend without too much hassle. This morning I lolled in bed until I got sick of lolling, arrived at Kingsborough just before my class, checked my mailbox, taught the two courses, and boom, I was home again.

I don’t want teaching to be much more complicated than that. I let my students off easily, and they don’t put much pressure on me. As I see my job, it’s to get them to pass the placement exam so they can take regular English classes.

battery-tunnel-exitAt home, I changed clothes and then drove into Manhattan. Just outside the tunnel, I heard a voice in the next car call out my name. It was Sharon from Brooklyn College: she looked older and was not with her husband.

We had conversations at various red lights along Church Street; she’s been excessed from her teaching job and is working on a screenplay. Sharon knew about my book and my Vice Presidential candidacy from Mikey.

I parked on Seventh and 19th Street, just outside Mark Sherman’s new studio. When I arrived, he was working on signs. One said GRAYSON FOR VICE PRESIDENT; the other added the words CHARO FOR H.U.D. (How like the Enquirer to pick up on my offhand remark about putting one of our seventh-ave-signsmore vapid celebrities in the cabinet.)

Outside on Seventh Avenue, he took pictures of me, holding the sign, looking proud, feeling silly, making the victory sign, waving to passersby and oncoming cars.

It didn’t take long before the ham in me took over and I was enjoying myself immensely. I’ve always said silliness is a kind of genius, and what do I care if I look undignified? Does Woody Allen look dignified? Does Steve Martin? Does Robin Williams?

(New joke for my campaign: Other candidates may be against nuclear power, but I’m against the nuclear family. I want to replace it with the solar family, which consists of just one sun/son. Awful?)

elvisdrugsI felt incredibly energized after the Enquirer photo shoot on the street, and I also felt very sexual. I know I looked good: my hair looked nice, my face is clear, my body’s not bad, and finally now, at 28, when I wear an open shirt, you can see the hair on my chest.

There had been a message from Ronna waiting when I got home from Kingsborough, so I decided to go over to her house. Her mother said she had gone to the library.

This morning Ronna had an appointment for a newspaper job in Connecticut, but she overslept and missed her train. Mrs. C said that was the second time that’s happened. “If she’s going to be a reporter,” she said, “she’ll miss all the stories.”

Ronna must have been upset by the morning’s events, and that’s why she called me. I want to help her. But I felt a little guilty because part of me went over to her house because I was feeling horny.

canarsie-shulI know Jordan was probably in for Rosh Hashanah over the weekend, or will be in next week for Yom Kippur, but that doesn’t matter to me. Mrs. C said that her parents stayed over for the holiday weekend, and they all went to the synagogue a few doors down.

Pete Cherches got a course at NYCCC. They must have really been desperate, for they called him on Saturday. He says that after his unpleasant year at Columbia, he enjoys the MFA program at Brooklyn so far and that Baumbach gives him a ride home.

Teresa and I chatted for an hour. “You’d be crazy to live with Avis,” she said. I wonder why Avis hasn’t called me in five days. But then again, I have not called her.


Tuesday, September 25, 1979

coda-19807 PM. When I have a writing problem, I retreat to the safety and comfort of my diary. Debby Mayer of Poets & Writers asked me to do a piece for Coda on “The Poet (and Writer) as Publicist.”

I had suggest they do an article about it, and I expected just to be interviewed about my experiences, but Debby said she wanted me to write the piece – for $75, and a kill fee half that. I told her I’d have it within two weeks. She wants a 1,000-word personal essay and sees it as one page in the magazine, with my photo.

I desperately – no, forget that word – I really want that publicity, too. Also, I enjoy being given an assignment. It’s just that I’ve discarded a dozen first paragraphs already: the old How to Begin problem.

Still, if I keep this article in my mind for the next few days, the article will eventually write itself out; I’ll solve the problems.

brenda-starrLast night Ronna called. She’s seriously thinking of abandoning her dream of becoming a reporter. For years she’s been talking about it, and I always thought it was unrealistic.

So she’ll look for a job in magazines; she has experience and will probably find something in New York. But first she’ll try to go on a few interviews in Massachusetts. She’s also thinking of moving to Boston, in part, I suppose, because Jordan is there.

Susan and Evan will be getting married in a few weeks. They’ve signed some ridiculous agreement where Susan said she would live around this part of Brooklyn if Evan promised to buy her an engagement ring and a Cuisinart and agreed to drive her to the subway every day.

modern-bride-nov-79Ronna is going to Alison and Steve’s wedding in Michigan this weekend. She says Alison’s marriage is the beginning of the end of that friendship.

I bet you anything Ronna will be married to Jordan this time next year; her friends are getting married, and Ronna’s got nothing else to do. These women!

This afternoon I spoke to Avis, who has been going back and forth the last few days. Whenever she asks Josh if he wants her to stay in New York, Josh says, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

Last night Josh told me to “counsel” Avis, but he didn’t really say how he felt about her staying or leaving. After I spoke to her this afternoon, she called him and demanded to talk things over. So tonight they’re talking.

midtown-crowdAvis went all over the city and realized she can’t earn a living doing what she wants to do. One agency said she could do great working in German firms, but Avis said, “I’m not going to become one of those women with painted faces and nails who rides in tubes in the ground.”

(When I repeated this remark to Teresa, she said, “Sometimes I hate Avis.”)

Meanwhile, Libby is in even worse shape. She and this guy Daniel have become real tight; today they were looking at houses in Park Slope.

Libby, Avis says, is torn between Grant and Daniel, between California and New York. (Between two deals, trying to figure out which is the better deal? Oh, Ricwo-hophie, that’s nasty. But I just don’t get these women, surrendering their lives to men.)

On Saturday night, Avis, Libby and Josh had dinner with Jacob and Rita. Libby was all excited because Mason and his new girlfriend Irene were supposed to join them – but Mason never showed up at the restaurant.

Later, on the phone, Mason told Libby that he’d gone back upstate late Saturday. So he was quite embarrassed when he ran into Josh and Avis on Sunday morning at the Cortlandt Street subway station.

They were going to meet Libby – all of them were going to the anti-nuclear power rally at the Battery Park City landfill – and so Mason waited till Josh and Avis left no-nukesso as not to bump into Libby there.

Ronna said she ran into Mara at New York Is Book Country and that Mara gave her and Susan nasty looks.

I think everyone is insane. My God! I’m a mess, yet I feel like Mr. Together compared to these people. Nobody knows what he/she is doing, where he/she is going, whether he/she is preferable to he or they.

At least I taught three classes at two schools today: dat’s sumpin.


Friday, September 28, 1979

8 PM. This month has been one of the most difficult and stressful of my life. Bam! Bam! Bam! It’s been one thing happening and then another.

dr-robbinsYesterday Mom drove me to Dr. Robbins’, where I waited for 2½ hours before he took me. He was his usual Mr. One-Liner self, and I joked with him as he worked on me and this other guy.

The two of us, shirtless, were strapped to machines which worked us over, and I told Dr. Robbins it seemed like something out of a West Street backroom bar.

“You mean like The Ramrod?” he said. “Nah, my S&M stuff is better than theirs.”

An electric massage kneaded the muscles of my neck, and then a traction-pulley worked on it. Dr. Robbins gave it two swift cracks, and I felt a lot better. It seems I sprained my neck. How?

ramrod“By a squeeze, a cough, a turn the wrong way,” the chiropractor said. “Anything can do it.” He told me to wrap a towel around my neck for support, and I slept with it on last night and have it on now.

Last night I really felt low. Not only was my neck hurting me, but I was coming down with a cold. Everyone has a cold now, but still, I felt I didn’t need the extra burden.

I slept for a long time, very heavily, but I needed the rest. Deciding I’d feel worse if I stayed home, I went to school today. In the morning, I went to two banks, arriving at Kingsborough ten minutes late because of construction on the Belt Parkway.

el-grecoWith my first class, I did an impromptu lesson and had the second class write essays on capital punishment. Feeling pleased with myself for living up to my obligations, I treated myself to lunch at El Greco Diner.

Ronna dropped by the house to give me some stories Cara had sent from London. Ronna looked very well, and she said that yesterday she was offered a job with the paper in Norwalk, Connecticut – as a proofreader at first, but she’ll be promoted to reporter in a few months.

The offer is contingent on the person who now has the job leaving for a new position, so Ronna’s not all that excited by it.

supertrampWhen I saw Dr. Pasquale, I began by telling him of all the rotten things that have happened to me: my sprained neck, the stolen battery, destroying my contact lens, and then I suggested that these “crises” – all of which happened on Thursdays, the “lightest” of my days – were ways of testing myself.

Moreover, I’ve been talking to Dr. Pasquale about other issues while neglecting the issue that’s most important: Moving Out. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it and doing anything about it.

clockTime is running out. I have to be out of the house by November 1, just four weeks away. There are many feelings rising up as I begin to contemplate leaving this house: Anger. Fear. Resentment. Rage. Most of all, a sense of loss.

I also dread the separation anxiety and depressed feelings I know I’m going to have. Dr. Pasquale termed the latter “a secondary anxiety,” but admitted that it is as real as the quite natural feelings I’m having.

“Anyone in your position who didn’t feel traumatized must have had a lobotomy,” Dr. Pasquale told me. (Funny: Dr. Robbins said that my neck sprain was caused by “trauma.”)

ad-superman-1979The common theme running through many of our therapy sessions is the disparity between my ego ideal and my self-image. I want to be Superman, I see myself as a Super-mess, and neither is reality.

Logically, I know that I’ll be out of here and in a new apartment in a month. But psychologically, it seems like an overwhelming impossibility. Though it will cause me more than a little pain – a pain in the neck? – I will get through this next month.


Saturday, September 29, 1979

2 PM. I’m feeling surprisingly good. I still think of myself, as I told Dr. Pasquale, as the mixed-up kid I was ten years ago. I’ve got to realize that while I’ve been trying to become an adult all these years, I may be closer to my goal than I think.

adulthoodPerhaps I am an adult already, though I do not feel like one. I wonder how an outside observer would see me. Now, with my neck aching, lines on my face, I feel like an old man.

Yet this morning, when I went to sign up with a local real estate agent, he and his wife could not believe I was 28. In fact, a teenage neighbor called the couple’s daughter to say that “a cute-looking boy” had just walked into her house, and the girl, about 17, came down to get a look at me.

Dr. Pasquale says he believes that I’m a “reliable witness” because I describe my dealings with other people objectively. I wonder what someone reading this diary would think of me.

1979-diaryI am, first and foremost, a narcissist. This diary, my fiction, my therapy, and my relationships all seem predicated on a kind of self-worship. This disturbs me. Oh, I don’t know: I’m always looking over my shoulder at posterity when posterity couldn’t care less.

If I were to die today, what would happen? My friends would be sad, my family would be heartbroken, there might even be some notice in the papers (particularly if I died violently). Someone would say that I had been a remarkable person, I’m sure.

Why do I think about such things? This is embarrassing: if I were reading this in someone else’s diary, I’d be very turned off.

“What does moving out mean to you?” Dr. Pasquale asked me.

1979-diary-page“The end of my adolescence,” I told him. But I am an adolescent. Remember when my goal was becoming a mensch? I keep trying, and most often failing, to live up to that ideal.

No one is harder on myself than I am. I’m still a fascist perfectionist and I never do well enough to satisfy the dictator in me.

Last night I read Richard Price’s Ladies’ Man. Because am envious of Price’s success, perhaps I’m not an objective judge, but I think some of his writing – though brilliant – is phony. I can’t relate to his rock-and-roll, street-punk characters, and I wonder why he doesn’t write about thoughtful, sensitive 1970s people.

Also, is iladies-mant me, or is he running away from the gayness in his work? Not that I’m innocent of that – it takes one to know one – but Price is so much more enormously talented than I am. I’d like to see him tackle something truer.

Now I feel as though I’ve been taking cheap shots; deep down, part of me feels that Richard Price is a writer and I am just a phony.

Teresa called, wanting to talk about some hassles at her job. Like me and Alice, Teresa is a do-er, a good person with ideas.

Also this morning, Mikey called. He had a bad week, getting turned down for two jobs, and then he numbed himself by getting drunk. I told him to rubyfruit-junglepersevere and not lose hope.

I’d written Rita Mae Brown about her reviewing Hitler for the Washington Post Book World and today got a letter from her saying that the Post had a policy against reviewing “small press” publications. It was a condescending “keep writing and someday you too can join the major leagues” letter. Apparently she doesn’t know Taplinger is a commercial New York publisher that’s had some best sellers.

This afternoon I applied for a teaching job in North Carolina and submitted half a dozen stories to magazines. TC mark

Read This