Sunday, December 23, 1979
9 PM. My bags are packed. This time tomorrow I should be about to land in Florida. It’s very strange; it feels as though I’m leaving home and going home at the same time.
Last night I fell asleep very early and this morning I woke up very late. My dreams were strange. I have anxieties about the flight and I don’t quite know what to expect in Florida.
Dr. Pasquale thinks my trip will be “heuristic,” and in a way I believe that, too. It’s fraught with psychological implications. But this sounds boring, doesn’t it?
Let me write about reality. It’s hot in the apartment; I was warm and sweaty all night. This morning on the boardwalk, it was gorgeous: sunny, mild and bright, a hint of how nice Rockaway will become in the springtime. It also made me want to experience the mild weather in Florida.
An airplane is taking off now, and another; I hear them day and night. From my window I can watch them going by every minute or less, and of course there are the daily roars of the Concorde flights coming in and out.
Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane. I’m so used to having anxiety attacks on planes that I’ll have to unlearn my conditioned fears. Let’s hope I will.
At the worst, it will be three hours of sheer panic, and then I can collapse into my parents’ waiting arms. Not going to Florida now would be a lot worse than going. I have little to keep me here: just my friends, really.
This morning I drove into Manhattan to see Alice. Peter was still in a bathrobe, writing in bed. Alice made me lunch and then we went to an Italian café where we had chocolate cake and she had cappuccino and I had jasmine tea.
(Planes keep landing and taking off.)
We gossiped and made small talk and fantasized about our careers and discussed the present reality of our careers. Alice gave me a present for my parents and told me to call her collect at Seventeen.
I wonder if she’ll take the job at Fairchild Publications. Like the soap opera watcher I am, I wonder what the next year will bring for my friends. Will Avis and Simon find happiness together? They certainly seem to be doing that.
Last night I spoke to Josh, who said he feels a sense of relief now that Avis is seeing Simon: it’s taken away much of his (in my view, unnecessary) guilt about “abandoning” Avis. But it’s also made things awkward between him and Simon, who’s probably his best friend.
The three of them can’t do things together, Josh said. When I replied that it also makes it awkward for me to do things with both him and Avis, Josh said, “But you’re a recluse anyway.”
Josh thinks Simon is very much in love with Avis; Simon has been lonely and “he always plunges into relationships head first.” I think Avis is less vulnerable than Simon; she’s told me that there are things she could say which would hurt him.
Simon told Josh that when he sees Avis, Josh’s name never comes up, but that Simon suspects Avis has hard feelings – which she does. I called her tonight to say goodbye.
Avis said she spent last night with Simon and this morning she went ice skating with Jacob and Rita, who are back together – for a while, anyway.
Also last night, I called Mrs. Judson to wish her and Wayne a happy holiday. I’ve said goodbye to just about everyone else: Elihu, Gary, Pete, Vito. Life in New York will go on without me. I’ll be glad to be away from careerism and silly publicity and snow and thermal underwear and cockroaches and my car and worries about money.
For a little while, anyway, I want to be taken care of; I want to have time to read something more than the daily papers. I don’t know if I’ll find anything in Florida, but I’m going to look hard. What a weird way to end the decade!
Tuesday, December 25, 1979
9 PM on Christmas Day. After 24 hours in Florida, I’m a little more tan and a lot more relaxed. I had trouble falling asleep, as I kept dreaming – or visualizing – my plane landing towards the lights of Florida.
But about 2 AM, I dropped off to sleep and my dreams were resonant, though I can’t remember them. At first when I got up, I felt a bit panicky because I didn’t know where I was.
I went into the bathroom to shower and shave. Why is it that you can never tell how to work modern faucets? They used to be so simple.
Jonny awoke in a bad mood and slammed doors all day; he locked himself in his room. I thought he might resent my being here, but Mom and Dad say he gets into these moods.
I just don’t react. I feel I’m a guest here and this isn’t my home and I have no right (or desire) to intrude into family matters.
It was great to be able to wear shorts and sneakers and to walk around in the development. Because so few of the townhouses are occupied, it gives the place an unreal air.
The architecture is Spanish modern. Everything is stark white stucco and very clean. There’s a canal outside – supposedly it contains alligators – which separates University Village from the next development.
After breakfast Dad took me for a drive up University Drive. Davie is not very built-up yet, but according to Dad, stores and restaurants and developments pop up practically overnight here.
There is shopping center after shopping center, fast food place on top of fast food place, condominium village next to condominium village. We drove up to Plantation and Sunrise, which are more populated (and more Jewish) than Davie.
Davie is cowboy country: there are lots of cows and horses grazing not far from here. The town hall looks like a Hollywood (California) Western stage set, with hitching posts and a statue of a horse, the town symbol.
Broward Community College is nearby: a huge campus filled with modern buildings. The newness of everything is startling. Most of what we saw today did not exist five years ago.
In the afternoon I sat out by the pool and got a touch of color. It was breezy and clear, about 73°.
Mom and Dad seem to enjoy it here, but Dad is having problems making money. He’s going to work at a clothing store at the Hollywood Fashion Mall for $5 an hour.
This evening, Mom and Dad took me out to dinner, but the restaurant we drove to, in Hollywood, was closed, and then we had a hard time finding another open restaurant on Christmas.
Finally we found an open place, called Always, across from Sunrise Lakes, where Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney, Arlyne’s mother, and Dad’s Uncle Daniel and Aunt Anne live. Dad said Always opened just a few weeks ago.
I’m a little confused by the geography of this area and would like to look at a map before I drove around. My parents have the junky station wagon and Marc’s Camaro.
Some random observations: Down here, the TV newscasters seem like amateurs compared with those in New York. And along with the local forecast, the weather people give “low temperatures for selected cities” and they seem to take sadistic pleasure announcing Northern snowstorms. The weather here does seem perfect, but of course, I haven’t been here in August.
Mom and Dad have all these ultramodern devices around the house: a trash compactor, a sink that eats up unused food (and fingers, if you’re not careful, Mom says), a vacuum system, and built-in intercoms.
The water is owned by a private company and Mom says it’s not fit to drink. There’s a solar heater on the roof.
The people in this place aren’t at all friendly; nobody talked to anyone else at the pool, which people rarely use anyway. Palm trees make me feel warmer, even if it isn’t: why is that?
Wednesday, December 26, 1979
5 PM. I just noticed how worn this old diary is getting. Only six more days to go anyway.
Last night I slept very soundly for twelve hours. Maybe I need more rest than I thought I did. Still, I wonder how I can stay here another three weeks without going crazy. I keep calling this room “the guest room” and my parents keep calling it my room.
This morning I went with Dad as he drove to several stores to pick up checks. He’s not doing very well, I gather. To tell you the truth, I don’t really want to hear about it.
I took a notebook and jotted down some of my impressions of Broward Country: the fast food places, the endless stretches of shopping centers, the road construction.
But I’m kidding myself: I’m no John McPhee and can’t really get to the essence of this part of Florida. I do have one idea as to what the problem may be: too much leisure time. At least that’s the Graysons’ problem, and I think it’s also true of most people here.
All the shopping malls and swimming pools and tennis courts can’t occupy enough time. Everything here is so artificial; nothing has existed long enough to have character.
Sure, I loved lying by the pool this afternoon, but I don’t have the patience to do that every day. I am getting some reading done, but I miss my apartment and my mail and my friends and the New York papers and TV news.
Everyone here but me has a cold. Jonny hasn’t spoken two sentences to me and spends most of the day in his room with music, TV, and his weights.
This place is almost paradise in its climate, cleanliness and newness, but something about it seems wrong. Maybe it’s what I said before about “character.”
Unlike in New York, the people here don’t seem very friendly. This whole development is so quiet and no one talks to you by the pool. There’s no sense of community here. Perhaps it’s just too new.
But it’s a mindless kind of America. Broward Community College looks beautiful, but I wonder if any intellectuals can develop in this climate. Do I sound like a crank?
As I look out the glass doors in this room, past the screened-in terrace, I see futuristic empty buildings. There’s no sign of life here. I wonder: Does this mean I may not want to leave New York City? Could I survive – scratch that word, substitute thrive – in an intellectually desolate place?
As usual, I’m on the verge of making decisions about my future. I don’t seem to be able to write. Hell, I don’t think I want to write anymore. Of course this happens just as I finally become a writer in everyone’s eyes.
I don’t know. I’m full of so many questions. Remember ten years ago, that neurotic 18-year-old college freshman who spent Christmas in Miami Beach?
Ten years later, I’ve become an adult, written and published many stories and a book, made dozens of friends, received three degrees, learned to live on my own, had a number of interesting adventures – at least they’re interesting to me – and become something of a public figure.
I’ve achieved everything I could have dreamed of ten years ago, lying on the beach by the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, not even finished with my first term at Brooklyn College.
Yet sometimes I feel I’ve done nothing and am just as confused at 28 as I was at 18. Or is this what it’s all about?
Thursday, December 27, 1979
5 PM. Last night I realized how much my Rockaway apartment has become my home and how used to living on my own I’ve become.
Mom came into the room and told me to get a newspaper off the floor because it would come off on the light beige carpet. I felt resentful, and I remembered how I had to put up with Mom’s ways when I lived in Brooklyn.
In Rockaway I’ve had the freedom to do anything I want. When I explained this to my parents, Dad said he understood because the weeks he spent here alone were “the best and the worst” of his life. Although he was extremely lonely, he had total freedom to go where he pleased and do whatever he felt like.
My parents are trying to make me feel at home here, but Florida is not my home and never will be. Right now I feel rather isolated and dependent upon my parents because a car is necessary to go anywhere, and I don’t have a car.
So I can’t really be on my own. And it seems strange when Mom and Dad say they want to “spend time” with me; we never “spent time” together in Brooklyn.
Dad is very nervous, Jonny’s reclusive and moody, and Mom keeps trying to baby me. Today we went to North Miami Beach to take Grandma Sylvia to the nursing home.
I remembered the condominium from my stay there in 1972. Grandma Sylvia greeted me warmly, but she wouldn’t kiss me; I think she thought I had a cold. She looked old and sick, and in the car she babbled on like a senile person. Her apartment smelled of urine.
Of course, I expected worse at the nursing home. Grandpa Nat looks totally different: softer, older, and like a person who cannot think. He was wearing a shirt buttoned wrong and jeans without a zipper (he breaks them). He walks haltingly and only with someone’s help.
Grandma Sylvia hadn’t been to see him since she got sick, but he didn’t seem to know the difference. She insisted on getting him ice cream; Dad said that by doing that, she feels as though she’s doing something for him.
We sat at a table in the recreation room. Grandpa Nat knew Grandma Sylvia and Dad, and finally Mom, but it was a long time before he realized who I was. At one point, for some reason he thought I was crying, and said, “What are you, a crybaby?”
I asked Grandpa Nat how he liked the nursing home; mostly he just repeats whatever you say, but this time he said to me: “I like life . . . your face, your eyes . . .”
Grandma Sylvia stuffs ice cream, bananas and candy into his mouth and keeps telling him he’s got to think and remember and get well so he can go home. She still believes what she wants to believe, that with therapy Grandpa Nat can improve.
But the brain damage is irreversible. There are moments when things become clear for him, however. When Dad and I took him out to the solarium, he finally realized who I was and asked what I did for a living.
I told him I was a teacher at Brooklyn College and wrote books, and he seemed proud. Dad said my name is in all the New York papers. “I’m 28,” I said.
“You look younger – like 22,” he said, and he grabbed my hand and began kissing it hungrily, the way he did with the hands of Grandma Sylvia, Dad and Mom later.
Walking through the halls of the home, seeing what becomes of people in their eighties and nineties, Mom shuddered and said she doesn’t want that to happen to her.
Just as I was not scared to go to my first wake a week ago, I was not upset by seeing senile and sick old people at the nursing home today. I am not frightened of death and its inevitable progress; I believe in confronting it and always have. It seems to make life richer when I see the finality of it all.
Jonny, Dad says, is afraid to visit Grandpa Nat at the nursing home and has never gone. But it can’t be any worse in reality than it is in Jonny’s imagination.
After seeing the Men’s Shelter in the Bowery last week, I don’t imagine there’s much that could shock me. I’m not boasting. What I’m trying to say is that seeing these things helps me to attempt to understand what life is about.
Saturday, December 29, 1979
3 PM. My cold has blossomed, and I’m feeling lousy. I hate being sick, and today I was pretty short with everyone in the house. I told Mom it was her fault for kissing me while she was sick. Still, I suppose I’d rather be sick here than in cold New York.
Last night I didn’t go out to dinner with my parents and Jonny. They were hurt, I know, but I was much happier to make myself soup and a sandwich and then to watch TV. I didn’t sleep well because the mucus dripping down my throat was driving me crazy.
Dad went to work today, at a store at Hollywood’s Fashion Mall, where he’s being paid only $5 an hour. He must be desperate for money if he’s got to take a job for that salary. I see he can’t live on commissions, and none of his lines are selling well. I wonder if he’s sorry he moved down here. What a mess.
I called Grandpa Herb last night. He hasn’t been feeling well and is going for tests on his stomach. He said he found little mail for me: an electric bill, a form for me to fill out from Touro College, and a book Alice sent from Seventeen.
Today I lay out in the sun – when it shone through the clouds, which wasn’t that often – and then, coming back, I noticed Uncle Sidney pulling up in the car. Aunt Claire and Great-Grandma Bessie were with him.
He said they’d called and gotten a busy signal and so decided to come over. But Mom was out shopping and Dad was working, so I, along with Jonny, had to entertain them.
They’ve lived in Sunrise Lakes for six years now and have seen enormous changes in Broward County. Claire and Sidney get out a great deal and have many interests.
I wish Grandpa Herb let Grandma Ethel be more like her sister. Years ago my grandparents could have had a condominium here for a steal, but Grandpa Herb refused, saying that in Florida, people run around too much.
Great-Grandma Bessie is pretty frail, but she’s not completely senile; they had just taken her to McDonald’s for lunch. She’s staying with Claire and Sidney after being with Jerry and Elaine in West Palm Beach and her grandson Howard in Gainesville. In a few days, she’s going to Parkersburg, West Virginia to see Herbert and Shirley.
5 PM. After I finished writing the above, I lay in bed for an hour, not feeling terribly well. It was too cool (about 72°) and cloudy to sit in the sun, so I asked Mom to for permission to take the Camaro. I definitely needed to be out of here and on my own.
I drove up University Drive to the big Broward Mall, where I walked around and bought a book: The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch.
There were a lot of cute guys in the mall. Despite my cold, I’m been feeling unreasonably horny. I guess it’s the warm weather, but I’m dying for sex.
Can you believe I got through the 1970s without a single homosexual experience? It took a long time for me to feel comfortable with my gayness, but I’m more than ready to have sex with a guy now.
I wish I wasn’t so fat, but I don’t think I’m completely unattractive. It’s hard for me to tell how others would react to my looks and body. Maybe when I feel better, I’ll go down to the Fort Lauderdale beach.
Or maybe when I get home, I’ll ask Justin out, or somebody else. I’m tired of missed opportunities. I’d like to be more like Avis, Alice and Peter. I hope my cold goes away in a few days.
Monday, December 31, 1979
5 PM. Another year ends. Last night the disc jockeys were playing all the number-one songs of the 1970s. For days the papers and TV have been recapitulating the decade. This morning I did a little recapitulating of my own.
My cold just gets worse and worse, and I had another bad night. But as usual, I went to the sun deck this morning. That’s where I decided to mentally flash back to all the events of my own 1970s.
It was like watching TV clips in my mind and very satisfying. I flashed on many good times, and I found the bad times didn’t seem bad so much as, well, necessary.
1970: New Year’s in Miami – my draft physical – the Kent State riot and takeover at Brooklyn College – getting involved in student government – Mark Savage and The Ol’ Spigot – meeting Shelli.
1971: Falling in love – losing my virginity – meeting Avis, Ronna, Ivan – seeing Dr. Wouk – breaking up with Shelli and all that pain – driving to Manhattan to see movies on Sunday mornings.
1972: Hanging out with Avis – Stacy – the stealing of the ballots in the student government election – going to the Democratic convention in Miami – falling in love with Ronna – being a senior.
1973: Graduation – seeing friends like Vito, Josh, Mara, Scott – going to Washington with Ronna – the chicken pox – Richmond College and that drive over the bridge to take evening classes.
1974: Therapy with Mrs. Ehrlich – breaking up with Ronna – a lot of writing – the MFA program at Brooklyn College – driving my shiny Comet.
1975: Working in the recession: Alexander’s, The Village Voice, the Flatbush library – teaching that first class at night at LIU – my first stories get accepted – a lot of hard work.
1976: The MFA program ends – more stories published – more classes at LIU – I turn 25 and it seems significant – lunches with Alice.
1977: Grandpa Nat moves to Florida and gets ill – Avis and Helmut’s visit – Bread Loaf – family tensions.
1978: Disjointed Fictions – teaching at Kingsborough – meeting Wes and his father and not believing they’ll publish my book – exercising daily – long drives become too expensive – seeing Ronna again.
1979: Mom, Dad and Jonny move to Florida – I start therapy again – move to Rockaway – Hitler published – the Liz Smith column and the joy other publicity gave me – teaching at Kingsborough, Brooklyn, and SVA – Josh and Avis – my grandparents are all still alive – getting closer with Marc – finally this trip to Florida – and finally, in my own eyes, becoming an adult.
There’s so much more: scenes that stand out in my mind, memory flashes: smells, tastes, sounds (Laurie’s musk incense, the hamburgers at Shakespeare’s, Jonny’s clanging weights).
What a decade. I could only think: It’s been great. In the face of the rich complexity of life, I’m reduced to banalities.
I’m 28 now; ten years ago I was 18. I’ve gained some weight, both fat and muscle; gotten contact lenses; grown and dyed and cut my hair – but I’m still me. And I like being me. In the long view, life seems very good to me.
Today I got a fine letter from Crad Kilodney and got a phone call from a local editor who wanted a copy of my book. I ate and exercised and watched Another World and went shopping with Mom and driving on my own.
I felt nauseated and I laughed. (When Mom tripped in a shopping center, I told onlookers, “Don’t worry, it happens all the time” and made a drinking
gesture with my arm).
I read Time magazine (the Ayatollah’s the Man of the Year) and wrote postcards and blew my nose and went to the bathroom.
Nothing really profound comes to me now, except to say that it surprises me how much I’ve enjoyed this year and the past ten years.
Bring on the 1980s!