Tuesday, October 14, 1980
1 PM. I’m very unhappy. This cold weather has brought back the memories of my misery last winter. I even feel dizzy today. I can’t stand the sounds of the howling wind, and I can’t stand my skin being so chapped and dry.
I’d forgotten how enervating the cold can be. It seems it’s been a long time since anything’s gone my way. Every day the world grinds me down a little more. I just don’t know how long I can take it.
I feel I have no future. I don’t want to go through another winter like last one; I’d rather die. I’m again thinking that the best solution would be to move to Florida.
If I’m going to stop teaching anyway (and I can’t remain an “adjunckie” all my life), I might as well try a fresh start in a new place that’s warm and clean and familiar and where I have the support system of my family.
I’ve been on my own a year already and I’ve proven that I can take care of myself. Aside from moving to Florida, I don’t see any alternatives. Though I may try for every full-time teaching job in sight, I’ve got to be realistic and assume I’m not going to get any.
There’ll be no paperback Hitler, so I have no publications to look forward to. I want to put all the pain and frustration of the past year behind me.
The only things I’ll be giving up are some degree of privacy and independence and the daily and easy contact with my friends and maternal grandparents. I can’t afford to return to therapy, and I’m not going to make it financially.
At Citibank today they told me Mom’s $100 money order will take a week to clear, and unless I can somehow cash Thursday’s paychecks, I’ll have to borrow money to survive.
I can’t take the thought of being in this position much longer. I have always felt I could be happy in Florida. My car cannot keep riding for too long – and then I’ll be left nowhere.
Last night Teresa called and all she did was complain about how depressed she is because of missing Paul. Teresa has a terrific apartment, an exciting and glamorous new job, money, family and friends – and so she has to make up this stupid “problem” to keep her life interesting.
But I listen to her with sympathy even when I’m losing my patience, even though I feel Teresa’s complaints are like someone with a cold complaining to someone with terminal cancer. Maybe I overdramatize my plight the way Teresa does hers, but my pain is very real.
Oh, I’m sure Teresa’s pain is very real to her. But one by one I’m seeing all my hopes crushed, and even little disappointments – like no mail today – set me off.
This morning I met Mikey on the bus to Brooklyn. Yesterday he put his mother in Peninsula Hospital for all these tests, and he’s got to stay in Rockaway while she’s there. Another lousy break in life.
I just feel I can no longer handle the pain. Every day I wait for some sign of relief which never comes. Is it unreasonable to think that I can ease my pain by changing my environment? I was happy in Florida and in New Hampshire.
Otherwise I don’t see any way out but suicide – that, or just subjecting myself to fresh injuries, new insults, more pain. I’m so tired of living this way. Even when I feel happy, it’s not happiness the way I used to know it.
Maybe I’ll feel better tonight, after I teach again, as I felt better after teaching at Brooklyn College this morning. But that will be just a change in mood, not in situation.
Florida isn’t the answer to my problems, but remaining here isn’t, either. If I’ve got to start all over again – the way Dad did – I’d rather do it in a new place. I can’t – I was going to say “I can’t take it,” but I’m just belaboring the obvious.
9 PM. This afternoon Ted Rosenfeld from Taplinger called. Lou Strick had given him my letter. Ted said that though it was highly irregular, he would sell me the paperback rights if I wanted them.
I mentioned $1,000 and he said that seemed reasonable. He also said there were 2,200 copies of the book in stock and they would probably have to remainder them. They cost Taplinger $2.19 a copy and they would like to get half that.
I told Ted I’d get back to him in a couple of weeks. For $3,000 I could have the remainders and the paperback rights. But of course there’s no way I could raise the money.
Then I called Clark University to find out if I was still under consideration for the writer-in-residence job; they told me they’d sent out a letter saying they’d appointed someone else. Fine.
Next I called Mom, and after we spoke for half an hour, we agreed that I would give up my apartment in January and move in with them in Davie for a while.
I probably should have done that this summer, but I want to give it one last college try. I told Mom I would try to be a good member of the family and show concern for their house, and she said they all only wanted to help me.
I have to work out a lot of details, but they will get taken care of. I felt sad but more hopeful. I have no idea what I’ll do in Florida, but as I told Mom, I’ll work hard and keep plugging away. At least I may get into a field with a future.
I did get some mail at the post office – just rejections – and then I drove to Brooklyn College. After dinner at Burger King, the only place I could afford, I walked around the campus feeling very nostalgic.
I stopped into LaGuardia lobby and scenes from the past came to my mind: Shelli, Ronna, Elspeth, Elihu, Mark, Avis, Mikey, the elections, the desk in the corner, The Ol’ Spigot and Kingsman, so many happy memories.
I felt I had to physically touch the furniture, the phone booth, to come into contact with the past. I looked out at the BC quadrangle, so pretty now that the grass is thick and the landscaping is done.
I thought to myself: You’re young, not yet thirty, you look younger, you can start over. Accept the fact that you failed – but you picked fields in which the odds against success are pretty steep. There’s no shame in failure.
I am not stupid, though. (Jack Gelber was the only person who ever accused me of that.) Even I can see the illegible handwriting on the wall by now. I tried damned hard to make it as a writer and college professor, and I had fun trying.
But that part of my life is over. I can do things besides write books and teach – and nobody says I can’t get back to one or the other or both someday.
I started from scratch before: in 1969, eleven years ago, when I began these diaries, and I had nothing then.
So let’s say I was one of those Algerians lucky enough to survive the earthquake (20,000 didn’t – “Hope Fading Fast,” said tonight’s Post headline) but who lost everything: I’ll just pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
(Another song lyric ran through my head: “This time we almost made it didn’t we?”)
At least now I have something to look forward to.
Before my class, I went over to Midwood High School, where my life fell apart the first time, and sat on the steps trying to remember the skinny, shy boy who sat there fourteen years ago.
Elaine Taibi came by. I explained why I hadn’t yet paid my Alumni Association dues and somehow I needed to talk, so I poured out my troubles to her. She was a sympathetic listener and when we said goodbye, I kissed her. She said she had missed me.
I told her I was moving to Florida. Soon I’ll tell everyone; I wonder what people’s reactions will be. I had a very good class in the Plaza Building; I’ll end the week Thursday night by having them write.
And I came home to the apartment I rented exactly a year ago. I’m glad I won’t be here much longer.
Friday, October 17, 1980
11 PM. Today was a warm, summerlike day. I woke up early and picked up Grandpa Herb. On the way to the hospital, I told him about my plans to move to Florida. He thought I was doing the right thing. “You can’t keep beating your head against the wall,” he said – the exact phrase Teresa just used when I spoke to her a few minutes ago.
Grandpa Herb and I waited at the hospital for half an hour while we spoke about Marc and the mess he got himself into. Grandpa was called to take a chest x-ray and was examined by Dr. Libby, who told him to come back in April.
Then we went downstairs to New York Hospital’s cafeteria for a bit to eat. Grandpa Herb looks so frail when he’s out in public; I was glad I was off so I could drive him to Manhattan today.
He wanted to go to Sloan Kettering to see his neighbor Sol Jaslow, that Orthodox guy who’s always trying to get him to join the synagogue. So we crossed York Avenue, where Barbara Baer for City Council posters were on every corner.
After showing Grandpa how to get the visitor’s pass, as I had done many times, I waited in the lobby and began to think about my visits to Janice. It’s ten weeks ago that she died.
Walking around, I found a sign for a “Urine Workshop,” then I called Kingsborough, which didn’t have my paycheck yet.
When Grandpa Herb came down, we drove straight home to Rockaway. I know we won’t have that much time together, and so our moments alone are more important to me.
He let me take his car for the day since my car’s in such bad shape. When I got home after dropping Grandpa Herb off, Grandma Ethel called to tell me Dad phoned her earlier. Marc didn’t pick Dad up at the airport because he’s in bed with 102° fever.
Grandma Ethel said Dad told her that Mom doesn’t sleep nights because she’s so worried about Marc; of course, hearing that made Grandma worry. Anyway, she told me Dad would call me when his meetings are over after 5 PM.
I lifted weights and answered ads in the AWP Job List until then. Dad and I arranged to meet in front of Shakespeare’s on West 8th Street and MacDougal. After a quick ride up there, I saw Dad right away; it was wonderful to see him again.
Over dinner and afterwards, we talked for several hours. Dad said Marc sounded terrible, and Dad wondered if he was on drugs. Marc told him Rikki wasn’t home, but Marc wouldn’t talk to Dad on the phone even though he said he needed to talk.
In a way, I was glad to have Dad to myself. Right now he has no money, but in the past five weeks he’s gotten $250,000 worth of orders for Sasson. Just yesterday Burdines bought $6,000 worth of shirts. When and if the orders get shipped out, Dad’s earnings could be “phenomenal.” I hope so, for all our sakes.
Dad is glad I’ll be moving to Florida; he thinks I should get involved in politics there, and maybe I will. Dad knows my problems are situational and not deep-seated like Marc’s.
We spoke a lot about Marc; Dad feels he’s failed Marc for him to turn out to be the way he’s been lately. We’ve got to get Marc away from Rikki; Dad and I agreed that she’s psychotic and totally destructive for Marc. “Maybe we shouldn’t have been so nice to her earlier,” he said.
I was glad to hear Jonny’s doing well. His best friend is a fat black girl, and when one of Jonny’s old Brooklyn chums moved to Florida, Jonny told him, “I’m a different person now and I’m into studying, and I’d rather not see you.”
Dad quoted Jonny: “I don’t think I can be as smart as Richard, but I’m going to try.” You can imagine how good that makes me feel. Jonny’s a fine person. He told me he’s voting for Ed Clark, the Libertarian candidate, for President.
As Dad and I walked along West 8th Street, he said he’d forgotten how filthy New York is. While I went into the bookstore, Dad tried to call Marc and was upset that no one seemed to be home. I insisted on driving Dad uptown to his hotel – he was tired after a day of Flyers meetings – and then came home.
It’s a gorgeous night, really heavenly, and for the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to the future with real hope.
Saturday, October 18, 1980
9 PM. Stupid me to have felt hope last night. I reread Emerson’s “Compensation” and slept divinely: a sure sign of impending doom.
One way compensation has worked for me is that I have my best sleeps before the most miserable days.
Today was gloomy, rainy: perfect for the kind of day it was. I don’t care what anyone says; when things go wrong, everything goes wrong.
Dad called me at noon, very upset. When he’d called Marc’s apartment, a girl named Cheryl answered. She lied and said he was alone – Dad could hear that Fredo was there – and said that Marc had “gone out looking for” Dad.
Dad exploded and told them he would come back with the cops if they all didn’t get out of there. He was so upset, he upset me terribly, and I did a rash, foolish thing. I called the police and told them to go to Marc’s house, that there was a possible shooting there.
I thought the arrival of the police might scare off those creeps. I was sick to my stomach, and my imagination started a 26-mile marathon: Marc was dead; Marc was being held prisoner; God knows what.
I called Grandpa Herb, Teresa, Josh, Alice. I had to talk. To Alice, I talked about my own problems and how I felt I had become a failure. She said she understood and told me I needed at least a small visible success right away.
Alice sees that I’ve become accustomed to defeat. Every day seems to bring a new kick in the teeth; the only letter in today’s mail, for instance, was a form letter telling me I didn’t get a job at Medgar Evers.
Marc’s situation sickened me, for it showed just how sleazy life can become. Mom called me at 6 PM, saying Dad had just called her after finally speaking to Marc.
Rikki ran away in Marc’s car with $8,000 of Fredo’s money, and Marc went chasing after her in Fredo’s car. Marc told Dad he now knows Rikki “needs to be put away,” and when Dad said that everyone else could see that from the beginning, Marc told him, “But, Dad, I was in love with her.”
(When I repeated this to Grandpa Herb, he said, “Love? Does he know what love is?”)
Why did Marc take off after her when it was Fredo’s money that was stolen? Because he expects Fredo, the big Mafia man, will “do things” for him. I think he should just report the car as stolen.
If he’s lucky, he’ll never see Rikki again. Mom said that what Marc wanted to talk to Dad about was borrowing money – and they have none to lend him. With the Sasson goods not yet shipped out, my parents are totally broke. They have to try to get a second mortgage on Grandma Sylvia’s condominium.
Mom told me she and Jonny are very upset; Jonny remains furious with Marc, but Mom says he’s messed up and we need to stick by him.
When Dad called, he sounded terrible. He had to switch hotels, and Sasson put him in the Wellington, a real fleabag. His room has a naked light bulb, peeling ceilings, and roaches.
Dad, sounding totally beaten down, said he might go back to Florida tomorrow. I wished I could do something to help him, but there was nothing I could do. He said he “could strangle” Marc – and I, too, feel incredibly angry at him. He’s ruined his own life, and now he’s ruining other people’s.
Just when I thought I had a way out by going to Florida, Marc’s spoiled that. I don’t want to go to Davie with him there. Jonny must hate the thought of Marc coming down.
The whole situation Marc got himself into is so ugly, it makes me feel life isn’t worth living. I just can’t understand all this pain in our lives: everybody’s pain, not just mine but also the pain of my parents, brothers, friends, grandparents, students, neighbors.
Once, after reading Candide, I asked an LIU class to write an essay answering the question, “What is the purpose of suffering?” Most of them repeated, in semi-literate fashion, the stock response about wisdom and growth coming out of pain.
I don’t see that happening – not in my case. I just feel less and less happy as the months pass. Now I feel there is no way out. Not Florida. Not even suicide – it would be too selfish to hurt the people who care about me.
Avis called and talked about how she and Anthony are going to a 4 AM yoga class and other news. Is yoga the answer? Not for me.
Alice is spending $50 on a career counselor to find out why she can’t get a better job, but I can’t spend even $20 on Dr. Pasquale to find out why I can’t get a better life.
Simon’s cat, Max, is dying, and it’s costing Simon $600 he doesn’t have to keep the cat in the pet hospital.
Shit! Shit! Shit! I just want to scream. Why do people have to suffer? My father is an honorable man; so is Grandpa Herb; so is, or was, Grandpa Nat. But life wasn’t honorable in the way that it treated them.
I suppose it’s better when my depression and despair turn to rage. But does rage do any good? Does anything?
Last night Emerson said to me: “A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill.”
But I am not certain I’ve learned anything.
Monday, October 20, 1980
9 PM. Yesterday – Sunday – I woke up early and got some chores done. I had lunch at my grandparents’, and Grandpa Herb said I could take his car for the rest of the day.
I had read in the Voice that Hank Malone of The Smudge was going to be reading his poetry at Arturo’s at 4 PM, and I decided I would go see him; Hank has given me good reviews, and I like his work.
Then Teresa called, asking if I could escort her to the New York Press Club’s annual Byline Ball at the Sheraton Centre; her boss, Frank Flaherty, called her at her aunt’s to tell her that two tickets – Frank’s own ticket and Andy Stein’s – were available. (They cost $125 each.)
I told Teresa I’d put on my suit and meet her at her place at 7:30 PM. I drove into Manhattan through annoying traffic and finally found a parking space in Soho.
Feeling a little weird to be wearing a suit to a poetry reading, I learned at Arturo’s that Hank had to go back to Detroit early so he wasn’t going to be part of the reading.
With a couple of hours to kill, I figured I’d go uptown to try to find Dad at the Coliseum. It wasn’t easy getting past the guards without a nametag, but I was wearing a suit and looked like I belonged, so I managed.
All the menswear people looked so well-dressed and well-groomed, I felt a little out of place, but I soon realized it was just my imagination.
First I went to the booth of Sasson for Ossy, the jackets people, and asked a man if he knew where Dan Grayson was. The guy turned out to be Bob Lee, Dad’s boss.
“I didn’t know Danny had a son your age,” he said. “Are you in the business?””
I told him I was a writer and then realized that Dad had told his employers that he was 42. Oh well, I could be 22.
Bob told me Dad would be back soon, so I wandered around the booths, looking for him at the other companies Dad represents: Sasson-Paul Davril shirts, Sasson jeans, and Flyers.
I finally found him at the other Ossy booth, and we made up to meet for dinner at 6 PM, when the show would close. We went to the Blue Jay restaurant on 57th Street and had a light meal.
Dad had gone into Brooklyn on Saturday night to see Marc, who told him he was through with Rikki.
Marc said he’d made a mistake with her, but that he’d been “taken in by her beauty” and “her glamor.” Dad told him the rest of us had seen through Rikki from the start. As of last night, she still had Marc’s car – as well as most of Fredo’s money.
Fredo told Dad that Rikki was “no good” and that while he initially suspected Marc of being in on the ripoff with Rikki, Fredo now knew better and would be leaving Marc some money.
Dad told me he hoped to take Marc back to Florida, where he could start fresh.
Business at the show was pretty good for Dad. He’s an ace salesman, and he said he now has more customers in Florida than he ever had in New York. He’s now being offered other lines, which he can’t take on because it would be too much. Sasson gave him the Georgia territory, and he’ll probably take that.
I had been looking for Ivan’s family at the show, but Dad said they’d gone out of business. After driving Dad to his fleabag hotel, the Wellington, I got to Teresa’s just as she had finished dressing.
We got a cab to take us uptown first, to pick up the tickets, and then to the Sheraton Centre. Most of the men in the Imperial Ballroom were wearing black tie, but by that point I’d become so comfortable that I didn’t feel weird in my blue suit.
Arriving just as the cocktail hour was breaking up – Teresa knew a few people there – we headed for our table. We sat next to Mr. and Mrs. Morris, the head of the Parking Violations Bureau and his wife, and their daughter Karen Myers, a 37-ish divorcee who manages a law firm.
George Douris, a wealthy something-or-other, and his wife brought some champagne for the table. Nearby, we spotted Hizzoner the Mayor, Carol Bellamy (wearing a red kimono), Jay Goldin, Howie Golden, Roy Goodman and other politicians, as well as Milton Lewis of Eyewitness News.
Dinner was delicious, from the consommé to the filet mignon to the dessert: petit-fours and ice cream balls covered with coconut and drenched in hot chocolate sauce.
I enjoyed myself and even let Karen take me out on the dance floor to make a dizzy, clumsy fool of myself.
The show that followed dinner was “A Celebration of the NYC Kid,” and featured several dozen energetic kids singing and dancing. Andrea McArdle of the original Annie (tonight’s show was directed by Martin Charnin, the writer of Annie) and her successors in the title role were the main attractions.
When McArdle belted out “New York, New York,” I really felt myself crying and feeling nostalgic for all the good times in this city; my mind floated back to one happy New York City memory after another.
“How can you move to Florida?” Teresa whispered.
But when the kids sang, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow . . . Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow / You’re only a day away,” I began anticipating my new life outside the city.
After the ball ended at 11 PM, we got into a cab. Teresa had provided me with another glamorous New York evening. (She was looking forward to another one this evening: a $1,000-a-plate Democratic dinner featuring President Carter.)
Because we found a mouse in the living room, I slept with Teresa in her bed. I like the idea of sleeping, even sexlessly, in the same bed as another person – although I didn’t sleep well.
I thought of calling in sick at John Jay today, but I was already in Manhattan, just 25 or so blocks away from the college, so I hung around, taught my classes, chatted with Livia and Doris, and brought my grandparents’ car back to Rockaway at 4 PM.
I’m tired now, but tomorrow I’ll bring you up to date on Marc.
Tuesday, October 21, 1980
1 PM. Although I’m tired and headachy, I’m feeling better emotionally than I did a week ago. In three months I’ll be in Florida at last, starting a new life. It’s scary but exhilarating, and I am able to have hope again.
Marc called last evening. He is definitely through with Rikki. Yesterday he “stole” back his car from the Golden Gate Inn, where she’s staying. Marc got a new steering wheel lock for it and is hiding it several blocks from his house.
He also changed the locks on his apartment. Before Fredo left for Rhode Island yesterday, he gave Marc enough money to pay his phone bill and to get a new, unlisted number. Marc said he’s been through hell.
It took him a long time to realize what a liar Rikki was even though his friends had been suspicious of her much earlier. She is still trying to get back with him: yesterday, when she came over for her clothes, she gave him $100.
But hopefully Marc will stick with his resolve that it’s over. He said Rikki is very violent – she clawed his back and chased him out into the street in his underwear – and would be capable of murder.
Marc now doubts she was really robbed in California and he figures that money is probably in some safe deposit box. He doesn’t want to go to Florida to our parents’ house, though, because he says that would be running away.
“I’m happy here,” he told me. And of course he doesn’t think he needs therapy.
In one way I’m disturbed, because Marc indicated that he’ll return to his old way of life: selling cocaine by himself. I told him it was dangerous and that jail was not a good place to end up, but he wasn’t interested in my warnings.
So Marc could end up in real trouble someday. Of course, what he said means that he won’t be with the rest of the family in Florida, and I’d certainly rather go down there on my own.
I know Mom and Dad will want to persuade Marc to change his lifestyle, but I don’t think they can. He’ll just have to learn his lessons on his own. As Grandpa Herb said, “It all comes out in the wash.”
I got special satisfaction from an article in today’s Times that broke the story of how young Jacob Epstein plagiarized his novel Wild Oats. Remember, it came out at the same time my book did, and he was praised everywhere as the up-and-coming writer of our generation.
Apparently Epstein stole whole excerpts from a novel by Martin Amis that was published a decade ago. I was always suspicious of Epstein and his creepy family, and now he’s come up a cropper. He said he’s been dreading the revelations for months, so he must have suffered quite a bit.
Hitler may not have sold, but it was my own work. I may not be the world’s most honorable person, but I’ve never stolen anything, and at least I can live with myself. So I failed as a writer – but I tried hard and didn’t do anything I’m ashamed of.
Last night I didn’t sleep well; I was very dizzy, and this morning I had to wake up early to teach at Brooklyn College. The class did go well, and afterwards I took a haircut and got my mail.
My absentee ballot arrived today from Florida: a computer card onto which I punched my votes with a stylus. I voted for Anderson for President, Republican Paula Hawkins for Senator (because she’s a woman), and Democratic the rest of the way down the line.
The rest of the afternoon I plan to exercise, try to nap, and mark the papers for tonight’s class at BC. Money is still tight, as I have to pay the rent and my phone bill.
My car can hardly ride anymore: it stalls constantly, the steering mechanism is bad, and I don’t have a spare tire. So I’m going to drive it as little as possible and hope that it gets me through the rest of the year, when I can get rid of it prior to my move to Florida.
My mental outlook has definitely improved now that I know I won’t be in this situation much longer. I still have some hope that a stroke of luck will happen that will mean I don’t have to move, but realistically I don’t see it coming.