Thought Catalog
June 8, 2017

A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1981

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Tuesday, December 1, 1981

While I can’t say I enjoyed Grandma Sylvia’s funeral, it did give me a sense of peace. The sadness I felt was mixed with joy. As the rabbi put it eloquently – he picked up well on our signals when we spoke with him before the service – my grandmother’s life was not a tragedy, but a victory.

She deserved a fan club, cranky old lady that she was! For she had the strength not to give in. She’d complain from today till tomorrow, but she was tough and stubborn and took life on. She did not lie down and die, and on Thursday she was still making plans for the future.

She nurtured her husband after their roles were reversed, and I think that her last years were her best years, in which she developed a real strength of character. This is an important thing to remember when I’m feeling suicidal: that is never the answer.

Death was a friend to Grandma Sylvia, but a friend with whom she’d been playing hide-and-seek with for years. The fact that it took her so long to lose shows that she was good at the game.

Unlike my aunt, who got hysterical (although I don’t like to hear her cries, I think that they should not have tried to silence her because getting emotion out is good), or my father, who couldn’t believe his mother was in a coffin being lowered into the ground, it all seemed very natural to me.

“This is what happens to people,” I kept thinking. I couldn’t relate that corpse to my grandmother – it wasn’t my grandmother; her spirit is still alive in my memory. Corny, I know.

The rabbi said she wouldn’t have wanted us to mourn for too long, and I agree.

The service was simple and beautiful, and it was good to have the family together: all four of Grandma’s brothers, Daniel and Bernard from Florida, Benny and Joe from New York (they all look like Pat O’Brien); Dad, Mom and Jonny (who found it less scary than he expected); Sydelle and Scott and some cousins; and the Littmans and about thirty of Grandma’s neighbors.

We followed the hearse in a five-car motorcade which was guided by two amazingly swift North Miami Beach police cars.

The cemetery was gorgeous – no headstones – and they put Grandma in a new area surrounded by water and palm trees and green grass. Scott and I served as pallbearers, and that made me feel good too.

The only time I got upset was when some woman from the funeral parlor told Dad to shovel dirt on the grave. I knew he didn’t want to do it and I told her angrily, “Maybe he doesn’t want to. Did you ever think of that, asshole?” Grandma Sylvia would have approved.

Mom and I drove Uncle Ben and Uncle Joe back to our house, where Larry had brought a big spread from his Bagel Nosh restaurant. I really didn’t feel much like hanging around and left after two hours.

I guess the experience was pretty exhausting, because I felt drained  when I got home. I took out my lenses, exercised briefly, took vitamins and got into bed.

I can’t say I’m not upset. As I said yesterday, perhaps I’m repressing my emotions, but I didn’t feel like crying – though not because I was embarrassed to. It seemed to me a perfect funeral, a perfect death.

Maybe I’m being selfish because I feel lucky that it’s shaken up my life a bit. I wonder how it will affect Dad.

With every loss, there is also an undercurrent of relief and exhilaration. Last night, Dad told me, it was getting late and he realized he hadn’t called his mother. Then he remembered she was dead.

No death is a good death, but at least Grandma Sylvia lived a full life; it wasn’t as if she were a child or teenager or a young mother. I may be feeling a little guilty because I’m not that depressed. Should I be? You know the answer to that, Grayson.

One thing Grandma Sylvia didn’t know is that as far as feelings go, there are no shoulds.


Saturday, December 5, 1981

9 PM. It’s been a week since Grandma Sylvia died. Odd, even though I’d accepted it all week, it does seem a little strange to be writing that.

I’d always fantasized about my grandparents’ deaths, which are more inevitable than those of younger people. I’d wondered who would be the first to die. In a way it’s incredible that Grandpa Nat outlived Grandma Sylvia.

Well, I was 30 before any of my grandparents died. It’s about as natural a death as you could get. But I was affected more than I let on, even to myself. I felt exhausted and needed to lie around and let everything sink in.

It’s been fifteen weeks since I started work full-time at Broward Community College and seven weekends since I moved into this apartment and Miriam came for a visit.

Again, I slept without taking a Triavil, but it was a restless night, and I awoke at 6 AM unable to get back to sleep. So I read for several hours.

It was a chilly 48° morning (the next few days may be even cooler) and it didn’t even get up to 70° today.

Selma called this morning to see how I was doing. She’s improving because of her new therapy, the Feldenkrais Method.

Her ex-husband has stopped drinking and even came by for Thanksgiving dinner, during which Alex had a healthy outburst and told his father that he had abandoned his family responsibilities: “You left me in charge, I’m only a kid!”

Artie kissed Selma in a brotherly way when he left and told her to find a good new husband. She told him she’ll always care for him, but she does want to have the “companionship and love” of a good marriage again. I think Selma will find it, too.

I told her she’s one of Gail Sheehy’s “pathfinders,” using a life accident to make her life much more rewarding.

“Yes, the easiest thing to do would have been for me to get ready to die,” Selma said, “but I took the risk of living.” What a fine lady. I told her I’d drive her home next term after her 2 PM class ends.

I spoke to Alice, who told me that she and her partners sold their Great Lovers Calendar to Abbeville Press. She said it will be fun to write and to see the finished product, but there probably won’t be much money in it.

Alice said her relationship with her mother is getting worse. Her mother thinks Peter has changed Alice and feels Alice now ignores her in the same way that Peter ignores his own mother. On Thanksgiving, they made each other cry.

Alice’s mother would almost prefer it if Alice were a Brooklyn housewife, mother and teacher rather than a Manhattan magazine editor and writer with a live-in relationship in the Village.

Crad wrote that his New York Thanksgiving trip has been going badly. His sister and brother-in-law are insipid dolts, and his grandfather is stubborn, immature and ignorant. He refuses to visit his parents in Plainview.

Crad’s unforgiving attitude seems harsh, but I can’t judge him. My parents have always been ultra-supportive (sounds like a girdle) and have never asked me to give up my writing.

I got high on the waiting list for McDowell in the spring, but I am going to take my name off and reapply for the fall, when I’ll probably get in. If nothing else, I can be a colony bum next fall.

Miriam sent her Opa-Locka poem. More and more I think about Miriam and how well we get along. If I did go to San Francisco, I’d have her and Paul and Kathy Fericano as friends.


Monday, December 7, 1981

I was just watching the old newsreels of Pearl Harbor’s bombing – 40 years ago today. It’s amazing how much the world has changed in that time; things have turned upside down.

What will it be like on December 7, 2021? Will I be around (I’d be 70)? Will anyone be around then?

Kevin called last night and reminded me to send the canned review of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog; I finally did write one.

The printers sent word the book will be late, so I probably won’t get my copies until mid-January.

Kevin is going to be able to pay for it, as he’ll have no other publishing expenses next year. He said it’s too early to tell if John Elsberg’s poetry book will sell, though he’s optimistic.

After Dog, White Ewe Press’s next hardcover book will be Kevin’s own 600-page science fiction novel, Snow World, in mid-1983. (I hope it ain’t as bad as it sounds).

Kevin can be very straight-laced despite his somewhat relaxed style. He isn’t witty and up on things, even if he is competent. Kevin and John Elsberg plan to go to the New York Book Fair in April; Kevin has been in New York only twice.

For Thanksgiving, Kevin flew to Detroit and stayed at his two brothers’ while their mother came down from the Upper Peninsula. The Michigan area, he said, is in a real depression with homes going for only $20,000.

It was another chilly night and fairly cool day. I had my morning classes listen to me read Crad Kilodney’s “Midnight Trousers,” a minor classic that they didn’t enjoy as much as I did. It was fun to read.

At noon, I took over Phyllis’s class and didn’t do much with them, and I had enjoyable 1 PM and 2 PM classes.

I’ve got virtually nothing left to do this week except collect papers and mark them. I’ve made up my finals for both classes. I don’t care if they bring the papers in after writing them at home.

My only mail today was an expected rejection from an L.A. college.

Today I wore my favorite blue and green plaid shirt, my skinny blue tie, cool Sasson jeans and that fun unconstructed pinstripe seersucker blazer I bought for $3 at Macy’s. I felt very New Wave-y though someone said I looked preppy.

Anyway, I looked good. If I could only lose 20 pounds, I’d be gorgeous. God, was I horny today: my male students seem to be getting better-looking all the time. The one I’m sure is gay, Michael Goldberg, is becoming attractive. Hell, the girls look better too.

I feel so much more sexual than I used to in New York. Maybe it’s because every day I’m confronted with hundreds of gorgeous young bodies and can feel their sexual energy.

Don’t ask me why I am positive I’m going to have a great sex life next year. Maybe it’s my turn again or something.

Look, I may have a paunch and no ass, but I’m not Quasimodo. My beard is full now and looks great; I dress nicely, I have good hair. Plus, I’m intelligent and have a good sense of humor. Aauugh.

I think something is very wrong with Jacqui. For the past few weeks she’s been coming in for classes on the wrong days, forgetting things, etc. Today, she went home early, saying she was ill, but she looked as though she’d been upset and crying. I wonder if she’s having problems with her marriage.

Today I kept running into Angela, who keeps herself looking great for her age. I may not have any friends in Florida, but I’ve got a load of acquaintances.

Still, there’s no one I can confide in, I can call on the spur of the moment to come over or meet me for dinner.


Thursday, December 10, 1981

9 PM. It’s a chilly night and expected to get down to 38°, so I’ve got my quilt ready.

Tomorrow is the last day of the term. Some teachers said it went really fast, but August 24 seems like an eternity ago to me.

I had a very bad time last night. Extremely dizzy, I was unable to get to sleep and became very frustrated and upset. I just couldn’t feel comfortable. Finally, I fell into a light sleep for three or four hours.

Today was okay, though. This morning, I did some errands and got my mail at my parents’. Susan Schaeffer wrote that she’ll see me at the MLA interviews in New York.

Susan applied for a job she didn’t get – “but it’s a beginning.” Even someone as well-known a writer as she gets turned down for jobs. It’s important for me to remember that everyone doesn’t succeed every time.

I met with my class and handed out the final; I’m hoping most of them do it at home and just hand it in on Monday and Tuesday. Then I had a nice chat with Mick, Alan and Casey; I hope they don’t think I’m a snob.

After reading the Small Press Review and PEN Newsletter (I got my PEN membership card the other day), I went to Denny’s in the mall for lunch.

A Japanese lady sat next to me at the counter and expressed amazement at how many hamburgers Americans eat. She asked me to help her with our “metal money,” which she has trouble distinguishing apart.

The odd thing was that she looked completely white and much younger than her age (she said she had a grandson in his late twenties), but she spoke like a Japanese person.

What I love about South Florida and New York is that they are international places. More and more, we are becoming a global village and not just because of TV, either.

As I expected, Renee Krause did a great article about my running for the Davie Town Council in the Sun-Tattler. She let me get off every bad pun related to horses (“They want votes, not just oats”; “my constituents have horse sense”; “if I make enough campaign speeches, I may become a little hoarse myself”; “I’ll vote neigh on every issue”) and described me as “a Davie man who is becoming well-known for his tongue-in-cheek antics.”

Why is it I get more pleasure from publicity than anything else? I must be shallow. Anyway, it was a nice photo. See, I’ve seen myself as a celebrity-in-training.

Unlike Tom Whalen, I’ve never been devoted to literature; I don’t have Tom’s integrity or his class. In fact, like Pete Cherches, I’m becoming more interested in performing than writing.

Maybe I can use my writing to get into show business – hell, America is now show business from Reagan on down. “The business of America is show business” might be a new twist on the classic line.

So, when I saw that ABC Entertainment is doing a search for young talent in Florida, I wrote them a letter asking for an interview.

I got a call from a woman with Friends of the Cocoa Beach Library asking me to speak at a book and author luncheon on Saturday, March 13. I told her I’d be delighted. It should be an interesting experience and maybe (though I doubt it) I can sell a few books.

I had a pleasant dinner at my parents’. Tomorrow they’re seeing a broker about Grandma Sylvia’s condo.


Friday, December 11, 1981

6 PM. This evening I feel that take-to-my-bed depression. The slightest exertions seem beyond me.

I didn’t want to go meet my family for dinner. My head is throbbing, my stomach is queasy and I feel as though I’m coming down with something.

But mostly, it’s just that depressed feeling I felt a month
ago. Could it be the full moon again? And, if not, then what?

Part of it is chilly weather. It was 35° this morning and I had to wear a sweater and a jacket all day. It made me remember how unhappy I used to get during New York winters: that closed-in feeling.

I flashed back to those days when I would be freezing in Rockaway with everything in the apartment as cold as ice and the wind howling from the north. I had hoped to get tanned again before going back to New York, but it’s going to be cold all week.

It didn’t even get to 60° today and I feel the way I used to when it was 10° in New York. New York: part of me doesn’t want to go. I guess I do have a lot of negative memories associated with New York in winter.

I dread the cold weather and wonder why I am going to spend my vacation in a bad climate when I could relax here. Then, too, I wonder if any of my friends will have time for me, or if Josh, Teresa, Alice and the others even care about seeing me.

What else is bothering me? Well, I haven’t slept well all week: not more than six hours at most for the past nights. I feel exhausted.

The end of the term leaves me feeling let-down. All I did today was collect papers and that made the day so much longer than if I’d taught.

I have 45 term papers to grade over the weekend, and that in itself makes me want to scream. On Monday I’ll be going straight through from 8 AM until 4:30 PM: a terrible, long, boring day.

After the last final on Tuesday, I’ll have 150 finals to mark. And then I’ve got to rush to New York and I won’t be coming back until the night before the term starts. That’s bad timing.

Everything in my life seems totally fucked-up. I wonder if I do have some sort of chemical imbalance that causes these depressions. I think I feel buried rage.

I’ve got an interview at the MLA convention on December 28 for a job at Miami-Ohio – but that’s not what I want and they wouldn’t hire me anyway.

Tropic rejected my South Florida stories.

Ronna finally wrote: She is still at Redbook though it might be better now that Anne Smith is editor-in-chief.

Ronna said that she stopped speaking to Susan last summer; that her cousin Betty has given up graduate school in English lit to work as a secretary; and that the West Side is still cruddy and she has no heat (“I wish I were in Sunrise, too”).

I just hope my depression lifts this weekend, that I don’t lie here in bed. But more and more I feel it’s not really situational: I don’t think it can be any or all of these things, or a delayed reaction to Grandma Sylvia’s death.

I feel it’s a physical problem. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped taking Triavils; maybe I’m a manic-depressive. It’s odd that I can be so energetic one day and utterly unable to do anything the next.

I’ll take a couple of Triavils tonight in the hopes of sleeping well. I want to lie in the sun, not freeze in New York.

Shit. What’s the matter with me?


Monday, December 14, 1981

6 PM. Today was a hectic day, but I’ve come through fairly well.

From 7:30 AM until 4 PM, I was at the college giving four finals. I marked all the final papers that have been handed in, and I’ve graded all of today’s finals (though I didn’t correct them and didn’t really read them very carefully).

I guess I’m fairly shoddy when it comes to marking; I don’t fail anyone and I don’t give D’s. About a third of my students get A’s. The grades don’t mean anything, so what do I care? Just get it over and done with, I say.

So my final grade sheets for both 100 morning classes are done. I’ve got all but five final grades for the two sections of 101. Tomorrow should take care of the remaining class.

I felt under a lot of stress today, but I was lucky to get a great night’s sleep with very pleasant dreams which I can’t remember at all.

I saw Jonny today: not having any finals, he was at our English Department Christmas party and waiting for Maxine to get out of class.

More and more, I dislike Maxine. Initially, I couldn’t help thinking that something was wrong with her, but I could never put my finger on it, so I just backed away.

I stopped having lunch with her, but she kept on insinuating herself in my life. Every day she would insist on making a personal comment.

Maybe I’m just paranoid or jealous or just off the wall, but my instincts about people are usually correct and I can’t help thinking Maxine is either a nutjob or a schemer.

What could explain her interest in Jonathan, a weird up-to-now asexual kid who has no girlfriends his own age? What is she after, anyway?

She’s very unhappy at her parents’ house; she’s run away from her husband with her child; she’s a low-paid CETA worker.

Ah, well, my brother is now old enough to take care of himself, and if he can get laid, I guess all will be worthwhile.

I’ve switched a course with Casey and now have one English 102 section for next term: that’s comp with literature and it should be interesting to teach.

I finally got through at 4 PM, picked up some pizza on my way home, and collapsed.

Fly By Night arrived with my “Scenes from a Mirage: Oyster Bay.” It’s a crappy-looking mimeo mag, but it featured good writers like Derek Pell, Opal Nations, Raymond Federman and Loris Essary.

Janie James of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts said there’s no need for an application, that I should just tell her when I want to come next summer. So it looks like July in Virginia again.

I did apply to Ragdale, but VCCA is a known quantity and it’s cheaper. And maybe I can be with my old pals again.

There is little news from Poland, but Solidarity seems to be broken by the Communist government. There hasn’t been much violence yet.

I did manage to exercise for ten minutes and fix up my manuscript for next year’s NEA fellowship application.

My flight to New York is at 5 PM Thursday, which means I’ve got to be at the airport at 4 PM. But I think I can put off packing till Thursday morning. I’ve made a list of things I need and it’s almost all clothing.

I feel a bit nervous about my trip to New York, but even if it’s a disaster, it’s bound to be more interesting than if I just stayed here in Florida.


Tuesday, December 15, 1981

3 PM. It’s a rare rainy day and I’m listening to classical music and feeling very relaxed. All my work for the term is over. Tomorrow all I have to do is hand in my final grades and collect my paycheck.

I marked all the papers that came in and I also accomplished a number of other chores: I got gas, bought some supplies for my trip, took some money out of the bank and paid for my airline tickets with my American Express card, spreading the payments over a year.

Last night I called Ronna and we talked for nearly an hour. Her grandfather died in early November of a very sudden heart attack in the synagogue on Saturday night. It’s still a shock to her; I guess I was able to understand because of Grandma Sylvia’s death.

Ronna enjoys living with her roommate Lori on the West Side, but their building is going co-op. So she’ll find a new place or marry Jordan and move in with him in Brooklyn Heights, or she’ll move to Boston. I bet she marries Jordan, which is probably her best bet.

She seems stuck in that dead-end job at Redbook, but Ronna is so unassertive that she doesn’t seem to move. She’s sweet, but I would lose patience with her if I saw her often; I sometimes wish I could shake her out of her complacency.

I had a nice talk with Josh, too. He’s been getting letters and phone calls from women in New Mexico and London. Josh admitted he’s a lousy programmer and doesn’t have an eye for detail work.

I slept restlessly, but I managed to do some work this morning, getting out correspondence. Today, the U.S. mail brought some goodies: the Voice, PW, Time and letters from Crad, Helmut and Miriam.

Also, Carol Berge sent an order blank for her latest book; she’s at SUNY/Albany and said she talked about me with Don Gerber. And I was invited to a Treacle Press book party today in Soho.

Miriam said she’s enrolled in massage school and is getting very excited about it. She is, however, a bit worried that doing something other than writing will take away from her poetry.

I’ve told her that outside interests and work will probably help her. Sometimes I think Miriam’s independent income is a curse because she’s not forced to work harder and be more desperate.

She’s again obsessed with love: she “fell in love at first sight with a woman I met in a hot tub” (only in California!) and “a cute guy who’s a dharma bum from New Jersey.”

Gosh, I like Miriam: If I did move to San Francisco we’d be great friends. And I’d like to be near Kathy and Paul Fericano, too.

Crad suggests I move to San Francisco if only to give him a nice winter vacation spot (“Boston? Yech!”). Crad’s meeting with his parents in Plainview was not that awful, just banal and idiotic. When he told his father he was giving a reading in New Orleans, Crad’s father thought he’d be reciting Shakespeare, à la Orson Welles!

Helmut was glad that I wrote and asked me to comment on parts of his manifesto with which I disagree. He is glad to be my friend, he said, and wrote: “Strange as it seems, I would like to hear second-hand about Avis’s doings.”

But Helmut says he’s very happy since “every woman in this Republic is getting a chance to sample my superb wit and virility.”

God, it’s good to have friends like Crad, Helmut, Miriam, Ronna and Josh. If I didn’t have friends, I would want to die.

Hey, for three whole weeks I am free of school!TC mark