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June 16, 2017

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

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Thursday, December 17, 1981

Noon. I’m almost completely packed. I have to get dressed, close up the apartment, get traveler’s cheques at the bank, and then go to my parents’ to pick up some jeans and shirts. Dad will drive me to the airport for my 5 PM flight.

A snowstorm is expected to hit New York tonight, but I’d better chance it. As usual, things seem so much more intense when I’m in an anxious, phobic state.

When I fly, it all comes back to me: those fear-filled, panic attack days in high school which only gradually subsided in college.

As I ate a hamburger at the counter of Danny’s last night (hamburgers are becoming less and less appealing), I realized how agoraphobia has totally ruled me. Even though the few vestiges of it include my fear of traveling, it never went away.

I’ve decided I should write a book about agoraphobia, a big book combining everything written about it in clinical reports and studies, all the psychiatric theories, interviews with agoraphobics (many of whom I suspect are writers or New Yorkers – it’s easy to be one in New York or if you’re a writer), and of course, a long personal essay on my own experience. I’d like it to be something like A. Alvarez’s study of suicide, The Savage God.

I checked out the mall’s bookstores and discovered no books about agoraphobia per se except for those by Dr. Claire Weeks, the Australian therapist whose advice is homey and commonsensical.

In a book on how to stop fears, I found a chapter on agoraphobia which stated that one in a hundred Americans are agoraphobics. It offered some behavior patterns and characteristics of agoraphobia that I recognized as my own.

When I get back to Florida in January, I want to begin on this next project. It will be a kind of therapy, of course, but such a book is needed and I can’t imagine anyone (even a psychologist) who could do a better job.

First, I’ll go through all the literature. It’s going to be a big project and take a couple of years to do it right, but hopefully I can get together an outline and get an advance from some publisher.

Maybe I can also get grants from foundations or mental health organizations. The project idea relaxed me, and I was able to enjoy the cool night air, knowing I’ll appreciate it more after I return from frigid New York.

The first six months of next year should be easy and relaxing; only the New Orleans visit is scheduled, and that will be fun.

Maybe I can work hard on the agoraphobia project, try to sell the South Florida stories and A Version of Life, publicize the White Ewe press book (in a month it will be out), and work on improving myself.

If I can afford it, I’ll join a health club to slim down and tune up.

Yesterday Dr. Grasso told me I have “a gift for teaching,” and mentioned that there were six full-time openings in the department. I bet I could have one of them.

I slept okay, dreaming of being back on our old block in Brooklyn and of Marc writing a bestseller about a Mafia hitman.

I lay in bed all morning, feeling tense, but the plane ride, at most, will be three or four hours of terror.

Anxiety attacks, like colds, are self-limiting; eventually you relax and get tired. They are very uncomfortable – very tiring, but they’re not serious.

If I throw up, I throw up – but I doubt I will. Here goes nothing: tomorrow I’ll see you in winter, see you in New York.


Friday, December 18, 1981

Only just Friday: it’s midnight. I got into New York about three hours ago; my flight was delayed about 90 minutes because of the problem of the air traffic controllers.

It was the most pleasant flight I’ve had, though; I barely felt any anxiety and managed to enjoy myself a little. If I could fly more often, I would definitely conquer my fear of flying.

Because of the delay, Marc decided not to pick me up and I took a cab to his apartment. The cold New York air didn’t seem all that cold because I was prepared for it.

Marc was “working” when I got here; he had a friend for whom he was cutting an incredible number of grams of coke.

Marc showed me the jewelry and clothes he’s selling, but the real money is coke. He has huge bills all over the place, a new TV, jewelry, electronic games, etc.

With a thick beard, Marc has gotten heavy – though he says he’s down from 175 pounds, is taking care of his ulcer, and has stopped heavy drinking.

Marc told me that Paul, his supplier, extends him a lot of credit, but also that he owes Paul thousands. He just left the apartment to drop off some stuff at Joel’s in the Village.

Mom and Dad were robbed tonight. While they and Jonathan were watching TV, a man took a ladder, cut through the screen door and ripped off Jonny’s TV, his wallet and Mom’s – all their credit cards and over $500 in cash.

“I feel like I’ve been raped,” Mom told me.

All of a sudden it seems anything can happen.


Saturday, December 19, 1981

4 PM. I knew I’d be unhappy in New York, but I didn’t expect to be this miserable. I wish I hadn’t come and I feel as if being in New York is some sort of punishment. I never want to live in this city again.

My brother is so fucked up, I can’t even write about it without my stomach getting into knots. He’s snorting coke, 50 or 60 times a day, and I suspect he’s on speed, too. Just listening to him breathe during the night, I thought he would die.

His apartment was freezing and I barely slept at all. Obviously, he’s not learned anything from is experience with Fredo. He’s going to get into lots of trouble.

He talked maniacally, and he would say things that would make me shiver with revulsion. It’s as if he has absolutely no values.

When he drove me to Rockaway, he was speeding like a madman; then he admitted his license had been suspended for speeding.

Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb looked terrible: they’re both concentration-camp thin, and Grandma Ethel looked as though she hadn’t slept in a month. They hugged me tightly. Although I did like seeing them again, observing how ill and unhappy they were depressed me.

I can only thank God I’m not living in New York anymore; between my brother and my grandparents, I’d be so miserable that I’d be suicidal.

Rockaway looks so bleak. It was a cold, grey day (like today, too) and I could remember only bad times and not good ones. We gave our grandparents some Chanukah presents and had lunch with them; then Marc and I went to Kings Plaza so he could buy some more Chanukah and Christmas presents.

He embarrassed me terribly while we were in the mall because he was so loud and so obviously high. I knew I couldn’t stay in his apartment because one after another, people would be coming in to score coke.

Marc’s whole scene makes me feel like life is not worth living. He says he does so well because no one in New York can function without drugs.

I took the car, which he’s been driving so erratically, but that only depressed me further as I rode past the old block and got stuck in Flatbush Avenue traffic.

Brooklyn represents death and decay to me; it’s an absolutely hateful place. While I’m in Florida, I really romanticize New York, but now I see how much better my life is there than it would have been had I remained up here.

I called Teresa and she said she’d definitely be home by 5:30 PM. I took two trains to get up to the Upper West Side, and it was awful lugging my suitcases from the subway station – then, as I expected, Teresa wasn’t here.

I waited and waited – first outside and then, after someone let me into the building, in the fifth floor hallway – sweaty and freezing and wishing to God that I had never left Florida.

Finally, after an hour and a half, I went into Judy’s to use the phone, but Alice wasn’t home and Josh had his own problems.

When I came out into the hallway, Teresa was there and told me Frank was coming in and they needed some time alone, so I was to be sent down to Barbara’s.

I could not believe that Teresa would do such a shitty thing to me. But I had no place else to go.

I went out for a hamburger on Broadway and felt awful. When I saw vomit on the street, I thought, That’s what this city is: Vomit.

I hung out at Barbara’s apartment as she prepared for a date with Stewart Klein until finally, at 9 PM, Teresa came down to take me over to her friend Sharon’s.

She admitted she and Frank have again been screwing for five months, that nobody knows, that she’s ashamed of it. Fuck – everyone in New York seems utterly sick.

I did feel better at Sharon’s huge co-op off Central Park West. Her daughter Susie is in the sixth grade at the Anglo-American School, which used to be Franklin School, and I was astonished to learn that my old English teachers Dr. O’Hanlon and Mrs. Youman are still there.

We all went out to buy a Christmas tree on Columbus Avenue and I lugged the thing back to Sharon’s; I suppose that was fun. Then we had Chinese food and hot apple cider.

Teresa and I took a cab home and I got into the couch. But at 3 AM, Kim, the girl who’s paying Teresa to use her living room, came home unexpectedly and I had to go sleep with Teresa in the bedroom.

I was furious and upset about being displaced, and all I could think of was going back to my own place in Fort Lauderdale. I don’t belong in New York anymore.

After not sleeping at all, I feel like shit today. I did get keys to the apartment for myself; then Teresa and I went to her parents’ in Brooklyn.

As usual, the five minutes it was supposed to take to pick up the car on Conselyea Street took four hours. We spent a lot of time with her parents and grandmother in Williamsburg, stopped for a few errands, and just got home.

I am invited to dinner at Alice’s, but all I want to do is go to sleep and get rested enough to make a sane decision about whether to cut my trip short and leave this horrible place.


Monday, December 21, 1981

7 PM. After four days in New York, my skin is dry and scaly, my face has broken out, I have a cough, my head is throbbing with sinusitis, my lips are chapped, and I feel more depressed than I ever felt in Florida.

Right now I’m in Rockaway, writing this in my grandparents’ bedroom (they’re in the living room), listening to the howling of the wind: it reminds me of how miserable I was living in my own apartment at the beach the past two Decembers.

New York may be an exciting city, but I am having a terrible time. I feel I shouldn’t have come and I don’t know how I can stand being here another two weeks.

This visit is much more unpleasant than my stay this spring because it’s so cold. This morning it was 14° and it didn’t get above freezing all day.

Also, in May, I had Marc’s apartment to myself; now I’ve been running around with no place of my own and no privacy.

And, thirdly, I have no car and now am dependent upon the unreliable mass transit.

Maybe being away from New York for six months has made me feel much less like a New Yorker.

I think I could have had a better vacation in my own apartment in Sunrise. It’s cool in Florida, too, but much milder than here; I could have really relaxed there and saved money and enjoyed myself.

True, I am seeing my friends here – that’s the only saving grace.

I had a fine dinner with Alice and Peter on Saturday night even if it was for only an hour. Since I speak to Alice regularly, I’m all caught up on her news; mostly she listened to my complaints.

She and Peter had tickets for a show, and today Alice called to apologize for our visit being “abrupt.” I hadn’t really thought about it then because I’d had a good time.

But none of my friends here can really devote a lot of time to me because they have their own lives. I suppose this makes me feel left out of things; I feel I’m no longer a New Yorker, but that I don’t really fit in in Florida either.

Teresa sometimes disturbs me with her vindictiveness towards people (her boarder Kim, her brother-in-law, her neighbor Mark), and I really can’t take all the Christmas running-around she does.

So it was wonderful to be alone for several hours in Teresa’s apartment when I got home from the Village on Saturday night. I read the Sunday Times, did the dishes and got the first real good night’s sleep in a long time since Kim didn’t come home.

Sunday morning was pleasant, too, as Teresa made waffles from scratch and Renee and Ted joined us for breakfast.

Mikey called to say I should meet him for lunch at 100 Centre Street, the Criminal Courts building, where he was handling weekend arraignments. Yes, the wheels of justice turn even on Sundays in Manhattan.

In the lobby I called Mom. Her first question, about why I’m not staying at Marc’s, led to my stupidly telling her that Marc is dealing more heavily than ever.

Mom got angry with me and accused me of exaggerating; she just could not believe what I was saying because when she was visiting, everything seemed wonderful.

Finally, I just said I probably was mistaken and Mom abruptly said goodbye without even asking me what kind of time I was having.

In the courtroom, I sat in the spectators’ gallery as Mikey defended some clients – or whatever it is legal aid lawyers do in arraignments.

In his corduroy three-piece suit, Mikey looked like a legal aid lawyer, and getting to see him in action in court, I didn’t mind waiting.

Afterwards, I took him out for a Szechuan lunch during which we talked about his busy caseload and his upcoming Club Med vacation in Martinique and Marc’s drug dealing.

Mikey feels that my brother wouldn’t last in jail, which is where they might send him if he gets caught dealing huge amounts of coke.

I just wish Marc could go for treatment before it’s too late, but I’m sure that if his experience with Rikki and Fredo didn’t teach him anything, nothing can reach him now.

After the lunch recess ended and Mikey went back to court, I took the train to Brooklyn Heights to visit Josh.

Harry, having just taken a place in the Heights, was also there, and the three of us had tea and talked about the usual bullshit.

After Harry left, Josh and I gabbed some more. I’m certain I miss Josh more than I miss anyone. We went into the Village and looked through the new B. Dalton’s on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 8th Street waiting for Artie to meet us for dinner.

Standing outside, Josh spotted Avis’s white turbaned head in the crowd – they say if you stand at that corner long enough, you’ll see everyone you know – and I ran after her.

She and her friend, Rajah Singh, had just seen Reds for the second time. Avis kissed me and introduced me as “an old friend – well, not that old. . .”

“My husband is away at the Winter Solstice,” Avis said, as if I didn’t know Anthony’s name.

Before we said goodbye, Avis told me to call her and said Ellen and Wade will be in this weekend. She looked very weird in her white outfit and tall turban.

Artie came from work at The Male Shop, where he sells tuxedos, and he and Josh and I headed down to La Groceria, where we had a fine dinner, talking about art, movies and bullshit.

We stopped at the West Fourth Street Bookstore, where Artie picked up a load of little magazines: he’s surprisingly well-read. After losing weight, Artie looks like a literary Elvis Costello.

At Joe Papp’s Public Theater, we saw an interesting film, Over the Edge, in which spaced-out, bored teens vandalize a sterile Sun Belt planned community.

Afterwards, walking back to the subway, we passed the Guardian Angels’ Curtis Sliwa and his spokesperson-girlfriend and an actor from Another World.

When I got back to West 85th Street, Teresa was asking Kim to leave the apartment and bitching about Mark Stephens, who borrowed her car and forgot to return it when Teresa had a press release to get out.

She’s very tense about Frank and her job, and Christmas and the birth of her niece aren’t helping.

I couldn’t sleep at all last night because I was so uncomfortable in Teresa’s bed with her in it. The steam gave me a sore throat and headache.

After Teresa and Kim left this morning, I slept till 11:30 AM, found something to eat, and put layer upon layer of clothing on.

I took the M104 bus down Broadway to lunch at the CUNY Grad Center, went to the public library to visit the Berg Collection – Lola wasn’t in, her secretary said – and then it took 2½ hours to get to Rockaway.

Beach 116th Street is very depressing, but I had a nice dinner at the apartment, courtesy of Grandma Ethel’s Meals on Wheels.

I’m going to spend the night here although I don’t feel any more at home with my grandparents than I do anyplace else.


Tuesday, December 22, 1981

3 PM. I’m back at Teresa’s apartment.

Last night I had a relaxing time. Grandpa Herb goes to bed at 9 PM, so I did, too. I had the comfortable couch all to myself and I fell asleep easily, listening to the waves. It was as if I were a little boy again, sleeping over at my grandparents’ house.

Since I’ve come to New York, I’ve had vivid dreams; anyway, I slept a much-needed twelve hours. Grandpa Herb’s 78th birthday was yesterday and I bought him a card; he and Grandma Ethel insisted on giving me $10 for Chanukah.

I enjoyed my stay in Rockaway, and I know I can retreat there again, but my grandparents talk endlessly about the same subjects and they’re so negative that I felt I had to get away.

I took a bus into Far Rockaway and then got on the A train back to Manhattan. It was an excruciatingly long ride, but today wasn’t as cold (it got up to 40°) and I had lots of time to think.

I believe I’ve taken my pleasant life in Florida for granted, and now I think I may stay in Fort Lauderdale or Miami for another year. Teaching at BCC isn’t so bad, and if this recession is as deep as it appears, I might be lucky to have the job.

So I’ll probably apply for one of the English Department vacancies – and if I don’t get a job there, then at worst, I’ll definitely be eligible for unemployment insurance.

I haven’t made friends in Florida, but I haven’t really tried. I’ve been standoffish with the other young faculty people, and I haven’t gone out of my way to meet people.

I’ve been terrible about Maxine and Jonathan; now I think that their relationship deserves my support. I see I’ve been complaining much too much.

I greatly prefer South Florida living to life in New York. Perhaps, one day, I’ll live here in the city again, but I don’t think it will be for a long time, maybe not for another decade. I want to spend the 1980s elsewhere – in Florida or other places.

Right now I need mild winters, so I want to stay in the Sun Belt.

I really didn’t know how well-off I am in Florida. I have a good job, a good home, money and a very pleasant environment. In two weeks I’ll be back – and human nature being what it is, I’ll probably be complaining again.

*

9 PM. This afternoon I called Susan Mernit, who sounded glad to hear from me. She was busy writing a story but wanted an interruption.

Susan finished her screenplay about an old lady in Brighton Beach, a former vaudevillian who becomes a street performer.

They go into production in January. It will be a one-hour videotape and some cable companies are interested, so there may be some money in it.

Otherwise, Susan’s been depressed over not working; there’s no money left at Teachers and Writers Collaborative, but she does have some jobs coming up in the winter.

Talking about literary matters, Susan said that Rochelle told her that Miriam is a great poetry reviewer for American Book Review.

Susan and Spencer are going upstate for the holidays, so I probably won’t get to see her.

I met Josh for dinner in the Village at The Bagel again, and it was great to be back in that little place which I’ve been going to for almost a decade; I always feel at home there.

Some guy smashed into Josh’s car while it was parked and ruined the tail lights; it’s going to cost him $100 or more.

There wasn’t much to do after we walked aimlessly around the Village, so we took the IRT in opposite directions home.

I just had a long chat with Avis, who sounded pretty good. I was glad to hear that she and Anthony will be coming to Florida to visit her parents at Easter; it will be fun to have visitors.

Avis is taking a midwifery course and is doing a lot of 3HO work; her job at the Bavarian bank is okay. She said that Anthony will start working in a hospital on weekends next year, after he returns from Yogi Bhajan’s Winter Solstice in New Mexico.

Teresa isn’t home, and Kim just left on a date, so I’ve got the place to myself for a while.


Wednesday, December 23, 1981

5 PM. Last night, after Teresa came home. I went with her to shop for groceries at Red Apple, where we saw Joel Siegel, the WABC critic and playwright – his musical about Jackie Robinson is now on Broadway – as well as Barbara, who was on her way to spend the night with WNEW’s critic.

Teresa and Sharon and Susie went to the County Democratic Committee party last night and invited tons of people to a party here tonight, a party that started out as a small get-together.

Teresa was excited when Richie Kessel called to say he ran into Mario Cuomo and his entourage in Chinatown. Over dinner, Richie sang Teresa’s praises, and Mario told the big shots who already have Teresa’s résumé to “get moving on it.”

Teresa’s sure Mario will run for Governor, and so he’ll be hiring lots of people.

Richie is coming over tomorrow for “breakfast and. . .” so I’ve got to be out of here. I may sleep at Barbara’s, which is what I should have done last night; I can’t sleep in the same bed with Teresa.

Barbara said that her roommate Michael, now in San Francisco, was cruising me on Friday night; as usual, I was oblivious – but I’m flattered.

Kim found a place at the Brandon Residence for Women down the block and she’ll be moving there on Monday. So next week I’ll have the place to myself until Teresa returns from the country.

This morning the maid came, and I went out to Zabar’s to pick up the items for the party. I’d never been in Zabar’s before, and today it was a madhouse. Knowing nothing about cheeses or caviar, I did my best; I hope Teresa isn’t mad at my choices.

It was sunny and quite mild (54°) today and much more pleasant to walk around.

After a burger deluxe at the Greek diner on 87th and Broadway, I took the crosstown bus to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I hadn’t been there in years, and I discovered my old favorite European paintings were in new rooms; it was good to see them, especially the Degas and Monet paintings I had postcards of in my old room.

I enjoyed the gorgeous new American Wing and the Temple of Dendur and I walked my feet off, looked my eyes out.

I came in an hour ago, and now I’m going to meet Alice at her office for dinner. Then I’ll come back to the party and tomorrow I’ll skedaddle (very slowly) back to Rockaway.

New York is starting to feel familiar again. TC mark

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