Saturday, August 9, 1975
5 PM. I ended up working the entire evening yesterday, finally finishing my “Remarks: Summer 1972” section of the novel. Forget what I said before: it is work, and I spent at least three hours at it. But it’s enormously pleasurable.
I’ve got to type it up, and that will take several days; I figured I’d give myself a vacation today. To relax after all that writing, I settled down with a bottle of Yoo-Hoo and Conversations with Kafka.
I flatter myself that I will be a great writer like Kafka, but I know that is not going to happen. In America today, there are so many really fine novelists whom very few people are familiar with.
We live in an age of Genius: it seems every family contains one budding Pasteur or Da Vinci. Thousands of books are published every year, and most escape the notice of 99.99% of the people. Wanting to be a writer in America today is almost an absurdity.
I remember when I was four years old, Mom was giving me a bath when I asked her, “Mommy, am I smarter than you?” She got kind of huffy and said of course not, that I was just a little boy.
I’ve always known I was more intelligent than most people; it was both my saving grace and my biggest problem. I still find myself “playing dumb” and enjoying that role – but I wonder how many people I actually fool.
Often, I have the secret, shameful thought that I am special, that I will be a great man. But there are many ways to measure greatness, and we can only see what happens in my life. I’m not afraid of death but I don’t want to suffer. I’ve led such a tranquil, almost pain-free life up till now.
I received a letter from Teresa. She and Ted are settled into their new house in Palo Alto. She misses New York and her friends, and it’s kind of unpleasant being estranged from her family. Palo Alto is very lovely, but it’s kind of provincial; one has to go into San Francisco for any culture.
She had a job prospect, but it didn’t work out, so she’s rewriting her résumé and hoping to get into publishing. Teresa does say that if this “thing” with Ted continues to work out, they both might move back East.
Costas called her to ask when she was coming home, and he put Melvin on the phone and Teresa was amazed to learn that Melvin’s still in school and hasn’t graduated yet.
Elspeth came out for a couple of weeks’ visit in June. Teresa said all Elspeth wanted to do was talk about her experiences in the old days and she also wanted to stay over in Teresa and Ted’s tiny apartment (this was before they moved).
This morning I woke up early and drove out to Rockaway to join Mikey and his mother for breakfast. Mikey hasn’t been making much headway on his thesis lately, and he’ll probably need to take a week off from work in late August to finish it.
His job sounds okay, and I think Mikey’s getting used to it; his work with the Rikers Island inmates must be interesting. We went out to the beach and walked along the water to Neponsit, where I gave Ivan’s dog a pat on the head as it approached us.
On the way back, we saw Larry, who had just played in a paddleball tournament. Robin was with him, but Stevie was sick at home with the flu.
Mikey and I finally returned to his block, where we plunked ourselves down on the sand near the water and he filled me in on the people he’d seen lately. Mike has finished his course and is just bumming around; Cindy’s grandmother is in a coma; Marie is still working at the Department of Corrections.
Mikey saw Hope and Costas and Melvin on the beach. Hope quit school and is just working at Wall Street Camera these days, and Mikey said that Costas lost a great deal of weight and looks terrific with his beard.
One day Mikey also spotted Elspeth on the beach, with her brother and sister-in-law. Mikey mentioned me, and Elspeth said that she’d last seen me the night Scott came over, and at the mention of Scott’s name, they both laughed.
So I suspect that Elspeth knows what Scott was up to, trying to use her upset over her breakup to get her into bed, and is more amused than angry about it.
People are so crazy. As Mikey and I hung out on the beach, we watched the little planes fly overhead with banners: first REPENT THE END OF THE WORLD IS NEAR and then FIGHT JOCK ITCH WITH ‘CRUEX.’
Mikey’s mother was preparing a lunch and dinner for relatives tomorrow, but she was as friendly as she always is. Their lease expires in November, and they don’t know if they’ll stay at the apartment or move to another one nearby in Belle Harbor.
Sunday, August 10, 1975
1 PM. It promises to be a hot, sunny day.
Last evening I met Alice on the corner of her block. I couldn’t drive up, as East 52nd Street between Avenues K and L was having their second annual block party.
We went over to Georgetown and bought tickets for the 8:40 PM show of Once Is Not Enough, and then Alice treated me to a Chinese dinner at Jade Wah. As always, we had a delightful talk during the meal.
Alice wants fame as a writer so badly, and I guess I do, too. She was dismayed to get back an article she wrote for the Sunday News Magazine.
I told her about the interview with Erica Jong which I’d read in this month’s Playboy. Erica said that the people she satirized in Fear of Flying were not at all upset; in fact, they were kind of thrilled by the recognition.
If my friends read my novel, I suspect that they won’t become that angry; being in a novel sort of immortalizes a person, and isn’t that what we’re all really after? Isn’t that the reason that I write in the first place?
Alice tried to convince me to come with her and her mother to their Weight Watchers meeting on Monday night, and I think I just may go. I know that if I follow their diet faithfully, I’ll lose weight; that’s been proven over and over again.
But it’s also the matter of having the will power to stick to their diet, and I’ve been pretty disciplined in other areas – with my writing and exercising – so maybe I could do as well on the diet.
Yet as much as I’d like to lose my paunch, as much as I long to be as thin as I once was, there are still terrible temptations. Like the marzipan turtle Alice brought back from Switzerland for me. Still, I think maybe I owe it to myself to at least try the diet.
I told Alice of my dream the other night that she and Andreas were getting married, and she laughed at it somewhat ruefully. After finishing dinner, we went outside and were amazed at the length of the line for Once Is Not Enough. I’d figured that no one would want to see it.
Alice and I were seeing it only as a goof. A typical Jacqueline Susann story, it was every bit as clichéd and melodramatic as we expected it to be: a lot of sex and fancy living and stilted dialogue.
When the movie ended at about 11 PM, we returned to Alice’s block, where there were still some festivities going on: a band, a lot of eating, and a female impersonator contest.
I left Alice’s before midnight, and although I had some trouble falling asleep, I finally dozed off at about 2 AM.
This morning I devoured the Times with breakfast. Jonathan Baumbach reviewed Jerzy Kosinski’s new novel very favorably, while John Ashbery got a laudatory notice on his latest book of poetry. Seeing the MFA program directors’ names made me eager for the fall term to begin.
I called Elihu and invited him over for the day, but he had a friend from Providence visiting, so we’ll make it another time. Elihu said his trip was very nice, if somewhat tiring, and that when he told people I’m writing a novel about Brooklyn College, everyone had suggestions about who could play them in the film version. Yes, people are crazy.
Elihu’s father got on the phone and asked me if I’d be interested in teaching a course at LIU’s Weekend College; this one would be in a Bay Ridge high school. I told Dr. Farber I’d be very interested and he said he just might have a creative writing course open.
That would be so wonderful that I can’t even let myself imagine the possibility. How I would love to do that! But I’m afraid of getting my hopes up and then being disappointed.
Tuesday, August 12, 1975
7 PM. I’m really tired and would like to go to bed early this evening, but I have company coming in an hour.
I invited Elihu over, but since we’re both on such limited bankrolls, we couldn’t afford to do anything that costs money. I’m too weary to play genial host and exhaust myself trying to amuse him, so I’ll just be my usual discourteous self.
This was a hard day. I tried very hard to stay on the Weight Watchers program and I cheated only at dinner, when I had french fried potatoes as a side dish (without ketchup, though).
But it’s a strain changing my diet habits so drastically. I wonder if I’d rather have a round tummy and be satisfied psychologically than be, to use Alice’s phrase, “slim and svelte,” and be a nervous wreck.
Our ebullient Weight Watchers lecturer, Iris, possesses an ulcer: she complained about it last night. She’s funny but so frenetic; I wonder if she’s really happy even though she’s attractive now that she’s lost weight.
I know the rate of recidivism at Weight Watchers (and all diets) is very high; we saw examples last night of “two-time losers,” and I’ve seen it happen among friends and acquaintances.
The organization also smacks of fanaticism (as do Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Synanon), which is something I’ve never been able to put up with.
Of course these are all probably rationalizations. I have to admit that I thought more about food today than I have ever done in my whole life. I was starving all through the night: my hunger was so bad that I awoke at 5:30 AM, was unable to get back to sleep, and so I had breakfast at 7 AM.
All morning I thought of cupcakes, cookies and such. After I did my exercises twice, I went out and bought some “legal” food. Then I went to the college to have my latest section of the novel xeroxed and came home to lay out by the pool even though there was little sun.
Yesterday, while Gary was driving me home from St. John’s, I spotted Stanley walking up Flatlands Avenue. Stanley stuck to the diet and he’s slimmed down, but it still hasn’t changed his life; he still leads an existence in limbo, measuring out his life with film screenings.
Who am I to judge Stanley? But even so, being chubby has become part of me. Perhaps I’m afraid to become slim and more sensual and maybe that’s why I’m not fat, either: I just stay on the outer edge of attractiveness.
There are times when I wish I was in therapy again. Oh, who knows? Maybe inside every skinny person, there’s a fat person struggling to come out.
Gisele came in to clean again today. Yesterday Gary and I pulled up as she was leaving, so she got a lift home with him. But today at 6 PM, I drove Gisele home to Bed-Stuy.
She’s so concerned with my romantic life, always wanting to make sure I have a “wonderful” girlfriend and a potential mate. When I ask Gisele about herself, she just smiles and shrugs and says she doesn’t want to try marriage again because she doesn’t want the children to have a strange stepfather.
Libby phoned last night, trying to find out if Teresa had a car in Brooklyn that she wanted driven to California. I told Libby that I’d just heard from Teresa last week and she didn’t mention anything about it.
I suggested she talk to Costas or Melvin, who have spoken to Teresa more recently. Libby told me she didn’t want to bother Melvin now, with his brother so ill. I asked what she meant and heard the bad news: Melvin’s and Morty’s brother Maury collapsed on a biking tour. The diagnosis: acute leukemia.
Experimental drugs have put Maury in what doctors call a “semi-stable” state, and now the odds are 50-50 that the kid will live another five years. What can one say or do when one hears things like that? Nothing, I guess. Maury had just graduated high school and was going to start college.
Libby said that Mason was in and that he’s planning to do some traveling after the summer. She said to come to the Slope tonight, but with Elihu arriving shortly, I guess I won’t be able to.
Friday, August 15, 1975
8 PM. It’s just starting to turn cloudy. I had been lying in the backyard, reading Colette’s Break of Day, at Avis’s suggestion.
I feel somewhat guilty about not writing, but have decided that the next portion of my novel is to be taken from my diaries for October and November of 1972. So it will just be “translation” for me: changing lines and events here and there, but I’ll keep the mood and style.
But I’ll get around to writing soon. Right now I need some time to live.
I was distressed to read in the paper that CUNY is eliminating 25% of the 278 master’s degree programs in the fall and another 15% in the spring.
Could they just eliminate the whole Brooklyn MFA program? It seems like it would be the first to go because it has so few students. There’s no other MFA program in Creative Writing offered in this city, and what would I do with my 18 credits?
I did get a card telling me to pick up the schedule of classes on Monday, so I guess I’ll find out what’s what then. There was also a notice that tuition must be paid at registration this term, and with the increased costs, that’s going to put a hardship on a lot of people, including us.
I’ve been cheating like crazy on my Weight Watchers diet; I guess I don’t have the stuff to stick with it. Alice says she’s disappointed in me, but I think I’ve discovered that I don’t to lose weight as badly as I thought I did. I do hope cutting out cakes and ice cream and soda will help, though.
At 6 PM last evening, my car was ready, and Marc and Bunny came with me to the service station, where I paid the bill for the shocks and the other repair work with the credit card.
This was after dinner, and I decided to test-drive the car by going to Queens; the Comet rides beautifully now. I dropped in on Cousin Robin, figuring I’d just stay a few minutes and leave the presents I had bought for Michael. But Robin said Scott and Barbara were coming over, that I should stay, and of course I was happy to do that.
Michael is such a doll. He was sitting in his chair, his cast leg elevated; he’s now learned to use crutches with a little help from Robin.
Playing with him, I enjoyed myself; I flatter myself that I can relate well to children. I try to be very absurd with them, and it always seems to amuse them. I also enjoy going down to their level and becoming a child myself.
I had a nice talk with Robin, too. Aunt Sydelle has been driving her crazy ever since she finally learned about Michael’s accident; she’d been suspicious for weeks and finally wormed the news out of a sick Monty.
Robin and I get along well because we’re pretty much on the same wavelength. She started telling me about the creepy guys who call her up for dates. Though she’s sometimes a little too hip for me, like when she keeps telling me how “real” she is, I do like Robin.
Scott and Barbara came over and they were playing with Michael, trying to help him operate this elaborate Evel Knievel toy. The two of them are pretty straight people and somewhat into that JAP bag, but they’re quite pleasant, really.
Scott is going down to Washington on Wednesday to register at GW Law School; he’s found an efficiency apartment in Arlington, while Barbara will live in GW’s undergrad dorms.
I left Briarwood at 9 PM or so, and the drive back was very comfortable. I take my poor Comet for granted at times. Because I had difficulty getting to bed, I woke up late this morning. Luckily, Gisele came in today, so I was freed from household cleaning chores.
Gary called, as usual, this morning. I told him I’d phone him back later, that I was going out.
At the college this afternoon, I met Libby, who said that she’d just met Melvin’s new roommate Claudia. Fred has moved out and is now living in Manhattan, in the same building in the East Village as Carl Karpoff.
Libby told me she’s feeling better and may go into the swimming pool now. Mason will be coming back August 24, but he’ll stay only a few days, and then go traveling with his friends from camp.
By the plant vendor on campus, I met Melvin and Morty, and Morty and I went to Burger King to pick up some lunch for all of us at Melvin’s apartment. (Yes, I remember about my diet: so much for will power.)
When Morty and I went to the supermarket on Nostrand Avenue, he thought the checkout girl was very cute but he wondered if she was Jewish. We met Melvin at the apartment, which had never looked cleaner.
Melvin had just gotten a B to erase his incomplete in a course taught by Bill Beer in the spring of 1972. I realized I had taken the same course!
We smoked a joint of very harsh pot and sat around the kitchen table for a while, just talking. Costas called while I was there. I didn’t ask Melvin and Morty about their brother and his illness: there was no reason to, under the circumstances.
Monday, August 18, 1975
10 PM. I got a lift from the Weight Watchers meeting this evening, for when I weighed in, I found I had lost 6¾ pounds. I was afraid I wasn’t going to lose anything, so this week I weighed myself without my sneakers.
Still, how much can a pair of Pumas weigh? So I must have lost at least 3½ pounds altogether, which is quite good, considering I cheated a lot and had french fries twice, several handfuls of peanuts and a batch of chocolate cookies.
But I shouldn’t get too excited, for taking it off is no big deal; the problem is keeping it off. And Jim, that black guy who made such stirring speech last week: he gained 5 pounds and admitted he hadn’t been “legal” since he left the meeting a week ago.
As Iris said, it’s the discipline, not the weight loss, that’s important. God knows, I don’t go on binges like the people who are really heavy and who will eat six or seven cakes in a row.
Even Alice and this girl Bobbi, who’s only 30 pounds overweight, tell me they eat three or four helpings of ice cream. My problem is basically that I have a sweet tooth and that I’m a nervous nosher.
Tonight we talked about the support of our families. Now that Mom and Dad are back, I’ve got a problem, because they’re both overweight and they’re going to be counterproductive in my struggle to lose weight.
When I came in with my news this evening, they already started in, saying how I shouldn’t lose too much weight. I asked my parents if they thought that was really possible, and surprisingly, Irv and Doris Cohen, who were visiting, stuck up for me and told my parents they were wrong.
I don’t expect any help from Mom and Dad except in a reverse way; I’ll stick to the diet and lose weight just to spite them. But it is a real struggle.
Even Alice felt somewhat annoyed with me because she put on two pounds this week; she didn’t say anything, but I could tell it bothered her. It’s a good lesson to learn about life in general: your success in any field does not make your friends any happier.
If I become a highly successful writer, or even a fairly decent writer, I’ll have to contend with people’s envy and spite. I’m aware of that instinct in myself, too; perhaps I understand it because I am a terribly jealous person.
I feel scared now that I’ve lost some weight; it’s the paradox I’ve always felt when confronted with any kind of success. I’m afraid the success is a fluke and that it will make my ultimate failure that much more painful. (Maybe because I know I can do it and don’t?)
I’m pretty much at sea without my typewriter, but I don’t feel like writing anyway, and maybe that’s not so bad. Hopefully it will be back from the repair shop soon.
Yesterday I began looking at the old giant Atlas the way I used to as a child. I find that I really do have the desire to travel to different places; my fear has just canceled it out all these years. I want to change my life, but I’m scared of it.
“We all fear change,” Jerry wrote to Shelli when her sister was getting married, when neither of them could foresee that they would be marrying each other less than a year later.
This morning I went to school and picked up my Graduate Bulletin and Schedule of Classes. The MFA courses are all being offered, and so far, tuition is still $45 a credit, payable at registration. So soon the fall semester will begin, and frankly, I can’t wait.
While I was at the college this morning, I met Elayne, and either I must have looked very attractive in my shorts and T-shirt or else she was very horny. Elayne kept touching me and hugging me and at one point she said, “You’d better guard your crotch because in a minute I’m going to grab it.”
I was somewhat embarrassed and enormously flattered.