Sunday, October 12, 1975
4 PM. Really, there are times when it takes very little to make me happy: a good night’s sleep, a fresh autumn day, a noon movie in Manhattan, the smell of some woman’s perfume, memories, a hamburger and a Tab, a drive through Brooklyn. I may not be happy, but this will do very nicely until the real thing comes along, if it ever does.
Last night in my dream, I was so furious with Josh that I wanted to shake him until he gives up his loser “life sucks” attitude. If I were him and felt the way he does, or claims to feel, I’d commit suicide. It bothers me that he tries to bring me down to his level and make me feel that life isn’t worth living.
I didn’t think of it before, but now I believe that Josh is jealous of my success, of my teaching job and my sold stories.
There have been many beautiful things in my life. Things I take for granted are almost miracles: teaching, writing, driving to the city, not having those awful daily nausea and anxiety attacks.
Seven years ago, I was a pathetic being, unable to even leave my house without quaking, and I must never forget that. No, I want to remember my days in high school, when I would wait for the omnipresent nausea and terror, or when I was going with Shelli and was afraid to stay out past 9 PM.
Most of all I should remember those months – from September of 1968 to April or May of 1969 – when I cut myself off from the world. Life was pure hell then, but now I’m glad I went through that, because it taught me more than I could learn if I were to spend another seven years in college and grad school. I do my best to live every day as if it were something precious: of course, it’s been impossible, but I try.
The past several evenings I’ve been cleaning up my room, throwing out useless things that have accumulated in my drawers. My stories and my notebooks are now all filed away; I’ve caught up on my own schoolwork; and I’ve prepared my lessons at LIU for the week.
Lately I’ve been thinking of a quote from Camus: “The best way to make yourself useful in a difficult time is . . . to do your work well.”
Today I even did some writing, turning my conversation with the hitchhikers from last weekend into “After the Avant-Garde Festival,” which is not really a story but an exercise in handling dialogue. I also started a piece about Connie, the woman whose ad in the New York Review of Books I answered.
Connie’s response to my letter was a beautifully whimsical letter of her own which closed, “Write me! Call me! Don’t just sit there!” Although I was as nervous as hell beforehand, I phoned her.
She said she had never done anything like the personals ad before and that she felt very funny about it. I said I felt uncomfortable too, but that didn’t stop us from talking for nearly an hour.
Connie is 30 years old, twice-divorced, with a five-year-old daughter. She works at the Library for the Blind and Visually Handicapped on Sixth Avenue, is getting her M.L.S. at Pratt (and hates the program) – and she’s a poet and fiction writer “with rejections from only the best literary magazines.”
She says she has “a way-out sense of humor,” was brought up Jewish, wears Pro-Keds, and never went to therapy. She lives in Boerum Hill, doesn’t smoke or drink, is 5’2” and ten pounds overweight.
“Mostly I put the ad in to write a story about it,” she said, and told me I was the most promising of the responses she got. It didn’t seem to bother her that I was six years younger, bisexual and living with my parents, so I didn’t let it bother me, either.
Connie said she was very into the Women’s Movement for four years, but now she’s mostly into writing. She told me straight out that she was already planning to write a story about me and whatever relationship we had (she used to go out with Mark Mirsky, the CCNY professor, Fiction magazine editor, and Fiction Collective novelist). I said I would do the same.
We discussed a few public places to meet, but she told me that next weekend her daughter will be away with her father (I assume he’s one of her ex-husbands) and that I could come over to her apartment if I promised not to rape her.
“I never rape on the first date,” I assured her, and she said, “With my Pro-Keds, I could probably outrun you anyway.”
The whole thing is so utterly absurd, but the idea that a 30-year-old woman, a woman and not a girl, could find me attractive is definitely good for me. Josh keeps telling me I can’t live my life “locked in your room, chained to a typewriter,” and this would be something Josh would approve of.
Nevertheless, I was in my room, at my typewriter, writing about Connie today.
I don’t associate the start of fall with good times because of my breakdown in 1968, my breakup with Shelli in 1971, and the end of my relationship with Ronna last year – but today I discovered, to my surprise, that I sort of love this time of year.
This morning it was so cool that I had to wear my leather jacket, but it made me glad. I like the breezes and the trees just starting to turn color and the slightly quickened pace of life.
I went to see the noon showing of Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino at Cinema I. About a real Brooklyn bank robbery, it was a fantastic film, the quintessential New York movie.
I realize that I’m very selfish with my life; I did not want to share today with anyone. I wanted to treat myself – my best friend – to a movie and lunch in Manhattan. Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know, wanting to be alone so much.
I spoke to Elihu, calling him at his new apartment. After I told him about teaching, the acceptance letter and Connie, Elihu said it sounded like I was doing so many things, and I suppose in some ways I am.
Elihu told me that he didn’t think Leon could have been in town, as he had just called Madison last week. I didn’t want to mention that it was Allan who saw Leon, so I let it pass.
Elihu said that back in Madison, Leon is now working in the public library, Shelli’s a secretary, and Jerry’s a counselor for the food stamps program; also, “the war” between his friends is ending.
He also mentioned that Ellen and Wade are now back in New York, living on the Upper West Side; they seem to move around so much – while I remain in one familiar spot. Yet, in my own way, I am moving, too.
Tuesday, October 14, 1975
I’m exhausted tonight. Today I did a lot of things, and it’s been very warm out: it’s pneumonia weather, really. Last night I awakened following a dream in which I was ill and unable to sleep. After that, I was unable to sleep although I grabbed a Triavil and some chocolate cookies.
Strangely enough, after thinking yesterday about my writer’s block, I was able to write fiction today, and it was last night that the story began to write itself in my mind.
For a long time I’d planned to write a story called “Peninsular People,” which would be basically a portrait gallery of people who live in Rockaway: Ivan’s family, the Karpoffs, my grandparents, Mason’s family, Stefanie – and the story just “happened” today.
I find it odd that I’m using a style, sentence fragments in the form of subordinate clauses, which I’m currently teaching my class not to do.
Although I no longer get very nervous about teaching, I’m growing kind of disenchanted with it; probably I am very boring. Or maybe today was just one of those days. I don’t know how anyone could make learning adverb clauses fascinating, but I feel I’m not getting through to the class.
From today on, I’m going to take Dr. Silveira’s suggestion and let them do exercises (to be handed in) the second half of the class and confine my lectures and discussions to the first hour. My voice gives out after an hour, as does my students’ patience.
I have to deal with Mrs. South, who brings up irrelevancies, and the blind girl and the boy with no hands have to be taken care of, and then people come in late and don’t hand in assignments on time, and I sense a strong hostility coming from at least one student, Willie Rodriguez.
In one of the sentences he handed in to illustrate compound sentences with a semicolon and conjunctive adverb, he wrote, “I hate my English course; furthermore, I the teacher.” I suspect the missing verb is hate or something stronger.
Willie is a smart guy, too, and I don’t know why he resents me, and the sad thing is that mostly I don’t even care, although perhaps that’s a “mature,” healthy attitude.
Now I’m loaded down with papers to grade and students’ files to keep in order, and I wonder if the few students who do like me view me as nothing more than a genial incompetent.
Today I told them that if they didn’t hand in their assignments a week after they’re due, I would give them zeroes. I’ve got to start wielding some authority.
After I came home from downtown Brooklyn, I wrote a little, I exercised (I need and crave that daily workout), ate lunch, took vitamin C to prevent a cold, picked Marc up at the Kings Highway station, and finally went to Brooklyn College.
At my tutorial, Baumbach asked me if I would help Peggy Humphreys, the Fiction Collective coordinator, with her heavy workload.
Jon said that at the moment, he couldn’t give me any pay, but that it would mean one or two afternoons a week, going to the Fiction Collective office at the downtown BC campus and dealing with manuscripts: rejecting very poor ones, seeing that the Collective authors get the manuscripts to read, and tallying their reports (four Yes votes are necessary for publication).
I accepted, mostly because I feel this will stand me in good stead in terms of my writing career and because I was flattered that Baumbach came to me without even thinking of Simon or someone else.
However, I do worry about spreading myself so thin, what with all my commitments – the teaching, the 12 credits at BC, the Fiction Collective job, and my own writing – but I intend to take it easy in the spring term.
In the workshop, the class was unanimous in feeling that my “Mark the Public Notices” was too repetitive and too starkly realistic to be of any value; Baumbach felt that my insistence on realism is placing too many demands upon the reader.
By now even Josh is very annoyed with me; going home in the car, he mentioned Baumbach’s “playing favorites.”
Thursday, October 16, 1975
2 PM on another lovely Indian summer afternoon. I’m feeling 1000% better than I did yesterday, mostly because I took some positive action to relieve the pressures I was feeling: last evening I dropped Quinn’s poetry course.
Mom and Dad were kind of annoyed when I rushed home and begged for $20 so that I could pay the change-of-program fee. They think I’m lazy and a quitter. But they’ve always thought that and they probably always will, no matter what my achievements are.
At this point in my fairly well-analyzed life, I know that I’m neither of those things, and I’m firm in my self-assurance. My parents thought I was a jerk when I quit Alexander’s last year, and that was one of the “rightest” decisions I ever made.
People, especially parents, are always trying to impose their values on you, but I learned a long time ago that it’s best – even if it isn’t true – to assume that each person is the best judge of his or her own life decisions.
Gary and Alice both called yesterday, and it was good to hear from them. Gary, too, says he doesn’t have as much free time as he’d like, and Alice says she’s so busy, she has little time for herself; I guess that’s what growing up means, and it’s sad.
Alice mentioned having dinner at Robert’s last weekend and how Robert is depressed over the quality of his students at the downtown Brooklyn College campus.
Yesterday afternoon I went to the downtown campus, the 96 Schermerhorn Street building, by subway. (It was the first time I paid the new 50¢ fare.)
The Fiction Collective office is on the eleventh floor, and Peggy Humphreys, who seems like a very lovely lady, explained to me what needed to be done.
All of the Fiction Collective author/members – Baumbach, Spielberg, Mirsky, Sukenick, Federman, Mimi Albert, Clarence Major and the others – read the various manuscripts that come in, and I’ll be in charge of sending out the manuscripts to the various authors, tabulating their responses when they do come in (four Yes votes are needed for an author to be accepted as a member) and answering all the correspondence.
Hopefully, that will give Peggy a chance to catch up on the rest of her work, which is mostly publicity and the kind of stuff Ronna was doing at ARCO.
Yesterday, I looked through a pile of correspondence from aspiring authors. It’s somehow very sad and touching, all those people writing novels and stories and not being able to get published: Chicago lawyers, Iowa physicians, laborers who write novels about their nervous breakdowns, a college prof with eleven unpublished books.
The Collective only wants to see manuscripts from previously published authors. I drafted a mimeographed reply; Peggy said that she didn’t really want to use one, but the volume of letters made a personal reply to everyone nearly impossible.
She’s in the office from Tuesday to Thursday, and I told her I’d come in on Wednesdays. Going home in the subway in the crush hour was when I decided to drop Quinn’s Poetry course, which I did literally at the last minute, for the deadline was at 7 PM yesterday.
This way I’ll be able to devote more time to what seems like interesting work at the Fiction Collective and concentrate on doing a good job teaching at LIU. And of course, my writing is the most important thing.
In class this morning, I felt at ease and confident discussing singular and plural nouns, and it was one of the best classes: people were interested, it moved, and I felt good about it afterwards. Actually, my students aren’t so dumb, and some of them are fairly bright.
I saw Willie Rodriguez on Flatbush Avenue this morning, but he was on the wrong side of the street so I couldn’t offer him a lift to school. I had hoped to change his attitude toward me by that gesture, but he never even showed up to class today.
Saturday, October 18, 1975
It’s been raining heavily since last evening. I arrived at Connie’s place at exactly 8 PM, having to rush to the bathroom in the worst way. She came out to greet me, saying, “I’m cold, I’m tired, I just ate eight pieces of cake, and I’ve started smoking again!”
She smoked all night out of nervousness and I pissed; I had to use her bathroom four times. (After she pointed it out to me, I didn’t close the door after the first time.)
Her apartment is typical New York Divorcee With One Child Who Writes Poetry, and I’m used to that look already from Cousin Robin.
Connie herself is a very hyper, compact bundle of energy. She was dressed in her usual, self-proclaimed “dykey” style: black pullover sweater, jeans and Pro-Keds.
She’s not really pretty, but she’s cute: she’s tiny, with long brown hair and glasses, and she smiles unlike anyone I’ve ever known: not just with her mouth but with her whole face, from forehead to chin.
Although we were both uncomfortable, that probably made us talkative, and we got to know each other over two pots of tea (probably why I kept needing the bathroom). I told her about my life, and she told me about hers, and at the end of the night Connie said that everyone’s life story is beginning to sound the same, and she’s right.
Her daughter, Jasmine, was with her father, Artie, Connie’s second ex-husband who’s into health foods and “being happy” and who’s so messed up that last year he asked his mother for $10,000 in “reparations.”
Connie is closer with her first ex-husband, whom she’s known since she was 15: Paul is a socialist, a capital-R romantic, and good-looking, and Connie’s happy for him now that he has a close relationship with another man.
She was living with Artie and “a whole bunch of people” on the West Side when she found herself pregnant and decided not to have an abortion even though they were legal by then. (Connie told me a horror story about an illegal abortion she had during her first marriage.)
She said she thought having a baby would be fulfilling for her as a woman, and giving in to pressure from Artie and her family, she married him in her fifth month. After a natural childbirth, she loved Jasmine but soon realized that she’d have a child around forever. Now she does her best with the girl, hoping she won’t mess her up too much.
Connie’s parents are typical Jewish suburban liberals; she has a retarded brother; she doesn’t ever want to get married again. Working in the Library for the Blind and Visually Handicapped has taught her not to think much about appearances.
Apart from her M.L.S. grad work at Pratt, which she dislikes, Connie reads an awful lot – more than I – and she liked “Alice Keppel” and I thought her poetry was excellent, especially one poem about the Cumaean Sibyl.
She doesn’t look 30 to me. She said she plays the guitar badly (“I do everything half-assed”) but sings beautifully; when she sat on the floor and played and sang Christmas carols (“The Little Drummer Boy”) and folk songs (“Froggy Went A-Courtin’”), I was entranced.
She said she was promiscuous in college and still gets picked up by men a lot although she thought she was frigid with her first husband (who, oddly, was the first person she told when she got pregnant with Jasmine).
Connie is a socialist, a peace movement veteran who’s still got a photo of Uncle Ho on her wall, and has been in several women’s consciousness-raising groups. Like we said, all our life stories seem to be the same.
We spent about five hours together, and she told me she planned to see only four of the dozen guys who responded to her ad. (She was sorry the minute after she mailed the check and ad copy to the New York Review of Books; I felt the same way about my letter responding to her ad.)
We seemed to get on well, but as we agreed, it’s so hard to know someone when they come with a whole solar system of family, lovers, friends and experiences. The really important relationships don’t happen if you plan them.
Both of us felt a bit dumb all evening, perhaps I more than she, as Connie’s older and has been on her own and through a lot more (yet I don’t think she’s any more mature than I am). When it came to seeing each other again, we both said, honestly, that we didn’t really know.
In any case, I’m very glad that I went to meet Connie.
Sunday, October 19, 1975
5 PM. It’s still raining. I’ve just gotten back from an afternoon in Manhattan and a late lunch at the Floridian.
Vince called last evening at 8 PM, just as I was cleaning up from dinner. Vince is the guy whose Aquarian ad I answered this week. He said he was 22, bisexual, into music and friendships and wanted a guy who was more interested in a good emotional relationship than in sex.
Over the phone, Vince sounded very self-assured; I was very nervous and asked him why he wasn’t. Unlike me, he’s more secure talking than writing; he said it was because of his job at New York Life (where Ronna worked one summer), where he’s on the phone all day – plus, he really likes people.
We conversed for over two hours, and I suppose that will be the end of it. I’m sure he was disappointed that we didn’t have very much in common. For once thing, he’s into that disco scene, with clubbing and drinking (although he’s not supposed to drink because of an incipient ulcer).
But Vince said he’s not interested in going to bars to pick people up: his main interest is music, about which he sounds very knowledgeable; he spends a lot of money on stereo equipment. I, of course, am ignorant and indiscriminating about music.
Vince and I have different types of sense of humor, too: while I go in for absurdities (when he asked me if I drive a car, I said, “No, I drive a carrot”), he’s into double entendres (although he didn’t recognize the term).
He wears nice clothes, too: suits and ties to work, and recently he bought his first pair of jeans in several years. Vince is Italian and has a sister a year younger and a brother two years younger, whom he’s close to (he used to date the girl who became his brother’s girlfriend).
Vince is skinny – I picture him as fragile – cavity-prone, and wears glasses (he asked me if I’d ever looked at a Christmas tree without glasses, and I knew what he meant).
He lives alone in Ridgewood, on the Brooklyn-Queens border, says he’s a neat person, a good son to conservative “Guinea” parents, and spends hours on the phone.
While we were speaking, I got the impression we weren’t getting on at all, but we must have had something to say to each other or we wouldn’t have talked for so long.
Still, he didn’t appear enthusiastic about me, probably because he considers me hopeless as a clubbing-and-drinking partner. Oddly, most of the sexual intimations in our conversation came from me.
He didn’t give me his number, which I suppose is just as well. Although he said he’d call, I doubt he will; I think he was just too kind to want to hurt my feelings.
I think I should stop answering these ads. Yes, I am meeting people that I ordinarily wouldn’t meet, but what am I getting out of it except to know that there are many nice people in the world who I don’t particularly want to spend time with? I’ve known that all along.
You know, I even found myself saying clever things to Vince that had worked with Connie; those are “lines,” and that’s very unlike me.
Late last night, I had a long talk with myself but decided nothing. Maybe I’m scared to plunge into these new relationships – yet the excitement of meeting different new people is fun. This is the Age of Possibilities, isn’t it?
But social promiscuity, no less than sexual promiscuity, seems to lead one only to emptiness; as Connie said, everyone’s life story begins to sound the same and you’re numbed by the sheer numbers of people.
Today I went to see Smile, a funny satire of beauty pageants, at the Paramount, the theater underground at the Gulf & Western Building at Columbus Circle. On line ahead of me for tickets at the circular box office and entrance, I saw a guy in a hooded parka who looked vaguely familiar.
It struck me that this man was Brad, but I wasn’t sure; it’s been over five years, after all. After the movie, I found myself standing next to him on the escalator – he was with a guy and a young boy – and I was pretty sure it was indeed Brad.
But he didn’t recognize me – I guess I no longer look much like the 18-year-old kid he once said he was crazy about – and as much as I wanted to, I was afraid to say something to him. That’s how life is.