Sunday, September 14, 1975
This morning I did not want to leave my bed. It wasn’t laziness, it was depression: I just felt unable to cope with the day. I used to feel like that often, but the last few months have been generally free of crippling depressions. Today’s depression did not cripple me, but it left me limping.
Perhaps I’d better describe the events of last night; I suspect that the impetus for this depression can be traced to last night’s Young Mensa party. Alice and I both looked very good; for once in my life, I felt halfway attractive.
The D’Andras live in this art store on Coney Island Avenue, and the second floor was filled with paintings of Vikings and crucifixions and fake Byzantine art, but the house was a cluttered mess; “the filthy Frick,” somebody called it.
Our hostess, Diana D’Andra (who resembled John Lennon circa 1970) was less than hospitable. When she found out I’d brought Alice, she became very angry with me because I hadn’t told her I was bringing anyone, and I’d upset Diana’s “highly structured” (her term) plans.
If we had been smart, Alice and I would have left then and there, for our relations with our hostess grew even chillier as the night dragged on. Finding Diana’s sister’s friends too young and the Mensa members too boring, Alice and I settled on this girl in the corner, Monica, who’d driven all the way from Hauppauge for the party.
Monica had just joined Mensa last month, and I guess she was trying to meet people; she dropped out of Syracuse for a year and was working for the Suffolk County welfare department.
Alice and I tend to act crazy in public – Alice brings that out in me – and we were getting off making fun of the pretentious people in the room, such as Mr. D’Andra, a fat math teacher at BC who polished off an entire plate of meatballs as he pompously lectured some young people about the college administration.
Soon, with our verbal flights of fancy, Alice and I had Monica in stitches, doubled up with laughter – and she was pretty quick herself. But we became the outcasts of the party, and few people ventured to our corner.
An exception was Wesley Baron, the new Brooklyn College student government president, a Mugwump. Wes is a pretty nice guy; he lost 130 pounds on Weight Watchers and we could talk about LaGuardia things. (He asked me if Marty Orland was really so great and I said yes.)
Anyway, there was also a guy in a yarmulke, a friend of Diana’s (“Oh, does Diana have friends?” I asked), who bored the hell out of us. At one point Diana felt it necessary to give Alice and me a lecture on good manners, and I realized we were having one of those public “scenes” I’ve always dreaded.
Later, our charming hostess pointed us out to some guy, and I gather she was saying uncomplimentary things. Alice and I stuck it out for a while, longer than we were welcome.
We asked Monica if she wanted to go out to eat with us, but she said she’d “stick around to get my money’s worth.” That disappointed me, and I cursed myself for not having the nerve to ask Monica for her phone number.
We were getting on so well, and I found her attractive. Blonde, with steel-rimmed glasses, she’s German, Catholic, probably rich. She said her Orthodox Jewish boyfriend used to get stoned and wrestle her while he yelled about her killing his ancestors in Europe.
Monica said that her ego conflicted with those of her teaching assistants at Syracuse; she recently read the Aldous Huxley biography; and she’s under the delusion she’s too fat to go to the beach. So I really liked her, yet we ended our meeting with a lame “See you” when we know we’ll never meet again.
Now that I think about it, that’s when I began feeling depressed. It wasn’t the coolness of the morning or the noise my car is making or the fact that Ronna can’t see me this week that was upsetting me (although those things contributed); it was the lost opportunity with Monica.
I should have tried. Not to try seems almost a sin. Always the writer, I tried to assuage my bad feelings by writing a truly lousy story called “Monica and Me.”
Tuesday, September 16, 1975
8 PM. I feel like a different person than I did the past couple of days. Sometimes I think those bleak, gripping depressions are necessary to get myself geared up for really living. It’s like an athlete or a performer pacing himself and being “up” at the right moment.
I’ve noticed a pattern in my depressions: how they come before a day when I need all my psychic and physical energy.
Energy is a strange thing: a little while ago, in the kitchen, Mom was demonstrating something she’d seen on TV. She had me stand with one arm straight out; she tried to force it down but couldn’t because of my pressure against her.
Then Mom said she would remove the energy from my body by making a “∩”-shaped curve with her arm across my front. After a few minutes of rubbing me, I again held out the arm, but this time I was too weak to resist Mom’s downward pressure.
Dad didn’t believe it worked until Mom tried it out on him. It’s amazing. Mom said it has something to do with the way body energy is drained and stored. So there’s an awful lot we don’t know, and I have much to learn.
Last night I slept very well and woke up early, eager to start my first day of work at Glenwood Laundry. When I arrived there at 9 AM, Andrea gave me a list of the addresses where I would have to pick up bundles of laundry. She has regular customers and a different list every day.
Today was rough, partly because I had to do the Monday route in addition to today’s, as the store was closed yesterday for Yom Kippur. But the real problem was that I was unfamiliar with the route; when I get accustomed to it, I’m sure I’ll be able to cut down the time involved in the pickups.
As it was, today took me 4½ hours to do only five or six trips. I can accommodate only so many bundles of laundry in my compact car, and some people have two or three big bundles.
It’s hard physical work at times, toting those heavy bundles, and of course today I was going all over Canarsie like a chicken without his head, not sure of the most efficient routes and ignorant of addresses and which streets are one-way which way.
Andrea assures me that it will get easier, and I’ll just have to wait and see. Today it was a little frustrating, but getting paid the $10.80 (for 27 trips, at 40¢ a trip) made me feel better.
The laundry is closed on Wednesdays, so I’ll never have to work more than two days in a row. As I said, I’ll see what happens with this job.
I had time to eat, relax and exercise before class this afternoon. Josh called, annoyed at me because I didn’t call him back on Friday to see about going to Allan’s, but I had assumed that when Josh didn’t call me back, the whole thing was off, so I went out to eat with my parents. While I was out with them, Allan called, to arrange our meeting, and I didn’t get back to him until Sunday.
Allan’s not working because his graduate program takes up so much of his time. On Saturday night he was at 12 West till 6 AM the next morning, so he’s obviously not giving up his social life.
Anyhow, I got to Brooklyn College after 4 PM and met Todd in Boylan. He said he can’t do any work now that his wife, a schoolteacher, and his kids are home. But the teachers’ strike is ending tomorrow, a big defeat for the union.
In class, we went over a story by Denis, about homosexual flirting in a Copenhagen bar. As usual, Denis’s fiction is plagued by a kind of lack of control: Denis cannot screen out the garrulousness and mannerisms from the really good stuff in his writing.
The class is “coming together” again under Jon Baumbach after our spring with Peter Spielberg, and we’re all performing our usual roles.
We also looked at my “15 Sentences Never Previously Existing in the English Language,” which mystified the class, except for Simon, who hated it. But Baumbach said he’d let me use the piece in my thesis and said he thought it was “okay.”
I came home to have a barbecue dinner with my family. Today was a full day, and I feel good about it.
Wednesday, September 17, 1975
5 PM. I’ve gone through a lot of changes today.
At noon, I got a surprise call from Dr. Farber, who asked, “Are you available?” I said yes, rather nervously, and he said that I should be at LIU before 9 AM tomorrow for an English 10 (Remedial Composition) course that just opened up today, the last day of registration.
The class will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, going from 9 AM to 11 AM. As I got off the phone, I was shaking with excitement as I ran to tell Mom, who positively glowed with joy.
I was pacing up and down like a nervous wreck as Mom called Dad, Grandpa Nat and Grandpa Herb, all of whom were so happy for me. I thought of having my own class from the beginning of the term; this time I wouldn’t be taking over a course in the middle of a semester.
And the students will probably be kids, 17 and 18 years old. I thought of the fun I could have with then. And then I became a little frightened, feeling it was all happening too fast, and I began to feel guilty about not being able to stay with the laundry job and leaving Andrea in the lurch, without a driver.
But of course my career is more important than the laundry’s problems, as harsh as that sounds. I made plans to go to LIU tomorrow. I got out my briefcase, found and wound my watch, and even went to Sid’s Pants to buy slacks to wear on the job. Then I ran into the Mill Basin public library and found a course description in the LIU college catalog.
I was floating on air all afternoon. But when I came home from having extensive dental work, there was a message to call Dr. Farber. “Uh oh,” I said out loud.
When I called him, Dr. Farber sounded terribly apologetic: it seems there was a mix-up between the English Department and the registrar’s office. As of now, the class that he expected to be split into two sections will be kept intact, so he wanted to tell me that I shouldn’t come in tomorrow, as there would be nothing for me to do.
Dr. Farber said he’ll call me on Friday to let me know if there’ll be any change. “I’ve got you in mind for whatever turns up,” he told me. He must have felt awful, knowing how disappointed I’d be.
It’s hard to get my emotions sorted out; I just hung up with him an hour ago. I tried to cry, but I didn’t feel like crying. I don’t feel angry, either. I do feel the tiniest bit relieved; at least I know I’ll be able to sleep tonight without anxiety.
But there’s embarrassment: I told my grandparents, Alice, even the dentist. This must be how getting laid off feels. My disappointment is great, but I feel worse for Mom and Dad, knowing how happy they were.
If I look at it rationally, I can say this: (1) The important thing is that Dr. Farber called me, thus showing he has faith in my abilities as a teacher. (2) At least I didn’t quit the laundry job; if I had, I’d really be up shit’s creek. (3) Essentially, I’m back to ground zero, where I was this morning; Dr. Farber’s second call canceled out his first.
Of course it’s not the same; I can’t pretend that the first call and my excitement over it never existed. But this morning I was not unhappy, so my position hasn’t really changed.
Most importantly for me, however, is the lesson in the facts of life. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; in this case, the Lord is Long Island University. Disappointments are part of life and they are just as important as the serendipitous events that can occur.
Maybe I’m not in touch with my feelings because I’m acting too “maturely.” But if this philosophical, fatalistic attitude is real, then I’ve gained an awful lot as a human being. And being a person, a mensch, is more important than being a professor.
I may cry all night or have some other typical delayed psychological reaction; at least it will be interesting to watch myself in action. As an old Jewish woman might say to me, this should be the worst disappointment in my life.
Friday, September 19, 1975
5 PM. Dr. Farber never called today, so it looks like everything at LIU is off. I am greatly disappointed. How excited I was for those four hours on Wednesday when I thought I might be getting my own class. But I can bear this disappointment, I suppose.
I don’t particularly like my laundry job; it’s boring, menial labor although I don’t mind the physical part of it, lifting the heavy bundles. No, that’s fine with me. But I’ve always felt my car was a special place, that since I don’t have my own apartment, my car was my special place.
You can see that in my stories; I know it’s very American male-chauvinist as well as downright unpatriotic in an energy crisis . . . but I love my car. And so I don’t like to see it loaded down with other people’s smelly laundry.
Odd how we personify a machine, but I feel my plucky Comet and I have been through so much together. It was a graduation present, and it took me to Washington, and it went over the Verrazano Bridge with me to Richmond College for a year, and it was stolen and stuck in East New York until I saved it.
It’s funny how writing these pages just takes me anywhere: I never expected to be writing an ode to an automobile.
Yesterday at school, I met Anna before class, and she showed me some of her family photos. She’s currently working as a cashier at Korvette’s and she hates the job. Anna’s a nice kid, but she’s a throwback to an earlier, more naïve age.
In the Fiction Workshop, we went over one of Simon’s stories, the one I liked so much. Todd objected to any use of typography to “change” the story. Todd and his old-fashioned notions . . .
Denis was joking as usual, but Sharon got annoyed with his smirking during the comments she was making about Simon’s story. We had a lot of time left over, and Baumbach urged me to read aloud the only available piece we had, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.”
After I finished reading it, there was a kind of puzzled silence, and no one felt ready to comment upon it – except Simon, of course – until they’d read it for themselves. (I am aware of the grammatical errors made in the last sentence.)
So we split. Baumbach did say that there’s something to be said for randomness, though. As we made our way out of the classroom, Simon went up to Denis and started telling him how much he hated the way Denis took everything as a big joke and how he couldn’t stand Denis’ laughter.
Denis took the comments as a joke until finally Simon got him angry as he badgered away. “Shove it up your ass,” Denis told Simon before he walked away.
In Sugar Bowl, with me, Todd and Josh, Simon explained how his hatred of Denis’ ways has been building up for over a year. Josh told Simon he did things that were probably worse and reminded Simon about his often cruel and cutting remarks about other people’s stories.
I backed Josh up while Todd, a self-admitted “poor arguer,” just tried to pretend all was sweetness and light. Later, Sharon joined us, oblivious to what had been going on, and I had a nice chat with her about Weight Watchers.
I left with Josh and drove him home, apologizing for ducking out on him and Allan last week and admitted I was wrong in not calling him back (I was wrong) and so things are all right between us again.
“Our class is full of psychos,” Josh said when we got to his building.
The other night I spoke to Mikey, who said not much is new, that he’s busy with his job at John Jay and putting the finishing touches on his criminal justice thesis. Mikey said he and Mike don’t get to see each other that often – and that the same is true of both of them and Larry – now that everyone is so busy. None of us can hang out together as we used to when we had more free time.
Gary called and told me about his nephew’s bris on Tuesday and of the goings-on in the Columbia Sociology Department. Gary said Paul Salisbury quit his job at Brooklyn College because they wanted him to teach 15 credits (a budget cuts thing), so now Paul will be devoting full-time to that project Gary will be working on with him.
I slept well, but not enough, and today I worked hard. The sloppy weather made it that much harder for me. Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel dropped by the house this afternoon, and they seem fine.
I’ve put the teaching job at LIU out of my mind, but I haven’t repressed it. I’m just taking a very fatalistic attitude about it. Life is so rich and so much better if you take it just one day at a time.
“Live in day-tight compartments,” I once read in a Dale Carnegie book. Now that I’ve become less neurotic, I can see that it works. Every day is an adventure, maybe even a novel (like Ulysses or Mrs. Dalloway?).
I love life so much; it’s hard to believe that just a few days ago I said I’d prefer death. There is such a variety of things to do, and I want to do everything! (Do I sound too cheerleader-ish?)
On Tuesday night, after the TV show Beacon Hill ended, I called one of the actors, David Rounds, whose name was in the Manhattan phone book, to compliment him on a great performance. I was being sincere, and the actor was so obviously pleased that it made me feel great to know that I’d made him feel good.
I’m not sure what the moral of that story is – I guess something about life. You remember life?
Saturday, September 20, 1975
5 PM. I just had lunch after getting up from one of my delightful afternoon naps. It was as if I could sink through my mattress today. Lately I’ve had very pleasant dreams, of friends from LaGuardia Hall and of feasts featuring delicious foods.
Alice called today and asked if I wanted to go out tonight, but I told her I was looking forward to staying home. Lately my evenings have been spent at school, or other places, and frankly, a Saturday night at home alone feels like a treat.
I feel this tremendous uneasiness about not having written a line all week, and I wonder, with school and work at the laundry and all, just how much writing I can get done this semester.
I’ve laid aside my novel for quite some time, and I don’t feel like picking it up again. I do think the next section of the novel will be another long one; I’d like to take it to the graduation party that Scott gave in June of 1973 and have interior monologues of the various characters, using the silent soliloquy form I used in the “The Séance” section.
I’m sure I’ll get around to the novel eventually, but I don’t think it will be for a while. I’m really devoid of ideas for stories and a bit tired of my surrealistic prose poems. I want to move on from there.
But what is there to write next? A story about Rachel? A representational soap-opera-ish story? Another personal “fragmented” piece? I guess if I have to force an idea, the resulting story will not be very good. Maybe I should just concentrate on living and see what ideas I get from that.
Last night, I had a quick dinner at Jahn’s on Flatbush and Church before going on to Libby’s house.
It was good to see Mason there after so many months since our last meeting; he’s in a new incarnation now, with a full, bushy beard, rimless eyeglasses and thick, layered hair. Mason looks terrific, and it also felt good to hear him tell me that he noticed all the muscles I’ve acquired.
Libby introduced me to her friend Joyce, a very pretty West Indian girl who lives across the street from the apartment on Avenue J where Libby stayed this summer. (Patty took over Libby’s old room, and Patty also found a job as a teacher in a private school.)
Joyce lives with Steven, an old friend of Libby’s and the guy who used to teach German to Avis. Joyce is very much in love with Steven and is kind of at loose ends now that he’s away traveling for a while (though he’s still in this country, having dropped plans to go to Europe and visit Avis and Helmut).
The four of us had tea and joined Libby’s brother Wyatt and his girlfriend Angelina in watching Star Trek; then we went back to Joyce’s house because she had forgotten her bread cookbook when she bicycled to Park Slope.
Back at Libby’s house, we began baking the bread, and it was a great deal of fun, mashing up bananas, whipping eggs, mixing the batter, and grating orange rind. One of Mason’s friends from camp, this Puerto Rican guy, Israel, dropped by, asking Mason if he wanted a job working at the same factory where he’s gotten a job.
Mason hasn’t told his family that he’s back in New York yet and won’t go see them in Rockaway until after he has a job. He was pretty quiet all evening, and the exchanged whispers and glances between Libby and Joyce confirmed what I’ve suspected: that Libby does not want to continue her romantic relationship with Mason.
Accidently, I picked up a letter from the British Information Service to Libby. On Thursday, Libby told me that Les had asked her to go back to England with him – and today there was uncomfortableness at the mention of Les’ name.
Mason told me he had a good time traveling and liked Quebec especially; he also mentioned that Helen did join that ashram in California run by 3HO, the Happy Healthy Holy Organization.
Libby said that Maury – Melvin and Morty’s little brother – was now well enough to have started college (Baruch, where Joyce goes), and Melvin proudly told her that his brother has begun following in the family footsteps by already cutting classes to get stoned.
It was a very pleasant evening. Wyatt and his girlfriend Angelina were hanging out with us, and they’re a cute young couple, and Libby’s mother is especially nice, someone I immediately took a liking to. And I was amused to see that the family has a cat named after Mason who is knocking up all the lady cats in Park Slope.
We had more tea with our bread, which was delicious, and Joyce talked about life in Dominica and other things; I really liked her, too. At midnight or so, Israel and I left – I drove him home to Williamsburg – so the others could get some sleep.