Wednesday, January 21, 1976
3 PM. A rerun of yesterday’s snow is going on right now outside my window. It should be only a couple of inches, a comfortable dry-powder snow. I am feeling better: my cold has finally disappeared although I still have traces of a cough.
And although I’m not going to Florida tonight as originally scheduled (curiously, the tickets never arrived), I feel that I can weather the winter here. January, like the time from June to August, is a lazy time, but it doesn’t have the seasonal advantages of summer.
These past few weeks I’ve been dreaming of summer, of lying on the beach, and feeling the strong summer sun on my skin. But reality will bring spring in a couple of months – although in New York, spring is a brief and uncertain season, lasting a few weeks around Easter – and then summer will inevitably follow.
February will be here in less than two weeks, and that will mean a return to the action of a new term. I’m not sure I even want to teach at LIU this term, but if I’m asked, I shall accept.
It might be nice to get a different kind of job. Still, I’ll wait until the term begins before job-hunting. I got my paycheck from LIU today, covering the second half of the term, so I’ll have some money to keep me going.
And of course, a veteran politics fan like me will have the diversion of enjoying Presidential primaries in both parties this year. The delegate selection process began on Monday night in Iowa with former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter taking the lion’s share of the vote. Birch Bayh finished a disappointing second, Fred Harris a strong third, and the others trailed.
Today I went into the Fiction Collective office and found Peggy in an exuberant mood; they came in to clean out the office next door, and they’re letting us take their IBM typewriter.
Vivian Sloan was in to supervise the moving; she and Ron will be getting married next month, and they’ll move to a Detroit suburb where Ron has a job as a lawyer with the Social Security Administration.
The Series IV books came in: Raymond Federman’s Take It or Leave It; Seymour Simckes’ The Comatose Kids; and Marianne Hauser’s The Talking Room. And we did get that grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; everything has been decided, but the paperwork has not yet been signed.
Peggy has been talking to Jon and Peter about the problem of backlogged manuscripts; she thinks they’d like me to act as more of a first reader, weeding out unsuitable manuscripts.
But I told Peggy, and she agreed, that I don’t have time to do that when I’m so involved with the intricate mechanics and details of sending out manuscripts to the author/members and keeping track of and tallying their votes.
If I were getting paid, it would be a different story, but knowing Baumbach and Spielberg, I’m sure they’d rather not spend the money. I do get a lot of inside information in the office and learn about the small press/literary magazine world.
I gather that Peggy and Dick are going to retire this year to their house in New Mexico. Peggy and Vivian went to lunch (along with taking a lot of packages to the post office), and I managed to clear off my desk, bringing home one manuscript and also taking copies of the three new books.
Richard Kostelanetz, in his closing chapters of The End of Intelligent Writing, exhorts young writers to action, and I feel that by working for the Fiction Collective, I’m doing my part. It’s a shame that so many young writers do not patronize their contemporaries or buy little magazines or read small press books.
Last night I called Mrs. Judson to explain about the weather making a visit unfeasible, and I wished her a happy birthday. Mr. Judson has written her from Arizona, saying he can’t find a job there and has been considering going to Angola to fight as a mercenary soldier. She thinks he just wants her to say, “No, no – you’ll be killed. Come on home already.”
Mrs. Judson spoke to Libby on Sunday night about paying her Blue Cross; Libby will have her operation here soon after she returns from England. I expect Libby will be staying the full 45 days and return on February 11; Avis will leave for Germany the following week.
Sunday, January 25, 1976
8 PM. Tonight on television, Barbara Jordan, the distinguished Representative from Texas, was asked how she managed to overcome her handicaps of being black and female. She answered with the phrase, “the obsession of achievement,” and I was struck by those words.
I think I possess that obsession to achieve something in this world. At times I burn with it. Years ago, I used to collect quotations, and one of them sticks in my head now: “Only those who dare to fail greatly dare to achieve greatly.”
For so long, I was afraid to even try. That is the answer, I think, to the riddle of why I stayed in the house for a year. It has a lot to do with my upbringing, particularly my mother’s insistence upon a neat, unsullied universe and her message that whatever is not perfect is not worth doing.
But the optimist, the ambitious man in me, has won, and I’m willing to gamble for that one chance in a thousand that I’ll succeed. I completed my novel today. And in truth, if it became a bestseller – which is beyond even my wildly optimistic sense of reality – I could not be more pleased than I feel now.
I savor the process of writing and I suppose enjoy what I’ve written. But for me, writing The Hamilton Years has been the most important achievement in my life so far – and that will be true even if no one ever reads the novel.
I wrote it for myself, and truly I doubt that it would have been of any interest to anyone except myself and perhaps the people who were part of the story. I will give the novel to Professor Baumbach to read, and I’m not expecting a very positive reaction on his part.
A thought just came to me – way out of left field: I seem to remember a dream I had, an obsessive dream I had during a feverish night when I had the flu three years ago. It occurs to me now that the dream was the entire novel I just finished. Very curious.
At 6 PM yesterday, I picked up Avis and we drove over to Kings Plaza. The Story of O was the first porn film I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not into whippings, but the film was pretty, for the most part, and both Avis and I enjoyed it.
I feel liberated after seeing these pictures; it seems quite healthy to me. Last night I had my first sexual dream in a long time – I was having intercourse with a lovely woman – and I’m sure the film was responsible for that pleasant experience.
After the movie, when we came back home, Avis bought $20 worth of grass from Marc, and we tested it in the kitchen; she’s going to mail it to Helmut. Marijuana is hard to come by in Germany; mostly they just have hash.
Avis wanted to see Mikey before she left, so I rang Mikey up and we went over to his house. He had been working on his thesis, finishing the preliminary draft; almost all the work is done.
Avis told Mikey about her life in Germany (I haven’t tired of her stories yet) and Mikey spoke about his doings. The part of his job that he enjoys most is working with the inmates on Rikers Island.
What Mikey wants more than anything is to be a criminal lawyer; I told him if he gets into law school, I’d go out and commit a crime just to give him business.
We watched TV and talked about other people. Avis wanted to know about Alan Karpoff, but Mikey said he hasn’t seen Alan in months.
She’s kind of afraid to call him; on her last visit, she wouldn’t sleep with him, and he hasn’t contacted her since. Mason advised her not to call Alan: “Let sleeping dogs lie,” Mason said.
Mikey said he intended to go to Elspeth’s and Elihu’s party although Mike categorically refuses to consider attending. In other news, Mikey said that Casey was made a Special Assistant Attorney General in some Boston case and Sharon was remaining in Washington, continuing on with her graduate work in English.
After the three of us watched Saturday Night Live on TV, Avis and I made our way back from Rockaway through the ice, coming home at 1 AM. It was a very pleasant Saturday night.
Today I went to a poetry reading at the Brooklyn Museum. The poet, Siv Cedering Fox, is one I’ve read in quite a few literary magazines. She’s a tall, beautiful Swedish woman, and her poems were all exquisite.
She has a sense of craft in her writing that even someone as ignorant about poetry as me can discern in a minute. Also, she’s an excellent reader, full of life and wit, the kind of person I like instinctively, the kind of person I’d like to be someday.
More and more, I am coming to appreciate poetry. Connie Parrish told me I’d probably get around to the poetic sensibility at a later age, and perhaps she was right.
Tuesday, January 27, 1976
Last evening I drove into Manhattan, parked on Sixth Avenue and had dinner at The Bagel, probably my favorite eating-place in the Village with its 24 or so seats and terrific burgers and nice gay waiters.
Uptown I went after that, going all the way to Morningside Heights, where I was to meet Gary at 7:30 PM. But I decided that since I was over an hour early and just a block away, I might as well visit Allan Cooper.
Allan answered the door; Tommy, his new roommate, was asleep after a long day of classes (his class schedule was posted on his closed door) and before Tommy had to work at Low Library tonight. So we spoke quietly.
Allan looked quite good: his hair is short and tightly curled from what I assume is a perm; he’s got a mustache and he’s lost weight. All in all, Allan looks like one of those nice clean gay young men you often see on the streets of Manhattan. But he was in pain after an hour at the dentist, where he’d had some difficult root canal work done.
Allan got back from Tampa a week ago; he left his car down there with his parents. He’s started the new term and says he’s already behind in his work, although with only one Incomplete from last term to make up.
I didn’t want to stay very long, because I had come unexpectedly and at a bad time, so I left Allan’s apartment and walked around the campus.
People at Columbia – young people, that is – look so much better than people at Brooklyn College or Richmond or LIU. Everyone seems to have that with-it look: the girls are prettier and more self-assured; the boys have an air of casual, handsome earnestness.
I’ve been intoxicated by the lure of the Columbia campus for years, and last night I had time – luckily, the weather was mild – to explore some of the buildings. I really think I would have enjoyed going to Columbia, but then I did enjoy Brooklyn and I’m not complaining.
Columbia makes me feel nostalgic because it seems more Sixties-ish than any other school I’ve seen.
While waiting for Gary outside the law school, I spotted this blond boy in a grey Choate T-shirt, a thin kid about 20 with a cigarette and that studied carelessness that prep-school boys always manage to carry off.
Once I wanted so to be like that, and even now I have not reconciled myself to being a somewhat vulgar, squat, unhandsome, flustered Brooklyn Jew.
Gary, with his attaché case in hand, met me exactly at 7:30 PM and we made our way to the International Affairs School, where he had his class with Margaret Mead.
Gary said he had spent the day running errands, going up to the medical school and down to Random House. On Wednesday he’s got a job interview at a market-research firm in Greenwich.
The class was held in a modern auditorium large enough to accommodate Dr. Mead’s huge class. She made a grand entrance, carrying a forked and gnarled walking stick, and proceeded to lecture after a bit of housekeeping that seemed unusual to me.
She wanted her students to put photos on their student cards so she can look at their picture when she marks their final and so she’ll know who they are if they “come around wanting recommendations from me five years from now.” (At 75, she’s got to be an optimist.)
Dr. Mead talked and showed slides covering her early work with the Manus and the Arapesh in New Guinea; it was a fascinating lecture, and I was very glad that Gary had asked me to sit in on his class.
Even some of her offhand remarks fascinated me, like one about the cognitive differences when speakers of English hear “white” before “horse” while speakers of Romance languages hear “horse” (caballo, cheval) before “white” (blanco, blanche) .
When we came out, it was pouring, and our drive back to Brooklyn was kind of rough, but I got home by 11 PM.
Josh sold a story to New Writers today, and I’m very happy that it was Josh, rather than anyone else, who is the first one in the class besides me to sell a story.
When he called this morning, I didn’t feel jealous at all, although I probably would have had it been Simon who had sold the story. It’s a difference in their attitudes.
Josh submitted “Nice Day for Ducks” a while ago, and Constance wrote him, saying they’d be willing to look at it again if he revised it. Although he did, they didn’t think the revision went far enough, so they did some editing and rewriting and they told him they’d take the story if it met with Josh’s approval.
Of course, Josh is so matter-of-fact about it, but I know he must be pleased. And what makes me especially happy is that it proves that Josh really does give a damn about his writing and about himself.
This afternoon, deciding I’d rather go in today than tomorrow, I went to the Fiction Collective to clear up some work. Tomorrow I want to go to Grandma Ethel’s to clean up her apartment and stock up the refrigerator for her and Grandpa Herb’s return from Florida.
There wasn’t much to do in the office; Peggy said the NEA letter about the grant hasn’t come yet.
When I got home, I found that Josh wasn’t the only one to sell a story today. I got my ninth acceptance. The letter from Stephen Morse of Juice, published in Oakland, said:
Richard – You write well: good, clean, interesting work. I’m accepting “Let the Reader Beware” for eventual publication . . . which means I’m not sure which 1976 issue it’ll appear in . . . but it will appear. Payment is 2 copies of the issue you appear in (which is lousy payment, but. . .) Regards to Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and best to you.
Wednesday, January 28, 1976
11 PM. I’ve just come back from the Judson house. Tonight Avis and I went to pay our twice-delayed birthday visit to Libby’s mother. I always enjoy being in that house: everything there is so relaxed and casual, I feel as though it is my home, too. And in a way it is.
Mrs. Judson is a very special person. She has such an easygoing attitude towards life. For instance, Wyatt rushed into the kitchen during at TV commercial, and while reaching for his Pall Malls, he knocked over the milk bottle.
Mrs. Judson let him rush back to the TV and Angelina with just a quick “Sorry, Mom,” and she proceeded to mop up the spill, very carelessly, without batting an eyelash. She said, “At least the sink is fixed now.”
To look on the bright side like that: that is beautiful. (In a way, Vera Judson reminds me a lot of Vito’s mother.)
She seemed so pleased to see Avis and me and thrilled with the box of chocolates we brought as a birthday present (although on the drive to Park Slope, Avis did say there was probably something weird about buying that for an overweight woman).
In truth, it felt very comforting to me to see Vera and Wyatt and Angelina seated around the table as usual. The kids went to the living room to “wrestle” (the sounds that were coming out of the room convinced me that they were making love) as Mrs. Judson made coffee for me, Avis and herself.
We talked about so many things. Les wants to marry Libby, but she wants to come home to think about it even though I’m sure that in many respects, Libby can’t bear to leave England. Characteristically, her mother says, “Whatever Libby wants to do is all right with me.”
Mrs. Judson is managing on her salary as a garment worker, and her husband has been sending her a little money as well as letters from Flagstaff saying he’s still thinking of going to Angola to work as a mercenary or now maybe to Saudi Arabia for a job in the oil fields.
Reading between the lines, Mrs. Judson thinks he’d like to come home. Mr. Judson first reported that “a woman is following me all over Arizona” and then admitted it was a 69-year-old Indian woman, trying to show that he is still a faithful husband.
But Mrs. Judson has decided she’s better off without him and simply wrote back: “If you go to Angola, be careful.”
Before he left, Mr. Judson left a note saying that she should throw the kids out of the house, sell it, and live for herself. She never told Libby or Wyatt about that and said, “I couldn’t ask for better children. Libby’s gone to college and Wyatt isn’t on drugs or in trouble with the police.”
Wyatt goes to a special school where he helps teach retarded children. One day last week he came home all excited – “Ma! I taught Michelle that two nickels make a dime!” – only to come home crestfallen the next day when Michelle completely forgot the lesson.
Wyatt has been having diarrhea lately, and a teacher at his school got him an appointment at a free clinic. It was nerves, the doctors said, and prescribed tranquilizers.
Avis talked to me and Mrs. Judson about her problems at home. This past weekend Avis’s mother asked her if she was taking off Washington’s Birthday, and Avis replied that she was leaving for Europe the day before.
Since then, her mother stopped speaking to Avis and is driving her crazy, threatening all sorts of things like throwing all of Avis’s possessions out of the apartment.
Her father is just being a typical Jewish father and acquiescing to his wife by his silence, and Avis said she’s becoming physically ill from all the hassles.
I told her what Ellen said, that she’ll never get through to their mother, who can’t see any side other than her own.
Unfortunately, Avis’s mother is not Libby’s mother; they’re pretty much opposites. I just hope Avis can manage to get through the next couple of weeks with as little stress as possible and return to Helmut in good shape and in one piece.
For the first time in her life, Avis said, she has a (very slight, if you ask me) weight problem. She’s been nibbling a lot lately, and of course, hanging out at the Judsons’ never helps.
This morning I drove to Rockaway and shopped at Waldbaum’s so I could stock up Grandma Ethel’s refrigerator so my grandparents will have some staples when they arrive home.
Thursday, January 29, 1976
9 PM. This afternoon I drove Grandpa Herb’s car to Rockaway, placing it in his usual parking space. Marc picked me up at 4 PM and we drove to the airport to pick up Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel.
We arrived a few minutes before their flight had been scheduled to come in, but the screen informed us that their plane would be at least forty minutes late, so Marc and I sat upstairs, watching the travelers and just generally being bored.
Finally their plane landed, and we caught sight of Grandma Ethel. Grandpa Herb had gone to get the luggage, and I helped him with it as Marc went to fetch the car.
Grandpa Herb was glad to be home, “away from all that running around,” as he called it, but I believe Grandma Ethel thrived on going out to shows and restaurants and nightclubs and shopping malls, sometimes getting home at midnight and sleeping till 10 AM every morning.
Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney were just wonderful to them. Last week they all went out to celebrate Claire and Sidney’s fortieth wedding anniversary.
Grandma Ethel, I think, would like to take her own place in Fort Lauderdale next year although I’m not sure her husband would agree. Grandpa Herb is content with his TV, his tenth-floor view of the ocean, and his grandchildren.
The weather in Florida was not the best this season. This morning it was only 50°, they said. But still, it’s a big improvement over New York. As they told us stories about Florida, we drove them back to their apartment.
As it was late and because Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel were going over to see Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris, Marc and I went to have dinner at the Ram’s Horn.
It was a pleasant meal. Marc said he hasn’t been going into “the place” this week because there’s nothing for him to do there except stand around talking with Dad and Joel.
Marc’s very confused. If he were getting married and needed to make a living, working for Dad would be okay – but as things stand now, it’s not really what he wants to do. I think Marc would be happiest going back to college, getting an electronics degree at Staten Island Community College.
As for myself, I’m going to have to make some plans. It’s obvious that there will be no job for me this spring at LIU; I’m not all that disappointed, as perhaps it’s time to move on to something different.
I’ll give myself two weeks to get adjusted to the new term, and then I’ll start looking for a part-time job: twenty hours or so a week typing or whatever. I’m sure something will turn up, but right now I can still live on my last check from LIU for the next month and a half.
I am looking forward to the MFA program this term. There will be my comprehensive exam to study for and my thesis to prepare, but it shouldn’t be that arduous.
My great burst of creative energy seems to have spent itself out, and all this week I’ve been unable to do any writing at all. I got another rejection from the Carleton Miscellany today, and I’ve given up on them; they’ve already rejected three of my stories that have been accepted elsewhere.
However, that acceptance of “Let the Reader Beware” by Juice was comforting even though I always had confidence that the story would get published. (I just hope no one else I sent it out to accepts it.)
What does concern me is the future after June. It doesn’t look like there are going to be any teaching jobs anywhere. I’m going to send out my vita and a cover letter to various colleges, but I don’t see much hope. Yesterday I was looking through the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the situation appears dismal indeed.
I think what I’m going to do is get a regular job (and that’s not going to be easy, either) and keep writing until I’ve built up some more publications. It will be hard, and I’m certain that if I’m working full-time, my writing will diminish in quantity, if not in quality.
But there are realities of 1976 America to be faced, and it won’t do me any good to throw a temper tantrum. At least I’ve learned that after all these years.