A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1976

spring in palo alto 1976

Friday, March 19, 1976

1 PM. The world is a brighter place today, or at least it seems that way for me. I feel loose, relaxed, light. There’s very little tension in me. And it’s a mild, sunny, springlike last day of winter.

Yesterday I had to force myself to go to class, but I’m glad I did. Baumbach had an awful cold, so he tried to get us finished as soon as possible. Neither Todd nor Anna showed up: Anna’s also got a cold and Todd’s still in pain from the fall he took on his bicycle.

We went over the third chapter of Denis’s novel, and I guess I was again the most sympathetic toward it. Josh started out with a nasty comment about the way Denis read the story aloud (Jon didn’t want to read it because of his cold) and Denis made a remark that caused Josh to get so angry that he refused to give a review of Denis’s piece. Not that Josh’s reviews are worth anything, anyway.

After two years, I’m so fed up with Josh that I don’t even want to be his friend anymore. I can’t stand his constant griping, carping, negative attitude, and I never met anyone who had such a will to fail.

Just as we got out of class, Josh said to me, “I’ve got a midterm next and I haven’t even read half the books on the list.” His teacher was walking right behind us and heard every word.

Josh went through the floor, but on thinking about it, I decided that Josh really wanted her to hear him. He wants everyone to make sure they know that he doesn’t give a fuck – but in the end, it’s a self-defeating strategy.

I declined an offer to join Simon, Denis and Sharon in the cafeteria, as I wanted to meet Mark by Campus Corner. It turned out that I met three-quarters of his family: Consuelo and David came to surprise Mark also.

Consuelo said she’s going crazy alone with the kids at home all day. She has no adult to talk to except her mother (who was taking care of the baby all evening). Mark arrived at the restaurant at 6 PM and we had a strange meal.

David kept standing on his seat and talking loudly while Mark and Consuelo spoke of husband/wife things in a way that I’ve heard my own parents speak to each other: with a kind of offhanded jocularity.

Mark had to rush to class and Consuelo’s meter was expiring, so I made my way to the Graduate Student Organization office in LaGuardia for the Junction meeting with Donny and Debra.

Junction cover 001Cookie had gone down to xerox a letter we were enclosing with all the issues of Junction we’re mailing to colleges, libraries and magazines, but for some reason she couldn’t get them to run them off for her, so there was not all that much to do.

Donny said he’d like to have about ninety pages this issue, evenly (or nearly so) divided between poetry and prose. I’ve decided that I’ll accept my own “Garibaldi in Exile” if Debra agrees to that.

“Garibaldi” is a favorite story of mine, and I’m going to read it aloud next week at the reading. If Richmond College does disappear, the story will have even more meaning for me.

After Donny and Debra left, I hung out in the GSO office because I like talking to Cookie. She reminds me of Ronna a lot, and a little of Shelli. I like to watch her talk, her gestures, the way she eats her apple.

She was wearing a turtleneck with a nice little chain around her neck, and I don’t know, she’s just chubby and cute.

But I don’t know a thing about her other than that she’s been active at the college for a long time and is getting her masters in geology. Still, I realize tree in playgroundI’m capable of falling in love with her.

At his appointment today, Dad’s doctor told him that his blood pressure was a little high and that he should stop smoking, but other than that, things look okay with his health, though he took some blood tests and will know more when they come back.

I had a vivid dream in which Avis came back from Germany for good. How I miss her, and how I wish I had some word from her.

My class at LIU went all right this morning. I’m trying to push my students into reading Gatsby already. At this early date, a lot of them are confused about the book and how to write a research paper, but I’m going to try to get them through it.

My office hour went by quickly. Not surprisingly, Ms. South didn’t show up for her makeup exam.

Tuesday, March 23, 1976

2 PM. It’s a sunny afternoon and I have a splitting sinus headache. This is the first day of my new semi-hedonistic lifestyle, but I haven’t really been enjoying myself. I think I have to learn how to relax all over again and try to forget about my guilt over “wasting time.”

onion dome churchIt’s spring, after all. In the spring, a young man’s stomach turns. No, that’s not quite it, but give me time. A start may be an erotic dream I had last night – about Stacy, of all people. Last October I sent Stacy a birthday card, and I haven’t heard from her since, nor do I care to.

I’d like to hear from Ronna, but by now I accept the fact that she’ll never call. And now, for the first time in four years, I find myself thinking of Shelli: not what she is now, but how we were together in our first neurotic, scared, childish steps toward love.

Anyway, it seems that I have a deeply repressed desire for a woman. As usual with great dreams, I tried to get back into the dream because I wanted to touch Stacy’s dream-breasts again. But also as usual, I could not.

phone pay phone rotaryBefore I fell asleep last night, I had a bunch of phone calls. First Libby called, wanting to know how Mason and his family were doing. We had a nice little chat, although without either Mason or Avis around, Libby and I aren’t really that close. She likes her job, though, and she said she was busy knitting Les a sweater.

Also, Scott called from Maryland, saying that Elspeth had phoned him while he was out and asking me for Elspeth’s number. Why he didn’t just call the operator, I don’t know, for he didn’t ask me how I was or anything.

sternberg park springMy third call was at midnight: Teresa was calling long-distance from California. She’d just been away on a business trip to Santa Rosa and she found my letter when she returned and she “just had to call.”

Teresa said she’s doing all right although Ted has been very nasty to her, accusing her of stealing things from the house in Palo Alto. Teresa was interested in Elspeth’s suicide attempt, which I only alluded to in the letter in passing when I told her about Kenny; I assumed she knew all about it already, but apparently she didn’t.

It was only 9 PM in California when she called, and Teresa said she’s been swimming at the outdoor pool every day. But she’ll be home in May and we’ll get together then, she said.

1976 gay rights buttonIt’s funny that I had a dream about Stacy, because lately I’ve been attracted mostly to men, and I think that if I did have a sexual relationship with a guy now, I could handle whatever guilt might accrue.

I’ve got enough confidence in my personhood to know that one gay sexual encounter will not change the person that I am. It’s not that rare, men coming out at 25 or later. But it’s obvious – one’s unconscious doesn’t lie – that I’m also attracted to women.

Maybe you can reach out and touch someone, huh, Richie? Don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud!

fiction collective office windowAt 11 AM today I arrived at the Fiction Collective office, scaring Peggy as usual by entering unnoticed while she was typing. She was busy sending out leaflets about a reading this Saturday with Mimi, Peter, Marianne Hauser and Mark Mirsky.

I was finally able to send back Deena Metzger’s manuscript; she had sent five copies, and I couldn’t look at them anymore. I wrote her a consoling rejection notice, and another to Victor Perera. (Ironically, Metzger had cited Perera in her cover letter as one writer who had praised her book!)

There were some other manuscripts to send out, and dozens of First Novel Contest inquiries, which always bring me down. (Damn it, I realize now that I know more about fiction than that asshole in Wisconsin who wrote me that rejection letter!)

out sukenickPeggy seemed slightly annoyed when she learned from B.H. Friedman that Ron Sukenick said that since the Coordinator has “so little work to do,” Peggy’s replacement should mostly be involved with fundraising.

Clarence has a bleeding ulcer, but he’ll be out of the hospital soon.

Back home, I was pleased to get a letter from Avis and even more pleased to learn how well she’s doing. She gets paid well from her full-time job at Berlitz, gets government medical insurance, and doesn’t have to pay taxes. The other teachers at the school – British and Americans – make it a great place to work.

Avis gives private lessons, one to a famous woman scientist, and has classes, the largest of which consists of only five students. She says she can now work at any Berlitz school in the world. “Everything’s coming up roses,” Avis writes.

berlitz adThey’re translating an article from German to English for a university conference and getting paid $150 for it. During intersession from the university, Helmut’s working at the Beck Beer factory, and if he gets his taxi license, they may be able to move to a bigger place by the end of the year.

She got the package I sent, and Marc’s marijuana arrived safely. (“You can tell your brother it worked again.”) Wow, Avis sounded so “up.” I think one of these days I’m going to make my way to Bremen to visit Avis and Helmut for myself.

The doctor called to tell Dad that his cholesterol count is very high.

Thursday, March 25, 1976

lilacs mccarren parkToday I was pretty relaxed. Thursdays are the day of the week when I have no other obligations except for the Fiction Workshop. I can sleep late, and that’s always nice, even though now 9:30 AM is late to me.

There are worries, but I’ve tried to turn them off. Dad is not looking well, and his new, low-cholesterol diet is difficult for him to follow. Steven was here today to see Marc; he’s out of the hospital, but he, too, is on a strict diet for his ileitis.

And now there’s the scare of a worldwide flu pandemic next year. It may be as bad as the flu of 1918-19, when one-tenth of humanity died, and the President is taking steps to enact a program to vaccinate every citizen. 1976 ford urges flu vaccineHowever, the logistics seem overwhelming.

But there are pleasanter things to think about. After getting so many “bad” rejection notices, I got a “nice” one today from Robert Matta of Yellow Brick Road. I also got my check for $279.32 from LIU, and it comes at a good time.

Last evening I ran into Jed on my way to Prof. Kaye’s class. He told me that he had seen Allen Ginsberg on Friday, in John Ashbery’s class. Jed works as a bus driver at the Mill Harbour School, a private school on Ralph Avenue a few blocks from my house.

As Jed and I were talking, Donny came along, and there was ridiculous scene: It seems that on Friday, Donny gave Jed some grass when they smoked at the lily pond and Jed got very sick (from the dope, he thought), sugar bowl bwspending the afternoon vomiting in the bathroom of Sugar Bowl.

But Donny said it was ordinary blond grass and Jed’s reaction must have been from something else in his system.

In class, we finished A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and started Ulysses, which left a lot of people, including myself, feeling overwhelmed. I am still not able to get too far into the novel, though I’d better do it soon, as our midterm is in two weeks.

mary hartman castI came home at 10 PM, read the Village Voice, watched Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and went to bed. I had two dreams about Ivan, whom I haven’t thought about in months.

In one dream, Ivan and Ronna and I were doing something together, and in the next, Ivan’s mother invited me to dinner at their home, which pleased me no end.

To me, Ivan and his family still represent all the things I’ve dreamed about and never had: good looks; a large, close-knit family; great wealth; and most of all, an ease, a style, a panache I’ve never been able to attain or cultivate.

fort greene parkI had thought I’d gotten over wanting to be close to them – I vividly remember one dream I had two years ago, in which I was the illegitimate son of Ivan’s father – but evidently those feelings are still within me, although I’ve given up all my tenuous links to that family.

Yet I must confess that every time I go to Rockaway, on my way to Grandma Ethel’s or Grandma Sylvia’s or Mikey’s or Mason’s, I always look down their block in Neponsit to that big house. Strange how some things never die.

greenpoint savings bankThis morning, when I went to deposit my LIU check in the bank, an Orthodox Jewish man on line next to me asked if I wanted to have some books he had, ones that his grandson-in-law didn’t want. I asked why he didn’t keep them for himself, and he said, “I am an old ignoramus. I only read novels and vile stories.”

I told him the best thing for him to do would be to donate the books to the Brooklyn Public Library, which desperately needs books now due to the city budget cuts.

I’ve made up my class’s midterm, and I’ll get it xeroxed for tomorrow’s class. I’m feeling less pressured by that twinge of conscience that used to make me want to write a story if I hadn’t written one all week.

It’s spring, and somehow I feel myself nearing wholeness again. Whether self-integration will eventually come, I don’t know. You know how I am.

Saturday, March 27, 1976

ocean parkway south6 PM. Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, so I drove over to that degenerate Sun Park in Brighton Beach (nearly running over Dad’s Aunt Molly and Uncle Benny on Ocean Parkway on my way over there). Someday I will have to write a story about sun-worshippers: what a narcissistic breed we are.

Afterwards, I had a late dinner in Kings Plaza, where I ran into Morris Weinberger, who was with a date. He told me he was interning at Maimonides now, and I wished him luck.

devoeBack at home, I intended to write a realistic story, but I found my creative juices were not flowing, so I gave up after a few turgid paragraphs. Instead, I decided I would try to plan several story projects I’ve had on my mind.

The latest revelations about Nixon’s last days in office indicate that he was nearly a madman, a paranoid impotent alcoholic.

I arose early this morning and washed my hair. I’ve decided to go without sideburns for the first time in years; we must change with the times, and anyway, I look cuter and more boyish without them. Then I did my exercises, breakfasted and went off on a series of errands.

bpl-here-are-enshrinedFirst, I stopped at the library at Grand Army Plaza, where I spent some time in the periodicals room, examining on microfilm a letter Eliza Parke Custis sent her lover in Paris. In the letter, Eliza relates her childhood as the step-granddaughter of George Washington, and it is an amazing, compelling story.

The raw material is there for a story of my own, although I have to find the right device: whether to simply modify, edit and revise the letter as a fiction or put iteliza custis an entirely different form altogether.

But I’m sure I’ll exploit it eventually. Eliza was born in 1776, which is symbolic, of course, and I think her story would lend itself to a feminist interpretation.

I stopped off in downtown Brooklyn, using my office at LIU’s Humanities Building, then went into Junior’s for lunch. (“Smother that boy” was my waitress’s command to the cook for my order of a burger with smothered onions.)

Then I went to Manhattan, to the Greyhound Bus Package Express on 1976 port authorityTwelfth Avenue and 40th Street, to pick up a package of pants that Dad needs for display at the menswear show, which starts tomorrow. I was glad to do a favor for Dad; this way, he didn’t have to trouble himself with a trip into the city today.

Next, I stopped in Soho, to pay a browsing visit to the Hart Book Shop on Sullivan Street, which has a nice supply of old little magazines. Although it was 3 PM and I could have made it to the Fiction Collective reading on the Bowery at 2nd Street, I decided to come home instead.

And in the house, there was a nice surprise awaiting me. Gisele and Jonny watched me leap into the air as I read a letter of acceptance from Scholia Satyrica’s editor, R.D. Wyly, of “Here at Cubist College.”

scholia satyrica 2The magazine is published at the University of South Florida in Tampa, the school Allan went to; I learned about it when I found a review of the first issue in Baumbach’s copy of the Small Press Review.

This was simply a case of intelligent marketing: the story had been rejected at least a dozen times, but Scholia Satyrica favors academic satire. I might have written it expressly for them.

The issue it’s in will be a combined Spring/Summer issue and will appear in the summer. I sent along Mr. Wyly a letter giving some credits for the Contributor’s Notes section, along with a check for a year’s subscription. I feel it is important to patronize little magazines if one wishes to be published by them.

writer's digest ellisonI feel very relieved and quite happy, as I didn’t want a second month to go by without an acceptance. Eventually excellence will be appreciated (I suppose that sounds immodest), and maybe this will be the harbinger of even more acceptances.

But I can now rest easy on the laurels of this accomplishment for at least another few weeks. This makes me feel more encouraged about my work, and it gives me the confidence to keep writing.

It’s very dark right now, and I think we’re going to have a thunderstorm.

Monday, March 29, 1976

9 PM. I’m tired, but I put in a full day today, and that gives me a certain amount of satisfaction.

Alice called last evening, wanting to know the slogan of WCBS radio so she could use it in her Flatbush Life article. We chatted for a while – Alice said she’ll try to make the reading on Wednesday – and then I hung up to upstairs downstairs castwatch the last of the World War I episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs.

This morning I discussed the show with Margaret, who didn’t leave London until after World War II. She was a war bride who didn’t discover the soldier she was marrying was an Orthodox Jew until she saw how he was dressed when her ship landed in New York. “But I’d made my bed,” Margaret said, “and I had to lie in it.”

At the LIU Humanities office, we have a pleasant little kaffeeklatsch in the morning before 9 AM. Margaret, the earliest to arrive, seems to set it up, but Grace, another secretary, is always there, as are Prof. Silveira, Prof. Economou, and Prof. Freeman of the Speech Department.

George Economou said he enjoyed New Orleans itself more than he did the Medieval conference he attended there.

gatsby movie pbkMost of my students had not read the opening chapters of The Great Gatsby, but undaunted, I improvised a lecture on the themes of the novel and talked about Fitzgerald’s life and his fictional devices.

After class, I spoke to Ms. Dallemand, who’s one of the quiet ones; she explained that she has trouble saying what she wants to on paper because she’s from Haiti, and English is her second language.

Mr. Wilson, the basketball player, writes abominably, but is probably the smartest person in the class. Mr. Yarde, an African, is dutiful although sometimes I find him hard to understand.

Ms. Baker is an effervescent girl, and I like her. Ms. Napper, an older nursing student, always comes in late. Lancelot Hewitt sometimes answers in class, is always prepared, and has a very neat handwriting.

1975 liu adMr. McKay is a journalism major and is pretty much on top of things. Ms. Gumbs, also older, almost never says a word.

Then there are the two white boys, Danny Seligman and Ed McGonigle, both phys ed majors who always sit together in the back of the room and look bored.

With only ten people in the class, I’m getting to know everyone fairly well. After class, I went to the bank to take out money, then hopped over to the post office.

barbellBack home, I did my exercises, tried on a Lacoste shirt Mom had ordered for me, looked over my rejection notices, prepared some more envelopes for sending out stories, had lunch, continued to read Ulysses, and marked the rest of my class’s midterms.

At 3 PM, I headed for Brooklyn College, where I managed to extract just about all I could about Eliza Parke Custis out of library books. The material on her is so scanty. I’ve decided I’m going to write a first-person narrative such as one she might have written herself before her death in 1822 at the age of 56.

i eliza custis review in pwEliza would have been vain enough, I think, to wait to preserve for posterity the story of her life, and that’s how I shall go about writing my story. I don’t think I can manage to scrape up any more biographical information, so I might as well begin to write the story as soon as I get all my index cards straightened out.

Marie wanted me to come tonight to the Graduate Student Organization Executive Board meeting, to discuss a newspaper she wants to put out. Marie would probably like me to write for it, but for once, I have to say no.

It wouldn’t be fair to myself to take on any extra chores I do not want to do and that I can’t perform well. Anyway, I went to the GSO office to leave a note for Marie, giving some excuse for not being there tonight.

BC campus quad springI had a nice chat with Cookie, who seemed to be involved in busywork for Junction. I like Cookie, but I don’t think I want to get involved with anyone now. For one thing, I don’t have the time.

I spent the rest of the day doing necessary chores: buying vitamins, a typewriter ribbon, and a low-cholesterol cookbook for Mom (Dad’s diet is giving her problems); getting gas; and preparing my lesson for Wednesday’s class.

Wednesday, March 31, 1976

SUBO3 PM. The reading at the college went very well, I think. There was a respectable crowd, and I got several nice responses to my work. Right now I’m still “coming down” from it, and I suppose I could use a nice nap.

It is a little discouraging to come home and find Mom not at all interested, not even bothering to ask how things went, but I don’t care all that much. She’s obsessed with her sickness, and she can’t help being unable to see beyond a waxed bathroom floor or a misplaced spoon.

She and Dad might as well be dead. That’s a cruel thing to say, I suppose, but really, are they alive inside at all? I think Dad is going to die soon anyway. The world has beaten him down, and every day he comes home looking a little more wounded.

Pants Set 86th StreetAlthough I never thought he was a very great man, one thing I always believed was his success in the business world. But he’s had so many bad investments and made so many mistakes – most of them due to his fear of facing the future realistically, his “ostrich syndrome” – that now I think he believes himself to be a failure in that area, too.

Dad is nearly 50 now, and for the first time, he looks old. He’s been neglecting himself in terms of diet, sleep, relaxation and serenity for years, and it will take its toll. He smokes heavily, and in the morning he coughs terribly: it may be a slow way to commit suicide, but it’s a sure one.

I suppose I’m becoming arrogant again, but I do feel sorry for myself. I’ve tried to get them to change, but all along they’ve thought I was crazy and they still do.

merritt postcardAt the end of the reading today, Prof. Merritt came up to me and said, “You’ve changed so much since you were in my class.” He said I had become a very allusive writer (he was the first person ever to get the Prof. Bennett and Mrs. Brown reference from the Virginia Woolf essay in “Garibaldi”), but I think he also meant I’ve changed in other ways.

This morning at LIU, my class on Gatsby was deadly dull; I’ve got the feeling that several of my students have not opened the book. But if they don’t want to, I’m not going to exert any energy chastising them; they’ll see gatsby first movie pbkthe end result in their grades.

Getting home at 10:30 AM, I deftly avoided an argument with my mother: the more reasonable I get, the more irrational and abusive she becomes, and I just smile and nod.

I got to SUBO at 11:45 AM and found only Alice there. Dear Alice, she had taken the day off from work to see me. She even brought me a bunch of daffodils that I had to dissuade her from presenting me with at the end of my reading.

Simon and Baumbach came up together, and Denis, Todd and Josh (who of course walked in late) were there. Prof. Merritt brought the wine, and about 20-25 other people showed up.

Garibaldi in ExileBaumbach introduced me, mentioning that I’d had eleven stories accepted, and I began with “Garibaldi in Exile.” I think I read loudly enough, having learned to project from acting lessons and from being bar-mitzvahed, and although I didn’t get as many laughs as I’d hoped, my voice cracked only once and nobody walked out.

I noticed how nervous I was only when I went to take a sip of water and found that my hand was shaking. I read “Alice Keppel” next, and although that seemed to go over less well, I managed to get through it.

babbleAfter me, Simon read his excellent “Brooklyn Slips Away by Night,” and Jon read a very well-received passage from a story, the hilarious beginning of Babble, and the section of Reruns which allowed him to imitate Walter Brennan.

Aside from Merritt’s compliment, David Lehman also came over to me and said that he’d like to see more of my work.

When I walked her to the subway, Alice said I didn’t sound nervous. She should know, as she was going to the city to hand in an article Seventeen had commissioned about public speaking hints. Alice is still debating whether to accept the editorship on Harpers Weekly or take the job as a staff writer at Seventeen.

I drove Josh home, then came back here. There’s still a lot of nervous energy left in me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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