Friday, May 21, 1976
5 PM. I suppose I shouldn’t feel so relaxed, what with all the changes coming up in my life, and yet I can feel summer coming and I can also feel progress coming, too.
Last night Mom and Dad talked about Florida and how they’re developing the countryside north and west of Fort Lauderdale, stretching out to the Everglades. I think I shall accompany Dad down there one day to see for myself.
Maybe I would like to live in Florida; perhaps New York City is not the only place in the world for me. I’d certainly prefer the climate – for years I have greeted the winter with dread – and maybe the intellectual climate isn’t as sterile as I believe it to be.
It might even be easier to get a teaching job there than here in New York, where I’d be competing with so many CUNY teachers who were let go. A small Florida college might view a young fiction writer as an asset to their faculty.
I had hoped my dreams would help me sort out my feelings, but although my sleep was pleasant, none of my dreams seemed relevant.
I was awakened around 8 AM by a call from Carmen South, who wanted to know when I’d be in to administer her final from last term so she could make up the Incomplete; I told her we’d meet on Monday at 11 AM.
This morning I had to go to the new Junction printers in Manhattan, for Donny called me last night, explaining that we still had to do the proofreading.
Yesterday I told Cookie this in the GSO office, saying, “You lied to me,” in a jocoserious tone. The young man who was sitting in the office immediately excused himself, figuring we were having a lovers’ quarrel.
For weeks now, an attraction has been growing between Cookie and me, and I guess she’s been feeling it, too. For all I know, Cookie could be engaged, but it’s nice to have someone to flirt with.
After Mark and I had dinner in Campus Corner last evening, I went over to Marie and Cookie’s table, and as I left, I put my hand on Cookie’s shoulder. She’s the first woman I’ve even thought about getting involved with in months, and I guess it’s because she reminds me so much of Ronna.
I had hoped Ronna would call this week, and last night I kept getting disappointed, for each time the phone rang, it was Bunny, sounding progressively more agitated.
Jonny told me that Marc has decided to stop seeing Bunny. That’s their business, of course, but I suppose I could tolerate Bunny better than any other of Marc’s girlfriends; she’s a nice kid. But Marc never cared for her as greatly as Bunny cared for him.
This morning was beautiful as I drove into Manhattan, parking on Hudson Street in the West Village. Donny and Michael Malinowitz (perhaps the most talented and the most intelligent of the MFA poetry students; I’m certain he’ll be a fairly well-known poet someday) and I proofread the copy for Junction.
“Garibaldi in Exile” looked so beautiful in print. There’s something about typesetting that makes a story seem so much more professional: an attractive package gives the written word a good deal more authority.
Donny include prose by Marie, myself, his old high school writing teacher, Josh, Todd (though the wrong version of Todd’s story), Simon and Sharon. The proofreading didn’t take as long as we had expected it to, and I was home by 1 PM.
I could hardly believe it, but I got another acceptance today, and it was a shock to get acceptances two days in a row (even though I’d expected this one). Robert Matta, the editor of Yellow Brick Road thought “The Autobiography of William Henry Harrison’s Cold” was “pure dynamite . . . the best fiction we’ve received in a year.”
This, of course, made the whole day worthwhile. Yellow Brick Road #7 won’t come out until November, but hopefully I should have other stories in print soon.
Monday, May 24, 1976
9 PM. Being with Ronna yesterday gave me good feelings that carried me into odd moments today. She is my friend and she was my lover yesterday. It all happened without premeditation on my part; indeed, I had thought that the attraction between us was over.
But it was obvious that it was not, Even while we were thoroughly engaged in an intellectual discussion, I was aware of the curve of her Danskin top and her soft brown hair and her face, which has become less girlish and cute and more womanly and beautiful.
Ronna has that olive, freckled, almost Oriental look and that comfortable body. When I started kissing her, I did not think about it, and when I was on top of her, I was beyond thought.
Finally I asked the question a man should never ask: “Did you come?”
“No. You did?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sorry.” And then I said, “No, I’m not. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”
I was about to tell her, “You’re going to make a big hit in Indiana,” and when I realized how awful that would have sounded at that moment, I became convulsed in laughter.
“What?” Ronna wanted to know.
When I finally got it out, Ronna broke up too, and the two of us were hysterical with laughter that took our breaths away.
It was so good to make love to Ronna again: to be with Ronna herself and to know that I can still act and react sexually with a woman. While I may not be Mr. Sensuous, I’m far from being the literary celibate I sometimes fancy myself.
After I took Ronna home, there was a message to call Mike – though Jonny’s spelling massacred Mike’s last name – and when I called, Mike was busy working on a take-home final.
He called to tell me that he and Cindy had become engaged over the weekend, and I told him I was very glad to hear it. I think Mike and Cindy will have a successful marriage because they seem so comfortable with each other.
They won’t be having their wedding for quite a while, not for at least another year and Mike’s graduation from the psych counseling program. Mike and Cindy, who’ve always loved antiques, bought a very early model Steinway piano, and it will stay in Cindy’s house until they get married and have their own home.
I slept soundly and awoke at 6 AM, awakening again just ten minutes later, amazed that I could have the kind of elaborate dream I did in so short a time. I recall one scene from the dream clearly: I was teaching my class, dressed only in my briefs, and I didn’t feel embarrassed by my near-nudity. This pleased me, as it means I’m feeling more open and comfortable with the real me.
I spent most of the day at LIU, trying to work out final grades. All of the papers were in my mailbox with the exception of those by Morris and Janet.
They said they’d have theirs in before the end of this week, but I decided to tell them I was giving them Incompletes; however, in reality I handed in their grades (based on their prior work) with the rest of the class’s to the Registrar.
I can always change them later if necessary, as I changed two from last term. Arnold handed in two paragraphs late, so I gave him a mercy D. And after Carmen finally took her make-up final, I gave her a B for last term.
Coming back on campus from lunch at Junior’s, I met Elihu, who had his last day tutoring. He’s almost finished with his own schoolwork, although he still owes Arthur Schlesinger a paper. Elihu was on his way to Korvette’s to buy tickets for some Schaeffer summer concerts; Ronna suggested that she and I go to some this summer.
When I finally got home late this afternoon, I found four rejections, one a very condescending letter attacking “Reflections” as trite and clichéd. It would have thrown me into a tailspin had not the story already been accepted by Transatlantic Review; as it was, it just made me laugh bitterly.
I’ve been preparing for Kaye’s final by reading The Rainbow and A Passage to India, two very good novels which I avoided for too long. And I sent out résumés to three colleges which advertised in the Sunday Times for English instructors.
Wednesday, May 26, 1976
10 PM. It’s almost over. I took Prof. Kaye’s final tonight. I was the first one finished and I decided to hang around to go to the Pub with Laurie, Gail, Harvey and the others.
Late this afternoon Donny called me to say that there were payment orders for the Junction printers for me to sign, so I arrived on campus kind of early. I stopped off at Sugar Bowl to sit for a while with Jed, who was finishing dinner.
He said that he and Ashbery don’t get along very well, that Ashbery’s “all ego,” but Jed himself is no shrinking violet, either, and I could see where he could get on a person’s nerves.
From Sugar Bowl, I went to LaGuardia. The Mugwumps lost the recent presidential election, and the party’s three-year reign at undergrad Student Government is over. I’m kind of glad, as I never liked any of those post-Mike Mugwumps.
Upstairs in the Graduate Students Organization office, Marie and Cookie were going over some Intercourse articles – I’m to write one on the MFA program’s first graduating class – as well as the program for the GSO Awards Dinner.
Marie’s going to Bermuda for the weekend and will take a lot of work with her. Cookie’s voice was so hoarse. She’s been sick for three days but refuses to see a doctor. “They’re for the birds,” she says. I’m pretty sure Cookie really likes me, as she’s been looking at me differently lately.
I copyread some articles for the paper – Jed had told me that I had overlooked a lot of mistakes in proofreading Junction – and then I left for the final, lingering for some minutes outside on the Boylan steps.
It was still light out, and there was a cool breeze, and the quadrangle was still and deserted except for a squirrel stuffing a chocolate-chip cookie in his cheeks.
In the mail today, I received my tickets for commencement. After seven years of college, six of them at BC, I am finally leaving. I can’t believe it.
Brooklyn College has been a very important part of my life. Next year, with a reduction in size and the inevitable imposition of tuition, the character of the campus will change again.
I began as a freshman the year before Open Admissions; there were no temporary buildings, no Kosher King on campus and no McDonald’s and Burger King at the Junction. There was Wolfie’s, and they were just beginning to build the structures across Bedford Avenue.
All classes were 50 minutes, and I took my classes all in a row because as a freshman, I had nothing to do on my breaks, for I knew no one. I used to do my Math or French homework in the morning and I would have lunch and watch soap operas before I’d get the Flatbush Avenue bus at 1 PM, always arriving early.
I would get out of class at 5 PM or 6 PM, maybe talk to Kjell or Evan on the bus home. My freshman year, I was just beginning to stir as a person; it wasn’t until the end of the spring term, when I became involved with the student government elections and the Kent State/Cambodia strike that I began to move out of my cocoon.
Prof. Kaye’s test was not too bad. I’m sure I got at least a B, and that’s all I really wanted. I would like to continue taking courses my whole life, though.
This morning I went dowtown to the Fiction Collective and finished my work in short order, before Peggy and Gloria returned from the post office.
I hadn’t realized that Peggy would be leaving for Santa Fe next week; somehow, in my mind, I’d put her departure off into the future. I gave Peggy a big hug and kiss goodbye, and she told me to write her and Dick and to send them some of my stories.
She said, “I don’t know how I would have gotten through these past weeks without you,” and I told her how wonderful she was to work with. She’s a marvelous, rare person: one of the best people I’ve ever known.
I told Gloria I’d be in the office again next week, when she’ll be running things as the Collective’s new director. Stupidly, I never noticed before today that Gloria is quite pregnant.
Speaking of pregnancies, Mom found five very small kittens out back today while she was cleaning the pool. She put them in a box and I saw them sleeping in a kind of holy circle, each one’s tiny head on another’s hind parts. They breathed in a kind of rhythm, and it was wonderful to watch.
Thursday, May 27, 1976
10 PM. I’ve had my last class at Brooklyn College today, and I see no hint yet of the “pre-partum blues” that Simon said he was having. (Of course, it’s postpartum blues that one has to worry about.) No, I feel pretty good – pretty good for a guy who has no idea where he’s going in this life.
I went in for my final tutorial with Baumbach today, arriving a bit early and impinging on Laurie’s tutorial time. Jon was giving her suggestions of places to send her work to, and then told her to pump me because “Richard knows more about these things than anyone on earth.” As we walked to McDonald’s, Laurie said she and Harvey will come to the party next week.
The first thing Jon asked me was to give him some stories for Statements 2, a new anthology to be published by the Fiction Collective and paid for by a grant from the college, which will then receive all the profits.
The other day I saw a memo on Peggy’s desk, a memo sent out to all our authors, saying BC had agreed tentatively to fund an anthology containing the work of Fiction Collective authors and “the best students in the MFA program.”
I had wondered whether I would be included, although Peggy assured me I would. It would be very nice indeed to be in a book.
Jon asked me how I liked the cover of Babble because Peggy didn’t, and he confided that he was a bit concerned about Gloria’s pregnancy; she says she’ll continue working, but Jon says “the maternal instinct is very strong.”
I’m going to go to Braziller to see about the First Novel Contest entries and maybe it would be worth my while to keep a sharp eye on things at the Collective. One can never tell . . .
On our way back on campus, I ran into Cookie, now speaking clearly again, telling me that the checks for the printers that I signed have to be mailed out. After she left, Jon asked me if Cookie was in my novel: “She seemed like she should have been.”
Our last Fiction Workshop was held in the MFA office; we went over another Max story of Todd’s, who’s gotten so craftsman-like that it’s amazing; I think Todd’s writing is absolutely dynamic.
Afterwards, Josh and I went to Sugar Bowl, where we were joined by Simon, who cut class so he could read the Cliff’s Notes for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. He was very nervous about his lit final, but wasn’t nervous enough to stop being obnoxious.
Earlier, Jon had told me that Simon had stopped producing because the class’s reaction to his stuff discouraged him, as did a lot of rejections.
Josh said that Simon told him he’s not even going to send out anymore. I’m afraid I had a part in overwhelming Simon with all my acceptances. But I got my share of rejections, too.
In Sugar Bowl, I ran into Melvin, who, with his mustache, now looks so mature. He works full-time at Wall Street Camera (“leaving me no time for a life”) and lives on West End Avenue with Costas.
He’s finally graduating, as is his brother Morty, whom I met later on the way to my car. Morty, as usual, is thinking about women. I love him and Melvin both.
After having dinner in the Kings Plaza Diner, I went home to write a story, something that may or may not be any good. It’s a story about Uncle Morris, which I think I’ll call “A Story for Uncle Irving” or something, changing the name to protect the guilty.
May is leaving us this weekend without one really hot, sunny day; even though Cookie told Mike that I’m always tan, I’m not as dark as I usually am this time of year.
Grandpa Herb came by this morning, and he and Mom and I went out to see our kittens, who are the cutest little things. Their mother, a large, well-groomed orange and grey cat (three of the kittens are orange, two grey) watches over them like a sentry, nurses them, and does not trust us despite our attempts to win her over with milk and tuna.
Shouldn’t I be more depressed than this, or will that come soon enough?
Friday, May 28, 1976
8 PM. Well, it turns out that yesterday I only thought I was graduating. No sooner did I finish my last class in seven years at the City University of New York than the entire CUNY system fell apart; I guess they knew they couldn’t go on without me.
Seriously, it’s a tragic situation for me and countless others. I blame the Board of Higher Education and the state legislature who were too gutless to impose tuition when it should have been imposed: last fall, when it became obvious that there was no other way to get the money.
Instead, we’re hearing about furloughs and campus closings and across-the-board cuts, all of which are akin to band-aids for cancer.
Most of the morons on the BHE resigned this week, and yesterday the Assemblymen were too scared tuition might prove unpopular with voters, so they recessed without passing a bill which would have provided an emergency allocation.
The result was that the university was unable to meet its payroll today, and no faculty or staff got their paychecks. What it is, is default. The union threatened to strike, and I can’t say I blame them.
Finally, Chancellor Kibbee took the grave step of closing down the whole CUNY system at midnight tonight: no final exams, no final grades, no commencements until the new fiscal year starting on July 1.
No doubt the legislature and the BHE will move fast to assure tuition and a reopening, but the impact could be devastating: professors without salaries, graduating seniors unable to go on to graduate schools, absolutely no university services.
Just this very minute, I realized that the Fiction Collective office will be closed with the rest of the Schermerhorn Street building. And for me personally, this means no graduation on June 8, no GSO Awards Dinner, no Junction.
The CUNY closing is the surest sign of the approaching death of New York, but it’s not the only one.
For myself, though, today was that summery, hot and sunny May day that finally came, and I made myself comfortable outside by the pool, taking in the hot sun until I became lobster-red.
I was home all day, closing my eyes and feeling the warmth, listening to Marc’s friends talking. They’re such bums. I hear Steven tell Joey that his “old lady” complained that instead of sleeping till noon, he should get a job. Joey said, “Tell her to get a job.”
None of Marc’s friends want to work; they’re content to sit back and collect money from the government. It’s bureaucratic lunacy in the first place, creating a generation of shiftless men and women who expect the world to give them everything on a silver platter.
I know I’ve gone from a wishy-washy liberal to an opinionated conservative with an ego as big as the Ritz. (I’m going to use that last phrase as a title to a future story.) But in the last year, as I’ve gained confidence and poise, I’ve come to trust myself in so many areas where I used to depend upon the evaluations of others.
I think I may be developing the kind of strong personality I’ve always detested in others. Last night, in a dream, I was sleeping different nights at others’ homes, sleeping soundly in strange beds. I take that as a sign that I can and will adapt to any environment because my interior mechanisms are fairly stable.
Finally, one week before my 25th birthday, I’m facing the fact that I am by no means an emotional cripple, and that I’m ahead of a lot of people in many ways.
I had another acceptance today – yes, another one, and it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. Hanging Loose editor Bob Hershon writes to say that he’s accepting “Scenes from a Mirage,” though I’m not sure which one of that series, for Hanging Loose #29, their winter issue.
By the end of this year, it’s very likely that I’ll have a score of stories published or nearing publication. (I don’t really believe that.) But the next story I write is always the most important thing – which is why I typed up and xeroxed “Notes Toward a Story for Uncle Irving” today.
Monday, May 31, 1976
4 PM. It’s summer, and a person could get used to it. Today it turned out to be sunnier than the meteorologists had predicted, and so I was able to wear shorts, white athletic socks and sneakers – I don’t know why I’ve always felt so good wearing that – and work on my tan. It’s very nice to have no responsibilities, at least for a while.
I usually don’t like holiday weekends, but after these last four days, I feel completely refreshed. Yesterday was good for me to try to recapture what it felt like to be anxiety-prone. Aunt Arlyne told me she’s put that period out of her mind forever, but I want to explore how it felt.
It’s very hard to remember what it was like in high school and that year before I started college. I know I felt there was a sort of invisible umbilical cord leading out of this house and I could not stray too far – to Manhattan, for instance – or else I would get sick.
Even as a sophomore in college, when I was going with Shelli, I felt very uncomfortable staying out late and traveling out of Brooklyn; that was one reason Shelli and I fought so much.
I don’t know if she ever understood that it was my illness that kept me from doing things. It wasn’t until the shattering experience of her breakup with me that I began to fully recover.
I’ll never forget those high school days, though I’ve wanted to. I remember how I used to belch and pray and pop Rolaids and Compōz into my mouth daily, how I would become almost violently ill in Mr. Blumstein’s Spanish class on the fourth floor after a lunch that consisted of a lettuce sandwich (I was afraid to eat anything else: no wonder I was so thin).
One time, Mr. Blumstein, observing me look at the classroom door with longing, embarrassed me terribly by saying, “That’s your candy store, huh? Why don’t you go out if you want to that badly?”
My two years at Midwood were the most painful, friendless, anonymous years of my life – so much so that a good portion of those years is a blank in today’s memory.
I remember shame burning in my cheeks on the first day of Advanced Drama with Mr. Sarney, when no one – no one! – sat next to me (the desks all had two places, and except for mine, were filled with two people); how I had a superstition about drinking water out of a certain fountain under Woody Allen’s picture before a math class; the way I always had a pass to the emergency room prepared in case I got very ill; what the photographer for the yearbook called me – “Mr. America” – because I was so little and so thin (“If you turned to one side, you’d disappear”); my thinking that mere acquaintances were my friends, because I had no friends.
And above all there was the nausea: my daily, grinding, exhausting battle to keep from vomiting, from losing control. No wonder why, on the first day of college, I just adamantly refused to go: I couldn’t struggle anymore. And from September 1968 until June 1969 is more of a blank to me than any period in my life.
I don’t know how I lived during those months, never going out, friendless, cut off from the world – except, thank God, I never really gave up hope.
I can only imagine how miserable I must have made everyone, and my only excuse is that I was even more miserable myself. And after all these years I’ve never completely understood why that whole mess happened, or indeed, how it ended.
Today I spent on the beach with Mikey; it was a lovely day. Borrowing Larry’s car for the day, he had helped Nina move to a new apartment in the morning.
Apparently they’re close once more: that’s good. Mikey will be spending “another summer in Rockaway” prior to moving to the city and starting Cardozo Law School in the fall.
Mikey said that he saw Mason last weekend. Apparently when Mikey ran into him, Mason was on his way to visit Stacy, so I guess they’re still close friends.
This summer, Mason’s going up to a camp in Lake Placid to teach creative writing and swimming. I hope it helps him heal from his brother’s death.