Friday, August 13, 1976
9 PM. Friday the Thirteenth did not turn out so badly. Last evening was surprisingly pleasant. Alice bicycled over to show me her story on Love of Life in Soap Opera Digest and an article on how to survive a breakup that will appear in a future issue of Seventeen.
As the sun set, Alice and I talked on the porch. She’s been very depressed ever since she stopped seeing Jim, and the cause of it seems to be Andreas.
She has been seeing Andreas for 5½ years now, and she still sees him only six hours a week, on Friday and Sunday evenings. Andreas is a workaholic who’s set in his ways. He won’t marry Alice, live with her, or even see her more often.
Alice loves Andreas and said she would commit suicide if she couldn’t have him, but she doesn’t want to spend ten years waiting for Andreas’ attitude to change. (He says he can’t predict whether he’ll want to settle down soon or in 25 years.)
Alice told me she needs to see more of him; she’s very sexually frustrated, and moreover, needs the kind of companionship that she sees others have: say, Robert and his “sweetie.” Then Alice wound up her story by asking, “Tell me, Dr. Grayson, what should I do?”
I explained to her that since she cannot get Andreas to compromise, she had only two choices: stop seeing him – to her, unthinkable – or continue as she has been, playing by Andreas’ rules.
Alice wasn’t thrilled at that prospect, but she rode off into the night feeling a little better, she said, for having gotten things off her chest.
Right after she left, I got a phone call – from Neal Abramson, who said that he was the editor of City magazine and that they’d accepted “An Appropriated Story” for their autumn issue, and he wanted to go over some things in my story for the printers.
I was kind of flabbergasted (a very weird word, that) and after finishing with him, I still couldn’t believe that the story has actually been taken. It’s as though, without a letter in front of me, I couldn’t even trust my own ears.
But it’s true – and that makes my 25th published story, give or take a couple. My confidence was restored enough for me to straighten out all my files this evening after work; I finally re-filed more than 40 rejected stories. And I also got a manuscript together to apply for the Iowa Short Fiction Award; applying couldn’t hurt.
I spoke to Mark and Consuelo last night. I wanted to invite them to the pool this weekend, but they’re going on vacation to Mark’s mother’s cabin upstate. I wished Consuelo a happy birthday before she rushed off to her Tupperware party and then I spoke to Mark; happily, now that he’s relieved of the extra burden of summer school on top of his job, he’s again writing freelance articles.
Today I worked from 10 AM till 4 PM, taking people from New Haven Manor to see the dentist and to get x-rays. Against my will, I’m getting involved with the job. I’m amazed that the residents of New Haven Manor are really getting under my skin.
They’re the misfits of society, yet I’m finding that I can learn so much from them: from Nancy, an old lady who makes absolutely no sense as she chatters away; from Marty Schutzer, a paranoid schizophrenic who reveres doctors and scientists and who is never caught not wearing his lucky cap; from Ami Felson, an old show business personality who says she knew Al Jolson; from Al Wheatland, an 86-year-old submariner in World War I; and most of all from Juan Luyendo, who’s 68: a former sailor with five sons from three marriages, a man crippled with arthritis who says he feels like he’s 19. A devout Catholic, Juan suffers but is happy “because, all in all, I’ve had a great life.”
Sunday, August 15, 1976
4 PM. I’ve just been reading over my diary entries for the first three months of 1971. I was practically rolling on the floor with laughter at my attitudes and what I thought was important.
But aside from being sophomoric (which is altogether fitting, considering I was a college sophomore at the time), my writing is filled with a delightful naïveté and innocence.
Those were wonderful times: I was falling in love for the first time, I was a big shot in student government, I had nothing to do but schoolwork and attending to the romantic lives of others.
Things were so simple then. Nixon and the war was bad; anyone who was against you was a “fascist”; nobody had heard of decadence; you either loved somebody or you didn’t; no one worked or bothered to think that someday the boom would end.
For me, and I think for the others I mention in the diary – Shelli, Ronna, Ivan, Elspeth, Elihu, Jerry, Leon and the countless others I keep name-dropping – it was a magical time of being half-child and half-adult, of having no responsibilities and no burdens.
The things I fretted about back then now seem so absurd, yet somehow touching – and the joys of discovering personhood seem fresher than ever.
I’m impressed at the readability of my 1971 diary, and I’m more than ever convinced that I have the raw material of a fine novel, if only I could find the right form.
The Hamilton Years was perhaps only a fledgling effort to see if I could get all the material down on paper. I must soon attempt a second version of the novel. For half a year I haven’t been able to read through the first version – but now I’m so far removed from the actual events of 1971-1973 that I can work on transforming them into fiction with more perspective.
I do have a nice little story about growing up in college, and it’s just possible that it may be of interest to others.
Reading my diary from five and a half years ago was kind of spooky in that I wonder how I got from there to here. And it struck me that I’d love to re-live those days; in fact, if I were allowed to live my entire life over again, doing the same things I did, I wouldn’t hesitate a minute before saying, “Yes, I’ll do it!”
I fell asleep watching The Blue Angel last night and woke early today, breakfasted, cleaned, went marketing and then into the city to see The Ritz, which was good for several chuckles.
Caaron wrote me again, and I enjoy her letters. She’s been depressed over having no job; I think it’s the old out-of-college blues. Caaron sent me a photo of herself, and while she cautioned that she doesn’t “look so fuzzy in real life,” I can see she’s pretty in a dark, petite way. I wrote her back already. As always, am I too obvious?
Also, the mail brought my final transcripts from BC; I have indeed graduated with an MFA – and with a 3.83 index, it turns out. I’d love to take courses again this fall; I noticed that the Queens College adult education program is offering a certificate in gerontology, and that might be worth looking into.
I’ve always been interested in old people because of the special relationship I’ve had with my grandparents. I can sense a lot of changes to come in my life, and by now I’ve almost convinced myself that the family moving to Florida may be the best thing that could happen.
For I’ll be forced to live on my own and support myself; otherwise I might not have attempted it so soon. (Really, so late.) The idea of living alone, taking care of myself and being a real adult at last is very exciting.
Monday, August 16, 1976
9 PM. I’m not feeling terribly well at the moment, and I can only hope a good night’s sleep will change things. I feel nauseated and headachy and weak; my nerves are all jangled.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t stopped to relax for a minute since 7 AM. I don’t know why I’m driving myself so hard. I’m so keyed-up by this point that I don’t know how to unwind.
Last night I typed up what is probably a pretentious piece called “Creative Death.” I slept poorly although I did have one pleasant dream in which I was offered a $50,000-a-year job.
The optimistic dreams of late May and early June seem to be reappearing. The other night I dreamed of having a wonderful time in the woods, getting lost with – of all people – Gary’s fiancée Betty.
I awoke early this morning and did my exercises, showered, had breakfast and drove to New Haven Manor. Before I could take any people to be x-rayed, Mr. Edrich started in about needing lab results on certain forms that had to be in that morning.
Not knowing what to do, I called Max Fabrikant; he wasn’t home, but Frankie told me to go to Lynbrook Labs in Oceanside and pick up the test results. I didn’t mind driving through the Five Towns – past Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hewlett and finally East Rockaway – as I listened to the car radio.
I was back at the home at 10 AM and was working on the forms when in walks Max Fabrikant. When I told him what I’d been doing, he told me I was “worthless” to him if I didn’t get people x-rayed and that he could show me the figures that if I didn’t get twenty people a day x-rayed, he was losing money.
“You’re just wasting my time,” he said.
I pointed out to him that I was only following the instructions of his son and his client, but then I shut up and started taking people to be x-rayed.
Writing this now, I have begun to understand why I’m feeling poorly tonight. For I worked all day and then came home and ran millions of errands (shopping, xeroxing, doing needless banking, going to the laundry and the drugstore and then mailing out more story submissions to magazines), suppressing the rage that is inside me now.
What I really should have done was tell Mr. Fabrikant right then and there that he had no right to call me “worthless”: that’s the word that particularly got to me. If he doesn’t know how to run a business, that’s his problem.
And it may end up being a real problem for him should I decide to ask the District Attorney whether what’s going on in the Fabrikant operation is legal. I’m sure there’s a lot of chicanery going on, and I hear whispers and hushed voices when certain subjects come up at the nursing home or at the medical center.
I have seen the American health care system at its worst. Everyone from the dentist to the doctors to the adult home operators is greedy and terribly unconcerned with patients. I’d like to see the whole lot of them in jail.
The trouble is that everyone orders me around, from Marvin to Mr. Edrich to Dr. Segal, the dentist. I can’t handle all this ridiculous pressure. I am not going to work tomorrow, that’s for sure. I don’t need this aggravation for $3 an hour.
If Fabrikant thinks he can scare me, let him try. I have very little to lose, and I am not the simple college student Fabrikant thinks I am.
Anyway, what I need now is a pleasant evening watching Howard Baker’s keynote speech at the GOP convention – that, and a good night’s sleep. In the morning, my mind may be clearer and I’ll have some rational basis for action.
Today was a mild, sunny day: that, at least, should not go unmentioned.
Tuesday, August 17, 1976
4 PM. I never got to hear Sen. Baker’s keynote speech last night because Ronna telephoned while it was on. At first I didn’t recognize her voice. She said she was sorry for not calling sooner and asked me how long I had been furious with her.
“Why do you ask that?” I said. “Would you like me to be furious?”
I’m aware I was playing the shrink rather than letting her know that I had been angry, but at the moment she called, I really wasn’t feeling very angry and I was more interested in finding out what’s going on inside her head.
She’s leaving Friday for Indiana. She and Sid are driving there, and Cara will follow by plane on Sunday. I wished her good luck at Purdue and told her I’m sure she’ll do fine.
I told her what I’ve been doing, and she told me that she hadn’t been working, that she’s just been getting ready to go away. You know something strange? There was little beyond that for either of us to say to each other, and in the end, Ronna’s call made very little difference.
I suppose I knew all along that she would call me before she left and that she would sound exactly the way she did last night. But Ronna is not part of my life anymore, and whether that’s to the bad or to the good is beside the point. The point is, we have little left to keep our relationship together anymore.
I can’t say I haven’t been hurt by her decision not to share things with me, but it is her decision, after all, and I wouldn’t want her to be with me reluctantly. She’s a nice person and I’m physically attracted to her and we had a lot of good times together.
But now it’s finally over and we both need to take what we’ve gotten from our relationship and put it to use in the future. (Can you believe that this is me talking so rationally?)
Ronna said that she’s been alienating all her friends lately, and I suggested that maybe she wanted to leave New York not on the best of terms with the people in her life because that would make the separation easier.
She admitted that was a possibility, and now that I think about it, that may be the reason she hasn’t called me: if we had gotten closer again, her going away would be all that much more difficult. Hey – I never thought about it in that light before; it really seems to make sense.
Ronna said she’d write, and it’s just possible she might. When I told her to “have a good life,” she became annoyed and said that she would certainly be seeing me again, probably when she comes in at Christmastime.
I doubt I’ll ever see Ronna again, but if thinking that we will get together as friends makes her feel better, I’m willing to go along with the charade. I did tell her, though, that I would not be coming out to Indiana to visit her; there’s no sense in carrying polite fantasies too far.
When we hung up, I felt less than I thought I would. I do wish Ronna well and I hope she does enjoy graduate school – and in a way I envy her, just starting now.
The Republican convention last night was filled with boring speeches from Rockefeller and Goldwater and others. The Reagan delegates are enthusiastic, and doubtless they’re going to stir up some floor fights tonight, but it’s obvious that Ford has the nomination locked up.
Today I went to help Gloria at the Fiction Collective. She’s very annoyed because she’s still on the first floor, all the boxes are on the eleventh floor, everyone’s got to be out of the building in two weeks, and Dean Glickman said that it’s possible Brooklyn College will not provide space for the Collective.
What is needed, obviously, is for someone to provide some political pressure on the powers that be – and Gloria’s in no position to do that. Peter and Jon should be here now, trying to get this thing settled; it’s absurd for Gloria to be in this position.
We went to the post office and had a nice leisurely lunch at the sidewalk café of Picadeli. I get along very well with Gloria.
Thursday, August 19, 1976
4 PM. I didn’t work today, either. Last night Mr. Fabrikant called while I was out and then I called him twice and he wasn’t in, so we never got together, which is probably just as well.
I haven’t been feeling well all week: just krenks, nothing serious, but I really didn’t feel up to going to Far Rockaway this morning.
Later today I have an Alumni Association Finance Committee meeting; I got a notice last week from David Pollard that it will be held in Ira Harkavy’s law offices. But I don’t think I shall go.
I hate to give in to my sinusitis (the pressure behind one eye is driving me crazy) but I don’t feel like giving much of myself to committee meetings today.
I did not stay up to watch the balloting for President last night; it was obvious that Gerald Ford would be nominated, which he was, at about 2 AM, by a rather small (as these things go) margin over Ronald Reagan.
Reagan and his “running mate” Sen. Schweiker held a tearful press conference today to thank supporters; it was quite touching in a way. It must be hard to devote a year or more of your life in quest of something, only to have it denied by a narrow victory by the other side.
Ford picked Kansas Sen. Bob Dole as his candidate for Vice President; it was somewhat of a surprise, and it will probably make for a rather dull campaign. One of the reasons I plan on skipping the Alumni meeting is that I want to watch the acceptance speeches tonight.
I slept well, and I had one particularly pleasant dream in which Ronna presented me with a baby. Does a paternal instinct actually exist somewhere within my foolish heart?
Gary called from his sister’s house last evening and he said he’d never been happier in his life. He and Betty have found their “dream apartment” in a North Brunswick development and they’ve set a date in early October for their wedding.
Gary loves his job and he’ll be moving into his new apartment next month, with Betty following after their wedding. I used to put down Gary’s dreams of connubial bliss in suburbia, but it seems to be what he needs.
I almost wish I were Gary and could be satisfied with something like that. But for now, I’m willing to risk loneliness, financial instability and emotional insecurity to get where I want to go, to do what I want to do. Basically I’m doing that right now.
Alice phoned yesterday and put June on the phone; June is now working at Seventeen too. June is Steve Satanoff’s brother Richard’s wife and the editor of The Flatbush Tenant, a newspaper distributed to tenants (who else?) in buildings in – you guessed it – Flatbush.
She had asked Alice to do an article on Junior’s Restaurant, but Alice won’t be able to do it because her brother is coming in for the weekend.
So I said I’d do it, and this morning I went down to Junior’s to interview the Rosen brothers, owners of the place since it opened in 1951. They weren’t very cooperative, and the 1,000-word article I’ve written is a puff piece – but it’s supposed to be, June tells me.
Also, I’ve fictionalized a customer and a waitress who gave me very quote-worthy quotes. I’m sure Alice’s article would have been a dozen times better. It’s very hard for me to write that kind of an article.
Fiction is a lot easier; in this kind of piece, my voice is strained and somewhat unnatural. Still, I’m supposed get $25 if they print it, and that’s pretty good.
Saturday, August 21, 1976
5 PM. In a month it will be autumn. But it still is summer now, very much so. I’ve been lying on my bed in a demi-sleep, my eyes closed, my breathing shallow and regular, imagining myself floating, my body balanced on the tip of the Washington Monument or stuffed in the drawer in the small cubicle called my office at LIU.
I wonder if I shall teach this fall. I hope so, but somehow I think Dr. Tucker is fed up with me. I don’t know what’s happening with Mr. Fabrikant. I seem to go through money so quickly. And tonight Mom and Dad will be coming home and perhaps they have found a business and a house in Florida and I myself shall have to make plans to move on.
At this time I feel the need of others more sharply than I have in many months. Someday I may get to be un-dependent, but I shall never be independent.
Last night I talked with Gary for an hour; today I spent another hour on the phone with Elspeth. Gary is in seventh heaven these days, and perhaps he’s got a right to be. I can’t judge whether or not he’ll be happy in his new life as a married, working Jerseyite. But this is the life he seems to want, and there’s no denying that.
As the years go on, Elspeth has grown less cranky and more charming. She’s still having difficulty searching for her true love; she says she envies Elihu his Andrew. “Elihu’s so crazy,” Elspeth says, “but I love him.”
She mentioned that her mother was annoyed by silent phone calls during Shelli’s last visit to Brooklyn; Shelli didn’t know that Elspeth wasn’t living with her folks anymore. So that makes me, Elspeth, Gary, and Elihu that Shelli called silently.
Elspeth says she’s curious about what goes on in Madison and she wonders whether she could have saved Jerry “from making a fool of himself” had she married him six years ago.
Last evening I had dinner alone at a new restaurant on Kings Highway. Back home, Marc and his friends were playing poker; Jonny was weight-lifting; and I returned to my room and read Anaïs Nin’s diary, which gets across feelings that I sometimes feel, both about writing and about living.
I wrote a four-page piece called “My Twelfth Twelfth Story Story,” about a writer who’s doing a series of stories about people who live on the twelfth story of an apartment building – hence the supposedly clever title.
But the writing got away from me, and what was supposed to be a light, witty story turned murky and mordant. Still, I won’t destroy it, and I just may send it out.
Yesterday’s acceptance of the much-rejected “In the Lehman Collection” only proves that I just need to find the right editor for a particular story, and that if I truly believe in what I’m doing, eventually someone else will see the worth of it as well.
However, I want to get out of myself for a while, for I feel the need to replenish myself with the company of others. This constant inward withdrawal can go only so far before it stops being productive.
I’m 25, and I’ve had 26 stories accepted for publication, and I’ve got another 50 unpublished stories in my file. By now I’ve proven that I’m a writer; now I can afford to slow down and let my fiction be the overflow of my life, not the scrapings of an existence rooted in discipline and denial.
Passing Avenue N this morning on my way to xerox the new story, I noticed Alice playing paddleball with Mario.
Later, I went to the beach, taking along two hitchhiking gay high school students who were nice but whom I could not really relate to.
I can no longer sit still, lying on the beach, so I walked forty blocks by the edge of the ocean, seeing no one I knew but Sean – and I saw him too late, for I didn’t realize who he was till I’d gone past him for a while.
In Riis Park these days, men and women are totally nude. They don’t seem daring at all; they appear more ordinary and banal than sexy. The people with bathing suits on generally look better.
Today I’ve been feeling as though I’m surrounded by a layer of cotton.