Wednesday, September 22, 1976
10 PM. It’s the first day of autumn, and it really feels like it. It’s turned very cool and breezy out, and that’s to my liking, although I wouldn’t mind an Indian summer spell of warm weather in a few weeks.
I’m very tired, but tomorrow I can sleep as late as I want, and on Friday I have to teach only one hour. The past few days I’ve been under a bit of tension, and I haven’t had much “goof-off” time: the hour I need to spend lollygagging or skylarking or whatever.
I didn’t realize that teaching three hours would be so much of a strain: being in front of a class takes a lot out of you. Even now I have a slight sore throat because I’m not used to talking so much.
I know it’s rough because it’s the first week, and people are still coming in and going out of both my classes, and I’m still being tested and judged. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy teaching, but it is work rather than sheer pleasure.
With my English 11 class today I think I had a fairly interesting lesson, and in my English 10, I did that killer of an opening lesson on identifying sentences. At least I’m keeping up with the syllabus. I’m certain that a lot of my students will drop out as the weeks go on; already I can see some who are heading for trouble.
Last night I spoke to Elihu, who’s going to start tutoring at LIU for ten hours a week starting in about a week, so maybe we can get together for lunch one day.
He’s putting in twenty hours a month for his Graduate Center fellowship, doing bibliography research on Jacksonian Southern history. And Elihu’s got his choral group and his medieval group and his cat to keep him busy.
He said his Madison friend Claudia told him that while Jerry and Shelli are now living apart, they go everywhere together. Last week I sent Shelli a note with those stories, and I don’t expect any response.
(Last night I dreamed that Ronna sent me a letter telling me she’d fallen in love with someone in Indiana.)
Jerry hates me – or at least I think he does – and if he has any influence on Shelli, I’m sure he’s not likely to encourage her to be friends with me. I suppose writing to Shelli was a mistake, too, just as it would probably be better for the two of them if they could live lives independent of one another.
Aunt Sydelle went to Israel last night, on the same plane as Uncle Harry, but they’ll be on different tours, probably based on their very different age groups.
Dad has now gone down to Unemployment and will start collecting. I realized today that I’m the only member of the family to be employed at the present time.
This morning I took the subway to work; I had no idea the rush hour would be as crowded as it was. It’s a great place to go if you’re horny because I haven’t had so much body contact with so many people at one time in my life.
As I held the pole, I was practically holding one girl in my arms (no matter what I did, my crotch was touching her ass and her hair was in my face) while my hand kept inadvertently touching another girl’s breast every time the train lurched.
Gary’s friend Robert called to say he’s giving a bachelor party for Gary next Friday night: dinner and an evening at the Meadowlands with Joel, Marty, Gary’s brother-in-law and a few other guys. I can’t imagine a duller evening, but I suppose I’m obligated to go and chip in and pretend to enjoy myself.
Gary himself called from work today. He said his apartment is getting set up now that the bedroom furniture arrived yesterday.
Tonight Alice and I went to the Floridian for supper. She has the idea that Noel doesn’t want to see her again, and I told her that her problem may be that she comes on too strong with guys at first, scaring them off.
Alice said she’s unhappy at Seventeen now that Hilary is her boss, and she also mentioned that Tammy is anxious for me to call her. But who knows?
Saturday, September 25, 1976
6 PM. Last night I fell asleep at 9:30 PM while reading Tropic of Capricorn. Henry Miller’s prose has such energy, such verve, that I’m afraid that by comparison, my own writing is all listless deadwood.
I awoke early and drove off to Rockaway, stopping in to see Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb. When I got off the elevator at the tenth floor, I could already smell Grandma’s potato kugel.
Grandpa Herb is a bit nervous about going down to Off-Track Betting on Monday. If he, rather than Marc and his friends, goes to collect their winnings, they won’t have to pay taxes on the money because Grandpa Herb is on social security.
First their neighbor Max Goldfarb came in, and then Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris arrived. We toasted the Jewish New Year with some whiskey (which immediately sent a fire through my body and gave me palpitations), and I heard some wonderful stories about the past.
I only wish I had written down some of these stories because I’ve forgotten most of them. Grandma Ethel talked about Marc’s getting pneumonia when he was 2 years old, and how she and Grandma Sylvia rushed over, and Dr. Stein came, lecturing Mom for tying up the phone line.
Grandma Sylvia drove Marc to the hospital, where they put him in ice water and then in an oxygen tent. Grandma Ethel said Marc refused to look at her or Grandma Sylvia because they had put him in a strange place.
I vaguely remember that day: something about Marc not breathing well and refusing to drink orange juice, Grandma Sylvia frantically dialing the phone, and Grandma Ethel weeping.
Grandpa Herb told a story about a fellow soldier in the Philippines named Smoot who wouldn’t talk to him because he was a Jew. Grandpa liked to go to the base hospital and bring guys magazines and cigarettes, and one day he went and found this Smoot guy lying in a bed.
Grandpa Herb offered the man a cigarette pack and a magazine and asked him how he was. Smoot said he was doing okay and then said, “You know, Sarrett, I never liked you. I come from Montana and I had never seen a Jew and we were taught they were no good. But here I am in the hospital and only you show up while all my buddies stay away.”
When Grandpa Herb purchased a discharge after his second year in the Navy, Smoot invited him to come and stay at his father’s ranch, where he “could ride horses and eat well and enjoy the real outdoors.”
Uncle Morris talked of his youth, when he was “a bum” and “a bully” and all the mischief he caused. One time he bet a friend that he couldn’t eat a dozen raw eggs and watched as the guy tried and ended up in the hospital.
Aunt Tillie said her father used to make wine from grapes, and when she was about 16, she had a party, and some boys got into the bedroom and drank all of my great-grandfather’s wine. “My father threw a fit when he found out,” Aunt Tillie said.
Grandpa Herb said he has never gone to temple because he wasn’t brought up to and that he’d “feel like a goy there because he didn’t know what was going on.”
That prompted Mr. Goldfarb to talk of his first visit to a Reform temple and how “exotic” it seemed to him.
Uncle Morris told of the time he worked for a car rental company and he had to move a car across the street, only it got stalled on the trolley tracks. As the horns blared all around him, Uncle Morris got so flustered that he ran out of the car, left it in the middle of the street, quit the job, and never again drove another car for the rest of his life.
After our guests left, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel and I went over to see Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia, who didn’t look very well. She’s very lucky Grandpa Nat realized she was falling into a coma from the fever that night; the doctors told her if she’d slept another few hours, she might not have survived.
Their apartment was so bare because they’ve sold all their furniture. They’ll be moving to Florida within the next month, and Dad and Marc are going to drive down their car while Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat get to Miami by plane.
Grandma Sylvia had one outburst about Dad, how he was too good-natured, that “he could be sitting on top of the world like everyone else now, only people took advantage to him. And your own kind did it, too!” – a reference to Marty, which the Sarretts pretended not to hear.
Finally Grandpa Nat calmed her down, and Grandma Sylvia started talking about Michael, whom she said she loved like my great-grandmother – Bubbe Ita – loved me.
In discussing illness, Grandpa Nat reminisced about his having the Spanish flu in 1918 and feeling so ill. He said Grandma Sylvia’s mother yelled at her for going to see him while he was contagious. But I guess that’s love for you.
At home, I spoke to Josh, who was typically gloomy about his new classmates in the MFA program; if he ever had anything good to say, I’d drop dead from the shock.
Teresa wrote that she found a great job in California: writing advertising copy for the Wall Street Journal. Her boss went to Brooklyn College and was an English major who graduated the same year I did.
3 AM Sunday. I’ve had a late Saturday night out for a change, and it was a pleasure.
Vito called, asking if I’d like to join him and his constant companion Billy for the 10:30 PM show of Women Behind Bars. I knew that if I stayed home, I’d probably get some writing done, but I decided to go out anyway because I’d forgotten how it felt.
It felt really good to get ready to go out on a Saturday night; I was a bit nervous with anticipation, and that felt good, too. It reminded me how wonderful it was to go out on Saturday night dates with Ronna, especially those early dates when I wanted to look so good: I’d bring her flowers or sage rinse I’d made for her hair. (Why did I give up my herbs?)
Those evenings with Ronna were times I’ll never forget. And I even remembered how nice it was to go out with Stacy or Avis, or just to go out to a big party or a movie at school with a bunch of friends.
My undergraduate years were by far the happiest times of my life. I wouldn’t change a minute of them, but if I could go back, I’d make sure that I enjoyed them even more. It was a time of no responsibilities, of little thought for the future, a time when things seemed like they would get only bigger and better. . .
I enjoyed tonight. Vito’s mother was glad to see me again, and I’ve always liked her. She’s just re-done the apartment, and it looks very homey. Vito’s brother is getting married on Monday, and she only hopes Lori’s parents accept him and the baby.
Vito’s excited about the baby, although he said that given the intelligence level of Jo-Jo and Lori, he doesn’t expect little Burstyn or Ellen – his choice for baby names – to be a genius.
Billy came at 9 PM. He’s 22, tall, on the heavy side, with short black hair; I didn’t say anything, but his voice and mannerisms seemed exactly like Joey’s. We drove into the city and went to the Truck and Warehouse Theater on East 4th Street.
The audience for Women Behind Bars was predominately gay, but that didn’t make me feel uptight. I couldn’t quite feel a part of them, though; obviously, I don’t share a “gay” sense of humor, for the play struck me as too heavy-handed.
Divine, the fat transvestite, was pretty funny as the sadistic prison matron, and I laughed at a few points, but a lot of the play bored me. Vito and Billy had seen it several times before and said this had been the worst performance.
We drove back to Brooklyn, and after a futile search for a bagel store that was open until finally this dummy realized it was Rosh Hashona, we bought ice cream and went back to Vito’s kitchen for a few hours. I got along well with Vito and Billy and feel I fit in with them.
Monday, September 27, 1976
10 PM. It’s been a long day. I suppose I’ll get used to these Mondays and Wednesdays, but they are full days, and when I get home, I feel pretty tired.
Last night I got to bed early and slept very well. I had a deliciously erotic dream about a slim-hipped, long-legged blonde girl in a bikini. I suppose I should be embarrassed about having such a run-of-the-mill fantasy.
But it was oh so pleasant. I hear people say that there’s no such thing, really, as a bisexual person, that people are all predominately heterosexual or homosexual and that they just behave bisexually.
I know that I dream about erotic encounters with both men and women on a regular basis, so I must be a true bisexual. A lot of good it does me. As I’ve said before, perhaps bisexuality is the ultimate immaturity, a sign of unwillingness to take on a definite identity.
This morning, my 9 AM class sagged a little, but I managed to get through it without everyone throwing things at me. I know I should have planned it better, and I’m going to try to be better-prepared in the future.
I am trying to communicate my enthusiasm for writing to the class; somehow I feel that if my attitude comes through, that’s more important than all the textbook tips and grammar exercises.
In the office, it was chaos today, what with so many students changing sections and going from English 10 to 11. Today Dr. Tucker hired a new teacher, Abraham Goldstein; he’s going to teach the other section of 10 at noon while Mark O’Donnell takes on a new section of 11. It seems that it will take another week to get everything straightened out.
Margaret told me she was saving mimeographed sheets of paragraphs for her “favorites” and let me know I was one of them. My 10 class went well; I’m trying to keep up with the syllabus left by Dr. Silveira.
Mark O’Donnell was given a new office today, so I shall now have my tiny cubicle to myself – at least on the days that I teach.
When I arrived home at 3 PM, Marc and Allie were putting hundred-dollar bills in three piles, dividing it between themselves and Moe, with a cut for Grandpa Herb, who had cashed in the ticket at OTB.
It seemed ridiculous to me that pieces of paper could be so valuable, that if I just had ten of those hundred-dollar bills, I could do so many marvelous things. I know I’ll never make myself a slave to the Almighty Dollar, mostly because I expect to be as poor as a church mouse (or a fiction writer) my entire life.
Speaking of fiction, I got back to writing today, producing two stories and twenty pages of work. One is called “The Second Person” and is a surrealistic piece using “you” as the protagonist.
Although I get tired of writing in the first person, at times I feel uncomfortable and unsure of myself with third person narrative. Using the second person seems to bring the reader into the story and make it more universal.
The other piece is a revision and drastic condensation of the “A Junior’s Diary: Spring 1972” section of my novel. Called “Others, Including Myself,” I’ve cut away very large chunks of my diary entries. Now I can see how much dead weight is actually in my novel. It took me quite a while to even return to look at the book, and now I feel somewhat embarrassed, as though I’m looking at something I wrote years ago rather than only last year.
God knows why I assumed anyone would be interested in the mundane details of my life. I’ve kept the very large cast of characters because in this story, like my “Other People,” I think the fact that the narrator is compelled to recount the lives of so many who are just proper names makes a telling statement about his (my) personality.
Of course, this strategy may be wrongheaded.
Tuesday, September 28, 1976
5 PM. It’s difficult to get used to this cool weather; I’ve been walking around with a sore throat for a week. Tomorrow will be another hectic day, but things will be easy for a full week, what with Monday being Yom Kippur.
Tonight I have a BC Alumni Board of Directors meeting, and I’m still not sure whether to go. These things tend to drag on very late, and I’ll need sleep for tomorrow. Today I didn’t arise till almost 11 AM.
Late last night, my mind suddenly spurted into action, and I read Henry Miller and was thinking fast and furiously of nothing in particular. My sleep was heavy, and all through the night my cock ached with one big erection which made me feel like a leaden pipe.
This morning I went to the Junction to xerox my stories, and wouldn’t you know it, I ran into Vito. That’s so like New York: you don’t see someone for months, and then all of a sudden, you find them everywhere you turn. Why is that?
I hung around with Vito for an hour or so before driving him to the subway. He joined the McBurney gym on 14th Street and he works out there regularly. Vito would deny it, of course, but he’s in pretty good shape.
For some reason, with Vito my conversation can take flights of fancy it does with no one else. I think that is something in a lot of my work, especially my two latest stories: how each “other person” brings out another aspect of my (or anyone’s) personality.
I can talk to Vito jokingly about my anguish over Ronna not calling me and I know he’ll understand and respond with another meaningful joke. I told him how, when I’d see Ronna these last few times, she commented on what a small ass I have, and he knew something I hadn’t realized before: that it was because she was comparing me to Henry, or as Vito calls him, “Fatass Finkelstein.”
“The first time I saw that guy – in the pool’s locker room – I noticed how much trouble he had getting the bathing suit over his ass,” Vito said. “He got it over the front immediately.”
Vito and Billy are going to another play tonight. When I told him how much I liked Billy after I spent the evening with them, Vito said, “Yes, but he’s fat.”
“That’s true,” I said. “But I didn’t think it would be right to point it out to him at our first meeting.”
I went to help Lethe (she has such a fantastic name: Lethe Black) at the Fiction Collective office, which will probably remain our office, with a wall going up to separate us from Dean Glickman.
I thought it was funny to see that pompous man across the room, smoking a cigar at his desk, unaware that I was the student he tried to have expelled, the student he chased around the halls of Boylan twice – that all seems so stupid now, and so long ago.
I found some interesting things in the office. One was a letter from Jed Dash and Henry Jacobs to Baumbach, asking him to try to get a new fiction editor for Junction to improve on the last issue, “which really stank.” I’m insulted!
Looking through the files, searching for a list I never found, I came across testimonial letters from Anaïs Nin, Jerzy Kosinksi and Bernard Malamud. Norman Mailer wrote B.H. Friedman: “It would be a mistake to lend you my name . . . since I of all writers in America at this point [after his $1 million contract] can hardly be the one to declaim that publishing houses are not treating authors decently.”
Lethe was at the meeting Sunday at B.H. Friedman’s tremendously large and luxurious apartment; Friedman is about as rich as a fiction writer can get. The group decided to try for nonprofit status and to have only five readers on each submitted manuscript, with Jon and Peter as editors-in-chief making final decisions.
The first book for Series VII for next fall has been accepted: a collection of stories by Leon Rooke, From the Love Parlour (although Jon and Peter hate the title).
Wednesday, September 29, 1976
7 PM. I have a surprising amount of energy tonight. I guess I’m getting used to my schedule at LIU; teaching three hours a day no longer seems as difficult, and doubtless it will get easier as the term goes along.
I have no academic obligations as a student now, so there’s only my writing, my Fiction Collective work, and a new responsibility I took on today: doing the “Class Notes” for the Brooklyn College Alumni Bulletin.
Elaine Taibi phoned me today, and I knew that meant trouble. But taking over the Class Notes from Ronna might be a lot of fun; it’s about twenty hours’ work, and I did say I’d do it for one issue only for now.
Elaine said Ronna procrastinated in picking up the Notes and did it all in one day by locking herself in her room. As I told Elaine, I work differently than Ronna, and I’d like to start now so as to avoid a last-minute marathon session at the typewriter.
Both my classes at LIU went well today, and I’m beginning to feel in command of the situation now. I really do enjoy being in front of a classroom, being a teacher, being myself.
More and more, I am coming to think of LIU as a “home.” I’ve gotten pretty friendly with Mark, and there are other teachers to talk to. Margaret, of course, is a constant joy. I especially like this super-ebullient history professor who comes in at 8 AM singing “Waltzing Matilda” and who told me today that “our mission at LIU is to take savages and turn them into barbarians.”
Last night I got a call from Alice, who’s been very upset over the situation with Andreas after a particularly difficult weekend, and she’s seriously considering not seeing him anymore.
Alice also had a bad experience with a Cosmopolitan editor; apparently they’re very picky about articles being in the Cosmo “style”; June has been writing and revising a story on backaches for them for months now.
June mentioned to her that she saw Slade over the weekend and then asked Alice if Slade was gay. Alice said she wasn’t sure, and why was June asking? “I have a long story to tell you some other time,” June replied.
Alice told me both sides of a romance between James Gardner and Hilary Cosell. James spotted Hilary years ago at a Bananas screening and called her up, saying she was beautiful and how much he wanted to see her.
They met in Central Park and saw each other a few times, but Hilary didn’t like him much and was annoyed that he was living with his girlfriend. James once sent Hilary a 15-page letter telling her how much he loved her, the strangest letter, which Hilary kept as a souvenir simply because it was so odd.
James went to Denver to be a sportswriter (and was fired from the Post almost immediately after he showed up to the office in cutoffs, with ten days’ growth of beard). He kept bugging Hilary’s parents at all the sports events they attended.
James even sent her letter a from India, where – I filled in this part of the story for Alice, who was unaware of it – he had apparently fallen ill and was nursed back to health by a German woman whom he lived with for a while.
Alice also told a curious story about Robert, who came over to her house on Sunday and poured out a five-hour-long monologue to her.
Apparently, Robert’s not nearly as self-assured as all of us in LaGuardia had presumed; in fact, he’s rather neurotic, terribly dependent upon his parents, and very insecure.
Judy is his first real girlfriend; before Robert met her, he was frightened of women. But it seems he depends too much on Judy for support.
I can understand Robert being upset over not teaching this term, but it sounds like he’s going through a what’s-life-all-about? crisis.
When he told Alice of his and Judy’s great love and patted Alice on the shoulder, saying, “Don’t worry: someday you’ll have it, too,” Alice became annoyed at his condescending manner.
It sounds as if Robert might benefit from some therapy. I was shocked to hear that only this week had he begun writing the first three pages of his dissertation. After all these years! What was he doing all the time he was in London?
Vito told me that Helen has gone really weird in her California ashram and has even changed her name. She doesn’t write Vito anymore. “Straight people are so terrible,” he said. “No offense.”
I like writing about others for a change.