Saturday, April 23, 1977
8 PM. We lose an hour’s sleep tonight with the transition to Daylight Savings Time. April is into its last week, and never have I known a month to fly by so quickly.
The long cold winter is just a memory now. The trees are green and leafy; the winter jackets have been replaced by t-shirts; we see our neighbors on porches again.
I like my life, like that I’m involved in things, liked that I’m allowing myself to feel.
It is curious how quickly one can get used to things. Yesterday’s three magazines are now sitting on my bookshelf, looking as if they’ve been there for months. And now I can’t wait for the next story to appear, for the next story to be accepted, for the next story to get written.
Alice was late when I picked her up at the Junction last evening, so we decided to wait for the late show of Woody Allen’s new film Annie Hall at the Five Towns Theater in the Woodmere mall where Dad used to have a Pants Set store.
We had dinner at the Ram’s Horn in Rockaway. Alice was more at loose ends than usual. She’s got her fingers crossed that Ray won’t hire June as her associate editor, but of course she can’t say anything – particularly not to June.
Alice was also upset that Shea Silver hadn’t called, and she even began babbling about Jim again. I have never met anyone with such a voracious appetite for life as Alice. That’s her great charm, of course, but it can also be a bit unnerving.
In Cedarhurst, I drove past Aunt Sydelle’s house, but Dad had already taken Grandpa Nat to the airport. When he was over at our house, Grandpa Nat said he really wants me to visit him and Grandma Sylvia in Florida this summer.
There was terrific line for the film, but it was worth it. A funny love story, apparently a confessional-type film based on Woody Allen’s real-life romance with Diane Keaton, Annie Hall is a recognizable Instant Classic, the kind of movie I’d like to see over and over again. It touched me, and it rang true, and I wish I could have written it, and more than that I cannot say.
Driving home on the Belt Parkway, Alice asked me what I want that I don’t have now. At first I said, “Nothing,” and then, when she pressed the question, I said, “Money . . . my own apartment . . .” and couldn’t think of anything else.
“What about a girlfriend?” Alice asked.
“No,” I told her. “I don’t want one,” realizing it only as I said the words.
Last night I dreamed I went to look at a new building, only it turned out there were no apartments available to rent. A positive sign: the obstacles preventing me from moving out were external, not internal. (As in life?)
This afternoon I went to visit Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. Grandpa Herb is being run ragged, going to the hospital to see Uncle Abe every weekday, accompanied either by Grandma Ethel, Aunt Tillie or Irene Krasner.
They have to feed Abe. Grandpa Herb, who is like me in that he could never stand vomit, actually cleaned up Abe after he threw up all over himself: “I don’t know how I did it.”
He’s got to carry Abe to the bathroom and take care of him as if he were a child. At this point Abe is very confused mentally, almost senile. (He told Grandma Ethel that my wife and I came to visit him.) And the hospital is in such a bad neighborhood.
The doctors give Abe six months and say he must go into a nursing home. Grandpa Herb talked with the social worker, who said she’d try to get him into a place in Rockaway, but all his social security and pension must be turned over to the home.
But that will leave no money to pay the rent in Coney Island. Michael, who’s 23 – I never would have recognized him: he’s tall, chubby, with long hair and a bushy mustache – and his girlfriend Meryl stopped by to pick up some shirts.
Grandma Ethel started talking to Michael, and I was kind of embarrassed because she was lecturing him as if he were some sort of poor relation (which I suppose he is). I know Grandma meant well – she really feels for those kids and the horrible life they’ve led – but still, her tone was depressing.
Michael goes to a technical school in Jersey and rooms with several other guys. Eddie quit Kingsborough and works at some factory, taking home only $92 a week. Meryl said that there’s no communication between the brothers, and evidently they don’t get along. (Grandma Ethel says Eddie looks like my twin.)
It’s such a terrible situation: my grandparents and Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris are poor, Uncle Jack’s very ill too, and Minnie and Irving will be in Israel at the kibbutz for a while. And the boys and Abe have no other family.
Abe does have a $25,000 life insurance policy, but what can the boys do for now? It’s a disgrace, as Libby’s mother said at Methodist Hospital the other night, that the U.S.A. is the only nation without medical insurance.
Sunday, April 24, 1977
9 PM. It’s been a wrenching day. My parents had this horrible fight early this afternoon. They were screaming and hitting each other. Mom tore up all of Dad’s paper money. “I can’t take it anymore,” I heard Dad sobbing. “I’m moving out . . . I can’t take it!”
He knocked on my door, said he couldn’t explain, but that he was moving out, and “what will be, will be.” Mom locked herself in the room and refused to open the door so Dad could collect his things into a suitcase.
Terribly upset, Jonny came into my room. I wasn’t very helpful. All I said was, “It has nothing to do with us and it’s none of our business. If two people can’t get along, they shouldn’t live together.”
But I was upset, too. While going downstairs on the way to The Floridian for lunch, I saw Dad, looking like death, a cancer stick dangling from his mouth, trying to scotch-tape the ripped-up money together.
He never did leave, though. Mom is still in her room, sleeping with the door locked, and he’s in the basement watching TV and getting aggravated. I almost wish he had moved out because I know how much they’ve been fighting lately.
Mom takes every occasion she can to knock his partnership with Max. She’s as obsessive with this as she is with everything else, so frighteningly obsessive that she’s become self-destructive.
God help anyone who gets married. To all the world, my parents have a successful marriage, but they live with quotidian lies and they can’t face reality.
Marc, typically, has missed this whole episode because he’s away with his girlfriend. Marc himself has been a terror lately; his unemployment is running out, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Last night he blew up at Jonny because he wanted to entertain friends in the basement, and Jonny’s weight-lifting prevented that. This family is terribly sick, and it’s falling apart completely.
But I can’t help feel vindicated. Ten years ago I was the sick one, the “crazy,” in a family otherwise out of a Doris Day movie. Time and again, I was told that I was the only problem.
It’s as though all the family’s neurotic drives back then were played out in my behavior. It’s been years since anyone could point to me as the problem, as the crazy person, and now the family is collapsing because the rotten foundations are evident.
This is a house built on needs and fears and lies, not on love and trust and security. Now I have to realize that the sense of security I get from living under my parents’ roof is a false thing; I would be just as secure on my own.
Even today I coped with the crisis in a semi-positive way: I wrote a story. It may not be a good story, but it’s better than having an anxiety attack and it’s my way of releasing my feelings. (It’s called “Hold Me.”)
This is a low point for me, because for the next two days the Conference will be going on and even though I plan to avoid it, I’ll be thinking about it. It’s a symbol of my own failure.
I feel so tired and weak today. It turned quite cold and it’s been raining like there’s no tomorrow.
Before all this hassle, I found Mom’s name (they misspelled our last name) and a quote in June’s article on trees in the Sunday Times real estate section:
Despite the care lavished on them, trees have been known to turn on their benefactors.
Marilyn Greyson, a homeowner in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, likes her 18-year-old London plane but admits to occasional problems: “Several times I didn’t clean the leaves from the drain that goes down my driveway and my walk-in basement became flooded. The branches off the tree once began to rub against the electric wires. The wires wore out and my neighbors and I were left without electricity for hours.”
Tonight I require one thing: sleep, to shut out the world for ten hours. I don’t know if I can face Monday morning. There’s a sense of death in the house tonight and it makes me feel ill.
Tuesday, April 26, 1977
7 PM. Today was another cold and dark day. Because it’s been so cloudy, we haven’t seen the results of Daylight Savings Time yet.
The Conference is over now, and I wonder how it went. I didn’t think about it much during the day. I should go in and get a voucher from Clay in the Grants Office so I can get my salary. I’m embarrassed about showing my face, but the $200 is really needed.
I haven’t spent one penny in the past two days, but I can’t go on doing that for the next few months. And I don’t know where money will come from after my final check from LIU this term.
About Hilary: I like her, I suppose, more than I’ve liked any girl since Ronna – except for Rachel and Caaron. She’s so neurotic, though. “Do you like rice? You don’t, do you?” she’d say, before giving me a chance to answer. She did that with everything she served me for dinner last evening.
She throws up a lot from nerves, takes Librax, chain-smokes cigarettes. She’s a snob and she realizes it; when she said she wouldn’t go to a public beach, I said that was the only kind I’d ever gone to.
And when I told her about taking Libby to a city clinic in a Coney Island housing project, Hilary said she’d never heard of any white woman not having her own gynecologist. She described a guy who called as “the father of my dead baby.”
The photo of her house at Westhampton made it look like a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed palace. She loves her dog so much, she treats it like her little baby.
Hilary doesn’t know what she’s doing now; tomorrow is her last day at Seventeen. For the first time in her life, she’s unsure of her future, but she’s looking forward to sleeping late.
She told me that when she was little, she was in love with Russell Baker’s writing. She wanted to be President of the United States, “but being female and half-Jewish is against me.”
At Sarah Lawrence and NYU, Hilary took mostly journalism, poli sci and history. She’s well-read, though; she said she was reading The Forsyte Saga last night but got stuck at the beginning in Old Jolyon’s study. She plays with her split ends when she talks.
She asked me why I was so unhappy and answered her own question by saying that it was because I was afraid to risk a relationship. Hilary wants to get married. She lived with Zack for two years, and after the first six months, it was hell. Billy was the only lover she broke up with in a friendly way.
Hilary dotes on her nieces and nephews. She’s old friends with Isadora but she can’t take living with her. I can understand that; it would be like me living with Gary. (Isadora had lunch yesterday with Janice Fioravante, who said she’s marrying Nappy in the fall.)
Hilary is a slob; her room isn’t dirty, but it’s very messy.
We made out on her bed a little, but she said she doesn’t have sex on the first date “because it creates an illusion of intimacy.” That does make a lot of sense. I suppose I like her.
She seemed upset that I didn’t eat that much, and she wasn’t feeling all that well (she has sinus trouble, too, and had them x-rayed last summer).
This morning I called Hilary up to thank her, and I wrote her a note, too, mostly because Alice told me that’s what Cliff had done.
Today I spoke to Josh, who’s still depressed because he’s unemployed. “Nothing new is up,” Josh said.
Something new is up with Teresa: she’s being transferred from Palo Alto to New York, effective May 4:
It’s a shock to my system. I’d wanted it, but it all happened so suddenly. A job opened up and I had 24 hours to decide if I wanted it. . . I’m not too happy with the job, but I’ll have all the city before me to look for another job.
So I move on Saturday. My roommate and I are driving, so that should be fun. . . Thanks for that wonderful comment about living in New York. That’s how I feel about it, but I couldn’t quite put it into words. Life is so ‘good’ here: it’s dull but safe. What a bore! – Love, Teresa
Today I went back to Old Montefiore Cemetery – I’m getting used to cemeteries – and by looking at the various gravestones, I ascertained that my great-great-great-grandfather was named Israel Katz. He was the father of Samuel Katz and Sylvia Shapiro, Great-Grandpa Max’s mother.
I have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, but I know only the name of one: my mother’s mother’s father’s mother. I wrote Grandma Ethel’s cousin Zelda for more information.
Wednesday, April 27, 1977
9 PM. Is the middle class returning to New York City? Well, at least several middle-class friends of mine are: first Scott, then Teresa, and now Gary and Betty.
I spoke to Gary last evening and learned that he and Betty have already started looking for apartments in the Bayside/Douglaston/Little Neck area of Queens. Gary’s had no luck with his job interviews. “Things are not panning out,” he said. I suspect it will be a while before they do. Gary’s insecurity must be an added strain on their marriage.
A marriage that appears to be nearing its end is that of June and Richard. I guessed as much last night when Alice told me she’d found out the reason June has changed her mind and decided she wants the job at Seventeen.
Alice suspected that June was holding something back, and after getting Alice to promise not to tell a soul except Father Confessor Andreas, June told her the whole story. But I guessed the truth.
To me, June and Richard never seemed to be suited to one another. They got married because they were going to Europe after graduation in June 1972 and figured they could get money from the wedding presents – which is not to say they weren’t in love.
But June seems the stronger of the two, and she has always been very independent. Richard has been pressuring her to have kids, and she doesn’t want them.
Alice thinks June will end up with Cliff, who has always been crazy about her (although I can’t imagine June living in Cliff’s hole-in-the-wall West 100th Street apartment).
So now June needs the security of a weekly paycheck to maintain a place to live, as her parents’ place is too small for her to move in with them. And now Alice said she would feel like an ogre if she prevented June from getting the Seventeen job, so she’s going to see whatever Ray decides through.
Alice herself (I’m always tempted to use a capital-H “Herself” when I write about Alice; today I realized that she’s the reincarnation of the Peanuts comic-strip character Lucy) has decided she’s wasting her talents at Seventeen.
She wants to earn $100,000 a year, so she’s all ready to move out to Southern California and become a TV scriptwriter for Norman Lear or another comedy-show producer.
If anyone else said that, I would tell her that she was a crackpot. But with Alice, one can never be sure. Of course I told her to get in touch with her cousin Larry, who writes for Family, and to try to write a script before packing her bags and heading out to the Coast.
Alice has more than enough ambition for the whole neighborhood. Certainly I never wanted to earn $100,000 a year. I’d be quite satisfied with Alice’s $200 a week.
But then, what do I know of such things? I already know that whatever money or prestige or fame comes my way, in some sense it will never be enough to make me a happier person. And in a way, that’s good.
Hilary said nothing to Alice about our dinner except that I was “a good guest.” That’s not bad for starters.
Last night I dreamed I sneaked into Ronna’s house. She still hasn’t written me, and I guess eventually it’s not going to matter anymore.
I was in fine form at LIU today as I plowed my way through a review lesson in English 10 and a Sinclair Lewis story in English 12. The day went fast and I was sharp and we had some laughs in class; just maybe, somebody learned something, too.
I enjoy talking to my students, former and present, and to Margaret, Abe, Devra, Beverly, Rose and Ken Bernard. While I suppose teaching could become a dreadful rut, I still feel fresh now. When it turns sour, I’ll get out very quickly.
My parents are still at each other’s throats over Dad’s business. There’s a truce right now because they’re jointly entertaining Joel in the kitchen. Marc’s not home to sell him drugs, so I can’t imagine what Joel wants. (Am I too cynical?)
I called Libby, who enters the hospital tomorrow. She took the day off today and went horseback riding (both English and Western) in Van Cortlandt Park. Libby’s very nervous, and her mother said she might have a nervous breakdown before the surgery, but Mrs. Judson was only joking to calm Libby down.
Saturday, April 30, 1977
6 PM. Tomorrow is May. One-third of the year has gone by, and I suppose I’m in a reflective mood. My whole life has been one long effort to get closer to people, and yet I have just had dinner alone – on a Saturday night – at the counter of the Arch Diner.
On Monday night, Hilary asked, “Richie, why are you so unhappy?” It was a question which startled and frightened me.
All along I’ve been thinking I was one of the few lucky happy people in the world. I believed in Amor Fati, Nietzsche’s love of one’s fate. And I often feel that way: I love the texture of my life, the patterns, the swirling, the calm, the excitement, the depressions, the highs . . . (Ellipses are always a bad sign in my writing, evincing too much sentimental musing.)
While sunning myself this afternoon, I heard Saul Bellow give a lecture on the radio. Bellow recalled a dying German writer, who, on being told that the Japanese had invaded Manchuria, said, “None of this would have happened if people had been more strict about the use of the comma.” ’Nuff said.
I had two long phone conversations, with Mikey last night and with Mason today. Mikey is living that strange, ethereal, monastic life of a first-year law student; it’s not quite like living in the real world.
He said that Marty and Ruth were in town last weekend, and that Marty gave him some “bad news”: Casey and Sharon got an annulment. Mikey had used the same term, “bad news,” when he informed me of the annulment of the marriage of Harvey and Linda.
(Yesterday I spotted Linda on Flatbush Avenue, and her new boyfriend is every bit as ugly as Elihu reported he was.)
I suppose it’s sweet that Mikey, who’s still old-fashioned about marriage, thinks that annulments are “bad news,” but it seems so unrealistic to me. Casey and Sharon were the perfect couple, the rising young lawyer/politician and his helpmate – but they seemed all appearances and without real affection.
I hope they both come out of it okay. As I no longer feel the need to prove that one’s wedding day is not the day one begins to live happily ever after, I don’t take pleasure in other people’s breakups.
Mikey lost his summer job with a lawyer and may have to resort to driving a taxi this summer. A loyal friend, Mikey commiserated with me on my quitting as Conference coordinator; I wouldn’t have mentioned it if he hadn’t asked about the Conference.
Anyway, Mikey reported that Steve Katz will be getting his degree soon, after which he and Paula plan to settle in D.C. or Boston, that Marty and Ruth are doing well in Syracuse, that Bob got a job with a small law firm.
I don’t expect to see Mikey for another month, not till his finals are over.
Mason phoned at 4:30 PM, having just spoken to Libby. She is in a lot of pain and is very weak, but the operation went okay; apparently all they had to do was remove the cyst, not give her even a partial hysterectomy. I hope to visit Libby tomorrow, when presumably she’ll be feeling a little better.
Mason’s parents purchased 60 acres of land in Fallsburg, not far from the Raleigh Hotel. There’s a house on the land that they’ll stay in this summer while they rent their house in Rockaway.
Mason is going to be a counselor again this summer, this time at a camp run by the Lighthouse in Ocean County, New Jersey, for blind adults. He was calling from the real estate office where he works six days a week, every day but Wednesday. He’s averaging only about $125 a week, and that’s not much.
We reminisced about people from the past. Mason said Stacy was the only person he ever knew who was involved in orgies, bisexuality and threesomes, yet Stacy was always unhappy. Mason really liked Helen, but he hasn’t heard from her since she rejoined the Yogi Bhajan ashram in California.
As Mason said, we’ve really been pretty lucky in that the people we both knew at Brooklyn College were all, on the whole, very nice. Amen to that.