A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries from Late May, 1977

Late May 1977

Saturday, May 21, 1977

10 PM. Dad came home from Florida this afternoon. Last night they put Grandpa Nat in a regular room; he didn’t understand and assumed he was going home. “I liked the other room better,” he said, meaning Intensive Care.

Last night he got out of bed to go to the bathroom, and the nurses went crazy when they found out. There are no guarantees, of course, but it’s close to a miracle that he survived this week. It was a massive coronary, after all, with a great deal of damage to the heart. On Tuesday and Wednesday he was very bad, with incredible chest pains, and the heart monitor was going crazy.

The doctor told Dad: “You say your father’s never been sick a day in his life, and you should be grateful for that. A man’s 73 [sic] , that’s about as good as you can hope for.”

jackson-miamiToday, after Dad thanked him, the doctor said, “Don’t thank me, I didn’t do anything. Someone else did it.”

Grandpa Nat sleeps constantly. Dad got scared because when he was delirious from morphine, he asked him things like “Are you one of the guys from New York?” This morning he mistook Aunt Sydelle for one of the nurses. He just had a bad day today, crying because Dad was leaving.

I just hope Aunt Sydelle and Grandma Sylvia can manage. Dad forced Sydelle to drive the car to the hospital. Grandma, he says, is close to senility and is completely lost without Grandpa.

We’ll just have to see what happens, but it’s now a possibility that Grandpa Nat may recover. If he does, I’m sure he’ll be saying, “Naah, those doctors are crazy, I didn’t have no heart attack!”

Everyone at the condominium was asking after Mr. Ginsberg, “the man always rushing with his cigar.”

Dad told us his parents eat “absolute shit”: their refrigerator is loaded with chocolate bars, halvah, butter, whole milk, sugar, sweet cream. Grandma Sylvia says that sometimes for dinner Grandpa Nat will eat just a chocolate bar and salami while standing up because he’s got to run off to his card game.

CA 1977Tonight Mom, Dad, Marc and Deanna went to see a Charles Aznavour concert, so at least maybe they can relax there.

Today I wrote a short story, “The Blindness of Strangers.” Although it’s not great, I needed to write something, just to keep myself from going mad.

This afternoon I went to the Gotham Book Mart, and a few stores down, at one of the jewelry stores that line the block, I met a student from last year, Norman Gelfand, who works there.

He has another job at night, delivering packages for UPS, and he still goes to LIU as well. God knows how he manages it. Norman mentioned my tan, and it made me feel guilty. I also felt funny because he was well-dressed and I was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

At the Gotham I bought some little magazines; I would have loved to spend more money on small press books, but I didn’t have enough. Frances Steloff Andreas and Francesand Andy Brown were bustling about the store.

I need to feel part of the literary scene, and that’s why I go to the Gotham. When I saw copies of the new Fiction Collective books by George Chambers and Steve Katz at the counter, I felt a twinge of regret that I’m not associated with the Collective anymore.

On Wednesday I sent a letter to Caaron, asking her if she was ever going to write. I thought it was a funny letter, but it upset her so much that she called me tonight. We each said the other sounded exactly like we thought we would.

Caaron said I should have more faith in her than to think she wouldn’t write me back again. Now she’s working at Brentano’s in the Chestnut Hill Mall, and thatBrentano’s a lot better job than selling clothes was.

Caaron’s been accepted to graduate school at Northeastern, has been rejected from a lot of other places, and is still waiting to hear about a couple of other schools. She’s taking a writing workshop, too.

We seemed to get on like old friends on the phone. (At first when she called, she had to repeat her name three times because I couldn’t make the connection.) Her boyfriend came over while we were talking, and I didn’t want to waste her money on the call, so we hung up.

Jonny came into my room later and we had a discussion on the Old Testament, which he’s reading. He went to synagogue this morning.


Sunday, May 22, 1977

Reach out and touch someone10 PM. Dad called the hospital in Miami tonight and spoke to Grandpa Nat, who said he was “arranging to get out of here tomorrow.” He told Aunt Sydelle, “I’m going to start a new life: every day a girl in the morning and another one at night.” And he’s talking a lot about how pretty all the nurses are.

Sure enough, Grandpa Nat says of his doctors: “They should drop dead! They’re crazy, I didn’t have no heart attack!” He was off the bed today, walking around.

gray panthersI just hope the man doesn’t overdo it; he’s got one hell of an attitude, but he’s got to be very, very careful. A 78-year-old man who’s just had a massive coronary is a fragile thing. But Grandpa Nat is not one to live fragilely, and I guess it’s better that way.

The Ginsbergs may be a family of maniacal, quarrelsome hypochondriacs, but they have terrific endurance and spirit. I’ve learned a lesson from this, and I want to follow my grandfather’s example. If he is to die, he’s going to do it fighting – as in Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” God keep him with us for a while, but if you can’t spare him, I’ll keep in my memory forever.

My face broke out very badly with acne, so I thought I’d help it if I lay in the sun for a few hours today, but I think it only made it worse. Now I look like a Cherokee with acne.summer 7

But it’s nice to be wearing shorts and be tanned and fit. Soon I’ll be ready to captivate all the eligible young men and women in the tri-state area.

This morning I spoke with both Gary and Alice. Gary stayed in Jersey with Betty today. He’s been going on about an interview a week, trying not to fall into despair. Next weekend he and Betty will be going away to the country to relax.

Alice spent yesterday at a C.W. Post-sponsored Conference for Non-Fiction Writers at the Sheraton. “A lot of hicks who think they can be writers Glamourshowed up,” Alice said, and she feels superior to them. But she sat with a woman who writes for Glamour and makes over $15,000 a year freelancing, and Alice said she “felt like shit” compared to her.

Alice seems to view her work as the best vehicle she knows to become “rich and famous.” Undoubtedly Alice will get a measure of both wealth and fame someday, and undoubtedly it will never be enough to satisfy her.

She’s enjoying working at Seventeen with June, who, it turns out, is very conscientious. When Alice presses her to talk about her marriage, June says that things are very bad with Richard and that she feels very guilty about leaving him.

Divorce American StyleBut Alice told June that Richard is charming and intelligent and should have no trouble finding someone else if he wants to. She said June should think of herself as doing Richard a favor in setting him free to find a woman he can have children with, a woman who will fulfill his needs more than June does.

But of course neither June nor Richard can see it that way now. It must be hell for both of them. It’s hardest, I think, when there are no villains.

Last week Mike said that he could imagine only one person not liking me, and that was Jerry. Of course I made Jerry into a villain when at worst he I like you but I have strange tasteswas a schlemiel, and that’s a pretty good reason to dislike me.

On the other hand, by my irrational jealousy and hatred, I invested Jerry with a kind of charisma: as the bounder who steals his friend’s girl without really meaning to Because He Is So Irresistible. These days I feel a fondness toward Jerry, even though it’s years too late for us to be friends. He was really kind of a nice guy: crazy, but essentially nice.


Monday, May 23, 1977

Almost midnight. The past few hours I’ve been wending my way through Trollope’s Palliser novels: a strange preoccupation, I know. Indeed, I fear I Pallisershave taken on some of that estimable novelist’s style. That’s the price one pays for dipping too deeply into a single author.

Truthfully, I am as delighted by Trollope as I am by Galsworthy. Yes, as a modern (or post-modern, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days) writer, I can certainly appreciate more the genius of a García Márquez, a Borges, a Joyce. But there is nothing quite like our steady English friends.

Trollope is a colorless, amorphous plotter – he seems to allow his characters to do all the plotting for him – as well as a second-rate stylist, and when he attempts comedy or melodrama, the results are almost always disastrous.

Pallisers TVWithout the TV portrayals by Susan Hampshire and Philip Latham as the Duke and Duchess of Omnium, I doubt that I could manage to dig very deeply into the Palliser novels. But I think I can learn something from them.

Will this revive my old Galsworthyan dybbuk and have me racing around, trying to plot a series of LaGuardia Hall novels? You know, it might not be a bad thing if it did. I could use some conventional dialogue, characterization and plotting to give my fiction some discipline.

If I could only find the right form for the things I want to say! Anyway, I feel I’ve found my voice again; I’m no longer barren, and I don’t think I ever really shall be.

desktop with typewriterWriting has been the core of my life for many years now. I may be a poor writer, but I am a writer: there’s no question of that any longer. I won’t ever be my generation’s Edmund Wilson: so sue me.

Meanwhile, I try out new things. Last night I interviewed my brother Jonny. He talked about fear of God and weightlifting and school and love (he told me he’s been in love!) and our parents and money and fame.

I was surprised at how well it went. Of course, for my part, I’m not exactly studs terkel talking to myselfStuds Terkel, but I think the result is interesting. I’m passing it off – or appropriating it – as a short story called “Only Time Will Tell,” Jonny’s answer to the question, “Did you have a happy childhood?”

In any case, I think it helped me to get closer to Jonny. I don’t see him the way I did a few months ago. He’s neurotic, all right, but I made the mistake of thinking he was me all over again. He’s not.

Jonny at 16 has more discipline than I could ever have imagined at that age, and he seems to know what he wants. I wish he were less rigid, less outer-directed, more open to new possibilities.

But wishing won’t make it so, so why should I do it? He’s Jonny, and I accept him, and in a way, I have to admire him. He has the same obsession sweet successwith achievement that I do.

Marc doesn’t share that; he’s drifting now more than he ever did. Today he went into work with Dad, but that’s not really what he wants to do. Marc has been so depressed lately and seems at the fringes of things. At least he’s always had a succession of girlfriends to bolster his sense of security. It must be difficult coping with all those middle-child syndromes.

This morning I went to LIU, but no more term papers came in, and rather than resort to giving Incompletes, I’m going to show up on Wednesday and see if the stragglers turn the papers in.

LIU closeup signSo in the office I just chatted with Margaret and Julius for a while. Margaret’s father died at 29, of the after-effects of being gassed and shell-shocked in the First World War, for which he received the Victoria Cross.

Margaret’s mother brought up four young children by herself in a grocery store. Margaret’s brother was killed by the Luftwaffe in World War II, and of course she herself was a war bride.

Christine Conte, the new Fiction Collective coordinator, phoned to invite me to a party for Steve Katz on Thursday. I bet Jon asked her to call me because he feels bad about how things ended between us.

So I’ll try to make peace with him. The Conference is all in the past. I’ll feel uncomfortable at the party at first, but then I’ll feel better. You know I can’t bear grudges very well. The longest I’ve held a grudge is – two years.


Thursday, May 26, 1977

Ft. Greene9 PM. Today was the pleasantest day I can remember. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny but not oppressively humid. And I was out among people, and I wrote a little, and I enjoyed myself.

I just spoke to Steve Binetti, and I’m going to meet him tomorrow at his house. We had a friendly talk, like we’ve known each other for years, but I am now certain that there can be nothing more than friendship between us.

When he described himself, everything he said was a turnoff. First of all, he’s very tall, and then he’s got a beard, and to take the cake – and he probably does that – I inferred that he’s fat because he says he uses saccharin.

How to Pick Up Men!I like cute, boyish – even girlish – guys, not tall, dark, bearded fat ones. Oh, I figured it was too good for it to be true that Steve was my type physically.

He’s got my picture and he likes the way I look. It’s a strange position for me to be in; I don’t want him to start to get serious about me. But I’m not going to try to make him dislike me.

He says he needs a friend to sort out his sexual identity problems, and I probably need a gay friend, too, but I really only want someone I’m attracted to. I’ve already had plenty of gay friends I’m not attracted to: Vito, Elihu, Allan, Leon, Skip – even Brad, who claimed to be “crazy about” me.

I’m disappointed about Steven, but I’ll keep on the lookout for other guys.

carolina quarterly 1976Today, after years of form rejections, I got my first encouraging handwritten rejection from Carolina Quarterly, whose editor said they almost took the story. So I sent them out a new one.

At 3:30 PM, I picked up Scott at his house, after he’d just come back from the beach with Linda. Scott had been excited when I told him that Linda was teaching at Brooklyn College, so he called her at her office and said she was glad to hear from him.

She’s not seeing anyone now – that ugly bearded guy left New York – and she’s stopped speaking to Craig because she realized he shielded her from other men at BC.

how to survive a marriageLinda told Scott she knew her marriage with Harvey wouldn’t work out, but she went through with it because of peer pressure. For a while, she went to Michigan and had an affair with a guy there; Harvey attempted suicide by slitting his wrists while she was away. They got annulled because it was easier than a divorce.

Scott and Linda always got along well; he admires her intelligence, and today he said she knows so much about the law and criminal justice.

Scott himself hasn’t changed a bit; all the time I was with him, he was hyper. Compared to him, I’m very relaxed. He would get excited by traffic because he was in such a rush to get from one place to another.

NapoliWe went to the publication party for Steve Katz in Little Italy. I spoke to Steve, and I met Ursule Molinaro and Carol Smith, whose books will be published by the Collective next winter. Neither of them seems too familiar with the Collective.

Ursule, an older Italian woman, told me she had lunch with Andree Connors, who was her editor, a few weeks ago, and they got on fabulously. Just then, some man came over, shook my hand, and congratulated me on the publication of my book.

Joe's village“Not yet,” I said, smiling, and I directed him over to Steve. Jon and Peter didn’t show up, and I couldn’t find Christine, so Scott and I left early, went up to the Village, and had pizza on West 8th Street.

Scott and I were going crazy over all the scantily-clad beautiful women (and in my case, also men) walking around. One woman was so gorgeous that Scott and I practically moaned in unison. I am so horny.

Driving back to Brooklyn, Scott told me he had spoken to Bruce, who’s still a student at Brooklyn College even though he must be close to his mid-Manhattan Bridge drivingthirties now.

I wanted to stop off at the Judsons’, and Scott was game. Wayne and Angelina were outside on the stoop and were so glad to see me; at this point, they’re like my own brother and sister.

They said Libby had gone to dinner in Chinatown with Thomas. She’s getting around now, going out with both Mason and David on Sunday, and last night Thomas took her to the movies.

Even Scott was captivated by Libby’s mother, who served us coffee and her libby's housewonderful homespun philosophy; I love that woman like she’s my second mother. Wayne came in and showed Scott the dead rabbit he’s tanning, and Angelina brought us roses from the garden to take home.

Scott was restless, so we left early although I had wanted to wait for Libby and Thomas to come home. As I was leaving, Mrs. Judson whispered in my ear, “Next time leave him home.”


Friday, May 27, 1977

8 PM. Yesterday morning, a 27-year-old guy from Queens, George Willig, George Willig TVclimbed the towers of the World Trade Center.

He’s a mountain climber who did it by using a device of his own making, saying he had been obsessed with the idea for over a year. And yesterday, in four hours, he succeeded, thrilling the entire city.

Willig, an instant celebrity, was on all the talk shows this morning. On Stanley Siegel, he appeared with Philippe Petit, the high-wire man who George Willig crowdastounded us by walking a tightrope between the twin towers two summers ago.

It was a pleasure to see two such men. They’ve created magic for us; their exploits are such pure experiences. There’s nothing I admire as much as that obsession with achievement.

I was moved to look up a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Adhere to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age.”

george willig daily news 2Even Richard Nixon, in his last David Frost interview, said, “What makes life mean something is a purpose, a goal, the struggle, the battle – even if you don’t win.” I hope to God or to whomever we atheists pray that my life will always have a goal and a purpose and that I can do something “strange and extravagant,” too.

I want so much to play a role in what Justice Holmes called “the actions and passions” of our time. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but I’m going to give it a damn good try.

Today I went over to Bay Ridge to see Steven, and my heart sank when I saw him. He’s very fat, bearded and hairy, someone I could never imagine shore road parkbeing in love with. At first I just wanted to just get it over with, but we went to Shore Road Park by the Verrazano and talked.

He’s a nice person, and he’s confused about his sexual identity, and obviously his weight problem doesn’t help. “So many people reject someone on appearance and don’t bother to look inside,” he said.

I didn’t want to be one of those people, but I also know he’s not what I need. I have dozens of friends; I need a lover. Still, we had a pleasant, alternately shallow and deep two-hour talk. I like him and wouldn’t mind being a casual friend of his, but selfishly, I can’t be his caseworker.

srp 9 dark path bridgeOn Wednesday I was in love with a fantasy. I’m beginning to think it’s better to meet people face-to-face because at least you’re sure there’s that initial attraction. Maybe gay bars aren’t that bad – nor straight singles bars, either.

I told Steve that yes, there are bisexuals, and I confirmed this by trying hard to avoid staring at cute people of both sexes walking half-naked all around us while I was talking to him.

Actually – honestly – I think what I want now is sex more than love. This is not going to be a celibate summer.

shore road bridgeA small-world coincidence: Steve knew Nancy as the lifeguard at the Silver Gull, the beach club in Breezy Point that his parents belong to. We rhapsodized about how pretty and vivacious Nancy is.

This morning I went to LIU to give a makeup exam to Victor Mitchell, who got a 45 on the test; I was too generous and gave him a D as a final grade.

Margaret and I chatted about her daughter Jennifer’s new apartment in Ken Bernard’s building on Riverside Drive near the George Washington Bridge.

I read the papers and lent Dr. Farber my copy of the News so he could read Kleinberg bookPeanuts, and I congratulated Dr. Kleinberg on his new book, which I spotted yesterday at the Eighth Street Bookshop. It’s an anthology of gay fiction, and I intend to buy it. Dr. Kleinberg is openly gay, and it’s so wonderful that it’s accepted; nobody at LIU thinks anything of it.

Dr. Tucker was saying that there’s a possibility of a class for me this summer when Elihu came along. He was at LIU to pick up his paycheck, and I tagged along with him when he got it.

Then we drove to Clarendon and Ralph. Elihu’s into old buildings, and he wanted to photograph the rotting Claesen-Wyckoff house, the oldest wyckoff house 3building in the state. I had thought they would have tried to fix it over by now, but I guess not: the roof is caving in.

Elihu told me he lost his fellowship at CUNY, but he is doing twenty hours a week of tutoring at LIU, including tutoring History for the first time, and the money will come out the same.

I dropped Elihu off at the Junction on my way home; Elihu’s still very nice after all these years, even if we weren’t really friends a decade ago in high school, when I sat next to him in Mr. Illivicky’s History of Latin America class.

Last night I spoke to another really nice guy, Larry. I had called Mikey’s house, and of course Mikey was out at the law library. But Larry is always an agreeable substitute, and we had a nice talk. TC mark

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