Wednesday, July 13, 1977
5 PM. So much seems to be going on. I couldn’t get to sleep until 5 AM last night, as my mind was whirring away with feelings, thoughts, ideas.
I think I was angry with Avis because she didn’t stay the same; that’s what she expected of me too, but neither of us could stop growing in our separate ways. It struck me, tossing and turning in bed, that at 26, I have yet to learn to let go.
I’ve always had this awful need to preserve things as they were. That explains much of my life: my writing, my living at home, my keeping in touch with everyone, being the editor of the Class Notes. I couldn’t give up Shelli and till now I’ve been unable to give up Ronna.
In some respects I’ve been extremely fortunate. Only one person that I’ve loved – my great-grandmother – has ever died.
And I visit Bubbe Ita’s grave, her photograph is the one on my desk, I write her, I track her family in Canada down . . . I’ve never really accepted her death twenty years ago. I realize now that I’ve been half-expecting her to show up at the door one day, looking the same as ever.
Perhaps Ronna merely wanted to preserve the memory of our relationship and not put it out of focus with the two people we’ve become in the present. I must accept her desire to terminate all contact with me, let her go, and let myself go. I want to remember the Ronna I loved, not some stranger.
Which reminds me: I wonder how Avis and Scott are getting along together right about now. I’m rather glad I’m not there. Though neither of them would consider me an intruder, I didn’t want to take away from their reunion, however it goes. For once, I put other people over my need to be an observer.
And I do have my own life. If, as Avis suggested, we are turning into our parents, is that so terrible? My parents, Avis’s, Scott’s, Alice’s, Libby’s mother: they weren’t bad people. They worked hard and tried to do the right thing; if they made mistakes and behaved badly, I like to think they couldn’t help it.
During the late ’60s we were adolescents and rightfully in rebellion. But now we’ve become more tolerant. We want to change some things and we’re trying to do it: Scott and Mikey through the criminal justice system, Teresa with her tenants’ association, Alan Karpoff teaching retarded kids, even Elspeth working for the police department, who are not quite the fascist pigs we called them – they do help, in many cases.
We couldn’t sit around LaGuardia Hall all our lives, dreaming and gossiping. I do respect Avis for her choices, but we all can’t leave the country. My great-grandparents came to America from Russia, where they had been persecuted, and they got a measure of freedom here.
There was discrimination, there were violations of their rights, some terrible things happened to them; they didn’t always prosper. It’s hard to say this without sounding like Bob Hope or a high school civics text, but I think I owe something to America and to New York City in particular.
I spoke to Mikey about it last night. He just quit after a week’s work as a Pinkerton guard at the World Trade Center for a lousy $2.30 an hour, which is terribly demeaning for someone like Mikey, a law student with a graduate degree in criminal justice, and a sign that the system is not working. (There are many signs like that today.)
But when I talked to Mikey about the scorned-in-1970 idea of “working within the system,” he said in effect that there’s no alternative. And he’s right. Enough preaching for a day.
Today I wrote some terrible stories (truly awful ones); got some rejections (one was devastating, using adjectives like “flatulent” and “incomprehensible” to describe my writing); got a postcard of Union Square in San Francisco from Laurie (“RG – I’m having fun – LF”); had three cavities filled; floated in the swimming pool; spoke to Vito and invited him to the party next week (Scott had bumped into him yesterday).
It all may not be me living up to my potential, but it’s the best I can do on five hours’ sleep.
Thursday, July 14, 1977
8 PM. Where was I when the lights went out? I was watching a movie on TV at 9:30 PM last evening, and just about to crawl into bed.
The lights dimmed and the air conditioner lowered and I went running around the house, telling everyone to shut off all appliances, as we were about to blow a circuit breaker.
By the time I got to the kitchen, everything shut off. I guided my way to the front door after hearing Evie next door telling her family they’d overloaded their circuits.
Outside, everything was black. “It’s the whole block!” I shouted as people came out into the street. Of course it was all of New York City that blacked out in a repeat of the Great Blackout of November 1965.
We still don’t have electricity yet, nearly a full day later, and I’m writing this from the porch, where it’s still light and somewhat less hot than inside the house.
This was a much worse experience than twelve years ago. They’re calling it “New York’s worst night” as hundreds of thousands took advantage of the darkness to loot everything they could get their hands on.
In bad neighborhoods like Brownsville and Bushwick, police could only stand by helpless as they were outnumbered a dozenfold, and looters broke store windows and walked – not ran – away with goods; some were so brazen as to take shopping carts and selectively pick out their TV sets, clothing, jewelry.
There’s no account of the damage yet, but doubtless it’s well into the millions as many small storeowners – in Flatbush, say – must be ruined totally.
At first there was a kind of carnival atmosphere on the block. Jonny was particularly manic and took the opportunity to take his first dip into the pool this summer. (They say certain psychotics function best in dangerous crisis situations.)
We got candles and flashlights and slowly learned the extent of the damage. Evidently a massive blackout was caused by something as natural as a lightning bolt hitting a Westchester substation. The whole system soon crumbled, as 3% and 5% brownouts couldn’t halt the blackout.
Driving was treacherous without traffic lights, so Deanna spent the night here. Alice called to ask, “Isn’t this exciting?” I told her I could have done without it.
Vito phoned to say he was trapped in Manhattan – cabdrivers were charging $100 fares to Brooklyn – so he was going to go to sleep in the lobby of the Abbey-Victoria. All the hotel’s rooms were taken, and there was a wonderful spirit around midtown, he reported.
I decided the smartest thing for anyone to do was to go to sleep. But sleeping was very difficult with the 90° heat and no air-conditioners.
–– Cheering has just broken out all around me. People are shouting, “The lights are on!” It’s 8:15 PM and finally we have power. Thank God. Now I have to deal with the spoiled food in the refrigerator.
We’ve got to be very careful not to put on air conditioners yet, because of the possibility of another blackout. But now I feel somewhat easier.
To get back to the past: I awoke at 7 AM, although of course all our clocks had stopped at 9:35 PM, and I heard that the first power was just beginning to be restored. On the transistor, there were stories of looting, fires, traffic accidents.
Around 8 AM, Grandma Ethel called from Rockaway, where their only problem was no TV until the stations’ emergency generators started. Rockaway is serviced by LILCO, not Con Ed.
Last night when all the TV stations first went out, Grandpa Herb phoned Marty in Oceanside, wondering if an atomic bomb had hit Manhattan and knocked out the city.
At 10 AM, Avis called, saying their power had just come on, and soon after Deanna’s mother reported the same thing. Sheepshead Bay was the first lucky area in Brooklyn to go on.
I went over to pick up Avis. It was so hot I wore only a pair of cutoffs to drive there, and when I saw her, she said, “I like your shirt”; of course, I wasn’t wearing one.
When we got back to our house, Marc was nearly in tears. Jonny, whose routinized life was threatened by the disruption, drove Marc crazy, and Marc ended up knocking down the master bedroom mirror, shattering it into pieces.
I know how Jonny can get to you. Marc and I are both frightened of him by now. He and Deanna and Avis and I relaxed in the pool all day. It was the only way to cool off; the filter wasn’t working, but so what.
Avis and I went over to Kings Plaza, which has its own generator, to bring back lunch for all of us from Nathan’s. As we were eating, Deanna seemed surprised to hear that Avis lived in Germany. “I thought you lived in Europe,” she told her.
Deanna also misheard all the references to people “looting” as being about people ’luding: meaning “taking Quaaludes.” She is incredible, that Deanna. Like me, Avis wondered how Marc could be attracted to her.
Avis told me she had a nice time at Scott’s yesterday. She said he was really sweet and his place in Manhattan is really nice. We called Teresa and postponed our dinner till tomorrow night. Vito called to say he was finally home.
At around 6 PM, Avis and I went back to her parents’ house, where I had dinner with them, appreciating the air conditioning and electricity in a way I never had before. What an experience!
Friday, July 15, 1977
4 PM. I feel very tired and I have a slight headache. But tonight Avis and I are invited to Teresa’s, and I still have to shave and shower and drive all the way up to Manhattan.
I’d rather just fall into bed, but that’s not possible so I’ll just have to make the best of it. My lethargy is caused by last night’s insomnia. So many things seem to have hit me all at once, and I was trying to sort them all out in bed. I got less than four hours’ sleep.
On Monday I felt I was on the verge of some exciting thing, and indeed, much did happen this week. First of all, seeing Avis has stirred up so many feelings.
That first day, I was angry with her for putting down America and New York. Yet the looting and fires and rioting of the blackout seem to have belied my defensive optimism. The European press, I hear, has called it “the city that went berserk” and “the night of the animals.”
Evidently the news has not reached St. Maarten or my parents would have called. As it was, we had several phone calls last night. Aunt Sydelle assumed our power had returned when Robin’s did, at 2 AM, just six hours after the blackout began – but Briarwood was the first section of the city to get electricity back.
Aunt Arlyne, as usual, was less than sympathetic. She and Marty spent the day on their boat, making fun of the people on Fire Island; apparently that’s one of my aunt and uncle’s pleasures in life.
Grandpa Nat phoned from Florida and was relieved when we told him we had lights again. He sounded stronger than ever since he got a good report from the doctors last weekend.
I called Alice, whose enthusiasm for the blackout when it began on Wednesday night had turned into depression. She said yesterday was like “the end of the world,” burning hot, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Even that ball of energy, Alice, just slept for a lot of the day yesterday.
Mikey and Larry spent Wednesday night in the city, but Stuie rescued them yesterday and brought them to Rockaway. Mikey invited me over today, but I just didn’t have the energy.
Maud didn’t have electricity back in the Bronx until 10:30 PM, when the last city neighborhoods got their lights on again. Stuck on the seventh floor in her building, Maud was without water as well.
Last night Marc and I had some job, throwing out more than $30 worth of food from the freezer and the refrigerator: all dairy products, frozen dinners, and anything suspect.
At 9:30 PM, I drove out to Rockaway to buy milk, cheese, and some other staples that I was afraid we might not be able to get in Brooklyn today.
Getting back to the feelings about Avis that caused my insomnia last night: Seeing Avis in her bikini the past couple of days, I know how I can still be attracted to her.
After all these years, Avis’s lithe body still strikes me as beautiful – her small, supple breasts; her firm stomach, her tiny ass – and I really like Avis’s cute hair under her arms and the sprinkling of hair on her legs.
Anyway, it’s nice to know that passion – even unconsummated passion – can last. My relationship with Avis is different than my relationship with Alice in that it has always had an undercurrent of sexuality running through it.
Dinner last evening at Avis’s made me slightly uncomfortable. Her mother can make anyone nervous, I think, as she talks as if she were on her deathbed. After I left, Libby, Wayne and Angelina, driven by David, took Avis out for a drive to the Verrazano Bridge and for a snack in Bay Ridge.
At Avis’s urging, I’m going to invite people over to the pool on Sunday, and late in the day we’ll have a barbecue.
Dr. Tucker wrote me that Confrontation accepted “Triptych”; I feel embarrassed, wondering if he took the story on its merits or because he felt obligated. He told me I was a good writer and that I’m “very high on the list” for fall teaching at LIU, but I don’t think there will be any jobs there.
Saturday, July 16, 1977
8 PM. Somewhere there is a novel in all of this, if only it would show itself. It was 96° yesterday and 98° today.
I haven’t gotten to sleep before 4 AM in nearly a week. My throat is scratchy, as though there’s a film over it. My air conditioner keeps icing over. I am playing with skin cancer, with all kinds of cancer.
Virginia Woolf thinks we are all part of a novel, and I suppose them’s my sentiments, too. Let me write about other people for a while. I am sick to death of Richard Grayson.
I hate him by now, this smug, overambitious, moralizing neurotic whom I cannot quite make come alive. He exists only on the surfaces of paper. Only I am real. But let’s forget about Grayson for now. A literary exercise: Complete this diary entry without once using the word I.
Very well, we begin. (Uh, uh, that’s cheating.)
Avis was wearing a long skirt last night. To be cool, she said.
Teresa looked tired. The subway ride home from work had gotten to her.
Don, the live-in lover, fortyish vice president of the New York Times Corporation, having left wife and four kids in suburbia, was wearing shorts. He looked the way he was supposed to look: sexy in an avuncular backyard-barbecue kind of way.
There were some small silences, nothing uncomfortable. The guests arrived too early. They had smoked marijuana on the way to Manhattan – at Avis’s behest, of course. Before she enters Teresa’s apartment, Avis says Teresa’s trouble is that “she never got into dope.”
Spaghetti and meat (vaguely tough and too chewy; one almost knew one should have rehearsed the Heimlich maneuver) were served with, strangely, rye bread. And German white wine.
After dinner, everyone retired to the air-conditioned bedroom to make plans for the party. It was decided to serve bagels and white wine. “That should keep people up all night,” Don said, and he informed Teresa that he’d be away that night, visiting his kids.
Teresa wanted gossip; there was none. Everyone discussed New York. Teresa didn’t like the photos of the blackout looting going out to the nation.
A car’s burglar alarm stayed on for twenty minutes, hypnotizing everyone, and when it stopped, it seemed that all of West 85th Street cheered.
At midnight it was thought best to call it an evening. Driving back on Flatbush Avenue, Avis pointed out some evidence of looting. She was walked to her door – look out for Son of Sam – and kissed on the cheek.
Back at home, the garbage pails had not been put out despite admonitions to younger brothers and a note left as a reminder. A party was going on downstairs. Marc and Deanna slept in the master bedroom again (they are in bed at this moment).
Today an unemployment check arrived, and it was cashed after half an hour on line at the bank. Alice came over, bringing my “birthday” presents: a ream of Sphinx typing paper and several envelopes for mailing out manuscripts.
She and Andreas are going to Paris in late summer, and last night he agreed that they should take an apartment in the city so they can live together on weekends. Alice was so happy she cried.
Bad News Department: Dolores has a perforated uterus and has to have a total hysterectomy. She’s really upset, of course, and Alice says we should try to cheer her up. First Janice’s mastectomy, now this: something’s wrong somewhere.
Alice’s brother leaves for Iceland this week, and she’s going to be spending time with him before he goes.
Other news about other people: Avis reports that Wayne and Angelina have broken up. It’s probably temporary. Wayne got a job making $230 a week scrubbing bathrooms at Pace University on the night shift.
Scott’s old girlfriend Sheila was hitchhiking with a friend in South Africa and they got into a terrible accident. Her friend was killed and Sheila broke every bone below her waist. After she testifies against the driver, she’s going to London to stay with her parents, and Scott will fly to England after his bar exams to see her.
It turns out that Jonny’s friend at the synagogue is Mr. Denker, father of Melvin, Morty and their little brother. I guessed it when Jonny described the man.
Tuesday, July 19, 1977
4 PM. It’s an unbearable 102° now and the temperatures are breaking all records.
It was hot when I went to pick up Avis yesterday; her father was talking to her outside. She told me that he had just come from his monthly chemotherapy treatment.
He’d taken along his father-in-law, and while they were waiting for the results of his blood test, Avis’s grandfather went to look up some of his old black customers downtown where he used to sell appliances on time.
The 83-year-old man climbed up four flights of stairs to look up a woman known as Mother Brown. She recognized him immediately and got so excited you’d have thought she was going to have a heart attack.
Then she started crying: “Oh, Mr. Glass! I’m so old!”
“How old are you?” Avis’s grandfather asked.
“Why, you’re younger than I am!” he said. “Not so old.”
Avis’s grandfather keeps asking her the price of things in Bremen; he’s pretty sharp for his age.
We were at the International Arrivals Building at Kennedy an hour early, so we went to the cocktail lounge, where Avis had two beers and I had a ginger ale. We talked about this and that, lovely little things; the time passed quickly, and by 7 PM, the Laker flight had arrived and we waited downstairs at Customs.
One could write so much about the International Arrivals Building, but I’ll just give one anecdote: an elderly lady decried the effusiveness of disembarking Alitalia passengers who kissed and hugged and screamed. “You’ll find the English coming off the Laker flight far better-behaved,” she said.
Marc was waiting for Mom and Dad at the other end of the Customs exit; their flight also arrived at 7 PM, but they came out first and so I was there to see them.
My parents looked tanned, young, refreshed: the way I’ve seen them come out of Customs a dozen times over the years. I kissed them, they introduced me to some friends, and I said I’d see them later and went back to Avis, who was starting to get worried.
But Helmut soon emerged from the whitened-over doors and Avis gave him a restrained kiss. He was wearing a leather jacket and didn’t want to take it off despite our warnings about the heat.
I hadn’t expected Helmut to look so well. His hair wasn’t very long, and it’s such a nice blond color; he’s tall – is he ever! – and thin and very handsome. He remembered my car and we began driving towards Brooklyn. Helmut spoke English slowly, with a terrifically nice German accent I wish I could put down on paper as dialogue.
Helmut’s very bright, too; as we were driving up Flatbush Avenue – he said, “It’s always easiest for you to go that way, eh?” – Avis was asking me about the new telephone checking accounts and how they worked. I told her you used a code word, and Helmut said, “A commercial mantra?” – and at that moment I knew why Avis loved him.
We got to the Judsons’ house, where Libby and her mother were watching TV in the living room, and Wayne and Angelina – reunited, if only temporarily – came downstairs. Everybody was glad to see us.
Libby told me she was grateful to have the chance to ride home from our pool party with Josh on Sunday because in college she’d had a crush on him.
Libby also told me about the problem of her friend (I think it’s Thomas, whom I met at the hospital and really liked) who can’t decide if he’s straight or gay. He tried going to a gay bar and it depressed him, so he’s going to try to put homosexuality out of his mind. (Good luck with that!)
We went outside on the stoop, Helmut, Avis, Libby and I, and we ate ice cream and smoked some of the grass Avis bought from Marc yesterday. Helmut told us about his adventures in London with their friends Clive and Wladimir; he’s a great storyteller.
We talked about Vonnegut and the SPD and nuclear energy and other things; Helmut asked me what “the trends” were here. We went back inside, and looking at American TV through Helmut’s eyes, I see how ridiculous it all must seem, especially the commercials and Eyewitness News.
With Wayne at work by then, Helmut and I had to bring the foldaway bed downstairs. As it got late, I took Angelina and Avis home and got back at midnight myself.
11 PM, seven hours after my last entry. I spent the late afternoon and evening with Avis and Helmut and Libby.
After I dropped Avis off, I had this stray thought about the grandparents’ health: I said to myself, “I hope Grandpa Nat is all right; I just spoke to him on Sunday and he sounded so well. Doesn’t it always happen like that?”
And when I walked upstairs, I was about to go in to see Dad, whom I hadn’t had a chance to talk to since our brief greeting and kiss
at the airport last night. He was sitting by the phone, his shoulders slumped, looking smaller somehow. I felt resentful that he was in a bad mood and wouldn’t want to talk.
“Grandpa’s sick,” he said.
“Another heart attack?”
He nodded. “It’s very bad. . . They’re not hopeful.”
Grandpa Nat was playing cards when he passed out. He’s in Intensive Care right now, unconscious, with no response to the treatment. They don’t expect him to live out the night, and I don’t, either.
Somehow – and I don’t mean this to be flip or sacrilegious or anything, but it seems right that he die now, in this heat wave, on the eve of Dad’s birthday (which I just remembered tonight) after talking to us kids on Sunday, seeing Mom and Dad last week, knowing Aunt Sydelle was settled in her new place.
It’s as if he realized he could leave because everyone was all right. He was my grandfather, and I loved him for that, and I also loved him for being the man he was.
But he wouldn’t want me to stop living to grieve for him. “Whatsamatter, you crazy?!” he’d say, that cigar sticking out of his mouth.
At 5 PM, I managed to get myself to the Judsons’ in Park Slope. Helmut wasn’t feeling very well: he’s very tired from lack of sleep and jet lag, and he’s probably coming down with a cold.
We watched TV for a while, and then at 7 PM we picked Libby up at the Y and drove into the city. The four of us had dinner at Shakespeare’s at the corner of MacDougal and West Eighth, a very nice place, sort of woodsy and cool.
We lingered at the table for a couple of hours, just talking really nice talk. It was a relatively cool 90° when we went outside again, and we walked, Libby and I, Helmut and Avis holding hands behind us, down toward Washington Square Park.
As we sat by the edge of the fountain, it felt bearable, for the first time in days, to breathe the night air. I thought of us sitting there – Libby, me, Avis, Helmut – and how we’d make this really beautiful photo if someone were there to shoot it.
There were dogs fighting and people kissing and a drunken black man came over and told us we looked stoned. When Helmut replied, “We are stoned on the evening,” the man offered to sell us marijuana “so you can keep the feeling.”
Then Helmut and Libby got tired, so we drove back into Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge this time so Helmut could see the Brooklyn Bridge, which we’d come in on, and the skyline at night.
Back in Park Slope, we spoke with Mrs. Judson, and with Wayne, who was on his way to work at Pace. Mrs. Judson said she didn’t mind the heat so much because the factory was air-conditioned. Love Story was playing on the TV, and Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw were looking too squeaky-clean and romantic for me.
Helmut got into his cot in the living room and I said, “Gay schlafen,” and Avis gave him the orange juice she’d just bought on Fourth Avenue, and Libby said she shouldn’t have bought it because Anita Bryant says such terrible things. And we said good night, and I drove Avis home.
I probably won’t sleep tonight, given the shock about Grandpa Nat and thinking about all that has happened lately. I can feel the start of tears because I’m so afraid of the morning, of the mourning.
Right now I’d like to be the happy image of myself in that imaginary photograph of us sitting at the edge of the fountain in Washington Square Park.