Thursday, October 20, 1977
4 PM. Jonathan Baumbach answered my letter with a letter of his own, dated a week ago and posted yesterday. (Does that indicate he sat on it for a while?) He wrote:
Why assume, without asking me, that I knew you hadn’t been paid. When you quit in the middle of things, Les Von Losberg took over the job of coordinating the Conference and agreed to do what remained to be done for $200. I had instructed Heydorn to split the $400 fee set aside for the job between the two of you.
That you hadn’t been paid was a typical Brooklyn College foul-up. I have called Heydorn and he assures me that you will get a check for $200.
I offered you the Conference job because I liked and trusted you and because you had done so well with the handling of Fiction Collective manuscripts. I regret the difficulties you faced (I had no way of foreseeing them) and understood your need to resign.
The manner of your resignation, however, as I suspect you know, was childish and irresponsible. Your letter seems to me one more of a series of attempts to alienate people who liked and thought well of you.
I hope your writing is going well.
Well, he really got his digs in, didn’t he, calling me “childish and irresponsible.” I thought a lot about that today. And that phrase worthy of a porn title: “a series of attempts to alienate people who liked and thought well of you.” I thought about that an awful lot today.
Have I been alienating people? Who? I’ve searched my mind for people he could mean. Gelber and Gerlernt? They never respected or liked me in the first place. Peter? Apparently Peter still likes and respects me; I got that impression from his letter this summer. Well, who else is there? Baumbach can’t know about Ronna, can he?
Or perhaps that I didn’t go out of my way to ingratiate myself with the staff at Bread Loaf? But that was because I felt shy.
Besides, I considered that a step forward because, if anything, in the past I’ve been guilty of whatever the opposite of “alienating” is: I’ve always tried too hard to ingratiate myself with people I thought might do me some good. I’m too success-oriented to be stupid enough not to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way.
I read the letter to Mom and to Alice, and both agreed that Baumbach was just striking back at me because he’s very defensive. But what can you expect from your mother and your oldest friend?
Perhaps Jon knew that his comment would get me thinking; he knows I’m fairly insecure. My letter to him was not nasty. Before I sent it, I had Mom, Dad and Jonny read it, and I described it accurately in my diary: “more in sorrow than in anger.” Probably Baumbach was just hurt because he knows that I will no longer respect and look up to him the way I once did.
I wrote Jon another letter thanking him for straightening out the situation with the pay, saying I don’t know what he meant by his last comment but that it’s time to put the incident behind us, forget about it and be friends, best regards, etc., etc.
I don’t want him to be hostile to me. I keep remembering Mrs. Ehrlich’s warning that I often use angry breakups as a way of moving on to the next phase of my life. But I’d rather have my self-respect than all the good that Jonathan Baumbach – or anyone else – could do for my career.
Just now, after reading the letter again for about the twentieth time, I tore it up. I’ve dealt with it; now it’s over. I’ll keep examining myself for the flaws Jon mentioned, but I’m not going to let his words obsess me. And the $200 will come in handy.
Anyway, apart from that, today was a horror. Although I did write a story, it’s a mess of a story based on an obsessive sick dream I had last night. All day it rained and was chilly. I didn’t go out, nor did I want to go out.
I have diarrhea and feel like I have acne and dirty hair even though I don’t. I want to sleep, sleep, sleep and not have any sick dreams. I just took three Triavils and hope to be in a better mood by morning.
Friday, October 21, 1977
It’s nearly 5 PM and after I finish writing this, I’m going to drive into Manhattan to meet David Gross at his hotel. He’s in town for some men’s outerwear show and we’re going to do something tonight.
I’d rather it were another evening, as I’m very tired – I got home from the New York Book Fair only an hour ago – but I’ll just have to make the best of things. It is a lovely day, however: almost summery.
Last night I felt so rotten that I cried for fully half an hour. It was the first time I’d cried like that in a very long time. What a wonderful feeling! I just let out a whole year’s pain and frustration and self-doubt.
I was feeling pretty down on myself because of Jon’s letter. It started to make me feel so paranoid, that I had no friends left, that I had ruined my whole life.
For me, crying is such a luxury. I remember the time I was taking acting lessons at the Little Theatre School when I was 14 or 15.
A kid of 11 or so, a peppy dark kid, was doing this acting exercise: the teacher, “Miss Joanie” Edwards (the daughter of the owners, who was always billed as one of the runners-up for the title role in the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank) asked the boy to re-live the death of his grandfather.
The boy’s grandfather actually had died the previous spring, a few months before, and Miss Joanie had him imagine himself saying goodbye to the body in the open casket. He was sobbing terribly, and I thought it was a cruel thing for Miss Joanie to do.
Then she asked me to go into the scene as the kid’s older brother: I did it, and I felt terribly sad, but the tears wouldn’t come.
After the scene was over, Miss Joanie asked us how we felt.
“Great . . . now,” said the kid, blowing his nose.
“I have a terrible headache,” I said – and boy, did I!
“That’s because you had to cry and you didn’t,” Miss Joanie told me.
Isn’t it strange that after all the years of therapy I had, I never learned that lesson? I don’t cry easily, and tears embarrass me: in that way, I’m a typical macho male.
I put my lenses in this morning and wore them to school for the first time. (Although I’d long stopped crying by then, it struck me that it’s funny that tears are actually good when you’re wearing soft lenses.)
At LIU, I realized I do have friends there: Margaret, Ralph, Prof. Scott, Terry Malley, George Economou, Dr. Hildreth Kritzer. I’m becoming less shy, and now most of the faculty knows who I am.
My classes were easy today, as all I had to do was give them library instruction, and I didn’t have to do that, really, because Mrs. Chang at the Card Catalog and Fern Kestenbaum in the Reference Room did most of that.
Fern is so sweet, and I’ve always loved both women and men who lisp; I don’t know why I find lisps so nice. I found it interesting that Fern told me she liked my 11 AM class much more than my 10 AM class because I feel the same way.
After that, I handed back to the papers to Dr. Edelman’s class and bid them farewell; they are a very nice bunch of people and it was nice being their substitute teacher.
Leaving school, I ran into two old students I was glad to see again: Norman Gelb and Bernard Maynore, and then late today I ran into John Brickman when I took the D train to 42nd Street to go to the Book Fair at its tent in Bryant Park. He seemed a little less depressed about majoring in business than he did when he called me last week.
The first person I saw at the Book Fair was Peter Spielberg, and we chatted like old friends. I was really glad to see Peter and to know that he still likes me.
It was also nice to meet other small press people, and I found two magazines containing my work that I’d never seen: New Voices, which printed “Other People,” a funny story, confused, about LaGuardia Hall; and Mati, which printed “My Twelfth Twelfth Story Story.” Barbara Berg, the editor of Mati, gave me a copy free and assured me she’d send me more.
Bob Hershon and Ron Schreiber of Hanging Loose, Charles Freeman and George William Fischer of the Long Island Poetry Collective, the Brooklyn College librarian Jackie Eubanks, the Pushcart Press’s Bill Henderson, Z Press’s Kenward Elmslie, poet Michael Lally: it was good to see the faces of the names I see in print all the time. (Yes, I went up and introduced myself to all of the ones I didn’t know already.)
I bought several books and magazines and restrained myself from buying more.
Tuesday, October 25, 1977
10 PM. Tonight I read Candide. I’m feeling good. I probably could have written a story today – ordinarily I would have tried to – but I just didn’t feel the need.
Seeing the glut of small presses at the Book Fair over the weekend has made me see that I shouldn’t write stories just for the sake of a new credit. I don’t have to be published everywhere; it’s more important that I have some respect for my own writing and know that I don’t need to write second-rate stories anymore.
Now I should attempt to produce only the best that I can. Obviously I’ll never get away from that gremlin that forces me to write, and it looks as though it’s going to be difficult to escape the other gremlin that gets me irked on days like today when only rejection slips come in the mail. Greedy, greedy!
Candide is, of course, a classic, a real classic, not one of those comedy sketches or old musical numbers that Jonny’s always screaming about when he says, nearly every night: “Turn on Channel 2 [or 4 or 5 or 7]! You’ve got to see this! It’s a classic!” I seriously doubt that a Steve Martin routine fits that description.
Thursday, October 27, 1977
8 PM. Since I’ve gotten my contact lenses, I’ve wasted too much time staring at myself in the mirror. I never dreamed I would find them so comfortable. Now I really want all my old friends to see me without my glasses.
Today was a gorgeous, summery day: even now you can walk outside with just a sweater. We had a pleasant dinner tonight, plus an apple pie that Mom made (sugarless, as I instructed). Gee, that sounds corny: Mom and apple pie. (The “gee” sounds pretty corny, too.)
I like being part of a family, though. Jonny and I are getting used to Deanna as a prospective member of the family. She’s been over every night since Marc’s been in his cast, and she calls all the time and sends him a get-well card in each day’s mail.
She’s sweet, and her naïveté is funny. This evening I half-convinced her that they’d given her a boy’s social security number by mistake. And Jonny, who knows more about the Old Testament than any other 16-year-old boy that I know, was astounded discover that Deanna was totally ignorant about the beginnings of Genesis and had never heard of Cain and Abel.
“We only studied Jewish things in Hebrew school,” Deanna told Jonny. “Not about Adam and Eve.”
Jonny and I gave each other weird looks across the table.
I think Dad’s upset because the import quotas on jeans are going sky-high, and his customers are reluctant to buy Dad’s jeans at higher prices.
And Dad’s nightly talks with Grandma Sylvia don’t help matters. She found Grandpa Nat crying something awful when she visited him at the nursing home.
He was very depressed and said, “I’m not getting any better. I should have died. . . I can’t stand being around all these crazy people.” (One old woman with white hair and wild eyes keeps coming into his room and saying absurd things.)
But at least he now realizes what happened to him and where he is. Last weekend, though, he went on a violent rampage and was screaming about the stock market, so maybe these moments of lucidity come and go.
Grandma Sylvia says that at least he’s stopped talking about the pants and making gestures with his hands, explaining he was “separating the 34s from the 32s,” as if he were still working.
I miss Grandpa Nat terribly, and if I had the money and the time, I’d fly down to Miami to see him. I wouldn’t care if he didn’t make sense: he’s alive, and I want to look at him.
Peggy Humphreys sent me a note today; evidently she and Dick are back in New York: “I learned in a very convoluted way that you are no longer working for the Fiction Collective. I know that they must miss you very much: you certainly did a lot to make my life there that much more pleasant.”
See, Baumbach, I haven’t alienated everyone.
Peggy sent me a copy of a rave Kirkus review of Dick’s new novel, Subway to Samarkand, which Doubleday is publishing this month. Peggy said she’s working part-time at Hunter’s library and is a little fidgety, probably because she was always so energetic.
She ended the note by wishing me well with my writing. I wrote her back right away; she’s such a lovely lady.
Also in today’s mail, I got four rejections, but I was still high from yesterday’s Sou’wester acceptance and from the 12-page story I completed this morning, “Perpetual Care,” another realistic story that even John Gardner might not disapprove of.
The story came out almost without effort; it may not be good, but that never matters in the beginning. Just the act of finishing a story makes me feel good.
Today, as I said, was beautiful, the kind of day I’d pick to fall in love. Oh, I’d love to fall in love again after all these years. You know something? I think it’s coming finally: by the end of the year it will happen. And not a year too soon.
My problem is I always fantasize an ideal love, a perfect soul-mate, and there’s no one like that in the whole world. Or is there? See, I’m still hoping to find him/her. When you stop hoping, you’re dead.
Friday, October 28, 1977
9 PM. One would think that summer is about to put in a return appearance. This must be how fall feels in California. Today was gorgeous – and I use that in the F. Scott Fitzgerald sense, not in the Jewish housewife cliché sense.
In fact, knock wood, thank God, kinnahora, this has been one hell of a pleasant week. I almost revert to my neurotic self and think I don’t deserve this. I don’t know what it is, or if it’s a combination of things: my contact lenses, the wheat germ I’ve begun to eat regularly, the mild weather, the after-effects of last weekend’s Book Fair, but I’ve been feeling pretty terrific. And optimistic, despite my reading Candide.
Next week, I begin going over the novel with my classes. Today I reversed what I did on Wednesday and talked about taking notes for the term paper and doing bibliography at 10 AM and I had a hysterically funny lesson on grammar at 11 AM.
We had a lot of fun in class in both sessions; I love to joke around, but I always know enough to keep it from getting out of hand. Today I was writing on the blackboard, not looking at the class, when a girl said it was warm in the room. “So take off your sweater,” I said.
“I’m not wearing a sweater,” she said, as I turned around and noticed. “Do you want me to take off my blouse?”
I realize that love my students in the way a parent must love his children: Sometimes they annoy me, sometimes I dislike them, other times I just don’t want to be bothered – but they’re always there: sullen and precious and demanding and jealous and petty and adorable, and sometimes they want to please you so.
I haven’t fully reconciled myself to the proposition that I’ll never have children of my own. Even if part of me wasn’t gay, even if I could be happily married – I know I could love a woman, but that and being happily married are two different bags of bones – I don’t think I could ever be a good father.
Sure, there’s a paternal instinct somewhere: I feel a little ache every time I pass an infant in her carriage. But I’d have to consider what would be good for a child (who’d one day be an adult) and not my own silly needs or fantasies, and I don’t think I’m capable of that.
I can’t see myself being the kind of father a child – I always hesitate to use the next word, but I will here – should have. Or better than that, I don’t have the energy to take time out from my career to be the kind of father I would like to be.
How’d I get off on this tangent?
This afternoon I lazed around the house, to use an expression one of my students employed in an essay. And it was wonderful to wear a t-shirt and jeans and white athletic socks and sneakers.
Hey, you know what I think all this niceness is? Wanna know? Okay, come closer, and I’ll tell you the secret. Promise not to tell anyone? Cross your heart and hope to die? It’s that I feel sexy.
Oh God, I’m as horny as hell but it feels great. Given a reasonably attractive partner of either sex, I would have had sex at least twice a day this past week. Maybe it’s that I realize how attractive I am without glasses: I’m actually cute.
Okay, enough ego-tripping, Grayson.
Today Gary called me from his office after days of us futilely trying to reach each other, and we found we had little to say beyond the fact that we were both busy and doing fine.
(Look, just look, at that stupid sentence: on a student’s paper I’d write “coherence” or “diction.”)
I wrote a short sketch tonight which might but probably won’t become a complete story.
Monday, October 31, 1977
7 PM. I’ve just been listening to Dad screaming on the phone to Grandma Sylvia in what has become a nightly ritual. She would like Dad to come down and live with her.
“But I have to stay here and build up a business!” Dad screams. “I can’t afford going down to Florida every weekend!”
“You’re letting him die here,” she says. “Sure, it’s easy for you in New York, you don’t know from it . . . just like Sydelle going around on all her dates. . .”
“Ma, she don’t have dates. You think she’s got it so good up here? You want her to come down and stay with you again?”
“God forbid! She’s no help to me. Now I’ve got to do everything by myself. I can’t handle it!”
“Well, what do you want me to do, move to Florida?”
“You never call.”
“I called you Saturday night, Ma. What do you want?”
“Everybody asks me: ‘Where are your children?’ It’s like I have no children.”
“Your children live in New York. So you know what you’ve got to do, Ma? Move back here, sell the goddamn condominium, and we’ll put him in a home here. Here he’ll have people to look after him.”
“We’ve got to get him out of that nursing home. They don’t do anything for him.”
“You think other nursing homes are different? None of them do nothing for you.”
“Nobody cares for him; we’re letting him die.”
“Look, Ma, I told you! Come back here and we’ll take care of him and we’ll take care of you.”
Grandma Sylvia goes on and on. She’s always been a bitter, spiteful woman who only considers her own welfare. She plays on her children’s guilt; she tells Uncle Harry that Dad isn’t taking care of the Medicaid when of course he is.
Just yesterday Grandma Ethel told me that Grandma Sylvia always used to “knock” Marc to her and say how lazy he was. Although I sometimes have felt the same way, it made me feel bad to know that Marc’s own grandmother would say that to another person.
And when Grandma Ethel defended Marc, Grandma Sylvia would just say, “Well, you like him because he’s named after your father!” – a pretty stupid remark, especially considering the contempt Grandma Ethel felt for Great-Grandpa Max.
Oh well, I’ve gone on too long about this.
They had the long-range weather forecast for November on TV this morning, and it looks good: warmer than usual, with less than normal amounts of rain.
Just now I can hear Mom telling Dad to disregard his mother’s comments: “I am more concerned about you not getting sick. . . Why do you think your father always yelled at her? She knows darn well that you have your business problems and she doesn’t give a damn!”
“All right,” Dad says. “Forget it already.”
“No, just let me tell you. . . “
“Don’t tell me nothing! I had enough for tonight!”
(This all could be a textbook for some Transactional Analysis seminar, with everyone talking Parent to Child and vice versa, and nary an Adult to be heard.)
At LIU this morning, I attempted to begin Candide, and as usual, I had better luck with my second class than my first. I found Abe Goldstein in my desk at noon today; that stupid Debbie Mandel left the office without closing the door again.
Abe said he’s had it up to here with correcting comma faults. All the running around teaching at four campuses is getting to him. And he resents the attitude of the “liberal” college administrators who exploit us.
“If we were Chicano migrant workers or West Virginia coal miners, they’d be the first one to rise up protesting against their oppression,” Abe said. “But right in their own backyard, they think it’s all right. Right now the LIU cafeteria workers are on strike and all the professors are supporting them. But what about us adjuncts?”
Abe and I agreed that the only thing we can do, short of bombing the MLA convention, is do our job, but only do the minimum amount of work necessary. “As in ‘you get what you pay for,’” Abe said.