Thursday, February 2, 1978
4 PM. A light snow is falling now. I think I may be coming down with the flu: I have chills and a sore throat and headache. Last evening I fell asleep very early, before 9 PM.
But if I do get the flu, I’m going to cope. Other people have had it, so why I shouldn’t I get it? I’ll stay in bed and rest and survive. If I have to miss classes, I will.
This morning I saw a woman with cancer on TV. She said every cancer patient’s first question is “Why me?” If more of us would realize that the true question is “Why not me?” people would be better off.
Avis writes that her father has developed diabetes from his chemotherapy; she’s terribly worried about him and thinks the treatment is not going well.
She and Helmut have joined the German bourgeoisie by buying a car. I guess in Europe a car is more of a luxury item, but Helmut wants to do some traveling, and it’s a nice old 1960 model.
The curriculum supervisor of our District 22 school system answered my query by telling me to go through Myra Sklar in the Poets-in-the-Schools program. I would like to teach young people about storytelling, which – despite all my experimentalism – I think is the most important aspect of my fiction writing.
To me, there’s nothing worthier than bearing witness to the events and feelings of my life and those of the people I know. For tomorrow’s LIU classes, I’ve prepared a lecture on the elements of fiction, and I can see where I could give a similar adapted talk to first- or second-graders.
A memory of second grade: Standing in the back of the auditorium (where we ate lunch at P.S. 203, which had no cafeteria), some kid asked me a question, and when I answered him, I was “pulled out” by a guard because you weren’t allowed to talk on line.
It was the first time I had “gotten reported”; I dreaded the shame of it.
When the guard came into my class that afternoon to report me, I said to the teacher: “Somebody asked me a question and I had to answer him.”
Funny how the sound of my own words is still so clear in my head after twenty years. The teacher, Miss Taub, called me up to her desk to talk to her, but it was about another matter: she said I was being transferred out of 2-3 and into 2-1 because I was too bright for her class.
(When we moved here, they’d placed me in the “average” class of the five second-grade classes even though Mom told them how intelligent I was. They told her, “If he’s that smart, we’ll switch him to the ‘1’ class, but don’t bet on it.”)
That day, I went home in despair: I felt I was being punished for talking on line. Mom and Dad told me it was wonderful, and again, I can remember their exact words: “You can’t stop progress” and “In life, you have to move on.”
I can also remember going down to the basement and practicing my recorder and wondering how I would make out among the strangers in class 2-1.
The next day I had to gather all my things – books, pencils, paper, rubber floor mat – as the kids in 2-3 all said goodbye to me. Then I walked down the hall and around the corner to the new class. I feel certain I could retrace my path between the two rooms in P.S. 203 even today.
That brings me to another memory: Dr. Neale, the Scottish principal in Franklin School, about to take me to meet my new tenth-grade classmates in October 1965, telling me: “Being the new boy at school is just about the worst experience in the world.”
He assigned George Schweitzer to look after me, and George was an absolute angel. I haven’t thought of him in years, although a version of him is in “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona.”
Dad used to leave me off at 14th Street in front of a Mexican restaurant to catch the M10 Eighth Avenue bus, and George and his stepbrother used to get on the bus at 55th Street.
That year George was on the TV show The National Health Test, one of the many CBS News shows his stepfather produced. George played a kid with appendicitis in a scene that was shot in a house in Eastchester.
God, how do I remember all these details? It’s bizarre just how much comes back if you let yourself go with memories. George sent me a get-well card when I wasn’t even sick, just faking because I was so unhappy at school; that get-well card made me feel terribly guilty.
Friday, February 3, 1978
4:30 PM. It’s still so light out. Even though it’s going to be cold for a couple of months yet, I can see myself getting early symptoms of spring fever. I want to explore new places.
Yesterday I drove all along the Southern State Parkway out to Suffolk County, around Republic Airport. It was snowing lightly, and the snow was so swirly and snakelike on the road that it almost hypnotized me.
Last night I dreamed of sunbathing, albeit at night in St. George, Staten Island, with snow still on the ground. All my family was there in beach clothes, putting suntan lotion on their bodies.
Before I went to bed last evening, Dad told me that on the previous night he’d had a nightmare about giant garbage trucks which were actually crematoria which were cremating Grandpa Nat and he’d also had a dream in which his cousin Steven was riding on top of his father, Harry, as Uncle Harry was swimming at Rockaway. After a lifetime of never remembering his dreams, Dad says he’s now starting to do so.
The 10,000 milligrams of vitamin C that I took last night to ward off a cold seemed to work at that job as well as at cleaning out my large intestines. But I slept well and awoke feeling fine.
My skin, though, has again broken out badly, and I’m having a hard time keeping my complexion under control. I’m convinced there’s a psychological basis to acne. Probably the increased tension of starting a new term has caused my sebaceous glands to work overtime.
But I like school. It’s too early to talk about my classes; last term I thought they were brilliant until they handed in their first paper and it became obvious their nodding heads concealed their lack of comprehension.
At 9 AM, Dean Benson came down to my English 12 B class, asking for some students to equalize the sections – he has only eight students in his English 12 BB class – but no one wanted to transfer out.
So I’m stuck with 25 kids, which means I’ll have three times as many term papers to read as Benson although I probably get one-sixth of his pro-rated salary. I suppose I should be flattered that students didn’t want to leave, but it probably just means that they think I’m a pushover.
I gave lectures on the elements of fiction in both classes today, and it seemed to go over well, but who can tell? With its scrubbed pharmacy students, the 9 AM class seems quieter than the 10 AM group, who are an older bunch: it’s always interesting how each class takes on a character of its own.
Instead of rushing home after my last class today, I had a cup of coffee with Al Orsini, the grad student/teaching fellow, who asked me for some advice on teaching literature in English 12. I love sitting around Margaret’s desk and hearing all the departmental gossip. In a way, it’s like the old days in LaGuardia lobby.
I feel I belong at LIU: it’s already been three years there – almost. Driving to school this morning, when I stopped at a red light on Flatbush Avenue at Linden Boulevard, it reminded me that three years ago around this time of year, I’d just started working in the public library there.
Sometimes I think I’ve come a long way, but of course, there are those times when I feel I’m going nowhere fast. And speaking of anniversaries, it was a year ago today that I had my car accident. That’s apropos of nothing, I know, but calendar dates can be useful watershed markers.
This afternoon I went to Kings Plaza and just window-shopped, looking at all the newly-arrived spring clothes. I had $50 in my pocket, and it was nice to know I could have bought something if I wanted to. But it didn’t seem necessary.
Marc brought home a new candy called Space Dust: sugary granules treated with carbon dioxide so they fizz noisily in your mouth.
Saturday, February 4, 1978
6 PM. I’ve been falling asleep so early this past week. Yesterday I conked out at 10 PM. I called Harvey and told him I was ill and thus got out of going to the meeting at his house.
Instead, I got into bed and read a bit and took some notes for things I want to write. I’m always collecting material and writing down good sentences, but I don’t feel I have to force stories out anymore.
At last, I feel I’m a “real” writer and I don’t have to be concerned with producing producing, producing. Of course, I have a compulsive and achievement-oriented nature, so it’s hard for me to stop. And I keep asking myself if I’m not getting into a rut. I’d like to write more third-person stories and get away from self-conscious narration.
I got a splendid acceptance today: the Nantucket Review is publishing “Appearance House” in their winter issue. It’s a good magazine and I’m pleased they’re using a second story by me.
I was beginning to lose faith in “Appearance House” after so much adverse criticism, but I reread it today and it held up very well: it’s haunting. Now I know it’s stupid to enjoy your own writing, but I have to admit: I’m certain I get more of a kick out of my stories than any other reader does. I guess that’s bad.
I checked my records and found that I’ve had seven stories accepted since the beginning of the year. And all this time I’ve been thinking I’ve been in a slump. The acceptances are so easy to get used to, though.
This morning I went over to Alice’s and we loaded up my back seat and trunk with shopping bags and cartons containing stuff for her apartment. Driving into Manhattan, we had a real nice chat.
Alice told me that June might become her roommate for a while; by now, June is desperate to leave Richard, who keeps clinging to her.
Andreas met us at Alice’s building; in his station wagon, he had brought the queen-size mattress and the platform he made for it. Alice’s apartment on the ninth floor of 123 Waverly Place is light and airy, with views on all sides: of Sixth Avenue, West 8th Street, and across to New Jersey.
Apart from the walls, which cry out for fresh paint, the apartment seems ideal. The living room is large, the bedroom is adequate, and while the kitchen is small, it’s a real kitchen. I wouldn’t mind living there myself – and in a way I felt as excited as Alice.
It’s not really that hard to move: just collect a few things, get a bed, have the super put on a new lock, and you’re set. At least it’s a beginning. Alice is not planning to sleep there until Monday.
After we got everything set up – Andreas was a whiz at fixing up the platform bed; I envy how handy he is – Alice and Andreas went back to Brooklyn to get the remainder of her things.
On the way home, I had transmission trouble, and it was a terrible ride. I finally took the car over to Bob’s station and he said I definitely need a new transmission.
Dad will have to bring the car over there on Monday while I struggle with rush-hour subway traffic. So again in February, I’m without a car.
Mrs. Judson called, wondering why I haven’t been over lately; I said I’d come by soon. She said Libby is enjoying herself out in Portland, taking it easy, going with Joyce one day a week to work in a school for retarded children.
Wayne’s attacks of diarrhea and cramps have been getting more severe, so on Monday he’s going into the hospital for tests, probably a GI series. He’s a bit nervous about it, but Angelina is trying to keep his spirits up.
Mrs. Judson said that Mason wrote that he’s taking 17 credits at Sullivan County Community College and is busy with school and his work.
I shouldn’t have let so much time go by without contacting the Judsons. I can go over there anytime now since Mrs. Judson is unemployed, though she should return to work in about a month.
At 5 PM, I walked over to Kings Plaza, and although it was 20° and very windy out, I didn’t feel the cold that much. Anyway, whatever happens, spring is inevitable now.
Wednesday, February 8, 1978
9 PM. I feel much better today. Just getting out in the world did me a world of good.
Walking home from Kings Plaza an hour ago, I felt much as I did that night last August when Kevin, David, Robert and I walked without a flashlight along that dirt road to our house in Bread Loaf. (I got a brochure from Bread Loaf the other day, tempting me to go back.)
I felt very integrated, if integrated is not too pop-psych a word. So the landscape is full of snow and it’s hard to get around: I can handle it. I can handle most anything, I think, if only I act.
Today I didn’t give in to the snow. At first, when I heard yesterday that LIU was opening, I felt disgusted, but I went back to bed at 9 PM.
And I dreamed of Rockaway Beach in the summer, as if my unconscious was compensating for the winter: Even during a blizzard, a person can dream of the beach in summer.
Up at 6 AM and out of the house by 7 AM, I walked in the middle of the street, waited for the Flatbush Avenue bus, and then, when it didn’t come, I joined the others walking up Avenue N.
It was an odd scene, with all of us trudging up the middle of the avenue, with some people trying to hitch rides, and with mopeds, filled taxis and police cars also riding by slowly. It reminded me of scenes of European refugees during World War II.
Well, this refugee spotted a bus on Utica Avenue and figured he’d take it all the way to Eastern Parkway.
I didn’t get a seat, and the bus was filled to capacity by Foster Avenue; after that, it stopped only to let people off, and when that happened, the crowds at the bus stop – mostly black people by then – sneaked on through the back door.
It was a long bus ride, so it was 9 AM when I got on the subway, but the train took only 15 minutes to get to Nevins Street. Downtown, Flatbush Avenue was very clear.
I met with my 9 AM class: the six students who had come and waited for me, anyway. At 10 AM, only four people showed up, but we bullshitted in general terms. School today was basically a waste of time.
Afterwards, at the English Department, I found out how the others had fared. Abe tried to drive and managed to make it downtown – but then could find no place to park. While all the faculty members seemed to be there with the exception of those who live in the suburbs, student attendance was off 75%.
I decided to go home via the IRT, and I made it to the Junction in thirty minutes. While waiting for the bus there, I met Elayne, who was with some guy whom she kept looking at starry-eyed, as usual. Elayne said she’d called the Graduate Center this morning to tell them she couldn’t come in.
When I got home, I found that the snowplows had finally come through, and I helped Dad and Marc shovel out the driveway so they can take the car to work tomorrow.
We did have mail, and I got some rejections and a literary magazine, the new issue of Buckle with a poem from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer; it pleased me to have had a poem in the same magazine as a real poet.
At 4 PM, I walked to Avenue T to get a haircut and then I went to Kings Plaza to cash my final unemployment check, eat dinner at Bun ‘n’ Burger, and go to the movies (Semi-Tough, a semi-good takeoff on football, est, Rolfing and other absurdities).
After two days of going stir-crazy in the house, having dinner and a movie out felt like a real treat. On the buses and trains today, I kept hearing people saying they’d been bored to tears at home, yet when I got back home, Teresa called, saying she was bored because there wasn’t much work at the Wall Street Journal office, either.
I guess this is one snowstorm I can tell my grandchildren – or more likely, my grandnieces and grandnephews – about. It compares only with the Blizzard of 1888 and the 26-inch snow of December 1947.
But the worst is over, and I’m basically functioning again, as is the city.
Friday, February 10, 1978
9 PM. Another frigid February weekend is upon us. Let’s hope it’s shorter than last weekend and I can go back to work on Monday.
I’m beginning to experience the symptoms of a quiet writer’s panic. I haven’t written anything meaty in some time. Will I never again get another idea for a story? Right now I have only some vague notions, like maybe a story about lovers with the same last name, both changed from something more ethnic.
The idea came about from one of those other-worldly coincidences that happened early this afternoon when I was in Macy’s shopping for Jonny’s birthday present. I couldn’t help overhearing one fat, middle-aged saleslady telling another that though she and her husband and children and mother-in-law were all Protestants, they were stuck with name Goldstein because that was the name of her husband’s father.
“I want to change the name to Grayson,” she said. “Grayson’s a nice name and it’s nothing, so they can’t tell what you are. Goldstein is definitely a handicap.”
It tickles me to think that all the Graysons running around are phonies who were originally Ginsbergs, Goldsteins and Greenbergs.
This morning I trudged to Avenue U and was about to freeze to death waiting for the seemingly nonexistent Flatbush Avenue bus when I was saved by Dad’s Cadillac, coming back from taking Jonny to school. He took me to the Junction – driving is still dicey and icy – and the IRT got me to LIU in good time.
Today I taught Irwin Shaw’s “The Eighty-Yard Run,” a good story that the students always like, and I had two lively discussions in my classes. I’ve got to remember that even smart (e.g., pharmacy student) 18-year-olds are not as smart as smart 25-year-olds.
But I like my classes: the pharmacy kids are like teaching high school, real kids, and that’s fun. Don’t you think it’s unethical for teachers to come on to students? I certainly do. They come into your class open and full of ideas and you’re there to let them explore.
Sleeping with students is as unethical as doctors sleeping with patients. So I’ll ignore Andrew Grey (another Goldstein?) who leaves the buttons on his flannel shirt open so I can see the thin line of soft blond hair on his chest when he comes up to talk to me after class.
He’s cute but off-limits, and anyway, he’s probably straight. The major problem with being gay is that you can’t tell if other people are. Hey, bright eyes, that’s probably why they have gay bars.
But that’s such an artificial scene. If only everybody was polymorphous perverse and polygamous, society would run a lot more smoothly.
In my 10 AM (non-pharmacy) class, there are several really bright people, all black. There are now 24 in each section, making 48 term papers I’ll have to read in May.
I came home via the D train and Mill Basin bus, stopping off for a Quarter-Pounder on Kings Highway in between.
Alice agreed to come with me to the National Arts Club Literary Award Dinner; in fact, she was delighted with the invitation. I sent out a $45 check today, and if I get the flu on February 23, I’m going anyway!
Alice doesn’t like to talk about Scott and I don’t like to ask, but she told me she called him the other night and he said he had company; when she called him the next morning, he had “the same company” and “said he wasn’t up to speaking,” Alice told me.
Ronna writes from Middletown that she’s working on a distribution map of grooved stone axes discovered in Pennsylvania. The curator of the William Penn Museum, where she works, says Ronna’s making “a valuable contribution.”
Ronna’s delightful letter goes on to tell me about other things: “My roommate Yoshiko dropped one of her chopsticks down the drain last night, and I waded through quarts of larded water until the sink finally unclogged itself this afternoon. For a while I’ve intended to learn something about plumbing, and this may provide the incentive.”
Dear Ronna. She ends by saying: “I miss your face.”