A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1978

Early March 1978

Thursday, March 2, 1978

4 PM. I shall not be moving into Alice’s mother’s house immediately after all.

Last night when I picked Alice up at the airport and she showed me the apartment, my heart sank when I saw that her bedroom is still in such a state of disarray: boxes everywhere, piles of dirty clothes on the floor, her bike there.

It would be very difficult to sleep in that room. There’s no place I can keep my clothes or possessions, and anyway, it’s such a mess. I had no idea Alice was so untidy, and I tried to hide how shocked and despondent I was; hoping I could go over soon, I’d already packed a suitcase at home to move in.

Alice says she’s going to gradually take everything out of there, and in the meantime, I’ll just go in to feed the cat in the morning and at night and I’ll take in the mail every day – and just use the apartment as a hideaway.

alice's houseNow I feel a lot better about it than I did this morning when I felt so low that there seemed to be no reason to get out of bed. But now I see that my depression is a good sign: it meant I was really anxious to have my own place.

Of course, their house can never really be mine the way my own apartment would. My room here may be in my parents’ house, but at least I feel more at home here. It’s a disappointment, but as Mom said, “What can you do?” I’ll just wait until Alice clears out her stuff.

Meanwhile I have a place to go – a “home away from home” – and maybe feeding the cat won’t be such a nuisance. I just hope this whole situation doesn’t explode in my face and end my 20-year friendship with Alice.

Today I had a welcome surprise visitor: Josh, on his oil truck. He had made 19 of 23 deliveries today and it was early, so after he refueled (is that the right word?) the truck at the oil place (“place” I know is the wrong word) a couple of blocks from here on Avenue U, he dropped by.

He looked a mess: his hands are filthy, and he says they’re now wrinkled for life; he’s growing a scraggly beard, too. But truck driving seems to agree with Josh, who says that he greatly prefers it to the academic scene and that it’s a lot better than being a file clerk.

oil truck libertyOn the side of his truck he’s written (with a finger in the grime) I PUMP, THEREFORE I AM – DESCARTES and in the back GAS HEATS BEST. I climbed into his truck and we drove over to the luncheonette on Avenue T for a bite; the ride was really a thrill for me.

(I know that sounds disingenuous, but it’s not; I hunger for experiences like that. Riding on the back of a motorcycle was exciting, and riding a moped was exhilarating, as was driving stoned at breakneck speed around Bread Loaf Mountain last summer. I almost think I’d love to fly on an airplane now.)

I can understand why Josh has gotten attached to his truck. He’ll be laid off soon, but back in the heart of the winter he was working seven days a week and making a fortune. Driving in the ice and snow was difficult, but he managed despite tires as bald as Yul Brynner’s noggin.

Over hamburgers, Josh told me that he’s a Teamster now. I really have to admire him: for once, I think Josh made the right decision in driving an oil truck.

And when he begins to collect his $115-a-week unemployment, he may get an off-the-books job as an advertising photographer’s assistant. More power to Josh. I liked the looks my neighbors gave me when Josh dropped me off and I hopped off his oil truck.

Last night Dad said he thinks things are going to work out for all of us, that our year of relatively bad economic times are going to end. He’s doing all right with his jeans as he learns more about the business.

clothing storesJimmy isn’t much help because he’s so nervous about his own store, and Sid Siegel and his son Billy are acting like bastards to Dad.

At first Dad thought he should play it safe and make a lot of different styles, but now he sees that one or two of his designs can be really “hot” and he should gamble with the styles he has confidence in.

One style, with corduroy trim, sold out immediately, and Dad is kicking himself for not ordering three times as many. If he had, he could have made $40,000 just on that number.

“All we need are a couple of good seasons,” Marc says.


Saturday, March 4, 1978

Kramden sink7 PM. I’ve got to write about the apartment and try to straighten out the conflicting feelings I have. I don’t think the arrangement is going to work out. When I told that to Alice this afternoon, she said I was being silly, that everything is fine.

Of course it’s fine for her: she has absolutely no responsibilities in the matter. When I called her this morning, she was in bed with some guy. She asked if I was staying at the house all day, and I said (lying) no, I’m going into the city.

“Well, then, do you think you can bring my TV set with you?” she asked. What am I, Alice’s private servant? She has library books, a whole stackfull, that she wanted me to return – and she even asked me to renew some books.

cat from outer spaceI’m beginning to resent Alice so much. I don’t even care if our friendship is over. Her cat and I don’t get along at all, and I have three scratches on my hand to prove it. The cat won’t let me on Alice’s bed because it’s always sitting there crying.

Alice’s room is one big mess. I don’t think she’s dusted it all year. Her aunt lets herself in and out of the place as she pleases; the minute I got in tonight, Dottie called to find out how the cat was.

I know, I know: anyone could have foreseen this was going to happen. But I wonder if it’s my own fault. I guess I thought only of the benefits, not of the responsibilities. Alice is giving away nothing in this deal, and I’m giving away everything.

messy roomAnd Alice’s aunt tells me, “But it was all your idea to move in!” My idea? I don’t think so. I can see that my friendship with Alice may be at an end.

Looking through the mess of Alice’s papers everywhere, I can see that she is so indefatigable, sending out letters everywhere, saving dozens of clippings with an eye to using them for something she can make money with.

It’s always strange how the things you admired a person for often become the things that ultimately revolt you. In those papers, I could find evidence of a side of Alice I’d never seen, like in this short, nasty note from the editor of TV Guide:

TV Guide 1978Dear Alice:
It is not usually considered good form to apply for a position using your present employer’s stationery.
Sincerely,
Merrill Pannett

Alice had the nerve to keep writing him back! Maybe I actually had seen that unpleasant side of Alice before and just ignored it: a person who believes in success at any cost. (But I have to wonder if I’m not the same way with my damned persistent submissions everywhere.)

It’s as though things that have always disquieted me a little about Alice are now becoming concrete. Her articles are all so superficial, and so is her slick magazine world.

ppd1But Alice is beside the point. Let’s examine Richie: Am I just panicking here at the thought of leaving home? Is this another desperate attempt to avoid adulthood?

Yes, it could be. I haven’t really given the situation a chance. I may be coming up with excuses and rationalizations to avoid the difficulties of living on my own. The thought does scare me.

Is it also a rationalization to believe that I’d be less hesitant about moving into my own apartment? I have to think about this a great deal. Of course now I lament the fact that I went into this without thinking of the consequences, but that won’t help matters any.

snow melting dayton towersIn other parts of my life: The snow melted a little, but it’s so damned depressing to have so much snow around this late in the winter, and there may be more snow on Tuesday. We’ve already had over 50 inches this year.

Last night I turned to my 1977 diary and found it was 55° on March 3; two days later, it was 62° and I was on the beach in Rockaway wearing a leather jacket and that evening in the Village with Brad, I saw a man wearing shorts.

Now I dream about summer and the beach. God, how I wish it would just get up to 40°, which is still colder than normal for this time of year.

This Way to the Egress excerptLowlands Review came out with two of my pieces, “This Way to the Egress” and “An Irregular Story.” Seeing the stories in the magazine, I’m proud of both of them. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and George Myers Jr. are also in the issue.

I think I’m on the way to becoming a small press “name” – but do I deserve to be one?


Tuesday, March 7, 1978

9 PM. Spring fever certainly isn’t a danger and the moment. More snow is predicted for late tomorrow, and the temperatures didn’t get above freezing all day today. Still, I feel good.

merry mailmanFor several years now, the highlight of the day has been mail delivery. As I see the mailman approach, my stomach tingles with anticipation.

Will today bring an acceptance? Or a new story out in a magazine? Just a batch of rejections? Encouraging rejections? Coda or Small Press Review, giving me places to send out submissions to? News about a job? A letter from Avis, or Ronna, or George Myers? Some good news?

I love to get mail. It is sometimes the day’s only connection with the world. Often, as happened today, the mail can change my whole schedule. Sometimes – last Friday is an example – it can brighten an otherwise miserable day.

Lowlands ReviewGetting my stories accepted, I look at as a game: if I took it too seriously, I’d go bonkers. Today brought two rejections, two “we like your stuff, send more” rejections, from Quarterly West and Antaeus – and an acceptance.

Gargoyle, a magazine I’ve never heard of – it’s located in Bethesda – wants to use “Minimum Competency Test.” It’s probably a shoddy, mimeographed affair, but the story is no great shakes, either; I’d been planning on revising it before sending it out again.

The acceptance was pleasant, but after getting 85 stories accepted (or more – I’m purposely not trying to count for a while), I can’t get that excited about every single one.

Woods Hall, Murray State University, KYI did get a personal note from Delbert E. Wylder, Chairman of the English Department at Murray State University in Kentucky. He wants me to send him “complete credentials and dossier.” So evidently he’s interested in me for the one-year assistant professorship (paying $13,000: not bad).

But I don’t have a dossier. And what are “complete credentials”? I’d better ask around at LIU tomorrow, and I’d better begin getting them together, whatever they are. I guess I need a complete publication list to start with, and I suppose I have to expand on my academic and teaching record.

SICCTo set things in motion, I drove out to the Sunnyside Campus of the College of Staten Island (formerly Staten Island Community College) and had a copy of my Richmond College M.A. transcript sent to Kentucky. I also got a copy for myself.

It was nice, being at a strange college campus at 5 PM as the shadows were lengthening. The drive over the Verrazano Bridge was pleasant, too; it reminded me of the days when I would go to Richmond for late afternoon classes.

That was four years ago. It’s just about three years ago now that I was called Verrazano from Gravesend Bayin to take over Prof. Hartman’s night class at LIU. (Don’t worry. I’m not going to fall into any clichéd reveries about tempus fugiting.)

Also in today’s mail, I got a copy of Writers’ Resources and sent out to all the appropriate places in their Manuscripts Wanted section. And the AWP Job Placement list arrived – so I spent an hour applying to jobs at Pepperdine, Old Dominion, Hampden-Sydney, San Diego State and Southern Mississippi Universities.

Dad complimented me on my industriousness, saying, “You’ve got a good kopf on your shoulders.”

Ploughshares 1978I’m not one of those artistes who’s above politics; in fact, politics was an earlier love than literature for me.

Por ejemplo, the scheming careerist at work: I sent out a nice letter complimenting Tim O’Brien on Going After Cacciato – along with a submission to Ploughshares, which he’s guest editing.

Immoral? Well, first Tim sent me a press release about the novel. I seem to be making progress as a writer, but I’ve got to remember that writing is the most important thing. And if I keep writing things as lifeless as today’s diary entry, I’ll have no career to promote.


Saturday, March 11, 1978

watchtower 15 PM. Today was the first really springlike day we’ve had. Driving on the Brooklyn Bridge, I saw the Watchtower sign light up: 1:05 50°. I wanted to cheer. It made me feel that perhaps vee may now to begin, yes?

Last evening, on my way to Harvey’s, I stopped at the Judsons’. Mrs. Judson had gone out to see a play at the local school, and I felt slightly uncomfortable with Wayne and Angelina and especially with their friend, a fat, bearded ignoramus who enjoys asking people, “Did they say rain libby's housetomorrow?” and when you say “No,” he says “Who asked you?”

I never learned how to handle these really crude types – why are they always fat, I wonder? – so I left early.

Wayne cut his hair short and is growing a sleek blond mustache in the style of the day (which I dislike). He was taking his stomach pills while Angelina went to the next room to study for the SATs, which she was taking today. I really admire Angelina for wanting to go to college; she had a book of poetry, The Golden Treasury, with her, which she was reading purely for pleasure.

Golden TreasuryToday I spoke to Mrs. Judson, who said she was sorry she had missed me. She says she doesn’t miss Libby because the telephone makes her feel close. Mrs. Judson encouraged me to try my luck outside New York: “After all, our grandparents went all the way to a different country to improve themselves.”

After parking by Harvey’s house at 8 PM last night, I discovered I’d lost a hubcap on one of Brooklyn’s 14,000,000 potholes. I was cursing and bemoaning my bad luck when a very pretty black woman passed by and said kindly, “You driving? You don’t look old enough, honey. . .”

potholeMm, it was love at first sight.

Upstairs, Harvey was trying to write a piece of pornography for Gallery; they want it by Monday and will pay $350 if it’s good. Joel couldn’t make it, but Harvey told me they’ve begun work on their 60s book project.

Also, Joel sold a third story to Harper’s – for $2,000. Their editor told Joel they’re always on the lookout for good fiction, but I’m sure nothing of mine would fit their bill.

Ron and Todd were there, both working as construction workers/plumbers/carpenters, taking in the money now so they can relax in the summer. Nobody seems to want to work full-time anymore. I certainly don’t.

Irregular Story openingWe read a few pieces and commented on them, but mostly we bullshitted. Harvey has left Zone and is now telling people not to apply for Brooklyn’s MFA program because he thinks “it’s falling apart.”

Jon Baumbach may not return to Brooklyn; apparently he likes Seattle and may get a permanent full-time teaching position there. (I wouldn’t mind one, either.)

It was a pleasant evening, and by midnight I felt exhausted so I excused myself and left for home.

Brooklyn Bridge 1978This morning I woke up fairly early and went into the city. Today was warm enough so that I saw people in shorts jogging over the Brooklyn Bridge and playing basketball.

At the Gotham Book Mart, I browsed the little magazines and saw a sign saying HANG TRAITOR FONDA on 47th Street. After eating at Bun ‘n’ Burger, I took the subway back to 23rd Street, where I had parked my car.

I drove with my window open and chatted like a lunatic with passersby. “Shame, shame,” I said, smiling gaily, crossing my fingers the way adults used to do with little kids, at two lesbians holding hands on Seventh lesbian tide-7801Avenue, making sure they knew I was on their side.

They laughed and smiled back at me and said, “Same to you.”

I wanted to ask someone, “How do I get to 42nd Street?” and have them say, “Practice, son, practice,” but that didn’t happen. A Bowery bum told everyone within earshot to go to hell, but that didn’t happen, either – at least not immediately.

I thought of the following titles/ideas for stories: “In the Sixties,” a pornographic piece using famous people’s names and negative verbs (so they couldn’t sue), and “The Alben Barkley Centennial.”


Sunday, March 12, 1978

1607 stoop7 PM. I was just sitting on the stoop outside, marveling that I could not see my breath in the 55° air. It’s over, winter is over, and I can’t wait to be spending more time outside, lingering instead of rushing to get out of the cold.

I want so much to be in a different place, to be away from New York City and my family. I know how stunningly terrifying it will be, but I have to do it. I want to do it.

On Sundays my mother spends the entire day cleaning, never able to get out – and of course most of the “cleaning” is unnecessary, causing Dad to get annoyed with her.

Grandparents DaytonToday, at my grandparents’, Grandma Ethel was complaining about Grandpa Herb never traveling or eating out or taking her places. “I think he’s got some kind of a fear,” she started to say, but then Grandpa Herb became uncharacteristically annoyed, and she dropped the subject.

But then it became clear to me: agoraphobia can be passed down from father to daughter to son.

Jonny missed the PSATs because he didn’t bother to find out about them; now Mom and Dad are pressing him to take the SATs. But Jonny won’t go to college. Like me at that age, he’ll shut himself up in the house.

The Unexamined LifeThis morning I wrote a story – not the story I wanted to write, but a story – and I called it “The Unexamined Life,” from Socrates’s “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (It was Ronna who told me that quote, on a dark summer night on the boardwalk at Rockaway.)

I want to find out more about myself, about the person I could be in a different place. Three years ago I was beginning to teach at LIU: how nervous I was, taking over for Prof. Hartman! Now I look forward to my classes.

Hey, I haven’t stopped growing; I just haven’t grown in every area of my life. I want to explore myself, not so much as a writer, but as a man. Writing will always be my great obsession, but there’s more to life than words on paper; I have to keep reminding myself of that.

homosexuality on campus nyt 1978There was a depressing article in the Times today on “Homosexuals on Campus,” stating the severe difficulties of “coming out.”

I had a moment of panic when I thought about my “Go Not to Lethe” story being published in riverrun; when it comes out, everyone will “know” I had a homosexual affair. (Isn’t this a repeat of 1969, when I lied to Dr. Lipton and others and said I was sleeping with Brad?)

But while I’m scared of the reactions of my family and friends and teachers and strangers and future employers, I don’t really care. I’m sick of bullshit. There comes a time in the course of human events when it is just too much trouble not to be honest.

GoldsteinAt Grandma Ethel’s today, her neighbor, Max Goldstein, a 73-year-old man who has to go for kidney dialysis twice a week, told me, in a tone close to poetry and almost as a warning:

“Don’t worry about nothing! You’re young, you got your health, and nothing else matters. Believe me. . .You should enjoy life. Nothing matters but that because life goes by very quickly. . .”

Max Goldstein is right. I could die tomorrow. I try to keep that in mind always. I try to think that every night – but being human, I often forget it.

Cameo SchaefferBernhard Frank of Buckle said he’d like me to do a one-page “cameo” of Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, who’ll be the featured poet in his Spring 1979 issue. He wants it to be “neither fulsome nor vindictive: a human/humane portrait.”

Although on Friday night Harvey said that Susan was the most hated person in the English Department at Brooklyn College, I kind of like her, and I wrote Frank that I’d do it if Susan agrees; she may not.

I don’t like to give a kinnahora by writing about things like this, but in the back of my mind I’m wondering what has happened to my application to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center.

And I haven’t heard a word from Ronna in three weeks. Maybe she’s just busy with her thesis.

Hitler openingI think I’ve decided that I’ll read “With Hitler in New York” at the National Arts Club reading. I’m trying not to get nervous about it.

Alice told me on the phone that she’s going to see Scott tonight, although I’m not sure why. He’s going to be sworn in tomorrow as a member of the New York Bar.

Otherwise, Alice said, nothing is new except June has left Richard for good again. Today she put a deposit on an apartment near Central Park, but Alice thinks she’s having second thoughts. In the meantime, June will stay with Alice in the Village; I hope that works out.

Akai video recorder cameraI called Elihu, too. He spent today playing a student for an educational videotape on math tutoring that’s going to be distributed around the country. Elihu said he plans to teach and write his dissertation this summer. He also mentioned that Elspeth is back taking courses at Brooklyn College again, something I was glad to hear.

Teresa phoned and we made tentative plans for Wednesday night. By this point, she says she’d be better off if she doesn’t see Don anymore.Black Is My Favorite Color

God, it’s good to have friends. Now I have to reread the story I’m teaching tomorrow, Malamud’s “Black Is My Favorite Color.” I do enjoy teaching the Big City Stories book a lot and am glad I decided to use it. TC mark

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