A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1978

washington sq night

Friday, June 2, 1978

8 PM. Ahem. This will be a real journal entry. This evening in Kings Plaza I was approached by bland-looking blonde woman. “Excuse me,” she said, “but we’re doing a survey on antacids. Do you use any?”

“Sometimes I use Digel,” I said.

“Have you used it in the past week?”

“No,” I told her.

She looked glum: “Then you can’t take part in the survey.”

I advised her to go to the bank, where she’d have better luck finding people who regularly used antacids.

RolaidsTen years ago I positively lived on antacids. Rolaids were my constant companion. But now, tra-la-la, I am the possessor of cast-iron stomach and can’t take part in surveys.

Joel Agee called when I returned home from the mall. He and Harvey have decided to use “In the Sixties” as the final piece in their collection. They really liked it. Joel said he and his wife giggled when they read it, which both pleased and embarrassed me. So now, if they get a publisher, I will be in a big-time anthology.

Joel also said he’s way behind on his own book, and his agent is bugging him about it. I didn’t have much else to say to him except maybe wondering if we could start our meetings again. But I was pleased to hear from Joel.

Interstate #10/11 came out just when I was certain the magazine had folded and “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” would never appear in it. I’m very fond of the story; I read it over twice. The magazine featured the usual crowd: Kostelanetz, Hugh Fox, Tom Person, Guy Beining and George Myers Jr.

Mr. Myers wrote me that he’s taking “Myself, Redux” in place of “A Disjointed Fiction” for X #4. He says he’s ready to print X #5, my chapbook, any time now, so I’d better get started typesetting it.

George suggests Disjointed Fictions or The Facts Are Always Friendly as titles; I like them, but I think we might get more attention with Inside Barbara Walters. Since all people today care about are celebrities, why not cater to that?

Interstate 9 coverSee, secretly I want to be a household word, in Liz Smith’s column and on Stanley Siegel’s TV show. But George may not want to even give the appearance of commercialism, and I’ll leave the final decision up to him. He’s probably more objective than I am, anyway.

He’s coming into town in two weeks for the Long Island Book Fair at C.W. Post, and we should have fun.

(Interruption: Dad just came in. He told me he sold some shirts he’d bought for $2 each to an Italian storeowner for $5 each. The man figured out the cost on a pad which Dad showed me: SHITS @ $5 x 105 = $315.)

Where was I? Oh yes: I slept very well last night, twelve hours in all, with exotic dreams. I was in Paris with Avis, Helmut, and the Beatles, and I was in London with Mikey, Mike and a ghost.

Today I finished the Class Notes I have, and on Monday I’ll go to the Alumni Association to pick up what’s left for the next issue of the Bulletin.

Boylan hall springAfter xeroxing some things at the Junction this afternoon, I went on the Brooklyn College campus, where I met Bruce Chadwick, on the way to the Writing Center after his run. He said Margaret told him to call next week to see if there are any courses available this summer.

I’d love to teach a class – the money over the short term would be great and it would keep me off the streets – so I’ll check in at LIU on Monday or Tuesday.

Passing by the graduate bulletin board at the BC English Department, I noticed that my no name appeared as the teacher of the first-year Fiction Workshop and Tutorials; Peter’s teaching the second-year MFA sections. Evidently Jon hasn’t been replaced.

So I wrote Prof. Gelernt a letter applying for the job even though it’s probably a waste of time because he dislikes me. But I couldn’t let it go by without giving it the old college try.


Tuesday, June 6, 1978

11:30 PM. Sometime yesterday afternoon my depression lifted after I got my sinus medicine (and Mom’s). I lay in the sun for half an hour and I went to Kings Plaza after dinner and I read and watched TV and spoke to Ronna. Suddenly everything didn’t seem totally horrible.

Dad is probably going to go into business with Jimmy’s ex-son-in-law Freddie and his Arab partner Daoud (the F&D Slacks that took over Marty’s old Slack Bar on Fulton Street).

Next week Marc and Deanna are going on a trip to Virginia Beach. Jonny yeshivah of flatbushtook his SATs at the Yeshivah of Flatbush on Sunday. Our pool will be ready for the summer soon.

Talking to Ronna last night was the best medicine for me. If all goes well, she’ll be home this weekend; I’ve got my fingers crossed. I care for her a great deal – though how much, I’m not certain.

After all, in the past three years, I’ve seen her only about a dozen times. We haven’t established a day-to-day close relationship and I’m not sure we can work one out. But I want to try.

This morning I forced myself to arise at 8 AM so I wouldn’t feel decadent. It was a perfect kind of sunny, cool June day.

unemployment officeI went down to Unemployment and signed for a double check of $84 while the clerk and I discussed linguistics; he was an English language major in college.

Back home, I read my mail – all junk, no rejections or anything of interest – and headed out to the beach after lunch.

Going to Riis Park’s gay section seems perfectly natural to me now, especially since there are now also a lot of non-gay people who enjoy hanging out there, too. So far, nobody has approached me, and that seems normal, and I guess I’ve been attracted to only a few people, which is also par for the course.

Riis Park postcardI couldn’t stand my long hair any longer, so this afternoon I got it cut short. It’s a bit too short right now, but it’s also blonder, and it will grow back.

Mikey phoned to say he was all through with his law school finals, so I suggested we have dinner. It’s wonderful to be able to just pick myself up and drive into Manhattan.

We went to Shakespeare’s on West 8th Street and MacDougal; I hadn’t been there since last summer, on the night Grandpa Nat had his heart attack, when I was with Avis, Helmut and Libby. (I put that scene in my “Hitler” story.)

shakespeare menuMikey and I enjoyed our meal, and afterwards we went to visit Laurie in the bookstore. When we got there, it just so happened that Mikey’s law school classmate Lloyd was talking to Laurie, unsuccessfully trying to ask her for a date.

We had a nice time talking with her. Laurie’s decided not to teach in the fall; combined with working at the bookstore, it was just too much for this term. She’s been sick a lot and she hasn’t been writing enough.

Laurie only just handed in her thesis and finally got her MFA. So if Laurie won’t be in contention for the MFA courses at Brooklyn, perhaps I have a chance – though I suspect they’ll bring in a heavy-hitter to replace Baumbach.

washington square nightAfter leaving the bookstore, Mikey and I went to Alice’s building, but as usual, she was out. We walked through Washington Square Park, a kind of obstacle course of drug dealers who offer their wares in a monotone: “Grass . . . Quaaludes . . . loose joints . . . Tuinals . . . cocaine . . .”

There were no movies worth seeing that we hadn’t already seen, so after a drive up Sixth Avenue to the park and down Fifth Avenue, we ended up at Mikey’s place, where we watched the New Jersey primary election returns (Bill Bradley is the Democratic Senate candidate; Sen. Case may have lost the GOP nomination) and bullshitted.

Mikey thinks I’m too harsh on myself, that I expect too much from my writing and teaching career too soon. Maybe he’s right. I do feel I should be gentler with myself. Right now, I feel very good and not tired at all.


Wednesday, June 7, 1978

malibubarbie_book_37510 PM. At the risk of sounding like a laid-back Southern Californian, I’d like to say I’m feeling pretty mellow at the moment – which is surprising, considering my daylong malaise. But I seem to perk up at night.

My turning point this evening came when, stuck in traffic in the rain, I decided not to go to that alumni meeting at Stan Wunderlich’s office on Wall Street; instead I headed home, did my stomach exercises, watched a documentary on Cambodia, and ate frozen yogurt.

One of the things that’s been nice about the past week or so is that I’ve been renewing old friendships. On Saturday, I spoke to Elihu, whom I’ve neglected shamefully; last night I saw Mikey; last week I visited Mrs. Judson and my grandparents; on Monday, I called Vito; and this afternoon I had a nice chat with Harvey.

LaGuardai HallI miss the old LaGuardia Hall days of five years ago when I had a million friends, but I suppose college offers the time to carry on a lot of relationships because you are seeing lots of people on campus all the time.

Last night I mentioned to Mikey that Elihu said he sees Carl Karpoff from time to time in Brooklyn Heights. Carl has been selling real estate in the Heights and is apparently making really good money.

“I never could stand Carl,” Mikey said, “but now that I never see him, I wouldn’t mind running into him occasionally.” I totally understand that feeling.

Mikey told me of the time Carl ran over to him, Mason, and Larry and told them of this older, very aggressive girl he’d just met and whom he was crazy about: it was Libby. I never knew that Carl was the first one of us to meet Libby.

Fire Island FrolicVito told me that he’s going out on auditions, trying to get an agent, getting a lot of rejections, recovering from the syphilis he contracted at the Meat Rack on Fire Island, and breeding a new kind of invulnerable cockroach.

Harvey has a bad cold, wants me to get him a teaching job at LIU in the fall, and has just started working for a ridiculous “writing school” in which he has students who are pathetic, like a 20-year-old Army guy, nearly illiterate, who wants to write “a classic that will be remembered forever.”

Panic Hits Studio 54Harvey said that Henry Jacobs has been working for this phony school for years and has been making $200 a month. Maybe I should look into it.

And Harvey’s continuing to work on the 60s book with Joel. His other current project is trying to cut down on his addiction to TV. He ridiculed my being upset about turning 27, but of course Harvey is 34.

The point in my writing all this is that I’m not the only one who’s struggling. Poor Mikey is probably going to have to work for the state Attorney General for $5 a day this summer.

Velourable YouGary and Betty – whose birthday card I received today – are also not where they’d like to be career-wise or financially. Ronna doesn’t have much hope for anything wonderful happening after she finishes her master’s.

So if I count myself as a failure now, I also have to count most of my friends as failures, too, and doing that is much too pessimistic even for me to do.

I went out to dinner with Mom and Dad, who were preoccupied with money and business problems. If there’s one reason I want to make money, it’s to free my parents of money worries.

jahn's boothIt’s not particularly noble of me; I have obligations to them which I take on freely. My parents deserve a better deal than they’ve gotten. They’ve been good people, good citizens; they’ve abided by all the rules.

Now they’re part of an increasingly insecure middle class. No wonder there’s a taxpayers’ revolt starting in California: if the middle class is not protected, if people like my parents have to end their lives on Medicaid and SSI and little else, something’s very wrong in America.


Saturday, June 10, 1978

Bonjour Amour11 PM. Today couldn’t have been more perfect. Just as there have been days this week when nothing seemed to go right, today nothing seemed to go wrong. If only my birthday had been today.

I feel productive, well-liked, optimistic, good-natured. Days like today are the best reason for not committing suicide: you never know when a good day will pop up out of the blue.

Of course, if I analyze what made me happy about today, it would add up to a combination of two factors: I was interacting meaningfully with people – that’s pop psych for “connecting” – and I was continually busy.

If I haven’t learned by now that being busy keeps me from falling into depressions, I’m really a schmuck. I had finished my exercises this morning alice's housewhen Alice called, inviting me to her mother’s house in Brooklyn; Mrs. Breslin returned from Iceland on Thursday.

I went over there at noon, so glad to see Alice. Now that her mother’s back home, she’ll be in Brooklyn more often. Alice’s mother had a wonderful time and wasn’t at all mad at me about not staying at the house.

We had one of their signature tuna-and-salad lunches and Alice gave me my birthday presents: a children’s book illustrated by Mark Alan Stamaty and a $15 gift certificate from Rizzoli’s Bookstore. Incredibly nice.

who needs donutsAlice also gave me a pair of sunglasses Foster Grant had sent Seventeen for their Mini-Mag article on choosing the right frame for your face.

This week Alice has an interview with the Bergen Record, and she got out her old portfolio from Kings Courier, Brooklyn Today and other newspapers. She also has a meeting at Tree Publications, who want her to do some kind of how-to book.

I told Alice to give me some of her old short stories and poems and I’d try to find little magazines she could send them to.

stamaty 1Everything seems fine with Alice. She’s having the time of her life with Peter although she doesn’t want to live with him. And she doesn’t fight with Andreas anymore because now she no longer resents his wanting to be alone so often.

I think Alice is very pragmatic, so I can’t judge her at all. Even her mother understands the situation – though she would like to meet Peter, who seems to have a thing against all mothers because his was a horror. She dressed Peter like a girl for many years, and even now, when she calls him, Peter gets hysterical.

We made plans to go to Janice’s for dinner – I’m taking Peter’s place – and I left for home to collect my $84 unemployment check and cash it before the bank closed.

coda poets & writers newletterIn today’s mail I received Coda and the AWP Newsletter, both of which were filled with good information about jobs, writers’ colonies, and the usual stuff.

I spent about an hour getting out submissions, in some cases tailoring stories and poems to specific needs: for example, Mati’s “Conversations with an Alien” issue.

It was a mild, not-too-humid, sunny day, but I didn’t have time for sunbathing. By 4:30 PM, I was back at Alice’s and we drove to Canarsie, where Janice made chicken and vegetables in a wok.

canarsie stores 2Janice is now seeing a variety of men: Jay 1, Jay 2, Harry Steinberg the pornographer (who took her to Boston for Memorial Day weekend: we saw the photos of the trip she just got back) and another Richard.

But there’s no one in the bunch of them who can give Janice what she needs: permanence, stability, and romance. She’s been getting into sex lately, and we had an interesting discussion about it. Janice says sex is more than sex, that our sex lives are the clue and the key to the people we are. She’s begun to answer ads in the New York Review of Books and she even has her own ad written out.

LL trainAfter dinner, we played Scrabble with Ingrid – Alice won, of course – and another word game I did terribly at. Alice left at 9 PM to take the LL train at the corner because Peter was coming over to her apartment.

I stayed on for another hour to help with the dishes and talk with Janice; tonight I felt very close to her, and I felt very close to Alice once again.


Sunday, June 11, 1978

5:30 PM. I feel good. I’ve just been sunning myself in the backyard and reading Dyer’s Pulling Your Own Risks Strings. (Freudian slip: I started to Pulling Your Own Stringswrite “Risks” for “Strings.”) So why I shouldn’t I be feeling good?

But look: I’ve used a should, a no-no word. Granted, much of pop psychology is inane and superficial, but Dyer does make some good points in his attempt to rid us of victimization.

Of course I am as much a victimizer as I am a victim, and Dyer doesn’t have too much to say about that. He has a chapter on comparisons which could have helped me last week when I felt so bad about myself.

It’s like something Janice said last night: “these things are so obvious, yet that doesn’t make them easy to learn.” Why should (another should popping up, folks) I compare myself with Fran Lebowitz, Elizabeth Swados, or for that matter, any of the million or so Americans who are roughly my age?

julia--movie-poster-1977-1010465872It irked me when Dad asked me how I’d compare Saturday Night Fever to Julia. “Which is better?” Dad always wants to know. There seems no sense in comparing movies, siblings, apples with oranges, or even two characters in two different short stories (an essay topic I often assign my classes).

Dyer mentions Thoreau, Whitman, and Emerson; I haven’t really read any of them, but I’m going to. Emerson’s Journals have been on my bookshelves for a decade, yet I never opened the book. Maybe now I’m ripe for it.

Why do I have to feel guilty when I’m not writing a story? Is guilt the best motivator I can come up with? If so, my stories must be pretty thin.

I’ve always been proud that I’ve done things my way, yet without being a self-destructive rebel like Josh. rebel-jam-78Hating myself, dwelling on past failures and errors, all that shit that I’ve been pulling on myself all week: that’s not very helpful, is it? Do I sound jargon-y and pompous? Well, at least I still have a sense of Yuma, Arizona.

Mark Alan Stamaty’s drawings, by the way, are so intricately funny they sometimes make me laugh out loud – especially the fine print in the signs of his backgrounds. I saw one I’ve got to steal: “What Is Distinguished, We Call Love.”

What About Us GrilsAnother good title is one Janice mentioned last night: “What About Us Grils?” That comes from the old joke about the graffito that says HARVARD BOYS LIKE GRILS. The GRILS is crossed out and replaced with GIRLS: HARVARD BOYS LIKE GRILS GIRLS. Underneath it, someone has scrawled WHAT ABOUT US GRILS?

At the moment I feel terrifically un-guilty about my life. These contented-cow times don’t make for very interesting journal entries, but they are pleasant to live through. I mean, really, Richard: in so many ways you are very lucky.

family tv 1 titleI have a great family: lately the atmosphere in the house has changed markedly and we all feel freer. All of us are in good health, my parents have come to accept us kids for what we are, and we have begun to realize that they did their best.

There’s no sense in telling “war stories” about parental abuse the way Cousin Robin does at every available opportunity. Jonny may have his problems, but he’s equipped to deal with them, just as I was.

There are times when our life seems like a nightmare, but those times have gotten fewer and farther between in recent months. I have good friends I can call on if I need them.

Birthday Card 1978But most of all, I have myself. One thing about being 27: I know somewhat more than I did when I was 26, and I think that knowledge can be put to good use. I feel optimistic again.

New stories will come; maybe even a novel will come. Unexpected things will undoubtedly come, and probably half of them will be pleasant and all of them will be interesting. So says Pollyanna Grayson. TC mark

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