A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1979

Tales of New York top

Thursday, March 22, 1979

4 PM. It’s 70° now and it’s impossible to believe that it was sixty degrees cooler a week ago. I’ve caught a slight change-of-weather cold, and I have a scratchy throat, sniffles, and tiredness. So I canceled class for tomorrow; my veterans were pleased, as most of them have only one class, mine, to come in for on Friday.

This afternoon I gave a lesson on the library, and I’ll be giving one tonight, and then I’ll have a four-day weekend to rest out this cold. It’s too warm: I never thought I’d say that, but these extremes of temperature are very stressful.

This morning I wore my peacoat, got overheated (a mother’s term, isn’t it?) and went without a jacket, but it was just a little too cool for that. Just a 1979 houses flatbushweek ago I was wearing a sweater under a heavy winter coat and still felt cold.

When I sat outside reading this morning  the sun was warm and I felt like a convalescent; I rather liked the feeling. Marc stayed home because the change of weather brought out all his allergies: spring is a bad time of year for him.

On Sunday he and Dad are going to Florida to pick up his new car, which has finally arrived there. I hope everything goes smoothly for them; they always seem to have such rotten luck.

Last evening at Kings Plaza, I bought a plaid brushed-flannel shirt with a hood. And I picked up Edward Field’s new poetry anthology, A Geography of Poets, which is probably the best contemporary anthology I’ve seenField-Geog-Poets.

At the mall I ran into Brigitte, one of my students from the fall at Kingsborough, and we chatted amiably. After teaching seventeen classes in the past four years, I have so many former students walking around.

This morning I drove to the college and picked up my paycheck in 1310 Boylan: a room I had Introductory Psychology in, and the room where I took my entrance tests for the college eleven years ago.

The paycheck comes from the state – Kingsborough’s came from the city – and was more than I expected: $283.28.

I deposited it in the Dime at Kings Plaza, and now I have over $800 there and $700 in the Anchor. I intend to close out my Anchor account eventually; it does have something to do with my being embarrassed about calling that lady an asshole there.

In two weeks I’ll get another $283.28, and I’ll be collecting that until the end of June. It’s odd: my gross salary is $175 a week, more than I’ve ever earned, and yet I find myself doing less work than ever before.

BC campus quad springNow that I know I won’t be at Brooklyn College next semester, I don’t have to worry about driving myself crazy: hence my taking a day off tomorrow.

I’m glad I won’t be teaching in Albany, as I need a “sabbatical.” Still, I would not mind taking over a creative writing class.

George sent the Susan Lawton-edited “nurturing” issue of X today. Most of the poetry is pretty mediocre, and George thinks so, too. In his column, he talked about First Person Intense and wrote that my personal life “pursues, if not actively interferes with” my work, “thereby creating works about his life.” Whatever that means.


Saturday, March 24, 1979

It’s midnight, after a long and glorious day. Last night, though, feeling very depressed, I could not have foreseen how pleasant today would be.

Yesterday at 5 PM, against my better judgment, I called Ronna’s office again. She figured I had called her at home and had been surprised to learn that the number had been changed to an unlisted one.

Ronna said she was leaving the office and would call me back at 6:45 PM. When she did return the call, we talked at each other for a while. She told me how busy she’s been and how she’s made long-distance calls to Pat in Pennsylvania, Cara in Indiana, and Phil at Princeton.

Then she said she had to get off because she was having guests for dinner: Brad, Alison, Susan and Evan. I said goodbye coldly, and after I hung up I felt a knot in my stomach, as she had practically been listing the people she put ahead of me.

I crossed off her new number from my phone book, obliterating it before I could memorize it. I also crossed out the number at work, so I won’t be tempted to call her there, either.

It seemed more obvious than before: Ronna isn’t interested in me. Or if she is – and sometimes I think she is – Ronna can’t show it. Either way, it’s no longer enough for me.

Glenda JacksonTo quote Glenda Jackson in Sunday, Bloody Sunday: “There are times when nothing has to be better than anything.” I don’t have to settle for half a loaf, or for crumbs; I’d rather give up bread entirely.

I felt sorry for myself but was surprised how quickly I stopped brooding. I guess our relationship doesn’t mean that much to me, either, so there seems to be no sense in prolonging it after it died naturally.

Yesterday I was also very disappointed because the New York Post came out with the winning reader’s entry in “Tales of New York.” James Brady wrote that the second winner would be published in Saturday’s paper. I still had hopes, but I expected to be disappointed again.

Orca MarnerI wasn’t. Dad came into my bedroom at 10 AM today with the Post, turned to page 16, and there was my byline and my winning entry – just as I wrote it, except the typesetter had fucked up the end the end of the story.

I felt thrilled. I was so delighted that I forgot myself and tried to call Ronna – and then I thought about it and decided I was glad I had no way to reach her. Instead I called Alice, Josh, and my grandparents.

It says in the paper that I win a dinner at a “restaurant of appropriate ambience” with James Brady, but no one from the Post has notified me of anything, and I wonder if they will.

NYP winnersStill, whatever happens, it’s nice to be judged a winner. And I suppose I can now legitimately claim to have published a story in the New York Post.

I called Wesley, who was working on my book’s mechanicals; I said it was too bad they couldn’t mention the book. Then I went to the Junction to xerox the story and drove into Manhattan for lunch with Teresa as we had planned.

Because of alternate parking, I couldn’t find a parking space near her building, so Teresa and I drove down Broadway and had lunch at The Saloon, opposite Lincoln Center. (When it first opened, I had lunch there with Susan Lawton.)Saloon

Teresa and I talked frankly about our desire to experience a homosexual affair, and each of us confessed to a desire in the past to sleep with Avis. We wondered if Avis will be happy on an Israeli kibbutz.

Teresa and I will probably continue to meet like this for years, talking about life and failed love affairs and career plans.

Back at her place, she played a song from an album of the show I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. Teresa said that it reminded her of our relationship.

I'm Getting My Act TogehterThe woman/narrator speaks of calling up her old friend after each of her love affairs end. They spend hours talking in bars; her friend seems to have given up on love and concentrates on life’s smaller pleasures.

Teresa and I sat on her couch and spent a lazy, rainy afternoon chatting about telephone exchanges and cars and our frustrations. She hates her job at the library and has been taking off in the middle of the day and says she would like to get fired because she was doing better on unemployment.

Teresa is having a terrible time making ends meet. When she tried to pay for lunch with her Visa card, the restaurant owner told her it was no good, that it was listed in the book. Teresa was so blasé and told me that she owed Visa card 1977Visa about $500.

She’s been going on job interviews and has two prospects. One is selling advertising, which she hates, for $17,000. The other is an interesting job with Muscular Dystrophy; the problem is that it pays only $12,000 with a $3,000 expense account, and unless they can raise the salary, Teresa couldn’t live on that.

On my way out of Teresa’s after Jan had come by to visit, I met Karen, the girl who was living next door with Lance; now that Lance has gone back to St. Louis, she’s living there alone. Karen is 20, very pretty, and into theater management.

Soon after I returned home from Teresa’s, Mikey called. He said that while he did not feel like schlepping into Brooklyn from the city to have dinner with Larry, Mike and Cindy, they would like my company, so I phoned Sheepshead Bay streetLarry at his new apartment in Sheepshead Bay.

Larry said they were going to the Georgetowne Inn and would pick me up on the way. I hardly had a chance to catch my breath when Jacob called to invite me to brunch with him and Rita tomorrow. Suddenly I had become very popular! It always seems to work that way, either a drought or a flood.

I looked at my mail before Larry, Mike and Cindy came over. A manila envelope held a copy of Bill-Dale’s fanzine, along with a short note:

Richie – Here’s a copy of AFTA #3. My picture’s on the back so you know what I look like. Let’s get together, OK?
Love,
Bill-DaleAFTA

I was mildly shocked. After all this time, I’m surprised that Bill-Dale still thinks about me. He was so angry with me for being a pragmatic sellout of my 1960s values.

Mike rang the bell, and I quickly met him at the door. It was fun to be with him, Cindy, and Larry again, and I enjoyed our dinner together.

Both Mike and Cindy have given up smoking and have put on about twenty pounds each. Mike works in security and counseling at BC and is a traveling school psychologist the rest of the time. Larry, after working at Milton Paper for five years, is now second-in-command at the firm.

1979 CI rooftopsAfter leaving the restaurant, we went back to Mike and Cindy’s for coffee and talk. The four of us spoke of the rising crime rate and how neighborhoods have changed and how real estate is a good investment. I guess that means we’ve gotten old.

Finally, getting sleepy, we all drove back to Larry’s so Mike and Cindy could pick up their car and drive me home. It’s been a very full day.


Wednesday, March 28, 1979

4 PM. At about this time yesterday, Ronna phoned, and she seemed concerned that we hadn’t seen much of each other. Her grandmother saw my story in the Post and I guess Ronna wondered why I didn’t call her. I explained that I had misplaced her new number.

1979 QB train nightWe made tentative plans to see each other tonight. Now I feel I’m no longer the supplicant. She said she didn’t invite me on Friday night “because you hate my friends.” Ronna’s spending a lot of time with Alison, who’s moving back to Michigan in June, and she’s been practicing her flute.

We’ll see what happens tonight. Maybe we can salvage our friendship.

I spoke to Josh, who said his observation at NYCCC yesterday seemed to go well. When I told him about my Albany fellowship, he was more excited than I was. Other people appear to be envious of me, and it’s not all that pleasant.

PS 197Later in the evening, I spoke with Rita. Jacob was working late at a client’s (tax time is approaching). Rita said she was so tired of being with first-graders all day and taking the subway back and forth and living in New York City in general. I’ve been telling everyone to visit me in Albany, and I hope at least one person takes me up on it.

Last night’s class went fairly well. One of my students, the only white man in the class, came in late: he’d had bad news on the job and was drunk, and he kept interrupting. I can tell that some of my students feel I’m an inadequate teacher; well, I just may be one, but I’m not going to worry about it.

Dunes HotelI was at the dentist this morning and Dr. Levinson raved about Las Vegas and flying first class and having a room overlooking the pool at the Dunes (“I usually stay at the Hilton, but at the Dunes, they took very good care of me”), sitting ringside at Friday’s heavyweight fight, and playing blackjack next to Telly Savalas.

Next week I finish up; we’re going to leave the cap with temporary cement for a while. After leaving the dentist, I went to the bank and then came home to exercise.

Letters today: from Chris McNeil, Rick Peabody, Crad Kilodney. Chris’s letter10-20-80p1letter is chatty and impersonal and he knew it: on the back of the envelope was a “Warning: The following program contains material of a trivial and unsubstantial nature which may bore some readers. Judgment and individual discretion is advised.”

Anyway, Chris writes so charmingly, one – he uses “one” a lot – doesn’t mind hearing about the weeds he’s pulling, the movies he’s seeing, and the books he’s reading. I sometimes fear that, like his great-great-etc.-grandfather Jonathan Edwards, Chris is going to give me a fire-and-brimstone tirade.

Transatlantic Review 60Rick Peabody said he saw Pete Cherches’s story in Transatlantic Review and liked it. He wanted Pete to submit to the double fiction issue of Gargoyle, due out in June, but he needed to know Pete’s address.

Rick mentioned the oddity of the first three pieces in First Person Intense being by Richard Grayson, Richard Myers Peabody Jr. and George Myers Jr. He then constructs an elaborate and lovely fantasy of the three of us drinking wine and eating pate in a shadowy Parisian café.

I’d asked Rick about Richard Price, and he said he finds Price intriguing: “He looks the tuff guy role a bit too well . . . too choreographed . . . for me to believe.”

Herman KahnRick reflects on meetings he’s had with Alvin Toffler, Herman Kahn and Barbara Marx Hubbard; he obviously thinks he’s already told me where he works, but he hasn’t, and I can only assume it’s a foundation.

“We’re all going to make it at once,” Rick writes.

Crad, typically, is more cynical:

I’ve been in a foul mood the past couple of weeks. The rejections have been coming back steadily, and I ask myself what the hell is the use of continuing to accumulate publications in small magazines that nobody World Under Anaesthesiareads. I don’t want to be part of a sheltered clique. . .

I don’t feel like writing much these days. I am very, very sad. . . I’m afraid I’m going to do something terrible in order to get psychological relief.

Oh God.


Friday, March 30, 1979

5 PM on a mild and sunny afternoon. There’s a three day weekend with little work just ahead of me.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Small College faculty was a joke. It’s obvious that Leslie Jacobson and Dr. Dix have fouled up the whole program – so they call a meeting for cosmetic purposes. After eight weeks of school, I first learned that I have a mailbox in the Small College office.

whitehead ivyI never heard so much bureaucratic bullshit in my life as I did at that meeting. They even brought a jug of wine so we could “get friendly.” It was an awkward meeting, but it made me want to get involved, so I spoke to one of the Small College counselors, Edna Gross, whom I knew from Central Depository in LaGuardia when I was an undergrad.

Last night my class went very well. I know I am doing a good job, taking time with my students. I admire these adults who are willing to put up with many sacrifices in their quest for a college education. Most of them are willing to work hard.

When I got home last night, I felt exhilarated. Some days teaching can be very rewarding as well as frustrating. There was a message waiting for me to aldebarancall back a woman at Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.

When I did so this morning, she wanted to know if they could use “Innovations” for their magazine Aldebaran; that was the story the college’s other magazine, Calliope, didn’t take. I was delighted to get an acceptance over the phone; obviously they don’t know the story is about Baumbach.

I stayed up very late, watching TV. Johnny Carson had Jerry Brown as a guest. Sometimes I think I’d vote for Brown for President only because he’d make things interesting.

This morning I awoke alone in the house and spent a few hours exercising and retyping my bibliography; I have to eliminate some stories whichCalliope magazine I know are never going to come out (those in Porch and Dogsoldier, for example). But I still have 125 stories published or about to be published, and so I feel a bit less lazy.

As my veterans’ class wrote this afternoon, I marked papers, and then at 3 PM, I had my annual evaluation conference with Prof. Harrington, telling him about my book and my Virginia fellowship and the SUNY-Albany fellowship.

I guess I expected him to be more impressed than he was. His wife, the actress Delphi Harrington, often appears on soap operas, and I told him to give her my regards.

chapter twoI called Pete Cherches to tell him that Rick Peabody admired his work and wanted him to submit to Gargoyle.

Pete mentioned seeing Laurie in the bookstore, and he said that Laurie will be teaching two sections of English 1.2 at BC this summer. Nobody’s asked me, and if they did, I’ll have a hard decision because the money is so tempting.

This afternoon it was mild enough to go out without a jacket; it seemed more like May than March. Of course tomorrow is the last day of March.

Evening News TMII called George at the Patriot-News because I was worried about this radiation problem. George used to live on Pecks Road in Middletown, right near the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. (Ronna used to mentioned seeing the towers when she lived in Middletown.)

He said that radiation is still leaking and there’s the danger of a meltdown, in which case they’d have to evacuate the area. I told George he could come here if he needs to.

Things are crazy at the paper: people were calling from all over the world to find out what’s happening.

Patriot TMIPregnant women and preschool children have fled the area; schools and many businesses are closed; people are encouraged to stay off the streets; the state buildings in Harrisburg are empty; and many are leaving for Florida or D.C. or New York.

Despite the danger there, I almost envy George, being in the middle of the action.


Saturday, March 31, 1979

8 PM. Marc and Dad came home from Florida last evening with Marc’s new Camaro, a beautiful burgundy model. By Thursday night they hadCamaro made it to South of the Border, and yesterday they made good time.

Grandma Sylvia is feeling better, and Grandpa Nat is about the same. He didn’t quite recognize Marc, and when they took him out for a ride, Grandpa Nat said in Yiddish: “It breaks my heart.”

This morning Dad ran in the Flatlands Classic, a mini-marathon of six miles sponsored by Burger King. Despite his not running for a week and his being confined to a car for two days, Dad finished in under an hour and brought home a trophy for second place in the 50-55 age group.

I’m really proud of his accomplishment. Running has been terrific for Dad: his health is good, he looks terrific despite all his worries, and he seems to have more confidence now.

Runners World 1979 aprilCertainly I could never run six miles. Anyway, Dad felt wonderful. At first he was just happy to finish, and he didn’t expect the trophy, which is no dinky thing but really quite handsome.

I awoke early but couldn’t seem to get started. Gary phoned, and after telling him my news, I said, “What’s new?”

What’s new was that on Thursday he saw an eye, ear, nose and throat man and today he saw an internist for a variety of maladies that seem to be caused by stress and hypochondria. Gary hasn’t changed; he still gives long, clinical descriptions of everything that’s wrong with him.

It got up to 75° today although it was mostly cloudy. I was sitting on the porch with Jonny when the mailman came. After spotting the packages in his hand, I knew my “slump” had been broken – as far as published stories coming out, anyway.

Sun & MoonSun & Moon, which accepted “A Clumsy Story” in 1976, finally published it in their “Fiction/Narrative” issue. Editor Douglas Messerli publishes mostly second-generation New York Poets; I think I was one of only a few contributors not associated with that school: people like Bernadette Mayer, John Perreault, and Bruce Andrews.

I can’t bear to read such a confessional piece, written almost four years ago and taken mostly from my diary entries for a week in October 1973. But Sun & Moon is a handsome magazine, and my story took up fifteen pages, rather long for me.

Coda arrived, and in it was my notice soliciting fiction for an anthology of writers born after December 31, 1949. Possibly Taplinger will be interested in an “Under-30 Writers” book. I doubt if I’ll get enough material for an anthology, but I want to try to edit a book. It will give me a chance to feel useful in case I don’t begin to write energetically any time soon.

Knute SkinnerAlso in Coda was a piece about wills. I guess sooner or later I’m going to have to make one up; it seems premature to do it now. I got a kind letter from Knute Skinner, the fine poet – I love his “Blackheads” – who edits Bellingham Review; he’s asking for a review copy of Hitler.

I went to Rockaway to see Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel and ended up staying for dinner. They’re looking well, but they’re worried about Great-Grandma Bessie, who’s become incapable of taking care of herself.

My grandparents are the only visitors she has. Great-Grandma Bessie is furious with Uncle Jerry for moving to Florida. She’s stubborn and keeps saying, “Soon it’ll be all over . . . soon it’ll be all over.” TC mark

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