Sunday, July 1, 1979
4 PM on a humid, hazy summer Sunday. There’s not much for me to do. I feel lazy, mostly because of my sinuses. My parents are at a wedding, my brothers are quietly around, and I’m lying on my bed with a glass of Montclair water. The air conditioner is on.
July already. I don’t like sounding like Eric Sevareid, but this is the 120th month of this long diary. Ten years ago at this time, I took my first course – Poli Sci 1 – at Brooklyn College, I met Brad, I discovered Greenwich Village, and I began a long-delayed adolescence.
This year, let’s hope, I’m moving on to adulthood. I seem to have a good handle on coping with what’s ahead. Dr. Pasquale talks a great deal about my “resources,” which he says are considerable. I’ll need them to face the big changes coming up: either moving to Albany or staying on alone in the city. Virginia looks out of the picture now.
Yesterday I was at the Mid-Manhattan Library when I learned that Liz Smith’s column isn’t carried daily in out-of-town papers, so my exposure was limited to New York. Still not bad.
While I was at the library, I collected a list of English Department chairmen I can write to in case I decide to stay in the city. I’m pretty sure I can get courses somewhere.
I’ve been reappointed at Brooklyn College, of course, but Baumbach’s coming back from Seattle makes it uncomfortable for me there. Part of me wishes I had stayed at Kingsborough.
Although I spoke to Ronna today, we didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength. I called Elihu, who’s tutoring at LIU and is teaching two courses for the second summer session there. I finished the Class Notes and I’ll hand them in at the Alumni office tomorrow.
I had to wait for 45 minutes to fill up my tank with gas; that didn’t seem so bad, and now I know I’ll be okay all week.
Twenty copies of Hitler arrived yesterday and are sitting in a box in my bedroom now. I gave some to my parents and will send two copies to Germany for Avis and Helmut.
How about the following plan to sell my book?:
(1) Declare a shortage of copies of With Hitler in New York. (2) Double the price. (3) Have James Schlesinger allocate copies to various parts of the country. (4) Sell the book only between 7 AM and 9 AM. (5) Institute an odd/even system based on the last digit of the buyer’s library card. (6) Start rumors that copies of the book are being hoarded on offshore ships.
That should make people obsessed with the book. I sent a copy of this marketing plan to Harvey Shapiro of the New York Times Book Review and to Daisy Maryles of PW, but I don’t expect either will pick up on it.
Last evening I read the whole of a Time Capsule, a book of excerpts from Time for the year 1968. Gas stations were having giveaway contests to promote business; Dr. Spock was found guilty of conspiracy to persuade men to evade the draft; Time could get away with the expression “the local fag bar” and blacks were always “Negroes.”
These are things I forgot about 1968, that traumatic year for me and for everyone. Prices were half of what they are now. The country has just gone into a recession now, and with the energy crisis, it may mean a severe one. At least inflation should slow down a bit.
The 1970s, everyone is saying, were the last gasp of a society of plenty. From here on in, it’s lowered expectations, dwindling resources, and who-knows-what.
The horror of the Indochinese refugees, especially the “boat people” who are being refused a homeland everywhere, simply appalls me. It seems that no one cares, that people don’t want to know what’s going on.
Tuesday, July 3, 1979
6 PM. I’ve just been outside, talking with Jonny and a cute little bespectacled boy named Georgie who wants to become a lion tamer. Bologna, he told me, is his “best food,” but he doesn’t like to read or eat bread.
Today was a day when absolutely nothing happened – and I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know if there is such an animal as Luck, but I seem to have observed it over the years. There are times when things go well for somebody and even their bad moments turn out to be disguised blessings. My life has always seemed to operate in alternating spurts of great activity and absolute nothingness if not downright bad news.
I’ve been devouring Jules Witcover’s Marathon: The Race for the Presidency, 1972-1976; it’s very absorbing. I’m a sucker for presidential politics and always have been. I sometimes think I’d have been happier being a professional politician rather than a writer.
Anyway, reading about Carter’s amazing campaign from nowhere, one sees a pattern of hard work and enormous luck. (Mo Udall, in contrast, couldn’t get one break.) Did Carter use up all of his luck in 1976? Today he got the lowest poll rating in history, 76% disapproving, worse than Nixon just before he resigned.
The Carter administration seems to have unraveled completely, and I think it’s too late to put it together again. Carter will probably have to withdraw as a candidate next year.
Another lesson Witcover’s book has taught me (though I’d long suspected it) is that in politics – any kind of politics: academic, literary or electoral – it’s the perception of an event that counts for more than the event itself. Reality seems to be just a shadow compared with Image. The media can change a defeat into a triumph, a sad event into classical tragedy.
Last week I read Nora Ephron’s Scribble Scribble, a sharp, witty collection of her Esquire “Media” columns. I am fascinated with television, newspapers and magazines, which again seem more real than reality.
Incredible changes have taken place because of TV, but since I’m of the first generation which never knew anything else, any other reality but a TV world, I don’t think everyone up there has gotten the message. Marshall McLuhan, what are you doin’ these days?
I ventured from the house today only to get a haircut, but I know what’s going on in Manhattan and Moscow because of TV, the papers and radio. I know who’s Hot and who’s been indicted. Probably I know much too much and am beginning to feel my circuits overloading.
Just think of all the time and emotional energy I’ve invested in Liz Taylor, Truman Capote, Skylab, the boat people. . . In a year, will any of this matter? Fame and celebrity seem to be instantaneous and instantly gone.
Is it worth it to try to achieve fame? Is it more noble, more honest, to work as a graduate student in Albany? Or to take a job in a backwater place like Fort Valley State College in rural Georgia (“Carter Country”) – I got a letter today saying they’re interested in me.
God, “bubble popularity” – a term I remember from Thomas Hart Benton in Profiles in Courage – is so heady. A week ago I was in Liz Smith’s column and I felt intoxicated. Of course there’s a great letdown, as with any drug.
I can probably make myself into a Public Person, but do I want to be one? Well, I guess days like this are good for something, anyway. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July; in no time the summer will be over.
I no longer worry about not writing. Something tells me I know what I’m doing.
Wednesday, July 4, 1979
8 PM. Today was supposed to be a warm, sunny day, and for a while, it looked as though it was going to be. This morning I put on my bathing suit, but around 11 AM, it had turned cloudy and began to rain. It drizzled and was cool the remainder of the day.
Last evening Jacob called me to invite me to the house in the country that he and Rita have rented for summer. It’s very beautiful, he said, and there’s a great yard and a private lake.
Jacob has just been transferred to the Small Business Division at Price, Waterhouse, and he looks forward to supervising some projects rather than being out in the field so much.
Rita is through with school, and Jacob’s taking a month off, so they’ll be up there for a while. I told Jacob I’d like to visit them next week, if possible. Jacob said Rita saw the Liz Smith column and they’re anxious to get the book.
I sold my first copy last night – to Deanna, for whom I autographed the book. Also last night, I spoke to Mikey, who seemed grateful to take time out from studying for the bar exam to listen to my news.
Mikey mentioned that he saw Stacy marching in the Gay Pride parade last week. Once I thought Stacy and I could have an ideal relationship because of our bisexuality; unfortunately, it turned out that we just don’t like each other very much.
Dad was up at the Pollacks’ factory yesterday and was told that in addition to Chet, both Ivan and his brother Larry work for the Antonius company – while their youngest brother “is on a 27-year scholarship in Arizona.”
Tomorrow Dad has an interview for a job as a production manager with French Star jeans, but I don’t think he’d take that job unless they offered him a lot more money than the Pollacks.
I don’t know what to think, but at this point I don’t feel very anxious. I think I could be happy either in Albany or, if my family was in Florida, staying here alone in New York City. Whatever happens, happens.
It’s odd that yesterday I wrote about streaks of luck. Nothing could happen yesterday, I decided, so when I scoured the Post editorial page searching for my second letter about Skylab falling, jokingly using the moon landing paraphrase, I missed it.
But Mom found my letter just as she was about to throw out the paper. How could I read that page and miss it? Usually my name pops right out at me. It had to be my frame of mind, my attitude – which is obviously more important than “luck.”
I spent a good part of the day with Josh, who seems to be enjoying his class this summer. He, Denis and Simon were walking around NYCCC a few weeks ago, feeling their oats, when one of them said they should make a situation comedy out of their lives as adjuncts.
Josh went home and did just that, writing a four-page treatment for The Young Adjuncts. He read it to me, and it sounded as good as most of the crap on the tube. Nobody was interested except the very desperate NBC, whose law department sent Josh a release which he signed and sent back. The maximum he can get is $5,000 if the network buys it.
Josh is giving up his car when he moves to Atlantic Avenue; as usual, he really needs the money. I hope Josh makes it, either with his TV series or with something else. I feel the same way about Alice, Ronna, Vito: I want my friends to be successful.
After Josh and I had lunch, we drove to Bay Parkway, where we got some things at Korvette’s. At dinner, I broke another weak back tooth. I dread going through the expense and the pain involved in getting another crown; maybe I’ll see if I can get by leaving as it is.
Harvey phoned, wanting to know if I’d come with him and Joel to see Woodstock on Friday night. I’m glad I still have friends to spend time with. It makes me feel much less isolated and depressed.
Right now the firecrackers are exploding outside at a frantic pace. I had to close the windows because of the noise.
Saturday, July 7, 1979
9 PM. I just came back from Rockaway to an empty house. It’s so quiet. It’s hard to believe that in a few months this house won’t be ours anymore.
When I went down to breakfast this morning, Mom said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with your father.” Dad was up all night worrying, mostly about Marc and me. “He thinks you’re going to starve in the streets.”
He makes it difficult for me to feel angry with him for that, of course – and that makes me angrier. Mom said it’s unnatural, the way he feels.
Remember how Grandpa Nat used to cry when Dad and Mom visited him in Florida and then had to leave? Dad is his father all over again. I never knew a man to be so protective of grown children.
All these years I’ve believed Mom was the typical Jewish mother who couldn’t let go. Well, it turns out that Dad was the more overprotective parent all along. “He needs a psychologist,” Mom told me this morning.
My psychologist and I talked over the situation today. I’m glad I have Dr. Pasquale; he’s a rational, stable force in my life. He seems to think that all my fears and anxieties are quite realistic. After living in such a close-knit family for my whole life, it’s going to be hard on me, on all of us. As Dad said to Mom, “It’s like breaking up that old gang of mine.”
But of course it had to happen sooner or later. Mom, I think, would like Marc and me to live together, but I doubt if that would work out. I’m not close with Marc, and our interests are very different. I’d rather think of him as in the background somewhere in case I ever need help.
I seem to be leaning towards staying in the city. Dr. Pasquale doesn’t think that’s a cop-out. Albany never meant a professional boost to my career; my reasons for going were personal.
When I told Dr. Pasquale of my reaction to my parents’ announcement about moving to Florida, he said that my immediately sending out résumés was a healthy, activist way of coping.
I am worried about money, but again, that’s a realistic fear. One fear grounded in fantasy is Dad or Mom dying or getting very sick. While there’s always that possibility, at 52 and 48 they’re both young and in good health, and what happened to Grandpa Nat will not repeat itself.
I am surprised at how positive I feel about getting my own place in the city; it’s exciting. I could be comfortable in familiar surroundings, and I could even take my old furniture with me. If people like Josh and Elihu can survive financially on their own, why can’t I? I can survive emotionally, too – with the help of my friends. And Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb will still be around; I’ve always been closest to them.
I went to see them tonight, bringing my book – which Grandpa Herb insisted on paying five dollars for. (Several people – Ivan, Jacob, Marie – have asked to buy the book from me, and I think I’m going to make money that way.)
Instead of Grandma Ethel cooking for me, I showed her that I could make cheese omelets for dinner. Grandpa Herb fixed the cuffs on a new pair of jeans for me, and after Grandma Ethel went out “to work” (to play cards), we sat in the bedroom and talked.
Grandpa Herb told me that he had an underwear manufacturing and contracting business which he started in 1944. It was all black market stuff, and in a year they made $100,000 profit. The IRS was watching him, and at one point he had $30,000 stashed in a bathroom hamper.
Grandpa Herb told me he’s got about $50,000 in various bank accounts now, but he tries to live on his Social Security. I am more and more interested in making money – I never had to before – and on the way home I bought The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, which I plan to read now.
Sunday, July 8, 1979
8 PM. Today was a pleasant Sunday. I got some sun, went into the pool, read a great deal.
After reading The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, I’m convinced Andrew Tobias makes a lot of sense. Obviously I’m in no position now to invest in anything except a savings account – which, according to the book, is what I should be doing.
But as soon as I get some money together, I’m going to put it into a Keogh Plan or an Individual Retirement Account. If I put $1,000 into one of those next year and invest it at 8%, I will have over $120,000 when I’m able to get the money at 59½ (in 2010).
Obviously, with inflation, that won’t be a bundle in the 21st century, but it’s something. Of course that assumes I’ll live that long. Savings, Tobias says, are worth a great deal because they’re tax-free.
Even poor me with my $5,000 a year income is actually in the 23% tax bracket; of the next $1,000 I earned, the government would get $230. I suppose there comes a point when it no longer pays to make more money.
Tobias advocates hoarding canned food and items like toilet paper and shaving cream: commodities you know you’re going to use. You save because you buy them in bulk and you save because of inflation.
I think if I become well-informed enough, I can avoid ending up in the poorhouse. Dad never looked ahead, never invested, never acted affirmatively for the future, and he’s heading for retirement badly provided for. For 28 years, I’ve been spared thinking about money. Now making Art seems a little less important, I suppose.
I want to write stories called “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz” and “Substantial Penalties for Early Withdrawal” but can’t seem to psych myself up for them, mostly because I want to get paid for writing the stories.
I always scorned Dr. Johnson’s line, “Only a blockhead wrote for anything but money,” but now, I don’t know. Am I selling out? Going “Hollywood”?
The New York Times Magazine today featured a cover story on John Gardner and his wholesale attack on the “immorality” of his fellow novelists. I think Gardner’s a boring gasbag who manages to miss all the fun and delight in fiction.
To me, Gardner’s own novels are tedious, and I’ve never been able to get through one of them. Of course, Fiction Collective novels are pretty bleak going, too.
Deanna said she found my stories funny. Of course, she especially liked the ones that feature my family, the ones that my parents are embarrassed over. I sold a copy to Jerry today, and Dad said, “It’s a good thing we’re moving.”
Jerry sent a real estate agent over, and late today the agent brought a couple by to see the house. Mom and Dad are asking $68,000 and have no idea whether they’ll get it.
I answered a couple of want ads in today’s Times, so it looks like I’m going to stay in the city. Josh thinks I should because I’m making contacts here and doing well.
Crad Kilodney wrote me that he’s having very bad luck selling World Under Anaesthesia on the streets of Toronto. He sent his review of my book to the Toronto Globe and Mail, but he doesn’t really expect them to review it.
Crad says that even if it does manage to appear, Macmillan of Canada, who don’t represent any major U.S. trade houses, will probably screw up the distribution of Hitler so badly that there will be no books available in stores to capitalize on the publicity.
“As I wrote to Tom,” Crad said, about his street bookselling adventures and about mankind in general, “it’s the grand parade of witless human meat.”
He also sent me a hysterically funny piece, one of the best things he’s written: “The True Story of My Dentist, Dr. Mark Litvack.” I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Maybe it should be a TV series: Mark Litvack, Toronto Dentist.
The real estate agent just called and said the people aren’t interested in the house. I didn’t like the looks of them anyway.
Tuesday, July 10, 1979
11 PM. Last night I dreamed I was walking to work on the East Side of Manhattan one morning when someone came over to me and said, “Excuse me, I know you’re a well-known young actor and I really should know your name, but I just wanted to tell you I’ve seen you in various things and I admired your work.”
I felt flattered, especially when I realized the praise was coming from the comedian Morty Gunty. “I’m mostly a writer,” I told him. “I met you when you came up to Gilbert’s Hotel one day last summer.”
We got breakfast on Madison Avenue near the Whitney, and Morty Gunty wanted to take me to the Amateurs Club to perform with him. I woke up feeling wonderful. Morty Gunty reminds me of Richard Marek, the hot imprint editor who came up to Bread Loaf one day.
Well, Mom and Dad had an offer of $60,000 for the house today. They didn’t take it, so more people came traipsing through this evening. I guess I’ve just about decided to stay in the city. I feel bad about Albany, and I don’t know how I’m going to tell them I’m not coming.
I called Alice this morning and told her to forget about the going-away party. She was pleased and thinks I’m making the right move. I wonder.
I got a call from Dorothy Wolfberg of the School of Visual Arts. That’s a classy place, and it’s hard to get a job there. Ms. Wolfberg said that the fall schedule is uncertain (ain’t it always?), but that I should come up for an interview next Tuesday at 12:30 PM. If I can get more job interviews, I’ll feel more secure.
This afternoon I drove Josh to Brooklyn Heights; he and Simon meet at The Leaf & Bean every day before their classes.
Josh got called by Queensborough – his appointment for an interview is an hour after mine – but he’s decided it’s too far away for him. It’s not ideal for me, either, but it’s something. Josh and Simon and I sat in the back of the restaurant, outside, and talked mostly about teaching.
In a way I’m glad for their companionship – we can talk about the problems of teaching – but part of me resents them because I’ve been doing it so much longer than they have.
I started teaching over four years ago when we were in the first year of our MFA program, and it was a big deal then – to them as well as to me. Now they’re talking about getting courses at private colleges beyond the two courses at NYCCC for the fall.
But isn’t this adjunct thing a dead end? I don’t know.
Simon and Josh both applied for NEA fellowships, too, although neither of them has been published. I tried not to get too superior or obnoxious, and I didn’t, but I felt . . . less special.
I spent three hours in the library today, and I ended up writing letters to several people and organizations, including Marvin Kitman at Newsday and Mike Wallace at CBS. I know that it’s still early for my book, but the reviews have to come out within the next couple of months.
Maybe there’ll be word-of-mouth sales. Tom Whalen wrote that he got Ken Fontenot of Ponchartrain Review and others to order copies. Crad is trying his best in Toronto, but he’s very depressed about the poor sales of his own book on the street. I hope Crad doesn’t do anything desperate, as he threatens to, if things get worse.
Crad thought the Liz Smith piece was great, and he liked that I made use of his Skylab idea for my second letter in the Post; I feel a little funny about it, but he did give me the idea as a gift.
Rick Peabody sent me a story for the anthology, and it’s not so bad, so I’ll take it. The other day when Pete Cherches and I talked, he said that Rick isn’t a very good writer. Pete thinks he has no style or original ideas and uses employs amateurish syntax.
Sometimes I can’t help feeling that Rick and other small press people will never make it in the commercial markets. I suppose I’ve become corrupted and that I wouldn’t feel the same way about this if the Taplinger book had never happened.