A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1979

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Saturday, November 10, 1979

12:30 AM Sunday. Avis is here now, sitting on the floor as I lie on my bed writing this; we’re watching Saturday Night Live.

This morning I woke up early and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, though I felt kind of blue; I guess I miss my family and the old house. I’ve also been worried because I haven’t heard from Mom or Dad.

So tonight I called Grandma Sylvia, who seemed more coherent than usual. She said Mom and Dad don’t have a phone yet, and they’ve been busy settling into the new house. Still, I wonder if something isn’t wrong.

This morning I went to Kings Plaza and saw that Waldenbooks has ordered a new set of my books after the first five sold out. Elihu told me that Elspeth bought the last copy.

waldenbooksThen I drove in the rain to Park Slope to see Avis, who was alone in the apartment: Ari had just left and Justin went to his parents’ house in Connecticut for the weekend. Avis and I sat in the kitchen for a while and then went over to Atlantic Avenue, where Avis bought two rattan chairs.

I hate furniture shopping, and I’m afraid I was being an obnoxious pest, but by now Avis knows how to put up with me. We argue back and forth all the time.

Over lunch at Picadeli, Avis told me how upset she is about Josh. She said she loves him, and she thinks he hates her. It makes me wonder.

From the Heights we drove back to Rockaway. I was certain Avis would disapprove of my apartment, but she seems to like it.

lga-hallWe got stoned and took out my batch of photographs of LaGuardia Hall people, and it was very weird, reminiscing about all those old faces. I’m convinced there’s a book in my LaGuardia Hall diaries – probably a nonfiction one.

After I made us omelets for dinner, we watched TV and argued. We got too stoned to catch the 10:15 PM show of 10 at Kings Plaza as we’d planned: waiting on line at the mall, we were told that only the first five rows were available.

I saw one of my SVA students, Seth Eisenstein, coming out of the movie; I just knew beforehand that I was going to see one of my students in the mall, but I expected it to be one from Kingsborough.

beach-116th-newsstandAfter we left Kings Plaza, Avis and I had terrible Carvel ice cream, came back to Rockaway, bought the Sunday Times at the newsstand on Beach 116th Street, and came home.

Avis has just smoked a joint and gotten into bed; I made the couch into a bed by putting on sheets and a blanket and a pillow. If my writing seems a little forced now, it’s because Avis is in the room with me, and I feel a little constrained.

It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in the same room as someone. I wonder if I’ll be relaxed enough to sleep. Avis is a very old friend with whom I should be (well, let’s forget should) more comfortable.


Tuesday, November 13, 1979

4 PM. Today was a bad day from beginning to end.

dont-answer-the-phoneActually, it started last night when Josh called. His weekend in Albany ended in disappointment, not to say insult. Stauffer and Gerber told him he had been rejected from the D.A. program because the stories he submitted “offended the whole English Department.”

Fuck them. They told Josh he wasn’t a bad writer but they didn’t think they could work with him. That makes me so angry. And Josh told me that he, Simon and Todd were all rejected by the NEA – and as I knew, so was I.

I got the list of recipients today. A number of worthy older writers like Allen Ginsberg got them, but so did a number of no-talent people with connections, like Frederick Barthelme. Both Lynn and Ron Sukenick got them.

scott-sommerSo did Scott Sommer, and I’m so envious I don’t want to call him. Scott’s got so much money, and I’m sure his novel will produce a paperback sale and a movie sale and more money than he knows what to do with.

Making me feel worse was that I had a flat tire this morning. I walked the fifteen blocks to Grandpa Herb’s and borrowed his car. At SVA, I was fifteen minutes late and had a rushed class, then hurried to get to Kingsborough, where I didn’t have very good classes.

When I got home, the AAA was unable to fix my tire and I had to buy a new one for $53. After waiting a long time in the cold rain, I now think I’m coming down with something. Grandpa Herb was a big help; thank God for him.

car-repairsI still don’t have a spare tire, and I need an alignment and balance, winterizing, welding my mufflers, new shocks and spark plugs, and a dozen other repairs I can’t afford. I feel so desperate for money. On Friday I’m getting a check, but then I won’t get one for seven weeks.

Josh just called and read me the pompous, moralizing letter SUNY/Albany sent him. It enrages me to realize that such small minds control things in America. Writing programs are so corrupt – they’re just another cog in the wheel of corporate America – that I can’t believe good writers will come out of them.

Josh and I were talking about how adjunct teaching sucks. We are an oppressed class. Granted, I’ve had some success, but I’ve worked for everything I’ve gotten. No one ever did me a favor, not even Taplinger. Louis Strick contacted me because he felt I could do his company some good.

crad-1979Anyway, as Crad wrote me: You say you don’t know which way to turn – to respectability or to hype. Take it from me and don’t even think about it: the answer is hype. . . Get your publicity and enjoy it. Since when does respectability open doors? Make your name known. . . Better than repairing participles for goons at Kingsborough, no?

Yes. From here on in, I will do all I can to promote myself (and Crad and Josh and others like us) and to hell with being “a good little boy.” Academia creates automatons, and badly-paid ones at that. Either I’m going to beat this fucking world at its own game or I’m going to die trying.

I like being the rebel, the one who points out the naked emperor. Hey, what if I gave out my own fellowships – “for creative literary politics” – to members of the Literature Panel? I could give each of them checks for 25¢ to show my faith in them for a job well done.

nea-79All I need is a press release that, as Crad says, exploits my “talent for striking just the right tone of feigned sincerity.” People would hate me and call me a spoilsport – but who cares? They’ll remember my name.

I think I’ll do it and take my chances. Some NEA critics, like Eric Baizer and Richard Kostelanetz, are bound to love the idea. And no one can fault me for giving money away, can they? I’ll get started on it soon. Yowza, yowza.

*

7 PM. Yowza, yowza: with that spirit, maybe I should go downstairs and walk into the ocean. I just came back from Grandma Ethel’s; I left in the middle of dinner, feeling sick and dizzy. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a fat, tired man. A fat, tired man with $200 in the bank.

nea-1I’m crying now, but those tears are just for me: selfish tears, I know. Maybe this will all sound cool and logical when I discuss it with Dr. Pasquale on Friday. I suppose it will.

Perhaps I just need to be alone; I didn’t want to be with Marc and our grandparents tonight. I feel lousy. Maybe my idea about giving checks to the NEA Literature Panel shows how sick I am.

I actually typed up a press release and wrote out 16 checks. Do I really need to do something like that? What’s to be gained? Would it embarrass the nea-3NEA or just make a fool of me?

All grant systems are unfair. This one probably isn’t worse than any other. If I had received a grant, would I be feeling the same way? Why would I do something so self-destructive?

I just tore up the checks and the press release. But it frightens me when I realize how far I was about to go. I feel desperate.

My car’s steering has something wrong with it. Damn Scott Sommer and everyone who never had to struggle and damn myself a thousand times more for thinking that thought! I’m so tired of fighting.

nea-4Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and feel like fighting, but now I just want to lie inert. I took five Triavils. I don’t feel like cleaning or eating or exercising.

I know this pain will pass, but it is real now and it hurts very much. Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow. I probably will. I’m a feisty little guy.


Wednesday, November 14, 1979

7 PM. Let’s say survival is an art. I’ll make it, somehow. If only thnea-7e NEA gave out Fellowships for Creative Survivors. I managed to get through another day.

Last night I whined to Alice, to Teresa, to Avis (they all called me) and eventually I felt better.

Alice asked if I wanted to escort her to the black-tie Front Page Association dinner-dance on Friday; I declined with thanks.

Teresa told me she’s subletting her apartment for November and is moving into Paul’s gigantic co-op; she invited me over to see it.

Avis said the Switzerland Cheese job ain’t that bad. She was happy that Josh called her bswitz-cheese-assnut wondered if she showed enough concern when he told her about the Albany rejection.

Avis’s mother has invited me over for Thanksgiving; Ellen and Wade are coming up from Virginia and will be there, so I might go. I’m grateful people are thinking about me.

I got a long letter from Marie, who’s now with the Department of Housing. She brought me up-to-date on all her news, joked about the Post “John Hour” article, and asked if she could have an autographed copy of Hitler (she said she’d send a check).

Susan Lawton wrote that she read about me in US (different people read different magazines, and I’m in all of them) and sent me a xerox of a magazine article about her.

The North Stone Review sent me page proofs of “A View of Toledo” and the Universities of Alabama and Missouri asked for my dossier. I won a 60-watt light bulb light-bulb-jokein this week’s Voice “Scenes” column for a dumb light bulb joke; I’m getting so used to seeing my name in the paper.

At least my car ran okay today. I taught my classes at Kingsborough, relishing the fact that there are only 13 days of school and 26 classes left. It’s just one-quarter of the semester to go.

Jane told me the big machers in the English Department at Kingsborough don’t like me very much; they were upset by the Post article and didn’t know about my book until Jane told them.


Friday, November 16, 1979

2 PM on a cold and wintry Friday. I feel rather depressed right now, mostly because of money. That $10,000 NEA fellowship could have made such a big difference in my life.

snl-nov-10-79I feel bad, too, because I got this real condescending letter from a secretary on Saturday Night Live asking me to “please refrain from sending us more material.” I guess Richard O’Brien was wrong: Lorne Michaels probably never even saw anything I sent him.

My rent is due, and I barely have enough money to cover it. I got paid today, but now the bank holds even city checks against my account for five days.

In addition to my regular paycheck, I got $53 for substituting that day. But I won’t get my next Kingsborough check until January 4, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it until then.

americathon-2I feel suicidal, as if ending it all is the only solution. Another part of me says to hang on, that I’m on the verge of making it. But I’m tired of being “on the verge”; I need to make it already. I may even have to borrow money, something I’ve always dreaded doing.

My classes today went okay: only two more Fridays left this term, and I plan to cancel one of them. I’ve got a feeling I’m persona non grata at Kingsborough now; everyone treats me coldly. I wonder if they think I’m too big for my britches. Well, let ‘em.

Last night Alice called to see if I was feeling better. She seems to have few problems, but I’m sure her problems are very real to her.

However, she has money (although she tells me she can’t afford a shrink), Peter, a job she enjoys, an apartment in Manhattan, and she’s always going out to plays, movies and concerts. I hate myself for it, but I’m feeling a little resentful toward her.

national-flI need to get away. I’m definitely going to Florida to stay with my parents for a while; maybe I’ll stay a couple of weeks. They don’t have a phone yet, and I feel so out of touch again. I need the warmth of Florida now and the security of my family, at least for a little while.

I feel I can’t take any more rejections. But I suppose I’ll have to.

*

8 PM and I’m considerably cheerier. Seeing Dr. Pasquale helped. I told him how guilty I felt, depressing him with my life; also, I felt inadequate because I’m not being a good patient if I’m often depressed.

He said that this is a secondary mechanism with me: often I feel something that I think is “bad” (envy of Scott or resentment of Alice, for example), and feelingsthen I make myself feel bad about my feelings.

Dr. Pasquale – he’s also teaching at Kingsborough, by the way; I saw his name on the bulletin board of Student Development – said that his opinion is just the opposite of mine: that I’m trying very hard to change.

It’s my usual problem: I expect myself to be Superman. I learned perfectionism from my mother, and from my father I learned that showing emotions is weakness. Except at TV and movies, I almost never cry.

We worked out a lot today; it’s so hard to absorb it all. Intellectually, I know everything – like the process of projection – but emotionally, I’m an idiot. No, I’m not. I do better than most people.

crying-over-youLook, Richard G, I’m not going to let you push yourself around anymore. If you treated yourself with half the understanding and compassion you do other people, you’d be a lot happier.

I’m the harshest critic I have.


Sunday, November 18, 1979

8: 30 PM. I’ve been feeling pretty depressed this weekend, but I suppose I’ve been dealing with it.

Last night Larry drove me into Manhattan for Mikey’s party. Earlier, I hadn’t felt like going, so I told Avis and Josh (whom I was supposed to pick mikeys-bldg-nightup) that I was having trouble with my car.

Josh felt pretty depressed and didn’t want to go. Avis called Mikey, wondering if he could arrange a ride home for her, and she mentioned my not going. Then Mikey phoned me and said that if I was depressed, he was feeling worse because he learned today that he failed the bar exam.

“And if I can give this party,” Mikey said, “you can come.” I called Mike and Cindy, but Mike said he was ill and couldn’t stop throwing up. (He’s teaching evening courses at Brooklyn this term, incidentally.)

Then I phoned Larry, who said he wasn’t crazy about going, either, but he had to bring the chairs and so I could come with him.

unfaithfulMeanwhile, Gary called me from his parents’ apartment, saying this was a rough week for him. Betty made sure he got out of the house. He slapped her last Saturday, and Betty said she’d become afraid of him.

Gary took an apartment nearby for January 1, and until then he’ll be living with Martin on Long Island. Gary sounded pretty depressed, too.

Next, Mark called, and he didn’t sound so hot, either. He’s still in therapy and said he still can’t seem to get it together, particularly in regard to his career – not that he has one.

manhattan-bridge-night-bwAt least Larry and I had a pleasant ride into the city as we both complained a lot about our jobs. Mikey’s party was fairly dismal: mostly young lawyers, Jewish-American princes and princesses. The liveliest people sat on the floor and sang the score from My Fair Lady.

Mikey actually smoked grass for the first time. Given his own depression, he tried to make it a party, but many of the other guests there had also just found out they failed the bar exam, so there wasn’t much energy there.

Avis never showed up. Later she told me that she got too drunk to leave the house and she passed out while trying to make a phone call to Libby in California. Avis said she thinks she has a real drinking problem.

independence-plazaToday I woke up late with a terrible sinus headache.

Alice called this morning and said she was depressed with Peter out of town. She visited June and Cliff’s new apartment in Independence Plaza and said it was magnificent and it made her own place look dismal by comparison. (What should I say?)

And at the Front Page Awards, Alice felt jealous of all the bright young women winning prizes for their journalism.

Today was an extraordinarily sunny and mild day, and I read the Times on the boardwalk, but eventually my sinuses got the better of me and I came back upstairs to lie down for a couple of hours.

help-wantedIn the apartment, I answered four ads for jobs, corrected a batch of papers, cleaned, watched TV, reread “The Egg” by Sherwood Anderson. I called Aunt Arlyne, who told me of her own frustrations at work. Grandma Ethel told Arlyne that Marc is very lonely and that she cries a lot because she thinks Mom “abandoned” Marc and me.

Grandma Ethel was also upset when I left dinner early Tuesday night. Arlyne said I should “pretend” with Grandma that everything is all right; that’s what she does.

miserableThis seemed like a lousy weekend for everyone: Marc, Gary, Mikey, Mark, Avis, Grandma Ethel, Josh, Arlyne, Alice and Mike all seem absolutely miserable.

Is there something in the air?

God, I was feeling so-so until I wrote down all of this; now I’ve really depressed myself.


Monday, November 19, 1979

6 PM. A good line for a poem: “Living on hope and peanut butter.” This is a very difficult time for me. I’m sure I’m learning a lot and that this experience will be good for me, but right now it’s painful.

pizza-slice-6I’ve just come back from dinner – two slices of pizza and a small Tab – and marketing ($8 worth of groceries was all I could afford). There’s no way I can get through the next week until my check clears without borrowing money from Marc or Grandpa Herb.

That makes me feel lousy. This pressure has led to a revival of symptoms I thought had left for good: all day I had an acid stomach and I was unable to eat lunch. Oh well, at least I saved money.

rich-man-poor-man-ad-chicago-tv-prevue-march-1-7-1979-001For the first time in my life, I feel poor, and I’ll tell you, rich is a lot better. My life is as dreary as most people’s, and it’s a drag: tolerable, I suppose, but I’m not sure for how long.

Thus I live on hope; maybe something will happen.

It’s weird: just enough happens to keep me going, but my “big break” never seems to come.

Today, when I got home from a lousy day at Kingsborough feeling boringly suicidal – I’d worn a tie and jacket just to give me a lift, but it didn’t work – I got a phone call from Roger Weisberg, a producer at Channel 13.

back-wardsHe’s doing a documentary about adult homes and wanted to talk to me about my experiences working for Fabrikant. I said I’d see him tomorrow and canceled my classes at Kingsborough.

Maybe something will come of it, maybe not – but the diversion will keep me curious enough to ward off a suicide attempt. (Am I all talk?) And I got a letter from Dartmouth: send your dossier, we’re “definitely interested.” So I go on.

Teresa phoned to invite me to Paul’s co-op Friday night. Paul’s out of town and lonely, he’s told her. Teresa also offered an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I should amend that line to: “Living on friends, peanut butter, and hope.”

Or phone calls. Josh called this afternoon and we depressed one another for a while, playing “Ain’t It Awful” about the adjunct biz. He thinks his students are anti-Semites, but Josh is paranoid.

adjunct-povertyJosh and I talked about how the adjuncts should strike for better conditions, but I’m not in the mood to lead what probably would be a self-defeating fight all by myself. Surely there are other CUNY adjuncts who want to change the system.

Things have felt so dismal that I haven’t been able to enjoy this remarkably bright and mild weather. These days I feel as though all my energy is taken up in the struggle to get through the day: making the bed, preparing classes, doing laundry.

shoelacesI need shoelaces, new shirts and sneakers, sinus medicine, a trip to the dentist, and a night out at the movies, but I can’t afford any of those things. So much for great potential.

The highs of this past summer feel like they took place in another lifetime. Jane Maher tried to cheer me up this morning by telling me what a great writer I am. I’m not sure I believe it anymore. After all, what I have written lately – other than this self-pitying diary and letters along the same vein?

Let’s face it, gang: When I’m rich and successful and fulfilled, I’ll look back at these days and say. . . they stank.

love-stinksI’m lucky my stomach hurts so much that I can’t eat and so I can save money. I’m lucky my sinuses hurt so much I sleep soundly. If I have to go through another year like this, I don’t think I’ll survive it – but I probably will.

Hey, I’m sorry to make you (my diary) put up with this bullshit. I don’t really know what else to write. I must change my life or I’ll destroy myself. TC mark

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