A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1980

gold-wanted

Tuesday, March 11, 1980

2 PM. Yesterday, just after I finished writing my diary entry, I got a call from a psychiatrist at NYU Medical Center. I had written him in response to an ad offering free treatment for depressed people.

He told me to come for an appointment next Monday morning. I will – I want the help. Today I slid back into depression. It happened like this:

On Sunday morning Josh called me, telling me that I should inform Simon about a computer job fair at the Biltmore tomorrow. Josh wanted Simon to know, but he didn’t want Simon to know that it was his idea. So ridiculous, biltmoreright?

Yesterday I spoke to Avis and learned that she told Simon what I told her, namely, that if Simon apologized, Josh would start speaking to him again. Simon did this, and so the two are friends again, which is only right.

Later, I spoke to Avis again, and she said that Roberta had heard my name on the Today show this morning in regard to the Ayatollah for Congress Committee. Then Avis’s father called her to tell her it was on Eyewitness News.

Then I got a call from James, Gov. Cliff Finch’s 12-year-old supporter, who heard about it on Channel 11’s 7:30 PM Action News. And Josh phoned to say one of his friends read about in the Staten Island Advance.

ayatollah-for-congressNaturally all this news made me feel pretty good. Apparently the AP story surfaced again: how, I don’t know. It seemed odd that I hadn’t gotten any other phone calls, but I’m sure a lot of people have heard the story; Today has a national audience, after all.

I had asked Josh, Simon and Avis if I should consider taking the $5-an-hour tutoring job, but the publicity made me think that I’m so much better than being just a tutor.

Then I called Ronna. She’s working at After Dark and Dance magazines; they hired her on the spot last week for a job that’s mostly secretarial, at only $175 a week. She was waiting to hear from Redbook, though, about a job for which she seems to be in the lead.

Ronna told me that Jordan got a position with a prestigious law firm for $30,000 a year. I guess that’s when I started getting depressed. Some 23-year-old kid fresh out of law school will be making a fortune while I, at nearly 29, am considering taking a job for $5 an hour.

after-dark-march-80It made me feel like such a failure with my stupid short stories and silly publicity stunts. I tried to remember what Dr. Pasquale and Peter and Alice said about comparing myself to others and being envious, but all I could think about was that Jordan will be able to give Ronna things I never could.

It made me think of all the dreams Ronna once told me about: being a reporter and living in a small town. That’s over. I suppose I’m being chauvinistic: after all, I don’t compare Ronna to Jordan in terms of their careers.

Hell, I don’t think it even really matters to Ronna: she respects what I’m doing and knows how hard it is. (She even said she’d lend me money when she’s a rich married lady.)

1975-phoneAnyway, I felt crummy and then I discovered that my phone was dead again, after a thunderstorm with very high winds. I got that things-are-out-of-control feeling. Then I began to brood about money, about the general state of the economy (inflation is at 18%, interest rates are sky-high, and that seems out of control, too), and my poor job prospects.

Today I dragged myself through a traffic jam, an SVA class on Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” (the students had no sympathy for the problems of what they called a “self-pitying” black man in Harlem), a visit to Marc (he was going out “to take care of business,” as usual), a bank line in Kings Plaza, a cold apartment, and no mail.

The phone company won’t send someone over until tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 12, 1980

beach-channel-hs6 PM. Ordinarily I’d be teaching tonight, but the high school’s Open School Night has given me a break.

Winter has returned. Those high winds that knocked my phone out Monday night have kept my apartment very chilly, and a snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow. In nineteen days I’ll be in Florida, though, and when I come back it will be well into April.

Last night I went over to my grandparents’ for dinner, bringing along my laundry. It was a pleasant meal, as they did not harp on me too much about money.

fl-primaryI came home to listen to the results of the Florida, Georgia and Alabama primaries; Carter and Reagan won all three in landslides. The Kennedy campaign has collapsed, Anderson can never be nominated, and as usual, I have no place to go electorally.

I got into bed and read seven or eight little magazines which had been piling up on my desk; it made me feel good to stay in touch with the small press scene. Most of it is poetry that is highly competent but unspectacular.

I woke early because I knew that the phone repairman was coming, and sure enough, he was here at the stroke of 9 AM. He was inside and outside several times, and finally the phone was restored to working order.

paerdegat-libraryI left my frigid apartment for the Paerdegat library, where I devoured magazines and newspapers; then I had lunch across the street at the Arch, went shopping at Waldbaum’s, and came home to exercise, watch soap operas and send off résumés after looking at the new AWP Job List.

Bill-Dale sent me the latest chapter of his novel. It’s good, but he seems to be fighting villains who are so banal that it hardly seems worth it. I mean, suburban Republican sports addicts who put plastic on furniture are such easy targets. As are clingy girls who want nothing more than to trap a husband and live in a suburban cottage.

suburbanOf course, I’ve never experienced suburban life, and besides, I’m beyond the adolescent rebellion stage. My parents now seem to me people who worked very hard, tried their best, and were always supportive of me.

Of course Mom and Dad are a bit meshuggeh, but then who isn’t? It can’t be easy to be a parent. One thing I’ve learned is that you do learn just by living longer. I’m almost 29 – imagine! – and not an adolescent anymore. I’ve kept some of the artifacts of adolescence, but these too, are wearing thin.

Speaking of adolescents, I got a call from James, that 12-year-old boy who’s with Gov. Cliff Ffinch-lunchboxinch for President. He called to tell me Finch finished fourth in Georgia, with 1% of the vote. James is beginning to be a pest; he asks me all kinds of questions until his mother tells him to get off the phone.

Odd, I just realized that Bill-Dale is closer to James’s age than he is to mine. I don’t think I want a closer relationship with Bill-Dale; like Justin, he would demand too much and not know when to leave me alone.

I don’t intend to call Justin anymore, though I’ll be friendly if he calls or if I see him at Avis’s. Like Avis, I’ve come to the conclusion that Justin is too immature, too chatty, and too brimming-over-with-exuberance for someone like me. I need cynical friends like Alice, Teresa and Josh.

antivertI’ve been dizzy today, but then again, I haven’t been taking my pills. How do I feel, besides dizzy? Cold. Washed-out. Lonely, a little. A little apprehensive. Worn down. But there’s still hope.


Saturday, March 15, 1980

10 PM. I just got home after having spent the day at Gary’s. There was a lot of mail, and most of it was junk. But I did get my tax refund from the state –$123.66 – and a letter from the MacDowell Colony congratulating me on being accepted.

However, there were so many acceptances that I’m on the waiting list – “high” on the waiting list – but there seems a fairly good possibility that I’ll macdowell-colony-hallget to go.

This pleases me, of course, for a number of reasons. First, it’s professional recognition: it’s always nicer to be accepted than rejected (as I was for a job from Harvard’s expository writing program). Second, it may augur better news for Yaddo and Millay. Third, it’s the first real “break” I’ve had in my career in a long time.

I needed something like this to confirm my belief in myself as an artist. Of course, it would have been better to be accepted and given a place right away, but this is just enough for now.

macdowell-snowDespite the snow on the ground, spring is a week away, and this spring has got to be an improvement over this lousy winter. Dad will be here in a week, and a week after that, I’ll be in Florida.

I don’t know: I’ve just got the feeling that everything is going to work out. It probably won’t, but it’s nice to have the feeling it will, if only for a little while.

This morning Mikey called. He is back at work and he’s facing the possibility of moving out of state, probably to Pennsylvania, where the bar exams are easy. Mikey likes his Manhattan lifestyle and is not thrilled about having to leave.

Then I called Gary; earlier we had arranged that I’d come over. It was a pleasant drive to his place, which is spacious and nicely decorated; I wouldn’t mind living there.

historical-gold-pricesWe went out, first to one of those places that buy old coins and gold and silver jewelry, but the line there was too long. With 20% inflation, people are panicking and selling off rings, coin collections, bracelets and even silverware.

This is such a strange time in history. The 1980s seem to be a time of panic war hysteria, and senseless violence. Al Lowenstein was shot to death last night. He was such a gentle person, I can’t imagine who would want to kill him.

From the gold-buying place, Gary and I went to Roosevelt Field, where we looked for an electronic game for Gary’s father at Macy’s, J.C. Penney’s, Alexander’s and Gimbels. Gary is the compleat consumer. He buys everything he sees.

roosevelt-field-signCompared to him, I’m practically a subsistence person. I never go into department stores and can’t remember the last purchase I made in one. I don’t buy clothes, household items or appliances, or much of anything beyond necessities like food, drugs, supplies and books.

I don’t have a down vest, an electric wok, a crock pot, boots, a stereo, or even a decent wristwatch. All my jewelry is with my parents in Florida, and I’d like to sell that.

Gary and I had dinner in Fresh Meadows and then went back to his place. bluebaydinerSome woman called about Gary taking a share in a house in Fire Island this summer. He’s totally into – or is trying to get into – that whole New York young professional scene.

He’s unhappy as a single and undoubtedly he’ll remarry right away. I don’t want the kind of life Gary aspires to; perhaps money doesn’t mean all that much to me. I just need enough for my basics, but outside of my TV and typewriter and books, I don’t need much else.

Spending the day with Gary has made me realize that I can live much more cheaply than he does. I don’t envy the possessions he has because I don’t need them. Oh, I do love my car – but I’m happy just as long as it runs (and knock wood, it didn’t need a single repair all winter).

Gary’s life seems ruled by his possessions. No wonder he can’t make ends meet with a $25,000 salary.


Monday, March 17, 1980

spring-brooklyn7 PM. This morning I awoke feeling good. I had pleasant dreams and felt refreshed. It was cloudy out, but the temperature was around 55°, and that made me feel as though spring were really here. Barring any freak weather changes, I shouldn’t have to worry anymore about my apartment being cold.

After I drove along the Belt Parkway into Manhattan, I found a legal alternate side (after 11 AM) parking space on 23rd Street by First Avenue, and from there, I walked up to the NYU Medical Center.

They had me fill out a medical history form and this mood scale with questions relating to how I feel about myself, my future, whether I feel like a failure or if I feel ugly or if I have no appetite.

nyu-medical-center-entranceThen I was interviewed by a psychiatrist. He said my depression was not clinical, that it was rather a situational depression and that it certainly didn’t require medication.

The doctor was a bearded Austrian old man who called me “dear.” He said I should take care of myself, that I seemed to know from my previous experience how to handle my depression.

Riding down in hospital elevator, I felt elated: I had just been given a clean bill of mental health. My interview seemed to be the culmination of a week’s worth of hoping that my depression was over.

elevator-hospitalI felt great. I had felt it, I sort of knew it, but here was a stranger, a well-trained unbiased professional telling me that I wasn’t in a pathological state of depression. And that made me surer of myself.

I called Alice and she told me to take a taxi uptown and we’d go out for lunch. Traffic was snarled because of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but all of a sudden I was in love with Manhattan again. While I waited for Alice in the Seventeen reception area, I thought how pleasant it must be to work in such an office: plush, cheery and crisp-looking.

Alice looked terrific when she came out although she was suffering from the after-effects of a virus which almost spoiled her weekend visit to Boston.

paparazziOutside, it had begun raining, and we headed for Paparazzi, a restaurant on Second Avenue, where Alice treated me with money she got selling review copies to the Strand Book Store.

She and Peter had a good time at the Hasty Pudding show and as judges of that high school play competition; people even asked them for their autographs.

Alice was glad to see I seemed to be over my despair; I know she was quite worried about me. She talked sensibly about how hard it is to be a writer and told me to concentrate on the good things in my life. After allpaparazzi-2, it isn’t everyone who can have a whole day free of responsibilities in the big city.

Alice left a card for our waiter, letting him know he was rated “excellent” by a professional from the Man-Watchers Club, and we parted in the rain in front of her building.

As I walked through midtown and got on the subway, I saw groups of Irish kids celebrating their holiday by drinking beer, smoking pot, being rowdy, and throwing up.

cardinal-hayesI went to the School of Visual Arts office to use the bathroom and then walked to the East River along 23rd Street to my car.

Back home in Rockaway, I got a rejection from Morty Sklar (what does he know?), an application for an emergency loan from the Authors League Fund (I sent it out already), and a letter saying I’m still under consideration for that job at the University of Alaska.

I did $34 worth of grocery shopping at Waldbaum’s, and when I got home, I gave the apartment a good cleaning.

zonePete Cherches called from Brooklyn College. He and Dennis DeForge are going to run Zone by themselves, and they hope to set up a nonprofit organization to get grants.

They might buy typesetting equipment – Dennis knows the business – and get a storefront to use as gallery space and for readings. It sounds like a good idea.


Thursday, March 20, 1980

4 PM. Spring began at last this morning.

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling very lonely and unfulfilled. I felt supersensitive to all the pain in the world. It sounds crazy now – and it probably was crazy then.

touro-collegeAnyway, two and a half hours of teaching my Touro class last evening brought me back to reality. At home, I called Mom to find out about my upcoming visit. Dad will be coming in at 12:40 AM Sunday morning (Saturday night), and I’ll have to pick him up, as Marc has Steven’s wedding.

Marc has decided not to go to Florida. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but he told Mom he has business up here to take care of. Anyway, Mom got me a flight for next Thursday morning at 10 AM, the same time Dad’s leaving although his flight takes off from LaGuardia and mine from Kennedy.

delta-1980So a week from today I’ll be in Florida. I’ll have to talk to Josh about taking over my SVA class. Now I’ll be able to spend twelve full days in Florida and hopefully I’ll be missing the New York City transit strike scheduled for April 1.

I slept very well last night. I had a dream in which I was so glad to see Leon that I kissed him on the lips. I would like to see Leon again; he had a very special magnetism. It’s about five years since I last saw him, when he was living in Morningside Heights and Mason, Avis and I went to dinner at his apartment.

Allan Cooper and Elihu were also living up there at the time, and Shelli and Jerry would come in from Boston. God, I’ve got to get down to work and write a novel! Will I ever?

lag-crowdI also dreamed about other LaGuardia people: Stanley, Elayne, Jill. I would so like to see the old gang again, but I’m probably the only one who feels that way.

This morning I took the subway to school, and it was nightmarish. Although that publicity agent, Selma Shapiro, called about my résumé and we set up a meeting for Tuesday afternoon, I wonder if any job could get me to work full-time in Manhattan with the commute so horrible.

Today when I met Avis for lunch, she said that her job and even her relatively short commute from Park Slope leave her feeling burned out by midweek. Avis wonders if she’s getting too dependent upon Simon; I told her I think he loves it.

burger-heavenShe’s just trying to find something to worry about; Avis can’t accept the fact that everything’s going so well. She and Simon are talking about getting out of New York City by this time next year. Avis would like to go to Europe again, but she doesn’t know what the job prospects are there, either for Simon in computers or for herself as a bilingual secretary.

Two friends of Helmut’s arrived in New York last night and are staying at Avis’s, in her room, while she stays at Simon’s. They’re very nice, she says, and she invited me to go with them to Chinatown this evening.

I would have gone, but I already was scheduled to have dinner at my grandparents’. Grandpa Herb called a little while to say they were running a little late; they’re still at the dentist in Brighton Beach.

mrs-stahlsNow that I’m beginning to feel better about my work situation – basically everything’s on hold for two weeks – I am feeling very lonely and horny. The advent of spring has something to do with it, too.

Well, I have a weekend coming up, and for a change, I’m planning to enjoy myself. TC mark

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