Monday, May 12, 1980
9 PM. More and more these days I am going back to seeing life as a comedy. That must mean I’m getting better.
This morning I stayed in – it was raining steadily – and sent out letters to agents, publishing firms, etc. At noon I got dressed and decided to go to Kings Plaza to see “10,” a movie I’ve been trying to catch for months.
I enjoyed it: Dudley Moore (people keep mistaking Dad for him) was quite funny, and it was quite poignant, too. What I liked most about the film was its tone: gently satirical, bemused, intelligent.
One of the ideas kicking around my head lately has been a comedy of manners based on the romances and relationships of my friends: Gary and Betty; Alice and Peter; Teresa and Paul; Avis and Simon and Josh.
I spoke to Teresa last night, after Roger Greenwald had arrived. Teresa described him as “a tall, thin ’67 hippie with shoulder-length hair” and she said she thought Roger would be “perfect” for Avis.
Teresa said that on Saturday night she and Denise took a walk up Broadway to buy the Times – and crossing their path was Paul with a woman. He snubbed Teresa, acting as if she didn’t exist.
That shook her up, especially since she’s been writing him a letter every week. Teresa – oh, how we deceive ourselves – says Paul looks unhappy, and she is beginning to think she wouldn’t take him back. Not that he’s likely to ask.
Gary was upset after a day with his family. He can’t stand his bratty nephew. Betty’s lawyer sent Gary’s lawyer a threatening letter saying that Gary is in default of their separation agreement because he hadn’t signed over the apartment lease to her – so he did.
I bought the Post and read Page Six in the library, but I didn’t notice this small item about me for a long time. It’s titled “Nostalgic”:
He couldn’t get Fred Silverman to run for President last year, so political prankster Richard Grayson’s got a new choice for the Oval Office – Richard Nixon. Grayson’s Nostalgia Party has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission supporting a ticket of Nixon and the long-lost Spiro Agnew. Being elected Prez more than twice isn’t allowed, but Grayson isn’t worried. He’s determined to bring back the days when “nobody was holding any Americans hostage except the North Koreans, and that was no big deal.”
I whooped for joy when I read that. It’s my third time on Page Six. They give me the title “political prankster” – I like that; it’s what they used to call Dick Tuck.
Too bad Josh wasn’t mentioned in the Post, but I got his name in when the Chicago Sun-Times called for an interview. I hope they run the article, as I gave them some pretty funny quotes.
A week ago this was just an idea; now it’s a news item. Elated, I went to the Junction to xerox Page Six. Then I had spinach quiche and carrot juice at Circles, the new health-food restaurant, before I dropped by Marc’s.
Curt was there, as was Rikki, a dark-haired, heavily made-up woman who was “cleaning” the kitchen. Apparently she’s been living with Marc for a while.
She’s from Providence, where she left her two kids with her father while she went to Atlantic City “to get my head together.” At the casinos, Rikki lost $1,200 (that’ll get one’s head together), and hitching back, she met a friend of Marc’s and somehow ended up with my little brother.
While Marc was cutting cocaine, Curt showed me pictures of Hawaii and the sappy “deep” books he’d given Rikki to read; they were by Hugh Prather and the guy who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Marc and his cohorts are like Damon Runyon characters updated to the 1980s. Rikki informed me that she’s not only an actress and a model and “in sales” – she’s also an author now on the 46th chapter of her autobiography.
Friday, May 16, 1980
1 AM. Another late Friday night. Last evening Marc called and told me he didn’t need a place for Rikki to stay, that he had worked something out. He didn’t say what; I found that out this afternoon.
Through the night I read Sara Davidson’s Loose Change, which is an incredibly good book, the story of three women from their freshman days at Berkeley in 1962 to their long journey to whatever ten years later.
It’s basically non-fiction with the names changed – Davidson is one of the protagonists, and she did interviews with the other two – but it reads like a novel.
For some reason, I felt very sexual during the night and masturbated three times, which is something I can’t remember doing in years, if ever. I had sweet dreams and didn’t wake till 11 AM.
Then I had breakfast and got back into bed with the book. I thought: Aren’t I lucky to be able to do this on a Friday morning? I felt very relaxed.
When Jonny called at noon rather than waiting for cheaper rates at night, I immediately knew something was wrong.
Last night, Jonny said, Marc called them and said he was sending Rikki down to Florida to stay there for two weeks, until he got back from California. They hadn’t heard of Rikki till then.
Both Jonny and Mom didn’t sleep all night; they don’t like the idea of a stranger living with them, and when I told them what Rikki was like, they liked the idea even less.
Jonny was particularly upset. He said that all of a sudden he didn’t know Marc, the person he had shared a room with all his life.
I told them to keep my name and opinions out of it, that I didn’t want Marc angry at me. They said they were going to call Marc, but I don’t know what the outcome was.
Honestly, I don’t know what could have entered Marc’s head. Anyway, it seemed fairly comical, adding to my recent feelings about regaining my sense of humor.
Remember my old title for a novel, An American Comedy? I just may write that book someday. I feel my creative powers returning.
My shower was interrupted by the mailman ringing the bill. Drying myself quickly, I went down to get my package: the copy of Hitler the University of Texas sent back. (Incidentally, that was all the mail I got today; this week has been a total mail shut-out.)
Upstairs, I stared at the book, looking at it as I did for the first time a year ago. I was a little impressed. . .
I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing Loose Change and thinking about the stages we go through in life.
Now I can begin to take the long view, to have perspective on my present situation and see that I am not going to be unemployed, broke, lonely and living here forever.
Like Davidson’s people, I will be in very different situations – just as I was in the past. I may be richer, more successful, more sexually fulfilled, happier – and then there’ll be bad times again.
I began to think about the changes just in my family. Mom said Dad may get the Sasson outerwear line for women, and there’s also the possibility that she and Dad may end up running Sasson’s showroom in Miami.
We’re all worried about Grandpa Herb, who’s been having diarrhea for months now. He’s lost so much weight and did not look very well when I saw him yesterday.
Grandma Ethel pleaded with him to see a doctor. I think Grandpa Herb thinks he’s seriously ill, and he still can’t fall asleep because he fears death. I’m worried about him; after all, he is 76 years old.
Jonny’s face, Mom says, is all broken out, and he’s got the same eczema on his hands that he had as a toddler. Jonny knows it’s his nerves; he’s very worried about his future and how he will make a living.
I wish Jonny would just relax and enjoy being 19 and going to college, the way I did. But these are different times from a decade ago, and having security is on everyone’s mind.
When I went to see Dr. Pasquale today, I told him I was feeling better. We agreed that a year ago I was in much worse psychological shape even though externally my life was going better.
He says my problems now are more reality based than the deep-rooted anxieties I had a year ago. I didn’t think I could survive away from my parents, and I was worried I’d have another breakdown. Hell, a year ago I was very nervous: I kept being obsessed with the notion that my heart was beating too fast.
Dr. Pasquale cautioned me that while I’m doing emotional learning, it’s the nature of the process to ebb and flow, and he said I might feel depressed, anxious and even panicky in the weeks to come as my money begins to run out and I get no job offers.
Maybe – this is my thinking, not Dr. P’s – I’m even a little too relaxed right now. But Dr. Pasquale said not everyone can enjoy a leisurely day the way I enjoyed today, and he told me that was an emotional strength.
Feeling good at the end of our session, I drove to Park Slope. I had called Avis in the late afternoon – Bill-Dale never did phone today – to arrange tonight’s date.
As we drove to the Heights, Avis told me that last night she talked with Helmut for an hour, and they both ended up weeping: they still care for one another very much.
But Avis seemed in good spirits as we ordered dinner at one of Montague Street’s sidewalk cafés. She has decided that if Simon wants to see less of her, she will see less of him and concentrate on other people and plans.
Avis seemed much happier than she did a week ago. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Josh, Simon and Audrey walking by (I correctly assumed the girl was Audrey), but I didn’t call out to them.
I told Avis they were passing, and she said she could see that they’d stopped at Citibank and that I should go over and say hello. Simon and Audrey were standing outside the bank, waiting for Josh.
When I introduced myself to Audrey, she said, “Oh, you’re the crazy friend who does all those weird things.” Simon went over to talk to Avis and I chatted with Audrey for a few moments before returning to the table.
Simon was telling Avis about his job interview, which went very well, though he probably won’t take the job unless they offer him a very good salary. After he left, Avis said that it was pleasant and that she could have a good friendship with Simon.
To me, it seemed like one of those almost fictional coincidences – but I guess Montague Street is pretty crowded on a summer evening. Ronna’s sister’s friend Ellice passed by, and I called her over; she was fine and was just coming from Sue’s apartment on Hicks Street.
Then, as Avis and I left the restaurant and walked down Montague, who gets out of Mr. Souvlaki at that moment but Simon, Josh and Audrey?
They were behind us; Simon caught up with Avis and I hung back to talk with Josh, who said through pursed lips, “I’m gonna disappear.” Simon gave Avis a kiss and a shrug.
Walking on the Promenade, Avis and I got stoned and she said she’d decided that Josh is very childish. She probably should have just said, “Hello, Josh,” but he would have fainted. It was all so silly, and I imagine Audrey must have thought it was very peculiar.
On the Promenade, we ran into one of my old Kingsborough students, who seemed overjoyed to see me. Then we walked over to the movie theater to see All That Jazz, a very boring example of narcissism gone berserk. I came home just a little while ago.
Tuesday, May 20, 1980
8 PM. Today was not a good day. I decided to drive into work, but on Flatbush Avenue my brakes went, and this evening, when I picked up my car at Bob’s, it ended up costing me $141.50. I was sick.
I called Dad, and he said he’d send me a check to cover it, but that didn’t make me feel any better. Now I have only $150 in savings, even with Dad’s check. I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet.
Since yesterday I’ve been thinking about giving up my dream of being a writer. Like I said, it’s banging my head against a wall. Today I got more rejections from agents, and I’ve decided to give up trying to find one.
I don’t have a book anyway. I just can’t see myself going anywhere. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve been really productive as a fiction writer, and it’s not coming back to me.
Yesterday afternoon, I went up to the Donnell Library to hear Malamud read and answer questions from 5:30 PM to 7 PM. He’s a nice old man, rather sure of himself.
There was a large crowd, which was responsive to his reading of “Take Pity,” an early fabulist story. He was interesting and a good teacher, according to the woman sitting next to me who had been his student in night school at Erasmus.
I asked him a couple of questions and I mentioned the letter I’d sent him and his response; later, when he talked about the struggles of a writer, he seemed to direct his remarks to me.
“Art cannot lie,” he said, although he admitted that “artists can lie and usually do.” But as he spoke, I kept wondering: Am I as talented as Malamud, or even nearly so?
For Malamud, it was worth it to struggle, but aren’t I just knocking my head against the wall? I no longer know why I wanted to become a writer in the first place.
I wanted to give him a copy of Hitler, but he said he was too busy to read it; that disappointed me, but I understood. After the reading ended, I walked over to a playwrights’ group where Peter was having a reading of his musical, Let’s Start a Bambi Tascarella Fan Club.
It was done by a group of actors and amateurs, and they didn’t include the songs; Peter just explained them. The show was good: upbeat, clever, fast-paced. Peter may have a Broadway hit on his hands one day.
Alice was so excited, and I suppose that they have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope. I have neither.
Martha Robinson, who read one of the parts, told me she opened the letter I sent Jerry Della Femina and that there are no jobs there, of course. It made me feel like a fool to have sent it.
That’s all I feel like these days, a complete fool. I’m getting so fat I can hardly look at myself in a mirror without wincing; I’ve developed bad acne; and I just feel tired and defeated. Yesterday’s relatively good spirits seem like an illusion now, a cruel trick.
This evening I got a call from a law firm whose ad I answered. They need people to prepare documents for computers; it’s probably some giant corporate lawsuit, as they want you to work for a full year.
Nine-to-five in midtown Manhattan (which really means 7 AM to 7 PM if I’m living in Rockaway): that’s death. But I made an appointment for Thursday. There aren’t that many options left. It’s $225 a week, and I desperately need money. For me, this job will be a kind of suicide, but it’s almost as if I have no choice but take it.
I now know that none of the teaching jobs will come through; only a miracle could make one happen. I really have nothing left.
For this situation I have only myself to blame. Why did I insist on thinking I could succeed as a writer? In the end I’ve learned that I just don’t have it in me. Just fade into the mass of dehumanized, anesthetized society, Richie.
It’s taken me long enough to realize that I am no writer. My book, my stories, the reviews I’ve gotten: what do they matter if I can’t survive in this world?
Well, I tried, and under the circumstances, I didn’t do badly. But times are hard, and it’s time to give up the dream. Become like everyone else, a robot. God, this is so fucking melodramatic – but, hey, it is a big, big decision.
I’ve got to face it someday: there’s nothing for me in teaching, either. Yesterday I met Louis Parascondola in the subway. He’s still teaching at LIU, three courses a term at $750 a course. He’s starting his Ph.D. and still hopes that he’ll get a full-time job one day. Poor fool.
Hell, I’m too sensitive to try to make it as a fucking artist. I feel like ripping up everything I ever wrote, this stupid page included.
Wednesday, May 21, 1980
3 PM. Miracles do happen. Last night I felt wretched and was just about to give up writing altogether. This morning, after a great night’s sleep (I dreamed of Helmut and the old LaGuardia Hall gang), I got a call from Nancy Englander of the MacDowell Colony. They had a cancellation and wanted to know if I could come for June. Hell, yes!
I told her that I couldn’t make it until June 5 because of my Touro College class, but she said my studio would be ready by June 2 and it would wait for me.
Everything changed for me. MacDowell may be the answer to my prayers. It will give me almost a month of time to write, with no disturbances or worries or distractions. I’ll be in New Hampshire, in the country, and I’ll get free room and board.
Most of all, it will give me time to think over what I’m going to do with my life. I am a writer; not everybody gets invited to MacDowell. I will meet other artists there and I’ll be treated with respect. Thank you, whoever cancelled!
I felt great all day, and the day seemed to bring other pleasures. I got a research packet from The People’s Almanac with my first assignment, a biography of Edward Stratemeyer, the children’s book author who wrote and published the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew.
And in my post office box I found a letter addressed to the Herbert and Ethel Sarrett Fan Club. Inside was a check for five dollars; the writer said they’d heard my grandparents and me on the Barry Farber show last Thursday night. I’m sorry I missed it, but I’m glad it was on and I’ll try to get a tape.
So I’m feeling very good. I realize that both yesterday’s despair and today’s joy are based only on external situations. If my car hadn’t broken down, if someone hadn’t cancelled at MacDowell, I wouldn’t have these intense feelings.
I called my friends, just the way I used to when I had good news. Both Avis and Alice were glad for me.
Josh was, too, but he’s very much involved in his own problems. His landlord is emptying out the building to prepare for a co-op conversion, and Josh doesn’t know where to go. Josh and Simon are thinking about Boulder. (Audrey might go along, too).
I called Mom, who was very glad to hear my news. She told me it’s been a three-ring circus in Florida. She likes Rikki although at first she was put off by what Mom termed “her Rocky Horror appearance.”
But Rikki is from a different world; her friends are the jet-setting super-rich (one of her friends is getting married in Acapulco and they’re sending a private plane to take her and Marc to the wedding).
Rikki’s father, “a very powerful man,” deals in gold and has made a great fortune. Rikki used to work for him but said she didn’t like the crooked things he was doing so she quit. He had given Rikki her own house that had maids and servants, just as she had growing up at home. But now her father’s got her two children and he won’t let her see them.
Rikki is crazy about Marc and feels he’s shown her a whole new way of living. Marc loves her but is very confused. Yesterday, after he picked up a rental car, he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the car in front of him – which, thank God, was Dad’s station wagon.
Mom and Dad are very upset and they talked to Marc about his future. Rikki wants Marc to rent a condo with her on Singer Island, and that’s not really in Marc’s league.
Marc said that Curt’s sister-in-law Beatrice is another complication; she’s the reason Marc didn’t stay in California, and now Curt’s mad at him for leaving them.
Rikki told Mom that Curt’s own marriage is breaking up, mostly because his wife doesn’t want to move to the West Coast with him. Curt’s always pushing his sister-in-law on Marc and figured if Beatrice went to California with Marc, then she would want to stay there and then his wife would agree to live there, too. Very diabolical.
Mom said that she thinks Marc is under Curt’s spell, much as Dad used to be controlled by another manipulator, Lennie. Mom and Dad don’t know what Marc’s getting himself into here.
Jonny is disgusted with all the goings-on, and Mom said that yesterday he professed that I was the only sane person in the family! Jonny said I should be writing all of this in a novel (and that might be a great idea; An American Comedy, I’d call it).
Jonny told Mom that he now admires me greatly and says he’d like to be more like me than Marc. I always knew Jonny would come around someday. He’s interested in the arts, in becoming an actor, but he knows how hard it is.
Last night I called Bill-Dale to wish him a happy graduation and a happy 21st birthday. He doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life.
If he gets the money for grad school at Harvard, Yale or Rutgers, he’ll go. Bill-Dale knows there’s no future in academia, but it can be an easy way to spend a few years. (He had a full undergraduate scholarship.)
He spent the day in Manhattan getting the runaround at agencies and publishing houses. He needs to work this summer, as he owes a lot of money to a number of people. Bill-Dale said he’d call me next week when he’s in the city.
Oh well, life suddenly seems to be working out. Back Wards to Back Streets will be on TV tonight and I’m kind of excited about it.