Saturday, November 1, 1980
8 PM on a cold November night. Lately I’ve been spending much of the time re-thinking my life and where I want to go. Each new day strengthens my resolve to move to Florida.
Nothing in life seems to have turned out the way I planned it, and I’m sure that in the long run that will prove a blessing.
Today I was all over New York, and the city now seems spoiled for me. If I’d gone another route and had been able to live the good life of a Manhattan single with lots of disposable income, no doubt I’d be just as happy in New York as my friends Teresa, Alice, Mikey and Scott are.
If I’d joined the artsy-fartsy crowd in Soho, Noho, the East Village or Tribeca, I’d probably be content to be going to poetry readings and art galleries, eating quiche at sidewalk cafés and looking for government grants.
But I chose not to do either of those things. I now see the breakup of our family as a symbol for the change in New York City: It’s no longer a place for middle-class families.
Mayor Koch and his cohorts – almost all Manhattan singles – are creating a center-city fantasyland and pushing the poor to the outer boroughs, where they push out the dying middle class, who are fleeing the city for Florida and elsewhere.
New York City today isn’t the same city I was brought up in and which I loved. Brooklyn used to be so beautiful and now it’s either chic brownstones or newly-created slums. Just look at the changes in the Brooklyn College neighborhood since 1969, when I started school. It’s now a place where you fear to walk at night.
Demographically, politically, by temperament and orientation, I should be part of the Bright Young Professionals crowd. But being a writer has made me feel differently.
Yesterday when I told Avis that I couldn’t believe that I was being so exploited, I said, “I thought this only happened to poor people.”
“You are a poor person,” Avis replied, and I was shocked but knew it was true. And I think the experience of being poor has changed my views from those of my friends, people who’ve spent their whole adult lives as successes.
I identify more with the little guy, dreadfully stupid though he may be. (If I see another illiterate sign in a store window, I’m going to take out my red felt marker and correct it.)
Maybe if I’d spend my adult life in cushy jobs in a different kind of academia, I’d still be wanting to write stories like those of the Fiction Collective: clever, “innovative,” boringly incomprehensible experiments that don’t have anything to do with feelings or people.
This morning I got up early, took the bus to Brooklyn and the subway to Manhattan. It was a chilly, blustery day: the first day of November. (I’ve gotten through five-sixths of 1980.) Since I’ll be leaving New York soon, I wanted to explore the city.
I got out at Grand Central Station and went into the lobby of the Chrysler Building for the first time. I walked through midtown, and on the Diamond District block I stopped at the Gotham Book Mart and bought some little magazines.
All the small press poet/bureaucrats are still playing their little games. It makes me sick. I’d rather play real politics, where at least the game means something.
I looked at my bearded reflection in store windows, had lunch at the Smokehouse Deli, and then walked in dense crowds of seedy humanity along Broadway to Times Square, where I overheard one degenerate say to another, “Look at what Adam and Eve did.”
On the train back to Brooklyn, one of my John Jay students, Johnny Serpico, came over to me and said he’d just taken a civil service test. He’s smarter than most and he wondered what an intelligent guy like me is doing in a dead-end job as his English teacher.
Back in Rockaway, I did some shopping – and then my car died. Finally. It was towed away to the AAA station on Beach Channel Drive. The guy there said he’d look it over on Monday and tell me what repairs need to be made.
If it’s going to be a big job, I’m just going to get rid of the car. Once I thought it would be impossible to exist without a car, but as with everything else, I see that it can be done.
I have almost nothing of any material value anymore, and in a strange way that makes for an exhilarating sense of freedom: “Nothing left to lose.”
Yesterday, when I called Marc’s, Rikki answered. Mom and Dad have suspected that she’s back living there. I don’t have the patience to deal with my brother anymore. If he wants to ruin his life, fine. He’s an adult. (So am I.)
My sinuses ache and I’m dizzy, and I have a pain in my chest. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.
Tuesday, November 4, 1980
4 PM on a rainy Election Day.
Last evening was a pleasant one; I felt very relaxed. I marked some papers and began typing the manuscript that I’m going to submit for the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship.
This time I’m going to send out the application with the expectation that I won’t get a grant. I typed up “Introductions,” a story I haven’t read in years, and I was impressed with my own writing.
When I spoke to Mom last night, she said she’s very upset about Marc’s taking back Rikki, but she hasn’t talked to him about it.
Gary called, and we chatted for an hour or so. Betty phoned him to say she’ll be getting married in a few weeks, and he told her to fuck off.
It was the mildest night in weeks, and I slept with the window open. It was a refreshing sleep, too: I had sweet dreams about being in Florida.
Up at 7 AM, I watched the early news shows. On November 4 last year, the hostages were taken in Iran. That was a Sunday, the day of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, the last time the whole family was together.
As the TV news shows recounted the events of the past year – in Iran, with the campaign, the Mount St. Helens eruption, the Miami riots, the Afghan invasion, the Olympic boycott – I began crying as I associated each news event with my own personal memories.
Life is so relentless: that is its beauty and its tragedy. One day I hope to find the time to write pieces like “Introductions” again, to recall the events of my life and old feelings and memories of my friends and relatives. Someday, I keep thinking. . .
Now that I know I am leaving New York, my life seems to have taken on a richer texture. I feel I’m ending the second part of my life: the times since I recovered from my breakdown, the period that corresponds to these diaries, beginning with the summer of 1969.
My memory is suddenly very sharp. I’ve been remembering my time in college and seeing Shelli and Ronna, and little moments I haven’t thought about it years.
On Election Day last year, Mom and Jonny left for Florida; Jonny was so upset I never thought he’d get on that plane. What a year. I just wish I could look at it from afar, but the relentlessness of life won’t let me do that. It’s been one crisis after another.
Today I helped Mikey. Yesterday his mother had the biopsy and the doctors found fluid around her heart and lungs. Mikey’s mother is in the Intensive Care Unit and is very weak; they’re giving her oxygen.
Mrs. M has been ill for several months now, and it must be very hard for both her and Mikey.
We had breakfast at the Ram’s Horn, then went shopping at Waldbaum’s. I came home to relax and exercise while Mikey visited his mother in one of the four 10-minute visiting periods he’s allowed to go.
Then we drove into Manhattan. He wanted me to sit in the car as he did some errands: brought stuff into his apartment and took more stuff out; voted (they wouldn’t let him write in Kennedy as he had wanted, so Mikey voted for Anderson); and went to his law school to pick up something.
I was alone in the car for long stretches. The beautiful day we had at 7 AM had turned into a day of heavy rain, but I didn’t mind the rain or being alone with my thoughts; I was glad to be of use to Mikey.
He dropped me off about half an hour ago. Four years ago I stayed up all night praying for a Carter victory. Tonight I find myself rooting for Reagan only because I feel the need for some kind of change.
I’m still a political junkie and love the excitement of Election Night and all those vote totals coming in, but I’ll be unhappy whoever wins tonight. The turnout is heavy, and that should help Carter; it would be just like that mean little bastard to squeak through. While I despise Reagan’s politics, he seems a genuinely likable man.
It should be a long night, and I just hope I can get enough sleep to be good for something on Wednesday.
Wednesday, November 5, 1980
6 PM. Last night was not so long after all. By 7 PM the TV networks’ exit polls were preparing us for a Reagan landslide, and by 10 PM Jimmy Carter conceded.
Reagan swept New York and every other big state for a lopsided Electoral College victory; Carter carried only six or seven states. Most people, like myself, simply wanted a change, particularly with regard to the economy.
I called Dad, who said all his customers voted Republican, as he did. (Mom, like me, went for Anderson and Jonny stuck with Carter).
The GOP took control of the Senate for the first time in over 25 years, and McGovern, Church, Bayh, Culver and other liberals lost; Al D’Amato whisked by Liz Holtzman in New York.
I slept poorly, as I stayed up late to watch Reagan’s victory statement and the late returns. I think New Deal liberalism is finally dead, and that Reagan has created a new coalition that may dominate politics for a while.
I’m glad things will be changing, but I just hope the Moral Majority types don’t start telling us how to live.
I was dizzy last night and all day today, and I don’t feel very well now. I’ve had this problem for over a week now, and I’m probably going to have to see a doctor.
My classes went terribly today, and I hated teaching, but everyone was in a grouchy mood. At John Jay, as we were going up the stairs this morning, a smart Puerto Rican kid in my first class said to me, “This is bad news for the P.R.’s and the BL’s,” meaning Reagan’s election.
I hate the cold weather too, and I want the next two months to pass quickly so I can be in Florida already. I can’t stand the howling winds I hear now.
I get nostalgic and impatient when I see cars with Broward County license plates or see Florida addresses like the one on the belated campaign material I received in the mail today.
I want to get out of New York; there’s nothing for me here. I called Mikey last night after the doctor had given him a very bad report. Mikey’s mother has a rare lung disease which may kill her in six months – or she may live ten years, getting progressively weaker.
What a tragedy! Mikey will be left completely alone. Naturally, he was very upset, but he was trying to be optimistic.
Josh was frantic because his car needs a new generator. His latest girlfriend has given him the heave-ho, and he said, “I need new meat.” Josh treats women like objects. He told a co-worker who was supporting Liz Holtzman that the congresswoman was “really ugly” and wondered why the woman got so upset.
I called Avis, and Anthony answered the phone by saying “Sat nam.” Now, is that normal? Avis said I should come with her to a yoga class at the ashram on Monday. I don’t know why she expects me to share her enthusiasms.
If I sound rather misanthropic tonight, chalk it up to unhappiness and not feeling well. I don’t want to face the next few days because I think some new disaster is in store for me.
I’m sick of teaching and would quit in a minute if the National Enquirer were to ask me to go work for them. I am disgusted by my students’ stupidity, by the filth of New York, by the cold weather, by nosy Mrs. Calman (who asked me yesterday if I had company – what’s it her business?), my brother, and about a zillion other things.
I’m just in a bad mood, and the more I write, the worse I feel. Of course what I’m most disgusted with are the academic and literary worlds. I don’t care if I ever teach college or write for publication ever again.
I suppose it’s better to be angry than depressed and filled with self-loathing. I’d like to sleep till January and wake up in Florida.
Thursday, November 6, 1980
9 PM. I just got home and am now in my bed, still unmade from when I left it exactly fourteen hours ago. These Thursdays are killers. I was dizzy last night and it got worse today, so I’ve made an appointment with Dr. Prince for 9:30 AM tomorrow.
I just came from Grandpa Herb’s; he lent me his car today. Last night I did sleep well, and I’ve got to be grateful for little things.
I taught my 8 AM Veterans Outreach class at Brooklyn College and then had time to drive back to Rockaway and check my mail. The University of Illinois Press rejected my story collection and quoted from their reader’s report:
“I imagine that Mr. Grayson is a young writer, and therefore I assume that he is a prolific one as well, to have published so many stories. Unfortunately, the quality of his ms. does not measure up to the quantity of work provided. Far too many stories are thinly fictionalized (or perhaps not fictionalized at all) accounts of events from the author’s own life. It’s as if he were carrying on a monologue . . .
“The material is not shaped into any sort of cohesive narrative form. There is a way to write about oneself that is interesting, even entertaining, but Mr. Grayson rarely hits upon this method. Since the author has apparently succeeded in publishing so many stories as they stand, I doubt he will find it necessary or desirable to write the kind of fiction which would be suitable for your series. In any case, I recommend against any further consideration of the manuscript.”
Another kick in the teeth, I thought. I felt crushed. But it wasn’t too long before I was on my way to Manhattan and realizing that this was one person’s judgment. He sounds humorless, like a D.G. Wnek type, and fairly pompous.
Even if he were a nice guy, what he values in a short story (and what Illinois apparently values) is not what I even desire to achieve. I don’t want to write like most of the dull “well-crafted” academics they publish; I don’t enjoy reading such stories.
What I am trying for is a kind of monologue, and perhaps I should stick to nonfiction, which pays better anyhow. “Quality” is a subjective word. It doesn’t make me any less disappointed, but I must be more self-assured than I’d thought if I can handle such a rejection so well.
A year ago it might have crushed me for days. But I don’t think I’m going to submit any more stories for little magazines or small press publication. The bottom line for me is money. (I’m joining the human race).
I see no point in writing or publishing stories in little magazines anymore; the satisfaction isn’t worth it in terms of the cost (postage, xerox, envelopes, the pain of rejection). I’m not going to buy the new International Directory and I intend to submit only when I’m asked by editors I know.
I had my John Jay classes write while I graded papers, and I did the same with my evening class at BC; they need the practice for the CUNY exam.
I was telling Neil Schaeffer that because of teaching, I didn’t have time to write, and he said that should be the most important thing and was supportive of my decision to quit teaching.
Steve Jervis asked me if I was interested in teaching at BC this spring, and when I said no, he asked if I’d mind getting a letter of non-reappointment. “Not at all,” I said, glad to do him a favor, especially if it might help me collect unemployment insurance.
Again today, I was disgusted by New York: the filth of the streets, the graffiti-scarred trains, the girl who had to wear a gas mask while bicycling in Manhattan. I want, more than ever, to make a fresh start in Florida.
I have five days off now. I just hope I’m not too sick to enjoy my vacation. I called Teresa last night, and as I expected, she was very disappointed about Carter’s loss. The BC English secretaries told me that Laura came in yesterday wearing a black armband.
Saturday, November 8, 1980
10 PM. Last night I had another difficult time; I kept thinking of doom and gloom again, and I was too dizzy to sleep. For a couple of hours I felt as though I were going insane. I thought about jumping out the window and fantasized about how people would react to my death.
I finally did fall asleep, of course, and there’s nothing like morning to fill one with reality. I’m dizzy at the moment, but I felt pretty good today and decided I would get some things done.
I went shopping in Waldbaum’s, not forgetting to take along my cents-off coupons, which are being doubled this week. (The checkout boy was so cute I didn’t mind the $16 I had to spend.)
I did my laundry and I rearranged my room back to its “winter” setup: the couch by the window and the bed up against the wall. It’s odd, but I tend to center my activities in the direction of the TV set, which functions the way a hearth must have in former times.
I also lifted weights – I can now do three circuits of my program with 40 pounds on the bar; when I get up to four circuits of the seven exercises, I’ll go to a heavier weight – and did some cleaning.
I brought over several pairs of pants to Grandpa Herb for shortening – but he was ill today with severe stomach cramps.
In the late afternoon, I went to Brooklyn and had dinner at The Arch, later taking my photo in that 4-for-$1 booth at Buddy’s. My beard looks like a real beard by now – and it’s definitely changed my appearance.
This morning, my neighbor Mrs. Uberman said to me, speaking of the beard, “What are you, nuts? A handsome boy like you?” but Mrs. Eisenstadt thought it looked “cute.” It makes me look older. A lot of guys have beards now.
I don’t want to look gay, but I don’t think I do. It makes me feel masculine, yet I would also like to look as boyish as I used to. I’ll probably give it another couple of weeks – I want my friends to see it – and then shave it off.
For a guy who’s sick (and who fantasizes about dying), I felt surprisingly frisky today. See, life is worth living, if only for moments that come a couple of times a day. Who was it who said that cheerfulness can’t help breaking out?
Today, when I drove past our old house, the living room light was on; we never stayed in that room.
More and more memories keep popping up in my head, especially those concerning my years as a student at Brooklyn College. Maybe one day I’ll finally write about LaGuardia Hall; it seems so far away now.
The early 1970s appear so innocent in comparison to the harsh world of 1980. I would love to plunge into time and visit myself in, say, 1973; of course, I can always check out my diary, but it’s not as good as being there.
If I sound like I’m struggling for things to write about, it’s because I am. I know. I’ll go back to yesterday. There’s something about Bert Stratton that I don’t like, and I feel guilty feeling that way because he seems like such a nice guy.
Maybe it’s that I feel he’s only using me as a supposed literary contact and doesn’t give a damn about me as a person. I liked Alice Notley when we went to visit her although I’m not part of her clique of New York poets, centered around St. Mark’s.
We’d really gone to see her husband Ted Greenwald, who was Bert’s poetry writing teacher at Michigan, but in his absence, Alice Notley was very hospitable. She seemed really surprised that I knew of all the poets in her scene without actually knowing anyone except Michael Lally.
Their apartment was late ’60s filth – though with an incredible number of original paintings by Warhol, Brainard, and other well-known artists on the walls.
I’m glad I’m not part of any clique, though. Bert thought that Ted and Alice and their friends had a real New York literary life, but who needs it? Unless it’s through letters, I don’t really care about meeting the writers I admire.
No matter how much I talk about giving up writing in exasperation and defeat, and no matter how badly I write every day in this diary, I am a writer. If nothing else, the fact that I do write every day in this diary makes me a writer.
But I am more than a writer. Writing is not my whole life. At the moment, though, I don’t know what big chunks of my life are.
Sunday, November 9, 1980
7 PM. Today was one of those cold, grey November Sundays which probably depressed me except I have tomorrow off.
Last night I slept well and wasn’t dizzy. This morning Josh called and asked if I wanted to go to the Whitney to see the Edward Hopper show. Car-less, I managed to get from here to Josh’s (the Clark Street Station on the Seventh Avenue IRT) by noon.
I’ve come to like buses, if not subways; they give me time to think. I’ve been trying to look at Brooklyn and Rockaway as if for the first time, or as if for the last time.
Yesterday at Waldbaum’s, I picked up a copy of People. Their article on Dallas mentions their poll on who shot J.R. I had written that Fred Silverman did it because he hated NBC losing out in the ratings, and they quoted my response but didn’t print my name.
Oh, well: it shows I know what the public wants.
I hope the National Enquirer calls offering me a job interview.
Josh and I met – he says my beard looks good – and we went to the Cadman Diner for French toast. Unfortunately, we sat at the booth behind Bob, who lives with Pat, who Josh has been seeing. Bob and Pat have a weird relationship, and Bob calls Josh “Pat’s dick.”
But this afternoon Bob was too strung out on Quaaludes to even make sense. His friends left him to pay the bill, and he moved slowly, pathetically, and he gave the cashier a subway token with his change. I’ve heard Bob has put more drugs in his body than just about anyone in Brooklyn Heights.
Anyway, I get the impression that Josh wants to break up with Pat, though whether or not it has anything to do with her being married to Bob, I have no idea.
Josh was depressed because it cost him $320 – his entire paycheck except for $50 – to get his car fixed. He told me he’d consider buying my car. With the engine rebuilt, he says it might run well.
In the city, as we walked up Madison Avenue, Josh said the neighborhood made him feel uncomfortable, like all the rich people there are better than he is.
I wanted to stop in at Books & Company to get Dennis Cooper’s new poetry anthology, Coming Attractions (works of young poets, including Eileen Myles, Brad Gooch, Cheri Fein, Tim Dlugos and Donald Britten).
On the counter I saw the latest books in the Illinois Short Fiction series, which looked boringly academic. Everyone in the store looked so pretentious that I said to Josh as we were walking upstairs, “I feel like we’re in a Woody Allen movie.”
“You’re right,” Josh said – and pointed to Woody Allen, trying to look inconspicuous in his usual outfit of green safari jacket and that floppy hat down by his eyes.
Of course that outfit was the way we recognized him.
His girlfriend Mia Farrow was with him, and they browsed in the store without anyone bothering them.
Of course I felt like saying something, but of course there was nothing to say. He’d only consider me one of the fools who populate Stardust Memories.
Seeing Woody Allen and Mia Farrow just a couple of feet away from us made me and Josh feel strange. It’s like they should exist in another dimension from ordinary people. But then, as Josh pointed out, they looked just like everyone else – only less happy.
At the Hopper show, there were dozens of those magnificent paintings: stark landscapes, bleak scenes, all carefully rendered.
I couldn’t stand all the pretentious remarks of the people at the Whitney, so I deliberately made inane comments like “These are nice pictures” or “I like that one because it has horses in it.”
The show was very crowded and there was a lot to see. I didn’t get home until 6 PM, but I was glad to get out of Rockaway today.