Wednesday, October 1, 1980
9 PM. Three-fourths of 1980 has gone by the boards, and I’m betting that the last quarter of this old year will be the best. I am feeling better than I have in months. I have a lot of energy, a lot of plans, and I just have the feeling that the worst of this year’s depression is over.
Last night I began reading Dale Carnegie and I was quite amused by the dated material in the book and the funny style. I got this idea for my next book. It would be called The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Read.
That title is dynamite; it’s so full of chutzpah, but I think I could pull it off. I pulled off “Joe Colletti” and “The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was” and similar pieces. What it tells me is that I’m getting my old confidence back.
Look, right now I can’t write a conventional novel, but I think I can write a rambling fiction/nonfiction book in the form of a send-up of self-help books. The book would be my self-help book, and the style would be relaxed, chatty – maybe something like “Diarrhea of a Writer” or “If Pain Persists.”
I could ramble from topic to topic, tell the story of my summer, put in little anecdotes (Teresa saying yesterday, “I hate my memory,” because she thinks of Paul; Josh’s L.A. girl Lauren writing that she was crossing Santa Monica Boulevard looking for the perfect pair of shoes when some guy in a Corvette shouted at her, for no reason, “Fuck you, Blondie clone!”), philosophize and be me, not some stuffy novelist.
Woody Allen complains because he wants to be serious and people want him to be funny; I want to be to be funny and people tell me I need to write a serious, traditional novel. I really feel I know what kind of books I want to write, and I also feel that writing them should be a pleasure.
The irony, of course, is that I don’t have much time for writing these days. But I can do it. Maybe I can set a goal to finish a book by next summer, MacDowell or no MacDowell.
Now I see myself working on a project and being happy just working and not caring what the mail brings. Today’s mail brought me a much-needed $50 money order rescue package from my parents, bless them.
The stupid Queens College Student Union scheduled my writing workshop for Thursday, when I can’t make it, instead of the agreed-upon Wednesday. But the class probably won’t get enough registrants anyway.
Last night I learned that my Kingsborough Story Workshop didn’t come off, which is just as well, since I couldn’t have made that class, either. At least this way even if the English Department won’t have me back, Continuing Education will keep me in mind for the future.
Aunt Arlyne sent the first issue of her Oceanside-Island Park Herald, on which she did a pretty good job as editor. She told me I’m welcome to come to dinner anytime.
My first class today at John Jay was a riot; I brought in Hitler to show the kids, and of course it increased their respect for me. Mr. Grayson isn’t just some grammar fanatic, he’s a writer. The earlier class is very high-schoolish and we had a wild session today.
The second class was more controlled and better. I do feel I’m doing something worthwhile at John Jay.
I took the train home with several of my students, including this guy named Johnny Serpico, who wants to go into law enforcement. He started confiding in us about his love affair with a Puerto Rican coke dealer that ended badly. (And this guy wants to become a narc, yet.)
I liked talking to him and my other students and feel they consider me a regular guy. I’ve been dressing up in a tie every day and I’ve been looking better than I’ve looked in months.
After shopping today, I lifted weights; both my exercise program and my diet (I’ve been having salads for lunch) have paid off already. I feel very positive about my life.
I got an $8 rent increase, a fuel pass-along surcharge.
Friday, October 3, 1980
1 PM. Fridays are sweet: the only weekday when I don’t have to work. Sleeping until 10 AM was a real joy.
Last night I was reading in bed when Mom called. She was alone, as Dad had gone to see the Ali-Holmes fight (Ali lost) and Jonny was taking his astronomy class.
Mom said that she had spoken to Marc yesterday and that Rikki still had not come back. Earlier that day, Rikki called up, telling Mom that her line had been busy the day before – an obvious lie, since Mom has call-waiting – and that she was supposed to go back to New York but had missed her plane.
Jonny, Mom and I are convinced that Rikki is a liar. She told Marc she didn’t make as much money in California as she had hoped, but who knows if that’s true? Rikki was supposed to share the money with Marc, but maybe she’s keeping it all for herself.
Marc has spent thousands of dollars on Rikki and has gotten nothing but trouble in return. He gets furious with Mom and Dad when they even hint that the relationship may not be the best thing for him.
Marc criticized Mom because Rikki said that Mom was “cold” to her on the phone, and he lambasted Mom because she suggested he see an allergist for his health problems. He told Mom, “I’m tired of living like a pauper!”
Mom said to me: “So I thought to myself, ‘Then why don’t you get a job?’ but I didn’t say it.”
When Marc began talking about screwing people in order to make big money, Mom did say she didn’t know where he got his values – certainly not from our home, where Dad has always stressed the importance and inevitability of hard work; certainly, Dad has always worked harder than any man I know.
Marc became so angry after Mom talked about values that he hung up on her, and when the phone rang again, Mom assumed it was Marc and she didn’t feel like answering it.
I think what’s happening is that Marc is beginning to realize his relationship with Rikki is a mistake, but like all people, he can’t easily admit to himself that he’s been wrong about something so important.
If anyone criticizes Rikki, he will just get defensive and angry. What I’m trying to do – and this is one thing Dale Carnegie is 100% right about – is to let Marc feel free enough with me to begin to question his own attitudes about the relationship.
That may take time. As Mom said, the best thing that could happen is if Rikki would leave Marc: he’d be crushed, but it would be like getting rid of a heavy weight.
Mom says she can now see why Rikki’s father took her children away from her, and their being raised by someone else explains why they’re so well-behaved. I told Mom I noticed that both Marc and Rikki have stopped talking about marriage; at least I’m pretty sure that disaster will never happen.
Josh called this morning to say he had the day off; I felt bad that I couldn’t see him because I made other plans. After I finish writing this, I’m going to pick up Teresa in Jamaica and we’re going to a cocktail party this evening.
Teresa may be getting a job as Manhattan Borough President Andy Stein’s deputy press secretary; her friend Trudy Mason at the MTA may have arranged it. The party will be a political affair, I think.
Then I’m going to spend the night at Teresa’s and maybe stay in the city tomorrow.
Midnight. I’m back in Rockaway because I stupidly forgot to take along the overnight bag that I had so carefully packed. Oh, well – I would have preferred to stay at Teresa’s tonight, but it’s okay.
I picked Teresa up at the LIRR in Jamaica; she looked good, and I felt proud that she was my friend. Teresa didn’t feel very good, however: she was pissed off after another confrontation with some of the “assholes” in her office.
We stopped off at Bergen Tile, where I carried out the heavy set of tiles she’s going to put up on her kitchen wall. Then we went to a place where Teresa picked up her new food processor.
It was a pleasant drive into Manhattan, and we arrived at Teresa’s at 3 PM. Her visitors from California left that morning: they were a sixtyish couple, and Herbert is a theater professor at San Francisco State. They took her along to three Broadway hits: 42nd Street, Children of a Lesser God and Morning’s at Seven.
I helped her do her laundry and tried to calm her down about the job interview at the cocktail party. I knew Teresa would make a dynamite first impression because she always does.
After she took a shower, she asked my advice on what blouse to wear; we settled on an orange one, less flashy than a red one she had tried on and less prim the pink blouse she wore to work today.
Teresa’s very gay neighbor Chuck – his hair was a bristly orange – came by, home after spending the summer as a houseboy at the Pines on Fire Island. He said Calvin Klein now calls him by his first name and that he’s going to Key West for the winter.
After he left, Teresa said, “That’s why I’m not having kids – because if they turned out like Chuck, I’d kill myself.”
After stopping in at Brian and Judy’s to play with the babies, we made our way outside in the rain. We got lucky – “good cab karma,” Teresa called it – when a taxi stopped to let off passengers on West End Avenue.
The cab took us to the East Side, where the party was: in a luxury building owned by New York Hospital. The hostess, Mrs. Rao, greeted us as we walked into her 32nd floor apartment.
The place was magnificent: expensive furniture, very classy artwork and tchotchkes, an outstanding view of Manhattan. It was the kind of apartment I’ve fantasized about living in, and I felt good to be in a place like that.
Teresa introduced me to some people: Martin, a lawyer she’s been seeing – not seriously – and a woman who I chatted with, who said she was the president of the union for all the dancers and singers in the country.
Barbara Baer, the City Council candidate in whose honor the party was, seemed like a sweet lady. She worked for Andy Stein for many years, so that’s the connection. Barbara finished a very close second to some idiot in the Democratic primary and now is going to wage an active campaign on the Liberal line.
I met a young lawyer couple who seemed very happy and intelligent, and I spoke with Kenny, Barbara’s campaign manager, who told me he’s writing a play about Boss Tweed.
For about an hour or so, I lost track of Teresa, and when I finally saw her again, she looked radiant. “I got the job!” she said.
She was interviewed by Frank Flaherty, Stein’s press secretary, and he offered her a salary of $26,000 – which is $3,000 more than she’s making at the LIRR.
Trudy, her dynamic friend at the MTA who arranged it all, was ecstatic. She told Teresa to quit by saying “Fuck you” to her new boss at the railroad, whom Trudy fought when he was at the MTA.
The party was the best “grown-up” party I’ve ever been to, making me feel – as MacDowell did – that I can mix with professional, upper-class people: East Siders, even.
When we got home, Teresa called up Diana, and the three of us went out to Polletti’s for pasta. Diana paid for me: she’s a doll, but after all, she is making $50,000 a year as a consultant to a drug company.
We had a good time celebrating Teresa’s new job; I couldn’t be much happier if I got the job myself. Teresa’s going places now. Diana’s going places too. (She’s really sweet, not only asking me about my writing but asking my advice about a problem she’s having with a guy she’s dating.)
Just being with people like them makes me feel great. No one has had better friends than I.
Tuesday, October 7, 1980
3 PM. At the moment I’m a little anxious about being observed when I teach tonight at Brooklyn. But I’m fairly well-prepared and it is a good class, so it shouldn’t be a disaster.
The last couple of days have been fairly uneventful. Yesterday I took the Rockaway train into Manhattan and back for work; it took more than ninety minutes each way but cost only 60¢ a trip, without extra fare for a bus or bridge tolls, and I need to save every penny right now. Dad’s $100 money order should reach me by Friday, but until then I have only $15 to my name.
This morning I closed all my accounts at the Dime Savings Bank, and I have only a dollar in Citibank. I am broke. I just pray that no unexpected expense comes up between now and Friday. If I’m careful, I should be able to get through until next Thursday; if not, I’ll borrow from someone.
My classes went well yesterday; all I did was go over students’ essays which I had mimeographed. I find I don’t have to watch the clock anymore, even in those long 80-minute periods.
I’ve been lifting weights every day, and that’s been making me feel better. Fall has definitely arrived, with nippy temperatures most days; it gets chilly at night now.
Teresa called late yesterday, saying the job at Stein’s office is all set: she’ll begin in two weeks. She’s happy about the salary increase and about working in Manhattan instead of Jamaica. When I told her I was broke, she said, “Don’t worry, Richie, we’re going to be in Fat City.” I liked that “we’re.”
Grandpa Herb said NYU called, asking if I could replace a teacher for a class at 9 AM today. Grandpa told them I teach at BC at that hour, but I would have liked to know if it was a creative writing class.
Last night I decided to call Kevin Urick in Maryland. He had invited me to a party on Saturday, but of course I couldn’t make it.
What prompted my call was a piece in Notes on People in yesterday’s Times, saying that because of NEA Literature Program corruption, Charles and Pamela Plymell were organizing Poets for Ronald Reagan. Kevin said it was all Eric Baizer’s idea and was just a joke.
I told Kevin I’d review his book for Northeast Rising Sun (I dread doing reviews) and we talked about being an adjunct and about small-press gossip.
Kevin asked me if I was “making a statement” or “coming out” because of my piece in the gay issue of Beyond Baroque. I told him I thought everyone knew I was gay or bisexual, and he said, “Well, people have always wondered . . .”
I can’t believe that people have nothing better to do than to wonder about the sexuality of little old me. Oh, I guess I can.
Kevin told me that if I had a short story collection, I should come to his White Ewe Press in about six months. Maybe that will be an option should the University of Illinois Press reject my manuscript. I’ve decided to send an entirely different collection of stories into the AWP Short Fiction Series contest.
Late last night Pete called to ask if I’d be interested in reading my work on WKCR, on that program he once appeared on. I said sure, and Pete will give the program’s host my number. So maybe my career isn’t dead yet.
I reread Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” before I went to bed last night, and I’ve almost got it memorized by now. I’ve been thinking of writing a story called “Emerson Made Simple,” in which I would guide the great man through life in 1980 and he would utter appropriately ironic quotations of his own.
Crad Kilodney wrote that he had his best month on the street yet and that Lightning is selling well. The Toronto Globe and Mail called him “a potential cult hero.” I think Crad is going to be a real smashing success.
My parents sent me two Sasson jackets and a pair of corduroy pants. Maybe I should sell of the stuff from Dad’s samples that they send me.
All in all, I guess I’m holding up pretty well.
Wednesday, October 8, 1980
9 PM. The last day has been very busy. Let me go in chronological order, if only to set things straight in my mind.
Before class yesterday, I went to the BC library and discovered that the new International Directory of Little Magazines had arrived. I looked through it, finding my name in several spots, and I jotted down the names of some new magazines I want to submit stuff to.
My class went wonderfully: it was relaxed and informative, and I knew Prof. Jervis was impressed. I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment when I stepped outside, and I called Avis from a phone booth.
Earlier in the day I told her about my money problems, and she told me that she and Anthony could lend me $100 if I needed it. The checks are still in Anthony’s name, Avis said, so I should come over and wait till he got back from the ashram.
I hadn’t seen Avis in a month, and it was worth more than $100 to visit her. She’s thinner and healthier-looking, no doubt the result of yoga. We shared some yogi tea – a milky, clove-y beverage – and talked about Teresa and Marc; Avis’s job (she’s planning to look around for a new one next year) and apartment (they may move to Carroll Gardens to be closer to the ashram); yoga; and teaching.
When Anthony arrived, we had a good chat with him, too. He wrote out a check for me and put on it that it was for “good karma.” Anthony is a good man, and I’m glad Avis married him.
Back home, I went through my stories and made up six or seven batches of submissions, though I don’t yet have money for postage to mail them out.
This morning I stayed in bed until 9 AM, when I went to the post office and discovered – in contrast to the one letter I got on both Monday and Tuesday – a bonanza of mail.
I wanted to savor my mail, so I put in my briefcase, deposited Anthony’s check, and drove off into Brooklyn. At the BC English Department, I checked my mailbox; as I expected, Jervis’ observation report was excellent, a big coup for me.
I parked the car at Newkirk Plaza and began to go through my mail on the subway. The big disappointment came in a letter from Louis Strick.
He wrote that their Pivot Books paperback line has been “sputtering” and that no books will be published in the spring. However, he said he’d consider doing Hitler a year from now if they’re still publishing paperback fiction.
My first reaction was utter despair: look, another unlucky break, the world shits. I immediately thought of Scott Sommer and how his novel was published in paperback before my book.
Well, Scott is a person to whom things have come easily; I’ve had to work damn hard for every little thing that I’ve gotten. And then I decided that I’m just going to have to take some action on my own.
I’d do better self-publishing a paperback Hitler under my own imprint than if Taplinger did it; they fuck up everything. If you want something done, it’s best to do it yourself.
Why can’t I do what Crad Kilodney, Kevin Urick and Bert Stratton have done? It won’t be like no one else would touch the book; it’s been published in hardcover by a New York trade house and has gotten loads of reviews and publicity.
Maybe a small press or even a commercial paperback publisher will be interested. In the long run, this may prove to be a blessing. I now have a goal – to get Hitler in paperback – and I’m going to try to do it myself.
I’m going to write Louis and offer him $500 for the paperback rights; I’ll get the money from somewhere. First I’ll try to find someone decent to publish it; otherwise, I’ll scrounge around for money and become my own publisher.
The other mail was better: a copy of Merritt Clifton’s excellent novel, 24 X 12, reissued by Mudborn Press; a letter from Tom Person of Laughing Bear, now in California; a flyer for Wesley, Andy and James, playing this Saturday night at S.N.A.F.U.; a flyer from Poets & Writers explaining their new programs of giving grants for readings in New York State; the AWP Job List; and finally, a letter from Bill-Dale.
He’s teaching two sections of English comp at Rutgers, and he sent me his course outline, which was in his usual “let it all hang out” style. He spelled grammar “grammer” and he obviously intends to make his classroom a bully pulpit for preaching love, truth, beauty, honesty and hugging.
To be honest, I found the course outline embarrassing all the way to the very end (“Call me Bill-Dale – none of this ‘Mr. Marcinko’ business”), and to me, it indicates a lack of maturity. I’m no longer certain I’d be as crazy about Bill-Dale as I once thought.
Even I, after teaching over five years, am having troubling with my earlier John Jay class, which is so high schooler-ish; although we have a lot fun, they’re not taking it seriously and are going to be devastated when they fail the CUNY exam and have to take the course over. The later class is much more mature and they really act like college students.
When I returned to Rockaway at 4 PM, I had dinner at the Ram’s Horn and went home to do some work.
I spoke to Alice, who said she and Peter were leaving tonight for Washington, where she’ll be covering – for Seventeen and the Daily News – a conference on how birth order affects one psychologically. They’ll be staying at her brother’s over the weekend. Alice encouraged me to do the Hitler paperback on my own.
Then June called, asking me questions for yet another Weight Watchers column, though we had a long conversation about other matters, too. She and Cliff finished their children’s book for Simon & Schuster, and it will be published next spring. Next week they’re going to North Carolina to “reassess our careers and figure out where to go next.”
I also spoke to Josh, who’s seriously seeing Pat now – our conversation was interrupted by an emergency call from Simon, whose cat was choking – and with Justin, who invited me to a party at his place for a week from this Saturday.
Grandpa Herb said he made an appointment with Dr. Libby for next Friday, so I’ll have to drive him to the city that day. That reminded me to call Mikey to ask how his mother’s appointment with her lung specialist worked out.
Mikey’s mother needs three biopsies to further diagnose her case, which means that she’ll have to go into Peninsula Hospital again and Mikey will have to come out to Rockaway to stay. I know how hard it can be on him, and I offered to help in any way I can.
I spent an hour applying for eleven jobs listed by AWP, but half of them were at places which didn’t hire me last year: Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas-Austin, Iowa State, etc.
Is it a futile effort? Probably. But I’ve got to keep trying everything. It’s now past 10 PM and I’m very sleepy.
Friday, October 10, 1980
1 PM. The question I asked myself yesterday was: “How many more kicks in the teeth can I take?” The kicks keep coming. My car is a mess. The whole electrical system is shot. I just waited an hour for the AAA to fix a flat tire.
Kurt Nimmo writes that The Smudge probably won’t do “If Pain Persists” as a chapbook because they’re having serious personal and financial problems and Doug Mumm expected it to be funnier. (I know how Woody Allen feels).
And of course the kicks in the teeth of this past week have led me to grind my teeth, so I am now in a lot of pain.
I wish I could see the world as a funny place, but I can’t anymore. The events of the last year have turned me into a pessimist, if not a depressive. The phrase that keeps running through my mind is the one about life being a cycle of false expectations, harsh education and deep despair.
When I saw that big batch of mail on Wednesday, I felt excited, but what did it bring me? Disappointment, mostly (in the form of Louis Strick’s letter) and also, I’m certain, false expectations (in the form of all the writing jobs I applied for from the AWP Job List).
Except I don’t even have expectations anymore: I just go through the motions, knowing that keeping busy is one way to get through life.
I feel a keen sense of powerlessness, of helplessness, and all the news is bad. I wonder if people like Alice and June and Scott and Teresa live on another planet from the one I live on, as they seem to be on a planet of continual progress with one triumph after another and only minor setbacks.
Debby Mayer writes that Putnam has bought her novel. She asked me to come to the Poets & Writers gala party – but I can’t afford $40, the cost of going. Success breeds success, and failure breeds failure, and I am stuck in the latter cycle.
Last night I had a good class at BC and then drove over to Bay Ridge, where Wolfgang and I talked in Avis’s apartment while Anthony studied. Wolfgang is a tall, blond, slender guy who reminds me of Helmut.
He spent three weeks in L.A. with Libby and Grant, who were very sweet to him, especially good old Libby. Then he went up the coast to San Francisco, came back to L.A., and drove somebody’s car to Michigan – so he got to see the country. Wolfgang wanted to get back to Germany this weekend.
Anthony and I left to pick up Avis at the ashram after her class in yoga and her class in the language the Sikhs use in their prayers and chants.
Because my front seat is broken, they sat in the back as I drove back to their place. Another motorist told me there were sparks coming from my hood, so I just wanted to get home.
Avis spoke to Wolfgang in German, and it was decided that it would be best for him to come home with me, so he could get up early and take the much shorter train ride from Rockaway to the airport. On the way home, we got a flat tire, but we were close to the house so I just left the car on a nearby street.
All evening we called the various airlines to find out what Wolfgang should do, and I gave him a pillow for the couch. It was fun having an overnight guest. He woke up at 5:45 AM and followed my directions, and luckily he got a ticket for a flight for Frankfurt at 7 PM.
After he came back, I took him to the subway so he could meet Avis for lunch; from there, he’ll catch the JFK Express to the airport.
Saturday, October 11, 1980
It’s 9 AM, early on a Saturday morning. It looks bleak out today: foggy and drizzly. I’ve got the window open, and some nice sea air is coming in.
Thursday night I was walking on the Brooklyn College campus when I smelled the newly-mowed grass, which reminded me of the smell of MacDowell. I miss that place; it seems so long ago now.
I slept a lot yesterday afternoon; I needed to sleep, as I was tired and depressed. The Times had an article on the front page of their business section on the decline of paperback publishing.
Once, they said, most books were made into paperbacks, giving the author enough money “to insure spaghetti dinners,” but now the rush for the Big Book and the worsening economy has changed all that.
“It’s boom or bust,” said Richard Snyder, head of Simon & Schuster. “You can’t afford to be a young writer in America today.”
A more optimistic literary agent said, “Genius makes its own rules. I can’t imagine Beckett writing TV sitcoms. He’d starve first.”
What’s so great about starving? The article also quoted Eileen Prescott, the high-powered publicist Taplinger hired; she said the author today has to have a gimmick.
Articles like that depress me, yet they also remind me that I’m not alone in this situation solely based on my lack of talent, bad luck, etc. It’s a real problem. I had to make my career in two areas – fiction writing and teaching college English – both of which are among the hardest fields to succeed in.
More than ever, it takes courage to be a writer in America today, and I’m not certain I have the stamina to keep at it. I keep going back to certain images – being kicked in the teeth, knocking my head against a brick wall – and that endless cycle of false hopes, disappointment and despair.
My grandparents called and invited me to dinner; I told them I’d walk over and get there at 5 PM. It was cool and cloudy out, and I stopped to get some cash.
At Citibank, at the machine next to the one I was using, there were two teenage boys. One was blond and slight and wearing a sweatshirt and gym shorts. My eyes melted when I looked at him, and when I heard him talk, I realized he was obviously gay.
But I didn’t know how to approach him, so I didn’t. When I looked back after leaving the bank, he was looking back at me at the same time.
Walking in the road of the Rockaway Freeway – there is no sidewalk there – I thought about the time Gary had a bachelor’s party at Meadowlands and how all the other guys were lawyers and accountants and how I ordered the cheapest item on the menu only to learn that we were dividing up the bill evenly.
That night I felt humiliated and I had to borrow money from Gary to pay my share. Driving home, there were so many hot tears in my eyes, I could hardly see the road, and I vowed I would never let anything like that happen again. To some small degree, I do understand the shame and humiliation the poor feel.
Walking past Key Food, I met Debra, a black girl who was my student at Kingsborough a year ago. She said she switched her major and said I was supposed to be her mother’s teacher at Touro this term before the class got canceled.
When I told Debra of my schedule this term, she said, “I thought you never wanted to teach again.” I shrugged and said I needed the money. I must have appeared sad.
Dinner at my grandparents’ was almost like old times. They both looked well, and we talked pleasantly over a delicious meal topped off by a freshly-baked cherry pie.
Grandpa Herb got some jackets from Dad, and he sold one that was too small; my grandparents gave me the $25 they got for it, God bless them.
After Grandma Ethel went to play cards, Grandpa and I looked through old photo albums, seeing him and Grandma, my parents, and others (even me) when everyone was so much younger.
He drove me home, and on the way we stopped off to buy him a pack of cigarettes he has to hide from Grandma.