A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1980

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Wednesday, September 10, 1980

8 PM. I just came in from Rosh Hashona dinner at Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris’s. It was quite a spread, but I was unable to eat everything.

Before dinner, Grandma Ethel told me about her visit to a psychiatrist yesterday; he asked her questions about her background, her marriage, and her children. Grandpa Herb will take her every week for a session. It’s $65 a throw, but it will be worth it if it can lift her out of her depression.

Unfortunately, all evening I was preoccupied with my job troubles. Actually, I now have a lot more options than before. Here’s what happened:

nyt-9-10-80Last night nothing happened. There were no calls and I listened to classical music and the results of the Senate primaries (Holtzman won, Javits lost) and before bed, I read Emerson: he means more to me with each reading.

This morning I awoke early. At Kingsborough, I had my C2 students write a diagnostic essay. From the results, I’d say they were as bad as usual.

When I got home at 10 AM, I got a call from Doris DeVito, the secretary at the John Jay English Department. She asked me if I were teaching at any other CUNY school, so of course I lied and said no, and then she told me to come in for an interview.

john-jay-north-hall-79Discarding the idea of teaching at Nassau Community College, I rushed to Manhattan. At John Jay, I was interviewed by the chairman, Robert Crozier.

The two courses are SEEK remedial courses, and they meet three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11:05 AM to 12:20 PM and then from 12:30 PM to 1:45 PM. That fit in with my schedule at Kingsborough, so I accepted.

I filled out personnel forms and was taken in hand by Doris. Hoping to avoid detection by the CUNY powers that be, I switched a digit on my social security number on the forms.

john-jay-north-hall-entranceEveryone at John Jay – including Judith Bronfman, whom I knew from SVA – seemed incredibly pleasant compared to the people at Kingsborough and Brooklyn; they were more like the nicer people at LIU or SVA.

When I returned home after lunch, I went down to the beach for an hour: it was deserted, clean and beautiful.

Back upstairs, I got a call from Steve Jervis, who offered me two courses at Brooklyn College: an English 0.2 in the Veterans Program from 8 AM to 9:15 AM and an English 0.2 in the Liberal Studies Program from 6:15 PM to 7:30 PM.

Both classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays; they are three hours but pay for four credits. But of course the morning class conflicts with Kingsborough, so I will have to give one of the two schools up. (Naturally, I told Steve I accepted his offer.)

alternativesLet’s weigh the alternatives: If I give up my classes at Kingsborough, I’ll probably never be rehired there. I would have the satisfaction of telling Oscar and Howard that I was leaving them in the lurch because they took my course away – but that’s childish.

It might be easier to escape detection by those goons who check up on adjuncts if I were at a community college and a senior college rather than at two senior colleges. But I would definitely not be able to work the winter module at Kingsborough.

On the other hand, if I chose Brooklyn College, I could work fewer hours a week and I would be able to sleep late three weekdays rather than just one. I would not be so dependent upon my car, and there would be only one day, not two, when I’d be at both schools.

little-alternativesI’d have a much lighter schedule, with Fridays off completely. Unlike Kingsborough, which has only three paychecks a term, Brooklyn, like John Jay, pays every two weeks. Of course, I’d be making about $750 more if I chose Brooklyn over Kingsborough.

I guess I could tell Steve Jervis that I would take only the evening class at Brooklyn, but teaching at three CUNY schools might prove dangerous and very tiring – if more profitable.

I definitely want to keep John Jay unless I get a better offer, and I don’t think I’m going to. The Brooklyn night course eliminates Touro, which is fine with me.

The minimum I’ll be making this fall is about $5900, and that in itself is a great relief. Somehow I’ll decide: with Rosh Hashona, I still have four days.


Thursday, September 11, 1980

rosh-hashona-card3 PM. I feel more peaceful than I have in some time. Rosh Hashona is important to me even though I don’t practice formal Judaism.

It’s a gorgeous day, sunny and mild, not a cloud in the sky, not hot, not humid.

Last night I slept soundly and had delicious dreams about babies – always a good sign. I felt relaxed this morning. Now I know I have options and I have money coming in.

I walked to the post office this morning, took money out of the bank, and decided to get a haircut. I wanted a change from the disco-Italian look and the Beatle cut it always seems to evolve into, so I went to a hair stylist on Beach 116th Street.

body-o-tapHe did a good job in giving me a preppy kind of hairstyle. For the first time since I was a freshman, I got a side part, and I like it. It’s a new year, 5741, and I want to change.

My Rosh Hashona resolution is to lose twenty pounds in the coming year and to become as slim as I was in high school. I think I’ll grow back my beard, too. I’m going to drive less and walk more. I’m going to exercise more, too; maybe I can buy myself a set of weights.

And I want to write that novel. God knows why I’m so optimistic all of a sudden, but I do feel hopeful. I feel calm. I feel I can handle whatever comes, that the worst is over, that I can go on with my life.

fresh-startIf my life from the day I returned from MacDowell could be made into a novel, I’d like Rosh Hashona to be the ending. Why can’t I start fresh?

I’ll be going back to Brooklyn College to teach, I’m almost sure, and that place has been lucky for me from the day I began as a freshman eleven years ago. Remember 1969 and my Rosh Hashona in the Village? I read Emerson’s “Circles” and it seems to apply to my life.

An hour ago I was in Kings Plaza and I decided to get a computerized horoscope. I don’t know if the year matters (I mistakenly gave my birth date as June 4, 1980), but here’s what the computer astrologer typed out:

starscrollYou will be released from responsibilities which have been restraining you this month. You will find you are freer to act in the area of finance. There will be periods of luck which may bring you much happiness. As it progresses, the month will get better and will end with you more positively situated than you are now. A word to the wise: Do not neglect yourself because of ambition.

Could I have asked for a better horoscope? Funny how it all seems to fit – of course because I want it to fit, that’s how horoscopes work. But if only ten percent of it turns out to be true, I’ll be happy. (No, I won’t. I may settle for ten percent now, but when the time comes, I’ll want it all.)

I have nothing more to write now, but I wanted to record my good mood.

*

11 PM. Six hours ago I went over to dinner at my grandparents’. I just missed Marty and Arlyne.

challahGrandma Ethel served a delicious meal: cantaloupe, lettuce and carrot salad, applesauce, sweet potato, London broil, peas, apple pie and the round challah that symbolizes life, which goes on and on and does not end (see Emerson’s “Circles”).

We talked, as we always do, and after dinner I went out on the terrace with Grandma Ethel to watch the synagogue members go up on the boardwalk and throw their sins away.

It was so cool that Grandpa Herb gave me his windbreaker, and I remembered a photograph of myself at 17, taken on that same terrace on Rosh Hashona a dozen years ago. Our house was being painted and it was 1967-self1968, the year I was too sick to start college, and I had hoped that staying with my grandparents would make me feel better.

I hate sounding pompous, but it couldn’t help making me think of the enormous changes that have taken place – in my life, my family, my friends and the world – in the last dozen years.

I can’t really complain about the way life has treated us. Yet a part of me still expects perfection, although I know that a “perfect” world would probably be the worst world imaginable.


Friday, September 12, 1980

2 PM. I feel kind of let-down and dragged-out today. Yesterday I had vast amounts of energy: I exercised vigorously and I felt incredibly sexy and alive. Well, maybe we need days like today.

future-lifeI’m a little more frightened of the future than I was willing to admit yesterday. I hope this year will be a good one, but the memory of all the hard times in the past has made me hesitant about the security or permanence of anything.

Last night I was dizzy and my mind was racing; I couldn’t sleep and read Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws.” In it, he says we place too high a regard on action; thought, too, is valuable in itself.

I don’t know whether I am getting more virtuous, but I am thinking more. When I do write a book, it will be an important, idiosyncratic, spontaneous book. At least I hope so.

phone-1970s-whiteMikey phoned yesterday morning. His mother is still ill and it may be hepatitis. As his mother was in bed with fever and weakness, Mikey had to cook dinner for Rosh Hashona.

Last evening, after I left my grandparents, I drove into Brooklyn and went out to dinner on Montague Street with Josh. We sat at an outside table at the Hamburger Stop: probably one of the last times this year we’ll be able to eat outside. The night was a little chilly, and it was dark by 8 PM.

Josh has been going to computer school all week, and he said it beats working in the office. He lent me $50, which he got out of Citibank; Josh’s montague-st-1980secret code is 1720, for “Seventeen will get you twenty.”

Josh said it was for an expression I hadn’t heard before but which means if you screw a 17-year-old, you will get 20 years in prison. As we walked on the Promenade after dinner, Josh kept pointing out beautiful women.

I dropped him off at 9:30 PM and then drove home. My car’s brakes are going again; undoubtedly it will cost me a small fortune to get them fixed.

This morning Larry phoned, wanting to know if I’d go with him to visit Mike and Cindy tonight, but I already had my dinner with Alice and her mother. For the same reason, I also had to turn down dinner at Teresa’s with Avis and Anthony.

re-elect-carterAvis and Anthony had this week off and spent a couple of days upstate. Teresa got a firm offer to run the Carter reelection campaign for the 18th Congressional District on the West Side.

Unlike me, Teresa is gung-ho for Carter to save us from Reagan and war. When my absentee ballot comes from Florida, I’m going to vote for Anderson as a protest.

I’m not so scared of Reagan that I will vote for Carter; he’s been an incompetent President, and his record over the last four years makes him unworthy of another term.

Carter’s refusal to join the League of Women Voters debate that includes Anderson also riled me. I’d rather gamble on getting Reagan than let things go on the way they are, and I still have hope that Anderson just might be able to pull off a miracle. Votes for Anderson or other minor party candidates will shake up the system.anderson-reagan

Teresa loves politics and finds it glamorous and energizing, and I suppose if she can take a leave of absence from the LIRR, she would be a great campaign coordinator and possibly be in a position to run other campaigns in the future.

Meanwhile, Teresa said she’s lined up five different dates for the coming week; tomorrow she’s having brunch with someone she says is a Paul lookalike.

Marc called last night. When he and Rikki got in from Florida on Monday night, she began to remember her suicide attempt and “she was almost in a trance” as she relived it. They went to Rhode Island for Godfather Fredo’s 45th birthday party, and Marc picked up an electric typewriter – hot, I suppose – and said he can get more.


Saturday, September 13, 1980

case-of-the-shakesMidnight. Yesterday in the late afternoon, a terrible weakness and depression swept over me. I felt the way Grandma Ethel must feel when she gets “the shakes.” I began to sweat and feel very unhappy, and I had to force myself to go to Alice’s mother’s house for dinner.

Once I got there, Alice made me feel better. In the past year I’ve done nothing but complain to Alice, yet she’s always patient with me. She urged me to get busy getting on with my life.

Alice said, correctly, that I’ve been thinking so much about my problems and that I hadn’t done enough. “If you don’t want to write a novel now, don’t,” she said, “but do something constructive. Start some kind of project.”

action-comics-1980Alice’s prescription is the opposite of Emerson’s in “Spiritual Laws,” but this “nothing matters” philosophy has been destructive for me. Maybe nothing does matter, but as long as I’m alive, I’d better at least pretend that something does.

I’m happy to say I’ve started taking Alice’s advice, and even though I was alone and at home most of today, I kept busy and accomplished a lot.

My drawers and files are now nearly cleaned out. I wrote to all the people I owe letters to. I sent out query letters to publishers about a new collection of stories: that’s going to be my goal for the coming year.

I bought food at Waldbaum’s and household supplies, stationery and drugs at Ark Drugs. (I used food stamps and Dad’s Visa card.) I did my laundry, waldbaums-ad-1980vacuumed, changed my sheets, and typed up a new résumé.

And I read though a number of little magazines, books, Small Press Review, the AWP Newsletter and the Authors Guild Bulletin.

I want to become ambitious again – just for the hell of it. Remember when I used to set goals for myself, when I wanted to have fifty stories published by a certain date? I’ve got to do that again.

I’ve had enough angst for the time being and now what I need is action. Starting my busy teaching schedule should help. Tomorrow I’ll work on my preparations: that’s the one area of my life that isn’t neat, orderly and up-to-date.

mexico-bookGetting back to last night, I had a fine time. Alice gave me a little wooden frog she’d bought in Mexico and told me about her trip and her visit to a health spa.

She had left New York in a bad mood due to frustrations at work and problems with Peter. (Michael Valenti turned down the job of composer for Peter’s show.) Although the trip was less than wonderful, Alice was grateful for the change of scene.

Her mother made a nice dinner of chicken, noodle pudding, squash, cantaloupe, Rice-A-Roni, and homemade strawberry ice cream.

I can understand Alice’s mom much better now, and I remember to look rice-a-ronidirectly at her when I speak so she can read my lips. (I did notice that I tend to talk loudly to her.) Being deaf is a lot easier these days: Alice’s mother has a TTY telephone and a closed-captioned TV.

Alice and I left at about 8 PM and went over to Marc’s. I’d told him that Alice wanted to see his typewriter because she was interested in buying it, but mostly I wanted Alice’s opinion of Marc and Rikki’s lifestyle.

When we got there, the place was a madhouse, with an assortment of people smoking pot in the kitchen, snorting coke in the bedroom, and looking like they were in another galaxy.johnnys-snowflake

When I came in, Rikki hugged me; she looks as lousy as ever – but she left the apartment right away, “on business, as usual,” with some guy. As Alice said after we left, Marc looks terrible: he’s too heavy and he looks dissipated.

I don’t know how Marc and Rikki are going to end up, but I fear that they’re living too close to the edge and that sooner or later they’ll fall off.

Last night I slept well, and this morning I took myself out for breakfast. The only persfassbinder-toyon who called today was Josh, and I turned down his invitation to see the new Fassbinder film in Manhattan.

It was a long day and I was alone, but I feel I accomplished a lot.


Monday, September 15, 1980

8 PM. I’m tired and headachy, but that’s par for the course – or the courses I’m teaching, anyway. Today was a hectic day. Luckily I had a good night’s sleep and felt fairly chipper this morning.

It was a dark, cool day: the first real day of fall. I was at Kingsborough by 8 AM and bullshitted my way through a class, then left without stopping into the English Department.

kcc-adAfter I quit tomorrow, I’ll be on Kingsborough’s shit list – but I’ve got to remember the rage and impotence I felt a week ago when they took away one of my courses.

I’m also going to give Touro the old heave-ho, but given their extremely late paychecks, I don’t think they deserve any more consideration than they’ve shown me.

My car, riding terribly, made it to the Junction, where I caught a subway for Columbus Circle. I’m not crazy about the long commute, but I’ll have to get used to it.

At John Jay, I discovered that Prof. Crozier gave me the wrong time for my classes when I showed up in a room the period earlier and the students wondered why I wasn’t teaching police science. (God knows where their real john-jay-south-hallteacher was.)

Both of my classes begin a period later than I’d been told, at 12:30 PM and 1:55 PM. This means I won’t get out until after 3 PM, but it also means I can sleep late on Mondays and Wednesdays because I won’t have to leave the house until 10:30 AM.

Denis has SEEK classes at the same hours I do, so I’ll be seeing him around. My office-mate, Livia Katz, is a zany Russian woman who told me John Jay is a terrific place, the best school at CUNY.

Livia went to LIU as an undergraduate and she knows the English Department there very well. She and Judith Bronfman both gave me good tips on teaching my classes.

john-jay-studentsBoth sections seem very nice. Surprisingly, not all the students are black. The 12:30 PM class is very large – about 28 – but the 1:55 PM class is half that size. I got the rosters from the SEEK office, where I introduced myself to the SEEK chairperson, Dr. Brady.

Livia told me we get observed twice, by both the English and SEEK Departments – but I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

I kept getting lost, of course, and I felt quite tense, but that’s to be expected for my first day at a new school. I didn’t keep my classes long today; like me, most of the students are new at John Jay. The school does have a nice atmosphere; I like having police officers around.

flatbush-wmsburg-bldgDenis had to get to Pratt to teach a class there at 4 PM, so I got a lift with him to downtown Brooklyn, and I took the subway from there.

I realize that my description of my day at John Jay is as vague as most of my remedial students’ descriptions would be – but I’m not in a writing mood. (“Writing stinks,” said one of my students at Kingsborough this morning.)

I got my mail (nothing of note), came home to a chilly apartment, exercised, ate dinner, and am now planning to go to sleep early to cope with a very hectic day tomorrow.

takie-it-easyOnce I get the hang of things, it should be much easier. I can’t get depressed now because it’s too early to tell whether I’m going to enjoy this term or not. But I’ve got to remember I’m not doing this because I “enjoy” it.

Teaching is merely the best way to support myself while I’m trying to make a go of it as a writer. I am not going to be an adjunct for a dozen years, like that poor sap who just got hired full-time at New York City Technical College (NYCCC’s new name).

I’m in a better position than Livia, who’s going for her Ph.D. I view myself not as an adjunct but as a writer. Teaching remedial writing may not be the best way of making some money, but it’s relatively painless.

I’m not going to give up looking for a full-time alternative; in fact, I’ve just methodbegun to do that, really. Dr. Pasquale said (and so did Denis today on the drive to Brooklyn) that I’ve always done things thoroughly and methodically, and I’ll approach my career in the same way.

Four months from now, this term will be over, and I’ve got to keep in mind that whatever frustrations I have, they’re just temporary.

I think I would have heard from Clark University by now if they wanted me as a Writer-in-Residence; I expect a “sorry, bub. . .” letter any day now.


Tuesday, September 16, 1980

3 PM in the middle of a hectic day. Yet so far I seem to be handling myself fairly well.

Last night I phoned Dad, who said that on Sunday he and Mom wrote $80,000 worth of orders for Sasson at the menswear show in Miami, and oo-la-la-sassonthat yesterday they did $20,000 in business.

I’m so happy for Dad; it’s about time he began to do well. He said he’ll probably need a salesman to help him, plus someone to help him with the paperwork.

If Dad’s business is booming and he can make good money, that will put me a little more at ease. While I still don’t like taking handouts from my folks, at least I now know that they have enough money for themselves.

And in a month, when my paychecks start coming in, I should be able to straighten myself out. Dad spoke about my buying a used car: maybe I can do that in Florida next year.

It would be so nice to have some real security behind all of us again. Money oo-la-la-2does make a difference in the way you look at life: it gives you more freedom, more options.

On Sunday, while Mom and Dad were in Miami, I spoke with Jonny, who said things are fine in Florida. He even began to like Rikki, though he suspects she’s a compulsive liar.

Jonny said Mom looked through Rikki’s bag while she was out and she found a Rhode Island driver’s license made out to “Martha Birmingham” and which had a photo of Rikki in which she looked very fat.

Jonny told me that Fredo, her godfather, has terminal cancer and only a few months to live; Rikki says he’s accepted it and has also left her a tidy sum in his will.

boylan-1980On to more mundane matters: I was at Brooklyn College early this morning. The campus looks more spruced-up, and they’ve taken down some of those ugly temporary buildings that were put up ten years ago. The Boylan ramp for the handicapped is now concrete rather than wooden.

I met my Veterans Outreach class, most of whom are also veterans of a previous English 0.2 class who’ve failed the CUNY Writing Assessment Test and thus the course, at least once before.

I even have some of my old students from the spring of 1979. That means they failed with me and maybe twice more last year. (One of my former students unnerved me by telling my I’d “put on weight.”)

cwatAfter class, I went to the English Department and filled out some forms. The secretaries know me, and I was pleased to see my name on the faculty lists and on my mailbox.

I called Bill Browne and a woman from Liberal Studies to discuss what’s going on, and then I left the familiar campus. I was tickled mauve to be able to help the freshmen find their way around BC.

This is the first fall term I’ll be on campus in five years, since the start of my last year in the MFA program, and I think it’s going to work out.

cwat-2At Kingsborough I braced myself for an explosion when I told Howard I was quitting, but all he said was, “What is this? An epidemic?” It turns out that I was the third adjunct to quit that morning.

He said, “If you can’t, you can’t,” but asked me to finish out the week or until they can find a replacement. The people in the office seemed sympathetic rather than hostile.

I came back to Rockaway to have lunch and get my mail (just a letter from Mary Stuart about her new book about being a soap opera star). Back in my apartment, I exercised – I think I’m going to buy a set of weights on sale at Herman’s – and spoke to Avis.

1981-cafe-lunchShe said she had an upsetting lunch with Simon, who mocked her belief in kundalini yoga. “I don’t like him thinking I’m crazy,” Avis said. I don’t think Avis’s enthusiasm is crazy although I find it a bit eccentric.

Of course, I like eccentricity. Avis said Anthony is starting school this week.

*

9 PM. Late this afternoon I went back to my diary for the week of September 15-19, 1969, and I read the entries dealing with my first week as a student at Brooklyn College.

Then, after I got dressed in my sport jacket and tie, I went to the post office to check on my mail. Only Coda was in my mailbox; my regular jentzsubscription copy finally arrived.

Over dinner at Jentz, I finally read the article I wrote, and I was pleased and proud. I keep imagining all the writers who will read about me. Coda has 6,000 subscribers, and this article will be the best publicity I’ve had.

The Brooklyn College campus looked so nice in the twilight. President Hess has done a good job in cleaning up the campus, and I think BC’s fortunes are on the rise again; the morale seems better.

I ran into Susan Schaeffer in Boylan; I kissed her and we chatted before she had to go teach a graduate seminar on Textual Criticism. (“It’s a course on susan-fshow to read,” she told me.)

I went to Liberal Studies to meet the counselor, Elaine Seltzer, and the dean, Sol Amato; it never hurts to make friends with these people.

My Liberal Studies class is in the basement of the Plaza, and the class is a joy: all middle-aged working people who appear earnest and eager. I know I put them at ease and I could tell they were impressed with me.

I think I come off as a very human instructor. Boy, this sounds so smug! But bc-plazaI do believe I’m a good teacher. Even doing an impromptu lesson with my reading class at Kingsborough, I realized how much I enjoy teaching people about writing and words and language.

I came home tonight feeling high.


Wednesday, September 17, 1980

6 PM. Today was a terrible day from beginning to end. It reminded me of that hectic Tuesday last February, that day I had to teach at SVA, go to Yonkers for that interview, and then to NYCCC. That day’s pressure led to my getting sick, and I’m sure I could get sick from today.

kcc-entrance-bwI didn’t sleep well and was exhausted this morning. But I had to go to Kingsborough, where of course I was hassled by the parking lot guy who didn’t believe I was a teacher and wanted to know why I didn’t have fall ID or a parking sticker.

Somehow I managed to teach my 8 AM class, and it wasn’t bad. That put me in a better mood as I drove to John Jay, getting there over two hours early.

On TV just now, I heard a report of a crime wave at the school: well, I pity any mugger who would have run into me today. Actually, I would have been grateful to be stabbed to death.

adjunct-workloadLivia scared me by telling me how strict they are with teachers who work at two CUNY schools. I’m made to feel like a criminal for trying to earn a living. And then Livia told me about how teaching at four different schools led to pneumonia for Bob Jeske. By the way, it turned out Touro didn’t have a class for me after all: lucky thing, too.

I gave the CUNY Writing Assessment Test to both my John Jay classes, and time passed so slowly that I felt exhausted and on the verge of tears. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the pressure of this week; I taught about 22 credits’ worth of classes.

adjunct-pay-1980As I expected it would be, the drive home was a traffic jam nightmare. Don’t tell me that everything doesn’t go wrong on bad days; last Wednesday, when everything went right, there were no traffic jams.

Well, at least I’m not depressed like Grandma Ethel. I’m too tired to be depressed. I just feel like shit. My face has broken out terribly, and it’s also looking very puffy. I need a good night’s sleep. TC mark

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