Monday, June 1, 1981
4 PM. I couldn’t sleep at all last night: I was very dizzy and very restless. How I envy Mrs. Judson, who says she can be fast asleep one minute after her head hits the pillow. “It must be a clear conscience,” she says. What does my insomnia say about me?
Last evening I called Linda and we chatted for a while. Although she’s not the most aware person in the world, she’s a good person to talk literary politics with.
While Linda’s naïveté sometimes astounds me, I admire the way she submits everywhere and manages to get published in good places. Still, Linda is frustrated that she can’t get a book published.
She finds teaching at Borough of Manhattan Community College drudgery but likes working at Poly Tech, where she can teach creative writing and literature.
Today no one has called all day, and I’ve been lying in bed since I got up at 11 AM. Despite the cool, sunny weather, I have no energy.
Mom, Dad and Marc must be making their way up the East Coast; perhaps they’re in Georgia now. I made reservations for Mom and Dad at the Golden Gate Inn.
Somehow I feel inordinately depressed right now. It feels as though I don’t really have any friends up here anymore. Is there someone with whom I can be completely honest? No.
Bill-Dale, Ronna, Brad and Stacy all have made no effort to get in touch with me. Maybe I hang on to people from my past as a way of assuring myself that some relationships do last. But they don’t.
Even my close friends – Josh, Alice, Avis, Teresa – have all changed, or I’ve changed, and nothing is the way it was. Our family, too, is all fragmented: Marc feels like a stranger now, the grandparents are dying, and only Mom and Dad are left to lend stability.
I feel so isolated and alienated with no phone calls and no mail and nothing but the sound of the radio for company in this dark apartment. Doubtless this is just “one of those days”: it’s my biorhythms or thyroid or something.
I need a good dream, a tender word, or a piece of welcome news. My life is so unsettled, and I feel I don’t belong anywhere: not in New York, New Orleans or Florida. Maybe not on planet Earth.
I want only to sleep. Now, I should be talking a walk or writing letters or exercising, but I don’t have the energy. Do I plan to just lie here until evening? Perhaps.
Kafka says there are two ways of lifting yourself out of a miserable mood.
The first is to act hearty and bluff, throw out your chest, breathe deeply, assert yourself and fool your mind into thinking confidently.
The second way is to lie inert and let the depression wash over you; eventually you (or it) will be surfeited and the mood will pass way.
Can I pinpoint the cause of my mood? A sense of isolation – that I’m connected to no one and nothing. A sense of confusion. A sense of transition, too: I’m not really going anywhere familiar and the whole past year seems like an interregnum.
Is the mood related to my becoming 30 in a few days? Only peripherally. I think I miss South Florida, even though I know that it’s miserably hot and humid down there now.
Life seems sterile and empty today. Tomorrow probably will be better, but of course I don’t want to give myself a kinahora.
Thursday, June 4, 1981
3 PM on my thirtieth birthday.
Last evening I spoke to Tom, who said he’s going to San Francisco two weeks from today. The interviews in New Orleans will take place next Thursday and Friday or the first three days of the following week. That news made me decide that I’ll drive back to Florida with my parents after Jeff’s bar mitzvah on Sunday.
After a month in New York, I’m ready to leave. Last evening I went to see Josh to say goodbye. We had dinner at the Cadman Diner and Josh told me he got the new job. He will start in July, after he and Simon come back from their two-week trip to California and Colorado.
Simon met us at the restaurant, and I drove them uptown to see a movie. The long drive back to Sheepshead Bay calmed me down, and as Marc went out to play cards, I had his apartment to myself.
Rikki called while he was gone, and I have no doubt she’ll be back here next week. Well, it’s Marc’s life: if he’s foolish enough to get involved with her again and to get involved with drugs again, there isn’t much anyone can do at this point. But I don’t want to write about Marc or Rikki.
Last evening I exercised and reread Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws,” which helped me eventually begin to feel at peace. “No man ever stated his griefs as lightly as he might.” That’s so true.
I called Gary to say goodbye, and then Teresa phoned to say how sorry she was that I wouldn’t be staying with her. “You’d get sick of me anyway,” I said, and turning to the digital clock radio, I noticed it was midnight and that my twenties were over.
I called my parents in their motel room. They had been by the old block, visiting with the Bisognos and the Wagners. Dad said that Grandpa Herb didn’t look as bad as they expected. Mom told me they’d take me out to dinner tonight.
Marc came in late, and I fell into a deep sleep soon afterwards. This morning he went out running, so I had breakfast and showered while I had the place to myself.
Somehow New York didn’t seem that horrible today – the sun was shining – and my birthday horoscope said my financial worries would be over soon.
At the Weight Watchers magazine office, I told the receptionist I was there to see Alice, and I was led all the way to the back, to Alice’s private office.
When I got there, she was going over “blues”: all around her were circulation figures, advertising reports and other stuff that managing editors know about.
As Alice stood up and kissed me, I felt a shock: If I didn’t feel 30, Alice looked 30 with her greying hair, slim body, chic dress and aura of success.
We ate at a noisy deli where all the sandwiches are named after celebrities – I had a Myron Cohen – and chatted about writing, success and the past.
I remembered a dream last night in which Alice and I were adults but we were back in P.S. 203; the teacher was assigning seats, and Alice and I arranged to sit next to each other.
We talked a little about the old days – the old, old days when were in second grade – but then, as we sat by a vest-pocket park, Alice told me about very adult current matters: she’s being audited again; the house deal in Washington fell through; and this evening she’s interviewing Dennis Christopher backstage at The Little Foxes.
When we hugged goodbye, Alice asked, “When will I see you again?”
I shrugged and half-sang, “Don’t know where, don’t when.” Then I took the F train back into Brooklyn: that’s something I’d never done before, but I wanted to see Brooklyn (its 356th birthday was today) like a tourist.
Passing subway stations I’ve never seen before always makes me feel as though I’m dreaming. We went high above Gowanus, right past Mrs. Judson’s house, and I got great views of the Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano Bridge and at the last stop, Coney Island with the boardwalk, Nathan’s, and the rides.
The memories keep piling up.
Friday, June 5, 1981
9 PM. Last evening Mom and Dad took me out for my birthday. Marc suggested we all go to Beefsteak Charlie’s, which was okay with me.
My parents are still in the ranting-and-raving stage about New York, the way I was the first week I got here. Dad can’t believe how bad the roads are, and Mom was appalled by the noise, the dirt and the crowds.
After dinner, I suggested Mom and Dad take me out to see Polyester at the Avenue U Theater, which I thought worth seeing again with them. They were a little freaked out by the movie – I don’t think they would have known Divine was a transvestite if I hadn’t told them – and by some of the Odorama smells (shit, skunk, dirty sneakers).
On the way back, I told them about Rikki’s calls and my suspicions that she’s going to move back in with Marc after we leave. My parents said that if Marc does live with Rikki, they want little to do with them and they certainly won’t pay their rent.
At home, I called Gary, who had phoned earlier to give me birthday greetings. Marc had told him I was out, and Gary said that Marc had told him that he wasn’t certain that he would stay in New York and was considering getting into a flea market to make some money.
Surprisingly, when I got off the phone and into the bed next to Marc’s, we had a pleasant brotherly chat – not about anything substantial, of course: just about snoring, insomnia and dreams.
I slept very soundly and had a dream about a beautiful boy who worked in a Bronx mental hospital; I was watching him on TV and somehow I fell in love with him.
This morning I called Teresa about lunch, but she said she had to go out campaigning with Andrew and wouldn’t be back in the office till mid-afternoon. I said I’d drop by then.
She was a little miffed that I wouldn’t cancel my dinner date with Avis, but I’ve spent more time with Teresa here than with anyone else. Because Teresa was unavailable for lunch, I made a date with Mikey.
To kill time while waiting for him downtown, I sat in on some Housing Court cases, the most amusing of which dealt with a 25-year-old Israeli woman who refused to give the key to one of the locks on her apartment door to her elderly Jewish landlord, whom she claimed like to spy on her when she was naked.
The judge, a good-natured black man, told her to get a chain and give the landlord a key. “Fine,” said the woman in her Israeli accent, “but if he comes in while I’m naked, I’ll kill him.”
“You might not have to; he could get a heart attack,” the judge said dryly.
I met Mikey in the lobby of his building at 1 PM, and he took me out to lunch at Artemis, that very good Greek restaurant where I had lunch with Teresa last December on the morning after John Lennon was shot.
Last weekend at a party, Mikey met a 23-year-old woman who’s an assistant buyer at Bloomie’s, and since then they’ve seen each other twice: a date on Monday and dinner Wednesday night.
“This might work out,” Mikey said, “but she’s holding back and it’s going to take patience.” I would like nothing better than for Mikey to find a girlfriend.
Back at the Legal Aid offices, I read the Times in Mikey’s cubicle and listened in as he called the lover of a boy arrested for prostitution (one of his clients) and then another client, who’s currently serving time in Sing Sing.
I thought about being in Alice’s offices at Weight Watchers yesterday and realizing how important she was at the magazine; Alice, like Mikey, was no longer the college kid in jeans and sneakers but a successful, dynamic adult with a responsible position.
Yesterday Alice kept telling me how great it is to be thirty, but I kept thinking of a line from The Forsyte Saga where an elderly Soames turns to his sister Winifred and says something like, “All these years: What have we lost? What have we gained?”
Maybe it’s because I’m leaving New York again, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the past today. There are memories for me in nearly every corner of the city and they were flooding my circuits all day.
On the phone, Teresa’s secretary told me she’d be back at 4 PM, so I said goodbye to Mikey as he left to go to Rockaway to see his mother for the weekend, and then I wandered into Criminal Court to watch some arraignments.
The system there moves with the speed and attractiveness of a sick snail, and I saw the dregs of New York wandering through the maze of criminal justice.
I was late Friday afternoon and the caseload was slowing down when a bailiff approached me and asked, “Sir, do you have a case here?” I shook my head no and decided to mosey over to City Hall Park.
There I bought a Diet Pepsi and was drinking it at a picnic table when a black man came running by and dropped a briefcase on the ground nearby.
He was being pursued by several men in suits, and I finally ascertained that he’d grabbed some guy’s case – as well as his wallet, which was never recovered.
It was 4:30 PM and Teresa still hadn’t come back to the Municipal Building, so I decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a sunny, humid afternoon, and I wanted to test my old agoraphobic reactions.
As I walked onto the bridge, I was pretty anxious, and at one point I felt dizzy because of the shifting positions of cable and boardwalk, but I didn’t let myself panic.
By putting one foot ahead of the other, I eventually got to the Brooklyn side, where I stood back and looked around at the lower Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Bayonne and Verrazano Bridges, the Staten Island ferry, and the Watchtower sign.
Standing there, I flashed back to my first solo train ride over the Manhattan Bridge after my year of agoraphobia in August 1969: that shook me up so much that I couldn’t sleep for days afterward.
But now it’s a dozen years later and I’m no longer frightened of my own shadow – only of other people’s shadows (and on the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s probably smart to be wary).
I headed over to Josh’s, where he was in shorts, practicing the sax. We were bullshitting for a while over apple juice when I suddenly realized I was late for Avis’s.
Down in the Clark Street subway station, a train fire had just caused a rush of commuters all to be let off and an MTA man said it would be half an hour before the IRT was moving again.
IT’S A MESS, said the Daily News headline of the transit system – but at least they gave me a blockage pass so I could take the Flatbush bus for free.
When I got to her place, Avis was wearing her turban – she looks so exotic – and fixing some kind of Indian bread which turned out to be much too spicy (ginger, turmeric) for me.
We sat in her living room – Anthony was biking back from Long Island – and chatted numbly about Sikhism, New York, and other inane stuff. Avis has convinced herself that she’s a bore, so she’s now apparently decided to act like one.
But no one as strange as Avis can bore me. I’ve come to think Avis isn’t the victim of some cult, but she is very wrapped up in her religion and her body. She just paid her first visit to a chiropractor and kept bringing up every little pain and irregularity she feels.
At 8 PM, while it was still light out, I kissed her goodbye and made my way through the Fulton Street mall to Junior’s, where I had a non-vegetarian dinner of a burger with onions and tomatoes.
At the counter, I didn’t try to count how many burgers I’ve had at Junior’s over the years, but they must add up to a head of cattle.
The D train ride back to Sheepshead Bay was quick, air-conditioned and relatively painless, as was the walk along Avenue Z back to Marc’s apartment.
Tomorrow’s Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah and then it’s home to Florida.
Sunday, June 7, 1981
10 PM. I’m still in New York – in Marc’s apartment, where I just watched the concluding episode of The Golden Bowl and heard Alistair Cooke retell that anecdote about Henry James attending the funeral of a child whose parents were his enemies – because “Where emotion is, there am I.”
I remember how that story impressed me when I first heard it in 1973; of course, when I told it to Avis, she made a face which advised me never to tell anyone how I plan to emulate James.
That old gent could have spun off a couple of novels about the past two days, but I’ll content myself with a diary entry.
Marc came in about 4 AM on Friday night, and when he awoke, he had a bad stomachache. Dad had said he would take Marc to the bar mitzvah, so I assumed that meant Dad would pick Marc up.
But when I met Mom and Dad at Grandma Ethel’s, we realized there had been a mix-up, and so I took Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris while my parents and grandparents went back to Brooklyn to fetch Marc.
I got a little lost trying to find the synagogue, and of course it took Morris a year to extricate himself from the car, but it turned out we were early.
Everyone was out in the lobby, and I greeted Marty and Arlyne and Wendy (who looked particularly good, with a beautiful hairstyle and dress) and the others: Uncle Irving and Aunt Minnie; Arlyne’s sister, her fiancé and his son; Arlyne’s brother and his lady friend; Arlyne’s mother and her black lady companion; Mrs. McDermott, who was the kids’ old babysitter; and Dad’s cousins Herbie and Sondra, who are friends with Marty.
I sat in the last row of the temple with Mom’s cousin on her mother’s side Lynn, her husband Ben and their kids to the left of me, and Mom’s cousin on her father’s side Chuck, his wife Cookie, and Aunt Betty and Uncle Jack to the right of me.
My parents and grandparents walked in late. Grandpa Herb looked dreadful, and he was obviously very tired, but I was amazed how he withstood the day.
Grandma Ethel, too, looked wan and sickly to me, but Chuck pointed out her quick pace and Lynn said that even Grandpa Herb walked with a spring in his step despite his illness.
Because it was a Reform temple, much of the service was in English, with a female cantor singing in Hebrew. Jeff and the other boy read their Haftorahs well, and Dad was among those, with Arlyne’s brother and future brother-in-law, called up for aliyahs.
“Your father never changes,” Lynn whispered to me, and I felt proud the way Dad read the Hebrew prayer so well. This was the first time I’d ever seen women called up to the Torah: Wendy recited a prayer.
Commenting on the English speeches of the bar mitzvah boys which talked about assuming adult responsibilities, the rabbi – who, Arlyne told me, has a bit part in Rocky III – said that while at one time 13-year-olds were considered adults, today they had a lot of education and maturing to do before they truly reached manhood.
The service ended with the singing of “Eliyahu Hanavi,” which I joined in heartily.
There were congratulations all around, and I got to shake hands with Jeff, who’s grown into a soft-spoken, slim blond boy. I couldn’t help remembering the infant whom I held at his bris thirteen years ago.
There is definitely something important about traditions going on and on, and yesterday I saw the best (and not the worst) of the Jewish tradition: an intellectually rigorous faith, close family ties, and a sense of continuity.
(Do I sound like some asshole saying this?)
The buffet at the temple’s community center didn’t have much of interest to offer me, but everyone around me seemed to be loading up their plates.
Drinking ginger ale with my parents on one side of the room, I commented that the scene reminded me of The Forsyte Saga or some other TV mini-series because everyone had appeared to have gotten older through the ingenious use of makeup.
Wasn’t it makeup that made Cousin Lynn appear to be a stout 40-year-old woman or turned Grandpa Herb into a withered old man or caused Cousin Chuck to grow grey? I couldn’t help feeling that the years hadn’t really passed and that we were watching a show.
Arlyne’s mother, now so senile that she couldn’t remember any of us, still managed to tummel on the dance floor with all the kids. Larry showed me his book, The Mademoiselle Shape-Up Book, and his cousin, Dr. Jerry Saloway, a shrink I once got to see when I was a teenager, seemed pleased that I had turned out to be a normal person.
When they ran out of coffee, Marty sent me out to Waldbaum’s, and when I returned, I kept track of Grandpa Herb, who found it difficult to sit “on bone” because he lost all the weight back there. As the afternoon wore on, I became a bit restless but managed to remain perky.
I told Kenny Faber, 13, that “I know people always hate to hear this, but the last time I saw you was at your grandparents’ house in Brooklyn when you were two years old.”
Kenny said he knew no one there except the black lady that takes care of Arlyne’s mother whom he met when he visited Aunt Claire in Sunrise.
Marc was feeling sickish all day – the result of bad shrimp, he thought – and after we dropped off Tillie and Morris (who both may be old and crazy but they look terrific), Marc got really ill.
I called Teresa and asked if I could stay with her, and she said sure. I decided I didn’t want to go back to Florida now, so at the Golden Gate Inn, I talked everything over with my parents.
They didn’t mind at all. Dad told me not to let money factor into my decision, and Mom said that, after all, I would be coming to Florida in August after Virginia.
Over dinner, we discussed my anxieties about New Orleans. Dad intuited that they are not so much about money – Dad himself still seems to be doing very well financially – but about my happiness. I’m wary of living in an old, poor city after living in a wealthier and much newer Florida.
But I’ll take the job if it’s offered because I’ve got nothing better anywhere else and because I don’t want to regret not accepting the job the way I regret not going to work at Texas Woman’s University two years ago.
I hugged Mom and Dad, and then we came here to tend to Marc, who was feverish and achy. He did sleep okay and felt all right this morning.
After I read the papers and did some shopping, I took three buses out to Rockaway because Mikey had invited me over after I told him I wasn’t leaving today.
When I got there, Mikey’s mother was arguing with him and said, in exasperation, “You’re the most honest person in the world.” She was certainly right about that, I thought (but didn’t say).
The beach was too windy for me to enjoy it much, but we did get to talk to Davey and his wife and had the special treat of seeing Mason, who had come in from upstate just for the day.
Eileen, Mason’s friend, is a plain but formidable woman of about 33, and I think she’s been good for him; Mason looks more together than he ever did. His program ends in January, and then he’ll have an M.A. in Education “so I can sign my welfare checks with flair.”
We had a great old time, talking about the Catskills and their life on Eileen’s farm, catching up on gossip, and reminiscing about funny old times in LaGuardia Hall: Greg telling Elspeth he had “noncontagious” syphilis, for example.
Mikey’s mother made Mikey and me a great dinner – London broil, potato pancakes, salad, garlic bread – and I loved being included as part of their family.
When we were done, Mikey and I took the bus back to Brooklyn, where he caught the IRT to Manhattan and I took a couple of buses to get back to Sheepshead Bay.
Marc spent the day with Deanna and Grandma Ethel at the party and carnival Marty and Arlyne made for Jeff’s friends. Tom called to say the interviews at NOCCA will be Friday or early next week.