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A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1982

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Monday, April 19, 1982

3 PM. Today I bullshitted in all my classes. I have zillions of papers to mark and probably won’t go to a lecture tonight by Robbe-Grillet in Miami, as I’d planned.

Sean is taking my evening lit course this summer. We flirted with each other during the course of the day.

I was thinking about him as I drove home up University Drive – and there he was, driving alone next to me.

I let my classes fill out grade recommendations and Sean wrote that he should get an A because he washes his hair every day. What a cute kid!

Do I sound nauseating? It must be the heat. The “season” is over, and South Florida’s long, muggy, overly-bright and burning hot summer has begun. And no, I didn’t buy a new tire yet.


Tuesday, April 20, 1982

5 PM. I stayed in bed most of the rest of yesterday and conjured up dozens of scenarios of relationships with Sean, all of them ending in disgrace and disaster.

Either Sean gets hurt and makes things very uncomfortable for me at BCC (though I can’t imagine him doing that); or another student in the class becomes annoyed and lets Drs. Grasso and Pawlowski know about my affair with a male student; or whatever.

It’s not worth the risk, I kept telling myself.

It wouldn’t be easy with a female student, but with Sean, we wouldn’t be able to be seen in public, we’d have to lie and pretend. If only we didn’t have to.

I’d love to come out and be open, but I can’t, not at BCC, not in Fort Lauderdale, not now. Even if I had tenure (which no one will have anymore), I could still lose my job because of the moral turpitude clause.

I’ve let other passions dry up. So why do I feel so much like courting disaster now? Is it self-destructiveness that’s leading me to a relationship with Sean?

No one will be around nights this summer, so we could be discreet. . . Oh, hell – how do I even know Sean wants a fat old fart like me?

I went to bed at 8 PM and slept sporadically. This morning I took my car in to get new tires and got a lift to BCC. I had two pretty good classes, drove around and had lunch with Patrick and Jim, and attended a dull divisional meeting.

Dr. Pawlowski said it’s almost definite none of the six English vacancies will be filled on other than a temporary basis. One more year at BCC is all I want. But I could manage without the job if I had to.

There will be ups and downs ahead, and I might as well be prepared for the downs as I enjoy the ups.

This may sound funny, but I think if I can hang on for the 1980s – for the rest of the decade – I’ll be in a good position by 1990, when demographics will begin to change America again.

The tires cost $150, but at least I can pay the bill.


Friday, April 23, 1982

6 PM. I felt a little more relaxed last evening and called Grandpa Herb, who said he’s still very weak and can’t go out; Grandma Ethel’s been outside every time I’ve called, though, and that’s a good thing.

I spoke to Josh, who has been working seven days a week to earn money to pay for the literary magazine and his trip this summer.

Josh was interested in hearing the details of my day with Candy, but he intends never to speak to her again.

Josh’s brother will be moving down here next month – “which is causing all kinds of heartaches I can’t get into on the phone” – and his mother seems to be recovering from her skin cancer treatments, if not from the mugging.

Apparently Josh’s mother is now afraid to leave the apartment. The poor woman has suffered so much in the past few years with the deaths of her daughter and granddaughter, I don’t know how she goes on.

Josh told me that Scott Sommer’s Last Resort was trashed in the Times Book Review this week. I felt good after hanging up the phone and then realized that it was Scott’s bad review that was responsible for my pleasure. That makes me feel ashamed of myself.

It could be a very unfair review, though; I haven’t read the book. Josh said that the reviewer’s comment was that it was pointless. Who knows?

I slept fitfully but well enough so I didn’t feel groggy all day.

With my car’s air conditioner on the blink, I was praying for a cloudy rainy day, and I got one – but it is still very hot and humid.

I met with all my classes for the last time, gave back graded papers, and handed out final exam topics. And I got my 101 term papers: I’ve got about 55 to mark this weekend. I have no finals on Monday, though, and I think I can avoid getting swamped until next Wednesday and Thursday.

Next Friday I’ll hand in my grades, and then I’ll have the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at leisure before the new term begins.

I thought of going away for a few days to the Keys or the Bahamas, but I’m trying to save as much money as I can.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a college teacher for over seven years. I’ve had about 40 classes, maybe 1,000 students.

I got turned down for jobs at Arizona (Mary Carter sent me a form letter) and Wichita State (they hired Harold Jaffe, who’s got a new story collection out with the Fiction Collective).

I applied for jobs at Edison Community College in Fort Myers and at Rollins College in Winter Park but don’t expect to get an interview at either place.

Mom said that her trip with Dad was okay “but it could have been more lucrative”: business is very bad. She and Marc are going to New York on Monday to get all the stuff out of his apartment.

I’ve been living in this place for over six months now and will be here another eight weeks.

Last night I was trying to remember my apartment in Rockaway: how I used to rearrange the furniture, moving the bed from the window in winter; how I used to lie in bed on cold weekend mornings; how I would walk along the boardwalk in spring.

Although there were many hard times in Rockaway, it was there that I learned to live on my own – and to enjoy it.

Remember how scared I was of being on my own? That was only three years ago. When With Hitler in New York came out, I was still pretty much an adolescent. Maybe my writing hasn’t gotten more mature since then, but I have. I feel like an adult now.


Sunday, April 25, 1982

7 PM. Yesterday was such a terrible day, and last night I felt greatly upset. I had been alone in the apartment for too long and there was no good food in the house, and I began feeling anxious.

Now I realize that I must never allow myself to become housebound because that’s the worst thing for me; it reminds me of my old agoraphobic days.

Though I may gripe about being too busy, I am much happier when I have a full schedule. Seeing this, I wonder if being a writer is really what I want to do.

Maybe I could write full-time if I went to an office every day (or went out to a library or shopping mall), but I doubt it.

I think one of the reasons I’m happy (generally) is that I have a full- time job. I want to keep working full-time, even if it means I won’t write anymore.

I’d rather be happy than be a writer – and as I told Myra on Wednesday, my self-esteem doesn’t depend on how good a writer I am.

However, if I don’t slim down, I’m going to have a very bad self-image. I hate myself for having let myself get so fat.

My roly-poly physique repels me, as it must repel others. I suppose if others could lose 100 pounds, I can lose 30 pounds, but I always feel defeated before I start to diet.

Probably a lot of it is because I’m afraid to be thin and sexually attractive; as a chubby celibate, all the pressure is off.

Today I tried to get out a little: I had breakfast and lunch out, and I went grocery-shopping. At home, I marked ten term papers (40 to go) and lifted weights.

So at least something got done. But I feel sort of listless. I’m very homesick for New York and wish I were teaching in June and July instead of now; I could have gone to New York and even spent a week at MacDowell.

Mom and Marc are going to the city tomorrow, and I’d like to be going with them. I just feel sort of dissatisfied with myself.

Part of it is simply boredom and routine; part of it is the unusually hot and sunny weather (but today was dark and rainy again); part of it is my dissatisfaction with my body.

And the rest? I guess one thing is I realize how foolish it was for me to expect that Sean could be sexually interested in me.

It’s obvious he has a lot of experience for a 17-year-old, and what would he want with a fat old novice like me? I read what happens to the male body after 30 – all of a sudden, I feel so decrepit. And I feel weary.

Tom McHale’s suicide keeps popping up in the back of my consciousness. Did he feel he had lost his talent? I feel I’ve lost something, that my career – and my life – is over before it really began.

I see myself entering a long period of dissatisfaction and soul-searching: What do I want?

Maybe I’m not as philosophical about the coming disappearance of my new book as I like to pretend. I suppose I feel a secret anger and maybe even rage to know nothing will come of its publication.

Also, I no longer have much to look forward to.

It’s Daylight Savings Time and still light out, but for the first year, I just don’t care. I wish I could get out of this self-destructive rut, but I don’t quite know how to do it.

I’ve got to do something, that’s for sure. I feel so empty. I suppose I will find my way out of this; maybe something good will eventually come out of it. At least I do have money and health – unlike two years ago.

I think I’ll go to sleep now; I feel so tired. I wish I could be witty or profound, but all I want to do is be inert.


Monday, April 26, 1982

9 PM. With Mom and Marc in New York, I decided to spend tonight in Davie. It seems like a good change of pace.

After being alone in my apartment all weekend, I didn’t want to face more time there. This is the closest thing to a vacation I can get to right now.

I called Grandma Ethel this afternoon and she said Mom and Marc arrived safely and had gone back to Brooklyn.

Grandma said Marc looked better but that he seemed depressed. She told me she’s been depressed, too, because Grandpa Herb is so weak: “We get Meals on Wheels, which is delicious, but he won’t eat it.”

Anyway, I came here at 6 PM. Dad said he had terrible stomach and back pains today and that he’s been very tense lately.

Things have gone badly since Sasson took away his shirt line. Business isn’t completely dead, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.

When Jonny came home at 7 PM, we went out to dinner.

Jonny said he still enjoys his job, and I have to admit I’m surprised at how much he likes working in the army/navy store. He plans to continue working and to take one course in summer school.

I felt better last evening; I read S. J. Perelman and watched some TV.

This morning it was dark and rainy again and I stayed in bed until 10 AM. I stopped to get the mail, and for once it contained a pleasant surprise.

Not only did an editor at David R. Godine agree to see A Version of Life, but Kevin sent me a big package that included flyers he sent out to Florida bookstores and libraries and a review from the Orlando Sentinel Star which appeared last Sunday – ironically, when Mom and Dad were in Orlando.

It was a highly complimentary review in every respect and it compared me to Bellow. I haven’t really read it carefully yet, though; I intend to savor it before I go to sleep tonight.

Still, I feel that maybe I’ll get somewhere after all; the Sentinel Star also used my photo.

At BCC this morning, I found Sean studying biology in the lobby.

“I thought you said you weren’t coming in today,” he said.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” I replied. I gave him back his A+ term paper, “Gay Impact” and told him of his one error: “It’s pederasty, not pederastry.” He nodded, smiling.

I asked Sean why he’d taken my summer school course, and I was impressed with his honest answer: “Because I like you and the way you teach.”

I showed him the Orlando Sentinel Star review. I like sharing things with Sean, and I’m now at the point where I would be happy to be just a friend to him.

I’ve never really had a close gay friend, no one I could really talk with about gayness – someone who, unlike Vito or Elihu, wasn’t a friend from college whom I could never feel that open with.

Sean is a decent, cute, intelligent gay kid. He told me his sister-in-law typed up his paper, so I assume he’s out with his family. He seems so healthy for a 17-year-old.

I spent a couple of hours marking term papers; I still have about fifteen to grade for tomorrow.

Casey and I had a pleasant lunch. He’s probably going to work for Motorola this summer as a software writer to gain experience in teaching technical writing at BCC.


Wednesday, April 28, 1982

7 PM. The sun finally came out today, and my mood improved considerably. It’s still light out now because of Daylight Savings Time, and I feel fairly relaxed for a guy who slept only three hours and who was at school for 7½ straight hours.

Last evening Dad and Jonny drove me to pick up the car and then we met at Danny’s for dinner. We could tell that all the snowbirds had gone home because the place was empty.

Lisa Robles, my 100 student (who’ll be in my 101 class next term), was our waitress, and we had a pleasant meal. Jonny finished the term at FAU, and Dad had sold $6,000 worth of jackets to an Argentine.

(It looks as though Argentina and Britain are beginning a real war over the Falkland Islands).

When I came home, I called Elihu and we talked for about $12 – I mean, for about an hour.

Elihu seems pretty happy with things right now: his job is going well, though it’s often hectic, and he plans to stay on at his place indefinitely.

Elspeth called him while we were on the phone, and I got her address from Elihu; today I sent her a note of congratulations and some baby booties and a hat for little Aurora. Elspeth’s mother will take care of the baby while Elspeth goes back to work driving the Avenue J bus.

Nedda Anders called to ask if I would give the presentation at the next Book Group meeting, and I agreed to speak off the cuff about publishing and my experiences with it.

She told me the Fort Lauderdale News had a big story about Tom McHale, and I found a copy today. Grant Segall did a good job and left the reader with a real feel for Tom and his work.

Most people who knew him think Tom committed suicide because he was lonely and very frustrated by the bad reviews his books had gotten.

Apparently he’d lived a very erratic life when he became famous: he drank and thought he was Scott Fitzgerald.

Although Tom never wrote autobiographically, in the last book, Dear Friends, a character constantly makes suicide attempts until finally, pushed by friends, he succeeds.

I couldn’t get to sleep until 4 AM, not because I was depressed, but because my mind was racing with ideas.

Yesterday I got a letter from the Florida Endowment for the Humanities, inviting me to apply for a grant they’re giving six community college instructors to run a series of at least ten programs in regional rural libraries.

They insist on a media presentation – a film or video or slide show – with each program. I don’t know how to go about applying, but when I called Tampa, the FEH Media Specialist sounded very vague and unsure of what he wanted.

I’ll have to consult with Jean Trebbi, who recommended me for the grant, and with Susan Mernit, who’s good with libraries and arts agencies, and maybe with Ronna, an Americanist who knows where I can get films and videotapes.

Anyway, I was very tired when I arrived at school to await my students and their final papers. It was pretty boring, but I managed to get through the day nicely and didn’t come home a wreck like I did that day in December when I gave four finals.

I do hate assigning final grades and judging people by assigning them letters. I’m overly generous, a terrible fault in a teacher. I never fail anybody, which is unfair to the students; in life, people do fail.

At the end of his final, one student wrote, “P.S. – Thanks for an enjoyable semester. See you in the summer. – Sean.” Now, he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t like me – like me, I mean. Or would he?

Oh, I fantasize about Sean so much it’s awful. But just thinking about him makes me grin.

Today’s mail included a lot of goodies which required my action. An editor at Godine wants to see A Version of Life, so I wrote Saul Cohen to send it to her. An application for a job sent by Edison Community College in Fort Myers needed to be filled out. I paid my Visa bill.

Debby Mayer, who’s leaving Coda to live on the option money CBS gave her for Sisters, asked if I’d be the magazine’s regional correspondent and write an 800-word “Report from South Florida” for the September issue.

Pay is just $25, but I get my name and photo in Coda again. So I called up Darlyn Brewer, the new editor, and sounded her out about a few ideas on the local literary scene.

They’ve had reports from Oregon, Alaska, New Mexico, and Ohio already, and I’ll follow their format and give an overview of the South Florida literary climate.

Now I’ve got quite a bit to keep me busy: the Coda article, the FEH grant, rewriting the story that the Berkeley Poets Cooperative wants cut, working on my talk to the Book Group and my interview with Jean Trebbi for cable TV.

Not to mention my computer, the summer term and figuring out what to do with my South Florida stories. I neglected to file a 45-day campaign report for my Davie town council run, and Pat Cormier sent me a registered letter.

Teresa called and said that yesterday Sharon threw her a surprise 30th birthday party. She’s getting used to vegetating on unemployment, but she’s got the Fire Island and Berkshires houses booked for the summer and isn’t hurting for money.

The Abrams people may want her as press secretary for the campaign, after all; Frank gave her a swell recommendation. She seems sanguine about getting the job. Teresa also told me she’s broken up with Doug.

All of a sudden, life seems to be exciting again – like a big complex novel.


Thursday, April 29, 1982

7 PM. I feel a little queasy tonight – a combination of too much Mexican food and a bad sinus headache which kept me bedridden for three hours this afternoon.

I have 15 lit term papers to grade and 30 finals after that, and then I’ll be through with Term II 1982.

This morning I had my lit class finals and got all their papers; they were a good group.

After class, I went over with the rest of the English Department to a party to honor Dan Tarullo on his retirement. (Patrick said that Dr. T really retired a decade ago.)

Dr. Grasso gave a flowery speech and presented Dr. T with gifts from the department: a cassette box, tapes, and a certificate for golf supplies.

Earlier, Phyllis had sent me to Eckerd to buy a present for Mrs. Tarullo: a tin of Anacin because now she’ll have her husband underfoot all day.

I looked at the Plick sheet for the new term and saw that the lit course has only eight students, so it probably won’t “make.” It’s a weird thing, but I’m concerned mostly with how I can see Sean if he’s not in my class.

Kevin phoned last night. He’s fretting that Library Journal may not review Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Kevin thought the Orlando review was very condescending in its advice-giving conclusion and he resented that.

It’s odd that he takes the reviews more to heart than I do. I’ve had so much publicity that I let it remain what it is: basically irrelevant. I can’t take the review, or any reviews, personally.


Friday, April 30, 1982

7 PM. I can’t believe it. Sean just left. I had just finished dinner about an hour ago when I heard a knock on the door. It was Sean. He had the copy of the Voice I gave him for his research paper on gay power; it hadn’t occurred to me that it had my address on it.

I was nonplussed, and as I always am when I feel that way, I kept babbling on and on, telling him about my life, about college, about my friends, about my therapy.

He said he had to go over to a friend’s house for dinner – and strangely enough, I’m glad, for I feel exhausted and shaky. Here he was in my apartment, the guy I’ve been fantasizing about.

I was too abashed to touch him, or to even bring up my feelings about him. How hard it must have been for him to come here! Or maybe not. I imagine myself at 17, trying to come to the apartment of a teacher I liked. Or anyone I liked. Shit. Did he think I was an asshole?

I gave him Hitler to read, and Disjointed Fictions, and the gay issue of Beyond Baroque with my story. Oh God – will I ever see him again? His smile – with those stupid braces.

I realized, walking him out to his car, that he’s much taller than I. Why couldn’t I touch him? Why have I never been able to touch anyone? Well, I was wearing shorts and a Brooklyn College T-shirt so he got to see my body – anyway, more of it than he’d seen before.

Oh, I love him. Why did I blab so and not let him talk? I can’t write anymore now.

*

11 PM. I just watched The Boys in the Band, which, weirdly enough, just happened to be on TV. Before that, I spoke to Brad. It’s like the summer of 1969 all over again. If I could go back. . . but let’s not get maudlin, Richie.

I needed to talk to someone, and Brad seemed like the only one. I had mentioned Sean to him when we saw each other in Miami while he was visiting his grandmother.

Tonight I told Brad that I’d been talking with Sean all term and that I’d been fantasizing about him, and now, today, the last day of the term, after final grades had to be in, he shows up at my door. The poor kid came around the back first and was scared by the hostile dogs.

Brad – who had just come back from Cambridge and was trying to decide between two seminaries, both of which accepted him – basically said “mazel tov” with one cautionary note: “Don’t fall in love with him. Because at his age, it can’t last.”

“I know that,” I told Brad.

“You know it now,” he said, “and only intellectually.” But Brad said it would be worth it to risk it for once – “especially for you.”

I don’t know. I’m scared of having a relationship with Sean. If I did, I know things would change and that I’d learn a lot about myself that I never knew before.

The rest of the day seems like eons ago: sleeping late, going to school, marking papers in a funk, handing in final grades; seeing Mom and Marc, who have returned from New York; the rest of the day.

God, I was all sweaty from working out – while Sean smelled freshly bathed. He said he’d driven by before but had never seen my car before.

Brad said maybe he’s got a father hang-up; I think Sean’s father may be dead. He’s got a much older half-sister, a sister and a brother, but he says that now it’s just he and his mom in that big house in Davie.

Okay: now I’m sure that Sean likes me. I told him I give my books only to people I really like. Damn it, I wish I could express myself better and I hope he can see in my eyes how I feel about him.

Why couldn’t I reach out and touch him? Why do I always hold back?

One-third of 1982 is gone. TC mark

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