Monday, April 12, 1982
8 PM. I guess . . . interruption for a hang-up phone call. . . that I’m becoming a twaddlebrain. All I can think of these days is what a lucky person I am and what a good life I’ve had.
It scares me in a way, for I believe that I’ll have to pay soon with some terrible misfortune, one that will make me suffer beyond endurance.
Well, Emerson said that no one has truly lived who has not entered the house of pain, so in the meantime I’ll be content to count my blessings the way Mrs. Judson always did.
I slept well and felt eager to get back to work today.
Barbara called this morning to see if Teresa was still around, as she wanted to borrow Teresa’s coat (the mink one, I assume) for some fancy shindig Stewart is taking her to tonight.
Teresa must have enjoyed waking up to a grey, rainy day here in Florida and knowing she wouldn’t miss a beach day by going back to New York. She left her Melitta coffee filter here; I knew she’d forget something, and I am glad to have a little reminder of her visit, even if I don’t drink coffee.
I had two good 100 classes today as I discussed the full-length essay; the cool weather seemed to make the classes alert.
During my break, I got my mail: I didn’t get the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford and UTEP doesn’t need my services, but I don’t really care because I can’t imagine being happier in El Paso or even Palo Alto than I am here.
The new Publishers Weekly arrived, and reading it made me realize that last week’s review was overly kind and too generous. Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog is not that good a book; it is uneven and somewhat juvenile, and I know I can do much better.
I’m reading the new edition of William Zissner’s On Writing Well, purchased in Coconut Grove last week, and it’s inspiring me.
I had the 101 class write personal narratives; Sean did his on a lousy Easter spent at the Marlin Beach Hotel with “a crowd of men in Izod shirts and tight designer jeans.”
Though Sean might be interested in me, I am certain that it couldn’t be real love. Hey, but who am I to be choosy?
It’s funny, but of all the guys in that class, Sean is probably one of the least attractive to me: he’s skinny, very unmuscular and freckled. So it ain’t his body I’m interested in, not at first.
I’ve got several bright people in the class besides Sean, though; if they sounded dull in the Herald article, it was probably my fault for being a dull teacher. They have every right to resent me, though I don’t think they do.
Maureen let me sub for Jacqui in her Science Fiction class; all I had to do was watch a TV film of Dracula with them.
After I juggled some money in banks, I went home to read the papers and exercise hard for two hours. I sweated a lot but I like the smell as I write this. (Misplaced modifier?)
Candy Rudnick Mariano called me. She’s in town on Easter vacation from her job teaching math at Marine Park Junior High School.
After last year’s absurd “date,” I’m surprised she phoned – but I told her I wouldn’t mind taking her out to dinner one night. She and Doug have gotten back together and separated again since last year.
At the Sunrise library, I met my student Robert Martinez doing work on his term paper. He’s a bright kid, weird but oddly cute; he wrote a brilliant essay attacking Freudian psychology, and I think he might be gay.
Tuesday, April 13, 1982
4 PM. I’ve just been lifting weights for an hour and my hand feels a little shaky.
I’m making a determined effort to exercise and diet. I’ve got about ten weeks to go before I return to New York, and I intend to be at least five to ten pounds lighter by the start of summer.
Last night I called Grandpa Herb and was glad to hear that he goes outside to start up the car these days. Grandma Ethel was out playing cards.
I also phoned Teresa, who was watching Susie. Sharon’s surgery was successful, but she was still in the recovery room. Teresa said her flight was delayed by headwinds but she made very good time from Newark.
While she was here in Florida, Bob Abrams’ office had left many messages which Renee somehow missed and Teresa was hoping that they wanted to offer her the job as Abrams’ press secretary for his reelection campaign and that the job was still open.
I called Ronna at work to wish her a happy 29th birthday; she sounded bright and cheerful, very much like the girl I fell in love with a decade ago.
She was going to her mother’s in Canarsie for a celebration and said she felt pretty good. I’m glad we’re still in touch; she told me Cara read her the PW review of my book. Even though I know I’m a third-rate writer, it’s fun to actually be thought of as a writer.
Extreme dizziness prevented me from getting much sleep, and I didn’t get all the work done that I had wanted to, mostly because I spent two hours watching Louise Burns-Bisogno’s My Body, My Child, which wasn’t bad.
The actors, led by Vanessa Redgrave, were excellent, and what could have been maudlin became quite understated. I suspect Louise’s original play was superior to the TV adaptation, however.
This morning Sean was out in the lobby (waiting for me?). Our talks have become almost a routine, one I think we both look forward to.
He advised me to see Victor/Victoria and told me a little more about Sunday at the Marlin Beach Hotel.
Dr. Pawlowski came out to the water fountain and looked at me, as he always does, with curiosity. Who cares? I even put my contribution to the National Gay Task Force in the outgoing mailbox, next to his contribution to the Republican National Committee.
I had two very good classes today, and I do like my job, but I refuse to live in fear or lie about myself or just not be me. If BCC doesn’t want to hire me because they think I’m immoral or weird or a troublemaker, that’s their right.
I really do believe that I’m good enough, that if I’m true to myself, somebody somewhere will want to hire me. (Of course, the job may be as a writer and not as a teacher.)
Certainly I’m much more successful than Smilin’ Jack Pawlowski, who doesn’t possess a single social grace; he barely knows how to talk to people.
I don’t know if anyone at BCC notices me or dislikes me, although I suspect mediocrities like Dave Whatshisname don’t cotton to me out of misguided jealousy.
I had lunch with Patrick, who despite all his prejudices, is a very good person, a mensch. See, Dr. Pawlowski ain’t a mensch.
Sometimes I think the best way of classifying people is whether or not they’re mensches. I’m not certain whether Sean Alving is a mensch, but he’s only 17 and so that doesn’t really count.
My feelings for Sean seem to vary with the days. I wonder if it was he – or Robert Martinez – who made the hang-up call last night.
Oh, Richie, stop this mishigass. You’ve got marking to do and better things to think about.
Grandpa Herb said Mom told him she may be coming to New York soon.
Wednesday, April 14, 1982
5 PM. I barely slept last night and I have a terrible headache now. I’m short on sleep for the last couple of nights, when I’ve been very dizzy.
Yesterday afternoon, having failed to find any clamps for the boxspring, I decided to take the bed apart, put the iron rods away and sleep just on the boxspring and mattress.
I should have tried to get to bed early, but I had bought Fiction Writers’ Market 1982-83 and the revised edition of How to Get Happily Published, and I spent all evening reading the books.
Then I could not fall asleep until well after 3 AM, when I fell into a sort of semi-sleep and began having dreams that seemed like hallucinations – all about Marla and Wesley and Scott Sommer visiting me.
I had to get up at 7:30 AM, of course, and found it difficult to get through my first two classes, particularly since the air-conditioning had been shut off and I sweated profusely.
I managed to mark all the papers due back that day and I went over to my parents’ to pick up the mail (there wasn’t any); Dad had just come from the dentist, where he’d had a tooth pulled.
While I was away, Maureen took a message from a Prof. Bob Moran at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, who said he would call back at 2 PM.
I taught my noon class and got some research papers. Sean handed in a great paper on the effects of the new awareness of homosexuality, and Jamie Cohen did a knockout job on the neo-Nazi movement.
Dr. Grasso, I learned, had assumed that I was unavailable for next year; she thought my Ragdale Fellowship went beyond the summer. She now thinks she can probably use me for one of the five full-time temporary teaching assignments.
I had a great talk with Mrs. Burdick about the good old days in Brooklyn. She said how lovely the college and Prospect Park and the Heights used to be, and we lamented the changes there. She said it breaks her heart to go back to New York because it is not like the city she loved when she was young.
Prof. Moran called me back, wanting to know if I was among the zillions still interested in the job at his school, which is in a rural area 50 miles east of the Twin Cities.
I said yes. It’s a 12-credit teaching load, half creative writing, half comp. I’m certain I won’t get it, but I had a good time chatting with Moran, a loquacious, friendly gay guy.
Wisconsin might be fun, if cold – and as Sean’s paper pointed out, it’s the only state which has passed a gay civil rights bill.
Anyway, I was honest with the man and I did have fun on the phone with him.
After typing up stencils for my finals, I came home to do a bare minimum of exercises and then collapse. When I phoned Candy at her parents’, no one was home. It’s just as well. I need some sleep tonight so I can function tomorrow.
The rest of the month should be a lot of marking but not that much teaching; I’ve already run out of things to say since I’ve covered all the curriculum in 100 and 101.
But as always when I don’t sleep, I’m starting to feel better as the day goes on.
Friday, April 16, 1982
9:30 PM. One more week of classes to go, and then finals.
I enjoyed this term more than the fall. It seemed like a lot less work because of a better schedule; I’ve made friends among faculty and students; I was better prepared; and I had the fun of visits by friends.
Running for the Town Council was a good experience and of course all the publicity over the publication of the book – not to mention the book itself – also made me feel important.
Today Dr. Grasso told me that Dr. Curry’s German courses didn’t register so she’s taking away my summer session evening 101 section and giving it to him. I’ll get a 102 the same hour.
Now I feel better, for teaching lit at night will be much easier and more fun than teaching comp. My morning class, the 101, won’t be so bad because nearly half the students will come from my 100 classes this term.
So I’m delighted with the change.
There are numerous courses listed as “TBA” for the fall, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be back – and I want to be since there’s no better job on the horizon.
Today I got a letter from John Casey rejecting me for a Hoyns fellowship at the University of Virginia. This week I’ve received nothing but rejections and junk mail – not even one letter from a friend.
But of course I’ve had pretty good news in my mailbox recently. (Besides, I’ve learned that most really good news comes by phone.)
I don’t expect much to happen with Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Possibly I’ll still get reviews in Library Journal, American Book Review and Booklist – and maybe a newspaper review or two.
Sales, as I predicted in January, will be about 50 to 100 copies at most. I see Kevin becoming quite depressed and possibly deciding to fold White Ewe Press. He owes me $500, and I’ll probably have to take it in books.
I don’t know anything about what’s happening with Zephyr Press – whether they’ll survive and be able to do my book.
Oddly, from reading PW, I see an amazing number of literary books published. It’s quite surprising, considering how poorly most of them do. I can’t find the new books by Scott Summer, Clive Sinclair, or Debby Mayer in the chain bookstores.
Anyway, I had my morning 100 classes begin their essays and let them take the papers home to finish. Then I had a good session with my noon 101, and I managed to keep Phyllis’s 1 PM psychos at bay.
Two substitutions this week will bring me another $16 net pay. Yesterday the union voted to reelect its officers, to affiliate with the NEA, and to seek higher salaries and an Easter vacation.
We’ve been teaching 196 days a year because the administration told us it was state law; however, the union checked and discovered the state requires only 180 days.
Candy phoned me this afternoon, apologizing because she’d only just gotten my message. We agreed to meet during the day tomorrow; that shouldn’t be too painful.
She’s not very bright and I find her boring, but Josh says she’d definitely go to bed with me. I’m horny enough to go to bed with anybody but not quite sure enough of myself.
Ah, well – I should go see my parents this evening before they go to Orlando for the week.
11:30 PM. It’s been a horrible night.
I went over to my parents to see the new car that Mom and Marc had bought: a small grey 1977 Pontiac that drives fairly well. This will keep them from being stranded at home while Dad and Jonny are away at work and school.
Marc and I went to Kmart to find screws for his license plate; one of my star pupils from both this term and last, Randy Gobey, is assistant manager there.
Marc and I had a good time together; he seems to be looking better now.
When Dad came home, he started asking me about my “intentions” – that’s the word he always uses, and it bugs the hell out of me.
Then he got upset when I asked him questions about Grandma Sylvia’s condo, and I left, not wanting to listen to his usual hysterics.
I’ve spent very little time with my parents; I don’t know how Marc and Jonny cope with living with them.
On my way up University Drive, I got a blowout, but I was lucky enough to be in front of a Burger King parking lot. I called the AAA, who came in a very short time – before I had finished my Burger King dinner.
(Why is it that when you have car trouble, people look at you as though you had caused the problem by being neglectful?)
Anyway, the man changed the tire in no time. I stopped at the nearby Albertson’s for groceries; the cashier was another BCC student.
I must buy a new tire and I don’t trust the spare – and of course I’ll probably get another flat this week.
I spent the evening reading and exercising until I got a call at 10 PM from Nedda Anders of the Book Group.
She asked me if I’d heard about Tom McHale. No, I said, and I knew what was coming: “he’s dead.”
Nedda had needed to get in touch with him and called his sister, who told her the news. “The story is that he had a heart attack, and we’re going along with that,” she said.
I was stunned and too abashed to ask what that meant: suicide?
Nedda asked if I was a good friend of Tom’s and I said no, just a slight acquaintance, but I told her that I would talk about his work at a memorial tribute on Wednesday. Shit was all I could think of after I hung up the phone.
This Wednesday I was going to ask Tom if I could interview him for Gargoyle.
He died on March 31, but there was no obituary in the Herald, and I never heard anything about it before tonight. Nedda said that Doubleday had just found out about it this week.
I met Tom only three times in the last two months, but he seemed to be very sad and defeated and very subdued. The first time I saw him, Tom looked so unlike the handsome young author on the jacket of Farragan’s Retreat that I didn’t recognize him. I loved that book when I was 19.
That first time I saw him he was holding the Times Book Review in which Ivan Gold had slammed his new book, Dear Friends.
At the publication party for the book, I realize now, I avoided talking to him because I knew he felt that this was such a comedown for him.
Where John Leonard had once talked about “the McHale tradition” and Tom was grouped as one of the two or three novelists to watch in the early 1970s, here he was at a book party in Bay Harbor Islands, a party filled with strangers like the sales executive from NAL who whispered to me, “I don’t know what this guy’s problem is – I guess he’s too literary to make it.”
Tom McHale never had his Garp, a breakthrough novel. Dear Friends, he probably knew, would go nowhere: few sales, not many reviews and no paperback deal. Doubleday was giving him trouble on his new manuscript.
I remember feeling glad I was me, not Tom, that I knew the score and didn’t expect anything from a world where literary books are unnecessary, that if I was nowhere, I had never been anywhere and had no idea what it was like to be lionized or even taken seriously.
At the last meeting of the Book Group, I came late and Tom left early; he again had the Times Book Review in hand and said – the way you say things across crowded rooms, without talking, just moving your lips – “It’s very good, Richard” – meaning the column item about my book’s title.
I needed to talk to someone to deal with Tom’s death, so I called Gretchen and Rick in Washington.
Rick said he had just finished reading McHale’s books (“I feel like I know him”) and said he was sorry we couldn’t do the interview (“Maybe it would have helped him to know that younger people were still interested in his work.”)
Finally all Rick and I could say was “Shit.” Besides, the reception on the line was awful.
Saturday, April 17, 1982
7 PM. Last night, I dreamed of Tom McHale, and of being with Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat at night in New York – not at their Rockaway apartment, but at their old place on Snyder Avenue in Brooklyn. Grandpa Nat was running from room to room and Grandma Sylvia was winding her wristwatch on the stairs.
This morning I went over to Sunrise Lakes to pick up Candy, and we went over to my parents’ to sit by the pool. Then I took her out to lunch in the mall, we did some shopping, (she bought blouses), and then sat out by my place.
Candy is not really intelligent and she definitely has a chip on her shoulder, a very quick temper, and a scatterbrained attitude. And yet, as even Josh says (he’s not speaking to her), she can be very appealing: she’s brave and independent and tenacious.
Candy said she can’t live with Doug anymore because he’s a perfect saint: “We go on the subways and he read the Times. We go to the beach and he reads the Times. It was like being alone all the time. . . He never got angry and couldn’t understand why I did. . .”
I felt affection for Candy – and lust, too. Erections kept popping up all day (and they must have been noticeable under my running shorts).
As she was looking in the pre-teen racks at Burdine’s, I went over to her and felt protective – she’s so tiny – and unexpectedly aroused.
For the first time in I don’t know how long, I started giving off sexual signals: the silences, the getting-closer-than-normal glances.
Yet when I went back to my place with her and we hung out at the pool, it seemed obvious she didn’t want to go to bed. Or did she just want me to make the move? It’s been too long.
So after a while, I took Candy back to her parents’ and entertained them with my conversation. (Her father remembered reading about me and thinking how sharp I was.)
I would have liked to kiss Candy goodbye, but I just left.
Tomorrow morning is the Milton Littman Memorial Breakfast, and Marc and I are going to represent our parents while they’re out of town.
Sunday, April 18, 1982
6 PM. Last night I read an essay by Gail Godwin, “Becoming a Writer,” which affected the way I see myself as a writer.
When With Hitler in New York came out, I was disappointed by the lack of response it got, but now I see that being overwhelmed by early praise – as Tom McHale was – can be the worst thing in the world.
And while I’m certainly glad about the publication of the new book, it’s because of the added credibility it will give me: the Times Book Review mentions, the Herald article, the PW review and others.
While I remain convinced that much of my fiction is quite good – I reread “The Forthright Saga,” and was impressed with its texture – I know that I am far from being a mature talent, an accomplished writer.
However, I am young and can afford to wait. I’m glad I’ve written little and lived much in the last year. As I get older (post-adolescent), my writing will be much different and more complex. Maybe it will be wiser.
I see myself not achieving respectability with a decent novel for another ten years. I’m prepared to wait. Maybe another story collection or A Version of Life will appear in 1985 and 1988; it would be good to publish every three years so that I’m not forgotten.
Anyway, if all this sounds very mechanistic, of course I do expect the unexpected and I certainly intend to have all the fun I can, whatever happens (or doesn’t) with my writing.
This morning, Marc and I drove to the Marco Polo for the Milton Littman Memorial Breakfast.
Because our seats at Mavis and Irv’s table were taken by the state controller and his wife, we sat in the last tier with Jule Littman’s mother-in-law, stepson and stepdaughter and their young friends.
The guys at the table had that sharp, easy way with words that good-looking and rich Jewish-American princes have. But this can’t bother me the way it did when I was in college because now I know the world is mine and not theirs. (See Death of a Salesman.)
The M.C., former State Senator Sherman Winn, spent an hour introducing every judge and legislator and minor official in the room so that you began to feel that there were more people being introduced than not.
It was the usual mélange of boring pols. I don’t know how Teresa stands the phoniness.
For example, Senator Winn, in introducing the nun who’s about to give the benediction, says, “Sister Jacqueline is an old friend of mine.”
She whispers something. “Oh, Sister Jacqueline couldn’t be here,” says Winn. “This is Sister Marie, another old friend of many years.”
A lady judge asked Marc and me if we were the high school students getting scholarships. “No, we’re Dade County judges,” I told her. She laughed.
U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles got away with coming in, making a few remarks, and leaving before the day seemed interminably long. I guess that’s why he’s called “Walkin’ Lawton.”
The six high school winners got their $500 checks (that can’t go very far), and some Dade County Commissioner eulogized Milt by telling an anecdote of how he added eggcreams to Pumpernik’s menu. He actually said, “Whenever I drink an eggcream, I think of Milt.”
Then he asked for silence so we could all have “our thoughts and illusions [sic] of Milt.”
I was glad to get home, where I marked papers, exercised, and spoke to Grandpa Herb, Gary (still overworked), and George Myers.
George lost his patron at the paper when his boss died and is now mired in the advertising department – a humiliation for him. Although he’s been loyal to the Patriot-News, he now feels he should leave for his own self-esteem.
The problem is, he’s got the house outside Harrisburg, and it’s a beauty, so he needs a good position to give him the enticement to move elsewhere. He’s got an ad in Editor & Publisher.
But George’s personal life is super now that he’s got “a good woman” and his book on modern lit is in galleys. He enjoyed the New York Book Fair, where he stayed with Paul Zelevansky, and met Richard Kostelanetz, Pete Cherches, and a host of other small press people.