A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1982

Wednesday, December 22, 1982

11 PM. Last evening, when I called Grandpa Herb, he sounded stronger than he did the last time I spoke to him. I wished him a happy 79th birthday but did not add, “Many more.”

Grandpa Herb is 79, Grandpa Nat – whom I plan to visit next week – is about 85, Grandma Ethel is 72, and Grandma Sylvia died at 81 last year. If I’ve got the longevity of my grandparents, I could be around for another forty or fifty years, an exciting and terrifying prospect.

With my sinuses clogged all night, I slept soundly for hours, repeatedly dreaming about Broward Community College and Dr. Grasso, Dr. Pawlowski and Dr. McFarlane. It’s terrible to dream about your job when you’re on vacation.

I couldn’t rouse myself till the afternoon, and then all I did was go to the gym. That cute guy nodded to me when I came in and we exchanged a meaningful stare. I have no idea if he’s gay and I don’t really know how to find out. Still, the little mystery is kind of fun.

At 5 PM, I went over to the post office. Vito sent me a long letter, apologizing for not seeing me in New York. He said he’s not the same person he was and is subject to overwhelming depressions; one hit him “like a ton of bricks” around the time of my arrival in June.

Hm. I’m sorry Vito’s depressed, but if I had to live in Brooklyn with my mother, I’d be depressed, too.

I went over to my parents’ for dinner, and Mom practically pushed food at me. As she gets older, she gets more like a typical Jewish mother, something she never was before.

I’m glad that I don’t have to contend much with her fussing and nagging and Dad’s high-strung nervousness.

Marc has had some good days at the flea market and has more than a deep tan to show for his hours at work: today he took in $500.

It’s really beautiful here, especially at twilight and in the evenings, and I do appreciate not having to get up early during my Christmas vacation.

Alice called from work today, and she said she felt a bit depressed, as the holidays were getting to her.

She said was at the luncheon Liz Smith spoke at last week, the one where Lola met Liz and talked about their connection to me.

Alice said she had dinner with Ellen Dusenberg, Scott Sommer’s old girlfriend, who’s now dating Bill, Hilary Cosell’s high school boyfriend, whom I once met.

Ellen said she was going to mention Disjointed Fictions to Hilary at a party she was going to last week, but Alice warned her not to if she wanted to get on Hilary’s good side.

As usual, Alice complained about not being able to afford a co-op.

Her agent is having simultaneous submissions of Thin New York sent to mass market paperback publishers, and she thinks it’s a natural. Alice wants the book to be the first in a series: Thin L.A., Thin Chicago, etc. “That’s the only chance I have to make a blockbuster.”

I told her she could make money without the book being a bestseller, but Alice said she’s “greedy.” Alice can be so sweet, but sometimes I wish she weren’t so materialistic; she seems to write only for money – and only for lots of it.

Anyway, Alice told me that Peter said he’ll never want for anything once he gets his Kaypro word processor for Christmas – even though he threw a tantrum during his lesson today when the machine refused to do what he wanted it to.

This evening, Teresa called. She’s been working 12-hour days with the Cuomo transition team at the World Trade Center. Nothing is definite yet, everything’s up in the air, and Teresa feels demeaned and annoyed.

She’ll definitely have a job, but it’s not going to be on the Governor’s staff. Andrew Cuomo thinks she’s got “a big mouth” but is “a real workhorse.” (Sharon is still spreading stories.)

Teresa would like everything settled so she’d know whether or not she’ll have to move to Albany.

She’s turned down offers to be a political reporter with the Daily News; the Post has also sounded her out, but she’s not interested because she doesn’t want the hassles of journalism and isn’t that secure about her writing. She is good friends with the reporters on the Albany beat, however.

Teresa’s spent lots of her grandmother’s money and needs a high-paying job soon. She made up with Barbara and Stewart Klein in time to be at their small wedding in a French restaurant; Teresa took the photographs.

She said Deirdre is back East now, mostly visiting her parents in Philly; she’s with her boyfriend, whom Teresa hates and so she hasn’t seen much of Deirdre.

Teresa will be spending Christmas with her family, and I almost wish I were going back to Floral Park to have dinner with them this holiday as I did last year.

All in all, though, I’m glad to be in Florida this Christmas.


Thursday, December 23, 1982

8 PM. I’m enjoying my vacation as best I can – which really isn’t badly.

Last night I had a dream which made me extraordinarily happy, as dreams about babies always do. I was visiting New York and discovered that I had another brother, a curly-haired 2-year-old. Why dreams about babies make me so ecstatic, I have no idea; perhaps they symbolize hope, a new me, or something like that.

Sean hasn’t called or visited, and now I don’t expect him to, if ever, until next week – not with Christmas being celebrated over the next few days. But I think I’m handling my disappointment well.

I relaxed this morning, then went to buy a tire for Marc’s car. At the post office I picked up my mail: Christmas cards from Teresa’s parents, Joel Agee, Linda Lerner, Barbara Coleman, and Kathy George.

Also, Ithaca College is still considering me for a job and wanted my dossier. I made up a new one for AWP which includes all my letters of recommendation and two pages of good reviews for Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

I had lunch at Harvest Moon, the health food restaurant next to Bodyworks; they’re good and they deserve more business.

At 12:30 PM, I went over to Selma’s. She was all ready and she looked terrific. I got her luggage and shower seat and mink coat into the back seat, and Selma came in front.

The airport was a madhouse, but I got her a wheelchair from the Delta people. Her friend who sent her the tickets is her ex-hair stylist who’s about my age. I think fantastic people like Selma inspire other fantastic friends.

She told me she thought she’d never again see the people she left behind in Chicago, but now she’s back. I’ll bet many will be surprised to see her looking so well.

At home in Plantation, she’s got a boarder – a nebbish who’s in her son’s Jesus-worship group – and a dog: yet another stray. I kissed her goodbye and told her I’d pick her up after New Year’s.

This afternoon I worked on my dossier, as I mentioned, and also on my syllabi for next semester.

I figured out I’m probably better off just filing a short form on my taxes; I’ll get a refund of about $350 that way, and it will save me time and effort.

Working on my finances, I see that it’s not going to be easy for me to go to New York for May. I may have to change, or at least adjust, my plans.

But I do feel confident that I’ll be able to hold my own – just barely, but that’s better than some are doing these days. More and more, especially around holiday time, you can feel a Depression mentality setting in.


Friday, December 24, 1982

5 PM on Christmas Eve. I was just changing the sheets when I felt the need to write this down.

Sean left ten minutes ago. All last night, I kept thinking about him, despite my desire not to; every torch song on the mellow rock station reminded me of Sean.

A few days ago, I got a letter from Stacy which bothered me enough so that I didn’t mention it in my diary. Stacy has intuitively understood what no one else has guessed: how much I’ve been hurt by Sean.

As usual, he arrived just when I least expected him. Because of the holiday, I was certain he wasn’t coming today, so I awoke with the idea of getting things done all day.

This morning I got my mail – Christmas cards from Harvey, Mrs. Judson, Sat Darshan and Dharma Singh, and Todd and his wife; letters from Rick Peabody and Susan Mernit – and I spent time answering creative writing job openings advertised in the AWP Job List.

I went out for lunch and had just come back to write before going to the gym when there was that unmistakable knock on my door: Sean.

I’m so obsessive that at that moment all I could think about was that he made me miss my workout and the gym is closed tomorrow for Christmas. Weird!

At first I didn’t know what to say. He sat down and broke another one of my dining-table chairs.

I didn’t kiss or hug him because I felt afraid to. I noticed a pendant on a chain around his neck: his initials. He said it was a present.

“From whom?”

“My boyfriend.”

I looked at the inscription on the back: “To Sean – Love forever – Doug.”

Later, as we got into bed, Sean took off a high school ring and put it on the night table. I asked if it was his, and he said, “No, my boyfriend’s.” (It was from 1975, Glens Falls.)

Later, I asked if Doug was the Doug from Fort Lauderdale he’d occasionally mention: yes.

Why should knowing this now make feel the way I do? And how do I feel?

We were in bed for hours, and it was good to hold him and be held, but I wasn’t relaxed enough to come. It’s like we didn’t really communicate. Did we ever? Was I such a fool?

If it had been someone in Gainesville, like his roommate James, that wouldn’t have bothered me. But Doug was here all the time.

Was Doug his boyfriend all those months I thought he was mine? Today in bed, I felt at a loss. Sean was as affectionate as ever, and there’s no doubt he cares for me, but it’s not the same.

It’s also not the same as the day Shelli and I made love for the last time, the day I learned she was sleeping with Jerry – but it’s hard not to make parallels.

Or maybe I’m just posturing, as I was last night, and am secretly glad to feel something after all these years.

Sean never did lie to me, I know that. I always knew he was with other guys; he’s done absolutely nothing wrong.

I just feel foolish for thinking I was more important in his life than I actually was/am. Perhaps he and Doug got closer when I was away this summer. Does it matter?

I know I won’t see Sean again, not this vacation, and I’m not sure I’ll see him again in my life, though I want to.

I do love him – and against my will, it slipped out in bed – but I kept thinking that Sean was only seeing me because he felt sorry for a lonely, sexually retarded misfit.

When I confessed I felt that way, Sean said I was being ridiculous, and of course he didn’t have to stop by at all today.

Sean doesn’t lie, and he does care for me as a friend. We have to accept love the way it comes. There will be other times.

At one point in bed, I lifted the pendant off his chest. “Is this silver-plated?” I asked.

“It’s pewter,” he said. “Is pewter good stuff?”

I said that whenever someone gives you something with love, it’s always good stuff.

He smiled, almost beatifically. He looked so beautiful.

Christmas Eve is a fun time to feel triste.

*

Still Christmas Eve, though it’s almost midnight and Santa Claus is probably around somewhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened with Sean, and it’s too early for me to have sorted my feelings out, but here are some tries in that direction: I think what made me feel worse was having sex; in retrospect, it felt so artificial.

I don’t know if it was the classic “mercy fuck” or if Sean was doing it not to hurt my feelings or if it was just habit for both of us; probably it was all those things.

But the intimacy wasn’t there. I never minded Sean having sex with others, but now I feel that he and Doug are emotionally involved – they’re in love, which is a fine thing – and I can’t help not wanting to be second favorite. That’s how I am.

No, I’m certain Sean doesn’t talk about me to Doug – or to Jeff or Barbara or James – but the feelings of last spring aren’t there, and us forcing things only cheapens the special time Sean and I shared back then.

If we speak again, I’m going to be open with Sean and tell him that if we’re going to be friends, we’ve got to be platonic. Sean is cute and I loved hugging and holding him, but it’s Sean that attracted me, not his body.

And I’m certain he cared for me, not my paunchy body (he didn’t seem to notice my new muscles – maybe they’re all in my imagination) and certainly not my awkward sexual technique.

Sean is young, and while he doesn’t lie, he also doesn’t realize how being honest and open can help even when it hurts. We could have been much closer today if we had really talked.

If Sean’s feelings for Doug are a big part of his life and he feels he can’t talk about them with me, how close can we be?

Sure, I’m hurt but not so much that I’m desperate to settle for anything. There’ll be other times, other lovers, I’ll always bless Sean for this summer, but that’s over now. It had to be, Gainesville or not, Doug or not.

I went over to my parents’ for dinner and had an okay time. Diane Banks called from Boca, where she and her kids are staying at her aunt’s condo. I’ll call her on Sunday.

This year I’d like to sleep through Christmas; I wish I were in some snowy Northern town. Hey, I’ll be okay. I won’t do anything self-destructive.

Too bad I can’t work out on the holiday; that means a four-day layoff just when I was making good progress. Oh well, maybe it will do me some good – just as absence from Sean will do me as much good as being with him did.


Saturday, December 25, 1982

8 PM. Doing fine. With all the people in the world who have real problems like hunger, illness and poverty, my “problems” seem pretty small. I’m a very lucky guy and I have to bounce back from this sooner or later.

I spent Christmas at the beach, by myself, enjoying the sun (I know it’s bad for my skin, but getting a little color helps me psychologically) and the cool breezes. No wonder people come to South Florida this time of year!

While lying on Fort Lauderdale  beach, I read all of the galley proofs of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and came away half-pleased. The book is sketchy, too cute and too fey, but a couple of the stories (“Harrison’s Cold,” “Y/Me”) are gems.

The style’s a bit flat but my view of life definitely comes across. (Do I really think so much about death? Boring.)

Still, it’s not like Kevin’s Snow World, which I picked up last night and found unreadable. I don’t know much about science fiction, but the writing here seems clichéd and stilted, and I’m not at all interested in the plot.

Back home from the beach at 4 PM, I showered, did some stomach exercises, and did my laundry.

I already feel I’ve accepted the end of my relationship with Sean. It was great while it lasted, though.


Sunday, December 26, 1982

7 PM. I just switched off the news. The worldwide recession was the subject of many stories, of course, and I wonder how Americans will react to nightly pictures of the indigent, the unemployed, and the homeless.

The TV coverage of Vietnam helped make that war unpopular; we will see what TV coverage will do to public reaction to this problem.

During the Great Depression, there wasn’t TV, so poor people didn’t have affluence and conspicuous consumption staring them in the face all the time. If I were an out-of-work steelworker in Pittsburgh, I’d feel rage at commercials for video games and home computers.

In her letter, Susan Mernit said she’s taken on another class at Empire State College and noted that teachers are being laid off at NYU, CCNY and Hunter as well as Brooklyn.

“Whatever anyone says,” Susan closed her letter, “we’re in a serious depression.”

Josh told me he gave a Brooklyn Heights bum a meal from Mr. Souvlaki on Montague Street: “It made me feel good even if he kept raving about his pancreas.”

When Wade called today from Ellen’s grandfather’s condo in Hallandale, he said he had only three interviews at the MLA in Los Angeles. All are with top schools – Berkeley, Chicago and Yale – but he’s had many rejections and sweated out this month; a week ago he had no interviews at all.

“This year there are so few jobs,” Wade said, “that people are getting only a couple of interviews and are deciding not to go to the conference at all.” That’s what Dr. Briscoe at Pitt told me, too.

With all this, I feel very scared about giving up my life of relative luxury, one afforded me by my job at BCC. Still, I’ve been feeling so relaxed and creative these last few days that I know I don’t want to return.

In response to my despair about being nothing but a community college English teacher, Susan said, “Richard, you’ll never be just another community college teacher. You couldn’t be even if you tried.”

Well, I suppose it’s a sign of something that this is what I’m writing about instead of my anguish over Sean. But, truthfully, there’s little anguish: I had the best weekend I’ve had since South Carolina.

This morning I had a vigorous workout which left me feeling energetic; I read the papers and listened to music; I sat out by the pool, deepening my tan; I spoke to some friends; and I felt pretty darned good.

When I called Josh yesterday, he wasn’t that good. He’d had a long talk with his father, a talk that left him crying so hard on the way home that he had to get off the Prospect Expressway.

Josh’s father is a very complex man who lives by very hard-to-live-up-to standards; he feels all three of his kids, including Josh’s dead sister, turned out badly, but he doesn’t think he contributed to their problems.

Josh described his home life as a horror, with constant warfare between parents who hated one another but stayed together because “people don’t get divorced.”

Even yesterday Josh’s father told him that if he married a Gentile, Josh would be “disgracing” his parents. No wonder Josh sees through hypocrisy and can’t stand the bullshit most of us politely put up with.

We talked for a long time, with Josh warning me, “Don’t put this in a story.”

Josh feels he’s not normal, that he can’t have a lasting relationship with a woman: “The last one I saw two weeks, and at the end she told me I was some kind of a monster.”

On the positive side, he’s decided to revive – in cheaper format – his literary magazine, providing Artie comes through with money from his new job.

A call from Justin was a pleasant surprise. He said that Karen decided she didn’t have the resources to produce Bindings, so the play is being circulated to some theater groups.

Gillian Armstrong disliked Justin’s screenplay of Bliss, but Clive and Davina are sticking with him; someone is helping Justin make it less theatrical and more cinematic.

And he may be doing a children’s book. He’s got an agent who avoids him – of course – but Justin is still optimistic about getting it published.


Monday, December 27, 1982

10 PM. I’m having a hell of a good time. One of the joys of this vacation is doing things I never have a chance to do, like go to the beach. Or write.

Last night I actually wrote a 5-page op-ed type piece about my love/hate relationship with the Big Apple. The piece probably isn’t publishable, but that’s not the point. I’m writing again.

I wrote this just as I used to write my old stories: it came out while I had nothing else to do. Of course, I didn’t have to worry about school. So this confirms my belief that I’d write a lot more if I were away from BCC.

(I got a letter from Lola Szladits supporting my decision: “I am certain you are right in saying goodbye to stupid students. I am also quite certain you are going to be a huge success as a writer.”)

However, I must admit that marking freshman papers has honed my editing skills. Where once I was fast and sloppy, now I enjoy really going at a page with a blue pencil. That can be a special kind of joy equal to the very different joy that a rush of creativity brings.

I slept well and woke up with the body aches that yesterday’s workout caused. That charley horse feeling means muscles are growing, and I’m beginning to feel better about my body. And about my sexuality.

No, I’ll never be promiscuous – in the gay world that can kill you, what with AIDS and all – but I think I may end up as more than a sexual anorectic.

It was a gorgeous day, and I spent it with brother Marc, who’d expressed a desire to see what Coconut Grove was like.

After picking up the mail (the Lola letter; Christmas cards from Susan and Spencer, June and Cliff, and Gary; telephone and electric bills, both reasonable), I went to pick up Marc.

He was pleasantly surprised to learn he’d gotten A’s in both his classes last term, an auspicious beginning and proof that Marc is pretty bright. I’ve always felt a bit guilty that he decided he couldn’t compete with me in school, so he didn’t try. Jonathan may be very smart, but Marc is the better writer and the better student.

On the ride to Miami, Marc told me he thinks Jonathan is still very phobic and neurotic/compulsive but has managed to find a routine of home/work/school in which he’s comfortable.

“But the real world has surprises,” Marc said, “and Jonathan will have a hard time adjusting to them.” He’s right, of course.

Marc also thinks Jonathan’s strange eating (or non-eating) habits are a way of showing he can control his body by staying so thin. Jonathan is now down to 100 pounds and Marc sees that he’s quite unenergetic these days.

Marc and I walked around the Grove – it was a gorgeous, warm, breezy day – and had lunch at CocoPlum. We talked about Time naming the computer as “the machine of the year” instead of naming a human of the year for 1982.

At Dadeland North Plaza, we went into the Video Cassette Club, where I looked around for a videotape to get with my free membership from the radio quiz I won.

I was startled at the huge number of films; I had expected only a few popular movies, but there were hundreds of titles. I finally selected Robert Downey’s Putney Swope, a film I loved when I first saw it in 1969. It has zany humor and would never be seen on commercial TV or pay cable.

Marc and I drove to Miami Beach and got home via A1A; it was like being a tourist in Florida.

We watched Putney Swope on Jonathan’s video – what would I call it? – just TV? (I guess that machines are taking over.)

Tonight I read the Times, the Voice, and some magazines and called Jonathan to talk about films.


Thursday, December 30, 1982

5 PM. On Tuesday night, civil disturbances broke out in the black Overtown section of Miami. The same old story: police shot and killed a black teenager in a video arcade, allegedly with no provocation.

Miami has been the subject of a number of unflattering lead stories on the national news lately. It’s just more bad publicity on the eve of the Orange Bowl.

I called Dad yesterday and told him not to go downtown today; he was ill in bed with a stomach virus and fever anyway.

I think violence is horrible, especially when it’s directed at innocent whites just driving through a neighborhood, but the blacks’ frustration is certainly understandable.

Both the impacts of Reaganism and the climate here in South Florida (and by “climate,” I don’t mean our 80° weather) are extremely racist.

I hear racist remarks all the time, things that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It’s disgusting; this administration has changed LBJ’s War on Poverty into a War on Poor People themselves.

I watched TV until 1 AM, but I got up at 5 AM to see the last total lunar eclipse visible in North America until 1989.

Like the solar eclipse in late June, this was not as beautiful as it was cracked up to be. Still, it was fun being outside so early. I finally got to meet my delivery lady who handed me today’s Herald. Then I returned to bed and slept deeply until noon or so.

This afternoon I got a call from a woman who said she got my press release. She asked if I’d asked Arby’s for permission to do the book.

“Nope,” I said, “because I say only good things about them.”

Well, this woman was advertising/marketing director of Arby’s; I told her I’d be happy to send her a copy.

At the post office, I had no mail of interest, but the clerk spotted me as I was opening my p.o. box and asked me if I had written a book. Someone had written the postmaster trying to get a hold of me; he gave me the letter, and it was a woman who’d heard me on Neil Rogers.

Then, when I opened today’s Fort Lauderdale News, I found my press release used almost verbatim in a little article on the first page of their lifestyle section. I guess there’s life in the old book yet.

Sean called at 1 PM. “Howdy-doody,” he said. We talked and it was all very pleasant.

Sean got his grades – three A’s and two B’s – and also got his classes for next term.

Pulling things out of him, I learned that he may transfer to the University of South Florida next year because Doug wants them to live together and he can get himself (he’s a probation officer) transferred to Tampa but not Gainesville. “There are not enough criminals in Gainesville,” Sean said.

I told Sean, “Now that it’s over . . . [we both laughed] . . . let me tell you: I wish I knew more about you.” But I kept the tone friendly and even funny as I told Sean that he should assert himself more, get angry when appropriate.

“I’m beige,” he said – and I guess he was never Mr. Personality. . . just the sweetest boy in the world.

Anyway, I didn’t want to bug Sean with my problems – there’s no point now – and I want him to remember me fondly, not as some scold or crybaby.

Hey, we mensches can be good sports. “You made a good year even better,” I told Sean. “It’s been terrific knowing you.”

“It’s been terrific knowing you, too,” Sean said. “I still know you. . .”

Sean is only 18, after all, and I can’t expect him to feel things as I do. Yeah, I’m sad, but it’s an awfully sweet kind of sadness. I don’t think I’ve heard – or even seen – the last of Sean Alving, though. TC mark

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