Wednesday, March 16, 1983
8 PM. I lay in bed for several hours, feeling sick and sorry for myself. My head cleared up a bit when the thunderstorm finally hit. There’s a real downpour going on now.
I began thinking, as I usually do when I feel depressed, about Grandpa Herb and about Sean. I loved them both, and now I’ve lost them. Sean is still alive, God bless him, but he seems nearly as unreachable as Grandpa.
In fact, I feel I can get closer to Grandpa Herb, talk to him, or even have him read my thoughts now that he’s dead.
I looked over all the letters Sean wrote me last summer, those “c/o Sarrett” in Rockaway, and those to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, as well as the letters he wrote since moving to Gainesville.
The letters are childish, simple, loving and innocent. I hope it works out for him and Doug in Tampa; I really do.
If I could believe Sean was doing exactly what he wants to do, I would have no misgivings. Maybe I’d have regrets, but at least I’d feel sure that Sean has his eyes open. I know Sean would never confide in me now, so I hope he finds some other friend – perhaps his roommate James – to talk about any doubts he has about leaving Gainesville for Tampa.
Doug’s behavior regarding Sean reminds me a little of how Jerry behaved a dozen years ago; he was so anxious to possess Shelli. Well, he needed her desperately: his mother had just died, and he had no job and no future and was unsure of his sexuality.
You know, I almost believe I enjoy thinking about my losses because it gives me the illusion that I’ve made contact with people. Oh, Grandpa, what a silly game Life is!
Anyway, I mustered up enough energy to mark all but five of the thirty papers I had to get to, and I also packed a suitcase full of clothing.
In two nights I’ll be in the familiar green-walled living room of Grandma Ethel’s co-op in Rockaway. It’s hard to believe.
I called Mikey, who had just gone to Acapulco with Amy for the week. He sounded good because he was still on vacation, but the workload, the pressures, and the long hours at Legal Aid seem to be getting to him. I hope he and Amy can make the bookstore party.
I didn’t send an invitation to Gary, though perhaps I should have; it will seem as if I’m definitely ending our friendship.
Now it appears Dad may be in New York then after all, though I’m not yet certain what his plans are.
Well, I’ve done most of most of my clothes packing. Tomorrow I have to work out (yesterday’s workout left me with slight aches in the chest – from the dips – and in my neck) and do a wash.
I’ve got all my drugs and bathroom supplies for the trip; I’ve taken cash out of the ATM at the bank; I’ve left instructions for my substitutes at BCC. My mail will collect at the post office, and I’ll have Marc pick up my paycheck next Wednesday. Oh, and I have to get my pants from the cleaners tomorrow.
Right now? I can relax, get ready to watch Dynasty, and then try to get a decent night’s sleep. Friday will be the hectic day: after getting up early, going to school and then to the airport, I should be too exhausted to do much of anything on Friday night.
Isaac Bashevis Singer said the other day that airplane flight isn’t really traveling but transcending space and time. I always feel it’s magical. I know the Delta terminal at Kennedy so well by now.
I wonder how New York has changed. I guess it’s too early for any spring flowers to be in bloom. Maybe I’ll be lucky and I won’t get sick on the trip. At least I won’t have to think about Broward Community College.
Last week in Fort Pierce was just a single night and day; I haven’t had a real trip since the writers’ conference in South Carolina last November.
Thursday, March 17, 1983
4 PM. Twenty-four hours from now, I’ll be on a plane heading for New York. My hands and feet feel cold, and my stomach is queasy. I’m scared of what’s ahead of me in New York, scared that my trip will be a disaster.
It really would be so much easier to stay here and gripe about being a lowly community college teacher. Success is a hundred times more frightening than failure.
You know the reason I’ve never made it? Fear. I tak piddling steps toward achievement, recognition, success – and then I always pull back. More than a fear of failure, what is keeping me from writing a great – or even a good – novel is fear of success.
If I became really successful, my life would have to change drastically, and I’ve never felt ready for that. I’ve always managed to bollix things up, to trip myself up. Obviously I’ve also got a very strong desire to be successful, to stand out, or I’d have never gotten this far.
Funny: All of a sudden, I feel like a hick, scared of the big city. But I know New York as well as most people, and it’s not as cold or hard as people like Patrick think.
Patrick and his ilk hate New York because they feel inadequate by comparison and also feel oppressed by the city’s long reach.
Lisa was appalled that neither Patrick nor Mick, Casey nor Mimi, Bob nor Dave, knew who Delmore Schwartz was. “I don’t belong in a place like this with these people,” Lisa said.
And I certainly don’t.
I skipped the meeting with Senator Gordon. “It’s your future he’s talking about,” Fred Curry wrote on the leaflets announcing the meeting. No, it isn’t my future at all.
Teresa phoned last night from Suzanne’s, where she’s babysitting for Suzanne’s kids, now 14 and 15. Incredibly, I remember taking care of them one day at Brooklyn College, when Teresa was upset by Costas leaving her for Joy. The kids were 4 and 5 then, and yes, it was a decade ago
It’s funny because Teresa mentioned that Costas is chasing her again – but she said he’s burned out on coke and looking awful.
Teresa stayed out of work all week to play with Jan, who was in town with her baby. At work, she still hasn’t met her boss, the new state transportation commissioner, but she knows he’s a good friend of Frank’s.
She’s excited about the Inner Circle show on Saturday night, and she invited me as her guest, but it’s black tie and I’m not really up to it.
This morning I worked out – my thighs already hurt – and then I came back here to do my errands and cancerize my skin by the pool once the sun came out.
Well, I’m gonna get out to eat and then teach my class.
11 PM. I had a nice dinner and a so-so class. Now all I want to do is sleep.
Saturday, March 19, 1983
8 AM in Rockaway. I just had some cereal (Grandpa Herb’s left-over Grape Nuts Flakes) and juice and am back in the couch-bed again. It’s chilly and the wind is howling fiercely, but the sound of the ocean pacifies me a bit.
Yesterday was a hectic day, but I got through it. After I finished packing, I took all my luggage (actually, just one suitcase and an overnight bag) to school. My classes went okay – I went over capitalization with them – and everyone wished me a good trip as I left.
After I had lunch at Danny’s in the mall, Dad drove me to the airport; he’s flying up here tomorrow. Dad is very depressed about his financial state and says they’ll definitely have to give up the house.
On the way to school that morning, I had seen him running, just as I had seen Marc running the evening before. It’s weird to see them out of context, the way a stranger would.
Marc is heavy-footed and lost in a world of music as his Walkman blares in his ears; Dad is more purposeful, carrying a small washrag in one hand to wipe his face.
The flight was delayed. I saw the pilot greeting his family, and he told me we’d be taking off half an hour late due to traffic problems in New York.
I sat next to a nervous elderly woman, and I myself had a pretty nervous takeoff, at around 2:35 PM. The flight was pretty smooth until we started approaching New York; then it began to be clear that we were circling the area.
The pilot got on and said there was a lot of traffic in New York due to a bad rainstorm. We circled and circled and circled. We must have been up there 45 minutes, making it over a three-hour flight. It was nerve-wracking because it seemed we’d never land.
When we finally started to descend, it was bumpy due to gale-force winds, and we didn’t use the regular runway, the one that goes over Rockaway, so there must have been trouble.
Arlyne and Marty were waiting for me at the airport, and after the usual luggage delay, we got into their car and went to Marty’s office in Oceanside.
It was dark and windy and rainy, and I was disoriented. When I drove to Marty’s house, I had lots of trouble because the car seemed strange: the dashboard doesn’t light up at night and I couldn’t find the windshield wiper, the defogger, the emergency brake.
The ride to Rockaway was also pretty nerve-wracking, especially when the car’s hood suddenly opened up on some street in the Five Towns. By Florida standards, the streets seemed so small; I felt as if I were in some toy village.
The streets on the Rockaway peninsula were extremely flooded, and with the rains and heavy winds, I felt as if I were driving during a hurricane.
Finally I got here. Marty had rented a parking space in the back for me for the week.
When I went up to see Grandma, she looked very much like the last time I’d seen her: thin, tired, and old. Of course she started crying right away, but as I had dinner, she recounted the details of how Grandpa died.
On Thursday night, four weeks ago, he was ice-cold. On Friday he didn’t get up for breakfast as usual, and when Minnie and Irv came over, they convinced him to go to the hospital.
He was still joking with the ambulance attendants, opening and closing his hands to indicate how old he was when they asked. In the hospital he complained about not having a phone.
When Grandma arrived the next day, he was not in his room but in Intensive Care, and there were tubes all over his chest; he was only half-conscious, and he kept trying to take off his covers.
And of course he died that night.
Grandma left out dozens of sympathy cards for me to read; many were donations to the Jewish Center or to Hadassah, and some were from Catholics who had Masses said for Grandpa at St. Camillus.
Later, Grandma put the cards away, and when her neighbors called, asking her to a card game on Tuesday, she agreed to play since her mourning period will be over. It was good to hear her laugh on the phone.
She’ll be happier playing cards than she would be if she came to my party. Actually, she seems to be doing all right, even if she’s extremely lonely.
I had expected the apartment to seem strange without Grandpa, but I guess I was prepared for it, for everything seems natural.
I know Grandma is grateful he didn’t die at home; she said she couldn’t go back to sleeping in their bed if he had died in it.
We watched some TV together, but I was too tired to stay awake – or even write in my diary – so we both went to bed.
As usual after a flight, I couldn’t sleep because I kept feeling the motion and seeing the earth at an angle; I hate that and try not to look as we land (or take off) because it disorients me so.
Around 2 AM or 3 AM, I finally fell asleep and did okay. The trip here was kind of rough, and I wonder if the rest of my stay in New York City will be that difficult.
11 PM. I’ve just watched Still the Beaver, a movie updating the old Leave It to Beaver TV series, the one baby boomers like me grew up with and identified with.
Beaver is now 33, divorced, and back in his widowed mother’s house, so I can still identify: I’m 32 (almost), and here I am, back in my widowed grandmother’s house, sleeping on the same sofa bed I slept on when I used to stay over 25 years ago. Weird.
Stupidly, I kept my flashers on all night – I guess I was really rattled – and this morning, the car wouldn’t start. Luckily, a neighbor helped us jump-start it.
They also placed a “do not park” sticker on my window because my guest pass was on the wrong side. Once again, luckily, the sticker came right off because of the rain.
I took Grandma shopping at Waldbaum’s, but the strain was a little too much for her, and she got angina pains.
It really is depressing to see Rockaway again. I drove by my old building and looked at the houses I spent time in: Ivan’s family’s place in Neponsit, Mason’s family’s house, and Mikey’s mother’s two apartments on Beach 128th Street. All of those people are gone now.
Going across the bridge and driving the length of Flatbush Avenue, I felt depressed by the ugliness, the grime, and the disrepair. I guess I’m looking for a Brooklyn and Rockaway that’s gone.
I found Brooklyn College open – they have weekend classes now – and walked into an empty LaGuardia Hall. Gone are the revolving doors and all other pieces of furniture from the lobby.
The campus is well-kept. I picked up a copy of Kingsman, which had a BC history foldout, including articles on the “protest” years of the late ’60s and early ’70s: my own undergrad time there.
At the Avenue T pizzeria, I found that the brother and sister who ran it for their parents are still there. They were younger than I was, but now they look so old and fat and tired.
I drove into the Village and found my book the subject of a window display at B. Dalton on the Sixth Avenue side. Inside the store, I got the novelization of Square Pegs autographed for Sean by two of the show’s teen stars, Amy Linker and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Then I bought a copy of I Brake, which looks beautiful. Ed did a fine job with the book.
While I was in Manhattan, the sun shone like it was summer, and young, vital, hip people walked the streets. I got a coffee cone at Häagen-Dazs and walked through Washington Square Park, where I watched some black teenagers break-dancing. I felt very much at home.
Back in Brooklyn and Rockaway, though, it turned cloudy and the atmosphere seemed raw. I could be happy in New York if I didn’t have to go to Brooklyn or Queens, if all I saw was the glittery Manhattan.
None of my friends were home this afternoon, but in Rockaway, I called Pete Cherches and Elihu, both of whom are coming to the party. And I told Alice and Josh I’d try to see them tomorrow. For now, it’s bed.
Sunday, March 20, 1983
11:30 PM. Grandma Ethel just went to bed, and I’m alone in the living room in Rockaway on the Castro convertible.
Early this morning I drove into Manhattan. It felt strange driving over the Marine Parkway Bridge, going up the length of familiar Flatbush Avenue, then switching over to take the Brooklyn Bridge into the city.
I drove into the Village and parked near Alice’s building on Waverly Place just east of Sixth Avenue. Alice looked well, and we spent several hours together catching up, partly at her apartment, partly at a new Italian café that recently opened up on Macdougal Street.
Alice said that although her job at Weight Watchers is frustrating, she enjoys parts of it, including the many perks of being an editor-in-chief.
Her latest book project was canceled, although she can keep the advance. She’s applying for some new jobs in magazine publishing, including one at TV Guide, and everything else in her life is fine.
She’s very excited about my party, of course, and she said Andreas will bring a camera to take photos of the bookstore window with all my books displayed in it.
I dropped Alice off at her office in midtown – we sailed through the light Sunday traffic – and I went over to the Upper West Side to surprise Teresa. She was just about to go out to meet her friend Jessica for lunch, so I tagged along with them to Panarelle on Columbus.
Teresa crashed the Inner Circle post-show dinner last night and had a great time; she’s glad she’s got no affiliation but that everyone knows her as a Cuomo person.
At the Inner Circle, Teresa pretended to be happy with her job, and Andrew Cuomo promised her a change within the year.
She “put out a contract” on Sharon, who’s now Deputy Housing Commissioner, and she turned down several jobs and insulted some Abrams people and told Matilda Cuomo she approved of her gown after Mrs. Cuomo’s first words to Teresa were, “How is how is my outfit?”
Teresa figures she’ll spend five years in politics and then move into a high-paying job in private industry.
We walked back to her apartment, where Ed had left a message for me on her machine. Ed got into town today and we agreed to meet for a late dinner tomorrow at 8 PM. He’s staying on 14th and Avenue A.
I told Ed I’d bought the book at B. Dalton yesterday and he said he hadn’t gotten his copies yet. Naturally, I told Ed the book looked great due to his design, which it does.
Back in Brooklyn, I went over to the Heights to see Josh; as with Alice and Teresa, it seemed impossible that I hadn’t seen Josh in nearly nine months.
When we went to the Cadman Diner for something to eat, Josh told me about his job, his unsociable social life, and the novel he’s working on. Josh said that Todd and Prof. Goodman are probably going to come to the party.
We walked down Henry to Atlantic, up Hicks, the length of the Promenade, to the old Fulton Street ferry landing, by the river, all while talking about everything under the sun.
After spending a couple of hours at Josh’s, I moved on to Park Slope, where I visited Justin and Ari, who look much the same as ever.
Justin’s screenplay for Bliss won’t get produced; although Davina Belling and Clive Parsons loved his script, they had problems with the whole project and dropped their option on the Peter Carey novel.
Ari and I reminisced about the days when we first met, when he was Lance’s roommate living next door to Teresa. It seems like such a long time ago.
Later, when we were alone, Justin told me about his job frustrations and also the progress he’s making in therapy.
Justin’s trying to “go straight,” which sounds futile and pointless to me, but nevertheless I was touched when he kissed me goodbye.
I came back home at 8:30 PM and sat with Grandma Ethel, watching a TV movie until 11 PM, just about forty minutes ago. We were interrupted by calls from Ed and Dad.
Ed had seen the window at B. Dalton and thought it was terrific; he told me to make sure someone brings a camera on Tuesday night. He liked the book but realized that since it was shrink-wrapped, he should have put the price on the outside, not on the French flap. Oh well . . .
Dad sounded good after a surprisingly successful day at the menswear show at the Coliseum. Paul Guez’s man assured Dad his job with Sasson is secure if Greg, as expected, takes back the men’s jeans line from Claude Clement. And Dad will be getting the new lines of underwear, socks and maybe sneakers.
It’s almost midnight now, and spring is beginning. I feel nervous but elated, scared but happy, anxious but excited. I don’t have anything scheduled until tomorrow evening, and I plan to spend most of the afternoon here in Rockaway.
Monday, March 21, 1983
1 PM. Grandma Ethel and I both slept until noon. (She took a sleeping pill.)
The winds are howling, and rain is coming down in buckets. It’s a terrible day, and I have to go into Manhattan tonight. I’ll probably stay over in the city, either at Teresa’s or with Dad at the Sheraton. When Miriam called, I made up to meet her for lunch on Tuesday.
I don’t know if I’m getting ill or if I just needed that much sleep. I think I’ll leave the diary in Rockaway; I’ll probably be back here on Tuesday afternoon and then return to Manhattan for the party on Tuesday night.
I hope the weather clears up by tomorrow. My luck and we’ll get a blizzard.
Tuesday, March 22, 1983
3 PM. It rained buckets yesterday; a typhoon warning came over the TV, though it turned out to be a hoax that fooled the local stations.
I left Rockaway at 5 PM, drove to Brooklyn, parked the car by the college and took the train from the Junction into Manhattan.
After wandering around the Union Square area, I took the Madison Avenue bus uptown for a ride and then went downtown on the train. Ed and I met his friends Marty (a woman) and David at a health food restaurant in the Village.
Then we went to see the manager, Jack Barney, at B. Dalton. Everything seems to have worked out okay: so far, so good for tonight’s party.
After taking the D train uptown, I crashed in Dad’s hotel room.
This morning I met Miriam for breakfast at the Greek diner on West 8th Street. She looks well and has been traveling a lot; now she’s staying with her parents in Englewood and will go back to California tomorrow morning. We had a nice long chat.
I got back to Rockaway a couple of hours ago. Right now I feel pretty nervous about tonight’s reading.
But the trip to New York has done me good. Broward Community College is out of my mind (it’s also out of its mind, but that’s another story), and I’ve felt quite at home in the Big Apple; even subway riding seems very natural to me. I hardly feel that I’ve been away in Florida for so long.
Midnight. I had a terrific publication party. The guy who ran the “bar” (wine and apple cider) said that only James Michener had a better party at this B. Dalton store.
I felt, as Ronna suggested, like a bar mitzvah boy, surrounded by people I care about: Alice, Teresa, Ronna, Josh, Mikey and Amy, Larry, Wes, Mark and Consuelo, Stacy and her girlfriend Carole, Pete, Justin, Susan and Spencer, Mrs. Judson and Wayne, Elihu, and so on.
The VCCA crowd aside from Susan was well-represented by Sybil, Steve Policoff, Carol Trice and a few others. From MacDowell, Dan Meltzer showed up, as did Rochelle Ratner. June and Carl were there. Ronna brought Lori and Dina; Josh’s friends Fat Ronnie and Artie came; so did Elaine Taibi, and Stanley and Bill Breitbart from Brooklyn College.
Bobby Frauenglas was there, and Steve, the gay guy in Park Slope who’d just ordered my book, and Ken Gangemi and Miriam’s in-laws, some of whom know Alice because Robert’s sister is Andreas’s new girlfriend.
Todd showed up, too, and Prof. Goodman. I’m sure I must be leaving some people out.
And of course there was dear old Dad, who looked tired from his day at the menswear show but was still the last one to leave; he kvelled tonight.
When I got back to Rockaway, Grandma Ethel said that Dad had called her and said it was a beautiful evening. He was right. For once, everything went perfectly.
I had a tense drive up to Manhattan and had to use Alice’s bathroom immediately. We chatted for a while and Alice calmed me down. Then we went around the corner, in front of the bookstore on Sixth Avenue, where Andreas took photos of me, the window, and me and the window.
Andreas was popping shots all evening; I can’t wait to see how the photos turn out, for this is one evening I want to relive.
Ed had set things up, and of course the bookstore people helped a lot. After Dad and Alice and Andreas and I got upstairs, we found Bobby, who said he’d submitted my name on a state grant application, as he’d like me to do a Brooklyn book with Sunrise Press.
Teresa arrived next, and then people kept coming, one after another, or in groups. It was like This Is Your Life. It bothered me that I had to merely wave to some people because there were so many others surrounding me.
Several friends said I looked glassy-eyed, but it was due to my trying to go from person to person and keep up an intelligent conversation. I’ve always felt that the best people were the ones who can make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world as they’re talking to you; unfortunately, I don’t have a talent for that.
I wanted to spend so much more time with Ronna, Teresa, Mark and Consuelo, Elihu, Mrs. Judson, Stacy – I hope nobody got offended because I gave them short shrift.
These people are my friends, the people who stuck by me always, for years and years, and I love them. I’m no better than how my friends feel about me.
Richard Kostelanetz introduced me by talking about the weight of my sentences and my “desire to be a master,” and he called me the most important writer of my generation or some such nonsense. God.
I tried to get through reading “The Autobiography of William Henry Harrison’s Cold,” which seemed to work, and then people pressed me to read further, so I went with “Y/Me.” That worked, too.
Then I talked – and people talked – and finally I autographed lots of books, so many that they had to take some copies out of the window display. Ed estimated that they sold thirty-five to forty copies of the book tonight, a very good record indeed.
I met Cheri Fein, Miriam’s friend, whom I’d of course heard of; while autographing books, I chatted with just about everyone from behind the desk as Justin, bless him, got me a drink. It’s funny, but I felt I knew had to act because I’d seen the author-at-bookstore scene in so many movies and TV shows.
I tried to be me, and I hope I succeeded. These people, by and large, were not a literary crowd; they’re people who would never let me get too big for my britches.
Of course it was a wonderful egotrip, the whole marvelous evening, and I feel as if I’m flying now – but I’ve got to remember that in the scheme of things, in the universe, this doesn’t really amount to much.
Still, it’s my life and it’s been a big night. I guess I brought together a lot of old acquaintances from Brooklyn College and friends from VCCA. Mikey joked that BC people don’t need a formal reunion when they’ve got me as a clearinghouse.
Ronna’s surgery went well, she said, and we hugged tightly. I’ll always love her. It was so good to see Stacy, too, and Wes, and just everyone. The party lasted until 10 PM or so. I hugged Miriam goodbye, and Susan, and others.
Bill Breitbart arrived late because of a hospital emergency, but he said that on the way over he’d heard about my Meryl Streep for Veep political action committee on the news on the car radio. Weird.
The bookstore people seemed very pleased, and Ed was beaming. He told me he thought the event was a complete success. It certainly now seems worth twice the money I spent to come here.
Now I can go back to Florida with a whole new perspective. I can come back to New York if I want, and I know that I can make it. Like Ol’ Blue Eyes sings. . .
I dropped Ed off at his friend’s East Village apartment and we said we’d keep in touch; he’s taking the 2:20 AM train back to Boston.
After we said goodbye, in a wind-chill factor of only 1°, with snow flurries falling, I drove over the Manhattan Bridge and all the way down Flatbush Avenue from beginning to end as if I were floating along the main street of heaven.
It will take me a while to come down. Well – the climax of my trip is over. It definitely was a raging success. I feel no hostility to New York anymore, perhaps because I now feel I’ve conquered the Big Apple.
It was also important to me to see and spend time with Grandma Ethel. At dinner tonight, before I left, we had a good talk. I hope my being here helped her a little, but I’ve also told her it’s up to her to make a life for herself now.
She is a bit farbissineh, as Teresa put it (Italians who speak Yiddish always know the exact word to use), but perhaps we can get her to come to Florida and she’ll feel better there.
As for me, I’m over my winter depression and am now ready to go back to Florida and take on the spring. I feel much less pressured, much more relaxed. I have a full life outside Broward Community College and even a full life outside of Florida if I want it.
I may not be the best writer in this world, but I just might be the luckiest.