A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1983

Friday, June 10, 1983

10 PM. At Grandma’s in Rockaway. I’ve just walked in from seeing the film War Games across the street. It was an excellent movie, and of course I have a crush on Matthew Broderick, who just won a Tony last week.

Oh, I so want to be a part of that world of people who do things – the people in the media. This sounds insane, but I want to feel that I have a connection with the world.

That’s why I write, that’s why I do silly stunts like getting the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War in the Times two weeks ago. I’m a megalomaniac, of course, but it’s gotten me this far.

Why can’t I someday be an important person? Okay, calm down, Richie – you’re only some 32-year-old who’s a community college teacher in Florida on vacation in New York sitting at your grandmother’s sticky table, staring at a box of Special K. You yourself are not special.

But I feel special. And I’m happy.

Last evening, I took the IRT 1 local down to Christopher Street; living on West 85th Street, that train has become my train in the last month. At Three Lives & Company, I was disappointed to find that they didn’t carry my book.

It’s almost a game, trying to disappoint myself by discovering how little importance I have in the real world. But at B. Dalton, where I was to meet Todd and Josh, I found they’d sold all but six copies of my book that were left on the shelves.

Upstairs, John Calvin Batchelor was reading from his novel, The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica, reviewed everywhere, including the front page of the Times Book Review, and taken very seriously indeed.

Batchelor obviously takes himself very seriously. He looks like a pompous ass, and he sat down at the table and droned on without ever looking up at his audience – all eight of them amid rows of empty seats.

I had five times – no, seven times – as many people at my reading in the store, and I at least communicated with the crowd. Of course, most of them were my friends.

What I have to do, and what I think I am doing, through networking (though it’s more fun and more human than that term implies) is to make enough friends to buy my books so that I can become a money-making writer.

I want to help my friends achieve success, too, because doing that makes me feel better. It’s not competition I love, but the cooperation of a network of friends. Sounds like ’80s bullshit rhetoric, no? Maybe.

In the ’60s, I went overboard, as did others, and it sounds silly now – the rhetoric we used – but it was important back then.

All I know is that I’m happy, and at times so happy that I think I’m going to burst like the Mylar “Happy Birthday” balloon I stuck with a pin so I can take it back to Florida as a souvenir of my stay at Teresa’s.

Grandma, potchkying around the kitchen, must think I’m crazy to see me writing so wildly in my diary.

Last evening, I took Josh and Todd to that New Wave diner on the corner of Second Avenue and 9th Street, where we had good food and good conversation.

Todd is sharper than I had originally thought, and Josh, if he could get his act together, would be really amazing.

He told us that he was telling his mother that he wanted to get a sofa bed, so that when male friends visit him, they’d have a place to sleep over.

“You mean that girls could sleep on the sofa bed,” his mother corrected him. “The guys, of course, could sleep with you in your bed.”

“Is it any wonder I’m so fucked up?” Josh said, and then let out a big sigh. At least my own parents live in this century – though I’m not sure about Grandma.

Todd dropped me off at the subway stop at 14th Street before he and Josh drove back to Brooklyn. I decided to get off at 79th rather than 86th so that I could take one last walk down Broadway.

Teresa and Juliana were in their bathrobes, chatting and drinking coffee, when I got home. Teresa had had a rough evening at Suzanne’s, as Jim moved out.

She’s also very neurotic about Howard, and why he hasn’t called; it’s as if she sets herself up to be rejected. And she’s already playing games – by her own admission – as she told Juliana to “chain” her to the house on Fire Island this weekend so that she doesn’t go over to see Howard.

At Joseph’s, Teresa got her hair colored ash blonde. When she was leaving, she ran into Mikey coming up to get a haircut, and he told her I had gotten “really tipsy” the other night when I had dinner with him and Amy. “Not our Mr. Control!” she said to him.

Mr. Control and Teresa watched TV and talked until she fell asleep, and this morning we had our usual routine.

As she was about to leave for work, I started a long speech, but Teresa cut me off, saying she knows how much I care for her and how much I’ll miss her. The past five weeks were ones I’ll never forget.

Stacy phoned to say that today she was, unfortunately, job-hunting on Long Island and said she’d write me soon. She was happy because the loft she and Jeanne have sublet for the summer is magnificent.

After packing, I left Teresa’s at 11 AM, leaving the keys with Judy. “You’ve been a good neighbor,” she said.

Catching a cab to midtown, I traveled to Rockaway via the JFK Express to Howard Beach, and then took the A to Broad Channel and then the CC to Beach 105th. The trip still took two hours.

After dropping off my things here, I headed for Ciro’s pizzeria, where I had lunch and read the Post, discovering that Cecily Taplinger committed suicide by jumping out her Greenwich Village apartment window.

The paper said she’d been depressed since selling the publishing company five years ago. I hope it wasn’t because she saw the sales figures for my book! Seriously, she killed herself the same night I was having dinner with Mikey and Amy a couple of blocks away. It gives me a sick feeling.

The bus at Beach 116th Street got me to Brooklyn, where I got more Triavil at Deutsch Pharmacy and walked around the old neighborhood.

I was pleased to see the Mill Basin library’s copy of Hitler was worn and stained; that means people have been reading it. The other day I found two copies of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog at the Mid-Manhattan library, and they were two-week books.

When I walked up East 56th Street and passed the old house, I felt a bit breathless. As I passed by, the yeshiva bus let off Alex – he’s grown and must be about 12 now – and it made me feel glad to know that he’s in my old bedroom.

After I got back here at 5 PM, Grandma and I had dinner, and then she went to play cards and I went to the movies. I feel calmer and saner now.


Saturday, June 11, 1983

8 PM. Last night I slept soundly on the sofa bed, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the ocean.

Today was a gorgeous day; it was sunny and in the mid-80°s. I went into Brooklyn and finally got to take in the Great East River Bridge exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. I’m glad I got to see it, for it really was exciting.

At the museum shop, I bought a light blue Brooklyn Bridge Centennial T-shirt and some postcards. Then I walked through the Botanic Gardens and over to the library, where I browsed for a while.

Taking the bus to Kings Plaza, I realized that Flatbush Avenue between Empire Boulevard and the Junction bustles even more than it used to when I was a child. It’s just that the throngs of shoppers are all black now.

At the mall, I bought some vitamins at GNC – I have only $20 left now – and then caught the bus to Rockaway. Grandma had supper waiting for me. She’s gone to play cards again.

This trip has been one of the happiest periods of my life. I now see New York in a more positive light. Probably a lot has to do with my staying at Teresa’s; if I’d remained here at the beach with Grandma, I probably would have been miserable.

New York in the summer is the haven that Florida in the winter once was for me. Because I’m not working here, I have a vacation mindset. If I had to struggle with everyday life here, I might find the city as miserable as I did three years ago.

But I’ve been happy to be around people who are young and bright and hip and ambitious. It’s also been a relief not to drive a car for six weeks and to live under the hot tropical sun.

It’s going to be very tough for me to return to Florida now.


Monday, June 13, 1983

7 PM. Home again? I feel so hollow here.

Last night I slept wonderfully and had that indescribable joy of thinking that I’d slept through the night and discovering that it was only 11:30 PM.

Last evening Gary phoned to say goodbye, and then Teresa called to say she’d had a great weekend in Fire Island. “I can’t believe you won’t be there when I get home tomorrow night,” she said.

Right now I’d definitely prefer to be on the Upper West Side than in this odd-smelling Sunrise condo. I expected to feel let down, but I feel as if I’d been hit by one of Darth Vader’s laser beams. Empty.

Probably this will pass as I get used to Florida again. But right now I feel I have nothing here, that my true home is in New York City. I’ve got to remember that my trip was a vacation, without responsibilities or worries; it was akin to staying at MacDowell or VCCA.

At 7:30 AM, I kissed Grandma goodbye, took the subway to Howard Beach and got the bus to JFK. I’ve flown this particular Delta flight several times before, and the trip – my 25th plane ride since I started flying again several years go – was fairly smooth and uneventful.

Marc was waiting for me at the airport, and in the middle of a raging rainstorm, he took me to Davie, where Mom gave me lunch as I looked through a mountain of mail.

I didn’t get selected for the NEA Syndicated Fiction Project and I lost the Word Book Fiction Chapbook Contest. Once again, I feel unnoticed and overlooked.

But Mickler’s Floridiana did order the new book, as did some local libraries. Although I’m starting grad school again in the fall, I feel I’ll never get my doctorate at the University of Miami.

Today I got a brochure about new single-room housing units, but I can’t live in a dorm without a bathroom, a phone or air-conditioning. I’m 32, not 22, and I’ve paid too many dues to become just another graduate student.

Of course I know I could never be “just another graduate student.” Give it time, Grayson, and continue with your work. Maybe even going back to teach the second summer session at Broward Community College will help, as I get back into a routine.

I can remember feeling this way – empty – when I returned to Rockaway from MacDowell at the end of June 1980. (I need to remember that feeling to use it in my novel.)

Suddenly I miss Sean so much.


Tuesday, June 14, 1983

8 PM. About this time last night, I fell asleep. I was so emotionally exhausted that I slept until 8 AM. Soundly out of it for twelve hours, I dreamed of New York at New Year’s Eve.

Well, I’ll just have to get on with my life. I’ve worked hard all day at catching up with my mail, but the task seems endless. So much needs to be done.

I went to Bodyworks this morning and had my basic Nautilus workout. It made me feel faint, but I guess I’m out of shape. Naturally I fell way below the levels of where I was when I left.

Today was a typical South Florida June day: humid and hot, with heavy rains just when you arrive somewhere and have to get out of the car. I went to the cleaners, to the drugstore, to the post office, to the health food store, etc.

The credit card bills are coming in, and all I can send them is about a third of what’s owed; still, that’s better than just the minimum balance.

At the end of this month I should get my check from Frances Marion, as well as my BCC paycheck; most of the latter will go towards rent even though I’ll get my deposit back at the end of the month.

What I’m beginning to feel, though, is that my career is going ahead despite the bleak picture in the short run. The National Writers Press has 68 extra copies of Eating at Arby’s, which they’ll sell to me for $1.60 each: that will make it possible for me to sell some more copies of that book.

I think Kevin’s sending me a mess of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dogs, and I’ve got plenty of copies of With Hitler in New York and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz. I’ll have to get together a mailing soon; maybe I’ll make some money on getting rid of my books.

I caught the Miami Herald column by Kitty Oliver on Broward arts grants recipients: it had an old photo of me and the paragraph was matter-of-fact.

Some other good news strung together randomly:

First of all, I’ve got two new novellas by friends to read: Lou’s Terminal Ward, his Book Three of Human Secrets, and Miriam’s “feminist utopian” novella in an issue of Maenad: A Women’s Literary Journal.

The new Gargoyle arrived, and it’s a beaut: interviews with George Myers, Jaimy Gordon (she’s so intelligent, I’ll be pleased to read even a bad review of my books by her in American Book Review), and others, and lots of small-press/large-press news and gossip – plus the issue had reviews of Dog by Susan Lloyd McGarry and Arby’s by some clever woman (who didn’t like it all that much but who took it seriously). Some good quotes in both. . .

The Council for Florida Libraries Newsletter thanks me for participating in the Florida Book and Author Festival and has a cover photo of Arby’s, and that book got listed in the MacDowell Colony Newsletter and the Authors Guild Bulletin.

I got a scholarship ($150) to the Wesleyan Writers Conference, but of course I can’t go.

The Publishers Weekly review of I Brake is on the Magazine Index in the library, listed as a B.

The Pompano Beach librarian, Frank Trenery, wants me to speak at their Kiwanis Club – and he ordered 5 copies of I Brake.

I’ve still got to xerox my new stories in Hubris and the BCAA Bulletin, as well as the Fort Myers News-Press piece, Mark Bernheim’s article in Israel Today, and the Francis Marion College Writer’s Retreat brochure.

So look: You’re hardly a failure. Things are not moving as fast as you’d like, but you’re going places. And, you’ll be fine. In Miami or New York, you’re part of a wider literary community too. People like you will never really be alone.


Wednesday, June 15, 1983

7:30 PM. I continue to feel better about my life, and I think my optimism is rooted in reality.

The worst of the recession is over, though it will remain for years in the “industrial” areas of the country. But the long-term trends seem, on the whole, hospitable.

Education is emerging as a major issue in the 1984 election. Even Reagan realizes something needs to be done – and I agree with him about merit pay.

Although hypocrites like those in the Florida legislature talk a good game, they don’t want to put up the money. So the people will suffer – but eventually everyone will see that making teaching a “sexy” profession will mean money, jobs, and even national defense.

I don’t feel as stupid as I once used to for being a teacher – and when I saw Jonathan today, I told him not to worry about ed courses like the art-education-in-elementary-schools class he’s finishing, (he found it a breeze), but to get a good general education and take challenging courses. Maybe we’ll even have the last laugh on the B-school graduates like Cousin Wendy.

Lisa just called. She, too, enjoyed New York and wanted to stay for more than a couple of weeks, but her dog became ill.

For the past three weeks Lisa has been applying for every job in sight – and getting turned down everywhere. “It’s like they think being a teacher disqualifies you for everything else,” she said.

Perhaps my judgments above are wrong – but I think in the long run, people will learn that generalists are far better than narrowly-trained specialist and that a liberal education is good training for any non-technical job.

Lisa read me a letter Bob wrote her – it was a hysterical diatribe and makes me want to stay away from that queer duck; I called him last night (the jerk said “New York is too fast for him”) but now I’d like to avoid him.

This morning I went to the University of Miami. Despite my age and experience, being on a big, unfamiliar campus made me feel like a lowly freshman as I was sent from office to office, to get my financial aid forms filled out.

UM is a real college/university, with professional schools and dorms. I had a positive feel for the campus; I think I’m going to be able to be happy there.

I found the English Department by accident, and though I didn’t introduce myself to anyone (almost nobody was there anyway), I felt comfortable in the environment. It’s a little scary, but I’ll manage.

After driving around Coral Gables, a lovely community, much less plastic than Broward, I stopped in at Books & Books near the Miracle Mile. Not only did I find a copy of I Brake on the shelves, but I was able to buy a book by Jaimy Gordon.

There are other little signs that my career is moving. Elaine Taibi called to say the Brooklyn College Alumni Literary Review is also nominating me for the CCLM/GE fellowship (I rather pushily suggested it to Matty Paris); I don’t expect to get it any more than I got the NEA, but they can’t go on ignoring me forever.

Even a little mention in George’s Patriot-News column on the Book Fair can’t hurt. As Susan Ludvigson says, all these little things add up. Eventually more grants and fellowships and jobs will come my way. Suddenly it will seem as though I’ve been around a long time and I’ve been unfairly ignored.

Hey, Blair Apperson called me from California with a phony credit card last night; he’d just gotten back from San Francisco. Blair sounds like a Valley Boy – we didn’t talk for long, but he’ll write soon, he said.


Thursday, June 16, 1983

6 PM. I made an appointment with the doctor at my HMO for Tuesday. I think I have a bladder or urological infection that’s causing me to urinate every few minutes.

I have a burning sensation (is that from the prostate?) and always seem to have the urge to go. It kept me awake late into the night. It’s not painful, but it’s very annoying.

I’m sure it’s not too serious, and it could be merely “nerves.” For “nerves,” read unhappiness.

I’ve covered it up with optimism, but I’ve been miserable since I returned to Florida. While it’s now even hotter in New York, here in Florida it’s hot and humid and glaring – bright 14 hours a day, and I know it’s going to be like this for another four months. Honestly, I don’t know how I’ll stand it.

When I’m upset about one thing, I tend to get upset about everything, and last night I couldn’t put Sean out of my mind. To be back in this apartment in summer and not have Sean here seems unnatural.

I thought about it a lot, and I wrote him a letter finally, mailing it to the Gainesville address. I just hope his mail gets forwarded. All I want to know is that he’s okay and that he doesn’t hate me; no, I also want to know that he still cares for me.

Oh, everything seems sad today. I was talking to Mom when Dad came home early. At first Mom thought he was sick, but he was just depressed about his business being so bad.

It just seems all of us in the family been struggling financially for so long. But I guess that when we had security we took it for granted. My impulse today was just to stay in bed, but I fought it and went to Bodyworks .

However, I’ll never regain the level of enthusiasm for the Nautilus workout that I had before I left for New York. I guess I’ve lost faith in it a little. Is it only crackpots who are able to maintain faith?

Wade writes that Avis is more into 3HO than ever, and he and Ellen can’t hold a rational conversation with Sat Darshan (they have given up calling her Avis), who merely tries to proselytize and sell her 3HO products and talk about how wonderful Yogi Bhajan is. Shee.

Well, I knew I’d have to come down from my New York balloon – the balloons from my birthday have all deflated now too. But I’ve got to tell myself that I am going back to New York, so I can have a goal to get myself through the next year.

I won’t tell anyone, but I know I’ll never get my Ph.D. from UM – all that bullshit with orals and a dissertation and a language exam are beyond me – or maybe I’m beyond them.

In fact, I’m all but certain that I’ll be at the school for only one year. Then am I crazy for accepting the fellowship? I don’t think so. For me, it’s buying time. Time to write, I hope.

Maybe I can get an apartment with a lease that expires in May, and then I can go to New York to find something that will allow me to remain there.

Unless, of course, it turns out I adore UM (I don’t expect to, though I’m sure it will be more congenial than BCC) or I find I can get a job at FAU or FIU.

Look, I don’t want to leave Florida in the winter; I might as well stay here until next spring.

The 3½ years on my own outside New York will help me in the long run. But Manhattan is really where I want to be right now, though I’m sure I’ll be dissatisfied there, too. Didn’t I complain about how superficial everyone’s lives were when I was in the city?

Shit, Richie, you’ll never be satisfied. But at least you can still see the humor in everything while you keep running to the bathroom to pee.


Saturday, June 18, 1983

Noon. I feel so tired, so old.

It’s another hot, humid day. Instead of having my usual cereal (the doctor told me to avoid milk until the infection clears up), I went out to Burger King for French toast and bacon. Then I got my mail: nothing much, really.

I guess the antibiotic is making me tired. How did I know I would get ill when I returned to Florida? Just like last year. I’m sure that there’s something psychological in the cause of my being sick.

Last night I began to think about the last month of Friday nights and how I’d slept in a different place each one: last night here, the week before in Rockaway, before that at Teresa’s, and before that in South Carolina. Does this mean anything? No, I’m just rambling.

Patrick called yesterday. He didn’t speak to anyone all term. Of the secretaries in the department, Maureen left last week to return home to Maryland, and Joanne will be gone after the summer, and the only secretary will be a new one.

Dr. Pawlowski is giving up his job as Communications Division head, which will go to Jim Ledford or someone in Speech. Apparently Dr. Grasso will remain chairman of the English Department.

Also, Patrick said that Casey and Mimi got married, Dave found a good job as a salesman, and that his own one great satisfaction was tearing up You Can Write page by page yesterday on the last day of the term. He’s obviously very bitter.

His uncle died, and when his grandmother returned from the funeral, she had another stroke; Patrick hoped she would go right away but she’s hanging on. I said I’d see him on Monday.

I resent being here in Florida where there are only teenagers and elderly people, and I long to be in Manhattan again. Down here, I feel Sean’s absence more keenly, but I don’t want to get involved with anyone right away, not for a while.

I feel so unconnected. Lou’s novelette, Terminal Ward, only seemed despairing, although it ended – probably against Lou’s will – on a life-affirming note.

Wade sent a copy of a letter Helmut wrote him. It was as crazy as the ones he sends me. Like me, Wade and Ellen find Helmut’s diatribes incomprehensible, and they’re also annoyed he’s not interested in the details of their lives. I am glad my perceptions of Helmut are confirmed by others.

See, I’m not totally crazy. Usually I make rational decisions about people and things. Like yesterday: going to that clinic was smart. So I’m smart.

But I still don’t like myself very much today. I need to be hugged, but only by the right people. Who are the right people? Why the ones who’ll never hug me. Neurotic, huh? This is what you get from a guy who has to piss all the time.

It’s just the tetracycline talking. Sheeet.

*

9 PM. I feel a little better. I just came back from spending three hours at my parents’ house, where I had something to eat.

Also, I went two hours without going to the bathroom – a record for the past three days.

This afternoon I went shopping for groceries and read Miriam’s very good novelette: a feminist utopian story, very Northern Californian, very ’60s-ish.

Ed Hogan called because he needed to know my parents’ address so he can ship the copies to be signed.

He told me that they’re converting 300 of the paperbacks into hardcovers because the libraries want the cloth-bound books. Even though it’s costing them $750 to do that, they expect to make $2,000 on the sale of the books, since they’re getting about one order per day.

They’re also printing up more paperback copies – and when the 601st one is sold, I begin collecting royalties. Perhaps I’ll eventually begin making some money, even if it’s only a little.

Micklers bought a dozen copies of the book and has already paid for them, and they’re readying a leaflet for the customers on my Eating at Arby’s mailing list.

After feeling buoyed by this good news, I decided I might feel better if I got out of the house. At my parents’, I talked with Dad, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of months.

Marc was dressing for a date with Sylvia and asked me about my nonspecific urethritis. His case took three months to go away, but he had pus and a drip, and anyway, he wasn’t taking care of himself in those days.

I watched MTV with Jonathan after he came home from work; some of those videos are brilliant. I especially liked Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” but then again, I’ve got a crush on him.

Hey, Florida’s not so bad. As I drove home, the sun was setting and it was fairly comfortable out. I’m just having a hard time adjusting to being back, so I’ve been in a pissy mood.

(No, that wasn’t a Freudian slip.) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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