A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1983

Monday, June 20, 1983

8 PM. I’m beginning to think my problem is not urethritis – I have no discharge or burning after all, and my urine culture turned up okay – but prostate troubles.

Yep, everyone gets it. I’m adjusting to the annoying feelings of urinary urgency and hope that they go away. I read up on the prostate, and I think I may have a condition called “priest’s disease,” a result of lack of sex.

It’s fairly common in men my age; it’s not an infection but a congested prostate. We’ll see how it goes. While people are dying of AIDS and getting herpes and VD, I get “priest’s disease.” It figures. . .

Last night Lisa called and said she feels better now that she’s made up her mind about what to do. Instead of knocking her head against the wall trying to find a job here, she plans to go back to New York.

In August she’ll move back with her parents, and eventually she’ll go to Brooklyn to stay with her grandparents. It makes sense.

Perhaps she’ll go to graduate school; she’s got this unreasonable fear of taking the GREs which prevented her from applying this year.

Today was a rainy, dark day. It felt odd to be back at Broward Community College after seven weeks. Dr. Grasso seemed as unfriendly as ever, but I don’t give a shit. So many people at school aren’t speaking to so many others, it’s hard to keep track.

Dave left after handing in his grades; he went on vacation before starting his new job. Patrick seems extremely bitter; tomorrow is his last day, and he said he feels like putting his fist through the window in somebody’s office.

Mimi was friendly to me, as was Bob – whom Lisa ignored. (When she told Dave that Bob had sent her a threatening letter, Dr. Grasso overheard it and remarked, “Oh, I get threatening letters from him all the time.”)

What a lunatic asylum!

All I intend to do for this term is meet with my classes and then go home. We don’t even have any secretaries in the department. I took advantage of the situation to do tons of xeroxing which would have cost me $20 or more commercially.

And I did get one big break: The check for my stint as P’an Ku advisor arrived. I have about $650 in the bank, so I should remain afloat for July since I’ve got four more BCC checks coming – plus the $300 from the writers’ conference.

It’s nice to be out in the world again; I feel that things are happening. I was called by David Tipmore, a writer for Marquee in Miami, who’d read a review of Eating at Arby’s in The Weekly News, a gay paper.

I sent him the book for his proposed article and he promised to send me the review if it does get published.

David, who seemed very sweet, wondered if the Arts Council was upset with me. I’m not sure. Perhaps I’ve been blacklisted because they found my satire too strong, yet I know I produced a work more relevant to Florida than any other grant recipient did.

I spoke to Teresa and told her I’m thinking of returning to New York. “Don’t think – do it,” she said.

Last week during the heat wave, she was in Fire Island a lot. Her case in small claims court was closed, and the arbitrator will send his decision soon.

Teresa is upset by Howard’s noncommittal commitment. He says it’s not “appropriate” for them to be exclusive yet, and I see nothing wrong with that myself. But I know how Teresa feels.

Tom Whalen wrote and said he’s having lots of trouble getting his sci-fi novels published. Tom sent along a great Dixie magazine profile of Sean Cannon, whose writing I’ve always liked. Tom says Sean was one of his best students.

Tomorrow at 11 AM, I meet my class, but the day shouldn’t prove too hectic.

Wednesday, June 22, 1983

3 PM. A thunderstorm is going on outside, but I don’t mind the darkness. I’ve got the air conditioner turned way up, and I’m in bed, relaxing.

Any good news today? Well, Giovanni’s Room, the gay Philadelphia book dealer, responded to my letter by saying they’ll try to stock my books.

And I got a call from the Friends of the Plantation Library, who’d like me to give a lecture in October. Also, Matt Paris confirmed that he was nominating me for the CCLM/GE Fellowship and asked if I’d like to review any books for the Brooklyn College Alumni Literary Review.

Is that enough career progress for one day?

I had a pretty good class this morning; we talked about fiction and Updike’s “A & P.” Most of the students say they dislike reading in general, and reading literature in particular.

I sometimes wonder if I’m seeing the average teenager or not, but I suspect that even the brightest students don’t read as much as they used to. “It’s work,” said one kid, who is pre-law in Gainesville and who is obviously gay.

Now, how do I, as a fiction writer, adapt to this generation of non-readers? Do I just aim for those who are literary and hope for an audience of a couple of thousand?

If my novel works out as planned, it will be literary enough to have me taken seriously by the New York literary world. But it won’t make much money. Perhaps, at best, I could hope for a $3,000 advance and a modest paperback sale.

Of course, I’m not in this business for the money, and right now I’d be thrilled just to have a novel published by a trade publisher. But my ultimate goal is to reach a broader audience.

It can be done, as Irving did with The World According to Garp, but that’s such a fluke, it seems that it happens once in a decade.

In Gargoyle, Rick compared Irving’s career with that of Tom McHale, whose early success turned against him and who ended up a disappointed suicide.

Of course, it’s better to reach success – even minimal success – slowly. I’m trying, but my books aren’t even reviewed by the Times or The Atlantic or Harper’s or the Washington Post.

Sometimes I think that something will happen and I’ll suddenly be “discovered.”

Frankly, though I realize that I’m no craftsman and a rather weird and idiosyncratic stylist, I still believe my work stands up to that of, say, Jayne Anne Phillips.

Maybe thirty years from now it will seem idiotic to even put us on the same level – but who knows which of us will have proven the “better” writer? At least I’m having fun. . .

Last night, when I called Josh, I immediately knew something was wrong by the way he answered the phone. It turned out that Josh broke his collarbone at the gym.

He had some neck pain, but he forced himself to do his dips on the parallel bars. On the fourth dip, something snapped and he collapsed. But he felt only nausea and little pain, so he showered and went out without saying anything to anyone.

He couldn’t get a cab to the Long Island College Hospital, and when he finally walked there, the emergency room was such a zoo, it depressed him, so he left.

All night he had pain, and on his way to work, he stopped at Beekman-Downtown. At first the doctor thought it was a muscle pull, but x-rays showed a fracture of the collarbone.

They put in a shoulder harness and gave him codeine. Luckily, the break was on his left side, so he can do most everything with his right arm.

It looks like he can still go to Europe in three weeks if the orthopedist gives him the green light. Josh had company, so I didn’t speak to him very long – but I felt good being in touch with him, even if he had bad news.

Saturday, June 25, 1983

9 PM. Last night, coming out of my class, I couldn’t help thinking about Sean and how he used to show up at my office after our class last year in May and early June. We’d talk, and he’d touch me, and we had to be careful because usually Mick was still in his office.

It’s obvious now that Sean doesn’t want me in his life and that he’s not going to respond to my letters. But I feel he doesn’t hate me, that he’ll always remember me fondly, and that someday, when I’m not expecting it, Sean and I will see each other again and talk about what we had.

Right now it could almost be that I dreamed it. It’s a sadness. Maybe it will help me write my book.

And day by day, even moment by moment, I’m a pretty happy guy. Hey, my prostate or urethritis cleaned up, and believe me, it’s a joy not to have that terrible feeling all the time.

I’ve cleared up a lot of deadwood in my life, and slowly, methodically, I’m moving on. I’m still considering where to live in Dade County. Coral Gables would be best, I suppose, because it’s where the university is, but maybe I could get a better deal in the north of the county, where I feel more at home.

Miami Beach, at the south end of it, reminds me of New York in a way, but it’s like Upper Broadway with only the old people and no younger people to take away the gloom. We shall see.

I went to fetch my mail at about 10 AM; I got an Ohrbach’s credit card, the Voice (which had a great article on how AIDS has changed gay life), Small Press Review, and a Visa bill from California Federal.

Maybe I was stupid to open so many credit card accounts, but I didn’t go wild with them, and I know having a good credit rating is important. I always pay the bills fairly quickly, and just knowing I’ve got $6500 in credit makes me feel a little secure – even though if I used that much, I would surely have to declare bankruptcy.

I went to my parents’ house, but no one was home, and I was enjoying a movie on HBO when Dad stormed into the house, obviously furious about something. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“NOTHING!” he screamed at me, and then he slammed doors.

I’d really forgotten how foul his moods can be, and so I decided to leave, figuring I’d see how Author! Author! ends another time. There was just no reason for me to have to, even indirectly, suffer from Dad’s anger.

Living alone for so long has made me selfish when it comes to putting up with others’ crankiness.

The rest of the day I read, listened to music, shopped and got pizza. (Ralph, the kid at the pizzeria, told me how much he liked my class). I think I’ve lost a little weight.

It’s dark now. I live for the nights, if only for their relief from the hot glare. I feel pretty content.

Sunday, June 26, 1983

8 PM. This afternoon I went to the South Florida Gay Pride Festival, held at the Hollywood Sportatorium, a concert hall on the edge of the Everglades.

I hate to admit it, but I was leery about going in. In New York, it’s so much easier to identify yourself as a homosexual in public. I was at the parade in New York four years ago, and it didn’t seem much of a big deal.

Actually, today wasn’t such a big deal, either. Since I’ve come to South Florida, I’ve never pretended to be straight, although most people assume I am.

At BCC, for example, I’ve never talked about dating women, and I figure that most people would draw their own conclusions. I’ve confided only in Lisa, but I’ve certainly dropped hints to Casey, Mick and Patrick.

Another reason I also felt a bit weird was that I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Despite my workouts at the gym, I still feel uncomfortable about my weight (though, thanks to a very mild diet, I’ve lost a pound a week since I returned to Florida and have gone from 166 to 164 – a pretty good achievement for me).

The festival was sort of like a fair with various booths and a stage where acts and speakers performed or talked.

Almost immediately, I saw a familiar face: an ex-student of mine whose name I couldn’t remember. I think he was in one of my classes a year ago – the same time I met Sean – and I remembered thinking he was probably gay. He also seemed a little weird.

But today, hand in hand with his boyfriend, and wearing an “I’m Proud to Be Gay” button and a huge grin, the kid had dignity.

And wouldn’t you know my name was announced from the stage when I won a drawing for a vacation at a Key West guesthouse? Two nights for two people – a $60 value – anytime between now and October 15.

That social science instructor – again, I’m bad with names but I think his is Tom Greene – started hugging me and asking if I’d like him as company on the trip.

“No I’ve got someone in mind,” I lied. Maybe someone will come along? Tom said he’d seen several of his ex-students there. BCC has a lot of gay kids.

I was sort of hoping I’d run into Sean’s friend Jeff, who could tell me what Sean was up to these days – but no such luck.

There were more so-so acts: a couple of singers, a female impersonator I remember hearing Sean talk about, and a very mild striptease show.

There were a lot of men, but I was pleasantly surprised to see so many gay women out in force. I felt a bit weird because I was alone; most people were in pairs or groups.

But I talked with people and got literature about AIDS and the Florida Task Force and the gay synagogue in North Miami Beach. The guys from The Weekly News said they’d send me the issue in which Arby’s was mentioned.

As always, the men were a very diverse group – just about every type you could imagine. If I tried harder, I’m sure I could find friends and even lovers; after all, I’m not all that repulsive. For 32, I look fairly young; my big problem is being overweight.

Anyway, I was certainly glad I went; in Miami, I intend to get more involved in the gay scene. I do sort of feel funny about telling my parents about winning that trip to Key West – just because it makes me uncomfortable to acknowledge my gayness in front of them.

I watched the news coverage, both national and local, of Gay Pride Day and was pretty pleased with the seriousness and respect with which the TV journalists handled it. The rest of the day I spent either at Bodyworks or at home, reading the papers.

Josh phoned, wanting to know how much it would cost to print up a book the size of Arby’s. He’s written this cynical guide on how to pick up women and figures he can self-publish it and sell it through ads in the Star and Enquirer.

Josh said his left shoulder is still very swollen and he’s uncomfortable a lot of the time.

There was a Fort Lauderdale News story on Sue Smith, whom I had twice for English (fall of 1981 and last semester): she’s apparently going to be a big-time pro golfer one day. I always used to excuse her from class for tournaments.

I’m proud when I read about my ex-students in the paper; I’m sure Ilan Averbuch, the Israeli sculptor I taught at the School of Visual Arts, will be a major artist someday because his work was so amazing.

Wednesday, June 29, 1983

5 PM. I just finished marking the papers I’ll be handing back tonight. I feel tired and maybe a little ill, as though I’m coming down with a cold.

Also, I feel a bit foolish regarding my fantasies about Clay. Obviously I’ve projected onto him feelings I have about Sean. I’m doing the poor kid an injustice by making all these assumptions, and I’m not being very professional as a teacher, either.

I don’t even know if he’s gay, but suppose he is: that doesn’t mean he wants a relationship with me any more than I want a relationship with that obnoxious gay kid in the same class.

Probably Clay is just a cheerful, friendly guy, and I’ve read more into his smiles and gestures than was actually there. I don’t even know what he’s like and I go on and on in my head, thinking we could be lovers.

The only excuse I offer, your honor, is that I’m really lonely – like the waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” the story we covered in class today.

Last evening, I got a call from Ivy Garlitz, who’s in North Miami Beach working at a Hebrew day camp for the summer. I suppose she’s a nice girl, but she’s a bit too pompous in the way that over-literary college students are.

She’s also kind of JAPpy, but of course she’s good-hearted and very intelligent. (Or do I just think that because she likes my writing? She and Blair in California are my only real “fans.”)

I don’t know; she reminds me of the earnest Jewish grade-grubbers and status seekers on Long Island, people like Aunt Arlyne. I feel mean for thinking that, but I still feel it.

Teresa called, and we talked for an hour. Fire Island is getting hot, and it’s not just the weather. Teresa said their house was like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with everyone finding romance and people going in and out of bedrooms.

Her Howard is making her happy except when he makes her miserable. Another guy, Richard, asked her out. However, Teresa’s going to say no because she doesn’t want to give Howard license to date other women.

Now the big problem is Amira, unhappy and contemptuous of the kind of stodgier scene in Fair Harbor.

Amira made a big scene on the beach, attacking Teresa hysterically – or so Teresa said – and Teresa feels their friendship is over and that she may buy Amira out of her half-share.

I was sad to hear that another of Teresa’s friendships has blown away; she even said it reminded her of what happened with Sharon.

Incidentally, Teresa doesn’t have to pay Sam anything for his small claims suit, or so the arbitrator ruled; curiously, though, she’s got to give one of the girls in the Berkshires house her money back. “What an arbitrary ruling,” Teresa complained.

She’s seen Gary on the beach; apparently he’s taken a half-share for the season.

Last week she was told she was being transferred to Albany, but it turned out to be a mistake; they – the Cuomo people – assumed Teresa had wanted to go to the capital.

“At least I learned I have more pull than I thought I did,” she told me. She’s spending all next week at the beach, and she’s covered the couch since I’ve gone.

Lisa called me Monday night before I left for school to tell me to cancel her class. An emergency had come up. She, her roommate, and all the tenants in her building had been given notices that unless they got rid of their pets, they’d be evicted within a week.

Furious and upset, they had a meeting that night – and planned another for last night. Lisa called the TV stations, and I told her to call the Herald.

Sure enough, there it was on the 11 PM news on channels 7 and 10 (the NBC and ABC Miami affiliates), the dog-and-people-filled meeting at Lisa’s apartment. Imagine such a story getting on the local news in New York!

And the pet-lovers made the Miami Herald this morning. Amazing – and it may help. The building’s new owner flew in from Birmingham today to try to reach an agreement with the tenants. Publicity is power.

At Mom’s, the hardcover books I’m to sign arrived yesterday, according to Jonathan, who I ran into at a gas station after class. He told me he finds his social psychology course so interesting that he once again may change his major.

Alice phoned this afternoon, and we chatted briefly.

All is well: she’s working hard at her job, doing freelance articles, and preparing to teach at the Colorado Mountain College Writer’s Conference. I told her I saw an ad for it in The Writer, with her name and Peter’s in bold type.

Brad also phoned and left a message with Mom that I should call him tonight. I wonder why.

Thursday, June 30, 1983

7 PM. I’m waiting for Michael Ladd, that freelance writer who wants to interview me. I think the guy is probably a nerd and I’m sure not much will come of this.

Last night’s class went okay, though I myself felt somewhat bored. I let them out early and won’t have to teach at night until next Wednesday.

Back at home, I called Brad, who had mistakenly assumed I was still in New York. He’s sorry we didn’t get together, of course, and hopes he can see me soon. At the end of July, he’ll go to Altoona to be ordained by his bishop.

He and some other priests are setting up a counseling service and ministry to teenage prostitutes. At first, they’ll operate out of the Port Authority, but Brad eventually hopes they can buy a municipally-owned building.

Brad’s grandmother is coming up to stay with him in August; I didn’t ask how he’ll hide the fact that he’s a priest.

Speaking of that, Brad said my prostate symptoms were indeed common in his line of work: “Don’t you realize that all the popes have prostate trouble?”

I asked if he wanted to go to Key West with me, but of course he doesn’t have the time; still, he was happy I invited him.

I didn’t sleep well because my mind kept racing – probably a result of teaching “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

At BCC this morning, I spoke to Fran Brown in the library; she was “shocked” Patrick didn’t get hired and wonders if they’ll consider him now that several people have turned the jobs down.

Fran couldn’t understand how I could love such a horrible place as New York City – but she’s a good old Southern girl.

When Clay came into class, I did something I shouldn’t have. I said, “You’re always smiling. You must be on drugs.”

“No, just the opposite,” he said, reddening. “I’m smiling because I’m not on drugs.”

How could I embarrass him like that? Still, it proved the kid has spunk. He talks in class and seems very bright; I don’t think he’ll hold it against me, either.

Unlike Sean, Clay is outgoing – and I think he’s too “together” to want to have a relationship with his English teacher. Well, good for him – I’d become a real pig over the past few days.

A woman who had me for a teacher last year called the office and said she wanted her daughter to take me in the fall; she seemed sad I wouldn’t be around.

This afternoon, I worked out at the health club and spoke to Mike Maynard, who said that for $100 on top of the July rent, he’ll let me stay here till August 6, when the summer term ends at BCC. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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