A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1984

Tuesday, May 1, 1984

7 PM at Grandma’s in Rockaway. She went downstairs to play cards, the only time she ever gets out.

Grandma looks no older – there’s no more room for any more wrinkles – and has put on enough weight so that she doesn’t look frail. But she’s plagued by insomnia at night and sleepy lethargy by day: “a terrible depression.”

Of course, she spends all her time worrying gratuitously, as she always has, and she ruminates over her lack of education, the big regret in her life.

“Some life,” Grandma keeps sighing, and I agree – but she doesn’t do much to help herself.

“Some people can handle things, but I can’t,” she says, thus giving herself an excuse not to try.

She still wishes Mom had never moved to Florida, mistakenly believing that things would be different for her if Mom still lived in Brooklyn.

If you offer Grandma suggestions, she has an answer rebutting each of them, so I’m not going to drive myself crazy by constantly urging her to visit or move to Florida or to get out more or to seek therapy.

Perhaps I’m heartless, but as much as I care about Grandma, I’m not going to worry about her the way she worries about me.

Although her hearing and eyesight seem fine, and I detect no signs of senility, because of her depression, she’s really let this place go: it’s filthy (and that’s by my lax standards), and I found a staple in my dinner.

I’ll try to tidy up a little while she’s gone.

Last evening, I met Josh at the Citicorp Center, where he introduced me to his boss, Joyce Horman, who had advance tickets to the PEN event featuring Third World writers. Because Josh and I didn’t, and it was very crowded, we were unable to get in, saving ourselves $15 each.

After I deposited a couple of checks for Teresa, Josh and I went to the East Village, where he said he wanted to go to a poetry reading at St. Mark’s, and then, when we got there, changed his mind.

Josh said he was going to see his friend Claudia, so I looked around the local bookstores. I found an edition of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz that I’d never seen before: the second printing of the paperback with no dust jacket and a color cover.

To get a close look at Manhattan’s avenues, I’ve been riding buses a lot; last night I came down Lex and went up with Third, going crosstown at 86th Street.

Back home, I was shocked to hear a message from Teresa on the answering machine. She was calling from Paris and said that she and Amira had “split up after an unbelievable two days I never want to go through again.”

She sounded shaky, gave me the name of her hotel, and said she’d call again. Teresa also asked me not to tell any of her friends about this, so of course I didn’t.

This morning, her sister called to say that Teresa had also phoned her: Teresa and Amira had a big fight, and Teresa walked out to a new hotel. Connie said Teresa was all right but shaky and that I should expect another call.

It would have been easy to predict that Teresa and Amira, two very stubborn and strong-willed people, would not get along.

In the apartment on Saturday, they were already screaming at one another, and I could tell they’d have trouble in Europe, but I figured that fear and mutual dependence would keep them together.

I feel sorry for both of them: they’re each so impulsive and headstrong.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep till 4 AM – “just like me,” Grandma said – and up at 10:30 AM today, I got out of the house an hour later.

The trip to Rockaway was awful, taking two hours and 45 minutes after several subway delays: two trains I was on had to go out of service.

Popping up at the Junction, I was dismayed at the area’s decay – bars on most of the storefronts, even the Burger King shut up – and totally turned off by the ride down Flatbush Avenue and into Rockaway.

There is no way I could ever live in Brooklyn again. Everything is so depressing. Coming here has made me appreciate Florida more.

If I can’t afford a Manhattan lifestyle, I’d much, much rather live in Florida than Brooklyn or Queens. I’m just not a New Yorker anymore.


Friday, May 4, 1984

7 PM. It’s another chilly (to me, anyway) and rainy day. I don’t feel like going out tonight – not that I have anywhere to go or anything to do.

If that sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m not; I’m so accustomed to being alone that isolation doesn’t bother me.

Anyway, I’m tired and feel like I’m coming down with a cold. I got soaked twice – last night and an hour ago – when I foolishly went out with no umbrella.

That’s not like me, and so I must conclude I’m careless for a reason; perhaps I want to get sick and feel bad.

Last night I called Stacy, who was busy with some household chore – we’ll meet for dinner Thursday night – and then Justin, with whom I’ll be having lunch on Monday.

Ronna phoned and we made plans for Monday night, but I’ve got a whole weekend with nothing to do.

Well, maybe I am feeling sorry for myself. If so, perhaps it’s a good thing. I’ll stay in New York long enough to get it out of my system, the way Teresa is probably getting Europe out of her system.

Today’s interview with Barbara de Lamiere for Home Planet News went better than I expected.

Meeting her at Sheridan Square, I was careful not to stare, but in the restaurant, I had a long time to look at her and decided that I’d never imagine that she was once a man.

Her voice and hands are masculine, but other than that she seems like one of those prim ladies who, come to think of it, I do associate with transsexualism.

Anyway, her questions were not as wacky as I’d expected, and she was quite thoughtful and thorough. Of course it’s always a pleasure to talk about oneself, a way to second-guess the interviewer.

I think I came off as cheerful and ambitious and not too concerned with my career as a writer. The only reason I didn’t feel like a phony or an imposter – since I’m not writing fiction – is that I told Barbara all about my difficulty with writing these days (years).

Do I have a writer’s block? Possibly – though basically I feel I don’t really want to write fiction anymore. Of course, these days I’m not writing anything except letters and this diary.

Well, I now have had a week to rest up from the spring semester at Broward Community College. Maybe I should, starting Monday, force myself to write for an hour a day.

Actually, I seem to be becoming less and less disciplined: this morning I worked out for less than half an hour. I miss my routines at home. In Florida, I ate better (healthier, anyway), I used less caffeine, I exercised more and slept more regularly.

Everything seems slightly askew today: I’ve got a problem with my right contact lens, my hair is getting disgustingly long, I keep having to urinate, and I feel tired and achy.

Well, probably I am coming down with something. If so, this is the perfect time, for I’ve got no pressing engagements. In fact, the next eight weeks stand like a big zero in front of me.

Getting lonesome for your hectic schedule at BCC, kiddo? Well, I could have it worse. I’m just about on the edge of boredom. Why is it I always seem to want to be someplace else?

Just now I realized that it’s two years since Sean came to my apartment in Sunrise. Oh, Sean, what are you like now? (Like Grandma Ethel talks to Grandpa Herb, I can talk to you.)

You’re 19 now, almost 20, and you’ve been in Tampa a year. I miss your face and body, and it gets harder to visualize you. I saw an animated redheaded kid in the subway today who reminded me of you. I hope you’re okay, kid. . .

Oh, yeah?” you always used to say. Do you look different? How’s school? Doug? Are you happy? Ever think about your old English teacher, and no, I don’t mean Mr. Merickel. Your old teacher still thinks about you.

I know I should find someone new, but it ain’t easy, kid. It’s a fucked-up world out there. Hell, in New York City relationships are measured by hours.

But I’m okay, and no, I don’t spend all my time whining. . .


Saturday, May 5, 1984

9 PM. Today was a positive day. I feel like days like today are why I am here in New York.

I need to concentrate on doing things I can’t do in Florida and somehow enriching myself with this time so that I can go back home feeling refreshed.

Last night I watched some good programs on Channel 13 while I exercised (and I feel nice and sore now); later, when I couldn’t sleep, I watched the trashy Dallas and Falcon Crest, which I had recorded earlier.

Up at 9 AM, to a bright day, I was out of the house at 10:30 AM, getting the M104 bus to the Mid-Manhattan Library, where I read the latest issues of the Miami Herald and a lot of material on higher education.

Then I went across the street to the main library, which is still being renovated, and took in Lola’s Berg Collection exhibit of poems and manuscripts by 20th century American poets.

From there I walked to Times Square – it’s hard to believe people are still being suckered into three-card monte – and bought Thursday’s Fort Lauderdale News, which I read over lunch at the Bun ‘n’ Burger at Rockefeller Center.

Then I moseyed down Sixth Avenue back to 42nd Street – the Times Square development project may change the area totally – and took the IRT downtown.

Getting out at Fulton Street, I began exploring the tip of Manhattan like a tourist.

I never really had noticed Trinity Church before, or its graveyard (Alexander Hamilton is buried there), and it had been years since I looked at Cass Gilbert’s old U. S. Custom House with those great Daniel Chester French allegorical figure-statues out front.

From there I walked to Battery Park, where some lesbians were playing softball, and over to the water. The Statue of Liberty is now enclosed in scaffolding for renovation.

I watched the Staten Island Ferry come in and then walked up to the new Gateway Plaza development at Battery Park City.

There’s a concrete walk by the Hudson that few New Yorkers seem to know about; it’s sort of like the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and I spent half an hour sitting at one of the benches and staring out at Ellis Island and New Jersey.

It was a cool day but mild enough to make it pleasant to sit out.

At about 4 PM, I walked over to the World Trade Center, where I wandered through the concourse and took the IRT back uptown, getting off at 79th Street.

At Shakespeare & Company, I looked at books and felt attracted to this blond guy hooked on Graham Greene. There are so many good-looking, hip, intelligent young people in New York – so different from the bland tan good looks of the people in Florida.

On the subway, there was this baby-faced blond cop – can you believe I’m looking at cops now, and that he was probably ten years younger than I?

I bought a gay paper, the New York Native, but the ads were real turn-offs to me, all the explicit fantasizing and macho stud posturing. . .

In a crowded Zabar’s, I saw a thin, grey-haired guy I’m positive was my junior high school best friend Eugene, but I naturally felt stupid going up to him, so I didn’t say anything. For dinner I got a pasta salad at the Korean market.

Josh called and said he’d had a backbreaking week at work.

Today he met James Hughes, who, at 27, has been published in The New Yorker and whose fine story appeared in Grinning Idiot #2.

Like Leslie, James is a University of Arkansas graduate who knows John Clellon Holmes. James has been in a deep depression and living at his mother’s up around here.

Josh reported that he was told that Eating at Arby’s and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz were reviewed in the new Brooklyn College Alumni Literary Review: a nice review, Artie said, after he saw it.

My first letter arrived here – from Crad, who sounded more optimistic than at any time in the past year.

His reading at Harbourfront went well and paid $200, he and Stu Ross made $60 each at a book fair, and readers have been so encouraging and sales picking up.

So now Crad’s decided to print two small books – mostly old stuff (“the lazy man’s way to publish”) – but he’s “working furiously” on some new pieces.

Crad inspired me: if I’m not writing, I should at least publish some old good stuff. I could use the imprint of Patrick or Paul or somebody and do a short all-humorous collection for release in the spring of 1985.

If nothing else, it would give me something to look forward to and be another publication to my credit. Besides, a book project will keep my mind active. I’m already excited about the possibility.


Sunday, May 6, 1984

11 PM. I just got home. If I didn’t say so before, let me say now that I think I’m an extremely lucky guy. I hope Teresa is enjoying every minute of Europe, because she’s really given me a priceless gift.

As I wrote Patrick, there’s no way living in New York could ever be this good for me if I moved back here. I’d have to struggle to survive while right now I’m living a life of ease and luxury.

This is a very special time. And I guess I have to be grateful for having a job at BCC, where I could afford to take the time off.

While I’ve been having lots of trouble getting to sleep, once I get into dreamland, I usually do sleep okay; last night I had incredibly erotic dreams. I lay in bed till about noon, reading and thinking.

Grandma called, and I told her I’d be over on Tuesday.

At the Red Apple grocery store, I stood in line behind the comedian George Carlin, who was joking around with the cashier, and on my way back home I saw a soap opera actor I know.

Josh told me to come to a get-together at the home of Elaine Hughes, James’ mother, on 102nd and Broadway. Ordinarily I would have felt uncomfortable going to a stranger’s place, but I was interested in meeting James, who turned out to be very nice.

Apparently, he hasn’t written all that much, but he’s a fine writer; Josh told me he has had mental problems and is on antidepressants.

His mother is from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and is a singer who teaches English at Nassau Community College.

A number of her colleagues were there, and from speaking to them, I found they thought NCC was a great place – and I’m sure I would, too. (They teach four courses a semester, one lit course a term, remedial only if they volunteer, no summers necessary – and make about $26,000, which sounds like a fortune to me.)

Artie, whose songwriting partner Sandy knows Elaine, was there, and at first we were the only ones the other knew.

But then Josh arrived with Joyce, who I’m very impressed with. I signed her petition to get the U.S. out of Central America, and I noticed her in-laws had already signed it; they live at the same address she does.

I talked to a number of people, most of whom were gay (and not the slightest bit interesting or attractive), as Elaine ran around taking photos and making us sign a register. I think she has pretensions of holding a salon.

We left at about 7 PM, and I joined Josh and Joyce for dinner at Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant a few blocks down Broadway.

Joyce, who’s had cancer and fears its recurrence, is on a macrobiotic diet; I had some tofu-and-steamed-vegetable combination that was good but not filling.

Joyce is very smart and sharp, and I can see why Josh worships her. I like trying to make her laugh.

As we were walking down Broadway, I saw Margaret Rubel, called out her name, and gave her a kiss and hug. She’d just come from a party for one of the LIU English teachers.

Since George Economou left for Oklahoma and Prof. Templeton became chairman, things haven’t been the same, she said, and there’s a lot of tension in the office.

But she looks wonderful and her family is fine; yesterday was her grandson’s bar mitzvah. Josh and Joyce seemed amazed I just run into people on the street, but it happens to me all the time.

They went to a movie, and I came home. Ronna left a message that she and Lori were going to the 7:25 PM show at The New Yorker on 88th and I could meet them there, so I went out to catch them when they exited the theater at 9:15 PM.

We got pizza and returned to their place, where we sat around the kitchen table and talked for an hour. Gosh, I miss doing this sort of thing in Florida.

Good night.


Monday, May 7, 1984

Midnight. I just walked Ronna up the ten blocks of West End Avenue to her place and came back. We had a fine evening together. I care about her so much, and she feels the same way about me.

I picked her up at her office at 5:30 PM, half an hour later than I said I’d be there; I just got things moving late, and right now I’m pretty lackadaisical about time, unlike the early-bird neurotic I was a decade ago.

Ronna has a surprisingly spacious office, very big and airy; her new title is Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the Hebrew Arts School.

Leaving her office, we took an uptown bus to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th Street. I’d always admired the church from the outside, but inside it’s stunningly grand.

We sat about 40 rows beyond the altar, arriving just as the Dean of the church began the ceremonies.

Walter Cronkite emceed with his usual aplomb; there were beautiful music interludes – Bach, Schubert, Samuel Barber – and then Gregory Peck, Robert Penn Warren and another man read from the works of the first three writers to be in the Poets’ Corner: Whitman, Dickinson and Washington Irving.

The whole idea of an American counterpart to the Westminster Abbey Poets’ Corner was a stroke of genius. Leave it to the classy Episcopalians.

Ronna and I moved just in time to get good seats for the unveiling of the Corner. The whole ceremony was graceful, and afterwards there was a reception on the Great Lawn under Japanese lanterns, but we were too cold and hungry to stay very long.

We walked out with Mark-Linn Baker, the actor, and took the bus to 86th Street.

I took Ronna to a new Sichuan place on Broadway (called, imaginatively, “Szechuan Broadway”) over here. The main dishes were so-so, but it had been too long since I’d had cold noodles in sesame paste.

Ronna and I have been giving each other glances, and we began talking about relationships. She told me that she doesn’t think she’ll get back with Jordan permanently, though it’s obvious she cares for him a great deal and probably vice versa.

I told Ronna to come back with me to Teresa’s “and I’ll seduce you,” and she said, “Do it.”

Of course, we’re too smart, but when we got into Teresa’s bedroom and began watching TV, I did start – oh, this is so awkward, more so than the physical actions I’m trying to describe.

Well, I started kissing and hugging her – I suppose that’s the simplest way to put it – and although we laughed a lot at the absurdity of it, we began getting very close.

I told her that I was still tremendously attracted to her, and that I was almost ecstatic when I saw her in her Purdue sweatshirt last week because her breasts looked so beautiful.

She said she’s thought a lot about me and my legs and my ass, and of course both of us felt great to know we’re still sexy to another person.

I guess I really felt the best because I’ve been so asexual in my behavior and because of my gay experiences.

We were very playful but it did get pretty hot at times; we agreed beforehand not to have intercourse, so it was kind of silly, as if we were again adolescents petting. . . but it was very sweet.

It had been too long since I’d held another person in my arms and kissed and hugged them and been in bed with someone I care about.

I hope there’ll be no negative repercussions on our friendship, but I think that if we don’t have intercourse, everything will be under control.

Ronna told me that in comparison to other guys she’s been with, I stacked up very well – and naturally, that made my ego feel good.

Ronna said she knew I bowed out years ago when it was obvious she was interested in Jordan; she felt I was gallant to do that.

I have no problem talking to Ronna about being gay because after knowing her for so long, I feel free and open with her. I do love her a lot.

She’s so good, I’m sure she’ll find someone smart enough to see what he could have in a relationship with Ronna, and I’ll be happy for her when it happens.

Does this all sound too good to be true? Perhaps.

Up at 9 AM today, I went to the Y for a fairly extensive workout, and then I met Justin at his office.

Eddie Murphy Productions, Inc., is in a converted carriage house on East 63rd Street: a luxurious office, with mirrors all over the place and everywhere Eddie Murphy photos, magazine covers, movie posters, awards and life-size cut-outs.

Justin, who’s grown a mustache and looks well, was waiting for the maid service to arrive.

While I was there, his boss Bob Sachs’ ex-wife came over with her son’s term paper for Justin to type up. He does a little bit of everything at the office, but he does make over $25,000. I was really shocked at that, but I guess Eddie’s got the money rolling in.

Over lunch at Eat Here Now, Justin said that he has lots of time to work on his own career in this job, and it’s been pretty good – though he often gets upset with all the picayune details he has to take care of.

People in show business are volatile and temperamental, but Justin says that Eddie, despite being difficult, has always been kind to him and has even gone out of his way to be friendly.

Justin just finished a new play, and now he has four full-length plays – both an accomplishment and a frustration because he can’t get them produced. He’s fired his agent and is trying on his own.

The best move he’s made this year seems to be this director’s workshop he’s in, and he’ll be spending August in Reading, Pennsylvania, directing Born Yesterday.

I told Justin that being a playwright is the hardest thing for a writer to do, because he has to convince so many people of his works’ worth – not that he didn’t know that already.

Justin hasn’t even stopped performing, I’m glad to say, and he’s taking acting classes again. I’m convinced Justin has the perseverance to succeed; he needs to build on little successes and every leap forward.

Well, that was Monday. By now it’s 1 AM Tuesday.


Tuesday, May 8, 1984

8 PM. I’m in Rockaway, having gotten here in mid-afternoon.

Because I got to bed so late, about 4 AM, I was still asleep at 11 AM today. The day was dark and chilly and rainy, a perfect day to stay in bed. And I made the most of it, lying around until noon.

Then, after stops at the cleaners and Citibank, where I deposited another check Teresa got, I took the bus down Broadway to 42nd Street, today’s last stop because of the Olympic torch ceremonies at the UN (though later the Soviets announced they’d be boycotting the summer games in L.A.).

At the out-of-town newsstand, I got Sunday’s Miami Herald and Friday’s Fort Lauderdale News, which combined with today’s Times and USA Today, have given me enough reading material to last into the night.

Determined to avoid another long, long trip out to Rockaway, I paid $6 for the JFK Express to Howard Beach, and I was there in an hour.

Unfortunately, because of track work, it was another hour before I got to Grandma’s; it took three trains and half an hour of waiting in chilly outside stations. Rockaway is like the end of the world if you don’t have a car.

Grandma seemed in slightly better spirits but again complained about her insomnia and depression. At least she did go out to play cards.

A lemon cake she baked tasted delicious, but it fell apart into crumbly pieces because she forgot to add the right amount of some ingredient.

Yesterday my parents phoned and urged her to move to Florida, but perhaps Grandma is right when she stays here in Rockaway.

Through her long-time friends and neighbors, she’s got a support system she wouldn’t have in Florida, and certainly New York State has social services for the aged that are sorely lacking in Florida, which is really a haven for the “young old” – those under 75 who are mobile and healthy.


Thursday, May 10, 1984

9 PM. I just returned home – yes, West 85th Street feels like home – after dinner with Josh in the Heights. At 5:30 PM, I went to his office at 3 Park Avenue and waited while he worked on what looked to me like an incredibly complicated computer program.

Josh said it had been a lousy day and he was obviously under a lot of pressure. After he finished his work, he went to see Joyce and explained things to her; Josh later said he really threw a lot at her today and told me Joyce is “in the hot seat” and under more pressure than anyone.

On the train to Brooklyn, he showed me some excellent prose poems Tom Whalen had sent him for Grinning Idiot.

I got a letter from Tom myself today; he told me that once again, the NOCCA student evaluations listed me as their favorite fiction guest, so I should start planning next year’s trip to New Orleans. He’ll be here at David Goodkind’s on June 9.

Yesterday, reading the Voice, I found Tom’s liner notes on Ellis Marsalis’s album quoted in an article on Ellis and Branford and the other NOCCA jazz students.

Outside on Hicks Street, Josh’s neighbor Bob Tramonte and his wife Barbara were standing nearby, and Bob – author of Fat Like Me and the BCAA Lit Review notice for Arby’s greeted me enthusiastically and invited me in while Josh walked the dog.

Bob just lost 65% of the hearing in one ear due to Ménière’s disease and had been very dizzy, and since I was the first person Bob or Barbara had met who had that problem, I explained my own case history and tried to reassure Bob that it would definitely get better.

I guess I was really lucky that I never lost any hearing, even temporarily.

After a good chat, I went up to Josh’s, where he showed me a letter from Crad, which contained good news: Pork College was reviewed in the Windsor Star, Crad’s first legitimate newspaper review in Canada.

With Crad getting mentioned in the London Times Literary Supplement and a good review in Quill and Quire, he’s starting to achieve the legitimate status he deserves.

Over dinner at the Cadman, Josh told me he’d be happy if I used the Grinning Idiot Press imprint on any book I self-published next year, so I’ve got a publisher.

He walked me to the St. George, where I got the IRT, which I must be getting used to, because I don’t even see or smell the horrors anymore.

Last night I again fell asleep way after Grandma was already asleep, and I left Rockaway at about 10 AM. At Times Square I stopped at Hotaling’s for Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale News.

They’re starting commuter rail service from Boca to Miami in 1986; the bill to assist minority students with CLAST has passed the legislature; there seems to be a mini-labor shortage in Broward.

Talking with Bob Tramonte and others convinces me that I’m smart to make my future in Broward.

Teresa got a bank overdraft, and I spoke to her mother, whose check bounced, explaining that her paycheck wasn’t direct-deposited but sent to me on Friday. Other than that, all is well.

Mark from the 92nd Street Y left a message that Amira and Teresa called from Italy, where “they’re having a great time” – so I guess they got back together.

What a relief! I’m glad they were able to work things out. A postcard to Teresa’s mother from Paris also said everything was fine.

Mom forwarded my Taplinger royalty statement as of 12/31/83: six copies were sold in six months, leaving me with a deficit total on my advance of $179.

Miriam sent a card from Martha’s Vineyard, where she says she and Robert “are shedding layers of stress.” I guess those heavy vibes at the San Francisco Zen Center can be pretty stressful.

I worked out for two hours with my weights while watching soaps this afternoon, and I called Ronna and Alice.

Ronna’s pretty busy with friends and family (she’s seeing Jordan Saturday night and her mother and grandmother on Mother’s Day), but Alice said I should pick her up at the new Weight Watchers office at 5:30 PM tomorrow.

Teresa’s mother asked, “Are you getting much work done?” Not at all – but I’m enjoying myself a whole lot. Should I feel guilty? (Nah!) TC mark

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