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

Thursday, August 2, 1984

4:30 PM. I just returned from downtown, where I filed for unemployment benefits again. It took only two hours, and the claims-taker was helpful, so I have no complaints except for the horrible heat and humidity.

Last night we had a little party in the air-conditioned bedroom after Teresa got home from the Berkshires and Ronna got out of her shrink’s. We ordered in Chinese food and ate off a tray in bed while the three of us watched dumb situation comedies.

At 9:30 PM, I went home with Ronna and stayed for half an hour to chat with her and Lori, who told me she used to work for the same vanity press on Long Island, Exposition Press, that Crad did.

Crad called this morning from his grandparents’ in Jamaica to say he wants to get together with me and Josh on Saturday afternoon.

He’ll come here, and I guess I’ll get Josh – and maybe Pete – to do the same. On Sunday Crad is going out to Plainview to see his parents.

I slept on the mattress on Teresa’s bedroom floor because it was so unbearably hot without an air conditioner in the living room.

In the middle of the night I woke up feeling a sense of dread about my upcoming departure from New York.

It will be horrible to leave after so many weeks in which I discovered I really feel as if I do have a home here. In a way, the past three and a half months have been the core of my life.

In Florida, there’s nobody like Teresa or Ronna whom I can confide in, whom I can call up on the spur of the moment to come over for Sichuan food; there isn’t even any Sichuan food.

Here in New York, even my other friends – people I don’t see that often, like Amira, with whom we’re dining tonight – well, in Florida, I don’t even have a friend I’m as close to as I am with Amira.

Patrick is great, but he’s got a family, and Lisa is always busy; Larry Gelbart may closer to being a New York-type friend.

I once complained that in Florida I felt like Emily Dickinson, that people were always saying, “What?” to me. Here, I don’t feel that I have to explain myself: people are hip and sensitive and well informed; they understand.

At about 7 AM, I finally drifted off to sleep for a couple of hours, but my dreams were all filled with anxiety.

While Teresa went to Joseph and Ed’s (they got home last night; tomorrow we’re getting our hair cut there), I did the laundry, went shopping , and was interviewed by Washingtonian magazine.

Then, at 1:30 PM, I went down to Park Place (unfortunately, they’ve closed “Club 90,” the 90th Street and Broadway Unemployment office) to file my claim.

Dark clouds outside the window seem to indicate a thunderstorm is coming, and my own imminent leave-taking makes the day seem ominous.

I really would like to stay in New York, but as in 1980, I can’t afford to live here. Well, that’s the way it is for now, but things will change.


Sunday, August 5, 1984

2 PM. It’s been an interesting weekend.

On Friday night, Josh called and invited me to a party at Joyce’s, and yesterday Crad came over and spent the night. He left about an hour ago.

Crad has put on weight (he said the about me) but otherwise looks much the same: with those deep-set eyes and pouchy, sallow face, he appears unhealthy to me, but it’s a face that fits Crad.

Josh came over about an hour after Crad arrived, and later we met Pete downtown.

I had a good time, and I love and respect Crad, but I now remember how hard he is to get along with for an extended period.

It may be that my worst trait, my contrariness, is brought out by Crad; I hope he thought I was a good host, though. I tried.

He’s not really socialized; as Josh said, Crad is a nice guy, but often has a sour expression, and “for a humor writer, he’s not really funny.” He’s not really fun to be with, either.

Crad hates New York and refused to concede one good point to the city: the people looked moronic, the streets were disgusting, and he disputed Josh’s claim that the women were good-looking.

I think part of Crad’s disdain is insecurity because he probably realizes that the West Side yuppie crowd looks down on him because he has no money, no clothes, no style.

He’s not able to see the humor in it the way I can because I can “pass” for a yuppie. My tastes are basically middle-class and maybe middlebrow: that’s how I fit in down in Florida.

If you think about what Crad has done, putting himself on the line for his books, not working but selling on the streets for four or five years, he’s accomplished a lot.

But it’s taken its toll on him: all that rejection has made him into a bit of a rejecter himself.

I’m sure Crad liked Josh and Pete, though. After he accompanied Josh and me to lunch at the local Greek diner, we went downtown to the Strand.

Crad searched for bad vanity press books (he didn’t find any that were bad enough to buy) while Josh and I scouted around. Pete arrived after taking the NYU computer test and then we all went to the Cedar Tavern.

Josh advised Pete on becoming a computer programmer, and I had bought two computer books at the Strand. Listening to us talk, Crad proudly proclaimed he was a Luddite.

His attitude about New York reminded me of my own a couple of years ago, and the conversation between Teresa and Mikey in which Mikey said, “Richie keeps saying he could never live here,” and Teresa replied, “Richie forgets that no one’s asking him to.”

Yet a natural tendency is to compare our life in our hometown to any place we visit, so I can understand how Crad felt.

He’s very proud that he made $720 in July, and of course that is an accomplishment. But when I talked about money – for example, saying that it costs $400 a week to rent Teresa’s house in Fire Island – he reacted the way Grandma Ethel does, with shocked disdain.

(Come to think of it, though, Grandma isn’t disapproving, just astonished by the high price.)

Crad is used to things his own way, and when we went shopping for groceries, he had to have his own specialties.

In Sloan’s, a boy about 22 came over to us and asked Crad: “Aren’t you from Toronto? Don’t you sell your books on the street?”

I could tell Crad was delighted even if he dismissed it as only “a freak occurrence” after we left the supermarket.

We rented the video of Broadway Danny Rose, which he enjoyed. He never sees current movies because he has no money.

The past two years he’s made only about $7000 each year, so I guess he has to deny himself things. But even when Josh and I were poor, we never let that stop us from eating out or going to the movies.

I’m certain Crad is desperately unhappy and lonely, but he probably needs that to sustain his work. Myself, I’d rather be successful and have money and not be as good a writer.

Maybe I’m a sellout, but I want success on the world’s terms much more than Crad does.

Although Richard Hunt asked if Crad would see him to talk about the small presses for Richard’s thesis, Crad refused, saying he was on vacation and not on business.

He has the same stubbornness that Tom has: it’s a strength, but it can also turn into harshness, as when Tom refused entry to some guy to that party he gave for me in New Orleans in ’81.

I don’t mean to say I’m a better person, but I think I’m lots more flexible and adaptable than Crad. I feel comfortable just about anywhere.

At Joyce’s on Friday night, I was fine even though I knew only Joyce and Josh and the crowd certainly wasn’t my usual scene.

There were mostly friends of Joyce’s from Chile, all of them brought there by the exciting reforms of the Allende days and for whom the coup was a stunning blow.

Joyce’s friend Terry, who in the film Missing was the woman Charles went with to the town where he was taken from, was there.

Also at the party were Bill Felice, a weird guy who’d been underground for a while and who was head of US Out of Central America; Bob High, an eccentric ex-math teacher and computer programmer friend of Josh’s; the guest of honor, an Indian biologist who’d just flown in from Paris on his way to a conference in San Francisco; and a bunch of other human rights activists or international political people.

As Joyce introduced me to one of her friends, the woman exclaimed she’d just seen my photo and read about my PACs in Common Cause magazine.

That’s evidently why I’ve been called by several reporters in the past few days. I must get a hold of that article.

Josh was obviously bored at the party, and I was too, a bit, but I’m more sociable than Josh is – or at least more willing to put up with the bullshit of small talk.

After we left, Josh called the get-together The Big Chile, and that inspired me to watch The Big Chill on Saturday morning as I worked out.

On Friday night, I spoke to Gena, who’s glad to be away from Saudi Arabia and excited about the computer course she just took in Philadelphia. Although she called for Teresa, we ended up talking for half an hour.

Well, I seem to be rambling, so I’ll hang up here.

*

4 PM. It’s a dark, cool afternoon; I’ve been lying in bed, listening to Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

In a week, I’ll be gone from the Big Apple. Unlike Crad, I love this city – but then, I grew up here and have so many connections here.

My head has been spinning, thinking about the way each one of us sees things his way, has his own little obsessions. It relates to point of view in fiction: objective narrators are impossible, aren’t they?

I’m getting a little nervous. Tomorrow I should call Betty Owen and Ben Popper at Broward Community College. I’m scared I’ve just screwed up my life, that I’ll go back to poverty and disgrace, but I know that’s just a momentary obsession let loose to the max.

One thing: I feel very happy to be me and wouldn’t trade places with anyone. I don’t envy anyone else, really.

I’ve been incredibly happy this year and especially this spring and summer; the only disappointments and setbacks have been minuscule.

Therefore, I’m (neurotically?) on my guard: the law of compensation has a way of catching up with you and equalizing things. I guess the best word to describe my feelings about the future is apprehensive.

Emily, Claire, Matt and Sue sent me a letter on their last day at Millay, bless them. And orders for Eating at Arby’s have been coming into Josh’s Grinning Idiot p.o. box from people in Los Angeles, Georgia and Texas.


Monday, August 6, 1984

3 PM. I’ve been in New York 100 days as of today.

Yesterday afternoon I bussed around Manhattan, from Grand Central Station to St. Marks Place to East Harlem. I’m going to miss this city terribly, and part of me would like to stay.

But as I said to Ronna, some things are more precious if they’re of limited duration – like our relationship.

I took the 96th St. bus crosstown to see her after my Sunday traipsing around; we did laundry and brought in Sichuan food and had a good talk.

Then, in her bedroom, we fooled around – it was great but also sad because I may not see her for a long time. After all these years, I still love Ronna and am just as attracted to her as when we started dating back in college.

She left for Boston today, but I may be able to catch her on Thursday, before she goes on to Penn State.

Though Ronna may be an underachiever, she is one person I can talk to easily; she understands me as much as anyone does.

Teresa stayed at Fire Island last night (she’s at “the UN” now – that’s what she calls Unemployment), so I was alone.

It was cool but humid as I walked down West End Avenue, and I settled into bed with the air conditioner on and began reading Schwartz and Neikirk’s The Work Revolution: The Future of Work in the Post-Industrial Society.

Unlike others, they are not optimistic about the changes technology will bring, expecting that automation and computers will cause widespread unemployment and a sharp difference between “smart” and “dumb” jobs.

They do say teachers from elementary school through the Ph.D. level need basic computer proficiency “and better get it as soon as possible.”

Another remark I took to heart from was: “Teaching is probably the one single occupation in which the quality of work will increase by 100% because of technological change.”

Right now the stock market is in a huge rally caused partly by the news that unemployment is up and the index of leading economic indicators is down.

This news suggests the long-awaited slowdown in the economy, which may mean a “soft landing” for the boom recovery rather than another crash into recession.

Up late, I went to the Fort George post office and checked my box, then made out a card to forward my mail to Florida until next April.

Back on the subway, I went to midtown for lunch, did a few banking chores and came home to cool out.

*

9:30 PM. Teresa came home and said the Unemployment people can’t understand why she hasn’t gotten her first two checks, Anyway, she signed for a third.

She seemed to have a good weekend on Fire Island away from her housemates: she met a nice Italian psychologist, John D’Onofrio, and Geraldine Ferraro remembered her as she walked by on the beach with her press entourage.

We were going to have dinner together, but Teresa decided to go out to hear the Philharmonic in the Park. I had (and have) a bad sinus headache and didn’t feel like joining her.

So I had a burger deluxe at the Greek diner (where another patron had on a Richard Burton Camelot T-shirt in memory of the actor, who died last night) and then bussed to midtown and back.

Looking west at Times Square, I saw the most beautiful red sunset over New Jersey.

When I get cranky, I have to remember how beautiful life can be – even on 42nd Street. I love Manhattan and look intently at everything, storing memories like some chipmunk gathering nuts for the long winter.

Tomorrow I’ll probably go to the beach to see Grandma, who must be wondering what happened to me.

I tried to call Betty Owen but got no answer at BCC. It’s possible that three weeks from today, I might be finishing my first day of teaching.

Today was a quiet day, but I’ve got a feeling the tempo of life is going to pick up very soon. I have half a dozen airline reservations for next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.


Tuesday, August 7, 1984

7:30 PM. I’m in Rockaway. It’s been another hot and humid day, but right now, as flashes of lightning indicate that thunderstorms are near, the sky and sea are equally gray.

Seagulls are darting around wildly, and it almost seems as if their sudden movements are setting off the lightning and the foamy ocean.

The Army Corps of Engineers and their giant equipment are trying to fill in the beach. “Again they’re doing it,” Grandma Ethel said. “If they didn’t, there’d be no more beach.”

The beach is now just a thirty-yard strip – until the sand being pumped in comes to the rescue. But that’s just a temporary cure. Erosion’s blowing in the wind and in the end has got to win.

Grandma Ethel is off at her card game while I’ve been watching the news and exercising. I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost upstate and once again I feel as wide-bodied as an L-1011.

A week from now, I’ll be boarding one at LaGuardia; I think I’m going to take an $89 Delta flight to Fort Lauderdale. I want the extra couple of days unless for some reason I have to return sooner.

Last night I read until Teresa came home; then we talked and watched Joan Rivers in bed.

After all this time, I’ve gotten very fond of Teresa’s company, and I’m going to miss it when I go back to Florida. (I’m not going to say “go back home” because New York is my home, too.)

My mind raced last night, and it was 6 AM before I got some brief, unsatisfying sleep. I shouldn’t do this, but I kept fantasizing about winning the $20,000 NEA fellowship in November. But deep down, I know I’ll only be dreadfully disappointed.

Still, it’s so exciting to dream about it the way others dream about becoming Lotto millionaires.

Teresa did a wash early while I still lay in bed. Mikey called, saying his camping weekend was literally a washout, and we made tentative plans for dinner on Friday.

Then Mom phoned with the news that Taplinger had written to say they were remaindering the 2100 copies of With Hitler in New York and asking if I wanted any or all of them.

I called Ted Rosenfeld at Taplinger, who said he’d notify me just as soon as they get a bid – if they do – which could be anywhere from a dime to a dollar.

Certainly, it would pay to buy up copies. But if I remember my contact, this means that when the book goes out of print, I retain all rights to the work.

Perhaps I could persuade Rick or Ed and Miriam to let Paycock Press or Zephyr Press do a trade paperback edition.

With Hitler in New York still seems like an unjustly neglected work to me. If nothing else, I’ll spend money to send copies of it to various writers and editors.

A lot of what I was thinking about last night was Florida and how I’m not taken seriously there.

You could say that’s my own fault, but even if I never did any zany press stuff, I’d be ignored as a writer because no one would believe a serious writer would come from South Florida.

Yet in New York, my books are in bookstores and were even in the windows of B. Dalton, Waldenbooks and the East Side Bookstore, and I get serious attention in the Times Book Review.

In Florida, I may be just a clown, but luckily that doesn’t count for anything up here.

Here in New York, I don’t need the publicity. I don’t need to show off for local yokels because my friends are talented doers I can relate to.

Today I had lunch with Pete at Wall Street’s Italian Alps restaurant and then we got ices at Battery Park.

Pete thought Crad was very odd and “too gloomy” and he wondered how Crad could be capable of writing such funny stuff.

Then I had a two-hour trek through Brooklyn to Rockaway, stopping off at the Junction (which looks more and more like Harlem) and at Brooklyn College, a place where I could never again teach.

Rockaway was cooler than Manhattan, and Grandma looked good and sounded relatively chipper. It is good to see her up and around again.


Thursday, August 9, 1984

11 PM. At Lincoln Center this afternoon, I took some steps for the future. In a stationery store, I bought my 1985 diary, good old National #55-14: my seventeenth diary since 1969.

I can’t help believing that my diaries have lots of value as a document of a person’s life. Always I fantasize that one day my diaries will get published and all the world – well, the media anyway (that’s all the world that counts) – will be astonished.

On reflection, I realize that these books probably will never get published and will end up in some South Florida incinerator or Staten Island dump.

I also got my ticket on Delta flight 689, LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale at 9:05 PM on Tuesday. By this time five days from now, God and the LaGuardia air traffic controllers willing, I’ll be back in Florida.

I also bought some Tofutti and helped a blind Chinese man to the subway at Lincoln Center, but I doubt those are major steps for my future.

Just as Ronna arrived home, I called her and we made arrangements to meet an hour later.

In the meantime, I spoke to Teresa, telling her that her unemployment benefits were determined at $180 a week, the New York maximum – and hopefully the checks, already a month late, will follow.

And Mom says she needs a check for Jonathan to complete FIU registration for me; I told her to fill out a Landmark Visa cash advance check.

Ronna met me at the corner of 87th and West End, and we walked to H&H on 80th to buy bagels for her to bring to Russ and Pat in Pennsylvania.

Ronna said she enjoyed being with her cousin Karen, but the trip was rushed and she got badly bitten by mosquitoes on the Maine shore.

After dinner at the Front Porch (where I had a leaden quiche), we bought stuff on Write On Broadway: she had to get cards and I got a t-shirt that says “When You Leave New York, You’re Camping Out!”

I got upset because she wanted to walk back to Shakespeare & Company to buy Jordan a birthday present, but the real issue was my jealousy after learning that Jordan was going with her on the trip to Penn State.

Still, after I was honest and admitted how I felt, the evening was wonderful. Mostly Ronna and I fooled around in bed.

I don’t describe sex or even “making out” very well, but I know it was great for both of us. With Ronna, I feel a sense of ease, and I’m able to touch her, hold her, kiss and hug her without feeling self-conscious.

Though I’m definitely more gay than straight, when it comes to Ronna, I love her curvy, fleshy body, her ample ass and soft breasts.

Sex is fun with her; it all seems so natural. She asked me how I got so good at it when I said I was so inexperienced and I told her it was all feeling – my actions stemmed from the way I feel about her.

We reminisced about college days, our first meeting, Ivan and Shelli, 1971 and all that. (There’s got to be a book in there somewhere.)

I’ll really miss Ronna, but I know that after 13½ years, we’ll never lose track of each other. I hugged her tightly at her door and walked home, stopping to pick up Mrs. Fields cookies and the Friday Times.

What a glorious life!


Friday, August 10, 1984

4 PM. Bummer. I came down quick from last evening’s euphoria after having a sleepless night and then a bout with diarrhea and nausea this morning.

My radio interview with WRKO went okay. When asked, I picked Vanessa Williams, the former Miss America who go kicked out for posing nude, as my new running mate:

“She can lick any other Vice-Presidential candidate,” I told the interviewer, a reference to one of her Penthouse photos. “She can definitely lick Bush.”

He said, “Richard, this is a family show,” but he seemed to think it was funny.

Then I got a Mastercard cash advance, Tofutti and went to see Prince in Purple Rain, a good rock movie that I truly loved and want to see again.

Teresa’s check from unemployment came, as did my final check.

It’s a dreary day and I feel washed-out and empty. I’m having dinner with Mikey and Amy but would rather stay home in bed.

I’m really depressed about leaving New York. This is very hard. But I feel I have no choice now. This, too, shall pass. It must be my hormones or something.

*

10 PM. I just got home from having dinner with Amy and Mikey. The M5 bus took me right to the corner of Riverside and 85th so I didn’t have to cross the street or walk more than thirty steps to get back here.

After fifteen weeks in New York, this place seems so familiar to me that it’s going to be very tough to leave behind.

Mikey and Amy’s wedding in three months gives me a reason to return; they had just picked up the invitations today, and Amy proudly showed me one.

Although both of them say it’s not what they wanted, they’re going to have “a big fekakta Jewish affair on Long Island.”

Amy says it will be tasteful and elegant, but I got the impression she was trying to rationalize it to herself – and of course, there’s no need.

We ate at the Centre Court, just across from the New York State Theatre, where Amy works for City Opera.

Like Ronna, Amira and Barbara, she toils in New York’s culture industry, and Amy seems to love her job, though the in-season responsibilities are heavy.

Mikey’s even bought a tuxedo so he can take her to all the black-tie receptions she coordinates. They both seem very happy. Amy has totally domesticated old flannel-shirt-and-football Mikey.

I’d forgotten what humongous eaters and drinkers they both are. They made dinner into a three-hour extravaganza.

There’s not all that much I have to talk about with them, but they’re nice – really, my only traditional-couple friends, the closest to JAPdom of all my acquaintances.

Dinner with them ended my daylong depression. I can cope with depression better now that I know that although the feelings may be intense, they’re finite and temporary.

Obviously, it’s very difficult for me to adjust to having to go back to Florida. But as Mikey and Amy talked about apartment problems and expenses, I was again reminded of how I could never afford to live here in Manhattan.

It’s best I take the last 3½ months as a gift and use the memories well.

In this free paper I picked up, I found an interview with Joyce about Missing that filled in a lot of gray areas about her and Charles for me and made me understand Joyce’s commitment to get the U.S. government to admit its responsibility for the horrors of the Chilean coup.

I got the paper last night at Shakespeare & Company, where I saw Michael Martone’s and Michael Brondoli’s story collections, both of which were reviewed in USA Today today.

Tom Ahern made the Times Book Review and Stephen Dixon’s latest collection was reviewed in Time.

True, I’ve also had my photo in USA Today, and I’ve been quoted in Time, but as comic relief, not as a serious writer.

If the utter indifference of the world has made Crad into a bitter isolate, it’s also had a bad effect upon me. To get the attention my writing could not, I’ve had to resort to playing the clown, the buffoon, the ne’er-do-well comedian.

I think about Florida and I feel as though I made myself into a joke there, that no one will ever take me seriously.

But of course, I can’t have it both ways – or so it seems: I can’t be both the dignified writer and get my name in the paper, too.

Today’s Boston radio interview will be my last for the Presidential campaign, probably – and so ends my ’84 candidacy.

It got me national publicity, lots of favorable press, and experience doing radio and TV and newspaper interviews. In a sense, my candidacy has empowered me to take charge of my own life.

But it also took time away from “serious” writing. Every sweet has its sour, as Emerson says.

And where do I go from here? I intend to keep a low profile this coming year. There will be no candidacy, no book coming out, nothing to keep me from quietly going about my life.

Let’s see how I do without the spotlight. Am I like Prince? Do I need to be a star?

I’m 33 years old and it looks like I’ll never be a real star anyway – and you know, it’s getting easier to accept that. I’ll trade a little obscurity for some more good living any day.TC mark

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