A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1984

Saturday, August 11, 1984

7 PM. Last evening I read the first chapter of Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, an exciting look at how computers are changing the way people think about themselves and about society.

I love dealing with these ideas and I look forward to taking more computer courses.

I’m registered for Mary Alice’s Computers in the Classroom FIU course, which should be a breeze, that begins a week from Tuesday at the FIU/FAU building at Broward Community College.

I’d like to take Educational Programming I (and maybe II) at FAU at BCC. It’s too bad that Logo is being offered only at FIU/Tamiami, but it might be worth it to go there to take it.

Last night I dreamed it was the first day of classes at BCC, and Dr. Hamilton made all us faculty sign sheets saying we weren’t homosexual and write down the names of anyone whom we suspected of being gay. A woman named Jane started crying because she was a lesbian and couldn’t lie; she knew this would make her lose her job at BCC.

Obviously, I feel that BCC doesn’t really let me be myself, and I have mixed feelings about returning there, this time as an adjunct. Yet it might be the easiest thing for me to do, saving me the hassle of looking for a full-time job. I guess I have to reprogram myself – to use computer jargon – to live in Florida again.

Today at noon I went to see Alice, who took me to Café Figaro and then for a long talk in Washington Square. She wanted to ask my advice about Richard, who told her she’s an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Alice told me she felt she was in love with him, but he slept with her only once; he has hangups about an abortion his last girlfriend had and said he felt terribly guilty about this all the time. Why this should lead him to disavow sex, I don’t quite understand, nor does Alice.

But maybe another, more serious problem came to the fore yesterday when Alice visited his apartment: she realized they have a real clash in values. Richard hates New York, loves the country, camping out, nature, children, and “doesn’t care at all about money.”

He’s a Woodstock person, said Alice – on the fifteenth anniversary of Woodstock – “and all I want is a two-bedroom co-op in Manhattan.”

She’s lied to Peter about Richard, not telling him anything about her feelings, and she asked me if she should tell Peter tonight.

I advised against it, saying she should wait until she’s thought about it more. When she told Peter about her feelings toward Mark from Wisconsin years ago, he was really hurt. Alice said that their separation is proving Peter right: she just appreciates him more and more.

The problem between them is still money, and that’s never going to change. Peter’s a “pauper” to Alice: all he wants to do is to be a writer, a profession which makes him happy.

Alice feels envious of other couples who have two incomes and doesn’t know if she can reconcile her disgust at Peter’s poverty with her knowledge that he’s the best person she’ll ever meet.

You might say Alice is pretty shallow to be so mercenary, but if money is that important to her, she can’t pretend it’s not. We hugged at her door. She’ll be in Palm Beach in late October and I’ll see her then.

All afternoon, my tooth – the new caps up front – have been aching, and I was really running late to meet Brad at Mama Leah’s Blintzeria on First and 74th, so I hopped into a cab, which let me out right in front of a car with Broward County Florida plates.

I found Brad with a group of people: his grandmother and his sister; Les, his former roommate; and Les’s parents. I got there just as they’d finished but stayed to chat for ten minutes.

Brad’s grandmother looked okay but sort of washed out. If I had my 1969 diary, I bet I could find references to Brad and how I felt about him then. Whoever could have imagined that fifteen years later, I’d be at a celebration of his 38th birthday with Brad and his family?

I was almost glad that we didn’t have all that much time to talk. Brad asked if I’d lost weight, and his sister, who looked cuter than I remembered, said I looked about 25.

I feel pretty good about my looks. The other night I was taking off my shirt to change for bed, and Teresa interrupted her phone conversation to say, “You have a body, Rich.” Ah, vanity.

After leaving Brad and his party, I took the First Avenue and 86th Street buses home and will spend my last Saturday night in Manhattan alone, reading and potchkeying around.


Monday, August 13, 1984

11 AM. Last evening Josh arrived here totally bummed out after a conversation he’d had with James, who was in a very bad state. James stopped taking his medication and was so depressed all week that he didn’t go out of the house, didn’t even shower or shave.

His mother convinced him to fly to San Diego to join her at the Mexican clinic where she’s getting Laetrile treatments so that James could be injected with calf cells that would supposedly rejuvenate him.

James’ whole family is very weird, as I first surmised when I read his New Yorker story.

Elaine hasn’t even seen a regular doctor for her cancer and is relying on this quack treatment. The father is a manic-depressive who recently remarried, and the brother is also a mess, living with his grandmother in Vicksburg and also going to get himself shot up with calf cells.

Josh and I sat around and talked about computers – he sees no creativity in them, but that’s because all he knows is business programming – and then had dinner at the Pumpkin Eater, a health food restaurant.

Back here, we watched a program on the fifteenth anniversary of Woodstock. Josh was there, as were Teresa and Alice. I guess I was there in spirit.

But the spirit of Woodstock seems long gone, and today most people seem to want to bury the memory of the late ’60s and early ’70s: the music, the peace movement, the looser style, the now-embarrassing calls for love.

Today’s kids are Reaganaut preppies or cynical punksters, and both types devalue and disdain the Woodstock era.

But the pendulum does turn, and I’m betting that the 1990s will mark a return to the more romantic and idealistic ’60s and that there’ll be nostalgia for that time – just as the 1950s have been revived in this decade.

I need to wait for the right time to publish anything about my adolescence, whether it’s a memoir or a novel.

Right now, any mention of Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, Kent State, etc., is box office poison, but eventually people will come to see the value of the spirit of that era.

Around 8 PM, Josh called up James, who said he felt well enough to meet us at a bar on 105th Street off Broadway.

Although he looked disheveled and a little wild-eyed, he made perfect sense as we talked all evening.

Obviously, he was embarrassed about the calf cells cure (“It’s something I would have made fun of just a month ago”), but he’s now at the end of his rope.

He has bulimia and throws up everything he eats and says he’s “got to start building myself up from ground zero.”

He will try to go to the UNC-Greensboro MFA program – I told him to give my regards to Lee Zacharias when he sees her – because he needs structure in his life.

We talked and drank and listened to the jukebox until 10 PM. By then, I felt tired and said goodbye to James as well as to Josh, who’ll be going to New Orleans next week.

Teresa got home just before I did. She said she had a fine weekend in Fire Island with her new friends, but everyone in her house is mad at her.

We talked until we went to bed – I’m really going to miss those late-night conversations, she in bed, me on the floor – and this morning she left to take the real estate exam and then go back to Fire Island.

*

5 PM. I really don’t want to go back to Florida.

When I called Betty Owen, she told me that there were no full-time positions at South Campus but that I’d be welcome if I wanted to teach part-time.

Naturally, I won’t work that cheap. But I began to think that if there are no positions at Central Campus either, there’s really no reason for me to go home tomorrow.

So I changed my plane reservations to next Wednesday night and felt relieved that I’d be here another ten days.

Feeling chipper after that, I went to midtown for lunch and was thrilled to see that the article about me finally appeared in “The Cutting Edge” column of Miami/South Florida magazine.

On the M104 bus heading home, I spotted Ronna, looking gorgeous, going into the stationery shop by Lincoln Center (the one where I bought my 1985 diary), so I hopped off the bus to surprise her, and we had a brief conversation.

We were going to see each other tonight anyway, but I was so happy to tell her that I’d be staying on longer.

However – wouldn’t you know it? – when I got home, there were confused messages from Mom about an interview at Miami-Dade Community College.

They have a temporary position, full-time, for the fall term only, and I’m supposed to call a Dr. Dominguez tomorrow at 10:30 AM.

It’s at their South Campus, way out in Kendall, and at first I thought I wouldn’t go there – apparently, they want to me to come in by Wednesday – but I now think that beggars can’t be choosers.

But feeling that I’ve got to leave tomorrow takes away all the euphoria I had about staying on longer. I know I really don’t want to go back to Florida, but I also know I can’t live a fantasy in New York forever.

Right now I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of returning to Florida, to the drudgery of grading papers, to the small-minded people . . . I feel really torn up.


Tuesday, August 14, 1984

2 PM. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this confused in my life. I’m torn between returning to Florida or – I’m finally saying it – trying to stay in New York.

Last evening I talked it over with Ronna. We also made love, and it was so good that I think I’m crazy to leave her.

That makes it sound like it’s sex, but it’s afterwards that counts: She told me that these past three months she’s been on a high.

I guess I’ve been taking her for granted, but now I see that there’s never been anyone I cared for as much as I do Ronna.

I even spoke about marriage in the future, and she said she’d thought about it, too.

That’s a long way off and there are lots of problems – though I feel they could be worked out – and really, it’s the least of my concerns.

But it bespeaks a feeling that I’m only just becoming aware of: the need to settle down. At 33, I’m in the Peter Pan syndrome, the eternal adolescent, not even being able to make a commitment to a place, much less a person.

I’ve lived life from day to day, and now I’m not a kid anymore. How many more times can I go back to my parents’ place temporarily?

One thing is certain: There are no full-time temporary jobs at Broward Community College. I spoke to Dr. Popper, and he said that’s definite, although there are part-time positions – which, of course, I don’t want.

The Miami-Dade Community College job turned out not to be one of the positions I had applied for but a one-semester sabbatical replacement. Although it might have been interesting and would have paid well, I don’t need that.

The South Campus chairman, Dr. Dominguez, was very nice and said I should instead wait to hear from the Downtown Campus about the yearlong position.

Aside from that job and the one at Nassau Community College, I’ve got no prospects of any job anywhere, either here or in Florida.

My most important goal right now is to study computer education, but I have my doubts about FIU and FAU, and I’m sure I could take courses here, too.

I had long talks with Ronna, Mom, Teresa and Susan (whom I’m meeting later today for a movie). After speaking with them, I walked over to Liberty Travel, where I exchanged my ticket for one for next Wednesday.

The travel agent, a Puerto Rican girl around 22, said that after five years of living in Fort Lauderdale, she finally decided to move back here last month on the spur of the moment.

Teresa said I could stay here and share expenses, but I’d still feel I was in the way. For $450 a month, I could also try to sublet Joseph’s apartment in Mikey’s old building on 23rd Street – although that’s kind of expensive.

But I think I can work out something: I can get adjunct jobs here or maybe some kind of full-time job in any field. And in January, I could decide if I really want to stay or to go back to Florida.

It’s a tradeoff: warm winters and an easier lifestyle versus my friends and the stimulation New York offers. My head is spinning from all the choices I have to make, and I feel an icy fear in my belly.

The last few months aren’t a true test of New York living because I haven’t been struggling to make ends meet. I just don’t know what to do, and the more I think about it, the more confused I get.

All I know is that I’ve got a week to sort things out.

*

10 PM. I felt tense to the point of headache and stomachache all day.

At the Hunter College library, I tried to see if I could find any information that could help me make up my mind. I discovered that Barry University, not FIU or FAU, has the best graduate computer ed program in South Florida.

Seeing The Bostonians at Cinema I with Susan and her friend Hardy was a good idea: the movie and dinner afterwards took my mind off the decisions about my life which have to be made soon.

For the first time in months, I’m as jittery as can be.


Friday, August 17, 1984

8 PM. I feel like a damned fool for ever wanting, for ever trying, to become a writer and a college teacher. Society doesn’t value what I do. It values my silly PR stunts and jokes. I don’t even feel like writing in my diary anymore.

If it wasn’t for Ronna, I would probably be feeling ten times worse. Last night I went over to her house to play Scrabble with her, Lori and their friend Ron.

Today we went to Trump Tower, the IBM and AT&T buildings, had an argument, walked down to the Gotham Book Mart, had lunch at Kaplan’s Deli, got on a bus uptown and then got off and took a taxi when I began feeling ill.

The only part of the day I felt alive was the two hours we spent in bed. That was heaven, a refuge from the world and its stupidity.

Now I have a raging headache. I can’t help blaming myself for the predicament I’m in. I feel like I’ve totally fucked up. Oh shit, now I’m crying.

“It will all work out,” Ronna said as she held me.

On the phone, Mom said the same thing. Mom was angry after seeing the rejection letter I got from Nassau Community College. Over the years, Mom has seen how hard I’ve worked and how little I’ve accomplished.

No, that’s not true: I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve given a lot – as a teacher and a writer. It’s the world that won’t, or can’t, pay me back.

I feel I’m back in the same place I was four years ago, in the summer of 1980 – which is nowhere. All I want to do now is get to sleep.

*

9 PM. I didn’t go to sleep.

I’ve just returned from a walk to 86th and Broadway to get some Mrs. Fields cookies. I wasn’t wearing my glasses or lenses, so the world seemed a blur of lights against darkness.

It’s cool tonight, and not humid, so I can do without the air conditioner. And I feel better. Emerson said something about how a man is never really tested until he’s forced back on his wits.

I’ve been easy-going and good-natured these past four months, but why shouldn’t I have been? I’ve had the best of everything: not only the basics like food, shelter and clothing, but I’ve had luxuries like the VCR and answering machine, and I’ve had my friends.

Life isn’t one continual climb: there are ups and downs, and you can usually learn more from the downs.

Four years ago, life was very painful for me.

I remember August 1980 for being hot and unhappy. Nights I’d lie in bed against the open window, with Jamaica Bay in front of me, planes landing at Kennedy, and the ship’s-bottom roofs of Rockaway below. I’d read Emerson, listen to classical music, and cry a little when I needed to.

Then, as now, there seemed no way out.

What did I learn from that time that I can use now? There’s always a way out. I’m in a much better position now, in some ways.

I’m stronger and more capable. My health, knock wood, is fine. I have lots of people who I care about and who care about me. Remember, kiddo, nobody said it would be wavy gravy or watermelon. You are going to struggle through this decade, but the 1990s will bring about a good turn of events.

I have faith, but it’s easy to forget that at times when I feel overwhelmed. Still, I seem to be able to know how to upright myself after a time. Meanwhile, it’s five days till you’re in that Delta L-1011 heading up to the sky, so enjoy the beauty here.

The only way you can really fuck up is if you don’t live each day to the fullest. Today there was plenty of beauty: Ronna, of course, but the buildings in midtown, the view from Riverside Drive, the breeze I’m feeling now.

Don’t let the bastards get you down. Just like you root for your friends, there are people rooting for you. Don’t let them down. Don’t let yourself down.


Sunday, August 19, 1984

10 PM. “As the seasons change, so must a man change,” read the fortune cookie I opened fifteen minutes ago at Szechuan Broadway.

And the seasons do seem to be changing: there’s a definite nip in the air tonight.

I’ve spent the past thirty hours with Ronna, and I enjoyed just about every minute. Though I have doubts about our relationship – mostly based on my attraction to men – I can definitely state that I’ve never loved anyone more than I love Ronna now.

An hour after I completed yesterday’s diary entry, Ronna and I were on the subway. I’d tried to dress a little better than usual, and Ronna looked great in a low-cut white sundress that her grandmother had sewn.

At 14th Street, we switched to the LL, the Canarsie line, a ride I had never gone on before. It was interesting to see the neighborhoods like East New York and Brownsville (the train runs outdoors there), which I hadn’t been to in years.

There was the expected devastation and blight along Van Sinderen Avenue, but also hope in the form of the neat rows of the Nehemiah homes, built by black churches to keep middle-class families as homeowners in an otherwise decaying neighborhood.

Getting off at the end of the line at Rockaway Parkway, I remembered so much about the surroundings: how I worked as a delivery boy at Glenwood Laundry on the corner; Janice’s old house up the block; and her funeral four years ago at the church we passed on the Flatlands bus.

Coming back to Canarsie after so many years was strange, mostly because everything looked the same: the little mom-and-pop stores, the kids hanging out on corners, the bagel bakeries and vacant lots.

The alley by Ronna’s mother’s house brought back a flood of memories. Sitting there was Ronna’s grandmother, funny and feisty and angry as hell (“pissed off,” she said) about everyone deserting her and leaving her to prepare the barbecue alone.

It was a great evening for me, reminding me of all the good times I spent with Ronna’s family. Her mother looked good, although she denied it; Ellen and Betty hadn’t changed all that much; and of course, Billy had become a tall, handsome 17-year-old kid with a girlfriend, and Robbie, too, had become a man.

It’s hard to believe I knew them when they were babies, and seeing Billy made me realize for the first time how foolish my relationship with Sean must have seemed because Sean was exactly Billy’s age when I began seeing him.

Their similar teenage-boy manner and looks made it clear to me that Sean was just a child, really. I did love him, but that never could have been a love that lasted. We had great sex but not adult conversations.

The special relationship between Ronna and her grandmother (who even said to me privately, “I love all my family, but that one is special”) was a pleasure to see.

Ronna’s mother’s friend Sheila, whom I remember from a decade ago, arrived, as did the Tunicks with their son Steven, who’s going off to the University of West Virginia today, just as Billy is going off to Brandeis tomorrow.

I was glad to talk with Ellen, a nurse, about Florida; she, too, finds it warm and hospitable but can’t relate to the people there. Betty’s the family rebel, the lesbian proofreader, although they did get her to agree to wear a bridesmaid’s dress at Sue’s upcoming wedding.

Robert seemed apathetic as everyone debated which second cousins and which of Mr. Caplan’s relatives to invite to the wedding; I can’t imagine he much cares, and I was probably more familiar with the names in that close-knit family than he was.

Even after all these years away from them, I feel comfortable with Ronna’s family and their conversational rhythms and give-and-take.

It was 11 PM when Robert and Sue drove us home, stopping at Avenue M and East 18th Street, where Ellen lives (now with Robbie) before heading up the Prospect Expressway, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and along the West Side.

I asked Ronna to come home with me, and she agreed. We went to bed immediately and made love for hours, eventually falling asleep. Later, Ronna said it was touching to watch me sleep.

I did sleep well, dreaming about Ronna and her family, waking up to watch her sleep, so beautiful in her rest.

We didn’t get up until 10 AM, and then we stayed in bed for quite a while. Finally I went out to get some milk and the paper, and we had breakfast, but we wound up in bed again, making delicious love until about 2 PM.

It is heaven to be with her; she makes me feel so good. We are sexually compatible and enjoy each other’s company, so the relationship seems very solid for now.

Back at her place, we did our laundry together. I needed to clean Teresa’s sheets before she gets home from the Bruce Springsteen concert tonight.

Ronna and I had lunch at Happy Burger, bought groceries at Sloan’s, folded laundry, and then, when Lori came home, we all decided to go see a movie. We took the M104 bus down to 62nd, but since this is New York, we got there too late.

Walking all the way back up Broadway to 89th Street, we got in at the New Yorker to see The Woman in Red, a fairly amusing Gene Wilder film.

As we were walking down to the Chinese restaurant, I came across Matt, to whom I explained that I didn’t get the job in Florida. He had just returned from Connecticut a few hours before, and he seemed wired.

Matt was upset that he lost a chance to go back to working at Fordham, and we commiserated about having to find new ways to make a living. He declined our offer to join us for dinner, and we continued on to Szechuan Broadway.

The dinner Lori, Ronna and I had was a real feast – I had great lemon chicken and cold noodles in sesame paste – and I left Ronna at the corner of 86th and West End with a kiss, probably the thousandth one since we met at the subway last night.

She has jury duty this week, but I hope to see her before I leave for Florida. What a terrific weekend I’ve had.


Monday, August 20, 1984

4 PM. I just called FIU’s Tamiami campus and learned their fall course in Logo has been canceled. And when I called FAU in Boca, I found out it’s very likely all their computer ed classes will be closed out, too.

I’ve asked Jonathan to register for me, but I don’t imagine he’ll have very good luck. If I can’t take at least nine credits, then there really isn’t much sense in going back to Florida for the fall.

As expensive as New York is, I might just as well try to stay here and make a go of it. Perhaps I’ll stay for just a week in Florida and come back here with some warmer clothes for the fall and winter.

I could apply to grad school in computer education up here or I could go to Florida in January and be a full-time student then.

Teresa came home late last night, her ears still ringing from the loud but vibrant Springsteen concert at the Meadowlands. (His last show there is tonight.)

She’d had a rough week with the people in her beach house, who aren’t speaking to her and who are following her around, afraid she’s going to rip off their stuff.

Because it was so cool and comfortable last night, I was able to get a restful night’s sleep out in the living room. Both Teresa and I got up late this morning, and we talked about my situation over breakfast.

Gena, Maboob and their kids are staying next door at Judy’s before they return to Saudi Arabia later this week, so we went over to say hello while the five little boys (two of Gena’s, three of Judy’s) played like wild Indians.

Finally, Teresa had to go to the Unemployment office and then to see Joseph, who just returned from San Francisco with Ed.

After getting some pizza, I wandered around the city, enjoying the gorgeous mild day.

I feel a bit exhausted emotionally, but I know everything will work out once I make a commitment to either staying in New York or going back to Florida.

Tonight Teresa and I are going out to the theater.


Tuesday, July 21, 1984

11:30 AM. Last evening Teresa and I had dinner at home (rotisserie chicken from the takeout place on Broadway) and then took the bus to the Golden Theater to see David Mamet’s Pultizer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross, about a motley group of real estate salesmen trying to sell crappy properties in Florida.

I enjoyed it very much. Mamet has the greatest ear for dialogue in the business, and the play was tightly executed with terrific timing by the cast.

On the way home, we stopped for Haägen-Dazs, and after watching the boring GOP convention in Dallas, we fell asleep.

It was such a gloriously cool night that I had to close the window. But during the night, I had a bad headache. I kept thinking: Should I stay? Should I go? Stay? Go? My mind hurts.

Both New York and Florida have advantages and disadvantages.

Teresa doesn’t mind my staying here if I help out with the rent and bills, and of course I wouldn’t do it any other way.

Unlike in the summer, she’ll be here all the time, of course, but I think there’s enough space for both of us to manage. I wouldn’t have my own room at my parents’ in Florida, either.

I figure I’ll try New York for the fall. I can always return to Florida in January. Then I can get a student loan and be a full-time grad student and take my courses and maybe even get cheap dorm space.

What do I really have in Florida except my family? I’m a bit scared of staying up here, but really, if I have to, I can leave at any time and return to the parental nest.

So, that’s it: Decision made. I’ll stay in New York for a while.

Tomorrow night I’ll go to Florida to see my parents and get my cold-weather clothes and tie up loose ends. TC mark

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