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

Sunday, September 2, 1984

6 PM. I’ve spent most of the weekend in bed: the mattress on the floor of my parents’ living room. I’ve watched a lot of movies on cable TV: Gandhi again last night, and then the mediocre Monsignor, and later, the stupid and unnecessary remake of Breathless.

When the Fort Lauderdale paper arrived at 3:30 AM, I read it then. At about 6 AM, I fell asleep and I didn’t awake until 2 PM, long after everyone else had gone to work.

I’ve been taking penicillin and decongestants and vitamins, and I’m much less congested than I had been, though I still feel tired and not up to par.

After two weeks without exercise, I feel as though my body’s fallen apart. I’ve also had almost no sexual desire since I’ve been sick.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Florida, and on the whole, I’ll be very glad to leave right now. When I read the local papers, I get fed up with the smug provincialism that characterizes their articles.

Maybe all places are the same way, but Fort Lauderdale (much more so than Miami) has this attitude that the world ends outside its borders.

It’s that small-town mentality. That attitude also was reflected in most of the local stories published about me.

What gets me now about this area is how few people were willing to stick up for someone different.

Most of my young students were deeply conservative and self-interested Reaganites. It was typical that the only student who came to my defense after the Legislators in Love incident was a 70-year-old Jewish guy from Brooklyn.

If I had been fired, no students would have protested as I did for professors I didn’t even know back in ’69 and ’70.

Today I read some 19-year-old young Republican refer to the 1960s as “a national disgrace.” I hope that after Reagan is reelected, he sends these kids to El Salvador so they can fight communism.

Oh well – you can see I’m feeling feistier (strange looking word, no?). My stomach hurts, but that’s from the penicillin.

Teresa called from Mattituck, where everyone was sitting with jackets on outside. Her niece’s crying kept everyone up all night, but otherwise the weekend had been fine.

Teresa was going to Fire Island by car tonight, and on Tuesday morning she has to be in the city for the real estate exam. I may go back to New York on Tuesday if I continue to feel this well.

Florida still feels stifling to me now. Maybe it’s the symbolism having such a bad cold, but I don’t feel I can breathe here.

Yesterday I ran into a woman from the haircutting place I used to go to, and I told her I’d moved to New York. More of my life is there now.

Now that I’m without a full-time job, Florida holds little for me. There’s my family, and nice winters, and that’s really about all.


Tuesday, September 4, 1984

Noon. I’m at the gate at Delta Air Lines in Fort Lauderdale. My flight should be boarding soon.

I slept really well, finding refuge in dreams with Mom and Ronna at Broward Community College and in Brooklyn.

This morning Mom and I broke down crying in each other’s arms. We hugged like we hadn’t in years. I talked with her and Dad later.

I can’t help wishing I hadn’t come to Florida, but I know that the awfulness of the past two weeks was probably inevitable. I’m so fucked up. I don’t know what I want out of life. I don’t know where I want to live or what I want to do.

This morning I did an interview with a Baltimore radio station. My heart wasn’t in it, but I tried as best I could to be funny; after all, the show must go on.

I’m under a lot of stress – that must be the cause of my stomach spasms – and I’m terribly frightened. My immediate fear, of course, is the plane ride, and how my still-clogged sinuses bear up during the fight.

Somehow I’ll get through it, just as I’ll somehow get through the next few months. God help me.

*

9 PM. The plane trip was all right. I kept swallowing and didn’t have too much ear trouble, though I want to wait to see if I’m going to get dizzy tomorrow.

Teresa got my phone message and was there waiting for me at LaGuardia, just as she was back in April.

I know this stay can never match the last one, but I feel okay about being here – so far. Teresa let me off at John Jay College, but there was no one at the English Department, so I took the bus back home.

Except for letters of rejection, there were no messages from any schools, so I’ll probably try to make do with the two John Jay courses; if as I expect, they’re SEEK courses, I’ll have classes three days a week.

I bought us chicken for dinner, and now Teresa is on the phone and I’m in the kitchen.

Having given Teresa a $265 check, I’ve taken care of my September obligations. As Kevin told me, you spend whatever money you earn, and even if I made twice the John Jay salary, I probably wouldn’t end up saving very much.

Tomorrow I’ll go to John Jay, and then I’ll call Neil at Brooklyn College, but I don’t intend to do any more course-hunting. If I need extra money, I’ll rely on freelance writing or something else.

I don’t need to drive myself crazy. I want to have time to relax and to get to like myself again. I plan to exercise, to socialize, and probably to take a computer course; I’ll check into that tomorrow.

It’s cool and cloudy here – it already feels like fall – and it got dark over an hour ago. Teresa is trying to make more room for me, but I really don’t mind living from day to day, the way I did before.

I do like myself better here in New York, but it remains to be seen whether this works out. I’m going to have to work hard at adjusting to having a job in New York again rather than just being here on vacation.


Wednesday, September 5, 1984

4 PM. For the past ninety minutes I’ve been lifting weights.

After even a light workout with dumbbells, I feel that sweaty, shaky exhilaration that comes with exercise. I also feel much better about myself and my life.

I just read an interview with Lesley Hazelton in USA Today. Though I didn’t like her when we were at MacDowell together, I feel she’s probably right in claiming that much depression is normal. Like physical pain, emotional pain has a function, a role to fulfill in our lives.

The purpose of most depression is to mourn a loss. When I broke up with Shelli in the fall of 1971, I was mourning the loss off our relationship; in the winter of 1979-80, I was mourning the loss of my childhood home and my parents to Florida.

Then, as now I felt self-hatred, despair, anxiety, and I was often physically ill.

Being sick these last few weeks has been the result of depression, of my mourning my job at BCC and my life in Florida.

But I’m convinced that the more I challenge myself, the freer I am to adapt and to change, the healthier and stronger I will be.

Last night I spoke with Ronna and other friends.

Mikey said he suspected I might be coming back to live in New York, and Pete Cherches already knew, having heard it from Josh at a rather dismal Book Fair over the weekend.

Mikey said he’d send me my wedding invitation here, and Pete said this was his last week at work; he begins NYU computer school the week after next.

I slept fitfully but good enough on a cool night. Today was actually quite chilly, and I was at John Jay at 9 AM when Bob Crozier and Doris arrived.

I had my choice of SEEK classes, and I picked a Monday/Tuesday/Thursday schedule of English 094 from 8:15 AM to 9:30 AM, then a break, then another class from 11:05 AM to 12:20 PM.

This gets me through by lunchtime, which I can enjoy, and gives me the whole rest of the day. I filled out all the forms at Personnel on West 56th Street and got the text at the bookstore.

The CUNY writing essay test is no longer the exit exam, and our text is assignment-related. The new theory is to give very specific assignments and de-emphasize grammar.

It figures that just as Florida takes up the essay exit test, CUNY, ahead of the game, drops it. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll learn more about teaching writing by leaving BCC – and I’ll be able to see a larger picture than before.

I had to be back at John Jay at noon to get my photo ID so I can pick up my paychecks (starting in three weeks – no more waiting till the end of October!), so in the meantime I went to the New School, to the Pan Am Building newsstand (to pick up the issue of Washingtonian that had me featured as the cream of the crop of the Presidential oddball candidates), and to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, just across the street from John Jay.

Probably Fordham is the best place to take computer education courses. It’s the closest school to the house, the term ends before Christmas, and at $190 a credit, it’s cheaper than either NYU, Columbia or Bank Street.

Back at John Jay, I got my face on plastic and then rang up Ronna at the Hebrew Arts School. We met halfway between us for lunch at Amy’s on Broadway and 62nd.

She said I looked good for a sickie, and she looked as cute as ever. I talked too much about myself, but I did listen to what she has to put up with at work. It was really pleasant, seeing Ronna, and I’m happy we’ll be working near each other.

Back home with groceries and a shopping bag of junk, I went to work working out and here I am now. I’ve got to go to the post office to collect my stuff: my boxes of books arrived today.

It’s fall and I’m in New York, and though it’s kind of strange, I feel energetic.

I turned down an 8 AM class at Queens College; that they asked makes me feel confident again.

Taking off my shirt to change into a t-shirt to exercise, I could see my body didn’t deteriorate too much – but I want to join a gym.

Money will be a problem, but only if I think about it. And if I took on more courses, I’d only end up spending more money. What I’ve got to do is live more cheaply, that’s all.

And in January, I’ll manage to get through the week overlapping John Jay’s fall term and FAU’s spring term and see what happens.

This is exciting!


Thursday, September 6, 1984

11 AM. For the first time in two weeks, I feel buoyant.

Teresa’s out working at Joseph and Ed’s; I’ll be there later to get a haircut, and then I’ll attempt to register at Fordham. After that, I’ll probably be seeing Josh.

I’ve spoken to a number of my friends. Alice just called and she sounded happy I’d be in town for another four months; now I can go to her party on September 22.

Peter is “wonderful,” Alice said, and Richard is now out of her life after she wrote him a Dear John letter.

Susan and Spencer had a terrific time camping out in the Adirondacks and were charmed by the cleanliness and friendliness of Quebec City, where, by an amazing coincidence, they ran into Barbara and Robin on the street.

Susan teaches at Hunter twice a week, mornings, and has one class at Borough of Manhattan Community College the other three afternoons.

I was shocked to discover, in reading the John Jay catalog, that classes don’t begin next Monday but the week after – so I’ve got all next week off. Great!

Josh told me he feels humiliated and angry because he found out Claudia’s been seeing an ex-friend of his behind his back; he had not been speaking to her anyway, but now he says he’ll never speak to her again.

Having left the MFA program in Greensboro pretty much before he started it, James got a job doing telephone sales.

(Does all this stuff about the goings-on of others sound like a soap opera summary?)

Josh read me a letter from Crad, who’s back on the street in Toronto. Blewointment Press turned down the Worst Canadian Stories anthology, and Crad said the TV showing of the documentary on the street writers elicited no response.

Crad was right about Esquire: the piece by Liz Benedict just mentioned him in passing and was neutral in tone. He says he’s prepared to keep struggling – as I guess I must, too.

I wrote out some letters, and I still have to write to Libby. She and Grant are getting married in a couple of weeks; Rose is coming out to join them on their honeymoon in Yosemite.

(I guess when you’ve lived together for six and a half years, you can take your mother along on the honeymoon.)

Teresa came home last night with lamb chops, which she cooked up for dinner, along with sweet potatoes (yum) and a salad. We had a pleasant meal and then did some cleaning and sitting around together.

It’s nice to have companionship. I went out for the Times at 11 PM so we’d have the paper at breakfast.

I really feel good about things. I know that the experiences I have this fall will make me a better person and a wiser writer, more adaptable to change.

Carlyle said something about the secret of increasing the fraction of life was not to make the numerator larger but to lessen the denominator. In any case, I feel happy.


Friday, September 7, 1984

Noon. It’s another bright, crisp day, and despite hectic activity and little sleep, I’m feeling chipper.

I feel optimistic, even though I have nothing tangible to base that optimism on. I feel as though I’m in training – physical, emotional and intellectual – in order to (this sounds awful, a phrase out of the newspapers, and incredibly pretentious) take on a future leadership role in society.

I may seem like a lazy bum to some people, but I love doing what I’m doing: reading, writing, socializing and trading ideas and gossip with interesting people. My education goes on every day.

One reason I’m glad to be away from Florida is that now maybe people will forget my Nutty Professor antics, and I will begin to be taken seriously again. (Though not as seriously as I take myself, of course.)

Being in New York broadens me in a way that another term of teaching at BCC never could.

Yesterday Justin called and invited me to lunch, so I hopped on the bus and made my way to the Eddie Murphy Productions offices. Justin said he had to get used to being a loyal Indian in the office after being a chief out-of-town.

Justin looked good – more adult, more confident – and we spent most of our lunch at TGI Friday’s discussing his experiences directing Born Yesterday at the Sheraton in Reading.

The photos from the production looked good, and Justin said the audiences loved it though there were the usual cast and crew problems, and the review in the local paper was so bad, it sounded like it was on the level of the Minneapolis Tribune pan of With Hitler in New York.

But obviously it was a good experience for Justin, being able to use what he knows about the theater and dealing with the real world in the form of stupid producers (he let loose with some well-deserved tantrums) and lazy technical crew members.

The whole month in Reading sounded like a fine experience, and Justin produced a radio commercial for the play and even made his debut as a lounge singer, doing a couple of sets to Ari’s accompaniment.

I had to dash from Justin’s to Chelsea, where I was third in line for a Joseph haircut after Teresa and her father.

Joseph raved about California and the Olympics and said his second trip to EPCOT (with his mother this time) in Orlando was delightful.

After Teresa and I walked Joseph and Ed’s dog, I taxied uptown just in time to register at Fordham.

It took two hours, standing in line after line (seven lines in all), but I got my course in LOGO on Thursdays from 6:15 to 8:00 PM.

When I went to get permission, the woman said that I reminded her she’s got to get someone to teach the class, and she told me LOGO teachers – like all computer teachers – are in great demand.

I paid the $592 tuition with my California Federal Visa card (my only one with that much credit); I wish I had more money so I could take more courses.

From Fordham, I took the A train from Columbus Circle down to High Street and went over to Josh’s place.

He showed me pictures he took in New Orleans. The trip would have been better, Josh said, if he’d gotten along with Mark. It’s hard to travel with other people, and Mark is more Simon’s friend than Josh’s.

We met Harry for dinner at the Cadman Diner and then went back to Harry’s apartment on Pineapple Street for ice cream, TV and conversation.

It was good to see Harry again. He’s still the same old Harry, working for the Housing Authority, trying to meet women: a nice but nebbishy guy.

Really, the subway ride on the IRT from the Heights to 86th Street doesn’t take more than half an hour, and I was back here with milk and cereal (for breakfast) at 9 PM.

Teresa’s been having headaches all week, so she was already in bed. It’s really very nice to have someone to come home to.

She may go to contract on that $107,000 house in Fire Island this week. It’s a big risk because the Brooklyn co-op deal isn’t done yet and the Berkshire house is still unsold, but Teresa really wants her own house in Fire Island.

This morning, I went with her on the subway as she went to Ed and Joseph’s and told her to have a good weekend at the beach.

After unsuccessful forays to the out-of-town newsstand (no Miami Herald; I wanted to read about the state arts council grants) and the Gotham Book Mart (no American Book Review out yet), I played with a Macintosh computer and looked at software – educational and entertainment stuff – at the McGraw-Hill Bookstore.

In Jobs for the Future, college teachers are the lowest of all fields. Now, 40% of all undergraduate courses are taught by adjuncts. Yet everyone wrings their hands about illiteracy.

I can’t wait for all these chickens to come home to roost.


Monday, September 10, 1984

3 PM. I feel a little insecure today, but it may be my imagination.

Teresa came home last night after what she said was a great weekend on Fire Island, and though it’s nothing she said, I’ve got the feeling that she’s not all that sure she’s glad to have me here.

I know my things take up space, and it must be inconvenient for her. I hope everything works out.

Yesterday I went down West End Avenue to the Jewish Peoplehood Festival and saw Ronna at the Hebrew Arts School table.

Since she couldn’t get away and had to handle the live entertainment later, we agreed to meet for dinner.

I wandered around the fair, looking at the various tables. The most interesting – and shocking – exhibit was of Nazi newspapers currently publishing in the U.S.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon working out to a video I rented, Star 80, not very good – but it kept my mind off the boredom of the dumbbells.

I also read my John Jay text, which seems to take an interesting approach – but who knows if it will work?

Ronna and I met at Hunan 94 for our usual dinner of rainbow chicken and sesame noodles. She seemed relieved the festival was over, but glad she had exercised some power normally denied her at work.

Back home, I called Florida – everything is okay – and then Josh called asking if he was a chump.

The woman he met in New Orleans and her mother, who goes around the country pushing chelation therapy, told Josh that the woman’s brother Jeff, 19, would be coming to New York following some guru.

Josh told Jeff to call him, and the kid did. The guru split, but the kid is so idealistic and naïve – he kept saying he wants to save the world – that he was practically living in the streets.

Josh had a vision of him being killed, so he sprung for $120 for a week’s stay at the Jane West Hotel in a closet-like room.

But since he told the kid he was on his own after the week was up, I told Josh he was more of a saint than a chump and that the money was good karma – although Josh doesn’t believe in karma.

I slept uncomfortably and awoke feeling achy. There were lots of errands for me to do, and I was out from 10 AM till 2 PM.

*

8 PM. Teresa should be home soon. She said she’s not at all mad at me; it’s just that we need to make room for my stuff and that she goes through a closet crisis every September.

I finished reading Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self, an important book about the way computers are affecting the way we think of ourselves as people.

In a Chronicle of Higher Ed article, Associated Writing Programs director Eric Staley predicts MFA programs will turn into “professional” writing programs, with emphasis on writing for the world of business, entertainment and computers.

He’s right: the MFA programs are being overtaken by creative writing Ph.D. programs, which don’t really lend themselves to the kind of nonacademic fiction writing I admire.

I went out to Endicott Booksellers, Ray’s Pizza and then the St. Agnes branch of the library for a few hours.

Barbara de Lamiere from Home Planet News called to ask me to send some more photos for her interview with me because they’d lost the ones she took.

I wish I had a more up-to-date short-haired photo of myself, but I’ll have to settle for the old long-haired one from 1982, which is all I’ve got at the moment.TC mark

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