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

Friday, September 21, 1984

4 PM. September has had the most beautiful weather of all of the months I’ve been in New York, and we’ve had six days in a row that have been sunny and dry.

I’ve just come back from shopping at Sloan’s, whose dirty, narrow aisles made me remember how much I miss going to the comparatively luxurious Publix supermarkets in Florida.

I miss my homes in Sunrise and North Miami Beach and all the little details of my life that revolved around those places.

As autumn begins, I start to get a little homesick for Florida. There’s no question in my mind that I’ll be going back there in January.

Still, I’m not sorry to be spending the fall in New York. Living here, and now, working here, is making me a broader and more adaptable person.

Sharing a place with Teresa is teaching me how to compromise, to be more flexible and tolerant. Obviously, there are little things we do that get on each other’s nerves, but we’re learning to work out our difficulties.

Just because I might think she watches too much TV, for example, doesn’t give me the right to try to change her behavior.

Last night I didn’t sleep well, and today I feel like I’m coming down with a cold, although I probably am just tired and sore from exercising.

This morning’s meeting at John Jay was typical of any English Department: drawn-out and boring, with too much talking.

Professor Crozier introduced the new adjuncts, of whom there were eight or nine – mostly males, surprisingly. Adjuncts are a particularly defeated-looking lot; they appear to be odd in some way, as befits an intelligent person who has taken on a job with no future.

First up was a report of the computer committee: the college has been given huge grants and will be getting a room of twenty IBM PCs next year.

There’s going to be the same training of faculty that we had at Broward Community College. Obviously, computer-assisted instruction and computer literacy are taking hold everywhere.

We have an old TRS-80 in the department that I’d like to use; I want to learn the WordStar word-processing package. (My Scripsit floppies are in Florida.)

Most of the meeting was taken up with how to replace the CUNY Writing Assessment Test exit exam with the new departmental final in English 100 (and in my class, SEEK 094).

Although the talk at John Jay is on a more intelligent level, I didn’t see anything that would indicate that people know what they are doing any more than they did at BCC.

The discussion left me feeling confused as to what my teaching goals should be. The exit test makes me into a coach, but I don’t quite know what to coach my students for.

Still, if you look at life as I do – as one big learning experience – my semester at John Jay can’t do anything but help me even if I don’t teach writing again.

Actually, I’ve begun to feel I’d like to see more of the world than Florida and New York. It would probably do me good to live for a few months out in Los Angeles and/or San Francisco, at least.

Miriam writes that Robert has been invited by his guru, Baker-roshi, to join the new Zen center he’s starting in Santa Fe.

She’ll be sorry to leave the rent-free and now-peaceful (since summer’s over) house in Martha’s Vineyard.

But New Mexico is beautiful and sunny, and though she slightly distrusts Baker, who was forced out of the San Francisco Zen Center in a big dispute, Miriam wants to be with Robert and says, “After all, we’re not going to Cleveland.”

Ellen Levine, the literary agent, wrote that she’d be interested in seeing any trade book proposal I care to give her.

But all I have are my journal book and another collection of stories, neither of which sounds commercial.

Why did I think that an agent could motivate me to write a book? Or even give suggestions on what to write about?

I feel really tired and weak.


Saturday, September 22, 1984

3 PM. I just got in. Alice left a message telling me when and where tonight’s party is and what I should bring.

Earlier, I’d left a message for her to tell me these things. What a wonder this kind of communication is!

If only transportation could be made as quick and easy – if I could fly to Florida in, say, fifteen minutes, for example.

At noon, I went to my computer orientation one-shot course at The New School.

For two hours, Michael Callery, a nice young guy, gave us basic computer literacy – it’s interesting to see how different people handle it – and showed us how to use the IBM PC: we booted up a disk and ran some BASIC programs.

Put me in front of a keyboard, monitor and printer, and I’m happy. After this year, I’ll have worked on Apples, IBM PCs, and TRS-80s: all the most common machines used in schools.

Michael will be my LOGO teacher, in fact, and I’m also taking a class in BASIC for teachers. It’s exciting to me, learning more and more about computers.

James Atlas’s article on VALS in The Atlantic was fascinating, though I’ve read before how the folks at SRI in Menlo Park have divided Americans into several psychographic groups and subgroups.

I’d love to think of myself as an Integrated type, the Inner-Directed group that seems to have it all together, but they’re less than 2% of the population.

Still, I am inner-directed and I’m building a life based on learning and experience rather than what I think others want or expect of me, and I’m not materialistic.

I’ve got this crazy feeling that I could become one of the leaders of American life in the future. Before I sound like I need to be put away, I’d better drop the subject.

Last night Josh and I saw the old Howard Hawks Scarface with Paul Muni at the Public Theater downtown.

Josh sometimes amazes me: he wasn’t aware Rosh Hashona was this week, and when I said today was the start of autumn, he assumed that meant we had to turn the clocks back!

After the film, we walked through the West Village, always exhilaratingly full of interesting people on a Friday night.

Today it’s warm and sunny, and I’m glad to be in the city. The New School computer program is housed at Fifth and 12th, where there was once a theater I used to go to in college. (I think it was just called the Fifth Avenue Cinema. Mara and I saw Warhol’s L’Amour there one afternoon.)

Passing Dad’s old place on a Saturday made me reminisce about coming up there with him on Saturdays, watching Grandpa Nat cut goods and sell pants to people looking for wholesale bargains.

Ready for more nostalgia, I had lunch at Brownie’s, where I was served by a young, slender, blond waiter who reminded me of Sean in his cheerfulness and vulnerability.

I’m a sucker for vulnerability – that’s why I first liked Ronna when I saw her back in college thirteen years ago.

Life seems sweet.


Sunday, September 23, 1984

1 PM. For most of yesterday afternoon, I exercised while reading The Futurist and Omni, which had an interview with John Naisbitt.

I’m not as optimistic about current trends as he is, but I do hope he’s right. I find myself becoming more and more of a futurist, though; I want to read anything I can about the subject.

I called Pete, who said his first week at NYU was okay and that COBOL seems fairly easy to him. We gossiped about the literary/art world and made plans to get together.

Josh said he probably wouldn’t be going to Alice’s party and that James had a lady friend visiting. Josh expressed annoyance that James quit his new job, saying that the guy is his own worst enemy.

In the Sunday Times, I found a delicious story by Ed McDowell: It seems Doris Lessing, God bless her, revealed she wrote her last two novels under the pseudonym of an unknown writer to prove how hard it is for the unfamous to get a break in the publishing world.

Not only was the novel turned down by her own publisher and others with nasty and condescending readers’ reports, but upon publication in the U.S. by Knopf, the books garnered no more than a few reviews and sold less than 1500 copies.

Even “experts” on Lessing’s work failed to see that she wrote the novels and were dismissive toward them.

I always did like Doris Lessing.

This proves what I’ve known all along: that publishing, like everyone else, is infatuated by the celebrity. Joseph Heller’s God Knows may be a terrible novel that wouldn’t even have gotten published if I wrote it, but it will be reviewed respectfully at length everywhere.

I arrived at Andreas’s gallery at Broome and Greene at 8:30 PM. The gallery was as I remembered it, with all of Andreas’s whimsical pieces: the butterfly, the marionette girl, and lots of newer sculptures.

Andreas is getting out in a month, though, because after three years because he says it’s no fun anymore: “I know how to please the crowds, they ask the same questions, and it’s becoming like work.”

Alice took the zucchini bread and rum raisin spread I bought at Zabar’s and placed them on the table with the other goodies.

She looked pretty and was, as usual, a great hostess. I didn’t talk much with Alice or with Peter, and in fact, rather than circulating, got into a few extended conversations with a few people.

Cliff and June are always interesting, and they brought their pal Barry, a British photographer who’s just spent a month in Cuba doing the photos for a book about the country, which impressed him very much.

Though the Cubans in Miami wouldn’t believe it, Barry found a society that worked better than any other socialist country he’d been in.

He is obviously a well-known photographer, since he’s been assigned to shoot everything from the L.A. Olympics in June to the Miss America pageant last week, and he had fascinating things to say.

I talked with Jon Adler of the Brooklyn College philosophy department about academia and the problems in it.

Jon couldn’t believe anyone would stand for the workload and salary I had to put up with at Broward Community College, but like most academics, he tried to encourage me to stay in and try to make a go of it. He told me he’s taking a computer course (in PL/1) – at John Jay.

Robert and Judy were there, and I spoke with them about their work. Judy, like others, said she wished she had my flair for publicity; she’s still working at the International Students Association.

Robert’s very happy at the Transit Workers Union, doing union history, teaching classes (even in Florida, where he runs week-long seminars), and doing the kind of work that’s probably better than an academic environment could provide.

Like Jon, Bob suggested I get into consulting work.

I also spoke with Richard Rothenstein, who looked real good; it had been years since I’d seen him.

Richard’s now at HBO doing PR – though he’d like to get into the entertainment end – and he’s been freelancing (I see his name everywhere) and vainly trying to get his book ideas sold. Even in nonfiction, it’s very hard.

I also spoke with Peter’s composer/lyricist friends and some others. While in Florida, I never met so many interesting people in three years as I did just last night.

I walked out with Cliff, June, Barry and Ira (now editor of a computer magazine for kids). Soho is really hopping on Saturday nights.

Well, I really had a great time; I feel I picked up a lot of stimulating talk. I also learned that people liked I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and that it had been featured in the window of Endicott Booksellers after the Times Book Review review came out.

Also, Richard told me that Liz Smith has put me in her column several times; I’m a little skeptical of that because I would have heard about it from others.


Monday, September 24, 1984

1 PM. I just came home from John Jay, stopping off for pizza on the way. Since this week is Rosh Hashona, I’ll be through after tomorrow’s classes.

Like yesterday, today is summerlike – warm and humid – and I’ve changed into a t-shirt and shorts.

This morning I left early, before Teresa woke up, and made it to school half an hour before my first class.

I still don’t have an office and was forced to do my grading in the library. Last night I graded most of the papers, but I made use of my 95-minute break to finish the job.

The classes went okay. The students’ writing has improved over the last several years, probably because writing has been taught more in high school. Back in the 1970s, they hardly taught writing at all.

Today I saw Livia, the cross-eyed Rumanian woman with whom I shared an office in 1980. She asked me why I returned, and it made me feel funny, as though I’d gone away and failed.

At times, I feel homesick for Florida, as I did earlier when I saw a car with a Broward Florida license tag and the bumper sticker Fort Lauderdale – The Venice of America.

Yesterday, after Ronna came over at 2 PM, we walked through Riverside Park, admiring the monarch butterflies and cockscombs and black-eyed susans and house sparrows, and not admiring a huge ugly rat that crossed our path.

Over lunch, we talked out our feelings about our relationships; both of us know that our sexual relationship is temporary and we felt guilty about “using” the other one. But there’s no need to feel guilty.

Ronna said someday she’ll “marry a boring man and have babies,” but she’s sure we’ll always be friends.

We went back to the apartment, where we were seized by the usual passion. Kissing and hugging led to even nicer stuff; it all was really terrific.

God knows why Ronna and I get along so well together, but I’m glad we do. I love to hold her in my arms and to feel her touch on my back, legs, lips.

After so many long stretches of complete celibacy, it’s nice to feel like a sexual creature and it’s always good to touch and be touched.

I fell into a deep sleep after Ronna left at 5 PM and didn’t come out of it for a couple of hours, at which time I began grading papers.

Teresa came home late from a wedding Ed and Joseph catered, at which she was trying to land a new client. After watching the Emmys with her, I went to bed and slept okay despite angry dreams.

*

5 PM. I’ve done some waist exercises, eaten some Tofutti (which probably counteracted the exercises), read USA Today, watched Another World, paid some credit card bills, and taken a shower.

Josh called. Yesterday he left a message that he was nearby with James, but I was out with Ronna at the time.

He said that if he had gone to Alice’s party, he wouldn’t have had as good a time as I did.

When I told him I spoke to really interesting people, Josh replied, “Well, that’s because you’re you. I wouldn’t have met anyone interesting because I’m me.”

I don’t know what time Teresa is coming back, but there’s plenty of food in the refrigerator: not only did I go to the grocery, but there’s also tons of stuff left over from yesterday’s wedding.

Tonight I plan to get to bed early.


Tuesday, September 25, 1984

4 PM. Teresa came home for dinner last night, but she went out to a “Legendary Ladies” concert with Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love at the Bottom Line later.

I got into bed early and slept heavily until dawn. I really slept more than I needed or wanted to.

My classes went okay today, but the fable exercise from Beat Not the Poor Desk isn’t as exciting as the book’s authors make it out to be.

I feel the need to do more grammar and structured work; these people need some old-fashioned remedial lessons.

After my last class, I took the crosstown bus over to have lunch with Justin at TGI Friday’s. He’s been very upset about his job and has been contemplating quitting.

His boss, Bob Wachs, is going through a rough personal time, and last week he took it out on Justin, told him his (Justin’s) attitude was lousy, and made him go home early to “think over” how he’d been behaving.

Since then Bob has pretended the incident never happened, which is probably an entertainment industry boss’s way of trying to apologize.

Right now, as an adjunct, I feel I have no boss. I keep going back to my mailbox as if I were still a full-time instructor at BCC and there were messages piling up throughout the day. But at John Jay, there’s never anything there.

Really, nobody cares so long as I don’t fuck up; I have the freedom to do pretty much anything, as I work totally unsupervised.

But Justin has been going through a rough time since he got back to work from Reading, where, as director, he was top dog.

But friends have told him he shouldn’t walk out of a regular (and sizeable) paycheck at Eddie Murphy Productions until he’s got another full-time job lined up.

There aren’t many directing jobs around New York, and Justin said his résumé is five productions shy of what he’d like it to be.

I understand his frustration. He knows he’s good, but the people who count, don’t.

He’s got a new roommate, a 23-year-old gay actor and recent Carnegie Mellon graduate whom Justin hopes is an improvement over the revolving door of other roommates; at least this guy, Shawn, has a sense of humor, Justin says.

That reminds me that this morning, walking down the corridor of John Jay, I got a flash-picture of Sean Alving in my head.

Often I have trouble remembering what Sean looked like even though we spent so much intimate time together, but for a second I could see him exactly the way he looked two and a half years ago.

It was hot and muggy enough to go without a jacket today, and now I’ve got the air conditioner on.

My stomach was a little rocky, so I decided to forgo exercising today.

I have the rest of the week off and lots of time to work out if I want to. On Ninth Avenue, I saw an ad for the Henry Hudson Hotel health club’s three-month membership for $150; I should investigate that.

I’ve also got to get to a dentist, as my cap is getting looser every day.

Tom writes from New Orleans that he’s in a real funk over teaching. His classes don’t excite him, and just getting mentioned in the Best American Short Stories 1984 isn’t much, he feels.

He’ll be teaching creative writing at the Atlantic Center for the Arts next June for five days. When I said I felt too old, not too young, to be a teacher, Tom said, “You are too old to be a teacher. Me too.”

Christopher Middleton didn’t want to correct Tom and Susan’s new Walser translations and advised Tom not to do an academic “Walser” book but instead write an essay in fragments.

In an hour, I’m meeting Teresa at Joseph’s, and we’re going to a New School performance by Charles Keating, a British actor whose intelligence radiates every part he plays, whether it’s Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited or Carl Hutchins on Another World.

*

11:30 PM. Tonight Charles Keating gave us an excellent show in which he sang and recited poetry, prose and drama from Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Auden, Philip Whalen, Brecht, Jung and others.

Called “A Dream is Dreaming Us,” the performance was backed up by musical and vocal accompaniment by his wife, teenage sons and brother-in-law.

Teresa and I were thrilled to be seated behind five of our favorite stars from the soap opera, all of them as gorgeous in real life as they are on TV.

It’s so odd to see them in reality: their gestures and laughs are so familiar to us from seeing them every day. We feel intimate with them, yet it is a lie.


Sunday, September 30, 1984

1:30 PM. I just got home from Ronna’s.

Teresa isn’t around, so I took a shower and arranged the laundry she’d put on the bed. Now that Teresa doesn’t go away for the weekend, I’ve lost a certain amount of solitude.

We’re very different in that she needs to be with people almost all the time while I treasure being alone. What writer doesn’t?

It’s hard for me to write with Teresa in the apartment. There’s no door to close to get privacy.

Of course, I can always go to the library or somewhere, and it’s good for me – as I’m sure Teresa would say – to learn not to be alone so often. And I suppose that when I finally get an office at John Jay, I’ll have a place where I can be alone to write and think and read.

Yesterday, for example, I was writing my journal entry as Teresa was watching a video of The Right Stuff, and it was difficult to keep my concentration.

I gave the wrong credit card to the man at the health club, and he called back to say I didn’t have the money available on my credit line.

Since I usually don’t make mistakes like that, I wonder if it was my unconscious telling me I’d better think about it some more.

Perhaps I’m better off saving money and just working out here with my dumbbells in the afternoons. I’ll sleep on it and decide what to do on Monday or Tuesday.

When Ronna called last night, Teresa seemed to want to go along, as she kept saying how hungry she was. But then, instead of  going out to dinner with us right away, Teresa said she wanted to see the end of the film first.

So we decided that Ronna and I should eat dinner alone. I went up there, said hello to Lori’s dinner guests, and took Ronna to Hunan 94 for our usual cold sesame noodles and rainbow chicken.

I was glad to be alone with her, for we had a pretty idyllic evening. During dinner, we talked intently, and then we took the bus down Broadway to buy tickets for the 10:10 PM show of Eric Rohmer’s Full Moon in Paris.

In the intervening hour, we walked through Lincoln Center, stopping at the benches outside the Vivian Beaumont to talk and to cuddle and/or huddle – though it really wasn’t all that cold.

I liked Rohmer’s film, as did Ronna, although all his films are so talky that a lot of the viewers’ concentration goes into reading the subtitles.

This one reminded me a lot of his Chloe in the Afternoon, which Ronna and I saw on our first date on Thanksgiving Eve, 1972. Like that film, Full Moon in Paris was a little moral fable about intimacy and relationships.

Back uptown, we bought milk and the Sunday Times – we had shared a butterscotch ice cream cone on Broadway right after the movie – and went back to Ronna’s.

I was tired, so after chatting with Lori for a few minutes, we went to bed. I found Ronna so desirable that we made love without a word.

It was heaven: intense but slow, cuddly but firm. Intimacy – physical closeness – has to be one of life’s best treasures.

Ronna is so soft and warm . . . well, I sound moronic going on like this, but I’ve spent few nights that were as pleasurable.

I like being on the mattress by the floor in Ronna’s room.

During the night, I heard sounds of a terrible fight. Someone was hitting someone else and shouting, “Give me the key to the fucking apartment!”

I woke up Ronna, and Lori had already been awakened by the noise, but it was over so fast, we didn’t know what, if anything, to do.

Apparently they hear street fights all the time, though where this was coming from, we couldn’t tell.

I think I slept off and on, but Ronna said she heard me snoring while she was awake.

We finally got up when Jordan called her at noon; he was having anxiety about moving on Thursday.

I couldn’t believe it was noon. Without my glasses or lenses on, I had seen the pastel blues and pinks beyond the crossed bars on Ronna’s window as a kind of impressionist Monet-like dawn.

After we had breakfast, I came back here. Now I feel sleepy again.

*

5 PM. I fell asleep for an hour and then I read the paper and had a bite to eat.

I feel the same kind of dread I used to on bleak fall Sunday evenings. I still have a set of papers to correct, though I suppose I can do it tomorrow during my break.

I don’t have time the way I did in the spring, and New York isn’t as special as it was then. But then I wasn’t working, so how could it be the same now?

I’d love to be able to call and spend time with Josh, Susan, Stacy and others, but there always seems to be something to do.

I feel bad because I feel I wasted so much time back in May and June – though it certainly didn’t feel as though I was wasting time then.

I guess what I fear the most is that I’ll never get back to my writing again. Two weeks ago I was doing so well, but now I seem to have lost my sense of discipline in the same location where I’ve mislaid it the past four years.

At least I have this diary to keep me going.

Tomorrow is October. That means that there’s basically three months to go from now till my return to Florida. I’ll be happy to be back in the warmth by then, I’m certain.

But this stay in New York is good for me. Maybe after nine months, I’ll be New-Yorked out.TC mark

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