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

Wednesday, September 12, 1984

8 PM. I feel relieved after calling Professor Roberts, the Lehman College chairman, and telling him I was bowing out of the course he offered me to take a full-time job.

“It’s always better to have a salary,” he said cheerfully.

Still, I feel guilty about being so callous over a job and steady money. I spoke to some friends and most agreed that I shouldn’t take the course. I just do not want to teach a third class.

Susan, who admitted she’s sorry she took the Borough of Manhattan Community College class, said I shouldn’t give up taking the Fordham class in LOGO, which is part of my ticket out of Adjunctville. Ronna said that I had enough to do already.

And Teresa, over a delicious dinner at Szechuan Broadway (moo shu pork, dumplings and lemon chicken), kept telling me to stop feeling guilty about not working more.

She herself feels that catering is not for her, and it’s going to be hard to break the news to Ed and Joseph.

But, as she said, their business grosses only $200,000 a year, and even if she got 10% of that, all she’d end up with would be $20,000: less than she’s made in years and awfully little for so much work.

We rented Robert Duvall’s semi-documentary Angelo, My Love, about New York gypsies, and I fell asleep on my now-comfortable sofa bed.

It’s a drag – literally – getting the bedboard placed behind the pipe outside the apartment every night and morning, but the comfortable sleep is worth it.

Last night was humid, but the day dawned cool and dry. Teresa and I waited for the alternate side parking to change at 11 AM; that’s such a pain. It would really be a help if I could drive her car, but a stick shift mystifies me.

In the Village, after I met Pete, we went to John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker for lunch and then to the Cornelia Street Café for cappuccino and iced tea afterwards.

His parents are in New York and are taking him out to Peter Luger’s for a steak dinner tonight.

As far as the NYU computer course, Pete neither dreads it nor looks forward to it; he feels no decision is irrevocable and that there are other options open to him besides being a programmer.

Yesterday, Fred Grayson, Teresa’s book packager friend, told her I was very smart to get into computers; he’s getting heavily into software in his own business.

All that all of us – from Pete to Susan to Teresa and me – seem to do is talk about better ways of earning a living. Teresa thinks she and I should do freelance PR because we both can write and hustle, but neither of us knows where to begin.

I told Pete I’d see him perform at New York is Book Country on Sunday.

Back home, I worked out lightly while watching Another World. Right now I’m going out again because I’ve got errands to do.

I feel relieved, as I said, but also guilty, about not teaching more classes this term.


Thursday, September 13, 1984

10 AM. Teresa went out early to have breakfast with Betty, then to the bank to find out about a mortgage, and then to Ed and Joseph’s.

I’ve just gotten all my clothes out of the suitcase and put them into the plastic bins I bought when I went out at 4 PM yesterday.

Yesterday’s mail brought some goodies from Mom: my First Nationwide Savings Network card, so I can access cash in Manhattan; a Bonwit Teller charge card; the check from Chase Manhattan on the 3-month CD I took out on my birthday ($512,72).

I also got a letter from Crad, who enclosed a review of Pork College that appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Finally, after all these years, Canada’s leading newspaper has acknowledged Crad – and the review was excellent, with several great quotes.

As the reviewer said, if you want to become a rich and famous fiction writer, you have to research markets, write what sells and hook up with a big promotion-minded and rich publisher. But if you’re really good and/or arrogant, you can ignore those suggestions.

Good for Crad! It gives me hope.

Crad says With Hitler in New York wasn’t my failure, but my publisher’s failure, and I would like to believe he’s correct.

Teresa called to tell me to come down to 19th Street to meet her at Ed and Joseph’s; they were really busy with some event today.

She and I took the LL train to Lorimer Street – I’d forgotten how fast it can take – and we walked around the corner to her parents’ house on Conselyea Street.

As Teresa’s mother was preparing dinner (lamb chops, sausage, potatoes and eggplant, with fresh figs and Concord grapes from the backyard for dessert), we talked with Teresa’s father and grandmother.

Teresa’s father is now into selling office phone systems, which Teresa feels may prove lucrative.

There was much talk about the PR business Teresa and I are thinking of getting into, and for a while the conversations between Teresa and her father reminded me of those between Biff and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t have the slightest idea of how to get started in public relations, or how to get clients, or what to do when we get them. It all sounds very vague to me, but Teresa’s enthusiasm is at a very high level.

Teresa’s mother talked about her first-grade class during dinner, and I liked hearing her and Teresa’s father reminisce about the old days in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

They’re people with strong neighborhood  connections. Not only does Teresa’s father basically run the neighborhood senior center, he also sits on community boards with Puerto Ricans and Hasidim from the neighborhood and he probably will get a coveted seat on the community planning board.

To get him out of the house while his wife made calls about the surprise birthday party, we had Teresa’s father drive us to 1170 Ocean Parkway.

Every time I go in a car, it’s a treat, and I enjoyed even the stalled traffic on the BQE.

Teresa took us to the penthouse apartment and signed the subscription agreement so the co-op deal can go through. Really, the apartment is lovely, with lots of closet space and a terrific view of lower Manhattan; it reminds me of my old place in Rockaway.

The agreement signed – with the insider’s price of $19,000 – Teresa’s father drove us back on the BQE, through Greenpoint, and to Queens Plaza, where we caught a cab over the 59th Street Bridge and home.

It was a great evening.

On Broadway, we ran into Melvin, who didn’t recognize me. He looks different, too – more mature and better looking than he did back in college – but he was in too much of a hurry to stop and chat.


Saturday, September 15, 1984

Noon. It’s a chilly and rainy day, reminding me of the days we had last May. I slept great last night.

Teresa’s not mad at me anymore. Everything seems fine, especially because last night I was able to write again.

I wrote the first part of a story when I got home from Brooklyn. It had started to come to me as I left for Josh’s, after Teresa and I had made up on the phone.

On the 86th Street subway platform, I saw two boys about 17. They looked very normal and average until suddenly one boy threw his arms around the other and kissed him. You could see by how they looked at one another that they were in love.

That image got me thinking, and I wrote down notes as fast as free associations came to me: about my relationship with Sean, Grandpa Herb’s death, my book party at B. Dalton, etc.

It was just like the old days, and when I got home at 11 PM I filled eight pages with hand-written fiction based not on a plot but on a theme or image. Basically it was free association, the way I sometimes used to write in the old days.

I could have dragged it on, but I wanted to stop. For five years I’ve barely written, frozen by the fact that I was a published author and therefore had to produce important stuff.

Now, I hope, I’ve finally seen that I can be at my best when I do what I do best: be myself. This is too early to rejoice, but I think I may have found my fictional voice again. Maybe this could become a book: related stories or a “novel.”

I dreamed, deliciously, that I was writing furiously on any scraps of paper I could find, and when they ran out, I wrote on the sidewalk.

There’s so much I feel I have to say now, so much I want to write about. The kind of emotional, idiosyncratic writing I’m doing may not have an audience beyond myself – but I feel I’m on the right track.

For weeks I’ve felt frustrated, as I do today, by the limitations of my diary; I’ve wanted to write more.

At Josh’s apartment, he and I looked over some Grinning Idiot submissions – dreadful poetry – and then went to the diner on Cadman Plaza for dinner.

James is going into federal court Monday to stand trial in that oil leases case. The poor guy didn’t even know what he was doing, and he gets his name as one of the indicted in the Wall Street Journal.

Back at Josh’s apartment, we tried to call Todd, but his wife said he’d left the house in a rage, and she didn’t know where he was. Josh said she’s tired of working while Todd stays home and writes and doesn’t seem to get anywhere.

I told Josh about Crad’s Globe and Mail review and that Tom said Josh should have looked him up in New Orleans.

Tom called me “a lucky dog” for being able to spend four more months in New York. I guess I am lucky. I know I’m lucky.

Tom feels sad about not writing and said that he’d like to know what it feels like to be a writer again.

Fordham will refund my money for the cancelled LOGO course, but instead of crediting my Visa account, they’ll send me a check in two weeks.

Yesterday I paid my Beneficial and Citibank Visa bills (about $33 each, minimum payments) with other Visa checks; I guess I could float money like that indefinitely.

Gary phoned today. He’s had a good summer on Fire Island and is busy buying his apartment; getting a good mortgage has taken up a lot of time. He sounded really friendly, and I was glad I’d left a message on his machine.

Ronna and I will see each other tonight; I plan to stay over there, a first for me. Amira and Teresa will be here.

First, I’m going over to Matt’s in a little while for our Millay reunion.

Since I was shut out of Fordham, I decided to register for computer courses at the New School, but already I got word that one of them was cancelled. These courses are cheaper because they’re non-credit.

Since my Florida Atlantic University program doesn’t have LOGO in it anyway, I’ll be better off taking the New School classes for less money. I don’t need the credits, just the knowledge.

I’d rather just take computer courses I want at various schools, but if I’m in the M.Ed. program at FAU, I can get a student loan and be guaranteed admission into courses over non-matrics.

In four months I’ll be back in Florida, so this time in New York will continue to seem precious.


Sunday, September 16, 1984

11 AM. Whew, this New York social life can be hectic.

At 1 PM today I’m supposed to meet Alice, Josh, and James at New York is Book Country on 53rd at Fifth. I’ve got a headache from too little sleep. It’s really chilly; it was 48 degrees this morning.

The big news came in yesterday’s mail. I finally heard from Florida Unemployment. It seems they approved me for unemployment and sent out claim cards over a month ago; I just never received them.

But I’ve got $3900 in benefits for the year ending July 31, 1985, and I intend to use them before then. Tomorrow after work, I’ll go down to Unemployment and renew my claim.

It’s a shame it got so fucked up because otherwise I would’ve felt more secure about money this last month. I haven’t needed the money, though.

Oh, and the good news is that they raised the weekly rate from $125 to $150!

What else is new? Mom sent me some stuff, including an article about FAU freshmen: sixty percent of them failed an essay diagnostic and need remedial writing. I called her later, and she had a bad cold.

They finally found the other skid of Hitler books, which had been on the loading dock all this time. Mom said she sent out some more mail, including a $180 check for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz royalties from Zephyr Press.

Teresa came home around noon, and we went out for lunch before I walked over to Matt’s.

I found Sue outside Matt’s house. She was a little drunk after a long lunch with her fellow karate teachers.

Matt’s girlfriend Elizabeth, a painter whom he met at Yaddo, was there; she’s shy and sweet, and I can see why Matt likes her so much.

We chatted for a few hours – Matt has a terrific apartment, with a terrace – and Sue gave me photos of us from my last day at Millay.

Claire could not make it, and Emily is still at Cummington and not due home till Monday.

Sue and I took the bus back uptown, and I found Teresa and her friend Ellen from upstairs had really cleaned out the closets; I now have tons of room.

Amira came over, bringing a video of An Officer and A Gentleman. I watched it with them until Ronna arrived at 8 PM.

Instead of staying and eating Chinese food in with Amira and Teresa, Ronna and I decided to go out to dinner alone. She wanted to go to Noodles on 72nd between Central Park West and Amsterdam, so we trudged over there in the chilly night.

Ronna seemed a little weird, and when we started dinner, she told me she’d had a date on Thursday with a guy in publishing.

She said she wanted to “clarify” things, but I wasn’t sure what she meant. I told her it didn’t bother me at all that she would see other guys and I encouraged her to do so.

As I said, I don’t want to “waste her time,” as my grandmother would say. I’m not nearly ready for any kind of long-range commitment and won’t be until I get things in my own life straightened out.

Maybe I never will be. For now, our relationship is okay for both of us.

Back at Ronna’s, we read the Times and had tea before getting into bed; her couch opens up into a futon-like bed. We made love, and it was great, as usual.

Perhaps it isn’t the great passion the romance novels talk about, but we’re very comfortable with each other’s bodies and there’s always real warmth.

She had to be up at 8 AM to go to New Jersey. I can relate to that struggle. Starting tomorrow, I have to get used to rising early.


Monday, September 17, 1984

8 PM. As I expected, New York isn’t as much fun now that I’m working and it’s turning into fall, but the letdown is good, for I’ve living in an ideal New York, a kind of fantasy. This is reality of day-to-day life here.

I just finished filling out a guaranteed student loan application for next term at FAU, and I have to admit that I’m looking forward to returning to Florida in January.

Last night I slept well. and it wasn’t hard to get up at 6:30 AM. I put on a jacket and tie for the first day at least, and I was at my classroom at 8:15 AM.

The classes I have at John Jay are small by comparison to the ones I had four years ago, but I expect more students as the week goes on.

I gave diagnostics in both classes, using an old CUNY Writing Assessment Test, and I found most students had poor skills but a decent idea of organization and development; some had taken English 093 over the summer and benefited from it.

I don’t yet have an office, so I spent my break in the cafeteria. (I don’t know why I should have been startled to see the same bran muffins and the same cashier that were there four years ago.).

John Jay students are mostly Hispanic, with some blacks and Asians. I had problems talking because of my loose cap, and my stomach was rocky all day.

The day was really hectic because I had to go downtown to Unemployment, where both Teresa and I had to wait for several hours.

I hope I can get Florida checks: both they and New York State really screwed up because I should have been getting benefits all these weeks since August.

Teresa shopped on the way home, and we had a lamb stew she made for dinner. I have to be up again at 6:30 AM tomorrow.

Yesterday I did the laundry and managed to get to the corner of 53rd and Fifth at 1 PM, just as Josh and James arrived. We didn’t see Alice till an hour later, at the platform where Pete was performing.

New York is Book Country was successful, but too much so, because tens of thousands of people were crowding Fifth Avenue and you couldn’t get near most of the exhibits.

Most of the tables featured displays of cookbooks, kids’ books, or celebrity books by the big publishing houses and not of much interest to us.

The festival had more to do with entertainment than with literature, but that’s book biz, I suppose.

The Sybex booth was empty of people and any exhibits, so I sat down behind the table and started giving passersby a sad story about how my exhibit was stolen. I started cracking up, so I had to pretend to be sobbing, and James said I may have fooled some people.

I’m a terrible ham.

No one was left onstage to introduce Pete, so I climbed up there, and at Pete’s behest, turned on the mike, and started to draw a crowd as I introduced him. It was a real feeling of power; Alice, Josh, and James must have thought I was nuts.

Pete was delightful, as he sang “The Barnes and Noble Blues,” recited a pantoum about Mondrian (in his usual deadpan style), sang “O Mondrian” (to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”) and looked odd in a Mondrian shirt. (Alice thought he looked like a Star Trek character.)

But the highlight was when Pete called on two contestants from the audience – they just happened to be Richard Minsky and Donna, dressed in black and white respectively – to play Mondrian-Tac-Toe, using a giant grid and pieces of blue and red rectangles. As usual, the game ended in a tie.

It was a fine performance, but few people paid any attention.

I enjoyed seeing Alice, if only for a short time, and she was really nice, especially to Josh and James, whom she invited to Saturday’s party at Andreas’s loft.

Josh and James were going on to visit Professor Goodman and then to the Third Street fair later.

I would’ve liked to visit with Goodman, too, but I felt exhausted and took advantage of Teresa’s being at the same fair to sleep for a few hours in her bed. I really needed the rest.

Time seems so precious now.


Thursday, September 20, 1984

10 PM. The last couple of days have been gorgeous, and my spirits are high.

I enjoyed my classes at John Jay today. The students worked on the first writing assignment, a letter to me introducing themselves and telling me about their attitude and previous experience with writing.

I wrote along with them; as Susan says, it’s a sign of good faith, and it presents them with a role model. It’s also good for me, too.

For the first time since the spring of 1981, when I had just one course at Broward Community College, I really have the time and energy to serve my students adequately.

Calling the Hebrew Arts School, I made a date for lunch with Ronna, who looked sweet and businesslike in a purple print dress.

We had cheap, good hamburgers at Diane’s on Columbus Avenue.

(This morning I took the 86th Street bus to Columbus, where I transferred and rode down with that bus. It was fine, and on the first bus, I got to ride a couple of rows behind Caroline Kennedy, presumably on her way to her job at the Met.)

Ronna felt she was coming down with a cold, but she looked fine to me. It was great to be able to see her in the middle of the day.

I still feel somewhat guilty because I know she cares for me very much, and while I love her, I can’t stop looking at guys on the street.

I definitely am gay and don’t want to be disloyal to Ronna, so I feel a conflict. And the last thing I want to do is to hurt Ronna. We need to talk about this.

Because she’ll be working for her mother this weekend, she probably won’t be able to attend Alice’s party with me.

It did feel wonderful to be out of school on Thursday afternoon. Working makes me appreciate leisure time.

I spent much of the afternoon exercising and going over the interview that Barbara of Home Planet News sent to me.

It was okay, if somewhat inane, and I had to add stuff and make smoother transitions so I didn’t sound like a complete idiot; however, basically I’m pleased with the interview.

Teresa had a bad day at the office. She’s not happy working for Ed and Joseph because the commissions aren’t worth all the hassles she puts up with.

Joseph and Ed seem unable to delegate responsibility, a common occurrence when people run their own business; they don’t trust Teresa to get all the details done.

This is a difficult time in Teresa’s life, and her moods go up and down. One day she’s all set to return to Europe; another day she decides to buckle down and start her own PR business or go into real estate; and she’s never certain what she wants to do.

Every night Teresa falls asleep with the TV on, and invariably I get up at 1 or 2 AM and go into her room to shut it off, at which point I wake her without meaning to.

She’s got a date with this guy John for two weeks from Saturday on Yom Kippur, but she says that she’s just about given up on men.

I can understand why when I hear Theresa’s conversations with these guys. All of them seem to have such a specific picture of Ms. Right, and no one wants to settle or compromise and take a chance on anything less than perfection.

Am I like that, too? Oh God, I hope not.TC mark

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