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

Thursday, December 20, 1984

1 PM. Vacation! Today was the last day I’ll have to wake up at 7 AM – for the next couple of weeks, anyway. I didn’t do much with my classes, mostly going over their papers with them individually.

Last night I spoke to Gary, who’s still deep in the mourning process. He alternates between disbelief and acceptance, and he sometimes feels guilty for not doing more for his father.

Gary said he finds himself addressing his father in heaven (I remember he did the same thing when his dog, Sandy, died when we were in college) and said he now sees his father as a saint, “the complete opposite of what I used to feel.”

He goes every morning and evening to a synagogue to recite kaddish. He feels this is his duty and what his father would have wanted him to do, and besides, Gary has found support among the men in the minyan.

If my father died, I couldn’t see myself getting involved with the ritual, but then again, Dad didn’t say kaddish the year after his mother died, and I’m sure he won’t after his father dies.

Gary’s situation got me thinking how I’d react to the death of a parent or a brother. I rarely think about my feelings for my family; in a way, I’ve detached myself from them.

When Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Herb died, I felt sad, but the mourning process was brief and fairly easy because they were both around 80 and their deaths weren’t unexpected.

I’d be more shocked if Grandma Ethel died, so that I’d take that harder, but she’s still my grandparent and not my parent. Mom or Dad’s death would unleash such sorrow – and anger and guilt and self-pity – that it’s hard to think about, and the death of my brothers is unthinkable.

But we should be prepared, for as with Mr. Marcus, death sometimes strikes swiftly and without warning.

Speaking of things that strike without warning, Judy was mugged in the elevator yesterday when bringing the baby home from the doctor. (He’d been running a high fever for days, so yesterday Teresa drove them over to the pediatrician when Judy asked her to.)

The mugger got in the elevator behind Judy, and once the door was closed, he pulled a knife on her. He got only $10, but Judy was scared to death.

Teresa put a notice up on the lobby bulletin board about how we all have to be alert and careful.

After eight months in this building, I know plenty of my neighbors and say hello to them in the elevators and on the street.

I’ll miss the neighborhood feeling I’ve had here. When I come back to New York in the spring, I’ll be living God knows where and it just won’t be the same.

I figured out that my current total debts are about $11,000, but almost all of that is revolving debt. When I get my student loan disbursement in Florida, I should be able to get on top of some of my credit card bills.

I do have $2500 in my savings account at First Nationwide, another $650 in my Citibank and credit union checking accounts, and $400 in CDs.

Although I’ve been committing fraud by collecting Unemployment from Florida, it’s really saved me this fall. My expenses are less than the $1400 a month I’ve been taking in.

As winter officially arrives, I’m more than ready for the bright warmth and longer days of Florida. I also know that the best is already over in New York.


Friday, December 21, 1984

3 PM. It’s the first day of winter, and just as I got to our block, freezing rain started to fall; we may be in for a snowstorm. I’ve just rushed in and feel the need to write.

I went to see The Flamingo Kid at the RKO Warner Twin at noon. It was the first time in years I’ve gone to a noon movie – or to a Times Square theater, with its loony mix of patrons.

The film starred Matt Dillon as a Brooklyn kid in 1963, learning about life one summer as a cabana boy at a beach club on Long Island.

Although the film was a comedy, it made me feel so nostalgic that I cried during most of it, starting at the shots of the Marine Parkway Bridge at the opening credits: at last, a film has done justice to that beautiful bridge.

I guess I felt the movie was my life. The Flamingo Club, in the film, was actually El Caribe in Mill Basin, and I know every one of those characters, from the sharp, sleazy businessman played by Richard Crenna and the overly-tanned and lacquer-haired harridans to the chubby little kids and the guy with the crew-cut who flunks out of the University of Miami.

Nothing ethnic was mentioned, but the whole subtext was Jewish nouveau riche, down to the sculptured soap in the bathrooms (like Mom used to have) and the darkly paneled Long Island “den” (like Uncle Ralph’s in Cedarhurst).

The film was sweet, and as I said, it makes me want to write.

This isn’t a new idea, but I know the book I’m going to write next. It will be the novel I wrote once before, nine years ago, about my college days, only now I have the perspective to understand how much simpler that time was.

I am absolutely positive that I have a great story: about me and Shelli and Jerry and Elspeth and Ronna and Ivan and Scott and Avis and the others, all about growing up in a time when it really seemed like the world was going to change forever.

Kent State, the Moratorium, all those marches, marijuana and LSD, tie-dyed clothes and peace symbols, long hair and Afros . . . I guess one reason I want to write this book is as a kind of therapy, an escape from the retrograde ’80s.

This is such a conservative time, and nostalgia hasn’t gotten past 1963, the time of The Flamingo Kid. (American Graffiti, out over a decade ago, took place only a year earlier.) It’s as if America can’t stand to look back at that time of riots, assassinations, unrest and turmoil.

But for me – and for millions of others – that was our childhood, adolescence and coming of age. I graduated high school just after Bobby Kennedy was shot and I graduated college at the start of the Watergate hearings.

Everyone in publishing and the entertainment industry thinks that films about that era are box-office poison, that nobody wants to read about the late ’60s and early ’70s.

But that will change. As the pendulum swings too far to the right, it will correct itself, and maybe I can be a part of – or even start – a new appreciation for that time. In five years, it will seem incredible how we overlooked that era.

If I start when I get to Florida, I might be able to finish my book – maybe a novel, maybe a memoir – by the summer, or at least it could be published in 1986.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be in the right place at the right time for once.

For almost all my time since college, I’ve felt like I’ve been swimming against the current, trying to teach college at the worst time, publishing weird short stories at the worst time.

When I was 19, I felt differently. Maybe my college years were the only time in my life when I felt I was in tune with the world. In those days, “freak” was a compliment.

Well, I’ve gone on and on with this far too long. . .

I don’t want to lose those memories of Brooklyn and New York City in 1969, 1971, 1973. I don’t want to lose my memories of being 19. I don’t want to lose my memories of people – like Grandpa Herb, whom I’ve been thinking about all day because he would have been 81 today.

I really have to write this book.


Sunday, December 23, 1984

Noon. I’m in Rockaway, sitting at Grandma’s kitchen table.

It was raining very hard on Friday evening, but Ronna, despite her bad cold, wanted to go with me to Robin Epstein’s play. If she felt sick, she looked fine although she said it had been hectic at the office.

Ronna and I had dinner at Quantum Leap, the macrobiotic restaurant Stacy had taken me to, and then we finally got a cab to take us to the East Village.

The University of the Streets was on Avenue A and 7th Street, a ramshackle space upstairs. Susan, Spencer and Rochelle Ratner had saved seats for us in the second (and last) row; I sat behind Barbara, who seemed very proud of Robin.

And she should be. For while Whining and Dining, “a lesbian retelling of the Job story,” was sometimes draggy and sometimes silly, it had great energy.

Robin essentially played herself, a working-class Jewish waitress from Canarsie who’s unaffected, romantic and idealistic, a lover of the Knicks and Grossinger’s food.

I thought she was amazing and that the play was staged well, with all the actresses, playing characters from God to the Devil to an 11-year-old, being extremely effective.

Ronna and I, of course, got off on the Canarsie scenes with Robin’s mother, who actually does bankroll these productions. (In the play she gets Robin a job at Waldbaum’s.)

At the post-opening night party afterwards, Ronna and I got to congratulate Robin and the others and talk with Susan, Rochelle and Spencer.

Because Ronna is now the Hebrew Arts School’s liaison with the New York State Council on the Arts literature program and deals with its director, Gregory Kolovakos, she had another thing in common with Susan.

Actually, Susan had great news: Gloria Loomis told her that Hollywood people were coming in to dicker about Susan’s Ronson music story.

Spencer said his shoulder was better, and Robin told me she’s making big money doing software documentation and working at Shearson/AmEx.

Robin said she was delighted to show up the director of Teachers and Writers Collaborative, who thought she would never succeed as a writer. Well, we all love to do that with people who doubted us.

Rochelle was generous enough to drive me and Ronna home in the rain after she dropped off Susan and Spencer at the D train on 8th Street.

On the ride uptown, Rochelle and I talked literary politics and she told us about her country home upstate, the haven where she finds time to read and write.

Ronna and I had tea with Lori at their place, and then I came home and went to bed.

Yesterday was a sunny, warm day, and I left for Rockaway at noon, taking the IRT to Brooklyn and then the bus.

At Beach 116th Street, I had lunch, read in the library, and then sat on the boardwalk for an hour, enjoying the 60° sun as I listened to new music on WNYC  via my Walkman and watched the ocean waves roll in on the beach.

I found Grandma her usual self, not feeling too hot but not terrible, either. We had dinner, watched TV, and talked.

As usual, she expressed her worries about my future and everyone else’s. She’s so uneducated, she doesn’t know enough not to worry.

I fell asleep at 10:30 PM and slept soundly listening to the ocean.


Wednesday, December 26, 1984

6 PM. Teresa’s been gone all day and didn’t come home last night, so her final Christmas present to me was to let me live one day the way I did when I was alone in the apartment last summer.

The eight months since I came here have been the best of times. I’ll always remember 1984 as a fine year.

I spent last night and today reading, writing, doing errands, shopping and talking to people.

Josh and I had a good talk last evening. He’s reading all of Philip Roth, with whom he identifies.

Josh had a good holiday dinner at his cousin’s and spent Christmas Eve at James’s place with Beau and his sister Daisy, and Lynn and James’s friend Toby, who gives Josh the willies.

Ronna was still at her mother’s last night. Her cold got so bad that she went to the doctor to get a penicillin shot and she wasn’t well enough to have Christmas dinner at her father’s. But she was still planning to go to work today because she has so much to do.

Down in Florida, Dad said that Monday sales at the flea market were light; they took in $500 and closed early. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until he rested on Christmas Day. But he ran his usual seven miles and said it’s been in the 80°s the past few days.

Starting at 10 PM last night, I slept for twelve hours, because I was tired and because my sinuses were horribly clogged.

After reading in the Donnell Library for several hours, I had lunch at The Bagel in the Village and came home to pay my bills.

Crad’s letter has been haunting me, and today I managed a response. He says that my brain needs to be aired out, that I’ve fallen prey to the New York ethic of glittery success, that I’ve lost sight of my goals.

Crad says he’ll be content as long as he can publish and sell his books on the street. Not worrying about the size of his audience, Crad writes that he expects to have enough publications “to represent me well after my death.”

But Crad is also a loner, a misfit, an isolate, and now, a celibate. I feel that in some ways he’s rejected society because it has rejected him.

I’m glad he’s no longer as depressed and discouraged as he was a year ago, but as Josh said (I read him Crad’s letter), his life sounds pretty depressing.

Examining myself, I wondered if Crad was right about me, but I’ve decided that my values are as sound as they’ve always been.

If I was really interested in money, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

No, my ambitions have always been deeper and wider than Crad’s. Even if I were the premier writer of my generation and had all of society’s acclaim, I would want more than that.

Fiction writing is a marginal enterprise in today’s culture – that it shouldn’t be doesn’t mean all that much to me, for I’m a pragmatist.

I want to write fiction, but not the way I used to, and besides, there’s so much more to achieve.

Like Crad, I feel moments when I know I’m on the right track. (Of course, Hitler and Nixon probably did, too.)


Saturday, December 29, 1984

2 PM. It’s a record 65° out now: an incredible day for late December in New York. This is a taste of what I’ve got to look forward to in Florida starting two weeks from today.

The reality of my leaving is beginning to sink in, but so is its temporary nature. There’s nothing I can imagine that will keep me from coming back to New York in May – or at the latest, in June.

I’m going to miss my friends and the city, but I’ll be gone only four or five months. When you consider that before I came here last April, I was gone nearly eleven months, the time I’ll be away is really nothing to speak of.

Last night I met Josh, Beau (looking like the young actuary in his bow tie) and Daisy at the St. Mark’s Bookshop, where I bought Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark and Brad Gooch’s Jailbait and Beau bought my book (I’m embarrassed but pleased).

We waited on line for half an hour before we got a table at Dojo across the street. The meal was pleasant, and Daisy seemed as sweet as her brother. She’s flying back to Jackson tonight.

Instead of joining them for drinks at the Cedar Tavern after dinner, I decided to come back home early since it was the last time I’d have a chance to enjoy living alone in the apartment. I read, exercised, watched TV and listened to music.

I must always be grateful to Teresa for the good times I’ve had in this place.

My mind was too active for me to fall asleep, and I was still awake at 4 AM. Finally I slept, dreaming about school.

In one dream, I was explaining to an interested Dr. Grasso about the possibilities of computer education.

In another, I found myself back in Midwood, trying to explain to people that I was no longer a high school student.

And in the last dream, I was trying to find the Computer Center at The New School, only to be told by Stanley and Elspeth that they had moved it.

Headachy upon awakening, I managed to do some errands, but I was so clumsy today that everything went awry. I cut myself shaving (incredibly high up, by my cheekbone) and kept doing lame things, like knocking over my cup of juice.

I tried to fit everything into my suitcase, but it wouldn’t go, so I’m going to have to mail some stuff back to Florida.

I called Matt, who said that the Times review of his music was brief and only in the paper’s early edition; it was highly critical of violinist and cellist, but it gave Matt some grudging and qualified praise.

He plans to work on his commission for May and said that if he gets into Yaddo next summer, he’ll sublet his apartment to me. Great!

It’s gorgeous outside despite the cloudiness, and it feels like spring, a time of renewal.

It’s hard to believe that a few days ago the streets were covered with snow, but but life is like that. I love life. The bad times make the good times that much sweeter.

Tonight I’m seeing Ronna, who’s now at the Van Gogh exhibit at the Met.


Sunday, December 30, 1984

11 PM. I’ll remember the last weekend of 1984 for a long time.

Yesterday at 6 PM, I went over to Ronna’s at 6 PM, getting there before she and Lori returned from their day at the Van Gogh show at the Met and an early Chinese dinner with Annette.

Ronna still had her cold, but it was in its final stages, and I figured that even if she was contagious, what the hell, I won’t get a chance to be with her for months. So we had terrific sex, the best I’ve had in years.

But first we went with Lori to the movies. Ronna wanted to see this Australian film, Man of Flowers, at the Lincoln Plaza. It was 65° out at 8 PM, and the whole city seemed to be out on the streets.

Yesterday broke all records on much of the East Coast, and it got up to 70° in New York. I felt as if I were getting both a foretaste of Florida and a hint of what’s ahead of me when I return to the city next summer.

I do love New York and the energy here: I love the style, the people, the freshness of daily life.

Of course, thanks to Teresa, I’ve been privileged to live a yuppie lifestyle on the West Side, and I’ve had it easy, with no heavy job pressures or money worries.

The past eight months have really been a carefree period in my life. I’ve been taught that life can’t all be like this, that one has to struggle, to suffer, to go through a lot more pain than I have.

But I should just appreciate the past year as a gift from God; I’m sure the pain will come to me without my asking for it.

Man of Flowers was an interesting film, and afterwards we got refreshments (gelato for the girls, extremely rich Tofutti for me) and walked up Broadway.

Back at 96th Street, we bought groceries and Sunday’s skimpy Times.

Although I felt really sleepy, as soon as Ronna got into bed, I was all over her. Not that I was crude, but it was rougher sex than we usually have. And it was great: real loving and passionate.

I don’t write well about sex, but that’s probably a good thing because real sex beats “literary” sex any day.

Lying next to Ronna, I slept peacefully, if sporadically, and felt refreshed this morning. Up at 10 AM, Ronna and I talked and fooled around and played with each other, whiling away hours.

Finally we ended up having sex so passionate that I lost myself in her. I felt totally fulfilled; she seemed like the one person in the world to me.

I know that, objectively, Ronna is overweight – but at times, she seems like the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.

Her smooth legs, her full breasts, her cunt . . . I feel embarrassed even writing that word, as if I’m writing Henry Miller/Anaïs Nin erotica. But I love it inside Ronna – I don’t know, it’s like a world in there.

See, I don’t write well about sex, do I?

While Ronna got a phone call – I didn’t ask, but it was probably Jordan, one of the people Ronna will be spending New Year’s Eve with – I took a shower.

Later, Ronna made herself, me and Lori scrambled eggs and toasted raisin English muffins: heavenly stuff for a famished guy like me.

She had to go meet Sid and Cara, and I walked home down Riverside. The chillier weather had returned, and the wind was blowing off the Hudson.

Teresa’s parents, her father’s mother, her aunt and her uncle came over this afternoon and took packages with them: boxes of books and other things Teresa wants to store at their houses when she’s in California.

At 7 PM, Sharon arrived. They had rented a truck in Boston and moved Sharon’s friend into Sharon’s apartment in Back Bay, then drove another six hours, moved another friend into a nearby place, and then came back here to bring up Sharon’s things.

Teresa and I couldn’t believe it, but Sharon had at least fifty cartons, boxes, bags, etc. She brought her whole life with her: everything from Cheerios in a mason jar to stuffed animals. We were six people and had to make four trips on the elevator to get it all in.

Earlier, Teresa had taken “my” closet and cleared it out. My stuff is now in Teresa’s room, and Sharon’s things are all over the living room.

Since they were exhausted, Sharon and her friends left as soon as most of her stuff was in a safe place. She wants to move in next weekend, and Teresa will probably go to her mother’s in Brooklyn and I’ll go to Ronna’s. So this could be my last weekend here.

The reality of the move finally hit both Teresa and me tonight. Of course, she feels a lot worse than I do: this is her apartment, after all, and she’s lived here eight years in contrast to the eight months I’ve been here.

But as Teresa says, one’s space is one’s space, and she feels her apartment has been violated by Sharon’s possessions; maybe “overwhelmed” is a better word. Usually a person doesn’t get to see the next tenant’s belongings in her apartment.

Teresa says she still feels like changing her mind, and she’s snapped at me lately because the move is making her crazy. I try to tell her that we should both be grateful that 1985 is giving us a change, a fresh start.


Monday, December 31, 1984

3 PM. The final day of 1984 is chilly and rainy here in New York.

Funny: I remember what I did exactly ten years ago, on December 31, 1974. I was also in Manhattan, working at the Village Voice as a messenger.

I got off work at noon and walked over to Dad’s “place” on Fifth and 16th Street to see if he could drive me home.

Weird to think that exactly a decade later, I’d be passing the same places – especially when I consider how far I’ve come and gone.

I just came back from lunch with Alice. One by one, I’m saying goodbye to my friends.

Over burgers at Buffalo Roadhouse and later at her apartment, Alice and I had one of our great talks. What I admire most about Alice is her energy and her zeal for work.

Living with Teresa, who’s basically a lazy person, I’ve become lazy myself. In Florida, I plan to do a lot more work.

Alice’s goal is to get a new job, and I’m sure she’ll eventually get something better than her position as editor-in-chief at Weight Watchers.

Peter’s new book, about Alice’s building, is in its final draft, and Alice has high hopes for it – as she probably should, for Peter is a skilled and smart writer.

Alice told me that June is applying to social work schools. Although she’s glad June is “finally doing something constructive,” Alice wonders why June – who’s so cold and distant – would want to be a social worker.

Going downstairs to the West 4th Street station, we both got off the A train at 59th Street, where I transferred to the IRT and Alice went to visit Peter at his place, which is going co-op (he plans to ask his uncle for a loan to buy it).

I don’t feel that bad about leaving my friends because I know I’m coming back to New York.

Last night I slept okay, and I tried to relax in bed this morning, but that was difficult because all the boxes lying around make me feel so impermanent.

By now, I’m a veteran of a lot of moves, so this one shouldn’t be that painful. And things probably won’t be as hectic as they now seem to be.

Teresa went out to play with Bruce’s sister Laurie, and she just called to say that I should let Sharon in at 4 PM, when she’s coming over to put away some stuff and get some clothes she needs now.

Susan Mernit phoned and invited me and Ronna to dinner. Susan said that Ronna was not what she expected – “nervous and high strung” – but is stable, warm and intelligent.

(Does Susan think anyone involved with me would automatically be nervous and high strung? Ha.)

Well, I’m dallying, and I’ve not got much more to report. I guess it’s always an accomplishment to finish another year of journal entries; at least I’ve got proof that I’ve lived.

I can’t expect 1985 to be the great year that 1984 turned out to be. It’s been a gratifying year in which I’ve felt really relaxed. I’ve been taking it easy, and maybe I needed the time to rev up my batteries, though I wish I’d been more productive.

Still, I’ve gotten so much out of my eight months in New York; the change from Florida has worked wonders for me.

We’ll see where I go from here.TC mark

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