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

Tuesday, December 11, 1984

9 PM. A month from now I’ll be in Florida. I’ve stopped thinking about my stay in New York as “a good experience”: it’s simply where I’ve been living.

Teaching at John Jay this semester worked out very well for me. Many of the adjuncts who were laid off were very upset when I spoke to them today.

I’m glad I feel different, apart from them in that I see a way out of the powerless situation these part-time college English teachers are in.

Then again, I’ve always told myself that each teaching job I’ve had was only temporary, and here I am, with a decade of college teaching experience under my expanding waistline’s belt.

Last evening I went out to Crazy Eddie’s and bought Teresa her Christmas present. It’s a Sony Watchman, a two-inch black-and-white TV with a headset. Although it cost me $140, Teresa deserves a real gift, and I’m sure she’ll appreciate this one since she’s talked about it a couple of times.

In speaking with Josh last night, I learned he’s now a senior systems analyst at Blue Cross. “Don’t be impressed by the title,” Josh said, but I’m sure he’s very competent at his job.

The third of the series of articles on computer education appeared in the Times today, with an emphasis on future networking via minicomputers.

The article mentioned my old English teacher at the Franklin School (now the Anglo-American School), Seamus O’Hanlon, who uses a system to prepare tailor-made exercises for each student.

Twenty years ago, such a thing was unimaginable, but is it really an advance? Mr. O’Hanlon was a good teacher, and I liked doing the same assignment as everyone else.

Despite getting up early after a night of pleasant dreams, I still felt tired today but managed to get through my classes.

As the holiday atmosphere descends on the city – Christmas decorations are everywhere – it’s harder to get students to work, but there’s not much more I need to do except go over their writing with them.

I do give them one assignment after another, so that by now they’ve written about twenty papers this term.

In the afternoon, I took advantage of Teresa’s absence to do heavy-duty stomach and leg exercises. Then, invigorated by sweat, I showered and did various errands, buying stuff for the apartment, going to the post office, getting some groceries, etc.

This evening Teresa had a business meeting with a woman who’ll be renting the Fire Island house, so I went out to grab dinner and then read, read, read at the Hunter College library.

Right now, I feel spectacularly boring, so I’ll quit writing here.


Wednesday, December 12, 1984

5:30 PM. I just walked in to see that Teresa has gone to her parents’ house in Williamsburg.

We had a little too much of each other today. She takes everything so personally, as if every little gesture were either a rejection or acceptance of her.

Wondering how I’d fill the day when I got up, I thought about taking the Metroliner to Philadelphia. But when I heard Teresa say she had to go to Mount Kisco to pick up some presents at a housewares outlet, I told her I’d go along.

I know that pleased her because she thought it meant I wanted to be with her, but all it really meant was that I felt like getting out of the city. (Not that I didn’t want to be with Teresa; I had no feelings about it either way.)

Around 4 PM, she was talking to Barbara, telling her how desperate she was about New Year’s Eve, sounding bitter because everyone she’s asked over has had other plans or been indefinite.

“Probably only three people will show up,” she said, and I jokingly remarked that that would make me happy because I prefer small, intimate gatherings.

Well! She blew up, completely overreacting. I touched a real sensitive chord, and insensitive fool that I am, I didn’t drop the subject, as I should have.

Then she started crying to Barbara, not about me, but how none of her friends care. (Teresa then reassured Barbara that she, Barbara, was not one of those friends that she was blaming while she simultaneously lobbed Jewish-mother guilt-inducing zingers about Barbara and Stewart not coming over here.)

Teresa’s got absolutely no self-esteem, and I feel sorry for her because wherever she goes, she’s always going to be disappointed – by other people, by Big Events like New Year’s Eve.

She says I’m crazy, “because to you, it’s just another night.” Damn right. I’m not going to let a calendar, no less, tell me I have to feel or act in a certain way.

And if people don’t come to a party I’ve invited them to, fine; as I see it, that’s their right, and they’ll only be missing out on my charming company, joy that I am to be with.

Maybe this is an unusual way of looking at it, but I feel it’s much healthier because I’m accepting responsibility for my feelings and my activities.

Teresa never does that. Even in a casual phone conversation this morning, I heard her say, about her sister, who was supposed to have her daughter come over to spend today with Aunt Teresa, “So now she ruined my day – as usual.”

Do you know how hard it is living with someone with that kind of negative attitude? That’s why I’ll be glad to be gone in four weeks.

Teresa said, “Well, you have Ronna and you’ll see her on New Year’s Eve, and I’ll be alone.”

And I replied, honestly, that I don’t care whether I see Ronna or not, that I’d be just as happy to spend New Year’s Eve at my grandmother’s in Rockaway. Three years ago, I was with Grandma Ethel and it was an okay New Year’s Eve.

It’s not like I’m vehemently against New Year’s Eve parties; if we’d have one, I’d have a good time.

How do I know that ahead of time? Because I can always have a good time if I make my mind up to do so.

Last year I was asleep at 10 PM. That was fine. When I dated Ronna in college, we usually spent the night at Susan’s house, talking and drinking tea, because Ronna didn’t want Susan to be alone.

However, I don’t like feeling obligated to have a good time. Teresa and her family make a big deal, not only of Christmas, but every holiday and birthday. Who needs that?

Perhaps I don’t have Teresa’s highs, but I don’t have her lows, either, and I prefer being on an even keel. I also cherish being alone, and Teresa is incapable of enjoying being alone.

Maybe i’ts because because I’m a writer, or maybe it’s because I live a monkish life in Florida, but it takes very little companionship or activity to make me happy.

Not that I can’t be a pain in the ass: When I visited Florida in August, I was insufferable; I don’t know how my parents put up with me. My being sick wasn’t an excuse for behaving so childishly and obnoxiously.

I spoke to Susan Mernit this morning. She told me Spencer broke his collarbone and separated his shoulder when a motorcycle on which he was a passenger skidded on the ice last Saturday. He’s doing okay although he’s uncomfortable in his harness and has a wicked bruise.

Susan is excited because this studio guy in Hollywood thinks he can sell her Ronson music story to the movies; Susan’s agent, Gloria Loomis, also feels optimistic, leading Susan into various fantasies of fame and fortune.

The job at Scholastic never materialized, but she is still doing that article on writers working as adjuncts for Coda, and we’re getting together on Saturday so she can interview me.


Thursday, December 13, 1984

Four weeks before I leave, it’s starting to hit me that my life in New York is coming to an end, and I suddenly realize what a difficult adjustment I’m facing.

A woman, Sharon, came to see the apartment today, and it looks like she may sublet it for a year.

It will be almost as hard to think of someone else here as it was for me five years ago when strangers took over the house I’d grown up in.

Teresa told her parents about the move to California last night, presenting it in such a way that the job offer from her cousin was the main inducement; her parents could hardly object to that.

When Teresa phoned her cousin, Rosemary said she’d like to Teresa in San Francisco as early as possible, and now Teresa says she may leave before the end of the year.

Although this will make arrangements difficult for me, things always seem to work out so that every time I move, I face a hectic situation.

I can stay at my grandmother’s, or preferably, at Ronna’s, because it’s awfully hard to get from Rockaway to John Jay College so early in the morning.

Well, nothing’s definite yet, so I’m not going to worry about it.

Last night Jonathan called and said he and his friend David, the 35-year-old grad student in history, found a two-bedroom apartment in Pompano, and he wanted to know if I’d like to share it.

I told Jonathan I’d prefer to live on my own, but if I were sharing, I’d still need my own bedroom. He understood. I don’t really want to live with my brother; in many ways, I’d prefer a roommate who was a stranger.

But this brought home the fact that I’m going to have to find a place to live in Florida pretty soon.

Jokingly, I called up the Times today and complained that their Thursday “Home” section was “an affront to those of us who are homeless.”

The editor didn’t like my suggestion that the paper also put in a “Homeless” section: “Who could we get to advertise in it?”

She suggested I write a letter to the editor, which I did.

Today was absolutely gorgeous, the best December day one could hope for: sunny and mild, nearly 60°. I spent a lot of time outdoors, walking around.

I got to Brooklyn Heights around 6 PM, an hour before Josh (who got delayed at work) arrived for our dinner meeting, so I strolled on the Promenade, staring at that still-unforgettable view of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.

New York: there’s no city like it.

A letter from Patrick about Broward Community College stuff – gossip, mostly  – again brought me down; it’s as if I don’t want to remember that part of my life.

What going back to Florida may do is convince me that I never want to live there again. Well, we’ll see.

When Josh finally arrived, I had to go for another 15-minute walk because his dog shitted all over the floor, and Josh needed time to clean up.

Poor Butch: he had trouble walking up the steps, and instead of jumping up and barking at me, he just stared sadly and listlessly. His eyes look so old.

“Butch may not be here this time next year,” Josh said.

We had dinner at the new Greek diner off Cadman Plaza.

Today at John Jay, my classes went well – if getting them over with means they went well – and as usual, I was glad to end another week of teaching. There’s just one week left before vacation.

Another sign that I’m moving: filling out change of address forms when I send back my credit card bills with the monthly payment.


Sunday, December 16, 1984

2 PM. The Weekend Report: I just returned from Ronna’s, where I spent the night and the morning (we didn’t get up until nearly noon).

On Friday, Teresa brought her niece over. The kid was shy with me at first, averting her head, but we soon became pals. For some reason, little children take to me. Yesterday Teresa said that Heidi kept talking about me.

She’s a charmer – I read her a book, Pigs in Hiding – but also destructive: unwittingly, she broke several things and caused a spill that necessitated doing a wash.

I walked Teresa and Heidi down to the station, stopping off to get us cookies at Mrs. Fields (my weakness). When I finished helping them get the stroller down the subway steps, I returned to the surface to find James at Mrs. Fields.

James said he had just finished a painting job and was in a rush to get to his evening job in telephone sales. He looked better than the last time I’d seen him. Mrs. Fields beats bulimia any day. (A good slogan for the company?)

Amira came over later. She’s in the midst of a hot, heavy and heartachy new romance with an Iranian who would be perfect if only he didn’t disappear every so often.

Teresa encouraged Amira in her fantasy about buying the Berkshires house and living there with this guy.

Because my stomach was upset, I stayed in while they went out to dinner; I spent my time working on my application to Teachers College.

That was Friday. On Saturday morning, I went to Fordham for the Association of Computer Educators conference.

There were workshops all day, vendor booths where I got to see some pretty good software (an interactive story, another science program with a videodisc component), a media room where I saw a film on computer art.

The only seminar I had time to attend was the one led by Bank Street College’s Michael Cook on “Teacher Training in the Computer Age.”

By now, I am already conversant with the major issues in computer education, and I expect I’ll be swifter than some of my teachers in Florida. Patrick wrote that Ray Cafolla, our LOGO teacher next term at FIU, probably knows no more than I do.

I had to hurry back to meet Susan Mernit, who was due here at 1:30 PM. We went out for lunch and talked about New York real estate – an endless conversation topic these days – and returned to the apartment, where Susan took notes as she interviewed me for the Coda article on “The Writer as Adjunct.”

It was good to express my feelings on the subject and interesting to hear how my experiences compared to those of other people Susan spoke with. She also asked me for Kevin Urick’s number so she could call him in Maryland.

Other good news Susan related: she sold a book review to George Myers at the Columbus Dispatch.

She and Spencer were going to see The Killing Fields, so I called Ronna and she said she’d walk down and meet us here.

Meanwhile, Teresa came back after spending the day with Sharon, who is definitely going to take the apartment. Sharon will move in on Monday, January 7, but she said I could leave my things here until I needed to take them back to Florida.

This is going to make my life difficult, but I’m used to it. When I left New York for Florida four years ago, when I left the Sunrise condo for the summer of ’82, when I left my apartment in North Miami Beach last April, I always operated in a frenzy. So I’m sure I’ll survive this, too.

Susan and I met Ronna at the corner of West End Avenue and we hailed a cab. (Just before that, a sleek sports car stopped and the two frat boys inside asked us to settle a bet: whether Jacob Javits was alive or not. He’s alive.)

At Cinema I on Third and 60th, we met Spencer, who’s still in some discomfort from his shoulder injury.

He and I went around the corner to grab a pizza while Ronna and Susan stood on line talking about Susan’s forthcoming surgery just a year after Ronna’s at the same hospital.

The film – about Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg’s relationship with his Cambodian interpreter, Dith Pran, left behind to suffer the Holocaust of the Pol Pot regime – was fascinating but horrible: a reminder of the horrors of Cambodia.

Afterwards, Susan and Spencer went home to Brooklyn, and Ronna and I had dinner at O’Neals’ Baloon at Lincoln Center.

Following a pit stop here to pick up my things for the night, we went to Ronna’s, where we watched Saturday Night Live and got into bed to make love.

Neither of us were sleepy, so we stayed awake until very late, fooling around: kissing, hugging, licking, fingering, the usual.

The room was very hot during the night, making it hard for me to breathe, and my dreams were filled with weird images.

In the morning – well, actually at 11:30 AM – we made love again, and that was really the best. Then we showered and got dressed.

After a 1 PM breakfast, Ronna had stuff to do and I felt like being alone, so she walked me down Broadway to West 85th Street and I came back here.

In the middle of writing this – it’s now after 3 PM – Teresa came back with a tall, thin Christmas tree, which she placed in the living room and began to decorate. Then her friend Nancy came over to take Teresa out to lunch.

I’ve got papers to grade and a million other things to do.

Amira is coming over this evening, so I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to be alone and to write, but I don’t have as much to say as I thought I did.

This weekend has been a blur of people.

In two weeks it will be the end of 1984, and the year is going by faster and faster.

I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. Well, actually I’m doing both.

One thing I’m pretty certain about: this stay in Florida will be my flamingo-song there. It will be hard to stay there after experiencing the rich life I can have here in New York.

While she was here, Nancy mentioned that she lived in South Miami for three years and would never go back.

Another of Teresa’s friends, Kathy Schwartz, plans to go to Miami for the winter just to get out of the cold. That’s essentially what I’m doing this winter.

It will be difficult to live in New York on my own, but I can manage because I have friends here. If I have to live way out in the boroughs or in New Jersey, that doesn’t bother me.

After all, I grew up in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn, and maybe after all my traveling, I could eventually wind up back in my old neighborhoods of Flatlands and Mill Basin.

Then again, there’s the lure of California.

Oh, my problem is I want to do everything and live everywhere.

This year, 1984, may be my favorite year because I had an ideal living situation.

Perhaps everything will fall apart in 1985, but if I keep my health and my brains and my sense of humor, nothing can be all that bad.

It will be hard to leave Teresa and Ronna, as well as Alice and Josh and Susan and Justin and the others; it will be hard to give up this apartment, the West Side, and the wonderful times I’ve had here – but at least I won’t have to go through a bleak winter. (Till now, it’s been amazingly mild: almost balmy the past week.)

This winter, I’ll get to spend time with my family, to study computers, to read and write and to renew my acquaintance with South Florida, a place I also feel affection for.

Getting through the hectic times the next couple of months will be worth it, I feel and I hope. I’m scared, but Life does have promise.


Tuesday, December 18, 1984

3 PM. I just came in as Teresa was going out to Tiffany’s to do some Christmas shopping.

I was in Tiffany’s myself this morning. Between classes, I had to go to the bank to deposit my housing refund from FAU ($445, minus the $50 deposit they’re keeping), and since it was such a glorious day, I decided to take a walk.

The weather has been unbelievably mild, and I’ve been outside as much as I could be since yesterday afternoon, when I took a 5 PM walk to get some Tofutti.

I loved the sight and smell of the piney Christmas trees lining Broadway as it felt like spring.

Late last night, I again took a walk, and it was still mild out, and I felt terrific.

This morning’s stroll took me across Central Park South, past the très chic hotels and past TV weatherman Dr. Frank Field, who should have looked happier, given the situation.

Manhattan is really such a small island. I always think of John Jay as really far over on the West Side – and it is, on Tenth Avenue, only two blocks from the Hudson – but I was at Fifth Avenue in no time.

Reading a New York magazine symposium on the New York style got me thinking a lot about the city. One writer suggested that because Manhattan is so dense, one can have memories associated with every corner – and I do.

Another said that having true New York style was thinking that one really knew New York and living as if one owned it; if so, I think I’ve got it.

Certainly my style, such as it is, is more New York than Florida, and living here the past eight months has made realize how much more comfortable I am here, among people who are bright, verbal, swift, ambitious, well-informed, trendy and jaded.

Still, I don’t like the commercialism and the excesses of materialism and the way the city more and more looks like it’s divided into two camps: the very rich, the winners, and the abject poor, the losers.

But as I consider my imminent return to Florida, I keep thinking that I’ll never again be able to make Florida my permanent home.

When I think about the dull morons at Broward Community College – I mean the administrators and faculty, not the students – I feel so superior to them because I imagine none of them, from Dr. Adams and Dr. Hamilton down the ladder, could last two minutes in New York.

I guess it’s arrogance to feel the way I do, and that arrogance is also a part of the New York style.

But now I could never teach at BCC again: to work so hard for so little seems demeaning and stupid.

Last night Amira brought Billy over here, and he highlighted the faded blonde in Teresa’s hair while giving me and Amira haircuts.

It was a pleasant, familial evening, with the usual teasing between me and Amira; she always makes me feel I’m playing Gale Gordon to her Lucille Ball. I’ll miss Amira.

I also realize how much I’ll miss Teresa, too, and despite all the annoyances, how I’ll look back upon this fall as one of the happiest, most fulfilling times of my life.

Amira and Billy didn’t leave until nearly midnight, so my sleep was short, but I still felt fine this morning.

I had my classes write today, which meant I didn’t have to work very hard. (That comes when I mark their papers.)

Justin called and invited me to lunch, so I took the crosstown bus to his office, first helping an old black veteran find the tram to Roosevelt Island so he could visit a friend with a brain tumor at Goldwater Hospital.

Justin was extremely busy when I arrived, explaining to a writer for The Laugh Factory magazine that no, he could not make up an interview with Eddie Murphy and write replies that would be “what Eddie would have said if I could have asked him the question.”

The office has been hectic since Beverly Hills Cop opened as the smash hit of the year, but Bob Wachs – on his way to L.A. today – gave Justin a 20% raise and a bonus of about $2500.

Over burgers at Friday’s, Justin told me that Beth keeps calling him now that she says she feels bad for making him feel like a freak (by telling him, among other things, how disgusting it was for her to imagine him having sex with guys).

Of course he shouldn’t have told her everything right off the bat. Anyway, as you’d expect, Beth sounds like a major-league neurotic who now wants Justin terribly: the more he says he doesn’t want to see her, the more insistent she gets, crying and being manipulative.

Meanwhile, Justin seems interested in men again. He’s been running into old lovers – there have been about ten or twelve, he told me – and I think Justin now realizes he can’t go straight.

As for your correspondent here, I know I’m gay and always will be, and I don’t worry about it. I obviously have sexual feelings for Ronna because I love her, but it seems no big deal to me that despite my feelings for Ronna, I’m basically gay.

Justin paid for lunch as a Chanukah present, and I thanked him and took the bus home.

I’m meeting Alice at the Weight Watchers office at 6 PM.


Wednesday, December 19, 1984

4 PM. Delayed by a subway tie-up last evening, I didn’t get to Alice’s office until 6:15 PM. We decided to celebrate Chanukah by going to Lindy’s, where Alice had a “Joan Rivers” (pastrami and corned beef) and I stuck to my old standby, turkey on rye.

She showed me Peter’s new book, a Fawcett paperback called A Matter of Finding the Right Girl, about a boy who vows to lose his virginity by his eighteenth birthday.

Alice wants to help Peter publicize the book the way I’ve done with mine. Peter, like a lot of authors, is content to let the publisher handle everything, but he says he’ll be glad to have Alice (and me) help him get on TV or radio or in print media.

I gave Alice some suggestions, and I said I’d look at the book myself to see if I could come up with more ideas. (It occurs to me that I could be doing this for other authors – for money.)

This discussion took up most of our meal, but we also managed to talk about Alice’s job (she’s more anxious than ever to find a new one) and my own life.

When I said that 1984 was the best year of my life, Alice seemed surprised I was that happy. This year hasn’t been a good one for her, what with her job troubles and her (temporary) breakup with Peter.

Alice feels she’ll never get rich working for someone else, which is probably true, but she does enjoy editing – though she prefers newspapers to magazines.

I took the bus with her to Peter’s house (they were going to see Pacific Overtures) and then walked up Broadway.

Richard Grayson!” I heard someone cry out; it was Sue Ribner, whom I’d just been thinking about. She was with a friend whom she was taking out to dinner. We agreed to get together before I leave the city.

Back at home, Pete Cherches called and said he’s been busy with school. Writing his third Assembler program has proven the first real difficulty he’s encountered. He spends a lot of time at the NYU computers.

A reading gig at St. Mark’s in late January has made Pete happy. He may become a computer programmer, but he’s still very much a writer.

School ends for him on January 11, same as me, and then he’s got to buy a suit and go job-hunting. Pete’s another person I must see before I leave New York.

When I got in last night, Teresa was having a dinner for Bruce and Lori, and I sampled one of her delicious potato latkes. Bruce and Lori remind me of Teresa’s friends from Fire Island, none of whom I really like.

All they talk about are material possessions and the accoutrements of  “the good life”: food, wine, furnishings, fashions, real estate, investments – and the usual gossip.

It sometimes amazes me that I’ve remained so close to Teresa when none of these things matter to me – or to the people I care about most: Ronna, Josh, Pete, Justin, Alice (who likes money but only for security’s sake).

Ronna, for example, hardly ever talks about “fashion” or material goods except in a matter-of-fact or intellectual way. What I love about Ronna is that she is neither a JAP or a Yuppie, though she easily could be.

Today turned chilly and rainy. I got up late and spent most of the day in the library, reading, and at the Gotham Book Mart, buying. (I found a rare copy of Disjointed Fictions, one of three I now own.)

Teresa told me with some satisfaction that, as she had predicted, Amira’s Iranian friend turned out to be living with his girlfriend. Amira had swallowed all of those stories about his not having a phone and not wanting her to see his place because it was so “messy.” What a fool.

But most people believe what they want to believe, and Amira – like Justin and so many others – seems so childishly naïve when it comes to relationships. In their desperation, they clutch at anyone who offers them a solution to whatever life dilemma they think they’ve got.

Me? Am I mature and knowing or am I just cynical and standoffish? I hope it’s the former, but who knows?

As crazy as I was about Sean two and a half years ago, I stopped short of making a fool of myself over him. (Not that being a fool is bad –but it is painful.)

Two years ago at Christmas, I was hurt when I found out about him and Doug, but it was not unexpected and I didn’t go into a deep funk.

Others may not believe this, but looking back, I have no regrets and I feel certain that Sean and I both benefited from a healthy, supportive, and affectionate relationship.

Now, with Ronna, I feel love again, and as with Sean, it’s passionate at times but it’s also subdued.

I guess I always have to be in control, and that’s probably not the best way to be; still, it works for me. With both Sean and Ronna, I thought about their welfare and worried that I was exploiting them.

I even point this out to Ronna, but she says everything is fine, and I have to take her words at face value.

Before coming home just now, I stopped off at John Jay, where Doris gave me my paycheck. After tomorrow’s classes, I’ll be on vacation!TC mark

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