A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1985

Wednesday, May 1, 1985

3 PM. The first four months of 1985 are gone already. I’m so confused about where I’m going in life that I’ve decided to not worry about it for the next few weeks. So much has happened since I arrived that I need time to adjust.

Rockaway and Grandma’s home are the perfect places to relax.

Here, I don’t feel the crazy hectic pace of Teresa’s life in Manhattan. Teresa called this morning to say that her sister had a 6-pound, 7-ounce, boy by C-section at noon yesterday.

Connie had some complications that required a Caesarean, and yesterday she was pretty much out of it; she probably won’t come home from the hospital till Sunday.

Heidi is acting very badly and was screaming all night. Teresa said she says she doesn’t want a brother, but I guess she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Teresa had said that Heidi had become “shrewish” in recent months anyway.

Frank came through with a firm offer of a $35,000 job in Stanley Simon’s office, and all Teresa has to do is meet with the Bronx Borough President’s staff.

The money would be terrific, as Victor keeps telling her, but Teresa doesn’t really want to work. She dislikes the idea of another summer campaign killing her weekends – and most of all, her trip to Europe.

The way Teresa spoke, it sounded to me that she’s already made up her mind to decline the job offer as well as the offers for the Brooklyn co-op from the  real estate broker in Brooklyn, whose exclusive has only another week to go.

Monday night I heard her reject several offers, but she told me the latest offer would net her $43,000, giving her almost $25,000 profit after all is said and done. That might be the best she can do now. I’d certainly jump at the offer, but then I’d probably jump at the Bronx job, too.

Last night Sue Ribner and Susan Mernit returned my calls.

Sue said that she still has lots of problems with illness in her family, and she feels the woman warriors book project will never get finished, but she’s looking forward to going to Cummington in July (I told her to sublet the apartment to someone else).

She asked me to come early on Saturday to help her take stuff from her apartment to Riverside Park for her birthday party.

Susan told me things are hectic, as usual. She’s been doing more journalism and reviewing (now for the new Kirkus) than fiction writing, and she’s so well-liked at Hunter College that they offered her work for the summer.

However, Susan planned a quiet July and a Scottish vacation in August, so she isn’t sure she’ll accept the course. They’re giving her another creative writing section in the fall, so she must really be popular at Hunter. I told her I’d call her in a few days.

Grandma seems to be in fairly good shape – for Grandma, anyway. She went to see Amadeus the other night (though she couldn’t remember the movie at all), she plays cards in the evening, and today she went to the supermarket and is now downstairs with her friends.

Aunt Arlyne’s condo in Sunrise is empty now, and Grandma could go to Florida for a few weeks. I wish she would: she’d probably feel better if she could get away for a while, and of course, selfishly, I’d like to have this apartment to myself for a while.

Actually, if I had a car, I could get used to living here with Grandma. The bad part of being here is being so cut off from Manhattan.

But it has lots of good points. The apartment is larger and quieter than Teresa’s and Grandma gives me enough “space” so I can feel relaxed.

I sleep very well here, maybe because of the sounds of the ocean. Last night, after I slept from 10 PM to 10 AM, I woke up feeling very relaxed and refreshed, although my neck is still a bit sore.

I’ve just come back from Brooklyn, where I hung around the college for several hours. On Hillel Place, Barron’s Bookstore has closed, replaced by a copy service.

The ropes around the college quadrangle are gone so that it now looks the way it did when we were undergrads and people plopped down to sit between classes.

Hugh Kenner was giving the third annual Julian Kaye Lecture today, on Joyce, and at the English Department bulletin board, I noted that the Schaeffers are no longer at Brooklyn College and that Baumbach is taking MFA students to Paris for a month-long course this summer.

I saw Dean Nat Jones, looking much older, and I went into the Museum of the Borough of Brooklyn, located where the old faculty lounge used to be.

I heard more Spanish and Haitian Creole around campus, but the buildings look the same, and there was even a demonstration – against President Reagan’s trip to the Bitburg cemetery – in front of Hillel; I arrived as the priest from the Newman Center was speaking to the small crowd.

The weather couldn’t be better the past couple of days: sunny, breezy, and about 75° to 80°. I’m enjoying my visit to Rockaway.


Friday, May 3, 1985

3 PM. I have a blinding headache, but I’m sure I’ll be all right; I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Yesterday afternoon I had the apartment to myself and I took advantage of it by getting out my dumbbells and working out. Right now I have the slightest touch of charley horse, a nice soreness.

I’ve pretty much adjusted to being in New York again. No longer do I feel like a stranger. A few bus and subway rides, dinner out, and walks in familiar surroundings have done the trick. It’s not bad for a Florida kid to adjust to the Big Apple in less than a week.

I’ve gotten in touch with more people. I called Pete, who’s been trying to find me via Josh (who went up to get some training at Rheinbeck the past two days).

Our Mother’s Day reading at Darinka is set, and he’ll send me the leaflets, which I can mail out to my friends.

Like lots of people, Pete is getting over a bad cold which made his fourth week at work difficult.

Mikey was glad to hear from me; we’ll get together soon and I’ll go to Larry and Judy’s wedding with him and Amy.

Amy is very disenchanted with her job because the people at City Opera, from Beverly Sills on down, are impossible to work with. Mikey is still busy at Legal Aid, still looking for a way out.

Alice phoned last night with great news: Peter got a job as executive editor of The Best magazine, devoted to an exclusive wealthy audience.

The job pays $30,000, and with last week’s sales of two more YA novels, Peter will be making over $40,000 this year.

He’s doing this to win Alice back, but he’s also delighted with his new job; it’s a boost to his ego to have someone think he’s worth that much. I still don’t think I’d believe anyone would pay me $30,000, but I know I’m worth it.

Ronna sounded better when I called her at work, but she did not have time to talk.

I just read a letter from Tom, who is in the hospital following an emergency appendectomy last Wednesday. He got violently ill the night before, went to school but called Jane, who took him to the doctor, where the diagnosis was made.

Worse than the surgery was the next day when they made him get up to go to the bathroom; he told them he was going to faint, and of course he did. While he was in the hospital, Debra called and said she loved him.

Tom said he’s going to take his friend Linda’s New York apartment while she’s away in July for a Guggenheim. So I’ll get to spend some time with him.

Teresa brought Heidi home at 10 PM, and she seemed delighted to see me. For some reason Heidi thinks I’m wonderful, “handsome,” her “sweetie,” etc. And I barely have to work hard to keep her happy.

Unlike the past few nights, she slept well. I didn’t, however. The mattress is so bad I could only put it on the floor of the bedroom, and I just couldn’t fall asleep till after 4 AM.

Heidi and I played in the morning, and then we went out in the cold rain to get breakfast. I do wish I had a more comfortable place to stay, but I guess there are lots of people in the world who wish they had my comfort. And all this moving about makes me more adaptable and flexible – or so I keep telling myself.

Teresa’s real estate deal involves phone calls every hour. In a way, I feel like I’m intruding, but if I keep thinking I’m on vacation, I’ll be okay. The best thing would be for me to return to Florida in August. It may be a more sterile, lonely life, but I can live cheaply there on my own.


Saturday, May 4, 1985

11 AM. It’s a bright, cool Saturday morning. Last evening Teresa came home with Heidi, who had fallen asleep at Fern’s, and she made dinner for all of us, including Victor and Nancy, who dropped by unexpectedly.

Victor came here for breakfast and took Teresa and Heidi to the Bronx Zoo. He seems like a wonderful man: he’s good looking, youthful, very kind and gentle.

In a way Victor is perfect for Teresa; my guess is that she doesn’t appreciate him enough. She complains about what she calls his being “overly concerned.” I guess she’s not used to being treated so nicely.

My sinus headache started to go away after I took some medicine. I had to rush out of here at 7:15 PM and catch a (surprisingly clean) taxi to the Meat and Potatoes Company Theater at 38th and Eighth.

A friendly woman let me get in on her TDF voucher, so I saved the money I lost in cab fare. Ferry Tales was diverting light entertainment.

Apparently, I was seeing a “good” performance. The three little playlets by Don and Rich Werbacher, 31-year-old Staten Island twins, were all fairly well-crafted, and Gene Anthony (who had a nice bit in The Purple Rose of Cairo) was excellent. And even Alice Spivack was fairly lively, though Justin was right when he said her three characters seemed too much alike.

Although the plays were slight, Justin paced them well and the evening didn’t drag. I sat behind an actress who used to play in the old soap opera Somerset.

New York people – at least the types who go to Off-Off-Broadway plays – are so much more intelligent-looking than people in Florida. They’re not so concerned with what they should look like; people here are allowed more of a personal style.

Justin and I went out to Marvin’s on Ninth Avenue for a bite. He was pleased with the night’s performance, though he was clearly tired after a hectic week at the office, where Bob Wachs still refuses to hire Justin’s replacement, hoping he’ll change his mind and stay on.

I took the IRT home and when I got here at 11:30 PM, Heidi, Teresa and Victor had all fallen asleep. I put the mattress on the living room floor and slept well.

Victor came over for pancakes this morning. I’m supposed to meet Donald Booth at Bitable on Broadway down by Bleecker Street at 3 PM today.

In an hour I’m going over to Sue’s apartment to help her get her stuff over to Riverside Park for the party. After a week back in the Apple, I feel very much like a New Yorker, though I feel I probably will return to Florida in the fall.

Mom may be right when she says I need some stability. Maybe I could write more if I had a home for a year or at least eight months – a place to myself.

My life seems so discontinuous now, though of course that has its advantages as well.

I called Tom, who got home from the hospital on Tuesday. He was very lucky in that his appendix was just a few hours from bursting when he got to the doctor; Tom wrongly assumed he had food poisoning.

Yesterday, Tom’s brother took him to the doctor to get his staples removed. He’s still weak and in pain and won’t go back to school till “at least Monday next.” But I’m glad we’ll get a chance to see each other this summer.

Crad’s books, Tom says, are getting better and more honest; I agree.

Hearing CSNY’s “Ohio” on WNEW-FM, I remembered today’s the 15th anniversary of Kent State, a landmark date for me and my generation. Wow.


Sunday, May 5, 1985

1 PM. It’s a gorgeous day, I have the apartment to myself, and I really feel good. Yesterday was a delight; I was with good people all day, running around Manhattan, and – in contrast to a week ago – feeling very much at home.

I feel like I’m becoming the person I want to be, if that doesn’t sound too silly; I feel I’m on the verge of some exciting things.

Once, five years ago, I felt that my options were getting narrower, that I had gotten into two fields – short-story writing and teaching college English – with no future. Today, I feel I have plenty of options, more than enough to cause a different kind of confusion.

I’m very glad 1980 was a crisis for me, that I moved to Florida and began exploring, reading, and getting interested in other fields.

Anyway. . . I stopped off at Mrs. Field’s to buy a dozen cookies for Sue’s party, and they turned out to be the most popular food there.

When I got to Sue’s, her fried Roberta was there with another friend, and I helped them get all the stuff for the picnic out to Riverside Park.

Sue turned 45 yesterday. Today she wasn’t feeling that well – food poisoning from a Korean salad bar had made her ill – but she was outwardly cheerful; Sue has an indomitable spirit.

The past year has been a bad one, but she was looking ahead. Her friends were practically all women, mostly karate students from her school, many of them gay and very attractive. (Some lesbians are the most beautiful women I know.)

We had a really nice time, spreading out blankets and tablecloths on the grass, chatting away.

As the crowd got bigger, I wasn’t the only man there: Sue’s sister Margie came with her boyfriend Dan, who teaches English at Pratt – and who knew Denis Woychuk – and her son David, a gorgeous black kid of 18.

It was a good group of people and I regretted having to leave early, especially since I missed seeing Matthew, Claire and Emily.

In the 96th Street subway station, I ran into Larry. Since I hadn’t gone back to Florida last August, and since he came here to live in January after graduating from Broward Community College, we’d missed connections, and it was great to be able to touch base with him.

He’s got an apartment on 95th and Central Park West and just started working at an ad agency in their accounting department, a job that ends promptly at 5 PM with no pressure. When I asked him if he missed Florida, he laughed. We agreed to stay in touch, and I continued on my trip downtown.

At Bitable on Broadway, I met Donald Booth, a short, amiable guy of about 30. We liked each other a lot. He’s produced and directed many documentaries on the Indians of Western Canada.

Now based in Toronto (of course he knew Crad Kilodney and was surprised about my contacts with Torontonians), he and his father, a professor at the University of Windsor, have formed a company, Forbidden Freedom, Inc., to produce a 90-minute TV film (probably on PBS) about the efforts of a Jewish-American family to bring out their relatives from occupied Europe.

He’d sent me a “discussion paper” on the refugee issue; I’d known something about it from my reading, but the government’s neglect of the Jewish refugee problem during World War II is a disgrace few Americans know about.

The State Department actually blocked any real action, and even the Jewish community was split between the richer Establishment types who counseled caution and others who demanded action.

I believe Don is right when he says the story could be a compelling film, but there are problems I see: for example, it will be hard to tell the story of the European relatives effectively through just letters.

He’s got $55,000 in seed money so far and needs at least a million, which is still nothing as far as filmmaking goes today.

“Everything’s changed in the last week” as Don’s taken on a partner, Ann Michaels, a Washington-based documentary writer whose associate will begin work on the bible for the project – from which the screenplay will follow.

He’s interviewed 20 writers and has had a hard time getting one. Don said that he and others felt that my style was well-suited to screenplays, “even if you’re not right for this one – which you’re probably not” (I tend to agree) and said that a professional screenwriter looked at my stories and said, “He could have a good career and a comfortable life doing screenplays.”

Can you imagine what a boost that was to my ego? I’m still thought of as a good writer by some people. Maybe I can write screenplays; anyway, Don said I should stay in touch with him because he’d definitely think of me for a future movie project.

I felt really good as I took the subway home and was delighted when Josh called and asked me to spend the whole evening with him and James.

At 7 PM, I met them at James’s mother’s apartment, where James had just received notice that he won an October-to- May fellowship at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. That’s quite an honor; I made the alternate list one year and got rejected about six times.

Still, James is a little worried about it. He’s been accepted in other writing programs, like Iowa and UNC-Greensboro, and he’s always left after a few weeks.

Now that he’s starting to feel slightly stable in New York – he’s got a job as a bartender in a working-class tavern – James doesn’t know if he could hack Provincetown, especially since he hasn’t written anything in months.

Given my last experience at an artists’ colony, I can relate to that feeling.

We talked about it over dinner and drinks at the Abbey Pub.

Josh also told the story of his dog’s death, which truly was horrific. Josh took the day off from work, took Butch down to the Promenade and kept stuffing him with dog biscuits.

He tried to take him on the bridge, but Butch’s legs gave out. Crying, Josh brought him to the vet, then ran out because he couldn’t put the dog to sleep.

But because Butch couldn’t make it up the stairs to his apartment, Josh didn’t know what to do but go back to the vet. He stayed the whole time as they injected Butch with whatever they us to kill dogs: “He was looking at me as he died.”

He cried hysterically, Josh said, and later he came back to find the dog’s body in a green plastic garbage bag. He still has Butch’s ashes in an urn.

What a terrible time that must have been – and then, on top of that, he got dumped by Wanda. And that still bothers him a lot: On Tuesday he awoke after a dream about Wanda and felt so bad he couldn’t bring himself to go to work.

(He asked Artie to call the office and tell Joyce something, so Artie said to her, “Josh couldn’t bring himself to go to work.”)

We stayed in the bar until 10:30 PM, they walked me home and came up to use the bathroom. I fell asleep after 3 AM.

What a life.


Tuesday, May 7, 1985

11 AM. I spent most of Sunday relaxing, reading and exercising.

Late in the day I called Ronna. Her uncle underwent an emergency quadruple-bypass operation, so her cousins and her mother flew down to Orlando, but he seems to be recovering okay.

I asked Ronna how she felt about our relationship and whether she discussed it in therapy. She said she had to restrain herself from calling me a lot.

In some ways I feel it’s harder on her than it is on me. I told her we’ve adjusted to this before and I was surprised when Ronna said she always felt a strong sexual attraction to me, “even when I was madly in love with Jordan.”

I told her I thought we could adjust to being just friends, provided we kept out meeting to controlled situations where neither of us would be tempted to grab the other and start smooching.

Ronna’s therapist said, “Ah, this is a relationship on many levels,” including a brother/sister one, because we’ve been through so many years together.

When Ronna said that she and I will probably end up together in our seventies, her therapist said, “Probably you will.”

I guess the love that Ronna and I have for each other is very unusual, but it seems to be healthy. Right now we have very different ideas about how we want to live our lives, and that precludes our being together.

Just as I once hoped Ronna would marry Jordan so she’d be “safe,” she told me she had hoped Sean and I would move in together.

Anyway, on Sunday night I told her we had other things to discuss – like why she said last Sunday that Philip Roth was “reprehensible.” We have great intellectual arguments.

Teresa came home only for half an hour on Sunday, so I had the apartment to myself.

I slept okay, and yesterday morning I went to the Professional Job Service of Unemployment, where I stayed only half an hour before they stamped my card and told me to return in August. I doubt I’ll get New York State benefits, but it certainly seems worth trying.

Down at The New School, I got their summer bulletin, which disappointed me, for there really aren’t any courses in microcomputers that I’m going to take.

Their PASCAL course interferes with my FIU course from June 24-July 3. I still don’t know whether to go back to Florida for that, but I do think Teaching Word Processing is a good course to have, so I probably will.

The airlines have cut prices on flights to Florida for May, so that if I wanted to go back just to collect my Guaranteed Student Loan check and then drop my courses, I could do so very cheaply.

At 1:30 PM, yesterday I was on the Columbia campus, taking part in a rally on the steps of Low Library.

I’d greatly admired the students of the Coalition to Free South Africa when they had their three-week blockade of Hamilton Hall, and I wanted to see what this new campus activism was like.

In many ways, I was reminded of demonstrations I’d been at 15 and 16 years before. There were hawkers selling newspapers of this and that leftist group, and they sold political buttons and t-shirts that said “Columbia: Divest Now,” and groups unrolled big colorful banners.

Also, there was the air of a springtime frolic that I remember from Brooklyn College in the early ’70s, but, by and large, this group seemed more purposeful than we were.

The rally’s leaders, black and white young men and women, made sure to wear suits and ties, though perhaps this was because they were going to meet the trustees later.

Most of the trustees apparently slipped into Low via the side entrance, but one very hostile old guy came through; while the student on the bullhorn explained this man’s position against them, he scrupulously made sure the students on the steps cleared a path and did not harass the man verbally.

I felt, as I did 15 years ago, self-conscious about chanting and clapping, but there were some good chants like “Trustees/Haven’t you heard?/New York ain’t Johannesburg” along with the familiar, “What do we want? Divestiture! When do we want it? Now!

A Columbia dean who came by told the organizers they were making too much noise, but he was argued with, point by point, bullhorn to bullhorn, and finally left – though university officials began taking photos of the students, just as they used to at Brooklyn College.

We all sat down (there were about 600 in the crowd) and the bullhorn was passed around to those – whether students, parents (parents were nonexistent at our ’70s demonstrations), or just little old radical ladies from the West Side – who wanted to talk about what divestiture and the blockade meant to them.

Then they sang, “No More Apartheid,” a stirring song with the refrain, “I won’t become a slave/Till the day I’m buried in my grave.”

These students are very cagey and determined and media-wise, and I just read that they got the trustees to set up a committee studying divestiture.

At 3:30 PM, I got on the subway to Brooklyn; it felt good to be on the D train over the Manhattan Bridge again.

Susan Mernit had invited me over for dinner, and we had hours of stimulating talk about teaching, writing, computers, careerism, Yuppieism, etc.

Later, when Spencer came home and we had dinner, we spoke about Buddhism (Spencer’s heavily involved in Zen and told me Baker-roshi – the teacher Miriam and her husband support – got kicked out of San Francisco involving a big scandal about money he’d stolen from the Zen Center), high school, and the increasing stupidity and lack of logical thinking among Americans.

Five hours of interesting conversation made me feel vibrant; I could never have talks like that in Florida. Yet, I still plan on going back.

In the past few days I’ve begun to think seriously about getting on the ballot to run for Education Commissioner next year.

A statewide race in a mega-state like Florida would give me a forum, a platform. I think I have more good ideas about education and government than would my opponents.

The negatives? I’d need about $2000 to get on the ballot and travel to various cities for debates or speeches. But it would give me an exposure I’ve never had before.

As Susan and I said yesterday, in America writers are such marginal figures; to make an impact, you have to be in the mass media. I’d run as a working teacher, an intellectual. Is this a lousy idea?

*

11 PM. I spent the evening alone in the apartment, working out, and I just went out to Broadway to get Wednesday’s Times. Teresa is probably staying at Victor’s or her sister’s tonight.

Speaking to Barbara Baracks on the phone earlier tonight, I learned I was mentioned in a New York Times Book Review article on With Hitler in New York in fiction. Rats – I must have missed it.

Today I had lunch with Justin at Molly’s. He’s glad to be leaving the Eddie Murphy Productions office and was writing instructions for the temp replacing him. He used their copier to xerox my notices for the Darinka reading, which I sent out to about twenty people.

Mom called to say my IRS refund arrived, and after debating about how best to send it, she said she’d take her chances with first class mail.

I made a date to have dinner with Mikey and Amy next Tuesday and got letters from Miriam and Crad, who is having a rough time finding a new apartment in Toronto. Crad’s April book sales, though, were a record $1200.

Teresa and Victor just walked in.


Thursday, May 9, 1985

6 PM. I’m in Rockaway, where Grandma and I just had dinner, a whole pizza pie I’d brought in from Ciro’s.

Grandma was outside when I arrived a couple of hours ago. She seems fine except for bruises on her arms, which she says are not the result of any injury.

I felt I needed to get away from Teresa’s. For the past three nights I slept on the mattress in the living room while Teresa and Victor were in the bedroom. (Victor’s apartment is being painted.)

With her real estate deals in Ocean Parkway and the Berkshires, her Family Pages work, her family’s excitement about the new baby, and today’s interview for the Bronx job, the phone is always busy or ringing; it’s either Victor, Suzanne, Fern or her sister.

I felt I needed some quiet, and since I had no plans to see people, Rockaway seemed like a good idea.

Yesterday I did sleep late, as Teresa and Victor left early, and then I went to try to find the Times Book Review. There was a review of a new scholarly book, Imagining Hitler, which I’m sure mentions my story, but perhaps Barbara imagined my name in the article, for I couldn’t find it. Maybe she meant another review?

At Unemployment, I waited about an hour for them to get to me on the E line, where I signed for my waiting week.

Despite an attack of diarrhea, I went to my course at the New School; it felt oddly familiar to be in the Computer Center again. The class met in the same room that my BASIC class met in.

An Overview of Artificial Intelligence, as taught by Susan Perricone, looks a bit more technical than I expected, but I’m just about able to keep up with the other students, most of whom work as programmers.

I think I’m more interested in cognitive science than in AI, its practical cousin. However, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot out of this course: Ms. Perricone usually does AI workshops for business people.

Home at 11 PM, I slept well on the floor. I’ve been dreaming a lot about Ronna, working out our relationship. It’s bothered me a lot, but I’m dealing with it.

Since Wednesday morning, I’ve been nicely sore in my shoulders and arms from working out, and basically, I feel good.

This morning, Teresa had to meet Stanley Friedman, the Bronx Democratic leader. She called me after the interview and said he was surprisingly nice and “didn’t flinch” when she told him she needed three weeks off to go to Europe.

This job would definitely solve Teresa’s money problems, but she doesn’t really want to go back to work.

I left the apartment at noon, stopping off at Barnes and Noble to buy my AI text and then to Brownie’s for lunch. There’s a cute young waiter at the counter who reminds me of Sean with his shy manner and his tall, dark blond, skinny appearance.

The A train to Rockaway was excruciatingly slow, but I did get here eventually – and for only 90 cents.

I’ve begun to try to get teacher’s licenses in New York State, New Jersey and Florida.

Mom said my $300 unemployment check arrived, and I advised her on how to fill out my final claim form.

There was an article about me and BCC President Adams in the Fort Lauderdale News which she’ll send to me.

And I got a questionnaire as a nominee for the Esquire Register of big deals under 40. I know I’ll never make it, but maybe by 1990, I will.

I still feel I’ve got a lot going for me.TC mark

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