A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1985

Monday, April 22, 1985

8 PM. One thing that’s great about being a teacher or student is the sense of closure at the end of the semester. There must be so many jobs where people never get that great feeling of having completed something.

When I handed in my Computers in the Classroom final to Pam, I felt a sense of accomplishment. It may be silly, but I did put a lot of work into all my courses.

I felt so exhilarated and it was so early that I decided to linger on the Broward Community College campus for a while.

The weather has been beautiful, but no less beautiful than the weather in New York, where it was warmer than here yesterday.

Ronna called me after I left a message with Lori, who’s very busy interviewing people for clerk positions at Merrill Lynch. (Lori said her Voice personals ad experience was very rewarding, and she met one nice guy.)

Ronna has been having back trouble; her shrink says it’s psychosomatic, her mother says it’s a virus, and the doctor prescribed muscle relaxants, which gave her a good high.

She said she told herself that she would clean up her room for my arrival and was belatedly going at it. What a sweetheart. I said I’d see her next Sunday – this Sunday.

Teresa’s machine said she was away at the Berkshires, but I got her today during Another World. She’s been having a good time in the summery weather. I guess she’s not home very much, what with her seeing Victor.

She said she bought Nutri-Grain for me and said she’d pick me up at the airport, although I told her that wasn’t necessary.

I feel good about Teresa again. Maybe we can forget the problems of the winter and go back to the good relationship we had last summer.

Teresa seems to be involved not only with Victor, but with a lot of friends now – and she’ll have her sister’s new baby and Fire Island to keep her busy. I really can’t wait to get back to New York – but I will miss Florida.

I slept okay but briefly, as I felt I had a lot to do today.

By 9 AM, I was getting my hair cut, and then I went to the bank – First Nationwide – to deposit some money so I’ll have access to cash in New York. Then I went to the post office to get stamps for Mom to send me my mail, and I did some other errands before having lunch at the Bagel Whole.

First Atlanta Visa sent me a PIN so I can use their credit card to get cash advances from the Plus system teller machines around the country. (In New York, I can use Chase Manhattan).

Also, I got a welcome $24 check from Telescope in payment for “My BASIC Problem.”

Crad sounded very upbeat in his latest letter. The new books are selling well, in part due to the warm weather. Last week he hit record sales: $312!

He agrees with me that he’ll achieve legitimacy, but he needs to work hard for another few years. Thanks to the generosity of his landlord, he will have three months’ free rent before he leaves.

As I said, I spoke to Teresa this afternoon. Her parents are under doctor’s orders to spend six weeks recuperating before they go back to work. Worse, her grandmother is having a bad delayed reaction to the accident: she’s very confused all the time.

When I walked into my final today, I heard one woman say to another, “Here comes the Class Brain.”

Gosh, for a change, I feel good. I feel positive about life.


Tuesday, April 23, 1985

2 PM. Little by little, I’m getting everything ready for my departure. All my drawers are empty, and I’ve put my diary and other stuff in the purple travel bag where they stayed for eight months in 1984.

This morning I went to Delta and got my airline ticket changed; my return flight is now on June 23 – two months from today. At the Nova housing office, I arranged to leave my keys and have my security deposit mailed to me.

If I had to, I could manage to get out of here tonight.

This afternoon’s Measurement class should be a snap, although I’m not looking forward to discovering I got a C on last week’s test; I probably blew my chance for an A in the course. But I did learn a great deal in Dr. Murray’s class.

Last night I went over to my parents’. Marc had bought a van: a big old yellow thing that should make transporting his goods much easier.

“Just Shirts” – the name he’s given the business – is evolving into the most important part of my parents’ income.

As I heard Dad tell Irv on the phone, at least when he’s in the flea market, Dad is his own boss and not subject to lost or delayed paychecks, pressure from New York or L.A., or the idiocies of the companies that sells for: he’s more in control than he is as a sales rep.

Dad’s back is again giving him lots of trouble, probably because of those samples he has to lug around all day. Being a salesman is a tough job, and Dad is getting too old for that kind of work.

Granted, the flea market is grueling work too, But at least at the Swap Shop, he has the support of Mom and Marc, and he’s not at the mercy of anyone else like a boss.

My sinuses have been clogged for the past couple of days, and I’ve felt too headachy and lethargic to exercise; besides, my chest, calves and sides are still a little sore from the weekend’s workout.

Even though I have no reason to wake up so early, I keep getting up at 6 AM, but at least this morning I was able to go back to sleep from 8:30 AM to 10 AM.

I feel nervous, as though waiting for some catastrophe to happen. Isn’t it neurotic of me to worry because everything’s going so smoothly? Sometimes I think I love to feel I don’t deserve smooth sailing.

It’s because I do feel incredibly lucky and can’t imagine my life continuing to be as pleasant as it has been. But it is a shame that I can’t take pleasure in good fortune.

*

10 PM. Well, I do feel pleasure – and a measure of surprise – that I got an A on last week’s quiz and on my test construction project. With five A’s as my grades, I don’t see how I could get less than an A in Measurement.

Today we discussed our projects. Unlike the people in my Computers in the Classroom course, the students taking Measurement were generally intelligent and well-informed, if somewhat hurried. Dr. Murray was an excellent teacher who’s made me want to learn more about education.

I’ll miss going up to Commercial Boulevard on Tuesdays. In some ways, the non-computer ed class was the most stimulating.

My thirst for knowledge seems to only get stronger. I love to read newspapers, magazines and books, to acquire information and knowledge, to use my brain.

Although I may never be the world’s greatest fiction writer, I still have confidence in myself as an intelligent person. This may sound pompous – nobody’s listening, so who cares? – but I want to play an important role in the world, as in Donne’s “involved in mankind” and Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “actions and passions” quotes.

I love learning and I love people, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to be a student again. But I’m greedy and I want more of it.


Wednesday, April 24, 1985

10 PM. I just came back from Lum’s, where Ray and several members of our Florida International University LOGO class, including Patrick, went after the final exam. It was a pleasant end to my term at the BCC campus.

I’m going to miss both Ray and Pam. Earlier, I’d gone in to hand in our BASIC final, and Pam shot the breeze with the class for a while.

It’s funny, but as when I was a grad student in creative writing, I have picked up almost as much knowledge in out-of-class informal talks as I have in formal coursework.

I guess it’s the socialization process at work; I’ve learned how to be a computer education person the way I learned how to “be” a writer.

Well, I’ve still got to drag some boxes over to the warehouse and pack my bags, but except for the FAU final in Boca on Friday, I’m all set to return to my other life in New York.

As usual, New York impinges itself on me as I’m about to leave.

Someone at Taplinger called and left a message with Jonathan for me to phone a film producer. I called the man, a Torontonian named Donald Booth, in Brooklyn, where he’ll be staying for the next month.

He said he read my story, “With the Pope in Park Slope” in Writ years ago and thought it “one of the best stories I’ve ever read.” (“Thank you,” I said, as I thought: That story is so bad, it embarrasses me to remember it.)

Donald asked Roger Greenwald what I was doing, and Roger said he thought I was writing screenplays. Well, Donald’s got a movie project in mind – about an American family trying to find European relatives during World War II – and wants to know if I’d be interested, so of course I said I’d call him when I got into town.

After I hung up with Donald, Jonathan asked me, “Did he sound like a nut?”

“No,” I said, realizing he didn’t, which surprised me.

Of course, I still don’t expect anything to come of it. But  it’s a good feeling to know that someone remembers me — almost as good is the knowledge that things like this can come my way unexpectedly.

Dr. Pasquale used to say that as a writer, I’d have to get used to the idea that much of my career was beyond my control and dependent on “lucky breaks.”

I guess Donald Booth called Taplinger, who never gives out authors’ phone numbers, and they called me.

More news: Sue Ribner got into Cummington in July and is giving me first dibs at her sublet. I have to consider this and talk it over with Teresa. It’s important that I do what’s best for me. I’ll keep this on hold until I get to the city.

Sue’s having a birthday picnic in Riverside Park next weekend, and I’d love to go.

Rick writes that with Jay McInerney and David Leavitt showing up everywhere, he feels like he’s Not Ready for Prime Time by comparison.

I told him that neither of those guys could run Gargoyle or Paycock Press. They probably can’t teach remedial writing to freshmen or program in LOGO, either.

This morning I worked out, showered, and paid some bills; then I sat out in the sun for half an hour before going to BCC.

It’s been in the 70°s all week in New York City, but temperatures should be cooler by the time I get there. Still, people will be psychologically ready for summer.

Here in Florida at sunset, it’s so beautiful it breaks your heart. The nights are exquisite.


Thursday, April 25, 1985

8 PM. I’ve just come home after being taken out for a pleasant dinner at Hurdy Gurdy’s by my parents.

This morning I began packing and put some books in the warehouse. Late today I brought back the TV. As with my Miami apartment, this place is undergoing the reverse of the process that started when I arrived: it’s becoming less and less “mine” as my possessions leave.

Jerry Kahn from the car rental agency called to say my month was up, so I went down there to finalize the old contract and rent the car for two more days. (This time I took out the accident insurance, figuring I didn’t need to press my luck.) Jerry said he’ll drive me to the airport on Saturday after I drop off the car.

Am I anxious? A little, but not overly so. I’m going back to a place as familiar to me as South Florida is, a place where I have a strong support system in terms of Teresa, Ronna, Alice, Justin, Josh, Pete and all my other friends.

And as it begins to get oppressively hot here, I’ll be happy to be in New York’s more temperate climate; I’ll be happy even if May proves as chilly and gloomy as it was last year.

There are problems to be faced, I know, and things are very uncertain.

I’ve been listening to a book on public radio; Dick Estelle, the Radio Reader, on WLRN at 10 AM every weekday, has read some excellent books in the past few months.

The last one was a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt titled Life Was Meant to Be Lived. Nice title. It expresses how I feel.

Look at my life: When I was 17 years old, I was an agoraphobic, isolated, trapped by fear into a half-life in the house. It seemed I would never be “normal.” I couldn’t even take a subway ride or sit down to a meal in a restaurant without having a panic attack.

Every day, even at home, I’d get those horrible attacks of nausea, sweating, palpitations and unbearable terror. Now I see that those attacks were a biochemical problem, though they were wrapped in neuroses.

It was my lowest point, on February 23, 1969, that I began my recovery — for that’s when Dr. Lipton finally prescribed medication.

Triavil, a tricyclic antidepressant mixed with a tranquilizer, is now recognized as good treatment because somehow it inhibits the brain activity that produces panic attacks.

I’ve had 15 great years, and I’ve done things I never thought I could do. Hell, every day in the last 15 years I’ve done something that once was impossible, something as simple as eating in a restaurant or attending or teaching a class without fear.

I always used to write, “If I died tomorrow, I’d still have had a full life.” I feel that way more than ever except when my perspective is clouded by depression.

The best half of my life has all been borrowed time. Remember the Challengers of the Unknown, those purple-suited comic book heroes who “lived on borrowed time”?

I’d like to Challenge the Unknown a little, too. I must never forget that once it scared me to walk around the block.

In the early years after I got better, I always feared that my agoraphobia would return. Although I haven’t thought about it in years, I suppose I still feel that so much of my hold on life is tentative.

That’s why I shouldn’t compare myself to rich and famous younger writers or professors, or people my age who earn ten times what I make.

I need to always remember to compare myself now with myself then, and I should appreciate the long way I’ve come since 1968 and 1969.


Saturday, April 27, 1985

8 PM in New York. I’m grateful that I have a chance to be alone.

Teresa went out to celebrate her birthday with Fran and Jerry, Victor, Betty and a couple of other friends. They’re going by limo to the swank St. Regis Rooftop, and Teresa knew I would probably not enjoy it, hamishe soul that I am.

She took stuff to spend the night at Victor’s and go from there to her aunt’s, where her parents are still recovering from the car accident.

I’ve just come in after going for a burger at the Four Brothers, shopping at Sloan’s, and picking up the Sunday Times. Broadway is as much a wonderland as ever, but I couldn’t stand more than a taste of it tonight.

I feel very, very tired. My head aches, and so do my arms and legs. Tension probably. After all, today I got out of my apartment and got rid of my car and left Florida for New York. It’s a hard thing to do.

I feel the way I felt 15 weeks ago in Florida: Why, oh why, have I uprooted myself again? Yet I hope I’ll get over it in a couple of days.

This apartment seems so alien to me; I can’t believe I lived here for so many months in the past.

This morning I was up early, and very methodically, I began bringing down suitcases and other stuff to the car. I showered and began checking the rooms to see that I hadn’t left anything.

Then I said goodbye to yet another of my addresses: 3601 College Avenue #301, Davie, FL 33314. I bet in a few years I’ll forget the address, the way I can barely remember my exact addresses in Sunrise, North Miami Beach or Rockaway.

At my parents’, I put away my dirty laundry, my telephone, my garbage pail and the Nike bag I carried around all winter with all of my floppy disks and notes from school.

For half an hour I lay in the sun. Marc came back from the flea market because of a car problem; he said Mom and Dad were making him so nervous, he doubted he could go on working with them. I know how our parents can get.

After wishing Marc the best, I drove to the car rental place, stopping off to say goodbye to Jonathan at the army/navy store a block away.

He was glad I came and kissed me when I’d only offered him a handshake; I was touched by that. (Some customers looked at us funny, but I felt very pleased by his show of affection.)

At Palm Rent-a-Car, I signed the bill, gave back the Chevette I’d come to think of as mine, and was driven across US 1 to the airport.

It was a madhouse. Curbside, I had to stand in a line for half an hour just to check in my bags, so there was no time for my usual pre-flight waiting jitters.

Except for a racing heart during takeoff, I felt remarkably calm, but it was a very smooth flight with a good meal and a semi-decent movie.

Teresa came to pick me up in Fern’s car with Fern and Jerry, who’s up from Lauderdale. They’re nice, I guess, but not really my type; they seem heavy into material stuff.

Of course, the important thing is Teresa likes them, and apparently they’re very good to her.

A dark cloud surfaced when we got home and Teresa found another of Bruce’s weekly letters. He wrote: “How come all the people you’ve been at war with for years – Sharon, Amira, your San Francisco roommate,” – he continued to list the usual suspects – “are always wrong and you’re always right?”

Bruce didn’t threaten her, but ended by saying, “Stay well, get a job, and send us our $1000.”

I asked Teresa why she doesn’t. Mostly it’s because she’s broke now, but she also wants revenge. I had hoped that she was getting out of her self-destructive pattern with people.


Sunday, April 28, 1985

Noon. I’ll be going over to Ronna’s in an hour.

Last night I was really tired and slept for a long time. At 9 PM, I got into bed, unused to all the space because in Florida I’d had a twin bed.

It took a while for me to get to sleep, but I had a restful night, except once, when I awoke with a cold spot of nausea in the middle of my stomach. It was anxiety.

I know this year won’t be like last year, when I had the apartment to myself and was only, I thought, going to stay here a limited amount of time. This year I don’t know. . .

Right now, I still feel pretty disoriented. It’s hard to believe I lived here from last May until mid-January. But as I wrote yesterday, I’ve got to give myself time.

I did send off an application for a fellowship to the Wesleyan Writers Conference on July 7-12. Teresa had saved a brochure I received.

Even if I don’t get a fellowship — if I get just a partial scholarship — I’ll probably go. It will give me a chance to be among writers and feel like a writer again. The tuition and board are only $380 total, so I could easily manage to pay most of that.

Connecticut isn’t far away, but it’s pretty, and it will be like an artists’ colony, only I won’t have to worry about writers’ block making my days filled with too much time. Joseph Hansen, Anne Bernays and Frederick Busch will be there.

I really don’t know what I’m doing; I feel very confused. I’m still tired, and the loss of an hour due to daylight savings time didn’t help. I feel like giving myself time to get my head on straight. I hope I can do it.


Monday, April 29, 1985

10 AM. When I got to Ronna’s yesterday, I immediately started hugging and kissing her; she looked so gorgeous to me, and I had missed her so much, that I couldn’t help myself. It felt totally natural to do that.

After things calmed down, she put some bagels out and we talked as we ate. Then, once again, I wanted to make love with her. She said, “I’ve got to talk to you about sex . . . I’ve been thinking a lot about it.”

At first, I figured she was going to talk about birth control, but no, she told me she didn’t want to go to bed with me anymore. Or she wanted to, but she didn’t think it was good for her.

Two weeks ago she turned 32 and she wants to get married and have kids, and her biological clock is ticking away.

The main problem, of course, is that I’m gay; even if I wanted to marry her, my sexuality would bother her too much.

And the truth is that I don’t want to marry her, nor do I particularly want kids. If she spends too much time and mental energy on me – as she has been – she won’t be able to meet guys who’d make decent husbands.

Although I was taken aback, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised because she made sense. But I did challenge her by saying I’d been away for 15 weeks and that she didn’t seem to do much about looking for another guy.

She said she went on two blind dates and asked her friends to fix her up with people. Also, she’s considering putting a personal ad in somewhere and/or joining a Jewish dating service.

Her therapist feels our relationship, like her relationship with Jordan, is “destructive” although Ronna herself said it’s “just not constructive.”

She’s right, of course. It’s very sad, but I have to face facts: I’m not doing Ronna any favors by continuing to see her. The attraction and the love are still there, but our relationship can’t go anywhere.

Of course, I told her she’ll always find fault with someone and she’ll have to settle for less than she expects.

After all, Jordan would have been perfect for her, as she said, “on paper”: He’s rich enough to support her and kids, they’re both into the Jewish scene, they have similar backgrounds. The only problem was that in their relationship, she was made to feel crummy all the time.

Despite it all, when I touched Ronna, she responded. We were lying on her bed for a couple of hours, talking and being close.

I told her that I’m so confused about my own life and I feel I don’t belong anywhere. Surprisingly, she still asked me to spend the night, and I still wanted to.

When Lori came home, we chatted with her, and then later we brought back Chinese food for a very late dinner. My stomach was – and is – pretty upset anyway.

I feel that half my life is upside down and the other half is lost. But last night I needed the crutch of being with Ronna. I felt secure being with her.

When we got into bed, I didn’t do more than give her a brotherly kiss – and actually, that wasn’t all that difficult because I felt emotionally exhausted. I did sleep well.

One dream I had was about Ronna having an illness and my taking some experimental drug that would make me sick but cure her. Obviously, it relates to what I have to do in regard to Ronna. I have to stop seeing her – for her sake.

Is there any hostility involved? Well, I guess so. I do feel like depriving her of my company to get back at her for ‘rejecting’ me, but I also think it would be in both our best interests.

If I was really interested in hurting Ronna, I would have said something this morning. But why should I make her unhappy even for a minute?

The best thing for me to do is to slowly disentangle myself from her life. This kills me, though, because Ronna, more than anyone, has been my anchor.

Without her, there seems no reason to stay in New York. I know it’s for the best, for both of us. However, that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Teresa wasn’t home when I got back to the apartment an hour ago. But I still don’t feel comfortable here.

Alice just called and said I sounded “terrible” yesterday when I left a message on her machine. When I explained about Ronna, she said she understood completely.

She and Peter have gone through the same thing, she said, and “coming to grips is no fun.”

Right now I wish I’d never left Florida.

*

3 PM. Apparently, I keep missing Teresa. I just walked into the apartment after having lunch with Justin.

It felt reassuring to do something familiar like going to the Eddie Murphy Productions office and then having lunch with Justin at good old TGI Friday’s.

He looks well even though he says he’s miserable. Ferry Tales got a great review from the Staten Island Advance that especially praised Justin’s direction, and his friends enjoy the show.

But the whole experience was soured by the lead actress, who was Justin’s good friend but who refused to take his direction and felt she knew better than anyone else. He said that because of that, she just walks through the play and drags it down.

Justin will be leaving the office in three weeks, but Bob Wachs – who came in while I was there — refuses to acknowledge Justin’s departure.

Bob still hopes Justin will change his mind and stay on, and so he hasn’t hired a replacement yet. Actually, I can understand why: as the sole voice of sanity in that office, Justin is going to be impossible to replace.

Over lunch, Justin told me that intends to take a few weeks off and then he’ll look for freelance work. He’s already had interviews for positions as a drama camp counselor and a production manager in summer stock, and yesterday he went for his first audition in years.

He sounds less confused than I feel, but it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who’s a little apprehensive about his future.

Justin is so nonjudgmental that he offered me no advice, but he was a good listener to my rather confused ramblings about my life.


Tuesday, April 30, 1985

7 PM. I’m in Rockaway. Grandma’s seems like the best place to rest up.

I haven’t been feeling well. Ronna called last night to say she had a bad cold and wondered how I was doing.

Well, I have a sour stomach, sore throat, postnasal drip and a terrible neck ache which came on this morning as I toweled my hair dry and heard something go crack.

My neck always goes bad when I’m under stress, and coming back to New York has been stressful.

First there was the tension of leaving my routine and my apartment; the airplane ride; the disorientation and discomfort at Teresa’s; and Ronna telling me she doesn’t want to sleep with me.

(Alice said she and Peter have separate bedrooms on their trip to Cleveland this weekend).

Last night it looked as if I could relax. Teresa and I had driven down to Chelsea, where she showed photos of the Berkshire house to a Yuppie couple while I played with their toddler; then we had a pleasant dinner at Szechuan Broadway.

She went to Victor’s to sleep, so I had the apartment to myself.

But at 11 PM, her sister called and told me that her water had broken. Connie’s father-in-law was driving her to the hospital and her mother-in-law was staying with Heidi while Connie’s husband was rushing home from Albany.

I phoned Teresa at Victor’s and then I fielded calls from other members of the family until Teresa came back (so her mother wouldn’t know she was staying over at a man’s house).

Because my bedboard was stolen and there’s now a coffee table in the living room, I had to share the bed with Teresa, and I was uncomfortable all night. (Maybe that’s where I got my neck problem.)

In the morning, I packed enough things to spend a few days here in Rockaway.

But first I went to Unemployment on Park Place and filed a claim based on my term at John Jay College. I had to wait three hours, but at least I’ll find out if I’m eligible; I may not be because the work period was too short.

I have to report to the placement office on Monday and to the local office on Wednesdays at 2:15 PM. The only thing I’m wasting is my time; probably there’s no way they could find out about my collecting benefits in Florida. I hope so, anyway.

In Rockaway by 2 PM, I found Grandma Ethel looking much the same as she did when I left New York in January.

The new doctor she’s seeing has given her prescriptions for Inderal (for her heart), blood pressure pills, and Sinequan, which I think may be a tranquilizer or antidepressant. He also told her to get out more.

After Grandma told me Teresa had called with the news that her sister had a boy, she and I spent the afternoon talking. It’s really been good to see her.

The frankfurters she made for dinner have made me queasy, but I’m hiding it.

I feel exhausted.TC mark

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