A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1985

Saturday, June 1, 1985

7 PM. Last night I read Turing’s Man until Grandma came back from playing cards; then we watched Miami Vice and went to sleep.

I slept very soundly for nearly 11 hours, and I had a precious dream about Sean. In my waking hours, I can hardly conjure up an image of his face and body, but in the dream, he seemed so real.

His mother was working as a servant in my parents’ home and Sean was on vacation from college visiting her. Because we couldn’t let anyone know about our relationship, we clasped hands secretly and made plans for a furtive meeting.

Gosh, I miss Sean. I hope he’s doing okay. He’ll be 21 in October, and I hope he’s continued with his education; it would be a shame if he got sidetracked, because he was a smart kid.

After three years, I still feel an afterglow when I think about our relationship. It would be nice if he still feels good about me as well.

Today was cloudless and mild, but very windy, at least in Rockaway.

I left Grandma with a hug at 11:45 AM and got back to Teresa’s by 2 PM. Not a great trip, but what can you do?

There were pickets in front of all the hotels, as a strike by employees began. At the counter of 4 Brothers Diner where I was having lunch, I was approached by Eric Larsen, an English professor at John Jay, and his wife.

He said he’d read about me in Coda: “I didn’t know you were a writer.” I told him about my computer ed studies and my coming interview for a job teaching word processing at LaGuardia Community College, and he seemed sympathetic with the plight of adjuncts who can’t find full-time teaching jobs.

I guess these English professors who are in their forties and fifties feel bad that people like them can’t get jobs just because they were born too late to get in before the barn door closed.

But I no longer feel bitter. As Mom said when I told her about this, “You’ll get your chance, too.” She told me at the close of the Florida legislative session, they passed big raises for teachers; I said I’d believe it when I saw it.

I got some groceries and two videos, and I spent 2½ hours watching The Natural while working out with my 20-pound dumbbells. It was a good workout (and a so-so movie), and after a shower, I felt relaxed. Although it got up to 85°, it didn’t feel hot: there’s a good breeze, and the fan in the bedroom helps.

Teresa called from Fire Island to ask if I’d had chicken pox. It seems Heidi has a bad case, and Teresa is thinking of bringing her here because Connie is having a hard time coping with her and the baby, too.


Sunday, June 2, 1985

2 PM. Last evening I went out and got the Times, which I read in bed. I also did some more exercising, and this morning I did some knee bends and calf raises while watching Swing Shift.

I called Pete, who quit his job because he wasn’t working in Assembler but in all these typesetting languages which would render him unmarketable.

So now he took that job with the Equitable Life Assurance Society that he’d originally turned down. Pete will have to schlep to Midtown, but he’ll be making $3500 more and working with COBOL and Assembler.

And because he works a longer day, he gets a day off every two weeks. We agreed to get together for lunch on Tuesday.

This week will be busy. First, I’ve got to work on my presentation before the LaGuardia Secretarial Science Department personnel and budget committee.

I need to go to the library and see what I can find on floppy disks; it’s a shame I don’t have my Florida notes with me. Although I don’t expect to get this job, I’m still anxious to make a good impression.

To test my marketability further, I’m sending out résumés for other jobs in academic computing, résumés that omit my publications – just as the one I sent to LaGuardia did.

On Tuesday, I turn 34, but I hope this will be a low-key birthday. Thirty-four is a pretty characterless birthday. I guess it was considered middle-aged just twenty years ago.

As I predicted, the demographics are starting to swing in my favor. With the shortage of teachers, with computer skills in big demand, with writing skills getting rarer by the day, I should be able to find work easily – once I decide that I want to . . . or have to.

Still, life is uncertain, and there’s no telling what calamities can come along. Of course, right now I have no home, no job, no car, no lover, almost no possessions.

The most important thing I own is my health, physical and mental, and while that could be in danger, I don’t have much else to worry about.

*

8:30 PM. I just walked into an empty apartment, but if things run true to form, Teresa will come just as I’m writing.

Josh came here about 3 PM and we walked around the West Side. He and I got some Italian ices and strolled down chic Columbus Avenue, stopping at a funky flea market to browse.

A bit later, we walked uptown to the Metro; because we were early, we ended up sitting on one of those Broadway traffic-island benches at 99th Street.

Today was the last of the Buster Keaton festival; in fact, they’ve decided to turn the lushly ornamental Metro into a first-run house.

The two shorts we saw – one with Fatty Arbuckle – were funny, but the feature, College, was from 1927, when Keaton was past his prime. Still, there were some good moments.

Josh is reading Keaton’s autobiography and seems to worship the man. I have to admit he was a unique genius.

When Josh and I got out of the theater, James was waiting for us, and we walked up to V & T Pizza on Amsterdam off 110th Street, only to find a crowd of Columbia students waiting to get in.

So we ended up walking all the way back to 96th and having dinner at Caramba!!!, the third brand of the Yuppie Tex-Mex place, where frozen margaritas make the food taste better. (Actually, Taco Viva can give them a run for their money.)

We had a serious conversation about having kids: Josh wants them, James and I don’t. To me, adoption is just as good, if not better, than having one’s own kids. Even if I weren’t gay, I don’t think I’d want kids. Perhaps I’m childish and/or selfish, but I can’t see myself being a great father.

I stopped at Ronna’s on the way home. Although she was defrosting her refrigerator, she looked devastatingly cute in a t-shirt and jeans. (I’ve been wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and trying not to feel self-conscious.)

We had some mint iced tea, and she told me about going to the hot club Area with her new friend Ellen on Friday night.

Ronna said she dreamed about me last night. I wished I could have told her I dreamed about her. She said she wanted to take me out to lunch for my birthday one day this week, so I suggested Monday.

Strolling down West End Avenue just now, I felt happy. Life can be sad, but that makes the pleasant things that happen to us seem more important.

It’s a beautiful summer night.


Monday, June 3, 1985

9 PM.  On the eve of my 34th birthday, I feel I have a whole lot to be grateful for.  I have everything I need and want.

Yes, tomorrow I’ll get pissed off when I miss a train, and the next day I’ll stew about being an unknown writer and an unemployed college teacher, and when my front cap finally wriggles loose, I’m going to be unbearable to be around.

But tonight, and in most of my saner moments, I have no complaints, no regrets, and few worries.  Birthdays make me inclined to pomposity (look at the construction I just wrote), so let’s go to straight reportage.

Teresa didn’t come home last night, but I slept in the living room anyway.  Though the days have been hot and humid, the nights are breezy and cool, and I was quite comfortable; the noise from the outside didn’t bother me.  I dreamed I was on a bus trip to Atlanta.

In the morning I got the Times from the machine on the corner and came back to read it in bed as I listened to Morning Edition on National Public Radio.  Thinking of the millions of people facing Monday at jobs they hate, I felt damned lucky.

Up and out by 10:30 AM, I xeroxed my new computer-oriented résumé and sent it out to three colleges that had ads in yesterday’s Times.

LaGuardia Community College’s secretarial science department called, and when I found out they had Multiplan – a spreadsheet program we used in Mary Alice’s Saturday FIU class – I decided to do that as a demonstration in my job interview.

At 12:30 PM, I met Ronna at the Hebrew Arts School.  God, did she look pretty.  Just sitting across from her in the restaurant, I couldn’t help getting excited.

On the way to Diane’s on Columbus, we ran into James, who was showing around his mother’s friend from Mississippi.

Ronna and I talked about our relationship.  I mentioned that I was considering having an affair, and while Ronna said I certainly didn’t have to ask her permission, she said she’d be grateful for advance warning.

We agreed that it will be easier when one of us starts seeing someone else.  Ronna said that last Thursday night Lori told her, “It’s so sad to see the two of you trying to pick fights with one another.”

“Who’s trying?” Ronna said. “It comes naturally.”

As I walked her back to the office, I mentioned people like Muriel Humphrey Brown and Jackie Onassis’s mother who had married their old sweethearts when both were past 60.

“Even if it doesn’t happen,” Ronna said, “we have an important bond.  It’s like brother and sister, only sexual – oh, I don’t know. . .”

Nor do I – but as I kissed her, thanking her for lunch and for everything, I felt it, too – and once again I felt lucky.

Back home, Teresa and I put up the air conditioner while we watched our soaps and gossiped. It was good, just like old times, without the tension both of us sometimes feel.

There’s a lot – a whole lot – of good in Teresa, and I owe her these wonderful days and weeks and months I’ve spent in this apartment.  She went to her sister’s tonight to help her cope with Heidi’s chicken pox.

In the mail, Mom sent me a new Diners Club card (yay!  I used it to buy a Multiplan book to bone up for Friday’s interview at LaGuardia), a rejection for a fellowship at the Wesleyan Writers Conference (not even a scholarship, but that’s that), and I got letters from Tom, Rick and Miriam from New Orleans, Washington and Santa Fe respectively.

It’s always good to get news from my friends; I treasure their support and try to return it.  Tom will be here in July when I get back to New York City.

Mom and Dad’s birthday card – and a check for $35 – arrived, so I called to thank them.  Both were home; it’s unbearably hot, they reported, and Mom’s wallet was stolen at the flea market yesterday.  “Soon we’ll have to send you $70 on your birthday.”

Their card read: “Happy Birthday, Son! – A little bit of genius / A little bit of dash / A little long on knowhow / A little short on cash / A little bit boy wonder / With a wise and worldly air / All add up to just one thing – / A son beyond compare!”  Awww.

At 5:45 PM, I was at the Weight Watchers office to meet Alice, who looked truly stunning tonight.  She was so well-dressed and her hair was so chic-looking, I felt proud of my old friend from second grade.

Over Chinese food, we talked for hours.  She told me about her newly-rekindled romance with Peter (they’ll probably move in together again – or maybe even get married), her desire to leave therapy, her sweetie in Milwaukee who treated her to a weekend fit for a queen (or Leona Helmsley), about Richard R admitting he was gay (I always thought he was cute) and how he’s practically married to this interior decorator.

I spoke about Ronna and my job prospects and tried to give Alice advice on therapy (but mostly I just told funny stories about my own therapists).  It was a wonderful dinner.

While Alice took a cab downtown, I walked along 42nd Street, got the Miami and Fort Lauderdale papers at the out-of-town newsstand (not only did teachers get raises, but FAU and FIU got big funding boosts), and then came home, stopping at Mrs. Field’s for a brownie.

Pete called, and I’m to meet him at 11 AM tomorrow, and Justin left a message that he’s back, jet-lagged from L.A.

Me?  At 34, I feel like a kid.  My face is lined, and I can’t pass for 24 anymore, but I’ve got bigger muscles than I ever did.  Unfortunately, I’ve also got a bigger waistline.  But things are okay.


Thursday, June 6, 1985

5 PM.  “Always live life to the fullest,” suggested the fortune cookie I got last night at Szechuan Broadway.  I intend to.  Though I’ve had a number of disappointments, mostly in regard to my career success (or lack thereof), I’m probably better off for not being a Whiz Kid.

I’m too old to be a Boy Wonder now, so maybe I can become a Middle-Aged Moderate Success.  We’ll see.  If I had any doubts that my instincts about Justin were wrong, last night dispelled them.

Previously we’d talked on the phone for an hour about his trip to L.A.  He enjoyed it very much, spending time with his friends in the industry (“There’s only one industry in L.A.,” Justin said), and he was impressed with a theater company he visited, a kind of California off-off-Broadway group, which may do his play in the fall.

I loved hearing all about Paramount and Disney and ICM, and I was impressed with the video Justin brought over, the film he edited for the “Lawd Have Murphy!” concert introduction.

I value Justin’s friendship, and he was so sweet when he took me out to dinner.  I just wish he weren’t so crazy about me that – oh, well.  Several times he hugged me or started making moves, like talking about giving me a back rub, and I froze up. It’s my own fault for answering the door without putting on a shirt first.

I’m torn because I desperately want to have a physical relationship with someone, but I’m not desperate enough to have one with Justin.  Not that I think he’s so bad – and this makes me sound like a creep – but I’m just not attracted to him.

What makes it so hard is that I know how Justin feels, and I know it can’t be easy for him to make moves on me.  I purposely walked him to the station so that we wouldn’t have to say goodbye in private.

Maybe, I sometimes think, I’m just being a jerk.  What would it matter if I slept with someone who I wasn’t crazy about?  Maybe, I reason, I could learn to be attracted to Justin.  But I can’t imagine feeling about him the way I did about Sean or Ronna.

I’ve never had this problem before, which only proves that new experiences can happen at 34.

I read the papers last night, got to bed late, and slept till 11:30 AM on a rainy, chilly day.  Teresa was here, making her usual million phone calls.

Frank gave her a big lecture about how she should get to work; if he knew she was going to Italy, he’d have gotten even more angry.

The job in the Bronx isn’t coming through (Frank says it has nothing to do with Teresa) and he urged her to get other work as soon as possible.

Of course Teresa doesn’t want to work; she wants to have fun – like Cyndi Lauper says girls should.

I’m not in a position to criticize her, but I do think Teresa has been very lucky and doesn’t realize how some people have to struggle to have money.

At 1 PM, I went to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, where I read for three hours.

I do wish I could find an outlet for my talents.  I got a message from the American Business Institute in Brooklyn; they want me to come down for an interview.

I guess I’m a little like Teresa and don’t want to be a drudge, either – but the way things are going, I may have to be.


Friday, June 7, 1985

3 PM. My job interview at LaGuardia Community College went about as well as could be expected, though I didn’t get a clear handle on how well I did.

I roamed the school for an hour before I went to the Secretarial Science Department and met the Chairperson, Gisa Cardoso, who took me across the street to the lab full of Xerox computers and the four women who made up the P&B committee.

If I made any “mistakes,” it was that I talked too much – but I feel the professors got a fairly good picture of my teaching and computer skills. I didn’t have much time to demonstrate much of anything on Multiplan, but I was patient with them.

Anyway, if I’m what they’re looking for, they’ll hire me, and if someone else fits the job better, they’ll hire him or her. Dr. Cardoso said all the applicants will hear from her by next week.

Yesterday, I went to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, to the reception for the show, “Artists in the Marketplace,” that Emily was in, but she wasn’t there. Probably I’d arrived too early.

It was odd being in the South Bronx, and I felt as if I didn’t know whether I should feel threatened. But I could see that the Grand Concourse was once a beautiful boulevard like Ocean Parkway; the old Art Deco apartment buildings still look good from the outside.

I wandered through the exhibit of 15 young artists – the signs were bilingual – and admired most of the work, though only the sculpture by Kathleen Anderson grabbed me. Emily’s work – well, I’m not an art critic, but I don’t see all that much in it.

Back here at 6 PM, I got a burger at the diner and spent the evening reading Richard Schickel’s Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity, an intelligent book that’s right up my alley.

The author points out to what extent our culture is organized around the idea of celebrity and suggests that madmen like John Hinckley, Jr., understand culture better than most.

Susan called, excited by her interview with Scott Sommer for her American Film story.

At first, she was intimidated by Scott’s rock-star good looks; then she found she really liked him as he regaled her with stories about his experiences as a screenwriter in Hollywood; finally, she felt a little sorry for him as she saw him as a lonely unhappy guy.

Susan said Scott does very well financially – but he seems unsure of himself despite his success. She’s learning a lot about the business of being a screenwriter: how things really get done (the only way to get your screenplay produced is to hook up with a top-notch director).

Susan said that TV series are a closed shop; in Hollywood, you’re expected to take meetings and perform “high concept” ideas for the agents, producers, and studio execs.

It sounds demeaning to me, though of course the money makes up for it. Most screenwriters say that stars have too much power and don’t want to appear in a bad light, so they won’t accept many kinds of characters as roles.

Richard Price and Jay McInerney are next on Susan’s wish list of interviewees for the article. In a way, she’s working as a knowledge engineer.

Teresa went to Fern’s daughter’s graduation, but she may be home tonight.

This morning a subpoena got slipped under the door. Bruce and Laurie are suing Teresa for the $1000 down payment they put on Fire Island. She really should give back that money, since she was compensated by Advest for all the money Bruce lost when he was churning her account at the brokerage, but she says she wants to make Bruce suffer. Go figure.

While this litigation was in the wind, Teresa got out her typewriter and wrote Pan Am, threatening to sue them because they won’t replace her “lost” luggage (the bag was rifled through, not lost), and she wrote her old roommate in San Francisco, demanding back the $400 rent Teresa paid for February.

Then Victor called, and Teresa closed the bedroom door. She’s been avoiding him, and now Victor says that he’d like to sell his share in the Fire Island house to the other summer renters. Teresa won’t do it, of course.

I could have predicted how her relationship nice-guy Victor would turn out, but naturally I keep my mouth shut. Teresa will end up fighting with Fern and Suzanne too – eventually.

Oh well – I’d better worry about myself and not concern myself with Teresa’s foibles.

It’s a cool, dark, rainy day: a perfect day for staying in. I just spoke to Ronna, who said she’s doing just that.

Last night and this morning, I wished she was with me. Our time together last summer was so terrific, it’s difficult for me to accept we can’t sleep together anymore.

Josh has been hocking me to see Todd, and I finally got around to it last evening, when I met Todd at Lincoln Center.

Todd has been working for nearly two years on the manuscript he showed me in May 1983, about how he recovered his stolen Corvette. Now it’s novel-length, and Todd wants help in figuring out what to do with it. Because he hasn’t been working – his wife has – it’s put a strain on their marriage.

Also, Todd’s from a working-class background and neighborhood, and he feels pressure from people who think he’s a lazy bum.

Todd takes writing much more seriously than I do, but he’s very naïve and idealistic. He’s joined a writer’s group led by Daphne Merkin (whom Ronna says teaches at Hebrew Arts School only because of the Merkin Concert Hall/money/family connection) and gets the encouragement of novice writers who take his book seriously.

I told him to write a query letter to an agent, but as Todd said, he’s so obsessed with his book – which is about an obsession – that he can hardly describe it objectively.

We had dinner at Diane’s and walked around Lincoln Center and later returned here. As I spoke with Todd, I kept realizing how old he’d gotten – he must be 42 – and how I must have changed, too.

Middle age is hard to adjust to when you still feel so young.


Sunday, June 9, 1985

8:30 PM. This is another one of those “under the gun” entries. I just got in and don’t know when Teresa is going to arrive home.

Yesterday I stayed in all day except for a few brief trips out to buy the paper and food. I read most of Richard Schickel’s book, which is thought-provoking but depressing.

Today celebrity has so corrupted our culture that there’s no middle ground between success (= celebrity) and failure (= non-celebrity; no power, fame or money).

Probably my best career move would be to shoot someone like Norman Mailer – probably that would help his career, too – but as Susan told me today, “You could never go through with it.”

The trouble is that I know posterity will not recognize the efforts of a worthy but unknown artist. Crad still believes in that myth that people can get discovered after they’re dead, like Van Gogh, but I certainly don’t. In an aliterate society without a sense of history, success has to be now or never.

If I could be like Crad or the academics who disdain popular success, I’d be so much happier and able to do my thing. But to me, they’re believing in myths that might have once been true but are no longer.

Susan feels there is a middle ground somewhere. She says if I want success on society’s terms, then I should try to become a talk-show guest or actor. Anyway, Schickel’s book really has me thinking.

I worked out a little this morning and then went to meet Susan at the La Lanterna café on Macdougal Street, where we shared croissants with cheese and an Italian soft drink, Sanbittèr, and where I listened to her problems with her mother, who sounds like a demanding, neurotic woman.

We walked around the Village, browsed in B. Dalton, sat in Washington Square Park and talked about writing and other stuff.

In addition to Emily Prager and Scott Sommer (whose fall novel may yet be his “breakthrough” book), Susan interviewed Susan Fromberg Schaffer, who talked on the phone, giving the impression she was both arrogant and helpful at the same time.

Susan confided that she may be pregnant; she’s been trying to have a baby for years, she said. We got on the D train in opposite directions and I headed for Matthew’s house and a barbecue.

He called me last night but said that the other Millay Colony people weren’t able to make it (Sue Ribner’s father just died), but I didn’t mind.

Elizabeth was there, of course, and Sarah, who played percussion at the Brooklyn concert, and we were joined by Matt’s next-door neighbor, a pregnant woman in her ninth month who’s a teacher of the deaf in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth has moved out of her studio and taken her paintings home; she’s still taking courses at Empire State College.

Matt belatedly finished the piece for the Long Beach Symphony orchestra. He leaves for California next week, and when he comes home a week later, he goes straight to Yaddo till the end of July.

In September he’ll move to Cambridge to attend Harvard, but I can see his heart isn’t in it. “It’s a backup plan . . . or it was,” he said – probably a lot like my going into the Ph.D. program at University of Miami in the fall of 1983.

The hamburgers, potato chips and ice cream were good, the view – on a humid, cloudy afternoon – was spectacular, and the conversation was lively. I had a really nice time.


Monday, June 10, 1985

Midnight. Since Teresa and I returned from her parents’ in Brooklyn, I’ve spent the last hour reading.

At 11 PM, I went out into the mild, clear night to buy tomorrow’s Times so I could read about the Supreme Court ruling upholding regional banking, a blow to the big New York banks and a boon to the Florida banks, which will soon be merging with others in the Southeast. I’ve been fascinated by banking, especially in regard to credit cards.

Mom’s package containing Choice, the Citicorp credit/debit card – they gave me a $2500 credit line – arrived in today’s mail. I also got a letter, to my West 85th Street address, soliciting me for yet another Visa card (which I probably won’t get since I have no record of credit or employment in New York).

This morning I went to four banks and got cash advances on two Visas and two MasterCards. Then I deposited the money into my First Nationwide S&L savings account, getting out a $1,000 bank check to mail as a deposit to my South Dakota Citibank checking account.

I’ve got over $20,000 in credit card debts, but I have over $10,000 in the bank and I feel I’ve hooked onto something.

I spent an hour in the Mid-Manhattan Library reading a very negative book about bank credit cards, but buried in it, I found a passage that said, “What the bankers don’t want you to know is that with enough cards and very careful bookkeeping,” – the situation I’m in – one “can repay one account with cash advances from another for a very long time.”

Especially if you’re cheap like I am and don’t buy on impulse; indeed, if I did use the cards the way Josh or Teresa would, this could never work, and I’d be bankrupt already.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see where this experiment leads me.

Another item Mom sent was a classy-looking checkbook from Southeast Bank, with gold checks and the words “Preferred Account” on each check – from my gold MasterCard account.

I now have over $25,000 in bank card credit lines – not to mention all the department store cards I never use.

Last night I had a good long talk with Josh and a shorter conversation with Justin; both seem to be busy and productive.

Josh got calls from John Fahey and Harvey Pekar about pieces they’re writing for Grinning Idiot. Justin’s been working on the diner play for its possible California run.

As I mentioned, I spent much of the morning doing banking and most of the afternoon in the library, reading. Then I went with Teresa – in a horrible rush hour subway trip – to her parents’ in Brooklyn.

I would have preferred to be alone, but as I hadn’t seen her parents at all this trip, I felt I owed them – and Teresa – a visit. I think I ended up enjoying it more than Teresa did.

I do like seeing Greenpoint and Williamsburg – Brooklyn neighborhoods I never knew existed when I was a kid – and it was good to see Teresa’s parents and grandmother.

Teresa’s sister and the kids are staying in Brooklyn while her brother-in-law is in Albany this week. Heidi, now over the chicken pox, played with me, and I read her the same book three times. The baby slept soundly for hours until it was time to be fed – which Connie did as we watched TV.

Before dinner, Teresa’s father took us to the parking lot down the block and showed us his new Volvo; right afterwards, he had a community board meeting to rush off to.

Teresa seemed annoyed with her family, whom she said treat her as an outsider and feel she’s selfish and lazy.

It was a bad day all around for her, with problems with the Ocean Parkway co-op (they won’t let her sublet to her buyer, the closing won’t be this week after all) and trouble renting both the houses in Fire Island (during the week) and the Berkshires.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog