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

Wednesday, May 22, 1985

Noon. Susan phoned yesterday from her shrink’s and asked if she could come over; I said of course. She brought some muffins and we consumed a liter of Diet Pepsi Free between us as we had our usual fine conversation.

I showed her Rick’s last letter, a typical one in which he mentions the doings of about 30 different writers, and she said she used to be like that when she was a poet and little magazine editor, “always trying to make as many connections as possible.”

It was good for me to be reminded that Rick’s view of the literary world is somewhat skewed; he’s too wrapped up in it to see the broader picture.

Lately I’ve found myself with less to say in letters to Crad or Rick or Tom. I don’t want to talk just about writing; I want to discuss education or economics or politics or computers — but they’re pretty much obsessed by their various views of the literary scene.

Susan’s been going forward, trying to get reviews and essays published. She’s laid her fiction aside for a while, I think.

A tremendous thunderstorm began while she was here, so I let her take an umbrella when she left.

Josh called and offered me yet another job at Blue Cross, a summer internship on the computer that pays $300 a week. But I can have a better deal if I just get my student loan.

Though I’m grateful for his thoughtfulness, I don’t know why Josh is so hot to get me a job. I keep telling him I don’t want to work in an office except as a last resort.

At 8:30 PM, I went to the Life Cafe on Avenue B and 10th Street to hear Pete Cherches read. It was a typical arty downtown scene, and I felt pretty removed from it.

The first reader, introduced by series coordinator, Dorothy Friedman (who herself read a Reagan-in-Bitburg nursery rhyme), was a guy dressed in pajama tops, leather jacket and Russian cap.

This guy thought he was Artaud (who was pretty bad in the first place, if you ask me) and read an anti-capitalist drama that might have appeal to radical high school students.

A poem he read about police and armies being the agents of repression told us nothing new.

(“But at least it’s nice to know that there are still people like him around,” Donna said later. I guess: No Yuppie, he.)

Pete read some imaginative pantoums and the “American Tales,” which he’d written in Florida and California two years ago.

The other three readers were women. First, Catherine Texier, Joel Rose’s Between C and D co-editor, was pretty good.

Up next, Cheryl Fish read a cute, sentimental, slightly punkish story from the magazine’s latest issue.

And finally Nina, a Yugoslavian, did a great performance piece combining Brainard-ish “I remember’s” and a Casio synthesizer.

After the reading, Dorothy cornered me and asked me a lot of questions, while Pete, not so fortunate, had to politely fend off some pretentious Australians who tried to get him to talk seriously about Art.

Finally, he wriggled free and we to meet Donna, Masa and their friend Kim at The Pharmacy on Avenue A and 9th Street.

It’s one of those cool restaurants where they put crayons on the table so baby boomers can pretend they are still children as they write and draw on the butcher-block paper table coverings.

The restaurant’s a hangout for East Village artists, musicians and writers, and people kept waving at Pete and Donna and coming over to talk to us.

I definitely enjoyed being a part of that scene, if only for a night. It was after 11 PM by the time we got out of The Pharmacy, and I walked with Donna and Masa all the way to Sixth Avenue.

Train delays made it 12:30 AM before I got home, but I slept okay, and when I awoke, my sinuses had cleared and so had the skies.

I’ve got my New School course tonight and Teresa should be coming home.


Thursday, May 23, 1985

9 PM. Life can be so sweet, even (especially?) when you’re feeling foolish. This evening I went to the PEN annual meeting at their new offices in Soho, and I felt a strong attraction to this guy who sat next to me. He was so cute that I became incredibly shy and couldn’t talk to him, and now I feel stupid for not talking to him.

Making it worse was that I think he’s David Leavitt, and a few days ago I sent him a copy of With Hitler in New York with a stupid letter. I didn’t know if he’d gotten it – I asked his publisher, Knopf, to forward it – but I felt very embarrassed.

The guy next to me reminded me a little of Sean: tall and lanky with short blond hair, glasses that make him look scholarly, and a baby face. Probably it wasn’t Leavitt after all, but it doesn’t matter much since I’ll never see him again.

Anyway, to him, I probably looked like a fat throwback to the 1960s; that kind of young guy would only have disdain for me. He actually seemed more shy than I, as he talked to no one the entire time he was there.

At least I had the nerve to walk up to Jerome Charyn to introduce myself and tell him how much I liked The Catfish Man. I didn’t mind making a fool of myself in front of him, and I can easily speak with older writers, though not with some famous ones like Harvey Shapiro and Walter Abish and certainly not with Allen Ginsberg, Gay Talese or Norman Mailer.

Mailer impresses me more each time I see him. He seems entirely professional, and apparently PEN has prospered greatly with him as president: the treasury is big, and lots of activities are always going on.

The International PEN Congress next January should be wonderful, but I probably won’t be around for it. Following all the committee reports, Mailer gave a long list of kudos to the members of the executive board and to the staff.

In a comic scene, Allen Ginsberg, looking dapper in a tie and business suit (like me, Mailer wore a blue blazer, sport shirt and sneakers), kept trying to interrupt to praise Mailer himself to be shooed away by “I’m not finished yet, Allen!”

There’s something very hamishe about being in a club with super-famous writers acting like regular people. I took the train home with Barbara Robinson, a children’s book author who lives on the next block.

She’s been a PEN member for a decade and wishes that there were more companionship at the gatherings. “Mostly my friends come and get drunk,” she said.

Last evening, I was downtown early, as I wanted to go to Brownie’s for dinner. But the restaurant has closed. There were letters from Sam Brown posted up that thanked his patrons for forty years of coming there.

So I ended up going to Dennis’, his son’s fast-food health restaurant at 91 Fifth Avenue, three doors down from Dad’s old place, and I saw Sam Brown afterwards at the store.

Our New School A.I. class was the most interesting so far, as we learned about rule-based and frame-based expert systems and got to look at CLOUT, a program that understands – at least to some extent – natural language.

For example, it has a database in memory and can answer questions like “Who is the oldest employee?” or “Where did Bob Smith go to college?” Next week we learn more about natural language systems – to me, the most interesting part of A.I.

Teresa came home last night, so I was relegated to the living room. Today we waited until 1:30 PM for the new couch mattress to be delivered; it should be an improvement, but I’ll know tonight.

Because Teresa left her bag at her sister’s, we went out there, taking Fern’s car. I wasn’t crazy about traveling to Douglaston, but I know how Teresa hates to be alone and I did want to see her nephew. Besides, I don’t get a chance to be in a car much.

Joseph is a truly adorable infant and he looks as if he’s got a real placid nature. I liked holding him. Teresa’s sister has lost a ton of weight since she gave birth.

Mom’s envelope contained four credit card bills, other goodies, and the FAU approval of my loan for next spring’s semester, which I mailed to Landmark Bank. There was also this letter, which she forwarded. It had a Santa Ana, CA, postmark. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Grayson,

I was visiting my daughter in Laguna Niguel, Calif., and she borrowed your book ‘Eating at Arby’s’ from the library. I was absolutely hysterical with laughter as we spent an evening reading it aloud.

I enjoyed it more than anything I’ve read in ages, as it is extremely interesting, entertaining and completely delightful. I live in Ft. Lauderdale, so we might even be neighbors.

Keep up your great work. It’s so very wonderful. I lost a 41-year-old daughter in Jan. of this year and have been very ‘down’ but I must admit your book did wonders for me. It was the first time I had real ‘belly laughs’ since her death.

God bless you and keep you well. Keep on writing!

Sincerely,
Mrs. Wayne B. Dorland

P.S. I am 70 years old and have been an avid reader since I was a small child, so I really appreciate good writing – Grace Dorland

What can I say? That letter makes it all worthwhile. God bless Grace Dorland.


Sunday, May 26, 1985

5 PM. Last evening I met Josh at the Metro on Broadway and 99th to see a showing in their Buster Keaton film festival. First there were three shorts and then Sherlock Jr., and all were very funny – surprisingly so for me.

I’d always thought Keaton was overrated, but his humor, though mostly physical – by necessity in the days of silent films – is brilliant, his timing perfect; I’d never seen anyone do physical comedy with more grace or imagination.

After the show, we went to meet up with James, who’d been tending bar at Hugh Clark’s in Hell’s Kitchen all day.

Over food and drinks at The Saratoga – a former Irish pub that went upscale last week or the week before (the Times Real Estate section today had a piece on the transformation of Broadway between 79th and 99th, giving more examples of creeping condo-ism on the Yupper West Side) – we talked for a long time.

James seemed a bit incoherent. You could mistake him for drunk (slightly) or just exuberant, but now I see that he gets moments when he verges on being irrational.

Unfortunately, despite all his talent and the push his career got from The New Yorker, I think James will be unable to stop himself from burning out.

I hope I’m wrong, but I keep thinking about other brilliant and artistic people who became mad. Maybe he can pull himself together, but he needs a doctor’s help. Josh is good to him.

Tonight Josh is going to another Keaton film and I’ll see him later. I’ve been out just about every night this week, living the exciting life of Manhattan.

Today I rested, read – I’ve just about completed Martin Mayers’ The Money Bazaars, a great book about banking that makes me want to learn more – and then I watched two movies I rented and lifted weights.

It had been years since I’d last seen Sunday Bloody Sunday, but it held up for me; I guess I saw it half a dozen times when I was a college student, usually with Avis. It’s an intelligent film and of course by now something of a period piece about life fifteen years ago.

I’m enough of a teacher to imagine showing it to a class to get their reaction, and I even thought about it as part of a course on the 1960s. (I spent some time dreaming up a syllabus of novels, nonfiction books, films and TV shows I’d assign.)

Jeez, I really should be a professor somewhere. I feel I’ve got so much to give, to share – and to learn. I’d probably be a better teacher than most Harvard Ph.D.s with their academic jargon, their theory, their footnotes and their pomposity.

In nine days I’ll be 35 years old and I’m more in love with ideas and knowledge and learning that I ever have been. I can appreciate things so much more than I ever could have when I was an undergraduate. Before I had experience in the real world, I took learning for granted.

I suspect some people think I’m just a parasite or a dilettante. Josh once told me fifteen years ago that he’d like to take part-time or temporary jobs and live on as little as possible, spending his time reading, writing, listening to music.

Now he hasn’t lost those values, but he makes $34,000 and works 9-to-5 as a computer programmer in an office.

Back then, I was the one who argued for steady employment, but now I’m doing just what Josh said he wanted to do.

I also remember around the same time Ronna saying she’d like to live outside New York and how I said I’d never leave the city – and look what happened there. Though I love New York, in its way, the city has much wrong with it as Florida does in its way.

Eventually I’ll have to “settle down,” I guess. But not yet!


Monday, May 27, 1985

6 PM. Memorial Day weekend is almost over. Teresa should be coming home from Fire Island soon, and so I’ll relinquish the domain of this apartment to her. But I have felt at home here this weekend.

Despite the sunny, warm weather, I didn’t get out all that much – though because I spent the winter in Florida, I don’t feel it’s all that rare to have a warm and bright day.

I did see a good deal of Josh, not only Saturday night but also last evening and today. He’s gone bananas for Buster Keaton, intending to see every one of Keaton’s movies at the Metro, and he’s now reading Keaton’s biography.

Josh is a strange guy with his obsessive, antisocial tendencies – but he’s been a good friend for many years.

We had spinach pie and awful Tab last evening at the American Restaurant, where I met him after his movies ended.

I felt a bit queasy afterwards and wanted to go home, so Josh went back to Brooklyn while I read, cleaned the bathroom, and straightened out my closet.

I’m really a cheapskate when it comes to buying clothes. I’ve had my shoes for two years, my sneakers for one, and both need replacing, but I’ll wait till they wear out.

I alternate my one pair of jeans with two pairs of corduroy pants and seem to manage okay, and I have, thanks to Mom and Dad’s businesses, more than enough shirts, socks and jackets.

It really is amazing how little I can live on. Where I’m more extravagant is in eating out and the cost of entertainment, but even there, I don’t go overboard.

Ronna got us $18 tickets for the new Durang play tomorrow evening, and that should fill my theater quota for the summer.

I don’t buy as many books as I’d like to, and I intend use the library more. My credit card scheme (scam?) can work only if I use the cards to make purchases I would make anyway and put all the cash advances in the bank to keep the chassis moving.

This morning I was up from 4 AM to 8 AM, reading. Then I went back to sleep and went out for breakfast and grocery shopping at 10:45 AM.

Back at the apartment, I did the laundry and waited for Josh, who’d come from his parents’ in Sheepshead Bay.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of his sister’s death. Josh’s parents are already so messed up: they lead separate lives in the same house, rarely speak, and keep their finances separate.

No wonder he’s the way he is.

We walked through Riverside Park, which Josh thought more pleasant than the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and then down Broadway, which seems to change every day as old buildings come down and new condos and upscale shops appear.

After sitting on a bench in the median strip at 81st Street for a while, we went to the Front Porch to have lunch.

Then Josh went back to the Metro to catch today’s Keaton films, and I came home to do some more reading.

Justin phoned before he left for Newark Airport for his flight to Los Angeles. I’m feeling more and more that he’s falling in love with me. I hope I’m wrong, but there are vibrations. He’s never called me so often before.

Unfortunately, I can’t reciprocate if he does love me. I’ve never found myself in this position before, and I hope I can handle it okay. Probably Justin is stable enough and cool enough not to let it get out of hand.

Despite my stares at every good-looking guy on the West Side, I still miss being with Ronna. She said she’s had a hard time getting over me.

Hey, I must sound like a pompous, conceited asshole. Poor David Leavitt: even though I barely talked to him, I feel I’ve burdened him with the crush I felt for him last Thursday.

Love is very, very funny.

I’ve been in New York City a month now, and Florida feels quite far away. It’s been as good a month as I could have hoped for; as usual, I’ve been really lucky.

Thanks, Up There.


Tuesday, May 25, 1985

11 PM. I feel so disgusted with myself and with other people.

In my dreams last night, I was a competent teacher and writer and man, more so than I’ve ever been in real life.

I think I’m coming down with a cold, and I almost welcome it as punishment. I want to escape reality in dreams.

Today was a dreary, chilly, rainy day. I’ve just come back from seeing Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo at the Public Theater, and the play’s view of humanity — the priest asking, “Why did God make people so stupid?” — jibed with my own feelings.

At least Durang can make art out of his horrors — those of his family — and he even acted in the play, in an autobiographical part.

To me, the play was a masterpiece, the most biting satire on the American family since Albee.

Although Teresa went to her sister’s tonight, she came home last night and and was around most of today.

She was tanned after being at the beach and kept talking about what a great time she and her friends had. That would be fine, but all these people seem to want to do in life is have a good time.

Teresa’s interests are buying clothes and furniture, getting her nails done, cooking or eating out great meals, sunbathing, gossiping, drinking, going to Europe, making money from real estate deals, and suing people.

I feel so goddamned guilty for feeling that she’s shallow.

And I wonder: Am I any more ethical? What constructive part do I play in this world? Who am I to judge Teresa and her friends — especially when I’m taking advantage of and benefiting from her and them?

I feel like such a hypocrite.

Well, Grayson, then do something about it!

Or are you going to take the easy way out?

Yes. (You coward.)

In three and a half weeks, I’ll be back in Florida and then, in July, Teresa will be in Europe and I’ll be living here by myself.

But then in August, I have to get out of this apartment, comfortable or not. I’ll either go back to Florida or get my own place in New York.

Change is hard, and that’s probably why I’m getting sick now, as I do whenever I have to adjust to a new configuration in my life.

But feeling as I do about Teresa, I can’t stay here; it’s not fair to her or to myself.

Not that Teresa is a criminal — far from it — but our value systems are so different, I think they couldn’t be further apart.

I just feel so lost right now.

Tonight I picked up Ronna, and seeing her has got me all confused again: I love her, I hate her, I want her, I need her, I need not to see her, I don’t know.

Outwardly, things were fine: we were polite to each other and when we were nasty, it was in a joking, easygoing way. Only once, early in the evening, did I give in to the urge to grab her and kiss her.

It helped that Lori met us for dinner at Bitable on Broadway and accompanied us to the play.

This morning I got fingerprinted at the local police precinct — for the Florida teaching certificate — and later I got a haircut, and I went to the bank, got my mail, and sent out résumés. So I was productive, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

I feel contempt for myself. I feel fat and weak and ugly and naïve and childish and stupid and lazy and selfish and hypocritical and cowardly, and I just want to beat up on myself.

I’m not such a hot example of a human being.

If I say, “Be gentle with yourself,” as the pop psychologists do, I only remember Teresa’s example, and it makes me feel bad.


Wednesday, May 29, 1985

6 PM. I slept fitfully but good enough so that the world looked different this morning. Teresa’s lifestyle no longer seems so bad, and I don’t feel the self-hatred I did yesterday.

Is this just an example of rationalizing? I hope not. Probably it is, at least partially, but I’m not deluding myself: I’m making the choice by staying here.

Tomorrow I hope to go to Rockaway for a few days; I’ll catch up on reading and maybe even writing while I’m staying at Grandma’s.

At least I don’t have a cold; I feel pretty good. I just worked out for half an hour, and I don’t feel as fat as I did yesterday. (More self-delusion?)

Up early, I was out of the house at 10 AM, just after Teresa arrived. She said she’d take the paper I need notarized to her sister this evening.

Getting certified as a teacher is pretty difficult. It’s interesting that teachers are not treated as professionals even though they’re subject to the same kind of licensing as doctors and lawyers are.

What people really want from their jobs is autonomy, and all the recent reforms – like Florida’s Gordon Rule – decrease autonomy. Even more than salary, people want to feel that they have control of their work.

I’ve been busy juggling my credit chassis, so I did some banking today. Mom sent me a new PIN code for the Goldome Visa, and since there’s a Goldome on 86th and Broadway, I’ll have easy access to cash while I’m here.

Mom also sent my Southeast Bank Preferred MasterCard checks, and I also got my last unemployment check from Florida. Anyway, I now have $6,600 in my First Nationwide savings account.

This morning, using a free transfer, I took the bus to the 42nd Street library, where I stayed there for several hours, reading. Then I walked up to the Bun ‘n’ Burger at Rockefeller Center, had lunch, and spent about 45 minutes in the little magazine room of the Gotham Book Mart.

Back here at 4 PM, I found Teresa had already gone, leaving a note for me to calls Susan, who had good news: American Film wants her to do a cover story on the writers of today working for the movies.

Susan’s been sending out a slew of proposals to magazines, and so many are working out that she can’t handle all this freelance work – but she’s also very excited. If you’re smart like Susan, you can have an easy time getting freelance work provided you’re willing to forgo good money to get some early clips.

She’s already called up some people she wants to interview, including Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, who to my surprise, is still in Brooklyn.

I’ve got to get to the New School now for my next-to-last class.

*

11 PM. Teresa left a message that she didn’t go to her sister’s, so I won’t have the place to myself tonight, but I intend to go to Rockaway tomorrow.

Class tonight was fascinating, as we looked at Prolog and LISP, the two A.I. languages in greatest use. I was thrilled to realize that because of my LOGO experience in list processing, a lot of the difficult concepts – like recursion – came as easily to me as it did to the techies in the class.

LISP is all lists, of course, but Prolog is based on first-order predicate calculus, which reminds me of LOGO property lists, and it all seems very interesting. Susan Perricone is writing a Prolog text for Harper and Row, so she knows the language well.

Next week we’ve got computer time to play with LISP and Prolog programs.

I’m going to be sad when this A.I. course ends, for I’ve learned more than I originally thought I would. Compared to the majority of the people who are still computer-illiterate, I do know a great deal.


Thursday, May 30, 1985

7 PM. I’m in Rockaway, feeling sort of odd: not sick but as if I’m adrift. And yet, I see new opportunities.

This is ironic: In the past two years, I haven’t been able to get a single interview for a full-time job teaching English at a college, but on Tuesday I answered an ad from the Department of Secretarial Science at LaGuardia Community College, and next Friday I have an interview with their Personnel and Budget Committee.

Even more ironic is that I’ve sent about ten résumés to LaGuardia’s English Department and never gotten any response. Well, these things are fluky.

What makes me nervous is that they want me to teach a sample lesson, and in my résumé I exaggerated my knowledge of word processing and databases.

The chairwoman asked what hardware or software I’d need, and I told her I’d call her back and let her know.

But I’m not going to bluff my way out of this even if I don’t expect to get the job.

As I told Ronna, it’s not really important that I don’t know this or that specific software package: because I’m skilled the basics, I can easily learn any program, just as I could transfer my LOGO programming skills to understand Prolog and LISP last night.

I would jump at the chance to take this job at LaGuardia, but I know I’m not going to get it, so I’ll use the interview as practice and as a learning experience.

Certainly I’ve never thought of myself as an Instructor of Secretarial Science, but it’s interesting to see how prized my computer skills are. Perhaps this bodes well for the future.

I got to Rockaway pretty quickly today via the 1, D and E trains and the Q53 bus from Jackson Heights. It’s been cool, damp, windy and overcast: not a bad day to relax at the beach.

The beach is deserted except for the lifeguards in their plastic orange parkas and a few seagulls, and the waves come crashing in with an intensity they don’t have on warm and sunny “beach days.”

Grandma just went down to play cards. To spend time with her is to hear the same stories repeated, the same complaints and regrets.

Occasionally, she surprises me, as she did with her comment that she looked at herself in the mirror, with her new short haircut evident, and was struck by the resemblance to her own grandmother, Sylvia Shapiro, whose picture I remember vaguely from her headstone.

I began reading a book I bought a year ago, Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age, written by a classics professor who also has a masters in computer science; he’s my age, and that makes me feel I’ll never have the intellectual vigor to write something as compelling as he has.

Oh well, the world needs intelligent readers, too, especially in this time of illiteracy and aliteracy.

I’ve been thinking about my impending birthday. Grandma gave me my present already — a twenty-dollar bill — after I made out all her checks for the monthly bills.

I think about Sean and how he made my birthday three years ago so special.

Maybe I should think about getting something going with Justin, even if I’m not really attracted to him and know I’ll never feel about him the way I do/did about Ronna and Sean.

Justin cares about me, and he’s a nice person, and the two in combination don’t happen very often.

Before I got involved with Justin, I’d like to talk to Ronna, to make sure she really wanted to close the door on our relationship. Would it be cruel of me to tell her? Stupid? I feel she deserves some advance notice.

It’s not that I need her permission — though I guess this amounts to that — but I still love her and want to see how she feels.

Am I trying to make her jealous so that she’ll sleep with me? Perhaps. But if she would resume our sexual relationship, I’d drop the whole idea of an affair with Justin immediately, and I can do it before it starts, without hurting Justin.

All this rationalizing may or may not be commonsensical. I need to give it a lot more thought.TC mark

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