A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1985

Monday, July 1, 1985

8 PM. Last night, on impulse, I shaved off my beard. Originally I was trimming it, but I carelessly hacked away a big chunk and then decided to see what I looked like underneath.

It’s been nearly five years since I’ve been beardless, and it was a shock to uncover my face. I definitely look better with a beard and intend to grow it back just as fast as nature will let me.

I can’t get used to seeing myself this way: the fat on my neck and the lack of a chin. I look dumb and gross; the facial hair gave me character and covered my worst physical flaw. Now I really don’t want people to see me like this.

I feel very self-conscious although of course none of the people I passed on the streets seem to notice anything was strange. Even Judy from next door didn’t mention anything when we met in the elevator.

But I feel naked. The beard protected me from the world, as I hid behind it. Now it will take weeks to grow back, and although stubble is sexy, it’s also scratchy, especially in the summer.

Why did I do it now of all times? Because I’ve never been more at loose ends? I don’t know who I am anymore, so why should I know what I look like? Shit. It’s as if I deliberately mutilated myself.

Well, I guess I had to find out what I looked like without facial hair. Aging hasn’t made me any cuter. My fat face now has lines going down from my nose to the sides of my mouth.

Oh well, it’s July 1 and I have the apartment to myself for three weeks, and with the cash advance I put into the bank today, I have $11,500 in my accounts.

I took some petitions from Sy Friedman, a borough president candidate, so I can make a few extra dollars getting signatures for him even if he’s a jerk who’s sure to lose. (Like Abe Hirschfeld, those candidates tend to pay the best.)


Tuesday, July 2, 1985

3 PM on a gorgeous summer day. I’ve just come from lunch at Marvin Gardens with Susan. Like Josh, she thought I look considerably older and heavier without my beard.

It’s curious that the whiskers make me appear more youthful, but they cut down the roundness of my face and hide the lines that have developed. When this new beard grows back in, I’m going to keep it until at least 1990, unless I can afford plastic surgery before then.

I’ve also been getting a lot of pimples: tiny whiteheads on the skin formerly covered by my beard. It’s curious, though, how people don’t notice what’s changed about me. Both Judy next door and Susan first assumed I’d gotten a haircut or gained weight.

Well, I’ve got the start of some stubble and I hope in a few days I’ll have that cool Miami Vice look and that by next week people will realize that I’m growing a beard.

Thanks to my friends, I’ve been getting out of the house. I was in a blue funk late yesterday afternoon when Josh phoned and suggested I meet him at the Film Forum in Soho to see A Man Like Eva, the new German film à clef about Fassbinder.

I didn’t need to be coaxed. The subway ride down was cool and pleasant, and even if Josh thought the movie “ate it,” I enjoyed just being out.

The film had Fassbinder played by an actress who used to work with him, and although the portrait was of a cruel, self-absorbed autocrat, I did feel sympathy with the director.

It was raining when we got out and Josh and I did a mirror-routine on opposite platforms of the Canal Street IRT station as I went uptown and he returned to Brooklyn.

Home at 10 PM, I felt tired and slept fitfully while listening to “new music” on WNYC. Towards dawn, I had great dreams of exploration and adventure which left me with a pleasant feeling.

I arranged a job interview for next Monday afternoon with the director of John Jay’s computer center, Mary Klopman. That’s one position I’d love to have, because I feel at home at John Jay and like the atmosphere.

I was doing bench presses late this morning when Susan called from her shrink’s.

Yesterday she started teaching the summer session at Hunter. She’s got only 12 students, three of whom she’s had before – so it looks like she’ll have fun with them.

Starting her article for American Film has given her lots of work, and she misses Spencer a lot. The mornings bring nausea, but she says it’s manageable for the most part.

Bella was repeated on Channel 5 on Sunday (Justin had told me he’d seen an ad in Show Business). I was shocked to learn from Susan that the guy who played the grandson, a handsome 28-year-old, died just last week of AIDS-related disease.

What a tragedy. I sometimes wonder if I’ve been exposed to AIDS via Sean. Usually I assume that because we had “safe sex,” I’m in the clear. But Susan said it seems more and more like you don’t have to be promiscuous to get AIDS.

I hope Brad doesn’t have it; my worst fantasy is that he died and his phone number was transferred to his sister’s in Boston. But since the number has nearly as many 4’s in it as did Brad’s Queens number (445-4444), I think it’s safe to say he’s alive.

I spoke to Grandma, who, aside from her complaints, is all right, and to Mikey and Amy, who just got a VCR and who are looking for a car.


Thursday, July 4, 1985

11 PM. The air on West End Avenue is hazy with exploded firecrackers. I’ve just returned from Ronna’s.

At 6 PM, Josh asked me to walk him to the subway, and as I went down Broadway, I saw Ronna walking towards me.

Glad to see her, I offered to accompany her as she shopped for groceries and then I went back to her house, where I had a painful bout of diarrhea.

Although I still feel a bit queasy, talking with Ronna for three hours in her kitchen soothed me as much, if not more, than any medicine could have.

I think I made her feel better, too. She’s been alone all day and had just gotten out for a walk.

Ronna seemed depressed and I asked her about it. Last night she was out on a blind date, and she could tell from the start that the guy thought she was too fat.

“After twenty minutes, he asked me what time it was,” Ronna said.

Also – we got into this later – she learned last evening that the clinic at the Adler Institute is closing, so she’ll have to leave her therapist. So she sure had reason to be upset.

We talked so much: with Ronna, it’s so natural because we know each other so well.

I made it plain to her that to me, she’s as sexy and desirable as ever. I told her about Justin and how I just couldn’t feel attracted to him, and that led to a whole discussion on the difficulty of “clicking” with people.

But it will happen for both of us again, I’m certain. Ronna and I are both too special not to find people who’ll like us. (Of course, I already have; the problem is, nice as he is, I don’t want him except as a friend.)

With Lori away for the weekend, Ronna was alone and she said she was grateful she’d run into me. I’m certainly grateful I saw her.

Neither of us would have called the other today — although last night I did phone Ronna while she was out (now I know, on that blind date).

When she wasn’t home, I felt relieved, for I’d gotten to thinking and would have said foolish things about wanting to be with her. (“And, just as foolishly, I would have responded,” she told me.)

This morning I finished reading Kozol’s Illiterate America, a bit repetitive and polemical but a book that stirred me.

I tend to agree with Kozol that not only do those in the power structure not care that one out of three adults are functionally illiterate, but also that some of them feel — though they never would say it, of course — that it’s an advantage to keep people uninformed and powerless.

Around 2 PM, Josh came over. We had lunch at Marvin Gardens, then strolled through Riverside Park and down Broadway, ending up here for a good talk.

Josh is upset that Joyce will be leaving Blue Cross and he doesn’t quite trust Larry even though he plans on going into business with him.

I broached the subject of a job with Josh, and he seemed to think I could definitely learn the software and work for them.

But he seems unhappy in general and said it was an effort to get out of bed this morning. He’s probably still mourning his dog and the loss of his relationship with Wanda, poor guy.

A sad sight on this July 4th were the beggars on every corner of Broadway. It kills me that some people have so little.


Saturday, July 6, 1985

4:30 PM. Now it finally seems like real summer: hot, humid, hazy weather has arrived.

Last evening I walked along Riverside Drive at 6 PM, going all the way down to 72nd Street, where I got Ronna and me tickets for the 8 PM showing of Goodbye New York.

At that time it was pleasant, as the breeze came in from the river and the sun began getting lower in the sky.

At 72nd and Broadway, I sat on a bench reading the weekly tabloid edition of the Washington Post till Ronna arrived at 7:30 PM.

The movie was okay, a combination comedy and Israeli travelogue that made me, for the first time, curious about visiting the Holy Land.

The city seemed empty as Ronna and I walked up Broadway. We stopped for a bite at the Front Porch and had good conversation, with Ronna asking if I wanted to meet her in Boston in a few weeks after she leaves her cousin’s house in New Hampshire.

I’ll think about it, but it’s better Ronna and I not tempt each other. That’s why I’m turning down her invitation to a family barbecue tomorrow: although I like spending time with Ronna and her family, she needs to stop thinking of me as a boyfriend.

After I walked Ronna home, she invited me in, and we sat around the table and I read aloud from Saturday’s Times.

Back here at 11:30 PM, I put on the air-conditioner, watched TV and finally fell asleep, but my rest was interrupted at 6 AM when I felt wide awake. I had breakfast, listened to the radio and fell asleep again at 8 AM.

A few hours later, I phoned Pete, who said he’d meet me at Bagel And… (the former Stonewall Inn) on Christopher Street at noon.

He didn’t mention my lack of beard, perhaps because it’s begun to look as if I’m growing one again. In another couple of weeks, it should get back to normal.

Pete likes his job at Equitable and enjoys the day off he gets every two weeks. He has plans for doing a tape of his songs and other projects related to his writing, music and art.

The Fiction Collective, which accepted Judy Lopatin’s book for next spring, is again considering Pete’s short stories, and he thinks he’ll get an answer soon.

After getting some Frozade, we walked to the Morton Street Pier, which was fairly empty, and we sat by the water and chatted for an hour or so. Then, thirsty again, he had a beer and I had iced tea at the Cornelia Street Cafe.

Pete’s rent is going up to $238 under the new rent guidelines: “I’m one of the people the landlords use as an example of someone who’s living almost for free.” He plans to stay in his apartment forever.

Back uptown, I bought some books and groceries and came home to look at my mail. I had three credit card bills to pay and I got my Citibank (South Dakota) checking statement.

It certainly looks like I’m rich, or at least that I’ve got a healthy cash flow, since my balance is usually around $2500-$3000. But I’m still plagued with doubts about my credit card lifestyle and wonder if I won’t find myself in real trouble.

This week I’ve got two interviews – at John Jay and BOCES Westchester – but I doubt if anything will come of them.

It’s almost mid-July and I have no job prospects for the fall. Should I start looking for adjunct work? Should I return to Florida? I wish I had something definite to fall back on.

I probably won’t follow up on the New York City Board of Ed because teaching high school in the city is too depressing. I’d rather work as a word processor. As I told Pete, unlike him, I don’t want a job that forces me to wear a tie and jacket.


Tuesday, July 7, 1985

9 PM. The long weekend is over. Last evening, I spoke with Susan, who’s having troubles with morning sickness and getting down to the business of writing, and then I read the Sunday Times in bed.

After a grand night’s sleep, I spent most of today working out, reading Charles Newman’s The Post-Modern Aura: The Art of Fiction in an Age of Inflation (some intelligent and original ideas are embedded in the jargon), and lolling about.

I even took an hour in the sun in Riverside Park because I felt I could use a little color.

Josh came over at 5 PM or so and we had dinner at Szechuan Broadway. He’s a good pal to hang out with on a lazy summer Sunday.

My beard is growing back in, but I’m now at the point where I look like a bum, which probably won’t help me on my job interviews. Perhaps a haircut will make me look less seedy.

I’m starting to wonder if I should even go to the interview in Westchester, but then again, I hate it when I sabotage myself all the time. The main question facing me is whether a $50 bill for a car rental is worth an interview.

Tomorrow I’ll go to John Jay for that job interview, of course, but these days I’m not confident about the impression I make.

Maybe I need an image consultant? Certainly my sport jacket is tacky (Sears blue blazer, with padded shoulders – polyester, yet), my pants ditto, and my shoes aren’t in very good shape because I bought them in August 1983, at J.C. Penney’s in the Aventura Mall when I had just moved to North Miami Beach.

Let’s face it: in this Yuppie world, I’m an outsider almost as much as Crad Kilodney. The difference between me and Crad, however, is that I don’t revel in my situation and I do understand what would be fashionable.

I keep hoping for the end of this era of mindless consumerism, monstrous greed, unthinking “patriotism” (Rambo and shouting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”), and callousness toward the poor and unfortunate.

We’re 55% through the 1980s, and a reaction probably isn’t in the offing for another four and a half years – if then. But the world may surprise me.

Ten years ago, who would have believed that OPEC would be on the verge of collapse as a worldwide oil glut continued? Or that I’d have 18 graduate credits in a field called computer education? Or that Reagan would be in the second term of a wildly popular presidency? Or that New York City would have rebounded so strongly from near-bankruptcy?

For all my reading about trends and the future, I’m still pretty scared about what’s facing me.

In one sense, I have many of the skills and attributes needed for the vaunted Information Age: flexibility, an ability to learn, a broad (by today’s standards) education, a willingness to adapt, good communication skills, an analytical mind, etc.

But I look at society and wonder if it really needs someone like me. Certainly, the world doesn’t “need” another fiction writer: that’s part of what Newman’s book is all about.

And yet I go along merrily, enjoying every day, to be sure, more than most people do – but am I living in a fool’s paradise?

The fact is, my future is no more secure than a welfare mother’s; I only assume it is, and as everyone knows, assumptions are dangerous. I’m a generalist in an age of specialists, the wrong man at the wrong time.

And yet I can’t deny that I’m having fun. So far, 1985 has been like one big party for me – though very few party-lovers would recognize my existence as such. I’m doing things I enjoy, though, and how many people on this planet can say that?


Monday, July 8, 1985

5 PM. I cancelled my interview in Westchester tomorrow. I know I probably won’t get the job and I can save the $50 I’d spend on car rental.

My interview at John Jay went okay, I guess. Beforehand, I went to speak to Doris, who’s always sweet.

Mary Klopman seemed nice and the interview went all right, but I don’t think I have enough background in DOS, BASIC or PC hardware for the job.

If by chance I did get the job, I’d take it but would have a hard time living on $18,000 a year. And I’d feel bad about quitting in December and leaving John Jay in the lurch.

I’ve begun to think that maybe I should return to the safety of Florida again. I could live alone so much more cheaply there. I know I could manage to find a place to live and a car and some kind of job, and I could take some more grad courses.

What I wouldn’t have there are friends. And while I’d be near my family, I could make sure that I didn’t get overly involved in their lives.

I don’t know.

I spoke with Teresa today. She’s now in France with Fern and Jerry and their kids, in a cool mountain chalet only 20 minutes from the beach.

Sicily was not fun, as her grandmother didn’t stop complaining, and Florence — like the rest of Southern Europe — was intolerably hot.

This trip hasn’t been great, she said. Perhaps Teresa is finally getting Europe out of her system.

I have some errands to do for her in regard to Fire Island, but the Brooklyn co-op deal ended okay, with her netting a $25,000 profit: enough money to pay off her debts and live on for a while longer without working.

In two weeks, when Teresa returns. this apartment won’t be “mine” anymore, and soon after that, I’ve got to leave.

It seems that nothing except my friendships and my love of the city is binding me to New York. If I had a serious relationship, I wouldn’t go, but Ronna needs to find someone else, and I figure my going can only help her.

*

9 PM. I just got in. It’s a glorious summer evening.

Alice and I had dinner at a sidewalk cafe on Seventh Avenue. Although she had said she wanted someone’s shoulder to cry on, we spent a lot of time discussing my immediate prospects.

If I don’t get a terrific job, I’ll probably go back to Florida unless I can get a decent sublet and enough adjunct courses to live on here in New York.

My most important priority is a need to live alone, and if I can do that in Florida, I’ll be happier than if I stay here and live with Teresa. In Florida I can live on my own relatively cheaply, so that might be my best bet.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have had this place to myself for so long. I’ll miss the spirit of Manhattan and I’ll find myself inpatient with the dullards of Florida, but, as I did before, I can make my own little world there.

Alice, after 4½ years at Weight Watchers, is desperate to be out; she’s spending lots of time with What Color is My Parachute? Her job definitely does sound miserable, not worth even her $50,000 salary and grand title.

One good thing has come of having friends who are successful financially: I’ve learned that no one is really any happier for it. Oh, Josh thinks he’d be happy if he had Alice’s salary, but he wouldn’t be; nor will a $60,000 job make much difference to Alice – unless it’s a job she enjoys.

The headline in this week’s BackStage is “Yuppie Bubble Has Burst,” and the New York magazine cover shows an unhappy Baby Boomer couple with the caption “Second Thoughts on Having it All.”

Especially for career women with young children, the knowledge is sinking in that money and material possessions can’t compensate for other things. “Quality time” with oneself, one’s spouse or children can’t match “quantity time.”

Luckily, I’ve already learned this lesson.

Of course, I need to grow up in a different way.


Tuesday, July 9, 1985

8 PM. This morning I called Tom at Linda’s loft downtown. He and Debra had arrived on Sunday night, he said, and were planning to come up to the Metro for the 1 PM show of Emerald Forest. Would I like to join them?

Of course I was happy to see Tom again. He looks well and so does Debra.

Tom still hasn’t heard about his sabbatical, but the $5,000 Literature Fellowship from the state of Louisiana is definite – though Tom pooh-poohs that.

He said he and Debra had a terrible time on Sunday that started when the ticket-seller at the Baltimore train station wanted to know what their relationship was. When Tom said, “Yeah, that sounds good,” to his query, “Are you boyfriend and girlfriend?” the man told a cop to watch them.

“We get lots of stares from people who don’t think we should be together,” Tom said.

Debra does look very young for a college student – maybe about 16 – but it hadn’t occurred to me that it would be difficult for them to be seen in public together. Maybe it’s because I consider Debra an adult and because I had a relationship with Sean when he was 17.

(Sean once told me that a girl he knew said that she’d seen him “with some guy” when we were out together and assumed we were around the same age. I think the age difference wasn’t that obvious because I look young and Sean was so much taller than I am. And maybe it’s different with two guys?)

I enjoyed the movie, though I was too intimidated by Tom to say so after hearing his negative opinion.

Afterwards. we walked over here, where we talked all afternoon, and then we went to Endicott Booksellers before parting at 72nd Street.

Tom’s news was that Crad will be here all next week, so the three of us will be able to get together again for the first time in years.

Tom is so well-read and has so much integrity, I feel like an illiterate parasite by comparison. He loves literature in a way I never will – or can.

But I was reminded of a letter Leon wrote me from Madison a dozen years ago. Leon said that the “best and worst of literary people” would try to “filter life through a fine strainer of literary reference, hoping to catch the juices — but only the dregs are left.”

Tom’s references are all to fiction, film or criticism — which makes me uncomfortable and a little bored. Although Tom says he’s writing very well, even he admits the novella he’s working on is probably unpublishable. So what’s the point?

Last night Alice once again expressed her opinion that nobody, not David Leavitt or Jay McInerney, writes except for money and fame, a point I disputed.

Alice envies Jay McInerney for the money he’s made and the success he’s had – while Tom dismisses him for the same reason: “In ten years, who will have heard of McInerney?”

I didn’t say what I thought, namely that McInerney is more likely to be around a lot longer than Tom or Crad or myself.

Isn’t there a middle ground between Alice’s attitude and Tom’s?

I hate to present myself as living the Golden Mean, but in the end, I believe life was meant to be lived rather than just written about.

Catching Debra alone in the bookstore, I asked her what she wanted to do while she was in New York. “Um . . . write some short stories,” she replied.

It made me feel sort of sad to hear that from a girl her age. She’ll be in John Barth’s workshop at Johns Hopkins this fall, and next spring she’ll be in Germany, and she’ll graduate a year early in 1987.

Granted, Debra is an extremely talented, dedicated scholar. But to me, her life seems a bit unbalanced. She and Tom write all morning: that’s the schedule they’ve made up.

I can’t help thinking – and I feel disloyal for it – that Tom influences her too much, that she too willingly emulates him.

But who am I to say? Maybe they’ll marry and become be the Sartre and de Beauvoir of America.

But in intergenerational romances, most of the power is on the side of the older person, especially when he’s been the other person’s teacher.

I never wanted Sean to be my protégé, and I was glad, in a way, that our interests were so different (though I’m aware he probably did things to try to please me).

Our relationship had to end, I had to let Sean go, because I had no choice: he was too young and hadn’t found out enough about himself yet.

I know that because when I was 18, I resisted Brad’s efforts to make me – through love, of course – his creature.

In any case, I could never be as sure of myself as Tom is. For one thing, I don’t think I’m that good a writer. (Nor do I think Tom is as good a writer as he thinks he is.)

Besides, my interests are more wide-ranging. I really do prefer life to books.

It seems to me that literary fiction writers are fairly powerless in today’s culture, and I want a wider impact and a louder voice. Call me shallow. (“Shallow!”)TC mark

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