A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1985

Thursday, November 21, 1985

5 PM. Teresa went over to Michael’s again last night, leaving with her guests at 10:30 PM. Soon after, I got into her bed, and I slept pretty well, though when the alarm clock went off at 7:30 AM, I realized I needed another couple of hours.

One dream I had was a beauty, though: in it, I was paralyzed from the waist down but managed to get around by crawling using my arms and dragging my useless legs after me.

Today was cool again, unlike yesterday’s unseasonable 77° high.

My class at Baruch was a breeze this morning, as I had the students write and then work on their essays in the computer room. Roberta showed me some graphics she did: a Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas tree she got out of a computer magazine.

After picking up my paycheck, I took a bus to 42nd and Madison and went to First Nationwide Savings. Justin had asked me if he could borrow $400 to cover next month’s rent and bills. Because he was unable to do temp work for the first couple of weeks he was back in New York, Justin had a cash flow problem.

I’d once offered him a loan, and he decided he needed it now. Knowing how hard it must have been to ask, I tried to make it out to be no big deal.

Five years ago Avis and Anthony, Alice, and Josh all loaned me money when I needed it. On the memo part of his check, Anthony wrote “Good Karma” – and I feel helping out Justin is good karma for me.

If I’ve misjudged him – which I doubt – well, then I’m $400 poorer and I’ll have learned another kind of lesson. But I’ve gotten the attitude that “money is shit” (how often I heard Dad say that!), and if I can help Justin, why not?

Although I’m in debt way over my head, right now I’m cash-high, with over $20,000 in the bank.

I had a light lunch at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I glanced at the “Register” issue of Esquire, reading only the article on Jayne Anne Phillips.

The piece made me realize how much she pushed to make the right connections: the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Seymour Lawrence, the St. Lawrence Award and conference, etc.

I never had the nerve to push myself, and I have no real literary connections other than with people who are genuinely my friends: Crad Kilodney, Tom Whalen, Miriam Sagan, Rick Peabody, George Myers, Kevin Urick. Maybe I’m not the Sammy Glick-ish careerist I sometimes berate myself for being.

At Bread Loaf, I was naïve and shy. Now I realize what an asshole they must have thought I was, never going to Treman House for drinks with the big shots, which is what Bread Loaf Fellows are supposed to do.

Could knowing John Irving have made a difference in my career? If so, then it’s too bad.

Now Alice would say I am very pushy, but all my efforts at publicity – from the Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists to the John Hour to Liz Smith to my various campaigns – were calculated to earn me newsprint, not respectable literary career success.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that kind of publicity hurt my career as a, ahem, serious writer.

But who cares? If I can’t be Phillips, McInerney, Leavitt and all the other young authors whom Esquire cites, they also can’t be me.

Phillips, by her own admission and according to her students, was a lousy teacher, not very caring with her classes. I’m a good teacher and know more about education than any of those other writers.

I know more about politics, computers, and banking than they do, and I’m funnier than any one of them, most of whom have little sense of humor.

Not taking myself seriously may be my greatest weakness, but in the end, it could turn out to be a very strong asset.

Soon after I arrived home, Teresa left for the day; I feel sorry for her because her life is so aimless. I predict she won’t have a job until next fall at the earliest.

Her absence gave me a chance for a 90-minute workout with the 20-pound dumbbells. The exercise made me feel great, and afterwards I fell into that demi-sleep of the relaxation response.

Gary called, trying to locate me because he didn’t know where I was living right now. We made tentative plans to get together on December 12.

He and Eileen will be getting married at a North Woodmere synagogue in late February, and the arrangements have been taking up most of his time.

Gary’s put his co-op up for sale because it’s too small for him and Eileen to live in together. If he can net $67,000 on it, he’ll have enough to put the money towards a house on Long Island.

His daily Kaddish prayers are now over, as tonight’s the Jewish calendar anniversary of his father’s death: he and his mother will light Yahrzeit candles.


Friday, November 22, 1985

11 PM. I feel beautiful tonight, and happy, too.

I had been looking forward to seeing Ronna last evening, and I guess she’d felt the same way.

At 6:30 PM, I was waiting for her in the lobby of the Hebrew Arts School when she came down, her hair in a bun, her glasses on, wearing a black skirt and sweater top. I felt so proud to be seen with her.

It was just about 13 years ago that we first went out, and she looked as pretty as that girl I took to the movies on Thanksgiving Eve 1972.

We tried to get into the Saloon, but it was too crowded, so we walked up Columbus to this slightly dive-y but sweet Italian restaurant Ronna knew.

At first we talked about what was going on with her. Ronna had had a hard week at work; until this gala next month is over, it’s going to continue to be crazy for her.

But Ronna still managed to finish the first draft of her play and is going to work on the rewrite soon. She was interested in a guy in her playwriting class, but apparently he was too dense to see what she had to offer.

Ronna’s biggest news is that her mother’s move to Florida is now definite, as she’ll be replacing Richardson-Vicks’ old manager for Florida in just a few months. Naturally, Ronna feels strange about the move.

But as she later told me, she’s been living away from home for years now, and while the two apartments in Canarsie were home to her, she always felt that her real home was her grandparents’ house on East 59th and Tilden.

I, for one, am glad I’m finally going to get Ronna to Florida. Although she’s still afraid to fly, now that her mother, grandmother and probably Billy will join her aunt, uncle and Robbie in Orlando, I think she’ll come down at least once a year.

It was too cold last night for even Ronna to walk home, so we got on a bus. After we both did some grocery shopping at Pathmark, I went back to Ronna’s, ostensibly for tea.

Once settled in the kitchen, however, Ronna gave me a hug and kiss, and I responded, and as we have so many times before, we ended up all over one another.

I suggested we move from the kitchen, where we were vertical, to the bedroom, where we got horizontal. After so long, it felt like heaven to be held and to hold someone.

Both Ronna and I felt a little hesitant about the sexual part of our relationship, but it comes so naturally and always makes us feel good about each other and ourselves.

“I love you,” Ronna said between kisses, and later I told her I loved her. I began to wonder if I’m a schmuck not to marry her, that maybe we could overcome all the obstacles.

But I’m still gay and primarily attracted to men. That’s never going to change.

I thought about it late last night: from what I’ve read in books by gays like David Leavitt and John Fox, they never had the attraction to particular women that I did.

It’s not that I’m running away from my gayness at this point. I just still feel an intense attraction to Ronna’s body. To me, she just gets prettier and sexier.

It is just habit by now? I guess I don’t understand how sexual preference works.

It strikes me as odd that other gay men don’t feel about particular women as I do.

I’ll never look at women on the street the way I look at guys, but I still feel the same intense sexual desire for Ronna I’ve felt all these years – just as in the past I felt that for Shelli, Stacy, Avis, Miriam and other women.

Of course, Ronna and I have a special relationship. She invited me – as I hoped she would – to Thanksgiving in Canarsie.

I’ll be glad to be with Ronna’s family, for I feel comfortable there, just as I felt comfortable in her room last night. I can talk with her as I can with no one else; few people have the verbal wit of Ronna.

After leaving her place at 11:30 PM, I walked home down a chilly West End Avenue and stayed awake for several hours in the living room as I thought about our relationship.

Today was a very rainy and chilly day, and I didn’t feel all that well. I’ve still got a lot of phlegm and mucus, my throat and chest still feel infected. I stayed in bed till 11 AM, as did Teresa, who’s got a slight cold, too.

We spent most of the day potchkeying around the apartment. I worked a little on my Programming project, and Teresa was thrilled – you could see her whole face change – when Michael called to tell her to come over.

I’m just as thrilled since I’ve got privacy and her bed tonight.

Justin came over at 6:30 PM tonight and left four hours later. We talked a lot and went out to Szechuan Broadway for dinner. Later, I gave Justin a $400 check to tide him over till he can get his cash flowing again.

He’s very happy about his relationship with Larry, who’s coming in for the weekend tomorrow. Larry is sweet and romantic, and so at 28, Justin is enjoying his first real intimate relationship.

Being neurotic, he can’t quite believe he deserves this much love and these good feelings, so he’s nervous about things. I know that “kinahora” feeling, but I told him to enjoy himself while he can, that life has a way of making enough problems so that one shouldn’t seek any out.

Justin will be working at Shearson Lehman for another month, though naturally he’s so competent that he’s been offered a permanent job there.

But he prefers to take it month by month, and in the meantime he’ll work on his new play and spend all his weekends with Larry.

Justin said that he’s come a long way in the five years since he began therapy. I think so, too.


Tuesday, November 26, 1985

9 PM. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. Teresa was away at Michael’s, and I had all this energy. After spending half an hour lifting weights while watching Dan Rather, I couldn’t bring myself down.

Talking on the phone with Ronna helped. She told me she learned the Benson “relaxation response” technique and would teach it to me sometime.

I also spoke to Susan, who was too harried to meet me for lunch – which was just as well – and to Justin, who had a good weekend with Larry.

This morning I woke up to a cold, very rainy day. I’m losing patience with some of the students in my Baruch SEEK class, who demand so much and give so little back. Of course, that’s really just a minority of them; most of the students are okay.

Back up here at 11 AM, I called the place where Justin got his head shot and made an appointment for 3 PM. During the time between coming home and leaving, I made myself lunch and graded all the papers for tomorrow and even some for next Tuesday.

Teresa had mucho shpilkes today: she was here before I left this morning and had little to do.

She’s trying to get a reservation for both her and Michael for Christmas to San Francisco. Teresa said, “I’m probably the only person who would still wonder, even after he’s going on this trip, ‘Is he really interested in me?’”

I took a cab to West 31st Street and Sixth Avenue and went up to Box One Photographers, where I was put into a small room as they helped me get ready to photograph myself.

I sat on a chair facing a mirror, behind which was a camera, and I held a little clicker in my hand with which I could auto-focus and then shoot. You’re allowed to take 36 photos.

I posed with three different shirts, the unconstructed black sport jacket I got in Florida, tie and no tie, smiling and looking serious, turning right and left, etc., until I used up my quota of shots.

They told me to come back in 90 minutes to see the contact sheets. It was dark and rainy and cold, so I tried to find a warm, dry place, eventually heading to the top floor of the Herald Center, where I had some deep-dish Chicago pizza and read Newsday.

At 5 PM, I selected one shot from the contact sheet, and they told me to come back in another 90 minutes to pick up my three 8 x 10 glossies of the photo.

With more time to kill, I walked up Fifth Avenue to watch the Christmas shoppers and the holiday window displays. B. Altman’s had cute displays with robot-like figures celebrating the holiday at different times in American history.

On West 41st Street, Xavier Roberts has opened Babyland, a store featuring his Cabbage Patch Kids and other cuddly dolls.

The windows there were very cute, but I was taken aback by the sight of grown men and women dressed as doctors and nurses taking care of the dolls, whom they offered for adoption.

Most poor kids in the city don’t receive that level of attention from real health care practitioners. Oh, well.

I spent 45 minutes in the Mid-Manhattan Library before picking up my photos. They came out well, and I get to keep all the negatives from the contact sheet.

It will be a real boost for me to be in Contemporary Literary Criticism, even if I had to send them all my stuff myself. It will put me in the company of authors who are taken seriously.

I used to use CLC when I taught literature at Broward Community College. Being in it will help me to think of myself as a writer again.

Back here, Teresa and her friend Phyllis thought I looked really good in the photos. My face is very round, but I’m pleasant looking. Although I no longer look like a kid, I think I still look young.

Tomorrow’s Wednesday – a killer – but I don’t have to get up the next day, Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 27, 1985

3:30 PM. I just got in, and Teresa’s not home. Last night’s diary entry was so badly written because I couldn’t concentrate while she kept talking to me, so I’m writing this while Teresa’s away.

It’s a pretty dismal situation when I don’t have the time to be alone with my thoughts, but it’s nearing an end. I just have to get through the next few weeks.

Four weeks from today, I’ll be in Florida for good – almost. Teresa thinks it’s silly for me to have to return to New York just to give my John Jay finals, but I feel an obligation to my students and to the school. They hired me three times, and they’ve been good to me.

Up at 6:30 AM today, I was prepared for another day of downpours, but so far it’s been mostly drizzle.

My Baruch students were okay: this Monday/Wednesday class is far better than the SEEK class. I let them go early, at 9:25 AM, then headed uptown, where I had french toast at a restaurant caddy-corner from Carnegie Hall.

Needing some cash, I got a quick MasterCard advance for $150, which should tide me over for a while.

Because I’d heard Doris was coming back, I picked out a small bouquet of fresh daises for her. She seemed to be well, though she said the illness was very rough.

At first she’d figured she had a cold, but then she went to a doctor, who told her she had pneumonia; antibiotics didn’t help, so she had to go to the hospital.

I spent more time socializing at John Jay today than I ever have before. Ron, the adjunct with whom I’m supposed to be sharing an office, was xeroxing his poetry, and I found out he was an MFA alumnus of Columbia who knows some of the younger writers I’m familiar with through others, like Benjamin Sloan and Susan Minot.

He’s published some in little magazines, “but for the past year all I’ve gotten are rejections.”

I had lunch with Harold Bakst, who seems happy at John Jay. Not only did he pick up an extra course (one first-time adjunct flipped out a few weeks ago, saying she couldn’t take her SEEK classes anymore) but he’s had time to do his writing.

We chatted about the adjunct biz and how exploitative it is. My position is that while it gives the college no obligation to keep you employed, it also frees you from any obligation to the college.

That’s bad for the students, and as the recent report on college education stated, rational economics dictates that part-time positions should be consolidated into full-time ones.

It’s supply and demand, and only when people refuse to be adjuncts – just as they’re now refusing to be public school teachers – will the situation change.

However, it will be more likely that colleges, like school boards, will just scrape the bottom of the barrel when they hire.

My John Jay students were shocked – it was good to get any kind of response – when I read them a Times story by Sara Rimer about a 28-year-old street person, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Law School, who made $42,000 a year working for a prestigious Miami law firm before he became depressed and joined the ranks of New York’s 50,000 homeless people.

Then I had the class write essays. That just gives me more work over the long weekend – but the students need the practice.

I’ve got to go to Columbia later, but several students in our class told me they’ll be absent tonight because of tomorrow’s holiday. It’s chilly and very dark out right now. I plan to relax

– Here’s Teresa coming in.


Friday, November 29, 1985

7 PM. I’m in the DEC-20 computer room of Teachers College, sitting in front of a terminal. I hope nobody bothers me here. I tried to get into the library, but it was closed.

I needed desperately to get away from Teresa. She’s more neurotic than even I realized. Because Michael decided he wanted to be alone tonight, she was going out of her mind all day.

That woman has no inner resources. She was freaking out because none of her friends were home. I offered suggestions, but like a true neurotic, she rejected all of them.

For example, her friend Diane invited her to come up to Westchester, but “it was too far to go.” And she wouldn’t spend $6 for a movie “because I hate crowds.”

I tried to help her by putting on Birdy, one of the two videos she rented in another frenzy of killing time on Wednesday (she never watched either one), but as usual, Teresa was too self-occupied to let herself get interested.

I can’t stand being with her. Too bad Michael got tired of her, but who wouldn’t?

Now I understand why, years ago, Paul – was that his name? – had to send her to Mexico and then move her things out of his apartment while she was gone: there was no other way he could get rid of her.

Teresa has no job nor other positive, constructive activities to keep her mind occupied; because of that, she’s much worse off than she could be.

This whole situation is so neurotic that I’m getting sick from it. Had I known Teresa would be home today, I would have gone to Rockaway to stay with Grandma.

When I think I’m fucked up, I have only to compare myself to Teresa to realize how truly lucky I am.

Yesterday was a pleasant Thanksgiving, despite the rain and the dreary cold that has been a hallmark of this November.

I woke up luxuriously late, and while exercising, I happened to come upon a TV show called The Credit Card Millionaire, one of those pseudo-programs to sell you a get-rich scheme.

Although I’d thought I was the only one who stumbled upon my credit card cash advance method, apparently others have gone much further. This TV tycoon has 200+ credit cards and takes out cash advances to buy houses for cash, for which he receives a substantial price discount.

Then he gets a second mortgage for 90% of the house’s assessed value – more than he paid – and keeps pyramiding the money, as I’ve been doing on a lesser scale with my CDs and savings accounts.

Hmm, what he’s doing is food for thought, but I wasn’t going to spring for his $300 kit of tapes and books.

After taking the IRT to the Junction and the Avenue J bus to Ronna’s corner, I arrived in Canarsie at 2:30 PM, just before everyone started to eat. The same crowd from last year was there, with the addition of Cousin Ruth, a depressive recent widow, and Cousin Steven, his wife and their two young babies.

Ronna wasn’t seated next to me at dinner, and I really didn’t get to spend any time alone with her, but I didn’t mind. I’m really closer to the Ronna’s extended family than I am my own. (What’s new?)

Ronna’s mother is looking forward to moving to Florida; although her mother isn’t that happy about it, she’ll come up to spend summers in New York with her nephew.

Until May, Ronna’s grandmother and Billy will stay in the apartment so Billy can finish out the year at Brooklyn College, where he’s got a 4.0 index as a psychology major.

Betty is temping as a word processor and waiting to hear if she’ll get into CUNY’s Ph.D. program in English. She really wants to be in academia, hoping that by the time she gets her doctorate, the job situation will have opened up.

Ellen is a nurse-supervisor somewhere and started taking courses in Poly Tech’s science journalism master’s program. Ronna’s cousins, like me, believe that education can get you moving toward some goal.

Sue and Robert enjoy living in Fort Lee, but Sue told me that though glad to be promoted to supervisor at work, she doesn’t enjoy bossing people around. The clinic staff are all overworked and stressed due to the AIDS crisis.

Other news: Robert has had a urinary infection for weeks and is about to go into the hospital for tests. Ronna’s uncle seems as peppery as ever, and his wife recently became a citizen.

Dinner was good – I ate a little of everything – and afterwards, we got out an ancient movie projector so Ronna could show films of the family made in the ’50s and ’60s.

Ronna looked the same when she was 2 and 14 as she always has. Although her hair is getting gray and she’s put on a little weight and gotten a few more lines in her face, she still looks remarkably like the 17-year-old girl I met nearly fifteen years ago at Shelli’s sister’s engagement party at the Mayfair Chinese Restaurant.

It was a trip to see her as a little kid with her parents. I also got to see Sue and Ellen and Betty as babies.

When I saw baby Billy with his bottle, I remembered how, when I first used to come over, he was embarrassed to still be drinking juice from one and how he’d hide it from me.

He told me I taught him how to tie his shoes – my “bunny rabbit ears” method – “and now people make fun of the way I do it.”

It’s nice to have seen Billy grow into manhood and to see all the other members of the family change over the years.

I guess I am something of a novelist, because I kept thinking, while watching the home movies, that life is like a novel, only not as good.TC mark

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