A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1986

Thursday, January 2, 1986

4 PM. Last night I was too anxious about getting up early for registration to sleep well. In the middle of the night, Repo Man was on HBO, so I enjoyed that.

Up at 7:30 AM, I went to Florida Atlantic University’s Commercial Boulevard center and registered for two non-education undergrad courses. It’s a far cry from what I had intended, but in the last week I decided I didn’t want to take graduate ed classes for their own sake.

Now, I don’t know that Money and Banking or The Changing Environment of Business, Society and Government will prove interesting, but at least I’m doing something new.

At the Florida International University office at Broward Community College, I had to wait on line for 90 minutes because the computer broke down, and in fact, I haven’t completed registration.

My big problem is that I won’t be here next week, which is the drop/add period at both schools; that means I can’t change classes or get any tuition refunded if I dislike my courses and want to drop them.

I had a long talk with Ray Cafolla, whose FIU course in BASIC I’m taking, and I saw Sue Spahn, Rosemary Lanshe, Tom Greene and other BCC teachers as well as a former student of mine.

Even at the FAU campus, where I don’t know anyone, I got into good conversations with some guys.

Am I doing something stupid by returning to Florida? It’s 82° now, so I doubt I’ll regret my decision this winter. But in April or May, I may get antsy. Well, I can only wait till then and see what develops.

Although I’ve rented a car for the first week I’ll be back here, I may decide to buy a new car. As much as I dread owning anything, I have the money for a down payment, and financing deals are still good these days.

And as Teresa pointed out when we talked, I can take my car anywhere with me. That means if that if I moved back to New York, I could live in cheaper, outer sections of Brooklyn or Queens, or more likely, on Long Island or in New Jersey.

Still, I don’t know if that’s what I want. Buying a car would complicate my life: insurance, repairs, maintenance. I’m not really a car person. Well, I have time to think about it, I suppose.

I’ve got to start packing my things and get ready for tomorrow’s flight to New York.

*

9 PM. I just finished packing; my suitcase is only half-full, but I’ll need the extra room to bring back the clothes I left in New York.

My registration at FIU is complete, with the graduate course in The Community College on Mondays and Ray’s BASIC class on Wednesdays. My full class schedule is every evening from Monday to Thursday, so I can work full-time if I need to.

Look, I may not know what I’m doing, but I have lots of options. As I told my parents over dinner at Wendy’s, nobody on his deathbed ever said, “I should have worked harder and made more money.” At least I’ll have enjoyed my life.

Last night I remembered Grandpa Herb and Uncle Morris telling me, “We’re only boarders here.” I have that sense of life as temporary. My agoraphobia, my adjunct jobs, AIDS, the threat of nuclear war: all those personal and societal factors and others have given me that viewpoint.

Once I wrote in a story, “Anybody can die at any time.” I still feel that way.

The South Florida sunset is still as spectacular as ever; I love it here at dusk. It hurts a little to leave, but I’ll also be glad for one last week in New York.

I do feel strange without all the responsibilities I had last fall. Partly I feel guilty: that I should be enjoying myself feels wrong. Of course, that’s a very neurotic attitude.


Friday, January 3, 1986

6:30 PM. I’m in Rockaway now. Grandma just left the apartment to play cards after serving me a dinner of grapefruit, vegetable soup and salmon croquettes. It’s rainy in New York, but it’s mild, about 47°.

My flight back North was fine despite the storms along the coast. This was my fortieth flight in the past six years, I figured out. As much as I prepare myself for anxiety, flying has become fairly routine — as has moving back and forth between New York and Florida.

On the bus to the JFK Express stop at Howard Beach, I explained to a Jamaican woman how she could get to Church Avenue in Brooklyn. I like knowing my way around New York. (I like knowing my way around South Florida, too: yesterday I gave some driver directions in Hollywood.)

My parents’ house is comfortable, and I guess I could get used to it there. Last evening Marc and I watched The Cotton Club in his room while the others watched it downstairs.

Mom keeps a well-stocked refrigerator, which is great for late-night raids. (Last night I found some flan that hit the spot.) As crazy as they may be, I do love my parents and my brothers.

And I did my best fiction writing while living in my parents’ house in Brooklyn, so I can’t resent them or regret the past.

Flying always makes me reflect on my life because even though the chances of getting killed in an air crash are minuscule, it seems unnatural for me to be up in the air. In a way, I feel the hours I spend on a plane are not really part of my life.

Anyway, if I don’t realize that I’ve had a wonderful life, then I’m too stupid to be helped.

It was sad to leave Florida, yet I like being back in New York and seeing Rockaway and Grandma again. I feel comfortable here, too.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve opted too much for comfort. But that’s not quite true, because going back and forth is harder than settling down in one place and one job.

Why have I been going to artists’ colonies the past six years? One reason is I like being in new places. My old fears are gone.

I know that I’ve missed out on things because I haven’t been settled and that maybe my career — whatever it is — would have gone better if I’d stuck it out in one place. But I would have been bored and somewhat insulated, sort of the way Patrick is when he can talk only about BCC.

In any case, I don’t know what to do except follow my instincts.

Last night I dreamed I was on a bus in Canarsie and next to me was Ronna, looking the way she did at 17, soft and vulnerable and pretty. I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. The moment was so beautiful that I tried to get back into the dream after I woke up.

Well, one week from now I’ll be heading back to Florida. I don’t know what will happen this week, and the neurotic side of me fears the worst (illness, accident, etc.). But I should try to make every day count.

I wonder: Can one spend too much time living life as if it might end the next day? But as I wrote yesterday, I really have to give myself permission to be happy.

That sounds like ’70s psychobabble, but at times I do feel that I haven’t been comfortable with happiness, that feeling too happy was “thwarting fate” or something.

I want to be a good person. (Of course everyone wants to be good; probably even Khadafy and Khomeini think they’re doing good.) I need to get involved, and not in a selfish way.

Most of all, I can’t let myself feel sorry for myself when I’m luckier than the vast majority of people alive today.


Monday, January 6, 1986

4:30 PM. It’s very cold today. I just put Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion all over my body because my skin is drying up fast.

Last night I slept well, and I was out of the house by 9 AM. Rush hour was still going on, however, and the ride to Baruch made me happy that in Florida I won’t have to deal with the subway.

At Baruch, I collected my mail (my name was already taken off the box), got my paycheck and arranged to have the next check mailed to me in Florida.

Then I went up to John Jay, where I had lunch, collected my paycheck, picked up the finals and sat around shooting the breeze with Harold Bakst. We both have an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing, both have grad credits in education and made abortive efforts, lasting less than a term, to get a Ph.D. in English.

Both of us have published stories and books of fiction, and both of us are currently adjuncts. But for me, it can’t go on any longer.

Some of the students in my classes are so dumb that they expressed surprise when they learned that today was the grammar final. I’d only told them about it every class for the past half-dozen classes.

When I looked at their papers, I saw how stupidly they misread directions or miscopied correctly spelled words. Instead of correcting errors, some took non-errors (in syntax, tense and agreement) and made them into errors.

Two students left without doing the last section although there was plenty of time left because they said they had to get to work.

I can’t deal with this kind of teaching anymore. It’s too hopelessly late for many of these people: college is not the place that can help them when grades kindergarten through 12 have failed. The solutions have to come early on in their education.

On Wednesday, I’ll give my classes their essay finals. Even though one topic on the final is one I already gave them in class (my favorite TV show), I’m sure most will fail.

It’s not my fault. I may not have been the best teacher, but I had plenty of so-so teachers, too: that’s part of the system.

Oh well. I have a splitting headache and there’s no Tylenol. It’s already nighttime here. Ronna is coming over after work at 7 PM or so.


Tuesday, January 7, 1986

2 PM. Ronna came over at about 6:30 PM. She looked incredibly pretty in her outfit of a red and white checkered shirt, black tie, blue sweater and blue skirt.

Though she has a few grey hairs, Ronna still looks very young for her age; she could easily pass for 24 or 25.

Deciding it was too cold to go out, we ordered in Sichuan food for dinner. It was great fun to spend an evening with Ronna, and a night, too.

We had dinner in the kitchen, and then we went into the bedroom, where we watched TV for a couple of hours, mostly switching channels like many people do nowadays. (What that does with someone’s ability to stick with a coherent narrative, I have no idea.)

I didn’t touch her nor she me for most of the evening, but at about 10 PM, we both became frisky. One thing led to another and we ended up making love; it was great. It’s weird how we always seem to fit together. Probably after all these years, our bodies know each other very well.

Afterwards, like a typical male, I just wanted to fall asleep holding her, so I asked her to spend the night.

She pondered the question for a while, but as I figured, in the end comfort and pleasure won out and she called Lori to tell her she’d be home at 8 AM today to get ready for work.

I always seem to sleep soundly when Ronna is in bed with me.

She was hard to wake up, but at 7:15 AM, I started touching her feet with mine, and gradually, body part by body part, I got her up so she could walk back to her apartment.

It bothered me to send her out for a 10-block walk with a temperature of 20° outside (and a wind-chill factor below zero), but not enough so that I wanted to leave the apartment with her.

We didn’t make it a goodbye, because it’s not. Very likely Ronna will be in Florida in February or March, and I’ll make every effort to see her. She’s a great person.

Ronna turned down jobs she was offered at the New-York Historical Society and the Guggenheim because she didn’t think they were a good fit for her; I told her she was right to follow her instincts.

A coming interview at WNET/Channel 13 has got her excited. Whatever happens, I’m sure Ronna’s abilities will get her some decent job. Like me, she tends to undervalue herself.

Both of us wore my blue t-shirts to bed last night, and when Ronna joked that we were “twins,” I thought that she wasn’t far off the mark. In many ways we mirror each other. I just hope I don’t give her more tsuris than I’m worth.

If I were a better friend, I’d look out for her and not see her so she could forget about me. But I am selfish and want to see her.

I went back to bed and stayed there until 11 AM: bliss again.

Around noon, I went out to meet Justin for lunch. Since he’s working at Shearson Lehman/American Express, he suggested the World Trade Center concourse, which was fine with me because I didn’t have to go outside except to get to and come from the 86th Street subway stop.

Justin looked good, and we had a pleasant lunch at some sit-down restaurant among the shops and fast-food concessions. He had a fun New Year’s Eve and loved having Larry with him.

Now busy with the readings he’s got this month, Justin plans to stay at Shearson till he gets directing work. He said he’d let me know if he goes to Reading next summer, but of course I’m not sure whether I’ll be available to take over his room again.

His parents haven’t contacted him since before Christmas, and he hasn’t called them. Justin’s bothered by their rejection, but he says it’s a metaphor for the way their relationship has always been.

I suppose his worst fears have been realized: he did something so bad that Mommy and Daddy don’t want him anymore. It must be tough to deal with.

Although I don’t know how my parents would react if I told them I had a boyfriend, I suspect our family dynamics are a lot different.

*

8 PM. I took care of some loose ends this afternoon. At the post office, I handed in a change-of-address card so that my mail would be forwarded; I made it “temporary,” till May 1, so I can come back here and get mail if I need to.

Also, I called up Budget Rent-A-Car and took an $89-a-week car for four weeks; they let me use my Sears card, on which I have a lot of unused credit. Hopefully that will help me get a Discover card when Sears introduces it nationwide this spring.

It also allows me to spread out the payments and it delays the issue of buying a car for a month.

The way I figure it, I’ll need somewhere between $4500 and $6000 to live between now and May. If I could get that much extra in credit lines, that would be great and solve the problem, but even with what I already have, I can easily manage.

Considering all my bank accounts, my remaining paychecks (and the retroactive CUNY raises that will come on January 30), and access to credit lines, I have nearly $25,000. Barring any disasters, that’s a decent financial cushion.

As I told Josh, if I die young, my planning will pay off handsomely: I’ll croak owing a fortune, having gotten the use of the banks’ money to enjoy myself immensely with tons of leisure time.

So I guess the National Endowment for the Arts fellowships are more needed by people less resourceful than I. Of course, I have to strictly budget myself, pay my bills religiously, and make sure I don’t overspend money I don’t really have.


Friday, January 10, 1986

8 PM. I decided to stay in New York until Sunday, when I’ve got a flight out of Kennedy on Delta at 5 PM. I also made new car rental reservations. As things turned out, I’m glad.

I have a splitting headache after the worst holistic grading session at John Jay I can remember. It seemed to take forever, and the English 099 finals (including my classes’ tests), supposedly graded by a committee while most of us were grading the English 100 essays, never got finished.

Doris was a lifesaver and said she’d record my classes’ grades for me if I signed the rosters and grade cards.

The whole thing made for a tense and nerve-wracking day. I must have read and graded 300 essays in five or six hours; after a while, my head began to swim and I couldn’t focus on the writing.

Do you know how boring it is to read that many remedial-caliber essays on the same stupid topic? I’m sure most of the other teachers were as punchy I became, and it’s a wonder the system worked at all.

I did enjoy schmoozing with Harold, P.J. and Ron about our adventures as CUNY adjuncts, but as I said the other day, enough’s enough.

Well, the fall term of 1985 is finally and completely over for me. What a drag it was, but I’m glad I’ve got the $8000 I earned, the $2000 I netted on the student loan, and the six graduate credits from Teachers College.

Now I move on to my “other life” in Florida: it will seem very strange at first, I’m sure.

Alice phoned and said that in a couple of weeks, she’ll be in Fort Lauderdale for the weekend, so it will be good to see her again.

Teresa also called, and she sounded good. The trip has been going well. She enjoyed seeing Deirdre and her baby, who’s very cute, and even the snow in Squaw Valley hasn’t been bad since they’ve been skiing in 65° and 70° weather.

Teresa said Michael’s been fine (“We’ll see how he acts when we get home,” she said — always the optimist) and they took a side trip one day to gamble in Reno.

They have to return on Sunday because Teresa has a job interview at the state comptroller’s office on Monday morning.

I phoned Grandma, who said that her cold was better and that she was going out to play cards tonight.

And of course I let my parents know I won’t be in Florida till Sunday night.


Saturday, January 11, 1986

9 PM. Tomorrow night at this time I should be in Florida for the rest of the winter. Unlike five years ago, I can’t feel I’m moving on to a new life, as I have too much of a continuous relationship with New York and the people I love here.

Last night I went to bed at 11 PM, and finally my headache went away. I had dreams about my new apartment in Florida: semi-anxiety dreams, I suppose.

It will be a big pain in the ass to move again, but I’ll do it gradually. Once I’m in the Lauderhill apartment, I’m sure I’ll like it because it will be mine.

This morning I lifted weights while listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio. Ronna and I tried to figure out the best time to see one another, and although she had writing she wanted to get done, she agreed to have brunch with me.

I got to her place at 12:30 PM. On the walk up West End Avenue, I thought about Ronna and how I know her since January 1971; we may have met exactly 15 years ago, on a Saturday night at the Mayfair Chinese Restaurant on Ralph Avenue at Sindy and Kieran’s engagement party.

Who could have guessed that we would have stayed friends and more all these years? We were so young then: babies, really, although of course we felt pretty grown up at the time.

I remember that night so well, and I could write details of conversations I had at that party. I was so shy then; Ronna was shy, too. I envied Ivan’s easy charm and Greg’s stoned nonchalance.

I wasn’t Shelli’s boyfriend then, but it was really the first time I’d been going out with a girl I liked. It was the first time I’d really been attracted to a girl.

Shelli and I had kissed at the New Year’s Eve party at Mark Savage’s parents’ apartment in Trump Village in Coney Island. Alone in Mark’s brother’s bedroom, we made out as we watched the snow fall over the el.

In retrospect, that night seems magical to me; in fact, that whole time of my life now appears to be special, that I was really alive for the first time. Everything seemed new and exciting. Possibilities seemed limitless.

Fifteen years. . .

Well, enough of that melodramatic stuff. Ronna was wearing a colorful sweater today, and she looked good. We walked up Broadway, running into her friend Ellen on 86th Street. (“The famous writer,” she said when she saw me.)

Then Ronna and I went to brunch at Café Macondo, where she had an omelet and I had french toast and we both had virgin marys and camomile tea.

We talked about her coming to Florida, and about her job, and about her decision, made last night with her therapist, to attend therapy every other week — something she seems happy about.

To myself I kept my worries about whether seeing me is bad for Ronna. I wonder what she and her therapist say about me. (How narcissistic I am!)

We came back here and sat on the couch talking and holding each other until Josh and Chloe came over at 3:15 PM or so. It was nice, the four of us here: it’s been a long time since I’d felt like part of a couple with another couple.

Chloe had to meet an ex-roommate for a movie at the 84th Street sixplex, so we dropped her off there, and Josh and I walked Ronna up to 93rd Street, where she went to Han’s to buy vegetables for tonight’s dinner at Gail’s house.

It was a short farewell, but I know I’ll see Ronna again, hopefully in Florida.

Josh and I came back here and spent a couple of hours twisting the dial, watching the 26 cable stations Teresa’s TV receives. Then we met Chloe at the theater, walked her friend to the subway and had dinner at the Greek diner on the corner.

(It turned out that Chloe and her friend couldn’t even get into the 4:45 PM show and had already eaten, but as we did a week ago, the three of us had a pleasant time together.)

I just said goodbye to Josh and Chloe and came up here with tomorrow’s Times.

If I do get AIDS, I’ll be glad I lived the last year the way I did. Dying would be painful, but I’d do it with few regrets. And boy, would I be getting away with a lot of MasterCard and Visa debt!

When I get settled in Florida, I want to go over my diaries.

Sometimes I feel the last 17 or so years has all been borrowed time, because once I thought I’d never get over my agoraphobia. When I was 17, I was unsure I’d ever leave my room again.

Hey, I may not have accomplished much, but I’ve got little to be ashamed of.

Of course, when I’m not here anymore, life on earth will go on very well without me.TC mark

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