A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1986

Thursday, May 1, 1986

10 PM. Back in the Big Apple.

Marc came over at 9 PM last night, bringing a wall unit it took both of us to lug in.

We talked for an hour, and I showed him around the apartment where I was so happy. But I felt I couldn’t give up this chance to stay at Teresa’s again this summer.

Over at my parents’, I did a wash and worked out with Jonathan’s weights. When I realized that I’d left my box of diaries in the apartment, I felt nervous about it and went back to bring them to Davie.

The diaries probably would have been safe in Lauderhill, but I feel better about them being in Davie with my parents.

Time seemed to be going so fast, and I had a million things to do. It felt all day as if everything was conspiring to make me late for the plane. I almost missed my flight because Dad and I kept getting into horrendous traffic jams.

I was the last passenger to board the flight, and of course this was the first time my carry-on luggage had to be inspected because it failed the x-ray test.

Once in my seat, I was out of breath and sweaty. The takeoff was almost a relief, and the flight was extraordinarily smooth.

I pretty much relaxed, enjoyed the meal and watched Rocky IV. One advantage of my being the last one to board is that my luggage came out first. I really took too much with me: two heavy suitcases and a big carry-on bag.

Luckily, I caught a cab driver who was polite, intelligent and a good driver. We had a great conversation, and he helped me get my bags to the elevator.

It didn’t feel all that odd to be in Manhattan, and the apartment feels familiar. I put all my stuff in the closet; it will take time till I’ve got things where I want them.

I called Teresa at work and she told me to meet her and Michael for dinner at his apartment on Second Avenue and 71st. Josh phoned to say hi, and Justin left a message wondering if I’d arrived yet.

After calling Dad to let him know I’d gotten in safely, I took the crosstown bus at 86th Street and Broadway, where across the street the whole block is almost entirely down.

All over, new high-rise condos are going up; both Manhattan and South Florida can change drastically in only a few months.

Teresa and Michael seem pretty comfortable in their relationship. At times, he can be nasty to her, but he does it in a playful way. “Isn’t he mean?” she asked me.

“No, I’m cute,” said Michael.

“He’s cute,” I said.

And Michael said, “Sure, he’s not going to say I’m mean because he doesn’t want to spend the whole summer with you.”

The man is correct. I liked Michael and enjoyed our dinner. Teresa’s job has made her more confident and interesting.

They had an appointment, so when we left the apartment, I walked them to 72nd, where I bought a few groceries and grabbed a crosstown bus back to the West Side.

I’d forgotten how expensive everything is in Manhattan, but I’m glad to be here.


Saturday, May 3, 1986

4 PM. I’ve just walked up West End Avenue from 72nd Street. It’s very cold and windy, and I miss the warmth of Florida. This weather is weird: it got down into the 30°s last night, and we’ve had heat all day.

But I guess it does remind me that I don’t enjoy New York in cold weather and that I was very unhappy here last November and December.

Last evening Josh came over and we futzed around a while; he had taken the day off and had been with his parents in Brooklyn.

We went out to dinner at Marvin Gardens and came back here to watch TV. Josh seems about the same as when I last saw him four months ago.

I’m not sure why he stays at Blue Cross, except that Josh likes security; after all, his father worked at the post office for about 45 years.

Probably Josh could do better financially. He makes in the $30’s, and that’s not much considering how experienced he is by now. He’s still seeing Chloe after ten months, a fact that amazes him.

While Josh was here, Teresa phoned, sounding as if she’d been crying. Her plans were changed, and they couldn’t go to the Berkshires last night.

She complained about her job, about Michael, and about how she had to get to her nephew’s first birthday party tomorrow and then to a flight to Utica in the evening.

“This isn’t the life I wanted,” she said.

After Josh left at 10 PM, I read until midnight and then fell into a heavy sleep (the steam heat put me under like an anesthetic).

I didn’t get out of the apartment until noon today. I’ve seen Judy and Brian, and the gay women in apartment 47, and they all greeted me with such affection, it made me feel good.

With no one to make any plans with today – and I just didn’t feel up to telephoning people – I struck out on my own, walking down Broadway.

It’s always interesting to see street life in New York. Last night Josh and I saw a guy lying on a mattress in the street, with the covers over him as he smoked a cigarette, looking for all the world like he was living the life of Reilly.

I stopped for an hour to browse at Shakespeare and Company. It hurts me that I’ve strayed so far from my literary ambitions while writers younger than I are now coming out with successful novels and story collections.

The names in the little magazines are mostly unfamiliar to me. I haven’t read much fiction lately, and I feel like a stranger in the literary world.

Teresa got Zephyr Press’s catalog, which has a nice display of my work and quotes about it, but to me, it feels as though it’s about someone else.

Josh said he found Tom’s Eustachia book unreadable after only a few pages, and I was forced to confess that I didn’t really “enjoy” the book – “not in the way I enjoy an ice-cream cone,” I said.

For all that Tom lives in a world of literary reference, I wonder if it’s made his own work less accessible than it could be.

Perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad that I haven’t read one-tenth of the books that Tom has.

I saw Harvey Pekar’s new Doubleday book in the store. Josh says he’s still quite friendly with Harvey and hears from him a lot. I hope Harvey’s book does well, but he’ll never get the mainstream audience he dreams about.

Like Jack Saunders, who’s a lot less talented (and “a complainer,” as Josh said), Harvey Pekar dreams about living off his writing. Yet that’s unrealistic in a time when no literary writer can do that.

At 72nd Street, I went into the Embassy and saw My Beautiful Laundrette, a neat little film about a young Pakistani in London; it had nice scenes of the Pakistani bourgeoisie and an almost incidental gay love interest.

While I’m in New York, I should take advantage of the culture as much as I can afford to. But I’m not used to paying $6 for a matinee.

Teresa’s been getting calls from prospective renters for both the Berkshire and Fire Island houses. Real estate may be profitable, but I think it can be more trouble than it’s worth.


Sunday, May 4, 1986

11 PM. I’m in Rockaway, in Grandma’s living room. Last night I spent by myself, reading the Sunday Times. Because of the steam heat, I slept heavily again.

This morning I sent out some résumés for the few jobs I saw advertised in the paper, and I spent an hour working out with my trusty barbells, which were under Teresa’s dresser, where I’d left them in January.

Yesterday Teresa called in sick, and instead of going to Albany, she spent the night with friends on Fire Island. Since it didn’t look as though anyone was going to be around today, I figured I’d head out to Rockaway after lunch.

As usual, the trip took nearly two hours. By now I’ve been in New York so much over the past few years, it felt unremarkable to see Queens again; it feels as though I’d been here recently.

When I got to the apartment, Grandma wasn’t home, and then I remembered that Aunt Tillie was having the family for dinner. All the surviving members of that generation of Sarretts were there: Tillie and Morris, Minnie and Irv, and Betty and Grandma. I guess I hadn’t seen Betty or the Panzers in five or six years, probably not since I lived in Rockaway.

Tillie has been feeling ill but she was okay today. And Grandma was in bad pain from her knee. I love her, and I’m obviously the closest one to her, but she can be so annoying with her sighing and kvetching.

Seeing her among her peers, I also realized that she’s nowhere near as intelligent or modern as her sisters-in-law.

Grandma tends to repeat herself and confine her conversation to the same old topics, which usually revolve around two topics: people’s health and the family.

Aunt Min is quite a talker, and she and Uncle Irv are more with-it than the others, because they’ve traveled and have kids around my age. Minnie still works in the Great Neck Library.

I found it interesting when she told a story I had heard Grandpa Herb tell many times: how he was on a sailboat that capsized and how he saved Mom from drowning.

What actually happened, according to Minnie and Irv, was that Irv was making a circle with the sailboat, which as sailboats do, was leaning sharply to one side.

Grandpa panicked at this, thought the boat was going under, jumped in the water and grabbed the mainsail, actually causing the boat to capsize.

Grandma and Betty obviously haven’t been able to stand each other for the last sixty years; when we left, Grandma whispered to me, “I hate her like poison.”

Betty still uses a walker, of course. She complained because her step-grandson Craig is living with her in her living room, and since he drives a cab by night and sleeps in the daytime, she can’t entertain visitors.

Apparently, her step-grandson’s wife is suing him for custody of their son, and a judge ruled that he can’t see the boy more than twice a week. But the little boy isn’t living with Craig’s wife; instead, he’s staying with Craig’s mother and Chuck. Very odd.

Uncle Morris had been silent during most of the meal, but he was talkative with me after dinner. It’s surprising how affectionate I’ve grown towards him as he’s gotten older and more frail.

Now I sort of feel bad about that story I once wrote about him. As with the capsized sailboat, there’s more than one version of the truth.

It feels odd being here in Rockaway. Minnie said that it’s good I put money in an IRA “because I feel like it was yesterday that I was your age.”

She also said that after you turn 50, life goes so fast you feel like you’re having breakfast every fifteen minutes.

I keep wondering if Sean is dead of AIDS. Over the last few months Sean has been on my mind an awful lot. I wish there were some way I could find out he was okay.

I’m not worried about my own health, but it drives me crazy not knowing about Sean.

No, I don’t still love him. I don’t even know him anymore. But the part of me that loved him four years ago still loves the guy I knew in 1982.

Should I put a personals ad in the Voice and try to meet a guy? But if I can’t make a commitment to a job or a place, how can I make a commitment to a person?

Lots of questions tonight. The ocean waves are rolling in. I’d better try to sleep.


Monday, May 5, 1986

4 PM. The weather turned mild again. Grandma wasn’t feeling well again today and still hasn’t come back from the medical center. I offered to go with her at noon, but an ambulette was coming to pick up her and another woman.

I wish I felt more sympathy for her, but it’s hard when she’s complained incessantly for years. Grandma Ethel has become just the way Grandma Sylvia was.

I imagine an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not: “Richard Grayson of Davie, Fla., had two grandmothers – neither of whom ever had a good day in her life!”

Now I realize that I myself have been a terrible complainer. My early, whiny, self-pitying fiction surely must’ve turned people off.

Like me with Jack Saunders’ writing, readers do not want to hear an author crying about how unfair life has been to him. Nor are most people interested in a writer’s struggles, tricks or games.

Yesterday Minnie at first couldn’t stop staring at me because she said I resembled her brother Abe so much. I don’t see the close resemblance, though I have the facial features of the Sarrett family.

Last night on the sofa bed, I slept well; hearing the waves helps a lot. I dreamed I was judging a first novel contest for Zephyr Press, and at the end of the dream, I told Ed and Miriam that if they don’t publish my next book, I’ll do it myself in 1988.

Taking the Rockaway bus to Kings Plaza, I passed my old block as I walked to Deutsch Pharmacy, where I got my Triavil prescription and paid for it and Mom’s drugs.

Then I took the Flatbush Avenue bus to the Junction. At Brooklyn College, I walked through LaGuardia lobby.

Sixteen years ago today, the day after the Kent State shootings, was the day of the biggest rally and the takeover of the President’s office and then the whole school.

It was our part of the start of 1970’s big nationwide student strike. What a contrast with today.

But, as much as I disdain today’s young people, I can understand their admiration of Reagan.

(Interruption of an hour: Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris were here, but Grandma still hasn’t come home yet.)

Anyway, I was saying that I can understand today’s college students in their need for stability because they were children in a traumatic time.

Someone born in 1966 or 1967 grew up in the turmoil of the 1970s, with the end of the Vietnam War and the OPEC oil shocks and soaring inflation, the bad 1974-75 and 1980-81 recessions, etc.

In contrast, we Baby Boomers were kids in the dull but very prosperous 1950s. The little kids of today will probably be radicals in the year 2000 or so. I can’t wait.

In Boylan Hall, I ran into Jon Baumbach twice, coming and going, but either he didn’t recognize me or he pretended not to.

It’s funny, but I thought my heart would beat fast and I’d feel scared seeing him, yet I felt very calm and confident. He’s looking old; probably he’ll retire in a few years.

I wanted to walk past Midwood High School, and as I passed by, I saw the pint-sized child TV star Emmanuel Lewis getting into a stretch limo parked in front of the school. Probably he’d given a speech there, the way Lassie’s Jon Provost talked at Meyer Levin when I was in junior high.

Back in Rockaway, I spoke to Marc, who was in a bad car accident Saturday morning. A reckless driver cut him off and smashed into the van. Marc said he aches all over, and the van is drivable but a mess.

Police officers saw the accident and gave the other driver two summonses, so Marc has a good case. He was on his way to a lawyer’s when I called.

Grandma will be out of her mind when she comes home; it’s already an hour past her dinner time. She should have gone with me in a taxi, but she wanted to save money rather than time.

They’re all so inflexible, these old people today.

If I live another forty years, will I be as out of it as they are? Or is it just that they’re uneducated?

I hope the latter is true and that an educated, aware person stays with it even into old age.


Thursday, May 8, 1986

4 PM. I’m enjoying life in Manhattan, though it is expensive. Last evening I started contacting some friends.

I called Ronna, but Lori said Ronna and Ellen had gone to a short story reading at Symphony Space. Lori told me she felt much better and is fully recovered from her surgery; she’s back to work and planning a couple of weekends on Fire Island this summer.

Amy and Mikey also sounded pretty good. Their main goal for the next year is to buy a house in Westchester. Since Amy’s sister had a baby, Amy has been anxious to start a family, and they don’t want to do that in Manhattan.

They’ve started scouting out towns and neighborhoods in Westchester, their preferred location. (Having grown up on Long Island, Amy wants no part of living there again.)

Mikey said he’d need his pension money for the down payment, which means he needs to leave Legal Aid; the hitch is that he’s up for supervisor there, and they’d want a commitment of a couple of years.

By now Mikey hates his job and is dying to get a new one, but he’s been looking for over a year without success.

And Amy is fed up with City Opera and has begun job-hunting. They’ve got the usual Baby-Boom Manhattan Blues, I guess.

Mikey was interested when I mentioned how Teresa’s sister and Susan Mernit are handling their job/kid dilemma; as he noted, it’s a problem no generation really faced before.

Mikey told me he ran into Leon in a restaurant and reported that Leon looks the same as ever and is proofreading in some law firm: a typical counterculture gig in the ’80s.

I’d love to hear what Leon’s been up to all these years, but there’s no way I’ll ever run into him. I’ve been in New York City for years and have never seen Elihu, Elspeth or dozens of other people from college who live here.

Pete Cherches is, as I expected, up to many things. In lieu of spending money on an IRA, he’s self-publishing a hefty (120-page) book of his collected minimalist pieces, Condensed Book.

Benzene will formally publish it, and Alan Bealy will design it; the book is already typeset. He also is cutting a record that will be a flexi-disc in the next issue of Between C and D.

At the end of the month, Pete leaves for San Francisco, where he’ll do a performance at Intermedia; he’s cut down performing so he can concentrate on fewer but bigger pieces like the videotape he showed me in Florida.

Working downtown, Pete said he’d call me next week and we’d do lunch. (No, of course he didn’t actually say “do lunch.”)

I spoke to Ronna after St. Elsewhere ended. This weekend she’s got her first second date with one of the respondents to her Voice ad: a classical pianist who’s 34 and teaches at Brooklyn College Prep.

That means I definitely plan to leave her alone (yesterday on the subway I got an erection thinking about her) and let her pursue this relationship. It’s more important that Ronna see a nice guy than for me to hang around her.

So we’ll see each other for lunches, ruling out any illegal body contact, and I’ll answer ads in the Voice, too.

Ronna plans to stay on at the Hebrew Arts School at least until she takes her three-week vacation.

She said Sid called her to say that Cara had gone into labor – but as of last night, Cara was sent home from the hospital for the second day in a row.

Funny, I just now remember Ronna, upset and crying around the time when she graduated college, bemoaning the loss of her friends. At the time she said, “What do you think, that one day my husband and I will be friendly with Sid and his wife?”

She meant that she’d probably never see her old Kingsman  friends again, but clearly, at least in this case, she was wrong.

I slept well, and this morning I went out traipsing around Manhattan. At John Jay, I stopped in to say hello to Doris, who was as friendly as ever. When I told her never to let me apply for a job there again, she laughed and said she was glad I was doing okay.

Then I used my bus transfer to go to the 42nd Street library, where I used their new computer-based catalog and did some reading.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, I found ads for creative writing jobs I’m pretty sure I could get, but they’re all in rural areas of the Midwest, South or Mountain states, and there’s no sense applying for a job in a place where I wouldn’t want to live.

Whenever I’m about to complain about not being an assistant professor, remind me that it’s by choice that I’m not. No, I need to live in a place where I’m comfortable, like New York or Florida.

After disgustedly watching a mime make fun of passersby (since my experience in Jackson Square in New Orleans in 1981, I haven’t been fond of mimes who ridicule people minding their own business), I walked up Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center, where I had lunch and browsed at the Gotham Book Mart.

Back home, I got my first batch of mail from Mom. Southeast and First Interstate MasterCards won’t raise my credit lines, but I got the first statement from Dollar Dry Dock, and I do have a $2000 line (at 15.9% APR) with them, with $1000 advanced for IRAs.

My Citibank Financial Account took me a while to straighten out, but I always have fun when I have all my checkbooks out and am playing with money.

Teresa dropped by because she had to sign a new lease; her rent goes up to $482 in June for the next year.

I haven’t heard from Manny Hanny about my student loan, and without it, I won’t spend the money on Teachers College courses.


Friday, May 9, 1986

7 PM. I’ve had a bad sinus headache all day and figure on getting to sleep early.

Last night it turned cool again as I went out to a reading at Three Lives & Company in the Village. Remembering how crowded it was at a Grace Paley reading there last year (when I didn’t get in), I arrived early, stopping off at The New School to get a summer bulletin.

My God, there are so many books I’d like to read, I thought as I looked at the store’s stock – but I seem to waste so much time that I never get around to reading a fraction of the books I should.

The reading was indeed crowded, but I enjoyed it despite the discomfort of sitting on the floor.

Meg Wolitzer read from her latest novel, which sounded witty and insightful, and David Leavitt claimed he was so sick of his novel (to be published in September) that he read from a work-in-progress; he’s a keen observer and a good stylist.

Both writers are in their mid-twenties, obviously friends, and their young literary friends were with them. Leavitt, wearing a candy-striped sports jacket and dandyish shoes, looks old for his age; he’ll be bald early.

Meg Wolitzer reminded me a little of her mother, Hilma, but she seems more intense and in a hurry and perhaps a little less pleasant.

I tried to resist wondering like an idiot where I had gone wrong and why the talent and tactics of literary success are beyond me. It was clear that these writers feel a sense of confidence, of legitimacy, that doesn’t appear to be part of my makeup.

Anyway, it was a pleasant and free night out.

Today I met Ronna at The Saloon at 1 PM. She looked as pretty as ever, but I felt funny about getting physical with her although Ronna did touch me several times.

But at lunch, she told me about Donald, the pianist, with whom she had her second date last night.

Probably she wouldn’t have volunteered the information, but I asked about him, and Donald sounds like a good guy.

I have no business telling Ronna how much I care about her when it might interfere with a relationship that could prove productive.

Cara had a girl this morning.

“I hear babies are the hot fashion accessory this season,” I said, knowing how much Ronna would like a husband and kids.

As always, I had a great time with her; whether we talk about literature or furniture, Ronna and I always have interested one another.

Maybe a little of the sadness I’m feeling now is because I wish I could have grabbed her and hugged and kissed her.

She may even have thought I was being offhand when I parted with, “Well, call me if you want to get together” – but then again, Ronna probably knows me well enough to know I was just giving her room.TC mark

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