A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1986

Tuesday, July 1, 1986

8 PM. I’m in Rockaway. Grandma is still out playing cards; we walked down together a couple of hours ago.

I’ve just come from the Surfside Twin across the street, where I saw the movie Back to School.

I liked the movie and was cheered by Rodney Dangerfield’s bull-in-a-china-shop fuck-you attitude, which made me feel better after being so dispirited earlier.

I’d been brooding a lot over yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of sodomy laws. In a 5-4 decision, the majority held that gay people do not have the same privacy rights under the Constitution that straight people do.

It made me feel that all my optimism during and after Sunday’s gay pride parade was just stupid wishful thinking.

The minority’s dissent, written by Justice Blackmun, was eloquent and angry in its denunciation of the Court’s obsession with homosexuality and its failure to see that the most fundamental right is the right to be left alone.

The majority opinion, and another one written by Burger, went back into old English law in its scary homophobia.

Probably in the future – but a long time in the future, since Reagan’s judiciary will be around till the next century – people will see this as akin to the Dred Scott case, where the Court ruled that blacks did not have the same rights as whites.

Maybe I shouldn’t take this to heart the way I do. After all, I haven’t practiced sodomy for a long time (and I’m not sure I ever practiced enough to get good at it) – but this, combined with the coming report of the Meese Commission urging censorship and criminalization of pornography, makes me feel very sad.

With the religious right exercising so much influence, maybe abortion will be outlawed next. And every day, Pat Robertson is looking more like a viable Republican presidential candidate in 1988.

Meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty hoopla and hype gets louder. Isn’t liberty the freedom to do what you want, so long as you don’t hurt others? Didn’t immigrants come here to escape being told how to live their lives?

Do I sound like a college sophomore?

I’m 35, for Christ’s sake, so why am I getting so upset? Why does it bother me so much that New York is becoming a city of the very rich and the very poor?

And what do I do that’s constructive – besides complain?

I’d like to go back and see Rodney Dangerfield again.

Teresa didn’t come home last night; at 5 PM, she called to say that Michael had gotten tickets to something. That killed my plans, but at least Teresa felt guilty enough so that I could come here tonight without her making me go to her mother’s house in Williamsburg.

For dinner last evening, I got a salad from the Korean store, and then I took a walk on Riverside Drive – the light at dusk is amazing this time of year – and came home to watch TV.

I also spoke to Cheryl Fish, the student in the Brooklyn College MFA program who wrote to me. We had a good talk.

It’s harder being an MFA student and young writer today than it was in my time because we didn’t have to watch 20-year-olds like Ellis, Wolitzer, Leavitt and all of Gordon Lish’s protégés get published and lionized.

Cheryl said she tries not to think about them: “Some of them are good, but they are all upper-class and have connections.” And I said there’s a real upper-class bias in their work.

It was interesting comparing the program then and now: Today there are nearly sixty MFA students, with workshops so crowded they can only get to somebody’s work only once a month.

She said that Peter Spielberg is okay, but that Jon Baumbach doesn’t care anymore; he’s probably burned out and does not want to do any work. Cheryl said that Susan Schaeffer is the worst of the teachers: she won’t consider doing tutorials anymore and looks upon her job at BC (for which she gets paid $50,000 for one day a week) as an imposition.

At noon today, I met Susan Mernit at the Museum Cafe for lunch. She was about to go for her third interview for a full-time writer job at Time-Life Books (actually, at Rebus Press, a packager who’s doing a series on health and fitness for Time-Life).

The phone call about the job and the interviews came out of the blue last week, based on a résumé Susan had sent for another job a few years ago. She’s going to ask for $35,000 so she can afford child care; otherwise, the job isn’t worth it. I wished her luck.

Although the trip to Brooklyn on the IRT lasted an hour, it went quickly because on my Walkman, I listened to the new issues of Gargoyle on tape. It was another hour before I got from the Junction to Grandma’s apartment.

Grandma looks pretty well and didn’t complain about anything. We had delicious salmon croquettes for dinner before we each went out.


Wednesday, July 2, 1986

8 PM. I decided to go back to Manhattan this evening because I was worried about tomorrow’s traffic. This “Liberty Weekend” has been hyped so much by the media, I just wish it were over.

Last night in Rockaway, when Grandma Ethel came home, we watched TV for a couple of hours; I fell asleep around midnight. It started raining hard during the night, and today was dark, cool and dreary.

Unable to sleep late, I went out at 10 AM, taking Grandpa Herb’s old umbrella with me. I took the bus into Brooklyn and then went to Sears on Bedford Avenue for a Discover cash advance.

It’s been a long time since I’d seen such monumental incompetence as I did today at Sears’ customer convenience center. Nobody answered the phone, everyone walked really slowly and looked as though they couldn’t care less, and from what I heard, other customers also couldn’t believe how inefficient and fucked-up these workers were.

I had nearly an hour’s wait, something I never experienced at the Bronx store. With my $500 and some $400 in other credit card cash advances, I went up Flatbush Avenue to the Chemical Bank in Park Slope, where I found myself standing in the line for a teller behind Jan, Justin’s landlady. It’s a small world.

For lunch, I went to Roma Pizza on Seventh and Union and had one of their “baby pizzas,” a delicious treat unlike any pizza I’ve ever had anywhere else: it’s round and thin, cheese-less, with bits of caramelized onion.

Then it was back to Rockaway via the buses.

Grandma Ethel seems to be feeling better, but we still didn’t have that much to talk about. We watched TV and had dinner at 5 PM.

As I went to and from Brooklyn earlier in the day, I saw hundreds of RVs and campers parked at Floyd Bennett Field; presumably people from all over the country were there for the July 4th Statue of Liberty anniversary festivities. I spoke to Harold, and we tentatively decided to go see the fireworks, though that may prove to be a mistake.

This evening I made great connections getting to Manhattan through Queens, and I was back here at West 85th Street by 7 PM after only ninety minutes of travel.

No mail except another bounced check notice for Teresa.

And a very difficult Fire Island renter keeps calling her to demand his deposit back; no doubt this will be yet another Small Claims Court case against Teresa.


Friday, July 4, 1986

10 PM. The Fourth of July fireworks are going on right now in New York harbor: I can see them on my TV screen. Having decided not to attempt to brave the crowds at Battery Park, I called Harold to tell him I was punking out.

At noon I had gone out here, to Riverside Park and the West Side Highway, but there were so many people present, it was hard to find a space where I could see the tall ships of Op Sail ’86.

The day was perfect: sunny, dry, but not hot. While it felt good to be out in a crowd with so many good-natured people, I also didn’t mind spending nearly all day by myself.

Last night’s rededication of the Statue of Liberty was a bit too much of a stage show for me.

Then again, I didn’t go to the demonstration protesting the Supreme Court sodomy ruling, either, even though I learned about it from a notice someone put up on our lobby’s bulletin board last night.

Partly I didn’t feel like going anywhere on this crowded weekend. It would have been nice to have someone to share the day with, but again, I didn’t want to go to visit anyone.

Teresa called from Fire Island, where she said it was fairly empty. She has to be here Monday because of a lawsuit with Suzanne over lack of payment for last year’s Fire Island rental. It seems that Teresa and lawsuits over her rental properties have become standard every summer.

Ronna went to spend the weekend with her sister and brother-in-law in New Jersey. She has no job prospects yet, but she’s got a freelance writing job that should bring in extra money. Lori did find a new job, something to do with software for brokerage houses.

After sleeping ridiculously late, I read the papers for the rest of the morning.

Since my shoulders still ache from yesterday’s workout, when I exercised today, I concentrated on my legs. My body isn’t in bad shape these days – well, not for a 35-year-old guy who’s not athletic and has a genetic tendency toward chubbiness.

I started to answer several ads from guys in the Voice and then gave up on all except one. Last night I thought about going to the monthly gay dance at Columbia. Maybe I’ll do it in August. After all, I am a Columbia student.

Hey, eventually I’ll meet somebody and fall in love again, even if I don’t seek out a relationship as actively as I should.

So I basically tried to ignore the Liberty Weekend hoopla as much as possible today: I went shopping and flossed my gums and tried to keep my face unblemished by not letting a new pimple-in-training bother me

For dinner I had two warm H&H poppy seed bagels with cream cheese and thick slices of red onions – plus some Canfield’s Diet Chocolate Fudge soda.

I have no plans for the weekend except to work on the EPIE evaluation, but I’ll try not to let myself get bored. I miss the VCR and renting movies the way I did the last two summers.

Oh well, it’s still Independence Day.


Saturday, July 5, 1986

3 PM. I’ve just come from a two-hour walk up and down Broadway. It’s hot and sticky out. Despite my best precautions, my forehead has broken out again. Rats!

Anyway, I don’t look all that bad. In my baggy shorts, I could almost fit in among the fashionable people of the Yupper West Side. My cheap blue pocket T-shirt doesn’t quite make it, nor does my paunch. Oddly, I look better bare-chested than I do with a shirt on.

Last night I watched a great little drama on channel 13, Accounts, from Britain’s Channel 4, about a widow and her two sons’ struggles to keep a Scottish farm going. I especially liked the way the younger brother’s homosexuality was handled naturally and casually, the way it was in My Beautiful Laundrette.

Obviously a lot of people were as angry as I was with Monday’s Supreme Court decision. There was a big demonstration in the Village yesterday, and people are planning strategy to roll back the sodomy laws in the 24 states that have them (including Florida).

And in New York City, Councilman Noach Dear, an Orthodox Jew, abandoned his effort to get on the ballot a referendum to repeal the gay rights law. He said it was now no longer necessary, because the courts would rule the law unconstitutional due to the Supreme Court decision.

Although Americans may not approve of gay people, I would like to think that most people hold privacy very dear. Still, it’s upsetting that gay people are essentially second-class citizens under the court ruling: heterosexuals are constitutionally given privacy rights that don’t apply to gay people.

Last night I slept really well. I had another dream about getting an F on a term paper, and in one dream, Leon, Elihu, Scott, Avis, Jerry and Shelli appeared in my bedroom as I was apparently dreaming within a dream.

I again slept late, listened to Weekend Edition  on National Public Radio, and did bench presses and chest flyes for nearly an hour before I showered and dressed.


Sunday, July 6, 1986

7 PM. Well, I’ve just about survived Liberty Weekend.

I worked out for another hour yesterday afternoon before Josh and Chloe came over. Although I hadn’t seen Josh for a month, it didn’t feel awkward even though he keeps making it clear that he strongly disagrees with me on the issue of senior discounts.

Unlike me, he doesn’t believe our generation will have rougher sledding in retirement than today’s seniors unless something is done. Josh says they’ll just cut the military budget to get more money for social security and Medicare for us.

Josh is also very conservative when it comes to helping poor people. Chloe – who’s in that business – said that just giving people money makes them dependent and destroys their motivation, and I let her have the last word when she said it’s all a very complicated issue.

After some good conversation over a fine dinner at Marvin Gardens, the three of us went to see Running Scared at the 84th Street Sixplex.

I would have preferred seeing another movie, but this was Josh’s choice, although when we left the theater, even he had to admit that the film stunk.

It was like TV situation comedy. To me, the saddest part was that the audience found the stale gags and even the car chases and shootings funny.

I was sorry to have missed the classical music concert at the Great Lawn of Central Park because it was so close by, but 800,000 did attend, and it was peaceful and supposedly a good show.

Josh and Chloe walked up to the 96th Street subway station while I picked up the Sunday Times and came home to read it.

Today I left the apartment only to do the laundry and to buy the other newspapers. Tying a record, it hit 98°, so I didn’t have much reason to leave the air-conditioned bedroom. It’s supposed to continue very hot and humid for the next few days.

I finished my EPIE evaluation of Writer’s Helper, a program I enjoyed working on. Hey, if I learn enough about computers and writing, I may find myself eminently hireable.

Some interesting thoughts on Liberty Weekend in Mary McGrory’s column in the Washington Post:

She compared the more reverential, more grateful (though still crassly commercial) spirit of the Bicentennial ten years ago – when the U.S. had been chastened by Vietnam and Watergate – to today’s puffed-up patriotism.

While as individuals, people may be genuinely committed to liberty, but as a mass, Americans seem awfully smug today: we’ve bombed Libya, invaded Grenada, and plan to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, so we’re “standing tall.”

As with the economy, the country is living in a fool’s paradise.


Monday, July 7, 1986

4:30 PM. It’s a record-breaking 98° now and very humid.

Teresa is definitely coming back here, as she and Michael seem to have finally broken up. This weekend in Fire Island, Michael stayed out the whole night for two nights, and Teresa feels she has to leave.

Of course she’s right: she shouldn’t have become a doormat. But that leaves me a little high and dry.

Over the past two months, I’ve gotten so used to having this place to myself that it’s going to be difficult to readjust to not only sharing it with Teresa but recognizing her primacy over the apartment.

I’m sure I’ve been doing things in my own way, and some of those ways may not sit well with Teresa.

But no arrangement is permanent. I’ve lived alone for the first six months of the year, and I may have grown too inflexible. It can’t hurt to (re)learn the give-and-take of cooperating with someone else.

Besides, even in the depressed state she’s in, Teresa will be company. I have to admit that I’ve been awfully lonely lately. For the summer, I can handle living with Teresa.

I’ve just finished reading two stories in New York. The cover story was on 29-year-old Tama Janowitz, author of Slaves of New York, a story collection that’s super-hot, “a female Jay McInerney” who details the club scene and art world with humor.

I feel like such a failure when I compare myself with her. And I don’t have the luxury of moral superiority because it’s clear Janowitz works much harder than I do: she writes every morning and has five unpublished novels under her belt.

I know that I should be thankful for what little success I have had, that I shouldn’t envy others, and that I should try to remember that I’m unique.

Still, I feel I just don’t fit in.

But would I want to? I’d feel ridiculous going to parties with Andy Warhol.

But today, success is the be-all and end-all, and that brings me to the other article, “What Price Ethics? Today’s Morality” by Bernice Kanner, which goes over all the business and political scandals that have barely raised an eyebrow in the 1980s, when it doesn’t matter how you get rich as long as you do get rich.

Money – wealth and income – is the scorecard of life these days, and people have contempt for those who haven’t made it.

I keep seeing an image of Rick being laughed at by a room filled of GWU freshmen, who think he’s crazy to lose money for literature. Of course, I think he should have lied and told them he’s gotten stinking rich from Gargoyle and Paycock Press.

That’s my strategy. With my credit cards (and I suppose I’ve been unethical in getting them in that I’ve lied about my salary and jobs), and my “money” – I put another $700 in the bank today, all of it coming from cash advances – I feel as though I’m an anarchist fucking up the system.

Childish? Maybe. But we all know I always have been. Who else but me would welcome another 1929-style stock market crash and Great Depression?

Although many observers in the New York article feel as I do, that soon we’ll be surfeited by the excesses of greed and move on to a correction and less materialistic values, one professor figures it will take a Depression to do it.


Tuesday, July 8, 1986

Nearly noon. There’s been a big change in my living conditions now that Teresa is back for good. It’s her apartment now, and I’m back to being a summer guest.

Because of the heat, I had to stay in the air-conditioned bedroom last night, but Teresa’s friend Anna slept here too, so I slept on the floor, on the mattress from the sofa bed.

Now that the coffee table is out, it’s hard to open up the sofa bed, so I’ll probably have to buy a little futon for myself.

When I got home last night, Teresa was out, but all her stuff was here – and of course she brought only a fraction of it. I was half-asleep when she came in from a long dinner with Anna and Phyllis.

They’re a bit loud for me, especially when they get stoned and drunk, but they’re hard workers and loyal friends to Teresa. I’d much rather they do her hand-holding and listening to war stories than I.

Teresa’s obviously a mess and has been crying a lot. This is merely inconvenient for me, but breaking up with Michael is a major trauma for her, one that she’s not going to get over easily.

I feel sorry for her, but probably in the long run she’s better off without Michael. Naturally she can’t see that now.

I know how couples break up, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they got back together sporadically for a while. But I’m sure it’s over.

Michael won’t be coming to Fire Island this weekend, and they’ll have to make new arrangements about the beach house.

I can visit Grandma more often now when I want to get away.

*

8 PM. I feel worn out. Although I know it’s Teresa who’s feeling the real emotional upheaval, I can feel only my own pain and not hers.

She went to see her father in Brooklyn for dinner.

I’m in real physical pain from one of my teeth, so I called Dr. Hersh. He won’t be in the office tomorrow, but his son can see me at 1:30 PM.

It’s a long trip to my old neighborhood in such hot weather, but I don’t know any other dentist in New York that I trust as much as Dr. Hersh, and I’m sure his son is good, too.

At least my Computers and Writing class looks good. We met this evening at the IBM-XT lab in Macy Hall, and the instructor, Amy Heebner, is a language arts teacher who used to dislike computers. She seems like she’ll be good.

We’re using PC-Write, a shareware program I first used at FIU, and our assignments are a log/journal and one long piece of writing, which can be a short story.

I feel very comfortable with the PC (the XT has a hard disk drive), and I enjoyed our freewriting exercise.

Because of my dental appointment, I had to break tomorrow’s lunch date with Justin.


Wednesday, July 9, 1986

8 PM. Walking down West End Avenue, a couple of hours ago, I saw a cute little white-and-brown dog all by itself.

Since there are no strays in this neighborhood and since it looked well-groomed, I followed it – which was lucky, for it suddenly sprinted across West End Avenue without looking, and I ran out to stop the oncoming traffic.

I chased the dog all the way up West 83rd Street to Broadway. I’m no dog lover, but the way it was wandering around broke my heart.

Frankly, I was going to pass it by at first, but I couldn’t. I imagined being that dog and feeling lost and scared. Maybe that’s because I, too, feel a bit lost and homeless.

When I squatted down next to the dog on Broadway, I saw that it had a collar, but no ID. What to do next?

As I’d hoped – and as always happens in New York City despite its citizens’ reputation for coldness – people came over to help me and my lost canine pal.

“That’s a purebred Jack Russell terrier,” a young woman said. “Is he lost?”

“Yes.”

She bent down and kept petting him; the dog was trembling. “I have two of these at home,” she said. “He’s a male.”

She had to go into the store, but she said I should hold him by the collar and keep petting him and telling him he was a good dog.

An old lady with a Zabar’s bag came by. “Is he lost?” she asked.

Two other people stopped by and told me the dog was a purebred Jack Russell terrier.

All these people were hanging out to see what they could do.

The owners of the store brought out a dish of water, but the dog didn’t touch it.

Because I said I couldn’t take it home – having me here is one thing, but having me and a dog here wouldn’t go over very well with Teresa – the young woman with two Jack Russell terriers said she’d take him home.

First, though, she was going to take it around the neighborhood to see if it would lead her to where it lived. Putting a rope through its collar to use as a leash, she took off in the direction where I said I had found it.

Feeling relieved, I went on to pick up the futon. It was a bitch to carry home – the humidity must have been 150% – and I hurt my back a little.

Unfortunately, I can’t quite get it under the bed, and I’m afraid Teresa will have a fit when she comes home. All I did was what she asked me.

I really should be looking for a place to sublet. But I got the Voice today to get an idea of what the market is like, and it’s not very good. If I can’t find something at a price I can afford, I’ll just go back to Florida, I guess.

I was asleep when Teresa came in last night. Later, though, overhearing her phone conversations with her friends, I got a clearer (if still somewhat hazy) picture of her relationship with Michael and what happened to break them up.

Michael wants to screw around; Teresa wants no one but Michael, and apparently she wants him so badly she’s willing to put up with an awful lot.

Men have the odds on their side, Teresa and her girlfriends say, and unfortunately in New York City they’re right.

A man like Michael – twice divorced, who doesn’t need a relationship – will have no problem finding available women. Unfair.

I was again asleep when Teresa left this morning. I kept dozing off and didn’t wake till about 11 AM. Since I had to be in my old neighborhood at 1:30 PM, I left myself ninety minutes to get there.

Luckily, I got an air-conditioned IRT to Flatbush Avenue and then caught the bus to East 56th Street and Avenue N.

Somebody had left a mattress standing in front of our old basement door, and coming toward me I saw the slightly crazy man who walks with a limp and who’s been picking through people’s garbage since I was a kid.

Dr. Robert Hersh isn’t as sure a dentist as his father, but Dr. Harold Hersh came in to help him out. (To show how good his memory was, Dr. Hersh told his son exactly how I broke my teeth as a kid – “after four years of orthodonture work.”)

Anyway, they couldn’t find anything wrong, but I needed gum treatments and fixing a couple of teeth I chipped in Florida this winter, so I made an appointment for Monday.

At Kings Plaza, I went for lunch at Bun ‘n’ Burger, where I recognized the manager and a waitress from my college days. They’ve been there since 1973!

Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in one place that long.


Thursday, July 10, 1986

3 PM. I’m enjoying the luxury of having the apartment to myself, something I took for granted before.

This morning I did the laundry – there was a lot of it – and worked out till I was exhausted.

Marc mailed his July rent check, which I later deposited in Chemical Bank. This afternoon, when I called Davie, Dad said that his new Bugle Boy line is selling well: he wrote up $100,000 in orders in less than a week.

I also spoke to Ronna, who told me she had an interview for a job she’d love – but she doubts she’ll get it. We agreed to set a tentative date to get together on Saturday afternoon.

Although I’m still pretty nervous about my living situation, for now I’d like to try to stay in New York. I’m scared, but somehow I’ll manage.TC mark

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