A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1986

Saturday, June 21, 1986

11 AM on the first day of summer. I thought I’d write my diary entry now so that I can spend the rest of the day attempting to write my term paper for Software Evaluation.

Yesterday I got about three solid hours of work done; I’ve gone through most of the literature and typed up the bibliography, title page, and abstract. We’ll see how far I get today.

I’d love to have the paper ready to hand in on Monday evening so I could relax for the rest of the week.

Working in the APA format is new to me, but it’s much more sensible and simpler than the old MLA format I used to use – and teach. Thank God I don’t have to write footnotes.

I went out to get some bagels, and on the way I stopped at Shakespeare & Company to browse among the literary magazines. The Mississippi Review is devoted to the new minimalists: Ray Carver, Anne Beattie, Bobbie Ann Mason, with whom Leavitt, McInerney, Ellis, Lorrie Moore, Frederick Barthelme, Russell Banks and others are sometimes lumped.

I don’t quite get it. Some of my stories are pretty minimalist, but I’m more like the now-scorned experimentalists of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Putting writers into categories is obvious but stupid.

Yet I can’t help wondering what I’ve wondered for the last seven years, since With Hitler in New York was published: How come I’ve never “made it”?

Is it just that no one’s noticed? Is it because I’m not a Gordon Lish protégé? (Joe David Bellamy has an interesting article which ends by saying no one person, whoever he is, should have that much power in literature).

Or is it, as I’ve believed for most of the last three years, simply that I’m not up to snuff?

Miriam writes about being at a writers’ conference: “I’m afraid I had forgotten how exhausting it is to be surrounded by a critical mass of writers’ egos! I had naively not counted on the competition and politics of it all.”

Later, she writes, “I always feel reassured reading your letters because you are not slickly on the fast track but not a hermit, either.”

(I realize my navel-gazing is tedious, but I’m about to spend the day writing a term paper, so bear with me.)

I feel so unfashionable, I guess, because everybody’s cool and I’m not. My stories are all full of messy emotions, expressed in a messy way.

Or am I just justifying myself? I’m sure all the writers I mentioned really believe in what they’re doing, too. Oh well.

I always fall back on my non-literary adventures: my political campaigns, the senior discount issue, my other high jinx, my People article, my credit card schemes. . .

I’ve been on Dan Rather, in the New York Times and People and the Wall Street Journal and USA Today and many other newspapers and radio shows, not for being a literary writer, but for being me.

Perhaps eventually literary recognition will come . . . and if not, well, I didn’t sit for years waiting for it.


Sunday, June 22, 1986

7:30 PM. I don’t know whether to expect Teresa back tonight or not. Last night she called from Fire Island to get a recipe, and I could hear Michael and his son chortling cheerfully in the background.

Anyway, I’m prepared to sleep on the couch and give up some of my privacy. Having just finished my paper a few minutes ago, I feel vastly relieved.

It ended up at 31 pages, including the bibliography and appendix. By no means is it a work of great scholarship, but it should be good for a B+. That’s all I really want in the course.

Maybe now I can enjoy our last two classes. This has been a glorious weekend, but I’ve spent most of it indoors, working. Still, I didn’t mind all that much.

Yesterday Josh called just when I was sure he wouldn’t. As on the last time we saw each other, Josh sounded like a free market conservative, excoriating government grants to the arts.

One of Josh’s problems is that he’s not that bright, and once he gets an idea, he refuses to give it up. He’s also become so concerned with financial security; several of his remarks were addressed to how important “security” is for a person.

He’s heard that Congress may amend the pension law and let someone be vested after five years; if so, he’d stay at Blue Cross another two years.

Obviously, he thinks I’m crazy for not working at Blue Cross this summer at the job he offered me. Maybe he is right and I’m wrong: Josh could be the ant and I the grasshopper who’ll starve in the winter.

Except who wants to be an ant?

I shouldn’t criticize Josh, for he’s less a Yuppie than most people our age in this city, (College-educated people, anyway).

Six years into the Reagan presidency, materialism is the only philosophy most of us seem to have: the best way to serve your country is to look out for number one.

Russell Baker said the coming Statue of Liberty extravaganza reminded him there should be a song called “America the Blowhard.”

“We’re number one!” we chanted at the ’84 L.A. Olympics, like a host exulting over beating his guests in a game.

In the old days, Baker notes, sports heroes were modest; today, they all proclaim they’re the greatest. Self-congratulation is in the air these days.

Back in Miami, if you criticize Reagan, you’re considered a Communist and a traitor. What a bloated, ugly time.

I’d love to see some of these bigshots and blowhards brought down a peg. A stock market crash would do, or some scandal like Watergate.

The Dennis Levine case – where a guy earning a million dollars steals to get more money – shows that eventually these greedy guys go too far and get in trouble.

Well, let me get off my soapbox.

Yesterday I finished half my paper yesterday. Last night I went out and got the Times; I also exercised a little and spoke with Ronna.

This morning, after reading the Washington Post and Newsday on a bench in Riverside Park, I went out for lunch, and then came home and wrote a dozen more pages of the term paper from 3 PM till 7 PM. So it’s done, thank God.

Justin called and said he may be up here tomorrow.


Monday, June 23, 1986

4 PM. Wouldn’t you know it? We had gorgeous weather the past three days while I was inside working on my paper, and now that I’m free, it’s a muggy, damp 90° day.

Oh, well. I’ve been on the phone a lot.

Last evening I called Lisa to see how she was doing. After a week after the school year ended, she’s already bored – but she’s been writing fiction again, a story about the boy in her class whom she was desperately in love with.

Tonight she and her roommates are having a select number of their best students to dinner.

Lisa’s taking one summer course in educational administration at FAU, where the students are outraged over the Broward “honors college,” which they scornfully dub “Jenne U.,” after Senator Ken Jenne, the architect of the plan.

Last night I also spoke for an hour with Harold Bakst, who’d been visiting his family on the Island. He and I think alike and share the same values, so I find him very easy to talk with.

This morning I called his neighbor, Pete Cherches, who sounded as chipper as he always does.

Pete’s new book will be out soon. Even if he ends up losing money on it, I’m sure it will look good: Condensed Book, like all of his books, is very well-designed.

And his flexy-disk is out and will be in the next issue of Between C & D, which should be on the stands in two weeks.

Pete told me Cheryl Fish is a nice woman whose stories are too sentimental; he also advised me not to read or lecture at Brooklyn College without asking for a $100 fee.

I always forget about that, but I shouldn’t, I suppose; people value you more if you cost them something. And my time is valuable.

I stayed up till 2 AM last night reading and listening to the radio. This morning I got up late, worked out, and did some chores around the apartment.

Teresa sounded awful when I spoke to her; she’s got a bad cough. She’s spending tonight at her aunt’s but should be home tomorrow night or Wednesday. At this point I welcome her company.

Ken Goodman sent me some copies of last Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale paper and said I did “a fine job” on the article. I’ve gotten two letters, both quite complimentary.

One was from this man with the American Association of Working Persons, who congratulated me on “telling it like it is” about Social Security.

The other letter began: “It’s been quite a while since I’ve enjoyed an article as much as I enjoyed yours. I’ve always been one who appreciates competent, observant writers . . . who pull no punches.”

The letter writer, Kevin Anderson, said I sounded like I went through the 1960s: “I sense in you a beautiful, courageous bent to loudly say, whenever necessary that the Emperor has no clothes!”

Real nice to know I’ve touched these people. Yup.

In the mail, I got some bills and bank statements and also an updated FIU transcript; I did indeed get an A in the Community College grad course.

Tonight I have class and will hand in my paper. I think I’ll head out now.


Tuesday, June 24, 1986

6 PM. Yesterday I got to Teachers College at about 5 PM, so I had time before class to spend in the library. I looked up the entries for “credit cards” in the New York Times Index going back to 1979.

I hadn’t realized that in 1980, Carter and Volcker tightened credit controls and credit card lines were frozen or reduced in order to fight runaway inflation.

But all it did was result in a massive collapse in consumer demand and an almost-immediate little recession, so the action was quickly reversed.

Obviously, I could be severely affected if such a thing happened again, but I doubt it will, because there are now user and membership fees, and usury ceilings have been lifted in many states.

In 1980, when the consumer price index was at 20%, a borrower could come out ahead paying 18% on his credit card balance. Those were great times for people who owed money.

Class was somewhat boring until we looked at some software; then Jay, who’d presided over my EPIE training, came in and talked about his experiences as a consultant to publishers and producers.

He showed us a pretty interesting piece of software that teaches students about databases. The big trend in educational software is tool software.

Back here, I returned a call from Mikey, who’s taken this week off. Mikey has been promoted to supervisor at Legal Aid. Probably we’ll get together tomorrow for lunch.

Back home, I dozed off around midnight, but I was up at 3:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep until after I had breakfast at 6 AM.

Up again at 9 AM, I decided to get one more Discover cash advance – by going out to the Sears store at the Green Acres Shopping Center in Valley Stream.

The LIRR made for a pleasant ride from Penn Station, with a change at Jamaica. It was very hurried this morning, but the dark clouds made it cool as I walked in the park by Sunrise Highway once I got out of the station.

I wish I had a car to enjoy some of the places I used to ride to in the New York area. Getting a $500 advance was easily accomplished, and I hurried back to get the 11:45 AM train, which got me into Brooklyn half an hour later.

After depositing the $500 into the Chemical Bank branch on Court Street, I had lunch at the Atrium on Montague and then got a couple of more cash advances at the downtown banks, depositing the money into my Chemical checking account.

So I “created” $1300 in all today.

Then I went to the business library on Cadman Plaza and read this month’s issues of American Banker. There’s a credit card rate war in Connecticut which I might be able to get into.

So today was really a bank-and-credit-card day. Enough for a while, I think, though I feel certain all my knowledge and tricks will pay off.

Home at 4 PM, I turned on the air conditioner and attended to my skin, which is badly broken out from the humidity.

Dad called and said he had to congratulate me on the article after he’d read it. He said it was “a perfect response . . . maybe the best thing you’ve ever written.”

Naturally, it felt very good to hear such praise from my father.


Wednesday, June 25, 1986

6 PM. In a little while I’ll go to Teachers College for my last Software Evaluation class.

Teresa and Michael were here for the last hour.

Michael’s son graduated from Bronx High School of Science, and his daughter graduated from junior high; afterward the family (including Michael’s ex-wife and her husband and the kids’ grandparents) all went out for a celebration dinner.

Teresa and Michael thought about going back to Fire Island and got as far as Penn Station before deciding it wasn’t worth it.

So back here, Teresa picked up her mail and some clothes, and they took champagne glasses for a party they decided to attend.

So I guess Teresa won’t be coming tonight after all.

Last night I had a whole evening free. With no plans after dinner, I went out shopping at Red Apple.

There are a lot of cute guys, most of whom look gay, in that supermarket, which might be a good place to meet people.

For example, the guy in line ahead of me was not only nice-looking, but he had coupons – and a guy who cuts coupons out of the newspaper is probably a good catch, right?

Oh well.

I couldn’t resist a couple of easy cash advances at the Plus terminal at Chase Manhattan next door to the Red Apple.

From 8 PM to 10 PM, I watched ABC-TV and worked out, concentrating on my back and arms, which are now nicely sore.

After a shower, I began reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which is a delightfully hilarious book in the form of a diary kept by a 14-year-old British boy.

I fell asleep early and slept straight through till 10 AM, when a call from Mikey awakened me.

We agreed to meet for lunch at Teacher’s up here, and after reading the paper, I was at the restaurant at noon.

Since it was such a glorious dry, cool day, we decided to eat at one of the outside tables.

It was good to see Mikey, but we seemed to have trouble making connections. I guess I don’t talk about the stuff he’s used to talking about.

This sounds snotty, but the last time I was with Mikey and Amy, all they spoke about was Yuppie material: food, restaurants, clothes, furniture, and real estate.

One on one, I found it easier to dominate the conversation, which I tried to steer more to talk about ideas. I’m afraid I bored Mikey and he bored me.

He’s still a good guy, and unlike the Wall Street Yuppies, Mikey is certainly the last person who’d ever do anything unethical. (I’d never tell him about my credit card chassis.)

But while Mikey is extremely honest and trustworthy, even he admitted that the high cost of living in New York has made him much more concerned with money than he ever was before.

Back home, I got lots of mail, always a treat. Susan Ludvigson said she was sorry I didn’t get the job at UNC-Charlotte but she had really pushed for me.

She told me I should call Bob Parham at Francis Marion College about an opening there. But I knew about that job and purposely didn’t apply because, having been to Florence, I don’t think I could be happy in such a rural location.

Crad writes that selling his books on the street is still terrible, but he seemed in better spirits. Harper’s will reprint his “Appeal to My Readers” (the various ways to kill the Revenue Minister) in its September issue.

Quite a coup, I’d say. Crad thinks it was brought to their attention by Rick Peabody. Crad says he’ll be typesetting his latest books during the final weeks of July and expects to be “nervous” all summer, including during his visit here in August.

I got several credit card bills, and Mom sent along a Tropic contest announcement asking people to submit literary parodies relating to South Florida.

Not only did I send them Eating at Arby’s but I also entered their bonus contest which involved making connections between writers on a long list.

For example: “. . . Stephen King, Gore Vidal, Siegfried Sassoon . . .” King’s novels are full of “gore” and Vidal Sassoon is a famous hairstylist.

Reading over the Times Book Review and American Book Review reviews of my work reminded me that I’ve received thoughtful, serious (if not always favorable) criticism in the past.

Because I had only a spinach salad at Teacher’s, my blood sugar has been low, so I need to eat some carbohydrates before I go to class or I’ll get shaky.

I feel good about myself today, though.

I see myself and Crad and Rick and my other friends finally gaining recognition come the 1990s. They’ll probably wonder where we were all these years.

If I can get another Zephyr Press book out, I can keep up my limited reputation until 1990. Maybe I’ll have a “breakthrough” of some sort, though I can’t believe one thing could do it.


Sunday, June 29, 1986

7 PM. I watched today’s Gay Pride parade from the same spot I did last year, at the start of the march by Columbus Circle.

Despite the AIDS crisis, this year’s parade had a celebratory mood because of the City Council’s passage of the gay rights bill.

It was a hot, sunny day and everyone seemed in good spirits. I’m encouraged that even in the conservative ’80s, so many gay people can literally come out. Surely the world has irrevocably changed.

Just to see so many people who are so diverse – of every conceivable racial and religious group, profession, political affiliation, from different states and schools, people from teenagers to senior citizens – is heartening.

It reminded me of the old peace movement and civil rights demonstrations and those concerns were also in the crowd today: lots of signs against racism and apartheid, t-shirts featuring a mock Daily News front page with the headline ¡GAYS SÍ, CONTRAS NO!, and stickers that said NICARAGUA IS NOT OUR ENEMY.

The police officer who constantly and good-naturedly told us to move back a little was a young Hispanic guy perhaps ten years younger than I, and gay cops marched along with myriad other groups.

The biggest applause, as usual, was for the Stonewall veterans at the head of the march, for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group (who held up giant safety pins to remind people about safe sex practices), and for the People With AIDS Coalition.

Another group, memorializing the dead, held up signs with their names; I got a twinge when I immediately spotted the sign for Evan. Other popular marchers included the Gay Men’s Chorus, the parents’ groups, the elderly (SAGE), the kids from Harvey Milk High School, and numerous lesbians’ organizations.

There were some wonderfully weird floats and some outrageous transvestites who made the crowd laugh with them, not at them. What cheers me is the number of different support groups of every kind, from Sober Lesbians (One Day at a Time) to Gay Veterans to alumni and religious groups.

The spirit of the 1960s isn’t dead, really. Despite the materialistic ethos of today there are a lot of people who no longer live by the old rules: believe what the government tells you, go along to get along, don’t call attention to yourself, etc.

Since I was a teenager, there’s been nothing less than a revolution in the way people in society think and act, not only in regard to homosexuality, but in regard to many other things.

The thousands of people I saw marching did look proud. The last person in the whole march had a sign on his back that said FREE AT LAST. So maybe there’s hope.

Anyway, last night I read the Sunday Times and watched TV until I finally fell asleep. My wobbly front caps continue to drive me crazy. I slept until 10:30 AM.

After the parade ended, I went uptown, had lunch, and read Newsday and the Washington Post.

Newsday had an interesting group of articles on New York City as a post-industrial city, with the service economy and information-based economy providing most of the jobs.

Unfortunately, with the decline of industry, poor uneducated minority youth are finding themselves permanently unemployable.

They just don’t need illiterate people anymore, and without a good education, New York’s ghetto kids will become the underclass that threatens to make this city even more sharply divided into the well-off and the poor.

Nowhere is the gap between income groups as stark as it is in New York City, and that spells big trouble for the future.

Education is the answer, but you can tell how much this country values education when they pay sanitation workers half again as much as teachers.

Well, it didn’t take me long to get into my usual gloom-and-doom mood, did it?TC mark

More From Thought Catalog