A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1986

Thursday, May 22, 1986

8 PM. A couple of hours ago I was sitting on a bench in Riverside Park reading the Washington Post. Runners and women pushing baby strollers were going past me, and kids were playing softball nearby. The sun had finally come out after a mostly cloudy day.

At 4 PM, I’d walked down to 72nd Street to get my hair cut by Lana who does a really good job. Concerned because I felt stuffy with my not-short, not-long hair, I had it cut very short and spiky, and I plan to use blond-color mousse on it.

After the haircut, I’d gone to Columbus Avenue to have one of the juicy burgers at Diane’s; then I walked up to Riverside Drive, and halfway home, I sat down in the park.

Anyway, I had one of those moments when I realize what a great life I have. The last couple of days I’d let that knowledge slip away, and I shouldn’t forget how lucky I am.

Most importantly, I’ve had good health. And I’m living in an exciting city where diversity is tolerated; I’ve got an affordable, luxurious place to live when others are homeless and starving. I’ve got friends and family and intellectual stimulation and money.

This probably can’t last. I suppose my saying that means I feel I don’t deserve to live this well, but maybe I can get over that delusion.

The ride to Teachers College via the Riverside Drive bus is very pleasant, and I don’t even have to cross a street. Last night I got to the school early, and our class began late because our assigned classroom was locked.

We discussed the conceptual framework of curriculum design and how that relates to software; too often, educators are putting the cart before the horse and figuring out how to use the computer to teach rather than thinking about using other, more effective and efficient modes of instruction than CAI.

Ken, a Chinese guy who’s an industrial trainer, and I got assigned a simulation, “New Zealand Tours,” for our project; previewing it on an Apple, I found it pretty dopey. But I think I’ll enjoy our class.

When I got home, I started a quick-circuit workout while watching the cliché-ridden season cliffhanger of Dynasty. Popular entertainment is getting so glitzy and insubstantial.

So far the summer’s leading films are Top Gun, another “warnographic” (I got the term from Andrew Sarris) military picture with fighter jets as phalluses and lots of beefcake (I’ll probably go to see it, if only to see Tom Cruise without a shirt), and Cobra, Sly Stallone in a violent (what else?) cop drama.

Maybe I’m wrong in my constant predictions that the 1990s will bring us relief from this conservative, cowboy-ish era, but I guess no one could have predicted this stuff 15 years ago. I’ll be patient and see if I’m right.

Like the 1920s and 1950s, the 1980s are a time of prosperity, luxury (with major exceptions ignored) and traditional values. But the 1930s were a time of radical politics, as were the 1960s; if the 30-year cycle holds, the 1990s may be a very interesting time – and one in which I’ll feel more comfortable.

Up late today, I straightened out my loan at Teachers College, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll pick up a check for over $3100.

Probably I won’t take any courses in the fall, whether I stay in New York or go to Florida. Well, maybe one or at most two – but as much as I love learning, I think I’m coursed-out for a while.

Besides, after this summer I’ll have enough graduate credits in computer education to constitute a master’s degree had I been in one program. From Teachers College, I’ll have 12 credits; from Florida International University, 15; and from Florida Atlantic University, six.

In addition I’ll have six other grad credits in education (Measurement and the Community College) and my seven FAU credits in business courses.

Back home for lunch, after promptly paying the three bills that came in the mail, I went to 42nd Street and Fifth, where big library was closed to celebrate its 75th anniversary; the lions wore black ties and top hats for the occasion.

I did some ATM magic, taking out $200 each from my Republic credit line and two Master Cards, then depositing the $600 in my savings account.

At the Mid-Manhattan Library, I did a search on their new information system, using an IBM-PC; I even printed out references to myself, but mostly I looked at material related to credit cards, young authors and higher education. My eyes hurt after half an hour of staring at the screen, however.

Tonight, when I got back from my haircut, dinner and the park, Teresa was here, gathering her summer wardrobe. Surprisingly, it was good to see her.


Saturday, May 24, 1986

6 PM. I’ve been ‘up’ and ‘down’ the past two days.

When I got up early on Friday morning, it was a cool, sunny day and the humidity had left the air. I got dressed in a sport jacket and tie and went down to Fashion Institute of Technology, where a committee of 15 interviewed me.

I found their questions challenging, and I think my performance may have been good enough so that the chairman will offer me courses in the fall.

Going back uptown on the train, I realized that I shouldn’t dismiss the job out of hand. I know I swore I wouldn’t adjunct in New York this fall, but FIT would be different.

Josh called it “Whorehouse on the Hudson” and “Fags in Training.” My students would be mostly white, middle-class teenagers, with mostly kids interested in fashion – and that would include gay guys.

I was taken with the relaxed atmosphere of the school, and the students I saw reminded me of those at the School of Visual Arts. What I hated about SVA was the long rush-hour commute from Rockaway, but FIT is only 20 minutes from Teresa’s.

I wouldn’t be teaching remedial students from ghetto high schools: I know I can’t do that anymore. Well, I’ll see.

When I got back home, it was only 10:30 AM and I felt good. Alice had left a message that Jami had to work late, so our dinner date for that night was off.

That made me decide I’d visit Grandma and stay overnight in Rockaway. So after some exercise, doing the laundry and eating lunch, I got on the subway.

Figuring the trip would be more palatable if I broke it up, I stopped to Brooklyn’s Business Library downtown (right next to where they’ve already broken down for the new 20-story Pierrepont Tower) and I looked up articles on credit cards in recent months’ issues of American Banker.

They were informative, and if I’d read them when they came out, I could have saved myself the trouble of going to the David Chin lecture on how to get 102 credit cards (an article summarized all the tips in his lecture) or applying for Discover (I hadn’t known all Sears cardholders would automatically get it).

At 3:10 PM, I got on the IRT, but it took two full hours to get from downtown Brooklyn to Grandma’s. An early rush hour made the trains crowded, and I got on two old trains which each got stuck and had to go out of service.

It was an hour before I got to the Junction and could get the bus to Rockaway.

I was surprised when Aunt Tillie answered the door. Grandma was very ill, so Tillie and Morris had been there all day. She had a “burning sensation” in her chest, back, shoulders and throat.

At first I got worried that she was having a heart attack, but her pulse seemed normal, she wasn’t nauseated or out of breath, and she didn’t have any shooting pains in the chest or arms, just this burning sensation.

Tillie said the doctor told Grandma that it was arthritis of the spine that caused this pain. Grandma had a call in to one of those Indian quacks at the clinic she goes to, but of course they never called her back.

Anyway, spending last evening, night and today with her was the usual nightmare. “Why does life have to be like this?” she says plaintively, over and over again, as she sits on the verge of tears. Naturally she repeats her wish that if only Mom were with her, everything would be okay.

This morning she began to wonder if perhaps this burning sensation is a recurrence of the lymphoma she had eight years ago. Possibly. She’s got to get herself diagnosed by a decent internist.

Grandma is so ignorant and uneducated and passive, it’s hard for her to make decisions or know what to do. I can’t imagine being so helpless; I wouldn’t wait six hours for a doctor to call me back.

I feel guilty that I left her alone this afternoon, but I couldn’t help her, except by my presence, and I know that I’ve done more than my share. It’s much easier for Marty and Arlyne, who live half an hour away by car, to get to Rockaway than it is for me.

Wendy also lives in Manhattan but never visits Grandma; Marc and Jonathan haven’t seen her in four or five years; and Mom hasn’t been to New York since 1984. Luckily, Aunt Tillie is around; she’s a great help to Grandma.

It took 45 minutes for the bus to Queens to come, and when it arrived, it was jammed with people leaving the beach; I had to stand for most of the hour ride, and then I had nearly another hour on three different airless subway trains.

I have lots of stuff to do, but I feel drained right now.

Josh and I spoke on Thursday night. He saw Tom for dinner three times when he was in New Orleans. Josh took the Magazine Street bus to the Garden District and Tom would drive him home.

At the convention hotel, Josh felt alienated because all anyone spoke about was RAMIS, the programming language he works with. And he didn’t like having to be in a suit much of the time.

I don’t know how Josh can exist so alienated from his work. Well, what I’m really saying is that I couldn’t. I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing a suit to work; that’s probably why I’ll never be rich, but I don’t give a fuck.

Tomorrow is Hands Across America, the nationwide event of coast-to-coast hand-linking to benefit the poor and homeless. I’d prefer to see the homeless and hungry engage in Hands Across the Throats of Rich People.

With such disparities between the rich and poor in New York City, it’s a wonder the crime rate isn’t higher. The poor seem so passive, like Grandma, when they beg on the streets and subways.

Maybe if they murdered Yuppies in Zabar’s, people would pay more attention. This country sickens me sometimes with its inequities.

Justin and Larry went for a week’s vacation in Washington. I suggested the Gralyn Hotel, but it was booked solid and they found a place nearby.

Justin is pleased with his new roommate, Phil, a Jewish gay guy about his age who’s in market research, works in Morristown, and has a lover in the Slope.

Mom told me Ed Hogan wrote that Zephyr will be sending I Brake for Delmore Schwartz to the Frankfurt Book Fair as part of a National Endowment for the Arts exhibit and so I have to sign a release on the off-chance some foreign publisher is interested.


Sunday, May 25, 1986

8 PM. I just spoke to Grandma Ethel, who said she is better today, although last night she felt very ill. I worry about her a great deal.

Last evening I made myself dinner and got the Sunday Times at 8:30 PM. Up at 8 AM today, I went out to buy the other newspapers and I’d finished them by 11 AM.

This morning was our scheduled brunch for Alice, Jami Bernard and me. I suggested Cafe Macondo, where we met at noon.

Jami arrived first and we got a table. I don’t know if she seems me as boyfriend material, but I definitely feel different with Jami than I would with just another of Alice’s friends. She’s kind of cute.

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of today is that Alice and Peter are “engaged to be engaged.” Yes, he’s going to give her a ring, although not the traditional diamond.

Peter has come a long way for someone who totally dismissed marriage a few years ago. Now he wants two weddings: one in New York and one in Boston.

Alice says she now accepts the fact that Peter will always want to write a hit Broadway show, and she thinks she can live with whatever it will mean in terms of lack of income.

This being New York, the prime concern, naturally, is real estate. Alice feels her apartment is much too small for both of them, so she and Peter will give up their apartments for a two-bedroom. Peter is willing to spend $700 a month on rent, but getting a larger apartment for $1400 won’t be easy.

And of course Alice refuses to leave the island of Manhattan “because that would make me feel bad psychologically” (only now, as I write it, do I realize what a disgusting, snotty attitude that is) – not even to go to Brooklyn Heights, which they couldn’t afford anyway.

Jami lives in a twelve-by-fourteen-foot apartment on West 90th Street. Naturally, we had to talk about real estate for the required half-hour before we could move on to other topics, like Jami’s job.

She’s been promoted to assistant entertainment editor at the Post, but they took away her column and she misses writing now that she’s doing editing and layout.

Alice admitted one reason she’s decided to marry Peter is that she had so many dates with losers during the period after they broke up.

Jami and Alice then proceeded to swap horror stories about all the assholes out in New York singles scene. Jami ended a relationship about a year ago, and she hasn’t been able to meet anyone since.

I suggested we walk over to the West Side Highway to see Hands Across America. The crowds were already heavy by 2 PM, an hour before the scheduled coast-to-coast human chain, and everyone was in a festive mood.

The three of us walked down to 72nd Street, where Alice got the subway and where I convinced Jami to walk back to the highway with me and watch the event. We got there after everyone had lined up, but we didn’t join the human chain.

Probably if either of us were there alone, we would have, but we both a felt a little embarrassed.

“The story of my life: a once-in-a-lifetime event and I’m on the sidelines,” Jami said.

We met neighbors of Jami’s and stood near a radio. First everyone sang “We Are the World,” then “Hands Across America,” and after a few words from the organizer, we sang “America the Beautiful.”

It was kind of touching to see people of every race and age holding hands, but I wonder if it will do any good other than to make the participants feel better about themselves and possibly get people thinking momentarily about poverty, hunger and homelessness.

The most political sign I saw read: “Hands Across America Today: Responsible Government Action Tomorrow.” It’s a sad state of affairs when calling for “responsible government action” is the strongest political protest you can get.

Still, I felt good that people got involved on such a large scale; maybe it portends good things for the future.

Jami and I walked through Riverside Park with hundreds of others, and I invited her back here for Diet Pepsi. She was tremendously impressed with the apartment; sometimes I forget how comfortably and luxuriously I live.

We chatted for a while, and then she felt tired and left, kissing me goodbye. I said I’d call her for a movie or dinner. She’s a good person to hang out with; I’m not sure if our relationship can go any further than that.


Monday, May 26, 1986

7 PM. I’ve just come back from a burger dinner at the counter of 4 Brothers. The city has been deliciously quiet this weekend.

This morning, on my way to midtown, I felt almost as though I had Manhattan to myself. As a favor to Teresa, I went to the Roosevelt Hotel for Ned Regan’s announcement for re-election as Comptroller.

There weren’t many people present, and I suspect press and staff made up three-quarters of the sparse crowd, but the event took place in a small room.

I didn’t talk much to Teresa since she was busy – she was the one to go up to the podium and call for quiet just before the candidate entered – but she did tell me that they were going on to stops in Buffalo, Rochester, and Poughkeepsie.

This week is the Republican State Convention in Syracuse. Ned Regan made a formal announcement and then took questions, mostly toughies, from Ralph Penza of WNBC-TV and another reporter whom I sat directly behind.

Regan is a handsome man, obviously experienced and at ease as a politician; some of the fiscal stuff he discussed was of the eyes-glaze-over variety, but the press conference took only about half an hour.

In the elevator, I took off my Re-elect Regan button as another woman did the same. “Once you’re on the streets, there are a lot of Democrats,” she said.

Actually, there wasn’t much of anybody on the streets, and midtown never looked so good to me. The bus rides up Madison and across 86th through the park were as pleasant as any I’ve experienced.

Back here, I exercised a little, had lunch, watched the soaps, and continued my reading for the Software Evaluation course.

I’m trying to get through the term’s reading for Instructional Software, our main text. Some of these educators write so dreadfully, it’s difficult to navigate through seas of pompous prose, and it’s a delight when I come to a reading that’s simple and sounds as if a human voice is behind it.

(Two things I’ve noticed about the good writers: they’re not afraid to use “I,” and they work for private industry and not in academia.)

The Times Magazine yesterday had an article on the 50th anniversary of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I’m sure it’s a good place to go for two years and live in a community dedicated to producing poetry and fiction, but I dislike the lack of passion and politics in their carefully-crafted, “proper” writing.

Iowa eliminates eccentric voices from their program; I’m sure a portfolio by me would be rejected immediately. And yet I’ve been more successful as a writer than most Iowa graduates.

I don’t know what it is or why it’s happening, but my sense of confidence in my writing is starting to return.

Harvey Pekar was lauded in Michiko Kakutani’s column with some lavish praise for his new book. It’s exciting to see an eccentric, working-class, innovative writer like Harvey get well-deserved respect.


Wednesday, May 28, 1986

10 PM. Josh and I had a nice dinner last night at Szechuan Broadway. I love cold sesame noodles, but sometimes I think the best part is that you usually share them.

Josh has been preoccupied with his mother’s blindness; naturally, he’s very upset. Everything that happens to Josh seems to confirm his sour view of life. I suspect he’s beginning to tire of his job. “I hate wearing suits,” he told me as we walked up Broadway.

He is one of the few people I know, though, who says he could live on less money. Maybe he could do some independent consulting, or at least work for a smaller, more innovative employer than Blue Cross.

Ronna phoned last night, which was a surprise, since we’d talked on Monday. She said she wanted “to apologize for the night before,” but I had no idea what she meant.

Ronna told me she meant our conversation, which she’d been thinking about all day. We’d filled each other in on our weekend doings but hadn’t spoken of plans for seeing each other. She felt she was being rude; I’d just figured she was busy and let it go at that.

There was no need to apologize, I told her.

Ronna said she didn’t want to see me because she “felt silly” around me – you know, the usual. I, of course, still feel the same way about her: the sexual attraction between us is still strong.

Last night she said we should still continue our friendship and that she’d been a jerk.

I do understand how she feels, though. Reading Newsweek’s story on The Marriage Crunch for college-educated single women in their thirties, I felt bad for Ronna and the other women, who, because of demographics and cultural changes, want to have a husband and children but may never get them.

She’s still seeing Donald, who’s intelligent, funny, cute, short – everything Ronna likes in a guy – and he’s marriage material even if “he’ll never make much of a living” as a pianist.

But Ronna is not materialistic. That’s why I love her: the lady has class.

This morning I went to see Mark Sherry at the EPIE Institute at Teachers College. Like most men in education, it seems, he’s gay – a nice guy, older than I.

Though I missed the first new training session for EPIE software evaluators, the second session is Monday. I’m definitely interested even though the money is bad.

This will be interesting work in the field of computer education, and it’ll be good experience for me to learn more about software. Practically, it’ll “look good on my résumé” as I move out of the English teacher mode and into computer education.

Class tonight was interesting, as Anne showed us examples of various types of software for the classroom. I’ve got lots of work for the projects, but it all seems doable.

It’s nice that I live so closes to Columbia; the trip is a breeze. (Literally, sometimes, like today, it is a breeze, as I wait for the bus on Riverside Drive.)

As I walked up the block tonight, I was thinking that although I’ve spent the past two summers in New York City, this is the first one that has real structure to my life: going to school, and now. working.

I goofed off a little too much this afternoon, not reading or exercising enough – but hey, I’m not perfect.

Earlier, walking through the Columbia campus, I felt a little envious of the undergraduates.

Next week I’ll be 35, twice the age of today’s freshmen. Yet I still feel a twinge of doubt when I’m called “sir.” It’s immature to want to be a boy forever, yet part of me does want that.


Thursday, May 29, 1986

11 PM. Up early this morning, I worked out before it got too hot, as I knew it would be about 90° today.

The chairman of the FIT English Department called and asked me to the next step of the process, a meeting with the dean, Gladys Marcus, next Thursday at 3:30 PM.

I’m game – although I doubt I’ll end up at FIT even if the dean likes me. (The chairman made her sound like a lunatic).

Then, at 11 AM, I left to have lunch with Harold Bakst, who lives in the apartment next door to Pete on East 10th Street.

We really had a good time. It’s a pleasure to be with someone who shares the same interests and values toward writing and teaching as I do. I had expected it to be only an hour’s lunch, but we ended up spending nearly five hours together.

Harold is an okay guy with his head on straight. We talked about academia, literature, publishing, politics, etc.

His apartment is small and cramped. I know I would find it depressing to live in such a spartan place, even though I myself don’t require much.

I guess I find it hard to take the old Lower East Side tenement apartment: the bolts on the doors, the bathtub with legs in the kitchen, etc. Obviously, I could get used to it, but I prefer more comfort and light.

The time went so fast, I didn’t realize it was nearly 5 PM when I left. I had planned to go home and then go to Soho for the PEN annual meeting, but I realized that would be ridiculous so I figured I’d walk it.

I was hot and a bit hungry – I got a Frozade on the street – and it didn’t help that the PEN office was warm. This meeting was much better attended than last year’s, and there were not enough seats to go around.

As usual, I felt odd because I don’t really know anyone there, and I’m too shy to insinuate myself on people. Also, people tend not to recognize me. When I saw Jane DeLynn and said hello, I think we spoke for a while before she could place me.

I spoke to Russell Banks, who didn’t recognize me, either – though he knew me because he said, “You live in Florida now.” And Daniel Fuchs, my old Richmond College professor, spoke to me long before he knew who I was.

The meeting was a raucous one, which I expected once I knew there were two alternate slates nominated for the executive board.

Besides the official nominating committee’s slate, the Women’s Committee, which had made such a fuss at the PEN Congress, nominated three of their own (in addition to the official slate).

Then, Norman Mailer, his term as President ending, wanted to put some friends on the Board and so added four names to the three of the women’s committee for another slate.

The meeting reminded me of those undergraduate student government meetings I attended 15 years ago, when everything would descend into petty and trivial politics and personal attacks.

This turned into Feminists vs. Mailer, and people were acting as stupid as student council members.

During the long and acrimonious debate, I circulated and saw who I could see: Susan Sontag, Erica Jong, Gloria Naylor, Sidney Bernard, Harry Smith, Elizabeth Janeway, Walter Abish and Lesley Hazelton were a few of the people I recognized.

After the debate, the vote was taken and the feminists “won”: they elected their candidates without Mailer’s.

Stung, Mailer delivered his outgoing address to hisses when he said, “The Democratic Party was taken over by women in 1984 and look what happened.”

He’s a provocateur, but I believe he was unfairly criticized by the women. It was kind of embarrassing to see the pettiness and divisiveness, especially when Mailer was so gracious in his introduction of his successor, Hortense Calisher.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience, and even though I’ll be 35 in a few days, I was still one of the youngest people there.

As I told Harold earlier in the day, somehow I’m not able to think of myself as in the same league as these people: “The Impostor Phenomenon” at work.


Friday, May 30, 1986

4 PM. It’s a record breaking 95° now, and since I wasn’t here when Teresa came by yesterday, we couldn’t install the air conditioner, it’s pretty hot in here. I feel like a slug.

Last night I barely slept, and because the cleaning woman was coming at 8 AM, I had to be up early. While Vilma was here working, I sat out by the park reading. No one seems to be around this weekend, and I feel kind of lonely and blah.

On Wednesday, I answered a couple of ads from guys in the Voice, and one of them called me today. His name was Larry, a 35-year-old ad agency account executive who lives in Park Slope. I felt our conversation was very awkward, that I sounded foolish, and that he sounded totally unappealing to me.

Now the thing is, I’m sure he’s a fine guy, but as Alice and Jami said last week, when you’re in these artificial singles situations, it brings out the asshole in everybody.

From his comments (“I bet you have a hairy chest and are really hot”), I could tell we were coming from different places, sexually speaking.

One problem I have with New York gays my age is that they are invariably products of the scene that I deliberately avoided: the bars, the baths, the backrooms, the piers, the whole promiscuous anonymous sex scene of the ’70s.

Younger guys, growing up in the post-AIDS world, seem more sensible to me. I don’t know.

On the streets, I see dozens of incredibly well-built, gorgeous gay guys, and I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if they’d consider me a “troll”: the term for a total loser.

It’s funny that I could do much better with women, who’d consider me more attractive than gay men do. Barry and I mumbled vague plans to get together, and I pretended to take down his number. I just hope he’s smart enough not to call me.

Definitely – no more ads.

“It’s a jungle out there,” everyone says when it comes to meeting people. I’d rather just keep busy, masturbate as a sexual outlet and hope that eventually, in school or at work or through friends, I’ll meet someone.

That’s how I met Sean, Ronna, and Shelli, and that’s how most of my friends met the people they’ve loved: Alice and Peter, Josh and Chloe, Justin and Larry, Teresa and Michael.

Besides, almost all sexually active New York gay men my age carry the antibodies to the AIDS virus, and nothing is worth risking AIDS.

Better news: I spoke to Ed Hogan, who wanted to be sure I’d gotten the letter he’d sent. We decided to make a formal rider to my contract with Zephyr covering foreign rights.

I don’t expect anything will ever come of this, but it will be nice to think of my book on display at the Frankfurt Book Fair (and also a smaller book fair in Spain) with the NEA exhibit.

Ed said that my book has sold steadily, and I’m glad about that. I really hope Zephyr will publish another book by me. Maybe eventually my fiction will get more recognition.

I just feel so out of place in these times. Everything’s money, money, image, power, success, style.

Now, six young (23-33), mostly Jewish, stockbrokers and others have been indicted on charge of insider trading on Wall Street. The nature outcome of greed is corruption.

Though I dislike the Post, I laughed at their on-target “YUPPIEGATE” headline.

I feel very much like a misfit in the mid-1980s.TC mark

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