A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1986

Sunday, May 11, 1986

7 PM. This has been a golden weekend that I’ve enjoyed. It’s important for me to realize how lucky I am for the pleasures I have, and how lucky I am to know how lucky I am.

On Saturday morning I called Justin, who suggested I come to Park Slope for dinner; he was anxious to show me his new Commodore 128, to which he’s become addicted.

Later, Todd phoned to ask if I’d help him with an article based on his novel; a magazine for Corvette buffs expressed interest in seeing an article after Todd queried them.

We agreed to meet in Brooklyn Heights, at the Baskin-Robbins next to Lenny’s Clam Bar at the corner of Henry and Montague.

This being New York, both the ice cream parlor and clam bar were gone, replaced by new establishments. Because I was early, I had time to take a walk on the Promenade, where the annual art show was in progress.

I’ve always loved the Promenade – “the most gorgeous cliché in America,” I wrote of it in “With Hitler in New York” – and its magical view of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the towers of lower Manhattan between them.

Also, I associate Brooklyn Heights with the summer of 1969 and my gradual recovery from agoraphobia; like the Village, it was one of the first places I “discovered” on my own when I was able to venture out.

1969 was 17 years ago, half my life ago, but as I walked among the crowds of gawkers and strollers and as I passed the brownstones on Pierrepont Street, I felt in touch with the 18-year-old kid I was at that time.

Sometimes I still feel 18 and coming out into a world in which everything seems new and invested with meaning.

Todd took me to the Promenade Restaurant, where he showed me his story. He’s 45 now, and for years he’s been working on The Abduction, the novel about his obsession to reclaim his stolen Corvette; the novel is now his obsession.

Twenty years ago, his novel probably would have been published, but today it’s not commercial enough.

Todd is very naïve and uncynical. He survives on the kind words of publishing house readers, workshop co-participants, and magazine editors. He transforms every comment into a major question.

I worked on his 18-page article, editing it mostly for style and coherence; it was fun to help someone who valued my help.

Afterwards, we took a long walk and he drove me to Park Slope; I got there too early, of course, so Todd walked around Prospect Park with me, both of us reminiscing about how often we went there as kids before we starting talking about writing again.

I’m much more cynical than Todd, of course. I want to say, “It’s only a book,” not just about Todd’s book but about any book, definitely including my own.

If there’s one thing I’m positive of is that one book not only can’t change the world, but it probably can’t change anything, especially the book’s author.

After telling Todd to let me know what the editor of Corvette Fever said about his piece, I went over to Justin’s.

As I walked, I tried to figure out whether it felt strange or familiar to be walking toward a house where I lived for ten weeks just last fall.

Justin took me up to his bedroom, where we spent several hours with his computer. The guy is bitten bad by the computer bug, though if I too had one in my bedroom, I’m sure I’d find myself at its keyboard at 3 AM.

Computers are incredibly seductive, and the goodies add up: just that morning Justin had bought a new database software to go along with his word processing package, utility disks, and “Movie Time” – animation software so sophisticated it makes some of our projects in my Computer Graphics class last fall look like the work of morons.

Justin’s had so many problems with the peripherals, software, cables, interfaces, etc., that he’s had to make about 14 trips in as many days back to his dealer.

Ben, a dedicated cyberphobe, came in and looked on in astonishment or bemusement. It was good to see Ben again, and he complimented me on my People piece.

Finally I nearly had to physically separate Justin and computer because I was hungry. (So was he, but he didn’t realize it until I got him away from the machine!)

We had dinner at the Santa Fe Grill, that very pleasant Tex-Mex place on Seventh Avenue where I’d been last year with Josh.

Justin looked tired, and he admitted he’s been doing too much. Not only is his new assignment at Shearson – creating a database of back issues, intricately cross-referenced – demanding, but he also just finished Thursday’s workshop reading of his new play, which, with a “great cast” (Ali included), went well.

In addition, he’s reworking an old play with a co-author and busy with other theatrical projects. Add to that his computer time and a relationship, and clearly Justin is a busy man.

Although he and Larry see each other only every other weekend (alternating between New York and Reading), they’re extremely close. Justin and Larry speak every night, which makes MCI happy.

From his photo, Larry is cute, and from his drawings on Justin’s wall, I can tell he’s a good artist.

Justin is obviously blooming along with the affair. Do I envy him? No, because I know what it’s like, and it’s great to see how happy Justin is.

Back in his room, he gave me some mail, which included a Discover card, with a $2000 credit line, for Richard A. Grayson. Sears may not think he’s as credit-worthy as Richard S., but I was delighted by the unexpected ‘extra credit.’

I left at 10:30 PM, got home an hour later, and had trouble sleeping because I was so exhilarated.

Today I woke up late after dreaming of printing “I Love Ronna” all over Justin’s computer screens, with Ronna not interested in looking at it.

Alice phoned to say that she was staying in all day to await responses to an ad she put in to rent her Nassau Street co-op, and so she invited me over for lunch.

Glad to finally see her, I arrived at 1 PM for tuna fish and iced tea.

Alice said she and Peter are in their third week of couples’ therapy; after ups and downs they’re trying to resolve their relationship’s problems, all of which, they’ve discovered, are not about money.

Peter has come a long way, though and he’s now willing to marry Alice, even to become engaged on her mother’s birthday to make her happy. But although Alice loves Peter dearly, she’s not certain their conflicts can be settled.

She’s a little sorry she bought the downtown co-op with her brother, and the phone didn’t ring once, as apparently there’s price resistance to their asking $1400 a month for rent.

Alice admitted that she’s doing better than she thought she would on her Redbook salary – a $6000 expense account helps – but she’s still pretty money-minded.

She wants me to call Ray Robinson “and convince him you’re not a flake” so I can interview for some $45,000 editing job at a Columbia-sponsored magazine. What Alice doesn’t realize is that if I took that job, my quality of life would just as likely decline as improve.

She, like Josh, is very concerned about security; having never been unemployed, she’s terrified by the prospect.

Sometimes I think Alice wonders how I go through life without any sense of permanence – except I do have a sense of permanence, only one that doesn’t have anything to do with a job or a residence.

When I called Grandma tonight to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, she sounded awful. She got sick from her new prescription on Thursday and went back to the doctors on Friday; now it’s chest pains.

When I asked her if Marty and Arlyne came over, she said all they did was yell at her and she didn’t want to go out with them.

Why did they yell at her? I asked.

Because she had stopped taking her Sinequan, the antidepressant Dr. Hotchkins prescribed. No wonder she’s been so ill! The depression returned and that made her illnesses worse.

I can understand my aunt and uncle’s impatience with her. Grandma is getting impossible.


Wednesday, May 14, 1986

6 PM. Although I tried to keep from being bored, today I was a bit at loose ends.

Tomorrow and Friday are registration at Teachers College, where I went yesterday afternoon. I’ll take one course, just so I can have some structure to my life.

I’d like to be doing some work also, but obviously I don’t want to take just any job. I’ve been going through the want ads every day and applying for various teaching jobs. Once I’m registered at Columbia, I can use the Placement Office to help me find something.

I phoned Ronna and we made an informal date for tomorrow evening.

Yes, I know I had promised to leave her alone, but I got overwhelmed by my feelings for her (and also my horniness).

But I won’t make any overtly sexual moves unless I get some signals from her. She did sound very happy to hear from me, and I felt good after we talked.

Last evening Harold called and we spoke for an hour. The term at John Jay ends next week, and he’s been rehired for the fall and given another pair of English 102 classes.

Teaching the introductory lit classes rather than remedial must be a relief. For the past two years, the only classes in English that I’ve taught have been remedial, and Harold was surprised when I was vehement about never doing it again – or at least not this fall.

He seemed more impressed with my People article than anyone; Harold said he has friends who’ve been trying to crack a magazine like that for years without success. He’s a nice guy, and I hope to see him this summer.

Today’s mail brought a questionnaire from the Division of Jurors for me. I now can receive mail here again, as the Post Office’s yellow stickers on my letters say that my temporary change of address order has expired.

I’ve been exercising every day, and by today I was sore just about everywhere.

With nothing to do, I decided to see what Hoboken was like, so I took the PATH train there. I’ve been to Jersey City and Newark on PATH, but this was the first time I’d traveled to Hoboken, the hottest New Jersey town.

There are sturdy, neat brownstones all over, and a healthy number of real estate brokers on Washington Avenue, the main drag.

It’s a changing neighborhood with a good mix of white ethnics, Hispanics and the younger artsy and Yuppie types who’ve fled Manhattan in search of affordable housing. Old-style hardware stores and pharmacies coexist with trendier health-food and gourmet shops.

I walked around for about an hour, exploring, until I sat down with a soda at McDonald’s. I think I could enjoy living in Hoboken.

Back home at 4:45 PM, I made myself some Jerusalem artichoke spaghetti and had half a cantaloupe I’d gotten at the Koreans’.

Having spent $10 today, I feel I should stay in this evening. Just walking out the door in Manhattan seems to cost money.


Thursday, May 15, 1986

4 PM on a dark, drizzly day. I shouldn’t be getting so excited about seeing Ronna tonight, for it can only end in disappointment. But I’ve been starving for affection these last months, and I need to hold and kiss someone.

What am I doing? Am I being a creep?

I want to make sure I look attractive tonight. Suddenly I feel silly where a few minutes ago, I felt sexy staring at myself in the mirror. I’d better cool it before I end up in loads of trouble – and hurting Ronna.

My sperm count must be on the level of a 17-year-old’s. Well, at least I know I can still feel this way.

Last evening I watched TV and read – not very productive, I know – but I slept well. This morning I took the Riverside Drive bus up to Teachers College and registered at 10:30 AM.

It didn’t take long, really; I’m enrolled in TU6030, Software Evaluation, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:55-9:00 PM. I didn’t want to take Programming II because I’m tired of programming courses and felt Software Evaluation might be more interesting and relevant.

The total bill came to $1018, a hefty sum, but with deferred payment, I put only two-thirds of it on one of my MasterCards.

Hanging out at Teachers College, I read the paper, got a bite to eat downstairs, and scoured the job notices posted. I should probably be more active in looking for work there this term.

At noon I got into the subway and went to the World Trade Center to see if I could use the Republic ATM there to access my Preferred Credit account. Unfortunately, I have a balance of only $6.54, so I couldn’t take any money out.

On my way to meet Pete Cherches, I saw Justin eating a sandwich outside a nearby building; at first, I passed him because it didn’t register that it was Justin for a few seconds.

He’s still fooling around with his Commodore 128, and he’s come up with some problems which I, of course, could not solve.

Because he has so much writing to do and no one has called about renting the spare room in his apartment, Justin canceled his trip to Reading this weekend.

A guy in the chorus of La Cage Aux Folles saw Justin’s roommate notice at Actors’ Equity, but he can’t come over till Sunday night since he’s at work all other nights (when Justin and Ben are home).

When I arrived at the Cajun restaurant on Reade Street to meet Pete, I discovered I was twenty minutes late; I’d gotten the time wrong and had thought I was ten minutes early.

Pete looked very much the computer programmer in his suit, but if you looked close, you could see the buffalo design on his tie and a tie-clip in the shape of a fish.

He was having a hectic day working on a new project that requires he complete his share of it before he leaves for San Francisco a week from Saturday. He’s greatly looking forward to the trip and to his performance there.

Darinka is back in business, and Pete will revive Sonorexia for a show in July.

We didn’t have all that much to talk about, but then, because I’d been late, we didn’t have much time, period.

I walked him back to his office at the old AT&T Building on Broadway and Fulton, which has a magnificent lobby featuring marble floors and huge Greek pillars.

Back here, I did the laundry and read letters from Tom, Crad and Miriam. Crad is “romantically involved” with his “distinguished writer friend,” but he won’t tell me her name because she’s very important in the Canadian literary world.

Tom is tired after a few hectic weeks, but he said that this has been one of his better teaching years. Miriam seems fine, as usual, and is keeping busy with her writing, Zen and massage.

I’ll be glad for Monday, when school starts, because I need some sort of structure to hang my life on.


Saturday, May 17, 1986

10 PM. I’ve been filling up my time well on a weekend when I could have fallen victim to self-pity and loneliness.

I’ve been working out like crazy, reading a great deal (I finished Daniel Yankelovich’s New Rules, about the change in values from self-denial to what he calls duty-to-myself), and from 7 PM to 9 PM tonight, I even wrote for two hours straight.

It was like old times: in longhand, I worked on a story that’s 17 notebook pages so far. I wrote as if in a trance, and it felt good.

I’d be much more excited, but I’ve had these bursts of creativity before in the past two years only to discover that they were basically flukes. One burst last winter produced “My BASIC Problem,” and last August, when I first moved to Park Slope, I wrote essentially the same story I worked on tonight, but I never finished it.

However, I have better hopes for this version of the story because it’s more structured and I think I know where I’m going with it.

The writing tired me out, and right now I feel stupid and numb.

None of my friends are around this weekend, and I still have yet to get any recent mail from Florida although Mom assures me that she’s been sending it.

So I’ve been by myself all the time, with really not much to do. This morning I got dressed in a tie and sport jacket and had a pre-interview at the Grand Hyatt for the Maricopa Community Colleges. They had an ad for new faculty in last Sunday’s Times, and I called for an appointment yesterday.

I was interviewed by a young black woman math teacher, whom I liked; later, I went to an orientation session with the employment director. The Maricopa Community Colleges seem like an ideal place to work: innovative, flexible, progressive, everything that I wish Broward Community College was.

The salaries are higher, faculty are given a benefits package designed for them individually, there’s a wellness program, they give you computers to use at home, and moving from college to college and from discipline to discipline is encouraged.

My problem is that I couldn’t find my Brooklyn College transcripts, and they’re needed by this year’s faculty pool deadline on Thursday, so I’ll probably have to wait until next year.

But this district is growing, adding two new colleges this year alone, and I’d like to see what they’re all about.

I suspect that while both Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale are high-growth areas, the West is more in tune with the future than is the South.

What else? I’ve been alone and thinking a lot these past 36 hours, so you’d think I’d have a lot to write about, but working on the story for two hours has apparently satisfied my need to put things on paper.

After working out for two hours this afternoon – it was humid and 83° – I took a shower and went down to the Village. At B. Dalton, I bought some books with the Discover card I was sent in Brooklyn.

One of the books was 23-year-old Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, and reading it over dinner at the counter of The Bagel may have been what finally got my ass to write tonight.

If I’m not going to passed by for a new generation of younger writers, I’ve got to at least attempt to work on fiction. I’m still pretty scared about failing, but I need to get over that feeling and keep going.


Tuesday, May 20, 1986

10 PM. According to a message Anne Vollmer left on the answering machine, my Software Evaluation course is going on as scheduled, so I guess it has enough students.

This morning I got a call from Manny Hanny telling me that their student loan department had sent out a check, and it got returned, probably because my mail here was then being forwarded to Florida. They told me they’d resend the check.

If I’ve got student loan money, then I need to take six credits, and so tomorrow, the last day for late registration, I’ll go up to Teachers College and register for the Computers and Writing course in the second summer session.

Then I can take the check to the college and get back whatever money wasn’t part of the tuition.

Last night I slept very badly. By 2 AM, still wide awake, I put on a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie, and I didn’t get to sleep until 4 AM or so.

Susan woke me up with a 9 AM phone call; we agreed to meet after her shrink appointment. My head was still pretty fuzzy, as I’d been dreaming about grading essays at John Jay.

I met Susan outside her shrink’s office. On Saturday, she and Spencer went out for a night on the town: a show at Lincoln Center and dinner in Manhattan. They had Spencer’s parents’ car (Susan’s in-laws are in Sarasota), and Spencer offered to drive the babysitter home because it was so late.

When he got back to his house, he saw creepy-looking guys on the front steps, so he walked to Seventh Avenue, intending to call Susan.

Suddenly there was a knife up against his throat, and a man held him and said, “If you don’t want to die, do whatever I say.”

The man made Spencer give him his watch and his wallet (he took out the cash and handed the rest back) and forced him to lie down on the ground – all this while people were walking past him, and none of them called the police.

Ordered to lie there until the man was gone five minutes, Spencer did as he was told and then called the police and Susan, who was by then frantic with worry.

Obviously, Spencer was traumatized; he was incredibly scared, and now he feels weird about going out at night.

When I lived in Park Slope, I used to walk that stretch of Seventh Avenue all the time, and it’s more isolated than the rest of the street. Just hearing about Spencer’s mugging makes me feel insecure.

Susan and I had an early lunch, and then I accompanied her to Zabar’s – and what delicious-looking goodies they had!

Back home, I read over the material in the handouts for class.

At 5 PM, I went to the Small Press Center at a private library on 44th and Fifth (near Touro College), to hear John F. Baker, the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly (and also Small Press, until Bowker sold it) lecture on “The Small Press.”

Although most of what he had to say was old hat to me, it seemed like news to the audience. I was impressed when Baker, a witty Englishman, said he believes the future of literature is in the hands of the small press and not the New York book publishers – “but don’t tell anyone I’ve said this.”

Obviously, publishing is more bottom-line than ever, with trashy novels and celebrity bios getting huge advances, huge printings and huge sales: the familiar blockbuster syndrome.

Baker, in response to my question, said there may come a time when major literary writers are published only by the small presses.

Although I’m not a major writer, if you don’t count Taplinger, I’m probably one of the most obvious cases of a literary author who’s never had a major publisher. If Zephyr Press won’t do my next collection, I’ll find another press to do it.

I’m beginning to feel more like a writer again.


Wednesday, May 21, 1986

5 PM. With a storm system stalled over the East Coast, today was another humid, rainy day, and this weather will probably last the entire week.

I have school tonight, but I’m tired after a day dealing with bureaucracy.

This morning I thought I’d get to Teachers College early and register for that second course. The registering was easy, but at the cashier’s window, they told me they wouldn’t accept credit card payments until 11 AM or possibly noon.

So I read the Times and USA Today and bought my books before they finally did open at noon.

At home, the mail included not only my letter about the GSL check but the check as well. I could have taken it over to Teachers College, but I left that for tomorrow, for I’m sure there’ll be all kinds of complications when bureaucrats are presented with a situation different from the ordinary.

I had that problem when I went to the Unemployment office downtown. They won’t let me file this new claim until the interstate claim I filed in January is settled. I had assumed it already was when Albany wrote and told me I wasn’t eligible for benefits.

Anyway, what it means is that it will probably be months before I’d ever see any money, if then. Right now I feel it’s not worth it to go through all the hassles.

Riding uptown on the subway, I ran through in my head all the times I’d been exploited, like when Touro College wouldn’t pay me till September 1980 so I couldn’t collect benefits – and in the meantime I had so little money that I became eligible for stamps.

Or when Kingsborough refused to pay me later that year and I had to pull off that fake epileptic fit. Or how LIU paid me just $600 per course, in only two installments; I had to work for over two months before I got my measly paycheck.

Or how as an adjunct I was ineligible for health benefits when I became ill with labyrinthitis. Or how I taught twelve sections of 28 students at Broward Community College in 1981-82 for $13,200. I felt very angry about having been so powerless.

When I got off at 72nd Street to change for the local, I met one of my John Jay students from the fall, a very pleasant Puerto Rican boy, a good writer who never gave me a moment’s trouble.

We had a nice talk, and he asked if I would be back at John Jay and seemed surprised when I said I no longer wanted to be a teacher. Who knows: maybe he thought I was a good one.

Hell, perhaps I am a good teacher.

Actually, in my litany of complaints above, I left off the one that finally made me see college teaching as a total dead-end career: the way I was treated as a flunky by that idiot Prof. Russo at the University of Miami.

Yet getting unemployment then and discovering I could get my student loan got me started on my own ripping off of the system; that’s also when I started using my credit cards for cash advances and stopped feeling I was in debt when I owed revolving credit lines.

For a long time I’d forgotten the bitterness I harbored toward academia. Still, I take special pleasure in my dealings with money and credit, my manipulations of the media, and my People article, all of which is a kind of revenge.

Susan Ludvigson wrote, saying she’d tried to put in a good word for me at University of North Carolina Charlotte – but alas, I didn’t even get an interview there.

She’ll be in Paris on sabbatical next fall and she hoped I could rent her condo in downtown Charlotte. Maybe, despite not getting the UNCC job, I still should.

Well, I’d better get some dinner before I head up to Morningside Heights.TC mark

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