A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1986

Saturday, August 2, 1986

10 PM. Because Harold was here for most of the day, I didn’t notice until an hour ago – when he went home – how sore my throat had become.

Off and on, for over three weeks, I’ve had this sore throat, and I can’t believe it’s just an allergy or a lingering cold.

Getting the Sunday Times just now, I saw two front page stories about AIDS: one on the death of lawyer Roy Cohn, the other about the discovery of a new virus associated with AIDS.

Well, in the next week I should learn whether or not I’ve got the virus in my body.

Mostly because of health reasons, I’m leaning more and more toward going to Florida. I guess the sicker I feel, the better Florida sounds.

If I do harbor the AIDS virus, it may be important to have very little stress – and Florida is certainly less stressful than New York

And I keep thinking that I’ve had a good long run in New York, not only in the last three months (almost four by the time I leave) but also for eight out of twelve months last year and also eight out of twelve months in 1984.

If I do feel better, I can return to New York at the end of next April after eight months there.

Eight months in Florida won’t be so bad. I’d miss September and October in New York, but I won’t miss the chill of late fall in November and December.

I’ll also miss my friends, but I’ll try to keep in touch, and maybe some will visit; probably Ronna will again come to Florida to see her mother.

Well, it sounds as if I’m almost decided. We’ll see, but going back to Florida feels more right this August than it did in ’84 or ’85.

I slept okay last night, after getting in some more exercise and watching TV.

Really, I had no errands to do today, so I called Harold, who came up here at 1 PM.

After meeting for lunch at Happy Burger, we came back here, where I showed him my newspaper and magazine clippings, which astonished him.

It’s funny, but I hadn’t looked at them in so long, I myself was almost surprised how I’d managed to amass so much publicity. If I do die young, at least I won’t disappear without a trace.

Harold and I talk easily, share the same values (though I’m more cynical about academia), and before we knew it, it was 7:30 PM and both of us were hungry, so we went to Szechuan Broadway for dinner.

It was a pleasure to have such good company instead of being alone.

Harold thinks that with my publicity gimmicks and my credit card schemes, I’ve found way to manipulate society through the media and the financial services industry.

He hopes to teach at Borough of Manhattan Community College this fall as well as at John Jay; one reason he gave was that he’d be more likely to get “on staff” at a community college.

I didn’t want to disillusion him, but the CUNY schools will never hire their adjuncts as full-time faculty, at least not for the next five years.

I went over the hard copy of my “Caracas” story and spotted about fifteen changes, mostly minor, that I want to make. Then I’ll print out a final draft, make photocopies, and start sending the story out.

Right now I feel pretty rotten: not only does my throat feel very raw, but I’ve got a terrible postnasal drip and even the sniffles, as if I were again about to come down with a cold.

Maybe I should see an ENT doctor anyway. I’ve already spent $500 on medical and dental care this summer.


Sunday, August 3, 1986

10 PM. I just got back home from walking Josh to the 96th Street station. He came over here at about 5 PM, he and I sat and bullshitted awhile, and then we went out to have some angel’s hair pasta at Marvin Gardens and to see Nothing in Common at the 84th Street theater.

For me, this will always be the summer of movies at the 84th Street sixplex, taking the M5 bus to and from Teachers College, sore throats and blood tests.

Three weeks from now I’ll probably be landing in Fort Lauderdale, and I won’t be back in New York City for eight months. Sad.

Judy just rang the bell and asked if I wanted some fresh sweet basil she got on Long Island today. I told her I didn’t know how to make pesto but that I did want to smell the basil. Great smell!

My throat was much better this morning. Last night I could hardly swallow as it felt as if it was closing up again.

It’s hard for me to think about staying in New York and teaching and looking for an apartment when I’ve been feeling so icky.

In the last four weeks, I’ve had that terrible sore throat at least half of the time. It comes and goes. I worry about it being some kind of disease, but it’s not really a symptom of either hepatitis B or AIDS.

Throat cancer? I’m not hoarse. Perhaps it’s just a very bad allergic reaction. This has been one of the most humid summers in memory: not all that hot but very humid. And the sore throat is always accompanied by postnasal drip.

But I did sleep okay last night. Up at 10 AM, I went out and got the newspapers and some groceries and then lay in bed reading until 1 PM.

At the CCIMS room at Teachers College, I edited and printed out the final draft (or close to it) of “I Survived Caracas Traffic.”

Never have I worked so hard on a single story, revising, chiseling, editing it. You know? It was fun. I think it’s a good story, and though The New Yorker and The Atlantic probably won’t agree with me, I do hope to get it published somewhere.

Tomorrow I’ll make some copies of it. I can see using the protagonist and his voice again in other stories, about other parts of his life, his friends and his relatives.

This may be part of a unified collection that will become a quasi-novel. I hope so. Whether I return to Florida or stay in New York City, I want to continue writing fiction in this vein.

Josh was really wiped out after a long day with his parents. He had to work yesterday – on Monday he gets his promotion (I think his title is Chief Information Specialist) – and so he had to spend most of today with his parents.

His mother called last night and kept saying that she had some paperwork for him to do but that he didn’t have to come over; of course she said it so often that it meant he did.

“What am I going to do if my father dies?” Josh asked me several times.

Josh’s father is in good health, but he’s 76 and has himself lost one eye to retinitis pigmentosa. Josh’s mother’s blindness is a terrible affliction, and Josh said he’ll kill himself when and if he too loses his sight.

Josh’s mother obsesses about her car, which has become the symbol of everything she can’t do. She babied the car and rarely used it because she figured she’d take it on long trips in her retirement.

Perhaps Nothing in Common was the wrong movie to take Josh to see, but it was very good.

Tom Hanks is the ad agency exec who’s got to cope with his parents, who’ve just separated, and the illness of his father, played brilliantly by Jackie Gleason.

I had liked The Flamingo Kid, also directed by Garry Marshall, who has really grown and taken chances with this new film.

God, I’d like to be the kind of writer who grows and take chances – the way, say, Woody Allen has done. But I’m afraid I’m too lazy, scared and incompetent.


Tuesday, August 5, 1986

3 PM. After I made myself dinner last night, I went out for a walk and then went to the St. Agnes library branch, where I read until it closed at 5 PM.

I was kind of in a writing mood, but when I got here, Teresa and Anna were here with take-out Chinese food.

Teresa had come back into the city to get Michael’s car to drive it out to Mattituck to visit her family.

She wanted to talk with me about my plans for the fall, and she and Anna suggested that I take over Anna’s apartment in Harrison, which is a block away from the train and 40 minutes to Grand Central.

I could have the use of this apartment, and we could split the two rents three ways. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Anyway, Teresa went off to Michael’s, betting Anna $20 that she wouldn’t be back.

When she was gone, Anna told me that she, unlike Teresa, wasn’t surprised that Michael turned up at Fire Island this past weekend.

Anna says that Michael, like a lot of men, wants the best of both worlds. While he says he wants his freedom, he’s also been married twice for 20 years altogether, so obviously he also like being in a relationship, and when he misses Teresa or feels he can’t have her, he wants her.

I figure Anna’s right and that Michael and Teresa will be playing these games over the next year at least. As Anna said, Teresa wants to be married, almost “just to get it over with.”

Teresa called from Michael’s and told Anna she’d won her bet.

“Did he say he wants you to stay over?” Anna asked.

“He said he doesn’t care and I can do what I want,” Teresa replied. Then Anna yelled at Teresa, shaming her into coming back home.

I had another totally sleepless night like last Wednesday. It seems every day that I have to go to class, I end up a wreck because I’ve hardly slept the night before.

But I think I came to the conclusion that my best bet is to return to Florida. If I stay in Harrison, what’s the point? I’d rather be in familiar surroundings in Florida.

Teaching at FIT isn’t such a good deal because the three hours of each course are not as good as the four hours’ pay I got for three hours last fall at Baruch and John Jay.

If I took two 3-credit courses at CUNY in addition to the two at FIT, I’d have only 15 credits for five courses as opposed to the 16 credits I got for teaching four courses last fall. I’ll miss New York very much, but I don’t really need to stay.

I’ve just spoken to Justin, who seems to disapprove of my returning to Florida, just as he did last year. But Justin’s been so busy with Larry and his projects that I’ve seen him only four times this whole summer.

I’ve seen Josh a lot, but Ronna, Alice, Susan and most of my friends have busy lives. While I’m sure they’ll miss me, I don’t see them that often anyway.

This year is different than last year or 1984. Out of the last 28 months, I’ve spent 20 in New York and only eight in Florida.

I can catch up in Florida over the next eight months and still come back to New York next summer, maybe even stay here and take more Teachers College courses.

Yes, South Florida is very provincial compared to Manhattan, but it’s easy for me; I know the ropes there.

Out of the last four years, I’ve spent half my time in Florida, half in New York, and I can continue to do so.

While I usually don’t rely on instincts much, I instinctively feel I’d be better off in Florida this fall. I’ll take Joe Cook’s course and some others, and I’ll find a way to make some money.

Look, I’ve hardly worked at all this entire year, so I don’t mind working, and, in a way, I’m excited by possibilities in Florida…maybe a new job, a new interest.

Who knows? Maybe I could even meet someone – but I won’t hold my breath for that.
Dr. Rundle wasn’t in when I called today.


Wednesday, August 6, 1986

5 PM. Dr. Rundle didn’t have office hours today, and if he tried to call me in the last couple of days, he wouldn’t have gotten through because our phone’s been broken.

The repairman was here this afternoon, and he said the phone company will call when we’ve got a dial tone again.

I feel as if fate is stopping me from learning Dr. Rundle’s news. For the past week, I’ve begun to feel certain that I’ll have the HTLV-III antibody in my blood.

After all, if I could have the hepatitis B antibody, why not the one from AIDS?

I keep thinking that somehow I’ve forgotten sexual encounters I’ve had, but I believe there’s only one person I could have picked up AIDS from, and that’s Sean.

I can’t imagine who else could have given me the hepatitis B antibody, either.

This has to be one big joke, doesn’t it? After I die of AIDS, everyone will assume I was at least somewhat promiscuous. Maybe I would have had better luck if I had been.

Anyway, I’m now determined to return to Florida. New York may be home, too, but my family is in Florida, and if I’m going to be ill, I don’t want to be alone.

Maybe it sounds as if my mind is running away with me; my hand is shaking as I write this. I’ve felt so sleepy all day: not sick but tired, and not weak-tired but sleepy-tired. Perhaps I just want to escape reality.

Hey, it would be pretty funny if I gave myself AIDS when I masturbated . . .

Enough self-pity, kiddo. At the moment your most visible physical problems are acne and twenty extra pounds.

My guaranteed student loan for Teachers College for the fall came through today, but I intend to turn it down. I’ll also have to figure out a way to let FIT know I won’t be working there as an adjunct this fall.

And I’ve got to tell Teresa I’m leaving.

I’ve made a list of other things I need or want to do before I return to Florida. There was nothing suitable in the Voice sublets ads today, nothing even close to a place I could afford, and I don’t expect any responses to my own ad next week.

Last evening’s class was okay. Amy made me one of five group leaders to work with people doing an exercise in block moves and using windows, and she demonstrated Epsilon, an EMACS-like text editor, and Magic Slate, a word processing package for kids.

There are just three more classes left, and on Tuesday, our journals and “chosen writing” are due.

Because I’ve had to wait for the phone company repairman, I’ve spent all day inside; it’s another humid, icky day. I felt like wanting to spend most of the day in bed anyway.

Surprisingly, given my mental state, I got myself to exercise for an hour; I’ve just taken a shower.

Vilma, the cleaning woman, will be here at 8 AM tomorrow. Except for worrying about dying, I really don’t have a care in the world these days. I’ll be here in New York City another eighteen days of so.

Tom and Debra will be coming back from Europe soon, and Crad will be visiting from Canada. I’d really like to see Wade and Ellen and their new baby, but I don’t have the get -up-and-go to get up and go to Philadelphia.

Maybe, if I do test positive for HTLV-III, I should go see a therapist when I get back to Florida. But I don’t trust Florida psychologists. I don’t know what to do.

It astounds me that I could die – what an idiotic statement that is, I know. Of course I’m definitely going to die, if not from AIDS next year, then the year after that in a car accident or at age 94 from a heart attack.

But I’m certainly going to die. Why won’t that sink in?


Thursday, August 7, 1986

1 PM. My AIDS antibody test results probably won’t be in till next week, Dr. Rundle said when I spoke to him about an hour ago.

But I tested negative for the hepatitis B “c” antigen and antibody, whatever they are. Dr. Rundle said I’m a “healthy carrier” of hepatitis B, that I’m not ill, and I’m not infectious to anyone. Good enough.

After dinner last evening, I went to Columbia. First, I tried to see if Volume 38 of Contemporary Literary Criticism had arrived in their library, but they hadn’t even gotten Volume 37 yet. I’m afraid I’m in for a long wait.

Then I went to the CCIMS lab at Teachers College, where I spent nearly 2½ hours working. I re-formatted my story, wrote journal entries, cleaned up my files by consolidating some and killing others, and re-did my résumé.

I love working on a computer and I think I’ll write a lot more if I get one. If I go back to Florida, as seems likely, I think I’ll buy an IBM-compatible Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack.

Anyway, I felt elated by the time I got home last night.

There was a message for Teresa from Amira, and I was so excited to hear Amira’s voice that I immediately called her.

She sounds like she’s doing very well, for she is now an account executive at a big advertising agency, one of those bought recently by Britain’s Saatchi & Saatchi, and her accounts include Sperry computers.

Amira staid that while she’s working very hard, she’s learning a great deal, making a good salary, and having fun.

Amira wanted to know if she could pick up her tape deck and some other things, so I said I’d call Teresa and get back to her.

When I did phone Teresa, she showed her least attractive side: “Don’t let her in the house,” she ordered.

Teresa said, “Gone, all gone,” when I mentioned the various items Amira said she had here. I’m pretty sure Teresa is lying.

Remember last year when she forbade me to let Fern in to pick up Fern’s own stereo? I feel the same way now that I did then.

Obviously, I’d like to be out of here soon. Unlike the last two Augusts, I don’t feel a sense of dread about going back to Florida.

Maybe it’s because I’m in a better frame of mind this year, since I’ve accomplished some things: all my computer education knowledge, the People article, the senior discount affair, my article in the Fort Lauderdale paper, my new story, etc.

I feel it doesn’t matter where I am, I’m not a failure.

I slept well last night but had to be up at 7 AM, for Vilma came to clean at 8 AM.

So I went out to the 42nd Street library and read the papers, including Tuesday’s Fort Lauderdale News, which I’d gotten at Times Square.

According to the paper, the FAU/FIU/BCC downtown tower won’t be ready for fall classes after all: no surprise.

I got back here an hour ago at noon. It’s a dark, rainy day.

*

9 PM. I got to Teachers College at about 3 PM this afternoon and fooled around in the CCIMS lab before getting a snack and going off to class.

Today we broke up into groups twice, once for a word-processing exercise and once to discuss our projects and our feelings about computers and writing.

Amy also showed us the Quill writing software, similar to those I’ve looked at for EPIE, and explained some printer commands. I’ll probably get to the lab at Teachers College at least once this weekend.

I picked up my papers from last semester, which Anne Vollmer didn’t care for (misplaced modifier – I’d correct it if I were word-processing).

I got only a B+ in Software Evaluation. True, I probably didn’t deserve more, but I really hated that course.

At least I’ve really enjoyed this second class. I’m a creative person, not a scholar.

My throat is sore again.

Mom reacted coolly to the news that I’m coming back to Florida. As usual with her and Dad, she thinks only of the negative first. Well, I don’t intend to let my parents get to me.


Friday, August 8, 1986

8 PM. I wish I weren’t alone tonight, but I’ll make do.

I didn’t get in until an hour ago. At 4 PM, I went over to Teachers College and worked in the CCIMS lab for a couple of hours.

My journal for the second half of the course will be over 21 pages, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get at least an A- in the course.

At Teachers College I’ve now gotten only a B+ in Computer Graphics and Software Evaluation, but those were subjects which didn’t interest me all that much, while Computers and Writing definitely does.

Yesterday I noticed that one of the people in my group had a White River Junction, Vermont, address, and I said, “I know a guy who teaches there – Alan Karpoff.”

“Incredible,” said the woman. “I serve with him on our union negotiating committee. He’s a great person to have on that committee.”

Although I was never really close to Alan, I was delighted to hear he’s doing so well.

Why is it that some people’s success bothers us, while we’re thrilled to learn of the success of others? Perhaps it’s because I never felt in competition with Alan, and I guess I feel a kinship with his being a teacher.

My sore throat recurred last night and it’s still with me; perhaps it’s the very humid weather. (This summer it’s either been humid or very humid.) I had some trouble sleeping last night.

This morning, during a phone conversation with Susan Mernit, she asked if I stay up worrying about AIDS; I said I sure do. Miriam wrote and said I should let her know right away the results of the HTLV-III test.

Last night I tuned in the Gay Cable Network in the middle of some news item: “… so don’t take the HTLV-III test, because as you can see, it’s highly inaccurate.”

I’ll have no way of knowing if a positive result isn’t a false positive, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about a positive result except wonder and worry and, of course, be very careful not to infect anyone else (though in recent times, that precaution has been problematical, since I haven’t been intimate with another person in months).

At this rate, even a positive test result may almost prove to be a relief, though that still puts me in the position of not knowing anything about the future.

Will I end up dying a wasted man with sunken cheeks and a frail body like Rock Hudson, Perry Ellis, Roy Cohn and thousands of others?

If I do get AIDS, I’d like to think I could try to get something positive out of the experience, as stupid as that sounds.

I’ve lived a pampered life, so maybe – no, I was going to say that maybe getting AIDS would balance that out and make me a stronger person, but that’s a stupid, senseless remark.

I don’t deserve to get AIDS, but then neither did anyone else.

“Why me?” I’d ask, “Why me, of all people? Someone who was the opposite of promiscuous?”

And the answer would be “Because,” or maybe just a cosmic giggle.

Why not me?

Miriam writes that her instincts tell her that I won’t have the AIDS virus, but every day I feel it’s more possible, especially after my positive hepatitis B test result.

Do I wish I hadn’t taken the HTLV-III test? No. I still want to know if I’ve got the virus in me. Maybe once I know, I’ll feel differently.

Look, I’ve got the hepatitis B antibody, and while it felt strange to know that at first, I’ve gotten used to it. I still floss my gums and try to exercise. In a way, my body is in as good a shape as it’s ever been.

The big problem is that I’m too fat – and certainly that isn’t a sign of AIDS. (Which is why, I think, it would be ironic to find out I’ve got the AIDS virus in my system.)

Enough on this topic.

Susan turned down courses at Hunter College for the fall. Not only has she been making almost as much money freelancing as she did from teaching, but she felt an adjunct “career” would lead nowhere.

I spoke to Harold today, too, and he still believes he can get somewhere in academia. One reason I can walk away from FIT is that probably teaching at yet another college would only make my résumé look worse, not better.

Susan said she can understand why I want to go back to Florida. I appreciate her feelings – unlike Justin’s, which annoy me.

Justin’s disapproval is so hypocritical in light of the fact that he’s seen me only three or four times since May, and he’s not around to help me.

I guess it wouldn’t bother me if Justin didn’t make such a big deal about caring about my plans and telling me that Florida is bad for me. New York is not the be-all and end-all.

Yet when Teresa told me that her parents said I could rent the vacant apartment in their house in Brooklyn, I began to consider the offer. Who knows?

This morning in the supermarket I met a man who lives by scavenging for bottles and cans and turning them in each day for the five-cent deposits.

“I hang out in Heineken territory,” he told me. “What’s trash to some people is my life.”

The other day, at the entrance to Penn Station, I saw half a dozen people lying on the ground.

In contrast, I’ve got a soft bed, pillows, an air conditioner, a radio, a TV, a VCR, everything I need (except maybe a computer, and that’s because I’m greedy).

I’m lucky, as the narrator of “Caracas” says about himself.

God, I hope this story gets accepted by some magazine. If it doesn’t, I’ll publish it myself the way Crad does.

Crad sent his three latest books: Foul Pus from Dead Dogs, Incurable Trucks and Speeding Diseases, and Simple Stories for Idiots.

All the books look great, and from what I’ve read so far, it’s a joy to see Crad grow as a writer. Like Woody Allen, Crad keeps moving ahead. I only wish that the same could be said about me.

I’m going to start reading Foul Pus now.

*

It’s now 4 AM and I can’t sleep. The left side of my throat is painfully sore, but I’m beginning to think this is more a problem of swallowing than it is a throat problem.

It hurts like hell to swallow. I don’t know what this is, but after a month with this recurring health problem, I feel something is seriously wrong.

My mind tends to run away with me at night, and at times like this I feel certain that I’m going to die within the next year.

Well, I remember I felt the same way six years ago when it took so long for my dizziness to go away. Every night for nearly a year I would get dizzy when I put my head down on the pillow to try to sleep. But eventually that went away.

Because this throat swallowing problem comes and goes, I keep thinking that each recurrence is the last. I wish I knew the results of the AIDS test already. I feel like such a mess.

This weekend I’ll probably be alone, too. See, it’s not much different than it would be in Florida. Boy, I’m really feeling sorry for myself these days.

Watch: No one will call all this week, and then next week, when Tom and Crad are in New York. I’ll be really busy.

Though I could do without Crad’s racism and xenophobia, I thought his books were great when I read them last night.

I think the mail carriers have really fucked up due to vacations. The mail’s been coming at 5 or 6 PM, and on Thursday, I found Teresa’s paycheck among a dozen letters (for various people) that had been thrown on the floor by the mailboxes.


Monday, August 11, 1986

7:30 PM. I’m at Grandma’s in Rockaway now, alone on the terrace, as she’s gone out to play cards.

Dr. Rundle told me I tested negative for the AIDS virus.

I called near noon, right after I got out here, and the doctor returned my call as soon as he was through with a patient.

In terms of negative results, he said, the ELISA test is almost 100% accurate, but he advised me to have the test again in six months.

Well, I wish I could say I felt overwhelmed, but I don’t think I’ve taken in this good news yet.

To me, this means that I can go on with my life. Yet it’s not as if I’m not going to die.

As I look out before me, I see the Army Corps of Engineers at work on the closed-off beach.

Once again, because of erosion, they’re dredging up sand from offshore (there’s some kind of rig about half a mile out in the ocean) and pumping it onto the land so as to extend the beach. Tractors are smoothing out the new wet sand as hundreds of seagulls stand on it.

But they’ve done this every few years since the early 1970s, when the beach completely disappeared for a while, and it’s a losing battle.

Nature is making the Atlantic coast recede, and all the Army Corps of Engineers can do is delay the inevitable erosion and disappearance of the beach.

The metaphor here is that while I may not be about to die, eventually I’m going to die of something.

Still, I feel enormously relieved.TC mark

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