A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1986

Monday, July 21, 1986

9 PM. I’m at Grandma’s in Rockaway. She’s out here in the living room with me, and the Miss Universe pageant is on TV.

Grandma went to the doctor today, and she’s got a portable ECG attached to her; like a cassette recorder, it’s taping her heart beats to check out possible coronary problems.

She’ll return to the doctor tomorrow to have the ECG and the wires taped to her removed.

I feel tired, and my throat is still sore – my postnasal drip hasn’t gone away.

Last evening I called Dad to wish him a happy 60th birthday today. He said this is the first birthday he’s ever had that he’s been dreading “because it means I’m an old man.”

Of course, today 60 is youthful, but Dad said, “How many years of good health can I expect?”

He claimed he still felt very young in his head, but he looks in the mirror and sees how he’s aged: “In two years I can collect social security, yet I can’t relate to that.”

Dad sounds as if his reaction to being 60 is fairly normal. I told him that I expect to feel young when I’m his age; at 35, I still sometimes feel like that 18-year-old kid who started writing these diaries in 1969.

Last night around 11 PM, while walking on Broadway from 86th Street down to 79th and back, I was appalled to see all the people stretched out in front of the store doorways, sleeping or begging or looking dazed.

How can we keep averting our eyes from all this suffering? Every day I see dozens of homeless people, and like everyone else, I get inured to it until I really think how awful it is to have these people in the richest city in the world.

Nevertheless, I still slept very well.

Up at 10 AM, I read the papers and got ready to get off for the day, packing my stuff into an overnight bag. I stopped off at Times Square to get yesterday’s Miami Herald with its Tropic magazine.

In 24-point bold type, editor Gene Weingarten’s column was titled “MELISSA AND MR. GRAYSON.” I was described as “a prominent curmudgeon from Davie” and they printed my “Virginia Woolf/V. Sackville-West/Violet Trefusis/Alice Keppel/Edward VII/Prince Albert” answer.

It can’t hurt, this publicity.

I got off the sweltering IRT in Park Slope to enjoy one of the “baby pizzas” I love at Roma Pizza and to get a badly-needed haircut. Then I got on the Flatbush Avenue bus to go to the dentist.

By the time I got to East 56th Street and Avenue N, it was pouring and I had to buy an umbrella at Joe’s Men’s Store before walking to Dr. Hersh’s office. (I also stopped at the pharmacy and paid Mr. Deutsch for Mom’s latest order.)

At the dentist, I had two big cavities filled; they were under great silver fillings with fragile walls of tooth that really should be capped.

Because the next appointment was late, Robert was able to get a lot of work done; he’s probably not as good a dentist as his father, but he seems competent.

I walked to Kings Plaza and took the bus to Rockaway, getting here at about 6 PM; about an hour later, I had a light supper.


Tuesday, July 22, 1986

9 PM. I was pretty restless last night in Rockaway and didn’t get to sleep until 4 AM while Grandma, the famous insomniac, slept soundly until 6 AM, when she was awakened with chest pains.

I hope the ECG finds nothing seriously wrong with her heart.

Teresa called from Fire Island. She’s learned that she’ll get three paychecks after tomorrow, taking her till the week of Labor Day.

Seeing no reason (except perhaps to pick up her check) to go into the office, Teresa will probably spend this week at Fire Island, especially since Anna and Phyllis are there on vacation.

She does want to find a job as soon as possible after Labor Day but expects it to take “a long time.”

I left Rockaway at 11 AM, taking the train to the JFK Express bus; at the Citicorp cash machine in the airport terminal, I took out a $400 cash advance with my Choice card.

Then I took the JFK Express and the IRT back to the West Side. After banking my money and having lunch, I came here and paid some bills Mom sent, read the papers, chilled out (today was much less humid) and left for Teachers College at 3:45 PM.

Before class, I printed out a few copies of my résumé and began working on my “I Survived Caracas Story” story, which will be my “chosen writing” for the second half of the course.

Today I handed in my first batch of journals, and Amy did a variety of things with us, including having a discussion on teaching writing as process.

I just wish Dr. Grasso and all those Broward Community College deadheads who think an English teacher really isn’t working unless he’s up in front of the class lecturing on grammar or organization could learn how behind the times they are.

I guess what bothers me about going back to Florida is how backward everyone is compared to New York and the Northeast (and obviously the West, too).

But bothering me the most right now is my persistent sore throat. It hurt again today and right now it’s again painful to swallow.

I called the Immediate Medical Center and discovered my throat culture tested negative – so really, the amoxicillin hasn’t been helping me because there’s no bacterial infection. What is this problem?

I remember I had a persistent sore throat in Florida this winter, but I didn’t give it much thought then.

Well, I should probably make an appointment with an ENT doctor to check it out.

Also, I’ve decided I want to take the HTLV-III antibody test. I can deal with a positive result; I won’t fall apart knowing I’m infected with the AIDS virus, and if the result is negative, I can stop worrying every time I get a cold.

This sore throat might be a sign of AIDS, but it could also be a sign of another physical problem.

If I felt better, I’d be more able to make my decision regarding the fall.

But I’ve already made up (on the word processor) letters applying for adjunct work at CUNY schools and at FIU and FAU in Florida.

I’ll get the Voice tomorrow to look at the sublet ads and I’ll probably sign up with Roomfinders, which seems to be the biggest real estate agent for sublets and shares.

The first thing I have to take care of is my health, though; for a sore throat to continue for nearly two weeks, something’s wrong.

As the little warning labels on the lozenges say, I should see a doctor for a severe or persistent sore throat lasting more than three days.

Whatever the problem, even if it is AIDS, I have no choice but to deal with it.

If I do have AIDS – or more likely, AIDS-related complex (ARC) – or any serious illness, I want to return to Florida, where I can be with my parents and live an easier life.

If I’m going to die, I want to enjoy myself as much as possible and I need someone I can depend on. I have friends in New York, but family is family.

God, it hurts to swallow. Tomorrow I’ll make an appointment with a specialist.

I feel I’ve already spent a fortune on doctors and dentists, but I have no choice in this stupid U.S. health care system.

I’m trying to eat right, so I’ve been getting veggies from the Korean salad bar most nights.


Thursday, July 24, 1986

8 PM. I made an appointment tomorrow for a checkup and an HTLV-III antibody test with a gay doctor whose advertisement I found in the Voice. I still feel fatigued and my throat is sore and my sinuses and chest are congested.

I’d like to finally discover if I’ve been infected with the AIDS virus. Maybe I have a form of pneumocystis carinii, a rare infection but common to people with AIDS.

It’s been two weeks, off and on, that I’ve been feeling this way. The doctor’s visit tomorrow will cost $85, but it’ll be worth it if I can ease my mind or at least learn what it is I’ve got and if it can be treated.

This illness hasn’t really prevented from doing anything in the past week, but I’ve been tired, and being sick has colored my whole outlook on life.

Nevertheless, I’m making good progress on “I Survived Caracas Traffic.” I spent from 10:30 AM till noon on the word processor today, and the scenes with the nephew are done, and I’m going into the scene at nursing home with the grandfather.

In the story as I’ve written it before, the protagonist’s lover – a barely disguised version of Sean – had died, but the narrator has tested negative for the AIDS virus.

If I test positive, I may change that in the story. Or maybe I’ll just have him waiting for the results. Yeah, that might work.

On the phone, the doctor’s chatty receptionist told me that the HLTV-III test results don’t come back for three to four weeks.

Obviously, I’d like to know sooner. But I’ll see what happens tomorrow. Right now I feel tired.

The cleaning woman is coming tomorrow, so as long as I have to be up early and out of the house, I made a 10 AM appointment with Dr. Rundle, who’s at 68th and Broadway; if I feel okay, I can walk there.

In class today, Prof. McClintock guest-lectured on how the computer may change writing.

He spoke about how printing changed texts and the whole concept of literacy and even memory, and he explained what should be obvious: that when we do word processing, we’re really just putting down electronic code into a buffer in the RAM.

I think he’s right when he said the process may have implications we don’t fully understand yet. I felt funny (but also a little pleased with myself) because I was the only student who seemed to have an answer to most of McClintock’s questions.

At first, I thought I felt so tired and ill that getting through class would be rough, but concentrating on the ideas McClintock was discussing made me feel better.

Today I got a real diploma-sized certificate from EPIE, attesting that I’m a certified software analyst. That and a dollar will get me on the subway, but I’m glad to have it.

I’d better get started on the Proteus evaluation for next week, when I promised I’d have it in.

Mom sent me seven credit card bills in the mail today, and I had fun paying them – and juggling my money around, as usual.

I haven’t been keeping track of my bank balances, but I’m sure I’ve got somewhere between $30,000 and $33,000 in my various accounts.

Teresa remains on Fire Island, and next week she may come in only on Monday.

She still talks about Michael like they’re going to get back together again someday. He owes her $3,000, and Teresa said that she may take in exchange the car Michael wants to give up.

Pete called for some advice about “an aesthetic dilemma.”

Sue Goodman of Red Dust wrote that she’s accepting his manuscript for their new paperback series, and Pete feels one of the stories she likes isn’t strong enough and doesn’t fit the tone enough to be in the collection.

Should he ask her to take it out? I played shrink and told Pete to explore the issues.

God, I wish I, like Pete, had a couple of books coming out.

Josh called from work, sounding despondent.


Friday, July 25, 1986

6 PM. There’s a little patch of Band-Aid on my arm where my blood was taken for the AIDS antibody test. Perhaps in as early as a week, I’ll know if I’ve been exposed to the AIDS virus.

Dr. Rundle, the gay doctor I went to, told me to sign a fictitious name to the consent form. I signed it “William F. Buckley, Jr.”

Supposedly, this testing is all done anonymously, with my blood sample identified only as FLR-084, Dr. Rundle’s initials and a number.

He said that if I test negative, it probably means that I haven’t been exposed to AIDS but that I should re-test in six months to make certain.

If I test positive, he said, there are three possibilities.

Either I’ve been exposed to the virus and am immune to it; or I’ve been exposed and am a carrier of it, infectious to others; or I’m going to get sick (he didn’t say die, but it amounts to that).

I never had any of the sexually transmitted diseases mentioned on Dr. Rundle’s questionnaire.

He did a blood test in general, and I’ll get the results of that next week.

My pressure is 140/90, which is normal for me but kind of high. (He asked if I’m a big salt eater; I’m not.)

But he felt all my lymph glands, which seem normal, and I don’t have thrush or pneumocystis carinii pneumonia.

While my throat is still sore and I’ve got a lot of phlegm, the doctor said all he could see that was abnormal was a bad postnasal drip; he suggested I may have allergies.

Ordinarily I’d think I were coming down with a cold – but now that I know it’s not that, I figure I can live with a chronic, come-and-go sore throat. My general health seems okay.

How will I react to a positive AIDS antibody result? Obviously, I can’t predict that until it happens. I could see it sending me into a real tailspin.

On the other hand, I might feel relieved in a way and more inclined to dismiss life’s little irritations and see the larger picture.

From 1 PM till 3 PM, I was at Teachers College, working on my story in the CCIMS lab.

I had problems with the margins that took up time at the end, but I finished all of the first section up to the part where the narrator learns his ex-lover has died of AIDS. I need to come at that scene fresh, for it’s important.

What I like about “Caracas” as a story is that it deals with life and death issues; it ain’t trivial. Whether it’s good fiction or not is another matter.

As reviews have pointed out, I’m no graceful stylist, and this kind of long, realistic, ruminative fiction is more ambitious than most of my earlier work.

Perhaps it’s not even publishable, but I’d like to try slick magazines first and see if I can get paid and get a good credit.

I’ll have a very hard time with the story in literary magazines because of its length, but I’ll try the “big” littles after the slicks. Then I’ll try anywhere.

I printed out 20 pages at the end of today’s session, and the story may wind up another 10 pages.

It’s a thrill just to be working on fiction again; as the cliché goes, it’s like being back in the saddle.

Last evening, I watched Waitress!, which I’d rented and ended up enjoying a lot.

Vilma came this morning to do the cleaning, so I was out of the house early, walking to Dr. Rundle’s office on 68th and Broadway.

It’s a very hot and humid day, but I’ve been managing to accomplish a lot.


Sunday, July 27, 1986

1 PM. I feel terrible. I woke up this morning with a twinge of nausea, which has been coming and going ever since.

I never get this kind of queasiness unless I’m ill, so I think I’m coming down with something again.

My health has been so poor this summer, it just makes me even more depressed.

I’ve just come from brunch with Alice; all I could manage to eat was tea and toast.

She thought that what I did in sending away for Sean’s transcript to see if he was alive and well was an inexcusable invasion of his privacy.

But having done such things herself, she was more concerned about my emotional health.

Alice said that there was little chance that Sean had died and that I obviously still have unhealthy feelings for him – unhealthy because they’re not returned.

“If he cared anything about you, he would have contacted you,” Alice said. “Pictures speak louder than words.” (That last part actually makes no sense.)

I feel as if I’ve been fooling myself all these years into thinking Sean felt warmly towards me.

Alice is probably right. Sean doesn’t care. I’ve made excuses for him.

She said that Sean should be dead to me, the way Scott Koestner and Richard Hunt are to her.

Possibly this has a lot to do with the story I’m writing, but once I finish “I Survived Caracas Traffic,” I hope it will be a catharsis.

Maybe it’s taken me so long to write about Sean because I’ve never really dealt with the relationship.

I told Alice it was never resolved because Sean never let me contact him, but she said, “Well, that is a resolution.”

By now I should have moved on emotionally; as Alice said, Sean isn’t worth all the energy I’ve expended on him.

I’m still glad that I got the transcript. It told me Sean is alive and has graduated (and with the kind of amazing grades I’d expect from someone so smart). Now, maybe I can finally let him go.

Last evening was fun, at least.

I was to meet Ronna and Lori and Ellen at the Paramount to see Heartburn, but even though we arrived an hour before the 8:30 PM show, it was already sold out.

Instead, we went to Damrosch Park for the Sondheim concert– but because of the heavy rains earlier, that concert was postponed.

So we rented a movie (The Sure Thing) at Tower Video, bought microwave popcorn and diet soda, and spent the night here in the bedroom.

It was kind of neat to have a bunch of people with me for a change.

I didn’t sleep very much and then I felt sick today.

I really wanted to go to Teachers College this afternoon and do what seems like a ton of work, but I’m afraid I’ll get really nauseated.

As if I haven’t felt sick often enough this summer, now I’ve probably got a stomach virus or worse.


Wednesday, July 30, 1986

5 PM. My arm hurts now from the blood Dr. Rundle drew an hour ago. He called this morning and said my lab tests (not the HTLV-III test) had come back and that I’d tested positive for the hepatitis B antibody.

When I came in today, he went over the lab results with me. Most everything tested out in the normal range, but my white blood count and some of the components of that were a little high, although he tended to discount those results.

They computed that I’m at average risk for cardiovascular problems, mostly because my HDL – the “good” cholesterol – is low; with aerobic exercise, I might be able to bring that up.

My overall cholesterol level was okay but on the high side of the normal range.

I tested negative for the hepatitis B antigen but positive for the antibody.

What does that mean? According to Dr. Rundle, I could be in the early stages of an infection of the disease, or I could have been exposed to it many years ago (since I’ve never before been tested for it) and produced antibodies.

In other words, it’s sort of like the HTLV-III antibody: either I’m going to get sick or I’m immune to the disease.

But I may be infectious and can infect others, so Dr. Rundle had to do another test to check that. He’ll have the results next week.

He said that hepatitis B is transmitted mostly through sexual contact – “probably like the AIDS virus.”

How does a virtual celibate get these things? From Sean? In the last seven or eight years, I’ve slept with only two people, Sean and Ronna, and she certainly didn’t give it to me.

Of course I could have had this for many years prior, but I still can’t imagine that I got it sexually. Weird. Anyway, I’m now very nervous about the AIDS test. If I could get this antibody, why not HTLV-III?

Yesterday I went to class at Teachers College, where Prof. McClintock lectured on and demonstrated CD-ROM technology. He had some interesting things to say, but he kept rambling, and his delivery is terrible.

I got my journals back, and would you believe, I’m too embarrassed to look at the instructor’s comments because it’s about the process of writing “Caracas Traffic” and so personal.

I came home feeling exhausted, and Teresa and Anna were here, doing their thing. Anna was tired, too, and she actually conked out at 7:30 PM in the middle of us watching TV.

I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a week on the floor of Teresa’s bedroom on my little futon.

I’ve spent so much money lately – on the futon, on doctor’s bills and lab fees. This summer I’ve spent about $550 on medical and dental care, and without insurance, I’ve got to pay it all myself.

I think I’d definitely better get some major medical coverage. I’m not a kid anymore, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll have to go into the hospital in the next few years, especially if I test positive for the AIDS virus.

Everyone will say, “Oh, you’ll be all right,” but sometimes people do die.

I had a lovely sleep, as I said, and after the girls left in the morning, I went back to bed and slept more from 9 AM until nearly noon.

I know that I can’t live here with Teresa this fall, and I’ve decided not to go to that open house in Inwood tonight. Maybe it’s not even worth looking for a sublet.

The way I feel now, I just want to go back to Florida because it’s easy. I dread having few friends and getting involved in my family’s mishigass, but maybe it’s healthier for me to be there.

In a way, I’m scared to be in Florida in the fall. But today I made reservations for Sunday, August 24, the night before the fall terms begin at FIU and FAU (I can register late during the first week of classes).

Today’s been humid and very rainy, and I like the darkness. I wanted to do work but decided just to rest. I feel as though I’m a total mess and that my life is coming to an end. Silly, I guess.TC mark

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