A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1986

Saturday, December 20, 1986

7 PM. Last night I spoke to Josh, who asked me if he should go to work at Paramount as a RAMIS programmer or take a reporting job at Fairchild’s MIS Week.

When I told him he should take the writing job if he’s offered it, Josh said it would mean a big salary cut, possible blocked entry back into RAMIS and FOCUS programming, and dealing with the “boring” nature of writing about technology.

“Don’t you see a contradiction there?” I asked him. “You hate computers yet you’re afraid of losing the security of your programming job.”

Josh said my columns made him think I’m the Andy Rooney of Florida. I took that as a compliment.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been antsy because I haven’t been able to exercise. My back still twinges, but I think I’m going to risk a low-intensity workout tomorrow.

Obviously, I have an addiction to exercise; as when I got used to the Nautilus, I have this unreasonable fear that my body is going to fall apart if I don’t keep working out.

Josh used to feel that way, too, I remember. What cured him was breaking his collarbone while doing dips. After that, he never went back to his health club again, and his big muscles shrunk to their “before” size.

Today at the pool, I had an indication that my body hasn’t fallen apart. When I got there, the only other person was this cute black kid.

I’m bad at judging ages, and I know I was still mistaken for a teenager when I was in my late twenties, but I figured he was somewhere between 17 and 22: a high school kid or maybe a college student home for the holidays.

He was smiling at me a lot, and I definitely got the impression he was gay. He had a nice body, slim and toned, and a really nice smile. I smiled back, but I never know what to do when this happens with guys.

At one point he yawned theatrically, making a little sound and stretching out his arms above his shoulders so I’d see his flexed biceps and his cute underarm hair.

The kid was definitely flirting with me. Sitting there at the side of the pool, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I took off my tank top, but then felt stupid about it and lowered myself into the pool. I wasn’t going to get involved with someone so young, especially when his parents probably live in the same development.

Eventually some old white ladies came by and then a few others, and he left the pool, giving me a backward glance. I smiled and nodded back. Knowing that at least someone thought I was attractive and maybe sexy made me feel great.

Oddly, today the Sun-Tattler chose to run the very last column I wrote, the soap opera spoof I sent them last Friday. Probably they needed a short piece because the page had lots of artwork.

Unfortunately, the print tended to smudge off at the right column, probably because the Sun-Tattler tends uses cheap newsprint.

But it’s column #4, and I have five or six others already written by now. Certainly I could have never hoped for this exposure anywhere else. Right now, I feel about my xeroxed newspaper columns the way I once felt toward my xeroxed stories from little magazines.

Teresa called after she and Anna had come in from buying a Christmas tree on Broadway. Next Sunday they’re going to Mexico for a week, and Teresa was telling me what a bargain it was. Neither of us mentioned that she’s used my AmEx card to charge it.

But if Teresa’s not just conning me, she’s placing lots of people in jobs and getting good commissions at work. (Come to think of it, she lowered her voice when she told me she made $3200 this week. If she didn’t want Anna to hear, she was probably lying.)

She called to tell me she was coming down Presidents Day weekend, when Deirdre will also be here. I guess she charged that to my AmEx, too.

If I get next month’s bill and there’s more charges, I’ll just change my account number.

But I know Teresa well enough to know that the best way I can work guilt on her is simply by not saying anything about the money she owes me.


Monday, December 22, 1986

9 PM. I did not sleep at all on Saturday night. Whether it was the weight-lifting or avid reading I did later in the day or thinking about that kid at the pool that over-stimulated me, I’m not certain, but I was so filled with thoughts that I couldn’t even get close to sleep.

Last night I stayed over at my parents’ and did catch up on my rest, but I’m worried about not sleeping again tonight: I have a kind of sleep performance anxiety.

There was a horrible event in Howard Beach. Three black men were in a car that broke down on Cross Bay Boulevard going out toward Rockaway. They walked to Howard Beach to call for help, and at a pizzeria (I know the place), they were set up on by a gang of white teenagers who yelled “Niggers don’t belong here!” and hit them with baseball bats.

They were chased, and one man, a 24-year-old Trinidadian, ran in terror onto the Belt Parkway, where he was killed when a driver unwittingly ran him over.

Mayor Koch described the case as a “lynching” comparable to the ones in the old South. Today four teenagers were arrested.

Combined with an incident of police brutality toward Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden and the recent People article on ugly racial incidents on college campuses, this makes me think that the conservative climate of the 1980s has led to overt racism and violence against blacks becoming more respectable than it was.

Because I know Howard Beach so well, I feel sickened by this, just as I was by a similar case a few years ago in Sheepshead Bay. It really makes me despair about the human race. Have we survived the worst of this creepy decade?

My parents and brothers did over $4000 in business at the flea market yesterday, but they were exhausted, especially Jonathan. So this morning I did some errands for Mom, like going to the bank and cleaners and calling some Korean guy in New York to order some more goods for them.

In today’s mail, “I Survived Caracas Traffic” got rejected by Webster Review “although parts of this are lovely.” The story’s been at the Madison Review and Florida Review for months, and I’m sending it out to three more literary magazines.

I also got more credit card bills, bank statements, and a Christmas card from the McAllisters, who will be in Florida. It will be good to see Ellen and Wade again.

After doing some of my own banking and shopping, I met my parents for dinner tonight at Kanton Kanton, where the lemon chicken was almost as good as Szechuan Broadway’s.


Tuesday, December 23, 1986

5 PM. I’ve just come out of my shower after working out with weights. Although my back isn’t yet back to normal, I’ve been careful to avoid straining it. Exercise is such a great feeling.

On Sunday, the Miami Herald ran a story on the growing use of steroids by teenage boys. Apparently, a lot of skinny guys are taking these drugs so they can get humongous muscles. No wonder I see so many 17- and 18-year-old guys with incredible physiques.

But steroids have serious long-term effects, including heart and liver damage. It’s like the male side of anorexia and bulimia.

Someone could write a fable of a skinny boy and a fat girl who manage to obtain the bodies they want but also end up dead. It’s a shame how warped we are by society’s concept of the ideal body, and of course I’m not immune myself.

Today I read that tricyclic antidepressants always cause weight gain, and of course before I started taking Triavil in February 1969, I was as skinny as could be.

I often wonder what my body would be like if I’d never had Triavil. Still, without the drug, I could never have gotten over my agoraphobia, and I’d rather be chubby than totally incapacitated.

It took me till 3 AM to fall asleep, but at least I slept till 11 AM, waking up in time to watch the landing of the experimental aircraft Voyager after its historic eight-day trip around the world without refueling.

After doing some credit card prestidigitation at ATMs, I deposited $700 into my credit union account.

In Davie, I picked up my mail. I got A’s in both my courses at FIU, maintaining my perfect 4.0 index after 25 grad credits.

I got “I Survived Caracas Traffic” back from Pacific Review, but I sent it out again. Five different magazines have copies of “Caracas” and “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit,” and I’m determined to see these stories accepted.

Last night Josh called to ask me to help him fill out an application for a scholarship for Blue Cross employees, but by the time we got through, Josh decided not to apply.

He told me James sent him a postcard that called him “a bile-infested tick,” among other things. This was in response to a “stop thinking you’re shit” letter Josh had sent him. Josh isn’t angry because he knows how fucked-up James is.

When I asked Josh if there was anything I could do to tell Marc to stop taking drugs, he related his own experience with his brother and said it was useless, that Marc is an intelligent person who knows what he’s doing and won’t stop until the pain outweighs the benefits.

“If your brother does kill himself with drugs,” Josh said, “you shouldn’t feel guilty because there was nothing you could do to stop him.”

The best I can do, Josh said, is to let him know I’ll be around to be supportive if he ever needs help getting off drugs.


Thursday, December 25, 1986

7 PM. I’ve spent the last 45 minutes giving the bathroom the first thorough cleaning it’s probably gotten all year. There’s something very satisfying in cleaning, and the only reason I don’t do it more is because I’m lazy – and I don’t want to feel too virtuous every time I clean the toilet bowl.

I don’t think there’ll be a problem staying on in the apartment after next month. SandalGrove took my rent check for both January and February, and if they cash it, legally I’m entitled to stay beyond my lease expiration date of January 31, 1987.

We’ll see if they contact me. If I have to leave, the worst that will happen is that I’ll move back to Davie for three months before I return to New York.

I went over there for dinner last night. As I expected, my family had a harrowing day at the flea market, enduring the downpour in the morning and only doing $100 for the day.

But they generally had a decent Christmas season, and Dad was in a good mood because he’d gotten his commission check for the Bugle Boy goods they shipped in November. It came close to $9000, and Dad said he’ll pay me back the $1000 soon; no rush, I told him.

Back home, I read the first 100 pages of Roger’s Version, which gave me even more respect for Updike than I had before. The man is not only learned, but he can describe people, their thoughts and actions with a grace I couldn’t manage if I lived another billion years.

I slept deliciously, and this morning, when I awoke my chest was sore, so I guess yesterday’s brief workout “took,” after all. After breakfast, I read the Christmas Day paper and then exercised my legs for a little bit.

Then I went to North Miami to visit Grandpa Nat at the nursing home. When I got to his room, he was being fed, and the nurse asked me if I wanted to take over. I said sure. (At first, she thought I was his son.)

Because he has no teeth, Grandpa has to eat food that looks like it has gone through a blender under the “purée” speed.

To me, his lunch looked vile: a greenish conglomeration of God-knows-what the consistency of oatmeal. But I kept shoving spoonfuls of it in his mouth, and he kept chewing away.

Since he’s always chewing all the time, it’s hard to know when he’s ready for the next mouthful, but we managed all right: it was like feeding a baby.

Later today, when I told Dad about it, he said he couldn’t stand to feed his father, but I liked doing it because by that very simple act, I was really helping somebody.

Grandpa didn’t talk much. I asked him to say “Richard” a couple of times because hearing him say it, it sounds like the way his old self used to pronounce my name, with a hint of a Russian accent.

It was pretty festive at the nursing home, with lots of decorations, and carols playing on the radio, and visitors bringing presents to those patients who could understand the holiday (and probably to some who couldn’t).

Around 1:45 PM, I said goodbye to Grandpa, and I leisurely drove up U.S. 1 to Hollywood, where I stopped at the Sheridan multiplex to see the movie version of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, which I enjoyed.

Obviously, Neil Simon had to get to a certain age before he could look back on his life and write about it the way he has in his recent trilogy.

If I live long enough, I’ll probably be able to reimagine and reinvent my childhood and adolescence in writing, too.


Saturday, December 27, 1986

4 PM. As 1986 winds down, the last few days have been cool and cloudy, with lots of rain.

Last evening, when Mom called and told me to come over to go out to dinner with her and Dad, I packed an overnight bag. I have yet to fix the leak in my car’s T-top, so heavy rain tends to drip on the front seat.

I’ve been in Florida four months now. God, it seems like yesterday that I got here.

Anyway, my parents and I ate at Denny’s in Pembroke Pines. They had a good day at the flea market although there was some trouble getting Mom a new spot under the canopy.

Back home, we watched TV until about 9 PM, when they went upstairs. After finishing Roger’s Version – great book – I fell asleep and slept pretty well; I can’t complain much about insomnia this week.

Up at 10 AM to an empty house, I potchkeyed around, making myself breakfast, listening to the radio, reading the paper.

At noon, I did my aerobics to the TV show; my shoulders and arms ached too much to work out with weights today.

The McAllisters didn’t call, but Alice Stratton did, saying that Bert will be joining her and the kids down here this weekend and they’d like to see me, so we made a date for Saturday.

When I called Teresa’s, I woke up Anna, who said their charter flight to Mexico was postponed until tomorrow night. She said that Christmas with Teresa’s family was lots of fun for her and she was looking forward to being in Acapulco.

Anna didn’t say, but I assumed Teresa was at Michael’s – though I guess she could have been with her family in Brooklyn or Douglaston.

Today’s mail included a rejection letter from the University of Nebraska. By now, all of the universities where I applied for jobs in October have turned me down without my ever making it to the first cut.

It’s becoming clear that my painstaking efforts to apply for these jobs are a waste of time. I’m convinced that there’s no way I’ll have a creative writing teaching job next fall – so it’s either adjuncting or going to artists’ colonies.

Dr. Rundle sent a letter to all of his patients saying he was leaving New York and his medical practice; it sounds as if he’d gotten sick of the city.

My Sun-Tattler check came, and Crad wrote that he loved my columns.

He suggested that I forget about publishing a book of short stories and instead try to get a collection of my humorous essays published, à la Fran Leibowitz. Then I could use my publicity stunts in a relevant way, Crad said.

Crad sounds good. He’s done with self-publishing for 1986, his 1987 projects are planned out, he’s 100 pages into some autobiographical writing that he intends to apply for a grant to complete, and his relationship with Gwen seems secure.

What am I going to do in 1987? If the University of Miami has adjunct courses for me to teach, I’ll probably take them. I’ll take 6 credits of classes at FAU so I can apply for a student loan. I also think I’ll apply for another loan to take courses at Columbia over the summer.

Although the loans will bring some money in, I will also need to get a job. Last summer I didn’t get serious about looking for one, but next summer I’ll have to, as I won’t be staying at Teresa’s but at a sublet.

And as I said, for the fall it will be adjuncting – if I really need the money – or going to a couple of artists’ colonies. Does this sound reasonable?

As for my writing, I’ll just keep at it: my columns, my stories, whatever. I’m no longer so anxious to keep my career rolling along.

After the disappointment of Zephyr’s not wanting to commit to another story collection, I feel either very relaxed or very hopeless about another book.


Tuesday, December 30, 1986

4 PM. I just finished reading an article about recent studies that show – contrary to established notions – that achieving long-sought goals isn’t as important to an individual’s happiness as merely avoiding day-to-day unpleasantness. In the quest for satisfaction, temperament seems to be the key, along with activity.

The greatest gift I have, I feel, is my disposition. It may not seem like it all the time, but generally I am satisfied with my life. And I seem to be becoming even more satisfied as my ambition and intensity wane as I get older.

One thing I’m certain of is that no achievement – no job, no financial success, no amount of fame – will make me any happier than I’ve ever been.

People like Alice believe (or she used to) that one day they’ll cross over a threshold due to some external circumstance and never be unhappy again.

Other people, like Josh, will never be happy no matter what happens to them.

Do I sound smug? I hope not. Unlike Jonathan, who’s been “enlightened,” or fundamentalists of any religion or consumer preference, I don’t claim to have found the answer.

Last night, for the first time, I read Emerson’s “Illusions” and loved this quote: “Life is as sweet as nitrous oxide.” I wonder what Marc, who used to sell and use whippets, would think of that.

Life can also be bitter and tragic, of course – but some people court the negative aspects of life.

I slept well after a bout of diarrhea: probably the Chinese food I had in Davie disagreed with me. Driving home from my parents’ last night, I had an incipient anxiety attack, but I handled it well, and my panic never rose above a 2 or 3 on a 0-10 scale.

Stacy answered my Christmas card with a postcard saying she’d like to be in touch again.

We had an off-and-on relationship, but I always respected her independence and passion; despite us each being primarily attracted to our own sex, somehow there was always a spark between us.

Today was the first chilly day we’ve had; I had to take a jacket with me when I left the house this morning.TC mark

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