A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1987

Sunday, March 1, 1987

3 PM. March already.

Yesterday I called Grandma Ethel to wish her a happy 77th birthday. She hadn’t been feeling well, she said. As usual, Mom forgot to send her a birthday card.

I can’t understand why Mom is so offhand about her mother; Mom and Grandma haven’t seen each other in nearly three years.

Mom never had much time for anyone outside her husband and children, which is why she doesn’t have friends. For some reason my mother can’t give to people. Well, that’s her problem, not mine.

I did get into the paper this weekend. Sid Kirchheimer finally did that piece on generational conflict, and it ran on the front page of today’s Sun-Sentinel lifestyle section.

On either side of a photo of a young and elderly man glaring at each other there were quotes: “The problem is this attitude on the part of some seniors – but not all of them – have the attitude that the community belongs to them” – R.G., 35, and one by a 69-year-old man saying the problem was one of young people not being patient with their slower-paced elders.

I’m certain people will think I posed for the photo, though of course it’s called a “photo illustration.” My remarks are generally mild and restrained and my final quote calls for good manners on both sides, so I don’t expect any hate calls.

Although activists from Americans for Generational Equity were quoted, the article wasn’t sensationalist in stirring up animosity towards either old or young people.

Last evening I ripped up the letter I wrote to the E.P. Dutton editor who sent me that stupid, insulting rejection.

I’m glad I didn’t mail it in my rage because, once calmer, I could see that there’s no point in my trying to make a point with an asshole. She’d only get angry and probably have a bad day because of my letter.

I guess reading a little book on The Common People of Ancient Rome for my term paper shamed me into eschewing ignoble actions.

I replied to both Crad’s and Tom’s letters.

Tom mentioned that Debra’s got a $6,000 fellowship in the MFA program at Washington University next year and the possibility of an even large stipend; they’ll hold it till ’88-’89 if Debra gets her Fulbright for next year. I wrote Tom that Debra was becoming a respectable academic, “not like me and you.”

While I still see novelists and short story writers my age and a decade younger being hailed in the Times Book Review, I no longer have the same response I did a year ago.

I think I used to feel it was all over for me, and now I believe my turn will come again, too. The few stories I’ve written lately have been good ones, and the columns have proved that I can still write with wit and style.

I may not be literary literary, but then I never really tried to be.


Monday, March 2, 1987

3 PM. In an hour I’ll have to be going to my FIU History and Philosophy of Higher Ed course to listen to some more of my stupid classmates’ reports. I wish there were more intelligent people in the class.

Last evening I went to Davie, where I made myself some dinner. My family had a very good Sunday at the flea market, taking in over $2,200.

Back home, I finished my first book (of seven) for the history term paper and spoke to Ronna and then Josh.

Lori answered the phone when I called Ronna’s; although Ronna was just about to get into a shower, we talked for ten minutes.

Two weeks ago, she got a little huffy when I asked her, “What makes you think you can make a reservation for Florida for Passover at this late date?” but last night she told me I’d been right.

Because she couldn’t get a flight, Ronna is taking the train down. That will cut short her vacation by a couple of days, since the train takes 22 hours.

Anyway, we exchanged some pleasantries and I let her get back to the shower; presumably she was getting ready for a date.

Josh called later. The internist did a complete physical and blood tests and sent him to a dermatologist, who cut off the mole on his chest and is having a biopsy done.

It’s obviously not Kaposi’s sarcoma, but it could be a precancerous mole. Josh will find out the test results soon.

Josh dropped one of his film courses because the teacher was too pompous and Josh didn’t like his insistence that students take notes. (“Remember how I got in trouble with Prof. Roberts in college?” Josh said. “I never take notes.”) He’s decided to steer toward video rather than film production.

This morning I was awakened at 8:45 AM by a call from Susan Mernit in Sarasota.

I’ll call her back tomorrow, but I really don’t feel like driving along Alligator Alley alone, as I don’t know how reliable my car is.

Anyway, I’ll tell her that I’m busy for this week at least, and I’ll try to convince her and Spencer to drive here. You’d think they’d welcome the chance to leave the baby with Spencer’s parents and be alone for a change.

After depositing my FIU paycheck and some cash advances I’d gotten at ATMs – over $1,000 in all – I went to visit Patrick at Broward Community College’s South Campus.

As usual, most of his talk was about BCC, and I guess that’s natural, since his life is there.

Patrick and I had a good talk, filling each other in on our doings.

He says he thinks President Holcombe’s reforms will be announced later this month, and that they’ll change BCC for the better. Apparently Holcombe has made many on-campus visits and has been doing a lot of listening.

Stopping off in Davie, I got my mail. When I saw the letter from the Florida Division of Elections, I nervously opened it immediately.

I’m saved. They ruled that the fine didn’t apply since the organization consisted only of me and that a committee had to be at least two people. That’s the end of that.

I also got four credit card bills, which I paid with credit card checks from other accounts.

Susan was kind enough to mail me review copies of David Leavitt’s and Meg Wolitzer’s last novels.

*

8 PM. I sat through two good reports – one of them by Jack Pawlowski – and two bad ones, one of them coming close to a sermon, by the Rev. Elmer Poynter. (He actually addressed the class as “neighbor” twice).

It’s a chilly, rainy night, and I’ve got six days without any responsibilities ahead of me.

Usually I screw up these times. Back in December during the holiday break, I seemed to waste hours and hours. We’ll see how well I handle the unstructured hours this week.

Last night I dreamed a guy tried to seduce me; at first I was outraged, but then I noticed he was kind of cute. Anyway, the memory of that dream encounter still feels pretty good.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I went back to New York and met a terrific guy?

AIDS is always on my mind, but I don’t think it could stop me from safe sex, like mutual masturbation.

I’ve been working out pretty steadily, and I notice that my body has changed a bit. The aerobic workouts have really helped, in conjunction with lifting weights.

What do I expect for the final two-thirds of 1987? Well, I don’t know how living at Teresa’s this summer will work out. If it doesn’t, I’ll find a sublet, I guess.

My present plans are to take six credits at Teachers College and get another loan, but I also need to do some kind of work.

I want to see Teresa, Ronna, Josh, Justin, Alice and my other New York friends again, and I want Sichuan food, and I want to walk around Manhattan and see how the West Side has changed.

While South Florida is home, New York City is home in a different way, and I miss it deeply.

As for the fall . . . well, I’ll figure out what I’ll do; the fall will take care of itself.


Tuesday, March 3, 1987

10 PM. “Strange new experiences add to your joy of living.” So says the fortune cookie from tonight’s Chinese food. I had dinner with my parents – and with Jonathan, whose bizarre eating habits won’t let him touch Chinese food – on Mom’s 56th birthday.

Three months from tomorrow I’ll be 36, but it’s no big deal. As I age, I observe that I don’t really feel older, and I’m happy that I don’t look my age either.

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, but when I did finally doze off, it was as if I were drugged, and I didn’t get up till nearly 11 AM today.

Although I figured I’d take the day off, instead I spent about 3½ hours in the BCC computer lab.

While there, I wrote letters to Kevin (who sent me a brief note saying he’s in his last term of law school and will be clerking for a federal judge next fall), to Joel Rose of Between C & D, to Pete Cherches, and to several English Department chairmen.

Also, I wrote the first part of my Roman history research paper, a letter to USA Today (I thought I’d query them about doing one of their editorial page columns), and a few other ––

I’m stunned.

Josh called me as I was writing this. “Rich, I tested positive,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it. I said it must have been a mistake, that he should get retested.

Josh said that the procedure was done, that they normally re-check a positive with the ELISA test again and then with the more accurate test.

I said it doesn’t mean he’ll get sick.

“I know I’ll be dead in five years,” Josh told me.

His doctor was astounded. Josh has never been an IV drug user, has never had a homosexual experience – he’s not in any risk group.

He called Chloe, “who took it worse than I did,” and this evening they went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and talked to people there.

One guy said he tested positive over three years ago but is fine today. Josh, however, believes it’s “all over.” He can never have children, of course. And he expects to die.

I refuse to believe that. I kept telling Josh, “I don’t know what to say,” but I did advise him to go to a counselor.

“That won’t change anything,” he said.

“Well, I know if it were I, I’d be confused,” I told him.

“I’m not at all confused,” Josh replied. “I know I’m going to die.”

He’s now sorry that he took the test.

*

I just went to the refrigerator to get a piece of cake. I’m so upset I don’t know what to do, so eating something sweet seemed necessary.

Fuck. Imagine if I feel like this, what Josh must feel like.

Yesterday I called the Florida state health department to find out about their AIDS testing, but Josh told me, “Don’t do it again.”

And I think I will wait, for now; I’d rather wait to be tested in New York.

Hopefully, Josh’s new blood sample will test negative, and it will all be some horrible mistake.

I know how I felt when I was waiting last summer. And I had reason to think I’d been infected, because of my relationship with Sean.

I promised Josh I wouldn’t tell anyone and that’s a promise I’ve got to keep.

Josh asked me if he could still visit and I said of course, all I had to do was get a couch or futon, joking, “I’m not going to sleep in a single bed with you.”

At least I got him to chuckle.

Again, I can’t believe he tested positive.


Wednesday, March 4, 1987

8 PM. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, and when I did, I had all kinds of nightmares like one about everyone killing each other on the streets of midtown Manhattan.

Today I was pretty depressed, and if I feel this way, imagine how Josh feels. I can’t imagine it.

Part of me still wants to believe that the test result was somehow a mistake.

Since I couldn’t talk to any of my friends about this, I called the AIDS Center One hotline in Fort Lauderdale.

The guy on the phone, John – who sounded very sweet and caring – said that as far as doctors know now, about 20% of people with the antibody will get ARC (AIDS-Related Complex), and maybe 10%, full-blown AIDS.

But would those figures reassure me if I were in Josh’s position? I doubt it.

Yet I somehow believe I could handle it better than Josh, maybe because I expected a positive result more than he did.

The three weeks between the time Dr. Rundle drew blood and the Monday in Rockaway when I called and heard I’d tested negative were pretty scary for me, and there were times when I did think I was going to die.

Of course I also kept having sore throats then, and there was the scare of first testing positive for the hepatitis B antibody.

Jesus, now I feel guilty that I tested negative for AIDS, kind of a survivor’s guilt.

Granted, I’ve lived the life of a monk, but I wouldn’t call Josh promiscuous.

This morning I called Susan in Sarasota, where they were all having a good time.

She wasn’t disappointed that I wasn’t coming this weekend because a friend she hardly ever sees is coming from Ormond Beach with her husband, and Susan knows she’ll be seeing me in New York this summer.

Before Josh called last night, I was feeling really good because I’d had a nice conversation with Teresa.

She was alone because Anna, whose cold turned into pneumonia, was in bed at her own apartment.

Teresa told me she definitely looked forward to my coming this summer, and of course that had to make me feel good.

Michael still calls her, but she’s not running back to him – not yet, anyway.

She has to get the Berkshire house set up for the renters by April 1, though, and she would like Michael’s help.

We talked about her job, the Inner Circle skits (she helped Frank write a version of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” for the reporter playing Leona Helmsley to sing), and other stuff.

I do miss Teresa.

Today I exercised in the morning, and in the afternoon, having received the last of my W-2 forms, I tried to work on my taxes till I got a headache.

Then I went to see a movie, Sid and Nancy, at the Broward Mall. The film was surprisingly good. What a waste to be on drugs; it was sickening to watch how they acted.

I wasn’t good for much of anything today.

Now I’ll go watch President Reagan’s speech, intended to put the Iran-Contra scandal behind him.

Didn’t Nixon used to give lots of speeches like that in 1973 and 1974?


Friday, March 6, 1987

Noon, and I’m still in bed. I may stay in bed for a while yet. At 11:30 AM, I woke up after ten hours of sleep. Probably my body was making up for all the poor sleep I’ve been getting.

Josh called at 11 PM last night. The second AIDS antibody test came back negative.

While I felt very relieved, Josh was convinced it’s a false negative, that the first positive result was accurate.

“So now it’s best two out of three?” I asked, halfway jokingly.

The answer was yes: Josh went back to the doctor yesterday for a third test.

Obviously they’re getting these tests back much more quickly these days than last summer when it took three weeks for Dr. Rundle to get my results.

I told Josh what Dr. Rundle had told me, that there were few false negatives but many false positives.

My instincts still tell me Josh is negative, but now he realizes that if he does test positive again, “it’s not the end of the world.” He’ll continue his therapy and live his life.

God, what a planet!

Last evening I started throwing out stuff I really don’t need, and I ended up throwing out four garbage bags of papers, books, clothing that’s beyond hope, etc.

It felt good. Unlike many people, I’m not a pack rat and feel relieved when I’ve got as few possessions as possible. Simplify, simplify!

Earlier in the evening, I went over to Davie and joined my parents and Jonathan for dinner.

Dad had written $40,000 in orders that day even though he didn’t do very much work.

Hopefully, he’ll start seeing the results of his labors soon as Bugle Boy begins to ship the spring goods and he gets another big check.

Dad has to fly to New York tomorrow for the menswear show at the Coliseum, where hopefully he’ll get more orders.

This morning I spoke with Sophie, and here’s the story:

The word processing workshop is canceled because the school has no software, but I’ve got another one, Computer Literacy, on Wednesdays beginning March 25, at Gratigny Elementary on Miami Avenue and NW 119th Street.

And the one at Green Glade Elementary in Southwest Dade begins a week from Thursday.

The classes end on April 29 and 30 (there’s a break for Easter week), so I can’t fly back to New York until Friday, May 1.

I called Delta and made an 11:30 AM flight for that date.

It’s dark, windy, and stormy, and I really don’t feel like going out right now.


Saturday, March 7, 1987

8 PM. The column about my Davie campaign ran today. That really was a throwaway column based on old articles about my “horse race” and didn’t have the edge of most of the pieces I’ve written recently.

I hope the paper won’t hold back some because they’re too controversial.

Last evening I went out to dinner with my parents at Sonny’s Bar-B-Q across University Drive from their townhouse.

Next door to their phase of University Village, they’ve cleared the land to begin building some rental apartments which will undoubtedly make traffic even worse.

I felt really sluggish today, and although I exercised with weights and with the Body Electric TV show, I felt I was merely going through the motions. But maybe the workout did more good than I think it did.

After working out for several hours, I listened to Neil Rogers’ live broadcast from the Diplomat Mall, where the residents of Hallandale turned out to express their opinions, pro and con (humorous vs. humorless), about Neil’s attacks on the city’s pushy old prunes.

In the mail I received the final order from the Florida Division of Elections hearing wherein they dismissed my case. Thank God that’s the end of that. Also, Manny Hanny sent the student loan application for my summer classes at Teachers College.

As Dad was getting ready to leave for the airport, I volunteered to drive him – in his station wagon.

Dad flies Eastern because he has their credit card, but he dreads the experience: Eastern is usually late and they have the worst service in the airline industry.

The expansion of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport is now complete, and it’s a bustling, modern facility with ramps and huge parking garages like Miami Airport.

Just seven years ago, it was such a modest place. I’d come out of the terminal and find that my parents had parked their car right out front of the only terminal at a sidewalk parking meter.

Returning to Davie, I took the new Griffin Road, a modern six-lane road that has little of the honky-tonk redneck charm of the old two-laner – but you can go about twice as fast.TC mark

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