A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1987

Sunday, August 2, 1987

1 PM. Ronna went home about an hour ago after spending the night here.

It was an incredible night and morning of lovemaking, so it was an effort to let her go.

God, I felt so good with her here, and I know she felt that way, too.

I did express my fears that she was expending too much emotional energy on someone who couldn’t offer her what she really needs – namely, marriage and children and a stable life – but she told me not to worry, that she could take care of herself.

Because we’ve been intimate since she was 19 and I was 21, we know what each other’s physical touch feels like and what the other person likes. Sex with Ronna was always the best. I feel I lose myself in her, and it’s nice not to be thinking, only to be feeling.

We’re still very attracted to each other, and I’m pretty sure we always will be. I hope we’re not hurting each other, but as I said the last time we spent the night together, how can a little intimacy and passion and love be wrong between people who care about and respect each other and who are not currently involved with anyone else?

Ronna says I’m not stopping her from getting involved with another guy.

Yesterday morning she got fitted for her new contacts. She’s been so worried lately about her health, but all her problems seem to me explainable as the result of stress or maybe minor conditions like sinusitis.

Anyway, home alone on Friday night, I watched Harvey Pekar on David Letterman’s show.

Harvey came on wearing a “Strike NBC” T-shirt (the technicians are on strike) and eventually freaked Letterman out by reading a list of complaints – all of them reported in the papers – for various violations committed by GE, NBC’s corporate parent.

On Saturday morning, before we saw him, Josh confided that he felt that Harvey had made a fool of himself, but I think he was doing something no one else does on network TV.

Yes, he was rude, but I think we need more rude people, at least once in a while.

I met Josh at the St. Mark’s comic book store where Harvey was autographing copies of his latest issue of American Splendor alongside his wife Joyce, who had her own comic about true Vietnam soldiers’ experiences, Real War Stories.

Josh talked to Harvey for a while, and Harvey gave him an article he’d written on a writer that Tom Whalen had introduced to Harvey.

I complimented Harvey on his work and told him I taught American Splendor in my lit class at Broward Community College.

Others wanted to talk with him, so Josh and I left to have lunch at the Kiev.

From there, we wandered up to Union Square Park, where we hung out and admired an elderly man’s African grey parrot.

Back uptown, I got mail from Crad and Rick.

Rick said the new Gargoyle will be out next month. He seems to be doing okay, though reading through the lines, I can tell it’s still difficult for him a year after his breakup with Gretchen.

Crad has totally cut himself off from Gwen, which he should have done a long time ago. He’s busy typesetting the two volumes of Worst Canadian Stories, which will be 52 pages each and sell for four dollars.

After he gets the material to the printer, he plans to come to New York for his annual vacation. I don’t know if I’ll get to see him during this visit. He praised my ALOHA column, as did Tom.

The rest of the afternoon, Josh and I hung out here.

He told me that he’s never made friends easily and was an outcast all through school. From the fourth grade on, Josh had trouble with teachers, just as he’s continued to have trouble with authority figures.

His parents, with their incessant fighting, seem the root of Josh’s problem.

It’s odd, but as messed up as I am, during adolescence I never really felt like an outcast. I was very popular in junior high and college, and in public school I also had good friends.

I blame the isolation I felt in high school solely on my own emotional problems and panic attacks. Still, although I was a loner and an oddball in high school, I was never disliked or made to feel bad by anyone, and some of the most popular kids treated me nicely.

At 6:30 PM, Josh and I went over to Ronna’s. Although they hadn’t seen each other in over a year, the two of them always get along.

While Ronna was getting ready, I showed Josh Lori’s computer and we both admired the new kitchen floor, which looks clean and cheerful.

For dinner, we went to the Chinese/Japanese restaurant on 101st Street, where Ronna had sushi and Josh and I had Sichuan chicken. Josh and Ronna talked about their jobs and Orthodox Judaism and co-ops, and we had a fine time.

After Ronna and I walked Josh to the 96th Street subway station, we rented a movie, A Room With a View. Before we watched it, however, I played the tape Josh had left of me interviewing Joyce.

I’m used to seeing my fat self on video, so it didn’t bother me to watch, and I think Josh did a fine job editing the tape.

This morning, after Ronna left, I called Davie. Mom said the Sun-Tattler had run the column I expected – the one on paddling and capital punishment for failing students – which is another indication the paper doesn’t plan to run the more politically controversial columns I’ve sent them.

Although I haven’t read the Sunday Times yet, the Magazine printed my letter about AIDS testing.

I know because Alice called and said I’d made an important point about the down side of being tested.

Alice, who’s seen four or five of Harvey Pekar’s appearances on Letterman, thought he “blew it” on Friday night.

But I applaud Harvey’s moral outrage even if he could have used a little more humor in making his point.


Wednesday, August 5, 1987

8 PM. Fog started rolling in from the ocean a little while ago and the waves are now choppy and erratic, so it looks as though a storm is brewing. Grandma Ethel went down to play cards after we had dinner.

I see that in little ways Grandma is deteriorating. She can be sharp, as when she told me to make sure to get the cheaper generic drug when I went to the drugstore to fill prescriptions for her and Aunt Tillie, but she’s also becoming more forgetful and more easily flustered.

I’m glad I can help her a little. This morning I helped her take off the mattress so she could clean the bed’s frame; then I turned over the mattress.

When I went over to Aunt Tillie’s to pick up her prescriptions, you would have thought I was doing Tillie the biggest favor imaginable when actually it was my pleasure to help.

Uncle Morris was resting on the couch, and he looked pretty worn out, but he did talk to me a little about his stay in the hospital.

His bad fall this past winter and the latest attack have made them both less mobile; they no longer go walking to Waldbaum’s every morning the way they used to.

I spent most of the day in libraries, both the Seaside branch on Beach 117th Street and the Peninsula Reference Center on Beach 94th Street, where I finally got to see Esquire’s Literary Universe, which had so riled Tom because of its emphasis on glitz, media politics, and the trendy.

Even the editor seemed disturbed that, unlike the version of 25 years ago, the 1987 version contained no rebels at all: “no hipsters, only hypesters who publish early and party late.” It goes without saying that I am not even a speck of cosmic dust in Esquire’s universe.

But I have been a rebel, I think, and all my publicity attempts have not been hype but making fun of the system that produces hype, something no Yuppie in his right mind would do.

I’m not an ’80s person, I’m a ’90s person, and I still believe – because I have to believe – that the cultural climate will one day change to one more hospitable to me.

Obviously, the reason I root for a Great Depression is that I’d like to see all those stinking Yups humbled. I’m tired of trying to endure the 1980s, but I’m a survivor and have hung on.

Unlike some of the younger, fabulously successful writers, I’ve had to deal with gross failure; I wonder if some of them won’t fall by the wayside when the going gets tough for them.

I excoriate myself for not reading as much as Tom does, but in my own way, I read plenty; it’s just that I don’t read literature so much as absorb information about the world as it is and as it may be – in order to turn it into the stuff of literature.

Would anyone else in the Literary Universe be able to give a short speech on superregional banks or understand and program in PROLOG or name all one hundred U.S. Senators?

More importantly, while I know nothing about literary celebrity and ICM agents and posing for slick magazines and hanging out with other writers in the Hamptons, I do know what it’s like to spend time with my grandmother, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris, and to have taught poor ghetto kids at CUNY and to live in the world of West Broward condos and shopping malls.

I’m not saying I’m a saint, just that I have my own perspectives. Missing in Esquire’s cosmology, beside Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers and “young heterosexual male novelists,” is any semblance of a counterculture.

Is it just folly to think that I’m not a part of that counterculture, along with people like Crad Kilodney, Harvey Pekar, Tom Whalen, Paul Fericano, Pete Cherches and Rick Peabody?

I’ve just got to be patient and resourceful and Wait It Out; this time in history, too, shall pass.

Meanwhile, I’ve got my newspaper columns and my credit cards and the books already published and my friends and family and my sense of humor and my sense of adventure and plenty of pomposity to help keep me going as I rant on and on.


Saturday, August 8, 1987

4 PM. Last evening I met Pete at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, where we bought tickets for the 7:10 PM showing of Wish You Were Here.

At the Athlete’s Foot next door, I couldn’t tell if any of the sales help resembled Cousin Michael; there was one guy who might have been he, but I wasn’t certain.

The film was a muddled but fairly entertaining British movie; the young actress playing the heroine was very good.

Afterwards, Pete and I walked up to 72nd between the park and Columbus to Dallas BBQ, the old Swiss Chalet, still specializing in cheap but tasty barbequed chicken.

On Sunday, Pete flies to San Francisco, where he’ll visit Paul Fericano, Don Skiles and other literary types. Since it’s unlikely Pete will visit his mother in Florida again, I probably won’t see him for a while.

Although he’s a very gregarious person, in a way he’s narrowed himself to the downtown scene. Unable to drive a car, unable to function outside a Manhattan-type apartment, Pete misses some of what I’ve experienced.

Pete seems amused that I actually have friends who are Yuppies; almost all his friends come from the downtown performance/literary scene.

Pete says that although he gets a lot of performance bookings downtown, he can’t seem to break into the next rung of better places.

It was a pleasantly cool night, and after walking Pete to the subway, I strolled slowly up Broadway and back home.

This morning Body Electric had a difficult upper body workout, and after it, I thought I’d try to work out some more on my own, but I was zonked out.

Alice called, and I agreed to meet her in midtown at 1 PM so I could help her shop for a computer.

Unfortunately, 47th Street Computer was closed because of Shabbos, so we went to the Computer Depot, Exel and 32nd Street Camera.

I really am envious of Alice for being able to afford a good IBM-compatible model. She knows almost nothing about computers except that she’s been using XyWrite at work.

Alice asked questions that showed she really doesn’t understand the difference between word processing and programming, or between hardware and software, or between hard disks and floppies.

When we finished, she had decided on an Epson LQ800 printer to go with either the Leading Edge Model D or the Epson Equity II, both of which have hard disks and 640K.

I came home feeling tired, probably because of the heat.

Patrick answered my letter. The second summer session is over at Broward Community College, and there have been a lot of changes although Dr. Grasso was reelected as chair of the English Department at Central.

Betty is still English chair at South, where they fired Jim for using drugs and fooling around with female students. At first, Patrick didn’t believe the charges against Jim, but later he was shown proof.

But one good thing came out of it: Robert Buford replaced Jim in the Theater Department at South, thus getting Robert away from that monstrous Theater chairwoman at Central.

Phil is apparently returning to South, and Barbra will probably get a full-time position there.

Patrick’s been preparing a report on teaching composition, but he expects President Holcombe will do whatever he wants.

While it’s interesting to hear about BCC, I wouldn’t go back there unless I was really desperate for a steady job.

Patrick said he thinks my Sun-Tattler columns are some of the best writing I’ve done. I need to write a couple more in the 19 days I’ve got left in New York.

I hope to have dinner with Ronna tonight.


Sunday, August 9, 1987

8:30 PM. It’s raining now. I just got in and I can’t stop thinking about the guy I saw sitting in front of Zabar’s.

He’s a young redheaded guy, and for weeks I’ve seen him there with a sign saying he’d gotten AIDS from a blood transfusion and had lost his job and home.

At first I didn’t believe him, but at Grandma Ethel’s two weeks ago I saw him on that WNYC-TV program about AIDS. He was having a session with a shrink, and it was so sad, it broke my heart.

The guy was in a car accident and got AIDS from a blood donor, a gay man who didn’t know he was infected. This guy in turn infected his girlfriend, who now hates him – a feeling he can understand, he said.

What he most wanted was to meet a heterosexual woman with AIDS who would hold him in her arms.

Half an hour ago, when I passed him as I walked Josh down to the 72nd Street station, I knew I had to give him money, so on the way back I dropped two dollars in his cup; he looked up and said thanks.

I worry about how that guy’s doing. I went to the Chase ATM and then to buy groceries at Red Apple (the only store still left between 82nd and 83rd on the west side of Broadway – all the others have closed and construction is coming).

When I came out, it was pouring. I managed to avoid getting too wet by making my way under the various construction awnings lining West End Avenue buildings.

It’s funny that seeing a guy open up on TV makes him a human being and not just one of the faceless homeless people on the street.

Ronna has gone to volunteer at a shelter for homeless women and their kids run by the Episcopalian church on West 41st Street.

Mostly her job is to keep the kids occupied. They range in age from 8 to 11, and Ronna said they aren’t the monsters you might expect.

They tried to play charades but didn’t understand that you’re supposed to act out the title so one girl acted out the whole plot of Fences in mime.

They’re putting on a play for their mothers, who all sleep in one room divided up. Last week one of the kids was playing with matches at night and started a fire, which luckily was quickly contained.

Those poor kids: what will become of them? Shit.

Last evening I walked over to Ronna’s at 7 PM and we went to Hunan Royal for dinner. She’s still terribly worried about all her little symptoms, and I listened later, back at her place, as she spoke to her sister about them.

I don’t know if Ronna is just a hypochondriac like me or if there is really something wrong with her – some neurological problem, say. Her mother told her to call her uncle and ask him to recommend a specialist.

I just think Ronna’s symptoms don’t warrant a spinal tap, especially since the radial tomography showed nothing amiss. I didn’t want Ronna to be alone, and I didn’t want to be alone either, so I asked her to spend the night here.

On the way down West End Avenue, we talked about what Alice had said to me, and Ronna assured me that she harbored no illusions about marrying me. “You’re my friend,” she said.

We didn’t have sex, but we did hug and kiss and cuddle and touch; to me, it felt very nice indeed, and it always feels good to spend the night in bed with someone.

I got up a little earlier than Ronna and watched her sleep for a while. It seems very intimate, watching someone sleep, because people look so vulnerable then.

Before she left at 11 AM to meet her sister, who was coming over to her place, Ronna and I hugged and kissed and messed around a little.

Ronna told me that a number of her friends had called her this week and mentioned my letter in the New York Times Magazine. Her friend Jane was amazed to find out I was a published author because I’d seemed so “unassuming and quiet” when I’d met her.

After Ronna left today, I watched Adrian Mole, did the laundry, and made a start at reading the three Sunday papers I usually buy.

Josh came over at 5 PM. After we ate dinner at the American Diner, we walked down one block and saw The Lost Boys, a teen vampire movie, at the 84th Street sixplex.

I’ve seen Pete, Alice, Ronna and Josh this weekend. I am indeed lucky to have such friends. I wish other people felt as comfortable as I do.

Is that sappy?


Monday, August 10, 1987

9 PM. Last night I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy in front of Zabar’s, and I went out with an umbrella to see him again.

I didn’t really know what I had in mind: Was I going to invite him to stay over here? But he was gone – hopefully, to a dry place with a mattress.

Mom said she read each of the little notices about people who died of AIDS in Newsweek and she felt so bad for them.

Each one was a person, not all that different from me. But for the grace of God and my sexual timidity. . .

On Saturday night, Ronna asked me when the last time I had “unsafe sex” was. “Never,” I said, and I went into details.

Josh told me that Lynn broke up with a guy in Philly three years ago. He was her upstairs neighbor, and she kept hearing him bring people to his apartment.

The guy turned out to be bisexual, and in response to Lynn’s questioning, he said he had sex with eight guys before and during their relationship but that it had always been safe.

After Lynn developed genital warts, which are common among gay men, she was terrified she had AIDS.

Josh warned her not to take the antibody test, but Lynn did – and felt vastly relieved to find out she was negative.

AIDS was part of the financial and economic disaster highlighted in that USA Today ad about the “Panic of 1989.”

Am I the only one who feels really uneasy, that it’s not just our Persian Gulf oil tankers (another one took a hit today) that are moving into dangerous, uncharted waters?TC mark

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