A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1987

Wednesday, July 1, 1987

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Alice and I were supposed to meet at a screening at 6:30 PM, but she called from her job in New Jersey and said she’d be late.

I got to the Lincoln Center area as it was swarming with police, who had evacuated and roped off most of the buildings.

A Jewish group, in protest of tonight’s performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, had called in a bomb threat, and later I found out that the grenade they discovered proved harmless.

But I couldn’t find the theater where I was supposed to go, and it was 90° out, and I felt kind of helpless.

At last I discovered the screening room was at the Library of Performing Arts. I went in and caught most of the film, which I think was called Maid to Order: Ally Sheedy in some typical Hollywood junk.

As I was sitting on the aisle in the second row, Alice came in about half an hour before the end of the movie and sat down in front of me. Outside, we got caught in a raging thunderstorm which flooded the streets and got us completely soaked.

With Alice’s umbrella useless, we huddled under a bus shelter with a small crowd before the storm died down and we could go across Broadway and have dinner at The Saloon.

Alice told me that Jason Epstein of Random House loved her proposal for the Donna McKechnie bio but wanted to see sample chapters to make sure Alice can write in Donna’s voice.

Since Donna is now in Toronto, it will be a while before Alice can get the sample chapters written. Meanwhile, another book packager has cheated Alice and not paid her $10,000 for work she did.

We had a good long talk, and I came home at 10 PM.

Lately, it’s been impossible for me to become comfortable. Is this the July malaise I felt last year and the year before?

Sometimes I feel that I’ve accomplished nothing with my life, and I get so frustrated.

I could start beating myself up. Am I getting anywhere? Am I progressing at all? 1987 is half over, and what do I have to show for it?

Being here alone – without Dad or Teresa – for the first time in nine nights, feels odd.

I’m grinding my teeth again.


Friday, July 3, 1987

10 PM. Last night it was pouring as I met Susan and her friends at Caribe, a trendy new restaurant on the corner of Perry and Greenwich Streets in the West Village.

Barbara Baracks came after a day of work at the Bank of New York, where she does software documentation and prepares manuals. Susan’s friend Shelly, whom she met as a fellow waitress at Bread Loaf, is a graduate student in the NYU English Ph.D. program who teaches at Brooklyn College.

Shelly’s fellow student, Nicole, brought her fiancé Jay, a comedy writer/musician/whatever. (“Jay’s problem is that he has too many talents,” Shelly said.)

While I’m afraid I took some of the air out of Shelly and Nicole’s grand expectations of cushy jobs in academia by telling them my horror stories, they will probably have the last laugh.

As Shelly said, “We’ll be getting our Ph.D.’s in 1990, so we have demographics on our side.” That made me feel very over-the-hill even if they all assumed I was ten years younger than I really am.

The jerk chicken I had was a little too spicy-hot for me, and I didn’t enjoy the meal as much as I did the conversation. Everyone got along really well, and Shelly invited me to her July 4 barbecue tomorrow.

Susan’s agent didn’t think much of her baby book proposal, she told me, so she sent it to someone else.

Right now Susan’s got an assignment from The Best Report; she was surprised when I told her I knew Peter, the editor who hired her, as Alice’s long-time boyfriend.

It was 9:30 PM when we all got out of the restaurant, and Barbara wanted to know if anyone would go with her to First on First (naturally, on First Avenue at East 1st Street) to hear a friend who plays blues harmonica.

Uncharacteristically, I agreed – usually I’m not so spontaneous – and Barbara and I hopped in a cab. She told me that her musician friend, George Boziwick, is married to Stephanie Doba, who appears in Robin’s plays.

So Robin was also there, of course; I guess it must be odd for her and Barbara to see each other now that they’ve broken up. (Barbara told me they had a wedding ceremony and now she wondered if they should get a get, a Jewish divorce.)

I told Robin I was sorry I missed her last play, Epstein on the Beach, because I was in Florida, and we talked a little. She’s still funny in that hamishe Brooklyn way, telling me she wants to open the Mishigass Motel in the Catskills.

First and First had no cover charge, and the band consisted of George on harmonica, a guy on electronic guitar and another guy on acoustic guitar. They were good, or so it seemed to me, playing old-style blues.

It was an enjoyable change for me to be out late at night in a smoky downtown club listening to music.

After the set ended at 11:30 PM, I walked to the horrible Second Avenue station of the F train, and took two more subways home. I picked up today’s Times and a blueberry muffin and enjoyed both before falling asleep.

When I called Davie, Mom said that Dad’s plane took off an hour late on Tuesday but he still arrived home by 10 PM; now he’s got lots of appointments as well as paperwork from the orders he wrote in New York.

Mom mentioned that American Express is giving me a $5000 credit line on a Gold Card. If that’s true, it’s $3000 more than I expected, and I’ll have gotten $7000 in additional credit this week, counting my BancOhio MasterCard (which today sent me a PIN for ATM cash advances).

The mail brought mostly rejections. Among others, one syndicate wrote that they already had enough humor columnists; I doubt they even bothered to read my work.

And an editorial assistant at Viking Penguin said that three years ago, he picked up a copy of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz at a Boston bookstore and liked it very much. However his boss, the director of their trendoid trade paperback series, isn’t interested in reprint rights to any of my books.

If I can’t get my writing published, at least I have better luck with credit cards.


Saturday, July 4, 1987

2 PM. Ronna came over at about 9 PM last night after her final session with her therapist. It was too late, we decided, to go to the movies, and since we’d both had dinner, we stayed in the air-conditioned bedroom and watched TV and talked.

She looked really cute in a dark green knit top and pale green slacks, and eventually we started fooling around. It is so good to kiss her, hug her, hold her and feel her next to me.

I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to stay overnight.

I know that we can never get married, and I know that she has a blind date tonight, but I can’t imagine last night did either of us any harm.

Even when I have insomnia, I feel better sleeping in the same bed as Ronna.

We made love until about 1 AM, and this morning the alarm woke us at 8:30 AM. It was terrific to hold someone in my arms that early, when I had the pleasure of being in a half-dreamy state.

I hate to analyze our relationship; I just know it felt good.

I’ve said this so many times, but although I’m primarily attracted to guys, I’ve also always been attracted to the soft curves of Ronna’s body. I love her soft stomach and that secret little navel . . . But I begin to sound purple here.

Despite her grey hairs, when I’m making love with Ronna, she’s that 18-year-old girl I knew all over again, and I guess she makes me feel 21 again.

She’s losing weight and looks really great – and I think I probably look pretty good, too. We just seem to fit together.

It isn’t so much sexual release – I can always masturbate – but the physical intimacy I need: touching is more important than having an orgasm.

I’m glad for last night, and I hope Ronna is, too.

She left at 9:30 AM, and at 10 AM I forced myself to exercise to the same Body Electric show I’d caught on Thursday. Then I collapsed, sweaty and tired, back into bed.

I went out only to get the paper and some Korean salad bar for lunch. It’s still very humid and about 85°, so I don’t plan to move for a while. Depending on how I feel later, I may or may not go to Shelly’s barbecue in Park Slope.

This year’s Independence Day celebration is a whisper compared to last year’s rousing Statue of Liberty centennial, and the city seems very quiet.

I’d be berating myself for my laziness, but I figure that today I’ve got an excuse, it being a holiday and all.

Still, I haven’t been very productive lately. Let’s face it: I’m a lazy person. How I’ve ever accomplished anything is a source of great amazement.

How long is it since I really worked hard? Years, probably not since the fall of ’85, when I was teaching at John Jay and Baruch and taking two classes at Teachers College.

What a slug I am. I’ve got to do something more with my life, I know, but I keep wanting to postpone that something’s beginning.


Monday, July 6, 1987

10 PM. I was up early today and left the apartment at 8:30 AM, just after the cleaning woman got here.

Downtown, I met Josh at Film/Video Arts on Broadway and East 12th Street. We decided to do the taping right there after Josh was able to secure a room.

If we had taken a taxi to Joyce’s, we would have been loaded down with more equipment than we could have handled.

I find it hard to believe how much equipment was involved, from the camera to the tripod to all the lights, the video monitor, the power pack and zillions of cables and other stuff.

By comparison, writing is so simple: you can do it with a pen and paper, or at its most complicated, with a computer. It took Josh over an hour to set up and then figure out how to get everything working and eliminate shadows and other technical problems.

Joyce arrived with all her photos and mementos; she had to catch a 6 PM flight back to L.A. today and she had an upset stomach.

Josh had given me a list of questions, and while I got to ask most of them, I changed the order to make the interview more coherent.

Joyce talked about Charles’s disappearance and death, the movie Missing, the political situation in Chile – and she did very well, without even breaking down. Her answers were thoughtful and I think Josh got some good material.

We taped about thirty minutes’ worth, and then Josh taped photos of Joyce and Charles in Chile, the picture of her and her in-laws from People, and the movie and book paraphernalia.

Obviously, Joyce will never get over that horrible tragedy – for which the U.S. government is probably responsible.

It’s heartening how a Hollywood movie seemed to crystallize Joyce’s story as well as it did; the film led to lots of publicity, and Joyce even got to speak at the UN.

Before Joyce left, she said she may be moving back to New York City. Josh’s friend Sally appears to be happy being Joyce’s father-in-law’s companion, as she genuinely likes Ed Horman, even with his dementia.

After Josh got the equipment put away, he had forty minutes of tape of Joyce and me that he’ll begin to edit on Friday.

We had lunch at Dojo on St. Mark’s Place. Josh paid for me as thanks for helping him, but I genuinely enjoyed being involved as the interviewer on a project like this.

I think Joyce and Josh would eventually like to put together a half-hour film with some grant money.

Teresa had called last night and said she wouldn’t be back today. When I returned to the apartment, I paid some bills and looked at my other mail, which included a long, very sad letter from Crad.

The final breakup with Gwen MacEwen has devastated him. Granted, Crad is melodramatic when he says that Gwen “took a knife and cut out my heart” and other such mishigass.

But the poor guy is suffering terribly, with thoughts of suicide.

Gwen’s constant belittling of him (of course, only a neurotic would pine away for such an imperfect relationship) has left him bereft of self-esteem, Crad says, and he has “no joy, no pleasure, no rest.”

He didn’t get the Ontario Arts Council grant for his work-in-progress about life on the street (“a story only I can tell . . . the big project I’ve been preparing for years without realizing it”) even though Gwen was one of the four grant panelists.

It’s not as much a financial blow – Crad recently got some money from a family trust fund – but an emotional one, and Crad says he now realizes that he’s a failure as a writer and will never get respect as long as he remains selling his work on the street.

While others get reviewed in the Globe & Mail and “respectable” places, Crad feels he’s just an eccentric with a cult following. After fourteen years in Toronto, Crad says he has few friends and is very lonely.

Because Toronto has become so expensive (“Yuppie Hell”), he’s decided to move to Hamilton, where he can live much more cheaply, and to stop street-selling and get a part-time job (“I see myself cleaning toilets”).

While I feel very bad for Crad, I do think it’s time for him to get off the street and I also think the move to Hamilton might do him some good. I felt depressed and lost when I moved to Florida in 1981, and the change certainly helped me.

Maybe for Crad, all this trouble is a blessing in disguise, though I certainly wouldn’t tell him that, in that it’s getting him to change his life. Remember my favorite line of Rilke: “for there is no place that does not see you / You must change your life.”

Josh came over at 6 PM, and after dinner at Marvin Gardens, we saw The Witches of Eastwick – not a bad movie – at the 84th Street sixplex.

This afternoon, Josh got the results of blood tests he took at his doctor’s three weeks ago. He tested negative for Epstein-Barr and other problems, and he tested negative for the AIDS virus for the fourth or fifth time.

After this, if he doesn’t stop his hypochondriac ways, he really needs help.


Wednesday, July 8, 1987

2 PM. Like last summer, this summer has not been especially hot, but the humidity levels have been extraordinarily high. For weeks I’ve felt a coating of sweat on my body at almost all times, and since I’ve been exercising a lot, my acne has flared up terribly.

Really, South Florida isn’t much worse than this, because there everything indoors is air-conditioned. Even at the risk of losing my chance to go to MacDowell, I’m looking forward to returning to Florida.

Yesterday I wrote Crad a long letter sympathizing with his problems but advising him to seek therapy. He’ll probably reject my suggestion and maybe get offended, but I believe he needs professional help. Anyone that miserable shouldn’t have to suffer needlessly.

Early last evening, I went to Teachers College and wrote for ninety minutes in the computer room. My column was on suntans, but it just isn’t very funny. I need to revise it drastically, and maybe then I can hammer into something publishable. As it stands, it’s a pleasant but wimpy piece.

Back home, I began reading Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s The Cycles of American History, a very good book I got in the library. Schlesinger takes theories of his father, Emerson and others to postulate alternating cycles of conservatism and innovation/liberation/reform.

He predicts the next liberal cycle will begin around 1990, when the generation inspired by JFK (who was part of the FDR-inspired generation) takes power. Schlesinger thinks a new liberal era will end around 2010, when the generation inspired by Reagan will come to power.

I still hope for a sea-change in national thinking, but I’m worried that the country may turn to some extreme right-winger. It disturbs me that Oliver North appears to be coming off as some affable, boyish, charming patriot and the Congressional committee, “the establishment,” coming off as villains.

Essentially North is a thinking conservative’s Rambo, and I’m afraid the public will fall for this crap. If extreme conservatives do take (continue in?) power in 1988, it’s possible even a depression couldn’t change the national mood.

Well, that’s the worst-case scenario. It still seems more logical that Schlesinger and others are right. The country feel like it’s stagnating, and how much more greed can we take?

I read Schlesinger until 3 AM because I couldn’t sleep out in the living room.

Last night Teresa came home to pick up checks, file the court documents relating to the West 104th Street apartment (Anna has agreed to get out in January) and pick up her paycheck at work. She has Michael’s car and has been tooling around, running errands.

This morning she left at 10 AM, and an hour later, I did aerobic dancing with Body Electric (I also worked out to their Tuesday 4:30 PM show, so I’m pretty sore), and then got a ton of mail from Mom.

My column on ALOHA, “acquired lack of humor attitude,” looks good in print, though I had problems getting a clear xerox copy.

I got my Gold Card with its $5000 line of credit from American Express’s nonbank bank in Delaware.

I plan to keep my green AmEx card for MCI and other purchases and use the Gold Card checks as cash advances when they arrive. Hopefully I’ll be offered an Optima card eventually.

I was pre-approved for Torch Club, the Amoco/Diners Club joint venture, and even though I already have a Diners Club card, this one is revolving credit, so I took it.

This evening I’m having dinner with Stacy and tomorrow, breakfast with Pete Cherches, whose book, according to Alice, has been in B. Dalton’s window for the past two weeks.


Thursday, July 9, 1987

8 PM. Yesterday at 4 PM, after I xeroxed my ALOHA column from Saturday’s paper, I took the IRT (a nice cool train) to downtown Brooklyn.

The huge Pierrepont Plaza skyscraper on Cadman Plaza is going up. Next to it, on a construction site, were these words in bold letters: USA SLEEPS WHILE NORTH IS A HERO.

Apparently the vast majority of my fellow Americans feel the same way. North’s testimony has done more for the Contra cause than anything preceding it.

But he’s a zealot who sees the world in black and white terms; it’s obvious why he appeals to Reagan and the public in an age of Rambo, Bernhard Goetz and “Make My Day.”

To me, it’s scary, but people think North is making the congressional committees look like monkeys dithering about details.

Perhaps eventually Americans will be able to separate North’s pleasing persona from the ill-considered policies he advocates, but I’m not optimistic.

Although I think the Sandinistas are not Nicaragua’s liberators but its oppressors, the Contras would probably be worse.

Anyway, it’s not America’s role to decide what governments we should impose on other countries.

Having just spoken to Joyce about Charles’s death in the ’73 Chilean coup orchestrated by Kissinger and Nixon, I have the feeling that Lt. Col. Oliver North is the kind of man who would have – with all good intentions, of course – been an accessory to Charles Horman’s murder.

In the Brooklyn Business Library, I read recent issues of American Banker. It’s becoming clear that technology is changing the definition of money; as I’ve said before, I think more and more that money is information.

Back in Manhattan, I met Stacy in her building’s lobby on Bleecker Street.

She looked remarkably well, but then I’ve always found Stacy attractive – at least since I was 20 and we were flirting in our swimsuits in my backyard pool. (I remember she told me I looked like a California surfer.)

I helped her move her motorcycle to a new parking space, and then we had dinner at the Noho Star, where she’s a regular.

After five years at the Transit Authority, Stacy feels it’s time to leave; she may go to a new place with her boss if he gets this job he’s applied for.

Jeanne has gotten her M.B.A. from Columbia and has started working as a manager of facilities at Newark Airport, a job that entails great responsibility and very long hours.

They had a so-so vacation in the Caribbean, are planning to go to France in September, and are enjoying their summer share in an otherwise “straight” house in Amagansett.

Stacy seemed quite concerned about me and AIDS, but I told her she had nothing to worry about because I haven’t had risky sex in years.

I was glad to hear from her that Alan Cooper was also working at the Transit Authority and hope that means he’s healthy. Evan was his best friend and the first person I knew who died of AIDS.

Last month Stacy’s father retired from teaching, and at his retirement party, Stacy saw some of his friends who taught at Meyer Levin Junior High School when we were students, including Dr. Karl Bernstein, who was our science teacher, and his wife, who I think taught art.

I haven’t thought about them in years, but they were nice. Some mornings they’d see me and Steve Handelman at the bus stop at Ralph Avenue and Avenue T as they were driving to school from Rockaway and they’d give us a lift.

Over dinner, Stacy and I gossiped and chatted about this and that.

Though she’s gay, Stacy lives a pretty typical New York City Yuppie lifestyle, and she found it hard to believe that I don’t own a stereo, color TV, VCR, answering machine, microwave or computer.

After saying goodbye, I walked over to the West Village to get the subway home.

Teresa didn’t show up last night, and I didn’t hear from her all day today. She’s obviously gone to Fire Island again. It feels like I’ve had this apartment to myself for weeks.

I didn’t sleep well last night and today was so hot I could just as well have stayed in the air-conditioned bedroom, but I had to get up this morning to meet Pete.

So I was back in the West Village at Bagel And…, where Pete gave me a copy of his new Red Dust book, a collection of light prose and performance pieces.

Pete continues to move in new directions: he has his first jazz performance booked for the fall, and he remains active in the downtown art scene. He told me about the latest downtown writer friends to get book contracts.

Back home later, I got another rejection, from Kathleen Anderson at W.W. Norton.

It’s clear to me that nobody, from every New York trade publisher to Zephyr Press, is interested in a book of my uncollected stories, so I might as well give up. If I were really excellent at short fiction, someone would have picked up my manuscript by now.

Sometimes I think my whole publishing career – such as it is – was a fluke anyway. Lou Strick at Taplinger probably published my book only as a sop to Wesley; Kevin Urick really didn’t know what he was doing at White Ewe Press; and as for Zephyr, well, they were very divided on publishing me.

Yes, my books got some good reviews, but so does every book.

Even if fiction is not my forte, I remain convinced that I’m a good writer, and I expect to continue to write. I even worked on some column ideas today when I returned from my visit with Pete.

I spoke with Justin, whose writing habits seem like mine; it reassured me that Justin, too, does not write for weeks at a time but then accomplishes a great deal in one or two concentrated sittings. He’s off to Long Island with Larry for the weekend and involved in some new possible theater projects.

I got a letter from Tom, who seems okay back in New Orleans. His little niece is beautiful; Eustace is getting a divorce as he turns 50; Joan has left N.O. again and isn’t doing very well; and Tom has been fixing up his classrooms at NOCCA in preparation for the fall.

The fall seems a long way away to me.TC mark

Related

More From Thought Catalog