A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1987

Monday, June 1, 1987

6 PM. The past three days in Rockaway have been pleasant and quiet. I’ve had lots of time to think. Although it hit 93° today, it’s expected to cool off tomorrow when I return to Manhattan.

Life seems so sad sometimes, but it also seems clear that the best way to get through it is to avoid unnecessary complications. In Manhattan, everybody’s life seems so complex, but here, among my grandmother’s elderly friends, things are reduced to the basics.

Good health is the most important thing. As these old people die off, Grandma’s card games find it harder to recruit new hands. Her generation of Russian-Jewish immigrants will be gone by the turn of the century. That’s both sad and natural.

So much, though, seems sad and unnatural – like AIDS. I’ve had second thoughts about the column I wrote a week ago, and though I still believe it’s very well-written and funny, I worry that it might hurt the cause of those who fight AIDS and discrimination against gay people even though ostensibly it has nothing to do with either.

I feel guilty that I’ve done basically nothing but contribute money to AIDS groups. When I get back to Florida, I’ve got to do some volunteer work.

President Reagan finally made his first speech on AIDS and was booed when he called for mandating testing for immigrants and others.

It angers me how society has turned its back on people with AIDS because of homophobia, the last truly acceptable form of bigotry. I felt proud when Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, whom I’d always admired, said he was gay and then said, “So what?”

I guess it’s similar to the way blacks feel: they can have a Presidential candidate like Jesse Jackson, but overall, things are much worse for them than they were twenty years ago.

Remember ’67 to ’69 and all that was happening: Sgt. Pepper and the Summer of Love and antiwar demonstrations and anti-materialism, but also race riots in Newark and other cities; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy; the McCarthy campaign and the Chicago Democratic Convention riots; Stonewall, the start of gay liberation; Woodstock and the feeling of young people that we were a movement, a nation.

By the end of 1969, all the guys I knew had hair at least as long as the Beatles did in 1965. It would be wonderful if we could have a little bit of a return to that spirit, as simple and naïve and arrogant as it may have been.

The beach here is so gorgeous, especially this time of evening until it gets dark.

My grandparents first moved here about twenty years ago, too. I remember being here for Rosh Hashona 1968 – the year I didn’t go to college because of my agoraphobia.

Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris were here for a couple of hours today, and it was good to see them. Morris is more quiet and frail, and Tillie has many physical problems that are getting worse.

Aunt Tillie mentioned remembering a day when I was about a year old and in my high chair. I kept saying, “Hot! Hot! Hot!” and Mom didn’t know what I meant because it wasn’t particularly hot. Then she realized I meant “hat” and brought out a cap, which I happily placed on my head.

Was that really me? Sometimes I wish I were a baby again.

This afternoon I went across the street to the movie theater and saw Matthew Broderick in Jonathan Kaplan’s Project X, which had terrible acting by chimpanzees who were so cute they made me laugh and cry.

Now doesn’t that sound like a child’s reaction? Grandma Ethel gave me $35 for my birthday, so maybe I am still a child here.

Rockaway and my grandparents are very tied up with my memories of childhood.

Wow, it’s June already.


Wednesday, June 3, 1987

Noon on a cool, dark and rainy day.

Yesterday morning, when I awoke in Rockaway after a heavy sleep, the temperatures had dropped and it was raining heavily.

After helping Grandma vacuum under the sofa, I went out wearing the hooded jacket I’d left there a few weeks back.

Since it was early and I had no desire to walk to the bus in the rain, I went up to the Seaside subway stop and took the long train ride to Manhattan.

Luckily, the trip was enlivened in part by an enthusiastic young black evangelist who made the time pass more quickly.

Three days’ mail awaited me here. Mom sent me half a dozen credit card bills, along with material from Associated Writing Programs and other organizations I belong to.

Crain’s New York Business did print my letter, cutting only a few paragraphs, in their continuing “New York’s New Crisis” series; I’ve just cut and pasted it so the piece can be xeroxed.

I also had to answer phone messages from Alice and Scott, each of whom wanted to meet me for dinner last night. I explained that I have classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and will see them another time.

While watching the Iran/Contra hearings on CNN and listening to the news of Paul Volcker’s resignation as Fed chairman and his replacement by Alan Greenspan, I read the newspapers.

In mid-afternoon, Teresa called from work to tell me she doesn’t want me to pay half the rent for June until Anna gives her me check for all the money she owes me.

At 4 PM, I went to the Teachers College library, where I worked on my presentation of Disney’s Card and Party Maker, which is really just a Mickey Mouse version of Print Shop.

In class, I was the second person up, and though I stumbled a bit when the software didn’t do what it was supposed to do (does it ever?), other students had the same problem.

It was interesting to see different software, though most of the stuff wasn’t particularly exciting. We’ll have more presentations on Thursday in the microcomputer room of the library.

Back home, Teresa was phoning her tenants in the Berkshires because they hadn’t yet sent the rent for June.

She got the woman, who was in the house only because she was packing. It seems that over the weekend, the couple broke up and called off their wedding, which had been scheduled for later this summer.

The guy had been living there alone till last week, when the woman moved in with him, and they had a big blowup soon after.

Presumably, now the guy plans to live there alone, but Teresa isn’t sure how reliable he is or if he can handle the full rent by himself. Both their names are on the lease.

But of course, Teresa, who sympathizes with the distraught woman, won’t hold her to it.

“Now I may have to pay three rents,” Teresa complained.

She’s taking Anna’s rent check for June, but probably for the next six months Teresa will have to pay the rent on West 104th Street since she’s trying to evict Anna.

Anna’s lawyer has offered a deal wherein she’d pay the regular rent for six months and then pay $800 thereafter.

However, if Teresa agreed to that, at the expiration of the lease, Anna could claim that Teresa was a usurious landlord, and then she, Anna, might have a good shot at getting the apartment from a sympathetic judge.

Tonight Teresa and Norton are going up to the Berkshires to check on the house and register Norton’s car up there.

Teresa’s relationship with Norton and Pam is very close; she says it’s akin to “husband-sharing.”

However, Pam doesn’t know that Teresa and Norton slept together a year ago, and Teresa lives in fear that Anna, who knows everything, will tell Pam.

Norton says Pam wouldn’t believe Anna, but meanwhile Teresa says she doesn’t “even think about it in case Pam can read my mind.”

Teresa seems closer than ever to quitting her job at the personnel agency and joining Pam in cleaning houses on Fire Island and helping Norton with his new chicken takeout place in Brooklyn Heights.

Here we go again. As usual, Teresa’s life is utterly complicated.

I slept on the futon, and this morning, after Teresa left, I worked out with my 20-pound dumbbells. Also, I wrote to Tom (I still have to write to Crad and to Miriam), read the papers, and spoke to Josh.

Josh’s landlord hasn’t contacted him again, and Josh thinks he alienated him with his last refusal of over $40,000 to leave the apartment.

I’ve got a lot of errands to do now, and I’d better get started.

*

11:30 PM. It’s almost my birthday.

My errands got done this afternoon. I took out some credit card cash advances at ATMs and deposited the money into my checking account. (Luckily, my Citibank credit cards now work at the Master Teller ATMs at Manny Hanny.)

Also, I returned a library book, xeroxed the two articles for class and my Crain’s New York Business letter, and bought a copy of Alfred Malabre’s Beyond Our Means: How America’s Long Years of Debt, Deficits, and Reckless Borrowing Now Threaten to Overwhelm Us.

Alice and I made a date for Friday evening, and Ronna told me to come over for dinner tonight and to bring all my disks to show to Lori.

When I called Mom, she said Grandpa Nat is going to have a surgical procedure done tomorrow. He keeps getting pneumonia because he’s aspirating his food, which gets into his lungs.

If they send him back to the nursing home, he’ll just get pneumonia again because he doesn’t understand how to eat properly now that many of his remaining brain cells are dying.

The procedure will bypass mouth-eating and allow him to take in liquids directly to his stomach.

It sounds ghastly to me, and I can only think of what Aunt Tillie said to me on Monday: “I only hope God takes pity on that poor man.”

But neither Dad nor Aunt Sydelle were willing to sign a document that stated that doctors were not to perform “heroic efforts” to keep Grandpa Nat alive.

I guess they feel guilty because he’s their father, but as Mom said to me, if Grandpa Nat knew what kind of life he was living, he’d surely prefer death. What person wouldn’t?

Birthdays celebrate life, but I never want to be kept alive just for the sake of being “alive.”

Because Ronna was still slaving over a hot stove when I arrived at 6:30 PM, Lori and I had a couple of hours to spend with her new computer, a PC clone that I would dearly love to own.

(And maybe I will own a similar computer since this one cost Lori’s brother only $900.)

I showed her my dBase III tutorial and most of my other disks, including Turbo PROLOG. Lori’s going to keep them a while and copy them; she also said she’d make me a copy of DisplayWrite 3, the word processing package she uses.

Ronna’s dinner was delicious: cold lemon soup, salmon croquettes, and blintzes with slightly sweet farmer’s cheese. Heavenly.

After dinner, we all talked till about 10:30 PM. I would have liked to be alone with Ronna, but I’ll take what I can get.

On the way home, I stopped to get a few groceries at Red Apple and tomorrow’s Times at the newsstand on 86th Street.

I see it’s already after midnight, so it’s my birthday.

At 36, I’ve got everything a man needs: cable TV, Pepsi Free, a typewriter, a VCR, plenty of reading material, four pillows, two comforters, the breeze from the Hudson River, lots of credit cards, my health, my sense of humor, my good memories . . .

And, of course, I’ll always have Paris.


Saturday, June 6, 1987

7 PM. Tired after gallery-hopping with Justin and Larry all day – I got home only just an hour ago – I plan to stay in tonight.

Last evening, when I got to Alice’s, her brother was there, cutting styrofoam to put it in a package with Alice’s old TV, which they’re sending to Honduras.

“Ah, a new foreign aid program,” I said. It was good to see Michael after all these years. I know he and Alice are sometimes at odds, but I find him funny and intelligent.

Unsurprisingly, he hates his post in Honduras – “The trouble there is called Nicaragua,” he said – and so he loves being in New York.

The three of us chatted for a while before he left; then Alice gave me my birthday card and a present: a $20 gift certificate at Coliseum Books. It was very thoughtful of her.

We had a pleasant dinner at a Sichuan restaurant on Christopher Street, during which Alice regaled me with her usual terrific stories, mostly about the magazine business and the celebrities Alice is always interviewing.

The book she’s doing with Donna McKechnie seems to be going well, and yesterday Alice interviewed Willard Scott.

We also talked about the writing process and how much easier computers have made writing.

After dinner, we took a cab to Peter’s, on West 56th and Eighth Avenue. It was also great to see Peter again.

The video he played for us – the movie Sextette, made when Mae West was about 87 years old – was a classic funny/terrible movie, and even though I didn’t join Alice and Peter in smoking marijuana, I laughed and guffawed as loudly as they did.

It was a really great (and inexpensive) evening.

Taking the bus uptown, I watched the first couple of hours of a Nightline “Town Meeting on AIDS,” which made me feel I have to stop saying that I’m going to do volunteer work and just do it.

This morning I exercised with the Body Electric show and got ready to meet Justin and Larry at the corner of Broadway and Prince at 1 PM.

Larry was about what I expected: tall, a bit paunchy, with WASPy looks and thinning, greying hair. He’s very sweet, and after spending the day with him and Justin, I think they make as good a couple as any I know.

It’s interesting to see Larry, because it shows what different tastes in men Justin and I have. While Larry is wonderful, he’s the opposite of the kind of guy I’m attracted to.

Perhaps it’s crazy since I’m no hunk, but I tend to be attracted to young, pretty, boyish-looking, well-built guys. Well, I guess everybody is, but you can’t always get what you want.

I just don’t think I’m as domestic as Larry and Justin are. In the age of AIDS, sex is pretty much academic for me anyway.

It’s funny: I practice celibacy, don’t drink or take drugs, but I have always despised the idea of people telling other people how to run their lives.

If there ever comes a time when AIDS testing becomes mandatory, even though I’ve already taken a voluntary AIDS test, I’ll refuse to take a government-ordered test.

Big talker, huh? I can afford to be.

After lunch at one of those corner bar/restaurants in Soho, I went with Justin and Larry to gallery after gallery. I can’t remember when I looked at so much contemporary art.

Some of the art we looked at was fabulous, some seemed pretentious or phony, and most of it was overpriced.

Still, I would like to spend more time trying to appreciate the current art gallery scene. I also like the ambiance of Soho and the cool styles of people’s clothes, hair and attitudes there.

Justin and Larry obviously spend a lot of days like today, when we went to about a dozen galleries in four hours.

After we stopped for cannoli and Italian sodas at the Cafe Borgia, Justin and Larry returned to Brooklyn while I walked through some feast (St. Anthony’s?) to get the IRT local home.


Sunday, June 7, 1987

3 PM. Today is cool and cloudy. Josh is coming over later, and we’ll have dinner and go to the movies. I’ve been reading the papers and watching the TV news today.

Last evening when I called Mom to thank her and Dad for the birthday check of $40 they sent me, she told me that the Sun-Tattler had published my column about making downtown Miami an amusement park called Gun World.

Mom said it was very well-written. Myself, I think it was a little forced, but I was not surprised the paper printed it rather than my more personal narratives because they prefer my formulaic satires of South Florida.

But I find I’m both running out of ideas and chafing under the limitations of the form. Back in the winter, I decided I’d stop at 13 columns, but I’ve had 15 printed already and I’ve written half a dozen others which the paper may or may not use.

Seeing my work in print regularly is addictive, but it may be time to call a halt to the column in order to concentrate on fiction and humor articles for a wider audience – and more pay.


Monday, June 8, 1987

5:30 PM. Teresa should be coming home in ninety minutes or so, and then this apartment once again becomes her domain. But for the past six days, I’ve had control of the place, and it’s been a terrific experience.

Today has been hot and humid, and I’ve just taken a shower after only light exercise.

My main goal for today was to go to Deutsch Pharmacy and get my prescription for Triavil since I knew that the drugstore would be closed from next week till the end of the month and that I’d be on jury duty starting Thursday.

I got up early and took the IRT to the Junction, where I got the Flatbush Avenue bus. Getting the Triavil took no time – I was finished by 11 AM – and I decided to walk to Kings Plaza.

On the porch of our old house, a heavyset dark-haired woman was laying laundry over the railing to dry – something that surely would have embarrassed Mom. I suppose I was staring at her as I strolled by, for she glared at me.

This woman didn’t look Russian at all, so I think my hunch that the Russians sold the house was correct.

At Kings Plaza, I phoned Susan, who’s been having a terrible time. Not only did she and Spencer have a car accident which caused her whiplash, but the baby closed the closet door on his toe, and people have been coming in with brokers to see the apartment every night and on weekends.

Susan sounded too stressed to visit, so I said I’d speak to her later. But I wanted to go to Park Slope anyway, to get some of the cheeseless “baby pizza” I love at Roma Pizza.

Because the Flatbush Avenue bus was too crowded and not air-conditioned, I took the Utica Avenue bus instead and passed the New Floridian Diner; Bob’s Gulf station on Avenue O (a 7-Eleven is going up across the street, where the other gas station was); my old school, P.S. 203, on Avenue M; and all the factories and stores I remember so well from the many years I lived in Brooklyn.

Yesterday was the fifth “Welcome Back to Brooklyn Day,” and I read about the celebration in Newsday, which also featured a column by Denis Hamill criticizing all those who fled the borough.

Brooklyn, unlike Manhattan, is populated by what seem like real people and is definitely coming back after a decline that began in the 1950s with the demise of the Eagle and the abandonment by the Dodgers, a decline that only sped up in the ’60s and ’70s.

The big question is whether the black and Hispanic majority can join the middle class, as the white ethnic groups did earlier. Obviously, some nonwhite people are doing just that, but too many are poor, under-educated and unemployed, and the city under Koch isn’t doing much to help them.

While waiting to transfer to the B6 bus at Avenue H, I got a cup of lemon Italian ices at Ices Queen; I remember how Shelli and I always seemed to end up there in the summer of ’71.

I like being in contact with the places of my childhood.

After lunch in Park Slope – a neighborhood I discovered only in college – I returned to Manhattan, where I did my laundry and watched Fawn Hall testify at the Iran/Contra hearings.

Yesterday, Josh came over around 4:30 PM. He’d walked from the East Village, and since he doesn’t use deodorant, you could sort of tell.

We bullshitted for half an hour and then went to have our usual pasta at Marvin Gardens.

There’s no word from his landlord, and it now looks like he’s going to have to stay in his apartment.

Josh says he’s still getting harassing calls from his neighbor, though, and he’s still worried about his parents.

Since we were going to have to wait for over an hour on line to get into The Untouchables, we split up and I spent the rest of the evening reading Malabre’s Beyond Our Means.


Wednesday, June 10, 1987

4 PM. I really enjoyed our class last evening. We met in the microcomputer room at the library again, this time working on BASIC graphics, which is old hat to me.

Since we were in pairs, I got to help Doris Wentworth, a funny middle-aged music teacher in Puerto Rico, who quickly took to the BASIC commands after I showed her how to use them.

Despite all my protestations, there’s nothing more I enjoy than teaching someone and seeing that “Aha!” moment when the person finally gets it.

With computers, you see that spark more easily and more quickly than you do as a writing teacher.

Someone in the know said that our creative projects can be relatively simple, so I’m not going to worry about them.

Back here, I had the apartment to myself, as Teresa had gone to a Yankees game with Perry. After having a kiwi I bought at the Koreans’, I undressed and got into bed – bed being my futon on the living room floor.

I slept wonderfully, making up for a possibly sleepless night tonight when I’m going to have dinner with Scott and try to get to the late-night publication party for Catherine Texier.

At noon, I marched myself in front of the TV and did aerobics with Gilad Janklowicz and Denise Austin, who have exercise shows on ESPN.

I spoke to Justin, who was pleased that Larry and I got along so well.

I am worried about Teresa. On Sunday night in Fire Island, Phyllis stole Teresa’s raincoat from a restaurant where she was having dinner and then showed up on Teresa’s porch.

Afraid of being attacked, Teresa ran from Phyllis and later called the police. Phyllis has threatened several times to “punch [Teresa’s] lights out,” and Teresa is actually scared she’ll do it.

“I don’t get it,” I told her. “How could you be friends with someone you’re now afraid will beat you up? I mean, that hasn’t happened to anyone I know since grade school.”

Teresa just said that with most people married, she can’t be too choosy about loyal girlfriends who are fun.

Now she tells me all the bad things, like how Phyllis embarrassed her by threatening to light up a joint in front of Teresa’s family at Thanksgiving dinner, and how Phyllis was smoking crack all last summer.

On Monday, Teresa called Sandy at work and asked her to tell their boss that she wants Mondays and Fridays off so she can work in Fire Island on her Rent-a-Chef catering idea.

It amazes me how Teresa goes through life, lurching from one thing to another.

She asked me to look for something in her file cabinet, and while rummaging around for it, I found her transcript from Brooklyn College.

I had always figured Teresa never graduated, but it was surprising to see how many courses she failed and dropped.

I felt bad because I had looked at her transcript, but then I saw the bottom of another one and recognized the bottom courses, which I recognized as the exact same ones I had taken. Huh?

It looks like Teresa cut and pasted the senior year courses and grades from my transcript on top of hers; then she xeroxed this “new” transcript showing that she graduated magna cum laude in June 1973, as I did.

I feel very sad about that – not angry at all, just kind of depressed to see it. It made me think that even when we were in college, Teresa was fooling herself.

Of course, I’ll never tell anybody – but I wish I could talk to Teresa about it.TC mark

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