A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1987

Saturday, June 20, 1987

8 PM. This morning I did aerobic dancing with the Body Electric show, and that makes four days in a row that I’ve exercised. I feel more energetic, too.

Josh and I met at 1 PM at the St. Mark’s Bookshop. Because he felt he needed more exercise, Josh had walked there from Brooklyn Heights even though with this hot, hazy, humid weather, it was hardly the best day to exert yourself outside.

After having lunch at the Kiev on Second Avenue, we went to the tenth annual Tompkins Square Arts Festival; I think we went two or three years ago, and the art was just as mediocre and pretentious as ever.

When we first arrived, a man who seemed like a typical New York crackpot was saying that only in a country with an economy like the U.S. could we have so many people who call themselves artists, writers, dancers, actors, etc., when in reality most are unproductive and untalented.

Actually, this crackpot made sense to me.

Josh is arguably hipper than I, and so as much as he disdains the East Village scene, he thinks it’s something to aspire to.

To me, the neighborhood is still a slum, and the most creative act is how they’ve marketed its image to the point where people would plunk down thousands of dollars for a condominium off Tompkins Square Park.

Call me a philistine, but I feel like the kid who sees the emperor has no clothes.

Oh, the East Village scene shows more awareness of the avant-garde and recent traditions, but basically, the paintings and other visual art we saw today were as amateurish and derivative as you’d find in any community art show in any city or town in America.

Yeah, I saw some things I liked, but as nice an image as I thought it was, I wouldn’t pay $750 for a painting of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Budd Dwyer with a pistol in his mouth. (Remember, he killed himself on camera.)

After we walked around for a while and sat on a bench watching other people, Josh said that the best thing about the art festival was that most of the women weren’t wearing bras.

He told me that last night he and Harry got roped into Candy’s debut as a tap dancer in a show put on by her dancing school in Bay Ridge.

Surrounded by mothers of three-year-olds whose dancing skills Josh was forced to endure, he watched Candy tap-dance to “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and said she was truly awful.

I told Josh I wouldn’t have minded paying the seven dollars to see three minutes of that.

Whenever I’m in Florida and feel bad that I’m not in New York City, I need to remember the horror of changing trains at Grand Central or Times Square on a day when it’s 90°, as it was today.

Back home, I wrote the first draft of a parody of a hardboiled private eye who discovers that Social Security is a scam to give the working poor’s money to the retired rich.

Probably it’s a bit too heavy-handed, but I’ll rework it; in any case, the column is already past the stage where I know it will eventually get completed. It just needs maybe another session or two at the word processor.

Still, it’s good that I could write today at home with only a typewriter.

I don’t know if a column of mine appeared today, but I told Mom to look for it in the Sun-Tattler.

Although I have ideas for a couple of other columns, I’d still like to stop at the end of the summer.

Even though I’ve been consciously trying to avoid the sun, my face got sunburned today. I’ve also got some zits worthy of a 15-year-old.


Sunday, June 21, 1987

8 PM. Today was a sleepy, dark, drizzly day. At least I didn’t spend much this weekend: about $18 total.

Still, that’s because I didn’t do much of anything. I read the New York Times, Washington Post and Newsday; exercised a little; lay around a lot; watched the news on TV; and mostly vegetated in an air-conditioned room. Tomorrow I’ll be more energetic.

I spoke to Alice briefly. She and Peter returned from a long weekend in the Bahamas, and as this week is busy for her, we made a date for Wednesday night, July 1.

I feel a bit lonely this evening, but I suppose I’m more bored than lonely. I’ve got to make sure I don’t vegetate after this week, when my class at Teachers College ends. I remember how unhappy I was in July of 1985, when I felt at loose ends. At least I’m writing more now.

But I’ve got to put structure into my life with work of some kind. I always talk about doing volunteer work; maybe I should march myself down to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and try to do some good in the world. Or else I should just get a job and make some money word-processing.

I’ve always hated it when I have too much or too little time on my hands, and I need to strike the right balance. Tonight I don’t feel very happy with myself. I see myself as lazy and unmotivated. I seem to accomplish so little.

Yes, it’s true that I don’t do anything actively destructive, like drink or take drugs, but I don’t do much that’s positive, either. I don’t have all that many friends anymore, not even in New York City.

There’s Josh and Justin and Alice and Ronna and Susan and Pete – but I hardly have seen Ronna, Susan or Alice lately, as they’re all busy with their own lives. And I don’t confide in people like Pete, who are writer-friends.

I haven’t been very adventurous with new people, have I? I don’t go out of my way to make new friends because I’m so selfish of my time.

Teresa may be extreme in the way she makes good friends so quickly, but I guess I could learn to be more open like her.

Well, dissatisfaction usually gets me moving in a new direction, and I hope it will now. I need to make some mid-year resolutions, I think.

As terrible as AIDS is, it is sometimes very hard to be celibate, especially if it’s not entirely by choice. I’m too wrapped up in myself and need to get out among people a lot more.


Monday, June 22, 1987

11 PM. This morning I called Susan, who said she’d been quite depressed over the past couple of weeks. She was going to her shrink this afternoon and said she’d come over afterward.

So I went to 42nd Street, to the public library, where I read the last few weeks’ issues of American Banker and got the list of newspaper syndicates I want to query about my column.

After lunch at the CUNY Graduate Center across the street, I came back uptown, where I got lots of bills from Mom in the mail, and I paid them the way I usually do, as though I’m working on a hobby.

Back home, I found a message on the answering machine from Dad. Although his plane had come in early, he had a 6 PM meeting and so could not meet me for dinner.

When Susan came over, we drank Diet Pepsi Free and hung out in the air-conditioned bedroom for a while.

She’s been bored and cranky, what with all the people coming through the apartment to look at it. No one’s offered her a firm price yet, and she and Spencer lost a nice apartment in Park Slope that they had their eye on. The baby is teething and he also has a lot of energy; Susan, suffering from insomnia, can’t keep up with him.

Spencer’s hectic project that kept him working long hours is finally over, and Susan feels she should explore new things. “Basically, I’m in a rut,” she told me.

“I know the feeling,” I said.

Justin phoned, asking if I wanted to come with him to a play reading that Ali was in. I agreed, and Justin said to meet him at 7 PM at St. Clement’s on West 46th between Ninth and Tenth.

Susan and I walked down Broadway to 72nd, where she got on the subway back to Brooklyn, and I had a couple of hours to kill.

Instead of going back to the apartment, I went to the Upper Cut and got my hair cut.

After a burger at Diane’s, I took the M11 bus down Columbus/Ninth Avenue and waited for Justin, who was a little late due to a subway foul-up.

At St. Clement’s, the play being read was called Bullpen set in the holding room of the Criminal Courts Building downtown.

Basically, it was a neoconservative agitprop play of ideas, with characters representing different ideological positions.

However, I enjoyed it because it addressed an important issue: the attitude of black men towards making it in a white world.

It pitted a Harlem numbers runner and would-be actor who’d gotten thrown out of a prep school program for minorities against a middle-class black banker who felt the other guy was filled with self-pity.

The playwright’s attitude was clearly that blacks cannot keep crying “racism” all the time and that too many black men use macho bravado to cover up a fear that they can’t really make it.

He also discussed the black young men’s attitude that school and studying are the surest way to ridicule. Well, I’ve seen black women college students have more successful academic careers because they weren’t hung up with the idea that school isn’t cool.

Ali played a legal aid lawyer, and she was fine in her small part; the others were pretty good, especially a superb young Puerto Rican actor who played a Hispanic thief.

Dad wasn’t in his hotel room when the reading ended at 9 PM, so I went with Justin to Marvin’s, where he had dinner and I had dessert.

A group at a nearby table were annoyingly raucous, so much so that the management gave us our drinks for free. Justin seems to have scripts everywhere now; hopefully, he’ll find success with at least one of them.

At 10 PM, I went to a phone booth and called Dad, who said he was tired and in bed already.

He said he was very depressed because Mom had gotten a call from the bank rejecting them for a mortgage. Dad’s income wasn’t enough, they said.

I felt very bad for them as I took the IRT uptown. Teresa was sound asleep when I got in, but I had a hard time getting to bed.


Tuesday, June 23, 1987

2 PM. This morning I had to be out early anyway, because the cleaning woman was coming, so I called Dad and said I’d meet him for breakfast.

I took a taxi down to the Days Inn on West 57th Street, where Dad was outside in a business suit, looking surprisingly good.

We ate at the Pax Restaurant on Seventh Avenue, where Dad told me they were turned down for a mortgage because the bank looked at his income after his considerable deductions (which he uses to avoid paying taxes).

Also, they couldn’t declare the income from the flea market, which amounts to quite a lot.

(I just spoke to Mom, and she said she’s getting over the hurt now, and says they’ll apply again next year, when Dad should show a much higher income.)

Yesterday Dad showed the holiday line of Bugle Boy and Vincente Nesi shirts to Burdines and Maas Brothers, and he said they seemed as if they were going to give him a big order.

Dad’s been doing better than at any time since five or six years ago when Sasson was hot.

He told me his father’s funeral was surprisingly beautiful and that the rabbi did a superb job of capturing Grandpa Nat’s spirit in his eulogy.

Dad obviously feels very bad about his father’s death; I guess it’s hard not to, though I was almost relieved that Grandpa Nat was allowed to die.

My article about making Grandma Sylvia a celebrity appeared in the weekend Sun-Tattler, and Dad said he mailed a copy to Aunt Sydelle. I guess I’ll see it soon.

I left Dad, who was going to take the D train to 34th Street – Bugle Boy’s showroom is in the Empire State Building – and I took the 1 train up to Teachers College.

At the computer lab, I completed my new column on the private eye who investigates social security. I think it’s excellent, and I already sent it off to the Sun-Tattler. It’s a joy to be doing good work.

After checking out my computer art project for tonight’s class, I came home to a clean apartment. I feel much better with life so busy.


Wednesday, June 24, 1987

4 PM. I have a terrible headache. On each of the past two nights, I haven’t been able to sleep; maybe I got four hours each night. Usually I don’t complain about insomnia, but today it’s hard for me to function.

Luckily I didn’t have much on my agenda, and Dad is coming over for dinner. Teresa will be going to her parents’ house in Williamsburg, so she’ll be home later than usual.

Yesterday I met Dad in front of Wolf’s Deli on 57th Street and Sixth Avenue at 5:30 PM, and we had dinner there. He’d walked uptown and said he had a good day at the showroom.

If all goes well, he should be writing orders that could bring him a lot of money. The whole shirt company’s business is expected to quintuple this year.

After we ate, Dad and I walked back to his hotel room and he gave me my mail.

The good news was that I got a whopping $204 check from the State of Florida to cover my expenses on the last two computer education courses I taught in Miami for FIU.

The bad news also came from the State of Florida: they still have me down as owing $2140 for that student loan check I never received this term. I had a feeling back in April that I’d be involved in some foul-up.

I don’t intend to apply for any student loans again, and I’m disgusted with the inability of CSI, the loan servicer, or the state to rectify their error after three letters and phone calls.

I was cutting it close last night with my class, and out of stupidity and/or anxiety, I got off the very crowded IRT one stop early, which meant I had to walk the ten blocks from 110th Street to Teachers College.

And of course the class wasn’t held in our usual room, so I had to run over to the microcomputer center in the library.

Prof. Abeles discussed research applications for computers in the arts, and then we began showing our projects. I volunteered to go first, and I’m glad I did, because everyone else worked on much more elaborate stuff.

I felt a little humiliated, but the same thing happened in my Computer Graphics class two years ago. The truth is I don’t have the patience for these projects.

So I probably blew my A in this course, but I still think I’ll get a B+ as I did in Software Evaluation and Computer Graphics.

Oddly enough, as I was walking to the bus stop, Prof. Anne Vollmer called out my name. She was surprised to see me, for she’d assumed I’d gone back to Florida for good. I had, I explained, but I was back for the summer.

Anyway, I spoke with a woman at the bus stop on Riverside Drive who said she wasn’t at all impressed with Teachers College, either.

Teresa was half-asleep when I got home, but I couldn’t get a quarter of the way to slumberland myself until 4 AM, and then I woke up at 8 AM.

Today I did some banking and xeroxed the “Grandma Sylvia, Superstar” column from the Sun-Tattler.

They put it above the Saturday “Funhouse” section, obviously thinking it wasn’t exactly humorous. But it seems a good change of pace to me.

In a way, the Sun-Tattler columns have allowed me to “stretch” and try out a variety of forms. I haven’t really been so creative since I was producing short stories at a fast clip in 1975-78.

My head began pounding a couple of hours ago, and although I took an Extra-Strength Tylenol, it still hurts terribly. I did exercise at 10 AM to the Body Electric show, but I need sleep more than anything.

*

9 PM. Dad came over at 5:30 PM and we had dinner at Marvin Gardens.

For a change, it was sunny and pleasant out, so we took a long walk down Broadway to 79th and then up Amsterdam, where the combination of old bodegas, hardware stores and laundries on one side and Yuppie boutiques and restaurants on the other show a neighborhood gentrifying.

We watched a rally against drug dealers on 92nd and Amsterdam – I’ll look for it on the news tonight – and then walked up Broadway to 100th Street, down West End, over to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and down Riverside Drive.

Dad said he was struck by the neighborhood’s ethnic mix: Puerto Rican, Orthodox Jewish, black, Yuppie, elderly, gay, etc. He told me he thinks there are few places in America that contain so many disparate groups of people.

After walking Dad to the Broadway bus, I went grocery shopping.


Sunday, June 28, 1987

3 PM on a mild, dry day. After reading the Sunday Times last night, I drifted off to sleep fairly early. I had an unpleasant dream in which my teeth were falling out; God, I hate it when I dream that.

Dad left at 8 AM for the Javits Center; I’ll probably join him for dinner later at Ratner’s downtown.

This morning I had an old-fashioned workout with my 15-pound weights while I watched The McLaughlin Group and The Diary of Adrian Mole, which is almost as funny as the book.

Then, as I have for the past few years, I took the bus down to Columbus Circle and stood at the start of the annual Gay Pride parade.

As always, it was gratifying to see so many lesbians and gay men out showing solidarity, and it also showed how diverse gay people are.

The parade also seems to be becoming more mainstream than ever in terms of the parade-watchers. I stood next to what looked like a typical American nuclear family with a mother, father and little boy about 10.

While homophobia is on the rise because of AIDS, it’s clear that there’s a critical mass of gay people who won’t stand for assaults on our rights.

One float showed an actor in a Reagan mask leading what was obviously a concentration camp filled with gay men and women surrounded by barbed wire and guards with surgical masks and rubber gloves on.

There’s going to be a march on Washington in October. I feel less worried than I was because I think there are too many people out there to stand for a quarantine of AIDS carriers or some similar drastic measure.

The bad news is that on Friday, Justice Powell retired from the Supreme Court.

Although Powell was a conservative who sided with the majority in the Hardwick ruling a year ago, he may be replaced by an arch-conservative like Rehnquist and Scalia who can cast the critical vote that would outlaw a woman’s right to an abortion, would strike down school prayer bans, and would lessen civil liberties.

Anyway, I still feel guilty about my own lack of support for gay causes. Yesterday, in response to a solicitation, I wrote out a $20 check to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, but I need to do more.

As usual during the parade, the people from GMHC got one of the biggest rounds of applause, along with the People With AIDS Coalition, the gay police officers, the sober lesbians, and the seniors and gay youth.

Father John McNeill, a priest, was this year’s grand marshal, and they were planning on some kind of demonstration when they got to St. Patrick’s.

With the Pope’s meeting with Kurt Waldheim stirring controversy, can there be any doubt that the Catholic church is a force for evil in the world?

I walked home, stopping to have lunch and to buy the Sunday editions of the Washington Post and Newsday.


Tuesday, June 30, 1987

5 PM. About an hour ago, I walked Dad to West End Avenue, where he caught a taxi to LaGuardia for his flight back to Florida.

Last night he didn’t come in until nearly midnight, having gone out with people from his firm and from Burdines.

Today he got an order from Burdines that was smaller than expected, but that seemed to be the only disappointment of the week, as he’s been writing orders like crazy.

Most of the people he works with are my age. “They would faint if they knew I’m going to be 61 in a few weeks,” Dad said. Because he sells a line of shirts that’s so youth-oriented, it’s important that Dad look young.

Again, he wondered how long he can go on selling, and he also said he had no idea where the years had gone. I guess Grandpa Nat’s death has made him more aware than ever of his own mortality.

Dad told me, “The important thing is to do what makes you happy.” I’m glad we were able to share this time together.

Yesterday Josh came over after helping a fellow student videotape on the Lower East Side, where there were very hostile people trying to stop them from taping. Josh says they resent the Yuppie invasion of their neighborhood.

Susan phoned while Josh was here, and she didn’t feel like coming up but said she’d get back to me about having dinner on Thursday evening with her, Barbara Baracks, and another friend.

Mikey also called, and I spoke to him today at the Attorney General’s office. He and Amy moved to their new co-op in Riverdale and are finally beginning to settle in.

After so many years of Manhattan living, it’s quite an adjustment for both of them to live in a neighborhood without nearby amenities.

Mikey relies on the express bus to commute to work, and he’s finding it kind of a pain. But at least he has a comfortable apartment with lots of space and a terrace.

Amy plans to work until the end of August, and then she’ll enter the social work program at Hunter College – unless NYU accepts her and also comes up with fellowship money.

Anyway, Josh and I had dinner together last evening, and I agreed to spend next Monday with him when he tapes an interview with Joyce. So my days and evenings are starting to fill up.

Josh said my arms and shoulders look like they’re getting bigger. I guess it’s from exercising so hard every day.

When I got home last night, I called Ronna. We’re getting together on Friday night after what will be her last shrink appointment. She and Lori got the new kitchen floor down, and she’s also been busy with work.

Teresa is still on Fire Island.

Me? Today I began to feel guilty about my laziness, so I went to Teachers College and tried to work for two hours.

My “Winner” story still reads well, but after 15 pages, it still seems to go nowhere. I tried to end it today, but I don’t know if I’m satisfied with it. Somehow I feel much more comfortable with my columns.

I cleaned up the files on my disks when I wasn’t writing and I looked at some of my other attempts at fiction.

I wrote to MacDowell, giving them my phone number here and saying I could only come there from late August to the end of September. I still don’t know whether I’ll get in or not; I don’t even have a feeling about it.

Yet I still have this optimistic sense that something good is going to happen.TC mark

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