A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1987

Thursday, June 11, 1987

10 PM. I just got in. Teresa’s gone to Fire Island, so I’m alone.

In the past 28 hours or so, I’ve seen many different sides of New York City.

Just now, two homeless men were struggling with all their belongings in a few shopping carts, and one said, “Don’t worry, I know how to survive,” and the other one replied, “I know how to survive, too.”

Earlier, I had watched a seven-year-old girl standing on the M104 bus and explaining to her mother that she stepped on one foot to balance herself when the bus stopped and on the other foot when the bus started again.

She’s learning physics in a syntonic way, I thought, but like most girls, she’ll be nudged away from science in school and may even develop the technophobia some women have.

Probably I was thinking that because we were working with LOGO tonight in class. Of course, I’m an old LOGO hand although I’ve forgotten a good deal.

Anyway: Last evening I met Scott at his London Terrace apartment, which he’s elaborately and expensively furnished.

In choosing a place to eat, Scott didn’t disappoint me: we had to walk in and out of half a dozen restaurants. I told him any place he selected was fine with me, for I knew if I ruled out anything, that would be the one cuisine Scott just had to eat, and if I made a suggestion, Scott would find something wrong with the restaurant.

We ended up at a decent, inexpensive Mexican place on Eighth Avenue and 18th Street.

Scott is as hyper as ever, and I’ve known him since Men’s Health Ed class in the fall of 1969. In a way, it surprises me how little people’s personalities change over the years.

Scott’s been reading up on Chelsea history because he’ll be leading a walking tour to raise money for an organization that he belongs to which visits elderly shut-ins in the neighborhood.

His job is still the same, and I figure he’ll be there forever. Although he’s making a fortune, he doesn’t even have $5000 in the bank. “The divorce took everything,” he said.

(“That’s what they all say,” Teresa commented when I repeated this to her.)

Scott wanted me to go with him out to dessert with his friend Judy, a UJA fundraiser, and a couple she knows.

Although of course I didn’t really want to go, I ended up enjoying myself at Claire, a fancy place on Seventh Avenue.

Judy was very sweet and gave me half her delicious key lime pie, and I liked the other people, too, especially Bill Arnone, a politico who’s thinking of working for Dukakis.

His wife asked how I knew Scott, and when I said I’d known him half my life, she looked confused and asked: “He was your babysitter?”

Jeez, that was as bad as when Alice told her underling at Weight Watchers that she and I had met in second grade, and the woman said, “You were his teacher?”

I guess it feels nice, coming a week after I turned 36. But it’s still mortifying when people say something indicating that they think my friends are so much older than me.

Although Scott is the attorney working for the state’s judges, he merely blusters his way through talk about politics, pretending to know more than he does.

In contrast, I could tell that this guy Bill could see I knew what I was talking about.

I wouldn’t have brought it up, but Scott got me started telling them about all the crazy political stunts I’ve pulled, and I had the others laughing in no time.

After dinner broke up, I took the IRT to Canal Street and found Madam Rosa, one of the hot downtown clubs.

Literally, it was hot last night because there must have been 250 pressed in for Catherine Texier’s publication party for Love Me Tender.

Well, now that I’ve been to one of these trendy downtown scenes, I know it’s no big deal.

Joel Rose was surprised to see me up from Florida, and when I congratulated Catherine, it was obvious she had no idea who I was.

I again saw Ken Gangemi with Marion Boyars, and I spoke with the few other people I knew: Mark Leyner and his wife, Pete Cherches, and Judy Lopatin.

Despite the good attention her Fiction Collective book, Modern Romance, got, Judy said she’s insanely envious of Catherine and bet that 90% of the guests were writers who felt the same way.

Since I’m not the kind of person strangers look at twice, I didn’t meet anyone new.

(God, that sounds so self-pitying. The truth is I’m both shy and a bit of a reverse snob.)

Anyway, I left after about an hour, took the subway uptown, and got in at 11:30 PM.

This morning I was up early and walked with Teresa as far as 72nd before hopping a rush hour train downtown, this time to the Civic Center.

Although I was prepared with a lot of reading material, jury duty proved very boring. They obviously had more people than they needed, and they called only one group to a voir dire the whole time I was there.

Norman, the guy in charge, ran things as well as he could. He showed us a movie and gave us JUROR buttons to wear, a book outlining procedures and responsibilities, and a guidebook with walking tours of the neighborhoods around Foley Square.

During the 12:30-to-2 PM lunch break, I traversed the different worlds of Lower Manhattan: lunch at Hamburger Harry’s on Chambers Street, then down to the World Trade Center, then to Wall and Broad by Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange.

From there, I walked to South Street Seaport, coming back to Centre Street via the last leg of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Groups of jurors kept getting sent home or even dismissed, but I was in the last group, who had to stay till 4 PM and who have to return tomorrow.

We’re in civil court, not criminal court, and there doesn’t seem to be much action. Still, it’s interesting to see a real part of democracy in the jury system.

I got back here at 4:45 PM, saying hello to Ken Bernard, who was getting on the train just as I was getting off. After gobbling down some Korean salad bar, I took the bus up to Columbia for class.

I’d better get to bed now since I have jury duty again in the morning.


Friday, June 12, 1987

3 PM. On Monday I start as an alternate juror at a trial. I was very surprised to be accepted since I’d voiced concern about my having a bias against drinking – alcohol plays a role in the case – but apparently the attorneys saw me as someone wrestling with his conscience.

The voir dire was pretty interesting. This case involves a man who was shot four times in September 1982. The plaintiff, a white man, was in a Queens bar and left with two black women and they went to Lefrak City, where the shooting occurred.

He’s suing the bar and the Lefrak Organization, and there are attorneys representing him, the bar, and Lefrak. It’s interesting to see the wide sampling of society represented in the jury pool.

Today they had to pick the final member of the six-person jury and two alternates.

The first guy questioned was a young Hispanic man who just graduated college; I think he was excused because he had friends who’d been shot and felt sympathy for them.

The next juror was selected, and she was a Vassar student whose father was a partner at Shearman and Sterling; she’d just spent her junior year in Paris.

The lawyers then questioned me along with another man, a black guy who was public relations director for the Hard Rock Café; he was excused, presumably because he works for a bar/restaurant, and he got to go home.

I suppose I would have preferred that, too, but I’m prepared to do my civic duty, which I do take seriously, even though as an alternate, I probably won’t get to participate in the deliberations.

The others in the jury pool had to come back after lunch to select the second alternate, but they told me I was free to go. I have to come back on Monday at 9:45 AM.

I hope the trial – it’s a bifurcated trial, first dealing with the question of liability and then with assessing damages, if any – doesn’t take too many days, but since it involves a shooting, it will probably be more interesting than the usual trip-and-fall-type negligence case.

It was raining when I left the courthouse, and I took the subway to Seventh Avenue and 57th Street, where I decided to stop for lunch at a diner. At the table next to me there was a young guy about 25 who looked familiar.

Finally I realized he was Deanna’s little brother Michael whom I last saw when he was about fifteen years old. I asked him if he had a sister named Deanna and told him I was Marc Grayson’s brother; at first he thought I was Jonathan, which made me feel good since Jonathan is just a little older than he is.

Michael now works in computers on 62nd Street and was having lunch with a Vietnamese colleague. I said to say hello to his parents and Deanna, who of course is now married and has a kid.

Back home, I got my second American National Bank of New York Visa card – with a credit line of $9500 – 95% of my $10,000 money market account.

It looks like it will be a quiet, rainy weekend, and I hope to relax.


Saturday, June 13, 1987

6 PM. About 45 minutes ago, as I was having dinner, Mom phoned. I knew she was calling to say that Grandpa Nat had died.

Dad had seen him yesterday when he was put back in the nursing home. That’s where they found Grandpa dead at about 2:30 PM today. I think his body just gave out.

When Dad got back from the flea market, the people at the nursing home finally reached him.

Aunt Sydelle is still on her honeymoon in Israel, and they haven’t been able to contact her yet, but they expect her to return to Miami for the funeral on Tuesday morning. It will be a simple graveside ceremony.

I had decided all along that I wouldn’t return for the funeral. In 1983, I didn’t travel to New York for Grandpa Herb’s funeral, and that really was more important since I hadn’t seen him for nine months and he was rational before he died.

The real mourning that I went through for Grandpa Nat happened a decade ago, and though I’ve seen him many times since, he was never really Grandpa Nat mentally, nor did he ever recognize me. In late April, I had a feeling I was seeing him for the last time.

I’m sure Dad is very upset; it’s always hard to lose a father. With both his parents dead, it also puts him up next in line, so to speak.

Now I have only one living grandparent, Grandma Ethel, and that makes me less of a child, too. I decided not to call her and spoil her Saturday night card game because I know she’ll be very upset.

I did volunteer to call relatives in New York, and I spoke to Great-Aunt Mildred, who will tell the other members of Grandma Sylvia’s family. And I tried to get Dad’s cousin Sondra, Uncle Harry’s daughter, but no one answered the phone.

Dad called Scott in Washington, and Scott will call Robin and Michael and try to get to the funeral himself.

Mom said that when Dad got up this morning, he said he’d dreamed that his father had died. This confirmed Mom’s long-held belief that “Friday night dreams always come true.”

Before she got off, Mom told me that MacDowell wrote that I’m “high on the waiting list” and that “chances are good” that I’ll get in for the fall, possibly as early as late August.

Of course, that leaves things uncertain.


Monday, June 15, 1987

9 PM. Today was a sweltering day. I woke up early; although the night was hot, I did manage to sleep well.

Downtown at 9:15 AM, I got my first $5000 cash advance on my new American Savings Visa, which I deposited to my Chemical checking account.

Then I went to jury duty, fully expecting the trial would begin in the morning. It didn’t.

At about 2:30 PM, half an hour after we returned from lunch, the six jurors and two alternates on the Stevenson case went upstairs and they called us into the courtroom.

The judge is elderly Justice Klein, who gave us detailed instructions on what to look for and what to ignore.

We heard the opening statement of the plaintiff’s attorney. The facts seem to be these: John Stevenson, 38 in 1982, an unemployed Queens man and father of two, went to have a late lunch with a married couple.

Then, on his own, he went to the bar and had twenty drinks – scotch and water, mostly. A young black woman engaged him in conversation and invited him to a party at a friend’s apartment in Lefrak City.

Drunk, he went with her, and they got into the building, past the security guard (the woman may have had a key – that part isn’t clear). Stevenson and the woman took the elevator to the ninth floor, and when they emerged, he was attacked by a black man.

A struggle ensued, during which the woman took out a gun and shot Stevenson four times.

His attorney’s contention was that the bar was negligent in letting him order so many drinks without cutting him off and the Lefrak Organization and their security force were negligent in letting them in the building and therefore the defendants were responsible for the shooting.

The woman who was the attorney for the bar and restaurant asked to make a motion in chambers before her opening statement, and when we returned to the courtroom, she left, as the bar was no longer a defendant in the case.

The Lefrak attorney then gave his opening remarks, saying he would prove that Stevenson was the only one responsible for the shooting since he’d gotten drunk and his aim was to have sex with the woman – at which point the plaintiff’s attorney vigorously objected.

Anyway, Stevenson himself was the first witness. He seemed a little nervous, and not too bright, and his words were barely audible at times.

I haven’t heard all the testimony yet, so of course, I can’t form an opinion, but Stevenson seems like a decent if stupid man.

The defense counsel was good at trying to make him look bad – and at times there were fireworks when it appeared the Lefrak lawyer was badgering him.

The judge, over Stevenson’s lawyer’s objections, allowed testimony that showed Stevenson had earned only $1500 from his supposed full-time job as a car-service driver the year before the shooting.

The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that Stevenson had been promised a job that was set for him to begin that October.

The judge struck from the record testimony that noted that a neighborhood criminal ring known to the police was probably responsible for the shooting, so we have to ignore that.

My reaction to the day is that Stevenson’s drinking and sexual behavior are irrelevant. Clearly, he went to Lefrak City by his own volition.

The question is: were the security guards negligent in their duty to protect Stevenson when they allowed him and the woman to enter the building?


Tuesday, June 16, 1987

4 PM. My jury service is over.

I was downtown at 9:30 AM for the start of today’s court session. We listened to Mrs. Stevenson, a younger Hispanic woman whose story did not always jibe with her husband’s.

It was interesting to hear her questioned and then cross-examined, but there was a long delay in the proceedings as motions were made and we, the jury, were excused.

When we returned to the courtroom, the plaintiff’s lawyer read from the transcript of a deposition made by one of the security guards at Lefrak City, and later the defense counsel read from the same transcript.

It seemed to me that Stevenson had a pretty weak case. He himself admitted that he got drunk and went voluntarily with the woman or women – the security guard saw two women, one of whom used a key to enter the building – to the “party” in Lefrak City.

Obviously, the guy was being set up, but the security guard really didn’t have reason to stop the woman who had a key to the outside door.

At 12:30 PM, we broke for lunch, and Rick, the young Puerto Rican college student on the jury, told me there was an inexpensive but decent cafeteria at the Javits Federal Building across the street, so I went there with him for a quick bite to eat.

It’s rare that I have occasion to meet someone like Rick socially. (Being someone’s college teacher is different.) Over lunch, we talked about cars, robberies, and his job as a midtown parking lot attendant.

Afterwards, we joined the pretty young black woman on the jury sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court building. She’d been eating an apple and reading The Stranger. I can’t speak for Rick, but I had to try very hard not to stare as she applied sunscreen to her (light-skinned, very attractive) arms and legs.

At about 1:40 PM, we were called back into the courtroom, but almost immediately Stevenson’s attorney asked to make a motion in chambers, so we were sent back to the jury room.

In the hour or more that followed, we began talking about the case, and everyone seemed to agree that we’d seen no evidence of negligence or liability.

Finally, we were marched back into the courtroom.

When I saw the lawyers’ tables packed up as if they were ready to leave, I was prepared for what came next: The judge told us the case was over, thanked us for our service, and made a few remarks about the worth of the system.

Downstairs, we were all talking about the case so excitedly – it was sort of a letdown that the jury never got a chance to deliberate – that at first we didn’t hear Norman (who’s the county clerk) call us to receive our certificates and slips that proved we served jury duty.

By the end of the trial, the eight of us were all pretty friendly, and it almost seemed hard to say goodbye.

I imagine the judge dismissed the very weak case or else that some sort of settlement – probably very little – was arrived at.

So that’s over with.

Next door to us in Criminal Court, the verdict came in on the Bernhard Goetz “subway vigilante” case.

Goetz was convicted only of illegal firearms possession but acquitted on all counts of attempted murder of the four black youths whom he shot back in December 1984.

Grandpa Nat’s funeral was today, but no one answered the phone in Davie, so I haven’t spoken with my family yet.

I have my Computers and the Arts class tonight, and of course now I have to concentrate on a final project for next week.

It will seem luxurious to be able to sleep late tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 17, 1987

5 PM. Yesterday at this time I called Dad, who had just gotten back to the house.

Aunt Sydelle and Bill had returned home from Israel and Cousin Scott came down from Washington for Grandpa Nat’s funeral.

The Littmans and Dad’s Uncle Daniel and Aunt Anne also attended the graveside ceremony, which lasted only twenty minutes. Dad said the rabbi did give a very good portrait of Grandpa Nat, that he seemed to get at the essence of the man.

After the cemetery, they went back to Sydelle’s and spent most of the day there.

Dad said they’ve told him to sit shiva on chairs and sofas, not on those little stools that are bad for your back. As he did with Grandma Sylvia, Dad plans to call a synagogue and pay someone to say kaddish for Grandpa Nat.

So it’s over. Last night I dreamed I was at the funeral myself.

At 36, I no longer have any grandfathers and have only one grandmother still alive.

Dad did say that I shouldn’t regret my absence from the funeral because I had visited his father when he was alive more than anyone except him and his sister.

I felt the same way about Grandpa Herb, too, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when Grandma Ethel dies. Even if I don’t attend her funeral, I’ll know I made all those long trips out to Rockaway to visit her over the past four or five years.

In class last night, Prof. Abeles demonstrated how the MIDI works with various synthesizers. While a lot of the musical terms were beyond me, it was interesting anyway.

I took out a book on BASIC graphics for the Apple IIe and plan to use it for my class project.

On Monday night, when it got hot, Teresa and I put in the air conditioner, but we had more than a little trouble. Teresa’s air conditioner is old and doesn’t work that well anymore, and the window slammed down on her finger, causing her great pain.

In typical Teresa fashion, she made things worse by hitting the window, as if it were a sentient creature responsible for its actions. To her surprise, her blow broke the window pane, scattering shards of glass everywhere.

Why did you do that?” I thought – but did not say, because I knew it would only make matters worse.

For me, it was a good object lesson on how not to behave. Sometimes I feel I’m always learning from Teresa’s negative example.

She’s going to Fire Island tonight, and they’ve got catering and cleaning work to do. At her office, out of twelve people, only one got a commission last week, and business is terrible.

Last weekend, though, she told off Phyllis, who had once again stolen her jacket.

However, that weekend Teresa had an especially good time because she met Dominick, a “terrific” guy with whom she spent nearly the whole time together.

Dominick is in his fifties, a plastic surgeon who’s been married for 25 years.

As usual with Teresa, things are going fast, and she says Dominick has already asked her to manage his boutique on the North Shore. (The store doesn’t exist yet.)

Now, Teresa may think that Dominick can easily cast aside his wife, who just graduated law school, but I imagine that 25 years counts a thousand times more than a single weekend.

Teresa and Marilyn’s Rent-a-Chef did get a good write-up in the Fire Island News and that should bring them business.

I woke up at 8 AM but soon went back to sleep and barely roused myself at noon, when I tried to work out with ESPN’s Bodies in Motion.

This afternoon I took another cash advance on my new $9500 Visa card and deposited it in my checking account, had some pizza, paid several bills, mailed my package to Helmut in Germany, and generally relaxed.

Josh is coming for dinner. He told me his mother has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.


Thursday, June 18, 1987

9:30 PM. I just came back from Teachers College. One thing about New York: in the summer, the streets are alive at night.

Yesterday evening around 6 PM, Josh came over and we walked to Marvin Gardens for dinner. Josh was still upset about his mother’s Parkinsonism; that poor woman seems to have everything wrong with her.

He himself has decided to see a doctor about his enlarged lymph glands. Josh is still a hypochondriac about AIDS, but maybe this time he actually has something wrong with him.

We walked up to the Metro – even as a twin, it’s still my favorite theater in New York – and saw River’s Edge, a brilliant, horrifyingly funny film about a West Coast teenager who murders his girlfriend and shows her corpse to his friends, who, out of some crazy loyalty or amorality, don’t report the crime to the police.

If their drugged-out, stupid lives and lack of any kind of moral thought represent the way some American teenagers are today, that’s pretty scary.

After walking Josh down to 96th Street, where he got the subway, I stopped at the grocery on my way home.

Now that summer is here, Broadway is alive with people in the evening. Down here in the 80s, many of them are stylish white Yups or teens, but there are also loads of older Hispanics and blacks, the Korean storeowners, the Indian newsdealers, and a fair share of street people and prostitutes.

Watching that mass of humanity makes me feel alive and connected in a way I never do in the sterile car culture of Florida.

With Teresa away, I slept in her bedroom last night.

This morning I found Body Electric on WLIW, the Long Island educational channel that Paragon Cable has just brought back after a big protest. So now I can work out with the show on weekdays at 11 AM, as I did today.

I spent much of the afternoon in the Microcomputer Resource Center, working on my creative project for Prof. Abeles.

In class tonight, Roger Wyatt, Teachers College’s technology expert, who’s leaving to head the educational technology program at the library school at Queens College, showed us the interesting electronic imagery in his computer and video art.

The last piece was a computer/video reworking of film footage of the Columbia demonstrators in 1968 and 1969 with a soundtrack of Dylan, Doors, Stones and Jefferson Airplane hits from the time.

Every time I’m confronted with that exciting era – mostly a matter of satire or ridicule in popular media now, as it was in River’s Edge with the kids’ never-left-the-Sixties high school teacher – I know I should get started on a novel about my college years.

But Miriam says she wants to see only 1980s stuff for a Zephyr story collection.

Yesterday I queried the editors of three new trade paperback fiction lines I saw in a USA Today titled “To Be Young and Published in Paperback” even as I know that the publishers of books on the order of Bright Lights, Big City and Vintage’s album-cover-like new fiction titles won’t find my stuff hip enough.

How come nobody was interested in young writers ten years ago? Kostelanetz’s The End of Intelligent Writing made a good case that book publishers were ignoring youth.

I guess while they never forgave us rebellious 1960s types, they fawn all over these 1980s Yuppies, who share their more We-Live-in-a-Material World attitudes.

Do I sound like a cranky Dennis Hopper burnout?

For now, I’ll wait around till the 1990s and see if the culture changes.

Ravi Batra’s The Great Depression of 1990 was reviewed in the Times, and surprisingly, it wasn’t totally dismissed.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog