A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1987

Saturday, August 22, 1987

9 PM. Yesterday Josh came over at 5 PM, lugging a lot of stuff from his desk at work. When I asked why, he pointed to a headline in the Crain’s New York Business that was on my desk: “Blue Cross to Lay Off 10% of Staff.”

There are rumors going around like crazy about who’s going to be let go, so to be safe, Josh is taking home all his disks and manuals: “When they fire you, you have to leave immediately and they escort you out without any of your stuff.”

Meanwhile, Joyce has been appointed an assistant commissioner in the New York City Department of Transportation, and Josh said he’d like to go to work for her if she’d switch their system from RAMIS (which is dying) to FOCUS.

After reading Harvey Pekar’s piece in the Voice, Josh finally conceded that I’d been right, that Harvey was purposely acting like a lunatic on Letterman.

Harvey is smarter than most people realize, and I admire his idealism and tenacity.

Over dinner at Marvin Gardens, Josh told me he’s interested in this Newsday reporter, Elaine Rivera, whom he met visiting their mutual friend Lois at the hospital.

(Josh had generously lent Hunt and Lois $200 for her back surgery.)

Although he finds Elaine cute, smart and funny, Josh is not certain she likes him, though: “I find it hard to read Hispanic women.”

After dinner, Josh said he was too tired to see a movie, so I walked him to the subway.

Then went down to Shakespeare and Company, where I bought Blood in the Streets by James Dale Davidson and Sir William Rees-Mogg, which predicts a new Great Depression in a few years, with a collapse of the banking system and a new economic world order after years of upheaval.

I like when they quoted Emerson’s “Compensation,” one of my favorite essays; essentially, they believe nature hates an imbalance, and our current economic system needs a sharp and painful correction.

This morning I exercised to Body Electric, bringing this week’s total time working out to about five hours; I hope I’m getting stronger.

Teresa phoned and said she’ll be here Monday or Tuesday. Pam has left the cleaning business in Fire Island to Teresa while Pam helps Norton in his Henry Street chicken store (which Josh says looks very clean).

Harold came over for lunch today, and we spent over five hours in animated conversation. He is the only person who seems to understand what I’m doing with credit cards and why I think money is now more just information than anything else.

I can’t articulate my ideas about money very well, but I’m using myself as a guinea pig with my credit card chassis.

Harold and I agreed that it’s basically a Ponzi scheme that will have to break down eventually and drive me into bankruptcy.

But how long will it take, and will the whole banking system break down first? Or will I be able to go bankrupt during an economic depression when my debt default will basically go unnoticed?

It’s always a pleasure to bounce ideas off Harold – not just about money, but about literature, culture and education as well.

After we looked at Teresa’s Fire Island photos, Harold said the people in them looked more materialistic than he could understand: “How can anyone who grew up in the 1960s be so interested in possessions?”

Harold admits he can be naïve, but that’s probably why he’s less cynical than I am.

After he left at 6 PM, I called Davie; my parents were out to dinner, so I spoke to Jonathan.

He got the review of the book about Bhagwan that I’d sent, and I was surprised to hear that he’d already stopped wearing the mala and no longer dressed in exclusively red, orange, and purple colors.

While Jonathan says he still respects Bhagwan as a great teacher, he no longer considers himself a sannyasin, saying that they had an uncalled-for attitude of superiority “when most of the ones I met were assholes.”

Jonathan also couldn’t reconcile himself to Bhagwan’s anti-intellectualism, his pushing sex on his disciples, and other aspects of his philosophy.

I’m really glad for Jonathan, though I always suspected he was smart enough to get out of the rigidity of following a single guru.

Jonathan told me that Cousin Michael had his face slashed in a Bronx mugging, and the friend who was with him is in the hospital with a collapsed lung.

I really should try to look in on Michael. He’s a nice kid.


Sunday, August 23, 1987

4 PM. The weather has turned pleasantly dry and cool for late August.

Ronna said she got in at 2 AM last night from a “marathon Shabbos” at her cousin’s, so we’re not seeing each other until dinnertime.

This morning, after I’d read the papers, I decided to do something I’d wanted to do for weeks, so I got on the subway and went to Brighton Beach.

The trip on the D train brought back lots of memories, and I felt the way I did when I stayed at Justin’s in Park Slope two years ago, constantly reminded of the Brooklyn I grew up in.

It’s very hard for me to believe that twenty years ago, I was about to enter my senior year in high school.

This sounds pretentious, but since then, I’ve had an incredibly full life. I’ve lived so happily, especially in the last few years, that if I truly believed in Emerson’s law of compensation, then I have to believe that at this moment nature is conspiring to rob me of some future happiness.

The past four months in New York City have been one of the happiest periods of my life. Unlike the last three summers, I didn’t have any emotional traumas, and everything has seemed sweetness and light.

I feel a sadness that these good time can’t go on for much longer, but from constantly changing my life so much, I’ve come to know that sadness and to be comfortable with it.

Well, this does sound pretentious.

Brighton Beach Avenue is an interesting place, with big crowds of people, even on a Sunday morning. Though not everyone is Russian, I did see lots of signs in Russian and heard it spoken by adults and children.

The Russian restaurants and groceries and the Black Sea Bookstore – with only Russian titles – add to the atmosphere.

Hungry, I had lunch at a coffee shop across from the Brighton Beach Baths. The two older ladies sitting next to me at the counter said that the Baths were going to be torn down so Miami Beach developer Stephen Muss can build condos, “but they’re still taking memberships for next year.”

I went back on the D train but decided to get off at Brooklyn Heights. I walked down Montague Street to the Promenade, where I sat on a bench and ate ice cream, and then visited Norton and Pam at their Henry Street Chicken Company.

When I introduced myself to them, Pam said that she didn’t believe I really existed because she’d never seen me in Fire Island and had only heard Teresa talk about me.

They were very sweet to me and gave me free chicken, which tasted good. Apparently, business is terrific.

So that was my pleasant nostalgic day in Brooklyn.


Monday, August 24, 1987

3 PM. Today is also very cool and really dry, like late September.

I feel very tense about my trip to MacDowell. Last evening, I tried to pack and became panicked when I couldn’t get everything into one suitcase.

When Ronna came over, she calmed me down, patiently explaining that because I could do laundry up there, I didn’t need twenty pairs of socks or underwear. Of course, she’s right.

Ronna is leaving Wednesday for St. Louis, and she’s taking the train, not the plane. Because it will take her more than a day to get there, she’ll have only three days to spend with her cousin Sally and her family. (I went to Sally’s first wedding many years ago; that marriage didn’t last long.)

We had to go back to Ronna’s because she needed to do laundry. My stomach was upset, so instead of getting takeout, Ronna made me scrambled eggs and we ate it with the bagels we’d bought on the way.

It was a very pleasant few hours together. Ronna and I love each other, but it’s very clear we could never live together, much less get married.

Ronna disapproves of my credit card scheme, which she feels is unethical, and I could never imagine staying at a place as messy as Ronna’s; if I tried, I don’t think I could ever get my room as unkempt as hers.

But we do care about each other, and it was hard to let go as we kept adding kiss upon kiss and hug upon hug. We both said “I love you” to the other.

I’ll miss Ronna a lot.

Today I felt like a lunatic. God know why I feel I have to get this done and get that done. Maybe it’s to draw attention away from my real anxiety about not doing any writing at MacDowell.


Wednesday, August 26, 1987

10 PM. I just got in from seeing the movie Dirty Dancing with Josh. The film was so-so, but it did remind me of when my family, too, spent the summer of 1963 at a Catskills hotel (either Gilbert’s or the Raleigh, I can’t recall which summer was which).

Teresa arrived home at 1 PM today. She’d called this morning from Boston. Yesterday Eric surprised her by taking her to lunch on his private plane.

They went to Faneuil Hall and saw other sights and spent a romantic night at the Marriott at Copley Square. It sounded pretty glamorous.

I guess she might as well get what she can from her relationship with Eric because obviously there’s no permanence there.

Before she left for Fire Island, I accompanied Teresa on some errands; she had to buy food for a Mexican party she’s catering on Saturday.

In addition to Teresa and Josh, I said goodbye to other people today.

Alice said she’s delighted with her new computer and feels it’s helped her out of her writer’s block on the Donna McKechnie book.

I called Ronna, whose train to St. Louis was to leave this evening. If I think my 6½-hour bus ride to Peterborough will be bad, imagine Ronna’s 25-hour train trip.

Susan said she’ll be unable to see me tomorrow because Spencer’s aunt’s father died and they have to attend the funeral. I said I’d see her on my return from New Hampshire.

And I called Grandma, reassuring her that I’d be gone only for a little more than three weeks.

Josh came over at 5 PM and we had dinner at Marvin Gardens before going over to the movies.

It’s going to be hard to leave my friends after a good summer.

I’m all packed, and I just about managed to get everything into my one suitcase and carry-on bag; the fit’s a bit tight, but it will do.

I’m getting very nervous about my trip. Tomorrow I have to do a wash and various errands and give Judy the mailbox key.


Friday, August 28, 1987

5 PM. I’m in room #8 of The Eaves at the MacDowell Colony, lying on the double bed here. Elizabeth Michael told me I’ve got one of the nicest rooms.

I feel glad to have gotten over the long bus ride and more than a little disoriented.

New York City seems very far away. I got up at 6:30 AM after a decent night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the car service I called to pick me up at 7:45 AM didn’t arrive, so I had to drag my luggage through the rain to West End Avenue, where I got lucky and got a taxi right away.

I was at Port Authority with ten minutes to spare; it was hectic, and I was wringing wet with sweat when I got on the bus, but I’d made it. The ride was very tedious.

We went up Amsterdam Avenue (and I wished I could have been picked up at the corner of West 85th Street), across 110th Street, and up through Harlem, the Bronx and Westchester, past all the Connecticut I-95 cities from Greenwich and Stamford to Bridgeport and New Haven and then up I-91 to Hartford.

During the 18 minutes we had for lunch in Springfield, I found nothing decent to eat but cookies and candy bars.

On the bus, I listened to my Walkman – both to my one tape, of Mozart, and to radio stations – and I felt very bored, tired, and impatient as we kept stopping at different cities in Massachusetts.

Finally, we got to Brattleboro, Vermont, where the passengers for Keene boarded a minibus. I was happy that Chris, the MacDowell Colony director, was there to pick me up; that’s something his predecessor, Nancy Englander, never would have done.

Chris was very friendly and down to earth, and I hope I didn’t babble incoherently. It’s odd, but I didn’t recognize so much of what I know I saw here seven years ago. It’s been a miserably rainy and chilly day from start to finish, and my room is kind of cold.

Elizabeth showed me around Colony Hall, which I vaguely remember, and then Chris drove me to my studio, Schelling.

It’s much nearer to my room than Wood Studio was in 1980, and I’m happy about that because I found that long trek – especially in the rain – a real nuisance the last time I was here.

The studio looks fine, and I left my typewriter and papers there, but I wanted to get back to my room to unpack.

After unpacking all my clothes and other items and putting them away, I feel I’ve made a decent start on getting accustomed to my room, which is so much larger and much more comfortable than my old room at Pan’s Cottage.

I got the books I mailed to myself and two batches of mail from Mom that made me feel at home. Not only did I pay five credit card bills, but I got a brand-new Visa, with a $3000 credit line, from United Airlines Mileage Plus/First Chicago. Wow – I thought I’d never get another Visa.

Dinner is in an hour; meanwhile, I’ve found All Things Considered on the Concord NPR station.

*

8 PM. I survived my first dinner at MacDowell. It was awkward, like being the new kid at school. I introduced myself to people – I have to remember that people here use only first names – and people introduced themselves to me; most of them, of course, I can’t remember.

I ate at a table with Meg Wolitzer; a gay writer named Steven; Deb, a poet who went to Iowa and taught at Exeter; and Heidi, a painter from the city.

We talked about AIDS a lot, and I told them a little about myself. Meg couldn’t understand why I like living in Florida or how I can stand teaching computer education workshops where nobody knows I’m a writer.

Of course, she’s taught only fiction writing to nice white middle- and upper-class kids like the ones she has at Skidmore. Meg and Steven, as I would expect, take being “a writer” very seriously.

A lot of people are leaving in the next week, but none of the arrivals on the September list are familiar to me.


Monday, August 31, 1987

3 PM. It’s another beautiful, sunny, warm day.

I did a first draft of a column about banning religious bookstores, and I think I can have the final draft by tomorrow. Also, I edited some of the story about Josh’s AIDS test that I finished yesterday.

I just returned to my room after leaving my lunch basket and picking up my mail: a big envelope from Mom containing some credit card bills and cash advance checks and the AWP Jobs List (there are no jobs for me).

This morning I found myself out of bed at 8:30 AM for breakfast. Tomorrow, breakfast starts at 7:45 AM because the kids who serve begin school; that won’t help the slugabeds like me very much.

At 9 AM, I went into town with Bill, who’s very pleasant; Cassandra, an artist who lives on the Upper West Side, was the only other passenger.

Downtown Peterborough, all four blocks of it, is just the way I remembered it from 1980: a very beautiful, sweet-looking New England village with stores that have been there for generations, a 19th-century church, a brick bank and post office.

I used my Mileage Plus Visa card for the first time at the drugstore when I bought some supplies; I got a good deal on 100 Drixoral tablets. There are advantages to being in a state with no sales tax.

As I walk to my studio, I pass a tree with one group of leaves that have already turned russet and golden; I gathered some leaves and plan to mail them to friends in the city as a harbinger of autumn.

I looked at the plaques (“tombstones”) on my studio today and saw that my immediate predecessors there were Glenda Adams and June Jordan. Yoko Ono stayed there in May 1971.

Anyway, I wrote my column and read the Times and USA Today, which I’d bought in town.

Earlier, I exercised for half an hour, though I can’t manage to work myself as hard as Margaret Richard does on Body Electric. Still, if I can just maintain my strength and flexibility, I’ll be happy, because I exercised very hard this summer. I did at least work up a sweat, which is something I like to do every day.

A lot of people are leaving: Steven today, Carol and Heidi tomorrow, Meg and Cassandra on Friday. A whole new group of people should be coming this week.

The old people were a tight unit and they feel bad about breaking up their group. I know, as I told Meg last night, that at an artists’ colony, the new people never quite seem as good as the old ones.

Yesterday I stayed in my studio till about 6 PM, when I sat on the back porch of Colony Hall with Kristin, John David (a sculptor from Chicago), Cassandra, Helen and others. I ate with John David, Todd, Helen and Kristin and had them in stitches with my Florida comedy shtick.

I really do have a gift of humor, and I also see that I’ve been enormously lucky in having been able to mine a whole territory – South Florida – to myself.

Somebody told me that beneath the sarcasm, I obviously have a fondness for the place.

At 8 PM, many of us went to a reading of one-page stories by Olivia Beens, who’s mostly an artist. The pieces will be for an installation of visual work related to the New York City subway system; they were mostly surreal sketches of subway life.

I spoke afterward to Mike, a young composer from Philadelphia, and with Deb.

Glenn Savan, whose novel White Palace – a hit bestseller soon to be a big movie – Josh lent me to read, is a good friend of Deb’s from Iowa, and she says Glenn is astounded by his unexpected success.

Back in Colony Hall, I played doubles ping pong with Meg, Steven and Priscilla; then I played singles with Olivia before going to bed. I didn’t sleep all that great, but nevertheless I slept enough so that I don’t feel tired today.

I plan to head back to my studio now and return in a couple of hours to listen to All Things Considered before I go to dinner.

August is over, and with it, two-thirds of 1987. The middle third of the year – the last four months – I’ve been away from Florida on my own. It’s been a productive and happy time.

*

9:30 PM. I thought I’d write a bit before trying to get to bed. After I finished paying the bills Mom sent, I returned to my studio, where I revised and completed my newspaper column.

Probably I should have xeroxed it – since it’s not on a disk – before I mailed it off to Mike Burke at the Sun-Tattler. I have a feeling he’ll use it next, for he seems to prefer columns that deal with current Florida issues to my more whimsical pieces.

The column is a solid piece of work, not as polished as I might like, but it’s still good.

Now what do I write next? I really had nothing in mind when I came to MacDowell except that one story and that one column. Well, we’ll see if I continue to be productive.

At dinner I sat with Alan Williamson, a tweedy poet who teaches at UC Davis who arrived today and seemed jet-lagged, and two other people who’d been away for the weekend: Brenda from Australia and Suzanne.

After dessert, Suzanne and I went to Olivia’s studio to see the paintings she’d been working on; they were all subterranean, cavernous, vaguely menacing. I liked them actually, all blacks and grays.

Near her studio, we got a beautiful view of Mount Monadnock.

Back at Colony Hall, I remembered that the premiere of Michael Jackson’s Bad video, from his new album of the same name, was on CBS, and I watched it with Brenda and Priscilla (who, despite her scholarly demeanor, is fascinated by supermarket tabloids).

Brenda said she’s got to remember not to say “Negro” in the States; in Australia, “black” is considered an offensive term. It was interesting to hear a bit about Australian culture and politics from Brenda.

Earlier I was reading Meg’s Vanity Fair, and Meg told me that inside there was a “hateful” article by James Wolcott.

Actually, he was pretty nasty. But I rather agreed with some of his comments about the jaded nihilism of McInerney, Ellis, Janowitz, and the newcomer Jill Eisenstadt and her novel From Rockaway.

All their newest books sound like crap to me. Meg says Bret Ellis is “a sweetheart,” and I’m sure he is, but I wonder if Meg feels defensive because he’s another young hotshot novelist like herself, even if she doesn’t write with that same kind of punk sensibility.

(Wolcott got in a few zingers about Catherine Texier, too.)

Of course, I could merely be envious and unable to appreciate a younger generation.

I come from the perspective of someone who’d like to see more passion and intellect in fiction and not so much ’80s high style and reactionary politics. But I certainly don’t want to come off like John Gardner in On Moral Fiction.

Well, tomorrow’s September already.TC mark

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