A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1987

Monday, December 21, 1987

9 PM. In the mail today, I got the 1988-89 Florida Arts Council grants booklet, and this afternoon I filled out the application, xeroxed nine copies of it and “I Survived Caracas Traffic” (with my name removed) and sent it out in a big envelope return receipt requested.

The latter meant standing in line at the post office for 45 minutes. But it gave me the time to new issue of American Demographics; besides, it’s a relief to get the damned application process over with.

Even with a first-rate story as my writing sample, I don’t expect to get the grant of $5000. But the odds (about 12-1) are still  a lot better than that of the lottery Florida will be starting in a few days.

Looking back at this year’s diary entries, I saw that I got the NEA rejection on January 8.

I know that winners of fellowships are phoned, so if I don’t get a call this week or next, I’ll know I’ve been turned down again and I can stop fantasizing for another year about the $20,000 grant.

Dad just called to tell me he was watching New York’s Channel 9, WWOR, and that the verdict had come in on the Howard Beach case a year after the incident.

One of the four teenagers got off, and the others are guilty of manslaughter but not murder. Dad said that some blacks started a commotion in the courtroom, screaming “Murderers!”

I’ll turn on the radio for the news at the top of the hour.

This morning I deposited $5000 in the bank for Mom and Dad. Then I had to return an overdue library book, so I went to the South Regional Library at BCC-South, where I spent time with reference books about literature.

In the 1978-83 edition of Short Story Index, the full page and parts of two other pages devoted to stories under my name (all the stories in my three big collections) indicate that I published more stories than any other writer in that volume.

Reading through the yearbook volumes of Gale’s Dictionary of Literary Biography for 1980 through 1984 – I think the yearbooks have now been taken over by Contemporary Literary Criticism – I read articles about Baumbach, Spielberg, Sukenick, Federman and other writers.

An essay by George Garrett, Tom’s much-admired former teacher, made me see once again that I’m not alone in my anonymity. Most literary writers never achieve any kind of recognition or sales, and Garrett argues persuasively that it isn’t because their work is inferior to that of their rich and famous colleagues.

I’m coming more and more to an acceptance of the way things are and the knowledge that I’m never going to get real recognition as a writer.

Still, I don’t have to let that affect my writing anymore. I’ll write what I please, when I please.

Since nobody’s going to see it, I have perfect freedom to do what I want to do – all the freedom I had when I was writing for the little magazines a dozen years ago.

What stymied me was the fear, once my books got published, that I had to be good; suddenly I felt the public looking over my shoulder.

I wrote “I Survived Caracas Traffic” because I had to, at a time when I never expected to be published again. If I can write a couple of good stories a year, I can live with that.

But that doesn’t let me off the hook with the diary book: I still want to do that for my own satisfaction. It’s just that I’m not yet able to get that hypercritical little man from looking over my shoulder.

After a couple of hours in the library, I had lunch at Corky’s, then came home to pay bills and work on the submission to the Florida Arts Council.

Teresa called yesterday as she was preparing for a small party with her Fire Island friends Micki and Irene, who were coming over to help her decorate her tree.

Teresa said she may come for the weekend of January 8-10. Later that week, Anna is moving out of the West 104th Street apartment, and Teresa has to show it to people and sublet it.

Teresa described numerous arguments with Norton at the chicken store, but apparently things haven’t gotten to the quitting stage yet. Still, she plans to start a three-week PR job for Frank this week.


Thursday, December 24, 1987

4 PM. Another Christmas Eve and I’m still here.

Oh, I’ve got another sinus headache, and my lower back hurts because I improperly arched it while exercising this morning – but it’s a glorious day: partly sunny and about 73°.

So I’ve opened the glass door and the curtains to enjoy the light and the mild breezes.

Just now I was thinking about the Christmases of the past decade.

I especially remember coming here to Davie for the first time late on Christmas Eve 1979: how scared I was on that plane ride and how strange and new this area seemed when Dad drove me around the next day.

And in 1981, I was living in Florida but on vacation in New York. I spent Christmas Eve in Rockaway with my grandparents, and the next day I took the LIRR to have dinner with Teresa’s family.

The last time I saw and had sex with Sean was on Christmas Eve 1982. Although I felt very sad afterwards, the next day I handled it well, taking myself to the beach, where I read over the galleys for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

The next year I was living in North Miami Beach, and it was a very cold day. In 1984, I was in New York, and Teresa and I stayed over on Christmas Eve at her sister’s house in Douglaston; that was another big family holiday.

Last year and the year before were quieter.

Funny how the Christmases before 1979 seem fuzzy in my memory. I can remember 1972, when I drove up to the Bronx to see Ronna at her father’s and how we went to the Cloisters that day.

One year, during the MFA program, I went to Simon’s apartment– I think it was in Brooklyn Heights – for a Christmas Eve party. He was so depressed after everyone else left, I stayed late because I felt sorry for him.

And one year in the mid- to late 1970s, Avis was visiting from Germany for Christmas, and we had dinner with Mason at the old Camperdown Elm (now J.T. McFeeley’s Victorian Saloon) in Park Slope.

Another year I visited Grandpa Herb in Peninsula Hospital after he’d had cataract surgery, and his roommate was a 90-year-old man from the Neponsit Home for the Aged who kept calling Grandpa “Sonny.”

Well, they’re all recorded in my diary, ever since 1969. That year Grandma Sylvia had surgery, and I went with Dad to join the rest of the family in Miami Beach at the Carillon Hotel.

Because we never had a tree to decorate or gifts to exchange, Christmas itself doesn’t have much emotional baggage for me.

Last night I spoke to Ronna briefly, just to wish her a happy holiday. As usual, I caught her in the middle of dinner with a guest (a woman friend), so we didn’t speak long.

But I found out that she did get off work the last week in January and her mother said it’s okay to visit Fort Lauderdale after Ronna goes to Orlando.

So I’ll be seeing Ronna in about five weeks.

Teresa will be coming in two weeks, and Josh may stay here in January, too. I miss my friends very much and will be thrilled to see them.

Last night I dreamed about being on lower Fifth Avenue with Alice – who, I noticed, sent my family a Christmas card today.

I got a card from the McAllisters with a story little Gabe wrote about the holiday; I guess they won’t be in Florida this year.

I didn’t write today, but I still feel it’s a miracle that I completed that story yesterday.

Dr. Grasso sent me a form to sign about my Saturday class. They’ve advertised it on a BCC Weekend College leaflet, so maybe I’ll be teaching creative writing next term after all.

Poets & Writers had cover stories by Janice Eidus and Carol Ascher and Terry McMillan on publicizing your first novel – reports from the front by writers who did some of the things (though far more intelligently and systematically) that I wrote about in my Coda article “Fiction Writer as Publicist.”

Before he left for Europe, Tom sent me the first page of a story he’d sent to The Quarterly and a note from Gordon Lish saying, “This will give you a little guide for ‘style’ – strike out nonessentials.”

As Tom said, Lish’s changes to the manuscript turned a more-or-less finished story into a first draft – which is what most minimalist fiction sounds like.

“Having that kind of editor breathing over my shoulder would destroy me,” Tom wrote.


Sunday, December 27, 1987

9 PM. I slept poorly last night. One dream I had was that someone, in a cruel joke, told me that I’d won an NEA fellowship when I hadn’t.

Obviously, the grant is on my mind; I won’t be able to forget it until I get that familiar envelope with the letter telling me I’m a loser again.

Up at 5 AM, I was unable to get back to sleep, so I read the newspapers when they arrived.

Although I felt icky all morning, with a headache and diarrhea, I forced myself to exercise to a Body Electric tape for half an hour. That and a shower made me feel better.

The external disk drive went on sale at Radio Shack today, so I bought one for $149 (regularly it’s $249). And surprisingly, I was able to use PC-Write to print out the story I finished this week.

I looked at a story, “Eclipse,” which I wrote last winter, and was glad to see it had a lot of good writing in it. It needs work, but it’s definitely publishable.

This afternoon I called Pete and was glad to hear him sounding good. When he returned from San Francisco, he went on a diet and lost 30 pounds in three months.

“For the first time in my life, I’m thin,” Pete said.

He’s also been reordering his priorities. I’ve always thought of Pete as the quintessential East Village writer, but he’s decided to move to Park Slope.

He can’t get any writing done because the neighborhood truants are always singing “We Are The World” or some rap song.

Pete is also tired of the invading Yuppies and the drug dealers and all the NYU students, and he feels he needs more light and space and quiet to work on a book project, an innovative narrative that should run 250 pages.

Pete’s doing very well at Equitable, earning $27,000 for three days a week, and he loves teaching his creative writing course at NYU; because it’s so specialized, his students are pretty good.

NYU is pleased with his suggestions for new courses in “Performing for Writers/Writing for Performance” and “Style and Voice.”

Pete himself plans to retire from performance after a cabaret act next month at The Duplex. He says that performing takes too much out of him, and he wants to concentrate more on his writing.

He and his mother are talking again, and she’ll probably give him the down payment on the apartment on Montgomery Place (opposite Georgia Baumbach’s house) that he’s moving into in February.

Pete asked if I’d like to sublet for August when he plans to be in San Francisco; I said I’d think about it.

I also spoke to Alice, who’s getting over a bad cold she got on her return from Britain. She had a nice train trip through Scotland and spent two days in London seeing shows.

Alice and Peter are planning to go to Boston for New Year’s Eve, and they’re still hoping to have their tenth anniversary party on February 6, though they haven’t been able to find a place yet.

They want to have about 100 guests and hope to get presents they might have gotten if they’d been married and had a wedding.

We had a nice talk, and I thanked Alice for sending me the Solotaroff book.

I brought Chinese food in again tonight, but for a change I had moo shu chicken, which was delicious.

Dad seems to be coming down with Mom’s cold. They did all right at the flea market today: good by normal business standards, but nothing like last Sunday.

I feel kind of “off” myself, but I think I may just be tired. However, if I’ve got to get sick, this week of vacation will be a convenient time to do it.

I wish I could have told Pete that I, too, had a book project underway, but I haven’t worked on any more of the diary book since I had my initial burst of enthusiasm three weeks ago.


Monday, December 28, 1987

8 PM. I worked on my writing today, trying to come up with an ending to the story I’ve tentatively titled “Eclipse.” I think I may have put too much, rather than too little, in.

Maybe I need Gordon Lish to do his editorial voodoo?

Oh well, at least I’m a working writer again and getting lost in the process of creating fiction. Also, I xeroxed copies of “They Don’t Make Nostalgia Like They Used To” and sent eight sets of manuscripts out to various little magazines.

Last year I sent out 16 copies of “I Survived Caracas Traffic” before it got accepted by the Florida Review, so I’ve decided to send more submissions out at one time to raise the odds of getting another acceptance.

If I can get four or five solid stories published in 1988, I’d be very happy; I’d probably have enough to give Zephyr Press a decent book-length manuscript. We’ll see what happens.

I slept very well last night and woke up feeling refreshed today.

This morning I read the newspapers and did a variety of chores: I went to the bank, filled up my gas tank, bought vitamins and manila envelopes for my submissions. It cost me $6 to xerox my story – all ten pages of it – at PIP, but at least I could walk to the store, and they did collate copies for me.

I called Susan and we talked for ten minutes before the baby’s crying forced her off the phone. She said she’d try to call me back, but I know she’s busy; I’m just glad I got to touch base with her.

They all spent a relaxing ten days in Sarasota with Spencer’s parents, and she realized how seductive Florida can be in the winter.

Since Chemical Bank laid him off, Spencer’s been working freelance and minding the baby while Susan’s been very busy with her freelance writing for magazines.

Anyway, she sounded well.

Across the street at my parents’, I got licked to pieces by China and picked up my mail, most of it junk.

After lunch, I got down to serious writing, interrupted only by a call from Justin, who was at work.

He got back last night from Reading, where he spent Christmas with Larry and his family. Santa was good to him, Justin said, but he also caught Larry’s cold, for which he was taking zinc tablets.

Justin said he recently rewrote his kidnapped-teenager play, and there’s talk of a production in Los Angeles. (“I wish I could get one of my plays produced in New York since I live here,” Justin said.)

His roommate Fred got laid off from his job as an investment banker at L.F. Rothschild and has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and CBS-TV about being one of the casualties of Black Monday.

But like Spencer, Fred has been doing okay freelancing and consulting while he goes on interviews for a new full-time job.

Justin’s own position at Shearson is secure. Although the bottom dropped out of the municipal bond market, Shearson is about the only big firm left working in that field now that they’ve swallowed up E.F. Hutton.

Justin says a recession has definitely hit New York already, though he thinks it will take a while before people really understand what’s going on.

It was great to chat with Justin for an hour; before hanging up, I told him to have a great time at the New Year’s party at his place.

After speaking with Justin, Susan, Alice and Pete in the last couple of days, I feel in touch with what’s going on in New York.

The dollar keeps sinking. Is that good or bad?

Among the trends predicted for 1988, according to USA Today, are the return of the zaftig woman and hearty food, a thirst for integrity and a new selflessness, cocooning (staying in and ordering in food and a VCR) and Yuppie bashing.

Unnecessary acquisition and its symbols are out.


Tuesday, December 29, 1987

8 PM. Last evening I continued to get in touch with New York friends by calling Josh and then Ronna.

Josh said, “Everything you predicted this summer has come true” – meaning the stock market crash, the Wall Street layoffs, and the decline in real estate prices.

Now a number of Josh’s friends who are computer consultants are getting terminated, and most of the British who’d come to work here are returning to London.

For New Year’s Eve, Josh is going to a party in Washington Heights with Lynn.

Ronna will be spending the night in New Jersey with her sister and her brother-in-law, who refuses to go out to Manhattan and will probably rent some videos for them to watch.

Ronna didn’t have to work on Christmas and had a pretty good time at her father’s.

She’s made train reservations for Florida, but as things stand now, her mother – who has business in Fort Lauderdale – will drive her down here on Thursday, and Ronna has to be on the train back to Orlando on Saturday afternoon.

So we won’t have too much time together, but I hope we can make the most of it.

She’ll return for Passover nine weeks later, though, and I’d like to go up to Orlando at that time, as I should have off at that time.

It was snowy in New York last night, but they didn’t get hit as hard as did the Midwest.

This afternoon, a cold front made its way to South Florida, and it’s chilly out now – about 58°, with high winds.

Although I slept very soundly last night, I was unable to do much work today.

The highlight of my day was reading Newsweek’s cover story on The End of the ’80s.

In a perceptive article, they traced the decade from Reagan’s election in 1980 to the stock market crash of October 19 of this year, saying it now seems like a dream.

Greed and the worship of power and above all, money ruled a time of relative peace and prosperity.

But the poor got poorer amid the glittery wealth of the White House, Wall Street, and the Yuppies.

Meanwhile, the Iran/Contra scandal, the Deaver case, the PTL scandal, and the insider trading convictions all revealed corruption amid the conspicuous Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Bright Lights, Big City and Less Than Zero detailed coke-filled club scenes where everyone worked hard to have fun, but there wasn’t the slightest bit of joy and laughter.

Okay, what’s next? Yuppies are out, and soon we’ll be embarrassed that we could have ever fallen for the “get it all now” philosophy.

Schlesinger, of course, believes in roughly 30-year cycles and foresees a time of activism and concern for others.

Myself, I think it may be a time when people are ready to settle down, keep the home fires burning, and care about others.

Maybe my kind of writing will find an audience: I’m bright and hip but also corny and sweet, and I know how to have fun without drugs or noise.

For years now I’ve been waiting for the 1990s, thinking it would be my time. But whatever the magazines say, we’re not really there yet.

In fact, it’s hard for me to believe, much as I want to, that the 1980s are over.

I’m looking forward to getting involved in something bigger than myself.

Still, it’s going to take time until a new 1990s mentality sinks in. As I’ve suggested, it may take a real economic depression for us to change.

Maybe the world changed on Black Monday, but for now, too many people are going on as if nothing much had happened. Another market crash or some other evidence of a downturn would help shake them up to reality.

And, of course, George Bush will probably be elected President next year. Let’s see him try to clean up the mess that Reagan and Reaganomics have got us into.TC mark

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