A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1988

Tuesday, May 3, 1988

10 PM. This morning’s mail brought a notice from the AAA that said I had used up all my emergency calls for road service and that I would be charged for future ones.

Well, I thought, I have two days to go down here, and I’m certainly not going to have to call AAA again.

Wrong. I got a blowout on the Turnpike Extension this evening just as I was leaving the last of my twenty sessions at Riviera Junior High School.

Incredible, no? It’s as though all my car karma has come to haunt me in the last two weeks.

After tomorrow – and I hope I can get to and from Coral Gables without a disaster – I don’t want to drive a car again for the rest of 1988. Hopefully, I won’t have to.

I had just gotten on the turnpike and paid the toll on Bird Road; for some reason, my three dimes didn’t register, and I was annoyed that I had to put an extra nickel in the machine.

I was closing my window when all of a sudden the tire’s edge came off like a peeled apple skin, though it took me a while to figure out that’s what had happened.

Rather than disbelieving yet another car problem, I took it almost as a matter of course, pulled the car over and walked back to the toll booth to call the AAA and my parents, who found it incredible that I could get stuck again within such a short period of time.

I waited an hour for the AAA tow truck to arrive. And the guy didn’t change my tire; he said I could drive on it slowly to the Tamiami Trail exit and get it fixed at the tire store on SW 107th Avenue.

The tow truck followed behind me, but at the shopping center by Flagler Avenue, I found the tire store closed.

Then I noticed mechanics at a service station there, so I went over to them, and in my pathetic Spanish – everyone in Sweetwater is Nicaraguan or maybe Cuban – I asked them to change my tire.

Although I had trouble making myself understood, eventually they figured out what needed to be done and did it.

(“¿Por qué no habla español?” one asked, and I shrugged and said, “Yo estudio español en escuela en Nueva York por cuatro años pero no . . . remember.”

Recuerdo,” said the teenage boy next to me.)

The guys were probably with the Contras, but they were the only ones who helped me get home – at 8 PM, two and a half hours after I’d started out.

Even though on the News at Noon on WWOR/Channel 9, weatherman Lloyd Lindsay Young said it was only 50° at Newark Airport, I never felt so ready to be back in New York. Besides, Lloyd said it should warm up by this weekend.

I feel I’ve earned a vacation, the way I last did in 1984, when I taught at Broward Community College full-time.

Essentially, I’ve had a full-time college teaching job these last few months, teaching from nine to fifteen hours a week. That’s not to mention the horrible stress of my commutes.

If I return to do more Teacher Education Center workshops for FIU, I need a reliable car – and I’m not going to waste any more money on my Camaro. Mom and Dad can keep it or sell it, but when I return to Florida, I’ll get another car, hopefully an import.

At least my last class went well: I taught VisiCalc and introduced them to spreadsheets on Appleworks.

Several people told me I was a good teacher: patient, not afraid to let the students follow their own interests, and always on hand to answer the most basic questions.

In truth, now most of the teachers can use Appleworks to help them do their jobs.

Driving to Riviera Junior High earlier, not knowing what trouble I’d have on my trip home, I mused about my computer ed workshops and how I’ve enjoyed them and how I’ve gained experience and knowledge running around to various public schools all over Miami.

Actually, this proved to be an interesting year because I also taught English – composition, literature and creative writing – back at BCC.

Despite all my problems, I feel I’ve honed my teaching skills on this stay in Florida.


Wednesday, May 4, 1988

8 PM. I have a bad headache and a slight case of diarrhea, but I’m all ready to fly to New York City tomorrow. My flight leaves around noon, and if it’s on time, it’s supposed to land about 2:30 PM.

Naturally, I’m nervous about the flight itself, though I’m sure the anxiety I’ll have on the plane can’t be all that much worse than the anxiety attack I had in Coral Gables on Monday or any of the hundreds of anxiety attacks I’ve survived.

No, I didn’t get stuck with the car today. Dad bought a new tire this morning while I was sending out two more packages to New York once I reckoned that I wouldn’t have enough room in my luggage for everything.

Before I left for Dade County, I stopped at BCC, picked up my paycheck and gave Seren my key to the English Department office and a self-addressed envelope for my final paycheck.

After saying hi to Mick and to Phyllis, who’s again taking a group of students to Cambridge this summer, I drove into downtown Miami and parked at the Omni.

In the mall, I passed Bill Robertson, the Herald book editor, and we exchanged hellos, and then I had a grilled cheese sandwich and a Sprite at the counter of Humperdinck’s.

Feeling relatively calm, I drove down Biscayne Boulevard through the heart of downtown and out across Coral Way into the Gables.

One of my teacher-students brought brownies for our final class, and we met in Kathi Simon’s computer room. Everyone worked on Writer’s Workbench on the AT&T terminals, and it was relaxed and pleasant.

I completed the paperwork even before the session ended, and one of my group put the envelope in the inter-school mailbox for me.

Coral Gables Senior High School was the best school I’ve taught at. Its student body is largely middle and upper-middle class with lots of well-dressed, attractive girls and boys.

Perhaps it unnerved me because it’s the closest place to Midwood High School that I’ve ever worked in.

I find it impossible to believe that it’s twenty years since I graduated from Midwood and that I’m old enough to be the parent of one of today’s high school students. I can’t believe Sean was 17 and a high school senior when I knew him six Mays ago.

How did I get to be middle-aged, even if Dad tells me I’m immature and the secretaries at BCC tell me I look 24?

The answer to these questions certainly won’t come tomorrow.

Today’s theme, class, has been the passage of time: what’s behind us, what’s ahead of us. . .


Thursday, May 5, 1988

5 PM on 5/5/88. I’m in Teresa’s bedroom, lying on her new bed.

Last night I had a bad sinus headache, and it took me till 4 AM to get to bed. I did have some pleasant dreams, but I got only four hours’ sleep.

Dad drove me to the airport at 10:30 AM and helped me with my luggage, after which I kissed him goodbye and told him I loved him.

I surprised myself by not being nervous before the flight. Sitting next to me on the plane was an adorable 4-year-old boy who was flying with his mother. Takeoff was smooth, and the movie – Overboard, with Goldie Hawn – was watchable.

The flight was packed with elderly snowbirds heading home: the kind of old people who always get up to go to the bathroom just as the plane is landing and the ones who jump up as soon as the landing gear hits the runway.

The last hour was pretty turbulent as we went through the Atlantic coast storm, but the landing wasn’t the worst I’ve had. My luggage came out quickly and I got a cab easily and was at Teresa’s by 3:30 PM.

After spending half an hour getting my clothes and other possessions out of my luggage and into my closet, I went to the post office to redeem the packages I sent out on Monday, as there were two yellow call slips on the kitchen table.

New York City is chilly and rainy, but I don’t mind the cool, dark weather; it’s a pleasant change, unlike anything I’ve experienced lately.

I was thrilled to see a familiar face when I ran into Judy in the street; she seemed glad to see me, too. She said she and Brian would come over soon and help me get my futon down from the closet.

The Boulevard, the building between 86th and 87th, is just about completely up, but our own block is a mess because they’re working on the water main. There’s been no water from 8:30 AM till about 4:30 PM, and Judy and Teresa said it’s been horrible for the last two weeks.

When I called Mom to tell her I’d arrived safely, she said that Dad had a depressed feeling all day because of my departure. I guess I underestimate my parents’ affection for me.

I called Teresa at the chicken store, and she said she’d be here by 6:30 PM and would bring me some chicken, pasta, and carrot-and-raisin salad for dinner.

She herself is sticking to some greens, part of the diet she’s been on that’s enabled her to lose the ten pounds she said she put on as a result of the aggravation she had while working for Frank.

Because she’s lost the salary from that job and because the money from working for Norton and Pam at the chicken store isn’t much, Teresa’s interested in making a go of her catering business and has some ideas. We’ll talk when she gets in.

Josh just now phoned and said he couldn’t talk because he was in the street, but the harassment has escalated: he’s constantly being followed, and last night he had the scariest experience so far.

Josh feels the ultimate goal may be extortion and that many people are involved. While it all sounds incredible, I trust Josh.

Alice left a message, and I’ve got to call Grandma Ethel soon.

Well, I’m getting settled.


Saturday, May 7, 1988

3 PM. I just walked into Grandma’s apartment. She’s probably outside on the benches with her friends, enjoying the sunshine and warmth.

The sun finally came out this morning, and it’s been fair and mild: warm enough to be comfortable wearing only a short-sleeved shirt.

I am about as happy as I’ve ever been. Last night I felt a bit queasy, but it soon passed, and after Grandma and I had dinner, I digested the news on TV and radio and in the papers.

Unemployment fell to 5.4% in April, a 14-year low. Unlike the people who drove the stock market down today, I doubt the low unemployment numbers are inflationary; to me, they’re the result of fewer people entering the labor force because of the baby bust.

It seems clear that the October stock market crash actually forestalled a recession by lowering interest rates, and I look for things to remain good until the election. After that, watch out!

I slept really well last night and had a couple of great dreams; in one, I had this incredibly great body.

Actually, I look pretty good, and I intend to stay that way – which is why I was glad that WNYC/Channel 31 still runs Body Electric on Saturdays at 10 AM so that I could work out (using books as weights) to one of their new series of shows.

On weekdays, Channel 31 runs the show at 9:30 AM, and it’s on WNYE/Channel 25 at 8 AM, so I don’t have to be entirely dependent on my tapes.

After I showered, I left the house at noon, walking along the boardwalk to Beach 116th Street. Due to winter storms, the beach is again smaller, and Grandma said they’ve again begun pumping sand from the ocean floor to widen the beach.

It’s a Sisyphean task, but there’s nothing else the city can do except abandon the idea of Rockaway as a beach community.

People on the boardwalk seemed inordinately glad to be out, so I gathered that this was the first nice day in quite a while.

After buying a Times, I waited for the Green bus by the booming Korean store – they’ve put in a salad bar like the ones we have in Manhattan, leading me to believe that even in Rockaway, there are yuppies.

Getting off at Kings Plaza, I went to explore my old neighborhood on foot. Passing Dr. Hersh’s office, I reminded myself to make a dental appointment.

I had intended to get a slice of pizza on Avenue T, but the old pizzeria next to the Mill Basin Deli is now a Sichuan restaurant.

As I watched kids on bicycles, I thought about how I used to see the neighborhood from the vantage point of a two-wheeler, and how I’d rush out to the candy stores and luncheonettes (are there such things anymore?) to buy my superhero comics.

In front of our old house, a husky boy of about 16 was washing a Mercedes, and I realized he must be Alex, who was about 7 when he moved into the house in 1979.

In a way, I’d love to see what my old room looks like (I assume it’s still Alex’s), but I’d also be scared to find out.

I did see the Wagners’ door open next door and I went in to say hello to Lou and Evie, who had just gotten back from the synagogue for the naming ceremony for their new granddaughter Tiffany.

Although they both smoke, the Wagners look well, and we had a long and pleasant conversation.

Evie is still interested in education, and she says the New York City public schools are so terrible that if her grandson Ryan had not made the Eagle program (open to kids with IQs over 150), they would have been forced to put him in private school.

They were interested in hearing about my computer education teaching. Lou said he feels too old to use a computer even though Scott, who’s a computer engineer, keeps offering to hook up a system for him.

Evie said that little Ryan is a whiz on his Commodore 64.

We talked about real estate (the neighborhood homes are going for about $220,000) and babies, the economies and families. It’s nice, sometimes, to catch up with the past. I can’t know what the Wagners think of me, but I enjoyed talking with them.

Brooklyn will always be part of my life, and I still feel great affection for the old neighborhood. But then, I feel privileged to have been everywhere – from the artists’ colonies to the schools where I’ve taught to all my apartments in New York City and Florida.

Cornily, I think of the line in “Ulysses”: “I am a part of all that I have met.”

After a bite at Kings Plaza and the bus ride over Jamaica Bay, I walked back from Beach 116th Street.

This morning Teresa took her niece and nephew to Fire Island, and Josh called from work to say hi. He’s sublet an apartment near Columbia for the month.

Apparently he’s still being followed and harassed, though when I told the story to Teresa and to Grandma, each of them thought Josh is imagining most of it.

Although Josh has always been obsessive, I can’t believe he’s so paranoid as to have manufactured all these incidents from nothing.

I’m starting to feel myself getting attuned to the rhythms of New York. And I feel pretty lucky to have the opportunity to be here.


Monday, May 9, 1988

3 PM. Again, I’ve returned to an empty apartment. I don’t know where Grandma is.

Teresa called as I arrived, giving me a message from Julie Ramos of the Rockland Center, who wanted me to call her before 3:30 PM.

When I did, she said she needed to know what I’d be working on in terms of my writing for the supplementary grant application; I told her it was just more stories.

So far it seems that everything is going smoothly, but they won’t hear the final news from NYSCA about the Writer-in-Residence Award until midsummer.

I also returned a call from Justin, who was on his way out to do some errands. He said he’d call back tonight, that he had something to discuss with me. I bet it has to do with housing.

At the tail end of our phone conversation last night, Ronna said, “When I see you, I have to ask if you want to move in with me.” I didn’t say much because it’s something we need to speak about in person.

Aside from just getting over her second cold in a month, Ronna said that everything was fine.

She’s going back to Florida soon to attend Billy’s graduation from Rollins, and when I asked her about summer vacation plans, Ronna said that Jordan wants her to go with him to Europe.

“That sounds nice but expensive,” I said, and she said, “Well, I’ll talk to you about it.”

Perhaps Jordan is getting interested in her again.

I know that last October, Ronna and I discussed living together and marriage, but I see now that a lot of my feelings came out of my insecurity over leaving New York City then.

I don’t believe I’d make Ronna happy as a husband or probably even as a roommate, and I’m afraid it would doom our 16-year friendship. If she has a chance at a long-term future with Jordan, she should take it.

Look at his advantages over me: First of all, he’s straight and wouldn’t be looking at guys. Second, he’s a well-paid attorney with a stable job and a Brooklyn Heights co-op.

He probably wants kids; I suspect he’s as family-oriented as Ronna is.

I hardly know Jordan, but I’m sure he’s a good guy and more mature than he was back when he was so hypercritical of Ronna.

On the other hand, I very willingly lead a life without job stability, without housing stability, without any kind of financial security – indeed, my credit card debts are something I can’t share with anyone.

I don’t want to have children, and I’m gay.

Yes, I do love Ronna, but as the song says, What does love have to do with it?

I’d enjoy it if our relationship went on the way it has been, but that would be incredibly selfish of me.

I hate being put in the role of the stereotypical can’t-make-a-commitment New York male, but I have good reasons for avoiding commitment.

Yes, I’m being selfish anyway, but I can’t imagine Ronna or I being happy in a more or less conventional marriage.

I want to remain her friend, but if she marries Jordan and feels she can’t see me (and I’m just talking talk here – I’m certainly not talking about anything sexual), I could live with that the way I did with Sean’s decision to break off contact with me after he made a life with Doug.

Well, all this may be putting the cart before the horse. It’s just that I feel guilty for exploiting Ronna.

With no water at Teresa’s this week, I plan to remain in Rockaway till at least Wednesday.

Yesterday I spoke with Pete, who rescheduled my visit to his NYU class to next Tuesday. That way I can remain here.

He gave the class five of my stories from With Hitler in New York and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz. (Pete said that a lot of the stories stand up, but that Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog is by far my weakest collection.)

Pete’s own experimental novel is proceeding faster than he expected, and he’ll be teaching two more courses at NYU this summer.

He likes teaching very much, but then his creative writing students are bright, young, and sophisticated in their literary tastes – not like the people I teach in Florida.

Grandma came home at 9 PM last night, telling me excitedly about her splendid Mother’s Day dinner at the Sarretts’ ritzy country club.

Like Grandma, I’m too hamishe for such a place, which sounds snobbish and vulgar-riche. Remember how I walked out on our 1982 Mother’s Day dinner at the Jockey Club? Perhaps I’m immature, but I’ve never been able to stand the country club set.

Besides, I don’t own a suit, a tie or dress shoes. Actually, I wrote about that yesterday in some preliminary notes and sketches for a story.

Marty and Arlyne didn’t want to come up because I was here, although I certainly would have been polite to them. I have the sense that they feel bad that we haven’t spoken in five years, for Arlyne asked Grandma if I’d been here when Jeff came to pick her up.

Anyway, Arlyne bought Grandma a nice dress and some lovely shoes and would have gotten her more clothes had Grandma not protested that it was too much.

Today was chilly. After working out to Body Electric this morning – my muscle tone is getting really good – I took the bus to Brooklyn and walked around the Brooklyn College campus.

Never in recent years has the college reminded me of what it was like to be an undergraduate there as much as it did today: In the midst of a student government election, there were leaflets, bullhorns and even discussions of issues among students.

In Boylan Hall, I heard some shouting and discovered a sit-in by Haitian students in Vice President Hilary Gold’s office. From the doorway, I saw a once-familiar sight of a college official confronting and negotiating with passionate student protesters.

It felt very much like 1970 or 1971, and it made me happy that the mood on campus now seems closer to that of the “right-on” late ’60s and early ’70s than the right-wing 1980s.

I also walked over to the front of Midwood High School, but I don’t have the feeling for that place that I do for Brooklyn College, which was where I really became a person.TC mark

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