A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1988

Friday, July 1, 1988

9 PM. It was actually chilly this morning as the temperature fell into the 50°s. After exercising to Body Electric at 9:30 AM, I took a shower and went out to deposit $1000 in cash advances to my Chemical Bank account.

On Broadway, I ran into Justin’s (and Anson’s former) playwriting teacher, Chuck Maryan, and we had a nice chat; he’s an intelligent man.

After grocery shopping (and I had my coupons ready!), I took the subway to Park Slope to help Justin and Larry move.

I hadn’t wanted to commit myself in advance, but I was glad to lend a hand (and back and two arms) even if it turned out that Justin had so much stuff, I couldn’t believe it.

From staying in his room, I knew that Justin was a pack rat, but it seemed as if he had as many possessions as your average family of five – and he and Larry had actually brought over quite a bit of stuff to the new apartment before I arrived.

Luckily, the new place is only two blocks down President Street. Unluckily, Justin’s old bedroom is four flights up and the new apartment is on the third floor.

It’s a cozy little one-bedroom place, with a fireplace and great windows: I could see myself  living there comfortably. Two people may be tight, but Justin and Larry love one another.

Moving never brings out the best in people, though, and there were some tense moments between them – although basically everything went smoothly.

After he woke up, Ben helped us. (When I told him I wish I could see him in La Cage Aux Folles at that Westchester dinner theater, he said, “I wear more makeup than Tammy Faye Bakker!”)

And I finally met Fred, the roommate who’s taking over Justin’s room. (Dane, the new roommate, is moving downstairs.)

We brought over the bed, desks and other big pieces of furniture. All in all, I made four trips from 715 to 836 President Street with them, and after that, Larry was going to take the rest of the stuff in his car.

As I hadn’t eaten lunch, I was starving by 4 PM and I didn’t want to be caught in rush hour, so I excused myself. Justin and Larry thanked me for what little help I supplied, and I came home after devouring a baby pizza at Roma.

Ronna sent a postcard from Maine, which she says is beautiful, and I got more credit card bills to pay.

While I was gone, Josh called, but I told him I was too tired to have dinner out; I just finished the Chinese food I ordered in last evening. Alice called, and we’ll probably get together tomorrow.


Monday, July 4, 1988

10 PM. This was a pleasant Independence Day for me. (Russell Baker observed that no one calls the holiday by that name anymore, only the Fourth of July.)

Up at 8 AM, I listened to the news on the radio, had breakfast, went out to the newspaper rack on Riverside to get today’s small Times, and exercised to a Body Electric video.

At 1 PM, I arrived at Ronna’s place. She’d called last night, after she got back from vacation.

Over lunch at the Argo diner, Ronna told me about her trip with Ellen. First they stopped at her cousin Cathy’s house in New Hampshire, and then they drove up I-95 along the coast to Bar Harbor.

They stayed in two other Maine towns, in three different bed-and-breakfasts, all of which were quite cozy.

It felt really good to be out of the city, Ronna said, and in an environment of great physical beauty where everyone seemed friendly.

They bicycled and went on boat rides and walked around, had talks with the owners of the B&Bs and other residents, and basically relaxed.

Yesterday they took a shortcut (through Worcester) to Ellen’s parents’ house in Westport and stayed there all afternoon.

Ellen and Ronna fought a bit during the trip – mostly because Ronna had a hard time getting up as early as Ellen – but no more than any two people traveling.

After I caught Ronna up on my doings, we took a short walk before I saw her to her door. Ronna had lots of chores, including defrosting the refrigerator, to do in the apartment.

Josh came over at 5:30 PM and we talked. He told me of the latest incidents, and I told him honestly after how I felt after his call on Sunday.

Although he felt bad that I doubted him, Josh said he’d probably feel the same way if our positions were reversed.

We had dinner at Marvin Gardens, then sat on a bench on Riverside Drive before coming back up here to talk more.

Whenever he’s not talking about the harassment, Josh sounds totally normal and rational, and I have to say he seems as sane as I am.

Perhaps his paranoia is just the result that Phil Straniere intended from all the harassment. It’s just about as hard for me to believe that Josh is imagining everything as it is for me believe that these events are really happening.

Josh is still a dear, cherished friend, and we continue to have good talks, but I keep finding it harder and harder to deal with his current problems and his admitted paranoia about people following him.

Not really knowing what to think, I’ll just take a wait-and-see attitude – as usual.

I was grateful to be able to spend time with Ronna and Josh today rather than be alone again.

I’ve been reading Michael Harrington’s The Next Left, written in 1986. Even though he downplayed the possibility of a stock market crash (instead predicting “a slow 1929”), I find Harrington’s ideas compelling

It seems clear to me that Black Monday was merely a warning, and one that has gone unheeded as the bull market now seems to be back in full force. It will be fascinating to see how this will all play itself out.

Harrington says that people like me, who believe that bad economic times invariably lead to reform, are totally mistaken.


Wednesday, July 6, 1988

8 PM. I’m sleepy, probably because I was so restless last night.

Bert Stratton called this morning, saying he was in town by himself for a couple of days, seeing a friend who was in from Tokyo.

Bert will come over tomorrow evening and we’ll go out to dinner. He invited me to go with him today to explore Borough Park and Brighton Beach, but I declined because of the heat.

Justin phoned from work on his first day back since the big move – which seemed years ago, he said.

He likes the new apartment but still feels somewhat disoriented there: Justin keeps bumping into things, and Brooklyn Union Gas still hasn’t connected the gas, so he can’t cook or make coffee.

He and Larry still had more stuff to bring over on Saturday and Sunday, and late Sunday they drove to Reading, where Larry is remaining for now.

Again he thanked me for my help with the move; of course, it wasn’t any trouble, or lazy me wouldn’t have volunteered in the first place.

At 1 PM, I went to the Village and met Pete, who’s on vacation, at John’s Pizzeria. But it wasn’t air-conditioned, so we went to Pizzeria Uno instead.

Pete had come into the city to go to Kiehl’s Pharmacy (remember how I used to buy herbs there back in 1971 when I was so interested in herbology?) to get a shampoo with sunscreen to help the top of his balding head from getting sunburned.

After living in Park Slope for a while, Pete says he’s adjusted to it and now prefers it to the East Village, though he dislikes the train commute to work.

He asked me about artists’ colonies because now that he can live in Park Slope, Pete figures that maybe he could try rustic living for a month.

We had a nice conversation over the so-so Chicago-style pizza. I paid for both of us with a credit card, and Pete gave me his share of the bill in cash.

Then I went with him to buy shorts at the Gap; since Pete has lost weight, most of his old clothes are too big for him.

On Christopher Street, Pete pointed out that our old meeting place, Bagel And…, had gone out of business, replaced by The Stonewall, a men’s clothing store named after the famous Stonewall Inn that closed months after the 1969 riot.

It was about 3:30 PM when I returned home and began reading the Times and the other papers; I’m also making headway in Harrington’s The Next Left.

The rest of the day I did the laundry, deposited some cash advances, worked out, watched Educational Computing on PBS, went out again and did a couple of other errands, chatted with Judy and a few other neighbors, and tried to spend as little money as possible.


Thursday, July 7, 1988

6 PM. I expected Bert and his friend to come over in an hour, but Bert just called and asked if I could meet them at a Japanese restaurant on East 46th Street and Fifth Avenue at 7 PM. So I guess I’ll be leaving soon.

I have this sense that things are happening in my life. Last night Anson called, telling me that our meeting will be at 1 PM on Sunday at the 45th Street Theater.

He seems quite excited about the show, and he reassured me that my stuff does fit into the evening.

Anson said he told this to someone named Casey, someone who I guess I’m supposed to know; perhaps he’s with the Primary Stages group. Anson wants me to give him a copy of my monologue and also have a four-line bio for Casey.

This afternoon I got a call from the PEN American Center, from a woman whose name I didn’t catch.

She thanked me for my $100 sponsorship of the AIDS benefit reading and took me up on my offer to work for the benefit. There will probably be a meeting next week, and of course I’ll go and see if I can help.

After being a member for years, this will be the first time I’ve gotten involved in PEN.

I had lunch out and went grocery shopping at the Food Emporium and cash advancing at banks.

Now that I’ve got enough money in the bank, I’m going to end my latest credit card spree. Or I’ll taper off, anyway. Let’s face it: I’m addicted to cash advances.

Within the next few years, this will probably all come crashing down on my head, and I’ll be in real financial trouble.

Yet even if I go bankrupt, nobody will ever be able to take from me the four or five or six years I’ve lived a life of leisure.

No magazine has yet accepted my “You’ve Got to Give Me Credit” story, and by now I believe that’s probably for the best.

It distresses me that I’m not writing, but I have little incentive right now. I have three or four decent stories I can’t seem to get published.

I’ve said it before, and the phrase originally comes from Prof. Henry Ebel, but I need a new infusion of karma before I can write again.

Although I feel that “Caracas Traffic” and “Citicorp” and my Sun-Tattler columns were good writing, they got me nothing more than token payments and compliments from people I sent the published copies to.

My books are all out of print, and certainly nobody (except Tom Whalen) would publish another book.

I better get to midtown.


Friday, July 8, 1988

3 PM. Last night turned out to be interesting. I took the M5 bus from the corner here at Riverside Drive to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 46th Street; the bus was air-conditioned and not crowded, and the traffic wasn’t bad.

When I looked at the menu outside the restaurant, I realized there would be little for me to eat. Unlike the Japanese restaurants I’ve been to, Naniwa specializes in authentic Japanese cuisine with few, if any, concessions to American tastes.

Bert came with his friend Mark Shilling, with whom he went to college in Michigan. For the past 13 years, Mark has been living in Japan, where he’s married to a Japanese woman and writes and translates.

Also at our table was Mark’s friend, Bruce Sullivan, who works at a Japanese bank doing leveraged buyout deals; he lived in Japan for a decade before returning to New York two years ago.

They both spoke fluent Japanese to the waitresses and ordered lots of food that looked repellent to me. I managed to find one thing on the menu: a bowl of miso soup with tofu.

There was a couple at the next table who ordered some sardine-like fishes that had the most nauseating smell of any food I’ve known.

Naturally, the guys had to order it once Bert commented on the shit-like smell, and they gobbled it down, stinky heads and all. To me, it was like showing off, and afterwards they admitted it wasn’t that enjoyable.

My palate is undoubtedly American, and if I had ever entertained any notion of living in Japan and eating the way I like to, last evening dispelled them.

Still, the conversation was okay.

Bert talked about his visits to Brighton Beach and to Borough Park, where he dragged Mark (a Christian) to a Hasidic temple, and he mentioned his great interest in klezmer music. (Bert recently saw a film with Uncle Dave in it.) It sounds like Bert is on a Jewish roots kick.

Mark and Bruce talked about Japan, and I feel I learned more than I had previously known about Japanese lifestyles and attitudes. (I know all I want to about their food, thank you.)

After dinner, Bert, Mark and I hung out in Times Square for an hour, looking at all the bright neon, eating pastries at Sbarro’s, and listening to the foreign tourists. It was kind of exhilarating to see so much action that late at night.

Finally, we got on the M104 bus uptown. When Bert got off by his hotel, he said he’d see me in Florida next winter. At the newsstand on 86th Street, I bought Friday’s Times, and then stayed up most of the night, unable to sleep.

Part of it was the horrific smell of those sardine-things, which kept coming back to nauseate me. I slept from 5 AM to 10 AM, not long enough.

I got to Teachers College before noon and surprised myself by quickly accomplishing all that I had intended to do: I dropped my course, rewrote and printed out my monologue and bio statement, and in the library I looked at the rest of the material for Howard Budin’s class.

Also, I had lunch before returning to my air-conditioned bedroom, where I plan to stay most of the weekend. USA Today had 101° as the high for New York City on Sunday. Yech!

I spoke to Grandma, who’s still got the bitterness in her mouth and tongue, and told her I’d try to get to Rockaway on Monday.

And I called Teresa in Fire Island, where the ocean has been closed to swimming (as it has been from Long Beach east to Fair Harbor) because of hospital debris – needles, blood, vials of waste – that again have washed up on shore.

It really does appear that all the environmentalists’ warnings of the 1970s should have been heeded.


Sunday, July 10, 1988

8 PM. I’ve just gotten in.

The meeting at the theater began at 1 PM and was still going on when I left and grabbed a cab uptown a little while ago. Not only was I hungry – I just downed a tuna sandwich – but I also felt tired and hot. Today it must have hit 98°.

The more time I spend with the show, the more I’m convinced that my material doesn’t work within the context of the evening. Andrew, one of the directors, pointed that out, but no one else did.

Perhaps they want to spare my feelings, not realizing that I really don’t care if I’m in the show. But more likely, most of the people know I’ve got some good material and they don’t want to give it up.

I suspect that it’s always hard for comedy writers to avoid using good stuff even when it doesn’t fit in. I like my monologue, but it works better as a standup routine or a one-man performance/lecture than it does in the middle of skits.

Some people talked about bending the material to put my stories and jokes about my 1980 and 1984 campaigns in the present, but I don’t want to do that.

What makes it funny is that it all really happened – but the rest of the show is not about reality.

Anson may have thought it would be a good idea, but I want to protect the integrity of my material – and I’m smart enough and self-aware enough to know that my material is harming the integrity of the show.

As I said before, all I really wanted to do when I signed on was to write sketches like the others. Right now they have a wealth of material, some of it funnier than the rest, so they don’t need me for that.

I do like giving input about the skits along with the rest of the writers and directors, and I like working and hanging out with the people there, including the actors – but, really, what can the show bring me except onstage experience I don’t really need?

I’ve already given talks and done monologues and performed standup routines before audiences in Florida already.

Besides, I won’t be getting any money from being in the show, there probably won’t be much press exposure, and I can’t see any other clear benefits.

Maybe I’ll talk it over with Ronna or another friend, but basically my mind is made up.

Anson has arranged a reading for next week before Casey Childs, who is the artistic director of Primary Stages. (I know him as the director of Another World.)

But when Anson calls, I’m going to tell him what I’ve thought out on paper right here.

I have no hard feelings; in fact, I wish I could have been part of the show. I think if I’m the one who makes the decision, it will be easier on everyone and better for me and the show.

It’s too bad, because I liked the energy of all the young people involved.

Last night it kept getting too cold with the air conditioner on and too hot with it off, so I tossed and turned quite a bit.

This morning I exercised and watched some TV news before I left for the theater. Josh phoned several times as he made his way uptown, but unfortunately I wasn’t here to take his calls.

It seems hard to believe that a third of July has whizzed by. Why is time getting faster and faster?Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Related

More From Thought Catalog