A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1988

Saturday, May 21, 1988

2 PM. I slept soundly from 10 PM till 8 AM in Teresa’s new bed, and I woke up to yet another dark, cool day.

Statistics show that this is the wettest May since 1984, when I stayed here while Teresa went to Europe; that month had nearly three times the normal rainfall.

I worked out to my tape and to the 10 AM show of Body Electric on Channel 31 this morning.

Mikey called, saying he was home with a cold.

He’s been doing little else but going to work and coming home since he’s been working on a big Medicaid fraud case in the Bronx that involves people selling the blood of drug addicts for phony lab tests.

They indicted three Pakistani middle-level guys, but all of them made bail and skipped out to their native country. The arrest of the bigwigs is pending, and the case will probably last for a long time.

Incidentally, Mikey said that Tom Wolfe’s portrait of Bronx justice is on-target and that the character of Judge Kovitsky in the novel is based on Burton Roberts.

Amy just finished her first year in Hunter’s M.S.W. program, but she’s still got one more year to go. She doesn’t like being a student: she feels she’s treated like a kid and misses the world of work and bringing home a paycheck.

She was offered a summer job at the youth center where she’s been doing her field work, and that seems like it must be a compliment to her abilities as a social worker.

Mikey and Amy are dying to move out of Riverdale; they never realized how much they’d miss Manhattan.

But their apartment probably hasn’t appreciated much beyond last year’s $134,000 price, and they really don’t know where they’ll be able to move once Amy begins working following her graduation next year.

The old New York City real estate story again.

Mikey and I noted that Brooklyn College has been in the news. That student government referendum I witnessed was to defund Kingsman, which published articles that offended both Jewish and Haitian students.

Susan was supposed to meet me this afternoon, but first she called from Toys ‘R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue and then she phoned from home saying Zack was ill.

I’ve hardly gotten to see Susan in recent years, but being a parent is obviously very time-consuming, and I understand that her son’s needs come first.

Probably it’s easier for Susan and Spencer to relate to other people who have kids.

Anyway, Alice invited me for lunch tomorrow and I’ll head to Rockaway from there.

Yesterday’s “Manhattan Profile” in Newsday featured Denis Woychuk, who’s now an attorney representing mental patients and the owner of an art gallery in the East Village.

Single and living on the West Side, Denis has been active in Soviet-American exchanges of works of art. At 34, Denis looks older than I, but then again, so does just about everyone.

I looked Denis up in the phone book and left a nice message on his machine. Even if he didn’t become a writer, it’s good to know that he’s successful in two distinct fields; I admire people like that.


Sunday, May 22, 1988

8 PM on another cool, dark, damp day.

I’m in Rockaway. Grandma Ethel and Jean Morse have just gone downstairs to visit with a friend.

Yesterday I finished Bonfire of the Vanities, a very satisfying novel that seemed to capture the tone and spirit of New York in the 1980s.

Josh arrived at 6 PM, with fresh stories of how the “appearances” are increasing – not only at his workplace, but also at his lawyer’s office, his temporary apartment on West 113th Street, and elsewhere.

Anxious to be rid of the money for the co-op – so that he can’t be threatened for it – Josh insisted on writing out a check for the co-op in advance of the closing. He said that three Puerto Ricans followed him into the bank, watched him carefully, and disappeared.

He spoke about nothing else for at least an hour. Josh takes great store in the fact that the harassing phone calls have stopped, attributing that to the belief that the FBI contacted Phil Straniere.

Josh insisted that he discounts at least half of the incidents because he’s so paranoid. But he feels he doesn’t need to see a therapist because his problems are real, and besides, it would be “an act of weakness” – as would going on vacation or varying his routine.

We had dinner at Patzo’s and then returned to watch HBO, and while Josh and I spoke about other subjects, it was clear that he never quite stopped thinking about the people tailing him.

If he won’t go to a shrink or ask one of these people what they’re up to or hire a private eye to follow him around and see what the guy can come up with, then I told him that there’s really nothing he can do except ignore the people and live his life.

Josh feels they’ll eventually get tired of harassing him and perhaps it will stop when he moves into his East Village apartment.

But I wonder if Josh doesn’t need this vision of himself besieged by hostile people. Is he losing touch with reality? The whole scheme just doesn’t make sense – not logistically, logically, or emotionally.

I’ll watch Josh carefully and . . . do what? What do you do when your friend starts going crazy?

While I do believe there’s a kernel of actuality in the story of Straniere’s wanting to harass Josh, I’m not certain how much reality is involved.

At noon today, I went to see Alice for lunch.

Her major goal, like that of most New Yorkers, deals with real estate: she wants to get out of her apartment, and to do this, she needs wealth.

Alice said that’s why making money is more important to her than ever. She wants to be the author of the next trendy gimmick book and go on the Oprah Winfrey show and be the subject of a flattering article in People (“I used to want to be on the cover, but then I realized they don’t put writers on the cover”).

After the fiasco with the Donna McKechnie book and the poor response to Alice and Peter’s Apartners book proposal, Alice went through a two-month phase where she thought she wanted a baby – probably because June and Cliff’s daughter is so cute and because Alice is so good with the kid.

Peter didn’t want to hear about it, telling her that if she wanted a baby, she should quickly get another boyfriend.

It was Andreas who got her out of this phase by telling her that anyone can have a baby but that Alice’s goals have always been to be a famous and rich writer and what she really wanted was a book, not a baby.

Then she quoted Dr. Joyce Brothers about success. (No one reads more self-help books than Alice.)

While I admire Alice’s energy and enthusiasm, I sometimes wonder if she isn’t too methodical and determined.

As one of the few writers in the U.S. who makes over $50,000 a year, Alice is already highly successful, of course, and I said that I can’t imagine that more money would make her that much happier.

She says it would, and it’s an argument we’ve had for over a decade. Maybe I come off as self-righteous or prim, but beyond a certain level, I don’t think money is that important.

And there’s another difference between us, as Alice herself pointed out: She wants to work within the system (say, the book publishing industry) and win by its rules, while I think the system is corrupt and want no part of it. Neither of us is right or wrong.

Anyway, I left Alice’s at 2:45 PM and took the A train to Rockaway downstairs. A couple of hours later, I arrived at Grandma’s.

I may spend only one day here, because Grandma is going to the dentist tomorrow; Jeffrey is picking her up, and she’ll stay in Oceanside for dinner.

Also, I’m supposed to see Susan in Park Slope tomorrow, and I don’t want to trek back here to the beach.


Thursday, May 26, 1988

4 PM. The sun returned today, along with milder temperatures.

Dad and I met at 86th and Broadway at about 7 PM yesterday, and then he and I  had dinner at the Argo diner.

Dad said that the holiday line looked good, and that Paul Davril signed a three-year contract as the shirt licensee of the Bugle Boy name, which continues to be hot.

Although most department stores are reporting lackluster sales, the Bugle Boy shirts are moving, and Dad just hopes that he can continue to do as well for the next three years as he has in this one.

I think that’s highly unlikely, given the cyclical nature of “hot” fashion brands – not to mention the probability of an economic downturn.

Bugle Boy shirts will begin a million-dollar ad blitz this summer, and hopefully the Bugle Boy name will last longer than Sasson, which the crazed Paul Guez pushed into bankruptcy.

They plan to bring out five different lines each year, and it will mean a lot of traveling to New York and Los Angeles for Dad; all the salesmen must get a fax machine, too.

Fax machines are the big new electronic item, and actually, I’m glad Dad will be getting one so I can use it and learn about the technology.

Although Dad feels very self-conscious about his age, the new sales manager (Dad’s nominal boss) is about 45 and not 35 like the last one.

Except for a couple of guys in California, Dad is the company’s top salesman; recently he’s managed to open J.C. Penney and the Belk-Lindsey chain for the line.

Back here, Dad called Mom and then made some business calls as I did a few chores.

At 9 PM, I walked Dad out to Riverside Drive to catch the M5 to his hotel, but it was so cold, he eventually decided to take a cab rather than stand outside waiting for a bus.

At 10 PM, I had my eyes glued to the final episode of St. Elsewhere, which knocked me out.

Like my own fiction, St. Elsewhere was playful to the point of self-indulgence, and it proved self-reflexive, too: after tying up all the loose ends, the series was revealed to be all in the imagination of an autistic boy who played with a model of the hospital inside a snow globe.

That’s just the way I would have ended the show if I’d been smart enough to think of it. I’ve always enjoyed making readers feel something for characters yet never letting them totally lose sight of the knowledge that the characters are only fictional constructs.

Unable to get to sleep for hours, I ended up getting up very late, as I have done all week. Tomorrow I have to be up early for the AIDS Education and Human Sexuality class from 9 AM till 5 PM at Teachers College.

I have no idea what the course will be like, or how I’m going to manage to sit through so many hours of class. Next week it’s Friday and Saturday (my birthday).

I managed to tape the Body Electric show at 8 AM on WNYE/Channel 21, which appears on Teresa’s cable TV as channel 6. So now I have another channel to record for my library of exercise tapes.

This afternoon I went down to midtown to read for a couple of hours in the main library and then do some banking.


Friday, May 27, 1988

8 PM. I was in class at Teachers College from 9 AM to 5 PM, with an hour break for lunch.

There are about 25 students in the class, all female except for me and a brain surgeon from China. (I had thought some gay men would be in the course.)

As I came in, the teacher, Lilliam Rosado, asked for “someone strong” to help her with carrying boxes, so of course I went with her to bring the binders that are the New York City Board of Education’s Family Living Including Human Sexuality curriculum.

Three years ago there was a citywide mandate for this curriculum, and they’ve implemented it – in varying ways – in the city’s school districts.

This course, in fact, will make us certified to teach sex education in New York City public schools, not that many people had that in mind when they registered for it.

Several students are nurses or involved in nursing education; one is a pediatric physical therapist who works with AIDS babies in the Bronx.

Another woman is a medical writer for the Pfizer drug company, which is working on an AIDS drug. Other students are involved in AIDS programs in their banks or other places of work, and there were a number of young women from the Organizational Psychology program at Teachers College.

We started with the usual education-class “ice breakers,” which I always find silly and a bit embarrassing. Our morning guest was Susan Beber, the coordinator from the Health and Phys Ed office of the Board of Ed, who rambled a bit but dispensed some nuggets of wisdom.

We watched her on a WCBS-TV interview show facing a right-wing opponent of “sex indoctrination,” who had the typical agenda of “if we don’t talk about it, they won’t do it.”

I had lunch with Bernadette, a cute exercise physiologist from Bay Ridge, and then we picked up $5 worth of reprints – the required reading – at the copy center before heading back to class.

There, we watched a tape of fifth-graders having a lesson on the changes in the male body during puberty; they were able to use vocabulary like penis, testicles and semen without cracking up the way kids that age might do ordinarily.

We talked about how we learned about sex, and I could not remember one shocking incident the way so many others did.

I think I learned about the differences between boys and girls and the “facts of life” very gradually, from a combination of sources: my parents, other kids, and books. We got into some very good discussions.

Lillian went around the room getting a one-word association with the word sex from every student. The word that came to my mind was play.

Then we went over the stages of psychosexual development and how that relates to the concepts in the New York City curriculum guide. For Friday, we have to create a lesson plan; and we’ll also have two more to do before the class is over.

Since I’m taking the class for only two credits, I won’t have to take the final exam.

It was tiring to spend all day in class, but I think it’s nice that it will be over in three more all-day sessions.

AIDS and sex education is a bit of a stretch for me, but I like learning about different subjects.

Last evening Tom called. I hadn’t written him, but I’d intended to phone, as I want to see Tom during his three-hour stopover at JFK on Sunday.

He had an interesting proposition for me. He’d given the stories I’d sent him to Jeff Timpe, a student who’s read all my books and who admires my work, and Jeff had selected nine out of the 18 stories I’d sent for possible inclusion in the anthology of stories by me, Tom, and Crad.

But since Crad had recently told Tom he wasn’t that interested, Tom’s idea was that Jeff be the editor and publisher of a book of my stories, and if I’d pay typesetting and other costs, Tom will cover the printing.

I want to talk more to Tom on Sunday before I write to Jeff, who’s going to LSU in the fall. But I am excited by the idea of a new book; I thought it would be years before I’d get another book out.

Well, I can’t get too excited yet, but it’s an idea.

Josh came over with more tales of stepped-up harassment. He even called the FBI again, but an agent told him they don’t protect individuals.

Much of what Josh says has an air of paranoia about it, and I still find it very hard to believe that so many people could be involved in a plot to harass Josh, especially when there’s no real motive.

I didn’t want to press the therapist business, but I think I will the next time I see Josh.

Every time I see him, it’s the same thing, though: we talk of nothing else for at least an hour and of little else for the rest of the evening.

The closing on the co-op is next Tuesday, and I’m hoping Josh will start feeling better once he’s in his own apartment.

Ronna called at 10:30 PM, after I’d already fallen asleep. She seemed to have a good time in Orlando, and she said she cried at Billy’s commencement and enjoyed the various parties afterward.

When I asked about getting together, Ronna said that tonight she and Jordan were driving to Pennsylvania for the weekend.

I obviously did not have to worry about Ronna feeling too attached to me. Though I’m slightly jealous, I also am happy knowing that Ronna is a very independent lady and that she and Jordan may be rekindling their romance.

Back in ’82 and ’83, I’d hoped they would get married, and I still think Jordan is Ronna’s best bet as a husband and a father to her children.

When Ronna and I do finally see one another, we can talk about this and where our own relationship is going.

Though I’ll always have sexual feelings for Ronna, I think it’s best for us to be platonic friends. We can’t take our relationship any further, and her being with Jordan would free both of us to get on with our lives.

I haven’t given up on one day meeting another guy like Sean: someone I could really care about and who’d care about me.

Perhaps the class I’m taking will make me more secure in my sexual identity. I feel that serious changes are due in my life and my attitudes, and it’s an exciting possibility.

Grandma said that she feels better now that her dental ordeal is over. I’m thinking that after I see Tom at the airport on Sunday, I’ll make the short trip to Rockaway to visit Grandma again.

Today was a lovely, dry, 80° day. Although I missed my usual exercise, I did tape another Body Electric show.

And tonight I’m happy to be alone and quiet. It’s been great being here since I’ve had the apartment to myself.TC mark

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