A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1988

Monday, July 11, 1988

11 PM. I just got in after spending a couple of hours nursing drinks with Denis at the 4 Brothers diner. The time flew by so quickly, I’m shocked at how late it is.

I like Denis a lot and find we have lots in common. For him, too, the best day of 1987 was October 19, Black Monday. He’s anti-Yuppie and seems to have solid values.

The last time I saw him was when we both taught together at John Jay in the fall of 1980. I remember what a hectic schedule he had teaching not only at John Jay but also at Pratt, and going to law school at the same time.

Although Denis found law school harder than he expected, he did well, though he couldn’t relate to all the Irish Fordham law students intent on billable hours.

His arty Pratt students kept him going mentally, and when the opportunity came up to take over a space for an art gallery from a longtime family friend, Denis did it.

He knew nothing about what he was getting involved in – “which was good because otherwise I never would have done it.”

The East Village art scene just happened along at the same time, and suddenly Denis was sought-after, a man with a gallery, an art dealer.

Originally he sold $300 paintings, and then got into more expensive stuff, but never really anything that pricey. “Money was all a lot of the artists were into,” Denis said – but there was also tremendous excitement and energy downtown in ’84 and ’85 and ’86.

He had a stage for some performance space, and he had lots of artist friends “but no one I could really talk to.”

Meanwhile, he failed as a sellout. At his job in a big law firm, he was reprimanded for smiling too much; the partners felt he had a bad attitude, and eventually he was fired.

He stumbled upon his current work as a defense attorney representing mental patients. Denis said he loves going to court – “because it’s an unfair fight: I get to beat up on the other lawyer’s witnesses and he beats up on mine, but no one lays a glove on either of us.”

And mostly he is opposing psychiatrists, who think they’re gods, and likes that he’s working for the most oppressed people of all.

He works on Wards Island and plays basketball there, where he’s the only white guy.

Denis still maintains his apartment in Brooklyn, though he lives with his girlfriend on West 63rd Street, in a building that “held out” and “spoiled” a complex of towers from being built.

Denis stopped writing for ten years and recently started again, but he’s still working out the same themes as he was in the MFA program. mostly about the relationships between men and women.

He asked me about my writing, and I got to talk plenty about my life.

Denis said he and his girlfriend just returned from a week’s vacation in Keene, New Hampshire, a town I told him I like.

He didn’t make any money from the Soviet art show mentioned in Newsday because of State Department and Soviet bureaucratic foul-ups and he may not be able to live up to his contract to send the works of American artists to a show in Kiev next year.

But the gallery is getting known for hosting a lot of music performances, so that’s good.

So it was an interesting evening. The iced teas I had will probably keep me awake for quite a while, but it’s nice to feel alert at this time of night.

I could enjoy being a night person.


Tuesday, July 12, 1988

9 PM. I went out to get the Times at midnight and finished the paper before going to sleep.

Things started off on the wrong foot today when the milk in my breakfast cereal tasted sour.

Then the cleaning woman rang the bell, which meant I had to get out of the house immediately. I just threw on some clothes without showering or shaving.

It was cooler outside, but it was also raining, and first I went to the American diner and had French toast. Then, for some reason, I decided to take the M5 bus up to the George Washington Bridge bus terminal, its final stop.

The ride was interesting, as it went through Harlem and Washington Heights. I’ve hardly even seen those neighborhoods even though they’re so close.

At the bus station I tried to figure out if any buses went to Rockland County, and on impulse, I got on a Red and Tan line bus that I noticed stopped in Nyack.

We drove over the bridge to Fort Lee and up through Bergen County, New Jersey (past the Prentice-Hall complex in Englewood Cliffs), and back into New York State.

The road was by the Palisades, I guess, and it was a pleasure to see all those tall green trees, especially on a cloudy morning.

Eventually we rode right along the Hudson, which was beautiful and foggy. I got off in the center of Nyack, where I spent an hour walking around.

It’s a terrific town: countrified but very hip, with people of all races (a Cambodian woman was the cashier at Woolworth’s) and ethnic restaurants (Sichuan, Thai, Jewish delis) and interesting stores, a “New Age Center,” well-kept sidewalks, and even a Chemical Bank where I deposited a check in my account.

I bought the Gannett paper for Rockland and looked at the news (the big local news was the brushfires caused by the heat at Harriman State Park) and classified ads. I figure West Nyack wasn’t far: actually, Rockland isn’t a very large county.

Would I live there if the Writer-in-Residence grant comes through from NYSCA? The area seems terribly expensive, but I might like to if I could get a good deal.

On the other hand, if my official duties don’t keep me in Rockland more than once a week, it may be better to sublet in New York City and commute – either by public transportation or by renting a car.

Although the bus ride home was enjoyable, by the time I got back here, I was frazzled by the humidity and my own scrunginess.

After a shower, I spoke to Teresa and to Josh, who is still being followed but who pays less attention these days.

Anson left a message, and while I should call him back, I don’t want to do it tonight. Yes, of course: I don’t want to have a confrontation about my role in the play. Coward!

Dukakis picked Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, a conservative, as his running mate. The selection outraged Jesse Jackson, blacks, feminists and the far-left liberals, but I think it’s a good choice that will make Dukakis seem less liberal himself.

Perhaps years ago, I, too, would have been one of those holier-than-thou activists. It’s funny: in Florida, I hate those smug conservatives, but in Manhattan I disdain those smug liberals.

I slept only five hours last night and I’m quite tired.


Wednesday, July 13, 1988

6 PM. I’m in Rockaway at Grandma Ethel’s, where everything seems so hamishe, I think I’ll stay for a few days. It’s nice being far away from the Manhattan world I encountered today at the PEN meeting about the AIDS benefit reading.

I arrived late, so already seated around the lunch table were PEN’s Pamela Pearce and her aide, Liz; Gregory Kolovakos, head of NYSCA’s Literature program and a tireless AIDS worker (he mentioned that some people stopped seeing him “since I was diagnosed,” so I guess he has ARC or AIDS himself); Barbara Probst Solomon, and Eileen Lottman.

Mostly I kept quiet, and when I opened my mouth once, it was sort of a disaster.

During a break from brainstorming about the benefit, Barbara and Eileen were decrying Dukakis’ choice of Bentsen in their doctrinaire Upper West Side liberal way, and I said “Well, I think it’s a good choice.”

“You do?” someone said, and I suddenly felt everyone staring at me.

“Why?” Eileen asked, and I said – I don’t know how I got the nerve – “Because it upsets people like you, liberals who won’t vote Republican anyway. Dukakis needs people who are conservatives – he needs white middle class men.”

“Well,” said Eileen with disdain, and then she turned to the others: “I think we women should do something.”

And instead of leaving well enough alone, I said, “Well, Geraldine Ferraro didn’t do too much for the Democrats last time.”

Pamela smiled at me, but I could tell everyone thought I was a nut. Except any rational observer with experience in national politics would agree with me.

Of course, these people think that the sun, not to mention the U.S., rises and sets on Manhattan.

The main thrust of the AIDS Committee meeting was that we will each get personalized fundraising letters we can use for appeals to our friends, and that we’d all try to get ten other sponsors.

Of course, I don’t know many wealthy people, and I certainly don’t know the names the other committee members tossed around: Jackie Onassis, Liz Taylor, Stephen Sondheim, Meryl Streep, Bill Blass, Shelley Winters, Ed Koch, etc.

Obviously I was way out of my league, but I guess I must be getting more mature because I didn’t feel intimidated.

(But I did pick up some fun gossip – like when one of the women asked if Elizabeth Taylor could get the support of her “boyfriend” Malcolm Forbes, Gregory explained laughingly that whatever the tabloids are saying, Forbes was gay and definitely not romantically involved with Liz.)

When the other committee members talked about getting people at the beach communities involved, they meant the Hamptons, Fire Island, and Sag Harbor – definitely not Rockaway.

Of course, the truth is that I like coming off as working class among the cultured rich and that I’m rather proud of being an iconoclast and going against the conventional wisdom wherever I may be.

Remember how the radicals in college called me a wishy-washy liberal? I stuck to my beliefs, however, and some of those “radicals” were the first to sell out.

I guess my giving $100 made PEN think I had money and maybe connections. But surely $100 is not so extraordinary a donation when, as Gregory said, people in Manhattan routinely spend that much or more on an evening out.

I think I’ve got decent values and good priorities. Maybe I don’t fit in neatly with any group, but I feel comfortable with my life and my friends and family and work, etc.

Or do I?


Saturday, July 16, 1988

7 PM. It’s a hot, humid, hazy day – with no relief in sight. The 90° temperatures and high humidity we’ve had nonstop for two weeks is really getting to me.

There has been only one nice week all the time I’ve been in New York: the first week of July.

I can’t recall there ever having been such a long string of 90°-plus days. I thank God I have an air conditioner and can’t understand how anyone in the city can live without one if they can afford it.

Josh came over at 6:30 PM yesterday. After a brief discussion of politics (Josh won’t vote for Dukakis because he’s not tough on crime), he began his usual recounting of harassment experiences.

When I mentioned that Crad’s girlfriend thought Josh’s problem was a vitamin deficiency, he became outraged and started ranting about how “every fucking day I have to face those fucking lowlifes as they fucking follow me around.”

In his letter, Crad said that based on reading Josh’s log, Crad believes Josh is heading toward a serious breakdown.

Crad mentioned that he’d always thought it odd when Josh stopped writing him because of Crad’s support of a revisionist, anti-Holocaust writer. Josh told Crad such people were his “personal enemies.”

We went out to eat and then sat on a bench on Riverside Drive. When the subject was something other than the harassment, Josh seemed normal and pleasant to be around.

He says he will eventually see a therapist – but not yet.

Why not now?

I wouldn’t understand, he told me.

I care for Josh very much, but it’s increasingly difficult to be with him. There’s nothing I can do to help him; I’m out of suggestions, and being a sympathetic listener isn’t easy. He needs the help of a professional.

In bed, I thought that next time I should tell Josh that if I thought he really were imagining everything, I wouldn’t tell him to see a shrink because he’d be so crazy, it wouldn’t do any good.

I just don’t know what to do, but as a good friend, I feel obligated to help; however, I can’t stand listening any longer to these stories about people following Josh and his ruminations on every incident.

Whether I believe the harassment is real or not, it doesn’t help Josh.

Up at 8 AM, I had breakfast, caught up on the newspapers and exercised. Then I did some shopping at the grocery and drug store.

When I got to Scott’s at 1:30 PM, his little dachshund Lolita met me at the door. I’ve never been overly fond of the breed, but Scott’s dog is a charmer who took to me at once, licking me just the way China does.

Obviously Scott is crazy about the dog, the daughter of a dog owned by Scott’s cousin in Los Angeles. He went out there to pick her up last month.

Scott and I had lunch at the local diner. Right away I noticed that he’d taken up smoking again. He told me that after he quit, he gained 25 pounds and felt very depressed.

A therapist and antidepressants didn’t help, so Scott resuming smoking, immediately lost weight, and felt much happier.

Scott didn’t hesitate to tell me that I appeared to have gained 15 pounds, which isn’t true – and even if it were, it would be insensitive to say so.

But Scott’s insensitivity has always been part and parcel of his nature: he’s oblivious to anyone but himself.

It was good to spend a couple of hours with him and catch up on his news, but I wouldn’t want to take him in higher or more frequent doses.

He’s still at his same job, which is “boring.” He feels “intellectually stagnant.”

Two months ago he put a personals ad in New York and got 125 replies. He met eight women in person and he’s now dating one of them, “a very nice Korean woman named M.J. Park.”

When I told him what I was doing, he seemed to listen occasionally.

He got a short haircut yesterday, and it emphasized how his hair is entirely grey. It was his birthday recently, and he said with disbelief, “I’m 36.”

“So I’m 38,” I said, and then I caught my mistake. Because I like to prepare myself for the next birthday, I tend to think I’m a year older than I really am.

Scott forgot his wallet, so I paid for lunch; upstairs, he reimbursed me (but short-changed me by two dollars).

Then he took Lolita out for a walk – everyone stopped to comment on the dog and how cute she was.

I took the Tenth Avenue bus home and was relieved to see that nobody had taken my mail even though the door to the box was open.

Ronna called and we had a good talk. Tonight she and Jordan are going out to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their first date.

Ronna is going to Sue’s tomorrow, as their cousin Esty is coming over with the baby. And Ronna’s mother is coming into New York this weekend after a business trip to Dallas.


Sunday, July 17, 1988

9 PM. Happily, the situation with the show was resolved today to everyone’s best interests.

Actually, when I got to Primary Stages, it seems that all had agreed my material wouldn’t work in the context of the show.

Rehearsals had been going on all week without me, and I felt relieved and also gratified that Anson and the others asked me to stay and provide input.

There were tensions between Anson and Tony Vellela, who felt that Anson had usurped power and humiliated him in front of the actors by arbitrarily cutting lines in one of Tony’s sketches.

Joe Fodor disappeared as director, and Andrew was on a movie shoot in Texas, so they had all been working without a director.

But the actors were good, and I stayed not only for a run through but also for the 4 PM reading for Casey Childs, the artistic director of Primary Stages, who seemed really smart.

Tomorrow they’re having another reading for some people who are also interested, including a woman from HBO.

I enjoyed the show more now that it was polished and I knew I wasn’t going to be a part of it. When I left, I said goodbye to Tony, Mark, Kathy Giaimo and the actors, and I told Anson, “Call me if you need me.”

Probably he won’t, and my association with the revue is over – but I feel very glad that it was all done in such an amicable fashion.

I like leaving jobs and projects like a mensch and dread the kind of leave-takings Teresa has had in her jobs and friendships.

Today was yet another scorcher, and I made it home just before heavy thunderstorms hit at 7 PM.

Now I feel free to concentrate on other projects in the seven weeks left in this summer.

First, I’ve got to get my five-page paper on using computers to teach problem-solving and critical thinking for Howard Budin’s class out of the way.

Then I want to work on my fiction and see if I can turn my monologue into a magazine article.

I intend to spend most of the week close to home, awaiting the mail (I doubt if Oscar will move very swiftly on getting me a new lock and key for the mailbox) and watching the convention in Atlanta.

All the news is about Jesse Jackson’s demands and miffed feelings, and the suspense is whether there will be party unity.

Essentially Jackson took his black followers over a cliff; they’ve got nowhere to go now and a lot of emotion stirred up by their dashed hopes.

As a longtime convention watcher, I know these gatherings have lives of their own; each one has a special mood.

I think Dukakis has done just about everything right, but somehow I can’t believe that a Democrat can win the White House in the 1980s.TC mark

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