A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1975


Tuesday, September 2, 1975

I am totally zonked tonight after spending the day babysitting for Cousin Michael. It was exhausting, like a regular work day. I watched him from 9 AM until 6:30 PM while Robin was at work.

Right now the dull headache I’ve had off and on for the last ten hours is back – it’s definitely tension, not sinus – and I almost want to rush out and have a vasectomy after spending the day with a kid.

I have no patience for children – or rather, it takes a lot out of me to show the infinite patience that I exhibited today. I’m sure Michael enjoyed himself tremendously, for he kept saying, at odd moments, “I like you.”

And I do love my little cousin. Perhaps that’s the reason I let him take advantage of me; if I cared less for him (or if I were his parent and accustomed to his constant presence), I would have let him stay by himself more.

But today I played with him constantly: we had pillow fights and we played Star Trek and we played with his superhero dolls and we worked on a ridiculously hard Planet of the Apes puzzle and we made a mock pinball machine and we crayoned and painted and we watched endless hours of “children’s” television.

At 9 AM, I arrived at Robin’s, and she was out the door right away, saying she’d be off work at 5:30 PM and home soon after that. Michael had a half a slice of toast for breakfast and then kept wanting to know when Batman would be on.

I tried to explain that it was on at 4 PM, which was late afternoon, but he persisted in asking me every fifteen minutes or so if Batman would be on next.

He got out the glue and played with that, and things got messy. When he went to the bathroom, he got urine on his pants and I had to change them. Thank goodness he’s able to walk on his crutches; if he were any more immobile, I would have really gone off the deep end.

Unfortunately, Robin didn’t have an extra key to the apartment, so I couldn’t take him out. And Robin’s refrigerator was not exactly well-stocked; there were less than ten items inside it.

Michael had half a slice of bread with peanut butter for lunch – if that’s all he wanted to eat, it was fine with me – while I made do with the last two slices each of bologna and American cheese and the sole apple in sight.

Grandma Sylvia telephoned twice, seemingly wondering how a helpless child like me could be caring for an even younger, more helpless child. Aunt Sydelle phoned once, just before she left for the hospital to see Monty.

And a black man phoned; I told him that Mrs. Shein would be home in the evening. I wonder if it was her old boyfriend Drew.

Out of the clear blue sky, Michael said to me: “I know what a guilt trip is.”

“What?” I said.

“A guilt trip is when you blame someone for something they didn’t do. Drew used to lay guilt trips on my mother all the time. We went through a heavy scene, but now the relationship is over.”

It was weird to hear those words out of the mouth of a six-year-old. He mentioned that Drew had robbed a bank, which could be true – but I had no interest in prying information out of him, so I left it at that.

When Michael was momentarily preoccupied with TV, I called Alice, who said she was feeling fine and now doesn’t think she has mono. Alice wanted to know if I’d go with her to Weight Watchers tonight, but I told her I’d be too tired.

Alice got the Alumni Bulletin in the mail and said there was a picture of me talking to Skipper Jo Davidson at Homecoming. Just what I need: more notoriety.

I couldn’t really talk with Alice for long, as Michael kept banging my head with a pillow, so I told her I’d speak to her another time.

Robin came home an hour late, very apologetic: the dentist was booked solid today and had a couple of emergencies, and that delayed her. Soon after she arrived, I took my leave and was grateful that Mom had a hot dinner awaiting me.

Elihu called. I thought it might have something to do with a teaching job at LIU, but he just wanted to say hello. After spending the day with a six-year-old, it was good to talk with another adult.

I guess I won’t be teaching this term after all. I’m very, very disappointed.

I’ve been thinking of that kid “Gemini” whose ad in The Aquarian I answered. He’s 17 years old. In my response, I said I was 20, because I figured he’d rather meet a younger guy. But why did I lie? And what made me think I have anything in common – aside from physical attraction, and that’s not a definite factor, either – with a boy of 17?

He’s closer to Jonny’s age than to my own. No matter how intelligent he is, or how quickly kids mature today, he’d be lacking in the experience that I’ve had in living. When it comes to life, I may be a slow learner, but I was 17 a dozen lifetimes ago.

I’m not sure how much I’d have in common with my 17-year-old self. Which raises a couple of important questions: Why am I attracted to teenage guys of 17 and 18, and why, at 24, do I continue to think of myself as a “kid” rather than as a man?

If I were killed in some crime or accident, the newspapers would refer to me as a man. I’m heading for 30 sooner than I think; in fact, I’m closer to 30 than I am to 17. I suppose a facile answer is that I’ve inherited my parents’ preoccupation with being youthful.

But until I start seeing myself as a man, I’ll remain just a boy. These are the times when I miss therapy.

Wednesday, September 3, 1975

Fall arrived overnight. Last night I had two typical start-of-semester dreams, about not being able to get to the first class of the term on time. And a cool breeze blew from the window this morning; it remained cool all day.

The atmosphere seems somehow different, charged with more electricity, perhaps. The pace of my life has speeded up again, and the focus is outward rather than inward now.

So perhaps it was appropriate that I finished “A Senior’s Diary: Autumn 1972” this morning; I had it xeroxed at the Junction. My novel – if it is a novel – is nearly 300 pages long. I’ll probably continue with it, but not for a while; still, I feel what I have stands up on its own.

Josh called this morning, saying he went to the Village with Allan the other day, and they saw Stacy, who, naturally, completely ignored them. Josh and I made plans to meet later in the day to get permission to register for our courses.

Todd also called, to find out what courses, other than the writing courses, I was taking, and I told him I’d see him at registration, too.

I got a shocking letter from John Hinz, Dean of Humanities at Richmond: it was a notice that the graduate program in English was being terminated as of September 1, 1975, although students who were on the dissertation level could continue to get their degree at Richmond.

I called Dean Hinz and explained my situation and told him that I had all my course work and got a grade on my thesis, but I still had to take my foreign language exam. He assured me that I would still get a degree at Richmond, but he told me I’d better come down and make sure about it.

Dean Hinz said that he and the other faculty members are deeply distressed. But can you imagine how a student in the middle of course work would feel, getting that letter? True, they’re granted admittance to any other M.A. in English program at CUNY, but that’s such a hassle, changing schools.

I went over to Josh’s at 3 PM and we walked over to James Hall, where we met up with Todd; the three of us are all taking Modern American Poetry. I also got permission to take History of the English Language. Taking twelve credits will save me $150 because they bill you only for ten credits maximum, and after that, the credits are free.

I ran into Prof. Murphy, who’s teaching the language course, and I told him I’d be taking it. “God help you,” he said jokingly.

Simon was at registration, too; I think he was taking a Theater course with Todd, which is good, because I don’t want to see too much of him.

Josh and Todd said that neither of them wrote a thing over the summer, but Josh got a very nice letter from Constance Glickman of New Writers saying “Nice Day for Ducks” just missed being put in the magazine – because it was too controversial.

It was good to see old friends there in James Hall: I caught up with Glen, and Carole Itzkowitz gave me a big kiss; she said she and Irv bought a house in Little Neck just before he lost his teaching job.

On the long lines at registration, I heard so many sad stories: most of the grad students are public school teachers, after all, and a good percentage of them also just got laid off due to the city’s drastic budget cuts.

The long lines were a pain, but I got all my courses and I was out of there by 5 PM. Outside, I found Anna and explained to her that she had registered for a course she couldn’t take; as usual, she was in a fog.

I just hope the MFA program at Brooklyn isn’t canceled.

I got a postcard from Ronna from Cape Cod. She writes:

Coming here is almost like coming home. (Do I sound like John Denver? – groan.) We’re in West Dennis in a small cabin on a river. Everyone is fine. The dog is running around all the time, initiating trees. Sue and I drove into Hyannis last night. Right now Mom and Ben are doing an impression of J. McDonald and N. Eddy. (And they say there’s no more romance.) – Love, Ronna

It was a sweet gesture on Ronna’s part to write me. She’s a doll.

Friday, September 5, 1975

9 PM. It’s Rosh Hashona tonight: the Jewish New Year. And I feel that a new year is beginning for me, or at least a new cycle of my life. This weekend marked the end of a productive summer spent mostly alone, writing, thinking, taking the French course.

And this week I made the way clear for an autumn agenda: finally getting my M.A. from Richmond, registering for my classes at Brooklyn – and today I got a part time job.

At the college placement office, I found a position as a delivery person for a Canarsie laundromat. As soon as I got the card from the office, I called, went down to the store, and was hired. It’s at the Glenwood Laundry, near Rockaway Parkway, and the job involves delivering laundry to the homes of people in the neighborhood four days a week, from 9 AM to about 1 PM or so.

The job fits in with my schedule; I’ll have to use my car, but they will give me a $5-a-week gas allowance, and I won’t have to pay the 50¢ transit fare, and most of the time, I’ll be on my own.

I just need enough money to live on, and the 40¢ for each delivery will average from $30-$40 a week, which is comparable to what I was making at Alexander’s, at the library, at the Voice, or teaching at LIU,

And I can dress as I please with no one looking over my shoulder. It’s certainly worth a try, especially now that my savings account is dwindling away. I’d like to have money to spend on nice clothes and maybe some concerts or movies, as well as lunch money.

I feel good about the job. The woman in charge, Andrea, seems very sweet. The job doesn’t start until a week from Tuesday, so I can get myself accustomed to school this week. It takes a load off my mind, basically.

Actually, I think what propelled me into action was a dream I had last night – one of many exhilarating dreams – about going back to my job at the Flatbush library.

Having a job, however menial, reinforces a positive attitude toward myself; writing is fantastic, but work for money provides other emotional rewards.

This afternoon I went over to the Briarwood library to pick up a copy of the text I’ll be using in Murphy’s History of the English Language course. I wasn’t about to spend the $12.50 on the book, so I called the Brooklyn and Queens libraries and found out that the Briarwood branch had the only copy.

Driving home on Queens Boulevard, I heard a bulletin over the car radio: a woman tried to assassinate President Ford outside the California State Capitol in Sacramento. A young follower of Charles Manson, she aimed a gun at Ford, but Secret Service men grabbed it before she could fire. A close call.

Yesterday I had spotted Ronna’s sister and her friend at a bus stop and gave them a lift home. But when I got to the house, I noted Henry’s car in the driveway and didn’t think it would be couth to drop in uninvited. So I called the house later and spoke to Ronna’s mother.

Late this afternoon, Ronna returned my call, wishing me a happy new year. (Or “Good yontof,” as she says.) She had a good time in Cape Cod, except she developed a stomach virus in the middle of the trip.

Thanks to my advice, Ronna said, she didn’t go back to the city for Susan’s sake to see the movie, and she’s glad she followed my advice; although Susan was miffed, she soon forgot the whole thing.

Ronna’s going to start looking for a temporary job soon, but she hopes that she’ll be in grad school by January.

We laughed about the Alumni Bulletin, and I learned that another of her Class Notes was “in the family”: Greg Dorfman, who graduated last year, was listed as getting his masters in Speech from BC this year. Greg is Ben’s son and thus Ronna’s future stepbrother.

I also spoke to Alice, but she was in a rush to meet Robert for dinner; he arrived home from England last weekend, his dissertation presumably completed.

Monday, September 8, 1975

Tomorrow the fall term at Brooklyn College begins, and I’m looking forward to it. I feel ready to move into a new routine and hope that this will be a good semester.

I slept very late this morning and took advantage of the 80° sun to get in my last bit of suntan for the summer. It’s more than just that I like feeling tanned and nice-looking; I enjoy feeling the sun’s rays beating down upon me.

If the days to come are to be less selfish and gratifying, perhaps they’ll be less lonely, too. It’s not just the old biological urges that creep up on me in the middle of the night; I feel I have a lot to give, and I want to share it with someone. I also want love in return.

Last night I thought of Brad. When I answered his ad in the East Village Other the day after the first moon landing in 1969 – I think I can still remember how it went: “Young, attractive male, 23, seeks masculine companion, 18-25, with whom the process of living can become truth” – I was a neurotic mess of an adolescent.

Brad overwhelmed me and frightened me, and I refused his friendship – not his love, but just his friendship – because I wasn’t ready for it. I have no regrets about what I did. Time helped me grow up, but I see now that I would like to be a Brad to someone else, maybe to that 17-year-old who put that ad in the Aquarian.

I remember being astounded by Brad: how he looked healthy and not guilty; how he seemed to know about everything, from the reliquaries he showed me in The Cloisters to the right drink to order; how he was alone, with his parents dead, and how he could handle himself.

Brad told me once that I was more screwed up than anyone he had ever met; I guess he was referring to sex, but in 1969 that could have applied to me in a general sense, too. And I lied to Dr. Lipton, telling him that Brad was my lover, and that lie led to my leaving therapy with that old psychiatrist.

In a way, that lie set me free to discover the truth about myself. And now Brad is a doctor, just as Dr. Lipton is, and I suppose Brad is helping people all the time. I remember him saying how much he loved medicine; I’m certain he’s a fine doctor, as he is a fine human being.

Here I am, about the age Brad was when I met him, and I want to astonish and help and love someone in trouble like the 18-year-old I was back in 1969. The more I think about it, the more I see life – a successful life – as the reconciling of opposites.

I had the need to be homosexual before I could be able to have sexual relationships with women; I had to realize the intensity of my hatred of my parents before I could realize the deepness of my love for them; I had to be alone before I could be with people.

Paradoxes are the loveliest things. I know that when I begin a sentence with “Oddly enough. . .” I’m describing something important.

Tonight I went to the Weight Watchers class with Alice; I was amazed to find that despite all my cheating, I’ve lost 2½ more pounds these past two weeks. I’m going to try my best and maybe I’ll lose some more weight. But as Iris said, it’s not how fast you can lose weight that’s important; it’s the discipline the program gives you.

Alice told me about seeing Mr. Rapp, that gym teacher, again. Now that she told him her mother’s leaving for Europe on Friday, he’ll be around the house, and that’s too bad because Alice is degrading herself with him.

I feel sorry for her. Yes, I laugh – as she said Robert did – when she told Robert about her “cheap affairs,” but it seems so pathetic, running here and there and getting nowhere, really. That’s Alice’s whole life these days – although I guess in a different way, it may be mine as well.

She said Robert is fine. His dissertation has yet to be finished, and he’s taken an apartment on West 100th Street.

There was a very pretty girl, a new member, sitting across from Alice and me tonight, with a nice nose, straight brown hair, freckled arms, just a few pounds over. I smiled at her and she smiled back, but I heard her mention a boyfriend. Still, there are other possibilities. . .

Marc went back to school at TCI today, but Jonny will be staying home tomorrow because of a teacher’s strike called by the union’s rank-and-file to protest the layoffs and budget cuts.

Wednesday, September 10, 1975

3 PM. My outlook today is much brighter than it was yesterday, and I feel relatively ready to tackle the next few months of my life.

Last night Gary called with some very good news: his sister and brother-in-law finally found a baby that they can adopt. The child, a boy, was born upstate on Sunday, and it’s to be a direct adoption from the 17-year-old white mother. So Gary’s going to be an uncle.

Gary is still pretty distressed over the situation with Kay, and like me after the first day at Brooklyn, Gary was feeling fairly disgusted after his first day of the term at Columbia. It’s hard to believe he’s a third-year grad student already; I remember Gary telling me how snobbish the third-year students were to him when he started the program.

Alice descended (from her bicycle) on the house while I was on the phone with Gary, and I heard earnest negotiations going on between her and Jonny. When I hung up with Gary, I learned that Alice’s brother is sending her tickets to fly to Germany on September 25.

But she can’t go unless she has someone to feed the cat once a day, so she’ll pay Jonny to go over there, and if he can’t make it, Marc and I will manage. Alice doesn’t want her aunt in the apartment while she and her mother are both away.

Alice also gave me my belated birthday present; I’d long forgotten about it, but I was overjoyed to see what she brought me: Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Born to Run. I love Springsteen, the guy who’s being built up as the new Dylan: his sensuous lyrics about the gaudy and seamy side of life in Asbury Park and New Jersey are fantastic.

Alice and I went down to the basement with our diet sodas and listened to the album, which was great. We reminisced about our days in public school and how we worshipped our teachers.

Alice recalled how Miss Gura, our second grade teacher, whom I remember as a kind of fairy princess, one day went up and down the aisles, showing each of us her huge engagement ring; then she said, “Now you can spend the rest of the afternoon making me engagement cards.” Now, looking back, we can see what a dope Miss Gura must have been.

After Alice left, I went upstairs to read one of Simon’s new stories, and against my will, I totally adored it. While Simon may be an obnoxious guy, he’s an excellent writer, and tomorrow I intend to tell him how much enjoyment his story gave me.

You can’t let personalities get in the way to your reaction to people’s writing. Anyhow, it made me feel much better about this term’s MFA program.

The other night I called Ronna, and we had a fine talk. She should be looking for a temporary job now, and I hope she finds something soon. I told her I’m hesitant to call her because when I do phone, she’s always out. “You’re such a social butterfly these days,” I said.

Ronna replied that I just manage to call her on the wrong days. When Ivan calls her, he finds her home all the time and keeps saying he worries about Ronna because she’s not getting out enough.

I’d like to see Ronna soon, and I suppose we’ll get together as soon as both of us get settled for the fall.

At 5:30 PM today, I have an Alumni Association Finance Committee meeting; I’m glad it was switched to the college from the Salomon Brothers offices in Manhattan. Then I have Prof. Murphy’s course after that. So little by little, I’m getting into the swim of things.

I even started a story about Brad last night: a very anecdotal, sketchy piece called “Kenny, Anytime” – but it allayed my neurotic fears that I’m not going to be able to write fiction during the school year.

Today I look good, except for a sprinkling of acne on my cheek and forehead, and I feel fine, except for an ingrown toenail. It strikes me that I aggravate both conditions by squeezing pimples and cutting the nails too deeply: it’s as if I were trying to mutilate myself little by little.

The teachers’ strike goes on, and Jonny says he’s happy about that.