A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late April, 1976


Tuesday, April 20, 1976

6 PM. The heat wave is continuing. Yesterday and today I spent only a total of two hours in the sun, but I’m getting tanned. It’s nice to have such an early summer, and delightful that it happened while I was on vacation.

This great Easter holiday makes up for the lousy intersession I had in January. I’m feeling good, and things seem to be holding up all right.

Last evening I took the subway into Manhattan to see my favorite author, Manuel Puig, discuss his new novel (just translated into English by Suzanne Jill Levine), The Buenos Aires Affair.

The event was held at the Center for Inter-American Relations, a consulate-like building across the street from Hunter College at 68th and Park. Most everyone there seemed to be connected with the center: all were prosperous-looking South Americans who spoke to each other in Spanish.

Puig is a balding Latin fellow in his late thirties or early forties. From reading his books, I had thought he was a homosexual, and indeed he seemed very gay, with a lisp and those hand gestures. He loves old movies so much.

I was bored until I got to ask him a question about how he came to write Betrayed by Rita Hayworth using the stylistic devices he did in the book, and he gave me an interesting answer.

He grew up in a Pampas town and felt totally isolated and alienated from the machismo ethic of the cowboys. He felt stifled there, and the cinema was his only escape.

Eventually he left for Europe, where he worked as an assistant director, at which he was a failure because he couldn’t get anyone to obey his authority.

Then he tried to write screenplays in English: witty romantic comedies which were twenty years out of date. A friend suggested he write in Spanish about the things he knew, and he could write only in the voices of the people around him when he was a child.

(Obviously, Toto in Betrayed is Puig himself.)

And that’s how he managed to finish his first novel, using all those narrative devices and without one sentence in the third person. He claims his psychological troubles with authority led him to feel a lack of confidence in the third person.

There was a reception afterwards, with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I went up to Puig and told him how much I admired his work and how much I learned from it. He seemed embarrassed when I told him he was “the master of technique.”

I spoke to Ms. Levine and complimented her on her translations of Puig and other difficult Latin American writers and books like José Donoso’s Hell Has No Limits, which I loved.

Two Argentinian women came up to me and said the evening’s discussion would have gone better if I had been the moderator. They were right, of course.

Today I learned that Dad’s store is supposed to open on Thursday; both he and Mom seem to be getting accustomed to the new routine. Marc and Mom bought a new car – a ’76 Camaro – and they’ll pick it up this weekend.

This morning I wrote another short piece, called “The Cunning Linguist and Other Tories,” and while I received a rejection from the Boston University Journal, its editor, Paul Kurt Ackermann, wrote me a detailed letter of criticism explaining how to fix up certain things in the stories.

I realize that as summer approaches, the number of the opportunities for little magazine publication diminishes, so I think mostly I’ll stock up my arsenal of stories for an all-out attack in September.

This afternoon I worked at the Fiction Collective, where a lot of manuscripts had come in and needed to be sent to new readers. I also had to reject and return three manuscripts.

I’m getting concerned that of the 25-odd manuscripts circulating among the Collective’s author/members, none is near the four necessary Yes votes for publication. But I suppose there’s plenty of time between now and next year’s fall.

I don’t know how long I can continue working for the Collective. I don’t really have the time to spare from my own writing, teaching and MFA schoolwork duties to go to Braziller and look at the First Novel Contest entries.

While I know I should be typing up my thesis, that chore seems like such a drag: retyping old stuff when I’m interested in all the stories I haven’t written yet.

Saturday, April 24, 1976

8 PM. I’m tired, and I think I’ll get to bed as early as I can. Tonight we turn the clocks ahead and I lose an hour’s sleep. I’ve been making do with less sleep lately, but I’ve been having enough dreams to satisfy me.

I guess I misjudged Dad’s own attitude about the store. I heard him telling Mom, “I think I’m going to walk out of there eventually . . . I don’t know. This is not really what I want to do . . .”

The important thing is that Dad and Mom are communicating again. They’re going out to dinner now, and last night their bedroom door was locked, and that’s a good sign.

Mom finally came around to deciding that in the end, the decision has to be Dad’s alone. In three days, the store did $26,000 business, and no doubt it will be very lucrative eventually. But the hours are too much for Dad.

He’s never really known how to be a boss, how to delegate responsibility. Yesterday I noticed that everyone in the store comes to him for a decision, and that shouldn’t be: there should be a chain of command, with the manager overseeing things and making the major decisions, not telling the stock boys where every piece of goods belongs.

I’m not worried, really. I have enough confidence in Dad and maybe Mom, too, to know that somehow they’ll make a go of things financially. But who knows? Dad might learn he could be happier doing something else.

Of course, jobs are not easy to come by for a man of fifty, especially jobs which would pay the kind of money Dad needs. But hopefully I will soon be completely self-supporting, and if Marc likewise gets off his ass, he might be able to ease some of Dad’s financial burden.

Anyway, I liked the story I wrote in Roosevelt Field yesterday, “The Lamentations of Gerald Meyers.” People kept coming by the mall food court and staring at me; I seem to have felt this even without looking up from my furious scribbling at the table. The story needed to come out, and that was its time.

I’ve been reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet; I read the letters delicately, gingerly, because I feel there’s wisdom in every sentence. He says the most important thing about a work of art is whether it has sprung from necessity.

It has been thirty minutes since I wrote that last sentence, and in the interim, I have written another story, a two-page Borgesian piece on the futility of writing stories out of necessity. It’s called “Yet Another Story,” and it’s either a work of genius or trash.

The line between them is hazy, and I’m too close to it now to understand it. Maybe I’ll rip it up in the morning. But I doubt it. I feel myself coming closer and closer to maybe half my potential as an artist and a genius.

I shouldn’t say shocking things like that, I know, but there are times when I feel so confident that I am getting near the truth. I don’t ever want to get there, but I don’t have to worry since it is not possible anyway.

Or am I going mad? Very well – lucid, logical, precise writing coming up next:

While xeroxing my “Lamentations” story this morning, I ran into Alice, who had bicycled over to the Junction to get the new issue of Henrietta run off at the copy center’s offset press.

She asked me to come up with some jokes for the material she’s writing for that Japanese-Jewish singer/comedienne. I could think only of a vulgar joke whose punch line was “Nip on ’ese.” No good.

Tonight Alice is “gussied up” and at the Brooklyn Museum ball, wearing a fancy dress she’ll return to A&S on Monday (she keeps the tags on but hidden), and making whoopee with such notables as Gretchen Wyler and Governor Carey.

When I got back from working downtown, I went to see Next Stop, Greenwich Village at the Avenue U: it was so-so Mazursky.

From there, I drove out to Rockaway to visit Grandpa Herb, who was watching a Western and smoking a pipe, and Grandma Ethel, who told me that earlier today she sat down on a bench on the boardwalk next to a woman who said, “You know, my husband died in March . . . Today I threw away his teeth.”

Tuesday, April 27, 1976

8 PM. It may be freezing cold, but at least it’s still light out. I feel relieved now that the comprehensive exam is over. It was responsible for my depression and anxiety these past few days.

Still, when I finished writing my journal entry yesterday, I wrote a story. Or rather, I transformed my diary entries for another day – the depressing, boring day of January 9 – into a prose piece by putting it into the second person. That “you” makes it sound so weird.

And I just put on a burst of energy and managed to get my thesis together. I used liquid paper to whiten out my address on the first pages of the stories and the page numbers from all the pages. Then I typed up a new set of page numbers that go consecutively for all the stories in the thesis.

I added a title page and a table of contents, and this morning I took it to the copy center after Dad gave me $15 to get it xeroxed. They said they’d have it ready by the weekend.

I just hope it’s all right: Jon said he’d approve it, but the people in the School of Humanities may not like my margins, which are marginal, and my penciled-in corrections. Worse comes to worst and I’ll shell out for a professional typist to redo it.

I lay in bed for a couple of hours this morning. There must be something to this “timing” business: I was saving up my energies for the comprehensive exam.

On campus, when I saw Dean Jones this morning, he said, “You still look like a freshman.” I told him I was on my way to take my comprehensive exam for my second master’s degree.

We took the exam in the MFA office, and it really wasn’t difficult: one essay explicating a passage from Ulysses or As I Lay Dying; one essay giving us a choice of two questions, and I chose to explain the significance of the titles of Jude the Obscure, Sons and Lovers, and Bleak House; the final question traced the development of the short story from traditional modes to innovative ones.

I was the first one to finish at 6 PM, and I was very happy to hand the paper over to Jon; I’m 101% certain that I passed. So now I’ve completed almost all the requirements for the MFA. I’ve still got to write a paper for Kaye’s class, and I’m thinking of rewriting my Huxley/Lawrence paper from Richmond.

Anyway, I’ll be a little less edgy now, I think: I still have my LIU responsibilities, though. Before the week is over, I’m going to have mark ten term papers.

And we’re moving into high gear with Junction; Donny phoned tonight and he told me to have all the stories I want to include in the issue ready by Monday, when I’ll meet him and Marie.

I called Debbie Quinlan, who has a lot of the stories from my class, and her mother said she’d have her call me back. I’m glad that Junction will definitely be coming out; I’m fond of my “Garibaldi in Exile” and am glad it has a home now.

I also ran into Mark, who said that he and Consuelo will be at the party on Saturday night. And I spoke to Gary, who’s been arguing with his mother over every detail of his engagement and wedding, and with Josh, who’s upset because his dog has a serious illness.

Jon gave me a letter from Seymour Simckes, who says he’s voting No on two manuscripts and urges me not to send him any more of them, a plea Jon said to ignore.

On Nostrand Avenue, I passed a crazy lady who was yelling out strange things, and I said, “Right! You’re right!” and she said to me, “God bless you! I’ll say a prayer for you tonight!”

In the mail today I got two rejections, as well as the first issue of the Westerly Review from its fiction editor, Dana. He apologized for the “shoddy quality” of the first issue’s printing and told me that he’d make sure the second issue, containing my work, would look a lot better, as he’ll be using a new printer.

I wrote Dana a long letter back. It’s fun to make friends with small press and little magazine people.

Voting in the Pennsylvania primary is now over, and undoubtedly Carter will win. Only old Hubert Humphrey can stop him now.

Wednesday, April 28, 1976

6 PM. I’m feeling tired this evening, and I just may skip Prof. Kaye’s class again tonight. Not that I performed any arduous tasks today, but a lot of little chores added up to my weariness, I suppose.

The weather is slowly becoming more seasonable; at least we got out of that 45° bag today.

Last night Debbie Q called me and told me she’d place the Junction prose pieces in the GSO office. Debbie liked “Garibaldi,” so it’s almost certain to go in; she noticed the character of Aida was based on Judy, the friend of Ronna’s who was in Debbie’s sorority (and was later kicked out of it).

Debbie didn’t understand Simon’s story, so I’ll let Marie and Donny take a look at it. I kind of liked it myself.

Last night I stayed up past midnight to watch the Pennsylvania primary results. Carter’s victory was quite impressive, all but destroying the candidacies of Jackson and Udall.

It seems that only Humphrey can stop Carter now, but he won’t enter any primaries, and it may be too late or too unwise to try to derail our friend the peanut farmer.

I have various misgivings about Jimmy Carter the man, but undoubtedly I’d vote for him if he were the Democratic nominee. He’s probably got the best chance to defeat President Ford – assuming Ford knocks off Reagan in Texas and other places.

I had a passel of dreams last night. There was one about me lining up stuffed animals, both my own childhood playthings and my brothers’; in another dream, I was part of the Batman-Robin team (probably I was Robin: Dick Grayson), being chased by a pair of costumed crooks.

At exactly 7 AM, I awoke from my last dream and watched the morning news while I did my exercises. I’m compulsive about exercising, but not nearly so much as Jonny with his weight-lifting.

Dad and I have been using the bathroom at the same time on recent mornings; he’s working late tonight, but he was home by 7 PM the past two days. I think he’s definitely going to quit and have to find something new.

This morning at breakfast, Mom showed me a newspaper ad for a co-op apartment in Rockaway, near my grandparents. It was $128 a month, but I’d never be able to get the $2,500 down payment.

Dr. Farber has been at LIU early this week because he’s coordinating the Royal Shakespeare Company’s visit to the school and all the troupe’s activities. In class, I tried to be as interesting as I could, but how interesting can you be when you’re discussing footnotes?

On Friday, I’m having the class write, and their final will be on the last day of the class, three weeks from today.

I had to have something welded on my car – don’t ask me what, as I don’t know one thing from another. All I know is that the noise has stopped and it cost only three dollars.

I received an absolutely haluscious announcement of Gary and Betty’s engagement. It was in such bad taste, with engraved hearts and flowers, Cupids with arrows . . . It was, in fact, an announcement card I’d seen before, from Sindy and Kieran over six years ago – and even then, I thought it was the absolute worst.

Of course, I’ll have to say to Gary: “I received your lovely announcement.”

I went to Dr. Hersh, who repaired my filling and did a lot of painful drilling. “You’re all right if you can stand this without Novocain,” he told me. “I’d have to take Novocain plus nitrous oxide.”

As I always say, I have a high threshold for pain. If I get any pain in the next few days, it’s very likely that I’ll have to have root canal work, as the nerve may be in some danger. So far I just have some sensitivity to air, hot and cold.

I applied for a full-time position as an instructor of English in Chicago, at the Central YMCA Community College, an inner-city school.

And I went to the bank and made another withdrawal; my savings are dwindling away. But let’s face it: money isn’t everything. That’s my cliché of the month.

God, am I a bore today. I suppose I could use some new, exciting adventures. They’ll come soon enough.

Friday, April 30, 1976

11 PM. I’m tired. Last night I didn’t get much sleep, and I spent a number of hours on my feet today at the New York Book Fair. It turned into normal April-May weather again. Dad has quit his job at the store, and he feels very relieved.

This morning I got up early and went to LIU, where I had an easy time of it, as I assigned my students to write a movie review during class. I marked a couple of the papers, but they were so poor that I decided to put off grading the others.

Dr. Farber again exhorted me to attend another Shakespeare Festival event today, and when I told him I had to go to the Book Fair, Dr. Tucker said to him, “They really run him ragged at the Fiction Collective.”

Dr. Tucker did not take a table for Confrontation at this year’s Book Fair at Lincoln Center because he was so discouraged by last year at the Customs House. I drove into Manhattan, annoyed at the heavy traffic, and parked in the Lincoln Center underground garage.

I was walking to where the Book Fair was when a car honked: it was Dick Humphreys, who said he had just dropped Peggy off and was going to park his own car.

I helped Peggy set up the table, putting out our sign and the books we were selling at a discount price.

After getting the Collective table together, I took a long stroll around the room, stopping at various tables, picking up free leaflets as well as spending $12.50 on various chapbooks, magazines and The Directory of American Fiction Writers (I’ve applied for a listing in the directory.)

I guess I’m still shy with strangers, and I felt most embarrassed to go over to the people whose magazines I’ve submitted to.

Finally I introduced myself to Kathy Anderson, editor of Boxspring, who’s a gorgeous blonde I could easily fall in love with (hopelessly, of course). She said that the issue with my story would be out in three weeks and they’d send me a copy.

I was disappointed that Panache was not there, nor was New Writers. More and more, I’m beginning to feel that New Writers will not be around to publish “Coping.”

I talked to people from Assembling, Edgeworks, Fiction Magazine and Fiction (the latter two sent me rejections today, as did another literary magazine), Remington Review, Impact, Epoch, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines (CCLM), etc.

There were a lot of people and a lot of books and magazines. As Dick said, “There’s so much good writing around, and it can’t get distributed.” Dick’s pretty friendly with Bill and Nancy Henderson, whose Pushcart Press I really admire.

I talked with Jackie Eubanks, the Brooklyn College librarian who organized the first New York Book Fair two years ago. I introduced myself to the editor of City, who said she liked my “Spanish Blue.”

I told Ron Schreiber I admired his poetry, and I met Lynne Scher, who was browsing during her lunch hour, and I went to a sparsely-attended poetry reading outside on the Lincoln Center plaza.

Peggy made quite a few sales, and everyone agreed that this year’s Book Fair was much better than last year’s. I really believe that the small press movement is a vital, important thing, although some of these people are undoubtedly on ego-trips and it’s true that a lot of poor stuff gets published.

But this movement is necessary in America today, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Still, I feel that I was inundated with that small press world today.

It’s only now, eight hours since I left Lincoln Center, that I can look it at it in perspective.

I think that the major fault of the small presses is that they assume that there is no other world but theirs. (I felt that way while I was at the Book Fair.) They tend to talk only to each other, not to the wider public, or even to the regular (commercial) New York book and magazine publishers.

For myself, I feel less and less anxious to send out. Now that I’ve proven to myself that I can succeed and get published, each acceptance is less exciting. I’ve been unable to break into the “big” littles, the prestige publications, and really, at this point it’s not all that exciting to see my name in print.

The story’s the thing, and the writing is the true satisfaction. I’ll continue to be an avid reader and buyer, and I think that’s important, and I’ll keep submitting, but there’s no real thrill in it anymore.

Now that I know I can write, my ambitions and my goals are changing – to what, I don’t know, but I think it’s a healthy thing.