A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1976


Monday, August 23, 1976

5 PM. I don’t quite understand what’s going on in my life, and I feel at a loss to cope with the changes. It’s obvious something is up with the Fabrikant job. I guess he’s decided to fire me, but I wonder why he hasn’t told me of his decision and why I haven’t received the money owed to me.

I shall call him tomorrow night definitely – unless I hear from him sooner. I’d really prefer not to work tomorrow anyway, as June called again last night and said she’d pay me $15 if I do a story on the Fiction Collective for The Flatbush Tenant.

Tomorrow I have to write it and get photos she can use in the paper. It shouldn’t be too hard to write the article, and I do need the money badly.

Right now, in terms of money, I’m basically back to where I started four weeks ago. I have $125 in the bank now; the past few weeks I’ve been spending eight or nine dollars a day and this has got to stop.

For one thing, I’ve got to limit dining out. I know I treasure the times when I can go to a restaurant and be alone, but I’ve got to sacrifice that so I can make my money go further.

Maybe I’ll stop buying the newspaper every day and cut down on buying books. I’ve got to reserve most of my money for my work: xeroxing stories, buying paper and supplies and postage stamps.

And movies over three dollars are out. If I can hold myself to a tight budget, I may be able to make it until . . . until whatever happens, happens.

It destroys me inside every week to see Marc’s $75 unemployment check arrive. What I could do on $75! I could live like a king. And Marc does nothing and makes even more money by drug dealing. He flashes around $20 bills like crazy.

And he bitches to Jonny for my asking him for five dollars for food shopping last week, saying I’m “cheap.” When you work for an hour and you know you’re going to paid only three dollars for it, you tend to get cheap.

Five years ago I had $40 a week and I didn’t know where to spend it all. Now I’m sorry that Dad was so generous with my allowance then; it’s made it that much harder to adjust to the way I have to live now.

I went for a job interview at Redbook today – as a full-time clerk/typist at $130 a week – but I failed the typing test, doing only 43 words a minute with ten mistakes.

I feel ashamed to have failed, even though I probably wouldn’t have been suited to the job at all if typing was all that was involved. Failure is a difficult thing to accept in oneself, to say “I have failed” and not try to water the phrase down.

Maybe I did fail the typing test, but that proved only one thing: that I cannot type as well as Redbook wants their employees to type. It is no reflection on me as a person. (Saying that seems so obvious. Then why can’t I trust it?)

Gary phoned last night. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t hurt about his not having asked me to be his attendant: “But with three brothers-in-law and a cousin who can afford the tuxedo rental . . .“ he started, and I interrupted him:

“Gary, you know me, I’m thrilled just to be a guest at your wedding. I don’t care about ceremony.”

Of course I’m relieved not to be a part of the thing. (Is that totally true? Would I have liked to be asked, anyway?) I’m glad I can wear my suit again. (Yes, on the whole I am very glad not to be an usher.)

Bill Hudson of Dogsoldier wrote me that “The Unknown” will definitely appear in his sixth issue, sometime after the first of next year; that’s something to be grateful for.

I was perhaps more productive this past week than ever before, yet today I feel totally bereft of creativity and writing talent. Why am I so hard on myself?

Things are so up in the air now, and I don’t have the familiar to hold onto anymore, not Brooklyn College or my family or my home or Ronna or Gary or a teaching job.

And still, after eight years, even now I fear another breakdown.

Tuesday, August 24, 1976

3 PM. Late yesterday afternoon I called Josh, who asked me if I wanted to come along with him to The Bottom Line to see John Fahey. Right away I said no, that it cost too much money. Josh said that he’d pay for me, that he wanted to see me get out for a change.

Feeling that Josh was right, I said I’d spend my own money and that I’d pick him and Mario up after dinner. I felt guilty about taking time off from writing, and then when June called, wanting me to cover some rent-strike meeting, and I had to say no, I felt even worse.

But the intensity of my guilt made me see that I have indeed become a driven, intense, humorless workaholic and that I need to learn how to be with others and have some fun again.

So I picked up Josh and Mario. We stopped off on Montgomery Place (where Baumbach lives) to pick up Josh’s Woodstock housemate Stevie before I drove into the Village.

After buying our tickets for the show, we went into a place called Adam & Eve for some food. It was there that I first began to realize the extent to which I’ve lost touch with my generation. The atmosphere of the place was the kind of thing I’d hungered for, the companionship of people my own age: good-looking, bright kids.

We met Simon and his sister at The Bottom Line, where I also loved the atmosphere. Chatting with strangers there, I noted that all around me were people I felt a kinship with, and that made me regret the way I have turned myself into a loner.

As Artie Traum played his first set, I thought about how it was four, five, six years ago when I was constantly surrounded by my friends in college and how much I enjoyed doing things with other people back then.

By nature, I am a social creature, and it’s been hard to force myself to give up the company of others in order to achieve the solitude and discipline I thought necessary to become a writer. It made me decide that for a while, I’ve got to go easy on my writing and renew myself with people, replenish my karma by being a part of things again.

I thought about why I’ve never acquired the patience necessary to appreciate good music; perhaps it’s because music is the least intellectual art and the most sensuous.

When John Fahey – balding, fat, seemingly indifferent to the audience – came on and played his lovely improvisations with his guitar, I let myself go where the music took me.

At first I felt restless, but Fahey’s genius lies in his going on so long that you imagine that he’s been playing that guitar your entire life. I actually hoped that he would never stop playing, that I could hear his music while sitting there in The Bottom Line forever.

It felt overwhelming, the range of feeling Fahey can get out of that instrument. I got such enjoyment out of the evening that I even regretted my past hostility toward Simon; I’ve acted like a fool.

(Not that Simon can’t be obnoxious. The guy who was sitting next to me found Simon so annoying that he muttered, “I’m going to blacken your friend’s eye.” I got him to laugh by saying he’d have to wait his turn.)

And while Fahey was playing, I decided that after two years of being alone, I’m ready to fall in love again. I want a girlfriend now; I’ve been alone long enough. I want to feel the kind of initial excitement I felt with Shelli, Ronna and Avis. The three of them are far away now, and it’s time I found someone new.

After dropping everyone off at their homes in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope and Midwood, I drove along Kings Highway, where I found Ronna’s cousin Ellen’s friend Tom waiting for the bus, looking so forlorn that I offered to drive him home.

Tom’s going into his senior year at Brooklyn
College as a theater major and he’s working part-time for a lawyer. He said that as soon as he graduates, he will start looking for jobs as an actor. Tom said all his friends who wanted to be actors are now chickening out.

I told him he must be single-minded and determined and not get discouraged. I hope he makes it, for I’ve always liked Tom.

Today I worked for several hours with Gloria. We’ve decided to move all the Fiction Collective stuff to the MFA office for the time being.

Friday, August 27, 1976

5 PM. A terribly gloomy day. They say the air quality is unhealthy, and I feel it. My sinuses throb; I sleep leadenly. I awoke this morning filled with charley horse in my neck, my back, my shoulders – the result of yesterday’s heavy lifting of Fiction Collective boxes.

All night I had erections that made me so uncomfortable that finally I had to sleep without my briefs. What I hate most is when I have a rock-hard erection and have to go to the bathroom very badly at the same time:

I stand over the toilet, waiting for gravity to do its work, but more often than not, after several minutes I am still pointing to a spot on the ceiling and I have to pee using really hard hand pressure on my cock to keep from splattering urine all over the bathroom.

I don’t know why I’m writing about this.

Last evening I wrote a short and probably very poor story. I have very little inspiration these days, but it doesn’t bother me. Yet there are times when I think I am not living if I am not writing.

I spoke to Cindy last night when I called Mike’s house and he was in the shower. Cindy is getting used to her new, better-paying job in a small office, but she says that she thinks life was not meant to be lived traveling on the subways each day to work in Manhattan.

Everyone on the train looks so depressed in the morning, Cindy said, “But what can you do? The money has to come from somewhere.”

She and Mike have taken a place for their wedding – Temple Sholom, in Mill Basin – a year from tomorrow. Originally they had planned to wait until Mike has a job, but they realized that could be quite a while and that they could make do on Cindy’s salary if need be.

The job situation today is very depressing. Cindy said she and Mike are happy that Mikey is finally doing what he always wanted to do and is starting law school, but she said Stuie graduated from law school in Philadelphia last year and the only job he could get was part-time, a few hours a week at $5 an hour at a local law firm.

Cindy said that Mikey told her and Mike that he’s been going back and forth between his apartment on West 23rd and the beach, and that Larry’s been looking for his own apartment.

When I told her I’d bought them an engagement present, Cindy yelled at me – typical of her. She and Mike are so unpretentious and comfortable. One hesitates to predict this couple or that one will be one of the few to make a marriage work, so I won’t. . .

This morning I awoke with great aches and pains, as I said, but after a shower-massage I felt better. I went to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, checked out their collection of literary magazines, looked at an exhibit of early American manuscripts and literary curios at the Berg Collection, and took out two more volumes of Anaïs Nin’s diaries, which I’m really getting into.

This afternoon I went to visit Grandma Ethel, who looks drawn and who has lost weight. Grandpa Herb called the doctor while I was there, and the lab tests turned out well. Grandma Ethel’s cholesterol is low, the x-rays clear, and there’s no trace of diabetes.

But the angina is very painful, a steel vise of pain in her chest, her shoulders, even her jaw. The nitroglycerin tablets relieve the pain, but they give her headaches. We watched Dinah Shore and then I left for home to join my parents for dinner at the Floridian.

It’s really depressing to watch the decline of our favorite neighborhood restaurant. Tonight it was emptier than ever, and everyone there seems to be in a state of despair. Four years ago we would have had to stand in line for twenty minutes before getting a table, but now all the competition has taken their customers away.

Sunday, August 29, 1976

7 PM. It strikes me that I do not know how to proceed with my life. It is the end of August, the end of the summer. Wednesday is September and where am I?

I have a whole week in front of me and absolutely no structure to it at all. I am not going to school, I am not working, I am not traveling, I am not involved with anyone.

I write – but that’s not enough for me. Maybe if my family life were fixed, I could begin to make decisions. But my parents and brothers are, if anything, more up in the air about the future than I am.

And we’re running through money with little appreciable income. If I were sure Dad and Mom were moving to Florida by a fixed date, I would make plans. What plans, I don’t know.

For the first time in my life – with the exception of 1968, when I had my breakdown – I find myself facing a September without classes and books and learning.

This is preposterous, I want to say. But that does no good, nor does my envy of Ronna beginning graduate school or Mikey beginning law school.

Oh, I’m relatively certain I’m not going to crack up; no doubt I’ll fall into something. For one thing, the lack of money makes doing something a necessity. But I’ve never lived life like that: “falling into things.”

Thank the Lord I have my fiction and this diary to preserve my sanity. Oh, how does one go about preparing oneself to be a cult figure? I want to be famous and rich and have admirers and produce good work and be a part of the world stage.

I want to play a role in literature, in politics, in society. Now I feel cut off from the world. It’s as though I’m trying to get across my message (what Sam Levenson spoke about at commencement) and there’s nobody there to hear it.

I’m not making contact with anyone. Today I had lunch at the Burger King in Hewlett (the one I mentioned in “Roman Buildings”) and behind me on line were a beautiful blond couple about 17.

They were so cute and so fresh-faced, so boyish and girlish and playful that I cherished the moment that I shared a bemused smile with them over somebody making a scene in the restaurant.

I wanted to be them, to be a part of things and 17 again, to feel the first pangs of living as an adult. Now, at 25, I’m already old.

I’m still a baby emotionally, that’s true – but I’m a world-weary, cynical, old-maidish, avuncular baby. How I’d love to be innocent again. Why, I’d even love feeling that stifling adolescent guilt again!

But I fear I’m growing repetitious here, and I can’t stand that. I pleased myself (but not enough – it’s never enough) by writing a story yesterday, “The Domino Theory,” the most Kafkaesque of my stories.

Last night Alice and I went to the movies, to see The Omen, which bored me a little and frightened me not at all. Before we left, Alice had me call up the home for the blind where Jim works and pretend I was a person with a blind uncle and find out the address of the place.

I did so, mostly because I love impersonating people over the phone. Alice wants to “prove her love” (no, strike love – she’s adamant that she does not love Jim, she just can’t get him out of her mind) by showing up at Jim’s place of work.

I think I convinced Alice that in the long run it would only be self-destructive, but she’s such a baby about her crushes that I expect her to go there during the week.

Unlike me, who goes away at the slightest hint of rejection, Alice has no idea when to take no for an answer.

I was at the beach for a bit today with Mikey and his mother; they’re both getting settled in at their new apartments. Now that he’s no longer working, Mikey has little to do but await the start of law school next week.

He said Mason is home, but he hasn’t spoken to him yet. I wonder how Mason is keeping himself together these days.

Tuesday, August 31, 1976

5 PM. At least one of yesterday’s wishes came true today. This morning’s mail brought the latest issue of Scholia Satyrica, containing my “Here at Cubist College.” It did raise my spirits to see another story – my fifth – in print.

Now if only I could believe that people actually read my stories. Still, all the magazines are fairly professional-looking, and I’m pleased just to see the stories published, as I said.

Last evening was a kind of treat for me, even if nothing very exciting happened. But being in Manhattan with Mikey was a welcome change from sitting alone in my room.

Before I went to Mikey’s apartment, I had dinner at Brownie’s; I hadn’t been there in a long time, but their salads are definitely worth the high prices, and I also got to enjoy a nice cup of rose hips tea.

My own herb collection is no more; I sort of lost interest a couple of years ago when I started out not being able to afford herbs. Also, the pace of my life has changed, and I’m no longer patient enough to relax with a cup of herb tea every night. I’m less of a hypochondriac, so I don’t need to rely on herbal remedies anymore.

Mikey lives on 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth, next to the McBurney YMCA, across from the Chelsea Hotel. It’s a nice little apartment. He’s fixed it up simply, but it’s very comfortable, with enough room to move around.

Mikey and I watched the news on TV; the Medicaid scandals have made the front pages for the past few days. (I sent Fabrikant a letter saying that if I don’t have the check by Saturday, I’ll take him to Small Claims Court, and I mailed the veiled threat of reporting him to the authorities.)

Then Mikey and I drove down to the Village, parking on Washington Square North. When he got out of the car, Mikey started laughing, as I had parked right where Nina was passing; she takes an NYU course on Monday nights.

They broke up on Friday night, and there it was, just three days later and who do they run into in a city of eight million people? Each other.

What made it even more ironic is that as they were talking, one of these black dudes who hang around Washington Square made a beeline for Mikey and started in about this “weed” he wanted to sell to him:

“With this stuff, man, you and your lovely chick will find true happiness together. Everything will be even better: When you make love, you will be one. Can you dig it?”

Mikey said he couldn’t, and finally the guy went away. Mikey and Nina carried on a somewhat strained conversation for a while, and Mikey asked her if she wanted to join us, but she said she’d better get back home.

Walking around – we couldn’t get into either The Bottom Line or the Waverly Theater – Mikey told me he finally got Nina to admit that she really couldn’t give a damn about him; all this time, she hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings.

I told Mikey she was pretty (with blonde hair, a nice figure, clear skin), but he said she was “kind of a rotten person.” He looked down, so I said, very matter-of-factly, “Do you want her to die?” and he broke out laughing a lot.

Unfortunately, we ran head-on into Nina again on Bleecker Street, and this time Mikey got upset because she was with some guy. I felt a little chilly, so we warmed up with some coffee and cannoli at the Café San Marco.

I really do like the Village at night; I feel at home there. Mikey and I rode around a while before returning to his apartment.

He said he’s worried that Cardozo Law School will have a heavy Orthodox Jewish influence and that they’re more interested in turning out Jewish businessmen than criminal lawyers.

We gabbed about our friends, women, politics and writing until midnight, and then I left to head back to Brooklyn. Once Mikey starts law school, he’ll be piled under with work, so I’m grateful for the chance to spend time with him now.

Seeing Mikey in his own apartment makes me feel that I, too, could survive and do well living on my own. Thinking that is a big step forward.