A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1976


Thursday, June 10, 1976

3 PM. I feel such emptiness and despair. I begin to question why I am bothering to write this at all, or even why I write at all. A week ago, I was deciding to live. Today I see nothing but blankness ahead of me: a void.

This morning I went by myself to Braziller and rejected about thirty more novels for the First Novel Contest. Then I came home and found three rejections of my very own. Carol Berge gives me some claptrap about rewriting “Spring” a third time.

But she’s a stupid woman and a bad writer, and she’s probably pissed that the Fiction Collective rejected two of her own books. So I’m not going to redo my story to suit her, as I think she’s just playing a game with me and won’t put the story in Center no matter what.

Another rejection came from the guy whose first letter plunged me into despair last July, but he, too, is not a very bright man. My faith in my writing ability gets shaken by rejections, but then I think: today I summarily rejected about thirty novels, which people must have spent months and years working on.

Often these books were very personal, and, sad to say, most were not outrageously bad, just mediocre. I could very well be amazed by the number of stories I’ve had accepted; it’s truly close to a miracle when anything gets published anywhere. So I’m not that discouraged about my writing career yet.

Last night Elihu suggested that now that I have the time, I should begin what he called “a major work.” Yet I’ve seen so many bad novels this week, I don’t feel an extended work is worth the possibility of wasting so much time.

Of course, that’s aside from the fact that I can think of absolutely nothing to write about. I am almost ready to believe that at 25, I’ve written myself out and desperately need that “infusion of karma” Prof. Ebel once talked about. (I used that phrase in my last story, “In the Middle of the Atlantic, In a Dark Plane.”) I am completely lost.

This 90° heat is deadly, especially in Manhattan and the subways. It absolutely destroys any resolve. I feel so incomplete. Last week I wrote that I have so much; today I feel I have nothing.

When I go outside, the sun stops shining. I am not doing anything worthwhile. I feel cut off from the mainstream of life, and in the back of my head there’s the terrible pregnant realization that there is no mainstream of life.

I have nothing to keep me in New York. The city is drowning itself, and it will be completely spent in a few years. I believe I shall precede it into the void. I am not even a man anymore, and each day I continue to live in my parents’ house sucks away more of my adulthood – whatever there was of it to begin with.

I am a childish person who’s accomplished nothing but survival, and they don’t give medals for that. Nor should they. Oh, it was so delicious when I used to have to worry only about getting through each anxiety attack, each bout of nerves and nausea.

Am I better off now? I know psychotherapy can’t save me anymore; I’m beyond that. This calm, these lazy doldrums, this uncrying numbness, is worse than any anxiety attack.

I’ve made it this far only because of attrition, and I’m just not prepared for the rest of my life. I’m so terrified that I can’t even feel scared, and any confidence I have cannot be of any value when I cannot move.

Here he is, folks: Your classic Impotent Man, the latest superhero. Impotent Man: more inactive than a lazy cow, less forceful than a wet rag, able to do absolutely nothing, and not even that in a single bound.

Sunday, June 13, 1976

10 PM. Life can be a jolly old thing after all. Damn my pessimistic moods! A pox on them! And wash my mouth out with soap for spouting thoughts of suicide.

Today I was at Teddy Roosevelt’s grave and saw that plaque: Keep Your Eyes on the Stars and Keep Your Feet on the Ground. I intend to do just that.

There’s too much to do in this world and too little time to waste on bemoaning some imagined sorrow. All the old clichés suffice: “You take the good with the bad”; “Every cloud has a silver lining”; etc., etc.

I just returned a call from Alice, who’d phoned earlier while I was away and while she was depressed. But tonight a friend from the paddleball courts, Jim, who looks like the blondest of the Beach Boys – Alice has lifted her prejudice against blonds for the occasion – dropped by and invited Alice out to dinner.

By the time I called, Jim and Alice’s mother were getting along famously, partly because they speak the same language: sign language. (He works with deaf people.) And Alice seemed to be in soaring good spirits.

I’m not doing so bad myself. I just watched the first reruns of Notorious Woman. George Sand gives me courage. Imagine writing thirty pages a day and still having so much time to fool around! I’ve always admired being prolific and believe more in hard work than in inspiration.

And today was the most perfect day on God’s earth that an atheist could ask for. The weather was just right. I was with Ronna. We got lost on Long Island. We saw Sagamore Hill. We talked. We made love. We laughed a whole lot and had a rousing argument, during which Ronna had to admit she missed my Gemini contrariness.

I told her I loved her three or four times, and it felt damned good to do so. It was good to hold her, to feel her body against mine, to be hugged by her, to be lovers again. Ronna has given me so much, and amazingly, whatever was, still is.

It’s not the same anymore: she’s going away; she’s not my girlfriend and I’m not her boyfriend, and we don’t want to go back to that – yet there is a kinship between us, a physical bond that is very strong.

Oddly enough, it’s no grand passion, and we know it; our grand passions are in the past or in the future; we could probably walk away from each other tomorrow, or limit our touching to a friendly handshake – yet something is there.

Perhaps, just maybe, it’s love. She has her life and I’m not a part of it; my life, I don’t want to share with her. But coming together is something very special. And I don’t just mean sex, although that’s a large part of it.

We had fun getting lost on Long Island. Finally we found Sagamore Hill, which was Ronna’s idea, and I loved it. I showed Ronna the Higgins Well and we drank from it; we had lunch at the Mark Twain Diner next to the Jack-in-the-Box on Northern Boulevard where I cracked up my Pontiac.

Back in my room, we made love for hours. It was incredible: like they used to say in the Peter Paul Mounds Bar commercials, “indescribably delicious.” We were entwined in each other – but writing about sex can only sound boring, like some parody of pornography.

Most of all, Ronna makes sex fun and she makes love fun, too. And I’m going to miss the hell out of her when she goes away, but I’m glad she’s going because I know how important it is to her.

She’s a very capable woman; in the business world, at Telenet and elsewhere, she’s proved herself to be just that. I try to give her confidence because that’s all she needs, and I’m sure she’ll succeed in life.

On Thursday she goes to Montreal to meet Susan, and she’ll stay in Canada at least a week. But I’ll see her again this summer before she goes off to Purdue. What we had is still there. But it’s so comfortable and nice, it should be kept for rare occasions. It makes seeing Ronna a special event, a kind of holiday treat.

Wednesday, June 16, 1976


One thing I never thought I’d see myself as was a 25-year-old conservative.  But that’s what I am today.  All those liberal positions of the 60s have left us with a societal garbage heap of social welfare programs and bureaucracies and inequalities.

As quickly as I tell the affirmative action officer of some college that I’m a white male, that’s how fast the college writes me back saying I’m no longer being considered for a job.  As Nathan Glazer puts it, it’s affirmative (and legalized) discrimination.

I’m also angry with myself for not telling Jon Baumbach today that I refuse to do any more work for the Fiction Collective without being paid. I’m going in tomorrow, and I intend to tell Gloria that it’s the last time I can come in.

I can’t really blame Baumbach and Spielberg; if they have someone (me) who will willingly do something for nothing, why should they offer to give me a salary? I’ve probably spent $50 on parking alone working for the Collective.

Eight months ago, it was worth it to me to volunteer; I learned a lot about the publishing world and made good contacts. But I’m out of school now, a published writer with a nice list of credits, and I know enough to make my way in the world by myself.

The rewards are not enough to compensate for the low (nonexistent) pay. As Alice said to me last night, “While it’s nice to have a mentor, I don’t see why you need Baumbach’s approval anymore.”

It wasn’t until today that I realized how cheap Jon Baumbach is. I remember Ronna telling me of the warning by Cathy Hartman, her boss at ARCO Publishing, that Jon and Peter “want you to give them a lot for nothing.” Not till writing this did I realize the extent of my anger; before I began writing, I felt only a vague dissatisfaction.

I’m not a boy anymore; I’m a man and a writer, and in my heart, I know I’m better than most of the Fiction Collective authors – or I will be someday. It’s bad for my sense of self to receive no financial remuneration for my hard work.

Maybe without me, they’ll realize just how important I was. All day Jon, Gloria and I were working hard, getting the review copies of Babble out; it was a long, tedious process and the office was very hot.

We went out to lunch, and Jon didn’t offer to pay for my measly frankfurter. Quite the opposite: he was the one who carefully told me and Gloria what our shares of the check were.

And later, when Gloria said she’d need someone to put all our stuff into boxes for the move out of Schermerhorn Street, it turned out that Jon was going to New Hampshire and Peter was off to Cape Cod. So Gloria suggested paying someone to come in, and it looked like I was the someone.

Jon said the pay should be two dollars an hour, and Gloria said no, three dollars an hour would be more like it. But I, silent, was very insulted: two dollars an hour is below the minimum wage!

At that moment I realized that I’ll never get anything from Baumbach – although today he talked of some vague assistantship at Indian Hill. I said I’d have to be going home, but Jon talked me into driving to the main post office with him to deliver the books. I’d like to see someone do that for me someday!

Anyhow, apart from a letter from SUNY College at Dehli stating subtly that white males need not apply, I got a charming rejection of “The Peacock Room” from Carolina Quarterly; apparently it was only its length that kept it from being accepted. They said it was “quite remarkable, on the whole.”

Last night Josh called to inform me that he’s not graduating. Mrs. Ganz gave him an F in his Modern Drama course. I hate to say it, but Josh asked for it. It’s part of his self-destructive nature. Now he can have the pleasure of ranting about how, as he put it, “the cards were stacked against me from the beginning.”

Thursday, June 17, 1976

5 PM. I suppose it’s human nature to never be satisfied. Last week I was desperate and nearly suicidal because my life was empty; this week my life seems so busy than I haven’t gotten a chance to be alone and catch my breath.

But I’ll relax tomorrow – tonight is the Graduate Student Organization Awards Dinner – and I think being busy is preferable to being numb any day. This summer, there’ll be plenty of time for me to reflect and plenty of time after that, too.

I just don’t have any patience anymore, though, because I realize time is so precious; I can’t abide phonies and lazy and self-destructive people. That’s why I turned down Josh’s invitation to go upstate with him and Simon tomorrow. I can’t think of two more toxic people to be with.

Josh told me that Mrs. Ganz refuses to change his grade, and so he’ll have to take another course in the fall. “As usual, I’m getting fucked in the ass,” Josh says, absolving himself of any role in the matter.

Perhaps Prof. Ganz is a stinker and a difficult woman, but Josh did not read any of the books for the midterm, left out a whole question on the final, walked out when he felt she put him down one class, and I still remember that day when Josh told me how he hadn’t read any assigned books for the course when Ganz was walking right behind us.

Now, I can’t believe that in some way Josh didn’t want to fail that course. As much as he’s in real pain, I know he’s enjoying the griping and telling how this proves “they” are “out to get” him and there’s no way he can win.

I have little time to waste on Josh anymore. He thinks I’m an ass-licker and that I’ve prostituted myself. But I know how to deal with people in a way that Josh does not.

Last night I had a delightful time at Marie’s house, where she had an intimate little party for a few friends who’ve helped her with the Graduate Student Organization.

Mike and Cindy were there, and it was the first time I had to congratulate them on their engagement; they’re such level-headed, down-to-earth people, I think they’ll make a go of it. And Cookie was there, and her friend Jack, a grad student in geology who teaches at BC.

There were four pizza pies, and black-and-white cookies Cookie (!) made, and a lot of fruit; and there was music and the bench in the backyard, and nice weather and good talk and lightning bugs.

We made last-minute preparations for tonight’s dinner – I hope everything goes right, for Marie’s sake – and looked at Intercourse (I wince when I see photos of me).

See, these are the people I like to hang out with: the doers of the world, not the neurotic gripers. There are winners and whiners in life, and more and more I’ve come to believe it’s only a matter of personal choice which one a person becomes.

Today I worked very hard at the Fiction Collective office. Gloria told me right off that she thought Jon was taking advantage of me and said I’d be paid $3.50 an hour for today and yesterday; she agreed that Jon is cheap but said he isn’t adamant about it.

I worked on making a dent into all the manuscripts we received during the time CUNY was closed; it’s so confusing, and it’s been made more difficult to circulate manuscripts because of the number of Fiction Collective authors away for the summer.

I was getting punchy by the time Gloria suggested we go out and have lunch on the Promenade. That was a lovely thing to do, sitting on a bench, eating and talking, watching the skyline.

Back in the office, I sweated a lot, doing very hard physical labor in the heat: packing books and supplies into cartons for the move, which is expected by the end of the month. We have no idea where we’re going, but the city can no longer afford Brooklyn College’s downtown campus.

Robert Morse of The Modularist Review came up to talk to Gloria – I think he’s an idiot – and after that, I took her and all the packages to the post office before I drove home. Gloria is very nice, and she’s my contemporary, but she’s not as organized as Peggy was.

Of course, Gloria, who’s in her fifth month, shouldn’t be doing any heavy work; that’s what Richie in his black T-shirt and muscles is for. Well, Richie got paid $28 for today.

Saturday, June 19, 1976

10 PM. It’s been another muggy day and my sinuses are killing me, but I managed to get a lot of stuff accomplished since last night. I like working on my stories; no, correct that – I love working on what I’m interested in.

Last night I wrote a poem: a short, wistful, not half-bad poem. And this morning I salvaged my self-made reputation by turning out my weekly short story. It’s a slight piece, called “On the Boardwalk,” and in it, I’ve gone back to my fragments-style, as in “Garibaldi” and “Talking to a Stranger.”

The story is based on my conversations with Grandpa Herb, Grandma Ethel and Uncle Morris yesterday, in which we discussed corrupt rabbis, pornography and the difficulty old people – or “senior citizens,” as they always call themselves – have in remembering things.

I tried to communicate the humor and the pathos of old age, and I hope I succeeded.

I have a rich well of family, friends and neighbors from which to draw material for stories. And there are times when I feel like dropping all my sophistication about fiction, and go to the traditional pattern of a writer exploring himself and the people around him.

I hope I can get across my vision of life, as peculiar as it is: the ongoing nature of things, the timelessness, the ever-changing soap opera quality of life. There are times when I do feel that I can succeed.

I think I succeeded in “Peninsular People,” although now that it’s in print, I no longer am very interested in it. Yet it’s not as though someone else wrote it. In fact, I’m too embarrassed to read the story as it appears in Boxspring. For all my confidence, I remain pretty shy.

The Alphaville Academy (I think they publish a weird magazine called AIEEE or something) said they wanted to hold on to “An Appropriated Story” for further consideration, and Don Fried of New Voices said he’d like me to shorten and tighten “Other People,” which I did, late this afternoon, and returned it to him to see what he thinks.

Last evening I went to Kings Plaza. At the Dime Savings Bank, I cashed my Fiction Collective check and got a checking account; only recently, the state legislature passed a law whereby savings banks can provide free checking. At 25, it’s about time I had a checking account, another step toward adulthood.

I had a very bad set of nightmares – in one, I burned down LIU by accident – and was awakened by a phone call from a very hoarse Alice, who said she hated to ask, but could I drive her to the airport to pick up Andreas?

Of course I said yes. Before we left, I did work and cleaned up. I picked up Alice at 2:30 PM. She sounded terrible, with bad laryngitis, but said she felt fine. It seems she’s seen Jim every day this week, six out of six days, since she first met him.

To me, it sounds like a high school romance: since he lives nearby, he drops in all the time; they have long talks and various misunderstandings; they make out in the car after dates; and they make love at Jim’s house only when his grandma is out shopping or visiting.

Jim even offered to drive her to the airport today, but Alice said that would have made her feel very guilty because of Andreas. As it is, things are fine, but Alice hopes Jim doesn’t want to get too deeply involved with her.

I dropped her off at the International Arrivals Building and told her to give Andreas my regards. Then I drove into the Village to roam and browse in the bookstores.

I’m finally ready psychologically for a homosexual experience, but I despise the Village gays and don’t know where to find a cute, sexy, funny, menschy young guy I could relate to.

Avis writes another one of her wonderful letters. She can’t stay at Berlitz beyond 1978 because of some strange German tax situation, but she thinks she wants to go into translating and interpreting.

She and Helmut will vacation in Amsterdam this summer, and she asks if it’s worth it to come back to the States.

Monday, June 21, 1976

10 PM on the first evening of summer: the days will get shorter, starting tomorrow. When Mom and Dad came home at 1 AM last night, we sat around the kitchen table discussing how lousy Cousin Scott and Barbara’s wedding was.

Dad and Mom both said it was the junkiest affair either had ever been to, and they notice these things more than I do. Dad said he could tell how low-class it would be right away when they gave out cheap, thin yarmulkes without even the couple’s names on the inside of them.

Everyone said the band was awful, the food vile, the room too cramped, the father of the bride disingenuous, and the bridal couple bland and bewildered-looking. There wasn’t one sparkle of grace or of class in the entire affair: no dash, no panache, at all.

I’m hard-pressed to say whether the low point of the evening was Barbara’s sister reading some cutesy-poo poem, or her father giving a rambling address, mostly in German. (One wag shouted out, “Equal time for Americans!” – this was the point where Marc and I left.)

Dad said that no one could find Scott and Barbara to give them gifts and say good night. Looking for them, Dad opened the door to the catering hall office, thinking they might be here, and found Barbara and her father counting the money they received.

Morgenthau had his jacket off and Barbara was saying, “Daddy, look in your pockets and see if there’s more!”

“It was the most vulgar thing imaginable,” Dad said.

I don’t know if Aunt Sydelle thought the affair was nice, but none of her friends came up to her at the end to say how lovely everything was; as Goldie and Chico told Dad, it was too obvious a lie to tell.

From the pitiful centerpieces to the inedible main course, it was a disaster. Even my four grandparents, who are easily impressed (and Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia played a role in the ceremony), knew how bad the wedding was.

As Dad said, if they were poor, he could understand it and he’d say, “Well, at least they tried.” But the Morgenthaus are filthy rich and he’s “sure they cleared a profit on this stinky affair.”

I cannot how imagine anyone could think that wedding was nice – except for the bride and groom, who are so socially backward that they seem less aware than the average 13-year-old. (Certainly Jonny, at 15, has more social sense than both of them put together.)

Anyway, our family saw through it all, and so did most of the people there, including, I think, Uncle Monty. When someone is close to death, he can see more clearly the bullshit that goes on, and I could tell from Monty’s expression that he knew what a ridiculous farce the wedding reception was.

I awoke late this morning, chagrined to discover that I’ve put on some weight recently; if I don’t watch myself, I’m going to lose what Alice calls my hard-fought svelteness.

Loris Essary of Interstate in Austin, Texas, wrote to say that “Yet Another Story” – the new version, incorporating “Beds” – would be printed in the next issue of his (her?) magazine.

Also, I got rejections from Story Quarterly and Gallimaufry, but they didn’t bother me, because in each batch of stories was “Reflections,” already taken by Transatlantic Review.

As persistent as ever, I sent both magazines new submissions today. Sending out stories requires a lot of time and patience: reading a lot of little magazines and the Small Press Review and the CCLM Newsletter; buying stamps and envelopes; xeroxing stories; addressing and putting postage on the envelopes; writing cover letters – all shit work, basically.

But I enjoy the “game” of sending out. My goal is to have a story accepted by the American Review, probably the most attractive market for fiction in this country. And I know instinctively that if I persist, eventually Theodore Solotaroff will accept one of my works.