A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1977


Friday, December 2, 1977

8 PM. Mom and Dad came back from Florida last night at 1 AM; Marc picked them up at the airport. When I returned home from LIU this afternoon, they told me about their trip.

Grandpa Nat looks all right, especially when he’s got his teeth in. He’s tanned and he still has the same expressions. He recognized both Mom and Dad but couldn’t understand certain other things.

The doctor explained to Dad that on some occasions the blood will flow more easily to the brain, and this explains Grandpa Nat’s lucid moments. He can walk haltingly and read and write his name.

He can say things like, “Oh, Harry, he’s such a conniver,” and then when you ask him who he means, he’ll look at you like you’re crazy and say, “My Harry. My brother, of course.”

But the next moment he’ll say to Dad, “I just saw Sarrett [Grandpa Herb] and I told him we’re going to have a good season.” Or: “Look, Richard’s standing over there and he won’t even come over to us.”

Or he’ll get very involved in seating arrangements and say, “Are you sure you’re parked in a good spot? Maybe you should come over here.”

When they took him back to the condominium, he didn’t know where he was. (Grandma Sylvia’s neighbors told her to bring him home, that it might make him instantly remember everything, as though he were an amnesia victim being jolted back to reality.)

But he can sit fairly straight now, and on the car ride, he recognized Wolfie’s and a pizza place. It’s so frustrating because sometimes you think he’s his old self and then he turns around and says to Dad, “So how’s your brother?”

Mom said he calls the women attendants at the home “honey” the way he always did with waitresses and such. She didn’t like the way they condescend to him, treating him like a child: “Come on, Nat, why don’t you clean your plate today?”

He was very affectionate with Mom, and when they went into the car, Mom asked, “Do you mind if I sit next to you?”

“Mind? Why should I mind?”

“I thought you might want to sit next to your wife,” Mom said.

He gave her a sarcastic look. And when he watched Grandma Sylvia walk, he muttered to Mom, in Yiddish, “Her and her bad foot.”

The other old people at the condominium are just like Grandma Sylvia. They say to Dad in amazement, “You’re just staying for four days?” – as if he and Sydelle are doing nothing, as if they don’t have their own lives.

Grandma Sylvia said to Dad, “If only you were retired, you could come down here and see him every day.” (Perhaps that’s why the doctors at the nursing home told her that she, not Grandpa Nat, was the one who needed a psychiatrist. “Can you imagine?” she said indignantly.)

And Aunt Mildred doesn’t help when she calls up and suggests brain surgery. But despite all Mom’s antagonism toward her mother-in-law, she still says she feels very sorry for her: “There, but for the grace of God, might be me some day.”

When Dad told Grandma Sylvia that Robin didn’t want her to call so often and pour out her troubles, Grandma couldn’t believe it – especially when she’d received a “Thinking of You” card from Robin that very day.

(Robin had told me she hoped the card would prevent any more phone calls, but it had precisely the opposite effect: Grandma Sylvia was so thrilled that she wanted to immediately call up Robin and thank her.)

If Mom hadn’t gone along on the trip, Dad would have been a nervous wreck in Florida – and they both know it. But it’s good to have Mom and Dad home and to know that we have a family.

When people call – Robin, Aunt Sydelle, Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb, Lena and Jimmy Saracino – to check up on us, it makes me feel good. And I was so proud to show my parents my anagram in The Village Voice and the stories that came out recently.

This morning at LIU, I found Confrontation in my mailbox. Their tenth anniversary edition looks wonderful and it was a thrill to see my story “Triptych” in print. George Economou said it worked very well.

Although I’ve been getting nothing but rejections in the mail, this week in my LIU mailbox I discovered two new stories in print, in Confrontation and the Westbere Review.

Today’s classes went very well; I love joking around with the students, and it was a pleasure to go over John Cheever’s story “Torch Song.”

Margaret, annoyed for me, wrote up a memo to see that I’m paid at least something for taking over Dr. Edelman’s classes. (I also sent Jon a friendly postcard asking him to check on the $200 for the Conference.)

Margaret said that Dr. Tucker is “a funny little man. He can’t handle pressure: telephone calls or people waiting to see him.” She thinks he’s very insecure and disorganized; I’ve noticed that.

David Lenson of Panache rejected my “Go Not to Lethe” story but said I could consider them as a publisher for my story collection in about a year, which he said should give me time “to investigate other, more profitable places.” Black Sparrow Press rejected my story collection, too.

Tom Fisher wrote me that Star-Web Paper #7 would be “on the way” with my work in it. He also said he’s been seeing my work around and it’s good. This is like an acceptance because I’d assumed that these stories, accepted two years ago, would never get published.

I got a membership card in the National Arts Club “with the compliments of the Literary Committee” and signed by the Club’s president, Mrs. Adriana de Mezzi Rocca Zahn. Woo-eee, as Andy Griffith used to say.

Avis wrote that “Mick the ripoff artist” has returned to Bremen and she doesn’t care if she never sees him again: “My friendship with him was one-sided and he used me. Not a very happy realization, but that’s life (and some people).”

Mick told a 13-year-old runaway that she could stay at their place, and Avis had to cope with this girl’s problems:

Helmut delegated the responsibility to me because he didn’t want anything to do with her. I believe that sometimes Helmut can be a hard, heartless man. I’m beginning to believe that my life is getting more and more fucked up. Either I misunderstand people or they misunderstand me.

Even Helmut sometimes doesn’t understand what I feel. I think that for the next month I’ll just work and sit at home and see one or two people, but not do much else. I’m falling into a quiet depression and I wish someone (Helmut?) would care. I don’t think he will, though.

But the real surprise in today’s ragtag assortment of mail was a note from Ronna. She returned my stories (I had given her the SASE) with a typewritten note allegedly by Ronna as the editor of Lost Horizon Press saying that she was accepting my stories for an anthology and returning them to me for safe-keeping “because yours is an exceptional case.”

I couldn’t decide whether she was being snotty or just cute, but I went on the assumption that it was the latter and I wrote her back (“Dear Editor”) a breezy little letter telling her what’s been happening. We’ll see if she responds. By now it doesn’t matter.

At the copy center, I ran into Josh, who said, “I guess The Village Voice will print anything,” referring to my anagram. That’s Josh for you.

He’s super-depressed about not having a job; all his interviews have come to naught, and he said he was suicidal. He was busy getting new résumés xeroxed, and he’d left something back home, so I drove him there and back to the Junction.

When I asked him about driving an oil truck, he said, “I could have a non-union job if I want it, but I don’t think I could stand it. And I don’t want to take something that’s just a holding action.” He’s really confused.

Mom and Dad noticed Marc was depressed and they spoke to him. Marc said he’s frustrated because he’s not living independently and he feels he’s “in everybody’s way here.”

I’ll have to make sure to let Marc know he’s definitely not “in the way.”

Tuesday, December 6, 1977

4 PM. A week ago I felt as though something were about to happen. And it has been a week full of happenings: the two stories coming out, the Village Voice anagram, my parents’ return and their news of Florida . . . And last night Ronna called.

Actually, I spent the entire evening on the telephone. First I called Teresa to RSVP to the invitation she sent me; I’ll be over for brunch on the morning after Christmas. (Christmas and New Year’s come out on Sundays this year, so Monday will be the official holidays.)

Teresa said California was “yuckness,” that Thomas Wolfe has been proved right again. In Palo Alto, Jane was in a strange mood and it didn’t take much convincing to persuade her to move to New York; she’ll be back here in a few weeks.

After letting Teresa go wash her dirty dishes, I sat down to type a letter to Avis. I was telling her that Monika sent Teresa a card from Mexico, where she’s enjoying herself, and then the phone rang.

It was Vito calling from work at the Abbey-Victoria newsstand. I sent him a copy of the “Triptych” story, which has a character with his mother’s name. Vito liked it, and we bullshitted for an hour or so, during which he kept being interrupted by the newsstand customers.

After I got off with Vito, it was 9:30 PM, and again the phone rang. It was Ronna. There was an awkward “How are you, I’m fine” stage and then I asked her where she was calling from.

“Home,” she said.

“Where’s home?”

“Flatlands Avenue.”


“I’ll be in until January. I’ve finished the last term and have to work on my thesis before I graduate in March.”

“What’s your thesis on?”

“It’s what I told you – in the letter.”

“Letter? What letter? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It seems that in the envelope Ronna sent me back there were not only my stories and her typed note as the “editor” but also a pale blue envelope containing a personal handwritten letter.

In it, she wrote: “Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I was relieved to get your package. I’ve spent odd moments during the past six weeks attempting to begin a letter to you. I hope you attribute my neglect to my usual inconsistency: except for an acute attack of vanity (I put my body into hiding this summer), that was the cause.”

On the phone Ronna told me that after her wonderful trip to Michigan, she came back to Brooklyn and spent five weeks sitting in their new house, fighting with her mother. She had gotten fat and didn’t want me to see her that way.

Ronna spent most of the semester changing her thesis topic; now it’s an examination of stereotypes of attitudes towards Jewish women from the perspective of a typical Russian immigrant, her grandfather. She’s working with a folklorist doing interviews with other family members.

Otherwise, she said, everyone is fine: Billy’s taller, her father’s living upstate, Felicia and Spencer are happy in Mobile, Susan is off the switchboard and still writing her poetry, etc.

I filled her in on my family’s news, what’s happening to my friends, and my own situation. We spoke for an hour and there were no awkward silences.

“Can I see you this week?” she asked.

Once, that question would have flown me to seventh heaven. Even six months ago I would’ve jumped for joy and gotten so excited I couldn’t think straight.

But now: it’s too late. I’m not sure I ever want to get involved with a female again, and if I do, it will be someone like Caaron. Ronna just let too much time slip away; as much as I loved her three years ago, two years ago, a year ago, time and separation and silence have worn that love down to almost nothing.

Actually, by this point I’m not even certain I want to see her. At this stage of the game, is there any point in it? But I’ll see her, if only for the sake of finding out what will happen.

Thursday, December 8, 1977

8 PM. I’m not sure how to go about writing about today. I called Ronna at 9:30 AM and I said I’d pick her up at noon. She told me where she lived, and I arrived there a bit early.

They have a walk-in apartment, kind of a split-level. Billy was in bed with a cold, and Mrs. C was also sick; I saw them both only for a minute. While Ronna finished getting dressed and putting up her hair, I played with their cats.

She looked much the same: she looked like Ronna. She didn’t seem to think I looked any different without my glasses, but I’d forgotten that we’d been so intimate that she’d often seen me without my glasses.

At first we were kind of formal with one another as we drove to the Kings Plaza Diner to have lunch. I talked about Bread Loaf and she opened up about her life in Middletown.

She has few friends because her program is very small and most of the grad students are local teachers who flee on the weekends. Ronna’s best friend Pat is sort of dissatisfied with her five-year-old marriage, and Ronna knows another married woman who’s basically a rich snob.

She said she was almost suicidal this past term because she felt so isolated. This past summer, she was going out with Corey again. When he told her that he loved her, she was appalled because he didn’t know her.

Last year she was involved with a married man although the way she told it, that didn’t seem to amount to anything. But who knows? Corey kept calling and asked her to marry him, “but that was a joke.”

She’s still very close to Susan, but they’re both not as close with Felicia, who sounds like a pain in the ass; she’s coming up from Mobile this weekend. Everyone in Ronna’s family is fine.

Her hair is falling out, and they say it’s probably nerves. She made the mistake of going to my old dermatologist Dr. Felman, who took her for $90 for some ultraviolet treatments.

We came back to my house and talked in my room: about literature at first, and then about more personal things. I asked her how I’d changed, and she said I hadn’t much, and that was comforting.

Ronna did say I’d grown more at ease with myself, calmer, and I said she seemed that way, too. She’s lived on her own out of town, and now she’s had a life I can never know.

We talked about our ambitions; she seemed a bit concerned that I was going to starve, but I assured her I would not. Ronna wants to work on a newspaper, and I think perhaps her goals are unrealistic – but perhaps not.

I still think she harbors the idea of working for the Times, and I see how absurd that is: she’s never freelanced or worked on a paper, and I know from June and Cliff and Alice how difficult it is in newspaper and magazine publishing.

I opened up to her about my work, my feelings, my goals – and we were sharing things again. I did feel close to her, so close that at one point I stopped her in the middle of saying something and leaned over and kissed her.

One kiss led to another, and we were hugging each other tightly. It felt warm and good. Neither of us really expected it, and yet there it was, without apology.

I drove her home at 6 PM and we ended where we began five years ago, fogging up the windows of a car outside a house in Canarsie.

We talked about our relationship and agreed it was pretty good for a college boy/girl romance. Neither of us ever felt much anger, and we were smart enough to break up before we ended up hurting each other.

“Don’t disappear for another two years,” I told her.

“No,” she said.

I’m going to call her next week. I want to see her and she wants to see me. I think we’re adult enough to handle it. All I know is I haven’t felt this way in years, and I like the feeling.

Friday, December 9, 1977

10 PM. I haven’t written any fiction in ten days, but I don’t feel that oppressive guilt and that obsessive need to produce. I’ve been enjoying myself, and I’m entitled to that. There will be stories in the future: they’ll come, with a little prodding.

But now is a time to be living, not writing. This summer, with Avis and Helmut, and then again at Bread Loaf, was a period when I just let myself live, gathering up material that would later come out in fiction.

When I have new things to say, I’ll say them. At this moment, I can’t think of anything else I need to say. Except this: Last night I cried because I knew I could never articulate life.

In a way, writers try to be God, and they must always fail in this. I will never be able to write life, my life or anyone else’s. I try, though this diary is about the closest I come, which is why I will not give it up.

Although I know my goal of articulating life is impossible, I will not stop trying.

Yesterday, while driving to Ronna’s, I was stopped for a red light at Flatlands and Ralph when I thought I saw Ronna walking up the street. She was thinner, but the hair was the same and the blue down jacket seemed like one she would wear.

I pulled the car over and started walking briskly until finally I caught up with the girl at the corner. She stopped as if to decide where to go next, and then she turned toward me and for a moment I thought it was Ronna and my heart beat fast. But after a second, I could see that it was a stranger, a girl younger than Ronna, with frizzier hair.

Perhaps another memory spurred that incident: About four years ago, in the summer, I was stopped for a light at the same intersection and I looked up and saw a girl I felt instantly attracted to: cute figure, nice long hair, wearing cutoff jeans with green knee socks. It took a minute back then to realize it was Ronna: this girl I admired was my own girlfriend!

Last night, in my dreams, Ronna appeared by my side. She had no role in the drama of any dream, but was with me, quite naturally, as though she always had been and always would be. Well! I think I’ve just composed an incident that can be used in fiction, but it will never be as good as the real thing, eh?

My car stalled on Avenue N and Utica this morning. Dad, bless him – though I wish he’d stop calling me a “moron” when he thinks I’m being outrageous; he does this with everyone – came down and helped me move the car to the curb and get it started.

I had my students write today; they were to compare the story they most enjoyed with the one they liked least. I dread reading the results: all hurried plot summary, probably.

With only eight classes left in the term, I feel myself slowing down and gearing myself to the final class – which is actually still a month away, but of course we get a full two weeks off for the holidays.

Late this afternoon I drove into the city and checked out the Eighth Street Bookshop, where there were so many books and magazines that I wanted to buy, I ended up getting nothing. If only I could make an effort to buy more books; I feel so poorly-read.

When do people get a chance to catch up on their reading? At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to break a leg before I can get through 5% of the books I need to read.

I called up Mikey to suggest that we have dinner together, and he was agreeable. It was good to see Mikey again after such a long time. We went to this place on 23rd Street, a bar/restaurant called Night Gallery, which was quite nice.

I didn’t feel like a movie afterwards so we just went back to his place to bullshit. As usual, he’s loaded down with his law books, and he’s also kind of lonely for female companionship.

I can’t imagine why women don’t flock to such a decent guy. Mikey is one of the few people I know who I started off admiring and who, as the years pass, I end up admiring even more.

And pass the years do: it’s eight years since Mikey and I met as students in Rita Stein’s freshman English course at Brooklyn College.