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


Saturday, July 2, 1977

6 PM. I’m not feeling too bad. Which is a pessimist’s way of giving thanks.

I slept well, had an erotic dream about Cara. In its way, the dream was fairly logical: I was going up Riverside Drive when I spotted Teresa, who invited me in and said I should say hello to Cara. A friendly kiss turned into more passionate ones, and before I knew it, we were a tangle of arms and tongues. Very nice.

Aunt Sydelle finally moved out of her house; she got $65,000 for it. She’s still in Cedarhurst, in some very pleasant garden apartments off Central Avenue. She may be happier there than she would have been in Florida, where everyone seems so old.

Cousin Robin is still going through her breakdown, but a psychiatric social worker has moved in with her and is caring for her. Aunt Sydelle spoke to him on the phone and he advised her not to interfere, that he knows how to handle Robin’s crippling depressions. Sydelle said that aside from being Gentile, the man is too good to be true.

I stayed out of the sun today; instead, I was working on sending out submissions. Writers’ Resources, a very valuable Boston newsletter, arrived today, and it listed several places to send out to.

I think that eventually I should find a small press willing to put out a collection of my short stories; that’s my immediate goal now, to gather the best stories already published into one book, my book.

I’m too intelligent and well-informed to have any delusions of bestsellerdom or even breaking even. I know about the poor small press distribution system, the low public demand for short story collections, the lack of reviewing space, etc., etc.

But realistically, if I’m to survive financially, I’ll need to exist on teaching jobs, and I don’t mean adjunct positions at LIU. A book, if it’s well-done – and I’ll make sure it is – will enhance my reputation, which is so far based only on stories in various little magazines.

Also, it will satisfy my need to hold a book that’s completely mine, one I won’t have to share with anyone. As Alice said the other day, she most enjoys “hustling.” I do, too: that process of making a name for myself in the small press world.

I’ve always wanted to be an important member of a community – that’s why I loved my LaGuardia Hall years at Brooklyn College – and I’ve still got the old politician in me.

So I subscribe to all the magazines and the journals and I write letters to the big machers like Charles Plymell, Len Fulton, John M. Bennett, Diane Kruchkow, et al. I get to know them and eventually they’ll get to know me and I, too, will be a small press “name.”

That part of the job is just as important as the writing, and I like to push my way to power. I don’t do anything underhanded or sneaky (except perhaps allowing two little mags to print the same story – but I’ll never do that again).

Simon could never understand this: he thought my going to the New York Book Fair was a waste of time, for example, and he used to mock all the small-press magazine title names to me. But Esquire and The New Yorker didn’t want Simon, he wouldn’t settle for less, and so he gave up writing altogether.

If I had had Simon’s talent, I’d be famous – or at least fairly well-known – by now. Of course. more than half of what little income I have goes into paying for paper, xerox, envelopes, postage (I used up a $13 roll of stamps in less than two weeks). But it’s worth it as an investment in the future.

Sure, I’d like to be making the $10,000 a year Simon is. But he’s a file clerk in the hospital and he can go nowhere. I, at least, have a chance to get somewhere, and the chance looks better every day.

Wednesday, July 6, 1977

7 PM. I want to get into bed early tonight. It’s cloudy, and thunderstorms are threatening.

I may have to have root canal work done tomorrow. Last Wednesday I broke my tooth, and today, when I went to Dr. Hersh, he fixed it up as best he could but said the nerve may be exposed. From the way I jumped when he touched near the nerve, I suspect that’s true.

I dread the prospect of going downtown to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, to that team of endodontists where I had oral surgery twelve years ago. But if I must, I must. Dr. Hersh says my gums are in bad shape, too. If I don’t start taking care of them, I’m going to end up with pyorrhea.

My nerve is throbbing now, but that may just be the result of the dental work. By tomorrow morning, I should be able to judge. All I hope is that I’m not kept awake by the pain of an exposed nerve. I still recall the pain of it when I was 14; it was the worst pain I’d ever had or have had since then.

Days like this make me feel like I’m falling apart at 26.

I had a kind of acceptance today; make of this what you will: The editor of Punch, a new Seattle magazine, wrote, “I’m keeping ‘A Story for Negroes’ and ‘An Incomplete Story,’ though I don’t quite know what to do with them.”

He explained that the three editors of the magazine are all poets, and mine was the first fiction they’d seen which appealed to them. Their second issue is filled; their third issue is to be on the Long Poem; and so my work won’t appear until at least the fourth issue – which could be a year away, or, knowing little magazines the way I do, it could be never.

Still, I have hope and patience and I told the editor, a Mr. Cervantes, to go ahead and keep the stories, and I sent seven dollars for a subscription. If anyone knew how much money I spend on subscriptions to little magazines, they’d think I was crazy.

Of course, I look at it as a way of paying my dues, of spreading good will, and of getting to know what my contemporaries are up to. Already my small press books and magazines are easing the hardcover books off my bookshelves (and onto the shelves in my brothers’ room and in the basement): the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club books that were once all that I owned.

Who knows? Perhaps one day my little magazine collection will prove valuable – that is, if they’re not thrown out the way my superhero comic-book collection was.

Mom and Dad are supposedly leaving on Friday morning, although Dad’s very upset because they unexpectedly told him to come back next week and sign for his Unemployment check; heretofore he’s been signing every two weeks.

Avis writes that she’ll look all over Bremen and try to get me the Rilke book I’ve been wanting. Her parents will pick her up at the airport, but she asks if I can drive her to pick up Helmut the following week. Thank God something pleasant will happen this July. I can’t wait to speak to Avis, to see her again.

Ronna’s another matter. She’s now been back over a week and I’ve yet to hear from her. I bet she doesn’t call until late summer. She and her family will be moving out at the end of the month and I won’t know where she is.

That will make the third time in a year that she hasn’t given me her address, and I’d say that’s a pretty good indication on what to look for in a relationship with her. Phooey on Ronna, I say.

Mikey sent me a birthday card saying, “What’s a month between friends?” Not a thing, of course.

It occurs to me: Do I judge Ronna by a different standard than I do Mikey or others? I suppose I do, but ex-lovers are never in the same category as other friends.

Vide: Last week Scott was most curious about Avis. And Avis today wrote me to say she was thrilled about Teresa’s party. She asked, “Will Scott be there?” She didn’t ask about anyone else. I rest my case.

No writing today, and a foray into the library to get the creative juices flowing proved hopeless. All I found there was an article called “Ph.D.’s: The Migrant Workers of the Academic World,” about adjuncts. Misery loves company.

Friday, July 8, 1977

9 PM. Jonny and I are alone in the house; he’s observing Shabbos and I’m just hanging out. Marc is out with Deanna somewhere in the thunderstorm.

Mom and Dad left this morning for Florida; they’re staying at the Castaways while visiting Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia. This morning Mom woke me out of a dream to say goodbye and kiss me, but I was so out of it I couldn’t even muster the coherence to say the word goodbye.

Last evening I went to Rockaway to have dinner with Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. Grandpa Herb was tired after spending the afternoon with Uncle Abe at the home. “They weighed him today and he weighed 115 pounds,” Grandpa said. “He can be a jockey already.”

Grandma Ethel, too, was tired and didn’t feel like going out to play cards, as she’d done the two previous nights. Outside on the terrace, it was pleasant as we sat and watched the kids playing down by the swimming pool.

Back home, I watched an episode of The Forsyte Saga, which is being rerun for the zillionth time. Even though I know the dialogue by heart, I still love the show. When it first appeared eight years ago, I was a freshman in college, and I was enthralled by the series back then.

Alice called, to ask me for some advice. She’s been thinking more and more about Jim, riding her bike by his apartment; last week, when I told her that I’d seen him, it just made things worse.

Alice was determined to call him, to invite him out for a drink. I explained very calmly to her that it was obvious that she and Jim have no future; I told her to prepare herself for disappointment and said that no one can force another person to love him or her.

She called Jim anyway, and he agreed to pick her up in half an hour. Alice, breathlessly excited, phoned me back with this news, wondering how she could avoid pouncing on him; she asked me if she should wear her contact lenses.

I cautioned her not to look for anything special but I wished her good luck. All last night and today I wondered how their meeting went. I was relating it to myself and Ronna. Today I said to myself, What the hell, I’ll call Ronna.

After dinner I did, but her number was busy. I dialed several more times, but it was still busy, so I decided not to keep trying to get Ronna for a while. On the off-chance that Alice might be home, I called her.

She was surprised I had phoned, because this Friday night was about the first one she’d been home in years; Andreas is very busy, so she didn’t see him.

Alice told me that, as I’d expected, nothing happened last night. Jim is still a one-woman man, and even if he weren’t, he said, he couldn’t see a future with Alice.

Alice acted fairly cool and didn’t bring up her passion for him, although she suspected he wanted her to (after all, it must be gratifying to a man’s ego). Jim told her that she wants him only because he’s unavailable; Alice admitted to me that this is true and said Jim used to bore her a little. Rationally, she knows he’s not good enough for her.

After that, I turned the tables on Alice and made her listen as I went into my plans to call Ronna. Alice didn’t discourage me, but said – as logically as I had last night – that it’s obvious Ronna isn’t very interested in continuing any kind of relationship with me.

I’ve done all the giving, and Ronna knows this and now she has power over me. It’s true; I’ve been content with crumbs from her. (“She’s been pretty crummy to you,” Alice said.)

Thus fortified after I hung up with Alice, I resisted temptation and did not try to call Ronna – though I had to get out of the house for fear I would; I went over to Kings Plaza and cashed my unemployment check.

Logically, I know Ronna isn’t worth all this, that I don’t really want her back; like Alice with Jim, it’s another case of seeking the thing you are certain you cannot have.

So I’m awaiting Avis and Helmut’s visit and the two weeks at Bread Loaf to keep me occupied. I should call some old friends, too, and cement relationships with people who do care about me. And, stupidly or not, I answered three personal ads in the Voice; at least that allows me to hope.

This afternoon I went to the movies: Nasty Habits, Watergate in a convent. Like many of my stories, the idea was brilliant but the product ended up a bit listless and strained.

Saturday, July 9, 1977

10 PM. Do you know where your children are? Do you know who they have become?

I have a sticking pain in my stomach. It couldn’t be hunger. I had a Whopper, fries and a giant Sugar-Free 7-Up not three hours ago. I feel beaten down tonight. Let me take a tranquilizer. If I can have one more good night’s sleep in my life, let it be tonight.

God, I’m beginning to sound like Jonny, invoking the Deity. Jonny went to the synagogue this morning and slept the rest of the day. Sometimes, not often, I envy Jonny his defenses.

I began reading Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being, wanting to read it in small doses because it’s too good to be gulped down. I suppose I’d say it was like a fine brandy if I knew what brandy tasted like. (Brandy, of course, reminds me of Ronna, but by now I’ve completely forgotten about her.)

The Postal Service tells me a package sent to me got separated from its wrapper. They thoughtfully sent the wrapper. It had a June 29 Chicago postmark, 55 cents metered mail. It’s probably either the complimentary copies of Mati or of Oyez Review, which are both in that city. So I wrote both editors informing them.

This annoyed me no end. Because. You see, if I’ve got something published, I’ve just gotta see it right away, hold it in my pudgy little hands. So. . . tired as I was, hot as it was (no more air conditioning in my car), I went to Manhattan this afternoon at 4:30 PM, just to see if the magazines had come out and I could find them.

Sean Wilentz said hello to me at the Eighth Street Bookshop (I bought a nice little magazine, Works in Progress), but nothing of mine was there. I took a delightfully air-conditioned F train to the Gotham Book Mart, but avoided spending any money there.

Then I drove down to Soho Books – the latest contender – and I came away with a nice small-press-scene mag, Contact II and a beautiful-looking anthology, Taxi Dancer, poems put out by Exotic Beauties Press, whom I am hoping will publish my collection of short stories. But didn’t find “my” magazines. No matter.

Stephen Bailey of The Midatlantic Review, a terrible mag, keeps rejecting my work, although in his most recent rejection he allowed as how “you do have a different way of looking at things.”

Charles Plymell answered my letter. After I wrote him, I learned he was the first man to publish Zap Comix. He wrote “DIG YA!” to me. He talked about a writers’ union and put down Barthelme and told me he was sorry he didn’t get to the BC Conference; Diane Kruchkow showed him the brochure and he said it looked interesting.

Charley said he just attended his first – and last – COSMEP conference. All these small press names are becoming people to me.

This morning I went to the AAA and got a Trip-Tik for my drive to Vermont. It’s only 270 miles, mostly New York State Thruway; at Lake George, I cut off to Vermont.

Deanna’s staying over for the weekend, sleeping in the master bedroom with Marc. I suppose the reason I don’t mind is that Deanna is so unobtrusive one hardly realizes she’s around. I never saw such a mousy person. But she’s sweet.

Uncharacteristically, I went with her and Marc to the Staten Island Zoo today. Deanna wanted to go to a zoo, Marc wanted to take pictures, and I was the only one who knew how to get there. It was fun, especially the Children’s Zoo.

Deanna is so naïve that I can’t believe the things that come out of her mouth; she’s Gracie Allen in platform shoes and a halter. She was disappointed there weren’t enough “cuddly” animals and Marc had to drag her away every time a baby passed. I had a lot of fun, though; it was a nice change.

Monday, July 11, 1977

4 PM. It’s a cloudy, ordinary afternoon, but I feel I’m on the verge of something new or exciting, some “moment of being,” as Virginia Woolf called it. I don’t know what it is.

Perhaps it’s excitement about Avis’s impending arrival. It will be so wonderful, and so strange, to hear her voice after so many months.

And my sense of things to come may also have to do with Bread Loaf, only a month away. They sent me a package of material today. There was a medical form wanting to know if I had allergies, if I’m under the care of a shrink (in case someone goes berserk in the middle of the writers’ conference?), what medication I’m under.

That form scared me because it raised questions in my own mind whether my mental state can “take” the conference. But I honestly answered the form, saying no, I haven’t been under psychiatric care during the past three years.

Maybe it was the realization of that fact which startled me. New situations have always made me anxious, and this is one time when I’ll be in a completely new environment, with no one who knows my hangups, my past, my good qualities.

I worry about being judged, about failing, about looking silly in front of everyone. I worry about sharing a room with a stranger: will I be able to do my exercises, masturbate, be comfortable, living in a room with someone else?

And there will be no regular mail, no TVs or radios, little time to write (they advise against bringing typewriters). I don’t quite know what I’m getting into; this will be my first real adventure since attending the Miami Beach Democratic convention five years ago.

Maybe I should call one of the people listed who need a ride to Middlebury. But what if that person turns out to be a bore or a nut or just obnoxious?

I had to sign a release allowing them to use my name and a photograph of me in their publicity about Bread Loaf Scholars; that made me feel strange, too.

Last night I slept lightly, having airy dreams. In had an erotic dream about being thrust into bed with one of my black students; when I caught sight of her vagina and immediately got an erection, I knew we were going to make love but I felt embarrassed because it seemed improper.

I also dreamed about walking on all fours (a recurring dream for several years now), about going back to LIU and not having a job there, and I dreamed of this dilemma: I went somewhere and had two cars, my own and Marc’s. How could I possibly leave? I couldn’t drive both cars at once, and I just sat in one car, not knowing how to manage to get both cars back successfully.

Hey, I just hit on what that dream meant: the dream was about bisexuality, the whole dilemma of wanting both male and females simultaneously, and so ending up not having any sex at all.

Today Mom and Dad left Miami for St. Maarten; they’ll return in a week.

This morning I drove over to Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Queens and sat by Bubbe Ita’s grave for a while. Then I finally found Great-Grandpa (Zaydeh?) Isidore Saretsky’s grave, far back near the Interboro Parkway. He died on November 22 (the date JFK was assassinated) in 1937 – forty years ago. He would have been 103 now.

Going back to Brooklyn, I ran into Hal as our cars were going in opposite directions on Ralph Avenue; we waved hello to each other, and I assume he’s probably on vacation now.

Laurie sent a card to Harvey, in care of me, because she forgot his address: Harvey – It’s as swell as we both remembered: blue skies over Berkeley, soft fog over SF. But I will return. – L

This afternoon Teresa phoned, saying she’d gotten badly sunburned at the beach this weekend. She told me to bring Avis over for dinner one night before we have the party there.

Maybe I should try to write some fiction, but I feel too restless, too keyed-up. What if nothing exciting happens this summer?

Tuesday, July 12, 1977

9 PM. This morning I was wide-awake when Avis called at 8 AM. It was strange to hear her voice, which sounded different; from being with people from so many countries, her English has taken on that standard international region-less tone that TV announcers strive for.

Yesterday at 5 PM, her parents picked her up at the airport, but Avis was so exhausted that she conked out very early. When I told her I had to go to Unemployment, she said she’d come with me and then we could spend the day together.

It was raining when I arrived at the door of her parents’ co-op in Sheepshead Bay. Avis looked the same, but now she has more assurance, and yes, a kind of foreign aura, although maybe it was my imagination or her European clothes. We hugged tightly and then drove downtown.

She spent a day in London before the flight to JFK, which was pleasant but tiring. In London, she stayed with Clive, a friend she met last year in Greece: Avis has developed a crush on him which disturbs her, because it’s progressed to the point where she’s having fantasies about living with Clive in London.

Things with Helmut are fine, she assured me, but she doesn’t see herself staying in Bremen forever, as comfortable as that might be. She and Helmut love each other and their life is happy; still, Avis feels the need to explore new relationships and new ways of life.

She wouldn’t consider marrying Helmut or becoming a German citizen, but she doesn’t think she could live in America anymore; she’s too European now. Avis’s theme of a “sick America” was one she repeated throughout our day together.

Everything we saw was an example of the decadence and corruption of life in New York: the truck running a red light on Atlantic Avenue, the Pampers boxes stacked up on the sidewalks we walked to have a pizza for lunch, and The Gong Show on TV.

I had put it on to show her what I thought was a funny example of mass media stupidity, but it upset her so much that she began screaming and I had to turn it off.

At first I thought she was only kidding, but I listened to her talk to Teresa and to Scott on my phone, and she expressed amazement at their pleasure to be back in New York after living outside it, and she couldn’t understand why they weren’t angry or hysterical that a program like The Gong Show was on American TV.

Tonight, I think I understand Avis’s overreaction. Partly it’s culture shock, but partly I think she feels guilty about leaving this country and therefore she has a need to rationalize her expatriation by saying that America is bad.

I told her that no culture is better than any other and each society develops its own rules and structures which are necessary to cope with its particular history, geography or whatever.

She says the people she hangs out with in Bremen aren’t into their careers, like Scott, or into TV and movies, like Teresa, or into having goals the way I do.

The constant put-downs of New York and America put a damper on our reunion for me. Avis wonders if she’s been living in Europe so long that she can’t relate to us anymore. In a way, I actually feel angry: Did she expect time would stand still and we’d all be as we were in 1974?

Of course she’s right about some aspects of our society, and to be fair, she was pretty hard on some German institutions like their bureaucracy and their authoritarian mindset; she says even Chancellor Schmidt and the SPD have sold out to big business.

But one doesn’t like to hear that one’s life is stupid. Of course, I’m still very fond of Avis. She brought me the book of Rilke’s poems I asked for. And she still can remind me of the girl was once in love with and too shy to tell it to: Her slim figure, her hair – still long, jet-black, and silky – and even the sprinkling of acne on her face (which I have, too) made me recall what I found attractive about her.

Avis told me the incredible story of the firings at Berlitz; she’s doubtful she can get her job back. Back at my house, she smoked some of Marc’s grass and may buy some from him.

We went to the YWCA and tried to see Libby, but she was teaching swimming. Avis made arrangements to see Scott tomorrow – I was invited but I have a dentist appointment – and we’re both having dinner with Teresa on Thursday.

She and Helmut have travel plans after the 24th, but they sound vague. Her father, she says, looks the same as ever; he’s working and taking chemo treatments once a month.