A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1978


Wednesday, March 15, 1978

5 PM. I’m going over to Teresa’s later; we’ll just stay in and visit with each other. Although I’m a bit tired, I guess I can manage it.

Today is breezy and cool, but it’s supposed to get cold again, with a chance of light snow. Much of the snow has melted, and five days are left to this long, horrible winter.

At Barchas Bookstore today, I noticed that he had diaries like this on sale at half-price. “I should have waited to buy one,” I told Mr. Barchas. “The first two months of this year were lousy anyway.”

That reminds me: I bought my first of these diaries at Barchas at about 65% off on – yes, I remember it exactly – August 8, 1969, a Friday. I wrote my first entry sitting by a tree at Brooklyn College. My God, but that campus used to be beautiful! This was before the “temporary” buildings were put up; back then, there were trees everywhere and dark green grass.

That was a lovely summer, 1969, not very hot and often cloudy, but for me it was a rebirth after the worst time in my life. That summer was special: Brad; my first class at BC, Poli Sci 1; my first tip to Manhattan since my breakdown.

Hey, this is funny: I very clearly remember thinking I would be completely over my breakdown the day I could drive over the Manhattan Bridge myself. I guess I should try to remember that on blah days like today: all the things I can do that I couldn’t do in those years.

I slept well and awoke feeling a determination to (1) teach grammar to my classes; and (2) learn Latin. I miss being a student, and I’d love to learn Latin just for the discipline involved.

Probably I was the last student in America to memorize things, but I value that experience. In ninth grade English, I recited Henley’s “Invictus” and a soliloquy from Julius Caesar in front of Mrs. Sanjour’s class.

Today that would be thought barbarous. No ninth grader in today’s public schools could be expected to do that. It’s a pity, really. Today’s students have little discipline and little patience for books. This morning in my English 12B class, a girl – a middle-class, intelligent, white Jewish girl – actually asked me when World War II was. It was almost sad to see that no one laughed.

Teaching the pharmacy students has proven to me that it isn’t just the children of the ghettos who are so poorly-skilled and lacking basic facts (because facts – like history dates – are not useful, no, in progressive education); it’s everyone, all of them.

We had two fairly decent discussions today, on a very funny story by Melvin William Kelley, “Cry for Me.” Though it hardly seems possible, a week from today, spring vacation will begin.

Today the mail brought my CAPS manuscript back, and a letter from Bellingham Review accepting my story – but which story is it? I have an awful feeling that it’s a story already accepted somewhere else; in fact, I’m sure of it. But what can I do? I sent them a biographical note and I’ll hope for the best.

My BC transcripts also arrived today, and they’ve been sent to Murray State, too. Tom Whalen wrote, thanking me for my kind words. He says his (very fine) poetry book is being ignored although he does have a translation in the Paris Review.

“How come nobody’s published a book of your stories?” Tom asked. I suppose now that people are beginning to ask the question, it means that sooner or later a book will be published by someone or other.

I’ve sent manuscripts out and I’m still trying, but I’m fatalistic about it: I’m not going crazy trying to get a book done. I don’t want a shoddy, mimeographed job; I want it to look good, like a Fiction Collective book. Maybe I’m a snob, but tacky little chapbooks turn me off; I want a publisher who’ll give it decent distribution and publicity.

And the last letter I got today:

Dear Richard,

It’s 1:15 AM and I am eating lettuce and yogurt and I am agonizing again over why you never wrote back and what the hell happened and did I do something and are you O.K. and all that and I said FUCK IT just write him already.

The lettuce is because I’m on a DIET – I went to the doctors the other day because my body is getting weird – I get my period all the time and I either have it or am getting it so I’m always emotional and bloated and my breasts are always so big and I feel like someone else. . .

What’s new? With me? First of all I goddam miss you and I want to hang out in the Village with you. . . I got sick twice since NY. School is good, field work is OK. Every day is a test. I’m taking too many classes – but I’m compulsive and driven and guilty.

Please visit me. You would like the change. I don’t care if you’re mad at me. I still love you. So there. Be good please. . . I remember that incredible sunset the day we drove around. . . Please write or something, Mr. G –


Caaron: I did write you already!

Thursday, March 16, 1978

5 PM on a dark, snowy day. Wet snow was falling sporadically earlier and we’re expected to get several inches tonight. Mom had optimistically placed the shovels in the garage, but I retrieved them.

I’m not feeling well and believe I’m coming down with a cold. Perhaps I shall stay home tomorrow if I really feel rotten. But I’m not upset; I look forward to resting.

It was good to get out last night and wonderful to see Teresa again. I arrived early, having made it to West 85th Street stopping for only five red lights. Teresa and her friend Jan hadn’t come back from their health club, and Barbara and David, who have the key to the apartment, weren’t home, so I took a walk down Broadway.

It was a mild evening, and knowing that it would be snowing soon made the walk all the more precious to me. At Bloomsday 2, I bought a copy of Zone with my story in it.

Teresa and Jan arrived just as I got back to their house. We ordered in Chinese food, and it was fun eating egg rolls and lo mein in Teresa’s living room.

She’s been trying to keep herself very busy since the situation with Don got impossible about a month ago. Don went completely nuts, screaming and throwing things and – horrifyingly – slapping Teresa. It was one slap, but surely that’s bad enough.

He told her he can’t get a divorce, that divorce is repugnant to him, that he doesn’t want to be unfair to Teresa.

Don, Teresa says, is filled with Catholic guilt and is a workaholic: “What good is earning $100,000 a year if you have no time for anything?” He’s moved all his things out of the apartment – there are no traces of him at all – and he’s living with married friends in New Jersey.

Every so often Don comes over to fight with Teresa and give her “alimony.” She says she’s going to have to struggle a bit now to keep up her lifestyle; when we got to the apartment, I noticed there were two packages of shoes from Lord & Taylor and Bonwit Teller waiting for her.

At this point Teresa doesn’t know what she wants. The two of them are both going to be attendants at Barbara and David’s wedding next month, when they’ll be staying together at Barbara’s mother’s condominium in Boca Raton.

Teresa thinks the atmosphere there may be conducive to working things out, but she may be better off just to forget Don: if he won’t get a divorce, what’s the point of going on?

One thing Teresa hasn’t done – wisely, I think – is to rush off to the nearest warm body. She knows she can get a million offers, but she’s gone that route and in the end those “interim encounters” are depressing.

“Seeing An Unmarried Woman [the new, highly-praised Mazursky film] changed my life,” Teresa said.

We discussed our agoraphobia. Teresa dreads the summer because she’s been having anxiety attacks in open spaces; she drives or is driven most places, doesn’t take the subway, and her office feels “safe.”

She has pseudo-asthma and that out-of-body feeling.

I told her that I’ve learned that the best thing is not to fight a panic attack but to go with the feeling.

It all started last summer when her grandfather was dying and she was in a new apartment, trying to adjust to New York and Don and the Wall Street Journal office here. Teresa makes $14,000, but she’s bored out of her mind and there’s no place to go there.

We chatted until past 11 PM, and on my way out, I ran into Lance, taking the garbage to the chute. His wimpy roommate Ari is no more. One day Ari was mugged at knifepoint; however, he had only $5 on him, so the muggers made him take them to the apartment, which they cleaned out.

Then they had him go downstairs to his bank, withdraw all his money, and hand it over to them.

He never tried to stop them or call for help. Well, Ari decided he’d had enough of the West Side. Although Ari owes him scads of money, Lance is glad he’s now unencumbered.

His life is moving fast: he’s come into his grandmother’s inheritance and is now even wealthier; the Columbia album is coming out in April; he has concert dates; he models at Barney’s for $500 a week; and next month he’s moving to a $475-a-month apartment in the West 70s.

Sunday, March 19, 1978

7 PM. My cold has broken out into a beauty – runny nose, watery eyes – but I’m feeling better. The part of a cold I hate is when I first get it and have that awful postnasal drip and sore throat. My voice is husky now, but I don’t mind.

The last three days were pretty awful: I didn’t exercise on Friday and Saturday, and being cooped up in the house was getting me very depressed. My wisdom tooth is killing me, especially at night.

But I did sleep well last night and awoke this morning feeling sick but not depressed. I washed my hair and breakfasted and exercised and decided I’d better get out of the house; otherwise, I’d sink back into that terrible state again.

So I drove along the Belt Parkway into the tunnel to Manhattan. At first I was intending to go only as far as Bay Ridge, but then I said to myself that Bay Ridge wasn’t far enough. I deliberately drove through the tunnel to test myself, to see if I would have an anxiety attack; I didn’t.

I drove up Sixth Avenue and found a parking spot right on Waverly Place, on Alice’s corner. She was glad I came, especially since she was just about to go to Brooklyn and now I could give her a ride.

Her apartment is all painted now, and it’s starting to feel homey. Andreas put up these marvelous bookshelves, and her couch, slightly used but very nice, arrived. We had tea and gossip.

June was out for the day at her sister’s; she’s taken all her clothes, and Richard knows where June’s staying only because Alice couldn’t lie to him.

Alice said June wants to marry Cliff, but a strange thing happened: Annette called Alice to tell her that she and Cliff have been having an affair for the past year, ever since they met at Alice’s party.

(When Alice began telling me by asking, “Guess who Cliff’s having an affair with,” I thought of Hilary.)

Annette knew that Alice would ask June why June never told her about the affair, and of course the reason is that June has been in the dark all this time as well. Aren’t I terrible, writing down all this gossip? But isn’t it better than kvetching? I think so.

Alice swears to me that she’ll never see Scott again, not after he gave her a whippet (nitrous oxide) – or maybe it was a popper (amyl nitrate); Alice doesn’t know the difference and wasn’t clear which one it was – during sex on Monday night.

By now she’s had it with Scott, especially since her relationship with Peter is going so well: Last night they had an old-fashioned “date” and they dressed up, took a cab to Sardi’s and sat in front row seats at a very bad play during which the lead actor kept spitting on them.

I went over to the Eighth Street Bookshop to talk to Laurie, and Alice joined us later. Laurie has Jon Baumbach’s recommendation for this job at the University of Kentucky (not Murray State: this position is for a woman).

She’s psyched up about it but thinks the fact that she’s published only one story will be held against her. “It’d be great to get,”Laurie said. “Too bad I’ll owe it to Jon.”

Laurie helped Alice select a present for Robert, whose birthday/dissertation-completion party she’ll be attending tonight – and Laurie gave her a discount, which was very nice.

We drove home via the Manhattan Bridge and Flatbush Avenue. The sign on top of the Dime Savings Bank said it was 60°. Although I can’t breathe, having a cold makes me feel spring is coming. And it is: this is the last day of winter.

I won’t be sorry to see winter go. A week from today is Easter and I get a nice 12-day vacation starting Thursday. By then I should be feeling better.

Wednesday, March 22, 1978

8 PM. I’m still not “feeling 100%,” as they say, but I’m better. I was able to teach today and do my exercises and go to the bank and have lunch out, but now I’m very tired.

Except for about forty themes I have to grade, I’m on vacation now. So what, right? Maybe it’s just the cold, but I don’t feel very much like looking forward to anything yet.

Maybe the cold is a kind of separation anxiety; the usual psychological explanation is that one is trying to recapture something or someone that was lost by incorporating it (or him or her) into one’s respiratory system.

Maybe this cold happened because I am near to leaving home at last. Earlier this month there was a false start with Alice’s mother’s apartment, and that bothered me more than I let on. I thought: Will I ever be able to leave this house?

Now I’m getting responses from colleges that are far away, in Murray, Kentucky, and Salisbury, Maryland, and Evansville, Indiana. I may still get a fellowship in Provincetown.

Am I panicking at the thought of moving away? Probably. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face, so why shouldn’t I panic? It’s natural.

And so now I understand this cold better. I’ve also been depressed in regard to my writing. I’ve been successful in having a lot of stories published, but how many of them were first-rate?

“Prolific lightweight” was a charge that hurt when I read it, but in a way it’s true. I’ve said a thousand times that I was going to concentrate on quality rather than quantity in my stories, and now I’m really trying it.

I’m waiting and waiting and purposely not writing a story until something really significant pops out. What if it doesn’t? That’s the problem: then I’ll just be an unproductive lightweight. But I have to rely on my creativity. I don’t want to force a story.

Of course by now it’s been two weeks since I’ve written a story and I have no idea for another one. I don’t want to write until I have a story that obsesses me, a story that must be written.

Yesterday Dad had a complete physical, and while he apparently has just a sore throat, the doctor was concerned about the lump on the side of his face. But Dad’s pressure is good and his lungs are clear.

He and Mom were fighting again after dinner last night. Mom has gained weight and is heavier than she’s been in years. She’s on a strict diet, but it isn’t easy. I, too, wish I could lose weight. I’m trying to, but while I had a cold, my diet was shot to hell.

This morning I had two nice classes. God, but I’m fond of my students. They all handed in their papers on time, too: I was almost surprised. I guess they know I’m tougher than I appear to be. I hope they respect me; I know they like me.

Alice called the other night, all starry-eyed from a letter she received from Dr. Robin Cook, the author of the bestseller Coma.

Months ago, Alice saw his picture in the paper and wrote him a letter throwing herself at him and inviting him to Brooklyn. She even put in a stamped self-addressed envelope.

Now she gets a polite reply and she’s in love already. Should she write him back? Should she call him in Boston? I told Alice he’s probably a very busy man. “Oh, but he’ll have time for the woman he loves,” she said. I knew there was no stopping her.

But it’s so childish, really. Alice has a very complicated love life as it is; I’m convinced that nothing will stop her from seeking out more love. It’s a pity because Alice is a bright, pretty, interesting woman. I’ve always been amused by her stories about Jim, Noel, Jonathan Schwartz, et al., but now I think that if it were anyone else – Ronna, say, or Avis or even Elspeth – I would think that she was crazy.

In that respect, Ronna is more mature than Alice, and I don’t say that just because Ronna is fond of me. Maybe Ronna and I can get together this weekend.