A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1978


Sunday, July 23, 1978

8 PM. Life is so short. (Why not begin with a cliché?) And I don’t understand it and there are tears in my eyes now and I’m not sure I have been a very good person, but who knows? When I look over the past weekend, I feel happy and sad at the same time.

This afternoon and in the terribly obsessive heat and humidity, Ronna and I slept in my air-conditioned room, on this bed I am lying on now. I held her and it was perfect: just looking up, with thoughts and colors floating through my mind, I wondered why it couldn’t be like that forever.

My whole life, I see now, has been an attempt to turn those moments into forever. It’s an impossible job, yet I want to go on trying, having fun, writing another nine years of journal entries, living.

So I’m not afraid of teaching tomorrow night or of moving to Albany or of doing many things, because I am approaching a level of acceptance of myself and of other people.

Not everyone will like me; Michael Largo of New Earth Books thinks I’m a perfect bastard, and I can understand and sympathize with his point of view. I was unfair to him, but I just couldn’t be both fair to him and fair to myself, and I had to pick myself in the end.

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke up feeling energetic – until I went out in the oppressive air. (Why did I write obsessive a few lines back?) It was not a day to go to the beach.

I did drop by Ronna’s house to bother her for a while. I told her about Albany, and she was pleased for me. She said Susan told her I could drop by for dessert, but she didn’t have enough food to go around to serve me dinner. I told Ronna that maybe I would, so that she wouldn’t have to take the subway home.

I came home and went in the pool with my parents and Marc and Deanna and Deanna’s brother Edward, who is 16 and weighs only 80 pounds, and whom Dad was attempting to teach to swim (successfully, it turned out).

I surprised myself by having fun, feeling very energized by the water and the splashing and the fun. Deanna’s parents stopped by, and Mom and Dad got to meet them for the first time.

At 5 PM Teresa called from Mt. Sinai Hospital. She had been admitted in the morning. All week Teresa had these incredible abdominal pains and a fever; on Saturday they took her to the doctor who found Teresa’s white blood count three times normal. He suspected appendicitis, though Teresa wasn’t nauseated, and put her in the hospital.

They did tests and gave her ampicillin; she was taken off food and put on IV so she’d be empty in case they had to operate. I told Teresa I’d come over that night, and so I called Ronna and told her that I could drop her off at Susan’s on my way uptown. (I just found one of Ronna’s long brown hairs on my bed and I have wound it around my finger.)

Teresa looked very good when I saw her; her parents had just left, and Lance from next door was with her, as he had been all afternoon. I showed Teresa my Page Six article, and I massaged her neck and tried to keep her mind off hunger and her pains.

After Lance said he envied my tan, I joked that he could be similarly tanned if he didn’t spend all day sleeping and all night sleeping around. Lance and I always have fun when we see each other; he likes me and I’ve always had a crush on him.

When the nurse came in to take Teresa’s temperature and blood pressure and do other stuff, Lance and I went up to the solarium and leaned against the edge, looking down at the unexpected green lush beauty of Central Park.

I discussed my anxiety attacks, knowing that Teresa has had them too, making me worried about her being in a hospital.

When we got back to her room, I lay in Teresa’s hospital bed and tried to feel how it would be to be in one as a patient; Teresa and Lance sat in chairs, laughing. Lance swiped a hospital gown and put it in his satchel for me; I have it now.

We stayed till 10 PM, two hours after visiting hours ended, and Teresa and her portable IV machine walked us to the elevators. Lance hadn’t eaten all day, so we went to the Burger King on Broadway and 83rd.

Lance is very handsome, but if I slept with him I’d be only one of a hundred or more. And I can’t tell if he lies a lot. He said his album comes out in August and he’s now in rehearsal for an NBC TV movie, What’s a Pretty Young Thing Like You… , directed by David Lean. Lance said he stars as a boy destined to be murdered by a pickup in a Christopher Street bar (“Sort of a Looking for Mr. Gaybar,” he said).

Lance claims he doesn’t like show business and says he’s going to give it up. Huh? I just left him saying, “Find something you want to do and then do it.”

(Question: Why don’t straight people have proclivities?)

I drove down to the East Side, and at 33rd Street, I rang Susan’s bell. They had just finished dinner and I walked in on a strange scene. Apparently Mac, who had been John’s lover, had just stormed out after taking offense to a remark John had made.

They thought when the bell rang, it was Mac coming back. I didn’t quite understand it all, and Mac finally came back, but before that I got to eat dessert with the others.

It was nice to see Evan again after all these years; he remembered that we first met on our first day of Brooklyn College on the Flatbush Avenue bus at Avenue N. Could that have been nine years ago?

Evan told me he had just failed the bar exam – or he thought he had failed, anyway.

Susan and John, who’s 29, handsome in a gay way, and the darling of the Rutgers English Department, were chattering loudly about things I didn’t understand.

Ronna was in the bathroom, being sick with the diarrhea she often gets immediately after eating, and I felt very out of it, as if I had just sneaked into the second act of a play and had to figure out what was going on plus look as if I’d belonged so I wouldn’t get thrown out.

I sat or stood off to the side; it didn’t bother me, but it annoyed Ronna, once she got over being ill, that I wasn’t being a good mixer. She wanted me to like her friends and vice versa – but you can’t force these things.

I was tired and not in the mood to be raucous, I suppose: they were all a bit giddy with wine. Anyway, I suppose everyone assumed I was being rude and obnoxious by sitting there quietly, but it didn’t bother me.

Actually, when Mac returned from John’s car with the news that he had a flat tire, I got into the swing of things as we all went out to Second Avenue to change it – all except Mac, who was pissed at John.

Apparently, Mac, who’s 21, first came out when he started seeing John. At first John had been faithful to Mac, but then Mac decided he was young and wanted to see other people, too.

Then John returned to his promiscuous ways, and even as we left, he put on his “fag clothes” (his term) for the trip to cruise on Christopher Street. I don’t understand that kind of promiscuity, why one would want it, and it bothers me that it seems an inevitable part of a gay lifestyle.

Anyway, on the drive back to Brooklyn, Ronna and I had a sort of argument over my behavior, but it was ridiculous. I got to sleep at 3:30 AM and woke up at 10:30 AM.

Early this afternoon I picked up Ronna and brought her over to my house, where we had lunch and then retreated to my cool room. We had so much fun cuddling and being silly and holding each other and sleeping and making love and feeling free.

I adore Ronna, and I must have told her so two dozen times. I love her in every way; she seems to make me feel as though the rest of the world doesn’t matter. We talked about Ivan and about her father; I think she’s accepted their past “abandonment” of her very well.

I don’t think I could accept my father cutting me off the way Ronna has – and she manages to maintain a cordial relationship with him, something I admire a great deal. Besides, she has cute feet.

I called Teresa, who said they’re giving her liquids now. She had a sleepless night, but they’ve almost ruled out appendicitis. Her fever is still up, and she has pain, but Lance and Jan came over and were trying to amuse her.

So tomorrow I teach.

Monday, July 24, 1978

2 PM. I’m in a state of nervous excitement and high anticipation. I slept soundly, the sleep of a man who knows he has something to do the next day.

I’m not sure I like this evening schedule. When I teach in the mornings, I do not fret all day over preparation and such. Will I be able to enjoy my days? Maybe I’ll get used to this.

I don’t know why I’ve been so nervous. Prof. Merritt says he’s always nervous the first day: “In the end, you’ll be judging them, but on the first day, the class is judging you.”

How will this class come together, I wonder? Classes have distinct personalities, and sometimes the class never “comes together.” But I‘m in charge and in control; I have to remember that. Already I’ve taught eleven different classes, and usually I’ve succeeded.

This is the first time I’m teaching literature, of course, and it will be a strain to teach two hours in a row (though I’ve done it before, with English 10, and then with two classes back to back) four evenings a week. I’m more excited than I am nervous.

I won’t keep them long tonight, as they’ve got to have an opportunity to buy the text before the bookstore closes. But I’ll be at LIU early, at about 4:30 PM, so I can see Margaret before she leaves; seeing her will relax me.

Tuesday, July 25, 1978

10 PM. So much life is going on and I’m trying to get through it all. Although I’ve been telling people one by one about my moving to Albany in January, I don’t quite believe it myself.

Or rather, I do believe it intellectually, but not quite fully emotionally. Despite whatever bad things Teresa, Laurie, Mikey or my grandparents say about Albany, I look forward to it.

I think it will help me as a writer and as a man. “At least it will get you out of that house,” Mikey said, and Teresa and Lance agreed on that.

Anyway, I’m trying to adjust to difficult things in the present. For one thing, Grandma Ethel has a rare form of skin cancer; they finally diagnosed that rash that’s been plaguing her for months.

She’ll have to go into the hospital for a week of treatment; the doctors seem fairly confident that they can treat it successfully, but they warned Grandma Ethel that if she doesn’t get it taken care of, it could develop into Hodgkin’s disease.

She was crying at our kitchen table this afternoon. I ended up giving her that hospital gown that I swiped from Teresa’s room at Mt. Sinai. When you put the words “hospital” and “cancer” together, it’s pretty terrifying, which is why I told Grandpa Herb not to insist that Grandma “control herself” and stop the flow of tears.

It will be difficult for Grandpa Herb to be by himself; he can’t cook a thing, and Grandma Ethel has babied him over the years.

Grandma Ethel said the ending of “Wednesday Night at Our House” depressed her because of the grandfather’s death. I am scared Grandma Ethel might die, and I’m sure she is, too.

I’ve been trying to adjust to teaching in the evenings, but it isn’t easy. Both yesterday and today I spent the morning and afternoon in nervous anticipation, taking Kaopectate to counteract the diarrhea that’s been plaguing me for over a week. (Odd: I almost never use the word plaguing, but here I’ve just used it twice in one night).

Yesterday I had seven students and tonight I was down to four: hardly encouraging, and not enough people to foster a good discussion. I am trying my best – tonight I lectured on the elements of fiction – but I have the feeling that I’m approaching disaster.

The class is too small and too long, even when I let them out twenty minutes early. And none of the students are talkers, either. Well, anyway, there’s no sense getting nervous for four people: we should all get to know each other really well.

Yesterday I arrived at LIU at 4:30 PM and today at 5:30 PM, but even that is too early. However, at that hour, Margaret is not there and the office is eerily quiet.

Last night, after I let the class out early to buy books, I decided to visit Teresa; driving up the FDR Drive to Mt. Sinai was a snap.

Teresa’s fever is down, but she’s still on IV and a liquid diet, and her doctor expects her to stay in the hospital another three days. They’ll probably never find out what she has, and Teresa doesn’t care, so long as she gets better.

Jan was there last night and I drove her home to the West Side. On the way downtown, I stopped off at Mikey’s. He and Larry had spent the weekend camping, he said, and on Monday he found out he got an extra two weeks working at the Attorney General’s office.

Tonight after class, I went into the Village and walked around. There are so many people there at night, all of them seem young and good-looking, and over half of them seem gay. Maybe I reacted so negatively to Lance’s and John’s cruising and bar-going because a part of me wants to do it.

Last night I dreamed I was teaching a course on homosexuality and the students challenged me to admit I was gay. I told them it shouldn’t matter, but of course it does.

Strange – or is it? – that I feel on the verge of coming out just when sex with Ronna has never been better, just when I’m certain I love her.

Tonight I waited for the Eighth Street Bookshop to close and then I drove Laurie home to Brooklyn. It was actually a marvelous evening, cool and comfortable and sparkling clear.

Thursday, July 27, 1978

It’s 10 PM and I think I know where my adult is.

I’ve been coping better than I expected to. The first week of summer school is over and there are only five more weeks to go. I was a good teacher tonight and last night, and my students responded as well as I could expect five adults who’ve worked a long hot, humid day in their jobs to, and I’m not nervous anymore.

Yesterday I decided to drive to LIU along the Belt Parkway instead of down Flatbush Avenue so I could get the shore breeze. My heart leapt into my head when a police car began chasing me with its siren going – but it was after some guy on a motorcycle.

That got my adrenalin going, and in a funny way it released all my anxieties about teaching. I parked on Montague Street and had dinner at Picadeli; coming out of the restaurant, I saw Elihu.

He almost didn’t recognize me. “You look different,” Elihu said. I know he meant I looked better – and I do: I don’t think I’ve ever looked better in my life.

We had a nice long talk. Elihu teaches until 5:30 PM on Mondays to Wednesdays so I may have someone to meet before class.

Last night’s class on Bartleby went well, as I said, and tonight’s discussion was even better. Sometimes I surprise myself by saying smart things. Rereading Notes from Underground, I now come to it with a writer’s perspective and I pick up technical things in the narration.

Gosh, I would love to reread all of Dostoevsky again, just as I did in Prof. Roberts’ class five years ago. Now I get ideas and questions for my own work; for example, is honesty – no matter how self-lacerating – enough anymore? I think not.

Oh, it makes me want to go back to school as a student again. I want to learn so much more. I have a tremendous appetite for learning.

I’ve been sleeping well and my bowels are back to normal. I even went swimming for an hour this afternoon just before leaving, and because it was hot, I drove to school shirtless. I’m not afraid to be myself anymore just because I’m in the role of teacher to older adults.

Yes, I am happy. Now that I am aware of my apprehensions about moving to Albany, I can work on them; maybe I’ll even take a few therapy sessions in the fall.

I haven’t been writing, but that will come in time – and after all, I did write a 15-pager, a good one, last Friday.

I feel more comfortable with the idea of living in Albany. Somehow, when my bus to and from Vermont stopped there last August, I felt I’d lived in Albany before. Or maybe it was that I knew I would be living there in the future. Anyhow, I felt comfortable immediately and that’s a rare feeling for an agoraphobic like me.

Arlyne and Marty were upset because Grandma Ethel so passively accepted her doctor’s diagnosis of skin cancer, so they got a dermatologist at the same hospital to look at Grandma Ethel’s chart.

On it, he found three possible diagnoses: allergy to medication, psoriasis, and predisposition to malignancy.

Grandma Ethel had heard the word cancer and got frightened and neither she nor Grandpa Herb questioned the doctors. They view physicians (and lawyers and government officials) as gods, not to be challenged. Arlyne said they shouldn’t see doctors alone if that’s how they are.

I believe, like Wayne Dyer, that doctors must be challenged. I certainly wouldn’t take a prescription or shot without questioning the doctor pretty thoroughly. Jonny believes that too – as he proved with that dermatologist, Dr. Frank.

Jerry Borenstein sent me Irwin Shaw’s address in case I want to write him – I may – and said, “You were marvelous at the alumni meeting.” I was. I am competent, and it’s nice to know other people think so, too.

George writes that the New York Post article “amazed” him; he also said that he never saw the Library Journal review of X (it was “recommended”).

Well, now I feel that I have a vacation coming up: three days without teaching. This summer term teaching The Short Novel may work out after all.

Friday, July 28, 1978

7 PM. Harvey called a little while ago and convinced me to go with him later to some Park Slope bar. I’m not sure I want to, but maybe it will be good for me to leave the house.

Unlike last Friday night, I don’t have a story inside me. For a week I’ve gotten nothing but rejections, even painful ones like, “Your writing is much too flat for us.”

I didn’t do much today. I read a lot, spending hours in the Mill Basin, Flatlands, and Paerdegat branches of the Brooklyn Public Library.

For my class, I read Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych”: it’s a perfect work. Tolstoy recounts death in the most realistic way imaginable. In Ivan Ilych, we have most people’s deaths—and it’s almost hopeless, isn’t it? I would like to challenge death so I could stop being afraid of it; then, perhaps, I would not be so afraid to live.

Carolyn Bennett of Seagull Publications called today – which was odd because Laurie brought up her name on Tuesday night when I was driving her home. Seagull is doing a book by James Baker Hall, who’s afraid they don’t know much about publicity and distribution, and so he asked Laurie to ask around to find out what others think about them as a publisher.

Laurie said that Carolyn, Rochelle Ratner, and Dorothy Friedman are starting a women’s magazine, and they’ve been pressuring her to become fiction editor – but she thinks they really want her to do all the merchandising part of the work, getting the magazine into stores.

Anyway, Carolyn told me that Courier-Life has given her a column on Book/Arts or something, and that she’d like to do something on me. I was flattered, of course, and immediately I agreed to go over to her house (just three blocks from here) at 2 PM tomorrow, bringing my “bio sheet” and some stories.

Carolyn told me to think about the effect Brooklyn has on my work. And she wants photographs; I just hope no pimples are lurking in my sebaceous glands.

Interviewed! Being interviewed terrifies me. Dad couldn’t understand why anyone would want to interview me, and neither could Mom at first. To Dad, I’m just “some schmuck typing away in his bedroom.” He said that as a joke, but it would have hurt if I had let it.

My parents don’t comprehend that I’m somebody – indeed, I’ve accomplished more things in the public eye than they have. Dad has never stopped ridiculing me (always in jest, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better), and he also can’t see me as an adult, someone who isn’t dependent upon him.

When I came home at 11 PM on Monday, he told me, “I was scared something happened to you.” Oh well, Dad has his problems, too. He’s finally decided, after so many years, to see a doctor about the lump on the side of his face.

I just hope my instincts are wrong; I think it’s malignant, and I also think Dad might have been able to stop it if he hadn’t been so frightened to find out the truth about it all this time.

I can’t help believing that, after all these years of business reversals and the illnesses of his parents – just as Dad has stopped smoking and started jogging and may be about to get his break in business – everything will be over for good. I just feel the presence of death around, though maybe it’s just reading “Ivan Ilych.”

Boy, have I depressed myself! All the excitement I’d just felt about tomorrow’s interview has dissipated. Now I think: What does it matter anyway? But am I just letting Dad get the better of me? If he can’t do it by ridiculing me, can he do it by getting me to pity him?

Anyway, it’s probably better that I don’t take the interview too seriously. I hope I don’t let myself sound like a pompous ass. Interviewed! Me?

Last evening I spoke to Ronna, who didn’t get the job at CBS, but she has an interview at the UN on Monday. Meanwhile, she’s got a temporary job in a pleasant office, typing up tapes of an educational organization.

Ronna’s British friends are staying over in Canarsie with her for the weekend, so I don’t think I’ll see her till next week. And I think that’s all right with me.

Monday, July 31, 1978

3 PM. It’s a cool, rainy day – the first day of this kind we’ve had all summer. It makes me nostalgic for September, yet I also miss the sensuousness of summer.

July is ending, and August has sneaked up on us already. A month from today the second summer session at LIU will be over. I have strange feelings of uncertainty.

Last year at this time, Grandpa Nat had his heart attack/stroke, Uncle Abe died, Avis and Helmut were here, and I was preparing to go to Bread Loaf. Now I feel uneasy about things. Maybe it’s the weather or having to teach four evenings a week, but I don’t feel like myself anymore.

I am changing, and that frightens me. A good part of it has to do with moving to Albany; I don’t think I’ve completely accepted it yet, and a part of me still hopes that something “magical” will happen beforehand that will make Albany unnecessary.

But that’s not likely. Michael Largo of New Earth Books called last night, and he was very irate – justifiably so, I told him. I explained that there was no excuse for my not getting in touch with him, but there was no way I could come up with the money for him to publish my book.

I felt awful speaking to him, so embarrassed, but it’s over with now; he got out his wrath and I’m glad it’s settled. I don’t blame my parents for telling me that they would get me the $3,000 to subsidize the book’s publication but then backing down.

I should have known the money was too hard for them to get now. I take the responsibility for hurting the New Earth Books collective, wasting their time, money and energy.

It doesn’t make me feel very good about myself, and I couldn’t sleep last night. Then again, I also thought about how I treated Elise last week. I didn’t respond to three of her phone calls because I didn’t want to see her and couldn’t bring myself to tell her so.

Both of these incidents happened because I didn’t want to be “a bad guy,” but in the end, I only made myself feel much more guilty. I need a psychiatrist. I feel very pained.

Carolyn Bennett called and said the Courier-Life photographer couldn’t come and would I please send some photos over to her parents’ house and she’d get one of them into the paper.

The only photos I had were pretty rotten ones; if only I hadn’t fooled around so much when Marc took pictures that day. Last night I dreamed that Carolyn got sick and went into the hospital, making it impossible for her to write her article on me.

My first impulse was going to be, when the article comes out, to send copies of it to everyone I know. I now see that as foolish and vain; my friends won’t like me any the more because of some article.

Why do I feel the need to impress anyone? Obviously my self-image can’t be all that great if it’s necessary for me to gain everybody’s approval.

Meanwhile, it’s been ten days since I wrote my last story, and in that time I haven’t written a word, nor have any stories been accepted, nor have I seen a new story out in print.

I don’t know how much writing I can do while I’m teaching at night. I feel constrained during the day. I don’t really like going to bed at 2 AM and waking up at 10 AM. I guess I feel pretty down on myself in all ways today; maybe it’s my biorhythm chart.

Seven-twelfths of 1978 has slipped through my fingers already. Can moving to Albany make me any happier? But why use that inappropriate, irrelevant word happiness? Happiness has nothing to do with real life.

I wish . . . but why bother wishing? I can see I’m not in a good mood, and if it were possible today, I’d stay out of my own way.