A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1980


Tuesday, April 1, 1980

5 PM. An unexpectedly heavy rain began falling this afternoon. Last night I slept well and found it was sunny when I got up, so I went out by the pool. However, it soon turned cloudy and I returned inside.

Dad came home at noon with Sasson’s new line of outerwear; he has appointments with some big department stores like Burdines and Jordan Marsh, and I hope he makes some sales.

Jonny returned from school happy: he got the highest mark in the class on a stagecraft test. Mom says he’s been studying very hard for his classes.

Mom and I went out for the afternoon. First we went to a health food restaurant in Sunrise, where I had a very good mushroom quiche. Then we drove into Fort Lauderdale, by the beach. Mom had never seen the beach at Fort Lauderdale before, so I felt glad I could show her part of Florida.

It was raining hard at the time, yet the streets were still crowded with college kids. A1A was filled with young boys and girls, laughing, buying beer, hanging out in amusement arcades, all looking so carefree and sexy. I envied them their youth and their easy manner.

Downtown, I went to Broward Community College and handed in my application form to the personnel office. They told me that adjunct hiring is done by the chairmen at each campus, but the salary – $750 a course – is so low that I wouldn’t want the job.

Even if I could put together a package of five courses a term, I’d be making only $7,500 a year and I’d be running around like crazy doing it. That would make me unhappier than I am now.

More and more, it seems obvious that there is no future in college teaching. I still don’t want to believe it because I’ve invested so much in academia. But the signs are everywhere.

It’s the colleges and the students who will be the losers. In yesterday’s Times Op-Ed page there was another article which mentioned the phrase “a lost generation of scholars.” Fuck it.

Maybe getting out will prove a good thing for me: I’ll be forced to make a living in the real world, and that will probably help my writing. I won’t write the stuff that MFA teachers write.

Baumbach, Spielberg, Sukenick et al. have all experienced so little of the world outside a campus. I remember how Baumbach would sometimes startle me with his ignorance of the business world or of electoral politics.

Academics are so insulated they’ve lost touch with everybody in the real world; the Fiction Collective people don’t even want an audience.

I’ve been reading Malamud’s Dubin’s Lives and I love it. When I wrote yesterday that it was “a real novel,” I meant that, like Lawrence’s book, it creates a world and a life of its own. It’s not exactly aimed at the lowest common denominator, but the book has sold well and reaches a lot of people.

Even when I swallowed Baumbach’s line completely, I still couldn’t really get through a Fiction Collective novel. Give me Malamud, Roth, Heller, Bellow, Cheever, Updike any day. If I do ultimately write a novel, it will be a real novel and not some academic game.

I went through a bad time this winter, the worst I can remember, but I can only hope that eventually I will learn something from the experience and be able to transform it into some kind of art.

On TV, a public service ad just said, “Not everyone can sing an opera or write a book. . .” But I did write a book. That in itself is special.

The transit strike and LIRR strike began in New York today.

Friday, April 4, 1980

4 PM on Good Friday. We should be getting more thunderstorms soon, and perhaps that will cool things off. It hit 95° today, and sitting in the sun proved unbearable.

I began to develop sun blisters which, when peeled off, revealed untanned skin. So I decided to stay out of the sun. I’m tanned enough, and my hair is very blond; I don’t need to give myself cancer by overdoing it.

My dizziness has continued, though it’s probably due to the humid weather’s effect on my sinuses. Florida is much hotter than I expected.

Back home, I pooh-poohed everyone when they suggested this climate might be too hot in the summer, but now I wonder if my friends may have been right. It may be like this for the next six months, and I’m not sure I could stand that. Today was like New York in July or August.

Perhaps I’d miss the change of the seasons more than I thought I would. Yesterday it was 67° in New York, and that must have been wonderful on the boardwalk in Rockaway.

This afternoon I went to the Broward Mall and read the New York papers as I had lunch at Danny’s. The transit strike is expected to be a long one. I’m glad I probably won’t be missing class at SVA on Tuesday, but I hope the strike is settled soon after I arrive back in the city.

Part of me misses New York, especially in a time of crisis like this, when the city’s spirit seems to rise to the occasion.

From news reports, it seems that most people are cheerfully going about their business, walking, car-pooling, roller-skating, skateboarding, and horseback-riding. The unions and the MTA are still far apart, and negotiations are proceeding slowly.

I see in the Times that the Book Fair will be held, as scheduled, at NYU. I can’t imagine New York without public transportation. I’d very much like to be in New York for the Book Fair, but it might be a fiasco because of the strike.

Grandpa Herb told me that both of my rear tires have slow leaks. I’ve got a feeling my car is going to cause me real trouble when I return to the city.

And no doubt I’ll have all my old problems back again: money, career, writing, money, boredom, loneliness, frustration, money. If things get really bad, I can sell my diamond ring.

Grandpa Herb said he’s been picking up my mail; I should
have a nice pile waiting for me when I get home. When I left, I had about $600 in the bank, and if things have gone right, there should be SVA and Touro checks in the mail which will add up to another $370 or so.

I should be able to get through April. May will be a problem; I may have to sell my ring, after all. I expect to have costly car repairs, and the price of gas will go even higher. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to manage.

Last night my parents and I had dinner at Mr. Gumpps Restaurant Emporium in Sunrise: a very chic place with dozens of little stores selling knickknacks, cards, stationery, mugs, all very fashionable and expensive.

Our waitress was a full-time speech instructor at Broward Community College who had to supplement her salary by working nights in the restaurant.

I finished Dubin’s Lives and Endo’s Volcano, and I’m now reading Woody Allen.

Saturday, April 5, 1980

2 PM. As my visit to Florida ends, I can’t help thinking of the way I felt when I was about to leave here eleven weeks ago. I thought I had a good spring ahead of me.

I figured I could choose courses from among Brooklyn College and Kingsborough, I had two Touro classes and my SVA one, and so I was assured of more than enough money.

Everything fell apart almost immediately upon my arrival in New York, when I got that terrible stomach virus. After that, everything seemed to go wrong. I became ill and wasn’t able to teach; the BC and KCC classes never materialized; and I was more unhappy than I ever had been.

What a rough winter it was. And I can’t shake the feeling that the worst is yet to come. Will I be sick again when I return to New York? Will I be able to find enough money to live on? What do I do if my car dies? I won’t have the mirage of an idyllic Florida to keep me going.

I’m scared of the future. This recession will be rough for everyone, but I have no idea how I’ll survive. On my wits, I suppose.

Last night we went out to Heidi’s, dining amid familiar faces: the owners, Dad’s salesman friend at the next table, the counterman from the Mill Basin Deli. There was an anniversary party in the back, with live Jewish music.

My left contact lens has been bothering me; it’s got some kind of film on it, making my vision blurry. This morning, for the second day in a row, I got up with diarrhea.

While I was eating breakfast, Gary phoned from Fort Lauderdale Airport; he’d come down on the spur of the moment to stay with his Uncle Izzy in Miami Beach.

When I opened the door of the house, I saw my parents and Jonny walking back. “Guess who called?” I said cheerfully, and then realized from their expressions – especially Dad’s – that something was wrong.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. Dad remained silent, but Mom said the car got stuck again. For some reason I felt it had been my fault because I had been cheerful. Once inside the house, Dad raged and you couldn’t fun away from him fast enough.

I had forgotten how he could be. Living on my own, I’m not subject to anybody’s moods but my own. When I’m happy in my apartment, the mood is completely happy.

Also, Dad’s behavior shows me how I react to events beyond my control – and it isn’t a very effective way to act, besides its unpleasantness. Dr. Pasquale keeps telling me I’m making progress, but I don’t see it and I wonder if he’s not just saying it to make himself feel we’re accomplishing something in therapy.

Now I see clearly what kind of a pessimistic, negative background I come from. No wonder I get depressed so easily. Like my father and his parents, I can be fine when things go well – but I can’t handle misfortunes: I tend to lose all my self-confidence. I dwell on my “mistakes.” I castigate myself for my “inadequacies.” And I feel helpless to control my life.

I wish I could believe good things are headed my way, but all I see is more struggling and more pain. No light at the end of the tunnel. What a crazy time to be unhappy in!

Sunday, April 6, 1980

1 PM on a cool and cloudy Easter Sunday. Gary’s coming over in an hour; he hasn’t had very much luck with the Florida sun so far.

Yesterday at about 4 PM, I decided to take a ride out to the beach at Fort Lauderdale. Driving seems like such a luxury these days, so I made sure I enjoyed myself.

There was a long wait at a drawbridge, and four girls in a nearby car rolled down their windows. I thought they wanted to ask directions, but they were just waving and smiling. Then it hit me: they were flirting with me. It had been so long, I’d forgotten that anyone could consider me sexy.

Then, parking my car on the beach, I walked up and down the strip, taking in all the young, tanned bodies of boys and girls. I passed a group of girls in bikinis who were commenting on the guys who walked by.

They made kissing noises as I passed, then whistled, and one of them said, “Check him out.” Obviously, they were trying to turn the tables on guys, but, my God, I was passing for one of those young college kids on spring break.

For months, maybe for years, I’ve been feeling like a sick old man. I made myself into a sick old man. But obviously I don’t appear that way to other people.

On Las Olas Boulevard a guy in the car next to mine began flirting with me. I smiled back, flattered. He got in front of me, watched me in the rear-view mirror, signaled for a turn and then looked back, wondering why I hadn’t followed him.

Three times in one afternoon is no accident. I felt great.

Yet when I came back home to my parents’ townhouse, I began to feel slightly guilty for enjoying myself. How could I be happy when Dad has car problems, business troubles, and when I myself have money, career and health problems?

I realized once again that I have not allowed myself to have fun, to relax, to have sexual relationships. Instead, I’ve made myself into a disciplined ascetic, a grouchy celibate, a complete pessimist.

Mom and Dad weren’t the ones making me feel guilty yesterday; it was my own harsh superego. I’ve always thought that people who say, “I finally gave myself permission to have fun” were pretentious.

But it’s clear I don’t have my own permission to have fun. I’ve missed out on so much of life. Is it too late, I wonder?

My parents and I had a delicious dinner at Lum’s on Davie Road. We spoke about how fast the time had passed. It really did. Tomorrow is my last day in Florida. But the trip did me a world of good.

Last night I was restless and very dizzy and scared about getting sick on the plane or in New York. But I had some very nourishing dreams.

In one, I was on Grandma Ethel’s old tree-lined block in Flatbush going to a group therapy session. There were about fifteen people in the group, and I was the only one who complained about the number of patients.

I decided that fifteen was too many, so I left. When I came back to retrieve my coat, I discovered that all of the other people had followed my lead and were also leaving.

In another dream, I tried to call Mom, using her Dade number (949-1724; they got it to make it cheaper to call Miami) to call her Broward phone. Nothing happened, and then I realized I’d forgotten to dial “1” first.

In other dreams, I was with Avis and Libby in Park Slope, with Simon and Josh in the Heights, and teaching at LIU. I woke up feeling happy.

Tuesday, April 8, 1980

I don’t know what time it is, but it’s the middle of the night. I decided not to go back to New York this morning. That’s right.

There were some heavy thunderstorms in the evening that were expected to last the morning, and my sinuses were dizzyingly clogged, so that was a factor in my decision.

When I called Teresa’s, Avis answered and said that the city was a total mess because of the transit strike. “They keep saying in the media how cheerful everyone is,” Avis said, “but we’re exhausted now, miserable, cranky, and people keep getting hit by bicycles and cars.”

She said Teresa (who was upstairs at Diana’s when I called) was on the 6 PM local news telling people there might be another LIRR walkout. Simon had shown up for his NYCCC classes, Avis said, only to be completely without students.

After Avis outlined various ways I could get into Manhattan from Rockaway on Thursday – all of them entailing a miserable long trip – I decided I don’t need that. I was going to miss today’s SVA class anyway, so I might as well miss Thursday’s and my Wednesday night Touro class as well.

I suppose I could be considered irresponsible, but at this point I feel no responsibilities toward adjunct teaching. No wonder I quit at NYCCC. No wonder I forgot to hand in all my grades at Kingsborough last December.

After over five years as an adjunct, spending a lot of energy and showing dedication, what has teaching gotten me? Less than $135 a week. I’m sick of paying dues when I can’t see paying dues ever having any effect on my situation.

I found Robert Ringer’s books here: Looking Out for Number One and Winning Through Intimidation. His philosophy may be sleazy, but I feel I could use some selfishness at the moment.

Look, I do hate myself less now and I realize I deserve some happiness. If I had a job I truly liked, I probably wouldn’t mind the hassles of traveling in the transit strike. But what do I have now? A real job?

If they fired me, I’d almost welcome it. It would be my final break with so-called academia and it would force me to get moving in an alternate career. See, I still keep hoping for the impossible: a big job, permanent and full-time, at some college.

Even then, what would my salary be? Fourteen thousand dollars? What’s that in these inflationary times? No, I don’t need to subject myself to New York City until Sunday night: that’s when my new flight is.

Last night I unpacked my suitcase and relaxed. Am I running away from reality? Hey, Florida is just as real as New York is. I dreaded going back, and that’s why I was miserable yesterday.

I may continue to be unhappy here, and of course the old superego wonders if I’m copping out, hurting myself. Would being busy in New York be better for me? I can’t handle these questions now; I’m too tired.


10 PM. When I went back to sleep, I did have a guilty dream in which Dorothy Wolfberg upbraided me for not showing up to class. So I still have a guilt hang-up.

But when I heard that today was the worst day so far in New York, I felt a little bit better. I woke up at noon and stayed out in the sun for an hour and a half; it was a gorgeous day.

In the late afternoon I went with Mom to Basics, a “food warehouse” kind of supermarket where products are stored in cartons. You bring your own bags, and the checking out is done automatically as a cashier passes each item’s Universal Product Code by a detector. Then Mom and I drove to Spyke’s Orange Grove and got fresh fruit and watched the hens and the peacock.

Dad came home upset, as usual; he’s a nervous wreck, always on the verge of exploding. He told me he feels “degraded” by what he has to do. But maybe that’s better than my feeling guilty for not teaching at SVA today.

I filled out Grandma Sylvia’s census form for her; of all people, she got the long form.

Wednesday, April 9, 1980

6 PM. A violent thunderstorm has been occurring for the past hour. Florida weather is sudden: it was sunny just a few minutes before the downpour.

I am glad I am not in New York, though I feel a bit guilty knowing that my Touro students are waiting for me in Rockaway now. I bought the Times today and learned that yesterday was the worst day of the strike as 250,000 cars tried to get into Manhattan.

There’s no way I could have gotten in to SVA yesterday at 9 AM. The Green Bus Lines express buses had lines of five abreast stretching for seven or more blocks. Most branches of CUNY have canceled classes indefinitely because of low attendance. The Transit Workers Union has been fined a million dollars, but they show no signs of ending the strike.

Last night I slept well, and by 11 AM today I was out in the sun, reading the last of the Endo novels, When I Whistle. This was my favorite of Endo’s books. It was masterfully plotted: he interweaves stories in the present and past and then has them come together beautifully.

Oh, I sound banal. How can I possibly write an essay about Endo? All I feel I can do is stand back in awe and admiration.

When I Whistle tells about the contrast between prewar Japan with its quaint customs and niceties and the selfish, mechanistic Japan of today. Unlike in the other two novels, Catholicism is not mentioned, but Endo’s characters face difficult moral dilemmas.

Endo’s characters are real people, unlike any characters I have created. Why am I not writing now? I have time, but I’m just lazy and pampering myself.

Why don’t I start a novel, just for the hell of it, just to pass the time? I’ll start out with the assumption that it’s unpublishable and I have nothing to lose.

A few weeks ago, I got so immersed in reading my 1974 diary that I felt I was reading a novel about a bygone era, a simpler time – like Endo’s prewar Japan.

Why don’t I finally start my novel about my college days in LaGuardia Hall? I would like to. I’ve yakked about it for years. Hey, I did it once: that ungainly manuscript I wrote in the MFA program. I got so happily absorbed in writing it, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t any good.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that work makes me feel better. Except I don’t know where or how to begin. But I must start soon, or else I’d better stop calling myself a writer.

This afternoon I called Gary, who was sunning himself but who was having a problem with hemorrhoids. We made plans to do something either tomorrow or Friday.

I wrote a letter to Crad, and I also wrote a letter to Baumbach, a letter that was outwardly friendly but under the surface very nasty. While expressing friendship and respect for him, I was also sort of taunting him.

It’s a silly thing, but a little evil makes life interesting. Besides, Baumbach hates me so much, I can’t make things any worse.

Thursday, April 10, 1980

11 PM. It’s been a long day. Marc phoned this morning to say that someone from the School of Visual Arts called him and left a message on his machine. I was afraid to call them back.

My students must have been pissed off – I missed three classes in a row – and I didn’t notify the school. I felt very guilty. What am I doing here in Florida? Hiding from reality?

Yet I spoke to Marc and to Alice and I read the New York papers, and I can’t imagine the purpose of my hassling for six hours to travel back and forth to Manhattan to teach one class. As I wrote yesterday, if it were a job I liked, maybe I wouldn’t have minded.

I just figured out that in the last five years of teaching, I’ve earned a little more than $20,000. That comes out to $4,000 a year – or about $80 a week. Hell, what kind of future is there in that?

Tonight in the kitchen, I had a long talk with Gary. He, too, struggled to make the transition from academia to business, but he started three years ago and got out before he’d invested time and energy in a college teaching career.

If I had any doubts before, I don’t know. I’ve got to get out of teaching. But that leaves me very, very scared. What can I do? I feel panicky, and I just want to avoid making a decision. That’s why I’m here in Florida.

I feel such rage at being exploited that I can no longer teach effectively. I don’t know where I can go professionally, but as scared as I am, I know it’s got to be better than college teaching.

Gary came over in the rain this morning and we went out to the Broward Mall. Then we had lunch at Natural Eats and drove up to Palm Beach County to visit Gary’s parents’ friends who have a condo in Delray Beach.

Sid, the friend, a genial retired podiatrist, and his very elderly in-laws, were at home. They were laying Chattahoochee on his steps: that’s a process where they put these small brownish pebbles down over concrete; it looks very attractive.

Sid’s daughter, who’s our age, works for a women’s clothing outlet and makes $65,000 a year, and Sid and Gary kept talking about how to prevent “getting beat by the IRS”: buying real estate, condos, co-ops, utility stocks, money market instruments, municipal bonds.

I was fascinated by their talk, but it was completely foreign to me, who can barely afford to pay my rent. Sid’s daughter and Gary and so many other people have futures. I don’t. It’s taken a long time to settle in my thick brain, and would you believe I’m still foolish enough to hold a slight hope that I’ll be the lucky one who’ll get a full-time professorship?

It’s pitiful. As I said to Gary this evening, I feel like I’m still 18 years old. What marketable skills do I have? What can I do? Where can I go? What will become of me?

I can’t live year by year, as I have been. God, no wonder I’ve been sick and depressed: I’ve got a lot to be sick and depressed about. I’ve had shock after shock: moving out, my parents going so far way, the job crisis, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy.

But I do feel I’m getting some spiritual nourishment here. Dad and Mom and even Jonny provide a kind of comfort I can get nowhere else, the thing Lasch meant when he termed the family “a haven in a heartless world.”

Slowly, painfully, step by step, I am beginning to work out the big questions of my life. I still am not sure I’ll make it. Over the past year, I’ve lost a lot of self-confidence. I haven’t been doing much of anything well lately – except for my publicity stunts, which are purposeless. At least I can’t figure out how to exploit them.