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


Friday, February 1, 1980

2 PM. Last night Harvey and I had dinner at Camperdown Elm. He looked very good, almost non-nerdy, and told me about his life in Santa Barbara, which sounded ideal.

Harvey’s friend Craig bought an option for this children’s book, something about mice and the National Institute of Mental Health, which he thought would make a good animated film.

Craig and his partner didn’t know the first thing about filmmaking or producing, however, and they were afraid they had wasted the $2,200 they had borrowed for the option. Then Aurora Studios, a new group made up of animators who broke away from Disney, also wanted the property and offered them $7,000.

But Craig and his partner negotiated cleverly, and after six months they got $33,000 cash up front plus $1,000 a week for two years to act as consultants for the film.

With the money, they incorporated as Osprey Productions, and they’re now on the lookout for properties to package. Harvey and Craig have spent the last few months writing a screenplay, so Harvey’s itching to get back to California.

He said that for the past couple of years in New York, he’d been very unhappy – but he didn’t realize how unhappy he was until he came back to New York for this trip.

Harvey realizes there’s no money in serious fiction, and like all of us, he’s tired of struggling. He’s a bit worried because a psychic friend told him California will sink into the ocean in 1982, “but I’d rather be happy out there for two years than miserable in New York for twenty years.”

After saying goodbye to Harvey, I walked over to visit Avis and Justin, who were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner. When I entered the apartment, Justin gave me a mammoth hug. We all got stoned and silly, and it was very pleasant.

Avis has enrolled in a Saturday steno course at LIU so she can raise her salary now that she’s decided to move up in the business world. Justin gave me some of his stories to read, and I left there at 11 PM to come home to a frigid apartment.

This morning the temperature went down to 10° with a -20° wind-chill factor, and of course we had no heat. At the moment my hands feel like ice.

I had to stay in bed till noon, and then I got up and put all the burners on. I’ll probably sleep at Teresa’s tonight rather than face the long drive home and the cold apartment.

In the mail I got The Browns Mills Review, which contained my “Plant Parenthood,” a very wicked little satire.

Louis Strick wrote me that “Indeed we have been thinking of putting out a paperback of With Hitler in New York. . . Call me any afternoon next week to discuss the matter.”

And I got a call from H.K. Simon of the H.K. Simon Company in Yonkers because I’d answered an ad of his. He wants me to edit two newsletters and said, “I think you could do it with one hand tied behind your back.” The pay is $7 an hour, but I could do most of the work at home. I’ll see him in Yonkers on Tuesday morning.

Saturday, February 2, 1980

3 PM. I’m back in my freezing apartment again. Yesterday afternoon I went to Kings Plaza to deposit the $250 check I got for the GTE stock and had a late lunch there.

As I passed a phone booth in the mall, it started ringing. I picked up the receiver and it was a man who said he wanted to talk to me. “But,” he said, “first I have to take off my trousers.” Chuckling, I hung up.

In Dr. Pasquale’s office, there was a very disturbed boy of about 14 in the waiting room. He was obviously in great pain: he paced, he sighed, he made odd noises, he laughed and he cried. I felt very uncomfortable and helpless.

His parents came out of Dr. Pasquale’s office, and Dr. Pasquale said he’d see him on Wednesday. The boy started weeping uncontrollably while his mother told him everything was going to be all right.

In the inner office, Dr. Pasquale and I discussed my feelings about myself. I told him that intellectually I felt that therapy was a narcissistic process. He said I would have to define narcissistic.

Dr. Pasquale felt I don’t allow myself the luxury of mistakes, that I’m harder on myself than I would be on anyone else, and he asked me why I thought this was.

“I guess I don’t like myself very much,” I said. I know I am very hard on myself. It’s the old double bind: if I fail, it’s my fault; if I succeed, it has nothing to do with me.

My frustrations over not being recognized for my talent are part of my desire to have control over things I can’t control, like the academic job market or the publishing industry.

Dr. Pasquale said he wouldn’t comment on whatever plans I had to change careers or to move, that he would only discuss my feelings about the decisions.

He reminded me that neither of us has ever questioned my judgment in matters dealing with reality. I left his office feeling good and drove uptown to Teresa’s.

Teresa had had a bad day. By the strangest of coincidences, this afternoon she ran into Paul on the subway, a week after he said he never wanted to see her again. She still loves him, and it’s very difficult to get Paul out of her system; she kept talking about him all night.

When Teresa and Avis asked me about Justin over dinner, I told them I decided I did not want to get involved with him sexually although I’d like to be his friend. Avis said he’s very immature.

I am ready for a gay relationship, but not with Justin. First of all, I’m not really attracted to him; as Avis said, Justin isn’t sexy. She suggested that Simon talk to Justin about it because Justin puts great store by Simon’s opinion. Justin does seem asexual, I said, but then, don’t I seem asexual, too?

But Avis and Teresa surprised me by saying no, that they thought of me as a sexual person, and Avis said that the only reason she never wanted to have sex with me was because that would spoil our friendship.

The other night, when he returned upstairs after seeing me out of their apartment, Justin asked Avis, “Why does Richie shrink from my being affectionate?”

Part of it, I suppose, is that I don’t feel I’m worthy of the affection; of course, part of it deals with Justin himself. So I’m not going to get involved with Justin, except as a friend; if I did get involved with him, it would also complicate my friendship with Avis.

Avis, Teresa and I watched An Unmarried Woman on TV in Teresa’s bedroom, getting interrupted by the usual phone calls, and Karen stopped by. Then, at midnight, we got into bed: Teresa opened the couch for me and I slept in the living room.

It was nice and warm, and surprisingly, I slept soundly. I’d always been afraid I couldn’t sleep at someone else’s house, but I’ve discovered that I can have a great night in a strange bed. In fact, it was great fun to be at someone else’s house; it reminded me of the pajama parties I never went to as a kid.

I think the friendship between Avis and Teresa and myself is a beautiful thing. When we had breakfast this morning, Judy came in with two-year-old Adam, who’s adorable.

Avis left early, seemingly very disturbed about being away from her routine, and I drove back home to Rockaway after 11 AM. It’s very cold out; I have the burners on now and I’m going to exercise to stay warm.

Tuesday, February 5, 1980

8 PM. Today was one of the most stressful days of my life. I couldn’t have written this entry an hour ago because my hands were shaking so badly. If I don’t get sick, it will be a minor miracle.

Tomorrow’s going to be pretty stressful, too: I’ve got to teach two classes at two schools I’ve never taught at before. That’s right. Lou Rivers from New York City Community College woke me up at midnight and told me to come in for an interview at 3:15 PM today.

Naturally I couldn’t sleep. I thought: if I take this course at NYCCC, it may screw me up at Kingsborough. But if I don’t, I might be sorry. And it will recoup the $1,000 I lost on Monday when my second Touro class fell through.

This morning I drove into Manhattan and had a good class at SVA on Elkin’s “Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers.” Then I hopped in my car and drove over unfamiliar roads to Yonkers, getting a little lost before I finally found Hubert Simon’s offices.

He’s a middle-aged man whose voice often trails off into a hum. We agreed that I’d start on the restaurant ad newsletter, and he said he’d pay me $150 for it, which seems reasonable. He wants me to use humor as a hook to get subscribers to renew. His clipping service clips out ads, and I went through three boxes of phone book restaurant ads to find the best forty or fifty I could write up.

This was extremely tedious work, and combined with my hunger, it made me develop a terrible headache. I drove down to the Bronx and along the West Side into Brooklyn. By the time I got to Picadeli on Montague Street for lunch I was pretty faint, but I managed to chew and digest my meal.

However, I felt exhausted and I still had an hour before the interview at NYCCC. After I waited impatiently for Lou Rivers, he and the acting chairman, Jack Ostling, and another guy interviewed me.

When it was over, they said, “Congratulations!” I wanted to laugh in their faces. It was as if they were giving me an honor instead of some shit adjunct job.

They assigned me a Communication Arts (C.A.) 109 – regular freshman composition with people who’ve passed the CUNY placement test.

It’s from 2 PM to 3 PM on Wednesdays (I’ll have to hurry back to Rockaway for the Touro course) and 2 PM to 4 PM on Fridays. I would have preferred an evening course, but what can I do?

As Avis said when I called to cancel out on tonight’s dinner with her and Simon, I can always quit NYCCC. Driving home from downtown Brooklyn after I spent half an hour filling out personnel forms, I felt tired, headachy, mean and angry.

I’ve got four jobs, I thought, and I still can’t make a living. What a fucked-up world.

At home, I got a letter saying I was a finalist for a position as a contributing writer with Superlative House. They want me to do a sample for their book projects The Richest and The Youngest. This might be fun, and it’s good money: anywhere from $400 to $4,000.

Grandpa Herb told me someone from Channel 13 called about either a résumé or a magazine; he screwed up the message. Plus I got a pink slip for a certified letter; I wonder what it is, but I expect it’s bad news.

Or maybe it’s the NEA saying they’ve changed their mind and are giving me a $10,000 grant after all. No, it’s probably somebody suing me: Joseph Heller or Gloria Vanderbilt or Fred Silverman. I’ll find out tomorrow.

Friday, February 8, 1980

5 PM. Well, I did make myself sick: good and sick.

Was it worth it? Of course not. The strain of this past week has been enormous. I’ve been tense, I haven’t been eating or sleeping right, and now I’ve got labyrinthitis.

No, it’s not a disease that comes about from reading too much Borges. It’s an infection of the inner ear: hence my dizziness, headaches and nausea. I felt awful this morning, called in sick at NYCCC, and went to a doctor my grandfather recommended.

He diagnosed it fairly quickly. I must have had a sinus infection that traveled to my inner ear. I had this dizziness last month in Florida when I had a cold. At least it’s not my blood pressure – that’s fine – and I’m not running a fever.

The doctor said my throat was inflamed and mucus-y, but I don’t feel as though I have a sore throat. He prescribed Antivert for the dizziness and Actifed for the congestion, saying I didn’t really need an antibiotic.

So all I should do is rest up for the next three days and concentrate not on the pressures but on myself.

Lest you think all is bad news, I did get a call from The Barry Farber Show: they want me, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel to come up for a taping next Saturday. Grandpa is willing, but Grandma is scared to death. We’ll see.

And when I called Ronna, she said that she and Jordan heard about me and the Ayatollah for Congress scheme on a Boston news radio station, WEEI. Also, Ronna said, Brad read the AP story on the second page of the Akron Beacon Journal.

I guess that story surfaced all over the country even if it didn’t make it here in New York. If it could be on TV in Miami, on radio in Boston, and in the Akron paper, it must have gotten wider coverage.

Last night I did go to Susan’s party at Books & Company. She greeted me so warmly that it just made me feel even more devoted to her. Neil had a bad cold, but he was friendly too. He told me that I should write a novel and give up adjunct teaching if it’s upsetting me so much.

All of the Brooklyn College English Department members and other professors who were there said they’ve been following my publicity: Jack and Laura Kitch, Vincent Quinn, Steve Jervis.

I felt on their level as I socialized with them. Apparently Susan gave all her friends in the department my “J.B.” story to read, judging from the delight they told me they took in it.

Laura Kitch told me a sad story about Jim Reagan, the ex-priest and former BC education professor who was friends with Jerry and Ray and others in LaGuardia. Jim went to law school, set up a Park Avenue practice, and just disappeared into thin air last August, leaving his wife and children mystified.

Susan introduced me to Elizabeth Hubbard, whom I had watched as Dr. Althea Gibson on The Doctors soap opera for years. I also met the author Barbara Seaman and couple of MFA graduate fellows who struck me as weird.

Actually, the whole Brooklyn College English Department is a little nuts. I was reminded by Prof. Starling that I was in her Bible class years ago; she’s still very nice and promised to buy my book.

Steve and Neil talked about how awful BC is becoming under President Hess, who apparently looks back on Harry Gideonse as a model to follow.

I heard a lot of college gossip. Dean Smith, Neil said, has a reputation as a stud, and they’ve hired a new Vice President just for fundraising. Brooklyn College now sounds pretty weird, and I’m glad there was no adjunct money this term.

On my way home, I stopped in the Village to drop in on Alice and Peter, who said I looked terrific even though I felt terrible. And I still feel terrible. But with some rest and medication, I’ll get over this.