A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late March, 1980


Saturday, March 22, 1980

8 PM. I feel so tired today. I haven’t slept well in several nights, and I just feel so worn out. The weather hasn’t helped: it’s cold and very rainy and the winds have been coming out of the north (and into my apartment) with extremely strong gusts.

Thinking back to my January 1974 diary, I realize that rarely did I ever feel as depressed as I have been these past few months. Of course I was a kid then. I never had a job, I didn’t live on my own, I seemed to have everything.

When I told Dr. Pasquale that I felt I wasn’t making any progress, he said I was now dealing with specific conflicts and difficulties, whereas when I first came to him last June, I felt only vaguely depressed. I am beginning to put my finger on what’s bothering me.

Still, I’m very confused about my future. Until about a year ago, I just let my life fall into place: the MFA, teaching at LIU and then Kingsborough, sending out stores. I never did any long-range planning because I knew I had the security of living with my parents.

Now I’ve had to face questions I’d ignored. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do? How do I want to live? I don’t have the answers yet, and struggling to find them is painful.

If, as I imagine, I don’t want material things as much as others like Gary do, then why do I still want a job with a high salary? “For the status or recognition,” I told Dr. Pasquale.

“But if you lived cheaply and continued to wear old clothes and drive a beat-up car,” he asked, “how would anybody know what salary you made? Would you tell people? Would you wear your salary on a nametag?”

Of course not. Obviously I’m still dependent on others’ opinions of my worth. I let others control how I feel about myself. “It’s like being at the mercy of the mailbox,” I told Dr. Pasquale.

I don’t know how to deal with it. When I hear other people’s opinions of my worth, I must of course “consider the source.” I have the intelligence to weigh people’s biases and adjust them to my own frame of reference.

Well, what do I want? I don’t really know. Florida or New York, working in PR or teaching, gay or straight, laid back or high-powered. There are so many alternatives, no wonder I’ve been dizzy. I’ve defined myself only up to a point, and I’m stuck at that point now.

I wish the wind would stop rattling. Dad is coming in tonight, and all of a sudden I’m not looking forward to it. Mom called this morning and started nagging me – or at least I perceived it as nagging.

I wonder if Florida isn’t just a pipe dream, a safe place that only existed in my mind to get me through the winter.

I’m so worn out. I need to be revived by something or someone. I don’t know if I have the resources to work my rejuvenation from within.

That pain-in-the-neck kid keeps making prank phone calls to me. Another one just came.

Three weeks ago I was a complete wreck, and while I’ve gotten over that, I don’t seem to be able to get past this solid wall of despair. There are no big victories in my life, only defeats punctuated by short respites.

No wonder all I want to do is lie in bed. Will this ever end? I keep wondering whether I’ll be stuck in this unhappy phase of my life forever.

Sunday, March 23, 1980

6 PM. I feel like a mess. I’m coming down with a cold, I’m dizzy again, I’m fatter than I’ve ever been, and my face is all broken out. I haven’t slept well in days and I feel like my whole body is rebelling against me.

Last night at the airport I met a remarkable woman of 70, who looked 50; her skin was clean and unlined, her body slim and smooth, her eyes perfect. She was full of energy and explained that years ago she was an invalid, unable to walk.

She went from doctor to doctor, and no one gave her any hope. Then she decided to change the way she lived: “to cleanse my body of its poisons.” She cut out smoking, all meat and fish, milk, butter and eggs.

She began eating only organic foods and drank as many as forty glasses of carrot juice a week. Today she’s more active than most 40-year-olds, playing tennis for three hours every morning.

This woman radiated health and contentment. I told her she must be doing something right to have gained that kind of control over her body and mind.

We were both waiting for the delayed Fort Lauderdale flight at Delta, which didn’t come in until after 1 AM. I saw Dad coming, and my companion said, “He looks very young.”

After I kissed Dad hello, she came over to him and said, “You have a lovely son.” Why did she think so? I’m overweight, I have bad skin, I look lousy and I’ve been ill for months. For the first time I’ve begun to look my age.

Maybe living all those years in my parents’ house and behaving like an adolescent kept me youthful. Now I feel like a broken-down wreck. I’ve abused my body terribly, eating junk food, sugar, meat, saccharine.

No wonder I’m an emotional wreck as well. I feel as though I need a complete change in lifestyle. I don’t want to end up like one of those chain-smoking, pot-bellied, dead-to-the-world people you see buying garbage at Waldbaum’s.

Granted, I never smoke or drank – as usual, I’m being too hard on myself. I have tried. Now I feel as though I’m coming down with a cold and if that happens, I may not go to Florida after all. I don’t want to aggravate my condition by flying with a cold. That’s how I got into this mess with my dizziness.

Hell, I don’t know what I want. That’s my big problem, as I mentioned yesterday. I feel so unattractive – I’ve made myself so unattractive – I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get involved with me. I have no self-confidence anymore. My pleasures are shallow.

Last night I went to Simon’s to join him, Avis and the two Germans – Hartmund and Martin – for a dinner of Peking duck. The Germans were very interesting people – Martin has traveled all over Europe, Asia and Africa – and I enjoyed being with them, although I felt a bit out of it when everyone spoke in German.

We all went for a ride in Manhattan. I lost a hubcap on the South Street viaduct; that road is just impossible. Then after we had ice cream in the Heights, I dropped everyone off and went to the airport via Atlantic Avenue.

There was a long wait, and I walked a mile in the cold to the International Arrivals Building so I could get the Sunday Times. Dad looked tired but tanned; he said it’s been very hot in Florida and he was unused to the cold weather here.

We didn’t get back to my place till 2:30 AM. It was freezing in the apartment, so Dad must have been really cold. He had to get up at 6 AM to go to a Sasson meeting before the Coliseum show. Dad took my car into the city.

I woke up at noon from a fitful sleep and later took a walk on the boardwalk to my grandparents’. Today was the first real spring day, and there were throngs of people enjoying the outdoors, but I felt too enervated to really let myself enjoy it. Then Grandpa Herb drove me and my laundry home.

Tuesday, March 25, 1980

1 PM. When things are going badly, keep this in mind: they can always get worse. I think I’m going to make that my motto; it belongs on my family crest. In the past few months, everything in my life seems to have collapsed.

This is the most difficult time I can remember, and it just seems to pop along endlessly, with every day bringing another rotten event, a new indignity, a fresh defeat.

I’m in terrific pain now: my neck is killing me, and I’ve got to go back to Dr. Robbins this afternoon. I canceled my appointment with Selma Shapiro because I was in too much pain.

Yesterday I was in Dr. Robbins’ office for over two hours, and it helped a little. He said I have a short, fat neck which gives me all sorts of problems. It snaps on me because it’s too weak, and the blood doesn’t flow right in my head, which causes my sinus and labyrinth problems.

When I came home from seeing Dr. Robbins last evening, I prepared dinner. Anna called, wanting to know the name of a literary agent for her children’s book.

Then I called Mikey, who had a bad week: he was rejected by Legal Aid, and the judge told him his present job will end in September.

Dad came home at 9 PM; he was soaking wet and very dispirited. In the morning he got stuck in the subway for two hours. When he came in, his boss greeted him with a sarcastic “Good afternoon.”

(Although Dad said that it didn’t bother him, I heard him on the phone, repeating the story to both Mom and Aunt Sydelle.)

Sasson’s outerwear, Dad says, is much too heavy for Florida, so while all the other salesmen were writing up dozens of orders, he had nothing to do. None of his other prospects turned out to be anything but disappointment.

Dad looked defeated and said he was getting a very bad sore throat. Instead of commiserating with Dad, I hated him for his weakness; in a way, it was a reversal of what he used to do to me. (“Those who try to get sympathy only get contempt.”)

I felt annoyed by his presence in my apartment. I felt as if he was just bringing fresh miseries in with him when he opened the door. And of course, I immediately hated myself for resenting him.

This morning I was short with Dad as we drove to work. The slightest movement caused a sharp twinge of pain in my neck, but that didn’t justify my silent hostility.

I don’t know if I want to go back to Florida with him. It seems he arranged things to go as badly as possible from beginning to end. (Why did he have to take such a late flight? Why did he tell Sasson that he didn’t need a hotel room? Why did he make our Florida reservations for exactly the same time but at different airports?)

Maybe I should just stay by myself like a wounded animal. All my coping skills seem to be lost but one: retreating from the world, lying inert, escaping into sleep and dreams.

I feel disgusted with myself for not handling the pressure better. I loathe myself. Just like my father, I’ve lost all my confidence, and I can only foresee one defeat after another coming down the road.

Ted Kennedy has managed to show extraordinary grace under pressure following his weekly primary shellacking by President Carter; today is New York’s turn.

But I don’t think I have the resources that Kennedy has: I’ve gotten so pessimistic that I can only view my minor victories as illusions.

The weather, of course, remains cold, rainy and bleak. Thank God no one reads these diary entries: constant pain is an incredible bore. I’d like some kind of release from all this; I won’t commit suicide, but I’d welcome being in a coma.

Friday, March 28, 1980

5 PM. It’s another gorgeous day in Broward County, Florida. Now there’s a story title for you: “It’s Another Gorgeous Day in Broward County, Florida.” But it is. I am sunburned and feeling better than I have in a long while.

The climate here is perfect. The natives are friendly. Jonny mentioned that this winter he didn’t get that depression that tended to set in when he lived in New York.

I am, though, feeling the tiniest bit dizzy. I just hope the plane ride didn’t cause a recurrence of my labyrinthitis. Last night I had great difficulty falling asleep because I kept feeling I was flying: the sensation of landing ran through me, and I felt I had to grab onto something.

But enough about dizziness. I woke up at 9 AM and showered in the bathroom, which is so much more modern and cheerful than the one I have at home. And Mom’s kitchen is so new and the refrigerator so well-stocked, breakfast was a delight.

I went out by the pool and sat in the sun until noon. Then it got cloudy, and I decided to go get my Florida driver’s license.

On the way I stopped at Lum’s for an Ollieburger and iced tea. The waitress, like all Floridians, gave me a big hello and asked how I was as if she was really interested in finding out the answer.

At the driver’s license bureau in Pembroke Pines, the lines were short, the place was clean, and the workers were kind and efficient; it’s a far cry from the DMV on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn.

Passing the written test and eye test, I got my Florida license within ten minutes. My photo looks horrible, but Dad says they all do.

Back home, I watched TV and then went out in the sun again. It’s about 80° and partly cloudy. Tonight we’re going to dinner at Heidi’s.

I love so much about South Florida. There’s the physical beauty, of course: the palm trees swaying in the breeze, the orange groves, the canals, the meadows with their horses and cows, and of course the newness of everything. (They have decided to preserve the oldest house in Plantation. It was built in 1940.)

The pace here is slow and relaxed, but I find I don’t miss the hectic paranoia of New York. I feel like I would like to live here.

But honestly – I know I promised myself not to say anything more about my dizziness – now that I’m here and relatively happy, I do believe something may be wrong with my health.

I just don’t feel right and I haven’t felt right for months. I hate to sound like a hypochondriac, but I have the sense that there’s something going on in my body that shouldn’t be happening.

Maybe there’s a physical reason for my depression of the last few months. Of course, it could just be allergies, as Dr. Brownstein suspected, but I wonder if it isn’t something more profound. I seem to have no energy.

Then again, it could be just the trauma of my parents’ moving, though if so, it certainly took a long time to develop because I felt okay in November and December. I fantasize that I’m dying. I wouldn’t really mind dying, not if I were here and being taken care of and if I could read and write and get some sun.

Oh, this has been a terrible time for me, and I can’t believe coming to Florida will turn things around. It’s more than being sick or lonely or bored or poor: life just doesn’t seem the same as it used to; I don’t seem the same, and I’m afraid I liked the old me a whole lot better.

I do feel that the best part of my life is already over. Hey, this didn’t end up sounding very optimistic.

Sunday, March 30, 1980

9 PM. The air conditioner is on, but it doesn’t work all that well. My parents have installed huge fans on the ceiling of their bedroom, Jonny’s, and the hallway but not in this room.

I just stepped outside on my terrace for a minute. The sky is cloudy and there’s a ring around the moon. Today was another hot day.

Last evening we ate dinner at Valle’s in Hallandale; we had an hour’s wait and the food wasn’t that good. Then we went to the Lauderhill Mall to catch the 10 PM showing of Coal Miner’s Daughter with Sissy Spacek, which I enjoyed.

I couldn’t sleep last night; I kept wool-gathering. I’ve been feeling fat since I came down here. I see all these skinny kids and wonder why I’m not like that. Then it occurred to me: I was like that ten years ago when I was 18. But now I’m a little more than a year away from my thirtieth birthday.

Granted, I eat too much – but even so, I’ve got to realize that I’m not a kid anymore and I don’t have a kid’s body. Even at this age, I’m starting to develop little aches and pains, like my neck problems.

This afternoon I drove over to see Grandpa Nat at the nursing home in North Miami. I found him slumped in his chair. He didn’t have his teeth in and he kept chewing on some piece of meat. When Cousin Scott was here, he didn’t even recognize Grandpa. He has aged very much; there’s also that vacant look in his eyes.

I talked with him as much as one can talk with him. Although I explained who I was, he didn’t really seem to understand. He told me, in answer to my questions, that he was fine, that being old was terrible, that he liked Florida and liked to have visitors.

Only once did I see a glimmer of the old (younger) Grandpa Nat’s expression: when I said, “You must be about 80 now.”

He scoffed, “Nah, what are you, crazy?”

Afterwards I went over to The Moorings but Grandma Sylvia was too deaf to hear me ringing the bell. So I had lunch at the counter of Pumpernick’s – we couldn’t get in there last night – which has the New York Jewish wiseass atmosphere I like. My seatmate and the waitress and I discussed the impending New York transit strike.

Then I drove up A1A by the beach. All those honky-tonk motels attract me, as do the young boys and girls on spring break, tanned and youthful and full of energy.

Since I’ve been in Florida, I’ve felt interested in sex again, and even though I have no sexual outlet here, just having the feelings makes me feel more alive.

I went out to the beach at Dania. It was late afternoon and cloudy, so there weren’t many people out. Why is the water here such a silvery-green rather than the blue-black ocean we have in Rockaway?

I love driving around Dade and Broward Counties. It makes me feel like an explorer or somebody trying to soak up the atmosphere of a place.

South Florida is filled with an extraordinary natural beauty. The tropical climate makes life much different than in New York.

This morning I sat out by the pool, but the sun’s rays were almost unbearable. I have been feeling a bit dizzy, too, though I promise not to complain. My face and body are now deeply sunburned and my hair is streaked blond again.

After three and a half days in Florida, I do feel better. I finished Endo’s Silence, a magnificent novel. It made me think a good deal about suffering. I still don’t know what the purpose of my life is, and I fear that one day I will be like Grandpa Nat and I’ll have lived eighty years without finding out why I’ve been alive.