A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1979


Friday, August 10, 1979

3 PM. It turned very humid and hot again. Today and yesterday were the first days I’ve been bored in several weeks. And for me, bored usually means depressed.

I can’t think of any new ideas to promote my book, and I still haven’t seen it in any stories or libraries. Will the People review come out? I can’t count on it. I’m tired of hustling; it’s difficult to have so many rejections.

Some people seem to go out of their way to be nasty – like a guy at the Sarah Lawrence English Department, who responded to my query about a reading with a very cruel note. I’m sending it back to him, ripped up. Of course I know this hardens me against criticism and rejections; I just keep getting tougher.

A letter from Crad today: now there’s a guy who gets plenty of rejections. He wrote that he has to read his book every so often to convince himself he’s still really good.

But Crad is getting his breaks, too: on Monday he’s taping a nationwide radio show with CBC. A woman reporter/host will interview him and have him read a story.

Crad has a crush on this woman, but he doesn’t think it will amount to anything because she’s an upwardly mobile radio personality and he’s a starving writer.

George phoned today, and it was good to hear from him. He hates the hours on the Patriot but enjoys the work – though not as much as he did his feature writing on the Evening News.

Tonight he’s going to go undercover to investigate whether the Harrisburg police’s arrests of prostitutes’ johns have been cases of entrapment. George was intrigued by my Vice Presidential candidacy and may write something about it.

Last night Pete Cherches called just after getting a threatening phone call from Leo Zanderer of the Writing Center, with whom he’d had a feud that led to his quitting the Writing Center and going to work for the Department of Educational Services.

“I’m not through with you yet!” Leo Zanderer screamed at Pete. “I’ll get you! I’ll make trouble for you with the English Department! Why do you think you didn’t get a fellowship?”

He sounds like a typical Brooklyn College English Department looney. Those people are the most petty, childish group of worms I’ve ever encountered. I would love to say “Fuck you” to all of them one day – the way Irwin Shaw did.

(They were too snobby to let Shaw teach after he graduated, and he held a grudge against Brooklyn College for decades, until a few years ago, after Jerry Borenstein and some of the other alumni kept trying to make amends.)

Mom and Dad are at the lawyers’ now, going to contract with the man who’s buying the house. I guess that’s why I feel a bit depressed. I’m glad I’m seeing Dr. Pasquale tonight; he’ll say my sadness is natural.

The phone just rang. A woman started talking about the ad, and so I said that we sold the house and didn’t need a broker. But it turned out that she was from a moving company; I told her to call back later.


6 PM. A terrible thunderstorm ended a little while ago. After about an hour of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, I finally called about an apartment that I saw listed in the paper, and I was about to go over there when Mom and Dad came home.

Dad signed the contract, but no one else did. The buyer is having an engineer look at the house, and if that goes okay, he’ll try to get a mortgage – which may take some time.

Dad told me he doesn’t think we can be out of the house until October at the earliest. The Soviet couple wants to put only $15,000 down, and they may have trouble getting a mortgage because of that. So I think I’ll stay in the house until I have a job in September and I see what’s what.

Monday, August 13, 1979

Midnight. I’ve just gotten home.

Mom was on the phone with Dad when I walked in. Marc and Jonny are out. I’m certain Mom misses Dad very much; in thirty years, they’ve never been apart for very long, and they are terribly dependent upon one another.

Today was a gorgeous day, sunny and mild. For the last four weeks, each Tuesday or Wednesday has brought some good news about my book: the Arthur Bell column notice in the Voice, Wes’s calls with news of the reviews in the L.A. Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and (hopefully it will come out) People.

Obviously I can’t hope for anything as good this week, but being human, I can’t help hoping. I’m definitely running out of ideas to push my book. I sent out half a dozen letters today, but I’ve done just about everything for the time being.

I do feel guilty about not working actively at some kind of promotion, and I found it a bit difficult to just relax today. I got one surprise call: from my old public school and junior high school buddy, Maury Lowenstein.

He saw the Post article and thought he’d look me up; he, too, still lives in the neighborhood although he’s planning to get married soon to a girl he’s been going with for five years.

Maury went to LIU but never finished (he got an Incomplete in English with Dr. Tucker), got interested in radio, ran Crazy Eddie’s Kings Highway store, and for the last three years has been selling insurance.

We talked about old times and people from the old days, and Maury asked me to have lunch with him on Thursday. We don’t have much in common, but I have little to do these days, and it should be fun to talk over old times at school.

Dr. Lipton wrote me a wonderful letter and even sent me a check for one dollar as a contribution to my Vice Presidential campaign, saying he hopes it will get me to New Hampshire – “or at least Vermont.” I must visit Dr. Lipton soon.

The University of Portland Review’s spring issue arrived with my story, “A Distant Death” (not a good one, but very traditional, with a protagonist based on Ronna’s mother) inside.

This afternoon I spoke to Ronna, who was working on a story for the Canarsie Digest that she had to hand in later. She still hasn’t rewritten her résumé or checked out any newspaper jobs.

Yesterday I told Alice I didn’t really care about seeing Ronna, even as a friend, but I must really like her because she’s on my mind a lot. Ronna said she almost called me yesterday; she was feeling very sentimental after finding her 1974 diary and reading about entries about me (“most of them good stuff”).

I was heading for Josh’s at 6 PM, and I knew Ronna was planning to meet Jordan for dinner in the Heights and then spend the night either with him or with her sister, so I offered to drive her there.

I hadn’t seen Ronna in months. She looked well but older; her hair is going gray and getting thin. On the drive to the Heights, I asked her about her love life.

Jordan is in love with her, but she doesn’t want anything permanent so she says it’s just as well that he’s returning to law school in Boston in two weeks. Her romance with that other guy never really happened, and now their friendship isn’t so solid.

I told Ronna I had an affair with a 19-year-old boy (of course I was thinking of Bill-Dale). Why? Part wish-dream, part to gauge her reaction (she was very cool about the whole thing), in part to assure her that I’m not interested in her sexually anymore. Perhaps we really can be friends; I’d like that.

I visited Josh’s Hicks Street apartment, which is not my sort of place – I’m too middle class – but I found it comfortable and not at all as cramped as he says it is. We then went over to Simon’s on Bergen Street.

Simon’s apartment had been broken into today, along with two others in his brownstone, by kids from the block, one of whom was caught by the cops. Simon is insured for theft and we were planning how he could make some money from the insurance.

He finally agreed to say the following items were taken: Josh’s saxophone, Simon’s flute, two watches and a clock radio. The last two items actually were stolen.

Wednesday, August 15, 1979

2 PM. I just have to write now. No, nothing’s happened, and maybe that’s the point. I realize I don’t need publicity or good reviews or job offers to make me feel good. Right now I feel magnificent.

Today was one of the most beautiful days I can remember: partly sunny, with cool breezes and temperatures below 70°. Sometimes, in mid-August, we can get great weather like this.

This week ten years ago was much the same: I remember going to the Village by myself for the first time and hanging out in Washington Square. There’s the hint of fall in the air, and I find myself not regretting summer’s end but instead looking forward to the crisper pace of September.

I went to Brooklyn College and enjoyed walking around the quadrangle. Suddenly it all felt new again, as though it were 1969 and I was getting ready to begin my freshman year. There will be new freshmen coming in soon, starting the cycle all over again.

When I looked at the bulletin boards, it appeared that there are going to be enough English courses to go around so that I’ll get a couple. Neil Schaeffer will probably throw at least one evening class my way.

I went up to the English Department and in my shy but determined way said hello to two of the friendlier secretaries, knowing that it never hurts to get them on your side. I told them about my book and the forthcoming review in People, about which they seemed impressed.

After lunch at Burger King, I called Dr. Lipton. It was strange to hear his voice again, even on his answering machine; I left a message.

There was no mail but rejections today, no phone calls for me – but it doesn’t matter. I feel as though the pleasure center of my brain is being constantly stimulated anyway. Moments like these are everything to me.


7 PM. When I called Wes to chat, he asked if I’d seen the Rolling Stone review. It was only a two-line mention of the book in Greil Marcus’s “Undercover” column: “Where avant-garde fiction goes when it turns into stand-up comedy. Great parody of Knopf’s ‘A Note on the Type,’ though.”

He meant the first line as a put-down, of course, but to me and Wes it sounded like a great blurb. Take away the “though” and it sounds like a rave review.

I had been seeing this week’s Rolling Stone on newsstands, but I didn’t figure it would contain the review. Wes asked if I had written Greil Marcus, and of course I had, as Wes figured.

Grandpa Herb called and read me a letter Newsday’s book editor sent Grandma Ethel: the editor is now trying to squeeze the review of With Hitler in New York by “Ethel Shapiro Sarrett” into the book section, but she doesn’t seem to be able to do it, and the fall books are coming out soon.

The fall books! In another three weeks, my book will be old hat: no more reviews because they have to make room for “new” books. Jesus, what a short life span hardcover books have!

Oh well, we can’t say I didn’t give it the old college try. I did the best I could, and I got some results. It’s too bad that my book will never make it into the bookstores, but that’s not my fault.

I’d better put away any notions of superstardom and concentrate on being a good teacher, a good writer and a good man. I suppose it’s somehow for the best.

Dr. Lipton returned my call and we had a very jolly conversation. He’s so much friendlier than I ever imagined and told me to call him after Labor Day and we’ll get together.

Dad called from Florida, whining to Mom that the samples hadn’t come, that “today wasn’t my day,” that rents are too high, that “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“So come home,” Mom said in disgust.

Marc tells me not to let Dad aggravate me, but his negative attitudes bother me terribly.

Saturday, August 18, 1979

5 PM. This morning I woke up with a cold, and all day I’ve felt tired and achy, with a sore throat and drip. The weather has a lot to do with it: it’s a very dark, chilly, drizzly day, and it feels like March.

But getting sick is one way of relaxing. When I went to see Dr. Pasquale last night, I told him how hyper I’ve been feeling.

I’d had dinner at Jentz, and I rushed through it although I had no reason to hurry. I was out of the restaurant and halfway across Flatbush Avenue when I realized I still hadn’t finished chewing my last mouthful of food.

I feel this dizzying sense of possibilities: job offers, career choices, decisions to be made. As I told Dr. Pasquale, for such a long time I had no choices – or so it seemed – and I was content to teach at LIU and send stories to little magazines.

Now I have to turn down various options I would have jumped at a couple of years ago, like the fellowship at Albany and the residency in Virginia, courses at various schools, the job at Texas Woman’s University, the Merit Publications book. And today I got a letter from Yaddo, offering me a residency for September!

I’m confused by all the choices I must make. They say rich people who were once very poor often have the idea, deep down, that one day they’ll have nothing again. I think I feel similarly.

It’s going to be difficult to adjust to the way people respond to me. Today Zipporah Hirschfeld, wife of Abe Hirschfeld, called me up. You know me, I’ve been sending letters everywhere, writing about my book; even today, not feeling well, I sent out over forty letters.

Last week I wrote the Hirschfelds, saying I was a former campaign worker who made good. Mrs. Hirschfeld, who’s just sold her apartment to the Nixons and who is reportedly worth $200 million, was kind enough to call and tell me she’d ordered two copies of my book from Taplinger.

See, I am getting results. Nice people want to help me out. I’m no longer worried about the hostility of others – Dr. Pasquale has helped me over that – but I am concerned about how I will handle success. Perhaps I was actually hoping that the book would fail. I don’t know; I’m very confused.

Susan Lawton phoned to invite me to her house for dinner tonight; we agreed to meet in Manhattan on Thursday instead. Even on the personal level, I’m getting more invitations than I can handle.

Personally, I’d be just as content to do what I did last night: Mikey came over and we sat in the kitchen watching a Woody Allen movie on TV.

Some people, I’m sure, don’t call me because they think I’m too important to bother with them. But I’ve always been “a regular guy,” a person who wanted everyone to like me, and I find it hard to “reject” people – even though logically I know, as Dr. Pasquale pointed out, I can’t really hurt anybody.

Perhaps summer will return before September; I hope so. I called Cousin Wendy, who, as usual, was slightly annoying. She’s preparing to go to the University of Pennsylvania the week after next.

A few days ago I got a letter from Chris McNeil. By now I feel we have little to say to one another. He writes as if he’s effeminate, which is perfectly fine with me, yet he keeps insisting he’s straight and just has no sex life.

Chris loves God, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, fluffy musicals, and even the oil companies (“My family has been in oil since the year one.”) And Chris reveals little of himself, of his feelings: it’s all trivia, cute-isms and intellectualizing. I don’t really feel like writing him back.

Sunday, August 19, 1979

6 PM. The sun finally peeked through today, and it’s supposed to get even more summery tomorrow. I’m feeling better after sleeping heavily, having many dreams about Ronna and her boyfriend.

I’m surprised that just knowing that she and Jordan are in Boston together bothers me so much. Part of it is that, selfishly, I don’t want Ronna to share intimacy (not merely sex) with someone else. Part of it is that I’m envious of Ronna: I’d like to be having a relationship with a cute 22-year-old male law student, too.

This morning I was reading an article about co-ed dorms in Mom’s McCall’s (Wendy’s going to be staying in one). Few of the students find that there is a sexual atmosphere; instead, living with the opposite sex tends to encourage platonic, brother-sister relationships.

It makes sense. The relationships that have brought me the most (non-sexual) satisfaction have been those with friends like Alice, Avis, and Teresa.

This afternoon I drove out to Rockaway and went to visit Mikey and his mother at the beach. I ran into both Karpoff twins separately: Alan on my way there, Carl on my way home.

Alan is still teaching retarded kids in White River Junction, Vermont, and he likes it very much. He asked about Avis and told me to tell her to visit him in Vermont while she’s in America.

Carl is managing the Townhouse real estate office in Brooklyn Heights while still living in Rockaway, and he looks very well. (Carl is still clean-shaven and Alan has a beard.)

I was glad to see the Karpoffs. Alan also asked me about Laurie and told me to give her his regards, and both of them had heard about my book from Mikey.

Mikey and I sat on the beach for a while. He’s going to start looking for a job in earnest soon, and it’s not going to be easy. The beach was not very crowded at all, and it felt like – it is – the end of summer.

I called Maury Lowenstein and canceled our lunch for tomorrow; there are too many things I have to do this week. Tomorrow night I’d like to see Wes perform at Kenny’s Castaways; the next day, Tuesday, I have the NYCCC interview and then Othello in Central Park with Teresa; on Thursday evening I have to meet Susan Lawton for dinner; and there are bound to be unexpected surprises along the way.

This is my last week of the summer without work, which reminds me: I’d like to meet with Dorothy Wolfberg and get more of an idea of what I’m supposed to do with my class at Visual Arts.

Yesterday I spoke with Dad, who seemed to be trying to hide that he was depressed. Grandpa Nat said to him, in Yiddish, “My son, I hope you can make a living.” Mom misses Dad very much and will be flying down to join him next week.

The other night Gregory and his family came to show their new house to his parents and his old grandmother, who reminded Mom of Bubbe Ita. It would be great if everything works out and they can have this place to enjoy for many years.

The resignation of Andrew Young after the UN ambassador admitted having secret meetings with the Palestinian Liberation Organization has produced more trouble for Carter and a wave of black anti-Semitism.

I wish the U.S. would meet with the PLO. I’m pro-Israel, but some solution must be worked out with the Palestinians. Public opinion is now turning against Israel, and I wonder if Israel will exist in twenty years.

The Arabs are now made powerful and rich because of their oil, and the Israelis are seen as aggressors and as oppressors – in some respects, justifiably – of West Bank Palestinians.

As to U.S. domestic politics, President Carter is through. I don’t think he will survive the early primaries, and Brown is no match for Ted Kennedy, who may face Reagan or Connally.

If the Republicans nominate Howard Baker, I might consider voting for him. I could also vote for Bob Dole, though mostly because of the kind, funny letter he sent me after I sent him a copy of “Super-Fab Senators.”