A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1981


Sunday, March 1, 1981

2 PM. I’m in New Orleans Airport, waiting for my flight to Fort Lauderdale, which is supposed to take off in 50 minutes but which is going to be late.

I’m nervous and I have a terrible headache because I was unable to wear my lenses today; I’m not used to walking around with my eyeglasses.

Last night Tom and I talked writing and literature till 1 AM. I slept all right, and this morning we went to see a Mardi Gras parade right here in Tom’s neighborhood.

The floats were the usual, but the costumes were bizarre and the masks, especially, frightened me. As the floats go by, the people on them – in this case, the Krewe of Thoth – threw out multicolored beads and coins bearing their name and the Mardi Gras seal.

The crowd jumped like mad for them; I managed to catch or scoop up a handful of beads and four doubloons. Tom said this was a tame Uptown parade and that on Tuesday the Downtown parades are unspeakable madness.

I picked up all my stuff at the apartment and we drove out to City Park, where Tom gave me a tour of the Museum of Art. Then we had to weave through traffic caused by another parade and get the Interstate (I-10) to get me to the airport.

Tom said my visit was one of the highlights of his year. I tried to thank Tom by cleaning his bathroom, giving him a present of one of my new Sasson shirts, and paying for lunch and dinner yesterday.

Well, tonight I’ll be back in Florida. Back to reality. But this trip was great. I know I didn’t write very well about it, but that was because I was too involved in teaching, meeting people and seeing New Orleans.

Monday, March 2, 1981

10 PM. Rarely have I felt so happy. I think back to this time a year ago, to that horrible weekend when I was so cold and depressed and without hope, that weekend I wrote “If Pain Persists.”

If only I could figure out how to make more nice days like the last few. Of course, I can’t always be in a new city, but I can try not to get so hopeless – about my life, and in particular, about my career.

For four days in New Orleans I felt like a writer. I was taken seriously, treated respectfully, and Tom and I spent most of our time talking about literature and writing.

We had endless conversations about the Southern literary mafia (George Garrett and Bill Harrison have helped Tom a little, but not too much), the rise of flash-in-the-pan writers like Jayne Anne Phillips (Tom grew livid at the mention of her book’s blurbs), the deadly dullness of academic creative writing programs (we filled out our Associated Writing Programs Board of Directors ballots and voted only for the blacks running), and the lack of any interest in serious literature on the part of the publishing industry.

My writing career is no longer stalled; it probably never was, but I felt it was. And I now have more self-respect. If a gifted young writer like Brad Richard can admire my work, it doesn’t matter what the New York Times thinks or doesn’t think.

Like Tom, I should accept the situation in publishing and academia: the utter lack of possibilities itself can be liberating.

Last night I called Alice. Her annual party, held at Andreas’s studio on Saturday night, went well. Ray gave her the week off at Seventeen and she begins her new job at Weight Watchers next Monday.

Alice told me she and Peter will be doing workshops in Washington State, Colorado and Maine this summer. I told her about New Orleans, and she said she had fond memories of the city and was glad I had a good time.

I also spoke to Josh, who called to say that he’s still writing pornography and looking for an agent for the teleplay he and Simon wrote.

I’m really glad I keep in touch with my friends. What I’d like to have is a network of friends in every city, so I would never feel alone.

This morning I taught my class and received the welcome news that Wednesday is a holiday. Then I bought a new lens disinfectant machine at the mall, had lunch at Sbarro’s, and came home to catch up on family news.

Yesterday I had called Grandma Ethel from New Orleans to wish her a happy birthday; she had a bad headache and told me Grandpa Herb was driving her out of her mind.

Marc called today, sounding ill and upset. On Saturday, Fredo called the house and Mom, Dad and Jonny took turns screaming at him. Fredo appears to be a psycho rather than a killer; what he apparently wants is Rikki.

Marc should hand Rikki over to him and thank Fredo for the favor, but Marc “loves” Rikki. Jonny is completely disgusted with Marc because of that.

Jonny also told me he thinks Mom and Dad are partly responsible because they should have controlled Marc earlier, or just thrown him out when he started selling drugs.

I confessed to Jonny that I did not mail Mom’s letter to Fredo, and he said I had done the right thing.

Cousin Joel (ex-cousin Joel since the divorce?) called to say that Fredo is still hounding him, too. Joel will be getting married in April. He told us that Robin’s new husband skipped bail and that he and Robin are probably in Texas.

On the noon news, there were pictures of Mardi Gras revelers on Canal Street and in Jackson Square, and for the first time I could feel that I was a part of it.

In the Hollywood library, I found the article, “Actor’s in White House; Why Not in Senate?” with two huge photos of me and Burt Reynolds. Some excerpts:

[Grayson] believes Reynolds would make a ‘great GOP co-star for Paula Hawkins’. . . ‘Burt Reynolds has 20 times the charisma of (Senator) Lawton Chiles,’ the Davie resident says. ‘He has nothing to hide. Remember the nude photo of him in Cosmopolitan?’. . . ‘I called and talked with the man who does Reynolds’ mustache, and he told me the mustache was willing to run,’ Grayson relays. Although the mustache may be ready to enter the primary, a spokesman for the talented performer says, ‘Mr. Reynolds will be flattered that Mr. Grayson thinks so highly of him, but the idea is unrealistic.’

Tuesday, March 3, 1981

8 PM. We’ve just come back from dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Today is Mom’s fiftieth birthday so it was kind of a celebration. Jonny got Mom an expensive porcelain doll while I got her a cheaper but nice pillbox.

Over dinner we had a pleasant conversation. Dad’s boss, Owen Kay of Ossy, the Sasson jacket licensee, died last Friday and they’re trying to keep his death a secret from Sasson. Yesterday I overheard Dad talking to the secretary, who told him his check would be late because Owen was “out of town.”

Apparently Bob Kay, the son who runs the business from the New York showroom, doesn’t want the word to get around. Dad learned only because the shipping manager couldn’t lie to him, but Dad’s supposed to keep the news secret.

Mr. Kay was a real tyrant, always needling Dad, so Dad doesn’t feel all that bad – but the whole thing is so absurd.

At dinner we talked about the Oscars and mentioned Roman Polanski. Dad and I argued that his committing statutory rape was a crime in name only, while Jonny said it was disgusting.

Jonny also said something similar when Dad matter-of-factly mentioned going to the store of the Marlin Beach Hotel and seeing all the gays in the bar. My brother is a real prude. When I was his age, practically all I could think about was sex, and Shelli and I were sleeping together every day.

But sometimes I think I’m more sexual now. All last night I ached with erections that just wouldn’t quit. I know I’m really going to have some fun soon; after a decade, I’m finally comfortable with myself as a sexual being.

Yesterday I was driving up University when I found myself stopped for a light next to a car with three teenage girls. “Hi,” I said, smiling, and they responded in kind.

Later, up the road, they passed me and one yelled out, “Are you married?” I nodded, as sexily as I could, and then another one giggled and said “Shucks.”

It’s about time I stopped being a eunuch.

Last night I stayed up until 3 AM, reading and listening to China Valles’s jazz show on radio. I love the mild winter nights here, with the terrace just a few steps away in my room. The nights make me feel so free and alone.

I wrote Stacy, Jack Saunders, Kevin Urick (who sent me a rather confusing publicity-stunt press release), and George Myers (who sent the new issue of his magazine that featured an interview with my old Rockaway neighbors Ascher/Straus).

I read the new Authors Guild Bulletin and have finally decided to stop worrying about commercial publishing. Just as they don’t need me, I don’t need them. I truly believe the future is in the small presses.
Somehow I can make a life for myself as a writer without the twin dead-ends of academia and New York publishing. Maybe I’m still riding the high of my trip to New Orleans, but I’ve decided to take a leaf from Tom’s book and go on with my work no matter what literary politics is going on at the moment.

I can live on my little successes; I had another acceptance today, for example. The Asheville, North Carolina Arts Journal took “The Most Unforgettable Fictional Characters I Ever Met” and asked me for a photo and a contributor’s note.

Also today, seeing my story “The Governor of the State of Depression” in the Pikestaff Forum also helped.

Robert Peters, the poet/critic, thanked me for the letter I sent him; it really made him feel good, he said. I wrote him back and told him a little about myself.

Thursday, March 5, 1981

11 PM. Two inches of snow fell on New York today, but here it hit 85° and was sunny.

I called Grandma Ethel this afternoon, and she did nothing but complain about Grandpa Herb’s not eating and her own angina and how she doesn’t know how she can cope with any of this.

Later, Uncle Marty called and told us to yell at Grandpa Herb for not eating and tell him that if he doesn’t take nourishment, he’ll just have to go back to the hospital.

Marty said that Grandpa Herb is down to 100 pounds and looks like a skeleton. I’m glad I’m not there to see it. Marty keeps telling Grandpa that he’s got to attend Jeff’s bar mitzvah in June – but I honestly don’t know if he can make it.

I expect Grandpa Herb is willing himself to die and that he’ll get his wish before the summer. I also suppose Grandma Sylvia’s aneurysm will kill her within a few months.

With Grandpa Nat so out of it in the nursing home, that will leave Grandma Ethel as the only grandparent I can talk to.

Will she want to stay in the co-op in Rockaway or come to Florida to be near her sister and Mom? This seems to be the year that our family’s life is going to change.

Mom sent me to the bank to deposit Dad’s January check from Ossy: it was for $2,000. With Dad doing so well, I feel less pressured about money. The other day Mom mentioned the possibility of buying a condo as an investment and letting me live in it.

I still don’t think – or maybe it’s just so hard to believe – that Dad will continue to earn so much money. I honestly never though he would do this well again, not after all those struggles he had in New York. Alice said Dad deserves success after those hard years, and I couldn’t agree more – but we’ll see how things are going a year from now.

I got a haircut from Lisa, the Chinese hair stylist, today; she also trimmed my beard. There was no mail today except a letter from Janis Ian’s agent turning down my request for a blurb.

Soon I expect to be hearing from artists’ colonies. I have the feeling that this year I’m not going to even make the waiting list at MacDowell. Last year was probably a fluke – but I’ll always be grateful for it.

Still, I have to figure out what I’m going to do when the term here ends. Teresa called today from the office and said she’s already got her house in Fire Island for the summer.

She has been seeing Frank pretty regularly; on Saturday night, he played Mayor Koch’s clone at the black-tie Inner Circle show put on by the New York Press Club.

Not much else has been happening, Teresa reported, and she was hoping to convince Richie Kessel to let her have the use of his condo on Key Biscayne.

When I called Jeffrey Knapp, he had bad news: the Poets-in-the-Schools budget got cut terribly, and now they won’t be able to use me. I was disappointed but I felt worse for him. He said he hasn’t sent out his poetry in years and has no contact with little magazines; I told him I would lend him some of mine.

Jeffrey told me that the Florida Fine Arts Council is “completely illiterate” and that Poets-in-the-Schools will probably die in the wake of Reagan’s budget cuts.

Tonight my parents and I went out to the Broward Mall for dinner; afterwards they went shopping and I spent half an hour talking with an intelligent Jesus freak who seemed really concerned about my spending eternity in Hell. I told him someone’s got to fill up the place, but he said it didn’t have to be me.

“You don’t have to be good to go Heaven,” he told me. “All you have to do is believe.”

“Easier said than done,” I replied.

Tuesday, March 10, 1981

10 PM. Yesterday afternoon I went over to see The Competition, which was pretty good. It had been months since I’d seen a movie, and I enjoyed giving myself a treat. I had a bite out, then came home to work on my book, watch junk TV and begin reading Scott Spencer’s Endless Love.

Dad called from Tampa last night and said he had a hard time getting a hotel room. Grandma Sylvia was very upset about not going to the nursing home, so I told her I would drop over there today.

My sinuses have been killing me for days now, and it was difficult to get up this morning, but I finally managed to rouse myself.

After going to Valencia Village to vote in Davie’s town election, I drove down University Drive to Dade County.

Living in Florida, I feel a sense of freedom, and at one point on the drive, I told myself that I can do anything I want to do. I may have no money, no job or job prospects, no home of my own, no friends nearby – but I have an almost limitless sense of possibilities before me.

This is a transitional period in my life – it comes after a very difficult year – and I need this time to figure out my next move.

Although I’m applying for every job and every grant in sight, I’m still approaching the future passively.

Late at night I’ve been thinking about falling in love and living with someone. I now want that so much. For too long there’s been no warmth in my life, and I don’t know how much more sexlessness I can stand.

At the nursing home, I found Grandpa Nat in the hall outside his room. He was chewing some orange paper which I had to take out of his mouth. I wheeled him around and then we sat and talked.

He told me that “Monty and Jonathan” had come to see him last night, claimed he graduated Brooklyn College, and kept telling me to take three-quarters of an inch off my pants cuff.

Grandpa Nat does know he has a wife named Sylvia and two children named Sydelle and Daniel, but that’s about it. I had to keep telling him who I was, but he didn’t really understand.

I asked him if he dreamed and he said yes.

“About what?” I asked.

“About your children,” he told me. He tried to explain to me how some people were “shades” to him, but then he lapsed into Yiddish and I couldn’t understand.

After leaving the nursing home, I had lunch at Sambo’s among all the old people in North Miami Beach, and then went to see Grandma Sylvia, who’d just returned from shopping.

We chatted at the kitchen table; I don’t think she’s at all senile. She talked about Marc and Robin and how they “threw their lives away,” and she seemed to be happy when I told her how well Dad is doing financially.

Grandma Sylvia said she understands what Grandma Ethel must be going through in New York with Grandpa Herb so ill. And she sighed and said the inevitable “It’s no good.”

Back home, the only mail were rejections from colleges and the Village Voice. I exercised and listened to classical music. Although I’m a little bored, I’m glad I’m not teaching my head off in New York: I would be so miserable.

Grandpa Nat and I spoke a lot about New York. (When I asked him where we were, he said, “The Bronx.”) New York is still my city and I do miss it, although I’m relieved at not having to ride the subways.

Well, in a few months I’ll be back in New York and we’ll see how I react to it – or how it reacts to me.

Wednesday, March 11, 1981

6 PM. Last evening Mom, Jonny and I went out to dinner at Danny’s in the Broward Mall. Jonny drove, and it felt weird, the three of us being out together: sort of a strange combination of family members. It’s also hard to believe that even Jonny is an adult now.

Back at home, I called Avis. At first Anthony answered the phone and I almost hung up, but he put Avis on right away. She sounded very spacy.

After I got through telling her about New Orleans and asked her what was doing in New York, she talked only of her Tantric Weekend with Yogi Bhajan, “who kept saying the funniest things.”

Some Sikhs from Vermont spent the weekend with them, she said, and when Simon came over on Sunday night to borrow a litter box for his new cat, “he was very rude and seemed to freak out.” Avis said she never realized how neurotic Simon was and that “now I don’t think I want anything more to do with him.”

She told me in a whisper that she and Anthony are becoming Sikhs; I asked her what that entailed, and she said they were already wearing turbans all the time but would now wear the crinkly white pants (I forget the name of them), not cut their hair, and “accept the Dharma.”

“When you see us next time, we’ll look very weird,” Avis said.

I tried to gossip with her about Alice’s new job or Scott’s marriage, but she didn’t seem interested. Finally she told me, referring to her new religion: “My heart is in this.”

I replied, weakly, “Well, as long as you’re happy. . .”

But the conversation upset me, and I called Josh almost immediately to ask if Simon had told him about Sunday night. Simon had, of course; he said Avis looked terrible in the turban – “She doesn’t have the face for her to be without hair” – and moreover, there were rings under her eyes and her complexion was sallow.

Avis told me that they’re still getting up at 3:30 AM and doing Sadhana, and her only mention of her job was to the effect that she often falls asleep at work. As Simon said back in the fall, five hours’ sleep is not enough.

Josh said that Avis was better off with him or Simon than married to Anthony, and I was forced to agree. I feel powerless to help her – and I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to try.

But I think Avis is being suckered into a cult. At the very least, I want to find out more about Yogi Bhajan and his 3HO Foundation.

Avis’s parents can’t be too happy, but I’m afraid to call them; they’d worry, and it might seem like a betrayal to Avis. The best one to phone might be her sister in Virginia, but I don’t want to alarm Ellen.

I slept well and felt oddly handsome and confident this morning. At 10 AM, I met Dr. Grasso, who let me have some folders of handouts for the class. She said she’s heard my students like me and that I’m a good teacher; that surprised me a little.

I had a fairly boring class on footnotes – can anyone make footnotes interesting? – and then I drove over the warehouse and paid my monthly fee of $40. At the photographer’s, I selected a photo from the set of proofs he’d made, one that didn’t look too bad.

He’ll have it in about three weeks.

Linda Lerner wrote that she’s teaching at BMCC and Poly Tech and that Susan Schaeffer is still sick, with what they are not sure, in Brookdale Hospital.

Uncle Marty called and said he hung up on Grandpa Herb last night: Grandpa is refusing to pay his doctor’s bill, saying that nothing was done to help him. Grandpa Herb seems to be undergoing a personality change; Marty said he spoke very nastily to Dr. Milstein.