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


Friday, May 1, 1981

9 PM. Last night I had my first pleasant dreams of New York City. It’s about time, too, because I’ll be in New York at noon on Sunday. Mom booked me on a morning flight, so tomorrow will be my last day in Florida.

Today I spent time putting the finishing touches on my suntan and getting myself prepared for the move. I have three suitcases of my own and another of Marc’s that can be pressed into service if necessary.

Also, I’ve got my trusty typewriter and a new shoulder bag my parents got me tonight. I went to the warehouse, but all I took was a jacket and two copies of Hitler.

It will be hardest to leave my literary magazines and my diaries, but I figure I shall have to come back here in August, whatever I decide. If I end up staying down here in Florida, I’ll be here, of course, but even if I decide to return to New York, I’ll come back here to retrieve my things. (All my work clothes are here.)

The only mail today was more rejections: Michigan State, Arkansas Tech and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center (which picked some unknowns and Bruce Smith for fellowships).

Oh, and I got a brochure for some writing conference in Maine featuring George Garrett, Daniel Halpern and the rest of the literary mafia. I can reject them, of course – but they still go on.

My options for the fall seem to be narrowing. I can’t expect to get a full-time teaching job – though I think it’s healthy that I’m angry rather than depressed about that. And I certainly can’t count on going to New Orleans and the job at NOCCA.

So basically it’s New York or Florida, and right now I’m leaning towards staying here. I called Broward Community College today and learned I won’t get my paycheck until the end of May. Oh well, at least I know I’ve got about $800 coming to me.

Mom and Dad are giving me a check for $150 tonight, which will cover the check Brooklyn College will send me here this week. I’m leaving $5 in my Florida National savings account; I took out the remaining $160 today. There’s $430 in my Florida checking account and $250 awaiting me in New York’s Citibank.

So I’ll have about $1,000 to get me through the next few months. It should last until August unless some major disaster intervenes, in which case I’ll have to call upon my parents. At least this year they aren’t broke the way they were last summer when they had to pay my rent in Rockaway.

Dad said Sasson won’t be shipping much the next few months – he made only about $4,000 last month – but by midsummer, they should be shipping him new goods to sell. Maybe I’ll attempt to apply for unemployment in New York; we’ll see.

Now that I’ve taken care of things financially, what about emotionally? I expect the next couple of months to be difficult. I won’t have the security I’ve had since January. Still, I can see my friends in New York and try to pretend I’m on vacation rather than out of work.

I’m scared but also looking forward to being on my own again. And I won’t mind some cooler weather; thank goodness it rained here tonight.

The past fifteen weeks have relaxed me, but I’m not sure it will last. Will I cave under all the pressures of being in New York on my own again and become depressed?

Marc’s flight is on Monday evening, so I can take him to the airport. I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable in his apartment, but it’s a pretty nice place, and after a few weeks, it will become mine.

And in mid-June, I’ll go to Avis and Anthony’s and then go down to Virginia. I’m sure there’ll be something unexpected happening in the next few months. Who knows? Maybe it will even be good.

Monday, May 4, 1981

3 PM. I’m in Marc’s apartment in Brooklyn, and I can’t tell you how depressed how I feel. I wish I had stayed home in Florida. New York is so utterly ugly, even on a sunny and warm day like today.

I feel ill: my stomach is hurting, my throat is sore and I have a postnasal drip. I feel like I’ve stepped into a nightmare. Obviously the shock of being back in New York is very fresh, and after a few days I’ll get used to it.

It always takes me a while to adjust. Remember my first few days at MacDowell? I was miserable; I didn’t give myself enough time to get used to what turned out to be idyllic surroundings.

I guess I’m used to everything being clean and bright and new; I’d forgotten how dirty New York streets are.

Last night I slept well and everything went smoothly. We got to the airport at 8:30 AM; Mom came along with Dad and me, and after hugging them goodbye, I got on the plane an hour later.

Takeoff wasn’t bad, but an hour into the flight I began having a panic attack, getting nauseated and nervous. But it passed, and by the time we landed I felt pretty good.

Marc was there to pick me up. He looks different than he did in Florida; maybe it’s the sunglasses, but he seems to have recovered that stoned swagger he used to have.

He bitched about how we all “went crazy” worrying about him on Saturday, and the car ride back to Brooklyn was erratic and fast.

Upon seeing Brooklyn, I felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach. I didn’t think there were so many bad memories, but seeing everything again brought back no good memories.

Marc had to see Bruce “on business” – he told me he ran out of the money Dad gave him – so I asked to be dropped off at Kings Highway. At Burger King, the counterwoman was New York-rude and the food didn’t go down right.

The Phone Center store was busy, but I got through fairly quickly; my phone will be connected on Wednesday, and I didn’t have to leave a deposit.

Then I went to Citibank and deposited $675 in checks from my parents and myself to add to the $240 my account currently has.

I called Alice and probably sounded like a maniac, telling her how horrible Brooklyn seemed to me. I phoned Mom to say I’d arrived safely – my Brooklyn College check came – and I told Mom of my first impressions of New York.

When I called Rockaway, Grandpa Herb answered the phone for the first time in months; he was in bed, but Grandma Ethel had gone to the doctor. I said I’d see him soon.

Next I went to a disgusting supermarket and bought a few items. This place gives me the creeps because there are so many mementos of Rikki’s here.

They must have fought a lot because there are so many broken objects.

Oh well, I guess I’ll feel better tomorrow night after Marc leaves and I can make this place my own. I felt strange my first day in Florida in January, too, and I felt strange my first day in the Rockaway apartment in October 1979.

I just have to give myself a couple of days to adjust. I can’t expect miracles from myself; it was bound to be an emotional jolt to come back to Brooklyn.

I bet I have weird dreams tonight – that is, if I sleep.

Well, I’ll feel better once I’ve seen my friends and once I’m settled in. I’m feeling a little bit better already.

Thursday, May 7, 1981

4 PM. It’s a bright day. The radio announcers keep saying it’s mild, but it’s colder than the coolest winter day in Florida. Still, I’m feeling all right. Whatever disasters occur on this trip to New York, I’m still glad I came.

For one thing, I’m now completely convinced I did the right thing when I moved to Florida. Too much has changed for me to stay here, especially in this apartment, in which Marc and Rikki lived that wild life.

Last night, having no TV, I listened to WQXR and read (Emerson and Playboy) until very late. At midnight I half-expected the radio to change to jazz, as WTMI in Miami does with the China Valles show.

It was 11 AM before I got out of bed. It’s kind of nice to be alone in an apartment; I remember how much fun it was to potchky around my Rockaway apartment on the days when I was merely lazy and not depressed.

Not all of the memories of here are bad ones, of course. On Tuesday night I found a space on Bedford Avenue in front of Midwood High School, and I walked around the Brooklyn College campus, which has been spruced up considerably and no longer seems as depressing as it did a few years ago.

I realized that it had been on another Tuesday, May 5 – eleven years ago – when we took over the college in response to the killings at Kent State.

Picking up Kingsman, I read the articles about student government elections and CUNY budget cuts, which made me think that some things, at least, don’t change.

At home, I showered and took a good look at myself in Marc’s full-length mirror; it was surprising how thin I’d gotten, and the scale confirmed this. I feel different, and it isn’t just my beard or tan or anything like that; I am different inside.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that patience and a good disposition are very important. Even Mom told Grandma Ethel that I seemed much more relaxed and confident these days.

Over the years I may have lost something, but I am thrilled to be (almost) thirty years old. A couple of years ago, I couldn’t handle the most minor crisis or change. While I’m not exactly Mr. Adaptability, now I feel more in control and more at home with myself, wherever I am.

If I do take the job in New Orleans – and right now, that looks like my best bet – it will be another adventure for me.

At noon I drove out to Rockaway and found the streets all closed for some kind of road work. My old block was all broken up and you couldn’t drive down it.

At Grandma Ethel’s, I met Jean Morse as I came off the elevator; she said Grandma was at Mrs. Lubin’s. I rang her bell, and Grandma Ethel, who answered the door, was shocked to see me.

She’s gotten thin, especially in the face, and her wrinkles are even more pronounced. These past months have taken a lot out of her, she says, and she has not become stronger.

I was a bit afraid to see Grandpa Herb in bed, but I’d prepared myself for the change in him. His arms and legs are like matchsticks, and because he didn’t have his dentures in, his face looked bad.

Mrs. Lubin, who had been taking in Grandma’s dress for Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah, told me to use my influence to convince Grandpa Herb to go to the doctor. He’s very weak and can’t gain weight and he still has diarrhea. “At least for whatever time he has, he could be more comfortable,” Mrs. Lubin said.

But Grandpa Herb talked only about what crooks the doctors were and how they ripped off him and Medicare.

Grandma Ethel had told me that he’d undergone a personality change, but he seemed much the same to me. He obviously was very glad to see me, and I was grateful to see him again, too.

Life turns out sadly, but it’s almost a sweet sadness.

Sunday, May 10, 1981

11 PM. This past weekend has confirmed my belief that I no longer fit in here in New York. Like most Northern cities, New York is really two cities.

First there’s the city of Alice and Teresa, and to a lesser degree, of Josh and Simon and Avis (the latter, except for spiritual Avis, aspire to live in the first city): these are the people who are educated, sophisticated, often young and single.

They live in luxury (though they are always complaining) and they improve neighborhoods because they generate restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.

Side by side with them there is another city, a second city made up of losers: the poor, the elderly, most blacks and Hispanics, and the middle class who haven’t fled to the Sun Belt.

While the whole city is losing population, Manhattan is becoming whiter and the outer boroughs blacker and more Hispanic. The incongruity, the disjointedness, of these of these two cities is astounding.

Next to Teresa’s building there is a welfare hotel, what they call a SRO (single room occupancy), made up of the losers. The building has just changed hands and the old tenants are being locked out, harassed, illegally evicted. They are trying to rally support.

But Teresa’s reaction is: Let them get out of here. She says she works hard to pay her taxes and would like to have another luxury building next door instead of the noisy, dirty welfare-hotel people.

I don’t blame her, of course, but I was surprised by her insensitivity in ripping down the posters the people had put up so they could get a crowed to their rally.

After all, Teresa considers herself a liberal, hates Reagan, and works for a liberal politician. But she has her money, possessions, and power to protect.

Downtown, Alice claims she’s “broke” now. Why? She and her brother bought a second house in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington as another investment.

See, I don’t fit in with my old friends anymore.

Of course, they’re still very, very good to me. Teresa made me dinner, let me sleep over at her apartment, and of course I loved every minute: not just her good company but the fancy surroundings, the rich food, the nice sheets, the talk about the famous people she met at last week’s fundraising benefit.

(At the fundraiser Teresa introduced Shirley MacLaine to Static Guard and danced on the stage of a Broadway theater as Cy Coleman played the piano.)

I also loved hearing Teresa talk about country real estate in the Berkshires, tax shelters, shopping at Zabar’s and at Bloomingdale’s. I’d still probably give anything to get into that world. Or almost anything.

With a salary more than twice what I’ve ever earned, Alice told me she feels she’s underpaid and intends to concentrate on making more money.

Well, I’m obviously not part of that world, so where do I belong? With the grimy crowd in Brooklyn? No.

With the artsy-fartsy people in the East Village? Yesterday I had read about a poetry reading by Dennis Cooper and Brad Gooch at the Ear Inn and I tried to make it there on time.

But I was too late, getting there as people were coming out of the bar: all these very fashionable gay men who made me feel like a shapeless lump by comparison.

I just don’t belong in New York City anymore. The part of the city I loved the most is now dying. To me, Grandpa Herb’s dying is the symbol for this. He lay in bed today, too weak to move and in severe pain.

Grandma Ethel looked drawn and was distraught and close to helplessness.

Hell, I’ve been from Sheepshead Bay to Soho to the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side to Williamsburg to Rockaway and back to the old neighborhood, and memories – mostly good – come back at every corner.

But I can’t live on memories. And I can’t live for friends. I can’t stay here in New York.

Monday, May 11, 1981

Midnight. After being in New York a week, I’ve adjusted to living here.

Although I haven’t been in the apartment much, not having a phone yet is very annoying. I’ve grown accustomed to the cooler weather and could even enjoy dark, rainy days like yesterday and today.

I suppose if I had to, I would be able to live in New York again, but I don’t want that. I’ve had a good time these last three days, spending time with Teresa and her neighbors, Alice and her mother, and Crad and his grandparents.

I’ve spoken on the phone with my parents, whom I miss and who miss me. In the months I lived with them, we’ve become a lot closer.

Yesterday Alice’s mother said that if one of her children were homosexual, she would have nothing to do with them “because it’s disgusting.”

When Alice argued that her mother was being narrow-minded, her mother replied that Alice had been “brainwashed” by gay friends.

I wonder if Alice’s mother will be so nice to me when she finds out that I’m gay. In contrast, I’m certain that my own parents will not reject me.

Crad, on the other hand, has rejected his parents and sister. When his grandmother tried to persuade him to be reasonable, Crad just stubbornly refused to forgive them for being Greek, materialistic, weak and ignorant.

Maybe he’s right to be so unforgiving, but I can’t see myself – or anyone in my family – having such a hard nature. Teresa said that Avis feels I can’t live apart from my parents; that annoyed me, but I have to consider the source.

It’s funny: for fifteen weeks I had little contact with friends and so didn’t have to think about my values in contrast to theirs. Now it’s Josh, Simon, Crad, Avis, Teresa, Alice – all with their own viewpoints on love, money, success, family.

I went down to the Employment Service in Manhattan, and the whole thing took less than a minute as my card was stamped. Although I don’t think I’ll get unemployment benefits, it certainly seems worth my while to try.

I’ve sent out my responses to the Gargoyle interview and a photo, and I’ve spoken to Rick, who didn’t expect me to respond so quickly.

Tom told me that Touro Street (the Orleans Parish school board) has approved the NOCCA writing half-time position, so I sent Dr. Tews my dossier and a cover letter.

When I called Gary, I learned he’s almost definitely going to be fired; they gave him a very low rating on his evaluation, so he’s started job-hunting.

Grandma Ethel said Grandpa Herb was feeling better today. I also spoke to Arlyne, who couldn’t resist a catty remark about me living with my parents – what a pain in the ass my aunt can be – and told me about her new job as a continuing ed coordinator in Lynbrook.

Paul Fericano sent me a funny letter; that guy’s got spunk (and unlike Lou Grant, I like spunk).

I had a brief meeting with Teresa’s parents and Grandma Agnes at their house in Williamsburg yesterday; I like them all an awful lot. Teresa’s sister is nervous about her pregnancy as she realizes she can’t turn back.

Teresa is still sleeping with Frank, who has Catholic guilt because he’s not treating her well; she now says getting involved with her married boss was the stupidest thing she ever did.

This afternoon and evening, I had a great seven hours in Jamaica, talking with Crad about literature and politics and TV, eating his grandmother’s great Greek food. She gave me some baklava to take home, though unfortunately she served fried chicken and sweet potatoes, so I had the same dinner three days in a row.

I even enjoyed listening to Crad and his grandmother argue about his refusal to see his parents on this trip to New York. My times with Crad are short but very rewarding; he’s become a close friend.