A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1981


Saturday, January 24, 1981

Midnight. I have rarely been as happy as I have been this past week. Frankly, I didn’t think I would be this happy in Florida. I now feel more optimistic than ever before.

On Thursday night I kept dreaming of New York, only to be startled each time I awoke in Florida. I began going through The International Directory of Little Magazines and decided I’m going to try to get as much published as I can . . . just for the heck of it.

Why not? It would give me a goal: I want to get the remaining fifteen or so stories I have left published just to get rid of them. And I’d also like to try to market poetry, essays, humor and even graphics. If nothing else, it will keep me busy – as it did this afternoon when I spent an hour submitting to new magazines listed in the new issue of Small Press Review.

Jonny gave me the Camaro when he got home from school on Friday at 1 PM and I drove to the Unemployment office in Fort Lauderdale. I still can’t believe I’m in such a pleasant place in the middle of winter, and I love driving here. I can’t explain how relaxed I feel: the warmth of the sun on my face, the palm trees, the whiteness of everything.

At Unemployment, we saw a film on interstate claims and then I handed in last week’s form stating the jobs I looked for and that I was able and willing to work. I have to report next Thursday at 1:30 PM. New York State will probably disqualify me on the basis that it’s still the academic year, but I intend to appeal, and I do think I’ll win.

I xeroxed my Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club press release and then bought the new (week-old in New York) Village Voice and read it over a Tab at McDonald’s: a real treat.

But there was a treat waiting for me when I got home to an empty house: a note from Mom saying that Dr. Grasso from Broward Community College had called to say that an English comp course had just come up. She wants me to come to the school at 9 AM on Monday.

I hadn’t expected a course when I sent the chairman, Dr. Adkins, my résumé, but what a wonderful feeling it was to hear that news – not so much the course itself (I could do better on Unemployment) – but what it represents: a sense of possibilities and options open to me.

And I got a big batch of mail: Kingsborough sent me a personnel form saying they owe me $57 for the adult ed courses I subbed for; Citibank sent my monthly statement and I reconciled my account; I got notices from the Authors Guild and Associated Writing Programs; and Beyond Baroque sent a letter from a Ruth Cohen who saw my story in their magazine and wanted a review copy of my book to use for a textbook anthology (I sent her note to Taplinger).

I couldn’t have been higher when my parents returned with my new car. I was in 107th heaven taking the family out for a drive; the old Buick rides nicely.

Dad was happy because he got his first big check from Sasson: $1,800 covering goods shipped through November. Before this, he was getting only a $300-a-week draw.

We ate out in a nice Jewishy deli in Tamarac – it could have been Mill Basin or Great Neck – and then I came home to send out Grandma Sylvia fan club press releases to local media. No one called about the Burt Reynolds for Senator press release, but I expect somebody will pick it up.

Late at night is the only time I feel lonely; I was also very horny last night, but I slept well. Today, Saturday, was the first rainy day I’ve had since I’ve been down here. Mom and Dad left at noon to set up the show at the Miami Merchandise Mart, and I took a drive to the Sunrise library.

When I got back, I had mail: John Jay College sent my paycheck and Tom Whalen took “There Are Eight Million Stories in New York” for his Lowlands Review #10. I would really like to see him and his classes in New Orleans, but I don’t know if I can spare the money.

I called Josh and spoke to him and Simon. Just about everything is the same in New York, they said. After cleaning up, I borrowed Jonny’s weights and worked out for the first time in three weeks. It felt good, but I lost ground and will probably get very charley horse tomorrow.

Marc called from Joe’s house in New York to give me the information on his car, which he’s reporting stolen. He and Rikki decided to come to New York on Super Bowl weekend, when their ex-friend Rocco, now tight with Fredo, would probably not be watching the house. (Rikki called Rocco and said that he will be implicated if anything happens to her or Marc.)

Marc said that Rikki’s father is more powerful than we think – he owns the second-largest trucking firm in the U.S. – and is merely waiting for an appropriate time to speak to Fredo. Mr. Jackson wants to give Fredo enough time and rope to hang himself.

I had a long talk with Jonny, who says he realizes he’s neurotic. He’s reading Eric Berne’s Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, a book I read during my psychological difficulties in high school; I told him it was very outdated.

Jonny says he cries a great deal, nearly every day. He takes vitamins excessively because he’s a hypochondriac, and his psychosomatic symptoms include tremors and hyperventilation, he said.

We all went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Sunrise (there was a half-hour wait for a table, courtesy of all the snowbirds), and then we went over to Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney’s condo, where Grandpa Herb wasn’t feeling well; he had bad stomach pains.

As usual, Grandma Ethel chastised him about smoking and his poor appetite. She would like to stay here in Florida and run around like Claire and Sid (who were out playing poker), but Grandpa Herb can’t wait to get back to Rockaway.

They showed me a hilarious letter from their neighbor Max Goldstein, who used to work for Grandma Ethel’s father in the furrier business. Mr. Goldstein writes in dialect, just the way he speaks:

“Dear Ettel and Hirb, The day you left was 5 inches of snow. I hope you are healtty. A week in New York its been 9 deggry . . . I wrote my nice, who says its berry cold in Florida . . . Your nighbor, Max.”

Dad told us that Cousin Scott flew up from Washington and that he and Aunt Sydelle went to the police to report Robin as a missing person, but the detectives said that she was a runaway.

When Aunt Sydelle took Michael to his old school, the teacher broke down and cried when she heard how Robin had abandoned Michael.

Michael found needles in the apartment and a note from Robin, who said he’d be better off without his mother. (Michael read the letter to Sydelle, but she thinks he censored parts.)

“I had to decide which parent to live with,” Michael said, “and my mother made my decision for me.” Poor kid. He’s such a bright 11-year-old, too. Aunt Sydelle has been hysterical since Robin left; she says she’d just like to know that Robin’s alive.

On the other side of the family, Grandma Ethel reported that Aunt Arlyne’s mother Hannah Weiss came downstairs with her Haitian companion-nurse for a visit and talked about Arlyne as if she were still a baby, referred to “my Benny” and “my Sol” as if they were both still alive and were married to her at the same time, and discussed her real and imagined aches and pains.

Actually, Grandma Ethel’s comic imitation of Hannah was almost an imitation of herself – though, of course, she couldn’t see it.

Tuesday, January 27, 1981

11 AM. Yesterday I was just too ill to write a diary entry; I’m feeling a little better now, but I have no idea what I’ve got. My symptoms are constant diarrhea and an excruciating headache.

My parents and Jonny think it’s psychosomatic, but I don’t know. All I know is that I haven’t felt this sick since I had diarrhea that day at MacDowell; unfortunately, this discomfort isn’t passing as quickly as that one did.

Maybe life is just proving too fast for me. For about a week I’ve had terrible insomnia, and Saturday night was no exception. Still, I woke up feeling fine on Sunday.

Mom and Dad were off early to the show at the Merchandise Mart, and I lolled around the house for a couple of hours, then took a drive to the Broward Mall, where I had an Ollieburger for lunch.

Then I went to the warehouse and picked up a few books, including the Directory of American Poets & Fiction Writers. I looked up the three writers who Prof. Church named as my competition for the Juniata College writer-in-residence job.

One wasn’t listed; another had okay magazine credentials but no book; and the last one had his most recent book published in 1961. I began to feel very confident about the job.

I looked over the listed writers in states like Florida and Pennsylvania, and I could find no one else in my position: a writer who’s had a book published by a New York trade house who isn’t either famous or a professor somewhere.

Feeling very confident, I pranced around the kitchen like a maniac. I wanted to share my good news with someone, so I called Alice in New York, who said she hadn’t heard me sounding so good in months.

Unfortunately, things at her house were “terrible.” Peter is going through a very bad time. He thinks he’s a failure and now regrets all the time he spent on his Bambi Tascarella play.

Peter is terribly discouraged by all the rejections he’s had to face. Now he talks about suicide all the time, and Alice said she’s afraid to leave him alone.

Peter sounds as if he’s going through exactly the same kind of trauma I go through. Remember the time I told Dr. Pasquale that Peter never gets depressed? Dr. Pasquale said he thought that couldn’t be true, and he was right.

When Peter told me, years ago, that it wouldn’t matter if he never had a play that was a hit, that writing itself was enough pleasure for him, he was fooling himself. In a perverse way, I took a bit of pleasure in Peter’s state: it meant I’m not alone.

But I was upset to hear Alice sounding so miserable. She says the only solution she can think of is that Peter see a therapist. (That has to be bad, for Alice to see that as the only solution.)

Peter says he doesn’t want to go: “I don’t need therapy, I need a hit.” But he also tells Alice that it’s only a matter of time before she “wises up” and leaves him the way his ex-wife did. I wish I could do something to help.

Mom and Dad came home late Sunday after a busy day at the show, where they did $70,000 worth of business.

During the night I had body aches all over, and in the morning I woke up with a bout of diarrhea. I managed to get myself together to go to Broward Community College. Dr. Grasso was appointed English Department chairman last week as Dr. Adkins, the old chairman, became a dean – so she needed someone to take over some of her classes.

Dr. Grasso was surprised I was so young, but then when she saw me, she said she thought I was only 22. She asked me I’d take over her English 101 Comp class that meets at 11 AM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I said I would, despite the very low pay rate ($16.50 an hour, which probably means I won’t clear $40 a week).

By this time I had a tension headache in addition to my stomach distress, and rushing into a new situation didn’t help. Dr. Grasso told me what a great teacher she is and how much her students love her and how difficult it would be to take over.

She brought in the head of the Communications Division to see me, and when he looked over my dossier, he wanted to know if all my publications were “real.”

I realized that I was in a real backwater college which was so insulated and used to doing things their way. Dr. Grasso’s text, which she wrote herself, is really old-fashioned and awful.

She introduced me to the class and then I took over, using one of her sheets, which talked about topic sentences and paragraphs. I didn’t feel the class’s resentment at all; in fact, they seemed relieved to have me as their teacher, with my more relaxed style.

It seems like a nice class: all first-termers, all white, all younger than I. And after the teaching loads I’ve had, this will be like not working.

Leaving the campus, I went to the bank to deposit Dad’s check and my John Jay check; I didn’t feel up to going to Las Olas Boulevard to pick up my BCC personnel forms, so I came home.

I got a form from New York Unemployment asking me if I have any assurances of teaching elsewhere next term; I have to hand it in with my next claim report.

Then I sat out for an hour, but I soon began feeling sickish. I had a pounding headache so tight I felt my head were encased in a vise, and my diarrhea returned. I began to get chills, so I got into bed.

All evening I was as sick as a dog: all I could do was lie there, suffering. My parents didn’t come back from Miami until 8 PM, but they weren’t particularly sympathetic. I had a rough night, getting up to have diarrhea about ten times.

Right now my lower stomach is still gurgling and my head still hurts. Enough for now.


4:30 PM. I’m not feeling much better: I still have liquid diarrhea and my head is as tight as a drum; if I cough, the pain is nearly unbearable.

I’m trying not to give into this. It could be the flu, I suppose, or some kind of virus – or maybe food poisoning from some week-old pastries I ate Sunday night.

I hope it passes soon, for I have an all-too-clear memory of getting sick exactly this time last year and that turning into a long siege with dizziness. Still, I suppose I’m better off here in Florida if I’m to be ill.

Last night I kept thinking I wanted to be in my own home in Rockaway. For the first time, I began having second thoughts about my decision to move to Florida. I suppose it’s just the illness talking.

Tom Doran, the Fort Lauderdale News gossip columnist led off his column today with a lengthy feature on me and the Sylvia Ginsberg International Fan Club. Yesterday he phoned, and I made up a story to go with the press release.

It’s pretty nice publicity, but at this point I’m certainly no longer excited by seeing my name in the papers. I’m surprised no one has yet picked up on the Burt Reynolds for Senator press release, but I’m sure someone will eventually.

The New York State Unemployment Bureau sent me an information booklet, and they listed Brooklyn College as my last employer; even if I am found eligible right way, I can’t start collecting benefits for another month, until the BC spring term begins.

Wednesday, January 28, 1981

4 PM. I’m not feeling very well or very happy today. Although I managed to sleep through the night, I had cramps and diarrhea when I woke up. I ate no dinner last night and no lunch today, as I just have no appetite.

More than that, I feel lost here in Florida. Today it hit me: What the hell am I doing here? I have no friends here, and no more future than I had in New York. All night I dreamed about New York: the subway trains, getting mugged on Flatbush Avenue, visiting Mikey at Liz Holtzman’s campaign headquarters.

In the last dream I was supposed to catch a 6 PM flight to Florida. I was in Rockaway, at my old apartment, where Mrs. Epstein was showing me around; the place had been redecorated beautifully. Tom Powers and the Hosenballs came in, and then I met the new tenant, a tall good-looking guy about my age.

I felt sad; then I realized I had to get to Grandpa Herb’s to pack my things. I was driving my new white Buick, and like the day earlier this month on the Upper West Side when I went to John Jay, the car wouldn’t move – it just kept spinning on the ice, sometimes at ninety-degree angles.

I awoke with a jolt. My stomach began hurting almost immediately and I kept running to the bathroom. My bowel movements are a crazy yellow color. Even now, I have terrible cramps.

I suppose being ill colors my outlook, but I wonder if I’m allowed anything good in life. This past weekend I was so happy, and it all seems to have turned out to be a mirage.

I had my students write today, but now I’m really sorry I took the job. Teaching at Broward Community College depresses me. I don’t know. Maybe it’s that everything’s been thrown at me at once: a new home (but not a permanent one), a new car, a new job. I can’t quite cope with it, and my circuits are overloading.

Today I had such nostalgia for New York. After class, I drove up to Sunrise, to Aunt Claire’s. We all sat around talking for a while; then I said goodbye to Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. I don’t know if or when I’ll see them again. My last glimpse of Grandpa Herb was that of a frail, dying old man in my rear-view mirror.

I wish I had a shrink to talk to about these changes. In an hour, I’m going to see a Dr. Elias Goldstein, a chiropractic physician I made an appointment with. I don’t know if he can help me, but sometimes you just feel so sick that need to see a doctor.

I remember Dr. Stein from my childhood and Dr. Freund from my adolescence. I used to feel better when they simply entered the room and started to examine me.


8 PM. I do feel a bit better now. I still have stomach cramps, but I had an appetite this evening. I was examined by the chiropractor who will give me the results on Friday. Dr. Goldstein, a New Yorker younger than I, wanted to take x-rays of my neck, but I balked at that because of the cost and the dangers of radiation.

He did say that he found nothing wrong with me physiologically or neurologically, and he ran a gamut of little tests. My blood pressure was 106/70, and I think that’s pretty good. Dr. Goldstein did say I should have tests for hypoglycemia, cholesterol and triglycerides.

But basically the only thing he noticed was a problem with my upper spine. When he went to touch it, he knew right where it was sore. Anyway, I think my stomach distress if the result of a virus or just the stress of all these changes in my life.

It’s been a lot to adjust to in so short a period of time. Two weeks ago I was still on my way here.

Friday, January 30, 1981

10 PM. I’m inclined to be less harsh with myself tonight than I was yesterday. I’ve got to give myself time. Mom, Dad, Jonny all tell me how long it took them to adjust when they first moved here. My previous stays were visits, vacations. Now I am living here, working here, doing errands here and trying to make a life for myself here.

I’ve just got to give myself at least till the summer to feel settled. Remember how hard it was to get used to living in Rockaway? And look at all the stressful changes I’ve gone through in the last four weeks. It’s no wonder I’ve got stomach problems; they’re to be expected.

Yesterday I got a call from Judy Sutton, a reporter on the Miami News, about the Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club. I think I was pretty funny and she took down some good quotes. She wanted a photo of Grandma Sylvia, but of course Grandma wouldn’t want one taken, so I said that Sylvia is tired of the paparazzi always snapping their cameras and told her I’d bring over a glossy myself.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos of Grandma Sylvia around the house. But I did find a twenty-year-old snapshot of Grandma Ethel with Marc. Good enough, I figured: one old lady is just as good as another.

I started towards Miami, taking Florida’s Turnpike for the first time; it was a fast ride at twilight. I got a little nervous on I-95, but I basically remembered how to get to Biscayne Boulevard and from there to Herald Plaza. The sight of Miami’s skyline filled me with nostalgia for New York, and I feel at home on the streets of a real city.

Like New York, Miami vibrates with excitement. I realized I have to live closer to the city. Broward County is like New Jersey: it’s the suburbs. Fort Lauderdale isn’t a real city with a teeming downtown. Where my parents live isn’t even very Floridian; it’s just Middle American Sun Belt Condo.

I parked in the Herald/News lot and went up to the News offices on the sixth floor. In that city room I felt like the entranced kid I was when we went up to the New York Times building on a sixth-grade class trip: There were reporters hunched over video terminals, papers scattered everywhere, some editor barking out instructions.

That place felt so alive, and I wished I could be a part of it. How can one not be impressed with historical front pages (“War Ends!” and “Snow in Miami!”) and Pulitzer Prize plaques? I left the photo in an envelope for some editor, who wasn’t due to come in until 3 AM.

Then I drove over to the Omni, which I’d always wanted to see. I walked around the mall, which was fairly elegant yet not that unusual. I had panettone and Tab at some Italian café and bought Gödel, Escher, Bach in Waldenbooks. In Jordan Marsh I watched part of a bridal fashion show (“Isn’t jersey a wonderful material for a bridal gown?”) and overheard admiring comments in Spanish. A gay-looking Cuban smiled at me nicely.

I got into one of those clear-glass elevators with two German couples and drove out of the parking lot. Because I wanted to drive home slowly, I headed up Biscayne, past the honky-tonk motels and signs in Spanish, all the way to North Miami Beach, near Grandma Sylvia’s house, and I passed the restaurant where Gary and I went last year.

I continued driving up U.S. 1 to Hallandale and through Hollywood, passing Gulfstream and the dog track, and then I went across Hollywood Boulevard, where there was a show at the bandshell, all the way to University Drive. The trip made me feel much better.

Late into the night I read Godel, Escher, Bach; very difficult but intellectually rewarding, the book makes me want to write. I again dreamed of New York: this time my parents had bought a Florida-style condo on West 84th Street in Manhattan, around the corner from Teresa’s.

As usual, the sun streamed into my little room at 7 AM today, and I picked up the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel early. In the “P.S.” column (“Interesting People”) was a funny little piece about me – it described me as a short-story writer – and the Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club. They even gave my address and said people should send me five dollars in dues.

When I got to the English Department at BCC, the Chairman of the Communications Division asked if that was my grandmother he’d read about in the paper. I said yes and he gave me a funny look.

At least I’ve made it clear I’m not a run-of-the-mill adjunct. After getting all my material, I went to teach the class, and it went pretty well.

There are so many gorgeous young guys on campus that I feel so fat and ugly by comparison. But sex is one of the furthest things from my mind right now.

At 12:30 PM, I went to the chiropractor. I was put in his office and told to listen to a cassette emanating from a tape recorder propped up on the doctor’s desk.

What a slick operation – but I felt so weird, listening to this guy’s voice telling me how necessary it is to keep on going until the problem is really cleared up, etc.

Then he came in and gave me the results of my exam: my pulse rate was high (it always is, probably a result of Triavil) my blood pressure low; my movements were all normal, and my muscle tone is good.

He did find weakness in parts of my spine near my neck along the shoulder. Both my right and left hands measured 75 on the grip machine, which he said was odd since I should be stronger in my dominant hand.

He did an adjustment, which felt good but was over too quickly. I paid $15 and made appointments I don’t expect to keep.

At home I found my last paycheck from Brooklyn College – yay! Then I went out and lay in the sun for an hour; today was the warmest day in a long while.

I decided to open a savings account in the bank where I already have a checking account, so I deposited the Brooklyn College check there.

We all went out to eat at Gigi’s, an Italian restaurant, very leisurely and Old World. Dad was worried because someone told him that Sasson plans to open a warehouse here where they’ll sell all their stuff at discount.

What Dad might have done was sell Sasson goods too well; they may have decided that if he can sell a million dollars’ worth of stuff in six months, they’d do better selling cheap. It makes me feel you can’t win in this world.

Saturday, January 31, 1981

9 PM. Last night Jonny told me that after reading Schopenhauer and other philosophers, he felt the only rational solution in life was suicide. I am now convinced I am going to do it fairly soon: just end the pain and futility, and worst of all, the illusory moments of hope.

It’s very easy to buy a gun here in Broward County. There was an article in today’s Herald about a 28-year-old Davie man who bought a gun last week and committed suicide yesterday.

I’m going to wait until February 10, Jonny’s birthday: that day I’ll know whether I got the job at Juniata College in Pennsylvania or not. If not – and I’m now sure it won’t happen – I’ll buy myself a gun and some bullets and take my car somewhere, maybe to Key West or Orlando. I’ll take a motel room for the night and kill myself there.

This – my living in Florida with my parents – isn’t working out. Old patterns are starting to reemerge. I like myself less and feel more despondent and much more alone.

I think this is the direction I’ve been moving toward for months; it seems obvious now. I don’t look forward to anything know – and I know even the Juniata College job would be only a temporary respite.

I’m tired and I don’t have much fight left in me. I’m also angry, and I fully realize that suicide would be an angry gesture. I’m glad I’m far away from my friends.