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


Saturday, March 21, 1981

8 PM. It’s been so cool for the past few days; last night was actually chilly and I had to sleep under two blankets. But I slept well, dreaming of flying back to New York.

Yesterday Rikki called and surprised us by saying Fredo didn’t want the title to the car and would be bringing it back to the insurance company on Monday. Mom said that was fine with her and that she had nothing to fear because she hadn’t taken the insurance money.

Perhaps this was a plan to scare us; I can’t imagine Fredo taking the car to an insurance office. Wouldn’t they get suspicious? Mom also told Rikki we may go to the FBI.

Marc called Rikki from a phone booth today, playing the part of the scared and loyal boyfriend. He told her he’s staying at the apartment of a friend of mine so no one can harm him.

Meanwhile, he had tried to call Rikki last night and her mother told him she was out – and today Marc learned that Fredo had been with her. The drama should play itself out soon and maybe it will all be over.

Marc is still very confused and a little depressed, but I took it as a good sign that he shaved off his mustache this morning, although observant me didn’t notice that until Marc told me. I don’t know if Marc has any plans after the dust settles, but Mom suspects he’ll stay here in Florida.

If so, I might consider taking over his apartment in Brooklyn. The furniture is all there and the neighborhood is good, the landlords are nice, and the subway is close by.

We’ll see. I have yet to hear from any writers’ colonies, and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad sign. Until I hear from MacDowell, Yaddo, VCCA and Millay, I won’t know what I’m going to do.

Yesterday the chairman of Communications told me that Broward Community College can’t pay me until Brooklyn College sends my transcripts – so I’ll be getting about $400 when they finally do pay me after the term ends. I should be left with more than $1,000 in May.

Late last night I called Josh and filled him in on the situation with Marc, and this morning I phoned Alice. Her job at Weight Watchers is keeping her very busy, but she does enjoy it.

Alice and Peter have been seeing movies and plays for their columns in Young Miss. Peter lost his job at the Big Apple Report and is having no luck trying to get Scholastic to send him half his advance on the book early.

Alice said she ran into Ronna on the street the other day, but they didn’t talk much. There’s a new movie out, Alice said, titled Atlantic City, which features an actress who looks and talks exactly like Ronna.

I answered five ads for jobs at various colleges, had Tom’s letter of recommendation printed up (it will be ready Tuesday), marked all my students’ papers (most were very good, a nice surprise), did my exercises, wrote an essay on “Liberals vs. the First Amendment” for a Miami Herald essay contest, and sent off letters and manuscripts.

Today I got a letter and photo from Robert Peters, the poet. I’m certain he thinks I’m interested in him sexually when nothing of the sort had entered my mind. He seems like a great guy, but I’m definitely not interested in a man older than my own father.

Tom sent me Umbra; this year’s copy of the magazine amazed me, as usual, with the extraordinary writing of his students.

Monday, March 23, 1981

10 PM. Tonight Jonny took me along to his astronomy class, where we heard a guest lecture by a nuclear physicist from FSU on stellar evolution. It was a brilliant talk, illuminated by some very fine slides.

I learned a lot about red giants, white dwarfs, supernovae, and black holes. It was good to have some intellectual stimulation for a change, particularly after what happened this afternoon.

Rikki called while Mom and Marc were out, and though I told her Marc wasn’t home, she insisted on relaying a message.

She said that Fredo took the car to Allstate – our insurance company is State Farm – and they impounded it. Then she said, “Fredo’s lawyer will be in touch with you.”

I was so enraged by this cunt’s lies that I cheerfully said, “Fine, my parents have gone to the FBI and it’s all settled.” Then I hung up.

Well, that scared her – because she called back and said, “What’d you do that for? The FBI, Jesus! Well, I’m not going to testify against him.” She was plenty scared. I just hung up on her again.

When Mom and Marc came home, they were furious at me. Marc is scared shitless over Fredo, and I started screaming at him. After all, what do we have to worry about?

They should go to the FBI. That’s what decent people do when they’re bothered by scum. We’ve done nothing wrong. If Marc hadn’t sold drugs and had Mom report the car stolen, we wouldn’t have a thing to worry about.

“We don’t know what Fredo can do!” Mom and Dad and Marc keep crying. Well, if we live in fear of Fredo now, we’re going to have to live in fear of him all our lives – because he’ll never be satisfied once he knows he can scare us.

My reaction to Fredo’s threats is not fear but rage. Marc screams at me, “He’ll cut off your hands and then see how you feel!” Who is Fredo, the Ayatollah Khomeini?! Let him try to do something to me.

There’s only one way to deal with a criminal like Fredo, and that’s to fight back and show him he can’t frighten you. I’d rather die than let some subhuman scumbag have the best of me, because then my life wouldn’t be worth living anyway.

I’ve always been like that. Even as a little kid, I never got bullied by anyone.

There’s got to be something more important than safety: truth and right. If I sound pompous, fine. I’m mad as hell.

If Marc doesn’t like the way I handled the situation with Rikki on the phone, too bad, because look how badly he’s screwed it up, waiting three months for Rikki’s father to fix the situation!

I could kill someone. I’m so angry with Marc for getting our whole family mixed up with these lowlifes.

Mom called Rikki back and explained that they hadn’t called the FBI. Rikki now says Marc owes Fredo money. She told Mom that Fredo didn’t like the publicity package I sent him, in which I told him I’d get him in the papers the way I got myself in the papers.

Well, I think in two strokes I’ve scared these creeps plenty. To me, it’s black and white, right and wrong.

Meanwhile, when Marc called Rikki, she sang a different tune and said that Fredo had only called the insurance company and they said they’d pick up the car tomorrow.

I don’t know why I’m getting so riled up, but I hate to see injustice. Remember when those black guys tried to mug me in the subway? My reaction was anger, not fear. That’s what I feel now.

As Jonny said, how could Marc let Fredo beat up Rikki in front of him? If someone were beating up Mom, Jonny and I would try to stop him even if the creep had a gun.

Thursday, March 26, 1981

5 PM. It’s been a week since Marc arrived, and it’s also been my worst week in Florida – not that it’s Marc’s fault. For one thing, the weather has been really chilly, and today was dark and gloomy.

I haven’t been feeling well either: my sleeplessness sometimes gets the best of me, and for days I’ve had a raging sinus headache.

Also, I’ve begun to really miss my friends in New York.

I’d love to see Teresa or Josh or Alice again. There’s no one here I can talk to the way I talk with them. Nothing’s been happening, and as March slips away, I am faced with decisions about my future.

In February, I could think of the end of the Broward Community College term as far away – can it really be a month since I was in New Orleans? – but now I have to begin to make plans.

This morning I felt really shitty and decided not to do any writing or exercising today. I thought I was coming down with a cold, but now I see it’s just a bad sinus infection.

Last evening I went out to eat by myself at an Arby’s – they have a nice salad bar – and then dropped in on a talk by “novelist Michael Gora, author of Blood Coast,” that was advertised in the Herald.

It was given at an adult ed course at a middle school in Miramar, but it was open to the public. About ten people attended: the creative writing class, their culture-vulture teacher, and a couple of weirdoes.

When they passed Blood Coast around, I noticed the imprint, Exposition, and immediately knew it was a vanity press – in fact, the one Crad worked for on Long Island.

This guy was a lawyer who had never written anything before except for letters to the editor, and he talked about his self-run publicity tour through Florida and how to write a novel.

The teacher gushed over him and the class asked him questions, most of which – like “Should you copyright a manuscript before you send it out?” – he answered incorrectly.

Prodded by my question, he admitted paying for novel’s publication and seemed to say that was the best way to do it. Whenever I asked pointed questions, the teacher looked at me as if I were some vermin annoying a member of royalty.

It was like a scene from a Philip Roth story: this pompous ass, knowing as much about writing as Grandma Sylvia does, lecturing to would-be writers, exhorting them to read “Aldous Huxley’s 1984.”

At the end of the class, I got the teacher’s name, and when I got home, I sent her a letter and some clippings, telling her I could really help her class learn about writing.

Actually, the incident made me feel better: I sometimes think about how sharp the competition is, but I don’t often realize how well-informed and intelligent I am – not to mention how really impressive my credentials are.

After all, I’ve been published by a commercial publisher, been reviewed all over, and am up on the literary scene from the little magazines to New York book publishing.

Today there were nine pieces of mail, most of them junk.

Crad writes that he’s madly in love with a married 27-year-old mother that he met on the street. They meet for lunch every day and are scared that her husband will find out. Crad thinks it’s so romantic even though they haven’t had sex yet. “Wish me luck!” he writes. He’ll need it.

I got a manuscript from Miriam Sagan. At first I thought she was sending back the stories, but it was her poetry manuscript. Miriam’s poems are sensual and full of fine imagery; I’ve always liked her work.

She said she loved my stories and sent them on to Ed Hogan in Boston – she’s now in San Francisco – but that it will be a long time before there’s final word from Zephyr Press.

Monday, March 30, 1981

9 PM. What a day! It was 2:30 PM and I was watching Another World and feeling good when Edwin Newman came on and announced that someone had tried to shoot President Reagan.

At first they said Reagan wasn’t hit, but later it was confirmed that he’d been shot in the chest. I ran downstairs and turned on the TV for Mom, Marc and Jonny.

All afternoon and early evening we stood vigil at the TV as it replayed the videotape of the shooting and updated the conditions of the President, his press secretary, and two others shot.

Now Reagan is out of surgery and doing well; Vice President Bush is back in Washington and just went on TV to assure the nation that all is well.

I still feel very tense, though: odd that in a global village, I can feel I’ve been through an ordeal, as if one of my own family had been shot.

Rumors were flying all afternoon, and I kept thinking back to President Kennedy’s assassination eighteen years ago. Well.

Last night I slept deliciously. Marc was at his friend Bruce’s in Delray, so he didn’t come home until very late. (He’s with Bruce again now.)

I knew it was going to be a good day when I awoke this morning. I got the Sun-Sentinel: Debbie Solomon’s article – “You Mean You Never Heard of Sylvia Ginsberg?” – was very funny, and it had a big photo of me holding up the newsletter. I looked good.

In class, I had an interesting lesson on logic today, even though I had to continue it on the grass when another bomb threat forced us to evacuate our classrooms.

Back home, Mom told me to get on the phone: it was Avis’s mother, who had seen the article in the paper. She said that she spoke to Avis yesterday and reported that all was well although Avis didn’t seem too happy in her job.

Then there was the mail, and today it contained jewels. First, a check from $212 from John Jay: that was more than I expected.

Then a letter from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, informing me that I’ve been accepted from late June to early August for a fee of $7 a day.

Now I have someplace to go this summer! I have to send them a nonrefundable $50 deposit, so I’ll wait until I hear from MacDowell, Yaddo and Millay.

I got a very nice letter from Paul Fericano, some notices of meetings for writers in New York, a registered letter from Saudi Arabia (the University of Riyadh is interested in my teaching there), an a copy of the new renaissance with my long-awaited story “Coping” – the longest story I’ve ever had published. (They’re the ones who think I’m dead.)

Everything seemed to go right for me today, and I told this to Josh and Alice when I spoke to them (separately, of course). This evening I’m feeling very optimistic about my career. It will take time, but I’ll get there. I’m going to keep plugging away and hope that things happen.

I like the way that my visit to Florida has turned out, and I’m now convinced I’m at the edge of a breakthrough. I bet I do get a full-time teaching position somewhere for September.

I feel as lucky as I did in the spring of 1979. Even my teeth didn’t hurt today. There’ll be ups and down, but I expect to learn and grow even from the bad times.

Today I didn’t do any writing, but there’ll be times for that on other days. Tomorrow March ends, and one-fourth of 1981 will be gone. It’s been a good three months: nice weather, money in the bank, some new stories, a lot of publicity, New Orleans, the Broward Community College job, the diary book.

Now I feel have a future and I’m excited to get on with it. Tonight I’ll probably be too excited to sleep, and undoubtedly I’ll feel lousy tomorrow – but who cares?

Tuesday, March 31, 1981

9:30 PM. In a little while, the Academy Awards will go on. They were canceled last night when President Reagan appeared to be in danger. Now he’s recovering well and will be out of the hospital in a few weeks.

Today was a white-hot, humid day: it’s like the worst of summer in New York. This morning I was out of the house early, going to pick up some printing for Mom and to have my own printing done.

I xeroxed the Sun-Sentinel article, a recommendation from Kingsborough’s “Prof. Nimchinsky” which I wrote myself, and the “Coping” story.

This morning I read “Coping,” and while I found the style a bit awkward, I was very impressed with the characters: Helene, Lanny, Grandpa Ike (who brought back memories of Grandpa Nat as he used to be) and the whole 1970 milieu were well-drawn.

I began writing the first draft of “Coping” ten years ago; wrote the present version five years ago; and didn’t see it in print until yesterday. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for my career in general: it may take time for me to get where I want to be, but I’ll get there in the end.

I had promised Grandma Sylvia that I’d visit the nursing home, so I drove down into North Miami and got permission to see Grandpa Nat. He was asleep in his wheelchair, his chest moving rhythmically, his hand held stiffly like a stroke victim’s. At least his teeth were in his mouth and his sneakers were tied; occasionally a gob of saliva would fall to his shirt.

I watched him for several minutes, but I didn’t want to disturb him, so I left fairly soon. I went to the library at Aventura and read some papers and magazines; Scott Sommer’s Lifetime got a great review in Publishers Weekly.

After lunch at a Jewish restaurant, I dropped in to tell Grandma Sylvia that all was well; she was eating lunch when I arrived.

Back home, the mail was waiting for me. First of all, there was the new Coda, always a treat. I submitted to a couple of magazines listed in Coda, including the Brooklyn College Literary Review, edited by Matthew Paris out of the Alumni Association.

Dorothy Wolfberg at the School of Visual Arts said she’d write me a letter of recommendation; I told her to send it to the AWP Placement Service.

I got rejected from the Millay Colony: that means I should be getting word from MacDowell and Yaddo shortly. (I’m glad the acceptance from VCCA came first.)

Virginia Intermont College in Bristol is interested in me – but the job is mostly freshman comp and doesn’t pay much. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of full-time job I’ll probably end up with: one that I’m overqualified for.

And the last piece of mail was a coupon for a free meal at Lum’s for complaining about the service in their Davie restaurant.

I exercised and worked most of the afternoon, then went out to Gaetano’s pizzeria for dinner.

Grandpa Herb had a barium enema, but his condition hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Dad is busy with the menswear show at the Coliseum in New York, but tomorrow is the final day.

Well, the Oscars are on and I seem to be stuck for anything else to say for now.