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


Saturday, May 23, 1981

9 PM. Sometimes I think how lucky I’ve been and I want to get down and thank the Lord or whoever has allowed me to lead such a pleasant life.

There have been miserable moments, of course, but when I think about the past year – from last Memorial Day weekend in Rockaway to this one – I realize that almost nothing bad has happened to me. What a great life I’ve had!

Josh called an hour ago and tried to convince me I was as miserable as he was. Let Josh think what he wants; I know what I’ve got. How could I possibly complain about my life?

I don’t feel envious of my friends who have money: they’ve paid for it in various ways I haven’t and it’s due them.

If I never make a living from my writing, at least I have the satisfaction of putting my name on something that means a lot to me.

Very few people in America can do that: take personal credit for something they’ve done on their own. So I consider myself fortunate.

Last evening I went over to Roll ‘n’ Roaster and had a nice dinner; then I drove out to Rockaway, stopping at Beach 116th Street to buy a bouquet of lavender carnations for Grandma Ethel.

Walking around in my old neighborhood, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for my old life there: Rockaway seemed so nice last summer.

At this point I can remember only the good times in Rockaway even though last summer was tumultuous: Grandpa Herb’s hospitalization, Janice’s death, a complete lack of money.

In retrospect, though, I look at that time as a beautiful dream. I guess it’s because I have an intense attachment to places where I’ve lived.

It gave me pleasure to surprise Grandma Ethel with the flowers and to sit watching TV with her and Grandpa Herb in the living room. Looking at Grandpa’s legs under his robe, I was shocked to see how thin they’d become.

I remember him telling me how, when his own father was dying of cancer, Grandpa Herb told him, “Pop, you’re going to get better,” and then Zayde Isadore pulled off the bedcovers and said of his legs: “With these matchsticks I’m going to get better?”

I know I won’t be able to have my grandparents with me much longer. But look: in about ten days I’ll be 30 years old and all my grandparents are still alive. How can I not be grateful for that?

At sundown I drove home and wrote for a while; then I called Dad at the Days Inn at Disney World. Dad said they were all having a fine time, that it was cooler than South Florida and that they had seen lots of good stuff.

Today they were going to Cape Canaveral and then they’ll be home tomorrow.

I called George in Harrisburg, and it was a real treat to hear his voice again. They’re moving him out of reporting (though he’ll still have his book column) and making him marketing director of the Patriot-News.

The Newhouse people still seem to be grooming George to be the paper’s publisher. I’m sure George wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of his grandfather, whom he dearly loves.

Ruth is fine – it’s their second anniversary – and though they’ve been having expensive repairs on the house, all seems well.

George repeated what he said in the letter: that while he can’t do a job like Taplinger did on Hitler or what White Ewe Press will do for me, he says that the new edition of Disjointed Fictions will be a fine collector’s item. Although it will cost me $75 more, I told George I can handle that.

He’s going to put in some neat blurbs and a new, updated bio; also, he wants a photo and a complete list of my stories for a bibliography/ checklist. I’m really excited about the project, and George is, too.

I slept really well last night – the dizziness seems to be going away – and spoke to Elihu when I woke up, telling him I couldn’t make it today. Then I rushed to get out in the holiday traffic out to Bayside, where Gary was waiting for me.

Gary had been at the gym and looked well; after a short chat, he drove us into Manhattan. Finding parking in Soho, we walked to the Village for the Washington Square Art Show. (It’s been a dozen years since my first one.)

It was a mild, sunny day, and I was happy to be wearing shorts again. We took in all the artists’ work and went to see a Chinese painter from whom Gary had bought some prints at the Las Olas art show a couple of months ago.

Then we had lunch at the sidewalk café on MacDougal and Bleecker, a fine spot from which to observe the universe.

Up at 9th Street, we went to see Hank Blaustein, who chatted with us like old friends. I finally confessed to him that I used to get terrible anxiety attacks in his Spanish class in high school; he told me that around that time, he began getting them, too.

Gary and I walked up Broadway to Paragon to look at tents, then strolled back to Soho. After returning to Gary’s place in Bayside, I decided to skedaddle back to Brooklyn because I knew the traffic would be rough – and it was.

Tom called to say that the job announcements had just gone out and that I have to get out all my stuff to the school board as soon as possible.

Interviews will take place soon after the cutoff date for applications, June 9, and so I’ll have to face a committee that includes two Orleans Parish school board members, Tom, Tonya Foster and Eustace.

Tom said that the PM Magazine segment on the Writing Program was “superb” and he got more letters from viewers than he can respond to.

There’s another job opening, a librarian/administrator job that David Vancil will apply for; if he gets it, Tom will let him have the next-door apartment, which is fine with me.

I feel a bit anxious about New Orleans: I don’t know if I can survive on the salary and I hope I can avoid getting in Tom’s way.

He wants me to help him rather than do my own thing, and so it should work out because I don’t really want to do my own thing in the program.

Still, I’m scared about it because it’s such a big move.

I finally got the Nantucket Review with my diary story, and Mom also sent Kostelanetz’s Autobiographies, an incredible book.

I wrote Mudborn Press’s Sasha Newborn to ask him if he’d be interested in my diary book for his Erasmus Editions series, “The Writer in the World.”

The agents I sent query letters to are interested only in novels, and so I don’t think I should bother trying agents anymore.

I think I’ll read a little now and maybe see if I can sleep.

Monday, May 25, 1981

10 PM. This has been a fine, almost idyllic, holiday weekend. Yesterday was fun: I did a lot of walking on the beach, but I don’t mind the blisters.

Today on the beach I saw Mikey, Sharon, Stacy, and Stefanie. Last night I had a fine time with Peter and Richard and mostly with Alice. I’m enjoying my visit to New York; the first three weeks here I’ve done a lot.

Last evening, after a bath and a quick dinner, I drove into Manhattan. It was a pleasant trip up Ocean Parkway, through the tunnel, and up Sixth Avenue.

The Village was jammed, but I managed to find a parking spot on 10th Street. Alice had told me that Peter had invited over his gay theater friends to watch Top Banana on HBO.

I arrived early because Alice had given me the wrong time; Peter’s son had just left and Alice was busy cleaning. She also had gone to see Mr. Blaustein at the art show and reported that he seemed very neurotic; I agreed.

I took out the Midwood ’68 yearbook – I threw mine away – and looked at my photo (so skinny, so serious), Linda’s, Gary’s, Elihu’s, Ellen’s, and all the people I used to half-know: the boys and girls in my acting class, the kids I had crushes on, people I just passed in the halls.

I found a photo of Thomas Pasquale there and I was stunned to realize I had gone to high school with my own shrink! I don’t know if I could see him anymore after finding that out.

Somehow I always thought of him as older and wiser. I guess if he knew, he kept quiet about it for that reason. He was on the football team.

Imagine me in high school fifteen years ago, having anxiety attacks: what would I have said if I knew that one of my classmates – a football player, yet – would be my shrink?

Richard was his usual obnoxious self, interrupting people, putting down everyone, and bragging about his accounts at Rogers & Cowan and his planned trip to the Orient.

Peter’s gay theater friends were nice but not people I find fascinating, so Alice and I went to Figaro for iced cappuccino outdoors.

We had a talk there last August, I remember, and this one was also magical: nothing special, just two very old friends opening up to each other. Alice hasn’t changed all that much, not even from P.S. 203: she’s still a very caring person.

She’s going down to Washington at the end of June for the closing on her new house, and I said I’d fly there with her on my way to Virginia.

Back home at 11:30 PM, I called my parents’ house. Dad said they had seen a rocket blast off at Cape Canaveral on Saturday night and they they’d had “a very good vacation.”

Kirt Dressler had called the house in Florida to say that there was going to be a meeting of the grant applicants; Dad told me I might want to fly back to Florida later in the week.

The prospect seemed unsettling but exciting. When I called Kirt today, he said it was only one member of the Lit Panel who would be there, and so I decided to send her a letter instead.

I slept well again and woke up early. In late morning, I joined Mikey and his mother at the beach; today was breezier than yesterday. Mikey seems to be enjoying his job, though it may be imperiled by the budget cuts.

We walked over to Neponsit to see Sharon and her lover Paul (I dislike “lover,” but “boyfriend” and “roommate” are even worse). Sharon likes the school in Williamsburg where she’s teaching and hopes for a full-time appointment there.

She’s as affectionate and friendly as ever and told us she finally looked up Bobby – now head of Bob Corbin Corporate Creations. He didn’t recognize her at first, but then he remembered and they went out for lunch.

Bobby is very successful, still nice-looking “with a great body”; he  has a penthouse co-op and tons of money, but Sharon felt he’s unhappy: “He jokes about being miserable in a way that isn’t a joke.”

Bobby said he never found a woman whom he really liked, and Sharon suspects he’s a workaholic and very lonely. He’s been taking singing lessons and has done a few showcases, and he was interested in hearing how Mikey and I and others are doing; apparently he doesn’t have many friends.

Walking on the beach, Mikey and I saw Stacy walking with two girlfriends. She kissed me on the lips and we all walked together for a while. Stacy’s last class was this week; she’s been having an affair with a professor. She said she loved getting my letters, and we parted warmly, agreeing to call each other.

Later, Mikey and I ran into Stefanie with her friend Lorraine, a fellow nursing student at Downstate. Stefanie decided to go to nursing school after she couldn’t get a job.

We gossiped about this one and that: Phyllis is married; Peter and Joy have finally broken up; Melvin owns a camera store and Morty is getting married; Davey and his wife live in Rockaway; Alan Karpoff is still in Vermont, and Carl and his girlfriend (bad term again) live in Rockaway, too.

Stefanie asked about Mason and she was interested in hearing that Teresa has done well in p.r. and that Elspeth is a bus driver.

She remembered how Elspeth’s driving had almost killed her and Teresa that summer in California and how Elspeth drove them crazy – “but she was the only one of us to get laid.”

I realized that Stefanie had known Ted, Teresa’s California lover, and then it turned out that Stefanie and Mikey’s mother had had a long conversation on the 6 AM bus on Friday without knowing that Stefanie and Mikey were friends.

God, the world is all related. How could any novelist hope to top reality?

By 3:30 PM, I had enough sun and decided to drive back to Brooklyn.

It was a fine day marred by one incident. At the beach, a boy dove into the water and broke his neck. He appeared to be paralyzed and a helicopter landed on the beach to take him to the hospital.

Mikey, Stefanie, Lorraine and I watched as the copter kicked up sand; as it took off, the crowd of people widened. A photographer tried to take a picture of the kid and some of the kid’s angry friends grabbed the camera and pulled it away.

The incident made me realize how someone’s whole life can change in an instant. I felt very lucky – and very insecure.

Friday, May 29, 1981

11 PM. Yesterday afternoon I made my way, slowly, to the West Side, walked around Broadway, observed the lunatics and the normal people, and finally had Barbara buzz me in at Teresa’s. (Barbara is now seeing Stewart Klein, the TV critic who used to go with Trudy.)

The people in the crowds in Manhattan, like myself, all seem to be cruising. It’s not just sexual, but people’s eyes are constantly locking. In Florida you don’t get the same diversity – and there aren’t really crowds, or places to walk.

Teresa came in an hour after I got there, and we decided to “eat out cheap” (by Teresa’s standards, not mine). The bank in Massachusetts approved their mortgage on the Berkshires house, Teresa said, so she wanted to celebrate.

The restaurant we went to was on 72nd, and Teresa accepted my “novel suggestion” that we take a bus. Arriving there just as it started to rain, we had a great dinner (chicken, ribs, vegetable loaf) at the Swiss Chalet Bar-B-Q, a pleasant place with live music and friendly people.

Teresa recounted yet another day of office humiliation by Frank, and I nodded at the appropriate moments.

We also had a good time and made each other laugh more than once.

Walking back uptown, we got drenched and got into our nightclothes soon after getting in.

I felt a bit nauseated but not very sick, and I read while Teresa talked with her sister. Renee came in for a while – she’s about 27, a physical therapist – and we chatted; she has that dark, freckled, farm-girl look I’ve always been attracted to.

Teresa and I watched Johnny Carson in bed as we exchanged sleepy, dopey talk; for a minute I figured that was what being married must be like.

I slept heavily and didn’t get up until after Teresa had left for the office. My car was parked in a space good only until 11 AM, and so I decided to have breakfast in the Village, at the Greek Garden.

Next to me was a psycho with shoulder-length blond hair, a headband and beads, who said things like “I should have beat her on Rosh Hashona” to no one in particular.

“I’m drinking coffee and sitting here just like I was a normal human being,” he told me. I just stared at my paper.

When I paid my check, the waiter said, “I hope you didn’t tell him the Sixties were over. He missed it, you see: he’s having a good time now.”

I had wanted to use the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines library, but I discovered they moved uptown, so instead I went to the St. Mark’s Bookstore, where I got the new issue of Coda.

The ride back to Brooklyn was a 90-minute, traffic-snarled drag.

When I finally got home, Josh called me and chatted in his usual depressed way; I’ve been trying to avoid him because his attitude brings me down. Josh is better to be with when you’re depressed, but his negativity can take away your cheerful moods.

When I called Florida, Jonny said the campus was closed today so he couldn’t get my check. Mom said she’s bringing it for me next week, and I wished her and Dad a happy anniversary.

Mom also read me a letter from Sandra Thompson, to whom I’d sent a review that mentioned her work. Oddly enough, she’s living in St. Petersburg.

Tom called to tell me where to send my résumé. I’m worried about a couple of things about the NOCCA job.

First, can I survive on $8,000 to $9,000 for the next year? Second, will I like living in New Orleans? It’s so old and poor and decaying and humid: not like shiny new rich Florida or comfortable, exciting New York.

In a way I resent Tom for giving me this opportunity because I so hate change. But if I didn’t have the NOCCA job, I might really be depressed.

Saturday, May 30, 1981

6 PM. I just had a long talk with Mom. She said she thinks Marc is coming here with the intention of staying in Sheepshead Bay. If that’s so, I think I’ll return to Florida with my parents next weekend.

Although I would like to stay in New York a bit longer, I’ve seen most of my friends and done just about everything I’d wanted to do here. Avis, Josh, Simon and Alice will all be away the latter part of June, and Teresa will be busy working on the campaign.

It will be cheaper to fly to New Orleans from Fort Lauderdale, and I suppose it won’t be that hard to get from Florida to Virginia at the end of June.

Mom says that there’s no talking to Marc, that he’s surly and uncommunicative. That morning he flew into a violent rage when a phone call from Dad’s customer woke him up. He thinks he has no problems and that everyone else is crazy.

He talks to Rikki almost every day; when she calls and someone else answers the phone, she tries to disguise her voice. Mom thinks Marc may go back to her: “If he does, he’s no better than she is.”

Mom and Dad won’t support him if he continues to sell drugs and he’ll have to make do on his own. Mom advised me to get the phone here off my name, and I told her she should get Marc’s Visa card away from him so he can’t run up the kind of bill he did last summer.

At Disney World, Jonny got very panicky on the monorail and decided he wants to go into therapy. I think that’s a good idea; therapy will get Jonny on the right track. Tonight he went to Miami Beach with Brenda and her cousin to see My Fair Lady.

I didn’t sleep much last night but was no worse for it today. This morning I wrote out a cover letter and sent my résumé to the Director of Certificated Personnel at the New Orleans School Board. Then I shopped for food, took in my laundry, and cleaned the apartment.

Josh came over at 11 AM and we drove to Harry’s house. The three of us went over to the diner on Kings Highway where Cookie began working as a waitress today.

The food there was awful, but we had a pleasant time despite Josh’s endless complaints about how rotten the world is. Harry’s a sweet guy, but he is a bit backward socially.

After our lunch, I drove out to Rockaway to visit Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb. They, like Josh, were in a complaining mood; I sat there for an hour nodding my head until I escaped to the beach.

It was breezy and not very crowded, but I had a good time watching the waves roll in and looking at some Puerto Rican kids clowning around for the camera.

Crad wrote that he’s glad to be back in Toronto and is busy with his new book, Human Secrets (Book One) . Printing costs have risen enormously since last year, but Crad believes he can sell more books faster this time. He’s anxious to get back on the street.

Sunday, May 31, 1981

7 PM. It’s been a great night: sunny and mild but not humid. I’ve been in New York for four weeks now and on Tuesday night Marc will be back, so I’ll give up this apartment as mine alone. I guess I’m ready to leave New York.

I think my visit has made me more confused and more self-conscious. In Florida, away from friends, I didn’t wonder so much how I appeared to others. But here, seeing all these people: it’s so weird.

Avis thinks Josh is nuts and Josh thinks Avis is nuts. No one can see his or her peculiarities despite the clarity with which they can see everyone else’s.

Although no one here except maybe my grandparents has told me how to live my life, I can’t help feeling that implicitly they’re telling me: Do it my way.

Alice would like me to earn big bucks by publishing books that sell. Teresa wants me to become a New Yorker, a West Sider. Avis would be happy if I too became a Sikh. Or am I just projecting?

I’ve always found myself near-immobilized by self-consciousness. God, this is going to be boring, but I have to say it: I’m thirty years old and I don’t have a clear identity as a person, a man, an American, a gay male (certainly!), a writer.

I feel half-formed. Two people from Teresa’s office thought I was 19 years old. Am I really as short as I appeared in the store window reflection? Do I look effeminate? Fat? Can I possibly sound as hideous as I do on Josh’s answering machine?

Where the hell do I want to live? Am I a New Yorker, a Floridian, or a New Orleanian? Do I want to live anywhere?

I’ve been reading Edmund White’s States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. It’s a brilliant book that’s not only a great portrait of the variety of gay men, but it also tells a story about the identity of various cities.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, but for someone who’s the most non-promiscuous sexual being, I am incredibly promiscuous in wanting to experience different lives.

I’d like to live a year in Texas, California, Oregon, D.C., Boston. I’d like to have a zillion different jobs and a 12-page résumé and defy all categorization. But that ain’t possible, so I’m stuck with the ABC soap opera title, One Life to Live.

Last night I picked up Simon and we went over to Josh’s, where we shot the breeze. They wanted to walk around the Village and of course I was the driver who couldn’t find a parking space.

After half an hour, I suggested that they get out and that I’d go home while they walked around and returned to Brooklyn by subway. I really did want to get home and I wasn’t angry, but still, it bothered me that they left. They can be so stupid sometimes that I want to shake them.

At the apartment, I read the Times, wrote Crad, read more of White’s book, ate peanut butter, felt too giddy to sleep until I finally drifted off at 4 AM.

Today I spoke to Elihu – gripes about academia, mostly – and to Denis, who’s looking for a job because he needs summer money; law school is over, and Denis said he found the first year hard.

Then I called Mrs. Judson. She’s back at work, sewing in a new place where she had friends; the only drawback is that it isn’t air-conditioned. Wayne got on the line and told me he’s still “working, sleeping, eating,” and that yesterday his girlfriend took him to the circus.

When I told Mrs. Judson that I’d be making $9,000 in New Orleans, she said that sounded like a great deal of money for working 15 hours a week.

She told me that she’s never had insomnia (“I must have a clear conscience”) and once amazed Libby while falling asleep while floating in the YWCA pool. What a woman!

This afternoon I saw John Waters’ wonderfully dopey film, Polyester, with the large transvestite Divine, who looked as suburban as the two women who sat next to me at the counter of the diner an hour ago.

The Odorama gimmick of scratch-and-sniff cards scented like dirty sneakers, pizza, airplane glue, etc., was a clever touch. I seemed to be the only person in the Avenue U Theater who laughed; most just thought the movie was stupid.

Another question: Why do I love stupid things?