A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1981


Sunday, November 1, 1981

4 PM. I’ve felt very depressed all day. My wisdom tooth – or the space where it used to be – is only slightly sore, but I still lack energy.

True, I slept fairly well and by noon I’d completed marking two sets of papers, from my 11 AM 100 class and my 2 PM 101 class. However, I still have three more batches of papers to grade, and I can’t see myself getting to them today.

I feel very pressured. Even all the money I have in the bank seems to be insufficient. I have to send Kevin a check for $600 to cover the cost of buying 100 copies of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog at half-price.

I want to xerox my publicity and I want to type up my South Florida stories and send them to Saul Cohen. Also, I feel I’m ready to have A Version of Life typed up. I looked at it today and realized that the diary entries are better than I thought they were.

Oddly, I came across the entry for Monday, November 1, 1971 – ten years ago. I remember that cold, rainy morning and how I could not stop crying because I was so depressed over my breakup with Shelli. Mom was really worried but a visit to Dr. Bob Wouk downtown made me feel a bit better and gave me the reason to carry on.

I also reread the rough draft of the Gargoyle interview, which I feel is intelligent and human.

I’ve spoken with Pete Cherches and Kevin, both of them agreeing that the NEA fellowship winners were a safe, undistinguished lot of mediocrities, including many well-known writers who probably don’t need the money, lots of boring academics, and a large number of blacks and Hispanics whose work is unknown to us.

Maybe it’s just yesterday’s oral surgery, but today I feel feverish, achy, tired, weak, worn, old, ugly, sad. Ah well, last week I felt enormously energetic and I suppose I have to slow down sometime. What I really need is a vacation and a change of scene.

Michael Scott Cain’s Book Marketing: A Guide to Intelligent Distribution made for interesting reading. Cain points out that these days the production of creative writing isn’t suffering but the audience for serious literature is.

The central fact is that Americans no longer see reading books as an important part of their lives: “We have not abandoned fiction [or] rejected art; we’ve simply neglected fine art while we embraced safe, comfortable, reassuring mass art.”

Cain continues: “This is a confusing, unsafe age. Ours is not an age to seek individuality; individuality means to stand alone, and right now we cannot see anywhere to stand. Our only safety is in numbers. And since we can only perceive of ourselves as mediocre, we can respond only to mediocre art. . .”

And: “If our world seems incomprehensible, we’ll buy into art that offers a simplistic conception of it.”

Real art, of course, upsets people. My Zelda and Manny stories are meant to be simplistic and easy to understand, but their obvious banality and stupidity prevent them from being taken as reassuring. See, I do know what I’m doing.

Hey, I know I’m no great artiste, but I’m better than most best-sellers. Eventually I’ll be recognized, and even if I’m not, I’ll still know I tried hard.

God, I ‘m tired. I need some exercise.

Wednesday, November 4, 1981

8 PM. At the moment, life ain’t bad. Evenings I can lie on my huge king-sized bed, listen to music, read, masturbate, talk on the telephone, etc.

Last evening I had a great old time and all I did was talk on the telephone. My conversation with Alice, as always, energized me. She is such a dynamic person that I never fail to be optimistic after talking to her.

And Alice has faith in me; she said that she believes I will achieve success no matter what. She and her brother bought another house in Washington because she can’t afford to buy a Manhattan co-op, but I’m certain that sooner or later Alice will be really rich.

I decided to call Elihu and we chatted for half an hour. At Goldman Sachs, they’re training him to do new things, but mostly everything in his life is the same.

Elihu’s big news is that Elspeth is pregnant. She had wanted to have a baby for some time – I recall that even back in college, she always wanted a child – and she’s going to raise the baby with her mother’s help. The father of the child is married and dying of cancer.

I think it’s sort of nice. Elspeth will take maternity leave in January and go back to driving her bus in May, when the baby will be a month old.

Elihu thinks that Elspeth will now be tied down and will never find a mate – but I imagine that by now, she doesn’t need one.

Just as I was feeling good to be in touch with New York via Alice and Elihu, I got a call from Marla, who was staying at her brother’s in North Miami Beach. It was heaven to hear her sweet, sexy voice. She said she felt disoriented because it was her first night away from Wesley.

Marla has been appearing as a Pine Valley High School student on All My Children (“I haven’t had any dialogue yet, but the last time I stared into the camera for a long time”) and she hopes to work on the new Woody Allen film and get her SAG card.

Wesley’s group – Andy and James are still with him, plus a new guy – has been offered a London record contract, but they’re holding out for a better deal.

Marla said she was going to visit her mother up in Orlando but would try to get to see me before she leaves.

I do feel a bit sorry for all these tourists, for our weather has lately been as grey and rainy as any New York November day (though of course I like it because it reminds me of home).

Today I taught my four classes – they all went fairly well – and deposited my paycheck. I know that the other teachers like me, but they consider me a pushy New York Jew – especially Patrick, who’s something of an anti-Semite and convinced that New York Jews control the literary and entertainment scenes.

After work, I phoned Teresa, who said that Andrew won big in his re-election as Manhattan borough president, but she stayed back alone in the office while the others went out celebrating.

Her job interview at Citibank went well, but they want to see more feature stuff from her, so she’s been writing phony articles. She’ll be arriving in Miami on TWA next Tuesday night. I hope she’s not disappointed and that I can make her feel as welcome as she has always made me in her apartment.

Looking over my old photos of family and friends, I spent an hour gazing off into the distance.

Friday, November 6, 1981

9 PM. Florida isn’t perfect – the palmetto bug I just saw on my table is proof of that – but it does have its advantages. Now that it is November and now that our strange rainy weather is gone, it seems to be as special here as I remember from last winter, and the winter before that.

Right now it’s gorgeous out: cool enough so that you can sit out pleasantly but still warm enough so that you don’t need a jacket.

We have lots of sky here, as Miriam noted, and I enjoy my pleasant 7 AM drive to school. Certainly it’s a lot better than two years ago when I would sit stuck in rush hour traffic by the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel or face the horrors of the IRT; it’s even a lot less ugly than last year’s bus ride from Rockaway to Brooklyn College.

No, as hard as I’ve been on Fort Lauderdale, I never wanted to spend this year in New York, a city that’s much more pleasant in memory than it was in reality.

The New York and New Jersey and Ontario license plates are beginning to appear on our roads here, a sure sign the first of the snowbirds have arrived.

Last night I felt so good about myself. I fell asleep reading Emerson and had so many nourishing dreams, it more than made up for the night before.

I cannot complain; I am luckier than I have a right to be. My job is not the ideal job, but it is pleasant. I taught four classes today: in my morning 100s, we went over Brainard’s I Remember and in the afternoon 101s I did comparison and contrast. Our union finally settled with the BCC administration and I guess we have to take the raise we got.

I had pleasant chats with students, faculty and the secretaries. My mail included a letter from Raeburn Miller, Chair of English at the University of New Orleans, who “conceived an annoyance” a couple of years ago when I didn’t return his calls but who said my credentials were impressive and invited me to send my dossier. Colorado/Boulder and Texas/El Paso also want ’em. (Of course, it’s easy to ask.)

Crad’s latest letter said he’s got woman trouble (or lack-of-women trouble) but that October was his best month in sales: the latest book is almost sold out.

Oddly enough, I ran into my parents and Jonny when I went over to Arby’s for dinner just now; I also saw Jonny during the day at school.

I like the texture of my life. While I don’t have friends here, I know a lot of people; even now, I’m listening to WLRN, a program hosted by Jeffrey Knapp’s friend Steve Malagodi.

In the Fort Lauderdale library, I found two more publicity pieces I had not seen before: Ann Groer’s article in the Orlando Sentinel Star, in which she described me as “a fast-talking English professor and freelance writer” but informed me that Burt Reynolds is a registered Democrat, and Henry Kinney’s column in yesterday’s Shoreline section of the Fort Lauderdale papers in which a local doctor explained the joke behind Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

Tomorrow at 9 AM, I have to get my stitches taken out and later in the day I have to help Mom and Dad empty out the warehouse.

Sunday, November 8, 1981

8 PM. Although I didn’t sleep much last night, I slept well enough so that by 7 AM (on a Sunday!) I was eager to be up and at ’em. After breakfast and a shower, I began editing A Version of Life and got to page 150; then I drove over to my parents’.

The station wagon was acting strangely, and I knew the clogged-up carburetor would make it impossible for me to get started right away again, so I was going to call the AAA to fix the flat on the Buick – but then I realized that Mom had taken the keys to the car.

I phoned Alice to wish her a good trip to Maui; she had thought that Hawaii was just off the coast of California and couldn’t understand why the flight was supposed to take so long. (Again and again, I’m amazed at how many otherwise intelligent people seem never to have looked at a map.)

With Peter away, Alice decided to pick up a gorgeous black box boy from Haiti who works at the A&P. Alice assumed he was an artist or a writer because he worked evenings. He’s always flirted with her, so on Friday she “got all gussied up” and asked him to coffee on his break.

He couldn’t believe it was happening, and Alice soon discovered he wasn’t smart at all. His name was Rudy; he works as a bank teller days and just moved out of his mother’s house and lives with a white girl in Queens.

When Alice told him that he reminded her of Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, he hadn’t heard of the actor or the play. Nevertheless, Alice invited him up at her place at midnight.

He was shocked at the invitation, so Alice didn’t think he would show – but he did, quite a bit after midnight, when Alice was totally sloshed on wine.

Rudy thought it was terrible Alice was doing this while her boyfriend was away (she and Peter had talked about it before he left) and chastised Alice for not wanting to have children.

They finally got into bed, with Rudy constantly saying, “I can’t believe this.” “Nobody had an orgasm,” Alice reported, because Rudy freaked out when Alice told him she wasn’t on the Pill.

“Oh no!” he cried. “What if you get pregnant?”

“There are other means of birth control,” Alice told him, “but if it happens, you’ll just get a third job to support me and the baby.”

That remark did it, and Rudy grabbed his clothes and bolted, asking Alice to avoid the A&P from now on.

“But Sloan’s is too expensive!” she protested as he slammed the door.

Oh, that Alice! Despite all her sophistication, she’s still the same kook I’ve been friends with for two decades. I love her style.

Last night I had a long talk with Teresa, who didn’t sound very well. Her glands are swollen; her mortgage check for the house in the Berkshires bounced; the house isn’t rented and is becoming a terrible financial drain; her sister is furious with her; and Citibank – or actually, its public relations agency – has given her a long and difficult job test.

They want her to prepare a whole campaign to get seniors in Nassau County to go to Citibank; she has to do a report, a press release, feature stories, etc. – and they want to see it on Wednesday, so I don’t know if she’ll make it down here on Tuesday night.

Last night was gloriously cool, and today I sat out by the pool or an hour, exercised, marked papers, read newspapers, and got to page 200 of A Version of Life.

Monday, November 9, 1981

3 PM. If only I didn’t have Trudy Shark’s manuscript to go over, I’d be fairly free of responsibilities right now. Patrick, who glanced at it, said while the writing is terrible, the novel is probably saleable because of the market for Barbara Cartland-type romances.

I spoke to Ms. Shark tonight and told her I’d try to have my editing and rewriting done by next week. I still haven’t read the book in its entirety.

This morning, after a deep sleep, I got dressed and put on a new, very bright plaid shirt from Sasson’s spring line; the shirt kept me cheerful all day.

In both my 8 AM and 10 AM 100 classes, I reviewed the parts of speech, and during my two-hour break, I marked papers and wrote a letter to Crad.

My 1 PM class ended not long after it began because of a bomb threat which forced us to evacuate all the buildings – just like what happened last spring. We stood outside for an hour, and only eight people stayed for my 2 PM class; I kept them only 25 minutes.

At BCC, I feel like I’m constantly boy-watching because there are more good-looking boys on campus than I’ve ever seen in one time and place. Sometimes I have to try not to stare at my students, especially when they come in wearing shorts, tank tops, and shirts cut off at the ribs.

Rep. Tom Bush is planning a new campaign against gays, Patrick reported. Bush called Fort Lauderdale “the homosexual capital of the world.” If only it were!

Now Bush and his Senate colleague Alan Trask want to pass a law making all sexual intercourse between unmarried people, including heterosexuals, a crime. They are so obsessed with sex, they will end up destroying themselves – or so I would like to believe.

I’ve been reading John Boswell’s prize-winning Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, which explains that gays weren’t always considered a threat to the Church – and also says that persecution of gay people and Jewish people almost always go hand-in-hand.

Tom wrote that Crad and I should decide on a time for our visit to NOCCA; he also enclosed a lovely piece by one of his students, about her nipples turning into fish eyes. Both Tom and Crad will be in New York for Thanksgiving, and I only wish I could join them there.

I finished off all of A Version of Life. It’s ready to be typed, but I need to find a typist who’s reliable and efficient. I guess I could mail it out of town after I make a copy of the manuscript. There’s no deadline except in my own mind; the manuscript’s been around for a long time.

I don’t think, however, than any commercial publisher will touch it. It’s well-written, but I fear it doesn’t have any dramatic impact. It reads smoothly, but the “story” is just day-to-day, year-by-year growth from adolescence to young adulthood.

It certainly deserves publication, but in today’s market, crap like Trudy Shark’s book sells and my book never would. Anyway, with Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog coming out next year, and with me publishing the South Florida stories book, I don’t really need another book out until ’83.

I submitted stories to three new magazines I read about in the new Small Press Review. The stories I have left are not for “big” little magazines, but newer, less-established ones might take what I’ve got.