A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late June, 1981


Sunday, June 21, 1981

9 PM on Father’s Day, the start of summer, the longest day of the year.

I read for most of the night. I tried to write, too, but I’m scared to do a story for the Tropic contest, scared that I’m not going to get it right.

If I don’t come up with the story by Wednesday, I’ll simply rework an old piece like “Coping,” changing things around a bit. But I’d rather come up with something new. There are times when I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write fiction again.

Today was another hot, off-and-on rainy day. This morning I gave Dad his Father’s Day card and present, and then I called Grandpa Herb in New York.

Speaking to both him and Grandma Ethel, I told them about my job in New Orleans. They said they were both feeling poorly, that Marty and Arlyne were in Philadelphia for her sister’s wedding, and that Marc hadn’t called them in two weeks.

Driving down University Drive into Dade County, I decided to visit Grandpa Nat at the nursing home.

He looked about the same as usual; I often can’t relate the pathetic, mindless, slobbering old man in the wheelchair to the vital Grandpa Nat I used to know, but it’s been four years now and I’m accustomed to seeing him like this.

It really doesn’t depress me, for at least I can still talk with him. I joke a lot and act very hearty with him. He doesn’t know me from Adam – or from Stevie or Fred, the other names he called me today.

For a second I toyed with the idea of telling him that I’m gay, but in the end, I didn’t. I wheeled him into the day room, where a very young preacher – blond, thin, and Southern – appeared to be practicing on a group of zombies who didn’t understand a word about salvation or Jesus, let alone the concept of a camel going through the eye of a needle.

Throughout the sermon – it was road-company Jerry Falwell – Grandpa Nat twitched and tried to put objects in his mouth while I took them away and attempted to hold a conversation with him as if he were rational.

Shaking his hand goodbye, I was impressed with his strong grip. How he holds on to life! Then I drove to see Grandma Sylvia, whom I found sitting in her kitchen.

Although she did say, as usual, that she thinks no one has suffered as much as she has, Grandma seemed worried about Dad. He didn’t look well the other day, she told me, and he seemed very nervous about business.

She’s right: things are not going very well for Dad. The Latin American trade disappeared this summer, except for the Brazilians, to whom the Sasson hand logo is an obscene gesture.

Dad has also lost his L.A. Flyers sneakers line. (I got a sample pair out of it, even if the left one is black and the right one is white; I switched the matching laces and can pretend my shoes are avant-garde.)

In addition, Dad has been robbed, and he’s seeing the jeans line go downhill steadily as Sasson puts them in stores like Kmart, which kill the brand’s cachet.

Grandma Sylvia also expressed dismay at Mom’s obesity. Word got back to her through Aunt Sydelle that Dad’s cousins were shocked to see how Mom “had let herself go” when they saw her at Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah.

The one person Grandma Sylvia thought looked well was Marc, but she said, “He only wants to make an easy dollar.”

She spoke about her views of the characters on Around the World (she means Another World, but she never gets the soap opera’s name right): this one is a tramp, and her son has no mazel with women.

Grandma Sylvia said that Robin must be very sick to have left Michael alone in the apartment the way she did, but she said that Joel’s wife, though not Jewish, is very nice and is doing a good job of raising the boy. I wish I’d had a chance to see Michael while I was living in New York.

Although Grandma Sylvia kept saying how I couldn’t “make a good living in New York,” I think she respects me in a way, for she does tell me things she would never tell Dad. And I always feel she’s not as senile as Dad and Mom say she is.

Funny: At the nursing home, when I told Grandpa Nat, “Happy Father’s Day,” he replied, “Same to you.”

“I’m not a father,” I said, “just a son and a grandson and brother.”

Tuesday, June 23, 1981

6 PM. So excited was I by the story I wrote that I didn’t get much sleep. I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want to win the Tropic contest. That $1,000 would mean the world to me now. And the recognition I would get in Florida would be very valuable to my career.

But I have to put the contest out of my mind for the next two months. As hard as I tried and as good as I am, there could be someone who tried harder and is a better writer.

I read The Hite Report on Male Sexuality deep into the night, and today I read it until I got eyestrain. It’s a revelation to hear men discussing sex, masculinity and feelings so candidly.

I’ve never had a close male friend with whom I could talk about these things. Dad is such a prude and he embarrasses so easily, so I could never talk to him when I was a kid.

My parents made me feel that sex was shameful, and I know that has screwed me up a great deal. But I think it’s done worse things for Jonny; at least when I was 20, I had a girlfriend with whom I was screwing my brains out. But I always wish that I had experienced sex with a boy when I was growing up because it would have made me less uptight.

Getting back to my male friends: Josh is so super-unfeeling, he’s the last person I could talk frankly with; he sees women only as sex objects, as in his porno stories.

Gary is much too dull and straight arrow. Mikey is a little looser, but I feel embarrassed with him. Even back in college, I couldn’t talk to Scott or Mark or even Vito, who was gay.

Only with women have I been unable to unbutton my mind – with Shelli, Ronna, Stacy, Avis, Teresa – and I’m not primarily attracted to women.

Today, when I went to xerox my story, I developed an instant crush on the cute boy at the store. I could tell he was gay – or would be one day.

He was slim, tanned, dressed in a t-shirt, straight-leg Levis and moccasins with no socks. I was attracted by his gentleness, his shy smile, the resiliency I could sense within him that I see in guys that are a bit effeminate.

If only things were such that I could talk to him, ask him out as I might ask out a woman I met casually. If only gay men didn’t have to look for relationships in such mechanical and game-filled ways as bars and personal ads in the Voice.

The problem to me about meeting men is that you can never be sure if the guy is going to be straight and very uptight about homosexuality: so much so that you might be in physical danger.

Obviously the clone look and the gay bar obviate that danger, so of course those things do serve a purpose. I just wish I could meet a boyfriend the same way I could meet a girlfriend.

Of course, meeting a girlfriend ain’t that easy for men, either. I was impressed in The Hite Report with how many men say their strongest orgasms come when they masturbate and also that almost every man questioned – including the married ones – continues to masturbate.

Now that’s one subject that adults never, never discuss – even while everyone is doing it. I masturbate from five to seven times a week, and I’m certain it’s saved my sanity. As one man said, it’s “one of Nature’s gifts, like sunsets or butterflies.”

Of course masturbation doesn’t really satisfy the emotional craving for intimacy with another person that’s so much a part of sex. I would love to be more comfortable with my sexuality and I hope to start soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 1981

11 PM. Next week I’ll fly to Washington and then take a bus to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Tomorrow I’ll make reservations after my appointment with the eye doctor, as I need to know if I’ll have to wait until I get new lenses.

Can you believe all this running around I’m doing? New York, New Orleans, Florida, Washington and Virginia all in the space of a few weeks. I guess I’m not an agoraphobic adolescent anymore (though there are times when I almost wish I still was).

I also made an appointment with Lisa for a haircut on Saturday, her last day before she leaves for Taiwan. So I’ll be all set.

Last night I slept deeply and had powerful dreams with many people from my past gathered at picnics, on New York City buses, and in school. It was like a carnival featuring everyone who has meant something to me.

I almost couldn’t awaken out of it; I kept falling into deeper and deeper dreams, as if the past was trying to get a hammerlock on me.

There was a violent thunderstorm this morning, and I loved it because it was a contrast to the usual brightness. But Florida weather is very changeable, and the sun soon came out. I don’t find the weather here unpleasant in summer; it gets to 90° every day, but no hotter.

I got a call from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee wanting to know if my Draft Burt Reynolds group had filed our financial report; later in the day, a Fort Lauderdale man called to ask if he could make a contribution.

I drove down 441 into North Miami Beach and went to a noon showing – only $2 a ticket – of Superman II. It was an enormously enjoyable movie, pleasantly diverting.

What fascinates me is watching people fly. I’ve sometimes dreamed of people flying (without a plane); these dreams are among the most pleasurable I’ve ever had.

I had a late lunch at Anyways, and then went to the library at Aventura, where I looked at Library Journal reviews. Back home, I exercised, finished The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, had dinner with the family, and listened to music.

The Hite book is terrific in that it made me feel that people are various, and on the whole, decent. It also helped make me feel much more comfortable with my sexuality.

I feel I’m over my hangups and would like to start being sexually active again. The experience will be beneficial to me: not only will I get closer to others, but I’ll get to feel feelings I’ve kept dormant for too long. I can’t wait to start having sex again.

Ten years ago I had sex almost daily, and if anything, my sex drive is much stronger now. Hey, being thirty years old is nice. I feel comfortable with myself and I look forward to the future.

All my recent problems seem to have proven to be my friends – at least that’s how they appear to me now. All the growing I’ve done in the last two years, since I started therapy with Dr. Pasquale, since Hitler was published, since my parents moved to Florida: all this will come out in my writing.

And the new experiences in New Orleans, painful as they may be, will also help. For once, I feel happy and satisfied. Haven’t I had a better life than most people? This is getting Pollyannaish, so I’ll stop.

When I saw Dolores and her son Trey, it touched to me to hear them say they’d missed seeing me around. People seem more good than bad. So does life.

Friday, June 26, 1981

9 PM. Tonight I went out to dinner by myself at Wendy’s on Davie Road. Gosh, I like the people in Davie: a mixture of rednecks, Jews, Hispanics, people in cowboy hats.

Afterwards I took a ride out to the beach in Fort Lauderdale. As the sun set, it became more comfortable outside, and I just sat for a while, watching the silhouette of the palm trees against the sky and water.

I’m glad I had these ten days here, for Florida will always represent stability to me. Of course, there were times during those six weeks I was in New York when I felt the same way driving along the Belt Parkway or walking around Greenwich Village at twilight.

I don’t believe any place is really better than any other. New York has excitement, anonymity, and variety, but it also has neuroses, filth, and an almost tangible tension.

In Florida, people are bland but polite (three times today I was almost startled by the attention strangers paid to me); the architecture is futuristic and clean but plastic; the winters are mild but the summers are hot.

Emerson was on target in “Compensation.”

This morning I told Mom that I felt uneasy because “things are going so good.”

“What’s so good?” she wanted to know.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve had all the luck in the world and that somewhere along the line I’ll have to pay.

Late last night I got a call from Kevin, who was a bit worried that Van Johnson will sue us over the story in the book. Kevin is a little conventional; I wanted to tell him that if Old Red Socks did sue, the publicity would be the best thing that could happen to us.

Instead, I just assured him we could just put in a disclaimer that all the characters are fictional and have no relationship to persons living or dead and amend the contract to say that I’d assume full responsibility in case of litigation.

I asked Kevin if he could put me up and he said sure, that his apartment in Adelphi has two bedrooms. On Monday night he teaches downtown and he said he could pick me up at 10 PM, so I changed my flight to one that arrives at that time.

This weekend Kevin, Rick, Gretchen and the others are going up to Harrisburg for a reading that George had mentioned. I’ll try to get to see them all while I’m in Washington.

I haven’t been there since August ’74 when I went with Ronna, and I’m looking forward to being back. In some ways I wish I were staying in Florida for July, but I know Virginia will be a good experience even if I hate it and accomplish nothing.

This year I’ve learned to travel and to finally rid myself of the last vestiges of agoraphobia. Ultimately I would like to feel at home in many places.

Gary called today to say that things are going well in the office. His project with the Broadway stores was approved, so he’ll be taking two trips out to Los Angeles this summer; each time, he’ll take off a week and explore California.

Alice is also going to spend a week in L.A. with Peter between their writing conference gigs in Washington State and Colorado. Josh and Simon should be back from their trip to California and Colorado this weekend, and Avis and Anthony should be back from New Mexico.

Today I got two pieces of mail: George’s latest “Printed Matter” column from the Patriot-News, in which he mentions Kostelanetz and Cherches (this Sunday’s column mentions me). And my piece was approved for the new Assembling.

I exercised, spent an hour in the sun, two hours at the library, and I had a very pleasant day. Can life get better than this?

Tuesday, June 30, 1981

7 PM. I’m at Kevin’s apartment in Adelphi, Maryland. We’ve just come back from dinner at a local Italian restaurant near the University of Maryland campus.

In an hour, some people are coming over: Rick and Gretchen, Eric Baizer, John Elsberg, and maybe the Plymells. I’m feeling tense enough for me to have had to take a Triavil an hour ago; my body hasn’t relaxed yet.

Last night Mom and Dad took me out to eat at Lum’s; Jonny didn’t want to come because I was too nervous. I got on my Air Florida flight at 7 PM and arrived in Tampa after 45 minutes. I was fairly tense but not anxious, and I didn’t feel ill or panicky.

We were set to take off in Tampa when a man awoke and said that he’d gotten on the wrong plane – he wanted to go to Jacksonville – so we had to take him back to the terminal and start all over again.

By then I was used to the takeoff, and the two-hour ride to Washington was uneventful except for a pleasant conversation with a woman my age who worked for the Bendix Corporation.

I felt more relaxed than I’d ever been on a plane, and I enjoyed the landing in Washington because the view was so pleasant.

In the terminal, I recognized Kevin by his height, but he’s not good-looking as somehow I’d pictured him; he’s sort of ugly but in a very pleasant way.

As we drove through downtown, I got to see the Mall and the Jefferson Memorial at night; then he took me out here to Adelphi, where he has a spacious apartment in a mostly black complex.

Kevin keeps “Broadway hours,” so we sat up all night talking. Mostly we talked about writing, writers, teaching college English, and White Ewe Press.

Although I enjoyed our conversation, eventually I grew very tired. Finally, around 3 AM, Kevin noticed and let me get to sleep on his couch.

Surprisingly, despite being in a strange place, I slept soundly and wasn’t at all dizzy, even after sleeping only six hours.

Awakening before Kevin did, I took a shower; after he got up, we had breakfast and spent the rest of the day in the air-conditioned apartment. We did get out briefly to check his post office box, but mostly we spent the day just talking.

Kevin showed me his collection of little magazines and small press books (including Paycock Press’s new book by George), as well as at his IBM composer, on which he typesets.

I gave Kevin the front matter for Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and included a dedication to Lola Szladits and Liz Smith. Why them? Why not? It was an impulse. Kevin plans to use a black cover for the book, and he seems to know what he’s doing.

By now, White Ewe Press is more of an independent publisher than a small press, and Kevin said that if he doesn’t go bankrupt – which he may very well – he’d want to do another collection of mine.

I feel a little trembly now; I guess I’m just off-balance being in a strange place. I really wish we had gone out and done something today, but Kevin wanted to stay in. All these Washington people think I’m quite peculiar, that I never go out and am a real neurotic.

Tomorrow there are buses to Amherst; one leaves at 8 AM and the other at 1:30 PM. I could never make the earlier bus, so I’ll take the later one and get in very late: at around 6:30 PM.

I just hope I can get a taxi at that time of night. I might call Ellen and Wade to see if I can see them in Charlottesville first. I do dread a five-hour bus ride.

As usual, when I’m in a new situation, I sound very banal, so I’m sure this isn’t brilliant writing.

Tomorrow night I’ll be at VCCA.