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


Wednesday, November 11, 1981

4 PM. I still feel pretty creepy. I slept all right in my parents’ house, but this morning I felt I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed. I’ve been complaining about the heavy workload at school, and today, on Veterans’ Day, I realize how empty life can feel when I don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do.

Viewed in this light, my recent frantic efforts on this project or that one can be seen as a way of pushing out the real problems of my life.

First problem: I am very lonely here in Florida. I don’t have a confidante, someone whom I could meet for dinner or invite over just to watch TV or hang out with. There’s no one here I can talk to the way I can talk to Alice, Josh or Teresa.

I feel very isolated here; there isn’t a large class of college-educated single people my age, as there is on the Upper West Side or other parts of New York City. Teresa’s not coming yesterday was a real blow; I didn’t realize how lonely I’d been, how out of touch I feel.

And of course the car problems exacerbated the feelings that everything was out of control.

I still can’t shake off the superstition that bad things are about to happen.

I suppose I should welcome a shaking-up, but I’m scared. For some reason today I felt the way I did when I came to Florida for visits when I was still living in Rockaway: my parents’ house and the surrounding area seemed alien to me. Today there was a strange smell I hadn’t noticed since my first visit. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m actually living here.

Reading over my 1980 diary, I can see how unhappy I was in New York – and yet those times seem good in retrospect: good in the sense of more innocent. Maybe finishing the final version of A Version of Life has something to do with my unease.

The Sunday New York Times Magazine had an article about diaries that made me wonder why anyone at all should be interested in my mundane diary entries and my mundane life. And the article made me think that keeping a diary has hurt me more than it’s helped me: by writing down my emotions, I’ve smoothed things over and not really dealt with them.

For me there are several big questions. Foremost among them is who I am sexually. I know the answer in theory but not in practice. I have a terrible fear of making myself vulnerable, and I’m beginning to think I will never find someone to share even a part of my life with. Obviously I haven’t been trying to find anyone.

My second big question is whether I really am a writer.

What have I written in the years since With Hitler in New York was accepted for publication? This diary book, which doesn’t count. Five or six stories – no real advance. Some humor pieces. It’s obvious that I don’t yet have the discipline to become a real writer.

But then what is a real writer in this junk culture? Of course I’ve gotten so carried away with the instant gratification of pop celebrity via publicity that I may never be taken seriously.

On Monday night, a Broward County librarian named Jean Trebbi called, saying she needed a “humanist” for a presentation on “burnout.” I’m a humanist, according to her. It was news to me. Do I want that kind of academic respectability? Do I need it? Oh shit.

I got the car back a couple of hours ago. With $220 worth of repairs done, it better be okay. The roads were jammed today for the holiday, as were the stores.

I feel I want to go to a new place.

Sunday, November 15, 1981

7 PM. I’m still feeling fairly fragile, but I do think I’m coming around. A combination of events over which I had no control (Teresa’s not coming for a visit, the endless breakdowns of the car) and other events over which I do have some control (the hassles with Trudy Shark, my classes, and the diary manuscript) made me feel helpless.

This morning I wrote some letters, read the papers, and exercised. I also made sure to dress nicely. True: driving a filthy, unsafe car is depressing – and I did bang the car into another while parking – but I managed to get through the day without overwhelming despair.

I took Selma out to brunch at the Holiday Inn. She looked well and said she was pleased that her ex-husband has stopped drinking, but she said I looked very sad.

And as I ate my omelet, a sick feeling came over me, one that recalled the time I was with Josh and The Leaf & Bean and was so upset that I became nauseated; on that day in March ’80, I didn’t want to get out of bed, either, and I came back home to Rockaway sorry that I had stirred out of the house.

But I also remember that The Smudge arrived that day and I found myself reviewed favorably, so the day wasn’t all bad.

Today’s Poetry in a Pub was the worst I can remember. My nausea never resulted in a full-blown panic attack, but I was on the verge. Everything felt so disorienting, but I managed to keep myself on a level of incredible boredom rather than pounding anxiety. The poets were all very bad; each was humorless, pretentious, angry, self-pitying, juvenile or obscure. Selma saw that as clearly as I did.

Kirt may have been the worst of the lot. There’s not one of Tom Whalen’s NOCCA high school students who couldn’t write better than Kirt. It makes me feel creepy that he also got a state grant because it almost puts me on his level.

Hell, I’m a better writer than anyone here in Broward County, though I’ll get brained for saying it. Hubris, remember? But I’m too good to be at Broward Community College, I’m sure of that.

And I’m too good to be trying to fix up Trudy Shark’s horrible book. Do I really believe that, or is that bluster? Someone like Patrick sees me as an egomaniac – but I think Patrick’s problem is that he grossly undervalues himself.

Indeed, most of my problems come when I act too self-effacing and not assertive enough. Assertiveness isn’t arrogance. True, I know I ain’t first-rate, but as I’ve said before: today, when most people aren’t even fifth-rate, being third-rate is being far better than most.

I know what a long way I have to go, but I also know that I’ve pulled myself up from adolescent agoraphobia, succeeded in making friends and holding down jobs and actually becoming a writer. I don’t have to apologize anymore and I don’t have to keep saying, “I’m trying to become a writer.” If Kirt can call himself a poet, I can certainly call myself a writer.

This week looks scary; all I can picture are unpleasant surprises. I still have that superstitious feeling that things have stopped going my way – but isn’t that what Dr. Pasquale called selective viewing of reality?

Tuesday, November 17, 1981

6 PM. Things seem to be looking up now, or at least my attitude is.

Last evening I went out to dinner and then to the library, the supermarket, and the newsstand, where I bought Time. The magazine’s cover story, “South Florida: Paradise Lost,” inspired me to finish my South Florida stories. Today I began typing up the manuscript; I’ve got 20 pages and it looks like I’m about halfway through.

Last night I spoke to Josh, who said that Simon is getting married this week. Then I read one of the books I’d taken out of the library, Doe Lang’s The Charisma Book. Simple-minded as it is, the book does give a number of good suggestions about increasing one’s potential.

I know that sometimes – when I’m writing well or when I have an especially great class or when I give a good reading (as at VCCA last summer) – I feel I have tremendous charisma. At those times I feel can do nothing wrong, that the universe is benign, and that I’m playing an important role in life.

So much of life today is image: success equals success, and if you behave as if you are an important person, people will treat you like one.

All night I practiced some of Lang’s exercises. I did some creative visualization and kept imaging Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb in their apartment; I was sending them energy and good health. I even looked at my photo of Bubbe Ita and asked her (out loud) to take care of Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel.

Just now I called them – Marc had taken Grandma Ethel to the hospital for her appointment today – and they sounded ill but peaceful. I got positive, not negative, feelings from my talks with both of them; I still feel very close to them, but I realize I need not feel guilty about not being with them.

I stayed up most of the night, feeling good about myself: I exercised, massaged myself, had two very nice orgasms, admired my body in the mirrored glow of TV light (of course, that light makes anyone look good).

The chilly weather of the past few days has caused many people to get sick; a lot of people have colds, bronchitis, and even pleurisy. I’m trying to take care of myself as best I can and not let pressure get to me.

Trudy Shark’s letter arrived today, but I haven’t looked at it yet. Her novel is her problem, and I don’t have to let it drive me crazy.

I had a decent class today, did some chores, and got Tom’s last issue of Lowlands Review, which contains “There Are Eight Million Stories in New York. This Is One of the Stupidest,” which is one of my most energetic (charismatic?) stories.

I spent the afternoon typing up the South Florida stories and watching my beloved Another World (the juvenile lead, whom I had a crush on for years, is now a novelist) and the phenomenally popular but idiotic General Hospital, where today was Luke and Laura’s wedding – with Liz Taylor guest-starring.

Wednesday, November 18, 1981

9 PM. The cool weather seems to have given me a slight cold.

Last night I took the phone off the hook (as I just did now) in order to avoid being hassled by Trudy Shark. Today I sent all of her stuff back, which was what she said she wanted in the messages she left with my parents and the college. Good riddance.

I did learn a valuable lesson, though: to say no when I really don’t want to do something. So I wrote the Broward County Library’s Jean Trebbi to say I’m unavailable for the library’s symposium on burnout; it’s not worth the hassle.

This morning, after an 8 AM class that ended early, I headed back home and spent an hour typing up Eating at Arby’s. I’ve sharpened it a lot, and it’s a good piece of writing.

But it’s only 32 pages, and while they do make books with that little material, I think I shall have to self-publish it. Or perhaps I can sell it to a magazine: a local slick like Broward Life or Miami Magazine or maybe some national magazine. Anyway, first things first: I’ll xerox five copies and send one to the agent Saul Cohen.

When I called Tom yesterday to thank him for sending the copy of Lowlands Review, he said he was trying to arrange a time for Crad and me to come to teach at NOCCA, so tonight we called each called Crad and decided the best time was mid-January. Crad will fly round-trip from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale and stay a few weeks; in the middle of his trip, we’ll go to New Orleans for a few days.

I returned to campus for my 11 AM class – Marilyn said she wondered where I “disappear to” during my break – and while I had them write essays, I read Publishers Weekly and the Voice, ate some yogurt and stared at my paycheck; they paid me for six substitutions, so I got about $60 extra. Now that our union contract has been approved, my salary will be close to $14,350.

During my lunch break, I put my paycheck in my savings account, and back at school, my afternoon 101 classes went well.

On the way home, I got wrapping paper and stamps – I ran into Jonathan at the Davie post office – and then collapsed at home from hunger and weariness. Until 7 PM, I listened to classical music on the radio and then went out to send the diary book manuscript to the typist and to do some more shopping.

Things never seem to get done. I have three sets of 25 papers to mark now, and next week I’m having all five classes write. But I did get both my South Florida stories book and my diary book together.

Ellen and Wade wrote that they and the baby will be here in January, and I’ll be delighted to see them again.

I still have no word from Peter Filichia when he’s arriving for his short visit, but I expect to have to pick him up on Friday night at Miami airport.

Monday November 23, 1981

8 PM. I did call in sick today, and while having the day off didn’t cause me to accomplish much, it did allow me to catch up on my rest. This week was going to be a short week anyway, with Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, and now it’s like hardly teaching at all.

Yesterday afternoon I called Avis, who was walking a 3HO friend home and couldn’t talk. I then called Pete Cherches, who was performing at St. Clement’s that night. He’s getting more involved with his electronic instrument and a voice distorter, and he’s got a musical partner now.

Pete sent out press releases and got written up in the Soho Weekly News. He’s abandoning the literary world for the art scene, which is more accepting, and he’s following my lead into hype-dom. “I’m a ham,” Pete confessed. Aren’t we all.

Last night, when I got to my parents’, I found Jonny all dressed up in good pants, nice shoes, shirt and sweater. I was in a polo shirt, Levis and sneakers.

“I feel like I’m in a sitcom about a neat brother and a sloppy one,” I said. But I think that the way we were dressed said something about the difference between us. Because Jonny is so much younger, he feels less secure and has more need to “look proper.” Also, he’s very uptight while I’m relaxed.

Or maybe I’m just a slob.

Jonny drove us, and since he dislikes I-95, we drove down A1A, which was fine with me. I find Miami Beach magical on a cool night when the hotels and apartment buildings are all lit up and the bay is inviting; it’s kind of a kitschy paradise.

The Theater of the Performing Arts was swanky, with an upper-class crowd of professionals, gays, and rich Cubans. I know that if I lived in Miami instead of where I do, I’d find more people to relate to, like the people at TOPA.

Napoleon was the masterpiece everyone says it is; Abel Gance’s use of techniques like multiple screens was absolutely amazing. Was it Truffaut who said that everyone in America has two professions, his own and being a movie critic? But since I’m not a movie critic, I’ll just say that I was stunned, that I enjoyed Carmine Coppola’s score, and that the four hours flew by.

On the way out, Jonny started talking about the simplistic images and the lack of detail, but that’s because he’s too young to know when to keep quiet. As Jonny matures, he’ll become less pompous. It’s almost impossible to be 20 years old and not pretentious.

I got home after midnight and worried about calling in sick this morning, but it was surprisingly easy, even if Jonny and I did run into Dr. Grasso in the lobby of the theater during intermission last night.

I stayed in bed till 10 AM, then went to the bank and the gas station, read the Voice, wrote Crad and the McAllisters, exercised more than usual, and marked papers.

Teresa said she’s been job-hunting and may land something with Mario Cuomo; she may be out of work soon, as Frank wants her out of the borough president’s office by December 11. Teresa and her family are awaiting the overdue arrival of her sister’s baby.

Tonight Jonny brought his lab rat, Ratso Rizzo, home after his psychology class experiment ended.

It was wonderful to have Peter Filichia here, if only for a day. Sitting up with him all Friday night, smoking grass and talking, was a real tonic for me.

I had been starved for Peter’s kind of intelligent and witty conversation, which I used to experience all the time in New York. I can understand why he wanted to get back to the city and Alice so quickly. (He noted that I talk about the weather a lot, which says nothing good about how living in Florida has changed me.)

My apartment – especially my king-sized bed – has become a haven for me. But I have to get out more; last night did me good. Everything in my life the past three months has been so bland. I still feel lonely, but I’ll be in New York for the holidays in a few weeks.