A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1987


Friday, May 1, 1987

4 PM. I’m at Teresa’s now. The flight was very smooth and quick; the big problem was on the ground, when we had to wait nearly an hour to get our luggage because of a stuck door.

I got a Haitian cab driver to take me to the Upper West Side, and I guess I’ve been here half an hour.

Teresa had the closet done, so I was able to put away the clothes in both my suitcases, though I haven’t touched all my other stuff.

Last night my parents convinced me that I’d packed too much stuff, and so Mom made a parcel of my things to send me UPS.

I see I’ve got letters from Crad and Tom here, and Teresa took a phone message from Alice.

What surprises me most about being in New York – at least the part I saw on the cab ride – was how familiar everything seemed. I suppose I should be accustomed to that; I’m not really alien to this city.

I had to take off my contact lenses because my eyes were very irritated, perhaps from the dry pressurized air of the cabin.

Maybe I’ll go take a walk without my lenses or glasses and see what the Upper West Side looks like with blurry vision.

Now starts my big adjustment to New York.

Saturday, May 2, 1987

10 AM. Teresa just left for Fire Island; I helped her take some things to her friend’s waiting car. Perry went back to his apartment, where the construction is almost finished.

Yesterday I went out at about 5 PM and got some dinner (Korean salad bar) to take home, and then walked along Broadway, seeing the new stores and new construction.

I soon saw people I knew: an English professor from John Jay, the lesbian couple and their dog from the fifth floor, Oscar the super’s son.

I bought a Mrs. Field’s cookie, which was stale, and then I went to Shakespeare and Co. and bought some books and magazines.

When I returned, I chatted with Perry for a bit and then Josh called, saying he and Todd were at the American Restaurant on the corner, so I went down to meet them.

Both of them looked fine, although Josh was upset because his lunatic neighbor has been harassing him and threatening him with obscene phone calls (which stopped as soon as Josh sent the guy a copy of the law relating to that crime).

Josh believes his landlord has put the neighbors up to this to try to force him out of the apartment.

New York is such a crazy place. Not only have I seen the usual screamers, panhandlers, and disabled Vietnam vets with their signs asking for money, but I overhead a desperate young actress-type pleading with a super around the corner to find her an apartment.

Compared to Florida (and probably the rest of the country) with an ample supply of housing, New York is crazy.

I spent about three hours with Josh and Todd, both in the restaurant and walking around.

Josh showed me his scar from where they removed the mole from his chest; it looked red and mean.

He said he’s getting sick of New York and wishes his parents would move to Florida. As usual, his job sucks. He did give me a copy of the pseudonymous article he wrote about his false-positive AIDS test.

I listened to Todd talk about his experience with New York magazine: They took his article on the Corvette, sent him a $750 check and galley proofs, and then never published it. Now they say it’s not their kind of piece.

Poor Todd. He’s 46 now, and he continues to be obsessed with getting this book published. Meanwhile, he hasn’t really worked in years; his wife still teaches, and their kids are growing up.

It was very good to be with my friends again, and when I came back here, I greeted Teresa with a big hug. She’d been at her sister’s for her nephew’s second birthday party.

With Perry in the bedroom, Teresa lay down for the night in the living room (she put a board under the couch and slept on it without pulling out the bed) and talked until she was very tired.

Her trip to California was wonderful, she told me, and Deirdre will be coming to New York later this month.

Teresa told me that she called Anna and demanded $900 in cash for the rent every month and told Anna to pay me the $250 I’m owed for their trip to Mexico.

While Anna complained about the $300 raise in the rent, she really has no choice if she wants to stay in Teresa’s 104th Street apartment.

Last night I slept on the futon on the living room floor. I didn’t expect to sleep much, but I got about five hours. The heat coming up really dried me out and caused a sore throat.

This morning Teresa made scrambled eggs for Perry and me, and then they both left.

Once Perry is out of here for good, I’ll try to settle in. For now, I plan to go to Rockaway for at least three nights and try to rest up.

Last night on the news, I saw a story that epitomizes New York for me:

Two middle-aged black men, friends since their childhood, ran a laundromat on Columbus and 74th for twenty years. They were loved by their customers for their concern, care and good humor, and in turn they felt their customers were like family.

But now they’ve lost their lease: a chic restaurant will take over their store, and they’ve got to become cab drivers. It isn’t fair.

Monday, May 4, 1987

6 PM. Grandma has just gone down to play cards.

The past couple of days here in Rockaway I’ve rested up, sleeping for long hours, listening to Grandma, reading and watching TV.

The weather has been incredibly crummy: rainy and chilly. Every year I’m reminded of how bad New York can be in early May. Today was worse than any day we had this winter in Florida.

Perhaps it’s part of the process of adjusting, but I feel now that I could never again make New York my permanent home.

The filth, the crowding, and above all the contrast between the selfish Yuppie lifestyle and the vast mob of losers from the homeless to the working-class people in the outer boroughs – all of it disgusts me.

Yesterday I slept till noon, and I had to look hard to get the Sunday Times in Rockaway. Grandma has been cooking me good stuff, but she tends to repeat herself and I get a little impatient with that (though I don’t show it).

Mom phoned last night and said that she and Dad paid the down payment on the house in Shenandoah. Now they wait to see if their mortgage is approved; then, if it is, they’ll have to sell their condo and be prepared to move in November.

Grandma wanted to speak to Marc and Jonathan, so Mom put them on; it was probably the first time either of my brothers had spoken with Grandma in years.

I slept well again last night.

Teresa called and said her Fire Island weekend was pretty dreadful because of the tension with Phyllis and Anna who are nearby and were on the same ferry going and coming.

Obviously, I still don’t understand the story of the end of Teresa’s friendship with them.

Teresa is already urging me to come out to Fire Island on weekends (which, of course, is the last thing I want to do) and telling some people they’re going to have to choose sides between her and the girls.

Why can’t they just find a method of peaceful coexistence so they all can enjoy their summer?

I told Josh his article was good but needed cutting. He sent it to The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic, which shows how little he knows about either his piece or those magazines. I suggested the Voice or maybe cutting it for “About Men” in the Sunday Times.

Today I had to go out, even if I got wet and cold. Taking the bus to the Junction, I got on the IRT and took it to Grand Army Plaza.

At the main Brooklyn public library, I read newspapers and magazines, and then I enjoyed one of those delicious baby pizzas at Roma on Seventh Avenue.

Neither Justin nor Susan was home when I called, so I returned to Rockaway at 4 PM, watched female impersonators on Donahue with Grandma, and then had salmon croquettes for dinner.

Last night I spoke to Ronna, who’d just returned from her father’s in Westchester, where she saw the baby, who is still very cute. She told me all about her cousin’s ultra-Orthodox wedding last week; many of the relatives felt like outsiders, Ronna said.

Now that Ronna’s been working at Yeshiva University for six months, she’s off probation. She plans a couple of vacations this summer, is becoming a Literacy Volunteer, and is concluding therapy in June.

I hope I can see Ronna soon.

Crad sent me an acid-tongued review of his last three books. Although I thought the reviewer was vicious, he made a few valid points about the sexist and racist stereotypes in Crad’s fiction, which do bother me.

Gary Hart’s Presidential campaign may be mortally wounded by a Miami Herald story that claimed a young actress spent the weekend with him in D.C.

Hart, unfairly or not, has a character problem, and I’m now sure he won’t be the ’88 nominee.

Tomorrow the Congressional hearings on the Iran/Contra affair begin.

Wednesday, May 6, 1987

4 PM. Still adjusting to New York.

I’m not used to the kind of active social life I’ve been leading – but I have no complaints. Probably I’ll get more social stimulation in the next week than I did in eight months in Florida.

Last night Teresa and I went out to Szechuan Broadway, so I got to enjoy cold sesame noodles for the first time since last August.

Teresa again told me the story about Anna and Phyllis, but I’m still not convinced that she can’t work out a modus vivendi with them so they can live peacefully in Fire Island. The business tensions exacerbate their personal problems, unfortunately.

When Teresa and I got back from dinner, we watched TV in her bedroom until she conked out at about 10:30 PM.

Although I wasn’t uncomfortable on my futon, I was unable to get much sleep as my mind raced till about 5 AM.

Up at 8 AM, I did the laundry, which took a while, and then Susan called.

Since she was coming into Manhattan to drop off some just-completed articles at Working Woman, Susan and I decided to meet for lunch at 12:30 PM at Diane’s Uptown at 72nd and Columbus.

Meanwhile, Justin called from his desk at Shearson. I told him I’d come to Performance Hell on Friday night; it’s real late, 11 PM, but the new venue is uptown not far from here, so I’ll manage.

Justin has been very busy with the revue and with other projects, though he had just come back from visiting Larry in Reading.

Justin thinks I should meet his roommate Fred, who just got a new job at Rothschild, where he’s making lots of money and is traveling all over; Justin said Fred and I share the same kind of humor.

I don’t expect to be able to speak to Justin on Friday night because he’ll be busy with the show.

They’ve been spending money on promotion (Justin said he found Alice’s name on their mailing list) and hope that they can get reviewed somewhere. The performers and Justin plan to take a break for the summer, he said.

When I met Susan at Diane’s, she said, “You look just the same,”

“So do you,” I told her.

She was all excited and nervous because she’d just gotten two more major assignments from Working Woman.

“Fear of success,” Susan called her panic. “Too much going right.”

She obviously works very hard at her writing (she says having the baby has made her more productive, not less) and says that she’s been at her goal of making $1000 a month by freelancing.

Spencer’s job has been making him nervous because he’s got all these extra responsibilities.

They’re still debating when and whether to move.

Susan feels tired of the urban grit of Park Slope. Much as she loves the neighborhood, but she feels a move is somewhere in the future.

She showed me a book project called Welcoming Your Baby, a guide to rituals like christening, brises and naming ceremonies. With the baby boomlet still going strong, the book sounds like a natural to me.

I was interested to hear how Susan said I differed from most other people she knows.

She said I avoided a one-to-one personal commitment and that I wasn’t at all interested in owning things, both factors contributing to my footloose lifestyle.

It’s important for me to see where my friends are in their lives and to figure out where I am by comparison.

Being a parent is probably the most important aspect of Susan and Spencer’s lives right now. She says they may have another child soon “to get it over with” so that she can at some future date go back to working outside the house a lot more.

When I brought up my pet thing (or is it my idée fixe?) about a coming economic dislocation, Susan seemed alarmed.

Of course, as a parent and homeowner, she’s got a hundred times more to lose in an economic depression than I do. If I am right, some of my friends will be badly hurt.

Susan told me she never thinks, as I do, about the future – but she seemed skeptical that people will ever be less materialistic.

I asked Susan what she thought of the Times piece on young New York literary lions; she said she was envious of them but more amused by their lifestyles.

Susan is one of those workaholics who push themselves more when they work for themselves. But she’s very intelligent, and we share a lot of values.

Josh called; he’ll be over here for dinner tonight.

And I made a date with Alice for Saturday night.

Mom’s mail package arrived. Joe Cook gave me an A in the Higher Ed course at FIU, and there were the usual bills and other junk mail.

I feel kind of exhausted.

Thursday, May 7, 1987

3 PM. Today’s the first gorgeous day since I arrived in New York. It’s sunny and 70°, and people are shedding their jackets and wearing shorts.

I’ve just come back from Teachers College, where I went straight to their computer lab and wrote a column today, the long-planned one on the Sylvia Ginsberg Fan Club.

I spent two hours on it and then I printed out what I hope is a polished final draft that I can send to the Sun-Tattler.

Obviously, I feel elated. Not only did I write a column, but it was here in New York, in a different environment. I’m getting more and more serious about self-publishing a book of my columns; most people think it’s a good idea.

Yesterday Susan told me that while many of my short stories are weak, at my best (maybe one-fifth to a quarter of my stories), I’m better than Tama Janowitz, who just managed to hit on a trendy subject. It would be sweet to believe that Susan is right.

As for fiction, my new marketing strategy – as opposed to literary strategy – is the opposite of what I did a decade ago when I blanketed little magazines with submissions.

Now I’ll be happy if I can publish two or three short stories a year – but good ones, in good magazines like Telescope, Florida Review and Between C & D. No more obscure little magazines, no more third-rate stories.

I’ve published 165 stories, so I don’t need volume; I need quality.

Last evening Teresa came home in a good mood, and Josh came over the same way, so they actually had a friendly conversation. (Both later said that the other had mellowed. Actually it was as if they’d had lobotomies).

Over dinner at Marvin Gardens, Josh claimed the AIDS-test experience has taken away his hard edge. It’s hard to believe Josh has been so transformed, but the AIDS test is all he talks about – except now he’s also obsessed by his crazy neighbor, the one who’s harassing him.

After dinner, we went to Shakespeare and Co. and browsed the books and magazines in the store.

Josh raised the possibility of his buying a house in Florida and my living in it and paying him rent, but I don’t expect anything will come of it.

Teresa was on the phone talking to Michael when I came in. Her energy would be better focused elsewhere, but I know how I felt after I stopped seeing Sean and how much I thought about him.

We watched a tape of …About Last Night, but Teresa fell asleep before the protagonists started to break up.

I’m supposed to be seeing Ronna this evening.

Friday, May 8, 1987

1 PM. I just watched Gary Hart withdraw from the Presidential race following a tumultuous week in which he was hounded by reporters, who asked such questions as, “Have you committed adultery?”

What a sleazy time this is, and I don’t mean Hart’s affairs with women; after all, he was no Jim Bakker preaching “morality” and condemning “sinners.”

It’s part of our culture of celebrity where everything is reduced to entertainment, where nothing has a context.

Hart wasn’t contrite so much as angry, and he was right when he said he could never get across his views on political issues because the issue would always be Hart himself.

Okay, he had bad judgement and perhaps a self-destructive streak, but I knew he’d never get the nomination anyway.

Now the TV commentators are frantic because there’s no Democratic front-runner, and they only know how to tell the story as a horse race.

Eight years ago I told the New York Times I was running for Vice-President “to protest the insane way we choose our leaders,” and in the intervening time things have only gotten worse.

Americans truly deserves Reaganism, I sometimes believe.

Meanwhile, the Iran/Contra hearings go on without much public interest, and a congressman dies of AIDS, supposedly from a blood transfusion he got in 1979 before the virus appeared.

Was there ever a more greedy, selfish, dishonest time than this?

Sometimes I look at my writing and my publicity stunts and I feel I almost predicted things that are happening now.

Isn’t most public discourse on the level of a teenager’s fan magazine? Look at my “Legislators in Love” pseudo-scandal or my celebrity shortage idea or other stuff.

So if I’m so smart, how come David Leavitt’s agent is trying to get him $250,000 for his next book while I’ll never earn that much in my whole life?

Why am I even asking the question? The answer is obvious.

But I remain convinced that the times they are a-changing and that my turn will come.

God, how selfish I am, too!

Last night I went to Ronna’s at 7 PM. She looked as cute as ever. Ronna got new glasses and her hair is greyer, but she’s still girlish to me. She said I’d lost weight.

We went out to a new Chinese/Japanese place run by the ubiquitous Empire Szechuan Gourmet and had a nice dinner.

Back at her apartment, we played around with Lori’s Macintosh for an hour, using MacWrite and MacPaint and Microsoft BASIC.

I put on my jacket to leave, kissed and hugged Ronna good night, and one kiss led to another.

We were making out as much as you can when you’re both totally vertical until finally I took off my jacket and we went into her bedroom.

I was unsure of the wisdom of it while we were doing it, and if Ronna were seeing anyone now, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened.

But we didn’t have intercourse; we probably didn’t do anything 13-year-olds don’t do on a routine date.

Neither of us had hugged or kissed anyone that way in a long time, and we’re comfortable together and care for each other deeply, so why not? I enjoyed it.

I guess I worry that Ronna will become too attached to me, but that may be sheer egotism; she probably feels the same way I do.

Which is…? Well, I’d rather be in a solid relationship with someone new, I guess.

Am I awful?

At least we didn’t take it very far. It’s good to be touched and held, and it’s good to touch and hold someone. It had been so long I thought I’d forgotten how to kiss.

Tom is supposed to call today, and tonight is Performance Hell at 11 PM.

Saturday, May 9, 1987

1 PM. It was great to see Tom yesterday and Justin last night; this evening I’m seeing Alice.

About twenty minutes after Tom called, I met him at the Ray’s Pizza (every pizzeria in Manhattan is Ray’s) on Columbus and 82nd.

Tom looked much the same, even a little more youthful; clearly his year-long sabbatical in Baltimore has done him good.

He plans to go back to New Orleans for the summer, while Debra will stay in Baltimore until she goes for her Fulbright in Bern in the fall.

Debra has a really good deal: after the year abroad, she will get $9000 a year at Washington University for the two years of her MFA and for two years after that if she goes for her doctorate.

Tom has six or seven years left to teach at NOCCA before he can retire; then he plans to teach part-time at Loyola or Tulane.

We went to the Endicott, going from book to book as we dissected the latest fiction by the hot young and cold old authors.

Then we hung out on Riverside Drive and finally at the apartment here.

After four hours with Tom, I feel I’ve had a short course on the contemporary lit scene, of which I’m glad I’m not a part. If I did participate in it, though, I might be a more successful writer.

Tom documented about a dozen cases of how young writers get published or pushed by their connections. It is dismaying to see how a no-talent like Amy Hempel gets to the top because of Gordon Lish.

Tom not only refuses to play the game, but he also intimidates established writers because he knows so much more about literature than they do.

Meanwhile, he’s got his half-dozen unpublished book manuscripts floating around, and he still gets into little mags frequently. Because he’s the director of a creative writing program, Tom wishes he were better-published.

It’s always interesting for me to play myself off my friends and see how we agree or differ.

I’m nowhere as up on contemporary literature as Tom, though he says he can’t get through most of it.

What he does read, of course, are the Europeans, on which he is a true expert. The guy’s knowledge is encyclopedic.

Tom left at 6 PM, and I marked time until 11 PM, when I walked over to Jason’s for Performance Hell.

Justin was very late because of delayed trains, so I didn’t speak to him till after the show. It was a very small crowd: besides me, there were only five people in the audience.

Because I took a pen out and doodled on the napkin that came with my ginger ale, the waiter took me for a critic and asked if he could get me a pad to write on.

The 14 pieces in last night’s Performance Hell were impressive. Philip-Dimitri Galás obviously was a witty and intelligent writer and observer of the performance art scene.

Jeffrey Dodge and Anne Lilly were great: versatile, wonderfully expressive, funny and articulate. I did enjoy the show and hope it will get more attention.

It’s also kind of a breakthrough for Justin. I bought him a drink after the performance and we talked when he wasn’t busy with details.

Justin looks great: he’s clean-shaven now, and I’d never seen his hair cut as well.

Except for money problems – he’s continually strapped for cash – things are going very well.

There are all kinds of projects in the works, from a possible interest by Embassy in L.A. in a sitcom script he wrote to a new production of Sound Behavior in New York (Orson Bean wants to play Alec in it) to more interest in his other plays.

He’s been very involved with Performance Hell and has been working intimately with Anne and Jeffrey for months.

I shared a cab uptown with Anne, who knew Philip back in San Diego and said that he was a remarkable talent, another one lost to AIDS.

Philip died at 32 last summer, but his mother and lover have been helping Performance Hell. Anne, Jeffrey and Justin said they feel his spirit often when they’re rehearsing.