A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1985


Wednesday, October 2, 1985

10 PM. I decided to return to Brooklyn rather than stay at Teresa’s tonight because although I’d had a long day.

I don’t know where all this energy is coming from, but I’m grateful for it.

Up at 6 AM, I was at Baruch by 7:45 PM. In all my classes today, I went over readings by Langston Hughes and Piri Thomas.

After class was over at Baruch, I went to speak with Roberta in the ESL computer lab. She let me look at the software, Houghton Mifflin’s English Micro Lab.

I spent about an hour with it and thought it was pretty good – for English courseware, anyway. I’ll be taking each class to the lab for fifty minutes each week, half of one 100-minute class.

When I ran into Prof. Brant, he said he gave my name to a Pennsylvania software company that was “looking to hire someone like you” – but I never heard from them.

I told Prof. Brant I wouldn’t be around in the spring, and he said, “I hope you’ll change your mind.” Nice to hear that.

After reading the Times in Madison Square Park, I went uptown and did some banking and then had lunch at Columbus Circle.

My first class at John Jay went okay. One student, a very vivacious, no-nonsense black woman, announced that today I wasn’t as boring as usual.

I laughed and tried to explain that it’s hard to make grammar interesting, and if she thinks she’s bored, I am feeling the same way teaching the same lessons again and again.

The second class went well, too – until a drunk (not my student) walked in, sat down, and started taking part in our discussion. Since this never happened to me before, I didn’t quite know what to do, so I humored him, afraid he might get violent.

When the class started writing, he got bored and asked permission to go to the bathroom, which I was happy to give to him.

Later, when Doris and I went to Security to report him – he’d appeared in other classes all day – they said they’d thrown him out, but I later saw him on the second floor.

I took the Amsterdam Avenue bus up to 120th, where I checked out and ran some software in the Teachers College library.

Class was okay, though the material is difficult the way it’s presented. I wish I could just learn Pascal, but I guess I am getting an intellectual base in programming that will be good for helping me learn other languages. At least I hope so.

I sent and received mail on the DEC-20 after class and walked to the subway with Minh, one of the instructors.

I’ve got a huge crush on the other instructor, Chris, who’s got cute dark Italian looks and nice body; I like to see his sleeveless undershirt peeking beneath his dress shirts. It’s silly, but I have to get my jollies somehow.

Last night I spoke with Ronna, who also had a crush on this guy she just met. It’s weird how I can discuss my sexual feelings with Ronna more easily than with anyone else.

I got home at 8:15 PM, did my chores and just finished relaxing with Dynasty and USA Today.

Thursday, October 3, 1985

7 PM. It rained all day, but I didn’t mind the darkness nor the cool weather. Fall seems appropriate now.

Because I’d gotten a slip to pick up certified mail at the post office on 9th Street and Fifth Avenue, I took the F train back to Brooklyn after teaching at Baruch this morning.

I hardly ever take the F train, and that spectacular view high above the Gowanus Canal gets to me every time. It’s like the whole city is stretched out before you on all sides.

My mail, as I expected from the Wilmington, Delaware zip code on the yellow slip, was a Beneficial National Bank MasterCard – my eleventh or twelfth credit card – with a $2000 credit limit. So now Richard Grayson has established credit at his Brooklyn address.

I’m concerned that they’ll get mad if they find out I already have a Beneficial Visa card at my Florida address, so I think I’ll pay off that $1000 balance this month.

Teresa and I had another long talk; she really is a mess these days.

Although she has no job yet, she’s already planning a getaway to San Francisco to see Deirdre’s new baby around Christmastime.

Saturday, October 5, 1985

8 PM. One more morning to sleep late before the hectic week begins. Well, that’s all right: I got through last week and I’ll get through this coming week. Anyway, next Saturday I have no class, and I’ve got a holiday a week from Monday.

Last evening, after reading my programming text assignment, I left here at 7:30 PM and got to Ronna’s in an hour.

Lori had gone out, the doorman said, and Ronna was late. Both of them arrived half an hour later, and Lori was very upset.

She’d planned a big dinner party for tonight, and her date, a freelance writer, left an apologetic message that he had to go to Toronto on urgent business. Ronna’s a good friend and knew that Lori needed some help, as this was a big deal to her, so we persuaded her to come out to dinner with us.

We were only going to Happy Burger anyway. Lori finally agreed, and while she was in the bathroom, Ronna said, “Thank you” and then asked if she could hug me. I answered by taking her in my arms.

Throughout dinner, Ronna acted a little too cheerful for me, but I guess she knows how to make Lori feel better.

How could I mind? If I’d felt slighted, I’d only be an idiot who didn’t recognized what a compassionate friend Ronna could be.

Ronna sometimes brings out the best in me. I’m more caring and patient when I’m with her.

Back home, I was tired and needed to get into bed. Ronna made the couch up for me while I undressed and put on Miami Vice. We talked a little: she’s being hassled at work and is upset that she’s got warts on her face.

The medicine the dermatologist gave her burned, and she was afraid of my catching the warts, so our first hugs weren’t face to face. But then it seemed silly – maybe I’ll regret it later – and I kissed her more than once.

In bed, we cuddled and touched each other but didn’t let things get too out of hand. By midnight, I was really tired and we went to sleep. I slept fabulously, glad to be near Ronna.

I dreamed we were in high school together, and I had more of the Florida dreams I’ve been having lately. I also dreamed I was in bed with Wes. It was seven years ago that I had such a crush on him.

I know I’m gay, and I’ll always prefer men to women, but I also love Ronna and know that for both of us, last night was good.

There’s nothing wrong with Ronna and I giving each other a little physical love, especially when neither of us has experienced it lately elsewhere. If it makes Ronna feel as desirable and cared-for as it makes me feel, then it’s worth it.

At 8 AM, the alarm went off, and I started kissing and hugging her; then I cleaned up and got dressed and went off.

It was a foggy, dreary morning outside. After returning to Happy Burger for breakfast, I took the subway up to Columbia and arrived just in time for Computer Graphics class.

Howard did more BASIC programming today, and I learned more about POKE-ing things into memory than I had known before. We discussed the principles of graphics and went over other stuff.

During our hour break, instead of having lunch, I went downstairs to the computer room to meet Chris – he’s not only such a hunk but very sweet too – and other members of the Programming class.

I got the hang of the EMACS text editor pretty easily and put in a Pascal program, ran it, modified it, and also typed in and ran a simple BASIC program. Pascal is a challenging language.

Back upstairs, I unfortunately had one of those accidents programmers have: I erased my disk by mistake. But I didn’t have much on it, just some hi-res drawings in Koala Pad pictures.

I worked in SuperPILOT, finding that the commands were coming back to me. I may do my final project in PILOT rather than using another tool or BASIC.

After class, I stayed on, programming till 1:30 PM, and then I went back downstairs to the DEC-20 and worked on the Pascal program for our first project. It needs a lot of refining, but I know I’ll do it before it’s due in two weeks. Both courses seem under control.

On Broadway, I grabbed some lunch and then got on the IRT. At 72nd Street, an amputee on crutches came into the car to collect money. I gave him some coins, and then, as he came to the door to the next car, he burst into laughter.

I soon realized why: crossing his path was another amputee, this one in a wheelchair, also begging. I gave him some loose change, too.

At 14th Street, a guy got off the car and waited for a moment, then suddenly stepped back in and grabbed at a woman’s neck; then he quickly ran away as the doors closed. I’d seen it perfectly from my vantage point, but he was so fast, I couldn’t react.

What he’d done, of course, was snatch three gold chains. The woman, a young West Indian, hardly reacted at first. She said she’d just bought the chains and still had the receipt for them.

“I never usually sit next to the door,” she told me. As we made our way into Brooklyn and the reality of the event hit her, she kept saying “I just can’t believe it.”

Back home, the phone was working again; evidently they fixed it from the outside, for Jim said no repairman had come to the house. I went out for dinner, got my laundry, typed up some letters, did some more programming, and watched Dallas, which I’d taped. Now I’ll go out for Sunday’s Times.

Monday, October 7, 1985

7 PM. Teaching tired me out today, and I didn’t have much of a break between Baruch and John Jay because I had to spend it marking papers.

Sometimes I feel useless as a writing teacher, and yet I know there are times when I help someone. Some students haven’t bought their textbooks yet; they come in late; they don’t do assignments; and a few students showed up for the first time today, nearly a month after class first began.

Yes, if I were another kind of a teacher, I’d be stricter, but what’s the point of that? It would only make me crazier, and I’d probably just lose people totally. I’ll lose them soon enough anyway.

Teresa says I’m too “noble” when I say I have to take a lot of time grading papers because students deserve their money’s worth – but really, I do as little as I can and still have a clear conscience. (How Teresa has a clear conscience is another matter.)

I hesitate to think about returning to live with Teresa for the rest of the year once Justin comes back to Park Slope, because I remember last fall when I had little privacy and had to sneak moments to write in my journal, to read, or to exercise.

After being by myself for so long, I can’t imagine returning to enforced togetherness of Teresa’s one-bedroom apartment; I’m still looking for a sublet of $500 or less for November and December.

One reason I want to run for Florida Education Commissioner is to educate people. I’d like to show the electorate the kind of papers students write after twelve years of public education. Occasionally, when I look at these papers and forget my experience, these papers appear to be written by third-graders.

It’s so depressing to correct errors that should have been eliminated in elementary school, and if I was going to teach fourth-grade grammar, I might as well teach fourth graders.

The Women’s Democratic Club of St. Petersburg invited me to be a “Celebrity” and head a table and speak at a dinner next week. How wonderful to imagine people listening to my ideas, even if they hated me!

As a candidate on the primary ballot, I’d meet people from all over Florida. I’d be invited to speak with newspaper editorial boards for their endorsement. It could be a great experience, and I’m growing certain that I will run.

Besides, I’m homesick for Florida. At night I dream of being back there now, the best time of the year there, when it’s cooler but before the snowbirds have descended to crowd everybody.

Poor Jim has been ill the past two days. He was out sick from work today.

I got home quickly, with the B train for a change. It’s just five stops from 59th to Pacific Street and then one stop on the R to Union Street.

Tuesday, October 8, 1985

5 PM. I feel very depressed. Tomorrow I’m having oral surgery: getting my wisdom tooth extracted. After he finished working on my gums, Dr. Hersh decided he would try to scrape out the decay in the wisdom tooth. It’s been bothering me for three years, but I always left it alone.

After giving me a shot of Novocain, Dr. Hersh scraped away some decay and realized he couldn’t save the tooth. And now that it’s open – with the initial layer of decay off, I could be subject to a terrible toothache at any time.

I told Dr. Hersh that I’d take care of it by the end of the month, but on the train coming home, I touched it and felt a twinge of pain so great I almost hit the roof of the subway car.

So I made an appointment for tomorrow at 11:30 AM at the office of the oral surgeon Dr. Hersh recommended, in the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building.

I called Baruch and canceled my class, although I could have gone. However, I might as well sleep late and relax before the surgery. No one was in at John Jay, and obviously I can’t make my classes there, either – nor will I go to Columbia.

In one way, I’m getting out of one of my killer Wednesdays, but in another way – fuckshit.

I was already worried about getting the stomach virus Jim has. When I got home today, he was watching TV in my room. What could I do? Jim’s been nauseous and has had diarrhea and that crampy, sick feeling in his stomach.

Obviously, I’m living with the guy, and it stands to reason I could catch his germs. I’ve been expecting to get the stomach virus that’s been going around.

Now I picture the rest of the week: not only will I be in pain – God knows how much – from the oral surgery, but I’ll have a stomach virus on top of it. I might as well, I guess: let it all come at once and make me totally miserable. Why not?

I feel I’m about to enter a period of my life like that of the winter of ’79-’80, when I was sick and depressed all the time. I feel helpless. More than ever, I want to go back to Florida. I hate my jobs.

This morning, at Baruch, I taught my head off trying to make the lecture interesting; I did everything but walk on the ceiling. But do these kids care? No, they probably just think I’m an asshole. Shitfuck.


8 PM. I’m scared about the next few days. Will I be in great pain from my oral surgery? And will I get the stomach virus that Jim and now Julie have? She called Jim to tell him that she threw up last night, and Julie’s horror of vomit sounds like my own. It’s not vomiting per se that I fear the most, but I’m still afraid of it and of the feelings of nausea.

Everything bad seems to be happening at once. But I did have a good time talking with Jim over the last few hours.

Somehow I started telling him about my draft physical and those of my friends, and then I got started talking about the 1972 Democratic convention and finally about my campaigns for the vice-presidency, presidency, and Davie town council, my political action committees, the John Hour, the Weird Sex Lives of Jewish-American Novelists, Legislators in Love. . .

I realized that I’m a great storyteller with lots of interesting material. And I like having an audience. It’s been so long since I told anyone this stuff. Oh well, I’ll survive the next week, even if it’s a horror.

My tooth really hurts if I touch it; I hope that won’t be a big problem tomorrow. I’m scared and feel a little alone and lost. My legs ache now. Is that a sign of the virus?

“I guess we’ll find out if it’s contagious if you get it,” Jim said.

Well, things could be worse, I suppose. There goes the long holiday weekend I was looking forward to. I’m going to spend it being sick, nauseous, in pain, alone, depressed. But these days will pass.

Wednesday, October 9, 1985

1 PM. I slept well, mostly because I needed escape from consciousness. This morning I called Doris to cancel my John Jay classes, and I also called Teresa. I went to Seventh Avenue to do the shopping, take in laundry, and get the papers.

As my 11:30 AM appointment approached, I began to get nervous. I relaxed by eating Haagen-Dazs vanilla and orange ice cream and reading an article about how Manny Hanny is lowering their credit card rate from 19.8% to 17.8%, which may signal the start of a trend.

I walked to Flatbush Avenue and took the bus to Atlantic. It’s a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, and because I was facing oral surgery, I noticed things around me more than usual.

Earlier, on Seventh Avenue, I found this little plush toy elephant in the street. No one nearby claimed it, so I appropriated it as a good luck symbol.

I waited till about 11:45 AM, x-rays were taken, and Dr. Kringstein, a hearty man about 55, came in and injected me with Novocain. In the next room was a very nervous woman who made a lot of noise.

Well, I tried to be – and was – better. As I was been walking earlier this morning, I thought of the quote from Shakespeare that used to hang over the blackboard in Mrs. Sanjour’s ninth-grade English class: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / the valiant never taste of death but once.”

It really didn’t hurt at all, and it was out one-two-three. I joked with the doctor and his nurses and I heard him say to one nurse as I left, “Good patient.”

My jokes are corny, like I wanted to know if he would ever have a two-for-one sale one day, so I could get my remaining wisdom teeth out for $75, the cost of today’s extraction.

I even asked the nurse if I’d be able to play the violin again, but she took me seriously, I think, and said, “As long as you use the other side.” I guess that old joke shows my age.

When I was 14, twenty years ago almost exactly, I had oral surgery in that same building. (The view from the 23rd floor was stupendous, with all of Brooklyn stretched out before me.) I remember the doctor asking if I wanted extra stitches after Mom told him I was a bleeder and my telling him, “Suture self.”

No stitches today. The nurse told me that I can’t eat solid food or spit. (“Not even if I meet my worst enemy?” I asked her.)

Even though Teresa said I shouldn’t try to be a hero, I decided to take the subway rather than a taxi home.

The doctor gave me a prescription for Tylenol with codeine that I had filled at the Neergaard Pharmacy.

Now I feel fine, but I’m still numb from the antibiotic. In an hour or two, I’ll probably be in serious pain. My face is swollen and I have to keep gauze over the gums, but I’m proud of myself for having gone through this alone.

Thursday, October 10, 1985

1 PM. Twenty-four hours after my oral surgery, I’m feeling okay. Yesterday I hung out most of the afternoon, not really feeling any pain till about 4 PM, when I decided not to schlep up to Columbia for my class.

I’m glad I relaxed and babied myself. I even bought some baby food, which was pretty awful-tasting: no wonder babies are always crying.

I did go out for a long walk at 5 PM. It was a gorgeous day to spend an hour or so looking at all the brownstones in the Slope.

By 8 PM, I was in bed, having taken another Tylenol-with-codeine, and I spoke to my parents and to Teresa.

Mom got on a committee to try to do something about the changes Mr. Henn has been making in the flea market. Dad has a tentative flight to New York two weeks from this Saturday.

Last night Teresa went with some friends to Area, the club, for what turned out to be the publication party for Jay McInerney’s Ransom.

Teresa told Jay, “I live with a writer, so we both hate you,” and he laughed. She found him approachable and not stuck up at all.

Susan called during Dynasty. Clearly, she’d just been rattled after a phone conversation with her parents. Her mother first drove her crazy with plans for a baby shower, and then her father got on and lectured her about all the things she should be doing in her pregnancy.

Since he’s an OB-GYN and Susan’s doctor is mostly a fertility specialist, her father thinks he knows best, and he tends to panic her with gloom-and-doom scenarios of what could go wrong. And he alarms her by saying things like “You haven’t had a sonogram yet?” in a horrified tone of voice.

Susan’s classes are going okay – she says there are good days and bad days – and she finished the book by Bill Honig, the California Superintendent of Education, feeling that he just spouted platitudes and the “back to the Great Books and Moral Values” crap that Secretary Bennett champions.

Yesterday she spoke with a woman involved in a national literacy program using computer education; because there’s such a shortage of tutors available, computers seem like the best bet in combating illiteracy.

The woman told Susan that one of the best literacy programs in the country is sponsored by the Broward County Library.

Soon after I hung up with Susan, Ronna called. She needed cheering up after her playwriting class because she said she feels her work isn’t as good as some of her classmates’.

I talked about how hard it is to get everything right, and we spoke for about an hour.

In the end, she thanked me for making her feel better, though I don’t think I did very much.

This morning I went to Baruch to teach my class and collect my paycheck; I then went uptown to get my John Jay check from Doris.

I may go to Rockaway tonight. There’s no sign of a stomach virus and the pain in my mouth is almost gone, so it seems like a good time to spend the night at the beach with Grandma.