A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1988


Wednesday, July 20, 1988

6 PM. Jesse Jackson’s speech last night was very moving and eloquent and brought the convention to its feet. Earlier, Ted Kennedy made a good campaign speech, too.

I suppose I miss the excitement of being at the convention as I was in 1972 and seeing all the celebrities and media; even in 1976, I hung around the hotels where the Carters and other big Democrats were staying.

But I’m sure that I’ll get to go to another convention someday.

Sat Darshan called yesterday and we had a good talk. The papers from India had just arrived in Washington, and she was hoping to get them today via FedEx and turn them over to the immigration office.

Sat Darshan now plans to fly to India to pick up the girls herself, though she’s a bit nervous about the trip; she’s not looking forward to the long flight, particularly when they head over the Persian Gulf.

At the end of August, she plans to take the girls to see Yogi Bhajan at the 3HO Delaware beach resort. Yogi Bhajan speaks the girls’ language (Tamil) and Sat Darshan is anxious for them to meet him, so she doesn’t want to stay any longer in Madras than she has to.

I told her that I’d call her to get together soon.

Justin also phoned. On Monday he had the first meeting of the cast of the Werbachers’ new play, which he’s directing.

It started off well, and Justin thinks he’s got a good script (“an old-fashioned screwball comedy”) and a nice eight-member cast.

Anson had left a message on Justin’s machine, inviting him to the reading, but Justin was too tired to go and kind of fed up that Anson always asks him to these things and then argues with Justin after he’s asked Justin for an honest opinion.

Surprisingly, I got a message from Anson late this afternoon. Tony Vellela has left the project – “I guess you picked up on the difficulty we were having” – and Anson invited me to a Monday evening meeting of the writers because he “respects” me and “admires” my suggestions.

I thought I was well out of it, but perhaps I’ll see how I feel on Monday. Anson said he’ll be away for a long weekend starting tomorrow, so I won’t call him back.

Josh left a couple of messages today, but I’m not rushing to return his calls, either. Today was cooler, but the humidity was so high (99%) that it felt awful to be outside.

I’ve been sleeping later and later and didn’t get up till 10:30 AM. After exercise, I showered and went to buy the rugelach at Zabar’s that Teresa needed for a party this weekend.

Taking the crosstown bus to Second Avenue, I left the package with her friend’s doorman; the friend will bring it out to her. Teresa has no more catering jobs after this weekend, and she may come in next week.

The mailman told me he’s really not supposed to put mail in an unlocked box but he’s been doing it for me; however, he goes on a three-week vacation starting Saturday, so he told me to make sure Oscar installs a new lock.

When I went down to see Oscar, he said he thought it had fixed itself. He’s not a very competent super, and I think I’ll tell Teresa to call up the landlord; after all, she is the tenant.

When I called Florida to tell Mom to hold my mail for a while, Dad was the only one home, doing paperwork; he said he’d tell Mom. Tomorrow is his 62nd birthday.

I went over to Teachers College and dropped off my paper in Howard Budin’s box.

Then, in the CCIMS lab, I wrote letters to Tom and Crad, and I went through the tutorial for Microsoft Works, concentrating on the telecommunications package.

Coming home from Teachers College in the rain at 5 PM, I bought some salad bar stuff for dinner.

Saturday, July 23, 1988

2 PM. When Josh came in last evening, he said, “It’s been an eventful week.” He chronicled the incidents of harassment to me, often getting mixed up because he said that the days blend in together.

He’s now certain the Monday evening incident with the white van was a deliberate attempt to terrify him.

On Tuesday, he went to two police precinct houses, where detectives refused to even write down his story “because no crime has been committed.”

Later that day, he saw a black man approach him, smiling and carrying a billy club – a sign Josh takes as a message that they know he went to the police.

The same day, he went to a computer-based private investigator who seemed to believe his story.

The investigator knew Phil Straniere as a “nutjob, very crazy” from working with him years ago. Then could Phil Straniere be behind everything?

They got his unlisted phone number and discovered that Straniere took out a second phone line in May – which of course immediately raised Josh’s suspicions.

They’re trying to get Straniere’s social security number and birthdate to trace his background.

The detective told Josh that if the people are disciplined and serious enough to keep up this harassment for months, he may very well be in danger.

Naturally, Josh was pleased that someone is taking him seriously, but he despairs that anything can be done.

One reason Josh thinks the detective is taking him seriously is that he may suspect that Josh was involved with Straniere – say on a drug deal where Josh double-crossed some people.

Unlike Josh, who’s afraid Straniere will turn out to be a convicted murderer, I predict that the investigator’s trail will lead nowhere. He’ll just keep taking Josh’s money and string him along for a while.

Although I believe Josh is imagining almost all of this and is seriously mentally ill, I’m not letting him know how I feel.

Instead, I take his stories at face value and treat them as if they were real. They are real to Josh, and I’ve seen how agitated he gets when I challenge him or say he’s crazy to act so paranoid about everyone on the street.

I realize, when I’m outside with Josh, how a paranoid sees the world, and the slightest thing out of the ordinary leads him to suspect this or that person.

Although we had a nice dinner at Marvin Gardens and watched Angel Heart on HBO, I could tell that Josh’s mind was on the conspiracy most of the time, even as I talked about the Democratic convention or other topics.

“This will make a great article for the Voice someday,” Josh said.

If it does, I don’t think Josh is going to be the one to write it.

He now has several theories about the harassment.

His first theory is that his old landlord is paying Straniere and these people to keep Josh from making trouble when they co-op the building on Hicks Street. Josh thinks the landlord is afraid of him because Josh has been so protective of Mamie, the super.

This sounds utterly ridiculous to me. Why would the landlord not assume, like most people would, that Josh would forget about his old building? And why would he deal with a nut like Straniere?

Landlords in New York City certainly harass their own tenants – but people who’ve moved out and are living elsewhere? If they wanted to harass Josh, they’d send people to beat him up, not follow him around for three months.

His other theory, slightly more reasonable, is that Straniere blames Josh for something he didn’t do and is out for revenge.

Or else Josh believes that extortion is the motive, because he assumes Straniere got his financial records from Chemical Bank. But Josh shows only a net worth of $100,000 – hardly a fortune.

As I write this down, it comes to me again – shockingly – that my friend is very sick. I wish I could be proven wrong. Josh’s stories sound more plausible when he tells them, but on paper here, they sound totally crazy.

As I waited with him at the bus stop, I could tell that Josh suspected two nearby couples on benches and a girl waiting for the uptown bus across the street.

After he got on the bus going downtown, I hung around Riverside Drive for a while to observe these people to see if they’d make a move to tell someone that Josh was on his way home.

But the girl just got on the bus, and the couples talked or smooched for a while, even after I went to Broadway and back for Saturday’s Times.

Maybe I should follow Josh around and see if I see any one of these people Josh thinks are watching his every move. But what good would that do?

Monday, July 25, 1988

9 PM. This morning, after exercising aerobically to Body Pulse, I got out early enough to make the 11 AM workshop on HyperCard at the CCIMS lab at Teachers College.

The instructor was very good, but in two hours, all she could do was give us a brief introduction to the software.

What is HyperCard? Put out only a year ago, it’s a unique piece of software, a kind of information manager allowing the user to design programs for CAI, databases, etc. and link these programs.

The “stack” and the “button” are the key elements in HyperCard, which may be the first step toward the much-touted concept of hypertext, which would present all the written material in the world, accessible in many ways.

HyperCard isn’t linear, but it is transparent. None of my descriptions make much sense, because I don’t understand the concept totally, but I can see how revolutionary and powerful it is.

A Macintosh screen tends to hurt my eyes, and I had a headache by the time I left the workshop for home; soon I had a stomachache, too.

Despite my discomfort, I did the laundry, though why I felt I needed to save the maid the trouble (since she should be coming tomorrow) is beyond me.

I also paid the half-dozen credit card bills that Mom sent me and deposited the $235 check that came from FIU’s Teacher Education Center for my car and gasoline expenses this spring.

I’ve been admitted to Ragdale from October 1 to the end of November, and I may send in the $70 deposit. August 15 is the deadline date, and I need to decide if I’d prefer to stay at Ragdale rather than return to Florida if the Rockland Writer-in-Residence grant doesn’t come through.

In the new Poets & Writers, Laurel Blossom has a great piece on writers’ colonies that sums up my own less-than-wonderful experiences there: the exhaustion and disorientation upon arrival, the distress at seeing one’s tiny room, the aloof or snobbish fellow writers, the rain, the frustration when one can’t write, and the eagerness which one anticipates lunch.

But she missed the truly exhilarating moments of creation and of companionship.

Anyhow, I’ll give myself a couple of weeks to decide; the most I could lose is $70, and it’d go to a good cause.

Tomorrow I’ll probably go out to the beach to stay with Grandma Ethel, though I don’t like leaving Judy’s fish unfed and the mailbox untended for several days.

Today was actually a normal summer day, with a high of 89° and relatively low relative humidity.

I mailed away a check for $3000 for yet another secured credit card; I hope the outfit, recommended by Bankcard Holders of America, isn’t a ripoff.

It’s good to have these secured cards that I can keep even if I declare bankruptcy and default on my other card debts.

Thursday, July 28, 1988

9 PM. Back in Manhattan.

After I wrote yesterday’s entry, with its complaints about Grandma Ethel, I felt kind of guilty – actually we did have a pleasant evening together.

She made salmon croquettes and potato kugel for dinner, and I had brought back some salad bar and a Canary melon from the Korean store on Beach 116th Street.

I thought it would be fun for Grandma to try some new food, but she’s usually resistant. Surprisingly, she liked the cold Oriental noodles and the sweet melon (though she said it wasn’t as good as honeydew).

I hope that if I do have the luck (bad or good) to grow old, I’ll be the kind of person who will always want to keep up with the times and new things.

After dinner, we sat on the terrace and looked out over the beach as I read aloud to Grandma from the beginning of T.D. Allman’s Miami: City of the Future, which is going to be interesting but very familiar for me, reconfirming my affection for Miami.

USA Today called South Florida one of the nation’s “megacities,” Miamiland. Mega York includes Philadelphia; WashBalt combines D.C. and Baltimore; and San Angeles is L.A. and San Diego. The point is that old city boundaries are disappearing as a region extends to include nearby cities.

On NBC Nightly News, Grandma’s building appeared in the background on a feature about the closing of beaches due to the medical waste and dead rats washed onshore.

After Grandma and I watched some network sitcoms, she went to bed while I watched a Nightline program about Americans’ pathetically poor geography skills.

Two-thirds of us can’t find Vietnam on a world map, and the other examples of ignorance are more depressing. It’s hard for me to understand because I fell in love with maps at an early age, thanks to that giant atlas (as big as I was at 5) we had in the house.

I’d memorized all the state and world capitals by the time I was in kindergarten. I’m certain that at 4, I could have filled in all the states (there were 48 then) on an unmarked map of the U.S.

One thing puzzles me: I read newspapers and magazines (I left Spy and Rolling Stone at Grandma’s, so maybe she’ll look hip when visitors come by), and everyone seems to be so with-it and knowledgeable, not only about pop culture but about the inside baseball of politics, economics, sociology, literature, etc.

Then how come so many people are so ignorant? Is there a process at work, something similar to the one that’s shrinking the middle class and producing an upscale elite and desperately poor lower class?

Are we becoming a nation of the ultra-knowledgeable and the abysmally ignorant, with no middle ground of middlebrows? Who then is the artist’s and writer’s audience?

I slept okay, though I forced myself to get up at 8 AM and have breakfast so I could digest it in time to work out at 9:30 AM when Body Electric comes on.

Josh called last night at Grandma’s; he’d figured I’d gone there after I didn’t return his calls to Manhattan.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Same stuff – I don’t want to talk about it on the phone,” he told me, and asked if we could get together tomorrow evening.

“Sure,” I said, though I’m not looking forward to another two hours of talk about the harassment. Still, I want to be supportive of Josh.

Last night Teresa told me that Alice, Scott (who said he had “great gossip”), and Anson also left messages.

I made arrangements to see Alice on Sunday; I left a message with Scott; and once again I avoided returning Anson’s call – not a classy act, but it’s hard for me to say no, and I don’t want to be a part of the show at this point.

This morning when I got off the Rockaway bus and took the Flatbush Avenue bus to Eastern Parkway, I decided that most of Brooklyn isn’t in such bad shape.

Yes, Flatbush Avenue used to be nicer, but I’m sure I romanticize it a bit. I saw a lot of shopping activity there, and most of the black people seemed pretty middle-class.

Over pizza on Seventh Avenue, I read the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showing Dukakis leading Bush, 51% to 37%.

Back home, I fed Judy’s fish and called her in Cape Cod to tell her that the eggs of the dove on the window ledge haven’t hatched yet. I dealt with my mail, paying five credit card bills, and catching up on the issues of USA Today that came in the past few days.

All week I’ve been taping Educational Computing, and I spent a couple of hours reviewing the programs; they’re actually better than the software evaluation classes I took at FIU and Teachers College.

After buying groceries, I had dinner at home this evening.

Sunday, July 31, 1988

5 PM. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep till 6 AM, and even then all I got were these semi-lucid hallucinatory dreams.

Probably I was so low on REM sleep that I went straight into that, but I got none of the sleep, refreshing sleep I needed. Well, I have to sleep eventually, right?

Aside from a headache and a sort of gross feeling, I’ve been able to function since I gave up trying to get any more Z’s at about 10 AM.

For the past three nights I’ve averaged four to five hours of sleep, and I really need more. Of course, I didn’t have very much to do today.

Alice and I met at 86th and Broadway at 1 PM and went to the Kasbah Deli for lunch.

She seems in a good mood and very happy after two years at her job at Woman’s World because she likes working at home three days a week.

Her brother is a bit of a problem, as Michael is spending his two months’ vacation time in New York, living with Alice. Then he’s off to his new post – Canberra, Australia – for the next three or four years.

He’s unhappy in the foreign service, but Australia is a good assignment, of course: a Western, English-speaking country.

After we got some frozen yogurt, Alice and I came back here and watched the video of Spaceballs, which she hadn’t seen and which still made me chuckle.

Last evening I spoke to Marc, who said that China is doing great and is much better behaved, that my car is driving well, and that he hasn’t had much time to play with the computer.

Marc got a gold Citibank Visa with a $5000 credit line and another $5000 Ready Credit line – accessible with checks or the ATM – from Citicorp Savings of Florida. Already Marc’s got over $20,000 in credit – but he’s got money in the bank and rarely charges very much.

The FDIC announced the biggest bank bailout ever on Friday: they’re shelling out $4 billion to save First Republic Bank in Texas, which will be taken over by NCNB.

There are more of these bailouts coming, especially in the thrift industry, which probably won’t even exist in a few years.

One-third of all S & L’s are insolvent now, but the FSLIC has to keep them open because there’s no money to shut them down and pay off depositors.

By 1991, there’ll be interstate banking and we’ll probably see fewer but larger banks.