A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1987


Wednesday, May 20, 1987

7 PM. I’m at Grandma Ethel’s kitchen table in Rockaway.

It’s another miserable day, the kind of day that would rank as the worst in a South Florida winter. Today’s high was only 50° and rain pounded the streets.

Yesterday, too, was a raw day, and I’ve had enough of this chilly, nasty weather. This year I’ll be glad to be get back to Florida in late August.

Around 3 PM yesterday, I left the apartment to do some errands for Teresa, including making business cards for her Rent-a-Chef catering idea in Fire Island.

At the computer room at Teachers College, I began a memoir of my trip to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, but it didn’t seem humorous enough for my column. Also, I’d really need my diary to supplement my memory.

I did go back and read my “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” story. It seemed better than I remembered: a first-rate, perceptive and funny piece of writing.

In addition, I reread the column I wrote about the Legislators in Love “scandal,” and I found it held up well; I do hope the Sun-Tattler publishes it.

Over the past year I’ve done more good writing than I did in the previous four or five years, but I’ve got to keep it up.

After reading for a while in the Teachers College library, I strolled down Broadway, stopping at Chemical Bank to check my balance before having dinner at Amy’s.

Back at school, I saw Chris Lubrano, my old programming teacher, who said he was also a student in my Computers and the Arts class.

The professor, Harold Abeles, is chair of the music department, and most of the class seems to come from music, art or dance.

For two credits, we have to do an EPIE-style software evaluation and some kind of creative project involving music or visual art, which shouldn’t be that hard for me.

Last evening Prof. Abeles talked about the Apple IIe input and output devices and demonstrated a MIDI interface with a keyboard and synthesizer. I know very little about musical terms, so maybe I’ll learn something.

It was 9:30 PM when I arrived home. After Teresa came back from dinner with Perry, she spent the rest of the evening on the phone with a potential blind date, though later she told me they didn’t really have anything in common.

This morning Teresa went off to work at 8 AM, and I got up to read the paper.

Scott returned my call, sounding hurt that I’d been here for so long without calling him. Since I wasn’t free tonight and tomorrow he’s going “club-hopping, which I know you don’t like,” and since Ken planned to go away for the holiday weekend, I told him I’d give him a call next week.

Pete phoned and we made a date for brunch on Friday. Then Teresa called and told me that to her astonishment, the certified letter was not a small claims court suit but a letter from an attorney hired by Anna to protect her claim on the West 104th Street apartment.

Teresa got her brother-in-law and Perry on the case right away.

It puzzles me why Anna would want to antagonize Teresa and up the stakes in what is becoming a war, especially when Anna is on very shaky legal ground herself.

After all, Teresa made sure there was nothing on paper about the apartment, and while I’m not a lawyer, I can’t see that Anna has any legal claim to the place.

Perhaps a judge would throw out Teresa’s lease, but wouldn’t that invalidate Anna’s tenancy as well?

There’s never a dull moment with Teresa, that’s for sure.

It occurs to me that dispute is another example of the way New York’s housing shortage and exorbitant rents destroy people’s common sense. In a normal city, finding an apartment is not a matter of life and death.

Am I the only one who sees how crazy it is here?

Anyway, this afternoon I took the IRT to Atlantic Avenue, where I switched to the Q train, which is now the Brighton local.  At Kings Highway, I got the Mill Basin bus to Dr. Hersh’s office, where I had x-rays taken and my teeth cleaned.

Robert Hersh says I need to floss and brush better. He found at least two cavities, so I have to come back next week.

Trudging to Kings Plaza in a downpour, I caught the bus to Rockaway and then at Beach 116th Street took another bus – this one filled with obnoxious schoolchildren – to Grandma’s, where we ate dinner at 4:30 PM.

She seems okay but said she felt ill yesterday. Right now, watching me write in this diary, she assumes I’m doing my “homework,” so she went out to visit a neighbor.

What gloomy weather we’ve had these last few days.

Friday, May 22, 1987

3 PM. In class last evening, Prof. Abeles demonstrated some educational software on the Apple IIe: tutorials, games and drill-and-practice programs for music students as well as visual arts tool software like Disney’s Comic Strip Maker and the Koala Pad drawing program.

For me, the material was nothing new or remarkable, but I enjoyed seeing it and observing how someone else talks about the basics of computer-assisted instruction to students.

I came home on the M5 bus, on which I was the lone passenger from when I got on by Grant’s Tomb to my stop on the corner of 85th and Riverside.

Teresa was here, waiting for Deirdre, who arrived around 10:30 PM. She said she’d had a terrific time at the conference and dinner in honor of her retiring mentor; his students came from all over the world, and they had a couple of Nobel laureates in attendance.

Although Teresa and I were already dressed for bed, Deirdre wanted to go out, so we went to Szechuan Broadway for some food and then walked around the neighborhood.

Deirdre hadn’t been here for three or four years, during which time Broadway has changed considerably. It was good to have her here. Along with Barbara, Deirdre is one of the nicest of Teresa’s friends.

I didn’t sleep much last night, but at least I had bought Friday’s Times to read while I was awake.

This morning I left the house at 10 AM with Deirdre, who planned to go shopping and then meet Teresa to go out to Fire Island. Luckily, the weather seems to be holding up.

I went to the West Village and met Pete Cherches at Bagel And… (where the old Stonewall Inn was).

It surprised me that so many stores on Christopher Street were vacant and available for rent. Pete said it’s because all the action is in the East Village, but I wonder if the AIDS epidemic has hurt the area.

Pete looks the same and seems his usual optimistic self. We talked about publishing; I was glad to hear that Joel Rose’s novel was accepted by Atlantic Monthly Press, where Gary Fisketjon apparently edited it heavily.

It seems as if everyone in the downtown scene has a novel at a major publishing house, and of course Pete is trying to get on the bandwagon with his Tin-Pan-Alley-in-the-1930s novel.

I feel a bit like an outsider with these New York City writers, but then it’s a role I myself have taken on.

Pete noted that most of the small presses and little magazines that were around when he and I started publishing our stories a decade ago have died. There are a few new ones, like Between C and D, but not many.

We walked over to B. Dalton, where they hadn’t yet put up their window for Condensed Book. I’m sure it will be a thrill for Pete when it’s there; I remember how I felt seeing their window for I Brake for Delmore Schwartz four years ago.

I went down to get the D train, telling Pete I’d see him at his show tomorrow night.

Intending to go up to the Teachers College computer room to write, I suddenly felt tired and came home, where I did my laundry and handled some correspondence.

Right now I’m very sleepy and am going to try to take a nap.

Sunday, May 24, 1987

5 PM. Getting off the R train at Broadway and Eighth Street last evening, I discovered that Pete had been right when he said the East Village – and even this western edge of it – had become a weekend magnet for young people from the outer boroughs and suburbs the way the West Village had been in my adolescence.

At the Unique Clothing Warehouse, crowds stood looking through the window to watch people paint and decorate t-shirts. Josh wanted me to meet him at Tower Records, which was crowded and hot.

I’d suggested we have dinner across the street at Bitable on Broadway, a hip place which nevertheless has good food. (I had a terrific hamburger.)

After another day spent with his parents, Josh was frazzled. They drive him crazy, and when he gets angry at them, he later he feels guilty because, after all, his parents are so old.

We had time to kill before 9 PM, so we made like tourists and walked around the area, admiring the architecture of the Puck Building, looking at novelty items like water-pistol sunglasses and fake handcuffs, and generally amusing ourselves.

(When I walk with Josh, I keep having to tell him to slow down. At first I thought I was particularly slow, but last night he told me all his friends have to slow him down.)

The Knitting Factory is a pleasant coffee house/performance space above an Argentine restaurant on Houston, and Josh was wrong when he said everyone would be wearing black.

I had my Soho Soda, Josh his white wine, and Pete, in his usual performance suit, came out at 9 PM.

His routines about his vain, selfish, unsupportive and greedy mother were funny and kind of poignant.

Pete’s mother has always seemed to me the kind of woman my own mother might have turned out to be if Mom’s life had been easier: a person who values Cadillacs and face lifts and above all, money, over everything else.

Josh, always being negative, said that he was bored, and although the routine probably needs a little cutting, I found it as funny as anything I’ve seen that’s passed itself off as pure standup comedy.

The other performance artist, who blindly stumbled to the stage wearing a garish checkered suit and a mattress over his head, was a young guy with a great voice who worked next to a video screen that had a picture of his mouth on it.

He had some hilarious shticks, and I was impressed with his telling a story and illustrating it by drawing pictures with shaving cream on his bare chest.

After congratulating Pete on his work – it must have been very hard to memorize all those stories – Josh and I left the café and walked to the Seventh Avenue IRT. Back here at 11:30 PM, I read the Sunday Times.

Today I didn’t do much other than exercise briefly and read the papers, watch the Sunday TV news shows, and do a little shopping.

(A small blond boy in a stroller guided by a black woman called out to me, “Daddy!” in one store. I figure his Yuppie parents give him everything but time.)

Last night, before I left for the Village, I called Florida, but Dad said he hadn’t gotten the day’s Sun-Tattler so I don’t yet know if my column appeared.

He said his sister’s wedding was surprisingly nice: first Aunt Sydelle and Bill were wed in a ceremony at a storefront synagogue in Aventura and then had a reception at Turnberry. Dad was happy to see Cousin Scott and his own first cousins again.

Today was a cool, cloudy day, and I felt cold when I went out in a t-shirt and shorts. Last night I didn’t get enough sleep, so right now I feel kind of antsy.

But I’ll be going out again tonight, to a play with Ronna and her friends.

Monday, May 25, 1987

It was cool when I went out at 7 PM last evening to meet Ronna and her friends at the West Side Repertory, a storefront theater on West 81st just east of Broadway and H&H Bagels.

Ronna had a really bad cold with lots of congestion, but she’s still been showing Russ and Pat around the city. Lori and Jane were also with us to see She Stoops to Conquer.

Although the little theater was cramped, the performance was a terrific one, the best production of a Restoration comedy that I’ve ever seen.

As Ronna said, in New York City the level of acting in community theater is very high because the best actors in the world are here.

It was so cold when we got out that I hurried home to put on two more layers before joining the others at The Pumpkin Eater.

Russ and Pat are very nice, and of course I like Lori and Jane, so I had a good time. It’s just that kind of socializing that I miss in Florida.

I walked down with Jane, who lives on West 87th, and then came home and read Monday’s Times, which I’d picked up on Broadway.

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke with an inspiration for my next column.

The conceit was an AIDS-like disease called ALOHA, Acquired Lack Of Humor Attitude. I had all kinds of jokes, such as “mandatory jesting” and the high-risk groups being insurance salesmen, fundamentalists and bureaucrats.

It took a few hours, but eventually I came up with a polished four-page piece that seems to read very well. In fact, it’s so good, I should probably send it to The New Yorker instead of the Sun-Tattler.

Anyway, I’m still on a high from writing the column. When I write like that, it’s as if I’m doing it effortlessly and that everything is coming together. It’s great to know that I can still write an exceptional piece.

Mom said the paper printed my Ibsen parodies on Saturday; the column made her laugh, and although it’s a short one, I think it had some fine writing in it.

Mom said she’ll be a little late in sending out my mail because they’ve been so busy, what with the wedding and the flea market and Dad’s business.

The only mortgage they could get approved for was an ARM – an adjustable rate mortgage – but it has a cap of 6% over the original rate and it can’t go up more than 2% a year.

I told Mom they may be better off with that than with a fixed-rate mortgage, and she said they’ll take it, since it is all they can get. So my parents will really be moving from University Drive this fall.

I guess the piece of mail I’m most anxious to get is from American Express, about their Optima card; last night Lori said they pre-approved her for a $2500 credit line.

Susan called this morning and said she’d be up here later today after her shrink appointment. She left a message saying she and Spencer have definitely put their apartment up for sale.

I went out to 4 Brothers for lunch and treated myself to a cholesterol-rich burger deluxe, but I figured I’d earned it. God, I feel so good about myself when I write.

This weekend has really been special. I saw Hollywood Shuffle, a good movie; She Stoops to Conquer, a fine play; and performances by Pete Cherches and that other guy.

And I was with my friends and also had time to be alone and read and write and exercise. Although the weather was crummy, I had a great time.

At the 4 Brothers, my waiter told me he’s supporting Howard Baker for President, as Baker “runs the White House now anyway.”

When another diner objected that Baker was “too short,” the waiter replied, “Lenin was short, too – and look what a great leader he was.”

The diner said he much preferred Gorbachev: “A charming man, and so brilliant – not like Reagan.”

Thursday, May 28, 1987

3 PM. As opposed to the night before, last night I managed only three or four hours of sleep.

At least I don’t follow Crad’s precepts, which he outlines in his latest letter. Every night, in order to sleep, Crad drinks eight or nine ounces of sherry and takes a tranquilizer.

I don’t care how talented Crad is or how successful he becomes, I wouldn’t want to be him.

His landlady got the Centre for the Advocacy of the Elderly to post an eviction notice with a July 1 date on his door.

Then Crad got a letter from them asking him to comply voluntarily with the eviction notice and to sign a letter of intent to do so. Failing that, Crad was told, he would be subject to court action.

“See you in court!” Crad wrote back on the form.

He says that he can’t afford another apartment in Toronto, but he’s also not looking. God, the man is stubborn.

And he walked out on poor Gwen MacEwan after she started “harping” on him again – and he unplugged his phone for three days so she couldn’t get in touch.

Crad is so self-absorbed that he’s becoming obnoxious. He rails against book critics, libraries, and the general public for not seeing the merits of his work. I don’t know; that stuff is really getting tired.

When I called my parents to wish them a happy anniversary, I got some bad news: Grandpa Nat is back in the hospital, again feverish with pneumonia. Dad said he and Sydelle saw Grandpa, and “he looks very bad.”

I had a premonition the last time I went to the nursing home in late April that I wasn’t going to see Grandpa Nat again and that he wouldn’t live to be 90.

I expect he’ll die within the next few weeks, but I see no reason to return to Florida for the funeral, which is bound to be a very small gravesite affair.

As I do with Grandma Ethel and my long trips to Rockaway, I saw Grandpa Nat when he was alive: for the last decade, I’d drive to North Miami to the nursing home even if he didn’t know me.

Before that, we were pretty close. I really did my mourning for him in the summer of 1977 when he “died.” I was very depressed, caught cold, felt awful. It’s quite amazing how he’s lived a whole decade with so much brain damage.

Teresa and I stayed up to watch the holy war of the TV evangelists as Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell traded accusations on Nightline. It’s all fun for the rest of us, I think.

Justin called, and so did Alice; all of us have been pretty busy lately.

Today I exercised a bit but soon became fatigued. If I had slept better last night, I would think I was ill, but I assume I’m just exhausted.

Mom sent a big batch of mail: nine credit card bills and some other stuff. FAU’s Howard Pearce wrote that they hired another person for the fiction writing job; naturally, I didn’t even rate an interview.

American Express didn’t send me an Optima card but did mail me a form that said I was pre-approved for a Gold AmEx card. That comes with a $2000 line of credit, so it’s better than nothing.

And my Ibsen parody column looks good in the Sun-Tattler; it’s always exhilarating to see myself in print.

The mailman also brought me two issues of the Postcard edition of the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel, so I can follow what’s going on in South Florida along with the other snowbirds.

It took me nearly an hour to get through my mail, which included agreement forms from American National Bank to fill out relating to my $10,000 deposit for another Prime+2 Visa.

Saturday, May 30, 1987

3 PM. I got up early this morning, intending to exercise with the 10 AM Body Electric show, but it was so hot and humid, I decided I wouldn’t be able to stand a workout.

Not only is the air conditioner not yet installed in Teresa’s bedroom, but the overhead fan conked out.

So I called Alice and canceled out of tonight’s dinner, packed a bag, and headed for Rockaway. It wasn’t so much the cool beach breezes I wanted as it was Grandma Ethel’s air conditioner.

I knew a lot of other people would be headed for the beach on a triple-H (hot, humid, hazy) weekend, so I figured my best bet was to avoid the road traffic with the bus and take the subway all the way to Rockaway.

Even with the cool and comfortable JFK Express, the trip involved five different trains and nearly two hours, though the last part of the trip was enjoyable because I got to look at a lot of hunky teenagers coming to fry their bodies on the beach.

At 36 – well, I will be 36 in a few days – I was the oldest person to get off at the Seaside subway stop.

Since I’d told Grandma to expect me on Monday, my visit was a surprise for her, but I’m sure she doesn’t mind.

Right now it’s about 97° in Central Park, so I feel I was wise to escape. Staying here means giving up my solitude in Manhattan, dinner with Alice, and a look at my mail, but I wouldn’t have been able to stand the heat and humidity.

This powerful heat wave came right on the heels of record chilly temperatures a few days ago, and right now I’m fed up with New York City’s weather, which has gone from raw and chilly to unbearably hot without passing through pleasant warmth.

In Florida, we don’t have these extremes of temperature. And everything there is air-conditioned, as opposed to New York City, where subway stations, most stores and apartments, the classrooms (and even the computer room) at Teachers College are not.

Part of me is hoping I don’t get into MacDowell so I can return to Florida in twelve weeks. Well, I should find out what’s what pretty soon.

At Shakespeare & Co., I spent twenty dollars on a hardcover book, but I figure that doing so once isn’t so bad.

The book is The Great Depression of 1990 by Dr. Ravi Batra, an SMU economist. I intend to begin reading it soon, after I finish this entry.

Grandma and I looked at her photo album of my bar mitzvah reception at the Deauville Beach Club on Saturday, May 30, 1964 – exactly 23 years ago today.

My parents were then 33 and 37 – roughly my age now – and Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb were Mom and Dad’s age now.

And of course I was about to turn 13. Is there anything left of that little boy in me now?