A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1987


Sunday, September 20, 1987

4 PM. I think I’ll be glad to go back to Florida in ten days. After MacDowell, New York City seems like a place of loonies. I’ve been reading the Sunday papers – O tempora! O mores! – and contacting people.

When I called Mikey, Amy answered and said she and Mikey were having a fight about their new Persian rug and could I call them back?

Scott said he’d just gotten home with his latest prize, some gargoyles based on the ones on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that he’d had made for his apartment.

Did I know that he’d run into Alice at a party for Geraldo Rivera’s new TV show and did I know why she didn’t return his phone messages? And did I write any “salable” work at MacDowell? (Not good work, mind you, but salable work.)

Susan sounded excited about joining a new writers’ workshop but she had to get off the phone because someone had come to see her apartment, which is for sale. We’ll get together tomorrow before her shrink appointment.

Ronna’s busy with her friend Phil and his friends, who are visiting from Pennsylvania for the weekend.

This may sound sour, but I’m not desperate to see anyone in the remaining time I have left in New York.

At 6 AM today, Eric left a message for Teresa from London, where he’s on vacation. He has to go home to New Jersey to his wife, who’s been with him in England.

In The New York Times Magazine, Barbara Tuchman – who was at MacDowell earlier this year – speculates that America is going down the tubes, mostly because of a decline in ethical behavior. Good riddance!

Monday, September 21, 1987

4 PM. I’m ready to return to Florida next week. Things have changed since before I left for MacDowell.

Summer is over. Channel 25 has replaced Body Electric with educational programs for kids in school. Teresa’s moved back here, and I don’t like being involved in her crazy life.

I didn’t get in till nearly midnight and I saw her only for a couple of hours this morning, but I’m convinced, more than ever, that she continues to lurch from disaster to disaster.

This affair with Eric is so stupid and pointless. As I woke up in the living room, I could hear Teresa’s voice rise as she spoke to Eric on the phone in the bedroom: something about his not having enough time to spend with her.

She replaced the photo of her and Michael on the fireplace with one of her and Eric that I took last month.

Eric’s got all the cards in the game, all the power.

Teresa must be terribly lonely and insecure to settle for a relationship like this one. She’s going to be very badly hurt, but it’s almost as if she were courting the pain.

When I told her I could go away for the night, she said, “No, you have more right to be here than he does, and he should find that out.” But I suspect Eric is a man used to imposing his will and having his way.

I also think working for Norton and Pam at the chicken store isn’t going to work out, not to judge by Teresa’s complaints.

Norton and Pam will work very hard there because it’s their store; Teresa says she’d do the same if they gave her a piece of the business, but that seems unrealistic.

While I hope that all goes well, I’m expecting some sort of blowup in the working relationship that will end their friendship – which is true to Teresa’s pattern.

I got my new ticket to Fort Lauderdale even though the airlines have had an incredible number of near misses lately.

I suppose I can stand one more flight this year. After all, it was never really the air safety issue that bothered me; it’s the mechanics of flying itself.

I also bought my 1988 diary, which looks as if it’s got cheaper paper than usual: typical of American craftsmanship – or lack thereof.

I phoned Sophie, who said she might call me back later with a course from Rosa Harvey; I told her I was in Florida, so I called Mom and told her to tell Sophie I was out, not out of town, if she called and to leave a message with me so I can call FIU from here.

Actually, though I want to work, I’m not desperate to teach.

A USA Today article listed Broward among the counties to gain the most jobs and population by 2000. With Dade and Palm Beach also growing, there could be an additional million people living in South Florida by 2000. They’ll need skilled, educated people like me.

Just as in other parts of the country, there’s a bad mix between jobs that require communications, computation and thinking skills and a population of untrained illiterates. I no longer worry that I’ll starve because I can’t find a job.

At Chemical Bank, I deposited $1400 that I got in ATM cash advances. My credit card chassis – I paid four more bills today – will keep me going.

Josh came over at 6 PM yesterday and we went out to Szechuan Broadway (the food was lousy), to the movies (Amazon Women on the Moon, good for a few chuckles) and then to 23rd and Seventh, to the Angry Squire, to see the Pete Cherches Trio.

Josh and I sat at the bar with Harold, who began teaching at John Jay last week. (Borough of Manhattan Community College had fewer students so they didn’t call him.)

Harold is still thinking of going into a Ph.D. program where he can write a fiction for his dissertation, and he’s also considering moving to Burlington, Vt.

Pete came out dressed in his usual suit. We caught his second set of vocalizations of lyrics he’d written to Thelonious Monk songs.

Josh ridiculed them, but I liked Pete’s work a lot and admired his stage persona and chutzpah.

When a woman at the bar Josh was chatting up said she was a musician and thought Pete was “great,” Josh seemed to change his mind.

I admire Pete’s versatility and his positive attitude; Josh, of course, is usually negative. I especially liked Pete’s last song, about the craziness of working 9 to 5 for some mythical sense of “security.”

It was fun to sit at a dark, smoky jazz club for a change.

Mikey called me back today and said Amy started Hunter College’s M.S.W. program but is upset at her field assignment, which is to make home site visits to Morrisania Hospital patients in the Bronx.

She’d wanted to be in a clinical setting, as her goal is more psychiatric-oriented.

Other than that, Mikey said, little was happening; I told him I’d call from Florida.

I shouldn’t have called Scott, but I’d felt guilty about not returning his call before I left for MacDowell.

He’s so pushy and obnoxious, it’s no wonder everyone from Alice and Teresa to Josh and Mikey try to avoid him. We made a tentative date for next Monday night.

As I expected, Susan canceled our meeting for this afternoon. She’s been so unreliable lately; I don’t expect to see her again before I leave. But I understand: her son and husband have to come first.

For tonight, I foisted myself on Ronna, who asked me to join her and her friend Jenna for dinner after I said I needed to be out of here when Teresa’s entertaining Eric.

I called Grandma and told her I’d be over on Wednesday afternoon and we’d go to Aunt Tillie’s for the holiday meal.

Tuesday, September 22, 1987

1 PM. Yesterday I left here at 6 PM, taking a long walk up Broadway to Columbia before arriving at Ronna’s for dinner.

Ronna outdid herself and made pasta with pesto sauce and sautéed vegetables that were delicious. Her friend Jenna couldn’t stop raving about the food.

Ronna knows Jenna from when they worked at the Hebrew Arts School. Now Jenna is director of a small orchestra that concentrates on educating conservatory students.

Louise Talma was her mother’s piano teacher, she went to Penn with Michael Fiday, and she knows and likes the work of Todd Brief and David Lang.

Lori’s friend Ron came over to pick up a résumé Ronna typed for a friend, and he stayed to have tea and cookies with us. (Lori was at her boyfriend’s for the night.)

After they left, Ronna asked me to spend the night, which I did once I got a contact lens case and solution on Broadway.

It was wonderful to be intimate and playful with Ronna one more time. I’d really hoped Alice’s eye doctor would have called her, but for my sake, I felt very grateful Ronna is a free agent.

She looked so much younger, and I thought it had something to do with her eyes, which seemed prettier. But Ronna told me she’d rinsed her grey hair with Loving Care, and of course I felt foolish for not noticing.

We messed around till about 1:30 AM, and at 7:30 AM, the radio news went on, and Ronna showered while I dressed and got ready to come back here.

Teresa and I were both surprised that the cleaning woman showed up this morning, and since I had to get out of the house, I accompanied her to Brooklyn Heights.

She’s not sure that working for Norton will work out, and I suspect it won’t.

As for Eric, Teresa says she’s in control because his feelings for her are stronger than hers for him.

He says he’s not ready to tell his wife that he’s leaving her, and Teresa seems reasonably aware that he’ll probably never leave Joyce; her $8 million is definitely an attraction that Teresa can’t compete with.

But I still think Teresa will end up getting hurt. She said they’re at a “crossroads” and she’d settle for a mistress relationship in which he’d give her money, but I don’t think she really would.

At the Brooklyn Business Library, I went through September’s American Banker issues.

Alice called to let me know that this weekend she’s got another press trip to Florida – Naples, this time.

She told me that Scott called her again and she has no idea why he wants to see her. At the party she made a point out of calling Peter over to meet Scott, whom she said looks as if he’s got AIDS.

It’s true: Scott hasn’t aged well. (Both Alice and Scott commented on how grey the other had gotten.)

Alice will join me and Scott on Monday night so we can tackle him together.

Thursday, September 24, 1987

3:30 PM. I was just sitting on the boardwalk, reading Emerson’s essay on compensation. It’s a sunny, 80° day, and I was able to wear just a t-shirt and shorts.

A few days ago I opened a box of books that Teresa had in the living room all summer, and on top I found the old red-and-gold volume of Emerson’s essays, heavily marked up, that I thought I had lost years ago.

Well, there are no coincidences.

On this start of the Jewish new year and on the eve of my return to Florida, I feel happy and very lucky indeed.

Rereading Emerson’s words that used to comfort me seven years ago right here in Rockaway, when I was so unhappy, I know that he is right.

I now take the theory of compensation in an economic and political sense as well as a personal one. I am certain that a depression or economic upheaval is coming, and it is necessary for the growth of society.

An excess of conservatism will lead to new liberalism, and the greedy times we are now in the midst of will seem shallow and vulgar – even to today’s greedy – in a few years.

When Teresa’s boyfriend Eric shows off his $10,000 Rolex watch, I would – if it didn’t make me seem like an insufferable prig – go to my closet and fish out the $8.95 Timex I bought in Middlebury, which I rarely need but which I’ve had for ten years, and which keeps the same time as Eric’s gold watch.

Now if he could get a watch that would make time last longer, that might be worth $10,000.

What I liked about MacDowell was that I was with a group of people who, by and large, didn’t fall prey to the rampant materialism and obsession with possessions that is de rigueur today.

Even someone like Josh constantly wishes for a change in his situation and hopes that winning Lotto will change his life, not realizing that he already has the power to change his life and that being a Lotto millionaire would just bring him a different set of problems.

I’d like to be able to cultivate what Emerson calls a sense of indifference to things like the grants I apply for. Will it really make a difference if I get the $5000 Florida Arts Council grant? No.

As for my credit card schemes, I am aware – though probably not fully – that I will have to pay for them somehow, in some way, even if I have the benefit of declaring bankruptcy during the coming financial collapse.

Every strength is also a defect, says Emerson, except those of the soul – like true love, beauty, knowledge. I’ve tried to live a decent life but haven’t always succeeded.

Yet unlike Teresa, who is always blaming her difficulties on other people, I realize that 99% of my problems are of my own making.

People think they have no choices when they do. I guess I’m really sounding pompous.

I slept well, and this morning I exercised to the 9:30 AM Body Electric. I went out three times: once, to get the Times; then for lunch at a pizzeria; and then on the boardwalk.

I lose patience with the banal chatter of Grandma Ethel, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep repeating themselves.

Of course, I’ll be crushed when they are all gone, but really, they only barely live in 1987. I just hope I won’t be like that. I suspect I won’t, not if educated older people like Louise Talma are an example.

At 36 – and eight months away from 37 – I look and feel much younger, and I refuse to adopt attitudes to fit some stereotype of the way “people my age” are supposed to think.

If the flip side of my youthfulness is a certain immaturity, so be it. That’s the law of compensation.

But I believe I’m getting myself together and living my life as though death were near. If I go down in a plane crash next week, I’ll have no regrets. The only regrets I ever have are the times I wasted having regrets.

I can use Grandma Ethel, Josh, Teresa, and others as negative examples.

Do I sound superior, like Jonathan when he viewed himself and other sannyasins as super-people who could do anything? I know I’m only some jerk from Brooklyn.

But I won’t deny that I feel in some way superior to the people who can’t see that the emperor has no clothes, who believe that money and possessions and fame can bring them happiness.

Even Crad, who believes that being an artist will make up for his being miserable, is wrong.

Life is to be lived – sturdily, as that Emerson quote I used as the epigraph to Eating at Arby’s, says. No one can ever take away from me my experiences of the past year and the joy I’ve had.

At the same time, I’m aware that life is cruel, unfair, ugly, and ultimately kind of ridiculous. Nothing is permanent: I know that, even though many people try to fool themselves into believing the opposite.

I’m a survivor, and I have a survivor’s personality, though it’s a mystery how I got that way.

For the last few years I’ve lived in the most extraordinary comfort, but I can’t expect it to continue. I just hope I’ll be ready when disaster – as it must – finally strikes.

Friday, September 25, 1987

10 PM. I just returned to Grandma’s apartment and she’s not home.

On the Boulevard, I called Florida and learned that Sophie asked me to phone her.

She’s got two classes for me, both of a new component, Teaching Computer Literacy in the Elementary School, with eight contact hours and four hours of independent work.

One begins at Auburndale Elementary on Wednesday, October 14, and runs the next two weeks from 2-5 PM (2-4 PM on October 28). The other is on Mondays from 3:20-5:20 PM at Coral Way Elementary on October 19 and 26 and November 2 and 9.

Sophie said I have to make an appointment to get one of those new I-9 forms at one of FIU’s campuses to begin work there again, but otherwise it looks like I’m ready to go.

At least after I’m in Florida two weeks, I’ll have work on Mondays and Wednesdays. Good.

Mom said someone phoned trying to locate the address of George Myers, Jr., and I told her not to send any more mail.

I guess I should return to Florida on Wednesday anyway, even though I’ve got two weeks without work. It’s best I get accustomed to life in the hot zone again.

Last evening Grandma and I had a typically early dinner and then we watched TV till 9 PM.

After she went to bed, I stayed up reading some more of Emerson’s essays – “Circles,” “The Poet,” “Experience” – which are like old friends. I slept well, and this morning I again worked out to Body Electric at 9:30 AM.

At 11 AM, I went to Brooklyn, taking the Rockaway bus to the Junction and then the Flatbush Avenue bus to Grand Army Plaza.

It was a cool, bright, dry day. I made some cash advance withdrawals – including a big $1000 one on my new Mileage Plus Visa – and deposited the money into my Chemical checking account.

At Roma, I had one of my beloved baby pizzas (they have no cheese, only tomato sauce, onion, basil and oregano), and then I read in the public library.

I hear Grandma Ethel coming in now. Time to stop.

Saturday, September 26, 1987

5 PM. Grandma Ethel cried, as I’d expected, when I left this morning.

It is sad, because I knew this may have been the last time I’ll get to see her. She’s 77 now, and she’s looking very old.

Last night she had a bad headache and chest pains and said, “I’m not like I used to be.”

After four and a half years, she still hasn’t gotten over Grandpa Herb’s death, and again she related to me the story of how he joked around as he was being taken to the hospital where he died the next night.

She also told me how most of the friends in her card game have died or gone into nursing homes, and how it’s getting more difficult to get up a game.

There’s no one to replace the card players because the new people moving into the building are young Irish couples with little children. It’s odd how the old Jewish and Irish people never mix, though they remain cordial to one another.

Grandma is part of that dying generation of immigrant Jews who came here from Russia at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

In less than 13 years, it will be the year 2000, and most of those Jews will be dead. In fact, practically all of them will be.

Grandma, born in 1910, is one of the younger members of that generation of immigrants. It’s sad, not only on a personal basis, but for society, when people like Grandma die.

Yet – cliché time – what else is life about? Grandma Ethel, Uncle Morris, Aunt Tillie, the 91-year-old Jean Morse – they really don’t belong in the 21st century, any more than I’ll belong in it after 2050 or maybe sooner.

Last evening we had dinner at 5 PM, listened to All Things Considered, watched the news, Dallas, and Beauty and the Beast, and saw the ocean and beach become jet-black as darkness replaced daylight.

Will Grandma Ethel be in Rockaway next spring? Or will she succumb to a stroke or heart attack and die, or have to be put into a nursing home?

My guess is that she’ll hang on, but at 77, she’s reaching a dangerous age. Grandpa Herb died at 79, Grandma Sylvia at 80, and Grandpa Nat had the attack which damaged his brain at 79.

About 80 seems the limit for my family, and Grandma’s already lived a dozen years longer than her father.

She’s still obsessed by the fact that she never remembered her mother or “felt a mother’s love.” All she can recall is going to her mother’s grave before she left Russia with other members of the family.

Well, as much as I complain about Grandma and those long trips to Rockaway, I will miss her when she’s gone.

When I got back to the Upper West Side, I had a feast of mail waiting of me, all forwarded from Mom.

There was my column of last Saturday, “A Visa is a Passport to the Poorhouse,” a long piece that looks good.

And I got my transcripts and grade report from Teachers College: I was delighted to get an A on my Computers and the Arts course. Now I have 14 credits from TC, all related to computer education.

Tom needs my bio note and a title for a public lecture that I’m supposed to give at NOCCA on March 3; I’ve got to call him about it.

Mellon Bank doubled my credit limit, from $2000 to $4000 – so that’s another $2000 in credit for me! (I guess Mellon expects a good customer like me to help make up for their huge losses).

I paid five credit card bills and got other goodies, too, before going out to the American diner for a burger deluxe and iced tea.

Teresa won’t be home until tomorrow night, so I’ve got one more night in the big bed.

I’m going to see Josh tonight – he called from his parents’ – and Pete tomorrow afternoon. On Monday night I’m seeing Scott and Alice, and on Tuesday I’m having lunch with Justin.

It seems so long ago that I was at MacDowell.

After MacDowell, I do feel more like a writer, even if I wasn’t all that productive after the first week.

But in the last month, Editor’s Choice II and Between C and D have come out with my stories in them, and now I’ve got my March visit to New Orleans. Although I’m apprehensive about it, I’ll be treated like a real writer at NOCCA, and I shouldn’t pass it up.

Monday, September 28, 1987

5 PM. It’s a warm, humid day for late September.

Ronna got back at 9 PM yesterday, but she told me not to come over because Lori was asleep.

Apparently Ronna didn’t realize she wouldn’t get another chance to see me before I left. Tonight I’m seeing Scott and Alice, and tomorrow night Ronna has tickets for the opera.

She really wanted to see me, just as I wanted to see her, but perhaps this is for the best.

I just wish some great guy would marry Ronna and let her stay home and have kids. At this point in my life, I’m not ready to settle down – though if between us, Ronna and I could have enough money, I might think about it.

That sounds crass. But I think we could resolve our problems – my gayness, her messiness – if we could afford to get married and have a child.

If Ronna had a high-powered career, I’d be the one who could stay home and care of a baby. But she probably never will.

Anyway, the whole idea of us together sounds utterly ridiculous now that I’ve put it down on paper.

Ronna should concentrate on finding a guy who can offer her the emotional and financial support I can’t.

Is her being with me any more productive for Ronna than Teresa’s affair with married Eric is for her?

Yes, it probably is: Ronna and I are old friends who care about each other deeply, and neither of is committed – much less married – to anyone else.

But in the long run, Ronna has no more of a future with me than Teresa does with Eric.

Just before Ronna called last night, Teresa came home from Fire Island.

This morning she spoke to Eric, and I could hear them having a fight about his not calling over the weekend. Eric called her back just a minute after Teresa had left for work, and I ran out to the street to find her.

When I said he was on the phone, she said, “Tell him to go to hell.”

Tuesday, September 29, 1987

11 AM. I just found out I didn’t get a Florida Arts Council fellowship. I just called the Division of Cultural Affairs in Tallahassee and was told the names of the five winners in literature, none of whom were familiar to me. Probably all safe nonentities.

Damn! Well, now I feel like postponing my return to Florida. I think I’ll stay here till Monday instead of flying back tomorrow.

In a way, the disappointing news satisfies my neuroses, because now I am less worried that something bad will happen if I stay here longer.

Alice looked terrific when she arrived here at 1 PM; I’m glad we had time to talk alone. She enjoyed the last two weekends in Boca and Naples and seems to be doing well with her book and magazine assignments.

Scott came over at 7:30 PM, and we went to Marvin Gardens for dinner.

Actually, he was pretty restrained though he still is a bit boastful and obnoxious. I had a good time, and Alice did, too, though we wouldn’t want to see Scott regularly.

I made certain that Scott knew Alice had been with Peter for nearly ten years now.

After he drove her home, Scott called me to ask, “How long did I date Alice?”

Apparently, in the car she’d told him she started seeing Peter right after she stopped seeing him, and he could barely remember their relationship.

I said I didn’t know how long they dated. Pretty funny, eh?

Well, I can take the rejection of the grant. I still intend to keep getting joy out of life.

I’m seeing Justin for lunch; and before I meet him at the World Trade Center, I think I’ll change my airline ticket at the Delta office there.


4 PM. At the World Trade Center ticket office, I changed my flight to Monday.

Do I feel as if I have a reprieve? Sort of, but I don’t really mind returning to Florida.

Today’s hot weather up here can’t last. In fact, it’s supposed to get quite chilly in the next few days.

When I called Mom to tell her about my change in plans, she said she was fixing up the spare room for me. She’ll keep my mail and notify me of any messages from Sophie.

Over lunch, Justin suggested that Eating at Arby’s and my other controversial activities may make it impossible for me to ever get another fellowship grant in Florida.

Maybe it’s time to cut my ties to Florida after one more winter there.

Perhaps next year I should just take some full-time job in the Northeast and make money. Or maybe I should try California.

By next year, I’ll probably have to take some full-time job; hopefully, some more experience teaching computers will help me get one.

Over lunch at our favorite Hunan restaurant on Warren Street, Justin said he’s about to see a new agent, but he realizes he needs contacts rather than someone who’ll send out his work blindly in a scattershot effect.

He keeps trying, but it’s hard not to get discouraged. Show business is as hard as writing, maybe harder.

Justin said that this year, he and Larry may really get down to Florida; I hope so, as I love it when my friends visit.

Teresa said she doesn’t mind my staying longer, but she needs the place tomorrow night, so I plan to visit Grandma in Rockaway.

Now that I’ve said goodbye to all my friends, I have a few extra days in New York.

Hopefully, I can get together with Ronna a couple of times before I go.