A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1987


Tuesday, August 11, 1987

10 PM. Today was a beautiful day, so pleasant that there was no need to turn on the air conditioner.

I got to the World Trade Center at 1 PM to meet Justin at our usual rendezvous point by the escalators to PATH.

While waiting for Justin to arrive, I watched the dizzying ticker from the Charles Schwab brokerage. There was more “panic buying” today, as the Dow soared another 43 points.

“I think there’s going to be a crash,” was the first thing Justin said when he greeted me.

The kind of euphoria on Wall Street seems akin to insanity to me, but everyone says there’s enough cash out there, particularly in foreign hands, to keep the bull market moving along.

We went back to that Sichuan/Hunan place on Warren Street, where I returned Justin’s script and he handed me the junk mail I’d gotten in Brooklyn.

Justin’s contact at Universal Studios told him it’s getting harder for newcomers without a track record to break into the TV business and said that he will find it especially difficult since he’s in New York and not Los Angeles, where all the action is.

I can empathize with Justin’s frustrations about his career as he turns 30; although he’s had his successes, he’s still struggling mightily and can’t really say that he’s “made it.”

At least he has a relatively pleasant life, with a decent three-day-a-week job at Shearson, a nice home in Park Slope, lots of friends, good health, and of course, Larry.

I don’t know if I’ll see Justin again before I leave because he and Larry are going on vacation the last week in August.

After Justin went back to his office, I returned uptown, where I deposited the Discover Card cash advances I’d made at the Trade Center and bought a dozen Canon typewriter cartridges to take to MacDowell.

I read USA Today, took a satisfying afternoon nap, and at 4:30 PM, worked out for a second time today with Body Electric.

After a tuna sandwich, I went over to the Whitney Museum for their free admission Tuesday evening.

I enjoyed the Red Grooms show, with parts of Ruckus Manhattan and City of Chicago and his other whimsical but on-the-mark creations.

Less pleasurable was the Cindy Sherman show. She’s the young artist who photographs herself in dozens of different get-ups and milieux. Although she does create some amazing effects, I don’t think they have much substance.

I reacquainted myself with some of the Whitney’s permanent collection before walking back to the West Side through Central Park.

The park was filled with runners, cyclists, people lined up for Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Delacorte Theater.

I loved the smell of trees and grass and realized I’m going to get to enjoy the woods at MacDowell in just a couple of weeks.

Exiting the park at 81st, I stopped at Endicott (their one copy of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz looks pretty worn) and the Red Apple, where I bought groceries, including a jar of Gerber’s Strained Vanilla Custard Pudding, which I enjoyed enormously; it’s got to be the best baby food there is.

I feel I want to drink in as much of New York as I can so I can sustain myself while I’m away in New Hampshire.

Wednesday, August 12, 1987

10:30 PM. Teresa and Eric – the guy she’s been seeing – have just gone to take their friend Kiki home. I guess they’ll be staying over here tonight.

If I had known that Teresa was going to bring home a guy, I would have gone to Rockaway to spend some time with Grandma, but Teresa didn’t say anything.

Eric is 45, married, obviously very well-off (or so it seems to a schmuck like me: he’s got a lot of gold jewelry and seems interested in dressing well).

His in-laws own a major chain of women’s clothing stores, and he and his wife have two grown daughters, one of whom just got out of drug rehabilitation clinic.

Today he bought Teresa a camera, a bracelet, a shirt, and an electric fan, and tomorrow he’s giving her and Kiki his car and driver (Sol, who’s 74) to take them to Fire Island.

He really likes Teresa, and I get the feeling he’s not sleazy although I’m sure he’s been around the block a lot with his previous marriages, with drugs, etc.

If anything, he acts like he’s more interested in Teresa than she seems to be in him.

After purposely staying away most of the afternoon, I came home at 5 PM to find the door chain on. I returned an hour later when they’d gone to Zabar’s and brought back some food.

At first, I was a little resentful because they had – as Teresa put it, “disrupted your whole life” – but the situation made me realize that this isn’t my apartment, it’s Teresa’s, and that I will be leaving here soon.

In fact, today I signed a change-of-address form at the post office so that I can have my mail forwarded as of two weeks from today.

Because Eric is married into one of the pioneer families of Fire Island, they have to be very discreet, and obviously they thought that Kiki was someone they could trust to keep their relationship a secret.

While I’m no one to judge other people, I feel a bit a sad for Eric and Teresa. Maybe my sympathy is misplaced, but it seems to me that if they really care of each other, it must be hard to sneak around.

On the other hand, both of them knew what they were getting into.

I don’t know: Teresa’s Fire Island friends are a different breed of cat than I’m used to.

There’s so much gossip about this one and that one there, and it all seems so incestuous, it reminds me of the kind of soap operas that used to operate in LaGuardia Hall during our undergraduate days.

While I thrived in that world then, I’m glad that today my friends are not part of any one group: they may know each other, and some of them – like Tom and Josh – are themselves friends, but it’s not the same thing.

Being forced out of the house this afternoon did have the positive effect of getting me to the Teachers College computer room to finish my column on Florida’s tax on advertising and the TV sponsors’ boycott of the state.

I’ve been working on it for months, and while I’m not sure it came off totally, it’s definitely workable.

I now have enough columns to get me through the end of September, when I’ll be back in Florida.

I was talking with someone at school about how the microcomputer business is good again, with Microsoft, Tandy and Apple all releasing new products lately.

Thursday, August 13, 1987

7 PM. This has been a gorgeous week. Instead of the dog days of summer, it’s been a week of pleasant temperatures and low humidity. After a hot July, a seasonable August is a relief. I haven’t had to turn on the air conditioner in days.

Late last night Teresa came back alone, as Eric returned to his wife in New Jersey. She told me Eric wants her to work for him – he’s a headhunter for big retail stores – but she says she’s going to work part-time as an office assistant to Frank at his PR firm.

This morning I helped Teresa lug all the packages of Zabar’s stuff she needs for her Fire Island catering job to West End Avenue, where she caught a cab to midtown to Eric’s car.

I worked out with Body Electric – today was aerobics – and then did the laundry because I felt funny about sleeping on sheets I knew Teresa and Eric had made love on.

Today turned out to be a productive day. Mom’s mail brought only one bill and a rejection from a creditor due to too many recent inquiries in my file.

I don’t know if Service One Corporation is a ripoff or not, but I sent them $2000 to be deposited in a South Dakota back in exchange for a similar credit line on a Visa. I figure the bank would get in trouble with the Fed or FDIC or state regulators if they were in on a crooked scheme.

But you never can tell: in the Village Voice’s annual list of the ten worst landlords, Columbia University was number one. They really do sleazy things to their tenants.

At the Teachers College bursar’s office, I was assured that my $310 refund should be arriving any day now.

I was really happy because I completed another column on the TC computer.

For weeks I’ve wanted to do one on my campaign to draft various celebrities (Gloria Vanderbilt, Burt Reynolds, Fred Silverman, et al.) for political office, and in a couple of hours this column got finished.

Like my other recent columns, it’s a five-pager. Best of all, the jokes and gags were ready-made in the form of quotations I gave in old clippings.

Now my columns are actually covered for the next couple of months. I’d secretly set a goal of writing two columns this week, and I accomplished that. How about that!

Now if I could write just one more, I’d be ecstatic. (See, I’m never satisfied.)

Crad writes that I’m going to miss him again because he won’t be in New York until after I leave for MacDowell.

He asked for help in publicizing The Worst Canadian Short Stories, and I’m going to try; maybe I can even work the books into my column.

This apartment is “mine” again, as I’ve moved everything back to the way I like it. Teresa will be back here on Monday, but I intend to go to Rockaway after Alice’s mother’s barbecue on Sunday and stay with Grandma Ethel until Wednesday or so.

I’ve got two weeks left in New York City before going to New Hampshire, and I want to enjoy the remaining time here.

Actually, it’s already been a great summer. As of tomorrow, I’ll have been in New York for fifteen wonderful weeks, and I really can’t complain.

I’ve written eight or nine columns, taken another computer ed grad course, spent precious time with my friends and grandmother, and I’ve been able to experience New York City in good health and good spirits.

Someday, I fear, there’ll be a price to pay for all these terrific times.

Right now I feel kind of tired, though I have to go out later for milk and bread.

In USA Today, I read that George Schweitzer, CBS’s V.P. for Public Relations – who’s put out all the fires in the media in recent years – is leaving to take a similar position at Young & Rubicam, the big ad agency.

The article stated that my old Franklin School friend started at CBS as an office boy in 1973. I feel proud of him.

I wish Teresa had the kind of friends I do. Except for Deirdre, Barbara, Elizabeth and Jane – all of whom are married, working at interesting jobs, and have moved out of Manhattan – most of the people she knows tend to be idle rich people who just hang out most of the time.

Saturday, August 15, 1987

7 PM. I’ve spent the day in my air-conditioned bedroom. Later I’ll go out to get the Sunday Times. Tomorrow I have to leave at noon to get to Brooklyn, and then I intend to stay over in Rockaway until Wednesday.

Last night, at Shakespeare in the Park, we were too late to get line numbers and we were told there definitely wouldn’t be seats for us, but Ronna said we should persevere. Ellen soon biked over from her job at CBS and we had a little picnic.

It seemed to take forever, and I crankily doubted Ronna’s usual unfailing optimism that we’d get in.

However, it turned out Ronna was right, but just barely. Ronna, Ellen and I got the last three seats available. They told the couple behind us and everyone after that to go home.

Our seats were all separated widely; I could see both Ronna and Ellen from my seat, though, and just before the play started, we were able to find three seats together. (I ran into the young black woman with whom I’d been on jury duty as we walked around.)

Two Gentlemen of Verona isn’t a great play – there are incredible inconsistencies in Proteus’s character – but the production was a good one: stripped down but elegant.

The only real star was Elizabeth McGovern, who’s not an exceptional actress, but all the cast was good. I always enjoy sitting in the park as darkness falls; it’s such a beautiful setting, with Belvedere Castle in the background.

We followed the crowds out of the park, up Central Park West and across 86th Street. Ronna seemed annoyed with me because when I said, “I’ll see you before I leave for MacDowell,” she said, “Maybe.”

Probably she does have reason to be angry with me; I’m always leaving her.

Maybe the best thing I can do for Ronna is give her the number of Alice’s eye doctor, who’s looking for a nice Jewish girl to marry.

Today on C-SPAN, I saw a Senate hearing on computer education. Apparently there’s a pending bill, the Computer Education Assistance Act of 1987, to provide funds for teacher training, hardware and software.

The testimony of computer teachers, students and administrators was fascinating to me. It’s clear that we’re moving away from drill-and-practice CAI and towards using the computer as a tool (particularly for word processing, databases and telecommunications) and as a problem-solving device.

I feel good that I’ve gotten in on the infancy of a new field. As Senator Lautenberg said, America’s only hope to compete in the world economy is to take advantage of our technological expertise.

Certainly we can’t compete for low-wage factory jobs; developing countries can always underbid us on wages. The high school graduating class of 2000 enters kindergarten this fall, and computers will be in their day-to-day lives.

Mom said that today the Sun-Tattler published my Sunshine State/Wrinkle State column on tanning, as I expected they would.

Obviously, they don’t want to run my earlier pieces, but I don’t intend to write any more till I return home unless inspiration strikes. That way, they’ll have to run the columns or no column at all, and I’ll try other markets for the ones they haven’t published.

Mom also told me that I got a lot of the expected bills. She’ll forward them and my other mail through next weekend; after that, she’ll send my mail to MacDowell.

Neil Rogers is in trouble again, Mom reported, for making fun of the Pope, who’ll be in Miami next month. Marc taped some satirical songs from Neil’s show.

It’s been hot in Florida but everyone is in good health and business hasn’t been too bad.

I didn’t do much today, but I was productive this week.

Sunday, August 16, 1987

Almost midnight. I’m in Rockaway, having arrived at Grandma’s at 6:30 PM.

Up early this morning to read the Washington Post and Newsday (I read the Sunday Times last night), I left the apartment for Alice’s mother’s house at 11:30 AM.

As I was on the 3 train, I decided that instead of transferring to the 2 to the Junction, I’d stay on the 3 until Utica Avenue and take the bus down Utica from Eastern Parkway.

It’s been years since I saw some of those places that were important in my childhood. Famous Restaurant on Eastern Parkway has long since become a McDonald’s, and the Carroll Theater (where Grandma once took me to see Tammy and the Doctor) has been a church for years.

The diner we used to frequent on Utica and Winthrop – where I can still remember playing the jukebox and the texture and look of their burgers and malteds – is still there, only now it caters to West Indians.

Naturally, on the whole length of my ride on the B46, I was the only non-black person on the bus.

At Linden Boulevard, I looked to catch a glimpse of Flatbush General Hospital (Grandma Ethel was ill there when I was in high school), and I tried to remember how the stores around Church Avenue looked: the Rugby Theater, now closed; the newsstand where I used to buy my comics; Ziggy’s kosher delicatessen; Stride-Rite Shoes; the five-and-ten-cents store – all now gone except for Silver Rod Drugs on the corner.

The Rugby branch of the library – where I got my first library card by signing my name at age 3, much to the disbelief of the librarian, who thought Dad was a wiseguy playing a trick on her with his baby brother – has been fixed over lately and looks good.

I was surprised at how much I could remember of my first neighborhood even as it changed to mostly West Indian.

Further south on Utica, the bus passed Aldan Motors, where I got my first car, that gold 1973 Mercury Comet, for college graduation – and so many other places I knew so well.

It felt strange to be back on Alice’s old block, to be taking the familiar path to her mother’s basement apartment; over the last six or seven years, I’d been there only in my dreams.

Alice’s mother looked well, and she and Alice were getting the barbecue ready. Stupidly, I’d forgotten to bring something, but Alice said the flowers she’d brought were from all of us.

Alice’s old apartment looked so small, and all the furniture looked so old and worn; I guess I remembered it differently.

It was very hot out, and even in the apartment, it wasn’t cool.

Peter and I had a good long talk before lunch was ready. I always forget how much I like him and what a fabulous person he is. Probably he’s so good to talk to because he always makes the other person feel as if he or she is the most fascinating person in the world.

After we brought in the table and chairs, the four of us had lunch. Mrs. D had made shish kebab with beef, green peppers and onions, and also chicken, and I thought it was a fine meal. But I guess I mostly enjoyed the family feeling and company.

Alice’s mother said she is going back to Honduras in November, and hopefully she will be well during this visit.

At about 4:30 PM, Alice, Peter and I left, getting on the Avenue J bus.

They were taking it to the D train while I got off at the Junction, where, after a long hot wait, I caught the bus to Rockaway.

Beach traffic coming back up Flatbush Avenue was incredible, but of course I was going the other way.

I’m glad to be staying here at Grandma’s for the next few days.