A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1986


Friday, July 11, 1986

3 PM. The last couple of hours I’ve been lying on the bed listening to classical music.

I’ve come down with a cold. It hasn’t quite broken out yet, so either it’s coming on slowly or else maybe I can keep it from developing into a major nuisance. I first noticed it when I got home from Teachers College at 9 PM last night.

Obviously, the emotional stress of this week hasn’t helped. My colds always seem to come when I’m about to make a change in my life. In any case, I plan to pamper myself a little.

The cleaning woman was here at 8:30 AM, and I went off, first to read the newspapers and then to get to the CCIMS lab at Teachers College to work on word processing.

I wrote my log for the Computers and Writing course and worked on a new résumé for nearly two hours. I feel very fluent on the word processor, and I think if I had one at home, I could definitely increase my productivity.

Yesterday, I was about to get on the bus at 86th and Broadway when I heard someone calling my name.

It was Sue Ribner, who was putting up posters for her women’s karate school. Very glad to see her, I walked with her uptown for another ten blocks as she put up more posters.

She’s still running the karate school, taking Chinese lessons, and working on her book, and recently she got away on a trip to Japan.

But her family problems continue: her mother had a nervous breakdown three months after her father died (she’s better now but she had to go to a sanitarium), and then her sister had a relapse of her cancer.

Sue’s sister seems unlikely to survive now, and Sue will be responsible for her 17-year-old nephew, whose father died last year. Poor Sue. She never seems to get a break – but what a good person she is.

We parted at 96th and Amsterdam; she had to meet a friend, and a blind old lady who’d just had two teeth pulled asked me to help her to her apartment a couple of blocks away.

After that, up at Columbia, I spent half an hour on the IBM PCs in the lab, becoming so involved in what I was doing that I was a little late to class.

Computers and Writing is definitely many times more interesting to me than Software Evaluation. I’m enjoying learning about writing process theory and the computer.

After class, I went to the workshop in the library and helped out the women sitting with me, both of whom were very unsure on the computer. One was a teacher from Kentucky, and the other just graduated Syracuse and will start teaching this fall.

Teresa didn’t come home last night, so I had the place to myself again.

I should have really enjoyed myself, but I was starting to feel sick. However, I did finish half of the Colette Daiute book on computers and writing and read the next day’s Times.

Now that I’ve taken Money and Banking at FAU, when the Fed cuts the discount rate – as it did yesterday, to 6% – I understand it all. In fact, the business section of the paper is the first section I turn to these days.

The first half of 1986 was pretty anemic in terms of economic growth, but the outlook always was for a more robust second half. Now people are starting to wonder.

Parts of the country – the oil patch, the farm belt, the mining regions – are in a kind of localized recession, and while nobody’s predicting a general recession, this recovery from the ’81-’82 recession is very old, and you can’t cheat the business cycle forever.

Saturday, July 12, 1986

5 PM. I’m doing pretty well with my cold although it disturbs me that I seem to get such frequent colds; lately I’ve had three colds every year.

Anyway, provided this cold doesn’t turn into a doozy, I’ll probably be feeling better in four or five days. Right now I’m congested and have a sore throat, but I can manage.

Yesterday afternoon I went out shopping to make sure I’d have enough food for the weekend.

At the Red Apple, a WABC-TV camera crew was set up to go live for the 5 PM news because someone claimed they put cyanide in two-liter bottles of lemon-lime Slice, and the city ordered the soda off the shelves.

I bought mandarin orange Slice, which was supposedly safe.

Similar threats have come in regarding other food products in various cities: the old copycat syndrome.

Next, maybe someone will threaten to put soda or Tylenol in bottles of the Christian Dior perfume Poison. (Just a feeble attempt at humor.)

Last night I watched Prizzi’s Honor on the returned VCR; it was a pleasure to experience a movie at home without interruptions.

After falling asleep at 11 PM, I had a restful night, probably thanks to the Comtrex I took.

Today’s been dark, rainy and amazingly cool: only in the low 60°s. This morning I read the paper and managed to get in some light exercise, but generally I felt tired.

Ronna came over at noon and we spent the afternoon together. She’s still worried about her job situation. If I know Ronna, she’ll settle for less than she’s worth.

Ronna is still seeing Donald, though he’s visiting his parents this weekend. She seemed in a maternal mood, wanting to take care of me because of my cold, and I certainly didn’t mind.

Ronna and I get along so well, it’s a shame that . . . oh, but that’s the way it is.

We went out in a downpour and had to stay under some construction for quite a while to avoid getting totally soaked. We passed the time by my giving her that Tropic magazine literary contest about relating the names of the writers on their list.

(The deadline is on Monday; I don’t think I won, but I made most of the connections easily.)

After Ronna and I had lunch at the American Diner, we went to see About Last Night…, a movie loosely based on Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which must have perverted the play.

Still, it had some interesting things to say about the singles scene and relationships; it reminded me a little of what Teresa and Michael and their Fire Island friends go through.

After the movie, Ronna said she had to buy a present to give her aunt and uncle when she visits them tomorrow, and I felt tired and needed to come home to rest.

Actually, this cool, rainy weather wasn’t a bad day to be sick, and I’m very lucky I had Ronna for company.

What else is new? I have trouble thinking when I’m not feeling well.

Some interesting trends I’ve spotted lately:

An increase in part-time workers in the U.S. has loosened ties between workers and their employers. As with adjunct college teachers, most part-time workers are denied benefits and aren’t really part of the organization.

On the other hand, part-time or temporary workers have the freedom to come and go as they please, and they don’t have to put up with some of the shit that full-time employees do.

I also see that law schools are having to resort to recruiting new students now that everyone and his brother have stopped thinking of a law degree as a ticket to happiness and riches.

The U.S. has a glut of doctors and dentists, but this fall’s teacher shortage is expected to be even worse than last year’s.

Despite the two big teachers’ unions’ support for national boards of certification, I’m still not going to hold my breath until teaching becomes a real profession like medicine or law.

An op-ed article in today’s paper says that businesses now value liberal arts majors more than narrowly-trained careerists. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before, too.

Monday, July 14, 1986

6 PM. My throat was so incredibly sore last night that every time I swallowed, I was hit with a pain like a knife cutting me.

This morning I decided I wanted to see a doctor, just in case this was a bacterial infection like strep throat. So I went to the first walk-in medical clinic I’ve ever noticed in New York City, one on 72nd and Columbus.

My temperature was normal, my pressure was a little elevated, and of course the doctor found my throat was very inflamed, with bad postnasal drip.

To test for a bacterial infection, he took a throat culture and will tell me Wednesday if it’s positive. In the meantime, I’ve started taking amoxicillin to knock out the infection (if there is one) and a decongestant; I got the prescription at the clinic, and the bill came to over $90, yet I can’t complain because I feel relieved.

I don’t feel better yet – each swallow is still torture – but just now I took only my second capsule of the antibiotic.

Teresa called an hour ago from the airport in Rochester to say that she would be home soon. And Anna is coming over, too.

I expect Teresa will have her friends here most nights since she can’t stand not having a crowd around her. Oh well, it’s her apartment.

I’ve begun to think about returning to Florida next month. Despite the FIT job, if I can’t find an apartment for a reasonable rent, it’s not worth it for me to remain in New York.

If I’d never heard from FIT, I’d be planning (as I had been in May) to leave the city in August.

It wouldn’t be so bad to be back in Florida. For a couple of months, it would be very hot, but I’ve missed two-thirds of the hot season, and by late October, it would start to be beautiful just as it begins to get cold here.

I’m sure I could find some way to earn extra money, and my living expenses would be much lower than they are in New York City. I could stay with my parents until I had some form of income.

Living in Davie wouldn’t be easy, but I’d have my own room and easy access to a car. Anyway, it’s not such a terrible alternative.

All things being equal, I’d be just as happy in Florida this fall as I would be in New York. Maybe I don’t need the stress of the city and rush hour commutes.

Because I’m sick, I canceled my dental appointment and my visit to Grandma.

I’m hoping I don’t disturb Teresa, but I would understand if she considers my presence here a real drag.

The best thing to get Teresa’s mind off things would be for Anna and some of her other friends to come over here and get her drunk and/or stoned.

New York contained an interesting article, “Can Movies Be Saved?,” about the current massification and infantilization of movies.

I see no hope. Jack Nicholson said that when he saw Ferris Bueller, he felt totally alienated from what today’s movies are all about (and he also felt about 129 years old).

As David Denby asked in the New York article, why do film producers think kids only want to see films about kids?

What’s happening to the movies is similar to the blockbuster syndrome in publishing. Like the old-time New York book publishers, the Hollywood movie moguls in the ’30s and ’40s were also primarily interested in making money, but somehow they were interested in more than that. Now profits are king.

Again, the only solution I can see is for society to change. But I am more and more convinced that only a major economic trauma will cause that to happen.

While Reagan may be smooth and soothing, all the country’s economic problems have been swept under the rug, and they can’t stay there forever.

Today the Dow fell another 28 points. I guess I must sound pretty perverse, cheering on a new stock market crash and Great Depression, but I believe that would do good as well as harm.

The poor and the homeless won’t be any worse off. Maybe it’s time rich people suffered along with them.

Wednesday, July 16, 1986

1 PM. My Computer and Writing teacher was absent yesterday, and Prof. Robbie McClintock took her place, lecturing on DOS. While some of it was familiar to me, I learned a lot about the PC-XT’s hard disk drive and how to work with it.

After class, I went up to the library and wrote for twenty minutes; then I had some pizza at Broadway and 111th before coming home with some Korean salad bar goodies.

I thought I’d feel more energetic today than I actually do; I’m still real lethargic, and after reading a USA Today interview with a woman who died a week later of AIDS, I began to worry.

She said she had a bad cold last year, and that’s how her AIDS started (she contracted it from her bisexual lover who died a year ago).

I called up a city hotline about HTLV-III antibody testing, and the woman in charge asked me if I was in a high-risk group.

When I told her I was gay, she said the test wouldn’t be accurate if I’d “taken in semen” in the last three months, and when I said I hadn’t, she told me I’d have to think about how I’d react to a positive result: “I’ve seen a lot of people who beforehand are sure they can handle it, but when it comes down to it, they fall apart.”

Still, a negative test result would make me feel very relieved. Because I’ve never directly “taken in semen” – by mouth or anus – I would think I’m probably not at risk, but I am worried about my health.

Never before in my adult life have I had four colds or viruses within one year as I have since last summer. If this was 1976, I probably wouldn’t be concerned.

But if I do have AIDS now or will get it, is it important for me to know ahead of time, before I get really sick?

Is there really any psychological preparation I can make for a fatal diagnosis? Would I do anything differently?

To all these questions, my answer is that I’m not sure.

I’ve been living pretty much in the here-and-now anyway, not worrying about the future or permanence. Maybe there’s no sense in making it all happen faster . . . if it’s going to happen.

Maybe I’m just depressed now because of my low energy level. If I just have a bug and it goes away soon, I’ll feel a lot better.

Teresa will be home tonight, but I spoke to her in Fire Island last night. She finally called Michael and was stunned that he was polite and wanted to come out to Fire Island this weekend and talk things over.

Well, I’m not surprised because Michael never knows what he wants. Teresa is obviously hoping against hope for reconciliation. She’d settle for less now, clearly.

I figure it could go either way, and that for Teresa’s sake, a clean break might be best. But she loves him and knows how hard it will be to find someone else.

Friday, July 18, 1986

8 PM. Although I had more energy yesterday and today, I still feel some lingering effects from my illness.

When Teresa called yesterday morning, she said, “Everything’s changed.”

I was speechless when she told me that on Wednesday, the Comptroller’s press secretary had flown down from Albany to tell Teresa that she had been fired.

He said that it was because she wasn’t a technician and couldn’t analyze the results of audits. Yesterday, when Teresa went in to see the Comptroller, he said the same thing.

Naturally, Teresa was stunned because there was no warning. She doesn’t believe the business about there being “a bad fit” between her qualifications and the job responsibilities, and she called Frank to see what he could find out.

Frank reacted, Teresa said, like a parent, accusing her of screwing up and being bossy, not getting along with people, and being interested only in the glamour of politics.

This could be a “hit” on the guy who hired her, Teresa told me, because the press secretary hates him. She said the press secretary always seemed to despise her.

I didn’t know what to say or think.

They’ve resisted all her entreaties to stay on; she’ll get a month’s severance pay, and she wants to make sure she can collect unemployment.

“So now we’re back to my usual summer: no boyfriend and no job,” said Teresa.

And she asked me not to “go anywhere” – because now she needs me here to help her with expenses.

But whatever happens, I won’t stay here past August; I can’t go through the fall of 1984 all over again. Either I’ll return to Florida a month from now, or I’ll find a sublet or live at the Teachers College dorm.

But I need my own space, and it’s clear that even if Teresa and Michael repair their relationship (they’re at the beach this weekend, and he had lunch with her yesterday after hearing her news), Michael doesn’t want to live with her the way they lived together from last fall to July 4th.

It’s tough on Teresa to lose her job right after the breakup. As she says, only six months on a job looks worse than no job at all, and now that she’s worked for a Republican, Democratic officials will be wary of hiring her.

This past winter, Teresa really seemed to be “together”; now I worry that she’ll fall apart. Despite her bluster, she has very little self-confidence.

Anyway, in comparing myself to Teresa, to Rick, to Ronna, and even to Josh, I really have to count my blessings.

Yesterday morning I worked out, and in the afternoon I worked on my credit cards and bank statements, moving money around the way I like to. Unless I’ve totally outsmarted myself, I think I’ve done real well with my credit cards and bank accounts.

At 3 PM yesterday, I wrote my log on a computer in the CCIMS lab.

Mark Sherry gave me a copy of Proteus, an idea processor with prewriting strategies for the IBM PC, to review for EPIE, before I headed to class. I was glad that Ms. Heebner was back teaching us.

This afternoon I was back in the computer lab, printing out my journals for class and writing today’s entry.

Because I’m childlike and careless, I tend to be much more relaxed with computers and word processing than my more “adult” classmates, who fret over details I consider unimportant.

My main goals are to enjoy myself by learning and exploration, and if I screw up, it doesn’t bother me: I go blithely on my way. I like that about myself.

It’s also the way I write fiction, and I can’t worry about not being a graceful stylist or a popular author; I’ve got to follow my instincts, silly as they may seem.

Anyway, I’ve been having fun the last couple of days. With the apartment to myself, I’ve been staying up late, sleeping late, eating okay, etc. Today I even sat out in the sun in Riverside Park for half an hour.

I’ve been in New York City for eleven weeks now, and even if I’m staying only another four weeks, this summer will have been a valuable experience. (And fun, too!)

Sunday, July 20, 1986

7 PM. I see from the top of the page that today is the 17th anniversary of the moon landing, which was also on a Sunday, back in 1969.

That day, and that summer, are very clear in my memory. Not only did I begin college and start a new life after being a housebound agoraphobic, but I also began keeping a diary.

Sixteen years of diary-keeping, day after day: not a bad record.

This was a fun weekend although my throat became very sore again yesterday. By the time I got to Justin’s, I had once again convinced myself that I was dying of AIDS.

After Justin got through playing with a spreadsheet on his Commodore (computers are so seductive that they can make normally polite people rude, as Justin admitted he was), he basically talked me out of it.

He’s good at that because he has the same fears about AIDS every time he gets sick.

Justin reminded me that I’ve had only one possible contact – Sean – and that I hadn’t, as the expression goes, “take in semen.”

We actually ended up having quite a good talk about a lot of subjects – from the Supreme Court ruling and the pornography commission to Justin’s decision to leave individual therapy and to continue just with group.

(His decision is based more on money than anything, and of course, his shrink doesn’t like the idea: they never do.)

I really enjoyed our dinner at the Yuppie-ish Tex-Mex Santa Fe Grill on Seventh Avenue and then the Brooklyn Philharmonic concert of Italian opera selections at the Prospect Park bandshell.

Because I’ve mostly stayed home on Saturday nights lately, this outing seemed like a real treat – even though my throat hurt worse and worse during the evening.

After the concert ended, Justin walked with me through the park to Grand Army Plaza, where I got the subway.

Back home at 11:30 PM, I gargled, took a double dose of amoxicillin (stupidly, I’d gotten lax about taking it), and read the Sunday Times.

I was too wound up to get to sleep till about 3 AM, but when morning arrived, my throat felt better.

Mom called to tell me that I was in the Tropic editor’s column about their bonus literary quiz. No, I didn’t win, but I was runner-up to a 17-year-old Port St. Lucie girl (who must be quite a brain), and we were the only entrants to even come close.

I was described as “a prominent curmudgeon” (when Mom asked me what that meant, I said, “An old kvetch”), and the column discussed my Davenport-as-U.S-capital and Committee for Immediate Nuclear War ideas, as well as Eating at Arby’s.

I knew I’d get mentioned for the originality of my thinking; making relationships between literary names is a high-level cognitive skill.

This recognition has made me feel better about myself, similar to the way I felt last year when I scored in the 99th percentile in the National Teachers Examination in English.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Times Square and see if I can get Sunday’s Miami Herald at the out-of-town newsstand.

Josh came over at 1 PM today, and after having lunch, we walked over to the flea market at 77th and Columbus to look for a replacement for his broken kitchen clock.

Josh is still very wary about my credit card ideas and my lifestyle in general. Maybe I’ll regret the way I’ve lived my life the past few years, but I think I can see things that other people can’t.

Teresa called and said that after a hellish day with Michael yesterday, he finally left for good on the ferry last night. Michael was very nasty, she reported, and said he prefers being alone to being with her.

Teresa’s in bad shape, and I wish I could help her, but I can’t stay here and live with her for the fall. Back two years ago, it seemed like a little adventure, but I remember how crazy it made me not to have any privacy.

It will be very hard for me to tell her I’m leaving, though.