A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1988


Saturday, June 11, 1988

9 PM. I was anticipating seeing Ronna last night, and when she called at 6 PM, Ronna told me she’d be over within the hour. She said she was very tired, and I said, jokingly, “Well, don’t fall asleep before you get here.” But she did.

At 7:30 PM, I phoned to see why she wasn’t here yet; half of me figured I’d get her machine, that she was on her way, and the other half figured I’d wake up her up – and that half was right.

I told her I was very hungry and would get dinner by myself, and that it was probably best to call off our evening. I felt annoyed and hurt, but I wasn’t nasty; certainly I could understand if she felt sleepy.

She said she’d try to call me later, and I left the apartment to get some food.

As I walked to H&H to buy bagels and tuna salad, I thought about the situation: I’d been in New York for over five weeks, and unlike all my other friends, Ronna not been able to get to see me – and when she finally made a date with me, she stood me up because she’d fallen asleep!

I couldn’t imagine this happening with anyone else, and I became very upset.

When Ronna called back, I was finishing my dinner.

She, of course, felt terrible about falling asleep, and I didn’t want to play the heavy, but I did put to her the things that I had thought about: Maybe she was trying to avoid seeing me because she was angry or maybe she just didn’t want to be friends anymore?

She said we probably needed to talk, and she came over half an hour later.

Ronna and I sat in the living room and tried to talk out our difficulties. I told her I could understand her hostile feelings toward me: here’s this guy who goes away for seven months and then he expects me to drop everything when he snaps his fingers. . .

Except it isn’t that way, and Ronna said she didn’t really feel that.

I told her I don’t want to take advantage of her, but that if her goals are marriage and children – which she said they were – then she had to understand that I wanted neither.

Ronna told me I’d explained this before and she wasn’t denying the validity of my feelings. She hasn’t been seeing anyone, not even Jordan – although they’re good friends and sleep together once or twice a year, and after they do, he asks her to marry him.

Well, Jordan is perfect, I said: like you, he wants marriage and kids, and he’s got a stable, very high-paying job which could easily support you both, and the two of you have similar values. . .

But Ronna said she didn’t want to get married that badly, that she knows she would never be happily married to Jordan.

Obviously, that’s between them, but I did say, “So you’re seeing two guys, neither of whom you’re going to marry.”

Ronna said that Jordan and I were her friends, and besides, she’s dating: she put an ad in Jewish Week and has been meeting people from that. And seeing me doesn’t interfere with her dating.

I still wondered whether Ronna really wants marriage and kids if she’s doing things (seeing me) that aren’t productive of that goal. I wish she would get married so we could just be friends and eliminate the sexual tension.

Ronna did admit that bringing up the possibility of my moving in with her may have made her a bit reluctant to see me and talk about the proposal. After I told her why I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea, she basically agreed with me.

Lori will be getting married around Thanksgiving, and although lately she’s been staying mostly at Alex’s, she plans to continue paying her share of the rent until the wedding.

Ronna discovered she likes living alone, but she doesn’t think she can swing the rent on her present salary, so she’ll probably have to find a roommate. Ronna intends to keep her name alone on the lease, though.

She asked her father if he wanted to buy her apartment; he didn’t, and he advised her to get a higher-paying job. “But you like to be comfortable,” her father said, “and let’s face it, your personality isn’t shot from guns.”

Mr. Caplan is such an asshole for saying that, but I know what he means: Ronna is low-key, plodding, not very ambitious, and an underachiever.

To me, that’s just the way she is, and if she were a hard-driving career woman, she wouldn’t be Ronna. But sometimes I do think she’s a bit lethargic.

Anyway, we continued to talk, and then we watched the rerun of the last episode of St. Elsewhere.

I walked her home at midnight, feeling grateful that she’d promised to sleep at home because Lori was going to be there while Alex had to be out of town at the NBA playoffs.

I kissed Ronna goodnight, but I didn’t want to get into anything heavier than that – for my sake as well as hers. And we’ll see where things go from here.

Today I exercised, read all my course material and wrote most of my high school lesson plan on AIDS. I also spoke with Josh and with Pete, who read me the letter he wrote to the NYU chairman refuting the points in Susan’s observation report of his creative writing class.

(Since Pete and Susan are both my friends, I am making sure I don’t get involved any further than being a listener.)

Sunday, June 12, 1988

10:30 PM. I’ve just walked back from Tony Vellela’s apartment on 107th and Amsterdam, where I attended the second meeting of the writers and directors for The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Debate, the revue about the election that Anson Fife is coordinating.

I don’t know how it will work out, but I’m interested.

Tony Vellela is about 40, and he’s just published a book on student activism in the ’80s and ’90s [sic]; his apartment was furnished in West Side radical/intellectual style.

There were three guys about 23 who seemed to know each other, probably from college: Mark, a political columnist who worked for the Naples Daily News in Florida, and Andrew and Joe, who are both directors. I figure they’re new to New York and struggling because they all live in Park Slope or Astoria.

And there were a couple of Jewishy guys about my age: Mark (another one) and Gary. They laughed at my shtick, so we’ll probably work it in as a discrete standup routine during the evening.

It should be easy for me to work on because the material is already there, mostly; I’ve dined out on my war stories for years, so to speak. What I’ve got to do is write it down and play it like Spaulding Gray or Mark Russell or Mort Sahl.

I’m sure I can do it although I expect to have great stage fright – but I’m also sure I can overcome that.

Of course, my big fantasy is that I’ll be “discovered” and be en route to stardom. Fat chance.

The real chance is that I will discover that I can perform onstage and then struggle in obscurity for years. But it beats beating my head against the wall trying to write something to please a New York publisher.

Anson read an inspired piece – featuring the reluctant lame duck Ronald Reagan as Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard – that worked perfectly.

Some of the other sketches, like one on Bush’s and Dukakis’s worst nightmares, dragged a bit and lacked focus, but all had some good jokes and clever satire.

It might be a lot of fun to work with a sharp group of people who seem nice on a project like this. Next Sunday I’ll meet with Anson and show him what I’ve got. We’ll see what happens.

Last night I read half the Sunday Times before falling asleep around 1 AM. Up at 9 AM, I exercised, watched the news shows, did the laundry.

Josh came over at 1 PM and after going out to lunch, we spent a couple of hours walking and sitting in Riverside Park.

He talked endlessly about the people following him, and although it does sound crazy, I tend to believe that much of this is really happening, especially since Artie and others have noticed these people when they’re with Josh.

Still, I’d like to see some evidence of this myself.

Josh does seem more relaxed about it, though, as it’s become routine, “almost comical.” He now thinks they’re not after money or going to beat him up, but instead they just want to scare him, and that it’s almost a goof to these people.

I still don’t understand how Phil Straniere can coordinate from eight to twelve people and have them follow Josh or wait for him at his home or workplace. It doesn’t make sense from a logistical, not to mention a logical, point of view.

Josh does occasionally get off the subject and talk about other things. And he doesn’t seem nuts.

Monday, June 13, 1988

7 PM in Rockaway.

Up early this morning, I went to Teachers College after my usual routine of Body Electric, the Times, and a shower. It took about an hour going from office to office, but I’ve got my student loan check for about $3500 which will be mailed to me by the end of the month.

It turned quite hot today, reaching 93° – and the next few days are supposed to become more humid.

Teresa called late last night from Fire Island, first from her hammock and later right by the ocean, as she was testing how far she could go with her new cord-free phone.

The party for the wedding went very well although the guests gobbled up all the food very quickly and the hosts complained about the $1000 Teresa added to the bill because of the extra guests.

Despite many hours of hard work, that $1000 is all Teresa will net after she’s finished paying her help and taking out the money for supplies.

Her friend Kevin’s stay for the weekend turned out to be a disaster. He said he couldn’t deal with what he said was the “JAP-iness” of the place, and Teresa called him anti-Semitic and encouraged him to go home early.

She really didn’t want to go into the chicken store today, and now that she’s happily ensconced in Fair Harbor, I believe she might quit before long.

She said she’ll ask get Brian to help her put in the air conditioner this evening; I hope it works because I don’t want to spend the money to buy a new one. But it is a very old machine.

Teresa said she may not be home tomorrow night, but if it’s really hot, I may stay here at the beach, too.

I arrived here about an hour ago after a long and somewhat painful dental appointment in Brooklyn. Dr. Hersh filled one deep cavity and gave me a gum treatment so harsh that I bled very badly.

He cut away a lot, but hopefully it will heal better, and I’ll keep trying to use Interplak, Listerine and dental floss for better gum care.

The dentist cost $85, and then at Deutsch Pharmacy, I paid Joel $46 for my prescription of Triavil 2/10 and another $72 for Mom’s bill – so I was glad I’d withdrawn $200 from my First Interstate checking account from a Cirrus ATM this morning.

This week I’ve got to write my sex education position paper and type up my high school AIDS lesson plan for class on Saturday, and I need to write some monologues to show Anson on Sunday. Maybe I can do the writing here at the beach.

It took me a long time to get here, and I just had a little tunafish, served by Grandma Ethel before she went out to a meeting.

Saturday, June 18, 1988

8 AM. Ronna proved very dependable last night. She was ready at 7 PM when I came to pick her up, and we had a pleasant dinner at Empire Szechuan Gourmet, discussing this and that.

I wanted to get in early, and Ronna said she would walk me home.

Of course, I invited her up, and after she went to the bathroom (the way she always does after eating Chinese food), she came over to me while I was on the bed watching TV and we began to cuddle and kiss.

Things got more intense, and naturally we ended up making love.

It was really good being intimate with someone again, and I’m sure it was good for Ronna, too. Last week I had my doubts about our resuming a sexual relationship, but I think we can manage it all right.

After Ronna left at around 10 PM, I managed to sleep pretty well, and I’m ready for the final AIDS Education and Human Sexuality all-day session.


8 PM. I feel a sense of accomplishment, having completed the AIDS Education class today.

This course was something completely removed from English, creative writing, or computer education, but I proved I could do well in an unfamiliar subject, and I did learn a lot – both cognitively and emotionally.

When I got to school this morning, I was the first one in the classroom, so I helped Lilliam bring in the TV and VCR.

Those taking the course for three credits left to take the final exam while the rest of us watched scenes from the Whoopi Goldberg special: two monologues that illustrated points about self-esteem.

Our morning speaker was a man from the HIV Project at Columbia-Presbyterian who works on AIDS education among New York City’s large runaway teenager population.

He gave us a lot of information about runaways, many of whom are gay – obviously, there’s a whole community that deals with the problem, and I’m sure we could only skim the surface – and talked about what kinds of AIDS education is effective with these kids.

We had an hour for lunch, and I went out by myself, walking down Broadway to Amy’s on 113rd, where I had a salad-in-a-pita.

In the afternoon, we had a dynamic speaker, a woman from the Board of Health who’s been a GMHC volunteer for many years.

She really put the HIV epidemic in perspective. We discussed everything from the Masters/Johnson/Kolodny overreaction to the Cosmopolitan/Dr. Robert Gould underreaction regarding heterosexual transmission.

As the speaker pointed out, there’s nothing gay men can do together that heterosexual couples cannot: straight couples can have anal and oral intercourse, mutually masturbate, have orgies, etc. – and they can also have penis/vagina and mouth/vagina contact.

She explained why a mosquito can’t transmit AIDS, discussed all the drug modalities from AZT to AL-721 to Antabuse to pentamidine mist, talked about the problems of drug studies and vaccine trials, and concluded that, at best, AIDS will be affecting people for the next twenty years.

And she blew away HIV antibody testing by saying that a negative result tells you only that you haven’t been exposed to the virus for 14 to 42 (!) months before the test.

Education and AIDS prevention is crucial, but because of the long incubation period, it will take till 1992 or 1993 before we learn if current AIDS prevention programs are working.

We ended the course by looking at two Board of Ed videos on HIV narrated by Rae Dawn Chong; both are flawed in that they refer to AIDS “victims” (rather than PWAs) and risk “groups” (rather than risk behaviors).

The second video had to be substituted for the first after New York City community groups objected that it didn’t stress abstinence enough.

Again and again, we see that public health measures are inextricably tied up with politics. Even AIDS – the “disease” – is a political construct.

Learning how Haitians got categorized as a risk group teaches that racism and international politics triumph over science and common sense.

And it appears we humans gave AIDS to the African green monkeys, not the other way around.

Jesus, what a fucked-up world. But at least there are people like the GMHC volunteer who spoke so eloquently to us today.

The other day I got so upset when I read that the Southern Baptist Convention not only declared homosexuality the worst of sins and perversions but blamed gays for AIDS, “a disease which has now spread to innocent [sic] people.”

To me, Southern Baptists are the abnormal and unnatural ones.

Monday, June 20, 1988

4 PM. It’s a hot, muggy day again, and it’s expected to remain like this for the rest of the week. The weather here is about like the weather in Florida, except it cools off a bit at night, so Dad shouldn’t have too difficult a time adjusting to being in New York.

He called from the Bugle Boy office in the Empire State Building this morning and said he’d call back about 6 PM, when he’s finished seeing his appointments.

I spoke to Ronna last night, and she said she had “as good a time as could be expected” at her father’s on Saturday. Next week she takes her vacation; she and Ellen are driving to Maine, with a stopover at her cousin’s in New Hampshire.

I called Justin, but he’d just come in and sounded breathless, so I let him go. With the move coming up at the end of the month, I know how busy he is.

I also left a message with Harold last night. Then, after finishing the Times Book Review, I fell asleep and had a good night.

Up at 8 AM, I exercised and read the paper and called Sat Darshan to make a date for lunch.

Meeting her at her building on Lexington and 50th at noon, we went to a health food restaurant. Because there aren’t many places in the neighborhood where she can eat, Sat Darshan usually brown-bags it.

There was a problem with the INS that will delay the children’s arrival. It seemed that an immigration official questioned the judge’s decision about custody.

The girls’ mother is dead, and they’ve been abandoned by their father, a blind beggar – but the Madras judge’s opinion didn’t state specifically that the father was giving up all claims.

Basically, the INS is afraid to issue a visa because of the possibility of the father’s claiming the kids or kidnapping them. That’s not likely, of course.

Sat Darshan’s lawyer needs a new document from the Indian judge in Tamil Nadu to send to INS, who will then send a visa by very slow diplomatic courier.

Anyway, the process will be delayed at least a month. While the agency told Sat Darshan it would be faster if she came to India to pick up the kids, she doesn’t want to travel there alone.

We also talked about other stuff over lunch: I’d read about a 16% unemployment rate in Bremen, and Sat Darshan said that the southern states of West Germany, like Bavaria, were doing much better economically than the depressed North, where the shipbuilding, coal and steel industries have been hard hit.

By 1992, Sat Darshan said, there should be a United States of Europe among the European Community nations, with one European passport and almost all national barriers falling.

I find I can chat as easily with Sat Darshan as I could when she was Avis, and I enjoyed the hour we spent together.

After taking out some cash advances on my credit cards, I returned home via the Third Avenue and 86th Street buses. There’s a great deal of high-rise office construction on Third and Lex in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; I especially like Philip Johnson’s elliptical building.

Teresa may be back tonight, as she has to go to work in the chicken store in the morning. I hope to get started on my monologues tomorrow, and I also have to go to Teachers College to pick up my papers.

Today’s the longest day of the year, the official start of summer.

Hey, 1988 is almost half over, and the 1980s are just about 85% in the past. The 1990s can’t come fast enough for me.