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


Sunday, May 10, 1987

1 PM. It’s a gorgeous Mother’s Day. I called Grandma Ethel to wish her a happy day, and I’ll phone Mom tonight when she gets back from work.

Yesterday I did a lot of my credit card magic, writing checks for cash advances and using ATMs. I want to get up to $10,000 in my Chemical checking account so I can put that much in American Savings Bank and so apply for another Prime+2 Visa card.

I’ve decided not to pursue a student loan for the summer and just lay out $1000 for three credits at Teachers College.

At 5 PM yesterday I walked down to Lincoln Center, meeting Alice in front of Cinema Studio, where we got tickets for the 7 PM showing of Swimming to Cambodia.

Alice looked well, though her hair is constantly getting more grey.

She treated me not only to the film but dinner outside at The Saloon, where we sat facing passersby. When a hungry homeless woman asked a man at the next table if he could give her a hunk of his sandwich, he immediately complied, probably out of guilt.

I’m still struck by the extremes of wealth and poverty on the streets of New York; I suppose I shouldn’t be, not when I read that since Reagan took office, both the ranks of the homeless and of billionaires have doubled.

Alice seemed wildly optimistic, contrasting her healthy attitudes with those of her mother.

Mrs. D is all right now, but she had a rough time in surgery, and Alice blames her mother for all of her own health problems. Alice says that if she weren’t so fat, she wouldn’t have had to go through this surgery, nor would she have heart disease, leg problems, or other ailments.

Reading Norman Cousins has convinced Alice that illness can be controlled by the emotions.

Alice’s relationship with Peter is very smooth now, and her therapist is some kind of genius who’s caring and intuitive, and an expert on interpreting dreams.

“In ten years,” Alice said, “I know that with a positive attitude, I’ll be ten years a better writer and ten years more successful.”

Alice has always believed that life is an inevitable progression onward and upward, provided you don’t think negative thoughts.

Perhaps she’s right, but I believe that while we can control our own attitudes, we can’t control much of what goes on in the world.

As I expected, Spalding Gray’s monologue in Swimming to Cambodia was excellent; the man is brilliant, and Jonathan Demme filmed his performance beautifully.

The night was gorgeous as we exited the theater. I walked Alice down to Peter’s block at West 56th Street, then strolled uptown. I love walking in the city.

The rest of the night, I read the copy of the Sunday Times I picked up at the 79th Street newsstand.


5 PM. Tom and Josh should be over in about an hour or so. It’s been a beautiful day. Although it got up to 88°, I felt quite comfortable; I guess I’m used to hotter weather by now.

Teresa spent the last two nights in Park Slope with Norton and Pam, and today she’s at her aunt’s, so I’ve had the whole weekend alone in the apartment, and that’s been nice.

I had lunch at Ronna’s. She’d already invited her friend Jane, who lives a block from here, to enjoy some of the leftovers from the first birthday party of Sid and Cara’s daughter.

Ronna was, as usual, a charming hostess and conversationalist, and Jane seemed pleasant. After they went to a street fair, I came home to read the Washington Post.

Now that everyone, including me, is wearing shorts and tank tops, Manhattan seems like a summer festival, as the ads of the 1950s used to say.

Monday, May 11, 1987

4 PM. I just returned from Brooklyn, where I had lunch with Justin and hung out for a couple of hours.

Yesterday Tom came over at about 6 PM after visiting his friend Tom McGonigle in the East Village. A few minutes later, Josh arrived.

Josh and Tom always have a lot to talk about: science fiction and crime novels, which they both love, and horror and thriller movies. While I’m interested in none of those things, I enjoy listening to their conversation.

After an hour or so, we went to Marvin Gardens, where the waitress mistook Josh for Warren Zevon.

“Who the hell is Warren Zevon?” Tom asked afterwards. He may know literature and film, but Tom is totally ignorant of contemporary music.

I think that’s where I’ve got it over Tom: I’m more well-rounded. Also, Tom is always so adamant in his opinions that sometimes I’m afraid to say I liked something he’ll have thought terrible.

I know that may sound nasty, but I really do enjoy being with Tom when he’s in town or I’m visiting New Orleans. It’s just that I’d find it hard to spend extended time with him because I get bored constantly talking about books and films.

I delivered the bad news about the Thalia to Tom and Josh: yesterday, on my way to Ronna’s, I saw that it was the theater’s last day, a victim of the greed that’s killing many West Side institutions. And so another high-rise condo or co-op goes up.

After coming back here for a little while, we went out again soon after Teresa arrived home.

Figuring that she needed some privacy, we left the apartment to walk Josh down to the 72nd Street subway.

Then I walked Tom over to his headquarters at David Goodkind’s, saying I’d call him on Tuesday. Back here, I watched TV with Teresa.

This morning, as usual, she left the apartment at 8 AM, and I also went out early, to go to Chem Bank, where I deposited some of the cash I’d gotten from ATMs, and then to the supermarket.

After watching the start of Robert McFarlane’s testimony in the Iran/Contra hearings, I read the papers and left for Brooklyn, getting the Q train at 42nd and going over the Manhattan Bridge.

It’s another gorgeous day, cooler than yesterday but still shirtsleeves weather.

After Justin met me at the door at President Street, we went upstairs, where he’d just cleaned the fish tank.

Obviously, having lived in Justin’s room for ten weeks, I have an affection for the place, so it’s always a pleasure to be there.

I noticed that Justin seems to be more of a pat rack than ever. One reason he’s probably broke all the time is that, by my standards, he buys a lot of unnecessary items.

Of course, I’m the world’s biggest cheapskate, so what do I know? To me, every additional possession is another burden. We may be living in a material world, but I’ve never been a material boy.

Justin and I had burgers at Grand Canyon, an old favorite haunt from when I lived in the neighborhood. He told me all about the trouble at the Meat and Potatoes Theater Company, from which he and others resigned and which is now just about defunct.

On our way back upstairs, Justin picked up the mail, which included photos from the L.A. production of his play (the set was great, and the actors looked like the characters) and some sample sitcom scripts from Embassy, which is interested in seeing something on spec from Justin.

Larry is coming this weekend, so hopefully I’ll finally get to meet him.

Tuesday, May 12, 1987

4 PM. Josh is supposed to be coming over after work. We’ll have dinner and then maybe we’ll see Tom, who’s eating early with David.

Alone last evening I was alone, I took advantage of a quiet apartment to catch up on my correspondence.

I phoned Mom, who told me Grandpa Nat is in the hospital with pneumonia. Given his age and condition, he could die, but so far he’s holding his own.

Aunt Sydelle’s fiancé Bill has been traveling to Chicago a lot, and recently Sydelle got a hysterical call from a 40-year-old Chicago woman who claimed she has been seeing Bill for years and who threatened she’d commit suicide if he married Sydelle.

When Bill returned, he said he’d taken care of the situation, but then he went off again, supposedly to visit his daughter in Georgia, and Sydelle didn’t hear from him for a week.

She already has gotten rid of her apartment and moved to the new apartment that she and Bill are supposed to share; their honeymoon plans are already made.

Mom said it sounds as if Sydelle is in for a bad time if she marries this guy, and I agree.

After Mom said she’d send me the big paycheck from FIU for the Teacher Ed Center workshops, I got off with her and called Mikey.

Mikey’s big news was that he and Amy are moving to a two-bedroom co-op in Riverdale that they hope to be in by late June.

Unable to afford anything in Manhattan or Westchester or even the “Collins Avenue-type Riverdale high-rises with lots of rich old people,” they settled on this third-floor apartment by the parkway.

It will be a big adjustment for them. Mikey has been living in Chelsea for over a decade, and I know how much he loves the neighborhood. But it’s a classic case of tradeoffs.

Amy is waiting to hear if she’s gotten in the M.S.W. program at Hunter; if she’s accepted, she plans to go back to school full-time.

(I didn’t inquire into Amy’s motives, figuring that like me, everyone enjoys changing careers.)

Mikey, unfortunately, hates his job at the Attorney General’s office. He misses being in the courtroom and the excitement of criminal law.

Mikey currently has only four cases, all civil law, all of them frustrating to him. Making things worse, one requires his presence in Syracuse once a week.

Nevertheless, he plans to stick it out for a year and not leave until October – which means he won’t start getting a new résumé together until after they’ve settled down in Riverdale.

Earlier in the day, Teresa left a message telling me not to freak out if she came home with Michael and saying that she’d had one of the most horrible days of her life.

She and Michael did come in while I was on the phone with Mikey, but before I knew it, they’d gone out again.

At 10:30 PM, when Teresa came back, I learned that her horrible day started when Michael phoned her at work. He’d spent the weekend in Fire Island with, of all people, Anna and Phyllis, and Anna told him that Teresa took his tuxedo pants when she moved out of his apartment. (Last week, Teresa had told me this, too.)

Teresa’s aim had been revenge: She got pleasure imagining that one day Michael would be getting out his tux for a big occasion and be unable to find the pants, thus placing him in a real pickle.

As usual, her attempts at revenge backfired. Michael told Teresa he believed Anna and Phyllis’s account of their dispute with her, and he accused Teresa of fabricating or exaggerating her story of the girls’ treachery.

Teresa spent most of the day crying, she told me.

In the evening, when I saw them coming in together, Michael was bringing over some stuff of hers and taking back his tuxedo pants. When they left here, Teresa then went out for drinks with him. (Why? My guess is masochism on both their parts.)

Knowing that Michael was now friendly with Anna and Phyllis left Teresa feeling terrible.

It seems to me that she’s met more weirdos on Fire Island – people who have caused her life to be in chaos – than I could imagine meeting in my whole lifetime.

Honestly, I don’t know anyone else who has such volatile relationships as Teresa. I don’t understand how she gets involved in such mishigass.

She says her friends think I’m peculiar, but they all seem mighty strange to me.

This morning I got out early, just as the maid came in at 8:30 AM. (I laid out the money for her.)

On a bench by Riverside Park, I read the papers, and then I went to the 42nd Street library, where I looked through this month’s issues of American Banker and The Chronicle of Higher Ed, took in the exhibit of the Constitution’s bicentennial, and had lunch across the street at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Back home, I paid a couple of bills that Mom sent, exercised, made an appointment with Dr. Hersh for next Wednesday at 2 PM (his wife said they saw my name in the paper when they were in Florida this winter), and got called in for an interview on Friday by someone with the city who got my application for the Mayor’s Graduate Student Internship Program.

I don’t know if it’s something I’d want, but going on an interview never hurts.

I also got an invitation to the PEN Awards at Goethe House on May 27.

Wednesday, May 13, 1987

4 PM. It’s a brisk, sunny day.

Last evening Josh came over in a funk. Not only did his database get screwed up at the end of the day, but he’s been getting crank calls at work from his neighbor.

The other day Josh went to see his landlord’s agent and asked if they could make a deal for a co-op, preferably in Harry’s building.

The landlord wants Josh out of his apartment, of course, so he can renovate and jack up the rent. Also, Josh is trouble for the landlord because of the $7000 suit he’s got pending with the Housing Authority or something.

In New York City, everybody is obsessed with real estate, real estate, real estate; it seems like a psychosis to me.

Josh and I went out to eat at Patzo’s, on the corner of 85th and Broadway. It’s a new Italian restaurant that replaced the Mexican restaurant that replaced the once-trendy Ancora, which opened up two years ago and is now remembered only by its name on the gaudy street clock in front of the building.

Josh told me that he likes Tom but feels Tom is “filled with useless knowledge about literature” and that he constantly engages in one-upmanship, trying to show off his superior knowledge.

Tom is certainly didactic and opinionated. Sometimes I’d like to say, “It’s only a book you’re talking about; it isn’t life.”

That would offend Tom, for to him, books are life.

Not for me. I never wanted to “filter life through a fine strainer of literary references,” the way Leon warned me against when I was still an undergraduate.

Josh and I caught up with Tom at Shakespeare & Co., where he’d gone on his way to see Swimming to Cambodia. We chatted for a bit, and then I said goodbye as Josh walked Tom downtown.

Up early this morning, I exercised and went to the laundromat to wash the quilt that Michael had brought back and which Teresa said smelled of his smoke.

I also had other errands to do, including deposit the $1175 paycheck from FIU that I got in today’s mail from Mom.

I also got a letter from Rick, who described the last New York Book Fair, where he saw George Myers, Richard Kostelanetz, Pete Cherches, the Benzene editors, Janice Eidus, Diane Kruchkow, Judy Lopatin, Maurice Kenny, Lynne Savitt, Dick Higgins . . .

Rick said it might have been the last gathering of small press veterans.

Regarding Gargoyle, “I said I was going to kill the mag, and it spread through the place like wildfire. Unreal.”

Rick wrote: “Post interview appears to be about G[retchen] and I and breakup and not about mag. I couldn’t muzzle myself. Especially now that Rod moved in with her. . .”

I guess that refers to a Washington Post story. Rod is probably Rod Tullos.

Rick said that Columbia Pictures called, wanting to have lunch with him at the American Booksellers Association convention, which is in D.C. this year.

He ended the letter: “I’m thinking of moving to Richmond for real in September. I hate my new job. I’m sick of teaching but have to. . . Like [Gary] Hart, I appear to be totally self-destructive.”

This afternoon I visited John Jay. You now have to wear your ID while you’re in the building or sign in at the visitors’ desk as I did, so it feels more like a prison than it did before.

At the English Department, Bob Crozier and Doris were both friendly, and I chatted with them for a while, telling them what I was up to in Florida.

Bob said he understood the advantages of being a big fish in a small pond and mentioned Laurence Holder, who used to teach in the SEEK program.

After moving to Arizona, Laurence got his play produced and became a commentator on local TV.

I walked around to the faculty offices and talked with Betsy and a couple of the other English factory before coming home.

Friday, May 15, 1987

6 PM. It’s Friday, and Teresa has gone to Fire Island, which means that this apartment is my sole domain for the weekend.

So far I have no plans. When Ronna returned my call last night, she said she had dates tonight and tomorrow. “I’d rather see you,” she said, “but I’ve got to think about my children.”

Ronna is right, of course. Like me, she probably realizes that getting physical last week was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated. While there was no real harm done, we both need to get on with our lives.

Yesterday’s depression lifted – or maybe just shifted direction – when I spoke with Pete Cherches.

He’s now working only the first three days of the week at two-thirds of old salary, hoping to concentrate on his many projects.

The Red Dust book will be out soon, and he just dropped off a collection at PAJ Books, who are bringing out a Ken Bernard collection next year.

Pete will be in a Between C and D anthology that Penguin Books is publishing next year; this week he’s doing his Thelonious Monk riffs at a benefit; and next week he’ll at the Knitting Factory, performing some old pieces and some new “Mother” material (“I haven’t spoken to my mother in six months”).

Pete’s crayon drawings just came out in Glassworks, and after the Harper’s piece appeared, George Plimpton phoned and invited him to submit to Paris Review’s humor contest.

With all his downtown pals getting their novels published by big New York publishers, Pete’s decided to write a straightforward novel about Tin Pan Alley songwriters.

“It’s sort of a commercial necessity,” he said.

I guess this is all striking while the irony, East Village variety, is hot.

While I feel envious of Pete’s versatility and his multitude of projects, I know I could never be that kind of writer/artist.

People think I’m trendy, but it seems to me I’ve been timing everything badly or not at all.

Maybe the times will eventually catch up to me.

Then again, I could continue to be a nobody. At least I’m a relatively happy nobody.

Even though my Sun-Tattler reading comprehension test was based on Pete’s, the humor in it was strictly South Floridian, and I don’t consider it stealing his material.

Mom sent me a xerox of the column yesterday.

Sunday, May 17, 1987

5 PM. It’s a gorgeous day: warm but not hot or humid, and as sunny as can be.

For a couple of hours I joined Ronna, Ellen and Ellen’s roommate Lauren on the roof of their building, the Cambridge House Hotel, around the corner.

We spread out a blanket and had bagels and various flavors of cream cheese, tomatoes, kiwis, watermelon and babka from Zabar’s.

The Hudson looked serene, and we could see the towers of midtown and downtown, and the George Washington Bridge in upper Manhattan, and even the faint outline of the arch of the Bayonne Bridge (of which I’ve always been particularly fond).

We all were wearing shorts and polo shirts, and we talked animatedly about comic strips and AIDS and TV shows and, of course, real estate.

Ronna had been bike-riding with Ellen this morning, and she left the roof about an hour ago because she had to change (and make sure she had on pantyhose and a blouse that covered her elbows) to visit her frum cousin and her husband in Bensonhurst.

Last evening Josh came over and told me how his landlord’s agent had showed him some miserable co-ops in Harry’s building and said they couldn’t give him the insiders’ price but would knock $25,000 off the outsiders’ price.

Josh balked at that and said he either wanted the insiders’ price or $40,000 in cash to move out of his apartment.

To me, it’s absolutely insane that anyone would pay a tenant $25,000 (the landlord’s current offer) to move from an apartment.

The real estate situation and the greed on the part of everyone from landlords and developers to rent-stabilized tenants like Josh have twisted the whole mindset of New York and distorted the values of both the city and its people.

Every day I see evidence of this, and it’s horrifying.

After Josh and I had dinner at Marvin Gardens, we walked down to the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, where we met Joyce – who looks good as a blonde – and saw Prick Up Your Ears, the story of playwright Joe Orton and his lover and murderer, Kenneth Halliwell.

I enjoyed the film, but Josh felt that like the director’s previous film, My Beautiful Laundrette, it contained gratuitous homosexual encounters.

After the movie, we went out for coffee and tea. Joyce told me she’s been shuttling back and forth between L.A., where she nominally works, and New York, where her aging in-laws – especially Ed Horman – seem to be failing.

Speaking of failing: When I mentioned Pete’s doings downtown, Josh said it made him feel like a failure by comparison.

“Cherches is doing the right thing,” Josh said, “concentrating on his art and no worrying about money or security.”

After we all said goodnight, I walked home, picking up the Times on the way. It was about 1:30 AM when I got in, and I stayed up reading until 5 AM.

Monday, May 18, 1987

3 PM. I just put a load of my clothes into the washer in the basement after getting back from Amsterdam Avenue, where I got some pizza (at Cesar’s, the old Hispanic place, not at Chez David, the shiny new kosher pizza and falafel restaurant across the street).

Amsterdam Avenue is obviously in flux now between the world of the old black and Puerto Rican residents and the newly-gentrified boutiques and bistros. You know who’ll come out ahead.

Yet I feel the day of reckoning for New York City is fast approaching.

Alone among my friends, I’m convinced that the boom will turn to bust, even in housing prices.

New York City has gotten to be too dependent on one industry – financial services, with its manipulation of the markets – while manufacturing jobs are on a sharp decline.

(The biggest thing manufactured in Manhattan is debt, with lawsuits a close second.)

When the next recession begins – if it’s as bad as I think it will be – it may be 1974 all over again in the Big Apple.

Why is it that I look forward to an economic collapse? As I’ve said many times, I’ve got nothing to lose.

And I assume that in a devastating recession all my debts will be forgotten along with everyone else’s, including that of the federal government.

Tuesday, May 19, 1987

1:30 PM. Late yesterday a thunderstorm blew in, dropping the temperatures, and it’s been drizzly and chilly since then.

I haven’t left the house yet today. I’ve only just showered, following an hour of low-impact aerobics with the ESPN exercise shows.

Tonight is my first class at Teachers College, and I hope it’s not as bad as some of the courses I’ve had there, like Software Evaluation a year ago.

Reading Crain’s New York Business yesterday, I came across a series of articles about “New York’s New Crisis,” referring to the departure of Mobil and J.C. Penney from the city.

In the midst of the current boom, city officials smugly feel that these corporations can easily be replaced, and their response consists mainly of snide remarks about the new locations of the companies: Fairfax, Virginia, and Plano, Texas.

The newspaper invited business leaders to write in their views about the city economy, and before I knew it, I had composed a three-page essay with some of my feelings and thoughts; it contained some stuff I wrote in yesterday’s diary.

When I went to xerox it, the man at the copy center glanced through it and said, “This is a good article,” and asked if he could make a copy for himself.

If Crain’s doesn’t print my essay, perhaps I can turn it into an op-ed piece for the Times or Newsday.

Anyway, I may be lazy, but I turned out that essay as well as a column for the Sun-Tattler in one day, and I’m proud of that.

Last evening I phoned Harold Bakst, who is just finishing up the term at John Jay today.

In the fall, he taught at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where he found the campus more pleasant, but they needed fewer adjuncts this spring.

Harold had hoped to teach summer school, but as usual, all he’ll get are some CUNY Writing Assessment Tests to grade.

He’s still stuck in that adjunct mindset: enjoying the job but livid with anger over the poor working conditions and lack of security and benefits.

They’re trying to organize a new union for CUNY adjuncts, he says, but that’s been tried before. I feel very glad to be out of that stupid system.

Over intersession, Harold visited College Station, Texas, as a possible place to move to. But he found the people there “very different.”

Most native New Yorkers think that life here is the norm and not an aberration and so don’t realize how backward most of the country is until they go there.

Although I had to get off because Teresa came in and needed to use the phone, I told Harold I hoped we can get together soon.

Teresa and I later watched some TV together, and after she fell asleep, I went to my futon on the living room floor.

It took me hours to drift off, and then I had grotesque dreams featuring murder and decapitation.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Crain’s New York Business published my essay?