A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1984


Monday, July 23, 1984

Noon. This is the last time I’ll be writing at this desk with my window overlooking trees and fields.

I was going to go to New York tomorrow by train, but Ann-Ellen is driving into the city this afternoon, and I’ll go with her, as that will save me train fare and lots of trouble.

I’ve just finished packing. The others want to take me out to lunch in West Stockbridge in an hour. I’m glad that at dinner last night, I told everyone how wonderful it was to be with them.

If I’ve neglected to write one thing about the Millay Colony these past three weeks, it’s that I haven’t really said how the five of us have functioned like a real family, with caring and concern.

It could have been terrible here, but the four people I’ve been with have all been sweet and kind; they’re tolerated my ornery ways, my bad puns, my refusal to join in drinking and running. I haven’t felt like an outsider at all.

Emily came back yesterday afternoon with Jason and his brother, and they took me and Sue to a hidden lake where I sat in the sun and watched the women swim.

Later in the day, I wrote four pages of an essay and then had my third typing cartridge run out. That meant I did type at least fifty double-paced pages here: mostly fragments, but some substantial ones, of stories and essays.

I certainly did more writing than I would have done anywhere else.

For dinner last night, Sue and I cut up pieces of marinated lamb, tomatoes, onions and green peppers, and I put them on a skewer for shish kebab.

Afterwards, I drove us into West Stockbridge for ice cream cones. It was fun, if a little challenging, for me to drive up country roads in darkness.

Emily is “smitten” with Jason, so it seems the start of a deeper relationship for them.

Claire’s art dealer, Stephen Rosenberg, is driving up here to have a serious talk with her about her work, as he wants to represent her exclusively.

Both Emily and Claire will be heading to Cummington for August. Sue will be joining her sister’s family on Cape Cod, and Matt goes off to those places where his music will be performed.

Already the August colonists at Millay are getting mail, and Sue said it hurts her to think that there’ll be others here in our place.

Me? On Saturday night I dreamed about teaching a class at Broward Community College, and last night I dreamed about taking Florida Atlantic University computer education classes.

I’ll have nearly three weeks in good old New York and then I’ll resume my life in Florida. I’ve been gone nearly three months already, and they’ve been the best three months of my life.

You never know what tomorrow may bring, but part of the reason I write is to record – permanently, I tell myself – those good moments and hours and days.

Yeah, I’m apprehensive about the future, but I know I’ll survive – and even if I don’t, life will go on without me.

Tuesday, July 24, 1984

2 PM on a disgustingly hot and humid day in New York. I didn’t get to sleep until 5 AM and woke up with Teresa at 8 AM, so I feel pretty washed out.

Teresa wants me to be out of the apartment this evening and tonight because she’ll be seeing Frank. From this vantage point, being at the Millay Colony now would be preferable. Weirdly, I do miss being at Millay.

But one advantage of coming back to the city early was that I got to see Tom again before he returns to New Orleans. He was over here at 10 AM, and we spent a few hours together.

The NEH seminar in Buffalo turned out to be a good thing for Tom. Peter Heller, the German professor he worked with, was so impressed with Tom’s Walser paper (mostly about Walser’s self-effacement; I read it, and it was excellent) that Heller’s going to have Bouvier, a Bonn publisher, do a book on Walser by Tom: a 100-page introduction plus translations.

Now Tom will need a sabbatical from NOCCA next spring in Heidelberg to study and have more time to write.

The other NEH seminar participants were plain old high school English teachers “who took the People magazine approach to literature: they didn’t even look at the texts.”

The living conditions up there were lousy, and Tom didn’t think much of Buffalo or the campus, but he did a lot of reading. He said he’d be happy to write literary or film criticism for the rest of the year.

Tom plans to go ahead and publish the book of Eustachia stories and he hopes an American publisher will pick up the Walser book.

Tom’s visit to Toronto was a delight, as Crad is riding high these days. Although Crad incessantly complains about the city, it was clear to Tom that Crad loves Toronto dearly and feels he’s definitely a Canadian now.

Crad proudly showed Tom around Toronto, and Tom was impressed with the city’s cleanliness (“and the fact that they don’t let blacks in the city unless they have a master’s degree”).

When he met Stu Ross and others, they expressed admiration for Tom because he was the first person to publish Crad Kilodney, the spiritual father of the city’s street writers.

Crad is very proud of what he does and how he is able to live off his writing by directly selling his books to the public.

I left Tom at 76th and Columbus, saying I’d see him somewhere – maybe in New Orleans if he gets grant money for guest teachers next year – and I did some shopping and went to the post office.

Back here, I got a call from the chairman of the English Department at the University of Maine at Framingham, who told me I’m one of six finalists for a creative writing job there.

I suppose I blew it by sounding less than enthusiastic, but I really don’t think I’m the right person for this job – the students are from a rural area in northern Maine – nor do I think I’d be happy in an isolated environment where the winters must be rough.

As I told the chairman, I’ve about given up on getting a creative writing job, and I’m just as content without one. I’d rather be in South Florida doing any kind of job than be in some godforsaken place teaching undergrads creative writing.


10 PM. Teresa and I just got back from dinner. Frank canceled out on her, and the weather became much more bearable as a cold front came through, so I feel better than I did earlier.

This afternoon I lifted weights for about two hours, and that helped, too: getting all sweaty and then taking a refreshing shower.

Teresa and I went to eat at The Forest and The Sea, and then we walked down Columbus for some gelato. It’s a really beautiful evening.

Teresa’s got a lot going on now, and her latest news is that she may buy a house on Fire Island.

Tomorrow she has to see about the Brooklyn co-op deal on Ocean Parkway: the Attorney General got wind that Teresa, Perry and the others won’t be primary tenants, and that could queer the whole scheme.

The people who want to turn the building into a co-op are telling Teresa to give up her apartment in exchange for another, but I don’t understand how that would help them with the deal.

New York real estate is beyond me.

Wednesday, July 25, 1984

11 PM. The weather has turned cooler and less humid. It was a gorgeous day.

Teresa and I got up early and drove Joseph and Ed’s van into Brooklyn. Because the Attorney General wants the subtenants to have the rights to her apartment, the co-op people need Teresa to switch to a different apartment.

They explained that while it won’t help them for their count – the number of tenants they need for a co-op conversion – it will make Teresa’s current apartment okay.

We looked at a one-bedroom penthouse apartment with great views of the Jewish cemetery below, Brooklyn spread out beyond it, and the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

Teresa didn’t say yes or no to the switch and told them she had to consult her sister the lawyer.

Then Teresa kindly took me to Deutsch Pharmacy, where I picked up my Triavil 2/10, and then we drove up my old block. In summer, that part of Brooklyn still looks beautiful. Living there again wouldn’t be awful. My reaction to Brooklyn is getting less hostile these days.

Leaving me off in the Village, Teresa went to Ed and Joseph’s, where she’ll be working all week.

I spent the next couple of hours wandering around the Village and midtown, having lunch, happily fighting the crowds, taking out $500 in credit card cash advances and putting another $500 in an MHT six-month CD at 13.31% annual yield.

Coming home with the Sunday Times and Fort Lauderdale News, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading.

At 7 PM, I went over to Ronna’s, where I found her looking and feeling tired. These long days are hard on her. (In order for them to have a four-day week, they have to put in a 9½-hour day with only half-hour lunches.)

Over dinner at Hunan 94, I found myself becoming a little impatient with Ronna’s lack of swiftness.

I can’t believe neither she nor Lori are doing anything while their building goes co-op. They’re sitting on money and don’t seem to be able to bestir themselves to do anything about it.

But Ronna is such an underachiever, it’s typical of her. I wish she weren’t so laid-back and timid and could have a little of the wheeler-dealer that Teresa’s got in her.

But then again, Teresa needs some of Ronna’s thoughtful compassion. The other night in the elevator, Teresa said, “Well, I could have the house in Fire Island easier. . . if I screwed my sister out of the Berkshires house.”

Of course she was only thinking aloud, and we laughed about it, but it indicates how Teresa’s mind works.

In Ronna’s bedroom, we sat on the couch and went through delightful contortions as we made out. It was great to hold her and kiss her – boy, this sounds sappy.

Since she was tired, I left early and found a phone message from Kevin waiting for me. As usual, I couldn’t get off for more than an hour as Kevin talked on and on.

He’s been admitted to law school at Maryland, but he’s not sure he wants to spend three years of his life doing something that may not make things any better for him when it’s all over.

As an adjunct, Kevin teaches twelve courses a year and makes only $14,000 – though he says that would be okay if he could supplement his income with another $5000.

Kevin’s been having luck selling comic books at conventions and said he might want to expand that business.

I told him to follow his instincts, and we brought up different scenarios. Kevin already has four classes for the fall.

Then, of course, he quoted Thoreau and Henry James (“Most writers fail not because of lack of talent, but because of lack of integrity”) and romanticized the life of the writer.

God, Kevin is so idealistic. By comparison, I’m a hard-headed businessman. He’s naïve enough to believe that there might be a chance that his books could sell, that he could get a full-time college teaching job, that working for Mondale might pay off with a job as a press secretary to a congressman.

And he’s full of “if only’s” and actually said, “If only I had a crystal ball. . .”

I feel sorry for Kevin, but he keeps playing the same old neurotic tapes. Law school would probably be good for him.

I got a letter from Rick, who said that he got upset after dining with friends who make $30,000 a year. He envies them and bemoaned how he’ll never make that much money in his life.

Thirty thousand? Big deal! Thirty thousand is peanuts. If you’re going to envy someone, it should be someone earning $130,000.

A person making $30,000 a year in New York is taking home $330 a week. I take home that much at BCC.

You know, to my way of thinking, I lead the most enviable life I know. I’m very happy, and Teresa says that when she tells my story to her yuppie friends, they express envy.

Thursday, July 26, 1984

5 PM. It’s been another mild and sunny day.

Last night, I was very uncomfortable on the couch, so I brought the mattress onto the bedroom floor and slept better here.

In the morning I wrote back to Rick and made a lunch date with Justin for 1 PM.

When I arrived at the Eddie Murphy offices on East 63rd Street, Justin seemed to be in a buoyant mood.

We walked over to Friday’s, where I told Justin all about Millay and my plans for the coming year.

I asked him about Eddie’s publicity after a bar brawl in L.A., and as I figured, Justin did turn out to be “the source at Eddie Murphy Productions” who was quoted in the press.

Eddie’s latest film, The Best Defense, in which he “guest stars” but does not appear onscreen with Dudley Moore, got well-deserved pans – Justin said the script is awful – but it still opened very well last weekend.

However, Justin expects that the film will collapse at the box office if word of mouth is as bad as it deserves to be.

Justin himself is leaving for Reading tomorrow for a first rehearsal of Born Yesterday. He cast the play two weeks ago and is quite pleased with the principal actors, who are enthusiastic and intelligent.

Next week Justin will come back to the city when Eddie, Bob Wachs and everyone returns from shooting Beverly Hills Cop. The daily rushes look good, and Justin thinks it will do very well.

Then Justin leaves next Friday for three weeks in Reading.

The show will be his first major directing job, and Justin has been doing lots of research on 1946, the year of the play, by reading old magazines. He’s also getting ideas for the costume and stage crews.

There will be eight performances at the Sheraton’s dinner theater, and Justin said he’d send me the reviews, good or bad.

He also took my advice and applied for a Visa card – which he got – and put money in a six-month CD.

As we walked back to the office, he told me he’ll probably sign up for Chuck Marien’s directors’ workshop again in the fall, as he feels it’s been valuable so far.

After spending a couple of hours in the Hunter College library, I came home. The mail included a postcard from Miriam, who reports she’ll be in New Jersey this week. I hope to see her while she’s back East.

Saturday, July 28, 1984

7 PM. I’m tired but really happy. These past three months have been so good, it’s going to be hard to leave New York.

When I spoke to Alice today, she said, “I’m glad that you’re home,” and I guess New York will always be home to me.

Obviously, Teresa is more responsible than anyone for making this all possible, and I’m eternally grateful to her.

Last evening I met Ronna at about 8 PM on West End and 86th, and we went over to the 83rd Street Quad to see what we could see.

It turned out to be The Muppets Take Manhattan, a mildly pleasant diversion for a rainy Friday night. (The Prince fans were lined up to see the sold-out Purple Rain.)

Afterwards, Ronna and I came up here, and I managed to pry off her sneakers, socks and Purdue sweatshirt. Finally, she asked me if she could spend the night and I happily agreed. I feel myself getting an erection as I write this, so you know how excited I was.

To me, Ronna is beautiful, and I guess I compliment her often. She said Jordan never did that and instead spent a lot of time criticizing her shortcomings and how she disappointed him in not living up to her potential.

I know Ronna is an underachiever, a mite lazy, and a bit too heavy, but what purpose is served by telling her this? You’ve got to accentuate the positive, no? And she’s got so much of that.

I long ago learned that if you tell someone everything that bothers you about them, no real purpose is served. Besides, most annoyances are fleeting and will pass.

It’s not that I’m buttering up anyone, either. Ronna is totally beautiful to me.

She says our relationship over the past few months has convinced her that she should never marry Jordan because he never made her feel as good as I have.

Jordan’s parents – his mother, especially – were hypercritical of him, and I guess he just learned from them. Too bad.

Although he feels Ronna isn’t his ideal, Jordan’s had worse relationships with women in the last year and now is ready to settle down with her. But now, Ronna says, she won’t settle for that.

We spent the night in bed, and I slept well enough to surprise myself. In the morning it was good to have someone to make love with, to laugh with, to hug.

Things got pretty hot there for a while – but then we had to rush to get to our respective morning appointments.

I’ll always be gay, but I’ve never had any problem making love with women I’m attracted to and feel comfortable with.

I say I’m gay because I’m primarily attracted to males, and that I’m turned on by men’s bodies I see in the street and subway. With women, the sex takes on a more emotional tone: I need to care about them to feel sexual attraction.

Walking through the East Village to get to Pete’s apartment, I noticed signs of gentrification: a boutique and café popping up, fewer ethnics hanging out on the street.

Clearly, when Governor Cuomo referred to A Tale of Two Cities in his keynote address in San Francisco, he could have been describing New York.

More and more, there are the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, with a huge nonwhite underclass developing. That can’t lead to anything good.

Pete gave me his exquisite and funny Mondrian Tac Toe, a witty book/game combo from Purgatory Pie Press, who have managed to work with Pete on several collaborations between his zany sense of the absurd and their fine printing and binding.

We had brunch at Eat, next to the St. Mark’s Bookshop, where I was pleased to find three copies of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz up in the front of the store with the newer books; I’m on the same shelf as Raymond Carver and other hotshot writers.

Maybe I’m closer to respectability than I imagine.

Pete and Donna had a good time in San Francisco, although he finds even that city a bit too bucolic for his Manhattan tastes.

He had a good reading/performance at some local art spot, and in attendance were Paul and Kathy Fericano, Terry McMahon (who’s organizing a week-long Dada festival) and other Bay Area friends like Steve Abbott and Don Skiles, who said he admires my work.

Don has a book out with Marion Boyer, and he gave Pete a good review in American Book Review.

Pete has decided to start the NYU computer programming course in September rather than wait until January because he’s sick of proofreading and wants to get the course over with.

He may go back to the Brooklyn College tutoring scam to earn money while attending NYU, but like me, he also feels that computers are the way to go.

I just hope we’re not entering the field too late although perhaps a majority of Americans are still computer-illiterate.

The Fiction Collective old farts voted to close their new anthology to all except Collective members, so Mark Leyner’s invitation to us to submit manuscripts no longer means anything.

After watching the haircuts on Astor Place and making my way past the street vendors, I rang Alice’s bell as I watched a 12-year-old boy using her lobby to snort some coke.

She came downstairs and we went to West 8th Street, where I held her hand as she finally succumbed to getting her ears pierced.

She said she’d do it if she lost ten pounds; the pierced ears will serve as a reminder not to gain weight.

It was quick and not as painful as she thought, and afterwards, with her earlobes reddened around the silver studs, she took me iced cappuccino at Figaro.

The Colorado writers’ conference fell through because of lousy promotion – Peter’s class didn’t make – so they’re going to Virgin Islands . . . unless Alice and the other tenants’ case against the landlord of 123 Waverly comes up in court that week.

All seems to be going well for Alice, and this evening she was going to see Richard Hunt, whom she likes a great deal.

After 25 years, Alice and I still have lots to talk about, from gossip to serious discussions about our careers.

At her apartment, I admired the new pink-painted living room and the fabulous wall unit for her books, stereo, TV, VCR and answering machine.

She showed me her shelf of books by her friends and Peter’s, including my books, June and Carl’s, her cousin Mel’s The Tangled Wing, Janice’s calligraphy book, etc.

I came home feeling exhausted and ready for an early night.

I’m having lots of fun.

Monday, July 30, 1984

Noon. It’s a cool, dark and drizzly day. I’ve just come back from the post office and a few errands around the West Side.

After three months of unemployment, I can cheerfully attest to the fact that I’m not remotely bored. If I do teach at Broward Community College this fall, school will start in four weeks, and like Teresa, I may have a hard time adjusting to the idea of regular work.

Yesterday I called Lisa, who said that she can no longer live on her $14,000 BBYO salary. She called Dr. Grasso and Betty Owen, but both said there’d be no temporary positions.

I see that FAU and FIU aren’t offering that many computer education graduate courses for the fall, but I guess I can find enough to make it worth my while.

Sometimes I think I’m making a mistake by going back to Florida, for I’m giving up a lot here. Teresa even asked me to stay on, which is quite a compliment, considering I’ve been underfoot too long already.

Teresa went from a weekend in Fire Island directly to her house in the Berkshires.

Calling from Grand Central Station, she said she’d run into Mikey, who was heading to stay with his future in-laws on the Island. Yesterday I tried to contact Mikey and Amy but was unsuccessful.

I did get in touch with Brad, who last week brought his grandmother up from Florida; she’s still very ill, but he says he tries to give her hope.

It’s been fifteen years since I first met Brad, and they’ve been hard times for him. Last month he declared bankruptcy, and he’s still on welfare even though he got a part-time job afternoons as a technician at Booth Memorial Hospital near his house in Queens.

Brad hates to be reminded of his age and said he would ignore his coming birthday.

Back in the summer of 1969, when I answered his personal ad in The East Village Other, Brad seemed to have such promise: He was 23 or so (and he seemed very mature to me), was bright and healthy, had money and a new Mustang, and was about to move to Manhattan, where he had a great career in medicine ahead of him.

(That Brad seemed to have it all together back then made it both so wonderful and so scary to hear him say he was “crazy about” me, a totally messed-up 18-year-old.)

Because my contacts with Brad have been sporadic over the years, I never really understood what happened to him, but he obviously got lost along the way.

I guess drinking was a big part of his problem, and Danny, and becoming a priest: they were all part of a puzzle that I never really understood.

I can tell that Brad feels like a failure even though he still wants to play mentor to me – except now, he’s giving me advice on declaring bankruptcy to get rid of debt.

Josh called and came over with James at 7 PM. James is another case: he’s bright, handsome, sensitive and a good enough writer to have a story in The New Yorker, but his mania and depression have made him go from school to school, job to job, place to place.

Last night he seemed okay, if slightly manic: he talks an awful lot, makes sense but goes on too long, mumbles, and seems as though he’s on speed or coke (which he’s not).

Josh had a bad headache and wasn’t feeling well; we went out to get him bagels at H&H on 80th.

Josh and James were both interested in my Canon Typestar 5, which I demonstrated for them, and we talked about Bellow and Esalen and pornography.

The evening went by fast, and before I knew it, it was 10 PM and they had to go home.

I think Josh feels protective of James, who seems very fragile: maybe it’s his thinness and Mississippi drawl, but you’re sort of afraid for him as he encounters the world.

Yesterday on Broadway, I let a nuclear freeze advocate register me to vote in Manhattan. We’ll see if it goes through; they’re supposed to send the card to my P.O. box uptown.

Why did I do it? Perhaps I now need to feel a part of me is still in Manhattan – the way I registered to vote in Florida a year before I lived there.

Well, most of the day is still ahead of me, and I’ve got some stuff to do. I feel very relaxed and extremely happy right now.