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


Thursday, June 21, 1984

11 PM in Rockaway, at the dining room table.

I got here at 5 PM and had dinner with Grandma Ethel, who’d been back home for a couple of hours. She told me she had gone with Marty to the dentist and then “to another place,” and I could see her struggling to recall where.

I prompted her about the cemetery, and then she felt foolish and described in depressing detail how everything was “waiting for” her at the double marker by Grandpa Herb’s grave.

Maybe she’s showing symptoms of senility in forgetting things, but it also could be possible that the the cemetery was so depressing that her mind repressed the memory of the visit.

After we had a pleasant dinner, Grandma went out at 6 PM to play cards, but I felt so tired that I opened the couch and went to bed. When Grandma came back at 9 PM, I still couldn’t move, and I just awakened now, after nearly five hours’ sleep.

I needed the sleep because last night, on Teresa’s sofa bed, I had bad insomnia.

I was awake the entire night and dozed off only at 5 AM, when it was already light out, and woke up a few hours later when Teresa came back from picking up her niece at the station.

At first, Heidi, who’s 2½, was afraid of me, but she’d just been on the LIRR and the subway for the first time, and she felt strange in a new environment. While I showered, Teresa took Heidi next door to Judy, whose three boys have a multitude of toys.

Although I felt lousy because of lack of sleep, I spent most of the day joining Teresa in playing babysitter.

Borrowing a stroller from Judy, we went out to Broadway to do some shopping and other errands. I’m sure that to the world we looked like a young married couple with their baby daughter.

Eventually, Heidi took to me: she’s a bright, funny child, and I enjoyed her presence. At Florsheim, I bought some new gym shoes, as my old ones are badly need of replacement.

Teresa looked around in Woolworth’s and delivered some marijuana from Judy to a friend who owns a shoe store, and on the way home, we got roast chicken, potato pancakes and cole slaw for lunch.

In the mail, Mom forwarded a $100 check from Poets & Writers, an honorarium for the “Fiction Writer as Publicist” piece they’ll be using in their handbook.

It’s always great to receive money unexpectedly. Perhaps the Poets & Writers book will give me a little exposure this fall.

I spoke with Pete and made a lunch date with him for Monday. Then Ronna called, and we agreed to meet tomorrow evening.

I felt a bit funny when Ronna said how much she enjoyed our last date. I did enjoy it, too, and I’m crazy about Ronna, but I don’t want to hurt her.

If I weren’t gay, I guess there’d be nothing standing in the way of our relationship; I’m sure I’d marry Ronna.

But I am gay, so it’s for the best that Ronna and I won’t ever get together permanently. I think we’re both pretty clear about that.

Leaving Teresa’s around 3 PM, I got the train to Jackson Heights and took the Q53 bus to Rockaway.

Friday, June 22, 1984

5 PM. After writing in this journal last night, I lay in bed thinking about life. You remember life. Exactly two years before, on June 21, 1982, I came to Rockaway from Florida.

It was on a Monday, and that night there was an eclipse of the moon. Grandpa Herb came out with me on the terrace to look at it at 2 AM or 3 AM. He was very frail then, clearly dying, and a few weeks later would be the last time I’d see him.

That visit was an unhappy one, mostly – I see now – because I stayed with my grandparents rather than with Teresa or another friend.

I remember how I used to get distant stations on the TV here on clear nights: channels 16 from Salisbury, Maryland; 10 from Philadelphia; 13 from Norfolk. Last night I watched a slightly fuzzy David Letterman on channel 40 from Wildwood/Atlantic City.

I thought about my future and decided that my best bet is to head back to Florida, to try to teach and get my M.Ed. in computer education.

I went back to sleep at about 3 AM and woke up six hours later to a glorious, cloudless, dry and mild day – like Florida is in February.

For once, I went out with Grandma Ethel, as she had to sign something at the bank. Then I dragged her to the supermarket just to keep her out of the house longer.

Later, while we sat on the terrace, she complained of feeling so sleepy all the time. Grandma hasn’t yet gotten the doctor’s report on her heart. Arlyne will get it today, and if it’s bad news, very likely nobody will tell Grandma.

Sometimes she appears to be dying, and yet with her sparkling new white dentures, she’s never had a nicer smile. The sad thing is that she so rarely smiles.

I see now that much of her needless worrying is due neither to her limited intelligence or lack of education.

While Grandma Ethel has great difficulty remembering things, she is sharp enough to have caught me on a minor error I made in describing a Rockaway bus route.

I left the apartment at 1 PM. On the Q53 bus to Jackson Heights, I was surrounded by adorable teenagers, including two shirtless boys in cutoffs whose lean, freckled bodies reminded me of Sean’s.

From Jackson Heights, I took the IRT Flushing line to Times Square and then the uptown local.

Tonight I’m seeing Ronna. While I do care for her very much, I hope she’s not getting too close to me because I don’t want her to get hurt.

I’ll always be more attracted to men, and though Ronna, as a woman, can give me something men can’t, I need the different kind of feeling that Sean gave me.

Justin called and invited me over to Park Slope to play Trivial Pursuit tomorrow night, but I’m not sure I’ll go. Right now, after exercising aerobically for 45 minutes, I feel tired, but I also feel uneasy.

Perhaps it’s neurotic, but I just feel that life has been going too well and I don’t deserve it. So I’ll make myself miserable to feel better, no?

Saturday, June 23, 1984

Midnight. Coming home on the 86th Street crosstown bus a little while ago, I found an ad in Section 4 of the Sunday Times for what would be my ideal job, a full-time temporary one-semester position at Nassau Community College.

From meeting James’s mother, and through her, other English teachers at NCC, I know the pay is good, the atmosphere is pleasant, and it’s only four courses per semester (and one of the courses is literature, not comp).

I just wrote a good cover letter and I’ll cross my fingers. Naturally, I don’t expect to get the job; in fact, if I did, I’d feel a few twinges about not going back to Florida.

But anyway, just applying for the job – just there being an opening – makes me feel optimistic about the future, as does an article in the same section about the end of the teacher glut.

Like Robert Ringer says in Winning Through Intimidation –a book Josh is reading now – while I may be a tortoise, what counts in life is who’s first at the finish line, not who’s ahead at the start of the race.

I feel pretty sure that eventually my income and career will catch up to that of my friends’, and I won’t always be a starving writer.

Hell, for a starving writer, I’m pretty fat, and I could probably use more lean years (though I know that these days affluent people are thinner).

Last night Ronna came over at 6 PM, looking pretty in a rose-colored dress. We had dinner at Hunan Taste on Broadway and 82nd, and then, deciding there weren’t any movies we wanted to see at the Loew’s 83rd Street Quad, we came home and stayed in bed for three hours.

It was fine for me, and I know it was good for Ronna, too. She realizes that there’s nothing permanent in this except as part of our friendship and caring for each other.

We’ve stopped short of intercourse, as if to set a limit on the sexual part of our relationship; though it seems a little silly, both of us are happy with that.

With Ronna, I feel close intellectually and physically, and we can also be kids with each other: not easy, considering our wrinkles, sagging bodies, gray hair (hers), and long memories.

If it’s not the great passion of our lives, it’s warm and fuzzy and sweet and very important to me. I walked her home at midnight.

Today I went over to Josh’s at 2 PM and we had lunch at the Cadman Diner.

Although I hadn’t expected to spend the day with him, he asked me to come along to a dinner Joyce was giving for him – it was Josh’s 31st birthday – with Artie and Vanessa.

Artie called, though, to say he was having a bad time with Vanessa, who’s violent and nearly psychotic ten days a month when she’s going through premenstrual syndrome (or so Artie claims).

Vanessa won’t see a doctor because she feels she’s too fat. “She’ll go when she loses weight,” Artie said, but I’ve been around psychotherapy long enough to smell a mass of neurotic rationalizations when they’re in front of my face.

When Artie said tonight that Vanessa often goes after him with a knife or causes horribly embarrassing scenes in public, I could see nothing ahead with disaster, especially if they go ahead with their wedding plans.

(Artie is supposedly marrying Vanessa for a pretty classic reason: to get in on her job-related medical coverage.)

Anyway, Josh and I spent the afternoon in the Heights, buying books (I got a Spanish book and a BASIC text to read at the Millay Colony), walking on the Promenade, hanging out.

At 7 PM we were at Joyce Horman’s apartment on 76th Street and Second Avenue (her in-laws live above her in the penthouse), where we had a macrobiotic dinner. I like Joyce a lot, and Artie without Vanessa was also fun, so the four of us had a good time.

Joyce served us some good food, though a steady diet of brown rice, mung beans and steamed vegetables would bore me to death.

Still, Joyce said that the macrobiotic diet has calmed her down a great deal, and I feel pretty mellow right now although that could just as well be the result of the apple pie we had for dessert or, for that matter, the agreeable company.

Joyce calls me “Grayson” because Josh has always referred to me that way, and I think she likes me. I get pretty silly sometimes, but I like to make people laugh.

Going down in the elevator with Artie (Josh stayed on, presumably to end his birthday with Joyce), I was flattered when Artie asked me if I’d ever thought of doing standup comedy.

I do like having an audience, but I suspect that’s a teacher’s disease and that I’m a lot more boring than I think I am.

Only a little more than a week before I go to Millay, and I’ve got some errands to keep me busy this week. I’ve been in New York for over eight weeks – just about two whole months – and they’ve been a happy, carefree time.

Monday, June 25, 1984

Midnight. With Teresa’s return from the beach, I’m back in the living room. It’s a cool night, and I feel pretty terrific if somewhat tired.

Last night I slept well, and this morning I decided to take care of certain things by phone or mail: changing my Northeastern flight date, getting Mom’s prescriptions from Deutsch, applying for the South Campus job at BCC.

Because Alice said she could see me only today, I put off lunch with Pete until tomorrow. Teresa drove in from Fire Island and had to go to the state Employment Service on 35th and Sixth; since I had to meet Alice near there, I tagged along on the bus.

We started a conversation that we continued a few minutes ago in her bedroom, about New York neurotics. Teresa is frustrated by the pettiness of her JAP-py Fire Island housemates: how they complain about the slightest inconvenience (like the frying pan being too small) and how utterly cheap they are.

It annoys her that they’re cheap, not out of greediness or the need to be frugal – it’s always the ones with the biggest salaries who bitch the most about some perceived unfairness in dividing up costs – but out of fear that Teresa is gypping them.

“That makes it even worse,” says Teresa. “Because they claim it’s a matter of principle, you can’t placate them with money.”

Teresa does not know whether this is an American or a Jewish or a Yuppie trait, but she’s put her finger on something. Whatever one can say about Teresa, no one could accuse her of pettiness or a lack of generosity.

Her Fire Island friends can’t understand how she can let me stay at her apartment all this time for free. Actually, I suppose there are few people as generous as Teresa.

She also told me how her friend Nancy, who makes a fortune at AmEx, can’t understand my lifestyle (“He has no roots!”) and can’t understand how Teresa can understand it.

At the Employment Service, they let her go fairly quickly, and she went down to the Unemployment office while I headed to Lex and 40th to meet Alice at her building.

When she came down to meet me in the lobby, we started walking out with a colleague of hers, who asked how we knew each other.

“We met in first grade,” said Alice, to which the woman replied, “Oh? Was that when you were a student teacher?” and then, catching Alice’s expression, added, “Or are you contemporaries?”

I guess the woman was embarrassed, because she said, “I love to kid Alice,” but I could tell she really thought Alice was much older than I.

It’s the grey hair; I don’t know why Alice – or Ronna – doesn’t color over the grey.

For lunch, we had Chinese food – naturally – and talked writing and publishing. Alice’s friend Richard Hunt, an editor at Bantam who’s 25 and has articles in PW, is doing his master’s thesis on “little presses.”

Alice said things are fine at the magazine, and with Peter too, apparently. Peter’s young adult editors seem very pleased with his work, and the two of them just came back from a weekend in Washington.

As we parted, Alice wished me a productive stay at Millay and I told her I’ll call in August when I get back to the city.

Back at home, I got mixed news in the papers I bought at Hotaling’s: There are budget cuts in the Florida community college system, but the rental market in South Florida is even better than last year’s.

When I phoned Millay, they said I should take the 10:45 AM train that gets into Hudson at 12:45 PM. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and paying the credit card bills Mom sent.

Teresa came home at 5 PM, and soon after, we drove to pick up Barbara and take her home to the East Side, after which Teresa took me out for some very good burgers at Willy’s, on 81st and Second.

The food was delicious – and I realized it was the place where I’d met Wesley Strick in September of 1978 when he told me his plans to publish With Hitler in New York with Taplinger.

After dinner, Nina went to visit Barbara and Stewart, and I took the bus down Second and the tram over to Roosevelt Island: an exhilarating three-minute ride.

Once there, a bus took me to where the Main Street Theater was, in the basement community room of some project. I had time to walk to the Queens side of the island and relax by the water for a bit.

When I went inside, Justin looked nervous and was dressed in his usual hideous way (bright red pants, wide red tie).

Boundaries isn’t a bad play – my first comment to Justin after the reading was “I’ve seen worse,” and then, of course, I laughed and told him how much I liked it – but it needs cutting.

At intermission, Ari and his friends – one of them, a Filipino guy he’ll be working with in Reading this summer, was really cute – said they found the actor playing the author character too effeminate.

In the second act, I realized they were right: his bitchy-queen manner didn’t fit a guy who was supposed to be a widower.

The only good actor in the production was Royce Rich, who was great in Moscow on the Hudson as the cop in in Bloomingdale’s when Robin Williams defects.

Justin writes well, but with no sense of present-day realities; in Justin’s plays, it’s as if the world ended with the mid-1950s.

This play, like the other, centered on a sexually repressed divorcée, a character whom I could never believe had once been married.

Judd is so unsexy and so hung up on that topic that it makes his plays arch and coy. It’s realism, but phony theatrical (Broadway) realism.

Still, he has terrific structure, and his dialogue reads well, and he’s got a Neil Simonesque flare for wisecracks. I’m sure Justin will be successful: he’s mainstream and corny and flatters audiences into believing he’s challenging them while he’s just reinforcing their beliefs.

But what do I know? I don’t even like the theater!

On the way home, I dropped off Joan Pollak on the cab ride across 57th Street, where they were filming a movie, and arrived home just as Perry was leaving.

How will I ever stand being away from the world’s most exciting city?

Tuesday, June 26, 1984

7 PM. I’m about to go out to see Mikey and Amy at their new apartment.

As I expected, I did not sleep very well last night – and at 5 AM, the light in the living room was so bright that I couldn’t stand it.

All morning, Teresa and I potchkeyed around the apartment, and then I went out to meet Pete at Battery Park, where all of Wall Street’s denizens were taking advantage of the sun and mild weather. We grabbed some salads and sodas and sat on a bench in the shade.

Pete has decided to go into the NYU computer program that Josh and Simon attended. He’ll start in January, when his mother can loosen up some funds to help him pay the $3500 tuition.

Pete’s decided that he can’t go on as a proofreader. Now, at $17,750, he’s at the top salary level, and he can’t go on any further – not that he wants to continue to be “a sieve for corporate mistakes.”

He and Donna go to San Francisco for eleven days starting on Saturday. He’s got a performance scheduled there, so I wished him good luck.

Back uptown, Teresa and I watched TV and did some shopping on Broadway.

Josh called and said angrily, “What’s so funny about telling a woman whose husband was killed in Chile that you wanted to go to El Salvador and die?”

“Nothing’s funny about it,” I said. “I was just talking and it was one of those thoughtless remarks that just come out, and I figured if I apologized, it would only make things worse, and that the best thing to do was to quickly change the subject and hope that the awkwardness would pass.”

Of course, I was wrong to say that remark in front of Joyce, but it wasn’t malicious, just thoughtless. Still, I felt annoyed with Josh for bringing it up – especially the way he did – and I terminated the conversation quickly.

Wednesday, June 27, 1984

6 PM. Teresa’s watching Another World and I’m at the kitchen table.

Last evening’s dinner was fine. I got to Mikey’s apartment at about 8 PM, when he was serving hors d’oeuvres to Larry and Judy, and Judy was already somewhat drunk on wine.

The new apartment is definitely a few steps up from West 23rd Street. They’re on the eleventh floor and have a fairly spacious living room with a fantastic view of the Trade Center and downtown. The apartment is light and airy, the kind of place I’d love to live in.

As we went downstairs to walk to the Village, I realized that Mikey’s block – West 16th between Fifth and Sixth – is one I was completely familiar with because Dad’s place was across the street on Fifth.

It was a gorgeous night, cool and bright, and the Village looked wonderful, reminding me of the many happy times I had spent there.

We ended up eating at BBQ, which replaced the beloved Cookery on the corner of University and 8th Street. The Cookery was the first Village restaurant I went to fifteen years ago.

Amy joined us late, coming from her shrink appointment; she greeted me with an effusive hug which I don’t think was phony.

During dinner, Amy felt her handbag being grabbed; it had been on the back of her chair and fell to the floor. She opened it and discovered with horror that her wallet was missing.

Behind her was this black girl about 19 who said, “What’s the matter?”

Amy looked at her and said, “My wallet is missing.”

Because of the way I was seated, the fifth wheel facing the street, I was the only person who could see what happened next: the girl let the wallet fall to the floor.

“It’s on the floor,” she said coolly, and Amy grabbed it, checking to see that everything was inside.

The girl shouted out, “Is my takeout order ready?” and walked over to the takeout counter, but she and a companion soon left, and as they passed, we all exchanged wary looks.

I admired Amy’s nerve, the way she looked the girl directly in the eye.

Dinner – barbecued chicken and ribs á la Swiss Chalet – was pleasant, and afterwards we walked back to Mikey and Amy’s.

Overhearing Judy say something about a wedding, I walked ahead with Mikey and asked if they’d set a date. “Sunday, November 11th,” he said, “and your ass is expected there.”

It will be in Roslyn – at that, Mikey made a face – and I’ll be happy to have an excuse to come up in the fall.

We all sat around for a while. Larry and Judy told me their friends in Fort Lauderdale sent them the Sunshine magazine article about me.

When they had to leave, I decided to go, too. Amy had to get up early for her new job as director of special events at City Opera, and Mikey had to be at Legal Aid at 8 AM.

He’s been looking for a new job for months, but it’s impossible to get a position with a criminal law firm and just as difficult to switch to civil law at this point in his career.

I took the M5 bus at Sixth all the way up to the corner of Riverside and 85th, but I ended up walking to Broadway with a very old lady who’d gotten on the wrong bus. We chatted, and after I told her where I was spending July, it turned out that she had been a friend of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Teresa was awake when I went into her room, but she soon fell asleep. I, too, slept well.

Today was a gorgeous day, but since tomorrow is supposed to be crummy, Teresa didn’t go out to Fire Island.

I suggested we ride out to Rockaway so I could visit my grandmother and not have to go out there on my own before I leave for the Millay Colony.

Our day worked out very well. We went to Brooklyn, where Teresa looked at her co-op on Ocean Parkway, which is really still a lovely neighborhood.

Then we stopped off at Brooklyn College, to which Teresa hadn’t been since graduation. The campus was beautifully manicured, with green grass lush on the closed-off quadrangle and a beautifully serene lily pond.

Teresa was amazed at the halls of Boylan and their antiseptic neatness: no papers or garbage anywhere, so different from when we were undergrads. LaGuardia is still empty and awaiting renovation.

On Hillel Place, we ran into Bruce, who’s adjuncting at Kingsborough now and doing as much writing as he can; he’s also still running.

Teresa and I drove down Flatbush Avenue to Rockaway, stopping to go through Breezy Point and then to the Ram’s Horn for dinner before getting to Grandma Ethel’s.

Since Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris were visiting – Tillie crochets and watches her soaps – Grandma was more sociable than usual and she complained less, though she said her angina bothered her despite a clean report from the doctor.

We stayed there a couple of hours – Teresa knows how to talk with elderly relatives – and then, after a boardwalk stroll, we drove home through Queens, then Teresa’s parents’ neighborhood in Greenpoint, and back into Queens and over the 59th Street Bridge.

We even ran into Alice (not literally) on Second Avenue as she was crossing at the light. It was a pleasant day.

Teresa is wonderful, though I’ve learned never to disagree with her about anything because she is always right.

Tonight I’m meeting Ronna at the Lincoln Center fountain after she finishes with her shrink.

Thursday, June 28, 1984

5 PM. Last night I was feeling pretty shitty when I went to meet Ronna, but she cheered me up right away as I saw her pretty figure come strolling over to the fountain.

I’d been upset about a lot of little things: feeling fat and pimply, worried about a USA Today report that Miami-Dade Community College is laying off a hundred staff members due to state budget cuts, and annoyed with Teresa after spending so much time with her.

It’s not Teresa’s fault, but I am delighted she left for the weekend tonight. It just isn’t natural that two people spend so much time together, and Teresa has such a strong personality, I sometimes feel overpowered by her.

Well, Ronna and I had a quiet, cheap dinner (falafel and hummus) at Amy’s, and then all we did was sit out at Lincoln Center and talk.

It was a very low-key evening, but as I told Ronna, it was exactly what I needed.

I really felt like being alone, but if I had to be with someone, Ronna was the best possible person because I feel I can be myself around her, and she’s so easy to be with.

We talked about our careers and our hopes and shit, and occasionally we held hands. After a bus ride up to 95th, I walked her home and we agreed to meet again tomorrow night.

I didn’t fall asleep until 4 AM, and though I had good dreams – lots of subways in my dreams – I felt icky today; it was just too much for me.

Teresa said I should stay in New York for the fall, but I could never do that. As I told Ronna, we make fun of the term “space” as in “I need my space” – but it’s a good word because it describes a real feeling.

Anyway, after two months of socializing in the Big Apple, I’ve just about it had it, and I’m glad I’m going to the Millay Colony. But I am anxious about whether I can work like a demon there.

Or am I no longer a writer?

Saturday, June 30, 1984

4 PM. I feel awful. I haven’t slept more than four hours a night for the past few nights, and I woke up with a sore throat and postnasal drip which still bother me.

It’s a miserable day, rainy and humid, and I got soaked when I went out. First I had to return the video that Ronna and I watched last night, and then I went downtown and bought a small electronic typewriter at Willoughby Peerless.

The Canon Typestar 5 was on sale for $199, but with accessories and tape, it came to $297. I feel a bit guilty about spending money I don’t have, but I guess I need a typewriter, and this model seems pretty good.

I’ve just been fooling around with it. It’s got a screen of 15 characters, and it prints out line by line, but it doesn’t really have a memory. I like the letter-quality printing it delivers, and the keyboard seems fine.

All I hope is that while I’m at Millay, I’ll write with it.

Last evening was wonderful. I met Ronna at her apartment when she was fresh from the shower following a haircut that makes her look perky.

We ate at Empire Szechuan on Broadway and talked about the usual stuff. After not finding any movies around that we both wanted to go to, we rented a video that was Ronna’s choice: Local Hero by the Scottish director Bill Forsyth.

It’s always pleasant being able to watch a movie lying down, and being with Ronna and being able to hug her during the slow parts made it even better.

I felt so tired by 11:30 PM and so disgusted by the thought of that ten-block walk up West End Avenue that I asked Ronna if she would sleep over. At first she was hesitant, but I assured her that we wouldn’t have intercourse, and then I gave her one of my t-shirts and a pair of shorts and we went to bed.

Naturally, things got pretty heavy, but we managed to control ourselves. Ronna had to be up at 8 AM to get to Brooklyn Heights early so she could help Jordan choose between two co-ops he’s thinking of buying and then to visit her friend Annette.

Luckily, Ronna was able to get to sleep right away. Despite thinking that having someone in bed next to me would make it easier for me to fall asleep, I had my usual trouble (though not any more than usual).

I got in a few hours’ sleep, and in the morning we made love – without “going all the way.” It was raining so hard, Ronna had to borrow my umbrella. Bless her for telling me not to walk her home.

Am I an insensitive oaf, playing with Ronna’s feelings? There can never be any future for us because of my gayness, and I’ve never led Ronna to believe anything else – yet I feel guilty because I’m afraid that her feelings for me will lead her to get hurt.

No wonder I feel crazy today. And, yes, a lot of it is due to my leaving on Monday. “I don’t really want to go!” a little voice in me screams. I feel so safe here, and the Millay Colony is a gamble.

Yet if I bet on safety before, I never would have left Florida for New York in April. Traveling around is hard, but – like Teresa – I’ve become adaptable and flexible.

Alice called this morning and arranged for me to meet her friend (and newest love) Richard, the 25-year-old who’s got the Oscar Dystel Fellowship at Bantam and who is working on a thesis about the small press scene.

He’ll be here in half an hour, so I’d better get dressed and try to sound coherent when he asks me questions I can’t answer.

Amazingly, half of 1984 is gone already.