A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1982


Thursday, July 1, 1982

8 PM. I’m sitting outside on the terrace. Today was a truly beautiful day, about 75° and very dry.

I’m feeling better now, but I was coughing up so much phlegm last night that this morning that I decided to see Dr. Boggiano, the first doctor I consulted when I had labyrinthitis in 1980.

Dr. Boggiano said I have bronchitis, something I used to get when I was a kid. He prescribed penicillin and some cough syrup with codeine, and I think the medication is working.

“You had to go to New York to get bronchitis?” Mom said when I called her. But I’m not sorry I came – not yet anyway. (If I get sicker, I may feel differently.)

The odd thing is that I haven’t felt as though I’m on vacation yet. The days haven’t been empty enough and I’ve had no time to myself. And, of course, I’ve been ill.

After the doctor and the druggist, I went to the bank in Bay Ridge to take out more money; I’ve spent so much on this trip, I don’t think I could come back to New York in August even if I wanted to.

From Bay Ridge, I drove over to Brooklyn College, where the air smelled sweet from the flowers and where students were practicing tai chi on the quadrangle.

LaGuardia lobby is totally empty now, and all the offices are gone as the building awaits reconstruction. The place where I spent so much of my undergrad life will essentially disappear.

I walked over to Kenilworth Place to see Sybil at her apartment and got there just as she was returning from Brighton Beach. She was very sweet and even fed me chicken soup; we had a nice long talk.

Then I went to Kings Plaza, where I was about to go to Bun ‘n’ Burger for lunch until I saw in a mirror how fat I was. I ended up going to another diner, where I settled for a salad.

At the beach every day here, I see gorgeously muscled, skinny kids. Of course, they are kids, and I’m almost middle-aged. To my grandparents, I may be a kid, but I’m at the age where I’ve got to work hard to keep my body from deteriorating.

I’m definitely going to alter my eating habits and to exercise vigorously; I’ll join a gym in Florida when I get home.

Since I now have an August-to-August lease in Sunrise, I don’t plan on leaving Florida for the year. No New York vacations except the brief visit for the publication party in the fall and maybe a week or ten days next summer. And no writer’s colony next year, either.

I want to stay put for a while after I get back. I plan to spend less time on self-aggrandizement (like publicity) and more on physical and mental growth. And doing things for other people, too. I feel less ambitious and less selfish these days.

Seeing my grandparents as they are today is kind of a shock. I used to worship them, but now they’re just stubborn, miserable and self-pitying.

Grandma Ethel isn’t sympathetic because, as Arlyne says, “she’s happy being miserable.” If she weren’t ill or if Grandpa Herb were fine, she’d be worrying about me or Wendy or Marc or Jeff. If it were simply concern, I could understand – but I resent her worrying about me; it seems more like selfishness than anything else.

Arlyne also thinks that Grandma is getting senile, and I agree; she repeats herself all the time (at least five times this morning she mentioned my loud coughing fit at midnight) and her housekeeping is sloppier than it used to be.

Once again, I tried to convince her to see a shrink, but she’s always got some excuse.

Today she called Florida to speak with Aunt Claire, who’s depressed to the point where she doesn’t want to see anyone – but she does want to see Grandma. I told Grandma to go to Florida, but I know she won’t. Marty and Arlyne have given up on her.

Arlyne, who’s been scouting out nursing homes around Sunrise for her senile mother, was the only person to whom I could say that I almost wish my grandparents would die.

“Of course, that’s the only solution,” she replied. “They’re not living now anyway.”

It’s a terrible situation: I don’t want to live to be too old. I used to be so proud of having my grandparents alive, and I knew I had something others didn’t. That’s still true, but I had an added burden as well when I lived nearby and ended up taking care of them a lot.

Could you imagine how hellish my life would have been if I’d remained in Rockaway and not moved to Florida?

I might go out to Fire Island one day this weekend. I called Teresa at Sharon’s while she and Suzie were preparing dinner there.

Teresa said that Mikey quizzed her about my personal life; she didn’t mention Sean, of course, but I guess Mikey suspects.

I haven’t been able to tell my straight male friends like Mikey, Gary, Larry and Josh about Sean because I don’t think they’d understand, though maybe I am underestimating them.

Friday, July 2, 1982

6 PM. I’ve been lying around the house most of the day; I went out only for a short drive. The exhaustion I feel seemed curious, because my cold has improved and I’m hardly coughing.

Oh: I just realized that my cough syrup has codeine in it and that’s what may be knocking me out.

I felt very homesick for Florida today. Also, this illness has brought back all my bad memories of my last year in New York. I thought a lot about not going to VCCA and going straight home to Florida, but Josh said that would be being a coward, and he’s right.

And I really don’t want to run away even though it seems pleasant to think about the summer in Florida. Now I realize I would have been much better off if I had taken a couple of courses for this term and spent the summer at home.

Money is going to be tight in any case: I’ve spent so much more than I had expected, I will barely be able to make it through the next two months. Now I really regret all my unnecessary purchases this spring. I had fantasized that I might be secure financially, but this year is not going to be that time. More struggles.

I feel I still have so far to go, and now it’s worse because I’m not that young. Really, it might be the medicine, but I feel ancient today.

On the other hand, I guess I’m very lucky just to have a job.

Still, New York has brought all my dreams to an end again; I see now that all my “progress” and “success” were illusions.

I’m going nowhere. I haven’t written good fiction in two years. I’m fat and unattractive. I don’t have much talent, and now my ambition is waning.

Everything that’s happened in the past week makes me feel just that much more insecure. And I feel like such a fraud.

Saturday, July 3, 1982

8 PM. It rained most of the day, so there was nobody on the beach around out here; I’m glad I didn’t go to Fire Island for the weekend. I probably won’t go for the day tomorrow, either.

I slept well again, dreaming about home: Florida is home now. It’s where I want to be – maybe not forever, but at least for the next few years. Certainly I could never move back to New York again.

This morning I called Elihu to find out if he wanted to get together and I found him sick with a very severe cold. After we commiserated about our illnesses, I asked Elihu about his meeting with Leon.

Elihu said that Leon thinks he’s going to be moving back to San Francisco after living here for just a few months. Leon has no friends here anymore and no family (his mother died last year and his father lives in Florida), and he’s never really been happy in New York.

Since he graduated from Brooklyn College, before now, Leon has lived here only for a few months in 1974 – the last time I saw him, when I had dinner with Avis and Mason at his Morningside Heights apartment. The rest of the time he’s been in Madison or San Francisco.

I guess I’ve never really been happy living on my own in New York, either. It’s funny, though, that so many people I know have lived here their whole lives without ever thinking of moving: Elihu himself (though he went to grad school at Brown for a couple of years), Sybil, Alice, Josh . . .

I wonder what would have happened to me if my parents had never moved to Florida. Oh, well.

Driving the length of Flatbush Avenue on the way to Brooklyn Heights, I noticed that the street is one big Liberty City: it’s pretty much all black from Kings Highway to downtown.

Actually, whatever the race of the people on the street, most of Flatbush Avenue still looks quite nice and not slummy. But it’s different than the street I grew up with.

I feel like such an outsider in New York. Nothing seems to work here: the subways, the municipal employees, the pay telephones. The rushed pace of midtown jangles my nerves.

My favorite thing about New York: the green trees and the sweet scent of flowers. Oh, and the feeling that you’re at the center of things, and that you can act any way you please, and that something exciting may happen at any time.

I went over to Josh’s to see his new Atari computer; it’s a real beauty. He programmed the computer to play jazz (“BLIND LEMON COMPUTER” said the display) and we watched some amazing graphics. Josh knows about as much BASIC as I do, so I didn’t feel like a total dodo around him.

After we went for lunch at the Cadman Diner, I drove back to Rockaway.

I’m now trying to figure out the best (i.e., cheapest and most comfortable) way to get to VCCA.

Right now I think it involves taking the shuttle from LaGuardia to D.C. National and then bussing it to Charlottesville. Perhaps I can stay overnight at the McAllisters; if not, I’ll go to a Holiday Inn. But I don’t want to fly if my head is still congested from my cold.

On Tuesday I’ll call Janie James and ask her to rent me a typewriter for my stay.

I feel a little better about myself today, but then again, I haven’t been taking the cough medicine; that codeine made me weird.

I feel improved physically, too: I’ve still got a cold, but it’s fading away. Tomorrow it will be a week, and colds usually take that long to get out of one’s system.

I talked for a long time with Grandma and Grandpa. They only want me to get married, regardless of my wishes.

Sunday, July 4, 1982

10 PM. The Fourth of July was the best day in a while. I’m feeling better and hope to be fine in a few days.

This past week was rough, but perhaps the worst is over. In another week, I’ll be out of New York, and I hope I’ll remember the good times like today.

Up early, I got a call from Mom, who said she “desperately” needs the $200 I owe for the Network One phone bill; I sent a check for $222 out right away.

Mom also read me excerpts from Cathy Lynn Grossman’s Herald article on Tom McHale’s suicide. I was mentioned and quoted briefly.

When I phoned Alice, she said I should drop by, so I drove into Manhattan (taking the Manhattan Bridge for old times’ sake), parked on Sixth Avenue, and went up to see her.

She was at work on three assigned speeches she’s supposed to give in Washington State; one of them is on writing for the inspirational market, which Alice knows nothing about.

We walked over to Kiev, a fashionable Second Avenue diner, open 24 hours and kind of East Village-y, where I had walnut and apple pancakes for brunch.

Peter had to go to Boston because his mother broke her hip; he’s hoping she’ll die because he hates her so much.

Alice and I spent a lot of time together today, talking about fame, money and success; she still thinks these things will make her happy and she envies those who are richer, more successful and more famous than she.

But Alice has always felt like that as far back as I can remember. Okay, maybe not in second grade, but by high school, certainly.

She gave me a copy of Puig’s new novel, Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages, and for a change, we didn’t argue at all. Alice will never stop being my friend, no matter how much we disagree.

From Alice’s, I walked back to the East Village to meet Pete Cherches at the outdoor Cloister Café, where he had iced espresso and I had iced red zinger tea.

We chatted about writing and he gave me a tape of his act, a copy of his latest chapbook and the new issue of High Times, which contains my favorite story of his, the Lucidity and Rickety Ricardo piece.

He’ll probably come to Florida for Labor Day weekend, as his parents have offered to pay his way down. They may pay off his student loan now that they’re relieved he quit grad school and is working.

His proofreading jobs can bring in money, so he should be okay financially for the fall.

When I got back to my car, I was worried because it was 4:45 PM and I’d promised Brad I’d be at his house by 5 PM. But because of the holiday I sailed up Sixth Avenue, across 34th Street, into the tunnel and along the LIE in record time; it was almost dreamlike, with no traffic at all.

Brad has the second floor in an attached brick house near Queens College. After chatting with his grandmother, we went to dinner at Marie’s, a cheap but satisfying old-style Italian restaurant.

Brad still hides behind jokes and puns (usually bad) and he didn’t mention the priesthood at all. (As usual, I never question him about it, either.)

We talked about this and that, and after dinner went to Flushing Meadows Park.

Strolling by the Unisphere and the old New York State pavilion, the wreck of a tower whose height terrified me in 1964 when our eighth-grade class made a trip to the World’s Fair, I told Brad every detail of my relationship with Sean, and he understood as no one else did.

Brad is having an affair with a Jewish physician who’s old for Brad (though he’s only 27) and not his type at all.

We got lost – or rather our car did – and we had to walk miles to find it, but it was fun; the park was filled with celebrating Hispanics having raucous holiday barbeques with lively salsa music.

Back at Brad’s, I met his sister Andrea and her boyfriend; she seemed to know all about me. She looks a lot like Brad, but she’s more attractive. I liked her.

Back home, Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb had a nice day as they went to visit Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris in the next building. Uncle Irving and Aunt Minnie and their grandson and Aunt Betty were also over.

Tuesday, July 6, 1982

6 PM. I feel very tired now. I don’t know if my cold is getting worse again or if I’m just tired from lack of sleep.

I stayed up very late to see the total eclipse of the moon, which (I should have known) was much less spectacular than anticipated.

My big thrill was discovering that in the middle of the night I could receive (fuzzily) TV stations from Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Salisbury, Maryland; and even Norfolk, Virginia. I wish I were in Virginia already. (Actually, I wish I were home in Florida.)

Today I called Janie James at VCCA and told her I’d be arriving by bus on Monday and asked her to rent me a typewriter.

Also, I made arrangements to fly from Washington home to Fort Lauderdale on August 2. That means that in four weeks I’ll be home. I miss Florida even though I know how hot and humid it is there while it’s mild and pleasant here.

I also made hotel reservations for Washington on Sunday.

This morning I tried to make a luncheon date with a friend. But Ronna was busy, and Gary and Mikey were out of the office.

Teresa called, saying that she and Mikey had been expecting me to come to Fire Island this past weekend.

Barbara’s mother committed suicide on Friday by jumping off a roof in Boca Raton, and Teresa and Sharon spent much of the weekend in The Pines, comforting Barbara and preparing her for the trip to the funeral in Fort Lauderdale today.

Later, Teresa phoned and said the Abrams people asked her to move to the World Trade Center tomorrow. They realize there’s no campaign work for her to do, so they probably think they’re being generous, giving Teresa a position on the Attorney General’s staff.

She, however, views it as a demotion and an insult; because they’ll now be taking out taxes, she’ll be receiving $1000 less a month. Teresa is clearly upset.

Josh, too, was upset when I spoke to him – because the magazine will not be ready today, as he’d expected. In fact, the Print Center told him they hadn’t even started on it yet.

I called Avis, who sounded fairly human; we’re meeting for lunch tomorrow.

Here in Rockaway, I really feel closer in age and temperament to my old grandparents than I do the skinny, gorgeous teenagers down at the beach. I’m fat and flabby and tired, my hairline is receding, and I still feel awful from the lingering cold.

I got two letters from Sean. In the first, he told me that his braces are coming off soon.

“It’s strange,” Sean writes, “every day I find myself wanting to call and talk to you. Then I remember you’re far, far away in another galaxy called New York. I really miss those talks we had. (This is going to sound funny, so brace yourself.) Richard, you’re very special to me and I will never forget you (and I mean never!).”

In the other letter: “I think you’re ‘neat’ (for lack of a better word, ‘neat’ will have to do). You seem to have your act together. I don’t know how to describe ‘it.’ I don’t even know what ‘it’ is, but I like it, and I like you! You’re neat!!!”

Could anything make me feel better? I think Sean is pretty neat, too, and I can never forget him.

The University of Florida accepted all of his Broward Community College credits, Sean said, and he’s being very “butch” by exercising and cycling all the way to Markham Park.

Oh, how I miss Sean! And how I wish I was really the person he thinks I am. Knowing that he loves me makes me want to be a better person.

Corny, huh?

Wednesday, July 7, 1982

4:30 PM. The TV just announced that today is the hottest day of the year. To me, accustomed to the weather in Florida, it just seems a little warm. Of course, we’re right on the beach.

Last night I slept well, and I was up early this morning.

In downtown Brooklyn, I parked my car by the Albee Square Mall and took the IRT Lexington line up to 51st Street. Avis’s building is a charming new brick structure; I waited on the benches in front of it until I saw her come out in her turban and white Sikh get-up.

We went to Alfredo’s in the Citicorp Center and had salad and manicotti for lunch. Avis looks fairly well, and she didn’t even look that bizarre – perhaps because I’m accustomed to her costume by now.

Avis (yes, I know she’s Sat Darshan these days) told me that in addition to yoga, she’s now taking up kung fu.

Yet despite her exercise regimen, she always seems to be consulting chiropractors, osteopaths and acupuncturists; it’s as if she’s a hippie hypochondriac.

“A general weakness on the right side of her body” is troubling her, but even her Sikh doctor says it’s psychosomatic.

Avis wants to leave New York, and she and Anthony (Dharma Singh) may wind up in Connecticut next year as they take courses in acupuncture. She will probably keep her job at the bank because she recognizes how overpaid she is.

On Saturday, Avis is flying to New Mexico for a two-week stay at the 3HO Women’s Camp to take courses, including one on marriage by Mrs. Yogi Bhajan.

Avis asked me about my writing, my life in Florida, and my family. She said that Jonathan’s vegetarian diet should not make him lose so much weight – if anything, vegetarians like the Sikhs tend to gain weight.

We had a pleasant, if banal, hour, and I came home to Rockaway after a few stops in Brooklyn: I got some Italian ices at Utica and Avenue H, and I bought the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise book, which I intend to start once I get to Virginia.

I still feel tired these days, and I’ve got a lot of phlegm (clear) in my system, but I should be good as new (old?) by the weekend.

Last night I spoke to Mom, who seems to be fixated on my buying Prometol to restore her parents to youthful vigor. I realize now that I can never have a serious conversation with her again.

Right now I’m going to Oceanside to see Marty and Arlyne.


11 PM. I had a very good time with my aunt and uncle. They’re the only members of my family whom I genuinely like as people and who genuinely like me. We had lots of good conversation and I had a fine meal.

Arlyne and Marty, whatever their own mishigass, seem to have their acts together – to use Sean’s term. They live the kind of life I think is decent; maybe they’re a bit materialistic, but they’re honest about it. They have two very bright and sharp kids, and though they may be quite strict about making sure Wendy and Jeffrey are independent, they obviously give them lots of nourishment.

Certainly I feel Arlyne and Marty are better role models than my parents or grandparents, for they deal with their problems. With them, I see how clearly Mom and Dad stunted my growth by giving me everything but independence and how I’m the only child who managed to break away.

Thursday, July 8, 1982

11 PM. The air-conditioner is on. Today was the first 90° day in New York so far this year. I’m used to it, but I did feel uncomfortable in Manhattan.

Teresa had said we’d get together tonight, so I drove up to her place at 2 PM and let myself in. I watched TV and read and took a nap, but by 6 PM she still hadn’t come and I didn’t know how to reach her at the new office at the World Trade Center.

Michael came down to leave a note saying that Barbara is now at her aunt’s in Florida; apparently it was awful at her stepfather’s.

I tried phoning Suzie to see if she knew Teresa’s whereabouts, but she had no idea. So, after hanging out on Broadway for an hour, I left Teresa a note and came back to Rockaway, where it’s cooler. (Teresa’s window air-conditioner hasn’t been installed yet.)

Teresa is usually fairly unreliable when it comes to plans, so I’m neither surprised nor angry. It’s just another crisis in her crisis-filled life, I’m certain.

Last night Mom read me a nice letter from Wesley thanking me for sending him Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Wes is working as a word processor and has finished a novel, which Gloria Loomis is sending around.

I called Wes today, and he and Marla invited me over Saturday afternoon. Although Gary – and I’m sure Teresa and Mikey – want me to come to Fire Island on Saturday, I know I won’t go there, as I would rather be in the city.

I’m letting most of my friends think I’m coming back in August; it will be easier to avoid seeing them now if I’ve got an excuse.

Still, during this visit, I did manage – despite my cold (which is almost all gone now) – to see, or at least call, most of my friends.

For me, it’s a lot easier if they come down to stay with me. I hope most of them will make it to Florida in the coming year.

Today I explored Manhattan and Brooklyn a little more, wandering around the East Village, browsing in bookstores, and spending a great deal of time thinking about my writing.

Being in Virginia will be a challenge. I don’t exactly know what I’m going to write at VCCA, but I have a feeling that I’ll be doing a lot of writing. If not, I’ll be terribly frustrated.

I have titles for about a dozen stories, and if nothing else, I’ll assign myself to write a story to match each title. I want to get back in the habit of writing again.

Since I wrote my last stories two years ago, I’ve changed so much, and the way I see the world has also changed; I’ve picked up both intellectual knowledge and common sense about the way the world works.

I’m very lucky. Whether I can stay as cheerful as I have been remains to be seen, but I hope I don’t lose my sense of humor – or my sense of outrage.

I may not end up a real writer – that is, a writer of literature – but I can’t imagine not writing my whole life.

I called Sean and we had a precious five-minute talk. “I miss you very much,” I told him twice.

“I’m smiling now, but you can’t see it,” he replied.

Not much was doing: he had been mowing the lawn and exercising.

He’ll be going up to Gainesville on August 17 or so with his friend Laura, so I told him “you better see me before you leave.”

“I prom-ise,” he said, and I replied, “You bet-ter” in that deliberate, singsong voice we use with each other sometimes.

“Oh yeah?” he said.

I wish I’d told him I loved him, but the words were hard to say.

Well, look at my life for a minute: there have been really big changes just in the last couple of months. Sean. My sex life. New York. I’ve learned a lot.

Tonight I sat for a while on the terrace with my grandparents, looking down at the boardwalk and beach and ocean. Odd how I’ve grown accustomed to them, to this apartment, even to their craziness.

“So this is your home?” Grandma said when I came back from Manhattan unexpectedly this evening. In a way it is.

Saturday, July 10, 1982

8 PM. This morning I slept late and then drove into the city via Queens, the Triboro Bridge and through Harlem. On Riverside Drive, I went up to see Wesley and Marla, who were being visited by Marla’s mother, Ruth, a very nice lady who lives in North Palm Beach and who’s accompanying Mrs. S. I. Newhouse on a European and Oriental tour this summer.

Wesley told me that he hasn’t spoken to his father since he quit Taplinger three years ago, and he also hasn’t spoken to his sister Ivy, who ended up marrying his old friend Stan Stokowski (the furniture-maker son of Leopold Stokowski and Gloria Vanderbilt) and living in a big farm up in Woodstock.

The only family members Wes sees now are his mother and Peter (who’s doing production design for Tootsie, which will be out at Christmas); they’re still out in the Hamptons for the summer.

Wes, Andy and James as the Commotions were doing okay musically, but they couldn’t get the better gigs. Their manager, a rich kid who sunk $12,000 into the band, finally saw them with some L.A. friends at the Ritz and decided they’d go nowhere.

Eventually Wes and the others decided to break up the band. Wes got a job as a word processor at the insurance company Guardian Life, by Union Square, and he fell in love with his machine, as he had free time at the office to do his own writing.

A story about the mental hospital he worked at became a novel that Gloria Loomis (agent to Scott and Susan) loved; hopefully it’ll be sold.

Marla just got her SAG card and is very excited about a backers’ audition tomorrow; she plays her usual dippy punk surfer type. Although she’s been out of work as a Pine Valley High School student on All My Children because Jenny ran away, she has a nice résumé and great head shots – one all-American, one continental and sexy.

Marla’s mother is a delightful woman, very with-it and patient. We went out on the grass by Riverside Drive and chatted all afternoon.

Wes and Marla saw a lot of Scott when he was writing Last Resort because Scott needed to know what life as a rock musician was like – although Wes felt the final draft didn’t ring true.

Scott got a lot of money from the movie option deals and the screenplays he wrote, but none of the movies ever got made. Paramount flew Scott out to L.A., kept him in a swanky hotel for a week, and then called him into an office where some asshole said, “Scott, bubbeleh, at Paramount we make movies, not films. You wrote a film. We wanted a movie.”

But Wes said that like his friend Howard, there are dozens of people in L.A. who make a lot of money writing screenplays that never get made; in fact, it’s not held against you if the film never materializes, and many successful screenwriters never see their work on a movie screen.

At 5 PM, I called Ronna and told her that since I was in the neighborhood, I’d drop by while she and Lori were preparing for a friends’ bachelorette party. (They were having a male stripper from Strip ’Em Silly and then going to the Hunan Balcony for dinner).

Ronna gave me Diet Pepsi and we sat in the kitchen for half an hour. (Her sister called from Brooklyn Heights because she was having trouble with Jordan’s cats not getting along with hers.)

Jordan won’t be back from Israel for a month, so Ronna is using the time to embark upon a self-improvement program of writing and exercising.

She may go down to Florida with her mother, sister and grandmother in August – Billy’s spending the summer there – and I told her to come visit me.

We hugged each other tightly when we said goodbye. Ronna is prettier than ever and I could definitely fall in love with her again.

In fact, it’s even possible I could fall in love with New York again.

As much as I might protest, a big part of my life is still here, and I’m glad it is. I wish I had more time here – so this is a good time to leave.