This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
INDIAN SUMMER PARK SLOPE
Superstition Mountain Press Phoenix – 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Grayson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Superstition Mountain Press 4303 Cactus Road Phoenix, AZ 85032
ISBN #: 978-1-257-90031-2
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Linda and Alden
Indian Summer Park Slope
Friday, August 30, 1985
8 PM. Today left me feeling pretty crummy. I should have stayed home to wait for phone calls. As it turned out, I missed morning calls from Pratt’s Dr. Croft and Baruch’s computer lab manager, Amy Henson. I guess I can get back to them on Tuesday with no real problem, but I feel a lot of tension because of the uncertainty of my job prospects. Worse than that, though, was the shock I got at Teresa’s. I had gone there to pick up the mail. Bert Stratton, who’d come in for the weekend to see his new agent, called, and we agreed to meet at 3 PM. Fran also called, explaining that she was driving her daughter Lauren to college on Sunday, and Lauren needed the stereo speakers she’d lent to Teresa.
I said I’d stay at the apartment and she could come over soon. Then I began to wonder what Teresa would think. I soon found out because she called – and Teresa hit the ceiling when she discovered Fran’s intentions. She became that irrational self I’ve seen her be with other people (Sharon, Ed and Joseph, Mira, Bruce and Lori). “That bitch,” she screamed. “She’s doing this to be vindictive! Don’t you let her in that in that apartment!” I said I’d go along with her wishes, but when she berated me for “going along” with Fran before that, I told her, “What do you expect me to do? She’s your friend.” “Oh, no, she’s not, Richie! I wouldn’t let Barbara – or my own mother – take something out of that apartment.” But doesn’t Fran have her own set of keys? I asked. Yes, Teresa said, “but you tell her that if she goes in, I’ll have her arrested for breaking and entering!” I explained that I didn’t think such a charge would stand up in court, as she had given Fran a set of keys, and after all, the speakers were Fran’s property. Teresa only screamed that she’d find another way to “get back at Fran” and complained that Fran had brought five people to the Fire Island house that weekend.
“Calm down a little,” I said, but Teresa said she was going to call Fran and read her the riot act. Just as I left the building, eager to get away, Fran got out of a cab. I felt like a perfect fool, but I told her what Teresa said. Fran seemed totally mystified as to why Teresa wouldn’t let Lauren have her speakers back. I don’t like Fran but I believe she was right in the situation; Teresa probably figured Fran was being vindictive because that’s how Teresa is. I would love, finally, to tell her off. But I made the mistake of having my loan rebate check sent to her address, and until I am sure I can get that $2,000, I can’t alienate Teresa. Today I learned for certain that she’d do anything to get revenge on me if she had to. And while I’d always suspected that, the hard realization still shocks me. This is a person in whose home I lived for over a year! It seems she has no sense of fair play and decency left.
Obviously, she’s going to end up hurting herself the most, and she will now have to find new friends to go through and discard. I predicted her too-close friendship with Fran would end up this way, but I’m upset to find out that I was right. This thing has really gotten to me. I was grateful to spend a few hours with Bert Stratton, whom I met at the St. Marks
Bookstore. We went next door and shared a bottle of seltzer. His new agent is Ellen Levine, who’s got a good reputation (though Scott Sommer hated her). Ellen’s associate likes Bert’s novel and believes she’s got a 75% chance of selling it. Bert would be happy with publication and a $10,000 advance and a paperback sale – “to show my parents that I haven’t wasted my life not being a doctor or lawyer.” He told me that he liked Peter when he met him in Cleveland along with Alice, who spoke to Bert only briefly (she told me he seemed “goofy” to her). Bert tried to call Alice Notley so we could go over to see her again, but she wasn’t home. So we walked west, stopping to watch haircuts on Astor Place, getting caught in a violent downpour, and hiding out in an open garage. Then we went over to Three Lives & Company to browse. Harvey Pekar’s new comic is out, and his Doubleday book will be out next spring. Bert told me that he’d met a fan of mine, an IRS agent who carries a gun; this guy lives in an ethnic section of Cleveland and told Bert that he has all my books. That’s nice to hear. I left Bert at 5 PM and came back home to Park Slope an hour later; the subways were all screwed up. I feel screwed up, too. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. This thing with Teresa and the uncertainty about jobs and
schools are making me very tense. If only I could put it all out of my mind for Labor Day weekend, I’d be grateful.
Saturday, August 31, 1985
7 PM. I slept last night, but it was a restless sleep. I had my first anxiety dream about school, the kind where I can’t make it to class in time no matter how hard I try. It seems the Labor Day weekend – the unofficial end of summer, and for me, the unofficial start of the year – is always traumatic. Last year I had my bad cold in Florida and didn’t know what I was coming back to in New York. Two years ago, I had just found out that Prof. Russo at the University of Miami wanted me to be his slave for ten hours a week, and I was unsure if I would continue with the Ph.D. program. The only calm Labor Days in recent years were in ’81 and ’82, when I’d already started teaching at Broward Community College. In ’80 and ’79 I was nervous scrambling for adjunct classes, as I am now. There’s something to be said for the stability I had as a full-time temporary at BCC.
I’d have to take the Baruch micro lab job now if it were offered. I’d be making a successful career switch and get the experience I need, as Josh said, to go into industry if I wanted to. And I’d be making a good salary. But I’m also worried that a full-time job will rob me of precious leisure time, and that if I ever thought I’d get back to writing again, this would mean the end of those hopes. I’m also very unsure I want to remain in New York City. I dread the winter, and the city loses its charm when one has to struggle to work and survive every day. Already I’m disgusted with the subways and all the people with whom I’m thrown in close contact; I remember how calm it is to drive in my own car in Florida. The Baruch job would mean a commitment to staying in New York for a year, though I suppose I could leave earlier if I were truly unhappy. (Indeed, it might be easier to leave, not being so tied to an academic calendar as a college teacher is.) In a way I dread getting hired by Baruch because it would mean I’d have to make a decision. New York is such a hard place, and it won’t be so easy to live on $20,000 a year here. Then again, I don’t exactly relish the idea f running from school to school and marking papers; an 8-to-4 job would probably be less hectic than adjuncting. Mostly I just wish I
knew for sure where I’d be working. This uncertainty is so stressful. Today was a chilly, dark day. I packed up to go to Rockaway early but decided to call Josh, and as I’d hoped, he and John were meeting for breakfast at the Kiev on Second Avenue, and I went there to join them. I hadn’t seen John in a while; he seems content, though I suspect he’s more troubled than he lets on. Josh’s girlfriend Julie finally found an apartment – on Sterling Place here in Park Slope, presumably near Susan and Spencer – which she’ll share with some guy. (Tim’s girlfriend, also a Julie, stayed over downstairs last night; they were making breakfast as I left the apartment this morning.) Tonight James, John, Josh and Julie (very alliterative), along with some others, were going to an REM concert at Radio City, but I didn’t want to join them. At Teresa’s, I discovered the speakers still in the apartment and later Teresa called to explain how Fran had manipulated me. Clearly, Teresa really wanted me to understand. I don’t know how I feel, but I know I’ve got to remain friendly with her, at least for now. Back in the Slope, I got a message that Tom called, so I phoned New Orleans. Tom was shocked to return home to find Dr. Tews had resigned as NOCCA’s principal to take a job in
St. Louis. How that will affect the writing program isn’t clear yet. Tom’s been busy writing and getting ready for the start of classes on Tuesday and he wanted to find out how I was; I think he was concerned that I was having some sort of a breakdown. Maybe I am, but I’ve been functioning all right. I got to Rockaway at 4:45 PM and had dinner with Grandma Ethel. At 6:30 PM she went out to play cards and I plan to relax.
Sunday, September 1, 1985
5 PM. Relax I did. The first sunburn of the summer is upon me: my face, torso and legs are fiery red. I know that this is not a very healthy thing, but I went through July and August relatively pale and felt I needed some color now. Although suntans put people at risk of cancer and cause premature aging, they also make me feel more confident – and I want to feel confident this week as I begin teaching and go for the micro lab interview. Last night I fell asleep at 8 PM, but I woke up an hour later when Grandma came home. We talked for a couple of hours, and then I fell
asleep again; it was a deep, deep sleep that refreshed me greatly. At 10 AM I was just about the only person on the beach. The sky was cloudless and the temperature was about 75°. I listened to a radio call-in show about personal finances; it astounds me how much money some people have in savings and investments and how knowledgeable they are about various money instruments. A bit after noon, I came upstairs to find Grandma Ethel, Uncle Morris and Aunt Tillie on the terrace. After walking to Beach 113th Street to get the Sunday papers and a slice of pizza, I joined my relative sitting out there. Aunt Tillie invited me for Rosh Hashona dinner, two weeks from tonight, and I accepted. Hopefully, as 5746 dawns, I’ll be more settled than I am now. At 2 PM I went back to the beach for another hour; probably I overdid it, but I enjoyed just lying there. In recent years the beach has bored me, but today I needed the escape from tension, and I now feel much less stressed than I did 24 hours ago. Grandma and I had dinner a little while ago, and I just took a shower. My skin feels hot and my stomach is crampy, but I’m glad I came to Rockaway.
It’s September again, with two-thirds of 1985 gone. I feel badly that I let myself drift and waste the last four months after I did so well in school during the first four months of the year. Perhaps I would have done better to remain in Florida, though I would have missed all the joys of summer in Manhattan. Thinking about the fall still makes me nervous, and I want – I need – to keep Florida alive as a winter escape hatch. A voice in me (my parents’?) tells me I’m going to fail, as I did when I left to be on my own in New York in the fall of ’79, when I moved to my studio apartment here in Rockaway. I remember the winter of ’80 and how miserable I was, and I wonder if I could endure that again.
Monday, September 2, 1985
4 PM. I got back to Park Slope from Rockaway a couple of hours ago. My sunburn was worse than I thought; it bothered me last night and it still hurts now. I slept late as a dark day dawned in Rockaway, and I spent most of the morning in bed. Teresa called and gave me messages from Medgar Evers and CCNY, further complicating things. I suppose that if I were smart, I’d just relax and not worry about where I’ll be
working. The stress can’t help me, and it can make me ill. I’m positive I’ve got the two John Jay courses and most likely the two Baruch classes. With those four classes and my student loan money from Teachers College, I’ll have more than enough to get by this fall, especially since my September and October rent in Park Slope are already paid. I need to take life less seriously. Remember, kiddo, your health is the most important thing. The rest of it is, or should be, a joke. I’ve been thinking a lot about Florida, remembering how happy I was this past winter, how free of tension. South Florida is physically so beautiful with its palm trees, lakes and meandering rivers, the green-blue of the ocean, and the enormous sky. Compare that to the ride on the IRT and there’s no contest. That’s why I’m scared of getting this Baruch computer center job, much as I know it would be the best professional opportunity for me. The truth is, I don’t want to stay in New York this winter. Well, is anyone forcing you to? You can even take the job and quit at the end of the year. This week is going to be filled with tension. I’ll probably have to go to Pratt again, have an interview at Baruch, go to my first classes at Baruch and Pratt on Wednesday, have an
interview with Amy Henson at Baruch, register at Teachers College. Shit. I feel I can’t handle it all. A tension headache is already coming on. But while it’s not in my power to control the uncertainties, I can try to control how I feel, how it affects me. I don’t have to be a nervous wreck, do I? It certainly won’t help to get me through the week. Still, I doubt my resolve to keep calm and collected through all of this. Choices: too many are just plain confusing. The only difference between the way I feel now and the way I felt three weeks ago is that now I know for sure where I’ll be living for the next nine weeks. The relative security of having money come in regularly should help put me at ease. Here’s an old standby: What’s the worst that can possibly happen? I’ll get sick or have a breakdown and have to go to the safety of Mommy and Daddy in Florida. Is that so horrible? What else? I’ll run myself ragged up here and be miserable. I can still end that in December and go to Florida. What would help is if I realized that I am in control. Nobody can make me take a job I don’t want or stay in a job I hate. Somehow I feel I should be more relaxed – but I’m not. Maybe a lot of it is excess baggage from the past, from 1979 and 1980. But I can’t
let myself be a prisoner of bad experiences. Perhaps I’m going about this wrong, trying to minimize my feelings. I’m scared, damn it, and I have a right to be. A new job, a new home – a temporary one, at that – and new people: this is all scary. But trust yourself, kiddo: you’ll get through it. In two weeks, you’ll at least know what you’ll be doing every day till the end of 1985. And give yourself some credit for trying something new. I don’t know any of my friends who’ve knocked around as many places and jobs as I have, and I’ve always survived. This too shall pass – and more quickly than I can ever imagine today.
Tuesday, September 3, 1985
8 PM. After talking with Ronna last night, I decided not to drive myself crazy and teach more than the four classes at Baruch and John Jay – with the caveat that if Medgar Evers offers me a class at an otherwise quiet hour, I may take it. There was no reason for me to be up at 7 AM today except perhaps to see that I could do it. I hadn’t slept well, but I find that, unlike Justin, I can always rouse myself quickly in the morning.
The IRT at rush hour wasn’t fun, but the newer model train helps a little. I went to Baruch but got there at 8:30 AM, an hour too early to see either Amy Henson or Claude Taylor. I did see Ms. Henson first and made an appointment with her for 11 AM tomorrow, but she had lots of responses on her desk and I don’t expect I’ll get the job. At the English Department, Claude confirmed my 2001 sections but said my Tuesday/Thursday classes don’t start at 8 AM but at 8:50 AM, ending at 10:30 AM, so I can sleep nearly an hour later on those two days. I got the details about the course – the students don’t have to pass the CUNY Writing Assessment Test, only a departmental exit test – and filled out personnel forms. I don’t know if I’ll be found out, but I used a false social security number. If I am found to be teaching at two schools, then I’ll just never work at CUNY again; it will force me to give up the adjunct option just the way “Legislators in Love” forced me to give up Broward Community College as an option. Leaving Baruch, I saw Roberta and smiled warmly, so I hope she knows I don’t resent her getting the computer center job instead of me.
Uptown, I dropped in on John Jay, where Doris filled out my personnel form and I spoke to Bob about my courses. They’re all set, and I don’t have to return to John Jay until next Wednesday (and the next two weeks will be easier because of the Jewish holidays). Next, I took the Amsterdam bus up to Columbia. Registration took a little over an hour. I got advised by Mr. Budin in our department – which seems like a friendly place – and registered for his Computer Graphics class on alternate Saturdays and for a section of Programming I on Wednesdays from 5:20 PM to 6:50 PM. Mr. Budin told me we’d be learning FPL (First Programming Language) and some Pascal in addition to BASIC. I had to pay $280 in additional fees beyond the $1780 they took out of my loan check. I only wish I could afford to take more of the Columbia classes. If FAU and FIU had as interesting offerings in computer education as Teachers College does, I’d be very happy. Okay, with registration complete except for taking his photo ID, Our Hero gets on the IRT, Brooklyn-bound, and arrives just in time for his interview at Medgar Evers, which looks and feels like a friendly, if shabby, place. I liked the faculty I met, and they were impressed with me. If they have a suitable class, they’ll let me know tomorrow and I’ll let
them know if I want it; it’s only two subway stops away, on Eastern Parkway and Bedford. Tired, I came home to messages from Pratt; I called and told them I had gotten a full-time job and couldn’t teach there. I’ll have to do the same with Empire State College tomorrow. It took a long time for me to wind down; my soap operas helped, as did dinner out and a nice walk along Seventh Avenue. Back home, I also chatted with both Kenny and Tim for half an hour. Miriam sent a card saying she’ll be in New Jersey from September 15 to October 1. Rick writes that he and Gretchen had no money and no vacation. He’s teaching three sections of creative writing at the community college; they’re low-paying continuing ed classes, but I bet Rick enjoys them and his students learn a great deal from him. I have a marauding headache which I think only sleep can cure. I plan to be asleep as soon as I can.
Wednesday, September 4, 1985
2 AM. I can’t sleep. I did fall asleep at 10 PM but work up half an hour later. My headache is gone, but I’ve been worrying so much I started to get vertigo – that positional dizziness when I
change from sitting up to lying down and vice versa. This only reminds me of how sick and unhappy I was five years ago and makes me wonder if a new horrible period of my life is now in store for me. The pain and anxiety I’ve felt these past weeks have been almost tangible, and the term doesn’t begin until tomorrow. So much is new: living in Park Slope, teaching at Baruch, going to school at Columbia. Am I going to have some kind of breakdown again? In the middle of the night, it seems possible. I no longer feel like the confident guy I was – or thought I was – in Florida. Maybe it’s a good thing my parents are in Key West now and I can’t reach them, but I do miss having them to rely on. It all seems unnecessary, this pain. It’s not as if I have don’t have money; I may be in debt but I’ve got $8,600 in the bank, with the $9,200 in income coming my way this fall, and my expenses low, I’ll have no problem surviving in Brooklyn. I shouldn’t take the Medgar Evers course; it will only drive me crazy. Yesterday I thought of that day in February 1980 that was so stressful, the day I went to teach at the School of Visual Arts, rode up to Yonkers to spend hours on a ridiculous job, then came back to Brooklyn to have an interview at New York City Community College.
The next day my dizziness began, and I’m sure the stress helped cause it. Nothing is worth making myself sick again, but part of me thinks I deserve it, that I’ve had it too damn easy since I left BCC in April of last year. Shit. Do I need therapy! What a mess. * 4 PM. It’s 92° and I don’t have air-conditioning, the toilet is broken, and all I want to do is lie down. I feel so depressed. I’m now certain I made a bad decision; I should have gritted my teeth and gone to Florida. Now I’m gritting so hard, I have pain in my capped front tooth anyway. Although I finally did get some sleep last night – about three hours’ worth – and I got through the day, I’m not at all happy. Maybe I had to learn my lesson, that life couldn’t all be the fantasy I’d pictured while I was staying at Teresa’s. While it’s exciting and fun to be in Manhattan and not have to work, struggling to make a living in this city, commuting every day: it’s the pits. I’m as alone now as I ever was in Florida, and I feel transported back in time to those unhappy days in Rockaway five and six years ago. All I can think about is escaping this and returning to Florida. My class at Baruch was nice but dismaying large – 28 students – and I
realized how much grading I’m going to have to do. I was okay in front of the class and in the interview with Amy Henson though I realize I don’t want that micro lab job, either; it’s a 40hour-a-week job with only five weeks off a year. Luckily I probably won’t get it. And Medgar Evers didn’t call, which relieves me of turning them down or being tempted to accept an extra class. Everything seems totally fuckedup to me. I have no center to my life. I feel as though I’m being drawn into a deep center of depression, that I’ve run out of options. And I don’t want to talk to my friends or parents and hear “I told you so’s” and get their (conflicting) advice. I know I feel very alone now. Well, I’ll just have to muddle through the next four months, that’s all: resign myself to it. I’d put off a reckoning long enough, I suppose, and now it’s reality time. I guess I just needed to remember how hard life can be.
Thursday, September 5, 1985
4 PM. It’s unbearably hot – 95° -- and I felt faint on the subway a couple of hours ago. I got off at the West 4th Street stop and thought
I’d pass out before I reached the outside, where I managed to convince a cabdriver to take me to Brooklyn. On the way I kept seeing homeless people begging and others lying unconscious in the street. New York doesn’t seem a very hospitable place anymore. If I wasn’t certain before, I am now: I’m moving back to Florida this winter. New York is just too hard for me. The price of staying here is too high. Teresa suggested that I spend the weekend at her air-conditioned apartment, and maybe I will; the temperatures are supposed to be in the 90°s till Sunday. Teresa gave the speakers back to Fran, by the way. She called me yesterday to tell me Prof. Bakash of Medgar Evers had already called me several times. When I spoke to him, I declined his offer of the course and he said he hoped I’d teach for them in the future. Last this afternoon I phoned Empire State College and said I had to withdraw from their class because I’d gotten a full-time job; Julie Willebrandt asked if I could find a replacement and I said I’d try. I’m set now with my two classes at Baruch and two at John Jay. Unless – it’s a remote possibility – but there may be a full-time opening at Brooklyn College. Susan Mernit turned it down because she didn’t want to leave Hunter in a bad way – especially since
she’s teaching fiction writing this term – and she suggested I call Ellen Belton, the BC chair. We left each other messages. But I think I’ll be okay with my four classes as is. I survived the week. Last night I felt better after dinner out at an air-conditioned pizzeria and after an hour’s talk with Susan. She and Spencer had a wonderful vacation in Britain; London was okay, but they loved Scotland, especially Edinburgh. Now Spencer has gotten work with Chemical Bank and Susan has begun her classes; she also has to revise her American Film article. Susan knows a lot about the adjunct business, and she said it’s no wonder I’m in demand. Unlike most adjuncts, I’m not a weirdo or a loser. At every department I overhear calls from potential adjuncts – and most of them get offered jobs. It’s a terrible system, but for me – or people like me who have other fish to fry (family concerns, grad work, their own writing or business), it’s not a bad way to earn spending money. I slept from 9 PM till 7 AM, and boy, did I need the rest. I had nourishing dreams, including one in which I flew (without a plane), and I woke up feeling refreshed. Today I took the N train to 23rd Street and got there by 8 AM, so I had fifty minutes to prepare.
Today’s class is a SEEK section, also too large – 28 students – all incoming freshman, so I had no problems exercising control. This has been the first time not one person expressed surprised that I was so young, so I guess I finally look older than a freshman by now. I went up to Teresa’s to get my mail – including an Eastern Air Lines ticket I later got refunded at Rockefeller Center – and then I went up to Teachers College to get my photo ID. From there, I went to Rockefeller Center, to the Eastern Air Lines ticket counter, the bank, and a diner for lunch. But I felt really faint due to the heat and humidity. Right now I still feel pretty weak and shaky. On some level I feel as if God has been testing me this week. What did Nietzsche say? “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”?
Friday, September 6, 1985
8 PM. Today was a brutally hot and humid day in an otherwise brutal week for me. Last evening Prof. Belton of Brooklyn called and said she might have a few courses available and that I should come in today at 11:30 AM. I figured she meant adjunct classes and not this full-time substitute gig Susan talked about.
So I was pretty relaxed, figuring I’d go in and let her see that I was accomplished and turn down her job offer. In the back of mind, I also thought that it might please her than a BC grad and one of the first MFA’s had published so widely. You’d think BC would be prouder of its own and that they could use me as an example of a successful MFA. But even the College of Staten Island has been kinder to me, up to the person of the college president, Dr. Volpe, who said praised me in the Staten Island Advance. Dr. Hess of BC, on the other hand, nearly fired Elaine Taibi when the BC Alumni Bulletin published “With Hitler in New York.” (I’d send Hess the pages of Imagining Hitler by Prof. Rosenfeld that critically examine my story, but it would be pearls before swine.) As you can tell, I’m getting the same grudge against BC that grad Irwin Shaw had after they refused to let him teach there; if I ever do make it, really make it, as a writer, I’d donate my papers to Staten Island, not Brooklyn. As you can also tell, I didn’t get the job. I thought my interview with Ellen Belton and Dick Horwich, a member of the personnel and budget committee, went really well; I made a fairly a good impression and know I sounded knowledgeable and competent. The job would have been four courses, on a Monday/
Wednesday/Friday schedule: ideal for me, really. I mentioned my commitments to Baruch and John Jay, and Dr. Belton said she’d phone me this afternoon to let me know. I waited expectantly, savoring the thrilling possibility of returning in semi-triumph to my undergraduate college, a place I truly love. But the call never came. They never do call when they have to say “get lost”; well, it’s understandable. It could have been Jon Baumbach or Jack Gelber bad-mouthing me or just that the interviewers liked someone else better. In any case, I’m prepared to teach at Baruch and John Jay, where I seem to be appreciated. As I told Mom, at least I know that I’ve gotten all my jobs and publications on my own, without my owing anyone anything. No one ran interference for me. Whatever I’ve published, whatever jobs and fellowships I’ve had, I got on merit. And a little merit has gotten me pretty far. Aside from the ease of staying in one place and the health benefits (with which I could have fixed my messed-up teeth), the only advantage of BC was about $2,000 – which is why I found it ironic when I got to Teresa’s tonight that a new MasterCard from Avco National Bank in California arrived – with a $2,000 credit line. What’s amazing about this one is they asked me for a paycheck stub and I sent them a copy
of a doctored one I’d made up. I’m now closing in on $30,000 in unsecured credit. This game I’m playing with the nation’s banks brings me a lot of satisfaction. I called Avco for a cash advance, and they said they’d send me out a check for $1,000 – just like that. Truly amazing. Thank God for Teresa’s air-conditioned bedroom; it got up to 95° again today, making everything so much more difficult. God knows how I survived this week. Just think of the interviews I went on in the last month: first Baruch and then Empire State, Pratt, Medgar Evers, the Baruch computer job, and finally Brooklyn College. If nothing else, it’s given me good practice at interviews – but I enjoy thinking of my feet, which is what I loved about all those radio interviews I did a couple of years ago. Last night I read Emerson’s essays “Circles” and “Experience” from a new paperback I just got; the heat in Justin’s room made it hard to concentrate, but I felt like Emerson was talking to directly to me. Mom and Dad and Jonathan had a great time in Key West, seeing the sunset ceremony, Hemingway’s house, Sloppy Joe’s, Duval Street and the treasures recently uncovered nearby in the Gulf.
Mom and Marc are having hassles with Preston Henn, the flea market owner, who’s doubled everyone’s rent and is changing the whole ambiance by making it almost like a mall. Everything changes, nothing is permanent, Emerson says. Most people fool themselves with believing their lives are solid. I’ve lived with more change than I ever thought I could handle. Look at me, for instance, and remember the guy who six years ago consulted Dr. Pasquale because he was afraid to leave his parents’ house, his only home for twenty years: Could that guy adjust so quickly – in two weeks – to a new home in Park Slope? Tomorrow’s my first class at Columbia, and I need to be up early. This week has tired me out, but at least I have air conditioning right now – and I’ve got it going full blast. I’ve been spoiled and can’t take the heat of Brooklyn without the a/c. But I managed. What else could I do?
Saturday, September 7, 1985
7:30 AM. What a comfort to sleep in an airconditioned room. I settled into bed at 8 PM, read the Weekly Washington Post, and then lay down in darkness.
I brooded a bit about BC; I hadn’t realized before how shabbily my alma mater had treated me. But if I had gotten the job, would that have made everything all right? The important thing is to look to the future, not to the past. Look what I’ve learned in the last six years. Not only, as I said last night, have I learned to live in many settings and situations, but I’ve also learned a lot of information. Six years ago I knew nothing about computers or credit cards, demographics or banking. My eyes are full of mucus or some kind of slime, but it doesn’t feel like an eye infection. I know the pollen count is astronomically high, so I’m hoping that it’s just an allergic reaction. I still expect this fall to be a hard time. I expect I’ll have health problems: with my eyes, teeth (definitely), and who knows what else. Well, it’s time to face the world today. Give me strength. * 6 PM. I decided to come back to Teresa’s tonight because it’s still very hot and humid. The air conditioning is wonderful; it’s also cooler here, because of the river breezes, than it is in Brooklyn. I have a slight eye infection, I think, but I intend to lay off the contacts tomorrow and see
if it won’t go away. I plan to stay here tomorrow night, too, and go into work at Baruch from here if I can. Teresa probably won’t be home, and the heat wave isn’t expected to break until Tuesday. If I didn’t have to return to Brooklyn to let the kid in to change the water in the fish tank, I really would have been relaxing now. I had to rush to Park Slope when my class ended at 1 PM, but I stayed there only till 3:30 PM; nobody was around, and I saw that Tim is spending the weekend elsewhere, probably at his girlfriend’s. Up and out of the apartment here at 8 AM, I had breakfast at the 4 Brothers, then took a bus to Teachers College. My Computer Graphics class has about eight students, most of whom are foreigners: Indians, Japanese, Iranians, South Americans. The instructor, Howard Budin, the man who approved my program, reminds me of Ray Cafolla at Florida Atlantic; he’s pudgy, amiable and laid-back. What’s disappointing is that the course wasn’t very “hands-on,” at least not today. I hope we’ll get more practice, but we meet in a lecture room next to the departmental office, and in the office there are only about seven or eight Apple IIe’s and even a few II+’s, the antiques I know from BCC’s lab.
I’m the only BASIC programmer in the class, so all the requisite systems commands – SAVE, LOAD, CATALOG, etc. – are very familiar to me. Still, I didn’t realize how much I missed programming and being in front of a micro; it was a delight to watch the screen as Mr. Budin demonstrated. I only wished I could get my fingers on a keyboard. We did see a demonstration of the Koala pad, which I’d always wanted to learn, and there’s one Macintosh in the office and we got to look at MacPaint – which I can’t wait to pay with. Other things we’ll see are SuperPilot and Logo, more old friends of mine. Mr. Budin showed some final projects which looked good but wouldn’t take much time for me, as I’ve done more complicated work in Florida already. We meet every other Saturday from 8 AM till 1 PM, with a lunch break at 11 AM. There are only six classes left. There’s a four-week break because of Thanksgiving and then our last session is just a demonstration of our projects. I’ve just spoken to Pete, and he said he wasn’t surprised when I told him Columbia seemed no harder than the Florida universities. Pete’s one semester in the Columbia MFA program convinced him it’s “buying a degree,” and I suspect Teachers College is no different. But I’m excited about learning more about computers.
Sunday, September 8, 1985
9 PM. Today refreshed me. I deliberately spent it alone, mostly in this bedroom, sleeping late, reading the Sunday papers – the Times, Washington Post, Newsday – working out with the 15-pound dumbbells that I left here (the 20-pounders are in Brooklyn), and watching two cult movies I rented: Repo Man (quite good) and Liquid Sky (interesting but muddled). I’m ready for another week if the week is ready for me. Actually, I feel very clear-headed about my future and my present. My goals are those I’ve had for some time: to learn as much as I can about what interests me; to write, if only in this journal, about my ideas and concerns; to have as much fun as possible doing these things; and to avoid turning into a monster. Newsday reprinted George Steiner’s Bowker lecture, “The Dawn and Dusk of Reading,” a brilliant talk on how reading – not books as much as reading – has changed society and where reading is going. Steiner concludes that the aliterates have the future in their control, and I don’t disagree. He suggests that personal libraries – like Richard Kostelanetz’s, whose 11,000 books and bookshelves showed up in a photo in, of all places, the stylish Home section of the Times
– may become as rare and celebrated as they were in Erasmus’s day, and that, like the monks of the Dark Ages, a small cadre of booklovers will preserve the written word – except that they won’t have the prestige of the medieval scribes and scholars. Steiner also thinks word processing will lead to greater loquacity because writers can easily add material. Many of the current academic predictions are that just the opposite will happen, that word-processing will lead to tighter, leaner prose. We shall see. I like writing my journal entries by hand, as much as I’m infatuated with that Macintosh I saw yesterday and other computers. I feel I want to make a “serious” run for Florida Education Commissioner. While I might not be able to teach anyone anything, it’s likely that I can learn an awful lot. (And I use “awful” in its truest sense, I know.)
Monday, September 9, 1985
10:30 AM and already I feel the week is too long. There’s no doubt about it; as a teacher of remedial writing, I’m burned out. When I got to class today, I discovered that I hadn’t looked at and commented on all of their papers. Today I have to look at 28 papers for tomorrow.
Nausea is the reaction I have when I think about grading papers. I thought that maybe after a break of nine months without teaching, I’d feel refreshed. I haven’t even begun John Jay yet. Probably I should have gone to Florida after all. I can’t imagine doing anything but going through the motions this semester. I’ve got to try, not only for my students’ sake but for my own, to regain some enthusiasm. Today I tried, but the class seemed as bored as I was. Maybe it’s just an off-day, but I can’t help comparing the intellectual excitement I felt while reading yesterday with today’s lethargy. I don’t want myself and my students to drag ourselves through the term. I wonder if I’d feel this bored if I’d taken that job offered to me at Western High School in Davie. I’d love to teach literature, social studies, ideas. I feel I’m wasted going over the difference between its and it’s half a dozen times. What good does it do anyway? I let the class out 25 minutes early and on the way to the subway, I ran into Claude Taylor – but I don’t care if he noticed I didn’t keep them the whole time. That’s the sad part. What might be sadder is that Claude might not care, either, just as long as the class is covered. How can I humanize this situation? I care enough to want to do that, at least. The secret may be that I should try to enjoy myself and
give the students topics that will make for interesting reading. It’s very humid, and it’s raining, and I’m tired and cranky on this Blue Monday. * 9 PM. I’ve just watched an interesting TV program on world economics. From experts gathered at a conference, I got a sense of foreboding, as Adam Smith, the narrator, said. These experts know something is ahead of us, and it’s bad news, maybe the unraveling of the world’s trading order (protectionist fever is sweeping the country) and the international banking system. The trade deficit, the Latin debt, the high interest rates, the overvalued dollar, the farm crisis, and above all the U.S. budget deficit add up to what could be a real shock. Although I know it will cause pain, I’d almost welcome an economic collapse. I have little to lose, personally, because of my own high debt load. I’m more prepared for a new 1929 than most; I believe it could happen. After a two-hour semi-nap – at least I got into the “relaxation response” – I felt much better and went out for lunch. After grocery shopping at Key Food on Seventh Avenue, I marked papers for two hours while my soaps were on; now I’m all caught up. My students deserve
my best efforts, for it’s not their fault I’m burned out. At 4 PM I got the mail. Mom sent along two more invitations for me to speak before Florida groups. With the primary a year away, I can only assume that speaking engagements will pick up – and I’m about 80% committed to running for Education Commissioner. It may turn out to be a great experience. It means committing myself to staying in Florida for all of next year, and after this fall, I’ll be ready to do that. Actually, I’m doing just what I planned to do. The Village Voice is having a political art contest, and tonight I finished my entry: a collage of about seven articles Justin had about my 1984 Presidential campaign. I don’t expect to win the contest, but Jeff Weinstein, the art and a judge, knows me and I’m sure he’ll appreciate my entry.
Tuesday, September 10, 1985
4 PM. Justin’s friend Ali came over last night to pick up a package that was delivered here for her. I went to sleep at 10 PM – or I should say, I tried to – but I did get a fairly decent night’s sleep.
I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this semester, but I will survive it. In fifteen weeks, it will be Christmas Eve and I’ll be back in Florida. In seven weeks, Justin will be home, and I’ll be living somewhere else for November and December. I’m resigned to the fact that little will get done and that my social life won’t be very good; already, I haven’t had time to see any of my friends in the past week. Today was cooler but very humid and muggy. My SEEK class at Baruch went okay; mostly they were bored, but at moments I could see their minds working. After class, a Haitian girl asked me to look at her poetry, and then a black girl came in and started crying and explained that he uncle, whom she lives with, had locked her in the house for days because he flew into a rage when she asked him for money for books. “It’ll be all right,” I said, as I gingerly touched her shoulder. These are the kids of New York’s underclass; sometimes I’ve felt like telling them not to worry about grammar and paragraph organization and to take care of their lives. Tomorrow John Jay begins. At Baruch I’m deliberately using a phony social security number and not telling them I’m teaching another eight credits at John Jay in violation of the union contract, but I’m not particularly worried if they find out.
They won’t fire me in mid-semester; the worst that will happen is that I can never work at CUNY again, and like “Legislators in Love” did for me at BCC, I may be hoping to have that option closed to me. I don’t intend to adjunct again. I expect I’ll be in Florida through all of 1986, except possibly for a summer vacation. Meanwhile, I should work as hard as I feel is right but not turn myself into a drudge. I spoke to Claude Taylor after class – he’s very kind – and learned that the English 2001 final will be given before Christmas. So I’ll have to return only for a few days in January to wrap up the term at John Jay. Free at 11 AM today, I did some money juggling, taking out a $600 cash advance from my new MasterCard and depositing it in my First Nationwide savings account at their Bowling Green branch. Then I took the JFK Express train out to the airport, taking the bus to the American Airlines terminal, where I wanted to break in my Choice card now that I’ve got a PIN to use a Citicorp Cash ATM. I took out $400 from Choice and another $20 from Citibank Visa and then noticed an American Express machine, at which I used my card and got $300 in AmEx travelers’ cheques. That’s the closest to a cash advance I can get
with AmEx. Hopefully, it will not show up on today’s statement but on October 10’s. Anyway, the advantage is that I’ll be running up a big American Express bill – thereby making me more creditworthy and maybe eligible for a Gold card – without using the money on buying stuff. Now I had $700 in cash and travelers’ cheques to deposit in the bank, so I took a cab to Kings Plaza in Brooklyn and then the Avenue R and Ocean Avenue buses to the First Nationwide branch on Avenue J and East 13th Street. It felt good to be in a car on the Belt Parkway again; once that I was a highway I drove on several times a week. And I enjoyed being at Kings Plaza and Kings Highway, the old neighborhoods also so familiar to me. I’m tired and not looking forward to my superlong day tomorrow, when I leave here at 7 AM and don’t come back from Columbia till 8 PM. But I’ll have a break for Rosh Hashona, so I shouldn’t complain – although I probably will.
Wednesday, September 11, 1985 Thursday, September 12, 1985
Thursday, 1 PM. I am so sorry I decided to stay in New York, I can’t tell you. I hate living here now. Things have been going horribly for me, and yesterday was definitely the worst day I had all year. This place is definitely a dump. It all started – the bad stuff, that is – yesterday morning, when I dropped my right lens while putting it on. I couldn’t find it. The floor in Justin’s bedroom was covered with about a half-inch of schmutz, and all I got for my trouble was disgustingly dirty hands. I couldn’t believe the lens had just disappeared, but a fifteen-minute search proved fruitless. Meanwhile, it was getting later and later. I hastily decided to put an old, yellowed right lens in, but in the disgustingly crowded R train, I took it out after I felt pain. I’m going to give myself an infection, I thought. What a crappy way to start the day, particularly my first tough Wednesday. I managed to teach my class at Baruch. If courage or something is “grace under pressure,” then I did well, for I had a good class. But of course I was preoccupied and upset. Everything seems to have started to unravel in my life, and I can only hearken back to the fall of ’79 through the fall of ’80, when I was so disgusted with living in New York.
Granted, my lens could have been lost in Florida (though I can’t imagine it happening outside this apartment with its filthy floor; it never happened before in seven or eight years) – but everything is fixed more easily in Florida, and even when I worked hard at BCC, I felt under less pressure there. I took a cab uptown to Pildes Optical, where they did have my lens in stock, but when I put it on, it hurt. The optometrist said that the pain would go away, but it got worse through the afternoon. I’d promised Teresa I’d stop by, and I’d brought my heavy bag so I could stay over. She had her niece with her, and the last thing I felt like doing was trying to be “up” for playing with a rambunctious three-year-old, but I managed, and I stayed for an hour and rushed to John Jay – again, by taxi – and filled out the forms Doris had left me. After a quick and unsatisfying lunch, I met my first class. It wasn’t till the second class that I realized the sections I’m teaching of English 089 don’t correspond to my former SEEK 094 classes but the earlier course in the sequence, the most basic remedial class. So I gave the students a lot of wrong information. Fuck it. The only saving grace was that the classes are very small: 10 and 12 so far, compared to 27 and 28 at Baruch. Again, I seemed to be okay despite my misery; my eye hurt worse and worse.
At Teresa’s, I took out my lenses to sterilize them and accompanied her and Amy shopping. As usual, Amy left her toy somewhere and got cranky, and time was short so I had to rush back to the apartment by myself. I put in my lenses, trying to ignore the pain, and then took yet another taxi to Teachers College. This lens business had already cost me $50 or more. In class, my eye hurt so badly, I had to take out my lenses; I realized I had an infection, as mucus or pus was coming out of my eye. Naturally, I didn’t feel very much like concentrating on my teachers, though the young guy, Chris, was real cute. The other one, Minh, lectured on FPL, Prof. Taylor’s language, invented to help learn programming. I couldn’t see the board very well, but to me, FPL seems like a trick; it’s simpler to just learn BASIC or Pascal. At 7 PM, when we got out of class, it was chilly outside. We went from hot, steamy weather to unseasonably cool weather overnight. Because I couldn’t see well, I got on the wrong bus and had to get off and pay an extra fare. By this time, I was ready to scream. If I had come home to Park Slope to be by myself, I would have collapsed sobbing in bed, but of course at Teresa’s, I had to be polite and talk and make a point of playing with Amy.
Teresa did get me dinner, chicken heated in her new microwave oven, which I’d lugged up from her car. At 9 PM, I opened the couch and got into bed, exhausted. At least I slept. I nearly threw out my lenses by accident, but luckily they clung to the container. This morning the right lens went in fine, but the left hurt, and I now think I may have mixed up the lenses and that the right one is just no good. The IRT was a horror, and I was almost glad I had about 20/80 vision so I couldn’t see things clearly. After half an hour in class, my SEEK students and I had to walk the six blocks to Baruch’s 18th Street building, where they learned about their mandatory Comp Lab. I got back to Brooklyn at 11 AM. When I tried to find the lens, I drew a blank. When I tried to take a nap, I was bothered because I could feel my cap shifting in my mouth. When I tried to write in my journal, the lamp by the bed didn’t work. The sink in the bathroom is stopped up. I feel nothing is working. I have tons of things to do, but I’m so exhausted and depressed, all I want to do is nothing – and I can’t even enjoy that. I imagine being a high school teacher in Florida and how easy that could be. I’d have a nice car and a nice new apartment. Boy, did I fuck up in staying here.
Yet I would have left thinking that I could have done better by staying in New York. This is a good lesson, but it’s not going to cost me a lot. All I can hope for is that the weeks go by as quickly as possible. Except for Teresa, I haven’t seen any friends in the last ten days, so for that, I might as well be in Florida. I’m so tired of seeing poor people; I hate becoming inured to it, becoming hard and cold. “There has never been an invention like New York,” wrote Russell Baker in a column I read with my class, “for turning a soft-hearted liberal into the kind of unfeeling monster that should be on exhibit at the Museum of Unnatural History.” I’ve been in New York too long. If only I’d followed my plan of a month ago. Right now someone is screaming out the window in a Spanish accent. I feel the way I did in 1980: helpless, hopeless. This is the rough time I’ve been dreading the last few years. Will I get through the next four months? Yes, of course, but it’s going to cost me a lot. Will it be worth it? I think not. I’ll look back at this time the way I do now with the winter and summer of 1980, with relief that it’s over. It will end; that’s got to keep me going. All I have to do is make it to Christmas. It should tell me something that the happiest I was in 1985 was when I was in Florida.
Friday, September 13, 1985
6 PM. I’m feeling better today, though I don’t expect the rest of 1985 to go easily. Last night I made a record of all the moves I’ve made in the six years since I left my parents’ house in Brooklyn: all the moves, including three-week or longer stays at artists’ colonies, Teresa’s, etc. I totaled 22 different moves, indicating that I’ve lived in one place for an average of four months at a time. Excluding artists’ colonies, it’s six months. Then, I circled the times I’d been happiest and came up with eight of the 22 moves. Six of these were vacation time periods when I wasn’t working: two late springs (’83 and ’84) at Teresa’s, several stays at my parents’ in Davie during the winter; and last winter on my own in Davie. I was happiest during two long periods of stability: from October 1981 to June 1982 at the Sunrise condo (because I had money from teaching at BCC and my arts council grant, I had lots of visitors, I had my relationship with Sean and my Davie town council campaign and the publication of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog), and from August 1983 to April 1984 in the
apartment in North Miami Beach (where, after my fiasco at the University of Miami, I was grateful to work at BCC, and though I was lonely, I started learning lots about computers and credit cards and I had tons of publicity about my presidential campaign). I didn’t check my periods of greatest unhappiness, but they were in Rockaway, the long period from October 1979 to January 1981, punctuated by happy times in Florida and at MacDowell. So, analyzing this, I can come to some conclusions. First, I’m happiest when I’m on vacation: no surprise. Second, when I was working, I was happiest – and healthiest – at Broward Community College. I liked being in Florida in the winter, and I liked being on my own and in a fairly stable job. This tells me that I’d be happier if I was in Florida. I probably would have been better now if I had returned there for the fall, but it’s too late now. I committed the sin of hubris by staying in New York. It’s turned sharply cool, an amazing contrast to a week ago; it will be around 45° tonight. Last evening I talked downstairs with Tim, telling him what Brooklyn and Manhattan were like in “the old days”: ten and twenty years ago. I kept prefacing anecdotes with, “This was about twelve years ago. . .” and I realized how much I’ve experienced here.
I slept luxuriously late today, and at the optometrist’s on Broadway and 81st, I got a new right lens which feels just fine. As Teresa said, eye trouble – or feet or teeth trouble – can color one’s whole outlook. I expect to have more trouble in the eye and tooth department before the year is over. At Teresa’s, I collected my $1,000 Avco MasterCard check, but my Teachers College check hadn’t come. After going to the bank, I went to Union Square, where I bought texts at Barnes & Noble and a nylon bag and a chinning bar at Paragon and had lunch at Dennis’ (the son of Brownie’s owner). It will be six weeks till Justin comes back. I’m starting to think that he may be more neurotic than I am for staying in this one place for six years. To me, this apartment in Park Slope is basically a dump: okay for a short stay but I couldn’t live here for long. I like new bathrooms and kitchens. Teresa got a buyer for the Berkshires house; if they can get a mortgage, the buyer will pay less than Teresa wanted but enough to earn her a clear $10,000. She could then avoid working for a longer time – and I don’t blame her.
Saturday, September 14, 1985
8 PM. Last evening I walked over to Susan and Spencer’s on Sterling Place. It was good to be with friends, to drink coffee (which I almost never do) and eat a piece of Spencer’s cornbread and look at their photos of Scotland – and not talk about my own, extremely boring, problems. Susan has started to “show” and she’s taking on that radiant look healthy pregnant women have. They described Scotland so clearly, they made it sound like one of the few places I’d actually enjoy going across the ocean to see. People in Scotland are so poor, however, that Americans can live like royalty with our dollars now. We gossiped a little about various friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances, and I left at 9:30 PM. It was quite chilly as I walked home; I had on my baseball-type jacket with the furry sleeves. Somehow I got to sleep right away and awoke with lots of energy at 7:30 AM. Maybe it’s the cool weather. After breakfast, I read in my programming text and then lifted weights for an hour while watching Justin’s videotape of Sweeney Todd. At noon I was up at Columbia, but I couldn’t get into Milbank library, so I went to Teresa’s, where I did a hundred reps of bench presses and got the mail. My $2,054 check from Teachers College came, as did a notice of
temporary certification in English, grades 7-12, from Florida. I called Lisa to see how she was doing, and she said, “Richard, I love my job. I resisted high school teaching for so long, but it’s really fine.” She teaches four classes, gets a lot of support from her principal, and doesn’t feel at all overworked when she comes home at 3:15 PM. Lisa said she’ll check out vacancies for me; I think I should try high school, too. There are some behavior problems in her remedial classes, but nothing she can’t handle, and the senior classes “are no different from any college comp class.” I had lunch at the 4 Brothers and then bought a phone for $20 on Broadway. It’s not great, but it’s better than Justin’s. Home at 3 PM, I went over my mail, read a bit, and then went out to do some shopping; surprisingly, I accomplished a good deal. Later I accomplished more, as I cleaned of my desk of tons of paperwork and answered my correspondence, most of it, on which I’d fallen behind. Tim and Julie came home at 6 PM; they’re very easy to co-exist with. Josh called while he was waiting for his Julie to get off work. He and Fat Ronnie will be taking a BASIC class at the New School; Blue Cross is paying, but Josh said it won’t help Ronnie, who’s not competent at his work.
Harry received a “red herring” letter about his building going co-op; his apartment would be $30,000, but he can’t afford that, and Josh wanted to what I thought of his buying half of Harry’s share after Harry bought the place himself (with money borrowed from Josh). I suggested that Josh’s accountant would be of more help than I, though I was flattered that Josh said that of everyone he knew, I’d be the best one to ask. Maybe he figured I’d learned something from Teresa by osmosis. Tomorrow I’m going to the Midwood branch of First Nationwide and deposit my check; they have Sunday hours because of all the Orthodox in the neighborhood. Then I’ll head out to spend the new year in Rockaway. September will be half over. With the Teachers College check, I’ll have $5,600 in First Nationwide Savings, $5,000 in Citibank South Dakota, $1900 in Choice Reserve at Citibank Maryland, about $65 in the Broward teachers’ credit union, and a $100 three-year CD at CityFed, plus $200 in cash. And I haven’t started drawing a salary yet.
Sunday, September 15, 1985
10 AM. Even though I went to bed late, I still woke up at 8 AM; I suppose I’m getting adjusted to rising early. I’m writing now because I’m not going to take my diary to Grandma Ethel’s. Instead of lugging around my usual heavy carry-on bag, I’m just going to take the nylon bag. I intend to stay only one night and return to Brooklyn some time tomorrow; there’s still a lot I have to do. I just watched a TV program on the fear of AIDS. Queens parents have started a school boycott because they’re against one unidentified AIDS second-grader in the city schools, even though all the medical evidence indicates AIDS isn’t spread by casual contact. AIDS victims are modern-day lepers. In the age of “blame the victim” philosophy, it’s no surprise that people feel this way. It’s just a shame so many people are out only for themselves. As Spencer said the other night, as silly and pompous as the ‘60s ethic of “peace, love, Woodstock, flowers” could be, we could use a little of that unselfishness now. I’m sick to death of Yuppies and their Rolex watches, BMW cars and selfish philosophy. Will things change? I hope so – the pendulum tends to swing back and forth – but it may get worse before it gets better. My wish for the world on the eve of 5746 is a little more compassion.
Monday, September 16, 1985
4 PM. It’s 5746: I wonder what’s inscribed for me this year in the Book of Life. Yesterday I left here at 11 AM, bought Newsday and read it on a bench by the park at Grand Army Plaza. It was sunny and warm. After finishing the paper, I started reading, for the zillionth time, Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” In the month since I decided to move to Justin’s place, I’ve learned a lot, I think. For one thing, I’m less fucked-up than I thought I was. Justin had me convinced that my uprooting myself all the time was detrimental, but if that’s true, then so is his staying here for six years detrimental. He’s no less neurotic than I am, and I couldn’t live his life; I’d feel choky here. Actually, I’m doing what I wanted to do: to spend the fall in New York City and go back to Florida in January. This time, however, I plan to stay in Florida through most of 1986. Now that I have a temporary teaching license, I can try to get a job teaching high school English. It will be a new experience and it will give me some stability. I’ll continue to take grad courses in education – now I’ll have to – and I’ll make the race for Education Commissioner.
I don’t care what anyone else thinks. This is my life, and if I’m making a mistake, I’ll have to live with it – just as I have to live with my consequences of my decisions about this fall. At noon yesterday I got off the D train at Avenue J, where all was hustle and bustle as the Orthodox community was shopping like mad in preparation for Rosh Hashona. At the bank I deposited the Columbia check and took out a check to send to Citibank (South Dakota). When I picked up some money dropped by a sixty-year-old man and gave it to him, he said, “You’ve restored my faith in the younger generation.” I replied that I wasn’t that young. “What are you, 25?” he said. “I’m 35,” I told him, giving myself nine months. “Well, really?” he said. “You don’t look it, God bless you.” God bless him. The other day, in Teresa’s bathroom mirror, I saw dark circles under my eyes that didn’t used to be there. Ah, well: I’m going to see more Rosh Hashonas. I can only expect to get older. What’s the alternative? With society now in a panic about AIDS, I do wonder a lot whether I’ll get it. If Sean infected me, which is not all that likely, since we had “safe” sex (I worry more about poor Sean than I do myself and wish I knew the guy was okay)
– but even if he did, I still might never get AIDS. I’d like to take the HTLV-III antibody test just to know, even if the gay health experts advise people not to take it. If I tested positive for AIDS exposure, I’m not sure I’d panic or get depressed, but I probably wouldn’t get so upset at the problems of day-to-day life. Actually I should probably live as if I’d tested positive for AIDS exposure: live every day as meaningfully as possible, taking as much pleasure as I could. Yesterday I enjoyed seeing the Orthodox on Avenue J, even if my bus to the Junction proceeded slowly at first. It made me imagine what it must have been like a hundred years ago, in my great-great-grandparents’ time, in the shtetls of Russia and Poland. I took the Flatbush bus to Fillmore Avenue and had lunch at the Floridian. At the counter, I was served by Walter, the wisecracking waiter who served me so often before, going back ten or more years ago. He didn’t remember me, of course, and said, in explanation of his manner with his co-workers: “We like to have as much fun as we can here. It prevents us from going crazy.” I thought of Emerson’s quote, the one I used as the epigraph for Eating at Arby’s: "Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy. Its chief good
is for well-mixed people to enjoy what they find, without question . . .” The waiter seemed to be of those “well-mixed people” that I’d like to become. I walked from the diner up to Avenue U, passing the new Burger King that used to be Buddies and watching the horses on the merry-go-round. How many times had I been there at that place? It was where I had my birthday party in second grade, and I’d gone there in college. At the bus stop across from Kings Plaza, I passed the wait by watching a couple of cute boys about 17 or 18. I’ll probably remain celibate for a long time, but the pleasure of watching cute guys is something that almost satisfies me completely. Teenagers can be so un-self-conscious when they think no one’s looking. The walk from Beach 116th Street to Grandma Ethel’s was one of the great walks I’ve had. On the boardwalk, it was mild, the sky was cloudless and looked almost as big as the sky does in Florida. The sand was clear, the ocean calm. As Grandma said when I got to her place: “It’s like Paradise out today.” We went to Aunt Tillie’s in the next building at 5 PM. Although she has a hiatus hernia and couldn’t eat much, Tillie assumed I’m like Morris, who eats whatever is put in front of him. (When he was my age, Uncle Morris ate ten slices of toast every morning.)
I tried to be polite, but the heavy Jewish food was too much for me – I’m not used to eating so much – and I felt sick after the main course. In half an hour, I felt better, my stomach having been given a chance to digest its contents, and I joined the others for tea and cakes. (I’d bought some sweet kosher cake I saw everyone buying in an Avenue J appetizing store.) Grandma Ethel, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris aren’t much of a family, but they’re enough for me. Morris is pretty quiet; he repeated only one story twice, and Aunt Tillie stopped him. (It didn’t bother me at all that he told it again.) At 8 PM Grandma and I went home to watch Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, which was powerful and very tragic. At the end, when Linda talks to Willy’s grave at the funeral, Grandma said it reminded her of how she spoke when she visited Grandpa Herb’s grave a few weeks ago. I slept deeply and long, and at noon, as I left, Grandma Ethel began to cry. “I miss you when you’re not here,” she said. Life is so fucking sad but it’s also beautiful. Or it’s beautiful because it’s sad.
Tuesday, September 17, 1985
4 PM. Last evening I looked over the papers from John Jay, and I read the first chapter in my programming text. I think FPL is a nuisance, but I enjoyed the challenge of my first programming assignment, not due for another week. This morning I went to Teachers College to try to use the Apples in the department office. Prof. Taylor was officious with me. “Are you sure you know how to use this machine?” he snapped. I’m not fond of Columbia at all. Their Apples are in worse shape than BCC’s. I spent an hour working on some simple hi-res and low-res graphics. It was relaxing and stimulating to be back the keyboard and monitor again. I’d gotten rusty, but I still remember a lot about BASIC programming. I couldn’t find the documentation for the koala pad, so I didn’t know how to use it. I got back to the Slope at 1 PM, had lunch at the Chinese restaurant and picked up my laundry. At home, I spoke to Teresa, who spent the weekend with Ken at his place on the Jersey shore. She said I could stay over tomorrow night. You know, I worry a lot about tight schedules and not having enough time, but I prepare so well that I always manage to have everything under control.
Last night and this morning I had time to read Emerson. I feel such a kinship with him in his lifelong search for truth and wisdom. Boy, this sounds embarrassing, but I do think I’m a seeker like Emerson was, and I think that in many ways I live life more fully than do most of the people I know. I don’t take things for granted; I’m still not over the ability to be surprised; and maybe I’m fooling myself, but I feel as ready to die as I’ve ever been, because I have lived. Oh, I’m still scared. That knot in my stomach when I think about the future is real. In many ways I wish I was as secure as my friends, but I know that their security is temporary and probably illusory. Alice thinks that if she does everything she can to succeed, she will succeed. Maybe she will – but to her, success means money and fame – and that won’t make her as happy as she supposes. I, too, would love fame and money. So how am I different? Well, there are things I won’t do to get there. Alice works within the system; she thinks my publicity stunts “won’t get you anywhere” but she doesn’t understand I value them for their own sake. She said I should be embarrassed to stand in midtown Manhattan handing out leaflets proclaiming a celebrity shortage, but I’m proud of doing that. Alice once did a similar thing with her self-published Henrietta, but now she feels we’re too old to do something like that.
Agents are the answer, Alice says. But not for me. Sure, when I hear a story, as I did this morning on NPR, about the 1980s being the decade of the short story renaissance, I wonder why I’ve been overlooked. Is it that I don’t have an agent? Knopf as my publisher? talent? Or maybe it’s just an accident – and that if I ever am “discovered,” that will be an accident, too. As for being unfocused: well, that’s not so bad. The most focused people I know are materialistic, one-dimensional Yuppies. Better to have no focus than to focus on lousy values. I’m no saint, thank God. In my way I’m much more ambitious than anyone – but my ambitions, like Emerson’s, are larger than most people’s – even if they seem to be frivolous.
Wednesday, September 18, 1985
Still Tuesday, 9 PM. I’ve packed up for my long day tomorrow and for staying overnight at Teresa’s, but I think I’ll keep my diary here and return to it on Thursday. Hopefully tomorrow will not be as stressful as last Wednesday was, but I won’t bet on it.
Josh came over at 6 PM this evening (Tuesday), and we sat around for an hour before going out to dinner at a Yuppie café, the Santa Fe, that just opened on Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Place. It was a treat to have dinner with a friend. Josh and I didn’t discuss anything of consequence, but our conversation was lively, and I treasured his company. I’ve had too many dumpy dinners alone lately. After dinner, Josh went over to Julie’s on Sterling Place and I came home to watch the videotaped CBS Evening News and President Reagan’s live press conference. I disagree with almost all of Reagan’s policies, but I think he’s right to resist the wave of protectionism sweeping Congress and the nation. Trade barriers are just self-defeating, especially in today’s global economy. I feel sorry for all the U.S. workers who’ve lost their job due to imports, but I think we have to help them in other ways besides erecting high tariffs or other barriers to international trade. Mom and I spoke earlier. There’s been trouble at Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, as several of the Bhagwan’s closest advisers have fled to Europe, presumably with lots of money – but Jonathan still has faith in the Bhagwan himself, Mom reports. She spent most of the conversation going on about the flea market and Preston Henn, the
crazy, capricious guy who runs it; he’s so greedy, he may be running it into the ground.
Thursday, September 19, 1985
Noon. I just got home to find one of the fish dead. I flushed it down the toilet. It was Mrs. Mooney, the little catfish whom I had been worried about at the beginning because she always lay across the rocks. Today she was lying face down, though. Ah, well, that’s life. This really is a hard time for me, and I know I’d have been better off if I had stuck with my plan to go to Florida. However, without having gone through this semester, I might have continued to complain about Florida and looked upon New York City as a paradise. In the past two days, I taught four classes – nearly six hours altogether – and I gave my students their money’s worth. Yesterday I talked myself into a sore throat. My classes all like me, and I’ve been working well with them. At Baruch we’ve done free writing, and I’ve begun my stuff at John Jay. This weekend I’ll have to make a syllabus for each school now that I’ve got the texts. I also have about 25
essays that I got today which need to be graded. But I can’t think about school now. Do I feel better now that I’m working? Well, I’m not sure. As exhausted as I was last night – and it reminded me of my Thursdays in the fall of 1980 when I taught four classes at Brooklyn, John Jay, and then Brooklyn again from 8 AM to 8 PM and of my Thursdays in the spring of 1984 when I taught from 8 AM to 3:15 PM at Broward Community College and then had my Florida International University Pilot course till 7 PM – I did feel a little sense of accomplishment. There were no major disasters in going from Baruch to John Jay to Columbia to Teresa’s, but it was very stressful indeed. It didn’t help that I hardly slept at all last night. And because a pimple on my forehead got infected when I squeezed it, I’ve been wearing a band-aid, which makes me feel weird. My teeth are bothering me; I’m not sure if the dull ache means I need root canal work in the front capped tooth or if I’m just grinding my teeth again because of stress. Even though I have nearly three hours between my Baruch and John Jay classes, and two hours between John Jay and Columbia, I can’t really relax during that time. By noon, I felt very sleepy, but I had to rouse myself for my teaching.
At Teresa’s, I got a letter from Teachers College. They want me to give back the $1,250 NDSL because I’m not taking 12 credits; they neglected to approve it when I brought in my check.
I told them I’d be in on Monday, but I don’t intend to appear. As much as I hate to, I’ll play Teresa on this one and let them work hard to get their money back. If it wasn’t for that $1,250, I might not have gone to Columbia; it would leave me with only $800 from the GSL loan. Or maybe I got my NDSL mixed up with my PLUS loan. In any case, I plan to hang on to the money and play dumb. Class at Columbia was okay. We were in the computer room, and we got to work on the DEC-20 terminals. I did the keyboarding for my group, and as usual, I went ahead of the teacher. Working on a mainframe is a good experience for me, and after class, I was foolish enough to try to do some work on the terminal, but I soon gave up when I kept making mistakes out of tiredness. Teresa was glad I was staying over. She was delighted with her cable TV: the fine reception and the new channels. She said this will be the last weekend in Fire Island and that she’ll get a job “because I won’t know what do with myself otherwise.”
Her sister, back at work one week, has decided she misses the baby and Amy too much and will leave the LIRR to stay at home full-time. Like many baby boomer mothers, Laura Cipillone is learning that one can’t “have it all.” Paul is upset by the loss of her income, but Laura was spending a lot of money on babysitters, clothes, and transportation for work. I think she has the right idea, but then, I hate working. Maybe it’s just that I’m not used to working and will adjust in a few weeks. I’ve begun to have thoughts about quitting my jobs when Justin comes back and going to Florida in November. That would be highly irresponsible, but I’d like to keep the option in the back of my head so I feel I’ve got an escape hatch if life becomes unbearable. I foresee many problems cropping up: unexpected expenses with the dentist, etc., and maybe my CUNY salary won’t be as much as I expected. I can’t imagine ever getting out of debt. Sadly, I find myself again fantasizing about the $20,000 NEA fellowship. I didn’t get one in 1979, 1981, 1982 or 1984, and I won’t get one this year; in the end, I’ll only hate myself again for being so naïve as to hope for a grant. *
8 PM. I rested most of the afternoon. Yesterday took a lot out of me. Today I didn’t make my usual “to do” list; all I wanted to do was take a mental vacation. At 3 PM I felt well enough to exercise a little; then I read the papers for the last two days. After dinner, I took a short walk to Grand Army Plaza, but I still feel tired and my throat is a bi sore. (Although I know the sore throat is from teaching, these days I imagine every little illness might be a sign of AIDS.) I guess this experience of the last three weeks – no, it’s four weeks already – of living in Park Slope and then going through the tension of finding work and now settling into what seems to be a tough schedule – is character-building, but I can’t say it’s been fun. On the other hand, it ain’t Auschwitz by any means. I still live in comfort that half the world would find imaginable, and that is the most important thing to consider.
Friday, September 20, 1985
6 PM. Today was warm – over 85° -- and sunny, a very summery day just before the start of fall. I didn’t leave Park Slope today but
spent the day relaxing and revving up my engines. Last night I slept peacefully for ten hours, and I feel quite rested now. I stayed in bed till noon, reading the papers I’d gone out early to get. Last evening I made some phone calls. I told Gary I was still around; he and Eileen were on their way out to dinner. I also phoned Miriam in New Jersey, and we made a date for next Friday in Manhattan; she said, “It will be good to see you again, sweetie.” This morning Alice phone and said I should meet her for brunch on Sunday. I worry about taking the time away from my work, but also know I need to be with friends. Mom and I had another good long talk yesterday; she senses that I’m excited about returning to Arizona, and I am. Actually, today’s biggest thrill came in a mailing from Mom. Republic National Bank gave me a $5,000 line of credit on their non-card check-writing program. I immediately sent out a $2,000 Republic check to Citibank (South Dakota), and another one for $2,000 for my Broward Schools credit union account, where I incurred an overdraft because I forgot that my American Express travelers cheques at the airport ATM were drawn on my BSCU account. Hopefully, I’ll be covered when they try to redeposit the money. That’s the first big
mistake I’ve made in my finances, and I’m starting to wonder if they’re not getting too complicated. I’ve made out my checks for this month’s credit card bills in advance already, but I think I should pay off the smaller accounts ($1,000 or less), starting next month. For one thing, I don’t have the time now to follow twenty or more accounts each month; I already suspect some of this month’s bills have been lost in the mail between here and Florida. But I like feeling that I’m putting one over on all these banks. I’m very surprised Republic accepted me based on a credit report. No more applying for credit for the rest of 1985: that’s a promise. I’ll try again when I’m in Florida. I’ll have more income coming starting in a few weeks, so by no means am I desperate for money. The good feature of Republic’s credit line is that it’s fixed four points over the prime rate for calculation of the annual percentage rate; now it’s only 14% compared to the 18%-21% of most credit cards. Now I have about $32,000 in lines of credit, most of which I’ve gotten this year: Republic, Southeast Bank, Bank One, First Interstate, Avco and Choice. I’m convinced my scheme is workable, provided I live cheaply and have some income each year – at least more than I pay in interest.
It didn’t take long for me to make up syllabi for each of the schools where I’m teaching. I still have about 25 papers to grade before Tuesday, but I’ll get to them, I’m sure. Tonight I intend to stay in and maybe exercise a little. Tomorrow I’ve got to be up early for my class at Columbia. Justin phoned and said that Same Time, Next Year is going very well; it opened on Wednesday, and the crowds are appreciative. Moreover, he’s quite pleased with the production. He was upset but understanding about the fish’s death and offered no comment (though I sensed his disapproval) about my decision to return to Florida. Well, I know best for myself. Justin, like Ronna, has never been to Florida, but that doesn’t stop them from considering it an awful place. Today I don’t feel so much like a loser. Maybe it has to do with the $14,000 I have in the bank.
Saturday, September 21, 1985
5:30 PM. Events like the massive Mexico City earthquake in the past two days drive home that nothing in life is certain. On TV, there were pictures of 21-story buildings that collapsed like soufflés and of hundreds trapped in the ruins of their homes, offices, schools and churches.
We all like to think we have diplomatic immunity from catastrophe, but of course no one does. Last night I read Emerson’s journals; there was a man who seemed to understand what life was about. The knowledge cost him, though; despite his often being mislabeled a Pollyanna, Emerson knew life’s dark side. What’s his line? “He who has never entered the House of Pain has seen but half the universe.” So many of my generation, the baby boomer raised in the comfortable ‘50s, who realized we had the power to change the world in the ‘60s, have lived lives geared to constant progress and perfectibility. Tomorrow I’ll see Alice. She’s a good example, but I’m not so bad myself. It’s regrettable that it takes a disaster like an earthquake or AIDS to remind us how fragile life is. That being said, as Emerson realized, there’s nothing to do but get on with it. This morning, after a fairly good sleep, I took the IRT to Teachers College; it’s almost a pleasant trip on Saturday at 8 AM. I enjoyed our Computer Graphics class; Mr. Budin showed us how to create shapes by poking them into memory in BASIC or by using hexadecimal machine language to do it. I love being around the Apple II, and when he demonstrated SuperPilot, I felt like I was being introduced to an old friend. Aside from our final project, we have to save to disks graphics
done with SuperPilot, the koala pad, and in high-res BASIC. I’ve already done those things. In our “handson” hour, I sketched with the koala pad, getting the feel of it, and taking pleasure in my efforts. Where there weren’t enough machines around, I wandered from computer to computer, helping people to transfer from one disk to another, to use Pilot commands, or to save their graphics. All my knowledge has come back to me, and that’s gratifying; I stayed away from computers for too long between April and September. Back in Brooklyn at 2 PM, I got another big mailing from Mom. There were five credit card bills – for which I’d already made out checks – and another nice surprise: Mellon Bank raised my credit limit from $800 to $1599. Of course I really should pay off some of these cards, but I enjoy the game too much. It delights me to see how close I come to maximum credit line; today it was $1, $5, $7, $8 and $10. And I like getting a letter from Manny Hanny that begins: “Dear Richard Grayson, You’re a professional and you’re going places with your money. You lifestyle is demanding. You expect a lot from yourself and plenty from the money you make. And there’s no doubt your future is full of potential.”
They sure know how to butter up Yuppies, don’t they? I also received more speaking engagement invitations and a form to send back to Gale Research to put the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War in their Encyclopedia of Associations, an invitation to a fundraiser for George Firestone, and other goodies. What delight With the same zest and sense of fun and adventure that I used to submit stories to little magazines and await acceptance and rejection, and then later send out press releases and await a call from a newspaper or wire service, I now pursue getting credit. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. Look – as I told Mom – I can’t be so dumb: I haven’t had a paycheck all year and yet I have $15,000 in the bank! I know it’s all pretty silly when you look at the horror of the Mexico City disaster, but it’s not a bad way to pass the time. While I don’t expect to win the Village Voice Political Art Contest with my collage of newspaper articles about my presidential campaign, I’m excited by the possibility of doing more collages and seeing them published. Although I didn’t write these articles, I caused them to be written; it’s sort of art: conceptual or performance art. A Newsweek essay by a community college English comp teacher amused and saddened
me. Called “No Allusions in the Classroom,” the essay details a first day “general knowledge” quiz given to his students. They thought Managua was in Iran and Camp David in Israel, and they identified Sid Caesar as an early Roman emperor, Charles Darwin as the discoverer of gravity, Ethel Rosenberg as a jazz singer in the 1930s, and The Great Gatsby as a magician in the same decade. To these students, J. Edgar Hoover was a 19thcentury President, Neil Simon wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Mark Twain invented the cotton gin. It’s funny but scary, and I’ve experienced the uneasiness of mentioning some person or historical incident and wondering how many students knew what I was referring to. Didn’t I say this was The Dumb Decade?
Sunday, September 22, 1985
4 PM. It’s a humid, dark first day of autumn. I read the Times till midnight and then had some trouble falling asleep. At 10:30 AM I met Alice at her building and we went for brunch. She loves her new job at Redbook, gets along with her editor, gets paid to read People and attend meetings, plays and
functions like the MTV Awards – though the party afterwards at the Palladium was too late for her since it started at midnight. She signed a contract with a packager to do a book for NAL, part of a new series of teenage self-help paperbacks. It’s called How to Get a Boyfriend in Two Weeks. Ahem. Alice said the writing is a snap, but she can’t say anything about sex. Like several other New Yorkers, Alice can sound paranoid when she’s on the subject of real estate, which she is often. She says she may stop reading the Times because the prices on condos and co-ops depress her too much. Sometimes I think I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by real estate. Alice expressed sympathy for AIDS sufferers and said reading about them “almost made me want to do the one humanitarian thing I’ve ever done and be a volunteer for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. But then I stopped myself because I knew I couldn’t take it.” Like most people, she couldn’t understand my credit card scheme; she said it sounded “sleazy” to her, but I explained that I’m actually helping the economy. She said anyone who wants a lifestyle with “stability” – Alice’s word for what everyone she knows except me wants – couldn’t do it: “For one thing, you could never get a mortgage.”
True, but I don’t want one. She can’t get the old-fashioned concept of debt out of her head. Recently she paid off her credit card bills and felt relieved. But when her accountant advised her to double her present $5,000 Visa and MasterCard limits, Alice’s bank, Bank of New York, turned her down, saying she had too much available credit already. I don’t understand this, how Alice can’t get higher credit limits and I keep getting more and more credit – unless it’s because I’m such a heavy borrower. As we parted, Alice told me about getting a letter from her old friend Rose Levinson Greenberg, who went to junior high and high school with us. Rose said her mother saw Alice’s name on the Weight Watchers masthead as editor-in-chief and wrote Alice, “I always knew you’d do well.” Rose herself has been widowed for two years, has two children, moved near her parents in Rockaway Park, and is returning to work as a kindergarten teacher. Alice, through the years, has always expressed astonishment that her old friends “who never left the Brooklyn mentality behind” could live such different lives than hers. To me, it seems natural, but Alice has never been able to understand diversity; maybe that’s why Alice never seems to doubt herself. My problem is I understand everyone’s point of
view; maybe that’s why I seem to do little except doubt myself. From West 4th Street, I took the JFK Express to the American Airlines terminal to get a Choice cash advance of $400; since my billing period ended yesterday, I was eligible for one day. Then I took a taxi to Avenue J and Coney Island Avenue, passing Kingsborough and Marc’s old Sheepshead Bay apartment where I lived for five weeks in May and June of 1981. I got to the bank before it closed at 2 PM and deposited my cash. Then I took the Coney Island Avenue bus up to Bartel-Pritchard Square – we passed Dr. Lipton’s house, but only for an instant – and I walked the 18 blocks up Prospect Park West and across President Street here. There’s a message from Dr. Perkal of Touro College on my machine; they put a blind ad in the paper last week. At least I don’t need the tsuris of working there.
Monday, September 23, 1985
8 PM. Watching the nightly network shows – all originating from Mexico City and showing horrible scenes of human misery – makes my troubles seem pretty silly.
Obviously, other earthquakes have caused similar devastation, but they’ve tended to be in remote parts of the world, difficult to get to and not as easy for Americans to identify with. The news playing up the Mexico City earthquake makes it a more important tragedy; the way to Americans’ minds is through their TV tubes, as was demonstrated when the concern for the starving Ethiopians crystallized after one BBC report was shown on NBC. But even so – the earthquake, like AIDS, reminds us of our mortality. Remember in Candide when Pangloss, the ultra-optimist gets caught in the great (and real) Lisbon earthquake? Oh well. I slept wonderfully but awoke with a sore throat. Could I be getting another cold so soon? (Last year, though, I got two in a row just this time of year.) Teaching three classes today didn’t help. And when I came home exhausted at 4 PM, I had a two-hour bout of diarrhea. Yeah, I can’t help thinking about AIDS despite my recognition that I had frequent sore throats and diarrhea before AIDS even existed. My classes went well, but they took a lot out of me. By my last class of the day, I began to tire and even feel a bit faint. I haven’t adjusted my eating schedule to my school schedule. But my problem is I didn’t grade the papers for tomorrow’s class, though I read them, and I don’t feel well enough now to do the job.
This last weekend was the last weekend I’ll be so lazy. I should have worked on them on Friday or Sunday. I still need to do my homework for my programming class, but I have all of Wednesday to do that. I wasted a couple of hours talking to Tim yesterday. Well, not wasted because I like him and he’s interesting – Tim was at NAL the day they got the proposal for Alice’s boyfriend book – but I should have been concentrating on my students. I have half a dozen new ones at John Jay, upping my rosters to 16 and 17. Before class I met Pete Cherches’ friend Harold, who remembered me from years ago. He’s teaching one class at John Jay on Monday/ Wednesday and another on Tuesday/Thursday and is tutoring at Brooklyn. I’ve told people I’m not staying on but am going to Florida for the winter. Three months from now is Christmas Eve; by then, the terms at Columbia and Baruch will be over, and I’ll have to return to John Jay only to give the finals. I had my photo ID taken at Baruch so I can pick up Thursday’s paycheck, and it will also be payday at John Jay. The kid came to clean the fish tank filter and found another fish dead behind the filter. The weather turned rainy, cooler; summer is a memory.
Tuesday, September 24, 1985
9 PM. It’s now Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I should do more than be grateful that I can sleep late tomorrow. But I’m such an assimilated Jew that I don’t really understand the true meaning of the holiday. When I was a kid and Dad dragged me to the synagogue, all I heard was mumbo-jumbo in a foreign language. It’s sad that my religious “education” – four years of Hebrew school – made me want to forget everything as soon as I could.
Last night I needed to sleep, and sleep I did – from 9 PM straight through to 6 AM, with an interruption from a call from Touro’s Dr. Perkal; I declined his offer of employment. I’m glad they’re having a hard time finding adjuncts these days. Maybe one day college department chairmen will have to do what Sun Belt school districts do and go out and recruit adjuncts. Up early, I got to school at 8 AM and had enough time to grade all the papers before my 8:50 AM class. This SEEK group is feisty and too large, but I like them.
At 10:30 AM, I was free. It was a drizzly day, and I thought of coming home to relax, but I decided to visit Teresa. She wasn’t home, but I had time to hang out there, eat some cookies, read the Times, and get my mail. In the lobby, as I left at noon, I heard on the radio news: “An explosion at a muffler shop in Davie, Florida, killed four people and injured others.” At 86th and Broadway, I called home; Jonathan said everyone was fine, but the 8 AM explosion of propane gas had created a loud boom that rattled windows. Later Dad told me the Midas shop – the one on Griffin and University – was leveled and that the explosion was so great, all the windows in the area – at Publix, Gaetano’s Pizzeria, the bookstore and First Nationwide Savings – were shattered, and the stores had structural damage. I miss Davie; I guess I feel a little homesick. On the Broadway bus to Columbia, I ran into Bruce from my Computer Graphics class, and we had lunch together. Originally I thought he was kind of cute – I’m sure he’s gay – but he didn’t seem interested in me. He did tell me that he thought Teachers College’s computer department was bad. He took a programming course with Prof. Taylor, who was such a terrible teacher that all the students were panicky because they couldn’t follow his lectures.
Bruce said that he’s in a doctoral program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – a field Columbia is well-known for, but he suggested that for learning computers, “the cheaper school you go to, the better off you are, since you mostly learn it by yourself anyway.” I spent a semi-frustrating ninety minutes in the computer room, managing to work a little on the mainframe. I know if I’ve encountered problems, the others in the course must be lost. (I’m the only male student.) At 2:5 PM I got on the IRT and got home an hour later. I spent a while working on my credit card bills and juggling money, then I spoke to with Teresa. The house in the Berkshires has been sold, and they go to contract now and have the closing in early October, though her brother-in-law wanted to rush to it now. This weekend is her cousin Patricia’s wedding, and Teresa’s astonished that her own escort will be her actual boyfriend, Ken. That relationship is going so well that Teresa feels neurotic about it; she doesn’t want to lose it and is afraid that her fear of losing it will make Ken antsy. But he sounds ideal: a lawyer, 40, very goodlooking and well-built, probably fairly well-off despite two divorces (the two is what bothers Teresa a little). He’s actually looking forward to meeting her family at the wedding.
At 5 PM it got sunny out, and on the way to dinner at the Grand Canyon, I stopped for a nice, short $15 haircut. I like having very short hair now; I don’t know how I used to stand long hair or even semi-long hair. Maybe it’s that young people can wear long hair but it doesn’t look good on a more mature person. (Well, chronologically I’m mature.) I wished Grandma Ethel and my parents a happy new year and spent the evening reading and exercising.
Wednesday, September 25, 1985
3 PM. I never seem to get accomplished what I had planned. Today, a rare day off, I could have gotten work done. But for the past couple of hours I’ve been in the luxurious state of demi-sleep, and I do feel relaxed now. Probably I needed the rest. Last night I reread Emerson’s “Experience” in which he states that some days “when when thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished and much was begun in us.” Wishful thinking? I did have trouble getting to sleep last night because my mind was active with ideas and plans. I’m really looking forward to returning to Florida. My months
there this year were my happiest times of 1985, even though I was mostly alone. Well, we’ll see what the future brings. I stayed in bed till 10 AM and then went to the Business Library in downtown Brooklyn, where I read this month’s issues of American Banker, paying particular attention to articles on credit cards, ATMs and interstate banking deals. Is there another literary-type writer in America who has made a hobby of learning about the financial services industry? I think I’d better not tell too many people about my credit card deal. Alice kept joking that I’ll wind up in jail; she doesn’t understand. The longer I know Alice, the more I realize how limited she is intellectually. She’s actually an overachiever who got to be Phi Beta Kappa on the strength of her hard work rather than a keen mind. As much as I love her, I can’t explain myself to Alice any more than I can explain myself to people in Florida, though of course she at least knows me and doesn’t totally doubt my sanity. It’s time to trek up to Columbia now. New York may get hit by Hurricane Gloria this weekend, though hurricanes are always hit or miss affairs when it comes to predictions.
Thursday, September 26, 1985
1 PM. We’re under a hurricane watch, but I suspect the storm won’t be as destructive – if it even arrives – as the media hype predicts. Yesterday afternoon I went up to Columbia and spent about fifteen minutes on the DEC-20, printing out all the homework assignments we’ll have. The class is interesting, if only because it shows me how someone else approaches teaching programming, and perhaps there is something to Prof. Taylor’s FPL. I also enjoy watching Chris teach because he’s so good-looking. My hormones have been bubbling up while I wasn’t looking. I’ve been feeling very sexy and sexual the past couple of days. I know my short haircut is very attractive, as I’ve gotten lots of compliments on it. Last night I kept having sex dreams. Of course, in this climate of fear over AIDS, I’d have to think about twenty times before having sex with someone. (Usually I think only ten times.) I’ve had so much on my mind that it’s surprising that I should feel so frisky – but it’s nice to know that my old instincts are still there. Class let out at 7 PM, and the IRT got me to Grand Army Plaza an hour later.
When I got in, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and spent an hour watching the season premiere of Dynasty. During the night, I was restless, but I still was up at 6 AM and got to Baruch by 8:10 AM, giving me time to relax before class. I like the SEEK class and am getting to know them as individuals; today was pretty good. Afterwards, I got my ID and used it to get my first Baruch paycheck. Then I bussed up to John Jay: funny, as the bus went up Eighth Avenue, I looked out the window and saw the three balls of a pawnbroker and I clearly remembered seeing the same store from the bus as I went up to Franklin School twenty years ago. The thought that I could be in the same place twenty years later astounded me, and I wondered if in the year 2005, I might find myself in the same spot. Most of my students weren’t even born till 1967 or 1968; it startles me when I read papers with details like, “In 1975, when I was seven years old. . .” I was already teaching college in 1975! Not only do I remember 1964’s Hurricane Donna but also Hurricane Hazel in 1954! But some guy at Baruch did mistake me today for a fellow students, asking me if I’d taken Marketing I yet. At John Jay’s West 56th Street building, I picked up that check and deposited the two state checks (one with a phone social security
number) in First Nationwide Savings. Combined, they netted me about $766. We won’t be getting our 10% increases until January – and maybe not our 5% retroactive raise for last year, too – but that money will feel like a gift then. I came home to Park Slope and spent the afternoon watching soaps, lifting weights, reading the paper and talking to Teresa, who was watching little Matt while Barbara worked. Teresa is worried that Ken is bisexual. She couldn’t say it right away and kept hemming and hawing. “What does he do that makes you think he’s bi?” I asked. She said, well, he was very finicky about furniture and his dishes and vain about his appearance and possession. “Oh, you mean he’s a fag,” I said. “Most guys like that are totally straight.” But she said in snooping around his apartment, she found some photos that were mildly incriminating – and he’s already told her that he’s not monogamous. It isn’t his sleeping with men that would bother Teresa but the scariness of the AIDS situation. As Alice said on Sunday, “I’m really glad I have a boyfriend – and that neither of us is fooling around now.” Teresa is also at loose ends. This will be the first weekend without Fire Island; still, since it’s Patricia’s wedding, she’ll be busy.
At 5 PM I called Susan and she said to come over, so I practically ran to Sterling Place. Susan was depressed because her creative writing students are so dumb and she already feels burned out by Hunter. It could just be a bad day, of course, but I share her feeling that all the alternatives for making a living seem unsatisfying. She’s getting disgusted with writing freelance articles as well as teaching and wonders what she’ll do after the spring. The baby is due in February – and Susan’s breasts are already gigantic and she’s started to look pregnant – but she says she could never be satisfying putting all her energies into parenting although she’ll probably do nothing but that for the first three months. We had a good talk, and she lent me Scott Sommer’s new novel Hazzard’s Head, which she liked, “but maybe just because I know Scott and how neurotic he is.” Patrick wrote that things at Broward Community College are the same. The administration offered a $20,000 base salary for an M.A. “but the union turned it down because they’re more interesting in rewarding the old deadwood.” He refused to teach a sixth class for only $900 but is having trouble paying his bills. A good lit class at night keeps him going.
Crad writes that sales have been good lately, but he’ll finish 1985 with a substantial deficit. Next week he’ll begin typesetting his three books – two in the color serious and his “serious novella” – but he’ll still have to sell one from the last series as well. At least he got a new winter coat after twenty years! Margaret Atwood and her husband bought his latest book but didn’t stop to chat; still, I think her just knowing Crad is a coup for him – and he died get the latest Pushcart Prize X with his story. I wish I were doing as well as Crad is – as a writer, at least.
Friday, September 27, 1985
8 PM. Today was Hurricane Friday, but as I suggested last night, Gloria didn’t live up to her advance billing. Last night the Mayor announced that public schools would be closed today, and private schools, CUNY and other colleges, banks, the stock exchange and most businesses followed suit. Things sounded awful this morning; the TV stations had hurricane alerts which tried to get people to take the storm seriously. Because they’ve evacuated Fire Island and other shore communities, I was worried about Grandma
Ethel, especially after they told Rockaway residents to leave. I called Grandma several times but she wasn’t moving. “It will pass,” she said. She did have a neighbor tape up her windows and glass terrace door, though. I went out to Key Food at 8 AM and everyone was busy buying food and candles and batteries. People were more polite than usual and waited patiently on the long lines. The storm certainly seemed fierce; I got soaked to the skin, and my umbrella was useless against the winds. Back on TV, forecasters said a “worst-case scenario” was approaching, with Gloria due to make landfall in mid-Long Island with 120 mph winds. But although the storm caused lots of felled trees and power lines and a good bit of property damage, it was no killer. Coming at low tide and moving through the area very quickly, Gloria didn’t cause heavy flooding at the beach. “The beach is still here,” said Grandma Ethel, recalling that back in 1971 the ocean was under the boardwalk. It turned out that Grandma’s relaxed attitude was more appropriate than my media-fed anxiety. Here in Brooklyn, we had heavy rains and wind – there are a lot of trees and branches down – but by 1 PM, the sun was out and it seemed calm.
I knew that was the eye of the hurricane, though, and expected worse; however, all we got after that were whipped-up winds from the other direction and a little rain. The skies cleared, and out on Seventh Avenue, people were walking around with smiles, cheerfully enjoying an unexpected holiday. I was bored and cranky, so I took the IRT uptown to visit Teresa, who had just come back from a walk with Betty. We sat around talking for an hour. I feel more like Teresa’s friend now that I’ve distanced myself from her. I’ve been thinking about coming back to her apartment in a month to save money, but Teresa’s involved in a crazy relationship now. We’ll just have to see. I can always sublet somewhere and spend $800 to $1,000 a month. If I were to return to Teresa’s, I’d miss my privacy. At 6 PM I left with Betty – Teresa had a date with Ken – and before getting on the train back to Brooklyn, I had dinner at the 4 Brothers. After five weeks in Park Slope, I’ve become very attached to this place. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to leave, but now it seems like home and I dread having to move again. It’s funny how I end up falling in love, a little, with almost every place where I’ve lived. By now I feel comfortable at Baruch as well as at John Jay. I guess it takes me about a month
to adjust to a new place or a new routine. Of course, I face my biggest test the next two weeks. There are no vacation days between Columbus Day in mid-October. Mondays and especially Wednesdays are very rough for me, and I’ve been putting off grading papers and doing work for my courses at Columbia. Still, I feel confident, I can “stretch” myself to get everything done by the end of the year. If I budget my time better, I can make it – I hope. As harried as I sometimes feel, I realize on a boring day like today how much I need the social contact and meaning of work. I have a better self-image than I did last summer now that I’m productive. Still I expect disasters ahead – minor ones, anyway: a stomach virus (I’m overdue for one), other illness, problems with my teeth (tomorrow I see Dr. Hersh), and unforeseen vague calamities at work. But Grandma Ethel said today’s hurricane would pass, and it did; so will the rest of 1985. Time is wonderful that way.
Saturday, September 28, 1985
8 PM. Last night I fell asleep after Dallas and worked hard to rouse myself this morning so I could get to my 10 AM appointment with Dr. Hersh. It felt odd indeed to get off the Flatbush Avenue bus at East 56th Street, walk up the old block past the house where I lived in for twenty years, and go into a dentist’s office where I had gone for a dozen years but hadn’t been in for a decade. Dr. Hersh got grayer but looks the same; his young son is with him now. He asked about my family only briefly. According to him, all my other problems are minor compared to my terrible gums. If I don’t start a program of good oral hygiene, I’m going to have all the problems Mom has now. He took a long series of x-rays, and my next appointment is on Tuesday. This treatment by Dr. Hersh will be costly, but a dollar of prevention is worth a hundred collars of cure, and it’s best not to be cheap where my health is concerned. Speaking of health, Dr. Hersh was shocked that I haven’t had a medical checkup in three years. “You’re not a kid anymore,” he told me. I guess not. Actually, I think I’m coming down with the cold I got at the end of September last year. I feel achy and my throat hurts. Well, I’ll cope somehow.
At Kings Plaza, I bought two pairs of pants at Macy’s and then gave them to a tailor across from the Kings Highway train station on my way home. This afternoon I graded all my papers, forcing myself to do it, telling myself I’ll feel better afterwards. I don’t, not really. I wrote Patrick and Crad and I spoke to Justin, who’s got a bad cold himself. He won’t be back until October 30, a Wednesday – so I’ve got a few extra days here. October will be the difficult month this fall.
Sunday, September 29, 1985
8 PM. Miriam’s reading at the Cornelia Street Café is starting now, but I called her and gave an excuse for not going; I didn’t want to stay out late when I have to get up at 6 AM. Now I think I made a mistake. I won’t get to see Miriam at all this visit, as we had to cancel lunch on Friday because of the hurricane. I spent all of today – a lovely, sunny day – indoors, studying and reading and exercising. All work and no play don’t add up to much fun. I turned Josh down when he asked if I wanted to go to the Atlantic Antic. And later, when I called because I felt lonely, Josh didn’t feel like going out to dinner.
I shouldn’t let my work make me become a monk. If I was going to be alone most of the time, I should have gone to Florida. I’ve had too many meals out alone. When Josh and I had dinner out last week, it seemed like, and it was, a real treat. I need to see people more; I’ve neglected my friends this past month. Soon I won’t have any life left. Not good, Grayson. I guess I felt it mostly because Tim had Julie and his friend Ron over, and they cooked a big dinner while I boiled a Lean Cuisine. It would have been nice if they’d asked me to join them, but they’re all friends and don’t really know me, and if I weren’t living here, we’d probably never meet socially. Today was Kenny’s 39th birthday, and all day he got calls from his relatives – but he was working and wasn’t here. If he’d come home earlier, I would have been happy to take him out to dinner, but I’d already eaten, and besides, he brought up a pizza. Kenny’s life seems sad to me. He admits he doesn’t know very many people in New York and hardly ever is talkative; he eats his meals up in his room alone. (I did that tonight, but only so as not to intrude on Tim and his guests). Last night I went out at 8 PM to get the Sunday Times, but at the Grand Army Plaza newsstand, a crowd of people was waiting for the paper,
which didn’t arrive until 8:45 PM. It was a mild night with a full moon like a street lamp, and as I stood out there, I kept thinking how strange it was to be on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on a fall Saturday night. I remembered the time a plane fell in the Slope after a midair collision with another plane, and how I went with my parents to that very neighborhood because Mom had to see her obstetrician. Then I realized that was 25 years ago, and I didn’t know what to feel. Tim and his friends expressed amazement when I asked Kenny how old he was and he said 39. It seemed natural to me, but Tim and his friends are probably only 23 or 24. Yesterday at Kings Highway, I was thinking about the health food store that I used to go to there; it opened in ’70 or ’71, I guess, and is now gone. I started thinking about the fall of ’71, when I broke up with Shelli and was so unhappy and upset. I hadn’t thought about that in a very long time, but suddenly I could remember specific days and how I felt (angry, hurt, depressed) and even what I was wearing (bleach-faded jeans with a flower decal by the knee, a white sweater with multicolored threads running through it). This sounds dopey, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s all been one continuous life.
Today’s Michaelmas, I see at the top of the diary page, and tomorrow Sukkoth. Remember that dream where I told Ronna that life is too relentless? The other day I tried to recite “Sh’ma Yisroel” but I got the Hebrew words all messed up.
Monday, September 30, 1985
6 PM. I didn’t sleep much last night, maybe just four hours. Anyway, I didn’t feel refreshed at 6 AM when I woke up and thought I’d have a hard time getting through the day. But I didn’t have to take any of the Tylenol I stuck in my pocked before leaving; I tried to pace myself and relax. One way is to remember that my jobs are only temporary and a means to an end, and that teaching remedial English is not my career, only a way to earn money. I don’t take things so seriously that way. It helps to say, “This is not my real life” when my students act up or I get frustrated. The lack of responsibility of adjunct life suits me; I like not being a part of the system – a permanent part, anyway.
After I left Baruch, I went to Columbus Circle and deposited the check Justin gave me, and after doing my own banking, I bought some Mrs. Fields’ semi-sweet chocolate chip (with macadamia nuts) cookies and sat by the entrance to the park, trying to relax, to enjoy the fresh air and the trees and not feel pressure. I read the Times on a park bench and didn’t get to John Jay until an hour before class. My classes were tiring and tiresome. There isn’t much excitement in teaching verb tenses, though I try to summon all the enthusiasm I can. It took me over an hour to get home, but I chose the wrong trains. Little by little, I’m learning how to ride most efficiently, though the strain of spending two hours a day on the subway isn’t good for me. I did try to do some stretches and little exercises on the way home. Last evening I called Mikey and Amy; I’d been remiss in letting them know I was still around. Mikey had a bad stomach virus; I bet I get one before this year ends, and I dread it. I also phoned Ronna and made a tentative date for Friday, after her shrink appointment. Then I read most of Scott Sommer’s new novel, Hazzard’s Head. The thirteen “characters” (Boy, Lover, Father, Son, Writer, etc.) in the narrator’s mind make the book hard to read, but I felt I got some
insights into Scott’s own neurosis, as Susan said. Whether I’d enjoy the book as much without knowing Scott, I’m not sure. While I’d hoped to get more interesting mail, what I got was routine – except for a letter from Rick, who wonders why writers our age got passed over in favor of the under-30 crowd. (He said Scott’s book is sinking without a trace in D.C.) The Washington Post asked him to review Sorrentino’s new book, and in typical Peabody fashion, Rick says he’ll probably “blow it.” Give that man some confidence. The other night Jonathan was shocked when I read him a Times story in which his guru, Bhagwan, urged his followers to stop wearing their reddish colors, to stop carrying his photo in a locket, and to end Rajneeshism. Jonathan made me read the story three times because he couldn’t believe it. It reminds me of what I learned about cognitive dissonance in Social Psychology at BC. Perhaps Jonathan will learn a lesson, but who knows with him? His bad timing in committing himself to a cult that’s just about on the verge of extinction is pretty funny. Mom, meanwhile, is obsessed with Preston Henn, owner of the Swap Shop flea market, whose utterly capricious changes are wreaking havoc for all the vendors. The man sounds like the worst kind of boss – an unpredictable one –
who’ll probably run the flea market into the ground before he’s through. Tomorrow’s really October. I survived September, but October, with only one holiday and the pressure of being observed at my teaching – plus the swelling tide of papers to grade – is the real test. Still, three-quarters of 1985 is over. I really am not looking forward to the last third of the year.
Tuesday, October 1, 1985
6 PM. Last evening I spent half an hour flossing my teeth and working on my gums. They bled like crazy, and they really did look disgusting; they’re filled with schmutz. Then I had a light workout: 100 reps each of bench presses (I used Justin’s narrow table, deep knee bends, pullovers (lying down in bed) and biceps curls. Following that, I watched Adam Smith’s Money World and finished Scott Sommer’s novel, which had its moments, although I’m sure it won’t be popular. Unfortunately, despite all these activities, I couldn’t sleep. Hours went by and my mind was racing with ridiculous thoughts about teaching.
Yesterday I said teaching wasn’t part of my real life, but it’s easier said than done as far as my unconscious is concerned. By 3 AM I felt desperate. I know I slept a little before that, but the quality of the sleep was so poor, it didn’t help. Anyway, I thought I’d never get through the day, but surprisingly, I had a fairly high energy level until about an hour ago. Now I’m ready for bed – and I’d better sleep tonight; I know I will. Rush hour was relatively painless, as was my SEEK class at Baruch. I don’t know what they think of me, but I do try to animate our grammar lessons and never lose sight of our purpose, to write as clearly as possible. (It’s easy to get sidetracked and teach mechanics and grammar for their own sake). It was a warm, sunny first of October; I was home at 11:30 AM. Teresa and I had a long talk. On Friday, after Betty and I left, she waited several hours for Ken to call. What I hadn’t known is that after an idyllic day on Wednesday, Teresa started questioning him about his being bisexual, and he admitted he was very sexual, intended to keep seeing other women, and said he had a “special friend,” a married guy named Roger. On Thursday, Barbara scared Teresa about AIDS and that night, when Teresa called Ken’s house, Roger answered. I guess she and Ken had a fairly big scene later.
Anyway, when she finally got through to him at 7 PM on Friday, he was very abrupt: “I don’t think we should see each other anymore. I don’t need this relationship and don’t want any more scenes like last night. Goodbye.” When Teresa tried to get him back, the phone just rang. “So in the best Barbara Stanwyck tradition, I jumped into a cab and went to his apartment, got past the security and confronted him.” It did no good; like her former boyfriend Paul, Ken has made up his mind that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Teresa. She went home and got three joints from Judy’s sister and got wrecked. The next day, she went to Fire Island, “where, after the hurricane, people had to deal with real problems” – and she went to her cousin’s wedding alone, telling her family that Ken’s son was ill. She said she knew I’d be bored at the wedding and was kind enough not to call me, and her other male friends were unavailable. But she had a good time anyway: I’m used to going by myself.” Although I feel Ken should have honored his commitment to take her, Teresa said she’s glad he didn’t; she didn’t want to have to pretend, not with her family: “They’re reality.”
Tomorrow night I’ll stay at Teresa’s. She expects me to move back in four weeks, and perhaps I will; I have to think about it. At 1 PM I took the IRT to the Junction and the Flatbush Avenue bus to East 56th Street. I got my Triavil at Deutsch Pharmacy and paid for $48 of Mom’s drugs. Then I again walked up our old block, which still seems beautiful to me. Today I walked across the street from our old house so I could see it in perspective. Astoundingly, our old mailman passed me; I would have thought he’d retired years ago. Dr. Hersh’s office was more comforting than threatening today. He wanted to give me laughing gas, but I’m such a control freak, I refused it. And even though the scraping of my gums was painful, I almost enjoyed the treatment. I was lying down in a comfortable chair and listening to classical music; it was actually the most relaxed I had been all day. I know I really have to work on my gums, and I’m going to try to do my best. Dr. Hersh’s treatment is very expensive, but I look at it as cheaper than seeing a shrink would be. And in a way, going back to my old neighborhood and walking on the block where I grew up is like therapy. At Kings Highway I picked up my hemmed new pants at the cleaners and took the D train
home. There was a lot of mail, including the PEN and AWP newsletters, which I started to read over dinner. The AWP newsletter had some interesting articles; they are finally realizing that even a young MFA with book publications is no longer likely to find a college teaching job. Perhaps we non-academics (and I consider myself not to be an academic) will produce more lively work than our professors; I suspect that’s already happening. Young fiction writers like David Leavitt, Jay McInerney and Scott Sommer haven’t taught college, and they’re more successful than most of the AWP types who grab the professorships, the cushy writing conference jobs, the grants and the fellowships. I keep thinking that eventually someone will have to recognize my contributions; I mean, my books aren’t all that terrible.
Wednesday, October 2, 1985
10 PM. I decided to return to Brooklyn rather than stay at Teresa’s because although I’d had a long day, I didn’t feel that tired, even though last night’s sleep was not the restful one I’d
expected. I don’t know where all this energy is coming from, but I’m grateful for it. Up at 6 AM, I was at Baruch at 7:45 PM. In all my classes today, I went over readings by Langston Hughes and Piri Thomas. After class was over at Baruch, I went to speak with Roberta in the ESL lab; she let me look at the software, Houghton Mifflin’s English Micro Lab. I spent about an hour with it and thought it was pretty good – for English courseware, anyway. I’ll be teaching each class to the lab for fifty minutes each week, half of one class. When I ran into Prof. Brant, he said he gave my name to a Pennsylvania software company, who was “looking for someone like you” – but I never heard from them. I told Prof. Brant I wouldn’t be around in the spring, and he said, “I hope you’ll change your mind.” Nice to hear that. I read the Times in Madison Square Park, went uptown and did some banking and had lunch at Columbus Circle. My first class at John Jay went okay. One student, a very vivacious, nononsense black woman, announced that today I wasn’t as boring as usual. I laughed and tried to explain that it’s hard to make grammar interesting, and if she thought she was bored, I felt the same way. The second class went well too – until a drunk walked in, sat down, and started taking part in
our discussion. Since this never happened to me before, I didn’t quite know what to do, so I humored him, afraid he might get violent. When the class started writing, he got bored and asked permission to go to the bathroom, which I was happy to give to him. Later, when Doris and I went to Security to report him – he’d appeared in other classes all day – they said they’d thrown him out, but I later saw him on the second floor. I took the Amsterdam Avenue bus up to 120th, where I checked out and ran some software in the Teachers College library. Class was okay, though the material is difficult the way it’s presented. I wish I could just learn Pascal, but I guess I am getting an intellectual base in programming that will be good for helping me learn other languages. At least I hope so. I sent and received mail on the DEC-20 after class and walked to the subway with Minh, one of the instructors. I’ve got a huge crush on the other instructor, Chris, who’s got cute dark Italian looks and nice body; I like to see his sleeveless undershirt peeking beneath his dress shirts. It’s silly, but I have to get my jollies somehow. Last night I spoke with Ronna, who also had a crush on this guy; it’s weird, but I can discuss my sexual feelings with Ronna more easily than with anyone else.
I got home at 8:15 PM, did my chores and just finished relaxing with Dynasty and USA Today.
Thursday, October 3, 1985
7 PM. For the fourth night in a row, I got little sleep. You’d think that I would have slept well if only because I’m so exhausted. I can’t remember such a patch of bad sleep, but then these things seem to run in cycles, and for a good part of September, I was sleeping better than I usually do. Tonight the pressure’s off; I don’t have to get up early, for my work week was over at 10:30 AM. I felt so crummy this morning, I didn’t think I’d make it through rush hour and my one class at Baruch, but somehow when I needed the energy, it came to me. This was the first week I had a full schedule, with no holidays, and I survived despite very little rest. Probably the last few weeks have helped build up my strength and tolerance for work. I’m proud that I functioned well this week. As usual, I learned I’m stronger than I thought. I still have class on Saturday a full week next week, so I’m not going to give myself any kinnahoras.
Last night it rained buckets while I lay awake, my mind racing ahead to the future; I kept thinking about my possible candidacy for Education Commissioner in Florida. Can I make any impact? Can I do any good? I’d like to try. A lot of it is ego, but I genuinely want to make a contribution to the debate about education. Maybe I can educate some people about the issues. Do I sound pompous? Well. It rained all day, but I didn’t mind the darkness nor the cool weather. Fall seems appropriate now. Because I’d gotten a slip to pick up certified mail at the post office on 9th Street and Fifth Avenue, I took the F train back to Brooklyn. That spectacular view high above the Gowanus Canal gets to me every time. It’s like the whole city is stretched out all sides. My mail, as I expected from the Wilmington, Delaware zip code on the yellow slip, was a Beneficial National Bank MasterCard – my eleventh or twelfth credit card – with a $2,000 credit limit. So Richard Grayson of Brooklyn has also established credit. I’m concerned that they don’t get mad if they find out I already have a Beneficial Visa card at my Florida address, so I think I’ll pay off that $1,000 balance this month.
I spent most of the afternoon in bed, trying to make my mind a blank: I rested, I read a little, and I listened to soap operas (not watching). Teresa and I had another long talk; she really s a mess these days. She’s already planning a getaway to see Cynthia’s new baby around Christmastime.
Friday, October 4, 1985
5 PM. I slept soundly till 10 AM, reveling in my first decent sleep in nearly a week. Today was dark, rainy and chilly, and I didn’t do very much. Staying in bed until 11:30 AM, I then had a light workout with my dumbbells, enough to raise a decent sweat, and I didn’t get out of the house till 1 PM. Last evening my phone went dead, but I figured it was just a problem with the phone itself. Now I know it’s the whole line, for the kitchen phone is dead, too. When I called the phone company from outside, they said a repair person would come tomorrow. I won’t be here, but perhaps Tim will; I know Kenny works on Saturday. I don’t really mind about the phone, since I’m not expecting any calls of importance. To me, it’s an
inconvenience rather than a disaster. Still, it’s annoying. I brought in my laundry and got $1500 in a cash advance from my new Beneficial MasterCard. Then I waited in line for an hour at the First Nationwide Savings on Avenue J. I plan to pay off my Beneficial Visa this month so I don’t get them suspicious when I transfer my bill for the MasterCard from the Brooklyn to the Davie address. Now I have about $18,000 in various bank accounts, but that will shrink, as I plan to pay off some of my other credit cards with low limits. There’s no sense in getting so many bills, especially when Mom has to mail them from Florida. Still, I get paid this week – and that means another $766. Yesterday I went to a health food store and bought some products that I haven’t used in a long time, including amino acid tablets which gave me lots of energy when I used them in Florida in the fall of ’83 and winter of ’84. It’s funny, but Justin’s room has become my home. One reason I didn’t want to go to Teresa’s on Wednesday night is because I felt I’d be more comfortable in my “own” bed. It’s going to be difficult to get used to living at Teresa’s, and if I can find a sublet for a reasonable rent, I should probably take it. Teresa is so strange these days, I don’t know if I could get used to her again. She’s back to
giving Frank her résumé, but I don’t know if it will be easy for her to get hired since she hasn’t worked since April of last year. Also, she’s very particular about what kind of work she will and won’t do; she won’t take any job where she has to type, for example. And she already told me that she will go to California at Christmas: “My employer will just have to understand.” Want to bet that she doesn’t work the rest of this year? She’s at war with Fran, as I’d predicted back in the spring; I know Teresa’s patterns with her best friends. Mira called the other day, after all these months, and said she’d like to pick up her things. Teresa said they talked civilly to one another. Tonight I’m going to see Ronna at 8:30 PM, after she returns from her shrink, and I hope we can have a pleasant night. I don’t intend for us to get sexual; anyway, I have to be up early for Columbia. I haven’t graded any papers or done any work for my programming class; God knows where the time goes. I’ve been living back in Brooklyn for six weeks now. The experience has been a good one, for a number of ways I’ve been coming to grips with my past. I felt so empty and at loose ends in August, and I no longer feel purposeless or directionless. At least I’ve done something constructive with the last month.
Saturday, October 5, 1985
8 PM. One more morning to sleep late before the hectic week begins. Well, that’s all right: I got through last week and I’ll get through this coming week. Anyway, next Saturday I have no class, and I’ve got a holiday a week from Monday. Last evening I read my programming text and left here at 7:30 PM. I got to Ronna’s an hour later, but Laura had gone out, the doorman said, and Ronna was late. Both of them arrived half an hour later, and Laura was very upset. She’d planned a big dinner party for tonight, and her date, a freelance writer, left an apologetic message that he had to go to Toronto on urgent business. Ronna’s a good friend and knew that Laura needed some help, as this was a big deal to her, so we persuaded her to come out to dinner with us. We were only going to Happy Burger anyway. Laura finally agreed, and while she was in the bathroom, Ronna said, “Thank you” and then asked if she could hug me. I answered by taking her in my arms.
Throughout dinner, Ronna was a little too cheerful for me, but I guess she knows how to make Laura feel better. How could I mind? If I’d felt slighted, I’d only be an idiot who didn’t recognized what a compassionate friend Ronna could be. And Ronna sometimes brings out the best in me. I’m more caring and patient when I’m with her. Back home, I was tired and needed to get into bed. Ronna made the couch up for me while I undressed and put on Miami Vice. We talked a little; she’s being hassled at work and is upset that she’s got warts on her face. The medicine the dermatologist gave her burned, and she was afraid of my catching the warts, so our first hugs weren’t face to face. But then it seemed silly – maybe I’ll regret it later – and I kissed her more than once. In bed, we cuddled and touched each other but didn’t let things get too out of hand. By midnight, I was really tired and we went to sleep. I slept fabulously, glad to be near Ronna. I dreamed we were in high school together, and I had more of the Florida dreams I’ve been having lately, and I also dreamed I was in bed with Wes. It was seven years ago that I had such a crush on him. I know I’m gay, and I’ll always prefer men to women, but I also love Ronna and know that for both of us, last night was good. There’s
nothing wrong with Ronna and I giving each other a little physical love, especially when neither of us has experienced it lately elsewhere. If it makes Ronna feel as desirable and cared-for as it makes me feel, then it’s worth it. At 8 AM, the alarm went off, and I started kissing and hugging her; then I cleaned up and got dressed and went off. It was a foggy, dreary morning; after returning to Happy Burger for breakfast, I took the subway up to Columbia and arrived just in time for Computer Graphics. Howard did more BASIC programming today, and I learned more about POKE-ing things into memory than I had known before. We discussed the principles of graphics and went over other stuff. During our hour break, instead of having lunch, I went downstairs to the computer room to meet Chris – he’s not only such a hunk but very sweet too – and other members of the Programming class. I got the hang of the EMACS text editor pretty easily and put in a Pascal program, ran it, modified it, and also typed in and ran a simple BASIC program. Pascal is a challenging language. Back upstairs, I unfortunately had one of those accidents programmers have: I erased my disk
by mistake. But I didn’t have much on it: just some hi-res drawings in koala pad pictures. I worked in SuperPilot, finding that the commands were coming back to me. I may do my final project in Pilot rather than using another tool or BASIC. After class, I stayed on, programming till 1:30 PM, and then I went back downstairs to the DEC-20 and worked on the Pascal program for our first project. It needs a lot of refining, but I know I’ll do it before it’s due in two weeks. Both courses seem under control. I had some lunch and then got on the IRT. At 72nd Street, an amputee on crutches came into the car to collect money. I gave him some coins, and then, as he came to the door to the next car, he burst into laughter. I soon realized why: crossing his path was another amputee, this one in a wheelchair, also begging. I gave him some loose change, too. At 14th Street, a guy got off the car and waited for a moment, then suddenly stepped back in and grabbed at a woman’s neck; then he quickly ran away as the doors closed. I’d seen it perfectly from my vantage point, but he was so fast, I couldn’t react. What he’d done, of course, was snatch three gold chains. The woman, a young West Indian, hardly reacted at first. She said she’d just
bought the chains and still had the receipt for them. “I never usually sit next to the door,” she told me. As we made our way into Brooklyn and the reality of the event hit her, she kept saying “I just can’t believe it.” Back home, the phone was working again; evidently they fixed it from the outside, for Tim said no repairman had come to the house. I went out for dinner, got my laundry, typed up some letters, did some more programming, and watched Dallas, which I’d taped. Now I’ll go out for Sunday’s Times.
Sunday, October 6, 1985
5 PM. Today I didn’t accomplish much. Although I slept well, I felt sleepy all day. It wasn’t until 11 AM that I got out of bed. I did do the very least I needed to do: graded papers for tomorrow morning’s Baruch class (though a dozen John Jay papers still need to be graded tomorrow), read the Sunday papers, went shopping. But I haven’t exercised or called Pete or Josh, who’d left messages, or done any computer work. I’ve always hated fall Sundays. They never seemed so bad in Florida, probably because
the weather was become more pleasant instead of more wintry, and also because it didn’t get dark so early there. With the onset of fall, I find I’m homesick for South Florida. I miss seeing the familiar sights of Dade and Broward counties, and I miss my family, too. I haven’t seen any of them in over three months. Now I’m not quite sorry I stayed in New York this fall, but I can’t help wishing the weeks will pass quickly until I return to Florida. I think I may indeed have gotten warts from Ronna; so far I’m hoping the two red marks on my face are merely pimples. I don’t feel ready for another week quite yet. At least next Sunday night won’t be so ominous because the next day is a holiday. I’m just plain tired. I haven’t got the time to do nothing, I guess, the way I used to, and doing nothing is sometimes very important to me. Last night I had fabulous dreams that were epics in themselves; one is vague in my memory, but I know it was like a well-plotted adventure movie. I still have fantasies of my collage of news clippings winning the Village Voice Political Art Contest, but I should know better. And I can’t help wondering why my fiction has never received the attention that other writers’ work has.
Monday, October 7, 1985
7 PM. My head is pounding, and I don’t know whether it’s due to lack of sleep, tension, a sinus headache, or a combination of factors. Today was a real autumn day. This morning it was 49° when I left the house, and it’s only about 60° now. I did sleep last night, but I craved more sleep than I got. Teaching tired me out today, and I didn’t have much of a break between Baruch and John Jay because I had to spend it marking papers. Sometimes I feel useless as a writing teacher, and yet I know there are times when I help someone. Some students haven’t bought their textbooks yet; they come in late; they don’t do assignments; and a few students showed up for the first time today, nearly a month after class began. Yes, if I were another kind of a teacher, I’d be stricter, but what’s the point of that? It would only make me crazier, and I’d probably just lose people totally; I’ll lose them soon enough, anyway. Teresa says I’m too “noble” when I say I have to take time grading papers because students deserve their money’s worth – but really, I do
as little as I can and still have a clear conscience. (How Teresa has a clear conscience is another matter.) I hesitate to think about returning to live with Teresa for the rest of the year once Justin comes back to Park Slope, because I remember last fall when I had little privacy and had to sneak moments to write in my journal, to read, or to exercise. After being by myself for so long, I can’t imagine returning to enforced togetherness of Teresa’s one-bedroom apartment; I’m still looking for a sublet of $500 or less. One reason I want to run for Florida Education Commissioner is to educated people. Now my students consider me just another English teacher – in other words, a schmuck – and they probably don’t even pay attention to what I say about writing. I’d like to show the electorate the kind of papers students write after twelve years of public education. Occasionally, when I look at these papers and forget my experience, these papers appear to be written by third-graders. It’s so depressing to correct errors that should have been eliminated in elementary school, and if I was going to teach fourth grade grammar, I might as well teach fourth graders. The Women’s Democratic Club of St. Petersburg invited me to be a “Celebrity” and
head a table and speak at a dinner next week. How wonderful to imagine people listening to my ideas, even if they hated me! As a candidate on the primary ballot, I’d meet people from all over Florida. I’d be invited to speak with newspaper editorial boards for their endorsement. It could be a great experience, and I’m growing certain that I will run. Besides, I’m homesick for Florida. At night I dream of being back there now, the best time of the year there, when it’s cooler but before the snowbirds have descended to crowd everybody. Poor Tim has been ill the past two days. He was out sick from work today. I got home quickly, with the B train and just five stops to Pacific Street and one stop at the R to Union Street. I’ve tried to relax, but I still feel keyedup. Oh well, one more day down, three to go. . .
Tuesday, October 8, 1985
5 PM. I feel very depressed. Tomorrow I’m having oral surgery: getting my wisdom tooth extracted. After he finished working on my gums, Dr. Hersh decided he would try to scrape out the decay in the wisdom tooth. It’s been
bothering me for three years, but I always left it alone. After giving me a shot of Novocain, Dr. Hersh scraped away some decay and realized he couldn’t save the tooth. And now that it’s open – with the initial layer of decay off, I could be subject to a terrible toothache at any time. I told Dr. Hersh that I’d take care of it by the end of the month, but on the train coming home, I touched it and felt a twinge of pain so great I almost hit the roof of the subway car. So I made an appointment for tomorrow at 11:30 AM at the office of the oral surgeon Dr. Hersh recommended, in the Williamsburg Savings Bank Building. I called Baruch and canceled my class, although I could have gone. However, I might as well sleep late and relax before the surgery. No one was in at John Jay, and obviously I can’t make my classes there, either – nor will I go to Columbia. In one way, I’m getting out of one of my killer Wednesdays, but in another way – fuckshit. I’d already worried about getting the stomach virus Tim has. When I got home today, he was watching TV in my room. What could I do? He’s been nauseous and has had diarrhea and that crampy, sick feeling in his stomach. Obviously, I’m living with the guy, and it stands to reason I could catch his germs. I’ve been expecting to
get the stomach virus that’s been going around. Now I picture the rest of the week: not only will I be in pain – God knows how much – from the oral surgery, but I’ll have a stomach virus on top of it. I might as well, I guess: let it all come at once and make me totally miserable. Why not? I feel I’m about to enter a period of my life like that of the winter of ’79-’80, when I was sick and depressed all the time. I feel helpless. More than ever, I want to go back to Florida. I hate my jobs. This morning, at Baruch, I taught my head off trying to make the lecture interesting; I did everything but walk on the ceiling. But do these kids care? No, they probably just think I’m an asshole. Fuckshit. I hate my work, I hate this old apartment, I hate Brooklyn, I hate the subways. I’m sick of not seeing any white people on the IRT. I’m sick of hearing Spanish and Chinese everywhere I go. This sounds about as racist as I’ve ever gotten, I guess. I’m sure poor people must hate to look at middle-class and rich white people all the time, too. Every day the reminders are there, whether it’s the usual beggar of some bag lady: how horrible and desperate life is for so many people.
What can I do about it? I’m not that noble. I’m already working with society’s poor people, trying to educate them so they can get out of the cycle of poverty, but I feel I’m accomplishing nothing. Shitfuck. I feel everything from my health to my career is out of control. I feel helpless to help myself, much less anyone else. I feel extremely pressured by the sixty to seventy ungraded papers in my briefcase and all the Columbia schoolwork that has to be done. Florida is one again my escape, and I dream about it: literally and figuratively dream. How will I get through the next week, the next month? How will I make it till November and December and January? At least I have money in the bank. At least I’m liquid and don’t have to worry about where the money to pay the oral surgeon is going to come from. Tomorrow I get the news that the Village Voice didn’t think my presidential campaign was art of any kind. I tell you, more bad stuff might as well hit me now – and it will, it will, for that’s how life works. If I’m not totally beaten down by life by the end of the year, I shall be quite surprised. All I want to do is lie in bed. Last night I spent twelve hours in bed and it wasn’t enough. How will I get through the next few days? *
8 PM. I’m scared about the next few days. Will I be in great pain from my oral surgery? And will I get the stomach virus that Tim and now Julie have? She called Tim up to tell him that she threw up last night, and Julie’s horror of vomit sounds like my own. It’s not vomiting per se that I fear the most, but I’m still afraid of it and of the feelings of nausea. Everything bad seems to be happening at once. But I did have a good time talking with Tim over the last few hours. Somehow I started telling him about my draft physical and those of my friends, and then I got started talking about the 1972 Democratic convention and finally about my campaigns for the vice-presidency, presidency, and Davie town council, my political action committees, the John Hour, the Weird Sex Lives of JewishAmerican Novelists, Legislators in Love. . . I realized that I’m a great storyteller with lots of interesting material. And I like having an audience. It’s been so long since I told anyone this stuff. Oh well, I’ll survive the next week, even if it’s a horror. My tooth really hurts if I touch it; I hope that won’t be a big problem tomorrow. I’m scared and feel a little alone and lost. My legs ache now. Is that a sign of the virus? “I guess we’ll find out if it’s contagious if you get it,” Tim said.
Well, things could be worse, I suppose. There goes the long holiday weekend I was looking forward to. I’m going to spend it being sick, nauseous, in pain, alone, depressed. But these days will pass.
Wednesday, October 9, 1985
1 PM. I slept well, mostly because I needed escape from consciousness. This morning I called Doris to cancel my John Jay classes, and I also called Teresa. I went to Seventh Avenue to do the shopping, take in laundry, and get the papers. I feel foolish for ever imagining that I could win the Voice’s political art contest. Obviously, I was barking up the wrong tree, if not the wrong forest. Oh well, I still think my collages are publishable somewhere. As my 11:30 AM appointment approached, I began to get nervous. I relaxed by eating Haagen-Dazs vanilla and orange ice cream and reading an article about how Manufacturers Hanover is lowering their credit card rate from 19.8% to 17.8%, which may signal the start of a trend.
I walked to Flatbush Avenue and took the bus to Atlantic. It’s a gorgeous day, warm and sunny, and because I was facing oral surgery, I noticed things around me more than usual. Earlier, on Seventh Avenue, I found this little plush toy elephant in the street. No one nearby claimed it, so I appropriated it as a good luck symbol. I waited till about 11:45 AM, x-rays were taken, and Dr. Kringstein, a hearty man about 55, came in and injected me with Novocain. In the next room was a very nervous woman who made a lot of noise. Well, I tried to be – and was – better. As I was been walking earlier this morning, I thought of the quote from Shakespeare that used to hang over the blackboard in Mrs. Sanjour’s ninthgrade English class: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / the valiant never taste of death but once.” It really didn’t hurt at all, and it was out onetwo-three. I joked with the doctor and his nurses and I heard him say to one nurse as I left, “Good patient.” My jokes are corny, like I wanted to know if he would ever have a twofor-one sale one day, so I could get my remaining wisdom teeth out for $75, the cost of today’s extraction. I even asked the nurse if I’d be able to play the violin again, but she took me seriously, I think,
and said, “As long as you use the other side.” I guess that old joke shows my age. When I was 14, twenty years ago almost exactly, I had oral surgery in that same building (the view from the 23rd floor was stupendous, with all of Brooklyn stretched out before me). I remember the doctor asking if I wanted extra stitches after Mom told him I was a bleeder; I told him, “Suture self.” No stitches today. The nurse told me that I can’t eat solid food or spit. (“Not even if I meet my worst enemy?” I asked her.) Even though Teresa said I shouldn’t try to be a hero, I decided to take the subway rather than a taxi home. The doctor gave me a prescription for Tylenol with codeine that I had filled at the Neergaard Pharmacy. Now I feel fine, but I’m still numb from the antibiotic. In an hour or two, I’ll probably be in serious pain. My face is swollen and I have to keep gauze over the gums, but I’m proud of myself for having gone through this alone.
Thursday, October 10, 1985
1 PM. Twenty-four hours after my oral surgery, I’m feeling okay. Yesterday I hung out most of the afternoon, not really feeling any pain till about 4 PM, when I decided not to schlep up to Columbia for my class.
I’m glad I relaxed and babied myself. I even bought some baby food, which was pretty awful-tasting; no wonder babies are always crying. I did go out for a long walk at 5 PM; it was a gorgeous day and I looked at all the brownstones in the Slope. By 8 PM, I was in bed, having taken another Tylenol-with-codeine, and I spoke to my parents and to Teresa. Mom got on a committee to try to do something about the changes Mr. Henn has been making in the flea market. Dad has a tentative flight out two weeks from this Saturday. Teresa went with some friends to Arce, the club, for what turned out to be the publication party for Jay McInerney’s Ransom. Teresa told Jay, “I live with a writer, so we both hate you,” and he laughed. She found him approachable and not stuck up at all. Susan called during Dynasty. Clearly, she’d just been rattled after a phone conversation with her parents. Her mother first drove her crazy with plans for a baby shower, and then her father got on and lectured her about all the things she should be doing in her pregnancy. Since he’s an OB-GYN and Susan’s doctor is mostly a fertility specialist, her father thinks he knows best, and he tends to panic her with
gloom-and-doom scenarios of what could go wrong. And he alarms her by saying things like “You haven’t had a sonogram yet?” in a horrified tone of voice. Susan’s classes are going okay – she says there are good days and bad days – and she finished the book by Bill Honig, the California Superintendant of Education, feeling that he just spouted platitudes and the “back to the Great Books and Moral Values” that Secretary Bennett champions. Yesterday she spoke with a woman involved in a national literacy program using computer education; there’s such a shortage of tutors available, computers seem like the best bet in combating illiteracy. The woman told Susan that one of the best literacy programs in the country is sponsored by the Broward County Library. Ronna called soon after I hung up with Susan; she needed cheering up after her playwriting class because she said she feels her work isn’t as good as some of her classmates’. I talked about how hard it is to get everything right, and we spoke for about an hour. In the end, she thanked me for making her feel better, though I don’t think I did very much. This morning I went to Baruch to teach my class and collect my paycheck; I then went to John Jay to get my check from Doris. I may go to Rockaway tonight. There’s no sign of a
stomach virus and the pain in my mouth is almost gone.
Friday, October 11, 1985
8 PM. Yesterday at 3:30 PM, I left for Rockaway. Since I missed my connections, I didn’t get there till 5 PM. Grandma Ethel had dinner waiting: cantaloupe, stuffed cabbage, sweet potatoes and cole slaw, the best meal I’ve had in a while. It was a good night to visit because Grandma doesn’t have her card game on Thursdays, so we had the whole evening to sit together, watch TV and talk. Mostly we watched news of this week’s terrorist hijacking of an Italian cruise ship. Palestinians killed one elderly New York tourist and just when it seemed the hijackers would get away via an Egyptian airliner, some U.S. military jets forced them to land at a NATO base in Italy. So Reagan finally has scored a triumph in successfully getting some terrorists. “It’s about time,” said just about everyone, but terrorism will continue. Grandma Ethel had me go over a homeowners’ insurance policy and write a check for her. She
also had her usual complaints about insomnia and her health, but she’s still better than she was a year ago. Cousin Wendy is thinking of moving to California, Grandma said. She had spoken to Wendy the other day, when she turned 24. Marty is very upset that Wendy may move but Arlyne (typically) says, “Let her go.” Grandma Ethel says that Wendy finds that guys she goes out with don’t call her back, and of course Grandma attributes this to Wendy’s height, but it just sounds par for the Manhattan Yuppie singles course to me. I fell asleep before 11 PM and got a good rest. This afternoon I hung around till lunchtime, then returned to Park Slope, where I worked out for a couple of hours. Then, at 4 PM, I decided to go to Madison Square Garden for the tenth annual New York Book Fair. Immediately, I saw old friends talking: Bobby Frauenglas and Carolyn Bennett, who both expressed surprise and pleasure at seeing me. Carolyn has been living upstate in Greene County, where she and her girlfriend own a house. She works as a waitress, still publishes Gull Books (she gave me her latest – including a poetry book of her own and one by Zack Rogow, who I also said hello to).
Carolyn doesn’t miss the city much. She confided that the press is getting her a little burned out, so after her next few commitments to books are finished, she’ll take a breather. I didn’t have much time to talk with Bobby, who was emceeing the poetry reading, but I gave him my number. He did tell me he somebody who had bought one of my books. I found the Zephyr Press table manned by Ed Hogan and Leora Zeitlin, who said she never thought she’d meet me. Their new book is the two reprinted novels by Philip Whalen, though Ed says my book still draws the most comments. Leora let it slip that they owe me several hundred dollars in royalties; Ed said he feels bad about that but the press is broke after the Whalen book, and “a substantial check will be coming.” I told Ed his Somerville house must be worth a fortune if what I’ve read about Boston real estate is true, and he said it was; unbelievably, he lucked into what’s gone from a workingclass place into one of the new hot neighborhoods. We chatted and I said I’d relieve them at the table if they wanted to go out to eat, but they said they’d just stay put till closing time although they would appreciate my spelling them over the weekend. I’d forgotten how many people I know on the small press scene. Enid Dame and Donald Lev
of Home Planet News were glad to see me and thrilled to know I was living in Park Slope; they gave me a free copy of the issue with my ugly face on the cover. I had a nice talk with Jeff Wright of the new Soho Arts Weekly, who’s doing a book with Carolyn soon. And Martin Tucker at the Confrontation table was glad to see me; he introduced me to his co-editor, Aphrodite Jones. At the American Book Review table, I got a copy of the issue with Jaimy Gordon’s review of my works, and I saw Alan Deitz of Benzene, Ken Gangemi, Richard Kostelanetz (both of whom are always extremely friendly), Bill Henderson of Pushcart Press (I told him Crad’s story in the Prize volume was great, and he agreed, saying, “I’d never heard of Crad Kilodney before”). Jonathan Baumbach was manning the Fiction Collective table, so I made sure to avoid it. I have no animosity toward Baumbach, but I’m sure he doesn’t want to be friends after what I wrote about him. I spoke to people at the PEN, CCLM and Poets & Writers tables, and I looked at lots of books and magazines. It was a bit overwhelming, as usual. Everyone asked me if I was writing, and usually I said no; some asked way, and I said I was too busy teaching now.
Will I ever be a fiction writer again? I saw an issue of Telescope with the only story I finished in 1985; I’m sort of still writing, I guess. I’ve got about fifteen pages of that story about Sean that I started in late August. Well, we’ll see. . . I left the Book Fair at 7 PM, had a bit at the Herald Center’s mall-like food patio, and came home. My ex-tooth doesn’t hurt anymore.
Saturday, October 12, 1985
6 PM. This morning I hung out in bed till about 10 AM; again, it felt good to linger under the covers. I didn’t realize how wonderful I had it in the first two-thirds of 1985 when I didn’t have to get up early. Josh called, and we decided to meet at the Clark Street subway station at 12:15 PM and then go on to the Book Fair. I did some programming work, and I have to admit, I’m learning about things a programmer should know. As Josh said about his BASIC class, “We haven’t covered files, records and fields yet, and what’s programming without that?” I really didn’t know that stuff until now. At the Book Fair, Josh lingered at the booths that didn’t interest me: the Wobblies, Animal
Rights – and he kept going away when I’d talk to Julia Wendell of the Galileo Press or Mark Melcinove of the Maine Writers. Typically, Josh found the whole thing “a bore,” the people “pretentious,” the books “garbage.” We did chat a while with Pete Cherches and Mark Leyner; later, Josh told me he thinks they’re both pretentious and that Pete isn’t as multi-talented and witty and he, Pete, thinks he is. Josh also told me he didn’t like Leora Zeitlin from last year, and after I stopped at the Zephyr table, Josh said, “She looked at you as if she thought you were an asshole.” I couldn’t figure out if he was seeing something I didn’t see or if he was being his usual antisocial self. Anyway, I didn’t go back to the Zephyr table although Ed came over to me to autograph a copy of Hitler for a man who wanted to buy it. I left soon afterward, feeling pretty stupid. Josh and I had lunch in the Village, and then I came home an hour ago. Probably I shouldn’t have gone with Josh. He has a bad attitude toward the small presses, and partially it’s because he’s never made it as a writer. But he also makes me feel like I’m nothing, just as all the other writers published by the small presses are nothing. What bothers me is that he may be right. Who knows? All these people are convinced their work is important, but most of the books at the
Book Fair aren’t very good. It’s so hard to sort everything out. Is it just that I’ve come to realize that my belief in my work works is self-delusion – or have I too readily bought the establishment argument that if one is really good, one gets rich and famous? I really don’t know. Josh, by the way, thought Bright Lights, Big City “a fucking bore – and very anti-Semitic.”
Sunday, October 13, 1985
4 PM. A dark, damp, cool Sunday – perfect for lying around, reading, thinking. Last evening I graded some papers and then went out for the Sunday Times, which I read till midnight. I slept deliciously, dreaming about a multitude of places: me on a plane with all the old student government people from LaGuardia Hall, most of them dressed in suits and ties; me crossing the big, dangerous intersection of Kings Highway and Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn; me driving along West 96th Street in Manhattan, finding out that Ronna was seeing Rick Peabody accepting it with good humor. I lolled in bed till about noon, sleeping till 11 AM, and then reading the Times’ special
Careers section. It appears that businesses of all kinds are now really hiring liberal arts graduates, finding them more flexible, adaptable, and able to think and respond more quickly than narrowly-trained business-school types. Good. I graded more papers – some were good, and others were too good and must be plagiarized – and then went out for brunch at the Oasis, where I read Newsday. On Sundays I love to pretend that I’m an intellectual. Josh phoned to say he hated Mark’s I Smell Esther Williams so much that he threw it away in the street. He found it pretentious and nearly incomprehensible. I remember I couldn’t really read it, either. The Book Fair made me think about writing and about being a writer. I didn’t want to go back today. Ed and Leora probably wondered why I didn’t stay with them more. Part of it is because I do feel hurt that Zephyr Press treated me cavalierly. I know my book was their best seller, but I always felt that they had mixed feelings about its (modest) success, particularly Leora and the others who’d opposed its publication. Look, they may think I’m an asshole, as Josh suggested, but at least unlike most of the writers at the Book Fair, I’m aware of my own limitations. To be honest, I’m surprised anyone would want to buy my book.
I can understand someone enjoying it, but it’s hard to see why a stranger would pick up an obscure book by an unknown writer. Now, I’m not being falsely modest: I know I’m an okay writer, and I know I have more talent than say, Mark Leyner – but that’s not to say I’m good enough. Yes, the commercial publishing world can be just as bad as the small presses, and 90% of what both publish is garbage. But I’m still naïve enough to believe that were I a really good writer, someone would have noticed by now. I don’t want to be some Lyn Lifshin type – a poor writer who manages to be widely published because she’s so persistent and prolific. Nobody asked me to become a writer, and nobody seems to care whether I publish another book, so I’ll go on to other things which may be more profitable and less marginal in society. I like feeling I’m an entrepreneur. Yesterday Beneficial MasterCard sent me checks to access my credit line, checks with this President Street address that I used today to pay my share of the gas and electric bills. Mom called to say I’d gotten a letter from FIU; they want me for an interview for the Ed.D. program in community college education. In August I took pleasure in telling them I was doing “consulting work in the Northeast.” Now
I’ll call them to try to arrange an interview, explaining I’m teaching in New York City. Why do I want to get into this program, knowing that higher education is a dead end? For one thing, to keep getting student loans. For another, to learn more as I continue to take courses. And I wouldn’t mind having a doctorate, since other people seem to set great store by the credential. I guess I still feel I have something to prove to people. That’s weakness; I should do things only because I feel they’re right for me. I feel undervalued and underestimated, but those perceptions can turn out to be an advantage. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the race for Education Commissioner. Since I’m thought of in Florida only as a clown, no one has expectations that I can talk intelligently about education issues. What do I see for the future? I’ll probably stay in Florida most of next year, finding a way to combine my campaign, my coursework, and a way to make money. At the Book Fair, I got an ’87 NEA fellowship application, and the representative said the next awards will be made Christmas week. I’m sure I won’t get one, but this time I’m going to ask to see the panelists’ comments on my work. (Before yesterday, I didn’t realize one could do that.)
Obviously, if I did get the $20,000 next year, I’d be financially secure – but there’s no sense in fantasizing. Ken Gangemi said his rentcontrolled apartment was his fellowship – “It’s like my landlord sending me a $500 check every month” – and I’ve made Visa and MasterCard my fellowship. But I also believe I can succeed in making money and having fun in another way. I didn’t get Tim’s stomach virus, and I recovered very quickly from my oral surgery, so I guess I’m pretty healthy. We’ll see.
Monday, October 14, 1985
7 PM. The Columbus Day holiday was over too quickly. I slept well again last night, and this morning I finished grading my Baruch papers (I still have twenty papers from John Jay), exercised a little, and went to meet Teresa for lunch. We went to Marvin Gardens and had a good talk. She spent the weekend in Fire Island; now that’s over, and now she starts going to the Berkshires. She’s going to buy the share of the house from her sister and brother-in-law for $9000, but since Teresa can’t get a mortgage, the Foxes will own half on paper as before. Teresa is still mooning over Ken – it’s her last two serious boyfriends all over again – but she
says she’s making a concerted effort to find a job. However, I don’t expect Teresa will have a job for the rest of 1985. She’s already planning her Christmas trip to San Francisco. Her friends in employment agencies tell her try sales, and she’d consider advertising sales. She’s had a lot of interest in winter shares for the Berkshires house, and she’s excited about really fixing up the place. We decided that unless I find a fabulous cheap sublet, I’ll return to Teresa’s in two weeks. I have a lot of misgivings about doing so. Last fall, I remember, I had to steal away minutes to read, write in my journal, or exercise, and I kept hoping Teresa would go somewhere outside the apartment. My work habits will have to change, because I won’t have the luxury of a bed, where I tend to do my best work and best thinking. That couch in the living room isn’t very comfortable, and I hope my back can stand it. When Teresa entertains, I’ll be uncomfortable because I won’t be able to go to bed early. And most of all, I’ll have to get used to Teresa’s domineering presence. On the other hand, I’ll be only fifteen minutes away from Teachers College and also from John Jay, and if the ride to Baruch at rush hour isn’t much better than it is from Park Slope, I can probably sleep another fifteen minutes in the mornings.
Psychologically, I’ll also be closer to all three schools, and I won’t have any reason to leave Manhattan except to see Grandma Ethel or Dr. Hersh. It’s amazing how I feel I’ve lived here in Park Slope for years; it’s been only seven and a half weeks since I moved here. Well, it just shows that I can adjust to a new place easily. Going back to Teresa’s will be difficult, but I’ll adjust – and of course, I’ll be saving money. After lunch, Teresa drove me u to Teachers College (another advantage: I may get to use her car) and I spent a frustrating two hours working on the computer. A woman in my class told me I’m not really behind yet, and she showed me what Chris and Minh went over last week. I came home at 5:30 PM, brought in my laundry, and got some vittles for dinner. Last night it felt so luxurious not to have that feeling of dread on Sunday evening. I had a good talk with Tim. I realize from our talks that there are probably a lot of people like Tim, a decade or so younger than I, who are really very interested what it was like when my friends and I were in college in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I also realize I have a lot of good stories from those days. Maybe there’ll one day soon be a revival of interest in that period; I’ve long predicted it would happen.
Tim and I discussed the phenomenon of movies about teenagers and young adults; fifteen years ago, I remember no movies about people my age. It’s curious, too, because there were so many of us. Maybe we were too threatening. And maybe the same phenomenon is at work in Knopf’s championing David Leavitt and other fiction writers his age when they are other publishers ignored most of my age cohorts. I’ve always said the 1990s will be my generation’s decade. Well, soon we’ll have three-fifths of the ‘80s gone – and it ain’t soon enough for me. Tomorrow I go back to work, if only to one class; let’s hope my new visit to the dentist ends better than last week’s did. My biggest comfort is that time keeps marching on.
Tuesday, October 15, 1985
4 PM. I just got home from the dentist, picking up my laundry on the way and probably just beating a downpour. Today’s been warm, but it’s very humid.
I got into bed early last night and lay in darkness, thinking for an hour or so; then I turned on a very good BBC adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which made me want to read the book. Josh said that the more involved he gets with computers, the more he craves literature and art. John Naisbitt has the “high tech, high touch” theory, and of course, it’s probably true, though I doubt we’ll see a new renaissance of the arts, as the always optimistic Naisbitt is predicting. For my part, I’d like to take some good literature or other humanities courses again. I slept very well again (I’m afraid to put a kinnahora on tonight, but I know I can get through even a busy Wednesday without sleep). I still have about fifteen John Jay papers to grade, but I’ll save them for the break between classes tomorrow. My Baruch students today handed in 35 essays, and they will keep me going for a while. Luckily, on Thursday at Baruch we follow Monday’s schedule, so I meet with my Monday/Wednesday class for the next two days – and on the Thursday I take them to the computer lab, which Roberta has got all set up now. After class and a visit to Roberta – who told me she took computer literacy at Columbia and said she thought their program stinks (and Prof. Taylor told her he wished he’d never
invented FPL), I returned home to do some exercises. Then I went to Dr. Hersh after lunch. After for visits, it no longer seems strange to walk on my old block and to be in my old neighborhood. Memories keep cropping up as I come into contract with familiar sights. Today Dr. Hersh filled some cavities and fixed an old porcelain filling which had washed out and gotten decay under it. My gums, teeth and lip are still numb from the Novocain, and I can’t eat until 6 PM. I walked across Fillmore Avenue to Flatbush and used the transfer I’d gotten going on my return trip on the Avenue R bus; then I got the D train on Kings Highway. It’s really been good for me, this time in Brooklyn. It hasn’t all been great, but I’ve learned a good deal. And I’m no longer “lost” the way I was back in August. If I don’t yet have the clear sense of purpose I might wish for, I trust my instincts more. Whatever Justin or anyone says about my inability to make commitments or settle down, I feel I’ve settled on a lifestyle which suits me for now. Life certainly isn’t routine or boring. And this semester, I’m learning whatever I can. For example, I can learn even from my student papers, as badly written as they are, for if I weren’t teaching at Baruch and John Jay, I’d
never know what kids in the inner city – blacks, Puerto Ricans, other Hispanics, West Indians, East Indians, Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese – think about and the things they face every day in their lives. And as much as Columbia is a drag, I am learning things about computers that I didn’t know before. Going to new schools and being exposed to different ideas broadens my experience, just as living day to day with Tim and Kenny has shown me more about how to get along with other people. (I’d never lived with a black person before.) On all counts, I do pretty well. In some ways I wish I could go back to Florida at the end of my stay in Brooklyn. I’m a little scared about being able to handle the challenge of all my classes and living at Teresa’s. Like a good neurotic, I still wonder if some calamity will befall me. However, if things really got unbearable, I could go back to Florida before the semester ends, but I don’t foresee that happening. I keep waiting for the announcements about being observed at both John Jay and Baruch; it’s got to happen soon. Why I should be nervous, I don’t know, since I won’t be returning to either school next term. Still, I don’t want to fuck up. Teresa can’t understand why I’m so concerned with grading
my students’ papers. It’s because I have to have some pride in my work. In the mail today, I received a Visa card from Citibank with a $750 credit line ($300 cash advance): it’s to Richard A. Grayson because Richard S. Grayson already has one at the Davie address. Meanwhile, I’m preparing to pay off my Beneficial Visa bill in total because I’m nervous about them finding out I have a MasterCard from them at my Brooklyn address. I hope I don’t get in trouble for this, though I must say I’m proud of my resourcefulness. I’ve lost count of how many Visas and MasterCards I have and I don’t intend to apply for any more until next spring, if then. I’m already overloaded with credit now. I find I’ve forgotten to note the last check I made out from my Citibank (South Dakota) account. Maybe I have too many checkbooks. Mom sent yet another one, personalized, from my Republic National Bank credit line. Oh gee, at least I have $18,000 in the bank(s).
Wednesday, October 16, 1985 Thursday, October 17, 1985
Thursday, 4 PM. I’m somewhat depressed now, though from experience I know this is just a
cyclical thing that will pass. I haven’t gotten enough sleep, and yesterday – another of my killer Wednesdays – took more out of me than I’d realized. It was a mistake to take a graduate course on a day when I had three classes to teach; I’d have been better off if I’d taken a class on Tuesday or Thursday evening, even if it did mean going back on the train to Manhattan. Getting up at 6 AM isn’t much fun, but it should be better after daylight savings time ends and it will no longer be pitch-black outside at that hour. I taught my classes okay, but as usual, it seems, I had problems to contend with. Something was wrong with the climate-control system at John Jay, and the room I had my classes in must have been about 90° and very humid. Both the windowless John Jay building and the antiquated, run-down Baruch building are depressing environments in which to teach and work. My eyes began hurting in late morning, and by the end of the day yesterday they were infected, with glop coming out of them. I haven’t worn my lenses today, and I guess that contributes to my depression. I got my grading done, but now I have another set over sixty papers from Baruch; it seems endless. I’m a drudge again, the way I was at Broward Community College. Perhaps the
money I’m making is worth it, but I think not; I’d much rather have a more satisfying job. The other day I read about how teachers play the Quitting Game, each year telling themselves that they’ll quit at the end of the year. The job is so hard, they can survive only by taking it one year at a time. How many years have I been playing the Quitting Game? Forever, it seems. It’s probably time to stop. Yesterday I tried to give myself some relaxation by taking a long lunch at a nice restaurant near Lincoln Center rather than eating at the John Jay cafeteria or some dumpy diner, and afterward I went to the travel agent on Broadway to get tickets on Delta for the Veterans Day weekend. This week the airlines lowered their Florida fares to $99. I have a flight out on that Thursday morning, three weeks from today, and I’ll be back on Monday afternoon, so I’ll miss only one class at Baruch. Hey, three weeks from now I’ll be in Florida: how nice to think of that. I miss Florida. And when I come back to New York, it will be only six weeks till I go back for Christmas. Anyway, I dragged myself through yesterday, but as the day wore on, I felt increasingly tired. Even though I had my stuff to sleep over at
Teresa’s, I took the subway back to Brooklyn after my class at Columbia. I knew I’d get more rest at home in Park Slope. All I wanted to do was get into bed – which I did at 8 PM, right after I got in – and I knew that Teresa would want to sit and chat and socialize after a day she’d spent doing very little. This morning I again went in early; today was a Monday schedule at Baruch. Without my glasses, I saw the sunrise from the Manhattan Bridge, and it looked even more beautiful than it had yesterday, when I could see clearly. Golden light filed the D train, turning metal poles into beams of flashing silver. I taught as energetically as I could; then I came home and got back into bed. I haven’t done much else since. Because tomorrow is a Monday schedule at John Jay, I don’t feel the usual Thursday afternoon sense of relief and elation and a week finished. All I can think about is the work I have to do: grading papers and my computer project, mostly. I’ve gotten uncharacteristically behind in answering my mail. And last night, I left the key in the door (I discovered it this morning), a sure sign that I’m overtired and preoccupied. My head hurts, and I’ve been toying with the idea of taking a Tylenol-with-codeine. But I shouldn’t.
Fourteen years ago today – why do I remember the date now? – I learned that Shelli slept with Jerry (how funny that sounds), triggering my long depression in the fall of 1971.
Friday, October 18, 1985
8 PM. I’m very sleepy now. Last night I felt depressed; everything seemed to be wrong. I was upset at finding some sort of skin growth on my right eyelid and wondered whether it’s basal cell carcinoma. I used to get so tanned when I was younger. I know I run the risk of that form of skin cancer. Although it’s almost always benign, I still would feel pretty upset I had basal cell cancer. I went out to eat last night, and then I spoke to Mom in Florida, telling her I’m coming on November 7. Now I think I may even come earlier if I decided I can afford to miss another Wednesday, as the previous Tuesday is Election Day. So I could go to Florida for nearly a week and miss only two days of school. It all depends on whether I can avoid taking another day off in the next two and half weeks. Grandma Ethel called to tell me that Aunt Arlyne’s mother died the day before and the
funeral had been yesterday. Jeffrey came to pick Grandma up (Grandma expressed surprise that he can drive so well, but she’s probably never gotten over Grandpa Herb’s terrible driving) and took her to the funeral in Oceanside. There were loads of people there, Grandma Ethel reported, and she was shocked to find Helen looking unrecognizable in her coffin. “They had made her up to look like she was going out to a wedding,” Grandma said. “But she looked terrible – not like Grandpa, who looked so handsome at his funeral.” Although I haven’t spoken to Arlyne since the shouting incident two years ago, I’m sorry for her, her sister and brother. I remember Helen from my childhood days in Rockaway. One day some bullies were chasing me, and I ran onto Helen’s porch, where she and her friends were playing mah jongg, and I was safe. She was a lively woman, a kind of prototype for the wealthy Jewish women of her generation. Evidently she had cancer as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Susan and I talked for an hour last night. She patiently listened to my complaints about my schedule, and she told me she’s got hers under control; the review of Bill Honig’s book for the Times Book Review is finished.
On Wednesday she had her sonogram, and she said it was astonishing for her to see the baby: “It kept yawning and bringing its hand to its mouth.” The medical technicians told her everything looks good, and it’s probably, though not definitely, a boy. She told them she’s leaving at Hunter, and they’ll give her a letter of non-reappointment; hopefully, Susan will be eligible for Unemployment. I fell asleep after 11:30 PM and awoke at 8:30 AM, which seemed a luxury. Few students showed up at John Jay – my classes were half their usual size – and some teachers apparently didn’t think much of Conversion Day, either, as they didn’t show up. Before and after my classes, I was up at Teachers College working on the DEC-20. I had to cross a picket line of striking UAW District 65 clerical workers, but I really needed to finish my project. After many frustrating hours and with the help of one of the lab technicians who corrected one of those transposed program lines that screw everything up, my Pascal program is working. My FPL program, however, still has a bug or two left, but I’m sure I can fix it before Wednesday. I left Columbia at 6 PM, had a couple of slices of pizza on Broadway, and took the train back to Brooklyn. I wore my lenses today, but the
right one began to hurt and I know I’ve still got an eye infection. Tomorrow I’ll stick to my hated glasses. I’ve got to be up at 7 AM for my Computer Graphics class; probably I should have stayed at Teresa’s tonight since she left word she’s gone to the Berkshires. Oh well, I hope to be asleep soon anyway.
Saturday, October 19, 1985
8 PM. I didn’t get to sleep till about 11 PM last night; my sleepiness faded, and I watched Dallas and Miami Vice. The latter show made me homesick when I saw Biscayne Bay, the Freedom Tower – Miami’s only stately skyscraper – and other streets that looked familiar. I was awakened at about 6 AM by a loud rumble, and for a second or two, the room seemed to shake. The lighting fixture was swinging back and forth. “An earthquake,” I thought – and then, “Don’t be silly. It must be an explosion or something.” And I forgot about it until our break at Columbia, when Dipti, a fellow student said, “Did you feel that earthquake this morning?”
By then, I’d figured I’d dreamed or imagined the whole thing. Kenny, in the next room, told me he didn’t feel anything, nor did Grandma Ethel in Rockaway. But it was a quake centered in Westchester, measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale: very mild, but enough of a jolt to wake me up. I’ve just finished doing a little packing and a lot of throwing out. It’s wonderful how moving around so much can simplify one’s life. Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, goes. When I told Grandma Ethel that I was leaving Park Slope in ten days, she said, “But you just got there!” In a way it does feel like that, but I’ve been here nearly two months now. Although this hasn’t been the happiest time of my life – and in a number of ways, it’s been the unhappiest time in the last couple of years – I know I’ve learned a lot. If I’d have left New York in August, it would still hold all its charms for me. Now, as I predicted, I’ve gotten the Big Apple out of my system for a while. USA Today ran a weeklong series on the new suburbs – no longer adjuncts to the cities but the places where most Americans live. Riding the subways and teaching at CUNY, I’m continually aware of the huge underclass of poor, mostly minority, people. It’s a cliché by now, but New York has become a city of the
poor and the rich – with less and less room for the middle class. I expect a number of my friends in Manhattan will begin moving to the suburbs as they raise families: for example, Mikey and Amy. Rent control tends to keep people in New York, of course. I’d be happy to leave tomorrow if I could. On the Broward School Board Job Hotline, I heard about a vacancy for a computer education teacher at Cooper City High School. When I go out for the Sunday paper in an hour, I’ll be mailing my résumé and a letter of application to the principal. It’s a very long shot, but I would quit my jobs and school if I got the position. Why? After next week, I’ll no longer be under an obligation to Justin – the main reason I turned down the job at Western High School in Davie – and really, I’m not looking forward to November and December. I’ll have little privacy at Teresa’s, more school, more teaching, more papers to grade, more of my own Columbia classwork. The only things I look forward to are going to Florida and getting my paychecks. Life has become very bland and very stressful. It’s been months since I’ve seen a movie, for instance, and I always feel like such a drudge. Tomorrow I have nearly seventy papers to grade, but I couldn’t face them today.
When I go to Teresa’s, I plan to take buses, not trains, when I come and go to Columbia and John Jay. It took me over an hour and four subway trains to get to Columbia this morning. We went over more of SuperPilot in class, and we looked at some interactive educational software and talked about the principles of screen design. The project is due in December, and I’d better start thinking about it. Perhaps I can modify one of my earlier programs; when I’m in Florida, I’ll check through my disks. I was going to work on my FPL project after class, but by 1 PM my energy level was low, so I just came home and rested. At 4 PM, I began a light workout which made me feel better, and then I spoke to Mom and to Grandma Ethel. I really wish I could be in Florida already. Last April, I didn’t feel desperate to leave Florida; I would have been pretty happy, I think, to stay on and take classes at FAU and FIU in the summer session. But now I will be very glad to leave New York. Next year, if I return at all, it will be at the most for a six-week vacation. I want to stay in Florida for a couple of years. Knowing me, I’ll get disgusted after a while, but I’d probably want to somewhere besides New York. Washington, D.C., maybe, or some other city. I’m still “waiting out the ‘80s.” I’ve done a fairly good job of it so far, but this may have
been the easier half of the decade. We can only wait to find out.
Sunday, October 20, 1985
8 PM. Last night I slept very well for very long. I know I had some interesting dreams, but since I neglected to write them down in the middle of the night, I’ve lost them now. It felt so decadent to lie in bed until 10 AM. For so much of this year, I took sleeping late for granted. At 12:30 PM, I met Susan for coffee and muffins on Seventh Avenue. She’s quite big now, and she has to maneuver herself into and out of chairs, I noticed. We talked far too much about teaching, but Susan did give me the idea to have my students critique each other’s papers, as they discuss in Beat Not the Poor Desk. Doing that on Tuesday will relieve me of grading that class’s descriptions from last week. I’d like my classes to be less teacher-centered, but I fall into old and easy habits. I’m afraid it’s obvious to my students that I don’t care, but Susan says I give them too much credit for perception. Perhaps. I’m certain that Susan is a better teacher than I am, though; I really don’t know what I’m doing half the time.
We walked through Prospect Park, although I felt a big chilly; it was a dark, raw afternoon. Later, Susan said I looked really worn and beaten down. I suppose I am. I’ve had a fairly difficult time of it lately, and I do feel somewhat the worse for wear. I dread getting through the rest of 1985. Even though I know this term will pass, I still have to deal with its frustrations every day. And of course I’m frustrated as a writer as well. Susan says that after a nine-month hiatus, she’s raring to write fiction again. When Susan mentioned that I should try such and such a press for reprinting Disjointed Fictions, I shrugged and said that I didn’t feel like bothering. Maybe once I get to Florida, I’ll be in more of a mood to push myself, but I keep wondering what emotional or character flaw has kept me from achieving success. Perhaps it’s simply my lack of self-confidence. Because my books haven’t gotten critical acclaim or sales, I feel that I’m probably not a first-rate writer. Yet I’m aware that Susan is correct when she says many “successful” writers aren’t all that talented, either. Susan says, “They make connections – at writing conferences, in graduate schools. . .” At Bread Loaf, when I should have been pushing myself on the Big Names, I was too embarrassed and instead hung out with guys
my age who couldn’t help me at all but who were good company. I’m so pushy in other respects – “no stranger to hype,” as the Fort Lauderdale paper said – but I’ve avoided making the right career moves as a writer. Is that self-destructiveness? Am I more comfortable with failure?
Monday, October 21, 1985
8 PM. I’m very tired, but surprisingly, today was a satisfying day. My classes all went okay, I felt well, and nothing went amiss. I didn’t sleep much last night, and what sleep I did get wasn’t very restful. At Baruch at 8 AM, I spent the first half of class going over papers, and then we were the first class to go into the new computer lab. The 28 students got in front of the 22 Apple IIe’s (some had to share) and used a random assortment of English software – not only the Houghton Mifflin Micro Lab but others as well. Today Roberta wanted to familiarize them with the machines. I took great pleasure in going from student to student and helping them out, both with the principles of grammar and the mechanics of the software and hardware. Next week we’ll use the HomeWord word processing program. I’m going to buy a box of
disks and sell them to the students, who will each have their own disk to write essays to. It’s a good experience for me. I thought I had enough time to go up to Teachers College and work on the DEC-20, and after an hour there, I was pretty much satisfied with my project in FPL and Pascal. They need a little refining, but they run okay now – and that frees us tomorrow afternoon. (I switched my dental appointment to Thursday, assuming I’d need the time on Tuesday to work on my project.) At John Jay at 11:50 AM (I splurged on a cab from Morningside Heights), I asked Harold if he wanted to have lunch, but he’d already eaten. I saw him again about an hour later as our classes were interrupted by a fire drill. My John Jay students are so weak in writing, I don’t know how I can bring some of them up to even go into English 100, which is still a remedial class. Some of them asked me to help them with papers for sociology and police science courses, and not only were their papers incomprehensible because of the poor syntax and the grammatical errors, but they showed a woeful inability to think critically, make logical leaps, or even comprehend material they’d been asked to read and summarize.
It’s a great shame that the public schools graduate such students, who are led to believe they have a high school education when my P.S. 203 fourth-grade classmates and I, twentyfive years ago, had superior skills and greater knowledge. After a brief stop at the bank, I took the subway back home to Brooklyn. I brought in my laundry and got some light fare at a Korean fruit and vegetable store. With my dinner, I had a new (for me, anyway) citrus fruit: a mandarina, a sweet-tasting combination of a tangerine and a mandarin orange. Mail included my first Beneficial MasterCard bill (I changed the address from Brooklyn to Davie and hope they don’t notice they’ve got two Richard Graysons in the same place) and two packages from Mom. I paid some credit card bills she sent – and was pleased that Julia Wendell of the Galileo Press wrote to say that she enjoyed meeting me at the Book Fair and wanted to let me know that she’d nominated “My BASIC Problem” for the Pushcart Prize. After so many years of not making it, I’m sure the story won’t get in, especially now. But I’ve had so little positive feedback on my writing this year that I’m very happy indeed to get any kind of recognition.
I spoke to Teresa for an hour. She spent last night with Ken, who had – to her great astonishment – called her. Teresa has several interviews this week, but she seems most excited by her friend Norman’s idea of opening a chicken take-out place on Seventh Avenue here in Park Slope. I tried to be negative in order to make her view the idea realistically, but she’s gone on it; I know Teresa. She’s made up her mind that this chicken store will be a giant success.
Tuesday, October 22, 1985
7 PM. I don’t recall another time in my life when I felt so tired all the time. I really took on a lot this fall. But for May, June, July and August, I did virtually nothing, and life has a way of equalizing things out. I predicted that October would be the most difficult month of this year, and with another nine days left, I have no doubt I was correct. I’ve been under more stress than ever before, and I seem to have less free time. Last night I slept about five or six hours and lay in bed resting for another three or four, but I need more sleep and rest than that.
I’m trying to keep up my resistance by having the Richard Grayson equivalent of a balanced diet (though today my lunch was a hamburger and my dinner, pizza) and I’ve been doubling up on my vitamins, taking amino acids when I think they won’t give me diarrhea, and trying to get more exercise. From 2:30 to 4 PM today I did all kinds of stretching and bending exercises, sit-ups, reverse sit-ups, deep-knee bends, crunches, etc. Actually, I can’t complain about either yesterday or today. Up at 6:30 AM, I was in school by 8 AM and had time before class to grade the papers I needed to. After a boring lesson on fragments, I had the class break up into groups and criticize each other’s papers. It was somewhat chaotic. In contrast to my other English 2001 class at Baruch, the SEEK class as many more writing problems. These black, Chinese and Hispanic students never learned to speak standard American English, so naturally they can’t deal with writing it. Glad to be out at 10:30 AM, I decided to take advantage of this being the first day of a new billing period on my Choice credit card, so I did what I’ve done twice before: I took the JFK Express train to Howard Beach and the bus to the American Airlines terminal, where I headed for the Citicorp ATM.
I got $400 in crisp new twenties from Choice and $300 from my old Citibank Visa (I’d paid it off last week so I had the money available again). I love revolving credit. Earlier, I’d used a Chase ATM in the cit – now hooked up to the NYCE ATM network – to take out $200 from my Chemical MasterCard. Outside the terminal, I found a cabdriver who whisked me along the Belt Parkway to Kings Plaza, and after having lunch at the Bun ‘n’ Burger there – some of the waitresses are the same ones who used to wait on me when I ate there a dozen years ago – I took that Avenue R bus to the Kings Highway station. Passing Scott’s old block, I thought of him and the two of us going to Kings Plaza the first day it opened, a Friday in September 1970 – over fifteen (!) years ago. I remember we had to walk from his house because the traffic was so bad. That day Mom was really busy in the Pants Set store as it opened. I bet I could find my diary entry from that day. From the new mall, I think Scott and I went over to Club Fair at Brooklyn College. Some of my students this term were born in 1968, the year I graduated high school. I bet I’m the age of some of their parents – particularly the black and Puerto Rican girls who were brought up by teenage mothers (and who tend to already have their own babies).
Anyway, I took the train from Kings Highway to Avenue J, where I had no wait to deposit my check at First Nationwide Savings. The kid from the pet store was supposed to come to clean the fish tank, but he never showed; the store owner later told me he’d be here Thursday afternoon. I exercised, showered, read the papers, picked up my laundry and went over a new batch of bills Mom sent. She also enclosed another AWP Job List, the traditionally large October one. I remember how, five and six years ago in Rockaway, I pored over it and spent hours writing peppy-sounding cover letters and putting together my résumés, bibliography lists, letters of recommendation, etc. Now glance at each listening, see what they want (usually a Ph.D.), what they need (the dossier – and of course “no applications will be acknowledged unless you send a selfaddressed post card”), and what they’re paying ($20,000 to $25,000 is standard; $19,000 isn’t unusual) – and I say out loud, “Fuuu-u-ck you!” Today I read there’s about to be a shortage of college mathematicians and that people still believe there’s a glut in all academia so that math majors aren’t interested in trying to become professors. Another study said that most academics feel “locked in” by tenure and that a fourth of them
feel like quitting and half say that if they had to do it all over, they’d choose another profession. Will someone be crying out for college English teachers a decade from now? It already appears that it’s not all that easy to get good adjuncts. The cynic in me says that all but the elite colleges will just continue to hire cheap parttime labor, and if they can’t find good people, they will – like the public schools – take just about anyone. And thus the quality of education spirals downward everywhere but at the best schools. With fewer minority students attending college than there were a decade ago, with fewer and fewer minority faculty members to serve as role models, we’ll have a large unskilled, undereducated and barely literate population as we march into the twenty-first century. Like the budget deficit, this problem will have to be reckoned with somewhere down the line – and it ain’t gonna be pretty.
Wednesday, October 23, 1985
9 PM. Amazingly, I’m not at all tired after another one of my killer Wednesdays.
Last night I decided I wasn’t going to fool with insomnia, so I took one of the codeine-laced Tylenols. It worked wonderfully, for I slept soundly from 9 PM till 6 AM: nine hours of much-needed sleep. That helped today go much faster. At Baruch at 8 AM, I had a fairly good class; then I took the subway to Times Square, where I picked up a copy of Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale News. I checked out the stories and the local real estate ads; it looks like I can get a good rental for about $400 to $500. Then I took the train up to the familiar 86th Street stop and had a leisurely breakfast at the corner Greek diner before dropping in on Teresa. She had called and left an excited message yesterday, but her phone was busy all the time I tried to get her back. Teresa had wanted to tell me that she saw Sat Darshan yesterday; it was the first time Teresa had caught Avis in her Sikh garb, but she said Avis “was deep in conversation with a normal person so I didn’t say hello.” Teresa also ran into Robert Rothman, who’s gotten bald (I expected that) and no less pompous. “See what just one day in the working world can get you,” I said. Her interview at Howard Rubinstein seemed to go well. (When she took credit for my publicity, the interviewer said, “Grayson? Didn’t he run a movie star for President?”) – but Teresa said that she may
deliberately fail the writing test she still has to take so that she doesn’t get the job. Basically, she still doesn’t want to work. She’d rather play – and now she’s into Norman’s idea for a chicken store in Brooklyn Heights. I said I wasn’t worried about it because they were going to a bank for funding. “But banks won’t always okay a good idea,” Teresa said. “I meant they’ll steer you away from a bad one.” As usual, Teresa thinks she knows everything; her mind is made up, so I don’t want to confuse her with the facts. I may know nothing about business, but I know what I don’t know. Also, I know that start-up costs will prevent any kind of profits for some time. And that unexpected problems and expenses always pop up. And that running any kind of store is not the breeze Teresa envisions. Like so many others, Teresa gets caught up in the fun aspects of starting a business: naming the store, decorating and designing it, making up stationery and business cards, etc. From my parents, I’ve learned that any kind of store or sales requires very hard work and little glamour; if it were the other way around, Teresa might be well-suited to that kind of retail life.
Oh well, I hope I’m proven wrong, but I see this as just another detour for Teresa. Remember how rich the Family Pages was going to make her? This morning, when I got to John Jay, Livia Katz told me that Doris has been in the hospital with bronchial pneumonia. I had my classes write, but these people are so hopeless that about half of them could not even follow very specific directions, repeated several times, for the format of a “Once I was -----; now I am -----“ essay. I got my paycheck afterwards, and I deposited it, along with the $142.28 royalty check from Zephyr Press that I picked up at Teresa’s. From the bank at Columbus Circle, I went up to Columbia, where I had pizza before my programming class. Programming is intellectually challenging to me, and I did enjoy tonight’s class. It’s wonderful that I had the energy to get through today. I’m amazed.
Thursday, October 24, 1985
9 PM. Well, this week is over and it’s been the best week and the least taxing week I’ve had since I’ve started this fall schedule.
I got a second good night’s sleep in a row and this morning’s class was a breeze since the second half was in the computer room. Roberta said her job is very hectic, mostly because she has to run back and forth from the remedial lab to the ESL lab; they really need to hire two people. At 10:30 AM, I got some Visa cash advances at the banks on 23rd Street, picked up my Baruch paycheck (now it seems our retrospective increases may not come until next spring) and then stopped off at the First Nationwide at Broadway and the Battery before heading home to Park Slope. I took care of some chores, then went to Dr. Hersh, where I had my last appointment. He cost me $310 in all, but I know my teeth are in good shape; now that I’m flossing regularly, my gums are pink and healthy, and I’m going to try to make sure they stay that way. It’s been interesting going back to East 56th Street and the old neighborhood on a regular basis; indeed, it’s been interesting to be living in Brooklyn again these past nine weeks. Although it hasn’t been a picnic, I’m richer for the experience, and I should thank Justin – who’s probably watching the premiere of Pippin at this moment. Already, Justin’s friends, anticipating his return, have begun calling the apartment.
It started clouding up at 3 PM, when I got out of the dentist’s. I felt energized as I waited for the Flatbush Avenue bus at Avenue N and East 55th Street. I took it to Sears, where I bought $100 worth of floppy disks for my students; I figured I should use my Sears card rather than a credit card or a T&E card. Hopefully, I’ll be reimbursed by my students. By the Junction, I was the only white person on the bus, and as I waited again at Flatbush and Tilden, I must have stood out among all those black people. But it’s interesting: I didn’t feel different from them after a while. Nobody stared at me. I felt perfectly safe. It’s a good experience to learn how inner-city minority people live – and I’m learning that (again) from my Baruch and John Jay students. It’s a nice change from the middle-class suburban white kids at BCC. Who said college teaching isn’t the real world?
Friday, October 25, 1985
5 PM. Today’s been the most relaxed I’ve been in weeks. I had the time to sleep late, exercise and indulge myself a little.
Last evening, when I spoke to Mom, she told me that Dad’s flight arrives at about 8:30 PM tomorrow. Dad will drop by here on Sunday morning; then I’ll go with him up to Manhattan – perhaps taking a suitcase to drop off at Teresa’s – and then go back to Grandma Ethel’s in Rockaway. At least that’s the tentative plan. Since I’ll be seeing Grandma on Sunday, it made no sense for me to go to Rockaway today. I slept late – for me, 9 PM is now late – and then lifted weights for an hour while watching a videotape of this week’s St. Elsewhere. I’ve just completed another little workout and I’m slightly sweaty and tired. In between, I took the bus to downtown Brooklyn and at the Business Library on Cadman Plaza, I went over this month’s copies of American Banker, looking for stories on credit cards and interstate banking. It appears that the glory years for bank cards are over now that the public and Congress are upset over high interest rates and fees and now that the competition is coming from Sears’ Discover card (though initial reports from the test market in Georgia show fairly low use). Anyway, it pays for me to stay informed – and of course, I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t interesting. Calling Florida International University, I learned that the School of Education’s next interview session for the doctoral program in community college
teaching is this Thursday – and of course, I can’t make it. Back home, I responded to letters from Rick and Crad. Crad sent along an interview from a mostly music-oriented Toronto street paper; it captured the essence of Crad Kilodney, the social misfit, neurotic and genius. Crad’s typeset all his new books and is now proofreading them. Rick is tired, though he’s teaching only two sections (and of creative writing, yet), but the new Gargoyle should be out soon. He and Gretchen are now wildly in debt. The Washington Post Book World accepted his review of Gilbert Sorrentino’s new book, and he may be able to review books for them on a regular basis. A talk before a bunch of George Washington University freshmen proved to be a fiasco as the students all but giggled him out of the room. Their attitude: “Who is this failed hippie?” Fuck them, I say. Rick writes that the word was the last New York Book Fair was a good one, though he, like I, wonders about the fortunes of the small press in the ‘80s, especially when the young writers in their twenties have successfully bypassed the small press in favor of the New York publishing world. I may sound like a broken record, but I think our time will come in the 1990s. Maybe the
further the pendulum swings to the right, the further it will swing back in correction. With college students who are now 17 and 18 years my junior, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m nearly 35, which, after all, used to be considered “middle age.” It’s a different world today, of course, with vigorous people still active in their seventies, but as time goes on, my life, and that of my generation, becomes more and more a part of history. My students were only babies during 1969, the year of the first moon landing, Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Stonewall – while I was the age they are now. Rick and I and people our age have a perspective that no one else can have. Someday, I know, people will be interested in how we looked at things.
Saturday, October 26, 1985
7 PM. I used today fairly productively even though it seemed as if I wasted hours just lying about. I completed all but the last chapter (and the last homework) in my programming text; I got some letters written; and I packed one suitcase suitable for taking to Teresa’s tomorrow. Last night I relaxed by watching TV. Teresa called, as antsy as ever. She had absolutely no inner resources to fall back on when she’s
alone, and the start of the weekend panicked her. At Howard Rubinstein’s office, she took a writing test; she was given some data from a mythical report and asked to create a press release. “I didn’t intend t fail it, but I may have anyway,” said Teresa, who’s really lacking all self-confidence. I think not working may have hurt her sense of self-worth the way it did mine this past summer. She told me that the Rubinstein offices, located in the Burlington Mill building on Sixth and 53rd, made her feel claustrophobic. I dread having to deal with Teresa’s neuroses once I begin living at her apartment again. The nine weeks I’ve spent here in Park Slope may not have been paradise, but I had ideal roommates in Tim and Kenny; they respected my privacy and I didn’t have to get overly involved with their lives. Justin is lucky to have Tim and Kenny. But just as I adjusted to this situation and all the others in which I’ve lived, I will adjust to staying at Teresa’s again. I’ll miss the privacy here, the comfort of this bed – the couch in Teresa’s living room still isn’t very comfortable – but there’s nothing I can do about it. If the situation becomes unbearable, I’ll shell out the big bucks necessary to sublet on my own.
This week is the midterm mark at Baruch and Columbia, and I am starting to see daylight. With Columbia not that far from Teresa’s, I’ll be able to use the DEC-20 more and I’ll have time to work on my Computer Graphics project, too. After next Saturday, there’ll be just one more Graphics class, on November 16, before our projects are presented on December 14. In Florida, I should be able to look at my old disks and see if I can find some old programs that will help me. And if I can avoid taking any sick days this week, I’m going to leave for Florida a week from Monday or Tuesday and stay there for nearly a week. Dad should be en route here at this time. I haven’t seen him in four months, and I look forward to spending at least a little time together. Hopefully, Mom remembered to send along my mail with Dad. Although the days have been going fast one by one, October still seems as though it’s been a long, difficult month. Hey: I just realized it was exactly six years ago today that I moved to Rockaway. Remember how scared I was, living on my own for the first time? Well, I had a difficult time there, but I learned a lot, and today my coping and survival skills are 1000% better than they once were. Maybe I haven’t progressed all that much in my writing career, but I’ve definitely gone from
post-adolescence to adulthood. I’m a mensch at last. We get an extra hour tonight as daylight savings time ends. The other day, Peter Filichia was quoted in a Times “Metropolitan Diary” piece: in April, he kept calling the time phone number, ME 7-1212, and learned they didn’t switch the time an hour until the temperature changed. November’s coming up, so five-sixths of 1985 will be gone soon. While I have regrets, I’m going to come out of this year okay, I think, with more gains than losses. But nothing in life is certain: look what happened to Leon Klinghoffer’s vacation cruise. Maybe I’m neurotic or superstitious, but I always feel that it’s better not to get too confident. Kinnahora, anyone?
Sunday, October 27, 1985
4 PM. Today didn’t go as planned. In a typical display of incompetence, the Easter Air Lines clear who made Dad’s reservation booked him a rent car from Thrifty, unaware that there is no Thrifty at LaGuardia. Since neither Hertz nor Avis had any cars left, Dad had to get what he could: a Lincoln at $20
more per day than he’d expected to pay. He didn’t want me to drive such a big car uninsured, and I didn’t want to take the responsibility, so we agreed that he’d take Grandma Ethel to dinner tomorrow night and see me tonight. After speaking to him, I spent last evening reading and then slept till 8 AM – actually 9 AM on daylight savings time. Tomorrow when I get up at 6 AM, I should be facing dawn and not darkness. That will be a psychological lift at least. Since I hadn’t seen Grandma Ethel and wasn’t going to be seeing her later, I decided to go to Rockaway this morning. It’s been a mild, very bright day, and I found the walk along the boardwalk relaxing. The beach looked clean and the ocean was clean and calm. Grandma Ethel and I watched the Marathon on TV; she said Marty was “eating his heart out” (one of Grandma’s favorite expressions) because Wendy had decided to run in it. In her usual exasperating roundabout way, Grandma asked me to help her make out some checks and then kept wondering if I was doing everything correctly. She also told me about all the “aggravation” (another favorite word of hers) that my parents have. If only they’d stayed in New York, she said – like a broken record – they’d have a house worth $180,000, Dad would be retired, etc.,
and life would be peachy. Dad told her that Jonathan is now working with Mom, something I didn’t know. The way Grandma Ethel told it, Jonathan went to work at his boss’s new army-navy store but couldn’t get along with the woman manager there. He quit, expecting that they’d call him to go back to the old store; however, they didn’t. Marc, according to Dad according to Grandma, is still anxious to get married to Daniela, who doesn’t want to get married, and Marc gets depressed all the time. Let’s face it: both of my brothers are a little “off” (if I were talking, I’d tap the side of my head with my index finger), even if in a nice way. It depresses me to think of going back to Florida and getting involved in my family’s mishigass. It somewhat ironic, though, that for most of my childhood and adolescence, I was “the crazy one” in the family: I remember how often I was told – or seemed to be told – that if it weren’t for me, everything would be perfect with the Graysons. Marc is in his thirties and Jonathan is 24, and they’re both still boys, living with and working with my parents. It’s pretty fucked up. When I do return to Florida, I’ll have to keep my distance from my family; I did pretty well when I lived there before.
My visits to their house were friendly but brief, and I didn’t tell my parents a lot about my life. In the end, I suspect, I’ll be living somewhere other than South Florida – and other than New York. I need to stay in Florida at least six months and maybe a year, but I suspect restlessness will overtake me again. By the way, my weeklong trip next week is off: I discovered that my Programming midterm is next Wednesday. No big deal. I’ll leave on Thursday, as scheduled and return on Monday, and I’ll still get four days in Florida in. It will feel odd when I see Dad tonight. I’m surprised at the strong feelings I have towards my family.
Monday, October 28, 1985
6 PM. It’s been dark for an hour, and chilly weather arrived today, so there’s no longer any fooling ourselves: winter is almost here. I’ve really begun to long for Florida. Tonight is probably the last night I’ll spend in Brooklyn after nearly ten weeks here. Yesterday I looked at my diary entries for what as exactly six months ago, when I left my apartment at Nova University and came to New York. It was a difficult adjustment to return to
Teresa’s, and I expect another difficult period now. But if I can remember that I will adjust after a certain period of time, I’ll be okay. Time’s both our friend and our enemy. At dinner at the Grand Canyon last night, Dad asked me why I was staring at him. “You’re grayer,” I said, not telling him that he reminded me a little of Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. “I got old,” Dad said. “At my next birthday – I can hardly believe it – I’ll be sixty years old.” Earlier, as we walked down Seventh Avenue from President Street, Dad remarked that the block we were on had been his territory when he worked for that private investigating firm while he was still in high school. And I told Dad that the year he used to drive me up to Franklin School on the Upper West Side was twenty years ago; we both clearly remember the traffic and the chaos of the Blackout, which was almost exactly twenty years ago. In some ways those days seem very far away, yet I can remember so many details, it seems. Anyway, it’s amazing that Dad and I should be eating dinner together in Park Slope, not having seen each other for four months, having gone through the last twenty years as we did. In one way, it delights me the way a family saga novel does; the plot takes twists and
turns but the characters go on. Dad told me that Grandpa Nat still looks the same, and if he lives till next April, Grandpa will be 88 years old. If I live that long – which I highly doubt – I could have fifty years ahead of me. It seems impossible, and I’m not sure I would like to be in the world of 2035. Dad said that most of the Sasson salesmen are in their thirties, and like the manager, don’t know very much and aren’t competent; it seems as though quality people don’t exist in the clothing business anymore. Dad got a new line, and he hopes it will help him to make a living. The problem of “making a living” in Florida is very real for many people. In New York, the cost of living is high, but real estate values have gone out of sight. Had Mom and Dad remained on East 56th Street, their mortgage – a ridiculously low $240 a month – would be paid off now, and Dad could almost be retired. Yet if he regrets moving to Florida, Dad doesn’t say so. He told me that once Jonathan decided to quit the store, Mom asked him to try working in the flea market. She and Marc were going to have to hire a kid to help them anyway, and so far, Jonathan seems to like working there. He quit the store because in the new location, the manager treated him like just another kid,
not the responsible assistant manager who used to open and close the other store. As Dad said, Jonathan stayed too long in that job anyway. “He fears any kind of change,” Dad said. “I guess we all do.” I’ve tried to conquer my fear of change boy constantly moving around. Whether it’s made me more fucked up or stronger is debatable, but I think that in the long run I’m a better person for my peripatetic ways. Last January and at the end of April, I hated “uprooting myself,” but now I see that’s a natural part of adjusting to a new situation. I expect to feel quite uncomfortable at Teresa’s for the next few weeks. But eventually I’ll discover some benefits, and I’ll get used to my new surroundings. And it will be hard to return once more to Florida. However, the more experience with change I have under my belt, the easier it gets next time. Last night’s dinner with Dad was a rare treat. We talked about his business and Florida and the flea market; for a change, I listened more than I talked. Family – despite everything – is still family. After Dad left for Rockaway, I spent a couple of hours going over the pile of mail he’d brought: not only bills but some American Demographics magazines and other stuff. I joined Bankcard Holders of America, a D.C.-
based organization of credit card holders that should be right up my alley. But I won’t get any more cards for the rest of this year; enough’s enough. Up early this morning, probably because of the time change, I was at Baruch before 7:30 AM, when the elevators first start running. My students bought my disks, and in the lab, Roberta showed them how to work HomeWord, an easy word-processing program. I would teach a bit more slowly than she does. However, I’m glad I didn’t get the job because I see it is too much for one person. Roberta has to run back and forth between the ESL and comp labs – which aren’t in adjoining rooms – and she says eventually they’ll have to hire another person. I went uptown and had breakfast on Broadway and 58th – I was right across from the Coliseum, where Dad was, but I couldn’t get in without ID – and after a trip to the bank, I went to John Jay. My classes were okay today, though I was nearly as sleepy as my students. Home at 4:30 PM, I took in laundry (I’ve phrased that wrong – I’m tired) and then made supper. Teresa said she’s free to move me out of here tomorrow, so I’ll go to her place after Baruch.
Tuesday, October 29, 1985
8 PM. Back at Teresa’s. I suppose I felt less stress today than did the little catfish I introduced into Justin’s aquarium. At the pet store on Seventh Avenue, when he was taken out of his tank, he squirmed nervously, and before putting him in a plastic bag, the storeowner had to quirt him with some kind of stress-reducing device. Teresa and I were told to introduce him gradually to the new tank, letting him float in his plastic bag for twenty minutes before setting him free. Last night I slept well, and because I’m still not used to Standard Time, I was up at 6 AM. I used the time to pack and get all my stuff together. My class at Baruch was a bit obstreperous today, and I discovered I lost several papers, but at least I got through the day with little pain. Up here at Teresa’s at 11:30 AM, I went with her first to her parents’ in Williamsburg. She’s been having a lot of trouble with the Renault, which she just had put in her father’s name (to save on the insurance). While we had pizza for lunch, her father took the car to the service station. Later he returned with some things fixed and some still needing repair. Teresa would like to take the car to the Berkshires this weekend, so she’ll
probably bring it back to Williamsburg tomorrow. Of course today we needed it. We spent a little time at Teresa’s father’s little phone store on Metropolitan Avenue (he runs it with his Korean partner, Steve) and then went to the Slope, where I picked up my laundry and we went to the pet store. Teresa thought Justin’s apartment was very spacious. We brought down all my stuff: the two suitcases, my big red bag, the little nylon bag, two laundry bags and my dumbbells. I decided to give my keys to Jan, since she’d probably be home when Justin returned, and I definitely can’t be there. I’d said goodbye to Tim earlier this morning. After getting all the stuff into the car, Teresa and I went to the new suburban-style Key Food at Fifth and Sterling and bought $50 worth of groceries and supplies. It was a struggle to bring everything up here, and it was hectic to put everything away once I was settled. But I managed, with Teresa’s help, to get most of my possessions squared away. When I go to Florida next week, I’ll take one suitcase and leave it there, and I’ll return to New York with just my carry-on luggage. It’s hard for me to get used to the sound of TV and Teresa’s phone conversations, but I’ve got my Walkman on. Still, I’ve lived in this apartment enough to feel fairly comfortable
here. My USA Today subscription was transferred here today: a good sign that I will manage. Remember, I didn’t expect it to be easy. I’ve decided that I’ll run for Florida Education Commissioner and put out a weekly newsletter as a press release. This newsletter will have in it my own views on various educational issues. It will be sort of like publishing my own little magazine. Surely somebody receiving it – I’ll send it to the education writers on Florida papers – will eventually realize that I’m doing something original, useful and intelligent. It will make me happy to speak my mind and try to get some issues discussed. Maybe eventually the collected newsletters could make a book. I asked Teresa how Richie Kessel got started as a consumer advocate, and she told me he did everything on his own, with a low budget and lots of hard work. Maybe I can turn the newsletter into a business (Information-in-Motion?) or get myself recognized as an expert on educational issues. It does seem like a good idea, though I don’t want to share it with anyone yet. I know tomorrow will be difficult but I’ll survive it.
Wednesday, October 30, 1985
8 PM. I managed well my first day back on the West Side. Last night I opened the couch at 9 PM and fell asleep almost immediately. I slept very well, a full eight hours, and was raring to go at 6 AM. I got on the IRT at 7 AM, and it wasn’t crowded; now I see I can give myself a little more time in the morning. At Baruch I did a little grammar and had midterm conferences with my students. Relating to them on a one-to-one basis always makes me feel good. I learned that one student, who writes fairly well, is repeating the class because her previous teacher failed all the Hispanic kids in the class. Incredible. I asked them how they were doing in their other classes. Look, maybe I’m not Mr. Chips, but I can’t help caring. I hope that comes through. From Baruch, I went uptown, where I bought some very good bread pudding (I miss the Publix bread pudding, though), and at Coliseum Books I bought the Naisbitt Group’s 1986: The Year Ahead, which has Naisbitt’s usual optimism but contained some points of interest. I read it in the John Jay library. After lunch, I had two pretty decent classes in which we went over essays in our reader. It was kind of fun. All in all, I felt good about myself as a teacher today. When I got home at 3:30 PM, Teresa was in bed, watching TV. She looked very unhappy,
and though I didn’t try to make her feel guilty (that would be stupid and pointless), I got the feeling that she was uncomfortable with the contrast between my busy schedule and her trying to fill up hours. I stayed only long enough to exchange my teaching books and papers for my student ones, and I went off to Columbia. Before class, I played with the DEC-20 for a while. We went over the “either” constraint in FPL, and as usual, I found the programs intellectually stimulating if somewhat difficult. We got out second project, which looks easier than the first, and next week is our midterm. It was a treat not to have to go all the way back to Brooklyn; the four stops from 116th Street to 86th Street seemed like nothing. I found no one home when I got here, and I finished my dinner (I began with pizza before class) with yogurt, a muffin and kiwifruit. The more I think about this “Information-inMotion” newsletter and my Florida campaign, the more excited I get. It seems like something in the tradition of Tom Paine, Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. I don’t want to tell my friends about it because they’d poohpooh the idea. Besides, it’s better to be a doer than a talker. I never told anyone in advance about my running for office or other publicity students. I realize I’m smarter, more creative and have
more knowledge than I’d given myself credit for. With my candidacy and newsletter, I can combine writing and publishing and public relations with issues I care about.
Thursday, October 31, 1985
2 PM. For the last ninety minutes I’ve been working out with the 15-pound dumbbells I left here. With the 20-pound ones I’d had at Justin’s, I couldn’t do as many reps. I’m sweaty but invigorated and pumped up. It’s slightly milder today, but the prolonged Indian summer is just about over, and from here on in, it should never get into the 70°s again. Right now I’d settle for 60°. When I called Dad last night, he said it was 80° in Florida and he was glad to be out of New York. Well, if everything goes okay, I’ll be in Florida this time next week, too, at least for several days. Last night I went to sleep early. Teresa and a friend came in while I was half-awake but they quietly slipped into the bedroom to watch TV. This morning I had a slight headache (and still have it) from the steam, but I did get enough rest. Leaving the house at 7:30 AM, I was at school by
8:20 AM. I went over subject/verb agreement and then took the kids to the computer lab, where they tried word-processing. Next term the course will become pass/fail – which it should be now – and the students won’t get any credit for it (now it’s two credits), but it will be cut back from four hours to three hours. Free of teaching for the weekend, I have only about 25 papers to grade, so I don’t intend to do any work today. I knew Teresa would be away at her sister’s, where she’s wallpapering the baby’s room, so I took advantage of her absence to relax and exercise. My stomach is way too big, but my shoulders, arms and chest are pretty good right now. Actually, I feel healthily horny. It’s Halloween, the last day of October, and there are only eight weeks till Christmas. Perhaps this will be an easier time for me than the past eight weeks were. I’m already adjusted (pretty much, anyway) to my schedule. I’ve learned I can adjust to just about any situation in around six weeks. My self-confidence is returning from the ebb point of last summer. I could juggle some money – take out cash advances and all that – but I think I’m going to let things ride for a while. I have better things to do with my time, and I can feel comfortable with $17,000 in the bank. I’ll probably go over
to Columbia later and work on the DEC-20. Knock wood, I feel okay.
Friday, November 1, 1985
8 PM. I feel like a human being again after weeks of being a drudge. I’m really enjoying myself and I feel very relaxed. I just walked into Teresa’s apartment and I have the place to myself, as Teresa wrote a note saying she’s gone to the Berkshires for the weekend. I’ve come from a pleasant dinner at the Saloon with Alice, and I walked home from Lincoln Center, stopping off at Shakespeare & Company to buy three books: all novels. Yesterday I got my hair cut by Lara, the Soviet woman at the Upper Cut on 72nd Street; I wanted a very short and spiky cut, and I got it. This is the style now – or one style. Anyway, I like the change. It’s probably the shortest my hair has been in twenty years. Last evening, I relaxed, catching up on my newspapers and magazines, including an issue of American Demographics that Dad had brought up from Florida. I called Susan to see if she wanted to go to the Village Halloween parade as she’d suggested during our last meeting, but she felt too “bulky.”
“One of my Hunter students is a Richard Grayson fan,” Susan said. She’d told a creative writing student, a guy who writes weird stories, about me, and he came in the next week with a copy of I Brake and said, “I love Richard Grayson.” That’s nice to hear. I always suspect that my work would be more popular if I more people were exposed to it. Who knows? Exciting things are happening for Susan. For one, she’s been asked by the McKnight Foundation to judge a writing competition. I’ll hear the rest about it the next time to speak to her, because she had to get off the phone to eat dinner. Able to sleep until 8 a.m. today, I went to Park Slope to see Justin. It was odd to have to ring the bell and be a guest in the place where I’d just been living. Justin looks great, and it’s obvious the last two months were, despite all the hard work and hassles, a very good time for him. I looked at the mountain of photos from Same Time, Next Year and Pippin and was impressed with the costumes, set design, etc. Obviously Justin is very proud of his productions. Financially, we decided to cal things even, since I did a little damage (his plants and four fish were dead); really, I owes me money for bills I paid for him, but it isn’t everyone who can sublet to a friend and still remain friends.
I’m glad we both overlooked some things for the sake of our friendship. Our lunch at the Grand Canyon (I’d first referred to it as “Phoenix House,” which is the name of a drug rehabilitation program), Justin told me the Sheraton Berkshire will probably be interested in having him as artistic director for next season, which begins in April. He’ll definitely consider it; as Justin said, “I want to have a theater company someday, so this is a good way to achieve that.” They give him complete artistic freedom. Justin has loads of friends in Reading – “and even a little romance,” he added. His friend David, who played Charlemagne in Pippin, is an artist, and he’s coming to visit this weekend. Way to go, Justin! He was pretty offhand about it, but I’m sure the relationship makes Justin happy. Although he’d take a place in Reading, Justin still wouldn’t give up his “home” on President Street. Unlike me, Justin is very domestic and couldn’t get his stuff out of there now without professional movers. When I told Justin I probably wouldn’t be back next spring, he seemed disappointed – but I might consider returning to President Street if Justin asked. I went with him to buy a sucker catfish for the tank – as I’d expected, he’d brought back some
new fish from Pennsylvania – and then I left Brooklyn. Back at Teresa’s, I read my mail. Rick Peabody may be in New York for then days; I would really like to see him. He sent along his review from the Washington Post Book World. (I was glad to see Scott Sommer got a nice review for Hazzard’s Head in last Sunday’s Times Book Review; the novel was on display at Shakespeare & Company tonight.) Joe Cook of Florida International University’s Ed.D. program in higher education sent me a note saying he understands my situation and said I should take one of his courses non-matric this spring. One on the Community College is being offered at BCC on Monday nights, and it sounds pretty good to me. I’d like to take some non-matric courses for a change. Alice called to ask if I wanted to meet her for dinner since Peter was on his way to Boston for the weekend. I was happy to see Alice, and over pasta primavera, we talked about our lives. She loves her job at Redbook, and though it’s still work, she’s having lots of fun and works with nice people. The editor at NAL didn’t like Alice’s sample chapters for the get-a-boyfriend-in-two-week book, and since the packager refused to pay Alice a kill fee, she’s suing them in Small Claims. I told her to ask Teresa for advice
because no one knows Small Claims Court like Teresa. Alice does feel something is missing in her life, “but Peter says I’m not happy unless I have something to complain about.” In a couple of weeks, she’s making her first Redbook trip to L.A. I haven’t told any of my friends about my plans to run for Florida Education Commissioner and put out a newsletter, though I did mention the newsletter idea to Mom. The brisk walk up Broadway this evening made me remember how much I love the bustle and variety of New York. Look at Susan, Justin, and Alice: my friends’ careers are just taking off. Rick, too. And that makes me feel hope and confidence regarding my own career and life. Somehow I’ll make it. It may not be what I expected, but my life and my career are far from over, and I feel very positive tonight.