A 24-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1975


Saturday, November 1, 1975

4 PM. After yesterday’s dose of self-pity, I managed to pull myself together, going over to Kings Plaza for dinner, choosing the mall rather than a restaurant because I wanted to see people walking around. At times even the artificiality of a shopping center is preferable to being alone in my room.

I ran into Bruce Riebold, who was shopping for a vacuum cleaner, and we had a ten-minute chat. He graduated BC in this spring and hopes to go to law school next year; in the meantime he’s working for a lawyer and “enjoying myself, mostly.”

I caught a quick bite at Bun ‘n’ Burger, then window-shopped and coveted clothes I can’t afford at Macy’s; I have absolutely no decent shirts anymore. Back home, I read and watched TV and fell asleep early.

Today was a brisk, cool day. I called Ronna this morning and asked if she wanted to go to the movies sometime this week. We decided on Tuesday because neither of us is working then.

This past week Ronna worked at Random House, typing in their School Division. They offered her a semi-permanent job there, but she turned it down.

We talked about the city fiscal crisis, and I told her the line that came to me in class on Thursday: “Default, dear Brutus. . .” Well, you know the rest. She said Henry sent President Ford a telegram, which is so like Henry.

I got my grade from the summer today: A- in French 600.00 (no credits).

Alice called to tell me some good news. Yesterday she sold two articles for a total of $275. There was that feature she did for Model Circle and another article for American Girl. She was ecstatic, the sales coming as they did, one right after another.

After Alice and I decided we’d get together for dinner and whatever tonight to celebrate, I went off to Rockaway, coming in on Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia as they were eating lunch and fighting (because Grandma Sylvia said she couldn’t stand the way Grandpa Nat gobbled down his food so quickly).

They both said I got thin, and courageously I resisted their efforts to ply me with soda, fruit, cookies and tunafish.

Grandma Sylvia said that Cousin Scott is finding law school very tough and that he has no time for anything, not even Thanksgiving vacation. That sounds typical of what I’ve heard from other first-year law students.

I left my grandparents’ house at 2 PM and came home to find that in my absence, the toilet in the basement had backed up, with disgusting results. We called a plumber, who said the trouble was not in our house but with the city sewers on the block that have backed up.

We’re not supposed to use any of our bathrooms very much. Of course, right now I have to go very badly; perhaps I’ll go over to Macy’s to use their men’s room.

Anyway, there’s no telling when the city will send someone down here, and we’re supposed to be going shower-less until then. This whole thing is ridiculous; as Dad said, “It’s always something in this city.”

Also this afternoon, my digital clock died after a long illness. It’s very strange: sometimes you think that nothing works anymore, including our whole way of life. Maybe we should just cement the whole thing over and start afresh. I don’t know.

Last night I wrote three poems, but they’re so bad – probably. I say “probably” because I have no way to judge whether a poem is good or not. I assume the poems are bad because they came to me too easily; one should work over a poem carefully, right? At least that’s what I’ve been led to believe.

Perhaps I will one day write poetry, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever outgrow my prejudice against it as an all-too-easy form compared to fiction. Everyone is a poet – or, rather, I should say that everyone writes poetry.

Sunday, November 2, 1975

Last evening was quite enjoyable. I picked Alice up and we had dinner at the New China Inn, where she had lo mein and I had chow mein and we both had eggrolls.

Then we went to the college to see the play The Last Analysis by Saul Bellow, directed by Bernard Barrow, star of soap operas like Ryan’s Hope and the Acting teacher of Simon, Todd and Sharon.

It was theater in the round, and we sat on benches on the stage. The play was fairly enjoyable.

There was a couple sitting across the stage from us, and the guy looked very familiar and I knew that I knew him well, but I couldn’t place him. It was driving me crazy during the whole first act, when finally I realized he was Sam Schecterman, one of my students at LIU in the spring. I would have liked to say hello to him, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance.

Alice was in a really good mood all evening, enjoying her success. (I, too, enjoyed her success). In addition to the two article sales, she had more good news.

After I had told her about City Magazine, she had seen it and gotten ahold of them, and today she got a call from them, asking her to be a Contributing Editor, with her own column on senior citizens.

Alice is now very busy with her career, and she wants to write a lot. Romantically, she said that just now she’s not interested in anyone but Andreas.

It’s now 3 PM and turning cloudy. The darkness may mean a few cool sprinkles later. For me it’s been a classic Sunday; such a Sunday should be preserved in amber.

In the play last night, they mentioned the condition called “humanities.” If I may borrow the term from Bellow, I’d like to think of humanities as that alternately terrible and wonderful disease from which each and every one of us suffer.

When people say sarcastically, “Oh, that’s really sick,” or “What a sick woman she must be to do a thing like that,” they are referring, of course, to humanities.

Humanities is invariably fatal, and there’s no known cure. But the disease also provides sufferers with the most rhapsodic ecstasies, of the kind once thought to occur in those afflicted with tuberculosis or epilepsy. While the disease cannot be treated, one can learn to live with it – which is the whole point of humanities, anyway.

I am very content to be a victim of this disease. I know I have it, for I share all the symptoms: laziness, hope, fear, laughter, vanity, selfishness, anger. It is, indeed, a universal disease, and all those who are afflicted with it constitute a large and close-knit fraternity.

The trouble is that most people live and die without ever realizing they have the disease, but I know I have it, and that’s a great consolation. When I get old, I plan to become a religious fanatic like Tolstoy.

Already I find myself thinking such blatantly ridiculous things as “God does not give us a burden that we cannot bear.” Can you believe that? I’m ashamed to admit it, but I do.

At noon today I rode over the bridge to Rockaway for the third day in a row. It was warm and sunny, with small white cottony clouds, and it could have been September 2 or April 2.

The air was clear (at least the air is free and will still be here when the city defaults) and I felt so damn good as I drove through Rockaway, watching people go to church and boys play basketball and girls bicycle down the Boulevard.

I went through the Five Towns to Oceanside, feeling really at home on the suburban streets. I could write an essay on Long Island’s South Shore versus the North Shore in which both sides would come out winners.

There was no one home at Arlyne and Marty’s in Oceanside, so I headed back, taking Peninsula Boulevard and going under the trestle in Rockaway. I caught a whiff of an Air-Wick smell, and it reminded me of something very pleasant, but unknown, from my childhood.

After having lunch at the Ram’s Horn, I was down to my last 50¢, which I used to pay the toll on the Marine Parkway Bridge and get back to Brooklyn.

Tuesday, November 4, 1975

5 PM on a beautiful Election Day.

Without a doubt this is the most incredible autumn I can remember; today was sunny with temperatures in the 70°s. Didn’t November used to be the start of winter? We’ve had about four Indian Summers already, and it’s been wonderful.

The sky is turning into a glorious mixture of rose and pastel blue. I really feel as though I’ve become a connoisseur of life. Each day seems like a vintage wine. Is that corny enough for you?

When I got to LaGuardia last evening, Marie was waiting in the lobby. Central Depository was closed, so we couldn’t make out a payment order, and as there was no reason to stay on campus, I drove Marie home, as she was in a lot of pain after getting her two left wisdom teeth removed this afternoon.

Marie had a very bad time last month when the dentist pulled out the other two wisdom teeth: she was in bed for a week with pain and fever.

Back at home, there were two phone messages for me, from Libby and from Hal.

Libby gave me the news that Avis will be coming home on Monday evening, November 24, on an Icelandic flight; hopefully, we’ll all be able to meet her at the airport.

Curiously, Libby thought, Avis has given no one a specific reason for her visit. Perhaps it’s just homesickness, but in any case, it will be good to have Avis here for two months.

At the end of this term, Libby is leaving for England, to be with that guy Les; she finally decided it was a step she had to take.

Mason is still living at her house, although while we were talking, he was visiting his parents, who were out looking for some rural property in the Catskills to buy; that would be a smart move on Mason’s parents’ part.

As the city heads for default, everyone is wondering as to what it will mean for our individual lives. Mason, Libby reported, tries very hard to find work, but there are just no jobs. Today, Alex Smith told me he’s having the same distressing trouble.

Anyway, I’ve got to admire Libby for taking a step that’s so selfish: she’ll stay in England on one of those 45-day passes.

When I called Hal at the number he left, Ivy answered. It seems they bought a house, an old one, off Flatbush Avenue on Avenue S. Ivy gave me the number of Senator Halperin’s office, and I found Hal there.

He asked if I wanted to attend a kaffeeklatsch on Sunday at his house at which Senator Halperin will be speaking. I said I’d love to come, and Hal suggested I “bring Ronna or someone.”

When I called Allan, he said he’s very far behind on his papers, and I bet he’s going to end up with incompletes this term.

Next – last night was a big phone-a-thon – I called Mara in Maryland, telling her I wouldn’t be able to come down this weekend although I do hope to manage it sometime in December.

I also told Mara, because I knew she’d be interested, that I expected that the Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution would be soundly trounced in New York, as well as in New Jersey, in today’s voting.  The campaign against it was based on lies, like the end of separate bathrooms for men and women, but it scared people off.

My final phone call last evening was Gary. When he dreamily said, “We had a fine weekend,” he didn’t have to tell me how close he and Betty must be getting.

“Just don’t open a joint bank account yet,” I warned half-jokingly.

Gary said he’s getting disgusted with being a grad student and would like to be out earning some money.

I can understand that; I’ve been waiting for my midterm check from LIU to come, but it will be for only $250 or so, and that won’t allow me to do very much since it has to last until the second and final paycheck in January.

Early this morning, I called Ronna to arrange for me to pick her up. We were supposed to go to the movies, but we couldn’t fit it in because Ronna had her class at the New School tonight and had promised Susan’s mother that she would go to Tudor City afterwards to bring her some plant cuttings.

It was just as well that we didn’t spend the time indoors in a movie theater because today was such a magnificent summer-in-November day. After voting, we took a long drive out on Long Island. The trees along the road were all different autumn colors and the air smelled very sweet.

Ronna and I got along very well on our ride, and it turned out to be a completely pleasant afternoon. We stopped on the Miracle Mile for lunch at the Wooden Nickel, and although we really didn’t do anything of substance, we had a fine time.

As Ronna said on the way home, “Even if things aren’t permanent, even if the rest of the fall and winter is cold and rotten, we’ve still had today. . . Our good experience will last.” I agreed totally.

Ronna showed me a note she got from Shelli’s sister Sindy that Elaine Taibi had passed along (it came written on Sindy and Kieran’s alumni association dues form). It felt surprisingly nice to see Sindy’s familiar handwriting after all these years.

Sindy said that Shelli and Jerry are working for the state of Wisconsin in Madison and that she, Sindy, was admitted to the Washington State bar and is an associate with a Seattle law firm. Kieran got his Ph.D. in genetics in August and is now a full-time medical student at the University of Washington.

Ronna’s still going out with Henry, and I imagine she cares for him very much; apparently, they too have fights, and I consider that a hopeful sign. She reported that Ivan told her that he and Stacy went to see Nashville and thought it was so bad that they walked out in the middle.

Ronna said Ivan will start working for his father in May. I always knew that in the end, Ivan would go into his father’s business, just as I’ve always known I would never work for Dad.

Ronna said she would have liked to see Hal and Ivy this Sunday, but she’s spending the weekend with Susan in New Brunswick. At the train station, I kissed Ronna on the cheek and we both smiled.

I got a letter today from Teresa, who seems to be in fine shape. Her local March of Dimes Walk-a-thons have been going well, and she’s changed from being a New York snob to one who appreciates and understands the rural farm people she sometimes deals with in Northern California.

Teresa writes that she used to view change as an enemy, “but now I know that change is my best friend.” Of course she’s right.

Teresa will be coming in around Christmastime and we all should get together again. All this hearing from friends has spurred me on to continue with my novel.

Sunday, November 9, 1975

5 PM. A fog is rolling in from Jamaica Bay.

Last night Alice called. She had just written another letter to Jonathan Schwartz after listening to his radio show and wanted my opinion on whether she should mail it or not.

After Alice read me the letter, I suggested that it was so witty that she send it to the Village Voice rather than to Jonathan, on whom it would be wasted.

Evidently, after her few weeks of “mental faithfulness” to Andreas, Alice has gone back to her search for an exciting “cheap affair.” In a way, I wonder how she and Andreas ever got together. He’s such a conservative, unaware of things like marijuana or pornography.

I told Alice about my phone call from Julia the other day, and she said that Julia “sounds like a dud.” I also told her something I forgot to mention in this diary before now: that Vince called on Friday evening.

I was in the shower when Vince called and instructed Jonny to tell him to call back in half an hour. But then I started working on a story, so I took the phone off the hook. And I kept it off the hook for two hours. That wasn’t a very nice, or honest, thing for me to do.

When I called Gary yesterday to wish him a happy birthday, I found him sick in bed with a bad cold. He’s always been a bit of a hypochondriac (like me). He had no fever and his uncle refuses to give Gary a prescription for antibiotics unless he has a temperature over 100°, so he went to another doctor to get the medicine.

Gary did sound pretty lousy, and I’m sure it was a disappointing birthday for him. He and Betty had tickets for The Magic Show in the evening, so he was resting up for that.

I’ve been feeling pretty good although my face is like a bas-relief, filled with acne pustules and scars. Every day seems to bring a new pimple.

I went to the Village at noon on this lovely day; it was sunny and nearly 80°. In the Eighth Street Bookshop, I bought the 1975-76 Directory of Little Magazines. I intend to spend about $30 on sending out stories to places, though this time I’m going to check things out more carefully.

I’ve decided that name-dropping may help. After all, you could be the best writer in the world, but if nobody knows who you are, you’ll get nowhere. If my name were Jonathan Baumbach, I would have sold those two stories this week.

Today I wrote a very clever or a very sophomoric piece, “Let the Reader Beware,” a thesis story about the ultimate futility and absurdity of representational fiction.

I organized my story file and put all my notebooks and diaries and my file cabinet in the chest under my TV set. For two weeks I was very unproductive, and then suddenly the writing has started flowing again.

I really should not worry about writer’s block; it always comes back to me because working on stories is such a high. So is this weather.

In mid-afternoon, I sat out in Washington Square and you could have sworn it was summer. There were jugglers and musicians – guitarists, trumpeters and drummers – and peddlers and freaks and elderly people on back benches and Frisbee players and older gay men.

That’s New York, and despite what President Ford thinks, New Yorkers are the quintessential Americans. Anyway, I love New Yorkers: there’s a spirit among them, a kind of unflappable cynicism and pluckiness that you don’t find in other places.

Ten years ago today was the Great Blackout of 1965, and that was a time when New Yorkers stuck together and put their best foot forward. I remember that strange day after the blackout started, going to Franklin School on the Upper West Side and seeing people directing traffic, giving each other rides, helping others make it through.

Dad reported that Uncle Monty looks very bad and very thin. Recently Monty read something about marijuana being good for people who are undergoing chemotherapy, so I think Marc may go over and give Monty some dope.

Last evening I was talking with my parents about my career. I’m aware that from them, I’ve inherited middle-class values which I am no longer ashamed of. With the passing of the years, I’ve become more conservative.

God knows why I rushed from rally to rally in the old days. I guess we all have to go through a period of rebellion, and I was so idealistic. Not that I’m becoming a wild-eyed Reaganite, but I do feel differently about the country and about capitalism.

For instance, I wouldn’t buy a foreign car when American cars are available. I have accepted that I have a good deal of drive and ambition, and although I’m not a businessman, I have picked up my father’s way with people.

Dad said that he feels that by now he should have been much more successful because he knows he has talent and knowhow for business. Like me, he wishes he could have been born ten years earlier – in his case, so he could have made a killing in the war years.

Mom spoke of knitting scarves for Russian War Relief, and Dad talked of thinking that Henry Wallace would be America’s savior because he was a progressive who dared to say things about the country that no one else would.

Speaking of politics, tonight I’ll probably go over to that kaffeeklatsch at Hal and Ivy’s. If nothing else, it will be good for me to get out and be with people for a change.

The better life gets, the better I want it to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 1975

9 PM. I’m tired after a long day of work. But I got out of the way a lot of things that needed to be cleared up.

Last night I watched an excellent TV special, Eric, based on the book about a 17-year-old boy afflicted with terminal leukemia and his struggle to live life to the fullest and to die with dignity.

If only we could all endeavor to live as he did. I suppose it would come more naturally if we knew were dying. Yet we all are dying; some of us are just going faster than others. Naturally, I cried at the conclusion of the program.

I awoke at 4 AM from a bad dream in which a student of mine, Arnold, who cannot walk without crutches, threw himself out the window in a fit of despair.

I guess I felt badly about giving his “career” paragraph an F although that was what it deserved. (Today I modified the grade to D/F.) This kid wants to be a social worker, but he writes like a nine-year-old, can’t spell, and can’t express himself.

The dream bothered me so much, I could not get back to sleep – although I did manage to have one of my “waking half-dreams,” which somehow take the place of sleep dreams. They are different from fantasies in that I’m not in control of them; perhaps they are more like hallucinations.

I arrived at LIU early this morning, and despite the Veteran’s Day celebration, about half the class did show up. Willie Rodriguez felt entitled to special privileges because he’s a Vietnam veteran; I joked with him about it, and I think he’s finally coming around to seeing me as something other than an effete incompetent.

I have to admit that I do enjoy teaching and holding center stage; I kid about being boring, and although I usually am boring, I do manage to teach a few things, and some people even listen and ask questions.

Today I had a stumper from one student who asked which of the following is correct: When I walked into the room, there was noise and confusion or When I walked into the room, there were noise and confusion.

After class, I went to my office and I talked with Prof. Silveira about grading. He gives mostly C’s and D’s, and so I don’t feel I’m grading too low. Also, taking his suggestion, I sent out warnings – and in one case, a Withdrawal grade – to students who have cut excessively.

Anyway, I felt somewhat better about my role as teacher, especially after spending two hours this afternoon going over my marking procedure and my student folders. It was a lot of work, but I’m well-organized now.

Simon called, wanting to know if I was interested in joining him at a park or museum. I was sorely tempted, believe me, but I’m glad I got the work off my mind – just as I’m glad I spent the time yesterday sending out all those stories.

I also managed to finish all my grading and do all the reading for tomorrow’s History of the English Language midterm. I hear Murphy’s tests usually have nothing to do with his lectures (which are not lectures so much as restatements of the text).

It was a pain in the ass, but I’ll have tomorrow free to work all day at the Fiction Collective and also prepare for my Thursday class at LIU.

I told Julia I’d call her this week, but I’m not sure I really want to. Is it that I’m afraid of involvement, or is it that I really don’t want to get involved? I’ve searched my feelings, and I’m pretty sure I’m not afraid of rejection, at least not with Julia.

But I really am very involved with my work. Still, companionship is nice. Right now I only call or get calls from Gary, Alice and Ronna frequently; less often, I talk with Mason, Libby, Elihu, Simon and Josh. Yet I’m too busy, at least today, to feel lonely.