A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1979


Friday, January 12, 1979

5 PM. It’s snowing lightly now. I’m supposed to see Ronna tonight, and it looks as though we might be snowed in. After sleeping late today, I was alone in the house and wrote a story.

“My Plan to Kill Henry Kissinger” is not very good, but it’s not garbage, and at the very least it’s given me back some self-confidence. I want to learn how to write again. The Ponchartrain Review accepted “Y/Me” for their next issue, due out next month.

Father Lynch, chairman of the English Department at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, offered me a course: teaching freshman composition to nurses on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

I thought about it a great deal, but eventually I called him back and turned the job down. While I hate like hell to throw away $1000, I know the job and the long commute would have oppressed me. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I feel comfortable with my job and I have enough time for myself, and as much as I would have liked the experience of teaching at a Jesuit school, I can’t jeopardize that.

My trouble is that I want to do everything, to participate in all facets of life, and I can’t bear to close off options, so I feel terribly frustrated about it.

I called John to tell him of the St. Peter’s opening; he’s teaching at Douglass and Middlesex but says he has friends who might want to call them. When I was at Brooklyn College later, Bruce suggested I call Pete Cherches about it, as he’s been looking for a teaching position.

When I called Fr. Lynch back, he said, “Maybe we’ll call you in the fall – but actually, I hope you have a full-time position by then.” So do I, Father.

Yesterday afternoon Mason came over. He quit his teaching job, which will end at the end of the month. Mason told his principal he’s going into special education, and in a way he is. He’ll return upstate to the Crystal Run School, where he feels safe. Mason is aware that it may be a step backward, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do, and I told him that he should do whatever makes him happy.

On New Year’s Eve, Mason stayed alone at home and called up Libby in California after he got Steven and Joyce’s number from the telephone operator. It was strange call: Libby had been baking a cake, and Mason said that they didn’t have too much to say to one another.

A year has gone by without any conversation between them, and besides, although Mason doesn’t know it, Libby’s living with another guy. I feel angry towards Libby for not telling Mason about Grant and for making me feel very uncomfortable because I know the truth.

Last night I read most of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying; it’s a fascinating book. She says it’s important for us to conceive of our own death, and I’ve been trying. Unlike my family, especially Grandma Ethel and Dad, who constantly deny the reality of death, I want to face it.

That’s why I don’t want to shy away from dying people. I feel I must challenge death, greet death, even if that’s actually just a neurotic way of doing the impossible: attempting to master death.

Teresa and Mikey and I arranged a dinner with Jan for tomorrow night although I don’t think Mikey and Jan are well-suited at all.

In the library, I looked up Andover in various books and articles, and I feel a little overwhelmed; I don’t think I’m suited for Andover, actually.

Sunday, January 14, 1979

4 PM. I’ve just read an article in the Times Sunday Magazine which discusses in sociological terms something that plays an important part in my life and the lives of my friends.

Called “Rediscovering the City: The New Elite and the Urban Renaissance,” the article details the trend of young, well-educated, affluent people moving into the city and revitalizing dying neighborhoods like the Upper West Side and Park Slope.

My generation – Teresa and Mikey and Scott and Alice and others – is not afraid of the crime there, doesn’t care that the buildings are old, and rejects the sterile values of suburbia which were embraced by our parents.

In the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, white middle-class people fled the cities and they were replaced by poor, black and Hispanic people. But the “new elite” has been moving back to the city since 1970 or so, buying up brownstones and putting down roots.

It seems to me that it’s the less intelligent and less hip people like Gary and Betty who still want the suburbs with their bland pleasures. Manhattan is filled with exciting young people who are active in the world of business and ideas.

Foreigners – and wealthy ones – are moving to New York while blacks are leaving the city for the old suburbs and the Sun Belt.

Last night Mikey and I had dinner with Teresa and Jan. The three of them are bright, hip people who love Manhattan. They’re close to everything and are willing to put up with the indignities of urban life.

Of course it’s a bit of a smug lifestyle, but it’s better than the clods in Peoria (or Mill Basin?). As the price of gasoline goes up, it becomes less attractive to have a car.

Anyway, what does this have to do with me? It’s this: I don’t think I want to leave New York anymore. I want to be a part of these new urban pioneers, if only because they’re people with whom I have something in common.

New York is such a part of me; I realized that today and last night: especially last night, when Mikey drove and I got to be a passenger. The lights of Manhattan, as seen from the Gowanus, still give me a rush, a sense of wonder and excitement.

People like Teresa and Mikey and Jan are liberal, in the good sense of the word: tolerant, intelligent and warm. The camaraderie in Teresa’s building on West 85th Street would be unthinkable in another, different kind of neighborhood.

Young singles and living-togethers must form extended families and rely on solid friendships. If I am to write, don’t I want to tell the stories of these people the way Updike and Cheever chronicled the lives of suburbanites? I think so.

Last night I had a fine time. Dinner was delicious, and the talk was, as always, good. I feel very comfortable in Teresa’s apartment. Marilyn is moving out, and now Teresa’s not certain how she can swing the rent.

I think Jan and Mikey hit it off as friends, but nothing more. Jan had just come back from Tampa, where her father is now a dean at USF. (He recently hired Jon Hinz, who used to teach English at Richmond).

Going back home via the West Side, I had the rare thrill of being a passenger. The sky over Jersey was inky, but it became licorice-grey near the ground.

This morning I drove to LaGuardia Airport and walked around the Eastern Shuttle terminal, just to get accustomed to it. I even stood on line for the flight to Boston and registered no anxiety at all.

I bought a candy bar, hoping to associate the airport setting with something I enjoy. I’m looking forward to the trip to Boston for its own sake, and I don’t really care that much about the Andover interview.

From Flushing I drove to Rockaway and visited with Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb, whom I really enjoy spending time with. Getting out early today was good for me, and I’m feeling fine.

Wednesday, January 17, 1979

5 PM. I’ve decided to leave for Boston tomorrow. This is because if I take the 8:30 AM air shuttle on Friday, I won’t arrive at Logan until 9:30 AM or later. I would probably miss the 10 AM bus to Andover, and I wouldn’t make the interview on time if I took the 11 AM bus.

So the best thing is spend tomorrow night at a hotel in Boston; I’ve made reservations at the Park Plaza for $34 for the night. To keep down expenses, I’ll have to take a bus, and Trailways stops at Park Square, which is where the hotel is.

I packed an overnight bag in which I’ve probably put too much stuff. But I’m a bad traveler and I’m a bit paranoid about going to strange places. Last night I did not sleep well at all: I kept having horrendous dreams. Of course, I’m anxious about the trip.

Also, wouldn’t you know it, I got the granddaddy of all pimples – a beaut – above my right eyebrow. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t give a damn about the job at Andover; I don’t think I’d be happy there because it would be difficult to be myself if I have to live up to the image of a prep-school teacher.

I’m nervous about the trip: the roads may be bad because it’s been snowing here. But I’m sure going to Boston can’t be as bad as a seven-hour bus ride to Vermont, which wasn’t really all that bad. The worst that can happen (I hope) is that I’ll get slightly bored and carsick and hungry.

But I’ll be able to have the morning in Boston and not worry about rushing to Andover. I took $200 out from the bank and put half of that in traveler’s cheques, which should be more than I need.

Tomorrow I won’t keep my class the whole time. This morning I had them write for half the period. I just can’t get to the papers now, so I’ll leave marking them for the weekend. It’s difficult to believe that three of the seven weeks of the semester are gone.

I wonder why I applied to Andover at all and then why I told them I’d come for an interview. Oh, I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Today in the mail I got a magazine which had an angry letter of mine in it; I sounded so stupid.

The Shah has left Iran. I have nothing else to write tonight.

Thursday, January 18, 1979

8 PM. I’m in Boston, in room 1273 of the Park Plaza. I came up by train this afternoon and arrived a couple of hours ago.

Although I felt anxious last evening, I slept well. This morning it was quite icy, and I skidded along as I drove to Kingsborough. I ended up having a good class and keeping them for the full two hours.

At 11 AM, I came home, and Mom drove me to the subway station at the Junction; I was apprehensive about taking the bus because of the slippery road conditions, so I decided to go with Amtrak.

I had a barely digestible lunch at a Penn Station coffee shop. My train was leaving at 1:30 PM, so I had an hour to kill, and I had the good fortune to sit down next to a remarkable man of 94 who kept me occupied for the entire time I was waiting.

Born in Cuba, he came to this country as a young man seventy years ago and kept himself going through his work in the restaurant and barroom business. He married three times: first to an Irish woman who died of cancer, then to a “high-toned” Spanish woman who also died, and finally to a Cuban woman who returned to Havana, leaving him 25 years ago.

He never had children because he didn’t want the extra expense and aggravation: “When they grow up, they say, ‘Goodbye, sweetheart,’ anyway.”

The man looked remarkably well and said he still worked a little; he claimed that a doctor who took a chest x-ray told him that he had two hearts.

He told me how he stands up to young hoods in his tough South Bronx neighborhood: last week he threw a container of ice water on some gang members who were hanging out in front of his building.

A friend of his, a man of 100, was recently found dead in his apartment. He’d been dead for six weeks when the landlord finally came up to collect the rent.

Just as they announced the boarding of my train to Boston, the old man left, saying he was going to help out at the store of a Chinese friend. I was grateful to him for keeping my head occupied.

About the train ride: I sat on an aisle seat, and I didn’t experience much anxiety. It was a long ride and there was no one to talk to. Across from me there was a bearded guy who looked just like Jack Gelber, and in front of me was a tall kid with a yarmulke which I kept staring at. Beside me was a middle-aged gay couple who didn’t talk much to each other, much less to me.

I got up to piss about seven times, I bought cokes and granola bars, took out my contact lenses for about an hour, and felt bored and confined. I tried to imagine the train as a plane, and when I did, I realized I’m more frightened of flying than I’d realized.

We went through Connecticut, stopping at Stamford, New Haven, Old Norwich and New London. At about 5 PM, we pulled into Providence, and I could see the state capitol in the dark.

Arriving at Back Bay Station at 5:45 PM, I soon discovered it was frigid in Boston, and snow was on the ground and blowing everywhere. Unable to get a cab, I walked from the train station to the hotel.

Because of the snowstorm, I guess, the streets were pretty deserted, and it gave me a strange impression of Boston.

I am proud that by studying the AAA map, I knew how to get to the hotel, but I wasn’t prepared for the fierce winds and snow, which made crossing streets almost impossible.

After I registered and paid for my room and let the bellman show me up (I tipped him a dollar: enough? too much?), rather than deal with room service, I went downstairs to dinner at the Park Plaza’s restaurant, The Thirsty Pilgrim.

Sitting alone in a corner booth, I tried to feel relaxed and elegant as I dined on chopped steak, salad, baked potato and green beans. I’m terrified of having a stomachache, so I figured that bland a meal couldn’t do anything horrible to my insides.

I called home, and then I called Caaron, who’s living in Cambridge; it was surprising that she answered the phone and immediately recognized my voice. She’s still working in that home for disturbed adolescents.

Caaron said that she’s over Steve and that the trauma of last year’s breakup turned out for the best. I had fantasies of Caaron coming over here and spending the night in my hotel room, but it’s just as well she had other plans.

Still, it was nice to hear a friendly voice and to know I’ve got someone nearby I can count on. I’m so afraid of being sick all by myself away from home.

I still haven’t gotten over my agoraphobia, and I’m anxious to go home already – so anxious I’m considering not going to Andover tomorrow for the interview. But that would be silly. Oh, I don’t know.

I have a headache and I’ve got the radio on and I’m in my underwear. I already masturbated and put my contacts in the Aseptron.

All I can think about is going home and what a pain in the ass it will be if I get out of Boston tomorrow at 3 PM or 4 PM because then I wouldn’t get back into New York until 8 PM or 9 PM.

I guess I can manage that. But handling all the details – getting to Andover and back, and then getting home: hell, I‘d rather take a look around Boston and get the feel of the place.

While I’m afraid I won’t sleep tonight, I’m probably tired enough to sleep some.

Friday, January 19, 1979

10 PM. Home arrelly, as I used to say as a kid. And I’m really glad I went to Boston and had the interview at Andover. I proved I could do it: get from here to there and handle all the details myself without being overwhelmed.

Caaron called last night after her women’s support group meeting, but by then I was already asleep and don’t think I made too much sense. I slept extraordinarily well in that bed, the biggest bed I’d ever slept in. I dreamed I was in Chicago.

This morning it was below zero Fahrenheit when I got up; I showered and shaved and watched a little TV. (In Boston, Another World goes on at 9 AM.)

After putting on my sport jacket and tie and assuring myself that I looked very preppie, I went down for a continental breakfast.

At the Park Plaza, they have a kind of sidewalk café in the lobby, and I tried to act very elegant. A trio of gay dancers in rehearsal sat nearby, and the handsomest of them kept giving me the eye; I was flattered.

After handing in my key, I left the hotel for the bus station, where I bought a round-trip ticket to Andover for $3.40. I had time to kill, so I took a walk to the Boston Commons and looked around the Theater District.

The ride to Andover gave me a chance to see Beacon Hill (nice, boutique-y shops), the Charles (completely frozen over), and the skyline of downtown Boston (more squat than lower Manhattan’s).

It took half an hour to get to Andover, where I found Paula Traspal in the English office. She introduced me to Kelly Wise, the casual, fortyish department chairman, a genial man with a background in photography.

We chatted briefly, and he told me about the curriculum: everyone takes a competency course (for which he wrote the text himself), and there’s a literature sequence dealing with the English and American romantics.

I observed a young teacher, Lou, teach a class on a story by Hawthorne. The dozen kids – seven boys, five girls – were all sharp, nice-looking, and creative in their comments. The teacher had a good rapport with them, and I liked what I saw. One could get used to teaching that kind of student.

Afterwards, I chatted some more with Kelly – everyone there is on a first-name basis – mostly about writers and whom I thought would be good writers to bring in as guest lecturers at the school.

Then he handed me over to Ray Peffer, another young teacher and writer (mostly nonfiction, with a book on Chesapeake Bay fishermen coming out from Johns Hopkins Press), who took me to the cafeteria for lunch.

I didn’t feel any more uncomfortable than I should have in that situation, listening to Andover teachers, mostly young, talk about a skiing weekend and the teams they coach and whom they don’t want to become dean.

Bruce Smith took charge of me next. He’s a poet and small-press person who edits the Graham House Review with Peter Balakian, and Bruce recognized my name when he came across my résumé. (Over 2,000 people applied for the job, so it’s quite an honor for me just to be called for an interview.)

Bruce was living in Manhattan till September, when he began teaching at Andover, so he was in the best position to tell me the unvarnished truth. He likes being there, though at first he found it difficult to adjust; he still misses New York and says he will stay only another year or two. (I can see where the place could be very comfortable.)

Bruce said the workload isn’t too bad and the mandatory coaching isn’t all that hard (he runs, so they gave him track to coach) and that even the living situation is less awkward than it seems.

He took me back to his house, which had ten large rooms for him and his wife and daughter downstairs. Twenty kids live upstairs, and his living quarters connect with theirs at his study; there’s a cozy-looking common room.

The Andover campus is huge and gorgeous: the English Department is in Bulfinch Hall, which was actually designed by Bulfinch himself.

Bruce makes $12,000 and took a pay cut to work at Andover, but room and board are free, and that’s worth a great deal.

At first he was put off by the people who came to greet him – kind of insubstantial Junior League types – but he soon learned that there are all kinds of people on the faculty, even among the old-timers.

The students come from many backgrounds – 20% are from minority groups – and Bruce said they’re generally the best students from all over the country. I could see myself getting deeply involved at Andover.

I said goodbye to Kelly Wise at the gym: no “We’ll let you know,” but I didn’t expect that. While I certainly won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get the job, I’d accept it in a minute if it were offered.

I caught the 2:15 PM bus back to Boston, and on the trip back I got to see the new City Hall, Old North Church, the Bunker Hill Monument, and Faneuil Hall – at least from a distance. A bus was leaving for New York at 3:15 PM and I figured I’d catch it. It was a lovely ride back, with no stops until the George Washington Bridge.

I much prefer the bus to the train: you can see so much more of the countryside. We took the Massachusetts Turnpike to Sturbridge and then down to Hartford and New Haven and then along I-95 to the Bronx.

The bus wasn’t crowded, and I had time to think as I watched the snowy New England landscape pass by and the sky turn dark. (Hartford at dusk was beautiful.) Instead of feeling tired, I felt exhilarated and glad to be going home.

When we passed Co-op City and made our way to the Port Authority, I was thrilled to be back someplace familiar. (One thing that amazed me was how small Boston’s bus terminal was; it couldn’t be even one-tenth the size of New York’s. But then, there’s only one New York.)

I grabbed an A train, transferred to the D at West 4th, and called my parents when I arrived at Kings Highway. While I waited for Dad to pick me up, I had an eggcream. I was hungry because I hadn’t had dinner, only a corn muffin and a donut on the bus (although the wacky unwed mother-to-be behind me asked if I wanted a bologna sandwich).

Back at the house, I answered all of Mom and Dad’s questions. For once, it was nice to be the one coming home from a trip. I’ve got to travel more; I really do like it more than I thought.