A 29-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1980


Thursday, September 18, 1980

9 PM. This week of heavy teaching has made me a wreck. Because I haven’t been able to eat or sleep properly, I’ve gotten sick. I awoke this morning with a bad sore throat that got worse during the day, and I’ve got that run-down feeling that precedes a cold.

As I expected, I couldn’t take all the stress. I couldn’t relax or exercise, and I’ve been very tense. I’ve been grinding my teeth – I can tell from the pain – and have been getting dizzy at times. I just hope I don’t end up with another case of labyrinthitis.

Today I left the house at 7 AM and didn’t return until 8:30 PM; it was a killer of a day. And tomorrow morning I’ve got to be up early again for Kingsborough; they left a message with Grandpa Herb that I’m to come to the office after my 8 AM class.

I picked up Mikey this morning and drove him to the Junction. Mikey called last night to tell me that his mother has been in Peninsula Hospital all week; they still haven’t diagnosed her illness.

I know how hard it must be for Mikey, staying in Rockaway, commuting to work, visiting his mother every night. She may be released tomorrow, though.

At Brooklyn College this morning, I gave my Veterans class the CUNY Writing Assessment Test; most are terrible writers and some are definitely unteachable. I met with Bill Browne, head of the Veterans Outreach program – he really likes me – and he said we just have to get them to do the best they can on the test, as they can keep taking English 0.2 over and over again.

The teaching observations will start at BC soon; I’m glad Steve Jervis will be doing my class. I took the subway to John Jay – it’s a long ride to Columbus Circle – and managed to teach both my classes back to back.

It was tough, and I still get lost in the maze of that building, but I’m getting adjusted to the school. Doris, the department secretary is really nice; she was the one who typed up Mikey’s master’s thesis.

Denis, too, is working himself crazy, what with courses at Pratt and John Jay and four nights of law school at Fordham. The rush hour crowd on the subway was a pain, but the BC campus was calm and quiet when I got back there at 5 PM.

I tried to rest by reading quietly and drinking iced tea in Kosher Country. The bad eating habits of the last week led to my getting even more overweight, and without time to exercise, I really feel like shit.

No one seems to understand how hard it is to be teaching 22 credits at three different schools. Avis, Grandpa Herb and my parents think I should be taking on even more classes.

But after tomorrow at Kingsborough, I’m determined to make Brooklyn and John Jay my limit. I won’t be happy otherwise; the extra money isn’t worth it if I’m totally sick and miserable.

The most pleasant moment of the day came when I passed a vaguely familiar guy in the BC library. He stopped and said, “That was a great article in Coda.” It was Michael Cohen from the MFA program, on his way to meet John Ashbery.

He had seen the story “Hitler” because his poetry appeared in the same issue of Shenandoah. Michael said the article had made him glad to see “a little guy with no connections could make it,” and he was obviously impressed.

At 6:25 PM I gave my Liberal Studies class the CWAT; those writing tests appear in my dreams.

Home for the last half-hour, I’m now ready to collapse and get into bed and start the whole thing over tomorrow. What a life. I didn’t even have time to get my mail today.

Friday, September 19, 1980

8 PM. I’ve got a bad cold – caused, no doubt, by a combination of extreme stress and poor eating and sleeping habits, lack of exercise, and the change of weather.

Fall is here already, and it gets chilly at night. I don’t know how I got through this week. It would have been a miracle if I hadn’t gotten sick, and my life has always been pretty short of miracles. Even today, I didn’t get the rest I so badly need and want.

I had to get up at 6:30 AM again and go to the Department to hand in everything. Evalin said, “You really screwed us. If you’re thinking of coming back here, forget it.”

I told her I was definitely planning to get out of the adjunct business and she seemed sympathetic. I’m being put down as a substitute for ten hours, and I should get a paycheck in a month.

Then I went to teach the Reading class; I’d had them bring in the Daily News and try to read articles from it. The students were illiterate, unable to figure out if a rave review of the movie Ordinary People was favorable or not; they’re complete barbarians, and it pleases me to know I never have to see them again. But that’s my secret.

If I “screwed” Kingsborough, I can’t take any pleasure in it. Goodbye Kingsborough. Now the fall should be easier: Thursdays will be rough, but I’ll have Fridays off, and I can sleep till 10 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I have to mark four sets of CWAT essays this weekend, but I’m going to leave them for Sunday and Monday. Tonight and tomorrow I need to rest my cold and forget about teaching.

At Kings Plaza, I used Dad’s Visa card to buy a batch of vitamins and household supplies. And I bought a vinyl set of 115-pound weights on sale at Herman’s for $25.

I won’t start them until I feel better, but I’m definitely starting an exercise program. I need to lose weight, and I bought Dexatrim, those over-the-counter diet pills; they may help to get me started.

And I didn’t shave today: Let’s see if this beard will last any longer than the one I had in May. I want to change. (Rilke’s last line in “Archaic Torso of Apollo” again.)

Maybe I will move to Florida in January. If Dad can give me a job, it might be a temporary solution to my career problem. I’ll have to think about it. This is definitely the last year I teach as an adjunct.

I was about to relax this afternoon when I got a call from Wolfgang Schulte, a friend of Avis’s from Germany. He had gotten my number somehow and said he’d just arrived in New York.

Wanting to be a good egg to a friend of Avis’s, I told him I’d come to the International Arrivals Building at Kennedy to pick him up. When I called Avis at work, she wasn’t thrilled with the news. Anthony begins his very difficult studies at NYU this week and he doesn’t need a houseguest while he’s trying to do his work.

Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I rode out to the airport. I didn’t find anyone resembling Wolfgang’s description at the place where I said we’d meet, so I waited and waited.

I ran into a girl from England whose “old man,” a mountain-climber, was supposed to pick her up. She’d last heard from him six months ago, and he told her that he’d be at Kennedy Airport today unless he was dead.

I felt very sorry for her, as she knew no one in New York, so I gave her my phone number and Josh’s in case she got into trouble.

At 4 PM, tired of waiting for Wolfgang, I left the airport to go to my grandparents’ for dinner. Despite her visits to the psychiatrist, Grandma Ethel has been very depressed – but I think she likes being in therapy.

Her doctor told her that her problems stem not just from Grandpa Herb’s illness but go back to her childhood and her lack of love because of her mother’s death – she cannot remember her mother at all – and her father’s coldness.

The only mother’s love Grandma Ethel ever knew came from her mother-in-law, Bubbe Ita, when Grandma was already a grown woman.

She and Grandpa Herb always say her say her psychotic episode after Marty’s birth was caused by “anemia,” but maybe – probably – there’s more to it than that.

Anyway, Grandma Ethel still complains of “shakiness” and chills, but she’s now on Tranxene and Dalmane, and she does seem to perk up towards evening. Can a person start psychotherapy at 70 and hope to change? I would like to think so.

We had a fine Yom Kippur meal, though when I arrived on the tenth floor I thought there was a dead body in front of my grandparents’ door. It was their neighbor, a 35-year-old man, who was resting; his wife wasn’t home and he had locked himself out. Grandpa Herb gave him a chair to sit on.

Jean Morse came in. She always comes in at mealtimes, trying to join us, and Grandma Ethel never lets her; it’s like a comedy.

While I was there, I decided to call Avis’s house. Anthony answered the phone and said that Wolfgang was “still waiting” for me. I called JFK and had Wolfgang paged, and I left word with Grandpa Herb to tell him where to meet me.

So I zipped back to the airport – and again no Wolfgang. I phoned Avis and she said he was obviously in the wrong place. “Go home,” Avis said, “you’ve done enough already. Wolfgang will just have to come here by subway.”

So I came home to my bed, my vitamins, and my tissues.

Monday, September 22, 1980

8 PM. I’ve just come back from a session with Dr. Pasquale. I guess I expected it to be a “progress report” telling him how well I’ve coped, but it didn’t turn out that way. For the first time, I went in to a therapy session with him feeling pretty good and I came out feeling lousy.

Dr. Pasquale made me feel like someone who is really sick and in need of therapy. I don’t like the feeling. All was going well until he asked a question about my taking tranquilizers.

I told him about my nightly Triavils and how I’ve been taking them for ten years, and he got quite alarmed. He told me to see an internist immediately, that a prolonged use of such a drug might have major side effects.

I had told him about the Triavils once before, but he never really listened. Anyway, I know he’s probably right, but I don’t want to face up to the reality of my addiction – not now.

My whole mood changed, and I told him, honestly, that while I was not depressed, I would prefer death to life any day. Again, he grew alarmed.

“You’ve never told me this before,” he said, and he just made me feel like I needed to be put away.

Maybe I have given up on life. As I told him, I won’t commit suicide but I would welcome death. Dr. Pasquale said that I’ve got to see that these feelings are not reality.

I don’t know. I can’t figure out what I think right now. I’m tired and I’m sick and I need another good night’s sleep like last night. I slept from 10 PM until 9 AM, and the rest did me a world of good.

Although the cold has settled in my chest and I have a horrid cough, I didn’t feel so bad today. This morning I took the shuttle to Broad Channel and the A train from there to Columbus Circle, and I had no trouble teaching my classes at John Jay.

I came home via Brooklyn, and after changing my clothes and reading my mail and the paper, I went to Burger King and then to Dr. Pasquale. The last thing he said to me was, “Get in touch with me as soon as you can.”

I don’t have the money to see him for a month, and I don’t have the money to see an internist about my drug addiction, and I don’t care. I don’t care because I can’t care.

Dr. Pasquale made me see that I’ve only been going through the motions of living, that all I’ve done is resigned myself to a life of unhappiness and pain. I can’t go back to that cycle beginning with false expectations; I can’t believe in anything anymore.

Am I crazy? The prospect frightens me. I’m scared of what’s happening to me. I don’t find any joy in the things I used to. I’m resigned to being unhappy this term: I probably won’t be desperately suicidal, but I don’t expect to do any more than just get through the next four months.

I can’t believe I‘m ever going to feel as much as satisfaction from life as I used to. I’ve almost stopped feeling. Look at how I’ve ruined my life.

Oh shit, I don’t want to write anymore, but when I stop writing, then it will be time for me to die. While I write, there’s still hope.

I wish I could believe in things again – I wish I could believe in love or achievement or success or human kindness. I sound like an oaf. I am an oaf.

Right now I feel really creepy, like I’m not myself but some creature from another planet, an alien being. In a way I wish I could have gone with Wolfgang last night, traveling across America for the next few weeks.

I just hope all I need is a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, September 24, 1980

9 PM. I won’t say I’m having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have, but I am surprisingly happy. At the moment a dull toothache and a slight sinus headache are my only problems.

My cold seems to have gone away more quickly than I would have expected. Yesterday I was very hoarse, but I’m better today. Tomorrow, with four classes from early morning to evening, will be my most difficult day, but then I have a three-day weekend to recover.

Last evening I had a good class at BC and today I had good classes at John Jay. I’ve discovered that I’ve completely lost my nervousness. Years ago, maybe even last year, I would tense up before a class and wonder how I’d do. But now I can go into a class cold and teach a great lesson off the top of my head.

I’ve taught in so many places and under such adverse conditions that I’ve gained confidence in my teaching ability. Of course, there are days when everything falls flat and neither I nor my class is at our best – but generally I think we both do pretty well.

My classes this term are generally good; the first John Jay class is a bit rowdy, but not as bad as most of my classes at Kingsborough. Today I drove into Brooklyn and took the D train to Manhattan; it was a quick, painless, almost pleasant ride. Both coming and going I was in an unlit car, which helped soothe me – just as long as it wasn’t the rush hour.

I myself didn’t feel rushed today. It was a cool, clear, crisp day and everything went smoothly. I had time for myself and didn’t feel pressured.

Last night I spoke to Teresa; I’m going over to see her Friday night. Marc told me that he was awaiting a call from Rikki, who was in California. I imagine that it’s “business” and I hope all goes well this time.

This evening I spoke to Grandpa Herb, who said Grandma Ethel is doing well after another session with the psychiatrist today. So, for the moment, everything seems to be working out.

I can’t help thinking disaster is lurking around the corner, but maybe I’ve be proven wrong.

From the Grayson mailbag: I got turned down for full-time tutoring jobs at LaGuardia and Nassau Community Colleges (still no word from Clark). Judith Appelbaum thanked me for the plug in my Coda piece (“What’s next?” she asked), as did Richard O’Brien, to whom I also sent my clips.

Richard gave me the phone number of Saturday Night Live producer Jean Doumanian, and said I should use his name (“she knows me as Woody Allen’s publicist”) and try to get a job as a writer with the show. I don’t know, but I guess I’ll call on Friday.

Richard also suggested I’d have a good chance of getting a job as a press agent. I don’t know about that, either.

Dan Meltzer sent a flyer about a reading of his new play at St. Clement’s; I’m going to try to make it to show my support for Dan. When I phoned his apartment, Tal told me he was going through a “slow period” and needed help.

Rick Peabody didn’t know my Gargoyle story got an honorable mention in The Pushcart Prize; he told me Loris Essary and Chuck Taormina also nominated me. Rick was in London when Scott Sommer’s novel came out there, and it got good reviews.

Speaking of reviews, Kevin Urick asked me if I’d review Colonel Johns for someplace. I still haven’t reviewed Bert Stratton’s Gigging yet (he sent me the underground paper The Cleveland Express, which contained a review of it).

Kevin is teaching six courses at three colleges and he has to get drunk a lot. He invited me to a party next week with the Plymells, Eric Baizer, Rick and Gretchen, John Elsberg and maybe George. I’d love to go – but how can I make it down to D.C.?

Thursday, September 25, 1980

9 PM. Today was a long, hard day and not a very good one. I’ve had a raging toothache since last night; I didn’t sleep more than four hours because of the gnawing pain.

Luckily I had a dream that almost made up for the brevity of my rest. I dreamed about making love to a beautiful woman who lived in an apartment next door to my own. It was Thanksgiving, and her brother was my best friend, and our lovemaking was almost perfect.

I woke up in the middle and was able to get back into the dream when I fell asleep again. At other times, when I’ve been sick or in pain, I’ve also had pleasant dreams which see a kind of compensation.

The toothache has been with me all day. This being a full day, I had no time to see a dentist, but I’ve got an appointment for 9:30 AM tomorrow at a dental clinic in Brooklyn which will accept Dad’s Visa card.

I don’t quite know how I made it through the day, but I managed to teach four 75-minute classes without anyone knowing I was in pain. Yesterday I said that disaster was just around the corner, and as usual, I know whereof I speak.

The thing that gets me about God is that he kicks a guy when he’s down. I feel I can’t catch a break, that I’m not allowed any kind of peace or happiness for an extended time.

Maybe this pain is caused by grinding my teeth, but if so, something’s got to be done. The throbbing is excruciating.

Today was the complete opposite of yesterday: dark, chilly, wet, raw. Nothing went smoothly today: The trains were all delayed and I couldn’t get a seat, and going to Manhattan I had an attack of nausea so severe that I had to get out at West 4th Street for twenty minutes until I felt better. Later, I had to stop at every single red light on Avenue U.

This morning I taught the Veterans’ class – they’re already showing up late – and then went to John Jay, where I had both classes write. I think two Anacin were responsible for my nausea; I’m not used to the drug’s strength. I came home for an hour between 4:30 PM and 5:30 PM because I needed some rest.

I have been counting on getting paychecks from both Brooklyn and John Jay three weeks from today, but today I got a letter from John Jay saying I’m being paid from grant money and that may postpone my pay date.

Shit. Sometimes I think my head will always stay above water, but from the neck down I’m destined to be forever wet.

I had a good class with the Liberal Studies adults at BC tonight; that, if nothing else, made the day worthwhile. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve worked hard and that tonight, at least, I was a good teacher. I’m making people think, and that’s a very important job.

On the way to my car, I stopped at the bookstore and bought texts in astronomy and economics that were on sale; I’ve got to keep learning, too.

The University of Illinois Press answered my query and encouraged me to submit for their short fiction series; the editor liked my Coda piece that I had sent along and he said they’d love to publish an author who works so hard to sell his book. Tomorrow I’ll ready a submission of my best stories.

Last night I spoke to Mom. Dad is still in Tampa and he didn’t have a good day yesterday: no orders, just promises to buy at the New York show. Flyers Jeans may send Dad here early, in three weeks, and that means he’ll be around an entire week.

I just wish that all these crises didn’t keep popping up. I have yet to start my exercise or diet regimen, as my cold is still with me. Where is the good luck that the computer horoscope promised?

I’m down to $140 in the bank, and the next few weeks are going to be rough.

Saturday, September 27, 1980

3 PM. Last night I came to the conclusion that I hate myself. No one could possibly feel the loathing for me that I do. I kept repeating, “I hate you, I hate you,” until I started to cry and hug myself.

For while it’s true that I do hate myself, that is not the entire story. I may overeat, I may gnash my teeth, I may feel myself unworthy of another person’s love, but I still have some affection for the person I am.

I must face up to my self-hatred before I can truly love myself. If I could really like me, I would be rid of most of my problems. What I’ve tended to is intellectualize my feelings and thereby not deal with them.

I spent an hour talking to Consuelo and another hour talking to Gary. Though both have gone through divorces, they are basically happy with their lives.

It was very chilly last night: the winds were howling and I needed an extra blanket. I had flashbacks to my painful times last winter and I hoped that I would never have to go through those times again.

I had wished that all the pain of this year would vanish when the summer ended, but I see that my essential problem has not gone away: I have not found a satisfactory way to earn a living.

Teaching this term is just a stopgap; it can’t be my life and I don’t want it to be my life. The only thing that makes life worth living for me is other people. My friends and my family are always ready to help. Yesterday Gary, Avis and Mom offered to lend me money.

And I’ve got to have faith that as long as I don’t succumb to despair, my luck will eventually change. I keep hoping the worst is over, but I can’t quite believe it.

Some things seem better: Dad’s business prospects, Grandma Ethel’s depression (she and Grandpa Herb went to Aunt Claire’s grandson’s bar mitzvah today), and maybe I’ll get a job, too.

This morning I relaxed, had breakfast, cleaned up a little, and then went out to the post office. I got a story accepted by Harpoon, the Alaskan literary magazine, and the editor, Steven Levi, wrote that he liked my story in Beyond Baroque.

Between Coda and Beyond Baroque, I guess I’m getting better known. I sent out a story collection to the University of Illinois Press and would be thrilled if they accepted it; their Short Fiction Series books usually get reviewed in the Times Book Review.

Tomorrow is the second New York Is Book Country fair, but I don’t think I’m going to go with leaflets and a sign the way I did last year. The Book Country fair has nothing to do with books, really.

Crad Kilodney wrote after a bad day in which he didn’t sell a single book on the street. Also, while Lightning Struck My Dick is going well, it hasn’t yet gotten any publicity or a single review.

“Publishing a book is like farting in a hurricane,” Crad writes. “If my book dies, then I may as well die, too.”

I know just how he feels. Woody Allen writes about what it’s like to be a success, but I can write with authority about what it’s like to be a failure. I am a failure, though I may be the only one who thinks so. We’re back to self-hatred again.

Yet today when I looked at myself in the mirror, I was surprised at how handsome I appeared. I exercised today – it’s so much easier in cool weather – and took a diet pill. If I can shape up physically and mentally, I will like myself more.

This fall can be like the fall of 1971, when I was so depressed over Shelli leaving me – but also when I began taking better care of myself. I’ve already gotten back into my herbs. I almost feel that I can be happy again.

Sunday, September 28, 1980

5 PM on a gorgeous fall afternoon. I’m feeling good. Dr. Pasquale was right: those feelings I get that life isn’t worth living aren’t based on reality. I’ve got to keep that in mind.

Life doesn’t have to be a cycle of false hopes, disappointments and despair. It can be a cycle of satisfaction and accomplishment, too. I have experienced that in the past, and at this moment anyway, I believe that I will experience it again.

I went to Kings Plaza yesterday, and in Waldenbooks I read some manuals which listed an endless array of side effects of Triavil: dizziness, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, nausea, increased appetite, enlarged breasts, tremors, insomnia, nightmares, etc.

Dr. Pasquale was right (again) in being concerned. I’m going to give up the drug slowly but surely, and when I can, I’m going to get myself checked out by an internist. It won’t be easy, but I can do it.

The books I bought reflect my optimism or would-be optimism: Dr. Joyce Brothers’ How to Get Whatever You Want Out of Life, a yoga book by Richard Hittleman, and the Gold’s Gym Weight Training book.

Last night and today, I began the weight training program. It’s fifteen minutes a day, four to six days a week, and it’s also cardiovascular exercise. I’m going to get off all drugs, lose weight, get my body in good shape.

I now have goals, something to live for. Remember how I once made a goal of having a hundred stories accepted? I did that, and getting there was as much fun as the satisfaction I got after accomplishing the goal. Life can turn around.

I just came back from my grandparents, and I’m amazed at the way Grandma Ethel has changed after only three psychotherapy sessions. She was angrier and more assertive than I’d ever seen her.

She was furious with Grandpa Herb, ostensibly because he complained so much about “wasting an evening” at Lynn’s after the bar mitzvah and because Grandpa was rude and unfriendly to the people she was enjoying being with.

“I’m sick of worrying about him,” she said, and she told him to smoke all he wanted to and to cook his own meals. Then Grandma Ethel said, “It’s not just now,” and she began bringing up incidents from ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

All the resentments that Grandma had turned inward into illness and despair began coming out, and instead of tears, there was fire in her eyes. She said the psychiatrist has helped her see that she’s an intelligent woman and capable of being on her own.

“I’m on my own already,” Grandma Ethel said. She brought up her brother and sister-in-law who travel, dine out, go to concerts and movies, and lead an active life.

“What kind of life is sitting in front of the TV all day, waiting for the next meal?” Grandma shouted. Grandpa Herb said she was “acting stupid,” but she didn’t give in. She even threatened to go to Florida alone if he doesn’t come.

I was excited to see Grandma Ethel being so assertive. It proved to me that people can change, even at such a late age. It gave me hope.

Today I spoke to Jonny about weightlifting. He works out only twice a week now because he’s “too busy with school.” Dad remarked that it took 1500 miles to bring me and Jonny closer.