A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early August, 1988


Tuesday, August 2, 1988

3 PM. I slept for only four hours: not much, but the sleep was deeper than expected.

This morning I got fed up with being in the apartment. I was upset to see ants in the kitchen for the second day in a row, and the air conditioner seemed to be making a funny noise.

Deciding to escape to the beach after my lunch with Sat Darshan, I packed a bag and called Teresa to tell her I’d be in Rockaway in case I got any messages from reporters or anyone else.

Although it wasn’t all that hot when I left the apartment at 11 AM, the air was so stagnant: the ozone pollution has never been worse.

I met Sat Darshan downstairs by her building and we went to an Empire Szechuan restaurant on Second Avenue.

At every step of the adoption process, she and Krishna have been having problems with the U.S. bureaucracy; everything went fine in India, which is famous for its corrupt, slow-as-molasses bureaucracy, but here things kept getting screwed up.

Last week Sat Darshan was on the phone with INS all week and her lawyer’s been in Surrogate’s Court. Thanks to a friend who works in Senator Moynihan’s office, the problems with INS seem to be over, but they still need some paper from Judge Bloom, the Surrogate.

Sister Rita at the Madras orphanage plans to come to the U.S. to visit her family in Chicago, so she can bring the girls with her once their papers are approved.

I told Sat Darshan about Josh’s paranoia, and while she was shocked, she said that he was always kind of obsessive and he probably doesn’t have anything else going for him in his life.

Sat Darshan said she spoke to Libby in Los Angeles: the baby’s growing, Libby is enjoying being a housewife and mother, and their only problem was a flea infestation that forced them to leave their house.

When we parted, Sat Darshan suggested I go with her to Philadelphia to see the McAllisters one weekend. That sounded like a good idea.

I got to Rockaway in only an hour by taking the E train by the Citicorp Center and getting off in Jackson Heights, where I got the Triboro Coach Q53 bus.

Grandma Ethel was just going downstairs when I arrived, so I’ve been here alone for a while. I took a nap for an hour and I feel better now.

But I realize that I have to re-think my life: “for there is no place that does not see you / You must change your life” is that Rilke line that’s haunting me once again.

I’ve been adrift, coasting, directionless for a while. By the end of the month, I’ll know about the Rockland Center residency and I can make plans for the fall.

But I also know that I need to change my personal life: my appearance (I’m way too fat), my social life (I need to meet new people), my sex life (I need to look seriously for a partner) and other aspects of my existence.

Mostly, I need to stop settling for comfort and start taking risks.

This will be my last summer at Teresa’s, even though I’ve been happy there. Next year I need a change.

My main problem is that I’ve taken the easy way out every time I’ve had the chance. I’ve got to shake up my life.

Thursday, August 4, 1988

9 PM. I’ll be leaving Rockaway tomorrow morning. The heat wave hasn’t let up yet, and the air is still unhealthily full of smog and ozone, but I need to get back to my life in Manhattan.

Here at the beach, it’s actually cool at night, and this evening Grandma Ethel and I couldn’t sit on the terrace because it was too chilly.

Yesterday Grandma and I walked over to visit Aunt Tillie; Uncle Morris was sleeping, as he hasn’t been feeling well. We sat on Tillie’s terrace for half an hour before we came back here for dinner.

Feeling I needed to be alone for a while, I took a long walk on the boardwalk and then sat out for half an hour on a bench overlooking the beach.

I watched as seagulls tried to rip open a plastic bag filled with food. They struggled with their beaks, poking at the plastic without success. I almost felt like going down to the beach to help them.

Back at the apartment, I continued to read T.D. Allman’s book on Miami as Grandma watched TV. I got to sleep at 3 AM and woke up at 8 AM so I could exercise to Body Electric, but Grandma hardly slept at all and felt ill most of the day.

She’s got that bitter taste in her mouth, throat and tongue and a burning sensation in her upper back. These symptoms scare me because they seem to indicate something serious.

I think Grandma has only a couple of years to leave – boy, there’s a Freudian slip; of course I meant live.

She looked so tired today, and when I returned from Beach 116th Street with the papers, Grandma told me she got dressed to go shopping but felt so dizzy and weak that she had to get back into her housedress.

To help, I went to Key Food to buy groceries, and I ordered in a pizza so she wouldn’t have to cook dinner tonight.

Although I’m not working, I feel that staying with Grandma and helping her (and I also went to help Jean Morse defrost her refrigerator this afternoon) is doing something valuable.

While it’s acknowledged that there’s a terrible child care problem in the U.S., there’s also an elder care problem.

We’re in the dog days of summer now, and my life is on hold until I hear from the Rockland Center for the Arts about whether NYSCA has funded my Writer-in-Residence position for the fall.

If I don’t get the grant, I can go to Ragdale in October or I can return to Florida to see if I can work for FIU’s Teacher Education Center again. Despite my fantasies, I don’t expect to get a Florida Arts Council fellowship for 1988-89.

Josh called here, and while I didn’t say so directly, I led him to believe I’d be staying in Rockaway through Sunday.

At least I didn’t have to hear more of Josh’s obsessive talk about the people harassing him because he’s so paranoid that he thinks his phone is being tapped.

I’ll do all I can for Josh, but if he doesn’t seek psychiatric help, I can’t really do him any good – and I’m hurting my own mental health. At times I feel I’m obsessing about Josh’s situation to my own friends the way he obsesses to me.

Friday, August 5, 1988

4 PM. Grandma Ethel took a sleeping pill and went to bed at 10 PM, and I stayed up another hour myself. Before she went into her room, Grandma said it was always so “lively” when I stay with her that she feels depressed each time I leave.

But of course, I have my own life to lead.

I slept well and had a terrific dream in which I was in a school, playing a Wheel of Fortune-type game with my classmates. I won for our team by solving the puzzle: “I’m glad I’m not ill.” My fellow students cheered me, and I felt very much loved and part of a community.

At 9:30 AM, I forced myself to work out, albeit sluggishly, to Body Electric on Channel 31, and within an hour, after showering and dressing, I got on the Triboro bus.

The trip back here wasn’t bad, and I got home by noon.

The first thing I did upon entering the apartment was turn on the air conditioner; then I watered the plants and dealt with the mail, paying half a dozen credit card bills and sending Teresa most of her non-junk mail.

I also ordered an absentee ballot from Florida for the September primary and asked for a student loan application for the fall from Manny Hanny.

After going out for a burger deluxe and iced tea at the American Diner, I did some grocery shopping.

Then I called Teresa to tell her that Unemployment ruled that she owed them $720 for collecting while she worked at the personnel agency in December 1986.

They also penalized her by making her ineligible for benefits until next January, but she couldn’t have collected now anyway.

I’ve got that tickle in my chest again, probably a result of Manhattan’s ozone-filled smog, but I’ll try not to go out again.

Mom sent me an article from the Miami Herald that said Broward Community College’s registration, particularly at South Campus, is booming. They’ve come very far from the big enrollment drop of 1984, the year I left, and now they’re having a hard time handling all the students.

Job retraining seems to be the reason: Today’s employers need an educated workforce, and BCC, like many community colleges, is in partnership with local industry. They’ve even added classes in AIDS Awareness.

I feel I’m in good shape to work in education in the 1990s. Things are different now than they were in 1980, when I felt I was so overeducated that I was practically unemployable.

Saturday, August 6, 1988

9 PM. I’ve just walked back from Ronna’s apartment, and I picked up the Sunday Times on Broadway.

Ronna knew I wanted to see 16-month-old Jeremy, and when she told me she’d be babysitting him tonight while her father and stepmother were at the opera, she brought him over here at 6:30 PM on her way back from a walk.

Ronna came up with the stroller and the cutest little guy: he’s got that Caplan broad face along with blue hair and blond eyes. Jeremy hardly talks, but he seems a good-natured, placid child.

After I had fun playing with him here, I walked up West End Avenue with him and Ronna and then stayed an hour at her house as she diapered him and put him to sleep. God, I love babies, and I enjoyed being with Jeremy.

He crawls more than he walks, and he got along well with the two cats, Fred and Ginger, that Ronna was watching for Sue and Robert, who are away for the weekend in Virginia.

At one point I tied Jeremy’s shoelaces “bunny rabbit ears”-style, the only way I know how, and I remembered that about 16 years ago, I taught his half brother Billy how to tie his laces that way.

Ronna is terrific with the kid, and it hurts me to know that she doesn’t have children of her own.

Yes, I think about being a father, especially at times like tonight, but I know it can’t and shouldn’t happen – because I’m gay, in debt beyond belief, selfish, restless, etc. (Pick your adjective.) I wouldn’t want to saddle any kid with the handicap of having me for a father.

So I can appreciate and love and play with other people’s children – and I always have the luxury of saying goodbye to them.

Last night Ronna came over here at 7 PM and we had a fantastic time together, doing nothing more than watching TV, eating the Chinese food I ordered, talking and making love.

When Ronna said she had just gone for her semiannual gynecological checkup and was dismayed to find that she weighed more than ever before, around 175, about what I weigh (other than that, her health was perfect), I said the truth: that she still is incredibly sexy to me.

On the street, I look at guys’ bodies, not women’s, but there’s something about Ronna – can it just be nostalgia? – that gets me so excited when I’m with her.

I love the softness of her breasts, the feel of her vagina – and I sound stupid now, don’t I, like some bad sex writing in a Jackie Collins novel.

I was happy Ronna could stay over. We went to bed at about 10 PM and made love and played for hours.

I slept well, by my own standards, with lots of pleasant dreams. We woke up around 9 AM and started kissing and embracing again.

We also talked during Ronna’s time here. Because she needs to learn more about desktop publishing for her job, I told her we could look together at that video I ordered, which I hope will come soon.

Next weekend Lori is moving out, and Sue’s coming to help, and Phil and his kids are coming over from Pittsburgh with his mother, who’s visiting from England.

Ronna had a lot of work to do tonight, so I didn’t stay after she put the baby in his little traveling bed or whatever they call it.

Between the time Ronna left here at 11 AM and returned this evening, I didn’t do very much.

Because my lower back hurt, I didn’t exercise. I did review all five half-hours of Educational Computing shows that I taped this week, and I watched The Computer Chronicles and The Computer Show.

I wrote out all my credit card payments for the month of August, and I went out only to get the paper and some H&H bagels and tuna salad for dinner.

This “small is beautiful” policy I’ve got this summer is saving me money as I live as simply as possible, spending as little as I can manage.

To me, it’s a challenge not to spend money, and I’ve spent only $71 since Monday.

Monday, August 8, 1988

6 PM on 8/8/88. It hit 90° but was less humid today.

Last evening, after I’d finished the newspaper and my eyes felt too tired to read anything more, I watched Yo! MTV Raps, an hour of “rap” videos by Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and other groups.

While I don’t really like rap music, I can appreciate its rhythms, its verbal play, and the energy and anger behind it.

Pete called and we talked for an hour. He’s bought a co-op on Garfield Place in Park Slope for $68,000; the place he was living in was too expensive for him.

Although he hated the quiet of Park Slope when he first moved there, Pete adjusted and found he enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere.

His move symbolized a change in his life – because the East Village was where he came of age as a writer and performance artist and where he was part of that exciting scene in the late ’70s to mid-’80s.

Now the downtown “scene” is all but gone.

Last night police again clashed with young residents protesting the night closing of Tompkins Square Park.

The new yuppie residents of the East Village and the younger punks and club kids don’t get along.

The ceiling in Pete’s East 10th Street apartment fell onto his bathroom floor, his subtenant reported. Like Harold, Pete intends to hang onto his lease and make some money by selling his rights when the building goes co-op.

He told me about this Rutgers professor – Stein, I think his name is – who’s doing a book on contemporary American writers and who sent Pete a chapter of his book that’s all about Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and Peter Cherches. Pretty exciting to be in that company.

Josh called this morning, wanting to have dinner – but I told him I was busy and didn’t say much more. While I want to help him, I can’t go on listening to his paranoid stories once a week, not when he refuses to get psychiatric help.

Crad wrote: “Your friend Josh is heading for big trouble. So he gets pissed off because of a suggestion that he has a vitamin deficiency? Well, fuck him – at least I don’t see people with crutches lurking outside my building! Really, I’m surprised his friends have any patience for this sort of lunacy. I predict he won’t go the rest of 1988 without landing in the hospital or jail.”

I hope Crad is wrong but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Because of the intense heat, Crad has had a lot of trouble sleeping, and he’s limited his hours on the street. Even so, he managed to sell $800 worth of books during July.

And he’s hard at work on his next book, based on five volumes of his diaries. Malignant Humours is selling slowly but steadily and got a good review in Quill and Quire.

Dad just called from the Bugle Boy offices at the Empire State Building and said he still has about fifteen minutes of work.

He spent the morning getting acquainted with the new line, and he had a meeting with the buyer from Burdines in the afternoon and made a big sale.

After he goes to his hotel to change and pick up my mail, he’ll meet me at 86th and Broadway at 7:30 PM and we can go out for dinner.

Wednesday, August 10, 1988

10:30 PM. I just got in.

At 6 PM, I took the M5 bus down to Sixth Avenue and 57th, meeting Dad for dinner at Wolf’s delicatessen, which he probably enjoyed more than our previous meals at Szechuan Broadway and Patzo.

He had an appointment with Maas Brothers today and of course got another big order. Tomorrow he’s got three appointments, and then he leaves for Florida tomorrow night.

Dad says he’s not as hot to move as Mom is, because right now he can easily handle his mortgage, maintenance and the rental of the warehouse. “It’s just a fluke I’m making so much money,” Dad said, “and it won’t last.”

He told me that Mom misses me; I haven’t seen her in over three months, and now I won’t see Dad again for at least a couple of months.

Walking on 57th back to the Days Inn, Dad and I found it difficult to breathe. The past couple of days were hot but not as humid as today. On the hotel pay-TV, we watched Good Morning, Vietnam, which was okay but too long.

Before I left, Dad gave me not only five dollars for cab fare but also a hundred-dollar bill. After a ritual protest, I said thanks and “I love you, Dad.”

This morning I worked out and read the paper, not getting out of the apartment till 2 PM.

To my surprise, I got a $1025 refund check from Teachers College for the class I dropped – and they never asked for my student loan money back.

Teresa called to ask if the Berkshires rent check or the check for catering the last Fire Island party had come in the mail, and I had to tell her no.

Next week she plans to go to Massachusetts to register her new car there.

Although it would be just as cheap to have it registered in New York under her parents’ names – because they’re over 60 and have a Mattituck address – she wants to avoid fights with her parents and figures that with Massachusetts plates (or tags, as we say in Florida), she won’t have to worry about parking tickets.

Justin called this afternoon, just before his first rehearsal for What Would Esther Williams Do in a Situation Like This?. The Werbachers are in a contract dispute with the theater, and Justin’s been in the middle of it; he’s a bit disgusted but thinks it will all work out and the show will go on.

After reading 30 pages of Bret Eason Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction, I feel like an old fogy. His college students, like his Less Than Zero characters, are totally cool: they do drugs, sleep around, spend their parents’ money and act snotty.

While my friends and I probably shocked our elders, we had idealism and innocence going for us. Few of the people I went to Brooklyn College with in the early ’70s were burnouts; most of us were so excited about life’s possibilities. We were sweeter and more passionate than Ellis’s generation.

Part of it is the tenor of the times – but I still have a hard time caring for Ellis’s characters. I do appreciate the easy bisexuality, however, though I wonder if the promiscuity is appropriate in the age of AIDS.