A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1987


Tuesday, July 21, 1987

1:30 PM. Last evening Josh came over after work and asked my advice about some office politics.

There’s a new guy, very bright and ambitious and good-looking, who’s alienated the others on the team because he’s so ingratiated himself with the bosses, and Josh’s co-workers have asked him to speak to the bosses about the situation.

Hearing Josh talk about his job made me realize why he stays at Blue Cross: his somewhat eccentric behavior is tolerated there, he can wear sneakers and avoid suits, and he’s respected as an excellent programmer and systems analyst.

Over dinner at Marvin Gardens, I expressed my fears about going to MacDowell to Josh. I guess it’s the old impostor phenomenon, but I also feel that so many writers younger than me are achieving fame and that life has passed me by.

I didn’t feel like going to a movie after dinner, so Josh and I parted after dinner. Around 9 PM, I was reading Marvin Harris’s Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Everyday Life when I got a call from Costas, who was, of course, expecting to speak to Teresa.

He was downstairs and said his ATM card wouldn’t work, his wife was waiting for him at Kennedy Airport, and he had no cash. Could he borrow some money? Like $200?

I said I could get him only $30, which I figured would be enough to get him to the airport. I had about $60 in cash, but I brought out two tens, nine singles and change so he’d think I really scraped the bottom of my wallet.

While I’ve always liked Costas, I’m not certain I trust him, as I know he’s been a cokehead in the past; Amira told me that he screwed up his whole career in advertising.

He came up briefly to get the money and wrote me a check.

Costas looked thin but also sort of sleazy, said he’d read With Hitler in New York and that he’d written the “Help Me Honda” TV jingle. (I knew both of those things from previous meetings.)

He said his wife and dentist – Costas broke his bridge yesterday – were waiting for him at the airport for a flight to Guadeloupe.

I was grateful when he left. Poor Costas, he seems like a total mess.

Wednesday, July 22, 1987

2 PM. It’s another day of high temperatures (today could equal yesterday’s 95°) and humidity, and I’ve been hanging out in Teresa’s air-conditioned bedroom.

I pray that the decade-old air conditioner does not die before the end of the summer. It amazes me how people like Josh, Ronna, Susan and Harold do without air conditioning.

My arms, back and legs ache from working out, although I did still exercise to Body Electric this morning. Maybe I need a break. I’ve also been reading a great deal.

I finished Why Nothing Works, in which Harris gives some novel theories – mostly related to the switchover from an industrial to a service and information processing economy – about the rise of feminism, gay liberation, black urban unemployment, street crime and the shabby products and services Americans have to put up with.

At 11 PM last night, having finished the book, I went out for today’s Times and read it until I fell asleep about ninety minutes later.

Disappointingly, there was no mail today; I was hoping to see last Saturday’s column in print. I really don’t feel like braving the hot weather today except to do some necessary shopping.

The last three weeks have been almost entirely filled with 90° days, and no end to the heat wave is in sight. The dog days of summer didn’t wait until August this year.

New York is not an air-conditioned city, either. At least in Florida, you go from a centrally air-conditioned house to a cool car to cool public buildings.

Well, at least I’m not spending so much. Yesterday I spent less than $9 and today I have yet to spend a cent. That’s lowering my denominator, I guess.

Crad said that the column I wrote on Grandma Sylvia was great and that I should be syndicated nationally. When will someone in power share that view?

Earlier, I was thinking that I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing a new book come out in four and a half years. In the four years between 1979 and 1983, I had all my books come out. I really do feel bad about not having a new book.

I don’t have any new stories for a Zephyr book, and it’s obvious that no one wants my uncollected stories for a new volume. Perhaps I should see if Zephyr would take the best of With Hitler in New York, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and Disjointed Fictions for a trade paperback.

Or is it just not worth it anymore? I don’t seem to know how to get fiction published today. Ten years ago I was writing like crazy and sending out to little magazines, getting many rejections but also getting plenty of acceptances.

Every time a new story would come out in a little magazine, I’d put the copies on my bookshelf in my room; eventually my shelves were getting filled with little magazines that displaced my other books. God, that time seems so far away.

Alice phoned, asking if I’d go computer-shopping with her on Saturday; naturally, I’m more than glad to help. Actually, I think I’d like to go to Rockaway on Sunday and Monday and spend another few days with Grandma Ethel, especially if this heat wave continues.

Tomorrow night at 9 PM, Harold is coming over after teaching at John Jay. But I’ve been alone most of the time lately, though of course I’m used to that from living in Florida.

Thursday, July 23, 1987

2 PM. Yesterday afternoon Mom called. She was crying hysterically because she’d been told they wouldn’t be getting back their $10,000 deposit from the mortgage application because they hadn’t, according to their contract, applied within five days of the signing.

I hadn’t realized that when Mom had called me about this two weeks ago, she hadn’t said anything to Dad.

Anyway, for two hours yesterday, I made about two dozen calls, both to Mom and to the developer, Westbrook Communities.

Supposedly the woman who handles this, Beth Carr, V.P. and wife of the company’s president, comes into the office only on Wednesdays and was in a meeting, so I kept calling every ten minutes, and of course she left immediately after the meeting.

I suspect these developers, like most people involved with real estate, are crooks, and I thought about getting them some bad publicity.

The woman who answered the phone was a real bitch and kept hanging up on me. Even now when I think of it, I want to fly into a rage and strangle someone.

Mom called a lawyer – the one who’s representing Marc about the accident – and his secretary said to do nothing until he meets with Mom and Dad.

I tried to get background information on the developers, Beth and David Carr, and their company, and to contact the Consumer Advocate of Dade County.

Finally, I was exhausted, and I left Mom crying just as Dad was coming home.

Teresa said a contract is a contract and that Mom and Dad should have certainly taken it to a lawyer or at least read it. Unfortunately, she’s right, and my parents may have learned a costly $10,000 lesson.

Ever since yesterday, I’ve been terribly depressed because of this. For one thing, it makes me feel so helpless; there seems nothing I can do against the intractability of this.

I’ve always fallen into despair when I’m feeling helpless, and this incident seems to magnify the other areas of my life over which I have no control.

Even something as banal as the heat wave makes me feel depressed because I can’t do anything about it.

Finally, the incompetence which my parents displayed alarms me. If I’d been in Florida when they’d signed the contract, I would have read it and immediately spotted that clause.

More and more, I see my parents as incapable of dealing with business, legal and bureaucratic matters. This notion frightens me because, as a child, I always assumed they knew best.

But now I’m more competent than they are. Mom didn’t even know where to turn, and in this, she reminded me of Grandma Ethel or my other grandparents, who had trouble dealing with the world.

I guess it’s a shock to realize that for the rest of my life, as long as my parents are alive, they’ll be more dependent upon me than I am on them – at least in these kinds of business affairs.

Really, I should have known that my parents have never been good with money, considering their failed investments like the racehorse and the Catskills hotel. If Dad had only invested his money wisely, he could have lived off his savings for the last decade.

Even their move to Florida was ill-timed; if they’d stayed in Brooklyn for another couple of years, they could have gotten $200,000 for their house instead of $70,000, and they’d be without financial worries today.

Now they’ll never be financially secure. Dad lets Mom handle the money, and she’s always late with their bill payments.

Of course, while I’m depressed that my parents may have lost $10,000, I’m self-aware enough to understand that to me, there’s more to it than that.

I just want to sleep and cut myself off from the world, and today I’ve left this room only for the bathroom and kitchen and to go out to get the newspaper.

This morning I didn’t want to wake up, and so I kept falling back into escapist dreams.

In one dream, I was on an elevator with this very cute blond guy who told me how good-looking I was; I awoke from that dream feeling great.

Unable to stand the images of TV last evening, I turned on WNCN, the classical music radio station. And I made myself chicken soup even though I generally hate soup – and I burned myself pouring it.

Ronna called, which may have been the only thing that really made me feel any better. She’s a good listener.

Today Ronna went to visit her cousin in New Hampshire for the weekend. That made me realize I hadn’t told her about MacDowell. I wish I was there now, away from all my problems.

I feel so worn out, and I haven’t even done anything all day.

Friday, July 24, 1987

4 PM. Mom called yesterday, and she said that Dad had seen Irv Littman’s real estate lawyer, who seemed optimistic that he could recover my parents’ down payment or possibly secure them a mortgage.

A lawyer is the right person to handle this, of course, and his $1000 fee will be worth it if he can get them back $10,000. Mom said she’s feeling better, and so am I.

Harold came over last night after teaching his class at John Jay, and we had a late supper at Marvin Gardens. It did me good to get out, particularly with someone intelligent and interesting.

Like me, Harold feels that most of the new literary brat pack write clean but soulless prose.

“They’re all cynical and jaded and feeling-less at 25 as if they’ve seen all life has to offer,” he said. “Well, I’ve got news for them: they haven’t.”

In discussing my column – I still haven’t gotten the new column and only today did I get the July 4 column and the $20 check for it – Harold suggested that the Sun-Tattler doesn’t tell me about my fan mail because they don’t want me to ask for more money on the grounds that I’m popular.

Could that be?

We talked about the adjunct business and politics and the rampant greed in New York City.

As I walked Harold to the subway last night, I got the Times (like me, Harold reads the paper religiously) and came back home.

Because it’s so hot – around 94° now – I still feel like a prisoner of this room.

“It’s too hot,” my neighbor Chris Bernau, who’s a Guiding Light villain, said in the elevator. “I can’t breathe.”

Downstairs, the mailman said, “I’ve had it with this heat.”

I guess I should be grateful to be in an air-conditioned room.

Saturday, July 25, 1987

7 PM. Today, like yesterday, was a record-breaker, with a high of 95° and awful humidity. I’ve been confined to the bedroom for nearly a week now because of this heat wave.

It’s supposed to get cooler and less humid by Monday, but it looks like a long, hot summer. Already we’ve had a record nineteen days over 90°, and we’re still a week away from August.

I was happy that Josh came over last night. Not only did I need some companionship, but I wanted to get out of this room. Josh and I hung out here for a couple of hours before having dinner at Szechuan Broadway and then going to the 84th Street sixplex to see Dragnet, a moderately funny parody remake of the old TV cop show.

I got the Saturday paper when I walked Josh to the subway station, and as was true the night before, I felt better by the time I came home.

This morning Judy and Brian brought in their petunias for me to water and gave me their keys; they’re on their annual trip to Cape Cod this week.

I called Alice, who agreed that today was too hot for schlepping around midtown looking for computers, so we postponed that for another time.

After exercising with Body Electric and listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio, I took a long, cool shower before I went out for lunch at the 4 Brothers.

They put the building crane up for the new high-rise on Broadway between 86th and 87th today.

When I got home, there were three big bundles of mail from Mom waiting for me, and they made the afternoon a treat. First, I got to see last Saturday’s column, which the paper titled “The Puzzling Search for the Maltese FICA”: very clever.

I see that another columnist, Harold Kornstadt, has had a book of his Sun-Tattler pieces published by “Hallmark Press”; the book is available from the paper for five dollars.

When I get back to Florida, I’ll find out if he self-published it or if Hallmark is a regional press or part of the Sun-Tattler. Certainly my columns should be collected into a book; they’re good enough so that someone should notice.

The columns I sent to Harper’s were sent back because I had the wrong address for the magazine.

Inside the Sun-Tattler, I noticed that the Broward Community College faculty union negotiations with administration are again at an impasse. They treat the teachers so shabbily: the college is offering them a 9% raise but want them to be on campus for 35, rather than 30, hours a week.

Les Standiford of FIU sent me a nice letter rejecting me for the creative writing job; they hired some woman I’ve never heard of who’s been teaching at Carnegie-Mellon for ten years.

I was not among the winners of the Philip Morris essay contest, unfortunately.

And my semiannual royalty statement for With Hitler in New York showed that Taplinger sold four copies of the book in the first six months of this year. Thus, I now owe 70¢ less on my advance.

The official notice came from MacDowell, along with a copy of the confirmation letter I have to send back.

I see that transportation to Peterborough hasn’t improved in seven years, but this time I’d rather fly to Boston than take the bus from Port Authority.

Well, I’ve got a month to work out my plans. Because of the $8-a-day fee I’m paying – just 10% of what it costs them to keep me – and the transportation, I probably won’t be saving any money by going to MacDowell even if I don’t pay rent for the month and get my meals for free.

But I will get to meet some artists and writers, enjoy unlimited time to write, and maybe accomplish something. And it will be a change from New York City and Florida. I also got into VCCA for October, but I’ll decline the acceptance within the next few weeks.

The big batch of mail, of course, contained credit card bills – a dozen of them. As usual, I’d had the checks to pay them prepared in advance although several of them offered me a skip-payment feature.

Reading The Postponed Generation, I keep measuring myself against the case histories of baby boomers in the book, and I wonder if I too am just a spoiled adolescent who refuses to settle down, accept responsibility, and grow up.

Yes, I consider myself special, but so do most of Littwin’s subjects. I did succeed academically and I would have been happy if I’d been able to score a secure job as an English professor, but the job market was and is impossible.

I’ve published books and stories and articles that have gotten good reviews. Is it my fault I haven’t been able to earn much money doing my writing, that the Sun-Tattler pays me one-tenth of what I’m worth?

I’ve done some good and originally work. And so, yeah, I feel I am special. Look, how many people have written a daily journal entry for eighteen years – a feat I’ll accomplish later this week? How many people get reviewed in the New York Times or listed in Contemporary Literary Criticism or have written an article for People?

Yes, I’m an underachiever, but you (whoever you are) can’t just say I’ve accomplished nothing.

Eighteen years ago, just starting college after years of emotional trauma, mental illness and agoraphobia, I didn’t have that much potential.

So I refuse to consider myself a failure at 36.

Sunday, July 26, 1987

8 PM. Some heavy thundershowers early today seem to have ended the week-long heat wave. Although it’s still warm, it’s no longer unbearable.

This morning Mikey called and invited me to visit him and Amy at their new co-op in Riverdale.

I followed Mikey’s instructions on how to get the Liberty Lines express bus. Miraculously I had to wait at Central Park West and 81st Street for only a few minutes before it came.

The bus crossed through the park, went up East Harlem, and then, in the Bronx, it traveled up the Major Deegan until West 230th Street, leaving me off right near the building on Kappock Street where Mikey and Amy live.

The trip took less than half an hour and was interesting because it was a visit to a part of the city that I’d never explored.

While Amy was in the shower, Mikey showed me the apartment, which seems very nice: it’s roomy, with lots of closet space, a big master bedroom, nice wall units, a small second bedroom, parquet floors and a terrace with a pleasant if unspectacular view.

It seemed astonishing that it was cool enough so that we could sit outside and actually breathe without difficulty.

Amy came out, and while Mikey showered, she told me she’s still not certain which school of social work she’ll be attending.

If NYU comes across with financial aid, she’d prefer to go there because their M.S.W. program is more clinically-based. Otherwise, she’ll go to Hunter, which is cheaper. Because Hunter doesn’t begin until October, she can afford to wait to hear from NYU.

Amy said she’s thought about going into social work for several years now, figuring it’s a good profession for a woman with kids.

To earn much-needed money, she’s staying on at City Opera till the end of the summer. Amy explained that one reason she and Mikey had to buy now was that they needed her working income to apply for a mortgage.

Over the past year, they searched for houses and apartments in Westchester, but they couldn’t afford anything except in the furthest reaches of suburbia. Then they looked at Park Slope renovations but found the best deals were gone two years ago.

Riverdale seemed their best alternative, and even there, river-view apartments were beyond their means. They feel lucky to have an apartment which would cost three times as much in Manhattan, but both of them miss the city.

We took a drive through Riverdale, which boasts expensive mansions in the Fieldston section and a spectacular view of the Hudson and the Palisades. The area seems very Jewish, kind of suburban in a Mill Basin/Great Neck way.

Today was too cloudy for their pool, so mostly we just hung out and chatted.

Mikey told me, when I said that we both had an unaccustomed summer pallor, that he’s already had two skin cancers removed from his face.

I expect I’ll have the same problem soon; when I think about how many days on the beach in Rockaway I spent with Mikey, I wonder why we subjected ourselves to so much sun.

Mikey said that the only time he’s been back to Rockaway since his mother’s death was last summer for Larry’s 35th birthday party.

They haven’t seen Larry since. “His wife makes sure to keep him away from our whole circle of friends,” Amy said.

The express bus ride went back via Broadway and eventually Fifth Avenue, crossing the park and stopping at the Museum of Natural History, where I got off.

Getting the Sunday Washington Post on the way home, I made a pot of spaghetti for dinner. It actually turned out to be a nice weekend.

Monday, July 27, 1987

8 PM. I’m at the beach. Grandma Ethel has gone out to play cards.

She asked me to look over some papers, and I found some interesting tidbits on yellowing paper, including a Fur Trade News item on her wedding to Herbert “Surratt”; a literacy certificate Grandma got in 1940 to enable her to vote; notices of “successful vaccination” (presumably for smallpox) of Mom and Marty; appraisals of jewelry and furs and a bill of sale for the Capodimonte antiques Grandma prizes; and lots of documents and information relating to this co-op from twenty years ago, when my grandparents moved in.

I also found a notice stemming from the time Grandpa Herb withdrew some life insurance accumulated interest to help me out with my bills seven years ago.

Yesterday Mikey told me that as someone who grew up here, he enjoyed the Rockaway scenes in Radio Days. Unlike him, I love to come back, and it will be terrible when Grandma is no longer here.

The two-hour trip from the Upper West Side is a pain, but at least today was dry and only about 83°.

For dinner, Grandma made my favorite, salmon croquettes, and for dessert I brought us kiwifruit from the Korean market from Beach 116th Street because when I mentioned it the last time I was here, Grandma said she’d never heard of it.

I have to return to Manhattan on Wednesday because I’ve been picking up Judy and Brian’s mail and I’ve got to water their petunias.

Wednesday, July 29, 1987

9 PM. Last evening in Rockaway, I watched Channel 31, WNYC, which had a whole evening of programming on AIDS in New York City, including panel discussions, call-in questions for Mayor Koch and the admirable Surgeon General Everett Koop, and a look at three AIDS patients’ sessions with a shrink.

The therapy sessions were very moving. I must help out when I get back to Florida because I feel so guilty about standing on the sidelines. All night I dreamed I had a part in a play about AIDS, only I kept forgetting my lines.

After exercising and showering, I left Rockaway around noon. I’ll probably go back soon: I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep spending time with Grandma, and I spend very little money while I’m at the beach.

It was about 2:30 PM when I got back to the Upper West Side. Some of Judy’s petunias seem to be dying, but others look okay.

Mom left a message that she got back the $10,000 yesterday, so she’s very happy and relieved. When I called her, she said the lawyer’s letter did the trick.

The check that Costas gave me did bounce, as I expected, and Chemical Bank charged me $1.25 because I deposited it; Manny Hanny said Costas’s account had been closed.

What can you expect from a cocaine addict?

Tonight Ronna told me she’d seen Costas a couple of days before I did, on line at a Banana Republic cash register, where they chatted while waiting to check out. Ronna said Costas’s credit card turned out to be invalid.

People are sometimes sadly predictable.

Friday, July 31, 1987

6 PM. So today marks the end of eighteen years of diary-keeping. I’ve documented half my life and all of my adult life.

I doubt that my journals will be of interest to anyone but myself – though years ago, when I dreamed I’d be a famous writer, I thought maybe someday people would treat my diaries the way they do those of famous writers.

At 36, though, I see that there really aren’t seminal figures in literature anymore: writers who dominated an era and who were of interest to more than just a relative few scholars and fans.

And even if there still are these major writers, I am not destined to be one of them.

For me, it’s enough to find myself at the end of a page of an index to Contemporary Literary Criticism (Galsworthy was at the top of the page), as I did today at the 42nd Street library.

It’s the process of the diary rather than the product which is interesting. If I lost some volumes, I’d be very distressed, but it really wouldn’t be devastating.

Recently I saw an article on writers who keep their diaries on computers. As much as I love computers for the writing process, I think the textual malleability would be detrimental to my diary-writing.

I don’t want to edit or revise; I want to record my immediate feelings and thoughts as jumbled and graceless as they are. There’s also something about holding a pen in my hand that is gratifying.

Last night I went out at 11 PM and bought today’s Times. On the Gay Cable Network, I heard the end of a discussion with Andy Humm in which someone referred to Oliver North’s being gay.

How did this get reported, and will it ever make the mainstream news? It would certainly be interesting if true, if only because North has taken extreme pains to portray himself as a family man.

Because of the sinus headache that’s been nagging me for days, I again had trouble rousing myself this morning.

For the sixth time this week, I exercised to Body Electric; I find the routines less difficult with practice, and I suppose it’s helping my strength and flexibility, though I can’t see visible results.

Psychologically, I feel much better after I exercise.

I deposited some credit card checks into my Chemical account and then walked to Diane’s on 72nd and Columbus for lunch. It’s been a gorgeous day and probably didn’t even get up to 80°.

At the 42nd Street library, I spent three hours reading various things, from issues of American Banker to literary reference books to the Peterborough, New Hampshire, phone book.

Last night I hung out for an hour among the books at Shakespeare & Company. God, I would love to be able to afford to buy all the books I want to read.

Back home, I read the Miami Herald I’d picked up at Times Square, and I paid the three bills that Mom forwarded. I know my credit card system is crazy, but it’s also ingenious and kept meticulously.

It’s more than a hobby; it’s the way I manage to support myself.

Obviously, like any pyramid scheme, it all has to end sometime – with a crash – but no one can ever take away from me the last three years of leisure and time for myself that the credit card chassis has given me.

Unlike most creditaholics, I don’t buy needless luxuries; I buy time, which is more precious.

I finally spoke to Teresa today. She may come in next week because Elizabeth is visiting from the Virgin Islands.

I’ve got four weeks remaining in New York City; four weeks from tonight I’ll be at MacDowell.

The last thirteen weeks have really been a treat, and I’ll treasure the memories.