A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1984


Wednesday, November 21, 1984

8 PM on Thanksgiving Eve. The last few days have been unseasonably cold. The temperatures have ranged from 15° at night to 37° during the day. But as I’ve been prepared, it hasn’t been that much of a shock to my system.

With the steam on, the apartment is as warm as toast, though without a humidifier, during the night I find I have trouble breathing.

But I kind of like being here at holiday time. Despite the traffic (which I notice mostly when I’m on buses) and the crowds, New York seems festive. And besides, I know that in seven weeks, I’ll be back in Florida.

Today the spring schedules for Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University arrived in the mail. FIU is offering many computer ed courses at Broward Community College, and I wish I were in a program there so I could take more courses in Davie.

As it stands now, I plan to take at least a couple of courses at BCC, both from FIU and FAU. In terms of variety, FAU’s classes aren’t the best, but I need to take nine credits there in order to get my student loan.

If I can take 18 graduate credits between the two schools (I can’t tell how much the coursework will overlap), I’d be eligible for certification in computer education. Both FIU and FAU are offering LOGO, which should come easily for me after my New School classes.

Teresa called me a few hours ago. She’s been staying with Deirdre’s family, and tonight she’s going over to her cousin Rosemary’s.

She sounded like she’s really enjoying herself in California, and yes, it has crossed her mind that it might be good for her to move out there again. I guess I’ll hear more about that when she returns on Sunday.

Teresa said I’d love San Francisco, and I have the feeling that California is the place where I’d be happiest: a kind of combination of Florida and New York.

I got some very bad news from Gary when he returned my call last night. A week ago Sunday, his father went into shock, and it turned out he was hemorrhaging because his pancreas had gotten loose.

The doctors had to perform emergency surgery that lasted four hours. They couldn’t understand how this could happen without some trauma – an accident or a fall – but Mr. Marcus never mentioned anything.

He was operated on again last Wednesday, and over the weekend he developed a high fever and jaundice. Today he was supposed to have a tracheotomy.

Gary’s uncle is on the staff at Maimonides, so that’s been a help, but his father has been on a respirator in Intensive Care for ten days now.

Gary said he and his mother have been “going through a living nightmare. . . Whether my father lives or dies, I’m already all cried out.”

If Mr. Marcus does recover – and that’s a big if – it will take many months.

Gary was supposed to be on vacation in Florida this week, so he’s been off from work, spending most of his time comforting his mother and visiting his father in the afternoon and evening.

I told Gary how sorry I was and asked how I could help. He said just to be there to listen to him. I’ll speak to him in a few days to find out how things are going.

As Gary said, while cancer is horrible, it’s a death one can prepare for; something sudden like this is such a shock.

It bothered me a lot, the fact that a man can die from something out of nowhere. We humor ourselves that we can plan for the future, but our lives are fragile, and sometimes we have absolutely no control.

How would I react if one of my parents or brothers – or a close friend – died suddenly? It’s never happened to me.

Grandpa Nat’s heart attack was a shock, but he didn’t die. Grandpa Herb and Grandma Sylvia each died rather unexpectedly, but I wasn’t shocked either time because I knew they had fatal illnesses.

Susan Mernit’s grandfather died last week, and she was very upset although he was 88 and had been a heart patient for many years.

Tonight Susan, Spencer and his parents will be going to Florida. She said that next week she’ll interview me for an article she’s writing for Coda on adjunct teaching.

The Village Voice accepted a book review Susan wrote, and most exciting, she’s up for a full-time job at Scholastic as editor of their hi-lo (high interest, low reading skill) magazine for teens, Action. That would be a wonderful change for Susan.

After we cut our conversation short when Barbara Baracks arrived at Susan’s house, I phoned Justin to wish him a good trip to see his family. Justin told me that his newest roommate is already moving out, and now even Ari may leave the apartment.

The revolving-roommate situation has unnerved Justin. He may be looking for a new apartment, but as a creature of habit, he definitely wants to stay in Park Slope.

Later, Alice phoned. She and Peter had gone to Los Angeles for the weekend to try out, as travel writers, the new low-fare Tower Airlines, which Alice found superior to People Express.

She and Peter had a good time in Southern California, if only for a few days; they did get to see Disneyland, which she liked.

Since Alice’s mother and brother are both in Bangkok, she’s not doing anything for Thanksgiving this year.

Grandma Ethel is going to have dinner with Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris, where she told me she will feel more comfortable than at the house of a friend of Marty and Arlyne’s.

Mom told me that she, Dad and Jonathan – all vegetarians now – are going to have meatless lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner.

Dad said that Who’s Who in the South and Southwest arrived and it was big thrill for him to see my name in it.

Ronna is going to call later tonight to tell me how we’re going to arrange our Thanksgiving dinner plans.

Well, God bless us all on this Thanksgiving Eve.

Thursday, November 22, 1984

11 PM. Thanksgiving in Canarsie was wonderful.

Because I didn’t get to sleep until 5 AM (more on that later), I didn’t go into Brooklyn early with Ronna, Sue and Robert but took the train in the early afternoon instead.

At the Junction, I got the B11 bus, which took me past the old neighborhood, still middle class and neat but now largely black and Russian.

Once I got to Mrs. Caplan’s, I helped only minimally; mostly I read the paper and talked with Robert.

It was the night before Thanksgiving a dozen years ago when Ronna and I had our first date (Chloe in the Afternoon at the Midwood Theatre and then to the Foursome on Avenue U for a bite; Ronna had the sniffles and wore a blue turtleneck).

Who would have imagined we’d still be this close? Billy was six years old then; now he’s a six-footer. To me, Sue was a little girl in 1972; now, like Ronna, she’s getting gray hair, and she’s about to be married.

Ronna’s mother and grandmother have gotten older; her grandfather has died; and Mrs. C has become a sophisticated businesswoman. Brooklyn has changed a lot.

But it was good to be part of a family celebration this Thanksgiving. I may not be a part of Ronna’s family, but I’ve known them all for so many years that I feel close to them.

Her grandmother made the whole dinner and prepared a great meal because she’s learned to add modern ingredients to traditional Jewish cooking (which is just probably taking the flavor out of every dish): she added water chestnuts to the “tsimmes,” for example, and she made a mean eggplant parmigiana for the vegetarians.

In addition to Ronna’s grandmother, mother, sister, brother and Robert, there were her cousins Betty and Ellen, her uncle Alan the doctor and his second wife Mila, a Belgian psychotherapist, and their friend Camille.

I enjoyed talking to all of them and didn’t feel the need to hang onto Ronna; I just hope she didn’t think I was ignoring her by talking to her relatives. No, I’m sure she didn’t.

Ronna is such a good person, I hope she finds a lot of happiness in life. If I thought I’d be good husband material, I’d probably marry her – but she can do a lot better than an impoverished gay writer who doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s doing with his life.

That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night: my mind was racing. Looking through the FAU spring schedule of classes, I found few courses I need being offered, and often the times conflicted.

Actually, of the three courses, only one is on the Boca campus; the others are at Commercial Boulevard or at Broward Community College.

If I’m going to be spending most of my time in Broward County, living at the dorm in Boca seems silly. But can I afford to live anywhere except my parents’ townhouse? And do I want to inconvenience them?

Basically, my goals are to escape the winter, enjoy Florida, learn as much as I can about computer education, and return to New York. Of course, getting a student loan is my main incentive.

But I can’t help thinking of this stay in Florida as temporary. My friends are in New York, and I feel like a New Yorker.

I don’t know what to do. That’s probably why I feel that going to California might be a better solution than wasting my life shuttling between New York and Florida, never putting down roots or establishing a career or making enough money to provide real security.

On Wednesday, I went to The New School and dropped the Advanced BASIC class, figuring I’d better spend my money on a credit course in Florida and better spend the time I have left in New York enjoying the city and my friends.

When Teresa returns from California, I have to talk to her about both our futures. I definitely want to go to Florida for the winter, but I also want to return to New York in late spring.

What a mixed-up guy I am – and yet I am happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel I should be this happy, that I should be suffering more.

Friday, November 23, 1984

6 PM. I’m just going out to dinner with Mikey and Amy, home from their honeymoon in St. Maarten.

Unfortunately, Ronna can’t make it, as she’s still at her mother’s, preparing for Sue’s bridal shower next week; she said she has to go to Kings Plaza to buy decorations tonight.

I slept well last night and felt energetic today. In midtown at 10 AM, I spent an hour in various banks, taking out advances on credit cards and savings certificates so that I could have enough money to pay my FIU tuition of around $600 the week after next when Mom registers for me.

Then, at the Mid-Manhattan Library, I found the Daily News Magazine article that people have been alluding to: it gave me good play the Sunday before the election.

Sarene Collins also mailed me the Miami Beach Sun Reporter piece, which was quite nice.

I had lunch at Rockefeller Center, where I watched the skating rink open for the season and saw the new Christmas tree, still not decorated yet.

It was the first day for the sidewalk Santas and the bell-ringing Salvation Army volunteers. New York is fun at holiday time.

Back home this afternoon, I worked out for three hours.

Sunday, November 25, 1984

7 PM. Tonight I feel rather guilty after spending most of the day in bed. It started, of course, because I was with Ronna last night.

After burgers at Diane’s, she and I came home to read the Sunday Times, watch TV, fool around – and we did more of the last than anything else.

If I could count the number of times we kissed last night – if there were such a thing as a kissometer – it would have to be over a thousand. She and I made love for hours, and we fell asleep only from physical exhaustion.

Waking up to Ronna is always a treat, and we made love again before we ate breakfast. I can still feel her body next to mine.

I don’t write well about the pleasures of sex, not because I’m embarrassed (though I probably am), but because specific descriptions tend to sound banal and either like a Harlequin romance or a porn piece in Hustler.

Last night Ronna and I talked about our relationship, and once again she reassured me that that marriage is not in our future.

“I want to get married and have kids,” Ronna said, “but I’m not an old lady yet.”

And she told me she’s still looking for more suitable husband material, though the search isn’t being carried out with much enthusiasm or luck.

I guess I want to relieve my worries that I’m leading Ronna on, but I’ve always been honest with her about my homosexuality and about my need to be alone and not settle down.

We didn’t get out of bed until 2 PM, and then, after Ronna went home, I stayed in bed most of the day, reading and listening to music, unable to summon the energy to clean, to write, or to do anything productive.

I feel very guilty because I let myself down: I had promised myself to tackle the column for the St. Petersburg Times today.

It’s painfully obvious that my lousy writing habits are keeping me from ever achieving anything as a writer. Maybe I should even seek professional help.

In Florida, I could blame my rigorous teaching schedule at Broward Community College, but what was my excuse all summer? What was my excuse at the Millay Colony?

The truth is that while I want to write, I’m unable to because I can’t seem to get the words on paper. I freeze when I’m confronted with having to write anything more detailed than this journal or a letter.

I feel like such a fraud sometimes. I wrote so much more before I was considered a writer than I have since I began to be taken seriously – and probably that’s the problem right there.

Right now I feel discouraged about ever publishing another book. In my stupid Home Planet News interview, I said that I could not write and still be happy.

Well, I’ve proven that already. But can I give up the idea of being a writer and still be happy?

Probably. Unlike Crad, who criticized my People photo and Brazilian TV appearance as schlock that will do me no good, I haven’t had the courage – or the foolhardiness – to put all my eggs in one carton.

And, unlike Crad, I don’t want to be a misfit.

If I have to choose between being a bitter, angry social critic like him or being comfortable and gregarious among my friends, I’ll probably pick the latter. Hell, I am already doing so.

It’s funny: with a woman, I never worry about impotence and almost never suffer from performance anxiety – but when I’m faced with a blank piece of paper, I definitely do have that problem. And I’m not sure how to overcome it.

Maybe I just have to learn to live without writing. As I told Alice, we can’t expect perfection in all aspects of our lives – and otherwise I am content.

Thursday, November 29, 1984

2 PM. I had a (literally) sleepless night as I worried about my future. But figuring I had only two absences left and afraid I might get really ill and have to use them, I forced myself to go to school today.

Doris asked me if I was going back to Florida because Bob has to lay off eight adjuncts. Since I wouldn’t be at John Jay in the spring term anyway, I might as well do someone else a favor and let them keep their job.

So at my suggestion, Doris called the vice president’s office, and they’re writing out a letter of non-reappointment, which will come in handy if I want to collect unemployment in New York State from this job.

After my classes were over, I called Ronna and met her for lunch at Amy’s. Because she’ll be in Brooklyn all weekend, I wanted to see her today, and I needed to talk to her. As usual, Ronna was a terrific listener.

Last night, before class, I met Bob and Rita at the New School cafeteria. They’d missed me on Monday, and they reported that Michael thinks (he told them, anyway) that I have a profound grasp of LOGO.

Actually, I don’t; I just don’t worry about mastering each concept. I just keep playing around, figuring that I’ll eventually “get” it.

Home at 9:45 PM, I was surprised that Teresa wasn’t here, but a phone message said she’d be at her parents’ in Williamsburg for another hour.

Pete called and said he owed me seven dollars: my take of the reading at Darinka. He’s just about perfected his pantoum-writing computer program.

When Teresa buzzed, I went down to help her with her luggage and then rode with her to find a parking space. In contrast to today’s blustery weather, it was an incredibly mild night.

She told me, as I’d expected, that she’s decided to move to California, at least for a while.

She was facing a bleak winter here: after I leave, she’d be alone, jobless, with nothing to keep her in New York but her family.

Teresa absolutely loved San Francisco. She had never before spent so much time in the city because she always had lived in Palo Alto or another suburb.

In California, she has loads of friends – who seem saner than the people in New York – and her cousin Rosemary can give her a job, and another friend has an apartment she can stay in.

Teresa really should be doing this. It’s time for her to make a positive change, the way I did when I moved to Florida four years ago.

Teresa will be a new person there; she even looks happier now that she’s made her decision.

Of course, there are million things she has to do. She’s got to figure out what to do about this apartment.

The landlord will try to screw her if he finds out she’s subletting it for an exorbitant price. (On the open market, she could probably get $1000 to $1500 a month.) But maybe she can get “key money” up front and charge the legal subletting rent.

She still has her apartment on West 104th Street, and of course she has to sell the Ocean Parkway co-op, and I know she’d like to sell the Berkshires house, which still isn’t rented for the winter.

Where does this leave me? I’ll miss this apartment.

Just as I had mistakenly expected – at least in the back of my mind – that I could return to teaching at Broward Community College this fall, I also figured I could come back here next summer or spring.

But I can’t, so I’ll have to figure out another way I can manage to live in New York. I’m sure I can do it. It will be another test of my adaptability.

I have a wide enough circle of friends to cast a net for a decent sublet; if I have to, I’ll live in the outer boroughs. Remember, I’m a Brooklyn boy, not a stranger to the city.

It won’t be the West Side, but I couldn’t expect this great deal to go on forever. Change is good – for Teresa and for me.

Friday, November 30, 1984

4 PM. I’m in the living room trying to write, while Teresa yaks away. Although I’m plugged into my Walkman (the one I got on 14th Street for $5), she still keeps talking to me. Well, it’s her apartment.

She just gave me the phone. It was Miami-Dade Community College, asking if I’m interested in a position for the winter. No thanks, I said. I’m really better off taking my graduate credits in computer education.

Of course, I could combine teaching writing and computers one day.

This morning’s workshop at Borough of Manhattan Community College was led by Brian Gallagher from LaGuardia Community College, who’s been teaching remedial writing using IBM PCs and the WordStar word processing program.

I think the idea is probably good, but the workshop moved rather slowly: disks had to be formatted, and that took quite a while.

At least I got a chance to see WordStar, which didn’t seem all that hard for me because Scripsit isn’t much different, and by now I’m certainly comfortable using an IBM PC.

The only person I knew there was Carol Stanger, the head of John Jay’s new Writing Center. I had lunch with an older woman who’s a graduate fellow teaching at Lehman College; she’s so enthusiastic and unjaded that I found it both touching and pathetic.

BMCC’s new campus, at Chambers near the Hudson, is an attractive setting for a community college that’s probably a joke. I’m sure Miami-Dade is the same thing, and I’m fed up with that kind of place.

Yesterday around 4 PM, Teresa came home from Unemployment, and after we talked – her plans seem very vague – I stretched out on the couch and pretended to fall asleep. She went to visit Barbara, so I opened the couch early and went to bed.

I called Josh, who sounds as though he must really miss Wanda now that she’s back in England. He said orders for Eating at Arby’s are coming in pretty regularly, and one came with a check for $5.

Finally James popped up back in New York, and Josh said he sounded fairly together. Josh invited me to a party at Joyce’s tomorrow night, and I’ll probably go there rather to Emily’s dance party.

Then I spoke to James myself, calling him at the number Josh gave me, where James is staying with a psychiatrist friend of his mother’s.

James told me he had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in that oil leases fiasco, but hopefully he’s on his medicine now and things will be better for him. I hope so.

Fordham finally sent me my cancelled course refund check for $592, so I’m pretty secure financially for the moment.

I decided that I don’t want to stay at the dorm at FAU, no matter what. After so many years of living on my own, I don’t think I’ll be able to adjust to all those college rules and regulations.

Living with Teresa has been difficult enough. I need more privacy and freedom.

I’ve got more to say, but I can’t concentrate now, so I’ll save it for tomorrow.