A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1982


Thursday, August 12, 1982

7 PM. I stopped taking the penicillin today and started feeling better even though I haven’t slept well all week.

Selma called this morning to find out how I was feeling and to make arrangements to go to Poetry in the Pub this Sunday.

I decided to get out of bed early for a change. At the Davie post office. I picked up my mail: just a letter from Rick, mostly literary gossip.

He’d like to put out a Paycock Press paperback of With Hitler in New York, so I told him to write Taplinger and see what they’d be willing to get for the rights. Perhaps the book is out of print by now.

I then went over to J.T. & Company and found Pam, who did a fairly good job cutting my hair and beard.

After lunch at Oliver’s, I went over to Bodyworks, a health and fitness center at University and Sunrise. They showed me around the place and I was impressed by the Nautilus equipment, the quiet atmosphere, and the interview with Bob, the center director.

At the very worst, I can improve my general health and body tone, so I figured I have little to lose by joining. Josh has had good results with Nautilus and these people seem to know enough to tailor a plan to my needs and desires.

So I paid the $255 on American Express and have my first session tomorrow. I’m a little nervous, as I’m not used to strenuous exercise, and I also will probably be self-conscious; I just hope I can remember my routines after they no longer take you around.

But they said they’re there to answer my questions anytime. If I can do better with guidance and Nautilus equipment than I can on my own at home, the money will be well-spent.

Today was a dark, rainy day – for me, a pleasant change from the beating sun. I went over to Broward Community College but found our building locked. I did notice, however, that there should be plenty of classes to choose a sixth course from. At this point I’ll definitely need the money.

At Mom’s, I traded Marc’s car for the station wagon they’d taken to the flea market. Mom gave me her car payment bill to pay this month. In early September, she and Dad should be getting about $20,000 from the sale of Grandma Sylvia’s condo, so they can breathe more easily for the next few months.

With unemployment at 10% and interest rates still high, it looks as though economy recovery will not happen this year. Mom said no one calls to order goods anymore; the only phone calls are cancellations and complaints.

I’ve been spending plastic money like crazy, and I think I’ll really have problems come the end of the month. My first paycheck is due in four weeks – but it will all go to cover September’s rent.

That’s why I’m going to have to get extra income this year. Without the money I got from my arts council grant last fall, I’ll have a lot less money to spend. I’ve got to watch my pennies, but it’s so difficult to do that these days.

This whole year is going to be very tight and at the end of it, I probably won’t be able to do anything but return to BCC next year.

Sean hasn’t called me since yesterday morning. I guess he’s busy getting things together for Gainesville; he and his mom are leaving on Sunday or Monday. I just want to see him before he goes.

Saturday, August 14, 1982

10 PM. I just said goodbye to Sean as I dropped him off in the middle of a thunderstorm at Shangri-La, the local gay bar. On the way, I stopped short to avoid hitting a frog, who kept hopping one way and then the other; we laughed.

So, he said melodramatically, that chapter of my life is over.

Undoubtedly I’ll see Sean again, but our “love affair” is now in the past. I’m more relieved than sad, though I feel sad, too.

But tonight pointed out one reason why it couldn’t have gone on much longer. Sean went to the bars last night and he was hung over this morning. He had a lot to do but said he would definitely see me before he left for Gainesville.

At 6 PM he called, saying he’d be right over. But his car conked out on his block (he’d just had it in the shop), and I told him I’d pick him up if he wanted to come here. But then Sean said he had a problem: he wanted to go to the bars later, and how would he get there?

Finally I said I’d drive him; Jeff would be there to take him home.

On the way over I felt angry; I felt had. My ego was hurt, and I also wondered how I could have fallen in love with a shallow 17-year-old who likes disco and horror movies and is still an immature kid.

“There’s no fool like an old fool,” I told myself, and I had to smile.

I was angry enough to first pass Sean’s block without thinking. When I got to his house, I was glad to see he had the good sense to know he’d been thoughtless.

I expressed my feelings of anger to him, explaining that it didn’t stop me from loving him. Watching him get in the car, so cute without his shirt, how could it?

Back at my apartment – and I was a little embarrassed passing the neighbors – we immediately went to bed. It was fantastic: very loving sex, very cuddly and also very hot. He kept telling me that he loved me, and I am positive he does. And God help me, I love the kid, too.

We held each other for a long time in pitch darkness punctuated by violent, brief lightning.

Then he showered, asked me for two dollars (which pays for four drinks) while apologizing for being “tacky,” and we were off.

So . . . where did this relationship get us?

For Sean, of course, I can’t say I’m certain he’ll always remember me fondly. I don’t know if he’ll become a real mensch or some shallow creep – it’s too early to tell, and like a parent, I have no control over Sean’s life.

Me? Well, our affair was a technical illegality, making me in the strict sense of the law, a criminal. Would the charge be statutory rape, sodomy, corrupting the morals of a minor?

Perhaps more important than that is that most people would still say our love was immoral – probably even my parents would think that.

Yet, was it? We didn’t harm anyone. We were just two lonely people giving each other something we needed.

I treated Sean with respect, and I encouraged him, advised him, built up his confidence. He, on his part, showed me that I am capable of love, that having sex with a man would not turn me into a lunatic, that I’m not impotent or cold or a monster.

Sex with Sean wasn’t much different from sex with the women that I’ve loved, though I suspect that with a less gentle and caring man than Sean, I would have come away with an even worse attitude toward sex than I had before.

I told Sean that I’ve always been a lucky person, that I’ve had a good – no, great – life. It’s true.

It will take time for me to get over Sean – and no doubt he’ll sometimes think of me in Gainesville, at least for a while.

But my next love affair will be with someone my own age, someone I can relate to with common references. Not that I didn’t learn a lot from being with a boy of 17; I did. But Sean isn’t the person, if there ever will be one, with whom I want to grow old.

So . . . I’m glad it happened and I’m glad it’s over; Sean knew when to come into my life and he knew when to get out. God bless the kid, I hope he has a terrific life.

Last night I finished Poets in Their Youth and started Gay Wilson Allen’s Waldo Emerson.

When Gary called, he was delighted to hear that Teresa said he’s always on the beach with good-looking women; he said it was a good, if somewhat false, image Teresa got.

Work is the pits, but Gary hopes to get to California this fall. He’s enjoying Fire Island, but hasn’t gotten serious about anyone. I guess Gary’s experience with marriage and divorce has made him a bit gun-shy about serious relationships.

Later, Alice called. She got back from the writing conferences out West, but Peter is still roaming the Rockies with his son. The conferences were successful, but Alice said they weren’t as much fun as last year.

She got to see her friend Alison in Boulder, which she characterized as too laid-back: “In just three days there, I felt as if life was passing me by.” Now she’s back in Manhattan, the only place in the world to live.

I told her about my summer and about the McAllisters’ pleasant life in Charlottesville and how cheap it is to live there. “Yeah,” Alice said, “but when you wake up, you’re still in Charlottesville.”

I accused Alice of being provincial and smug, charges she denied.

But she’s still got the idea that superficial success – fame and fortune – would make her so much happier. Alice has the idea that once she reaches some point of success, life will be golden.

I told her that it doesn’t work that way, that success hasn’t made Ann Beattie or John Irving any happier, but Alice refused to believe me and said, “If you weren’t just as desperate for success as I am, you wouldn’t be such a publicity hound.”

All right; maybe I do like to see my name in the papers, but it’s for fun, not for financial gain.

While I admire Alice’s single-mindedness, she’s blind to the good things in her life. When I told her things could be worse, she said, “How?

“You could get cancer,” I said. “Peter could get run over by a car.”

“But you can’t think like that,” Alice replied. “Though maybe I’ll have to go through a tragedy before I appreciate what I’ve got now.”

“Nonsense,” I said, but I suspect that what Alice said was true.

She’s got a free trip to Hong Kong coming up. Alice says she’s a good person, and of course she is, but she’ll never get the acclaim for her “work” as long as she takes easy, high-paying PR-type assignments.

Well, I suppose it’s a fair trade-off: money for fame.

This morning I spoke to Josh, the last of my New York trio. He’s envious of Alice, of course, and of Justin, and of Scott, and of other writers our age who are “successful.”

Josh starts a new assignment as a computer programmer on Monday, but if he doesn’t like it, he’ll quit the consulting firm.

He just took his vacation and spent one week on Fire Island, where, because of his new muscles, he enjoyed the beach for the first time. Then he spent another week in Vermont, where he fell in love with one of Andy’s friends, a born-again Christian woman: “Weird, huh?”

“Anything can happen,” I said.

Grinning Idiot is in bookstores and will probably stay there; Josh is glad it’s finally out and doesn’t worry about sales. He seems about as happy as I’ve known him to be – if one could ever use the words “Josh” and “happy” together.

Tuesday, August 17, 1982

5 PM. It’s raining and the ducks are waddling outside my door.

I just got back from seeing the film version of The World According to Garp. It was amazingly faithful to the book, and I held back tears for the entire last third of the movie.

I don’t care what anyone says about John Irving: he deserves all the fame and money he’s gotten, if only because he wrote that one book. A book that lives.

God, sometimes I tell myself that one day I’ll write a book like that, too, that I only have to live longer and to grow and suffer more. But, I don’t know – hell, I’ll try.

What I like about Irving is that he captures the relentlessness and variety of life.

Damn, Sean left for Gainesville early this morning; he and his mother must be there by now. I miss him terribly.

In our last phone conversation of the day, he was kvetching and being a kid and being sweet; he told me I was “tubular.” “Fer shurr, you are,” I told him.

Ah, pain and sentimentality: there’s nothing like it.

Anyway, today I’m happy. Last evening I found a new New York-style Greek diner for dinner and then I went to K-Mart to buy gym shorts, Diet Pepsi and The Nautilus Book.

There were so many books about Pac-Man, I couldn’t believe it. Will my Pac-Man book sell – or is it, like all my work, too “experimental” and “arty”?

I sent out three more query letters, to Houghton Mifflin, Little Brown, and Penguin. I also wrote Tom and George and Mark Bernheim, and I began compiling a list of people to whom I want to send review copies of Eating at Arby’s.

Finally, I made up a silly press release announcing the formation of a committee supporting Colorado Senator Gary Hart and Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne for the 1984 Democratic ticket. “Hart/Byrne,” get it? I spiced up the release with stomachache puns like “acid test” and “chew the fat.” Today I xeroxed it and sent it out to the media.

The Vanderbilt Review arrived; it has a very facile and dishonest story by me in it. “It’s Another Beautiful Day in Broward County, Florida” is just a first draft that didn’t deserve publication; nevertheless, I’m glad to have a new story in print.

Lately I’ve heard my work has appeared in Telescope (Tom told me that) and some Colorado anthology (Debbie Grayson told me that) – I don’t know about either of those publications. I wonder if somebody is pulling my leg.

Today I rushed around doing silly errands: I got my loan for $190 from the credit union and went to the library and the post office. (I still have to read the magazines that came today, Publishers Weekly and American Book Review.)

There’s much work around the house to be done, but cleaning bores me. I want to put my energy to better uses. If I clean, I only have to clean again in another couple of days.

One week from tomorrow, classes begin: a whole new academic year. To me, the start of school always means the real start of the year. I’m a little scared about this year.

Last year will never be topped: it was all gravy, and I can’t imagine getting half so much gravy in 1982-83. I’ve been too darn lucky in the success I’ve had, the people I’ve known, the experiences I’ve gone through.

This may sound corny, but I do want to pay back what I’ve gotten. I’m scared of what Emerson calls letting too much good stay in your hands: “it will corrupt and worm worms.” Is that an accurate quote?

I feel as though I’ve had an epiphany and can see only the beauty in life when I get into these moods, I feel almost unbearably happy.

Yes, Picasso, I still love life the way I used to.

Friday, August 20, 1982

1 AM. Today – Friday, that is – was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Florida. It gives me hope for the future.

Last night I got a call from my fan in North Miami Beach, Ivy Garlitz. She wanted to say hello before she left for Gainesville, where she, like Sean, is going into her sophomore year.

We had a pleasant talk about books and films and academia; she wants to be a college English teacher, God help her.

I woke up late, read the paper, and went to the gym. Today I had a pretty good workout, though I think I’m not working hard enough; the Nautilus program seems too brief, though I know it’s supposed to be. Bob, the manager, was there, putting this gorgeous 18-year-old kid though a workout.

It’s weird how many cute guys I see here, especially in this hot weather. I wonder how long I can remain celibate with Sean away.

Now that I’ve experienced sex with a male, I don’t feel hung up about trying it with someone else. Yet I can’t see myself going to the Shangri-La or the Copa or other bars.

My mail today was plenty of good stuff, with the exception of a letter from the credit union announcing they were raising interest rates on loans to 18%.

First, there was the National Gay Task Force newsletter; someday I’m gonna come out like the New York police sergeant and Dan Bradley, former head of Legal Services, who were awarded honors.

I wish I could do it now – I have come part of the way out of the closet – but I’m not ready to completely come out. (Rationalizations?) Also, I’d probably lose my job at BCC.

George wrote that his book of criticism, An Introduction to Modern Times, with a “too professorial” introduction by Loris Essary, is due out next month.

George’s big news is that he’s given up the idea of following in his grandfather’s footsteps and becoming the publisher of the Patriot-News, so he’s returning to the newsroom as a night-shift copy editor. Good for him.

Rick has written Taplinger about the paperback rights to Hitler; he’s really interested in doing it. I have a feeling Taplinger will ask for at least $2,000 for the paperback rights, but maybe they’ll be nicer.

In any case, I’d return my half of the money back to Rick for printing costs. It would be exciting to have Hitler come out again; it’s a good book.

But then, so is I Brake for Delmore Schwartz. Yes, that’s the title of the Zephyr Press book. Miriam wrote me to say that they’ve decided to include that as the title story; Ed plans to have bumper-stickers made up. I hope Josh doesn’t kill me for stealing his line and his life.

The book will be out in November or December, and we’ll set a date for a party then. Ed will bring it out to the store in New York after Christmas, when things will be less hectic.

I felt so good about the news that my new book finally has a title – and a good one – that I typed up a new résumé and xeroxed it immediately.

Then I went over  to BCC, where I spoke with Dr. Pawlowski and Mrs. Burdick about their summer illnesses and Angela’s stroke.

Dr. Grasso told me she had to cancel the creative writing workshop, but she’s given me the creative writing class that Patrick was going to teach as an overload course; it’s on Wednesday nights rather than Thursdays.

“I hired your friend Lisa this afternoon,” Dr. Grasso told me “I finally got permission to hire another full-time temporary.”

That news put me in a great mood: it’s going to be great for me to have someone young, hip, literary, and from Brooklyn around.

Lisa called me soon after and said she was stunned. She’s on vacation and had only expected to talk to Dr. Grasso about the next academic year.

Now, Lisa said, she’ll have to go to New York right after class next Friday and take her things down to Florida in a U-Haul. For a while she’ll have to live in Boca Raton with her parents and brothers.

I filled her in about the department, about the courses, and I told her not to be nervous, that her Brooklyn College and Kingsborough teaching experience puts her in good shape.

Dr. Grasso told me she was most impressed with Lisa, who told me that I, too, was the object of kind words by my chairman. I feel excited that I may have a close woman friend here in Florida.

At 5 PM, I got a call from Bob Herguth, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Mayor Byrne’s office had sent him the “Hart/Byrne in ‘84” press release and he wanted to use the item.

I spoke with him for a few minutes and he said he’d send me a copy of the column. The idea of funnily-named presidential tickets can be worked into an article, I think; maybe even the New York Times Op-Ed page would take it.

By then I felt buoyant, and even the news seemed good for a change: peace in Lebanon (thanks to U.S. Ambassador Habib), passage of the tax bill, a soaring stock market and lower interest rates.

When Casey called and asked if I wanted to go out for a sandwich, I said yes and he picked me up soon after that. We went to the Broadway Diner – I’ve got a crush on the waiter there – and then came back here.

I can’t believe it, but Casey and I talked until just half an hour ago even though it was so late; we had a good conversation about school, books, and life.

All of a sudden, old Life seems to be in high gear again. Wow.

Saturday, August 21, 1982

8 PM. I didn’t do much today, but that has its advantages – like not spending a cent.

This is the last night of “freedom” I’ll have; it’s going to be tough to return to an early-to-bed, early-to-rise sleeping pattern.

Last night I had a dream similar to one I’ve had several times this summer: It was the middle of the night, and I switched on the TV, finding that I could get distant stations; they were from Tampa last night.

Since discerning that I could get stations from New Haven, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Washington, and Salisbury, Maryland, on my grandparents’ TV in Rockaway two months ago, I’ve been fascinated by this notion.

What does the dream represent? On the obvious level, contact with new places. Maybe that could mean actual new places within myself.

One thing I can say about 1982, even if the rest of the year is gloom, doom, and stagnation: I haven’t stopped growing. I’ve taken risks: my relationship with Sean, the self-publication of Arby’s, my city council campaign, traveling.

I just hope I don’t become smug because of all my good fortune. Someday someone will read this diary, perhaps, and discover that I was a surprisingly happy person.

I still fear that my happiness is not built on a solid foundation, though that fear grows less insistent.

A week ago I was spending my last night with Sean. I miss him terribly. but it’s almost a sweet kind of pain, sort of the way I miss my friends and grandparents in New York or even the way I missed Grandma Sylvia in the weeks following her death.

Well, I hope to get on with the Emerson biography soon. I called Josh but couldn’t work up the nerve to tell him about I Brake for Delmore Schwartz.

He says he’s “in love” with his new word processor; now that Josh and I are both into literary mags, Nautilus and computers, we have even more in common.