A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-October, 1988

Monday, October 10, 1988

6 PM. The wind is howling as I look out at the beach and ocean from Grandma’s bedroom window. But the sky is clear except for a few pinkish wisps of clouds, and it’s warmed up a bit.

At about 11 AM, I left Manhattan, carrying my heavy airline carry-on bag and my laptop computer.

I got a seat on the train to Queens, which was a good thing because fans headed out to the playoff game at Shea crowded the subway car. (The Mets lost last night and lost again to the Dodgers today).

It took half an hour for the Q53 bus to arrive at Jackson Heights, but I didn’t mind: it was pleasant out and I read my papers.

Grandma was out when I got here. She’d left a note that said, “Be back soon.”

Her friend Lillian called and told me that yesterday Uncle Morris had collapsed here and was taken to the hospital.

Before I hung up, Grandma entered with groceries, and when she finished talking to Lillian, she told me that Morris got up from his chair and fell to the floor at 1 PM yesterday.

She and Aunt Tillie couldn’t lift him, so they called for the man next door, who picked up Morris. Because Morris was dazed, Tillie said they should call an ambulance.

Paramedics came, examined him and gave him oxygen, and then Tillie rode with them to St. John’s Hospital in Far Rockaway (because there were no beds available at Peninsula).

When Grandma called Tillie this afternoon, Tillie said that Morris seemed okay; he needed to have a CAT scan, but he’ll probably be released tomorrow.

Grandma needs to have some prescriptions filled, and I have to go to Deutsch Pharmacy to see if I can get my Triavil 2/10, so I’ll try to do both things tomorrow.

At 5 PM, Teresa called from Fire Island and said she’d picked up a message from Julie Ramos.

When I phoned Julie at home, she said that a creative writing teacher at Pomona Junior High School would like me to speak to her class. It would only be one hour in November, so I don’t mind, and I left a message with the teacher.

I told Julie about the Lowlands Press book and how I’m glad I can acknowledge the Rockland residency in the book.

I did revise and type up the first and last stories in the book, and I can see it will really take no time even if I have to retype the entire manuscript in a different word processing program.

I updated “The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was” from 1979 to 1989, adding relevant names, and I corrected some errors in “Myself Redux.”

I wouldn’t mind staying here in Rockaway all week if I can finish the book and some other work as well as help Grandma, who still doesn’t feel very well: her tongue, mouth and teeth all have that bitter taste that drives her crazy.

My back hurt again last night, and I expect the sofa bed will only make it worse. However, I did work out to Body Electric this morning.

Teresa told me that Bill was devastated that she wasn’t coming back to Manhattan tonight.

Bill is sweet, Teresa said, but she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life with him, and she’s not even sure she wants to spend any more time with him.

It’s not just that he’s poor; Teresa feels that’s a symptom of a depressive personality traumatized by his father’s abuse of him as a child.

Teresa says Bill wants to be a writer, but “he doesn’t write like you do – all he’s got is six pages of dialogue after six months.”

Maybe if he were 25 instead of 45, his attempt to make a go of it as a scriptwriter would make sense, but Teresa says she can’t see herself with a man who’s struggling toward a vague goal that he’ll never reach.

Teresa read what little Bill had – his six-page scene and some “treatments” – and thought the writing was mediocre.

In a way, Teresa’s experience with Michael is now reversed: in Bill, she’s found someone who’s needier than she is and who worships the ground she walks on.

Ronna called me last night, and I felt guilty because I knew she was feeling really close to me.

I feel close to her, too, but just as she called I was watching the second half of the Liberace life story movie, the part where he realizes he’s attracted to men, not women.

I’ve never had any problem getting sexually excited by Ronna – even when we talked on the phone on Friday about her coming to sleep over, I could feel an erection – but I can’t deny I’m gay.

Ronna knows that, of course, but I feel I keep having to tell her. I feel very selfish. I care for Ronna and enjoy being with her, but what can I give her?

I know it’s hard for single young women in New York. Some of Teresa’s friends tell her to hang onto Bill despite his faults because any nice, unmarried man is better than none.

Ronna and I need to talk again. I feel like I’m playing Lucy to her Charlie Brown, holding the football for her to kick, only to take it away at the last minute.


Wednesday, October 12, 1988

9 PM. I’m in Rockaway at Grandma Ethel’s, and I just finished typing – excuse me, I mean entering into the computer – “My Twelfth Twelfth Story Story,” which seems kind of weak to me, as does “With the Pope in Park Slope,” another story I edited and entered today.

I do think “Sixteen Attempts to Justify My Existence” is good, if a trifle melodramatic.  I’ve gone beyond the stories in this collection, but if Tom will pay $1500 to turn them into a book, who am I to object?

I can’t imagine this book getting any reviews, anyway; probably no one will notice it.

Still, it will be an object that will please me and give me another line on my résumé, and as such, the illusion of progress.

Last evening I spoke to Judith Rose, the English teacher at Pomona Junior High School, and we tentatively agreed I’d come to her class on November 15.

She wants me to visit only one class that’s got ESL kids from all over the world.  Her other classes are all Haitian kids and wouldn’t appreciate me, she said.

Well, I don’t mind another day of work for the Rockland residency, but November will be a busy month for me.

William Greider narrated a PBS documentary tonight on The Politics of Prosperity, about the hidden economic issues in the presidential race.

Nobody spoke of a depression, and most of the economists interviewed said that the Fed could avoid causing a recession if they wanted to.

I’m worried about my parents’ buying the new house. In a serious economic downturn, they probably couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments, although if Marc, Jonathan and I all lived with them and helped out, Mom and Dad probably could avoid foreclosure.

Of course, lots of people will lose their homes in a real depression, just as they did in the 1930s, and as the TV show pointed out, as many homeowners did in Texas in this decade.

It was cool today, but the temperatures will plunge to record lows again tonight, thanks to a blast of cold air from Canada.  So much for the greenhouse effect.

I forced myself to exercise to Body Electric at 9:30 AM, but by I’ve now gone for two whole weeks without missing a daily workout, and I can afford to slacken off a bit.

I’ve got nothing important to do for the rest of this week, and if I have to stay here at the beach with Grandma, at least it’s when Teresa is back in the apartment.

I have my computer to write with, and I can make myself comfortable.  The earliest I’ll leave is Friday.  Although I took enough clothing for only four days, I can always do laundry here.

At 11:30 AM, I took the bus to Brooklyn, going first from Kings Plaza to Deutsch Drugs, where I got my Triavil 2/10 and three prescriptions for Grandma Ethel.  Because he needed time to make up the drugs, Mr. Deutsch told me to return in an hour.

So I walked around parts of the old neighborhood I haven’t seen for years except in my dreams.  I went across Avenue N to Ralph Avenue, passing familiar stores and new ones.

I can remember all of the different candy stores on Avenue N where I used to get my superhero comics and the streets I’d ride on my bike, pretending I was The Flash or Green Lantern.  That was 25 years ago. Wow.

On Ralph Avenue, the old Gil Hodges bowling alley was gone, replaced by giant discount stores like Rockbottom and Newmark & Lewis.

Temple Hillel, where Marc was bar-mitzvahed, still looked the same, and the Georgetowne shopping center did, too, though all the banks’ names had changed and Waldbaum’s had a big sign saying it was open 24 hours.

At the Flatlands Shopping Center – somehow it felt right being there on a chilly fall day – many of the stores I know from childhood and adolescence remain: Poppy’s Bakery, the appetizing store, the pizzeria, Triangle Sporting Goods, the Joy Teang restaurant, and Woolworth’s.

At the Arch Diner, I had a burger deluxe and a Tab (they still don’t have Diet Coke), the way I used to.

On the walk back, I felt feverish but I wasn’t sure if it was illness or nostalgia as I passed the blocks of my junior high school friends Eugene and Jerry and then Mary Queen of Heaven, where I used to go to Mass when I was 16 or 17.

After paying for the drugs, I passed the old house and I stared at the window in the little front bedroom on the second floor.  Twenty years ago I was looking out the other side of that window.

I was seventeen years old and agoraphobic; I wasn’t in college and felt my life was over.  Every day I had those crippling, overwhelming anxiety attacks.  I don’t even like to think about it.

Aunt Tillie just phoned – Grandma Ethel went to visit Jean Morse – and said Aunt Minnie’s eye operation went okay.

Apparently Minnie had some damage to her retina when she and Uncle Irving were in a car accident some months ago.  Anyway, the doctors said she’ll get better.

Uncle Morris is still in the hospital, but Tillie wasn’t feeling well this morning, so she didn’t go to visit him.

Notice how my great-aunt’s call rescued me from thinking about my unhappy fall and winter of ’68-’69.  Definitely that was the worst time in my life.

Whatever happens to me now, at least I’m not afraid to go outside, to ride buses and trains (I’m afraid of planes but I fly anyway), to go to school and work (ironically, for me they turned out to be the same place), to go to restaurants and movie theaters.

I’ve been coughing up a storm as I write this, so I guess I am getting a cold.


Friday, October 14, 1988

9 PM. Last evening I took a long walk before dinner to get out of the house. It was pretty cold out, but I think I could adjust to the weather. I can even see how some people like the brisk, windy, chilly days that we’ve been having.

After I made myself some dinner, I finished the Write From the Start book and watched the debate with Grandma, who seemed a little better.

Dukakis was so stiff and sober that although I think Bush is an idiot and dislike his policies, even I thought Bush was more likable.

Maybe Dukakis is being true to himself, but his cool technocrat style won’t play well with an audience who can no longer deal with facts and complex arguments.

I think of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and how the 1988 campaign is so much worse than any before it.

Anyway, barring a catastrophe, the election is now served up for Bush-Quayle, and my theory about Bush being the Herbert Hoover of the 1990 Depression is starting to become real.

Everything may fall into place about a year from now, in the fall of 1989. I just don’t know if I can wait that long.

I slept well last night and left Rockaway at 11 AM today. I could see Grandma felt bad that I was going, but I needed to get away from her after being with her all week.

I told her that if she does have to go into NYU Hospital on Monday, I’ll visit her, and if not, I’ll return to Rockaway next week.

Oscar was in the elevator when I got here, on his way to install the new fixture in the bedroom. Teresa had already bought a lamp for the bed so we don’t go blind in here.

The old fixture didn’t work – neither the light nor the fan – but maybe Oscar can use it for his apartment.

Judy was here and Oscar told her that the building wasn’t going co-op anytime soon.

(Last night Grandma got notice of a big meeting on November 7 to discuss “Dayton Towers going private.”)

Today I really enjoyed sharing the apartment with Teresa. I took her out to lunch and we had a good time.

Last night she saw several new movies at the Directors Guild with Bill, and tonight she went to a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? there.

This morning Frank shocked Teresa by phoning her.

They’re having lunch on Monday, and Frank may save the East 87th Street apartment for her – although by now, Teresa’s sorry that she got in on the deal.

(It turns out that Perry himself never bought an apartment after pushing Teresa to buy one.)

Teresa needs to ask her parents for $16,500 for the closing (which is why Frank could be a godsend).

Meanwhile, Lola and other real estate agents can’t find anyone to rent the apartment for $1100. While the West Side is hot, the East Side is not – not these days, anyway.

Although Teresa is making noises about the catering business, I don’t see her committed to it yet, and Frank thinks she should work in P.R. – although not for him.

Teresa’s very upset that none of her clothes fit, but to me, she doesn’t look as if she put on that much weight.

This evening she ran into Milton, who looks great – somehow he became gorgeous in his late twenties – and who’s back living in the neighborhood.

Milton asked about me because he read my story in the West Side Spirit and thought my style was still the same. When Teresa told him I still saw Ronna, he said he would like to get together with all of us.

This afternoon, after lunch, I went to Teachers College, where I picked up my $538.66 loan check, and I actually got to print out the manuscript of The Greatest.

Though I got some new books on teaching writing at the Teachers College bookstore, I have so much to do now that I don’t when I can get time to read them.


Saturday, October 15, 1988

9 PM. Teresa and Bill dropped by on their way back from a day in the country around 6 PM, and they were surprised to find me working at my computer.

When Teresa asked what I’d be doing tonight, I said, “Working,” and she said, “Oh, nothing,” and I said, “Not nothing.  I’m working.”

I knew what she meant – doing something like going to the movies or to dinner or to a party – but it was a telling remark.

Still, yesterday Teresa told me that she can see that, in contrast to Bill, I work like a real writer does.

I was glad to see the Werbachers’ play’s new run mentioned in Enid Nemy’s theater column in the Times yesterday, and I called Justin to tell him so. I’ll see him and Larry tomorrow evening at the party downtown.

I also spoke to Alice, who enjoyed New Zealand but didn’t tell me much about it. She actually kept me talking about my own life.  Anyway, I’m going to find out about her trip when I see her the next time.


Monday, October 17, 1988

1 PM. I just cast my absentee ballot for the November election.

My vote for Dukakis/Bentsen will be wasted in Florida, a state where the Democrats have pulled out their troops and conceded already, but I’m hoping MacKay can keep the Senate seat for the party.

Speaking of parties, last evening’s party was the best antidote for depression I could have had. I dragged myself out, but I ended up having a really good time.

Because Ali had written “Broadway” rather than “West Broadway” on the invitation, I ended up walking a dozen blocks out of my way and finding a warehouse headquarters for the Chinese-American Improvement Association, not the Cupping Room Café.

I realized the mistake and soon found the restaurant, discovering I was not alone in going to the wrong address.

When I walked in, I first saw Ali and Liz, and Veronica and her husband Will, the video artist.

Then I hugged Ben and shook hands with Fred, who didn’t remember me from the day I helped Justin and Larry move.

After Justin and Larry arrived, we were all seated at a U-shaped arrangement of tables in the back.

I sat next to Annette, the rather dizzy woman who succeeded Sat Darshan and preceded Ben in the little bedroom of 713 President Street.

Across from me were Fred and Ben, and I was near Justin, Larry, and Ali, so I had plenty of people to talk to.

Altogether, there were about twenty people. The food was very good, and the service was excellent.

Justin had taken off last week and spent it in Reading with Larry.

His boss told him that Shearson had been given orders to lay off all temps, so Justin’s not certain what will happen with his job.

Larry doesn’t like working at Arthur Andersen much, but he says he’s got to learn to take it less seriously.

Justin and Larry have now been together for three years and they make a really nice couple.

I remember how unhappy Justin was before he went to Reading in August 1985; he really was lucky to meet Larry.

Fred told me about his recent trip to Amsterdam and his work raising capital for a small computer firm; his boss, who developed a LAN system early on, is a nut, though.

Ben told us about the fun he had playing the maid in La Cage aux Folles – although he ripped lots of pairs of pantyhose and the high heels hurt his legs.

That led Annette to talk about the time she gave lessons in makeup to transvestites, a story I’ve heard before.

Fred and Ben brought Justin some mail from the house – he still isn’t getting all his mail at the new place – and there were even letters for me and Annette.

Annette told me that OSCAR is currently inactive although she’s still concerned with what’s going on in Central America.

Her new interest is taking lessons in the world’s religions or learning psychotherapy or something.

I got the feeling that Fred liked me; anyway, he asked me for my phone number.

We put in our money when the check came; all of us paid for ourselves and chipped in for Justin and Larry.

Since the others were all going to Park Slope or other parts of Brooklyn, I walked to Sixth Avenue by myself. It had been a long time since I’d been to Soho or the Village.

Remembering good times I had in those neighborhoods back in the 1970s made me realize I don’t take advantage of living in Manhattan.

Although a night out left me feeling exhilarated, I was also tired. I conked out as soon as I got in and slept very well.

This morning I exercised – yesterday was the first day I skipped after 18 straight days of workouts – and I went over my mail, balancing checkbooks and paying bills.

I also prepared a “to do” list for the week and called Grandma, reminding to take with her to NYU Hospital that list of her prescriptions I made.

Lucy’s class is canceled this week, but she’s got the paper listed as due on Wednesday.


Tuesday, October 18, 1988

12:30 PM.  This afternoon I plan to grit my teeth, sit down and try to write the hoping-for-a-Great-Depression article for my writing project for class.

During the night, I looked through my diary and selected about ten entries that mentioned the topic, and this morning I xeroxed the entries (they didn’t reproduce very clearly) and circled the references.

This is to show Lucy my awareness of how the writing process works.

Also, at 3 AM, I began writing my process log for the project, explaining to Lucy how I’ve worked in the past.

Despite my publications, I’m afraid she’ll think that I’ve been going about writing the “wrong” way.

Naturally, that’s silly; I know how to write and the way I write and I’ve published more than Lucy Calkins herself.

Yesterday I did get some work done: I wrote the addenda to my writing conference evaluation and I went over the book manuscript once and corrected the typos on the disk.

This was all done while Teresa was here.  Somehow her flibbertigibbet spirit brings out the Protestant ethic in me: it’s as if I have to contrast myself with her by working diligently.

When she came in at 4 PM, she had a disk from Bill on which she wanted to make a résumé for an assistant chef job that she had an interview for.

Although a number of realtors called yesterday, and Phyllis – Teresa’s old enemy – phoned with a possible catering job, the phone message she was most excited about was from Richie.

He’s the wealthy, drug-dealing, married – with a pregnant wife, yet – guy who was here in June. (Remember how I had to clear out of the apartment for a few hours?)

God knows why Teresa rushed to call him when she has a nice, steady guy like Bill.

Okay, Bill is neurotic, heavyset and poor. But he treats Teresa wonderfully.  Why don’t women like nice guys?  Why do they glom onto creeps?

Bill is going to Fort Lauderdale this weekend to serve as cover for a lesbian friend attending a family wedding (Teresa told him he was so fat and unattractive that it would be more presentable for her to bring another woman.)

Anyway, Teresa did call Phyllis, who had a catering job for a party thrown by Reuben, Phyllis’ gay roommate, on Saturday.

So Teresa will probably do some of the cooking here, and since she’s not going away, I think I’ll make myself scarce and go to Rockaway to stay with Grandma Ethel.

Although our paper is due tomorrow, there’s no class, and I suppose I could bring it next week if I had to.

Grandma was back home last night when I called.

She waited just as long at NYU Hospital as she does at her Far Rockaway clinic, except the patients were of all ages and races, not just elderly Jews.

The doctors at the hospital poked and prodded and told her that she definitely does not have cancer.  (Well, no one had thought she did.)

They told her to keep taking the prescriptions if she felt they helped her. The doctors didn’t give her any new drugs, and they said she could eat whatever she wanted.

Grandma wasn’t satisfied, and she still isn’t sure what’s wrong with her, and the bitterness and burning keep coming back.

I said I’d try to come on Wednesday and stay for a while.  Once I start my Mondays at Nanuet and my Friday/Saturday workshops at Teachers College, I won’t be able to spend much time in Rockaway, so I’d better go now.

Today’s a mild, rainy day.  I’m going to meet Ronna after her tutoring tonight.  Teresa’s got to go to Fire Island to pick up her cooking equipment and dishes.


Wednesday, October 19, 1988

3 PM. I’m in Rockaway. Grandma’s lying down in her bedroom because she has a bad headache.

I’ve got one too, but I know it’s only from lack of sleep. I got in only a couple of hours last night, and it was poor sleep: I kept having obsessive thoughts.

Now I think the problem was the caffeinated Diet Coke that Teresa bought. Usually I drink only decaf soda at home, but yesterday I must have gotten too much stimulant; that would also account for the edginess I felt all afternoon.

I did sit down at 4 PM and do the first draft of my article, but it’s awful and it seems unlikely I can get it into working order.

However, Lucy Calkins did want to see our writing process, not our product. I have my computer here and will go through several more drafts. I hope I’m not penalized for handing it in next week.

Teresa didn’t show up yesterday, but she got over a dozen calls. I let the machine pick them all up.

It’s distasteful for me to be involved in her confused business and personal affairs, and we definitely have very different values. Teresa is her own worst enemy, and she continues to lurch from disaster to disaster.

Even though I was very comfortable at her place this summer, I need to make a change next year.

As I told Ronna last evening, I don’t intend to return to New York next May, even though I’ve always – at least since 1983 – come back in May.

Next year I plan to stay in Florida at least until the end of June, especially if I can do Teacher Education Center workshops or teach the first summer session at Broward Community College.

I want to keep up my New York friendships, so I’ll come back for part of the summer, but I intend to live mostly in South Florida in 1989.

Yesterday afternoon, while I was in the bedroom working, I heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs.

Frightened, I went to the front window and saw a middle-aged man, apparently insane, yelling, “I, Julio, am responsible for New York’s greatness. . . This city would be nothing without me, Julio. . .”

He stamped his feet and kept repeating how he, Julio, had saved the city.

I called out, “Thank you, Julio,” and he seemed to accept my gratitude, stopped yelling, and walked on.

Across the street, some others who had come to their windows looked at me. I, Richard, had quieted West 85th Street.

I met Ronna at the St. Agnes library after 8 PM. Since I had eaten earlier, she decided to fix something for herself at home.

We did some grocery shopping, and in her kitchen, I sat at the table as Ronna made herself scrambled eggs.

She told me about Lori’s shower on Sunday and how glad she was that it was over, and about her Saturday trip with Jordan to the Catskills and mid-Hudson region to see the autumn leaves.

This weekend her mother and grandmother are coming for a cousin’s bar mitzvah in New Jersey. It’s her grandmother’s first trip since her heart attack and angioplasty.

I gave Ronna the book manuscript to go over, and we drank herbal tea and talked until after 10 PM.

Back at the apartment, I read Newsweek and was excited by an article previewing computers of the 1990s and their applications in education, business, the arts and leisure.

The NeXT machine is probably just the first of new computers that will make today’s models look primitive.

Before going to bed, I killed the largest cockroach I’d ever seen. When I first saw it in the bathroom, I thought it was a mouse.