A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1989
Sunday, June 4, 1989
11 AM. I’ve just been watching news reports from Beijing, where the government finally cracked down hard on the students, with soldiers killing scores of them.
Yet the students and workers appear to be fighting back; I watched them set fire to an army vehicle, and they seem not be afraid despite the deaths which have claimed their comrades.
The still photos and few videotapes available remind me of the French Revolution.
I don’t know what will happen next, but China has definitely ruined its recent image as a forward-looking country. Whether it will be plunged into a nightmare like the Cultural Revolution of ’67 remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini finally died.
So much for the state of the world on my 38th birthday: everything around us seems in flux these days as we wait for the 1990s to make itself plain.
Yesterday I called Pete, who received $5500 of his New York Foundation for the Arts grant in nonfiction; the other $500 will be given for community service.
He’s decided to send sections of his book to magazines to build up the interest of publishers. However, the fans Pete has in book publishing may not be able to help him because they work at staid houses like Putnam.
Pete plans to spend August on the West Coast, mainly in San Francisco, but also in Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver. We agreed to get together before he leaves.
Yesterday morning I took the M5 bus to 42nd and Fifth. Nothing on the trip surprised me, as I’ve spent a lot of time in Manhattan lately, so the sights are familiar.
At the library I read recent issues of American Banker. Discover is testing a gold card, and the big banks are concentrating even more on credit cards as the smaller banks sell off their portfolios to Citibank, Chase, First Chicago, etc.
In the Berg Collection, I looked at the exhibit of diaries of writers like Virginia Woolf, Samuel Pepys and others.
At one point, Lola Szladits walked into the exhibition room from her office, and my first impulse was to turn away.
I guess I felt funny, not having contact with her in years; maybe I also felt that I’ve let everyone down as a writer.
Within a few minutes, however, I decided it would be nice to talk to Lola – but she never came out again.
Back uptown, I watched the first reports of the Chinese massacre.
At 5 PM, while I was waiting for Alice at the corner of 86th and Broadway, a panhandler asked me, “Can you spare some change for a down payment on a condominium?” And then: “Don’t I get something for originality?”
Alice and I went to Szechuan Broadway, where I got to enjoy cold sesame noodles for the first time in four months.
Alice said that her brother arrived last week and would be staying much of the summer. This weekend he’s in Washington (as is Peter, who’s attending the ABA convention), and on Wednesday he and Alice are flying to New Orleans for a short vacation.
They still haven’t rented their Wall Street apartment even though they’ve lowered the price.
It seems the great New York real estate boom of the 1980s is finally over; people who bought studios in recent years would be lucky to get their money back if they sold now.
Alice didn’t mention her “apartners” book but said she’s decided to work with packagers on two new ideas she has which are basically non-book moneymakers.
She seems happy and comfortable at her job at Woman’s World, and she looks very well.
I didn’t ask Alice what became of her big news of the winter that she and Peter are getting married because I’m sure it’s forgotten by now.
We decided that there were few films worth seeing, so I walked Alice to the subway and came home.
After only two days in the city, I feel like I belong here. I’ve been walking around the West Side a lot, soaking up the energy and chaos. It’s taken me no time to adjust, and I’m glad I can still move easily between Florida and New York.
Last night I went out at 9 PM to get the Sunday Times and I read it for the next couple of hours.
Just before I went to bed, Josh called from a pay phone. Even though he didn’t say anything odd, he sounded a bit crazed.
I had a restful night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to seeing Ronna late this afternoon.
Monday, June 5, 1989
8 PM in Rockaway.
My birthday turned out fine, thanks to Ronna, whom I met on West End Avenue and 78th Street as she returned from a Salute to Israel parade whose theme was “Judaism in Space” and which featured lots of Mylar and a banner celebrating in advance “A Minyan on the Moon.”
Ronna seems okay. Her job at Yeshiva University isn’t always so terrible, but she’s redoing her résumé, so I guess she’s prepared to look around for a new position (though Ronna is usually slow to get started on things like that).
She’s been dating mostly Orthodox guys from her synagogue or from Yeshiva, but nobody’s clicked yet.
This summer most of her friends (her cousin Esty, Cara, others) seem to be pregnant with their second children.
Ronna probably will take a long vacation this summer, though she’d like to see her cousin in New Hampshire and she plans a weekend in Pennsylvania with Pat and Russ.
Billy and his girlfriend are coming up in August, between the end of the University of Florida summer session and the start of the fall term.
At 6:30 PM, we had dinner (burgers) at Marvin Gardens, and then I walked her back to her apartment, stopping at Han’s on the way to buy vegetables so she could make gazpacho.
Walking home on West End Avenue, I realized that at 38, I’m closer in age to 50 than I am to 25.
Misunderstanding Teresa’s message that said she’d be “back at 9 PM,” I cleared out of her bedroom. It was only when she called that I realized that she meant she’d be “back” at her house on Fire Island.
It had gotten cool enough to shut off the air conditioner, and after talking to Teresa about her problems with her housemate Mark and other people, I watched news reports of the Beijing massacre.
Tonight it appears that the soldiers have killed hundreds, maybe thousands, of protesters. But there continues to be popular resistance against the government, perhaps even from some military forces.
Civil war may break out, and there are rumors that Deng Xiaoping is dead. No doubt the massacre this weekend will become the first holiday of whatever government succeeds the present regime.
It was shocking to see a reform-minded Communist government resort to such force, and it makes me think that even Gorbachev might do the same thing if events get out of control in the Soviet Union.
In Poland, meanwhile, Solidarity scored a landslide win in the semi-free elections (though the Communists still have two-thirds control of the lower house of parliament).
Up at 8 AM, I exercised, read the Times, and packed for my trip to Rockaway.
Leaving the apartment at 11 AM, I took the IRT to the Junction and the bus to Beach 116th Street, where I deposited some ATM cash advances at Chase Manhattan and had pizza.
Then I walked here via the boardwalk. Grandma looks okay and seems fairly healthy.
She showed me a letter Jean Morse had dictated to her daughter: Jean is now at this adult residence on Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Her grandson is staying in her apartment.
Naturally, nobody here will sell their apartments because of the pending co-op deal. Grandma voted yes in the referendum, and if a majority of the residents do the same, everyone living here will soon receive a red herring (initial co-op offering).
Grandma and her neighbors probably won’t have to put in any money; instead, they’ll just exchange their current shares for shares in the new corporation.
Rents and maintenance will go up, but Grandma could sell out and make enough money to maybe move to Florida and live in a luxury adult home like Jean.
Some older tenants, like Tillie and Morris, are against the co-op deal, but it will be a noneviction plan.
Of course, it may take years to happen. Even if New York City real estate continues to depreciate, these beachfront apartments will probably be worth quite a bit, especially with luxury housing scheduled to be built on the huge empty Arverne tract nearby.
Teresa called to say that Ms. McIntyre of “FIC” called. I could tell the phone number was from FIU’s University Park campus, so it must have been the English Department in response to my résumé.
I called, but she wasn’t in, so I’ll call back tomorrow. (Not having a touchtone phone here is a pain, especially when I like to check my bank account via voice mail.)
Marc called to say hi to Grandma and wish me a belated happy birthday. I spoke to Jonathan and Mom last night.
Tomorrow I’ll go out and get two prescriptions for Grandma, do the laundry, and help her turn over her mattress and clean the bedroom.
It’s depressing here. All day Grandma has no visitors, and there’s nothing for her to do. If she didn’t feel depressed, there would be something wrong with her.
Friday, June 9, 1989
8 PM. Although I again had cramps and diarrhea when I got up this morning, basically my stomach finally quieted down today.
Last evening I finally got out my computer and entered “My Grandfather’s Other Son,” one of my favorite uncollected stories, into a file that will be for my Narcissism and Me chapbook.
Today I spoke to someone at Book Crafters in Michigan and we decided on black print over a white cover. I’m sure the project won’t take them all that long.
I was disappointed to see that The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was didn’t make the May volume of Forthcoming Books in Print, but I’m sure it will appear later on this year.
Last night Teresa was busy typing up menus and making phone calls. While she was on the typewriter, I watched The Stepfather on HBO.
I slept poorly on the futon, though I hope to make up for that tonight.
Like the past few days, today was rainy, only worse: it rained buckets most of the day.
I helped Teresa take out a shopping cart of food and cooking supplies at 9 AM.
Chris Bernau, the soap opera actor, was sitting on the lobby steps, and it was terribly embarrassing because he’s so crippled by AIDS that he couldn’t move out of the way.
He let out a really upsetting kind of moan as he tried to get up, but I used the little steps on the side to let him be. I felt so sorry for Chris, sensing that he must have felt both helpless and angry.
Well, maybe I’m projecting. “He was just waiting for a limousine to take him to Fire Island,” Teresa said dismissively as we walked to her car.
At 11 AM, I went to Teachers College, where I had lunch and finally registered. It took lots of discussion in the Student Aid Office to clear up the problems with my loan, but I paid the bill with my loan check and will net $3324.75 on June 23.
That’s the last student loan I’ll apply for. I’m taking three one-credit computer ed workshops (two in LOGO with Nancy Cunniff, one on problem-solving with Howard Budin) and Lucy’s Writing Institute for three credits.
Back here at 3 PM, I spoke to Justin; last night Larry called me. Apparently they had not gotten my first message a week ago. We made plans to meet tomorrow.
I have yet to call Sat Darshan, Mikey and Amy, or Scott, and Josh said he couldn’t have dinner with me tonight. With it raining so hard, I decided to stay in and have yogurt and rolls for dinner.
I worked out for twenty minutes with my 20-pound barbells and realized I’m not used to using such heavy weights anymore.
Later, Teresa left a message to say that she got drenched on the way to Fire Island with the food for tomorrow’s parties. Mike, her catering partner on these jobs, was supposed to pick up the microwave tonight, but so far he hasn’t called.
In China, Deng and Li were on TV, congratulating soldiers for killing students (now it seems over 3000 were killed). All over China, students and other pro-democracy people are being rounded up and jailed.
Saturday, June 10, 1989
6 PM. I’ve been feeling much better. My stomach settled down last night, and it finally turned sunny today.
Last evening I watched Wall Street Week. Everyone’s still bullish, expecting the vaunted “soft landing” to solve everything. We shall see.
Mike Levinson, a handsome guy, came over at 9 PM to take away the microwave, and after he left, I typed “My Life as an Old Comic” – a story just as good as “My Grandfather’s Other Son” – into the same word processing file for Narcissism and Me.
When I was in my twenties, my naïveté led me to write some good stories: I hadn’t yet learned what was “impossible” to do in fiction, so I did it anyway.
But after the publication of my first book, I felt self-conscious and aware that I was “a writer” and that certain things were expected of me.
Is there any way to recapture that innocence and sense of fun I once had? The careerists and the moneymakers of the 1980s spoiled everything for me.
I slept well but had disturbing dreams about the death of my cousin Jeff, who’ll be 21 this week. Even though I was his godfather, because of my animosity toward his parents, I haven’t seen Jeff since he was 15 – and before that, the last time I saw him was at his bar mitzvah, which was the last time I saw my cousin Wendy.
In the dream, I had to deal with my relationship with Marty and especially Arlyne. The unresolved conflict must still bother me, but probably not enough for me to try to do something about it.
WNYE/Channel 25, the Board of Ed station, runs Homestretch, an exercise show, at 8 AM and 8:30 AM seven days a week, and I began taping the show today so I can have a wider array of choices when I work out.
Today I exercised aerobically to a Body Pulse tape. Body Electric will always be my favorite, but Margaret Richard just does strength and toning exercises, and I need aerobics for my cardiovascular system and to burn fat.
At 11:30 AM, I stood in front of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center on West 13th Street off Seventh Avenue, waiting for Larry and Justin.
Yes, I did feel somewhat ill at ease because I don’t often identify myself in public as gay. But of course the men and women walking by and into the center were as boringly “normal” as myself, and I realized how much homophobia I’ve internalized.
Larry and Justin came along, and I hugged them after they presented me with a belated birthday card.
We went inside to see the exhibit of gay artists’ work that was scattered around the building, a ramshackle place that seems to serve every aspect of gay life in New York City, from seniors to teenagers, from A.A. to wrestlers, from lesbian mothers to gay businesspeople.
Most of the art was okay, but only a bathroom decorated with penises and people attached to them by the famous Keith Haring seemed special.
I did like an exhibit of news articles and photos about the Stonewall riot, whose twentieth anniversary is being commemorated this month.
I can remember reading the issue of the Village Voice that featured the uprising as its cover story. (The paper cost only 15¢ in 1969.)
The world has come a long way since June 1969, but it scares me to realize that twenty years have intervened.
As I told Justin and Larry, I was a cute 18-year-old, but I didn’t know it at the time, and when I finally started paying attention to things like that, I was no longer so slim, well-built or cute.
I enjoyed spending the day with Larry and Justin. We had lunch at Pizzeria Uno, then walked to Canal Street, where we looked at the flea market wares and stuff in other stores.
Unlike them, I hate shopping and have zero interest in acquiring tchotchkes. They bought several items that you would have had to pay me to take away.
How come I was born without the gene for acquisitiveness? All I can think when shopping is: If I owned that, it would just be a lot of trouble.
I guess there was once a time when I took pride in owning things, but I can’t remember that time clearly.
To me, Justin and Larry dress like nerds, but they’re much more interested in clothes than I am. That sounds bitchy, and that makes me feel bad because they’re such good friends.
The truth is, I’m a little too proud – hell, I’m probably insufferable – about my own disinclination toward possessions.
And I disparage people’s interest in tchotchkes, antiques, furniture, cars, cooking, houses, plants, etc., as trivial and even “feminine.”
11 PM. When Josh came over at 7:30 PM, I first saw him from the window, and as I was shaking his hand, it struck me how odd he looked.
He still wears those old-man clothes (it seems I’m making a habit of criticizing people’s wardrobes), and with a funny haircut (he’s getting grey, he said, but on his blond head, it doesn’t show) and his wire-rimmed glasses, he appeared kind of wild-eyed.
For the first half hour he was here, we chatted about my life and Tom and Crad and computers, but finally Josh got ready to tell me what he was waiting for: how the harassment has kept up, “seven days a week,” and how it still makes no sense.
I told him that the only way it made sense to me is if he was a paranoid reactive psychotic. Although that was difficult for me to say, I reminded Josh how he once told me not to humor him.
He became agitated but sounded fairly rational most of the evening. The tack he took was to tell me about suspicious incidents reported by Artie, by his co-worker Brynna, and by his Syracuse girlfriend Christine.
After all, if other people were experiencing this kind of harassment, then Josh couldn’t be imagining it.
However, I cut off the stories about people following his friends or making harassing phone calls to them. I said I’d never seen any evidence with my own eyes of a conspiracy and I still couldn’t believe it existed because it made no sense for someone to be doing this to Josh for fourteen months.
Unfortunately, I got sucked into just the kind of discussion I wanted to avoid: examining and discarding his theories about the origin of this “conspiracy.”
It must have seemed to him that I relented because I didn’t press my original view, but after spending three hours with Josh, I still believe he’s psychotic.
Clearly, he’s not schizophrenic, as Christine says, because he can talk reasonably about the absurdity and unbelievability of his situation.
A month ago, at Christine’s suggestion, he took a standard battery of psychological tests (TAT, Rorschach, MMPI) from a shrink in Syracuse. But the doctor, who spoke with Josh about the “conspiracy,” never sent him the results.
Josh wanted the doctor to keep the tests as evidence of his sanity in the event he’s killed. He gave me all those logs of his for the same reason, even though he acknowledges that they sound like they were written by a nut.
Ultimately, I’m going to have to decide how I want to handle our friendship. I expect I’ll wait for Josh to call me.
I don’t have that many friends these days, but it’s kind of sick to spend time ruminating over and over with Josh, as I did last summer, about this “harassment” when I don’t believe it exists.
Even if it’s real, there’s no advice I can give Josh except to see a shrink (to handle the stress), to take a vacation (he hasn’t, not all year), and to go on with his life as best he can.
Despite all the stress, Josh hasn’t taken a single sick day in all the months this has been going on – which further leads me to believe he’s psychotic. If you’re so bothered about being followed, why not just stay home for a day or two?
I need to get to sleep now.