A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1990
Thursday, July 12, 1990
8 PM. Tonight’s news is so fascinating, I’ve had to force myself to stop watching. Why fascinating? Because the excesses of the 1980s are now fully apparent to everyone, and the national mood is shifting.
It’s not entirely to my liking, of course: the NEA will probably survive, but I don’t want an NEA that only funds artists who are non-controversial. (A letter from PEN President Larry McMurtry that I got today ended, “The hour of doom approacheth.”)
I don’t know how the obscenity trials of the Cincinnati museum showing the Mapplethorpe photographs or the Florida cases concerning 2 Live Crew will turn out, and there’s a really ugly mood out there – with racial incidents, more homophobia than ever, and a misogynistic streak in the anti-abortion movement. Even comedy seems to be full of hate today.
On the other hand, I like what I see economically. Finally people are waking up to what happened in the last decade.
Neil Bush, the President’s son, is being scapegoated because he was a director of a Denver thrift that was into some crooked deals and whose bailout will cost over a billion dollars, but he was just one of thousands of people who took advantage of the way the country worked in the 1980s.
I did, too, of course, and facing imminent bankruptcy, I don’t regret my credit card pyramid scheme. It’s time for all of us to pay up in one way or another.
It’s been the coolest July day I can remember; like yesterday, it’s been chilly and gloomy and wet.
At Teachers College, I played Hidden Agenda, the simulation written by Jim Gasperini, who’s coming to our class on Monday.
It’s an extraordinary program in which the user plays the president of a Central American country, head of a broad coalition that’s just overthrown a dictator.
I had to make decisions about appointments and policies and accept the consequences. (When I surrendered after the third coup attempt, I got to read “the verdict of history.”)
Like Tom Snyder’s Decisions, Decisions but infinitely more complex, Hidden Agenda showed me what interactive fiction can do – and I’m terribly excited.
I had a moment of vertigo in the Teachers College cafeteria at lunch, but so far the dizziness hasn’t recurred. My nose is still pretty stuffed up.
My Stafford loan check finally came, so I’ll have access to $1700 in two weeks. It will still be tight, but I should be able to get through July and at least half of August.
This afternoon I spoke with Justin, who found himself back at Shearson on a temporary assignment, and with Pete, who’s just returned from Montreal, where “secession is in the air.”
No word from the Times or Newsday yet, but they’re obviously not taking my op-ed piece about the censorship of 2 Live Crew, and I’ll have to find a new market for it.
God, I’ve got a lot of work for school: being a full-time student carries a workload, too.
I wish I could turn my brain off for a while; maybe then I would sleep better. Perhaps the cold medicine is making me excited. I can’t seem to sit still – not even mentally.
Friday, July 13, 1990
9 PM. My cold is hanging on longer than I would have expected, given how I felt earlier in the week. Still, I didn’t let it stop me from doing anything today, though I’ve felt tired and my nose has been congested. (I’ve forced myself to blow out the most disgusting-looking green gobs.)
When I spoke to Grandma Ethel this evening, she said my unemployment check and claim form hadn’t arrived, and I won’t go to Rockaway this weekend unless it comes in tomorrow’s mail. If it comes on Monday, I’ll go there on Tuesday, and if not, I’ll call Tallahassee.
Luckily, since I was able to deposit $1000 in cash advances today and I’ve got the student loan check coming in two weeks, I’m not as concerned as I otherwise would be. Still, I added up my average monthly payments and the total is over $8000 – so it’s clear this credit chassis can’t go on much longer.
The latest government statistics show a better-than-predicted economy, and the Dow hit 3000 today before pulling back to what was another record high.
For the first time in over a year, I saw Ravi Batra on TV this evening; he’s now predicting a series of small stock market crashes and rising interest rates – just the opposite of what we’re getting now – and a recession by the end of this year and a depression by mid-1991.
I read in today’s Wall Street Journal that gloomy economists “predicted four of the last zero recessions,” and I figure that Ravi Batra and I are in the same category.
Nevertheless, even if hard times never happen, it’s now clear that the excesses of the ’80s have created some big messes, and not only in the economy.
Today was another very cool (jacket required) day, and pretty gloomy, too. I spent most of the day inside, reading, though I did meet Alice for dinner at Szechuan Broadway.
At her doctor’s, Alice was told she probably has an allergy, not a cold, but she seemed dubious about that diagnosis. For myself, I’d much rather have a cold because when a cold is over, it’s over – though Alice’s doctor said that due to increased pollution, more and more people are having bad allergy attacks.
I helped Alice (or so she said) select topics for the workshops at the Long Beach Writers’ Conference, and I made suggestions about people (I strongly recommended Steve Kowit to teach poetry), formats, and other details.
It’s hard for me to believe Cal State Long Beach is letting Alice do this, but she’s going ahead on the assumption it’s a done deal. Even for just a $100 honorarium, even if I have to pay my own plane fare, it will be worth it for me to finally get to Southern California.
I’d better find out the exact dates soon so I can block out the time. If I could, I’d like to spend more than just the weekend in L.A.
Alice and Peter leave Monday for a two-week press tour of Israel; they’d prefer it to be shorter, but since it’s free, they can’t complain.
Alice finally told me the idea for a diet book she’s been keeping secret. The title is The Last Ten Pounds: How to Finally Lose Them or Live with Them Guiltlessly, which sounds pretty good.
And she finally got an agent (not her usual one at ICA) who’s interested in the proposal for a book about her and Peter’s relationship.
At the subway, I hugged Alice goodbye and she thanked me for my help with the Long Beach conference.
Last night I called Ronna to check if I’d given her my cold; she felt fine, though she had already fallen asleep early.
I’d like to finish The Human Factor: Revolutionizing the Way People Live with Technology, but the book is slow going because every page reminds me how hard it will be to design my project for Interactive Screenwriting Interface Design.
Monday, July 16, 1990
5 PM. It was great to see a clear expanse of blue sky as I walked up the stairs of the subway at Grand Army Plaza yesterday afternoon.
After calling Larry and Justin, who weren’t home, I walked to the library, which was closed.
It was 3:15 PM or so, and I decided to look in at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I hadn’t been there in years, and I’d heard a lot about the new Steinhardt Conservatory.
So I entered on Eastern Parkway and walked east to the herb garden, where I spent some time, and then to the Japanese garden, which I’ve always liked. People seemed in a good mood because the sun was finally shining and the weather was warm.
I looked in at the Garden for the Blind and the Shakespeare garden featuring flowers and plants mentioned in his plays; I remembered both of those places from my childhood and adolescence.
A photo of me with blond hair falling across my forehead, standing in front of a tea plant here is a remembrance of a visit I made with Jonathan when he was nine. That was twenty years ago, in the summer of 1970.
That was a good summer. I was in summer school and I’d started to make friends with Mark Savage and other LaGuardia Hall people, and I was exploring new places and feeling better about myself .
Following the Trail of Evolution in the massive but delicate Steinhardt Conservatory, I looked at the text that accompanied plants associated with each geologic age; it made me wish I’d paid more attention to my science studies.
I loved the Bonsai Museum, which was a favorite of mine twenty years ago when bonsais were exotic. It occurred to me that in the U.S., we’d have never thought of bonsais because, unlike Japan, our country is too vast.
Going through rooms of ferns and lily pads and the three greenhouses (tropical, temperate, and desert), I wiped my brow a lot.
After finding the bathroom, I looked in the glass-enclosed Palm Court, where a Jewish wedding reception was being held: as if following the cliché, guests were doing the hora to “Hava Nagila.”
After that, I made my way, mostly through the shade, to the exit at Flatbush Avenue and Empire Boulevard, where I caught the bus at the first stop.
Flatbush Avenue was vibrant with shoppers down to about Beverly Road.
There’s a very large black middle class in the heart of Brooklyn, and many of them – like my fellow bus passengers – are West Indian, Haitian, Central American or Guyanese. These people seem very much like the Jews who populated the same stores and streets of Flatbush in the ’50s and ’60s.
I got the Rockaway bus and transferred in Neponsit so I wouldn’t have to walk along Beach 116th Street.
But Key Food was closed, so I ended up having to walk back to Waldbaum’s anyway, to get frozen diet dinners. (Waldbaum’s is the only New York City store where I’ve been able to get the excellent Kiban Gold products.)
When I arrived at Grandma Ethel’s apartment, she was watching TV with Lillian, and it was Lillian who first told me that Grandma fell last night. Her arm was badly bruised, and so were her calves.
Grandma said she was standing in the kitchen, trying to return to the bedroom when her hands started trembling and she became dizzy. She couldn’t hold on and fell, finally crawling into the living room and using a chair to upright herself.
Later, after I’d eaten dinner, I heard a crash in the sink: Grandma had been trying to take my dish from the drain board to the cabinet when her hands started to tremble and she dropped the dish.
Naturally, she was upset, so to distract her, I finally told her the story of my car accident, and then we watched TV.
It’s funny what I see with Grandma: last night Married with Children and its smutty sexual humor and this morning a Joan Rivers talk show all about penis size, orgasms and oral sex. Half of it probably goes right past her.
I slept okay but not enough, and I exercised, very lightly because my legs hurt after yesterday’s unaccustomed walking.
Leaving Grandma’s at 10 AM, I deposited my unemployment check at the Chase branch on Beach 116th Street and mailed in the claim form for the next check.
On the Rockaway bus, I sat in the back, by the right window, and this disheveled guy about my age sat on the left window seat, lying across three seats. As I looked out, he said something I couldn’t quite make out.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I said, I just don’t have any strength,” he told me, and I nodded sympathetically.
A couple of minutes later, he said, “I can’t get too excited.”
Again, I made the same gesture, realizing the man was mentally ill.
“Do you think there’s more hate than love in the world or is it the reverse?” he asked me.
I smiled and said, “I wish I knew. That’s a good question.”
Later he blurted out, “Sometimes I think I have a thousand psychiatrists.” And: “I really don’t believe in it, psychiatry.”
“They help people,” I offered.
“Yes, but some of mine were covert psychiatrists, not overt ones,” he said, and I mused to myself how covert and overt came to be seen as antonyms (the CIA in Nicaragua?).
“If a psychiatrist isn’t really a psychiatrist,” he said, “then maybe his help is only middling.”
To which I replied, “That could be.”
Later, on Flatbush Avenue, he said, “Sometimes I think I should make a movie. Born Famous, it would have to be called,” and before the last stop at the Junction, he said, “Sometimes I give myself autographs.”
I said that while I didn’t collect them, I thought some baseball players charged for their autographs, and he seemed to appreciate the suggestion.
For some reason I thought about writing this down, about using the experience in fiction, about what I’d been thinking: about Crad Kilodney’s contempt for people, whether Grandma might have Parkinson’s disease or some other neurological disorder, and how gorgeous a work of engineering the Marine Parkway Bridge is.
Funny, it seemed all of a sudden that I could get a novel a day from my experience.
At home, I had lunch and looked at the mail. Despite my unemployment check and the first travel/expenses check from Florida International University that I got today, I have to hold back making my credit card payments – but only because my Discover accounts asked for full payment of my overlimits of $900.
At least I don’t get dunning notices the way Teresa does. She got a call from one creditor, and when I gave her the message, Teresa didn’t want to hear it.
Her two pieces of mail today were from a collection agency to which AmEx turned over her account – which is in her mother’s name – and an overdue notice from LILCO about the power bill.
I humored her the way I did the man on the bus when she said, “Fifteen days [till Brian’s wife goes back to Europe] . . . Keep your fingers crossed.” Teresa can be so childish in her relationships with men that it’s poignant – but also a bit silly.
I did the laundry and read the papers. Sixteen states are in or near recession, the Bush administration just upped the projected budget deficit for next year, and middle class people of all races are leaving New York City for far suburbs or other areas.
I have school tonight.
Tuesday, July 17, 1990
10 PM. I was fascinated by our class last evening. Jim Gasperini, the writer of Hidden Agenda, gave a talk on how the game evolved from his desire to educate North Americans about the situation in Nicaragua.
Using a system called DEUS development by two programming people, Jim was able to script the program over a period of a couple of years. The early screen prototypes and capabilities were so inferior to the final interface that you could see how much thought and work had gone into the program.
Although the program has sold well to schools – it’s used at the Foreign Service Institute – and gotten good reviews, the audience for such a different kind of simulation game other than the usual arcade types is very small, and Hidden Agenda hasn’t made much money.
Jim talked about interactive fiction and suggested that whatever he’s working on, it’s probably a new narrative form that isn’t literature, visual art, film, drama or video.
And while the possibilities are endless and the future could be exciting, startup costs are high and you may end up using a Hollywood movie budget for a PBS-sized audience.
Also, there’s no hardware or software that can really take advantage of multimedia. Video and computers are still far from merging, at least in the average person’s home. The VCR had all that product: decades of film and TV shows.
After class, I told Jim that I loved Hidden Agenda and think he’s doing very innovative work.
Up at 6 AM today, I worked out at 6:30 AM and then read yesterday’s newspaper and did some chores before the cleaning woman came at 9:30 AM. She needed some supplies, which I bought, and then I left her alone for the day.
Taking some copies of my chapbooks, I left them at the various ATMs in which I got cash advances as I made my way up Broadway: Goldome, Manny Hanny, Marine Midland, Anchor, and finally, Chemical at 91st Street, where I deposited my money.
Tonight when I came back from the Food Emporium, I saw that my chapbooks at the ATMs were all gone. Perhaps it’s a silly way to distribute them, but maybe they’re reaching people who can appreciate my stories.
ATM users tend to be younger professionals, and in this neighborhood, that includes people who are tastemakers, to use Tannenbaum’s term. We’ll see how it goes, but after all, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” in Narcissism and Me is about an ATM transaction.
I got a kind and thoughtful handwritten note from Quentin Crisp, thanking me for the books I sent him. The man has more class in his pinky than most people do in their whole bodies.
At the Teachers College computer lab, I worked from 11 AM to 3 PM, with a break for lunch. Because my PC-Write shareware isn’t working, I’ve converted all my files to Microsoft Word and I’m learning how to use that program better.
All I was doing was schoolwork, and I’ll probably need to go back to the lab tomorrow.
When I got home, I turned on the air conditioner – it hit 90° but it won’t get humid until tomorrow – and watched the stock market close once again at 2999.75, the second day the Dow couldn’t make it to 3000.
Thursday, July 19, 1990
Noon. It’s another hot, humid, hazy day with an ozone alert. I’m about to go to the National Car Rental place on 77th Street and get a car to take me to Long Island.
I’ll try not to stay too long or vent whatever anger I have toward Crad. He doesn’t need my unsolicited advice on how to run his life. Then I’ll go to Rockaway, have dinner, and sleep over, returning the car by noon tomorrow.
This morning I got up at 6:30 AM and exercised, had breakfast, checked my bank accounts by phone, listened to NPR and read the paper. Teresa asked if I could pay the August rent early, so I deposited a check in her Citibank account.
The rent hasn’t been paid on her East Side apartment and she’s behind in her mortgage and maintenance payments. Teresa needs to rent this apartment for at least $750 so she can make up the shortfall on the other apartment’s payments, which are $300 more than the rent she’s been getting there.
She said she might even give up this apartment if she can’t rent it: “I’ve made the emotional break with the Upper West Side already.”
On bus shelters and lampposts I see notices about rents and sublets and roommate deals that would have seemed ludicrously low a few years ago. Welcome to the 1990s, New York.
2 AM. I expect this may be a sleepless night, and I’ve got a stressful day coming up tomorrow, so I thought the best thing I could do for myself is write.
My visit to Crad went okay, as I stayed in Plainview from 2 PM to 6 PM. I put my foot in my mouth right away when Crad gave me his latest tape: I thanked him but said I really haven’t enjoyed his recent tapes and was offended by the way he ridiculed the man who didn’t know who Margaret Atwood was.
We argued about his latest tape – not the one he gave me today but his “What causes the seasons?” man-on-the-street survey. I said I’m not sure it was necessary to know what causes the seasons and we went round and round about education.
Crad is an elitist jerk (“How can BCC call itself a college when . . . ?”). Fuck him, I don’t want to give space to his ranting.
Actually, most of this afternoon’s discussion was fairly benign, and I kept my anger hidden, though I now recall how Crad greeted me last year by saying, “Wow, you put on weight,” and this year he didn’t say a word about my forty-pound weight loss.
He didn’t acknowledge my weight loss – and he’s never done so in a single letter as I’ve told him the progress of my diet – until his parents returned from the doctor and the first thing they said was how thin I’d become.
The real question I need to ask myself about Crad is why he bothers me so much. After all, it’s his mishigass, and as much as I’d like to detail it, I’d be doing what Teresa does when she complains about seeing a married man: discussing Crad’s behavior with a certain relish that seems to say I’m enjoying what I’m kvetching about.
After all, I could be amused by what Crad says and does. No, I think what’s going on is I see part of myself in Crad and don’t like that side of me at all.
Although I’m not sleepy, I’m too tired to figure this out now.
I returned to Manhattan tonight because when I got to Grandma Ethel’s at 7 PM and had dinner, I read the notice from Unemployment, which said I had to report to the local office within ten days from the day the letter was sent.
It was dated July 10, so I have to go to Jamaica tomorrow, and I need to return the rental car in the morning. So I left Rockaway at 8:30 PM and came here via the Belt, the tunnel and up the West Side.
My First Card $5000 Visa line was canceled, temporarily perhaps, because I’ve gone over the credit line too often, and I find that the checks I wrote to cover the bills I got today put my Chase account $2500 in the red.
Yes, I’ve still got $500 in Chemical and this week I should be getting nearly $2100 from unemployment and student loan checks, but that’s not going to help much.
My State Street secured MasterCard account expires next month, and if I cancel the card and get back my original deposit plus interest minus the money I owe them, I should net $500.
Even if I can stay here in Manhattan in September, I’m better off financially going to Grandma’s and renting a car with my Diners Club card, as I did today. (I had no fear of driving although I hadn’t been behind the wheel since the accident).
That way I can avoid paying September rent and instead use my $5000 Diners Club credit line, which still has over $4000 available on it.
As much as I’ve talked about it, I haven’t really accepted the reality of bankruptcy.
Saturday, July 21, 1990
11:30 PM. Last night Denis finally got back to me by phone, and we agreed to try to arrange a meeting soon.
In addition to being busy with his legal work for the mentally ill and the Kraine Gallery, Denis has sold two children’s books and several articles to Penthouse.
Denis mentioned that Josh showed him an article he wrote about people harassing him, and after Denis said he liked it, Josh told him it was all true.
So Josh still believes his paranoid fantasies, and I think Denis is half-convinced because Josh isn’t like the crazy people he works with.
I guess once a friend tells Josh he doesn’t believe the harassment is real – how could it be, after 26 months? – he looks for new people to convince, at least for a time.
Josh is screwed up, and while I wish I could help him, I’m not going to be like Crad and deal with a paranoid person – in Crad’s case, Judith. (I told Crad that he should get away from Judith as fast as he can; since he won’t heed my advice, I asked him never to complain to me about Judith again.)
When I called Dad this morning before he left for the flea market, I said that I wished I had the Sgt. Pepper album so I could play “When I’m 64” for his birthday today.
Although I had intended to spend today on schoolwork, I put aside my plans after Pete phoned and invited me to join him at 2 PM for the jazz brunch at Sweet Basil on Seventh Avenue South in the Village.
Pete said that Dalkey Archives turned down his manuscript and the only places it’s still at are Marion Boyers and City Lights. If they don’t want it, Burning Books in San Francisco will probably publish it, but Pete would have to come up with some funding and he doesn’t want to do that.
The jazz band of four old black men (including, Pete informed me, one of Dinah Washington’s husbands, Eddie Chamblee, on sax) was quite good, at least to my ears, and as I sat at our table picking at my salad and drinking Poland water, I tried to really get into the music.
I kept thinking, I should do this more often, and then I had an insight: What really bugs me about Crad is his rigidity and unwillingness to change, and that’s the very quality I hate in myself.
Yes, I’ve channeled my obsessive behavior into discipline that helped me meet goals in diet, exercise, education, my diary writing, my past prolific story-writing, etc. – but I’ve also allowed my life to become mechanical, routinized, lacking in spontaneity.
Pete, a Supreme Court buff, and I talked about what effects William Brennan’s sudden resignation last night would have.
Bush obviously needs to appoint a right-wing justice to shore up his restive conservative supporters, but I think the Republican strategists realize that overturning Roe v. Wade will make the abortion issue a big factor in elections, and the majority of Americans are pro-choice.
It had just started drizzling as I exited the IRT at 86th Street at 4 PM, and a couple of hours later, a heavy downpour broke the heat wave.
Figuring the deluge probably scared people away from Shakespeare in the Park, I walked briskly to the Delacorte Theater after scarfing down dinner. And I was right: I got a ticket to the penultimate performance of The Taming of the Shrew.
It was a superb production, and the Wild West setting, costumes, accents and manners seemed apropos. Tracey Ullman and Morgan Freeman made a sexy Kate and Petruchio, and there was good slapstick and a sensuous sweetness in the play.
Luckily, I had tissues from my cold so I could dry off my seat, and I gave away tissues to people around me to do the same.
I’m glad I decided to go to the play on the spur of the moment. While I’d rather have gone there with someone, I’m glad I didn’t spend another Saturday night at home – even if I didn’t get any work done.