A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Friday, June 7, 1991
10 PM. Before I left the apartment at 4 PM, I wrote, read (I’m almost finished with One L and felt relieved to see things slacked off for Turow in the spring term, when he managed to take entire weekends off), and spoke with Teresa, who’s still under the impression that my birthday is June 6.
She told me she’d be in the city next week and that I should come to her parents’ house in Williamsburg; they won’t be leaving for Mattituck till the end of the month, but they want to show me stuff about the house and let me use it on weekends.
Although I’ve gotten used to Rockaway and intend to base my summer here, it sure would be handy to have an apartment to sleep over when I’m in the city on nights like tonight, tomorrow, and last Saturday. I told Teresa I’d call her early next week.
Tom wrote that he’ll be in New York next week – seeing Debra, mostly. She’s planning to take a year off from Princeton to teach in Stuttgart next year. Anyway, Tom gave me a Manhattan number to call.
I left the apartment at 4:15 PM and was at the Junction by 5 PM and Borough Hall half an hour later.
With time to kill, I went to the Business Library and looked up abstracts of articles about law school on the CD-ROM periodicals index and read recent issues of American Banker.
All the banks are in trouble – big New York City banks should start merging soon – and so is real estate, though the recession looks to be nearly over.
Despite a rise in the unemployment rate to 6.9%, payrolls grew in May, the first job growth in nearly a year. I guess Mom and Dad lucked out in getting their mortgage rate converted to fixed when they did, because interest rates are rising now.
The Brooklyn-bound IRT trains were delayed, but Alice was only fifteen minutes late when she came out of the Clark Street station elevator in the St. George Hotel.
Feeling hungry, we stopped at the first restaurant we passed, Chang’s on Montague off Henry Street. Most Chinese restaurants have diet or health plates now, and I had chicken with steamed veggies.
I knew Alice would want to hear about Gainesville and law school, but I got that out of the way as soon as I could because I was interested in hearing about her for a change.
Last week she taught at a writers’ conference in Wyoming and was terrific – as usual. Alice’s public appearances have convinced her that she could be a talk show host and do what Donahue or Oprah does.
While I know Alice likes to think positive, I was astounded at her naïveté. She knows absolutely nothing about TV or radio, but she kept saying how easy it was and how this star or that one got a job even as I countered by saying that most of these people worked their way up after many years.
We talked about public access cable TV, and the possibility of a diet show. I feel bad if I discouraged her too much about being a talk show host, but it seems wildly unrealistic to me.
I gave her my Food and Nutrition text for her book project, which is coming along okay – although Alice says she feels burned out as a writer and plans to write less in the future.
She’s better at ideas anyway. As a book packager using the name Green Light Books, Alice and her partner have eight book ideas either being circulated to publishers or being turned into outlines by authors.
At least book packaging is a field Alice knows something about.
Her birthday gift was to me was not only dinner but a $40 gift certificate for B. Dalton. What a terrific present!
After dinner, we sat out on the Promenade – already, lots of sailors and soldiers are in town for Monday’s parade – and talked for an hour or so.
Alice told me she plans to spend the rest of her life not just in Manhattan but in the West Village.
I recall how after Alice moved out of Brooklyn, she was slightly condescending about my living with my parents in our old neighborhood. But Alice has lived longer in one place – all the while professing a desire for another apartment – than anyone I know.
I guess that while I berate myself for not changing my life enough, most people (Alice, Josh, Pete, Tom, Ronna, Elihu) prefer the security of a steady job even if it’s not an ideal situation.
On the train coming home, I thought about another difference between Alice and me: I hate traveling and she goes everywhere, but she has absolutely no sense of place.
She once thought Hawaii was an island just off the California coast and assumed Orlando was very close to Miami. I can see she doesn’t even have a clear map of New York City in her head.
It seems odd to me because I’m so aware of geography – perhaps because I learned to love maps at an early age.
Anyway, Alice is glad that the house on East 51st Street is finally sold – for $157,000, which is pretty good for a sixty-year-old house even if it took a year and a $20,000 price reduction.
The West Indian guy sitting next to me on the train was anxious to get home in time to see the Bulls-Lakers NBA championship game, telling me he wanted Michael Jordan to triumph over Magic Johnson. He said he lived on East 56th Street and I told him I knew that block well.
I just made the 9 PM Q35 bus at the Junction and got back here at 9:45 PM.
Why is it, when you have to go to the bathroom, the urgency intensifies as you get closer to home? It’s always worst in the elevator on your way up.
Sunday, June 9, 1991
5 PM. Life suddenly got busier this week as I began my 41st year with what for me is an active social life.
While I spent a lot of time on public transportation, I also saw a number of good friends like Ronna, Alice, Sat Darshan and Mikey.
Last evening I left at 5:30 PM and decided to see if it was a better ride into the city on the subway. It was.
I got on the el here with tons of Hispanic teenage beachgoers, but at least they all got on at one time – unlike on the bus – and we didn’t get stuck in traffic.
Both the H train here at Beach 105th Street and the A train at Broad Channel came within minutes; at Jay Street, I transferred to the F and get off at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue.
Walking east, I passed Baruch College and the School of Visual Arts, schools where I worked briefly – yet I’m still not that familiar with the neighborhood.
In front of Rolf’s, a kitschy old German restaurant, I met Sat Darshan and her friend Diane, a Chinese-American New Englander who works on the trading floor at Bayerische Landesbank.
They told some funny stories about the eccentrics they work with, but both were disappointed that another friend said she was too depressed about being unemployed and broke to be up to meeting us.
The party we went to was held at the apartment of a friend of their fellow BLB employee Maura, a manic, zany type. The hostess, Farah, and her sister had just put out lots of food although we also brought stuff. Luckily, there was selection of crudités and fruits for me.
The only guest who arrived before us was Alex, a new BLB employee in his early twenties who just moved from Munich last week. Alex seemed in culture shock, as anyone would be; his only other visit to America was a three-week vacation in Florida last year.
Despite our vows to meet new people, Sat Darshan and I still had time to talk to each other.
She told me that the girls were with their father, who was taking them to a dance recital featuring his girlfriend, whom he plans to marry in a couple of weeks even though the divorce papers haven’t arrived yet.
Sat Darshan doesn’t relish divorced status, and I think the worst part of the past year was when her Indian friend, BJ, told her he didn’t want to marry her.
They met because he was a Sikh interested in marriage, and although he likes Sat Darshan as a friend, she hoped to get into a new relationship.
(Just now it occurs to me that for most of the twenty years I’ve known her, she’s almost always been in a relationship. Most recently she went from Helmut to Josh to Simon to Anthony/Krishna with few breaks in between.)
BJ didn’t show up for the party, which disappointed her, but I was glad to see Jay, who came with Roz, the woman he now lives with.
I reminded Jay that the last time I saw him was it Sat Darshan’s wedding in the summer of 1980. Jay looked at me blankly and said he didn’t remember being there (with Rita, his then ex-wife, who at the time he was pretending he was still married to) even though Sat Darshan told him he was the photographer.
In fact, she said, she’d recently destroyed all the wedding photos Jay had taken.
(This all makes me think Ronna is smart to go slow when men propose marriage to her.)
Jay got his chiropractic degree in Georgia and has a Manhattan office not far from his apartment, but he’s planning a move to Colorado.
He said it’s too expensive to work in New York: “If you look at my gross, it’s fantastic, but because so much of my profit goes to landlords and such, I’m not netting all that much.” (I see Jay still thinks like an accountant.)
As the apartment got increasingly crowded with late-arriving partygoers, Sat Darshan became upset by the cigarette smoke and the loud music, so when Jay told us about Swagat, a great Indian restaurant nearby, we picked up and left: me, Sat Darshan, Jay and Roz, Diane and Alex.
They were about to shut down the kitchen at 11 PM, but they kept it open a little later for us and we ended up closing the place. I stuck to mild vegetarian food, and it was fine – especially the lentils and basmati rice.
We all said goodbye after I paid the check using my credit card (I needed the $80 in cash I collected), and the owner unlocked the restaurant door so we could leave.
Since it was so late, Sat Darshan and I took a cab to her apartment on Bergen Street. When we walked in, Krishna said hi, but he and his girlfriend (who’s not a Sikh) looked annoyed that we were coming in so late.
After they left, Sat Darshan said it was probably the latest she had stayed out and stayed up in a number of years.
As she made me comfortable in a futon in the girls’ bedroom – they were already asleep in her room – Sat Darshan told me that, ideally, she would like to go to live in Amritsar, where she could worship at the Golden Temple and learn Punjabi.
Then she sighed and said, “But things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”
With the expense of the girls’ school, Sat Darshan is barely scraping by financially. An Indian Sikh would be a better provider than an American man, but as an older divorced woman with kids, she isn’t considered marriageable.
There’s now a sadness about Sat Darshan that I didn’t see last fall.
I barely slept, aware that I was intruding on Gurudaya and Gurujot (the former still seems whiny, the latter a complete neat freak, but I guess it’s how she controls what’s been a chaotic life), and so at 6 AM, when Gurudaya cried, “I can’t go in there!” I roused myself and said, “Sure you can, I’m up,” and let her have the bedroom.
I headed to the kitchen, where I had breakfast: cold milk from the refrigerator on oatmeal and grits from packets I’d brought.
Perhaps it was rude to leave the apartment without saying goodbye to Sat Darshan, but I didn’t want to wake her and there was no reason for me to stay.
So I left Sat Darshan a note and went out at 6:45 AM. Although I was still bleary-eyed, I managed to hop on a dollar van at Livingston Street that made it down Flatbush Avenue to the Junction by 7:25 AM.
(As we passed Grand Army Plaza, they were readying the stands for Welcome Back to Brooklyn Day, an annual event now.)
Buses to Beach 116th Street and Far Rockaway got me home before 8 AM.
After I exercised and showered, I fell asleep until I was awakened by a call from Harold, who had good news.
No, he didn’t get the job he interviewed for at Minneapolis Community College, but they offered him a one-year full-time temporary appointment, and he’s taking it because they said it will become permanent unless they have budget cuts.
After all, he’s got only an adjunct position at John Jay. Besides, now he can leave New York City for the first time and see how life is in the Twin Cities, where he’ll have a good salary.
Harold is happy to say goodbye to the rats and collapsed ceiling in his East Village apartment.
I congratulated him and said we’d get together before we both left town.
Speaking of academic hiring, Sat Darshan told me that Ellen and Wade are moving to College Station because Wade was hired at Texas A&M, where they gave Ellen a position, too.
Although he was offered a similar deal at the University of Iowa, Wade found Iowa City so depressing because of the bad economy that he had to choose Texas, which is recovering from the oil bust and is Sun Belt-prosperous.
In Gainesville, two more female college students were murdered, but they already caught the guy. All of the murders were southwest of UF, and my apartment is northeast of the campus.
Mom said Dad has a bad cold but will be in New York tomorrow, the day of the big Gulf War homecoming parade.
When I saw the first soldiers on Friday in Brooklyn Heights, I reflexively smiled at them. Last night in Manhattan, there were lots of military people about, and on the Rockaway bus, I heard one guy in a camouflage uniform say how people in New York were being so nice to him.
Monday, June 10, 1991
4 PM. I’m going to leave for Manhattan soon, taking the A train all the way, hoping to bypass a tie-up downtown due to the big parade, which started five hours ago and is still going strong.
Although I was having diarrhea when Dad called at 2 PM and told me to meet him at the Days Inn at 6 PM, I feel better now.
I’m not going to take my diary with me because I want to carry only my blue nylon bag and can’t vouch for its safety; besides, it would take up too much space.
I might stay over Tuesday and Wednesday in Manhattan, too; we’ll see how it goes.
If I catch Dad’s cold, at least I’ll know I’ve been forewarned. I doubt I will get sick because I had a cold only a month ago; anyway, I’d rather be sick again now than when I’m in law school.
I finally finished reading the newspapers last evening and got to sleep at about 11 PM.
Tired when I awoke despite seven hours’ solid sleep, I exercised lightly and went to Woodmere to see Grandma Ethel, arriving just as the aide took her for a shower.
She’s still complaining about her mouth and tongue, but at least they’ve given her some medicine to put on it.
When Grandma returned from her shower, we watched the start of the ticker-tape parade and then sat out on the terrace.
I told her about my activities and Aunt Tillie’s illness, but as usual, I couldn’t do anything to help relieve Grandma’s despair.
“What am I living for?” she sighed, and all I could say was, “I know how terrible you feel.”
Marty, who visited her yesterday, says he’s not ready to give up this apartment because he’s too busy with his new business. Grandma lamented Marty’s recent weight gain, which she said is caused by “aggravation.”
I realize that I’m fighting genetics as I continue to monitor my diet. My family is prone to be overweight.
Marc began the Jenny Craig program, Mom said, but unless he completely changes the way he eats, as I have, Marc will go back to the yo-yo syndrome.
I wish I had time to work on my diary book, but I’m sure I’ll finish it before I leave New York for Florida.
Well, here I go to Manhattan.
Wednesday, June 12, 1991
7:30 PM. I’ve been away for a couple of days, and it was nice change for me.
Not only did I get to spend time in Manhattan – something I took for granted when I lived at Teresa’s – but I got to see Dad and stay at a hotel.
Since I’m so obsessive and compulsive, I like to have to deal with sleeping in different places, and over the past week I’ve spent four nights somewhere other than Grandma’s, either at the hotel or at Ronna’s or Sat Darshan’s.
At least during rush hour when trains run more frequently, the long A train ride from Rockaway seems a better way to travel to the city than going to Brooklyn by bus and then getting the subway.
On Monday I got to the Days Inn at 5:45 PM. But there was no answer when I knocked at the room number Dad had given me.
Thinking he might not have heard me, I phoned his room, and when I got no answer, I figured he’d been delayed.
I waited in the lobby nearly an hour and began getting worried when suddenly Dad came down in the elevator.
He’d been in the room all the time but didn’t hear my knock, and his room number wasn’t the number of the phone extension I’d called.
Anyway, we were both starving by then, so we went out to dinner at Circle West.
Dad’s cold got better, he said, and his Wednesday afternoon appointment was moved up to Tuesday, so he had Wednesday free, and because he had a non-cancellable flight, he couldn’t leave earlier.
We went for an after-dinner walk around Midtown, where we saw people still just coming back from the Welcome Home parade. Supposedly, there were over one million people downtown, but that seems unimaginable.
Dad and I made our way through various streets and avenues and ended up eating frozen yogurt at the fountain by Lincoln Center. My bag weighed me down, but it was good stamina training.
When we got back to the hotel, Dad gave me my own key (electronic card) to his room and he showed me my mail, which was mostly junk – although the results of my GRE Subject Test in Education did finally come: I scored in the 93rd percentile.
Dizzy and achy, I slept sporadically and was up early, before Dad left for work at the Empire State Building around 8:30 AM.
After breakfast – I got hot water to make oatmeal and grits and also bought nonfat yogurt and a banana – I lay in the hotel room bed, catching up on my rest. It seems I can’t seem to let myself relax like that at home.
Up at Teachers College, I looked at the summer session catalog and decided I’ve already taken most of the interesting courses: Howard Budin’s computer workshops, AIDS Education, Computers and the Arts, Creativity and Gifted Education, and the Teaching of Writing Conference.
Still, I liked being back at Teachers College, where I had a salad in the cafeteria and wandered about the familiar halls.
The M5 bus took me back to Midtown, where I ate in what must be the most elegant McDonald’s in America, with its art deco dining room on the second floor overlooking West 57th Street.
At B. Dalton, I decided to use the $40 gift certificate Alice got me for my birthday for something practical: the $38 Black’s Law Dictionary, which weighed a ton.
Back at the hotel, I rested, read the Times – Miami, along with Denver, will be given a new baseball franchise – and did impromptu exercise for half an hour.
Dad was back at 6:30 PM, and over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he told me his income will be cut drastically this year.
Business remains bad, department stores continue to disappear, and none of the buyers know who Introspect is since they haven’t begun advertising the name yet.
Because he’s turning 65 next month, Dad applied for Medicare and can collect Social Security benefits whenever he’s able to retire. Since his checks currently would be less than $1000 a month, of course, Dad can’t retire for the foreseeable future.
As far as money is concerned, Dad never planned for the future at all, and I guess it’s a trait I’ve inherited.
At least I watch what I eat. Dad ate so much of the mu shu vegetables that he felt bloated afterward and his stomach still bothered him this morning.
Since I lost weight, I always plan ahead when I’m eating out.
Another example of my cautious nature is always making sure I having an umbrella handy. But that sure didn’t help me later in the evening, when Dad and I went to Central Park for the opening celebration of the Met’s 25th season of opera outdoors.
We arrived as Mayor Dinkins was speaking, and while we didn’t have a blanket or a picnic basket from Zabar’s, we found a good bench where we could hear Luciano Pavarotti’s voice and see James Levine’s conducting the orchestra in an all-Verdi program.
Suddenly, though, we were engulfed in a downpour. Despite my umbrella, Dad got soaked and I got totally wet, too.
We tramped through the mud with thousands of other opera fans, getting drenched in the process. Back at the hotel, we dried off and went to bed.
Today Dad and I first tried to get into the Museum of Modern Art, which I didn’t know is closed on Wednesday, and then we went to the Gotham Book Mart and to an exhibit about Broadway musicals at the IBM Building
At Worldwide Plaza, at my urging, we saw Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever.
I realized that the scenes of Annabella Sciorra walking up to her house, which I saw being filmed last September around the corner from our old block, were actually put in different parts of the movie.
So Spike hadn’t actually been asking her to do the same scene over and over; it was several scenes, all shot out of sequence.
This film, though a bit preachy and pompous, was up to the level of Do the Right Thing, and it was a pleasure to attend a movie that actually dealt with ideas.
I’ve never had an interracial love relationship, but then again, I haven’t had many love relationships at all. Still, I find some black men attractive and think it would be interesting to date one.
Dad said that when he goes out with the woman who works with him in L.A., as he did this past month – Glenda and her little girl went with Dad on a Sunday to Universal Studios – they get incredible stares that are curious and sometimes hostile.
We ate dinner early so I could get home before dark. It’s easier than my having to get up and leave the hotel very early tomorrow morning with Dad.