A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, July 10, 1991
3 PM. I knew I’d feel better once I got myself into some activity, so after writing yesterday’s entry, I put on an exercise tape and worked out for half an hour, after which Alice called and we made arrangements to meet at 6:15 PM for dinner.
However, just before I was about to leave, she called back and said an office emergency at Woman’s World had come up, and we rescheduled for Friday. Pete also called, and on Thursday afternoon I’ll meet him and Harold in the Village.
With some time to spare, I sat on the terrace and read Bob Siegle’s book, which is slow going but stimulating. I read the first and final chapters and am now reading about Kathy Acker.
Why did I never get involved with the East Village scene as Pete and all these other writers did? I’m more mainstream than they are, I guess, but I do share their value systems.
Maybe it was their self-consciously hip style that put me off: all those black clothes and pseudo-nerdy looks never fit my own style. Also, though I am sociable, I tend to be a loner. Am I just shy?
I never seem to fit in anywhere. In New York City I feel like a Floridian, and in Florida I feel like a New Yorker. I never feel more Jewish than when I’m among non-Jews, and I never feel more gay when I’m with only heterosexuals, but I have conflicts regarding my religion and sexual orientation when I’m around people who share these things.
I feel too experimental to be mainstream, too mainstream to be experimental; I’m an academic except when I’m in academia; and so on.
The truth is, I always thought the Lower East Side was grungy. I spent a few evenings or afternoons at those places Siegle romanticizes – the Life Café, ABC No Rio – and wasn’t that impressed.
Am I oblivious to obviously important art and artists? It’s possible.
Pete did get me a couple of readings at Darinka and 8 BC, and I seemed to be well-received by Lower East Side people. I also liked all of Pete’s friends from that scene: Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (who did publish me in Between C & D), Alan Bealy, Lynne Tillman and others Siegle mentions.
Perhaps I was in Florida during the crucial years of the Lower East Side renaissance and I was concentrating on my own brand of conceptual art like my grandparents’ fan clubs and my political campaigns.
I do share the concerns of most of the writers mentioned in Suburban Ambush. Anyway, reading Siegle’s book is a good project; I’ve even found myself getting ideas for stories.
Last evening, after getting to West 4th Street at 7:15 PM, I became slightly lost as I failed to trace Waverly Place beyond Seventh Avenue South.
Despite getting tangled in the West Village’s crooked streets, I got to the theater before the reading started and plunked myself down behind Ben and Larry, who’d read parts in Kelly Masterson’s Against the Rising Sea last night.
Talley’s Folly is part of Lanford Wilson’s Talley Trilogy, and I remember Justin working for the company which produced the original with Judd Hirsch. Justin played Hirsch’s role of Matt Friedman, and a very talented actress, Gloria Ptak, played Sally Talley.
The play was a bit too formulaic for me, as in the two big revelation scenes wherein each character in a two-hander must expose his or her most painful memory or vulnerability.
But Justin made a nice rumpled Jewish accountant, he and Gloria had great timing and pacing, and the reading moved swiftly. All in all, it made me realize how good just a reading of a play can be.
Julia – whom Justin directed in the Werbacher twins’ What Would Esther Williams Do in a Situation Like This? – directed them through a couple of rehearsals.
I guess I was the only one there who’d seen Justin act before: when Sat Darshan and I attended that Molière farce in Park Slope in ’79 or ’80, an experience so bad it led Justin out of performing until now.
After the show, I encouraged him to do some more acting. I didn’t want to go out with Larry, Justin, Ben, Julia, Diane Fox Perunka (the president of Theatre Factory) and her husband Charles because I’d get back to Rockaway so late.
As it was, I got off the Rockaway Park shuttle after 11:30 PM, with the train’s conductor urging me to walk faster, waking me up to the dangers of the late night.
But there were a couple of transit cops outside the Beach 105th Street station and a pair of security guards on the grounds of Dayton Towers.
I had a snack and went to bed, sleeping later than usual and not getting up 10 AM. Soon after, I caught a dollar van to Far Rockaway.
Surprisingly, the driver was playing WNEW-AM with offerings like Shirley MacLaine singing “Hey, Big Spender,” a far cry from the usual West Indian music or gospel or R&B.
I guess some of the drivers are too old for rap even if I myself was listening to Public Enemy on my Walkman.
After a bus ride from Far Rock to Woodmere, I spoke to Grandma Ethel’s friend Christine before I saw Grandma. Christine is an intelligent lady who’s fixed up her own room with a cheery red bedspread and lots of dolls and stuffed animals and flowers.
Grandma complained bitterly about the bitter taste in her mouth and the itching on her back. An Orthodox dermatologist came in to look at Grandma, and he really couldn’t see anything on her back; he was more concerned with the probable basal cell carcinoma on the side of her nose.
(I must be blind: I’d never noticed anything amiss about her nose although Grandma said Marty had been calling the home about it for weeks.)
The dermatologist said he’d give Grandma a salve for whatever caused the back itch and will make an appointment to take care of the skin cancer.
Apart from her complaints, Grandma seemed pretty sharp today, even warning me about riding in the dollar vans because she’d seen reports that passengers had been robbed by drivers.
When she’s not numbed by depression, Grandma seems to have the same mental acuity as she always did. Not that she was ever that sharp, but it’s clear she hasn’t lost any of her faculties.
That’s heartening. All my grandparents had their wits about them except, of course, Grandpa Nat after his brain damage.
We checked on the progress of the white pigeon nesting on the ledge outside the bathroom window. Recently pigeons have become prey for the peregrine falcons who are returning to live in New York among the skyscrapers.
See, I’m trying to be more observant. I have more time to observe things on the long subway rides into the city, the van rides through Rockaway’s ghetto, the bus ride through the Five Towns.
When I got home at 1 PM, a radio talk show was discussing the way old people have to pauperize themselves to get nursing home care, which is paid for by Medicaid, not Medicare.
The senior citizen groups like AARP seem to concentrate their lobbying efforts on the young-old and their benefits. But the old-old, even if they have $100,000 in savings, can lose all their money fast if they need long-term care.
One reason I’d like to become a European citizen is so I could avoid an impoverished old age. The U.S. ignores its children and its elderly and its poor. It’s not just a question of more artistic freedom or more culture; Europe is superior in the nuts and bolts of providing better lives for its people.
With that blockhead Bush sure to be reelected – no credible Democrats are running against him – I now feel that we’ll never deal with the changes needed here.
Thursday, July 11, 1991
8 PM. I went over to see Aunt Tillie yesterday. Although she’d been quite sick with her hiatus hernia over the weekend, she seemed to be getting better. I feel bad that after I leave, the only person left to visit her is Lillian Goldberg.
This morning Alice called to interview me for her book. She’s using my real name but will say that my top weight was 160 because, after all, her book is for people who have to lose only 10 or 20 pounds.
Alice thought some of the things I actually do (like eating a sweet potato or cereal before going out to dinner with friends) were so bizarre that she couldn’t include them.
Alice has a pedestrian mind, but I guess that’s how she writes so successfully for her audience.
Leaving at noon, I got to the Village a little before 2 PM, meeting first Harold and then Pete at the Peacock Caffe on Greenwich Avenue, where we sat out all afternoon with iced cappuccino (them) and lemonade (me).
Harold went back to Minneapolis and walked around the downtown area near his college until he found an apartment he liked. For $495 he’s got an 850-square-foot railroad flat, a fourth-floor walkup in a building from the 1940s.
Coming back here to his place on East 10th Street, Harold wondered how he ever could have lived in such a dump.
He bought a new Honda and will drive it out to Minnesota in early September. The college is on the trimester system, so while he teaches 15 hours a week, it’s only three or four courses, and summers are optional.
It sounds better than John Jay and the rest of CUNY, which are facing drastic budget cuts.
“I’ve been talking to people,” Pete said, “and except for a few, everyone wants to leave New York.” He plans to stay and just get out of the city as much as he can, for a total of four months each year.
I asked Pete about Bob Siegle, whom he said is a bit flighty. Pete read little of Bob’s book because he found the prose impenetrable.
While I’m also finding it rough going, I’m trying to persevere, figuring if I can’t discipline myself to read Kathy Acker criticism, how could I possibly stand law books?
Harold, Pete and I talked about politics, literature, films, mishmash; it was nice, and very European or collegiate to sit in a café all afternoon.
After I said goodbye to them, I sat in Washington Square eating Korean salad bar to fortify myself for the long commute back to Rockaway, which was dreadful. How do people do it every day?
Sunday, July 14, 1991
8 PM. As I look out the window, I see the sky is still blue with a tinge of pink as the sun begins to go down. Yesterday it was raining when I awoke, and I stayed in bed till 10 AM because it was so dark out.
I didn’t do much and hoped the weather would clear up for Ralph and Ronna’s visit today. It did, but only slightly; the sun played peekaboo most of the day.
Ronna and Ralph got here at 1:30 PM and left an hour ago. I’m pleased to have met Ralph Seliger, who’s bright, kind, witty and interesting. I liked Ronna’s other boyfriends, so I figured I’d like Ralph, but he’s nicer than I expected and someone I could see as my friend.
Physically, he’s sort of Wallace Shawn-ish; he looks like a middle-aged, balding New York Jewish intellectual, which is exactly what he is. From watching them, I know Ronna really likes him, and he seems fond of her, too, though he’s not as overtly demonstrative as she is. (If you can call Ronna’s affectionate glances at him demonstrative).
As usual, I probably talked too much and didn’t learn enough about the other person. That’s a hazard for me because I’m alone so much, and when I get to see people, I love to talk.
But I know Ralph’s parents’ background from the article he wrote in his magazine, and I know he’s a progressive Zionist. I’d guess he’s about 43 or 44.
Probably I’m vain enough that I’d like him less if he were young and stunningly handsome, but I can’t imagine Ronna being happy with that kind of guy anyway.
We sat on the terrace and then walked along the boardwalk to McDonald’s, and later, back here, I brought down towels and blankets so we could go on the beach.
Ralph is a big swimmer; at their temple, he goes in the pool nearly every day. But by the time we got to the beach, it was a bit too cool for even Ralph, although I said he should teach Ronna how to swim.
Back on the terrace, we ate the delicious pineapple they brought for me, and they seemed to like the Entenmann’s fat-free Louisiana crunch cake I’d gotten at Waldbaum’s.
We talked about everything from political correctness to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and I learned a little more about Ralph’s background and ideas and worldview.
Obviously it’s not for me to approve or disapprove of Ronna’s companions, but if there’s anything I could do to encourage her and Ralph to get married, I’d do it. Why? Well, I’d like to see Ronna married to a good guy, and it also would make me feel like a chapter of my own life was closed.
Not that there’s any chance Ronna and I would ever get involved again, but I’d like to see something happen that would foreclose even the slightest possibility.
I thought Ralph handled me really well because even with me being the (ahem) gracious guy that I am, it could be slightly awkward when Ronna and I bring up people and events he doesn’t know.
Of course, for many of the twenty years that Ronna and I have known each other, we’ve been friends, not lovers, and when we talked about Milton and his brothers or what Ronna’s grandmother thought of my grandmother (Sarah always would describe Grandma Sylvia as “fine”), it certainly isn’t because we were any closer than just friends.
For a time Ralph lived in Montreal, and he suggested that feeling the way I do about things, I might prefer living in Canada, probably Vancouver.
Ralph hopes his editorship of the magazine can lead to his writing articles for paying publications. Basically he’d like to write on political and social issues for places like The New Republic. His sister is a poet, and he also has a brother with grown kids.
Ronna told me that Billy and Melissa took their old apartment in Gainesville, and they want me to call them when I come into town so we can get together.
Ronna’s going to take off a week in November to attend their wedding in Sunrise, and I assume Ralph will go, too. His mother lives half the year in Delray, at Kings Point, and at 80, she swims every day and is very active.
I walked Ronna and Ralph out back to the train station. I hope they don’t have to wait too long for a ride home, but at least they’ve got each other for company.
Tuesday, July 16, 1991
4 PM. I’m intending to go to see Justin’s play reading in a couple of hours.
Last evening I sat out on the terrace and read my way, skipping here and there, through Siegle’s Suburban Ambush.
Today I sent the book to Patrick as a thank-you for the P’an Ku interview. I doubt he’ll get through any more of the impenetrable French critical terms than I did, but perhaps he’ll enjoy skimming the book.
Last week I looked it up in Book Review Index and didn’t see a single review, so I doubt Siegle’s next book will have any influence. However, I did send Bob my P’an Ku interview.
As it turned hotter and more humid, I was up at 5:30 AM today with a bad sinus headache. WLIW/21 is now running Body Electric at 6:30 AM, and I actually worked out at that early hour.
I was out of the house at 8:30 AM and at the adult home an hour later, finding Grandma Ethel walking about and fiercely complaining about the bitter taste in her mouth and the itch on her back – complaints I believe have no basis in anything physical, which is probably why the doctors get annoyed with her.
I told her that my parents called last evening, and Grandma said Marty went ballistic when he was told Mom was coming in to give up the apartment. He stormed on about how she’s never called him – I had to tell Mom a dozen times to call him and I had hoped she’d listen to me – and said he was not going to give up the apartment.
Actually, of course, I’d much rather Grandma was able to keep the place, for I like the idea of being able to come here over school vacations and maybe even next summer. If Mom was coming to New York just to sell the furniture and arrange for the apartment to be sold, there’s not any point in that.
Maybe she’ll still come to see Grandma. I can understand Marty’s annoyance; as I told Grandma, her daughter is a little weird. Mom never calls Grandma, either.
When I got home, I phoned Fort Lauderdale and left a message on the machine for Mom. She’s at work today at the flea market, I imagine, and I told her I’d be out tonight and to call me tomorrow after she’d phoned her brother to discuss the issue.
In a way, I like having this over Mom: the fact that she went about this in such a half-assed way, as it gives me ammunition when she wants me to do things her way.
The certificate of occupancy for the Gainesville apartment should be ready this week or next, and I can move in any time after that. Although I’d like to stay in New York City longer, I believe I’m better off moving to the new place as soon as possible so I have a few days to adjust before law school begins.
It will be traumatic enough having to go up there and buy furniture and deal with my parents. I’d much rather go to Gainesville with Marc than with Mom, who’s so obsessive, and Dad, who’s so nervous. But I’ll get rid of them as soon as I can, and after that, I won’t have to deal with them.
Mom’s already talking about buying a couch and about having put away sheets. I’m crazy enough, planning things way ahead of time, without her lunacy.
Anyway, I plan to leave here earlier than my scheduled flight on Monday, August 12; I’ll go home in the first few days of August whether my parents come up here or not.
Maybe I’ll try to call Mom again now – –
Well, Dad just answered. He said Mom is sick today, that she seems to have a fever and has been sleeping. Dad gave her the message, but Mom was half-asleep.
Like me, he said he doesn’t get involved with Mom’s relationship with Marty but said she’s the one who’s been paying the rent – something I hadn’t realized. Well, I said, then she can stop sending checks and let Marty pay for the place until he no longer wants to.
Perhaps he knows that the Dayton Towers co-op plan is going through and that the apartment will be leaving the Mitchell-Lama program so that it can be sold at a profit.
I plan to stay out of it and selfishly hope at this point that Uncle Marty’s view prevails because that would be more advantageous for me.
Saturday, July 20, 1991
9 PM. It hit 100° today, but I just took a walk on the boardwalk, and although it’s still very muggy, there’s a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean.
But all in all, with the windows wide open, this is one of the most comfortable places I could be today – except for Los Angeles, where it was only in the 70°s. (I hadn’t realized Southern California summers were milder than New York’s.)
Last evening I took the new Brooklyn phone book, which I put in my bag when I saw stacks of them near Elihu’s elevator. I’ve been looking up people: old friends, neighbors, acquaintances.
I noticed a Vito Panzerino, “atty,” on Clark Street, and when I phoned the number, there was Vito’s familiar voice on the machine. I’m glad to know he’s still alive.
I spent the evening with the news shows, from NPR’s All Things Considered to the network newscasts and PBS roundtables. Bush is in his element now that he’s out of the country, announcing a START treaty to reduce missiles with Gorbachev, who got support but no cash from the G-7 leaders in London.
Secretary Baker got the Saudis and Syrians to agree to talk with Israel, and Bush is in Greece and Turkey now, hinting at U.S. help in solving their dispute over Cyprus.
Bush really should be President of the World, not of the U.S.; our domestic problems bore him or are too difficult to deal with or require money we don’t have. With his usual demagoguery, he’ll manage to get people to vote for him and against their own best interests next year.
The likely Democratic field – I discount Tsongas, the only current candidate – includes Governor Clinton and Senators Rockefeller, Harkin and possibly Gore, none of whom have much support or are well-known, and the race is starting very late. Really, the Democrats should go back to nominating their candidates in smoke-filled rooms.
Despite the heat, I went to see Grandma Ethel this morning, and of course today would be the one time I didn’t get an air-conditioned bus. Grandma said I looked flushed, and actually, I felt kind of sick by the time I got to Woodmere.
If anything, going out today made me even gladder I didn’t go to Justin’s yesterday. At the home, they made certain all the residents had their windows shut and air conditioners on because of the ozone alert as well as the heat wave. I don’t know how Justin and Larry live without air conditioning.
Grandma complained about her bitter taste while I clucked sympathetically, and of course she exclaimed, “How expensive!” when I told her what my haircut cost. (The next time she asks, I think I’ll give her a ridiculously low figure like five dollars and see if she still goes, “How expensive!”)
I said she should tell Marty not to worry, that Mom isn’t coming to get rid of the apartment, and I called Grandma over to the bathroom window, where the pigeon family has been nesting for weeks.
Through the glass, we could see the father bird fly home and feed the two babies by the old beak-to-beak regurgitation method. From Teresa’s house, I know that July is usually the month in which baby pigeons – squabs – hatch.
When I got home, at 1 PM, I wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the day, at least not until my walk an hour ago. I ate frozen veggies rather than go to the Koreans’ for a salad bar, and I spent the afternoon reading the Times (the arts and leisure, book review and magazine sections come on Saturdays) and watching junk TV.
This evening I phoned Florida, mostly to wish Dad a happy 65th birthday tomorrow, when he’ll be at the menswear show all day. He said he doesn’t even want to think about it, which is the way Dad always deals with everything troubling: by ignoring its existence.
Mom said the apartment is ready, and I think my Gainesville address will be 334 NW 17th Street #342, Gainesville, FL 32603.
I changed my flight to 8 AM on Monday, August 5, two weeks and one day from now. Mom said we can go up on the Wednesday after I arrive in Fort Lauderdale, which gives me a week in Gainesville before law school begins.
I told Mom I might have to drop out after one term because of lack of funds but made sure that she understands that whatever happens, I’ll handle it on my own.
Perhaps my going to law school is as half-assed an idea as my trying to start grad school at the University of Miami’s Ph.D. in English program eight years ago.
But I no longer believe in making mistakes – that is, the notion that one course of action could be a “mistake” doesn’t seem possible. Gainesville will be the first time I’m really on my own, and although I am terrified, I know getting through the bad times will make me stronger and more experienced and resourceful.
If I intend to live abroad one day, I’ve got to start somewhere in a place where I have no family, friends or familiarity. Is this “sink or swim”? Perhaps I can’t swim, but I expect that if pressed, I’ll stay afloat somehow. It’s sort of a test for me. At age 40, I’m finally taking risks.
Tuesday, July 23, 1991
4:30 PM. It’s 98° now, but heavy thunderstorms are on the way, promising to break the heat wave soon. There’s even a tornado warning out.
I got to sleep late but found myself wide awake at 5 AM, so I had breakfast, looked at the stuff from law school, worked out, and at 7 AM I realized I need a better copy of the last few pages of my diary book manuscript.
I also felt bad about inconveniencing Justin and figured I could do him a favor if I, instead of he, went to Manhattan to buy the needed cartridge. However, when I woke him up, he told me not to bother, that it was less trouble for him to do it because he knew exactly where to go and what to get.
Since I was already at the Q35 bus stop with a transfer, I decided to keep going, and at the Junction I took the IRT Lexington Avenue line (the 5 train runs to Flatbush Avenue during rush hour) to 59th Street, where it was already steamy.
Needing a bathroom, I went inside a building I’ve passed all my life but had never entered, not even when I was a Village Voice messenger: the Plaza Hotel, which sort of looked like what I expected inside.
I walked to Broadway along Central Park’s southern edge and took the bus uptown, getting off at 72nd Street, where I spotted a new store that advertised computer time on Macs and PCs.
And paying $17 for ten minutes’ time, I printed out my last chapter (1991) on the laser printer I was familiar with from Broward Community College. While it’s much faster than Justin’s inkjet printer, the quality isn’t very different.
I also bought some vitamins, a folder for the pages I’d printed, and a mailing envelope so I can send the manuscript to the Brautigan Library. In addition, I got a black pen so I can paginate and proofread it, although I’m somewhat abashed at the thought of discovering how worthless my diary “book” may be.
It was nearly noon by the time I got back to the Junction, where I had a McLean Deluxe before hanging out at the Brooklyn College library for half an hour. Home at 1 PM, I was glad I’d left on the air conditioning this morning.
Manny Hanny again rejected my application for an unemployment deferment, and when I called, I kept getting the runaround at the student loan office.
So I phoned again, this time saying I was calling from “the office of Walter Shipley”; he’s the president of Chemical Bank, which is buying Manufacturers Hanover Trust. (In another bank merger announced yesterday, NCNB and C&S/Sovran became NationsBank.)
Evidently, my Shipley ploy worked, and finally I got someone who explained that the person who looked at my application must have assumed the Job Service of Florida was a private placement service and not the state’s public employment agency. Maybe this time they’ll get it right.
Miriam sent a handsome new book of her poems in the mail. I tried to catch up on my newspaper reading; I don’t know if I can kick my addiction to the New York Times but law school may require it.
The Gainesville Sun is a Times-owned paper, and perhaps I can get by with that, but I’ll miss my daily fix of the last few decades – of my whole adult life, really. One reason I’m interested in the Master of Arts in Mass Communications program is that it can provide me with a better reason to saturate myself in the media.
I still haven’t really looked at the material the University of Florida sent me, but I see I’m going to have long days at law school. I’ll check it out tomorrow, when I’ll also go to see Grandma Ethel.