A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1993
by Richard Grayson
Tuesday, May 11, 1993
9 PM. The last two days I’ve felt more comfortable in the city as my New Yorker’s instincts come back. I also feel better, as my allergies or that little cold has cleared up.
Yesterday, after I dropped off Ronna’s package at her synagogue, I continued walking uptown through the 100s and 110s, stopping at 120th to go into Teachers College, where I had lunch in a nearly deserted cafeteria.
Course junkie that I am, I got the summer schedule of classes, and walked around a bit before heading back here in mid-afternoon.
Later, I walked down to 81st and over to the park. On my return, I passed the Anglo-American School on 89th and Central Park West, where I was a student back when it was Franklin School 27 years ago.
Pete told me to meet him for dinner at 8 PM, when his NYU class got out. I got to the West Village an hour early so I could walk around.
In Washington Square Park, I watched a drummers’ competition and a circle of six bagpipers as well as the usual collection of pushers, skateboarders, and funky people.
Pete and I ate at Quantum Leap, the “natural food” restaurant on West Third Street between Thompson and Sullivan where I once had dinner with Stacy.
He talked about his summer trip with Harold to Asia and of the weekend he just spent in Quebec City, which sounds wonderful.
Pete got a flyer advertising Mondo Barbie, featuring quotes from reviews. Rick must have put him on the mailing list, but since Pete’s story was rejected, he can hardly be expected to buy the book.
As we were finishing, Pete noticed that Rusty Hoover, the editor of American Book Review, had just walked in, and asked him to sit down and join us.
Pete introduced us, although Rusty knew me by reputation, of course, as I knew him. We chatted about literary publishing, Ron Sukenick, Mark Leyner, Judy Lopatin and others.
Rusty met Pete years ago in the Columbia MFA program, and they did legal proofreading together in the ’80s.
Rusty now seems to be into computers and was excited to tell us about a security encryption system called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy?) that we should use on the Internet’s E-mail and BBS.
After we ate, Pete and I walked to the IND stop on Sixth Avenue and went our separate ways.
I was settling down at 10:30 PM when the doorbell rang: it was Steve. He now has a grey beard he started growing when he sat shiva for his father.
I told him to come in and wait for Ronna, but Steve insisted on just leaving a gift-wrapped birthday present and a copy of a Times article about a lovelorn lawyer suing the woman who spurned him. That’s such a “New York” thing to do.
Ronna came home late from the Hadassah dinner and meeting in Uniondale and we talked till we both fell asleep.
“It’s nice to come home to you,” she said.
“Ditto,” I said.
I told her she now has so many ex-boyfriends that I want to be moved out of that category and just be an old friend – or at least an ex-ex-boyfriend.
I slept well for the second night in a row.
Ronna asked if I’d mind not having dinner with her and Neil tonight, and I was perfectly happy not to be asked along; they’re better off alone.
Today it hit 92°, but it’s going to cool off a lot soon.
I got the 11:01 AM train to Woodmere again, but when I got to the home, they told me Grandma was at the doctor’s and wouldn’t be back till 3:30 PM or so. Upset, I decided I wouldn’t come all the way back on another day.
As I sat eating my salad bar on a bench outside the home, I decided I should go to Rockaway to visit Aunt Tillie.
It was a horrible trip, first on the N32 and then on an un-air-conditioned Rockaway bus with the kind of windows you couldn’t open, so I got to stifle with a bunch of welfare recipients coming back from a mandatory job skills class.
I was so sweaty and tired by the time I got to Beach 102nd Street that I took 10 minutes to sit on the boardwalk and relax. It was cooler by the ocean, and there were only a few beachgoers. The recent storms took their toll, and the beach is now only thirty or forty feet long.
Aunt Tillie was surprised to see me. She has numerous physical complaints and still keeps her hand in front of her mouth because she’s embarrassed about not wearing teeth. But the apartment looked well-cared-for and she seemed clear-headed.
We talked for an hour or so. She said she was glad I stopped by. It’s hard for the few family members like Aunt Minnie to visit her, so she doesn’t get much company.
I took a dollar van back to Far Rockaway, and the ride was much better and cooler. At Seagirt Boulevard, I caught a Nassau bus right away. I arrived at the home at 4 PM, only five minutes after Grandma had come back.
She had on lots of bandages and told me they grafted skin from her ear and upper cheek onto the nose. It was a long procedure but only slightly painful – although the ache was just beginning. In another three weeks she needs more skin grafts. I assume it’s for structural and not just cosmetic reasons.
I chatted with her and Christina for half an hour. Grandma said she went out for Mother’s Day dinner with Marty and Arlyne and Jeff and his girlfriend (whose name she couldn’t remember).
She didn’t cry when we said goodbye. (I told her I might be back this summer, which probably isn’t true.) Grandma with her walker and Christine with her cane accompanied me to the elevator.
As with all my grandparents when they got old, parting was sad. I think I’ll see Grandma Ethel again. I hope so, anyway.
I didn’t have time to think about it because I had to run to catch the LIRR train back to Penn Station.
By then it had started to cool off after a thunderstorm. After I had a McLean Deluxe and orange juice across from Madison Square Garden, I became a rush-hour commuter uptown.
Today I gave a quarter to a guy who played guitar and sang “Dock of the Bay” at the 59th Street IRT platform and a fat-free fruit bar to a beggar on the train who asked people to remember the last time they’d been hungry.
Back here, I exercised and read the paper. Justin left a message apologizing for being so busy; he’s been in tech rehearsals all week.
I phoned Larry, as Justin suggested, and I agreed to be his date at the opening of Justin’s play at Brooklyn College.
We’ll meet at 6 PM tomorrow at the Hillel Gate. That will give me a chance to see both of them and my old alma mater twenty years after I got my B.A.
Larry told me about spending time gardening in Pennsylvania with his mother and friends. His artwork is going well and he just got a piece off to a museum.
Larry managed to get free tickets to The Ring. He had never been to the opera before, but seeing Wagner’s epic at the Met with Justin and then Ali for all four nights proved to be an “amazing experience.”
Thursday, May 13, 1993
10:30 AM. Ronna came in from her date with Neil late Tuesday night with the problem she’s had since I’ve known her: diarrhea after she eats vegetables.
We chatted for an hour or so, and I enjoyed talking with her. Ronna would make a great roommate. I slept well, as I have nearly every night here.
Yesterday and again today, they shut the water off between 8 AM and 5 PM for West End Avenue construction. But there is brown water for flushing the toilet and doing what needs to be done.
Ronna told me to call her if I wanted to join her and David for dinner, but as it turned out I got to see Teresa and Josh instead.
Teresa came over from Pam’s in New Jersey at 1 PM and parked right in front of the apartment in a space became legal at 2 PM.
We strolled down Broadway, with Teresa noticing all the stores and restaurants that have gone out of business. (Josh had originally told me to meet him for dinner at Marvin Gardens and was surprised when I told him it no longer exists. In its place is a restaurant called the Aspen Café.)
By a stroke of luck, Teresa and I ran into Judy on the corner of 81st Street, and there were hugs all around.
Coming from the school where she teaches chess, Judy joined us on our walk downtown. She told us Adam is now 15 and in Stuyvesant, and Jarrett will be going there next year. Even baby Justin is 10 already.
Judy said that her brother-in-law Todd is enjoying Teresa’s apartment and that Jack Silverman gives them no trouble.
We met Teresa’s mother inside the Metropolitan Opera House and talked with her until they were about to start the American Ballet Theater matinee of Sleeping Beauty.
I wondered why there were so many cops and barricades up at Lincoln Center, but only when I got home did I learn the President would be attending a Democratic fundraising dinner there in the evening.
On NY1, the excellent 24-hour city cable news station, I watched Clinton’s speech at the Cooper Union in the East Village. (Josh had noticed all the security in his neighborhood this morning.)
As usual, Clinton was intelligent and inspiring but also unfocused. He proposed a trust fund for deficit reduction so that new taxes could be earmarked not for new programs but to bring down the deficit.
I admire Clinton, but it’s clear that entrenched interests won’t let him produce the changes in the economy, health care system, education, etc., that the U.S. desperately needs.
All he can do in four years is slow the decline. The truth is, as bad as things are, people don’t really want to change.
The American people have my problem, and Ronna’s and Alice’s: as uncomfortable as they feel, it’s easier to keep with the familiar than to risk trying something new.
When I called Alice, she said the only time she could fit me in was if I can come down to her tomorrow before I leave for the airport. She said she had to work on her book, and it wasn’t going well.
Although I had planned to call her today, I’ve decided not to. If she really wanted to see me, she could have come here, as Teresa and Josh did.
When the ballet was over, Teresa called me and we met at Ollie’s. It was her choice, so I didn’t tell her I’d eaten there recently – besides, the food is good.
Although Teresa is self-involved, I sometimes forget how generous she can be, and I enjoyed spending time with her. After dinner, she stayed here till 7:45 PM.
A few minutes after Teresa left, Josh called. His class let out early and he asked me to meet him at “Isaac Bashevis Singer’s old place” – the American Diner on 85th and Broadway.
We were in the familiar corner booth, and wouldn’t you know, old Alma Singer hobbled in and sat in the booth in front of us.
My heart went out to her when she spilled her glass of iced coffee and it smashed to the floor.
She got up and kept staring at it till I thought she was going to cry, so I said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Singer, they’ll clean it up and get you a fresh drink.”
Being old and alone is so sad.
Josh said his mother is even more pathetic, but he gets no sympathy from friends, who all tell him he should put his parents in a home and not have to be so inconvenienced by them.
Josh said I’m more devoted to my grandmother than anyone he knows, so I guess I do feel the way he does.
His mother is very ill, but she’s got all her marbles, and I think he does what I would do if I were in his position: visiting her once a week, taking her to the doctor, shopping, etc.
Josh is a good son. He was impressed when I told him how Teresa’s family cares for her grandmothers.
Josh had just come from the final class in Policy Analysis, the most boring course he took at John Jay. Anyway, he will have a master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in computers now.
After Josh left here at 10 PM, I watched TV until Ronna returned an hour later.
She told me she liked A.R. Gurney’s new play. In the discussion that followed the performance, Ronna asked Gurney about the similarity to Henry James’ “Beast in the Jungle” and he said he’d taken the idea of the play directly from that story. Ronna is so perceptive.
I’ve been laying around this morning, but I’ll probably go to Brooklyn in the afternoon and do stuff (or at least see stuff) before I meet Larry at the college at 6 PM.
It’s a cool day, a far cry from the last two scorchers – the first cloudy day I’ve had in the week here.
Friday, May 14, 1993
Noon in New York City. My flight leaves at 3:25 PM, so I’ll try to get a cab in a couple of hours.
Yesterday was the first chilly, rainy day I had here, and I didn’t leave the house till 2 PM, taking the IRT to Atlantic Avenue.
The LIRR station above ground has been razed, and when I looked down Flatbush Avenue toward downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridge, a new building with the Chase logo hovered over the old Dime Savings Bank and Junior’s.
I took the B41 bus all the way down Flatbush Avenue, standing most of the way as I took in Park Slope, the Grand Army Plaza circle (“Welcome Back to Brooklyn,” said the banner on the Main Library), the Botanic Garden and Prospect Park (the zoo – now the “wildlife conservatory” – is still closed), the vibrant African-American/West Indian shopping district from Empire Boulevard to beyond Church Avenue (Macy’s Flatbush store finally closed), and then the more familiar territory between the Junction and my old house.
Getting off at Avenue N and East 56th Street, I got my Triavil 2/10 from Mr. Deutsch at the pharmacy. He now has two assistants, a Korean man and a red-haired guy with a bushy ponytail.
Walking up East 56th, I stared at my old house, which keeps getting renovated. They removed the little lawn in front and made a wider driveway access to the basement. With the white railings, the house looks so modern that it’s hard to believe we moved in there in 1958.
At Kings Plaza, I window-shopped and used the Macy’s bathroom – Alexander’s is boarded up –before getting the B41 Limited bus (obviously introduced to compete with the illegal dollar vans) to Nostrand.
It’s a good thing I had taken my Brooklyn College Alumni ID or else I wouldn’t have been able to get on campus, as guards now check ID at every gate.
Students wear photo ID badges around their necks or attached to their clothing, and that saddened me, but after a recent shooting on campus, I guess that kind of security is necessary.
The campus is cleaner and more orderly, but I miss the energetic chaos of my undergraduate days. LaGuardia lobby is pristine and without furniture, an empty corridor between an art gallery and faculty lounge.
In Boylan, I picked up some issues of Kingsman to show former managing editor Ronna just how bad campus journalism has become since her day.
In the second-floor corridor, I looked at the English faculty schedules – so many are still there – and I heard, coming from a nearby room, the flat voice of Jon Baumbach reading aloud a student story.
I walked by, and the door was open; except for the seminar tables, it could have been our MFA fiction workshop.
Baumbach looked up and stared at me for a second, and I looked away, not sure if his slight hesitation in reading aloud was because he recognized me.
At the library I looked myself up in the keyword index on the CUNY catalog; they have all my books, and even Mondo Barbie.
Leaving the BC campus, I walked to Bedford Avenue and checked out Midwood High School 25 years after I graduated. From the outside, I could see only into the front lobby and boys’ gym.
Larry and I met up at 6 PM. We had dinner at Sugar Bowl, no longer just a dive but a lousy diner that has taken over the whole block on Hillel Place.
Larry seemed to know a lot of the Theater Department folks who came in. We had a pleasant meal, and he told me about seeing the Ingmar Bergman-directed Peer Gynt at BAM the night before.
We picked up our comp tickets at the Whitman box office for the thesis production, which was in 023W, in the basement, where I’ve seen lots of plays, starting in 1969 with productions of Dutchman and The Indian Wants the Bronx.
Strindberg’s Easter is odd duck – uncharacteristically affirmative – but it was a good production. Justin stole the show, coming on in the third act as the not-so-villainous creditor Lindkvist. He really looked like a portly old man.
I didn’t have much time to talk to Justin at the cast party afterward, but it’s obvious that he’s had a great experience in his own MFA program at Brooklyn College.
Getting home at 11:30 PM, I talked with Ronna before going to bed. This morning I hugged her hard before she left for work.
Thanks to Ronna (and Leah’s sufferance), I had an extraordinary visit to New York City.
Saturday, May 15, 1993
2 PM. Back in Gainesville, I’m taking it easy. The congestion in my chest (allergies? A cold? HIV?) grew worse, and I’ve been coughing a lot.
And once away from Ronna’s benign influence, I reverted to insomnia last night and slept only from 4 AM to 8 AM. But I wasn’t dizzy, merely excited.
Yesterday I left Ronna’s at 2 PM after leaving her and Leah a thank-you note and some supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, soap) I bought at Pathmark.
I got a cab easily and was at LaGuardia before 3 PM. My plane was late, which didn’t make any difference to me since it just meant I had less time to wait between flights in Atlanta.
The plane rides were boring and uneventful; I took off my lenses at LaGuardia so I wouldn’t get discombobulated when seeing the ground at strange angles.
It was a clear, cool evening in Gainesville, and a cab took me back to the house at 8:30 PM. I just put my stuff down and drove the car to school to see my grades. At that hour, Derrick was the only other person there.
I was disappointed by some of my grades: B’s in Legal Drafting, Professional Responsibility, and Estates and Trusts.
And I was surprised by Nunn’s grades: B+ in Race Relations but an A in Crim Pro. (I was expecting the reverse.)
Most surprising was the A in Transboundary Environmental Issues.
So my GPA didn’t budge: 3.41. At least it didn’t go down. I did as well as I did my first semester. Now, after two years, it’s going to be hard to dislodge me from the top 10% – and maybe even the top 5% – of the class.
After buying some groceries at Publix, I came home to snack. Alice left an apologetic message about not calling, saying she’s sorry she was so crazed about her book. I’ll forgive her, of course.
Josh also called – after he’d phoned my parents, thinking I’d be there – and we chatted for a while.
There were no other calls except my New York Times lockbox number for the summer – 1235 – and no important mail.
I got the flyer for Mondo Barbie Pete talked about; it has the New York Times Book Review notice on one side and other quotes and a list of contributors on the other.
After unpacking and settling in, I couldn’t stop thinking about my finances. After I pay summer tuition, I’ll have only $800 in the bank. Hopefully I’ll get my unemployment check soon, and I can survive the summer.
Although the New York trip cost me about $400 or $500, it was worth it. I got to feel like a New Yorker again, to walk the streets of the Upper West Side, to see Grandma and my friends, to bond with Ronna (we’re close friends now, no longer ex-lovers), to get away from my identity as a law student in Gainesville.
Even if it was only a week, I made the most of it, as I did of my trip to L.A. two years ago. At least I know I never took life for granted.
Early this morning, I did my laundry and shopped at Walmart and Albertsons. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, but I feel very congested. Besides, there’s nothing that can’t wait.
I did low-impact aerobics and put on sunless tanning cream after I showered.
On NPR, I heard a story about the Thalia revival movie house re-opening; I saw them renovating it every day around the corner from Ronna’s.
Today’s Times Op-Ed page has an article on the West Side bookstore wars started by Barnes & Noble.
I’ve always wanted to feel a part of what’s going on, and being in New York has been a part of that. Even seeing and listening to the local media was a treat.
I think I’ll have a little lunch now. Unfortunately, I can’t just walk out to Broadway and get some stuff from the salad bar in a Korean store.