A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1990

Friday, August 10, 1990

9 PM. It’s been a dark, rainy day, and I’ve got a sinus headache and feel dizzy because of the weather. As usual, I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’m not about to have another prolonged period of dealing with vertigo.

Janet Ungless of New York Newsday phoned and said they’d need the photo quickly.

I suggested I could come down to their office and have someone take a picture, and she said that was fine, so during a lull in the downpour, I took the subway to 2 Park Avenue, where I met Janet, who told me to be available by phone on Monday.

Jane, an editorial colleague who was in the middle of typing up my piece, took a Polaroid shot of me (and it was in color, so I could have used the passport photos).

I’ve decided to go to Rockaway on Sunday afternoon and return to the city Monday morning; my unemployment check arrived today, Grandma said.

Paul Fericano sent me (in Florida) the YU Press reviews not only of Narcissism and Me but also The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was – plus a terrific letter.

Saturday, August 11, 1990

10 PM. A couple of hours ago I got under the covers and shut the lights because I was falling asleep. Actually, the cause of my tiredness is a bad sinus headache, triggered by today’s continuing damp weather.

It’s rained on and off all day, and a big thunderstorm started at 7 PM. My head is heavy, and of course I’m dizzy, but I do hope this will go away with the passing weather front.

Up at 8 AM, I didn’t exercise till 10:30 AM, after I’d gone out and made some cash advances (on accounts where I’ve gotten word that checks cleared) and deposited the money into my Chemical account.

Miraculously, it appears I can pay my July bills, but only by turning over my credit cards as fast as I can and going over my limits where possible.

Yesterday I looked over my TRW credit profile, and it’s going to be a shame to mess up such a nice record of payment history. But I can’t foresee anything that can keep me from filing for bankruptcy.

However, I may be able to stay in New York longer than I expected. Teresa seems to have found a tenant – but he won’t move in until the second week of September, and she said I could stay here till then.

The guy is a college student whose mother is a friend of Teresa’s. Since he would be here just for the school year, I could come back next summer. Of course, nothing is definite, and I expect this won’t come to pass. Just Thursday night, Teresa was saying she might give up the apartment after all.

She’s gotten behind on her East Side co-op mortgage payments, and now that her tenants in the Berkshires are moving out into their own place, she’s finding that house to be a financial disaster, too.

The Berkshires real estate agents tell her that they can sell the house but she would barely break even. And the old house needs so many repairs, Teresa would prefer to just walk away from it – except that she knows her sister wouldn’t go along with that.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a special section titled Real Estate: Hard Times, which discussed the real estate “depression” and said it’s not likely to improve soon.

Meanwhile, USA Today is running articles that tell people how to survive the economic downturn, which is still predicted to be mild.

Although I’ve spent hours with the Middle East news, I can’t figure out what’s going to happen or how I feel about the U.S. sending 50,000 troops to Saudi Arabia.

Since it’s too late for Saddam to launch an attack on the Saudi oil fields – his best time to move would have been before all our troops got there – right now it’s a waiting game.

Iraq holds about 3000 Americans who can’t leave, but Bush won’t call them hostages. I guess that’s smart, considering that hostages are what did in Carter and Reagan.

But what are our goals in the Middle East? To protect the oil fields? The Saudi royal family? The Kuwaiti emir’s wealthy clan?

Right now Bush has a high level of support for his military move, but that can only deteriorate. Oddly, some conservatives are among the loudest voices of opposition.

This afternoon I went over to Riverside Park to see today’s 4 PM arts festival show, featuring the Diane Jacobowitz Dance Theater, which was very good, at least to this untutored eye.

I especially liked the dance that called itself “politically correct” and featured dancers on crutches.

It’s starting to be clear just why there’s been so much hysteria over the NEA, Mapplethorpe, 2 Live Crew, Karen Finley and other boogeymen: the right wingers know the ’80s are over and their time has passed, so they’re getting more frantic, trying to stay in control, pushing panic buttons marked SEX and GAY and OBSCENITY.

This may augur not a coming fascist climate but an emerging “liberal,” alternative, “counterculture” consensus.

It’s not a white male world anymore, and as people of color, women and gays start to exert themselves, Jesse Helms and company need something that will forestall their inevitable loss of power.

Simplistic? Probably.

Anyway, I think I’d like to stay in New York until October 1 if I can swing it because September is usually so nice up here.

Monday, August 13, 1990

8 PM. I had one of the all-time worst trips to Rockaway yesterday. I underestimated the stifling heat and humidity and overestimated the efficiency of subways and buses.

Suffice it to say that it took nearly three hours to get from here to there, with half the time spent waiting for four trains and two buses. Don’t ask.

To add insult to injury, just as I got to Key Food to buy my dinner, the manager closed the door at 5 PM.

Luckily, I had one of my frozen dinners at Grandma’s; that, plus the air-conditioning and a pint of TCBY sugar-free nonfat chocolate left over from Mom’s visit, got me through the evening.

I sat with Grandma for an hour, engaging her in conversation. She said Jeffrey didn’t like his trip to Israel “because at the place he stayed, they made him carry a gun.” Probably he had to do guard duty with a rifle at some kibbutz.

Good. Young Jewish-Americans should realize Israel is just another militaristic Middle Eastern nation like those Arab looney tunes changing sides every five minutes. (By now Jordan’s little king has double-crossed everyone twice.)

While Grandma went out to visit Lillian for a couple of hours, I caught up on my reading.

I was surprised to see I weighed only 132 on Grandma’s scale, but I was wearing only shorts and one of those white-ribbed athletic shirts I never dreamed I could ever look good in.

When Grandma returned, we watched TV until Married… With Children ended at 9:30 PM, at which point Grandma turned in.

There being nothing else to do, I too went to bed and slept about ten hours. Granted, I wake up lots of times, but when Grandma said in the morning, “You had a bad night,” I told her no, I’d slept amazingly well.

After exercising and eating breakfast, I showered and left at 10 AM, taking my unemployment claim card to the post office for mailing and my check to Chase Manhattan for depositing.

I thought I was making bad time with the Q53 bus through Queens, but I managed to avoid a fire which knocked out all subway service to lower Manhattan and caused terrible disruptions downtown.

(I just called Grandma because, as I expected, she’d been worrying how I made it home in the transit turmoil.)

When I got in, I’d just missed Jane’s call, but she said she was going out to lunch and I should call in to the Newsday office at 3 PM.

It was hot enough to warrant staying in the air-conditioned bedroom the rest of the day, reading newspapers and catching the news on TV and radio.

The noose around Iraq grows smaller as the U.S. forces lead an international quarantine (they won’t call it a blockade). But Saddam still has all those Americans in Kuwait and Iraq (we won’t call them hostages).

How it will end, I don’t know, but it’s as tense an international crisis as I can remember, with banner headlines nearly every day and special reports all over the TV.

Jane read me the whole piece as she edited it, and I had no complaints; we had to work together to fix some things that needed fixing and make clarifications.

But she said everyone at the paper liked the piece and invited me to call if I had other ideas for columns.

Just last night a white rock group from New York City, Too Much Joy, doing a benefit concert for the ACLU in the same Hollywood club where 2 Live Crew was arrested, sang several songs (rockified) from As Nasty As They Wanna Be – and yes, these musicians were arrested by Sheriff Nick’s boys.

God, is Broward County part of America, or what?

When I get back, I’m going to do a public reading of the Nasty lyrics along with other banned books so I can get arrested, too.

It’s incredible that this could go on, and I feel I’m crazy: no one else seems to care about it because it involves rap music.

Well, at least my article is coming out, and twenty years from now I’ll be able to say that I didn’t look the other way when the government was suppressing freedom of speech.

I feel nauseated.

Tuesday, August 14, 1990

4 PM. The last day has been rough. I’m sicker than I’ve been since I had the flu in January 1987. But after speaking with Justin, it seems like I’ve got the virus that’s been going around.

When I spoke to Justin last week, he mentioned having had a stomach virus a couple of weeks ago, and his symptoms matched mine exactly: nausea, diarrhea (gassy, near-liquid), cramps in the stomach, and terrible leg cramps and chills.

Justin said he stayed in bed for two days and felt better on the third day, when he was able to eat. I’m glad it’s not Lyme disease and that I didn’t get food poisoning.

Last night’s Healthy Choice dinner tasted awful, and for a second while eating it, I felt nauseated, but the food wasn’t bad: it was the virus sneaking up on me.

I feel really weak, and of course even if I hadn’t felt so sick, going without sleep an entire night would make me feel lousy anyway.

I spoke to Mom a few times during the day, and to Justin, who liked the Newsday article, which I managed to get by forcing myself to walk to Broadway this morning.

The piece looks superb, including the title (“Rap Smuggler Sings the Blues”), bio note (it mentioned Narcissism and Me and that I teach at FIU and BCC), photo, and the prose itself. I’m completely satisfied with it and wish only that I felt well enough to enjoy it more.

I called Ronna and then remembered she’s on vacation this week, and since Judy and Brian aren’t here, I’m totally alone. That’s scary, but I don’t expect to get any worse.

Last night I was as violently sick to my stomach as I’m going to get, as the only things I could get down my gullet today were rice cakes, a banana and orange juice.

I’m surprised I don’t have a fever, but my thermometer’s been normal all the time; though it ranged from 97° in the middle of the night to 99° now, my usual peak.

I just took some vitamins, and I’m sucking on ice cubes so I don’t dehydrate. It’s difficult for me to drink, however.

Hey, remember what is probably the last time I vomited? I was off for the summer, home from Gilbert’s Hotel in the country, about 12 or 13, and I got a stomach virus on a mid-August Wednesday afternoon.

I’m real glad to know this wasn’t a panic attack, and although I’m miserable, I have reason to believe that once I build up antibodies to this virus, I should start feeling better.

August isn’t a good month for me in terms of illnesses: in 1982, I got that terrible virus that I now think was hepatitis, and in 1985 I had a bad cold. But this stomach virus will go away.

Friday, August 17, 1990

9 PM. Last night I reached Cousin Michael, who’s living in the Zeckendorf building on Union Square with two other young guys.

He’s excited about starting this new acting school, which Mike Nichols is involved in, and which starts its second year in October.

We made a dinner date for Wednesday: Michael will come here at 9:30 PM after finishing work on the East Side.

I began reading Kevin Phillips’s The Politics of Rich and Poor, which seems a brilliant analysis.

Yeah, I know, he agrees with me about the change in the political climate, but I remember as a student majoring in Poli Sci 19 years ago, I thought his Emerging Republican Majority was brilliant, even if I didn’t want to believe it would come to pass.

Up at 6 AM, I finished the Times (Frank Rich agreed with me that Denzel Washington was a weak Richard III, and only Mary Alice’s performance was a standout), exercised, had breakfast and showered.

I decided to see if I could get into the Security Council session on the Iraqi crisis, so I took the 86th Street bus crosstown and the Second Avenue bus down; going home I went up First Avenue and realized how little contact I have with the East Side.

I remember that was the first part of Manhattan I really got to know when I began driving into the city to see films on Sunday mornings at the movie theaters along Third Avenue between 57th and 63rd Streets: the old Cinema 5 and Walter Reade chains that gave discounts to students.

I used to like to ride around Sutton Place, and as I passed Tudor City today, I was reminded how I used to drive up traffic-light-friendly First Avenue after taking the Manhattan Bridge to the city so I could see noon shows on Sundays.

That was back in the days when Sunday blue laws meant that all the stores were closed and parking was easy.

At the UN, they didn’t have tickets to the Security Council, and I didn’t feel like going on the tour.

Walking around the visitors’ lobby, I tried to detect any sense of world crisis among the people, but the only ones I saw were happy tourists.

So, after checking out an exhibit of photos of Namibia, I went downstairs to the bookstore, where I bought two postcards featuring the flag of one of the 160-something member states: Iraq.

Actually, two weeks after the Kuwaiti takeover, the situation in the Middle East is more tense than ever.

Tomorrow morning Bush is going to call out the reserves, and we’re landing so many troops and so much equipment in the Saudi Arabian desert, it seems that they will be there for a long time.

I guess it’s being done fast because it’s easier to do it now. In Vietnam, it got harder to ask for more troops as the war became less popular.

Nobody knows if there’ll be a “shooting” war, but both sides have raised the level of rhetoric. To me, it seems more like World War II than Vietnam because Vietnam happened so gradually and out of the spotlight.

My own feeling is we’ve moved in too fast by ourselves and should have tried to use the UN or other international forces more. But I just don’t know.

No soldiers have been killed yet, and although 35 Americans in Baghdad had been moved to an unknown location, they are more internees than hostages.

But if this drags on, or worse, turns into an all-out war, things are going to be rougher in the ’90s than I ever predicted.

Right now all but the most optimistic economic forecasters say we’re in or about to slide into recession.

The event I thought would happen this summer or fall finally did, but I had no idea that an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would set off an oil shock, even one as limited as it’s been so far, which is nothing compared to what happened in ’73 or ’79.

When I got home, I turned on FNN and watched the stock and bond markets head south again.

This afternoon I went to the 84th Street theater and saw Andrew Bergman’s The Freshman, a terrific little movie with Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick, who are adorable together.

It was sweet but not sappy, witty but not flashy, and I left the theater feeling good.

But back in the apartment, I was dismayed to hear Grandma say she taken another fall when she lost her balance in the kitchen and dropped a glass.

Maybe her high blood pressure makes her dizzy, but this is her fourth fall in recent months, and I’m very concerned.

Saturday, August 18, 1990

5 PM. I became very dizzy today and had such a bad attack of vertigo during exercise that I had to stop.

Perhaps it’s the weather. We’ve got an air pollution alert today, and I’ve been staying in the air-conditioned bedroom all day.

Luckily, we haven’t had many of these days this summer; two years ago, I spent weeks living in this bedroom because of the intense heat and humidity.

One year ago I was heading back to Florida at this time. Those last days here were very nerve-wracking, and I didn’t sleep for two straight nights.

But after that, I was suddenly a full-time teacher at Broward Community College and I had the security of a decent paycheck, not to mention knowing where I was living and what I was doing.

This year, the situation is reversed. While I don’t have to shorten my New York City summer, I’m really scared about what’s facing me in Florida.

My first foray out today was to make a cash advance and deposit most of it in checking. God knows how, but I’ve managed to make all the payments on my bills for July. I just spent an hour writing out about twenty checks for August bills in advance, something I haven’t done since April.

But it will make getting the bills less terrifying when they come in. How long I can keep going is highly debatable, but if I start to get some of that money from my closed secured accounts, I could see $2000 in the next month.

To get through June, I needed to close my IRAs, and I needed the student loan to get through July. After this, however, I’m tapped out, and I’ll have to start missing payments. Already I’m used to the ominous “overlimit” letters.

Of course, Teresa blithely goes about her business while being dunned. She has no savings left, probably hasn’t paid the August rent here, is late on her mortgage payments, didn’t pay her Fire Island phone or LILCO bills all summer, and unlike me, she can’t go bankrupt without losing her assets like the co-op and Berkshires house.

You gotta love her.

She called to say she’ll be sleeping over here Wednesday. She’d like me to go with her to Philadelphia the next day, when she goes to see Deirdre. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. Teresa said the drive would give us a chance to “vist.”

Herbert Mitgang wrote an appreciative, intelligent review of Masquerade in today’s Times daily book review. I was glad to be able to call Tom and read him the review. Even if I can’t write about Walser, I can share Tom’s enthusiasm for him.

We didn’t talk long, as Tom sounded as if he was still hung over from jet lag and the mountain of mail waiting for him when he got back to New Orleans.

I guess Crad realized our friendship has cooled: he hasn’t written in the month since I visited him on Long Island.