A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1994

Wednesday, December 21, 1994

4:30 PM. I just returned from the office. Before I left, I called my parents’ house, and when Jonathan answered, he sounded very upset.

“How are you?” I said.

“Not so good.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You haven’t heard yet?” – and my body tingled, afraid he was going to say that something terrible had happened to Marc.

“Marshall died.”

God. I spoke to Jonathan briefly, and then Mom and Dad, and the story I got was that last Friday Marshall called to tell Jonathan he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t meet him at the mall as he had every Friday night for the past decade or longer.

Jonathan thought Marshall must have been really sick, and on Sunday he called and learned that Marshall’s father took him to the hospital. Marshall’s kidneys had stopped functioning, and he was critical. Apparently they operated, but to no avail.

This morning Dad told Jonathan that they should go visit Marshall at Broward General, but they stopped off at his apartment first, where Marshall’s father and brother said that he died this morning.

Mom was crying, and she couldn’t believe how Marshall’s sudden death was so much like Steven’s.

This year, the best friends of both Marc and Jonathan died so quickly that my brothers never had time to adjust to them even being sick.

Marshall was Jonathan’s only close friend. He was 50, and his mother had died last winter.

While I could never warm up to Marshall, he was a constant presence in my parents’ house. Every Friday he’d be there in his outlandish red outfit. I don’t know anyone who so resembled Santa Claus.

This has got to affect Jonathan mightily. I only hope that in the end he will get something out of his shock, grief and mourning.

When I told Dad I had been planning on coming this weekend, he hadn’t even been aware of it. I guess it’s not exactly a great time to visit, is it?

Last night I fell asleep okay although after the party I wondered if my tendency to talk too much and tell stories is a hindrance in social situations.

But then I realized that none of the people I knew from No on One know that I’m an author because I’ve never mentioned it to any of them, so I can’t actually be all that self-involved.

Still, at times I wish I could see myself the way I appear to others so I could gauge how I come off. I do know that I could become a much better listener if I tried. Not remembering people’s names may be a sign that I don’t care enough about others.

I finally spoke to Susan Mernit. It was great to hear her voice after such a long time. She’s been at Scholastic for four years, and the first couple were very hectic, as she worked long hours to set up their online network and place on the Internet.

What she’s doing as director of network development reminds me so much of her start in small press publishing. Now her role is more visionary as she comes up with ideas to get the content and services out via emerging media.

She still lives in Park Slope although they’re outgrowing the place.

Spencer has become religious, going to synagogue often and getting involved with Judaism to the extent that he’s going to be featured on a network documentary next year. The producers loved the idea of a Buddhist blues musician returning to his religious roots.

His family is all living in Sarasota, while student Susan’s parents, always difficult and now ailing, remain in Great Neck.

She was taking Zach, who’s now 9, to his first appointment with a shrink today. Ever since Zach recovered from a bad case of pneumonia – he ran 104° fever for two weeks –he’s developed school phobia.

I reassured Susan that she was wise to deal with it early and that Zach probably will benefit from therapy. As Susan said, he’s developing his own interests and is really an individual by now.

She took my Internet address and apologized for not staying in touch. “When I’m troubled,” she said, “I tend to withdraw from friends.” Hopefully we’ll now remain in contact.

I took a two-hour lunch, during which I did laundry, got gas, and went to the post office to mail out for submissions.

Last night Mom had called to tell me I’d gotten a rejection from the Flannery O’Connor Award from the University of Georgia Press. I felt bad about it – worse, probably, because the winner was Wendy Brenner from Gainesville.

She was the MFA student I spoke to when I first got to town, the one Padgett Powell told me to call when I thought I could get someone to write about me for the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

The rejection I got in today’s mail was really a notice that the little magazine was suspending publication.

I decided to send “Boniatos Are Not Boring” and the Gloucester story to as many magazines as I can: maybe a dozen places. The odds, after all, are so bad.

Josh E-mailed that since last week, Sharon broke up with him again: “Life is complicated. When you’re with a woman who makes you unhappy, you wish you were alone. But then when you are alone, you wish you were back with her. Is this love or masochism?”

How should I, of all people, know?

I got all the materials that Chuck Mayer sent from the Texas Education Agency. While it’s really helpful, after reading everything, I had to totally overhaul parts of the SGML memo.

(Susan knows SGML and the Internet standard HTML.)

Josh, by the way, says that KGB is busier than ever, but he hasn’t yet seen a penny from Denis from his investment in the bar.

It seems that whenever there’s a profit, one of the employees steals it and runs away: “Or that’s the story I get from Denis. This time it was $400 and 60 chairs. That’s right. Someone stole 60 fucking chairs!”

I love E-mail.

Via regular mail, Libby sent her annual Christmas card with photos of Lindsay and Wyatt. Wyatt is already 4 and looks like he lost weight. Lindsay just turned 7 and is in first grade.

Libby wrote that her brother is finally getting married, “to a wonderful Ukrainian girl” whom her mother loved. And so they’ll all be in New York City next September for the wedding.

Sunday, December 25, 1994

9 PM. Today was actually quite pleasant. Maybe we needed yesterday’s uproar to relieve all the pent-up family tensions. Everything seemed forgotten by this morning.

Jonathan was going on about spiritual stuff and Marshall to Mom at the breakfast table, but I naturally didn’t say a word or give any hint that I was listening to that conversation, basically so I couldn’t be accused of being judgmental.

I exercised to a Body Electric video, and then, after I dressed, Dad drove me to the warehouse, where I tried on several shirts from his samples. I took a couple of buttons-downs (without collars) and three knit shirts that aren’t too large.

I also got two white t-shirts, a pair of white shorts, and a couple of silk boxer shorts from this trip.

After an early lunch, I drove down University Drive – despite all the development, there are still some cattle herds grazing on the sides of the road – into the Palmetto Expressway and across NW 163rd/167th St in North Miami Beach, where I got the Sunday New York Times at the newsstand near my old apartment from eleven years ago.

I felt no need to visit any of the places in South Florida where I used to live.

Of course, I’ve passed University Drive and my parents’ old development and the Sun Pointe Cove apartments, where I had three different places from 1987 to 1990, but I feel no attachment to my old living quarters – any more than I ever have the urge to drive by my two former apartments in Gainesville.

But it’s odd how I can go for years without seeing a place – I was thinking of this as I drove down Collins Avenue in Bal Harbour, past the white apartment houses with columns like the White House – and yet, when I went through the area, it felt as if I had just been there recently.

I bet it will be the same way in February  when I turn into St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

I don’t think I went to Miami Beach when I was here in March, but everything always seems so familiar despite the changes.

I drove down Harding Avenue and then along Ocean Drive in South Beach, which was lousy with people, starting with all those tables at the News Cafe and going on for Art Deco blocks until I got disgusted with people-watching in three-mile-per-hour traffic.

While I like South Beach, the place is getting a bit too trendy for me, and the same is true for almost all of Miami Beach.

Because it was Christmas, I knew I’d have a problem finding a bathroom, and with my bladder, of course, it soon became urgent.

I paid a dollar – it used to be free – to park by the boardwalk in the 80s because I knew there were restrooms there.

But finding the restroom doors locked, I made my way to the middle of the densest foliage and relieved myself au naturel, hoping to avoid any passing Christmas strollers with little kids.

Not feeling like spending time near a beach I’d been forced to urinate on, so I took the Bay Harbor Islands Causeway and eventually got on I-95 to make my way home.

Emerging from his room, Marc asked for my car keys so he could simonize the car. I told them not to bother, but I guess he enjoys doing it.

When my parents said they were taking China for a drive – that dog loves car rides – I interrupted my reading of the Times and went along.

We went down to Pembroke Pines and across to the west, where the pace of development has been incredible. We ended near here at Forest Ridge, passing block after winding block of homes by the same developer as this house.

“That’s our house!” Mom would say as we passed a just-built model – or “That’s our house with a different door” or “with a lower roof.” Endless variations of Oak Knoll Gardens made me dizzy.

Marc brought back the car looking terrific, better than it has looked since it last fell into his hands. My brother can be so good.

I drove Mom and China to get some gas for my trip back to Gainesville, and later I talked politics with my parents and Jonathan, all of whom are still ardent liberals. (Mom and Dad still like Clinton.)

I’m glad I didn’t leave early and I’m glad I came. Tomorrow morning I’ll head back up north; it doesn’t really matter when I leave.

Monday, December 26, 1994

8 PM. Although I hadn’t really slept well, I got up at 6 AM and was ready to go at 7:30 AM. My parents came out to the car to say goodbye to me. (My brothers were asleep.)

Mom and Dad helped me with my stuff, and Mom said, “I love you” and kept waving as I pulled away. I know they feel sad that I was leaving, and in a way, I do, too. Perhaps someday I can see them more often.

It was a cool, cloudless day, and I made good time up the Turnpike, listening to NPR and then talk radio.

A little after 11 AM, I was in Orlando. I got off at I-4 and rode up and down International Drive. Probably I should have just kept going on towards Gainesville, but I wanted to stop in Orlando and look around a little.

The area was crawling with tourists. I had a McLean Deluxe and got gas before returning to the Turnpike.

Everything was fine until I paid the toll at Wildwood and suddenly, before where the road merges into I-75, we came to a dead halt.

As my car crawled along, I kept waiting to pass the accident that caused the traffic jam, but there never was an accident.

Next time I’ll exit Wildwood and take state roads, but I had no idea that I’d be in stop-and-go traffic, never getting above 30 mph for the next 90 minutes.

It was an incredible tie-up, like rush hour on the Long Island Expressway or the Hollywood Freeway.

Seeing all the out-of-state plates, I realized that thousands of people were going home via that two-lane stretch of I-75 that was under construction nearly all the way back to Orlando.

Unable to resume normal speed till just past Ocala, I didn’t get home until 3:15 PM, and I was exhausted, having been driving for nearly eight hours.

Mom had left a message an hour before, and I called her to explain how I got so delayed.

But first I responded to my other message, from the Letters to the Editor department of the New York Times. They’re going to print my letter “very soon.” I wrote it last Sunday, in response to a letter about extending the length of representatives’ terms from two to four years.

Around 4:30 PM, I fell into one of those delicious alpha states. I was listening to the radio but I also had zoned out and was sort of sleeping while technically awake.

It was very refreshing, but now, after dinner and a talk with Ronna – I’ll write about that tomorrow – I feel drowsy again.

At least my car performed like a trouper.

Tuesday, December 27, 1994

9 PM. Sleeping in my own bed is certainly more comfortable than sleeping on the floor, yet I also know that seeing my family made me miss them more.

The less I see them, the easier it is to believe that we’re no longer so connected – but that’s not true.

What is the biggest cause of the tension between me and the rest of the family is the strong pull I feel toward them; It’s almost gravitational, which probably makes sense, because the family is where I came from.

I’m sure there’s something there that goes beyond Freud back to Darwin – or maybe to DNA.

Ronna, as I figured, has been getting close to Matthew and his daughter. One reason she’s sleep-deprived all the time is that she gets up with 14-month-old Chelsea at night.

The baby usually sleeps through the night, but like all babies, she picks up illnesses at day care – including a stomach virus that she gave to both Matthew and Ronna.

Ronna went to Thanksgiving dinner with his parents in Linden, New Jersey. They divided Christmas between her father’s house in Pleasantville and Matthew’s parents’ house. (Ronna’s mother went to San Francisco for the holidays to be with Sue’s family.)

“So,” I asked, “when are you going to stop this New York/Philadelphia shuttle and move in together?”

“I’m waiting for him to ask me,” she replied.

My own feeling is that if Matthew isn’t the guy who’s going to be Ronna’s husband, he comes closer than anyone she’s ever dated. She doesn’t express reservations about him the way she did with almost every other guy.

She doesn’t know when she’ll be coming to Orlando but said that now that she has two beds in her living room in Manhattan, I’m welcome to visit. I wished her a wonderful 1995.

Today, I got a Christmas card photo from Scott: a very sweet portrait of him, M.J. and their adorable little girl.

I got to work before 10 AM, surprising Laura and Laurie.

One of the students who works in the office told me that the slowdown I experienced starting around Wildwood is typical for I-75 during holiday peaks. Next time I’ll know to avoid that kind of traffic.

The Times printed my letter, “Senate Would Bar Longer House Terms,” changing the female personal pronoun I used – her – to “his or her,” but otherwise my original letter was intact.

It’s a nice little letter, very clear and succinct – for me, anyway. And of course I always love getting some attention for something different: this time, a serious political topic.

After I showed the letter to Linda Baldwin, we had a good talk about politics. Except for Jon, there probably isn’t any other political junkie like me among the CGR staff.

I enjoyed chatting with Linda, who described herself as I always imagined, as a yellow-dog Democrat.

While I fixed up my c.v., I didn’t do the real work I have to do on the DSR grant application. However, I did edit and revise the SGML memo a little more.

Home at 4 PM, I did the laundry and even managed to return a video to the Tower Road library and pick up some new videos and a couple of books before returning at 5 PM, when the clothes were dry and ready to be folded and put away.

Last night I slept with the quilt for the first time this winter – but I’ll probably need it most nights for the next two to three months.

Today was sunny and fairly mild, but I still wish Gainesville winters were as warm as those in South Florida.

Already I can feel the skin on my fingers getting dry. What I hate is when the skin cracks open completely as it did last winter (which wasn’t really very cold at all).

Saturday, December 31, 1994

8 PM. There are four more hours left in 1994, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be asleep before 1995 arrives.

It’s probably been ten years since I was last at a New Year’s Eve party, and that year the party was at the West 85th Street apartment I shared with Teresa.

I remember dancing with Amira as Gary looked on, but not too much else. It was a stressful time for me because I was returning to Florida and Teresa was planning her ill-fated short-lived move to San Francisco.

I do remember 15 years ago, 1979, being at my parents’ townhouse in Davie, and 25 years ago spending my New Year’s Eve at the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, when I was 18-year-old freshman at Brooklyn College.

Today I bought a 40th birthday card for my younger brother and noticed some grey flecks on the side of my hair. I think I’m starting to adjust to middle age.

Last night I read the first assignment for next Saturday’s Nova class, which I finished this afternoon.

Although I know very little about American literature from 1620 to 1830 (and even get mixed up as to the Puritans and the pilgrims), all the students have to read is Mary Rowlandson’s account of being held captive by Massachusetts Indians, some poems by Edward Taylor, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and the introduction in our text.

In class, I’ll probably mention other material I’m familiar with from reading in my younger days: Equiano’s slave narrative, Franklin’s autobiography, poems by Phillis Wheatley and Anne Hutchinson, and Jonathan Edwards’s sermons.

I printed out another 231-page short story manuscript, but Sarabande Books wants two copies for submissions to their Mary McCarthy Award. However, they don’t have an entry fee.

At Walmart, I got a new ribbon and paper along with some other stuff.

(Also at Walmart, I said hi to Dean Patrick, who was shopping, and to my old SFCC student, Patrick Aronson, who works in their pharmacy. The nice thing about living in a small town is always running into people I know.)

Yesterday I spoke to Mom. Marshall’s father decided not to go to the expense of having a funeral, he finally told Mom, after Jonathan had been unable to reach him.

Mom was amazed with the man and told him not to tell Jonathan that he ordered that Marshall’s beard be cut off before he was cremated.

Now Jonathan won’t get the chance to go through any of Marshall’s things and take even the Christmas present that Marshall intended for him.

I hope that Mom does something in 1995 to make herself less sad. A week ago she cried that all the fun has gone out of her life.

But that’s because she’s so socially isolated; she has no friends, stays in all day, doesn’t work or volunteer or get involved in groups or classes.

Still, there’s not much point in my giving her further advice when she hasn’t asked for it.

Well, I’ve written just about enough so that I can avoid a sentimental rehash of the past year. Here ends another diary – my 26th.

Who could have imagined when I got my first diary in August 1969 that I’d write daily entries all the way up to 1995?

That’s like telling me now about the year 2020, which sounds exotically futuristic. It’s amazing that all you have to do is not die and you get to experience all these changes.