A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1990

Monday, July 2, 1990

8 PM. It’s been such a needlessly stressful day.

Last evening I left for Rockaway after dinner; I had to wait until 6 PM because of a torrential thunderstorm that lasted a couple of hours.

As the West Side IRT wasn’t running, I took the crosstown bus to Lexington Avenue, where I was accosted by a fat middle-aged Haitian woman who kept preaching a hellfire-and-damnation sermon punctuated by karate kicks and sharp cries of “Aieeeee!” Perhaps she had Tourette’s syndrome.

When I take the IRT to Brooklyn, I’m always aware of eventually being the only white person in the subway car. Certainly I was the only one at the Franklin Avenue station, where I changed trains.

About thirty years ago, James Baldwin wrote that it wasn’t a white world any longer, and it would never be one again. To which I still say “Amen!” But I can see lots of white men, not all of them older, who can’t adjust to the new world. In New York, the nonwhites are now a majority, and that’s one reason I’m glad a black man is the mayor.

It took me 2½ hours to get to Grandma Ethel’s just before dark (and it’s already getting darker earlier). My claim card was there so I could mail it in to Tallahassee today.

I watched TV and chatted with Grandma, who seems more confused than ever. Puzzlement is her most frequent expression, and I don’t know if the cause is old age or her medication.

Although I slept well, I had a doozy of a sinus headache which required three decongestant tablets before it would dissipate by late morning.

I left Rockaway in a hurry because when I called Chase, the $1800 that I’d rushed to deposit in my checking account hadn’t shown up on my balance. I was especially disturbed because the $100 deposit I made the same day had cleared. I felt completely discombobulated.

By now I realize that I overreacted, but this morning I couldn’t get to the bank branch fast enough, and of course the trip from Rockaway would take an especially long time.

I tried to tell myself to calm down, but I kept imagining checks bouncing all over the place.

After finally giving up on public transportation and taking a taxi to the bank, I was told that the $1800 probably didn’t clear because the checks were mixed in with a cash deposit.

If it doesn’t clear by tomorrow – usually by 9 AM, I can get the previous day’s balance when I call – I’ll have to go back and start screaming or whatever. I realize it’s all because I’m strapped for money right now.

It didn’t help that I had another seven or eight bills waiting for me in today’s mail.

Yes, I wrote out the checks, but I’ll need $2200 to pay my June bills. Which reminds me: I’ll also have to check at Chemical Bank to see if my IRA money got transferred.

It’s also weird that my student loan check – and there never were two installments like this one before – hasn’t shown up yet, for then at least I could have some room to maneuver. Well, this is the ’90s, Grayson.

The mailman told me someone sent me a postcard calling me a sleazebag. Actually, the card – unsigned, naturally – said this: “YOU ARE A PIG AND YOUR MIND IS A SEWER. I’d be ashamed to know you, much less be your daughter or sister or mother. Stay in New York. We don’t want you here in Florida.”

At least a Cuban guy in Miami Beach sent me a nice letter and a check for the 2 Live Crew album for more money than I’d asked for. He said he’s seen a lot worse repression in Cuba. I’m sure of that. But he congratulated me for fighting for free speech.

Now that I’ve read that this storeowner from the Bronx who got interested in the controversy is selling As Nasty as They Wanna Be to people by mail, I’ll just direct all further inquiries to him.

With one tape and two CDs left from the ones I got at Tower Records and other stores – probably they’ll be collector’s items – I plan to go out of the record business.

I feel I’ve had half the air sucked out of me today. Well, I’d better get used to the stress coming in the Payback Decade – a phrase that keeps popping up these days.

Wednesday, July 4, 1990

9:30 PM on a pleasant Fourth of July.

Last evening at this time Josh returned my call from the day before, wanting to know if I’d had dinner. I’d had, but he said he’d call me again soon.

Then I went to Central Park to see if I could come late and still get a ticket for Shakespeare. However, the crowds were larger than usual, so all I got was a nice walk at twilight – which is good enough for me. I’m still enough of an out-of-towner not to lose my sense of wonder about Manhattan.

I called Elihu, who couldn’t talk but who was glad to hear from me and said he’d call me back.

After reading a little in D.N. Perkins’s The Mind’s Best Work, which is a bit boring – his theme seems to be that creativity is only the result of slightly heightened everyday processes like noticing and distinguishing – I fell asleep early but was awakened when Justin phoned.

He and Ali were going to the Metropolitan Museum today to see Larry at work and take in the exhibits and he asked if I wanted to join them. I did.

Up at 6 AM, I listened to NPR – that nut Jack Thompson is at it again; now he’s harassing Bruce Springsteen for helping 2 Live Crew with Banned in the USA, which is a pretty good statement about freedom of speech – and I exercised for an hour starting at 8 AM.

Then I had breakfast, read the Times, called Chase to see if my latest credit card payments had begun clearing – they had, so I can get my chassis moving again – and I did aerobics at 11 AM to Denise Austin’s ESPN show.

Although it was pleasantly mild all night and in the morning, the forecast was for hot and humid weather, and it did hit 90° this afternoon. I wore shorts and a tight ribbed white athletic shirt, like the kind worn by the hoody guys in my old neighborhood when they’d hang out on street corners.

Although I felt a bit self-conscious, once I realized I didn’t look foolish, that my muscles are up to it, I relaxed. Yes, it’s vanity. I was pleased at the museum when I noticed Justin staring at me.

It was good to see Ali again. She’s still temping and trying to scare up other work while doing some acting with different groups. Larry had gotten Ali into the Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit last week, so she wanted to see the French paintings on loan from the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum in the U.S.S.R.

Larry, who’s currently working with the audio tour department, got Justin and me the Acoustiguide sets for free, so we toured the Tiffany exhibit.

Justin got behind me in the tape, but I didn’t mind; I found the taped tour a terrific “multimedia” way to see a museum show and I got a lot out of it.

I’d known about Tiffany glass, of course, but little about Tiffany himself, nothing about his Cold Spring Harbor mansion, and before today I’d never really appreciated his stained glass and other design objects.

The craftsmanship and the colors were exquisite. At the end of the tour, I stood around and chatted with Larry, who was collecting the tape players and headsets.

I hadn’t seen him since last August, and while he looks fine, he also looks old, sort of Prufrock-ish with his gray hair and bulky and fussy appearance.

Neither Larry nor Justin ever knew how to dress, and they seem to me like such a perfect match, alike in their temperaments and styles. Perhaps I’m neurotic, but I like being youthful.

While a lot of Justin and Larry’s premature middle age is due to something they can’t do anything about – genetics – I feel I’d want to look younger if I were them. Of course they have each other and I don’t have anyone special, so perhaps I’m totally wrong.

Justin was staying on till closing time so he and Larry could go back to an Independence Day party in Park Slope, thrown by the landlords of the studio Larry rents. They’re working the rest of the week and heading for Reading on the weekend.

Feeling it was too hot to walk home, I took the 86th Street bus across town at 4:30 PM. After stocking up on some groceries, I did a giant wash, and now I expect to dip back into the Perkins book again.

I’ve been giving the future a lot of thought, and for next year, I’d like to have as many options as possible. Yale Law School is one, the Peace Corps in Eastern Europe or the Caribbean is another, and I’d also like to live in Charlottesville if I could figure out what to do there besides get a Ph.D. in English that I don’t want.

Friday, July 6, 1990

7 PM. I just spoke to Dad after reading in the Times that his customer’s store, Rapid Transit, has been the scene of demonstrations and a near-riot since last Saturday, when a Haitian man claimed he was beaten up after he tried to get some pants re-altered on the spot.

The store, on 79th and Biscayne, it’s owned by Luis, a Cuban man I’ve spoken to on the phone, and Dad said he was wearing a Bugle Boy shirt on TV.

Luis is a good friend of the local cops, and last night they beat some of the Haitian demonstrators.

Dad can’t imagine Luis starting a fight and attributed much of the rage to blacks’ anger over the way the Cubans demonstrated against Nelson Mandela.

(Miami was the only city where local leaders by and large shunned Mandela and where he was subject to lots of criticism; in New York City, the Jewish leaders either made peace or were quiet.)

The Rapid Transit incident sounds a lot like what happened at the Korean store on Church Avenue, where the Haitian woman ended up admitting it probably wasn’t the store owner who beat her.

It’s scary to live in a time when ethnic tension is so high. I’m also aware of the current epidemic of gay-bashing and would think twice before I appeared “gay” (whatever that means) on the street anywhere except the annual parade.

Things are so bad that teenagers are coming to the West Village, always a gay area, specifically to beat up people. Feh. 

 Sunday, July 8, 1990

4 PM. I’ve got the start of a cold. During the night I had a bad sore throat, but I’d hoped it was due to allergies or dry air. However, as the night progressed, my throat hurt more and I just had the feeling of a cold virus in my body.

I’d felt a bit weary yesterday and my throat felt scratchy, but I didn’t expect to get sick.

I remember that I was around someone with a cold this week, but I don’t remember who or when. In any case, I’m taking more vitamins and supplements than usual, and I hope I can keep this cold from being a severe one.

It’s a bad time to be sick because tomorrow will be my most hectic day of the summer, with Creativity class from 9 AM to 4 PM and then the first class of the other course from 6 PM to 9 PM.

On the other hand, I was going to skip my usual exercise anyway, and I have only the Thursday class for the rest of the week. I’ll rest as much as I can and baby myself.

My eyes are starting to get watery and my nose is beginning to clog up, but this morning I did work out from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM; then I read the Sunday Timesor what parts of it that didn’t come yesterday. (Because of less advertising, newspapers are smaller these days.)

Ronna came over at 11 AM, and I made her microwave pancakes while I had more cereal for my second breakfast.

She’s been having diarrhea a lot, probably because she’s stressed out, not only about Steven but also her job search.

Ronna’s also not that crazy about her therapist and wonders if she should continue their sessions.

She needs to change her therapy goals anyway because she originally went to try to repair the relationship with Steven, which she now feels she “gave two months longer than I otherwise would have.”

Ronna didn’t volunteer any details about their relationship and I didn’t press.

I confided in her about my stress over the credit card bills and my weighing various options like Yale Law School and maybe other law schools and the Peace Corps. I’d be wasting myself teaching college composition, Ronna assures me.

She seems to want this job at Cara’s old office, but next week she’ll face a “killer” of an editing test that’s already eliminated many others they had been considering for the position.

I walked Ronna down to the greengrocers at the flea market by Columbus and 78th, where she bought fruit and vegetables. On our way back uptown, Ronna ran into a woman she knew, and she said, “You two know each other.”

It was Suzanne Bluth, Jordan’s sister, whom I went to Midwood with. She looked good, and I could discern the resemblance between the woman whose 40th birthday was today and the 17-year-old girl I knew in high school in 1968.

Suzanne talked a lot about the Midwood 20th reunion, an experience she still seems to be processing two years later. She said she felt weird seeing people from high school, but she was much more popular than I.

Because I had my own problems at the time, I’ve blocked out a lot of that unhappy period of my life. Still, I remembered most, but not all, of the names she mentioned.

Suzanne said the reunion made her realize how few people in our class of over a thousand that she knew.

One thing I can say about Suzanne Bluth: she can still talk like crazy.

She teaches math at Murry Bergtraum High School downtown, is taking graduate classes at Rutgers, and is about to go to Europe for the summer.

Knowing that Ronna is interested in making a career change, Suzanne tried to persuade Ronna to consider becoming a teacher.

(Later, I told Ronna what she already knew: she’d be crazy to teach in New York City schools. Even Ronna’s stepmother, who was so dedicated, is sick of the job.)

Before we said goodbye, Suzanne said to me, “So I hear you write,” to which I just nodded.

Later, Ronna told me Suzanne is less estranged from her family than she was when she was active in Whatchamacallit . . . Aesthetic Realism.

Ronna and I parted at 86th and Broadway: she went home and I got a salad at the Koreans’ for lunch.

No, I’m not going to write any part of my Creativity paper today, but I’ve got its format planned out in my head.

I hope I’m not too uncomfortable this week because of the cold.

Tuesday, July 10, 1990

8 PM. I’m glad I forced myself to go back to Teachers College last night even though I was feeling terrible and a horrible thunderstorm had just swept through.

Robin Platt seems like a good teacher, and Interface Design looks like it’s going to be an interesting class.

We’re meeting in a media room in the library. Our text is The Human Factor: Designing Computer Systems FOR PEOPLE, and suggested readings include Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Robin, a consultant to Citibank, began by showing us what interface is and discussing some basic principles of “subito”: the quality you want in screen design, where the user “gets it” immediately.

Our assignment was to write up an experience we’d had with an unfamiliar technology, so today I wrote up the problem I had in the library on Friday when I think I accidentally erased the CD-ROM disk containing the Oxford English Dictionary. (I left quickly!)

Even though my nose kept dripping like Victoria Falls, I enjoyed the class. It’s too bad I felt too sick to stay for the afternoon session of Creativity, but I’m sure resting did me good.

I had trouble getting to sleep again because I kept needing to put a tissue to my nose and mouth, and I also was dizzy.

Still, I felt like I’ve gotten over the worst day of my cold: when I awoke at this morning after 5½ hours of sleep, I felt congested but without a runny nose and sore throat.

I jiggled around a bit to Denise Austin’s ESPN show – all the exercise I could handle today – and then took a shower and rested.

After a lunch with tons of Korean salad bar, I took the bus to Teachers College.

Today was hot but so dry – unlike yesterday, which was very humid – that I felt comfortable without air-conditioning.

At school, I again went to see if my Stafford check was ready (it might have been processed later this afternoon), printed out my assignment and a letter to Patrick, and bought the text in the bookstore.

Oh, and I splurged and had Colombo low-fat (not nonfat) frozen yogurt – but I had only four ounces instead of the usual six.

Feeling adventurous, I walked over to Grant’s Tomb to finally get a close-up look at it after waiting at the bus stop on 120th and Riverside for years.

It’s not a bad looking monument, really, comparing favorably with those in Washington – but the inside was closed today.

Back at home, I rested and read.

Teresa called and told me she’ll get a cleaning woman to come by next week. If I’m going to start showing the apartment to prospective subtenants, it needs to look better.

Teresa will try Roommate Finders, but I think she should be worried since it’s not the same rental market that existed a few years ago.

My stay in New York is half over, like the baseball season. (The All-Star game is tonight.) In seven weeks I’ll be out of here.

The last two-thirds of July will be busy. I’ve got the papers for Budin  and Tannenbaum and all the work for my new course. But I don’t mind.

Actually, last night I realized that over the past five years I’ve taken as many credits at Teachers College as I did in my M.A. program at Richmond or the M.F.A. program at Brooklyn.

Maybe I should have tried to get a degree, but I liked making up my own credential and taking only courses I wanted to take.

In August, I’ll work on that Walser article for Tom and Debra, see more of my friends, and figure out the best thing to do with all my chapbooks.

Maggie was friendly in class yesterday, but she’d forgotten my name. Sigh. But there’s a cute guy named Victor in my new class.

At least being sexually attracted to people convinces me I’m still human.

I’m about to sneeze. No, I stifled it. Bless me.