A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1989
Wednesday, August 9, 1989
9 PM. This morning I was surprised to see both baby pigeons back on the ledge. Evidently they don’t just fly away forever; their father was with them for part of the day.
I slept very well last night and had many pleasant dreams. When I woke up, I read Newsweek’s cover story on dreams.
Like many other aspects of our lives, dreams are now known to be something other than what Freud thought they were.
This evening I watched a PBS program on the brain, and it explained panic attacks as the overstimulus of some region of the brain.
Biochemistry has superseded many psychological explanations for our behavior.
The AA and Al-Anon meetings have made me aware of feelings I haven’t had lately – or maybe I’ve just ignored them.
Back in high school, when I was suffering with my panic attacks – if alcoholics arrange their whole lives around the bottle, I arranged my teen years around the avoidance of panic attacks – I read psychology books and books on yoga, religion and spirituality.
It was a search to find meaning in life – probably because I was an adolescent, but also because I was so unhappy and needed to find answers that would release me from my pain.
Attending the 12-step group meetings, I feel closer to that part of me, as well as the part that was in therapy.
The meetings also gave me the feeling of a sense of community, something I had in college and a few other times in my life.
I phoned Sat Darshan at work.
Yesterday, at a children’s bookstore downtown, I bought her daughters a picture book by Dayal Kaur Khalsa, a Sikh woman.
In My Family Vacation, she wrote and illustrated a story about a sister and brother – May and Richie – going on to a trip to Florida with their parents.
It hit on a number of levels – Sikhism, “Richie,” Florida – so I wanted to let Sat Darshan know I’ll be mailing it to the girls as a gift.
After I told Sat Darshan about Helmut’s drunken calls, she said she thinks he’s feeling a lot of pressure because, after so many years, he’s almost finished with his dissertation and thus his degree.
She also remarked that Helmut he seems uncertain about moving to Hamburg to live with Mary, his wife, who Sat Darshan met when she visited the U.S. a few years ago.
Although Helmut had feelings for Mary, he basically married her to keep her from having to return to Iran during the worst part of the war with Iraq.
Sat Darshan said that living with Mary will finally force Helmut to deal with the reality of their marriage. He calls Sat Darshan often, apparently.
Today was another gorgeous day, and in the afternoon I walked down to 66th Street to see Sex, Lies and Videotape, Stephen Soderbergh’s prize-winning film, his first, at Cinema Studio.
I thought it was brilliant and deep, and James Spader (whom I’ve had a crush on for a decade) and the other actors in it were excellent.
Mom said she got three of my packages. Marc went on a free trip to Cozumel with Adriana, who leads travel writers on the kind of tours Alice goes on, so Mom and Dad are watching China.
In ten days I’ll be back in Florida. Hard to believe.
Today was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had lately: I felt good and did a lot of different things.
Thursday, August 10, 1989
8 PM. I’ve begun reading a book Ann Williams recommended: The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller, a Swiss therapist.
It made me see how I’ve totally lost touch with the anger and fear I felt as a child.
I can’t remember those feelings at all: no curiosity about Mom’s pregnancy when I was 3, no jealousy at Marc’s birth, nothing at all for most of my early years.
Yet I know Mom screwed up, using me as a way to control someone the way she couldn’t control her own mother.
Grandma had a breakdown when Mom was young, and Mom has never expressed feelings about that “abandonment.”
She wanted a child who wouldn’t abandon her, and I tried very hard to be “good,” but that meant denying my feelings – which I still do.
I identified with Graham, the James Spader character in Sex, Lies and Videotape: a guy who’s impotent and can only get off watching videos of women he’s interviewed about sex.
When was the last time I was intimate with anyone? Have I ever talked about being gay with my parents?
I feel, all of a sudden, very fucked-up.
It’s like that first step: I’ve admitted, or begun to, that my life is out of control and unmanageable.
Maybe this pain will lead me somewhere if I don’t run away from it.
Yesterday when they ran the cast titles at the end of the movie, I was puzzled by a character called “the rapist.” Was there a rapist in the movie, I wondered?
Then it hit me: it was one word, “therapist.”
Am I scared of my feelings, or what?
The baby pigeons practiced flying all afternoon.
Friday, August 11, 1989
6 PM. I finished Alice Miller’s book, which really knocked me out: it’s a consciousness-raiser about how we treat children and force them into a generation-to-generation cycle of grandiosity and narcissism.
In class this morning, I was able to use it in our discussion of codependency.
We all had lots to say about our AA and Al-Anon meetings, and it felt good to process the experience and share feelings.
In the afternoon we worked on various models of alcohol and drug education programs by breaking up into groups. Ours was law enforcement, and others were educational, psychosocial, socio-cultural.
The course is fascinating, but I think I’d have preferred to take it over a long semester.
I had lunch with Gene again, this time at the Amsterdam Pizzeria, and the day went by quickly.
I’m going over to Ronna’s at 7:15 PM.
I have this week pretty well planned-out, but today Ann quoted an AA saying: “If you want to see God laugh, make plans.”
Saturday, August 12, 1989
8 PM. Next week at this time I’ll be at my parents’ house in Florida.
I just spoke to Mom, who said she keeps telling China I’m returning; Mom swears the dog looks around for me.
Last evening I had a very good time.
On the way out, in the elevator, Oscar introduced me to the new tenant who was taking over Chris Bernau’s apartment.
I’ll miss my meetings on the street with the people in my building. The other day, I said hello to six of my neighbors during the course of a walk to Shakespeare & Company.
When I rang Ronna’s bell, Sue answered the door, leading me to Ronna’s bedroom, where I met Billy’s girlfriend Erika, a University of Florida junior who went to Broward Community College. She left Brooklyn when she was nine and moved to Inverrary with her parents.
Billy came out of the bathroom and we shook hands. I’m still amazed how that four-year-old boy who’d hide his baby bottle from me grew up into this big, husky man.
His friend Steven’s wedding is next week, and Billy seem to be dreading the experience of the bachelor party tonight.
Last evening, after Sue called Robert, who was working on an experiment at his lab at Columbia, we all went out to Empire Szechuan Gourmet.
Although I regretted not being alone with Ronna, I do like her family, and I like the feeling I’m almost a part of it since they I’ve known them all for so long.
Billy and Erika have been seeing New York City like tourists, going on the Circle Line and stuff, and we talked about the differences between life here and in Florida.
The meal was great. We ordered dumplings, cold sesame noodles (I’m going to miss my favorite appetizer), pineapple chicken, sesame chicken and orange beef.
Afterwards I went with them to select a video to watch back at Sue’s in New Jersey.
Ronna was going there because she had to be in Paramus early for the naming ceremony for Sid and Cara’s second daughter.
Billy and Erika are spending the weekend in Jersey because Sue is giving them the use of her car. (During the week she takes it to her job in the South Bronx.)
I helped Ronna pack an overnight bag, and she hugged me goodbye when Sue dropped me off at Riverside and 86th before getting on the West Side Highway.
Today has been dark and rainy.
At the library this morning, I saw that The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was finally made it into Forthcoming Books in Print.
I met Alice at her place at 1:30 PM and we had a last lunch at Pizzeria Uno. (She was kind enough to pay.)
Peter had asked if I wanted to join them at the 4:15 PM show of Sex, Lies and Videotape, but I didn’t feel like seeing it again so soon.
Alice said she’s having trouble with the book these days; she called it “writer’s block,” but I’m sure it’s just the usual problem of getting the words on the page.
Alice’s goal is to increase her income from writing by 10% per year, and she wants to get a new, more aggressive agent to help her get celebrity biographies which will pay a lot of money.
Alice says that in a couple of years she should be able to afford a decent Village co-op.
She plans to leave the Waverly Place apartment in the summer of 1991 at the latest, and her brother will take over the lease.
He likes the place, and it would be convenient for him when he leaves the Foreign Service to return to New York.
Meanwhile, their mother has agreed to leave the house on East 51st Street so it can be sold; she’s looking at condos in Brooklyn.
Alice and I hung out in her apartment for an hour.
Then, because I didn’t want to walk home from the subway in the rain without an umbrella, I got on the M5 bus, which stops right at my corner.
As it turned out, the IRT wasn’t running anyway, so the usual long bus ride uptown became even longer as many subway riders had to come aboard.
But I did get a last glimpse of Sixth Avenue and Broadway from Greenwich Village past Chelsea and Midtown to here.
When I called Grandma to say I’d be coming tomorrow, she sounded bad and said the bitter taste is back, driving her crazy.
I think it may be psychosomatic. She’s lonely and bored, and she knows I’m going back to Florida.
For me traveling is a big deal, but next weekend Alice is going with Andreas to San Francisco, Teresa is planning to get out there to visit Deirdre, Dad’s going to L.A. on Bugle Boy business, Marc and Adriana are in Cozumel, and Ronna’s mother is flying up from Orlando for the wedding.
Plane travel shouldn’t be as dramatic as I make it.
Monday, August 14, 1989
6 PM. I finished reading Beattie’s Codependent No More last evening, as Grandma watched TV.
Today I’ve had to put some of the book’s precepts to work to avoid getting caught up with Grandma’s illness.
She’s been kvetching all day about the terrible bitterness in her tongue and gums. Grandma called Marty, who’ll take her to the doctor tomorrow.
I hope he can help her, but I feel her problems are psychosomatic. Why else would the bitterness come and go?
As I’ve said before, “bitterness” is a very telling symptom. Look at the saying, “It left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
It’s possible Grandma’s problem is something like cancer, but I doubt it. Anyway, I’m remaining detached.
I did what I could for her – something practical like going to the supermarket – but I’m not going to allow myself to be an “enabler” of her behavior.
Last night I slept well and dreamed some ideas for my Alcohol and Health paper. (In the dream, I got up from bed and started writing.)
I also dreamed about being interviewed for a teaching job at Brooklyn College’s English Department; I felt very smug because I knew I already had a position for the fall term at BCC.
After exercising this morning, I went out at 11 AM. At Beach 116th Street, I bought the paper and a birthday card for Justin.
Larry sent me an invitation to a birthday gathering for Justin on Saturday night.
It’s disappointing to miss it, but I’m not sorry for leaving now, if only because I’m looking forward to teaching at BCC.
I’ve been thinking about going on Nutri/System, and I’ve decided to wait at least until I’m settled in my new apartment.
In AA and Al-Anon, they tell you not to make any big changes in your life – job, marriage, moving – for the first six months of sobriety.
I want to avoid setting myself up for failure with Nutri/System.
Obviously, I’m moving into a new place and a new job, but I’m fairly used to going back to Florida, and I don’t think BCC will be that traumatic: I did a similar job for three years, and I’m accustomed to meeting new classes all the time when I do FIU Teacher Education Center workshops.
Still, I need time to get myself settled in a new job and apartment before I start changing my eating habits drastically.
I took the bus to Brooklyn and got Triavil and Antivert at Deutsch Pharmacy in the old neighborhood.
Then, after having lunch at the Mill Basin Deli (where I used to pick up fries and turkey sandwiches once a week in the ’70s), I stopped in to say hi to Evie and Lou, who look well. They said that Scott, Bonnie and their grandchildren are fine.
So today I passed both places I last lived in New York: the East 56th Street house I grew up in, and later, when I returned to Rockaway, my first apartment, on Beach 118th Street and the boardwalk.
But I barely glanced at them. How much can you concentrate on your past?
There’s a lot of Woodstock nostalgia in the air this week because it’s twenty years after the rock festival. I remember feeling excited by news reports of Woodstock: I felt part of a new, different generation.
When I returned to Grandma’s, Aunt Tillie was here watching her soaps. Later, Grandma’s friend Lillian Goldberg stopped by.
Both of them offered advice and sympathy to Grandma. But I suspect they think the tongue problem is caused by “nerves.”
I scribbled a rough draft and notes for the four questions on the midterm and read Accepting Ourselves, a guide to AA for lesbians and gay men.
(One of the four questions on the exam is one we make up ourselves, and my question is why alcoholism is so prevalent among gay men and lesbians.)
I’m certain I’ll get the paper done by Wednesday or Thursday; Ann wants only eight pages maximum, which is kind of a snap for me.
Although today was exceedingly humid, I’m glad I got the chance to march around my old neighborhood. I still love Brooklyn and will always feel like a Brooklyn boy.
It will be sad not being in New York for the next eight or nine months, but I know I shall be back in late spring of next year.
And the eleven weeks I’ve spent in New York this summer have been exceedingly special.
It’s surprising I’m not yet more nervous about leaving.
Wednesday, August 16, 1989
8 PM. Last evening I finished the Alcohol and Health paper, but I had an almost sleepless night.
I hate to admit it, because I’m so superstitious, but my vertigo is going away: however, I still couldn’t get to sleep till 7 AM.
(Yes, I did sleep a bit before that, I’m sure, but it was so light and unsatisfying I wasn’t aware of it.) At least I got a couple of hours in.
I thought I’d have to be out of here at any time because Ruffina was coming. But she never showed up and this evening phoned to say she’d been ill and would be here on Friday.
I managed to get in my half-hour of exercise before leaving the house at 11:30 AM.
I headed for the Teachers College computer lab, where I printed out my paper for class. What a relief.
In the last five years, I’ve taken 78 credits, 68 of which are graduate credits in education.
Combined with my two master’s degrees in English and Creative Writing, I now have more graduate credits than I do undergraduate credits from Brooklyn College.
It’s almost exactly twenty years since I finished my first course at Brooklyn College, Poli Sci 1 in the summer session of 1969.
That was also when I was also traveling to Manhattan via the D train on my own for the first time since becoming agoraphobic.
That summer I discovered the Village and met Brad through his ad in the East Village Other personals.
If it was exciting to start the fall term at Brooklyn College in 1969, I also feel excited about teaching at BCC’s South Campus starting next week.
After I printed out my paper, I took the subway to Times Square and got Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale paper at the out-of-town newsstand.
There are plenty of reasonably-priced apartments advertised for rent, and I recognized several ads as being from Sun Pointe Cove.
I’ll probably go over there on Sunday and see if I can get myself another apartment. It will make it easier on me if I don’t have to adjust to a new place.
After catching up on recent issues of American Banker at the public library, I had lunch at the Pizza Hut across Fifth Avenue.
Today was another hazy, humid day, but it’s supposed to be drier by tomorrow.
Grandma didn’t go to the doctor yet – Marty was too busy at the store – and she sounds awful, telling me the burning sensation is worse than it’s ever been.
It’s beyond me whether her problem is a serious medical condition or brought on by depression and a need for attention.
I called to say goodbye to Justin, who was working on Theatre Inc. business at home.
Last week I got Justin’s mailing about the company. He’s just cast the first play in one of the reading series.
Justin thanked me for the birthday card, and I told him to say goodbye to Larry for me.
At 4 PM, I took an hour’s alpha-state rest that revived me, and since then I’ve finished reading the papers. I also did another batch of laundry so Ruffina won’t have to do it on Friday.
This morning I finally called Book Crafters, and it turned out my books were sitting on the floor there.
Because they knew I wasn’t yet home in Fort Lauderdale, they decided to wait until they heard from me.
So I could have had the books over a month ago. Well, no matter. I’ll have them soon; they said they’ll send out a truck right away.
I’ve taken care of just about everything now: I want to make some phone calls, and I’ll see Teresa tomorrow, and I’ll have class on Friday.
I do enjoy the sense of closure I get when I leave New York or Florida. By now I’ve integrated both places into my life so that I don’t really feel I’m leaving one life behind and beginning another.
This is the Jet Age, man, and even phobic me can live in two places over a thousand miles apart.
I hate to complain. but I’m getting those pains in my right ear again.
Hey, who am I kidding? I love to complain.
Thursday, August 17, 1989
10 PM. With Teresa here, I’ve been exiled to the futon on the living room floor tonight.
It’s probably dry enough so that I can stay out of the air-conditioned bedroom, but I don’t expect to sleep much anyway.
On the other hand, I had the bedroom to myself on Tuesday and couldn’t sleep at all.
Last night I slept for nine hours, so I’m sure I’ll get through my class tomorrow regardless of how tonight goes.
Betty called me this morning. She wanted me to know that the BCC faculty meeting is at 9:30 AM (with coffee and social hour at 8:30 AM) on North Campus on Monday. We won’t get back to South Campus till noon or so.
Betty asked if I’d mind an evening creative writing class, and I said certainly I wouldn’t. That will make my days easier, and it’s better to teach creative writing in a three-hour block.
Teresa arrived home at 1 PM. Soon after, I went with her to deposit money in Manny Hanny and to have pizza for lunch.
Although she’s had a good summer, Teresa isn’t certain where to go next.
The cheap rent on this apartment keeps her here, but she’d like to try renting for the winter on the North Shore and building up a catering business there.
If she were to do it from this apartment, she would need to put in another refrigerator, a dishwasher and other cooking facilities. But there’s a lot of competition for catering jobs in Manhattan, and less so on Long Island.
Teresa says she dislikes the city now. Unfortunately, she hasn’t done well enough financially to be secure, and it’s a heck of a time to take the chance of something new.
On the other hand, she seems determined to stay in the cooking and catering business and has decided to give up office work, which is probably a good idea.
Back here, we watched TV for a while, but later, feeling antsy, I took a walk by myself.
I figured I won’t get a chance to be out on a day as mild as this till late October at least. I walked to the 79th Street Boat Basin and stood looking out at the Hudson for half an hour.
They were shooting a fashion layout at the outdoor amphitheater, and some guys were “mountain-climbing” the façade, using pegs to stick in between the bricks to get a foothold or handhold.
I saw a rat the size of a cat, and on my way back to the apartment, I spotted that man who walks his monkey every day and someone filming a TV show or movie on 82nd Street.
Judy had us over to watch her four-day-old pigeons nesting in her flower pot.
(Earlier, I’d seen my six-week-old pigeons, now fully grown – I’m certain it was them – on the ledge where they were born.)
Teresa, Judy and I went out for dinner at Empire Szechuan Gourmet; they paid for my meal, which was very good.
Teresa said it would be okay to use her address for the publisher of a chapbook, so I think I’ll go ahead with my Narcissism and Me project.
It’ll cost about $1600, just like The Greatest. I think it will be good for me to do another book.
After dinner, we hung out for a while with Justin and Jarrett. (It’s Brian’s bowling night, and Adam was with friends).
Now Teresa’s watching TV and I’m here in the living room on my next-to-last night in New York.
I came here exactly eleven weeks ago, on June 1. The time has flown by.
On a program about the brain’s memory function last night, Kitty Carlisle noted how life seems speeded up as one ages: “After 50, it’s like you’re having breakfast every fifteen minutes.”