A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1995

Thursday, December 21, 1995

8 PM. I just found the January 1 Kirkus Reviews on Lexis, and my book wasn’t reviewed there. Since most of the titles there have March and April pub dates, that probably ends my hope of getting what would have been a bad review – but better than nothing – in Kirkus.

At the library today I found the December Library Journal, and again, no review, although I suppose it’s still possible there. But I’m becoming convinced that Martin’s strategy is not going to pay off. By mid-January, it will be obvious there are no advance reviews.

At least with a trade paperback, I would have had a chance to go after the literary bookstore crowd, but who in her right mind is going to spend $21 on a 140-page hardcover book of short stories?

I could see us getting not even one newspaper review, and for all my publicity prowess, I don’t see how I can turn this around.

Last evening I got through to Ronna, who is as busy as I suspected she would be with her wedding plans.

She and Matthew are getting married by one of the rabbis at Ansche Chesed at Medici, a kosher Italian restaurant on West 56th between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. She’s hiring a band, photographer and getting her dress made.

Ronna said she’ll understand if I don’t attend and that I could come to a party they’ll be having in Orlando for all the relatives in Florida who couldn’t make it up north for the wedding.

While I’d love to see Ronna get married, I don’t have to be there on February 11; I’ll meet Matthew and Chelsea soon enough.

Hadassah said no to Ronna’s proposal to run the department from Philadelphia with two days a week in New York City. But she’ll get $8,000 in retirement if she stays at Hadassah as even a part-time employee till next October, so she’s proposing that she’d be a manager of special projects so she can get in her minimum 17 hours a week.

Matthew has an old Mac, and she can go online to be connected to the people in New York in her office who are on CompuServe.

She’ll probably move to Philadelphia in January, and she’s been packing and throwing stuff out. But she needs to keep the furniture in the apartment so she and her family can stay there for the wedding.

Afterwards she’ll move into to the house she and Matthew and Chelsea will live in – although since he shared it with his first wife, they want to sell it quickly.

Ronna asked what was going on in my life. It’s typical of her to be interested even when she’s so busy.

It was 31° when I got up at 7 AM today, but I didn’t go into work until 10 AM. I exercised early this morning and again for another half-hour this evening to make up for the day I missed working out on Tuesday.

I went to Walmart to buy Christmas cards and little gifts (mostly sets of toiletries) for Laura, Carol and Linda; later I got Russ one of those new Barnes & Noble 95¢ books, a John Mortimer Rumpole of the Bailey story, since he’s such an Anglophile.

In the bookstore I noticed this cute kid who looked familiar. At first I thought he was a former student, but then I realized he was that angelic-looking boy I spoke to at the Pride Picnic in June. He was with a guy about my age who was Hispanic and obviously not his dad.

Although I definitely can be attracted to kids his age (17? 18?), and I although I know that some gay boys actually seek out “daddy” types, I think the kid would be better off without a relationship with an older man.

Although I wasn’t old enough to be Sean’s “daddy,” I think I had too much power in our relationship, if only because I was 30 and he was 17.

I sometimes wonder if as Sean got older, he realized that and became angry with me. He’s now about the age I was when we were lovers, and even if he’s not still with Doug, I bet Sean can’t even imagine being with a teenager.

I went to the public library to return books and a video I never got around to watching.

Work was quiet today, and I spent most of the morning getting my Florida Arts Council grant application together. Late this afternoon, I dropped off the package at the post office. At least this year I’ve got a kosher manuscript: one completed within the last three years. Now I can forget about the application.

Justin wrote that he and Larry are fine but very cold. He’s been writing up a storm and sending plays out to contests and competitions. Larry’s two-person show at the Penn State Berks County campus opens in late January.

Now Justin is busy with preparing for the end of the semester at Brooklyn College (which returned to the schedule it used to have, with exams in January): he’s got grading, crew reports, and other stuff to do.

Justin said he wrote to New Jersey Online to complain that my column wasn’t there this week. Now that’s a loyal friend.

Josh said his brother in Florida bought him a tortoise and himself a three-foot iguana.

Sharon has a bad cold although Josh said she complains constantly about her generally poor health. I’ve always thought that Sharon seemed fragile or what we used to call “delicate” or “high-strung.”

Josh’s niece has told the family she won a $1,000 “scholarship” to study in England for six weeks. But paying the rest of the tuition will cost them $5,000.

Her mother has basically cut her off, and her aunt in New Jersey charges her $100 a month rent.

Josh’s brother is out of the picture, with his child support covering only her health insurance. Josh pays for her car and computer, and his mother pays for everything else.

I agree with Josh that his niece manipulates them. To me, a trip to England is a luxury she simply can’t afford right now. As Josh said, none of us studied in Europe when we were in Brooklyn College.

At noon, I called Sat Darshan, knowing that she’d be home because the federal government began shutting down this week in the budget stalemate between the White House and Congress.

She had a bad cold but said she was planning on phoning me because she’ll be in Florida on Wednesday night.

Her father didn’t mention that I called him when I stopped in Delray Beach, nor did he tell me that he’d been to the doctors who’d done an MRI and they wanted to see him the next day.

They’ve discovered he’s got fluid on the brain, and that, not the side effects of his stroke, explains his balance problems, slurred speech and memory impairment.

They wanted him to go to the hospital this past Monday, but Ellen and Sat Darshan realized he should be taken to Phoenix for medical care, so they told him to pack and get ready to move.

Sat Darshan managed to get a flight to Miami and back during Christmas – no easy feat – and she’ll be going back with him on Sunday, December 31.

They’ll leave the condo in the hands of the broker and ship some of her parents’ furniture to Arizona with a mover. In a month or two, Ravinder will fly to Delray and drive her father’s car back to Phoenix.

I’d really like to see Sat Darshan, as I haven’t spent time with her since July 1991, before I started law school and before she left New York.

It will be expensive to rent a car for next weekend – if I can – but I’m sure my parents won’t mind my returning so soon.

Mom called to ask for help with the brochure Medicare sent that she doesn’t understand – so she faxed it to me, and I’ll look at it later.

Wednesday, December 27, 1995

4:30 PM. I do have a cold, and because of it, I didn’t get much sleep last night – though I didn’t let it stop me from doing anything today.

I’ve just returned from South Beach, where I spent an hour walking around after I found a meter on Española Way, just south of Lincoln Road.

I had to go to the bathroom badly – so what else is new? – but only after a futile attempt to find a bathroom on Washington Avenue did I remember the public bathrooms at the beach.

I sat for a while in Lummus Park, but mostly I walked around. The Art Deco District has an ambience that reminds me a lot of New York City. Of course, because the weather is so unseasonably cool and today’s skies were gray and drizzly, it might have seemed more like a New York day.

What I love most about Manhattan is something I can do for free: just walk around and watch people.

That’s also something I can do in South Beach in a way I can’t in a suburban area like Davie or in even the urbanized parts of Gainesville, a small, low-density city where I just keep running into people I already know.

Of course, in Miami Beach the people are also less bland and have a lot more edge to them, whether they are the poor Latinos, the elderly Jews, the gay couples holding hands, the posh Eurotrash, or the wannabes like me.

While it bothers me that I’m so out of touch with the culture that has grown in South Beach over the last decade, I feel comfortable there.

Of course, wherever I go, I’ll always feel a bit like an outsider – especially because I actually like taking an outsider’s stance.

I’ve been thinking more and more about moving to Miami Beach if New York doesn’t work out.

I know I said I would not live near my parents again, but if I’m far enough away so that I feel I have my privacy and independence – and I have to admit that my parents almost never visited me, even when I lived close to their home in Broward – I could deal with it.

Well, it’s something I have to think about a lot more.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I watched some broadcast TV. Forget cable, I’m not even used to the dozen or so over-the-air stations in Miami.

Earlier, Dad and I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral on cable in the living room. Like me, Dad had seen it before but still found it worthwhile to view.

In bed, I tossed and turned and my mind wandered so it wasn’t until 3 AM when I finally dropped off to sleep for less than five hours.

At 9:30 AM, when it was only about 50° out, I left the house. The second day after Christmas, I found the crowd surprisingly spare sparse at the Broward Mall.

I hadn’t been there in years and hadn’t seen its (recent?) renovation. Although I hate spending money, I’ve needed shoes, so I picked up some black dress shoes at Mervyn’s for $58. At least now I don’t have to be embarrassed when I wear a tie and jacket and dress pants or a suit.

And I found an $11 bargain: some moccasin-like sport shoes in the Burdines children’s shoes department.

Although I also could use a new pair of sneakers because my current pair is over a year old, I guess that can wait.

From the mall, I went to JT & Company, where – to my disappointment – Jack and Nikki weren’t working today. But this woman from Bayside gave me a haircut and beard trim that was better than my usual half-price haircuts in Gainesville.

While Marc was at work, I used his room to exercise to two Body Electric shows. During lunch, I chatted with my parents before leaving for Miami three hours ago.

Friday, December 29, 1995

7 PM. Last evening I took I-95 up to Delray Beach.

Rush hour on the highway, which extends to six lanes in parts, is a hairy driving experience as cars slalom randomly from lane to lane.

Still, it kept me alert, and I feel proud that I’m not afraid to drive such a road although I may have more foolishness than nerve.

Naturally, I went in the wrong entrance at Kings Point at first, and I had a difficult time finding the right apartment among the identical buildings and sections.

I ended up coming across the door of Mr. P’s apartment quite by accident. Sat Darshan greeted me with a caution that she had a cold.

“So do I,” I said and kissed her anyway.

Although she later told me she’d recently lost 20 pounds, she’s still heavier than I’d ever seen her, and Sat Darshan says she needs to lose another 50 pounds to return to the weight she was in college.

Of course, she noticed my forehead and how the pigment is gone in spots. Usually, I don’t think about my mottled skin, caused either by the same vitiligo that Dad has or from years of acne scarring.

There’s no doubt that we’re both middle-aged, not the teenagers we were when we met 25 years ago.

Her father still is handsome and looks pretty good, but his walking is terrible. She said that it’s lucky that so far he hasn’t fallen and hurt himself. He probably needs a cane, if not a walker, as he’s very unsteady on his feet.

He can’t concentrate too well, and Sat Darshan had to keep reminding him to focus on getting things ready for the move – which meant deciding what he wanted to take and what he wanted to throw away. He kept getting sidetracked each time he found a knickknack in a drawer.

Privately, she told me that she had been unprepared to learn, through his doctor’s records, how devastated he has been by his wife’s death. Mr. P would never tell his daughters how helpless he’s been feeling and how difficult coping with daily life has been for him.

His neighbors have told Sat Darshan they’re relieved he’s being taken care of now. She said he dresses in stained clothes, something he’d never have done before when he was so meticulous.

The apartment looked like the proverbial cyclone had hit. Basically, all of Sat Darshan’s parents’ possessions were being subjected to a choice: taking this thing or discarding it.

A couple that the brokers brought over on Tuesday have bought the condo, so that’s settled as long as they don’t back out. The closing will be handled by mail in January.

Sat Darshan held up various items of clothing – they’d gotten rid of her mother’s stuff after she died – and more often than not, her father said he wanted to keep it. He wanted to take things that seem silly to me, like his paperbacks of Playboy party jokes.

When Mr. P went to bed at 8 PM, Sat Darshan told him that he needed to get up early so they could continue packing before the movers came at noon.

The two of us then sat down at the dining room table amid the clutter to chat for a couple of hours.

She talked about her job at the VA, which sounds as if it’s full of pressure to exceed her production quota because she wants to rise in the GS-numbered ranks of several federal civil servants.

Two weeks ago today was her last payday, and then the partial shutdown began and she wasn’t sure what would be deposited into her account today.

Sat Darshan didn’t know how deductions and taxes would get done when the people who calculate VA employees’ hours are not at work.

She described her house in Phoenix and told me about the city and its climate, people and folkways. By now, she’s been a Phoenician as long as I’ve been in Gainesville, so she feels that she knows the city: an incredible sprawl that just keeps growing.

Sat Darshan worries that Mr. P will be bored in Phoenix. Once Ravinder drives his car out there, she knows she won’t be able to stop her father from leaving the house, as he likes to have coffee and lunch out.

She’ll start subscribing to the New York Times for her father – now they get only the Arizona Republic – and said she’ll take him to a small Jewish neighborhood she knows. (There are comparatively few Jews – or blacks – in Phoenix.)

At her office, she doesn’t wear a turban – she didn’t have one on last night – “and they can’t figure out what I am,” given her Sikh name. She did tell an older guy from Brooklyn who works there that she, too, had graduated from Brooklyn College.

Sat Darshan asked if I were planning to go back to Gainesville after I left Delray tonight and was stunned when I told her it was a five-hour drive from South Florida.

Like Ronna, she asked if I was seeing anyone, and like Ronna, she’s totally comfortable with my being gay.

Sat Darshan told me about her trip to Los Angeles. She couldn’t believe how many things Grant and Libby own and remarked that they must be doing extraordinarily well financially.

Ravinder is back to driving a cab, she reported. (He phoned while I was there.)

I told her about what’s going on with Josh and about Simon being twice divorced and a devotee of Rush Limbaugh.

“He’s probably fat and bald,” she said, “since he was getting fat and bald when I was seeing him back in 1979.”

I’m sorry I won’t get to see more of Sat Darshan, as she discouraged my coming again given all the work she’s got to do. But it was worth it to see her just once after more than four years.

At 10 PM, I left Kings Point and drove home via the Turnpike. Today it warmed up a bit although the sun didn’t come out till late this afternoon.

I spent time in the West Regional Library here and the Northeast Dade Regional Library in Aventura.

On the way home, I passed my old apartment on NE 167th Street in North Miami Beach. Still white-and-pink stucco, it looks tackier than ever in an area that seems more and more like a slum.

Saturday, December 30, 1995

8 PM. It warmed up today although clouds rolled in this this afternoon and it’s supposed to rain heavily the next couple of days.

After I finished reading Wired and the newspaper last evening, I took Lolita from Marc’s bedroom and got about 50 pages into it.

Last night I had interesting dreams, but I was rudely awakened by the smoke alarm going off. All the lights had gone out.

I ran out of my room, following Jonathan, who had a flashlight and grabbed the stepladder while I steadied it as he attempted to disable the dreadful sound. But he was unable to figure out how to shut off the smoke alarm, and I had no better luck with it.

Then the lights suddenly went on and the alarms (all three of them) stopped their racket.

It was about 5 AM, and we all stumbled back to bed – except for Marc, who either hadn’t come home yet or is the heaviest sleeper in the world.

At 9:30 AM, I called Sat Darshan, and she said I could come over, so I drove straight up to Delray Beach.

Genise, the Haitian cleaning woman, was coming over to take all of this stuff that the movers hadn’t taken when they came (two hours late) yesterday.

Genise had only a station wagon, and she wanted everything, either for herself or the people at her church. I helped her with the coffee tables and some small pieces of furniture, boxes of dishes, and other stuff.

It took two trips, and Genise was planning to come back at 6 PM with friends who have a truck.

They’re leaving the keys to the apartment with the (very butch, identically-dressed) elderly female twins across the way.

While her father went out to a packing shop to send a box of books to Phoenix, I said, “This must be very stressful for you,” and Sat Darshan replied, “Since I’ve been on Paxil, nothing’s too stressful.”

She said that after 25 years of being depressed, she finally discovered that antidepressants worked for her.

She showed me some “gems” she found in the apartment (her mother’s diamonds were in the bank vault): her grandparents’ death certificates and naturalization papers and her father’s birth certificate.

Apparently Mr. P never told even his own wife that he had siblings who died.

Sat Darshan and Ellen always visited this crazy woman in Washington Heights until they were teenagers and accidentally discovered she was their father’s sister who went insane after her husband never returned from the Spanish Civil War.

I see that Sat Darshan’s father is more of my grandparents generation than my parents even though he was born in this country and is actually more cultured than my parents are.

(He reads the New York Times and lots of books while I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve ever seen Dad read a book or Mom read any book other than a mystery.)

Like my grandfather, Mr. P wears dress pants and what I consider “old man” clothes while Dad dresses more or less the way I do – but then, of course, he sells young men’s clothing.

At about 1:30 PM, with Sat Darshan at the wheel, we drove to Poppies, one of those restaurants you see in South Florida where they serve stuff old Jewish people eat: for example, Mr. P’s lean corned beef on rye.

They seemed to think it was related to a similar restaurant that was on Nostrand and Avenue S in Brooklyn. It was the kind of place like Corky’s or Pumperniks or Off Broadway in Boca Raton, with menu items named for Yiddish words or New York City neighborhoods.

The women there have that same look: heavily coiffed and made-up, with gold chains and other jewelry over pastel warm-up suits. I see women like that at the Publix around here. (I’ve never seen a single person in Gainesville who has that look.)

Sat Darshan’s father talked about World War II, when he was stationed at Fort Myers, and she talked about Phoenix.

You know you’re good longtime friends with someone when you’ve heard the story they’re telling before but enjoy hearing them tell it again – like Sat Darshan’s story of how she and Helmut were in a tornado when visiting Ellen and Wade when they were living on a Charlottesville farm.

At one point early on in today’s visit, Sat Darshan stared at me and mentioned how strange it was to see old friends after long periods because they look older and you don’t think that you’ve aged so much.

(Oddly, only with my latest haircut have I noticed a few flecks of gray hair at my temples as well as in my beard.)

Although I can see that she’s over 40, Sat Darshan doesn’t look old to me. Of course, both of us still have acne on our faces.

After returning to the condo – they were going to spend the rest of the afternoon with the family of her father’s boyhood friend, whom he’s known since the first grade back in the Bronx – I shook Mr. P’s hand and hugged Sat Darshan, saying, “I’ll see you next in Phoenix, whenever.”

“I guess so,” she said, “because I don’t think I’ll ever come to Florida again.”

Driving back to Broward, I wondered what it would be like to live in Phoenix. This year, I’ve thought of moving to New York, Baltimore, D.C., Miami, New Orleans and Orlando.

At home, Dad told me that he dreaded going to New York for his business trip on Tuesday. “Well, at least you’re going with your usual cheerful attitude,” I replied.

Mom was being oversolicitous, as usual. If I told her that I liked some brand of food or household products, she would probably send me off with a year’s supply of it.