A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early July, 1991

Monday, July 1, 1991

6 PM. I had a nice afternoon yesterday when Sat Darshan and her friend Gabriele, a German woman who works with her at Bayerische Landesbank, visited.

We spent several hours on the beach, the first time I’ve gone to the beach since my skin surgery last year. I’ve been trying to keep pale, but even with applying sunscreen, I manage to get dark in my walks around Rockaway.

Like most of Sat Darshan’s friends, Gabriele is interesting, intelligent and sophisticated: somebody who’s traveled all over Europe, the U.S., and Latin America.

They found the beach crowd a bit tacky and were appalled by the boom boxes in the subway, but here we get mostly minority beachgoers from the worst neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn.

To me, they’re well-behaved; a lot of them must think it’s a paradise at the beach compared with East New York or Bushwick.

Sat Darshan and Gabriele left around 5 PM, and I spent the rest of the evening finishing the newspaper, munching and watching I, Claudius.

Up at 6 AM today, I got out of the house by 9:30 AM. This was the day I’d planned to do errands in Brooklyn, a perfect day because it was a mild, dry lull in a hot and humid week.

Taking the bus to Kings Plaza, I walked around the mall for few hours, picking out sundries at CVS and vitamins at GNC and browsing at Macy’s and Waldenbooks, where I found a guide to law schools.

It called UF a relaxed place, where everyone’s informal and where most students are conservatives and kids of well-connected Floridians. But it said older students are well-integrated into the student body although the UF undergrads keep to themselves.

It bothers me, not knowing how I’m going to pay for law school, but I do want to go for at least one semester. Then, if I have to withdraw for financial reasons, I can always come back and be reinstated after I’ve earned some money working. At least I’ll get the chance to be a law student.

My other options are deferring law school while I go for my master’s in mass communications and either work part-time or rely on a possible assistantship – or, if I was offered it, taking the $16,000 Writers Film Project fellowship in Los Angeles.

Of course, I probably won’t get accepted for that, but right now, without financial aid, L.A. would be a better option. Silly me: I expect to get their rejection any day now.

Once I do, I’ll know that I’m going to Gainesville in August, and I’ve got to think about leaving here earlier than I’d planned so I can prepare for my new life.

I’ve got to see what Mom and Marty plan to do with Grandma’s apartment.

Gabriele thought some of the furniture could be sold to antique dealers, though the stuff I thought might be valuable, like the Capodimonte lamps, she said was junk. And what I considered junk because it’s so old – like the mirrors, bed, and table – Gabriele figured would be worth real money.

I’ve been consciously avoiding calling my parents and waiting to hear from them instead, and when Mom calls, I’ll press her to get moving on this apartment. After six weeks, it won’t be my responsibility anymore.

Anyway, today I walked through my old neighborhood on the way to Deutsch Pharmacy. Our old block still looks lovely to my eyes. I was walking across the street from our old house when I saw Evie come to her door, and she invited me in to talk with her and Lou.

Lou’s mother died three weeks ago after being sick in the hospital for months, and obviously their family went through the usual nightmare, only Mrs. Wagner died before they’d finished arranged nursing home care for her.

I guess Lou is retired now; Scott works at Merrill Lynch; Bonnie was visiting earlier today with her kids, who are 9 and 3. Evie told me about the depressed real estate market, Doris and Arnold’s separation, the pregnancies of the wives of the Bergman brothers, Fran’s daughter starting law school, and other gossip.

But the highlight of Lou and Evie’s life in the last year seemed to be when Spike Lee filmed Jungle Fever in the neighborhood. They went on and on about all the fun they had watching the action on the next block. I must tell Dad that I was right when I thought the candy store in the movie was the one on Avenue N.

Anyway, I left the Wagners’ and went to the drugstore, where Mr. Deutsch gave me my Triavil 2/10. Across Avenue N, I caught the Flatbush Avenue bus and took it to the Junction, where I xeroxed the P’an Ku interview in the same copy shop – though it’s moved across Hillel Place – where I used to go to in the 1970s to xerox all my story manuscripts.

The owner, John, looked grayer, balder and paunchier but much the same; I probably last saw him in 1980.

This really felt like a kind of a homecoming. After I had a McLean Deluxe, I got some Korean salad bar that I ate on the benches in front of Whitehead Hall on the Brooklyn College campus.

Twenty-two years ago I started BC when I took Poli Sci 1 during the summer of 1969, and I remember hanging out in the grass on the same spot. The next year a temporary building was constructed on the site, although none of us really believed it would be there only for a few years.

Not to sound sappy, but all buildings are really temporary, no?

I got back to Rockaway and said a silent prayer as I opened the mailbox. Thank God I got my unemployment check and claim card; otherwise I would have had to schlep to Jamaica to report.

Upstairs, I turned on the radio for the 2 PM news and when I realized Bush was about to name his Supreme Court nominee, I flicked on the TV. Marshall’s successor will be another black man, Judge Clarence Thomas, a doctrinaire conservative in the Rehnquist/Scalia mold.

Well, I figure: let a right-wing court undo all the progress of the last thirty years. If they reverse Roe v. Wade and start taking away individual rights, maybe people will wake up and stop electing Presidents like Reagan and Bush. The pendulum may finally swing left once the right goes too far.

I walked to Beach 116th Street to deposit my unemployment check and mail my next claim card. I took a $200 cash advance on my Dollar Dry Dock Visa because with my Florida check so late, I was totally out of money.

I obviously don’t plan to make cash advances a post-bankruptcy hobby unless it’s to get me through the first term of law school.

Tuesday, July 2, 1991

4 PM. Last night I went to bed with a bad sinus headache, but I’d forgotten about it by the time I woke up.

Leaving the apartment at 9 AM after exercise and breakfast, I went to Woodmere, where I had a pleasant visit with Grandma Ethel.

When I came in, she was sitting out in the hall with other residents, and it was the first time I got a chance to talk with some of her – what’s the word? Not colleagues. . . Compatriots? Fellow inmates? Whatever.

One man, 78, had just come out of the hospital and was in a wheelchair. An Irish bartender, he lived in Bay Ridge his whole life and talked about hitching rides on the 86th Street trolley to Coney Island.

Another man, also in a wheelchair, told me that he’d been forced to give up a subsidized $129 studio by his doctor six months ago when he was hospitalized.

One woman also just got out of the hospital, where they implanted a pacemaker, and two other women who sat down nearby were out of it, neither ever saying a word.

I guess one consolation of getting old and sick is that if you’re in a place like Grandma is, you have lots of people around you in the same boat. For example, Grandma and this man exchanged complaints about their roommates.

Grandma actually seems to be one of the more clear-headed people there. I brought her a couple of plums and a baby banana as well as the monthly newsletter from the temple sisterhood.

After I left, I read for a while in the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, then took a bus and dollar van back to Rockaway Park.

It turned cloudy this afternoon and will probably rain, but I like the cool breeze we’ve had all day.

Wednesday, July 3, 1991

4 PM. It’s a cool, cloudy day, and I’ve felt in tune with the weather.

Since last night I’ve been bothered by a soreness, a tenderness, under my left jaw. It might be a swollen gland or it could be a problem with my wisdom tooth, but the imagination of a hypochondriac knows no bounds, and I figure I’ve got whatever disease is the most deadly.

Mom phoned last night, and while she didn’t speak to her brother, she intends to write Marty that she’s coming in at the end of July, probably three weeks from Saturday, when Dad’s got a meeting in New Jersey.

Then, she figures, we can sell the furniture and other belongings, throw stuff out, and get rid of the apartment. I guess I’ll have to go back to Florida with my parents.

Mom also sent the award letter from UF, giving me only SLS money for the spring and summer. That’s $4000 maximum, and it will be very hard to get through the year for me. If by chance I do get offered an assistantship in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, I’ll feel obliged to defer law school. If I don’t, I guess I’ll try to scare up the money to survive somehow.

Justin called today, and he’s facing his own financial aid problems at Brooklyn College. There won’t be any fellowships in the Theater Department; however, Justin has no outstanding student loans from Brown, and I’m certain he’ll manage to get a Stafford and an SLS.

I’m not even certain I can get an SLS because of my bankruptcy. But I can’t complain; I used the student loan system to my advantage in the last decade. Just last summer, I lived on the money left over after Teachers College got their (exorbitant) tuition. However, I know I’ll be struggling financially, and that’s not a prospect I contemplate with delight.

Last night I went to bed after dinner, the news, and about fifty pages of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I’ve long meant to read.

This morning’s darkness made me feel like staying in bed, but I forced myself to work out at least half-heartedly to Homestretch.

I did accomplish finishing my diary book manuscript, using Monday’s entry as my final, July 1991, monthly passage. Justin said I can print it out at his apartment. I’ve abandoned plans to proofread it; instead, I’ll make ink corrections when I number the pages (because they’re in so many different PC-Write files, I don’t know how to paginate them successively).

Once I get the book off to the Brautigan Library, I can forget about it – as everyone else will, except for the few souls in Burlington who want to slog through the 350 pages.

Also today, I went to Key Food and did some laundry. Otherwise, the day seems to have passed in a fog; I haven’t even finished today’s Times yet.

Probably I won’t stay for the fireworks at Sat Darshan’s tonight, but I need to get out, so I’ll meet her and her friends in downtown Brooklyn for dinner at an Arab restaurant.

Thursday, July 4, 1991

4 PM. It’s a clear, crisp, cloudless Fourth of July.

Last evening I put on my freshly laundered jeans, which felt snug, and for the first time in about a month, a sport shirt, not a T-shirt, and I took the Green buses to Beach 116th Street and then the Junction.

Since I had my standard problem of having to go to the bathroom, even though I tried to drink less than usual, I took a short detour to the Brooklyn College campus to use the restroom in Whitehead Hall.

Even though it was the start of the holiday weekend, they were holding evening classes, and I sort of envied the teachers and the students there. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a kind of Jude the Obscure, who’s never managed to get inside the walls of real learning, but of course that’s nonsense.

Still, I wonder about being taken seriously at UF, the first real university I’ll be attending. CUNY was great, but it was a commuter school and very urban, and Teachers College was isolated from the rest of Columbia University.

Anyway, I got to Borough Hall a bit early, and decided to walk down Court Street to meet Sat Darshan, who’s easily spotted from four blocks away in her white outfit and turban.

We walked back up to the Municipal Building, where she pointed out “Mutt and Jeff”: tiny Diane and lanky Alex.

The four of us strolled over to the Lebanese restaurant at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street, near where I used to have therapy sessions with Mrs. Ehrlich in the early ’70s.

Sat Darshan says she feels comfortable among the exotic ethnics of Atlantic Avenue: not only her fellow Sikhs but all the many Arabs (mostly Palestinians), the Hare Krishnas in their saffron dhotis, and the Black Muslim women behind their veils.

It was a pleasant meal: I indulged a little in soaking up baba ghanoush and hummus with pita bread, sampled pickled turnips (so-so), and had a delicious eggplant stew with potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

The conversation at the table was lively, as we discussed the varieties of American English, our terrible educational system (naturally Alex could not believe just how bad it is here), and food, of course, among other topics.

Diane is sarcastic and funny, a Boston-bred Chinese-American, and Alex is sweet and even-tempered, perhaps a bit quiet because he underestimates his fluidity in English.

I showed them one of Grandma’s pieces from that set of dishes I found; they were marked with a seal from Bavaria, but Alex said the brand, Thomas, isn’t really fine china although it was probably a good set.

In the apartment I’ve also found two watches on chains, both in working order; I’m going to see if a dealer can tell me what they’re worth. Grandma doesn’t want the watches, and maybe I can get some money for them.

And I finally found some of the cash hidden in the apartment: a ten-dollar bill stashed in a Band-Aid tin.

After collecting everyone’s share of the dinner, I paid with my Amoco Torch Club/Diners Club card; as we walked around, Sat Darshan egged me on to tell Alex and Diane my credit card story.

We stopped off at a Korean store for some soda – the Koreans always assume Diane is one of them and can understand their language, but it is gibberish to her. (Sat Darshan says in Chinatown, Diane will speak to merchants in Chinese and they answer her back in English.)

Back at the apartment, Sat Darshan got out some old photos because Alex and Diane wanted to see her in her hippie phase. I told them we didn’t think of ourselves as hippies, but in retrospect, it looks like we were.

I remember Avis in 1971, with her long, silky hair – as a Sikh, she has even longer hair now – and the way she looked with Helmut (with his very long blond hair) a few years later.

Gurujot and Gurudaya are coming back on Sunday, but I was glad to be able to spend time with and get close to Sat Darshan again; we’ve really strengthened our friendship.

Unbolting the door to the roof, we stood outside waiting for the fireworks. I was surprised I wasn’t uncomfortable, for the tar roof was all open, and usually my agoraphobia reasserts itself when I’m up high like that in the open.

But I felt exhilarated to look out at lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.

The South Street Seaport fireworks were delayed twenty minutes beyond the 9:30 PM scheduled start, and for a while we began to think we’d been fooled into waiting for nothing except the Virgin Airways blimp.

Finally, though, the pyrotechnics began. I’m not much of a fireworks aficionado but it was a decent display, with a couple of genuine “oohs” and “aahs.”

I hadn’t intended to stay so late, and at 10:30 PM, once we’d gone downstairs, I took my leave and got to the Bergen Street station on the corner of Smith Street.

The G train took me one stop to Hoyt/Schermerhorn, where I hopped on an A train crowded with people, changed at Rockaway Boulevard for a Far-Rock-bound A before the first train went on to Lefferts Boulevard.

At Broad Channel, I finally got an H, the Rockaway Park shuttle, and when I got off the train, I walked briskly and in the middle of the street until I got inside Dayton Towers. It was midnight and I had some snacks before I settled into bed.

Up late today, I’ve been relaxing. I finished Chopin’s The Awakening, a fine novel, even if I’m one person who’s never given into passion himself. I can’t say I regret it, either, though I may not know what I missed in life.

In the spring and summer of 1972, I thought I was in love with Avis, and I’m so glad I never told her. It also would have been idiotic to tell Wesley how I felt about him eight years later.

Those were probably just crushes, of course, and if I really had felt awakened by overpowering love for an “impossible” person, I couldn’t have controlled myself so easily.

Was I in love with Avis or Wes? There were times when I thought so. At times I thought I was in love with Shelli or Brad, but I can’t imagine that those feelings were healthy enough to be called love.

Notice I make the assumption that true love is healthy. Well, this is a subject I’m not qualified to discuss beyond saying I know I’ve felt love – for Ronna, for Sean, and maybe for others.

Tuesday, July 9, 1991

3 PM. I’ve been feeling a little fuzzy all day, though I slept enough. In an hour, I’ll phone Alice, and if she says she’s leaving the office on time, I’ll go to Manhattan, have dinner with her, and then attend the reading of Talley’s Folly just up Waverly Place from Alice’s house.

Last evening Ronna called. I gave her directions so she and Ralph can come here on Sunday. At least I know I won’t lack for company this weekend. Probably what I need is some stimulation, to be with people. Since I’m not working or attending classes or writing a book or story, I’m at loose ends.

I’ll be happy to go back to Florida in a few weeks and get on with my life. This time in Rockaway has been great, really special, but I need to face challenges, even difficult or unpleasant ones.

Ronna and Ralph had a nice holiday weekend in New England; they rented a car and drove to see friends and relatives in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Boston suburbs.

It’ll be interesting to meet Ralph at last. I’d thought for sure Ronna would marry Jordan, then Steven, and I’m not sure she’ll end up marrying Ralph, but I wouldn’t be surprised: How many times can Ronna refuse marriage proposals from decent guys?

Of course, I don’t know if Ralph is as hot for a wedding as Jordan and Steven once were.

Today I did the usual: aerobics, the Times, the radio. I didn’t go out for a Korean salad bar and relied on frozen veggies instead. Whatever that swollen gland problem was last night, it’s gone away now.