A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1991

Sunday, December 22, 1991

7 PM. I’ve been putting Liquid Plum’r in the bathtub drain as it’s been very clogged since morning. If it doesn’t clear up by tomorrow, I’m going to have to call a plumber or report it to the office to see if they can send someone up to fix it.

One thing this trip has done for me is to disabuse me of any sentimental notions I had about keeping this apartment. As far as I’m concerned, Marty can give it up any time.

New York is always less attractive to me in the winter, especially when I’m so far from the Upper West Side, which at least had the excitement of Broadway and all those energetic young people.

In Rockaway and in Brooklyn, the city seems on the edge of a breakdown, and I know even the Upper West Side isn’t what it was in the glory days of the ’80s, when Yuppies ruled (although even then, the homeless were a reminder all wasn’t well).

If I do come back here in 1992, it will be for a briefer visit than now, and I’ll be staying with friends. It will be like going to L.A. and staying with Libby and Grant.

I love New York, but I l also liked L.A.; neither one is my home now. Gainesville is my home now, and if I can accept that the way Grandma’s accepted that her home is the Woodmere Health Related Facility and not this apartment, I’ll be better off. It’s time to move on.

I expect that I might one day live in New York again, but it won’t be for a long while, and I’ll be a different person and the city will be a different place.

Part of this feeling is based on necessity. If I could still stay at Teresa’s or even here in Rockaway or at another place I knew I could come to, I’d probably be happy to remain a New Yorker part of the year.

It was mild today but still chilly for me. I took the bus to Brooklyn but when I got to the Junction, I called Justin and got his machine, so I decided not to take the subway to Park Slope.

Instead, I walked around Brooklyn College and Midwood High School. It’s 25 years since I was a student at Midwood, 22 years since I was a BC freshman, 15 years since I got out of the MFA program, and a dozen years since I taught English at BC.

Now I’m at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and while there is value in looking back, there’s not much point in going back to my old haunts.

Josh called today. I probably won’t get to see him. He said to call when I’d be in Manhattan, but I don’t plan to be there at night.

Josh said his job with the city is secure till July 1, when the new fiscal year budget might put his position in jeopardy.

The term at John Jay ended, and he’s glad to have his evenings free during intersession.

Otherwise, he said, “Nothing is new,” and expressed his usual astonishment at the most boring news I had to offer him: that I probably got no better grades than C’s (and don’t care), that I no longer keep in touch with “Kilodney” (Crad – like Josh, another nut), that, yes, I think this economic stagnation will take years to end.

I’m being hard on Josh, but in some way I associate his paranoia and provincialism with his connection to New York.

Perhaps it’s winter or the economy, but New York no longer seems like the exciting place it once did. Of course, maybe it’s my sour grapes, but I think even if I were wealthy and could afford to live well in Manhattan, I’d prefer to live elsewhere now.

Monday, December 23, 1991

8 PM. I slept soundly and woke up at 6 AM from one of those dreams in which I was back in high school (visiting Midwood must have triggered that) to take a class I had somehow never completed.

I had breakfast, scrubbed the tub (yes, thank God the drain cleared) and called Teresa; as I expected, she wasn’t going off Fire Island today (she said she had a cold).

Today was drizzly but it would probably be the warmest day of my stay here, so I got out at 9 AM.

I took the bus into Brooklyn and noticed I’d lost a glove (tonight I found it right in the hallway here), so I went to Alexander’s in Kings Plaza to get a new pair.

After I passed a grey-haired woman who looked familiar, I remembered that she worked there when I did, from September to December 1974. Imagine working at that store for all these years.

I walked on my old block and was surprised and pleased to see that our house had been completely renovated.

The old black wrought iron railings on the terrace and steps had been replaced by sleek, modern white tubing, and all our windows had been replaced with white-trimmed windows; the living room bay window was now divided into equal thirds.

New doors grace upstairs and downstairs, and a handsome darker brick made our old house look like the queen of the four attached similar homes.

After going into Deutsch Pharmacy to get my Triavil 2/10 and say hi to Joel, I waited across Avenue N for the Flatbush bus.

A lot of new stores (health clubs, billiards parlors) have replaced the Avenue N stores I knew, and all the old candy stores where I bought my comic books are now gone. (Today comic books are sold in specialty shops.)

At the Junction I took the IRT into Manhattan, but I couldn’t figure out where to go, so I got off at Penn Station.

Macy’s the day before Christmas Eve seemed like a good place to visit (and to use the men’s room), so I wandered around with the horde of shoppers. It looked pretty crowded to me, but everything was on sale, and the help seemed to be pushing merchandise on people.

I’ve read that Macy’s may not survive, like the other department stores that couldn’t service their debt. I can accept Gimbels being gone (and replaced by A&S), but Macy’s Herald Square is too much a part of the city to disappear.

I checked out the little kids seeing Santa and getting reindeer antlers to wear, and I looked up at Babar the Elephant on his throne at the 34th Street entrance.

The noon Garment Center crowds pushed me up to Times Square, where I had a McLean Deluxe, and on the way down Seventh Avenue, I got some Korean salad bar, which I ate on the LIRR.

One reason I stopped at Penn Station was so I could take the train to Woodmere and combine visiting Manhattan and Grandma.

The ride to Woodmere was a pleasant adventure. Getting off the train, I looked at one of the Introspect posters at the station.

When I first came in at the airport, one of the sights that caught my eye was a big Introspect poster on an airport bus, but I haven’t seen the clothes in the stores – or on people.

Grandma was asleep when I arrived, as was her new roommate, but Grandma soon awakened.

A package for her came as we talked, and I knew it was the one Mom wanted to send to me, and which I told her would be easier to send it directly to the home.

After opening the box with my sharp keys, Grandma tried on some of the half-dozen sweaters, tops and slacks Mom had sent.

I was putting her name on the labels when I heard the social worker talking to the new roommate, a Jewish woman from Yonkers, about signing a proxy form about her health care.

On her way out, I asked her if Grandma could sign one if she hadn’t, since Grandma had told me that she didn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means.

The social worker explained the form to Grandma, who didn’t issue any special orders but simply gave Marty the right to make decisions for her – or as an alternate, Jeffrey.

(Since I’m in Florida and so is Mom, it didn’t seem practical to put us down. Besides I’m certain Marty or Jeff would do the right thing.)

The social worker told me Grandma adjusted nicely after an initial difficult period – “because she’s a loner.” Like Grandma, I am a loner, too, but we’re both people who don’t cause trouble and defer to others and basically get along with everyone in a group.

I got home at 5 PM, taking a bus, not a van, in Far Rockaway. I’ve been reading about the tax money the vans take from the city (police seem to be cracking down) and how they’re not only not insured, but most drivers don’t even have licenses.

Today was a fine day.

Friday, December 27, 1991

11 AM. At this time yesterday I took the train into Manhattan. Realizing I was early, I decided to get off the IND at Broadway-East New York and transfer to the elevated BMT line.

I had never taken the J train into Manhattan before, and I like to explore, so it was interesting to see.

This also got me closer to Mikey’s office at 270 Broadway, as I could get out at City Hall.

I walked around a bit and then went to the New Amsterdam branch library to read magazines until 1 PM, when I had made a lunch date with Mikey.

His office moved to a new floor, which seems more pleasant to me because it’s got more light, but Mikey said it’s too noisy.

We traipsed to a Thai restaurant behind the courthouses and talked over lunch. As usual, I talked too much.

Mikey looks terrific, although I noticed his hairline has receded slightly. Seeing old friends, I’m surprised at how they’re aging, because I don’t see the changes in my own face – but my hairline has also receded, and my forehead has permanent creases.

Mikey got himself out of debt, but they’re still having a problem with the Riverdale co-op. Amy’s moving out next week and taking an apartment on West 85th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam (a block I know well).

They had a buyer for the Riverdale apartment, but she backed out, and now all they’ve come up with is a renter who will take it only if she can get their garage parking space, something the co-op board hasn’t allowed yet.

Mikey would like to leave the dump he’s in; his sublease expires in April.

Eventually, he and Amy will take a loss on the apartment unless they hold it for years and another ’80s real estate boom happens. They’re delaying the final divorce papers so they can file a joint return this year.

Mikey seems happy now that he’s seeing Dixie, and he’s looking for work, but that’s almost futile in the current economy – though he may be asked to interview with a firm in D.C., where he doesn’t want to live.

After being good enough to listen to all my crap about law school, Mikey said goodbye, and I took the IRT to Lex and 86th.

In Barnes & Noble, I spent an hour looking at the new fiction and non-fiction titles. By now, I’m able to look at books with less regret and envy; it still hurts that none of my books went anywhere, but not as much as it used to.

Amid a sea of titles, I wonder how any single book manages to get into the hands (let alone the heart and mind) of a single reader.

I was disappointed because I couldn’t find Alice’s book yesterday. Probably The Last Ten Pounds will be a disappointment to her: although it can do well, it’s hard because of all the competition.

After walking around the Upper East Side, I got out of the cold by paying student admission to the Met. For several hours I took in lots of paintings.

Not having the patience for a leisurely museum-going experience, I decided to substitute quantity for contemplation, so I strolled briskly through even the Seurat exhibit and also managed to look at all the European paintings, from the Renaissance to the 20th century.

Remember in the early ’70s when I’d drive up from Brooklyn on Sundays and return again and again to the same paintings, like El Greco’s View of Toledo or Manet’s bullfighters or Degas’s ballerinas or Franz Kline’s microscope-like work or Gauguin’s nude Tahitians?

After walking through so many galleries, I became so tired that I was afraid to sit down for fear I’d be unable to get up.

At the end of the Stuart Davis show, I saw Larry, taking back the Acoustiguides. I’d hoped to see him, and it was a pleasure to stand with him until closing time and talk.

He looks well and said he had a nice but tiring holiday: his grandmother hasn’t been well lately, and Justin had his usual bad allergic reaction to Larry’s Reading friends’ cats.

He told me about the gallery show and some other projects he’s done lately and a painting class he took at the School of Visual Arts. (He didn’t know I once taught there.)

When the museum closed, I got the crosstown bus – it was dark, and I liked being out in the city at night – to the West Side.

Walking from 79th to 96th Street, I was surprised by the changes in the stores. Some expensive shops have been replaced by Fairway-type markets and there are new, relatively inexpensive cafés. My theory is that despite a recession, people still have to eat and buy food.

The Goldome on Broadway has morphed into the East New York Savings Bank, all the Benetton stores are gone, and The Boulevard at 86th Street is now trying to rent their expensive unsold co-ops.

It felt good to be in my old neighborhood, and I saw fewer homeless people than I expected. (Or is it just that they’re still there but I no longer can see them?)

I got to Ronna’s before she got home from work, but Leah let me in, and Ronna arrived soon after that, looking discomfited.

She was dozing on the bus when Felicia came over to her with Spencer and their two children. Ronna was taken off-guard.

I haven’t liked Felicia since that time she snubbed me in Brooklyn Heights, and apparently she dislikes me, too, for what she saw as an unflattering reference in the “Other People” story I sent to her old boyfriend Kevin.

I’m embarrassed I did that, but who cares what these inconsequential people think of me?

Ronna should have the same attitude, I told her, although she said Felicia was friendly and also fat (which made her more likeable).

Ralph arrived soon after, and we sat around talking for an hour, then went to eat at Hunan Balcony.

Everyone was tired – I wasn’t used to all the walking I did – but the conversation at dinner was sparkling. I miss good talk like that in Florida.

Ralph said these days in New York no conversation is complete without reference to somebody’s joblessness or fear thereof. He said it’s the mirror image of the ’80s when the talk inevitably turned to real estate.

Later, Ronna asked if I’d noticed Ralph ignored her, and while I hadn’t thought about it, it did seem that he hardly even looked at Ronna.

Apparently he does the same thing when they’re with other people, including Jordan and his fiancée Grace, who thought Ralph was coming on to her.

Ronna said she and Ralph liked each other from the start, but he didn’t want to commit, so finally she said they should see other people.

And guess what? Steve showed up last week, and he ended up taking her to her father’s for Christmas and driving her home two days later. Maybe they’ll get back together.

Unlike Ralph, Steve is crazy about Ronna – although I like both of them.

Ronna’s father and stepmother were happy to see Steve because they feel he’d make a great husband.

I asked Ronna how 4½-year-old Jeremy liked his presents, and she said he was real cute and didn’t even rant and rave when Ronna accidentally destroyed his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plate in the microwave. And he’s excited about getting to sleep over at Ronna’s house next week.

Leah and a friend were working all evening on posters for The Forum, the est-like group they’ve been roped into.

I’m surprised at Leah being so susceptible to that hogwash; it seems they’re really exploiting the people to bring in more suckers.

Ronna made up the couch for me, and it was fun to talk in the dark while we were in our separate beds, like the way I used to do with Teresa.

I barely slept, if at all (Ronna talked in her sleep) and was ready to leave by the time Ronna awakened at 7:30 AM. It was a treat to be with her.

She showed me the photos from Billy’s wedding. Melissa’s parents seem eccentric: her father inks in his mustache, and Melissa doesn’t know if she’s adopted or not.

Ronna’s mother said that in all the time Melissa and Billy lived with her, Melissa never helped out with anything around the house.

Beatrice is also annoyed because Melissa’s parents keep imposing on her. As Orlando is halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville, they plan to use her house as a meeting place.

To me, Melissa doesn’t seem like a prize as a wife. Maybe this is just Billy’s “starter” marriage, like Mikey’s or Gary’s.

Seeing the wedding photos, I couldn’t get over how old Ronna’s aunts, uncles and cousins got, and in one picture, I thought her sister was her mother – but as I already said, I just don’t see notice how I (or my own family) have aged.

I got back to Rockaway a couple of hours ago, around 9 AM.

Tomorrow I’m seeing Alice at 5 PM and Sat Darshan at 8 PM.

Saturday, December 28, 1991

2:30 PM. In a little while I’m going to Manhattan.

I’ve got a cold, and last night when I felt the first signs of it – a sore throat – I fell into anger and fear.

Did I get sick from being so cold on Christmas or all the walking I did on Thursday, not sleeping that night or being with Ronna and Leah, who both had colds? Well, it doesn’t matter.

I should have expected to get a cold here, but I thought I’d been taking good care of myself (sleep, diet, exercise) and could avoid it. I’m not looking forward to the rest of today.

I feel resentment toward Alice because she’s “fitting me in” to her busy schedule, because she would never come out here (unthinkable!), and because I feel in opposition to so many of Alice’s values: passive acceptance of our junk culture, her emphasis on practicality and money-making, her Manhattan disdain for the rest of the world, and her total lack of interest in nature.

(She called Tallahassee “a dump,” but I know the foliage and old homes there are beautiful.)

I hope my anger doesn’t come through. I’ve got to remember what a good friend Alice has been to me, how she’s generous and funny, and how she’s responsible for my wonderful trip to L.A. in April.

Also, I know I sound self-righteous and sanctimonious.

From her place, I’ll go over to the Ethiopian restaurant for dinner with Sat Darshan, Alex, Diane, Jay and Roz and Sat Darshan’s Indian friend BJ at 8 PM.

Hopefully I won’t feel so ill that I can’t enjoy myself a bit, but I dread trying to sleep at Sat Darshan’s, especially when I have a cold.

Of course, what bothers me the most is my fear that I’ll be so congested when I fly home next Monday that I’ll have the same horrible labyrinthitis I experienced when I flew in January 1980.

I’ve got to listen to my Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway tape on the subway: maybe I’ll remember that whatever happens, I can handle it.

I feel ashamed worrying about a cold when people are dying of AIDS, cancer, and starvation. What a cluck I am.

Sunday, December 29, 1991

4 PM. I’ve been dizzy all day, probably as a result of sinus congestion from my cold and from the damp weather. It’s been raining heavily, so I haven’t ventured out of Grandma’s apartment.

Luckily I decided to come back to Rockaway last night after dinner: I picked up the Sunday Times, got good connections on the subway, and was home by 11:30 PM.

Alice asked me to excuse her for looking terrible although she appeared only slightly disheveled to me.

She gave me a copy of The Last Ten Pounds, a handsome little hardcover which I hope will earn Alice lots of money.

Yes, I know what I said yesterday, but while Alice’s values and mine are different, I can’t wish her anything but the success she wants.

She’s been interviewed by USA Today and will be on TV on Entertainment Tonight on January 6 – she’d spent the day buying a dress for the ten seconds she’ll get on camera – and on ABC’s Good Morning, America on January 30.

While she took a phone call from Peter, I noticed the book’s dedication to Andreas (who stuck with her, “through thin and thick”) and her acknowledgements to her “mate” Peter, June, and Judy Marshel.

I always figured that Alice knew Judy from Weight Watchers, but we never made the connection before last night.

I told Alice how Judy’s grandparents, the Lurios, were my grandparents’ friends, that our parents honeymooned together, and that Judy’s parents were best friends to our old next door neighbors, the Wagners.

Alice told me all the dirt on Judy’s father and brother, both of whom Judy dislikes.

Her father sounds horrible. He’s been living with a woman for quite a while, but he’s also fooling around with a blonde bimbo who’s his secretary at the health club.

He had the gall to invite this woman to Thanksgiving dinner, and Judy was embarrassed to see her father behave so crudely with her in front of his live-in girlfriend.

Alice and I chatted for several hours, including an hour at the Olive Tree Cafe on MacDougal. She said I talked her out of her dream of being a talk-show host because she realized I was right and she didn’t want to start at the bottom in a new career.

In addition to being a book packager, Alice is now an agent, having sold a book of Peter’s (on scenes for community theater companies) to Avon.

Although Peter still is out of work, he got a $15,000 advance for his baseball book from Facts on File.

Alice says she and Peter go to the theater three times a week, and when she’s at home, she watches five to six hours of TV: “I don’t know how you live in Gainesville without CBS and NBC.”

Alice kept asking me practical questions about law school; she was afraid my stopover at journalism school would make me less likely to pass the bar exam, but I explained one thing has nothing to do with the other.

I guess I can’t understand Alice’s high-powered life any better than she can comprehend mine. She put some of my diet tips in the book (on a page with Phyllis Diller), describing me as a 40-year-old law student (“I had too many writers”) and having me say things I’d never say (like I used to run out the door eating a chicken leg I’d grabbed).

I guess it’s about time I got a taste of being made into a fictional character.

At 7:45 PM, I left Alice’s and took the A train down one stop to Canal Street (both the Village and SoHo look grungier than I remembered) and I sat down on a tiny stool next to Sat Darshan at Abyssinia.

Jay and Roz soon arrived, and then Alex and Diane, and finally BJ, wearing a suit and an elegant turban. I was glad I brought a present (a copy of Cris Mazza’s Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?) because Roz and Jay got Sat Darshan a bonsai and Alex and Diane got her a white sweater.

I’d had Ethiopian food before, at Blue Nile with Scott and M.J., and I like the spongy bread and the non-spicy dishes with lentils and potted beef. (It still reminds me of Grandma Ethel’s cooking.)

We had a wonderful meal, though the others were a bit uncomfortable: Alex’s legs were cramped by the tiny stool, and Jay’s back hurt. (He explained that chiropractors have back trouble because they work bent over.)

The waitress was a little rude because once when Sat Darshan and Krishna were there, Krishna got into an argument with her and left no tip.

However, by the time she brought out a piece of birthday cake with a candle, the waitress joined us in singing “Happy Birthday” to Sat Darshan/Avis (what Alex and Diane call her).

We spoke about the lousy real estate market (none of them are able to move now because they can’t sell their apartments) and employment situations, about Jay and BJ’s experiences getting their airplane pilot’s licenses (I admire their sense of adventure), about Roz’s work as a controller for a film production company (they mostly do commercials), about people at Bayerische Landesbank, and about my credit card lifestyle of the ’80s.

Diane couldn’t believe we’d all gotten together as long ago as six months because it seemed like yesterday and we all decided life speeds up as you go along.

(Jay said it’s because at 20, a year is 5% of your life and at 40 a year is only 2.5% of your life.)

At 10:30 PM, they all wanted to go to another restaurant for dessert, but I said I couldn’t eat any more food and that because of my cold, I wanted to get back to sleep in Rockaway.

Everyone knows what a long trip that is, so I said goodbye to them and eventually got home safely.

I stayed in bed all morning. While my throat is sore, I’m trying to fight this cold with vitamins and fruits and veggies.

I watched or listened to new shows summing up this eventful year, and I read the Times and exercised lightly.

Even if the next week is lousy, I did a good thing by coming to New York because I got to see myself as much more than a UF law student. I now feel I’ve totally unwound from my intense first semester.

Being here puts my life in Gainesville in perspective, and it’s great to talk with people who are up on all the latest news in politics (Ronna and Ralph), art (Larry), theater (Justin), the media (Alice) and cultural trends (almost everyone in New York).

Being back in the city has also given too many second and third and fourth thoughts about my life to sort through right now.