A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1990

Thursday, September 20, 1990

4 PM on a bright, brisk Rosh Hashona. I just sat on the terrace eating blueberries and listening to the radio.

A couple of hours ago, I visited Grandma Ethel in the hospital, and it was more pleasant now that her blabbermouth roommate is gone, replaced by a critically ill old lady who can’t talk.

Grandma seemed in fairly good spirits: together we watched Another World, I read to her from USA Today, and we took a walk, which is still difficult for her.

Last night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, so I was wide awake at 6 AM. This morning I cut up and sent back another half-dozen credit cards, including AmEx Gold.

All addicts are in denial, so I was never certain if I was “addicted” to my cards, but cutting them up and canceling them gave me no pain (unless I’m in severe denial).

I’m glad the whole thing is ending, even if I haven’t yet had to face the consequences of my actions. Last February, I was much more upset when Bank One canceled my Visa. I guess I’ve adjusted to what will, for me, be a new way of living.

On the positive side, I’m not going to have to spend hours and hours getting cash advances and paying bills, so I’ll be able to do more productive things with my time.

But the rest of the consequences are negative, and I expect the worst: dealing with harassing creditors, dreading all the phone calls and dunning notices, and going through the labyrinthine process of bankruptcy.

But the system is designed to give people a fresh start, and personal bankruptcies have risen 15% over the last year and will go higher, I’m sure – so I’m not exactly alone.

Indeed, some of the banks I owe money to may fail before this is over, and bankers are still making huge profits on credit cards, so they’re swallowing the growing charge-offs.

How much interest did I pay Citibank last year?  Probably $10,000. Granted, it wasn’t all “my” money, but these were exactly the kind of paper transactions that kept the ’80s bubble afloat.

When I get back to Florida, I’ll total up all the damage, read the Nolo Press book, make an appointment with the credit counseling agency, and figure out the best way to handle this.

If I can do this as methodically as I got all the cards and handled bill paying and “money making” – or as methodically as I lost weight or published 150 short stores in a decade – then I’ll get through it.

While I’m starting out with the conviction that there is life after bankruptcy, the old voices in my head still cry “guilt” and “shame,” and I have to deal with them. This year, 5751, will be a time of transition for me, and I need to be patient.

I got my LSAT ticket and sent out a request to Law Services for a change of test center to Miami.

Friday, September 21, 1990

9:30 PM. I’m glad I stayed in New York for Rosh Hashona. Last night I had a good time with Sat Darshan, and today I enjoyed a traditional holiday at Ronna’s.

Traffic wasn’t too bad yesterday, so I had time for a short drive around Soho and City Hall before 7 PM rolled around and I could legally park in front of Sat Darshan’s apartment building at 320 Atlantic Avenue.

She let me in and showed me the renovated place, which was really nice: spacious rooms and all new appliances and appointments.

Sat Darshan brought in some vegetable tacos from a nearby Cal-Mex place run by Mexicans from East L.A., and she looked well.

Still, she obviously misses Gurujot and Gurudaya although both seem to be doing well at school, according to their letters.

It’s clear that Sat Darshan sent them to the Sikh school in India, at the base of the Himalayas near the Punjab, not because she wanted to get rid of them; she’s very much their mother, showing me albums of photos and talking of them constantly.

But Sat Darshan and Dharma Singh have had a marriage in name only for several years and the strain of trying to keep it up was too much for her; in effect, she was a single parent.

Dharma Singh has had a girlfriend for some time, and while Sat Darshan likes this guy she met this summer in New Mexico, she said she’s not sure she’ll ever marry again.

For now, she and her husband are living in separate rooms, living mostly separate lives, but are trying to be friends.

She expects he’ll eventually move to a house upstate, and their legal separation will evolve out of that physical distance. Meanwhile, Sat Darshan seems as relaxed as I’ve seen her in years.

She and her sister haven’t spoken since a phone conversation last spring when Ellen expressed her disapproval of Sat Darshan’s sending the girls to boarding school, but I can understand why she did it. We talked about her faith in the Sikh dharma and gossiped about movie stars and people from college.

Sat Darshan said that Libby miraculously got pregnant again, and it’s been going okay so far, even though Libby and Grant still haven’t completely paid for Lindsay’s hospitalization following her premature birth.

I also learned something I never knew before: Sat Darshan told me that Teresa had an abortion in her sixth month of pregnancy back in the summer of ’71, when Teresa went cross-country, lived in San Francisco long enough to establish residency, and convinced doctors she’d commit suicide if she had to have the baby.

I stayed till 10:30 PM and kissed Sat Darshan goodbye.

Today I left for Manhattan in early afternoon. Stopping first at Teachers College, I looked at the fall class schedule like a wish list and walked around the Columbia campus and the nearby stretch of Broadway, a walk that made me want to stay in New York.

At Ronna’s, I arrived simultaneously with Howie, an actor who works with her roommate Leah at that children’s performance company. Leah had wanted to see the thinner me, and Sandy, who’s been on Nutri/System for two weeks, said I was an inspiration to her.

It was great to see Ronna’s mother, whom I can finally call Beatrice instead of Mrs. C.

When she introduced me to her friend Paulette, who’d just gotten off a plane from her home in Maui, Beatrice said I’d known Ronna since we were 12. Close, but not quite. (She was probably thinking of Ivan.)

Things are okay in Orlando, but Beatrice and her business partner, Mary Ann, are having legal problems with the guy who bought their business.

Other people who were there were friends of Leah, Sandy and Ronna: Rob Gardner, an actor and puppeteer who does Muppets on a Nickelodeon TV show (his photo is in this week’s Entertainment Weekly); Jessie, a woman whose boyfriend was on today’s Joan Rivers show (he’s part of a singing group that has performed at the White House and for the Duchess of York); and Kenya, another woman Ronna works with.

These people, like Paulette, weren’t Jewish, so Sandy explained the significance of the Rosh Hashona holiday to them (I learned new stuff myself).

We read from the Bible and said prayers as we drank wine and dipped apples and ate challah – which Howie cut after we said the brucha, the blessing – to ensure a sweet year.

Ronna told me she’s gotten good responses to her recent job searches, and she looked great, with a terrific Anita Loos-like haircut: a gamine, Art Deco bob. She, Leah and Sandy get their hair cut by the woman who styles Deborah Norville’s hair.

The food was great, from Grandma Sarah’s vegetable soup to the two (Litvak and Galitzianer) kinds of kugel, and so was the conversation. Ronna has such nice friends.

Unexpectedly, Steve stopped by from his synagogue. He’s a short, balding, mustached guy who is very funny; he seemed to know a lot about me and he’d read With Hitler in New York.

I don’t know if he and Ronna are back together, but I think they make a nice couple.

At 6:30 PM, I left, hugging Ronna and kissing the other women. I drove Paulette and her luggage to Tenth Avenue and 58th, where she planned to stay with a friend.

Paulette, who owns houses in Fort Worth and Florida as well as in Hawaii, said that while she loves Maui, it’s too expensive and too much development is ruining it.

Wanting to get some TCBY frozen yogurt and visit Shakespeare & Company after dropping Paulette off, I parked on Amsterdam and 81st to wait for 7 PM legal parking.

Oddly, Steve passed by – I don’t know if he wears a yarmulke all the time – on his way back to shul, and I called out his name and we talked a bit more.

I think we’re both glad we got to meet. He told me his elderly (78ish) parents live in Sunrise Lakes, so maybe he’d see me in Florida sometime.

After leaving my beloved Upper West Side one last time, I got caught in one of those traffic nightmares where every egress from Manhattan seemed closed or jam-packed, and I took many wrong turns.

It took two hours to get home to Rockaway, but at least I got to see Inwood for the first time and decided I don’t want to endure another New York City traffic jam for a while.

I’ll devote the weekend to my pre-getaway chores.

Saturday, September 22, 1990

9 PM. Today was a rain-soaked, dreary, gloomy day, and I loved it – not because it fit my mood but because it seemed right for today.

If I can think of events and circumstances as being neither good nor bad but right, I’ll probably be a lot happier, and I’m happy enough as it is.

It does seem like my time in New York is running out, but I should go back to Florida because I can’t afford to stay here now that I’ve cut up my credit cards and ended the merry-go-round of cash advances and minimum bill payments.

Newsday’s front page today featured a black representation of the Chase Manhattan logo and the headline “Black Day at Chase,” which laid off 5000 workers, lowered their dividend, and took a billion-dollar write-off.

And when I went to the Beach 116th Street Chase branch to deposit a $5 check a Kansas bookstore had sent me for an order of Narcissism and Me, I asked the manager if I would be able to use the ATM if the bank were taken over by the FDIC.

Instead of being told I was some sort of panicky lunatic, she calmly said, no, the FDIC would freeze everything but Chase would probably be merged into a healthier bank – though she said they’d try to make it on their own.

Up at 8 AM after a good sleep, I stayed in bed till noon, though of course I exercised and had breakfast and I did my packing.

I’ve decided to leave the microwave and videocassette player here, as I don’t need to ship any more stuff to Florida. I’ll leave some books here, as well as whatever won’t fit in my luggage.

At 2 PM, I visited Grandma Ethel at the hospital. The doctor came in and spoke to her, saying she’s ready to be released, and to me: “I guess you’re just waiting now. . .”

I nodded, not that I know when Medicaid and/or the daily home care will come through, although Marty told Grandma that it will be a while yet.

Back home after shopping, I tried to catch up with the newspapers.

Tomorrow I’ll see Grandma and call various friends to say goodbye. It seems like a good time to leave, at the start of the Jewish New Year and autumn, which arrives in a few hours.

The most important thing I have to keep in in mind during the difficult times I see ahead is: Think positive. Block out negative thoughts. Don’t let that shitbird in your head influence you.

Sunday, September 23, 1990

7 PM. My bags are pretty much packed, and I just left goodbye messages with Pete and Josh. Larry and Justin’s machine wasn’t answering, so I couldn’t get them. I spoke to Teresa last night and to Alice this afternoon.

On Friday, David Sneddon, who owns Fairway on Broadway and 74th – the best fruit and vegetable store in the city – offered Teresa a job she can’t refuse. She’d done catering for him on Fire Island and they got friendly.

He’s asked Teresa to work with him lining up corporate clients for his catering business. It will mean commuting from Long Island into the city, dressing up, and dealing with that world that Teresa has gradually abandoned.

Also, it will hurt her relationship with Brian, who remains on the Island, and her own catering business. But the money and the learning experience are too good to turn down, so Teresa said she’d try it for six months. At least she can make some good money for a while.

Alice is heading to West Virginia this week, for a writers’ conference and an appearance on a local TV show.

Basically, I’ve said goodbye to everyone, including Ronna, Sat Darshan, and my other friends. This afternoon I visited Aunt Tillie, who had a cold, and I gave her back the mailbox key.

In my last visit to the hospital in Far Rock, Grandma Ethel didn’t get emotional, and I told her I was leaving stuff in her apartment because I’d be back, maybe even in the winter – though I doubt that.

It’s always possible Grandma may die before I see her again, but I certainly couldn’t have seen her any more often over the last five months; besides, she doesn’t appear to be in any immediate life-threatening situation. I just hope Grandma gets a wonderful companion to take care of her and spend time with her.

On the first day of fall, it’s been cool, and it’s supposed to get quite chilly tomorrow. It hit 94° in Miami today, and while I’m grateful that I went from chilly spring to summer to early autumn in New York, I’m glad I’ll be missing the cold and snow of winter and its attendant gloom – even if I’m sure I could adjust to it again.

Up at 7 AM, I completed most of the items on my “to do” list: I exercised to two Body Electric tapes – I may take the VCP after all – because tomorrow I probably won’t be able to work out for thirty minutes; I’ve read all the papers except the main section of the Sunday Times.

Although I would have preferred to clean up more, this apartment is neat, and since I know Grandma will have household help, I feel less guilty.

I’m anxious, of course. Flying alone is enough to make me nervous, although my trips this year have been fine, and unlike in May, I can’t really say I feel scared – yet.

But I just reread my diary entry for May 5, the day I flew here, and it contained a great quotation: “Fear is not a good indicator of whether or not to do something.”  The truth is that after six or seven years of my bifurcated life, the transitions between New York City and South Florida aren’t as traumatic as they once were.

I know that if I hadn’t cut up my credit cards, I might have been able to have enough money to stay here a week or two longer, but it’s time to face the music and not pay the piper.

The Farmer’s Almanac, out today, predicts a bad winter for everywhere but Florida, and I know that in a few weeks it will start getting really beautiful down there.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll mind the heat now that I weigh 135 pounds. Losing weight has been a big confidence-builder, and I do think I feel comfortable with my body like this; it reminds me of me when I was in high school.

Tuesday, September 25, 1990

8 PM. Last night I slept soundly and had pleasant dreams, including one in which Teresa and I visited Bernie in the apartment on West 85th Street and found he was doing well.

I think that’s my unconscious giving up the apartment and moving on.

Today I began to get on with my life, perhaps slowly . . . but I feel I’ve made progress.

For one thing, I’ve got an appointment with the credit counseling service at the earliest they could take me, four weeks from today, on Tuesday, October 23, at 10 AM. They told me to bring all my cards and statements and income information.

I also set up the VCP in this bedroom so I won’t have to use the TV and VCR in the living room if I want to exercise to one of my tapes, as I did this morning.

And I put away most of my clothes, bathroom supplies, etc., as I discover what belongs where.

Dad will probably be home from Tampa tomorrow, but in a way, I’m not sorry he wasn’t here for the past couple of days because it gave me a chance to adjust to living with Mom and Jonathan first. We’ve been getting along fine so far.

Mom and I went to Albertsons for shopping this morning and bought $150 worth of groceries, including some of my favorite foods.

(At the store, I took my blood pressure, which was 105/56, and I weighed in at 129.9 pounds, which has got to be an error, though I like being lean.)

We called Grandma and learned she’ll probably be going home tomorrow.

That’s great: she really needs to get out of that hospital, and I’m glad I left only a couple of days before she got home, so she won’t miss my visits.

Back in her apartment, Grandma will have not only her Medicaid-paid companion but visits from Tillie and her friends and neighbors – plus she’ll be in familiar surroundings.

I miss Grandma, but as I said before, I can’t give up my life for her.

This afternoon I visited BCC-South and got hugs and kisses from Cynthia and greetings from others.

While I was on campus, I talked with Patrick for a couple of hours as he updated me on what was happening at the school.

I always knew Peter Hargitai wouldn’t stay at BCC, so I wasn’t surprised that he quit, giving up tenure, for a non-tenure track job at FIU: the workload at BCC is incompatible with being a writer.

Adrienne was brought in to replace Peter as a temporary, and I met this other new guy, Mark Greenwald, from Long Island, who came to South Florida to adjunct at the University of Miami; he stopped in at BCC looking for more adjunct work only to find himself hired full-time.

Patrick says budget cuts may freeze positions even though BCC’s enrollment keeps expanding.

In other gossip: Ray Cafolla is back and has applied for a computer coordinator job at BCC; VP for Business Al Beilen left for a similar position at FAU; and the new building on South Campus should soon be ready for the English Department to move into.

FAU is making Davie a real campus and coordinating its curriculum with BCC even as FIU continues to actively seek students in the county for their courses at BCC-Central.

It was good to see old colleagues like Chris (Patrick took over the magazine from him) and Vicki (she’s got crazy Reyna in her creative writing class) and Greg.

I still feel very much at home at South campus, and I told Patrick to ask Betty if she has any courses for me in Term I-B, which begins in mid-October.

Whatever happens, happens.

On NPR this morning, I heard that the obscenity trial of Charles Freeman, the E-C Records owner who sold As Nasty as They Wanna Be, will begin on Monday. I’m going to try to attend.

Yesterday in Cincinnati, the trial of the Contemporary Arts Center’s director on obscenity charges regarding the Mapplethorpe show, began.

The second-quarter GNP grew at only 0.4%: Recession City.

Sunday, September 30, 1990

1 PM. I’m alone in the house.

Before Dad took Jonathan’s new Cougar to the track, I drove it around for a while. It’s a terrific car with only 19,000 miles on it, and it drives perfectly well.

I could get used to it easily, and I’m sure if Jonathan drove around in it for a couple of days, he’d see how much better an ’88 Cougar is than his ’79 Camaro.

God, did I sleep well last night! I had the most amazing dreams with vivid characters and storylines; at one dream’s conclusion, I’d written a successful screenplay based on the earlier events of the dream.

That tells me I’m resourceful enough to deal with whatever situation arises, and that I won’t sink into despair or mental illness.

It shocks me how healthy I am, though I’d really like to go back into therapy to deal with problems related to my family, my sexuality, and my career.

Last night I started reading the Nolo Press bankruptcy book, which said that, surprisingly, for some people, the best thing is to do nothing.

I may be “judgment proof.” If so, what assets of mine could bankruptcy protect?

The book says I can stop creditor harassment just by writing to creditors and invoking a federal statute.

If I went for advice to a lawyer – like one of these places advertising bankruptcy on the radio – they’d advise me to file, of course.

The credit counseling bureau is likely to be more objective, so I’ll wait three weeks till my appointment there. Meanwhile, I need to itemize my debts.

This morning I cut up and sent back my Amoco Multicard, my Sears and Radio Shack cards, along with my First Interstate Banking Card.

Now I’ve got only my gas credit cards, the Green and Corporate AmEx cards, the Diners Club card and a $400 credit line on a secured Bank of Hoven MasterCard that I’ve continued making minimum payments on.

This morning I spoke to the nurse on the eleventh floor of the hospital, who she said that Grandma was stable and alert but in some pain from her fall.

The doctors haven’t yet determined if she fractured her hip. I’ll call back tomorrow, as there’s nothing more I can do for Grandma right now.