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Thursday, December 13, 1979
2 PM on a cold, rainy afternoon. I felt good today even though I didnt sleep very well last night. But I got out of the house this morning at 7 AM and drove to the Junction; because of the LIRR strike, theres no alternate parking.
Getting a seat on the train, I arrived at SVA around 8:30 AM. I entertained my class by reading them my own stories and Crad Kilodneys, and when they enjoyed them, I felt good about it.
On Tuesday were having a party; I can do the final grades this weekend, and then Ill be free of responsibilities.
Theres much to dislike about this city, yet I feel an overwhelming affectionate loyalty to New York. I cant imagine any other place making me feel this good.
I guess its like the old house in Brooklyn: I miss it terribly. I imagine coming home in the middle of the day, walking in to the hustle and bustle of Maud cleaning, Mom putting away groceries, Jonny working out to loud music in the basement.
Sometimes I feel like looking back six months and wondering how it got to be this way. If Mom and Dad hadnt moved, I probably would have gone to Albany; I wonder how I would have liked it.
There are moments I cant believe Im living alone in New York City in 1979. It definitely feels like the end of the decade. The Iranian crisis seems to drag on monstrously, as if the hostages will never be released.
What if Im going to die with the decade? I think Id die happy. I accomplished a lot more than I ever thought I would. If I die, Ill be leaving something behind: a book, lots of stories, my diaries, memories of a lot of people.
Lets just put it this way: Im prepared to die, but Im also prepared to live. God knows what my world will be like in another ten years, but Im certain its going to be an interesting time.
Perhaps many people would say I lived a sheltered life, that Ive missed so much and at times I feel that, too but on the whole (are we getting really banal here?), Ive enjoyed myself enormously.
Maybe one day Ill look back on this particular time with nostalgia, the way I now look upon my undergraduate days. I can always talk about the time I lived like a pauper in Rockaway, just on the verge of success.
I finished reading The Glittering Prizes; I loved it and identified like mad with its protagonist, Adam Morris, the writer who finally makes it and yet doesnt make it.
One day I may be pretty rich, and I predict I wont be happier at that time than I
Dont get me wrong: Im still very scared about the future. But somehow, at least right now, it doesnt matter so much what happens to me.
Monday, December 17, 1979
9 PM. Its so cold I cant think of anything else. Theres absolutely no heat and the wind-chill factor is six below zero. I dont know how Im going to get through the night.
I have on thermal underwear and a bathrobe, and Im under three blankets and a heating pad. The wind is racing through my apartment. Even my diary is as cold as ice. God knows how Ill sleep tonight.
All I can think about it is that in a week Ill be in Florida. I feel miserable right now, unable to enjoy even the good things that happened today. Ironically, they passed a rent fuel-pass-along increase today; Ill be damned if Im going to pay it.
Damn landlords! They suck. How many people all over New York must be freezing like I am because of their landlords stupid greed. I just want to get out of New York.
Today I definitely decided that I must be out of here as soon as I can. Ill take any job out of town, and if I dont get one, Ill move in with my parents. Living alone in New York sucks.
Hell, today I was videotaped for a PBS documentary, was invited to read my fiction at the University of Louisvilles Annual Conference on 20th Century Literature, got a letter from John Gardner praising me for my writing, found a press release from Taplinger containing great quotes from reviews, and got a letter from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer telling me to hang on.
Can I hang on? Not much longer. Im wildly unhappy.
I suppose thats narcissism. Maybe Im wrong. I probably am. Still, I know what it feels like to go to bed cold and to feel as though life isnt worth living. My problem is that I know that life is worth living: I see people who lead satisfying and comfortable lives, but Im just not among them.
People like Roger Weisberg, the PBS producer, or Gregory Jackson, the host of the program who interviewed me: theyve made it. They can take time out
But they dont live the lives that more unfortunate people do. They ride taxis and dont have to wait an hour for a subway to get from Columbus Circle to Washington Square, the way I did.
I hope my interview does some good, but I doubt it will, for there will always be greedy people like Fabrikant making money off others misery. Fabrikant was evil; my landlord is evil; they are banal, but then you know Hannah Arendt.
Someday, if I survive, a lot of good is going to come out of this pain. Still, on the whole, it would be better not to have to go through this.
Hell, this is not the diary entry I wanted to write. I would have liked to give detailed descriptions of my day with the TV crew of From Back Wards to Back Streetsand write about my feelings about the nice mail I got today.
But the mail uppermost in my mind are the bills. Im almost to the point where I cant think about art because my necessities arent provided for.
Tuesday, December 18, 1979
The heat finally did come on late last night and I did sleep fairly well. This morning I found I had a flat tire, so I took the subway to school: four different trains in the rush hour, and I was still half an hour late to SVA. We had a so-so party; most of my class went to a better one next door. I showed up with my fly open, which sort of set the mood for the day.
It was freezing again. When I got home, I called the AAA, and when they came, they inflated my tire, and I went to buy a new one: another $57 gone.
The toilet stopped up, and Tom, the Irish handyman, came up and fixed it. He said my bed was in bad spot between the two windows, and so we moved it. After Tom left, I rearranged the other furniture for half an hour, but finally I think Ive got it the way I want it. It does feel warmer this way.
At SVA, I handed in my grades, and so for the next six weeks I am a free man! Ive decided not to do the textbook job, as it just isnt worth the hassles to be paid so little.
The item was called The Wrath of Fred, and referred to me as playful prankster Richard Grayson. (I like that, I must admit.) It was about Silverman and NBCs peacock getting their feathers ruffled by my joke about drafting him for President.
It was quite sympathetic to me, who was portrayed as a nice pract
On Saturday, Marie told her that Melvin mentioned reading about me and seeing my book in the window of the Waldenbooks on Wall Street. Among people who know me, Im sure, Im being talked about.
Susan Schaeffer wrote that with your writing ability and genius for publicity, youll make it. Pack a box lunch. Besides, she said, I should get some satisfaction knowing that every success I have just makes Baumbach madder.
I do like Susan. Shes recommending me to Yaddo and MacDowell.
And did The Conference on 20th Century Literature in Louisville wants me to read Nice Weather, Arent We. I think its worth it for me to go. Ill
Mom and Dad said theyll pay for my fare, and there should be a small honorarium. I just want to go to a place where Ill be treated with respect, so Ill go to Louisville at the end of February and hope it will be a good experience.
Wednesday, December 19, 1979
10 PM. Last night I finished Scott Sommers Nearings Grace and was very impressed with it. Its a novel that worked totally for me; it was quite moving.
Moving the bed was the smartest thing I ever did, as I didnt freeze last night and slept well. It felt luxurious to lie in bed all morning, especially on a snowy day like today. I spent the morning in my underwear, cleaning, exercising, taking care of correspondence, watching game shows, and just enjoying my freedom.
Too bad about the snow, but I didnt really have to go anywhere. About three or four inches fell, and it was slippery, so I decided not to drive and went to Kings Plaza by bus.
Back home, I did the laundry, read the papers, made dinner. When Mom called, I managed to sound less depressed than I had during our last conversation. In five days Ill be in Florida for what will be both a homecoming and a visit.
Ive been living on my own for two months now, a fact which still amazes me at odd moments. Today, for example, I was putting a new roll of paper towels in the thingamajig in the kitchen when it suddenly struck me: I have my own apartment.
Friends are very important; I feel closer to Alice and Avis and Ronna, all of whom I talked to today, than I do to any member of my family. Yet theres something in a family that friends cant duplicate.
Gee, Im starting to get nervous about flying. Last Saturdays anx
Especially after the past few days, I need a warmer climate, and I need a respite in order to marshal my resources for what I dont know, but Ive gone through so many changes that I need to rest up and take stock.
1979 has been the year I finally took risks. My book was published, and I became something of a celebrity. I moved out on my own. My parents moved to Florida. I began therapy again. I taught another six college classes and earned more money than I ever had though not enough, certainly, for me to support myself comfortably.
Will I ever stop being so frightened? I feel a need to shiver, to be held by someone wholl tell me that its all going to be all right. How about my trying it myself? Richie, everythings going to be all right.
Thursday, December 20, 1979
4 PM. It will be dark soon. This is a very strange time in my life; I feel as though Im going through new experiences all the time. Now that Im free of school, I have time to reflect on all the changes.
Ive been annoyed by the artificial parts of my body in need of repair: my capped tooth and my left contact lens. But I want to postpone work on t
Maybe Im placing too much hope on this trip. Twenty-five days in Florida is not going to change my life. In a month, Ill be back here and there still will be two months of winter to get through and Ill have a hectic schedule teaching, and no doubt Ill be miserable again.
I dont have much to look forward to. But slowly my life is changing. The accumulation of publicity is working. Every day I meet someone or hear of a third person whos seen my name in the papers.
Last night Pete Cherches said that Bruce Chadwick exclaimed that Id gone out of kilter because my name is in the Post every other day.
Is there any point in it? I think so. The point is I need an escape hatch from a dull, impoverished existence. Im aware that my playful prankster activities are moronic, but they do seem to have value in the eyes of the media and hence the public.
That Ive become a minor celebrity is actually a sad commentary on the times: people are so starved for gossip, trivia and weirdness.
But writing, after all, is the important thing. Today my story, Douglas,
But Im finished with that stage of my career. I need to go on to something new. I know Ive been saying that for a year and a half, and in all that time, Ive written almost nothing. Yet I am a writer, and eventually Ill find what needs writing about.
Last night I called Ronna to say goodbye. She said that Susan and Evan saw the two copies of Hitler in Waldenbooks at Kings Plaza and looked through them (of course they didnt buy).
Evan told Ronna that she should get a good libel lawyer. What an asshole he is: he and Susan are little people living little lives. Susan must hate me
As Crad Kilodney says, You should take satisfaction where it comes because theres not much of it around.
So I have no money, but I did fulfill my dreams. I know this must sound pompous Im sure Ronna would say it does but I dont care anymore. After all, this is my diary.
This morning when he phoned, Josh said hes sending out rsums again. What a drag. I cant take this adjunct business for another year; forgive me, Father, if I think Im too good for it.
Tomorrows the shortest day of the year, but then the days start to become longer, and in Florida it gets dark later. The driving wasnt too hazardous
Since neither Marc nor Avis can drive me to the airport, I guess Ill have to take a cab: The guy whos driven everyone to the airport all these years finally gets to go somewhere on a plane himself and theres nobody to take me.
My Wizard Owl air freshener is staring at me questioningly.
11:30 PM. What is it that impels us to live? The cockroach that kept escaping me today had whatever it is. And I, for the moment, have it, too.
I’ve just trudged up the block: a desolate winter landscape of dirty snow and ice melted and refrozen. Yet I looked up, and surprisingly, the stars were out, very bright and numerous. Orion’s belt looked so sharp, I felt it was
This evening I went to dinner at my grandparents’. Their kindly questions, as usual, had obvious answers: When you put the laundry in the machine, did you put in detergent, too? When you made eggs, did you clean the skillet? God bless them.
Grandpa Herb will be 76 today, in a few minutes, when it’s the shortest day of the year and the start of winter. On Monday night, my grandparents will have been married fifty years.
When I returned from my grandparents, I decided to do some phoning. I reached Elihu just as he was going out. Scott Sommer hasnt been home for days. Gary wasnt in, nor was Mikey.
I decided to call Evie Wagner; I had passed the old block today when I went to Deutsch Pharmacy to get myself enough Triavils to last me through Florida.
To pass the time, I called Mrs. Judson. Wayne answered and said he had to wake up his mother anyway.
Mrs. Judson told me theyve extended her unemployment benefits, and in January the government will begin retraining her, perhaps as a keypu
The leather industry in this country is dying; Mrs. Judsons boss had to go out of business.
Maybe it will come back one day, she said. Who would imagine that at 56, Im going to learn something new?
We had a great conversation, and then I put in my lenses and drove into Brooklyn for the wake, which was in a giant funeral parlor on Bay Parkway.
Lou and Ev
Her father-in-law died on Tuesday night, a week after an apparently successful hip operation. Mr. Bisogno lay in the open coffin, his hands folded around a rosary; he looked very serene.
Jerry seemed very upset, of course. But he was gracious enough to introduce me to his sister-in-law Louise, the playwright who eit
Shes a lovely woman, slim with blonde frizzed hair, green eyes and age lines that show character.
She told me how she and her husband began by taking teleplay writing courses at The New School.
Louise has been working as a social studies teacher in Westchester, but now CBS has offered her a job writing a long form story for their soaps. She wants to make the sho
Herb Brodkin wanted her play on abortion and euthanasia, and theyre working on a deal for it to appear on a TV network.
Louise told me that at her age, she feels she has to make up for lost time. But I think she must have more discipline than young writers; moreover, shes suffered and survived I can see that in her face.
I was so taken with her that I stayed until the funeral parlor closed.
Then me who knows Brooklyn like the back of his hand got abs
Still, I loved driving around Brooklyn on a (now) winter night. It made me feel .