Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday Morning in Midwood: Snow at Brooklyn College

We mananged to get from Wiliamsburg to Brooklyn College this morning via four subway trains (L to Union Square, a local-run-due-to-snow 5 to Bowling Green, a local-run-due-to-snow 4 to Franklin Avenue and then the 2 to Flatbush Avenue/BC). Here is what the campus looked like at 8 a.m. when we were on our way to teach our class in The Short Story (today: ZZ Packer's "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere") for the wonderful Borough of Manhattan Community College:

Here's how it looked from our classroom window in Boylan Hall:

The cover of our new book, Winter in Brooklyn, also has a snow-covered Brooklyn College quad (now, we guess, the east quad since there is also a west quad).

The book, available in paperback or in an Amazon Kindle edition for $2.99, is a 184-page compilation of our basically unedited diary entries for the winter of 1971-72, thirty-eight years ago, when we were a 20-year-old junior at Brooklyn College, majoring in poli sci. Here is a sample, four entries from mid-February 1972:

Thursday, February 10, 1972
A cool, bright day. When I arrived on campus this morning, I went straight to the Kingsman office and found Maddy and Melvin looking over the election results. We were pretty well schmeered; we elected six on our slate, all people I don’t know who were supported by Jewish Student Union, all of whose other candidates won, too.

I lost, along with Elspeth, Stacy, Carl, Gary, Sandy, Harry, Fern and Arnie and his sister. Pretty discouraging; it looks as though you have to wear a yarmulke to win an SG election at BC.

Mikey said nothing this morning, but he was in a bad mood and growled at everyone. I escaped to Bible, where Mrs. Starling went over some more of Genesis; I really love that class.

I took a walk with Steve Cohen to move his car; he had a fight with Pauline, then made up with her. They’re always doing that, but it’s four months and Steve thinks it’s “something solid.” We discussed what we could do to get Mikey and Amy together but decided it’s better not to interfere.

Back in LaGuardia, we all hashed over the election results and decided it was a dangerous precedent for one group (JSU) to be so powerful, winning the vote with their endorsed candidates in both parties.

Mikey and Mike decided that we’ll have to pick a presidential candidate soon, maybe next week, and begin campaigning right away.

Stacy came in, and while Mike was comforting her on her defeat, I asked her to go with me to the Kris Kristofferson concert on Sunday and she said yes.

Stacy went down to Kingsman, and Edie entered the lobby with a jar of homemade jelly she’d promised me. I kissed her and asked her to go to the movies with me tomorrow. Edie said that she had her sorority rush, but maybe we can go afterwards.

I shot the breeze awhile with Aaron and Juan, then drove home, dropping off Susan at her house as she and I discussed romantic poetry.

Tonight was Jonny’s eleventh birthday party, just the family and Gary, who dropped by. Jonny got $10 each from Marc and me, and lot of presents; he’s a cute kid and a great brother.

Tonight I visited Grandma Ethel, who’s looking better. The Slack Bar was finally sold, and Grandpa Herb is now unemployed. Afterwards, I went across the street to see Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia, spending an hour talking to them in the kitchen.

Friday, February 11, 1972
An indescribably incredible day. When I walked into LaGuardia this morning, Avis told me that she had called Scott last night; he didn’t call back and she was upset and told me to have him call her.

In class before Mr. Kitch came in, Scott called me over and said that for all these years he’s been doing things for others, not for himself, and he wanted to start being selfish. Scott said he was giving up his obligations, including calling Avis every night.

I sympathized with him, as he’s going through a personal identity crisis, but Avis is going to be very hurt. As Scott and I went down the steps in Boylan after class, I witnessed an unbelievable, incredible sight: Scott and Avis passed within a few inches of each other, he going down the stairs with me, she going up, but their eyes never met and they both walked on.

It was so queer; it wasn’t as if either was ignoring each other, I could tell. They just didn’t see the other person. I felt it symbolized their relationship.

Beer bullshitted on anomie in Soc, and then Gary and I went to LaGuardia. Fern was there for her last day at BC, as she got accepted in September to Downstate for nursing. Fern is really remarkable; I don’t know how she stands Harry’s fooling around. She knows he’s always screwing other girls, but it’s first starting to bother her now. Fern is direct and sensual and should go out with other boys, but Harry’s terribly jealous.

Mike tried to tell Fern that Harry’s no good, but she says there is more to Harry than any of us in LaGuardia see. Last Wednesday, she wanted to break up with him and he begged her to forgive him till 2 AM.

We went to lunch: me, Gary, Fern, Amy and Mark Friedberg. I asked Friedberg what he’d been discussing with Saul – this Divine Light stuff – and that led to an hour-long debate, mostly between him and Fern.

Mark said that there is more to life than just living, that he has the Word, and Light, and Touch, and Taste, and that he now knows the ultimate harmony of the universe.

Fern said that the physical world is what matters, not the spiritual, and we must do things in the here and now. But both of them agreed on the basic unity of the world – which is something I can’t buy.

We sat in LaGuardia and then I drove Amy to her ballet class. She says that she’ll never find her ideal man, who’s someone just like her. But she still likes Eric and not Mikey.

When I got home, I got a message to call Avis, who sounded very down and on the verge of tears. Scott hadn’t called her and she was frantic. I couldn’t tell her that he wasn’t going to call her, and I was grateful when she said that Shelli had dropped by to stay with her.

I’m going to school now to see Edie.

Saturday, February 12, 1972
A cool, sunny Lincoln’s Birthday. So much has happened in the past days that although it’s only 6 PM, I’m making today’s entry and in tomorrow’s, I will write about tonight.

Life is weird. Really. So many things can happen and get fucked up and then turn right again, and there are so many twists and turns life can take.

I went to school last night and found Edie at the rush with her sorority sisters, who are about the ugliest group of girls I’ve ever seen. For a minute, while Edie was undoing her braid (she was in a ridiculous Chinese outfit for some reason), she looked almost pretty – but not really. We decided (or I did and she went along with me) to see "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" at Kings Plaza.

In the car there, we talked but she doesn’t seem too bright. And as I sat down next to her in the theater, I noticed she had terrible perspiration odor. So I just concentrated on the movie and leaned over to her to comment every ten minutes or so.

When the house lights went up, I noticed a fat girl got up five rows in front of us; it was Shelli, with Jerry and Avis. I called to Avis, and she came over, staying that she spoke to Scott and that “we’re finished.”

During the short, I kept thinking of how strange things have become. The three of them left and I called over to Jerry because I didn’t want to speak to Shelli instead of him. I told him, “Be good to Avis tonight.” Jerry just stared at me blankly.

I took Edie home and kissed her without feeling. But I was glad that Shelli saw me out with a girl and it gave me a strange sort of satisfaction to know I can get dates.

This morning Avis called me, saying that she finally got through to Scott late yesterday. She said he was avoiding her, as he was afraid. But they had a confrontation, and although Avis says they’re on good terms, their relationship is through.

And so tonight, I have a date with Avis to see "Trojan Women" and I’m no longer just “babysitting” with Scott’s girl, I’m going out with a girl who’s free.

Still, I’m not sure anything will come of it although I’ve always found her attractive. I just want to help her through a difficult time.

I didn’t do very much today: shopped and bathed and read, that’s all. Gary, pissed over Eileen’s wavering, had a date (made for him yesterday by Fern, another instigator) with Fern’s friend Ellice last night.

I hope tonight is not a total disaster.

Sunday, February 13, 1972
I picked up Avis at her apartment at 7 PM last night. She seemed in fairly good spirits. She said she went to see Scott at the store yesterday, to bring him a letter from their Indian foster child, and it was kind of upsetting.

We went to the Sheepshead and saw "Trojan Women"; it was all right, but somehow we got the feeling that Euripides wouldn’t have wanted it that way. Then we drove over to 86th Street and had a bite to eat at Jahn’s.

Despite her depression, Avis was very good company. I took her to Rockaway and let her drive the car up and down the Boulevard (at one point a cop stopped us by the Neponsit Home for the Aged and pointed out that she’d been driving on the broad sidewalk) and then we came back to my house, sat in front of the fireplace and talked.

Avis still loves Scott so much, I think she’ll do anything to have him again. But I couldn’t see loving her, physically, not yet anyway, even though we are going out next Friday night.

I got my eight hours sleep although there was so much to think about: the things Avis said, and everything that’s been happening lately.

This afternoon, in a pouring rain, I picked up Stacy at her house. I said hello to Mrs. Feldman and to Leslie, who was in bed with a cold. We drove up to Lincoln Center (I drove the wrong way on Columbus Avenue for one block) and had lunch at the Philharmonic Café, then went to see the Kris Kristofferson concert.

He was pretty good, but neither Stacy nor I are much into his kind of music and Philharmonic Hall wasn’t a good place to see him, really.

Stacy still confuses me; I can’t figure out if she’s experienced sexually. With me alone, she plays so innocent, and I didn’t do more than kiss her (I didn’t kiss Avis).

But Stacy is interesting and it’s so nice to be with a girl and really talk. This has been some weekend – three “dates” – and I’m tired. But it was a hell of a lot of fun.

And tonight I got a call from Shelli, who said she phoned to talk about Avis. But I think that was just an excuse, for she said how all weekend, she’d been thinking about things and wanted to apologize to me for a lot of shit. I said we could be friends again. We shall see.

Unhappily, Gary is in bed with a flu-like illness. He’s getting really pissed off at Eileen. Sometimes I wonder if men and women were meant to have long-term relationships.

Um, yeah kid. Anyway, having spent more than a quarter-century in snow-less Florida, Phoenix or Silicon Valley, we've decided this will be our last winter up here where people do not realize that winters don't have to be like this. Till then, Spring in Brooklyn will eventually arrive.

Now it's 1975, three years later and we're finishing up our first semester of teaching at Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn, our first year of the new MFA program in creative writing at Brooklyn College, and have just sold our first short story:

Sunday, May 18, 1975
Last night turned out to be one of the craziest evenings in a long time. Scott called at about 7 PM; he finished with law school finals and had finally been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa a year after his graduation like I did.

Scott said he’d been planning to stay home and watch TV, so I told him – my biggest mistake – to drop by. He arrived at 9 PM and immediately put on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which he claimed he had never seen before.

He talked about law school and phoned a friend of his who was trying to get him a girl for the evening. Scott said he hadn’t been laid since Christmas, when he came to New York to see Miranda. You can imagine how sorry I felt for him.

But Scott still has his charm. He told me a professional writer had seen the story I sent him and thought it was “as good as Barthelme.” And Scott noticed my arms and asked if I’d been lifting weights. So I was flattered and I agreed to accompany him to a bar even though I don’t drink and had diarrhea.

I suggested the Pub and so we wound up at a table there. My stomach was acting up, but the Pub’s awful-smelling restroom had no toilet paper.

After watching Scott finish off a roast beef sandwich and fries, we moved to the bar, where he could drink beers and pick up women. I felt so absurd standing there, ginger ale in hand, staring at people who I ordinarily would not associate with.

Scott kept leaving to call his friend who was trying to get him laid. I tried to detach myself from the scene and become an Isherwoodian camera, an observer.

Finally I got on the phone and called Josh. He and his friend Bob, the one he’s going to California with, were just sitting around drinking coffee. I told Josh what I was doing in the Pub (I could hardly hear him over the racket) and he said we should come over.

I mentioned this to Scott and also said that Elspeth lived in Josh’s building as well. At this, Scott’s eyes lit up: Elspeth had come on to him in the past, and he was sure she’d be an easy lay.

For awhile, I thought this was funny, but when he rang her bell and she sleepily said, “Who is it?” and he replied, “A voice from the past: Scott Koestner,” I felt so embarrassed. It was only the beginning, however.

We had woken Elspeth up and she was dressed in a work shirt and nothing else. She said hi to me and I wanted to die. I told her I had to go downstairs to Josh’s and how Scott just wanted to say hello, and I left quickly.

I thought it was so obvious. And I felt lousy. Elspeth has gotten much prettier and I thought of the nice Christmas card she had sent me and how Scott was using her.

I went to see Josh and Bob. Bob’s nice, and he had this really fine dog who was just dying for affection. We talked and read the Sunday Times. Robbie came into the kitchen with Rose and another girl, who goes to Michigan, where Robbie has been accepted for the Ph.D. program in Developmental Psych.

Half an hour later, Scott came into the apartment and took me aside. He said his timing was awful: that very morning Elspeth had broken up with her boyfriend of eight months and she wanted to cry and talk about with Scott.

I felt bad for Elspeth but glad that Scott didn’t take advantage of her. But now he had to go back upstairs and use me as an excuse to leave; he had told her that I felt ill and didn’t want to go to Chinatown with them so he couldn’t go either because he had to take me home.

Eventually Scott joined us for coffee, and as usual, turned the conversation to himself, bragging about law school and talking about how he’d written a parody of a brief by Douglas.

He was greeted with a deafening silence but plodded on anyway, to my embarrassment, because I’d brought him. Josh left the room abruptly to walk the dog, he said; I could see he couldn’t put up with Scott.

I rolled my eyes skyward as Scott continued (Robbie and Rose kept exchanging significant stares) so that Bob would realize that I felt the same way about Scott’s talking as Bob did.

Then Scott abruptly said he wanted to score some pot in Long Island City. I just wanted to get him out of there so I agreed to go along. He drove like the maniac ex-cabdriver he is!

When we got to the guy’s apartment in Long Island City, we found him plying a card game called “Oh, hell!” with his girlfriend and a neighbor. The transaction went fairly quickly (though not fast enough for me) – but on the way back, Scott was stoned from the pot he’d smoked at the apartment and got on the Triboro by mistake.

He tried to talk his way out of the toll, but I simply just handed him the money. Finally – I thought it was never going to happen – I was home and Scott was saying goodbye and swearing me to secrecy.

Monday, May 19, 1975
Alice called me yesterday at 3 PM and told me to meet her in Brooklyn Heights. In half an hour, I was in front of the Promenade Restaurant on Montague Street, where I saw her.

She told me that she had been at the Promenade Art Show and was interviewing Mr. Blumstein for ninety minutes. I’ve been to so many of those shows, I have almost learned to recognize each exhibitor’s work.

Frank Blumstein does pen and ink sketches and watercolors, mostly of Brooklyn people, animals and buildings. He’s fairly good, but of course Alice is not interested in him for his art; she still hasn’t outgrown that high school girl crush when he was our Spanish teacher.

We passed by his booth and I said hello. He said, “Stewart?”

“No, Richard.”


“No, Grayson.”


“Right.” So he remembered I got mumps when I was a senior.

Alice told me he has a girlfriend named Miriam. He’s a striking man for his 38 years.

No longer teaching, he told Alice his reputation got so inflated he became the “star” of Midwood, a kind of pedagogical Mick Jagger. Kids took his class not to learn Spanish but to be entertained.

For a while, it was “a real trip,” but then he realized he had been more of a showman than a teacher and decided to take a couple of years off.

After we left Mr. Blumstein, Alice kept asking me, “Don’t you think he would have asked me out if he was really interested in me?” and I kept saying, “Yes.”

She’s even thinking of writing Jonathan Schwartz again. But if he failed to respond, she’d want to die. I told her about Kara’s letter. Kara reminded me of Alice, who also seems to enjoy things more in anticipation than in actuality.

We had a ginger ale and an iced coffee outside in Capulet’s, and she told me how Andreas is so dull and passionless. When they make love, he never kisses her. She loves him, but she’s not getting enough sex from him (on Friday night they just painted their supposed love nest) or enough excitement.

The gym teacher at school is coming on to her more and more; he’s married and something of a swinger, into bisexual swapping and pedophilia and more kinky stuff.

We went to Picadeli for some solid nourishment and Alice continued her litany. Money or no, she’s decided to turn down the principal’s offer to stay on after June; she’s just not happy being a teacher.

Alice said she stopped by Flatbush Life to see about a job. It seems that Denis Hamill, Pete’s brother, has taken over Mark Savage’s job. (I need to call Mark and Consuelo.)

I drove Alice up to the Village, where she was scheduled to meet Andreas. On the way, I told her of the disastrous evening with Scott and mentioned that Scott wanted me to call her to see if she was available for sex; Alice replied that she was in such a bad mood on Saturday night that she might have responded to Scott.

I am disgusted with him. Finally, when we got to my house, he said, “It’s 2 AM, a great time to pick up the girls who are left when the bars close!” I assured him that the only thing I was interested in was sleep.

And his warning me not to tell anyone about his trying to make Elspeth struck me as sleazy and hypocritical. Avis is so lucky that she’s rid of him.

Surprisingly, though, when I spoke to Josh, I learned that he wasn’t particularly upset with Scott. He left his apartment so abruptly because he was disgusted with Robbie and Rose and their friend, who were so dull and like old people. In fact, Josh said as he and I walked through the Botanic Gardens this afternoon, Scott was the most interesting person there that night, even if he is egotistical.

I can see Josh’s point about Robbie and Rose, who are the only person each other has gone out with and are already like a 45-year-old married couple. Robbie is very nervous and gets an upset stomach when he has to go to Manhattan.

Josh is anxious to go out to California. He and Bob are leaving July 17, and he’s asked me to think about taking over his room in the apartment for the summer.

There’s a meeting of the Alumni Association Finance Committee at Ira Harkavy’s law office tonight, according to a memo I got from David Pollack. But I have to go to Comp Lit and get the questions for the final.

I got the check from
New Writers today, all $25 of it. My story should be coming out soon. At least that letter counteracted the effect of still another rejection notice.

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