An 18-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From December, 1969

by Richard Grayson

Monday, December 1, 1969

It was terrific to get back to the daily grind of college. This morning I cleaned up the clutter in my drawers. At school, I met Eugene in the cafeteria and we exchanged Thanksgiving stories.

Maria and I found a wallet in Math, but the guy who lost it came back for it before we could turn it in after class.

The sky became coal-black and it started to snow furiously, but the storm lasted less than an hour. Mr. Feltman discussed the square root of 2, but everyone kept looking out the window.

In Science, we learned about the nucleus: dull stuff — to me, anyway.

To my amazement, Miss Stein gave me a B+ on the envy essay: “interesting perspective,” she commented. We discussed the Mann story and she gave us a writing assignment for next week; I think I’ll do a review of Boys in the Band.

Tonight I studied for tomorrow’s French test, and Mom and Dad and I discussed being a salesman: it’s not my kind of life. Then Marc and I watched Sadbird, a fairly good drama — but why can’t television show young people uncondescendingly?

June 4th was the twentieth date picked for the draft lottery. I’ve never been one of the luckiest people. But I’m ineligible for this year’s lottery.

Thursday, December 4, 1969

Today was blue and blustery, the kind of day that gives you energy although this morning I was so sleepy, I didn’t want to get up.

Mom and Dad loved the Broadway show they saw last night; they said Butterflies Are Free was very touching and Keir Dullea and Eileen Heckart were good.

I read the Times and saw the horrible Song My massacre photos in Life and watched Love of Life and Where the Heart Is before going to school.

Math was a bore: theorems galore. There was a rally on the quadrangle, something about feeing the Damascus 2, whoever they are. I became nauseous during French, but realizing it was psychosomatic, I controlled it and felt better.

We had a fairly good discussion in English going over a student’s paper on learning; the class laughed at several of my clever remarks.

By the time I got home, I was tired, but a little yoga and a change of clothes refreshed me.

I gave Dr. Wouk two of my old plays to read: The Buddhist Monk Thing andClean Coffins. During our session, Dr. Wouk gave me a keychain, and even though I know he did it to see my reaction, my eyes swelled up against my will and I felt loved.

I don’t want to have my epitaph read: He never loved nor hated anybody. It’s going to take time and work before I can become free of fear and free to choose.

At home again, I gave the keychain to Marc and watched Jack Benny and the news. Today I got a card from Mady, who’s such a sweet kid.

Sunday, December 7, 1969

In contrast to the night before, last night’s dreams were beautifully serene. Today was a bleak, cloudy day, fitting for Aunt Annette’s funeral. Early this morning I took the Pontiac over to Coney Island Avenue for the funeral, meeting Marty in the parking lot.

My uncle and I went in together, but I sat with Grandpa Nat during the services. Sitting in front of us with Grandpa Herb and Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney, Grandma Ethel cried continually during the whole thing.

Mom and Dad came late although they went to the cemetery while I drove home. Aunts Betty and Minnie debated when to tell Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris.

Uncle Abe looked pale and shaky, his sons sad and curious amid the goings-on at their mother’s funeral. (Grandma Ethel called tonight and said that the boys will be spending Christmas in Miami due to the beneficence of a friend.)

The rabbi’s words in the eulogy didn’t seem appropriate to me because they didn’t really describe Aunt Annette as we all knew her.

I came home to write my play review for English. Next came lunch at the Fillmore Queen and a short drive. Back home again, I pored over my Math notes and went ahead in French.

Tonight I watched the Forsytes and lifted barbells. I’d like to lose some of the weight around my middle. I feel strong tonight, like I could lick the world — but in my last (and only) fight four years ago, Scott decked me right away and I got a beautiful shiner.

Tuesday, December 9, 1969

My throat was fine this morning when I went to Lab, where Mr. Slowiejczyk just reviewed for two solid hours. I yawned throughout the class. After having a tuna sandwich at Wolfie’s, I still felt so bored I had thoughts of going home.

But my nagging conscience forced me to attend a deadly dull Science lecture. Dr. D’Avanzo was a little bit more interesting, although French grammar isn’t exactly stimulating. I had a few minutes of dizziness but I successfully fought it off.

Kjell noticed my tiredness in Health Ed, where we discussed sex. I didn’t say anything because I’m not sure of my feelings. I may have intercourse with somebody tomorrow; I may become a promiscuous fag; I may remain virginal until marriage. I don’t know.

On the bus going home, Kjell and I discussed two other “taboo” subjects, politics and religion. Kjell and I are both neo-isolationists, although I suppose it’s a narrow viewpoint.

Grandma Sylvia went for stomach x-rays today.

Mom, Dad, Marty, Arlyne and I went to pay a shiva call on Uncle Abe in the projects in Coney Island. Grandma Ethel, Grandpa Herb, Grandma’s friend Irene Krasner and a lot of neighbors were also there.

When I saw how simply these people live and how content they seem (as Aunt Annette did), I and the others felt so spoiled and jaded, with our big homes and new Caddys.

I talked to Cousin Michael for a while and he seems honest and satisfied with his life. As Dad said afterwards as we were going to our cars, “We should all count our blessings.”

Arlyne informed that Dr. Lipton sort of pumped her for information on me, saying something like, “Some patients think I’m not directive enough.”  She wouldn’t say anything.

Wednesday, December 10, 1969

Today was pretty dreadful in more ways than weatherwise (it rained all day). Marc was home with soreness from orthodontic work, and Dad had oral surgery downtown and came home feeling tired and weak.

This morning was all right, and school went fairly well, starting with a boring Math class. In French, we went over pronouns. Rachel has a stomach virus, and I, the hypochondriac, am afraid I’ll catch it. In English we saw some silly tapes on grammar produced by the English Department and the TV Center.

Dad and Mom went downtown to Court Street with me, but the draft board wasn’t so bad after all; they have a job to do and they tried to make me feel at ease. My case will be postponed a month till they get the 109 form from the college Selective Service office.

Dr. Wouk said he preferred The Buddhist Monk Thing. The anti-feeling policy the group in the play has is a lot like me. I intellectualize, so I don’t have to feel, so people don’t feel for me, so I can’t get hurt.

When I discussed going to the projects for the shiva call last night, Dr. Wouk said that money is an important factor in life in that it helps us reach our comfortable lifestyles. Other things we talked about were my “contracts” with my family, the absurdity of some people’s lives, and hostility.

Aunt Sydelle and Monty are in Aruba. Marty told me that Merryl has bought a horse. Tonight it was pouring rain, but I love being able to smell the fish in Jamaica Bay.

Sunday, December 14, 1969

Gary called last night. To beat the draft, he’s joining the Reserve National Guard. After his call, I had diarrhea, but finally I slept well.

Today was a boring, depressing day: it was dark and rainy and there were heavy snow warnings. I watched two movies: a W.C. Fields comedy and Mourning Becomes Electra. I also worked on my novel’s inter-character relationships.

I studied French, read a D.H. Lawrence story for English, but mostly studied Math. I hate the math work because it’s so strict and tightly structured.

To break up the monotony of schoolwork, I went out for two short drives. Being stuck in the house makes me nervous and fidgety, reminiscent of my “hermit” days when I wouldn’t leave the house last winter.

But that was another time, another Richard.

I’ve been reading a book by Arthur Ford, the medium. He says death is nothing to fear because there is a better world than this one. I wish I could believe that.

The days are so short now. The only thing good about Florida at Christmas will be the summerlike weather. I’m still not sure I’m going; I have conflicts about the trip.

At least there was something good on the tube tonight: Town Without Pity andThe Forsyte Saga.

I just heard the heavy snow warnings have been cancelled: only one inch is now predicted.

Wednesday, December 17, 1969

I got depressed this morning when I read the paper and the magazines. Time had a section on the decade, which has gone from JFK’s promised rendezvous with destiny to a rendezvous with absurdity.

There’s been a sharp increase in anti-Semitism, and people in this country love Agnew, Billy Graham and Lieutenant Calley. Canada looks better every day.

Mr. Feltman let us out early, and I voted for student reps (names I liked) and went to a French grammar lesson; I got an 88 on the last quiz. In English, we discussed the Lawrence story and footnotes.

Dr. Lipton called me tonight to remind me of a payment outstanding; I was polite but uncommunicative.

Tonight Dr. Wouk and I discussed many things. I can’t get over that he likes me for myself, that I don’t have to earn his love and that nothing I could do would change his attitude.

He says my sexual problems will clear up as I learn while I fear intimacy. To Dr. Wouk, there are three kinds of sex: fucking, which implies hostility; screwing, which is mostly a libidinal release; and making love, a total sharing of an experience between two people.

I’m afraid that people will find out something terrible about myself, though I can’t imagine what it is that could be so awful. Anyway, I do feel I will become a whole person eventually with Dr. Wouk’s help.

How can the mayor of Newark, indicted today, ask his citizens for “law and order”?  Disgusting.

What idiocy: Tiny Tim tiptoed into televised matrimony tonight.

Friday, December 19, 1969

Grandma Sylvia entered Memorial Hospital this morning for her surgery. Mom was in the beauty parlor this morning, and I took the phone off the hook after two sympathetic phone calls from Doris Cohen and Aunt Claire, who’d heard the news. Marc had midterms today and came home early.

Math was the usual bore, but now that the term is ending, I’m going to miss Maria, Jeanne and Terry. In French, Dr. D’Avanzo was more interesting than Mr. Feltman was.

After class, I met Sheila, and she, a member of Woman’s Liberation, told me of her encounter with Erica Morton, head of the rival group Virgins on Campus, which upholds chastity and modesty for girls. I’m not sure it it’s tongue-in-cheek or not.

I wanted to speak to Evan today, but he waited for the next bus. Mikey, a hell of a nice guy from Rockaway, is always very friendly to me. In contrast to him is my old junior high school pal Arnold Bank, who pretends not to notice me on campus. No great loss, though.

Tonight I went to the Elm and saw Putney Swope. Parts of it were hysterically funny although a big heavy-handed. Just the idea of black militants taking over an ad agency is pretty cute, and some of the commercials they showed were very clever.

It was snowing on Avenue M when I got out of the theater, but it later stopped. At home I watched Joe Namath’s show, on which his guests were Truman Capote and Rocky Graziano.

I’m starting to feel guilty and nervous about the trip; Dad may not come with us.

Saturday, December 20, 1969

I had a bad night’s sleep, with an erection that seemed to last for hours. Thus, most of today I felt like something the cat dragged in. In the morning I went to the college library and did research on what little they had on Vonnegut.

The traffic at all the shopping areas moved very slowly. When I came home for lunch, Marc was unfriendly and in his usual bad mood, so I went to the movies again.

At the Midwood, I saw Easy Rider, the Peter Fonda-Dennis Hopper film that Dr. Wouk recommended. I was a bit restless, but generally it was a good movie about freedom and searching for identity. The ending was unexpected and abrupt.

Mom and Dad went to the hospital to visit Grandma Sylvia, who’s being given all sorts of tests. She had a lot of visitors today. They say Grandpa Nat is very nervous.

While the family was out seeing a James Bond flick tonight, Marty came over to give dad some money. He says Wendy has strep throat and the doctor says Jeff will probably get it by Monday.

Marty asked if I’m coming with them to Florida, and I said I’m still uncertain. When the time comes, I probably won’t go. I can have a pretty good vacation right here by myself.

Later I went out for a drive and to get the Sunday Times. John and Yoko Lennon have a full-page ad saying, “WAR IS OVER! (if you want it).”

Wednesday, December 24, 1969

Things were pretty bleak this morning. The sky was dark and it snowed. But in the afternoon the sun came out and Dad called from the hospital to say that the surgeon said it wasn’t as bad as he thought and Grandma Sylvia would be fine.

I was so happy. I called Grandma Ethel, Gary and Evie with the news. And I got my draft deferment in the mail, along with other goodies.

We sent Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb flowers in honor of their fortieth wedding anniversary today.

It was too icy to drive, so I hung around the house, watching television, listening to the Beatles and the Stones, feeling happy despite a rather bad sore throat.

I spoke to Mom this afternoon. It’s very warm in Florida. Dad is still not sure when or if he’s going to join them there. Tonight Marc and Marty took a 9 PM flight to Miami.

Christmas Eve is very cold, in the teens. At least we have a lot to be grateful for on this year’s Christmas, and the new year looks considerably brighter than it did 24 hours ago.

Santa Claus should be on his appointed rounds about now. I wonder if he gives better service than the U.S. Post Office. I’m a happy guy tonight.

Thursday, December 25, 1969

Grandpa Nat called this morning from the hospital. He said the doctor’s report is so encouraging, “I feel like jumping!”  Grandma Sylvia’s recovery seems to be going very well.

After Dad and I breakfasted and cleaned up, we went through one of those automatic car washers before he went to the hospital.

Gary came over at 1 PM and we chatted and watched television. I showed him my collection of autographed Time magazine covers, which impressed him.

When Gary left this evening, I felt sore-throaty and achy and my temperature was 101°. It looks like when Dad goes to Florida tomorrow night, he’ll be going by himself.

For a few hours there, it almost actually looked as if I’d be going. But I’m terrified about the flight, so perhaps my cold is psychosomatic.

I am so nervous that I’m actually reading Dale Carnegie. I also reread Cat’s Cradle and started the paper on Vonnegut. And I looked over some of my unfinished masterpieces.

It looks like the snow is going to be heavy.

Saturday, December 27, 1969

I can hardly believe it, but I’m writing this from 15th floor of the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach. What happened was this:

It was still snowing when I got up this morning, and Dad was making preparations to go to Kennedy. Impulsively, I said I’d go, and we took a cab and got on a plane almost immediately.
The ride was pretty frantic and I was scared-nauseous the whole time. A lady shrink sat next to me and offered me Valium (I took two of my own tranquilizers). The takeoff was horrible, and I couldn’t eat the meal, but somehow I endured the flight.

We took a cab with other people up Collins Avenue to the hotel, where everyone was shocked to see us. My first impressions of Florida were of warmth and cleanliness.

The room that my brothers, cousin and I share faces the ocean. I had dinner here from room service. I was afraid of eating for fear that I’m going to throw up tonight.

Now that I’m here, I almost wish I would have stayed home. If I had stayed home, I probably would be wishing I’d gone to Florida.

I’m still so excited from the plane ride, it will be a surprise if I sleep at all tonight. I accomplished a lot today, doing something I was terrified to do. But surprisingly I feel let down. I’m going to go for a walk through the hotel now.

Monday, December 29, 1969

I slept wonderfully last night and felt good as we all went down for breakfast in the coffee shop.

Shopping in the supermarket across the street, I brought cookies, rye bread and Dixie cups, most of which was gone by tonight. In the drugstore, I bought a University of Florida t-shirt and some junk. Mom and Dad got me some jeans on Lincoln Road.

After hanging around the chaise lounges for a while, I went by the ocean, where I met this cute, freckled girl named Lillian, who’s a senior at Bronx High School of Science. She lives in the East Bronx with her parents and older brother.

I stayed with her for three hours, talking about myself, joking, having a good time. I got quite a sunburn while I was with Lily. We watched the men o’ war on the beach, and I got a coconut shell from the ocean for her. Later we helped Wendy build a sand castle.

Tonight Wendy was my sole dinner companion, and she told me, rather loudly, of her love for a child movie star from Oliver! and then retold, in great detail, the movie’s plot.

Afterwards we went to the nightclub for a show, which started off with a god-awful comedian, Jackie Something.

Then Ronnie Dyson, a young black singer who was in Hair and Putney Swope, came on. He has a terrific voice, and I loved his rendition of “Aquarius,” but he needs more poise and personality.

Tuesday, December 30, 1969

The first cloudy day we’ve had in Florida. Wendy has a red throat and the doctor gave her some medicine; she stayed in bed most of the day.

We had a buffet breakfast in the Silver Chimes, then Marty, Jeff, Mom, Dad, Jonny and I went to Lincoln Road while the others stayed back at the hotel.

The traffic in Miami Beach is abominable. The stores on Lincoln Road were like those in New York. I got a pair of shorts and a white “wet look” windbreaker. On the ride back, Jeff wet all over the car and Marty.

When we got back, I went down alone for a hamburger, then took a walk around the pool, where I went over to talk to Ronnie Dyson. Trying to be very “in,” I asked him if Robert Downey, the director of Putney Swope, really is a prince.

I sat around the beach all afternoon, but when it came to dinnertime, my stomach was bothering me, so I had my meal sent up. But I felt better after eating and went for walk, meeting Lily in the gift shop, where she was buying a gift basket for somebody. But she had to go somewhere with her brother tonight.

The folks went to see the Woody Allen movie.