An 18-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From February, 1970
by Richard Grayson
Monday, February 2, 1970
One of those rainy, windy days which usually occur in April; I could smell the fish in Jamaica Bay.
This morning Kjell introduced me to his girl, Sharon, a vivacious redhead. They’re now on morning schedule because they’re upper sophomores. It felt good to get back to school, to work, to seeing people again.
My Psych teacher, Dr. Bonchek, is a sober, nondescript man. He seems to be a behaviorist and talked of using shock treatments as a way of “curing” homosexuals. (When he said that, two older guys who I think were Vietnam vets sitting in front of me looked at each other, like they were rolling their eyes.) In the large (75-ish) class, I know only Nancy Marmor and Eileen Stern.
Miss Glikin, the English teacher, is a small, plain woman. Her book list was pretty good, and she let us out early.
I went to the Student Center and had a Coke and bought Camus’ The Plague for English since we’ll be doing that book first. Last night I finished Jude; it’s so pessimistic but the relationship between Sue and Jude is tragic and beautiful.
My Science teacher, Prof. Levine, is the kind of boyish scientist that women like to mother. He gave an introductory lecture on chemistry, which seems more interesting than physics last term. Leonard is in the class and also in my Lab section.
I spent the evening watching Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, a delightful movie, and I read the introductory booklet in Psych.
I also started to read The Plague for the third time. Camus’ humanistic existentialism is a philosophy that I find easy to take.
Nixon submitted a record $200 billion budget today.
Tuesday, February 3, 1970
It rained hard all day, and towards evening, the temperature dropped sharply and it began to snow.
I worked most of the morning before Mom drove me to the college. We had a discussion on The Plague in English which I took no small part in. I like Miss Glikin and think the course will be interesting. I don’t think I could live without fiction.
In French, Dr. D’Avanzo laid down the ground rules for the term. About six or seven kids from last term are in the class.
Among the 80 or so people in my Art lecture class are Effie and Carla. The teacher, Mrs. Wachsberger, seems efficient, cold and just a little bitchy.
At home, I had a lot of reading to do: Art, French, Science and Camus. But it got so that I just couldn’t concentrate anymore, so I watched the tube.
Mom and Dad managed to get on that junket to Puerto Rico, and they leave in two weeks.
Lately, I’ve had intense (homo)sexual feelings. I’ve been thinking of what will happen this summer if I go to the gay beach at Riis Park. Unhappily, I don’t feel at home in either the straight or gay worlds.
Today was Daniel’s birthday, but I’ve got to put him and his sister out of my mind. Maybe, to keep my mind from exploding, I should do something diverting, like join a house plan.
Friday, February 6, 1970
A cloudy, gloomy day. I went off to Lab this morning. The instructor, Joe Benezra, is an affable, highly competent young man, who did the impossible: convinced me that chemistry was — to use the ‘now’ term — relevant to my life. He seems to be quite interested in his students.
Glad to get away from Leonard’s inanities, I had lunch in Wolfie’s, sitting at the counter next to a nodding acquaintance from Hebrew school, Norman Kaplan.
At the Student Center, I overheard two students planning for the nationwide Environmental Teach-In sponsored by Senator Nelson on April 22.
In Psych, Dr. Bonchek announced his experimental point system for grading and talked about experimenter bias. Then we had a lesson on stressed pronouns in French.
I had a long talk with fat, ugly Roberta on the bus coming home. The other day I was surprised that Kjell was surprised I talk to her. After all, she’s just a regular person trapped in a fat, ugly body. I’m trying harder to reach out and communicate with others.
This school week seemed long. At home, I played Risk and read the magazines that came in the mail. The rest of the family went out to see Funny Girl tonight.
I felt bloated after dinner and sat halfway through a dull sci-fi program narrated by Kurt Vonnegut, then switched to a contrived but decent drama about a black boy in the country with an embittered old Jew (Peter Ustinov).
In one Post column, it says that Arthur Goldberg may run for governor after all; that would be nice.
War now looks inevitable in the Middle East.
Saturday, February 7, 1970
I had bizarre dreams and woke up with headache. Taking an aimless drive this morning, I got lost somewhere in Jamaica.
After lunch, I went to see Medium Cool at the Elm. It was about a TV news cameraman, an Appalachian widow and her young son during the violent Chicago Democratic Convention in the summer of 1968.
I was stunned, frozen to my seat, at the ending — although I should have suspected what would happen. The most amazing scene was when tear gas was thrown on the demonstrators and other people and somebody yelled, “Look out, Haskell! It’s real!” (Haskell Wexler is the director.)
Back home, I read the Voice and found an ad about a commune on Bedford Avenue, near the old Ebbets Field. I went down there but was too shy to go in. Maybe some other time, when I feel more at ease.
I had a burger on Flatbush Avenue, then came home and played Risk with my brothers. The game ended in a shouting match, so I’m not playing anymore. My throat hurts from yelling. Earlier, I gave Jonny a card for his ninth birthday: “Happy Birthday to a Nice Nut.”
When will liberal and reform Democrats stop killing each other? It looks like they’re gonna do it again this year in New York.
Tonight I devoured the new issue of Variety for all the show-biz gossip; I need to know everything. Dr. Wouk says that curiosity is an essential part of my personality. It’s kept me going through various crises.
Thursday, February 10, 1970
I had insomnia last night and saw Michael Brody on Dick Cavett. He seemed sincere but irrational.
It rained hard all day, so we’re lucky it didn’t snow. This morning I did French work, and Mom drove me to school.
In English, I stated that the theme of The Plague was that since we are all victims of a cruel fate together, let us love one another. Dr. D’Avanzo gave a lecture and we did oral work in French.
In Art, we learned about the art of ancient Egypt, which I found fascinating. History is the best fiction there is.
Dad picked me up on Flatbush Avenue since he and Mom had to go to Huntington, where they’re redecorating the store.
I went out to catch the 6 PM showing of the X-rated Midnight Cowboy at the Brook. It was a beautiful study of loners and losers in New York.
Jon Voight as the Texas hustler and Dustin Hoffman as the dirty, shrewd, crippled Ratso Rizzo gave fantastic performances. It was the portrayal of a friendship I’ve seen in movies; I cried at the end.
It was very foggy when I came out of the theater and drove home.
Marc got Jonny a toy that illustrates Newton’s Third Law and I got him a game called Jack Straws. Mom and Dad are going to give him a bicycle.
I had an idea for a play about Adlai Stevenson, who’s my idea of a gentleman.
Thursday, February 12, 1970
A clear, crisp day. I didn’t get to sleep until after 2 AM, but I woke up late, at 10:30 AM, on this Lincoln’s Birthday. No school!
I drove out to Cedarhurst, but no one was home at Aunt Sydelle’s. So I drove through Far Rockaway and Broad Channel. Marc and I talked about his and my shyness; it’s a form of fear.
I went over to the Bedford Avenue commune this afternoon. Two pale, sad-eyed, barefoot girls about 18 and an older guy, Tom, live there. We rapped in their messy room with six or seven cats running around.
One girl, Enid, explained how they are free through self-awareness and how the outside world is all built on “lies and bullshit, bullshit and lies.” They don’t seem very happy, though. Enid was sloppy and sniffling.
They said Margaret Mead was coming to study them. Tom said they don’t believe in work; they just ‘relate’ and subsist on contributions. I gave them a dollar. I don’t see why you can’t be free and still be neat.
I got a Valentine today from Mady. There was a letter in the Voice from Richard Goldman about his group therapy, and it sounds exactly like my old Franklin School tenth grade friend with the same name.
Tonight I studied for the French quiz, washed my hair, and watched Red, White and Maddox, which was all right, but sort of like an antismoking lecture for heroin addicts.
A year ago was the absolute low point of my life: I couldn’t get out of bed or stop shaking and Mom had to hold my hand. But it made her call Dr. Lipton and get him to prescribe Triavil. I’ve come a long way.
Wednesday, February 18, 1970
I slept through the early morning clatter: Mom and Dad getting to the airport, Marc and Jonny getting off to school. When I awoke, Grandpa Herb and Sandra, the latest new cleaning woman, were around.
I read this morning, mostly The Mill on the Floss, which is okay, and I made sandwiches for lunch for Grandpa Herb and myself, and then he drove me to school.
In Psych, I copied Nancy’s notes from the last class — she is kind of attractive — and Dr. Bonchek lectured on intelligence tests. I felt relaxed during French, and the lesson was enjoyable, although the slightly drunk guy with liquor on his breath sat next to me again. Prof. Levine talked about the periodic table in Science.
Sandra had a deli dinner waiting for me at home, and afterwards I picked up the Pontiac at the mechanic’s and drove to Church and Utica to get the Voice. It was fair and not so cold today. Mom and Dad must be enjoying the San Juan warm weather now.
Grandma Ethel went to Manhattan to see the Hello, Dolly! movie, and she and Grandpa Herb came over to sleep here tonight.
This evening I read more of The Mill on the Floss, gargled for my throat, admired my biceps (God, am I vain — but I still feel I’m good-looking), and helped Jonny with his third-grade homework. (I skipped third grade, so maybe I need to be looking at it.)
I feel confident tonight, like I can handle everything, but I’m sure my Nervous Nellie self will come out sooner or later.
The Chicago 7 were acquitted of conspiracy but found guilty of crossing state lines to incite riots. Also on the news: More high schoolers are dying of drug overdoses. What a mess.
Friday, February 20, 1970
A cold, sunny day. I woke up early and took the car to school this morning. Surprisingly, I found an unmetered space near Midwood. Soon I met Leonard and we went into the cafeteria. He’s an idiot, blabbering away — but there was no one else around.
In Lab, Mr. Benezra reviewed the material, handed out mimeoed notes (God bless him!) and set up our experiment. I’m becoming friendly with my lab partner, Howie Chen, and helped him understand molecules. Like all Orientals, he’s cool and fascinates me.
I ran into Carole briefly and I also saw Adele on my way to lunch at Wolfie’s. In Psych, Dr. Bonchek — who, like Miss Glikin, now knows my name — talked about IQ. My IQ has been variously tested between 148 and 176. I felt nauseous during French, but it passed.
Grandma Ethel had one of her bad headaches today; I wonder if it’s all in her mind. Grandpa Herb went to see his lawyer and doctor; he’s planning to sue the other driver.
I called Grandma Sylvia, who said she and Grandpa Nat are leaving for Miami next week and will celebrate their 50th anniversary there.
Mom called this afternoon and said the weather in San Juan is beautiful and in the 80°s.
After I came back from a drive to Kings Highway, Grandpa Herb gave me phone messages from Alice and Gary. When I called Gary, he said he’s going to be sworn in next Tuesday for the National Guard.
He can be called for basic training at any time and probably won’t finish the term. I consoled him with the thought that four months on a base in the South is better than a tour of duty in Vietnam. Gary will call me if anything develops.
Alice’s brother said she was out with Howie.
Tonight I found my “lost” diamond ring, the one Grandpa Herb gave me when I turned 16.
Tuesday, February 24, 1970
Brad and Les called last night and invited me for an early dinner Sunday; I’m not too thrilled about going, but I accepted. Brad told me he sold his Mustang, as he’s got no use for it living on 14th Street in the city.
This morning Dr. Hersh took x-rays of my teeth and told me to come back tomorrow. It was such a warm, sunny day for February that I sat on the Boylan steps with Rachel, who was her usual scatterbrained self.
Eugene came along, and I wished him a happy birthday. We aren’t really friends anymore, I guess, and haven’t been best friends since junior high. He’s in the world of frats and socializing and wears saddle shoes, and that’s definitely not my style.
In English, I practically had the whole discussion to myself; Mill on the Floss now seems to me to be a very good novel. We had a lesson on possessive pronouns in French, and then Mrs. Wachsberger lectured on the decline of Egyptian art.
I was feeling serene on the crowded bus ride coming home. I liked the feeling of being squeezed tightly between two other people; that Esalen touchy stuff works. I kept to a strict diet today.
Mom’s going to let Sandra go, as she’s just not a good cleaner.
Tonight I did my French work and tried to study other things, but I just couldn’t concentrate, so I gave up and watched Julia.
There was a TV report, very scary, on the population boom; as bad as it sounds, limitations on family size may be the answer. Rep. Ottinger announced for the Senate, and it looks like half a dozen Democrats are running against Goodell. I’m worried about alleged American involvement in Laos.
I’ve been thinking up titles for the chapters of Go Not to Lethe because it’s easier than actually writing the novel.
Wednesday, February 25, 1970
It was warm this morning but turned cold and cloudy later. Dr. Hersh filled three of my porcelain fillings that had washed away. I took Novocain, something I rarely do.
Before class, I sat on the steps of Boylan and observed the scene. We had a quiz on testing in Psych, and I got 9 out of 10.
I don’t know how to make any overtures to Nancy. We were talking aboutMarat/Sade and I told her, “You should get your boyfriend to take you to see it,” hoping she’d say, “I don’t have a boyfriend.” But she just smiled. I get so many “crushes” on guys and girls that in my mind, I’m very promiscuous.
Dr. D’Avanzo gave an enjoyable French lesson; I was afraid I’d be tense again and have an anxiety attack, but I was fine. In Science, Prof. Levine lectured on waves: dull stuff.
It turned out that the girl who interrupted Pompidou’s press conference with shouts of “French Hitler!” is a classmate of Rhonda’s at American University.
Mom decided to give Sandra another chance. Marc may get a math tutor, as he’s been having so much trouble with the subject. I sent out a birthday card to Grandma Ethel even though she won’t be 60 till March 1.
Tonight I told Dr. Wouk about the commune. He said going there, and also to see Brad and Les, are good experiences for me because they expose me to other worlds than that of “middle-class Flatbush Jews.”
He said he would like to see Mom and Dad, as he doesn’t “have a feel” for them from the way I’ve been describing them. I spoke with Dad and he’s agreeable; I don’t want to be present, though. Naturally, everything that goes on will be told to me. Shrinks are great that way.
Dr. Wouk’s new book, the one he’s almost finished with, is called The Truth About Lying. He told me he’s building a house in the country.
Quintuplets were born to a New Jersey woman.