A 19-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From August, 1970
by Richard Grayson
Monday, August 3, 1970
A rather maddening day. Mansarde called last night from Martha’s aunt’s Park Avenue apartment. This morning I called her and gave her instructions on getting to the Junction via the IRT.
I could not have been prepared for them when I picked them up at the station. Mansarde is a real nut and Martha’s almost as kooky.
They hated everything I showed them about Brooklyn: our house (too small and too close to other houses), Coney Island and Prospect Park (both way too crowded), the people (Mansarde said they should all be killed because they’re not really living anyway).
Mansarde couldn’t stand the noise in the subway and Martha became hysterically depressed as we were driving up Ocean Avenue. “I can’t take this!” she screamed.
They smell like they haven’t bathed in years and are not pretty. They’re very big on nature and looked at me as if I was insane when I said that people are more important than trees or animals.
Mansarde may call me again, but I hope not. I don’t like being put in the position of defending my lifestyle. I began to think I was crazy for living here in New York City. Martha said, “It’s amazing how you’ve adjusted to such terrible living conditions.”
Tonight I told everyone on the block about them, and Lou suspects they were putting me on the whole time, but I doubt it.
Grandpa Nat called and told us to see the Post. There was a story, “Protest from Collision Corner,” in which Irv and Doris were interviewed about the accidents on Fillmore and East 56th and the need for a traffic light there.
Wednesday, August 5, 1970
A hazy, lazy, but not crazy day. I didn’t sleep last night and finally got to bed this morning, and as a consequence, awoke very late. I was constipated and sluggish all day and didn’t feel like doing much of anything.
I watched TV and read magazines till lunchtime. The coming thing in communications, one article said, may be some kind of TV cassettes you can buy and play at home.
Mom didn’t have any money to spend on shopping, so she gave me the car. I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see their four-man photography show, Images en Coleur. I’m not impressed by photos of Egyptian temples and African tribal rites and flowers; people interest me.
I was driving home on Flatbush Avenue near Caton when I saw a crowd. Parking the car, I found a show by the Free Theater. It was good, culled from improvisation and sensitivity training, and it used high school kids from Midwood and Erasmus. From last summer, I recognized Ernie as well as Susan Turk and her boyfriend Dennis.
Gary writes that he’s doing better; he wants to go on a trip to Washington, D.C. during October’s pre-election recess. He’d also like to do something when he transfers to the college; maybe he’d be interested in joining the Spigot. His letters from Fort Polk sound much more hopeful now.
I also got a card from Mr. Whitehill saying that my application to write an inmate was being processed.
Nixon’s statement (or misstatement) on the Manson case, saying he was “guilty,” the judge ruled, is not enough for a mistrial. Sons of Ethel Kennedy and Sargent Shriver were busted for pot.
Tonight Marc fixed my TV set — how, I don’t know.
Friday, August 7, 1970
Mansarde called last night. I’d been having Jonny tell her I wasn’t home, but I finally spoke to her. She called, Mansarde said, to apologize for her behavior and to thank me for my hospitality. I was cool to her. I don’t know where we’ll go from here: perhaps nowhere.
I woke up too late to go to Manhattan again today, so Jonny and I went to the Botanic Gardens, something we’ve planning for a while. It was a beautiful experience; w walked a lot and saw the trees, the flowers, the Japanese garden, the bonsais, the water lilies, the greenhouses.
We sniffed the fragrances of the garden for the blind and took a lot of pictures. Guess who I met? My old Franklin School history teacher, the slightly alcoholic Dr. Russell J. Elliot.
Jonny’s legs gave out after ninety minutes, so we went to the Museum and had lunch in their cafeteria, which is run by Nathan’s.
This afternoon, I relaxed and read Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, a beautiful story. I’m attracted to younger boys like Tadzio; perhaps I’m trying to regain my lost innocence.
Thank God, though, I’m still young and attractive myself. But what will happen when I get old and my looks fade away?
Last night Alice said I was weird, but she meant that as a compliment.
Sunday, August 9, 1970
I arose at 10 AM, had breakfast, and before I knew it, Mark was here to pick me up. We took along some hitchhikers who’d just come back from the Strawberry Fields rockfest in Canada (where Carol and Rosemary went, and so did Howie) and drove to Rockaway and parked in Grandpa Herb’s space.
We stayed on the beach for about two hours. Mark gave me the whole spiel for the encyclopedias he’s supposed to be selling in his new job; it’s going to be tough work for him, but the money’s good.
I was attracted to boys’ near-naked bodies glistening in the sun. Mark refuses to believe I’m gay; he doubts everything I say. He says if I were gay, I’d have made advances to him by now.
What he doesn’t understand is that I just don’t go for every guy, that I definitely don’t go for his type; maybe that is why he can be my friend.
We had lunch at Grandma Ethel’s — Mark liked her and Grandpa Herb a lot — and then we took a walk on the boardwalk. We left early to avoid the traffic and went to Mark’s apartment in Coney Island.
Since his family’s been on vacation for so long, the place is a mess. He showed me numerous scrapbooks of his middle brother, Glenn, who collects stuff on Coney Island. He has another brother, Teddy, who’s 13 or 14. His mother is a librarian and his father an assistant principal in Williamsburg.
Tonight, after supper, I played ball with little Scotty next door and talked to his parents. Dad found out that Space Age is recuperating from his operation, but I think that horse will never win another race, not that he did many before.
The Middle East ceasefire has been holding, except for Arab guerilla attacks.
Monday, August 10, 1970
A fair and warm day. I arose early and took the train to Manhattan. In the place, I did some more work: tearing off tags and counting pants for orders, making out bills for the customers, and doing other stuff.
Dad works too tensely; it’s a wonder how he gets through the day.
Grandpa Nat gave me ten dollars, which I could use badly; finances have been a problem this summer. Lately I just can’t seem to hold onto my money, and I feel embarrassed asking Dad all the time.
Joel came back from vacation, during which they moved to a bigger apartment in the same building in Briarwood. He talks to Robin all day on the telephone; she sounds helpless to do anything herself.
I had lunch with Dad and Ben at the delicatessen across Fifth Avenue and afterwards picked out four pairs of slacks, which I took to Grandpa Herb in downtown Brooklyn to alter them for me. My grandparents would do anything for me; I’m very lucky.
Only Dominic and Bobby were in the store; everyone else is on vacation. I took a white belt and rode a delightfully air-conditioned QJ train home, where I got my new Mensa membership card in the mail.
After supper, Dad and Marc played nine holes at Marine Park. I think golf is a stupid, boring game.
The House passed a constitutional amendment that would give equal rights to women. It’s about time.
Friday, August 14, 1970
Another very hot day. I woke up early and took a sweltering train downtown back to the Supreme Court.
In Justice Jones’ courtroom, I watched a jury trial of a man accused of burglary. I sat, as I did yesterday, with a bunch of retired old men who have nothing else to do but attend these cases.
The judge pointed out that only 3% of law enforcement funds go into the courts. I don’t think I’ll ever practice law, but as of now I intend to go to law school.
From the Supreme Court building, I walked over to the Slack Bar and had a good time with Grandpa Herb, Dominic, Joe and Bobby.
Howie, who had to have been the model for Ratso Rizzo, came into the store; I haven’t seen him in years. He said he plans to marry a prostitute he frequents, but so does Grandpa Herb’s nephew Marvin, the crazy one.
I had a delicious burger at Junior’s, then went to opening day of the new Loew’s Georgetown twin theater.
The movie was Getting Straight, an excellent flick about a grad student who feels crushed by the world. Elliott Gould was really superb, and I suppose it could be taken as an allegory of America today.
I took a short drive, listening to WBAI’s Homosexual News. One reason that Ottinger would be better than Goodell for senator is his stand on abolishing the sodomy laws.
I was attracted to, I’d say roughly, about ten boys today. Will I never have someone to hold in my arms?
Sunday, August 16, 1970
The heat wave continued today. I woke up Mark this morning with my phone call. He hasn’t sold any encyclopedias as yet and thus has received no salary for a lot of grueling work. Today he had to pick up his family, who are coming in from Europe tonight.
I looked at the registration materials I got yesterday. This fall registration will be done by computer for the first time, photos will be taken for ID cards, and I see I won’t be able to take some of the courses I wanted to.
After digesting lunch and the Sunday Times, I drove over to Alice’s house with her bon voyage present, a shell-shaped compact. We spent the afternoon in conversation, sometimes deep and personal, at other times gay and frivolous.
Her mother, who’s deaf, is very nice to me even though I cannot understand a lot her garbled speech. It’s too bad Alice’s father died. Her children are growing up and now Mrs. Kohler must be lonely.
Alice says she’s still in love with Howie. He’s going back to Canada and may give up his citizenship to move there after he graduates in January. Before I left, I wished Alice a wonderful trip. She’s leaving on Icelandic Airlines tonight.
I read (in the New American Review) a fabulous new Philip Roth story, “On the Air”: real brilliant stuff.
Wednesday, August 19, 1970
Mom gave me the car for the day, but I didn’t put it to good use. I had trouble starting the car, but our neighbor Jerry showed me how to do it right. I just took a ride through Bed-Stuy and came home for lunch.
Then I went to Georgetown to see Woodstock; the folks took my brothers and Steven to see it tonight. It’s almost exactly a year since that most famous of rock festivals, and so far it doesn’t look like the magic of Woodstock can be duplicated.
It was a beautiful scene: kids skinny-dipping, smoking and sharing while they grooved on the music, which was fantastic. I especially like The Who, Joan Baez (singing “Joe Hill”), Ten Years After (Marc’s favorite), Arlo Guthrie and the great Jimi Hendrix.
It was good and loud and had a narcotic effect on me. The movie made me realize that America has become, in effect, two nations: the people of Woodstock and those of the Silent Majority. Can we live with one another? I don’t know.
Uncle Abe was operated on today. Grandpa Herb took the day off, and he Grandma Ethel, Tillie and Morris went to the hospital, but they couldn’t see Abe. The doctor said everything will be all right.
I finished The Promise, a lovely book; I wish I knew Jews like that. And in Esquire, I read the journal of a 17-year-old boy who drowned last year. My diary isn’t as good as his, but maybe that’s because I’m not dead yet.
Monday, August 24, 1970
A beautiful day: warm but not too warm, breezy but not too windy. But it was a beautiful day mostly because I was able to write.
Creativity is a strange thing: I spent the whole summer without writing a word, and today I managed to write almost 20 pages of “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.” (Yes, I stole Wolfe’s title, trying to update his story.)
Part of it fell flat, but some parts ring true and are really fantastic. I think some of the characters are well-defined, but others are too vague. It’s really weird, creating such stuff.
I like to read my own junk. Now I’m trying to calm down because writing made me so keyed-up during the day that I became exhausted: every bone in my body aches.
Maud is on vacation, so Mom’s doing the cleaning week and she misses Maud.
Gary sent me a letter. He’s very keyed-up, too, about leaving Fort Polk. He’s become very funny about it all, but at the end he wrote, “You were my #1 morale booster when the chips were down. Thank you very much.”
God, that makes me feel good to know that I’ve helped someone get through a difficult time.
A card from Alice also arrived in the mail. She got to Paris safely via Reykjavik and Luxembourg. Alice writes: “Paris is a weird little city. I don’t know if I love it or hate it, but I’m certainly glad I’m here and seeing a totally different life.”
Also in the mail, I got a folder from school about the new Black and Puerto Rican Studies courses.
Wednesday, August 26, 1970
A bright-hot Women’s Liberation Day. I went to City Hall Park, where there were over a thousand people for a rally before the march. Today was the fiftieth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote.
I posed as a press photographer and took photos of Betty Friedan, Ellie Guggenheimer and Bella Abzug. Miss Friedan, a leader in Women’s Lib, talked to dozens of reporters. The press had a field day. Their demands are reasonable — day care centers, ending job discrimination, free abortions – but some of the far-out girls turn me off. The “male chauvinists” in the crowd seemed to be more amused than outraged.
I like girls to be feminine, but perhaps because of my own hangups I view them first as people, only second as women. The best sign I saw said, “Male Chauvinists: You Better Start Shakin’ – Today’s PIG is Tomorrow’s BACON!” Dad took the day off, and he and Mom went to Kings Plaza, which is going great guns and should be ready to open soon. Gisele came in to do the housework for today.
The Bernsteins were in from Maryland and came over this afternoon and asked me to get a jacket Ronnie left at Joey’s house across the street. When I was there, Ann Fishman told me she was against today’s “nonsense.” So were Mom and Gigi. Marty went with his friend Pogo Joe Caldwell to a basketball clinic upstate, and Dad’s quite annoyed with him for taking so many days off, first by going to Caldwell’s camp for underprivileged kids in Pennsylvania and now this. He’s not even attending to his own Slack Bar business, and Grandpa Herb has to work every day since Marty’s on vacation.
Ben came over tonight while the family was out to bring a $2000 check to Dad. Gary’s mother called and said I could come with them to the airport Saturday night to see Gary’s homecoming.
Monday, August 31, 1970
August ended with a cool, breezy day; it was almost autumnal. I work up with a sore throat which has finally gotten the better of me.
I spoke to Grandpa Herb, who is still nervous from being robbed on Fulton Street on Saturday night. He and Bobby were making a deposit at 6 PM when a man with a gun held them up.
Grandpa Herb gave him the $400 and the man pushed him and Bobby into an abandoned building. Luckily no one was hurt, but Grandpa Herb has been quite nervous since then.
At the college after lunch, I saw Evan and Ralph before I went into the Spigot office, where Juan was busy at work. Juan talked with Mark over the weekend, and he thinks Mark found another job.
I took a taxi from the Junction downtown to Dr. Wouk. He looks fine and said he greatly enjoyed his tour of Eastern Europe. He said he hopes that one day I’ll go there too, and he thinks I will; he said he admires my curiosity.
We discussed my summer — school, Dad, the Mansarde fiasco, Women’s Lib, Gary’s return – and Dr. Wouk says I’m becoming a mensch and noted that I’m no longer as effeminate as I was.
I hope he’s right about me growing up, anyway. He said that when I started therapy, my emotional age was 8 and now it’s about 14.
I looked in on the Slack Bar – Grandpa Herb told me he wouldn’t be coming into work today, that he was visiting his brother in the hospital – and spoke to Bobby, still shaken up from the robbery. “I aged twenty years,” Bobby said. (I guess he’s about 25.)
Mom got $43 for my accident at Cadman Plaza; she’s bringing the car in to the body shop soon. Dad came home early; I think we’ve getting along much better now. On Saturday, Dad told me, “Never feel guilty about anything you do.” That’s good advice, if only one could do that.
I spoke to Gary tonight. He says he enjoyed us all being there for him on Saturday night and that he’s adjusting to civilian life. Today he and Robert went to Green Acres. Gary asked me to go with him tomorrow to Manhattan Beach, and I said okay.