A 20-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1971
by Richard Grayson
Monday, November 1, 1971
A drizzly first of November. I was very depressed this morning and couldn’t stop crying. Mom talked me out of it and told me about yesterday’s funeral of Grandma Sylvia’s brother.
Uncle Irving’s wife had taken their two sons and left him during the Depression when he couldn’t make a living. She later remarried and is now a widow. For the past twenty years Irving was living with a woman whom he never married in a $26-a-month apartment on the Lower East Side.
He cut himself off from his brothers and sisters and rarely saw his family, never introducing the woman he lived with.
When he died, Grandpa Nat – who, after all, was only his brother-in-law and didn’t see Irving that much – did some investigating by making numerous phone calls and eventually found Irving’s younger son, a rabbi in Connecticut. He came to the funeral although he had never known his father.
It all seems like such a wasted life of not reaching out to people. But what Grandpa Nat did, I think, is a true mitzvah.
When I arrived in LaGuardia, Shelli said me to go with her for coffee, and I did. She told me that last night her mother found her birth control pills, and I can imagine what went on from how upset Shelli was. Funny: I’ve been thinking it would make me happy to see her suffer like that, but I felt nothing at all.
In Poli Sci, Vince lectured on British interest groups, and I left for home after that, not wanting to hang out in LaGuardia.
My appointment with Dr. Wouk went well. Jerry and Shelli deceived me, he said, and much of my anger is justified. And the depression I’m feeling is only anger turned inward.
I see now how Shelli’s been using me as what Dr. Wouk called “insurance” (like last Wednesday and Friday) and how Jerry’s been trying to prove he’s a man, like when he called me on Friday night, flaunting the fact he was with Shelli.
I understood how I was hurt by Scott and Avis. By doubling with Jerry and Shelli on Friday night, they “legitimized” (again, Dr. Wouk’s word) their affair. “But that’s reality,” Dr. Wouk said.
He said Shelli is very sick and she broke up with me because I’m too healthy. He said she’ll sleep with twenty guys before she marries while I will have “less than five” girls before I find the right one.
And it is a girl I need: I’m a living person and I need someone to love. Which is why I’m a little worried about Brad calling after he gets my letter. I don’t think I’m ready for a gay relationship yet. But I have to make a life for myself again.
I went to Mason’s winemaking course tonight. Besides his girlfriend Libby – who I really think is nice – only three other kids showed up. In the elevator, as we went downstairs, I met Shelli, who was on her way to the city to meet Jerry.
I basically just nodded and smiled and said very little to her. She’s a part of my life that I’ll remember always with great fondness, but I know now it was just that: a part of my life that’s past.
Maybe the bad economy will counter the Nixon-Agnew law-and-order thrust and make them unpopular. Nixon’s been campaigning everywhere, something unusual for a President in an off-year election.
But the way he and Agnew are dividing the country, no matter who wins on Election Day, the country will be the loser. The wounds will be hard to heal.
Tuesday, November 2, 1971
A breezy Election Day. There was school today despite the holiday, so this morning I cast my first vote in a general election. I voted no on the bond issue and yes on two amendments and voted Democratic and Liberal for three judges, and giving in to ego, wrote myself in for the fourth.
I went to BC on the Flatbush Avenue bus with Ellyn, the sister of Marc’s on-and-off girlfriend Rita. She’s going with that creep Al Ellman, and she still thinks I’m going out with Shelli. Assuming she’ll find out otherwise soon, I didn’t say anything.
Before class, Jay gave me a standing invitation to visit his new apartment in Park Slope. Prof. Merritt never showed up, so Stanley and I returned to LaGuardia.
Avis is still my friend. We shared a tangerine and talked with Jill. Later, in Poli Sci, I was glad that Scott was real nice to me, too.
Someone (Mikey says it’s from older evening students angered by the Adult Ed report) put “Dump Kneller” stickers in all our mailboxes. John from the Grapevine stuck one on President Kneller’s door while I looked out for Dean Glickman so he didn’t catch them the way he caught me putting up the Ramsey Clark for President sticker on the door on graduation day.
Back in LaGuardia, I started to listen to Shelli giving Alice and Elspeth a blow-by-blow description of her date with Jerry. I didn’t need to hear that and went early to Poli Sci, where I sat with Scott, and Berkowitz gave a good lecture on the national interest.
After class, I kept looking to find someone to have lunch with. Gary was going to the library and the others weren’t hungry, but finally Carl Karpoff, a good man, said we should go to Pub. On our way there, we were joined by Amy and Allan. We had a great time, eating onion rings while watching a film of the Louis-Schmeling fight.
Back on campus, Slade said he was upset about his column this week; somebody inserted two paragraphs into it. Slade’s the best writer I know; as his honors project, he’s writing a novel that Merritt’s reading.
Shelli started talking to me and asked if she could touch my hair. “Okay,” I said, “but I’m not your insurance policy.” With that, she stalked off, and I went outside to talk to Mason. He said everyone was aware that I’d been very depressed lately.
Alan Karpoff – today was my day for doing things with the twins – and I went to see Viridiana, a very good Buñuel film. Afterwards, Alan, Stanley and I went to see Leon in the projection booth, and from there we returned to LaGuardia.
There, Elayne and Jill were engaged in a discussion with Hal, centering on his male chauvinism. “Your problem is, you think the world is a locker room,” Jill told him.
I rested at home all afternoon, and tonight I went to visit Grandma Sylvia, who was sitting shiva for her brother. Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb were also there, and we sat around talking: real nice family stuff. The whole tragedy with Uncle Irving has intrigued me, and I may write a story about it.
Later I spoke with Gary, who’s having so much damn trouble with that Experimental Psych course.
Friday, November 5, 1971
It’s just after midnight, and this bright, breezy day has ended. How fast the days pass. I guess things must be getting easier since I just realized that I didn’t see Shelli all day and I hadn’t given it a thought all evening.
The days are getting shorter and colder. Today I saw my breath outside.
I had a very strange dream last night: that Terry married Mikey, and Leon was the father of the bride. Weird.
This morning I walked onto campus with Brendan Fitzgerald of Gay People, picked up a copy of Kingsman, and headed to LaGuardia, where Leon was trying to convince Jill that all the student members of the Faculty Council Curriculum Committee should stand firm for no requirements under the new six-school curriculum.
Leon and Jill and Timmy got into a big discussion of whether requirements are helpful in that they give you a broad education. I think college students are mature enough to choose any courses they want.
Outside, I gave Gary his birthday card and present (a Janis Joplin album), and then I asked Edie out for coffee. I realized, though, that she’s not for me: she’s much too straight for me, too much of a JAP. Well, live and learn: maybe the next girl will be more for me.
I went home for lunch, then returned to the college, driving Maud to the subway at the Junction after she finished doing the ironing at 4 PM; she says she’s been ill lately.
Only Slade, Terry, and Larry were around, and they all soon left to look for tires. I found Amy and drove her home to Windsor Terrace; she’s a nice kid but not that bright.
Grandma Ethel was at our house, having gone with Evie next door to the cemetery in New Jersey for the burial of Grandma’s friend Mrs. Luria, who also was the mother of Evie’s best friend Dorothy.
Tonight I went to SUBO, left when I saw that there were only guys in the Sexual Communication Workshop, and walked over to Whitman, where I met Leon. We went to see Performance with Alan and Carl Karpoff, Mason and Libby, Allan and the Fried brothers.
Afterwards we went out for drinks. The movie was weird, but Mick Jagger was hypnotic; Carl was really affected by it. (The other day, Leon told me he knew only three “untroubled souls”: the Karpoff twins and Allan.)
I had a really nice time. I like all those people and we enjoy being in each other’s company.
Monday, November 8, 1971
I am not happy. I am miserable, tortured and in agony. I think all the time about suicide. Life just doesn’t seem worth living and I want to die. I can’t do anything: I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t function.
I just cry and cry and bang my head against the wall and want to scream and hug somebody and kill somebody and I get scared and anxious all the time.
I can’t work. My midterm for Merritt is due tomorrow. It’s supposed to be on Coleridge and Imagination, but I’ve written one page of trash.
I feel like just taking a leave of absence and leaving for Florida. But I don’t have the guts to do that. I’m dying slowly here, day by day.
It turned bitter cold today. It’s winter, and winter scares me. I just don’t think I can get through this long, cold winter alone.
I hate Shelli so much. She’s a cunt, she hurt me and continues to hurt me. She’s having the time of her life going here and there, screwing with Jerry and constantly reminding me of that as she enjoys making me suffer.
I felt lousy this morning, but I didn’t cry. Terry more or less forced me to go to Poli Sci, and I sort of forced myself to sit through Vince’s lecture.
From there, I went to the Assembly meeting to take the minutes, but I had to sit down at the front and Shelli sat down next to me. She started telling Scott, although for my benefit, of how Jerry took her to the Cattleman Saturday night and what a big and expensive meal they had.
Saturday night: when I went to sleep at 6 PM after taking pills and spent a tortured night. I must have looked depressed at the Assembly meeting, for Shelli passed me a note that read, “Cheer up!” She’s so condescending.
It’s like Jerry telling me on the phone the other night how immature I am. They’re enjoying knowing how much they’re hurting me. Shelli is the cruelest person I’ve ever encountered.
In no mood for more of her, I handed the minutes to Allan and went home to cry for an hour. I just couldn’t get myself to Dr. Wouk’s office and instead spoke to him on the phone. “The Cattleman is just a lousy restaurant for tourists who don’t know any better,” Dr. Wouk said. “It’s not like they went to Peter Luger’s.”
Like everyone else, Dr. Wouk helps for a few hours and then I just want to die again. What is happening to me? What am I going to do about the midterms and school? Won’t I ever be happy again? Or am I just a neurotic baby, no better off now than I was during the breakdown?
Wednesday, November 10, 1971
A cold, blustery day. Merryl went to see Aunt Sydelle last night, saying that now that her father, Monty, wants to go back to Sydelle, Merryl will talk to the twins about coming back to Cedarhurst. But they seem adamant about wanting to live in Brooklyn with their aunt.
I wrote my piece on Gisele for our magazine Mother this morning; it turned out okay. Mom has been ill: she’s bleeding a lot although she isn’t due for her period for two weeks yet. The gynecologist said her IUD might have to be checked.
I got some photos back, and I like the way I look now, with shorter brown hair and a thinner body.
As I planned, I didn’t go to the college until noon and went straight to the library basement to see the EXCO film. Today Leon showed Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, which had fantastic battle scenes and was really a tremendous movie.
When it ended, I went into the projection booth and waited for Leon and Alan Karpoff to get everything together and we walked back to LaGuardia. Catching up to Slade, I went with him to the Mother meeting in SUBO.
Shelli was there, eating tunafish, and I smiled at her and she gave me a sip of her lime rickey. About a month ago, she had asked Elspeth to make up a photo of me Elspeth had taken, and it was ready today. Shelli took it, although God knows what she’ll do with it now.
After Peter called the meeting to order, Slade read his story on the fight to change the English Department curriculum. I read my thing, and Peter said it was “heavy,” Shelli said it was one of my best, and Slade said it was well-organized.
Alice had a funny poem, Elspeth a morbid one; Shelli did the artwork for the cover, and Allan wrote a dialogue between a boy and his mother. Stacy did a philosophical piece, and Terry, something on privacy.
Peter was kind of flustered by Larry’s piece on the Drop-In Center, saying how the students working there mostly sat around not doing anything and how when people came in, they weren’t very helpful. Peter was really taken aback by the criticism of his baby, his main project at the college.
After class, I met Prof. Merritt and a few of us picked up garbage from the campus, then went to the Pub for two hours. Merritt and Jay and this other kid downed two pitchers of beer (I had 7-Up) as we discussed film, ballet, books and rock music for hours.
Prof. Merritt and Jay talked about the Cockettes, who I want to find out more about because they sound really interesting. It eventually got late and dark. Jay was kind of drunk and sort of staggered off to a session with his shrink.
I came home to supper and a hot bath, a warm bed and some real peace. Things are going better than expected.
Thursday, November 11, 1971
It remained chilly today, and I decided to skip English and so went to school a little later than usual. I was in a very good mood this morning.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, and I really like the stuff I’ve been turning out. As Brad told me last week, some of your most lucid moments come in times of turmoil.
In LaGuardia, Elspeth said she had given up meat because she can’t stand to look at it anymore. I talked for a while with Avis, and then Gary and I walked up to the fifth floor of Whitehead.
Prof. Berkowitz was late, naturally, so I talked with Scott. He’s decided to date other girls and wants to date someone other than Avis this Saturday night. I guess his old girlfriend hurt him so much that he doesn’t want to get hurt again.
While I can understand how Scott feels, I think Avis will now be hurt, and I can appreciate how she might feel, too – maybe better than anyone else can.
Back in LaGuardia, I scolded Gary and Mikey, both of whom said they had not read a novel since high school. When Leon came along and I told him what they said, he just stared at them for a minute and said, “They look it.”
Gary, Elspeth and I went for lunch at the 4 Kings; I paid for Elspeth, as she said she was broke. She’s afraid she might lose her job at Mays and then she’d have to drop out of school.
We returned to the campus, Gary heading toward the library, and Elspeth going with Jill and Elihu to the Curriculum Committee meeting. Shelli said she was going home, as she felt ill, but that Peter wanted to have a special meeting to discuss Larry’s story on the Drop-In Center.
At the meeting, Peter said it wasn’t relevant to the issue’s theme of repression, but he’s just wounded because Larry hit him where it hurts: Peter thinks all his projects are the greatest things since sliced bread.
Well, I’m for Larry’s piece going in, and so are Terry and Elspeth. It’s weird to see an adult college administrator like Peter take things so personally.
After I chatted for a while about things cultural with Stanley and Fat Ronnie, I went home. Worried about Shelli, I called her, and she said she probably has a stomach virus.
We had a pleasant talk, but I’m no longer the “human yo-yo,” as Teresa called me the other day. Or am I? Shelli asked me if I think I’m gay. Jerry has probably convinced her that I am. And I’m beginning to have doubts about myself.
I guess I shouldn’t talk to Shelli anymore: too, too much hurt.
Saturday, November 13, 1971
I finally decided last night to go to the Druid Festival party after all. Arriving at 8:30 PM, I met Mikey downstairs in the building’s lobby and went to Allan’s apartment with him. Elspeth was already there, and soon the others came: Elihu, Elayne, Gary, Marty and Ruth, Mark and Consuelo, Fat Ronnie and his friend Josh.
Consuelo and I were smoking grass when she asked me how my love life was. After I told her it was virtually nonexistent, she said, “I think people should bounce back from these things quickly,” and she said how she wanted me to meet this black girl whom she works with at the day care center.
I demurred, but now I think maybe I should meet her.
Mark is trying to get a tryout as a reporter at Newsday. Consuelo said Stella is working in St. Paul for Senator Mondale on his bill to establish nationwide day care centers.
Elspeth came over and told us that Laurie’s 13-year-old sister is dying of leukemia. I know too many kids who’ve died of that: Joel Grodsky, Nadine Miller. It’s horrible.
I still haven’t found out what caused the rift between Leon and Laurie, who were – back when I was an outsider – such close friends.
Marty and Ruth said they’ll be getting married in a few months. Amy came, bringing a cake that said “Eat me.” Finally Leon and the Karpoff twins and their girls came after going to the Grapevine party in SUBO.
Mark, Consuelo and I went out for a walk to get Baskin-Robbins. While Mark was waiting for his ice cream, Consuelo asked me, “Are you afraid of me?” I said no, but in a way I am – because she sees right through a person.
When we returned to the party, more people had arrived: Timmy, Scott and Avis, Steve Katz – and Jerry and Shelli. It was very uncomfortable for me, but I went over to the other side of the room and chatted for a long time with Hal and Ivy and Mason and Libby.
Then I sang along as Leon played the accordion. I was relieved when I saw Jerry and Shelli leave out of the corner of my eye, and then I relaxed a little more, leaving the party around 12:30 AM.
Today I kept myself busy, shopping for health foods, going to the library, watching TV and enjoying the fresh November air. Grandpa Nat and Grandma Sylvia came over and we discussed Aunt Sydelle’s problems.
Everything was going smoothly until tonight when the phone rang and I heard Shelli say, “You motherfucking liar!” and hang up. When I called her back, Jerry answered with a snide “hello.”
Shelli explained it was because I’d told her that Scott said he had a date for tonight and she found out he was going to be with Avis. It was just a simple mistake based on what Scott had told me the other day. They’re just torturing me, for some reason.